A number of years ago, I paid a visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
At that time I was a reporter, producer and presenter for Radio Netherlands International. The museum had just announced the discovery of a new Van Gogh, and I was on my way to get a first look.
The curator was visibly excited to share his find with the world. So-called “new” Van Gogh’s had popped up now and then, but most of them turned out to be poor imitations or brilliant forgeries. This time around, the authenticity was not in doubt. Why? Because the actual painting was invisible.
As I walked down the climate controlled basement, I saw canvas after canvas radiating with vibrant colors. Some of them were in the process of being restored. Others were carefully wrapped up, ready to go on loan to a museum abroad. Then we stopped at what looked like a huge file cabinet with wide drawers.
“This is it,” said the young curator, as he opened one of the drawers. “Here’s our discovery. It is a portrait of an unknown woman.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “All I see is a painting of a Patch of Grass.”
The broad brush strokes of vivid green seemed to be sculpted onto the canvas, making this magnificent meadow an almost three-dimensional work of art.
The curator smiled and said: “That’s because you can’t see the portrait. Van Gogh often re-used his old canvases to save money. The painting you’re looking at right now was painted over the image of the woman. Let me show you what the X-ray revealed.
A HIDDEN MASTERPIECE
We believe the painting underneath was made in 1884 or 1885, during a period in which Van Gogh painted several portraits of peasants in the Dutch village of Nuenen.
The colors are kind of gloomy, certainly compared to the work of Impressionists, and that’s probably why Vincent decided to paint a brighter and more commercial scene over it when we was in Paris. As many as one-third of his paintings may conceal earlier works.”
In 2008, researchers used a newer technique to penetrate the layers of paint, revealing more details and color of the unknown woman hidden underneath the green grass.
In March of 2012, the Philadelphia Museum of Art had some 40 Van Gogh’s on display at their “Van Gogh Up Close” exhibition. I don’t think “A Patch of Grass” has made it to the U.S. but a work like “Undergrowth With Two Figures” from 1890 is part of the exhibit. Looking at it, one can almost feel the waves of wind whispering in the weeds.
MY U.S. TELEVISION DEBUT
The catalogue for the exhibition was in part funded by the Netherland-America foundation and NBC 10 provides promotional support.
As part of that promotion, Eileen Matthews produced the documentary “Van Gogh Up Close” which aired on March 17. Lori Wilson was the narrator, and you can hear me as the voice of Van Gogh, reading quotes from some of the many letters he wrote.
NBC wanted me to add some authenticity to this production and that made for an interesting challenge because we don’t really know what Van Gogh sounded like. He was born in the South of Holland and at age 20, he moved to London to work for an art dealer. Some scholars believe these were the happiest days of his life.
Van Gogh returned to England for work as a supply teacher in a small boarding school and later he became a missionary’s assistant. This leads me to believe that he might have spoken English with Dutch-British accent.
Here is part of a letter Van Gogh wrote in 1881 to his brother Theo who was an art dealer. These are the actual words Vincent wrote:
[audio:http://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Letter-to-Theo-Dutch.mp3|titles=Van Gogh’s Letter to Theo in Dutch read by Paul Strikwerda]
Listen to the same letter in English:
[audio:http://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Letter-to-Theo-English.mp3|titles=Van Gogh’s letter to Theo in English read by Paul Strikwerda]
Talking to non-Dutch speakers, one thing always comes up when discussing Van Gogh. Nobody seems to know how to correctly pronounce his last name. Is it “Van Goff” or “Van Goh”?
The correct answer: neither.
If you wish to impress your friends and family, here’s how you do it:
[audio:http://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Untitled.mp3|titles=Dutch pronunciation Vincent Van Gogh]
A NEW DISCOVERY?
Even today, people claim to have found new masterpieces by van Gogh. On Wednesday March 14th, Joshua Tree resident Michael Wilson announced he had discovered a long-lost painting depicting beech trees at sunset. He bought it for $50 in a junk shop. If the painting turns out to be genuine, it could be appraised at approximately $200 million.
During his lifetime, Van Gogh only sold one oil painting. He lived and died in poverty, but he knew he was leaving an extraordinary legacy.
He once said:
“I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell, but the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture.”
Well, that’s certainly one of the most prophetic understatements in the history of art. Especially if you take into consideration that some owners of a real Van Gogh might actually have purchased two pictures for the price of one!
You’ve probably heard the story of the priest who preached the same sermon every Sunday.
After a few weeks, some of the parishioners got tired of it and demanded an explanation.
“Do you really want to know why I’m repeating myself at every service?” asked the priest. The crowd nodded.
“I will continue to tell you the same thing over and over again, until you take it to heart and do something with it.
If you don’t change your behavior, I don’t see any reason for me to change my sermon.”
Well, I may be the son of a minister, but as a writer, I can certainly relate to this priest. When it comes to setting rates, I sometimes feel I’m talking to a sea of people with frighteningly short memories and no backbone.
Watch me as I go to my pulpit and address the crowd:
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click here for the paperback version, and click here for a Kindle download.
Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek.
“I’m being offered $200 to narrate a 120-thousand word audio book. Do you think that’s a fair rate?”
“A client wants me to record a movie trailer for $150. Should I do it?”
Not a day goes by without someone asking these types of questions on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.
Sometimes I stick my neck out and I respond to these questions, especially when I get sentimental and remember the early days of my career.
I was young and unafraid and incredibly ignorant. Back then there was no Internet. Picking brains became my specialty.
On other days I’m not so sappy, as I remember the kind words of my business coach:
“If you’re a Pro, you know what you’re worth. If you’re not, go do your own homework! You won’t learn a thing if I hand you everything on a silver platter.”
He was right.
These days, getting info has never been easier. Search Google for voiceover rates. You’ll get about 5,600,000 results in 0.52 seconds. How’s that for starters?
Bringing up rates usually spells trouble. Talent likes them to go up. Clients love paying less. Where to begin?
The Freemarketeers will tell you to leave everything up to the unregulated forces of supply and demand. After all, it worked well for subprime mortgages, didn’t it? The Interventionists fear a free fall for all. They want rates to be regulated.
Unfortunately, it’s not that black-and-white. Voice-Over rates reflect many variables, and unless you belong to a union or you have an agent, it can be tough to put a price on your pipes.
Enter a parade of Pay-to-Plays. You pay for the privilege of being offered the opportunity to audition and bid for projects, together with thousands of other privileged colleagues. Here’s the catch.
As a member, you often have to subject yourself to an agreed price range per project deemed reasonable by that site. Whether or not you choose to accept that range depends on your personal Price Floor.
A Price Floor is a point below which a product or service should not be sold, or else you’d incur a loss. I bet you anything that most people reading these words right now, have no clue what their price floor actually is.
Be honest. Do you?
A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE
If you’ve read my work before, you know that I have written about U.S.-based voice casting sites and their perceived influence on dwindling voice-over rates.
On January 8th, 2008, a new player entered the market: Bodalgo. Based in Germany, Bodalgo is the brain child of a man who once had a very boring job as the deputy editor of Penthouse: Armin Hierstetter.
Armin’s no dummy.
He studied the existing P2P’s carefully, as he set out to take the good and improve the bad to create something beautiful. Unlike similar sites, Bodalgo is available in German, Spanish, Italian and English (American and British).
Now, if you think that you can buy your way into Bodalgo, you are wrong. No matter the credit limit on your Visa Card, if you sound like crap, you can’t join the club.
Bodalgo caters to clients from all over the world, but because it’s based in Bavaria, it’s a gateway to the European voice-over market. This brings me back to rates. How does Bodalgo compare to its American counterparts?
I (PS) decided to check in with the boss: Armin Hierstetter (AH). Here’s a transcript of the interview.
PSI just saw a project posted on your site in the 100-250 USD range. It made me think: Is Bodalgo going in the direction of its American counterparts, or did I miss something? Has $100 always been the minimum?
AH In USD the minimum range starts at 100 dollars (the Euro has a 50 to 150 minimum range as – for example – a local radio spot in Germany is usually 50 to 55 Euro).
If jobs are posted that are budgeted too low (intentionally or not), Bodalgo contacts the voice-seeker suggesting what we believe is a fair rate. Sometimes the voice-seeker sees our point and is willing to raise the budget, sometimes not. If the voice-seeker does not agree on increasing the budget, the job simply does not get posted. Period.
Of course, we hear many times:
“What? You want me to pay 250 USD for a job that is done in five minutes? You must be insane, you [censored]”
Well, depending on my mood, I sometimes try to explain why voiceovers cost what they cost (knowing that with these types of folks it really does not help at all in most cases), or I simply press the delete button and go on with whatever I am doing.
PSBodalgo’s been in business for a few years now. What’s your overall take on how voice-over rates are established and where they are going?
AH There are many factors when it comes to rates. Here are few of them (this is by no means meant to be a complete list):
Uniqueness (most important if you ask me)
I see a link between equipment becoming more powerful yet more affordable, and declining voice-over rates. Let me share three trends with you:
1. The costs for your own studio are coming down, so you can make this beneficial for your clients as well;
2. Because many talents build their own studios, there is much more competition which also leads to lower prices. That’s how the market works.
PSSorry to interrupt, but clients are saving money due to the increase in home studios. They no longer need to pay for studio time, an audio engineer/editor and a director.
It is my impression that these savings are simply pocketed and not passed on to the voice talent. In the end, we end up doing more for less. Shouldn’t this give us some leverage to raise our rates?
AH I fully understand that voice-seekers already save a lot of money because they’re used to getting the finished audio from the talent without paying for a studio.
I want to be honest with you. I really think that’s one of the biggest mistakes talents have made for a very long time: They did not charge properly for the studio work, only for the rate as a talent. It will be VERY difficult to change this to an approach where talent charges their normal rate plus editing costs;
3. More and more people of the type “My friends all tell me I should host a radio show,” buy a Shure SM58 microphone and think that their laptop recording is God’s gift to the audio world. Untrained amateurs seem to flood the market.
What’s worse, there are many voice-seekers out there that listen to crap demos thinking they are actually good, because they don’t have a proper recording at hand to compare.
But one thing is for sure: Bodalgo will never start to accept amateurs. Yes, there are a few talents with Bodalgo that have just slipped through the net that might not have passed if I had been pickier the day I activated their accounts. Still, the level of Bodalgo’s talent is much, much, much higher than with any other Pay2Play site that we’ve come across.
PSWhat’s your advice on how to best play the game? Everybody loves to win an audition, but not at any rate. Do you expect voice-over rates to go up any time soon?
AH If you ask me, the reasons why rates should go up are purely to be seen in costs of living. If those prices would be stable, I’d say it’s fair to assume that our rates would stay stable as well.
With financial markets facing the issues they face at the moment, including all the effects like higher inflation, increased costs for energy, food, rent etcetera, I think that we’ll see rates rising over the next years to cover the rising living expenses.
PSInflation correction keeps rates at the same level. Talent won’t be making more just because the number on a check is higher. If we wish to increase the amount of money coming in, we need to compensate for the rise in the cost of living, and add e.g. 10% to whatever we’re charging.
AH Well, U.S.-based talent benefits from the weak dollar when paid in Euros by Euro-Zone clients. The opposite is true for Euro-Zone-Talent paid in USD. U.S. clients will not accept higher USD prices just because of exchange rates. It’s really just bad luck for us Euro-Talents.
So, to cut a long story short: Yes, I see higher rates over the next years. But this is only because everything else will go up in price as well.
PSSo, how can we best prepare for the tough years that are ahead of us?
AH 1. If you have not done so already, invest in your own studio.
2. Buy the good stuff (like Neumann or Brauner for mics, for example) as it will serve you well many, many years. Personally, I would no longer waste money on analog equipment. I would solely buy digital stuff (like the TLM 103 D from Neumann).
PSQuality equipment is essential, but owning a state of the art camera does not make one a top-notch photographer.
AH I do appreciate that a cool mic does not make a great voice talent, but this is not where I am coming from at all. I am just a firm believer that successful talent simply needs both: A well-trained voice and great equipment to deliver high-quality audio. There are too many Samsung USB mics out there in my opinion.
I know, of course, that those top shelf brands are pricey. But when you look at what you (and your client) get for the money – it turns out to be an excellent investment.
3. LEARN HOW TO RECORD PROPERLY!!! It’s really, really, really (I mean it) horrible to hear how bad, bad, bad many of the auditions are recorded (hiss, bad miking, bad levelling, bad everything). Use proper headphones to proof-listen your recordings and be super critical about the work you deliver.[Armin insisted this should be printed in bold]
PSCan Bodalgo keep both voice-seekers and voice talent equally happy, or is that impossible?
AH That’s easy: Our main goal is to attract more and more voice-seekers that post sanely budgeted jobs. We want to provide them with the easiest solution available to find high-quality talent without paying any commission. That way, both sides will win.
It’s time to tackle one of the most frustrating issues in the voice-over business.
It’s particularly frustrating because in all the years that I have been a VO-pro, I have seen little or no change. Voice-seekers are just not getting it and voice talents are putting up with it like meek sheep.
Before I tell you what the issue is, imagine for a moment, being lead into a pitch dark room. In this room -so you are told- you will find a dart board, but it could be anywhere.
You are given no more than one dart and one instruction: You must hit the bull’s-eye. If you don’t, you won’t be given a second chance and all your time and energy is wasted. Questions are out of the question. You are on your own.
Let me ask you this:
How great do you feel your chances are of hitting the bull’s-eye?
Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
Thanks to the growing popularity of this blog, some of my readers now write to me saying:
“Dear Mr. Nethervoice, I enjoy your articles but I never knew you were into voice-overs as well. For how long have you been gracing this world with the sweet, seductive sound of your pleasantly persuasive pipes?”
At that point, I patiently explain that I’ve been working the mic since I was 17, and some three years later I’m still at it. Well, that’ s not entirely true. I feel and act like I’m seventeen… most of the time. Of course information about my illustrious career has been available on other pages of my blog. You know, the ones next to this text that nobody bothers to read.
Since every question is a golden opportunity to enlighten my fans, colleagues and clients alike, I will do something I have never done before, at least not this openly.
For once, I will shamelessly sing my own praises, and if you’re not comfortable with that, I shall retreat into a corner and weep bitter tears of shame and disappointment… and proceed as planned! After all, who is going to stop me?
This is me in a nutshell:
full-time voice-over artist and writer
records in English, Dutch (mother tongue) and German
most in-demand accent: “neutral” or “European” English
specialty: intelligent international narration
impressive clients: Novartis, Deloitte, Plantronics, Farmers Life
Favorite quote: “Your voice is like velcro. Whatever you say sticks
Based on that last line, I should perhaps go by the surname of Stick-worda.
GUIDED TOUR Now that we’ve made our formal acquaintance, allow me to take you on a quick tour of some of my voice-over projects.
The Dutch are known for being great ice skaters. This is me, telling them about another exciting sport: skate boarding!
On to another mode of transportation. Here’s the only Dutch commercial I ever recorded for the black market:
Ready to get more mileage out of your gas tank? Then you should listen to “Muzzle the Guzzle: 50 Fuel Saving Strategies” by Michael Minsky.
This audio book received an average rating of 4.67 out of 5 stars on the earth-shattering Audible.com Richter scale. Narrated in English by yours truly.
On to other modes of transportation.
Meet Andreas Klauser. He’s the President and CEO for CASE IH, one of one of the world’s largest brands of agriculture equipment.
Born and educated in Austria, Mr. Klauser is a native German speaker. CASE IH asked me to dub a series of meet the CEO-videos, as the voice of Mr. Klauser… in German, that is! Kein Problem für mich!
The Austrian ski resort of Zauchensee is one of the hidden treasures of the Alps. Not for long, if it’s up to me.
The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises was one of the most influential proponents of Liberalism.
Jörg Guido Hülsmann, professor of economics at the University of Paris, tells the full story of his dramatic and inspiring life and contributions in a 1143-page biography.
The Von Mises Institute commissioned me to record the complete audio version of this masterpiece (some 32+ hours) and next week, work will start on a second book.
The Wharton School is the business school of the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League university in Philadelphia. Wharton is the world’s first collegiate business school and the first business school in the United States.
I’ll tell you more about Wharton in this presentation:
Haliotika in Brittany (France), offers everything to do with sea fishing, including displays of boats, fish varieties, interactive education for children and boat rides. A very fishy place, indeed.
Take the audio tour, and you’ll hear me as the German voice of Philippe and Claude, two local fishermen talking about net profit.
Camp Gurs was an internment and refugee camp constructed by the French government in 1939. In 1940, it became a concentration camp for Jews of any nationality except French, as well as people considered dangerous by the government. I was honored to narrate the German audio tour.
This Dutch company has produced an ingenious interactive digital movie course. It contains a large collection of known and unknown film clips from 1878 up to the present day.
Each clip is an example of a new discovery in cinematography: editing, camera movement, image cutouts, sound, talkies, color film, acting method, etcetera. This time, I step into the role of English tour guide.
Speaking of tours, we all have our dream homes. I happen to have quite a few of them and thanks to Spartina Studios, I get to be the host of many of Connecticut’s most precious properties. Here’s one of these humble abodes:
There’s no doubt about it: video increases home sales as long as it’s done right. That’s why I have written “Real Estate Videos & Voice Overs,” a white paper for videographers and real estate agents.
Some people still believe that voice-overs is all about doing silly voices (click here for more misconceptions). Well, sometimes it is! Who would have thought that a Dutchman would ever dub Johnny Depp?
Here’s a video I voiced for an insurance company. It will never win a prize for best animation, but I sure had a blast doing both voices! (the fun starts at 0:53)
This paint of this last video is still wet. Made in Kibbutz Gat, it tells the story of a multi-national company most of you have probably never heard of. It’s in Dutch, so I’ll leave it up to you to figure this one out!
Well, that’s all folks!
Thank you so much for enduring this exercise in self-indulgence. I admire your persistence and perseverance. Now you can go back to your daily chores as you reminisce about the delectable servings of eye and ear candy I had the pleasure of serving up for you.
I’m just going to look and listen to all the videos one last time…
When Claire Dodin was about seven years old, her mother built a theater in the attic of their apartment. Claire and her sister started putting on plays for her friends. Claire:
“It was such a happy time, and I decided I’d just have to play for the rest of my life!”
Fast-forward a few years, and you’ll find that Claire is as much at home in front of a camera as she is behind a mic. Born and raised in France, this actress, model, singer and voice-over talent moved to the UK before she made Los Angeles her home.
Bi-lingual, multi-talented and exceptionally professional, Claire has done well for herself. Her story is one of dedication, discipline and of following your dreams.
PS Let’s pretend that I’m a client and your agent had 30 seconds to describe Claire Dodin to me. How would your agent “sell” you?
CD I guess he would say that I’m versatile; I can handle pretty much anything, and can do several character voices including children’s voices. He’d probably tell you that I’ve voiced several jobs for Disney and the X-Box 360, and that I usually don’t need a lot of takes to please the clients. That’s why everyone wants to work with me again.
PS Percentagewise, how much of your career is taken up by voice-over work?
CD In the acting business things are always changing and moving. There can be months when all I do is voice-overs, and months when I’m shooting film after film and I don’t have much time for voice-overs. This always makes me sad because I have to pass on really fun jobs. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything. I have to turn down so much work, mainly due to lack of availability.
I would say that on average, voice-overs represent about 70% of my income and maybe 30% of my time. It always makes me laugh that it costs more to get only my voice, than to have me on camera!
Having said that, it can happen that a week goes by and there’s nothing, not one job offer. Then I start thinking that it’s all over and that I will never work again! It’s the nature of being self-employed. Nothing is ever set in stone. No one is ever entirely safe. You’re fashionable one week; the week after you’re not.
That’s why it’s so important that we value ourselves and feel an inner sense of security, and not let our job define who we are. Otherwise it becomes impossible to handle the stress. Luckily, a job always seems to come along when I need it.
PS Speaking of voice-over projects, what are you most proud of and why?
CD There are quite a few jobs I’m very proud of like the French-speaking FisherPrice cuddly bear who says things like “I love you, hug me…” Just thinking about it makes me smile. It’s the cutest thing ever! Or being on the Statue of Liberty tour in New York and being in the gardens of Versailles in Paris. I just love that my voice is over there! Next I want to be at the Taj Mahal! 😉
But the job I’m the most proud of right now is my Zombiepodcast in which I’m a series regular. It’s called “We’re Alive” and I play Riley. The scripts are fabulous and the production quality is amazing. It’s an honor to be part of it.
We have reached over 600,000 downloads with the first season! We’ve won the Gold Ogle Award 2010, the Communicator Award 2010 and we were a finalist for the Parsec Award 2010. The episode submitted for these, is one that is centered around my character, which makes me even happier! The second season has begun, and it’s free to listen to, so catch up with the episodes now!
PS Let’s talk about accent. Some people believe that -in order to make it as a foreign actor in another country- you need to get rid of your accent. Others believe your accent is what sets you apart. Where do you stand?
CD Well, I am not able to put on a convincing British or American accent, so I don’t even try. I believe clients would go for native speakers anyway, so it really doesn’t matter. When I get hired for an English job, they want my accent, because it sets me apart from everyone else. Sometimes they want a stronger French accent, which I can tone up or down. Sometimes, they just want a very clear English accent with a hint of French.
Accents are great, as long as the diction is excellent and people can understand it. That’s where many foreign voices fail: they are not clear enough. I only started booking work in English regularly, after years of working at speaking more clearly. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
PS Does another accent come naturally to you, or do you have to work with a coach to get it right?
CD I do work with a coach for accent reduction when a part requires it, but it is never for voice acting, always for on-camera. In the voice-over world, if they want a British voice, they’ll hire a British voice. Nowadays, it’s so easy to get a native speaker.
Accents do not come naturally to me. It’s very difficult if you were not immersed in foreign sounds as a child. In France, all TV programs and most films are dubbed. I pretty much never heard English sounds before moving to England. It’s different in other countries like Sweden or The Netherlands. That’s why the Swedes and the Dutch are usually much better at accents than French people.
PS Do Europeans have an advantage over Americans when it comes to foreign languages and accents?
CD Being European in America is certainly an advantage because there are fewer of us, and Americans love European accents. If you are an American in America, there are hundreds of other people who sound exactly like you, so it’s harder.
This is where personality is incredibly important, because in reality, there is only one of each of us. And we hear so much that we need to sound like this or this… In truth, what will make you book the job is YOU, your quirkiness, your own little things that most people are trying to get rid of. Keep them (but use the correct techniques)!
Being French in a foreign country has absolutely made my career. I was working as an on-camera actress in the UK, and people found me because they needed a French voice and couldn’t get one.
That’s how I landed my first jobs. Then I thought that maybe I should get an agent, so I sent samples of the jobs I had done. I didn’t have a demo at the time, and pretty much all the agents wanted to sign me and I started booking national jobs straight away. I think I recorded my first demo a couple of years later. I was very lucky. To this day, jobs still come to me. I don’t have to work very hard at getting them. I am in a very fortunate position. There isn’t much competition.
PS You have lived and worked in the UK and now you’re in LA. These days, we’re all connected via the Internet. Does location matter anymore?
CD Unfortunately, location still matters a lot. I’m hoping that clients will get used to ISDN, but today, most major clients want to meet up with the voices at the studio. This means that by moving to LA, I’ve lost most of the work I was getting in London. When I go back there for a week, suddenly I’ve got bookings every day in London studios. They haven’t forgotten me, but they want me there in person.
It’s the same in France, I know several people who would hire me regularly, but they want me in the studio in Paris. I imagine that it is the same for Los Angeles and New York.
Of course there are many jobs we can do remotely, but they rarely are high end. I once did a six months national radio campaign for the UK, and the client was happy to do it via ISDN for each recording. This was an exception, and I think it was because it was for radio. In the UK, most radio ads are recorded via ISDN. But for TV, you have to be in the room with them. I did record the Versailles job at my LA studio though, so sometimes it can happen if they really want you.
PS How do you get work, these days?
CD The reality of the business is that most voice-over talents audition every day. I’m in a very different position. The vast majority of the work I do, comes from direct offers via my agents, or directly from existing clients or new clients through referral/reputation.
It may sound strange to American voice talents, but I did not audition for any of the national commercials I did, video games, TV documentaries, high-profile jobs… That’s the way they do it in Europe: we get hired based on our demo or based on a recommendation from our agent or producers/sound engineers. I did however audition for the Fisher Price toys I voiced, but they paid me for the audition and then hired me. I also auditioned for the Versailles job, but they had specifically asked for me.
I think that the system works differently in America. Even established talents have to audition. That being said, I have many American clients that don’t ask me to audition either. I’m glad it works this way because I usually don’t have time to audition. When happen to I have spare time, I will record some open auditions, but this rarely leads to work (funny, no?). That’s the problem with open auditions: they don’t want You; they want A voice, and usually the cheapest one.
PS Do clients, agents, producers and directors have different expectations based on where they’re located? Do you approach an audition differently based on the country and culture?
CD Actually, everyone wants the best product at the best price as fast as possible pretty much everywhere. What may be different is the style of the voice-overs. For example, I find that promos and documentaries on US TV tend to have a “sensational” factor. In the UK they tend to be more casual/matter of fact. In France there’s also a distinctive sound for news or documentaries. The voice talent simply needs to adapt to the style of the country, but also to the medium and the client. Each job is different, which is part of the fun. For an audition, I try to find out as much as I can about the client and the target audience. That way, I can make a best guess as to what style is appropriate for the script.
PS This is a highly competitive business. Apart from talent and experience, what do you think is absolutely essential, in order to have an international voice-over career?
CDObviously, to have an international voice career it is essential to speak English, so you can communicate with clients anywhere (pretty much everyone will speak some English). Apart from that, you just need the same qualities that will make you a successful national talent, as well as a good marketing plan so people abroad know who you are.
The internet is an excellent medium, but it’s not essential. I know voice talents who have booked major international campaigns through their local agent. By local, I mean: one of the top agents in one of the top cities. It still seems difficult to book high-profile work without one of these agents, and you can usually only sign with one of them if you live in one of the major cities. That would be Los Angeles or New York for America; London for the UK and Paris for France.
Of course there are rare exceptions. There are a few very successful voice talents who do not live in the major cities, but they used to live there at one point. They moved away, and kept their agents and clients thanks to an ISDN-line. I only know of one person who has always lived far away and who is hugely successful.
This will hopefully change in the future, as home studios are becoming as good as studios in the big cities. I think it will still take a while before major clients accept not meeting a voice talent in person. This is why Don LaFontaine had a limo, so he could quickly go from studio to studio to record several jobs a day. It would have been so much easier to have him in one studio and the other studios would connect via ISDN, but it didn’t work that way and he had to drive from place to place.
I wish things were different, but nowadays, the best jobs are still recorded in major studios in major cities.
PS What’s most overlooked by up and coming international talent?
CD Something that foreign voices often overlook is to have an English version of their website. I was once looking for an Italian voice, and all I could find were websites in Italian, which I don’t speak. Had they had an English version, I would have contacted them. But I couldn’t work out if they had a home studio etcetera.
Also, they should indicate their location on the website. I was looking to book voices to come to a London studio, and I didn’t know where they lived. I nearly booked a voice once; I was ready to pay for a ticket to Paris, when he told me he lived in a small town in France and it wasn’t possible to get to where he needed to be, fast enough.
Another voice that I thought was in London, turned out to have moved to Paris. So, keep the info on your website up to date. Location is a big one, not just for outside studio bookings, but so we know your time zone in case we want an ISDN booking or we need you for a rush job.
PS What do you tell people who think that voice-over work is easy money, and that basically anyone with a good voice could do this?
CD Ah, ah! It’s a tough question, I could probably write a book about it! Voice-over acting is an art and the voice is the tool. You might have a fabulous canvas, great paints and a brush, but how easy is it to paint something that will sell for a few hundreds or thousands of dollars and be exhibited in a museum? Hmmm… But if you work hard, learn skills and have talent, maybe you’ll make a living as a painter. Same thing for voice-overs. And a few gifted ones will make it to the top.
PS What technology can you not live without, and how has it helped you book clients?
CD The only technology I really need, is my computer for my emails and my phone so I can take bookings. That’s all. But, with my home studio I can record more jobs and make a better living. Some voice talents earn a lot more than I do, and don’t have one, so it’s not essential. However, other voice talents only work from home.
PS You work for clients on different continents in different time zones. On one hand you need to be accessible but on the other hand you can’t be available 24/7. How do you handle that?
CD Ah, ah! Another tough one! I don’t handle it; it’s a bit of a problem. I get called in the middle of the night (when I forget to switch the phone off), I wake up at 5am for an ISDN session and I sometimes record till midnight! I need to be better at saying “no” to clients and regulate my hours. But I’m weak when people are nice and need a favor. I try to schedule ISDN sessions with Europe starting at 8am, LA time. That’s the end of the day for them. It usually works.
PS How much did you map out your career? Did you follow a strict plan or is it more spontaneous, “go with the flow”?
CDAt first I just went with the flow: voice-overs came to me not once, not twice but many times. This is when I realized that I should pursue it. Somehow, people knew I had a gift for it, even before I knew it. Then I started buying equipment to record from home. When my agent asked me to, I upgraded my equipment. When clients asked me to, I got the ISDN. I guess I always go with the flow. I don’t force things, they just happen when they need to, but I’ve got my ears open and I’m listening to the signs that tell me in which direction I need to go to.
That said, when I do something, I don’t do it halfheartedly. When I made the decision to work from my home studio, I practiced a lot to learn how to use the equipment. I listened to other voices and took advice from many people. I took classes etcetera. It took me a long time before I was able to make a quality recording.
When I upgraded to ISDN, I asked an engineer to come and install it for me, and install my sound booth so the sound would be good enough. I also bought a Neumann microphone. What’s the point of connecting to another studio if your own sound isn’t as good? So basically, every time the decision to go to the next step was made following the flow, but once the decision was made it was thought out and I followed a careful plan.
Being disciplined is absolutely essential if you work from home. It’s too easy to do something else if you don’t have a boss checking up on you, making sure that you are putting the hours in. You have to do it for yourself and be very organized. For me, one of the hardest things is to keep track of the jobs recorded, the invoices sent, the invoices paid/unpaid etc… I find the admin part the hardest.
When I get really busy, I forget to reply to emails that aren’t essential, like companies asking me to fill out forms and send demos for future jobs. Sometimes I struggle to find the time to send invoices. That’s not a good thing. Staying on top of the paperwork is not easy. I’m dreaming of the day I’ll be able to employ an assistant to do these things for me!
PS What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you in this business, and how has it helped you?
CD The best advice I was ever given, as far as performance is concerned, was:
“It’s not about you. It’s about the person you are talking to”.
This changed everything. I stopped watching and listening to myself. I stopped getting nervous and I became so much better.
The best business advice I was ever given, was to set up a website. I had no idea how important it was, until I did it, and it boosted my career immensely.
Thanks to the internet, any business is now a global business. Getting through to non-native English speakers can be a serious challenge. But just because your client knows a few English words, doesn’t mean he understands everything you’re saying.Here’s how not to get lost in translation.
“I have a good one,” I said to my friend from France.
“Why do gun-carrying Americans usually wear short-sleeved shirts?”
“No idea,” he answered. “You tell me.”
“Because they believe in the right to bear arms.”
“Sorry, but I don’t get it,” said Philippe. “Explain.”
“Well,” I said, “I can try, but I don’t think it would make the Second Amendment any funnier.”
“Oh, was it supposed to be funny?”
“Well, Philippe, some people think that puns are bad by definition.”
“What’s a pun?” Philippe wanted to know.
Have you ever had a conversation like that? All along you…
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click here for the paperback version, and click here for a Kindle download.
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On June 5th 1995, John Baur and Mark Summers were playing a friendly game of racquetball. For some mysterious reason, they started encouraging each other in pirate slang. I’ll let them tell the story:
“…whoever let out the first “Arrr!” started something. One thing led to another. “That be a fine cannonade,” one said, to be followed by “Now watch as I fire a broadside straight into your yardarm!” and other such helpful phrases.
By the time our hour on the court was over, we realized that lapsing into pirate lingo had made the game more fun and the time pass more quickly. We decided then and there that what the world really needed was a new national holiday.”
With Halloween upon us, our streets will soon be filled with young Jack Sparrow lookalikes, some of them more Arrr-ticulate than others.
As a voice-over arrr-tist, I absolutely love October 31st. What other holiday gives me the perfect excuse to revisit my crypt of creepy vowels and consonants, and resurrect them for the promotion of a local thrill ride or a scary costume emporium?
At this magical time, I usually take out my secret weapon: the alveolar trill, also known as “rolling R”. Doesn’t everything sound more sinister and spooky with a rolling R? Just think of the prince of darkness himself: Count Drrrracula from Trrrrransylvania.
You should be warned: the Dutch have a distinct advantage in the rolling R department. We roll ’em out all the time. Words like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Strikwerda… they wouldn’t be the same without a tongue-twisting alveolar trill. Netherlanders really appreciate their R’s.
The English on the other hand, consistently snub this consonant. What’s even worse, they leave half of them unspoken. Ask any Englishman to properly pronounce the following sentence:
“Not a word about the bird was ever heard until it occurred.”
Tell me, where did the R’s go? Now, if you did hear any rolling R’s in there, you were probably listening to a Scotsman.
However, there’s one important exception. If a classically trained English speaking actor wishes to add a dash of extra creepiness to his delivery, he will bring back the rolling R. My favorite example: the inimitable Cyril Ritchard in his role of Captain Hook.
Even though most of us will never be asked to play Captain Hook, I believe the alveolar trill should be on the tip of the tongue of every professional voice-over actor. Many of our clients are paying us for our ability to correctly reproduce the names of people and places, foreign and domestic, no matter what our mother tongue may be.
Just as opera singers are expected to master Italian, French and German pronunciation, students in my fictitious voice-over academy would have to take languages classes as part of their verbal acrobatics curriculum. As one of my imaginary students, you’d only be allowed to graduate if you could say the following Spanish sentences correctly, three times in a row:
“Erre con erre cigarro. Erre con erre barril.
Rápido corren los carros sobre los rieles del ferrocarril”
THE MISSING LINK
There are other strange things going on with the R in the English language. As we’ve seen, the R is often written out but not pronounced, as in the sentence “Never say never” (spoken in the Queen’s English, of course). But if that same word precedes a word that begins with a vowel, the same R is pronounced, as in “Never say never again”. This is called a linking R.
On top of that, some English speakers add an R that doesn’t even appear on the page, as in the word “idea-r” or the sentence “President Obama-r-and his Danish counterpart”. Linguists call this phenomenon an “intrusive R”.
And then, there is this famous R…
Peter Cook as the “Impwessive Clewgyman” in Wob Weiners “The Pwincess Bwide”.
As non-native English speakers (such as myself), what-R-we to make of all this? Is there any logic to your language? Is there any welation between your spelling and your pwonunciation?
So far, I have only touched upon the rolling-R and the Bwitish R. What about it’s American counterpart? Well, as you know, the ever so silent British R is often clearly pronounced in the States. Just as the rolling R might be a challenge for Americans, some Europeans have a hard time pronouncing a simple word like ‘hamburger’. See for yourself.
AHOY ME HARTEYS
There’s only day in the year that’s absolutely ideal for practicing your R’s. It’s September 19th, the International Talk Like A Pirate Day! And if you don’t believe me, ask John Baur and Mark Summers. With the help of some friends, they turned a goofy idea into a global phenomenon, with a newsletter called The Poopdeck. It’s arrrguably one of the silliest idears I’ve heard in a long time, and that’s exactly why I love it.
Now, if you will excuse me… I have to get back to my ship. Arrrrr!
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