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Can’t Win Em’ All

How a Night in NYC Reading for 5 Top Voice Over Agents Went South Real Fast

The Potential for Life Changing Awesomeness

You have to understand that I am a huge optimist. I always think everything will be great and that every single thing I do has the potential to not just succeed but to be life changing. I mean, it’s worked out pretty well, right? I have two ivy league diplomas, married the man of my dreams, I have pretty fantastic kids, and the cutest dog on the planet, so this attitude of hope and optimism has worked out thus far. How could it not? If you’re super smart and you work hard and you try your best what could possibly go wrong?? You see where this is headed….

So like many voice over actors I am in tons of facebook groups. Honestly I can’t even count them all but I really enjoy them both for the useful information and the meaningful social interaction. One night, I think in the Actors in NYC group or something to that effect, someone mentioned the Actors’ Connection. I was excited to see the variety of programs they offered and was super excited to see one that had big agents from top agencies coming to the program. My perception, or rather mis-perception, of the event that I rather enthusiastically signed up for was that it was like speed dating with agents. They were there. We were there. We would schmooze.

My hope was to chat it up. I just got new business cards so I gathered a ton of those. I also printed a list of my top 10 clients of all time followed by my top 5 clients of the month, both of which I am rather proud of. We had to send in our head shots and resume in advance and I was really proud of that as well. I felt prepared and hopeful on the big night.

The working mom in me planned ahead on the home front too. I had my mom coming to give the twins dinner and my mother-in-law was coming to do Latin homework with Jack, so I had all the bases covered. I was prepared for greatness. All I had to do was show up, right?

The Great Debacle: A Fantastic Event For Which I was not Prepared

Did I mention in addition to being an optimist that I am also very type A? I have read for top agents in LA before. Both times I was extremely well prepared and I thought I nailed it. I got very positive feedback and left feeling like a did my best. Was I signed? No. Did my life change in any way from those events other than feeling relieved that I did not f—- up? No. But the key thing is that I showed up prepared.

So last Thursday I also thought I showed up prepared. The thing is, the Actors’ Connection sends A LOT of emails. I do not mean this as a criticism. But I happen to have had a lot of bookings last week, and as a full-time working mom, I do not always read all of my emails. Well, I realized pretty quickly that this was a huge problem. This was NOT speed dating with agents. Not at all. I showed up prepared for an event that was not happening and was totally unprepared for the actual event. You have to understand that I am never, ever unprepared and I was having a silent stroke in my seat.

Every one else had scripts prepared as we were going to read for the agents. Which makes sense, after all, because why would they care just to chat with us?  I did not have a script in hand. I pulled one up on my phone but I did this as the agents were speaking

and of course I was in the front row so I was not at all subtle. I felt like an ass. I found a script for a Culligan Water spot I booked months ago and I thought it was cute and showed my range.

The Epic Fail

As if I had never read live before, and in part because I did not have a paper script and was reading from my tiny phone which I never ever would have done, I began my first read. I raced through. Everything I have been trained to do went out the window. I will not recount all the ways in which I sucked, but let’s say that any charm, finesse, and charisma that my actual audition may have had to book the read was entirely missing on Thursday night. I was both petrified and horrified at once.

On the director’s cue I came out from the booth and got feedback from the agents before the second take. The agent from CESD spoke for the group. I held it together and went back in. The second take was not beyond horrible and at least I was not ashamed to make eye contact when I left. Before I departed the building, I was giving “report cards” with scores and comments from each agent. They showed a range of opinions and feedback from good to excellent and I took everything in me not to cry from the stress of it all. Oh how I longed to be in the security of my own booth!

The Aftermath

I walked in the pouring rain back to Penn Station. I felt both crushed and defeated. I left my children on a school night to go into the city and instead of doing something to benefit my family I crashed and burned in front of an audience of folks I wished I had dazzled and charmed.

What did I learn from all of this? First, I need to read ALL of my emails! Next, even though it felt like disaster to me, the comments were actually somewhat encouraging and they were all pleased with my second read, so I suppose I was able to show flexibility and resilience even though I did not enjoy it. Lastly, even if I had been signed by any of those agents, which I would have loved, it likely would have opened more doors but would not have lead to some sort of instant and dramatic change in the trajectory if my life or career.

So what now? I just get up every day and keep plugging. I have a lot of auditions this morning and a live session for radio commercial at 1:30 so I just keep doing my thing. I am thankful that I get to work full-time in the field I am passionate about.

 

A Sick Day

 

Why Now???

I’m not sure that as a working mom and solopreneur there is ever a good day for a sick day, but I can say with certainty as someone who rarely gets sick that when it happens on your birthday it totally stinks. I can say with even more certainty that when three really good voiceover bookings come in and you have a violent stomach virus, you are even less happy. I cannot tell you the last time I had a stomach bug. I am pretty sure it was 2008 and it was Salmonella. I also can’t tell you the last time I had one, let alone two clients need something as a RUSH job on a Sunday, so the likelihood of 3 jobs coming in and 2 of them being commercials on a Sunday was not anticipated. Further, it was my birthday, did I mention that? A beautiful, sunny Spring day and my husband skipped his early ball game. The only part of the day that I was able to enjoy was a brief walk with my dog. It turned ugly before 8 am. So, how does a professional voiceover actor with RUSH bookings handle this mess when all I want to do is lay curled up in a ball?

How to Manage Clients’ Expectations

At first I hoped it would pass. Wouldn’t you? One of my clients was in LA, so that gave me at least a few hours. But by 11:30 when I had a fever and realized I was sick, like really sick, I emailed all three clients. I believe in transparency in my work always and I told them I was sick. I initially thought it was related to my birthday dinner on Saturday night. We had Korean food at a great place in NYC and I ate a lot. The fever was a clue that it was not. I told all of the clients I just needed a few more hours. Once I gave myself that window I slept. When I was less nauseous and could physically get to my booth safely without falling, I did. One of the specs was to sound sexy. Believe it or not that was much easier than sounding happy and upbeat, so I did that spot first! Once the tire ad was done I had to sound happy and upbeat. It took a lot of focus and re-records to sound like me. It also took a lot of concentration to edit the way I always do. I was drenched in sweat from the fever even though I was in a tank top. One of the spots was a tv commercial and I had to match a previous one I did in the campaign. That was very tricky. When all was said and done I was happy with the quality of the work and I was able to deliver the work to all three clients when they needed it. I then got in bed for the rest of the day. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon.

How to Handle Mom Stuff

As a full time working mom, missing my Sunday Mom duties was actually far worse than juggling the voiceover gigs. I could not do laundry. My 15 year old son did it. G-d help us. I did not even check it, I was just so appreciative. I also spend a lot of time on the weekends cleaning and organizing. That did not happen at all. I typically study a lot with my kids on Sunday. I was supposed to help them prepare for their current events and study for an upcoming History test. That did not happen. Lunches weren’t made. I can keep going and tell you a myriad of things that did not happen. They repeatedly asked me about them, but I was sick and there is only one me. The housework I am not so worried about, the mess will be there when I feel better. The kids can always buy lunch if need be. I am very worried about the school work. I sure hope they are prepared today and that they aren’t upset if they don’t feel ready.

Easing Back in

It’s Monday. The fever is gone and I am on my way back to normal. I did some auditions and am working on this blog. I can eat toast. That’s something. In truth after the blog is posted I anticipate a good nap. If work comes in I can do it. I will also make that practice History test for my kids I didn’t get to yesterday. Now I have to think to the middle of the week. I head to Los Angeles for the World Wide Radio Summit. I need to pack and organize for that. “Everything will be ok,” I keep telling myself over and over again and eventually it will sink in, right? Because everyone gets sick, so we must all understand?

The Sought After Sound….

Whether you are on the casting side or another professional voiceover talent yourself, you are likely aware that one of the hottest current trends asked for in casting specs is the “conversational, millennial read.”  I see it multiple times every day! Coming from rosters, talent agents, and on pay to plays, this read is asked for all the time! Does this mean that you have to be born in that period to voice a millennial spot. No, you just have to understand the direction and sound being sought. The tone, the pacing, the intonation- all of it needs to be both millennial and like you are chatting with a friend. The conversational, millennial read is my jam… so hear goes!

The Millennial, Conversational Voice

If a spec for a voiceover casting asks for a millennial, conversational voice, they really want you to sound like you are in an intimate conversation. To sound like you are talking to a friend should be pretty natural, right? I often prompt myself by saying,“So, Julie…” or “So, Judy” or “So, Liz.” You get the idea, and the person I imagine myself talking to very much depends on the copy I am reading. This can work across genres for commercials, youtube bumpers, narrations and so on. 

Is it easy? Well, we all know that depends on the copy. Some scripts are beautifully written and the conversational read just rolls of your tongue and is perfect. Other scripts are written like a “How to” explainer video and yet they want those to be conversational. That can be a lot trickier. Not impossible, just not intuitive.

You do need to sound young in a millennial read. If you sound like a gravelly grandma or a 50 something this will not pass either, even if you nail the conversational part. So, we all have a certain vocal type and you need to be well aware of that.

What not to do in Millennial reads

There are plenty of techniques that should be avoided at all costs when submitting for these reads. They may want you to sound conversational, and the script may even go as far as to say that they want someone who sounds natural and uncoached, but it is still a professional gig and you want to sound like an expert and not like you fell off the back of a turnip truck and landed in front of your microphone.  So, even if you do it in real life, avoid uptalk. This means that at the period your voice should be making a down turn. If you are making a statement, make a statement. Only questions end up. When I started out in voiceover, my first coach worked on this at length with me but once you are aware that you are doing it you need to stop!

Another major deal breaker that has somehow become a horrendous trend is vocal fry. For some odd reason, this seems to go hand in hand with the up talking. Perhaps it happens when we all want to sound sexy like Scarlett Johanson but we don’t, so we try to add this affect to give ourselves a false rasp. Instead we are just killing our vocal chords. You either have a raspy voice or you don’t. I don’t and I still book tons of work. Will I book if they are looking for a raspy voice? No, and that’s ok. Did you see the movie “In a World” by and starring Lake Bell? Well if you didn’t you should watch it, now! Here is a clip of her being interviewed on Conan and she talks about both of these issues!

NO Announcers Today

To book these millennial voiceover jobs, your technique should still be outstanding.  Yes, sometimes there is a character who is a news anchor or the specs specifically ask for an announcer read, but that request is happening less and less often. Instead you need to conquer the opposite of the announcer read!  You need to settle in and be confident and comfortable in who you are without sounding like Amy Robauch or Peter Jennings. You have to manage to be charming, relatable, captivating, and believable as if you are sitting on a sofa drinking coffee with your friends and talking about your like. For some reason some folks freeze up in front of the microphone and this other voice comes out. The essence of the millennial, conversational voice is someone who can really feel at home in front of the microphone. Once you can do that, once you can bring your friends into the booth with you, you’ll be just fine and you can really deliver!

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!

from ipDTL to Source Connect and Everything in Between, Laura Schreiber Talks about her preferences

So You Want to Direct Me…

The answer always is, and should always be, great!  I always want to make my clients very happy, and this is just another opportunity to do so! As a full-time, professional voiceover actor, I have been set up to provide my clients with live/guided/directed sessions since I opened shop. One of my coaches used ipDTL for every session, so I felt very comfortable on that platform from the very start. I remember my first directed session like it was yesterday! It was a video game session with a German director. He wanted to use skype and their were 3 others on the other end giving me feedback. I loved working with them because I was able to give them specifically what they needed and wanted from the character that I was playing, a teenage badass called Jes, in the moment they needed it! There was no need for revisions because when the live session ended they had every line just as the wanted it. I put so much energy into each take and gave them multiple options. Having feedback as I recorded was so valuable.  I was not nervous, I loved every minute. Another advantage of live sessions is that it is much easier to get to know your clients and build relationships with them when you actually work directly with their team. I learned that early on too. While you can certainly get to know clients from back and forth emails, there is nothing like actually speaking to them and working with them to make them happy. Guided sessions are fantastic and that is why I offer so many options to accommodate my clients!

ipDTL and the ISDN Bridge

I love using ipDTL. As I mentioned earlier, I started using it during my coaching many years ago and loved the clear connection and the ease of use. As I try to be a client centered service provider who makes everything as easy as possible for the folks I work with, I like that this as a service that I provide my clients free of charge for them. I simply send them a link and we are ready to go. I have never had issues with my ipDTL connection and my clients always comment on what a clear connection it is. Here is a brief video where I show how user friendly it is: 

I also have a direct ISDN line with my own Los Angeles phone number through an ipDTL bridge. Several of my agents said they would not sign me without an ISDN line, so this was the easiest way to solve that challenge as Verizon stopped installing new ISDN lines in the winter of 2015.  I have been pleased with this as well although I have had some hiccups with the ISDN service. The owner/founder of ipDTL looked into it and found no problems with my line, so I was left befuddled.

I do also like the ipDTL facebook group. It has helped answer a lot of questions over the years! It is free and a great asset for those of us who use ipDTL often.

Source Connect

To be totally transparent, I actually signed up for Source Connect in a state of total hysteria when my ISDN would not work and I needed to connect with a studio in LA for a big commercial at that moment! Thank goodness it was up and running quickly and Source Connect saved the day. I did not initially find it as user friendly as ipDTL and needed a lot of directions and help from others. Since installing Source Connect, quite a few producers have wanted to use it which is great. The connection is extremely clear and it is also easy to use, once you know what to look for!

Skype

It seems that a lot of my overseas clients still want to use Skype. Skype is fine. It is not great, it is fine. There can be a frustrating latency issue, or lag. I also find that there can be a lot of hiccups when there are software updates. It makes me nervous to use Skype in lieu of ipDTL of Source Connect, but when a client strongly prefers this I will always accommodate.  Perhaps when they are comfortable with the format this drives their preference.

Speaker Phone

I have had a handful of clients demand to use the speaker phone in my booth! My mobile phone does not work in my studio as it is so sound proof it blocks the signal. I do have a land line there instead and I can use this upon request.  This is the worst option as it does not go through my pre-amp and microphone, so clients cannot hear the actual audio quality and sound. There are nuances to the recording that they will totally miss. Again, if the client is most comfortable like this I will oblige.

Sum Up

Over the years I have had a chance to do countless guided sessions.  Across genres, for all sorts of projects, I have had clients direct me for everything. While most commonly they are used for commercial sessions, I had one helluva narration session where the client was paying for an hour and she intended to use every minute of it! Boy did she have me jump through hoops, it was somewhat shocking! Whether it is for commercials, narration, IVR, video games, or promos, there is one thing in common: every session should end with a very happy client!