Tom Cassidy is a theatre trained actor currently in his 4th year of voice acting/narrating. Now closing in on 100 audiobooks, 2 audio dramas and a music podcast, Tom is a seasoned professional. Alongside voice acting, Tom has taken on a variety of roles including George in the play Shampoo, as well as featuring in the award-winning short film Girl Alone in 2019.
He has very kindly taken the time to provide us with all there is to know about voice acting…
Hi Tom, How does one get into voice acting?
Before things really kicked off, I was running a copywriting business. I had an Editors Keys studio mic which I’d used for odd local radio adverts and Fiverr gigs to make myself some extra cash on the side (recording Beatles impersonations was a very popular gig). Then completely by chance I was watching a Youtube vid on how to self-publish a book. Now self publishing a book wasn’t something I was gearing up to do, I was just subscribed to this guys channel and thought it would be an interesting listen. A few minutes into the video he said something that completely stopped me in my tracks and gave me one of life’s greatest Aha!/Eureka! moments. He said that if you’re publishing a book, you should list it on ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange). ACX is a place where publishers go to audition narrators to produce audiobook versions of their work to sell on Amazon/Audible/iTunes. I stopped the video there and then, signed up and fired off a bunch of auditions that very night. In the morning, I was delighted to wake up to 4 offers! To anyone interested in starting out, and itching to sign up to ACX, permit me to steer you away from some of the bumps I encountered, to ensure you have a smoother start than I did. Those first 4 books – sold atrociously. So when you’re looking at the auditions on the ACX marketplace, be sure to check the sales ranking and reviews of the kindle/print versions of those books before auditioning. I didn’t do that, I was too eager to get started and spent hours recording books that probably made me less than a fiver. Also, in typical male fashion I didn’t bother reading the submission guidelines, so the work I submitted for 3 of those books didn’t meet Audibles submission standards (one of them fluked its way through somehow). However, once I’d learned how to get the audio files to Audible standards (thanks to a video by YouTuber Jerry Banfield “Formatting Audio Perfectly for Audio Book Publishing on Audible with ACX and Adobe Audacity!”), and I learned to be more discerning about what I auditioned for, things ran so smoothly from there, that a little over a year later I was able to jack in the copywriting and make narrating/voice acting a full time gig!
What does the job entail?
Surprisingly, very little. My setup in the beginning was cheap, I had an Editors Keys SL300, and for sound insulation I made a vocal booth out of a leg cushion and some cheap sponge from Dunelm. This absolute joke of a setup still did the trick, and I produced around 60 audiobooks with it, some of which are still bringing in nice royalties to this day. Very often people procrastinate when getting into this because they think they have to have the perfect setup, the most expensive kit or they think they’re not good enough. Firstly, if cost is an issue there are some great voice actors out there using the Blue Yeti. The Blue Yeti is a cheap but superb microphone which actors have used to blag their way into leading roles in big audio productions alongside other people using mics 5, and sometimes 10 times the cost! Secondly, you ARE good enough, and if you’re not good enough, get better by taking Nancy Cartwright’s voice acting course on Masterclass (thanks Amy!), or better still, start anyway and get better on the job! Obviously when you start making some nice coin you should put some of that back into your business by upgrading your space and equipment – to make your work sound better, to give yourself a more beautiful work environment and as a matter of pride. Everyone’s working with a different space, so when the time comes to upgrade it you can either invest in a whisper room, or get creative, measure up your space and do a DIY job with custom ordered acoustic foam – hue light bars are a must!
Being a va/narrator with a home studio, your working hours are flexible and you can record at any time of the day you choose. For me though, I begin the 12 step commute to my studio at 4am as soon as I’ve woken up. There’s something about the way your voice sounds first thing in the morning, your vocal cords are well rested, and your voice has a real clarity, power and freshness to it. So I do a brief warmup, drink some water and start narrating. Usually I’m juggling around 3 projects at a time, so I’ll tackle 2 hours of each and then finish off by cleaning and mastering the recordings. Then by lunchtime the working day is done!
How can a voice actor earn money?
There are plenty of ways to do this. You can sign up to voquent.com, set up a profile and get work from there, you can do fiverr gigs, or network with voice acting communities on social media. If you want to produce some racier content, you can produce for a site called Vanilla Audio (but word of advice, don’t use your real name). I make most of my money through ACX/Audible, so that’s what we’ll focus on here. On ACX there are 2 ways to make money. The first way, is by being paid upfront on a PFH rate (per finished hour). The producer or author will pay you directly when you’ve submitted the finished project. As an example, say the rate for a project is $200 pfh and you submit 4 hours and 20 minutes of audio, your payment for the project would come to around $866.66. Rates for projects vary from $50pfh all the way up to $1000pfh. The second way is through a royalty share agreement. You agree to produce the audiobook for the author, no money changes hands, but when the audiobook goes on sale both you and the author get a share of the royalties from sales. There are drawbacks to working on a royalty share basis. The most obvious one is that you may end up putting hours into a project that doesn’t sell. I’ve done that myself a number of times, and yes it is frustrating. All that being said though, I much prefer royalty titles. Out of the 70+ titles I’ve done on a royalty share basis, only a handful of those were out and out flops, most of them trickle in a nice, consistent income and some of them have been real sales juggernauts which keep building momentum and never seem to slow down. What I love about royalty titles is that the more you put out, the more royalties come in, work you’ve already done continues to pay you while you’re asleep and when you’re out and about. So if your output is consistent, you are in effect getting a pay rise every single month (you’d have to do ALOT of sucking up to achieve that in any other job). Regarding which one is better for you, that all depends on your current circumstances. If you’re in a tight spot financially – which many people are sadly thanks to lockdown – then working on a pfh basis would be the best option till you get yourself straight, then perhaps you can slowly start transitioning to royalty projects. However, if you’re somewhat financially stable or you’re currently working, then I would suggest going straight for royalty share work and building up your audiobook real estate portfolio straight away! Making money of course isn’t everything, so I wouldn’t recommend just auditioning for a title because it has a super high ranking on Amazon or it’s offering some serious coin. Are you interested in the material? And can you sustain your enthusiasm for it for 20, 40, 60 hours of recording/editing? If it’s something that doesn’t excite you – like creative artisan basket weaving for example – stay away! Leave it for someone else who digs that kind of thing. Keep some variety in it for yourself, tell great stories, learn new information about topics you’re curious about and you’ll create a body of work to be proud of. Has the pandemic challenged your industry in any way? In short. Lockdown has been very good to us. Aside from the obvious methods of combatting boredom like Netflix and Disney+ we’ve had a huge surge of audiobook listeners – and a huge surge of new narrators. Before lockdown, I was something of a lone wolf. I’d produce my audiobooks alone, playing every character and never interacting with others in the business. Then when lockdown hit, a few actors/singers came to me saying they wanted to learn how to get into the audiobook game. One of the people I helped out was a girl who I later learned was a part of a company of voice actors, she had told their producer/writer about me which led to me coming on board as the 2nd lead in a 90+ episode spy drama (coming soon).
I’ve also started narrating pieces for a music podcast, so the work I’m doing now is more varied and interesting than it’s ever been. It’s great to see how actors/musicians have adapted to the lockdowns, some have used this time to really work on their craft, some have launched podcasts, others have started up magazines (nice one, Amy!). All that being said, while the lockdowns have been great for me personally, I still hate them and what they’ve done to the arts and society as a whole. Give us our venues back!!
What skills do you need for voice acting?
You need a lot of the same skills you need to be a stage or screen actor. The ability to understand a character and their motivations, and even the stuff the listeners can’t see like the physicality of your characters is important because it all comes across in the line delivery. That being said, if you don’t want to do audio dramas or fiction audiobooks, the only thing you really need is a nice, engaging voice. If a stranger can stand to have at least a 5 minute conversation with you, then your voice is probably good enough to give it a go!
Are there any obstacles that come with the profession?
The odd technical thing here and there, especially when starting out, and sometimes you miss being face to face with other actors. Other than that there’s very little to complain about, no commute, no boss giving you grief, and if you want you’re free to go to work in your dressing gown. We’ve got it easy really!
Can you give us some insight into how to create an acting/voice acting showreel?
Ah, now this is where I get lazy and say “let someone else do it”. Send off your best bits of work to someone and let them work their magic. For voice reels, my dear friend Mute Zero can sort you out, for acting reels our mutual friend Andrew Wong is a good guy to go to.
To the performers reading this, in these uncertain times voice acting is a great way to put your talents to use, and if you make a good go of it you can turn it into a great little business with limitless potential for growth that will take good care of you. Imagine that feeling when all this is over, when you’re called up for auditions and the only person you need permission for time off is yourself.
Thanks for having me, Making Miss Mogul
Acoustic foam https://www.easyfoam.co.uk/