If you think it’s simple saying “Visit your Audi dealer for exceptional offers” or “Panera—food as it should be” in a way that’s convincing, authentic, and relatable, Alison Freed will be happy to set you straight: “It’s not as easy as it appears.”
She should know. The successful voice-over artist has a lengthy roster of clients, from Google and Uber to Disney and Dunkin’ Donuts. Last year she won two Voice Arts Awards, for best voice over in a national commercial campaign and best voice over in a radio commercial.
Freed fell into a voice-over career, but that’s not to say she hasn’t worked for it. After graduating from the University of Redlands with a degree in business and studio art, Freed took a marketing job with a software firm. “It was something I didn’t know much about and wasn’t super-passionate about, but I liked parts of it, and I worked my way up,” she says.
Then her beloved grandmother passed away, and Freed had an “epiphany”—namely, that life is too short to do work that isn’t fully engaging. “I quit my stable, high-income job and moved to LA, to try to make it in music,” she recalls. She was already in a band, and the group played clubs while Freed worked three or four day jobs to keep herself afloat. She had, and continues to have, success as a singer-songwriter, but she still needed a dependable source of income.
“It was 2013. I was burned out and struggling. Then my sister-in-law, who had directed voice talent in Toronto, asked if I had ever thought about voice over,” says Freed. “She said it could be a great career if I was good and worked at it.” Thus a voice-over star was born—but not quite instantaneously.
“I trained for six months,” says Freed. “I went every week to my teacher’s home. There was homework. It was way more intense than I imagined.” But once she made a demo and started sending it out, the jobs began to come in—slowly at first, and then steadily as her reputation grew. Along the way, too, she changed her last name from Fried to Freed, because a name that’s simple to spell and pronounce is paramount in the entertainment industry.
Freed says voice over is really acting, but with a limited set of tools. “Some actors find it way more challenging,” she notes, “because you’re acting without using your body.” The goal, she says, is fully understanding and mastering how your voice comes across, and then “making it come to life, making it sound like your own feelings and emotions.”
Freed has long been a performer, dating at least back to her Rivers days, when she sang in a chorus under David Tierney that traveled to Italy. The Belgium native, who moved to the U.S. at age 7, chose Rivers for the sense of community and connectedness she felt when visiting campus. An important part of her Rivers experience, she says, was participating in the LGBTQ club and coming out at age 14. “In that way, Rivers was huge in helping me explore who I was and what I wanted,” she says. Crucial, too, was the way classes were taught at Rivers: “The seminars were inclusive. You were having a dialogue; you weren’t just being lectured at. You were respecting and learning from one another.”
Voice-over work has opened doors for Freed—in some cases, literally. Much of her work is done in her home studio, but larger clients may bring her into their own recording facilities “One of the coolest ones is Disney,” she reports. “It’s so exciting to go into the voice-over studios where some of the most famous actors have been. It’s such an honor.”
Voice over is a competitive field, but Freed has a simple explanation for her success. “My voice cuts through,” she says. “It rings honest and true, modern and contemporary, like a friend that’s talking to you. And I do have a texture to my voice, a little gravel, that makes it unique but relatable.”