live 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!

Why The Change was Necessary

I will start by saying that the past five years have flown by and while I have had to seek help with my studio gear, my MacBook Air has been dependable in every way since its purchase. I have not had issues with my computer. I have been extremely happy since switching from a PC to a Mac, and have been extremely happy with the MacBook Air specifically. So, why switch? Well, as per my blog last week, I made a lot of gear upgrades in my studio recently. The early 2015 MacBook Air I have only has one Thunderbolt B port and NO, as an not a single one, Thunderbolt C ports, and it was not possible to have both my pre-amp and my studio monitor hooked up simultaneously, while both are essential. So, I made the choice to upgrade.

Why Did I Pick the iMac?

To be clear, my MacBook Air is still running fine. It completely functions and has not changed in any way, it is just missing some essential ports. This is sad. So, when looking at apple offerings, I decided that since I have a working laptop, I could focus on a great desktop. In truth, I have always wanted one. In the pre-pandemic world, when I could actually enter a store and look around, I always thought it would be great to work at a desk top. I decided this time the desktop made sense. The iMac had the right requirements in terms of storage and speed. I got a track pad and the 21.5 inch screen. All I had to do was wait about 10 days for the iMac to ship from Shanghai to New Jersey!

The SetUp-How did it Go?

The set up went well. It took me most of the day. It arrived around 10:30 am and by dinner I was up and running, and the timing was pretty good. Coming the Friday of a holiday weekend is ideal as the bookings I have for live sessions will not be until next week anyway. I had heard some horror stories of industry friends recently setting up new computers, so I was not optimistic or overly enthusiastic and I expected it to take a while. The initial backup from iCloud went ok. Then I had to install my UAD software. Since I had just done this with Tim last week on the laptop, I still remembered how and it was not fast but I was able to do it. I was worried about getting my settings onto the iMac, but I was actually able to use airdrop to move them from one computer to the other. Twisted Wave setup was a little tricker for me. I spent a while putting in my many keyboard shortcuts. I could not figure out why my effects stack would not open in its entirety. I realized I had to find my initial izotope purchase, download that, enter the ilok, and then open the effects stack. I was getting a little nervous that I would need a session with Tim, but to my own surprise I was able to get it going! I am happy to report that the monitor in my booth connected with ease and I am so thankful to have my booth in working order. I am still making tweaks like syncing my drop box and connecting my pay to plays in my chrome short cuts, but for the most part it is set up how I want it!

What Is Still Missing- Source Connect

I was successfully able to download and install the software for Source Connect. I use the Pro version 3.9 and thankfully I pay for support, so there is no crisis, I just wish I had it up and running. The hiccup for me is repointing the location from the MacBook Air to the iMac. I am also curious if I can run Source Connect on both computers or not. I set up the soonest support session I could, which will be this coming Tuesday at 5:30, and all my questions will be answered. This also made me realize that I had to get zoom up and running, so thankfully that is now set up on my iMac as well.

Thoughts and Plan- Upstairs/Downstairs

Rome was not built in a day, and I am sure that in the coming days and weeks I will realize other applications that need to be installed on the iMac. I am thankful, though, that I accomplished as mush as I did at the start. My plan is that the desktop will live in my office space and my MacBook Air will now reside upstairs and will also be dedicated to my travel rig. It has only been since Friday, 48 hours, but so far this seems like a really wonderful upgrade. Ultimately, this isn’t about just changing computers, right. I had a setup that was working until it wasn’t. I made a change. I used to really fear change, but I know know (more than understand, actually know) that change makes me better and presents opportunity.

My Chat With Liz…

So last night I was chatting with one of my besties who is not in voice over, Liz. Liz is one of those amazing geniuses and every conversation could go on forever because she is a goddess of her own life. A phd in chemical engineering, she is one of the most grounded people I have ever met despite her super important job at a pharmaceutical company. We were initially chatting about Unorthodox which I just finished watching on Netflix, and then the conversation shifted to work. She had hoped that my work would be positively impacted by the pandemic, and then I think Liz got an earful that she did not really want about my experience as a working creative during the Covid-19 pandemic.

My Bookings…

What I explained to Liz, and what is interesting, is that during the Pandemic I continue to book what I have always booked, there is just less of it. So what am I still booking? Commercials, eLearning, and telephony/IVR. For me, the amount of jobs I typically have in a day or even half a day on some weeks I am having total in a week. I am thankful for every single booking, but the volume of booked work for me during the pandemic has gone down. Typically, I do a lot of radio commercials. The commercials I have booked this month have been radio commercials. They have been from steady clients who continue to send work. Some are for clients here and some have been for clients abroad, as far as New Zealand. 

In terms of eLearning work, again, this is for clients that I had before the pandemic started. They needed me for specific work and we had live sessions booked via source connect. They were not canceled and I was very thankful.

The IVR work that I have had come in, believe it or not, has not been covid specific! This shocked me. It was just companies that needed messages. I gather some companies do not want to invest in temporary phone systems. I would not have predicted this, but this has been the case in the past two weeks.

My Auditions….

There have been some big differences in auditions so I think I should go point by point:

  • Quantity: On the pay to plays that I am on there are significantly fewer auditions. I continue to get a lot of private invitations and I am thankful for that, but in terms of daily numbers of postings, there is dramatically less. There also seem to be a lot of other talents submitting right away. On Friday, for example, I got an invitation for a job that wanted 10 auditions. My kids were off from school last week. Not remote learning, just on Spring Break, so I was giving them lunch. I waited about 40 minutes to submit, which is not so long. By the time I submitted there were already 32 submissions for the listing that wanted 10!
  • Rush Required: I see a lot of jobs, both from agents and on pay to plays, with RUSH in the specs. The turn arounds are very fast and they need availability to record in a very short window. I do not know if expectations have shifted as they know we cannot go anywhere, but I gather a lot of new content is needed and the clients are genuinely in a hurry to put out relevant content that makes sense in light of all that has changed, and the producers just need to accommodate the clients.
  • Source Connect Required: More than any other time in the past 5 years, I have seen Source Connect required when jobs are posted. I am seeing requests specifically for Source Connect more than Zoom, Skype, ISDN, or ipDTL. A lot of specs tell talent not to audition if they do not have the professional, paid for version of Source Connect up and running already.
  • Agent Specs Are Changing: Agent specs are becoming more specific than ever before and there is a sense of no-messing around. All of the above is true of the listings that agents are sending out, and some agents are sending out job listings before they even know the rates. Listings the previously would have been LA only are now open to those of us with Source Connect. Things are shifting…

Feelings About Supporting the Community…

In general it feels like everyone is being very kind and supportive. It feels like it is a time when a lot of people are looking to reconnect. Still, I have gotten my fair share of inquiries from those new to the industry or those looking to move into voice over now. When I started in VO, I never expected free advice, and this does not seem like the time for free advice. After years of working hard to build my business and coming up with clever and innovative ways to get on rosters, with no shortcuts, I find it frustrating when those who have been curious about voiceover for five minutes feel entitled to what the rest of us came by through hard work. This is not the time to expect the keys to the castle for free. I do feel that there is a profound difference between networking and keeping in touch and crossing a line. Let’s all use this time to lift each other up, make the community stronger, and help those in our network already who need it.

How do you get the ball rolling?

In the past few days I have had a few different buyers or clients reach out to me to inquire about my services. One called from a block number. Another sent me a message on LinkedIn asking me to email their client with my rates and samples. Another emailed through the contact form on my site. I can tell you that all get greeted with the same enthusiastic response and all, whether the job is $200 or $2000, are treated the same.

If you are hiring a voice over actor for your first time, the ease of booking them and the booking process in general gives you a glimpse into how easy this talent is to work with. I have a set process that I use every time that includes quick responses, quotes, turnarounds, pickup/and revision policies, and more. If a talent is difficult to track down for the initial booking, it should be a red flag.

So, this is what my process is like:

The initial contact:

I typically respond as soon as I here from a client. If I get a phone call I respond by phone. Often if I get an email I will even respond by phone. According to voice123, my average response time is 11 minutes, but I typically respond as soon as I see a client correspondance as I understand that you need your work quickly. I take notes on the call so that everything that you tell me about what you want happens in the audio you are delivered. I also need details about the job itself including the usage and run of the job. That will now be addressed below.

Quoting the Job:

Many important details go into quoting a voiceover booking. I typically offer several options to my clients and let them choose the option that best represents their needs, but this is what I need to give a client a quote for their job:

  • The Script: I simply must see the script to give a quote. What you think of as an explainer my actually be employee training or an industrial. We need to also confirm the word count. The script is essential.
  • the Usage_ I need the client to confirm with the team what the usage is. For example, is it internal or will it run on social media? If it runs on social media, will it be organic or paid placement? For how long?
  • How long is the run? They are typically from 6 weeks to a year. I generally quote jobs up to a year and add a calendar reminder at that point in case a client wants to renew their media buy. I do not do buyouts in perpetuity.
  • Revisions. For jobs over $250, I include one round of minor revisions. If clients need more than that I scaffold that into the pricing.
  • Pickups: I also price out my pickup policy and always give the courtesy of delivering them as promptly as the initial audio was delivered.
  • Live of guided sessions: For live sessions I have Source Connect, ipDTL, ISDN, and skype and am happy to use whatever the client prefers! I literally use that line in my “Seal the Deal” email, and for any job over $250 I am happy to do I live session. I always record backup audio and the audio from a live session is considered final delivery, which is industry standard.

All of the above is factored into the quote.

Confirming the Booking

Once a client emails that they have cast me in a spot or booking, I send what I call me “Seal the Deal” email. This goes over all of the details thus far.

  • It confirms in writing that I have the job.
  • It confirms what they want for the booking.
  • It confirms what they need and when it will be delivered.
  • It finalizes any and all requests about the audio in terms of tone, pacing, whether the client needs a WAV or an MP3 or both.
  • If there is a live session it confirms those details as well.
  • It confirms that the script that I have is the final script.

Making it as Easy as Possible

In the end, it should be as easy as possible for the client to have what they need. It should be clear and prompt. The client should be overjoyed that they have found you and instilled with confidence in your capabilities because you are clearly on top of it. If you drop the ball at the beginning, how can they ever trust you.  I want every first job to be the first of many jobs, so I take this system very seriously and want my clients to know that every single project matters.

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.

It’s That Time of Year Again…

It’s hard to believe that it’s June and sunscreen and bug spray are repeat items on our weekly shopping list again. My twins’ final exams are over and summer vacation is in site. My kids are teenagers so we have a few exciting new times on our agenda. My daughter is going away for the first time to a summer program at a college and both kids are getting their driving permits, fingers crossed. As a full-time working mom who runs my own business, I want to make summer special for them while still meeting my professional goals and working full days. Like many women who work, I am juggling a lot of balls, but somehow when the whether is beautiful and the sun is shining I feel like I can do it all. Over the years of being a momtrepreneur, I have come up with the following tips to make our summers flow in a way that makes sense for everyone.

1. Plan Ahead

I am trying to keep a straight face as I write this part, but planning ahead is very helpful. Even in a business where many of my commercial bookings come in 12 hours or less in advance, planning ahead and having a schedule makes life a lot less stressful.  If I can look at my week and see when the kids have to be various places and what I have on my plate in terms of my bookings and my clients’ needs, I can best accommodate everyone without stress. As summer weeks tend to have a lot more variation in schedule than our weeks during the school year, planning ahead helps a lot with scheduling live or guided sessions, and with making sure that I leave ample time for editing. At the same time, if my kids need to be driven to activities, plans with friends, etc, I am ahead of the curve.

2.  Block Off Time Specifically for Summer Fun

Even though I have financial goals that must be met every month,  summer is the right time to take off for fun indulgences like days at the beach or catching a show in New York City. Since it is impossible to spend special days like this with my kids during the school year, I block chunks of time throughout the summer so that I make sure these days are available. In fact, our first special day is coming up this Friday. I have blocked half a day for my niece’s pre-school graduation. Does this mean that I will not meat my monthly minimum? Last year, I was able to meet my goals and actually surpassed them in both July and August. I find that I am extremely motivated by doing well for my children, so carving out this time in my schedule makes me even fresher when I step back into the booth.

3. Keep Kids Stimulated

A key to a successful summer is not just how well a mom organizers her time, but also how busy the kids are kept! I have found that when my kids are meaningfully engaged they are happy and fulfilled and everything goes more smoothly. For example, last summer my kids volunteered as counselors at a camp they went to for years. It was a really rewarding job and they very much enjoyed it. They came home tired but happy. I got my work done and they were busy. If you can make plans like that for your children, your summer will be a lot easier for everyone!

4. Put it All in Perspective

Summer is a time for hammocks and lemonade, for flip flops and coverups. Summer is not the time for harsh criticism and self-assessment. After a few years of juggling work and motherhood, I can tell you that it will all be ok. There might be some days where your kids have to wait for you. They may not be able to swim when they want. You may also miss a client call because you took your kids to the park or to see friends. It’s ok. We all expect so much of ourselves all the time. We make so many plans and so many promises. If all of it gets done, that’s wonderful. If most of it gets done, great. What I have learned is that I always get essential tasks done. Everything else is gravy.

The other thing I now realize is that your kids learn so much from how you, as a mom, handle these situations. I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to remember me smiling and laughing and enjoying them, and not as a crazy basket case. Just give them the summer that you really want, and no one ever fantasized about a summer at their desk!