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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!