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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Voice Over Conferences You Should Attend at Least Once

Conferences. You either love ‘em or  you hate ‘em. Some people relish the opportunity to get away for a few days, meet new people, and hear what some of the best in the business are saying. Others, however, see these events as a major drag - and an expensive one, too. Regardless of how you feel about conference, it’s a good idea for any voice over artist who’s making a career out of their talent to attend at least a few of these events. Here are the ones I recommend:

     VO Atlanta - This highly interactive conference is appropriate for actors of all skill levels, because there’s truly something for everyone. Featuring in-depth, small-group sessions, you’ll have the opportunity to meet and work with other actors for a unique learning experience that will help you grow as a professional. Held in Atlanta in spring each year, this is conference that encompasses virtually every aspect of working as a voice over professional, and it’s one you don’t want to miss.
     The Midwest Voice Over Conference - It’s location smack dab in the middle of the country makes this a convenient choice for many of the best talents in the biz. Sponsored by some of VO’s most recognizable businesses, such as voices.com and Voice123, this event has made a big impact even though it’s only been around a couple of years. There’s always a great keynote speaker, along with lectures from other big-name professionals. There’s also an assortment of educational workshops you can attend, including Home Studios, Agency Representation, Audio Production, and Auditioning for Jobs, just to name a few.
     FaffCon - A self-proclaimed unconference, FaffCon has a requirement that other conferences don’t: you must be a vetted professional to attend. This is actually great news, because the result is one of the largest gatherings of legit voice over professionals. The event is participant-driven and features peer-to-peer learning sessions that provide attendees with an educational experience unlike any other. FaffCon is taking place this year in Minneapolis, August 26-28. 
*  WOVO (World Voices) - A relatively new group of members-only pros who've just begun conferences to share ideas, improve skills and maintain good working standards for the industry. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

10 Ways to Get More Voice Over Business

As a voice over entrepreneur, increasing your clientele is a top priority. Without a growing list of clients, your business will never grow. While you’re already aware of some of the “normal” ways that voice over artists build their businesses, including having a website, using social media, or working with an agent, there are lots of other little steps you can take to get more business. Here are some of them:
1.    Reach out to a local newspaper or magazine and see if they’d be interested in writing an article about you and your work.
2.    Sign up for exhibit space a local convention or trade show catering to businesses who could benefit from voice over.
3.    Visit area grocery stores and other retailers who run ad spots or make in-store announcements.
4.    Join forces with another entrepreneur and market each other’s services.
5.    Take a class at your local college that’s geared toward working professionals and use it to (a learn new skills and b) network.
6.    Connect with some local non-profit groups or charities and donate your services for ad spots.
7.    Make some postcards to introduce yourself and explain your services, and mail them to area businesses.
8.    Participate in meet-up groups that you have an interest in, even if they have nothing to do with VO. You never know who you’ll meet and what opportunities may present themselves.
9.    Use Google AdWords so your name and business info pop up when people search for specific keywords online.
10.  Ask existing clients for referrals. If you’ve got a good relationship with some of your current customers, ask if they’d mind putting in a good word for you with some of their colleagues, or if they’d be willing to provide you with information so you can contact them yourself.

Pick 3 of these, and try them out this week. Chances are, you’ll get at least one new client from it. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What Does a Casting Director Look for in an Audiobook Narrator?

The $1 billion-plus audiobook industry is not showing any signs of slowing down. With technology making it simpler than ever to enjoy audiobooks at your leisure, the expectation is for this industry to expand even more. Of course, voice over actors play an integral role in this, as we are the ones who supply the narration. And with the continuing growth of audiobooks, it makes sense that more and more voice actors are interested in how they can get involved. Obviously, to record an audiobook, you’ve first got to get hired for the job. Here’s a bit of what casting directors are looking for in the right person for the job:

First and foremost, the right VO talent will have plenty of authenticity. They need to be an expert on what they’re reading, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. When there’s dialogue, accents and colloquial use of words must ring true. Basically, the end result needs to be compelling enough to draw the listener in, and that’s not going to happen if it doesn’t feel authentic.

If you’re passionate about a project, you’ll score major points with the casting director. Many try to match the project to the interests of the VO talent, because this makes for a much more passionate reading. The audience can tell if you’re interested in what you’re reading. This passion should also extend beyond the project itself, and to your career in general. When you’re passionate about what you do, that will show - and trust me, no one wants an actor who’s not invested in what he/she does.

Casting directors really, really like working with talent that has taken the time to prepare for their project. Before you audition, find out as much information as you can about the project so you can start prepping. If you can, read the book and annotate the script with notes to yourself. Pay special attention to the characters and their wording, as this can affect pronunciation. If there are any specific accents being used, spend time practicing them or working with a dialect coach.

These are just a few of the things an audiobook casting director will look, for they’re some of the most important. If you want to break into this sector of voice over, remember that you must be authentic, passionate, and well-prepared. You must also have a lot of vocal stamina. Audio book projects generally take a lot of time to record, edit and master. Be prepared and fully understand what you're taking on with each project... leaving enough time to complete one before moving on to the next.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Yes, You Are a Customer Service Worker

If you’re a voice over actor, I’ve got news for you. You’re also a customer service worker. Now, maybe you’ve never thought of yourself in this light before, but take a minute to consider.  Do you work with people? Is it your job to provide them with a quality service with efficiency and politeness?  Why, yes it is! Now, here’s how you can be an even better customer service to keep your clients coming back for more.

1.    Be helpful. Everyone loves a helpful person, and your clients are no exception. If you can assist them with more than just a recording, they’ll remember this kindness. Perhaps they’ve given you a script that could use a little fine-tuning or has some grammatical errors. This is an opportunity for you to mention this and offer to help.

2.    Offer a free sample. Freebies are just a part of life for many in this industry, and especially those who are trying to boost their client list and are working with new clients. Once you’ve made the contact with a person, offer to record a sample of their project for free. It will give them a better idea of what your sound is, and will help both of you decide if you’re the right fit for the project.

3.    Be available. I can’t stress this one enough. When they call, call them back. When they email, reply to their message. And do it promptly!

4.    Make things easy for them. If you can make it an uncomplicated process to work with you, your clients will love you for it. Make payments easy and streamlined, make it easy for them to contact you, and most importantly, make the process of working with you easy and drama-free.

5.    Exceed their expectations. This one doesn’t need too much explanation. Do what you can to go above and beyond what they expect. Get your project done before the deadline, cut an unnecessary fee, and deliver the highest quality product you can.  Basically, give it 110%.

6. If you feel are absolutely not right for a project, refer them to someone whom you think will be. Even if it doesn't pan out they'll be thankful to you for your honesty and help.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Are There Ever Clients You Should Avoid?

If you’re new to voice over and you’re doing everything possible to build your clientele and, thus, your portfolio, you may think turning down a client sounds like a crazy thing. I have news for you, though. There are certain clients who just aren’t worth it in the long run. Maybe you haven’t met one yet, but I sure have. And you surely will too! Here are the types of clients that I avoid at all costs:

The Control Freak
We all know someone who is control freak. They’re that person who has to have their hands in everything, and everything has to be JUST SO. And if it’s not? Well, you better watch out. In voice over, this gets real old, real fast. When you’ve got someone breathing down your neck and micromanaging your every move, it just makes your job that much more difficult - especially when that person expects perfection (and trust me, they do).

The Last Minute Changer
Know what is really annoying to most voice actors? Clients who decide to make changes at the last second. Whether it’s the script or the deadline or something else, when you’ve agreed upon something and then your client says, “Wait, now we’re going to do it like this,” it stops the train. This results in stress, more of your time spent on the project than you’d planned, and ultimately, a loss in revenue.

The Dictator
The Dictator is like the Control Freak on steroids. This is the guy (or gal) who demands to be in charge and will not consider anyone else’s viewpoints. Talk about putting a damper on your creative license with a project. One of the best things about working with good clients is being able to openly communicate and have YOUR expertise as an artist recognized. With a Dictator, this isn’t happening. 

The Cheapskate
I set a rate for everything I do and don't let the client do that for me. I try to work within their budget if one is presented, However, if they will not be flexible on the budget, I give a polite "thanks but no thanks" response and move on. Working with a Cheapskate will always take up more of your time than it is worth and will bring you only more cheap work in the future.

The Ones that Drive me Nuts
It takes a lot to truly get under my skin, but there are certain things that will do it instantaneously. Like being wishy-washy about a project, not communicating with me, not paying me - that last one is a biggie. Basically, if my initial conversations with a client make me think that any of these things are going to happen, I usually politely decline the project. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Voice Over Editing Tips for Beginners

In voice over, editing your work is just as important as recording it. An unedited recording is basically an unfinished job, because it’s not really a usable product for your clients. Editing is something that you’ll have to learn, though, and something that you’ll improve on the more you do it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for those just getting into VO.

     Check your mic. Before you even start recording, do a quick mic check. You want the best source material possible, so that your editing work is less complicated. Read your material at normal volume, then play back what you recorded. Adjust your mic as necessary.

     Get rid of background noise. After you’ve recorded your material, it’s critical that you remove any background noise that interferes with your voice over - so all of it, essentially. Static, hissing, vibrations...none of this should be on your final product, so use your editing software to isolate and eliminate these extraneous sounds.

     Eliminate gaps of silence. Like background noise, gaps of silence are an unwanted element of your recording. Using the similar tools, remove these for a better-flowing recording.

     Removing breaths. Sometimes, breaths should be removed. Other times, they shouldn’t. Consider your recording and how a breath may add drama or intensity to it. If this is appropriate, you may want to leave certain breaths in. 

     Amplify and normalize. Chances are, there will be parts of your audio that are too soft or too loud. Sometimes this includes the entire track, but often it’s a mixture of the two. To create a more consistent volume, you need to amplify or normalize. For a recording that is either one or the other (too soft or too loud),  you need to amplify. For a track that exhibits both characteristics, normalizing is in order. I use Twisted Wave, with a couple of choice plugins, for my main editing software.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Voice Actor Toolkit: What You Need in Your Home Studio

Home studios are relatively commonplace for voice actors these days. And even a necessity now. Back when I first got in the business, actors did most (if not all) of their recordings in an outside studio. Now, however, many actors have their own in-home studios where they can do everything from recording to editing to the basic practices necessary for managing their VO business. Convenience and comfort are the driving factors behind this shift, not to mention the advances that have made in-home equipment more manageable and affordable.  If you’re thinking of creating a home studio, here are the essential pieces you’ll need:

     Microphone - Arguably the most important piece of equipment, your microphone is your path to being heard. There are several different types, and you’ll absolutely need to research this before you buy anything. Go to your local music store and try out many side-by-side.

     Mic stand - A microphone stand will keep your mic from moving, resulting in even and consistent recording.  Avoid desk stands if possible, as these tend to absorb noise and vibrations that will come across in your recording.

     Pop filter - This goes along with your microphone and helps to eliminate those pesky “mouth noises” that you don’t want in your recordings.

     Speakers or headphones - How else are you going to listen to what you’ve recorded to make sure it sounds perfect? I use both.

     Computer - Your computer will serve as the connecting point for virtually everything in your home studio, and it’s also the piece of equipment you’ll use the most. Used for recording, editing, managerial tasks, communication, and more, this is an essential piece in your home studio. Get a good, quiet computer with lots of RAM.

     Software - You’ll need both recording and editing software installed on your computer so you can complete voice over projects. Check to see what other talent use.

     Acoustic treatments - A home studio usually needs to be outfitted with some type of acoustic treatment to improve the sound quality of your space. Acoustic foam and other noise dampening pieces may be necessary to eliminate ambient noise and ensure that your recordings are free of extraneous sounds. 

* Check online sources for professional standards and anwers to home studio questions. A great source is VOBS (www.voiceoverbodyshop.com)with George Whittam and Dan Lenard with their weekly broadcasts. Also available on YouTube.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Social Media Tips for Voice Over Actors

Whether you love it or hate it, social media is here to stay - and it’s a VERY powerful way to market yourself as a voice actor. There’s a right way and a wrong way to use it, however, along with some important etiquette rules you should be following. Use these tips to help you improve your social media game AND your career. I'm no expert but I can pass along some basic info.

     Use a few platforms. There are lots of social media options out there - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and so on. You should be using about 3 to 5 of these. If you limit yourself to one, there is a segment of the market you’re not reaching. However, if you try to manage 8 of them, you’re probably not managing them well and you’re spending a lot of time doing it.

     Analyze your numbers. It’s a good idea to keep track of the numbers associated with your accounts, such as how many followers you have, how many shares, how many likes, etc. Doing this will show you what works and what doesn’t, so you can post things that you know will be successful and go over well with your followers.

     Stay positive. No one likes a social media Debbie Downer, so stay upbeat and happy with your posts! If you post items that can be construed in a negative light, you run the risk of turning people off and possibly away from your social media accounts.

     Give shout outs to your clients. If you’ve just landed a new project or wrapped up an existing one, you can use social media to promote it. Your clients will no doubt appreciate you spreading the word about them, and it’s also a good way to promote yourself as an actor. 

     Go easy on the hashtags. There was a period not too long ago where people felt the need to hashtag EVERYTHING. #dontdoit #soannoying  I’m not saying to never use hashtags, I’m just saying not to go overboard on them. Keep them relevant, focused, and primarily on sites such as Twitter and Facebook where they have a function and purpose. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How to Turn Your Voice Acting Hobby into a Career

There are plenty of voice actors out there who do VO mainly as a hobby. It’s something fun and they’re able to make a little bit of money at it, but it’s not a career. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but if you’re ready to transition to being a full time voice artist, you’ll need to scrap the hobby mentality and implement a new approach. Here’s how:

1.    Find your type. No, I’m not talking about romantic interests, I’m talking about you and your voice! Every successful VO actor knows their type, or their “signature” sound. This is what you’re especially good at, and what you want to develop further and market to potential clients. 

2.    Start honing your skills. Once you’ve identified your type or sound that makes you stand out from the crowd, you need to start practicing this skill set. Listen to others who have a similar sound, and do your own readings of different projects. Practice, practice, practice.

3.    Make yourself easy to find. The only way to build your clientele is to make yourself accessible to the people who are doing the hiring. The best way to do this is to create a well-rounded web presence for yourself, using a combination of your own personal website, social media, and signing up for different voice over websites.

4.    Market yourself. You’ll also need to market yourself as an actor, and more specifically, your brand of VO.  Your website and social media accounts are a great way to do this, and keeping the content fresh and updated is one way to do this. You can also shop your demo around, getting it out there wherever you can.

5.    Create your own opportunities. Don’t just sit around and wait for people to contact you - contact them first! Get online, reach out to casting directors, agents, and anyone else who might be able to give you voice over work.  You can also attend workshops and conferences to expand your network and get your name out there even more. 

6.  Hire some marketing help. I work with Max Audience to sustain my SEO and other efforts to keep my internet presence strong. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Tips for Video Game Voice Over

Full disclosure: I am not a gamer. I also don’t have a lot of experience in video game voice over.

So you’re probably wondering why the heck I’m even writing this then.  Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because I recognize the incredible opportunity that exists in this area of VO, and to be honest, I just find it interesting and want to learn more about it. I figured, what better way to learn than to blog about it?

Like I said, the market for voice over in video games is huge. It’s exploded over the last couple of years, as games have become more story-like and interactive. There’s plenty of dialogue, lots of characters, and in all honesty, some pretty fascinating stories to tell.

Even though I don’t have a ton of personal experience lending my voice to a game character, I do have lots of experience as a voice over actor. So that’s what I’ll be drawing from here, along with input I’ve gotten from colleagues who have lots of experience in gaming. 

So, without further ado, here are a few tips for video game voice over:

     Play some video games. A good first step to take would be to play a few games for yourself to see how this type of VO works. Gaining a better understanding of this genre will give you important background knowledge, as well as an idea of character development, interaction, and intensity.

     Be prepared to play multiple roles. Many gaming VO projects require the actor to take on more than one character. Many of these actors are experienced in character voice over, so they can easily move from one character to another. If you don’t have experience in this, you should put in some practice hours working on character skills.

     Tap into your acting skills. This one is true for all VO projects, but even more so for video games. Players expect to be fully immersed in the game, and if you’re not playing your role in a 100% believable way, the gaming community is going to call you on it.

     Take care of your voice. Video game VO is far more demanding than other type of projects, largely due to the actor having to play multiple roles and also having little time to prepare and meeting tight deadlines. When you’re shifting from one character to another, changing octaves and tones, it’s stressful for your voice. Doing too much recording in anything but your natural voice is stressful. Recording these projects, it’s more important than ever to take care of your voice, by resting it when you can, drinking plenty of water,  and staying away from unhealthy foods and drinks. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Best and Worst Foods for Your Voice

Eating and drinking is something we all have to do, but let’s be honest: some of us do it better than others. And by better, I mean they make better choices. Most of us know by now what types of foods and drinks are healthy and which aren’t, but these are usually in the context of dieting for weight loss and better health. What about how certain foods/drinks pertain to our voices, though?

What you consume has a direct impact on your vocal health as well as the health of the rest of your body. Here are the best and worst foods for your voice:

     Dairy products. Dairy items like milk and ice cream have a nasty way of causing mucous build-up that can negatively affect your voice.
     Bacon (this one makes me the saddest). Bacon is super high in salt, which has a drying effect on your vocal chords.
     Citrus. I love a juicy orange as much as the next guy, but oranges and other citrus fruits can also cause a “dry” voice.
     Alcohol. Enjoying one too many drinks can really do a number on your voice. In addition to causing dryness in your throat, imbibing too much can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do - like yell or talk really loud. Both of these are hard on the vocal chords and can impact your sound quality.
     Caffeinated drinks. Soft drinks, coffee, and even tea are no good for voice over artists. These beverages are diuretics that can lead to dehydrated throat muscles and vocal chords. Personally, I get my Caffeine from pills I take with a handful of my regular vitamins and herb supplements. 

     Water. The importance of water for vocal health cannot be overstated. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate - your voice will thank you.
     Toast or non-salty crackers. Sounds strange, but eating a bit of toast or unsalted crackers can actually improve your voice. Because they’re so dry, your mouth goes into overdrive producing saliva, and this moisture is extremely beneficial to your voice.
     Cantaloupe and watermelon. The water content of these fruits is insane. Remember, lots of water = better vocal health.
     Warm decaf tea. Herbal, decaffeinated tea will make your throat and vocal chords all warm and comfy, which in turn makes you sound better. Add a bit of honey to up the goodness even more. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Staying Unique in an Oversaturated Market

There’s not a lot that keeps me up at night, but sometimes when I think about how the voice over industry has changed since I first started, I’m up a little later than I want to be. Obviously, things change, and I know that. But sometimes change is stressful and even scary, and one area that makes me a little nervous is how oversaturated VO has become. There are SO MANY actors out there now, and the competition is fierce. So what’s an artist to do?

Well, I’ve spent a lot of time turning this over in my mind, and I keep coming to the same conclusions. If you want to stay fresh and unique, you’ve got to do a few things, actually. Here’s what I try to do:

     Stay up to date with technology. I am not a tech person by nature; never have been, never will be. BUT I do my absolute best to stay on top of the latest updates in this area, because it is at the foundation of every part of voice over. Whether I’m recording, editing, or doing managerial tasks, technology is behind it. I make efforts all the time to learn new tricks and keep my software updated. Maybe this is less about being unique and more about staying relevant, but regardless, it’s a critical part of being a progressive and in-demand actor in an extremely competitive market.

     Use social media to showcase yourself. Social media is your friend. I repeat, social media is your friend. Even if you’re not a big fan of it, it’s important to use it to your advantage. It’s a great way to introduce yourself and your brand of voice over to the masses, combining both the professional and personal elements that make you YOU. Another reason why social media is so important. Some casting directors actually base their decisions on what they see on these sites, and specifically how many followers or friends you have. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. 

     Develop my niche services. I’ve talked before about how important it is to niche yourself as an actor, and continuing to develop your talents in this area is one of the keys to standing out. I’m the “Voice of Americana,” right? But what does that mean? What proof do I have to show this? Working to expand on this is one of my main goals as an artist, and it’s something that I feel helps me stay fresh, unique and clear in people's minds.

     Genuinely love what I’m doing. People can tell when you love your job, and believe me, there are a LOT of actors out there who don’t love theirs. If you’re interested in the results more than the process, that’s going to show through, and it can be a turn-off for some clients. Me? I sincerely love voice over, and I let people know it by always committing to a positive attitude, being eager about every project, and going above and beyond client expectations. And I think that help to set me apart.