Is it possible to be a part-time VO?
That has been the question I've asking myself for a year, ever since I first started getting serious about setting up my own home studio and pursuing voiceover work myself.
The short answer is 'yes' - but, it certainly isn't straightforward. Many blogs and opinion pieces will stress that part-time VO should consist of 20-30 hours per week minimum. To fulfill your marketing objectives, increase your proficiency in editing and post-production, develop your technical skill at delivery, research and practice really is the key. I started doing home VO by putting aside a few hours a week, but it was soon patently clear that this was merely testing the water and not leading to much discernible improvement. Those first few weeks spent researching and investing in the right kit, getting it working, trying it out, and seeing if you can drag back the focus to your actual delivery is essential, but it's a preliminary stage to actually making any form of career.
Ever since graduating from drama school, I have worked in theatre box-office's when 'resting'. As these tend to be zero hour contracts, they usually allow a certain element of flexibility which is ideal when auditions and jobs arise, and I've been fortunate enough to work at a few places who understood the importance being a performer was to me, and were happy to welcome me back once I'd finished an engagement. I blogged (and moaned) about it more thoroughly for the Honest Actors website here.
Working two to three days a week at box office also allowed me time for that preliminary stage of disocvery when embarking on home VO work. It became a little more of a stretch when I started subscribing to P2P sites, as on the day's I was working at box office, I simply wouldn't be able to record for any of the auditions that came in that day. But I started to slowly build a stream of revenue which slowly built as I made a more concerted effort to keep the momentum going.
But four months into doing regular part-time VO work on the side, I reached a pivotal stage. The amount of work I was getting was barely fitting around box office commitments and I would often have to record and edit for hours at home after a nine hour shift - feasible, but by no means ideal, especially when trying to deliver the best product I could. In all honesty, I doubt my editing skills are at their peak at 1am.
So I was presented with a choice. My income was roughly equal between box office and voice over, but it was a stretch. Often it would be a push to successfully deal with any last minute customer revisions and I started having to turn down some work altogether. There were plans that I was having to keep on ice - finding the time to contact clients directly, being able to offer a fast turnover for orders, executing all of the marketing designs I'd been planning. But box office income had been my one and only 'go to' source of resting work, and it was scary to contemplate severing that security. It felt like I'd reached an impasse.
While I was sitting on this, unsure what to do next, circumstances shifted enough to force a choice. I booked quite a substantial elearning job which would require two to three months of fulltime VO, at exactly the same time as the box office I worked at was due to have a major operations change. From juggling the two in awkward but functioning faction, I now had a clear choice. If I wasn't available for the box office training, then I wouldn't be able to work there any more. But if I turned down the VO job, then (a) the client would be disinclined to hire me again, and (b) I'd be turning down work I WANT TO DO in order to play safe.
So I write this post during my final box office shift, scared about making the jump into freelancing, but very excited too. After leaving the country for an acting job in June, I will be returning with VO as my only immediate source of income. I have one future job in the bag, which will provide a useful cushion in my first few months. But after that, it's all on me.
I'm most interested/terrifed about how home VO will work alongside my acting. I can forsee times in the future when one will necessarily have to be sacrified for the other, and bar the odd week off, I've not thoroughly tested how quickly VO work will resume after a stint where I've been unavailable. At the same time, I am only too aware of how much I have had to hold back on my VO plans because of other commitments, and I think it will be a very exciting and stimulating challenge. Right now, I keep returning to the emphasis in planning and actioning that every reputable VO professional stresses. Forgoing the familiar rigidity of the 9 to 5 (or in the case of box office, 10 to 7.30) is in many ways a huge relief, and I'm looking forward to imposing my own timetable in building this career.
Let's see if I fall on my arse.