And thanks for reading! We’ve all heard the term “Starving Artist”. And starving artists need a side gig to keep from wasting away to nothing or living out of their car. I’m sure this term was coined because of the nature of freelance performance as a VO artist or actor…and I don’t think it is just a trope. The nature of this business, in general, is “Feast or Famine” And if you are relying on it to make a living you may well be starving!
Not everyone, of course
The idea of a starving artist, while generally true, is not true for everyone of course. There are plenty of people who are able to make a good living doing voice over or as an actor, but there are also plenty who are either just getting by or need a “Day Job” or “Survival Job” to make ends meet. If you are one of those artists who are doing well, you can stop reading now, but if not, what follows are some ideas for survival work that may allow you to quit your day job and concentrate more on your art.
Starting out as an older guy, I am fortunate to have worked two full careers already with retirement. I personally am in the enviable position that I do not rely on my art to survive. Honestly, I could (and many of my friends ask why I don’t) just play golf every day and take naps in the afternoon. CONFESSION: I typically DO nap in the afternoon if I am not on a gig. Hey, I’m old and I need my rest!
Here’s the issue: Because of the on-again/off-again nature of getting work in VO and acting, most people, especially when starting out, have a full-time job in addition to their artist career. That’s great for paying rent and buying food…but it really stifles your ability to audition for and book work. It’s a real balancing act.
The real problem is time. When you are tied to a full-time survival job, you lose 40+ hours a week to pursue VO or acting. You wind up spending time late into the night searching out and auditioning for gigs. If you are fortunate enough to be a home-based VO artist, you then spend many late nights recording and mastering the jobs you booked. You’re burning the candle at both ends and it will negatively impact BOTH your day job and passion career.
If you are a screen or stage actor, it’s even worse. You spend all day working, then all evening finding and auditioning for work and then you either have to use vacation days when you book something, or only accept gigs that work nights and weekends. It’s no wonder so many people abandon their dreams of being a full time VO artist or actor! And if you have a family that just ADDS to the demands on your time!
So, what do you do?
Well, you could do what I did and wait until you retire and have a comfortable income without having to do anything, but I don’t really recommend it. In my case, I didn’t even know this was something I wanted and was passionate about until I was looking around for something to keep me busy during retirement (my knees won’t allow me to golf more than once every three days after all!). If performing is something you love, I do NOT recommend this approach.
There IS another way
We all know the cliché about aspiring actors becoming waiters or waitresses (waitpeople?) while they pursue their acting career, and since they (depending on where they work) can mostly work nights and weekends it works OK. But it is STILL a (mostly) full time job that saps your energy and can be exhausting. What you really need is flexible employment that allows you to have the free time you need to work when you book a gig without a ton of stress. So here are some ideas that are flexible and a few that even allow you to continue to be creative.
Uber/Lyft/Door Dash etc.
These rideshare and food delivery services are perfect for an aspiring artist, assuming you have reliable transportation. We already know you are self-motivated as an artist because in order to succeed as a VO artist or actor you HAVE to be. With these services you sign on and work when you can and simply don’t sign on when you can’t. No boss determining your schedule for you, so when you book a gig you can concentrate on it. They’re available 24/7, so there is no limitations on when you can work other than those imposed by the market you live in.
You could do what my friend Sara Matsui-Colby does. Not only is she a Voice Over artist, Audiobook Narrator and Actor…but she also designs actor one-sheets and post card mailers for fellow artists as well. If you’re looking for someone to design yours, reach out to her and tell her I sent you!
Or, if you either have a talent for, or can learn, photography you can do what my friend Jeremy Bustin does and photograph actor head shots. Jeremy is an actor who has parlayed his skill with the camera into a pretty lucrative side gig. And if you NEED headshots, definitely reach out to Jeremy, he is one of the best on the East Coast. He’s in Richmond Virginia, well worth the trip if you’re not local and soon moving to Atlanta. You can tell him I sent you as well.
Another idea that would at least keep you plugged in to the industry is to sign on to work as a crewmember on a production. This one aims more at the actors than the VO artists, but pursuing a job as a PA or gofer on a film set is not only a way to earn money to survive on, but also introduces you to a range of other people in the industry. I may have mentioned once or twice that relationships are important in the industry, so this is a good way to not only earn some cash but establish some relationships as well. You never know where your next gig might come from!
Can you write well? Have some talent with computers? Consider taking a class or two on WordPress and hang out your shingle for web development. Yeah, there are a lot of web developers out there, but if you are a VO artist or Actor you already know a BUNCH of people who need a website. If you concentrate on just those types of sites you should be able to make a few bucks and maybe keep the lights on.
These are just a few ideas (and some shameless plugs for friends), but you get the idea. At the end of the day what you need is something that puts food on the table and a roof over your head and that still allows you the freedom and flexibility to pursue your VO or acting career without stress. Something that pays enough to keep you whole, while not making huge demands on your time/schedule. Basically, you don’t want anyone else to be able to determine your schedule for you.
At the end of the day
When all is said and done unless you are an A (or B?) list actor/VO artist who is consistently booking work and earning enough money to survive, you’ll likely need some sort of side gig to pay the bills until you are. The key here, in order to maintain momentum and not burn you out, is to find something that interests you and that doesn’t require a full-time 9-5 commitment. What you need is a flexible schedule that you set yourself. You May need to get some training or learn a new skill, but that commitment will be worth it for you to continue to pursue your career in VO or acting. Don’t do what I did and wait till you’re 60 to start moving your career forward, find a side gig that allows you to pursue your career NOW.
Always so resourceful 🥰
Gary Mason says
You know…people gotta eat! 🙂
I’m the poster child for the typical 40+ hour a week full-timer while struggling against time in my pursuit of VO/acting. Im constantly searching for ways out of the day job so I’m not burning the candle at both ends. I’m getting to where I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, but I admit I’m also a bit scared to quit the steady paycheck. Life is expensive!
Gary Mason says
Man, it is definitely a conundrum…and a delicate balancing act…especially with a family. Plus you have to contend with how much time you’ve already invested in the day job toward a potential retirement check. I know it’s not easy, and I wasn’t suggesting people should be reckless…just some idea of things they could do that MAY help them more fully pursue their passion jobs! I KNOW you’ll get there!