Actors make millions doing voiceovers, why can't you?

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Famous actors make huge bucks doing voiceoversAdvertisers have hit on a way to make Hollywood's wealthy even wealthier: hire them to do voiceovers for commercials. Stars such as Kiefer Sutherland (Bank of America), Gene Hackman (Lowe's), and Morgan Freeman (VISA) can bank anywhere from $200,000 to a million bucks for providing their dulcet tones and actor image to an ad spot. Residuals can bring in every more money.

However, there are thousands of actors making good money in the voiceover industry who are not celebrities. I had a chance to talk by phone with two representatives from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. I asked Treslyn Williams, the director of commercials for AFTRA Los Angeles, what avenue one would follow to get gigs in this field.

First, she said, get some professional help. Voiceover coaches can help you determine if you have the chords to compete and train you in how to turn your voice into a money machine. While beginners, Williams said, might think that the job is merely to read a script, a voice coach will train you on how to deliver the message in a way that will sell -- both to the ad creator and the public.

Williams also is of the opinion that this training should take place face-to-face. The Internet is wonderful for many things, but the nuances of this training requires real physical proximity.

You'll also learn about the size of the voiceover market, larger than I'd imagined. These include commercials, promos, video games, audio books and more.

Next, think about getting an agent. The agent is the one who will set you up with auditions and pitch your name for potential work. Your agent will be promoting you against heavy competition (there are thousands of others working in this field), so perfect your game first.

Christopher DeHann, the AFTRA national director of communications, suggested that you also join the union, and explained the advantage of this move. Without a union structure you could work for peanuts and lose any long-term control over your performance -- you could still be pitching futons 20 years after you die.

With a union gig you'll receive contributions to your retirement and health care. The union also steps in, free of charge, to help voiceover professionals when they have trouble getting paid. Last year AFTRA recovered $34.4 million for its members, DeHann said. And anyone can join; there is no minimum level of accomplishment.

So if celebrities can earn millions, what could you earn? If you stuck to union gigs, you could earn at least:
  • $249.50 per session for radio spots, and as much again in each subsequent 13-week cycle.
  • $426.40 per session for TV spots, again with the 13-month renewal.
  • $374.50 for the first hour narrating a non-broadcast industrial or educational script.
  • $759.00 for three animated voices in a piece more than 10 minutes long.
  • $145.00 an hour or per side (whichever is larger) to narrate an audiobook.

Don't, however, think that you could earn money imitating a celebrity's voice. Those who spent a lifetime learning their craft won't delay a second in suing a mimic.

I wish my voice were better, or there were a market for raspy voices. If Tom Waits starts doing commercials, then perhaps I'll have some hope.
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