Readjusting


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.

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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.:

@KeyAudio

@voicesdotcom

@voice123

@philipbanks

@voicecoaches

@katsvoice

@tjkeenan

@actingnodrama

@girlactor

@nethervoice

@unnouncer

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!

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!

Travellin’ Man – Recording on the Road


As parents, my wife and I don’t often have "spur of the moment" travel moments. A blended family like ours has to do a lot of logistics planning to get the kids all in one place in order to go to another place. But two weeks ago, Katherine and I had a chance to go out of town to see my brother’s family and my parents in Illinois, plus get her up to see Chicago in the summertime. We went from "let’s go to Atlanta" to "Let’s go HOME" in about 10 minutes. We packed up the car that night and were ready to hit the road in the morning.

This meant I had to be ready to record auditions over the course of the trip. Originally, we were going to go for a long weekend, but ended up staying the entire week. Rather than unwire my PreSonus Firebox and mic, I planned to stop and pick up a USB interface and use my AT-3035 mic (now relegated to backup duty after getting the VO-1A. So while cruising the perimeter of Indianapolis, we stopped and got a Blue Microphones Icicle USB Interface, a small mic stand and cable. So armed, we headed to meet my brother Brandon (lead singer of Champaign’s mighty Beat Kitchen), his wife Megan and my nephew Everett.

We overnighted at a little hotel down the road from their place, and as Katherine indulged in a swim, I set up my mobile kit for recording a few auditions.

A new bit I have been working into my home studio is the Sony Reader Touch Edition (seen laying atop my laptop in the picture). Printing so much paper for auditions seemed wasteful of paper and ink, and a drag on the environement I could control. Because I was not ready to shell out for an iPad, I looked for an ebook reader that was capable of allowing markups of notes and documents on the screen. The only reader capable of this is the Touch Edition. I had just started using it in my studio when we decided to go on our little jaunt, so it was the perfect opportunity to give it a real run. I copy the text of the script into a RTF (Rich Text Format) file and transfer it to the Reader, and it was definitely an advantage when I was on the road without access to a printer.

To isolate while I was voicing, we covered the small table in the room with both the blanket and comforter from the bed and ran the mic under it.

A word of warning: ALWAYS bring good headphones with you in this set up. I failed to do so, and that will come up later.

I was able to get good, quick auditions done before Katherine was done with her swim. Perfect!

The following Monday, we were at my parent’s home in Kankakee, IL. We were preparing to head out the door to spend the evening in Chicago when I got a call on my cell. It was the producer for one of the spots I auditioned for in the hotel room two days earlier. He wanted to record the spot I auditioned for that day. I told him we would be able to do that once we got to our hotel. After a bit of a drive, lunch (Katherine’s first experience with Chicago style stuffed pizza…winner!), and a frantic setup once the hotel let us get into our room, I had a similar treatment plan in the new hotel. This time (after a false start), I put the foldable towel rack in the center of the bed, flipped the comforter and blanket over the rack, and ran the mic under. After recording, the lack of quality headphones came to a head. Katherine was kind enough to walk down to Radio Shack two blocks from the hotel and pick up some headphones I could use while I did the preliminary edits. Once we got that all done, the files were off, and by morning, the completed spot was ready to go.

     

 Here’s the video for those who can’t see the embed: UPH Commercial.

And with that, the road recording adventure was at an end (well, less a couple more auditions, one of which resulted in me as a play by play announcer for a Louisiana Lotto radio spot). It was an effective load out that earned me money on the road. A few things to remember:

  1. A good USB interface for using your road mic is a very good thing. Blue Microphones, Shure, and CEntrance make good ones.
  2. Don’t forget your headphones!
  3. Explore paperless solutions to your studio like the Touch Reader, the iPad or the like for easy portability.
  4. Know what your settings are for processing your files on your laptop as well as you know them on your studio rig.
  5. Use the tools at hand to treat your area. You can spend money on finished solutions like the PortaBooth, but blankets and comforters can work in the clutch.
  6. Have an understanding, supportive partner for your travels. It makes the whole trip more enjoyable.

 

The fun of working face to face


As voice artists, much of the time we work alone in a booth, closet, or wherever we lay down tracks. Even on those occasions when we do work with others on the same session, many times it is over ISDN connections, so that other talented person or persons we are working with are just excellent voices heard over a wire, with a touch of digital delay to add a little extra spice. Or space.
 
On Tuesday, I had a session that was very different. I was able to work with the super talented Tanya McClellan and Sam Mercurio on two radio spots for the Tennessee Lottery at the Groundcrew Studios here in Charlotte. And it was the most fun I’ve had in a voiceover session in a long time.
 
Tanya and I have done spots together in the past, and tend to cut up and ad lib our way into fits of laughing and giggling between takes. Tuesday’s session was no different, as we spun out characters into 10 different directions while we waited. And Sam dropped in his crazy coach, Droopy Dog and gravely cowboy voices to add into the fun. Together, we wrapped up the two spots in about 25 minutes with retakes and a couple of wild lines to give. But the key was the ability to mesh quickly, play off of each other, and walk out of the booth smiling after a great session.
 
In our semi-isolated work, sessions like this challenge your improv skills, get your mind moving, and your face and mouth warmed up to the task in a way that no solo warmups can do. Even when the session calls for made up words like "scratchegist" and "scratchegy."
 
Every once in a while, get out of your home studio if you can. Work with some people outside of your spot, as it challenges you in ways you may not have been challenged in a long time. And it adds to the camraderie we so often must generate via blog posts, Facebook updates, and tweets.
 
I tip my hat to Sam, Tanya, and Gerar at the Groundcrew. You guys made that session the absolute highlight of my day.