“People think about voice work and they think it’s this in inaccessible thing. It’s very accessible but just like anything, it requires some work and you gotta roll up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty but it’s totally doable.” – Lili Wexu
Lili Wexu is a veteran voice over actor with a resume a mile long, including her voice over work and as an actress (Grey’s Anatomy, American Crime Story). She’s recently published a series of books on what it takes to become a successful voice actor called, Get Clever About. If you have even the tiniest thought of adding this skill to your acting career, these books are definitely something you need to check out!
In this interview, she chats about what it takes to become a success using the skills you already have as an actor. She also drops some fantastic tips to help you get started as a voice over artist.
How has this time of craziness been for you?
Lili Wexu: It was actually mad between March and late July. It was absolute madness. Very grateful. Very, very very, very grateful because I did not expect that. I really expected the ship to tank and it did not.
What were you mostly doing?
Lili Wexu: Primarily, I record commercials, so that’s kind of like my bread and butter. One of my biggest advertisers has a chain of stores of retail furniture stores, and they shut down so obviously they’re not advertising. That’s kind of a big chunk. So, I was really panicking. But what happened was all of a sudden I got hired to record all these PSA’s saying ‘Make sure that you’re going to the doctor. Watch out for fraud. They don’t care about quarantine. Watch out for this. Watch out for that.’ So, I just did a bunch of things that were related to Covid. So it was all basically public service announcements.
And that’s the thing about voice work, and that’s kind of why I think it’s important for actors to know that voice is a booming sector. It’s a booming sector and it’s not going anywhere. Because we communicate via messages, via videos and those all require that human element that actors have in order to really touch audiences. So actors have that skill of touching people, you know? Of hitting them right where you need to, to keep their attention and to affect them.
Voice is not limited the same way as a set is limited. It’s kind of like hairdressers and waiters, actors are often waiters… and I’ve been in that group before… but those kinds of jobs where you just need to be there in person. Whereas voice acting it can all be done from home. I’ve had a studio for 20 years, so when this happened, I was ready. I had many friends who are actors, who are even voice actors, and they weren’t ready. So, they had to go out and get gear. But now that everybody is sort of making the transition and I hope that more actors do because there is so much work.
There’s so many sectors. Authors, for instance, with audio books. They’re not stopping. Nobody’s going to stop writing right now. Books are not going to not be published. This is the time for so much work to be done and that’s beyond commercials and E-learning. There was already a huge trend in E-learning because people aren’t going into to take classes in person anymore. So that’s gonna just double, triple in numbers. Video games are also going to be used for learning.
We are in the digital age. Voice is a huge part of that, so this is a good time. If you’re an actor and you can’t do stage work and you can’t do film work, but you’re trained, you really have the hardest part done. You just have to worry about the technical part and then putting yourself out there. Which we already do, you know? You’ve had to learn how to do self-tapes, how to edit your tapes. It’s not that different.
And as far as the promotional aspect there is that aspect now for voiceovers. You might get an agent. You might not. There’s still work out there for you.
And that’s the same thing as going on Instagram and seeing how many people like your posts. It’s the same thing with your demos. Just send them to producers and see how many people like them.
You have those skills, but the hardest one is actually the acting chops and actors have that. So, this is a good time for actors to make a transition.
I’ll admit that when all this started, I thought about this. Like, ‘How am I gonna make some extra money?’ I did a little research and found a couple of websites. I saw Voice 123 and a couple other sites like that. For someone like me, what would you recommend for them to do to get the ball rolling?
Lili Wexu: Well, beyond getting your equipment… If you’re union, you’re gonna be a little bit more limited because you’re gonna need to try and get union breakdowns and that is the only unfortunate part in the story. More and more work is going non-union. It’s really upsetting because there are many like huge brands going non-union and it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating.
But if you’re a union actor, you’re going to have to put the focus on making sure you can take a few VO centric classes in the sector that you want to work in.
So, let’s say you want to do commercials, then you should get commercial classes. If you want to get into audiobook narration, you should try and take a class if you can. If not find a narrator to be mentored so that you can train for a few sessions. It’s not going to be a far stretch from reading a play. So, if you can read a play, if you’re a professional actor, than you can definitely read a book with no problem. There just maybe a few tips that you need to know. So that would be for the first step.
And once you have that down, you want to record a demo. Depending on the sector that you want to be in, that demo might need to be produced by a professional producer or not. For instance, if you’re getting into the audiobook sector, which, by the way is governed by the union, but there’s union kind of agreement. So, this is a really good sector for professional actors who are union members. That would be the straight through that you could go to. Otherwise, you have to try and find an agent to find an agent you need a good demo.
So, step 1 would be taking a few classes, so you know what you’re doing. Hiring a producer or not depending on the sector you want to go in and getting a demo. Now, you’ve got the goods. Once you have the demo, that’s like your headshot.
So now, you can go to an agent and you can go to several agencies. You can go to an agent in LA. You can have an agent in every territory. You can have one in Texas. You could have one in New York, Chicago… you could have one in smaller markets. You can go literally and collect a group of agents and you will be auditioning every single day for voice over auditions.
If you’re looking for audio books, you want to go to the ACX Exchange. The ACX Exchange is where you can audition for audio books, so that’s the place you want to be at. If you’re non-union and even if you are union, Voice123 is not a bad site to go on because there are some union breakdowns. They are far and few between but they’re there. And what you’ll get to do is see the breakdowns that come through, and you can practice with those scripts as well. You’re going to see the types of scripts that are out there and you can just cut your teeth. Doesn’t mean you’re going to submit them, doesn’t mean you’re going to work non-Union, but you can still cut your teeth and use all those scripts as practice.
Now if you have an agent, you’re gonna get plenty of auditions. So if you’re a union actor and you have an agent, you’re gonna get tons of practice because you’re gonna get tons of breakdowns.
If you want to do video games and animation, then you should also produce those kinds of demos so that those agents feel like, “OK, I can send some breakdowns to this actor and they’re not going to make me look bad. It’s not gonna be a waste of time.”
So, that would be where you could start. It just depends on what level of an actor you are. If you’re trained, but you’re not a union actor just head on over to Voice123 and Voices.com and cut your teeth out there.
And then there are Facebook groups. There are tons of Facebook groups and those also will have casting notices in them. Sometimes unions, sometimes non-union. There are so many places on line. There are all kinds of websites online. Some represent union actors, some don’t.
If you type into Google, ‘Hire a voice actor.’ You’ll see all those sits that come up. Those are all good places to start.
Those are all great tips. And looking at your website earlier, you do voice acting lessons.
Lili Wexu: Yeah, I do. I tend to work with actors because they already have the base and it’s a lot easier if you’re an actor to just teach you a few little things to think about. My area of expertise is really commercials and live events. So, that’s a unique skill.
And then if you want to do video games or animation, I have teachers I refer students too.
You do live voiceover work? Do you ever get nervous before hand?
Lili Wexu: Oh my God, it is so nerve wracking.
Live is always… It’s just like theater. You know, it’s the same thing. There’s no just no forgiveness. And televised live is the hardest because there’s really no coming back from that.
But it’s thrilling to because and you’re not alone. You’re in a team. The thing about live events is that people are such pros. You really have a team behind you and everybody covers each other’s backs. It’s fun, it’s thrilling, but it is definitely nerve wracking.
Let’s talk about your book series.
Lili Wexu: Initially I wanted it to be one book, but there’s so much to cover that it ended up being three books.
The first book is really about becoming an artist, and this is it’s kind of the one that actors don’t really need to read because it’s really for… like a singer or somebody who’s got a connection with their voice. The mom who loves to read characters at night to their kids, like to make all kinds of voices. Just people who love speaking. Those people don’t necessarily realize that you need some acting chops these days to do that job. You used to just be able to be an announcer, but not anymore.
The audiences don’t respond to messages that are generic, so we need to be specific and actors are really good at that. So, the first book is really about becoming an actor, thinking like an actor and understanding that this is a long-term journey.
Book number two is really about the technical part, becoming like the VO technician. Knowing what gear you need, what kind of sound environments are the best, how to improve your environment. How sound works and what the industry expects of you in a file, the types of files that you need to save your work in. So, it’s really just all about the technical part.
Book number 3 is really about becoming like a VO entrepreneur and it goes back to what we were talking about at the beginning, which is that you really need to go out there. Just like an actor these days, you need to go out and get your work. You need to get busy on line and social media and you need to go find your clients.
That could be through an agent. But sometimes, not all the time, but I reach out to on air producers for TV promo work, right? That’s all union work, but I don’t necessarily wait for my agent to send me breakdowns. I try to make my own Contacts within that field. The more entrepreneurial you can be about your job, the more you’re going to get a return on it.
It’s really the same thing in acting, you know? Nobody really gets to chill out unless you’re like an A-Lister and even they produce their own stuff because they need to keep the train going.
The books are really useful to people. The feedback I get is like, “Wow, thank you so much. This is exactly what I needed.”
People think about voice work and they think it’s this in inaccessible thing. It’s very accessible but just like anything, it requires some work and you gotta roll up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty but it’s totally doable.