More often than not, people’s response to the discovery of my job as a voice over artist is a list of curious questions. While I think most people are generally quite interested in finding out a bit more about a creative career that has taken them by surprise, piquing their interest - there is also a handful whose questions are borne out of an interest / dream / active pursuit to get started in the industry themselves. One of the most common questions I’ve been asked is how I got into it myself. So here is that story - complete with the pitfalls and errors as well as advice I’d give myself, the Katie of 2012!
At the beginning of 2012, I landed in South Korea with the intention of staying
a year and teaching English at an English academy. To cut this part of the story short - 5 eventful months into the adventure, I developed kidney stones and upon leaving the hospital, returned home to an email that I had been fired and consequently evicted from my house since that was provided as part of the package. The following evening, I met up with a friend in a bar in Seoul to express my woes of illegal firing, zero savings, visa status etc. Mid-rant, while pausing for breath, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find a smiley young man who had been sat a couple of seats down the bar from my friend and I. “I like your voice” he said. Still slightly flustered from a sense of mounting fury that had been bubbling up during my outpour at the injustice of it all, I was taken slightly off guard by the interrupting compliment. I remember thanking him and being about to return my attentions to my
despair. But before I could, he handed me his
business card with ‘Studio Manager’ written beneath his name. He explained that he managed a recording studio just around the corner that specialised in voice over production and that I should pop by to record a demo. And so that’s what I did the next day!
As it happened, the studio owner, Tony, a professional Canadian voice over artist who had been in the industry for about 20 years at that point, was also in the studio that day. After a couple read throughs of the education material samples, Tony, who had been listening in, came into the booth and gave me some pointers such as basic mic technique and instructions on the overall intonation I ought to give to the copy. Once a couple of demos had been recorded and I emerged from the booth, feeling a mixture of elation and nerves, I waited for the reaction - expecting either a clap on the back for being great or the other extreme; a slightly disappointed withering that they were expecting more. Instead, the reaction I got was what I now realise was the best I could have hoped for. Tony told me that I had a voice with potential - and that with practise and coaching, I could do well.
The first couple of jobs I got to voice over were for English educational material and came through his studio. During those recordings, he would coach and advise me on areas I could improve on. Before long, I was meeting other voice over artists based in Seoul and getting added to agencies talent books. Being one of the few British female voice over artists there, I was in reasonably high demand! I ended up staying in Seoul for a further 3 years, voicing hundreds of projects during my time there.
The first thing that I would like to tell 2012 Katie is to be more aware of exactly what Tony was really doing for me. That kindness and guidance from someone so established and professional was such a gift. While I was grateful for his time and advice, I don’t think I fully appreciated the value of what he was saying and how well he was setting me up on the beginning of this path into the world of voice over artistry.
A few months later, I remember he asked if I had considered doing character voices. Around the house and among friends, I was quite happy to joke around and play characters but doing it on the spot, in front of someone who I respected and frankly, was quite intimidated by (through no fault of his but my own insecurities), I felt daft even trying. He suggested I played around with some character voices at home and reported back if I fancied recording some demos. Ridiculously, I didn’t take him up on the suggestion. It wasn’t until years later that I did eventually start playing with character voices, ultimately discovering that they are my favourite thing to do! If I could, I would tell my former self to take the bull by the horns, have a bit more fun with my new found instrument and let my defenses down. If the response was criticism - take it constructively, if the character wasn’t working - change it or let it go. Just don’t be scared to try it.
By the time I decided to leave South Korea 3 years later, I still wasn’t taking the job as seriously as a career. When I eventually moved to London a couple of years later and realised that working as a voice over artist was something that I loved and was keen to professionally pursue, I came to realise one of the biggest errors I had made. I had never kept track of the massive portfolio of work I had amassed during those years. When I reached out to studios and agents in London, stating that I was an experienced voice over artist, they wanted to see credits, samples and a CV of projects and previous clients. While I was able to cobble together a vague list
of some of the bigger projects I’d worked on and
the agencies in Seoul were able to get hold of a
handful of old project info and links to recordings
for me, I wish I had been more on the ball at the time!
Several more years have passed since then and I find myself in the fortunate position of having a voice over career. It is a job that I take pride in and work hard at. A pivotal moment came not that long ago when I realised that learning and development are an ongoing process for any career, voice over work being no exception. Practise - keeping abreast of market trends and industry standards - networking - marketing are all necessities with their own demands that need a level of mastery for success in the industry.
So in a nutshell, if I could talk to 2012 Katie, being the more prepared person I am now, I would come with a list as long as my arm! Key nuggets would include:
Be braver, be sillier and leave those insecurities outside the studio
Practise - although you’ve always had a voice, how you present it can improve beyond measure!
For goodness sake, be more organised
Invest in yourself - training, professional voice reels etc. It’s worth it.
Over the years, there has been a lot of learning, through financial dips and creative highs, and I am continuing to work on developing myself and honing my craft. In fact, that advice I would give Katie of 2012 is still as relevant to me now as it would have been back then. Instead, it is advice that I now know, when put into practise leads to improvements before circling back to become a list of reminders for how to continue.