In this article, Katie shares her experiences as a freelance voice actor in China. It’s the first of a series of articles illustrating the many talents and interests of Hangzhou’s expats!
Coming to China allows many expats to explore their interests in ways they never before thought possible. Opportunities to try new things and “put yourself out there” seem abundant. Sometimes, expats are presented with an opportunity to foster a talent they didn’t know existed.
It may surprise you that, as the host of Pengyou Pod, I’ve never had formal vocal training. I have, however, done extensive work in China as a freelance voice actor. This wasn’t a skill I knew I possessed until I came to China. One day, when I was a student studying language at Zhejiang University, a woman overheard me talking with one of my classmates. She approached me, gave me her name card, and asked me if I would be interested in recording some listening exams for English students. She told me that my “standard English accent” was very “clear” and “easy to understand” “perfect for students” etc. I took her up on the offer and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Getting into the voice acting business has been a networking challenge. Many recording studios and agents rely on word of mouth or guanxi to find their talent. The jobs I’ve been able to book have all come from knowing someone who knows someone. Once I’ve made the connection and done my audition, I try to maintain my contact to continue booking jobs.
At the moment, I record for four different production studios. One focuses on “English Listening” exam materials – this was the first job I booked back in 2011. Another client does similar work, only the materials are directed toward children. I’ve done phonics recordings for textbooks with this client multiple times. It’s not the most thrilling work but it does help me develop my craft and increase my exposure. The third client is strictly online. I record the materials for ‘Company 3’ at home and they post my recordings on their WeChat group. This client focuses on children’s story books and is my favorite thus far. The fourth and final studio is what I would consider “the big leagues.” ‘Company 4’, produces their own content in house including: web shorts, cartoons, and dubbing. I did some dubbing work for a Chinese soap opera they wanted an English audio track for. It was my most official gig to date.
For people who are interested in pursuing this kind of work, it’s not as easy as you think. Before you jump in the studio consider your vocal abilities. Can you emote on cue? Are you articulate? Can you create an authentic performance from a cold reading? These are all things to consider. Many times I don’t see the script or material I’m meant to read until I arrive. I have to take the words on the page and make them come to life – sometimes with vague and frustrating “guidance” from a director. It’s not always the most exciting work either; like when I’m doing recordings for children: “Red, red, the ball is red” or “A, a, ape.” That being said, it’s still one of my favorite things to do and I hope to continue working in voice acting in the future.
Like I said before, I got these jobs through “guanxi.” Like most things in China, it comes down to who you know. The people you meet and the friendships you forge can open doors you didn’t know exist. Opportunities to travel, to work, or to see how the other half live are all there if you are just willing to put yourself out there.