Most of Hollywood is closed for business. Studios are struggling to survive. Word has it that insurers are unlikely to cover productions for COVID-19 cases when business resumes.
Research by the Society of London Theatre indicates that 70% of UK theaters will run out of money by the end of the year. As you probably know, Broadway has been shut down until the end of January 2021.
Thanks to the Corona virus, thousands of on-camera and stage actors are twiddling their thumbs in desperation. One of them is Mykle McCoslin. She’s also an acting coach, writer, and president of the Houston-Austin SAG AFTRA local. She knows she won’t be returning to the stage or set any day soon. So, what can she do? Mykle says her agents might have the answer:
“Voice over is something that my agents have been emailing me about, saying: You’ve got to do this! Now is the time to learn how to build your own studio and be a professional voice over actor.”
But Mykle was in no way prepared to jump on the VO bandwagon:
“I’ve auditioned from my phone, but I am in no way proficient with the equipment. When my agents contacted me about an ethernet connection and Source Connect, I was freaking out.”
Within the first hours of the webinar, Mykle had over 1K views, 31 shares, and 160 comments. Less than two weeks later we are at 2.2K views and counting. Bear in mind that most actors who tuned in had most likely never heard of Whittam or Shepherd. They were just interested in the topic. What does this tell us?
It confirms what I hear from my agents, students, and on-camera colleagues. Thanks to COVID-19, many more people are thinking of a voice over career than ever before. Who can blame them? But, this does beg the question:
Should we be worried or excited?
Before I answer that, let me tell you that if you are currently a professional voice over (emphasis on professional), the webinar didn’t cover anything you wouldn’t already know. It addressed basic questions like:
What equipment do you need?
How can you create a home studio on a budget?
What types of voice over work are there?
Where do you find VO jobs?
How do you audition?
Do you need a demo, and if so, who can help?
Based on the questions that came in, one thing became abundantly clear:
Drama school does not prepare stage and on-camera actors for the demanding and uncertain world of voice overs.
Most actors are unaware of and intimidated by the technology required. If I were an employee at Guitar Center and one of these stage actors came in, hoping to start a VO career, I could literally sell him the cheapest or most expensive USB mic and get away with it. No questions asked.
I’m not saying that to put anyone down. Most voice actors would be totally out of their comfort zone in a television studio or on a film set. It’s understandable that their on-camera colleagues are not very familiar with the ins and outs of VO.
WHAT NON-VOICE ACTORS DON’T KNOW
Before you’re getting alarmed that thousands of out of work on-camera and stage actors are all coming for our jobs, please keep this in mind:
– Most of them have no setup enabling them to work from home, and if they do, it’s probably insufficient (just think of the Broadway actor in her tiny New York apartment without any soundproofing) – Most of them don’t even know what equipment they should buy; they may not even have the funds – They’ve never heard of DAW’s, noise floor, presets, self-noise, Neumann, polar patterns, MKH 416’s, high-pass filters, et cetera – They only have acting reels but no VO demos – They may have VO credits, but have no idea how to properly record and edit audio, or how to set up a session for remote direction – They have no long-time relationships in the VO world, nor do they have an established network of VO clients – Some of their agents have no idea where to find VO-jobs – Many of them will struggle with the lack of physicality in voice over work, the claustrophobic working conditions, and the anti-social aspect of the job – SAG-AFTRA members will go after union jobs, and most of the VO work is non-union – The lower VO rates, status, and lack of exposure may not seem attractive to on-camera, on-stage talent – Like most people, on-camera and stage actors underestimate what it takes to have a successful and sustainable career in VO
Tom Hanks once said:
“There are times when my diaphragm is sore at the end of a four- or five-hour recording session, just because the challenge is to wring out every possible option for every piece of dialogue. It’s every incarnation of outrage and surprise and disappointment and heartache and panic and being plussed and nonplussed.”
He said this about his third Toy Story sequel:
“It’s an imaginary stretch. To the point of exhaustion. Because you’re only using your voice, you can’t go off mic, you cannot use any of your physicality. You have to imagine that physicality. In a lot of ways that’s the antithesis of what you do as an actor.”
What I like about these quotes is that they show respect for the challenging work we do as voice actors. You and I know that what we do is not as easy as it sounds, but I think many of us feel undervalued and not as appreciated as the people who walk the red carpet and get all the goodie bags. Not because we stink at what we do, but because we’re the invisibles of the industry. Some have noted that even SAG-AFTRA seems to take our profession more seriously these days (but that’s another blog post).
THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING A TRAINED STAGE ACTOR
So, what do on-camera and stage actors have going for them when it comes to voice overs?
First and foremost: acting chops.
I happen to believe that the majority of people advertising themselves as “voice actors” are in fact “voice overs.” Voice overs can read a script with a certain authority and clarity, but that doesn’t mean they possess any dramatic acting skills. They are pretty good at reading a script, but not at embodying the text or the character they are paid to portray. It’s out of their comfort zone.
In a way, many voice overs are one-trick ponies like news readers, school teachers, or former radio jocks. You can tell within the first few seconds where they got their start. There’s no emotional range, depth, or color, whereas an on-stage actor is a chameleon, a shape-shifter who is able to act out different characters with subtle but essential changes in the placement of the body and the intonation of the voice.
To use a musical metaphor: most voice overs are like a piano. The sound they produce is adequate, consistent, and rather one-dimensional. An on-camera or stage actor can sound like many different instruments, performing a huge repertoire.
On-camera and stage actors have another advantage: their physicality. Whereas many voice overs are pinned down to their chairs inside a small space, their more dramatic colleagues are not afraid to get into character, twisting their bodies and faces into pretzels to become the person they pretend to be.
Because they are used to learning scripts, they can memorize their lines and sound like they’re spontaneously speaking instead of reading off a piece of paper. It’s the critical distinction between sounding natural and unnatural.
Once again, I’m not saying this to put anyone down. You can’t judge a mime for his inability to carry a tune because he was never trained to be a singer (unless that mime purposefully advertises his singing skills).
Speaking of vocal skills, while many voice overs are struggling to maintain vocal health and stamina, their on-stage counterparts are used to performing up to eight shows a week. From the onset, they already have the chops to record an audio book for five to six hours a day without damaging their vocal folds.
In what other areas can an on-camera/stage actor edge out a voice actor? It greatly depends on someone’s status and reputation. The problem is, voice actors are invisible. Stage actors are anything but, and can use that notoriety to their advantage.
A-listers can make a killing recording commercials by leveraging their celebrity status, and because of the crisis we’re in, even celebs are becoming more affordable. Having said that, no job is ever guaranteed.
Daniel Stern is known for his roles in films like “Hannah and her Sisters,” “City Slickers,” and the first two “Home Alone” films. He is also the narrator for the “The Wonder Years” and he’s the voice of Dilbert in the animated TV series.
One day, Daniel got a script for a voice-over audition, and his mouth practically dropped to the floor when he read the specs:
“Must sound like Daniel Stern”
He’s thinking: “Piece of cake. This one’s in the bag!”
So, Stern goes to his booth; records a demo; sends it in…
…and doesn’t get the part!
Another thing invisible actors can learn from their visible counterparts is building a professional presence. On-camera actors have no problem putting themselves out there. I’m painting with broad strokes here, but it is my observation that voice overs tend to be more introverted, and on-camera/stage actors tend to be more extroverted.
We live in a time where branding is more important that ever. You’ve got to be visible in order to be noticed. A strong social media presence is required if you wish to play the game at the highest level. And if you want people to hire you, they need to be able to find you. Otherwise you’re a dime a dozen.
Back to my original question:
On-camera and stage actors getting into voice overs. Am I worried or excited? Should I feel threatened or honored?
I personally welcome my on-stage and on-camera colleagues to the voice over business, in part because their professionalism forces me to up my game. I know that most of them will outperform me in the acting department, but without a quiet home studio (that doesn’t’ sound like one), their auditions won’t be competitive yet.
And while they’re gaining experience recording and editing audio, I can take online improv classes, redo my website and demos, and increase my social media presence.
In these uncertain times there’s one thing I know for sure.
You can learn a lot in a short amount of time, but you cannot fake the number of years you’ve been in business. Experience, expertise, and integrity are valuable commodities that can’t be bought or rushed, no matter how famous or unknown you are.
I firmly believe that there’s an abundance of jobs waiting for anyone with talent, who is willing to work hard and play fair.
And together we’ll eventually get past this crisis because it makes us so much stronger.
After a brief but beneficent stay in the hospital, I want to take a minute or two, to share some of my worries and concerns as I mentally prepare myself for what lies ahead.
Thank you, by the way, for all your support and well wishes. I got the sweetest messages from all over the world, and I feel enormously grateful for your kindness!
Now let’s return to my soap box.
One of the things I worry about is the general level of willful ignorance among those calling themselves voice-over professionals. Increasingly, people without training, experience, or common sense, are populating Facebook groups for voice-overs, asking basic questions.
They have no idea where to start, where to find jobs, how to set up a simple studio, let alone what to charge. They can’t wait to jump into the ocean, but have no idea how to swim.
These ignoramuses write things like:
“I’ve just completed a six-week voice-over training. I think I’m ready to start auditioning, but I have no idea how to market myself. Please help!”
It turns out that this so-called training consisted of one evening a week, spread out over a six-week period. If that’s enough to get a serious career started, it must be magical! However, no one bothered to even touch upon the idea of marketing, so I doubt this program was as comprehensive as the brochure said it would be.
Two things are really bothering me:
The fact that someone is making money convincing impressionable people they can become a VO in six sessions
The fact that people are still falling for these stupid schemes
USE YOUR NOGGIN
Whatever happened to critical thinking? Whatever happened to thoroughly researching something you’re interested in before you fork over a small fortune? Does it really take an extraordinary amount of brain power to imagine that a six-evening introduction might not be enough to break into a very competitive market?
Could this be a sign that the current wave of anti-intellectualism has overtaken our community? I know that for some of you faith and gut feeling play an important role in your decisions. However, our creator has purposely endowed us with gray matter unlike any other species on the planet. Wouldn’t it be sinful to not use it?
I know this is a huge generalization, but based on what I see in social media, critical thinking has left the building, and common sense has gone fishing, while more and more people expect the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.
This year I made a conscious effort to no longer help and support people who aren’t willing to learn how to swim, and I implore you to do the same. “Isn’t that a bit harsh,” you may ask?
I don’t think so.
All successful VO’s have at least one thing in common:
They are self-sufficient.
EARN YOUR PLACE
They study up, and by that I don’t mean asking others to answer basic questions for them on Facebook. That’s not studying. That’s asking others to do your homework.
Please don’t tell me that I’m mean and egotistical by not willing to share information. I’ve been sharing information in this blog for over a decade! Free of charge.
I got my start in the late eighties-early nineties, and there were no resources available to the aspiring voice over. In Holland (where I grew up), there were only five or six people who booked all the VO jobs, and most of them were stage actors. There were no online tutorials, educational videos, VO coaches, or books about the business. At that time it made sense to ask those who did what I wanted to do for advice. But only after I had exhausted all my research!
These days, you can pretty much find the answer to any voice over related question by doing a quick Google search. If you’re too lazy to even do that, you’re not cut out to be an independent contractor, and you don’t deserve my help.
We don’t teach babies how to walk by holding them up by their arms and dragging them around the room. That way they’ll never develop strong muscles needed to find their own way. Same thing with voice over newbies.
I also want to encourage you to make smart business-related decisions that benefit not only yourself, but our community as a whole. Be more discerning! Stop working with companies that do not have (y)our best interest at heart. You know, the companies that turn your talent into a commodity, where the lowest bidder ends up working for the cheapest client. Do not enable them to increase their influence!
Stop bidding on projects without knowing how much to charge. Don’t settle for a full buyout in perpetuity without proper compensation. If you don’t have a strong backbone, ask an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Support the VO Agent Alliance. Join the World Voices Organization. Sign up for the Freelancers Union.It’s free!
And if you’re a member, keep pushing SAG-AFTRA to take voice actors just as seriously as the other actors they represent. Not just because COVID suddenly opened their eyes to the work we do as professionals.
Above all: stay vigilant!
BE THE CHANGE
Don’t hide your head in the sand hoping rates will magically go up, and “the market” will take care of itself. It doesn’t. Things get worse when people with good intentions sit still, hoping others will lift the first finger.
Question what you read and what you hear, especially on social media. Always take the source of the information into account.
Be clear on how you want to spend your time. There are too many forces competing for your attention, and most of them are useless distractions.
The best chance of changing other people’s behavior is to change what they react to, namely your own behavior, so:
Use your brain, and become the colleague you most want to be.
That’s the person I’d like to meet next time we see each other in person, or online!
In May they pulled something off that many of us thought would never work. An online voice over conference that was as fun as it was informative. Those of us who took part were left with one overwhelming feeling:
WE WANT MORE!
For the North American edition Hugh and Peter teamed up with J. Michael Collins, the man who runs Gravy for the Brain USA (and so much more). If you’re unfamiliar with Gravy for the Brain (GFTB), let me give you the bullet point version.
In spite of its playful name, I think of GFTB as the number one platform for those who are serious about becoming a voice over and having a successful and sustainable career. And no, I’m not getting paid to say this!
Since 2008 GFTB has assisted and inspired over forty thousand voice overs with a plethora of certificated voice over courses allowing students to learn at their own pace, hosted by industry experts. Coming back from VO Atlanta, Peter and Hugh wanted to create a UK conference which gave new talent and ideas a place to flourish and change the voice over industry. That became the One Voice Conference (OVC). Now in its third year, this conference is coming to America!
I’ve interviewed Hugh in the past, and I have an interview with Peter in the pipeline, so I turned to J. Michael Collins to give me the lowdown on the OVC USA (as always, everything in BLUE is a hyperlink). Before I asked my questions, there’s something I wanted him to clear up. I wrote the following email:
Let me start with an admission: I don’t know how to properly address you.
Do I say: “Dear JMC?”
Do I say: “Dear Michael,” “Dear J. Michael,” or “Dear Mike?”
I need a little guidance, please.
He wrote back:
Thanks for your message.
J. Michael, JMC, or That Guy Who Smells Like Lobster are all acceptable. 🙂
So, I said to That Guy Who Smells Like Lobster:
– We’ve had the UK edition of the One Voice Conference in May with attendees from all over the world, including the USA. For those who have attended the One Voice UK conference, is it still worthwhile to go to the US edition?
The US edition is still going to provide tremendous value. We have a vastly different lineup than the UK edition. I don’t think there is much cross-over at all. We’ve also brought out people who don’t generally come out to speak at conferences like Christian Lanz, Portia Scott, Christina Milizia, Joe Zieja, and Pat Brady. These people are just not “on the circuit” as much as the speakers that we usually see, including myself. It’s good to have a more diverse group.
Diversity is something we have a commitment to at this particular conference. We feel it’s important that the community of speakers and presenters is reflective of what the community of voice talent is like these days. As we all know, in the past ten or twenty years there has been a sea change of more diverse voices. Voices that look more like America now are being hired much more regularly than they were when the industry was much less inclusive.
If you go back twenty or thirty years it was ninety five percent white and very heavily male. Today it’s just incredibly diverse and if anything, the minority voices and diverse voices are having access to opportunities that they’ve never had in the past. So, we think our lineup reflects that. We continue to add new presenters, so keep your eye on the website and on the presenter roster to see who we add in the coming weeks.
– Is it for American/Canadian talent only?
No. I am personally going to be presenting on the international VO market for talent who live elsewhere. That session in and of itself will be helpful. We have a handful of speakers from all over the world. We have speakers from Germany, from France, from the UK. However, the content that we have designed for this conference is certainly North American-centric.
– As you know, there are quite a few VO gatherings aimed at newcomers who simply wish to explore the business. Is One Voice USA one of those conferences, or is there a barrier to entry for OVC USA?
There is no barrier to entry for OV USA. What we would say is that it’s our mission to make our conference focused primarily on professional level content. That doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to newer talent. It just means that when newer talent attend a conference like One Voice, they can expect to hear content that is geared towards people who want to have full-time careers in voice over, and content that’s a little bit more detailed and a little more in-depth in terms of taking your business from a fledgling state into a state where it is what you do for a living.
While we believe that all the content we have is going to be relevant and helpful for people who are new to the business, our focus is on attracting pros to the conference because we believe that the content we’re trying to offer will help people who are already full-time professional voice actors, advance their careers to a level beyond where it is currently.
– Tell me about the keynote speakers. Who are they, on what basis did you select them, and what will they be talking about?
We have two keynotes, and we wanted to approach it from both the agency side, from the other side of the glass, the side that’s hiring, and also from the performance side.
Our agency side keynote isPortia Scott who is the head of voice over for Coast to Coast Talent Group in LA and New York. She’s one of the real power agents in the business and has quite an interesting story to tell about her career and her life in the voice over industry.
She has helped to take that agency to where it is now, to make it one of the big players in the highest level of voice over. Of course she’ll be talking about what you need to do to attract that level of representation, and to get on the radar of the very highest end LA-New York Union agencies.
Our performance keynote is Tara Strong. She really needs no introduction if you are at all into animation, cartoons, and video games. Just go and look at her IMDB page. It’s about two and a half miles long. She has one of the most impressive resumes of any character voice actor in history. You can make a fair argument that she’s maybe the leading female character voice actor in the industry today, and in many ways of all time.
Tara’s going to talk about her journey and what you can do if that’s the path you set yourself on. While she’s heavily focused on the character side of the business, I think the nuggets that she will be offering to our attendees will also be germane to any other genre. There is a core means of establishing yourself, of getting noticed, of making yourself a presence, and honing your craft to a level that is going to be compelling to buyers, that translates from genre to genre.
– According to the website, some speakers are “to be announced.” Does that mean there will be a few surprises, or are you actively looking for additional speakers?
We’re not actively looking for additional speakers and we’re not open for submissions. However, if you think you have a particularly unique idea or a slant on something and you’d like to approach us, we wouldn’t close that off completely. As far as the roster of speakers is concerned, we might have a few surprises up our sleeve. There’s one in particular that we’re working on that I can’t talk about yet, but if we would be able to get him or her, that would be fantastic!
– Part of the fun of going to these conferences is the social aspect. The meals. The parties. The adult beverages. How are you going to make up for that in an online setting?
Obviously, we’d rather be there in person with everybody. I’m a big believer that hugs are going to make a comeback as soon as we have a vaccine. In the short term we have to do the best we can with what we’ve got.
One of the things that was just really impressive to me about the One Voice UK conference were the socials, and the outside of content-content where people got together and shared adult beverages over Zoom. You don’t think it would work, but I’ll tell you, when we’ve been isolated from each other as much as we have, this is a wonderful loving connected community. Even over a Zoom call! Those hangouts, those socials that we do, they were full, they were fun, and they were lively.
We’re doing our best to make this a social event, and not just a content event. Hopefully, we’re paving some new territory in giving people some added value; giving them a chance to vent and connect, and to be human again in the current situation.
– The One Voice UK conference was a huge success, and yet it was criticized for a lack of diversity because most speakers were male and Caucasian. How have you addressed that for the USA edition?
There has been a lack of diversity in the voice over industry, but that has been changing dramatically over the past few years. It’s certainly a legacy of the industry. We are committed to being a part of the solution. We’re committed to recognizing the privilege that a lot of us who have been in this business, have. We’re committed to addressing that, and to being as inclusive as we can be.
We feel that the lineup that we’ve put together is balanced. It’s at least fifty-fifty or possibly even slightly more female than male. We have substantial representation from the black community, from the latinx community, from the LBGTQ plus community. We believe that as North America becomes more diverse, that our industry will by necessity become more diverse. We’re already seeing that in practice.
On a personal note, many of my dearest friends in the business are diverse, minority talent, and LGBTQ plus talent. My lead audio engineer on my JMC demosproduction team is from that community. I hope some day we get to a place where we don’t need modifiers anymore, where we’re just people. I know that’s Utopian, and I know that can be interpreted as a very privileged thing for an older successful white male to say. But I believe we’re capable of getting there. And if there’s anything you think we can do better, we’re all ears. Always!
– The UK conference is usually followed by the One Voice Awards. Are you planning on having a USA competition as well?
We’re not planning to have a One Voice Awards USA at this time.
– Did you have to find new sponsors for this event? Will there be giveaways? Will JMC Demos be involved?
We have a lot of the same sponsors coming back from the UK conference: Bodalgo, Source Elements, and JMC Demos is a sponsor as well. And yes, we will be doing some giveaways and add as much value as possible. I imagine someone will be winning a demo from me, and probably some coaching as well. Other sponsors will be offering some things up as well.
– Some colleagues believe we have enough voice overs in the world today. Too many, perhaps. Why should a conference like this enable more people to join a profession in times of so much competition? In ten years, half of our work is going to be replaced by text to speech software anyway.
I couldn’t disagree more with the premise that we have enough voice overs in the world today. There are certainly more than enough people calling themselves “professional voice actors.” I always throw the number out there that in North America there probably are two hundred thousand talent calling themselves “professional voice actors,” but the fact of the matter is that it’s five or ten thousand of them who are consistently booking. If you really drill deep I would imagine that you would find that it’s about a thousand voices that book most of the work. So, I’m a big believer that the myth of competition or saturation is just a myth.
I have coached and watched enough new talent come into the business who have the chops and who have built incredible careers for themselves in the past ten, fifteen years. There is plenty of work out there, and while there are certain areas of voice over, especially those that are more glamorous like animation, TV narration, documentary, promo, movie trailer…. those genres are areas where there is a finite amount of work.
You can say that there probably is more quality talent than there is work to be had in those genres. So, you do have to work three times as hard. You have to stand out ten times as much. You really have to play the game well, and make sure that you take every step correctly. And even then there is no guarantee that you’re going to crack the door in those genres because there is a lot of competition and there’s only so much work to go around. Video games is maybe getting to the point now where it’s exploding to where there’s more of a balance, but in genres that are more glamorous and sought after, there does tend to be a bit more of an imbalance in favor of the client. But that’s not true everywhere.
Commercial work is glamorous and many people want to do commercials. We’ve seen commercial rates come down over the years largely because of the fact that technology has made talent more accessible. What we’ve now seen is -and the current crisis has proven this point – that those rates have hit a floor. I don’t know that there is going to be a substantial bounce back, but I certainly think they’re not going to go any lower.
The reason is that eventually, talent just won’t do the jobs if the pressure on rates continues to be strong. There is certainly a glut of talent wanting to do commercial work, but with new media, social media advertising, with web ads and so on and so forth, there is more content than there has ever been. There is a tremendous amount of work out there. There are many talent who are chasing it, and in my mind it is more accessible than perhaps some of those other genres that I talked about earlier.
The other side of the coin is non-broadcast narration. When you start getting into corporate narration, explainers, eLearning, medical narration, and to some degree audio books, you have a higher barrier to entry. In my opinion you have to have a graduate or post-graduate level of facility with language to be competitive in corporate narration. Not every talent has that. And so we found over the years that rates for corporate, eLearning, for medical haven’t been going down. They’re going up because there is a supply-demand imbalance in favor of the talent. There is still more work out there than there is quality talent to do it. In some fields in the current crisis, eLearning and medical have just exploded. The amount of work out there is staggering. Even talent that is brand new is finding demand for their services.
So, no, I don’t think we have enough voice overs in the world today. If anything, we need more. I think we need them to understand where they’re going to have the best chance of success. Not everybody is going to do Dreamworks or Disney animation. Not everybody is going to be booking national commercial work every day. However, the amount of content out there is only going to grow. The need for VO’s is going to grow as well. What’s important is that talent who is going to get into the business do it the right way. That entails building a strong sustainable business that does not involve working on platforms where the rates are burnout rates, where you can only make substantial money when you work ninety hours a week.
You have to focus on core training, making sure you’re prepared before you do a demo. As you know, I’m a demo producer and I will be the first person to tell somebody: “Please, do not get a demo until you’re ready.” An ethical demo producer is not going to take your demo unless you are ready to go out and be competitive.
Do the coaching. Do the training. Sometimes that starts with small things. At the One Voice Conference and Gravy for the Brain we think we have great content and that’s a fantastic resource for people to start with. Do that before you get a coach. Then a year down the line, get a demo. Don’t do it all in one go right off the bat. Just do it the right way and you’ll be much happier and successful in the long run.
Look, there are people making money on low-budget platforms, and that’s where they should live. That’s where their talent slates them. But if you want to make this a serious career, the best advice is to follow the tried and true path. To get the training that’s appropriate. To make sure that you get a legitimate evaluation from somebody who will tell you that it’s not right for you because it’s not right for everybody.
I have worked with talent who have glorious voices, but this business just isn’t for them because the acting isn’t there. They’re not able to connect with copy. They’re unable to inhabit a character and form something other than them, within themselves.
In any case, there is plenty of room in this business for new talent. I don’t think that in ten years our work is going to be replaced by text to speech software, but I will tell you that if I were one of the low-budget talent on Fiverr, or if I were doing the three-cent eLearning for people on other continents, or the twenty dollar explainer videos, I would be scared because the AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology is going to get good enough that clients who are focused on price and not on quality, will use it.
It will be super cheap and it will ultimately kill off the low end of the industry. At the end of the day, we’re going to look back and say that AI was a good thing for professional voice over because I think what it’s going to do is it’s going to solve our lowball problem. It’s going to get rid of the side of the industry that undercuts the competition and works for rates they shouldn’t, and it’s going to replace it with robots.
Clients who are after quality and who are after high-end professional content will always be looking for human actors because for them it’s not about price. It’s about messaging. It’s about getting it right. Remember: the best AI can ever be is as good as we are. It can never be better. The human voice will always be at least its equal, and in most cases it will be better. AI doesn’t scare me. In fact, I welcome our new robot overlords and I think that they will ultimately do a service to the industry by cleaning out the lowest end of the business.
the author presenting at the OVC UK 2020
– A ticket to the UK conference gave the attendees access to the archive of previous conferences. Will the attendees of One Voice USA get that same deal, access to the UK archive?
Absolutely! What you’re really getting is access to content from four conferences for the price of one!
-What do you hope a conference like this will ultimately achieve for the voice over community, and why is that important to you?
It’s what I hope any conference will achieve for the voice over community: providing quality educational content that will allow the talent who attend to advance their careers. I believe that we’re bringing in fresh faces, people who are up and comers, the next generation of stars in our industry, in addition to some of the established legends that we always want to see at these things. This is the freshest lineup that has ever been put forth in a conference. I believe that the perspective the attendees are going to receive will be different and new. That’s the key selling point to me.
Prior to the One Voice UK conference I made a comment to somebody that I was supporting it to fly the flag for Gravy for the Brain, and One Voice, and because I love Hugh and Peter. They do right by the community, but I didn’t believe that virtual conference could work very well.
Well, they proved me wrong! It was virtually seamless. It was a remarkable coming together of technology and humanity to create an experience that was so far above and beyond of what I thought could be done. I was just left with mouth agape at the quality that it offered. So, I’m just so excited to bring that to US community now with the Reattendance platform in combination with Zoom. Just to give the American community a taste of how good this can be, virtually.
Yes, we’d always rather be there hugging each other, toasting to each other’s success. But what they were able to accomplish at the UK conference was remarkable and I think that we’re going to be able to do the same thing for the USA. We are going to offer an experience that -if nothing else- will at least scratch the itch and prove cathartic for those of us who so desperately miss our voice over friends and don’t get to play in the same sandbox the way that we usually do because of the current crisis.
I hope it’s the last virtual one, but certainly an experience to remember. And get this. It’s more affordable than an in-person conference because a large portion of those ticket prices are going to the overhead. The bottom line is that hotels and conference centers charge astronomical fees for every little thing. Here you’re getting in the door for under two hundred dollars, and you’re getting content that, at a live conference would be a six, seven hundred dollar ticket.
To me it’s a no-brainer, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it!
J. Michael Collins with lobster mask
Many thanks to J. Michael, JMC, or That Guy Who Smells Like Lobster. If you’re looking for an award-winning demo producer and overall standup guy to guide you in your VO career, click here.
The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house.
And finally, I’m happy to say that I will also be contributing to this conference. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Hope you will join me!
In the midst of the devastating Corona crisis, it is time to have a party!
Let’s all go to Casa Ciccarelli in Canada, hang up some garlands, bring out our silly hats, and throw some confetti because…
Voices dot com has reached One Billion Registered Users!
Apologies…. make that One Million users*.
The news sounds just as pathetic as the McDonald’s sign saying “billions and billions served.” It still means they’re selling indigestion and obesity on a plastic plate. Just on a grander scale.
According to VDC, the top 5 countries with the most users are… (drumroll please):
The USA, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines.
Call me cynical, but could this meteoric rise in numbers have anything to do with the effects of the current pandemic? You know, the sheer number of people out of a job. The poor impressionables who are suddenly forced to work from home and have no idea what to do with themselves?
“Oh wait, when all else fails, I could always become… a voice over! Let’s find that Snowball microphone that is gathering dust.”
Is VDC cashing in on a global crisis?
Or is that a dark thought coming from a notorious VDC critic? Let’s ask David Ciccarelli, CEO and co-founder of Voices.com. He said the following in a press release:
“These times are challenging and Voices.com is a solution for many of our customers in their time of need,” (…)Aspiring voice talent have been registering in record numbers, and, not surprisingly, professional voice talent who have invested in remote recording studio technologies are benefiting from the increase in demand.”
Do you want to know what I think?
VDC is one of the least transparent voice over service providers on the planet, and is one of the best at putting itself at the top of search engines. I take whatever they tout with a huge grain of Himalayan salt. This includes any numbers they provide because they cannot be independently verified.
Secondly, have you noticed a sudden “increase in demand” for voice overs?
THE COLLAPSING MARKET
Has your local car dealership called for a commercial lately? Or Holiday Hair?
How about the tourism and hospitality industry?
Did you get a call to do any airline adverts, or promote any theme parks or live events recently?
I didn’t think so.
Businesses and service providers can’t advertise themselves out of a pandemic-induced recession. What we need at this time is tests and vaccines and people staying away from people. Not more ads for things we can’t afford because that Trump-signed $1200 check doesn’t really cut it.
The media and entertainment industry is being hit hard, and with it, the (voice) actors. The production of motion pictures and TV shows has come to a standstill. Theaters and cinemas are closed. Meanwhile companies like Netflix are signing up subscribers by the millions, stealing viewers from network television that runs on advertising.
Huge sports events like the Olympics have been postponed or cancelled. Did you know that NBC had already booked more than $1 billion in national advertising commitments for the Games in Tokyo?
You may say that analysts have not detected a drop in ad spending during the first quarter of 2020, and you would be right. That’s because most advertisers made reservations for that ad time last summer during the so-called upfront market, when the bulk of TV commercial time is sold.
This means that the real sh*t hasn’t even hit the fan yet.
CANADA TO THE RESCUE?
But thank goodness we have voices dot com. They’re always there for us, fighting hard to keep the dream of aspiring voice actors alive with wonderful projects thousands will audition for (and never get), a dollar- a-holler.
I mean, it makes complete sense that if you want to start a new career, you don’t invest in any training, you get crap recording equipment you use in an untreated space, and you expect to stand out among hundreds of thousands of other users doing the same thing on the same platform! Aren’t you a smart cookie!
And, should you be one of those lucky companies that hasn’t slashed the marketing and advertising budget yet, wouldn’t you just love to have to weed through hundreds and hundreds of substandard online auditions, hoping to find one low-bidding amateur needle in an amateur haystack?
But Paul, what about audio books? Audio books are in the midsts of a boom. Deloitte predicted that the global market will grow by 25 per cent in 2020 to $3.5 billion (USD). That’s where the amazing opportunities are!
Well, you may have a point, but let’s look at who narrates the spoken books that actually make money. Publishers aren’t born yesterday. They know who to hire.
According to the BBC, Penguin releasedthirty of their classics in audiobook format, narrated by well-known names including Andrew Scott reading The Dubliners and Natalie Dormer voicing A Room of One’s Own.
Meanwhile, Audible has had Rosamund Pike reading Pride and Prejudice and Thandie Newton narrating Jane Eyre. A huge seller for them has been Stephen Fry’s 72-hour-long reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection.
So, if you happen to be an audio book publisher, who would you rather hire? Benedict Cumberbatch, or some unknown voice over person with a free profile on VDC? Since most stage and on-screen actors are twiddling their thumbs at the moment, you might be able to get an A-lister for cheap.
By the way, if you’re new to voice overs, please realize that narrating audio books is one of the most challenging things you could ever do in this business. Your beginner voice won’t have the stamina to read for hours on end,and you won’t have the acting chops to portray the many different characters in the novel you want to audition for. You have no clue how to self-direct, and your cheap microphone records every loud breath, sharp S, mouth click, and popping plosive, as well as a generous amount of self-noise. And did I tell you about the endless editing?
Then there’s eLearning. For some reason medical narration seems to be very much in-demand at the moment. Yippie! Let megive you a taste of what that entails. Here’s a snippet from a script I got to voice for a pharmaceutical giant, recently:
“Physicians look for complications of cirrhosis including presence of peripheral edema, splenomegaly, ascites, and encephalopathy. Physicians also look for rare complications such as cyanosis (due to hepatopulmonary syndrome) or evidence of pulmonary hypertension (portopulmonary hypertension).”
And this is by no means the most challenging medical script I ever had to narrate. As one of the new VDC recruits, do you think you’re totally ready for this type of project? I know that’s what VDC wants you to believe. If you have a voice, a pulse, and a credit card, they’re happy to welcome you to the club!
I agree that times are tough, and when people are desperate, they become an easy target for those offering them what seems to be an easy way out. You may call those who pray on desperate people opportunists, givers of false hope, con artists even.
I hate to break it to you, but you don’t become a best-selling author overnight, you don’t make a fortune selling stock photos shot with your iPhone, or become a millionaire doing make-up tutorials on YouTube. I’ve tried two out of three, and I still don’t have that red Maserati in my driveway. Frankly, I don’t know any voice actor who has.
BURSTING A BUBBLE
I’m not telling you this because you don’t deserve to dream. I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to get your hopes up and be taken advantage of. I’m also telling you this because I want you to be well-prepared when you do decide to go for it. Who am I to stop you?
As in any profession, you can’t buy yourself a career in voice overs. You’ve got to earn it first, before reaping the rewards. Those rewards, by the way, are going down as professional voices are becoming more of a commodity due to the increased number of people signing up for services like VDC. It’s a buyers market.
Jobs that used to pay $2500 are now going for $250 or less, because people who don’t know any better believe it’s good money. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? At the end of the day, talking into a microphone is better and safer than slaving in some Amazon warehouse just so Jeff Bezos can buy another mansion.
But before you fork over $399 for a premium membership, or $2,999 for a platinum membership (so you can get priority ranking in the Voices.com directory search results), think about what one of my colleagues just said after I posted the following picture on Instagram:
He told me:
“I am sinking as is. Why turn over $400 a year, PAYING to get rejected?”
Perhaps you think the owners of VDC deserve to be congratulated on their success. They were once the toast of the town. Now they’re no longer welcome at voice over conferences because of their well-documented unethical business practices.
You can choose to be a part of those practices and enable their growth if you like. After all, you can do great work for a bad business.
Or you can save yourself some money, and invest it in building your own freelance business with integrity.
Some say he’s got a big blob of gravy for a brain.
Some say he is the secret love child of Telly Savalas and his Austrian mistress Inga.
Some say he combs his armpits with an electric toothbrush, and they are sure he shines the top of his head with extra fine sandpaper, giving him a ten-minute braingasm.
All we know is that he’s called….
Huge Edwards (photo).
Apologies. It’s Hugh Edwards. Actually.
If you’re a Top Gear fan, you recognize the reference. If not, you probably think I’m stark raving mad. You might be right. This self-quarantining situation does crazy things to a sane mind.
Anyway, today I had a chance to talk to the Stig of the voice over world. The man who can pull off stunts no one has ever attempted before. The guy who is working 24/7 to put together the world’s first LIVE virtual voice over gathering. The co-creator of the One Voice Conference which opens its online doors on Thursday, May 7th.
And by the way, the bold words in blue are (as always) hyperlinks.
A PLANET GONE VIRAL
Listen, I don’t have to remind you how much the world has changed thanks to this nasty virus. I know you’re probably not working as much as you would like. That does mean you have more time on your hands, and I know just the way to spend that time. You need to get ready for when the world reopens and you’re back in business. Stronger and better than ever. As I said before:
“This is the time to sharpen your axe, and use it wisely.
Refresh your demos, revamp your website, step up your marketing, increase your social media exposure, work with a coach on your weaknesses, build a proper studio, upgrade your gear.
Invest. Invest. Invest.
If you don’t do it, others will, and they’ll come out of this crisis ready and running.”
That’s why I’d be thrilled if you could join me at the One Voice Conference. All the other VO conferences are not going to happen this year, and -as you will hear shortly- if you decide to join me, you will have access to not one but THREE conferences at a price which has been slashed in half by Stig Edwards himself.
If this sounds like a self-serving sales pitch to you, I am guilty as charged because I’m one of the contributors to the conference. Do I want this thing to be a huge success for everyone involved? Of course I do!
But even if I wasn’t contributing, I would still suggest you sign up because I know and trust the people who are putting it together, and I’ve seen the line up of speakers (53 and counting). Check them out, and imagine for a moment that you’d have to pay each presenter $150 to $200 for a private consultation.
One of the frustrations of a “normal” conference is that by going to one presentation, you miss out on many others because they’re happening at the same time. With this virtual conference that’s no longer a problem. You get access to all of them (and more), and you can watch them whenever it is most convenient for you.
But wait… there’s more!
THE ONE VOICE INTERVIEW
Earlier today I had a Zoom meeting with Hugh Edwards, and we talked about how participants of the conference would interact with one another, and with the presenters. Did the content of the conference have to be changed due to the virtual format? Will the sponsors of One Voice still offer surprise bonuses and special deals? (A little bird told me that Sennheiser is giving away a $700 Neumann BCM 705 broadcast microphone, and a pair of $100 Sennheiser HD 280 closed back studio headphones)
I began by asking about the challenges Hugh and his team had to overcome, to put this LIVE conference together.
Many thanks to Hugh for talking to me in the midst of his busy schedule.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the situation during one of the One Voice dress rehearsals (and believe it or not, this is only one quarter of the kit).
MY ROLE AT ONE VOICE
“But Paul, what about your contributions to the One Voice Conference?” you may ask.
On Friday May 7th, I’ll be doing a 40-minute presentation about how blogging put me on the international map as a voice over artist (and why you should start blogging too!). I have a surprise gift for everyone who’s attending.
Both take place at 4 PM UK time (11 AM EST, 8 AM PT).
The Friday presentation is in part my personal story and also an introduction to the value of blogging for voice overs. The Saturday workshop is a practical, in-depth look at the process of blogging, and I’ll teach you how to reach an audience, and how to monetize your blog.
I know one thing for sure: without this blog very few colleagues and clients would know my name, my voice, and this website. It was, and still is crucial to my career, and having a blog can do the same thing for you!
So, I’m counting on seeing you at the conference in May. If only for one reason and one reason only:
PS Hugh is the first to acknowledge that world’s very first online voice over conference was Voice Over Virtual, back in 2013, produced by John Florian of VoiceOverXtra. What makes ONE VOICE stand out, is that it’s the first LIVE virtual conference.
In this blog I share some aspects of how I make money as a voice talent. But there’s one part of my profession I don’t advertise.
It’s my work as a coach.
Over the years I’ve helped lots of colleagues become more successful, and I feel they should take the credit. Not me.
Plus, I’m quite busy voicing projects and I don’t have a lot of time to coach. Frankly, I can make more money recording a three-minute script, than spending an hour giving someone advice.
But two years ago, things changed. I had my stroke, and it affected my vocal folds. My voice doesn’t last as long as it used to, and I can’t take on every project that’s offered to me.
Over time, my coaching hours increased, and I discovered that helping others can be much more satisfying than recording a pancake commercial.
Now, some coaches specialize in accent reduction. Others know all about audio books. I call myself a Visibility Coach because my strength lies in helping people stand out in a world filled with noise.
GETTING VOICE OVER JOBS
There are basically two approaches to finding more work:
– You can target and approach clients all day long by cold calling, by begging agents to send you gigs, and by auditioning online until you’re blue in the voice, or you can…
– Make those clients come to you by having a strong online presence through your website and social media
The second approach cuts out the middle man, and gives you the freedom to negotiate with clients on your turf and on your terms. Most people have tried the first method and they end up being frustrated, broke, and exhausted. Oddly enough, they’ve never spent much time trying the second method.
If you are one of those people and you’re wondering if coaching is for you, I have a question for you:
Can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make things better?
If you could, then why haven’t you? And if you haven’t, what’s holding you back?
You can always ask friends and family for advice, but what do they really know about the business you’re in? Do they know what it takes to put yourself out there, even if you don’t feel like selling yourself? Do they have the practical experience to figure out what’s keeping you from booking more jobs?
Do they have the right connections to improve your visibility in the field, without plastering your face all over the internet? Do they know anything about branding and marketing? You see, friends and family will always have an opinion, but they lack the objectivity, the skills, and the know-how to guide you.
That’s where I come in.
Twenty years ago, I came to the United States with two suitcases and a plastic bag. No one knew who I was, and I had no idea where to begin. But I did it anyway. Now I have a thriving business, happy clients, and over forty thousand people that subscribe to this blog. I speak at conferences, I give interviews, and I have written one of the more successful books on voice overs and freelancing.
One could say that I’ve figured a few things out about what it takes to do well in this ever-changing business. And I’m happy to share them with you. The Dutch are known for being very direct, and I am no sugar-coater. In fact, I am probably the person who will tell you what you don’t want to hear. If you can’t handle that, find a coach who will gladly massage your ego.
As your coach, I will be your greatest fan and cheerleader. I will hold you accountable for the actions you choose to take. If you want to talk the talk, you will have to walk the walk. I will help you plan a path, make connections, and teach you what I know. Not from boring books, but from international experience.
For instance, many European colleagues are wondering what it takes to break into the American market. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. I’ve done it. It’s all about talent, strategy, and connections. You bring the talent, and together we’ll focus on the rest.
My ultimate goal as a visibility coach is to make myself redundant. Your job is to do everything it takes to get to a point where you stand strong, and take full credit for your accomplishments.
We live in testing times. As the economy is crumbling and you’re not working as much as you’d like to, this is a good moment to dig in and make some changes. If you don’t, others will take this opportunity to develop a competitive advantage.
I believe you deserve to do well in the world. I believe you deserve to use the gifts that you’re developing to the best of your ability.
If any of this resonates with you, I hope you’ll get in touch. I have to warn you, though.
I don’t take on every student that seeks coaching. My time is just as valuable as yours, and I only work with those who are highly motivated and ready to do whatever it takes. You must be prepared to spend some serious time on whatever it is that needs to improve.
IT’S UP TO YOU
Please realize that I don’t have a magic wand to lead you to instant success. Coaching is not the same as making a prefab microwave meal. Coaching is more of a crockpot process. Each student has different strengths and weaknesses, and needs a different recipe.
One last thing. This is important.
As your coach, I cannot force you to do anything. I cannot make clients hire you on the spot, but I can teach you how to drive and navigate the road, so to speak. You, however, are in the driver’s seat, and you determine the destination.
Once you’re ready to get behind the wheel, please drop me a line. I’ll send you a copy of my Coaching Agreement to give you a better sense of my approach, and the required investment on your part.
To be honest with you, I’d rather read an article than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. I can scan an article or blog post in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff. Done. On to the next one. I think I’m too impatient for most podcasts.
Since I wrote the story in 2015, the number of VO-related podcasts has increased considerably, and I have to admit that many of them are a joy to listen to.
I’ve been interviewed by a multitude of hosts, and my experience has always been very positive. Yet, there are only a handful of podcasts I regularly tune into, and they’re seldom about voice overs. Why?
I think It’s very important for a well-rounded VO (and I’m not talking about our waistline), to step outside of our blah blah bubble, and skip the talk about which microphone is best and how to get an agent. There’s a whole wide world out there filled with information and inspiration. Constant navel-gazing isn’t going to help us learn and grow as a human being.
This week, a Dutch podcast forum asked me about my experiences with podcasts. Do I have any faves, pet peeves, or tips?
This is what I wrote.
Let me start my story with a confession.
My roots are in radio.
That’s both a blessing and a curse. It means I can no longer listen to podcasts with an open, carefree mind. I listen the way a music critic listens to a concert. With super critical ears. Luckily I can turn the darn thing off as soon as I get bored.
In addition you should know that I’ve been a voice over for more than thirty years. This has made me allergic to badly written scripts, stupid slips of the tongue, loud, distracting breaths, and poorly recorded audio.
I’ve also made a living as a journalist, presenter, and media trainer. I know a little bit about interviewing guests. How to do it, and how not to do it.
All of the above means that many podcasts are just not my thing, even though I love the medium dearly. My favorite podcasts offer theater between the ears allowing my imagination to run wild. When I’m listening, I’m not distracted by flashing images on television which makes it easier to focus on the content.
I love the freedom podcasts give me. I usually listen when I have boring things to do like the dishes, yard work, house cleaning, long drives, or running on the treadmill. What do I listen to? Mostly radio shows.
This year marks my 20th anniversary of living and working in the USA. To stay connected to what’s happening in Holland (where I’m from), I listen to a show called Met het oog op morgen, (Keeping an eye on tomorrow). It’s a daily roundup of news, current affairs, and background stories.
As a former newscaster I’m always on the lookout for people who can interpret what’s going on in the world today. I want to know what motivated this person to make that statement, and what the implications are. That’s why I often tune in to the Brian Leher Show on WNYC, a New York City-based public radio station. Brian is a progressive interviewer who has an uncanny ability to ask pointed questions in a friendly and respectful way.
When I want to know more about art, literature, and music, I turn to Fresh Air, a legendary talk show with Terry Gross. Terry is considered a national treasure in the US, and for good reason. She’s been on national radio since 1975, and her show can be heard all over the United States. She’s known for her empathic, intelligent way of interviewing her guests.
For philosophy and science I listen to Radiolab with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Jad composes the experimental music which is like a running commentary on the theme of the show. Apart from interviews with people such as neurologist Oliver Sacks, conversations between the hosts are also part of the program. Radiolab is exquisitely immersive and never fails to make me think.
PROBLEMS WITH PODCASTS
There are very few “real” podcasts (as opposed to regular radio shows) I can listen to without cringing. Usually, that’s because of three things:
1. Amateurs “playing radio.”
Bad audio quality is the first clue. The recording space is often too noisy, everyone is miles away from the microphone, and guests are mumbling their answers. After hearing the first twenty seconds I ask myself: “What on earth am I listening to?”
Podcast producers who actually know what they’re doing realize that they have to compete with “real” radio programs. Award-winning podcasts have a team of researchers, editors, script writers, and sound engineers that take their job seriously.
In the next few years the difference between hobbyists and professionals making podcasts will increase dramatically. The consumer will have even more to choose from, and won’t have to settle for kitchen table productions.
2. Hosts that are overly self-involved.
Podcasts seem to attract people that like to hear themselves talk, but who have very little to say. I’m thinking of the unfunny folks who believe they’re God’s gift to comedy, and who have trouble getting to the point. I call them “self-arousers” because the sound of their own voice makes them horny as hell.
The best interviewers don’t make themselves the star of the show but focus on the guests. They don’t stick to a list of pre-cooked questions. They listen carefully to the answers and follow up. This is not an easy thing to do. You’ve got to get people talking, you’ve got to learn to keep your mouth shut, and you have to jump in at the right moment with the right questions.
3. Weak content
Before you read the next line I’d like you to do a quick experiment while recording yourself. Choose a topic you’re interested in at the moment. Have a stopwatch ready, and when you press START, talk for one minute straight offering relevant information. No hesitations, no filler words, and no ums.
Ready. Set. GO!
Most people who do this experiment notice how hard it is to fill just one minute fluently, while keeping the audience engaged as they’re trying to make sense.
I often tell my students:
“If you want people to be interested, you have to be interesting. Your topics and your guests have to be interesting.”
Too many podcasts are of the category “much ado about nothing,” hosted by lazy, self-absorbed hosts that allow their guests to yammer on and on and on.
If you’re reading producing podcasts, you know it requires quite an investment to produce an outstanding show on a weekly basis. That’s why it is almost impossible to listen to your own shows with impartiality. It’s also the reason I recommend you get yourself a feedback group of people who know what they’re talking about. Do not ask family and friends who will love everything you say and do, no matter what.
You need the critical ears of those who will tell you what you don’t like to hear.
My 3-hour X-session Boosting Your Business with a Blog at VO Atlanta is now on sale. I’ll teach you all the blogging secrets that made the Nethervoice blog one of the most widely read VO blogs in the business, and my website the number one individual VO site on the web. Only 12 seats available! Click here to sign up.
In Philipsburg, NJ, the town across the river from where I live, a familiar ritual is taking place as we speak.
A shopping mall is closing.
Built in 1989, the Philipsburg Mall once featured one hundred stores and a four thousand-space parking lot. Today, this enclosed, 577,000-square-foot concrete structure is almost empty, and ready for the wrecking ball.
It’s part of what the experts have coined the “retail apocalypse.” Studies show roughly one in four malls across the USA are expected to close by 2022. This week, Macy’s announced the closure of twenty-eight locations. Pier 1 Imports said recently it would be closing nearly half of its stores.
Overall, 2019 was a terrible year for US retailers. Coresight Research announced 9,302 store closings, and that’s a 59% jump from 2018. In fact, it’s the highest number since they began tracking data in 2012.
To explain this phenomenon, the same experts point to a trend they call the Amazoning of America. It’s the idea that malls and individual retailers are being pushed out of business by online giants like Amazon Prime and Alibaba.
Others are pointing to a changing economy where the middle class that used to shop at stores like Sears, Bon Ton, and Macy’s is struggling and is looking for cheaper alternatives.
The people who have trouble making ends meet now shop at the Dollar Store. After opening 900 stores in 2018, Dollar General opened 975 stores in 2019, making it the top retail company in terms of expansion. Discount chains like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Aldi and Five Below were in the top five for opening stores in 2019.
Yes folks, the U.S. economy is doing better than ever before!
To counter lower revenues and high rents, regular retailers purposely understaff their stores, and stock less or older merchandise, leading to a poor shopping experience. Good luck trying to get help in a department store these days.
With this in mind, it’s easy and convenient to point fingers at the economy and Amazon for the retail apocalypse. We don’t control Amazon, and we have no influence over something as abstract as “the economy.” If you can’t control it, you cannot change it.
Or can you?
Someone in my neighborhood was complaining about all the distribution centers being built in my region, the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. “They take up farmland, they lead to an increase in truck traffic damaging our roads, and they’re just plain ugly,” the man said. “I blame Jeff Bezos!”
But what if Bezos wouldn’t have as many customers? Would he still be renovating his $23 million Washington mansion with 11 bedrooms and 25 bathrooms? What would happen if all of us would start shopping locally again, instead of online? Would developers still be building all those distribution centers?
The way I see it, we as consumers have tremendous influence on our economy. The way we spend money is our superpower to bring about positive and negative change.
It is our behavior that is killing shopping malls, bankrupting family businesses, and is giving the Five Below’s of the world billion dollar profits while their cheap Chinese trinkets are polluting the planet with plastic.
We choose the behavior, and we are responsible for the consequences.
As long as people don’t get that and blame outside factors for unwanted changes, we won’t be able to solve the climate crisis, the increase in racism, gun violence, and a whole string of other worrisome developments in our society.
To bring it back to my line of work… many of my voice over colleagues are complaining about rates getting lower, and clients getting cheaper. They blame the free market for their woes.
“It’s what the marketplace dictates,” they say. “A job that used to pay $2500, now pays $250. I can’t change that. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
I strongly disagree. Getting paid $250 for a $2500 job is the result of your inability to make an appealing value proposition to your client, and your ineptitude to negotiate a decent deal. It reeks of desperation and a lack of professionalism.
Just as the success of Amazon (and all its consequences) is the result of millions of individual purchase decisions, the lowering of our rates is the result of thousands of freelancers deciding to settle for less. No one is forcing them, and yet it sends a clear signal to our clients:
“This is what I believe this job is worth. Why pay a penny more?”
Look, I get that there’s a market for the Dollar Store, but why not leave that market to the freakin’ freelancers you find on Fiverr? They obviously can’t compete on value, so they can only compete on price. Let them dabble as they babble pretending to be a pro.
In this new year I challenge you to decide who your clients are going to be. The cheapskates who are the most demanding and demeaning, or the ones who value and respect you professionally and financially? This means drawing a line in the sand by being clear about what you no longer wish to accept for yourself and your community of colleagues.
It may also mean raising your standards as well as your rates, because clients with bigger budgets expect you to give them their money’s worth. This is where the small shop owner beats the strip mall and the online retailer.
A DIFFERENT TOWN
Across the bridge from Philipsburg, lies the town of Easton, PA. It’s where I live. Easton is a town that warmly welcomes entrepreneurs. We don’t have a retail apocalypse. We have a retail resurgence!
Every month we celebrate the opening of new stores, businesses, and restaurants. People who are sick and tired of skyrocketing New York rents are coming to Easton. For what they’re paying for a tiny NYC apartment, they can buy a historic home or a penthouse overlooking the Delaware river.
The Easton Business Association is a free organization where all members help each other succeed. Together with the Easton Main Street Initiative, shop keepers, restaurant owners, and service providers come up with events that bring thousands of people to the downtown area. Every fourth Friday there’s Easton Out Loud with music, food, drinks, games, and activities for the whole family.
You won’t find big box stores in downtown Easton. Instead, you’ll find flower shops, bakeries, gift shops, antique stores, vintage clothes shops, art galleries, independent book stores, cafés, pubs, restaurants, and breweries. And did I mention a fabulous Farmers’ Market?
Festivals such as Bacon Fest, Heritage Day, the Zucchini 500 races, and the Peace Candle Lighting bring huge crowds to Easton. All these events are sponsored by local companies and are run by an army of enthusiastic volunteers of all ages.
In my town you will find unique things made by local artists and artisans you won’t be able to buy on Amazon or even Etsy. When I needed a set of walking poles, Adam (the owner of the Easton Outdoor Company), took over an hour to make sure I picked the right pair, and he taught me how to use them. That’s not an experience you can get online or even at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
COMMUNITY & CONNECTION
What Easton offers more than anything, is a sense of community and belonging that has disappeared from so many towns and cities. It comes from store owners who care about their business and their customers. From people who take pride in what they produce. From people who don’t see new stores as their competition, but as an opportunity to work together to attract more business. After all, visitors like having more choice.
Now, remember that all these stores exist and flourish in the age of Amazon. They don’t compete on price. They compete on giving the customer high-quality and often unique products, pies they can taste, flowers they can smell, and clothes they can try on. These shops offer stellar customer service, and an experience that makes you feel you’re among friends. These ingredients are the warm and fuzzies you’ll never get from a website, no matter how sophisticated or cheap it may be.
So, in 2020 I want you to stop whining about sliding rates, and focus on how you are going to give your customers an experience they will always remember and are happy to pay for. Let me give you one hint:
You’ll never be able to distinguish yourself as long as you’re part of someone else’s store charging someone else’s prices.
Their roof. Their rules.
The shop owners at the dying Philipsburg Mall noticed that the Real Estate Investment Trust that owned the property treated them as commodities. They didn’t innovate and invest to bring back customers. Right now, the roof is leaking, repairs aren’t being made, and the parking lot is filled with potholes.
Some people believe the owners are driving the mall into functional obsolescence. The land under the mall, however, has value.
It’s perfect for yet another ugly distribution center.
Mark my words: the next decade is going to be BIG!
There will be more opportunities for professional voice actors than ever before. Take a quick look at the trends.
In 2019, video game revenue has again surpassed the total global box office for the film industry. The prediction is that it will increase by about 9.6% to generate 152.1 billion USD.
Streaming services are investing heavily in the production of original content. The audio book market keeps on growing exponentially (audiobook revenue in 2018 grew by 24.5 percent and totaled USD $940 million). The eLearning industry is expected to grow beyond USD 300 billion by 2025.
With the number of self-professed voice-overs increasing year after year, the question is not:
“Will there be enough work for everybody?” The question is: “Who is in the best position to take advantage of the growth in our line of work?”
The answer is simple: those who are best prepared to meet the demands of the market will dominate it. So, the real question becomes: How do you prepare for the future?
Abraham Lincoln, who was a skilled woodcutter before becoming president of the United States, famously said:
“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
For VO’s this translates to at least four things:
Continuing education, but not only with the help of voice over coaches. I’m talking about taking acting and improv classes, singing lessons, and even language training. In other words, start improving your skills to make yourself more versatile and marketable. But that’s only the beginning;
On top of that I highly recommend you learn how to properly run a freelance business. This means knowing how to manage your finances, learning how to develop your brand, and coming up with innovative ways to position yourself. It involves making meaningful connections, and presenting yourself as a unique solution to a specific problem;
Third, you must invest in equipment and in a recording environment that will make you look and sound like the pro you profess to be;
And lastly, you need to learn how to manage yourself. If you can’t take the pressure and uncertainty of being a freelancer, the constant stream of rejections, and so-called colleagues trying to undercut you at every corner, please find another job.
FOREVER AND EVER
Looking at this list you may wonder: won’t this take years and years to accomplish? It may, but it depends on your approach, your finances, and on the time you give yourself. The people who make the least progress are those who are trying to figure this out on their own. They kid themselves by believing that you can find everything you need online, and for free.
Why have we never heard of those trying to teach themselves how to drive a car or swim, using distance learning? Because they have crashed and drowned! If you think you can reinvent the wheel, be my guest. I think it’s much faster to learn from those who already are where you want to be. That’s precisely where conferences come in.
A conference is a safe and exciting place where you meet colleagues and experts who have struggled with the same things you are struggling with at the moment. It’s a place where you can help and inspire others who are stuck in their careers. And if you’re looking for a personal coach, you get the opportunity to experience a number of experts and see who might be a good fit for you.
A voice over conference is the perfect place to start sharpening that axe of yours.
BACK TO LONDON
I’ll be going to VO Atlanta in March, and I’m totally tickled to tell you that I am coming to London in May 2020! The ONE VOICE CONFERENCE where I will be speaking, takes place from May 7th – 10th and is put together by the team behind Gravy For The Brain. I spoke with organizer Hugh Edwards, and asked him:
This is the third Voice One Conference. What have you learned since the first gatherings?
“Well, we are very big on customer feedback, each year we’ve done exit surveys and we’ve really listened to what has been fed back to us. We genuinely try and improve the conference in any way we can. One of the key changes we’ve made this year is that we are completely focussing the conference on professional voiceover, pro VO’s and pro VO standards.
Most conferences cater for a spread, i.e., beginner, intermediate and advanced content, but this often leads to a lack of content for the pros – this year we are doing an about face on that. My theory is that if you aim for 100% professional content, everyone is going to learn something useful and new, and you don’t alienate any section of your audience.
The second big change is that this year I’ve dropped the idea of genre-based content. What I mean by that is that with years 1 and 2 we had a genre list – audiobooks, IVR, corporate etc – and we filled all the speaker slots based on fulfilling that list.
You’ve been to VO conferences in the USA like VO Atlanta. What’s the difference in the way Americans and Brits approach these events? In what way is the atmosphere different?
“Well, the heart of the voice artists in both countries, and Canada, Mexico, France, Australia etc are fundamentally the same. They all have the same hopes and dreams, needs and wants. The love of the industry is a common love that runs throughout everyone I meet in the industry. I think the attitudes are a little different though.
The brits tend to say outright and to people’s faces that they don’t think something is right, and the Americans seem slightly more reserved, will make their judgements and just not buy that person’s product, or that companies offering etc.
That isn’t to say that the American audience is in anyway less passionate, just that we all have different ways of expressing it. The Americans are much louder with whooping, hollering and dancing, the brits less so – but again, it’s not any less enthusiasm or passion – just different expressions!”
I sometimes feel that in the US, voice talent suffers from an inferiority complex. Voice-overs are invisible and don’t get the recognition they wish to get, artistically and financially. Is this something you recognize in the UK? If so, how can an event like One Voice help change the perception VO’s have of themselves, and the perception of the public?
“I wouldn’t agree that VO’s have an inferiority complex generally – in fact they often get the best of both worlds in that they get to work with the big productions but can still walk down the street un-hassled! But the public perception of VO around the world is growing daily.
One Voice, and Gravy For The Brain definitely help change the public perception of voiceover, both in education and (with things like the One Voice Awards) in celebration. The more opportunities given to shout about their craft, the more the public takes an interest. Some VO artists are becoming household names in the UK and the USA and the industry is changing at a rapid pace.”
Looking back at the past two events, what has been your most gratifying experience?
“This is actually easier to answer than you might think! One Voice is a little like the analogy of the duck swimming on a lake; calm, serene and in control on the surface (which is what the public sees) and feet paddling like crazy under the surface (which is what our fantastic team is doing behind the scenes to make everything smooth and enjoyable for the delegates).
The amount of work that goes into the conference before the event is absolutely huge, from dress rehearsals, to coding, to awards and submissions, to speaker bookings, you name it, the team does it – and it’s right that the public never needs to know.
So what’s my most gratifying experience? I stand at the bar at the end of the day and I look around at all the VO’s and speakers gathered together – and all I see is smiles, and happiness, community and mutual respect. Seeing everyone being so happy after all the work, all the late nights and all the hours involved makes me as happy as I can be.”
These conferences cost a lot of money to organize and that’s one of the reasons you have corporate sponsors. How do you give your sponsors what they want without exposing the attendees to aggressive sales pitches?
“Yep – it’s a good point, and not all conferences get this right. I think one of the reasons for this is that virtually no other conference owner is also a sponsor at other conferences, whereas Gravy For The Brain has sponsored almost all the VO conference in the world in the last two years. We see what works for us, and when, as sponsors we are disappointed – we know what works for us and when we feel we are getting value, and when we feel neglected.
But it’s also worth saying that it’s a little sycophantic to presume that it’s an us (VO’s) and them (sponsors) scenario – in fact, it’s a completely symbiotic relationship; the sponsors are generally providing products or services that we love and need as a community, and although it’s a business, we’re all in this together.
When it comes to sponsor talks, we’re quite strict on not allowing sponsors to do sales pitches – that’s not the best use of their time at all – and instead we fixed the whole ‘expo area’ idea, which is done so wrong in so many other conferences – if you have to have a ‘room’ for the sponsors, by default delegates have to make a conscious effort to visit so attendance is always low.
At One Voice the expo area is the connection space between all the presentation rooms, so we have a constant flow of traffic for the exhibitors. Because of this the sponsors have no need to use their talk to be the only time they can pitch to the voices – they’re just integrated into the conference as a whole.”
Talent that’s on the fence about going, usually has a few questions about the conference:
– Is this suitable for beginners?
“Yes, all levels. As I mentioned earlier, we’re now presenting content for the professional, which means that all levels are going to learn as much as we can provide for them.”
– Will I get lost in the crowd?
“No. The fire limit for One Voice is 350 people, which in reality means 300 voice artists. It’s a lovely intimate space and has a real family feel to it!”
– Will it get me more work?
“Well, anyone – conference owners, trainers, coaches, whoever who says that their product is going to get you more work, is a liar, or at best misguided. What we are doing is helping you make connections and network, and giving you education and tools for you to be able to do this for yourself…and in that way, yes absolutely!
VO is a long game and no one is going to do this for you – it takes hard work and dedication, but One Voice is the best networking opportunity, an amazing centre of excellence in education and the most value-for-money conference you can attend in the UK.”
meeting Mark Graue
– Will I have the opportunity to meet face to face with presenters?
“Absolutely. it’s such a social event, and most of the presenters are there for the whole weekend. We’ve consistently found that our presenters are extremely generous with their time and their advice – they’re a great spirited and friendly bunch! The overriding word that comes back to me here is community – they are as much a part of it as you are, and their expertise and experience is arguably the most valuable part of the weekend.”
What’s new in 2020? Why should people who already have attended a conference come back?
“So I previously mentioned the refocusing on professional standards, education, and tuition. This extends through to all the areas of the conference, from talks, to workshops, the networking to the community and our sponsors. Almost all of our speakers this year were not speakers last year which is part of our ongoing commitment to provide value for money, freshness, and diversity in the content we are providing.
At the end of last year’s One Voice I polled the audience about our workshops and what people thought – we had a pretty polar split with those who loved them, and those who thought the content was great but that they were too short. So we listened, and this year we will be providing the one-hour workshops which are still free with your ticket, and also three-hour specialised workshops which will have an additional fee. It’s only fair that we pay the experts who are imparting their knowledge for a 3-hour period.
The One Voice Boat Party is back, because it was so hugely successful and fun last year – we just couldn’t resist doing it again!”
As I was conducting my interview, Hugh broke the news that Alexander Armstrong had agreed to become the second keynote speaker (Kate Robbins being the other one). Alexander is a well-know British voice actor, comedian, game show host, and singer. He also plays the title character in the new edition of Danger Mouse.
Back to my interview with Hugh. I wanted to know: Will you still have the Awards Gala?
“I’m glad you asked! Yes the One Voice Awards is growing from strength to strength and is becoming a genuine force for good in the VO community. Because of our ethical values and the truly locked nature of the judging system proving 100% absolute integrity, the One Voice Awards are seen as a wholly trusted and worthwhile thing. It’s also one heck of a fun night!
We have some very cool surprises up our sleeve this year too! Submissions will open in January – and for anyone who isn’t on our mailing list just head over to www.onevoiceconference.com and sign up to the newsletter – and further details will follow!
Bodalgo’s Armin Hierstetter
We’re running a super early bird at the moment which is 30% off the ticket price and lasts only up until Christmas Day. The price for the entire 4-day event (excluding the awards) at this discount is only £229 +tax (that’s about 300 USD) – which represents incredible value for money. Then we go into the Early bird for a few weeks in January and then normal ticket pricing after that.
We have negotiated an amazing hotel rate which includes breakfast, and of course lunches are included within the ticket price. One Voice Conference is the UK’s biggest and best VO conference for a reason – we really care about each and every one of our attendees – and we’d love to see everyone there for our third year!”
Many thanks to Hugh for taking the time to answer my questions, and frankly, for having me at One Voice.
From the many responses I get, I know there are quite a few fans of this blog in the UK as well as in the rest of Europe. I’d love to meet you at the One Voice Conference where I will be doing a one-hour presentation on how to increase your visibility, SEO, and professional reputation by blogging, followed by a thee-hour interactive workshop where we will dig in a lot deeper.
As you may know, my blog has propelled this website to becoming the number one individual VO website on the interweb. If you play your cards right, you could very well follow in my footsteps, and I’ll do whatever I can to get you there.
The older I get, the harder it is to give me something for the holidays.
For one, I have pretty much everything my heart desires and I don’t need to accumulate more stuff. Instead, I’d like to invest in memories, in people, and in experiences that enrich my life and the lives of others.
Those are the things that cannot be bought on Amazon or sold on eBay.
Yet, I don’t blame you if you keep a secret wish list under your pillow as you dream of new microphones, preamplifiers, and the latest and greatest headphones. At the same time, your friends and family members may be looking for some smaller ticket items to put under the Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush.
That’s where I come in!
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been collecting some voice-over gift ideas for people like me, who aren’t so easy to shop for.
Before I show you my list, you should know that by clicking on the images you will be transported to the virtual warehouse that is Amazon. This means a small portion of your purchase will go towards supporting this blog, since I am an Amazon affiliate.
I also encourage you to shop locally as much as you can, but you won’t find many of the items below on the shelves of your downtown retailers.
Let’s start by finding something for our noses!
I have mixed feelings about fragrances. On one hand, I’m no fan of natural body odor. On the other, an increasing number of people are allergic to perfumes and after-shaves. At my doctor’s office, there’s a sign asking patients not to wear any perfume when they come in for a visit.
I clearly remember a nauseating recording session in a booth that appeared to be sprayed with Old Spice from the previous VO. Please do your colleagues a favor and use an odorless deodorant before you come in to record.
If, in your private life, you’d like to be a bit more fragrant, here are two options to consider. I haven’t tested them, but I think the bottles look pretty cool!
The next package is more impressive and expensive. There’s even an unboxing video if you’re really interested.
The following fragrance is not for your body. This microphone-shaped contraption is meant to freshen up your car.
Coming back to personal hygiene, how about some soap on a rope? You can warm up your pipes as you take a long, hot shower.
Here’s one thing I’ve never understood. When you buy a nice microphone, it usually comes in a fancy box or case you’ll rarely use. However, there’s nothing to protect your mic once it’s in your studio. Dust and humidity are major enemies, so my $1750 microphone is hanging in an old sunglasses bag filled with Silica gel packets. There’s a more high-end solution, though.
My next item is a universal microphone protector and dust cover. It’s made from double-sided quilted nylon.
Another company offers a two-pack with custom embroidery included.
My recording studio is in the basement, and my wife’s office is on the first floor. She always knows when I’m in session because of my Harlan Hogan remote controlled recording sign.
Here’s another light for you. An “On The Air” night light. The plug can be rotated to accommodate outlets in any direction.
Then there’s fun voice-over attire. Here are a few examples of what you can find on Amazon.
Most VO’s are avid readers, and some of us -me included- also take up the pen. If you’d like to add to your collection of voice over books, I recommend you send your friends and family to my Concise (and Incomplete) Voice Over Book List on this blog.
If you’re a Manga fan, you’ll be delighted to know that Maki Minami has written a whole series about young voice-over artists. Here’s the cover of volume 1.
If your vocal folds are in need of some TLC, these Voice Lessons To Go by Ariella Vaccarino might be the thing you need.
GIFTS TO YOURSELF
Then there are gifts that aren’t really physical. They tend to be a bit more expensive, but they will definitely help you move your business forward.
For $120 per year you can upgrade your WeTransfer account to a Pro version. This gets you your own WeTransfer URL and artwork, email transfers to up to 50 people, and you’ll receive 1TB of storage. This allows you to keep your transfers available for as long as you want. In the free version they get deleted after 7 days.
Why not make this the year year you finally become a member of the World Voices Organization? The new member application fee is $99 USD. You’ll get access to educational materials, WoVO mentors, and VoiceOver.biz, a site where you can post your profile and voice seekers can hire you. Those seekers are serious clients looking for vetted professionals. When you land a job, there’s no commission or agent fee.
Besides, you’ll be a member of an organization that develops and promotes best practices, as well as standards for ethical conduct and professional expertise as it relates to the voiceover industry, run by voice over talent for voice over talent.
Have you thought of giving yourself a ticket to VO Atlanta (March 26 – 29, 2020)? Join colleagues from over 44 states and 20 countries, and enjoy a selection of 200 scheduled session hours by the best in the business. Plus, you get to meet me!
For those who are wondering if VO Atlanta is worth attending, here’s a quick recap of this year’s conference.
Well, there you have it! My list of voice over inspired holiday gifts. There’s one thing you should know, though.
Nothing on this list comes even close to the gift you have given me throughout the years: your continued support for this blog and for me.
I am beyond grateful for your kindness and your willingness to spend some time with me, week after week.
It is truly something I am immensely thankful for.
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