“There is no one right way to succeed in voiceover,” Bob Carter tells me over the phone in May of 2021, more than a year after everything changed for so many people in his industry due to the pandemic. Carter, a veteran voice actor who also runs a teaching and production studio in Norcross with his wife, has seen his profession evolve in various ways over the years.
When I last talked to him in 2018, for instance, he was celebrating the increase in local opportunities as a result of Georgia’s tax breaks wooing video game companies to the state. “I didn’t have to fly to New York, I didn’t have to fly to Dallas, I didn’t have to fly to L.A.,” he said at the time. Now, for the benefit of many voiceover hopefuls, they don’t even have to leave their homes at all.
I’ve called on Carter again now, along with four other performers, to specifically discuss the job of voicing roles for video games, to share their experiences, and offer some tactics for finding success in this coveted area of their industry.
Working remotely wasn’t an option for Carter when he started out. His career began in radio at GSU’s Album 88 and 99x in Atlanta in the 1990s, which led him to voice acting for anime. Eventually he began adding video games to his resume, landing iconic roles such as Balrog in the Street Fighter franchise and Shao Kahn and Baraka in Mortal Kombat.
Back then, it was about being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. While working at a station in Dallas, he got involved with the improv scene out there and, through people he met, was invited to audition at Funimation Studios outside of Fort Worth. The lesson, he says, is that “success is about making it into different circles.”
It also helped that Carter had talent, of course, as well as versatility. “I had this willingness to play,” he says, “to try different things.” And he had the drive to make the most of those connections and opportunities. “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” he adds.
As a longtime gamer — he admits to blowing the first paycheck he ever made on the original Mortal Kombat in 1993 — Carter not only had a passion for the medium but he also knew what a big deal it was that they were reinventing that game for the 2011 reboot, and therefore how special it was to be involved with it. “To be a part of such an incredible franchise,” he explains, “it was huge for me.”
After moving back to Georgia and settling down with his family, however, Carter wasn’t seeing as many opportunities for voiceover work and would have to fly to where the jobs were, when he could. He then heard about the Georgia Game Developers Association (GGDA), through which he connected with people like Andrew Lackey of Wabi Sabi Studios, by networking and attending meetups.
“I got out of my shell and got into some new circles,” Carter recalls. And that led to more video game gigs, including Destiny 2, which he could record nearby. “It’s great to be a part of a community that’s been much more collaborative than competitive,” he says of the Atlanta gaming circle. “We’re all in this together. We’re all trying to build up the industry here.”
Through their studio, The Neighborhood, Carter, and his wife (fellow voice actor September Day Carter), have been doing their part to build up Georgia’s talent pool by teaching, coaching, and even casting new performers. Martin Yeh is one of these up-and-coming voice actors who, since studying with Carter, has found representation and booked a number of gigs, including the video game Smite.
But even with his training and connections, success didn’t come easy or immediately. “There was a lot of auditioning before I booked my first job. A lot!” he confesses. “The mentality you have to adopt in this industry is that it’s a marathon, not a race.”
As with any dream job, perseverance is key, even when it feels like the journey may never arrive at its destination. “You just have to keep going,” he encourages, although “it can definitely be mentally taxing, thinking, ‘Wow, I’m putting in all this work, but I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere.’”
Fortunately for Yeh, he has something to fall back on. While he focuses on getting his master’s degree in computer engineering, the pursuit of voiceover work has been more of a hobby. However, he does hope to one day make it his career.
Having finally booked his first video game late last year has boosted his confidence and given him a taste of the high of success. “It’s a weird and satisfying feeling because on one hand I achieved what I wanted in booking a role, but it didn’t feel real,” Yeh says.
It’s been months since the skin was released, and he still hasn’t gotten used to the idea. “I don’t think it will ever feel real,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, but in the end, I am definitely satisfied with what I’ve done so far. I can say I voiced a skin in a high-profile game and I can be happy. But I want to keep on pushing and see how far I can go.”
Andrea Perez is another voice actor who is new to the field, and a latecomer at that. The public school Spanish teacher had always been interested in performing but only decided to give it a try when one of her students told her she had a great voice. After studying and training, she landed her first gig a few years ago. “It was hard,” she admits. “I think afterwards, I cried.”
She later booked her first video game role, in part because it involved bilingual dialogue, which brought a whole new level of demands. “It just was a lot,” she reveals. “I didn’t realize how many takes they need for every single line that you say in a video game. That takes a long time to record. Trying to make the same line sound different five different times.”
While some in her profession discourage pay-to-play sites, Perez has found much of her work through Voices.com, which she says is very professional, easy to use, and has been profitable from the start despite the fees. “It’s been really lucrative,” she affirms.
She recognizes it is not quite the same as having representation but believes the successes she has had on the platform have led to more auditions. “I’m finding there are certain people on Voices.com who are constantly inviting me to jobs that are very similar to ones that I got before.”
However, she has seen a huge increase in the number of actors pursuing voiceover work online, especially in the past year, and is finding the competition to be challenging. “Before you would see postings get only twenty people auditioning,” she remembers. “Through the pandemic, I’m seeing hundreds of people auditioning for things.”
As a result, she has been focusing on the job postings with less activity and on the invites she sees early enough and can turn around quickly. “That could be a lost opportunity,” she concedes, divulging that she tends to skip over the more popular gigs, “but why don’t I try for something else that has fewer auditions?”
When Nicole Britton re-entered the world of voiceover acting eight years ago, after taking time off to have kids, she encountered an evolved industry. “So much had changed from the early 2000s,” she recalls, noting the rise in home studios in particular. “I started over from square one because I knew there was so much to learn to be both the performer and the engineer.”
Part of the adjustment was also location-based. She and her family had just migrated from L.A. to Atlanta, following Georgia’s film production boom (her husband works in the industry), and there appeared to be fewer resources than she had out west. “For those of us who are outside of those communities, we wear more hats,” she says of the initial need to grasp how to self-record.
Britton began her career on the stage after going to school for acting, and that background helped her find success in voiceover. “The fact that I had an interesting voice was probably the least important,” she says of her talents. “I had the chops. I was already an actor.”
She had no problem with the need to further her education upon returning to the field. “Regardless of your industry, you still have to take classes every couple of years and catch up on things,” she says. “Learn what’s new to keep your finger on the pulse, to stay fresh.”
Britton does most of the work herself when it comes to finding video game jobs. She cites GameDevMap.com as an “excellent” resource for locating developers all over the world and seeing what they’re working on. “One of my favorite games that I’ve worked on is called Dolmen, and that came from reaching out to a company in Brazil,” she reveals.
Interestingly enough, she hasn’t yet booked anything with local game developers. “I keep trying to crack the Georgia nut,” she says, adding that it’s just a matter of time.
The New Man
Until the pandemic hit, Jonathan Myles had only worked for local developers, regularly commuting into Atlanta to record for Hi-Rez and other clients. But last year, after upgrading his home studio, he began finding work outside of Georgia. “It’s nicer to be able to do it from home instead of driving in traffic,” he affirms.
The Georgia native, who has been acting since middle school and playing video games even longer, initially got into voice work to combine those two passions, but it took him nearly five years to book his first job. “That was obviously very discouraging,” he admits. “But after Covid, I don’t know why, it felt easier for me. I think because I’ve been able to submit more and get hired for more stuff.”
One of Myles’ early video game gigs, pre-pandemic, was completely life-altering, and not necessarily in a good way other than as a learning experience. “I knew the voice was rough,” he says of the role, “significantly deeper than my actual voice.” The session was going to be long, too, so he made sure to have plenty of water and honey, as advised, but he still made one crucial error.
“I was trying to make myself look as good as possible and didn’t want to take any breaks,” he confesses about his desire to impress the new high-profile client. During the session he was having trouble maintaining the voice, but he struggled through it and finished without anyone else noticing. By the time he got out to his truck, though, he couldn’t feel his throat at all. It was shot.
“I woke up the next day and my voice was completely different,” he recalls. “It was hurting really bad.” He wound up with vocal nodules and was out of commission for weeks. It could have been even worse. While he refrained from doing deep voices for at least a year, he’s now able to go rough again after learning how to keep from putting strain on his vocal cords.
He’s been a changed man, literally, since that day, though. “Even my speaking voice right now does not sound the same as it did back then,” he tells me.
TIPS AND TRICKS
Level 1: Training
When it comes to voiceover, the first thing you need is a voice, but it’s what you can do with that voice that matters. “You have to have acting experience and training,” Carter insists, “You’ve got to be highly expressive, more than just your normal on-camera dramatic actor. That’s why we always recommend improv comedy classes. I always recommend Dad’s Garage.”
Improv also helps with your willingness to branch out. “It’s not about getting out of your comfort zone,” he says. “It’s about expanding your comfort zone.”
For Yeh, improv is about getting into the zone. “Having those skills allows me to get into the setting of whatever that character may be in,” he says. “When you’re in the booth auditioning, you’re not really in the best space. There’s not really much to go off of for inspiration. Having those improv skills helps you imagine and helps your mind get into that character.”
Learning different accents can also be helpful. “It behooves the company to hire someone who can play more than one character, from a financial standpoint,” Britton says. “So if you can come in and do four characters, you’re a hotter commodity than someone who can do one. The more facility and ease you have with your accents the better.”
She encourages anyone, no matter the level, to the best of their abilities, time constraints, and budget, to always be training and studying. “There’s so much to learn,” she says. “Especially with voiceover. There’s the performance part of it, the craft, but there are also nuances in how to record yourself, how to present yourself professionally, and even how to market yourself.”
Level 2: Networking
You may have the talent and even the training, but that’s nothing in a vacuum. You need to find your people and begin networking. “Get involved,” Carter recommends. “Go to these meetups. Go meet up with the game developers. Meet up with the people who can hire you.”
He reiterates that it’s important to make it into different circles, then follow up and follow through. “Success is ninety-percent showing up,” he says. “Just hang out and have fun and play video games with people who want to make games. That’s what it’s all about, being willing to put yourself out there. That’s why a lot of what I teach is self-awareness and confidence.”
After you’ve made the connections, that is when your talent comes back into the picture. As Carter points out, “You’ve got to be professional enough to back up what you say you can do.”
What if you’re not a gamer but you still want to book video game jobs? “If you don’t have any background in video games, go to a game jam,” Carter suggests, “where people make video games in a weekend. You’re getting hands-on experience and breaking through. When you show up and you’re willing to play and willing to help people, you learn a lot.”
Due to the pandemic, physical meetups and live events have been mostly non-existent. Yet the alternative means of socializing that have grown in popularity over the past year — Zoom calls, Discord groups, Clubhouse, etc. —have made connecting with people even easier.
“Opportunities to network are out there and at your fingertips, especially now that so many things are virtual,” Britton says. The question is, will get-togethers completely return to how they used to be? “I don’t know what it’ll look like in six months to a year. Maybe we’ll have a combo of virtual and in-person.”
Level 3: Auditioning
When it comes to the actual process, going out for video games is distinct among voiceover opportunities. “There is a different nuance,” Yeh points out. “With video game auditions, there is more wiggle room in which to play around, and you really get to flex your creative juices. There are a lot of different ways to interpret a character in a video game.”
When given a reference, Yeh suggests not going with an exact imitation.
“Try to get a sense of what the casting director wants from the reference, but do it in a way that’s yours,” he says. “Basically, don’t force it and make it too different from your own voice because that hurts the authenticity. And the main thing the players want is for the character to be believable. If you try to do anything that strays from that, that would definitely be noticeable.”
Perez recommends taking the gig seriously and going the extra mile. “The impression is that they’re fun and super easy,” she says of the attraction of these jobs. “Video game auditions are more than just the words on the paper. You have to really make that character come alive in those thirty seconds.”
What you bring to the audition that’s different from everyone else is significant, Britton adds. “But we’re not just looking to be different. We’re seeking to add another several layers to the character to really bring that character to life.”
Myles says that casting directors don’t always know what they want. “They send an audition that says to do this and this and this, and then six months later you hear that part that you auditioned for and it doesn’t sound anything like that,” he explains. “Casting directors think they know what they want until they hear something better.”
Perez also advises: “Remember the non-verbals,” referring to the extra non-dialogue sounds required of video game characters. “You have to figure out where to put those in because they might not tell you. But when you do it, it just enhances everything a thousand times.”
“Knowing how to have a good imaginary fight is key,” says Britton, who took a jiu jitsu class to help with her efforts. “It certainly won’t be the only thing that gets you the job, but they always want six different sounds of you throwing a punch and six different sounds of you getting punched.”
She continues: “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what it might sound like to get punched, but it does take a little bit of chutzpah to actually be brave enough to make that sound. It feels weird. Just really go for it and don’t be shy or hold back. That right there is a key skill. To be able to say, ‘Sure, yes, I can do it.’”
Having a friend or colleague to bounce ideas off of and get feedback from is also a good idea, and if that person can also keep you from tinkering too much, all the better. Britton recognizes, “Sometimes at the end of the day we just need somebody to say, ‘For goodness sakes, just send it. Stop thinking about it.’”
This industry is one where you just have to give your all and keep striving. Britton says to “send it and forget it.” when it comes to auditions, emails, etc. “Let it go and be what it is. And know that one of these days something is going to land.”
Level 4: Engineering
During the pandemic, working remotely has been a necessity for professionals in most industries, and that certainly goes for the field of voiceover, which has been thriving thanks to the tools and technology available to artists. But some performers were more prepared than others. “Because of the way we teach, our students were able to adapt much quicker than other people,” Carter boasts.
“We talk about making sure you’ve got a professional grade quality home studio,” he adds. “You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to do that. I teach people how to get started on a budget of less than $400, as far as the hardware goes.”
Perez was fortunate to find a perfectly good vocal booth on Craigslist that someone was getting rid of, cheap. “It’s made a huge difference,” she attests. “If you listen to the auditions I did before I had the vocal booth, you’ll hear the quality is vastly different. I started having more auditions landing the job once I had the booth.”
Having your own studio also opens up more prospects around the world if you’re able to connect digitally. “One time I worked with a sound designer in Sydney, Australia, and the video game company was in Vancouver, Canada, and I was in Atlanta,” Carter says. “The internet is an amazing thing. We’re able to do that now.”
Doing everything yourself, including the recording and engineering on top of the performing, can be a big challenge, however. “That is probably one of the toughest things to have to manage,” Perez admits.“If I’m recording something and I don’t have a third party [assisting], and I’m dealing with the director and looking at the keyboard… that’s difficult. I’m learning how to do it a little better, but I prefer having a third person if I’m doing a directed session.”
Figuring out how to do everything yourself is beneficial, even if it’s for a last resort and not preferred. “When your industry is built around technology, you have to evolve and continue to learn new technology. You gotta learn new skills,” Carter urges, noting that in the world of voiceover “there’s a huge opportunity for a new generation of tech-savvy people.”
Level 5: The Performance
Once you’ve booked your job, the real work begins, and that can go a number of different ways depending on how the client wishes to proceed and whether you can accommodate.
“Everybody’s going to work a little bit differently,” says Britton, “but as much as possible do your homework, look at the renderings or sketches. You probably booked the job because you thought about that to begin with. So go back and listen to what booked you the job in the first place. That’s your own reference. Make sure you’re in that same place and ready to deliver that performance.”
Working well with the director is going to make the session go smoothly and help you get more work with them in the future. “The number one most important trait to being a good voice talent is giving the director what they want when they want it,” Carter explains. “Being willing to listen to your director and doing the things that they ask you to do,” he adds, is of the utmost importance.
“It’s great to be super creative and just be able to flow with the character, with your ideas,” Britton says. “But at the end of the day, it’s also really important to be able to work with a team of people who are all collaborating together. This is where the training comes in handy. You learn how to take direction and you learn how to contribute.”