JMC & the author at VO Atlanta
If you’ve missed the big news, let me spell it out for you:
The ONE VOICE CONFERENCE is coming to North America in August!
This virtual gathering is the Gravy For the Brainchild of UK-based Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson. They are the dynamic duo behind Gravy For The Brain.
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 is Portia 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 demos production 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!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice