The question came out of nowhere. I was talking to a client about a job he wanted me to do, and he verbalized what many customers are thinking when they hire a voice-over:
“Why should I pay you over four hundred dollars for three measly minutes of audio? It’s outrageous!”
“Why are you so expensive?”
How would you react to that question? Would you start doubting yourself? Would you apologize for your fee? Would you say: “Well, if it’s too much, perhaps we can agree on a different amount?”
The truth is this: money makes many people uncomfortable. Especially those who have chosen to do what they love. You know: creatives like musicians, writers, photographers, and yes, voice-over artists. If you are fortunate enough to enjoy your dream job, the wonderful work itself should be rewarding enough, shouldn’t it?
For years, the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam’s Carnegie Hall), didn’t pay young musicians a penny for playing lunch concerts. Not even travel expenses were reimbursed. Meanwhile, the ushers, sound engineers, and other staff members making these concerts possible were receiving a salary. How could that happen?
The Concertgebouw said it was giving artists a unique opportunity to gain some experience and get exposure. It’s a familiar story. The same reasoning was used by schools “hiring” musicians for educational concerts, by pubs, churches, charities, and even TV shows. “Exposure” was the magic word. This went on for years and years. Why?
Because the artists agreed to it, thus teaching clients how to treat them.
Many of them had to give up their dream career because exposure doesn’t pay the bills.
JUSTIFYING YOUR FEE
As a for-profit freelancer, you have to answer the question “Why are you so expensive?” on at least two levels. First, you owe yourself an explanation. Secondly, you have to explain it to your client.
Before you do that, you have to realize that most questions are based on unspoken assumptions. If you buy into these assumptions, you buy into the client’s way of thinking, which is not such a smart thing to do.
The question “Why are you so expensive?” has three elements. WHY, YOU, and EXPENSIVE.
The word WHY demands justification, immediately putting you on the defensive. Do you even wish to go there?
Here’s the thing: if you are comfortable with your rates, there is no need to defend them. The moment you feel unsure about your prices (and your self-worth), you’re more likely to lower your fee at the first sign of resistance.
In the beginning of my career, I was afraid to lose jobs because my fees might be perceived as too high. As soon as a customer uttered the magic words “we have a limited budget,” I believed them, and I lowered my price. Big mistake.
These days I know that there is no way of knowing how much a client can or cannot afford. I do know that I cannot afford to work for low rates. Here’s the kicker: low fees are often seen as a sign of inexperience and amateurism. Charging less may actually result in not getting hired!
Bottom line: STOP BEING SO DESPERATE!
Have some dignity. If you are running a for-profit business you must be okay to walk away from a bad deal. Let others record that lengthy, self-published, shitty novel for $75 per finished hour thinking they have landed the deal of the century. You can’t convince stupid. Stupid has to learn from experience, or repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
THE REAL DEAL
This brings me to the YOU in “Why are YOU so expensive?”
The question behind the question is: Compared to whom?
The unspoken assumption is that there are others who are willing to do it for cheaper. That may be true, but you have to realize that the client is talking to you for a reason. You are not a dime a dozen. You sound like a million bucks. You know it and they know it.
Your voice is used by multinationals, world-famous brands, and well-known organizations. You need no hand-holding and no sound engineer to fix your audio. You’re easy to work with and you always meet your deadlines. That’s worth something.
A lot, actually.
And if you’re a voice talent that’s just getting started, you know you have this fresh voice no one else has. You have a solid studio with decent equipment, and you’re a natural at making the words in the script dance off the page. You listen to your clients, and you give them what they need without an attitude. You may be new to the business, but you are a PRO who should be paid accordingly!
A wedding photographer I used to work with got this question all the time:
“Why should we pay you a fortune for a few hours of your time?”
She learned that the first thing she had to overcome was the costumer’s ignorance about pricing and ignorance about what’s involved in doing the job. Most people had no idea of the going rate, so they had no way of telling whether someone was expensive or not. They just heard a number that seemed high. They made a mistake many beginning freelancers make:
Thinking that what you make is what you take home.
They did not realize that the fee for a photo shoot paid for professional cameras, lenses, lights, a shooting assistant, computers, editing software, a website, advertising, accountant’s fees, taxes, memberships of professional organizations, insurance, continuing education, a retirement plan, transportation, a photo studio, time spent looking for work, doing the books, editing photos, et cetera.
Whatever is left has to pay for rent or mortgage, groceries, utilities, childcare, vacations, charitable donations, and many other expenses.
Believe me: your clients have no clue about your cost of doing business, and they do not care.
However, if you don’t build these expenses into your fee, you will go broke. All the talent, skill and experience in the world is not going to save you if you’re not turning a profit.
So, the next time someone asks you “Why are you so expensive?” think twice before you answer.
My friend Bob van der Houven told me the story of one of his VO colleagues who was asked:
“Why should I pay you $500 for an hour of your time?”
“You’re not paying for an hour. You’ re paying for 30 years of experience!”
Personally, I am comfortable with what I charge. I think it’s more than fair, and frankly, I deserve it.
When people ask me why I charge what I charge I tell them in a friendly but self-assured way:
“That’s my rate,” and I leave it at that. And you know what? Nine out of ten times they accept it, and that’s understandable.
I mean, I don’t go into a restaurant challenging the chef why he charges $35 for the main course.
If I don’t want to pay that much, I should eat somewhere else.
There’s fine dining, there’s fast food, and anything in between.
So, tell me: what are you cooking up for your clients?
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!
“Have you ever fired a client, and why? I have one customer who is driving me nuts, but I can’t afford to lose his business.”
First of all, that’s a horrible position to be in. Many freelancers choose to run their own business because they don’t want to depend on someone or something else. Having big spenders as clients may seem fantastic, but if you’re not careful, you end up being in their pocket, and they start pulling all the shots.
David Ogilvy, the famous advertising guru, took great care in selecting his clients. That concept alone was revolutionary. If you’re a service provider, don’t clients choose you? Isn’t that how the game is played? Not in Ogilvy’s world.
Ogilvy and his partner would turn down about sixty clients every year, and this was one of their rules:
“Never work for a client so big you can’t afford to lose them.”
They once turned down Ford because the iconic motor company would represent half of their total billing.
So, to get back to my reader’s question: be selective in whom you want to work with, even if you’re just starting out. Don’t put all your eggs in one or two baskets. It makes you overly dependent, and very vulnerable. If that one big client pulls out, you’re toast.
Have I ever fired a client? I sure have, and I’m happy I did. It wasn’t all about money. In fact, in many cases money had little to do with it.
Here are a few clients I gladly gave the sack:
Here’s the client who thinks he owns you twenty-four seven. He always knows best; he’s overly demanding, disrespectful, and never satisfied. These people are impossible to please. The more you try, the less you succeed.
Working for dictators made me hate myself and my job. I did everything I could to avoid contact with them because it was emotionally draining. No money in the world could make up for how lousy I felt working for these bullies.
Some clients act as if the rules don’t apply to them. Even with a written agreement in place, they try to bend and break it as fast as they can: “Sorry, we can’t pay you within thirty days. We’ll cut a check as soon as the end-client pays us.”
“Did the agreement say that we have to pay you even if we don’t use your recording? Well, that’s just too bad. We have switched gears, and don’t need your voice-over anymore.”
When you continue working for a client who is not paying your bill, you are sending the message that you are not worth the fee you charge.
Stay away from clients with great ideas and no budget, and the ones that try to nickel-and-dime you from the get-go. I once fired a long-time client of mine that was locked into old rates. When I increased my fees across the board, she insisted I make an exception “for old times sake.”
While it may seem like a “nice” gesture, deals like that hold your business back. Time spent on these small-budget clients prevents you from spending that time working for a client who respects your rate. Ogilvy was right when he said:
“Only work for clients who want you to make a profit.”
When thinking of your clients, ask yourself these two questions:
“Do they sell a product or service I can be proud of?”
“Will I be able to do my very best work?”
Whether you’re a copywriter, a graphic designer, or a voice-over, you will be professionally associated with a product or service you helped promote. Your reputation is always on the line.
An advertising agency I had worked with in the past, asked me to voice a commercial for one of the world’s worst weed killers. I politely declined, and they understood. My voice is for hire, but my integrity is not for sale.
It’s up to you where you draw the line, but I would never want to be involved in something illegal, or help sell something I’m morally against.
Some clients are completely unorganized and in over their heads. One day they want one thing. The next day all has changed. It’s something you find out once you start working with them. As a freelancer, you’re used to juggling many plates, but you’re not getting paid to help your clients juggle theirs.
Sometimes clients become overly friendly. They start calling at night with some lame excuse. It turns out: they just want to talk about a personal issue, or they start gossiping about a colleague they’ve worked with. Before you know it, they’ll be asking you favors because of the perceived friendship.
Take my word: keep things clean, and have clear boundaries. It’s painful to have to fire these clients, because you know they’ll start gossiping about you to the next professional they cling to. But if you give in because you want to be nice, they’ll suck up your time and tire you out.
THE HIDDEN MESSAGE
All the clients I just described have a few things in common: They keep you from growing your business. They drag you away from your goals. They also appear on your path as your teachers.
People who don’t respect you, are giving you a chance to learn to respect yourself.
People who distract you, are showing you the importance of being focused.
People who don’t pay you, are testing what you think of the value of your work.
People who are trying to manipulate your feelings, are helping you grow a pair.
Now, if you are bound by a contract I’m not suggesting you break your word and fire these clients. Rather than cutting them loose, you’ve got to cut your losses, fulfill your obligation, and learn from the situation.
But should these clients contact you again for a project, respectfully decline their offer. All they would do is take the fun out of your job. And as Ogilvy said:
“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.”
I’m not the only blogger who fell in love with this new microphone. Do a quick online search, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one bad review. No matter what you throw at it, the OC18 performs extraordinarily well. I think it offers exceptional value for money, especially for vocal applications.
Inspired by my review, A Dutch colleague decided to take the plunge and order one. A week or so ago, he got in touch with me to say that he was disappointed in the OC18. He said he’d expected “a more beefy sound.”
He sent some sound samples of his new mic to two audio engineers in Amsterdam. One of them really liked what he heard and said that the OC18 made it easier to edit the recording in post. The other disagreed, and said that he had to add more bells and whistles to make it sound good, compared to the old microphone the talent was using, made by SE Electronics.
Same microphone recorded in the same home studio. Two professional opinions. Who is right and who is wrong? Or is there even such a thing as right and wrong?
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
It was time for me to dig deeper. I asked my colleague to send me some raw OC18 audio from his studio. The sample sounded fine, but there was something strange going on. His OC18 had more lows than my OC18, yet he noted that his new mic “lacked the punch” he had been hoping for.
I firmly believe that you can never evaluate a microphone in isolation, or by looking at the spec sheet alone. After all, a cake recipe in a cookbook doesn’t tell you anything about how the cake is going to taste, and whether or not you will like it. It doesn’t even take into account how good you are at baking a cake.
As you no doubt know, a microphone is part of an entire recording chain with many variables. Every element within that chain can color the sound. On top of that, the recording space and the way we reproduce and analyze the sound, makes a huge difference to our perception.
I once attended a recording session at the famous Abbey Road studios, and the vintage Neumann U 87’s sounded majestic. Taken into a cramped voice over booth, that same, venerable microphone just didn’t do it for me. To my ears, the sound was a tad too muddy.
Well, I discovered that my Dutch colleague had his OC18 plugged into an Apogee Duet 2 preamp that’s been described as “clean, quiet, and detailed.” I have an Audient iD22 in my studio that I would describe as clean, quiet, and detailed. As it turns out, even notoriously neutral preamps add some character to the mix. Perhaps that’s why my OC18 sounded brighter.
Just to be sure he hadn’t bought a lemon, my colleague talked to Austrian Audio and had them listen to a sample. Their senior acoustic engineer Christoph Frank confirmed there was nothing wrong with the microphone. He suggested that my Dutch colleague was probably so used to the sound of his old microphone that the OC18 didn’t meet his expectations.
I have to concur. Our perception is constantly colored by our senses, our memories, and our expectations.
You see, in order to function as a human being we are continuously comparing and adjusting. It’s an unconscious process. In order to determine whether or not we’re getting closer to our goal, we have to compare where we’ve been and where we are, to where we want to go. It’s a feedback loop.
Sometimes the place we want to arrive at is very concrete and explicit. For instance, if I want to go to the Easton Farmers’ Market, I have to know where it’s located and what to look for so I will recognize it once we get there. Then I get into my car, and as I am driving I am comparing where I am to where I want to be. Every comparison is a measurement. A judgment. The better the instruments are that I’m measuring with, the more precisely I can determine my progress.
But quite often, the goals we’re trying to reach are vague. So many people simply say: “I want to be better at….blank.” The question is “What do you mean by better? Compared to what?” That’s where the trouble begins.
I see so many colleagues on social media saying: “I want to buy a better microphone. Which one do you recommend?” This is immediately followed by a whole string of suggestions. The cure has already been offered without a proper diagnosis, and without knowing what someone’s criteria for a better microphone are, let alone the available budget.
In this case my Dutch colleague wanted a microphone with “more oomph,” but what the heck is oomph anyway? “More oomph” means different things to different people, and is it even fair to expect more oomph from something that might not even be capable of delivering it?
As Einstein said:
“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
The other question we’d have to ask ourselves is this: Are there other ways to give a microphone more punch, for instance by using some compression? Perhaps the mic is not the problem.
What I’m ultimately trying to get across is that your expectations are telling a lot more about you, than about the object of your anticipation. Expectations are mostly built on your past experience, your subjective taste, and your personal preference.
Part of our expectations also comes from social proof, such as the reviews we read and the videos we watch. I mean, if Mister Booth Junkie (whom I love) says this $250 Synco shotgun sounds exactly like a $1000 MKH 416, it must be true!
Let’s face it. We can’t help being biased, and the tragedy is that so many people are not consciously aware of it. And here’s the kicker: I can make you biased if I want to!
For instance, if I would tell you that you’re about to listen to a recording that was made using a pricey Neumann microphone, chances are that you would give it higher marks than if I had told you it was done on some cheap Chinese brand you’ve never even heard of.
That, by the way, is the same reason why people are convinced more expensive wine tastes better. It’s an example of the confirmation bias where we favor ideas that confirm our existing beliefs and what we think we know.
For most people, it’s hard to have an open mind, especially if you haven’t been taught to think critically, and you’re more of a follower than a leader. Just turn on the news, and see for yourself how confirmation bias colors people’s perceptions and actions. Our political affiliations do not matter. We’re all guilty.
Luckily, my colleague was aware of his limitations, and asked for outside help. After our conversation he invited a trusted audio engineer over to his home studio to test the microphone at the location where it would be used. In about two hours, the engineer carefully tweaked the settings of the Apogee Duet, and installed a few updates. He also adjusted the input levels which had been way too low.
In musical terms I guess one could say that he tuned the entire recording chain like a grand piano.
Once he was done, the Austrian Audio mic began to sing with a full dynamic spectrum. The clarity that had been missing was back, and the microphone now produces a rich and bright sound that totally flatters my colleague’s voice. He’s not going to send it back to Austria. That’s for sure!
The moral of the story?
Be aware of your limitations, your biases, and your expectations.
“Millions of dollars paid out to voice actors globally.”
“Audition for your dream job now.”
“Instant access to amazing opportunities.”
“One million registered users can’t be wrong.”
“New job postings every day.”
It sure sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Especially when you’re young, idealistic, and impressionable. It’s the way online voice casting sites throw out their net. Especially now that many of us are jobless and stuck inside thanks to a killer virus.
Day after day an ever-growing army of hopefuls is eagerly looking at their inbox, waiting for the next “amazing opportunity” to become a voice over star. It comes at a price, though.
If you’re taking part in these online cattle calls, be ready to be milked!
Of course these casting sites won’t tell you that you have to spend between $349 and $399 per year to take part in a crapshoot. They’ll feed you success stories about people who claim to make a six-figure income by winning audition after audition. Anecdotal evidence always trumps independently verified numbers, right?
People believe what they want to believe when they’re desperate and uninformed.
So, today I’m not going to give you the golden formula to online voice over success. Sorry to break the news, but it does not exist. Instead, I will give you a few reasons why you probably should stay clear of this business. I’ll start with the most important one.
1. The world doesn’t need you.
Yes, you’ve heard me.
We have enough people talking into microphones, thank you very much. What this world needs is less talk and more action.
We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution; people who know how to fight global warming and racism. We need first responders to pandemics, contact tracers and census takers.
If you really want to make a difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the sick, the homeless, the marginalized, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.
2. There’s no money in voice-overs.
The cost of living goes up every year while voice over rates are in steady decline. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Even the union can’t stop it. Thanks to online casting services and ignorant amateurs, your voice has become a commodity, sold by the lowest bidder to the cheapest client.
VO has become a game of averages, and here’s how it works.
The bottom feeders choose lowball sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and freelancer.com to sell their services for beer money. The top end of the market consists of A-list actors making millions voicing cartoons and commercials. If you’re average, you’re forever stuck in the middle. You have enough integrity to leave the crumbs to the idiots, but you won’t get the big gigs for the big money.
Don’t be fooled by voice-over veterans posting on Facebook how well they are doing. Some of them confided in me that they’re just keeping up appearances. No one wants to hire a loser, so they’ve got to tell the world they’re still an important player. Yay for social media! Everything people post is 100% true, right?
3. You are a social being.
Unless you enjoy going to expensive events to hear VoiceVIP’s talk about themselves and plug their books, you’re pretty much on your own in this business. I mean, who likes being locked up between the four carpeted walls of a 3.5’ by 3.5’ recording booth all day long?
You have no one to talk to but yourself, and you’ll never see a response from the people you’re supposedly entertaining. If acknowledgment is what you’re secretly longing for, wait for the Corona crisis to be over and go to a nursing home and read to the residents. Tell stories to kids in the cancer ward. It will make their day, and yours!
The sedentary lifestyle of a typical voice-over is unhealthy for the mind, body, and soul. It’s bad enough that you have to stay at home to stay safe these days. Let’s assume you’re an extrovert and you thrive in the company of others.
I can tell you right now that you will curse the day you decided to lock yourself up in a walk-in closet, just so you could narrate some third-rate novel for a royalty share that doesn’t even pay this month’s water bill.
4. You’ll spend at least 80% of your time trying to get work, and 20% doing the work.
Voice-overs spend a lot of time being busy without being productive. How rewarding is that? Regardless of what voice casting sites want you to believe, most jobs you audition for will go to someone else, and you’ll never know why. Don’t you love it?
But what about agents, you may ask. Once you have an agent or two, things will get better, right?
No they won’t.
The pickings are slim, and these days, all the agents in North America will send the same bathroom tissue script to every talent with a potty mouth. That really makes you feel part of an exclusive club, doesn’t it?
5. It may take many years before you see a return on your investment, if you’re lucky.
A voice-over career cannot be bought. It has to be conquered. Slowly.
You may think you’re going to be successful because of your unique sound. Dream on! The only way you’ll stand a chance is if you stop treating your pipe dream as a hobby. This means you’ve got to invest in professional gear and in a quiet place to record ($$$). Then you have to get yourself a few top-notch demos, plus a website to tell the world what you’re doing ($$$).
And this is just the beginning.
Having all of that in place is no guarantee that you’ll make any money with your voice. Thousands of people all over the world are doing exactly what you do, and they are giving up within a year. The only money they’ll ever see is when they’re selling their stuff on eBay. At a loss.
When you really think about it, you have to be an idiot to become a voice over.
I was foolish enough to choose that as my career, and guess what?
This may come as a surprise, but I never wanted to be a voice over.
I still think it’s strange that I make a living talking to imaginary people reading scripts from folks I’ve never met, for clients I’ve never even spoken to.
But it beats digging ditches, flagging traffic in 100 degree weather, working in an Amazon warehouse, or doing the night shift at a meat processing plant.
In my teens I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to have a career in music.
THE MUSIC MAN
From the age of eight I played the cornet in what Americans would call a marching band, even though we didn’t march much. It was more of a concert band. Later on I added organ lessons, and I played the piano. I was also an avid collector of native flutes from all over the world, most of which I could play.
When I was sixteen years old I started taking conducting lessons, I began composing and arranging, and at eighteen I became the interim conductor of my band. After high school I went to Utrecht University to study musicology, even though I was admitted to a conservatory in the north of Holland.
As a university student, I joined a brass band, an orchestra playing broadway musicals, a jazz band, and a choir specializing in plainchant. I simply couldn’t sit still and be quiet. My life was music, and music was my life.
If you’d ask me today to choose between music or voice overs, I would choose music in a heartbeat. No doubt about it.
So, it won’t come as surprise that I’ve kept a keen interest in the world of brass bands, concert bands, classical music in general, and organ music in particular.
WATCH WITH ME
What I’m going to do next is a bit of a risk. I’m going to ask you to watch a spectacular seven-minute music video. What you’re about to see is a selection of the best Japanese high school symphonic bands taking part in a 2019 national competition.
Perhaps the music you’re about to hear is not your cup of tea. On the other hand, you might have played in a high school band yourself, or you may have friends who did. Perhaps you still play an instrument, and you’ll recognize and appreciate the level of musicianship you’re about to see.
Anyway, I hope you will watch a bit of it, or the whole thing, just to get a better feel for what I’m going to talk about next.
I don’t know about you, but when I watched this video for the first time, I was floored. Having played in this type of ensemble myself, I was blown away by the technical abilities of the teenagers on stage, but there was more.
If you’ve ever been a member of any school orchestra, you know there are always a few people who practice really hard, and a whole lot who are simply winging it. You can say the same about sports teams, by the way. It’s rare to have an entire youth orchestra with kids who seem to be so committed and so completely competent.
QUALITY AND DEDICATION
Another thing I noticed was that they’re not playing on crappy instruments. To me, this is proof that the schools are taking their music program seriously. It’s not an afterthought without a proper budget.
Some kids on stage are multi-instrumentalists. At 3:20 you’ll see a girl on the left playing a mallet percussion instrument walking over to the harp. Without missing a beat, she starts plucking the strings.
What also struck me was the collective level of focus and dedication. No one was phoning it in. Of course this footage was shot at a competition, so that’s what one would expect, but here’s the thing. When you watch individual performances of these orchestras outside of a competitive setting (and there are tons of videos on YouTube), you’ll see the same level of energy, musicianship, and enthusiasm starting at the elementary school level.
Unlike my old orchestra, most of these school bands are also marching bands that frequently travel the world to show off their amazingly intricate routines. Click here to watch one of these shows.
Back to the 2019 competition video. What impressed me most was that the performances weren’t only technically top-notch, but these teens were making real music with heart and with soul. Here’s the big question: How do they do it?
WHAT’S THE SECRET
As an academic discipline, music in Japan is just as important as mathematics. All of the musicians you see on stage started their music education in elementary school. If you don’t believe me, watch this video of an all-girl elementary school brass band playing “Jupiter” from the “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. And they’re doing it from memory!
So, what can we learn from music education in Japan?
Lesson number one: Start as early as you can, and whatever it is you do, have fun but take it seriously.
Lesson number two: Practice, practice, practice.
Most band members in Japan can’t rehearse at home, so they stay after school for a couple of hours on every weekday for individual and band practice, and sometimes during weekends and vacations as well. A band is only as good as its weakest link. No one wants to let the team down.
Lesson number three: Keep at it. Don’t give up too quickly.
So many kids are ready to give up when things become challenging, and parents let them. How can you know that playing the piano is not for you after only a couple of lessons? Successful people aren’t quitters.
Practicing does not come naturally. It requires discipline and needs to be learned. It takes time for habits to form.
Lesson number four: Stay focused.
We live in a time of many distractions and short attention spans. Cell phones are always within reach, and in many homes the TV is always on. It’s easy for your mind to wonder off, if you don’t make whatever it is you want to become good at, a priority.
Lesson number five: Become an expert.
The best way to master something, is to teach it. In Japan, elder students are expected to educate the young, and younger students have to respect senior students.
Lesson number six: Have an open, curious mind, and an eagerness to learn.
Western band directors have marveled at the openness of the Japanese students to new ideas and noticed the apparent absence of “attitude.” Japanese students want to learn, they accept the information and instructions given to them, and most importantly, they do the work necessary to realize the desired results.
Lesson number seven: If you want to be at the top of your game, you have to have reliable equipment.
This means you need to have the means and the willingness to make a serious investment. A cheap instrument will only take you so far, and it will limit what you can achieve.
Lesson number eight: Setting the bar high is a matter of tremendous pride.
Do these Japanese school orchestras consist of a bunch of overachievers? To the naive outsider that may seem the case, but in Japan these orchestras are of vital importance since they represent each school and its identity.
Every year, prestigious national competitions are organized to elect the best orchestra. Imagine 14,000 bands with 800,000 competing musicians! This allows pupils to be highly motivated in terms of instrument practice because they want to defend the honor of their school.
Lesson number nine: Study the best performers in your field and keep on learning.
Japanese students are encouraged to watch live performances and learn from them. Observing top orchestras and individual performers can inspire students to up their game. The band director will often bring in professionals for clinics and joint performances to bring out the best in the students.
Lesson number ten: Cultures are different and unique. Not everything that works in Japan will work as well in the rest of the world.
For one, Japanese culture focuses more on the collective than on the individual. To an outsider, there seems to be greater (and an unhealthy) pressure to be perfect. Voice over Sean Daeley who has lived and worked in Japan told me:
“While I admit there is an element of cultural difference in perfectionism, the importance of not letting the band or your family down, and maybe even tiger mom/parentage, I’ve also talked to a number of adult students who reflected back on those experiences, saying while they may have hated it at the time, they were truly grateful they were encouraged to put in the time to enjoy the level of skill they still have as adults.”
BUT WHAT ABOUT VOICE OVERS
Here’s the connection.
Performing music is an art, and so is doing voice overs. A musician interprets the notes in a score, just as voice overs interpret the words on a page.
Before you can start a career as a voice over artist, you have to learn how to play your instrument. This takes time, practice, and concentration. You need careful guidance and a willingness to accept direction from people with more experience.
You have to leave your attitude of entitlement and “I know everything already” at the door. You don’t know what you don’t know.
When you get advice from a VO veteran, don’t complain about the older generation pretending to be better than you are. Say “Thank you,” and repay him or her by putting it into practice and by paying it forward.
You need to focus, listen, and learn until you become so good at what you do, that you can teach the material to a new generation. It requires relentless dedication, time, and energy.
As someone who will be self-employed, no one will set the bar, but you. No one will get you out of bed, but you. No one will tell you what to do, but you.
If you’re not disciplined enough to handle that (and most people aren’t), a voice over career isn’t your thing.
Your studio will be your stage, and you’ll be performing for an audience you’ll never see.
A few weeks ago, I told you about my Dutch colleague Jolanda Bayens. She is the founder and director of the Voice Over College, and one of Holland’s most in-demand voices. Jolanda is also a registered nurse, but she hasn’t practiced in twenty-six years.
When the Corona virus hit her region hard, she felt she had to do something to help, and she offered to go back to nursing. After Jolanda’s first story was published, people kept checking in with me to find out how she’s doing.
This is her update:
It’s a gorgeous sunny day in May. The highway is a bit busier than last week. As I’m driving, I start thinking about the things I have to do, tomorrow. One of those jobs is a voice over recording, a medical animation to be exact. I’m grateful that most of my customers still know where to find me, even in these testing times.
There’s also lots of planning to do for my training institute, the voice over college. Thank goodness my guest teachers are incredibly flexible. Meanwhile, the lockdown seems to get more relaxed in the Netherlands. We’re allowed to get out a bit more, emphasis on “a bit.” When I pass an electronic message board, I’m being warned not to unwind in a nearby nature reserve as they’re expecting record crowds this weekend.
Half an hour has passed when I park my car in the parking lot of the nursing home. Because I’m working in a COVID-19 ward, I’m not allowed to use the regular staff entrance. My colleagues and I have to enter through the mortuary. Different doors that only open when I enter the correct code, take me to the stairwell. I walk up the stairs, and I consciously take a deep breath in and out, pushing the door open.
I have arrived.
As a temp nurse I work on different COVID-19 wards. Today I go to a floor that has been hit very hard. My colleague and I (it’s just the two of us because they couldn’t find an additional nurse for this shift), get into our protective suits. We put on gloves, face masks, and safety goggles. During our shift we cannot leave this ward and we’re responsible for nine demented people. Only one of them is not infected with the Corona virus.
That one person happens to be stretching his legs as I walk in. He has no idea where he is or what he’s doing There’s no one to stop him and his family is not allowed to come in. He is terrified and keeps asking what he is supposed to do. I feel guilty because I can’t really help him.
During the day shift three people on this floor have passed. Apart from the one “healthy” resident, all others are in bed feeling terribly sick. I can tell one of them hasn’t got long to live. The doctor has been called to administer morphine, which he does. Because we expect that death is near, we call the next of kin. They show up wearing layers of protective clothing.
THE LIVING AND THE DYING
The family members come inside, and we show them to their dad who is fighting for his life. His kids are shocked by what they see and tell their father that it’s okay to let go. But the old man is clinging on. I get goosebumps as I’m fighting back the tears.
We stay a while to explain what the family can and cannot do under these circumstances, and then we continue with our work. One lady in our care is gravely ill, and the rest of the residents are so sick that they don’t want to eat or drink.
Forty-five minutes later the family of the dying man decides to go home. They were only allowed to stay for half an hour, but we gave them some extra time. Every ten minutes my colleague and I stick our heads around the corner to see how the dying man is doing.
When I enter his room around eight, I see that he has passed. He looks totally exhausted. I ask a doctor to call the time of death, while family members contact the undertaker who will take care of the body. Normally, that’s our job, but because of Corona regulations we aren’t allowed to do that.
The only thing we can do is carry on. We help people eat and drink, we give them medications, and we clean the residents up. We take their temperature and blood pressure, and we measure their oxygen level. We continue to do so until the end of our shift.
In the car, on my way back, I feel guilty because I wasn’t able to give my patients the care they so desperately deserve and need. When I try to brush that uncomfortable feeling away, I suddenly notice how thirsty I am. Walking around in those protective suits feels like being in a sauna, and with only two nurses on duty, there wasn’t enough time to even take a sip of water.
I turn on the radio to listen to the news. The number of people with COVID-19 being admitted to hospitals has gone down again, and the numbers at the ICU’s are decreasing as well. But once again, no one is mentioning anything about nursing homes. It is as if we do not exist.
The news reader continues: at the main railway station in Amsterdam, police officers and railway officials had to be deployed to manage the enormous flow of travelers heading for the beach resort of Zandvoort. Forget social distancing. Getting an early tan and emptying a six pack of Heineken is much more important.
I’m finally home. I get out of my car and take a deep breath.
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.
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