Dan Hurst - Voice Talent

Voiceovers In English or Spanish for commercials, narrations, Radio/TV Promos

 

 

Voiceovers by Dan Hurst in English or Spanish for commercials, narrations, and e-learning.

SPREADIN' IT OUT

 

Published August 4, 2014

Specialized Diversification. It’s a term that is normally used in financial circles, but it’s a key to pretty much any business growth that I can think of.

To define it simply, SD is, for business purposes, becoming a specialist in a select number of areas for the purpose of increased and balanced revenue production.

Generally, all sources of revenue have cycles. There are certainly numerous exceptions to the rule. However, a good example of revenue cycles is the housing construction industry. There just isn’t a whole lot of construction work available in the winter months. Seasonal farming is another example.

In the voiceover business, if one depends on commercials for their income, the brunt of one’s work depends on the retail cycles. Retail cycles certainly vary. For example, automotive sales have their cycle, while the clothing industry has a very different cycle. Even healthcare advertising runs in cycles.

The significant problem that so many voice talents run into is that their income fluctuates with their client’s work cycles.

Enter Specialized Diversification. What if the cycles of your revenue sources worked in some sort of harmony so that your income flow would remain fairly consistent?

Yes, it can be done! However, every voice talent is different, therefore everyone’s Specialized Diversification will be different. Some voice dogs are good at only commercials, but they can do a variety of different kinds of commercials. Some have a vocal delivery style that can slip easily from commercial work to explainer videos, but couldn’t hard-sell if their life depended on it. Some can do corporate eLearning, or even educational eLearning, but haven’t the foggiest idea about how to create a game character. Some can do tons of character voices, but could never pull off an audiobook. Some voices have found their niche in network programming, but couldn’t sell mustard to a hotdog.

But what if you had two or three specialty areas? Niches that you were known for. Fields in which you were considered an expert. And I don’t mean considered an expert by you yourself, but by clients. Several clients. It’s not reasonable to consider yourself an expert in a particular genre if you only have three or four ongoing clients in that field, is it?

One other thing I might mention. I’m talking about building a career here. If voiceovers are a part-time business for you, great. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But be honest with yourself, if you are doing this part-time, you only have part-time to develop it and yourself. That means it’s going to take a little longer before you are ready to diversify.

This whole process is going to take some time. Actually, it may take lots of time.

Like I tell newcomers to the business: Nobody swam the English Channel after just a few swimming lessons.

How do you set up an SD plan that will work for you?

It begins with a brutally honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. That means getting those gut-wrenching insights from people you trust both within the VO business (talent, coaches, producers, agents, etc.) and clients. What are you good at? What are you not so good at? What do you suck at that you think you’re good at? Why hasn’t your business grown more?

And by the way, a little sidebar here. We LOVE to talk about marketing in voiceover circles, don’t we? We think marketing is what grows our business. We’re all looking for the Holy Grail of strategies. What’s the secret? What’s the best? Frankly, most marketing schemes are just “paintin’ a pig.” The pig looks good, but what got accomplished?

Here’s the secret to marketing: Find out who needs what you’ve got and tell them, and quit wasting your time telling people what you’ve got that they don’t want.

OK, back to SD.

Secondly, based on what you are good at doing, what do you need to do to be great in that field? See, experts are people who are great at what they do. Better than others. Maybe not better than everyone else, but better than the majority.

I’ve said this before in a previous blog: Good is based on the market standard. One isn’t even competitive until one is good. Better is stepping beyond good to get noticed. But great is what the client chooses.

Unless, of course, you’ve got a client that doesn’t care, but that’s for another blog.

Become great at what you do and you’ll be busy doing what you’re great at.

Thirdly, and this is critical, choose a complementary genre or niche that you can excel in. One that will produce a revenue stream that flows differently from your #1 field.

Let me explain. I got into the voiceover business much the same way most of us did – doing commercials. I had been in radio, and it was a simple, natural step. However, it took me years to realize that I sounded like a guy in radio doing commercials. Once I got that fixed, I soon realized that there are some types of commercials I just wasn’t good at. So, I began focusing on a handful of categories. As that business grew, I soon realized that the revenue cycles could be tough on the checkbook. About that time a local producer was needing a Spanish voice for some corporate training stuff. The more I got into that, the more I realized that it was something I was pretty good at. And that launched my eLearning genre.

Now, I have three genres that I focus on: commercials, eLearning and network programing. And the revenue flow from those three sources produce a fairly balanced and consistent income, along with great potential for growth.

Fourthly, get the word out. Nobody bought something they didn’t know about.

Well, there was that time back when I was in radio that my boss drunk-dialed one of my infomercials and couldn’t figure out why an exercise bike was delivered to his house. But normally, people know what they’re buying.

So, you have to get the word out. But here’s the secret: people buy what they trust.

A potential client that doesn’t know you might respond to your Madison Avenue marketing push, but even then they’re not going to hire you unless they trust you.

Here’s one of the best things you can do to get the word out: Client relationships. Why? Because clients have other potential clients in their circles of influence. And if people buy what they trust, they are more apt to buy a voice talent on the recommendation of someone they trust. Remember, clients hire great. They also recommend great. If you’re their expert, they are going to recommend you to their friends.

I don’t have any scientific research on this, but I can tell you that about 75% of my new clients come from referrals. I spend very little money anymore on cold marketing. I’d rather spend the money on clients that are already using me and believe in me, because I know they are my best option for new business.

There you have it. Specialized Diversification. It works. I wish I could tell you there is a quicker, smarter way to develop your diversification, but I don’t know of one. We’re in business. Good businesses diversify slowly and steadily as they build strong foundations and discover their real potential.

Think it through!

FIVE WARNING LIGHTS (For Voice Talents)

 

Published June 25, 2014

Have you ever been driving along, enjoying the ride when all of a sudden a warning light on the dashboard flashes on and shatters the calm? It’s scary because you usually don’t know what caused it. What you do know is that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

In the voiceover business there are also warning lights that need to be heeded. Just like with your car, if you don’t heed those warnings, it could cost you money! Maybe a lot of money!

Now, I want to be very clear that what I’m writing about here does not relate to the vast majority of your clients and/or potential clients. The truth is that other than the point about “Improperly Timed Copy,” NONE of this applies to any of my clients (and even then those clients are very few and far between). I have great clients and a great working relationship with them. One reason for that is transparency and understanding. I know what they want and need from me, and they know what I want and need from them. The truth is my clients know these things, and none of them would disagree with any of this.

So, take these warnings as cautions. This article is meant for educational purposes only. Contents under pressure. Use only as directed. Apply only to affected area. Keep cool; process promptly. Not responsible for direct, indirect, incidental or consequential damages resulting from any defect, error or failure to perform. Not delivered by a voice coach or a business consultant, just an incredible simulation. Slightly higher in Colorado. No alcohol, dogs, or horses. Well, maybe horses. First pull up, then pull down. This is not a competition, it is only an exhibition. Published simultaneously in Canada. This information is subject to change without notice.

Here are the five warning signs, not in order of priority, that voice talent need to watch for:

1. One Year to Perpetual Buyouts (For The Price Of A 13 Week Run, or less)

Yes, this is a dangerous one. Buyouts are not uncommon. Especially in non-union jobs. The problem with a buyout is that it may control what you can and cannot do during the length of the buyout.

Example: A local bank wants you to voice their commercial. Since it is a local bank in a small town, and the spot will run only on the local radio station, they are only paying $125. However, they want a complete buyout in perpetuity. Why? Because if they want to use the spot again in a couple of years they don’t want to have to pay additionally for it.

The problem is that two or three years later a larger financial institution wants to use you but their requirement of no conflicts has you in a pickle. Legally, the first bank could run their spot again, and that jeopardizes your agreement with the second bank. If not handled properly, it could even land you in court.

How can you avoid this? If a client asks for a buyout, suggest that instead they accept an exclusive for whatever period of time you are comfortable. If they insist on the buyout on terms that handcuff you, don’t do it. It’s simply not worth it.

I have actually told a potential client that insisted on a cock-eyed buyout that I would agree to it if they would be willing to sign an agreement that they wouldn’t ever use any other voice talent for their commercials.

No, we didn’t come to an agreement.

2. No Charge Revisions

This is a goofy one. If I hire a painter to paint a room in my house, and then after the job is done I ask him to come back and repaint one of the walls – at no charge – because we’ve decided to change the color, what do you think he’ll say to me?

I’ve never understood clients that feel they have the right to expect you to do revisions at no charge.

Now, if you factor those revisions into your price with the client, no problem. But chances are, in order to stay price competitive, you have not done that.

How can you avoid this? You need to be upfront with what revisions will cost. Plain and simple. In fact, what I usually do when I submit my quote for a new job is I add a sentence that indicates that any revisions after the project has been delivered will incur an additional fee. That fee is based on time increments in the studio, and I spell out those costs.

3. Inadequate Copy

This isn’t about an occasionally misspelled word or grammatical gaffe. I’m talking about significant problems with:

Spelling. A significant number of misspelled words is a warning sign that you are not dealing with a client that has a command of the English language. That could be a problem.

Bad Grammar. The problem with bad grammar is that the project will more than likely come back. But if you take the time to correct it, then that is more time that you are giving up that you are not getting paid for (unless you have such an arrangement with the client).

Bad Translation. As a bilingual voice talent I deal with this all the time. I consider myself a professional, who has his clients best interests at heart, so I feel I have the responsibility to let my client know there may be a problem with the translation. Now, mind you, I do so discreetly and cautiously. But if I don’t protect my client, I haven’t acted professionally. A bad translation takes time and money to fix. A client who isn’t willing to make sure the translation is right, is a client that is not worth having.

Improperly Timed Copy. This is one issue that pretty much every voice talent deals with. There’s a running joke in the business about a client submitting forty-five seconds of copy for a 30 second commercial. But it is no joke that if you deliver that VO as originally written, it is most likely coming back. It’s also no joke that a client who consistently sends you copy that is too long is eating up your time, and his, because the copy is going to have to be re-written at some point.

It really is amazing that so many copy writers don’t understand that a :60 spot delivered at a comfortable, connecting pace is around 150 words. A :30 is around 75 words. And don’t forget that each number is a word. A telephone number is seven to ten words! $150 is four or five words, depending on how you say it.

How can you avoid letting these inadequate copy issues eat up your time? You need to be professional and friendly while handling these things. Sometimes the problem comes from the producer, sometimes from the client, and sometimes a third party. Be very sensitive and kind in broaching the subject, but let the client know that there are some issues that are going to affect the effectiveness of the product.

It’s important to have these matters settled before you go into the booth. Hopefully these sort of jobs are minimal for you, but until you have a plan to handle them, they will haunt you over and over.

In any case, be proactive in making your client look good!

4. The Promise Of Possible Future Business

We’ve all heard it before. “Please do this one at this low rate, and if it all goes well then there will be more work at a better rate.” I would bet a bag of donuts that less that 1% of us have ever gotten more work at a better rate because we succumbed to this gimmick.

While your client is telling you that they are hoping the project will work into additional work, what they also may be saying is that they don’t have the job locked in. Doing a job that isn’t locked in is asking for a high maintenance project! It means that the producer isn’t real sure what the client wants. It is also saying that your client underbid the job.

Translation: there will be changes. In fact, there might be an outright rejection by the client. So, use caution when this warning light comes on.

If it involves a client that you already have a working relationship with, you know if you can or cannot trust the client’s promise. If it is a new client, treat it as a warning light.

5. Jobs That Don’t Meet the Criteria Of The Quote

This is a touchy subject. A client submits a request for a quote on a project. Let’s say they tell you it’s a 2:30 video, straight narration. You return your audition and a quote, and a few days later you get an email indicating that the client has chosen you for the project, and the final version of the copy and instructions are attached.

As soon as you open the attachment you realize that the client has submitted copy for a 4 minute video, and it involves you primarily doing the straight narration, but they have also added in a character voice that they want you to do.

What now?

Well, avoid a “what now?” by being up front that your quote is based on a 2:30 minute video of the copy submitted for the audition. I would even include a statement (and I do) that any changes to the submitted copy and elements of the project are subject to a change in your rate.

There are obviously more than five warning lights that you need to be aware of. But these five are critical to running your voiceover business in a more productive and stress-free manner. Will you lose some business when heeding these warnings? A small “maybe,” but you will also be building a healthier work environment. And healthier work environments lead to greater success!

BEHIND THE CONVENTION CURTAINS

Published May 19, 2014

This past week I had the unique privilege of providing the Live Announce for the huge Melaleuca Sales Convention in Salt Lake City. It was my sixth year for that convention.

There is nothing quite like the energy of an annual corporate convention! When the convention is a large, fast-paced, high-energy production, a live announcer is a better way to go than relying on pre-recorded introductions and announcements. Far too many things change at the last minute. I’m blessed to have those opportunities, and grateful to be a part of a company’s annual celebration!

It takes a lot of work to make a convention program work! To put on a production like this last week’s job takes a minimum of six months of planning on various levels.

The client, the agency and the producer spend an incredible amount of time pursuing the right strategy and options. The creative team begins to put together a plan to accomplish the client’s vision. That may take months of “back and forth.” Finally, after the dreaming, planning, strategizing, and innumerable creative concepts, the client’s vision comes into focus, and the next phase of work begins.

Spending time backstage at a large convention is mind-boggling. It literally takes hundreds of people to put such a production together, and then to pull it off live. In just a few days a complex stage design of multiple levels, ramps, entrances and exits are built. Miles and miles of cable, trusses, lighting, curtains, screens, and speaker arrays are assembled to specifications that would make an architect’s head spin. A full TV production studio is built behind the stage. The entire arena is turned into a recording studio. A maze of curtains creates offices, green rooms, the make-up room, all full of office furniture, living room furniture, computer desks, printing facilities, and TV monitors in every room to keep up with what is going on. Then, of course, there is the ever popular catering area where workers take their meals and breaks.

Once the convention production starts it is full-speed ahead. There is no turning back. Everything has been planned to the second and must be coordinated between the stage presenters and crew, the live video crew, the audio crew, the light crew, the power points crew, the teleprompter crew, and I’m sure I’m leaving out a few departments. Snap decisions are made on the fly, timings adjusted in real time, and all communicated in a unique language of it’s own over a headset network that covers the entire arena.

The people that make this all work are incredibly, intimidatingly good! Even gifted.

And once the production is over, everything has to be disassembled and moved to the next the job, which in and of itself will be very different and equally complex.

The immensity of this last week’s production served as a great reminder to me of how voiceovers fit into the whole process whether it be for live productions or recorded commercials, narrations, eLearning, etc.

We voice talents who own and mostly operate out of our own studios often miss out on how complex and intense the entire production process can be. Even a simple thirty second TV commercial involves so many people, all doing their job; all coordinating and giving their best efforts; all communicating and bringing the vision to life.

It’s an awesome privilege to a small part of that whole process!

THE 7 BAD HABITS OF STRUGGLING ENTREPRENEURS

Published May 4, 2014

With apologies to Stephen Covey’s brilliant “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” there are some things that some of us struggling entrepreneurs do that are counterproductive to our success and effectiveness.

As a voice talent, these are critical to my business. Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience. I hope you’ll take these seven bad habits as non-judgmental observations, in no particular order of priority, that I’ve learned from my own missteps. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on any of these. I’ll leave the application to you.

1. Not Seeing Themselves As Their Clients See Them

“You have the voice we’re looking for,” said the man at the other end of the phone line.

Well, naturally I took that quite personally. So with a bit of fake humbleness I told him how pleased I was that he was willing to entrust his voiceover project to little ol’ me.

“Well, we’ll see,” he answered. “The voice is right, but we’ll see if the delivery is what we’re looking for.”

I missed what that client was saying up front.

See, the right voice is like choosing the right oil color for a painting. Ok, fine. You’ve got the right color, but it’s more about what you do with that color that counts.

Yes, it’s important to see yourself for what you really are, but that needs to be tempered by really understanding how your clients view you.

2. Not Knowing The Difference Between Good, Better, and Great

This is a common failure among voice talents.

Good is based on the market standard. One isn’t even competitive until one is good. Better is stepping beyond good to get noticed. But great is what the client chooses.

I see this all the time in the marketing materials of a number of entrepreneurs: “I can do….” Frankly, that tells me that you aren’t the person I’m trying to hire for that particular matter. I don’t want to hire someone that “can do” something. I want to hire someone who excels, who is a specialist, who owns the element that I’m looking for.

3. Emotional Decision Making

Interpreting, creating and developing a project based on emotional interpretation is deadly. Why? Because everyone’s emotions are different.

Voice talents who interpret copy by emotion rather than by understanding are completely missing the intent and point of the copy.

Emotion is a reaction. You can’t create that in the listener or viewer. All you can do is give them the story and let them assimilate it and apply it to their life.

But if you understand what the copy is saying, and you focus on that, instead of trying to manipulate the listener’s emotions, you’ll be ahead of what I would guess is 98% of the other voice talents.

By the way, this little realization revolutionized my content delivery for my clients AND my audition process.

4. Selling Rather Than Connecting

This is very similar to the previous point.

Know the target audience’s needs. The product will sell itself to people who need it.

People respond to what their perceived needs are. If I don’t think I need a new pair of shoes, all the shoe commercials in the world won’t make a difference. On the other hand, if I believe I need a new pair of shoes, coming across as trying to push something onto me that I already am willing to consider will just cause me to build resistance.

Connect. Don’t sell.

5. Wrong Clients

I can’t fully explain how critical this issue is.

Wrong clients will suck you dry. They will soak up your energy and steal your time. I don’t know about you, but in the voiceover business time is a critical element of what we have to sell.

As hard and harsh as it may seem, you have to unload wrong clients. I’m talking about clients that steal your success by being high maintenance, hard to collect, abusive, and demand unfairly low rates.

Let them go.

I learned a long time ago that a client that consistently underbids a project, and therefore asks me to low-ball my rate, or consistently comes back with changes that they don’t want to pay for, or are insulting and think they have the right to talk down to me, or take an excessively long time to collect is the wrong client for me.

6. Wide Thinking

This is another way of saying “trying to do too much.”

A few years ago I needed a finish carpenter to redo some shelving and woodwork around my fireplace. I talked to a number of carpenters who told me that they could certainly do the job. But when I talked to this one guy, I learned that shelving and interior trim was his specialty, and in fact, all he did.

Yes. He’s the guy I hired.

You can’t do everything. I mean, you may be good, but you’re not that good. And even if you were, a client is going to be looking for someone who is a specialist in the area they are trying to fulfill.

You don’t start out as the best of everything. And you never get there. Find and develop your niche. Become the authority in your niche!

7. Finding Time Instead Of Making Time

This is a personal issue.

As entrepreneurs we are driven to succeed. We’ll do whatever it takes to win. The problem with that mentality is that sometimes it causes us to lose sight of the real priorities in our life.

If you take the approach of “finding time” for your loved ones, yourself or the other important things in your life, you will be giving them “left over time.” Believe me, they are worth more than that. Way more than that!

Real quality and balance in this area happen when you make time for yourself, those people and other important things. They are worth more than your leftovers.

Sometimes, because we are so driven, we forget to breathe.

Ever go on a trip and suddenly realize that your gas gauge says you are driving on fumes? What happens? Driving on empty increases stress…distracts you…makes you a worse driver.

Same thing is true in your business.

So, there you have it: Seven bad habits many of us entrepreneurs develop as we try to make it in the business world. Break these habits, replace them with good habits, and you’ll see your success soar!

THE BEST CLIENTS IN THE WORLD!

Published March 10, 2014

I gotta tell you: I have the best clients in the world. The Best!

Today I woke up with a touch of laryngitis. I probably should not have slept naked out on the porch last night. After all, it is still winter. In any case, I woke up to a full day of work – actually a full week of work – but I made Barry White sound like a Vienna Boys Choir standout. The voiceover business went on hiatus for me today.

There was nothing else to do but contact each client that I had a project scheduled for and let them know my dilemma. I dreaded those calls and emails.

I shouldn’t have worried.

My clients are AWESOME! All of them seemed to really care and were willing to give me a couple of days to get back. Even a client who had me scheduled for a rush job! One client, when I called him, as soon as I said “Hi,” broke in and said, “Don’t say another word! Go gargle and rest and don’t say another word until you’re back!”

Each one of those clients could’ve rightly said, “I’m sorry, this job has to be done today and I’m going to have to go with someone else.” Yes, that has happened in years past. Some projects are on that tight of a schedule! But today was different. Even the rush job said “Get well. We’ll just figure out a way to put this off for a couple of days.”

I was so blown away by a client who said it quite succinctly, “Dan, you’re our voice guy. Crap like this happens to everyone. We’ll work around it.” Of course then he laughed and said, “But don’t ever get sick again. Ever!”

I poured myself a cup of hot tea with lemon and honey, sat down in my easy chair (in my robe), and pondered my good fortune. I am so blessed. Yes, I’m blessed because I have good work and opportunities. Of course I believe I’m blessed by a God who helps me survive the business world as a small entrepreneur. But what I am so aware of right now is how blessed I am because I have the best clients in the world!

How does that happen? Certainly there are many factors to consider, but for our purposes, let me give you five things that I believe are fundamental to getting the greatest clients in the world.

1. I take the time to get to know my clients as they reveal themselves to me.

I’ve got clients that I’ve had for over two decades! Over 20 years! A lot happens in 20 years. You learn a lot about each other in 20 years. But you can also learn a lot about each other in 20 minutes. The point is that my clients are a lot like me. They each have a life of dreams, goals, and passions. And the more I get to know them, the more I love them…and their dreams, goals and passions!

I’ll never forget the time a client told me the story of having been bitten by a rattlesnake. He was out hiking in desert (his passion) when it happened. Who tells you stories like that? People who believe you are interested in them, that’s who. And yes, I was interested. Concerned and interested. So much so that he received a pair of snake-proof boots in the mail a few days later.

Two years later when I took a construction team down to Honduras to build a school, he made a generous donation to the school.

These are my clients. These are my friends.

2. Their project is incredibly important to me.

Of course it’s important to them. It’s their livelihood. I know that. And that’s exactly why it is so important to me. If I don’t give them my best work, I’ve said they aren’t worth my commitment and focus. But the truth is, they are worth it. Every ONE of them.

I used to tell clients how busy I was, and how I would try to get to their project as soon as I could. How arrogant is that?!?! The truth is, I’m only busy because my client has an important project to get done. They don’t really care how busy I am or about my other clients. They have no relationship with my clients and their projects. They chose me to voice their project because they believed I was the right choice. That makes them the right client! The right choice needs to treat the right client the right way.

3. They know I will treat them with integrity and honesty.

“Yeah, I know I quoted you $800 for this job, but that was based on my assumption that I was doing the entire narration. I didn’t know that some of the copy was actually the voice of the client. So, the rate is really $500.” That’s from a conversation I had with a client not too long ago. Even though my client had already signed off on the $800, it wasn’t a fair rate. I couldn’t charge her that amount.

If your client knows, believes and trusts that you are going to take care of them, and that you are going to act with integrity and honesty, you are going to build a lifetime relationship! I’ve learned that I can trust clients who trust me.

4. I will never give them second best.

This seems like a no-brainer at first glance, but it is actually much deeper than that.

I am stunned by new clients who ask me, “Before we sign off on this, if you make a mistake or the client doesn’t like the way you read a particular sentence, what is the charge to redo it?”

Seriously? Are there voice talents that would charge you to redo that? I don’t know of any, but I would like to so I can publish their names and blackball them from the industry!

No! My goal, and the goal of every voice talent I know is to give each client the absolute best product they can possibly deliver.

My clients need to know that. They need to know that when I am working on their project, that is all I am working on. I am totally focused on making sure it is the best I can do. That means that if the copy is screwed up, they get alts. If there is a better way to say something, I’m going to suggest it. Not as an insult to the copywriter or translator, but because all of us are human and miss things. My job is to make my client look good! Period!

5. Finally, I am part of a team.

This is one of the most critical aspects of a voice talent’s responsibility. I am part of a team. It’s my job as much as any other member of the team to make sure the message is represented correctly and successfully.

And by the way, I never have any right to mention or imply that I am working for a particular client unless that client gives me specific permission to include them in my marketing efforts. In the same way that a client expects confidentiality from a writer, a developer, or a producer, that client deserves my quiet confidentiality. I have government and non-government clients that require me to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I sign them, but really I would never reveal that information anyway. I’m part of the team. I have my client’s best interests at heart. I would never do anything to violate that.

They know that. I am part of the team.

So there you have my five things that are fundamental to getting the greatest clients in the world.

The great news is that as far as I know, almost all of my fellow voice talents agree, believe and practice this! There are a few charlatans in the group that cannot be trusted, but I don’t hang around with them! I’m far too protective of my industry to tolerate unprofessionalism and treachery. My experience is that the vast majority of voice talents are incredibly honest, hard-working people. I’m proud to be associated with them. And if I don’t fit the style or voice that you need for your project, call me! I’m happy to recommend any number of other voice talents that would do the job you need! By the way, I don’t consider other voice talent to be competition. They are fellow professionals, and our job is to get your job done!

CLOSING OUT 2013

Published December 12, 2013

So, it’s been awhile since I wrote anything controversial. And now that I’m stuck at home with the flu and bronchitis, I figure it’s a perfect time to irritate and offend some folks. See, I have “plausible deniability.” I can claim delirium.

Having made my disclaimer, I’d like to offer my end-of-the-year observations of our VO industry.

First of all, the VO biz is healthier than it has EVER been! Ever!

See, it used to be locked up by a select few, but those days are gone! It was locked up nationally as well as locally! I remember when I was first starting out in the biz, I would hear over and over…Sorry kid, we use Drew Dimmel, or Jim Birdsall, or John Jessup, or any other established voice talent in Kansas City. Now, please know that those guys are friends of mine. I love ‘em, and I will NEVER measure up to them. But that’s the way it was!

That has all changed! While some clients want the celebrity voice on their spot (which makes little sense when you think about it – think baggage, competition, customers who don’t like the celebrity, etc), others are realizing it’s about a sound…a delivery…a style that will make the product standout. Celebrities don’t sell a product. Content and delivery do!

True voice actors are in a better place than they have ever been to carve their niche.

Secondly, I’m actually delighted at the influx of people into our industry. Of course there are folks that don’t really understand the demands of the industry. They’ll discover it pretty quickly. Of course there are the folks that will take advantage of that interest and sell them coaching and demos. Some of those businesses are legitimate,; some are not. Businesses will always exist and survive on the coat-tails of any significant industry. Nothing wrong with that.

But what I’m really delighted about is that there are thousands of people out there who are willing to dream and hope and challenge themselves. That is fundamental to surviving in this industry. Hey, for those of us for whom this is our livelihood, remember that dream? We owe it to our industry to do our part to encourage, mentor and build the talent base of the future.

Thirdly, more and more voice talents are settling for what they can get away with. Frankly, this disgusts me. This is not snobbery or elitism, but folks, if you are going to survive in this business, ignore the charlatans that will mislead you to think you can get away with cheap equipment “until you get to the point where you can afford better.” That’s a sell-out. If you have what it takes to be in the business, you need the equipment and service that will compete with thousands of other voice talents that will eat your lunch on every audition simply because they sound better!

C’mon! It’s a business! Invest in yourself! I don’t mean go out and borrow a bunch of money and buy the best of the best. I am a huge advocate of never going into debt in business. But seriously, if you’re trying to run a business with a USB mic plugged into your laptop, you’re not thinking big enough. You’re a hobbiest, at best. And you are most certainly settling for what you can get away with.

Yeah, so I’ll probably hear about that one.

Fourthly, VO marketing is not about getting your name out there so that people will hire you because they’ve heard about you. It’s about building relationships.

That’s the failure of how so many people use P2P websites (online casting websites). Any website that is built and promoted to get you “more work” from your auditions is misleading you. You get more work by building relationships with clients. I NEVER resent a client who hires another voice talent, but takes the time to let me know. That’s an open invitation to connect and begin building a relationship. THAT will lead to future opportunities! I know. I’ve got several ongoing clients that were developed that way.

And finally, fifthly (is that a word?), the voice talents that are entrenching themselves in this business are doing so by carving out a niche. The truth is, there is no real future in trying to be a “general practitioner.” That doesn’t mean that you won’t do work in several other areas, but once you get known as THE voice for a particular genre, you will find yourself smiling all the way to the bank from work in that area. For me it is eLearning, TV Promotions, Automotive, and Infomercials, in English or Spanish. Of course I do work in a variety of areas, but I have clients in those four areas that generally don’t even consider anyone else. They’re comfortable working with me. They know what I’ll deliver. And they don’t worry about my production, which is exactly the way they want it.

Quit trying to be all things to all people. You’re better off focusing on your strengths and uniqueness. That’s not to say that you won’t develop in other areas. As you mature in this business, you most certainly will develop other areas. We’re voice actors. We grow. We develop. But don’t make the mistake of trying to grow your business in the areas that you have not truly mastered.

So with that, I bid adieu to 2013!

Here’s to an awesome 2014! We deserve it!!!

THE RIGHT STUFF

Published October 12, 2013

One thing I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks is that quality pays off!

When I built my studio I decided to invest in good equipment, not settle for “what can I get by with.” I researched and bought equipment that I knew would create the sound that my clients would be happy with.

I put money into the structure of the studio – the acoustics, the design and the overall feel of the studio.

Yes, I made some mistakes along the way, but I corrected those as I discovered them. The result was a magnificent sounding studio that I am proud of.

But a couple of weeks ago things changed. We had a new roof put on the house. In the process, the roofers forgot to seal up a piece of flashing around the chimney that runs down along my studio. Sure enough, two days later we had a big storm – two inches of rain. All two inches of rain ran right down through my studio destroying part of the ceiling, part of the wall, and soaking the carpeting.

Fortunately, none of the equipment was damaged, but the room and the acoustics were terribly affected. Not to mention equipment that pulled out of service until the studio can be repaired.

But here’s the payoff of investing in the right equipment: I was quickly able to adapt, keep up with my work load, continue to provide my clients with their voiceover requests, and not miss any deadlines. Not only that, but business has continued as usual as I’ve picked up three new clients over the past week.

And here’s the kicker. In the middle of all the restoration process, a couple of clients have asked me to revise work that was done several months ago and I was able to match the sound of the original.

That’s what the right equipment will do for you.

Forgive my rant, but voice talents who settle for “whatever I can get by on” equipment, are not only asking for trouble, but are putting their clients in a vulnerable situation.

Voice talents: if you deserve to be in this business, you deserve to invest in quality equipment and learn how to use it. Clients: if you want consistent quality and ROI, hire voice talents that believe in themselves and in offering you great service and great equipment. It’s a win win situation.

STOP DOING THE BASICS

Published July 10, 2013

Well, that didn’t come out quite right.

Basics are important. You have to do them. The problem is that too many of us never get past the basics. If all you do are the basics, that’s all you’ll end up with. The basics.

A race car driver that never does more than the basics will never win a race. A musician that never gets past the basics will never write a masterpiece. A business that never goes beyond the basics will never know real success.

A builder friend of mine once said, “Every basic house I’ve built is still standing, but I can’t make a living off of basic.”

As a voice talent, if all I do are the basics, I’ll sound like thousands of other voiceover dogs out there trying to make a buck. I’ve never gotten a voice job because I sounded like everyone else.

In fact, one of the biggest ironies in the voiceover business is that clients who want a voice that “sounds like the guy next door,” don’t really want him to sound like the guy next door. What they really want is for the guy next door to think that he sounds like the voice in the commercial. But I digress.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. While the basics are important, they are not what win the race. So what do you have to do to move beyond the basics?

I once asked Bill Leach, an artist friend from many years ago, how he started a project.

His response was, “You start with the basics.”

“What are the basics?” I asked.

He answered simply, “A clean canvas. Everything else is everything else.”

In this voiceover business, the basics are pretty simple: Have a sound and delivery that clients want; have good equipment and know how to use it; and run your business with integrity and common sense. But it’s what you do beyond that which will determine your success. In other words, everything else is everything else.

With that in mind, here are 3 ideas to move beyond the basics.

Understand that the basics are the starting point.

The basics of any business are the foundation. That’s all. And every similar business should have those same basics.

So what sets you apart from every other similar business?

What do you have to offer that will appeal to a client?

By the way, if you answered “a lower price” you just lost round one. Good clients don’t want cheap, they want fair.

Respect the basics, but don’t let them limit you.

One of my favorite baseball pitchers of all time was Detroit’s Mark “The Bird” Fidrych (RIP). He had all the basics down, as do most professional ball players. However, his winning ways along with his absolute joy on the field and quirky behavior made him one of baseball’s favorites. When Fidrych hit the mound, it was something beyond the basics that made him a winner…and a crowd favorite.

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “Stick with the basics.” Well, I’m here to tell you that doing that will shut your business down.

Of course you have to do the basics, but it is what you do beyond those basics that will determine your success.

Trust the basics, but do what you do better than the basics.

The business gurus have all kinds of terms for this: making your mark, defining your brand, elevating the elements, etc. But the practical side of it is simply what do you do that is better than others?

Now the amazing thing about this is that often this is something that others perceive, or sometimes it’s something that only you believe…until others discover it. On the other hand, there are those who are far better at what they do than they ever get credit for.

And, unfortunately, I’ve known way too many people and companies, and so have you, that think they are better at something than they are.

So, this is a tough one, but it is critical to moving beyond the basics.

I did something rather eye-opening personal research over the past few months. It was an in depth analysis of my business. I’ll save that story for the next blog, but I discovered something about my business.

I was doing all the basics in almost all categories of my voiceover business, but it was in those categories where I have a little extra “sump’n sump’n” that I’ve done my best. The problem that I discovered was that I was spending far more marketing dollars and efforts to generate business in the categories where I’ve got the basics down, but I’m not anything particularly special. I’ve wasted a lot of dollars and time!

It’s like trying to sell white paint. Have you noticed that paint companies don’t brag on their white paint. Why? Because basics don’t sell. Clients want something beyond the basics.

That’s why your auditions, your demos, your marketing, and especially what you deliver to the client needs to be beyond the basics. And by that I mean everything from your audio quality to your interpretation and presentation. What do you have to offer that is better than the basics?

Here’s the bottom line: you’re best at where you’re not basic. Oooh, that was good. Read it again!

Now go be unbasic.

THE LA / NY MYTH

Published May 5, 2013

I’ve noticed something about the voiceover industry.

There is a deceptive myth in the voiceover industry that to make it in this business you have to crack the L.A. or N.Y. barrier. It’s simply not true. Don’t think so? Look at the facts:

Various estimates for spending on advertising in the United States annually place the amount around $200 billion a year (over $500 billion worldwide). A surprisingly small amount of it is spent through L.A. or N.Y.

According to the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD), American companies spend about $20 billion a year on eLearning and sales training. Almost none of that money is spent through L.A. or N.Y.

It’s impossible to come up with a dollar figure for annual spending on corporate video/narration work because the way companies define and report spending for such projects is rather ambiguous, but it would appear that it is most certainly in the billions of dollars a year. However again, almost none of it comes through L.A. or N.Y.

So where does the myth come from?

Well, television programming and screen generally are produced through L.A. and N.Y. outlets. So, of course animation voicing and promotional voice work for TV and screen tend to come out of those markets. And yes, some commercials are produced by production houses in those markets. As a result, people assume that those two markets are the Meccas of our industry.

But it’s not true.

There is great production work being done in every city in the United States. Because of the technology, those production houses that use voice talent have discovered that it’s just as easy to work with a voice talent in any other market as it is to have one come into their studio.

In fact, do a quick internet research on talent agencies. You’ll find that the percentage of L.A. and N.Y. agencies servicing voice talent is equitable compared to the number of agencies in other markets. Then, look at where the auditions are coming from in the industry. The bottom line is there is more voiceover work available outside of L.A. and N.Y!

Without naming names, I have heard other major national voice talent say that they are able to get more work out of L.A. and N.Y after leaving those markets because the auditioning process is different and less demanding on the talent. One talent explained it this way, “When I was in L.A. I was required to go into a studio to audition for a job. That meant that at best, because of the traffic and conditions in L.A. I could only get to generally no more than four auditions a day. If I landed a job, that actually cut down on my auditions. Now that I’m no longer living in the market, they obviously can’t require me to come into the studio for an audition so I can get more auditions in. As a result, I can audition in numerous cities either by emailing an audition or by a live ISDN audition, and I get more work!”

Then, consider the exploding eLearning and corporate narration industry. Very, very few companies run these types of jobs through L.A. or N.Y. They tend to use local companies or production companies that specialize in these formats. In fact, my experience is that most of the eLearning work is coming from international companies.

How can you and should you take advantage of this situation?

Well, first of all you need to decide where you are going to make your mark.

If you’ve decided that you have to be part of the TV and screen industry then by all means connect with those outlets.

If you’ve decided that you can make your mark in the vast commercial world outside of L.A. and N.Y. go for it! Start locally and move out geographically. Find out who’s doing what. Connect with them and determine how you can fit into their needs.

Secondly, if you’ve decided to pursue the opportunities in eLearning and corporate narrations, pursue those options aggressively! You’ll find that almost all of those jobs are outside of L.A. and N.Y.

Believe me, the work is there. I was just copied on an internal memo that went out to the employees of a major eLearning company. The memo simply stated that they were aggressively seeking voice talents that could handle character and natural conversational deliveries “wherever we can find them.”

If you are one of the 95% (I’m guessing on that percentage) of voice talents that don’t live and depend on L.A. or N.Y. you can take heart. There is a lot of work out there – far more than in just those two markets.

THE NOT SO SECRET SECRET

Published April 11, 2013

I’m about to rock somebody’s world.

I had lunch the other day with a fellow voice talent. I love those opportunities. Most of us are so confined to our studios all day that we don’t get much of a chance to actually interact in person with someone else in our business.

But this time it was different.

Glarb (not his real name) was down. He’d been spinning his wheels for months trying to get some good voice business and was getting nowhere. He couldn’t figure out why.

I’ve known Glarb for several years. He’s a great talent. He really is. And I’m jealous of his studio. But all of that was obviously not enough to get him work.

I asked him what he had done to generate business over the past 6 months.

It was the usual. Email blasts, some direct email, even some direct mail postcards. A few phone calls to key people. He has a couple of agents. He’s doing the normal SEO thing. He’s listed with a few VO websites. And auditions. Lots of auditions.

Not that he hasn’t had ANY work. He just hasn’t had enough to survive on.

Sound familiar?

Let me explain why so many good voice talents struggle in this business. Then I’ll offer a solution that you can start implementing today.

It doesn’t matter if you could do a better job than the voice talents they are currently using. If they don’t feel like they need someone new, you’re wasting time approaching them.

If you’re marketing yourself to people who have access to far more voice talents than they know what to do with, you’re wasting time.

In fact, if you’re doing what everyone else is doing, all you’re saying is that you’re like everyone else. Why should any client hire you?

I asked Glarb to summarize his whole scenario in one sentence.

He thought about it for awhile and then said, “It’s like no one needs me anymore.”

Exactly!

Unfortunately Glarb has been doing what far too many voice talents do: all the right things for the wrong people – people who don’t need them!

Here is one of the key secrets for motivation, whether it be personal, corporate, or sales: need.

See, we’re stimulated by wants. But we’re motivated by need. It’s need that drives us.

“How badly do you want this,” isn’t nearly as powerful as “How badly do you need this.”

Glarb has been pouring out his energy on people that want good voice talent, but not on people that need the talent he has.

Why am I so sure of this? Because it’s how I operate.

Years and years ago in my early life I spent a stint as a home alarm salesman. We were required to set three appointments a day by phone. That usually meant about fifty plus calls a day using the script the company had given us.

Personally, I thought the script was weak and manipulative, so I altered it. No, actually I completely changed it. I started asking potential clients if they felt a need for a home alarm system. What happened?

My call to sales ratio went down drastically. My closing rate went up dramatically.

Then, of course, the company sold and moved out of state.

But my point is, people are motivated by need. Clients are motivated by need.

Start marketing to needs. Ask clients what their voice needs are. Do they need a fresh voice for a sales video? Do they need a new phone message? Do they have a project coming up that they are going to need a voice like yours? Do they know of someone that needs a voice like yours?

When approaching a new client, ask them if they need a fresh voice. If they say no, thank them, give them your card, or email them your information, and move on. Find the people that need what you have to offer!

Now, I realize that there are some that will respond to this with “Yeah, but…” Don’t bother. This isn’t a theory. This is how I do business…and it works.

Oh, and by the way. Glarb connected with three clients that afternoon and landed a narration job, an IVR job, and a recommendation for a new client that needs a voice for his new marketing campaign.

Want to succeed in this business? Go meet your client’s needs.

CLOSING OUT 2012

Published December 27, 2012

Wow! What a whirlwind end to 2012!

First, my wife fell (while decorating for Christmas) and broke her leg in 3 places. A few days later, my father passed away while recovering from surgery. So, the day I got my wife home from the hospital, I flew to Virginia to bury my Dad. I got back home 2 days before Christmas.

The good news is that Marcia is on the mend. She has to stay off her leg for 2 months, then another month of intense physical therapy and the dishes will finally get done.

OK, maybe some of the household chores are getting done in the meantime.

I must tell you that I have no idea how anyone can get through something like this without a trusting, abiding faith in God.

On Christmas morning my son, Eric, presented me with the initial plans for a 501-c-3 (non-profit) corporation to honor the work my Dad spent his life doing in Central America. What an overwhelming, challenging, stimulating opportunity! I’ll tell you more about it in days to come.

Yesterday, December 26th, was my first day back in the studio.

There was something comforting about the scattered papers, the dirty coffee cup, the half bottle of water in the recording booth, the blinking light of the printer telling me that I needed to replace the toner; and most of all, the scores of emails and voicemails of clients/friends with words of hope and encouragement.

What an amazing business I’m in! I’ve never physically met 99% of my clients, yet every one somehow shared my storm. What an incredible statement about small business America! We are a network of real people; passionate about what we do, but compassionate about our fellow. Humbling and reassuring!

Thank you for your care. Your calls and notes of concern have been such an encouragement and inspiration.

And right now, if I heard that you had the flu, I would want to jump in the car and bring you some hot chicken soup!

That’s what family does.

MY CUSTOMER COMMITMENT

Published November 26, 2012

The voice over industry has changed dramatically over the past few years. The technology is such that many of us in the voice business are building our enterprise all over the world. I am blessed to have clients on every continent, and fortunately that list is growing. Frankly, that amazes me!

To all of my clients, new and not so new, I want to affirm my desire to be your voice talent of choice. So, let me share my commitment to you:

1. I will give you my absolute best effort.

I don’t give different levels of effort and attention to different clients. Your project is as important to me as any other project I have.

2. I will quote you a fair price based on what I charge my other clients.

I don’t quote different rates for different clients. I attempt to keep my rates within the average of what other voice talents charge for similar service.

3. I will deliver your project on time.

I know that you have time constraints and are depending on me to get your voice over project to you when you need it.

4. I will make sure your voice project is technically and audibly the best I can make it.

I have invested a great deal in my studio, and continue to do so to maintain outstanding, quality work.

5. I want your business.

I want to work for you again and again. My goal is to be your go-to guy for voice overs, and I will do what I have to do to make that happen.

Thank you for the privilege of working on your voice over project. I realize I am accountable to you, and I am grateful for your trust.

THE PATH TO SUCCESS

Published November 14, 2012

I’m no success guru.

Not a clue about 7 steps to great wealth, or whatever.

The closest I’ve ever come to closing a sale involved the words, “Please bring your purchases to the register.”

But I have learned a thing or two about connecting with clients and walking through open doors of opportunity. To be honest, it’s no secret. Or at least it shouldn’t be. So, I share these five simple personal discoveries with you.

1. My job is to meet my client’s needs.

My clients are not in business for me. I am in business for my clients. In fact, let me take it one step further. I am in business to make my clients successful.

Several years ago, I was hired by a local Public Relations firm. I was a little lost the first week on the job. I went to my boss and said, “John, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing. Is there a job description for my position?”

He answered simply, “Well, your job is to make me look good.”

I’ve never forgotten that. Most of my clients hire me on behalf of their clients. The bottom line is that they hire me to make them look good.

Your job is to meet your client’s needs.

2. No one succeeds if the ones they serve don’t succeed.

It’s just a fact. There is no way on God’s green earth that I can be successful if my clients aren’t successful.

I have a policy that any client that is going after new business can depend on me for free voiceover work for any spec spots they need. Why?

It’s simple. If they succeed, they will take me with them. It’s the way I’ve done business for thirty years. Some of my biggest clients were small, one man operations when I started with them. Many of them have grown through the years, and I’ve grown with them.

You will not succeed if your clients don’t succeed.

3. Sometimes I am not the right person for the job.

Many years ago a client asked me if I could do an impersonation of Dick Vitale for a commercial. Well, I don’t do impersonations, and I told my client the same.

He said, “Look, we’re in a bind. This spot has to go to air in two days and we can’t find anyone. Would you please do your best?”

I agreed, and gave it my best shot.

I’ve never heard from that client again.

Sometimes you’re not the right person for the job. Do yourself and your client a favor and hold on to that.

Define your product. Which takes us to the next point.

4. It’s not me, it’s my voice.

This is one of the greatest business lessons I’ve ever learned.

I was told my whole life “You’ve got to get out there and sell yourself.” So, I did.

The problem was, no one was buying me. Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying. I kept at it. For years.

One day, my wife told me she was her way to a little store in our town. I knew about the store. It was a dump. I asked her why she would go to that store because it was so…unbecoming (see, I do know some kind words).

She looked at me like I was nuts (I get that look a lot).

“Are you kidding?” she asked. “It has the coolest things.”

It dawned on me that she wasn’t buying the store, she was buying the stuff on the shelves. For too long I had been trying to sell the store, not the stuff on the shelves.

Nobody buys the store. They buy what they need or want off the shelves.

Quit trying to sell the store. Start selling your product.

By the way, there is great freedom in that discovery. Suddenly, it’s not personal. It’s about the product, not you.

Go sell your product for what it’s worth…not what you think you personally are worth.

5. Go burn something.

I had a client once tell me, “Look, I don’t care how hot you are, I just need someone to set this on fire.”

I understood exactly what he was saying. It wasn’t about me or my voice. It was about his product.

No one buys a product because of the voice selling it. Well, except my dear mother who years ago bought The Magnaduster off a TV infomercial. Turns out she had no idea I was the voice for the product. When I asked her why she bought the duster when I could have given her one for free, she answered, “Well it just sounded so believable.”

Anyway, go set your product on fire. As one of my clients once said, “Hot is the new cool.”

Have you sensed something from these five personal discoveries? Your success is not about you. It’s about your clients. Everything you do should be about them. Do that and they will go before you to carve out your success.

MAKING IT IN VOICEOVERS

 

Published September 15, 2012

The other day a fellow voice talent asked me, “C’mon tell me the truth. How are you making it in this business? I’ve been trying to make this thing work for a few years now and I’m no further along that I was when I started. What’s your secret?”

The interesting thing is that I’ve heard those sort of questions and comments for several years. I don’t suppose there is any one single legitimate answer. However, I’ve got five secrets that you should know about making it as a voice talent.

I’m not sure it’s fair to call these secrets, but they are certainly key factors for success in the voice over business.

1. You’ve got to be good.

Look, supposedly there are tens of thousands of “voice talents” in this business. I read just recently that there are some 30,000 voice talents in L.A. alone. Granted, the vast majority of them are film actors trying to make it and have listed themselves that way as one of their options. My calculated guess is that there are probably only about 2000 truly full-time voice talents in the world that do nothing but voice work to earn a living. The bottom line is: no matter how simple this business may look, it is incredibly competitive!

That means you have to be good at it to make it…even part time.

So, do your homework. Practice. Study the voice talents that are making it. Listen and learn from their little nuances of delivery. Don’t mimic them, but embrace their passion and focus on their product. They get work because clients believe in them.

Here’s an important thing to consider. Do you really think most clients want to pay the big bucks for the superstars in our industry? Of course they don’t. But they’re willing to pay for their delivery style. No, you can’t and shouldn’t sound like them, but you CAN learn to deliver the goods like they do. And that will pay off in the end!

Which leads us to the second point:

2. You’ve got to market effectively.

There are maybe ten voice talents in the business who are fortunate enough that they don’t have to worry about this point. The rest of us have to shake the bushes every day.

I’m not going to drop names here, but I’m well aware of several “big names” in our business who have to fight this battle every day. If they have to do that, think how much more you do! If you’re not willing to do it, don’t waste your time calling yourself a voice talent. It just goes with the territory. But I’m about to tip you off on one of the most powerful marketing tactics you can discover.

Quit fishing in the same pond everyone else is fishing!

One of my majors in college was Marketing and Advertising. What a waste of time that was! They just taught me to do what everyone else was doing. A few years ago I read Blue Ocean Strategy by a couple of Harvard gurus and it changed my whole perspective on marketing my business.

The premise of that book is that most people fish the same waters that everyone else is fishing, but the really successful people discover how to fish the blue waters that few or no one else is fishing.

That simple perspective has revolutionized my marketing strategy and my business. See, I don’t live in a major market. I don’t have one-on-one contact with huge producers and agents. I am non-existent as far as they’re concerned. But what I have done is found a few niches that very few other voice dogs were scratching. As a result, I’m connected with some awesome clients who don’t play in the L.A and New York arenas. They couldn’t care less about that side of the business, and we make each other happy. And I still get to pursue opportunities in those markets!

If you’re not good at marketing, maybe you should invest in yourself and go take a college course or two on marketing and advertising (just find a school that isn’t teaching the same old same old). And think blue waters.

By the way, while we’re on the subject of marketing, definitely invest in a compelling website with awesome demos. Why is that so important? Because if you’re going to fish blue waters, those potential clients need to be impressed with YOU…not with how many pay-to-play sites you’re on, or your facebook page, or your Google+ page. I don’t know if my statistics are similar to other folks in this business, but I suspect they are, and if that’s the case, 99% of our clients come by referral or because they find our websites. I can’t tell you how often I hear, “I checked out your website and …”

If you are going to be professional, look and sound the part! Which leads us to the third secret.

3. You’ve got to sound professional.

This is a sensitive subject for a lot of people. There is a mentality that you can get into this business with a “decent” sounding mic and a laptop. I’m here to tell you that’s a lie.

Why is it a lie? Because people with great equipment and delivery will eat your lunch in auditions and demos. That’s just a fact.

Do you have to have the best of everything? Of course not. It’s not about how much money you can spend. But it’s not about how little you can spend either.

If you’re serious about this business, hire an audio engineer (they’re worth every penny) to help you assemble a system that is right for you. Did you catch that? An audio engineer. Not a sales person at the audio store. Not some computer wizard at Byte Me (if there is an actual store with that name, I apologize. I’m sure you’re an excellent outlet for byte stuff). You need someone that understands how and why an audio chain works, and can help you tune your system to you.

If you’re not willing to do that, do us all a favor and take your shingle off the wall and go home. Hey, it’s a business. If you want a hobby go make kites. Which brings us to the fourth point:

4. You’ve got to treat this like a business.

I’m frankly appalled at the number of people who call themselves voice talents who are abject failures at this critical point.

Now, I’m pointing the finger at myself on this. It is an area in which I struggle. Thank God I have a CPA and attorney who understand that this is not my forte, so they have to work overtime to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Nevertheless, this is a business. Uncle Sam sees it as a business. The state sees it as a business. The insurance company sees it that way. Even my bank is watching!

Speaking of that, I heard this from my drive-through bank teller this week: “Hey, kind of a slow week, huh?”

Good thing there was a window between us.

One of the things that I’ve noticed about myself and several others in this line of work is that we struggle with time management. I think it must be part of running one’s own business and having to do everything by oneself.

See, the bottom line is that when I’m not working…I’m unemployed. That means there is a constant drive to accomplish something business related. When I’m parked in front of the TV watching a football game, I’ve got the laptop open and I’m sending out contact letters to potential clients (or writing an article). I have clients all over the world, so my iPhone is on duty from 3am to 10pm. My studio, which happens to be in my home, is almost always open. Bottom line? It’s a fun business, but it’s not an easy one! And if you do it right, it’s a busy business!

So, in my pompous wisdom, I tell you to manage the clock, but I am, in fact, one of the greatest offenders of this critical point.

5. You’ve got to love your clients.

I am of all men most fortunate. I have a wife who has stayed with me for God knows why. Three awesome sons, two awesome daughters-in-law, two perfect grandchildren, an amazing business, and clients I could kiss on the mouth…but I won’t.

That’s not to say I don’t love my clients. I do. I owe my voiceover career to them!

My point here is that one of the key secrets to voiceover success is to be passionate about your clients and their success.

A few years ago my wife and I had some remodeling done to our home. I’ll never forget the impact it made on us when some of the sub-contractors really took an interest in us and our dream. Their recommendations and extra attention made a huge difference in the whole experience. You can bet that painter and that carpenter got several referrals!

It’s the same sort of thing with your clients. When you get excited about their projects, they sense it and it means a lot to them. Connect with them. Dream with them. Enjoy being a part of the creative process (appropriately and without intruding). That will make an impression on your clients that will reap great benefits.

So there you have it, five secrets…ok, so they’re not secrets, but they are important things to help you move your voice-over career ahead.

Hey, they work for me.

STEP IT UP!

Published June 5, 2012

A few weeks ago I was asked to speak at a voiceover get together on the East coast. The subject I was given was, “How To Take Your Voice Business To The Next Level.” We couldn’t make the schedule work out, but on a plane flight I put down some thoughts that I would want to share if the opportunity had worked out. While these are written in the context of the VO business, I think some of the principles apply for all business.

So, here you are, for whatever they’re worth: Five butt-kickers to get you going.

1. Quit focusing on the words.

Start focusing on the listener/viewer. What is it about that copy that is going to grab their attention and make them listen to what you are saying? Words are simply the framework of the thought. Quit reading and start leading the listener.

You won’t always get away with that because producers and engineers often have their own opinion, but it’s a great way to start the session!

In an ideal session, I make two copies of the script (one for back up). I read and mark up the copy based on what I see and sense while saying some of the key phrases out loud.

I know what you’re thinking. Yeah, I kill a lot of trees. No, I don’t use a monitor in the booth. It’s too expensive to keep replacing them after marking them up. You voice talents that do that, more power to you. I’m not that good.

2. Today’s agent doesn’t get you work.

In today’s business world, you get you work. Your agent merely lets you know of some opportunities out there. Put it into perspective. How much do you make off a voice job over how much an agent makes? Now, who should be doing most of the work? Get off your butt and quit expecting someone else to feed you grapes and jobs.

If I depended on my agents to get me work, I’d be salting fries. Agents don’t get you work. They get you auditions. And even then they usually don’t have an exclusive on the lead, so you’re competing with lots of other talents for the job.

Frankly, it would suck to be an agent. First of all you have to put up with neurotic voice talents who don’t really understand the process. Then you have to put up with clients with whom you really have no working relationship. Finally, you have more paper work and details to handle than a traffic cop on Friday night! Be thankful you’re a voice talent and not an agent!

3. Get a dog.

Your home studio will become one of the loneliest places on earth. You’ll spend hours on hours a day there. You’ll have some phone or online interaction with some people, usually clients, but hardly ever see a client face to face. Get used to it.

Today, after spending about nine hours in the booth plus editing, I spent another two hours checking cables and re-wiring part of my studio. Another hour on the phone with Dell about a computer problem, and then an hour of paper work.

Yeah. It’s glamorous. I’ve worn the same shirt for three days and I haven’t shaved.

4. Take care of business.

This is a tough one for me. It’s hard to remember that I am a business. I’m fortunate enough to make a nice living from my business, but I have to remember that my clients are in business also, and they depend on me taking care of mine.

That means keeping my equipment in order. Now, I realize that most of the people who read this will not be fulltime in the voiceover business. But that is no excuse for shoddy equipment, poor signal chains, inadequate acoustics, and bad editing. You’re in business. Act like it. If you put out an inferior product, that’s how you’re going to be labeled.

This isn’t some sort of MLM business where you work your way up because of your great personality and energy, and all the people you know and get to sign up with you. This is the production business. You are producing a product. High quality production breeds high quality demand.

Think of it this way. If you put out inferior work, and your client accepts it, your client is putting out inferior work. It won’t be long before both you and your client fail.

Taking care of business also means taking care of the office work. That means getting invoices out in a timely manner. Timely answers to emails and phone calls. Handling issues quickly and professionally.

It means handling your financial affairs properly. Pay your bills. Pay your taxes. I very seldom get stung in this business by someone who doesn’t pay me. But most of the time when it happens, it’s by another voice talent who engaged me to work a project for him/her. Now, I hate losing money, but I also feel badly for a fellow voice talent who’s lost his integrity. Don’t do it. It will come back to haunt you.

5. Push the envelope.

Always work at developing your talent. Try new things. Play with new styles. Define new characters. Discover a new delivery.

Let me give you an example. Years ago I had a voice job which required some laughing. Frankly, I was awful. Even though I have a theatre background and can carry a character, my laughing was laughable.

I started spending time in my booth laughing. I recorded my laughing. I worked on it for a long time to make it natural and believable, and out of that came a new voice – an old weather-beaten cowboy. Now, don’t ask me how I got from laughing to an old cowboy. I don’t know. But it happened. And that character voice has made me a chunk of change.

You will probably never use most of what you try, but expanding your range will give you so much more to work with and so much more confidence. Along with that you will also discover what your limits are; what you can’t do. But you’ll surprise yourself with how much more you can do!

Well, there you have it. Consider your butt kicked and step up your voiceover business.

THE LITTLE GUYS

 

Published April 23, 2012

Here’s to the little guy!

And by little, I mean the small business owners that are busting their hump to keep the lights on and the bank happy.

LOVE working for you guys! I love your passion. I love your focus. I love your creativity. I love that you’ll do what you have to do to get the job done. You’re an inspiration!

Many years ago when I started in this voice-over business (“voice-over”; that’s how the dictionary now spells it), I found myself working for the little guy. The big guys didn’t want me. The big agencies already had their VO people that they worked with. There was no way to kick that door in.

Then I discovered a couple of one-man shops. Well, actually a one man shop and a one woman shop. And I connected with them. I asked them to let me submit auditions for their jobs. I offered to do spec spots for free (something I still do). I asked them for the privilege of meeting their clients so I could connect and schmooz them. When they were busy, I ran errands for them. I did everything I could do to make them successful.

And it worked.

I cared about them, and they knew it. And as they grew, my business also grew. It didn’t take long before they started introducing me to other “little guys.”

Oh, did you think I was just talking about small ad agencies?

Not at all.

I focused on anyone who had a small business that they were passionate about growing. Some of them made it, some of them didn’t. But they became part of my life and part of my business.

Today, I have a few large clients. That happens, fortunately.

But the clients that I love to hear from are the ones that are in my Caller ID as Chuck, and Sheila, and Joe, and Danny, and Amy, and on and on. The little guys.

Like me.

LOVIN' MY CLIENTS

Published April 3, 2012

I absolutely LOVE being in business for myself.

Not that it doesn’t have its challenges. It does. I’ve just spent three hours figuring out and paying my quarterly taxes. Why does that have to be so complicated? It’s like the government is trying to screw you up so they can fine you and cause you to fail! What good will that do them?

But I digress.

What I really want to talk about are my clients.

See, I sit in my little studio for anywhere from eight to twelve hours a day voicing commercials, narrations and phone messaging. While I have a gorgeous view out my window, my world is pretty much focused on a microphone and a computer screen.

Usually a couple of times a day I have an ISDN session with another studio somewhere in the world. I love those sessions, mainly because I get to connect with live people! The rest of my time is spent between the sound booth and the edit desk. Basically the only person I really interact with for the most of the day is…me.

So you, my client, become my office partner; the co-worker that I get to goof around with and share my life with.

It’s an odd dynamic, really. I love getting to know about you and your family. Hearing about your passion for bike riding or hiking is really fascinating. Or that you just got married after dating for seven years because you’re such a dolt that you couldn’t take the next step. Or that you’re really struggling with what to do with your elderly parent that is dealing with dementia. Me too.

I find my European clients to be quite intriguing. My English and Spanish come naturally because I grew up with it, but my European clients amaze me that they have intentionally learned English so well and have opened up a whole new world for themselves. Above all, it’s such an amazing experience to get to know them and discover how they view America and American culture and politics.

Have you noticed how many geographic cultures there are in the United States? I’m in the Midwest, an area that most people think is just cow pies and prairies. That’s OK. Keep thinking that and stay away. But I love connecting with people from all over the U.S. There are so many amazing lifestyles and perspectives. Don’t think so? Just spend a few moments with someone in New York and follow that up with a visit with someone in San Diego. Same thing between Seattle and Miami.

The bottom line is that my clients make my life so much more interesting! Thank you!
More importantly, getting to know my clients on a personal level just affirms that we’re all in this together. So many of my clients are also small businesses. I mean, I have the pleasure of doing business with some extremely large clients, but many of my clients are like me…small businesses, focused on providing the best service to their customers.

Does it get any better than that?

ABOUT YOUR TRANSLATION

 

Published February 14, 2012

As a bilingual voice talent and translator, I get to work with some great projects. It’s challenging and downright fun to be a part of putting a project together in a different language.

There are a number of us bilingual voices and translators in the business. I’ll bet I’m speaking for many, if not most of us.

One of the issues that we bilingual voice talents and translators have to deal with on a regular basis is the fact that often our main client contact does not know both languages, and therefore is somewhat at a disadvantage.

The way the process normally works is that we’re sent the copy to translate. Sometimes, the client trusts us enough to let us go ahead and voice the project, but usually once it’s translated, we send it back for approval before we voice it. Sometimes there are some minor changes offered by someone that the client asks to review our translation (usually someone in the office that speaks the translated language), and then we have the go ahead to record.

However, one of the things that I’m noticing more and more are changes that are different from what’s being said in the original language. That can be a problem.

See, our job as translators is to translate from the original language. It’s not really our job to change the wording. Now, certainly sometimes there are terms or colloquialisms used in the original language that we have to interpret by intent, but generally the original wording is all we have to go on. Often what happens is that the reviewer decides to change the wording, which may change the intent or meaning of the original language. However, if the reviewer is completely knowledgeable in the subject and both languages, that’s probably not a problem.

I have been asked numerous times why there may be so many changes in a translation review. There are several reasons for that. Sometimes the translator or reviewer is simply interpreting from their particular brogue, and choose to use a word or term that they are familiar with as opposed to a generic word or term. Sometimes it’s just a matter of preference. Sometimes the translator or reviewer interprets the project from a different style of language, as in academic over conversational. There are many others reasons why, but that’s for another discussion.

Let me suggest five things to do in order to smooth out the process and make sure you are getting the translation you need for your project.

1. Make sure your original language copy says what you want it to say.

2. Make it clear to the translator who the intended audience is, and what language style you want. Contrary to the commonly held belief that you need to write and voice for a specific region, it’s far more important to deliver the project for the specific audience, as in professionals or laborers, university educated or not, etc.

3. Before you send the copy for translation, ask the people you intend to have review the translation if they have any suggestions for terms or words to be used.

4. Make sure that the person reviewing the translation completely understands the original language, and understands the subject and terminologies.

5. Ask the translator to give you alternates to terms or phrasings that may be questionable in the translated language.

One other note. Since some languages tend to run as much as 25% longer than English, if your translator is working on copy that has to sync to an English video, remember to shorten the copy before sending it to the translator. Many a project has run into major cost overruns because of all the changes that had to be made after going to post.

With all the language boundaries being crossed in the world today, if you aren’t already doing some bilingual projects, you probably will eventually. It’s a challenge, but it’s completely doable with the right planning.

REALLY? CONVERSATIONAL?

 

Published January 25, 2012

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past couple of years about how clients want more “conversational” reads and delivery. As voice talents, we are constantly asked to do something “conversational” like Dennis Haysbert, or Denis Leary, or Morgan Freeman; or the one I get all the time, Sam Elliot (How come women are never asked to sound like some female celebrity?).

Well, what do clients really mean when they ask for conversational?

I’ve started asking new clients to give me several words to explain how they would explain the delivery style they are looking for. It’s been an eye-opener. What I’ve come to realize is that “conversational” is just an adjective, not a defined style. Often words like relatable, enthusiastic or friendly are actually more important that conversational.

I almost lost a client today who had told me he wanted a very conversational delivery. “Very conversational.” I did several jobs for him, and I could never quite put my finger on it, but there was something that just wasn’t quite right. He never seemed completely happy. Today, I figured it out when he told me he felt like he might want to check out some other voice talents because what he really wanted was something a little more polished and authoritative.

Apparently my idea of conversational was very different from his. To him “conversational” was his description of what I would call warm and friendly, yet still professional. It finally came out. He was looking for “more polished and authoritative” but not “announcery.” And then came the explanation that threw me for a loop: “You know, like you’re talking to your mother.”

I still have the taste of blood in my mouth from biting my tongue.

I think we’ve confused “conversational” with “casual.” Conversational is a delivery issue. Casual is an attitude issue. Conversational involves cadence and expression. Casual is about intonation and energy.

The bottom line is it’s all about perception. Not yours, but your client’s.
Earlier this week I submitted an audition for a new client. Usually for an audition I give a couple of takes of what I think the potential client is looking for. Occasionally if I think the copy lends itself to something completely different, I will submit that also. So this particular audition was one of those that I heard in my head with a completely different delivery.

The client had asked for “simple, genuine, conversational with lots of gravitas and a sense of fun.” Huh? Look up gravitas. This just didn’t make sense.
I gave the client a couple of takes of what I thought he was asking for. Then, just because I thought the copy lent itself to it, I gave him a take of an old, western voice with a bit of a smile.

Within 15 minutes he called me and said, “That 3rd take is exactly what I was hearing in my head. Nice and conversational.”

Who knew?

So, what should you do when your client asks for a conversational read?
1. Ask him to define what he means by “conversational.”
2. Read the copy like you are talking to a group of your friends.
3. Pretend like there is a joke at the end of the copy.
4. Above all, read it like “you know, like you’re talking to your mother.”

SPAM-O-RAMA

SPAM-O-RAMA

Published January 13, 2012

Once again it’s time to post some of the spam comments I receive through my website. I do so because frankly, I find them curious! Not that I don’t get irritated with them. I do. But really, how could you not be captivated by such ingenious commentary (followed by my contumelious blathering) such as:

“Colombo Sri Lanka Nude Goats Mexico pharmacy vicodin and tourist.” 
I mean, who wouldn’t click on that link?

“Rattling nice style and great subject material, practically nothing else we need” 
Yes, it’s true. I have rattled many a designer and yet, I have given them almost everything that they need. Almost.

“Thine heart near as funness!”
Well, I’ve always said “Where thine heart is, there be thine funness!”

”Suborn you seen this noteworthy medical imposture?”
Look, how many times do I have to tell you? My name’s not Suborn.

“My spouse and I stumbled over here different web page”
Ooooh…date night!

“This necklace around your neck put faitth on is available in inches along with the necklace around your neck time-span is frequently ins.”
OK, wait a minute. I got the “necklace around your neck …faitth” thing. But you lost me on the “neck time-span” thing. Not that I’m not interested, mind you.

“Похожие Еакладки. Купите это место для своей Еакладки Рё получите”
Are you kidding me? Blood, Sweat and Tears was a much better band than Herman’s Hermits, you воей!

“The account aided me a acceptable deal. I were a little bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided vibrant clear idea.”
Thank you. That’s why I do this.

“A piece of erudition ulnkie any other!
A most erudite insight, sir!”

“Mogando told me you dress for expesical.”
I dunno…do you think the spurs were a bit too much?

Yes, these spamical (no it’s not a word, but it should be) insights are why I check my spam folder!

Hey, these are better than cable and “near as funness!”