voiceover education

Five Voice-Over Books You Need to Read

Got eyes, a few bucks, and a way to read e-books? Good! Educate yourself!

1. There's Money Where Your Mouth Is by Elaine A Clark

The Bible according to Elaine. This book is one I come back to every year or so because it's just that damn good. It's your trusty all-in-one handbook on the world of voiceover. It's great coming back to see what information I've actually digested and what behaviors I've developed as a result. 

What Are You Worth?

Before I get into today's blog, I just want you to go listen to Charlie Adler's demo. Not that this has anything to do with what I'm about to write. It's just incredible, inspiring, and makes me want to mess myself while crying in a corner practice even harder to be a better voice actor. Needless to say, a lot has changed in the voice over industry in the last ten or so years. The same tools and technologies that make work easier to find than ever are the same tools that make that work cheaper to produce. Recording equipment gets smaller, more affordable, and easier to use every day.  Pay to play sites open the doors to pretty much anyone with cash to burn, both on the "client" and "talent" side. However, I don't want this to be another blog about how Voice123 and the Blue Yeti are signals of the end of the good old days; there's enough of that out there, and I don't necessarily agree with it anyway. Good work is still out there, still pays well, and still requires savvy and talent to seek out and perform.

It's important to figure out what you're worth, how low you're willing to go, and how much of your time can be spent on a sliding scale. Therapists have sliding scales, even the really, really amazing ones, so why shouldn't VO actors? For the right client, I'm willing to bend my price. Up until recently, that list included pretty much anyone who haggled with me. I'm done with that. I have too many clients that don't pay enough to be worth my time anymore, and now I either have to renegotiate my rate with them or drop them. And believe me, it's very hard for me to turn down work.

Your rate card is going to be difficult to determine at first, but once you have it, stick to it. This means your rate on Voices is the same rate as on your site, too. Most agents' work comes with a budget attached, so this doesn't really apply so much to that, as long as your agent isn't bringing you work for peanuts, which in my experience almost never happens.

Obviously when you first start out, you want to get as much work as you can to beef up your resume and get your name out there, but you have to be aware that once a client gets used to paying you a certain amount, asking for more later down the road can be hazardous.  Setting your rates early on and sticking to them will ensure that you don't fall into the trap of taking any job at any price. That's not what professionals do. Take a good long look at what you're able to do, look up the union rate sheets, and alter them accordingly. It shows that you know what you're worth. The clients that balk at a reasonable rate and try to shake you down usually aren't worth keeping anyway.


Get Organized, Stay Energized

If you're anything like me, prone to depression and anxiety episodes, the freelance life can be pretty dangerous. I don't punch a clock. I don't even put pants on sometimes. But, the workload is drastically bigger than any one job at a company, as I'm currently the talent, the bookkeeper, the junior lawyer, the CEO and the janitor. This doesn't me from occasionally freezing, and having a day or two with no productivity to speak of. With so much to do, it's tough to sit down and make yourself start somewhere. If you're going to pursue voice over as a career, make sure you block time out every day to exercise. It's really easy to end up glued to your computer for twelve hours on end, so put some yoga or outside time on your calendar.

Also, organization makes everything better. I put everything I have to do on a Google calendar, which ranges from session dates and times to when I should stand up, walk to the kitchen, and make myself food. Because I WILL push off eating if I don't know exactly when I'm going to do it. This reaches all the way down to your workflow and how you prioritize and manage tasks (if you have a way that a human being is actually capable of sticking to all the time, please email me). I don't always stick to my calendar 100%, but it helps tremendously when trying to balance marketing efforts, audition and session times, and bookkeeping.

Take the time to make an attack plan for the week, and work out and get sun shine at least once a day. It gives you purpose and prevents you from falling into a depressive slump.



Sneaking In Through the Front Door

I'm bad at taking other people's advice. When I first started working toward my beginning my voiceover career, I willfully ignored some pretty major advice that I've seen again and again and again: get training, coaching, and education, until you know you're ready to begin, THEN cut a demo, preferably with someone who specializes in the fields you want to break into. That person will likely cost a good chunk of money, and rightfully so. You want to put your best foot forward to make that great first impression. Makes sense, right? Well, instead of doing the "right" thing, I just sort of dove into working. I hacked a few demos together in my basement, got onto Voices.com, and started booking enough small jobs to warrant continuing. Granted, I did do my homework (for about ten years on and off, as I was easily put off by a good deal of what I was reading in that time). At least I had several years of audio engineering experience behind me so I had decent equipment and space to work in, so at least I wasn't working with a USB mic on a laptop in a big boomy room.

As I've said before, several prolonged periods of unemployment forced me into changing my approach to finding work altogether, which meant I needed to succeed with a severely limited (read, no) budget. That made securing training and a solid demo producer rather difficult, and I'm a DIY kinda guy, so I charged ahead.

I'm reminded of when I learned how to play guitar. Instead of seeking out a great teacher, I taught myself. It took forever and I had a very tenuous grasp on simple things like a strong rhythmic foundation and improv skills. Eventually I had to tear down my playing style and start all over with an emphasis on the basics. My skill level eventually improved, but it took forever to get where I am. I'm proud of my skills in that area, but I definitely could have taken a more expedient approach had I taken the advice that was given to me.

Luckily, instead of wading around for eight years before deciding to take a critical look at what I'm doing in VO, I'm actively looking to retrace my steps and do it the "right" way. With the proliferation of cheap equipment and pay-to-play sites that are more than happy to take your money in exchange for a seat at the table, it's easier than ever to simply hang your shingle up and say you're a VO professional. Despite this, my warning to anyone who wants to get into this industry is this: there is a "right" way to do this, and it's not easy. It takes time, patience, and money. It requires you to really think critically about your skills, areas of focus, and goals before even getting started. Do your research, reach out to prominent people in the community, get trained before putting yourself out there. You only get to make one first impression, so make sure it's a good one.



Marketing Tips for Getting Started in Voiceover: The Demo

A friend of mine recently messaged me on Facebook asking for an insight into how I got started as a voiceover artist. I was flattered considering I've only been at this gig for a few months, but after sifting through the efforts I've made to get where I am, I managed to cobble a few bits of knowledge together for her. I'd like to share some of these ideas with the rest of you as well, as I am a generous and beneficent ruler. #1: The Demo

The idea of cutting together the perfect demo scared me off from voiceover for a decade. For a very long time I chased my tail worrying that I lacked any experience or training, but that I need a demo to even start getting work, but to pay for the demo, I needed gigs I couldn't get because I had no demo because I couldn't afford training. I went in circles like that until I was cast in Murdercastle and the overwhelming support of the BROS convinced me that I needed to really take this seriously.

I had built a small home studio in my basement so that I could finish Random Battles' Dark World, so I already had a ton of tools at my command. While I don't recommend the setup I built as it's way more than you'd need for a decent VO setup, I found having a place to go in my house to at least practice and hear myself was a great motivator. You can easily do this with your iPhone, just find practice scripts, record yourself, make notes, ask friends for feedback, do anything you can to figure out where your voice is and where it needs to go.

Now, that illustrious demo. What was once a golden calf is now a weekly exercise for me. My research led me to believe that you need not one demo, but at least three: the commercial, the narration, and the character demo. I used this model when recording other BROS' voice demos; we'd pick one area and concentrate solely on that. Now that I've spent time on voices.com, Voice Bunny, and other P2P sites, I've come to regard Voices' 15 demo breakdown, which goes into specifics like audiobooks, podcasts, video games, and more. I find these specific demos to greatly assist me when hunting down new clients. If I'm contacting an audiobook company, I have one demo for children's books and another for adult fiction/non-fiction. I can pop it right into the email and take my swing at impressing somebody. I believe that you ultimately need all of these demos at your disposal: The 15 product-specific, the three compounded demos, and the one to rule them all: I call it the Composite Demo.

The composite demo will be the master track of your greatest hits. All the best bits from all of the specific demos cut into one. This is, I believe, the monster that scared me off from VO for all those years. I still haven't finished mine, but I have an entire website full of demos to show for my effort to get there. As I try to cut at least one new demo each week, I should have finished my fifteen in about 8 weeks. After that, if I still like those demos and don't decide to update them (which I've also been doing regularly), I should have enough to make that beautiful master demo that shows off all of my range and ability.

So, to wrap up, to get started, start doing your homework on your voice and your acting ability. Start talking to people and either invest a little money into some equipment or seek out a local recording studio. Most are not nearly as expensive as you think they are, have great audio engineers to help you navigate your first demos, and can even help you package them nicely. Oh wait, I know a place like that. Don't let the idea that you'll live and die by your demo ward you off like it did me.