voiceover auditions

VO’s Unfair, so, Grow a Pair!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 16 Comments

Two pears

The other day it happened again.

In mid-session, I gave one of my voice-over students a simple script for a cold read. I thought he’d be excited to try something new, but this is what he said:

“You’re giving me this now? Are you trying to trick me? You gave me zero time to practice and get ready. I don’t think that’s fair.”

“Wow, I wasn’t expecting that response,” I said. “You’ve grown so much in the last few weeks, I thought you’d be up for a challenge. Maybe we should use this as a teaching moment?”

He agreed.

“First off, just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no fair in voice-overs, or in any freelance job for that matter.”

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“Let me give you a few examples.

Yesterday, some A-list actor made fifteen grand for saying three lines in a 30-second commercial. Today, a VO-colleague got a nineteen hundred dollar check for narrating a lengthy novel that took her a month to record, and two weeks to edit. Is that fair?

How about this one:

A voice-over veteran auditioned for ten jobs a day for four weeks straight, and landed none of them. Meanwhile, a newbie walked up to a microphone, yelling a few words and hit the jackpot because some producer thought he sounded “raw and authentic.”

Here’s another one:

A fellow voice actor had been recording eLearning programs for the same company for six years at the same rate. His work was consistent, and he never missed a deadline. He came to think of himself as the go-to voice of that company. So, when year seven came around, he raised his rates a little, in line with the increased cost of living.

He never heard from the company again.

Is that fair?

Now, here’s something that happened to me.

A few weeks ago I auditioned for a very prestigious job that would have paid the mortgage for at least six months. At the end, it was between me and another person. Why didn’t I get the job? The reason was simple: the client preferred a female voice.

“Tell me,” I asked my student, “do you think that’s fair?”

He made a noise suggesting a lightbulb was slowly coming on in his head, so I continued…

“The idea of “fair” presupposes that there’s some grand equalizing principle at work in the world that gives equal opportunities to people with similar education, abilities, and experience.

Well, wouldn’t that be nice?

In many ways we may be equals, but that doesn’t mean we’re equal, or that we’re treated as such. What do I mean by that?

In a highly subjective and personal business as ours, things like training and experience count for something, but they will never get you hired. The fact that you’ve taken a few voice-over classes, and you’ve been knocking on doors for a few years, entitles you to… nothing.

The only guarantee I can give you, is that there are no guarantees.

No matter how hard or how long some people study, they’ll never become the next Albert Einstein, Yo-Yo Ma, or Don LaFontaine.

That’s not unfair. It is what it is.

On paper you may be the most experienced voice talent in the room, but a casting director isn’t listening for your resume or seniority. She needs to make her client happy, and the client wants someone who sounds just like his grandfather selling cattle in Kansas during the Great Depression.

Oh… but the specs didn’t say that, right? How unfair!

That’s because the client didn’t know he was looking for that voice until he listened to the top ten auditions.

My student let out a despondent sigh.

“That’s why the audition was a “cattle call,” I joked.

“But seriously, the only “fair” thing about this situation is that to most people in the middle, this crazy business is equally unfair. With “people in the middle” I mean the vast majority of voice-overs who aren’t making millions voicing The Simpsons, but who aren’t new to the business either.

I call them “the Nobodies.”

It may sound derogatory, but I don’t mean it that way. I mean it literally. Not figuratively.

Voice actors get hired for the way they move their lips; not for the way they move their hips. We’re not in the game for our glamorous looks, but for the way we sound. You and I… we are a no-body. Personally, that makes me very happy because slobs like me still stand a chance.

“But what about things like merit,” my student wanted to know. “Isn’t winning something like an Audie, or a Voice Arts™ Award going to open certain doors? That would be fair, wouldn’t it? I mean, winning a prize makes people more in-demand, right?”

“It’s a definite maybe. Let me explain.

Even though audio books have become increasingly popular, most people still think of a German car when they hear the word Audie. Secondly, I’m not sure clients will hire you on the spot because you won some gold-plated statuette they’ve never heard of. Accolades may be well-deserved, but they’re only worth their weight if they mean something to people outside the cheering in-crowd.

Even Oscar winners need to audition again and again, unless a part is especially written for them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps people sharp and humble.”

I took a long sip of water, and formed my next thought.

“Then there’s this weird phenomenon in our business that’s hard to prove. Let’s pretend people actually know about your reputation as a prize-winning narrator. They might not consider you for their next project because they assume you’ve become too expensive. Do you think that’s fair?

I once thought I could convince a client to hire me by telling them about the famous brands I had worked with in the past. Big mistake! The software giant I was auditioning for, ruled me out once they heard a close competitor had used my voice in 2015. This is what I also learned:

Most clients aren’t very interested in what you did for others, years ago. They want to know one thing:

What can you do for ME, today?

I’m not saying accolades aren’t awesome, but as the Dutch soccer star Johan Cruyff used to say:

“Every advantage has its disadvantage.”

That’s unfair too, but here’s the ugly truth:

In an unregulated business, those in power, and those with the deepest pockets get to determine what is fair.

“Pardon me, but that’s depressing,” said my student. “First of all, you’re giving me a lecture instead of a lesson. Secondly, I thought you were supposed to encourage me. Now I don’t even know if I want to be a voice-over anymore.”

“Language is a wonderful thing,” I said. “Especially if you like to play with words. To the ear, there’s almost no difference between “the termination,” and “determination.” The choice is yours.

If you want to end this, it’s going to be the termination of something promising. If -on the other hand- you really, really want to become a successful voice-over, allow what I’ve just said to strengthen your determination.

Please don’t be a chicken. You didn’t hire me to stick some feathers up your butt, so I could make some money off your dreams. That would be unethical. Just like that coach in the gym, you hired me to take you through a series of exercises designed to build your muscles, and give you a strong spine. You’re gonna need it!

And just like in the gym, change is a gradual process. Some days, your muscles might ache because of the resistance training. Sometimes, it might feel like you’ll never reach your ideal weight because you see other people getting fitter faster. But remember:

You’re on a personal path.

Those scary slim people you admire so much were born with different bodies, and different metabolisms. Some of them go to the gym every day of the week, and stay there for hours. Others like you can only afford to come twice a week for a 45-minute session.

You know what isn’t fair? Comparing yourself to others!

Compare yourself to yourself instead. So, here’s what I want you to do.

Forget the word fair.

Instead, focus on the word Prepare.

My goal is to help you be the best you can be at this moment in time, and to become even better in the future. Forget the silly randomness of this subjective business. You cannot control it. But one day soon, opportunity will knock on your door, and you’d better be ready! That’s the part you can control. Do you get that?”

My student made an affirmative noise. 

“Before we end this session, I want to give you one more piece of advice. I’ve known you for a while, and you’ve told me more than once that you’re a perfectionist. That mindset will hold you back, and that’s why you probably didn’t want to do the cold read I just gave you. Am I right? Were you afraid of making mistakes because I didn’t give you any time to look at the text?”

Reluctantly, my student agreed, and I went on:

“Please listen to this:

Be soft on yourself!

I strongly believe that living is learning. As human beings, I feel it is our job to evolve; to unearth and develop what we’re capable of, and to share those gifts with the world. 

To that effect, life offers us lessons. And unlike in voice-overs, life’s unscripted. You never know what it will throw at you next, so you have to be prepared to catch it while you can. Sometimes you need to improvise, and try things you’ve never done before. Sometimes you’ll get it right, and sometimes you won’t. As long as you keep on learning and growing, you’re doing great. This is what I want you to remember:

No matter how long you train, and how hard you work, you will never be perfect, and that’s perfectly fine. You want to know why? 

Because perfection has nowhere to grow.”

My student’s response was so quiet that I could almost hear the penny drop. Then I said:

“Let that sink in for a while, and let me know what you think, okay?”

“Fair enough,” said my student.

“Fair enough.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


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.

Making Money In Your PJs cover