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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Script Interpretation: 3 Tips to Keep in Mind

All scripts are not created equal - a fact you’re probably well-acquainted with if you’ve been in the voice over business for any length of time. Sometimes when you get a script, it’s full of information that you can take and use in your reading; other times, it’s just some words on a page and you’re more or less winging it from behind the mic. No matter what script you get, though, there are a few universal tips that can be applied to interpreting it - and accurate interpretation is the key to making your client a happy person.

Tip #1 - Know Your Role
Whether you’re reading dull, educational material for corporate HR stuff or some fun, fresh marketing copy, it’s critical that you know your “character.” Are you speaking from the point of view of a colleague, a CEO, a friend, a consumer - who? Know your role and let that help guide your reading.

Tip #2 - Know Your Audience
Once you’ve figured out who “you” are, you need to determine who you’re talking to. The way that you talk to senior citizens is going to be a lot different from how you talk to children or teenagers, for example. Are you speaking "one-on-one", to a small group, or to a whole room full of people. Knowing your audience goes a long way in helping you nail the proper pitch, tone, speed, and volume.

Tip #3 - Know the Goal
You need to have a clear understanding of the project’s purpose, too. When you know what your client is trying to accomplish, whether it’s trying to sell something or deliver a call to action, you can tailor the reading accordingly.

These are all basic things you should understand about each and every script you get. When you first get a script, give it a quick scan, thinking about each of these. Are you able to determine them right away? If so, great. If not, that’s okay. Read through the script again, more carefully, making notes in the margins or underlining lines you want to emphasize. If you have any questions or lingering doubts about it, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask the client. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

One of the Most Underrated Pieces of Advice in VO: Learn When to Say No

Go onto any voice over site and you’ll come across advice - advice on how to get started in the industry, tips on how to set up a home studio, suggestions for voice care. You name it, there’s someone offering advice on it. Hell, I do it on my own blog all the time - and I’m about to do it again here, but this time with one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated pieces of advice I’ve ever received.  I’m talking about the word “no.” Specifically, learning when to say no and overcoming your natural inclination to avoid the word when dealing with clients.

Let me give you a personal example that happened to a colleague of mine. One of my actor friends, who I’ll refer to as Bill, was still kind of a VO rookie when this happened. He’d been working on projects for about a year, and was getting to the point where the work was good and steady, and he was enjoying regular projects from repeat clients. But of course, like most of us, Bill wanted more. So he removed the word “no” from his vocabulary. Anytime a client asked for something, Bill said yes. Script changes, edits, second and third recordings - whatever the client wanted, Bill did it...until he just couldn’t anymore. There came that day when Bill was burned out, tired, and mentally and physically depleted. And you know who suffered from all of this? Everyone! Bill, his family, his friends, and even his clients, who he thought he was helping. Bill was taking on way too much, and the quality of his work was slipping. He was hurrying through projects, but still not meeting deadlines, and he was losing precious time and money doing so. It had to stop, and when Bill finally realized this and started saying no, his situation turned around completely.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t as dramatic as some of you hoped it might be, but I think I made my point. As a voice over actor, you HAVE to say no sometimes. If you become a “yes” person, always trying to please, you’ll wind up in a situation like Bill’s, where nobody is happy.

If a project is out of your range, say no. If the client wants to pay you less than what you think it’s worth, say no. If they demand a hundred edits and don’t want to pay you for them, say no. It may be hard to do this at first, because that desire to please is intrinsic for most of us, but in the end, saying no is often the very thing that will keep everyone happy. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Time Management Tips to Improve Efficiency and Focus

When you have the luxury of making your own schedule, it can be all too easy to get distracted and off task - and even more so when you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. The best way to deal with this is to set some boundaries for yourself and employ a few time management strategies. Below are 6 that I live by each day, and I can say without a doubt that these have made a significant difference in my daily productivity and overall job satisfaction.

1.    Get an early start - The majority of successful people that I know usually have much of their day’s work accomplished before mid-afternoon. Why is this? Because they got an early start. When you start tackling your to-do list early in the day, you’re much more likely to complete your tasks. You’re rested, energized, and you know that once you’ve accomplished the day’s agenda, the rest of the time is yours.
2.    Make a list - Before you can start working your way down your list, though, you need to create said list. Take a look at your workload, and write down the various things you need to get done. I usually do this at breakfast or the day before.
3.    Prioritize - When writing your list, be sure to prioritize each task by give it a number. You can prioritize however you see fit - by order of importance, by deadline, smallest to largest, or vice versa.
4.    Schedule - Once your tasks have been listed and prioritized, you can develop a schedule for your day. For example, you might say that between 8:00 and 8:15, you’re going to read and respond to emails. From 8:15 to 9:00, you’re going to work on Task #1. Obviously, these times are just examples, and you’ll need to set a schedule with times that fit each item.
5.    Don’t multitask - Many people think multi-tasking equates to time savings, but for me, it results in wasted time. I prefer to focus on one item at a time, starting and completing just that one thing before moving on to the next. Multi-tasking may work for some, but for others it causes more confusion and increases the chances for errors.
6.    Take breaks - There is nothing wrong with taking breaks. In fact, be sure to work a few short breaks into your daily schedule when you’re creating it. This gives your brain time to “turn off” and re-energize, so that you can tackle the next task with more focus and efficiency. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Is it a Good Idea to Include Your Photo on Your Website?

Here’s a question I’ve heard asked more than once - should you put your picture on your voice over website? Well, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know my opinion on the matter, since you can see my smiling face on my homepage. Just because I’m obviously for including a photo, it doesn’t mean the topic isn’t worth a discussion. So let’s talk…

Let’s start with the pros of putting your photo on your site. First and foremost, photos provide an excellent means for potential clients to start building a relationship with you before you’ve even agreed on a deal. Having that visual reference helps people feel more connected, and it ensures that there are no surprises should you ever end up meeting face to face. Just as in all other types of businesses, many clients find it more professional when a photo is included, especially if it’s a professional headshot.

Now, there are a few possible negatives worth mentioning as well. There’s a reason why it’s still considered a no-no to include your photo on resumes, right?  One argument against adding a photo is that it gives people a chance to judge you based on something that is irrelevant in VO, and this judging will likely take place before they’ve even heard your voice. If they don’t like how you look, they may be predisposed to dislike your sound. You also may be inadvertently setting yourself up for some form of discrimination, whether it’s based on your gender, race, age, or whatever.

The decision of whether or not to add your photo to your website is entirely up to you, and there are pros and cons to both. If you do decide to include a picture, be very mindful about the photo you choose and the message that image will send. A picture of you and your cat in a party hat celebrating the feline’s birthday may tell clients that you’re, shall we say, less serious. Or your wedding photo (yes, your wife or husband may be gorgeous but... ) A great looking headshot, on the other hand, will show that you’re a professional who values the opinions of others.

So tell me, do you think it’s a good idea to include a photo on your VO website? And the debate goes on! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lesser Known Skills that Pay Off in Voice Over

What’s the #1 skill you need to have to be a successful voice actor? Your voice, of course! But your voice alone isn’t going to be enough to get you the kind of success you want. Instead, you need a wide range of skills, some of which you’re probably aware of already, and others which you’ve never even thought of. Some of these, such as the ability to create a great website, can be easily outsourced to more knowledgeable people, but others are all on you. Here are some of the lesser known skills you need to have to become a successful voice over artist.

     Copywriting.  You may be thinking, “I’m not going to be writing scripts or anything!”, so why do I need to be good at copywriting? The answer is simple. Because you WILL be writing. True,  you’re probably not going to be penning masterpiece scripts or anything like that, but you’ll still be writing on a near daily basis. Emails to clients, content on your website, social media posts, blogs - these are just some of the areas where good writing skills will come in handy. You may also be making some small corrections to scripts. Especially, if your client, the copywriter speaks a foreign language i.e. English is not their mother tongue.
     Organization. As a VO actor, you’re not just working for the same client. If you’re lucky, you’ve got clients coming out the you-know-what, and you’ve got to have a good organizational system to keep track of everything. Clients aren’t the only area where solid organizational skills pay off, either. Scripts, business-related files and paperwork, billing and invoices all will benefit from superior organization. This is always my greatest challenge.
     Marketing. Selling yourself and your VO brand is one of the most important aspects of success in this industry. If you’re not a good salesperson, how are you going to land clients? You must be able to effectively market yourself and your abilities - and through a variety of platforms - to get the clients you want. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Downside of Owning Your Own Business

One of the best things about being a voice over actor is that I’m my own boss. Yes, I have to answer to clients and a few others, but for the most part, I’m running my own show. I decide when I work, what I work on, and who I work for - which is great! However, being the one in charge and owning your own business isn’t all smiles and sunshine. In fact, there’s some real drudgery associated it, and in the interest of fairness (since I’ve been pretty biased about all the perks so far), I’m going to talk about a few of the disadvantages that come with working for yourself.

1.    It’s A LOT of work. There’s a reason I have this listed as #1. When you’re the one calling the shots, you’re in charge of everything - which is going to take up a lot of your time. Aside from the actual voice over work you’ll be recording and editing, you’re also going to have to market yourself, create an online presence, scout out new work, deal with clients, handle payments and expenses, maintain records, deal with equipment malfunctions, attend networking events, and this list just goes on and on. Running your own company is very time-consuming business and requires a great deal of motivation, and unless you’ve hired someone to help, all the work is going to fall on your shoulders.
2.    Your income will fluctuate. One of the great things about a “regular” job (i.e., working for someone else), is that your income is more or less guaranteed, major circumstances such as losing your job excluded, of course. But with your own VO business, you’ll likely see major fluctuations in your weekly, monthly, or even annual income. It’s not uncommon for VO talent to have a dry spell, where the work just isn’t coming in. If you’re not financially prepared for this, you’re going to suffer.
3.    You have no one to blame but yourself if things go bad. Since this is YOUR business, you’re the one behind its success or failure. If things go south, it’s all on you, and you need to be able to live with that, take the good with the bad - and pick up the pieces and move on. It’s a heavy burden to bear, but it’s one that every self-employed VO artist must shoulder.

There you have it - three of the biggest disadvantages that come with running your own voice over business. For me, the benefits far outweigh these things, and I LOVE what I do. But as I mentioned, I can be a little biased when it comes to this topic, so I wanted to cover some of the possible downsides as well. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How to Be Your Clients’ Favorite VO Actor

Usually, when we hear the term “playing favorites,” it conjures up negative feelings or ideas. In the case of clients, though, you WANT them to play favorites - specifically when it comes to you. There’s a lot of good that can come from being your clients’ favorite voice over actor, but getting into that role is the tricky part. Having been in the business for almost 23 years, however, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that always seem to work for me. Here’s what I’m talking about:

     Be reliable. This is probably the single-most important thing that can make or break your relationship with a client. Everyone likes a person who does what they say they’re going to. If you’re not reliable, your clients will figure this out quickly and will find someone else they can count on.
     Be available and responsive. Ever sent someone an email or left a voicemail and then waited for DAYS for them to respond? It’s annoying, huh? Don’t be that person, especially when you’re dealing with clients. Make sure you have a quick turnaround for responding to calls and emails, so they don’t give up on you and start looking for someone else.
     Be consistent. Consistency is another key to making you into a fast favorite. People like to know what to expect, and if you’re consistent about delivering on-time, pristine service, you can’t go wrong.
     Be pleasant. It’s astonishing how many people are downright unpleasant or rude. Make sure you’ve got a great attitude and a positive personality, and you’ll be surprised at how far this can take you.
     Under-commit and over-deliver. This is one that has served me very well over the years. I don’t make promises I can’t keep, and in fact, I do my best to under-promise my clients so that when I deliver ahead of schedule, they’re dazzled.
Being a client favorite is definitely a sweet spot to be in as a voice over actor, but it takes some effort to get there - not a ton, mind you, but you’ve got to be cognizant of what you’re doing and how you’re interacting with others. Follow these tips above and you’ll be well on your way to becoming your clients’ go-to voice actor. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Does it Pay to Niche Yourself in Voice Over?

Voice over is a profession of many paths, with plenty of opportunity for you to change directions, backtrack, or speed ahead - and everyone’s course is different. However, there’s one fork in the road that nearly every actor faces, and that’s whether to settle into a niche or try to be more of an “all-in-one” kind of actor. Frankly, I don't believe the latter will be sustainable for a career.

Here’s an analogy: let’s say you want to buy a new tv. You’ve got a few options, two of the biggest being a general retailer, like Wal-Mart, or a more specialized electronics store, like Best Buy. Which one will you go to? Well, many people will choose Best Buy, because there might be more options, the salespeople might be more knowledgeable, etc. One the other hand, Wal-Mart will appeal to another segment of tv shoppers, who may think they might get a better deal or who are also in the market for other items that Best Buy won’t have.

Me? I’d choose Best Buy, because I want to buy my tv from someone who specializes in tvs. It’s no different with voice actors, in my opinion. When you niche yourself, you’re telling  your clients, “this is my area of expertise.” This is appealing to many clients because 1) they know what they’re after in terms of their target market and the “sound” that they’re looking for, and 2) they want an expert to handle their project.

So, to answer the original question at hand: does it pay to niche yourself in voice over? I’m of the opinion that, yes, it most certainly does. When you hone in on a specific skill, and you take that skillset and cultivate it, and brand it, and market it, you’re tapping into a specific segment of clients who you know will be interested in YOU. Your chances of better pay, repeat work, and just an overall better working experience are, in my opinion, greatly increased once you’ve zeroed in on your own niche. 

I've created my own niche along with a slogan I can abruptly back up with purity... "The Voice of Americana! Serving the basic industries that keep America moving." I've centralized my thinking and my marketing. And I can tell you honestly, it has been working quite well now for the last 9 years.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Are You Getting the Credit You Deserve?

Voice over actors are notoriously undervalued in the entertainment industry. While it’s easy to understand why - people don’t see us, therefore, we are less important - that doesn’t make it okay. Most of us work incredibly hard, devoting tons of time, energy, and money toward our careers. Sure, we’re compensated (and sometimes handsomely) for all our efforts, but we’re not always given the shout-out we deserve, which is just as important as payment. Allow me to elaborate…

When you watch a movie, what usually happens before the film even begins? That’s right, the stars and director are usually credited. And then after the film ends, they’re credited again, along with everyone that helped make the movie, right down to the caterers who brought in food for everyone.

But what about voice over actors who are contributing to things like radio ads, or promotional or instructional videos? A credit line isn’t always given. Yes, there have been instances where my VO work has been credited, but there have also been plenty of times where it hasn’t. And this needs to change.

We voice actors play a critical role in the entertainment business as a whole, as well as in plenty of other non-entertainment capacities. This role deserves recognition, and it should be our duty to ourselves and other voice professionals to insist on credit being given where it’s due. Not only is it just the right thing to do, it’s also a great PR move for us as actors. It’s one more opportunity for you to get your name out there for others to see.

So here’s what I do. I request a credit line wherever it’s appropriate. I’m not going to overlook it (something I’ve been guilty of in the past), and I include it as part of my agreement with my clients. I challenge you to do the same - not just for yourself, but for all the VO actors out there who are as deserving of that credit as anyone. We’re more than just a voice - we are unique talents that contribute in crucial ways to a much bigger industry. 

I've elaborated on this subject in an earlier article, "Are You Getting Credit Where Credit's Due?"
(http://tinyurl.com/hmdeap8) Hope you'll read or reread it for clarity's sake.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The “It” Factor in Voice Over

You’ve probably asked yourself more than once whether or not you have what it takes to succeed in the voice over industry. But let’s talk about that word - it. What is “it”? Most people would say something about “it” being the industry itself, or maybe the work that you put in. But I want to talk about “it” from another perspective - I want to talk about the “it” factor.

What is the “It” Factor?
The “it” factor is something that can’t be neatly packaged into just one word, like “special” or “talented.” It’s much more than that. It’s all-encompassing; it’s the whole package, if you will. The “it” factor is that element that gives one actor an edge over another, and draws people to them as if they were one big voice over magnet. Do you know what I mean? When someone has the “it” factor, you know it. You see them or hear them and you think, “Wow, that person is Amazing with a capital A.”

Creating Your Own “It” Factor
If my definition of the “it” factor is about as clear as mud, I apologize. But like I said, it’s not something that can be summed up in a word or two. Here’s what I do know, though. I can tell you some of the attributes that contribute to this larger state of being. They are:
     Business acumen
     Open mindedness

Are you getting a sense now of why I said the “it” factor is the whole package? It’s never just one thing. You could be the most creative person in the world, but if your intentions are dishonest or you never display even an ounce of humility, you probably won’t get very far. If you want people to come to you, to stop what they’re doing to listen to you speak, you need to be the total package. Discover what areas you’re already good in, and work to improve in the places you’re not.  Taking this approach can help you develop your own “it” factor and help you stand out from the masses.
Now go... take "it" to the limit!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How to Develop Your Own Character Voice

Let me preface this by saying that character voices aren’t for everyone. However, you may remember an earlier article I posted November 2, 2015, "Think You're Not a Character Voice Actor? Oh, Yes You Are!" ( http://tinyurl.com/zkdyerx) about how I believe ALL voice actors can create character voices. So, at the risk of contradicting myself... developing an original voice specific to a certain character is a unique talent that we’re not all equipped with. While I am by no means an expert in character voices, some of my closest friends are, so I know a little something about it. If you think you have a knack for this particular skill, and you’d like to put it to use with a self-made character voice, here’s how you can do it:

     Start with an impersonation. Many of the voices you hear on the radio or in animation today are actually impersonations of other voices. Think of someone with a distinctive voice, such as Jack Nicholson or Fran Drescher, and try to impersonate it. You may find inspiration there for your character.
     Develop a voice you’ve already been using. Ever speak for your dog or cat? Ever mimic another person’s voice when you’re recounting a conversation? These are both great starting points for a new character voice, because they’re ones you’ve already been using.
     Does the sound fit the character? If you’ve already got a character in mind, focus on the sound to make sure it’s a match. If you’re envisioning a toothless farmer from the Deep South, then you don’t want to sound like a well-spoken Ivy Leaguer from the North.
     Don’t forget emotions. To be believable as a character, you’ve got to consider the emotions involved with what your character is saying. Can you change the voice to reflect anger, embarrassment, pride, etc? If not, this is something to practice.
     Have fun with it. Remember, this is YOUR character, derived from your own creative process. You should be proud! Don’t be afraid to have fun with it, and remember that you’re always learning and growing - and so is your unique character. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

4 Ways to Boost Your Motivation When You’re Your Own Boss

I’m not going to lie, being my own boss is pretty great. I get to choose how I work, when I work, and what projects I want to work on. All of this freedom isn’t without its challenges though, and staying motivated every day is one of them. When there’s no boss to report to, it can be easy to get sidetracked and justify a lack of output.  To help offset this, I do little things to stay motivated and inspired. Here are 4 of them:

1.    Practice the 5-minute rule. The 5-minute rule is simple: look at your workload, and tackle something that you can complete in 5 minutes or less. This is a great strategy for those days when you’re feeling overwhelmed and just don’t know where to begin. Being able to cross at least one (or more) things off your to-do list can boost your motivation to tackle other items.
2.    Stay connected. Don’t let yourself get so overworked that you feel as if you’re drowning, and in order to stay afloat, you cut off contacts and dive further into work. It’s vital that you stay connected with other people - especially respected colleagues who you can relate to - so you have a variety of outlets and resources when you need a little help.
3.    Interval training. No, I’m not talking about exercise here. I’m talking about dividing your day into more manageable chunks, instead of trying to power through 8, 10 or 12 hours of work all at once. Tell yourself, “I’m going to work for x amount of hours, and then I’m going to take a break and run errands. Then I’m going to work for another x amount of hours.” When you work in intervals, you keep your energy level going... stronger, longer.
4.    Stay goal-focused. If you’ve read some of my other blogs, you know how big of a proponent I am for goal-setting and staying on top of them. Write down your goals and put them in plain sight so you can always keep them in mind. Try to do something each day, whether it’s big or small, that is working toward at least one of your goals.

When you’re your own boss, you HAVE to stay motivated if you want to succeed. It’s normal to have those “blah” days (like today... it's raining like hell!) when you don’t want to do anything, but if you practice these tips, you can help reverse the “blahs” and have a more productive day. And bring back the sunshine for the next day!