covid 19

The Year of The Guided Session

There are a lot of things that will make 2020 memorable for the rest of our lives: living through a pandemic, the national election, the state of our country in general. As a long-time professional voice over actor, one of the trends I have noticed in the past few months as bookings have picked up again is that so many of them involve live sessions also referred to as guided sessions. Prior to Covid-19, I would say that I self directed 80% of my work, and the rest were live sessions. Now I have live sessions almost daily. Interestingly most of my clients prefer zoom, although often I am asked if I have Source Connect and specifically which version I have. I do happen to have the highly sought after standard version, but interestingly that is not what is most often requested by my average client when they want or need a guided sessions. How do I feel about this rise in live sessions? I love them!

Genres Using Them

I see this rise in live sessions occurring across genres, but in particular in commercials, in explainers, and in eLearning. I also have been booking a lot more work with NDAs for these sessions, and that seems much more common this year. Across the genres, I am booking a blend of covid specific and good, old-fashioned brand relevant content. I think the clients love the live sessions because they can really get the read they want when they want it.

Trends I Have Noticed

The major trend I have noticed is how many participants are in on the call. It used to just be one or two except when I was doing video games or mobile apps, then I typically had more. Recently, on almost all of my sessions except for a tv spot last week that was just one producer, there are huge teams of 7 or 8. They seem to like to bring on everyone from the person who cast me to the person who wrote the script to the folks from the brand to the creatives putting the content together. The teams are big. And what seems to happen now is that one person will give directions. Then they will tweak the directions. Then when they are satisfied they will ask for feedback from everyone else on the team. This can go on an on and it can be very amazing, depending on how patient you are. As I have been fortunate to have a lot of well-written scripts, it is typically easy to provide alternative reads, but that is not always the case. Most of the time the teams are on the same page and most of the people keep themselves on mute. I have been on a few calls where someone forgets to mute themselves and we have some issues later.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of my clients ultimately ask for zoom even though I have Source Connect. I actually think this is related to the trend of included everyone in the live session. It is much easier to loop everyone in via zoom, when with Source Connect only the ones with the subscription can join.

Why They Are Great

Guided sessions are wonderful. Put simply, clients finish with what they need! It does not end until the client has what they need. If it does, they have to pay for a new sessions. I also happen to love the creative energy and the back and forth that happens in a live session. If you are lucky enough to get a good rhythm going, then you can really make something special together. Most of the time I too feel that the work that came out of a live session is different than what I would have submitted had I self directed. You just end up going in different directions based on where the client and the production team takes you. They have a specific vision in their head and you have this amazing opportunity to bring that sound to life. The collaborative process is incredible. Providing instant gratification, knowing that your client will end the session with the pristine audio they need to complete the spot is a really good feeling. There is no back and forth. There are no more takes. And working together as part of the creative team is so much more fun than doing it alone.

Just be Mindful of Time Zones

One quick note, as the voiceover industry is typically quite an international one, do mind your time zone conversions! It can be trickier than it seems! Years ago I had a session with a client in the South of France. I was coming back from the beach myself, and little did I realize I asked them to record at 10 PM their time. I felt terrible. More recently I had a new client in Mountain Time! I was so confused by this. I don’t know why, but it twisted my head in a pretzel. So, especially if you have multiple bookings in one day, try not to overlap them! The zoom calendar is super helpful that way!

What Voice Over Client Correspondence is Appropriate during a pandemic?

As a small business owner, this is a very personal choice, but to me the line is extremely clear: the only unsolicited  communication that should happen during a pandemic is genuine, caring correspondence. Period. If you have spent years of your life building and maintaining client relationships so that each booking is not a one-off, but instead a life-long client relationship, than be a friend and check in. But when I say this I mean genuinely check in with care and concern in your heart. If your heart isn’t in it, don’t do it.

Why is it wrong to try to see yourself right now?

If you are reaching out to folks you have already worked with, odds are they know as soon as they see your name and your email that you are a voice actor. If they needed you for a booking they would have asked. I have been checking in on clients. At radio stations, the program directors and operations managers are working with skeleton crews and their limited crews are running multiple stations and doing the jobs of many.  They are working long hours just to keep radio going. Other clients tell me with great concern how their business has been decimated. Those who also do live events have had massive cancellations. So does this seem like the time to ask how their projects are and send a demo? NO.

This is a test…

This time period will pass. Some companies we have worked with will exist when this is over, and others won’t. If you have clients, actual clients that you have worked with repeatedly, be a friend now. Be supportive. Don’t make it about you. When the pandemic ends, regardless of what is left of their business, do you went to be remembered as a greedy pest or a supportive, kind soul? Only you can decide what your Coronavirus legacy will be, but I would much rather be defined by posting too many pictures of my precious dogs than by stalking my clients in their darkest hour.

One of our oldest family friends who lost her son waiting for a heart lung transplant at CHOP the year I graduated from college said something to me years ago that stuck: never compare suffering. I keep hearing friends say that this is worse than 9/11. Having been in New York City on 9/11, even saying that out loud makes me want to vomit, and I have a hard time conceptualizing how in such a short period of time we can actually, as a collective people, go through something that is worse. So, I hope that you will forgive me if instead of blogging about voice overs or life as a working mom, today I will use my weekly blog post to attempt to deal with what I am struggling with, as others most be struggling too.

The Numbers…

Intellectually I understand that the numbers of deaths from Covid-19 in my home state of New Jersey have now surpassed those from 9/11, but even hearing this over and over it does not feel real. According to NJ.com, as of this morning 846 people have died in NJ from the Corona Virus and 704 died on 9/11. On 9/11 I was a proud NYC resident living on the Upper West Side and Teahing History on the Upper East Side. Those statistics are also not great: according to Politico yesterday, 2700 New Yorkers perished on 9/11 and as of yesterday 2935 have succumbed to the corona virus. So yes, I get it, in terms of the numbers the virus is much worse.

The Timing

If you ask most people, especially New Yorkers, where they were on 9/11, they can tell you precisely where they were and what they were doing when the towers were hit. I was with my department chair at the Nightingale-Bamford School, Kitty Gordon, for out weekly Tuesday morning. Her assistant Sharon interrupted us to tell us the news. We were shocked but we continued out meeting. I then went to teach my 8th grade American History class, and as the girls started to panic about their parents who worked in the area, I realized that my now husband then fiancee was across the street. For me, the horror of that day unraveled in a few hours. Harlan felt the impact of the second tower being hit at his desk and was up and running. Harlan saw things that day, as many New Yorkers did, that no human should ever see. He saw the giant gaping holes in the towers as they stood and he saw people making there terrifying exits. Harlan ran to the west side highway and then walked all the way up to me at Nightingale at 92nd and 5th Avenue. He was there at dismissal with his parents. Harlan and I then had to walk some students home to the west side. We were blessed. We survived as did our family.

For me, the time factor of the corona virus is different. 9/11 was a sudden shack. The attack was rapid and unexpected. In the aftermath people came together, but the attack was over. With covid-19, the attack is slow and lingering and one never really knows when it will strike and where the danger is. The pace seems to change everything. There are daily challenges and then within the struggle we grasp at silver linings. There is terror mixed with blessings. This “new normal” as so many call it is bizarre. For me, in the midst of this setting, the statistics only serve as a reminder that we are all still stuck in this, unable to go back as life to the way it was in February, which seems like a lifetime ago.

There Were No Silver Linings With 9/11

For me, I have a hard time even looking at the 9/11 memorial. I become extremely emotional. I do not like taking the path train to the World Trade Center. The made it so nice that I just feel vulnerable all over again. Having been through 9/11, it still, even today, feels too raw and I cannot feel any silver linings.

The current Corona virus situation is terrifying in a different way, but for me, the pace is slow. Even though we are surrounded by death and suffering, there have actually been some silver linings. Here is my list, maybe it will help you:

  • Since we are all home we got a Labrador Retriever puppy.
  • We are all cooking together a lot.
  • We are eating healthy, balance meals.
  • We are spending time as a family.
  • My husband and I are going for walks every day.
  • My kids are learning to do chores around the house.
  • We are not putting many miles on our cars.
  • We are polluting less.
  • My kids are happy not to take the train to school.

All of these silver linings are fine and dandy as long as my family gets through this unscathed. I think the hardest part for me is not seeing our extended family: my parents, my in-laws, my sister…. and we don’t know when we will see them. The unknown is scary and in this scenario it could go on and on. Never will we take wellness for granted again.

For those of Us Who Already Worked From Home….

As a full time voice over actor, I’ve been working for home for years. I loved being in my booth in total quiet with my dog, now dogs. Before Covid-19, I had the entire house to myself the majority of the day as both my husband and my twins commute for work and for school. Now, they are all home. The quiet his gone and there is pacing, lots of zoom sessions, conferences calls, endless meals and snacks, and even though we are a family of four humans and two dogs, it feels like what was once a delightful, calm haven is now as chaotic as a New York City train station in rush hour.

The crazy thing is that I feel like as a momtrepreneur I had really just found my groove in the past year or two. I had gotten the hang, finally, of what had to be done when, and figured out how to balance my family and professional responsibilities. And just as I got comfortable with my life, a pandemic struck and suddenly, like many, I find myself juggling many more balls than I want to manage, and none of these balls can be dropped. Really, each ball is much more like a fragile egg and represents an important segment of our life that now needs to be managed, or worse, micro-managed. From cleaning the bathrooms to grooming the dogs, all of these tasks that used to be done by others are now also mine. Not that I can’t do it, I just regret that I have to. I think we have all seen the tweet about our grandparents being called to war and we just have to sit on the couch, but with this sudden shift, at least for the mom in the family, there is not actually so much couch time.

Some Tips for Coping:

  • Establish boundaries. This is important both for kids and for clients. This actually is good advice that stemmed from a chat with one of my besties Shelley. Often outsiders looking in can see your family and say, “hey, you better stop that right now.” So, in my home I have always loved to work in my den and kitchen when I don’t have to be in my booth recording. Now that my twins are remote learning, they immediately wanted to spread out all over, including these spaces that I have always relished as my productive spaces. I immediately reminded them that they need to work in the dining room or there rooms. We cannot all remain silent while they are online with theirqw23 school. It just is not practical. This very important boundary has helped keep the sanity.

Likewise, clients are all working from home now and they may be testing the limits of professionalism.  While I have always accommodated different time zones, as my household responsibilities have now multiplied exponentially, I need to set boundaries to work hours.  It is ok to say “I wrk from 7 am to 7 pm.” These are unusual times and we have to make sure we take care of ourselves and our families.

  • Delegate Household Tasks. Typically, we are fortunate to have a cleaning lady. At present we are paying her not to come in. Our house is rather large and I simply cannot maintain it in the way that we are used to on my own, even if I did not have a business to run which I do. Further, as I want my kids to know how to maintain their own place and they’ll be living on their won sooner than I can believe, learning these life skills is actually really good for them. We have made a chore chart and a schedule. Certain chores are being done on certain days. Then the twins switch off. For example, yesterday Emma dusted the entire house and Jack cleaned all the knobs and handles with lysol and emptied all the trash. Today I will do all 6 bathrooms. Harlan will vacuum. Tomorrow Harlan and I will change the sheets together. As a family it is much easier than as individuals.
  • Plan Ahead. I have been doing meal planning for a while, but this involves a new level of planning. In our area, the markets and online services have terrible shortages. Planning ahead makes it posable to avoid going without.  It also makes it less stressful. My kids constantly want to know what we are having, so the schedule is reassuring to everyone.
  • Maintain Work/Family Schedule: Planning ahead is not just essential for meal planning, now that everyone is home and the kids need academic support and we all have to share a space, a schedule is essential to functioning as a unit and being considerate of everyone’s needs. Each member of the family, from my husband to the dogs, has a routine and needs that all overlap. Working together is a much better plan then a melt down. I mentioned at the start of this blog that I am juggling a lot more balls now. The kids teachers have been amazing about adapting the curriculum to being online, but they now want to discuss their work. They seem to be watching movies in everything from Music to History, and having a family schedule means we can enjoy these moments together. That leads me to my final point.
  • Find and Relish the Silver Linings: While we may all be social distancing to avail a life threatening virus, some really special time with our families and neighbors (at a distance of course) is the result of this time at home. In my family, right before this shut-in period we got a beautiful new puppy named Daisy, and she has been a great distraction. My husband typically commutes to NYC and works very long hours. Instead, he is here and each afternoon we are going for long walks together. I love every single minute with him and I know that I will miss this time so much when live as it was before resumes. I know that my kids really miss their time with their friends, and as soon as they can they will be out and about again, so I love every single moment I get that we are all together. I very much wish that this virus were not so scary and that I did not fear for the lives of the people I love the most, but in the mean time I try to focus on this gift of time with my family.

It’s Not all Movie Nights and Puppy Snuggles

For those of us solopreneurs who have worked from home for years, some aspects of social distancing surrounding Covid-19 are not new. We are working from home. Well, as a full-time voice over actor I was already doing that. The new challenge is that my entire family is now here. While I am thrilled that we now have the option of spending all of this quality time together, I still am eager to provide the best possible customer service to both my present, existing clients and to folks now in need of voiceover services. To that end, so that you can fully understand the range of what is out there, I have put together this brand new Covid-19 demo for you. It is a multi-genre demo, thematically linked by our present situation. I hope that it supports your present needs. Here is how else I can help you:

New, Informative Phone Messages

Your phone messages are a great way to update all callers of the new changes. Hours, new policies, current procedures all can be added to both greetings, after hours messages, and on hold messages. I have always done a lot of telephony and IVR work and can help with script writing if need-be. It is very important to reassure all clients that business goes on, even if there are changes at the moment. Great phone messages are a huge help, and rush options are certainly available if you need them!

Engaging, Sincere PSAs

After years of doing commercials and PSAs, never did I anticipate voicing them for such a time of need. But maternal emotion aside, our moment has come. I will work with you and your team to bring the nuanced script to life and make your PSA stand out from the rest. Are you looking to emphasize hope right now? Perhaps you want to reassure your base? Maybe you have a solution to the problems your clients are having. I get it and I have the sincere, relatable voice to calm your customers right now.

Helpful Explainers

Explainer videos have always been fundamental to letting customers know what services you provide and how things work. In these uncertain times, now more than ever, updating explainers to make them relevant to today’s current corona virus situation makes sound business sense. Bulk pricing is available if you have a lot of content that needs updated.

In Store Announcements

Does your store have in-store announcements? Some play over the entire store. Some play at checkout. If so, they are likely to change now with the new and constantly evolving virus news. Further, you likely need a full time talent who is in the studio a lot and is available to keep up with the rate of change. I am there to support you in these endeavors.

Updated eLearning

Often companies have spent years creating content libraries that represent their strategy and business practices. In light of current virus concerns, this content is not irrelevant, it just needs tweaking, updates, and revisions to reflect new corporate procedures. With so many working from home, everything from time sheets to pay role to team check-ins is now different. I am here for all of your content needs and can get them to you as soon as you need them. For large eLearning projects, if there is a bulk of work, I offer retainer agreements.

Full Service Production with Industry Partners

This can be an overwhelming time when so much needs to be recorded all at once! Don’t worry, I have you back! Over the years I have built fantastic relationships with industry partners. If you know what you need, your budget, and when you need it, I have a fantastic team who can offer full production. From script writing to video and audio, I can coordinate the entire project for you on time and within budget.

Live Sessions in Broadcast Ready Home Studio

As always, I record everything in my broadcast ready home study on my Neumann TLM 103, Avalon M5 preamp, Steinberg UR12 Interface, and Macbook Air with Twisted Wav. I offer live sessions with flexible hours as I am always in the studio full time via Source Connect, Zoom, and Skype. I am always happy to self direct too, but for jobs over $250, I always offer the option of a live session, so that you have what you want when you want it. Audio recorded in live sessions is final delivery, as is industry standard. I never end a live session into my clients are thrilled with the audio.

 

Making Lemonade

This time of social isolation is hard for everyone, even those of us that work in padded foam booths. It is not easy to stay apart from those that we love, to avoid our favorite people and our favorite places. Most of us have never been told to do something like this before and that our lives depend on it. It is in this most unusual setting that as a working creative I still see meaning in my work, usefulness, and purpose. As a working mom, I am often juggling my home life and my professional life. My son asked my for help with an essay he has to write about Kate Chopin The Awakening. Jack had to read some articles of commentary and react. The articles talked about how Chopin creates a reality that is both a utopia and a dystopia at once. This resonated with me and had so much meaning in light of our present pandemic. I can still do what I love. I am surrounded by the people I love. I have these to precious dogs who I love. Everything looks the same, but everything is different. In the face of this, I prefer to make lemonade.