5 Things Aspiring Voice Actors Do Wrong

The four capital mistakes of open sourcephoto © 2011 opensource.com | more info (via: Wylio)When talking with people who want to get into voiceover, I love the initial interest and excitement that comes with it. There is a rush to get through to the cool stuff, the documentaries, the cartoons, the big money, baby! Well, hold on. This isn’t instant hot chocolate: add hot water, stir, POOF! A CAREER!

That desire can lead to some serious mistakes and setbacks that can put your right back where you started. This isn’t to say that you won’t have setbacks; everyone does. But these are things you can avoid.
  1. Making your voice over demo too soon. Yes, you can spend a couple of thousand dollars and make your demo any time you want, thankyouverymuch. You could conceivably have one made by the end of this week. Of course, if you haven’t prepared, you haven’t practiced, you haven’t had some coaching, you haven’t found out what your “money” voice is, you haven’t picked out scripts appropriate to your voice…you are going to waste a few things. Your money, your time, and the time of the studio you engaged to get the demo made in the first place. There is no rush: you have time to get these things done. Take it.
  2. Making your first demo on your own. So rather than waste your money and time at a recording studio, you figure “Hey, I have the programs I need. I’ll just whip up that demo myself, get it out there, and let the jobs roll in!” Erm, no. You already have the burden of getting the script interpretations right. You really want to take on mic placement, editing, background music and sound effect selection, engineering, timing and all that plus more by yourself? Some things you should leave to the professionals. Recording your first demo is definitely one of them. Experienced, professional studios have the skills, the royalty free music and effects libraries, the experience and the overall wherewithal to make you look your absolute best in the recording. Down the road, you may be able to do some of this yourself, with training and experience. But do not, under any circumstances, make your first demo on your own. You will pretty much guarantee it will be listened to for 5 seconds and tossed. If you go to Voice123, Voices.com, or any of the P2P sites, you can find plenty of demos that simply should not be used as a representative of anyone’s abilities. Don’t be one of them. Get it right the first time.
  3. Assuming all you need is an agent for voiceover success. There are hundreds, nay, thousands of people out there who operate as voiceover agents. And for every one of them, there are many more times that amount of voice artists. Your agent can and will get you access to auditions you may not have access to as a layman. But they cannot and will not be your only source of work, unless you have that kind of bolt-from-the-blue “success” reserved for Ted Williams. A note on Ted; he did get a national commercial gig for Kraft. If it went according to rates I am familiar with, he may have made upwards of $2000 for that job. And that’s it. He’s still trying to put his life together, and I wish him all the best. But his kind of success didn’t necessarily result in long term productivity. Your agent can work with you to achieve that, but you need to be willing to invest your own time in looking for contacts and work wherever you are, and just add the agent into your toolbox. Speaking of looking for your own work…
  4. Assuming all you need is Pay-to-Play sites for success. The argument remains the same; multiple sources and multiple paths are the way to go. Many people are successful in finding work through the P2Ps. Some people eschew their use entirely. You have to make that decision yourself. But don’t make that decision that you are going to get your work exclusively from that channel, for the same reasons you shouldn’t assume your agent is going to get it all for you. Here’s a sobering note: on Voice123, if I check for voice artists with the following criteria; commercial, middle age male, English – North American, no union necessary in the United States, I find 1,158 voice artists. Competition for gigs will be challenging. And you may win some. But this isn’t going to be the only way you get work, unless you are planning on eating quite a bit less than you do now. Your success is directly connected to your ability and will to network, engage, help, and listen.
  5. Losing patience with the process. You simply can’t do this if you want success. Today may not be the day you win that regional network gig, or that national spot for McDonalds. Tomorrow might be. But in between, you want to fill the space with phone messages for Joe’s Dry Cleaners or Aunty Em’s Frozen Toast on a Stick Shoppe. There is always the chance you cannot move forward with this career the way you want. From experience, I can tell you the readjustment period can be rough. But folks, these things take time. You have to keep working, keep reaching out to potential clients, keep reaching out to experienced voice over talents for advice. Patience, grasshopper.
You must use the tools and resources available to you to find your way. But don’t expect “the way” to pop up like some Yellow Brick Road. It’s going to take some hacking and slashing to get there. In recent weeks I have seen a few posts from people I respect and have seen great success in the business, pointing out in essence that “the way is hard, nigh impossible. You may not want to go that way.” That’s the challenge you face, folks.
Are you up to it? I hope so. Exercise patience and persistence, mix it with training, talent and skill, and you just might make something of yourself.

Stories for Japan


I know you all have been transfixed by what has been going on in Japan. The sight of the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami, as well the fears of the nuclear problems at Fukushima–Daiichi have gripped us all.

My friend Neil Gardner, owner of Sporkenwordsaudio.com in Surrey, England, asked a number of voice actors to contribute to a wonderful project – Japanese Fairy World: Stories from the Wonder World of Japan. Neil, my friends Fran McLellan, Justin Barrett and Natalie Cooper, myself, and many others have recorded 25 short stores from Japanese fairy tales, and Neil has compiled them and made them available on the Spoken World website here.

All 25 stories (3.5 hours of tales!) are available for ÂŁ10 ($16.28), or individual tracks for ÂŁ0.79 ($1.28). Proceeds from the sales will go to the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal (for more information, go to the Red Cross UK website). Neil is taking NO overhead from this, and none of the voice artists are being paid for their work.

Please feel free to donate as much or as little as you can. And please pass it on: we want to get these in the virtual “hands” of everyone we can. Thank you!

A Good Agent is Worth It

Handshakephoto © 2006 Aidan Jones | more info (via: Wylio)
In an earlier post, I discussed the ongoing debate on whether or not to have an agent. And once again I will quote my friend and colleague Peter O’Connell on the value that agents can provide to the voice artist:

…this is still an industry where it is helpful to have a qualified agent out there on your side. Not only do they set up auditions and jobs, but if its the right agent, you’ll have a professional sounding board for issues that come up in your business.

I had a couple of experiences in the last couple of weeks that reminded me of the wisdom of this statement.

I do not have ISDN to my home, and I partner with a couple of local studios in town when I have an ISDN gig. Two weeks ago, one of my agents booked me for a gig with a New York studio. I set up the session time, sent the SPIDS to my agent to communicate to the distant studio, and headed down at the appropriate time.

The session was booked to begin at noon, so I made sure to be there about 11:45. The connection wasn’t made until 12:20. We worked for about 35 minutes, wrapped the session, and I had a little small talk with my friends at the studio before heading out the door. But just as I was reaching the exit, I was called back in, because they wanted to make a change to one of the tags, which was in fact a completely different script. We finally got back online around 1:25. It didn’t take long, and we were finished in about 5 minutes. I then waited to be given the all clear before heading back to work.

And I waited.

And I waited.

For 35 minutes. Without a word over the ISDN, or a response via email. And just as we picked up the phone to call the studio, they clicked live over the ISDN: “Hey, we’re all set. You were great! Thanks!”

And so, the session that should have had me out of the office for an hour and a half kept me out for more than 3 hours. On the way back to the office, I gave my agent a call, just to let her know how the session went and what exactly had happened. And she was aghast.

I was all set to let it go, chalk it up to working with new clients, and dig in for the rest of the day. But before I left work for the day, my agent had called me back. She had spoken to the client and gotten them to up my rate for the session based on the length of time it took and the additional script that was added outside of the original agreement. So at the end of the day, I came out even farther ahead than I had planned, all while retaining good relations with the client.

This past week, I started working with a new agent in Los Angeles. I was sent an audition request, which I dutifully recorded and sent back. I had not gotten clarification on what the naming convention would be for submitted auditions, and he gave me those in a return email, as well as a request: could I please do the audition again?

I was not taken aback: I actually was pleased to hear that there was a little actual critiquing going on. So I resubmitted with the changes requested. It came back again, saying this would be a good safety, but could I submit a “stretch” version. By this time it was after 1 AM EST, and I had gone to bed for the night. I got up the next morning and gave it one more shot, which was the submitted audition for the project.

Now this could be looked at as a nuisance; maybe some would see it as an intrusion into the process. I saw it as necessary critique and guidance from someone who would benefit from the best performance I could give. I don’t see a thing wrong with that and appreciated the opportunity not just to audition, but to get it right. I don’t know yet if I got the gig, but even if I don’t, I have learned something about delivering the best performance I can for an audition, even when I am tired.

I know that not all agents will provide you with this kind of service, but I can say with gratitude that I have people representing me who do.

The Faffcon Experience – Voiceover Camp for Grownups

George Washington III and Mike Wong at Faffcon 2

Me and Mike Wong

Think back to your summer camp days. You remember, don’t you? Sometimes a weekend, sometimes a week or more spent with kids you may not have seen before that moment, but can suddenly become your closest friends. I have an experience like that: when I was in high school, I attended YMCA Leaders School in Decorah, IA. Some of the kids I met in each of those three years are still friends that can call on each other to this day, almost 25 years later. And the reason why we can do that is shared experience: a moment in time when we let our guards down, and were able to share things about ourselves that we weren’t able to in our hometowns, with our high school friends.

On looking back on the Faffcon 2: Electric Boogaloo experience, I am reminded of those days at Leaders School. Because the Faffcon experience is built entirely around sharing: sharing the tips and tricks, the knowledge and experience that all of us have accumulated over the years with peers who are just as eager to share their own.

The morning I arrived, the main meeting room in the Westin Peachtree was buzzing as we got prepared to start. Seeing people like Doug Turkel, Mercedes Rose, and Dave Courvoisier (who arrived a bit later from Vegas) in person for the first time was amazing. Seeing friends I already had met like Peter O’Connell, Vance Elderkin, and Jamee Perkins was just as good.

Then the real value of Faffcon got going. I was unfamiliar with the “unconference” concept, but it is a great one: we decide what we are going to talk about in 1 hour blocks in small groups, with us being the leaders of each of the sessions, like Mike Wong talking about social media and the voice artist, Dan Friedman and Dan Lenard (sporting the greatest handlebar mustache in the biz) speaking on EQ, compression, and sound isolation/suppression, Bruce Miles on characterization. My only regret was not being able to see every one of them, knowing that even 10 sessions wouldn’t be enough.

Voiceover godfather and second nicest man in voiceover Bob Souer held the crowd in his session, telling us to “Invite the Avalanche.” You may agree or disagree with his message of take everything you can, even when you can’t. But there is no doubting his openness and sincerity.

I could go on and on about the sessions. But some of the greatest value of this unconference was in the hallway discussions and talks over snacks and meals. What we do as voice artists is often a solitary existence. We work in our booths and studios mostly alone, sometimes talking to others during sessions, but not really connecting. We see the successes of our peers in our Facebook and Twitter streams. But is was here at Faffcon when we could openly and safely discuss our failures. Our vulnerability, our sense of “what the hell am I doing even trying this.” These are the feelings that make us believe we are alone, that no one in the world is going through what I am, because they are all so successful. At Faffcon, you learn you are not alone.

I would be remiss if I didn’t speak directly to the women most responsible for making Faffcon happen: Pam Tierney (whom I got to thank personally for the honesty I so admire in her blog posts), Connie Terwilliger, and Faffcon founder Amy Snively. They were tireless in their labors to get this organized and running from across the country, raising money for a worthy charity Everybody Wins Atlanta, getting door prizes (I won a great one, a CEntrance MicPort Pro), taking care of us all.

Everyone left with at least one “golden nugget,” that piece of information you would never have come up with on your own, that the person you got it from may or may not even know they gave to you. Tanya Schoenwolf could barely contain herself when she found her nugget, and went on a domain buying spree. I can’t wait to see what she gets going. Doug Turkel gave me one I hope to capitalize on in the short run. And on and on.

I can hardly describe the feeling I had being among all these terrific people and great talents. I was walking around grinning from ear to ear for most of the time.

Faffcon 3 will be September 23-26, 2011 at the Hershey Resort in Hershey, PA (where I am one of the marketing on hold voices, I am proud to say). If you haven’t been to Faffcon, you must try. If you feel stuck for ideas, you must go. If you feel like no one has been through what you are going through, you must come. Faffcon may not be for everyone, but it feels like it. Just like going to camp.

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Where are the agents? Right here.

Marc Graue's Casting and Agent GuideI think I will start compiling the “List of Eternal Voiceover Questions.” It will include:

  • Mac or PC?
  • Pro Tools or Audacity/Audition/anything else?
  • Should I have an agent?

The first two are entirely up to the end user: they clearly become near religious level arguments when left to the masses. The third also generates a lot of churn, and in the last week I have seen a few discussions about the merits of having an agent.

To each their own, is my opinion, but the fact is you should not shut out any path to work, including agents. I think Peter O’Connell said it best in  response to a blog post we both commented on:

…this is still an industry where it is helpful to have a qualified agent out there on your side. Not only do they set up auditions and jobs, but if its the right agent, you’ll have a professional sounding board for issues that come up in your business.

To that end, I suggest you take a look at the annual “Voiceover Guide to Casting and Talent Agents” produced by Marc Graue Voiceover Recording Studio. This guide separates casting directors from agents across the United States and Canada. If you are looking for representation, this guide can be invaluable.

You can use it in a couple of ways, but if you have a scanner or multifunction printer/scanner/fax handy, I would look into one of any number of OCR (optical character recognition) packages that can help you scan the results into your computer and get it imported into your contact database. You may even have one that came with the device.  This way you can track your contacts in a systematic way.

Remember, just getting the guide won’t automatically result in getting representation. And as it has been pointed out before, getting rejected by an agent isn’t the end of the world. But you have to start somewhere, and this is a good place to start.

A Resource for Voiceover – MineWurx Studio Voice Talent Services

Minewurx Studio Banner

Micheal Minetree is the proprietor of Minewurx Studio, and he has posted a listing of the services in the very active Minewurx Studio Voice Talent Services group on Facebook. I am reposting it in its entirety, because if you are a voice talent and need some help with any of the things he has posted, you might have great option right here. I have never worked with Minewurx, but many people whom I respect have, so I offer this wihout hesitation.

There is something I’ve wanted to share with all of you for a while – but I had to wait until the time was right. So here goes. The “Voice Talent Services” part of the group name is just that – it’s about providing services to talent when they need them. These services cover a whole host of things to better and empower voice talent.

The services we provide cost very little money to new clients and can be had for little to no cost at all for current web hosting clients. One client just got their Flash website edited and redesigned for free. Another client called when their ProTools system wasn’t working and they needed a hand. Cost? Free. Another client called when they needed a quick graphic for their web site. Charge? nada… These are things we do every day for our clients. Below is a list of the types of things we provide:

  • Web Hosting
  • Graphics
  • Software Training
  • Coaching and Instruction
  • Talent Casting
  • Audio Editing and Mixing
  • Audio and Video Encoding for the Web
  • Audio and Video Player Installations
  • Voice Demos
  • Video Editing
  • Music Libraries
  • Sound Effects
  • Job Postings
  • Web Design
  • Site Development
  • Blog Installations
  • Forum Installations
  • FTP Server Access
  • File Storage and Backups
  • ISDN – Source Connect Bridging
  • … and anything else we can think of..

So – the moral of the story is – when you need a hand with any of the above – try calling your web hosting provider and see if they offer them. I’m pretty sure they don’t. But we do…

If you ever need anything having to do with any of the above, or would like to explore what options are available to you concerning your existing web hosting – just call. We’re building a different kind of web hosting service – one that offers additional features like no other.

Questions? Message me on Facebook, email me from the website or call (571) 318-9776 and leave a message if I’m not there. I always  get my emails – so that is the fastest and best way to reach me.



And there you have it. Some interesting opportunities there. Go check out Minewurx!


LONG JUMPphoto © 2007 TOM MARUKO | more info (via: Wylio)The eVOlutionary steps have been silent ones since the wild days of the Ted Williams experience (that was all of one month ago…seems like forever). Silent, but not because I haven’t been doing anything. I’ve made some new contacts, gotten some new clients, and done some cool projects.

I also took a full time job.

A little backstory: I have been a working voice actor since 2003. But it was always on the side, as a supplement to the full time income I earned as an IT professional. In 2009, I was among the millions of people caught up in the financial disaster that was (and still is) the recession, and I lost my job of 11 years. I then floundered trying to figure out what to do, how to process the loss of a job, and dealing with how to define myself afterwards.

I won’t dissemble: I did a terrible job of all three, to the detriment of my family.  Be it hesitation out of cowardice, brain lock because of a loss of confidence or plain old stupidity, I struggled to get anything going. The only thing that seemed to move in what looked like a proper direction was the progress I made as a voice artist. I gained new clients and new representation, made some fantastic new contacts and friends. I actually built up the idea that I could make a real go at being a voice artist full time.

Maybe that was a bit of self deception at work: I knew that it would take much longer than that single year to be “making it,” if I ever did. So I made the decision to look for work in my prior field, information technology with an emphasis on desktop support.

Not surprisingly in this economy, work was difficult to come by. Interviews were hard to come by. But just as the holidays were ramping up, I was given an opportunity by a former peer of mine at my previous place of employment, except as a contractor instead of a full time employee. I took the opportunity, and then spent the next few weeks before starting the new position trying to wrap my head around the changes I would have to make to continue pursuing the voiceover career I want while doing the every day work that I currently need. It wasn’t going well, at least in my mind.

But a friend of mine, Heather Anne Henderson (a wonderful audiobook and commercial voiceover talent out of Oregon) gave me the quote of 2011, a French saying she read in a D.H. Lawrence book:

Reculer à mieux sauter.

“To recoil so as to leap further.”

This single quote is how I am looking at this next year: gathering myself before jumping ahead. Considering new clients and new niches (thank you, VOCareer). Working on getting my social networking and marketing efforts organized in a real, coherent manner.  And in a nutshell, getting my life together.

I thought long and hard about even posting this article. In the end, I look at this as an opportunity to share with others the reality of the business, especially in light of last month’s “miracle.” And I took my cue from the honesty that Pam Tierney brings to her blog posts.

I mentioned in the “How Do I Get Into This?” post that none of this business is easy. I know that from experience, and I don’t see it getting easier. But it is what I am committed to doing, so I can do what I know I CAN do.

Recoil, so as to leap further.

Power of Human Voice – A return

Surgical Instrumentsphoto © 2007 Amazon CARES Amazon Community Animal Rescue, Education and Safety | more info (via: Wylio)This post sat for a while, and even though I know many people have already hear the story, I think it bears repeating.

Driving home from a session one evening, I was listening to NPR and this story caught my attention:

A surgical team in California on Thursday announced they had done something spectacular: They replaced the larynx of a 52-year-old woman who hadn’t been able to speak or breathe on her own for more than a decade.


Brenda Jensen, 52, damaged her own larynx so severely when heavily sedated back in 1999, that she had to use a voice synthesizer to speak. Her granddaughter had never heard her natural voice.

Read on:

During an 18-hour surgery last October at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center, doctors removed Jensen’s voice box, her thyroid gland and her trachea. Then, they put a donated organ — from an anonymous accident victim — back into her throat, reconnecting the intricate nerves and muscles needed to bring Jensen’s voice back to life.

This is absolutely astounding. A medical miracle. To have lost something as fundamental as one’s voice, then have it returned to you by the gift of an organ donor, is beyond incredible. Considering the complexity of our vocal instrument (pointed out in Pamela Vanderway’s post from a few weeks ago) and how little we know about how it works, I am overjoyed at the good fortune of Ms. Jensen.

I strongly encourage you to read or listen to the entire piece. Then consider being an organ donor, because it really can save a life. Or a voice.

It’s not about who deserves it

If you are in the voiceover industry (or watch the Today Show), you have probably heard all about it by now. 71 year old homeless man Ted Williams is recorded and put on YouTube demonstrating his “golden pipes.” And really, his voice is spectacular.

I, like many others, posted the video, commented on it. The post explodes on the Internet (7.5 million views as of this writing). And Ted’s story has a wonderful next step;  he has been offered gigs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, MTV, and others. Voices.com and others have offered training scholarships, and it looks as though he will have someplace to live.

The response from people in our industry to that has been…varied.

I have seen many truly happy responses, pleased to see that a man who has made mistakes in his life and been drawn away from a potential career by drugs and alcohol has been able to bounce back and virtually hit the jackpot in getting the opportunity of a lifetime. Others have thrown the cynical “heck, I’ll go write up a sign and get a gig.” Some, like my friend Mercedes Rose (@girlactor on Twitter)  has celebrated the fact that it throws a light on the somewhat hidden world of voiceover, and gives her a chance to point out that you can’t always hit the lottery like Ted, and if you want to get into voiceover, you have a lot of work to do (I used some of her stuff in my own how to get started post).

Ted, bless him, has gotten an opportunity many of us would give our eye teeth for. But I want to point out what he went through that put him in this position.

He had the chance to do this before, but had it derailed by alcohol and drugs.

He has been clean and sober for two years, but was living on the street panhandling for cash to stay alive.

David Houston (@DavidHoustonVO) said it best: “Memo to Haters: Dude is 71. Lots more days behind than ahead for him. Ease up, ‘kay?”

Ted’s story brings two things immediately to mind for me.

My father is just two years older than Ted. George Washington, Jr. is a man any of you would be proud to call your father, and am lucky enough to do so. He has a simply amazing vocal instrument, and I can only wish I had the depth and fullness he has.  He sings and speaks, and I have accused him of using his voice as a weapon to get his way in arguments and discussions at the county board he has served for so many years. Everything my voice is, I owe to him. And with the stubbornness, tenacity and willingness to do what it takes to keep his head above water, he and my mother still live in the house my brother and I grew up in, when he could have been in the same shoes as Ted. No, my father was never an alcoholic or drug user. But in this country (or almost any other), it doesn’t take too much to push a life over into disaster. Lose a job, get sick at the wrong time, and there you are. My father stood tall through all of the difficulties and struggles of his life, and I am proud, again, to say he is my father.

I then look at my life.

I lost my job about 16 months ago. Through the gift of my incredible wife, I have been able to make progress on a goal, a voiceover career, that I was only nibbling around the edges of for years. Now I am having to make some changes in what I do to accommodate a big change in my working life. But again…I was close enough to the edge that I could see where Ted is from where I was standing, at least in my head. And yes, there is a small pang of “I COULD DO THAT” that come up when I see the opportunities that are being thrown Ted’s way.

But I will make my way. I will keep working hard, and find my place. Do I deserve it? No more or less than Ted does. Opportunities come; sometimes when you are at the very bottom, sometimes when you are at the very top. Celebrate them and keep working, whether for you or someone like Ted.

It isn’t about who deserves it.

It’s about what you do with it when it comes.

Update: Super voice talent John Taylor points out that Ted is actually 53. This shifts a little of my points, but it also makes him closer to my age.

Power of Human Voice – Eddi Reader and the Scottish Parliament

Eddi Reader is one of my absolute favorite pop singers. Born and raised in Scotland, she was a member of the band Fairground Attraction before striking out on a solo career. One of the high points of her album output was 2003’s Sings the Songs of Robert Burns. Reader sets some of Scots poet Robert Burns’ poetry to music, including such old charms as “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose,” complete with her usually well hidden Scottish brogue.

The final track on the original release is the New Years chestnut “Auld Lang Syne.” But she sings it with a different melody than we in the States are used to hearing. Pardon the quality of the recording, but here is Eddi Reader performing “Auld Lang Syne” for the Scottish Parliament in 2004, where Burns is considered a national treasure.

And to all of my friends and colleagues, Happy New Year to you and yours!

The full lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

We twa hae run aboot the braes
And pou’d the gowans fine;
we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin’ auld lang syne

We two hae paidled i’ the burn,
Frae mornin’ sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne

And here’s a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine;
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne