J. Michael Collins

My Wheels Are Turning….

Perhaps because I have been following The Budget Mom, and I have been spending a lot of time thinking about personal finances and where our money goes, it makes sense that in this time of reflection as a working mom I would also reassess what has worked well and been of value in by business and what I might have done or do differently. As a solopreneur, ever single dollar counts and at least in my perception has even more weight than it would in a large company, so for me my choices in my voiceover business matter a lot. I confess that I lay in bed at night thinking about them and praying that I have put myself on the right path so that I succeed for my children. I am passionate about my voice over work to be sure, but I also have a hunger to continue to build a thriving business and every choice matters.

The Demos

The very first choice most talents make is who to work with for their demo and which demo to do. I am EXTREMELY thankful and proud that Anne Ganguzza and I did such an amazing commercial demo. It is the rock solid foundation that my business has grown upon. It was worth every single penny and I am very glad that I invested in that. I feel the same way about my narration demo that I did with Bill DeWees. I also have booked A LOT with my eLearning demo that I  did with J. Michael Collins. I am extremely proud of all of my demos, but I have brought in substantially more work from these 3 demos than all others combined.

I watch these adorable videos that my friend Heather Foster posts on Facebook called things I’d tell my younger self. Well, I was in a big hurry to do a lot of demos and for better or for worse they sure helped me build a full and diverse website. But, had I realized where my bookings would fall, perhaps I could have saved myself some money early on and not rushed to do so many demos. It is hard to commit to that statement, because I have done quite a lot of telephony and IVR, and gotten some great clients like Whole Foods, from that demo (also produced by J. Michael Collins) but the majority of my bookings continue to be commercials.

Equipment Purchases

I am very happy with my studio. I am very thankful to have high end equipment in a well-treated booth.  I built my studio early in my career and made upgrades as I got big, steady contracts for consistent work. This made sense at the time and it still makes sense. I had lots of industry people make digs about spending money and I had to filter them out. In fact, I probably should have invested in my expensive microphone, my Neumann TLM 103, when I started, instead of spending $500 on a mid-range mic only to upgrade within a few years. I intended to succeed and I did, and my studio, which is acoustically treated to perfection and also has an amazing pre-amp, is a huge piece of the puzzle. I am very happy about these purchases and filtering out the nay-sayers was a good move on my part. If you want to succeed in voice over, that is often a piece of the puzzle.

My Website

Home-NEW

I am VERY pleased with my website and my website team, but I have made some mis-steps- not with them, on my own. In the beginning, I worked with the brilliant Anne Ganguzza to do my branding. She was fabulous and I am pleased with all she helped create. When Joe Davis and Karin Barth at Voiceactor Websites came into the picture, we made some great upgrades. I am happy with everything I have done with them and pleased with all I have invested.

At some point a few years ago I decided to create a separate entity for government bidding. I created a separate webpage for this. I regret spending the money on this page and not just adding another page to my current site.  I took a lot of advise from a government contracting mentor outside of voiceover, and his did not understand the voice over industry well enough. It is not in my best interest having two separate pages. It is often frustrating. I spent a lot of money and time on this and regret these choices.

I also made another mis-step with my main website. When I initially built my page, I first made it a scrolling page instead of a multipage site. Then when I wanted to add pages, I asked a random person to do it. It was a mess. I had to go back to Joe and Karin and ask them to fix everything. I felt terrible to have sidestepped them, which was years ago, and had to do a major website upgrade. It worked out in the end but I wish I had invested in a more elaborate website from the start. I had no idea how much work I would do.

Final Analysis

Don’t be short sited. Make choices that make your life easier. Work with kind people who are helpful. You can always spend money later, but if you are booking from something, you don’t need something else. Just keep doing what you are doing!

This is,  after all, the foundation of your career!

Recently another local mom who I am connected with on LinkedIn reached out and asked me if I could “point her son in the right direction” so that he can consider pursuing voiceover. After 5 plus years as a full time, professional voice over talent, I know better than to name names, but I can give you some pointers to think about when you are considering which voiceover coach to work with. It is a big decision, one that will hopefully shape the trajectory of your career, so you should think about these points.

  1. Is there a demo on the horizon?

Whether you are a newbie or an established talent, you will likely be coming at this from different angles. You may just be honing your skills, so a demo is not in play. If a demo is on the horizon, that changes things. I find it helpful to find other talents who worked with that coach. Listen to their demos. Are they booking? Do they have agents? Who are their clients? Do you actually like their demos? Do they sound current? Is this the sound you want for yourself? I have some demos that I am very very proud of and others that I am not happy with. I was not happy with the coach and for a multitude of reasons I still moved forward with the demo. I very much regret both the money that I spent, the time that I spent, and my own inability to see this coming, especially because it did not happen at the start of my career, but instead when I was a seasoned professional. It is what it is but I will not make that mistake ever again.

2. Does this coach give feedback in a way that you respond to feedback?  Do you actually know how you learn? I am sensitive and while I wish that I could say business is business, I do best with positive reinforcement and constructive guidence. In my career I have worked with a few coaches who are harsh. One of them I could not tolerate and had to stop after several sessions. Another one I did persevere. The result is possibly my best demo. That coach was not mean, he was just also not sweet, and every session was very hard for me. Some coaches use a lot of acting techniques. Others have their own inventive, creative approaches. See what works for you and what you enjoy. Since you invest a lot of time and money in this, I actually believe it should be pleasant.

3. Is the cost within reason? The reality is that this is a business and you need to earn money. often we hire coaches either while we are still working in other jobs and segueing in to voiceover. We all want to avoid demo mills that promise a demo after 5 lessons; but, at the same time,  we don’t want to be on the hook forever. I once worked with an amazing coach who said a “demo is a reflection of where you are now.”  So in a few years when your work changes you make a new demo, right? I like that, especially

I have been fortunate to work with the best of the best. When you have the luxury of working with top coaches, if you are like me you hear their voices in your head when you work all day every day. Anne Ganguzza, J. Michael Collins, and Fred Frees are amongst the dream team that I have assembled, but I have worked with others who continue to inspire me!

when I was starting out. But we all have room to learn and to grow, so at some point we can pull the trigger and move on. I have also supplemented coaching with classes. I have attended online classes through groups like GVAA and VO Peeps that are amazing. I have taken live classes at our local theaters in advanced acting and improv. I have gotten a lot out of these classes and just like with coaching, the classes are only as good as the teacher. 

4. Think outside the box- there are known coaches and then are new folks and are plusses and minuses to both!  I have worked with the biggest names in the industry and I have worked with folks just starting out. When you work with a proven coach who has a curriculum, you benefit from years of experience. You hope that they see your potential and that they correct your flaws. But this does not mean that if someone is new to coaching you should run for the hills. I have had coaches that I think are brilliant and they have had very few students. As long as they are committed to the process and to your success it can work very well.  Their success as a coach is inextricably linked to your success after having been their student, so they typically want to the best for you.

5.  Think about who is choosing the scripts- you or the coach.

I have had this work both ways for lessons as well as for demos. I have had to come up with scripts and write scripts. I have also had to work on scripts that I have never seen before, just like in real life. I think ultimately, for me, I prefer to have the scripts given to me. As a working talent, we don’t pick our scripts. And when they are well written, it seems like a miracle. An absolute miracle. So why would we write scripts that are brilliant, witty, pithy, and not at all like the majority of our actual day to day work? It’s practically a farce. I also think when the coach here’s our raw read it helps with audition technique too.

Conclusions:

When you are  working with a coach, the question you have to ask yourself is are you continuing to learn and grow or have you plateau? Once you have plateaued, you either stop, or if the goal is the demo, you do the demo….

 

It’s a Two Way Street

As a full time, professional voice over actor, I can go on and on about how wonderful most of my clients are. Over my years in the voiceover industry, I have worked really hard to build and maintain relationships with my clients. With every new job that I book, I am not just looking to meet my monthly financial goals, and I am looking to do my very best work for that new client so that they come back again and again.  I try to get to know them. I want to know, in addition to pristine audio, what their unique needs

With an eLearning client at DevLearn last fall and visiting a client in Orlando last Spring:)

are. I love to learn about the specifics of their business. When I also learn personal details about pets and hobbies, well that is even better. The better I connect with I client, the better I can serve their specific needs.

Likewise, I try hard to be easy to work with:) In addition to being responsive and doing the job I am hired to do, I am upbeat and bend over backwards. What do I expect in return? Well…. You would think it would not be so complicated. I am hired to record audio. I record and deliver the audio as per the specs… The best ways I have learned over the years to be a good voiceover client to the folks I work with, whether they are video production teams, talent agents or their clients, ad agencies, marketing executives, include:

1. Confirm the Terms

I am always happy to be cast in every job, so when the initial booking email comes, I immediately follow up with a “Seal the Deal” Letter. Some of my voiceover friends, like Carin Glifrey, call this their “Welcome Letter.” Mine literally begins with the word “Yay” to express both my joy and grattitude. Years ago in a helpful and thorough session with J. Michael Collins he detailed the importance of confirming all of the terms of work upfront. This email has many important components. It:

              • confirms the actual booking
              • confirms the fee
              • confirms the turnaround time on my end
              • asks the client what they need in the finished audio (i.e. WAV or MP3, raw or sweetened)
              • confirmed my policy on revisions and my charge for pickups

I want to serve my clients well, and I think that in order to do so I need to be very clear upfront.

2. Deliver the Audio Exactly as Stated

Next, I take great joy in actually recording the voiceovers that I am hired for. I pay close attention to the specs and the requests of my clients. About 80% of my bookings are commercials, which means I am providing them with multiple versions of the recordings. When I do long form narration or eLearning, I am meticulous with my editing so that I save both of us time moving forward. I take a lot of pride in the audio that I send out, and I know that to be a good client I need to deliver outstanding quality every single time.

3. Be Available for Pickups

To keep my clients happy, I make myself very available for pickups. For my bookings over $250, I include one round of revisions in my quote. For jobs lower than that, I charge $75 per 30 minute session. As I am in my booth full time, and I understand that my clients are on a deadline, I make myself available for these revisions so that my clients have what they need as soon as they need them! Often they have a quick line change or just need one more take, and it is never an issue. I just want my clients to have what they need as soon as possible.

4. Hold them to the Initial Terms

In a business where we often bend over backwards to be a good client and to make our clients happy, we have to remember that it is actually ok to hold them to the terms they initially agreed to. So, if in the “Seal the Deal” email we offer one round of revisions, we should not hesitate to charge for the next round that they ask for. Hugh Edwards just posted a really important article about VO rates and our overhead costs that can be found at

Voiceover Rates – The Biggest Threat To Our Industry

We must continue to maintain our industry standards and hold our clients to the same standards they hold us to. Just as we have to provide them with the audio they need, they must pay for it, and we should not bat an eye at adding to our invoice and sending the update.

5. Follow Through

Ideally, follow through on a great job means sending a thank you note and thanking your client for the opportunity. And when you are lucky and the voiceover gods are smiling down on you, that is the end of it and payment comes anywhere in the 30-90 day window. Sometimes, though, follow through means having to more aggressively pursue payment even when you have bent over backwards to provide outstanding quality and service. How do I go about this?  I have a multi-pronged approach:

              • The thank you note is actual a great reminder of the work that you did.
              • At 30 days and at 60 days my billing software sends an automatic reminder.
              • After 60 days, I send a more direct “friendly reminder” and ask them how everything is going.
              • If I still have not received payment, I cc my husband aka manager who is an attorney at an NYC law firm and he sends a follow up note as my representative. In 5 years this has happened less than 10 times, but every time he has collected in full immediately. Sometimes he has to contact the clients council. Sometimes he has to speak with a CEO. But he always gets paid.

It should not come to that. On the two way street, if we provide the audio, we should be paid, regardless of whether or not it ultimately makes its way to where it is supposed to, that is not part of our deal. We record. We deliver. We are an absolute delight to work with. That makes a voiceover talent a good client. The rest is up to our client to do right by us, and most of the time they do:)