Vocal Rest from Dialect 411

Dialect Coach Pamela Vanderway of Dialect 411

Dialect Coach Pamela Vanderway of Dialect 411

My friend Pamela Vanderway, aside from being an outstanding dialect coach in Los Angeles, is also a fountain of ideas. On her blog Dialect 411, Pamela wrote about a topic that every person who uses their voice for a living should read and take to heart about vocal rest.

Singers often know about the concept, but people who talk for a living may not, unless they have had a shoot or session that required a lot of shouting or screaming. Pamela goes in depth about what it is, the reasons for vocal rest, and the best ways  to achieve it. Even if you never stress your voice in this manner, you will learn a lot about the vocal mechanism and how to take care of it.

But don’t just take my word for it. Go read her post right now,  and subscribe to her blog. You are missing out on a great person and a wonderful resource if you don’t.

Another VO Newbie Resource – The VO Minute

Last week,VO Minute I posted a lot of information for new voice actors. And I knew the instant I hit “publish” that there were a lot of things I left out of the considerable list. The first omission I want to correct is this one: The VO Minute.

The VO Minute is a 1 minute podcast created by Allison Moffett and Marktree Productions in Huntington Beach, California. A brisk and informative blast of good information for anyone unfamiliar with the ins and outs of voiceover, audio recording, and sound, you should definitely be subscribing to it in iTunes or checking it out directly on the website. They are now up to 11 episodes, and going strong.

If audio isn’t in your background, I strongly recommend checking out this podcast. You can only gain from it. You can also follow Allison on Twitter @VOMinuteAlli do find out when each new podcast is coming. Anne Ganguzza  had already pointed out this great resource, but I thought I would add to the chorus. Go check it out!

The “How Do I Get Into This” Post

3D Character and Question Markphoto © 2010 SMJJP | more info (via: Wylio) I have attended one of our local Charlotte Voiceover Meetups, sponsored by Gabby Nistico and VOCareer. One of these meetups was held at a local audio equipment distributor, SE Systems. One of the attendees asked for my contact information, and he called me with a number of questions about getting into voiceover, as anyone who is in the business can report any number of times. I thought I would actually make this a document I could refer back to and modify for future reference. SO without further ado…here we go.

Question 1: Where do I start, other than attending these “meetup” meetings? (and I don’t have $5k to get my home studio yet, nor do I have funds to consistently get voice lessons right now)

Let me address the studio question first: you don’t need $5,000 to set up a home studio. You don’t really need anything close to that right away. Of course down the road, you will have to have serious equipment, but I will point this out: I know many voice artists who make plenty of money recording in a closet in their house. But you are right on one thing: the meetups alone aren’t going to get you going. But coaching? Yes, you need to look into it, and there are many reasonable paths to getting coaching. One is Voice Over Club, and they can coach over telephone/Skype for rates you can manage, to get real coaching from real voice actors. They also offer other modules you can check out away from your coaching sessions (disclaimer: I have done work with and for Voice Over Club). Also check out Voice Coaches and Edge Studio for more resources and coaching possibilities.

Pertaining to your home studio; as I said, you don’t need to invest $5,000 in your home setup. First, check out this video from Trish Basanyi about her home studio setup regarding sound treatment. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and doesn’t require investing in a Whisper Room.

Second, you will need a computer capable of being your recording platform. It doesn’t take a monster of a PC or Mac, but it will take something capable of running today’s software, so it will need to have been purchased within the last two to three years. Third, an interface and microphone. You can address this one of two ways, neither of which is extraordinarily expensive. Remember, this is for audition purposes, which you will have to be able to do from home.

Best Buy offers equipment that would be ideal for a starter setup from M-Audio: either a USB mic or audio interface to which you can connect a full fledged condenser mic of your own choosing, both of which come with ProTools LE software for recording, and a pair of M-Audio monitor speakers. If you choose the interface, you can get an inexpensive mic like this Audio Technica 2020 from Sweetwater and have a credible, useful setup. Don’t forget you will need a pop filter and a mic stand as well.

The bottom line is this: you will need to spend money to get there. There is no way around that. But you don’t have to spend huge amounts right now. You can always step up your equipment as you get work and invest back into the business. And it IS a business.

Question 2: I know what sector of voiceover that I want to do (documentaries, like National Geographic, Educational Channel, etc.) and animation; but I am open to doing it all; how do I find out these openings? How do I get my foot in the door (i.e. voiceovers for Travel Channel commercials, Speed Channel commercials, Jack Daniel commercials, etc.)?

There are obviously paths to getting to the arenas you want to be in. But none of them are short and easy. You find out about these opportunities through multiple sources; online, agents, referrals, on and on. But he biggest thing you have to have, no if ands or buts about it, is a demo for the relevant area. If you check my website, you will see my demos for commercials, e-learning, IVR/messaging on hold, narration, messaging on hold, and singing. Without these, you have no shot. None. And these definitely WILL cost money. And you honestly cannot make demos until you have done some training. I know this seems like a grand circle, but it is the fact. And through the course of training, you will get information about how to get into those fields, who to contact, who to submit to, and so on. But you must have a professionally made demo in order to do it. My most important point about demos: Do NOT make one right away, without training and practice. If you haven’t been practicing and training for 6 months at the very least, you will be wasting your time and money, and the time of the studio you work with to make it.

Question 3: How did you get started?

In a nutshell, you can find how I got started on my bio page. What I don’t mention there is I did training with Susan Berkley of Great Voice before I made my demos. I fell into an opportunity, and tried to capitalize on it. I still am!

Question 4: Can I try to audition for some work, even though I have no demo/voiceover reel? And if so, what steps do I take?

The problem with auditioning without a demo is that the only thing you have to represent your ability is the demo. Anyone can read one line or one paragraph. But your demo show you can do that with different styles, different contexts, pacing, all of it. Virtually anyone you reach out to for voice work will ask you for a demo, and you have to have something to hang your hat on. If you don’t have one, you will not be taken seriously. So though you could do it, I strongly recommend that you don’t.

Question 5: Could voiceover work really be a lucrative opportunity for ‘regular’ folk like myself?

Can it be lucrative? Yes. Will it take time and hard work? Oh yes. As you can see from my bio page, I’m regular folk like you. I studied different subjects than you, but I am no superstar actor. Regular folks are able to make it, if they are willing to work hard, study, practice. But none of it comes easily or quickly. You need support from friends and family and a willingness to try new things. Take an acting class. Pick up a couple of books, like The Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and On The Road, The Art of Voice Acting, and others. Search the voiceover category on Amazon to find more books.  Get on Twitter and follow the #voiceover and #vo hashtags and see what other voiceactors are doing. Read my blog, and more importantly, the blogs of people I have listed in my blogroll to see what they have to say.

My friend Mercedes Rose, the voice of Princess Rosalina in the Nintendo Wii Mario games, has this spectacular list of what it takes to get going in voiceover:

do some internet research
read books
get in a VO class
get in an acting class
get in an improv class
read books
start working one-on-one with a VO coach
stay in group class
practice everyday
pay attention to what you hear on the TV, radio, etc
read books
(continue for between 6 months and 2 years)
do a VO demo
tell everyone you know you are doing VO
continue working one-on-one with a VO coach
stay in group class
practice everyday
pay attention to what you hear on the TV, radio, etc
read books
try to get an agent specifically for VO
keep it up!

If you are on Twitter (and there is no reason you shouldn’t be at this point), you should also make it a point to follow these voiceover resources and actors. There are so many more I could add. If you want to see who I follow in voiceover, you can get my list here.:












It’s out there. You have to go get it.

Question 6: I’d like to know how contracts and payments work regarding documentaries, commercials, etc. For example, that voice that does the baby voice/ E Trade commercial- how much would he probably get for those series of commercials and does he get residuals for those commercials or does he get paid one lump sum and the commercials play accordingly?

Payment for projects varies by project. Variables include whether the job is union or not, was acquired through your agent or on your own, if it is broadcast or not, if it goes on the web, how long it will run, and more. But here’s the basics for radio and television commercials.

TV and radio commercials are generally paid based on market and length of run, determined by the number of cycles (13 week periods) it is purchased for. Jobs that run nationally pay the most. Then those that run in one of the top three markets (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago). Then those in the next 22 markets. You can find the full market listing for radio at Arbitron, and television at Nielsen. Also, union rates for both TV and radio are higher than non-union, and offer the opportunity for residuals, though reputable non-union job sources should pay you for reuse of your work if it goes past the original usage period. You can look up union rates at the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Actors) websites. Edge Studio offers a great rate card resource for non-union work as well.

About the E-Trade guy: his name is Randy Krallman, and he’s a film and commercial director. He became the voice of the E-Trade baby after they couldn’t cast anyone that did the proposed voice any better than he could. He also shot the commercials!

Honestly, I have barely scratched the surface here. I haven’t talked about the need for career coaching, not just performance coaching. Marketing. Networking. Choosing and learning your software of choice.  The key things to remember are these:

  • This is hard work. Barring a miracle from the sky, you won’t be recording national commercials or Discovery Channel documentaries tomorrow.
  • This costs money. In training, in equipment, in marketing and branding. Everything counts.
  • This is fun. Funny voices, serious voices, all of it. It’s fun.
  • This is not fun. The invoicing, the pavement pounding for new clients, the editing of long sessions.
  • This industry is full of some of the most sharing and uplifting people you will find anywhere. No, they aren’t going to open up their contact lists to you and say “go for it!” But if you have a question about tech, want feedback on a demo or website, or information about the ins and outs of the business…all you have to do is ask. And share the information you have. Because someone out there is right behind you, trying to do the same thing.

I just realized that George Harrison’s “I Got My Mind Set On You” nails it:

But it’s gonna take money
A whole lotta spending money
Its gonne take plenty of money
To do it right child

Its gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
Its gonna take patience and time, ummm
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it,
To do it right child

Now get out there! We’re waiting to hear your voice!

Handling rejection with grace – up close and personal

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I posted this little story on the VO-BB, but I thought I would share it here as well.

Early in October, I auditioned to sing the National Anthem at a Charlotte Bobcats game. Not a money gig, but exposure, fun, something I’m good at, and tickets to an NBA game. Hard to lose in that situation in my opinion.

Well, until I got the email the following week that I didn’t make the cut. I still find it very very difficult to believe they could find 40 or so people better than me at singing the anthem. It sounds very self absorbed, but I know what I can do.

I let it go. Until last week, when I received an all hands email, looking for chorus members to sing at the Bobcats opener on Friday. I was steamed when I saw it. But still….let it go. It was just an audition like any of the ones we do.

Then, Wednesday. The Opera Carolina office calls me and asks me to do the anthem, since they couldn’t pull enough choristers together on such short notice. An email was sent to the Bobcats with my contact information, and I was ready to go. Woot!

I try to contact the team to make sure I can get tickets for the family. No answer. Call again. No response. We get to Friday. 4 calls, no response. I have to assume that no one is going to get back to me, so I get dressed, and head down to the stadium.

After sitting in the season ticket holders’ entrance for 45 minutes. I am finally whisked to court level, and handed off to the person running production. She goes off to speak to someone, and comes back.

“We’re so sorry. There was a mix up. We don’t need you to sing tonight. We can offer you two tickets?”

Anger. Embarrassment. Humiliation.

I love NBA basketball. I have been a supporter of this team since they came to Charlotte in 2004. And I am still livid. I don’t think I have ever been put in such a position as a performer.

And honestly, it took all I had not to blow up at the production lead. But I took a moment to think that it clearly was not her doing. It wasn’t her fault the communication dropped. But I was seething with anger anyway, and I left the building without pausing, and drove home. Not my finest moment.

This is a slightly different kind of “rejection” than that we face on a daily basis as a voice artist, but still, the lesson is the same: maybe not this time, but possibly next time. It isn’t always your call. You have a right to be disappointed and angry. But you can’t live on that.

There is still a little knot of anger and frustration with the situation. But I am striving to find another success, another positive to fill the gap that momentary lapse of reason left me with. It’s coming, don’t you worry.

Thank you to all of the VO-BB.com denizens who offered me kind words and support. You guys are the best. Again, if you are a voice artist or aspire to be one, you should go there right now, sign up, and see what these helpful, insightful people have to say.

Going viral

So this is fun: I did a web ad with Terry Daniel and and ad firm in Minnesota for a Senate candidate in Alaska. It was a spoof of the Old Spice ads everyone loved so much (me included). It got enough attention that it made the Today Show this morning.

Honestly, I don’t know if you can beat that kind of exposure.

Here’s the full ad. Thanks to Michael Wilson at Odd Lamps and Terry Daniel from Voice Over Club for bringing me onboard!

Networking: A Must Do

As voice artists, and as ordinary working folk, we have been given an enormous number of tools at our disposal to connect with others, particularly in our field. Years ago, we didn’t get in contact with each other unless we ran into one another at a studio or over an ISDN connection.

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Now we have what seems to be every conceivable tool to stay in touch and see what everyone is up to. FacebookLinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, the VO-BB, Voiceover Universe…the list is dizzying, and probably a bit overwhelming even if you have sat yourself down and tried to make sense of it all. Where do you start? How do you do it? And do you even have to?

Let me make one part of this very simple: yes, you do have to do it. This is how the world works nowadays, and you need to be a part of it. And no, you are not going to generate lots of jobs and money directly from your efforts there, at least not quickly. But you must integrate the use of social media, and the networking with other artists, studios, and production houses into your plans to make sure you are not missing out.

Dave Courvoisier and Terry Daniel have put together a very helpful and complete listing of social media resources for the voice actor at Social Media VO. It includes links to all the biggies, and some techniques to try in the social media space. But don’t forget the most important part of this social media experience: the people you are connecting with.

In all of the areas you need to explore, it is not enough to be a “lurker,” someone who watches, but never participates. You can gain information, hints and tips by lurking, no doubt about it. But you will not gain the connections you want and need without participating. For instance, on Twitter, you must follow the #vo and #voiceover hashtags. But don’t just watch: comment, compliment, retweet. Pass along opportunities that you can’t fulfill, but one of your followers or someone you are following can. Make sure you are out there doing something, not just passively observing. That person you congratulate on their latest gig may know someone you need to talk to.

Back to the overwhelming nature of the social media world: it’s hard to manage it all. However, there are people who have great ideas about how to stay on top of it. Michael Stelzner runs the Social Media Examiner website and daily email newsletter, and it is packed solid with information and tactics for using the social networks. My favorite article so far is “5 Easy Steps to a Winning Social Media Plan”  by Emily Soares Proctor. It give you a framework for what to update when, definite strategies, and even provides you with a calendar.

What can I point to that shows this can work? How about a job I did for Terry today. Or the great conversations I have had with Pamela Vanderway of Dialect411.com, and the very cool project she pushed me into working on. Or the studios I have found and signed up with for messaging on hold, commercials and e-learning. Or even just the fact that I now know Monte Bratten, Cia Court, Jud Niven, and Lisa Rice.

It’s a lot to do. And I don’t adhere exactly to it yet. But you have to get started somewhere. Go to Dave and Terry’s site and get some pointers. Get on Twitter and start following the hashtags and the people you meet there. Get on VU and VO-BB.  But get started.

Because networking is not optional.

Making Professional Jealousy Work for Me



My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb. And all I remember was thinking “I want to be like them” – Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”

Eight years ago, I was asked to be the host of a corporate video for my then current employer. That “gig” expanded a bit into being a semi regular host of the same videos as my company merged with another. It also gave me the chance to go into a recording studio for the first time in order to record some wild lines to go into the video. Walking through the studio, sitting in the booth in front of the of the first Neumann TLM 103 mic I had ever seen, reading the script: I was smitten. I asked the very friendly and helpful people at the studio how to get to do voiceover work. They directed me to research, practice and come back, and they would make my demo and give me some contacts to get me started.

I moved forward, getting a demo done, making contacts and getting gigs. Voiceacting was most definitely my side work to my main job, and I many times reassured myself that I was perfectly happy with that arrangement.

I’m here to tell you that I was not.

I have worked with some outstanding voice talents during the intervening 8 years. Men and women who had been in the game for many years, and were making the vast majority of their income in the voice acting arena, voicing almost every day. And that experience caused that little knot inside, the one that whispers in your ear “You can do that…you KNOW you can,” to grow. To make me jealous of their choices and their success.

Now, today, I am exposed to more talented voice artists than ever before. Twitter, Voiceover Universe, the reports back from VOICE 2010, Facebook, all of them give me insight to the motivated, talented professionals that populate this field in all of its many areas of expertise. And I’m not going to lie: that knot of jealousy is still there.

But now I am doing something about it. And that is the key: doing something about it. Taking that feeling of “You can do that,” and moving forward with it. Yes, it will be while trying to balance every other thing in a busy life, but that’s no different than any other aspiring, working voice actor. This is manipulating the “jealousy” into self motivation, determination, drive. So that I am like my “heroes” as the Gnarls Barkley quote lays out above, living life out on a limb.

My goal is at least one good project every day. I’m not there yet, but I can see it from here.

Can you?