Voiceover auditions

An invitation to audition for a VO has arrived in your inbox. What do you do? Instructions are minimal. The pay is OK but the deadline is tight. You’re not particularly busy but it’s not a genre you feel confident in or are particularly interested in – so, do you audition or not? Before rushing to record your submission – bear in mind the wise words of veteran voice actor and coach Johnny Heller 

‘You only get one chance to make a good first impression … make it count!’

hese days, almost all voice actors across all genres of voice work, record auditions remotely and upload them to clients, studios, producers, directors or clients. I know of very few voice actors (voiceovers, narrators, voice talent, recording artists, voice artists – take your pick regarding what you want to be called) who don’t have access to some method of recording an audio audition to send to a prospective client more or less instantly. I know of people who have successfully landed a job from a read recorded on their mobile phone and I know voice actors whose personal recording facilities rival many a professional studio. 

There are exceptions to this way of working, though not often. However, some audiobook producers and production studios in UK studios still invite actors into their studio to do a sight reading before casting. The drawback of this is obvious … especially to those of us living outside of London; thankfully there is usually some flexibility and narrators are given the option of recording their sight reading and share it over the internet. 

This ability to record remotely and send an audition or a sample read directly via the internet to a client, or agent, or online casting site or producer or publisher has fundamentally change the way we work and look for work. Because it’s comparatively quick and easy to record and upload your thirty second read, the temptation is to submit for every job going – a kind of knee jerk reaction – without really thinking about whether you stand a chance of getting it, whether your read is showing you to your best advantage – whether you’re playing to your strengths and whether you really WANT the job. 

In my opinion … this kind of auditioning frenzy – pile em high and hope (that simply based on the law of averages) one of those reads will result in a job, is counter-productive and even damaging to your professional reputation.

Don’t audition for practice … practice in order to audition! 

Audition invitations (or invitations to submit a custom read or your voice reel) can come from many different sources: long standing contacts or people from your personal contact list; via your personal website; from your agent; through Spotlight; directly from the client; from a producer or a production company. Enquiries come in from Twitter or Facebook contacts, colleagues and friends, via LinkedIn – and from online casting sites – (also known as Pay to Play sites) of which there seems to be an ever increasing number. 

I don’t want to go into a full-blown discussion about the pros and cons of online casting sites here … that thorny topic will be covered in detail when I get further into the alphabet – but there are some basic facts that are relevant when it comes to discussing auditions.

Pay to Play Internet casting sites
I think most people reading this article will be familiar with how it works from the voice actor’s point of view. You create a profile on your chosen online casting site, upload your photo, your potted biography and a selection of audio clips. This bit is usually free, but in order to audition or get further information about any of the jobs posted on the site or details of the voice seekers themselves, you have to pay a (sometimes pretty hefty) fee. 

I know that many colleagues swear by this system of getting work and pay to be featured on multiple sites and book the majority of their work through online casting sites – and certainly a lot of voice over jobs are cast via online casting sites. So if it works for you … who am I to rock the boat? 

One word of warning though … not all online casting sites are equal. There are several pitfalls: Not only can rates of pay be appallingly low, but you may find that a job posted on one casting site also appears on a totally different site – sometimes with a different rate of pay. Actors who have voice agents may also be asked to submit for the same jobs, at a different rate of pay again, so this begs the question: are there really as many opportunities as there appear to be?

Each of these online casting sites has many many subscribers, even those that market themselves as being ‘the cheapest’, so there are likely to be literally hundreds of people submitting for the same job. This is true on all online casting sites … from ‘the cheapest’ the allegedly ‘the best’. Competition for this work (at all rates of pay) is incredibly fierce.

Now imagine for a moment that you are a client sitting at your desk watching submission after submission pop into your inbox; are you going to listen to five hundred people? No of course you’re not, you’re going to cast the first person you hear who is ‘good enough’. Now that may be the first audition to come in or the twenty first, but I can promise you, if you’re the fiftieth person to submit or the hundred and fiftieth, then the chances of your audition even being listened to, let alone being considered are rather slim. 

You need to be realistic and play the game. If you’re submitting an audition to an online casting site, in order to stand any chance of being considered you have to be quick off the mark as a job may be awarded to an early bird – or to the person who is prepared to accept the lowest fee rather than to the person who delivers the best audition. Putting it politely, a judgement may be being made on something other than which voice would be best for the job. This is always assuming that the job actually exists. I have heard that there are some auditions posted online are really just ‘fishing expeditions’. The online casting sites may themselves not have actually secured that job – they are themselves ‘auditioning’ for the end client – so in reality no job actually exists and the job posting may never result in a concrete booking for anyone, either ‘voice-seeker’ or voice actor.

You should also know that some online casting sites charge a ‘management fee’ … and that the price they charge the end client is not actually reflected in the rate paid to the voice doing the job. This is all ongoing discussion within the various internet VO chat rooms which are full of discussions about Pay to Play sites.

I am not an expert and can only share my personal experience of online casting sites which has been mixed to put it politely. I am no longer a paid subscriber to any of them, though I have in the past subscribed to several including Bodalgo, Voices Pro and Real Time Casting – and I though I have not had hundreds of direct bookings, I have gained some good regular clients and some repeat work from all of these sites.

The only way to find out whether an online casting site is really working for you is to really examine the amount of time you spend auditioning, the number of auditions you submit and the number of jobs you book. I created a spreadsheet and was shocked when I really examined the result (the ROI – the Return On Investment) which is why I cancelled my subscription to them all when I realised I could be spending my time more profitably.

Whatever your feelings about online casting, it is foolish in this crazy and overcrowded profession to rely on just one source for voice over work. The most successful voices spread their net as wide as possible and follow every avenue and route in order to get auditions and work.

By whichever route, imagine that an invitation to audition has arrived in your inbox. Whether a job opportunity has come from a casting director, producer, director or client who already knows your work or has listened to your reel and is requesting a custom audition, or from a cold call, a shot in the dark from a potential client or producer who knows nothing about you, how do you make sure that you are giving yourself the best possible chance of landing the job? Deadlines are often pretty tight, decisions are made very quickly, you may well be busy with other work, so you need to be good at picking things up and reacting quickly.

Firstly, you need to ask yourself whether you have a realistic chance of getting this job? Is it within your range? Do you have the experience that the client is looking for? Can you honestly say that you are right for this job and that this job is right for you? Are you actually interested in doing the job if you get it? Are you available? If you are sure, then go ahead, make a recording – in fact make several recordings if you know that time is not important, then chose the best one … i.e. the one that fits the job description most accurately.

I assume that everyone would send a personal email of introduction with contact information and a brief resume of training and experience at the very least) with every audition … that is just common courtesy. However, according to a casting director friend of mine, amazingly, actors regularly omit their contact details! How can anyone get in touch with you if you don’t include your phone numbers, e-mail, address, Skype details, link to your personal website? What about your Spotlight page, LinkedIn page, professional Facebook page, or to your profile page on a professional voice site such as World Voices, Voiceover Biz or Gravy for the Brain. 

I would advise against including a link to your casting site profile page with any audition that hasn’t come from that specific casting site. All you are doing is pointing the voice seeker to a site where there are a thousand other voice actors listed so in effect you’re giving them the opportunity to listen to everyone else when you want them to concentrating on listening to you. 

The Golden Rules

All submissions

  • Do the best audition you possibly can. 
  • If the script is supplied, read from that script … if it isn’t find out what you can about the project and match the genre and style as much as possible. 
  • Never add music or sound effects to an audition unless specifically requested
  • Match like with like. For a commercial audition, don’t submit a gaming VO. Don’t offer a corporate read for an e-learning project.
  • If you’re asked to send an MP3 then send an MP3 not a Wave file. If a FLAC file, send FLAC. 
  • Name audio files in a way that is consistent and helpful. ‘Helen’s audition.mp3’ will just get lost. I use the following protocol: MyFullName_ProjectName or ClientName_Date. 
  • Don’t be afraid to add your CV or resume to your submission, but keep it simple … there is no need to include every brand logo, every testimonial or recommendation. But details of your experience, training, areas of speciality and expertise can all help to swing a decision in your favour.
  • Add a link to your website in your accompanying letter / email
  • If the job is going to be a remote recording include information about your personal studio equipment.
  • Don’t feel you have to record the entire script … if you’re concerned about your audition being used without payment or permission (it happens) then don’t record the entire copy.
  • Unless instructed otherwise, slate your audition. Sometimes there are specific instructions about this, other times the way you slate is left up to you. Unless asked not to slate … do it. You should verbally state your name followed by either the client name or the job name or number depending on the information you have been given.
  • If the project specifies that it’s to be done in a home studio, make sure that the potential client has details of your set up – what microphone and interface do you use; what recording software? Do you have ISDN, Phone Patch, Source Connect, iPDTL, Skype, Cleanfeed? What format are you able to work in?
  • Follow the instructions … if the client is asking for raw audio … then that is what they mean, not ‘every-so slightly’ processed! Edit out fluffs by all means, clean up mistakes but don’t process your audio. Raw means raw … no EQ, no compression, no normalising, no hard limiting, no tweaking!
  • Listen to your audition yourself before submitting … would you cast yourself based on what you hear? 

Audiobook specific

  • Normally five minutes is sufficient for audiobook submissions.
  • Submit a read from a similar genre as the project. Don’t send a non-fiction sample for a fiction project and vice versa.
  • Try and find a section with both dialogue and narrative voice. Don’t be afraid to record a bit from two different sections.
  • Think what the client wants to hear (or what they’d prefer not to hear). Unless you’re submitting for a specific genre such as erotica, I avoid reading sex scenes.
  • Generally avoid passages that include swearing or anything that might be deemed offensive. Think of the client’s sensibilities … If you’re submitting for a Christian audiobook for example, don’t send them a chapter from an erotica title.
  • Don’t be afraid to add a link to your Audible page or your audiobook resume and any audiobook reviews with your submission.
  • As a general rule, audiobooks are always recorded in Mono, so you should send a mono sample.
  • If the client is asking for fully produced / fully finished audio … are you able to deliver that? Are you a competent and confident editor and audio engineer / producer? For clients asking for finished audio, then being proficient in production and the technical side of things is just as important as being able to deliver a great read of the script. 

Before clicking the submit button
I cannot impress on you how important it is to read the job spec and directions carefully. They may be limited, but what is there is important.

Here are some of the things that you should be looking out for:

  • Sample rate, bit rate and format. This may seem unimportant to you … why would you not want to submit the highest possible quality audio? If the client stipulates a particular requirement, then stick to what they ask for.
  • If the request is for an MP3 file, don’t be tempted to send a wave file because it is better quality. Your inability to follow instructions may lose you the job.
  • If an audition posting contains a sample script … record it … don’t send your audio reel or another script that you prefer and you think you do better.
  • Often auditions are posted with a voice description … alongside the obvious male and female you may see further requirements, young, enthusiastic, hard sell, soft sell, mature, business like, whacky, baritone, British, American, Hispanic … the list is virtually endless … If the required voice is out of your range, then don’t audition. All that does is give a bad first impression and looks as though you haven’t bothered to read the job spec.
  • Before you send anything off into the ether, listen to the recording/s carefully and critically – discard any that don’t match the voice requirements or the direction; that are not technically or artistically up to scratch; where the interpretation is flawed, or where the sense is not absolutely clear. Ask yourself the question, would you cast yourself based on what you hear? If not, then don’t send it.
  • If you think your audition passes muster – you should still to be cautious before submitting. Bear in mind that some clients have no idea what they are looking for until they hear it. Are you sure that your audition will do you justice? If you are not sure that this job is for you or if you think you could have read better – then don’t submit that audition, just put it down to practice and learn from the experience. 
  • If you include metadata on your audio files make sure you change the details for each submission. It gives a really bad impression to receive an audition with the wrong details / metadata. (you can find the metadata by looking at an audio file’s properties and then details).
  • If you are absolutely sure that your audition is the best you can do – then submit away. If it is a good audition, then it will be remembered – and even if you are not successful this time, there may be other jobs from the same source – and you may be luckier in the future.

Some voice actors work on the principal that the more auditions they submit, the more work they will get – the ‘pile ‘em high’ mentality. I suppose based on the law of averages there is some truth in this … it’s like pinning the tail on the donkey, do it often enough and you’ll probably get the tail in the right place at least once, but I truly don’t think this this does you any favours in the long run. All that happens is that you record a lot of auditions. You get no feedback, you get knocked back more and more often and become more downhearted and less confident in your abilities – and you’ve lost that vital opportunity to make a good first impression.

You also end up wasting an enormous amount of time – time that could be put to much better use in my opinion.​​