I grew up with a dream of doing two things: radio and cartoon voiceover. I was inspired by the late, great Mel Blanc….the genius behind all the classic Warner Bros. characters. I majored in radio/tv/film and got my bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas in 1993. I began a radio career as an intern for ABC Radio Networks in Dallas. I later became an on air talent for the Z Rock format. In fall 1996, I became a DJ/character voice for Radio Disney. The unique nature of the format allowed for a lot of extreme creativity and a chance to stretch my acting chops with lots of character voices.
In summer 2000, some station co-workers had taken a tour of Funimation Entertainment and found out about auditions. I jumped at the chance to try out. I auditioned for teen Gohan on “Dragonball Z” and some minor characters…..within a few weeks, I got a call back, and it was, literally, a dream come true. I had been a fan of “Dragonball Z” since back in 1990, and to get onto such a huge show really floored me. My connection with the show has afforded me chances to tour the country and even the globe via anime conventions and promotional appearances. I’ve even managed to pay rent a few times.
Voice acting is an extremely fun and rewarding field, but it is also one that is very competitive. There are risks, and they do not guarantee rewards. It will take a lot of passion, determination, practice, money, time, and pure luck. Doing silly voices does not mean you’re automatically a voice actor. The emphasis is on the “acting” part. Having the ability to imitate Homer Simpson is not the same as maintaining performance, exhibiting a convincing range of emotion, and taking direction. There is a definite balance to be strived for within voice acting. You have to bring a character to life, convey his/her story, with just a voice. It’s a completely different type of animal from on-camera or onstage acting. Not all actors have a thousand voices at their disposal. Many voice actors use their own natural voice, and make a good living in the realm of commercials and promo/trailer/narration. Others with versatility tend to be showcased in cartoons, anime, and video games.
Most of the work that is profitable in voiceover, tends to be in commercials for radio and tv. Anime/cartoon projects are a much smaller part of the spectrum. Eventually, you will HAVE to live in a major city if you wish to nurture a career. It doesn’t make any financial sense to you or a studio to have you fly/drive long distances. This causes delays in production. In the end, why would a studio cast someone who lives five states away, when there is already a plentiful talent pool locally available to them?
There are anime dubbing facilities in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, New York, and Los Angeles. Vancouver is also very popular, but unless you’re Canadian, you’d most likely have an uphill battle. In the internet age, downloading and piracy have severely reduced the amount of projects available. On top of that, dubbing has never and will never pay a lot. Even if you get cast as a major character on a show, chances are you’ll still be struggling to get all your bills paid. The average dubbing rate in Los Angeles is $64.25 an hour with a 2 hour minimum. While that would be an awesome rate for a 40 hour work week, voice acting is freelance, and you only work when they call you. A typical anime session is a 2 hour block, and at most 4 hours. Even then, if you do the math, you quickly see that one can’t survive on that.
Most voice actors rely on multiple means of income. Some have home studio set ups (delivering projects via MP3), day/night jobs, etc. Casting calls are rarely publicized (wisely, to weed out overzealous fans), so it usually takes knowing somebody on the inside, such as a current actor, director, or producer. If you are saying to yourself, “I want to be an anime voice actor”, its far more realistic to broaden your goals to include other types of voice work. While none are particularly easy to land, anime is simply the most limited and lowest paying, given the technical skills involved (lip sync while acting).
The first step to breaking into voiceover: getting acting experience. You need to develop these important skills whenever and wherever you can. You don’t have to live in a big city like LA or New York to get it either. Do a Google Search for theatre groups, classes and/or seminars in your hometown. Helpful resources such as books, instructional cd-roms, videos and more are available online. Train with experienced voice coaches and teachers. Beware of snake oil salesmen….look for testimonials from satisfied clients/students to back them up. Secondly, make industry contacts. Network. Attend conventions, meet and mingle with the guests. Many are more than happy to swap a business card and correspond to emails. Use social media to your advantage, as many voice actors are active on outlets such as Twitter and Facebook.
You will need a talent agent to represent you. Agents have access to auditions, negotiate contracts, and help to market you. Having an agent to facilitate this process is standard business practice. In order to get an agent interested in representing you, you will need a professionally produced commercial demo. The demo is comprised of roughly 90 seconds of excerpts of different commercial scripts. The excerpts need to show range (energetic, warm, authoritative, etc). Since you’re starting out, you’d have to construct a demo from scratch. It is best to use a producer/director to help you on your demo…..someone who knows the trends and types of sounds agents are looking for. You will also need to record at a professional studio, so yes, be prepared to spend some serious money. The thing to keep in mind, is that this is an investment in your future (and a nice tax write off, heheh). To get an idea of what a demo should sound like, click on the voice demo section of the website.
While MP3 is commonplace, many agencies still rely on CD submissions. You’ll need to pony up cash to make the labels and packaging. You won’t be taken seriously if you give them a disc with your name and number written in Sharpie. Packaging art should avoid headshots or cliché imagery (microphones, cartoony lips). Avoid slimline cases….go with the standard jewel case ( so you can print your name/number on the spine). Numerous online resources have listings of agencies, and you are encouraged to submit via the mail. However, it is generally preferred to have someone walk it in for you. A recommendation from someone with an agent’s roster will make you stand out from the faceless piles of submissions. Agents spend most of their time trying to book work for their current actors, so unless you’re able to really grab their attention, your demo runs the risk of not even being heard at all.
Once you get signed to an agent, you’ll begin to go out on auditions for all sorts of projects…..commercials, cartoons, video games, corporate narration, audio books, on hold messages, etc. But you can’t sit back and relax though, you’ll need to always strive to improve your craft through more acting classes. You’ll also need to continue to market yourself by submitting more of your demo CDs to casting directors. You have to make yourself known to the industry. Clients tend to use their favorites over and over, and if you’re new, you’ll have to work hard to be noticed and be given a fair shot. In a major city such as Los Angeles, most of the work is union, requiring the talent to join SAG (on camera, cartoons, video games) and AFTRA (radio/tv commercials). Make no bones about it, you will go through A LOT of frustration, and failure. A thick skin is mandatory. This is a career that doesn’t come fast, easy or cheap. The key is to NEVER give up.
I’ve heard it said that roles are like children, you can’t really pick a favorite. I truly am just thrilled that I get to do what I love. Its not as financially sound as I wish, but whether its a bit part or a huge role, I’m always psyched to get behind the mic and bring those characters to life. I do have some stand outs though…..most recent one would be Kamina from Gurren Lagann. The Narrator and Gohan on DBZ will always be special, as that was my first show.
Even though I currently live in California, I do still record for Funimation several times a year. Because I am no longer local to them, my working relationship is unfortunately minimal at this point. I am forever grateful to them for the wonderful opportunities I’ve had.
I am always more than happy to sign anything. The easiest way is to catch me at a convention (see my APPEARANCES page). If you can’t make it to any of those, visit my CONTACT page for my agent’s address. She will forward anything you send to me. Please DO NOT send anything that is irreplaceable or valuable (unless you have the package insured) because the post office has been known to lose things.
Anime that is dubbed into another language is animated first, then the audio is recorded. Actors are recorded individually. Since they have to focus on so much during the dubbing of a scene, this makes it easier to edit. A distinct advantage to anime dubbing is that the actor sees the final product. Seeing your character on screen can greatly enhance one’s performance. A disadvantage is that one’s performance can be limited by the timing of the mouth flaps. It also doesn’t pay very well. Most anime work is non union. This means the pay rate fluctuates and tends to be less than union rates (though union rate isn’t much better). With domestic animation, the audio is recorded first (this is called pre-lay). All the actors in a scene are gathered in a session, at multiple microphones. Sometimes the characters interact, other times the director will record lines from characters individually. A big advantage to this “pre-lay” system is getting to record with the other actors in a scene and play off each other. The animators craft the scene based on their takes, which gives the actors a much freer forum for performance. The standard union pay rate for an animation voiceover session is about 700 dollars. With some cartoon projects, the actor stands to make residuals, which is where a royalty check is mailed based on how many units are sold or how many times a show airs (true of most union voiceover projects in general). The disadvantage is the long waiting time to see everything put together. The animation comes afterward, usually done overseas, and isn’t seen for months. Over time, the actors might be called back in to re-record lines as the script might evolve.
Different studios use different methods, but in Los Angeles, the “3 beep” method is most common. The actor is in an isolated booth wearing headphones. In front, is a music stand (for the script) and a TV monitor. Each line is recorded individually (the footage is timecoded to synch up with the recording equipment and for script reference). The actor hears 3 beeps, and where the fourth beep would be, the actor begins their line. In my experience, the actors preview the line in Japanese first to get an idea of the pacing of the mouth flaps, and for the emotional context of the script. The actors see the script and footage for the first time in their session. The director studies the episodes and scripts in advance. So it’s up to the director to convey plot points and motives, and to guide the performance on each take. The actor has to master the technical skill of matching mouth flaps, maintaining a character voice, act, and taking direction.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UNION AND NON-UNION?
Voiceover projects fall under two categories: union and non-union. Union voice work falls under the jurisdiction of either SAG (Screen Actors Guild) or AFTRA (American Federation of Television & Radio Artists). Unions exist to negotiate and enforce contracts, working conditions, pay scales, and medical and retirement benefits. Union projects, overall, tend to pay more than non-union (there are, of course, exceptions). Most anime work is non-union. Predominance of one type of project over the other depends on your location. Los Angeles offer mostly union projects. Other areas offer mostly non-union. To join or not to join is an inevitable decision an actor must face. There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides. The initiation fees to join and annual dues within either of these unions vary from state to state. Anyone can join AFTRA, while SAG has certain qualifications.