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.
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.
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.
Being an expat myself, I’ve always had a soft spot for those who left everything and everyone behind to start a new life in a new country.
There’s the predictable culture shock, and in many cases a language barrier. In the beginning, every day is an exciting and surprising adventure. But as you start to settle in, you quickly discover that your dream of living in a new land does not resemble reality in any way, shape, or form.
To some people in your adopted country, you’re an unwelcome foreigner trying to steal their jobs. To others, you’re an exotic outsider with weird manners and a strange way of speaking.
As you’re settling in, you come to the following realization.
Living, loving, and working far away from home, you’ll never feel more connected to where you came from.
The longer you’re gone, the stronger this feeling gets. Until you go back for a quick visit after a few years have passed, and you notice how much has changed in your absence. And for the first time in your life, you feel like you’re no longer fitting in at home either.
I remember coming back to the Netherlands, and finding out all the money had changed from guilders to euros. It’s only money, but it’s something valuable you use every day. It’s a symbol of a nation’s identity and pride.
I also observed that people had started speaking differently. The familiar Dutch was increasingly interspersed with English words and expressions. And when I spoke, I saw some raised eyebrows because -as I learned later- I was using words that had gone out of fashion.
FROM NORTH AMERICA TO SOUTH KOREA
In this edition of the Nethervoice blog, I am talking to fellow expat Barri Tsavaris. She’s an American voice over colleague who lives and works in South Korea. When I asked her how she ended up there, this is what she told me:
“I was working for the jewelry brand John Hardy, planning all their trade shows. At the end of ’08, the US was struck with the housing crisis and subsequent recession, which led to me losing my job in early 2009. I used that year to produce my semi-autobiographical play, I Will Follow, which debuted in the NY International Fringe Festival. Once that closed, I sat in my office (the grand hall of the New York City Public Library) and decided that I couldn’t just go back to temping and the occasional acting gig while waiting for the next big thing. I had to create the next big thing for myself.
The economy in NYC was a mess, I’d gone through a divorce the year before, I lost my apartment…all signs were telling me it was time to step away from New York for a bit. So I googled “what job can I get abroad with only a bachelor’s degree in film?” Haha good times! I got a job teaching English at a public school just outside of Seoul. I flew to Asia 4 months later.”
Are you there permanently or temporarily?
“Temporarily. Wait…does 10 years count as temporary?! When I left New York, I told myself it was just for a year. My plan was to write the next “Eat, Pray, Love” and return to NYC to produce it on stage. But toward the end of that first year, I was in a production of The Vagina Monologues, and one of my castmates was a woman who was working as a voice actor. We became friends, she introduced me to her agent, and within a few months, I was scurrying around Seoul to recording studios.
I know all too well how difficult life is trying to be an actor in NYC. I found myself suddenly working full-time as a voice actor, while friends that had put in 5, 10 years in NYC and LA were still struggling to make ends meet. So I decided to stay. I say I’m here temporarily (despite owning all my appliances, getting married and having 3 cats) because my husband and I do plan to leave Korea eventually.”
What do you like about life in South Korea and what do you miss?
“After a decade, it’s easy to get Korea-fatigue. But I try my best to focus on the positive. Like the phenomenal public transit system. I can get anywhere in Seoul for a buck, the trains and busses are always on time, and I swear, you could eat off of the subway floors. The city employs older Korean women to clean all the subway stations. That’s another thing I love – growing old in Korea is viewed differently than America. Older generations aren’t put out to pasture; they’re encouraged to stay active physically and mentally. I love my expat community. There are countless English teachers here and many help form a thriving expat arts scene.
I thought I would miss New York City, and I do, but what I really miss are people. I miss hugging my parents, I miss sitting around and gabbing for hours with my best girlfriends from high school and college, I miss all the cool artists I used to perform improv and theatre with. So people… and food. Seoul has gotten better during my time here in terms of foreign food, but man, I miss a real bagel and a slice of New York pizza. That’s always the very first thing I eat when I visit the states!”
Tell me about the voice over scene. How does it differ from the US? What do you wish you would have known in the beginning?
“How much time do you have?! I could go on for hours about this. First, entry into voiceover here is much simpler. Pro demos, a VO website and home studio are not required. You can go into one of the main agencies here, audition, and if you’re good, you could be sent out to work the next day. Second, demos. Korean voice actors use voice “samples” and the professionally produced demos that reign supreme in Western markets are unheard of here. A sample is a short voice clip, 15-30 seconds, oftentimes an excerpt from an actual job you did. Actors keep a file of anywhere from 10 to a few dozen voice samples that they send to prospective studios and clients.
When I decided to venture into the global VO market, even though I had almost a decade of recording experience, I didn’t have a single demo appropriate for use outside Korea. Third, it’s a small pond. The core English-language VO community is just a few dozen people and we all know each other. And lastly, we don’t have a union, we’re not permitted to join the Korean voice actor’s union, and it’s illegal for foreigners to unionize. This means we’ve had to work tirelessly as a group for standard rates, protections, and respect.
From the business perspective, I wish I’d known about standard rates, both within Korea as well as globally. I was taken advantage of when I was new and I worked far too many jobs for far too little money. From the performance perspective, I wish I’d known sooner that voice acting is storytelling. Korean clients tend to want a woman’s voice to be bright and bubbly (though that’s gradually changing), so I spent so much time focusing on making a certain sound. Now, especially after coaching, I focus on telling the story first and allowing the sound, whatever it is, to come from that.”
Do you have to speak the language?
“It certainly helps, but I wouldn’t say you *have* to. I learned most of the Korean I know in my first few weeks here. I don’t eat beef or pork, so I had to figure out how to say a few key things quickly or starve. While it’s tough to learn to speak Korean, it’s super easy to learn to read it. You can learn the Korean alphabet, Hangul, in an afternoon. A few years later, I hired a Korean tutor to teach me what I call “studio Korean” – about 50 phrases I wanted to be able to communicate during a recording session. That got me through most of my career here! Last year I formally enrolled in a course for the first time, but then voiceover work picked up, so I dropped out. I’m actually a touch embarrassed at how little Korean I can speak.”
Is it easy to get work as a foreigner?
“It was 10 years ago! It’s definitely not now. It used to be all you needed was a 4-year degree in anything, from anywhere, and you could get a job teaching English. Over the years though, the government has shifted money from language education to math. This has affected the work for voice actors because roughly half the VO work in Korea is for the language education machine – textbooks, exams, prep materials, etc. COVID has further impacted employment; nobody is hiring anyone from abroad right now. A decade ago I would’ve said, yeah, sure, come on out, there’s plenty of work to go around. Now, I wouldn’t suggest trying to move here for work, at least until a vaccine for Coronavirus is developed.”
Do you feel you’re integrated in Korean society, or are you mainly mingling with expats?
“I’m mainly mingling with expats. I’ve integrated in the sense that I have a strong and steady career and the respect of the Koreans I work with.”
How has living in Korea changed your outlook on America?
“It pains me to say it, but living in Korea has made me view America as not quite the great nation I was taught it was. My quality of life in Korea is so high compared to the life I led in New York, and that is due to Korea’s national health care system, prohibition of guns, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and the familial mindset that stems from Confucianism. We certainly give up certain privacies and liberties here – the government can track our every move. But that’s been exactly why Korea has been a forerunner in combating COVID-19.”
When and how did you know that voice overs was the thing for you?
“It was after the first month that I went full-time. I’d been part-time for 8 months and was very nervous to walk away from a very good job at a private elementary school within a major Korean university campus. My agent told me it was time and I’d be fine. That first month I earned twice what I did as a teacher. I knew voiceover was my calling and I never looked back.”
Who have been instrumental to you in terms of getting your VO career off the ground, and in what way?
“The very first person that I always have to give credit to is my friend and fellow voice actor, Jessica Rau Chin. She’s the one who first introduced me to her agent in Seoul 10 years ago. She left Korea several years ago and is now in LA.
And the next person I met several years later: Anne Ganguzza. I knew I needed coaching and proper demos. There were a few coaches on my short list. I scheduled a 15-minute consultation with Anne. We spoke for 45 minutes. I’ll never forget the final thing she said to me during that first call: “Whoever you choose for your coach, be sure they are going to brand you and focus on marketing.” I wound up coaching with Anne for a year and in the end she produced a corporate narration demo and an e-learning demo that are each perfectly suited to my brand.
I also have to give a shout out to Marc Scott.VOpreneur in all its incarnations (the blog, the Facebook page, the podcast) is where I’ve gotten most of the information I’ve used to pivot my career from the Asian to the Western market. In that community I’ve discovered knowledge, support, and an overall touchstone for the voiceover business and where I fit into it.”
What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from them?
motion capture for a video game
“From Jessica, I learned that it’s okay to allow space for new voice actors to enter the business. Operating from a place of scarcity and fear will only fill you with negativity. Now, a decade later, I do my best to create space for other women just starting out. I’m a mentor to several newer voice actresses in Seoul, and it fulfills me just as much as landing the raddest video game job or global commercial spot.
From Anne, I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) how tobe a VO Boss. As my performance coach, she helped me engage the storyteller in me. But our sessions were also peppered with chats about the business side of VO.
From Marc, I’ve learned that I need to outsource! Haha! But seriously, Marc’s Marketing Playbook is an invaluable resource. My greatest takeaway from it is that the work is out there, and how much of it I’m gonna get is entirely up to me and how much effort I put into direct marketing.”
Congrats on your new website. What were you hoping to accomplish with this new site, and what were some of the stumbling blocks you had to overcome to make it happen?
“Thank you! The point of this new site is to introduce me to the global VO marketplace. They love me in Asia, but it’s time for me to step out of the pond and dive into deeper waters.
There weren’t many stumbling blocks, per se. It was more that various pieces took me longer to put together than I originally thought. Like coaching and demo production, for example. I naively thought that it would be a fast process. Bang that out in 6 weeks. (Hahaha) I realized after a few sessions with Anne that it would take much longer than that. Then I had to find a way to process my antsiness, my just wanting to launch and start booking ASAP. So I suppose the greatest stumbling block was learning to give everything time to come together.”
“I’ve got a tough name. Both halves are tough – the Barri and the Tsavaris. People never know how to say either one, how to spell either one… sometimes they don’t even know I’m a woman! For the record, Barri is pronounced like Barry, as in Manilow, Gibb or Sanders. So, after talking to some trusted people in the business, I decided to keep it simple and go with just my first name. That’s how most of my Korean clients know me anyway. (I’m like the Cher of English voiceover in Korea). But believe me, it was a tough decision to make.”
“Karin, Joe, Lo-An and the rest of the team at Voice Actor Websites are just incredible. I came to them with some unique requests and at no point in the process did they ever say, oh no, we don’t do that. It was always, oh cool, we haven’t done that before, but we’ll figure it out for you. Specifically, I wanted my site to be accessible to both my Western and Korean clients, so having a Korean language version was key. I also wanted clients to be able to submit testimonials directly through a form on my site.
Voice Actor Websites had never done that for anyone else, but they figured it out for me and now it’s a function they can offer to other actors. I also really appreciated that they always made themselves available to speak with me at times that were convenient for me, despite the awkward time difference. The experience was smooth, collaborative and well worth the investment – So much so that we’re now having them design my husband’s site!”
Looking back at a decade in South Korea, what are you particularly proud of?
“I’m proud that I came to Asia completely by myself and built an amazing voiceover career from nothing, but I’m particularly proud to have been the official voice of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.”
What’s next for you?
“Short term, I am in conversations with agents in the States and Europe and am looking to have representation in those markets soon. I’m also gearing up for the launch of my passion project, TIGHTS, a radio play about superheroes and their alter egos (@tightstheshow). It is the brainchild of my producing partner, Greta Wink. I came in as the recording director, we brought together two dozen actors from around the world, and we recorded most of it in my studio in Seoul. We’re in post-production now and it will go live before the year is out.
In the long-term, I look forward to moving back to America with my husband and 3 cats (a.k.a. The @Voiceover.Kitties) and finally getting to meet in person all of the amazing voiceover peeps (like yourself!) who I’ve had the pleasure to connect with on social media these past couple years.”
As a blogger, coach, and voice talent, I think a lot about why certain people make it in this business and why others don’t.
Those who are doing well don’t always know why they belong to the happy few.
“You’ve got to have a lot of luck,” they say, and “be at the right moment at the right time.”
It’s a nice observation, but as a teacher that doesn’t help me much. Just as I can’t predict who’s going to win the Powerball, I cannot influence luck. And if I knew how to be at the right moment at the right time, I probably would be doing something else with my life right now.
What I can help people with as a coach, is preparedness. If you’re lucky to be at the right place at the right time and you’re not prepared, you’re not going to get very far. But preparedness alone is no guarantee that you’ll have a successful career as a creative freelancer.
Let’s say you’re talented, you’re well-trained, and you have the right equipment that gets the job done. Is that enough to start and grow a for-profit business? I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.
Looking at colleagues who are at the top of their game, I have identified three characteristics all of them have in common. Number one I call:
The difference between dreamers and achievers is that achievers attract jobs. This is anything but a passive process. People don’t become magnets overnight and without planning. You’ve got to have an extensive network in place that generates a continuous flow of leads from multiple sources. If you’re just starting out, this is where you have to spend most of your time, energy, and money.
How do you become a magnet? Think about what you can do to draw people to you. You’ve got to offer something special at a price that tells people you take your work seriously. You have to make sure your presentation is in line with your (desired) reputation. Then you need to connect with clients and colleagues to let them know that you exist.
Obviously, this is not something you can do in a few weeks or months. Every self-employed person can tell you that this will be your life from now on, until you decide to close up shop. This type of magnet is like a rechargeable battery. If you don’t charge it regularly, it will quickly lose its power.
Now, let’s assume your magnetic powers have the desired effect and job offers are rolling in. Should you jump on every opportunity? Here’s where the second factor comes in. I call this:
Beginners often make the same mistake. They go after every single job offer, if only “to gain experience.” I remember when I first became a member of an online casting site. As soon as I had posted my profile and the membership fee was paid, the auditions started coming in. In my naïve enthusiasm I applied for every job, thinking that the more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would be hired. I was wrong.
Being a successful freelancer is not a numbers game. It is about going after the opportunities that are right for you. In order to do that, you have to filter out the misfits. That’s where the colander comes in.
Runners know their strengths. Some of them run marathons. Others sprint. In my line of work, some voice actors are great at narrating audiobooks. Others excel in voicing short commercials. Only a handful of people in every profession are true all-rounders. Chances are that you’re not one of them. That’s why you have to do yourself a favor: know your strengths, and become picky. Very picky.
There’s one last factor that separates the wheat from the chaff. I call it:
No matter how good you are at attracting and selecting jobs, once you have landed a new project, you have one objective and one objective only: to make your client happy. That’s by no means an earth-shattering revelation, so why even mention it? Here’s why. So many people believe that if you do the very best you can, the client will be pleased with the result. That’s not necessarily true.
Your very best might not be good enough, and/or the client may have different expectations. That’s why it is so important to find out what those expectations are before you get to work. I often tell my clients: “If I don’t know what you want, I can’t give it to you.” And that’s where the clay comes in.
Clay is just potential. It can be molded into any shape, depending on the talent and skills of the potter. No matter what kind of freelance work you do, whether you’re a scriptwriter, an industrial designer, or a voice-over, you’ve got to know your material and be a master molder. The better you are at understanding your client and at working the clay, the more successful you will be.
Mind you, this isn’t something you can pick up from reading a book, or by listening to a podcast. It will take talent, training, and time. It may take a few years before you break in and break even. But when you do, this is what you will discover:
Doing exceptional work almost always leads to more work, which brings us back to the concept of the magnet.
One last thing.
If your career isn’t where you want it to be at the moment, ask yourself:
“Where are my greatest challenges?
What needs more work?
Is it the magnet, the colander, or is it the way I handle the clay?”
How far would you go to get ahead in this game we call the voiceover market place?
Would you betray your pacifist principles and record a promotional video for land mines?
Would you flirt with the casting director?
Would you badmouth a colleague in the hopes of improving your odds?
As soon as money is involved, people are prepared to sell their dignity and self-respect to the highest bidder. It’s Survival of the Slickest, and every person for him or herself. After all, the economy sucks, and it ain’t getting better any time soon. Thank you COVID.
If it’s a choice between you and me, my friend, it better be me!
In an attempt to break into the business or simply stay afloat, people even start sinning against the Ninth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. What do they tell you in this business?
If you can’t make it, just fake it!
That’s why the almighty Internet is inundated with pretenders, posers, anonymous commentators, and self-styled experts. In this day and age where the latest is the greatest, nobody bothers to fact-check anymore. It’s the ideal opportunity to be whoever you say you are. No questions asked. It’s in black and white. That means it’s reliable, right?
Now, don’t believe for one second that the people in our community are holier than the Pope. They are not. Some of them are spinning a world wide web of lies. Of course they don’t call it that. They see it as innocent embellishments of the truth. The means justify the ends. Meanwhile, they are walking around with their pants on fire.
Here’s my Top 10 of the most common lies people tell to get ahead as a voice talent:
Lie: “With years of experience under her belt, Carla can handle almost any project.” Truth: Carla has been at it for five months. Part-time, that is.
2. Training & Coaching
Lie: “Roger has studied with some of the world’s best voice over coaches.” Truth: He took an introductory course at the local community college.
Lie: “John has recorded voice-overs for some of the biggest names in business.” Truth: John wishes he had recorded voice-overs for some of the biggest names in business.
Lie: “Peter exclusively uses his trusted Neumann U87, arguably the best known and most widely used studio microphone in the world.” Truth: Peter doesn’t even know how to correctly pronounce the name Neumann. He is the proud owner of a USB mic he found on eBay for $65, and he foolishly thinks people can’t tell the difference.
5. Home studio
Lie: “Heather records her voice overs in her professional studio, guaranteeing you the highest audio quality possible.” Truth: Heather hides inside a bedroom closet and she has no idea why this mattress foam won’t keep the noise out. She wonders: “Should I have used egg crates instead?”
Lie: Listening to his samples, it sounds like Thomas really voiced those national campaigns, doesn’t it? Truth: Thomas stole scripts from projects he never even auditioned for. An audio engineer friend helped him add some music to make it sound real.
7a. Languages and accents
Lie: “Jerome speaks Dutch and is available for your eLearning projects.” Truth: Jerome was born, raised, and educated in Flanders (Belgium) and speaks Flemish. Dutch as spoken in the Netherlands and Flemish are just as different as American and British English. Substitute Dutch and Flemish for other languages and accents to expose other actors.
7b. Native speakers
Lie: “Maria was born and raised in Germany and speaks ‘Hochdeutsch’ or Standard German.” Truth: Maria moved to the U.S. when she was seventeen. Thirty years later she stills lives in Dallas. Ever heard a German with a Texas twang? She’s counting on the fact that her American clients won’t have a clue her German pronunciation is off.
Lie: “Jennifer was a delight to work with. Our company would not hesitate to hire her again.” Truth: Jennifer never worked for that company, and she penned this endorsement herself.
9. Head shots
Lie: We see a young, smiling face, staring confidently into the camera. Truth: After fifteen years, Harry doesn’t look like his old headshot anymore. He’s become bitter, and he sounds like it. There’s nothing wrong with using headshots, but as a rule they should be current, whether you work on camera, or off.
10. Believing that you won’t get caught
It’s simple. People with real credentials have real experience and a real portfolio. They don’t have to hide behind vague descriptions and false advertising. The truth will always come out, and when it does, it will damage a career that never was and probably never will be.
SPOTTING THE ROTTEN APPLE
You don’t have to be a detective to find the fakers. Liars usually do a great job exposing themselves. I was emailing one of my colleagues the other day, and he shared the following story with me:
“I’ve read your blogs regarding people that want to be a voiceover talent with interest. I have some ideas on people that are “posing” as voiceover talent and how to spot them immediately.
For example: a young lady recently posted on a LinkedIn forum complaining that she wasn’t being hired via sites like voices.com and how obviously the system was flawed, and that was the reason she wasn’t getting work.
I visited her website to find that (through the placement of national logos for Burger King and Nissan) she had implicated that she’d done voiceover work for national companies.
When I listened to her demo it was apparent that she had nowhere near the skill level of a national voice talent.
Furthermore – on her website there was a mention of a client that she claimed as her client, when in fact, it had been MY client for more than four years. A quick check with producers led me to find that this person had never worked with that company.
In short, she wasn’t getting work because she sucked as a “talent”. And yet, she couldn’t hear this, and was angry with the world because she wasn’t getting work.
What are these people thinking? Do they really believe they can fool an experienced producer or Creative Service Director?”
ACTORS ARE LIARS
People in our profession have a strange relationship with the truth. We get paid to pretend. Get this. The most convincing liars get the fattest paychecks, an Oscar, and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
However, true talent, trust, and integrity are the cornerstones of a successful career.
I’ve always been intrigued by people who can do things I believe I wasn’t born to do.
I suck at sports, so that’s out. My mind has trouble processing numbers, so forget math. My DIY skills are minimal, so please don’t ask me to fix your plumbing, or you might be in for a wet surprise.
Don’t feel sorry for me. I think I have other talents this world may benefit from. If all of us would be good at doing the same things, boy, would life be boring!
I will say one thing. It seems to me that in this day and age people are perfecting their ability to critique one another, while we’re gradually losing our ability to understand, appreciate and admire. What a shame!
One person I greatly value and admire is my Dutch colleague Dorith Hassing. Not only is she a successful voice talent, she’s also a very talented painter. The other day I asked her how her voice over career began. Here’s what Dorith told me:
I didn’t go to the Fine Art Academy, even though I thought I would, and for years and years I kept trying to find my place in this world. I enjoyed a very rewarding career, but it felt like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do. I wanted to be self-employed. I wanted to be creative.
I didn’t discover my vocation until the day my youngest child got a toy the parent had to record a voice for. When I learned that one could actually make a living using one’s voice, the penny dropped, and light bulbs went off in my head!
I started researching the VO business. How does it work? Who’s doing this? What skills does one need to have, and where can I learn these skills? I took some workshops with Barnier Geerling of stemacteren.nl, and for the next few years I practiced by myself: recording, listening back to the recording, recording it again. Listening to others, mimicking them, giving it my own spin.
Then there was the technical aspect. How does one record voice overs, and where? Because I decided to totally go for it, I immediately invested in professional equipment and an amazing vocal booth. After that, my career took off.
I’ve been doing this for five years now, and lately, the work has been finding me. The first years I was very busy generating work by adding myself to the roster of online casting agencies, making demos, doing auditions, responding to job offers, networking, and improving my website.
How would you describe your niche in the business? Do you specialize in certain genres, or are you a Jill of all Trades?
To most people, my voice sounds surprisingly familiar, as if they already know me. That’s why I’m a good fit for projects that need familiarity, things like explainers, or for projects that require people to trust the narrator. But I’m also good at voicing the every day stuff we all want and need. This means I can handle a wide range of work and I take every opportunity to do it. Most of my jobs are corporate in nature, like voice response systems, videos, and animated explainers. But I also love voicing commercials and instructional videos. (Click on the blue hyperlinks to see and hear samples of Dorith’s work.) More recently, I started recording audio books which is great fun!
Name a few projects you’re proud of.
My first television commercial was such a thrill, but what I liked even better was to be the voice of the Lifestyle Collection of Swiss Sense (a Dutch bedding and mattress chain). In the past couple of months I’ve worked on e-learnings for Shell, and I’m the voice of customer service at American Express Netherlands. To be honest, all jobs make me equally happy, whether they’re long or short, and whether I get a lot of exposure or no exposure at all.
Where do you find voice over jobs in the Netherlands?
I’m listed on many national and international voice casting sites. Networking has been very successful for me. A couple of years ago I went to have a drink with a few colleagues, and last month that resulted in me landing a big project. Being part of online groups and being active on LinkedIn also leads to work. It often takes one contact to get the ball rolling.
What kind of projects would you reject out of hand?
I don’t believe that my personal preferences matter when it comes to voicing projects, but I stay away from jobs where people are clearly scammed. A private investigator wanted me to record a few tapes he wanted use to bate cheaters. Trying to frame people using fake recordings isn’t my thing.
What would be your dream project?
I would love to be the signature voice of a reputable brand, and cultivate a long-term business relationship with that brand. I imagine myself helping them navigate the seasons and the ever changing world, working together to find the right tone of voice.
What do you see as your greatest obstacle preventing you from reaching that goal?
There already are so many great, established voices at the moment, which makes it challenging to be noticed by the big studios and agencies that book the big accounts. I get that, but it’s kind of tough to be a small needle in a huge haystack.
Which came first? Painting or voice overs?
As a child I spent a lot of time in my dad’s art studio. I’ve always felt I had a future in the arts, but when I came to an open house at the fine art academy, I didn’t feel at home. My teenage angst got the better of me, and I bailed out.
My lingering artistic longing has been replaced by inspiring life experiences. Voice acting set things in motion, allowing me to become more daring and in charge of my destiny. This opened up new opportunities inside of me. It made me focus on what I really wanted, and apart from painting with words, I wanted to paint with brushes! Thanks to voice overs, I started working on canvases again!
Do you see yourself having two professions, or is one more like a hobby?
Doing voice overs is my (amazing) job, and painting is part of my identity. In my ideal world I would sell a few more paintings allowing me to spend more time with my canvases, but I’d still record voice overs. Doing voice overs expands my window to the world, and I love the variety it brings. I go from pharma to automotive, from health care to commercial, and from local to international. I go from speaking to children to talking to the elderly in need, from a heartwarming bedtime story, to a very serious script. All of this inspires me to keep on painting.
Tell me more about your artistic side.
I paint using the name FacingDorith. My work revolves around beauty and emotion. With beauty I don’t mean perfection, but character, atmosphere, and originality. I paint people because they touch me deeply. Because of who they are, of what they do, and what they don’t do. I’m also endlessly fascinated by what they have to say. Meeting people leads to new insights, to rethinking, and sometimes to confusion. This whirlwind of emotions finds its way onto my canvas.
I do not feel the need to be ultra realistic. What’s important is the feeling I get regarding the person I’m painting. I want to capture their charisma, their intensity, and strength. There are some remarkable similarities between people from all over the world and their faces. It takes less than a second to feel a sense of familiarity and emotion that connects us all.
My own emotions are at the basis of my work. Not only do I want to paint the beauty of life and people’s strength, I also want to paint their fears, their losses, and their sorrows.
The darkest nights bring out the brightest stars.
I love using color. It expresses a certain feeling. Every color has its own character, but it can appear in so many nuances, and it can create an entirely different image in combination with other colors.
What’s the nicest thing someone has ever said about your work, and why were you touched by that?
When someone is really moved by my work, that’s a tremendous compliment because it affirms that what I put into it, is resonating. Some people get emotional because my work can be intense. It touches a nerve because feelings that were hidden inside, are coming out. I love that. All of us experience life in different ways, so what they are feeling is not necessarily the same as what inspired me to create the artwork. That’s never my intention.
By evoking an emotion, a connection is created. In my opinion, a work of art is never finished until it is observed by someone. The act of observation creates a message. Everyone is free to distill their own message, and that message changes depending on things like personal experiences, someone’s mood, or something simple like a different environment, or a change of light.
Do you get the same satisfaction from your voice over work?
I compare my voice over work to painting on commission versus painting spontaneously. I do work on request and that can be challenging. It’s less free, but the limitations and restrictions create a tension, a pressure, and a focus that bring out new things in me, and help me grow. That happens too, when I record voice overs.
You’re a mother of three young, energetic children. You’ve got to be there for your clients and for your kids. Does that sometimes cause friction, and how do you deal with that?
What I predominantly experience is lots of freedom. That’s because it’s easy for me to unwind and leave things as they are. It’s super busy at times, but I love working in the weekend or at night. After all: it’s me I’m doing it for. When things are slow in terms of voice overs, I grab my brushes and start painting, I go to a museum, or to the beach. I need that space to be there for my children and for myself.
My workload comes and goes, and the pressure to perform can be intense. But I also know that things will eventually calm down, so cleaning up the house can wait a little longer. When I’m busy doing voice overs I paint less, but sometimes both activities reinforce one another, and I keep on creating at night and during weekends.
What tips do you have for working moms and dads?
Here’s the thing. You’ve made the choice not to work a regular, nine to five job, so don’t put that pressure on yourself. I see no benefit in sitting behind a computer for forty hours a week. Working efficiently is different from being busy.
Take advantage of your freedom, and don’t worry about the slow times. Enjoy what you’re doing! These dry spells allow you to work on your website, to do some networking, et cetera. I get my best ideas when I’m doing something totally different, so please enjoy your freedom. By that I also mean the freedom to choose whom you want to work with. I stopped working with some clients because I was getting bad vibes. Isn’t that great? I no longer work with unpleasant or unreasonable people.
These days it’s not enough to be good at what you do. You also have to sell yourself.
To me, that’s the most challenging part of being a freelancer. As a voice over and a painter I AM selling myself. I feel vulnerable when I do that, especially when I don’t get the jobs I was in the running for. I always keep in mind: different strokes for different folks. Sometimes I just don’t fit the bill and that’s okay. I’ve learned not to take it personally. Having said that, I’m still uncomfortable presenting myself in public. I’m an introvert at heart. I register what’s going on around me, but I prefer being in the background.
What role do social media play in your professional life?
They’re really important to me. This includes my profiles on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as the online networking groups and my websites. I update them regularly, and I have noticed that people are finding me more frequently. However, I will only do things that fit me, so you won’t see me writing blogs, vlogs, or newsletters.
I see you’ve included English demos on your website. What do you think you have to offer clients outside of the Netherlands?
My voice sounds friendly, clear, and familiar – even in English. Most people find it hard to tell where I am from, which is ideal for an international market, particularly when a service or a product isn’t linked to a specific country. This subtle Northern European accent enhances the authenticity of the message.
Being both a visual artist and a voice over artist comes with a lot of uncertainty. Do you ever long for a “normal,” steady job with fringe benefits?
When the Netherlands was still in what they were calling an “intelligent lockdown,” I worked very little. At those times I thought a more permanent job would be more desirable. On the other hand, it was relatively easy to combine home schooling my kids with working on the projects that did come in. Life has taught me to trust in my abilities as well as in the power of the mind.
When I look back at the path I have taken, I am grateful for every success, big or small. I realize I can’t see the road ahead, but I know where I want to go, and I am convinced that I will get there.
While listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, I discovered an interesting fact.
Before legendary producer Allen Funt created Candid Camera, he experimented with a different show based on the same premise.
It was called The Candid Microphone, and it first aired on June 28th, 1947 on ABC Radio. Funt came up with the idea while producing radio shows for the armed forces at Camp Gruber.
One of the shows he worked on was called “The Gripe Booth.” Funt asked soldiers to come into his studio and talk about things that bothered them. Here’s what he found out.
During the pre-interview, most of his guests were at ease and happy to talk. But as soon as the red light went on (indicating that the recording had started), the soldiers became extremely nervous and tongue-tied. This phenomenon is called Mic Fright, and it doesn’t make for good radio.
Luckily, Funt found a way around it. He disconnected the red light, and started recording his guests secretly. He pretended to do a practice interview during which most soldiers were… themselves. And when it was time to do the real thing, he told them he already had what he needed. It was a great gimmick to get spontaneous reactions.
Funt knew he was onto something, and when the war was over, he pitched the idea to ABC, and The Candid Microphone was born.
FEAR THE MICROPHONE
It might not surprise you to hear that Mic Fright is a very common condition. Just as some people become very self-conscious as soon as they spot a camera, you’ll find that folks who are normally very eloquent, will freeze up when you put a microphone in front of their mouth.
It’s tough to be natural in an unnatural situation, even for professional communicators.
I’ve worked in radio since I was seventeen years old, and in that time I have seen veteran-broadcasters hyperventilate, and wipe the sweat of their foreheads before they were about to go on air. The live broadcasts were the worst, because there are no retakes when you go live.
Even though I believe the public doesn’t really mind it that much when people mess up on air (who doesn’t like bloopers?), I’ve seen colleagues who were utterly devastated after they misspoke. I’ve often wondered why they would beat themselves up over something that’s entirely human, and here’s what I came up with:
Many of us want to be perceived as being perfect in public.
That’s why we select the best selfie, and use photo editing software before we post it on social media. We treat the world to the highlights of our life, and we don’t expose our darker side. We love sharing our successes, and we carefully hide our failures.
I completely understand that, by the way. “The world” doesn’t need to know everything about us. We have to protect our privacy and our reputation. The way to do that, is to control and manipulate the message.
Cameras and microphones scare us because they create a situation we can’t predict or control (unless we call the shots). They have the power to expose the private, and make it public. That’s part of the success of a show like Candid Camera. People who don’t know they’re being filmed are much more fun to watch.
Audiences all over the world prefer spontaneous over studied. We want raw emotions instead of rehearsed responses. But there’s something we conveniently forget: in the media, there is no “reality.” At best (or at its worst -depending on your viewpoint), it is “enhanced reality.”
Allen Funt found out pretty quickly that reality in and of itself was pretty boring. That’s why he ended up putting normal people in abnormal situations to see how they would react. I’m sure it wasn’t all comedy gold, and much of the footage ended up on the editing floor.
THE VOICE-OVER STUDIO
In a way, our recording booth is part of the “enhanced reality.” It is an artificial setting that can be quite intimidating, especially to newcomers. Some of my students have admitted that they too are sometimes suffering from Mic Fright, especially during live recordings. Their perfectionism might be part of the problem. They want to do so well that they tense up, and become like the self-conscious soldiers in “The Gripe Booth.”
One of the techniques I use to relax my students, is taken straight out of Allen Funt’s book. As we prepare for the session, we go over the script a couple of times and have fun with it. Unadulterated fun.
What my students don’t know, is that everything is being recorded. In their perception, there is no microphone, there is no right or wrong, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. They’re “just” talking to me, and there is no pressure to perform.
That’s when the magic happens, because people start sounding like themselves. They’re by no means perfect, but perfection is never the goal. Perfection is a perverse illusion, anyway.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t want people to do their best. I just don’t want them to overdo it.
One of the reasons why some people aren’t winning auditions is because they sound over rehearsed. They focus too much on the microphone, and they forget to have fun. I will often ask them to position the mic above their head, practically out of sight. That way, it doesn’t distract. It’s one of those small changes that can make a big difference.
Sometimes I go bit further.
A few weeks ago, I asked one of my students to print out a life-size picture of a human ear, and tape it to her microphone.
“Why should I do that?” she asked puzzled.
“To remind you that you’re always talking to a person,” I said. “Not to a mic. It might look a bit eerie (pun intended), but you’ll get used to it. I promise.”
Soon after my request she said her Mic Fright was practically gone, and when I listened to one of her auditions, she sounded so much better!
Yes, I know. I’m a genius.
To celebrate the achievement, I proposed to take a picture of her in the booth. “It has to be spontaneous,” I said. “So, I’m not going to tell you when I’m taking it.”
Even though she knew it was coming, my snapshot took her by surprise.
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