Melissa Leebaert Voice Over Actress
Model Talk Radio Interview
Emmy® Winning Voice Actress Shares Tips on a Career in Voice Acting
Melissa Leebaert is a well-respected voice-over artist, performer and coach whose work has won numerous awards, including an Emmy® Award for narration of Discovery’s Series ‘An Inside Look‘ and 6 prestigious Peer Awards for Best Female Narration. Her amazing list of clients includes National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Microsoft XBOX, CIA, Verizon and many, many more.
What Exactly Does Voiceover Work Mean?
Many people think they know what voice-over is, but in reality they aren’t exactly sure. Basically, it’s the voice we hear that tells us about a product.
Voice-overs can be done for TV, radio or internet commercials (each called “spots”), as well as public service announcements (PSAs). They can be for something national, like Verizon, but most people start out with local voice-overs for restaurants or shops of some kind.
Beyond spots is narration, which is a very broad market that could be for something like Discovery Channel, or something more technical like a how-to component on a website or a company training film.
The most common stereotype is that narrators need to be men with deep, booming voices, but it’s changed quite a bit. Rather than a “God-like” voice, the biggest direction for auditions now is a natural sound that’s accessible and conversational.
How Do You Get Started in the Voice Over Business?
Melissa gets calls every week from people who are told they should do voice-over, but they don’t really understand what the business is. An interesting voice is a good place to start, but it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically succeed.
To get started, Google some websites and listen in to get an idea of what people are doing. If you want to make it even simpler, really start listening to TV and radio commercials so you can learn the difference between ones that sound really good—interesting, like stories—and ones that sound canned. People want to be entertained, not read to!
What’s the Next Step?
If you’re just getting started, patience is the most important thing. It’s easy to think you know how to talk and read and sound great, but if you were singing, would you just start singing songs, record a demo and expect to make an album?
Most cities have community colleges or professional coaches that can set you in the right direction. Beyond your voice, you’ll also want to work on your acting skills. So while you’re patiently plotting your course, get involved in community theatre of take some acting or improv classes. If you get a job right away but don’t have a solid foundation, you run the risk of blowing the job and not being called back for a second one.
What Kinds of Questions Should Beginners Ask?
In the entertainment industry, it’s easy to feel flattered and get suckered into laying down exorbitant amounts of money for quick help. Be wary of anything that’s too good to be true, like the promise of a demo after one weekend. Anything worth doing is worth doing well!
To make sure what you’re paying money for is actually what you’re getting, ask these kinds of questions:
- Who else have they trained and where are those people now?
- Can I listen to demos they’ve created for other people?
- Who are their references?
- What’s their background? Did they actually do voice-over?
- Do they have a demo or a website?
- Is the person you’re talking to the person you’ll be working with?
How Long Should a Radio Spot or Narration Be?
Directors and producers want a sense of how broad and versatile you can be Do you have just one sound or can you sound authoritative, kind, serious and intense? The best way to show off your skills is to create a demo of snippets—8 seconds of this, 15 seconds that—not 30 spots strung together. Most demos are under a minute and a half.
How Much Do Demos Cost?
Price varies because everyone’s at a different level. Experienced actors are very prepared and don’t need as much prep time, but if you’re a beginner this can be a very expensive career. You’ll be looking at a few thousand dollars, but if you’re going for the real thing, consider it an investment. Melissa’s first serious demo, 20 years ago, was $1500 for each part—narration and commercial—but she got tons of work from it.
Are There Certain Agents That Specialize in Working With Voice Over Talent?
Many agencies would be happy to find an actor that can do print work, on camera work and is also working on their voice instruction, but agents are a Catch-22. They want somebody who’s already proven, but how do you get proven if you’re new and can’t get out there?
Networking is a great place to start. Find out if there’s an ad club or public speakers bureau in your town, or anywhere else where radio or TV professionals might gather. Finding a mentor is also a wonderful thing, so offer to take somebody out to lunch and ask questions!
Are Heavy Accents a Problem?
Not necessarily. You can work with speech coaches or find scripts that work with your accent, but if you’re clever about how you market yourself, that accent may work for you.
If You’re a Beginner, How Do You Make Sure You’re Getting a Respectable Wage?
Some websites pay $75 to $100 dollars for voice-over work, which is much lower than normal wages. Some companies also prefer to hire cheap labour, like family members or inexperienced voice-over artists.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t a whole lot you can do about this. Ultimately, you should become great at what you do—get the information and practice like crazy. Then, present your work to industry professionals and hope they’ll respect what you do and understand what you’re offering is far better than cheaper alternatives.
During the second half of the show, host Aaron Marcus answered questions from listeners.
Listener’s Questions for Aaron:
How Do You Prepare for a Go-See?
Preparation should take place way before you actually go on a modeling go-see or casting, when you get the the email or call from your agent. Think about these types of things:
- When is the go-see? If you’re in school or have a full-time job, can you actually go?
- What is the shoot date? Are you available for that?
- Where is it?
- What’s the product? Some actors or models won’t do ads for certain kinds of products, like fur, meat, gambling, cigarettes or political spots. To keep your name (and your agent’s) intact, be upfront before you accept a job.
- What are they looking for? If they want a business person, for example, do they want a casual or professional one? Dress the part!
- Is there are layout available? (Layouts are descriptions of the actual ad)
What Are Some Legitimate Expenses for Models?
Agents don’t typically pay for an actor or model’s expenses. Models and actors are self-employed, so it’s their job to market themselves. They’re responsible for their own headshots, composite sheets, classes, and promotion. Some agencies also charge monthly or yearly fees for appearing on their website. It can seem like a lot of money, but websites are the fastest way to be seen by industry professionals. It’s essential to get on there!