Black Female Voice Actor on How to Break into the Lucrative Voice-Over Business

'The voice-over platforms have expanded for people of color'

 

When you hear a favorite television or radio commercial, a trailer advertising a movie, a promo for a video game, or the narration for an audiobook, have you ever wondered, “Who is that voice? And how did they get that job?” Well, now you can find out. Voice actor Joan Baker, author of the Secrets of Voice-Over Success, will host the annual That’s Voiceover!, an all-day career expo on the voice-over business on Saturday, Nov. 4, at The Times Center in New York City.

 

 

Baker is one of the top female voice talents in the business. With an expansive body of work, Baker has voiced numerous projects, including Showtime’s Red Shoe Diaries; a documentary shown at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas that also features the voice of President Bill Clinton; and a series of TV promos for the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, that were later broadcast during the Olympic Games in 2005.

 

L-R: Rudi Gaskins and Joan Baker — Photo Credit: Courtesy SOVAS

 

 

Voice-Over Industry Long Dominated by White Males

 

Baker, along with Rudy Gaskins, her husband of nearly 20 years, is the proprietor of Push Creative Advertising. Baker and Gaskins are also the founders of the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences (SOVAS), a nonprofit organization established in 2005 that provides education, training, and job opportunities for career and aspiring voice actors. The SOVAS also produces That’s Voiceover! and the annual Voice Arts Awards, scheduled this year for Sunday, Nov. 5, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City.

Now in its tenth year and the only career expo of its kind, That’s Voiceover! is a behind-the-scenes look into a secret and exclusive society that for many years has been dominated by males—predominantly white males.

“The secret society [of the voice-over business] is due in part because it’s a career that happens behind-the-scenes,” says Baker. “It’s a career that’s hidden from the public eye. Everyone knows what it takes to become an actor, a singer, a dancer, a doctor, and a lawyer. There’s no educational institution dedicated to becoming a voice-over actor, so there’s not a lot of material or a lot of known facts on how to do this. When I wrote my book, Secrets of Voice-Over Success, one of the things that made it clear to me was that there is no one way to make it in the voice-over industry. You can put your stamp on how to do it.”

 

Opportunities for African Americans

 

In recent years, the door of opportunity has opened for African Americans and Latinos, says Baker. “Hiring diverse voices can sell a variety of products and brands, and the voice-over platforms have expanded for people of color. In advertising, everything is very strategic. In today’s market, if a company wants to capture an African American audience with their product, more than likely the company will hire someone who represents that audience. Regional broadcast campaigns are more accepted now; it used to be that even if you are black, you can’t have a regionalism in your voice. But things have changed, and the change has positively impacted African Americans, especially black females, who have become more valuable in the advertising world.”

That’s Voiceover! features 50-minute interactive seminars led by some of the top industry players, including agents, buyers, producers, casting directors, coaches, writers, and voice actors, who will highlight career options available in the business. The voice-over genres include commercials and advertising in television and radio, narration work with audio books and broadcast outlets, video games, cartoons, and animation. The seminars will also address the latest industry trends and topics such as union versus non-union work, commercial buy-outs, pay-to-play sites, the audition process, finding an agent, and much more.

There are two signature, vetted events at That’s Voiceover!: “Speed Dating” is designed to give talent an opportunity to meet one-on-one with a variety of buyers for intense 8-minute strategy sessions, while the “Audition Spotlight” competition, a partnership between the conference and WPIX-TV New York, provides the winner with a paid job, a talent agent, and prizes that include a Sennheiser MK8 microphone.

“All of the seminars are set up to explore the genres and what it takes within each genre to succeed and to take the next step,” says Baker. “The seminars are linear; you don’t go to one seminar and miss another one, and it’s all succinct. Each presenter is seasoned and has been in the business for a long time. We have millennials as well, and though they may not have been in the industry for a long time, they are knowledgeable and have a strong sense of how things work. Our objective is to prepare voice actors to a seasoned position, where he or she can get hired with regularity.”

Secrets of Voice-Over Success

 

The current conference was developed from earlier seminar programs Baker produced, but writing her book helped to form the current concept. “When I wrote Secrets of Voice-Over Success, I didn’t know it would lead to That’s Voiceover!,” she explains. “My book is a combination of [wisdom from] working and seasoned professionals in the industry. Many of them may not be known to the public, but they are legends in the voice-over world. I interviewed and brought these people together. There is still no other book that exists like this. It’s the type of book that you can read and get a visceral experience. The book resonates with each person differently, and it also teaches how to navigate and sustain a career.”

 

Joan Baker in group session with aspiring voice-over talent — Photo Credit: Courtesy of Push Creative Advertising

 

As an extension of That’s Voiceover! Career Expo and Secrets of Voice-Over Success, Baker pens a monthly column titled “VO Exchange” for Backstage magazine. She also offers a variety of coaching services including private and group sessions with broadcast companies, corporations, and educational and nonprofit organizations.