This is an e-book for those who are considering getting into the voiceover business, or are looking for an edge to develop their voiceover business. It is a combination of some of my blogs relative to this topic and a list of some resources that any voice talent should consider. Please remember as you read through this that some of this material is dated. However, I trust that it will be of some use to you.
Take your time reading and studying this material. I believe it will be of benefit to you to review and apply to your particular needs.
Let me say right up front that some of the information here is not original. I may have come across it over the years, and have forgotten where it came from. Please, PLEASE, if any thing I have published here is original with you, let me know and I will quickly attribute the source, or even remove it if you request me to do so. It is not my intent to plagiarize or steal anyone's material. Feel free to email me with that information at email@example.com
A VOICE OVER REALITY CHECK
The voiceover business is growing by leaps and bounds! There are literally thousands of people trying their hand at it. And no wonder! It’s a great business!
There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t hear from someone requesting advice or information on getting into the business. There is a lot of information out there on how to do it. Just doing a search for “how to get into voiceovers” will get you about 3 million matches!
I’ve been in this business for over 25 years. I’m a witness to the amazing changes in the industry. And believe me, it is changing very, very rapidly. So here are some things that you should be aware of if you are planning to venture into this strange and wonderful world:
1. As best I can tell, there are only about 3000 of us true full-timers in this business.
The thousands of others are part-timers or have an additional full-time job, or supplement their income with related activities such as teaching, coaching, radio/tv jobs, club work, or whatever. And the reason they have to supplement their voiceover work is because the competition is intense. I don’t mean that it is ugly. There are just a lot of people out there competing for the same voice jobs!
If you are considering getting into voiceovers on a part-time basis, consider this: not being in the voiceover business full-time means that your clients are going to have to wait on you. Now, that’s not a problem for some producers, but it is for most. And it will knock you out of the running for many of the available jobs.
Why? Think of it this way: The copy has been written and approved; usually the music has been selected; if it’s a video project the acting has already been done; in many cases the buy for a commercial has already been placed; all the producer/editor is waiting on is the voice talent. And usually by then they’re already behind schedule. They don’t have time to wait for somebody to get home from work, cut the voice, send it to them overnight, make changes, send it back to the talent, wait for the talent to get home from work the next day, and do it again…and wait ‘til the next morning to get it in their email. Not to mention that some producer/editors want to direct the talent live by ISDN or phone patch.
The only reason any producer/editor would wait on you in that case is because you have such an incredible voice or delivery, or it’s a tight budget and you’re working for cheap.
I tell you that right up front because most likely you are not going to make a lot of money in this line of work. For the ninety-some-odd percent majority, voiceovers are a supplemental income at best, and even then, very limited. So you need to know upfront, if you are looking to get into this part-time (which I recommend), understand that the income will be quite limited.
There are some people that make a very nice living in the voice business. But they will tell you it’s a business and it’s a job. You have to treat it that way. If you want to make a lot of money, you have to do a lot of work.
2. Having a nice voice that people comment on doesn’t qualify you for the business anymore than having a nice face makes you a movie star.
Let me put that into perspective. Scroll through Facebook and look at all the pretty faces. How many of them are movie stars? That's about the percentage of good voices that make it in the voiceover business.
It takes a lot of time…let me repeat that…A LOT OF TIME…to learn what your voice can do and what it can’t. It takes a lot of personal training to develop your signature voice. My vocal style is so incredibly different now from what it was years ago because it takes so much time to learn what it is that one can do well. And what the current trends are in the voice business.
A voiceover is voice acting.
Let me come back to a stage and screen analogy. They don’t call them stage talents or screen talents. They call them actors. They’re all talents; it’s how they use that talent to act that sets them apart. The same thing is true with voiceovers. It is HOW we use our voice that sets us apart. We are, in every sense of the words, voice actors.
A voiceover is acting. And because you don’t have a stage or props or costumes, it’s all about what you do with your voice. While you may be gifted with an exceptional voice, it’s what you do with that gift and how you use it that gets noticed...and gets you paid.
3. It takes good equipment to stay in this business.
I hear it almost every day: an audition or a demo from a voice talent that has used equipment that is not set up right, or just cheap. Believe me; producers/engineers/editors who do this all day for a living can hear that in the first 3 seconds. And when your equipment doesn’t measure up to their standards you’re probably not going to get the job, no matter how great your voice is.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to spend a fortune on equipment. In fact, you don’t. But you do have to have equipment that is compatible and right for your voice.
That’s one reason why I’m always so amused at the discussions on the voiceover forums where arguments ensue about the best microphone, or best recording software, or best processing, etc. Every voice is different and requires its own unique combination and tweaking of equipment.
I recommend that you make the investment and take the time to get a copy of Dan Friedman’s book available at: http://sound4vo.com/thebook. Or listen to the various podcasts of Voice Over Body Shop at http://www.vobs.tv
4. A shingle doth not a voiceover business make.
I think Shakespeare said that. Maybe not.
Just because you declare yourself a voice talent, and even have a great demo to use, and even have a spectacular website doesn’t mean you’re in business. It just means you’re a voice talent with a demo and a website.
I know a voice guy with great talent, a really good demo and website, and even his own business cards. He hasn’t had a voice job in the last year.
Why? Because as I mentioned before, it’s a business and it has to be treated that way. And that means marketing. Strong marketing. Creative marketing. Ambitious marketing. Persistent marketing.
If you don’t have a good marketing plan you’ll be dead in the water. You might as well as use that Subxonic 1000 TMS Macro Flogulator as a boat anchor because you’re not going anywhere.
And by marketing I don’t mean joining a pay-site to send you voice job leads. Such sites are a very, very small part of an effective overall marketing plan. Now, I’ve joined some of those sites, and I do get work from a couple of them, but most people that I know that have joined those sites cannot say that they’ve gotten their money’s worth.
It takes a lot of networking to develop any sort of work flow. Who you know is important, but who knows you is more important.
I learned a long time ago that it doesn’t matter how much work I’ve done in the past, if I don’t have something lined up for tomorrow I’m unemployed. You’re only as good as your next job.
5. Carve your niche.
Some voice talents are cartoon voices. Some sell cars. Some do audio books. Some sell beer. Some are multi-lingual. Some do impersonations.
What is your niche? How can you capitalize on that?
As I mentioned earlier, Voice Overs are a great business. You get to be creative. You do something unique that no one else can do quite like you. Some of us make a good living at it. Some make a good supplemental income. And it’s fun!
I love what I do and I don’t wish for a different job. I guess that’s the greatest endorsement for it.
But, I have to admit, voice talents are an odd lot.
THE NOT SO SECRET SECRET
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.
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.”
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've learned to 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.
MISTAKES VO TALENTS MAKE
This is somewhat of a catharsis because I’ve made pretty much all of the mistakes on this list!
The good news is that making the mistakes isn’t career ending (for the most part). The bad news is chances are you didn’t know they were mistakes and you made them…or are making them.
I would imagine you’ve got a few to add to this list.
OK. Here goes:
1. Trying to be all things to all people.
I started in the voiceover business years ago when I lost my radio job. I couldn’t find work anywhere. McDonalds wouldn’t even hire me! My wife suggested that I use my voice for some commercial work. I thought “Well, somebody’s doing that voice work. I might as well try to get a piece of the pie.”
I was so desperate for work that I tried to do everything. I mean everything! I tried typical announcer to character voices. I did screaming car commercials to soft, sensual perfume spots. I tried imaging work; phone work; even church spots.
The problem was I was getting very few returns. People hired me. They just didn’t hire me again. Dick Solowicz, my agent at the time sat me down one day and said “You’re good, but you’re not good enough to be everything. Pick out 3 or 4 styles you love doing and let's make you an expert in those areas.”
That saved my career. Or gave me a career, depending on how you look at it.
I’ve since learned there are some things that I’m just not that good at. I’d like to be, but I’m not. No sense in trying to beat my head against the wall and waste time trying to convince others to give me a try. They just won’t come back.
The truth is I’m not a movie trailer guy (as much as I want to be). And I don’t sound like a 25 year old. No sense trying!
But put a deep, warm, whimsical, friendly, caring script in front of me and I’ll nail it just about every time. Give me a screaming car spot and I’ll make your ears bleed. Want a typical announcer? Here I am; English or Spanish.
2. DJ Syndrome
Most of the Voice Talents I know have a background in radio. And lately, because of the “brilliant” business acumen of most radio consolidators (I can’t bring myself to call them broadcasters), there are a lot more radio talents getting into the voice business. Welcome to the show, but leave your radio baggage behind.
In the radio business, (and I was in it for several years, so I think I know what I'm talking about), the production director calls you and tells you he needs you to voice a few spots. You go in and rip ‘em off as fast as you can because that’s all that’s expected of you. And you've learned and developed through the years, a broadcast rhythm. After all, a huge part of a DJ's work is timing; being able to nail that post, ramping up to the next element, back-selling into the break, etc, etc. And now you have a delivery that is great for those elements, but worthless for voiceover.
You’re not in the radio business anymore. You’re in the advertising/creative/acting business. If you want to make it in this business you have to lose that DJ syndrome.
Our clients are looking for someone who can make their copy come alive. Someone who really gets what they’re trying to do and say. Someone who understands that it’s their job to make the client look good. Someone who treats the copy as if they wrote it and as if it was the last spot they’re ever going to do.
Years ago I totally embarrassed myself in a session. It was an ISDN session and the client was patched in for it. After a few minutes into the session I heard the client say to his client, “Wow, this isn’t the same voice I heard on the audition.”
I had failed to follow up and listen to the audition and determine what voice the client was looking for. I wasted his time and increased his costs because he had to take studio time to get me to where he wanted me.
I’ve been on numerous multiple-voice sessions where one of the talents made this very mistake. It’s costly and it just puts everyone else in an awkward and frustrating position.
Don’t do it. Be consistent. Know what it is about you that your client hired you to do.
4. Out Of Your League
This is similar to #3. Sometimes you get hired to do something that you just aren’t capable of doing. Oh, you think you can, but you can’t. Your demo suggested that you could, but the demo was doctored and you are out of your league.
Some time ago I was working on a two-voice Spanish spot for a client that didn’t know Spanish. The other talent knew Spanish but was not a native speaker (even though the talent's last name was Hispanic). The difference was awkwardly obvious to me and no one else. I approached the agency and gave them a heads up but they dropped the ball. The client didn’t know it…until the spot aired.
The agency lost the account.
Listen, when you pretend that you can deliver the goods eventually it’s going to get back to your client that that’s what you were doing: pretending.
A few things are about to happen here. First, you are never going to be hired by that client again…maybe not even that production house. Secondly, you’ve cost the client money, and chances are you won’t get paid – so you wasted their time and yours because you could have been doing a job that you’re good at! Thirdly, you may have damaged the credibility of others that you are working with. And finally, now you’ve got a bad reputation with a few people in the industry. Not good. Not smart.
This doesn't just apply to languages. It could be anything like your voice registry, faked accents, reading ability, etc.
5. Bad Records
OK, one more. Learn to keep good records and get your invoicing in on time. I’m speaking from experience here. I’m horrible at this. I’ve got great invoicing and bookkeeping software, but I’m pathetic when it comes to keeping up with the invoicing. It’s an area I have to really focus on. My CPA hates me.
Not getting your invoicing done in a timely manner does a number of negative things. It creates a bookkeeping nightmare for your client. It makes you look incompetent. And it just creates more work for you that you are obviously not good at! Oh, the IRS is gonna love you!
WE’RE business people for crying out loud! We need to act that way.
So…you’ve probably thought of a few more mistakes that need to be added to this list. Let’s see ’em. It can only help make our business better!
STOP DOING THE BASICS
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.
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 need; 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 some rather eye-opening personal research over the past few months. It was an in depth analysis of my business. 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 (with apologies to Doug Turkel - the UNnouncer).
WHAT ABOUT THOSE P2P SITES?
There has been a lot of talk lately among voice talents about the numerous websites that have cropped up offering to provide job leads to voice talents for a price. The common term for such sites is Pay-To-Play sites, or P2P’s. Most of them generally charge an annual fee for a voice talent to be listed and have access to the job leads that come through that particular website. Most allow for the voice talent to “bid” on a job by submitting their demo or audition and quote their rate to do the job.
How P2P Sites Operate
The purpose of this blog is to explain a little of how some of these sites work behind the scenes; not to disparage these websites. There is an apparent demand for them given the great success some of them enjoy. As a matter of full disclosure, I owned one of the original P2P sites (voicecompany.com).
Each P2P has its own little twist. Some just charge an annual fee. Some might charge a back-end fee or commission for a job landed through the site. One has developed its own algorithm to keep too many people from responding to job leads, supposedly to keep from overwhelming the clients. One requires voice talents to quote their rate using their website’s escrow system for which the website keeps approximately 10% (I've heard it's even more now) when the client gets paid, on top of their annual fee. One P2P "offers" to manage the project for the client, and it is well known now that they will keep up to 70% of the client's talent budget for themselves). And on and on. There are as many different ways of doing business as there are P2P sites.
Every P2P site has its own marketing strategy. That is critical to the success of the site. How is the site marketing itself? Is it aggressively searching for qualified jobs leads or just waiting for those leads to come to them? Is it more focused on getting paid subscribers than it is on finding jobs? These are critical questions any voice talent should consider when choosing to be a part of a P2P site.
The trend in P2P sites seems to be to specialize in a particular field. A good example of that is www.eLearningVoices.com for eLearning, or www.acx.com for audiobooks. And there are a few that specialize in specific languages.
There are a number of factors that voice talents should know about the way these sites work. In many cases these are things that the website operators may or may not have control over. I share these out of personal experience as a voice talent and as a former P2P site owner.
How Clients Use P2P Sites
When a client is looking for a voice talent on a P2P site they will usually do one of two things – or both: They may search the talent roster, listen to demos and contact the talent directly to inquire of their interest to work on the client’s project (although many of the P2P sites prevent that from happening). Or, they might list their project on the website and wait for voice talents to respond with their information and/or customized auditions. Each method has its strengths and drawbacks.
When responding to a request for an audition, what factors will get an audition listened to or rejected?
Clients pretty much know what they like and don’t like. Even if they are not sure what particular type of voice or style they are going to settle on, they definitely have some ideas of what they want AND do not want. If they hear something at the very beginning of an audition that is something they definitely do not want, they will most likely skip the rest of the audition and move on to the next one.
Voice talents should know that when a client is searching for a particular voice style, they will usually only listen to the first few seconds of a demo or audition. Then once they find a voice that interests them, they will listen longer. So a voice talent needs to make sure they’ve put exactly what they want the client to hear right at the front of the demo or audition. And more than 2 seconds of introduction on an audition (name and number of takes) is a waste of time and may very well get the audition skipped. In fact, many clients/producers/casting agents, don't care what your name is or how many takes your sending, and they will push play and immediately move the cursor a few seconds into the demo, and give it 2 to 3 seconds, and if it doesn't grab them right away, they move on.
The quality of a demo or audition is critical. I often think of demos and auditions as those food samples at the grocery store. If the shopper doesn’t like the sample, they sure aren’t going to buy the product. I’m appalled at the number of badly produced demos and auditions. As a former P2P owner I can tell you they’re an embarrassment. I wanted clients that came to my site to know that we represented some great voice talents. Sloppy ones just get in the way. Frankly, we tried to cull those out of our roster. I know that sounds mean and harsh, but we owed that to our clients and our working voice talents. There are a few P2P sites today that are starting to operate that way.
The Dirty Little Secret
Now, one final explanation of something that goes on all the time on P2P sites that many voice talents don’t understand. Many P2P sites brag that they represent work for major companies. It’s actually rather amusing. Do you think that Disney, IBM, Ford, etc. or their agencies are scouring the P2P sites in search of the next great voice. Believe me, they aren’t. I doubt their creative departments even know about most P2P sites, if any.
But the following scenario does happen over and over:
A major company has an ad agency of record. Together, they decide they are going to do a particular campaign. The agency has a creative department that works with any number of production houses. They let them know that they are working on a project and need some rates, maybe even some suggestions. The production house may handle that at their level, or they may let some of their independent producers in on the plan. See where this is going?
I have seen project bids, that aren’t a sure thing, developed by many different independent producers for the same project. Several of these producers hit the P2P sites, posting their “jobs,” getting auditions and rates that they can use to submit a proposal. These aren’t real jobs because the producer hasn’t gotten the project, but most of the time voice talents don’t know that. And by the way, remember that P2P sites tend to count those scenarios as job opportunities which obviously inflates their numbers.
If it’s happening on a scale that involves major companies, you can bet many of the smaller jobs are operating by the same procedure: a producer putting together proposals for jobs he/she doesn’t even have. It happens all the time. And remember, every level up to the final client is going to take a cut of the action, so the working producer has to account for that in the rate they charge to do the job. That generally means squeezing the rates to the non-union talent.
Certainly not all jobs posted on P2P sites are like that. I have no idea what the percentage is. I’m sure every P2P site is different. And there are certainly many legitimate voice job opportunities on P2P sites. I know, I’ve landed my share. Just be wise and observant. If it looks too good to be true, it is. If the explanation is vague, it may be because there is no real project. If the copy is poorly written you can bet it’s not coming from a major client or ad agency. And remember, it’s the small to medium jobs that are generally posted to P2P sites. That means small to medium rates.
By the way, it is not happening yet, but I hope that one day P2P sites will offer voice talents the option to respond only to voice-seekers with fixed rates. Most, if not all, require voice-seekers to set a range that they are willing to pay, and then require the voice talents to bid, presumably within that range. Frankly, I don't bid on jobs. I used to, but I soon realized that bidding just drives the rate down. I'm not going to play that game. I expect a voice-seeker to let me know what the project rate is, and if I can do the job for that rate, then I may audition for it. And if the client is asking for VO talent to bid the job that tells me a lot about that client. I probably don't really want to work for him/her. Recently, VOPlanet.com, a P2P site, started requiring clients to state their rate, and voice talents can agree to work for that rate, or state a higher rate, but they are not allowed to offer a lower rate. We'll see how that works out, but it's a pretty good attempt to keep desperate voice talents from driving prices down.
So, am I anti-P2P sites? No. But I do think that voice talents need a realistic view of what P2P sites do and how they work; how they make their money, and the quality of the job requests they get. It’s important to remember that producers also use P2P sites to put their project bids together, and often they aren’t transparent about that. It’s imperative that voice talents know how the individual P2P sites operate; if they submit auditions in the order received; how and when they submit the audition requests and the actual auditions, are they offering the rate that the voice-seeker has declared, or do they intend to hold back part of it for themselves (it is well known that one of the largest P2P sites does that, and does not declare how much they are holding back)? And it’s critical to remember that a demo or audition must be extremely high quality to compete with other demos and auditions.
THE LA / NY MYTH
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. Also some of the major talent agencies are headquartered 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 larger city in the United States, and many small ones. 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 had a job that day, 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!” See my point? You are not at a disadvantage just because you don't live in L.A. or N.Y.
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.
SPREADIN' IT OUT
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 need. That, my friend, is fundamental marketing. And you didn't even need to go to Business School for that!
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 discussion .
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 four genres that I focus on: Automotive, Infomercials, eLearning/corporate narrations, and TV & Radio programing. And the revenue flow from those 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.
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!
THE PATH TO SUCCESS
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 over 25 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.
I’ve heard all the arguments of how one should charge for spec spots. Sorry, I don’t buy it.
You will not succeed if your clients don’t succeed. And if you help your clients succeed, they will most certainly help you 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 was pathetic.
A few days later, I followed up with the producer, and he told me, "Oh, they decided to hire Dick Vitale."
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 on 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 - your whole package. 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 (your whole package) are worth.
5. Go burn something.
I had a client once tell me, “Look, I don’t care how hot you are, what I need is 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.
DON'T GIVE UP!
It’s been a little disconcerting.
Over the past few months I’ve heard from a number of voice talents that are considering getting out of the business (particularly full-time), or at least taking on another job to make ends meet. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. But I just wanted to take a moment and drop a couple of thoughts on you.
I gotta tell you, I don’t blame you. The business is tough right now. Very tough. And while it seems there may be a little light at the end of the tunnel, some folks are really struggling.
The business that we love and enjoy so much has caught the eye of a whole lot of people who think that what we do is so easy they should grab a piece of the pie. Well, that’s your fault, dear voice talent. If you weren’t so good at what you do nobody else would want a part of it. That’s just the way it is. When the economy goes south, people start looking for new and innovative ways to make money.
“Voice coaches” and “voice job sites” have made it seem as though anyone can do this job. I don’t totally blame them. Many are just capitalizing on people’s dreams just as some modeling agencies and talent agents do. Now, please understand I don’t believe all coaches and voice job sites should be defined that way. There are some outstanding vocal coaches! And there are some very good voice job sites. I’m a member of a couple of those sites, and I get work from them. I have some agents and I’m listed with a couple of Production Companies, and I get work from them. They’re not all suspect. But let’s face it, any voice job site that has thousands of paying members but much fewer legitimate job opportunities is taking advantage of voice talents (or wanna be voice talents), no matter how they defend their actions, not to mention “agencies” that play slight-of-hand with rates (surely you’ve noticed that some agencies promote the same jobs all at different rates!). Think about this: P2P sites that boast they have tens of thousands of members, are NOT offering tens of thousands of auditions. In fact, do the math. If you are a member of one of those sites that boasts, say, 30,000 members, but you only get 2 legitimate auditions a day, what do you think your chances are of landing one of those jobs??? And about those “voice coaches” who sell and sell and sell their seminars: Buyer beware. There is a reason they have to promote so much! Unfortunately, this business is full of charlatans!
But if you think voice talents are the only ones suffering in the industry, think again. The ad agencies, producers, and editors I’ve been talking to are saying the same thing about their industries. It seems anyone with a mic and some editing software fancies himself a creative genius. And here’s the scary part: businesses are paying them to produce their work (sometimes greed isn’t about making money…it’s about “saving” money).
In spite of all of that, I say “Hang in there! Don’t give up!” It’s your dream. Don’t let someone steal it from you. And there are three things I would recommend you do.
1. Go back to your basics.
Go back to what you are really good at. You don’t have to spread yourself thin to make it.
I used to box when I was in high-school. My coach always told me, a fight is no time to try something new. His point was that I needed to stick to my strengths, where I knew I was good, where my competition had reason to fear me. By the way, my competition never feared me. I had a very short boxing career.
The same principle is true now. What are you really good at? Now, go find someone that really needs that.
But move beyond the basics, as I’ve already mentioned before, take a few steps beyond the basics to set yourself apart. You need the basics. But if you want to win, you have to go beyond the basics.
2. Remember who you are.
One of the key things I told each of my boys as they went off to college was “Remember who you are. You are not what someone else wants you to be. You are better than your failures, and your successes are the result of who you really are.”
Quit trying to be the voice talent you are not. I gave up a long time ago trying to be Don LaFontaine. I had to. I have too much hair. Oh, and there’s that other little thing about not having his voice. And I gave up trying to sound like Sam Elliot. And I quit trying to be a cartoon character.
And I must say, it’s worked out better for me that way.
3. Trim your sails.
Sailing isn’t about how much wind there is and how fast you can go. It’s about controlling your boat to take advantage of the wind that is available. And on the sails there are telltales (pieces of cloth that catch the wind) to help you determine how to adjust your sail. The secret to taking advantage of the available wind is to watch the telltales.
The same is true with your business. If there’s not that much business out there right now, you need to adjust to the situation by reading the telltales – those little things that tell you how to take advantage of the available resources.
For example, I have a VO friend who makes most of his living doing car spots. His clients have taken a beating in this economy. He was about to lose one of his biggest clients and I suggested he try a new tact: convince his client that instead of using the media to go out and tell potential customers about his specials, why not have the customers come to him?
My friend looked at me like I was crazy. But I suggested that his client use his current resources – a big marquee sign on the highway and his phone line – and put on the sign that he would have some sort of unique special every day, but that customers would have to call for a recorded message to take advantage of the special. So, every day he ran a ridiculous special, but you had to call to find out what it was. That way he could control his loss leader. He offered oil change specials for $10, free windshield washer fluid, a couple of times he offered to replace trailer hitch balls on trucks, a few times he sold a car at some ridiculously low price, and on and on. Well, guess who got to record those specials for him? And he actually made about the same amount from him during the recession as when the economy was doing ok. And the best part? His client got great publicity and managed to outsell his competitors all because of his outstanding customer contact.
He trimmed his sails. The telltales revealed what customers would be willing to do and how they would be willing to spend their money and my friend and his client found a way to take advantage of the economy. It’s not about how much work is out there – it’s about adjusting your business to take advantage of the situation.
So, before you completely give up, how about going out and taking a walk in the woods. Figure out what your basics are and what you need to do to get back to them. Take some time to remember who you are – not what someone else thinks you should be.
And then…go sailing.
FALLING IN LOVE
Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and with it all the hoopla of cards, and chocolate, and flowers. But I noticed something interesting this year. I received Valentine’s greetings from a number of clients! That’s new to me. What a thoughtful way for a business to connect with their vendors!
It got me to thinking. As voice talents, we spend a great deal of energy and time trying to connect with clients. An awful lot of what we do is just to get noticed. Just to get heard. All the emails and phone calls and demos and Google ads and postcards and…it’s sort of like trying to get that first date, isn’t it?
But what causes a client to fall in love with us?
I wrote to a few of my clients to ask them that very question. I told them I was going to write this article for voice talents and that they, as clients, would remain anonymous. They could say whatever they wanted.
Naturally, I received some of the responses one would expect. There is a demand for responsiveness and professionalism. Clients want someone they can trust. Someone that they know from experience will deliver their project accurately and on time.
But there were some additional little gold nuggets that came through in their answers.
Several of them spoke about “connection.” Not so much in the sense of compatibility, but more of a sense of purpose. That sense that “we’re in this together.” One client put it this way:
“I want to sense that they really get where we’re going with a project, and believe in it.”
It’s an interesting point. Usually a client has had the project on their plate for some time. As voice talents, we are normally one of the last people to see it and have any creative input. The client and all their contracted help have already lived it and know what they expect from it. They need us on board with it right away. They don’t have time to sell it to us.
Another client said it this way:
“You know almost before they open their mouths, there is a tangible connection. They are bright, interesting people who know how to tell a story. Not the voice, not the reputation, but honest God-given talent. They would captivate you around a campfire, and they can sell, define, and be the spokesperson for any product, company, or process that is given to them to interpret.”
The second word I noticed used often was “understand.” Clients need us to understand what the copy is really saying and how they want us to deliver it.
This is somewhat of a tricky one. Sometimes, especially with a new client, it takes a bit of time and trial and error to really get their terms and expressions…especially if it is a client from a different country and/or culture.
I had a new client in Germany that sent me a script for a film promo. He kept asking me to sound “bigger and softer.” I finally asked, “Do you mean like a big ol’ teddy bear?”
He started laughing and saying, “Yes, yes, yes! You are a teddy bear!” Turns out that my voice was to be one of the characters that was also the main narrator of the film. And yes, I was a teddy bear.
Here’s what one client said about why he loves voice talents who understand:
“They are in command of their talent and have an innate ability to understand how to interpret direction and carry that into their delivery.”
This idea of “interpreting” copy popped up a lot in the responses I received. It’s probably one of the top three critical elements of what we do as voice talents. All copy that requires an interpretation has a clue or two to get you started. It may be a word, a term, a rhyme, a rhythm, an attitude, something that isn’t like all the others to color your interpretation.
“I want to hear someone that is warm, and real. Unless of course I’m going for shtick; then I need a real hammy announcer-type. Ultimately it’s about finding someone versatile that understands what you’re trying to achieve and gets into the moment.”
I love how one client explained it:
“A sense that the [talent] has care and attention and fits inside the piece.”
“Fits inside the piece!” Isn’t that great?!?!
Falling in love. It’s a magnificent thing. And when a client falls in love with you, well, it’s just magic!
Let me close with this quote from one of my clients that says it so well:
“The key is ‘getting it.’ Does the VO talent ‘get’ what they are doing? Are they funny and dry at the right time? Are they appropriately enthusiastic? Can they sell without getting cheesy? And do they love what they do? THAT is when I fall in love!”
Here are some resources for your consideration:
There is a well written e-book and a number of blogs that cover getting into voice work, which should answer a lot of your questions. My top-level advice is to research the business, talk with a number of voice talents and don't quit your day job.
With that said, start with the free e-book written by working voiceover talent, Doug Turkel:
Next, check out Peter K. O'Connell’s "The Voiceover Entrance Exam": http://www.audioconnell.com/index.php?src=gendocs&ref=thevoiceoverentranceexam&category=workshop
Also a good read with a lot of info on resources is Voice Actors Notebook dot com:
And I’ve stolen the following resource information from various sources:
Aside from my incredibly insightful eBook (read that line with extreme sarcasm), here are some books that I would highly recommend (click on the title to order):
The Art of Voice Acting by James Alburger
The Voice Actor's Guide to Home Recording by Jeffrey P. Fisher and Harlan Hogan
You Can Bank on Your Voice by Rodney Saulsberry
Secrets of Voice over Success by Joan Baker
Here are some online sites that would be worth you checking out:
Nancy Wolfson's Free mini-lessons
Pat Fraley's Free lessons
So You want to be an Audiobook Narrator
If you are considering getting a coach, consider one of these (click on their name for their link):
I use the two coaches above on a regular basis.
Terry Daniel - http://www.terrydaniel.com/votraining.html
Scott Burns - http://bookscottburns.com/
Marc Cashman - http://www.cashmancommercials.com/
Johnny Heller - http://JohnnyHeller.com
Need someone local? http://www.harlanhogan.com/coachList.php
And I HIGHLY recommend http://www.opencoaches.com This is a site that I use regularly. And I use some of those coaches regularly also!
There are, no doubt, many, many other excellent coaches. I just don't know enough about them to be able to recommend them. That is no reflection on them.
The one thing I would caution you about upfront is to watch out for the overwhelming load of voiceover coaches out there. Most of them are not worth their price. Do your research. Finding a coach is like finding a guide. There are a lot of people that can tell you how to get there, but very few that can actually take you there. Check out the links for coaches that are posted above.
Setting your rates is a huge challenge. If you are working non-union, I recommend you check out the rates guideline at: http://www.globalvoiceacademy.com/resources/voice-over-industry-standard-rate-guide/
Otherwise, your union (if you have a union in your country) will have its own rates.
Websites and relevant articles about voice over:
-Sign up for the free newsletter
-Teleseminars offered for coaching/training
News and information about all things VO. (an excellent resource!!!)
A huge resource for all things voiceover, although this is a site that seeks to sell its services.
A great place to find info and guidance for starting your voiceover career. And again, they sell their services.
If Audiobooks are your thing, then you must read Paul Alan Ruben's Blog: http://www.paul-alan-ruben.com/
So, there you go. A lot of information that should give you some insight to the business.
Is it for you? Only if you are willing to work very, very hard, can take a lot of rejection, and are really patient!
Best wishes to you in your endeavors!