For many voice-overs, the 2019 edition of VO Atlanta was unforgettable. The cameraderie, the learning opportunities, the emotions, it was all a bit overwhelming.
But, life goes on, and memories start to fade. There are new gatherings to go to, new projects to voice, and new memories to be made.
Thinking back to my time at VO Atlanta 2019, it was the year I had to stay under the radar. Still recovering from a stroke, I needed to keep away from the crowds and preserve energy for my presentations.
Still, I managed to take a few snapshots here and there, and I filed those photos away until I found them again the other day.
Watching the slideshow you’re about to see brought back many precious moments. Whether you were at VO Atlanta, or you’re thinking of going in 2020, I’m sure you’ll recognize some familiar faces. A big thank you to Jon Ciano for taking the pictures of my Stinky Sock Breakout Session.
Be sure to watch the photos on full-screen in HD.
VO Atlanta 2020 will be held from March 26-29. The theme is “Envision.” If you can’t wait that long, sign up for the Summer Intensive, a training weekend with Kay Bess, Joe Cipriano, and Cliff Zellman. Dates: August 16 – 17.
I don’t know about you, but I’m astonished at the growing number of people responding to no-budget and low-budget voice-over jobs. It had me wonder:
Who are they? What drives them? How do we make them stop?
Some colleagues suggested I shouldn’t take these lowballers seriously. They’re ignorant hobbyists at best, and their actions have no impact on us professionals.
It’s insulting and upsetting when both client and talent find the contribution of a voice-over of so little value that no money changes hands. Meanwhile, the copywriter and sound engineer get paid, the animator receives a check, and the guy who hired them to create an ad campaign has a full-time position with benefits.
What’s wrong with this picture?
If the company is too cheap to pay a pro, why don’t they ask Keith from accounting to do the voice-over? Why do they have to post a job in a Facebook group for voice-overs? It’s simple: because they know that Keith in accounting is a klutz, and there’s always a hopeless hopeful VO with a sliver of talent who’s willing to do it for nothing.
I’m sorry, but I’ve worked too long and too hard to be giving my voice away. Even if I were getting my feet wet, I’d have enough respect for myself and my colleagues to insist on being paid good money for good work.
So, why are some budding voice-overs willing to work for free? Beginning plumbers don’t do that. Newly graduated chefs don’t put a zero dollar menu together. Young teachers make less, but they get paid for doing their job. What makes us voice-overs so special that we deserve not to be paid?
A TYPICAL JOB OFFER
To get some perspective, let’s pick a real gig that was just posted on Facebook. The job is for a “nonprofit small low power Christian radio station” and was described as follows:
“A concept piece mentioning a new name and slogan along with some catchphrases. It’s like a sizzle reel in tv terms. Unpaid but appreciated.”
Someone who wants this job responds (and I’m not going to pick on the grammar):
“I could use the exposure and experience being new to professional.”
Just imagine all the exposure a small nonprofit low power Christian radio station can bring! I think you’ll need the intervention of a higher power to make all that exposure work to your benefit.
Speaking of exposure, try going to a restaurant telling the owner: “I’m not going to pay you today, but I’ll make sure to say nice things about you on Instagram.” Unless you’re Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, or Kylie Jenner, I don’t think you’ll be getting very far.
As someone who has been using his voice professionally since he was seventeen, I can tell you that, unless you’re a flasher, exposure is highly overrated. It doesn’t pay the rent and it can’t feed your family. It’s a transparent trick to make you believe you’re getting something in exchange for volunteering your services.
Some high-profile jobs may give you limited exposure, but these jobs usually go to A-list celebs and come with a nice paycheck. Keep in mind that voice-overs are the Invisibles of the industry. By definition, our role is mainly supportive (the exception being audiobook narration which I think is underpaid). We have to make up our own awards shows in order to get some recognition… from our peers.
So, if you’re looking for exposure, you’ve chosen the wrong profession. Don Lafontaine was arguably the most famous voice-over artist of his time, but very few people knew who he was until he appeared as a sidekick in a Geiko television commercial. Notice that he’s introduced as “that announcer guy from the movies.”
Will working for free give you the experience needed to book more paid jobs? It totally depends on the experience. I vividly remember an angry young conductor kicked out of a competition. He wanted to know why he hadn’t made it to the next round. He told the jury: “Compared to all the other contestants I’ve had much more experience. Why are you letting me go?” The chairman of the jury told him: “Your experience must not have been very good.”
Some experiences simply don’t translate. Just because you’ve worked as an announcer for a radio station or you were a teacher or a minister doesn’t mean you have the chops to be a successful voice-over. Having extensive experience as a voice talent doesn’t necessarily get me hired. Most clients aren’t interested in what I’ve done for other people in the past. They want to know:
What can you do for me today?
Will experience help you finally land an agent? Agents get interested once they know you can make them money. Doing jobs for free tells them you’re desperate instead of marketable. In my opinion, the experience you need as a budding voice-over is the experience of working with a good coach who’s not afraid to say what you don’t want to hear.
BEING A PROFESSIONAL
Let’s get back to the reason one of our colleagues thought he’d be a good fit for that no-budget Christian radio station job. He wrote:
“I could use the exposure and experience being new to professional.”
We’ve covered exposure and experience. Let’s get to the “professional” aspect. According to one dictionary, a professional is “engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.”
So, if you’re doing something professionally, it can’t be a hobby, and you have to get paid. In addition, voice-overs are small business owners. The IRS says:
“A trade or business is generally an activity carried on for a livelihood or in good faith to make a profit.”
In other words:
WORKING FOR FREE IS UNPROFESSIONAL
A GOOD CAUSE
But what about working for charities? Don’t they at least deserve a discount? Before I get into that, let me be clear: the VO jobs I see posted in Facebook groups are sometimes for nonprofits but not for charities. Every charity is a nonprofit, but not every nonprofit is a charity.
As professionals we have to stop making assumptions about how much we believe a potential client can or cannot afford. They’re not going to tell us so we will never know. Just because it’s a nonprofit or a charity, doesn’t mean there’s no budget for PR. I know because organizations like Charity Navigator keep track of how much of a charity’s budget goes to fundraising campaigns.
Charities like the Cancer Survivors’ Fund, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, and the Kids Wish Network spend more than 50% of their budget on fundraising activities (source: click here). That isn’t necessarily a good thing, but don’t tell me all charities have no money and deserve a break.
Many CEO’s of charities make six-figure incomes. In 2015, the CEO of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center made $3.6 million, and Wayne LaPierre who heads the nonprofit National Rifle Association was reported to make $4.6 million. These are extremes, but Charity Navigator says that among the charities they’ve evaluated, the average CEO salary is $150,000 (source: click here).
THERE’S A DIFFERENCE
What’s my point? Not every charity is created equal. Many are huge, professional organizations with big budgets for promotion. If there’s money to pay a CEO a decent salary, there is money to pay a voice-over a decent fee. Now, if you wish to support that charity because you connect with the cause, don’t discount your services. Make a tax-deductible donation after you get paid.
What baffles me most about those willing to work for (next to) nothing is the fact that they seem to be beginners. Perhaps I’m weird, but when I started out, I needed all the money I could get so I could invest in my career. I had to buy decent equipment, a good website, and I saved up to create a quiet recording space. Plus, I had to have a roof over my head and some food on the table.
I couldn’t afford to work for free, and I still can’t.
Here’s the thing most lowballers won’t admit: it takes real talent to book a top-dollar job, but it’s pretty easy to book a gig when you’re charging very little or nothing.
Once clients are used to your low rates they won’t be willing to pay you full price, and your colleagues will have a harder time negotiating a better deal. Why should clients pay more if they can get it for less (especially those for whom “good enough” is good enough).
Charging peanuts means you’ll never have the life you’re hoping for, and you’ll have less money to give to that charity you say you wish to support.
The moment you start charging a reasonable rate, you create expectations. You have something to prove. You tell the world:
“This is what this job is worth!
This is what I am worth, professionally speaking.”
If what you bring to the table has no added value, you’ve nothing left but to compete on price. But…
if you’re any good at what you do, people are willing to pay for it, and the benefit of hiring you outweighs the cost every single time.
After reading my last two articles, here’s what some of you wanted to know:
Do I make all this stuff up to scare newbies and make them look bad?
Before I address that, let’s explore the suggestion behind this question.
Number one: blaming the messenger is a cheap attempt to deflect attention from an unwelcome message. This is a tactic as old as mankind. If you feel you can’t win the argument, try to discredit the source, like:
“I’m uncomfortable with what Paul is saying, so I’ll accuse him of lying.”
Number two: why would I make stuff up? Every time I put myself out there as a blogger, I risk my reputation. The moment people would catch me in a falsehood, it’s game over. As a former journalist, I know for a fact that years of truth telling can be nullified by one stupid lie.
Once exposed, no one would ever want me to present at a conference, interview me for their podcast, read this blog, or buy my book. Clients that got wind of it might not want to work with me anymore.
Honestly, to lie would be a liability.
Lastly, why would I have to make things up if you can easily find them in open Facebook groups? If anything, social media is ideal for spotting public displays of ignorance. I’ve just combed through pages and pages of voice-over related nonsense to bring you the best of the worst. Before I get to that, here’s what you need to know.
You’re about to read literal quotes. I’m not paraphrasing anything, or correcting spelling. To protect the identity of the authors, I’m not going to name names. However, you should realize that this is my personal selection, specifically chosen to emphasize a few trends that worry me, namely:
1. Social media offer a seemingly equal playing field to pros and hobbyists. If you’re new to the business and you don’t know anybody, you can’t tell whom you can trust for advice. You might get solid information, or someone might be taking you for a ride.
2. Too many (amateur) doctors are prescribing cures before carefully diagnosing the patient, unhindered by a lack of common sense, knowledge, and experience. Anyone’s an expert, and quite often, the deaf are leading the blind. As usual, the quality of the info depends on the quality of the source.
3. Many Facebook groups have no barrier of entry, and any nobody can pretend to be somebody. I’ll say that again: any nobody can pretend to be somebody. Some critics claim that half of all Facebook accounts are fake. Ask yourself: do you know for sure that the Facebookers you’re chatting with are who they say they are?
In some groups, the people recruiting voices for their next project have started adding “must be 18+” because many of the submissions turned out to be from kids who were just fooling around.
4. There is no Facebook police, and too many group moderators are allowing anyone to say anything… they agree with. In my experience, it’s permitted to sing the praises of an unnamed, unethical, greedy P2P, but any criticism is quickly censored as “being negative.” In the same spirit, the moderator will allow rave reviews of newbie demos and websites (even when they’re crap), and will delete more honest assessments because they’re seen as “mean.”
An aspiring VO exclaimed:
“I’m going to leave this Facebook Group mainly because I’ve received nothing but negative comments since I’ve joined and I really only wanted to learn how to be successful and instead recieved so much hate.”
Thankfully, someone responded:
“I searched for your name and you’ve gotten one troll reply and about 30 helpful ones. It’s not hate if people don’t agree with you. It’s constructive criticism and at the end of the day only YOU choose what to take away or leave behind from any advice you get in life. If people keep taking things personally, then sorry but the VO business is not for you.”
As expected, people have lots of questions about breaking into the business. The scary thing is that so many Facebookers are ready to give advice without knowing anything about the person asking for it.
Let’s say you’re a car mechanic. Would you start working on a car before finding out what’s wrong with it? That’s pretty dumb, right? So, speaking of ways to get into the VO business, here’s what someone recommended:
“You have to move to los angeles to become an actor am i right regardless if how much fame or money you have or how many friends one gets in life? its easy for richard horvitz to be an actor if hes from there regardless how many friends he was with a pro actor or athlete right?”
That was particularly helpful, wasn’t it? Moving on to the next question:
“Been voicing anime since I was little but wanting to do it professionally; how to get started is my question.”
Here’s the answer:
“First creat a few demos”
“How to do that and not make it sound terrible?”
“I think the first step is just put yourself out there, make your presence known so, maybe take some unpaid jobs first, build a report of people that will recommend you and go from there.”
Here’s another brilliant suggestion:
“First things’ first: got a good mic? then: record something and upload it to soundcloud.com then put url link here.”
Someone else chimes in:
“I was always told to reach out to radio stations. I’m friends with a few professional voice actors.”
My two cents? First of all, don’t move to LA yet. Get some training first and see if you have any talent. Secondly, don’t “creat” any demos if you haven’t demonstrated anything. Once you’re ready for those demos, hire a professional to create them with you. By the way, don’t put yourself out there (whatever that means) if you have no website, no sound samples, and no recording space. It’s like opening a shop with empty shelves. Lastly, stay out of radio stations. They’re breeding grounds for frustrated announcers.
Unsurprisingly, many questions on Facebook are about home studios and recording equipment. We’d rather spend hours debating the pros and cons of using a USB microphone, than talk about how to market our business. Here’s a selection:
Q. “What’s the best mic that I can buy for under $100?” A1. “Blue snowball is good.”
A. “You can get the whole set up for about $200 and it’s totally worth it. You can see my mic and interface recommendations at XYZ.com Also, I’m selling my condo.”
A2. “You should able to go into a music shop and ask them if you can test their mics.”
A3. “I started with a Rode NT USB. A simple noise reduction pass is all you need and the set up is a fraction of the cost of XLR if you’re starting out on a budget.”
A4. “The Kaotica Eyeball is the only thing you need. It turns anywhere you are into your own sound studio.”
Let me break that down for you. Forget snowballs. Blue balls are particularly painful. $200 is not going to get you all you need to compete. Please don’t test microphones on the noisy shop floor of your local Guitar Center. Try them out in your recording space. Invest in a condenser mic and soundproof your studio. A plugin isn’t going to keep out lawn mowers and leaf blowers.
Q. “I don’t have a studio. How do i record when the neighbors kids are so loud i can hear them with the window closed?”
A1. “Tell the kids to shut up.”
A2. “You could try to build a little pvc/moving blanket fort… it will help.”
A3. “Upturned mattress and blankets all over will get you where you need to be once you get as far away from the kiddies as possible. Then a blanket over your head with your mic.”
Mattresses and blankets may help tame the boom in the room, but you need to decouple walls and add mass to keep the outside sounds out. FYI that’s going to cost you a pretty penny, but a VO without a home studio is like an Uber driver without a car.
A few more booth questions:
“Does anyone else use their macbook webcam mic? Do you find that sometimes your audio is inconsistant when you record? Somedays I sound clear and crisp, others I sound like I’m talking in a tin can. (I’m using Garage band to record)”
“So, I’m planning on making a cheap diy mobile sound booth on a pallet, and I’m wondering if you guys have any tips on what the cheapest materials I could use.”
“I have used fibre egg crates for sound absorbing material, they work great.”
“So I have a square closet that has a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. I would probably want to put some soundproof material under the door because that’s the only part I can think of that would need it. I know that a lot of people start out with using a closet because it’s usually the most natural soundproof room.”
“Mine booth is a decommissioned shower stall. I used $5 moving blankets on all 4 sides as well as top and floor. It sounds as good as any booth in Hollywood I’ve ever used.”
“Moving blankets for the walls, ceiling, and floor if you have hard floors. Then toss a heavy blanket or comforter over the top moving blanket and put a heavy blanket up behind you. That’s as good as it gets without being a whisper room or studio bricks or something else nearly soundproof.”
Another person says:
“If you’re trying to keep it on the cheap, generic Walmart mattress toppers are between 1-2 inches thick and are usually around 10 bucks for a twin/full size mattress.”
What’s the common denominator? People trying to create something on the cheap. Here’s the thing: if you compromise on sound quality, you compromise your career. You don’t need to invest in a Bentley to travel from A to B, but you need a reliable means of transportation to get anywhere. And egg crates are just a fire hazard.
What surprised even me, are the number of “passion projects” peddled in Facebook groups. “Passion project” turns out to be a euphemism for unpaid slave labor. Here’s a sample:
“Hello everyone! I am in need of a few voice actors for my Sonic Boom Stop-Motion Episode 2 Project. This is NON PAID and I need the roles filled in as soon as possible!”
“I am currently in production of the first season of an all audio sketch comedy show. The project isn’t compensated however there are other benefits we will provide and avail to you if you are selected and interested.”
“I’m helping for casting for my mates unpaid Doctor Who Audio Series. (Unpaid) I am still looking for male voice actors for my Return to Wonderland motion comic book series.”
“Looking for a female VO for a Halo themed audio book. Project is unpaid currently as it is a copyrighted IP, but a copy of the completed work will given, and when it is live VO’s will be paid out first. The previous VO is having to be replaced due to some audio issues.”
“[Non-Paying] Any lady vocalists/singers interested in trying their hand providing vocals for original tunes?”
“Hey guys, need a voice actor for 4 roles. One for a robber, a female bank clerk (can also be voiced by male), and 2 male cops. Ill post the script below. This is a non paying gig, but may be a paying gig in the future.”
“Doing a freebie for a friend and was wondering if any of you would voice a short commercial? It’s for a “amateur” wrestling show. Its non paying I just need someone who wants to voice something for local tv.”
“Im looking for a few people to do some narrations for a youtube series. The Theme is Children’s Stories and I hope to make a fair few episodes of it so may have returning narrators. Unfortunately its unpaid but it will be able to bring out the budding little actors who are starting out in the art of voice acting as well as the pro’s that don’t mind doing it for a little fun.”
You’d be surprised how many people respond to these passion projects. The desperation to start yelling something into a microphone is real.
Here’s my rule of thumb: If you’re good enough to be hired, you’re good enough to be paid. Period. Working for exposure is something only strippers do. Someone commented:
“Chances are if they can’t afford to pay, they don’t have a big enough platform to offer significant exposure anyway. And if they do have some MASSIVE platform, they should be paying.”
Plus, you’ve barely started to get your feet wet, and you’re already teaching clients they can get something for nothing. This is a comment from one of those clients:
“As a content creator I can tell you all 99.9% of us would love to pay everyone we work with on every project. But if I spend all my budget on talent what am I to do about promoting my project? If one is getting into this field looking at it as a job then you’re doing it wrong. This is the business of independent contractors.”
In other words: freelancers can’t expect to be paid? Well, there’s a new concept!
There’s another myth out there, namely the myth that doing auditions is such great practice. It’s not. Here’s what I believe:
You practice to audition. You don’t audition to practice.
In order to get the job, you have to demonstrate that you can do the job. Some half-baked attempt is not going to work. It will leave the client with a bad taste in his mouth, and the next time he hears your voice he’ll move right on to another talent.
Oddly enough, those applying for unpaid jobs complain elsewhere that they have no money to move their career forward. Here’s one of them:
“So, as an aspiring voice actor myself, I have made one demo in the past but it wasn’t easily accessible. Now i’d like to make another one but I’d like some help.
Nevermind just found out 1100 bucks for the classes and then the demo. That’s aloooot of cash.”
Between you and me, that’s not a lot of cash for voice-over training and a demo. I would be very suspicious of anyone offering such a package for a little over a thousand bucks.
Finishing up, let me reiterate that it’s not my intention to shame anyone or make fun of anyone new to the voice-over business. You are very brave, and I am giving you these examples as a warning. Quite often, Facebook is the worst place to seek advice for those who don’t know what they don’t know.
Be smart, and do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of by people who prey on impressionable beginners.
Do your homework before asking any questions. Show the world that you’ve made an effort to find a solution before bothering the group. Don’t beg for jobs. Don’t comment on things you know very little about. Be open to feedback. Save up so you can invest in coaching, equipment, and a recording space. And above all: give yourself time to become good at what you want to do, and have fun.
I had fun responding to a Facebook question recently:
“I’m looking for a high soprano for an album I’m very close to finishing. It’s a various artists album, with some Asian and Celtic influences. Please PM me if interested.”
So, after my last blog caused quite a ripple effect throughout the VO community, I’m adding some fuel to the fire with what you’re about to read. When it was first published I managed to piss off a great number of people, and I’d love to do that again. That’s why I’m republishing the story below.
If you’re looking for fresh content this week, you’re invited to check out a new category on my website: Reviews.
Over the years I’ve reviewed voice-over gear, and I wanted to create a place to bring these articles together. But prepare yourself: I’m going to branch out to other products I have tested, unrelated to voice-over. Click here to get to my first new review. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. If you’re interested, you’ll find out. Alternatively, keep on reading about…
5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over
by Paul Strikwerda
“Millions of dollars paid out to voice actors globally.”
“Audition for your dream job now.”
“Instant access to amazing opportunities.”
“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 casting sites throw out their net, hoping that loquacious people will bite.
Well, bite they do, and day after day an ever-growing army of hopefuls is eagerly looking at their inbox, waiting for the next “amazing opportunity” to arrive. 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?
Believe me: People believe what they want to believe.
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 first responders to natural disasters.
If you want to make a real difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the homeless, 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 Elance, 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 you’ve got to tell the world you’re still an important player. Yay for social media! Everything people post is 100% true.
3. You are a social being.
Unless you enjoy going to expensive conferences 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’ whisper box 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, 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. If you’re an extrovert, you crave contact, and you thrive in the company of others. I can tell you right now that you will curse the day you decided to isolate yourself from the world, 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.
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 a fool to become a voice-over.
I was foolish enough to choose that as my career, and guess what?
Every couple of weeks I make the social media rounds on the various Facebook voice-over groups to see what’s new. The answer:
In fact, most of what’s going on is an endless regurgitation of familiar topics, and Me-Me-Me marketing we love wasting our time on: How much should I charge? Where can I find work? Will you critique my demo and my new website?
In an effort to nip these dreadfully boring and superfluous conversations in the bud, I’m going to cover some returning questions rapid-fire style, so we can all get on with our work.
I want to get started in voice-overs, but I have no experience, no equipment, and no money. Where do I begin?
Are you serious? You sound like the guy who wants to be an Uber driver, who doesn’t know how to drive, does not own a car, and has no money in the bank. How’s that going to work?
My two cents: Get a job. Put some money aside, and work with a coach to find out if you’re even remotely talented before you spend big bucks on a studio, gear, demos, and a website.
It sounds like I need a lot of money to break into this business. Why is it so expensive?
Compared to what? Ask a New York cab driver how much he paid for his medallion. What did the pianist pay for her Steinway? How much debt did your doctor take on to get her degree?
You can’t be invested without making an investment. If something is worth it, you’ve got to pay the price. And if you’re serious, you can equip your voice-over studio for under a thousand dollars. Click here to find out how.
I just got started as a voice-over. I’ve been auditioning for over three months and haven’t booked a single job. Nobody ever told me it was going to be this hard. I’ve got rent to pay.
Your coach should have prepared you for a harsh reality. Ninety percent of trained actors are out of work. The ones on the A-list get booked again and again. It’s not much different for voice actors. Your job is finding jobs. Over and over and over again. So, stop lurking on social media and start marketing yourself!
I signed up for several Pay-to-Plays. Posted my demos. Nothing’s happening. Is this a scam?
A P2P is the lazy way to get into this business. You pay your membership fees, you post a few homemade half-baked demos, you do a few lousy auditions with your crap equipment, and you expect magic to happen? Don’t blame the system. You are delusional.
My neighbor is driving me crazy with his mad dogs, his leaf blower, and his lawn mower. Right now I want to kill him.
Do you expect the world to stop just because you need to meet a deadline? You advertise yourself as a professional, yet you have no dedicated, isolated recording space. That’s a problem. Costs come before revenue. Stop moaning and get a double-walled booth. If you’re any good, it will pay for itself many times over.
This new client hasn’t paid me in months and won’t respond to my emails. Help!
Who have you been working for? Did you do your research to find out whom you’re dealing with? Did you watermark your audio? Did you ask to be paid upfront? Not every client can be trusted so you have to protect yourself. You either lawyer up and threaten legal action, or write the unpaid invoice off as a business loss. Remember: even if small claims court rules in your favor, it’s not going to collect your money. That’s on you.
I’m not making enough as a voice-over. What am I doing wrong?
You’re not alone! In this business, there is no guaranteed return on investment, and with what you’re charging, are you surprised you’re not making enough? It’s a self-inflicted wound. Low rates are the sign of a desperate amateur. Who wants to work with a desperate amateur?
Be better, not cheaper.
Sitting in front of a computer all day long is hurting my health. I hate it!
No one is forcing you to do anything that’s detrimental to your health. In order to take care of your clients, you have to take care of yourself. Exercise, do yoga, move around, choose a healthy diet. Sit up, hydrate, get a supportive chair, and a wrist rest. Don’t forget your emotional health. Surround yourself with supportive people. Get a life outside of your studio! Your work is just a means to an end.
Being a freelancer is hard work. I thought it would be fun to be my own boss, but I’m starting to change my mind.
No job in the world is 100% fun all the time, no matter what some Instagram posts may tell you. What you see and what you hear – the end result, may sound and look like fun, but you don’t see the effort necessary to make it happen. If you do your job well, you make it seem effortless.
If your level of fun is the only criterium you use to evaluate your job, you’re never going to be satisfied.
Now, if you’re not happy with how things are going, know that nothing is going to change unless you change. Keep in mind that as long as you keep on blaming others for your misfortune, they have to be the ones that have to change in order for you to be happy.
That ain’t gonna happen.
Allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow others to make mistakes. You don’t have to spoon-feed every newbie begging for free advice. They’ll end up being lazy, ungrateful, and dependent.
Give yourself time to become good at what you do. Learn from the experts. Invest your earnings to further your career. Value what you have to offer and price accordingly.
And beginning today, start figuring out ways to get visitors to your web pages, instead of interacting on other people’s groups and sites, boosting their SEO.
“Name one of the most beautiful musical instruments on the planet.”
“What’s your favorite?”
When I ask people these questions, they’ll usually say something like “cello,” “piano,” “harp,” or “flute.”
Bagpipes, cowbells, and kazoos never seem to make it to the list, and I can understand that.
But much to my surprise, people tend to leave out my favorite instrument: the human voice. Why is that?
Even though many of us sing in the shower, somehow we don’t recognize our voice as an instrument. Is that why people usually take better care of their violin than of their vocal folds? Is that why many of us don’t know the first thing about voice strengthening, proper breathing, and voice protection?
I find that very strange, especially if you’re using your voice to make a living.
We spend years practicing scales and arpeggios on the piano. Teachers tell us how to breathe correctly when playing a clarinet or trumpet, and we make sure to have the right posture before we put that French horn to our lips. But when I ask my voice-over colleagues how they have trained their voices, I usually hear a long pause.
IGNORANCE OR CARELESSNESS?
The truth is simple. We fully expect professional singers, athletes, or dancers to get their bodies into shape, but we expect our voices to do whatever we want them to do at any given time for as long as we want, without preparation.
This includes dying a thousand different deaths in video games or animation, or narrating an audio book from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm, five days a week.
If you’re not properly trained, that’s not only impossible. It is also dangerous.
We fully expect professional singers, athletes, or dancers to get their bodies into shape, but we expect our voices to do whatever we want them to do without preparation.
I say to them: “The fact that you even believe that, tells me you’re not taking this seriously.”
“Nobody would dare to swim the English Channel without proper preparation, unless you’re suicidal. So, what makes you think you can just jump in when you barely got your feet wet?”
PICKING A PRO
The other day, a colleague was complaining that famous people were taking voice-over jobs away from not so famous people. “They’re already making a fortune,” he said. “Why do they have to cut a big piece from my pie? It just isn’t right.”
First off, it’s not his pie, and secondly, there’s a reason why well-known actors are paid good money to do voice-over work. It’s not only because they’re a celebrity, but because they spent years honing their craft.
They have learned to strengthen and control the muscles of the larynx. Not from a book or from some website, but from a professional.
“Real” actors realize that they use three-quarters of their bodies when they speak. They have learned how to move purposefully, and breathe properly: low and expansive. They know that good posture and deep breathing not only affect the voice. It makes them feel more centered, confident, and calm.
“Real” actors know the difference between a strong, resonant voice, and a loud voice. They know the difference between projecting and yelling. Their voices are flexible, and don’t diminish in quality during long sessions.
Because they’ve memorized their lines, these actors keep their heads up, which results in a more powerful and open sound. Many voice-overs glance down to read the script. This bends the neck and throat, and the voice sounds contorted, lower, and softer.
“Real” actors never start talking without a warm-up, they drink lots of water (6 to 8 glasses a day), and they stay in good physical shape. That means: regular exercise, a healthy diet, and plenty of rest. They avoid clearing their throat, screaming, whispering, and noisy places. And of course they don’t smoke.
Too many voice-overs are serial sitters, shallow breathers, and unhealthy eaters and drinkers. Most of them have never taken singing or dancing lessons, or seen an otolaryngologist.
Too many voice-overs are serial sitters, shallow breathers, and unhealthy eaters and drinkers.
Now, here’s a quick question for you:
How can you tell a voice talent just came back from a VO-conference?
Because they lost their voice!
If you’ve ever been to a WoVoCon, Faffcon, VO Atlanta,or other convention, you know I’m right. The unavoidable Karaoke is a killer! You’d never expect ballroom dancers to come back crippled from a contest, would you? So why would voice-overs abuse their vocal folds for a day or two? And why do most of them start taking care of their voices once something’s wrong?
It just doesn’t make any professional sense.
A DAY FOR THE VOICE
A change in behavior has to start with increased awareness.
April 16th is World Voice Day. It is the brain child of an international group of scientists, specialists, teachers, and artists who came together in 2012. One of the missions of World Voice Day is “to encourage men and women, young and old, to assess their vocal health, and take action to improve or maintain good voice habits.”
Trust me, that’s not as boring as it sounds. It’s also a day to celebrate the magic of the voice with over 300 events in more than 50 countries. Expect a series of talks and concerts, as well as videos about the many different facets of the voice. The 2019 motto is: “Be Kind With Your Voice.”
For more information on World Voice Day, and a list of all the activities, go to http://world-voice-day.org. The website will have info on live streams, on how to take care of your voice, warm up exercises, and educational videos from around the world. The World Voice Day Facebook page is also a good way to follow what’s going on hour by hour, on April 16th.
Your voice is unique. It’s instantaneously recognizable.
It’s the only one you were born with, and you don’t have to be a professional speaker to be nice to it.
The Dutch philosopher Erasmus was right when he said: “Prevention is better than cure.”
So, don’t wait until it’s too late. In fact, it is vital that you begin today! All the things you can do and must avoid are not only good for your voice. They will enhance your well-being across the board.
Be a pro and start taking better care of yourself. Sign up for singing lessons. Hydrate. Move those muscles. Warm up. Read out loud. Rest up. Use a microphone when speaking in public. Don’t whisper, or clear your throat. See a specialist when you’re in pain.
And please, do me one small favor.
Don’t leave a comment saying: “Great post, Paul. Thanks for the reminders.”
Reminders are rubbish. You file them away and forget.
If your voice becomes hoarse or raspy; if your voice feels raw, achy, or strained, or if it becomes an effort to talk after a while, I can tell you this:
“Gravy for the Brain, what kind of name is that?” asked my friend with a puzzled look on his face. We were both at the VO Atlanta conference, and I wasn’t paying any attention to him.
I was staring at an email from a new client I had been grooming for weeks. He finally reached out to me with a project, just as I was ready for four days of professional schmoozing. I love my job, but I didn’t want to go back to work. Not in Atlanta.
Normally I’d be up for a challenge because I always saw myself as the invincible superman. I could do it all: socialize into the wee hours of the night, get up first thing in the morning for some fitness training, attend a few workshops and presentations, and do it all over again after lunch. Then I would step into a studio and knock out a few scripts. No biggie.
But this time was different. My cardiologist had advised against going to Atlanta because I just started a new medication and he wanted to monitor me closely. However, I knew I had to be at this gathering. It was the goal I had set myself when I began my recovery about a year ago. I’d committed to leading a workshop and a Breakout session. This was going to be my moment to return to the VO community and be there for them after they had been there for me when I had my stroke.
The only way I could possibly handle the conference was by vigorously pacing myself. This included not doing this rush job for a new client. I had to heed the advice I give my students: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.” That decision cost me seven hundred dollars, but it gave me the space and the energy I needed to take care of myself. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.
So, I turned to my friend to address his question.
TOO MUCH INFO
“You’re right: it is a bit of an odd name, Gravy for the Brain. It doesn’t sound like a resource for voice talent, does it? Someone once told me the expression comes from the movie Conspiracy Theory but that doesn’t explain anything.
“I just looked it up in the Urban Dictionary,” said my friend pointing at his mobile. “It’s defined as the way your head feels after a long night of drinking and/or doing drugs.” “I’ve got to tell you,” I said, “last year when I came back from VO Atlanta, it felt like I had gravy brain. Not because I had had too much to drink, but because I was in information overload. It took a while for me to process the experience. And here we are again, ready for more.”
Keynote speaker Kay Bess
We walked to the Grand Salon for the conference opening and keynote speech by Kay Bess. “We distinguish ourselves, by being ourselves,” she said. Profound words that moved me deeply. I feel that being ourselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give this world. There’s only one problem. It does require that we have a sense of who we are, authentically speaking. I don’t know about you, but I’m still figuring that one out.
WHO AM I?
I sometimes wish we would come with an instruction manual we could give to friends, family, and colleagues. “Look, this is who I am. This is what floats my boat. Here’s how I rock and roll.” Instead, we’ve been given a lifetime to work things out, and if you believe in reincarnation, it’s several lifetimes.
I see becoming who we are meant to be as one of the great endeavors of our time on earth. It’s challenging because all of us play many roles in life. For instance, I am Paul the father, the husband, the patient, the son, and brother. I’m also the voice actor, the blogger, and punster. In different contexts I feel like a different person and act accordingly, so will the real authentic Paul please stand up?
On the subject of authenticity, here’s some free advice. If you’ve been to VO Atlanta, please don’t use anything you have learned in all the sessions you attended. Just don’t. Every other talent is already going to do that. If you wish to be authentic, do something out of the ordinary that no one else would possibly try.
Surprise the world. Be an original. Create. Don’t imitate. The field of people being and doing more of the same is growing by the day. That’s not your field. People who play it safe by taking the beaten path are blending in with the masses. You want to stand out, don’t you? As far as I could tell I was still the only person wearing clogs in Atlanta. Even though I didn’t socialize as much this year to conserve my energy, I think most people knew I was there. Total cost $19.99.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE?
A few more random observations, some positive, others not so much:
– When you stick your head into a workshop for five minutes and decide it’s not for you, please don’t mock your fellow-presenter in public. It’s unfair and unkind to judge someone based on a snippet of info taken out of context.
– On the other hand, calling the CEO of a competing and highly unethical Pay to Play “That Idiot from the North” is allowed. The man is fair game.
– If you’re a prominent member of a worldwide organization of voice talent that’s dedicated to ethical conduct and fair rates, why would you have a profile on Fiverr and be proud of it?
– Doing voice-overs is sexy! Next year we should have a few after-hour X-rated sessionsfor narrators of erotica. Pseudonyms required.
– If you’re looking for the guy who used a sharpie to draw a mustache on J. Michael Collins in one of the elevators, look no further.
– I wish Voice123 CEO and spin doctor Rolf Veldman would have taken part in the karaoke. I had the perfect song for him: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”
TEARS AND MORE TEARS
VO Atlanta 2019 was an emotional experience for me. If you were there, you know that my eyeballs were leaking regularly. A big thanks to all of you who told me how relieved you were that I’m not dead. I must say I’m with you on that one. Thank you to all of my Guardian Angels who kept an eye on me throughout the conference. You know who you are, and so does my eternally grateful wife.
A special thanks to those who were at my workshop. One of you signed up at the very last minute after talking to me in the corridor. How sweet is that? One last thank you to those who came to play with my Stinky Sock and gave me a standing ovation. It’s gone straight to my head, and now I am impossible to live with. What else is new?
Well, did I tell you I got to stay in Atlanta for one more day? Here’s what happened. My flight to Lehigh Valley International Airport was overbooked, and Delta offered those willing to give up their seat a hotel room and an $800 gift certificate. So, days ago I had lost $700 because I didn’t do the voice-over job I told you about. I ended up having eight hundred bucks to spend at Amazon. Life is fair after all!
As you can tell, the conference is over, but I am not over the conference. It’s been my second best experience of the past twelve months. What’s the very best experience, you ask? For that we have to go back to the night of my stroke. I was flown to the hospital in a helicopter, and a doctor was looking at a CAT-scan of the inside of my skull.
Things were serious. If the stroke had wiped out most of my brain, I would probably not survive. I can remember briefly regaining consciousness on the stretcher. I could hear my wife ask the surgeon about my chances. I’ll never forget what the doctor said:
“I think your husband isn’t going to die. Luckily, most of his grey matter is intact. In other words:
March 26th 2018 may not mean much to you, but it’s the day my life changed in many ways. It started like any other ordinary day, with me working in my studio. By the end of the afternoon I was rushed into a rumbling helicopter that flew me to the ER.
As I was airlifted, the surgeon waiting for me called my wife to prepare her for three possible outcomes. These were the options: if there were to be enough time, they would remove the blood clot from my brain that had caused a stroke, and I would recover. To what extent, he couldn’t say. If not, there was a good chance the brain damage would leave me greatly impaired and dependent for the rest of my life. Option three was least attractive: me reaching my expiration date.
By the way, what happened to me was nothing special. On average, every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke. Stroke is now the third leading cause of death (behind heart disease and cancer) and a major cause of disability.
I lucked out. As you can tell, I’m still very much alive, and I plan to remain in that fascinating state for as long as I can. This gives me the opportunity to share some of my post-stroke observations with you. Perhaps it’s not what you expect from a blog about the world of voice-overs and freelancing. I get that. But please bear with me. One day, you or a loved one might have to deal with a similar situation. I feel it is part of my mission to tell my story. It’s one of the reasons I’m still alive.
SYMPATHY & SUPPORT
Once the news of my stroke broke, I experienced an incredible outpouring of sympathy and support, particularly on social media. The well wishes came from all over the planet. It was heartwarming and uplifting! If you ever want to find out how much people care, make sure you nearly die and tell the world about it! It will do wonders for your self-esteem!
The two things people told me over and over again were both very sweet and totally unrealistic:
Get Well Soon!
We know a lot about the workings of the body and the mind, and there’s probably just as much that we don’t know. Good doctors have no problem admitting that. The not so good ones think they know it all. No doctor can predict how soon you will recover, or how much you will recover. In the case of strokes it greatly depends on which part of the brain is affected, and to what extent. The faster you find treatment, the better your chances.
Recovery from a stroke is more a matter of Getting Well S l o w l y. The first year is crucial, but recovery continues long after that thanks to the amazing plasticity of the brain. That’s the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells.
Especially during the first six months after I was out of the hospital, I could feel my grey matter making new connections, and boy did it tire me out! Saying I felt tired doesn’t do it justice. I felt utterly fatigued. What’s the difference? Simply put, fatigue is extreme exhaustion that surpasses feeling tired. It’s a total lack of motivation and energy. I spent most of my time in bed, sleeping the day away while my brain was reconnecting.
It took me a few months to be okay with my state of slumber. At first I felt terribly guilty that I wasn’t able to help out and be productive. I’ve always been such a go-getter, and now my biggest accomplishment of the day was a smooth bowel movement. Kicking and screaming, I learned to accept that I could not jumpstart myself into getting well again, and that it was okay and imperative to ask for help.
A NEW JOB
The next thing I discovered was this: recovery is not some passive process. It’s a day job. Apart from getting enough rest, my post-stroke life was (and still is) dominated by frequent doctor’s visits and therapy appointments. I had speech therapy, vision therapy, sessions with a neuro-psychologist, and lots of homework to be ready for even more sessions. I’ve been back to the ER four times now, and spent some time in the hospital over Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day (and I just missed Valentine’s Day another time!).
I’m not bringing this up so you’ll feel sorry for me. I just want to give you a glimpse of my life so you’ll understand why I went undercover for so long. As I’ve described in another blog post, after my stroke I lost the ability to emote and enunciate, which is kind of a problem for a voice actor like myself. My delivery was as flat as a pancake. On top of that, a tremor on one of my vocal folds made my voice hoarse and tired in no time. Forget long-form narration!
DEALING WITH LOSS
So, not only was I reevaluating my physical and psychological state, I also had to take a hard look at my career in voice-overs. My psychologist described it as a state of mourning. I was mourning the loss of my health, my sanity, and possibly my way of making a living. I had to do all of that with a damaged brain that was readjusting and prone to stimulus overload.
I clearly remember going into one of the many hospital waiting rooms, unable to deal with all the noise. Around me, people were making phone calls, kids were playing loud games on their tablets, and patients were comparing notes about doctors and treatments. At the reception desk calls were answered and people were signed in. A big tv hanging from the ceiling was informing us about the father who brutally murdered his beautiful wife and two adorable children. Trump was touting his wall. This cacophony sent my brain into overload and made me nauseous.
Even though I have been generally impressed with the extraordinary level of care I received, hospitals and doctors’ offices do very little to create an environment conducive to stress reduction, well-being, and healing. I’d prefer a spa-like atmosphere with soothing colors, greenery, soft lighting, essential oils, and meditative music. A sanctuary away from the constant distractions and hubbub of our 24/7 society.
FOCUS & RESPONSE
Now, for those who are dealing with the effects of a stroke, it is easy to get despondent and depressed, making a bad situation even worse. I must admit that I’ve not always been able to keep it together, but a few things helped me not to wallow in my fate. One of them is the belief that human beings are free to choose what we focus on, and how to respond to what is happening to us.
Instead of bemoaning all the things I had lost, I chose to be thankful for the many things that were unaffected. I started reading about people in similar situations who had made remarkable recoveries that could not always be explained by traditional medicine. What did they do to get there? What were they thinking, eating, and drinking?
I came across stories of self care and self love, stories of patience, and picking new priorities. I decided to give myself time to heal, and to spend it on things that made me happy. I began writing my blog again as a way to have a voice. I purposely stayed away from petty problems and draining interactions with people who thrive on negativity. Gradually, my level of energy and my vision improved, and I was able to express myself with more emotion.
To be honest: I never could have done this on my own. I have a whole team of doctors, nurses, technicians, and therapists to thank. Colleagues came by and friends stepped in making meals and driving me to appointments. But by far my best bedside advocate, designated driver, medication manager, cheerleader, and personal chef is my wife Pam. She is my solid rock, and the soft shoulder I lean on every single day.
When I’m forgetful, she remembers. When I am anxious, she calms me down. When I need to rest, she makes sure I’m not disturbed. She fills out the many forms, deals with my health insurance, and talks to my doctors. For my trip to VO Atlanta, she’s set up a support system to make sure I won’t overdo it. In short: she’s my guardian angel, and I’m so lucky we’re together in health and in sickness.
On Thursday I’ll be leaving for VO Atlanta. 800 participants are coming together to immerse themselves in all things voice-over. If you’re going, I can’t wait to meet you! You’re invited to attend my X-Session “Six Steps To Turning Your Business Around,” on Friday from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM, and my Breakout Session about “Winning Mindsets” aka the Stinky Sock Session on Saturday from 4:45 to 5:45 PM.
No matter how much you love your job as a voice-over, there are always aspects of your work you don’t care for, or would rather have someone else do.
I, for instance, am not a numbers man, and I’m glad my office manager is keeping the books for my business. Very few colleagues I talk to enjoy doing the unglamorous paperwork that is part and parcel of running a professional service. Yet, it needs to be done.
But if there’s one thing many voice-overs are very uncomfortable with, it is this: selling themselves. They’d rather spend hours in a dark booth recording an obscure historic novel, than having to talk a client into hiring them.
If you’re experienced enough to have a couple of agents, they will do the talking for you. Quite often though, a potential client will approach you directly because they’ve been on your website. In that case you have to do the negotiations yourself. Inevitably, you have to answer the following client questions:
1. Why should I hire a professional voice?
2. Why should I pay that much money, if all you’re going to do is talk?
In the end there are three ways to answer these questions. You can highlight the benefits of what you have to offer, or you can tell some horror stories of clients who went with a cheap, unprofessional voice… or you can use a combination of positives and negatives.
Now, for some clients that’s not enough. Maybe they’re new at hiring a VO, and they simply can’t imagine what effect a bad voice-over could have on a good script. Those people need to see, in order to believe.
One guy started talking to me about text-to-speech software, and how advanced things were getting in that area. His boss had suggested he buy some software, and use it for the next video, instead of a real voice. The TTS-software would pay for itself in no time, he told me.
“Well,” I said, “I’m not sure your company could afford the kind of artificial voices that are developed and used by Google or Apple. But let me send you a link to a video that was uploaded not so long ago. This is an affordable product you could buy right now. Take a look, and let me know if this is what you had in mind?” Here it is:
Some things just speak for themselves, don’t they? A few weeks later I spoke to a Head of Internal Training who wanted to “explore his options.” He was producing a tutorial, and he said:
“I’ll be honest with you. Keith from IT has a decent voice, and he said he’s willing to put this thing together for a six-pack and a pizza. That would save me a lot of money. Give me one reason why I should hire you.”
“I’d be happy to,” I said, and I sent him this educational YouTube masterpiece:
Let me share one of my other favorite tutorials. It’s not a corporate presentation, but if you’re interested in baking banana bread, this is a must-see (but you might want to turn the volume up a bit…).
Are you hungry yet? Don’t be fooled though. This is a so-called ASMR video (autonomous sensory meridian response) and there are currently about 5.2 million ASMR videos on YouTube. It’s the biggest YouTube trend you’ve never heard of.
The most popular tutorials on YouTube have to be the ones of girls teaching you how to put on make-up. Why do I bring this up? A year or so ago I was approached by a cosmetics brand. Their creative team was coming up with a new campaign, and they had two directions they wanted to explore. One was a more sophisticated approach for which they had my voice and accent in mind.
“The other idea,” said the account manager, “is to let real people tell their story. After all, that’s what our clients can relate to. We want someone who sounds like the friend they never knew they always wanted. Someone who can demonstrate our product, rather than sell it in a commercial.”
“Do you mean someone like this?” I asked? (and you might want to turn your volume down again…)
Most potential clients I talk to aren’t the creative types. They’ve already decided they want to hire me based on my demos, but they want me to give them my “best price.” That’s client speak for: “I think your rates are ridiculous, so let’s see how desperate you are.”
Last week I had a very interesting experience. A woman I was talking to about a voice-over project did something crazy.
She used the F-word!
We were talking about what I would charge, and all of a sudden she said: “But what about all these guys on Fiverr?”
“What about them?” I asked.
“Well,” she continued, “if I were to go with one of them I’d pay a lot less. In the end it’s all about the bottom line, you know.”
“Listen,” I said. “This video you’re putting together is going to be on the world wide web forever, and I hope thousands and thousands of people are going to watch it. For many, this is how they will learn about what your family business has to offer.
In most cases, you’ll get one chance to make your pitch. One chance. People have become extremely critical and impatient. If they don’t like what they see and what they hear, they’ll have millions of other things to watch. So, it’s up to you how you want to present the company your grandfather built. If your video looks unprofessional or sounds unprofessional, your company looks unprofessional.
Do you honestly want to put the reputation of your business in the mouth of this Fiverr guy?”
I think she got the point. Now, let me be clear.
This blog post is not about bashing people who are trying to make a few bucks with a dynamic microphone, or who want to share their knowledge, passion, and whispery voice with the online community. I used the above examples to provide some perspective, and because these videos are in the public domain.
One thing I’m sure you’ve picked up on, is that voice-over narration is very different from giving a running commentary of whatever you’re doing, using the cheapest device in the house. It’s not as easy as it seems, and it’s not true that anyone can do it.
The difference between a pro and an amateur is this: a pro makes it seem easy and effortless. Amateurs are often hard to understand, and clumsy. Their presentation distracts from the message. A professional voice allows the viewer or listener to focus on the message.
This blog post started as a story about selling, so let’s get back to that.
Some clients are sold on benefits. They need to know what good things will happen when they hire you. Other clients are motivated by fear. They want to avoid disaster. Sometimes it really helps to give those people a flavor of what’s in store for them, should they go cheap. My message to them is this:
Cheap is always more expensive.
Some things in life are just too important to leave to hobbyists or stupid software.
If you need a builder, a car mechanic, or an electrician, would you go to someone who charges five dollars for his or her service?
Would you pick your OB/GYN based on whomever has the lowest rate?
Would you want to get your teeth fixed by an amateur dentist?
Then why on earth would you trust a Bottom Dollar voice talent with your promotional message? Why would you allow a babbling dabbler to take a shot at your training course that took a fortune to develop? Do you want your employees to be distracted by Keith from IT, or do you want them to actually retain some information?
And to the creators of the Text to Speech video, the software tutorial, the banana bread lady, the make-up girl, and Mr. Fiverr I want to say this:
I’m not going to take away your right to post anything on YouTube you believe is worthwhile watching. But honestly:
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