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.

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.

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.

Clients, agents and being in the middle

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Like most voice artists, I have a number of agents. My agent here in Charlotte however generally only represents me for on camera work. Last week I had the opportunity to audition for an industrial video. I didn’t get the part, but my agent was kind enough to mention to the clients after I left that I also do voiceover. This resulted in me having the opportunity to audition for and win the narration job for the video. Good news!

As I waited for the script, I got a call directly from the client asking about my rate. This confused me, as though I do offer rates directly to clients, I felt that since my agency found this gig, it was not my place to set the rate, especially since there was a rate previously mentioned (if not agreed to in total) in emails that had moved back and forth. I did hem and haw well enough to make sure I was still getting the gig, but deferred to my agent for pricing. It has since been cleared up, and will be done soon.

This situation does bring this point up: how do you handle this kind of situation? I say honor your agreement with your agent. Don’t undercut them, don’t take things away from them, ESPECIALLY in the instance where you would not have gotten the gig without them. In general, your agent has your best interests in mind: in this case, they were able to get a gig for me even beyond the on camera aspect of the original audition. I am not so naive to think there is not self interest involved. Indeed, they were able to book an additional talent for the job they weren’t even planning on having available, and that is direct revenue to them. But the truth is, that revenue is also coming to me through their efforts. That is good enough to earn my loyalty when dealing directly with the client, and in the end, strengthens my relationship with the agency.

I would love to hear from others how they have dealt with similar situations. I’m sure this isn’t a rare situation, and I think that people new to the field and dealing with agents would find additional input valuable.

Have a great weekend….and thanks, Mary Kay!