If we blame the economy for all of our freelance failures, perhaps it’s only fair that we should credit the economy for all of our successes. After all: we’re hopelessly helpless.
It’s the economy, stupid!
In 2000, Cleanthi Peters sued Universal Studios for $15,000. Cleanthi claimed to have suffered “extreme fear, mental anguish, and emotional distress” after visiting Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights haunted house. She said it was too scary.
My European friend Philippe is eager to bring these type of examples up whenever he tells me that Americans live in a country of finger-pointers. I agree.
If we get lung cancer from smoking, we blame the tobacco industry. If we slip on a wet surface, it is the cleaning lady’s fault. If we burn our lips on a cup of fresh WaWa-Java, we sue the company that forgot to print a warning.
Heaven forbid we should take some credit for our own actions. Why should we? Blaming someone else could bring in big bucks!
So, what’s next?
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When Claire Dodin was about seven years old, her mother built a theater in the attic of their apartment. Claire and her sister started putting on plays for her friends. Claire:
“It was such a happy time, and I decided I’d just have to play for the rest of my life!”
Fast-forward a few years, and you’ll find that Claire is as much at home in front of a camera as she is behind a mic. Born and raised in France, this actress, model, singer and voice-over talent moved to the UK before she made Los Angeles her home.
Bi-lingual, multi-talented and exceptionally professional, Claire has done well for herself. Her story is one of dedication, discipline and of following your dreams.
PS Let’s pretend that I’m a client and your agent had 30 seconds to describe Claire Dodin to me. How would your agent “sell” you?
CD I guess he would say that I’m versatile; I can handle pretty much anything, and can do several character voices including children’s voices. He’d probably tell you that I’ve voiced several jobs for Disney and the X-Box 360, and that I usually don’t need a lot of takes to please the clients. That’s why everyone wants to work with me again.
PS Percentagewise, how much of your career is taken up by voice-over work?
CD In the acting business things are always changing and moving. There can be months when all I do is voice-overs, and months when I’m shooting film after film and I don’t have much time for voice-overs. This always makes me sad because I have to pass on really fun jobs. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything. I have to turn down so much work, mainly due to lack of availability.
I would say that on average, voice-overs represent about 70% of my income and maybe 30% of my time. It always makes me laugh that it costs more to get only my voice, than to have me on camera!
Having said that, it can happen that a week goes by and there’s nothing, not one job offer. Then I start thinking that it’s all over and that I will never work again! It’s the nature of being self-employed. Nothing is ever set in stone. No one is ever entirely safe. You’re fashionable one week; the week after you’re not.
That’s why it’s so important that we value ourselves and feel an inner sense of security, and not let our job define who we are. Otherwise it becomes impossible to handle the stress. Luckily, a job always seems to come along when I need it.
PS Speaking of voice-over projects, what are you most proud of and why?
CD There are quite a few jobs I’m very proud of like the French-speaking FisherPrice cuddly bear who says things like “I love you, hug me…” Just thinking about it makes me smile. It’s the cutest thing ever! Or being on the Statue of Liberty tour in New York and being in the gardens of Versailles in Paris. I just love that my voice is over there! Next I want to be at the Taj Mahal! 😉
But the job I’m the most proud of right now is my Zombiepodcast in which I’m a series regular. It’s called “We’re Alive” and I play Riley. The scripts are fabulous and the production quality is amazing. It’s an honor to be part of it.
We have reached over 600,000 downloads with the first season! We’ve won the Gold Ogle Award 2010, the Communicator Award 2010 and we were a finalist for the Parsec Award 2010. The episode submitted for these, is one that is centered around my character, which makes me even happier! The second season has begun, and it’s free to listen to, so catch up with the episodes now!
PS Let’s talk about accent. Some people believe that -in order to make it as a foreign actor in another country- you need to get rid of your accent. Others believe your accent is what sets you apart. Where do you stand?
CD Well, I am not able to put on a convincing British or American accent, so I don’t even try. I believe clients would go for native speakers anyway, so it really doesn’t matter. When I get hired for an English job, they want my accent, because it sets me apart from everyone else. Sometimes they want a stronger French accent, which I can tone up or down. Sometimes, they just want a very clear English accent with a hint of French.
Accents are great, as long as the diction is excellent and people can understand it. That’s where many foreign voices fail: they are not clear enough. I only started booking work in English regularly, after years of working at speaking more clearly. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
PS Does another accent come naturally to you, or do you have to work with a coach to get it right?
CD I do work with a coach for accent reduction when a part requires it, but it is never for voice acting, always for on-camera. In the voice-over world, if they want a British voice, they’ll hire a British voice. Nowadays, it’s so easy to get a native speaker.
Accents do not come naturally to me. It’s very difficult if you were not immersed in foreign sounds as a child. In France, all TV programs and most films are dubbed. I pretty much never heard English sounds before moving to England. It’s different in other countries like Sweden or The Netherlands. That’s why the Swedes and the Dutch are usually much better at accents than French people.
PS Do Europeans have an advantage over Americans when it comes to foreign languages and accents?
CD Being European in America is certainly an advantage because there are fewer of us, and Americans love European accents. If you are an American in America, there are hundreds of other people who sound exactly like you, so it’s harder.
This is where personality is incredibly important, because in reality, there is only one of each of us. And we hear so much that we need to sound like this or this… In truth, what will make you book the job is YOU, your quirkiness, your own little things that most people are trying to get rid of. Keep them (but use the correct techniques)!
Being French in a foreign country has absolutely made my career. I was working as an on-camera actress in the UK, and people found me because they needed a French voice and couldn’t get one.
That’s how I landed my first jobs. Then I thought that maybe I should get an agent, so I sent samples of the jobs I had done. I didn’t have a demo at the time, and pretty much all the agents wanted to sign me and I started booking national jobs straight away. I think I recorded my first demo a couple of years later. I was very lucky. To this day, jobs still come to me. I don’t have to work very hard at getting them. I am in a very fortunate position. There isn’t much competition.
PS You have lived and worked in the UK and now you’re in LA. These days, we’re all connected via the Internet. Does location matter anymore?
CD Unfortunately, location still matters a lot. I’m hoping that clients will get used to ISDN, but today, most major clients want to meet up with the voices at the studio. This means that by moving to LA, I’ve lost most of the work I was getting in London. When I go back there for a week, suddenly I’ve got bookings every day in London studios. They haven’t forgotten me, but they want me there in person.
It’s the same in France, I know several people who would hire me regularly, but they want me in the studio in Paris. I imagine that it is the same for Los Angeles and New York.
Of course there are many jobs we can do remotely, but they rarely are high end. I once did a six months national radio campaign for the UK, and the client was happy to do it via ISDN for each recording. This was an exception, and I think it was because it was for radio. In the UK, most radio ads are recorded via ISDN. But for TV, you have to be in the room with them. I did record the Versailles job at my LA studio though, so sometimes it can happen if they really want you.
PS How do you get work, these days?
CD The reality of the business is that most voice-over talents audition every day. I’m in a very different position. The vast majority of the work I do, comes from direct offers via my agents, or directly from existing clients or new clients through referral/reputation.
It may sound strange to American voice talents, but I did not audition for any of the national commercials I did, video games, TV documentaries, high-profile jobs… That’s the way they do it in Europe: we get hired based on our demo or based on a recommendation from our agent or producers/sound engineers. I did however audition for the Fisher Price toys I voiced, but they paid me for the audition and then hired me. I also auditioned for the Versailles job, but they had specifically asked for me.
I think that the system works differently in America. Even established talents have to audition. That being said, I have many American clients that don’t ask me to audition either. I’m glad it works this way because I usually don’t have time to audition. When happen to I have spare time, I will record some open auditions, but this rarely leads to work (funny, no?). That’s the problem with open auditions: they don’t want You; they want A voice, and usually the cheapest one.
PS Do clients, agents, producers and directors have different expectations based on where they’re located? Do you approach an audition differently based on the country and culture?
CD Actually, everyone wants the best product at the best price as fast as possible pretty much everywhere. What may be different is the style of the voice-overs. For example, I find that promos and documentaries on US TV tend to have a “sensational” factor. In the UK they tend to be more casual/matter of fact. In France there’s also a distinctive sound for news or documentaries. The voice talent simply needs to adapt to the style of the country, but also to the medium and the client. Each job is different, which is part of the fun. For an audition, I try to find out as much as I can about the client and the target audience. That way, I can make a best guess as to what style is appropriate for the script.
PS This is a highly competitive business. Apart from talent and experience, what do you think is absolutely essential, in order to have an international voice-over career?
CDObviously, to have an international voice career it is essential to speak English, so you can communicate with clients anywhere (pretty much everyone will speak some English). Apart from that, you just need the same qualities that will make you a successful national talent, as well as a good marketing plan so people abroad know who you are.
The internet is an excellent medium, but it’s not essential. I know voice talents who have booked major international campaigns through their local agent. By local, I mean: one of the top agents in one of the top cities. It still seems difficult to book high-profile work without one of these agents, and you can usually only sign with one of them if you live in one of the major cities. That would be Los Angeles or New York for America; London for the UK and Paris for France.
Of course there are rare exceptions. There are a few very successful voice talents who do not live in the major cities, but they used to live there at one point. They moved away, and kept their agents and clients thanks to an ISDN-line. I only know of one person who has always lived far away and who is hugely successful.
This will hopefully change in the future, as home studios are becoming as good as studios in the big cities. I think it will still take a while before major clients accept not meeting a voice talent in person. This is why Don LaFontaine had a limo, so he could quickly go from studio to studio to record several jobs a day. It would have been so much easier to have him in one studio and the other studios would connect via ISDN, but it didn’t work that way and he had to drive from place to place.
I wish things were different, but nowadays, the best jobs are still recorded in major studios in major cities.
PS What’s most overlooked by up and coming international talent?
CD Something that foreign voices often overlook is to have an English version of their website. I was once looking for an Italian voice, and all I could find were websites in Italian, which I don’t speak. Had they had an English version, I would have contacted them. But I couldn’t work out if they had a home studio etcetera.
Also, they should indicate their location on the website. I was looking to book voices to come to a London studio, and I didn’t know where they lived. I nearly booked a voice once; I was ready to pay for a ticket to Paris, when he told me he lived in a small town in France and it wasn’t possible to get to where he needed to be, fast enough.
Another voice that I thought was in London, turned out to have moved to Paris. So, keep the info on your website up to date. Location is a big one, not just for outside studio bookings, but so we know your time zone in case we want an ISDN booking or we need you for a rush job.
PS What do you tell people who think that voice-over work is easy money, and that basically anyone with a good voice could do this?
CD Ah, ah! It’s a tough question, I could probably write a book about it! Voice-over acting is an art and the voice is the tool. You might have a fabulous canvas, great paints and a brush, but how easy is it to paint something that will sell for a few hundreds or thousands of dollars and be exhibited in a museum? Hmmm… But if you work hard, learn skills and have talent, maybe you’ll make a living as a painter. Same thing for voice-overs. And a few gifted ones will make it to the top.
PS What technology can you not live without, and how has it helped you book clients?
CD The only technology I really need, is my computer for my emails and my phone so I can take bookings. That’s all. But, with my home studio I can record more jobs and make a better living. Some voice talents earn a lot more than I do, and don’t have one, so it’s not essential. However, other voice talents only work from home.
PS You work for clients on different continents in different time zones. On one hand you need to be accessible but on the other hand you can’t be available 24/7. How do you handle that?
CD Ah, ah! Another tough one! I don’t handle it; it’s a bit of a problem. I get called in the middle of the night (when I forget to switch the phone off), I wake up at 5am for an ISDN session and I sometimes record till midnight! I need to be better at saying “no” to clients and regulate my hours. But I’m weak when people are nice and need a favor. I try to schedule ISDN sessions with Europe starting at 8am, LA time. That’s the end of the day for them. It usually works.
PS How much did you map out your career? Did you follow a strict plan or is it more spontaneous, “go with the flow”?
CDAt first I just went with the flow: voice-overs came to me not once, not twice but many times. This is when I realized that I should pursue it. Somehow, people knew I had a gift for it, even before I knew it. Then I started buying equipment to record from home. When my agent asked me to, I upgraded my equipment. When clients asked me to, I got the ISDN. I guess I always go with the flow. I don’t force things, they just happen when they need to, but I’ve got my ears open and I’m listening to the signs that tell me in which direction I need to go to.
That said, when I do something, I don’t do it halfheartedly. When I made the decision to work from my home studio, I practiced a lot to learn how to use the equipment. I listened to other voices and took advice from many people. I took classes etcetera. It took me a long time before I was able to make a quality recording.
When I upgraded to ISDN, I asked an engineer to come and install it for me, and install my sound booth so the sound would be good enough. I also bought a Neumann microphone. What’s the point of connecting to another studio if your own sound isn’t as good? So basically, every time the decision to go to the next step was made following the flow, but once the decision was made it was thought out and I followed a careful plan.
Being disciplined is absolutely essential if you work from home. It’s too easy to do something else if you don’t have a boss checking up on you, making sure that you are putting the hours in. You have to do it for yourself and be very organized. For me, one of the hardest things is to keep track of the jobs recorded, the invoices sent, the invoices paid/unpaid etc… I find the admin part the hardest.
When I get really busy, I forget to reply to emails that aren’t essential, like companies asking me to fill out forms and send demos for future jobs. Sometimes I struggle to find the time to send invoices. That’s not a good thing. Staying on top of the paperwork is not easy. I’m dreaming of the day I’ll be able to employ an assistant to do these things for me!
PS What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you in this business, and how has it helped you?
CD The best advice I was ever given, as far as performance is concerned, was:
“It’s not about you. It’s about the person you are talking to”.
This changed everything. I stopped watching and listening to myself. I stopped getting nervous and I became so much better.
The best business advice I was ever given, was to set up a website. I had no idea how important it was, until I did it, and it boosted my career immensely.
Can ten minutes make a ten thousand dollar difference?
Not so long ago, a colleague introduced me to a client in need of a narrator. His institute was searching for a European voice and for someone who could read an audio book full of names and quotes in German, French, Dutch and other languages. That happens to be my specialty, and I was pretty confident that I could take on the task.
A day later I received an email. The client had listened to my online demos and found my sound to be ‘too commercial’ for this academic endeavor. In other words: Goodbye, Vielen Dank and bonne chance.
Some people might leave it at that and move on to the next best thing. Not me. My response to this client was a short and simple
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You’re searching for a specialist who can handle almost anything.
Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?
Does your family doctor make a great brain surgeon?
Can a novelist write irresistible advertising copy?
Yet, some clients are looking for a be-all, do-it-all freelancer with young, fresh ideas and years of experience.
Is that too much to ask?
Some psychologists say that the fact that we humans are able to hold two diametrically opposed ideas in our mind at the same time, is a true sign of intelligence. Part of me wants to believe that this is indeed correct. The other part thinks it’s
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I don’t think it has made it into the DSM-IV yet (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Give it some time and the American Psychiatric Association might include it in the next edition (together with Orthorexia nervosa, a harmful obsession with health foods).
If your plate or glass always appears to be half empty, it’s tempting to feel hopeless and helpless about the current state of the nation. Of course your freelance career is down in the dumps. It’s the economy, stupid! It has nothing to do with you.
Here’s the thing:
If it has nothing to do with you, it means that you can’t turn it around.
You’re a victim of circumstance. Now go to your doctor and ask for a happy-pill. You might be depressed, but the least you can do is feel good about it.
Remember that no matter where you look, you’ll always find a way to filter your perception of reality to justify your outlook on the world. If you feel that this time of economic crisis is limiting your chances of landing freelance jobs, you’re right. If you feel that the current recession is creating brand new freelance opportunities, you’re right!
What you focus on most, is most likely to materialize. That’s the idea behind the self-fulfilling prophecy.
As a blogging freelancer, I get a lot of emails from colleagues who want to pick my brain. Here’s the number one question people ask me:
How do you beat the recession?
My first inclination is to ask them “What recession?” but that would be insensitive. Of course I know that millions of people are scrambling to get by. I used to be one of them. But feeling overpowered and helpless about it is not going to pull you out of your slump. If you’re giving in and giving up, it’s game over. But that would be too easy. I think you deserve better.
At the risk of sounding like a self-help guru, I do believe that one way to beat this recession is by working from the inside out. Before you do anything, I recommend you look at the way you are perceiving yourself right now.
In Holland we have a saying:
“Als je voor een dubbeltje geboren bent, word je nooit een kwartje.”
Or in plain English:
“If you were born a dime, you’ll never become a quarter.”
It’s another way of saying: You need to know your place and stay there. Well, if that’s really how you feel, what impact could this have on the choices you make?
If you’re applying for a job, and deep-down inside you’re telling yourself “I don’t deserve this” or “I’ll never make it,” aren’t you setting yourself up for failure?
Other people grow up believing: “I can do anything I set my mind to” or “No matter what happens, I’ll always find a solution.” How do you think this impacts the way they lead their lives?
Here’s the remarkable thing about beliefs: it doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not. Yet, beliefs are a powerful driving force behind behavior. Beliefs can give us hope, strength and courage, or they can fence us in and bring us down.
A belief is not some innocent abstract concept without consequences. Some people are prepared to kill and die in the name of whatever they believe in. Americans wouldn’t be celebrating the Fourth of July, if it weren’t for a set of certain powerful beliefs!
Proponents of mind-body medicine like Bernie Siegel, M.D., are convinced that our beliefs can heal or harm our body, and that our state of mind has a measurable impact on our immune system.
If you think that all of this is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, realize that this too, is a belief. Beliefs don’t have to make any sense. Beliefs don’t need to be scientifically sound. Beliefs give people a feeling of certainty. All that matters is that a belief is plausible. The powerful placebo effect is entirely based on this assumption.
Nevertheless, a group of medical students who firmly believed in a logical, analytical approach to medicine, wouldn’t have any of it. How could ordinary thoughts possibly influence biological functions and seemingly autonomous chemical-electrical responses? That’s just a bunch of New Age baloney!
One day, their professor walked in and said: “By a show of hands, how many of you believe that the mind is capable of influencing the body?” Not one single hand went up in the air. Mind over matter wasn’t science. It was science-fiction.
Then the professor started reading one of the more notorious passages from “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence. Soon his audience started to blush. At the end of a few quite explicit paragraphs, he looked up at his students and asked the same question again. “How many of you believe that the mind is capable of influencing the body?” This time, they all raised their hands.
So, let me share one of my empowering beliefs with you. It goes like this:
THERE’S NO ONE LIKE ME
I can already hear some people’s reaction:
“Well, duh… After all that build-up, is that the best you can do? Thank you Captain Obvious, superhero of platitudes! That’s not much of an eye-opener, is it? Of course there’s no one like you (and that’s probably a good thing).”
Well, once you get past the sarcasm and cynicism, consider the following.
Every day, thousands of people are waking up with a dream. Some want to become writers, news anchors or architects. Some want to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis or invent an environmentally friendly way to clean up oil spills.
By the time we enter our teens, most of us have learned that dreams are figments of the imagination and that in order to grow up, we must face “reality.” Isn’t it strange? We start out as this helpless but boundless human being filled with infinite possibilities .
Then the process of social conditioning and conforming sets in. If we wish to please our parents and other role-models, we better be compliant and allow ourselves to be conditioned in order to be worthy of their love, attention and affection. We learn to blend in and not to raise our voice. If we do well, we are rewarded. If we don’t fit the mould, we have to face the consequences. Heaven forbid that we should stand out from the crowd…
When my 8-year old daughter wanted to go to school in a Yankees-shirt while 98% of the kids were wearing Phillies-Jerseys, some parents thought I was nuts. Why would I expose my daughter to ridicule and make her stick out like a sore thumb? What kind of a parent does that?
Here’s the thing: my daughter didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy about the Phillies. She happened to root, root, root for the Yankees. And when she went to school, she soon found out that a few other kids were Yankees fans too. Yes, some classmates made fun of her and others ignored her. But she held her head up high and felt even stronger because she stood up for something she believed in. Months later, the Bronx Bombers defeated the Phillies to win the World Series.
What does that have to do with beating the recession? I’ll tell you!
If you want to be self-employed but you don’t believe in yourself, you are sabotaging your success even before you’re out of the gate. You have to be comfortable with who you are and with what you have to offer (comfortable, not cocky).
If you’re in the service industry, you are your product. If you’re producing a product, you will be identified with it. Whether you like it or not, you are your brand and you better embrace it.
RIDICULE AND MOCKERY
When I set out to become a full-time voice-over professional, I knew the odds were heavily against me. Some people said:
“Do you honestly believe that you’ll make it as an actor? Dream on! The restaurants of New York and LA are filled with thousands of hopeful waiters. All they do is wait and wait for an opportunity that never comes. These days, anyone with a mic and a laptop can claim to be the next Don LaFontaine. The market is saturated. The economy is bad. Why don’t you get a real job, my friend?”
Here’s why I didn’t: because I knew that there’s no one like me. Yes, there are tons of people who do what I do, but they don’t do it the way I do it. It’s just a matter of letting the rest of the world know what I have to offer.
Believe it or not, when I wrote this article, my business was less than twelve months ago. A year before that, I had no ‘corporate identity’ and there was no company website or a blog. I didn’t own expensive equipment and I had no big shot agents ready to represent me. All I had, was a bunch of excited neurons bouncing around in my brain forming thoughts about starting my own business.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I had a number of people who believed in me, and who were willing to lend me a very generous helping hand. But before they could believe in me, I had to believe in myself.
After less than a year I achieved a lot.
My writings are read and reposted by more people than I ever hoped for. I have built a terrific studio and have invested in top-of-the-line equipment. I am recording voice-overs in four languages for clients on all continents.
Now, this list of personal achievements is not some vain attempt to show off. Rather, it’s my way of telling you what could happen if you refuse to give in to recession depression.
The skeptics will tell you “I will believe it when I see it”. I am telling you that you have to believe it before you will see it.
When Disney World opened its doors, Walt Disney was no longer alive. Before the opening ceremony, a reporter asked Walt’s brother Roy:
“Don’t you think it’s a shame that Walt Disney isn’t here to see it all?”
Thank you so much for getting in touch! Before we get down to business, may I ask you a question?
Would you ever bid on a project without knowing the specifics?
Let’s assume you’re in the construction industry. A prospect sends you an email asking:
“How much for a building? Give me your best price!”
Could you honestly answer that question? Of course not. Yet, I receive emails every day, asking:
“How much for a voice-over? Give me your best price!”
… as if we’re talking about the cost of a Big Mac or a quart of milk. Even that differs depending on where you live.
If you were a builder who was asked to come up with an accurate estimate, you’d minimally need to know what purpose the construction would serve (commercial or residential); you’d have to know where it will be located, how big it needs to be, when it needs to be finished etcetera, etcetera.
Voice-over professionals are no different. They’re independent contractors. They need to know what purpose their recording will serve, in what market it will play, how long the script is and how soon you need it (among other things).
Without specifics, any bid is based on pure guesswork and not on the particulars of your project.
“Then why” -you might ask- “are so many of your colleagues willing to plug in just about any number -no questions asked?”
I’ll answer that question with a question.
Would you trust a builder who’d name a price knowing hardly any details of the project? Or would you consider that to be… unprofessional?
The voice-over industry is populated by seasoned pros, hopeful hobbyists and anything in between. With today’s technology, it’s so easy to plug a mic into a computer and hang up a sign saying:
“Voice for Hire. Will work for the experience.”
There are no requirements, no regulations and no standards.
What would happen if the construction industry would operate that way?
Some might argue that that’s an unfair comparison. When builders don’t follow regulations, people could get hurt. No one’s ever going to get harmed by an unprofessional voice-over artist, right?
Think again, and let’s zoom in on Medical Narrations. What would happen if the name of a medication would be mispronounced or if the narrator messes up the dosage? What would happen if a procedure would be read in such a way that it could be misconstrued?
These are extreme examples. I agree. How about something less serious: Audio Tours.
Imagine hundreds of tourists getting stranded on a hot summer’s day because the narrator had instructed them to go left instead of right. Among the group members are elderly people, pregnant women and folks with various medical conditions.
That’s not just a ‘small oversight on the part of an inexperienced narrator’.
That’s a lawsuit in the making!
THE REAL DEAL
Professionals do their homework. When a voice talent gets back to you with specific questions, that person is not trying to be a pain in the neck. It’s a sign of professionalism. It means that you’re not getting the cookie cutter treatment. It’s an indication that this person takes his or her job and your project seriously. Please remember:
Amateurs passively plug in guesstimates. Pros ask questions and give informed quotes.
There’s a reason why the word pro is part of ‘pro-active.’
Think of it this way: your voice-over project is a destination. If your end-client does not provide you with a clear description, how can you be sure that you’ll ever get there? Without the right information, you’re setting yourself up for failure, as well as the talent you’re hoping to hire.
Let’s assume the end-client asks for fruit and you come back with the juiciest orange ever to hang from a tree. It could have been a lucky guess. But what if your client says:
“Oh come on… I didn’t want a boring orange. I had an orange yesterday. You should have brought me an apple. A green apple. From Holland.”
THE BLAME GAME
Now, it’s easy to point the finger and blame your unspecific client. But blame is lame and disempowering. The ball was in your court. What did you do with it?
Not only are you now wasting your own time; you’ve just posted a vague project on a casting site and hundreds of voice-over talents are wasting their time recording a custom demo that’s nothing more than a shot in the dark.
Some of you might respond: “That’s just too bad. It’s part of the industry. It’s always been like that and it will never change. You win some. You lose some. And if you don’t like it, go do something else.”
That might be true, but does it really have to be that way? It’s the twenty-first century. Are we still running the industry based on these inefficient, expensive, last century old-school ideas?
IT ALL ADDS UP
Please consider this: how long will it take you to weed through all these shot-in-the-dark submissions? You might end up picking a very affordable talent, but -thinking of your hourly rate- how much did all that weeding just cost you and your company? Don’t you have better things to do than listen to auditions that totally miss the mark?
If you expect talent to be on target, give them a fair chance to hit the bull’s-eye.
Tell them what you’ll be listening for in as much detail as possible. If not for the sake of the voice talent, do it for your own sake. You’ll get much better results in less time.
Here are a few other tips. Don’t worry, they won’t cost you anything!
• Language. Don’t just put “Spanish” if you really need a speaker from Chile. Otherwise you’ll get accents from wherever Spanish is spoken. (more on accents in this article)
• Age. When you need a young and energetic sound and you’re not clueing us in, don’t be surprised to receive demos from mellow middle-aged matriarchs and serious sounding seniors (as well as from blogging voice-overs who love alliteration).
• Budget. You say that you want to hire an experienced voice talent. Do you really think you’ll get one for a hundred bucks? Try this experiment: go to a jewelry store and shop for a 24 carat diamond. When you’ve picked out a nice rock, tell them you wish to get it at the price of a cubic zirconia. Let me know how that worked out for you.
I assume that you take pride in your work, just as we take pride in ours. Don’t devalue what we do. Believe me: it’s not as easy as it sounds.
• Expertise. If you don’t want to pay a pro, why don’t you ask Sam in Receiving to record that power point presentation you’re about to give to potential investors. It’s only the future of your company that’s at stake.
Cindy the secretary has a nice voice too. Perhaps she’s willing to do that phone greeting that will be heard by thousands of customers every day. It’s not our job to determine how you want your company image to be perceived by the rest of the world.
• Editing. If you expect a talent to deliver clean, edited audio, don’t assume that someone will throw that in for free. First of all, editing is a special skill and not every talent has mastered that skill.
Secondly, it takes an experienced editor at least twice as long to clean up the audio as the time needed to record it. People deserve to be compensated for their time and expertise. Aren’t you?
• Payment. Don’t be surprised if we ask you to pay 50% upfront and the remainder upon receiving the recording. Some colleagues won’t record a word without getting paid in full first. You see, we haven’t established a relationship yet, and most of us have been burned in the past. Did that band you hired for the office party require money upfront? Did the hotel ask you for a deposit at the time you reserved that conference room?
Don’t take it personally. We run a voice-over business; not a collection agency. We give you our word (literally) that we’ll deliver the goods. In fact: we will WOW you! Please PayPal your down payment so we can get the ball rolling.
If you happened to detect a slight sarcastic undertone in my writing, please know that I’m aware of that. It’s a bad habit and I’m working on it. Just not today.
Secondly: not all voice-seekers are created equal, and it’s not right to put all of you into the same category. You’ve got to make a living too and make your boss happy by hiring the best talent at a reasonable price.
I’m confident that we can meet in the middle, and I’m committed to making your product or service shine as if it were my own. You and I are in the same boat:
Happy customers are our best credentials.
Testimonials from satisfied clients are stories that can never be accurately reflected in the most detailed of rate sheets.
Quality will always be remembered long after the bill has been paid.
“It will look so good on your resume” “This might lead to regular work” “We’re a start-up business” “It’s such a small project” “This is an Indie film” “It will only take a few minutes” “You’re new and we want to give you a chance” “Even if you don’t get the job, it’s still great practice” “You’d be perfect for this… I wish we could afford you”
If you’ve been an active job-seeking member of the voice-over community for… about two weeks, I’m pretty sure these ‘teasers’ have been thrown out at you a few times. They’re getting old quickly, don’t you think? Or are you still falling for them? Be honest!
These days, clients are getting even more efficient by leaving these phrases out. Now it’s just:
“Manhattan-based attorney’s office in need of a male voice for their website. Budget $100.”
Are you kidding me? These attorneys won’t even pick up the phone for 100 bucks. So, why do they expect us to work for a hand-out? Is it perhaps because many of us call ourselves voice-over ARTISTS?
MISCONCEPTION ONE: Artists don’t work. They just enjoy their hobby.
My wife, a professional flutist, had just finished an exhausting wedding gig: a ninety minute Mass followed by a two-hour cocktail party. All in all she had had two breaks: one to rush from the church to the banquet hall, and a ten minute bathroom break during the reception.
When she came back to get a refreshment, some guests looked at her as if she was stealing from the buffet. One of them even walked up to her and whispered: “Aren’t you supposed to be playing?”
At the end of the engagement, the mother of the groom walked her out and said it had been “lovely”. She sighed: “I used to play the flute. It must be wonderful…. being able to play music all day long.”
When my wife discretely asked for the paycheck that should have been handed to her at the beginning of the day, the groom’s mother looked shocked. She said: “Are you telling me you’re actually getting paid for this?”
Some people just don’t get it, do they? Whether we’re musicians, writers, web designers or voice-over artists, the opportunity to do the things we’re passionate about, should be enough, don’t you think? Well, why don’t we ask Alex Rodriguez about that? Perhaps he’d be satisfied with getting the keys to the Big Apple and a fat World Series ring.
MISCONCEPTION TWO:All you need in this profession is a computer, a microphone and an Internet connection, and you’re in voice-over business. Small investment. Huge ROI(and you can even do it in your PJ’s!).
Well, well…haven’t we heard that one before? If it were that easy, tell me who is paying for your:
hours spent finding work
invoices that never get paid
… and all other joys that come with running your own business?
Remember, all of the above (and more) has to come out of that job that you almost accepted for $100. Do you even know how much money you need to make in a year, just to break even? How about in a month? How much per week… per day? That’s just to cover costs. How about making a profit? How about saving a little for a rainy day or for college?
If all of this is a little overwhelming and intimidating, let me reassure you. This does not have to be your life! If you don’t have the drive now, do not waste any more time. If you’re not prepared to run your career as a for-profit business, you still have plenty of options… to name a few:
1. Stop posing as a pro and leave the market place to those who are willing to be professional. Stay an amateur instead. No pressure. 2. Get a ‘regular’ job with benefits
However, should you decide to become a professional solopreneur, start acting like one! Don’t do anything else before you take the next step: figure out what your basic minimum hourly rate must be, based on cost, billable hours, and the profit you’re comfortable with.
RUNNING THE NUMBERS
Of course it would be a little presumptuous to tell you what to do. Some people just don’t want to spoil their hopes and dreams by facing reality. These are the folks that purchased a house they can’t afford because they thought they could swing it. And now they’re paying for it.
Some people are more comfortable playing the victim or playing the blame-game. Others use excuses such as: “I was never any good with numbers”.
Sorry, but I’m not buying it!
If you’re not a numbers person, ask a friend to help you out; find a mentor, hire a pro… There are business coaches out there who’d love to have your voice on their AVR in exchange for their advice. It’s often better to have an impartial opinion from someone who is not in love with your dream. Have a business lunch with them, and bring your calculator and a note pad.
Third, make a small investment and get “The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed“ by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan. This was the first book about money matters that I actually enjoyed reading. It felt like I was getting advice from friends who knew exactly what situation I was in. Joe and Denise offer very practical, down-to-earth strategies in a language anyone can understand, and they’re actually very funny too!
So…. next time a voice-seeker holds up one of those carrots I started this article with, imagine yourself walking into a restaurant and telling the waiter:
“I can’t really pay you full-price, but if your food is any good, I’ll be sure to spread the word.”
Please let me know how that worked out for you.
And if that did not go over so well, try going into Home Depot, hoping to get 75% off that professional pneumatic drill.
“And why would we do that?” asks the manager.
And then you utter the magic words:
“Well, it’s only for a small project….”
And finally, would you be willing to do me one last favor, please?
Once you’ve figured out your desired and minimum hourly rate, look at that $100 voice-over project again, that you were just considering. You know, the one that “will give you great exposure”.
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