When I first started researching voiceover as a new career, some of the most common advice I saw was to market your services to the specialized niche that best suited your voice and your skills. That applies to more than just voiceover: I think it’s valuable to any career change, including retirement.
Picking the right niche – or the right career – among so many choices may seem a confusing challenge. From my own experience, I suggest you start by looking at the things you enjoy doing and are good at. And don’t limit that to things you did at work, either. Your hobbies and the things you do for fun speak to your skill-set as much as your formal training and work experience do. Even knowing those things, however, you might surprise yourself.
Take me, for example. I’ve already talked a bit about why I went into voiceover, and specifically into audiobooks and elearning. But even in those areas, I’m specializing some more and surprising myself.
I always enjoyed learning new things for myself and teaching others, and I’ve always been good at both. That made the universe of elearning – recording training and other educational programs – immediately attractive to me.
My background also means I have subject matter expertise in several areas, including hazard and risk communication, chemical risk management, environmental policy, and administrative law. Those factors prompted me to seek elearning clients who would already be aware of my expertise in those areas and find added value in hiring not only my voice, but my non-voice knowledge and experience. In effect, I’m working to build my very own niche market!
My primary elearning persona – and yes, you’re playing a character even when you’re the voice of an educational slideshow – is the fun teacher who really knows her stuff but isn’t intimidating at all because she loves what she’s teaching and wants you to know and love it, too. And on top of that, she likes you. That’s me! I’m also great at being the co-worker with a sense of humor and perspective giving you a friendly peer-level initiation into the corporate culture.
My interest in audiobooks came largely from my love of reading and storytelling. I’m a voracious novel reader, particularly in the science fiction, fantasy, and mystery genres, including well-written young adult fiction. I even write my own stories and love immersing myself in characters.
But something funny happened when I started narrating audiobooks. My first three books were Regency-based romance novels, light fun things requiring the depiction of multiple British characters, and I enjoyed doing them. But as I auditioned for more books, I started to realize I preferred doing non-fiction to fiction. I discovered that approaching a novel as a performer changed it for me. I couldn’t enjoy a work of fiction just for itself any more. It became something of an exercise in deconstruction – analyzing the characters to figure out how I would voice them – the same way I would take apart a script to act a character on stage. That took some of the fun and spontaneity out of reading. On top of that, there are a lot of novels looking for narrators that I simply wouldn’t enjoy reading, period. I know I’m not a good enough actor to sell a book or character which I can’t inhabit or believe, and trying to do it wouldn’t do justice for an author or a listener.
These days, I’m thoroughly enjoying doing non-fiction, especially inhabiting real-life stories intending to teach and inspire others. I’m still finding the voices of the people in the books, but it’s somehow different for me than becoming all the characters in a novel. I think the key is, I’m reading books for performance that I otherwise wouldn’t have read, because my presonal reading is primarily fiction, and there’s an enjoyment factor in what I’m learning. I’m also playing to my particular strength as a first-person storyteller, a role that comes naturally to the author in me.
I’m not saying I won’t voice more fiction in the future, as I acquire more experience and dare myself to face new challenges – but right now, I’m concentrating on developing within the niche that suits me best. And that’s a good thing.
How about you? Go find your happy niche!