making it in voiceovers

Getting the edge in voiceovers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career Comments Off on Getting the edge in voiceovers

What’s the link between a rice beverage and voice-over work?

In a “Taste the dream” contest, Rice Dream offered prize winners the chance to experience their dream job for 3 days. The ad agency that came up with this campaign thought that our line of work qualified as a ‘dream job,’ because they put a picture of a voice-over person on the milk carton.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do for a living, but since launching my business  nethervoice, I have received several emails, asking me for a reality check. Most of them go like this:

Dear Mr. Nethervoice:I am James Kumbatani, the grandson of the late Mr. Oshia Bumbayashi, grand chief of the Olali tribe. Mr. Bumbayashi left me in charge of his personal fortune valued at seven million….

 

Sorry, wrong email. Here’s the one I was looking for:

Dear Mr. Strikwerda:

I am an aspiring voice over artist and my dream is to break into the business. People have told me that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Do you agree? What did you bring to the table that -in your opinion- gave you an edge over other voice-over professionals? Thank you for your time.

Penny Whistle

This is what I wrote back:

Dear Penny:

Great voice-over talents make what they do sound so natural and easy, no wonder why so many people believe anyone could pull that off in a heartbeat. In reality, voice-over artists are no different from other performers or athletes. When people hear a great pianist play or watch a well-know sports star at the top of her game, they usually don’t think of all the years these pros had to put in, in order to get where they are now. Long before I became a full-time voice over pro, I learned some things that -as you put it- gave me an edge.

1. Sight Reading

Thanks to the never-ending encouragement of my mother, I’ve always been an avid reader. During my days as a news anchor for Dutch International Radio, I got used to reading last-minute news flashes and intros without skipping a beat. Today, I can print out a script, glance it over and take it into my sound booth and press ‘record.’ A few minutes later, my demo is on its way to the client. If I’m working on an actual job, however, I apply a different strategy (see 3 & 4).

2. Foreign languages

Growing up in Holland, I was exposed to many different languages and accents. I speak Dutch, English, German and some French & Portuguese. I also know some Latin and Hebrew. Unlike many Europeans, Americans usually aren’t polyglots, and I do my very best to take full advantage of that. Knowing how to pronounce unfamiliar names of people and places has been a great help in my career. Some clients like working with me, because I’m able to record the same commercial in four different languages.

3. Translating & Proofreading

I also work as a proofreader/translator, and I’m a professional nitpicker when it comes to scripts. Last-minute submissions often contain slips of the pen, and my clients are always grateful when I spot those mistakes and correct them. It shows them that I’m not just reading anything people put in front of me. It’s a great opportunity to show my clients that I care as much about their reputation as they do.

The other day, I was recording a Dutch commercial and the director asked me to translate some last-minute additions right there and then. No problem! I regularly receive international copy that was translated with the help of translation software. That’s usually a BIG red flag! I often end up correcting the work of a robot before I start recording a script that was supposedly ‘translated’.

4. Journalism

As a former newscaster, checking my sources has become second nature. Sloppy copywriters have handed me scripts with incorrect website addresses, wrong phone numbers and even company names that were misspelled. I always verify the information provided, no matter how reliable the source. Another thing I do is research the company I’m dealing with. Not only does it give me a feel for the corporate culture, I also check in with the Better Business Bureau and research the reputation of a particular business.

A word of warning: even though a company might have a good BBB rating, things could still be fishy.

A few months ago, I was approached by “European Immigration and Translation Consultants” in Florida. This company asked me to translate a birth and a marriage certificate. They received my work the very same day and they thanked me by writing out a bad check. Of course I ended up paying a fee to my bank. I asked for a money order instead, with the penalty added to the bill, but the agency refused.

After some more research, I found out that the con-sulting company was run by a con artist who was wanted by the Canadian authorities. Of course I filed a complaint with the BBB, but the company never responded. All the bureau could do was giving them an “F” rating and close the case.

5. Love of music

As an amateur musician, I developed a sense of rhythm, diction and melodic lines that is very helpful when it comes to getting into the groove of the music in a commercial or a narration. As a cornet-player and  singer, I’m blessed with increased lung capacity and breathing support. Singing is great gymnastics for your voice. It’s a fun vocal cord workout that not only gives you the stamina to complete a long recording session; it also enhances voice projection, diction and flexibility.

Penny, if you’d like to learn more about this business, I suggest you read Harlan Hogan’s “Tales and Techniques of a Voice-Over Actor.” In it, Harlan quotes Dick Moore of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFTRA (now SAGAFTRA).

Moore says that of the eighty thousand AFTRA members the union represents, no more than a hundred people do most of the voice work.

So, in order to stand out, not only do you need to be outstanding at what you do; you also need to bring something special to the table. There are thousands of hopefuls out there, and all of them believe they have a fantastic voice.

Ultimately, it’s what you can do with that voice that makes all the difference.

Best of luck to you.

Now I’m off to have a cold rice beverage.

Cheers!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Busting Five Voice-Over Myths

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 5 Comments

Some of you won’t like what I am about to reveal, but it needs to be said.

Yes, I will be the Debbie Downer of the voice-over community and the rain on your parade. If you’re a seasoned vo-pro, my message should come as no surprise. But I realize that blogs like these are also read by aspiring voice-over artists, and it’s about time that they should know the truth (or at least my version of it). Even if it hurts.

PERSISTENT MYTHSTAKES

In times of recession, desperate people cling to desperate things. For many, a new career as a voice-over artist seems to be the next best thing. Let me tell you point blank that it’s not. Far from it. Yet, every day, hundreds of hopefuls plunge into the pool of voice-over talent without even knowing how to swim. Why? Because they’re holding on to ideas that have no basis in reality.

Take your pick and allow me to burst your bubble:

1. “I LOVE YOUR VOICE”

Tons of people have told you that you have a great voice. “You’d do so much better than that woman announcing the Tony Awards,” they said. And you’ve heard it so many times that you start believing it yourself. Could this be a new career; the golden key to fame and fortune?

Without realizing it, you just made mistake number one. Thinking that having a good voice is all it takes, is like saying that, in order to be a successful actor, all you need are great looks. As far as I can tell, only Tom Cruise pulled that one off.

Owning a Steinway doesn’t automatically make you a great pianist. Having a Viking range in your kitchen doesn’t make you a phenomenal chef. Having a good set of vocal chords definitely helps, but it’s a very small piece of a big puzzle. Knowing how to use that voice is a different matter!

2. IMPRESSIONISM

Friends have said that you do a mean Morgan Freeman impression. In fact, they like it so much that you’re asked to perform your little trick at parties and high school reunions. It got you thinking: “Mr. Freeman must make lots of money reading a few words off a page. If he can do it, why can’t I? The world loves impersonators, right?”

Wake up, pal: we already have one Morgan Freeman. We do not need a clone. Your impression might be dead-on, but if you’re hoping to ride on the back of his success, you’ll always be someone you’re not. Making money impersonating a celebrity could get you in all kinds of legal trouble too. More importantly, you’re betraying yourself by forsaking what makes you truly unique: your very own sound.

3. RADIO GA-GA

You read the news for a local station. The latest membership drive didn’t go so well, and all of a sudden you’re as relevant as yesterday’s paper. What’s worse: you’re out the door. Thank goodness for your radio training. You can always become a voice-over artist, right? After all, it’s basically the same thing.

Next, you join one of those voice-over casting sites, and you record your first audition: a paragraph from a book about bachelor cardiac surgeons, voluptuous nurses and broken hearts.

Luckily, your membership came with a free voice evaluation and your coach gave your first demo…. a firm thumbs down. What hurt you the most was that the fact that she said that you sounded “like a news reader”. Wasn’t that supposed to be a good thing?

4. EASY MONEY

Even though your financial advisor warned you not to do it, you decide to tap into your nest egg and spend part of your IRA on a decent home studio and premium memberships of voices.com, voice123.com and voplanet.com. If you’re gonna do something, you might as well do it right! These sites will no doubt open the door to big companies offering big bucks to have you do a 20 second commercial or a 2-minute narration. Just wait and see… A few auditions a day will make the recession fade away!

I guess no one ever told you that almost 40% of professional voice-overs makes less than $25,000 per year, even after having been in the business for 10-25 years. Over one quarter of those surveyed make less than $10,000 per year.  (Source: VoiceOver Insider magazine). If that’s not living large…. I don’t know what is!

Veteran voice actor Ed Victor shared that over the past four weeks, he had submitted 50 auditions on Pay 2 Play sites. The net result: zero jobs. Mind you: Ed is known as “The Big Gun” of the business. In my opinion, he is the cream of the crop. But even if your last name happens to be Victor, it doesn’t automatically make you a winner.

5. OVERNIGHT SUCCESS

Would you ever pick up a violin and after a few weeks of practice and no lessons, record your first CD? Of course not.

No one would walk into a sports store and get the best tennis gear money can buy, and expect to be playing Wimbledon the week after.

Now explain to me why some wannabe voice-actors dig deep into their pockets and invest in top of the line equipment without any formal training or experience, expecting instant return on investment?

It takes great skill and practice to breathe life into a text, as well as technical expertise. It’s very similar to mastering a musical instrument. It usually takes many years to become an overnight success. And as we’ve seen, even respected talents find that the pickings are becoming increasingly slim. So, if you’re still thinking of pursuing a voice-over career, think again…. and then some more.

In a way, it’s like that picture on the box of your microwave dinner. It makes you hungry, but the meal usually doesn’t taste half as good as it looks. What’s even worse: it doesn’t have enough nutritional value to sustain you! Yet, millions are falling for it…. and are left hungry and feeling ripped-off.

YOUR TURN

Well, there’s your reality check. I told you this wasn’t going to be pretty. Feel free to disagree with me. Did I mention in my last blog that everything is perception? That’s why I’m really interested in your assessment of the voice-over business. Is it a goldmine or a minefield?

What advice would you give to a newbie? Have you seen talented people fail? What went wrong? Have you made it against all odds? If so, what’s been the secret of your success? What voice-over myths would you like to bust?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice