coaches

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:

This is,  after all, the foundation of your career!

Recently another local mom who I am connected with on LinkedIn reached out and asked me if I could “point her son in the right direction” so that he can consider pursuing voiceover. After 5 plus years as a full time, professional voice over talent, I know better than to name names, but I can give you some pointers to think about when you are considering which voiceover coach to work with. It is a big decision, one that will hopefully shape the trajectory of your career, so you should think about these points.

  1. Is there a demo on the horizon?

Whether you are a newbie or an established talent, you will likely be coming at this from different angles. You may just be honing your skills, so a demo is not in play. If a demo is on the horizon, that changes things. I find it helpful to find other talents who worked with that coach. Listen to their demos. Are they booking? Do they have agents? Who are their clients? Do you actually like their demos? Do they sound current? Is this the sound you want for yourself? I have some demos that I am very very proud of and others that I am not happy with. I was not happy with the coach and for a multitude of reasons I still moved forward with the demo. I very much regret both the money that I spent, the time that I spent, and my own inability to see this coming, especially because it did not happen at the start of my career, but instead when I was a seasoned professional. It is what it is but I will not make that mistake ever again.

2. Does this coach give feedback in a way that you respond to feedback?  Do you actually know how you learn? I am sensitive and while I wish that I could say business is business, I do best with positive reinforcement and constructive guidence. In my career I have worked with a few coaches who are harsh. One of them I could not tolerate and had to stop after several sessions. Another one I did persevere. The result is possibly my best demo. That coach was not mean, he was just also not sweet, and every session was very hard for me. Some coaches use a lot of acting techniques. Others have their own inventive, creative approaches. See what works for you and what you enjoy. Since you invest a lot of time and money in this, I actually believe it should be pleasant.

3. Is the cost within reason? The reality is that this is a business and you need to earn money. often we hire coaches either while we are still working in other jobs and segueing in to voiceover. We all want to avoid demo mills that promise a demo after 5 lessons; but, at the same time,  we don’t want to be on the hook forever. I once worked with an amazing coach who said a “demo is a reflection of where you are now.”  So in a few years when your work changes you make a new demo, right? I like that, especially

I have been fortunate to work with the best of the best. When you have the luxury of working with top coaches, if you are like me you hear their voices in your head when you work all day every day. Anne Ganguzza, J. Michael Collins, and Fred Frees are amongst the dream team that I have assembled, but I have worked with others who continue to inspire me!

when I was starting out. But we all have room to learn and to grow, so at some point we can pull the trigger and move on. I have also supplemented coaching with classes. I have attended online classes through groups like GVAA and VO Peeps that are amazing. I have taken live classes at our local theaters in advanced acting and improv. I have gotten a lot out of these classes and just like with coaching, the classes are only as good as the teacher. 

4. Think outside the box- there are known coaches and then are new folks and are plusses and minuses to both!  I have worked with the biggest names in the industry and I have worked with folks just starting out. When you work with a proven coach who has a curriculum, you benefit from years of experience. You hope that they see your potential and that they correct your flaws. But this does not mean that if someone is new to coaching you should run for the hills. I have had coaches that I think are brilliant and they have had very few students. As long as they are committed to the process and to your success it can work very well.  Their success as a coach is inextricably linked to your success after having been their student, so they typically want to the best for you.

5.  Think about who is choosing the scripts- you or the coach.

I have had this work both ways for lessons as well as for demos. I have had to come up with scripts and write scripts. I have also had to work on scripts that I have never seen before, just like in real life. I think ultimately, for me, I prefer to have the scripts given to me. As a working talent, we don’t pick our scripts. And when they are well written, it seems like a miracle. An absolute miracle. So why would we write scripts that are brilliant, witty, pithy, and not at all like the majority of our actual day to day work? It’s practically a farce. I also think when the coach here’s our raw read it helps with audition technique too.

Conclusions:

When you are  working with a coach, the question you have to ask yourself is are you continuing to learn and grow or have you plateau? Once you have plateaued, you either stop, or if the goal is the demo, you do the demo….

To There are Ups and Downs

As in all fields, in voice over there are good days  and bad ones. A common expression professional voice over actors use is that “it is feast or famine.” I have experienced this myself. Sometimes I am so busy I do not know how I will stop for a bathroom break or to feed my family. Other weeks I wonder if all my clients are on vacation at the same time. In good times it is great to have friends to celebrate your successes. In challenging times, you need people you can really trust to talk through your thoughts. So, how do you go about surrounding yourself with trusted people?

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

Tips for Finding People

  • Coaches. Coaches are likely the first people you will meet. They have seen so much and are seasoned. They are looking to meet people to so this is a great start.
  • Conferences. Specifically voiceover conferences.  I have blogged about conferences before, and VO North and Vocation are coming up, but other voice over talents are looking to connect at these conferences. You can make lifelong friends there.
  • Facebook groups. You really can bond and get to know people, even online. You have to be a little more careful when you are not meeting someone face to face, but if you have mutual friends this should help sort out who is a good connection for your intimate network.
  • Acting Workshops. I actually go to acting technique programs at local theaters. When others are working on there craft too, they are likely to have similar goals, and are good for you to connect with.

Topics to Discuss with Your People

  • Actual accountability. You need folks that you can be frank with and in return they are candid with you.
  • Ideally you will have friends as accomplished and more accomplished as you are.
  • Goals. You can discuss how you are actively pursuing your goals. What’s working? What’s holding you back?
  • Feedback. Have you gotten a great review? Have you gotten feedback that you did not expect? It is important to be able to

    These are my people, well, some of them, and they make every single day better!

    bounce this off of your people.

  • Finances. Are you building a sustainable business? When trying to reach consistent financial benchmarks each week or each month, it is really important to report to or have others that you can discuss this with, both in vague and specific terms. From marketing to accounting, a lot of responsibility falls to a solopreneur, and we can learn me from each other than if we function in an isolated bubble.
  • Ways to support each other. I am in an accountability group that talks very regularly daily. I know groups that share assistants. I know groups that market themselves as a whole. There are lots of ways you can go, but first you need to start by finding your people.

What the Universe Sends You

Just as the voice over industry has no geographic boundaries, your peer group is the same! The woman I am closest with that support me daily are scattered about the continent. I feel very strongly that everything happens for a reason, as these women inspire me, pick me up, and are there. I hope that I do the same for them. As I right this, I have the Barbra Streisand song in my head “People,People who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”