“Voice actors are connecting on a level of community that had not existed before.”

When I waltzed into the world of voice acting in 1991, I had no idea there was a voice acting community, yet alone a culture. In fact, I knew very little about voice acting as a potential career. My focus was dance and acting, and that took every bone in my body. Voice acting came into play when I noticed an ad in Backstage Magazine, placed by the legendary Joni Robbins. Given my lifestyle as a struggling dancer/actor, diversifying my skills made perfect sense. Training with Joni was my first authentic connection with a working voice actor and where any sense of a VO community first began. After months of intense training and producing my very first demo reel, I began pounding the payment for an agent.  The first agent I met with, then known as the Don Buchwald & Associates, signed me on the spot, and they matched my enthusiasm to succeed. They began teaching me about business etiquette, networking, and being available 24/7. They embraced me in a way I had never been embraced by any professional entity. This was my second experience with the voiceover community and culture.

The auditions started rolling in, and they were soon followed by bookings. It was my dream come true. I was meeting clients, engineers, copywriters, production assistants – all the behind-scenes-people who are essential to the outcome of the work. These are also the people who would become future clients at other ad agencies and TV networks as their careers grew. As a voice actor, you are the center of your universe. The other players are the spokes and the wheel that turn around you. I had now reached my deepest experience with the culture of voice acting – recognizing how buyer and talent dovetail and collaborate.  Why, I even met my producer husband in this community and have been happily married to him for 24 years. I guess that was the real dream come true, but I digress. What I am describing are all the people and the many ways the VO culture revealed itself to me as I was, in fact, becoming a part of it.

The next aspect of the voiceover culture came when a New York-based acting school invited me to teach voice acting at their school. I had taught dance, so the idea of teaching wasn’t completely foreign to me, but I had to think long and hard before I took on such a critical role in the lives of other actors. This is where I experienced yet another layer of the VO culture – connecting with all the voiceover hopefuls in search of careers. Many of them became private students outside of the school, but only a modest number eventually went on to establish themselves as professional voice actors. Even that ratio of those who became professional is a part of the culture of it. Teaching brought my career full circle because I was once one of those students.

At the time, my experience seemed to cover the extent of the voiceover culture in my universe, though I should add that there were a few  notable voiceover superstars who were so sought after that they had to build home studios in order to be at the beck and call of their clients. They were a rare breed. One rather flamboyant soul, who was also the nicest and most well-known of all voice actors at the time, was chauffeured from job to job in a limousine. His name was Don LaFontaine.  I got to meet a few of these giants and became fast friends with Don. His daughters, like me, are bi-racial, so there was an instant affinity.  It took quite a few years to establish relationships with other voice actors spread out all over the country. We all existed in silos as individual entrepreneurs. Our workplace was made up of any number of corporate buildings and sound studios where our clients worked. There was very little to connect us except the annual talent agency Christmas party and bumping into each other at auditions. You would think that was the whole world of voice acting community and culture, but I would be very surprised at what happened next.

The passing of my father changed everything for me. He passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. At that time, my husband and I were both pursuing a 3-year course on the philosophy of being “the cause in the manifestation of one’s life” and being in service to community. As much as I thought steeped in the work of voice acting, it was not until this course that I recognized the voiceover community as my community, and this was the place where I could do some good. I was at the point in the course where the students were tasked with creating a project that would serve a larger community. The project had to be bigger than anything you could do alone. It required that you reach out to your community and inspire their involvement. My project was the book Secrets of Voice-over Success. A few voiceover books had already been published by then, but they were penned from a single point of view, and the ultimate focus was on the author. Secrets of Voice-over Success was the first book to bring together a community of some of the country’s top voice actors to share genuine accounts of their career journeys, the ups and the downs, so that newcomers would have a road map that included many different paths to success.  It was time to bring voice acting out of the shadows. The book signings included all the contributors (21 in all) and one of my most vivid memories watching the joy and excitement of these legends of the industry meeting each other for the first time and expressing their absolute appreciation for each other’s work. They were even signing autographs of each other’s copies of the book. It was remarkable. They talked about how much they admired each other from afar and had always hoped to meet one day. That day had come, and it was glorious. Without realizing it, Secrets of Voice-over Success and the book signings, which become hotel events, was an opportunity for newbies to not only read these incredible stories but to meet the people behind them and learn from them through the seminars and workshops that evolved from the book signings to a bona fide conference, that would eventually be called That’s Voiceover! Career Expo. Both the community and the culture had made a revolutionary and evolutionary shift. The silos came down, the word was spreading, and voice actors were connecting and sharing on a level of community that had not existed before.

Prior to this, it was mostly animation and radio drama ensembles that one might assume felt a sense of community, or family. Now, it was all voice actors that were developing an awareness of themselves as a community. This led to an international renaissance of sharing, coaching, teaching, workout groups and an assortment of conferences over the next 17 years.  This newfound, international comradery, together with the emergence of home studios as an affordable and eventually required aspect of the voice actor’s life, is where you begin to see a true sense of culture emerging among voice actors. And it’s not a culture of unchanging traditions, but one that is dynamic and on the pulse of our changing world. 17 years later, who would have thought I’d be writing a blog for a clothing line inspired by the culture of voice acting?

Joan Baker
Author: Secrets Of Voiceover Success
Co-founder and VP: SOVAS
Co-founder: VO Culture