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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tips for Perfecting Conversational Tone in Voice Over

It’s pretty clear by now that the “conversational, person-next-door” tone is what’s big in voice over right now. The announcer days of yore aren’t necessarily dead, but that formal, authoritative style that so many of us grew up with has definitely fallen out of favor. Instead, people are responding to conversation-style marketing, which relies more on being light and relatable to establish a connection with the audience.  Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. What comes so naturally to us when speaking with friends, family, colleagues or whomever, is actually a lot harder than you may think to replicate in the studio. If you’re struggling to develop a natural, conversational style tone, try these tips:

     Don’t be the grammar police. When you’re writing a college paper or sending an email to client, grammar is important. But when you’re trying to achieve a conversational tone with your latest project? Not so much. That’s because when people are having a natural, organic conversation, they’re concerned with the content of what they’re saying, not whether they’re following all the rules of the English language. Conversations between friends are full of things like dangling participles and subjects and verbs that don’t agree, so it’s not always a bad thing if your reading has a few of these in there as well. Yes, I know that the scripts we often receive from our clients are not always written conversationally. Just keep the main focus - the real message- in mind as you read. If you think you may have a better way of saying a word or phrase in the script, record it TWO ways. The way it is written and THEN the way you think it would be more conversational. That way they'll appreciate the option you just gave them.
     Remember your audience. Keeping your audience in mind is always important in voice over, no matter what tone or style you’re going for. With a conversational tone, though, it’s especially important, because what’s conversational to some won’t be to others. For example, if your target demographic is senior citizens, you’re not going to want to use words like “yo” and “dude” that would be more appropriate for a younger crowd.
     Conversational and ______. The word that goes in the blank is going to be different depending on what type of project it is. It might be conversational and informative, or conversational and professional, or conversational and seductive. Whatever it is, just keep in mind that “conversational” is not all-encompassing; there are different layers to it, so adjust your tone to fit the type of project. 
     Forget about the environment. It can be tough to sound natural in an artificial environment, like a soundbooth or studio, so forget about it! I know, I know, easier said than done. But if you can detach yourself from your surroundings and put yourself into a more relaxed and comfortable place mentally, you’ll find it’s easier to achieve that natural sound you’re after. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Healthy Body + Healthy Mind = Healthy Voice

Have you ever stopped to think about just how much voice over actors have in common with athletes? Probably not, but let me explain. When you’re an athlete, your performance is directly related to how well you take care of your body. Well, the same is true for voice talent. When you’re taking proper care of yourself, physically and mentally, your performance behind the mic is going to be better. It’s science. So let’s delve into this a little further…

Healthy Body

When your body is performing at its optimum level, so is your voice. Everything is connected, and when you’re feeling poorly or you’re sick or tired, your voice is going to reflect that. That’s why it’s so important that you take care of your physical health when you’re a voice actor. With some jobs, you can suck it up and slog through the workday even when you’re ill, but that’s not an option when you’re an actor. When you’re behind the mic, you’ve got to be on, and it’s hard to be on when you’re sick. So take care of yourself! Drink plenty of water (and by plenty I mean tons...at least 8 glasses per day), eat healthy, do some form of physical activity, stay away from alcohol and tobacco, and just have some common sense about doing what’s right for your body. Believe me, your voice (and your clients) will thank you.

Healthy Mind

Another piece of this performance puzzle lies in your mental health. Your attitude plays a larger role than you think in how well you’re doing your job, and having a poor attitude or an unhealthy self-image can be detrimental to your career. Keep your mind healthy by staying optimistic, surrounding yourself with positive people, spending time with family and friends, making time for yourself, doing things you love, and generally just doing what it takes to keep you in a happy and satisfied state of being. When your mind is healthy, you’ll find that you’re doing your job better and your chances for success are greatly improved.

So remember, people, healthy body + healthy mind = healthy voice (and greater happiness, job satisfaction, success, and all that good stuff too!). 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Don’t Just Set Goals for Yourself - Set Smart Goals

Let me start by stating the obvious: goal setting is an important part of finding success in any career.  Having something to work toward will help keep you on track and motivated in your quest for success. Here’s the thing, though. Not all goals are created equally, and some are better than others. When you’re planning for your voice over future, be sure to set smart goals for yourself that will actually help propel your career. Here’s what to keep in mind when outlining your overall plan for success:

     Goals need to be realistic. Sure, it would be great to make $100,000 your first year, or for your first gig to be the featured voice in a well-known ad campaign. But the truth is, neither of these are likely to happen. Most VO careers start off slow, and you’re lucky to take whatever jobs you can get. When setting initial goals for yourself at the beginning of your career, don’t shoot for the moon. Make them reasonable and realistic; you want goals that you can actually accomplish.
     You can still dream big though. Just because you set realistic goals for yourself doesn’t mean it hurts to dream a little.  Challenging yourself with bigger aspirations can be a great motivating tool that can give you that extra little push you need to do better. As time goes by and you get more familiar with the industry - and your place within it - push yourself. Adjust your goals to make them more challenging so you can meet those bigger aspirations head on. Which brings me to my next point...
     Keep goals flexible. Smart goals are not set in stone. They are flexible, because life is flexible. Things are always changing, and your goals should be able to change with it. Let’s say one of your monthly goals was to get booked for a radio spot, but right now you’ve got plenty of e-book recordings to handle. Instead of focusing single-mindedly on that radio gig, which probably won’t happen because of all the e-books, table that goal for now and adjust it to reflect what you’re actually doing. It’s more realistic that way, plus you can feel good about accomplishing it. 
     Make goals specific and measurable. Another attribute of a smart goal is that it is specific and measurable. How can you determine your success if you cannot measure your progress? An example of a specific, measurable goal in voice over might be something like, “I want to book 5 projects per month,” or “I want to land at least 3 radio ads this year.”  Goals like these are specific, with a clear outcome of whether or not you met them.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Overcoming the “Lack of Experience” Factor

It’s the classic catch-22. You’re new to your field and hunting for work, but every application is met with rejection due to lack of experience. Which makes you want to pull your hair out, because how are you supposed to gain experience if no one is willing to hire you?!  This happens in lots of industries, including voice over. Clients want seasoned actors that have experience, so oftentimes fledgling talent is overlooked.  So what is a newbie to do? Well, here are a few strategies to try:

Offer Your Services for Free
What?! Free recordings?! Yes, and here’s why - because what you’re currently doing isn’t working. Clients are reluctant to pay you money because they don’t know the quality of your work and have no previous experiences or referrals from others to base it off of. So offer them some free (or seriously discounted, if you just can’t handle giving it away) VO work. This signals to them that you’re willing to do what it takes to build your portfolio and it gives you an opportunity to prove yourself at no cost to them. And who knows? They may love you so much that they’re willing to pay even more than what you asked for future work. Just be careful that, when the time is right, you begin charging a professional rate for your services.

Do Something, ANYTHING
The worst thing you can do when waiting for work is to simply wait. Waiting for clients to get back to you, waiting for auditions to open up, waiting, waiting, waiting. Don’t fall into this dangerous cycle. Instead, be proactive. Get out there and work on other aspects of your business. Attend some networking events, start a meet-up of other actors in your area, take a class, build your website, write some blogs - anything to keep busy and keep your goals in sight. All of this also adds to your level of experience, and you never know what opportunities you may come across along the way.

Make Yourself Marketable
Another strategy is to make yourself as marketable as possible to potential clients. Spend some time getting to know prospective clients and gaining an understanding of their needs. Maybe there’s something in addition to voice over that they have a need for. If you can isolate what this is, you can spend time developing another skillset that would benefit them AND make you a more attractive candidate.

Lack of experience can be challenging to overcome, not to mention unbelievably frustrating. Stay positive and keep these tips in mind to help you meet that challenge head-on. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

3 of the Best Things You Can Do for Yourself as a VO Actor

Job satisfaction and success don’t always go hand in hand, but wouldn’t it great if they did? As a voice over actor who’s been in the industry for 22+ years, I can tell you that I’ve seen both sides of it. I’ve known people who are very happy with their job, even though they’re not making the money they would like. Conversely, I’ve seen actors who are raking in the cash, but their job satisfaction remains low.  So how do you get the best of both worlds? Well, unfortunately, I can’t answer that question for you because everyone is different! But I can tell you what’s worked for me, and what I think are some of the best things you can do for yourself to find happiness AND success in the VO industry.

1.    Make positive connections. Success in this field is largely tied to who you know - so get to know as many people as you can! Making friends and developing positive connections with colleagues, clients, producers, and anyone else who plays a role in VO should be a top priority for any actor. You may be wondering, “How do I do that? Just go up to people and start talking?” Well, yeah! Go to places where you know like-minded VO people will be, such as conferences and networking events or classes, and start talking to them to build your list of contacts.
2.    Never stop learning. View yourself as a lifelong student, always thirsty for more knowledge. Even after so many years in this business, I’m still learning every single day. Not only does this help me grow as a professional, I’ve found that being a lifelong learner makes positive impacts in every other part of my life, which in turns helps me with everything VO-related. Take some classes, attend theater productions, and listen to people (and I mean really listen) - you may be surprised at what you pick up.
3.    Be yourself - no matter what. Your personality plays a HUGE role in your quest for success in voice over. How you interact with others, your work ethic, and even how you view yourself are all key factors in both your success and job satisfaction. If you’re trying to be someone you’re not, others will notice and will more than likely be turned off by it. People like sincerity. So, don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be yourself - end of story, full stop.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How to Set up Your Own Voice Over Business

So you’re thinking about starting your own voice over business - that’s wonderful! It’s a lot of hard work, and there will probably be times when you’ll ask yourself what the heck you were thinking, but overall, it’s pretty great running your own voice over business. If you’ve decided to take the plunge, here are some pointers to help you get started. Simplified here...

     Spend money to make money.  Be aware that you’ll need a bit of capital to get your business off the ground and running. There will be expenses in setting up a home studio (a MUST these days), creating and managing a website, recording and submitting demos, marketing yourself, and so on. And you’ll be coughing up the cash long before you get your first paycheck, so make sure you are prepared for that.
     Draft a business plan. Very few businesses succeed without a well thought out business plan that lays the groundwork for a new company. Be sure to include all the basic info about your business, along with details about your services and talents and who you’ll market them to, your projected revenue and operating expenses, your short- and long-term goals, and the capital that will be necessary to get your business up and running.
     Get your business registered.  It’s not a bad idea to register your company as a legal entity. This offers some protections for you, and it also legitimizes what you’re doing. Clients are more likely to work with an established business rather than “some random guy recording out of his basement.”
     Set up your home office. Once you’ve got all the necessities above squared away, you need to get your workspace in order. If you plan on recording at home, you’ll need a space where you can work undisturbed. Purchase and set up your equipment, and remember that recording and sound editing isn’t all you’ll be doing - you’ll also need space for the office side of things, where you’ll handle client communications, invoicing, etc.
     Brand yourself and start marketing. With all the pieces in place, now the fun can begin. Record your demos, start a website, develop a presence on social media, start networking - all of these activities will (hopefully) lead to growth - which is exactly what you need for success!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tips for Dealing with Difficult Clients

Most clients are okay to work with. In fact, some are pretty darn good, and others are downright great. But there are also those who are, shall we say, difficult. The kind of client who makes you want to scream, shout, and pull out your hair. With them, you’re wishing for the project to end before it’s even really begun, sometimes. But guess what? They’re just a part of life in voice over, and if you want to succeed, you’re going to have to learn to deal with them. Use these strategies when working with difficult clients to make your life just a little bit easier.

1.    Think before you speak. Communication problems usually go hand-in-hand with difficult clients, so it’s important that you choose your words very carefully. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Also, when discussing project details, let them take the lead, and mirror your responses and attitude after them. This will make them feel more comfortable, which will also be better for you. Stay away from using ultra-hip language or icons. 
2.    Be specific and use measurable terms. When you’re trying to come together on a project, it’s best to speak in clear, concise statements that get your message across. Being vague and saying things like, “I’ll have it ready sometime next week” is a bad idea. Instead, say, “I’ll have it ready on Tuesday the 4th.” This doesn’t just apply to due dates, either; it’s a strategy that you should use in all your interactions.
3.    Keep the focus on the end product. Remember that you’re both working toward a common goal. While you may not agree with everything, at the end of the day, you both want the same thing - a great-sounding recording that meets all the criteria the client asked for. Make this your focus, and take the necessary steps to make it happen. This may include questions to the client, edits, re-reads, whatever - just make sure that the final result is one that is pleasing to you both.
4.    Know when to bow out. Sometimes, personality clashes cannot be overcome. When this happens - and you’ll know it when it does - make a graceful exit and bow out of the project. Sure, it may be a blow to your wallet or even your self-esteem, but trust me, it’s for the best. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Best Apps for Voice Over Actors

Smartphones are increasingly becoming more essential in our day-to-day lives. We use them for everything from keeping in touch with family and friends to managing our finances. Many people also use their mobile devices for work, and voice over actors are no different. Here’s a list of the must-have apps you need on your phone as a VO professional.

     iPerform - This is a great app for organizing your auditions, bookings, and more. iPerform is your go-to personal assistant, keeping track of all your VO work, along with managing your contacts and even your expenses and income.
     Wunderlist - Wunderlist lets you input everything on your to-do list so that nothing gets overlooked. As a voice actor, there are tons of things you do everyday, from reading scripts to managing your website, so it’s easy to forget something now and then. With Wunderlist, this isn’t a problem anymore.
     SpeakEasy Voice Recorder - SpeakEasy Voice Recorder offers surprising clarity and is perfect for quick little recordings or notes to yourself. Obviously, the quality isn’t going to be what you’ll get in a studio, but it’s still a nice little app to have handy.
     A calendar and contact app - If you’ve got a smartphone, the calendar and contact features are already built in, but there are also some pretty great apps out there that can manage this all-important info. Whether you use the built-in feature or download a separate app, make sure to go with a good one that will keep everything clean and organized.
     Financial apps - There are several great apps for managing your VO finances. Try Timewerks, which tracks your billing by item or hour and also has a mobile invoicing feature, Expensify to manage your expenses, or tried and true PayPal for invoicing as well as sending and receiving payments.
     Communication and social media apps - A huge part of VO work is staying in contact with other people! Do this with apps like Skype, and promote yourself through social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter. WebEx and GoToMeeting are perfect for handling meetings with clients, while you can network through LinkedIn.

     Miscellaneous awesome apps - Here’s a short list of other apps that have helped me from time to time: Wordcount, Box or Dropbox, GoodReader, and ActorGenie. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What Does the Emergence of Synthetic Voices Mean for Human Voice Actors?

If you would have told me twenty years ago that I would be able to ask my phone for the day’s forecast or my car to tell me the closest gas station, I would have laughed at you. But today? Today that’s exactly what we can do, thanks to ever-advancing technology that is making artificial intelligence more commonplace in our everyday lives. Truly, it is amazing what we’re capable of doing now.

But if we can put the amazement associated with this technology on hold for now, what I’d really like to talk about is the role that voice over plays with all this. Have you ever really thought about who Siri is, for instance? How did she get her voice? Most people think she’s a machine, a manmade voice that was created using computers. But was she always? Her name is voice actor, Susan Bennett.

Nope. Siri actually has very human origins, as do any of the synthetic voices we’ve grown accustomed to hearing. Here’s how it works: a voice actor is tapped for a gig probably unlike any other they’ve ever had. Instead of reading product information or voicing an animated character, they read what essentially amounts to gibberish into the mic. Nonsensical phrases are common, but so are random readings from books or news sites. Once complete, the readings - whether they make sense or not - are synthesized in a computer process called concatenation, that builds words and sentences. From there, these words and sentences make their way to computer-based applications on devices such as smartphones.

Pretty neat, huh? But this also brings up another interesting question - what do these synthetic voices mean for voice actors? Well, probably not much. Man made or not, these voices still originated from a real, live person, and that need will never go away.  Humans are also still the only ones capable of complex emotion and decision-making, both of which are critical to the art of voice over.

So is there cause for concern? No, not in my opinion. So for now, let’s just be amazed by this fascinating technology, and if I ever hear that Apple or someone wants a computerized “voice of Americana,” I’ll be happy to read all that gibberish.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Are Pay-to-Play Websites Right for You?

Pay-to-play, or P2P, sites are one of the primary methods for non-union voice over artists to connect with clients and land work. For a fee, voice actors can upload their demos to these sites, which prospective clients then peruse to find just the right talent for their project. It’s a great way to put yourself out there and increase your online presence, but like anything, there are pros and cons. Read on to learn these and help you decide if P2P is right for you.

     Opportunity to connect with far more clients than through other marketing methods.
     The chances of obtaining work is greater through P2P sites than other methods, by a large margin. For every 20-30 auditions, you can expect at least one booking, while other marketing methods have a booking ratio of 1:100. (Just my rough estimates)
     You have a better chance of booking work directly from your demo, at a rate of more than 50% of the time.
     There are around 10 to 20 opportunities per week, and they come from all around the country and even the world.
     Jobs range from low-paying small gigs to high-paying larger projects, so there’s a lot of variety.

     There is a fee - usually around $300 per year - to put your demo on P2P sites.
     You are required to come up with a rate for your work - which many actors aren’t familiar with. However, talent directors and others ultimately legitimize and determine what you are paid. Some sites have preset rates... sometimes good, sometimes not.
     Many of the rates offered (and paid) are far below what they should actually be, which degrades the work of the talent.
     On most sites iif a client refuses to pay, the P2P site has no responsibility to seek payment on your behalf.
     Many sites assign arbitrary ratings to talent, which can affect their chances of landing work, or they have restrictions in place (i.e., how many auditions can be had per month).
     It can be easy for talent, and especially new talent, to be taken advantage of, as many of these sites ask for actors to provide far more work than what is reasonable or what is fair for the price. New actors who are trying to build their portfolio may fall prey to these scenarios.

So is P2P right for you? Maybe, maybe not. It obviously depends on your unique circumstances. For non-union actors, it’s best to think of these sites as another marketing tool. Use it in addition to your other strategies, but it’s best not to rely solely on these sites. Don't use these sites to set your rates either. Do a little more research. And get paid what you are worth. And don't underestimate what you can bring to a project. Learn to USE these sites to YOUR best advantage, instead of the other way around!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Teaching Voiceover? Try These Tips to Help Your Students

It’s not uncommon for many voice over actors to take on the role of educator at some point in their career. There are always new aspiring voice actors, and teaching them the ins and outs of the industry is a great way to share knowledge and give back (and make a little side money if you’re doing it professionally). I've been amazed at the things I learn while teaching others! Teaching can be challenging, though, so use these tips to better connect with your students and pass along the valuable information that they need to succeed.

     Ease tension and nervousness. For newbies (and even some experienced actors), being nervous is pretty standard. Voice over requires you to put yourself out there, oftentimes getting well out of your comfort zone. This can be stressful, and when you factor in the other people in the room, it’s only amplified. As an instructor, it’s your job to ease this tension by providing a comfortable environment and helping students relax. Try incorporating music, movement and other sensory elements that can dispel tension. Ask questions, get to know your students, and encourage interaction among them.
     Teach for real world scenarios. When teaching, discuss real world situations that your students are likely to encounter in the future. Talk about these scenarios and what options they have for dealing with them. An example might be how to work with a fussy client who keeps wanting re-reads, or what to do when you’re faced with a project that requires you to make a moral decision.
     Provide samples. Support what you’re teaching with samples of your work or other actors’ work. Your students need to hear and see these things in practice so they can make a correlation to what you’re teaching them. They often need to "get over" the sound of their own voices and concentrate on the messages they are voicing.
     Allow for plenty of practice. This one is VERY important. Make sure to provide plenty of time for practice.  Nothing teaches better than “hands-on” learning opportunities, and this is critical for your students to take what you’ve taught them and put it into practice.
     Show students how to transition to the professional world. Finally, don’t make the mistake of imparting all this wisdom and then just sending them out the door. Show them how to transition to the professional world by providing information on marketing, branding, networking, etc. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Tribute to Alan Rickman

There was sad news out of the entertainment industry in January when we learned that the incredible Alan Rickman has passed away. While Mr. Rickman was known primarily for his film work, he was also a television, theater and voice over actor. His double bass sound was something truly unique; he could sound terrifying, intriguing, mysterious, and, oddly, loving all at once. He was a legend among us, and the acting industry as a whole is less without him.

Mr. Rickman’s career began on the stage, where he studied theater in London. His first venture beyond the stage took place in the late 1970s, when he accepted several small television roles. In 1985, he headed back to theater performances, earning a Tony Award nomination for his portrayal of Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. After that, Mr. Rickman shot to fame on the big screen for his role in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham, along with the part of Hans Gruber in Die Hard. That success was nothing compared to what he achieved with the Harry Potter series, though. Rickman played the part of Severus Snape with uncanny skill and precision, garnering much critical acclaim for his part in the series.

On the voice over side of things, Mr. Rickman also worked tirelessly to bring his characters to life. Perhaps his best known voice over project was that of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a role which his voice was uniquely suited for. Other VO work included work on Help! I’m a Fish, King of the Hill, and Alice in Wonderland. His final project, Alice Through the Looking Glass, was also a VO part, and was recorded shortly before his death.

Mr. Rickman was a true genius in our industry. Whatever project he was involved with, he owned it, breathing life into his roles and transforming them into believable characters, whether they were villains, foolish husbands, or animated figures.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rickman. You were - and still are - an absolute legend.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Are You Getting CREDIT Where Credit's Due?

I’d like to discuss something that many voice actors often overlook. Many never even think about it, never realize when/where it is appropriate or… somehow think it’s an unreasonable request. I’m talking about a “credit line’’. No, not a line of credit. That’s something to work out with your bank. What I’m talking about is a “by line” as in Narration by Rick Lance. Or Narrated by Rick Lance, Nashville, TN. Simple isn’t it? Yet, how many times have you voiced a video for various uses such as TV shows, documentary films, websites, explainer videos, training, public education, new product or service illustration, museums, kiosks or several other non-broadcast uses …and NEVER gotten a credit line for it? How about non-visual media such as radio, podcasts, website blurbs and audio books (for sure)… usually narrative projects?

Listen, it’s this simple! ANYWHERE there is a “production page or slate” presented ( in audio or video) YOU as part of the production team deserve a credit line. This does not generally apply to radio and TV commercials. It’s not really appropriate there… unless you are a celebrity… to  expect a credit line. (And that may be a contractual obligation to the talent.) We are often hired directly by production companies, advertising agencies, marketing and PR agencies, TV and radio stations and individuals to work with them as their project’s voice. Believe me, if they are creating a production slate they will certainly be listing the production company name and all the people’s names they feel are important. YOU… WE… are just as important to telling their story.
Often we will be the last credit on the list. As we are often brought into the project as the very last contributor. No problem, at least we are being given proper acknowledgement for our work.
This may be a bit more difficult when a third party is involved such as an agent or P2P website. But give it a try anyway! You won’t know until you try.

Now, you may get a little grief when you request this or REQUIRE this as part of your payment from the producer. Don’t accept that! As long as they have not completed the project in stone they can still place your name at the end of the credit list. Remember, video editing is all done on computer these days. But you have to make sure you bring this up early in your discussion… upon hiring you, that is, so you can show them the importance of your credit line. They may never think of that themselves in their scurry to get the project finished on time. You may need to remind them again as you send in your file and/or invoice after you’ve completed your recording. 

Just in case you don’t understand my reasoning here, this is mainly a marketing issue for us.
An economic issue. YES, you can get hired from you’re name being seen in the credits! I know I have been! You can bet those producers get hired all the time from their credit being seen. Not only that, this is just good business. Affording the respect that each creative involved in the project deserves. Sometimes, on the right project, I’ve gotten a credit up front after the title. That’s REALLY cool!

So the next time you get a job request think about the life of your voice over extending beyond the initial life of the project. Ask for OR require your credit line. Just make sure it is appropriate to the way in which the project will be used. Don’t know how it will be used? Oh, come on!!! You don’t know how the project you’ve been hired to voice is going to be used?! Well, that’s another topic all together… usage! For another time.