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Monday, November 30, 2015

Is VoiceZam Right for You?

Demos sure have changed in the last twenty years, haven’t they? Back in the day, it was all cassette tapes and live auditions, but today the game has completely changed. Technology has advanced to the point that sending a demo is as simple as emailing an mp3 file or directing potential clients to your website for samples. Another thing shaking up demos is VoiceZam. But is it right for you?

First of all, let’s talk about what VoiceZam is, because not everyone is familiar with it. VoiceZam offers a different format for people to listen to your demo. It works a little bit like iTunes, but instead of songs, it takes your demo and divides it up into tracks. The tracks are then listed vertically, similar to a playlist on iTunes. This allows agents, producers, or anyone else you send it to to scroll through your demo and select individual sections of it. To use VoiceZam, there’s a monthly service charge, along with additional options to upgrade your service.

Now here’s the big question - is VoiceZam a worthy investment for voice over actors? Many VO actors say yes. It’s a good tool to add to your marketing arsenal, and it provides actors with another method for reaching their audiences. VoiceZam works for both regular and mobile devices, and users can customize their demos according to their preferences. It’s also pretty easy to use, with straightforward tutorials to guide you as you go.

So is VoiceZam right for you? Well, that’s for you to decide. Luckily, VoiceZam offers a free trial period, so you can test it out and decide if you like it. If you do, you can sign up and agree to the service fee (which really isn’t that much at under $10 a month), or you can say “fuhgeddaboudit” in your best Jersey accent and keep sending out your demos as you have been.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday Fitness Tip #3: From a 32-year Fitness Novice

Today I thought I’d give you a brief overview of my gym routine. And in case you’re wondering… Yes, I will be working out today, the day after Thanksgiving, feeling a little guilty about stuffing myself yesterday. (Just like you, I’ll bet) Since I’m out of town I’ll be in a strange gym too. Which is always interesting!

I’ll give you a rundown of the weight training machines I use and elaborate on the proper way to use each of them over the next two articles. This is important since these machines are designed to isolate the muscle groups and prevent injury and strain.

Before you start make sure you’re actually wearing workout clothes. No blue jean cutoffs or street clothes. Ya know, loose fitting cotton shorts and tops or the cotton blended long pants that are popular. And good solid sneakers with socks so you’re comfortable and ready to sweat. You might want to buy some Neoprene weight lifting gloves too. You’ll find that your grip will improve greatly with the non slip padded palms in these finger-less gloves.

I begin with some simple stretching of my arms, legs and mid section and get on my first machine:
1.) Back Machine… Mainly for stretching and warming up my lower back/spine.

Note: I see many people starting off first thing on the Bicep and Tricep machines.
This never made sense to me! I’ve even seen certified training instructors do this with their trainees. You NEED your arms to do every other upper body exercise in your routine. Therefore,
SAVE your arm strength and do Biceps and Triceps LAST! Why jeopardize good technique on those upper body machines by wearing out your arms too early?

2.) Abdominal Machine… to work the mid section, stomach muscles - front and obliques.
3.) Stationary Bicycle… overall warmup and aerobic exercise. Gets the heart rate up for 30 minutes.   Then I switch to the… 
4.) Elliptical CrossTrainer… with the “floating” foot pedals.(easier on the knees) For additional aerobic exercise for 15 minutes.
5.) Chest Fly Machine… For the Pectorals (and for a women’s breast support)
6.) Chest Press… For the area around the Pecks, including muscles connecting chest to shoulders         and shoulder area
7.) Multigym Chest Pull… For upper back and backside of shoulders (Deltoids)
8. ) Rowing Machine with stationary seat… For upper back and lower neck area 
9.) Multigym Shoulder Pulldown… For upper back and shoulders but different muscles here
10.) Overhead Shoulder Press Machine…  Deltoids, Trapezius (Traps) between neck and deltoids
11.) Shoulder Extension Machine… For extreme ends of deltoids
12.) Tricep Extension Machine … For Isolating Triceps
13.) Bicep Extension Machine… For isolating Biceps

Note: I also use a few dumbbells to work my triceps and biceps in various ways in conjunction with the weight machines. You’ll notice I do not use any leg machines in my routine such as the thigh, quad and calf machines. Nor lower abdomen machines. This is due to an old hernia repair and the care of keeping any strain off my lower abdomen area.

After my last machine, I head into the shower to knock the sweat off and help me cool down. 
I feel great and very relaxed afterwards! Then I drink a protein shake on my quick drive home and eat a light dinner when I get there.

As I said before, this routine works for me and will probably work as a basis for your own routine. Make your own adjustments. From start to finish, including my shower, I’m out the gym door in about 2 hours at around 7:30 pm.

See ya’ next time for the next Friday Fitness Tip.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

5 Other Reasons You’re Not Getting Work

I’ve harped on here plenty about the importance of things like branding, networking, and creating a social media presence. All of these are integral to helping you land work and expand your voice over career.  But if you’re already doing those things and the jobs still aren’t rolling in, you’re probably wondering what’s going on. Here are 5 other reasons why the clients aren’t calling:

1.    Your turnaround time is too slow.  When someone gives you a deadline, are you meeting it? Or are you getting the work done ahead of schedule? If you’re running your work down to the last minute and simply meeting the deadline, you’re not exceeding anyone’s expectations. We live in a fast-paced society where most people expect instant gratification. Clients want their project done pronto, and that usually means BEFORE the deadline. 
2.    Your sound quality is sub-par. Clients expect top-notch sound quality with any voice over artists, and there are plenty of actors out there who can provide it. If your quality isn’t up to scratch with your competitors, you’re going to be the one overlooked for new work. Recordings and demos should be completely free of background noise, with your voice as the undisputed star of the show.
3.    You’re not following instructions. If you want to succeed in VO, you’ve got to pay attention to detail. Carefully read or listen to whatever instructions are given, and follow them to a tee. Obviously, you’re expected to make a reading your own, but when a client gives you feedback, don’t disregard it. The same goes for things like submitting auditions or demos; everyone has their own standards and expectations, so if they specifically ask for a CD instead of an mp3 file, you need to be sure to send a CD.
4.    You’re not making “freshness” a priority. Voice over is always changing - just look how video game VO has reshaped the industry. As an actor,  you’ve got to keep it fresh. If you’re sending out demos that contain work that’s a couple of years old, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Stay up-to-date with changes in the industry, and don’t let your work grow stale.
5.    You’ve gotten complacent with your clients. Be careful not to take clients for granted. It’s easy to do this when you’re someone’s go-to voice actor, but remember that they can always shop around for someone else. Work to maintain good relationships with existing clients, and take action to wrangle new clients at the same time. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Booming VO Busines? What to Look for When you Need to Hire an Assistant

First of all, congratulations! If your voice over business is doing so well that you’re considering hiring an assistant, then hats off to you because you’re obviously making it in this extremely competitive industry. But now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about what it means to hire an assistant. Obviously, it means that you’ll be getting some much needed help, but it also means you’ve got quite the task ahead of you - finding the right person for the job. Here’s what you should look for when hiring a VO assistant:

     Computer/technology skills. This one’s a no-brainer. You need an assistant that can work quickly and comfortably on a computer and is familiar with different types of software. Other tech skills are a bonus, too. An assistant who knows their way around a sound booth is worth their weight in gold.
     Great interpersonal skills. While the relationship between the two of you should be a good one, it goes beyond that. There may be times when you need your assistant to make phone calls or send emails for you, and they should be able to do this with as much professionalism and knowledge as you yourself would do. And it goes without saying, he or she should indeed have a very pleasant, professional sounding speaking voice.
     Social media and website management. Social media accounts - whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or YouTube - are an integral part of your brand. Keeping up with them can take up a lot of time, too, so finding an assistant to handle them for you can be a big time saver. Look for a person who is well-versed in a variety of accounts, and it’s a bonus if they can come up with good, original posts on their own.
     Research skills. There are going to be times when a little research is required to familiarize yourself with a project. Someone with good research skills will come in handy when these moments arise, as they can spend their time finding the most helpful information for you.
     Administrative tasks. Any good assistant, no matter what industry they’re in, should be able to handle basic administrative tasks. Things like accounting, data entry, scheduling and answering calls should all be passed to your assistant. 

3 Things to do During a Slow Period in Voice Over

For most voice over actors, work ebbs and flows. Some weeks you’re so swamped you can barely see the end, others you’re wondering if the phone will ever ring again with new work. Very rarely do you have the same amount of work week after week, and you’re certainly not doing a regular Monday thru Friday, 9-5 gig. Slow periods are inevitable, but they don’t have to be miserable, with you spending your time thinking your career is doomed. Here are 3 things you can do during off-peak periods to help the time pass AND advance your career.

1.    Professional development. When the work slows down, this gives you the perfect opportunity to brush up on some of your skills. Take a class, go to workshop, or attend a seminar. You can listen to interesting lectures and practice techniques, or you can just socialize and swap stories with others in the industry. Maybe there’s an area of VO that you’d like to break into, but you’re not sure how. Now is the time to start strategizing on this! Not only does professional development give you the chance to do a bit of networking, but you’re also learning and growing as a voice over actor.
2.    Marketing. Growing as an actor isn’t the only thing you can do during slow periods. Now is the time to start expanding your brand as well, which will ultimately translate to more work. Turn your focus on marketing by asking yourself questions like, “What am I doing to market myself now? Am I targeting those companies that will use my signature sound? Is it working? How can I make it better?”  Once you know the answers to these questions, you can start plotting your brand expansion.
3.    Take it easy. Americans are spending less and less time vacationing or taking time off from work, and this isn’t such a good thing. People need time to decompress and unwind, so take advantage of this when the VO work isn’t pouring in. When things get slow, that gives you the chance to slow down too. Relax, recharge, and get ready for when things pick back up.
      And always keep your spirits up! Better days are ahead if you stay focused on your career.

Recording Struggles? Get Out of the Studio!

Everyone has off days - bank tellers, construction workers, dog walkers, heart surgeons, you name it (although let’s hope this isn’t the case too often for the heart surgeons of the world). Guess who else has off days? Me, you, and every other voice over actor out there. You know when you’re having them too...your voice comes across shaky, your timing is all wrong, and nothing is sounding right. So what do you do when those days come around? Well, here’s a tip for you - you walk away!

That’s right, the best thing to do when the occasional off day strikes is to simply remove yourself from the situation, at least temporarily. Talk a deep breath, tell yourself or whoever you’re working with that you need to take a break, and step away from the mic. I repeat, step away from the mic! In fact, get out of the studio completely, and take some time to clear your head. Go for a walk, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or glass of wine, whatever floats your boat), take a nap - whatever you need to do to have a mental escape, do it.

Some folks in the industry will argue that taking yourself out of the situation will disrupt the energy flow, but you know what? If you’re struggling this much already, I would venture that the energy is already in turmoil. What you need is a recharge that will allow you time to clear  your head and focus your energies in a new direction. Taking even a 10 minute break can work wonders when things just aren’t falling into place during a reading. Recharge, refresh, and come back with an improved outlook. You may be surprised at the results.

Sometimes the best way to handle performances that aren’t going how you planned is to just walk away, so don’t be afraid to do it!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Advice from a Seasoned Voice Actor: Don't Make these Newbie Mistakes

Like any profession, there’s a learning curve involved with voice over. People new to the industry don’t just magically know all the ins and outs of VO within a few months. It takes time, patience and dedication to learn about recording, effective networking, and proper etiquette, among other things. There are tips and tricks you’ll learn along the way, and for most of us, it takes trial and error or even just dumb luck to successfully navigate the complex waters of VO. Some of the biggest newbie mistakes can be avoided, though, if you follow these 5 tips.

1.    Prepare for your audition. Sure, sometimes you’ll do a great job just winging it, but most of the time, you need to prepare. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the script, mark it up with notes, and get a feel for it and how you want to read it. The better prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be, and this will show in your audition.
2.    Don’t cold call agents and casting directors. Nobody likes a surprise cold call - do this to agents and directors, and you run the risk of seriously annoying them. There’s nothing wrong with networking or making contact, but don’t waste people’s time. Avoid chit chat, and be direct and to the point about the purpose of your call.
3.    Read the script in its entirety. Skipping over parts that you aren’t auditioning for or even sound effects can be detrimental to your reading. Take the time to read the entire script, as this will help you get a better idea of how you should read YOUR lines.
4.    Use your acting chops while reading. I’ve said it hundred times, and I’ll say it again: voice over isn’t just reading. It is acting, and if you aren’t using your acting talent during your readings, you are doing yourself a disservice. Acting, whether it’s gestures or facial expressions, WILL carry over into the reading and enhance it.
5.    Remember that the mic picks up EVERYTHING. Pages being turned, a sniffle, a throat clearing, the rustle of clothing - whatever it is, it’s going to be amplified in the sound booth. Do not make any sounds other than what you’re expected to. If you’re turning pages, do it between sentences, as this pause can be edited out more easily later. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

How to Win Over Your Clients Every Time

Have you ever met with a client and left thinking, “Wow, that did not go how I wanted it to”?  Sure you have. We’ve all been there, where we have “off” days and no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to make a connection. But what happens when this becomes a regular, or even semi-regular, occurrence? If you’re struggling to make that connection, or make clients see the value in hiring you, then it’s time to pull it together and change your course. Here’s how you can better sell yourself to win over clients and land the job.

     Show your in what they do.  This is kind of a no-brainer. If you want the job, you need to show some interest in the client, their company and the project at hand. Not only will this indicate that you’re ready and willing  to learn more, it will also help you establish that oh-so-important relationship with them. Pro tip: Do your homework beforehand. Learn about their company, their products, services, etc. They’ll be impressed that you took the time to do this beforehand, plus you’ll appear more knowledgeable. Win-win! Fastest way to do this... jump on line to their website and/or find their Facebook or LinkedIn professional pages. 
     Honesty wins every time. While it’s fine - and recommended - to talk about your skills and experiences, be careful not to embellish or exaggerate them. You’ll eventually be found out, and then you’ll feel like a fool. If your lead with a potential new client turns into a gig that you think is outside your scope, tell them. Politely decline if you must, or recommend someone you know who would be great at it. The client will appreciate your honesty, and you’ll stand out in their mind as a person with integrity. And who knows? You might be called upon for other work in the future.
     Follow up. After the meeting, don’t just wait around until you hear from them (or not). Take the time to send an email or a thank-you note expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to meet with them. This can go a long way in winning you some brownie points, as well as cementing yourself in their minds as a contender. See if they'll accept you as a connection on social media and thank them again leaving your contact information.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Fitness Tip #2: From a 32-Year Fitness Novice

There is a basic Physics theory behind weight training that has never changed regardless of all the advancements in weight machine design and upgrade. That involves gravity and resistance…  basically pushing or pulling an object against it’s gravitational pull. Arthur Jones, founder of Nautilus, Inc. and inventor of the famous Nautilus line of exercise equipment put this theory to use for modern day strength training and bodybuilding. Making it easier and safer for the average person to train without using heavy, bulky free weights.

Now, most of us are not really interested in training to build body mass. At least not on the level of a competitive bodybuilder or weight lifter. If you are interested in that higher level of training than you probably already know what you need to do. But most of us want to increase strength, flexibility and tone of our muscle systems. (Btw, you burn body fat while weight training, as well) With a minimal interest in increasing mass. And ladies, please, don’t give me that whine, “I don’t want to work out with weights and get all muscled up.” Don’t worry, ladies, you won’t. Actually, only a very small percentage of men and an even smaller percentage of women are genetically capable of “blowing up” like competitive bodybuilders. 

It’s like this. When you are training with heavy weights doing lower reps (repetitions) and multiple  “sets” you will increase muscle strength along with solid mass. However, when you are using lighter weights doing more reps and fewer sets you are strengthening and toning your muscles. Of course, the amount  of weight you choose to work out with is relevant to body weight, age, physical condition and overall level of health. Be patient and build up to an ideal weight for your routine.

For strengthening and toning choose a weight level on each machine that allows you to do 3 sets of 12 - 15 reps per set. Doing more sets than 3 per machine… like those guys who like to hog the machines while people are waiting to use them… is counterproductive. So keep it to three sets, resting for no more than 90 seconds between reps and move on to the next machine. Ideally, within 2 minutes of resting between machines. But you may need to build up to this pace. 

About 12 years ago, I found I was putting on a little too much mass from heavy lifting and decided to change my routine. Actually, making it easier to workout. I found I dropped about 10 lbs from my current 170 lb body. Making me more flexible and defined than I was before. 
And don’t forget that muscle toning/strengthening works much better when woking in tandem with aerobic exercise. So do your aerobic training… elliptical stairmaster, stationary bicycle, jogging or treadmill FIRST… then do your weight training. You want your body to be plenty warmed up and stretched out before working it out with weights. And remember that Physics theory of resistance!

More on safe and proper form with weights and machines to come NEXT on Friday Fitness Tip #3. See ya’ then!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The 5 Rules of Voice Over Etiquette

Miss Manners may know the correct way to position silverware at a formal dinner or the proper timeframe for RSVPing, but when it comes to voice over, there’s a whole different set of expectations. For people new to the industry, there are certain rules that must be followed when you’re recording in a studio other than your own or dealing with clients there. Here are the top 5 tips for proper etiquette in VO.

1.    Don’t touch the equipment.  Seriously, DO NOT TOUCH THE EQUIPMENT. When you’re behind the mic at a recording studio, please keep your hands to yourself. Someone paid a lot of money for that equipment, and they’ve positioned it just so, and they don’t want you messing with it. It’s as simple as that. Let the sound engineer or assistant set the mic position for you.
2.    When recording, keep your own sounds to a minimum, or better yet, don’t make any noise at all other than what you’ve been directed to. Coughing, clearing your throat, or making other sounds into the microphone is going to make the sound engineer very unhappy, not to mention deaf. Step back from the mic to warm up your throat.
3.    Show some class. Don’t show up in worn-out jeans and your old Aerosmith t-shirt. You may be thinking, “I’m just doing a quick reading, so what?” but it’s not just a quick reading to whoever is paying you. They’re paying you to be a professional, so dress the part.
4.    Be on time, and be prepared. Time is money, and when you show up late to a gig, you’re wasting both. Plus, late arrivals run the risk of seriously upsetting a whole slew of people, who are more than likely trying to stick to their own jam-packed schedules. Also, make sure you’ve got everything you need with you - a copy of the script, some water, a business card, and even an invoice if necessary. In fact, I make a point of showing up 10 - 15 minutes early for the session. To say my hellos, fill out the studio paperwork and read over the script.
5.    Turn off your phone. I repeat, turn off your phone! This one is so ridiculous, yet it is overlooked all too often. We live in a world of constant cell phone use, which is fine, just make sure it’s not in use during your recording. 
6.   Unless you're asked to or it's obvious that your encouraged to, don't hang around after you've done your recording. Chances are the client and engineer have their mixing to do within the same session. You need to give them their space. Smile and wish them a good day as you exit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Handling Retakes in Voice Over

Annoying, time-consuming, costly...these are just some the words I can use to describe retakes. However, they’re a fact of life in the voice over industry, and as actors, we’ve got to deal with them from time to time. How you handle them, though, can make a world of difference for both you and your client.

Here’s the scenario: you’ve been given a script and some direction from the client on how to read it, you do the recording, everything is great, and you’re ready to move to the next project. But wait! All of sudden, what was deemed “great” now needs “a little tweaking.”  Ugh. Now you’ve got a decision to make - do you suck it up and do the retake at no charge, or do you tell the client it will be “x” more to record again?

Well, there’s no right or wrong answer to that question, because it’s all very dependent on situational factors, like how much material is being re-recorded, your relationship with that particular client, and whether or not you had previously discussed retakes.

Here’s what I can tell you though: even if you’re grumpy about the situation, you need to check your negativity at the door. Grumbling isn’t going to get you anywhere, and it can make clients think twice about hiring you again. And in this industry, your reputation is one of your biggest assets.

The best way to handle retakes is to have a policy in place about how you’ll handle, and to share that policy with your clients BEFORE you do the recording. Adopt whatever policy you like, but make sure your client is aware of it before you start the project. This can prevent disagreement before it even happens, not to mention the hassle over haggling about additional fees. Besides, you may even decide to throw your policy out the window for certain “special” clients, and this can do wonders for your image. If you’re the guy that’s not only professional and reliable, but also easy-going about handling retakes, you’ve just moved to the top of their list - which is exactly where you want to be with VO clients. 

The following link is to the revisions/retakes policy that I've been using for a few years now. I send it along via email with job estimates, negotiated rates, sometimes new clients or any situation or client I feel I need to inform prior to accepting or recording the project. Feel free to borrow the info here to base your own policy upon. 

http://tinyurl.com/njkof7d   (Rick Lance Studio Revisions Policy)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Happens When You Have a VO Dry Spell?

A dry spell in voice over is something that can happen to the best of us. This is an industry that can ebb and flow; some months you’re almost busier than you can handle, while other months you’re checking your email every 10 minutes to see if a new gig has come up. While it can be easy to fall into a “woe is me” funk and feel like the entire world is against you, don’t! There are a few things you can do to help turn a dry spell around, and it starts with having the right attitude.

Stay Positive
One of the worst things you can do when the work isn’t steady is to adopt a pessimistic attitude. Feeling sorry for yourself or angry that your colleagues are landing jobs and you aren’t will only exacerbate the issue. Negativity is like a cancer; it can take over quickly and flow into other areas of your life. Other people can also pick up on it, including potential clients. Take steps to change your mood, and when you have, you’re ready to for step 2.

Formulate a Plan
Once your frame of mind has improved, it’s time to have a realistic conversation with yourself. Ask yourself what steps you can take to change your course. What is one thing you can do each day to move forward instead of staying stuck in your rut. Maybe it’s getting back in touch with old contacts, revamping your website, or being more active on social media.

Take Action
Now that you’ve come up with some ideas for getting back on track, you need to act on them. Make sure you’re doing SOMETHING each day, even if you feel like it’s silly. Sometimes the best way to find yourself again is to start from the beginning. Doing things like enrolling in a class or attending a conference can give you a fresh perspective, and who knows who you’ll meet along the way. Read up on the VO industry through books, blogs, news articles, interviews, etc. and stay connected to the business. You'd be surprised what may fire you up and spark new positive ideas.

If - or I should say when - you find yourself in a dry spell, don’t let it take over. Recognize that it happens to just about everyone, and that it will pass. Take the steps above to help get yourself back in the game, and believe in yourself and your abilities.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Want to Ace Your Audition? Try These 4 Tips

Auditions can be a nerve-wracking business, especially if you’re new to the voice over industry. Nobody really relishes the idea of being judged, and that’s exactly what is going on in an audition. However, there are a few things you can do to make the process a little smoother and help ensure success. Try these tips to help you nail your next try-out!

1.    Drink water until you feel like the human equivalent of the Hoover Dam. Don’t laugh, I’m serious. I can’t stress enough how important proper hydration is in voice over work. Dry mouth will come across loud and clear when you’re reading into a mic, and it’s doesn’t sound good. Drink plenty of H20 in the hours leading up to the audition, and take a bottle of water with you to sip on.
2.    Get familiar with the script. There’s no telling how much time you’ll have to familiarize yourself with the copy, but take advantage of whatever you have. Quickly skim through the script so you have an idea of what you’re reading, then read it through again, this time with a pencil to jot down some notes. During this second read-through, "mark" your script with (cues) any ideas that come to mind while reading, such as which words to emphasize, where a pause might be good, etc. Having these notes can come in handy when you’re behind the mic and reading for others.
3.    Warm up. Just like any instrument, it’s always a good idea to warm up your voice prior to an audition. This doesn’t mean you have to be that person strutting around the lobby doing vocal warm-ups, but you do need to get your voice ready to go before heading into the booth. Warm up at home, in the car, on the subway, wherever - just make sure you do so your sound is on point.
4.  Let your shining personality shine through, and don’t be afraid to be yourself! Most prospective clients want to see a bit of personality, and it will help you stick out in their minds later on, too. Approach the copy with perhaps a different mindset than what was actually stated in the script so you can perform it with a twist that many other talent may not think of.
      Be bold and just give 'em something they may not have been expecting in your read!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Fitness Tip #1: From a 32-Year Fitness Novice

A healthy body makes a heathy voice - a healthy head for business!

When you begin your workout routine, after you stretch and warm up a bit… you are stretching and warming up, aren’t you? … keep something in mind as you do your stomach or mid section 
exercises. Whether you’re doing crunches, old fashioned sit-ups or working on the ab machine (my preference) make sure that you hold in your stomach muscles as you move from the positive direction to the negative direction and back and forth. Think about how those muscles support your diaphragm and chest as you breathe normally but purposefully. Inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. 

Training in this way will teach your muscles to support your diaphragm and chest when your body is at rest. If you are pushing outward as you do your stomach exercises you’re training your muscles to extend outward from your belly. You don’t really want that, now… do ya’? 
See you again for the next Friday Fitness Tip!

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a fitness expert in any way. I’m not a certified trainer, dietician, or medical doctor… nor do I hold a degree in physical education, dietary science, sports medicine or any other field related to today’s fitness. I am just a normal guy who’s been working out regularly at a gym, 3 - 4 days per week for the last 32 years. I take my health seriously. I figure, I do no service to my profession as a Voice Actor/Voiceover Talent (sometimes on camera) nor to anyone else if I don’t try and maintain good health. And I’ve learned a few things along the way that I’d like to share with you. These ideas work for me and just might work for you. Stay tuned for many more tips!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Art of Communication

I believe I’ve touched on the subject of communication before, but it’s such an important aspect of voice over that it warrants its own blog.  Having good communication skills is an absolute must if you want to succeed in the voice over industry. You have to be able to communicate effectively, and that doesn’t just mean articulating your own thoughts and ideas. It also encompasses listening, so you must master this skill as well. Here are my thoughts on communication as it applies to VO:

Good Communication = Success
Good communication is made up of two parts: speaking and listening. In this industry, you’ve got to be able to clearly express yourself, and not just while you’re reading the script (although this is obviously very important). Be open, honest and clear in your communications to your clients, and it will go a long way. Don’t forget to be a good listener, too. Everyone wants to be heard, and this is probably especially true of your clients. Showing your clients that you are listening and understanding what they tell you will earn you major brownie points - and it will help you do your job better! This includes learning to be a good "directable" talent during your phone patch, ISDN or the like, or live sessions. Although, "directability" is actually a subject for another blog article.

Brushing Up on Your Communication Skills
Only a lucky few are naturally great at communication. For most people, it takes time, dedication, and years of practice to hone this skill so that you can effectively articulate AND listen. If you feel your communication skills could use a little brushing up, you’re not alone. Try incorporating the following into your daily activities:

     Make connections - Attempt to really connect with people. Look for common ground to bring you together. Put yourself in their shoes, and try to understand where they’re coming from.
     Control your tone - Watch how you say things. Sometimes we take a “tone” when we don’t really mean to.
     Be positive - No one likes a Negative Nancy, so keep it optimistic.
     Show appreciation - Be grateful. Recognize that someone is sharing their time with you, and time is a valuable commodity.

     Ask for feedback - Feedback, whether it’s good or bad, should always be welcome. It’s part of how you learn and grow as a professional. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Tips for Negotiating Your Pay

Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence made headlines recently when she penned an essay about the wage discrepancy between men and women in Hollywood. While that topic is worthy of a whole slew of blog posts, I want to focus more on the payment aspect of it. Lawrence’s op-ed piece got me thinking about wages in general, and the touchy subject of asking for more money when you feel you deserve it. This is something that every voice actor will have to do at some point in their career, and it’s never a fun task. However, negotiating your pay and earning what you deserve is essential to your success and personal satisfaction in this line of work. Here are some tips to make the process a little easier:

     Establish standard rates. Spend some time researching the going rates for different projects, and then apply these to yourself (i.e., your experience, skill level, etc.)
     Remember to be flexible. Standard rates should not be set in stone, however. There are times when you’ll need to be flexible, and even if you’re making a little less than what your normal rate is, you might be doing yourself a favor in the long run. There will be projects that you want to do, but their budget is capped at a figure less than you’d like. Well, how bad do you want the project? Plus, when you’re flexible (without being a pushover, mind you), it’ll help you build a better reputation.
     Be ready to answer to how you arrived at your rates. There may be times when a client wants to know why you feel a certain figure is appropriate. Have a response ready, just in case. This is another argument for establishing your rates in advance, too. If you’re pulling numbers out of thin air, it will be much harder to defend those prices.
     Get the client to name a figure first. If you can, see if the client will throw out a number before you do.  Sometimes a little patience will pay off.  Let’s say you’re thinking a project is worth $750, but you wait to see what the client will say. Lo and behold, they tell you they’ve got a budget of $1000. Your patience just earned you an extra $250!

Don't’ be afraid to haggle...or say no. There will be times when you and the client don’t agree on the first figure named.  If you feel you deserve more, counter with another price until an agreement that you’re both happy with is reached.  And if that moment never comes, don’t be afraid to say “forget it.”
Sometimes you just have to walk away from the negotiation. As long as you can truthfully say you negotiated in good faith and with good reason than you can feel good about it. You may be able to refer them to another talent, as well. Being helpful in the end. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Why You Need to be on Social Media Now

Do you have a Facebook? What about Twitter? LinkedIn? If you said no to these questions, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice, and possibly even costing yourself work.  Social media is an enormous part of our culture, and it’s not just for fun anymore, or something that all the kids are doing. Successful professionals use it every day to advance their careers, and you should be too. Here are some of the ways social media can help you in VO:

     Recognition - Take a moment to google your name. What comes up when you do? If you don’t have any social media accounts, it’s probably just a few pages, like your website and maybe some readings. If you’re on social media, though, you’ll see all your accounts listed for people to view.  This is free publicity! You can use those accounts to make your name more recognizable, and to connect with others in the industry, so what are you waiting for?
     Networking - Speaking of connecting with others, that’s the exact purpose of social media.  Platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer incredible opportunities for you to network with other actors, agents, producers and others involved in VO. If you don’t use social media, you’re denying yourself a lot of connections, some of which could result in work.
     Resources - Social media also provides its users with a ton of resources.  Got a question about which audio software is best for your studio? Post it on Facebook or Twitter and wait for the responses to start pouring in. Wondering when the next workshop is happening in your area, or who’s going to be there? Post it and you’ll have your answer.  These sites are overflowing with information specific to voice over, so take advantage of it!

Sure, there are actors out there who think social media is a waste of time, but the truth is they’re robbing themselves of great potential. Don’t make this mistake. Spend some time creating and building social media accounts, and see for yourself how they can enhance your career.
And move forward into the 2000s!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Four Reasons to Stop Hating Cold Reads

There are lots of voice over actors out there who will tell you that cold reads are the worst thing ever. And sometimes, they’re right. Not having a chance to review a script in advance can lead to some awkward situations, or even a disastrous read. However, there are times when cold reads are actually sort of a blessing.  Here’s why:

1.    No pre-game jitters. Sure, you’re probably going to be a bit nervous when someone hands you a script you’ve never seen and says “Go,” but luckily, there’s not much time for you to psych yourself out. With a cold read, you get the copy and you start reading. There are no hours or days beforehand to scrutinize the script or fret over which words to emphasize - you just go with it.

2.    Sometimes you do your best work when you’re under pressure. Having no time to prepare can certainly make you feel under pressure, but many people excel in these situations. Voice actors are used to pressure - it’s just part of the job - and you may be surprised that these are the moments when you do your best work.

3.    You have the opportunity to let your personality shine through. When you’re doing a cold read, you have the chance to really show who you are and let your unique personality come through in the read. In fact, you sort of have to because that’s all you have to go by. You’re not as likely to do this when you have ample time to study a script, and this isn’t always a good thing. Your personality is part of  your brand, after all.

4.    It’s a great way to hone your skills. Cold reads are a wonderful opportunity for you to practice and improve your reading skills. There are going to be plenty of times when you’re handed a script with not much notice, and you’ll be glad for any previous experience with cold readings. 

Yes, this is all related to LIVE studio sessions which seem to be a rarity these days.
However, you can apply this thinking to those auditions you do on-line or for agents or other
audition opportunities that come up. Sometimes, over thinking can be detrimental to a good audition. Kind of like realizing that the first or second take out of several recorded was really the best. There's something to be said for spontaneity. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Think You’re Not A Character Voice Actor? Oh, Yes You Are!

We all know those very talented voice actors who can easily perform 15, 20, 30 or more character voices on the spur of the moment. Maybe you are one of them. Terrific! That’s amazing! Then you may not want to read any further. Since this article concerns those of us who may not necessarily have that innate ability, yet we have proven marketable voices. We may be working at voice acting/voice over part time or full time but are constantly striving for improvement.

Well, I certainly fall into the latter category. I’m a 22 year veteran voice actor and I don’t consider myself a character voice actor. However, I can perform certain character voices (10 -12 … maybe more) based on the ROOT of my voice. You see, I believe anyone who understands their own voice, male or female, can perform voices other than the one they are most known for … or their signature voice.

Think of it like this. Your straight, signature voice is like the trunk of a tree and the branches are the off-shoots of your main, straight voice. And the leaves are the little extra twists you give to those character voice branches. I also believe that all of us will be expected to perform in this way sooner or later. So you should be prepared. It will make you much more interesting and versatile to work with as a performer. Especially while during your phone patch, ISDN, etc or live sessions as well.

As your sitting in that lonely room at the mic in your home studio, PLAY with the ROOT of your voice. Practice bringing your tone UP inside you from your stomach to your forehead. Try to hit 4 -5 places as you move your tone along… your stomach or diaphragm, the back of your throat, your nose, your facial mask area (basically the sinus area) and your forehead. (Basically, up over your nose and virtually out the top of your head.) You can get much more specific by moving tone around within your mouth from behind it, to the sides, to the top, to the front …. playing with your lip and mouth formation. Each movement will produce a different sound.

Of course, you’ll have to practice being able to reproduce these sounds so that they become useful and can be translated into some character voice that you could really use as a performer. Variations of this technique can also be used to perform accents and dialects.

I’m not actually a southern born man. Although I’ve lived in the South for many years now. However, about 50% of my work is done with a softer or harder southern accent because that’s what the client is asking for. Or they want a rugged cowboy sound of which I can tweak up or down in intensity, twang, raspiness and tone using the technique I’ve described. I think of it as a character voice since it’s not my regular speaking voice. It’s a branch voice. But it’s very natural and convincing. It’s really some of the most fun I have in the studio!

So don’t feel left out, guys and gals! You’ve got those branch or character voices you can bring out from your ROOT voice. Just play around, practice and perfect. Then “put em on tape” or demo and utilize them whenever possible. Hey, if I can do it you can too!