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Seven practical steps to becoming a voice actor in games

This article is part of our Get into Games special, offering students insight on life in the games industry and advice on how to get into the business. You can also find aselection of the best Academy guides for job-seekers here

As a huge global business rivalling the film and music industries, there is a lot that goes into the making of a game, and as we’ve seen more games focus on being story-driven and having an emotional connection with players, quality music, writing, and acting has become even more important.

Voice actor and coach JD Kelly believes that the opportunities are abundant and varied in that field, even if you might not think a certain game’s main focus is on voice acting.

“You’ve got games like Half-Life where the lead character has no voice, but you need the other voice actors to create the world around them so you can put yourself in that silent protagonist’s shoes,” he explained during an EGX 2023 panel dedicated to voice acting in the video games industry. “Then you’ve got named characters that you sympathise and empathise with, like in The Last of Us; characters where you put yourself in some of their shoes like in Saints Row, and where you get to choose a voice, or Baldur’s Gate 3, which has either a custom character’s voice, or you’ve got the other companions where you can play as those characters, and they have their own backstories so the voice actor needs to happen in multiple different ways.”

The possibilities extend to voices for smaller non-playable character roles, actors who specialise in creature voices, or even just as a narrator or announcer for a trailer or an awards show. And if you worry you only have one kind of voice, like a nasal voice, there’s going to be roles for those parts too.

But while voice acting can be very fun work that Kelly described as “the best feeling in the world,” and the ability to work remotely in your own home studio makes it an accessible profession to get into, there’s also more to it than just getting a microphone and becoming a character. Here’s seven practical considerations he gave for those looking to get into voice acting as a profession so that you not only have the best conditions to do your best work, but that you can continue doing so in the long term.

1. Take care of your health

Voice acting in games can be demanding as some roles will require a lot of screaming and shouting. Safety and health concerns about vocal stress was one of the key reasons behind the 2016-2017 SAG-AFTRA voice actor strike.

“If you don’t stand up for yourself, you can injure your voice just like you can pull a muscle or break an arm,” said Kelly. “If you are screaming for hours and hours on end, if it starts to hurt, you need to stop, you need to take a break, you need to look after it.”

He also compared an actor’s voice to their instrument, which needs both care during a session and aftercare, which should include regular hydration. Some actors also recommend room temperature or warm water, as cold water can restrict your vocal chords while hot water can irritate them. Giving yourself rest days to recover in between sessions is also important, even if as a jobbing voice actor it might be hard to resist taking on as many jobs as possible.

Kelly however added that mental health is also just as important for voice actors. After all, a job where you’re essentially in a padded room talking to yourself can be very isolating.

“It helps to have a support system where people will lift you up, believe in you, and encourage you on a journey where you are quite often dealing with unpacking your own emotions and the emotions of other characters,” he explained.

2. Get the right microphone and audio software

Voice acting is about getting in front of a microphone, but which microphone exactly? If you want to work in AAA games then it’s essential to have an XLR microphone, which records analogue sound, but this is also the more costly option, also requiring an audio interface like a recording mixer via an XLR cable. Kelly nonetheless didn’t rule out USB microphones, especially if you’re starting out.

“Companies like Road and Sure have created really good USB microphones recently, with really competitive circuits,” he explained. “You can work really effectively in the indie industry, in corporate commercial work, sometimes TV work. It’s a great place to start. If you’re really working on a budget you can get a good USB microphone for about £100/200.”

As a voice actor, you also need to be able to hear and play back your own voice so you become more aware of how it sounds, more importantly how it sounds to the casting director or voice director, so that you can better control it. For that, you will require software to process the digital audio called a digital audio workspace (DAW). Kelly said that he uses Adobe Audition which is part of the Adobe Suite. This is the expensive option, but there are plenty of other affordable or even free options too such as Audacity or GarageBand on Mac.

“There are also lots of things like YouTube videos on how to use them effectively in order to get educated on as well,” Kelly added. “A lot of microphones are also bundled with their own proprietary DAW. So if you’re looking to upgrade your tech or buy tech to get started, sometimes it’s worth looking at that.”

3. Soundproof your room

A good mic however won’t matter if you’re trying to record in a very reflective room, so it’s essential to ensure the room is properly soundproofed.

For this, Kelly recommended using the website Instructables, where you can find many affordable DIY tips to create your own home-made studio, whether it’s in your room or so that you’re just isolated a part of it, like a cupboard, or just putting railings up that you can hang blankets over.

“Obviously once you get to the point where you’re earning money, you can look at investing money into proper sound panels or having a custom booth, but it’s a lot of money to start out with,” he added. “When I first started, I had a three-panel drying rack for towels and I put duvets over that behind me in order to create a little barrier, then I got pillows around the microphone, and it worked.

“Screen actor Liev Schreiber has done a whole bunch of voice acting work in hotel rooms whilst he’s been doing film sets. So he’d work on the film set during the day, then go back to the hotel room and he’s got this little pillow fort doing voice acting projects. If somebody up the level of Hollywood and TV doing things like that is effective, then it can be for us too.”

4. Practise, practise, practise

Getting voice acting jobs may not be frequent but even if you’re not auditioning, you should be practising getting in front of the microphone every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

“It just gets you used to doing that, and takes away a mental barrier,” Kelly explained. “When it comes to doing the work, instead of going, ‘I’m scared and I don’t know if I can do this,’ you’re going: ‘I’ve done this every day, this is normal’.”

Practising daily also means it becomes a habit, which means you have a constant mic and recording set up rather than one that you might otherwise only set up when you have work. Having a studio space that is normalised, one that you aren’t having to put up and down each time again removes another mental barrier.

Kelly also gave examples of exercises voice actors can do, some of which are tongue twisters. An important one he mentioned was to try to put emphasis on specific words, such as the sentence, “I never said she stole my money.”

I never said she stole my money – implying that maybe someone else said it.

I never said she stole my money – maybe the money was given to her.

I never said she stole my money – maybe it was in an email.

“You can put emphasis on each word and it completely changes what the sentence means,” he explained. “And that’s the power of when you’re looking into scripts. How do I interpret the script? How do I put the right emphasis in the right places in order to get the message across in order to get the crux of what the character wants to get in that very moment?”

5. Keep learning with outside help

While it’s important to practise with your voice, Kelly also warned that you will inevitably reach your own limits. There’s only so much you can teach yourself.

“You need outside influence or more knowledge, whether that be through coaching, classes, peer work, anything like that,” he said. “Any place you can get knowledge from, get that knowledge every single time you get the chance to. Things like workout groups from local theatre groups or other peers in a safe atmosphere where you can make mistakes, where you can try out voices, where you can have a play with different characters and try and grow as an actor.”

More importantly, while the appeal of voice acting can be escaping from the world and coming up with voices with your own imagination, Kelly said it’s important for voice actors to get out and experience the world.

“If you’re a voice actor, or actor in general, who has not gone out and experienced much of life, then what do you have to draw on in order to give over those emotional experiences?” he said. “The more you experience life, the more you can empathise with other people, the more that you can put yourself in those characters’ shoes, the more empathy and knowledge you can get about general life and people in walks of life.”

6. Advertise yourself

While the reason for becoming a voice actor is to be a character in front of the microphone, in reality that is just a small part of the job. Most voice actors will simply be auditioning to try and get a job in the first place, but even then voice actors need to be thinking of themselves as business owners.

“You’ve got to advertise, you’ve got to put yourself out there, you’ve got to do things like this, do talks, go to conventions,” Kelly said. “When I’m not actually talking on the stage, I’ll be rubbing elbows with indie developers and giving out business cards to see if I can get more work, I’ll be talking to other voice actors, I’ll be talking to industry folks and hanging out with them.”

It’s also important to establish an online presence as well as in person, whether that’s with a good website with showreels or making contacts on social media, to create a digital shopfront for your services.

“If you don’t do that, if you don’t put yourself out there, how are they going to know you’re a good actor? How are they going to know what your capabilities are? How are they going to know what you can do?”

7. Find voice work

While it’s important to advertise yourself, don’t expect game developers and companies to come to you unless you’re already established. You’ll most likely be seeking out work, and the best way to do this is through talent websites.

Kelly recommended Mandy, Backstage and StarNow, which he referred to as mid-range as their membership fees are more affordable than the big talent sites.

“For about £100 per year, you can look for corporate gigs, some game gigs, and animation gigs,” he said.

For those starting out however, he also recommended a free site called CastingCall, which sometimes has paid indie roles, though the kind of voice work will often be fan projects or fan dubs, and you’ll have to do a lot of sifting. However, it’s a great learning resource as well.

“Your auditions can be uploaded there, visible and listenable to everybody, so you can listen to other people’s attempts, get an insight into what other actors are doing, think what’s good, poor quality, what’s too quiet, too loud, different takes on a character,” Kelly explained.

And while this may be about getting a career in voice acting in games, be prepared to take on any work that comes, including commercial and corporate work.

“Maybe you’re thinking you don’t want to do commercial work, but that kind of job can keep you in the industry during dry periods between hires. If it gives you money to continue to put into your work in order to do video games, it’s worth doing!”

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