Sometimes I feel we can measure the degree of our privilege by how many things we take for granted.
Is the air we breathe clean? Can we put food on the table? Are we healthy? Do we feel safe? Do we have friends we can count on? Do we love the work we do?
For many of us, the answer to these questions is self-evident. That’s why we live our lives without realizing how privileged we are… until.
Until something happens that shakes up our life.
We end up suffering from terrible allergies. We experience food insecurity. We’re diagnosed with COVID. Our house burns down. Friends fail us. We hate our job…
Isn’t it sad that, for us to really appreciate the good, we often have to experience the opposite?
In a way it’s pretty pathetic that we have to dedicate a special day to being thankful.
Twenty-four hours of madness and indigestion.
And when it’s over, we move on. Pepto-Bismol in hand.
The next day, we shop our inner emptiness away, and retail resurges. Hopefully.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Of course not.
All we need to do is press pause…. and be mindful of the many ordinary blessings that make our life livable and meaningful.
It’s the little, big things we take for granted.
It’s the things that we don’t have to worry about, that are the small stones in the mosaic of our happiness.
Now, this may sound simple, and you might be right.
But everything that looks and sounds simple, never is. All of us can buy the ingredients to a five-star dish, but very few can make a Michelin-star worthy meal. This is a tough lesson to learn in a time of instant gratification.
We want things at the speed of a mouse click. A new computer. A new eye liner. A new career. Just get the right equipment plus a P2P membership, and you’re in business!
It’s easy to buy a blank canvas, some paint, and a few brushes. But that’s just the start of a long, winding road. There’s so much to absorb. So much to learn. And learning never stops.
Let’s be honest.
Very few people were born to be a soccer star like Maradona, or a top tennis player. Very few home cooks get to be a top chef. But you can still enjoy playing the violin, even if you never perform at Carnegie Hall. Many string players have a fulfilling career in an ensemble and not as a soloist.
So, on a day like today, be thankful for the talents you were born with. Be thankful for the people who love you for who you are. They don’t care if you’ll never be front page news. I bet they actually prefer it that way.
Share your talents with the world, and make it a better place because of you.
“I spend very little time listening to podcasts. I’d rather read an article, than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. An article or blog post I can scan in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff.
On to the next one.
Am I going to listen to a forty-minute podcast to possibly pick up a few useful ideas?
No thank you.
But there’s another reason why most podcasts are not my cup of tea.
I have no patience for mediocrity, half-ass efforts, or for untalented amateurs playing radio.”
Five years later, I still stand behind what I wrote in 2015, although I must admit that I’ve added a few podcasts to my listening diet. Here are some shows I’m a fan of:
On occasion I will listen to shows like This American Life, Fresh Air, or RadioLab. All these programs are professionally produced, and they make doing the dishes or yard work much more pleasant. But I really can’t stand podcasts that take way too long to get to the point, hosted by nitwits that love to hear themselves talk.
I just read it, so, let me get straight to the point. Should you buy this book if you’re thinking of podcasting, or if you already have a podcast?
A B S O L U T E L Y!
One hundred percent.
But before you make plans to produce the next Serial (the record breaking podcast by Sarah Koenig), I have some great news for you, and some not so great news.
According to Edison Research, American podcast listenership has grown one hundred percent in the last four years. 67 million Americans listen to at least one podcast a month.
Here’s the daunting news: there are more than 850 thousand active podcasts and more than 30 million podcast episodes. If you’re serious about starting a podcast, you better know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s just like the world of voice overs:
Many are called. Few are chosen.
One of the things that crossed my mind when reading Elaine’s book was this: is podcasting something I could do on the side, to provide some passive income through lucrative sponsorship deals?
A MONEY MAKER
Well, get this. Elaine interviewed six successful podcasters for her book. One of them is Melissa Thom, founder, producer, and host of Spellbound. It takes Melissa two to five days to edit one episode which usually runs for thirty minutes.
Jordan Harbinger, host of the one-hour Jordan Harbinger Show, takes 10 – 20 hours of research, 90 minutes to record, and 9 hours to edit (which he outsources). Podcaster Jason Allan Scottspends one hour of research per minute his guest is on the air.
Most voice overs (Elaine’s target market) don’t have so much time to spare. They’re too busy making money where their mouth is. And as you read Elaine’s book, you’ll discover that monetization is one of the biggest challenges for podcasters.
For most of them, it is and always will be a labor of love.
The key to making money from podcasting is to have a large listener base. Only then are sponsors and advertisers interested in you. Jordan Harbinger says:
“It’s easy to get sponsorships once you get the big numbers. Getting the big numbers is the hard part. You need about 5 to 15 thousand downloads per episode (at the very least) before most sponsors will be interested in your show.”
For Jason Allan Scott, the magic minimum number is 20 thousand downloads per show. So, as in voice overs, being successful at making podcasts is not only about making interesting podcasts, but about being good at selling your podcast to the world! That alone, could easily be a second job, if you have plenty of time on your hand.
But you can’t really sell something until you have a product people actually want to buy, and that’s where Elaine’s book delivers big time. She writes:
“After hundreds of hours of listening, dissecting, and talking to others about podcasts, the universal theme is GET TO THE POINT! Don’t make your story too precious, your intro too long, or your focus too broad. Listeners feel their time is valuable.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Voice-Overs for Podcasting is an invaluable step-by-step guide to baking a mouthwatering podcasting cake, covering the most basic ingredients, to dealing with pitfalls and roadblocks. If you are serious about becoming a podcaster, this book will save you hundreds of hours of research, and will prevent you from trying to reinvent the wheel.
But remember: baking a great cake is about more than following a recipe. It’s about being creative, playful, daring, unusual, boundary-pushing, and about being an original. Those are things you cannot learn from letters printed on a page.
It’s only 134 pages, but Elaine Clark’s book is filled with lists, practical tips and ideas, even scripts that will set you on the right track. In my opinion, there are only two things that will keep her book from reaching a wider audience.
One: The confusing title. Why isn’t it called Podcasting for Voice Overs? No matter how you spin it, the title suggests the book is geared toward voice overs. I believe it should be required reading for anyone who’s thinking of starting a podcast, and for podcasters who want to up their game.
Secondly, I think the cover looks generic and rather uninspiring.
But you know what…
If the cover is one of the only things to critique, you know the content must be pretty stellar!
For most of us, pleasing people is the name of the game.
As a freelance service provider, that is why we exist: to please the people that pay us.
It’s how I grew up as a little boy in the Netherlands.
As the son of a minister, I always had to be on my best behavior and do what was expected of me. Children should be seen, not heard, and only speak when spoken to. Pleasing my parents and making them proud became my way of life.
That meant not questioning their authority, eat what they put in front of me, wear what they wanted me to wear, and be quiet when the grown ups were talking. And there was a lot of talking in the parsonage.
As an inquisitive and talkative child, this regime was not easy on me, to say the least. I wanted to engage and be social. I wanted to participate instead of observe.
Most importantly: I wanted to be heard.
Don’t we all?
My young parents were still learning how to run a church, and I think they were in over their heads, especially after the birth of my little sister. So, having a noisy son who always wanted to know everything about everything, must have been challenging. But I was a child. I couldn’t help myself.
After testing the rules over and over again, and being at the receiving end of numerous spankings, I finally learned my lesson.
Sit still. Shut up, and do as you are told.
In a way, this strict upbringing worked well for me. My life was like a coloring book. As long as I colored within the lines, I received praise. I was the good child, but I had to make sure to color the trees green and the sun yellow. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Deviation and disobedience lead inevitably to punishment (always administered by my mother, while my father made himself invisible).
Now, at a certain age, kids are supposed to grow up and rebel against parental authority. I left that job to my sister. She was the wild child, and very good at it, I might add! While I buried myself in books and music, she acted out in every way possible. Coming home late. Fooling around with bad boys. Drugs and drinking.
Meanwhile, I remained the pubescent, immature people pleaser. Mister goody two shoes who had no spine. Perfectly socially acceptable, well-adjusted, and never daring.
How did I stay that way, you may ask? By avoiding confrontation while fostering resentment, deep inside. It’s a coping mechanism many of us know too well. It works until someone really starts pushing our buttons and boundaries, and we can’t take it anymore.
Just wait for that pressure cooker to explode!
And when it does, we not only respond to what triggered us in the first place, but to years of keeping things inside; of sucking things up to keep the peace.
I truly feel for the person at the receiving end of this emotional outburst!
Now, why on earth would I be bringing up the past, in a blog about freelancing and voice overs? Who do I think I am? Sigmund Freud, or Dr. Phil McGraw?
I’m taking you back to my childhood because in my work as a coach I have found that many of us have evolved very little from the time we were a child. It usually manifests itself in our relationship with perceived authority figures. Authority figures such as the clients we serve.
After years and years of growing up, many of my students discover that they’re still the same obedient people pleasers they were as little kids.
Sit still. Shut up, and do as you are told.
One way this manifests itself is in a subservient relationship with clients. If a client wants things done the next day, they deliver the next day, no matter what. If a client wants to pay them in 90 days instead of in 30, they accept 90 days. If a client changes the script after they’ve already delivered the previously approved VO, they record the new text for free. And so on and so forth.
People bend over backwards just to avoid confrontation and rejection.
I see the same pattern when it comes to rates.
“The client said he had a limited budget, so why should I ask for more?”
As a coach I always challenge my students. The other day, I said to one of them:
“How do you know how much a client can or cannot afford? Are you psychic? Do you have someone inside the organization? Did you even ask for more money? If not, why not?”
“Well, I’m afraid they’ll give the job to another talent. I want to maintain a good relationship.”
I told him:
“How can you predict with absolute certainty how the client will respond? I mean, out of the hundred plus people that auditioned for this job, they picked you for a reason. That should give you a bit of leverage, don’t you think?
What you are offering is not some kind of cookie anyone can bake; something simple that disappears as soon as you eat it. What you’re about to record will last. It has the power to move minds, and inspire people to take action. Only you can say it the way you say it. That’s why they picked you, for Pete’s sake!”
One of my students was in a pickle because she didn’t allow enough time to finish the eLearning module she was recording.
“Why don’t you call the client and ask for an extension?” I suggested.
“Oh, they’re not going to like that,” she replied. “This is my first time working for them. I need to show that I can handle the job they gave me. Otherwise they’ll never hire me again.”
“Here’s my assignment,” I said: “Call them up. Tell them where you are with the project and how much time you need to complete it, and see what they say.”
A day later she called me back and said:
“I’m so relieved! They gave me until next week to finish it. It turned out they weren’t going to listen to it for the next couple of days anyway, because they’re so swamped. The project manager told me they’d rather have me do a good job and take more time, than to rush things and make mistakes. She even thanked me for keeping her in the loop.”
Those two students had one thing in common. Because they assumed to know how the client would respond, they avoided a confrontation by not asking for what they wanted. Here’s the thing.
If you don’t ask, the answer will always be NO.
I wasted years of my life being overly concerned about what other people might think. It was the little boy in me that still was intent on pleasing his parents. The boy who always found an easy way out, to avoid conflict and confrontation.
The trouble was, playing it safe usually didn’t get me what I really, really wanted and deserved. I had to learn that it’s okay to gently and respectfully put my foot down, and ask for what I wanted.
When I finally started to speak up for myself, I discovered that the confrontations I dreaded in my mind, hardly ever happened. It was just my very vivid imagination of a worst case scenario that held me back.
These days, the people pleaser in me still plays pictures in his mind. But this time around I make sure to imagine the BEST things that can happen, instead of the most terrible outcome.
Remember this: whether you imagine the worst thing, or the very best thing, you never know how it’s going to turn out. But if you visualize a positive outcome, you’re more likely to be in a positive mindset, and take positive action, leading to a positive result.
All I ask of you, is to try this approach for the next week or so, and experience the difference it makes.
The war of words we call the U.S. general election, is finally over.
America has voted. The people have spoken.
Some of us are elated.
Some of us are scared.
Some of us are asking ourselves: “How the heck did this happen?”
Now, before you think this is yet another analysis of the election, let me stop you. This is primarily a blog about people’s voices and their meaning, and that’s why you and I need to talk.
Because some of us were foot soldiers in this war of words. Soldiers of fortune.
I’m referring to the voice actors who used their talent to spread the message of a particular party. The masterful manipulators, hand-picked and hired to move hearts and minds.
That’s not some dark, political point of view. It’s the ultimate purpose of our profession. Clients hire voice actors when they have something to sell, someone to entertain, something to teach, or something to preach.
If we do our jobs well, we lift dead words off the page, and bring them to life in the most impactful way possible. Sometimes, that way is a seductive whisper. Sometimes, it is a battle cry about keeping America great again, or restoring the soul of the nation. As long as that cry is believable, people are buying it in droves. Just look at the tremendous turnout!
It’s all about influence.
MAKING AN IMPACT
A masterful audio book narrator can create wonderful worlds and characters that become an intimate part of the listener’s experience. Well-delivered catch phrases from commercials become engrained in our culture.
As the French say: “It’s the tone that makes the music,” and in my mind, it’s the voice-over who sets the tone, whether it’s someone like Sir David Attenborough, Gilbert Godfrey, or Morgan Freeman.
Who can forget the way Ed McMahon delivered his “Here’s Johnny,” for almost thirty years? Who doesn’t remember Don LaFontaine’s booming “In a world…” or Don Pardo announcing Saturday Night Live?
As you’re reading these words, you probably heard their voices inside your head, and hearing these voices put you in a certain state of mind, if only for a moment.
Don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal.
Voice-overs infuse scripts with meaning and emotion. A talented voice actor can “play” the words, the way a musician turns notes into music, and music into art.
Now, at this point I can hear some of you say:
“Slow down a little. What’s the big deal? Words are just words! You can’t get wet from the word water. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”
Well, you’re wrong.
Words are powerful weapons. Depending on who delivers them, and how they are delivered, words can act as a potent placebo, or as a poison. If you don’t believe me, ask a hypnotherapist, or someone who has been bullied.
The word Kristallnacht isn’t “just” a word. Kristallnacht opens up a burning world of meaning; a world of anti-Semitism and intolerance that led to the killing of six million innocent people.
Words are loaded. They can be used to divide, to incite, to help, and to heal. Words drive teenagers to suicide, and words inspire religious fanatics to murder and maim.
Words are never “just” words.
Now, subscribing to the idea that words have power has implications for all of us. Especially for professional communicators like you and me.
Whether you’re a copywriter, a speech writer, a politician, or a voice-over, as a paid manipulator of language, you have the responsibility to ask yourself:
“To what aim am I doing my job?”
“What are the potential consequences?”
“Would this project I’m involved in make me proud, or would I be embarrassed to be associated with it?”
“Under what circumstances would I refuse to work on a job?”
“Is this project an opportunity to make money, to make a difference, or both?”
Some of my fellow voice-overs answer those questions in a very pragmatic way. They tell me:
“Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m only an actor. I’ll say whatever they pay me to say. At the end of the day, it’s money in the bank.”
To be perfectly honest with you: I struggle with that attitude. Especially when it’s about causes I strongly believe in, I find it hard to separate personal from professional ethics. For instance, as a lifelong vegetarian, I would never butcher my beliefs to promote the consumption of meat, no matter how much they’d pay me.
At the same time, I’m not going to make the mistake of confusing an actor with his or her character. If someone portrays a member of the KKK in a movie, I know it doesn’t mean this person supports the KKK in real life. Perhaps that actor wanted to play this role to warn the world about the dangers of the Klan.
So, to help myself deal with some professional, moral dilemmas, I find it useful to make a distinction between fiction, and reality. As a voice actor I give myself permission to play a despicable fictional character. However, I would never record a promo video for the KKK.
Do you know what I mean?
GETTING INTO POLITICS
But what about political ads? Would I be willing to help a political party sway voters?
Although many political ads sound too good to be true, I put them in the category of non-fiction. They’re a tool in a battle to influence the masses. They’re instruments of propaganda. Based on my personal morals, and knowing what I know about the power of words, I would never lend my voice to a message I don’t believe in, regardless of the paycheck.
My voice is for hire, but my integrity is not for sale.
I understand that you may draw the line differently, because your values and beliefs are different from mine. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss ethics in our profession. Our voice is a powerful instrument of influence that can be used for many purposes, good or bad.
One last thing.
Let’s not confuse doing a great job with doing what is right.
It is very much possible to do great work for a terrible cause. Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens, is a cinematic masterpiece of propaganda about the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. Her documentary Olympia about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, was groundbreaking.
These cinematic masterpieces were paid for by the Nazis, and used to glorify the Third Reich!
Yes, you can do amazing work as a voice actor for a horrible company. Can you live with that?
It’s not always the work that’s being criticized. It’s the purpose it serves, that matters. You can lend your perfect pipes to promote a notorious weed killer like Roundup, but is that something you want to have on your conscience, just because you feel you have to make a quick buck?
Are your morals for sale to the highest bidder? Are you a vocal prostitute?
WAITING FOR A WINNER
I’ll let those questions resonate with you, while we adjust to a new reality, here in the United States.
The votes have been cast, and we have a president-elect.
This was an election about emotions like hope and fear; about who was best at selling a message to the masses.
The painful and embarrassing war of words is still going on.
Here’s what I want to know.
Let’s say all votes are counted, and we don’t like the outcome, should we start shooting the messengers?
I mean, we’ve got to find some people to blame, don’t we?
That’s one of the most important things you should ask yourself, in a time where rapidly evolving Artificial Intelligence is driving the latest text to speech software. The makers of this software have started advertising that their clients will never have to hire an expensive voice over again.
You may think this sounds rather preposterous, but consumers are already used to these artificial voices. For them it’s not a matter of “Are these fake voices any good?” It’s a matter of: “Are they good enough?”
THE COVID EFFECT
I’m sure you’ve also noticed that during the pandemic the interest in voice acting has increased exponentially. When you audition for a job on a casting site like Bodalgo, you’re greeted with the message “Due to the effects of Covid-19 (Coronavirus), we are seeing a higher number of auditions per job than usual.”
Every week I get at least a few emails from people asking me how to get started in the business. Add to that the number of out of work on-screen and stage actors, desperately looking for opportunities.
So, more and more people are coming for your jobs, and so is technology. I want to know: what are you going to do about it?
If you wish to future-proof your voice over career, you need at least three elements to be in place, summarized in two simple words:
You have to be able to consistently produce professional quality audio from a home studio that can be connected to other studios in the world. This means your recording session cannot be interrupted by a leaf blower or the neighbor’s pitbull. This requires an acoustically-treated, soundproofed space, quality gear, as well as a reliable internet connection.
You must have a solid online presence allowing clients to easily find you, hire you, and pay you.
You need to have the talent and skillset to truly connect with the copy and inhabit a whole cast of characters other than yourself. In other words: simply reading a text into a microphone without making mistakes isn’t going to cut it. Any machine can do that. You need to have acting chops. To use a musical metaphor: you can teach a computer to reproduce the correct notes, but you can’t teach it to make music.
There are plenty of good paying jobs in the voice over world, but not for any amateur with a USB mic and a voices dot com account. Clients with big budgets are constantly looking for voice over ACTORS. Not voice over robots. Audio book publishers are always searching for that one unique talent who can bring a cast of characters to life.
VOCAL and ACTING TRAINING
I have good news and bad news for you.
The bad news is: most voice overs are not voice ACTORS. Voice overs read scripts. Voice actors perform roles.
The good news?
There are people who are trained to bring out the actor in you. People like soprano Kelly Glyptis, for example. Her background uniquely qualifies her to work with voice talent. You see, voice overs don’t necessarily need an acting coach who prepares students for the big screen or the stage. They need someone who knows all about flexing the vocal folds.
Kelly Glyptis was eleven or twelve when her voice teacher handed her the song “Caro mio ben.” She was doing musical theater at the time, and wasn’t at all interested in singing some stuffy old song in italian. “Do it anyway,” the teacher said, and for Kelly, it was love at first sound.
When she was fourteen, she saw a production of “Suor Angelica” a one-act opera by Puccini. Kelly told me: “I immediately decided that one day I would be up on stage singing the title role.”
At the beginning of the year, Kelly was still on the North American National Tour of Fiddler on the Roof as Fruma Sarah. Her other musical theater credits include The Mother Abbess Cover (The Sound of Music) with the North American National Tour, and Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins), The Witch (Into the Woods), Morticia (The Addams Family), and Anita (West Side Story) with The Prizery Theatre.
Before I talked to Kelly about the work she does with voice over colleagues, I wanted to know more about her background. Our conversation started with this question:
When someone seems to be as talented as you are, some people say it’s just a matter of luck. You were lucky to be born with a voice like yours. What is it that these people are not getting?
Kelly:Roman philosopher Seneca is credited with the phrase “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” and I think that perfectly sums up a lot of any artistic career. There’s no denying that “natural talent” is a thing, but it will only get you so far. I think what people don’t see is the amount of time, training, resources, and sacrifice; not to mention the fact that we go through more rejection on a weekly basis than most people do in a year… or five.
I have two degrees where I studied and trained in music theory, history, languages (Italian, German, French), diction (Italian, German, French, English, Russian), dance, combat, fencing, lighting design, directing, conducting, and so much more. I practice and/or study every single day; there’s no such thing as a day off in my world.
Kelly and her mom
My mother was a professional dancer and choreographer, so I was basically born performing. She’s been the artistic director of Pied Piper Theatre in Manassas Virginia since I was born, and I grew up going to rehearsals and helping in the office; it really gave me perspective of the theatrical life as a whole.
My mother has always believed that training never stops and you can’t ever know enough about your craft– not just singing, but technical theater, clowning, stage combat, management, marketing…you name it, I’ve done it. I decided quite young that this was what I wanted to do, and my mom was never shy to tell me the tough side of it.
One of the most beneficial things she ever did was recuse herself from every audition I ever did for the company. I didn’t make it into shows, I did tons of chorus roles, and I understudied. It wasn’t great at the time, but looking back I am so glad she let me be rejected and experience that because being told no is a huge part of this career.
What kept you going when things were tough? Was there something you kept telling yourself to prevent you from giving up?
This question is always the big one. Like I said, I don’t think people really realize how much time and resources go into trying to make a career on top of life in general. I have been chipping away at a $56,000 student loan, even though I worked two and three jobs all through my undergrad and grad degrees and had scholarships and assistantships.
Plus, during the decade of my 20’s I had four major surgeries (two nearly fatal) that racked up huge medical bills. My mother helped me as much as she could with everything, but she is a single parent with three children working at least two jobs (she is currently 70 working three jobs, seven days a week), so it was a huge burden on her that I recognize every day.
A big and tangible thing I have personally given up is having a home; I am always ready to get up and go wherever I need to be for an audition, gig, etc. It is wonderful to travel, but I think people see me all over the world thinking I am on vacation and out enjoying the city or something.
I have actually never been on a real vacation in my teen or adult life and every time I travel, I am working. I have so many incredible people all over the world who open their homes to me and make me feel like part of the family, but it’s not the same as actually going “home”. Fun fact: I haven’t paid rent since 2014. What makes it all worth it and why?
I could give you some standard answers but, honestly, I don’t know. It just is. It’s what makes me human; it’s what makes us all human. Whenever humans are in pain we play or create. When we are happy, we play and create. Think of this pandemic. What do you do when you can’t handle the Facebook doom scrolling anymore? Do you sit in a bath or go for a run and listen to music? Put on a movie? Play video games? Read a book? Write a song? Journal? Draw? It’s just human, and the way I’m human is singing.
I don’t think anything could stop me from singing and, believe me, I’ve had people try. My mother said (and still reminds me), “it’s not about being the most talented every day; it’s about being the one who stays and refuses to give up. Don’t let anyone take away your dreams and goals.” Never leave, and never let anyone tell you to go.
Back to the awards I mentioned in my introduction. You won the Audience Choice Award in a virtual competition. Ironically, you performed in front of a webcam without an audience. What did you do to connect with the viewers and judges?
I am not a big fan of singing in front of a camera with no audience or scene partner to be honest, but in the end it’s all about relationships. Connecting with an audience, for me, is done only by truthfully living in the circumstances rather than “pretending.” In a performance, if my husband is about to kill me and I’m appealing to him to let my son see me one last time (as in the scene in the aria “Morro, ma prima in grazia”), I’m not going to stare at a camera with my arms to my side or collapse to the floor yelling as loudly as I can. It’s just not real.
Most emotions are visceral and subtle, and today’s audiences are acutely aware if someone is faking it. We only had 30 seconds to show the audience what we had to offer, and I spent a long time sending out messages and sharing the posts asking people to take a listen. Obviously, I asked them to consider voting for me, but in the end people made their own decisions on whom to vote for.
I hope what made people vote for me was my voice connecting with the music’s intentionthrough the text. Not everyone speaks Italian, but music is universal. Hopefully, people forgot about Kelly, and spent 30 seconds hearing and connecting to a story about pain and empathy.
Everyone is learning to live with COVID-19. For voice actors, it’s still business as usual because we can do our job from the comfort and safety of our home studios. For you and those in your musical community, it’s very different. Tell me about that experience.
I think I could write a novel with this question, but I’ll try to keep it short. My life was ripped away from me March 12th when I was laid off of the tour I had been on (Fiddler on the Roof). Economically it has been extremely difficult, but I was VERY lucky that I already had an unemployment claim from my previous tour that I could just reopen and was able to collect almost right away.
Unemployment, however, is not the same as a paycheck; I was suddenly making less than a third of my paycheck. Because I lived with my mom who is high risk, I couldn’t look for work without compromising her health. Again, I was VERY lucky that I had a place to live for free. All of that has stopped for me now, so I am desperately trying to maintain an online studio while finding small gigs and singing for a church live stream. I was also supposed to go to Australia and then Europe for auditions, and had multiple gigs already lined up. All of that was canceled.
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On a personal note, I had also scheduled myself my first real vacation to see my friends and (now ex) boyfriend in Australia- that was also canceled. I’m starting to try out tv/film auditions and have thought about voice over, but I don’t have access to a consistent space where I could set up a recording area yet, so it makes it a little bit harder.
Emotionally, this has been an absolute nightmare for me. I didn’t sing a note for about four months and I was trying to keep busy by volunteering to create programming for my mother’s theater company. My dear friend, David Johnson, was my right-hand man and I wouldn’t have kept what little hope or sanity together I had without him.
There was finally a day where I just broke. That was when I claimed a small amount from a one-time job I did and was kicked off unemployment because they considered me “gainfully employed and no longer eligible for benefits.” I lost two weeks’ worth of unemployment because I took a one hour job. My friends and family came to my aid and helped me cover the lost expenses, but I decided I couldn’t handle it anymore and I needed to get away.
My aunt actually messaged me and said “what can I do to help?” and I jokingly said, “I dunno, buy me a plane ticket to England so I can run away for a bit?”; She said “ok” and flew me to England. My mental health has been so much better since leaving the US, but I’m still hustling every day and look forward to my visa finally coming through so I can start applying for jobs in the UK and Europe.
Apart from being a performer you’re also a vocal and acting coach. Don’t you need a much more hands-on approach because of the physicality involved, or is this something you can actually do online? How do you make it work?
This will be my third year of teaching remotely. I was on tour for two years, but still taught a few students online. Normally when I teach in person there is a lot of physicality, but I have found over my 16 years of teaching that it’s not really necessary to touch people a lot in lessons; I don’t like people touching me, so I don’t really touch others. I have my students do seemingly crazy things sometimes, like be a monkey while they sing or lay on the floor, but unless it’s related to breath I rarely touch anyone.
Kelly as Mary Poppins
Singing is very personal, so I ask my students what they are feeling and describing it in their own words. Online we can’t see every little thing that is happening and we have to deal with internet connections, but that is why I’m so big on having my students communicate what they are feeling and doing.
Obviously, you lose some of the nuance of the voice and overtones/undertones as well because of the compression that happens in the technology, but the only really limiting issue we have online is that I can’t play the piano at the same time they sing; although, that is also a great way to help people train their ear and learn how to maintain their center of pitch.
As a coach you also work with voice actors and audio book narrators. What are some of the challenges you help your students overcome?
Most people come to me for help with character coaching and acting, and I try to offer vocal advice where I can. I try very hard to separate teaching from coaching because I don’t want to overstep my boundaries. I think what is usually missing is the basic knowledge of how the voice and body actually work when creating sound. This is not just for voice actors, but honestly for everyone.
The biggest challenge every student has is to stop listening to themselves and trust the correct feeling. I can mimic the correct sounds, but that doesn’t mean I’m actually producing that sound in a healthy way. Another huge challenge for students is literally learning how the body works. 90% of the people who have come to me know the key words (diaphragm, soft palate, etc.) but they have absolutely no idea how these things actually work.
For example, why do you raise your soft palate? What does it do? And not just for singing, but I mean literally- what does it do as a human function? Do you know it has to do with the nasopharynx? Have you ever heard of that? I’m not a gambling woman, but I would put money on at least half of the people reading this not knowing the answers.
I know a lot about the voice and I try to keep up on new studies and findings (for example, scientists just discovered a new organ in the throat!!). Most voice over actors I know are actually musicians and actors of some kind as well, so they have at least a working knowledge of their instrument. It’s so vitally important to know how your voice works and how to take care of it so that you can have a lasting career and not hurt yourself.
Especially for voice acting, it is critical to have a base and solid technique so that when you choose to manipulate your voice into a different character or genre you are doing it in a healthy way.
I am a firm believer that if you study classical voice you can then do anything. It’s like a cake: technique is the basic cake, and then you decorate your cake with different frostings, glazes, and fondants. The cake doesn’t change, the style does. Everyone’s cake is a little different of course, just like the voice, but in the end, healthy singing is healthy singing.
What are some of the practical vocal tips you share with your voice over students?
My main tip is find your base “noise”; the neutral, healthy sound you can make all of the time. Once you know how your voice works and feels, you can basically do anything you want. Scream like a witch? There’s an easy way to do that. Make choking noises during your death scene, but still be able to do the other characters in a video game? There’s a simple technique for that too.
My main goal as a teacher/coach is to help you find a healthy and simple way to create sound; then we add the fun stuff like timbre, color, and style. Teachers and coaches are necessary because we hear what you can’t inside of your head or on a recording. We can see if you are holding tension in your right knee and clenching your fist while you sing without knowing. The extra set of ears and eyes that will tell you the truth is vital to the progression of any skill or frankly career. That’s why major publications still have editors and top athletes all have coaches.
Most voice actors sit in their studios all day, in front of a computer monitor and a microphone. In what way do you incorporate the use of the body into your lessons?
The voice is literally connected to the body, so what you do with your body directly affects how it works. Something as subtle as raising your eyebrows can cause tension and change how your voice sounds. Usually, I try to get my students back to a neutral. Once you find a neutral, relaxed body you can start choosing to manipulate it based on the character.
The challenge is to make sure we are making choices, not developing habits. What I do depends on the person. Sometimes I have people lay on the floor and take them through a muscle relation exercise, sometimes I have them do 50 jumping jacks and high knees; everyone’s different, so I really go case by case.
In what way can voice actors benefit from singing lessons? Even if you don’t have a real singing voice, is singing something anyone can learn? Do you need to learn to read music before taking lessons with you?
As my teacher used to say to me, “Singing isn’t hard; the discipline to do it correctly is what’s hard”. I am a firm believer that if you can speak you can sing. I have taught adults and children who couldn’t match pitch to be able to sing a cappella and hold their pitch. It takes time and dedication, but anyone can learn to sing. I really prefer the term “voice lessons” to singing lessons because it really is about how to use your voice and entire instrument; not just how to sing.
The great thing about the voice and acting is that they use many of the same concepts and sometimes terminology; we just interpret them slightly different. Just one example: when an actor prepares a monologue they might consider tone, pitch, timbre, speed, and tempo in the delivery of the text; they may find their beats within the monologue and plot out their breaths. We do all of that in music as well. You don’t have to read music, but, I can teach you to do that too, along with sight singing and dictation!
At the time we’re doing this interview, you’re in London. Did you feel you needed a break from the United States, and if so, why?
You kind of hit the nail on the head. I needed a break from the US. I love America, but I can’t handle how our government is going about this pandemic and how some of my countrymen/women have responded.
My mother is high risk, and watching people carelessly and flagrantly belittle this virus made (and still makes) me livid. I have had multiple people in my life die and I’ve lost count of how many friends and family have had it (both critical and mild cases). I am hustling now more than ever to find any safe work. I am also to make my residency overseas one day so that if I ever do end up in a hospital, or maybe start a family, I won’t go bankrupt.
Just a small example, I bought 3 months worth of travel medical insurance in case I had an emergency while here in the UK and it was $120 TOTAL. I was shocked. It covers any kind of accident and even some standard medical things. When I lost my job I was being quoted at over $400/month for my premiums and that didn’t even begin to cover deductibles and out of pocket expenses. I just can’t afford to live in America right now.
One of the things that moved me most was your rendition of the song “Hope.” What in this song particularly resonates with you?
I found this song by Jason Robert Brown, one day back in June. I had just lost my voice from stress and an acid reflux flare up. I hadn’t sung a note since March 12th , when I was sent home from my Fiddler on the Roof Tour, and I was extremely depressed and basically despondent. I was suffering from insomnia and I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole and heard this song.
I remember just sitting there practically unable to breathe and then the lyric “I didn’t break until right now. I sing of hope, and don’t know how” broke me into a million pieces. I didn’t know how to cope with the world and there was finally someone telling me they didn’t know how either. It was the first time I’d heard an inspirational song that acknowledged hope is abstract and strength is hard to find sometimes.
I decided, voice or no voice, I was singing this song because I thought it was vitally important that message be shared. I did it in one take with no makeup, microphone, or equipment because I was just too exhausted. Darin Stringer recorded the piano track and I just played it over a speaker and sang.
I’ve had multiple people reach out to me and say they were on the brink of giving up (some even alluding to suicide) until someone shared it with them. I genuinely want people to know that whatever you are feeling or experiencing, you are not alone. It’s not easy, there is no end date on any of this, and everyone’s experiences are unique; but you never have to go through it alone and there is always a way to hope…even if you don’t know how to find it yet.
Where can people who are interested in what you have to offer find you?
I am the only Kelly Glyptis in the world, so I’m pretty easy to find!
Thank you, Kelly.
Kelly knows that she’s not going to be hired by people who’ve never heard of her. So, she’s making some noise! As we speak, she has applications in to three other competitions, and she’s applying for two more in December and another one in January. She’s also doing live auditions in London. What a way to future-proof her career!
You may be getting some pity laughs at parties, but your impersonations are quite pathetic, really. If someone would give me a dollar for every aspiring VO telling me he can do “a mean Sean Connery,” or a silly Schwarzenegger, I’d retire early.
And no, I won’t be back!
Pretending to be someone you’re not, is NOT your ticket to voice over fame, UNLESS you’re truly extraordinary.
If you wish to stand a chance to make it in the overcrowded world of voice talent, take this to heart:
Be An Original.
Agents aren’t looking for folks that sound like the people that are already on their roster. They want new, natural, refreshing, raw, daring, dazzling, and authentic. They want someone who doesn’t try to sound like someone else.
2. You need job security.
Does your family depend on a stable income? Do you have monthly bills that always need to be paid on time? Do you have enough of a cash cushion to survive for a year on very little money, while you invest in your voice over career?
By invest I mean: hiring a VO coach, building a home studio, buying reliable audio equipment, installing Source Connect (sorry, not the free version), getting a website, having demos produced, creating your brand, and launching a marketing campaign.
If you’re not in a financial position to make these investments, is your partner able to pick up the tab and the slack, even in these economically uncertain times? Oh, and did I tell you that freelancers don’t get a benefits package, vacation time, sick leave, or paid training? It will all come out of your pocket. Good luck with that when you start peddling your services on Fiverr!
Are you psychologically ready to embrace the unpredictability and stress of freelance life? What are you willing to sacrifice to pursue your dream, knowing that it may take years before you finally break even?
3. You’re not disciplined, and self-motivated.
If you’re used to the nine to five routine, you’re in for a rude awakening. Once you are your own boss, no one will tell you to get out of bed in the morning, or get down to your office (which now consists of a small, dark, padded room with a microphone). You don’t have a list of old clients to call, or a sales department to sell your services.
When you’re self-employed, everything is always on you.
Your first question is going to be: How on earth am I going to find work? Where are all the auditions everyone is talking about? And when you finally find a few opportunities, you see that hundreds of hopefuls have already sent in their custom demos while you’re still trying to work out how to use this Pro Tools nightmare.
Let’s assume you’ve finally learned how to record a decent audition, what are you going to do when you realize that your recording is being dumped into a gigantic black hole, never to be heard of again? At that point you’ll finally recognize that…
4. You know nothing about running a voice over business.
That’s right. It seemed such a great idea at the time: you get paid to talk. A dream come true!
Being a successful voice over has everything to do with your ability to run a profitable international freelance business all by yourself, 24/7.
Let that sink in for a moment or two. Then read this line again.
Being a successful voice over has everything to do with your ability to run a profitable international freelance business all by yourself, 24/7.
Don’t think for one moment that you’ll spend most of your time speaking into a microphone. You’ll spend a lot of time doing the boring, unglamorous stuff, like keeping the books, trying to connect with clients, figuring out how to market yourself.
During those moments you discover that…
5. You don’t like tooting your own horn.
You’ve always been taught not to be boastful, and that modesty is still a virtue. You get uncomfortable when people are paying you compliments. You brush it away saying: “Oh, it was nothing, really. No big deal.”
The thing is, clients aren’t going to hire you if they can’t find you, and they won’t be able to find you when you’re playing hard to get. Like it or not, you need to create a presence in the marketplace, and because you happen to personify your product (or service, rather), selling your services means selling yourself!
If that makes you uncomfortable, too bad.
I’m a reluctant extravert who had to learn how to reach out and promote my one-man business. It was a bit weird at first, but it helped me uncover parts of myself I didn’t even know existed. If you’re not comfortable being uncomfortable, perhaps this business is not for you. This world needs plenty of people who are happy to play it safe.
6. You hate technology. You just want to read.
Technology is not just for geeks. I started my career at a radio station with sound engineers taking care of every aspect of the recording. All I had to do was open my mouth and make intelligible noises.
Now I am my own sound engineer. I am in charge of the equipment and technology needed to send my voice across continents. If it works, it’s amazing. If it doesn’t, God help me!
Over the years I have learned to ask for advice, but not to rely too much on outside help. I’m an independent contractor, after all. Besides, the people who tell you “Call me when you need me,” never answer the phone when you’re in a pickle. They’re usually too busy helping other people.
There’s also this: other people’s opinion (emphasis on “opinion”) is no substitute for my own hands-on experience. There are too many gear snobs in this community with a big mouth and limited knowledge (see my final point).
Take my advice.
If you wish to have a career as a VO Pro (especially in times of Corona) you MUST have a decent home studio and quality equipment that you know how to use. You expect a plumber to have the tools of the trade, before he or she enters your house, don’t you? Your clients expect the same of you. Remember that the number one reason auditions end up in the bin is bad audio quality.
7. You always take things personally.
Is it easy to step on your toes? Does your mood depend on how others treat you? Do you secretly seek affirmation? Do you crave to be included?
If that’s the case, how will you deal with the horrific R-word?
R E J E C T I O N
When an audition doesn’t go well for, let’s say, a trumpet player, he or she can always blame the instrument. But when the instrument is your voice, it’s personal! You can’t go to a store and buy a more expensive voice box. Of course you can train your vocal folds to become more resonant, but what if the client just doesn’t like the way you sound?
Listen, if I book five percent of all the jobs I audition for, I can keep my boat afloat. That does mean that nintey-five percent of the time the client chooses someone else. What’s even worse, I’ve wasted my time and energy creating the custom audition I thought would win me the job (and would pay the bills for the next few weeks).
If you’re a sensitive soul, this is not good for your self-esteem.
The way you deal with rejection (or selection, as some like to call it) will determine how happy you will be as a performing artist. Some people become stronger. Others eventually give up.
Now, if you’re still reading, I have to reward you with a bonus sign! Here’s one more thing telling you you’re probably not meant to be a voice over…
8. You think you know best.
There are two things I can’t stand: willfully ignorant people, and people who believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are (see my story “Incompetent and Overly Confident“).
The first group is hard to help because they stay ignorant on purpose. With all the information in the world only a few mouse clicks away, they are usually too lazy or too recalcitrant to educate themselves.
The second group is unable to recognize their own incompetence, and because of that, they overestimate their own capabilities. In psychology this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.
“In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”
Bear with me here.
If doing voice overs seems like something fun you’d like to try, I’m happy for you.
And you know what?
It is so much fun, and it’s hands down the best job I’ve ever had.
But it’s also so much more than that, and if you’re seriously considering making this your career, you need to know about the more. A lot more!
So, please don’t think you know what’s best for you as you’re starting out. I don’t mind a good dose of natural confidence, but it has to be backed up by competence. Competence is not just something you can buy on the virtual shelves of Amazon. Competence requires patience because it is gained over time.
The trouble is: patience isn’t very popular in these “I want it, and I want it now” times.
By the way, experience itself doesn’t necessarily lead to competence. Some of my coaching students have been in the business for years, and they have acquired bad habits they need to unlearn before they can make any progress.
Experience in one area does not necessarily translate to another area, either. Having had a career in radio for instance, does not automatically lead to a successful career in voice overs.
It’s the quality of your experience that qualifies you.
If you think you know best in this business without having anything to back it up, good luck to you. You’ll need it.
The newcomers who do well in our community recognize their limitations, they respect more seasoned talent, and they are willing to learn from them, instead of giving them an attitude.
Please don’t be that person David Dunning calls a “Confident Idiot.”
One last thing, if I may.
In the past, some of my readers have accused me of writing wild rants telling people what not to do, without advising them on what they actually should do.
To them I say: explore this blog. You’ll find over 350 articles on all aspects of the voice over business. These stories are packed with practical tips that won’t cost you a penny but can make you a ton of money. Don’t take my word for it. Ask around.
“What is one of the greatest motivators of behavior on the planet?”
Before you answer, let me add this:
All animals respond to it, including us, humans.
Every year, companies make billions of dollars because of it. People lose sleep over it. Others are driven to insanity because they can’t handle it.
Some people use it for entertainment purposes, and every presidential candidate is using it to get people to vote for them.
The remarkable thing is this: most of the time we don’t even know if it is based in reality. It doesn’t matter. Alfred Hitchcock knew that our imagination is way more powerful than anything he could ever put on celluloid. He famously said:
“There is no terror in the bang. Only in the anticipation of it.”
WHAT DRIVES US?
One of our greatest motivators is F E A R.
Around this time of year we are all reminded of our love-hate relationship with fear. We love scary movies. Terrifying videos games are worldwide bestsellers. The most dangerous amusement park rides have the longest lines.
Fear is fun!
Why else would people jump out of airplanes, swim with sharks, or scare each other on Halloween, dressed up like zombies?
Fear also explains why so many Americans love their guns, why we buy insurance, and why people believe in a higher power.
At the heart of fear is our deep concern for getting hurt. People are willing to do a lot to avoid a little pain, but they’re willing to give up even more to play it safe.
How many of your friends have given up a dream because they were afraid it would become a disaster? How many sweet souls have never declared their love for fear of rejection? How many people never dared to step on stage and show their talent, because they didn’t want to embarrass themselves?
Fear can paralyze and suffocate. It prevents people from even trying. Fear is the spirit behind the inner voice that whispers:
“I’m not good enough”
“I don’t deserve this”
“I’m sure I will fail”
“People will laugh at me”
Of course I should stop for a moment to make the distinction between rational and irrational fear. Fear of heights, ferocious animals, and fear of evil men with loaded guns is usually a good thing. When the danger is real, fear is meant to protect us from harm.
However, we often suffer needlessly because we’re afraid of things that may happen, but probably never will. In holding on to irrational beliefs, we deny ourselves a chance to find out what will really happen when we dare to take a risk.
Many, many years ago I decided I didn’t want the security of a corporate job with corporate hours, and corporate benefits. I defied the expectations of family and friends by becoming a freelancer. Why? Because something inside me knew that the opposite of fear was freedom. I needed to be free to do my own thing in my own way, and in my own time.
Looking back, I can’t say that my road was without bumps. There were times I wished I had a regular schedule, and a regular paycheck. And yet, I am so glad I didn’t listen to those who warned me it would never work. Those people are now jealous that I can set my own hours, my own rates, and that I work out of my own home.
If you wish to claim the rewards, you have to embrace the risk, defy your critics, and defeat your fears.
There will always be a million reasons that hold you back, but you only need one good reason to go for it.
What is yours?
Believe me, if you’re a self-starter and you run your own business, you will be asked to dig deep. People will test you, they will ridicule you, and they will desert you when you need them most. That’s scary, but not in a Halloween sort of way. In these times you will ask yourself:
“Why am I doing this? What is my motivation?”
Even though you and I may not know each other, I do know this:
There is something you are really good at. Maybe it has to be developed and refined. Perhaps it needs a few more years to mature. But you know the fire is burning, and you feel the yearning.
That talent and that fire is one of your many strengths. It is one of the reasons why you’re here. You owe it to yourself and to the rest of us to stand in your strength. That strength will help you turn your fear into faith. By faith I mean self-confidence. The conviction that things will work out in your favor, as long as you give it all you got.
Faith will help you believe you can make it, even in the absence of proof. After all, how can you prove something that hasn’t happened yet? You have to believe it, before you can see it.
I don’t know who Paul Sweeney is, but he said something powerful that has always stuck with me:
“True success is overcoming the fear of being unsuccessful.”
Perhaps you know the story of British singer Alice Fredenham. People first heard of her when she appeared on The Voice, a British talent show created by Dutch producer John de Mol. It’s based on the concept The Voice of Holland. When she came on, this “beauty therapist” was all bubbly, upbeat, and full of confidence. Even though her performance of The Lady Is a Trampwas solid, she didn’t impress any of the judges, and she was sent home. Her greatest fear had become a reality.
But Alice didn’t give up. Two months later, she appeared on Britain’s Got Talent, but with a very different attitude. Take a look:
Of course I realize that these shows thrive on carefully crafted sentimentality. Alice was accused of faking her insecurity and her tears, but I wonder how confident you would have felt on that stage.
After being rejected in front of millions, she overcame her fear and insecurity, because the song inside of her was stronger. She eventually made it to the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent, and signed a record deal with Sony. Later on, Sony released her from her demo contract, but Alice didn’t give up. A Kickstarter campaign allowed her to record her first album in 2015.
BACK TO YOU
If you allow yourself to be motivated by fear, your focus is on what you don’t want. That’s not where your energy should be. Whatever you focus on most, is most likely to materialize.
Your energy should be on your strengths and on your goals. Not on your weaknesses.
This week, do yourself a favor. Be like Alice Fredenham and do something uncomfortable. Do something you’re a bit afraid of; something that scares you. Don’t pick your greatest fear. Pick something small for starters.
Big success is built on a series of small achievements.
Discover that what you were initially afraid of, wasn’t really a big deal after all. What you expected to happen, probably didn’t.
Next week, pick something else; something a bit bigger, and build on that experience.
Use this trick, and turn it into a treat.
Make it worthwhile. Make it memorable. Make it meaningful.
That way, you get yourself ready for a moment when you can’t choose the challenge. The challenge chooses you.
That’s when you’ll discover this simple fact:
Life doesn’t have to be a thriller, but it can certainly be thrilling.
George, a reclusive, world-renowned wildlife photographer, was invited to a posh dinner party at a New York brownstone. His host, a vivacious heiress to a rapidly declining fortune, took him aside and said:
“George dear, I want you to know that I am a huge fan of your work. Your photographs are simply stunning. You must only use the very best cameras.”
Without missing a beat George retorted:
“Thank you for your kind words, Dorothea. Dinner tonight was absolutely divine. You must only use the best pots and pans.”
Dorothea was not amused, but George had made his point. Even the most expensive cameras or pots and pans are of little use in the hands of an amateur. They are tools. Nothing more, and nothing less.
The same is true for microphones. Owning a pricey Neumann U 87 Ai just tells me you can afford one. It doesn’t say anything about your talent or experience.
Even if you happen to be better than Don LaFontaine and Mel Blanc combined, that new Neumann is not going to make a poor performance or a crappy recording environment sound any better. It will probably expose all its flaws. You can’t fault the microphone for that of course, but it goes to show that you cannot fix everything with a more expensive mic.
If you’re in the market for a different microphone, ask yourself this:
Apart from wanting a new toy to impress my colleagues, what problem am I hoping to solve?
Here are a few valid reasons to buy a new mic:
SOUND QUALITY: Your current microphone just doesn’t flatter your voice. It’s too muddy, too dark, it accentuates the highs too much, it doesn’t handle plosives or sibilants very well, there’s way too much self noise.
TRAVEL: You need a sturdy mic for on the road; a microphone that’s built like a tank with excellent side and rear rejection so you can use it in less than ideal recording environments.
SOUND MATCH: Your client wants you to closely match the sound quality of previous recordings done in another studio at another time. E.g You recorded a script using a Sennheiser 416, and you only have a Neuman TLM 103 in your home studio. Time to buy a shotgun.
UPGRADE: You want to move from a cheap USB microphone to a regular XLR condenser mic. Go ahead. Exchange that Snowball for a Worker Bee.
COMMUNITY SERVICE: You are a vlogger or blogger like me who enjoys reviewing audio equipment to inform, entertain, and educate the unwashed masses.
Before you start the search for a new sound catcher, here’s what you should consider.
THE MICROPHONE MISTAKE
I believe there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we evaluate microphones. We talk about them as if they’re separate entities.
We compare the specs pretending they tell us anything about the way the mic is going to sound as part of the recording chain and acoustics in our personal studio. That just doesn’t make any sense.
Of course you should be familiar with the basic characteristics such as polar patterns, self noise, phantom power and whether or not the mic comes with high and low pass filters. Anything beyond that is just marketing mumbo-jumbo and fluff.
And even when you read the specs, keep in mind that manufacturers measure the characteristics of their microphones in anechoic chambers. In other words, ultra isolated, echo-free rooms covered in sound absorbent materials that come nowhere close to the repurposed clothes closet you call your “professional home studio.”
I’m pretty sure that in your search for the next best mic you’ll spend a few hours, even days, watching a parade of mic testing dudes on YouTube. For some silly reason, only men review microphones. Usually, they’re either videographers with too much time on their hands, or musicians that look like they were kicked out of their bands.
Here’s the one exception, and I think she’s absolutely adorable.
Apart from voices dot com-member and Booth Junkie Mike Delgaudio, and the team at VOBS, there are very few people from the voice over industry weighing in on the tools of their trade. That’s a problem (and an opportunity!).
You don’t need to know how a mic sounds on electric guitar, or on a boom arm, fifteen feet up in the air. All you really need to know is this:
How does my voice sound on this microphone, plugged in to my equipment in my studio?
And that, my friends, you won’t find out by watching adudelikeBandrew on YouTube. You won’t even know what a microphone really sounds like because of the standard compression YouTube applies to every video.
YouTube uses a lossy audio format, meaning that any audio has been compressed using a compression algorithm. Compression leads to loss in sound quality and how aggressive the compression is can be determined by the bit rate of the audio. So, a 128 kbps AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) will sound worse than a 256 kbps AAC. Standard YouTube audio comes in at 128 kbps AAC, and you can only get 256 kbps if you’re a YouTube Premium subscriber. As a comparison, Apple Music is streamed at 256Kbps in AAC.
Are you still with me?
HOW DO YOU LISTEN?
Not only is the sound quality of YouTube videos purposely compromised, the folks reviewing these microphones are probably not going to use the preamp you happen to have in your studio. The same microphone can sound differently plugged into a different preamplifier.
Now get this. What you actually use to listen to the audio samples, also colors what you hear. I listen to my audio in four ways: I use the built-in speakers in my iMac, and I listen to my Presonus Eris 5 monitors. I also put on my BeyerdynamicDT 880 headphones, as well as my AustrianAudio hi-X55 cans.
And guess what? The same audio sounds different depending on how I listen to it.
Our ears, by the way, aren’t exactly objective either. Hearing is interpreting. A sound engineer will hear things in your audio you aren’t even aware of. And you are probably the least objective person in the world to evaluate your audio.
There are more things people take into account when choosing a microphone:
Before I started writing about theE100 S, very few people in voice overs had ever heard of a small Ohio company called Conneaut Audio Devices (CAD). Yet, they were making one of the best VO mics on the market.
Just because you haven’t heard of a particular brand doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. In fact, you will often get more bang for your buck by not buying a well-known brand because you’re not paying for a massive marketing machine. (A review of a Lauten Audio microphone coming soon!)
Now, let’s talk about the price of a voice over microphone. It’s a story about the law of diminishing return. Once you get past the $300 point, the more money you spend on a new microphone, the greater the chance that you’re paying for subtle improvements in sound quality most people won’t even be able to hear.
An affordable microphone isn’t necessarily a bad microphone.
Case in point: I just paid $156 for a brand new Synco D-2 microphone I found on eBay. Yes, that’s the one Minami was giggling about in the video you just watched.
Synco is actually Guangzhou Zhiying Technology Co., Ltd in China. Their D-2 is marketed as a cheaper alternative to the venerable Sennheiser MKH 416 that retails for $999.
Here’s my point. Launched in 1962, the 416 may have the edge, but does it sound $843 better?
I just booked a $1500 job with the Synco, and the client loved the punchy sound. He didn’t ask:
“Can you please record the same script with a Sennheiser? I’d like to hear the difference!”
In the real world, clients don’t say: “I missed a bit of the airiness in the upper register the 416 is known for.” The audio is either acceptable, or it isn’t.
The truth is that so-called experts are more likely to give the Sennheiser higher marks because they know it’s the Sennheiser, just as higher-priced wine will score better on a taste test. It’s called cognitive bias.
Here’s the thing with high-priced mics. They’ve become a status symbol in the VO world. Look what I can afford, people!
Well, good for you.
Feeding my family is more important to me than impressing a peer with new gear.
But Paul, when I buy a German microphone, I know it’s made of high-quality materials. I don’t want a cheap Chinese knockoff.
Fine, but let me ask you this.
Do you know how many of these high-quality German microphones actually use parts that are Made in China? Try living your life for one year without buying anything that contains anything made in China. One of my friends actually did that. He only wanted to Buy American, and found out it was impossible.
That wasn’t his fault. It’s the way big corporations work. Buy cheap materials, pay as little as you can for manufacturing, and sell at a premium. It’s Western-style capitalism, courtesy of the People’s Republic of China.
But I digress. We were still talking about microphones, and I’m about to wrap things up.
What I wanted to say is this:
STOP being such a mic snob. Most of us are recording one track mono. Not a symphony orchestra. When narrowing your search for a microphone down, ignore most of the self-styled experts telling you what to look for in a mic.
You don’t look. You LISTEN.
In your own studio, using your own equipment.
And while you do that, think about the problem you want to solve.
And maybe, just maybe, your microphone is not your problem. Mic placement could be an issue, or a failing preamp.
Maybe you could benefit from some acting and improv classes… or some additional soundproofing. Just a guess.
The thing is…
Owning an expensive camera does not make you an award-winning photographer. Buying the best pans at Williams-Sonoma does not turn you into a Michelin-star chef.
No matter how shiny it may look, a microphone is not a magical silver bullet.
There’s one thing I absolutely love and hate about my life as a freelancer.
It’s the unpredictability of it.
To me, predictable is boring. It’s eating fish every Friday. Going to the car wash on Saturday, and spending every stinkin’ summer at the same overpriced rental on the Jersey shore.
Predictable is no fun. It’s playing it safe, doing what you’ve always done.
On the other hand, a predictable life means stability. No guessing what happens next. You always know what’s coming.
Most people love the familiarity of the seasons and the holidays. Times like Easter and Christmas serve as markers of time passing. As soon as it’s fall, pumpkin spice is wafting in the air, and retailers rush to get their Halloween collection out on the floor.
Being able to count on things is rather reassuring. Uncertainty stresses people out.
As someone who has always been self-employed, I have learned to live with and appreciate unpredictability. Right now, I don’t know what voice over project will land on my desk tomorrow. I have no idea if the client I spoke with yesterday, will like the audition I sent out today. And please don’t tell me what I’ll be working on next week.
If you’re a pathological planner craving closure, you’re not going to like that very much. You’ve got to have the right personality to handle being an independent contractor. To explain what that means, I often turn to culinary and musical metaphors.
You see, there are two types of cooks. The first type needs to follow the recipe to the letter. It has to be done the way the author intended. Doing otherwise would be sacrilege.
The second type of cook grabs a couple of ingredients depending on what’s in season, and starts creating a dish from scratch. No book needed. You make it up as you go along.
The musician who likes predictability always plays from the score, and measures his or her performance by how accurately the notes were replicated.
The musician who embraces unpredictability is more like a jazzer. Improvisation is the name of the game. Making things up on the fly.
Mind you: neither is right or wrong. There is a time and a place for organization and planning, and we all need to let loose a little. It can’t be all work and no play.
But as much as we try to be in control of our lives (and that’s the key concept: control), life has this strange way of throwing monkey wrenches in the works, just to test our flexibility and creativity.
After almost forty years of being a freelancer, I have learned to trust one thing, and it has become my mantra:
Things will always work out (but often not the way you expect they will).
Remember that time you were rejected for a project you so wanted to work on? You felt angry and inadequate, in part because the decision was made for you. Not by you.
But you also need to remember what happened next. Thanks to that one project going to another talent, you were able to take on a different job that eventually opened the door to an amazing opportunity. Something you could not have predicted.
Years ago, my wife went on Yahoo Personals looking for a skiing partner to go down the slopes with.
She ended up with this Dutchman (who could not ski if his life depended on it), and on October 4th we’ll be married for sixteen years!
And as she will gladly attest, no day with me is ever predictable. She, on the other hand, is my stability. She’s the rock in my roll.
Listen, if you’re a fellow freelancer, I hope you’re enjoying the variety of work that comes your way. I hope you enjoy being off schedule with the rest of the world, giving you the freedom to do things those with a 9 to 5 job can only dream of.
I also hope you have found a way to deal with the financial instability, and the constant search for the next big project. If you’ve been at it for a while, you know that when it rains, it pours. And sometimes it just rains.
But throughout this unpredictable existence, know that there is this one constant you can always count on.
Voice-overs love to talk. Sometimes, they even get paid for it.
But there’s another skill that’s almost as important, yet we rarely speak about it.
Do you hear me?
Here’s the weird thing. Early in life, we learn how to walk, talk, and color inside the lines. But did anyone ever teach you how to listen?
We’re instructed to sit still and shut up, or else…. One day, my Kindergarten teacher dragged me by my ear, and shoved me into a corner for incessant talking. To add insult to injury, she taped a huge Band-Aid over my mouth.
I’d love to run into her one day, and tell her how I make a living….
By the way, keeping one’s mouth shut is not the same as being a receptive, retentive listener. Listening is a lost art that begs to be rediscovered. Why? Because we’re so used to tuning things out, and for a very good reason.
TOO MUCH NOISE
I don’t know about you, but on any given day my brain finds it easier and easer to reach stimulus overload. That’s no surprise. Every minute of every waking hour we are bombarded with images, smells, sounds, and other sensations. They all cry out for attention like ravenous septuplets wanting to be breastfed, and it’s too much to handle.
If we’d give equal attention to all our sensory input, we’d go mad. Literally. So, our noggin needs to prioritize what it’s going to pay attention to, and for how long. The rest gets tuned out. While that’s a good thing, we do run into another problem.
As we are drowning in information, our attention span is getting shorter and shorter. In fact, I’m surprised that you’re still reading these words! What’s wrong with you?
You may have heard of this one notorious consumer study claiming that the human attention span has gone down from twelve seconds in 2000, to eight seconds today. In contrast, the average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds!
I’m not surprised. Goldfish tend to be very good listeners. Although they are a bit slippery, they’d make great shrinks.
Joking aside, my point is that in order to be a good listener, we need to be able to focus on something or someone, and preferably for longer than eight seconds. Why is this particularly important to voice-overs? To begin with, it is vital to the success of our one-person, volatile business, to listen to our clients. We need to know what our clients need to hear from us to be satisfied with our work.
One of my students was working on a project, and the client had asked her to give what he called “a decisive read.” “Say no more,” she said. “I know exactly what you’re after.”
A day later she delivered the audio, and guess what? The client was not happy. He called her up and said: “I asked you to sound decisive. I just listened to your recording, and you sound aggressive. I can’t use that.”
“I’m sorry, I really tried,” answered my student. “You asked for decisive, and this is what I thought you meant. How could I have known you wanted something different?”
“Well,” said the client, “you didn’t give me a chance to demonstrate. Before I was able to give you an example, you interrupted me, and said you knew what I was after. Make sure you really understand what the people you’re working with want. Don’t make assumptions. Just listen, and ask questions. Do you think you can do that?”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line.
FOCUS AND INTENT
So, the secret to being a good listener has to do with focus and intent. Give yourself permission to focus on someone for longer than eight seconds with the intent to understand (instead of the intent to reply). Be genuinely interested in the other person. Keep your ears open, and your mouth shut.
Resist the impulse to interrupt and fill in the blanks. Those blanks are YOUR blanks, and may have nothing to do with what your client is trying to tell you.
This may sound easy, but in this fast and crazy world filled with manufactured distractions, it’s hard for people to sit still and slow down the running commentary between their ears. That commentary is usually evaluating what we just did, or figuring out what we should do next. It is rarely in the moment.
For us to really listen, we need to be in the moment.
To me, the ability to be in the moment is an essential life skill. There are many ways to achieve this state of mind, and some are more esoteric than others. I like to close my eyes, and slow down my breathing. After watching a moving documentary about Spartacus-star Andy Whitfield, I added the following mantra to quiet my mind:
As you are reading these words (attributed to Ram Dass), give it a try.
Close your eyes.
Begin breathing more deeply and s l o w l y.
Say to yourself in a soothing voice:
Thanks for playing along! You may need to relearn what it’s like to be here now (I certainly did), and this could be a good start. Take a few minutes each day to center yourself, and practice being in the moment. It may take you a while, and that’s okay.
Be gentle. Be patient, and be quiet.
LET THE WORDS SPEAK
Now, there’s a second reason why as a voice-over you need to learn how to listen. This has nothing to do with the people around you, and everything with what’s in front of you: your script. No matter what it is, an eLearning module, a historic novel, or a commercial, this script is trying to tell you something. It has a message. It wants to be understood.
While part of your restless brain is still conditioned to skim the words, please take your time to take them in. Don’t tune out. Tune in! Find out how the information is organized, and how the ideas unfold in sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Some scripts can be like jigsaw puzzles. They come to you in many pieces. The only way to put them together, is to have a clear understanding of the big picture.
As a listener, I can always tell whether or not a narrator knows what he or she is talking about. I can hear the difference between a rush job and a thoughtful recording. I know when a narrator is in love with him- or herself, or with the text. It all comes back to listening. There’s a reason why a well-known Turkish proverb goes something like this:
“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”
THE QUIET CONDUIT
Author and radio host Celeste Headlee wondered why people would rather talk than listen. She says that when we’re talking, we are in control. We are the center of attention.
I think she’s right.
As a voice-over professional, I see myself as a conduit. It’s not about me. It’s about the message. And the only way to honor the words I am about to speak, is to let them speak to me first.
All I need to do, is be in the moment, and listen.
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