Becoming the Sharpest Tool in the Shed

Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Mark my words: the next decade is going to be BIG!

There will be more opportunities for professional voice actors than ever before. Take a quick look at the trends. 

In 2019, video game revenue has again surpassed the total global box office for the film industry. The prediction is that it will increase by about 9.6% to generate 152.1 billion USD.

Streaming services are investing heavily in the production of original content. The audio book market keeps on growing exponentially (audiobook revenue in 2018 grew by 24.5 percent and totaled USD $940 million). The eLearning industry is expected to grow beyond USD 300 billion by 2025.

With the number of self-professed voice-overs increasing year after year, the question is not:

“Will there be enough work for everybody?” The question is: “Who is in the best position to take advantage of the growth in our line of work?”

The answer is simple: those who are best prepared to meet the demands of the market will dominate it. So, the real question becomes: How do you prepare for the future?

PRESIDENTIAL ADVICE

Abraham Lincoln, who was a skilled woodcutter before becoming president of the United States, famously said:

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

For VO’s this translates to at least four things:

  • Continuing education, but not only with the help of voice over coaches. I’m talking about taking acting and improv classes, singing lessons, and even language training. In other words, start improving your skills to make yourself more versatile and marketable. But that’s only the beginning;
  • On top of that I highly recommend you learn how to properly run a freelance business. This means knowing how to manage your finances, learning how to develop your brand, and coming up with innovative ways to position yourself. It involves making meaningful connections, and presenting yourself as a unique solution to a specific problem;
  • Third, you must invest in equipment and in a recording environment that will make you look and sound like the pro you profess to be;
  • And lastly, you need to learn how to manage yourself. If you can’t take the pressure and uncertainty of being a freelancer, the constant stream of rejections, and so-called colleagues trying to undercut you at every corner, please find another job. 

 

FOREVER AND EVER

Looking at this list you may wonder: won’t this take years and years to accomplish? It may, but it depends on your approach, your finances, and on the time you give yourself. The people who make the least progress are those who are trying to figure this out on their own. They kid themselves by believing that you can find everything you need online, and for free.

Why have we never heard of those trying to teach themselves how to drive a car or swim, using distance learning? Because they have crashed and drowned! If you think you can reinvent the wheel, be my guest. I think it’s much faster to learn from those who already are where you want to be. That’s precisely where conferences come in.

A conference is a safe and exciting place where you meet colleagues and experts who have struggled with the same things you are struggling with at the moment. It’s a place where you can help and inspire others who are stuck in their careers. And if you’re looking for a personal coach, you get the opportunity to experience a number of experts and see who might be a good fit for you.

A voice over conference is the perfect place to start sharpening that axe of yours.

BACK TO LONDON

I’ll be going to VO Atlanta in March, and I’m totally tickled to tell you that I am coming to London in May 2020! The ONE VOICE CONFERENCE where I will be speaking, takes place from May 7th – 10th and is put together by the team behind Gravy For The  Brain. I spoke with organizer Hugh Edwards, and asked him:

This is the third Voice One Conference. What have you learned since the first gatherings?

“Well, we are very big on customer feedback, each year we’ve done exit surveys and we’ve really listened to what has been fed back to us. We genuinely try and improve the conference in any way we can. One of the key changes we’ve made this year is that we are completely focussing the conference on professional voiceover, pro VO’s and pro VO standards.

Most conferences cater for a spread, i.e., beginner, intermediate and advanced content, but this often leads to a lack of content for the pros – this year we are doing an about face on that. My theory is that if you aim for 100% professional content, everyone is going to learn something useful and new, and you don’t alienate any section of your audience. 

The second big change is that this year I’ve dropped the idea of genre-based content. What I mean by that is that with years 1 and 2 we had a genre list – audiobooks, IVR, corporate etc – and we filled all the speaker slots based on fulfilling that list.

This year we’ve focussed in the reverse; who are the really great people who we are going to learn the best information from. As a product of this, we aren’t fulfilling all the genres, but we have much more interesting content, from the best of the best in the world, we have many more casting directors attending for example. It’s a subtle but incredibly important shift in our approach.”

You’ve been to VO conferences in the USA like VO Atlanta. What’s the difference in the way Americans and Brits approach these events? In what way is the atmosphere different? 

“Well, the heart of the voice artists in both countries, and Canada, Mexico, France, Australia etc are fundamentally the same. They all have the same hopes and dreams, needs and wants. The love of the industry is a common love that runs throughout everyone I meet in the industry. I think the attitudes are a little different though.

The brits tend to say outright and to people’s faces that they don’t think something is right, and the Americans seem slightly more reserved, will make their judgements and just not buy that person’s product, or that companies offering etc.

That isn’t to say that the American audience is in anyway less passionate, just that we all have different ways of expressing it. The Americans are much louder with whooping, hollering and dancing, the brits less so – but again, it’s not any less enthusiasm or passion – just different expressions!”

I sometimes feel that in the US, voice talent suffers from an inferiority complex. Voice-overs are invisible and don’t get the recognition they wish to get, artistically and financially. Is this something you recognize in the UK? If so, how can an event like One Voice help change the perception VO’s have of themselves, and the perception of the public?

“I wouldn’t agree that VO’s have an inferiority complex generally – in fact they often get the best of both worlds in that they get to work with the big productions but can still walk down the street un-hassled! But the public perception of VO around the world is growing daily.

One Voice, and Gravy For The Brain definitely help change the public perception of voiceover, both in education and (with things like the One Voice Awards) in celebration. The more opportunities given to shout about their craft, the more the public takes an interest. Some VO artists are becoming household names in the UK and the USA and the industry is changing at a rapid pace.”

 Looking back at the past two events, what has been your most gratifying experience?

“This is actually easier to answer than you might think! One Voice is a little like the analogy of the duck swimming on a lake; calm, serene and in control on the surface (which is what the public sees) and feet paddling like crazy under the surface (which is what our fantastic team is doing behind the scenes to make everything smooth and enjoyable for the delegates).

The amount of work that goes into the conference before the event is absolutely huge, from dress rehearsals, to coding, to awards and submissions, to speaker bookings, you name it, the team does it – and it’s right that the public never needs to know.

So what’s my most gratifying experience? I stand at the bar at the end of the day and I look around at all the VO’s and speakers gathered together – and all I see is smiles, and happiness, community and mutual respect. Seeing everyone being so happy after all the work, all the late nights and all the hours involved makes me as happy as I can be.”

These conferences cost a lot of money to organize and that’s one of the reasons you have corporate sponsors. How do you give your sponsors what they want without exposing the attendees to aggressive sales pitches?

“Yep – it’s a good point, and not all conferences get this right. I think one of the reasons for this is that virtually no other conference owner is also a sponsor at other conferences, whereas Gravy For The Brain has sponsored almost all the VO conference in the world in the last two years. We see what works for us, and when, as sponsors we are disappointed – we know what works for us and when we feel we are getting value, and when we feel neglected.

But it’s also worth saying that it’s a little sycophantic to presume that it’s an us (VO’s) and them (sponsors) scenario – in fact, it’s a completely symbiotic relationship; the sponsors are generally providing products or services that we love and need as a community, and although it’s a business, we’re all in this together.

When it comes to sponsor talks, we’re quite strict on not allowing sponsors to do sales pitches – that’s not the best use of their time at all – and instead we fixed the whole ‘expo area’ idea, which is done so wrong in so many other conferences – if you have to have a ‘room’ for the sponsors, by default delegates have to make a conscious effort to visit so attendance is always low.

At One Voice the expo area is the connection space between all the presentation rooms, so we have a constant flow of traffic for the exhibitors. Because of this the sponsors have no need to use their talk to be the only time they can pitch to the voices – they’re just integrated into the conference as a whole.”

Talent that’s on the fence about going, usually has a few questions about the conference:

– Is this suitable for beginners?

“Yes, all levels. As I mentioned earlier, we’re now presenting content for the professional, which means that all levels are going to learn as much as we can provide for them.”

– Will I get lost in the crowd?

“No. The fire limit for One Voice is 350 people, which in reality means 300 voice artists. It’s a lovely intimate space and has a real family feel to it!”

– Will it get me more work?

“Well, anyone – conference owners, trainers, coaches, whoever who says that their product is going to get you more work, is a liar, or at best misguided. What we are doing is helping you make connections and network, and giving you education and tools for you to be able to do this for yourself…and in that way, yes absolutely!

VO is a long game and no one is going to do this for you – it takes hard work and dedication, but One Voice is the best networking opportunity, an amazing centre of excellence in education and the most value-for-money conference you can attend in the UK.”

meeting Mark Graue

– Will I have the opportunity to meet face to face with presenters?

“Absolutely. it’s such a social event, and most of the presenters are there for the whole weekend. We’ve consistently found that our presenters are extremely generous with their time and their advice – they’re a great spirited and friendly bunch! The overriding word that comes back to me here is community – they are as much a part of it as you are, and their expertise and experience is arguably the most valuable part of the weekend.”

What’s new in 2020? Why should people who already have attended a conference come back?

“So I previously mentioned the refocusing on professional standards, education, and tuition. This extends through to all the areas of the conference, from talks, to workshops, the networking to the community and our sponsors. Almost all of our speakers this year were not speakers last year which is part of our ongoing commitment to provide value for money, freshness, and diversity in the content we are providing. 

At the end of last year’s One Voice I polled the audience about our workshops and what people thought – we had a pretty polar split with those who loved them, and those who thought the content was great but that they were too short. So we listened, and this year we will be providing the one-hour workshops which are still free with your ticket, and also three-hour specialised workshops which will have an additional fee. It’s only fair that we pay the experts who are imparting their knowledge for a 3-hour period.

The One Voice Boat Party is back, because it was so hugely successful and fun last year – we just couldn’t resist doing it again!”

As I was conducting my interview, Hugh broke the news that Alexander Armstrong had agreed to become the second keynote speaker (Kate Robbins being the other one). Alexander is a well-know British voice actor, comedian, game show host, and singer. He also plays the title character in the new edition of Danger Mouse.

Why Alexander Armstrong is happy to be out of the voiceover game

With a voice like that, it's no surprise that brands were desperate to snap up the talents of Alexander Armstrong! ?

Posted by BBC Radio 2 on Friday, May 24, 2019

 

Back to my interview with Hugh. I wanted to know: Will you still have the Awards Gala? 

“I’m glad you asked! Yes the One Voice Awards is growing from strength to strength and is becoming a genuine force for good in the VO community. Because of our ethical values and the truly locked nature of the judging system proving 100% absolute integrity, the One Voice Awards are seen as a wholly trusted and worthwhile thing. It’s also one heck of a fun night!

We have some very cool surprises up our sleeve this year too! Submissions will open in January – and for anyone who isn’t on our mailing list just head over to www.onevoiceconference.com and sign up to the newsletter – and further details will follow!

Bodalgo’s Armin Hierstetter

We’re running a super early bird at the moment which is 30% off the ticket price and lasts only up until Christmas Day. The price for the entire 4-day event (excluding the awards) at this discount is only £229 +tax (that’s about 300 USD) – which represents incredible value for money. Then we go into the Early bird for a few weeks in January and then normal ticket pricing after that.

We have negotiated an amazing hotel rate which includes breakfast, and of course lunches are included within the ticket price. One Voice Conference is the UK’s biggest and best VO conference for a reason – we really care about each and every one of our attendees – and we’d love to see everyone there for our third year!”

MY CONTRIBUTION

Many thanks to Hugh for taking the time to answer my questions, and frankly, for having me at One Voice.

From the many responses I get, I know there are quite a few fans of this blog in the UK as well as in the rest of Europe. I’d love to meet you at the One Voice Conference where I will be doing a one-hour presentation on how to increase your visibility, SEO, and professional reputation by blogging, followed by a thee-hour interactive workshop where we will dig in a lot deeper.

As you may know, my blog has propelled this website to becoming the number one individual VO website on the interweb. If you play your cards right, you could very well follow in my footsteps, and I’ll do whatever I can to get you there.

It all depends on one thing:

Are you ready to sharpen your axe?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS photos courtesy of One Voice Conference

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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, Freelancing, International, Internet

4 Responses to Becoming the Sharpest Tool in the Shed

  1. Paul Payton

    Key word: “community.” Great article, Paul. Early on, my first mentor told me that if you’re good at what you do, there’s work for everybody. The market will tell you what it wants from you; it will help to point you to your niche and specialty, where you do your best work. Your job is to find out where clients are spending money on your specialty and “stand in its way” so that the money finds you. Simple, not easy, but not all that hard, really; however, it does take time and effort. For me, the conferences I’ve attended reinforce all of the above; if we’re really part of the community, we don’t want to steal each other’s clients, just learn how to better acquire and keep our own. Even as I ease back a bit from major marketing, I’m still grateful to be able to both acquire new knowledge and share what I know if asked.

    All the best for the holidays, Paul, and here’s to a happy, healthy, sane and successful new year!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Community is key, and that’s what those who don’t attend these conferences never get. Their mindset is: “What’s in it for me?” instead of “What can I offer?”

    Wishing you warm and wonderful holidays, and a year filled with good health and many adventures on biking paths!

    [Reply]

  2. Mike Carta

    Excellent. Read it twice. Knowledge is power and success.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re absolutely right!

    [Reply]

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