Coaching

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.

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.

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.