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- Act Like A Pro
- The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay
- Bored Stiff
- Did You Miss Me?
- Whatever Happened to Critical Thinking?
- My Most Personal Post
- The Turning Point
- How Not To Impersonate A Saint
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- The Vital Voice-Over Skill We Never Talk About
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“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.
PS I 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.
PS Bodalgo’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)
- Recording skills
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.
PS Sorry 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.
PS What’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.
PS Inflation 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.
PS So, 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).
PS Quality 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]
PS Can 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.
PS Herzlichen Dank, Armin.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
After much use, even the sharpest knives get dull. Paul Strikwerda
Can a voice-over pro ever take time off?
Do you have to be available 24/7?
Is it okay to shut down your business for a few weeks of Rest and Relaxation?
Will your Facebook fans unfriend you?
Will your Twitter followers desert you?
Will your voice-overworked agent ever talk to you again?
Let me answer these questions with a question:
What won’t happen if you don’t do it?
I am a big believer in a balanced lifestyle. As a European living in the States (the number 1 “no vacation nation”), I see a lot of people around me who are absolutely addicted to their jobs. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected and become a burned-out, boss-pleasing slave laborer.
Have we forgotten our history?
On January 31st, 1865, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. It read:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
I guess the keyword is involuntary servitude.
We are free people, living in a free country who have earned the right to free themselves of any free time. Instead, we have chosen “voluntary servitude.”
Now, that’s what I call progress in a society built upon the principles of “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!”
But let’s put the cynicism and sarcasm aside for a moment. If you’re pursuing happiness as a full-time freelancer, you are in charge of your own destiny. You set your own hours. You determine your own rates. You’re the only one who can call it a day and shout from the roof tops:
Give me a break!
You’re self-employed. You embody your service. Literally. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. If you don’t guard your boundaries carefully, good people with the best of intentions will step on them and leave you depleted.
TRAPPED & TIRED
A few weeks ago, I was asked to do a presentation in front of hundreds of people. Prior to that, there was a reception and -of course- you can’t have a reception without background music. It’s a known fact that most musicians aren’t capable of staying in the background. No matter the crowd, they have to be LOUD.
I knew that if I were to schmooze prior to my presentation, I would have no voice left, even though my vocal cords are well-trained.
As they say: “If you schmooze, you lose.”
Besides, the next day I was going to New York for a recording session and my voice had to be in top-shape in order to sell well.
So, I was left with a choice. Either slip something into the drinks of the band that would have them running to the restroom in a matter of minutes… or hide myself from the crowd until it was time to go on stage.
The first option was obviously more entertaining, but I ended up hiding in the basement. Unfortunately, an overzealous janitor came down, turned off the lights and kicked the door shut, leaving me trapped.
This is where cell phones can save the day. I called the organizer of the event:
“Hi, it’s Paul.”
“Paul, where are you? We’ve looked all over for you!”
“I am trapped in the basement. It is dark in here. Rats are nibbling on my feet. Please rescue me!”
That day, instead of being a voice-over, I became a voice-under.
I think you get my point.
In order to give your all, you sometimes have to get away from it all. But avoid being locked up.
Now, in an ideal world you would just pack your bags and go where no one can reach you. But what to do when you’re waiting for that all-important callback or that once-in-a-lifetime chance to audition for something you can’t afford to refuse?
In that case, you need to take some gear on the road and improvise. Rather than spending a few hours going over all the options, I suggest you read Harlan Hogan and Jeffrey Fischer’s classic Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and on the Road. It’s jam-packed with practical information and I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in a voice-over career.
Here’s what I take along on my travels:
- a laptop
- a microphone
- a CEntrance MicPort Pro
- earplug-sized headphones
A MicPort Pro is a nifty mini audio interface/preamplifier that plugs directly into your microphone. On the other side there’s a USB cable that plugs into your computer. In other words: this device can turn any microphone into a USB mic. It has phantom power, a headphone jack and two knobs for setting the record level and the headphone volume.
So… after all that subtle product placement, let’s get back to the original question:
Can you take off for a period of time without ruining your career?
Here’s an experiment you should do at home:
Fill up your watering can to the brim and start watering your plants. Keep on watering and watering and watering… until there’s no more water left.
I don’t have to tell you that -in order for those plants to grow- you need to water them regularly. An empty watering can is useless. The moral of the story:
You can’t give what you don’t have.
Now, why is that so easy to understand when it comes to our plants, and why are we surprised that “We the People,” are so stressed, so drained and left without an ounce of creativity?
Take my advice and get lost! Recharge your batteries. Discover that you have significant others in your life who’d love to get to know you. It can’t be all work and no play… Your job is just a means to an end.
TAKING TIME OFF
Be sure to let your voice casting sites and agents know that you’ll be gone for a particular period of time. If you must, bring your gear, but promise yourself that you will only do what is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’ll get sucked into obsessive email checking, incessant instant messaging and frantic Facebooking.
Only use your cell phone when you’re stuck in a basement and someone’s thrown away the key.
When you come back from your well-deserved vacation, notice how refreshed, alert and full of energy you are.
People can see it in your face. They hear it in your voice.
Now you’re ready to wow the world again!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
You’d think that voice-over pros always have something to talk about, but what happens when someone’s not feeding them any lines?
Would they still have something interesting to say, or would they be less vocal without a mic and a script?
Well, judging by the many voice-over blogs you can find online, we can’t seem to shut up.
And if we cannot talk, we must type.
Take me, for instance. You know I can’t stop yammering, and I am sure I’m not alone. Why is that? Is there really that much to blabber and blog about?
Yes, there isn’t!
I’ve come to the conclusion that VO-Pros and cows have one thing in common: they are ruminants. Most ruminants have four stomachs.
The first stomach chamber (the “rumen”) is the chamber in which large amounts of food are stored and softened. Once it is processed, it is regurgitated and chewed and digested again in different chambers.
At the end there’s only one thing left: bullsh*t.
What I just described is the recycling of supposedly “hot voice-over topics” you and I like to ruminate about. Every year, the same issues and trends resurface, and they are milked and milked until there’s nothing left but utter claptrap.
Here is my shortlist of some of the most boring issues in our business:
- PC or Mac?
- Are Pay-to-Plays worth the money?
- ISDN: must or rust?
- Do real pros only use ProTools?
- Headphones or no headphones?
- Do you perform better while sitting, standing up or laying down?
- Could a headshot help or hurt your voice-over career?
- My mic is better than your mic.
- Union or Non-Union?
- Should I slate or watermark my demo?
- Social Media: indispensable tools or magnificent distraction?
- What did Stephanie Ciccarelli have for lunch?
- How to succeed in voice-overs without really trying.
- What would Don LaFontaine do?
- Remedies for dry mouth and sore throat.
- Harlan Hogan’s next big Porta-something.
- Do egg cartons really help soundproof a room?
- Joan Baker in a bikini.
- Are celebrities stealing our business?
- Is it “voice-over” or “voiceover”?
- Why isn’t there an Oscar or an Emmy for Best Narrator?
- Why Ted Williams?
- What the heck is “neutral English”?
- How many “followers” and “friends” does one need in order to be deemed relevant?
- Don’t talk to me about reasonable rates. It’s just beer money.
- When does self-promotion become spamming?
I will be the first one to admit that I have sinned by writing about some of these topics myself. That’s why I solemnly vow to not behave like a cow. For my own sanity and yours, I will seek out greener pastures and find more exciting things to write about, and I challenge you to do the same.
Rumination might be good for our bovine friends, but “obsessive or abnormal reflection upon an idea or deliberation over a choice” may lead to depression in humans, says Yale University psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Rumination may also weaken thinking and problem-solving, and drive away critical social support.
In other words, by chewing over the stories of the past, we might actually un-enlighten and isolate ourselves. That must be the last thing any serious blogger would hope to achieve.
Ruminating is not illuminating.
Now, chew on that for a while!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Please retweet!
Do you remember the first time you heard a recording of your own voice? Going back to that moment now, what went through your mind?
Were you shocked or pleasantly surprised? Did you expect you’d sound like that?
Most people respond the same way. When they hear themselves on tape, they get a bit uncomfortable and will tell you:
“That doesn’t sound like me at all. Who is that person? Did I just say that?”
People tend to become very self-conscious and self-critical. Why? Because most of us don’t have a clue how other people perceive the sound of our voice. How could we?
We hear ourselves from the inside 24/7. We’re locked into our own little world thinking that -because we perceive ourselves a certain way- others hear what we hear and will respond accordingly.
Let me break the news to you: they do not.
As a media trainer, I spent many years coaching influential people on how to prepare for interviews on radio and TV. My favorite part was taking a CEO to a studio and putting him or her in front of a few cameras and blinding lights, while I would ask innocent questions.
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
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Even though it is not intended to be the ultimate guide to home studio construction, it is packed with practical tips, ideas and resources.
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Wishing you tranquil times,
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?