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Radio DJs Turned Voiceover Talent

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

Most DJs and radio performers have an extensive amount of exposure to voiceover. It only takes one client to pay you for your voice before you realize – hey – I can make some extra money. But what does it really take to go from a radio career to a voiceover career?

The first thing you need to realize is that voiceover for local radio and professional voiceovers are very different. Since most radio voiceovers are provided to radio advertisers as a free or value-added service, the standards tend to be lower. It’s unlikely that your radio company hired a professional coach to train you in the ways of voice acting. You were probably left to your own devices to figure out what to do.

As a result radio does have a sound all its own. The proverbial “radio voice” is alive and well, although not looked upon highly in most entertainment industry circles. Almost daily we hear voiceover client say “I don’t want a typical radio announcer or someone that sounds like a DJ.”

Professional voiceover talent are actors. They are masters at reaching their audience, no matter who the audience is comprised of.  Radio folks, for the most part, are taught to announce. Yes, radio talent do know how to appeal to the lifestyles of their listeners; but can you appeal to ALL formats? If you have been a Top 40 jock for 10 years can you suddenly be a genuine voice of interest to a gospel station’s audience?

Gaining entry into the voice-acting industry starts with acting. Take some acting classes and get involved in local theater and improv. Seeing how physical performance can help and affect your voice is a very positive experience.

Also, there are 3 things you will likely have to start doing on mic from now on.

  1. Read slower. Scripts from high-end clients are usually more comfortably paced than the average radio read. Your instincts will likely be to motor-mouth every script you encounter. There’s no fire, so s-l-o-w down.  

  2. Be conversational. Paid voiceover work requires a natural, relaxed delivery. Not the hyper, over-sold style of most radio ads. Less is more; you don’t need to sell so hard.

  3. Be you. Your voice IS good enough. You don’t need to put on a phony or perfect voice. Voiceover talent are raw and real, therefore you must find your natural voice.

Retraining your performance may take some time. Most radio folks will train for up to 2 years in order to “beat the radio out of their read”. To further this process along you will also need to become very critical of your own voice, again. Much as you did when you first started in radio. You’ll also need to find new role models. Forget about other local radio talent. Start becoming familiar with the million-dollar players in the voiceover industry. Study and emulate their performances. Strive not to sound like them, but to understand their techniques.

An ego check will be in order too. You’re going to be the new kid on the block. Your radio days have prepped you for many voiceover challenges, but you may have a lot more to learn. You need to be humble in order to grow. You may have been at the top of your game in radio, but you might come to find (that for a little while) you’re going to be at the bottom in voiceover.

When you think you are ready you’ll need to have a professional voiceover demo made. It will likely be very different than what you’re used to in radio. Learn the ropes of professional demos – the do’s and don’ts – there are many of both. A professional demo has many standards, among them, you never write your own copy or produce your own demo. If you mistakenly market a Radio demo you’ll only attract low paying radio type clients.

Can you find success in voiceover? Most definitely. It will require proper planning and training. You want to avoid making rookie mistakes.

What are the top 3 things you should recommend to a disc jockey or radio personality who is looking to break into voiceovers?

I asked voice coaches and former radio talent, turned voiceover talent what you should do to make for a smooth transition from one industry to the next. Here’s what some had to say.

“Build an exceptional reel, even if it’s fake, and then start sending it out.” - Heather Walters

“Being a DJ and a voice actor are different. Forget the rules of DJ delivery altogether for they do not apply. Practice national commercial copy and not local commercials. Don’t tell an agent you’re a DJ! If you want to be taken seriously, you have to be an actor.” – Linda Bruno

“STUDY, STUDY, STUDY voiceover. It is a totally different animal. It is so rare for a DJ to break into voiceover. I consult/teach voiceover by referral and I get so many DJ’s. . . they are the hardest ones to teach consequently. You need to break out of the DJ zone and start over and see/feel/understand that voiceover is totally different, no matter HOW long you have been a top DJ. – Aly Steel

“Acting classes, Improv classes, and Voice-over classes. In that order!!!  Don't go taking a voiceover class until you have your acting chops honed.  Just because you work on mic, that doesn't mean you have the tools or know-how to work in today's commercial voice-over market.  It's like dance.  Just because you can tango, that doesn't mean you can automatically do ballet.” – Bob Bergen

“Remember that you have NO experience in voiceover. Your radio experience may help you with a few things, but until you learn. . . and are willing to learn as a newbie, you will be BAD at voiceover.” – Julie Williams

Separate yourself from the pack as much as possible. Find what makes your voice work and stay with it. . . if you have that young/energetic sound or that rich low-tone cadence to your voice, whatever, stick with it and cultivate it. And be REAL with your voice. Remember the art of voice is about not sounding as if you were on the radio/TV. . . it's about talking with a person, not AT a person.” - Matt Wolfe

“Realize that radio and voiceover are two entirely different things.  Take classes. You're starting a new career.  It seems like it's just another branch of your current career, but it's not. Do not quit your day job and do expect your radio friends to give you work. You'll need cash to count on while you're in your new career, and your radio friends won't have the budget to pay you. Figure out what is your best skill. Animation or Imaging? Very few people are top notch at everything. You'll be more competitive when you know how to best market yourself and where to focus your energies.  Finally, whatever you do, work with competitive rates.  Underbidding your peers for bookings isn't helpful for anyone in the long run." – Haneen Arafat.

Gabrielle Nistico, Gabby Nistico, The Voiceover Vixen, The Business First VO Coach, #VoiceoverVixen #VoiceOnFire #BusinessFirstVOCoach Voiceover, Success, Entrepreneur, Marketing Strategies, Income, Home Studio, Recording, Microphone, Professional, Coaching, Voiceover Coaching, VO Coaching, Voiceover Coaches, Working Actors, Los Angeles, New York, VO Demo, Voiceover Demo, Demo Producer, Radio, Radio DJ, Studio, On Air, Talent

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