Don LaFontaine

Are You a Cliché?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet 25 Comments

His name is Jake Foushee and he’s an online voice-over sensation. Over one million people have watched his movie trailer man impersonation on YouTube.

If you haven’t seen the video, you might wonder: What’s the big deal?

Well, even though he sounds like he’s in his fifties, Mr. Foushee was actually fourteen years old at the time he shot the video. It’s creepy. Fortunately for Jake, we like creepy. Regular Joes rarely make the headlines, but we all love the bizarre and the eccentric, don’t we?

Next to the bearded lady we now have a 14-year old who sounds a bit like Don LaFontaine. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Ellen DeGeneres had him on her show and like a docile puppy,

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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Landing jobs without auditioning: the Claire Dodin interview

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Journalism & Media 7 Comments

 

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?

CD Obviously, 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”?

CD At 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.

PS Many thanks Claire, and bonne chance!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: please retweet. Merci beaucoup!

My next blog is all about playing the lame blame game.


Bursting the Audition Bubble

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 8 Comments

Some voice-over casting sites have an interesting way of dealing with members complaining that they haven’t had much luck. Here’s what these sites say:

“Auditioning is great practice! Even if you didn’t get that 100 dollar job, at least you’re honing your skills.”

Oh, please… Give me a break!

WORDS OF WISDOM

At the end of a two day “voice-over intensive,” the trainer looked at her students one last time. By the expression on her face they could tell she was about to say something significant.

Her velvet voice had sold millions of sheets of the softest bathroom tissue known to mankind. Anything that came out of her mouth was as good as gold. Star-struck, the students all listened like attention-deprived orphans, waiting to get one last bit of tough love.

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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8 ways to boost your web traffic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Promotion 8 Comments

NessieHaving a website is not an accomplishment.

Bella the Hamster has one. Famous dead people do too.

I have even seen sites in loving memory of unfamous dead hamsters! Some of those websites get more visitors in a day, than you hope to have in a year.

Here’s my question:

If you have a business website and you’re not getting any traffic, what’s the point? You might as well give the money you’re sending to your Internet Service Provider to a worthy cause, such as the Don LaFontaine Voice-Over Lab.

If, on the other hand, you want to use your online presence to your advantage, you better roll up your sleeves and get to work! Unless you’re too busy auditioning for that $200 narration of a 300 page audio book.

Nilhan JayasingheiCrossing is a digital marketing agency with specific expertise in social media and 12 offices worldwide. In 2008, Nilhan Jayasinghe, their VP, wrote a paper entitled; “Optimizing for users, not search engines. Building a sustainable brand in a connected world”.  He says:

“As search engines become more sophisticated, they will increasingly incorporate user data to validate their results. The numbers of people visiting a site; the time that users spend on a site; the depth of their engagement; whether they return over a period of time; how many people add it to their social bookmarking tools such as Digg; all will potentially be taken into account.”

If you’ve read my last blog, you already know that the new Google is going in that direction. And where Google goes, others follow. In my opinion, there are at least two things you must do to take advantage of this development. These are the things that will drive people to your website; keep them there and make them come back:

1. Start writing for people, not for search engines: offer fresh & relevant content.
2. Stop “telling & selling”. Instead, engage your visitors and begin a dialogue.

Here are a few ways to do it:

1. Offer FREE STUFFParadoxically, some companies are making lots of money by giving things away for free. It’s called the “freemium model” whereby some content is offered at no charge, while premium content is not. Seattle-based Big Fish Games distributes more online games than anyone else, at about 1 million a day. You can try almost any Big Fish game for free, but there are add-ons that players have to pay for.

Slide 1A few months ago, our colleague Peter O’Connell made his e-book “The Voice Over Entrance Exam” available at no charge. I’m pretty sure that this brought new visitors to his website. It did something else too: it established him as an expert. Here’s a third bonus: free resources get links. Isn’t that what I just did?

2. Contests & Awards are another way to drive people to your site. Videovoicebank.net organized a contest, and voice-overs were invited to share their professional horror stories. Not only did the Videovoicebank-team manage to engage their community; for days, visitors could enter their email address and vote for their favorite story. I wonder what they’ll do with those email addresses…

Voice Over Directory

3. Provide a resource that will benefit your target-group and (of course) offer it for free. Veteran VO-artist Mahmoud Taji compiled a voice-over directory of casting websites for “the benefit of established and up-and-coming voice over talent who want to secure more voice over work through the Internet.” He asked everyone in the industry to help out, and this is just another example of how to get people involved. So far, Taji has a list of 239 sites, and you might add a few to the directory.

4. Quizzes and Games on your site are a fun way to make people come back and spend more time with you. British talent Emma Clarke is the voice you’ll hear for a majority of the London Underground lines. Her website is terrific and it has games, spoof audios and even an online “Emma flip book”.  One of my favorites is a fridge magnet game where you can move the words around to make your own sentences and phrases – and have Emma speak them for you.

5. Actress Amy Walker (above) became an overnight sensation when her YouTube video 21Accents went “viral.” “These days, it’s not unusual to see a search engine like Google pull up a YouTube video in its top 10 results,” says Linda Girard, co-founder of online marketing consulting firm Pure Visibility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The best way to maximize this trend is by uploading your video to various sites and attach good, searchable terms to the clips in order to get those high rankings.” (source)

6. Then there’s the old trick of offering limited Deals & Discounts. Bristol-based voice-over talent Alison Pitman once offered a promotion of 25% discount on all message on hold voice-over recordings. Particularly if you’re also offering individual coaching and voice-over classes, never miss an opportunity to throw in an early bird special or a web coupon. Irresistible offers turn browsers into buyers.

7. Develop an ongoing relationship with your visitors (colleagues and clients). Answer their emails. Follow up with them. Ask them for feedback. Use social networking sites to connect. Take an active part in your community, online and offline. Send email newsletters using a service like Constant Contact or Aweber. It’s all about building your brand and positive reinforcement.

8. Blogging benefits business. Internet marketing company Hubspot surveyed over 1500 small businesses. They found that those with blogs attracted:

  1. 55% more traffic
  2. 97% more inbound links
  3. 434% more indexed pages

Blogs are a very effective way to create valuable content; to connect, to interact and to build relationships based on trust. Nilhan Jayasinghe put it this way:

“The closer that Google and others get to reading real interaction, the better they will become at separating the sites that look relevant from the sites that are relevant. Inevitably, it will become ever more difficult to fake the quality of a web page.

Given that this is the case, by far the best way to rank highly for a given term is to offer what the search engines are getting progressively better at finding – content that is genuinely useful to those people searching for that term.”

How to come up with quality content is going to be the topic of my next installment! In the meantime, how did you manage to increase your web traffic? What worked for you and why? What was a waste of time and money?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS What makes people click? Click to find out!


The Quest for the Best Voice-Over Mic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 1 Comment

Did you hear the joke about the three voice-over actors bragging in a bar?

“My condenser has phantom power,” says the guy with the spooky voice.

“My shotgun produces killer demos,” retorts the man in black.

“My ribbon has a suspended diaphragm,” snaps the girl in the Harlan Hogan baseball cap.

Waitress: “Anyone ordered a Blue Bottle?”

Unidentified customer: “No, I just got a Snowball.”

“Can I get some MixCubes on the side, please?”

Waitress: “Active or Passive?”

TICKLES

Hearing voice-overs talk is like listening to a Monty Python skit. It can be slightly surreal and silly. One thing’s for sure: many VO’s have opinions. Strong opinions, especially when it comes to gear.

Whenever people take themselves too seriously, I’d like to tickle them a little. If you ever plan on messing with the mind of a VO-pro, go to an online voice-over group and type in the following words:

“I am new to this business and I need your help. What’s the best voice-over mic?”

Unknowingly, you just released the beast. If you honestly believe that the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is a big deal, wait until you get voice-overs started on their choice of mics…

You’ll soon discover that some VO-Pros suffer from a condition the psychological community calls “Microphone Envy.” So far, there is no sound treatment for this auditory affliction.

Here are some of the comments these hired voices might make about their precious sound catchers (in order to protect their identity, I decided to name all of them ‘Mike’).

Gear Geek-Mike: “My mic has a 32 mm gold sputtered thin Mylar capsule.”

Show-off Mike: “Mine has a retail value of $7,775. I got it for 7 grand on Ebay.”

Frugal Mike: “My cheap Chinese mic sounds almost like your pricey German one.”

Model Mike: “But I cut a deal with the Germans to endorse this microphone”

Macho-Mike: “Mine is bigger and better.”

If you happen to be in the market for a microphone, these message boards might not be the best place to solicit advice. In fact, I highly recommend not asking anyone for any recommendations. Period. Not online. Not in the shop. Trust me, you’ll sleep much better. Determine how much you can afford to spend and start doing your own homework instead.

Researching mics can be good fun. Why not fire up your laptop on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and listen to a few microphone tests. The fellows on this page always manage to crack me up… They’ll say something like this:

(test: courtesy of Nethervoice Sound Laboratories)

 

Remember though that a microphone is only one part of an audio chain and that different people will sound differently on the same mic. One colleague just bought a brand new and very expensive German mic. It was exactly the same make and model he had purchased fifteen years ago. In spite of that, the old and the new mic had their own, distinctive sound!

MY CHOICE

Many of you have asked me what microphone I use to bring home the bacon  (not an easy thing for a vegetarian). I use an MXL VO: 1 A cardioid condenser microphone. It’s the first mic designed for voice-overs by veteran voice actor Harlan Hogan.

At $249 it is not only very affordable; should you decide it’s not for you, you can send it back because it’s sold with a no-questions-asked money back guarantee.

The VO: 1-A has been tested against much more expensive industry standard voice-over microphones such as the Sennheiser 416, the  ElectroVoice RE20 and even the Neumann U87. Without exception, the reviews have been stellar. But what matters most to me is the fact that my clients seem to like what they hear (and I have some very picky customers!).

If you experience a sudden attack of “Microphone Envy,” remember this:

Writing about microphones is like ice skating about food.

It doesn’t really make sense. Just as you can’t get wet from the word water, you don’t know if a certain microphone is the one that will flatter your voice the most by merely reading about it or by staring at a picture. You’ve got to give it a spin and use your ears.

So, have you heard the one about the two voice-overs in a bar?

With tears in his eyes, the first one exclaims:

“Why did Don LaFontaine have to go before his time? It is so unfair.”

The other one thought about it for a moment, took a deep but silent voice-over breath, and replied:

“I guess God wanted his voice back!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS This blog only reflects my personal opinion and I am not compensated in any way for featuring certain brands and/or products. It was written in 2009. These days, my microphone of choice is the Microtech Gefell M930 Ts. Click here for my review.