guided sessions

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!

It’s a Conundrum

I have so many good days, when I am super productive, I have tons of energy, and I get more accomplished than I had ever thought possible. On such days, sometimes a crazy thought creeps through my head: what if they’re gone? What if just as suddenly as they came, I will never get a migraine again? Then, like a load of bricks dropped on my head, I wake from my sleep with the throbbing pain behind my right eye and I hope that I get the medication in me in time so that I can take the lowest dosage possible. So, how can the good days seem so immeasurably good and then the bad days I am just so thankful for each task that is completed. When making toast seems like climbing Mount Everest, the vast contrast between the good days and the bad days of this working mom is mind blowing. But here’s the real kicker: I speak for a living. As a migraine sufferer, on bad days, I don’t want to talk. At all. The sound of my voice seems to echo against the inside of my head and is excruciating. How frustrating that all of the things I am passionate about, including voice over, are not easy on migraine days.

Making it Work

As a working mom I try hard to exhibit good coping for my twins Emma and Jack, so laying curled up in a ball on the sofa all day is not a good longterm strategy for a chronic problem. When I’m “lucky,” and believe me I am using that word loosely, my migraines will come on a weekend and I can sleep them off. Often they come as they like as they are triggered by all sorts of things: stress, lack of sleep, my cycle, the weather, so in short- life triggers them. When they come on a week day I try to take the medicine as early as I can. I tend to be a heavy sleeper and wake up confused, but if I can actually get the medication in me early, that helps. I try to always have both coffee and ginger ale in the house as they help. My strategy then changes. Daily routines will be completed, but anything extra gets pushed to another day. Nothing fun will happen on a migraine day. I try to give myself a break and only do what is essential. Booked work will be recorded. Auditions will likely be skipped. All emails will be replied to. I will likely defer any direct marketing. In terms of mom tasks, if I can ask Harlan to help with anything, I do!

Planning Ahead

My migraines started when I had my twins, almost 17 years ago. It is safe to assume I will have them until the kids go to college, so now, like with everything else, I plan ahead. Here are some tricks that help me a lot, just in case a whopper of a head ache should descend:

              • Pack school lunches the night before. I actually make sandwiches or entrees for a few days at a time so that I just have to grab the sides each night. It really speeds things up!
              • Have set laundry days.
              • Order groceries weekly so your house is always stocked with the basics at minimum.
              • Plan your food for the week. I have a weekly print out so if I am down for the count someone can figure out the food.
              • Make sure to refill the migraine medication regularly. It is terrible to realize that you have run out at 3 am when you really need it. Keep a stock of it on hand.
              • If you cannot drive on your medication, as I often cannot, make sure you have carpool arrangements that are flexible for your kids.

Voice Over Specific Issues and Migraine

There are work related tasks that I will and won’t do on migraine days. I will happily do any self-directed sessions at my leisure. I will happily record short and normal length scripts. A migraine day is not the day to have an ISDN session with new clients and multiple people giving directions. My brain just can’t process the input and it is not a smart, career promoting move. I also wouldn’t promise to deliver 10,000 words of eLearning with a migraine. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t record a few modules, but I pride myself on being a meticulous editor, and nothing is meticulous when you are on such strong headache medicine. The other task I would avoid on migraine days is voice matching. I have a knack for being able to match others’ voices and my own past jobs. But, on a headache day, that is just too tricky and I would wait.

Pros of Working with a Migraine Sufferer

Yes, I wish my migraines would stop and never come back. But, I do think they have changed me. I have so much more understanding of what people with much more serious chronic illnesses go through. I am much more patient. I am genuinely thankful for every non-migraine day. I am very sympathetic when others have to reschedule and are under the weather.

If  You are a Professional Voice Over Actor, Be Professional

As a full time professional voice over actor, I am well-aware that my clients have options, so I want to make it really easy for my VO clients to work with me! I consider my business model to be client centered, I put their needs first, and try to put myself in their shoes always. Whether they are video production companies, eLearning content providers, or agents, I want them to trust when they book me that the experience will be seamless because I want to make this as easy for them as possible. Why? I want them to come back over and over again, so I want to be their go to voice in my vocal range.  Outstanding service is what sets the bar higher. Pristine audio is a given. It is assumed that the sound matches either our demos or the audition we have sent in, so the way to stand out and have clients keep coming back is to give them what they need and make the experience a delight! Here’s what I offer every time:

Rush Jobs and Fast Turn Arounds

I assume when you hire me that you need your audio back as quickly as possible. Typically when you cast me in a project, you will immediately (my average response time is 9 to 11 minutes) get my “Seal the Deal” email that confirms all the details. This will confirm the rate, the turn around time, and any questions that I may have about the booking. Unless you tell me when you send me the booking that you don’t need it for several days, I assume you want it as soon as I can get it to you. I often have people contact me about RUSH jobs and tell me that they need it “right away.” To me, that implies they need me to stop what I am working on and record their project. For that I add a $50 RUSH fee. Otherwise, I typically will have your job back to you in four to six hours.  If it will be longer, the exceptions are if I am on location somewhere and I let you know. Always. Right away.

Weekend Hours

I am happy to work on the weekends if you need something. I also have clients in different time zones around the world, so sometimes they send me something on a Friday but it does not get to me until Saturday and for them to have it on Monday it needs to be done on the weekend. No problem! I understand that you have a client on the other end who needs what they need, and I want to provide you with the finished audio. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me on the weekend if you need something. I am very passionate about my work and happy to do it!

Live Sessions at their Convenience

As a professional voiceover talent and gal who loves playing with gadgets, I am happy to provide my clients with multiple options for guided or live sessions! I offer Source Connect, ipDTL, ISDN, Skype, and Zoom. I have even had clients just ask me to put them on speaker phone. Whatever is easiest for the client is fine with me! I want my clients to feel at ease so that they can simply communicate what they want and have the finished audio that they need. That’s it. If you ask me if I have a favorite? Sure, but at the end of the day, the client has to be at ease and feel that they had the session they wanted.

Invoice Their Way

After I deliver the finished audio, whether I have self-directed or had a live session, I send an invoice immediately. I know some folks wait until Fridays. That is not my practice. I send an email delivering the finished audio, typically via drop box, with a summery of the audio, and in that email I describe the multiple ways I happily accept payment because I want to make it easy for my clients. I take credit cards, paypal, Zelle, checks, wire transfer, and more. Now, I have more and more eLearning clients that have specific invoicing protocol. This is fine! I simply send their invoice their way! The point is to make it easy for the client as I can adapt.

Be Client Friendly

In an industry where clients have choices, customer service matters! I want my clients to know how much I appreciate every opportunity, and I want to make it as easy as possible for them to work with me. I think back to times I have had to buy a gift for someone and  hesitated because of the wait at the store or how long it took the clerk to wrap the gift. At the end of the day, I want my service to match the quality of my audio: outstanding is the only option.

Booking Work is Great, But Repeat Clients Are Event Better

Every time a job comes in for a voiceover actor it is a good day! Jobs for us come from many different sources, but it can be simplified by saying a job is either from a new client or from a repeat client. For me, about 70% of my work is from repeat business. I’m not sure how this compares to the rest of the industry, but I am delighted that folks keep coming back! When a new client sends me work, it is my hope that it is just the beginning of our work together and I do everything that I can to make them happy. So, what are some of the tips and tricks to keeping my voiceover clients coming back for more?

Case Study of Now Foods

I thought to best way to understand what works, is by doing a case study of  a client I have had the pleasure of working with a lot in the past year.  Let’s look at my work with NOW Foods. Above is just one of quite a few projects I have done for them. Initially I booked the gig from a cattle call audition on Voices123. A video production company hired me. I loved their team and the project went well. There were no revisions or pickups and they were great to work with. I followed up with a thank you not and that was that.

A few months later that same producer reached out and said the company wanted to work with me directly and asked if I minded. I said I was happy to do whatever was easy for them. To my delight the company reached out and I have had the opportunity to work with them several times. I have made it a point to be:

  • responsive
  • have fast turnarounds
  • friendly
  • appreciative of the work

I think the combination of all of these factors is critical to building lasting client relationships.

Quality of Work

Do a good job! Every job that you do must be outstanding. Whether the job pays a small amount or a small fortune, treat them all the same. You never know which client with the small job today will have a years worth of work tomorrow. Every bit of audio you send out should have the same audio quality: pristine. Do not ever cut corners with your equipment and software. At the end of the day, if does not matter how sweet you are, you are only as good as you sound and if you don’t sound great your clients will never be happy and they will never call again, even if you are the nicest person on the planet.

Relationship Building

You actually have to put effort into building relationships. Some folks in the industry are friendlier than others. I have made an effort to visit clients when I travel. For example, I had a chance to see a regular eLearning client at DevLearn in Las Vegas this past fall.  Since they are based in the MidWest, it meant so much to me to be able to catch up in person. I went to visit another client that I do regular narration work for when I went to Orlando for an eLearning Guild conference last year. I spend time talking to my clients, whether it is at the start of a guided session or during an actual phone call.  Put simply, if you don’t talk to them, you can’t possibly get to know them.

It has also helped me to get to know my clients by reading their “about” sections on their websites. These are often even more personal than what they might share on LinkedIn and I am often amazed by how much we have in common. For instance, it is not only amazing how many of my clients have dogs, but how many of them bring their dogs to work! This makes it so easy to genuinely connect with the people I work with. I also always send both follow up emails and follow up notes. I believe it is essential that your clients know how invested you are in their project and that you are there for them to the end!

Be A Talent they Can Count On…

If you want to be a client’s go to talent, then you need to be someone they know they can count on all the way through the project! Revisions, pickups, and turnaround time all matter! They matter a lot because we all know that folks make script changes. Their teams just change their minds. It has nothing to do with us, most of the time, it just happens. And then sometimes they have no flexibly and need those new recordings right away. So, if we want to make them happy, we will take care of all of this in a jiffy. We will do it with a smile, and we will make it easy for them. And when you are this “Angel of Voiceover,” i promise they will fall in love!