Niche Entrepreneurs: The Voiceover Artist

Looking at the edges of entrepreneurship, we bring you the story and advice of voiceover artist Ilyssa Fradin.
Business Writers
September 14, 2012 Her perky mommy voice has sold vitamins, soy milk and Huggies diapers. She’s purred about Santa Margarita wine and wooed viewers to watch “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” And that doesn’t begin to describe what she can do for a political candidate or a public cause.
 
For much of her 17 years as a professional actress, Ilyssa Fradin of Chicago has been a voice-over artist, narrating many television, radio and Internet ads. She’s one of thousands working in the niche field, a corner of the acting world that is surging because of the growth of audiobooks, animated films and Internet advertising.
 
“Voice over isn’t for everyone,’’ says Fradin, who also appears on TV and film. “You’re alone in a booth in front of a mic.’’
 

Ebb and Flow 

The bustling business hit the skids during the recession, when some companies recycled old commercials to curtail spending on new ones, says Erica Kelly, president of VoiceBank, an audition and casting company in Beverly Hills, Calif. But work is coming back and opportunities are growing through the Internet.
 
Besides standard commercials and animation, there’s corporate narration for sales meetings, interactive gaming, translation work (aka: dubbing), even political ads.
 
“There are people who just do political ads,’’ Fradin says. “They could be a Democrat, but they only do Republican spots. That’s their niche.’’
 

Breaking In 

Fradin was working at a Starbucks 17 years ago when she got her big break with a Betty Crocker commercial that went national. She’s now the co-president of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Chicago local.
 
To get started, Fradin recommends making an audio demo through a producer or audio engineer. Those samples will provide a calling card for agents who represent voiceover talent. Next, agents will want to see how a prospect performs live in a sound booth with a script. With an agent’s backing, artists hit the pavement, going to auditions.
 
Prospective actors also can submit samples that agents will critique on voicebank.net.

What It Pays

Fradin breaks down jobs into “money gigs” and “quality gigs." A radio spot pays less than $300, while a TV session can pay nearly $450, she says. But if that spots runs for weeks, that means more money for the talent. “I know people who make up to six figures doing this,’’ Fradin says.
 
Political ads are fast work, she says. She’ll read something in a happy voice, a sweet voice and perhaps a menacing tone. The ads, though, tend not to run for very long.
 
The best gigs, she says, are “working with a creative copywriter and a great producer and audio engineer and you leave the session feeling like everyone was creative.’’
 
In those cases, Fradin will read copy several times using different voices, changing pitch, emotion and intonation. There’s the real person voice, the raspy voice, the sarcastic voice, and so on. “I have a pretty big range and I give them so many choices they can’t wait to have me back,’’ she says.
 
Fradin also advises:
  • Know your market. Know your capabilities and educate yourself.
  • Don’t get taken by an agent who asks for a lot of money up front.
  • Persevere. The field takes lots of patience and tenacity.
 “As long as you take the risk, there’s tremendous reward,’’ she says. “If you study the market and you’ve done your homework, it will pay off.’’

Business Writers