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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What You Need to Ask Yourself Before Hiring a Voice Coach

I’ve said it a few times before on this blog, so at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say it again: When you’re just starting out in voice over, you need to hire a voice coach.  An experienced voice coach can give you a number of advantages – help identify your strengths and weaknesses, show you how to train your voice, teach you new methods, networking, the list goes on.  However, before you make the final decision on a coach, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself to determine what you need in a coach and to ensure that the coach is qualified.

1. Career-wise, where am I? 
Are you brand new to the voice over industry, or do you have experience?  If you’re new, your reasons for seeking a coach are pretty obvious.  You need help getting started and honing your vocal skills. However, if you’ve worked in the industry before, reflect on why you’re considering hiring a coach at this juncture in your career.

2. What do I want to achieve by hiring a coach?
This correlates closely with the first questions.  Before making a selection, think about what your reasons are for hiring a coach, and what sort of outcome you’re seeking by doing it.  Is your goal to learn something new, like breathing exercises or how to expand your range? Or are you wanting to isolate your weakness and get tips to overcome them? Whatever the reasons, figure out what they are beforehand so you can focus your sessions on them. Or maybe you need help in evaluating what your "signature" voice is or your "money" voice. And working on refining that unique quality.

3. What are this person’s qualifications?
 This is an important one. You definitely don’t want to waste your time or money by hiring someone that is inexperienced or won’t be able to help you meet your goals.  Find out what qualifies this person in vocal coaching – ask them who they’ve trained with, what other actors they’ve worked with, and what their coaching style is.  Are they experienced in the areas that you want to make improvements? Can they realistically help you? If not, then keep looking until you find someone who is. Be aware that their are many so-called coaches out there who are not very qualified to be teaching at all. They are simply aware of the excitement today over the voiceover industry and are there purely to take advantage of the naive newcomer. Before you sign up for an online VO workshop, check out the background of the instructor first. Look for the biggest names and do some research. Maybe ask a working pro you know who they may recommend.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tips for Creating a Smoother Payment Process

Any self-employed voice over actor knows that the payment process can be one of the most challenging parts of being your own boss. While most clients are good about paying promptly, there are times when you have to deal with someone who is, shall we say, less than punctual.  This can cause a huge headache because of course you want to be paid what you’ve earned, but at the same time you don’t want to create a volatile situation that could potentially damage your reputation.  One way to avoid these situations is to set specific guidelines for managing the payment process. Here are some tips for creating a less stressful process for getting paid.

·         Don’t be tardy with your invoices.  If you’re late getting out your invoices, this reflects poorly on you and could make your client think that payment isn’t a priority.  To avoid this, plan on sending invoices out upon completion of the work, or weekly if that works better for you.  It’s best not to let them sit longer than a week, though. Remember, the sooner the invoice is out, the sooner you get paid! I think it's best to send the invoice for the job along with the audio file via email. If the invoice should go to another person within the company or connected with the project, find out in advance who that person is and get their email address. 

·         Let people know what actions will be taken if payment isn’t received.  On your invoice, include wording about what happens if payment isn’t received in your specified timeframe – 30 days is usually a good target.  Whether you plan on charging late fees or even using a collection agency for particularly outstanding payments, make this clear on the invoice so there is no question later on.

·         Be professional and organized in how you maintain invoices and payments.  Good organizational skills are a must when handling invoices and payments.  Whatever method you’re using (i.e., PayPal, accounting software, etc.), make sure your system is accurate, detailed, and easy to use when it comes to logging invoices and payments.
·         Keep an eye on your payment deadlines.  If a payment deadline has past, you need to know it so you can address it right away.  Some software programs are set up to email reminders to overdue clients or to you, but you can also note this information yourself so you can stay on top of it. I never wait more than a few days after an invoice becomes past due before I send a polite notice via email to the person whom I worked on the project with. In the subject of the email don't be shy... write something like. "Payment Past Due on___ project! Then be sure attached AGAIN that past due invoice for their reference. In the body of the notice write... "When may I expect payment?" Asking a question encouraging them to respond to the your past due notice.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Bad Habits You Need to Avoid in Voice Over

Bad habits are something we all deal with, both in personal and professional capacities.  While some of these behaviors aren’t too big of a deal, others can cause lasting damage to your career. In the voice over industry, there are a few negative patterns that actors can find themselves falling into if they’re not careful. Watch out for these bad habits:

·         Sub-par reading comprehension skills – Understanding the script you’ve been given is an absolute must.  If you can’t fully comprehend the material, it’s going to come across in the audio.  While much of this has to do with your innate comprehension skills, failure to understand and read what’s on the script can also be due to carelessness – which is where the bad habit aspect comes in. This is often demonstrated as missing a word on the script, adding your own words, mispronouncing what’s on the page, or emphasizing the wrong words.

·         Failing to make a real connection – This goes hand-in-hand with the first bad habit.  In addition to understanding the text, you need to make a connection with it.  Even if it’s something completely uninteresting to you, you need to find something that will connect you to the material.  Failing to do this can result in voice over that feels detached and phony.

·         Overestimating your talent – Arrogance is a big turn-off for most people, including your clients.  If you’re an excellent voice over actor, that’s wonderful – just don’t act like it. It’s fine to recognize your strengths and skill set, and you should definitely be advertising those to potential clients, but there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

·         Underestimating your talent – Just as bad as overestimating your talent is underestimating it.  Don’t sell yourself short! This is a highly competitive industry, and self-doubt will get you nowhere. Play up your strengths, work on your weaknesses, and try to find the middle path between overconfidence and humility.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Top Marketing Tips for Voice Actors

Being a successful voice over actor involves two main factors – your talent and how you market that talent.  You can have the best voice in the world, but if you don’t properly market it, you’re not going to find the success you’re after.  Here are some of the top tips to include in your voice over marketing strategy:

·         Have a professional website – Websites are about as commonplace today as ____, but you still need one, and it needs to look professional. If you can’t create a high quality site yourself, it’s worth the investment to hire a pro to make one for you.

·         Blog – Keeping content on your website is very important to keep your page updated and relevant. One way to do this is to blog regularly with industry news, personal experiences in VO, and similar topics – just like what I do here.

·         Guest blog – Don’t limit your blogging just to your site, either.  Ask friends and colleagues if they would be willing to let you guest blog on their sites. You’ll reach a whole new segment of folks that may not have heard of you previously.

·         Use a professional email – If your email address is smoothtalkindude@whatever.com, then people are not going to view you as a professional.  You need a custom email that lets people know voice over isn’t just some hobby for you – it’s your business.  Go for something along the lines of yourname@yourbusiness.com and it will speak volumes to potential clients.

·         Network like crazy – Attend conferences, meet-ups and any and all events related to VO that will help you get your name out there.

·         Keep business cards handy – Whether you’re attending VO-related events or just going to the grocery store, have a stash of business cards at the ready. You never know who you’re going to run into, and there’s nothing worse than fumbling around for a pen and paper to share contact info.

·         Join a professional organization – Adding that you are a member of such-and-such will only boost your credibility as a voice over actor.  Being a part of a professional organization will give people the impression that you’re experienced, reliable, and most important, a pro at what you do. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Are You In It for the Long Haul with Your Clients?

The voice over industry has changed dramatically over the last 10 years.  Competition has gone up, with more actors looking for jobs than ever before.  However, there’s also more work out there, with the rise of video game voice over and other niche markets.  So with all this competition and, thankfully, available jobs, how can you ensure a steady flow of work for yourself? Well, one way is to view your clients as long-term fixtures in your career, rather than simply seeking a short-term gain from them.

There are a few reasons why it is advantageous to you to enter into professional relationships with a focus on the long haul.  One is that you increase your chances of getting and maintaining a regular work flow when you’re working with known clients.  When your clients know and trust you, and are familiar with your skill set, they’re more likely to keep throwing work your way.  Another benefit goes toward your reputation. Long-term relationships with clients tell other prospective clients that you are an experienced professional who works well with others.  Finally, working with clients long-term also creates a smoother, more efficient working relationship, with both of you understanding each other’s needs and communicating more effectively.

So how does a voice over actor cultivate these long haul relationships?  Well, the first step is to do your homework on potential clients.  Make sure they are legitimate companies that will pay as promised. The fastest way to upset a voice over actor and destroy a working relationship is to not make payments for completed work.  Don’t become a victim – check references and do what you can to ensure the new client can pay up when it’s due.

Another necessity for maintaining long-term working relationships is to be upfront and honest and expect the same of your clients.  Establish this in the beginning, and be sure that effective communication plays a role in every exchange. Many actor-client relationships have ended prematurely simply because the parties didn’t know how to communicate well.

Finally, if you want your clients to look after you (i.e., keep the work coming), you will need to look after them.  This means being fair and honest, recognizing your capabilities and limits, and not taking on more work than you can handle.  There may also be times when issues arise regarding fair payment. I’m talking about script reworking, re-reads, and things of that nature. If you don’t feel that the originally agreed-upon compensation is fair any longer due to changes in the project, speak up.  However, if it’s something that ends up being a minor detail, like changing out a few words, you might want to let that slide.  While there are actors that don’t agree with this philosophy, instead demanding more money for “extra” work, these are the situations that result in short-term work. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Investments Worth Making as a VO Actor

For most people, breaking into the voice over industry is a bit more complicated than recording a demo, sending it off to an agent, and waiting for the jobs to start rolling in.  There are a few other steps that most folks need to complete first, and these will usually come at a cost. Now, before you start thinking that you’re going to have to shell out the big bucks to land VO work, keep in mind that the amount you spend on your voice over career is completely up to you.  However, there are a few things that are usually worth the money, and skimping on these to save a few bucks probably won’t do you any favors in the long run.

Acting Classes or Voice Coaching
Most voice actors who have found success in the industry have spent a good deal of time in acting classes, taking lessons with a voice coach, or both.  That’s because the best VO actors know that you have to train your voice to perform how you want it to – it doesn’t just come naturally for most people.  Take the time – and spend the money – to enroll in some classes or lessons with an experienced professional that understands the unique dynamics of voice over work.

Networking and Attending Conferences/Workshops
This is another area that some people balk at due to the costs of traveling or taking time off from their day job.  However, attending workshops and conferences is money well spent, because it gives you an ideal time to network with other professionals in the industry. In VO, a lot of it is about who you know – which is kind of the whole point of networking. So do it! And have fun!

No one likes a poor quality website that is difficult to navigate. loads slowly and looks like it was created in 2003. And what happens when someone lands on a page like this? They close it and move on to the next one.  Don’t let this happen to you.  If you can’t design a high quality website yourself, take on the expense of paying someone to do it for you.  Your website will (hopefully) generate a lot of traffic, many of whom are potential employers, so this is money well spent. Make sure that your DEMOS are immediately accessible to visitors. Place them on the landing page. After all, THAT'S what a potential client is really looking for as he/she whizzes through several websites to find the right talent.

Recording Equipment
Now this is where you can end up spending top dollar – or you can look for high quality equipment that won’t cost you a fortune.  It’s out there, I promise. When purchasing recording equipment, do your research. I can’t stress this enough – get online, research products, compare prices, and think about what you REALLY need and how it can positively impact your business. Most VO recording work today is done in home studios. Without getting into the technical specifics of home studio recording, start with a high quality microphone and preamp combination that works well with your type of voice. THIS is where you should spend the bulk of your equipment budget. That is, once you've created a completely sound proof/noise proof environment in which to record.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Branding: What it is and Why You Need it as a Voice Over Actor

When you think of branding, what comes to mind?  Maybe it’s the Nike Swoosh, or the Coca-Cola polar bears.  Both of these are highly recognized branding images, and both are part of each company’s overall marketing strategy.  Well, what’s YOUR marketing plan as a voice over actor? Does it include branding elements?  Because it should, and there’s a very important reason why.

But first, let’s talk a little bit about what branding means in the voice over industry.  Like any other field, you need to have recognizable elements that people can use to associate you with your work. Unfortunately, for VO actors, this isn’t as easy as creating a logo or catchy slogan.  Cues like these just won’t work in VO, so you’re going to have to be more deliberate in your branding strategy and focus solely on audio aspects and building a solid reputation.

One way to do this is to think about your brand as having two distinct parts.  One is the talent aspect, which focuses on your unique craft, the techniques you use, and your vocal range.  The other part of your brand encompasses who you are as a professional (i.e., your work ethic, experience, interpersonal skills, etc.). In terms of the talent portion of your brand, this should reflect your strengths as a performer and showcase your best work.  Be careful not to seem too sales-y, though.  Even though you are essentially selling yourself with your brand, you want to be make sure that it consists of what you can actually deliver consistently, and not just something you did one time that you think sounds great. 

The professional portion of your brand is a little trickier, as this is something that you’ll have to build over time and through experience.  Basically, the goal is for the listener to see your name, hear your voice, and think, “Oh I know this person. He/she is a true professional, always delivers on time, and is easy to work with.” Just a few years ago I decided, and as encouraged by clients, to promote myself as the Voice of Americana. Which has been working quite well for me. One quick trip to my website and one can see that I can substantiate that Americana claim and that slogan. If you cannot support your slogan, which supports your brand, don't use a slogan. There are already too many talent out there already using empty slogans.

So what’s next after you’ve got a demo that you feel sufficiently represents your brand?  Well, you get it out there.  Website, social media, sending it to producers…whatever it takes, once you’ve developed your brand, it’s time to make it a RECOGNIZABLE one that people will use to associate your name with your distinct sound. This is, of course, an ongoing process and I believe I'm extending my brand a little farther each day. That's a constant goal.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Does Your Voice Need a Break?

Voice over acting may be one of the best careers out there (I may be a little biased here), but it’s still a job like any other, and sometimes you need a vacation.  More specifically, there are times when your voice needs a vacation.  Use the information below to help you determine if some time off for your vocal chords is in order.

Identifying a Problem
The first thing to do is evaluate yourself for symptoms to determine if there is a problem.  Some of the most common symptoms when your voice is tired or overworked include a raspy or hoarse-sounding voice, a sore throat, the urge to clear your throat or cough frequently, difficulty speaking, or a sudden change in how deep your voice sounds.

Possible Causes
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it could be due to a number of possible factors.  One of the most common is an upper respiratory infection or allergies that can result in postnasal drip.  This drip can cause irritation in the throat that can negatively impact your voice. Other possible causes include acid reflux, asthma or vocal nodules.  Misusing or overusing your voice can also result in the symptoms above. (I have a deviated septum which causes mucus.) This is all too often the case with voice over actors, especially those who use the high and low extremes of their vocal range or who regularly switch to “character” voices.


If your voice issue isn’t the result of a medical or health condition, there are a few steps you can take to help remedy the situation.  One is to rest your voice.  Take that vocal vacation I mentioned above and give your vocal chords some R & R so they can recover.  Other things that can help soothe your throat and return your sound back to normal include drinking plenty of water; avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes; maintaining a healthy diet; and using a humidifier.  Take vocal breaks when you can, and speak at a normal volume.  Also, use proper breathing techniques to keep from straining your voice unnecessarily.

I avoid excessive telephone or other conversations during the day. Everyone understands that I need to "save" my voice for my work. So I keep conversations short. And as much as I would like to "scream" sometimes....  well, I just don't!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Want to be a Better VO Actor? Be a Better Listener

Many people interested in voice over work think it’s as easy as reading off a script into a microphone, and that the job equates to just speaking for a living.  However, there’s a lot more involved, and one of the biggest obstacles that many new VO actors have to overcome isn’t learning how to speak a certain way – it’s learning how to listen.

Being a good listener can benefit you in many areas of life – probably all of them, in fact – but in the voice over industry, honing this skill can be especially helpful.  There are a number of ways that listening, and listening well, can positively impact your career.  In the beginning, you may experience most of this when you’re practicing and finding your niche.  Take the time to listen to every voice over sample that you can, whether it’s commercials, video games, audiobooks, or even a training video at your day job.  Listen for the volume, tone, inflection and other subtleties that you may not have noticed before taking an interest in VO work.  Think about how these nuances may affect you and other listeners, and use this information to learn what works and what doesn’t. One thing I find helpful while watching TV is... go into another room and just listen to the program you've been watching. Without the visual aid you'll find that you hear subtle little things you didn't even notice before. 

You’ll also need to listen to yourself so you can compare your work against that of other professionals.  Record yourself doing a variety of readings and in different styles, and play them back so you can evaluate yourself. Listen for those same things that I mentioned above – volume, inflection, etc. – to determine if you are being effective or not.  Be objective, and keep in mind that most VO artists spend years practicing their craft.

Being a good listener also pays off once you start landing jobs.  Listen carefully to what your employer is after with their project, so you can understand and meet their expectations. The better you can do this, the better you’ll look in their eyes.  Your career is very much dependent on your reputation, and you can start building a good standing in the industry by listening, understanding, and rising to meet the challenge.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Caring for Your Voice During Wildfire Season

Wildfires are raging across several western states now, and with them come a number of factors to consider. Obviously, if you’re in an area being directly impacted by a fire, then your immediate concerns are probably centered on the safety of your family and property. However, if you’re not being affected in this way but are still in an area besieged by smoke, then you need to start thinking about how the smoke can affect your vocal care routine.

Smoke can wreak havoc on your vocal folds and respiratory system, in turn impacting your voice and your work as a voice over professional. To help minimize the impacts of living in an area where wildfires are burning, there are a few steps you can take to keep your system running smoothly and your voice sounding as good as it always does. One of the most important is to stay hydrated.  While you should be doing this anyway – a properly hydrated body will produce better vocal sounds – drinking plenty of water is particularly important when there is smoke present.

In addition to plain old water, some actors recommend supplementing your fluid intake with Throat Coat tea or regular tea with honey and lemon.  This can help soothe throat irritation, which is pretty much a given when breathing in smoky air. Using a humidifier, an Albuterol inhaler, a Neti rinse, or even wearing a medical mask are other ways to help combat the smoke and better care for your voice during fire season. Change the filters for your HVAC system more frequently. You'll find they are doing there job diligently during this time. 

Obviously, wildfires are out of your control as a voice over actor, but taking proper care of your voice while the fires are burning IS something you’re in charge of.  Use the tips above while the fires are burning to help your voice – and voice over career – stay in top shape.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Are Narration Voice Over Demo Videos the Wave of the Future?

Creating a demo reel is a must for any voice over actor.  As I’ve talked about before on the blog, demos are one of your best methods for finding and getting work – they allow agents and producers to get an idea of your unique sound and how it can fit in with their projects.  In the past, these demos were purely audio-based, but now, more and more actors are turning to narration video demos to market their brand.  This raises the question – are these videos the new standard in demos?

The answer to this isn’t easy.  While video demos are definitely becoming more popular among voice over actors, there are still plenty of places were audio demos will do the trick.  However, there is something to be said for the advantages that come with providing a video in addition to your audio piece.  For one, we live in a world where imagery is king.  People want to see, and not just hear. Providing them with video can make for a richer viewing/listening experience, with your audience getting more out of it. Many of my clients use my VO work within their videos. Be they for TV broadcast, film, web viewing, corporate presentations, trade shows, product illustration, explainer & how-to videos, games or any other type of popular visual media, my clients have said they get a chance to see how others are incorporating my work into their projects. Which reinforces my work as an established full time professional voice actor.

The images you choose can also help promote the emotions you want your listener to feel.  For instance, in my video demo, there is a piece I did for the show “Addicted to the Outdoors.”   This is a perfect example of how audio alone isn’t always enough.  In this case, while the audio may sound fine on its own, it’s the addition of the video images that really elevate this sample to the next level.  Showing your audience what you are talking about immerses them in the experience, and can even help them tune in better to nuances in the audio they might miss otherwise.

So, what’s the bottom line here?  The bottom line is you should absolutely add a voice over narration video to your repertoire.   Videos can enhance your reading and create a better overall experience for your audience.  Whether these types of demos are the wave of future is still being determined, but as with everything in life, it never hurts to be ready for what lies ahead.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Which Social Media Platform is Right for You?

As a voice over actor, you’re well aware of the importance of promoting your brand.  While a website is a great foundation for this, you need to expand beyond that too – and social media provides a great way to do it.  In the not-so-distant past, Facebook was the best way to do this, but now there are a number of other platforms available. So which one is best for you?

Start by doing a quick review of some of your options.  Besides Facebook, there’s Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and more still.  Determine how each works, how they’re different from each other, and what the possible benefits from using one over another might be.  You need to figure out how using Instagram, for instance, will promote your brand more than, say, Pinterest.

While you’re reviewing the possible social media platforms, think about how using a particular site will impact you directly. Ask yourself these questions:  How will this site benefit me? Who will I reach using this form of social media? How much time will this require of me? How will I measure the impact of using it?

Once you’ve narrowed down the list to a few sites you think would be a good fit for you, ask your stakeholders what they think.  A quick survey – via email blast or text – can give you great feedback on what sites the people you want to connect with are using.   Obviously, these are sites that should make your short-list, because this is where your audience is.

After settling on a social media platform (or two or three), spend some time familiarizing yourself with it before launching it to your audience.  Learn how the site works and observe others to see how they’re using it to reach people. 

Even after you’ve been using a particular site for a while, take the time to review it periodically to make sure it is still working for you. Some sites – like Facebook – will let you know how many people you’ve reached.  You can also gauge your impact by how much interaction you have with others, whether it’s in terms of likes, retweets, favorites, etc.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Tips for Conquering Stage Fright

Stage fright can happen to the best of us. Even the most experienced voice actors can get a case of the stutters, or sweaty palms, or whatever physical reaction they’re prone to.  However, there are a few things you can do to help you overcome stage fright and deliver the performance you were meant to.

·         Practice, practice, practice.  One of the single, biggest mistakes voice over actors can make is to not practice their read.  You want to know the script inside out before you get in front of the mic, because then you’ll know what to read and how to read it. Sometimes, though, there’s not always ample time to practice when you get your reading last-minute, or even late revisions to the script.  If this happens, keep a cool head, and give it as many read-throughs as possible before your delivery.

·         Allow for some buffer time before your read.  If you’re reading at a studio, get there early, find a quiet spot, and run over your lines again.  If you're doing a phone patch, ISDN, Skype or other live feed sessions, drink some water or tea (I recommend Throat Coat Tea – nothing caffeinated or alcoholic – prior to the session and focus on what’s coming up to get your head in the game. 

·         Create rituals.  Rituals, or having the same process for each gig, can be very comforting for some actors.  For instance, you might start with a bit of meditation, then do a few vocal warm-ups and facial stretches.  Whatever you do, make it the same routine each time to help get you focused and ready for your performance. Relax and put your personality into your read.

·         Focus on the performance, not the audience.  This is what really matters anyway – the end product.  It doesn’t matter who is listening right now; what matters is the performance you’re delivering. Remember, they picked YOU because of your unique gift, so run with that and give the performance 110% and forget the audience.

Stage fright is a very real concern for many VO actors, and for some it can end a career before it even really begins.  Don’t let this happen to you – use the tips above to figure out what exercises will calm and focus you so you can deliver the best possible reading.