Voices for Games – part two

by | May 7, 2009 | Uncategorized

Great minds think alike. 

Yeah, it's a hackneyed phrase, but I hadn't used it in a while, and actually I don't compare to John Florian's great mind anyway.

Yesterday, John and I both published content-laden articles composed by JS Gilbert.  John on his wonderful site: VoiceOverXtra, and me on this blog. Neither of us knew what the other was up to, even though we often collaborate and share content.

We had both sought-out JS's considerable expertise.  In this case, everyone's a winner, including you, JS, and our respective VO sites.  I encourage you to visit VoiceOverXtra today to see even more of JS Gilbert's wisdom on the business of voicing for video games.

As promised, though, I'm also going to publish the second half of my exhaustive Q & A with Gilbert.  Please see the very end of today's blog for a quick BIO on JS…he's an accomplished guy whom I applaud for selflessly sharing his depth of experience with us.

Thanks again, JS!


E:  DAVE: Should
a voice-actor have a website designed specifically for wooing video-game
clients?  In other words, would a generic
voiceover website be a disadvantage, as long as it features a video-game demo
among other demos?

 JS Gilbert:  If a voice actor “gets it”; that is really does have some understanding
of gaming’s culture and what might make a good v.o. talent, then I would
suspect there could be a page or at least part of a page that could be designed
to appeal to gaming. Maybe you have a picture of you from some gaming
convention or show or simply playing a video game. It could have you giving
perspective on why you want to do voice for games. Anything that can open the
window a little bit into who you are and why you should be given a “shot”.   Of course, some people prefer to go to a
site that has multiple talent’s demos, like voicebank or an online community.
Others will appreciate a clean limited design that makes it easy to listen to
and download a talent’s demo(s).

It truly is impossible to say what will specifically float anyone’s boat.
The demo is most often there to get the talent an invitation to audition. The
audition in many ways is the real job.

DAVE: Best practices for approaching prospective
clients?  Cold-calling?  Agents? 
Hand-written letters?  A personal

 JS Gilbert: The direct approach doesn’t often seem to work very well.  Most castings for games are handled by agents
or audio production houses (which often go to agents or have large databases of
actors they work with directly).

 My advice would be to find an agent that has access to game scripts if
that’s the type of work you want to do. If your agent isn’t reading you for
games, then find out if it’s just that you’re not being included or if the
agent doesn’t get those types of opps. 
One thing I do to ingratiate myself to my agent is to pass opportunities
on to them.  I don’t believe it would be
an exaggeration to say I have helped 500 actors over the past 10 years gain
work in a video game. In most cases the actors don’t even know I had a hand,
but the agent does!  I don’t mind that
they get the credit, because it comes back to me in terms of a strong and
healthy relationship.

 Reading game magazines, visiting Gamasutra, getting a subscription to
Game Developer Magazine, using Google to search and research gaming companies
and projects and inviting individuals to be part of your various social
networks are all ways to learn more and identify potential clients. Understand
that some companies have numerous producers and may hare resources, other
companies have multiple producers that tend to keep their resources private,
some companies work on one project over an 18 month to 36 month development
cycle. There are serious games and casual games and educational games and games
designed for different demographics. There are established franchises and new
approaches, emerging companies and some who have been around since the
beginning of gaming.

In fact, there are many, many people who hire voice talent who simply
feel that if a talent can’t get representation via a talent agent they are not
worthy to hire under any circumstance. Due to technological advances, internet
casting and other factors, it would seem that many voice talent do not have
representation and often this is by choice. Attitudes generally adapt to the
prevalent thinking within the market. 
Just a few years ago, most voice actors would go to their agent’s office
to audition, now it is more commonplace of the actor to record an audition at
home at home and “phone” it in, and of course some game developers will cast
via the internet or through a direct relationship with a talent. However you
will still find that 95% of all casting for union games and perhaps 75% of
casting for non-union games is handled via talent agents.

video-gamers faithful in return-hiring talent who’ve served them well in the

 JS Gilbert: Not necessarily. Some developers may work on dialog for a small portion
of a project and do sound design or music as well. Often dialog might only be
recorded once a year or 18 months for a project.  Despite my having performed voiceover for
games since the very beginning and for many respected titles, it’s surprising
how little my name is known. There tends to be a strong attitude among some of
the titles with big budgets that the games need to feature L.A. based talent
and while there are opps, there is also a “short list” of L.A. based voice talent,
who tend to be recognized. Apparently there is still a lot of luck involved.
Get on the right game with the right people and it can open the door to lots of
future work.

 For whatever it’s worth, I do have a small but somewhat loyal following
among a few audio producers and developers, but in other cases, in sequels and
franchises, they often simply will try to find someone who sounds like I did on
an earlier game. The audio producer may have no idea who I am or what I have
done, nor will they necessarily care.

non-union, are published or suggested rate-sheets available?

JS Gilbert: At this point, I have fairly established pricing guidelines, but with
regards to the non-union production being done, the pendulum swings widely.
This is one reason why talent have historically worked through talent agents.
It’s oft said in defense of lawyers, that the man who represents himself has a
fool for a client. I tend to agree with regards to talent agents as well. I
would suggest that a talent get representation and push to create a good
relationship with their agent.  It’s very
hard to represent yourself as the product and to negotiate the business end.
I’d rather just be the “talent”.

 There are some published numbers out there, but I would suggest that
biding for game work can be tricky. Who is doing the editing? Will you be
directed via phone at an established time? Do you need to name each sentence as
a spate file?

 For example, an industry standard might place a particular job at $300
and take an experienced voice talent/ editor an hour to 90 minutes to do. This
same job might take someone less experienced 5 hours to do. I usually suggest
that talent create a business plan that will assist them in understanding how
much time they will be spending on their voiceover business, fixed and variable
costs involved and certain milestones they might set.

 DAVE: What
acting skills or disciplines serve you best in preparation for a successful
voiceover career in video-games?

JS Gilbert: Standard acting skills, and improvisational acting skills are together
the best training for voice over. Additionally one needs to really develop good
mic technique and understand how they relate to the microphone and how to “work
it”.  As many video games approach the
level of sophistication and in some cases even budget of a motion picture, we
see the skill sets for both becoming very similar. 

DAVE:  Final Words?

 JS Gilbert: Doing voiceover for video games can be lots of fun. I should point out
that very few people are capable of making a living doing this. Similar skills
are necessary to perform for animation and broadcast (cartoons), which pay
considerably more. Even union scale payments for video game work, which tend to
be quite generous aren’t sufficient to create a base salary platform.

 To put this into perspective, a non-union video game may pay $300 – $800
on average to an actor, while a union video game will pay around $700 – $2,000.
Very few people will work on more than 10 or 12 games per year, and usually far
less.  To put this into an even more
interesting perspective, I have been paid only slightly more money for doing
voiceover for 400 video games than I made for the top 5 grossing union
commercials I have voiced.

Depending upon someone’s talents, geographical location, connections and
so forth, performing voices for games may be an enjoyable part of what they do
as a voice actor.

There are many different things one can do as voice talents, including
voice mail, audio books and commercials or internet, corporate voiceover or
narration or broadcast narration , such as in tv station or radio announcer

 Researching and understanding the various opportunities available and
then making good choices regarding developing your craft, marketing and
establishing relationships, along with developing a marketing plan and business
plan will help an actor in making the best decisions for their careers. Never
base your career or pricing on what someone else is doing. What makes sense for
them may not make sense for you. Instead use this information to develop a
personal program that makes sense for you and be wary of keeping the wolf at
bay.  Thousands and thousands of people
try to forge successful careers in voice over and relatively few are actually
able to come out on the plus side financially.

 With regards to both the craft of voiceover, production, directing and
many other creative matters, many people will not have the advantage that I had
of being able to work in professional environments with people who I was
capable of learning from. 

 As with many other wonderful crafts, voice acting was once something more
akin to an apprenticeship trade. We worked in professional studios; we
auditioned at ad agencies, clients and with casting directors. We got to see
our peers work and professionals direct. So much of what is done now is in
isolation, that it becomes imperative to find a few people you can really trust
and have them “hand the craft” down to you.

 And one of the most important things is to know when to make changes,
devote more or less time or otherwise ensure that your rent is being paid and
that you don’t paint yourself into a corner.

 Knowing when to cash in your chips is as important as anything else and
as I often say “The nicest thing about banging your head against the wall is

 Good Luck to you all.


J.S. Gilbert considers himself a very lucky man. He gets to play with
advertising and gaming professionals as a writer, copywriter, creative
director, audio producer, etc. 

 20 some odd years ago J.S. found himself forced to do a voiceover, which
has snowballed into him being one of the busiest voice talents on Northern
California. He has performed voiceover on over 400 video games and thousands of
radio and tv commercials, corporate videos, voicemail systems, internet sites,
audio books, talking dolls and talking greeting cards.

J.S. also does a considerable
amount of work filling in for stars on AD and dubbing projects by impersonating
them. He is currently the voice of Papa Smurf and the new official voice for
Rankin/ Bass’s loveable elf, Herme. (I want to be a dentist).

 J.S. is currently casting and directing for a well known game franchise,
directing 2 authors reading their audio books and keeping his commercial and
gaming v.o. clients happy.



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