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Friday, October 30, 2015

5 Amazing Things About Being a Voice Over Actor

I have the best job in the world.  No really, I do. I have a gift, and I have worked very hard to cultivate it and turn it into something that I’m both passionate about and pays the bills - not too many people get to say that about their job.  If you’re thinking about getting into voice over work, what are you waiting for? There are so many wonderful things about this line of work.

1.    You get to be creative.  People were not meant to be stuck in office cube farms, pecking away at keyboards for 40 hours a week in a place completely devoid of inspiration or creativity.  After all, it’s inspiration and creativity that have propelled humanity into forward progress and have put so much beauty into our lives. In the voice over industry, there are countless opportunities for creativity. Even if you’re doing a basic narration project, you can tap into your creative side and make it your own.
2.    You are always learning and growing. Voice over is an ever-evolving line of work, so you are always adapting to new situations. This forces you to be in learning mode 24/7, whether it’s discovering new technologies, developing new skills as an actor, or meeting new people and learning from them. This is such a benefit, in terms of both professional and personal growth.
3.    You can work from home and according to your own schedule. Having the ability to work from home and the flexibility of designing your own schedule is amazing. Of course, we always have to answer to someone, whether it’s a client or an agent or whoever, but voice over is a great field to be in if you want to be your own boss.
4.    You can be picky about what you work on. Your schedule isn’t the only thing you’re in charge of; you can also be choosy about what projects you take on (provided you have ample work, of course). Getting to decide what you do allows you to focus more on the stuff that you’re passionate about, and not take on jobs just to make a buck.
5.    You touch the lives of countless people. This might sound a little cheesy, but you really do touch lives in VO work. Whether you’re hawking prescription drugs or doing truck commercials, you are making a connection with your audience, and there’s no telling what kind of impact that can have on their lives. 

Of course, finding success in voice over and enjoying these perks isn’t a matter of simply recording yourself reading something, sending it off to an agent, and BOOM! all of a sudden you’re rich and famous. There’s a lot of hard work involved, and dedication, perseverance, and patience are what really pays off in this industry. You focus on those, and you’ll find yourself saying, “Man, I have the best job in the world,” too. As they say, "If you enjoy what you do for a living it's not a job."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

5 Ways to Become a Better Voice Over Actor

Like so many other professions, voice over acting is a constantly evolving line of work where being competitive is one of the keys to success.  Actors must always be on their A-game, and they have to consistently deliver top-notch products if they want to make it in the industry. Here’s how you can elevate yourself from “good” to “great” and become a better voice over actor.

1.    Keep your ego in check, but give yourself props when they’re due. This is all about balance in how you view yourself.  You could be the greatest VO actor who ever lived, but you shouldn’t think that about yourself. Those kind of thoughts lead to massive egos, which will only hurt you in the long run. However, you do need to acknowledge the skill you have and the success you’ve found, and applaud yourself for that. 
2.    Recognize that there’s always room for improvement.  This goes hand-in-hand with #1. You can always do a better job, and you should always be growing as an actor. Take acting or voice classes, attend workshops, and practice and learn any way you can. Discover your strengths and weaknesses, and use this information to your advantage.
3.    Take care of your body. If your physical health isn’t important to you already, you’re doing yourself - and your career - a huge disservice. When your body isn’t healthy, your voice can suffer as well, so take action to become healthier.  Drink lots of water, exercise, eat the right foods, don’t smoke, meditate - not only will you feel better, you’ll sound better, too. And don't neglect the health of your teeth. We all know that teeth that are damaged can effect your speech, however, poor dental hygiene can effect your whole body when decay is occurring. Personally, a clean mouth makes for a clean performance. That may just be in my head but I tend to brush my teeth often throughout the day as I'm working in the studio.
4.    Set goals for yourself. Most people perform better when they’re working toward a goal, so set a few for yourself. Maybe you’ve always wanted to do an audiobook, or perhaps you want to develop your own fictional character. Whatever it is, take some time each week to work on a specific goal. Not only will it help you expand your career, it will help you be a better voice actor as well.

Be adaptable. Times change, and so must you. If you don’t move forward with changes in the industry, it’s going to leave you behind. You have to be willing to adapt to new situations. The same goes for working with clients; flexibility is imperative. If you’re not willing to make changes when necessary or to compromise with others, you’ll develop a reputation as a difficult actor, and it’ll damage your career. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

We’re Called Voice Over ACTORS for a Reason!

There’s something that a lot of people - both in and out of the voice over industry - just don’t seem to get. Voice over work, at its core, is acting. That’s why we’re called voice over actors.  But this concept is sadly lost on so many people, who believe that we actors are simply reading the words given to us on a script.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, and as an actor, this misconception can be extremely frustrating.  There are so many skills that go into cultivating a successful VO career, and acting is one of the most important of these. In fact, most of us spend years developing that skill, and we’re still working on it until the day we retire!

For all the people out there wondering just what makes the ability to act so important in voice over, I’ll tell you. 

1.    We have to be believable. First and foremost, anyone listening to your voice over work has to believe that what you’re saying is IT...even when it’s not. Sometimes the only way to do this is to act, and to do it well.
2.    We have to connect with our audience. Believability is crucial, but so is making a connection. If your audience can’t connect with you on some level, you haven’t done your job.
3.    What you put into your work comes out in the product. In other words, if you infuse your work with emotion and realism, that will be conveyed in the end product, and it will be a better product because of it.

So how do you hone those acting chops? Simple - you practice. And then practice some more, and then do it all over again. You should also take the time to observe other actors at work. Here are some ways to brush up on your acting skills:

1.    Enroll in an acting class. Every voice over actor should do this, and not just at the start of their career. An acting class can teach you the basics, but it will also put you in situations where you have to think on your feet and get outside of your comfort zone. You can learn from others and take whatever critiquing they have to offer, too.
2.    Join a local theatre group. There’s nothing like being on a stage in front of a live audience to show you what it really means to act.

3.    Change your perspective when watching other actors.  Maybe in the past when you watched a movie or went to a play, you were there purely for the entertainment value. Next time, try watching with a different focus. Pay attention to what the actor does and says, how he delivers his lines, his timing, his expressions and body movements - all of these will determine whether someone is a great actor or not. Take your cues from that.

4. And for you actors who are just beginning to get behind the microphone but who have lots of stage or on-camera experience, don't get hung up on the sound of your voice. Whether you like your voice when recorded or not. Remember it's all about realism today. While a nice voice or so called great speaking voice is a good thing to have, it's how you use it that really matters. Act from the heart not from your voice. When you do THAT the mic will love you for it. I've seen actors in a few "intro to VO" workshops I've held get too distracted by the sound of their voices and loose the emotion of their performance. They seem to have a preconceived notion of how their voice should sound. I say, "Get over it." No one really cares anymore. They want to hear sincerity, honesty, how you react in a given situation just as if you were being watched on camera.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why Brand Research is an Important Step for Voice Actors to Take

When you think about brands, do you think about the different types of voice overs different brands use?  For instance, Nike isn’t going to have the same sound as Maybelline cosmetics.  Of course, most people know this because these are huge brands, but what about some of the smaller names that are less recognizable? While some actors don’t spend a lot of time familiarizing themselves with the brand they’re recording for, there is a good argument to be made for doing just that, especially with companies that aren’t as well-known.

Doing Your Homework Can Pay Off
The more you know about the brand you’ll be reading for, the better off you’ll be.  Why?  Because you’ll know what they’re looking for.  Getting familiar with the brand means getting familiar with their marketing strategy, which leads to a better understanding of what their goals are. You’ll also have a clearer idea of who their audience - your audience - is, so you know who you’re speaking to and what you’re speaking about.

Improve Communication
Communication is a vital component of any client-actor relationship, and having background knowledge of their brand can enhance understanding. When you know the important stuff about their company, along with their marketing goals, you’ll have a clearer grasp of what they want from you. This is especially helpful if they don’t provide much in the way of direction, which happens all too often in this industry.

Ensure You are the Right Fit
Have you ever had a gig that you knew deep down just didn’t align with who you are as an actor? It probably didn’t go well, did it?  Well, understanding who and what you’re working with is key to ensuring that you’re the right person for the job.  Do your strengths match their expectations? Can you speak to their audience and deliver the product they want? Do you feel confident in your ability to be believable when selling their brand? These are the questions to ask yourself when considering whether this is relationship you want to pursue.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Improving the Acoustics in Your Home Studio

Soundproofing a home studio is virtually impossible, unless your studio is in an underground bunker in the middle of the desert.  Since this probably isn’t the case, there’s really no way you can eliminate ALL outside sounds. However, there are a few steps you can take to control the noise and improve the acoustics in your studio.  Here are some tips:

     First, make sure you’ve picked the quietest room in your house. While the spare bedroom may seem like the ideal place for your studio, if it’s right next to the freeway that’s running outside your house, it might not be the best choice.  Go for the room that already has the least amount of outside noise, or you’ll be spending a fortune trying to make it the quietest room.
     Room size matters too. The smaller the space, the less you’ll have to do to make it work for sound recordings. Large rooms means more space for sound to echo and bounce off the walls and ceilings, so you’ll want a smaller space if possible.  However, don’t go so small that you feel cramped once you get your equipment in there.
     Eliminate outside noise where you can.  This may seem like common sense to some, but it should still be stated. Don’t run the dishwasher while you’re recording, don’t have the TV on in the other room, wait to start that load of laundry - do what you can to NOT add additional sound in your home when you’re going to be recording.

     Even the quietest room will probably need a few additions to make it perfect for a home studio. One of these is something to absorb the sound.  Adding acoustic treatments to the walls and ceiling is a must.  There are a few types of treatments to choose from, including foam or panels, so it really comes down to what works best for your space and what you can afford. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Case for Going Paperless in Your Home Studio

We live in a world right now where everything is “green” this and “green” that.  There’s more focus than ever before on living a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle, and like most people, you probably do what you can to help the planet.  While you may have gone paperless with things like your bank statement or your utility bills, have you made the switch to a paperless home studio?  If not, consider these reasons why you should.

1.    It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to do, and this is the world we’re living in now!  We are in the digital age, where nearly everyone and everything has shifted to an electronic format.  Trading in papers for digital versions on tablets and computers is already the norm in many professions, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be in voice over too.  These devices can be acquired with minimal expense, and it even computer unsavvy people can navigate them easily.
2.    Another benefit to going paperless? There’s no sounds of page turning or papers being rustled and shifted! This is great for actors who are reading lengthy scripts or recording audiobooks. Instead of thumbing through noisy pages, you can just swipe the screen.
3.    Access all your documents quickly and easily. When things are stored digitally, they are so much easier to find.  Instead of rifling through papers jammed in a file, you just click to where you need to go.  Setting up an organizational system is so easy when you have everything stored on a hard drive, or better yet, the cloud.  Plus, if you do lose something, you can just do a quick search by typing in some keywords!
4.    You’ll save on space.  Once you go paperless in your home studio, you’ll be amazed at how much more room you have.  Gone is the necessity for file cabinets and drawers, or stacks of file folders and paperwork everywhere. 

5.    There’s also more flexibility in when and where you work.  If you have everything stored digitally, you can access it from anywhere, and at any time!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Dealing with Criticism in Voice Over

Criticism is something that none of us like to get, but unfortunately, there’s usually no avoiding it.  After all, you can’t make EVERYONE happy. In the voice over industry, criticism is just part of the business, and if you plan on succeeding in VO, you need to learn how to handle it.  Here are some tips for helping you listen and learn when your work is being critiqued.

  • Getting upset is not going to help the situation, even if you feel the criticism is unfair or off base. You need to keep emotions out of the situation, as difficult as that may be. Instead of getting mad, focus on really listening to the person critiquing you and trying to understand where they’re coming from.
  • Check your sensitivity at the door. In this industry, there’s no room for softies. You need to have a thick skin, because there’s always going to be someone who is not operating on the same wavelength as you. Try not to take the criticism too personally, though. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with you as a professional, but more often is a miscommunication about the project.
  • Keep your confidence up. Even when it feels like no one is on your side, remember that you are in this business because you have something valuable offer.
  • Respond to the criticism. After you’ve eliminated the emotional aspect of the criticism and you understand what the other person is really saying, you can better respond to it. And you should – responding shows that you hear what’s being said, and you’re a professional who is willing to work toward making it right.
  • Embrace it. Criticism is, after all, a tool that you can use to your advantage. When someone is giving you feedback, whether it’s good or bad, you have the choice of whether to take it and learn and grow from it, or to simply ignore it and remain stagnant. Go for the first option – when you are growing as a person, you’re much more likely to find success.
  • The above also applies to auditioning for work. Which you will do a lot of.
  • In this day of fast-paced, on line auditioning you will usually not even GET a chance to be critiqued. You often won't receive any feedback at all regarding auditions. Again, don't take rejection personally. There are a half million reasons why you didn't get a job you auditioned for. Don't waste your time and your sanity fretting over auditions that didn't yield jobs. Just get over it and move on! Concentrate on always improving your audition technique... there will always be another audition! An acting coach I had once always said, "Don't feel dreaded about auditioning. Think of it as another chance to perform. On camera or on the mic!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Voice Over FAQ

This post probably should have been done a while ago, but hey, better late than never, right? I’m talking about the most frequently asked questions in voice over.  I’ve been in the business for some time now, and there are a lot of things I’ve learned along the way – some of them the hard way, unfortunately.  Here is a list of what I think are some of the most common questions that VO newbies have, along with the general answers. 

How do I start?
When establishing a voice over career, the first thing to do is take a few acting classes or hire a voice coach. While most people are able to read off a script fairly easily, few have what it takes to make it sound good, professional, and convincing.  Taking some classes or tutoring under a coach can help you find the finesse you need to make it in VO. Do your on line research about the industry's latest trends. And seek out tips from the well known working pros. Listen to their demos and advice and formulate the beginnings of your business plan.

What is a demo and what should be on it?
Another thing you need to do early on, when you are well practiced and ready, is to create a demo, which is essentially your calling card. Like a headshot is to an actor. It is a recording featuring a sampling of your work. Or short "clips" of your work edited together to equal about 1:00. Your demo is what you’ll use to market yourself, and what will be sent to potential clients or agents. Creating a good demo is an essential step. One I will go into deeper in another article.

Do I need an agent?
Speaking of agents, you’re probably wondering if you need one. This answer isn’t cut and dry. Many VO actors have found success acting as their own agents, while others find that working with an agent is the best and most consistent way for them to get work.  If you do decide an agent is right for you, make sure you do your research and find one that is experienced and reputable within the voice over industry. I work with several agents around the country as well as promoting myself and finding working directly. A good working relationship with your agents is important. They need your cooperation to produce the best results for you. Just remember that agents are not business managers. Their primary function is to create opportunities... mainly through auditions... for you to obtain work.

Should I join a union?

Another tricky question with an answer that is highly dependent on your situation.  While more and more VO actors are going union-less, there are many who like the support that a union can bring.  There are a number of pros and cons to union work – some of the pros include higher pay (usually), benefits, and high quality work.  There are some negatives as well, though, including greater competition for work, annual dues or fees, and inability to work outside the union. Most new talent will find it easier to obtain non-union work early on in their careers and may be better suited to wait to decide if/when they are ready to join the union.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Threats to Your Success in Voice Over

Finding success in the voice over industry is not as easy as recording a couple of commercials or an e-book and then just waiting for your phone to start ringing off the hook.  It takes hard work, dedication, time, and expense.  Unless you’re willing to give it your all, you’re not going to get far in this industry.  There are times, however, when even giving 110% isn’t enough, because some unforeseen obstacle gets in your way.  Don’t let this happen to you – recognize potential threats and deal with them before they materialize.

Establish a Recording Backup Plan
Let’s say you have a great home studio that allows you to get all your VO work done in one place. You’re working on your own schedule, at your own pace, and loving the flexibility this provides.  But what happens when the unexpected occurs and suddenly you can’t record in your home studio?  This could be the result of equipment malfunction, a gas leak, a fire, or some other unfortunate disaster.  Bottom line, your studio is no longer available.  So now what?

Now you establish a recording back up plan that involves one of two things, or better yet, both.  First, if you can swing it, invest in some backup equipment.  You don’t need to replicate the entire studio, but having a few important pieces, like an extra mic, a laptop computer loaded with a copy of your favorite recording and editing software (essentially your "road kit"), can really come in handy if a piece of your regular equipment fails and you’re on a tight deadline. Another option – and one that you should really consider – is to have a go-to outside recording studio. Locate a reputable studio in your area, schedule a few recording sessions to build a good rapport, and find out if they are available for last minute sessions if the need ever arises.

Allow Extra Time for Recordings
It’s also a good idea to build in extra time for any project you’re doing. Let’s say that you have a narration project that will amount to about an hour of VO after editing is complete.  Well, this hour of finished product will actually take several hours of your time to record and edit.  But what happens if one of the scenarios above occurs, or even if you get sick or have to go out of town unexpectedly? Suddenly you’ve tacked on a few extra days before you can deliver the final product to the client. That’s why it’s important not to promise unrealistic timelines for delivery and to allow additional time in case something comes up.

These are just a couple of threats to VO success, but fortunately, there are easy ways to avoid or work around them.  Use the tips above to avert disaster and keep on your path to success. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for What You Want

When you’re working as a voice over actor, you are your own best advocate – no one else is going to back you like you can.  If you’re in a union, the scenario might be a bit different because you are entitled to certain benefits, but the fact remains that you, and only you, know what’s best for your situation.   That’s why you should never be afraid to speak up for yourself, especially when it comes to asking for what you want. After all, as communication specialists our voices should command some attention.

Let me describe a couple of situations where this might come up.  One involves payment, which can be a tricky area to begin with.  Let’s say that you have agreed to do a project for someone for a certain price.  However, during the course of that project, they make a few changes that require you to spend more time working on it.  You feel that those changes warrant a price increase, but do you ask for it?  Another instance that could arise is when you’re working with someone, but they aren’t being quite as forth coming with the project information as you may like.  Do you ask them to elaborate, or take your best guess as to what they want?

In my opinion, the answers to these questions are easy – you ask for what you want.  You feel you deserve more money? Ask for it.  You need more information about a project?  Ask for it.  Don’t be shy about doing this.  All they can say is no, and there’s no harm in asking. If you are working with a talent agent ask them to elaborate. Remember, you need to advocate for yourself, because no one else is going to.  Plus, part of a successful partnership with another party is being able to communicate about your needs, and vice versa.  Besides, if you don’t ask, this can lead to feelings of resentment, which can open up a whole new can of worms. Don’t let it get to this point.  Be confident in your abilities, and stand up for yourself when you need to. 

I have posted this document several times concerning my "revisions" policy. Here it is again.
Feel free to use it as a basis for your own. Keep in mind your relationship with your client.
Are they a new client that you haven't yet worked with, do you genuinely feel there will be more work coming from this client. etc. Use your best judgement!