voiceover actor

Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Money Matters, Studio 24 Comments

Today I’m going to jump right into the topic of this blog.

No teasers. 

No anecdotes.

No mysterious introductions.

Right now I want to take a few minutes to talk about the pitfalls of a voice-over career. Now matter how many times you’ve dreamed about becoming the next Tom Kenny or Nancy Cartwright, you should never jump into the ocean if you don’t know how to swim. Too many hopefuls are drowning, and I don’t want you to be one of them. 

Here’s what you need to know.

NUMBER ONE

Most people tend to underestimate what it takes to become a full-time, for-profit voice-over. Why is that? Because the job of a true pro is to make it sound easy, spontaneous, and seamless. The best actors distinguish themselves by their ability to fool everyone into thinking that they’re not acting. Just because it sounds easy or looks easy, doesn’t mean it IS easy. 

So, pitfall number one is underestimating the difficulty of having to be natural in an unnatural situation. It requires a special ability to sound authentic even if you don’t believe a word of what you’re saying, as well as the skill to sound sincere, conversational, and real, as someone else is putting weird words into your mouth. To be honest: most people can’t do it.

NUMBER TWO

Pitfall number two is the technical aspect of this business. The number one reason most auditions get rejected is bad audio. You may have the perfect pipes for the job, but if you’re talking into a cheap microphone with a lot of self-noise, you lack basic microphone technique, and your recording space is not isolated and acoustically treated, you’re wasting your time. 

That expensive demo you just recorded in this great recording studio is worth nothing if you have no way of producing clean and professional audio recorded in your home. 

NUMBER THREE

Let’s boil it down to one word: professionalism. It’s easy to do this as a hobby, but as soon as you advertise yourself as a voice-over professional, things get serious. That label creates expectations, and rightly so. Clients hate it when they need to hold your hand. That’s not what they’re paying you for. 

As a pro you have to know how to run a freelance business with you being the CEO, the CFO, the head of marketing, advertising, and sales. You run the bookkeeping department, and you’re the audio engineer, as well as the featured talent. Plus, if you’re online, you’re running a global business!

Too many beginners are trying to figure things out on the fly, without any preparation or training. Why on earth would they do that? It’s asking for trouble. 

NUMBER FOUR

The next pitfall is a big one: money. You’ve got to spend money to make money, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

While it is possible to get started as a VO with a simple recording set-up, please remember that you’re competing with people who have been doing this for years. These are people with a soundproof studio, a really nice microphone and preamp, and a website that attracts clients. It all adds up. On top of that, you have to stay afloat financially, while you are building your business. Your bank wants you to continue to pay your mortgage, and you do want to keep your health insurance, don’t you?

Secondly, while the cost of living goes up every year, voice-over rates have been going down at a dramatic degree. If you want to do this for a living, you can’t rely on doing the odd job here and there, unless you have a partner who can help you out, financially. You need to make sure that you have a consistent flow of projects coming your way, and that’s easier said than done – even for voice-overs. My advice: have a cash cushion that will help you stay afloat for… a few years.

Lastly, too many newbies quote or accept a job, even when they have no idea what to charge. Can you imagine a baker or a florist running her store that way? Clients love getting a bargain, but do you really want to contribute to the problem of sliding rates?

NUMBER FIVE

This is another big one: time. We live in an impatient world. Very few people experience overnight success. You can’t buy your way into a voice-over career. It needs to be earned. Slowly. The people who are at the top of their game are not the people that just started doing voice-overs. Most of them have been at it for years. 

VO is not a get rich quick – I can do this part-time scheme. The only people who can do this on the side are A-list actors who don’t depend on VO for a living. Ironically, they are the ones collecting all the awards.

Again, most people underestimate how long it may take before their voice can be the main source of revenue. For many, it will never happen. That’s not me being mean. That’s me warning you based on decades of experience, and on input from people like you. 

NUMBER SIX

Next on the list is increased competition. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re not the only one who thinks he can do a mean Morgan Freeman impression, or talk like a movie trailer man. We have plenty of those folks in our ranks, and the role of Morgan Freeman is already taken by… Morgan Freeman. 

If you don’t have a specialty or a niche, it’s going to be tough to make your mark because you’re basically redundant. Technology has made it a lot cheaper an easier to get started. You don’t need to be close to a studio to do your work. That means that every frustrated teacher, every burned-out retail clerk, and every unemployed actor (which happens to be the majority) is now your competition.

But wait, there’s more. Much more!

NUMBER SEVEN

If you want to hear a number other things you should look out for, I invite you to listen to Jamie Muffett’s VO School Podcast

You’ll find it on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and a few other platforms. Jamie is producing and hosting this podcast in collaboration with Backstage Magazine

In the latest episode, agent Erik Sheppard and I talk candidly about the many schemes you shouldn’t fall for when starting in this business. 

Please join us, and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Mess up your demos!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion Comments Off on Mess up your demos!

Don’t ever think it won’t happen to you.

I guarantee you it will, and when it does, it will leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

A few years ago, a colleague of mine got a disturbing phone call. It was an old friend from high school:

“I didn’t know you were in the voice-over business,” he said. “I was listening to our latest radio promo at work, and I said to myself: I know that voice. And it finally dawned on me. It was you! Great job, man. You’re really good at what you do.”

THE SCAM

“Where exactly do you work?” my colleague asked, quite puzzled. It turned out to be some unknown up-and-coming ad agency. “That’s strange… it doesn’t ring a bell for me, and I practically have a photographic memory for every job I’ve ever done,” my colleague said. A day later, when going through a list of past auditions, he found the answer.

About a month ago, he had sent in a demo for an ad campaign to one of the online voice-over casting sites, and never heard anything back. Until now. Under normal circumstances people might say: You win some, you lose some. Isn’t that part of this business? That may be true, but a client can’t just use an audition recording without paying for it. And my colleague allowed it to happen.

Everybody knows not to walk around with your wallet sticking out of your purse. It’s an open invitation to pickpockets. But when it comes to our demos, some of us are doing just that. Perhaps I should repeat the advice my biology teacher once gave us, while covering a certain subject: Use protection!

You have two options to prevent shady producers from running off with your audio file: watermarking and -my personal favorite- messing things up.

DISTURBING SIGNAL

You’ve probably seen watermarks on pictures, rendering them practically unusable. The same can be done for audio files. Some recording software has this effect built in. Your demo will either have some weird buzz in the background or some noise under part of your read. You can also buy separate watermarking software or produce the sound effects yourself.

Imagine smashing up a couple of plates while recording your demo for that Greek restaurant commercial… Of course this can become quite distracting, and if I were you, I would want clients to pay attention to the brilliance of my performance, and not to some nasty tone or the sound of breaking china.

This brings me to option two, which is even more creative. I usually change a few things in the copy, such as an address or a phone number to make it unusable. I recently recorded an IVR-demo (Interactive Voice Response), and I purposely changed the numbers a little bit:

“For sales, press five hundred and sixty-six, for customer service, press one.

I believe I also said:

“If you don’t know your party’s extension, please dial it now”.

For some of you that might be stretching it. Alternatively, you can choose to leave out a word here and there, but whichever method you prefer, be sure to let the voice-seeker know that you did this on purpose. Otherwise he might think that you recently escaped from a clinic for frustrated voice-actors.

TAKE IT TO COURT

Eventually, my colleague called the ad agency that ran away with his demo. Much to his surprise, they immediately admitted using his audition.

“We played it so the team could hear the type of voice we were NOT looking for,” they said. “We assure you that this was for internal purposes only.”

Some ad agencies take the art of spinning to a whole new level! Whatever the reason, using material you did not pay for is still theft.

Eventually, my colleague called a lawyer to find out if he had a case. 

Here’s the good news: The lawyer was up for it. The bad news: His retainer was more than what my voice-over colleague had made in six months.

Sometimes it’s better to count your losses and smash-up a couple of plates.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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