Working as a Narrator

What kind of career can you expect as a Narrator?

It seems unlikely that very many people set out, at a young age, to become narrators. Ask kids in grade school what they want to become when they grow up, and they might say "Astronaut" or "Teacher" or "Doctor" -- and perhaps a few might even say they want to be actors, or work in some related aspect of show business. But are any of them going to say that they want to pin their future hopes on voiceover recording? Probably not.

Yet many, many people do end up as adults working in this field. So, it is a somewhat unusual profession. Those who do it most likely arrive at the work indirectly, starting out in some other field. There are some obvious paths, like the stage or screen actor who does voice work on the side, and perhaps ends up specializing in it, or at least doing a lot of it. Some famous examples include Morgan Freeman, Linda Hunt, Joan Cusack, Peter Coyote, and many others.

It's also quite typical to find radio announcers who expand into this field, some with less success than others. One has to keep in mind that narration -- which means, providing the soundtrack for a pictorial medium like video or film -- is not the same as speaking on the radio, where there is no need for synchronization with an image. A good-sounding voice is not the only factor in performing this task.

Unfortunately, the Census Bureau and other entities that track employment statistics do not make any distinction between narration and other types of performance. In the links below, you'll find data for "announcers" and data for "actors" but none specifically for narrators. However, the conclusions drawn by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in those other categories are pretty much the same that a narrator faces, and they are daunting.

For announcers, the BLS says (in part): "Competition for announcer jobs will continue to be keen… Employment is projected to decline…" For actors, the outlook is similar: "Actors endure long periods of unemployment, intense competition for roles, and frequent rejections in auditions… Most actors struggle to find steady work and only a few achieve recognition as stars." (The classic opening scenes of the movie Tootsie depict this struggle very well!)

So is it totally hopeless? Obviously not, since films, TV shows, and other media (like web-based productions, desktop presentations, and more) will continue to require narration. The important things for someone contemplating this as a career to know are: be prepared, and if you get work, be professional. When you have an opportunity to work with a good script and a good team, the results can be wonderful and the work very fulfilling.

Meanwhile, producers and others who hire narrators will benefit by viewing the relationship with talent from a broad perspective. It may be true that a particular production has a tight budget, or a tight deadline, or other pressures that seem to be of paramount importance. Still, it is important to view the process as a collaboration, in which every party is important. That's the only way to ensure that narrators -- like other members of the team -- will still be available for future productions. If the talent pool dries up, it can be harder to produce quality work, and to maintain any consistency.

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