My Life as a Professional Voiceover Artist (And How You Can Get Started Too)!

by Joe Parisi, Voiceover Artist, & Break Diver (@joeparisi)parisi3

VOICEOVER CREDENTIALS: Joe Parisi’s voice has appeared in radio commercials for McDonald’s, Del Taco, Nest, Baymont Inn, and the list goes on and on.  He is also the host of the Odd Podcast, and recently interviewed Break Diving founder Monroe Mann.  More info:

My name is Joe Parisi and since 2000, I have been working in various capacities as a professional voice over talent.  I’ll be upfront with you right out of the gates, I don’t do this full time but it has become a great supplemental income for my family and me.  When people first learn that you are involved in this profession, one of two questions commonly follows.  The first and most common is “What would I have heard you on?” and the second is “How did you get into that?”

The answer to the first question is always fun to answer.  My voice has appeared on tv and radio commercials for McDonalds, Del Taco, Nest, Baymont Inn, several tech companies and dozens of auto dealerships to start.  What surprises some people though is that it is very possible for a voice over artist to be successful without voicing projects that are broadcast.  I’ve voiced hundreds of “explainer videos” that end up on a company website somewhere, explaining the ins and outs of the company’s products and services, but it’s not widely heard by the public.  Each month I also record a number of on-hold telephone messages for companies like hospitals and manufacturing firms.  I voice corporate training videos, automated trade show displays, video game characters, real estate videos, you name it!  However, only about 10% of what my voice is used for ends up on television or radio.

With online video marketing growing by leaps and bounds, there is no shortage of work in the voice over industry.  However, the incredible technological advances we’ve seen in audio recording equipment have made it easier than ever for anyone with a few hundred dollars and a dream to “enter the business”.

I started out in the industry like a lot of people do, originally working in radio.  I majored in radio and television broadcasting in college, earning my A.A. from St. Louis Community College and then my B.A. in Media Communications from Webster University.  I landed my first internship at a radio station at age 18 and before I turned 19 I had gotten myself a weekly overnight radio show in my hometown of St. Louis, MO.  For nearly 10 years I bounced around the St. Louis airwaves, learning everything I could and working my way up the ladder.

In 2006 I achieved my dream of becoming a full time radio dj in my hometown of St. Louis.  I hosted a 7pm to Midnight shift and got to voice several commercials each week.  Then to the surprise of many people who knew me, I walked away.

I had entered radio in 2000 just as things in the industry started to drastically decline.  People were constantly being let go and rarely were they replaced.  Duties would simply be divided out amongst those who were still employed.  I got burnt out with the late nights and weekends.   I was no longer fulfilled.  By 2006 it simply wasn’t fun for me anymore, so I made what was a pretty heartbreaking decision and left what had been my dream job for a job completely outside of the industry.

Over the next 6 years or so I would occasionally get called by an old contact to do a voice over job.  This would happen maybe 2 or 3 times per year.  I didn’t pursue it, but always loved when those calls would come in.

In 2012 a business consultant I was working with asked me if I could voice some introductions for this industry awards banquet he was hosting.  He had about 10 short scripts that he needed recorded.   He was going to pay me $200 and he needed me to record these on my own somehow.  Up until this point, I would typically get sent to a studio when I’d get called to do a voice over job.  This time they needed me to handle that and the budget was $200.  Without hesitation, I said yes.

I went to a local music store and found the best USB mic I could for under $200.  I had a program called “Garageband” at home on my Mac.  As long as the room I was going to record in was quiet enough I could now do this job AND now had the equipment to do more jobs like it.  The microphone I purchased was called a “Blue Yeti” and it was great for someone in my position.  It just plugged right into the computer and was off and running.  No additional equipment needed!

The room I was recording in was far from ideal though.  It was our home office–a spare bedroom with laminate floors, a hollow door and a window that faced a busy street.  Long story short: the room had bad echo and anytime a car drove past outside, the sound was picked up on the mic.  I completed that job and began actively looking for more.  I also launched a podcast as a way to sort of get back into doing something I knew I truly l loved: putting together broadcasts.

For the next few years I did the best I could with this less than ideal setup, hoping to one day make some upgrades.  I made small improvements as best I could on basically no budget.  When I had to record I would lay blankets all over the floors and even drape one over both my head and the microphone in an attempt to cut down on the room’s echo.  Yes, it helped but this was still not a long-term solution.

I eventually pieced together a decent demo and began to shop it around to various commercial talent agents.  In the winter of 2015 I was picked up by a talent agent in St. Louis.  Now I was suddenly getting a somewhat steady stream of auditions sent my way!  This was a big step for me but also a big change.  I was pretty used to just getting called to do jobs.  Like I mentioned earlier, a few times every year I would just get called by past clients and it was a done deal.  Well, now I was getting notified to audition with no guarantees of anything.   Once you get aligned with an agent, that’s typically how it works.  They get info on jobs that are floating around, they have their roster of applicable talent audition and if the hiring agency decides they want you, THEN you’ll get called to come in and do the job.

I had to learn real quickly not to take rejection personally!  I was auditioning for things constantly and was probably going up against 50 or more other guys each time.  Only 1 person is going to book the job and as you can imagine, some of these people are REALLY good and book jobs quite often.  Others book maybe 1 out of 50 or 1 out of 100 auditions.  Some book more, some book less.  It’s a numbers game for sure, just like film acting or any other job in the performance/entertainment arena.  Oh, and you never ever get an official “no” or an explanation of why you didn’t get picked.  If you audition and are not chosen, typically you just never hear anything.

I describe it to people like baseball.  You have to be very, very good to play professional baseball and compete at that level on a daily basis.  Just because your dad says you are good at baseball does not mean you get a spot playing for the New York Yankees.  You have to prove yourself time and time again.  You have to work at it for years.  You have to impress the right people at the right time and get the right people to take a chance on you.   If they take a chance on you, you have to then continue to deliver if you want to stay.  The competition is fierce.  This is what the voice over world can be like once you are competing for large or national jobs.  You’re competing against the best.  Here in St. Louis, I am competing against everyone in New York and Los Angeles.

I’ve had many instances where a commercial will come on television and I’ll recognize it as a script I auditioned for.  The person I hear is usually someone that is very good and I understand why they were chosen.  Sometimes I’ll notice that it’s a celebrity voice, like Kiefer Sutherland, Jon Hamm or George Clooney.  It’s a big reality check: these guys are your competition.  These guys are your competition for those big national tv and radio jobs that are going to pay even just a few thousand dollars.  Knowing this though makes it that much sweeter when you do land one!

The competition is much less for the explainer video, where you’ll make $50 – $200 to voice the “on hold message” for the dentist across town, so when I have the time, I go after a lot of these smaller jobs to stay in the game, make a few bucks and keep improving my skills.  Plus, going a long time without booking anything can get incredibly depressing.  You start doubting yourself, your equipment, everything!

So I’m trucking along in my voice over journey, booking some smaller stuff here and there, the occasional radio or tv job and one day, I get a call that kicks me into a new gear.  A lady who I’d done some jobs for asked me to audition for a commercial she was producing.  It was a tech company commercial.  I recorded my audition and a few days later she called me.  She said “You got the job but your recording quality isn’t good enough”.   I was thrown off by this and it definitely stung!  I was actually getting called out for having a “makeshift” studio set up.   How did they know just by listening to my mp3 audition file?

Well, apparently my recording was up against several others and compared to them, mine had noticeable echo and background noise compared to the others.  Remember, I was still recording in my home office with blankets over my head.  [Editor’s Note: HAHAHAHA!]  They took one listen and they knew my studio set up was not professional quality.  They wanted my voice, but they also wanted it recorded somewhere truly professional.

They gave me the job but a big portion of what I was to be paid was now going to the professional studio rental.  Realistically, this cost me about $500 on this particular job.  But it forced me to strive for better.

I did the job, made about half of what I could have made, and knew it was time for a change.  The set up I had was fine for a beginner, but if I wanted to get out of that “beginner” category I needed an upgrade.

My wife and I planned it out.  The next year we moved into a different house (which we were planning on doing anyway) and we made sure the house had a nice large basement.  The first thing we did when we moved in was hire a contractor to come in and build a proper studio.

We built a 8’x10’ room in a back corner of the basement.  Inside each wall and ceiling is a product called Safe N’ Sound which is an insulation made specifically to help stop outside sounds from coming in and vice versa.  We installed a solid wood door and put weather stripping on it so it would seal as tightly as possible and installed “deep pile” carpet, which is super thick and very sound absorbent.  The interior walls were then covered in black Auralex foam panels and the corners are full with Auralex Bass Traps.  All this is designed basically to keep the room quiet and kill any echo or reverb the room would normally have.  It isn’t soundproof, but it’s “treated”.  Long story short, it was a massive improvement over that room with the laminate floors, the street facing window, and the blankets!

So now I had a proper recording environment.  Next it was time to upgrade my gear.  After reaching out to several industry pros online and chatting with them about gear, I put together my want list.  I upgraded my microphone first.  I bought a Sennheiser 416, which is a shotgun mic known as a fantastic mic for voiceover work.  I paired this with a processor and pre-amp recommended by an old radio production friend and mentor and ran this rig directly into my Mac, where I would still use Garageband as my recording software.

Anything I’d ever made in voice over and then some was reinvested into this set up.  I was now competitive at a much higher level.  Looking back, I’m so glad that lady called me out on the quality of my audio on that audition.  Who knows how many jobs I lost out on over the years because of that!

Not only does your recording quality need to be on par with the competition, but your skills need to be as well!  I had a good base coming in with my background in radio and training in my various college broadcasting classes, but in 2017 I began to hire voice over coaches.  My first voice over coach was a fantastic woman who worked as a casting director and voice over session director in Los Angeles.  She worked with me for an hour over Skype to break apart various commercial scripts, teaching me how to clump together words within sentences, where to raise or lower my voice, etc.  Having a good sounding voice is just one piece of the puzzle and coaching is vital to growth.

Shortly thereafter, thanks to my equipment upgrades and advanced voice training, I ended up getting picked up by two additional agents, one in L.A. and one in Chicago.  Nowadays, I would say–between all of the agents I am represented by–I probably get to do, on average, 5 auditions per week.

I also now subscribe to various “pay to play” voice casting sites (which are hot button topic in the VO industry, which is why I appreciate that Break Diving’s Unstoppable Artists is putting together a ‘Meet Industry For Free’ program).  You see, this ‘pay-to-play’ is where you pay a few hundred dollars for an annual membership and then get to audition for jobs that come through the site.  Some people have built careers off of these sites, while others swear it is ruining the industry.  I’ve had very moderate success on these, but figure you cannot hit home runs if you don’t at least step up to the plate.  Again, it’s a numbers game and you are up against a lot of people.  The way I see it though, the more I audition, the more I have the potential to book…so as long as I have the time to do it, I’m going to do it.

On another subject, voice over is a performance art just like acting but it’s also a business much like any other.  There is marketing to handle, bookkeeping, advertising, etc.   You’ll have competition everywhere.   You’ll have great customers who will become friends and you’ll have clients that drive you crazy.  You’ll have clients who pay you right away via Paypal and you’ll have clients who you’ll have to chase around for months to get a $150 check from.

More than anything I guess, I just love performing.  That’s what’s kept me going.  Working with my voice got me into radio, which led me to voice over.  It also led me to on-camera commercial acting and ring announcing which I do for some MMA promotions that you’ll occasionally see on television.  It’s led me to launching a podcast as well (The Odd Podcast with Joe Parisi) which has been growing steadily since 2015.

If voice over is something you are interested in taking a run at, I would suggest finding someone currently working in the industry to help guide you.  Ask around or search online.  Be wary of people who want money right out of the gates to guide you or want you to buy some VO beginners course they sell.  You’ll find plenty of these as you begin to investigate how to start in voice over.  I’d suggest that you find a friendly VO pro first and see if they can pass along any recommendations.

Also, don’t rush into creating a demo either.  The work you’re doing during your first few months as a beginning voice actor is not what you’ll what to use as your marketing material.  Remember the baseball analogy from earlier?  A college baseball player wouldn’t send the scouts from the Chicago Cubs a video tape of the first game he played in high school, just like a Hollywood actor isn’t sending directors video tapes of his high school play.  Don’t make the same mistake as a voice actor.  Put in the work, get some training, and take it slow.  If you can stick with it for a year, I promise you your performance level from week 1 to week 53 will be worlds apart.

Next, find someone who will just talk with you for free and give you honest answers to the questions you have.  Feel free to reach out to me here in the Break Diving community and I’ll try my best to get you a solid answer or point you in the right direction.  Be sure to listen to commercials on television and radio constantly.  Listen to the voice overs in the pre-roll commercials on Youtube.  Study these because these are the people booking jobs right now.

Most importanlty, practice, practice, practice and have fun with it!

-Joe Parisi

P.S. Want more acting career knowledge?!  The next step is to enroll in our free self-study course, “Break Diving 101” followed by “Acting 101” in the Break Diving self-study classroom!  Note: please first complete the FREE course Break Diving 101 before you enroll in Acting 101.

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