So, you want to be a voice actor? Watch a lot of cartoons, do you? Think they’ve got it pretty easy? Just walk into a studio, read a script into a mic, collect a paycheck and then watch your Facebook friend list quadruple every sixteen seconds?
Well, there are a few reasons why you people (probably living in Portland, Oregon, to hazard a guess) might want to reconsider. Let’s take a look at a few examples of why voice acting may not be all it’s cracked up to be…
6. Everyone Wants to be a Voice Actor
The modern day voice actor wannabe.
It’s been a long road to equality for the once lowly voice actor. At the dawn of the animated short, they were never credited for their work. Mel Blanc was one of the first, sure, but he had a clause in his contract assuring him solitary credit for all Looney Tunes shorts; snubbing all other actors. You probably thought he voiced Elmer Fudd, didn’t you? Well he didn’t. (And you’ve probably never even heard of Arthur Q. Bryant.)
Then came television and suddenly voice actors were being listed in each episode’s credits for their work! But while the names “William Hanna” and “Joseph Barbara” lingered on the screen for a good 5 seconds or more, it was the screen jam-packed with twenty names, listed in alphabetical order with no designation of characters played, that breezed by in the time it took you to blink. And if you voiced a one-off incidental in just a couple episodes? You didn’t even get that.
Not listed: The 10 other actors in this episode.
But things have changed! Voice actors now get lengthy part summaries in each episode’s end credits (and in the fancier shows, the stars even get their names at the beginning, ala What’s New, Scooby-Doo). The once anonymous job no actor in Hollywood would demean themselves to perform has now ushered in a full-blown celebrity lifestyle. The Internet has made humongous databases cataloging every voice actor’s performance possible, to say nothing of social networking putting faces to these mysterious heroes of the animation industry and even allowing fans to smother them in e-mail and praise. Then there’s the conventions. Oh good Lord, the conventions! Did you play incidental nobodies in a handful of episodes from a popular 80s robot cartoon? Then pack your bags, Morgan Lofting: You’re a guest of honor at BotCon!
Being a popular voice actor now-a-days means being a Hollywood celebrity, or at least, it means you get tons of fansites dedicated to your accomplishments as well as a boatload of creepy stalkers who now know what you look like and rest assured, they WILL find you.
And God help you if you’re pretty.
The point is this: More people today want to be voice actors than ever before because now the occupation has become fashionable. People who want the fame and the fandom but couldn’t make it on stage or screen suddenly realize they can get it just as easily by standing in a booth, talking to themselves.
There are more people now trying to “break into the voice acting industry” than ever before, because the “voice acting industry” is no longer exclusive to stand-up comedians and washed-up TV drama crowd fillers. So that means if you’re trying to “break into” the business, then you had better be ready for some fierce competition. Like any other acting gig, recognition is your best friend; casting directors and show creators will request you by name if they know your voice well-enough and think it’ll fit the character. But to get recognized, you’ve got to get a lot of jobs, first. And if you want those jobs, you’ve got to fight your way through a thousand other Thundercats and Ninja Turtles fans who have dreamed of voicing Cheetara and Michelangelo their entire lives and hey, their voice is kinda unique?
How hard can it be…?
5. You Can Never Get Sick and Your Voice Can Never Change
How sturdy is your throat?
No, you can put your hand down, Jenna Jameson. I wasn’t talking to you.
What I mean is, whenever you go to a concert and scream your lungs out in rock ‘n roll rage, do you spend the next two days nursing a sore throat, having lost the ability to speak for forty-eight hours?
If so, then you are not qualified to be a voice actor.
Do you get colds a lot? Do you have a pollen allergy that turns your sinuses into a gushing faucet of Ecto-Cooler every spring like clockwork?
If so, then you are not qualified to be a voice actor.
Your voice is your livelihood. If you’ve been cast to voice Mickey Mouse and suddenly you’ve got a sore throat because you spent all morning screaming because it just so happens you ALSO voice Vegeta… then guess what? The casting director may want to find somebody more suitable for the part. If your voice gets damaged either by illness or the stress of another role, then you’ve lost the ability to produce a single, precise voice and make it exactly the same every time you step into the recording booth: The job they pay you to do. You aren’t going to keep your job as Mickey Mouse for very long if you come in to record every week sounding like Clint Eastwood.
On a related note…
4. You Are Going to Fuck Yourself UP, Son
Pictured: Every day of the rest of your life.
Has it been your dream since tearing yourself out of the womb to voice a character on Dragonball Z? Well, if you remember your infancy THAT well, you’d better also remember how you were able to scream at the top of your lungs for seven hours straight, because you’re going to need to be able to do that. And preferably without pulverizing your esophagus into a gooey red mush, too.
The primary function of every voice actor’s occupation is to say the same shit over and over and over and over again. Or, depending on the script, to scream something over and over and over again. Until. You. Get. It. RIGHT.
If you’re dubbing a foreign piece of animation, then that means you sit alone in a booth watching a monitor, trying to match your dialogue to the lip sync. Too slow? Do it again. Too fast? Do it again. Whoops, you didn’t match your fifth lip flap with the character’s fifth lip flap. Do it again. And in the case of a LOT of stuff like, I dunno, ANIME, instead of speaking lines of dialogue in agonizing repetition, you’re going to be screaming bloody murder. Over and over and over until it matches.
You will absolutely shred your vocal chords.
While providing the grunts and snarls for King Kong in the 1976 remake, voice actor Peter Cullen bloodied the Hell out of his throat. And this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence in his profession, either. A bloody throat would later force him to completely change the vocal nature of the title villain from Predator. Originally hired to make grunts and snarls, rather than lose the job due to his injury, Cullen pulled the mic up close and proceeded to make a bunch of low clicking sounds (citing that the Predator’s face reminded him of the underside of a horseshoe crab he once saw dying on the beach, thus he imitated those sounds; Peter Cullen frightens us, sometimes.)
Except when he voices Optimus Prime. Then he makes us feel warm and safe.
Billy West, after voicing Popeye for a straight-to-video CG film, had to drink honey to soothe his ravaged throat. Maurice LaMarche, the current voice of Yosemite Sam, once described voicing the aforementioned cowboy as being akin to “gargling broken glass.”
And beyond just the damage screaming and growling will do to your throat, you’d better have a lot of energy. Tony Anselmo was an animator at Walt Disney, not an actor, before he was handpicked by Clarence Nash-himself to be the new voice of Donald Duck. At his first recording session, Anselmo had to stop and lay down on the floor, having nearly passed out because the job required so much energy and he just wasn’t ready for it.
But are you ready for THIS…?
3. Movie Stars Will Steal Your Job
Thanks to assholes like Dreamworks, most feature length animated films that hit theaters these days are headlined with famous movie stars or pop culture idols in the starring roles, not professionals who make their living as voice actors. Why is this? Well, think about it.
A producer can either put “starring Will Smith!” on the cover of the movie poster and DVD, or they can put “starring the guy who voiced the monkey on Captain Planet” there. Which do you think is going to draw in more movie goers?
And the producers STILL haven’t learned their lesson.
Whether these movie stars have distinctive voices, whether they have any clue of the technique and discipline required to voice act, whether their voice even so much as fits the look and personality of the animated character is completely immaterial. Having a well-known Hollywood icon in the film, even if they weren’t the initial attraction, will boost sales ever so slightly more. And producers have a way of going for the “boost sales ever so slightly more” option.
Tara Strong may be awesome, but her name won’t instantly sell as many tickets as Selena Gomez’s.
And we’re not even getting to the most indignant part of the job…
2. You Can Always Be Replaced
You want to know one of the most amazing things about voice actors? At the drop of a hat, they can sound just like YOU.
I know, right? It’s like they’re paid to do that for a living or something!
He sounds more like Orson Welles than Orson Welles ever did.
What I’m getting at is that your coworkers are all the best impressionists in the business and if you throw a diva tantrum and walk off the show, defiantly screeching, “Just TRY and replace me!” …They will have someone sitting in your seat in half an hour and the kids at home will be none the wiser.
Happens all the time.
When Viacom took Ren & Stimpy away from Spumco, John K., the original voice of Ren, was replaced by Billy West… And I’ll be damned if I noticed when I was 7. And even when I DID notice, I didn’t care. When Charlie Adler quit Tiny Toon Adventures and was replaced by John Kassir, little 8 year-old Mark could tell Buster Bunny sounded weird but little 8 year-old Mark couldn’t have given a damn. He had Lego stuff to build!
Part of the issue is that the business of voice acting deals with a LOT of “legacy characters” and the studios need to hire individuals who can sound just like Mel Blanc or Daws Butler. Then, when they die, they need to pick the next voice actor right off the assembly line and slot them into place. And if they do it right, Yogi Bear will sound the same in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s and ‘10s no matter HOW many different actors have played him!
Dan Aykroyd need not apply.
And unless you work on The Simpsons, never, EVER ask for a raise.
Sometimes, producers just don’t like you. After 78 consecutive episodes, the producers of The Real Ghostbusters decided they just didn’t like how Peter Venkman and Janine Melnitz sounded. So Lorenzo Music and Laura Summer were let go and replaced by Dave Coulier and Kath Soucie. They didn’t sound anything like the previous voices and they weren’t supposed to; they were complete departures in performance. And the show went on for another 62 episodes.
No matter how good you think you are, you can ALWAYS be replaced.
Well, maybe not this guy.
But maybe being replaced isn’t so bad…
1. Oh, the Shit You Will Have to Say
Every screen actor has to do some embarrassing crap from time to time, and they know it. Do you think ANYONE involved in films like Beverly Hills Chihuaha or Spy Kids 4 is unaware that they are speaking the most insipid dialogue of all time and utterly humiliating themselves before the entire planet? But for movie stars, shit like The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl or Underdog are only brief missteps in their careers and they can go right back to doing “legitimate” cinema.
Except for you, Lorenzo Lamas.
But for voice actors? That shit is every single day of their fucking life. Until they die.
Try to think of some of the worst animated garbage you ever watched as a child. Care Bears? Pound Puppies? Captain Planet? The Get-a-long Gang? And where do you think the voices for all those stupid, annoying, hatred-inducing characters came from? From some poor, pitiable bunch of saps trapped in a recording booth for 4 hours reciting speeches about how friendship and love can be strengthened through the power of recycling and proper dental hygiene, over and over and over again.
And then you’ll have to sing songs about that crap. You’ll have to sing songs about what it means to be a unicorn in man’s world trying to make them understand the beauty of rainbows and sunshine and you’ll have to sound like you MEAN IT. Or you do it again. And again. And AGAIN.
I can’t take it anymore! If I have to sing this song about cuddling one more time SOMEBODY DIES!!!
Not all voice acting is awesome stuff like Transformers or G.I. Joe or Batman. Sure, you may get to be in one of those shows, but that show alone won’t pay the bills. You’re going to be doing three or four separate recording sessions a day, five days a week and just what other cartoons are you going to be in? Johnny Test? Strawberry Shortcake? Any number of God awful anime where elementary schoolers fight each other with playing cards?
THAT is what most of your career is going to consist of. For every defining role in a truly remarkable and enduring animated film or television series, you are going to be voicing annoying characters in throwaway programs not meant to be recollected after a year and when you get home to see your kids at 11 o’clock at night, you are going to have to LIE to them, because they must never know that you coughed up a pool of blood after singing a song about bubblegum leprechauns in Taffy Land for eight hours straight.
…But if you think you can handle all of THAT, then maybe voice acting really is up your alley. Good luck, Godspeed and if you see Michael Bell, tell him some dude on the internet says “Hi”.