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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:

How do you get the ball rolling?

In the past few days I have had a few different buyers or clients reach out to me to inquire about my services. One called from a block number. Another sent me a message on LinkedIn asking me to email their client with my rates and samples. Another emailed through the contact form on my site. I can tell you that all get greeted with the same enthusiastic response and all, whether the job is $200 or $2000, are treated the same.

If you are hiring a voice over actor for your first time, the ease of booking them and the booking process in general gives you a glimpse into how easy this talent is to work with. I have a set process that I use every time that includes quick responses, quotes, turnarounds, pickup/and revision policies, and more. If a talent is difficult to track down for the initial booking, it should be a red flag.

So, this is what my process is like:

The initial contact:

I typically respond as soon as I here from a client. If I get a phone call I respond by phone. Often if I get an email I will even respond by phone. According to voice123, my average response time is 11 minutes, but I typically respond as soon as I see a client correspondance as I understand that you need your work quickly. I take notes on the call so that everything that you tell me about what you want happens in the audio you are delivered. I also need details about the job itself including the usage and run of the job. That will now be addressed below.

Quoting the Job:

Many important details go into quoting a voiceover booking. I typically offer several options to my clients and let them choose the option that best represents their needs, but this is what I need to give a client a quote for their job:

  • The Script: I simply must see the script to give a quote. What you think of as an explainer my actually be employee training or an industrial. We need to also confirm the word count. The script is essential.
  • the Usage_ I need the client to confirm with the team what the usage is. For example, is it internal or will it run on social media? If it runs on social media, will it be organic or paid placement? For how long?
  • How long is the run? They are typically from 6 weeks to a year. I generally quote jobs up to a year and add a calendar reminder at that point in case a client wants to renew their media buy. I do not do buyouts in perpetuity.
  • Revisions. For jobs over $250, I include one round of minor revisions. If clients need more than that I scaffold that into the pricing.
  • Pickups: I also price out my pickup policy and always give the courtesy of delivering them as promptly as the initial audio was delivered.
  • Live of guided sessions: For live sessions I have Source Connect, ipDTL, ISDN, and skype and am happy to use whatever the client prefers! I literally use that line in my “Seal the Deal” email, and for any job over $250 I am happy to do I live session. I always record backup audio and the audio from a live session is considered final delivery, which is industry standard.

All of the above is factored into the quote.

Confirming the Booking

Once a client emails that they have cast me in a spot or booking, I send what I call me “Seal the Deal” email. This goes over all of the details thus far.

  • It confirms in writing that I have the job.
  • It confirms what they want for the booking.
  • It confirms what they need and when it will be delivered.
  • It finalizes any and all requests about the audio in terms of tone, pacing, whether the client needs a WAV or an MP3 or both.
  • If there is a live session it confirms those details as well.
  • It confirms that the script that I have is the final script.

Making it as Easy as Possible

In the end, it should be as easy as possible for the client to have what they need. It should be clear and prompt. The client should be overjoyed that they have found you and instilled with confidence in your capabilities because you are clearly on top of it. If you drop the ball at the beginning, how can they ever trust you.  I want every first job to be the first of many jobs, so I take this system very seriously and want my clients to know that every single project matters.

Say Cheese- Leaving the Booth for a New Opportunity

Over the years I have seen postings of other voice over actors including Tracy Lindley, Jas Patrick, Kim Handysides, Sofia Cruz and many others going to on-camera gigs and I was intrigued. I LOVE doing voice over and being behind the microphone, but as a working creative I could understand how there are a lot of over-lapping skills and I always wanted to give it a try. I had been offered a life-style modeling contract years ago, but it would have taken me out of the booth too much, and as a working mom my entire business was built around wanting to be here for my family. But, the occasional on-camera gig seems like the right fit now.

When my Denver based agent Leenda Nicole, of CatheXis,  and I started talking about both on-camera opportunities and modeling opportunities that suit my career now, everything fell into place. This week I got to film my first on-camera spot, an agency promo for CatheXis, and it was great!

Rounding Up

You know how this time of year when you go to pay for something at a store and they ask you if you want to round up to support a charity? That’s what it’s like to work with Leenda, she rounds up: she asks for the best of people, her talents and clients alike, at precisely the right moment, and brings out the best in everyone.  Any CatheXis talent will tell you that having Leenda as your agent is wonderful. I am fortunate that as a full-time professional I have regional representation around the United States and abroad, but CatheXis is different for several reasons. First, whether you are a voiceover actor, model, singer, or dancer, Leenda represents talent that she believes in. We all feel this way. She then creates a network where talent mentors other talent and we are all involved in the community. Volunteer work is a fundamental value of the agency. It is in this wonderful environment that my first on-camera opportunity came about.

All in the Family- Working with my Cousin and his Team

Leenda wanted to be able to pitch me as a team, not just as an on-camera actor, but also for my copy writing too. When Leenda asked about a talented video production crew that I work with, I was thrilled to recommend my cousin, Dave Scott of All Systems Go AV, in Bensalem, PA. Dave, or David, as the family calls him, and I grew up together in Philly and we have always been really close. My

Here I am with the creative team! On top I’m with Chris, Adam, and my cousin David. On the bottom left it’s me and David in front of the green screen. On the bottom right it’s me and David when I was in college and he was about 8. I won’t say how long ago that was!

sister and I fuss over him as we didn’t have a little brother. When I told Leenda about David, I said that while he may be my cousin, his work is outstanding and he has an extensive background with years of training and experience. He was even the sound guy for the Pope last year!  David does audio for tons of live events, including working with Steve Martin and Martin Short, and their video production, a new endeavor relative to the live event work, has produced impressive results. So, when Leenda cast us on the project together, nothing was more exciting for me! Working with my “little” cousin and his team was a dream come true in every way.

David works with two other guys in their huge facility, Chris and Adam. They are all pros and have all been at it for a long time. On the day of the shoot, I went down to their location to film since they have a green screen, teleprompter, and everything else needed to record and edit. It was also a great reason to check our David’s set up and see his team in action. These three were fantastic to work with. They are delightful, give clear directions, and are professional without being too intense.

Impressions of Being on Camera

Being on camera was a lot of fun! For me, since I have been full-time in voiceover for many years, I spent a lot of time working on my lines before the day of the filming. I thought about pacing and word emphasis a lot in advance so that when we did multiple takes, if I did not have play back like I do in my booth, which did turn out to be the case, I would be alright. I also did not want to look like I was reading, and since I’m new to the teleprompter I was concerned about that.

Chris marked where I had to stand so that I would stay in my spot in the light and in front of the camera. I tend to fidget, so I had to not fidget when I spoke, and I just tried to look cute and deliver my lines as if I were in my booth. Since I do a lot of live sessions for commercials anyway, I wasn’t nervous about that.  I wish that there had been more mirrors around so that I had a sense of how I actually looked. I know I have a good side and a bad side, but I have no idea what I actually gave them because there were not mirrors. Fingers crossed I gave them my good side.

All in all, it was a lot of fun leaving the booth and going to work in person with other creatives. It was an honor to be able to represent my agency as the spokesperson in this spot. It was a dream come true to work with David and his team. I hope that this is the first of many on camera bookings that I do!

Sometimes you realize from the start of a project that you need to hire a professional voiceover  actor. But other times, the voiceover is an after thought and much of the budget for a project is almost gone. Then the production team realizes that they need a voiceover talent. They scramble to find someone who is willing to work within their meager budget. They may have very advanced technology, spent a ton on instructional design or graphics, but now this very essential element is overlooked! Let me flesh out why it is better to go back to your client and re-budget for voiceover than to look for a cheap voiceover actor. You will never be happy if you hire a low budget talent!

1.You want pristine audio quality and a cheap voiceover talent will not deliver that.

Why? Anyone who has invested thousands of dollars in their studio is someone who cares about quality. They understand that the quality of their equipment impacts the quality of the finished audio they produce and consequently would never settle for sub-standard rates. When I decided to work in voiceover full time, I had a custom studio built. I paid my contractor to coordinate with not one but with two audio engineers: George Whittam and Roy Yokelson. This way, the sound in my booth was designed from the start to be outstanding.

Over the years that I have been in business, I have made countless equipment upgrades. I now use a Neumann TLM 103 and an Avalon M5. I am confident that the combination of this microphone and this preamp give my clients pristine audio on every single job that I record. As some of my radio clients like the audio sent RAW, my sound quality is outstanding with these devices. Having made this investment in my business, I would never lower my standards by working with folks who under pay. I am so proud of the audio that I deliver, and as they are receiving audio completed in a broadcast-ready studio, the rates I charge reflect that.

2. You want a well-trained professional voiceover actor, and a well-trained talent will never accept cheap of low rates.

I always wonder if our clients think about this, but it takes a lot of training to go into voiceover successfully and most of us continue training and ongoing professional development. Top coaches start at $150 per hour and charge upwards from there. Imagine that for each demo we likely had upwards of 20 hours of coaching, and think about how many demos we all have on our websites! Those conversational, authentic, relatable reads that sound so natural? Well, believe it or not, we did not just wake up knowing how to do that!  And just like our equipment, after investing so much in coaching, our voiceover rates reflect the level of training we have had.

3.  You hire talents based on excellent demos, so why would someone spend thousands on their demo and then settle for cheap rates?

Our demos are our calling cards. There are trends in demos to be sure. For example, right now our first spot is supposed to be short. We are trying to show a change in emotion. Regardless of genre, the demos show case a variety of reads. This is true across the board. In voiceover, different demo producers are sought after depending on the genre. They typically charge well over $1800 per demo. Again, in order to thrive in voiceover, we all have multiple demos. So, if we are willing to invest that much money in ourselves, we need to book jobs that will enable us to build a sustainable income. We are not looking for a race to the bottom.

4. You want to work with a team player who maintains industry standards, and a cheap voiceover actor undermines the entire system.

Voiceover actors typically work alone, all day, in padded foam booths at home. Most of us are super friendly folks who are eager to be a part of your team! We are looking to build long term relationships and work with you over and over again:) But guess what, we are also part of another team: the voiceover community! And the voiceover world is pretty close knit and supportive! We are in constant contact through social media and we talk about rates all the time. We help each other sort out tricky situations and we share rate guides. Just as you want to hire team players in your office, you want someone with that mentality as your voiceover talent too! You would never want to work with someone who is willing to throw their industry friends under the bus for a quick $50, right? Wouldn’t that make you suspicious? Instead you want the talent who shares the professional rate guide and explains what their standard rates are based on.

Best of luck to you in your voiceover endeavors!

You get an audition and you think wow, I would be perfect, just perfect for this project! You spend time analyzing the role and marking up the script. You record your best take and edit it beautifully. Then you send it off, hoping that the voiceover gods shine down on you and today is your day, your turn to announce the booking. Unfortunately, no matter how much time you spend on putting your best self out there, very little time will likely be spent listening to your voiceover submission. Whether it’s a commercial, a narration, or a video game audition, when a casting agent or a video production team is listening to your read, you only have a few seconds- sometimes three and sometimes 8 to catch their attention. If they like what they hear they keep listening, and if they don’t it’s on to the next one in the pile. As a professional voiceover actor, it is so important to use the audition to catch their attention at the beginning of the read.

The Professional Demo

I often get complimented on my demos, and people say things like, “Wow, did you put that together yourself?” I try not to gasp in horror before I respond that no, my professional commercial demo is my calling card and a professional voiceover actor should NEVER produce their own demo. As we only have precious seconds to seal the deal, we need to make that initial investment so that our best work is heard. Now, when the time comes, we need to be able to perform just as we did on every single demo or we will crash and burn very quickly, but that demo should represent where our ability is at the moment we submit. So if that is what a casting agent or production team has to go by, then they should be confident in their choice based on our demo.

Making the Audition Stand Out

Even though I have talent agents all over the country, the majority of my daily auditions come from pay to play sites. While  try to submit in the first 10 or so auditions and have a very solid booking ration, sometimes upwards of 70 people submit for the same job. So, how do you make your read standout? How do you get on the short list and even get noticed? Self direction is really important. When I analyze a script I have to make a choice about the character I am playing, and whether it is a voiceover for a phone message or an eLearning module, I am someone and the person choosing the talent better identify with that character right away.

I think understanding music and notes also helps a bit. Sometimes I listen back and I hear that I started too high or too low. I can hear when the pace needs to be varied and when it is just right. I think the ability to self-access is extremely important in this scenario.

Make Them Want to Keep Listening

If you had to listen to the same script read 80 times, how would you feel? Give them something juicy, interesting, different, enjoyable. Something that makes them stop and say wow, this is awesome. I have friends who are such successful voiceover talents that they have crossed over into casting. They have shared that while they thought the would always listen all the way through, they confess that if the first 5 seconds are bad they are on to the next read. So that’s it, that’s really what you get.

And it Always Comes Back To The Booth…

In the end, you are only as good as you sounds. As most of our jobs are recorded from home, having pristine audio quality is paramount and if you deliver a brilliant read and your studio is clearly not broadcast ready then you will go nowhere. Imagine. these people are not just listening to your audition for your booking. They are looking for voiceovers all day long every day. They know the difference. You need good equipment. A USB mic will never sound like a Neumann TLM 103. It just won’t.

We ALL Keep Training

When our careers hang on split second decisions, this is why ongoing professional development and coaching is so crucial. The best in the business, folks making multiple 6 figures, continue going to conferences and having private coaches for a reason. We need to stand out. Our auditions are the job. They are everything. And if we cannot hear honest assessments of their strengths and weaknesses and then work on improving them, then we have no where to go and become stagnant. The hope for voiceover talent lies in the potential for development. We are never finished and are always evolving and that is why even in 5 seconds we can shine!

Where it all Started

It seems like just yesterday I was in the front seat of my mom’s horrible brown station wagon belting it out to Gloria. I loved music and I grew up in the days when little kids could sit in the front seat which made it all the more convenient to change the radio station.  Long before the days of creating playlists, and even before the days of mix tapes, I got to play DJ in the car and boy did I love it. When I was in nursery school I sent my mom to by my first record, My Sharona. She couldn’t actually understand what I was saying and the guy at the record store was able to figure it out. I think that is how my road to radio imaging began, with a love of radio and music that is true and pure. Now, I do radio imaging work as a full time professional voiceover actor because I can bring all of my passion and enthusiasm to each read for the stations that I work with!

The Draw of Imaging

When I first started in voiceover, I began booking a lot of commercial work. I had a lot of passion and I had to learn how to harness the passion. I was brainstorming about my voiceover business and wanted to think about what else was under the commercial umbrella, and that is how I learned about Radio Imaging in the first place, as it is not really a term that non-industry folks even understand. When I discovered the world of radio imaging, it was as if all the stars had aligned, because I found the right format to channel all of my energy! When I started doing reads for top 40 stations, I felt at home. I don’t know how else to explain it. Perhaps it’s because I loved the music, so being able to talk about it in liners and station promos was really exciting. Learning the lingo, from CHR to Classic Hits took a while, but I figured that out as I was doing sweepers for stations all over, from Little Rock to Osh Kosh.

The Allure of the Formats

When I was little my dad used to joke that he married my mom for her record collection. My parents both grew up in the city in Philadelphia. They came from hard-working families and they did not have a lot of material possessions, and what they had did not come easily. My mom talked a lot about how she would use a portion of her babysitting money to save for record albums. Growing up we always played music and danced a lot at home. Even when things were tight we had a stereo and there was always something good on. I remember on the weekends when we would clean the house my dad always played different records, from Broadway shows to Michael Jackson to Abba, so growing up like that, how could I not love music? Motown, all Motown, was played often in the Levin household. The music just becomes a part of who you are when you hear it all the time. I think that is why I am open to working on so many different formats in imaging today, because my parents exposed us with such enthusiasm to so much when we were young.

When I first started booking in imaging, I fell into the typical CHR part girl read. My voice is warm and fun and I love sounding upbeat and happy, that’s who I am innately so it’s easy to bring the thunder and make the liners jump off the page. I also discovered Christian CHR, and working with religious stations brings another element of joy to my work. Their messages are always happy and filled with excitement. I believe the world needs more positivity and optimism, so I get a lot out of the sweepers and promos that I do for the Christian stations I work with. I have done faith based projects in other realms in voiceover, and I find all of these projects to be inherently upbeat and that is really good for me.

I love, love, love doing Classic Hits! Since I grew up listening to 80s music, it really resonates with me! I also love having fun with the sarcasm and humor of the Adults Hits channels. In my family my husband is the one with the dry, whitty humor, but on air I can assume that role and it is fun for me to engage with the scripts and move away from the rah rah party girl.  Just this week I also got to do a set of liners for an Oldies station for the first time! Since that is the music my folks always played growing up, it was not just happy work, but particularly meaningful to me too.

Feeling at Home

I think that life is short and you have to do what you love. I have always loved music, and I have a true passion for voiceover. Working in Radio Imaging feels so natural because so much of who I am inside can just flow when I am in front of the mic. I am so thankful for each and every station that I work with!