In this third installment of Voiceover Profiles, I speak with the wildly successful Amanda Sellers about how she achieved success in voiceover, and how she balances a red hot career with her role as a new mom.
JMC: Tell us about how your voiceover career began. What got you interested in the business?
Amanda: For years I was an aspiring musician, found myself basically living out of a 15-passenger van, touring North America with my band. After years of pounding the pavement- my band broke up. I went back to LA with no job, no real home and now—no band. I was tired of the struggling musician life and I decided to become a radio DJ. I got a job on-air working the swing shift (evenings and weekends). Radio was fun, great perks going to all the concerts and getting free stuff from advertisers, but the absolute most thrilling part of the job was going into work early to voice the local commercials. I fell in love with it. Immediately I started to record my commercials when I heard them on air and started compiling a demo. I had also gone to theater school and I used to be an aspiring actress, so from those days I knew that I needed to get an agent if I wanted to take voiceover seriously! I pieced together my own demo and started sending it out to every voiceover agent I could find. In return. NOTHING. NO one wanted to rep me. In 2006, I signed up for my first P2P site. I couldn’t get an agent, but I could get practice by auditioning for jobs online. In 2008 I got my first job! I lost my mind I was so excited. 2 years of auditioning and I was getting somewhere. From then on, it was a slow build. I kept learning everything I could about the industry, online, reading books, taking classes wherever I could. By 2010 I was able to support myself full-time. Shortly after I was so busy that my very talented husband joined me as my full time engineer/producer. I started sending demos out to agencies again and I got bi-coastal agents right away. If I look back on my childhood- it makes sense that I do VO, in school my hand would dart up whenever the teacher was looking for volunteer readers. I used to do the sports announcements over the school intercom, I was in every school play, begged my mom to let me take singing lessons and I would film myself reciting musicals
JMC: Are you involved in any other fields of performance as well as VO?
Amanda: I studied theater after high school. While I was in theater school I auditioned to sing in a rock band. I was 19 at the time. I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved the idea of being a front person. I’ve put out 3 albums over the years. So besides VO, I sing, play, and write music, do some acting and TV hosting. I also do interpretive dance, but my only audience is my 1 year old son. He thinks I’m great! (not, haha)
JMC: What are you working on right now? Any juicy gigs you can tell us about?
Amanda: One “juicy” gig is that I recently voiced a bunch of commercials for Sunny D orange juice. I also recently did a narration for an innovative environmental company called ReCarbon, and I found out that the video was going to be pitched to USA Vice President Joe Biden. Kind of neat to think that my voice is being played for peeps in the White House! Another gig I’m excited about is a kids app I voiced called Ready To Print that teaches kids handwriting skills (Sounds funny to learn handwriting skills on an iPad, but it’s a cool app). Everyday is something new, for example, just this morning I had a bank institute executive over at my home studio to record some internal company messages! I was helping direct her to keep a good pace, tone, etc. That was fun.
JMC: Tell us about your home studio. Do you have any equipment recommendations for aspiring talent?
Amanda: Two of my big purchases this year were a new microphone, (a Neumann U87,) and a new isolation booth, (Puma Pro sound station imported from Italy.) Clean, crisp sound with no background noise is essential. My husband and I have done some voice casting for clients we work with and we always use Voices.com. One thing we’ve noticed is the vast difference in audio quality. Lots of the auditions sound amazing, but a lot sound pretty bad! I recommend playing your audio next to some of the big guns and making sure your audio can compare in quality. If not- back to the drawing board. Do you need a new mic, better soundproofing, etc. When a potential client is listening to an audition, if the audio quality is sub-par you are immediately deleted, even if your performance is outstanding! Side note- I started out recording in my closet with a Rode NT1-A mic and a laptop. You don’t have to have expensive equipment, you just have to dial in good sound.
JMC: How important do you think training is to success in VO. Were you coached, or are you a natural?
Amanda: I think I am right in the middle of needing to be coached and being a natural. To be successful you need to have some natural ability to do this type of work, but it is SO important to also get coaching. The key though is finding the good coaches! I recently had a friend who got some coaching, and I asked her what credentials the coach had since I had never heard of her. Turns out, the “coach” was an aspiring voice actor who had only gotten a few small gigs and didn’t even have a home studio. Yikes! However, there are some amazing teachers out there and I am always looking for new people to learn from, whether 1-on-1 or at a workshop or seminar. Now that my son is a bit older, I am hoping in 2014 I will attend more workshops, classes and VO get-togethers with my peers! Some of the best people to learn from are your peers! Lots of VO talents are blogging these days. You can find GOLD in those posts! Check out www.girlsguidetovoiceover.com, they have a great blog and also a blog roll of other talents on the main page. It’s run by an amazing group of VO gals I’m a part of, VoxyLadies.com.
JMC: Do you have a funny VO story you can share with us?
Amanda: Last year on Nov. 29 2012, I was almost 9 months pregnant. I went to my regular prenatal check up with my doctor. While we were in the office, my doctor picked up the phone and called the hospital to let them know they needed to get a bed ready for me right away and that I was on my way. I thought, “Wow, I’m not ready!”, but I said, “Sure doc! We’ll head there now!”….but actually…. we took a detour home first so I could finish up a couple more jobs and write some of my regular clients to tell them baby was making an appearance soon! My baby wasn’t born until 7 P.M. the following day, so I had tons of time! Also while I was in labor I was trying to explain to the nurses what a Voice Actor was, so there I was in between contractions playing them my demo (they asked to hear it!)
JMC: Looking back on your career so far, is there anything you would do differently?
Amanda: I would have started VO sooner! If I would have know how amazing this career was and how much joy it would bring me, I simply would have started sooner. Everything happens for a reason though and it’s all played out the way it’s supposed to, but ever since starting VO, life has never been better!
JMC: For new talent, what is one thing they absolutely must do to move their career forward? One thing they shouldn’t do?
Amanda: They must seriously dig deep down and ask themselves if they are truly ready to give it absolutely everything they have. This is not a part-time on the side type of industry. You have to be in it heart and soul…and it could take years! It is not just about having a nice voice and thinking, “I’d love to sit at home all day in my underwear and record commercials!” It’s so much more. You have to fully immerse yourself in the lifestyle and be up for the competition and the challenges day to day brings. I find a lot of people like the idea of this career, but when it comes down to it, they may be to much of a people person to be able to sit alone in their home studio all day auditioning or they don’t have the patience to learn how to edit or audition over, and over and over again and still not book anything (just a couple examples of the potential challenges). However, if you’ve concluded that this is definitely the career for you, one thing you shouldn’t do…is give up. Believe in yourself, celebrate your successes, and give gratitude! There is always room for new voices and why not yours? In a creative industry like this, fresh new sound is music to some producer’s ears. Imagine if there was just one voice for everything…. boring!
JMC: In addition to being an incredibly successful talent, you also recently became a mother. How do you balance the demands of this non-stop career with raising a family?
Amanda: Very, very good question. I don’t know! Ha. When my son Beck was born I only took 4 days off (took on a very light workload mind you, but I was compelled to get back in the booth!) Most advice for new moms is “sleep when the baby sleeps” but my motto was “work when the baby sleeps”. In the very beginning the days kind of blended together, but I wouldn’t have it any other way and it gets easier as time goes on. My husband and I take turns going back and forth from looking after baby and working. Beck started going to daycare a couple days a week and that was a huge help. We’re adding a couple more days in the New Year. It has been a year of very little sleep but somehow it’s also been our biggest year yet. My son inspires me to be the best I can be and 2014 is going to be even better!
JMC: Tell us something about yourself that people would find surprising.
Amanda: I am an avid outdoor enthusiast. Pre-baby days I was a sponsored athlete, sponsored by Stormtech Performance Apparel. I’ve done an Olympic distance triathlon, which was a 1.5km swim in the ocean, followed by a 40km bike, ending with a 10km run. I also did a 45km race called Frostbite 45, which is in Yellowknife (right by the Arctic circle). I had icicles on my eyelashes! The toughest adventure I’ve ever done is the West Coast Trail, which is on Vancouver Island. It’s a 75km hike where you carry your tent, food, clothing, everything in your backpack as you embark on a 6 day journey on a trail filled with cliff side ladders, tree to tree cable cars, tide charting, wildlife (bears, cougars), surge channels and ropes. I get tired just thinking about it, for now, my son is all the adventure I need!
To find out more about Amanda, or to hire her for your next project, check out http://www.girlnextdoorvoiceover.com/