When you see that number, what’s your first thought?
Is that a lot to you? A little? A goal? A bad decision?
Those were the questions and what-ifs bouncing around the walls of my brain (which oddly resemble a StudioBricks) when I researched just *how* expensive it is to launch a Voice Over business. I quickly learned that this is roughly the investment you will make in your first year as a professional voice talent.
I stared at the screen in shock and overwhelmed. I didn’t understand how this amount of money could add up if you’re “just starting out,” and consequently, how to even acquire these funds if you’re “just starting out.”
Well my VO friend, tax season has arrived, and after taking stock of my total expenses for 2021, I can assure you that number is no fable. It’s also not a price tag you should be scared of, and I’ll explain why.
I distinctly recall Googling and Facebook-searching this topic to find that aspiring talent had actually participated in clinical trials or donated their organs and plasma to launch their professional VO careers. While I admired the dedication, I was not a fan, raving or otherwise, of this approach.
I stepped back from the doom scrolling and took a deep breath (since my watch told me to). The recommended investment dollars snapped me into position to make a serious decision if this was a profession I wanted to pursue, had the talent to pursue, and the passion to pursue.
I said yes.
Then, I pressed the big green button that said “SPEND $10,000 FOR A SUPER EPIC VO CAREER LAUNCH AND IMMEDIATELY GET CAST IN EVERYTHING YOU AUDITION FOR.”
End of blog.
Of course, as you may have guessed or already know, this is absolutely not how it works!
Over the span of 365 days, there is abundant opportunity for a healthy progression of when and how you invest in certain aspects of your business after lift-off.
We’ll start with lift-off first.
I settled on an agreement with myself that I would spend the necessary dollars for a reputable coach I worked well with. In order to do this, I took stock of things that I could sell, created a budget and savings plan, and searched hard for a coach that was both reputable and could work in a budget range that wouldn’t put me in overwhelming credit card debt. You can expect a good coach to charge between $150-$275 an hour.
A word of caution…
Avoid the “demo factories.” These typically appear in the form of all-inclusive training and demo packages, sometimes even including gear, for a price tag around the $1K range. These coaches often value quantity over quality, and will likely tell you that you have an “amazing voice perfect for the industry” without even hearing you read a piece of copy. The results will match the price tag.
My coaching investment ended up equaling around 25% of the VO pie. Coaching is not only a method to improve your skills, it can also serve as a gauge to monitor your passion and interest before investing further. In fact, taking a few acting or improv classes is an even more economic way to make this call prior to committing to a coach.
When I concluded my first round of training biweekly for several months, I was confident to make the next largest investment, a commercial demo. A well produced demo can land in the $1500 to $3000 range. Your demo, like coaching, will be one of your most foundational investments. A professional demo is also the key to the marketing door. When you’ve invested in an amazing demo, you can use it as a keystone in your website, social media, direct marketing, and auditions!
Becoming “demo ready,” is an achievement. This may or may not require you to own an industry-grade or “broadcast quality” home studio. I personally had the option at the time to record in my own home booth or travel. I chose to travel (I wanted the U87 experience, can you blame me)?
Either way, a home studio is standard for the industry now, and carries the potential to be the largest investment you’ll make. There are many options for this expense to not be the largest in your repertoire. There are also plenty of condenser mics below the $1000 or even $500 threshold I truly believe can get you started, but the fact remains, a non-USB mic is the way to go. A condenser cardioid mic in a well-treated space will enable you to compete and audition at a high level.
I needed a fairly non-expensive solution for my booth, so I decided to go the VocalBoothToGo PVC-and-blanket route, and it worked splendidly! As an FYI, moving blankets also work very well. At the time, I thought, “Awesome! I spent a couple hundred bucks on my booth and that’s it! WOO!”…until I realized I wanted a chair to sit in, a monitor, a mouse, an iPhone mic adaptor, a keyboard, a webcam, a light, a mic stand, cabling long enough so that my laptop could live far outside my booth, a DAW license, an interface to make my mic work, the list goes on and on. Oh yeah, then an agent contacted me when I was traveling later that year…mobile booth time!
The cost of my gear and booth(s) far outweighed what I had thought I would spend, but, at the end of the day, I don’t regret pushing that snowball - I’m able to comfortably operate in a small, but well-treated space.
By the way, this was my first version of my studio apartment closet-booth before my VBTG investment. You have to start somewhere, and AriaBooth1.0 got me through coaching!
The final largest expense I committed to was Pay-to-Plays. I tried out two of them this year, totaling to roughly $1000. More minor expenses included purchasing literature, a website and domain, marketing leads, independent video courses, virtual conference tickets, and studio/vocal workout sessions and workshops. Turns out staying current in the industry is also a worthy expense!
In my journey, I absolutely made decisions where I turned away from something I really wanted but knew was best prioritized later. It was disappointing to not be able to follow through on having a custom website built, continuing coaching on a weekly basis, or getting another demo produced. I knew at the end of the year, however, that I had more than enough to light the fire and soar. Those investments have become my goals for next year and beyond, and I’m looking forward to reaching them as milestones!
So…will you break even in your first year?
Probably not. According to a 2021 study performed by Voice Actors of NYC, 48.3% of talent made less than $8,000 in 2020.
Your coaching, demo, and gear will make up large parts of the gradual ROI. But the reality is, achieving this requires more than a great setup and training. The monetary investment will work wonders, but your emotional commitment will drive your marketing and your brand home.
As a new talent, it was hard to hear that getting into this business is harder than it ever has been. You will hear and see in endless online threads that cold emailing is ineffective, cold calling is rude or goes unanswered, pay-to-plays are too competitive, and that the industry is completely oversaturated and inundated with new talent breaking into the scene, especially since the beginning of the pandemic.
What will separate you from the ever-growing pack will be your commitment to the industry (both financial and mental), your in-person marketing strategies, your talent and skills, and your own unique flair and voice. While I tried to avoid saying this token phrase..
This business is completely, utterly, unconditionally, and irrevocably a marathon, and not a sprint. Please take well-timed water breaks, invest in the gear, train hard, and pace yourself and your spending. I’ll see you on the course.