Client Relationships

…. When We Are the Voice Of the Brands Everyone Knows and Loves

Brand Identity

When I started working with my first voice over coach, Anne Ganguzza, I loved her website. It made her standout not just from other voice over actors but from other coaches. It was bold, it was easy to navigate, and it established Anne as a professional. In large part, because of the brand that Anne created on her website before ever speaking with her I trusted that Anne was a voice over professional and if I worked with her I would be successful. This is no accident. If you met Anne Ganguzza, then you know that she is a branding genius.

brand key wordsAs voice over actors, daily we play both the role of the talent and the role of the small business owner. Immediately in 2015 I decided that not only would I coach with Anne but I would hire her to help build my brand, as I needed to learn all that I could from her. She hit the nail on the head, working hard to get to know me so that the brand that we built for Laura Schreiber Voice is truly a reflection of the work that I do and what I bring to my clients. As a working creative, we are in a unique role because we ultimately get hired by other brands to represent them, but it is in solidly establishing our own unique brand that we can distinguish ourselves from others in our industry. According to Forbes article from March 2018,  “your brand often acts as a function of your reputation and visibility.” As a professional voice over actor, it is essential to establish your brand so that your clients will get to know you as an individual and will trust you as a professional.

Your Website

As a solopreneur, your brand begins with your website. It is your store front. Clients can listen to your demos, see Screenshot of www.lauraschreibervoice.comsamples of your booked work, and find out how to contact you. Those are the basics, but the fun begins when you use your website to do two things: show clients how you are different than other voice over actors and how you will best meet their needs. Kristin Wendys of The SelfEmployed.com advises “Think first with the eyes of a client and analyze what he is looking for, what are his biggest concerns, and what problems he needs to solve.” Some voice actors have brief summaries so that clients can quickly learn about their services, but much in the way that I am very chatty, my website is overflowing with long narrative explanations that I hope will help my clients connect with me.

Your Logo

Visual images help create your brand and your logo is very much a part of this. I have both an avatar that I love and a Laura Schreiber Voice Logologo. I use them both differently. My logo is on official correspondences like invoices with my avatar is on my business cards, thank you notes, return address labels, stickers… all marketing materials essential to establishing my business brand. According to Entrepreneur, “Simple branding is best, especially if you can make an association in people’s minds that helps them remember you.” My hope is that the feeling that people get when they see my logo and avatar will help build our connection. Everything associated with my brand is very pink and matches.

Why Clients Need To Understand Your Brand to Relate to You

The more clients feel that the know you, the more they will trust you and want to work with you. They want to know not just that you can do the job, but that you will make their life easier because they trusted you to do the job over someone with similar abilities and qualifications. It is wonderful to meet clients in person, but now more than ever this is not often possible, so your brand helps clients get to know you!

What Your Brand Enables you to Do When Marketing

As small business owners, building a brand that clients recognize enables them to hire us directly in lieu of going through a casting site or a talent agency. This direct rapport, booking through our website without our middleman, is the goal of our branding. If we are savvy enough to create a unique brand, we have an opportunity to book voice work directly.  According to Forbes in October 2019, “By definition, brand familiarity is the process of creating brand presence by providing awareness, emotional connection, value, accessibility and relevant differentiation for your audience. Building strong brand familiarity is one of the most significant hurdles companies face.” If you are getting direct bookings, this is a great sign you are doing a good job with your brand and if you are not you likely need to keep working on it.

 

Here are some useful links if you want to research more about branding for solopreneurs:

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/349667

https://www.forbes.com/sites/yec/2018/03/15/how-to-build-your-brand-as-a-solopreneur-in-2018/#3ce49ef69631

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223070

https://www.theselfemployed.com/10-branding-hacks-for-solopreneurs/https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2019/10/22/to-convert-more-customers-focus-on-brand-awareness/#f5d566d20759

 

The Scenario: Two Weekends in a Row

As a working mom, I try to only work on weekends under specific scenarios: if booked work comes in that the client specifically Laura Thinking about itneeds over the weekend, if I get a direct audition for the weekend, or if it is something like my blog which I generally do while my kids are asleep. Otherwise, the weekend is cherished family time. So, if a client tells me they need something over the weekend, I am generally pretty sympathetic that they have someone on the other side who needs something and has a deadline. It happens that both last weekend and this weekend I had bookings come in over the weekends. While I was delighted about both bookings, the one this weekend was much more pleasant.  I think the two bookings lend themselves very well to case studies on what makes an ideal voice over client to work with and what makes a client a little more challenging.

Client A

Earlier in the month a client I have worked with before reached out to me with a small budget for a local TV and Media campaign.  After a lot of back and forth, we came to a price we could both live with. It took quite a while for the scripts to come in. Of course I When you really want to say somethingfinally heard from them Friday evening. I confirmed receipt of the script and asked Client A if Monday by midday was okay and they said it was needed over the weekend. Normally I would add either a “RUSH” fee or a weekend fee, but we had negotiated and the budget was low so I could not do that here. The other snag was that the client only sent one script. We had negotiated a bulk rate assuming that I was recording at once, and sending everything piecemeal was not a great start.

Client A is in a different time zone. The client is quite slow to respond to questions I have or to give any feedback when audio is sent. I sent all audio Saturday and did not hear anything back until Thursday. Typically when I deliver finished audio I invoice, but as this was just one of four deliverables, I could not invoice for the first TV spot until the entire slow moving project is complete.

Client B

My experience with Client B has been very different than my experience with Client A. I met Client B when I presented at an eLearning conference in June online. We had a follow up Zoom and the work that came in on Friday evening was also a long time coming. Like Client A, Client B also sent this booking in the evening on Friday. Also like client A, Client B was in a different time zone but in the other direction, so their workday would start before ours on Monday. In this case, Client B did not specify that they needed the work by Monday. In contrast, I was excited to get the ball rolling.

Like Client A, Client B sent clear specs and a sample. Unlike Client A, Client B, was very easy to communicate with. They answered all questions promptly and were extremely clear and direct. Client B is an international client who also needed copy writing services. Again, the ease of communication made this go extremely smoothly. I invoiced when I delivered the finished audio as I typically do and Client B paid within an hour of delivery. They also sent three follow up emails the team reviewed the files that I sent. I felt as though I were in Italy listening with them. It was great to be part of the team like that.

What Made All the Difference?

As I think about it, working on Saturday was not the problem. Subtle contrasts between Client A and Client B made the experiences quite different. I made this chart to help make the nuances more clear. Please see below:

Client A Client B
Asked for work on weekend    X   X
Sent Sample     X    X
Sent Specific Specs    X    X
Easy to Correspond With      X
Needed Copy Writing To    X
Gave Specific and Timely Feedback      X
Self Directed     X    X
Paid Promptly     X
Overall Felt Like were on the Same Team      X

It is much easier to work with responsive people. It is also much easier to work when you feel that your work is valued. Everyone works at their own pace, and as the voice over actor, I cannot control the pace at which the scripts are sent to me. Even though I ask that revisions come in within 48 hours in my terms at the start, I try to work with all clients, even if they pace the projects differently. While it does not feel good to have it dragged out, when I saw the first cut of the first commercial, it turned out great. The client was really nice and was working with a large team.  I understand that the client cannot always control pace.

So, in the final analysis, what steps can I come up with as a business owner to have more interactions be like those with client B?

  • Be clear about my terms at the start.
  • Always maintain a professional demeanor.
  • Maintain industry standard rates and never devalue myself.

When those are in balance I am doing my part to protect my interests, and I have to have hope that the clients will do their part as well. If all is in balance, then yes, it is worth making the effort to accommodate clients over the weekend!

Typically I Love Live Sessions

Normally when client tells me they need a live or directed session, which happens multiple times a week if not daily, I am delighted. I love the creative back and forth. I love connecting and getting to work directly with the client. And I love the feeling when the session ends knowing that the client has exactly what they want and need. My clients typically want to connect via Source Connect or Zoom, and usually it is pretty easy and there is no drama. But not this Wednesday. Not at all:(

The Session That Went Awry

Doubt is not goodSo on Wednesday a client emailed asking if I had availability for a live session for 4 spots, to 30 second spots and 2 60 second spots. Time was not the issue, I was happy to make time. Before even scheduling the session, which we planned to do via zoom, I had two hiccups. First, I had learned the day before that my son has to have emergency surgery tomorrow (not the day after the session, the day after I am writing the blog.) Jack has a rare problem called an intussusception which basically means his intestines are looped and it is quite dangerous, so that was weighing on me. Next, we were hit very hard by Tropical Storm Issias and still running on generator power. When I turned by iMac on in the booth it flickered constantly and I had a legitimate concern it would cut out during the session. I did not mention Jack to my client but I did tell her about our power issues. She told me she was having internet issues, but we decided to give it ago as she had a time crunch.

The Live Session

At the start of the session the client could not connect via zoom. It just would not go through. We decided to connect via mobile phone. On a normal day, my mobile phone is not great in my booth because of all the insulation, so on this day it kept cutting out. I have had sessions where for no apparent reason we are cut off. On Wednesday we were cut off FOUR times. Yes, that’s right, FOUR TIMES. I kept clicking save, in fear that I would also lose my computer, which thankfully didn’t happen.

Ultimately the client sent another zoom link and we connected on zoom. The first 3 scripts were fine. Not amazing, not brilliant performance, but they were fine and she was great to work with. On the last 60 second script I was flustered and tongue tied. I became acutely aware of how long our session was, and I am always quick and efficient. I was feeling insecure and I was beginning to panic about the computer going off. I was convinced it could not possible last much longer. I was also worried about my sick child upstairs. In order to turn the computer on, I turned the air conditioner off, and I knew the family was suffering. I was not concentrating on the script, my mind was elsewhere.

It was so embarrassing. I can’t tell you exactly how many takes we had to do to get a usable one, But it was not good. The more we did the worse I was. I wanted to crawl under a rock. It is a miracle she did not fire me mid session. She was kind and she did not give up. I felt like a f—cking idiot. To be clear, this session was a problem both because of tech issues and because of performance issues. Either would have been problematic. The combination is something I have never faced and was devastating. When we finished I was so embarrassed I did share what was going on with Jack because by that point I wanted to save face.

Emotionally Distracted, No Shutoff

I was terribly emotionally distracted. I should have meditated and prepared before going into the session. As a working mom, I always want to work because I have financial goals that I need to meet to help provide for my family. The thing is, I don’t have a shut off switch. I did not leave my feelings outside my booth. I have always felt that bringing all of them with me into the booth has helped with my reads, but in this case I needed to cope better. I needed to be honest about my ability to function and I needed to prepare differently. I also needed to realize sooner how frazzled I was and get it under control. I was having a real time melt down and just needed to stop and re-set.

I Would Have Regretted Not Trying

Would Regret not tryingWhen the client emailed me with the booking, in truth it did not even cross my mind not to take the gig. I always think of how I can best meet a client’s needs. In retrospect, I am positive that I would have deeply regretted not trying. I would have seen it as a missed opportunity. That would have been so upsetting too. My hope is that they see me as someone willing to work hard even with this going on and that they do not write me off. I am well aware that this is a competitive industry, so it is possible I won’t hear from them again, but I sure hope not. The other take away is that I have not been spending a lot of time practicing my craft and working on my read rate. This was a great reminder that those skills always need work. My hope as I reflect on this session is that I am defined from my ability to work through this and not by the worse session I have ever had.

Watching Kramer negotiate this deal with Mr. Seinfeld is quite humorous, particularly if you are a working voice over actor and have to frequently negotiate your own rates directly with clients. Here, Kramer, like voice talents, understands the market. Mr. Seinfeld has the product but little knowledge of the market, which can often happen with our clients. The nuances of the value that each bring to the table complicate matters, as George points out. Of course it is much easier when our agents can negotiate on our behalf, but as this is not always possible, this clip has a lot of relevance. This week I had to negotiate a TV and Web commercial campaign with a client I have worked with before. They wanted a buyout in perpetuity which is never great for voice over actors, and they came in with a very low ball offer. Luckily, I was not in uncharted waters. So let’s flesh out my experience negotiating through the much more fun lens of Seinfeld. In Kramer’s behavior we see a lot of mistakes that lead people down a bad path when negotiating.

Don’t Jump the Gun

Kramer is so excited to make a deal that he doesn’t hesitate to jump at 25%.  I think this happens a lot in voiceover, Don't Rushespecially with newbies, and especially when times are slow. You have to know your value and you have to know and more importantly understand industry standard rates. First the client asked me for a quote. We had a back and forth that went like this:

  • I countered by asking if they had a budget they were trying to stay within.
  • They said no and asked for a quote with a range.
  • I provided the range and they said they wanted a buyout in perpetuity. This was based on a known industry rates guide.
  • I did not have a problem in this instance given the end user I was dealing with here. I sent the revised quote.
  • They came back with a budget at about a third of my quote.

That is the moment you begin a dialogue with industry friends on where to go and how to proceed. I also did suggest to the client that they may want to speak with one of my agents. Notice that unlike Kramer, none of my actions were immediate. They were calm, deliberate, and provided detailed explanations to the client. It was a process. A detailed process.

You Often Need to Show Your Value to Your Client

Here, Mr. Seinfeld did not appreciate the value that Kramer was bringing to the table. His perspective was very one-sided. Often clients need to be educated. When Mr. Seinfeld is in the kitchen talking to Mrs. Seinfeld, they only see the value of their product, they show little understanding of the service that Kramer is providing them with his knowledge of the marketplace. In voice over, some clients do not understand why usage matters. This is why it is always important to invoice for both usage and your session fee on your invoice Every. Single. Time. I have other clients who understand perfectly why it matters and what they are paying for but think that if they are in a very small local area or if their client has a smaller budget then none of that matters. In some instances, for folks who are new to casting voice over actors, they do not understand that they are casting professionals with thousands of dollars in equipment, years of coaching, broadcast ready home studios, and all that we have invested in our businesses.  So, as a voice talent, you have to decide what you can live with and what you can’t.

You Need the Right Sounding Board

Kramer got good, solid feedback from George. Kramer listened to George. He was inspired by George to go back to Mr. Seinfeld and talk about the terms again. In George, he had a friend he could count on. Who are your industry friends? This is extremely important in voice over. This is no small thing. This is why conferences, holiday parties, and Uncle Roy’s annual BBQ all matter! When I have these negotiation issues I can talk to my accountability group, the ladies of the “VO Powerhouse” as we call ourselves or I reach out to Maria Pendolino and you can actually schedule consultations with Maria to help you bid. I like talking it through with friends because sometimes I need the right words so that I don’t seem like a crazy person. After all, do you want to seem like Kramer when you go back to your clients to “educate”them? I don’t think so.

If you prefer to brave it on your own, there are other industry resources  available including the GVAA Rate Guide, Gravy for the Brain Rate Guide, and the SAG Rate Guide. All of this should give you a strong sense of where your rate should be.

Don’t be Afraid to Go Back to the Table…In the Right Way

Both Kramer and Mr. Seinfeld wanted to renegotiate. But there is a right way to say something and a wrong way, and these two, well…they do not really exemplify a way that a successful small business owner typically will build a meaningful relationship with a client.  More than getting the rate that is best for you and best for the voice over industry, you also want a client and not a single gig. If you carry yourself like Kramer, or George, you are not likely to build lasting and meaningful client relationships. There is nothing wrong with taking the time to work through something. This week I was able to get my clients to double their offer. While it was lower than my initial quote, it was much higher than their initial offer, and it is a number I am comfortable stepping up to the mic for. Be positive, polite, and straightforward. Know what you are willing to do and be firm about your boundaries. And then book, book, book!

The Year of The Guided Session

There are a lot of things that will make 2020 memorable for the rest of our lives: living through a pandemic, the national election, the state of our country in general. As a long-time professional voice over actor, one of the trends I have noticed in the past few months as bookings have picked up again is that so many of them involve live sessions also referred to as guided sessions. Prior to Covid-19, I would say that I self directed 80% of my work, and the rest were live sessions. Now I have live sessions almost daily. Interestingly most of my clients prefer zoom, although often I am asked if I have Source Connect and specifically which version I have. I do happen to have the highly sought after standard version, but interestingly that is not what is most often requested by my average client when they want or need a guided sessions. How do I feel about this rise in live sessions? I love them!

Genres Using Them

I see this rise in live sessions occurring across genres, but in particular in commercials, in explainers, and in eLearning. I also have been booking a lot more work with NDAs for these sessions, and that seems much more common this year. Across the genres, I am booking a blend of covid specific and good, old-fashioned brand relevant content. I think the clients love the live sessions because they can really get the read they want when they want it.

Trends I Have Noticed

The major trend I have noticed is how many participants are in on the call. It used to just be one or two except when I was doing video games or mobile apps, then I typically had more. Recently, on almost all of my sessions except for a tv spot last week that was just one producer, there are huge teams of 7 or 8. They seem to like to bring on everyone from the person who cast me to the person who wrote the script to the folks from the brand to the creatives putting the content together. The teams are big. And what seems to happen now is that one person will give directions. Then they will tweak the directions. Then when they are satisfied they will ask for feedback from everyone else on the team. This can go on an on and it can be very amazing, depending on how patient you are. As I have been fortunate to have a lot of well-written scripts, it is typically easy to provide alternative reads, but that is not always the case. Most of the time the teams are on the same page and most of the people keep themselves on mute. I have been on a few calls where someone forgets to mute themselves and we have some issues later.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of my clients ultimately ask for zoom even though I have Source Connect. I actually think this is related to the trend of included everyone in the live session. It is much easier to loop everyone in via zoom, when with Source Connect only the ones with the subscription can join.

Why They Are Great

Guided sessions are wonderful. Put simply, clients finish with what they need! It does not end until the client has what they need. If it does, they have to pay for a new sessions. I also happen to love the creative energy and the back and forth that happens in a live session. If you are lucky enough to get a good rhythm going, then you can really make something special together. Most of the time I too feel that the work that came out of a live session is different than what I would have submitted had I self directed. You just end up going in different directions based on where the client and the production team takes you. They have a specific vision in their head and you have this amazing opportunity to bring that sound to life. The collaborative process is incredible. Providing instant gratification, knowing that your client will end the session with the pristine audio they need to complete the spot is a really good feeling. There is no back and forth. There are no more takes. And working together as part of the creative team is so much more fun than doing it alone.

Just be Mindful of Time Zones

One quick note, as the voiceover industry is typically quite an international one, do mind your time zone conversions! It can be trickier than it seems! Years ago I had a session with a client in the South of France. I was coming back from the beach myself, and little did I realize I asked them to record at 10 PM their time. I felt terrible. More recently I had a new client in Mountain Time! I was so confused by this. I don’t know why, but it twisted my head in a pretzel. So, especially if you have multiple bookings in one day, try not to overlap them! The zoom calendar is super helpful that way!

A Degree of Trust…

As a professional voice over actor, I can say I interact with industry contacts as just that, as a professional. I get auditions, I submit auditions. It is non-emotional. It’s business. When I connect with people on Facebook or LinkedIn, it’s business. I’m delighted, but still, it’s a business contact. Yet, there is a degree of trust that we must assume when we interact with clients and new contacts alike in the voiceover industry, right? Voice actors like myself often send recorded audio to people, whether they be clients or prospects, that we actually know very little about, and when we do this we trust that the audio we send is being used under the agreed upon terms. We trust that it is not manipulated. We trust them with our contact information. There is a lot of trust going on. For those of us who are working mothers, who have a family at home, we have a lot invested in the businesses we have built, and this trust is no joking matter.

Crossing the Line…

I will be vague as I describe a bizarre and quite disturbing incident that happened in the last week. I need to be vague to protect myself and my family, and unfortunately a friend who was dragged into the mix. The story begins on LinkedIn. Like many voice actors, I spend a lot of time connecting with prospective clients on LinkedIn. I have made some great contacts and gained wonderful clients that way, and only twice before had issues where I felt like lonely guys were a little too friendly. This incident was not that. This week a contact asked for my email so he could send an audition. Perfect, right? That is typically the goal of LinkedIn correspondance, isn’t it? The male clients sent me the “script.” I call it that because it was written as a short story, and from that he wanted me to read for three animation parts. It seemed unusual, but after years in the industry little surprises me and he wanted an improv read, 30 seconds each. No problem, I submitted and moved on and this was just one of the many auditions I was doing. Then he called me. He turned out to also live in the NYC area. He wanted help shopping his script. This is when things got weird.

At first I did not see any red flags. I connected him with an agent and she was not interested. Next I connected him with an industry friend. To protect my friend I will give very little details as she is extremely well known in the voiceover world. I was still assuming that this was completely professional. While my interactions with this guy had been completely professional and he was not flirtatious with me, my friend is single. Their interactions were flirtatious. She asked me if he was for real, and I had no idea, as I really did not know him, as we seldom do when we meet people on the internet. My friend was smart enough to google this man. She found a shocking post about him in the NY Post!  He was a known scammer who served hard time for a sextortion scandal. This was one sketchy guy. While yes it is possible that he is on a path to redemption and yes everyone can change, as a working mom I had no desire to find out where he was/is on this journey and was very shaken to have had any involvement with this guy who had been calling, texting, and emailing by this point. I was further shaken that I had actually made industry contacts and friends vulnerable as well. This did not sit well in any way.

Immediate Response

My immediate response was to block him in every way I could: by phone, his email, his texts, and on social medial. This still felt, though, that it was not enough. Learning to do my research (or different research) also seemed like a step in the right direction, but when the contact was a result of research, I felt like I was spinning in circles. The problem is that when you are a working mom, a solopreneur working from home, there is no security at the front desk keeping anyone away. My dogs are more likely to kiss any one who comes to the house than threaten them. And that points to the next issue, I realized just how findable I am. I am on “google my business,” which is in my home. My home address is on client invoices and newsletters. I use my actual cell phone number.

I posted in the “Voice-Over Mamas” Facebook Group asking other working moms in voice over whether they use PO Boxes and their phone numbers. Their were quite a few established talents who do use PO Boxes, but less for safety and more for making sure that clients who pay by check always get the checks to them. It seems that everyone in the group used their real mobile phone.

I went looking to see what other businesses do to protect themselves. The only other option it so invest in a virtual office space, which a lot of LLCs, which I actually am, are doing. I found this useful article if you want more information about how to do that:

https://www.virtualpostmail.com/blog/5-ways-to-get-a-commercial-business-address-for-your-startup

The Aftermath

Besides feeling shaken, I have not changed my setup yet. I have lots of questions. I think more than changing what how I am set up, this icky feeling (for lack of a better word) will stick with me. This feeling of vulnerability is not a pleasant one and I think that when future contact behave in a way that is outside the norm I will simply pass on the opportunity. I am not desperate for work, I am established in my career. I would rather forgo something that does not seem right than expose myself and my family to potential harm.

Not You, Me!

Do you ever listen to the Taylor Swift song “You Need to Calm Down” and think she is singing directly to you? I can’t be the only one. So as proud as I am to be a working mom running my own small business, I would be lying if I told you I was always able to separate my feelings from my work 100% of the time. I think when you are as passionate about your industry as I am about voice over, remaining detached and having good perspective all the time can be a challenge. Why does staying calm matter? Regardless of the business scenario at hand, as voice over actors we need to remain calm in order to cultivate and maintain meaningful client relationships.

Two Interactions That Got My Wheels Turning This Week

This week I had not one but two instances where I nearly lost my cool. In both cases, I was fortunate that in the time that I was venting to my family that is home with me, each issue came to a positive resolution and each time it gave me pause that I should have been calmer in my reactions.

The first instance involved a collections issue with a client who typically pays after the 90 day mark. I typically do at least one commercial per quarter with her. The terms of my work is that I expect payment NET 30. My process for collections is that clients get a friendly reminder at 30 and 60 days out. When it hits 90 days they get a letter from my lawyer. This particular clients is a pleasure to work with. She is not demanding, she is clear in her direction, and she is delightful. She just always pays late. Always. So this time the letter was sent at 90 days. Typically she responds by paying promptly. Things are, however,  different now. The letter got no response. By day 105, I was very upset. I felt that after our long relationship, some communication was warranted even if she needed to let me know that she needed an extension or a payment plan.  In my head I was playing out multiple scenarios, including contacting the end user and posting in our Facebook VO Red Flags Group. Then, around day 110, she responded to my lawyer with a lovely email that she had been out of the office due to the pandemic and issued payment. Done. She also wrote a nice note about how excellent my work is. So all of the time I spent thinking about how she was doing this maliciously, it was all in my head. I already knew going in that she pays on the slow side, and because of the pandemic it was slower. The take away here is not to presume to know what clients are thinking or to get emotional. Staying calm and dealing only with tangible facts without freaking out is clearly the best way to preserve long term client relationships.

Another interaction involved my reaction to client feedback for a roster I’m on. This particular roster does not pay in the high end of rates, but they are typically easy to work with and send a bulk of work. For me, one challenge that I have is that instead of just emailing me bookings, the upload all voice over assignments through a web portal. Anyway, a commercial came in for a client I have done work for before. All communication with the producers in this roster is typically through the portal. In general the reality in the voiceover industry is that there is not a lot of human interaction and when you get feedback without inflection it’s possible that there can be more or less to that feedback. My natural tendency is to jump to conclusions and become emotional. I learned this week, upon receiving repeat bookings from this roster, that unless I am told explicitly that something is wrong, everything is ok. I think when we want so badly to make our clients happy, and so rarely get any feedback at all, it is easy to have these conversations in our head. In the end, it is better to remain calm.

Finding My Inner Zen

If we have ever met in person, you would pick up right away that I do not have a calm, relaxed energy. Having spent much of my adult life in New York City, the frenetic vibe of the city always suited me just fine and if anything I thrived feeling that pulse. I will say that recent life during the pandemic has made me want to take things a little slower.  Now that I am home with my family 24-7, remaining calm seems much better than getting bent out of shape over every little thing. If I let the small stuff get to me, this pandemic would be impossible to get through. I am trying to actually live by the advice I give my children. And of course, by the brilliant lyrics of Taylor Swift:  “But I’ve learned a lesson that stressin’ and obsessin’ ’bout somebody else is no fun…You need to calm down, you’re being too loud.”

The Talk Began with Armin at One Voice

Yesterday I spent much of the day online in my den enjoying different workshops from the One Voice 2020 conference. I had not planned to fly to London to attend before the pandemic, but since virtual attendance became an option I was excited to participate.  I got so much out of the sessions, from thinking about craft and marketing, to thinking about my feelings about auditions and the work that I book. So, from the start, thanks to Hugh Edwards and the entire team at Gravy for the Brain for this amazing conference!

Each session got my wheels turning for different reasons, but during Armin’s session that was around 11 AM EST, when he spoke of defining quality in the industry. My head was bursting with ideas. If you don’t know Armin Hierstetter, he is the founder and CEO of the online casting platform Bodalgo. Unlike some platforms where you can simply sign up, Bodalgo stands apart because Armin has a screening process to begin with, setting a bar for “quality” from the start. In his talk, Armin spent a bit of time talking about what is going on industry wide in terms of quality, what quality looks like, and how quality could be achieved.

Why does Armin’s chat matter so much? Well, if you recall last week I blogged about Casting Director MaryLynn Wissner and what happens if we take Coaching out of the mix when defining a professional. Yesterday, Armin made a strong argument for why coaching and training matter when defining quality in voiceover. Armin was not alone when he spoke about the importance of coaching, I heard this message from Kay Bess as well. I think any well-established talent in the industry will tell you with pride how much they have invested in working on their craft. Next, Armin also spoke about the importance of audio quality. Again, in order to book work competitively at the moment in the industry, a professional talent must have the “right” equipment in a sound treated space and know how to edit it. But simply having training and buying equipment alone is not enough, these need to combine with an ethical underpinning on platforms that are out to foster the growth of the industry, and all of that together creates a synergy to provide quality work for out clients.

So, inspired by Armin, let’s examine more in depth how we can work together at this unique moment in history to provide outstanding VO quality for our clients:

Training:

It is imperative that in order to be competitive in the voice over industry today a talent must have coaches and continue to work on their craft. When I started I did a combination of one on one coaching in specific genres, online classes, acting and improv. Whether or not you are working towards a demo, a good coach will help you develop your strengths and identify your weaknesses. They will also help you identify next steps and encourage you with other genres of voice over that would likely be a good fit. As MaryLynn mentioned in her blog post, good coaches ideally have a responsibility to give talents both a push in the right direction and a heads up if they are sub parr.

Attending conferences is essential to understanding industry trends. What is current and booking changes. If you are not in touch with other voice actors and involved in current training, how do you know what is booking at the moment? There are also differences by region. For example, I was told at WoVo Con 2019, this year, that when submitting west coast auditions I should add touches of improv but never to do that on auditions being submitted in NYC. Working out and doing line reads in the presence of other voice actors, while humbling, also helps you see where you fit in in the community and if you are in fact up to snuff. It is really important to push yourself to these challenges and participate in such community activities.

Audio Quality:

Audio quality matters. Clients can hear the difference when listening to auditions. I have always been a big proponent of getting WoVo studio approval and when I cast jobs for clients will only cast with talents who have been vetted through this process.

For those wanting to learn as much as possible about studio setups and audio standards, there are lots of great ways to go about it. The VOBS weekly show is really helpful. If you started watching today, you would be busy for a while! Both Dan Leonard and George Whittam are also available to help teach anything related to audio processing and studio set up, as is Tim Tippets, and Roy Yokelson. There are others out there too, but if you want to have competitive audio, the quality of your raw audio needs to be outstanding and then you need to know how to edit it. It’s that simple. Those of use who have been in the business for a while typically attend workshops at conferences on DAW upgrades. For example, I love learning more about Twisted Wav. We also typically make improvements to our travel rigs. If your audio is not pristine, all the coaching in the world won’t save you.

Conclusions

If you want to succeed in voiceover, there are not short cuts to creating quality work. There is an industry standard and the bar is high. That is what books. If you are aware of those of us who continue to book at this time, the answer to what sets them apart is one word: quality.

What Voice Over Client Correspondence is Appropriate during a pandemic?

As a small business owner, this is a very personal choice, but to me the line is extremely clear: the only unsolicited  communication that should happen during a pandemic is genuine, caring correspondence. Period. If you have spent years of your life building and maintaining client relationships so that each booking is not a one-off, but instead a life-long client relationship, than be a friend and check in. But when I say this I mean genuinely check in with care and concern in your heart. If your heart isn’t in it, don’t do it.

Why is it wrong to try to see yourself right now?

If you are reaching out to folks you have already worked with, odds are they know as soon as they see your name and your email that you are a voice actor. If they needed you for a booking they would have asked. I have been checking in on clients. At radio stations, the program directors and operations managers are working with skeleton crews and their limited crews are running multiple stations and doing the jobs of many.  They are working long hours just to keep radio going. Other clients tell me with great concern how their business has been decimated. Those who also do live events have had massive cancellations. So does this seem like the time to ask how their projects are and send a demo? NO.

This is a test…

This time period will pass. Some companies we have worked with will exist when this is over, and others won’t. If you have clients, actual clients that you have worked with repeatedly, be a friend now. Be supportive. Don’t make it about you. When the pandemic ends, regardless of what is left of their business, do you went to be remembered as a greedy pest or a supportive, kind soul? Only you can decide what your Coronavirus legacy will be, but I would much rather be defined by posting too many pictures of my precious dogs than by stalking my clients in their darkest hour.

Who requests RUSH jobs?

As a professional voice over actor, I get requests for RUSH jobs all the time. This is why it is so important to be a full-time voice talent, so that I am always available when clients need me. I get requests from standing clients that I have worked with repeatedly and from new clients who happen to need something right away. Folks need audio in a hurry for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes they are just too close to their deadline. Sometimes those in productions were also hired late and the commercial, video, or social media is set to air and the VO is often the last piece of the puzzle. Sometimes it is an eLearning module and new content was created but the rest of the content library is ready to launch. Whatever the scenario, the client needs it when they need it and I am ready and able to get it to them!

What is the DIFFERENCE in turnaround time between RUSH jobs and standard delivery?

When we are talking about standard delivery, typically in voiceover it is assumed that it will be a 24 hour turnaround. Sure, it might be less than that, but if a client does not specify that they need it fast, it is pro forma that it will be within 24 hours.In contrast, a RUSH job is typically done in 4-6 hours and sometimes clients want or need you to stop what you are doing, put it aside, and record right then because they genuinely need you at that moment. The audio is essential and they are in a major RUSH.

Is there an extra fee attached to RUSH jobs?

It depends. It is industry standard to add at least a $50 RUSH FEE to RUSH jobs, especially when you have to put another job aside to do said rush job. Clients should expect to pay the rush fee. On quiet days in my studio when work comes in and I just happen to turn it over fast I never charge a fee. Likewise, if it is a client I work with all the time and they need something and I am not busy, I am always happy to just do it for them without the fee. Should I be away on vacation and having quality time with my

Here is my travel rig, I can even accommodate RUSH jobs on the go!

family and I have to go back to my room, set up my travel rig, and record, I am likely to charge the rush fee because the standard turn around time would have allowed me the convenience of recording when I was set up. I have even had clients in other parts of the world wake me and ask me to record when I was in bed asleep. I’ll accommodate, but this is not the same as a job that was done at 2pm when I was in the booth working. So I will always meet the needs of a client, but if it involves dropping everything and running to the booth they have to pay.

Does the QUALITY of the Audio Change for RUSH jobs?

NO! Never! The quality of a RUSH job should always be exactly the same as any job. It should not sound as if it was done in haste. The audio should be pristine. The editing should be flawless. The client needs what they need. Nothing should suffer. This is an accommodation for the client, and every convenience should be made. The client should be wowed like any other project.

What happens if I need a PICKUP or REVISION with my RUSH job?

I am always prepared that any RUSH job may need a RUSH pickup or revision as well. Assuming that this audio goes through the same internal review and client review as any other audio, it is just as likely to have script changes or adjustments that need to be made. I even had a pickup for a Pandora commercial that was done as a RUSH on Friday. It happens. It’s the nature of our work. My policy on pickups is the same for RUSH jobs as it is for any job. On jobs under $250 or after the first round of revisions I charge $75 per 30 minute revision session. On jobs over $250, I typically include one round of minor revisions which is defined as less than 20% of the script within 48 hours of delivery. After that, they have to pay 50% of the initial fee. I am very clear about all of these terms in the initial booking email.

What is the general tone or tenor of business for a RUSH job?

I understand that the client is in a huge hurray. I try to be as helpful as possible and get them their work as soon as they need it. I offer RUSH services for voiceover to be as helpful as possible and consider the circumstances of my clients before all else.