Voiceover

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!

The Importance of Amazing Website People

If you are in voice over and you have never met Joe Davis and his right hand woman Karin Barth of Voice Actor websites, that

Laura Schreiber with Team for Voice Actor Websites and Kim Handysides and Shelley Avellino

It was a true joy when Karin Barth, Joe Davis, Kim Handysides and her husband Ed, and Shelley Avellino came to visit!

would surprise me. They are incredible people. I don’t know what the average professional voice actor’s relationship is like Joe and Karin, but they are warm, trustworthy, and brilliant with everything from website design to SEO. If our website is our store front in voice over, it is essential to have a solid relationship with the folks who run your store front. Having a solid relationship with people like Joe and Karin is so easy, they are two of the kindest, hardest working people I have every met. I can think of dozens of examples of times when I have had “emergencies” and they have been supportive and helpful, and one time when I changed my email signature (which they of course designed and coded) and I could not get it to load in my iPhone, Joe offered to fly from Florida to New York to help. Now that is customer service. So to say that I am appreciative of the team at voice actor websites and that I depend on them would be accurate. It would also be accurate to say that the success of my business is intertwined and inextricably linked to my voiceover website. Consequently, the journey I have taken with my voice over website is representative of my voice over journey as a whole.

How it All Started

It all started with a single scrolling webpage. I did not know about Brad Newman, sadly, years ago and I had to deal with host

Laura Schreiber With Brad Newman and

Here I am with Brad Newman of Upper Level Hosting and Nazia Chaudry at VOcation

gator hosting and that is another long story, but I am also so very thankful to have hosting with Brad now and have the joy of his outstanding customer service at Upper Level Hosting. Anyway, I had one scrolling page. There was a menu at the top and if you clicked on it the cursor would jump to the section selected, so it felt like there were multiple pages, but really there was just one page. When my page was first created, I was very concerned with branding. I worked with Anne Ganguzza and she came up with the concept you see today. While branding was on my mine, SEO was not. The initial website that launched in March 2016 looked amazing. I was so proud. It was breathtaking.

Initially I did not Do Anything On My Own

When I started my business, Sara Waters designed the site and Joe was in the picture, but he was not the entire picture. At some point early on he ran the show. The transition was seamless because I cannot pinpoint a moment in time when the transition occurred, it was juts my friend Joe running things and before I knew it the more I worked with him the more he and his team became my friends. I did not do a single thing for my website on my own. NOT. ONE. THING. Here is a list of basic support I got from the team at voice actor websites:

  • adding client logos
  • adding testimonials
  • adding and/or updating demos
  • adding/posting blogs
  • SEO services
  • eSignatures
  • marketing materials
  • social media banners and updates

I was extremely dependent on Joe’s team. First, once I tried to do an update myself and made a big mess of my page. Next, it saved me time to have them do it. Time they were doing these services is time that I could be in the booth recording or simply doing other things. I lacked a skill set that they all had, and their expertise was extremely reassuring. Not only was it reassuring, but it helped me to establish myself as a professional in my field.

The Big Upgrade

Home-NEW

In 2018 I made a huge website update. I went from a single scrolling page format to a multi page format. I had amassed an impressive body of booked work to post. I also had worked with so many coaches by that point and had so many professional demos produced that I really needed different pages for each genre so that I could showcase the demo and booked work I had done in a more spectacular, attention getting way. What I did not understand when I initially started the process in 2015 was that my single scrolling page, as beautiful as it was, would never have the SEO that the multi page site has. Joe and his team coordinated efforts. I began writing content and organizing all the video clips. Voice Actor Websites continued to help my professional dreams come true, my store front made a huge leap that year and the website truly became a place to show where I was professionally and all that I can offer my clients.

The Bold Move: Learning to Do Some Things in Word Press

After YEARS in the industry, I have gotten better at time management. I love learning new technology related to anything in voice over. So, I became curious about the workings of Word Press. I wanted to understand the magic that went into adding a logo or inserting a testimonial. I started small. I started by posting my blogs. But one day it occurred to me, if I could post my blogs, then surely I could learn to do more. Karin spent a good bit of time teaching me how, step by step. I made note cards and I was really excited. More than that, I was inspired. I decided to make a bold move and add an entire page to my site.

Covid Response and Emergency Management

I did have one little hiccup when doing it, when I added this page I somehow made my commercial page disappear, but Joe fixed it!

Taking Ownership

I am extremely thankful for all of the support I have gotten from Joe and Karin of the years. Having a team of people who are wonderful like the team that Joe has built has helped make success possible for me.  I have no doubt that as time goes on there are many services I will need to pay them for and many lessons I will need, but the sense of pride that I got in being able to upload my own client logos and add content as I want to  meant the world to me! As small business owners, voice actors wear a lot of hats. For me, my website was the wild west, and feeling that it is not such uncharted territory fills me with so much joy.

An Opportunity for Jack

I’ll start out by saying that neither of my twins dream of becoming full time voice over actors like me. And though they do not share my dream, they support me in every way possible and are actually part of my small business team in integral ways this summer. In the past few weeks, one of my VO besties reached out and said that one of her regular clients needed 14-16 year old voices to do some eLearning narration, and my twins happen to be 16. So, they submitted demo reads. Again, it is not their life’s ambition, but in the summer of Covid-19 they realize that this is a great opportunity to learn and to do something that most kids never get a chance to do.

A script came in for Jack first. He was delighted. He booked his first paying eLearning voiceover gig, and he just needed a little coaching. I will point out a few things. Anyone who works in voice over knows that it is not really about the voice, although I happen to think he has a really nice one. My twins are both dyslexic. Reading fluently is not an easy thing for them. Jack also lacks the extensive coaching that I had that gave and continues to give me so much confidence every time I step up to the microphone. And that’s another thing, if you have never worked with a coach, you need to learn basic mic technique and basic Twisted Wave skills. I am pleased to say all of this came very naturally for Jack. I think much more than doing the actual voiceover, there are many life skills that kids get from having an opportunity to have a voice over gig.

Following Multi-Step Directions

Following multi-step directions is hard for many adults, and there are very specific directions unique to every voice over job. This booking was for sure an exercise in following multi-step directions for Jack. For Jack’s first booking:

  • He had a pace guide that he had to match.
  • He had a pronunciation guide for Mandarin names.
  • He was told to keep an upbeat, happy tone.

Jack also had a lengthy, four page script to narrate while keeping all this in mind for his first time in front of the mic. It’s a lot of balls to juggle for a seasoned pro, let alone a newbie.

How to Take Feedback

Taking feedback well is something important in many aspects of life, and as a working voice talent, taking feedback in a professional manner is part of the job. After Jack submitted his audio, within 48 hours we received a spreadsheet from the client with minor feedback. Jack had done great work. For four pages of audio, he had only four minor corrections. This is pretty incredible for anyone, and especially considering he is so untrained. I explained to Jack how feedback from client works and how important it is that they have what they need. I also explained that we, as talents, cannot get emotional about it, we simply record and send. As a student who is used to the writing process, this is familiar to him. He was able to go back in the booth and re-record. There was one line that was quite long and needed to be read with more fluidity and different intonation. I gave him direction on the line and instructed him on how to break it down. It sounded great. Learning to take feedback well is a really valuable lesson for kids in voice over.

Interacting Professionally

Maintaining a professional demeanor in the professional world is important. I remember meeting Michelle Sundholm’s sons Ashton and Everett at VO Atlanta in 2018.They were so polite and they were so composed. It is this exact behavior that I am talking about. For Jack, since his interaction was online, it meant several details. First, it meant performing his work in a timely manor. It meant taking pride in his performance and doing his best. It meant sending follow-ups and  hand written thank you notes, both to the client and to the friend who referred the opportunity to him. Jack had to carry himself the way the rest of us do, and he took pride in doing so.

How to Be Part of the Team

Doing all of the above is no small thing, and in doing so Jack took pride in being a part of this client’s team and of being part of the other VO’s team. He understood that they had a choice and that there were other kids who could have booked the gig. He did his best. He was kind and he let them know he was appreciative.

My Reflections

I think it is great that my son got this glimpse of what it is like to be in front of the microphone, to live in my world. As the kids have been working for me doing marketing and social media this summer, doing the actual voice work only helps to better understand what it is they are actually marketing. I also think that the tech skills are great for anyone. Lastly, we are living in an unusual time. Kids had to regroup and reshuffle their summer plans this year. Some people who are pursuing in voiceover audition and audition and never book. It is really great that in this odd time Jack got such an exciting opportunity and he is very thankful.

Why Switch from Avalon M5?

When everything is working perfectly in your booth, your bookings are solid, and you are happy with your sound, why shake things up with a gear upgrade? Well, life is not always so cut and dry in the voice over world. While I was really proud when I upgraded to the Avalon M5 preamp, and loved the way it sounds with my Neumann TLM 103 microphone, it is not portable. I’m at a point in my career where if I travel, which happens when there is not a pandemic, I need to sound the way I sound in my booth  when in  my travel rig. With an Avalon preamp and a Neumann mic, I sound pretty awesome. Even with a VOMO, it is hard to emulate that sound without bringing the Avalon, and if you have ever been in the presence of an Avalon then you know it is not portable. Thus, my journey began.

Working with Tim

One of my VO besties, and all around favorite people on the planet, the amazing Kim Handysides, suggested that I work with the VO Tech Guru Tim Tippets. Kim said Tim does amazing stacks and would set up my travel rig. Initially I had not planned to change my in studio set up with the Avalon M5, just the rig. I reached out to Tim. Tim is amazing because he could just set you up and give you the answer, but instead he spends the time to educate you so that you understand the rationale behind his suggestions and why he is guiding you down a certain path.

The Journey- and Boy Was It One

To Start, I was limited because I was working on a 2015 MacBook Air. Even though my MacBook Air is running really well (knock wood), it only has one Thunderbolt 2 connection and the rest are USB ports. This posed some logistical challenges in terms of suggestions Tim wanted to make. Further, at the time, I was set up to mirror in studio on a monitor. So my MacBook Air stays in an office space outside the studio and I have a great monitor in my booth.

Tim suggested I part ways with my M5, as much as I have loved it, and move on to the Apollo Twin MKII Thunderbolt. He explained the advantages of  the Apollo were amazing and that I would sound the same if not better in both my home studio AND I could use it in my travel rig. So, I made the switch.

Tim set up an amazing stack for me on the Apollo and my booth in the house is up and running, almost.

Problem Solving and the Challenges

While I am delighted with the sound of the Apollo and immediately booked a pretty big job in the first round of auditions after being up and running, the big hiccup is that I cannot hookup my monitor in the studio and now my MacBook Air is in the booth, very temporarily. Before an onslaught of well-intentioned notes comes my way, I have purchased and returned multiple adaptors to try to hook up an HDMI to a USB, but to no avail, none will convert a video signal readable by Catalina. And because my MacBookAir is from Early 2015, I do not have a Thunderbolt C port and cannot use an adaptor because my computer could not process the speed. So… I am upgrading and an iMac desktop is on the way! This MacBook Air will be used for my travel rig and for marketing and correspondence, which is fine and I am thrilled with the solution.

The Travel Rig….

So this brings us back to the travel rig set up, which is also pretty exciting. After all, this entire journey started because of the travel rig, right? So, what is my travel rig set up now:

  • VoMo Booth
  • Sennheiser 660 Microphone
  • Apollo Twin MK II Thunderbolt
  • MacBook Air with Twisted Wav

And the great thing about working with Tim is that he set up the presets in the Apollo for this as well. Now when I go away, I can plug this in and go!

The One Note:

When I first started working with Tim to set up the Apollo, the process was not seamless, not because of Tim- sometimes life is just like that. It seemed that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Tim was a patient as can be as he has seen it all, but I felt terrible and was quite frustrated. In the middle of attempting to set up the Apollo, I had to do a long overdue Time Machine backup and then upgrade to Catalina, so had I done those things prior to our chat that would have helped. The last thing was that my MacBook Air was not recognizing the device after all of that. I watched multiple youtube videos as I could not bare the thought of texting Tim and telling him something else was wrong. One video made me wonder if something was wrong with my thunderbolt cable. When I looked at it, I realized the lighting bolt was only on one side. If you have an old model and your are using this kind of cable, even though you can plug it in with either side up, make sure that the end with the lighting bolt is face up. Once I did that, everything worked like magic and Tim could do his thing, but it took about 8 hours in my booth to figure that out!

How I got Started

Years ago when I was an Upper School History Teacher at a prestigious all girls school on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, a popular question higher-ups used to ask faculty was where we saw ourselves in five years. I always answered in the classroom. It was true. I never had administrative ambitions. At 24, it was hard to imagine myself designing curriculum and assigning faculty their courses . When I got into voice over, much the same happened. I had and have longterm goals for myself and for my business, but they typically involve building and maintaining a consistent sustainable income in an industry I am extremely passionate about.

So how then, without looking to build a coaching career, did I suddenly coach three people last week? As a platinum member of Voice123, they asked me to. In the email they asked if I would be interested in working with talents who are premium members new to the platform. I was delighted and excited at this new opportunity on a platform that has helped me build my business. Without betraying the confidence of those I have worked with so far, I will share some interesting lessons I learned from coaching that I think would be useful for those of us who are working professionals and are a few years in.

We all started somewhere

When you surround yourself with the right industry friends, you can share this journey with them!

It is easy to forget that at some point we built our businesses and had to learn about the industry. Some of the talents I worked with had a better understanding than others, but compared to working pros they were clearly at the beginning of their journey. What they all had in common was that they were bringing valuable skills from their prior life with them into voiceover, whether they knew it or not. They also had a shared passion for voice over and a necessary determination to succeed. Yet, they were on a site to book work before even understanding the genres that are on the site, the criterion for professional demos, and some needed to get educated about how to use audio technology in general. Think about where you were when you went into VO? How much research did you do? Were you even aware of what you needed to learn? It was an exciting moment to connect with these aspiring voiceover actors and help to point them towards success, in hopes that they have the stamina to connect all the many dots necessary to build a career. It also brought back so many memories of what it takes to succeed and build a business.

Another Opportunity for Branded Content

As I corresponded with these aspiring VOs before our sessions, I found immediately that many of their questions overlapped. They wanted to know about:

  • How to improve their profile
  • How to submit competitive auditions
  • If their demos were appropriate
  • What DAWs to use
  • How to Market directly to clients

This touched the teacher in me. I was excited to hear about their goals, and I did not want to assume that what I want is what they want. I also was delighted to have a chance to create some of my own branded content to use with my new voice over students. I spent hours making lessons and creating handouts to use in our sessions. I wanted to create meaningful templates that would help start a solid foundation. I also wanted it to reflect my brand and my business values. I was very proud to put my logo on the worksheets I created. I was also very proud to make referrals to my many industry friends who I have connected with over the years who teach social media and marketing classes and produce demos.

Self-Evaluation

So, how did it go? Well each session went differently but all went well. As all of the talents I worked with thus far are at different points in their voice over journey and needed different levels of support, the sessions took very different paths. For example, only one student wanted to work on script analysis and craft. I loved pulling scripts I thought would be right and working on the reads. Another has built an impressive on-camera career and really is building her studio from scratch at the moment. It was exciting to be talking to her at the start of it all. Another had a wonderful acting background on stage and as a working mom is patiently waiting for her kids to go back to school. I sure can relate to that! I think now that I realize how everyone is in such different points, I will do an introductory survey before the session. It will help me better prepare and best meat their needs. I also think I will have even more support resources readily available if I know about their training, demos, and studio in advance.

My Chat This Week With VO Project Managers

An Unusual Opportunity…

This week I had an unusual opportunity to have a zoom sessions with a few folks who do casting. I was on a zoom call with an extremely accomplished male voice actor based in Vancouver named Brent Miller. Brent and I get to spent about 45 minutes chatting with these folks about our background, experience, best clients, niche roles, and the kind of work we book. Here is a summary of what the Project Managers asked me and how I replied:

Did you get your start on Pay to Plays?

I wouldn’t say I got my start on Pay to Plays, I would say that seeing what was available on the various casting sites gave me the confidence to pursue voice over.  When I saw how much opportunity there was on the various casting sites, I was confident that with the right training there was potential to do work and make a sustainable income. I spent years getting coaching, doing demos, and building my website before I had a presence on any of the various pay to plays though. I know some talent just buy a mic and go, but I wanted to be competitive and to put a certain quality out that represented my brand from the start. I wasn’t ready to launch until I was ready to launch.

What advice do you have for other mom’s in VO?

I say this a lot: get a crockpot. It’s hard juggling a lot of balls, and if you still have household responsibilities and you have to work a full work day, it’s hard to do everything. Plan ahead as much as possible.  I do weekly meal planning for all of our dinners.  Another tip for working mom’s is to have patience. When I started I had all of these immediate goals for my voice over career. I have always been very “Type A.” But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and especially when you have a family, you have to realize that there is not overnight success in voiceover. It does take time to build a client base. Lastly, find and report to an accountability group. I meet with mine weekly. We have five touch points that we report on, but we for sure hold each other accountable and lift each other up.

If you could work with another talent, who would it be and why?

Oprah. I have always loved Oprah. I actually came face to face with her once at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C. I was speechless. She looked amazing and said hello and I stood there mouth open and no words could come out. Nothing. Silence. But I have dreamt of speaking to her and collaborating with her and going to her school in Africa. I have dreamt of contributing in any way to one of her many amazing projects. I have fantasized about collaborating in numerous ways.

I have also had similar fantasies of working with Ellen DeGeneres. I think Ellen, like Oprah, uses her celebrity to better the world and to help people. I love the positive energy they put out and I love the giving example that Ellen sets for others. I confess that I watch whatever Facebook poppop comes up of Ellen, and if I could ever contribute to an Ellen project it would mean a lot.

What is a project you’ve booked recently that meant a lot to you?

You know it’s funny, I do a lot of TV and radio commercials, but recently I was cast in a B’Nai Mitzvah video as the voice of the family dogs. If you don’t know, a B’nai mitzvah is a Bar Mitzvah for boy/girl twins, and if you don’t know what a Bar Mitzvah is, it is a coming of age celebration at 13 for Jewish people. Anyway, in the video montage that was to play at the celebration in Long Island, I was the voice of the family dogs. This meant so much to me because I understood that all the people they loved most in the world would be there, and I was really touched be that. We talk so much about usage in the voice over industry, but this is something that hopefully these kids will show their kids in 20 or 30 years, and I hope they love it and it brings the family a lot of joy. It was really special to be a part of such an intimate project.

There are some Questions the Project Managers DID NOT Ask and I Wish They Had:

What kind of work do you want to book more of?

Promos. I spent a really long time coaching with Dave Walsh and I redid my promo demo in 2018. I would LOVE to do more promo work. As a wife and a mother, I would love to book more work related to women’s health issues. Surprisingly I seldom play the mom role, so I would love to do more as a mom in VO.  I also would love to do more work related to pet care. I have done some, but as an animal lover and mom of two dogs, I would love to add more pet brands to my client roster.

How do you feel about rates right now in the industry?

I wish the Project Managers had asked about rates. It’s something we discuss a lot in my accountability group. Particularly during the covid-19 Pandemic, I thinks some voice actors are more willing to take lower rates as work is slow. I think it is more important than ever to maintain industry standards.  Whether it is the GVAA rate guide or the Gravy for the Brain Rate Guide, it is really important that voice actors maintain a unified front and let those casting know what we are worth.

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.

On this Sunday morning, lets’s grapple with this question:  if there’s a low barrier to entry in voice over, what defines a pro?

Spending more time in Facebook Groups These Days

Like many in the voice over industry, I have been spending more time than ever on social media these days, especially on FaceBook. I long for human connection and to feel part of our beloved community, and frankly I enjoy the banter more than ever. Yesterday this post from highly esteemed coach and casting director MaryLynn Wissner caught my attention:

There’s a lot to this. We work in an industry where you don’t have to come from a career in theater or on camera work to get started, though many did study performing arts in school, pivoted for a first career, then returned to voiceover.  I, myself, was a History teacher. Christian Lanz was an architect. Maria Pendolino worked in finance. Dana Hurley was a pharmacist. The list goes on and on, and there is nothing wrong with changing careers and bringing all of those skills with you into your business in VO. The question that is being asked here, is what is the difference between a guy who buys a plug in mic and a membership on a pay to play and calls himself a “professional” and then has the credit of having some good coaches, the benefit of being in good company, and an actual working professional? To me, if working with the best of the best in coaches is removed as a criteria in defining a pro, than we need to look to a voice over actor’s website, testimonials, bookings/credentials, and social media standing.

The Website

Put simply, the website is our storefront. More than our business card, our website is our calling card. It not only houses our demos, it is the voice actor’s place to showcase actual booked work. We can display our business philosophy. We can post testimonials. We can make it easy for clients to find us. This is how we create a sense of our brand. And a voiceover professional, unlike an amateur, has all of these things: sample of work across genres, a brand, comments from clients. Joe Davis and Karin Barth were recently interviewed on the “Middle-Class VO Podcast” talking about what sets voice over actor’s websites apart, in terms of what makes them professional and what makes them findable by google. The entire podcast can be found here:

 and Joe’s main words of wisdom are that the “website needs to work on whatever device….making sure that they are mobile compliant of mobile responsive….in today’s world more than half of web traffic is mobile.” A telltale sign of an unprofessional talent is one missing key information on their website, missing demos, with demos named improperly, or with a site that is not mobile responsive.

Testimonials:

A professional talent has an abundance of testimonials. Period. They should have them proudly displayed on their website, on LinkedIn, on whatever Pay to Plays they are on, and likely they share them on social media. Testimonials are not difficult to get. Happy clients who have just received pristine audio are typically delighted to provide them. My very first voice coach, Anne Ganguzza, told me how important it was to get testimonials! She asked for one from me about our work and gave me my very fist one. A voice actor without testimonials is likely not a professional voiceover actor.

 

 

Street Cred

Ok, I am talking about a solid client list with proof. What is proof? Samples of actual work that has aired. If a voiceover actor does not have samples of work in the genre or clients in a specific genre they have not likely worked in that genre even if they have a demo for it. The exception to this is likely eLearning as so much eLearning is proprietary content. Where can you find samples of work voice actors have done? Booked and finished work is typically prominently displayed in places like voice actor’s websites, YouTube pages, facebook, LinkedIn, ispot.tv, sometimes imdb, and more. So, a real, actual working professional has a body of produced work that they can easily share with anyone who wants to see it.

Social Media

Typically actual working professionals are active on social media as networking is really important. We typically post finished jobs, especially when these jobs have been done for large, recognizable brands. We love to share these clients on Facebook and Instagram. Often we have large social media connections and followings as well. YouTube is another sign of a voice over professional. Typically we post samples of work here. Many of us have videos about our professional philosophy, showing our studios, discussing our work, and more. A lack of a professional social media presence is a major red flag.

The Flip Side

While I think it is clear how to differentiate a professional voice talent from a wannabe, there is, of course, a flip side to all of this. As there is a low barrier of entry and many do not depend on agents or entry to the union for job sustainability, there is a chance that amongst the many with a plug in mic and a computer our bookings ratios will go down and our community demographics will shift. One of my favorite talents who I had the privilege of spending a day with at a VO Revolution conference in 2016, Dave Fennoy, speaks to exactly this issue as the final thought that I leave you with: