Play The Long Game But Play It Smart

James Andrews

What does it mean to play the long game, but play it smart, especially when it comes to the field of VO?  Perhaps my extensive personal experience will help to elucidate.  Although I am a dual citizen of the US and Canada who has spent many years living in both countries, throughout my entire voiceover career I have been based in Toronto, a place that can be considered both a regional market AND a major market from a US perspective:

  • Toronto is a major market because it is a massive city in itself, with a population of over 6 million people.
  • It can also be seen as a regional market, because it is not a major city in the United States.
  • It IS a major market because one is able to maintain a career here as a union voice actor working with casting agents and the big studios, the same agents and studios that union talent in New York or Los Angeles work with.
  • Yet it can also be seen as a regional market because there are many successful voice actors based here who do work almost exclusively for the US and other international markets. My work is about half and half.

My point is, you absolutely and most certainly do not have to be in NYC, LA, Atlanta, or Chicago to be a successful voice over artist. One of the biggest promo guys I know is based in Pittsburgh. Sorry Steelers fans, but in the voice over world, it doesn’t get much further off the beaten path than that.

If there is a silver lining to the COVID crisis for aspiring voice actors, it is in the fact that we are seeing now how much of our business and personal lives can be managed from an internet connection. Throw in a good working knowledge of a decent DAW (there are several affordable options), a GOOD mic (but not one that has to break the bank), a Source Connect subscription and your brand spankin’ new Edge Studio demo, and you’re good to go.

Of course it’s not THAT simple, but then again, this isn’t much of a stretch either. I started out non-union and remained so for the first 3 years of my career. So I can tell you from experience that with a little marketing savvy and a ton of dedication and persistence, you really can carve out a niche for yourself and make some money no matter where you are based.

Sounds lovely right? Well, it certainly can be. It can also be a tough, tough grind that can make you want to quit. But anything worth doing has that element to it.

Speaking of niches, there are many in voice over. I prefer to call them sub-genres though, partly because that is a little more accurate, but also because the Canadian in me always so very badly wants to say “neesh” and not “nitch”. Ten years of enforced French lessons growing up will do that to ya. So sub-genres it is.

Right out of the gate, you want to be looking for traction in one of these sub-genres (E-learning, telephony, medical/pharmaceutical, corporate sales/training etc.) for what seems to stick for you. By that I mean the auditions that come most naturally, and the areas in which you may begin booking work. Chances are there will be a pattern there.

I make most of my living doing TV commercials. Now, I’m not complaining, but that doesn’t exactly make me the next Mel Blanc either, which is who and what I always aspired to be. I do a fair amount of animation now and I absolutely love it, but it took me a loooooong time to break into. (This is why Edge will NEVER recommend that your first demo be animation/characters or even video games).

What I am trying to say is that commercial voice acting found ME. Those were the auditions I was best at and so that is where I started booking work. (This is why Edge will typically recommend that your first demo be either narration or commercial). Thankfully I had a coach at the time who was really guiding me to pay attention to this early-emerging pattern and play to my own strengths to find my signature sound. And so I did that. But it took A LOT of auditioning, practice, more private coaching sessions, and, most importantly, an open mind. Remember that voice over is a lifelong journey, and even pros like me still get private coaching sessions to stay sharp.

In short, you gotta play the long game, but play it smart. The market might be telling you something. Resist the temptation to try and be all things to everybody. There are far more successful voice actors out there who do one or two things well, versus the talented Jacks and Jills of all trades who really wind up mastering none. Ever heard of Sam Elliot? Think “Guts. Glory. Ram.” This is a man who has made a legendary career for himself both on camera and off doing one thing exceptionally well. Even though my voice is nothing like his, he has long been an inspiration to me. A true specialist (and one with a 7 figure career).

So where does that leave us with regard to the question of how to play the long game, but play it smart? Well, the takeaway from all this is IDENTIFY YOUR STRENGTHS and play to them as best you can; because wherever you are in today’s world, be it Manhattan or Missouri, it is always going to be 99.9% HOW you play the game, not WHERE you’re playing it from. If you need a little help identifying your strengths, Edge Studio specializes in creating a training path for students that is customized to their particular strengths and vocal abilities. I would recommend starting with either the Investigate Voice Over class, or a Private Evaluation if you are thinking about moving into a more sub-genre market like audiobooks.

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