We’d like to put the Talent Spotlight this month on program graduate, Kirsten Dunn. Kirsten completed our voice-over training program back in December of last year and began searching for work the next month. She got invited to be a part of British Voice Over UK in March as a professional voice talent and has also successfully booked voice-over jobs, including an audiobook gig on ACX!
Let’s see what else she has been up to since graduating and what advice she has to offer for those looking to pursue a career in voice-overs!
SAV: Hi Kirsten, congratulations on being a part of the British Voice Over UK! Can you elaborate more on what it means to be a part of it and how you got involved with it?
Dunn: Thank you, Lauren! British Voice Over UK (BVOUK) is a British based voice-over company that serves a wide range of clients by offering an array of unique VO talent around the world to narrate their projects. They have a global business that strives to assist with every language and they’re continuing to grow. Tanya S. Bartlett, the Managing Director of BVOUK, was looking for another American VO artist and reached out to me after listening to my demos. She then invited me to join her team as a VO artist back in March. As you can imagine, this was very exciting for me! She has been great to work with and has served as my colleague ever since.
SAV: What first inspired you to get into voice-over?
Dunn: I got inspiration to pursue voice-overs from my own personal interests! I like to listen to a lot of different podcasts, audiobooks, video games and anime shows. I’m a bit nerdy, so I would often attend voice-over conferences. One of my favorite things to do was to visit panels that had voice actors presenting. I developed an interest in the talent behind the stories and characters and began to wonder how they got into it.
I was in a position at my full-time job where I knew I’d soon be staying at home with my son, August, due to our family’s work schedule. I needed a job that allowed me to have a flexible schedule as well as to work from home, but I also wanted it to be something I was passionate about. I wasn’t asking for much, right? I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts at Columbus State University, and worked in the museum field, so I felt comfortable venturing into another occupation in the Arts. After researching voice-over as a career option and taking the SAV introductory voice-over class at my local college with Wendy Shapero, I decided that I was truly interested in becoming a VO artist and felt that I had the ability to perform well. That’s when I joined SAV as a student and never looked back!
SAV: Tell us about how you describe your voice to your clients, what does it sound like?
Dunn: Haha, in a way that is a tough question! Your voice never sounds the same to your own ears as it does to others, but I feel that I have a very soothing voice. My natural speaking voice is a bit lower than most women’s voices, which I feel gives it a sultry edge. It’s also convenient for narrating audiobooks when I need to speak a male part or come across as serious. I have a lot of experience teaching, so it’s easy for me to fall into that clear, directional pattern of speaking which is useful for e-Learning or documentary type projects. If you were to ask my friends, they would say I was a cross between Daria (from MTV) and actress Thandie Newton (minus the British accent).
SAV:: Who were your SAV coaches? What obstacles did they help you overcome?
Dunn: I had ah-mazing coaches at SAV! Warren Richardson was my voice-over coach. He taught me all the ups and down, and ins and outs of being a voice-over artist. I am so grateful for the time he spent improving my technique and teaching me the business side of things. One of my biggest hurdles was actually acting. For some reason it never crossed my mind that I was an actor, even if no one would ever see me doing the acting bit. In fact, I had it even a bit harder because the only cues my intended audience had would come from my voice! Warren really helped cement my acting skills, which I definitely lacked, as well as build up confidence in my own abilities. His lessons were intuitive and allowed me to continue practicing on my own once our sessions had ended.
Warren wasn’t the only coach I had. There were quite a few actually! Claudine Ohayon assisted me with producing my demo. Our time together was short, but she really showed me how a professional handles working with a studio when it comes to recording, as well as giving me excellent direction on my reads for my demos. We made every second of our time count and I feel like she gave me some invaluable advice about the VO industry. There was also Steven Wahlberg, who checked on me regularly since the beginning of my time at SAV all the way past the production of my demos. He kept in touch with me, followed my progress, gave moral support, assisted with advice on reading scripts, and genuinely cared about my progress. Your development takes a turn for the better when you know you have people rooting for your success. When Steven would call, I knew I would be pumped up afterward and ready to tackle another audition — which can be scary in and of itself. I also can’t leave out Ben Marney for being a guru of post production. His skills with Audacity saved my butt on more than one occasion! And finally, Joleene Derks. Joleene was a master at marketing as well as auditioning. She and I talked on multiple occasions and after following her advice, I would always end up with a new avenue to explore to put myself out there as a talent. Actually, it was following some of her advice that lead me to meeting up with Tanya S. Bartlett for BVOUK! So far everything has come full circle and it has ALL been a wonderful experience!
SAV: What advice would you give to someone just starting out with voice-over training?
Dunn: Well, first of all, I’d say be prepared for hard work. Nothing is ever gained without putting yourself out there first. Although there is plenty of work, you need to be prepared to hustle for it. If you are truly interested in seeing if the voice over industry is right for you, then I would suggest doing what I did and try SAV’s introductory voice-over class. Taking the class can help you decide whether or not you are cut out for being a voice-over artist. Once you have settled that and decided to take the plunge, I’d recommend taking acting classes. You’re not going to get very far if you can’t be convincing in your auditions! After that, never stop learning. Always take an opportunity to hone your skills, build up your arsenal, and continue to make those connections. Art of all sorts is about connections. Do yourself a favor and join some voice-over groups on Facebook, look for communities that interest you, and start getting to know the people who travel in those circles. My plans for the future include attending local voice-over conferences in my area and getting to know my colleagues.
SAV: Since completing our program, what kind of voice-over projects have you done?
Dunn: Since completing my program at SAV in December of last year, I have had some ups and downs, which I had been mentally prepared for, but it can still be a hard pill to swallow. Real talk: it took a few months before I found solid work, but I DID find it. I have had the opportunity to join BVOUK, which I mentioned before. I also have done a few commercials for online companies, corporate voicemails, but most recently I was awarded an audiobook gig on ACX! I’m super excited to get that started and see where it leads.
SAV: What kind of projects are you looking to do in the future?
Dunn: In the future, I’d like my focus to be on audiobooks and commercials. My goal for audiobooks is to get a few more titles under my belt and then pursue some bigger name publishing companies to be a regular candidate on their narrator list. I’m looking to find an agent who can specifically help me with keeping an eye out for commercial jobs that don’t necessarily come across my “desk.” I currently live in Georgia where there is a big revitalization of the movie industry happening here. If I were able to get in to that…well, that would be a big win for me!
SAV: What do you do to calm down any nerves you have about an audition?
Dunn: Self doubt is an artist’s best friend. I have lived with it when working on my paintings in the past and I don’t think the actual act of painting, or in this case, auditioning, is the hard part. The part that is difficult is evaluating yourself and waiting on a response from the company or rights holder (if it’s for an audiobook) on whether or not you won the contract. The only time I truly question myself is when I’m doing post production (because editing is hard!) and narrating in front of people.
I recently took an audiobook workshop in Atlanta with a small group of 10 or so voice actors. When I realized we were going to be reading in front of one another, I had an internal panic attack. I was not only reading in front of my peers, but also in front of the instructor, who was a director from LA, and a local casting director from the area. My nerves were buzzing that day. I knew I couldn’t flake out! First of all, I had paid for this workshop, but also, if I failed here then what would be the point of all my lessons up until then? It was my time to commit and show the skills that I had so ardently developed. A few ways I came up with to shake out the nerves was to hydrate; it kept my hands busy, but also made sure I didn’t get a dry mouth from being nervous. Also to read the script thoroughly and make notes on parts that I thought were important to remember. I didn’t want to be the first one to read and then look like a complete amateur in front of two directors, nor did I want to wait until the last possible second to read because if I had, then I know I would have been slowly amping myself up and letting the doubt eat away at me. It was best to listen to a few and then jump in! Once I was up there I couldn’t turn back. It was over in about two minutes, but it felt like the longest two minutes of my life. Once I sat back down, I wasn’t even sure what I had been nervous about, but that’s how it always goes.
SAV: What about voice preparation? Any remedies you do to prep your voice for an audition?
Dunn: This one is kind of silly, but when I know I’m about to go for an audition, I like to sing a couple of my favorite tunes. It’s typically some version of Queen (can’t go wrong with Bohemian Rhapsody), the Eagles, or Red Hot Chili Peppers (by the way, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket so I’m sure it’s extra entertaining for my husband to listen to). I also throw in some tongue twisters for my own amusement. My husband always offers to make me a cup of hot tea, which is multi-purpose because it loosens up my vocal chords, helps to hydrate, and it’s typically chamomile so it helps to calm me down if I’m feeling anxious. Finally, I bust out some chapstick. There’s nothing worse than having your lips stick together as you try to narrate. I hate editing out lip smacks, haha!
SAV: Any last thoughts?
Dunn: I’ll leave with this: voice acting is FUN. I’ve already met some amazing people, and I feel like there is plenty more I am able to do. I know how lucky I am to be able to work towards this goal and be able to throw my whole self into it. Without the support of my coaches, my husband, and my peers, I don’t know if I would have made it this far on my own. The best thing about voice acting is that I can do it on MY schedule. I have the time to watch my son grow up and be an integral part of his education, and that is more valuable to me than anything.
Want to hear Kirsten in action? Check out her SoundCloud page!
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