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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!

Hey… What’s the Best….

Last night we were out to dinner with my folks and my husband’s folks. We were at one of our favorite places, Dough, in Caldwell, NJ and it was particularly fun because we were at a big, square table. The kids were asking my dad stories about law school, and it doesn’t take much to get him going. But this is not uncommon, a lot of times people ask my dad about his “craziest case.” Or we’ll be out with a friend who’s a doctor and we’ll ask them about their wild cases and boy, without violating HIPAA, can they tell some unreal stories. So I never feel put on the spot when people ask me about my craziest job or my best recent casting. But in case you’re curious, here are some, and these are not in order of favorites, just how they came to mind:

WWII Foundation Narration

I was so excited when this project came in. I was actually sitting at the Encore hotel and Casino in Las Vegas where I was staying right before WoVo Con 19 started when Brian, the producer called me. Both of my grandfathers served in the Pacific Campaign in World War II. I went to graduate school for History. My son is at present obsessed with World War II History. So, what could be more fun than voicing a project that would help draw high school students in and educate them about such an important period in time? The script was so well-written and Brian was so easy to work with, which always makes projects better! Being cast in this meant so much to me on so many levels.

Climate Change Narration for PBS and Chrysler Museum

PBS WHROI always hate to overtly give away my age, but when I was a kid we did not have cable tv, we had the networks, PBS, and maybe two other channels. So, when they animation project came in for PBS, a channel I grew up glued to, as did my kids, my heart went all-aflutter! I think I was so enthusiastic both because it was PBS and because it addressed climate change, something I am so profoundly concerned about. It means a lot to me to have an opportunity to voice projects with an impact. I have also always loved taking my kids to museums too, so when I learned that this was tied in to the Chrysler Museum it was even better. In this animation, I used a kids voice. Like the WWII project, my goal was to draw kids in and keep them interested. As a working mom and a former educator, I feel like I bring all of this with my into the booth for these projects.  When I have an opportunity like this, I am left feeling instilled with hope that change will come.

UK Tampax Spot

As an American who grew up in a Philly suburb and resides in a New York suburb, I was cast by a London ad agency in a UK tampax spot for their UK tampax channel? How, you may ask? Well, my nephews have grown up in a posh sloan square neighborhood so I just had their little voices in my head when I auditioned and I guess that booked it! I cannot do a range of UK accents, I can specifically do central London as that is what I hear in my head. I can sometimes do slight cochney, but that’s it. Anyway, for this project we had a live session with a European creative team. It was not 10 minutes and done. I remember it going about 40 minutes, which is long for me. But the spot is cute and I am pleased with it. And since we all get out monthly visitor, we not have something that is relevant for girls and women, right? This was a fun one for sure!

 

IMRC Commercials

Well, who doesn’t love a good tv campaign? And when the hospital that you are voicing the campaign for is bought out by Cleveland Clinic, it gets even better! And when your Aunt and Uncle have a home in the viewing area? It feels like a home run! In truth, anytime I have an opportunity to work with clients on a repeat nature I am delighted, but I love doing campaigns because I enjoy the continuity. It is nice to have the project to look forward to, and I am always so sad when they end. I loved these spots and hope there are more down the line. I think these resonated with me so much because the real life stories they used were just so touching. Also, even though the hospital is based in Florida, the Alan, the producer, is a Jersey guy, and that just makes everything better.

Cosmo Prof Training

I may have been born in Philly, but I’ve been here 15 years and I’d say that’s long enough to call myself a Jersey girl- gel nails and supah blond hair and all! So, when an eLearning came my way that was all about training for hair products, let’s just say I didn’t have to act to sound upbeat and enthusiastic! I was so so excited to do this module for CosmoProf and Sally Beaty. From brushes to straighteners to curling irons, it’s like they had me in mind when they wrote the content!