If your name is Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, or anyone who happens to work on Fox mainstay “The Simpsons,” let’s face it…you have the job any voice actor would dream of. Financial success, great prestige, and a TV series that can literally last forever because animated characters do not age (or at least they don’t have to).
Life as a voice actor on any long-running animated show at present – “South Park,” “Family Guy” and “Bob’s Burgers” are three other examples – can offer that same security (as do established game shows and reality series in search of a narrator or an announcer). Then there is the part of the voice business centered around advertising, which can include radio and television commercials, promos and narration.
No two days tend to be alike in the career of a voice actor. Every day offers a new potential opportunity. And, for many, the results can be both creatively stimulating and potentially considerable financially. Of course, like most fields, the path to success for any voice performer is not necessarily all that simple.
The Basics for Any Voice Actor
Overall, you need much more than just a unique voice to pursue a long-term career. It takes time and commitment, and a financial investment where classes and training, building your resume, finding an agent, and compiling a professional demo reel are a few prerequisites. Additionally, you must audition as much as you can, relentlessly market and position yourself at any given moment, and always remain in search of that next opportunity. While you are your own best advocate, finding the appropriate representation is key.
In other words, it could take some time to get that proverbial “foot in the door,” so to speak in this chosen field. But the payoffs of a voice actor, no doubt, can certainly warrant the effort you put into, which for one person, Neil Wilson, is both a lifelong dream and quite a successful endeavor.
The Anatomy of the Career of a Voice Actor
Growing up in Moline, Illinois, Neil Wilson, 36, is a child of the 1980s era where his TV content consumption tastes included that classic ABC TGIF comedy block (“Full House,” “Family Matters” and “Boy Meets World,” in particular), “Beverly Hills, 90210” on Fox, and “Unsolved Mysteries” on NBC. Unlike other kids with more typical aspirations, Wilson had another professional goal in mind: he wanted to work with his voice in some capacity.
”As a teenager I begged my parents to put me in an acting class,” remembered Wilson, who had his first taste of working in the field of voice by doing the morning announcements in high school. “I wanted to work with my voice and that transitioned me into radio, and I started working at the local radio station. I was an intern and I did anything and everything I could, where your best ability was availability. And that led me to running the board, which was a matter of playing CDs and starting the commercials.”
Out of high school Wilson went into the military – the Army National Guard and, not surprisingly, he wanted to work with his voice in the service. But when some medical issues resulted in a change of direction after two years, Wilson went back into radio with a gig in Quincy, Illinois as the night DJ at WQCY and, ultimately, more experience in radio in New Orleans where he met his future wife, Carrie.
”I was always a big fan of all the radio imaging guys, all of the classic VO guys.” noted Wilson. “They all pretty much have set their own path. And I very much have always been one to kind of dance to the beat of my own drum, which is part of the entrepreneurial aspect of being a voiceover person.”
Next for Wilson was a move to Greensboro, North Carolina, where he got married at the time, a move back to New Orleans, and a second stint in Greensboro where he became creative director for eight radio stations in two markets.
”The stuff that you hear on the radio between song that identifies the radio station is what I was producing and writing,” recalled Wilson. “And that was the springboard into doing voice-over work. I utilized my creative position at the time inside of that radio facility to start to work with acting coaches. I would write these promos and sweepers, and I would voice them myself and basically do the scratch track before the VO would show up.”
”As I was doing these scratch tracks I would send them out to radio stations,” he added. “And that’s when I started becoming the voice of radio stations. I work with a lot of TV and radio stations on retainer at present, and my goal is to always become a partner in the creative process.”
Ultimately, Wilson got his big break in 2011 when he signed with Atlas Talent Agency, who manages voice over-talent in the commercial, promotional, broadcast, trailer, documentary, animation and children’s programming arenas.
”One of the original founding partners of Atlas was a guy that I worked with when I was a creative in radio,” recalled Wilson. “He and I had a conversation one day about doing VO, and he told me to work at it and then call him back. So, that’s what I did and it was that quick that I got a yes.”
”You never think when you grow up in the Midwest you are going to be represented by a talent agency in New York and Los Angeles,” he added. “But my dream was quickly becoming a reality.”
Over the years, Wilson’s voice-over resume includes Travel Channel series “Extreme Houseboats,” which ran for three seasons; “Animal Head Games” on Discovery; documentary series “The Faithful” by 49ers Studios; and an upcoming series on Smithsonian Channel centered on the Pacific War. Additionally, his voice has been featured on outlets like ABC, BBC, Fox Business, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Star94.1 in Atlanta, Go Country 105 in Los Angeles, FM 100 in Memphis, 103.1 The Wolf in Orlando, and many others as well as Pandora Internet Radio. Then there are establishments like McDonalds, Pier 1 Imports, the Fuller Brush Company, the North Face and Toyota.
”Being a great voice actor is a lot of finding out about yourself,” explained Wilson. “It is not just about having the right voice and a microphone. It’s about making a commitment and getting the appropriate coaching. And it’s about understanding other people’s words and making them your own.”
“Most importantly, this is not an overnight get rich scheme,” he added. “It takes a great deal of time and effort, and patience and perseverance. But with enough drive and ambition, and the appropriate training, it can be a tremendously satisfying career.”