Naomi Mercer (BA ’00) turned a background in singing and a love for words and dialect into a successful career as a voice over actor. Along the way, she learned how to sustain both her business and her passion. After 12-years in Los Angeles, Naomi is settling back into Seattle, working, and hoping to create a local voice over community.
How did you end up doing voice over work?
After I graduated from UW, I spent about two years in Seattle. I sing too, and I was in some bands that played around the Seattle area, and it was just too fun to go anywhere else at first. When I was 24, I moved to Los Angeles and worked on everything—assembling a team around me and trying to book whatever work I could get my hands on. I had done music before and was familiar with microphones and microphone technique—I even had bits and pieces of equipment laying around. I wanted a career in acting, and voice over was where I was making money. So, I got busy teaching myself how to record and edit, and started focusing primarily on voice over auditions.
What are the opportunities available in voice over work?
Day-to-day jobs include phone trees for companies and company instructional videos. E-learning has become a huge market that didn’t exist until recently, and now there are actual e-learning production companies. Then there are small market commercials. Some of those are really fun projects because you get to work directly with the writer and editor and you kind of go back and forth—it’s similar to the rehearsal process. Video games are also a huge market. Then there are the national commercials and animation projects. I have my own client list that I've built up over the years where people contact me directly to work on jobs. I also have agents in LA, New York, Minneapolis, Houston, Denver, San Francisco, and Portland who send me auditions for those projects that I submit for every day, which is similar to buying a lottery ticket. For those jobs, everyone submitting is good and it's basically luck of the draw if you get it. But you keep throwing your hat in the ring and doing your best, which is something that I learned here at the U: Always come and be present, and always bring your A-game. And just enjoy the process. Don’t be playing for the result and counting on the outcome.
Always come and be present, and always bring your A-game. And just enjoy the process. Don’t be playing for the result and counting on the outcome.
What investments in equipment have you made in order to do this work?
In the last 15-years, the price of equipment has done a 180 and that’s how I’m able to have a home studio. If you want to do voice over, you have to have home equipment. Just like with any small business, when you get started you have to invest in a couple of things. One: Your education and your technique. Two: You can start with the computer you already have, but you should invest in a microphone and editing software. You can really do it on a shoestring budget. I’ve developed a course that is about the business side of voice over. I felt like there were so many classes out there on technique that were good, and so many acting classes that are really good. But the side of how you earn a living doing this, how you turn it into a small business, and how do you keep that business sustainable, I wasn’t seeing tutorials on that, so I made one! I have an online class, and I also do workshops.
How do you stay passionate about the work?
The way I stay passionate is two-fold. First: the relationships that I build with all the clients. They’re all creative people, too. And when we build those relationships up and they get really strong, the client comes to me with creative stuff and I go to them with creative stuff. We knock out these different jobs in between and turn it into a really fun process. Second: I just try to go after and respond to work that speaks to me. If it involves learning, that’s easy to stay passionate about. If it’s about teaching people something and it’s about doing it in a way that my voice stays interesting, doesn’t fall flat, stays engaging and stays sounding real, that’s easy to stay passionate about. Everyone’s learning and I love that. Anything with a story, like an animation project or somebody’s passion project. It’s similar to being in film—we’re telling a story through a medium and that to me is me living my dream. I didn’t know that I would be doing it in this form, but boy am I glad. I love it. I’m so glad that I’m working in my field in any capacity. That makes it easy to stay passionate.
I learned that if you don’t know the answer to stop relying on it being memorized, to start thinking your way through it and come up with your own independent thought—to come up with your own answers.
What did you learn at the School of Drama, besides the voice training, that prepared you to work?
I felt like I walked away from the four-year degree having learned how to learn anything. When I got to school, all I really knew how to do was memorize the information long enough to regurgitate it on a test to get a grade, but I wasn’t interested in knowing and understanding the content itself, which is the whole point. When I got here, I did not do great. And then something changed. It was a conditioning of the mind; I learned that if you don’t know the answer to stop relying on it being memorized, to start thinking your way through it and come up with your own independent thought—to come up with your own answers. That’s a tool that’s helped me beyond anything else.