Friday, June 24, 2016

How expensive is it to start voice acting?

Last week I wrote about three things to consider before venturing down the path of the career VO, and one of those things was money. I received a little feedback on that particular section of the article, so it begs the question: how much does it really cost to get started in voice over? What's the minimum required? What are your investments? Would it be any cheaper or more expensive for you?

I mentioned that I spent between $3,000-$4,000 just getting off the ground, but my needs were also significantly more in-depth than a lot of starting VAs. Through my observations, there are two main areas you need to think about in order to get your rough estimate, those being:

- #1: Will your recording space be audition quality or broadcoast quality?

- #2: Do you need voice over/acting training, and how much?

These two questions are very all-inclusive, but they essentially encompass everything that affects your start-up price. The first thing we need to clarify is the difference between "audition quality" and "broadcast quality." The difference is pretty simple: the former means your studio and equipment are just good enough to audition for work from home, the latter means you can actually do the work from home. Broadcast quality will be more expensive to put together. Mine is broadcast quality.

I'll go over what's required or suggested of home studios in a future article, so let's stick to pricing for now. Your two subcategories of the first question are a), your equipment, and b), your recording environment. An audition quality studio won't require as much care as a broadcast quality studio, and depending on your home and what materials you already have available, you may even be able to cut costs here and there.

Here's what I estimate the start-up costs for audition quality equipment and recording environment would be:

- Microphone: $100-$300 (you may be able to find a good USB mic as opposed to the pricier XLR ones)
- Microphone stand: $20-$100 (skimp here, and prepare to watch your equipment implode)
- Headphones/studio monitors: $50-$100 (useful for listening to and editing your own work and auditions)
- All necessary cables: $0-$25 (if your USB mic comes with its own USB cord, you're probably set)
- DAW [recording software]: $0-$100 (you can start with Audacity, which is free - heck, that's what I use)
- Recording space: $0-$300 (depending on what you already have on hand)

When the primary means of your voice over studio is just to send in auditions, standards are admittedly a little lower, since it's accepted that you'll be doing the actual work in someone else's broadcast quality studio. You need equipment and an environment that will make your audio sound crisp and clean, but not necessarily top-notch. To this end, you can sometimes buy a (still somewhat pricey) USB microphone, which plugs straight into your computer and should be pretty easy to set up. From what I've heard, you really don't want to use any USB mic valued lower than about $100, as that quality barely even meets "audition" standards.

In terms of recording space, there are all sorts of isolation walls, boxes, and filters you can put around your mic to reduce acoustics, which can really run you anywhere from $50-$300 depending on how thorough you want to be, but you can also just as well rearrange the furniture in your recording space and use what's already available to reduce the echo in your environment. That's effectively what my Death Cubicle was - three mattresses, a few wooden boards, and one blackout curtain. It became clear it didn't exactly work for my needs, but if you're just auditioning, something similar may be worth it for you.

In short, the dead minimum for an audition quality studio hovers between $100-$200, but don't be surprised if it requires a little more.

If you're intending to do actual work from your home, however, you need a broadcast quality studio, and that's where things can get...interesting (a word here meaning "potentially burning a hole in your wallet until your pants spontaneously immolate).

- Microphone: $300-600 (invest in an XLR microphone this time, not USB)
- Microphone stand: $50-$100 (again, don't skimp here, friend)
- Headphones/studio monitors: $80-$200
- All necessary cables: $20-$50
- DAW [recording software]: $0-$200 (I still use Audacity)
- Interface/pre-amp: $150-$300 (you'll need to plug your XLR mic into one of these for it to work)
- Recording space: $200-$1,000 (I know I'm really ball-parking this one, but everyone's needs tend to be different here)

If any of the terminology up there frightens or confuses you, don't worry, we'll be going over this soon enough. For now, know there's probably an $800 minimum in terms of just equipment and recording space for a broadcast quality studio.

None of this, by the way, is accounting for, say, a stand for your script, or a computer capable of recording your audio. Your personal needs may require more or less investment.

This covers Question 1, but now we get into Question 2, a surprisingly costly realm: lessons. What kinds of lessons do you need, and how much do they cost?

The first follow-up question you need to ask yourself is, can you act? It is entirely possible to teach yourself how to act - by and large, that's how I did it. I can't deny that some formal education would probably help there, whether you take theater in college, volunteer for local productions or what have you. The greatest actor in the world, though, can still feel stumped behind a mic, which is where voice over lessons in particular can help; they can teach you microphone technique, professional behavior, marketing, how to use your equipment, etcetera, which is often hard to pick up just from stage play.

Where you go to receive this education will affect your pricing. You can find a lot of reputable classes online, and I'll mention some in another article. Just bear in mind the good ones will be pricey, and to watch out for riffraff that will take your money without actually caring whether or not you improve. I took online courses from Edge Studio, which has a wide variety of lessons and programs, but they admittedly do cost a pretty penny.

As Jay Snyder (a.k.a. Dan Green, or sometimes my favorite alias, J.K. Elemeno) told me, it's probably a good idea to take about five one-on-one coaching lessons for your chosen genre (i.e. audiobooks, video games, e-learning, etc.) to give you familiarity within that genre and allow your coach to gauge whether or not you're ready to take it to the next level with a demo. If any are available, I'd also recommend finding some related lessons on things like home studio setup, DAW usage, business, marketing, etcetera. Based on those two factors, our pricing looks something like this:

- 5 one-on-one coaching lessons: $250-$700
- 4 related voice over lessons: $200-$500

If I recall correctly, I took one animation voice over lesson (hi, Jay!) and six audiobook lessons, plus several related lessons as previously referred to. That probably set me back over $1,000. Your mileage may vary.

By the way, we haven't even gone over the cost of your demo yet. Let's price that sucker anywhere between $500 and $1,000. At the end of all your coaching, equipment, and home studio building will come a demo, so prepare for it.

This leaves my final estimation for both audition and broadcast quality setups at:
- Audition Quality (plus 5 lessons and demo): $920-$2,025
- Broadcast Quality (plus 5 lessons and demo): $1,550-$3,450

Depending on your circumstances, you may actually wind up spending a bit more (or less, even) than what I've shown here. These are very rough estimates based on my personal experiences and observations. Feel free to add or subtract from your estimate based on what you feel needs to happen to get your own career going.

Let me know what you think of all this. Does it fall in line with your expectations, or does the potential cost surprise you? If you're already up and working, how expensive was your start? We'll go over how to put together a home studio in the coming weeks, in addition to what to look for when finding microphones, headphones, interfaces, etc., so subscribe to stay up to date. Only takes a moment. Unsubscribe at any time.

See you next week!

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