conversational

They Keep Asking for that Chase Spot

I think I actually know it by heart by know “Your bank could be here, or here.” I hear the words over and over again, and in truth I can’t tell you if it’s because I’ve seen this well placed and clever add so many times on tv or if it’s because it seems to be the go to spec of the summer when I book tv spots. That Chase ad seems to be the trend. I book a spot and the clients sends me this Chase ad and wants me to match it in tone, pace, vibe-basically every way possible. Now, if the script is written in a way that lends itself to that- great. But the catch is that not every script is written to the formula of the Chase script. So let’s look at this formula and talk about what they are asking for in current television commercial voiceovers and what is the current trend during the covid pandemic. And if the client wants this but can’t have it, there are some similar millennial, conversational commercial reads that are out there.

Impact of the Pandemic

Let’s discuss the elephant in the room: why the sudden shift to animation? While everyone is quarantining in place, and stock footage or footage filmed before the pandemic can only go so far, people can create unlimited amounts of new animation. This trend of increasing amounts of animated commercial content will be with us throughout the pandemic. My old friend from home and brilliant award-winning producer Ira Rosensweig has created a product called Crew in a Box  which is “the world’s first plug-and-play, remote production solution,” but until this is more universally adopted or the studios reopen, we are looking at a lot more animation content on television.

Dissecting the Chase Spot

The voice over in the Chase spot is as au currant as it gets. This is the quintessential millennial read. First of all, she (the voice over actor) is talking directly to the viewer. It’s very intimate. She is clear and concise and to the point. She has great energy and she is relatable. As the Chase VO gal explains that when down loading the app “here’s  my bank or here’s my bank” we are right there with her because we feel like we know her. It’s youthful and believable and the ease with which she does demonstrates it all instills us with the confidence that we too can use the app on the go. The upbeat, conversational, relatable, authentic pace is what producers want when they ask for this read. This read draws viewers in. This read helps viewers connect to the voice and more importantly connect to the product.

Recent TV Spot Like the Chase Spot

This month I was sent a television campaign for a retirement community and they wanted the read to be like the Chase spot. The scripts were all well-written and could easily be adapted in tone and cadence. Unlike the Chase commercial, my audience was different. My audience was the children and family members of the retirement community who would choose to place their loved ones in this residence. I needed the same upbeat, relatable, trustworthy tone. I needed to draw folks in and make them feel comfortable and like they knew me. I needed to make them feel like this home was their home. I needed them to trust that their parents would be happy. For me, this message hit home as my beloved grandparents had to live in a place like this when my parents could no longer support their needs, so I understood on every level what I was being asked to convey. Like the Chase spot, because of Covid, this spot is also an animation. Here is one of the four recent commercials I did for this client:

Variations On This Read

Last month I was cast in a TV campaign for a bank in Montana that wanted a different variation on the millennial, conversational read. Even though this was done during the pandemic, these spots used video footage! This producer wanted a sound that fit the video and the music, and it was less upbeat, and more every day real. Sometimes in real life we are not bubbling over with enthusiasm, we just need something that meets our needs, and this is conversational in a different tone. It is more detached and less intimate, casting a broader net. You still trust this voice to be your voice, but the scrip is a different kind of script and it elicits a very different read.

Current Trends in TV Commercial VO Reads

In sum, I am cast in projects because clients still want that very millennial, conversational voice over read. Some reads are more intimate and connected than others. Some reads are more authentic. Some are more personal. Some are to video footage while others are set to animation at present. The trend, though, is to sound conversational and I think always, always believable.

Real Age Vs. Vocal Age

Ok, so I am at the point in my life when I cringe when I have to reveal on print, or anywhere else for that matter, my real age. I feel as energetic as I did years ago, and in my mind I do not age those around me. But to help you place my age, I am old enough to have twins turning 17 this summer. Soooo… I am fortunate to sound younger than I am since millennial voices are highly sought after at the moment. My vocal age, then, differs greatly from my real age. How does this effect me? Greatly! I am sent, audition for, and book work that is NOT based on my real age but is booked on my vocal range.

Here are some examples, an adult voice:

A kid voice:

Auditioning

I pay close attention to the desired vocal range when auditioning. My sweet spot tents to be the 17-22 or 18-35 category. When they ask for the conversational, millennial read little fire works go off in my head as that is my sweet spot. When they want the girl-next-door who sounds like she is on the couch talking to her best friend, that is me. When they want someone with gravitas and rasp, that is not me.  Why does it matter that you know how you sound? Why waste the listeners time? And when you only have precious time to audition and submit, why not maximize your own time submitting for what you are most likely to book.  Although I can do a character granny voice, if there is a commercial casing wanting a senior female I would never submit. They are not looking for me and there are talented folks in the senior vocal range with a more mature voice who will offer the sound they want in those spots. In those moments I simply move on to the next read.

Demos

Your demos need to show your range within your age range. Your demos also need to be tagged in a user friendly way, especially on pay to plays, so that clients can find what they need. If you sound young, and your demo is comprised of demo spots, then make sure that you actually have spots that would hire someone in your vocal range. No one wants my voice selling adult diapers, hemorrhoid cream, or talking about retirement communities, right? There is a reason I do fitness campaigns and brands like Kind Bar and Dove. I sound young and upbeat, and I market myself directly for brands that want this kind of fun, sassy, playful sound. A funeral home is probably not looking for my happy, bright voice. Although, interestingly I did do a narration for a women’s shelter who wanted someone who sounded happy and reassuring.

Bookings

This blog actually came to mind because last week I booked a character job where I played both a mom and a kid in the same job. How? Well with training and years of practice I do a lot of work in kids practice. And the bottom of my voice, and yes I have a bottom, is my mom voice. So if you understand how to use your voice, you can offer this  kind of versatility to your clients. I have had this opportunity, as have many of my industry friends, where we are cast in multiple roles in the same job. It can happen in eLearning, commercials, video games, cartoons…And it is about understanding how to use your voice. It is also about understanding the role you are playing, the nuances of the role, and how the characters relate to each other.

Your vocal age is often not your chronological age. I do a lot of work for Pandora, and typically the range they send me is 17-22.  That is my natural range. When I work out of that range, I have to understand specifically what the client is looking for, and I have to be able to match it for pickups and revisions. It is much easier for me to sound older late in the day. When I book work, I typically note on the script and in my notes in my CRM when I recorded the job, so if there are changes later I am best able to accommodate the vocal age.

Conclusions

You need to understand your voice. You need  to understand how others perceive your voice. Without a strong vocal awareness you will be limited in what you book and what you can provide your clients. In character work you have a chance to shine and to play and to test your limits. While we are acting, to be sure, some genres lend themselves more to being creative and submitting outside the box. Be aware for the sake of your time and of others.’

Five Years of Passion

As a working mom, I have talked about how working as a full time, professional voice over actor suits me in countless ways. It seems like yesterday I was sitting at my kitchen island and I was watching a GVAA webinar on eLearning. J. Michael Collins, who I think I have mentioned a lot recently, was presenting the outstanding webinar. Everything he talked about resonated with me. It was not just the rates for eLearning that were appealing, it was that I had come to the voice over from the academic world, so for me I felt an instant connection to an industry that I did not know existed!

I decided during that webinar that I would to an eLearning demo with JMC and I can tell you that demo has paid for itself in

Me with talented coach and demo producer J. Michael Collins.

spades. While I have had many conversations with industry friends about how processed eLearning demos should be, and a lot of folks are confident that there should be little production, I am very pleased with my demo for several reasons. First, it showcases my range from warm, millennial to professional, confident, and knowledgeable traitor and will work across the genres of eLearning. Next, I think my personality shines through. Lastly, it is pleasant to listen to! As most of my booked work is proprietary content and cannot be shared on my website, it is really great to have something that I am happy to share!

I have focussed on building and maintaining solid client relationships in the many years that I have been doing eLearning. While I have been full-time in voiceover for five years, I have really developed the eLearning strand of my business since 2016. Some of my best clients, that I continue to do steady work for, I met face to face at conferences like ATD, Dev Learn, and smaller conferences put on by the eLearning Guild.  I also have worked with some wonderful clients that I connected with on LinkedIn. Regardless of the source of the business relationship, my approach s the same, I treat each client as if they are my most important client and all of my

Finding the right conference to meet your business goals can be tricky! I have a lot of success at the smaller conference. There may seem to be a lot of potential at large conferences like ATD and DevLearn, but it is often easier to find content creators at the smaller conferences.

success depends on them. The result has been great, and as a consequence recent eLearning clients include Walmart, PSEG, Ace Hardware, Victoria’s Secret, Sam’s Club, CosmoProf, Sally Beauty, Club Pilates, and more!

More Casting Trends!

So with all of this eLearning work, what trends have I noticed? A lot of clients are writing the scripts for “real” characters with specific voice and tone requests. These are not typical narrators. I am not Suzie from HR, I am playing a role in a scene. as a voice ACTOR, this is actually great fun for me! For example, in a recent project of Sally Beauty, they wanted to voice to be

With an eLearning client Alicia that I get to catch up with at conferences!

conversational, fun, and upbeat! It was no problem, the script was a joy! Last week I was doing a training module for Ace Hardware. I have been doing their work for a while, but this was very different. They really had a specific character in mind. Before recording the entire module, I sent three samples for approval to make sure we were on the same page and that my interpretation matched their vision. I had so much fun putting these samples together. I think that as the technology continues to improve, the content creators will push voiceover actors even further in our roles.

Rates are HIGHER

As a working mom, I am pleased that as the demand for solid voiceover for eLearning increases, the rates that voice actors are paid is also increasing. It is increasing in two ways. First, session fees continue to rise. While I have old clients that still are grandfathered in at their original rate, new clients book at the appropriate industry standard rates. Jobs are typically quoted per finished minute or per word, and there has been a huge jump. When I first started doing eLearning, I was happy to have a minimum session plus $18 per finished minute. Now I quote my session fee plus $35 per finished minute of audio. Frankly, because of the intrinsic value of the content we are providing these clients, I think these rates are right where they should be for corporate clients doing training. 

My Goals

I love doing eLearning projects. Any project is welcomed and makes me happy. As a true Jersey girl who spends a lot of time in my salon getting my hair and nails done, I was thrilled to do so much work for CosmoProf and hope more work in the cosmetic industry comes in. I also love travel, food, and dogs, so if the universe and voiceover gods shine down on me and send me work related to my passions I will be delighted!

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!