As a blogger, coach, and voice talent, I think a lot about why certain people make it in this business and why others don’t.
Those who are doing well don’t always know why they belong to the happy few. “You’ve got to have a lot of luck,” they say, and “be at the right moment at the right time.”
It’s a nice observation, but as a teacher that doesn’t help me much. Just as I can’t predict who’s going to win the Powerball, I cannot influence luck. And if I knew how to be at the right moment at the right time, I probably would be doing something else with my life right now.
What I can help people with as a coach, is preparedness. If you’re lucky to be at the right place at the right time and you’re not prepared, you’re not going to get very far. But preparedness alone is no guarantee that you’ll have a successful career as a creative freelancer.
Let’s say you’re talented, you’re well-trained, and you have the right equipment that gets the job done. Is that enough to start and grow a for-profit business? I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.
Looking at colleagues who are at the top of their game, I have identified three characteristics all of them have in common. Number one I call:
The difference between dreamers and achievers is that achievers attract jobs. This is anything but a passive process. People don’t become magnets overnight and without planning. You’ve got to have an extensive network in place that generates a continuous flow of leads from multiple sources. If you’re just starting out, this is where you have to spend most of your time, energy, and money.
How do you become a magnet? Think about what you can do to draw people to you. You’ve got to offer something special at a price that tells people you take your work seriously. You have to make sure your presentation is in line with your (desired) reputation. Then you need to connect with clients and colleagues to let them know that you exist.
Obviously, this is not something you can do in a few weeks or months. Every self-employed person can tell you that this will be your life from now on, until you decide to close up shop. This type of magnet is like a rechargeable battery. If you don’t charge it regularly, it will quickly lose its power.
Now, let’s assume your magnetic powers have the desired effect and job offers are rolling in. Should you jump on every opportunity? Here’s where the second factor comes in. I call this:
Beginners often make the same mistake. They go after every single job offer, if only “to gain experience.” I remember when I first became a member of an online casting site. As soon as I had posted my profile and the membership fee was paid, the auditions started coming in. In my naïve enthusiasm I applied for every job, thinking that the more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would be hired. I was wrong.
Being a successful freelancer is not a numbers game. It is about going after the opportunities that are right for you. In order to do that, you have to filter out the misfits. That’s where the colander comes in.
Runners know their strengths. Some of them run marathons. Others sprint. In my line of work, some voice actors are great at narrating audio books. Others excel in voicing short commercials. Only a handful of people in every profession are true all-rounders. Chances are that you’re not one of them. That’s why you have to do yourself a favor: know your strengths, and become picky. Very picky.
There’s one last factor that separates the wheat from the chaff. I call it:
No matter how good you are at attracting and selecting jobs, once you have landed a new project, you have one objective and one objective only: to make your client happy. That’s by no means an earth-shattering revelation, so why even mention it? Here’s why. So many people believe that if you do the very best you can, the client will be pleased with the result. That’s not necessarily true.
Your very best might not be good enough, and/or the client may have different expectations. That’s why it is so important to find out what those expectations are before you get to work. I often tell my clients: “Any text can be read in a million ways. The more specific you are about what you’d like to hear, the easier it is for me to give you the read you need.” And that’s where the clay comes in.
Clay is just potential. It can be molded into any shape, depending on the talent and skills of the potter. No matter what kind of freelance work you do, whether you’re a script writer, an industrial designer or a voice-over, you’ve got to know your material and be a master molder. The better you are at understanding your client and at working the clay, the more successful you will be.
Mind you, this isn’t something you can pick up from reading a book, or by listening to a podcast. It will take talent, training, and time. It may take a few years before you break in and break even. But when you do, this is what you will discover:
Doing exceptional work almost always leads to more work, which brings us back to the concept of the magnet.
One last thing.
If your career isn’t where you want it to be at the moment, ask yourself: “Where are my greatest challenges? What needs more work?
Is it the magnet, the colander, or is it the way I handle the clay?”
I don’t know about you, but 2015 is a year I will not easily forget.
For one, I saw the number of subscribers to this blog grow to over 36 thousand. That’s insane!
It didn’t happen by accident. How did I do it? Well, if you read this article, you will get a good sense of my strategy.
Few things are more gratifying than knowing that you chose to take a few minutes each week to spend them in my company. Not only that, you have shared my stories with your friends and colleagues. You’ve discussed them online and offline, and you’ve reached out to me when one of my posts struck a chord. Thank you so much!
Now, we all lead busy lives, and I realize that throughout the year you might have missed a blog post here or there. That’s why -at the end of the year- I want to highlight a few stories that you may not have seen, or that have faded from your memory.
If anything, this past year has been very emotional for me. There were times that I didn’t feel like going into my studio to record, and when I did, it was challenging to say the least. I wrote about it in Feeling Like A Fake.
There were a few “firsts” in 2015. I believe I was the first voice-over who openly wrote about sex. If you’re curious about what I had to say, read The Confident Skills of a Sex God. I think I also was the first and perhaps the only VO who celebrated World Voice Day by writing two contributions.
The first post entitled Your Voice Your Life, was about vocal health. If you care about your instrument, it is a must-read! The second was The Window to the Soul, and it’s about a new area of research: emotional analytics.It’s all based on the notion that what we say is not as important as how we say it.
Like last year, I continued to rub many readers the wrong way. In fact, posts in which I vent my frustration usually end up being the most popular.
In March I became the most hated man among podcasters, when I published The Problem with Podcasting. After receiving some very nasty and mostly anonymous comments, I was forced to change my comment policy. Here’s a summary:
I no longer accept anonymous comments, or comments by people using a fictitious online identity. I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind a made up character. Comments that are rude and disrespectful will be deleted immediately. You’ll find more about this in Poisonous Pens.
People often get upset because I tend to say things that are perceived as being harsh and confrontational. One of those posts was The Message Very Few Want To Hear. Between you and me: I never ask my readers to agree with me, and I’m not intent on winning a popularity contest. I must admit: sugarcoating is not my strength.
One of the main goals in writing this blog, is to enhance professionalism in my line of work. In The Secret to Sustained Success, I discuss short-term versus long-term thinking, and the effect it can have on a career. In To Discount Or Not To Discount, I share what Famous Dave’s delicious pickles tell us about pricing strategy.
To me, one of the biggest trends of 2015 was the fact that people were finally fed up with a pay-to-play system that didn’t give them a fair shot at landing jobs, and with a company that seemed to be double and triple dipping while cheapening the marketplace with low rates. Read Calling It As I See It, for other trends.
But if there was one piece that summed up my state of mind in 2015, it has to be Giving Up. It’s a new philosophy that I will continue to live by in 2016.
What I won’t give up, is this blog. As long as there’s still music inside of me, I will keep on singing with my Nethervoice.
May the new year bring you health, happiness, inspiration, satisfaction, and continued success!
A few days ago, something happened to me that had never happened before.
At the end of Uncle Roy’s 10th annual VO-BBQ, a young colleague walked up to me and said:
“I wanted to thank you.
You are the reason why I am a voice-over today.”
“How so?” I asked, pleasantly surprised.
He said: “When I watched your video The Troublesome Truth about a Voice-Over Career, I just knew I had to become a voice actor. Since then I have worked very hard to launch my career, and I couldn’t be happier doing what I love to do. So, thank you!”
“I’m so glad to hear that,” I said, “but really… all the credit goes to you. You made this happen. Not me. I just put a video on YouTube.”
When I thought about this encounter the next day, it made me smile. So many people have seen the video, and quite a few commentators accused me of trying to kill their dreams by listing all the reasons why a voice-over career might not be for them. How dare I?
Now, here’s a guy who had the opposite response. After watching my video, he became more determined than ever to make it as a professional voice talent! It just goes to show that the same information can elicit an entirely different reaction, depending on the person who’s processing it.
This confirms one of my favorite sayings:
The world we see is a mirror of who we are.
If you are a glass-is-half-empty kind of person, you will always find evidence to support that idea. If you believe that the glass is always half full, you’ll find example after example to underpin that view. Our perception is mostly projection.
I also had to smile because I do love it when open-minded, talented people take advice to heart, and run with it.
You see, it’s so easy to look at a video, listen to a podcast or quickly scan a blog post, and immediately move on to something else. That’s today’s society. We go from one stimulus to the next. There’s no percolation time, allowing info to sink in. That’s a shame, because processing more information faster doesn’t make us any wiser. I believe it makes us more shallow and stressed.
When we listen to someone making a point, we hardly ask ourselves the basic questions:
1. What is the speaker really saying? How much of it do I understand, and what is it that I don’t yet get? 2. What does this information mean to me? How is it relevant? 3. What should I do with it?
Why do we skip these questions?
For one, because many of us have lost the ability to be in the moment and truly listen. We’re so busy trying to come up with a response, that we don’t even hear what’s being said. Or, we assume we already know what the other person is going to say, and we respond to that. The better we know the person we’re talking to, the more frequently this happens.
It’s a relationship killer, and I’m not only talking about intimate relationships.
Whether you’re a voice actor or you do some other kind of freelance work, your level of success is deeply linked to the level in which you understand and respond to your client’s needs. That’s why I find it very challenging to work with clients who give little or no instructions.
It’s impossible to live up to unknown expectations. This is true in our professional, as well as in our personal lives. And because we make assumptions instead of asking questions, we get in trouble.
The other day I was convinced I knew what a client wanted me to do. My job was to dub a Dutch actor in English, and the director had sent me a video clip of the guy I was supposed to emulate. So, I sent the director a recording of me mimicking the Dutchman to the best of my abilities.
The next day I got a request to redo the dub. “I only sent you the video so you could get a sense of the tempo,” the director said. “I don’t want you to imitate the man. I want you to sound like yourself.” So, once again I had been mind reading someone else’s intentions, and had missed the mark.
Because of experiences like these, I can’t blame those who leave strange and unusual comments on my Troublesome Truth video, or on this blog for that matter. I have to accept that once I release words and images into cyberspace, they will take on a life of their own, and people will interpret them any way they want.
Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Like the time this young colleague thanked me for my video.
And I realize that what he did with my message says a lot about him, and very little about me.
Beginning bloggers often ask me how to write a story that gets a lot of attention and traction.
They realize they have to cut through a lot of clutter to reach an audience suffering from information overload, and they don’t know how.
In a way, blogging is a bit like a voice-over career. With thousands of hopefuls jumping like Shrek’s donkey shouting “Pick me, pick me!,” how do you make sure your voice is heard?
As far as blogging goes, there are a few tried-and-tested ways to grab people’s attention:
1. Have a strong headline; 2. Use numbered lists (like I’m doing right now); 3. Tap into problems your readers are experiencing, and offer practical solutions; 4. Be provocative as well as entertaining.
Stories that prove to be particularly popular are the ones claiming to reveal success secrets of those who have made it. Content aggregators can’t seem to get enough of articles like:
“6 Behaviors of the Most Successful People” “4 Remarkable Insights to Inspire Social Media Success” “8 Habits of Exceptionally Successful CEOs” “11 Secrets of Irresistible People”
I don’t even have to read these stories to tell you what “secrets” they reveal:
• Be yourself, and believe in yourself
• Work hard and play hard
• Be proactive and stay focused
• Keep on learning
• Stay in shape, mentally and physically
• Be persistent and flexible
• Do what you love, and love what you do
• Don’t get comfortable, stay hungry
• Always exceed expectations
That’s all good, but there are a few things that are frequently overlooked. Here’s one aspect all successful people and organizations have in common:
They are open to feedback, and willing to change course when they’re moving in the wrong direction.
A GREAT TEAM
A management team is useless if it only consists of cheerleaders. Cheerleaders love everything you do, and they will only tell you what you want to hear. We can all use some positive reinforcement once in a while, but a great company builds on its strengths, and it works on its weaknesses.
It takes clever and fearless critics to point out those weaknesses. They have the guts to tell you what you don’t want to hear. For that, critics may get a bad rep, because they are often seen as unsupportive contrarians who only want to disrupt and destroy.
Some companies have developed a culture where any form of criticism is being suppressed, because it is seen as being disloyal. It turns out that those companies not only close themselves off from inside critique. They don’t want to hear it from the outside either. And once a business stops listening to those who use their products or services, it is pretty much doomed.
You’ve probably heard of the show Undercover Boss. It features CEOs of struggling companies. Most of these men and women seem to have one thing in common: they have lost touch with reality. They know something’s wrong with their business, but they can’t put a finger on it because the people they surround themselves with are just as clueless, or they are too afraid to speak up.
So, the boss goes undercover and works a few jobs on different levels to find out what’s going on, and to hear what people are really thinking. What they usually discover is that the employees they work with on the show, are very much aware of what’s wrong. Some of them even have good ideas about how to fix it.
The program always ends with the CEO revealing him or herself, and implementing some or all of the recommendations and suggestions he/she picked up in the field. But there’s more.
The people who spoke up (not knowing they were talking to their boss) are publicly praised and rewarded, instead of being punished for criticizing the company.
The moral of the story? Whether you’re a public organization, a publicly traded company, or you run your own business, feedback is necessary for your survival. Otherwise you’re operating in a vacuum. Even if the criticism is harsh, and feels like a personal attack, you are being given a gift. How you handle that gift is up to you.
Now, if you’re a solopreneur like me, you can’t go undercover in your own business. You need some other system to get feedback. That’s where a coach or mentor comes in.
Being a coach myself, I often have to be the bearer of bad news. It’s no fun telling people what they don’t want to hear. Hopes are high and egos are fragile. Susceptible people love to believe that they are special, and that they have what it takes to be the next Mel Blanc or Tom Kenny.
When that’s clearly not the case, it’s easier for a student to blame the messenger, and find another coach who will take their money and tell them what they want to hear. It’s just as easy to sign up for a site that will validate their status as a “professional” voice artist, in spite of their lack of talent. But “easy” won’t get them anywhere, because easy is an illusion.
Here’s the ugly truth:
If recording voice-overs was easy, everybody would be doing it, and they all would make tons of money. Instead, it’s the companies and individuals that want you to believe that it’s easy, that are making the money.
But I digress. The topic was feedback.
VOICES on “VOICES”
Over the past few weeks, this blog sparked a wave of criticism directed toward voices.com, one of the many online casting services. Colleagues like Iona Frances, who would normally bite her tongue on this topic, felt compelled to respond, and she shared her experience, as did many others.
The big question is: What will voices.com do with this feedback? I’m pretty sure the management has read the articles as well as the comments, and they can’t be too pleased. Countless colleagues have called Canada to cancel their membership, and have asked for a refund. Some have even contacted a lawyer.
If I were the CEO of “Voices,” I would listen, and listen carefully. This is an opportunity to learn and grow as a company. If the critique is valid, changes must be made. If the feedback is based on false assumptions, the company needs to set the record straight. What it cannot do, is to remain silent.
Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.
The worst thing “Voices” could do, is to give those who give them feedback, a hard time. But based on what I have heard, that’s exactly what’s been happening.
Instead of trying to regain the trust of members who each paid $399 or more for services they feel they’re not receiving, callers are getting an earful. That’s not how you treat the talent your site supposedly supports. Moreover, it only confirms the negative impression people had in the first place.
As for me, I have always retained a free membership that allowed me to monitor developments and changes at “Voices” from the inside. Rather than have other people tell me about sliding rates and managed projects, I could see for myself what was going on.
When I tried to log on yesterday, I made an interesting discovery: my account had been removed.
Without any warning or explanation.
Apparently, that’s how this company deals with those who dare to criticize it. You have been warned!
I have only one thing to say:
“Voices.com, thanks for the feedback.
Keep on doing what you’re doing, but know that we’re on to you!”
Jake was a model employee. He’d been with the same company for 45 years, and never missed a day. At his retirement party, he received a farewell gift: a trip for two to Aruba. It was something Jake and his wife had always dreamt of.
A week later, they were on their way to the airport. While going through security, Jake suddenly collapsed, and died of a heart attack.
Jenny was a model athlete: tall, muscular, and motivated. From the age of fifteen she’d won practically every triathlon she took part in. At her Olympic qualifier she crushed the national competition. Two more weeks, and she would be on her way to represent her country.
Friends threw her a farewell pool party. That night, Jenny slipped over an ice cube, and landed on the edge of the pool. With a broken tibia, she could kiss her Olympic dreams goodbye. She never reached her old level again.
Folkert, my father, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Last year, one of his doctors told him he was in the final stages, and advised him to get his affairs in order. While I was visiting, we got a second opinion which was much more optimistic.
My father began a breakthrough treatment to which he responded remarkably well. Instead of a few months, he was given a number of years. Then he started experiencing new symptoms, completely unrelated to his cancer. On September 30th, he was diagnosed with ALS.
DO YOU HAVE THE ANSWER
What do you make of these stories? How do you respond? What can you possibly say to Folkert, Jenny, and to Jake’s wife?
Is there a satisfactory answer to the question why bad things happen to good people?
Some have tried to come up with something, as if knowing the answer would somehow soften the blow. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, I get very uncomfortable when people attempt to make a wrong right. On what authority are they speaking? What do they know that I don’t?
Please don’t tell me that “everything happens for a reason,” or that it’s “for the better.” Don’t tell me there is a G-d who orchestrates cruel things out of love for his unruly children. Don’t tell me that Jake, Jenny, and Folkert deserved their fate because of some colossal cosmic conspiracy we call karma.
It doesn’t help.
It only hurts.
Yet, in the back of most people’s minds is the belief that we reap what we sow. We get what we deserve. It’s at the heart of the American Dream. If you study, apply yourself, and work hard, you can go from foster care to self-made millionaire. That’s only fair, isn’t it? If you are a good person, good things will happen to you. Good boys get rewarded. Bad boys get punished.
But what about all those bad boys who end up on top? The higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more selfish, cutthroat executives you’ll encounter. They didn’t get there by playing nice. In certain circles, success knows no mercy. It’s either eat or be eaten. Sharks in fancy suits walk all over gentle Mr. Goody two-shoes, the docile doormat.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR CAREER
A few days ago I had a serious conversation with one of my voice-over students. In the last twelve months, she had invested a nice chunk of change in her studio. She bought a great new mic, a lovely preamp, and even a new computer.
I believe in her, and more importantly, she believes in herself.
When we started our session, she sounded peeved.
“Paul,” she said, “Over the past couple of years I have worked my butt off. You know that. I promised myself to give this voice-over thing a good shot. When I listen back to some of my early recordings, I can tell that I have grown. And when I listen to what else is out there, I know I have something to offer. You said so yourself. But get this…
The other day I told one of my voice-over friends that I was going to audition for that commercial we talked about. I really poured everything you’ve taught me into that audition, and I sounded pretty good, if I say so myself. Guess who got the job? My friend! The one who has zero personality and zero experience. She even let me listen to her audition, and it was mediocre at best.
Be honest with me, Paul. Did I just waste years of my life? Should I sell my equipment? What good did all of that training do if I get beaten by a newbie? It’s so frustrating, and it makes me mad! How long do I have to wait for my big break?”
THE MYTH OF OVERNIGHT SUCCESS
When I heard her question, I had to think of actress Jenna Fischer. You probably know her as Pam from the American version of The Office. She always wanted to be an actor, and she eventually moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream. She fully expected to be working in movies within a year of coming to LA. It didn’t happen that way.
Jenna worked as a temp, she took acting and improv classes, and she borrowed money to make ends meet. At one point she had to wear a pair of shoes with a hole in them because she couldn’t afford anything else. It took her more than six long years before she finally got “discovered.”
Jenna Fischer is a perfect example of the adage that it can take years to become an overnight success. She knows from experience that the (voice) acting business is without guarantees, no matter how talented and motivated you are. When asked about it, she had this to say:
“This business is not fair. It is not like other businesses where if you show up, and work above and beyond everyone’s expectations, you are pretty much guaranteed to move up the ladder. I don’t know why it works out for some and not for others. And when you move here (Hollywood, P.S.) you have no idea which camp you are going to fall into.”
JUST BE FAIR
“Fair” is an interesting concept. Most dictionaries define it as “in accordance with the rules.” Most rules civil societies live by, are practical, logical, and even reasonable. They’re an example of cause-effect thinking: If A, then B. Without rules, life would be chaotic.
Most of us have unwritten rules that guide our hopes and expectations. To name a few: “If I train hard, and do my very best, I will be successful.” Or “If I live a healthy life, I will live a long life.”
Here’s the problem: those rules aren’t always reasonable, and they are rarely absolute. They only seem that way. What makes sense, and what seems right from our limited perspective, doesn’t necessarily happen. Kind, innocent people die young. Selfish bastards live to be a hundred. No explanation given.
Secondly: Most people don’t play by our rules. They might not even be aware of them. Perhaps they’re playing a different game altogether, and we don’t even see it. Many decisions that affect us, have nothing to do with us.
Third: Life isn’t logical. It’s not a matter of “If A, then B.” Usually, it’s: “If A, then D or Z.” People are emotional beings, and what they do isn’t cold and calculated. We forget. We make mistakes. We act impulsively, and break all the rules.
Last but not least: Even though we often think we are, we’re never one hundred percent in control. If we’re physically and mentally healthy, we can control our actions to a great extent, but we cannot control the outcome. Life consists of too many variables. Even perfectionists have to admit that…. at some point.
So, where does this leave us?
Are we hopeless and helpless leaves in the winds of chance? Should we stop trying to accomplish things, simply because the outcome is uncertain, and likely to be unfair?
I’ll tell you what I think we should do.
We should begin by skipping the question “Why.” “Why me, why this, why now?”
Asking “Why” is asking for a logical, reasonable explanation which you won’t always get. I hate to break it to you, but your rules, conscious or unconscious, don’t apply all the time.
My student did everything she could to win that audition. There was nothing she could have done to change the preference of the client.
Jenny missed the Olympics because she accidentally stepped on that ice cube. It wasn’t part of some devious celestial plan.
Jake had earned that dream vacation, but he died at the airport because his heart stopped working. Period.
My father did nothing to deserve ALS. There wasn’t anything he could have done to prevent it from affecting him. The question “fair or not fair” isn’t going to change his condition. He has to learn to live with ALS, and he’ll eventually die with it.
One last thing, if I may.
Most people tend to contemplate the issue of fairness when they believe they’ve been wronged, tricked, or were denied something they felt entitled to. That’s when they will ask the question “Why?”
When things go really well, and life smiles upon us, we hardly ever ask the question “Why me, why this, why now?”
In a few weeks, my 400+ page book will be available in print and as an eBook. Later this year you can expect the release of the audio version, narrated by the author. He’s giving me a very special rate!
Until then, you can keep track of the progress and the official release date on a new Facebook page which I’d love you to like:
I’ll also be posting updates on a new Twitter account:
WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
In the next week I am launching a website (www.makingmoneyinyourpjs.com), that will do several things:
– promote the book with previews and reviews;
– serve as a companion to the paperback edition with hyperlinks from the eBook;
– provide an easy way to learn more about the author and ways to get in touch with him.
But that’s not all. Eventually, this website will evolve into something much bigger and better. More about that at a later stage.
WOULD YOU LIKE A FREE COPY?
Do you want to be among the first to read my book?
To celebrate the release of Making Money In Your PJs, I am offering a free PDF copy to the first 50 people who leave a short comment in the comment section below. Just make sure you fill in your email address before you click “ADD COMMENT.” Otherwise I can’t reach you. Please do not leave your email in the comment box.
The PDF-version will be ready in seven to ten days, and I’ll send it to you via wetransfer.com.
If we blame the economy for all of our freelance failures, perhaps it’s only fair that we should credit the economy for all of our successes. After all: we’re hopelessly helpless.
It’s the economy, stupid!
In 2000, Cleanthi Peters sued Universal Studios for $15,000. Cleanthi claimed to have suffered “extreme fear, mental anguish, and emotional distress” after visiting Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights haunted house. She said it was too scary.
My European friend Philippe is eager to bring these type of examples up whenever he tells me that Americans live in a country of finger-pointers. I agree.
If we get lung cancer from smoking, we blame the tobacco industry. If we slip on a wet surface, it is the cleaning lady’s fault. If we burn our lips on a cup of fresh WaWa-Java, we sue the company that forgot to print a warning.
Heaven forbid we should take some credit for our own actions. Why should we? Blaming someone else could bring in big bucks!
So, what’s next?
Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
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?
CDObviously, 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”?
CDAt 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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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