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.

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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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.