Are You Pimping Your Voice?

I apologize in advance for what you’re about to read. I’m a bit fired up today.

What’s going on?

Well, I made the mistake of once again visiting the Voice Acting Alliance (Unofficial Group) Facebook Group. That’s the 9,300 member strong group where pretend voice actors will do pretty much anything for nothing.

If you’re serious about voice acting and you’re looking for solid advice, do yourself a favor and find another online community. Please.

You’ll avoid encountering people tackling pressing issues such as:

“Who will critique my shitty demo recorded in the closet with $70 worth of equipment. Kindly ignore the neighbor’s rottweiler.”

“I been having a hard time finding acting classes so if anyone could give me some references or pointers. I be very grateful.”

“I haven’t done any voice acting in this group yet. If any of you need a voice just let me know. I’m currently learning myself.”

I thought I’d give a test with the Kaotica Eyeball in case anyone would like to give this ball a try. Enjoy.”

I just learned what “slating” means… 10 auditions later…”

and the ultimate question:

“What food do voice actor eat?” (seriously!)

If I may, I’d like to add the following query:

“What diaper do voice actor wear?”

SPOON FEEDERS UNITE

The most surprising thing is that some colleagues with too much time on their hands take these questions seriously, and they start helping the ignorant members of this group under the guise of “giving back to the community.”

Excuse me, but that’s not giving back. This is spoon feeding toddlers and teens who are too lazy to do their homework. If you want to stand any chance as a future voice actor, you have to be self-sufficient instead of becoming dependent on people you don’t even know.

Now, the exchange that raised my heart rate today started with this question:

I got asked by a new author to narrate their novel. They had heard my voice and asked, and after some negotiation we agreed on a rather ludicrous price, in my favor.

Then I read the first chapter.

Bad grammar and amateur structure are but a few of the problems.

I’m not an editor, so I’m not even going to suggest that the errors be fixed. There are just too many I found in the first chapter of what is ultimately a 100,000 plus word book.

So, two questions.

1. Do I do it for the money and risk having my name attached to a trainwreck, or
2. Politely opt out and if so, what reason would I give.

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.”

Notwithstanding the bad grammar and structure of this request for help, please take a deep breath and ask yourself what you would do, if you were the narrator. Would you take the money and suffer for the sake of gaining experience, or would you pass on this golden opportunity?

Here are some of the responses that came from the group:

I would do it for the experience as well as the pay. If you want to do audio books in the future, this is a great way to start.”

The performance can be good, regardless of the writing. If the writing sucks, that’s the author’s fault. If you can’t make the performance good, that’s on you.

Do it. Make it the best you can. Have confidence not many will hear it if it isn’t written well.… I voice poorly written spots all the time. I do everything I can to make them sound good. I get paid.”

“If f the price is right I would still do it.”

PROBLEM NUMBER ONE

As with most Facebook exchanges, people start answering questions without knowing enough about the issue. It’s like a doctor diagnosing his patient without a proper examination. How on earth can you prescribe a cure if you don’t really know what the illness is?

All we know is that we’re talking about a lengthy novel that will result in some eleven hours of finished audio if you average 2.5 words per second. According to the Audiobook Creation Exchange, ACX:

    • It takes about two hours to narrate what will become one finished hour.
    • After the narration is recorded, it then takes an editor (who might be the same person as the narrator) about three hours to edit each finished hour of recording.
    • At this point, it is strongly recommended that you run a quality control (QC) pass over the finished project. This means spending time re-listening and suggesting words, sentences, or sections to re-record. And that takes about 1.2 hours for every finished hour.

 

So, if we go by ACX, it takes about 6.2 hours to produce one hour of finished audio. That makes this novel a seventy-hour job. Probably more, because the person asking the question doesn’t seem to have a lot of experience.

PROBLEM NUMBER TWO

How much will the narrator be making? In his words he negotiated “a rather ludicrous price, in my favor.”

That doesn’t tell us anything, does it? I’ve seen people in this group thinking that $50 or less per finished hour is perfectly acceptable. Others are offering their services for free in exchange for exposure. If you don’t believe me, visit the group and start counting the “passion projects” on the page.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

If exposure is what you’re after, join Exhibitionists Anonymous.

Don’t stink up our joint with your rotten amateur attitude.

Lastly, the narrator doesn’t tell us if he negotiated a flat fee or a royalty share. That could make a huge difference in his paycheck.

PROBLEM NUMBER THREE

The narrator has read the first chapter and concludes: “Bad grammar and amateur structure are but a few of the problems.”

To me that’s a sign that this new author is peddling a self-published novel. Novels released by established publishers are heavily edited and wouldn’t have an amateur structure.

Royalty shares work out great for bestsellers, but not for most self-published books (Fifty Shades of Grey being the exception).

The real question is: how bad does bad have to be, before you bail?

Lastly, why did the narrator agree on a “rather ludicrous price” before having read the book? Don’t you want to know ahead of time what you’re getting yourself into?

Now to some of the answers that made me quite upset. They all come down to one thing:

DO IT FOR THE MONEY

Seriously, what kind of lousy response is that? Are you pimping yourself out to the highest bidder? Is that it? In that case, I’m afraid you’ve chosen the wrong line of work. 

Let’s say you’re an independent contractor bidding on a construction job. The architect is an amateur, the floor plan is flawed, and the materials you’re required to use are inferior. In short, you’ll be building a dangerous structure and it will take forever to finish the project as you’re learning on the job.

Nevertheless, you would still do it because you’re making good money?

Don’t you have any professional or ethical standards? Are you simply that desperate?

Don’t you realize that even though you didn’t write the damn book, you will forever be associated with this piece of pulp fiction? Even if you were to use a pseudonym, it’s still your voice whispering in people’s ear. 

At this point I can hear you say:

“Now, wait a minute. Who are you to judge me? It’s just someone else’s book. It’s no big deal.  Life is about compromises, and I’ve got to pay the bills.” 

WHAT ABOUT INTEGRITY

Here’s what I would say:

I can fully understand that as a narrator you’d record books you would never take out of the library yourself. I’ve narrated the biography of Ludwig von Mises, a libertarian economist who was vehemently against socialist government intervention. I see myself as being on the opposite side of the political spectrum, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed learning about laissez-fair economics as I was recording the book.

The biography was well-written, well-structured, and well-edited. To this day, I am very proud of my contribution.

Contrast that with a lengthy, poorly structured, self-published novel filled with errors and bad grammar. Out of all the voice-over projects you could be taking on, is that the one you wish to record? And why? For the money? For the experience? 

I can guarantee you that this will become one of your most painful and frustrating experiences as an aspiring audio book narrator. You will curse the day you said YES to this project, and you will resent the overly demanding author who will bombard you with changes he expects you to record for free.

How do I know that? Because as a rule of thumb, the cheapest clients are the biggest pain in the butt. Once they hear you reading their work, they realize what’s wrong with it, and they’ll start rewriting entire passages.

The only experience you’ll get will teach you how not to approach audio book narration. If you ask me, no money in the world is worth the stress and aggravation.

If you want to learn how to properly cook a meal, start with the right ingredients. You’ll never make an amazing dish using inferior produce and rotten fish. 

MAKING THE BEST OF IT

But what about this comment:

The performance can be good, regardless of the writing. If the writing sucks, that’s the author’s fault. If you can’t make the performance good, that’s on you.

Have you ever seen the buddy movie 50/50 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, and Anjelica Huston? It’s one of the worst movies I’ve seen in years. It is utterly predictable, and even actors I normally admire cannot save a terrible script and poor direction. The Guardian critic wrote:

“I can only say I found it charmless, shallow, smug and unlikable: a bromance weepie about cancer with a very serious “bros before hos” attitude.”

A good performance cannot save a bad script, and a good script cannot make up for bad acting. The end result is still forgettable.

Do you really want to associate yourself with garbage, simply because you’re motivated by money?

Don’t you have any professional pride?

Take it from me: you will never do your best work for the love of the pretty penny.

If money is what you’re after, you should probably pick a different profession.

I rest my case.

Rant over.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Social Media

6 Responses to Are You Pimping Your Voice?

  1. David Dwortzan

    You hit the “nail of truth” right on it’s head, Paul. Can always count on you for that!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks, David. I have to remind some of my readers that this blog is only a reflection of my opinion. It is my personal truth and people don’t have to agree with me.

    [Reply]

  2. Ann Richardson

    Spot-on, Paul. I blogged about this, too, tangentially. So many new narrators don’t want to do the homework.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Some people prefer to be lazy over being tired.

    [Reply]

  3. Jim Edgar

    Yeah… that’s a rough part of the FB town. I’ll try to set out a few lanterns for those folks who want to move toward the light, or drop a few breadcrumbs for those who want to find there way out… But there is a copious amount of really bad advice which gets shared there.

    As always, thanks for the clarity of your comments, Paul!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    My pleasure Jim. Some folks just don’t want to see the light, blinded as they are by their own ignorance. They don’t know that they don’t know.

    [Reply]

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