I Got Nuthin'

Down time.

Once the holiday season starts kicking in, the work goes one of two ways: either every production house scrambles to find voices for their projects for holiday-themed commercials, or the work load drops away to nothing as people start taking time off to visit friend and family.

So what do you do when there's nothing to do?

Well, first thing is to realize that there is no such thing as "nothing to do."

For me, when the auditions start tapering off and the usual assortment of clients go on hiatus, I spend my time working on ways to improve my business. Whether that's taking more classes to improve my voice, or listening to podcasts, watching videos and reading books to learn more about the art and science of voiceover, there is ALWAYS something to do that can help improve your business.

How is your social networking doing? Are you interacting with your community and discussing issues related to VO? Are you asking questions from the dozens of professionals that are only a few keystrokes away, or are you just posting Instagram pics of what you had to eat last night?

When was the last time you updated your website? Or your demos? Or your marketing materials?

How about re-tuning your closet recording studio? Maybe a little tweak of your acoustic dampening gear (some people call em "moving blankets") to better eliminate stray sounds?

Have you been wanting to learn new software, or learn more about your existing software? Maybe there are some keyboard shortcuts you can re-map to make the editing process easier?

When was the last time you re-evaluated your marketing strategy? Hell, when was the last time you actually CAME UP WITH a marketing strategy? If you've read my other posts, you know that this is the secret to your voiceover success. And the end of the year is the perfect time to fine-tune the plan so you spend your time concentrating on what works and waste less time on what doesn't.

If you aren't consciously mapping out your success,
you're unconsciously mapping out your failure. 


As the year draws to a close, have you looked back at all the work you've done in the past year? Do you have thousands of audition MP3's that are taking up space on your hard drive? Why are you saving them? Do you have project files that could be moved to a backup drive? Have you backed up your software?

Have you made up an operating budget for next year? Have you made a note of any subscriptions that are going to need renewing? Is your domain name expiring? Do you know if it is?

Got all your assets purchased to take advantage of section 179 deductibles? Do you understand any of that last sentence? If not, maybe you should investigate that.

Just because you aren't sitting behind the mic as much as you'd like, doesn't mean there isn't stuff to do. As the CEO of your one-employee business, it's up to you to make sure all the bases are covered.

The more you can do when things aren't as busy, the better off you'll be when they are.



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
About Rob Marley - 


A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com

Less is More

One of my first jobs in audio was mixing live sound for bands and shows at a local amusement park. Little did I know it would be a baptism of fire and a life lesson about audio.

Most of the sound jobs at the park were pretty straightforward. Usually just mixing a single microphone with music beds on cart tapes. Some of you old farts may remember carts. For those that never had to work with these infernal things, just be happy they've gone the way of the 8-track.

A little of this, and a little of that,
can add up to a whole lot of "nope."
Generally, as long as you weren't a complete screw-up, you moved up the tech ladder fairly quickly. It wasn't long before I started working one of the more challenging mixing jobs in the department: a 12 piece Motown band that would do five 30 minute sets per day in a pavilion that most park guests would just walk by and ignore. But it was a great experience in both live sound and appreciating Motown music. (to this day, Wilson Picket's "In the Midnight Hour" still gives me a Pavlovian sense of happiness, because it was the last song of the last set of the day.)

Running live sound outdoors in the Summer in California is a quick way to learn about audio frequencies. As the temperatures climbed, things that you thought sounded pretty decent in the morning would start sounding flat by mid-day and you'd suddenly be confronted by microphones feeding back in ways you didn't expect.

To help with the issue, we had a little device in the booth that could isolate specific frequencies and knock them down if they were becoming a problem. As the Summer heated up, this little box became both a blessing and a curse. In my efforts to prevent the house from feeding back as much as possible, while still providing the most volume you could pump through the amps, that little piece of gear became a crutch. Is the main singer's mic feeding back around 4 kHz? just dial in that frequency and knock it down. The keyboard vocal's mic is ringing at 1K? knock it down and move on.

By the afternoon, the sound was so loud, yet so horrible that more than one supervisor would walk by the booth and give me the universal symbol hated by audio engineers everywhere: fingers stuck in their ears and a stink-eye look on their face.

It took a while for it to sink in, but I realized I was over-using the frequency killer. By the end of the night, I had crushed most of the frequencies into a pulp of flat, painful sound. I learned that small, subtle changes can make a much bigger difference than big, dramatic ones and adding or taking away things can dramatically alter the quality of the sound.

This knowledge of audio can be applied to voiceover. A lot of people think they have to tart up their sound by adding compression, expansion, limiting, gating, noise cancellation, EQ, or effects to get the sound they want (or the sound they think the producer wants) but in reality, the less you add to the sound, the better off the sound is going to be. Not to mention that every extra piece of gear you add to the mic chain is going to introduce noise that can add up.

When delivering a finished audio to a client, it's important to remember that once it leaves your hot little hands, it may get mixed, remixed and have stuff added to it in the post production process. If you've already added something to the sound, the engineers may not be able to remove it and the final audio may sound entirely not what you were imagining. Or worse, the client may not be happy with the sound and blame your performance.

Or it may not have anything done to it and the submitted audio might just be dropped as-is, directly into the project. It's important to have a conversation with the client beforehand to find out if they want their audio "processed" or "dry."

As a general rule, the cleaner you can deliver the audio - free of extra "stuff" added to it - the better.

When it comes to audio, less is more.



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
About Rob Marley - 


A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com

The Perfect Vocal Warmup: Hot Steam, Cold Read

Now that Mother Nature has wrapped her icy fingers around the majority of the country, it's time to think about good ways to warm up the vocal cords before recording.

There are as many ways to warm up the voice as there are voice artists. From tongue twisters, to singing scales, to doing that motorboat sound with your lips while humming, Each pro seems to have their own tricks and rituals.

I've stumbled across a technique that really works well for me and serves multiple purposes at the same time.

I picked up a Vicks Personal Steam Inhaler.  It's basically a heating element and a funky plastic cone that directs the steam up and out. You pour a few ounces of water in the base, turn it on and in about a minute it's steaming.

You could also do this with a tea kettle. I usually begin my day with a mug of hot tea. I've become a connoisseur of the stuff. One of my kitchen cabinets is filled with all kinds of tea: loose leaf, bagged, Oolong, Lapsang Suchong, Darjeeling, Orange Pekoe, and a bunch of fruity blends that friends have given me as gifts over the years.  The warm tea is great on the throat and the steam helps open the sinuses and clear out congestion. Sometimes I will stand over the boiling tea-kettle with a towel over my head just breathing in the steam while doing vocalizations mentioned above - which, of course, is hilarious to my girlfriend.

As most VO's know, one of the cheapest and easiest ways to practice voiceover is to read out loud every day. This really helps to improve your cold-reading skills.

So my trick, now that I have the steam inhaler is to read out loud while breathing in the steam for about 15 minutes. I have a variety of books on my tablet PC. So while my face is over the steam, I turn on the e-reader and read out loud. Currently I'm reading Harlan Hogan's "VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice Over Actor" - Harlan is a great guy and has been doing voiceover longer than I've been alive, so it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about the business. His book is in the second edition (or "Take 2" as Harlan would say) and should be considered a mandatory read if you're just starting out in the VO business.

So I stand over the steamer, reading out loud from the book. This serves several purposes:

  1. The steam helps open the sinuses and loosens any congestion. 
  2. Reading out loud helps warm up the vocal cords
  3. Reading out loud improves your cold-reading skills.
  4. I'm reading a book that will help me to be a better voice artist.

Steam therapy is a great way to help alleviate congestion from allergies and colds. Personally, when I'm sick, Hot Toddies are my go-to drink. The steam loosens the gunk in my chest, the honey soothes the throat and the whiskey...well, the whiskey lets me not care so much that I'm sick.

But for non-sick days when there's going to be a lot of time spent in the studio, the "hot steam/ cold read" technique is perfect.



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
About Rob Marley - 
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com

So You Want to Do VO? - Part 9: The Secret to Success

I started writing this series as a way to give new and aspiring voiceover artists the answers to the most frequently asked questions about getting started in the VO business. Originally it was going to be just a one page cheat sheet to answer the question, "How do I get started doing voiceover?"  but as I started getting into it, I realized that there was a lot more detail that needed to be explained, so I decided to split all this into multiple, easy to digest posts that I could release every week.

If you've been following along for the past several weeks reading the articles on this subject, first of all, THANK YOU. And second, I hope you've learned a few things and you're on your way to building your voiceover career.

Now it's time to focus on the way to make that business work FOR you.


The secret: FINALLY revealed
Every new voice artist wants to know the secret to being successful. After all the work has been done buying the gear, setting up your audio chain, eliminating unwanted noise, getting professional training, honing your talents and getting your demo produced, you are finally ready to learn the most coveted piece of information - this is the key; The golden ticket; The brass ring. This is the thing that every professional voice artist understands and the secret that every SUCCESSFUL voice artist closely guards. This is the one tip that can make or break your career. It's the single most important factor in voiceover being either a career that can bring in six, or even seven figures per year, or a hobby that earns you beer money,

Are you ready? Are you REALLY ready? OK, here it is:

The more people that know about you, the more successful you will be. 


I know, I know: groundbreaking information, isn't it? But amusingly, there are voice artists that just don't get it and spend their entire short-duration careers whining that they never get any work and that someone else is always landing the big jobs.

It's always someone else's fault
why I'm not successful.
WAAH!
I got involved with a conversation on one of the social networks about this very topic just recently. The individual had their demo professionally produced and was using the tired excuse that the voiceover industry is being monopolized by a handful of professionals who are preventing the fresh new voices from being heard. This person didn't want to take any responsibility for their own career. They felt that the only way to be successful was to get an agent, and no agents wanted to listen to them. And what was this person doing to get an agent? Nothing. He had his demo made and felt that this should be enough.

This person, though they were young, had subscribed to one of the most archaic of voiceover legends.

And like most legends, it's entirely wrong.


Marketing, marketing, marketing.

When I first got into the VO business, I came to a surprising revelation: the business of voiceover has very little to do with your voice. Almost nothing, actually. I'd say that a true VO career is maybe 5% about the quality of your voice, and the rest is all about marketing that voice.

Think about this:

You could have a custom built recording studio with careful attention to acoustics.
You could have a professionally produced demo and get training from a top-quality VO coach.
You could have perfect elocution and enunciation. "She sells seashells by the seashore" rolls off your tongue like butter dripping off of a hot biscuit.
You could dance over complicated medical narration scripts with the grace of Fred Astaire.
You can believably sound like you're from New York, or Old England, or South France or West Germany, or the mid-West...

But so what? How does anyone know you even exist?

Look, it comes down to this:

"If you don't get your vocal cords
to vibrate against the right ear drums,
you will go nowhere."
To succeed in VO, marketing is the key: You have to be able to sell who you are and what you can do, to the right people, at the right time.

Exceed their needs and expectations
It's important to understand that marketing is not just about selling a product (in this case, your voice). It's about focusing on the needs of your customers.

Say for example, you have a lemonade stand and sold cups of lemonade for $.50 a cup. You might get a few customers and that would be fine.

But what if you thought about where you were going to set up your lemonade stand? Say, for example at the bottom of a busy off-ramp on a hot Summer afternoon during rush hour. And what if you packaged your lemonade in a plastic bottle to make it easier for your potential customers to drink it when they're waiting at the stop light? And what if you put your name and website on the label so customers could go to your website later and buy the product directly from you? And what if you posted a sign at the top of the on-ramp telling people that there would be ice cold lemonade for sale just a few hundred feet down the road?

That is marketing.

You can be a voice over artist and might make a few bucks. But if you want to succeed beyond working for whatever gig you can land from a freelancing or P2P site, a consistent, organized plan for marketing your voice is in order.

There are several tactics when it comes to voiceover marketing. I won't go into specific details (mostly because I don't have the space here to dedicate to it.) What I will say is that you need to have a plan. You need to take a piece of paper (or open a new document, but that doesn't sound nearly as romantic) and write down a specific, organized strategy for how you're going to get people to hear your voice and eventually hire you for work. This plan is what you use to promote and push your business forward.

Spend the time to carefully write out a strategy that you'll use to promote yourself and then follow that plan out to the letter. It may take some tweaking and some trial and error to find the right combination, but by doing this, you will be far ahead of the individual who thinks the world owes them something simply because they spent money on a demo and want it really bad.

In my mind, the three most important parts to a successful voiceover business are: marketing, marketing, and marketing.

Research time
There are many great books out there on the subject of marketing and several geared towards voice artists specifically. Here are just a couple of them.

Voice artist Bill Dewees has a great eBook called "How to Start and Build a Six Figure Voice Over Business"  and he goes into detail about what he does on a daily and weekly basis to keep himself as one of the most prominent and successful working voice artists in the business today. His weekly youtube videos are incredibly informative. The man knows what he's talking about.

Another great book is by Paul Strikwerda called "Making Money in your PJ's"  Paul has over 30 years of experience in the business and runs a blog that I read religiously. Paul also knows his stuff and his book is entertaining to read and packed with information on how to transform your hobby into a business and keep it that way.

Both books are a good investment if you're serious about wanting to succeed in the voiceover business. And if you've been reading my articles from the start, Its fair to say you're probably serious about the business.

But don't just stop there! You need to keep learning. The other thing that most new voice artists don't think about when getting started is the commitment to continuing education this business demands. You never stop learning. Seasoned pros still get coaching. The more you know, the better prepared for success you will be. Technology evolves, trends in client demands change, and new techniques and ways to grow both your voice and your business are constantly being developed and updated. If you aren't learning, you're losing money.



RECAP

The voiceover business is an exciting, weird, competitive, entertaining and sometimes frustrating industry.  I hope that this multi-part post has given you some good advice to research if you're interested in making a career of it. Again, I would like to stress that there are many ways to get into the business. What's been presented here is what's worked for me. It may not be the easiest or the fastest way but it's the way I used and it works pretty well.

Its taken nine weeks worth of articles, but we've finally answered the question.

SO YOU WANT TO DO VO?
Here's what you need to do:

I've said this before and I'll say it again: Above everything else, be a sponge. Learn as much as you can, from as many sources as you can. Study, research, practice, train, audition and learn with every step you take. In this business, stagnation leads to death. Read out loud every day. Get involved with the community. Talk to professionals. Never stop improving. If you can do all of this and still have fun doing it, then you may have found the right career for you and because of your dedication, you're going to be leaps and bounds ahead of the kid with the laptop and the microphone that wants to make a few bucks on the side because his buddies told him he had a good voice. If you follow these suggestions, you'll no longer be just an amateur, you will truly be a professional voice artist.

And if you have any questions, I'm always available to help out.

Now get going!



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
About Rob Marley - 
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com

So You Want to do VO? - Part 8: "Pay to Play" voiceover sites

In last week's article, I mentioned using the "dollar-a-holler" freelance sites for new voice artists to find work.

This week, we look at the next possible rung on the ladder of your voiceover career.

Pay to play?

One step up from the freelance voiceover sites are the so-called "pay-to-play" sites. These sites charge a monthly (or yearly) membership fee, and usually contain higher-profile, bigger budget clients looking for voice artists. But while rates are significantly better than what can usually be found on sites like freelancer.com, this type of voiceover site comes with some serious drawbacks.

If you've been in the VO business for longer than a week, you'll no-doubt be familiar with the on-going argument around P2P sites. It runs something like this:

"Pay to play sites are a cancer on the voiceover industry. ARGH!"

vs

"'Meh. I've made good money and many long-term contacts
with clients who found me on P2P."

Both sides of the argument have their valid points. The argument against P2P is that this type of business model somehow reduces the respectability of the art and craft of a voice artist and it drives the price down. To put it simply, Pay to play sites devalue a voice artist both literally and figuratively.

On the other hand, technology is a driving force in the direction of the modern VO business. The client's convenience of getting near-instant gratification at rock bottom prices pushes this forward. And voice artists know they can make money if they figure out what the client wants and can deliver it better than their competition.

Tip: Adapt or die
My opinion is to embrace modern technological improvements wherever and whenever they happen. Learn about the various ways content can be created, processed and distributed and don't be afraid to adapt to a new technology. For example, expensive ISDN connections are going the way of the 8-track. What's going to replace it? Studying the pioneers and learn about the geek side of the business will help you to be a stronger professional.

When it comes to pay-to-play sites, this may sound wishy-washy, but I feel "it is what it is." The idea was created, the customers (the voice seekers) love it, and as much as voice artists grumble about it, some people do make money from it. Like it or not, pay-to-play is a business model that works.

But it's not working in your best interests.

Some of the major pay-to-play sites right now:

Voices.com
Voice123.com
Bodalgo.com
TheVoiceRealm.com

But before you pay to become a member of one (or all) of theses sites, There are a variety of pros and cons that you should be aware of:

  • First, there are thousands of people on the sites, all with extremely varied levels of skill and proficiency in voiceover, all clamoring for work. With the exception of The Voice Realm, who vets your qualifications and skills, there's no criteria for being a member of the P2P sites. Anyone with a credit card and a means to record audio can call themselves a "voice artist" and compete for work. So you can have top-shelf industry VO professionals who've spent decades perfecting their craft, right next to a college kid with no skills at all... and they're auditioning for the same job.
  • These sites are built and operated with the customer in mind. In other words: NOT YOU. People looking to hire a voice talent can post their jobs for free, while the voice artists have to pay hundreds of dollars per year to be a member. 
  • Because of the amount of people on these sites, auditions fill up fast. REALLY fast. The more the job pays, the faster the auditions are submitted. Most jobs posted will get around 100 different voice artists auditioning, and that's usually within the first few hours of the job being posted. Now, if I were an advertiser looking to hire a voice talent, I am probably not going to listen to 100 auditions. That means that for a voice artist to even be heard by the client, they need to submit their audition as soon as the job is posted. 
But here's the catch: some P2P sites have systems in place to try to keep things more balanced. Voices.com, for example, has a thing they call "voice match" which tries to match the tone and style of the voice artist's voice to the tone and style that the particular client is looking for. How close you are to a match is displayed on a percentage scale on the job listings. This matching system then presents the most closely-matched voiceover talent to the client first. Which means that even if you're the first to submit your audition, if you're only a 70% match, your audition will be placed behind everyone who is a closer match for what the client is looking for.

Of course, this is only true if the client waits for a large number of auditions to be submitted before listening to them. If they start listening to the auditions as they start rolling in, they very well could pick a voice from the selection already presented, regardless of how close of a match you may be.

The trick (if there is one) with something like this is to be both fast and highly matched. In other words, make sure you rank as high as possible in the percentages for the job, and submit the audition as quickly as possible after the job is posted.

In an effort to be "fair" Voice123 actually limits the amount of jobs you can audition for. I am told it's for some kind of reason, but for the life of me, I don't understand it: You pay almost $400 a year for the privilege of auditioning for work, and they're going to limit your ability to do even that?

The other thing to consider is that because of the large number of voice artists on these sites, the ratio of auditions to winning jobs is pretty extreme. Most talent say their ratio is around 50 to 1. That means that you MIGHT land one job every 50 auditions. Sometimes that ratio can be lower, sometimes it can be higher. It all depends on your skills and whatever the client is looking for.

Despite all that, it IS possible to make money with pay-to-play. I joined voices.com in September and since that time, The work I've received has paid for my membersip fee several times over.  But it takes a considerable amount of effort in auditioning consistently every day.

I will say that for some weird reason, auditioning can become pretty addicting. Something about the way the jobs get posted and the stream of job opportunities flooding your in-box creates a sense of urgency that makes you want to do "just one more audition" which turns into several, and before you know it, you've spent most of the day auditioning.

If you're considering joining one of the P2P's, keep one thing in mind: They are not now, nor should they ever be the be-all, end all of your voiceover career. Don't make them your sole source of income. They should be treated as one point of a multi-faceted approach to your business. There are other (and better) ways to get work in voiceover. Seek them out and exploit them as well.

Never forget that when you're on a pay-to-play site, you're one voice in a room full of thousands. You generate income to a business model that treats you like a commodity. You are a dollar sign to the owners; nothing more. But in exchange for this servitude, you might make enough money to pay a few bills. Or maybe you get remembered by a previous client who then books your for bigger and better jobs outside of the P2P site. This is what all voice talent secretly hope for. It doesn't always happen, but it could. It's like winning the lottery.

So with visions of dollar signs dancing in your head, you hunker back down and accept being treated like livestock. If pay-to-play sites are the road you have chosen to take for your budding voice over career, buck it up and accept the flaws. Just remember:

This is a cattle call: learn to moo. 



In the next and final chapter of this tutorial for new voice artists, I will reveal the secret to being successful. This is the thing that most new voice over artists never think about and the thing that veteran voice over actors know will keep the money rolling it. It is the KEY principal to the business. If you follow this secret correctly, it will launch your career, allow you to quit your day job and work full time doing voiceover. Some of my peers may not like me mentioning it, but I'm going to anyway. It is the single-most important and most profitable trick to being a voiceover artist, and I will reveal it to you for free.

OK, I know that tease sounded like some kind of twisted infomercial, but trust me on this. Next week's article contains the key to success.

Stay tuned.



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
About Rob Marley - 
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com

So You Want to do VO? - Part 7: "Dollar a Holler" Freelancing

This is part 7 of my multi-part post on how to get started in the Voiceover business.

If you've been following my suggestions, by now you've hopefully gained some experience with some of the voice acting communities and have either paid for it, or produced your own demo that shows off your vocal ability in a professional manner. Now we're finally at a point where you can take all of the previous information and put it to good use. Now you can start making some money.

Sort of.

Freelancing at the "Dollar-a-Holler" sites

There are a number of freelance websites out there where that voice artists can use to find work.

Some of the more prominent ones:

Each site runs a little differently, but for the most part they all function the same way:

A typical day at Freelancer.com

  • The client, looking for a voice artist, posts a job listing, stating how much they're willing to pay (either hourly or a flat rate) and the details of the job. They place the funds for this job into an escrow account (or not, depending on the terms they decide) and the money gets released to the voice artist when the finished file is uploaded and approved by the client. 
  • Prospective voice talent then bid on the job, listing how much (or how little) they're willing to work for and how long it will take to complete the job. 
  • The client will pick the talent based usually on their generic audition (their demo), though some clients ask for a custom audition using a sample of an attached script. 
  • When the job is awarded, the voice talent has a certain amount of time to record and send the finished audio back to the client. 
  • If the client is happy with the recording, they release the funds, which then get deposited into your freelance web account, minus a fee charged by the website, which varies site to site (usually 10 - 18%, but some as high as 50%). The funds can then be withdrawn to your regular bank account via PayPal, wire transfer, etc.
Freelancing with these websites is a great way to gain experience, hone your recording and voiceover techniques and maybe earn some money in the process. However, there are a two major things to be aware of:
  1. The pay is crap.
  2. There's a lot of people willing to work for slave wages.

The first problem is a sign of the times. The clients that frequent the freelancing sites tend to expect a lot for very little payment. $30 for 3-5 minutes of finished audio is common. (which is why I use the nickname, "Dollar-a-holler" when describing these sites.)

However if you are just starting out, this seems like a great deal. Which leads to the second problem.

For every job that says the pay is between $20 - $30, there will be 10 people who are willing to get the job for $20 or less. There is a constant stream of new talent that are willing to work way below what they're worth, just for the sake of landing the job and adding it to their resume. Some people just want the money and are willing to do anything to get it, including working for next to free.


My story:
I once bid on a job for an audio tour of foreign monuments. This would be a recording that tourists could listen to while they walk around visiting the various locations. I bid low, because I wanted the work and I figured low pay is better than NO pay.
I won the job, but my excitement quickly faded when I discovered that, because I didn't read over the entire script before bidding, I failed to notice that it was 20 PAGES  worth of dialog: Single spaced, filled with foreign pronunciations and written by someone to whom English was definitely a second - or perhaps third - language. After contacting the client about the difficulty with most of the words, they were very accommodating and ended up sending me a voice sample of one of their co-workers saying the words in their native language so I could get the pronunciation correct.  
From start to finish, this project ended up being 24 hours worth of work. And I don't mean that it took a day - I mean the time it took to record, edit and send the finished audio files took 24 working hours. Based on my original bid, I ended up working just above minimum wage.
I learned a valuable lesson on this project: don't be in such a hurry to land the job that you sacrifice your standards, or your sanity to do it. Your time is worth something; Let someone else work for peanuts. 

One tactic that some clients will use is to offer the job in a foreign currency. "A 30 second promo for $200? That sounds good!" but then you realize that its 200 Hong Kong Dollars, which at the time I wrote this post was $25 US. When bidding on the project, always pay attention to the currency being used.

I don't want to say that this is a shady practice that all clients are trying to pull, but it does seem fishy with some jobs.

Watermark your work. A watermark is something that you embed into the recording to prevent someone from using the audio without paying you. A simple 1kHz beep slipped in every 10 seconds is more than enough. In your proposal for a potential job, you should mention that you will send a watermarked version of the audio requested for the client to evaluate. If the client is happy, instruct them to release the funds agreed to and you will immediately send them a clean version (without the watermark). I have never had a client use my audio without paying, but the potential for some shady businesses to do that is there, so I watermark everything on these sites. Once you've worked with a client a couple of times, you can ditch the watermark if they've shown themselves to be trustworthy, but it's always a good idea to protect your work when you first start working with a client.

TIP: Dont be afraid to say no.
The majority of the clients on these sites are looking for the absolute lowest possible cost they can get away with. An audiobook for $25? A 2 minute promotional video for $10? No thanks. Pass. As I wrote in a previous post, "Your time and skills have value. Bid accordingly."

Being a freelancer doesn't mean you work for free.  

If you're just starting out in voiceover, these freelance sites are a good way to hone your skills. It gives you some basic client interaction experience and helps you refine your tone, range and style. However, you're certainly not going to get rich working this route, This is a way to gain some experience that will be helpful to you as you move on with your career.

Graduate and move on
Any website that makes the voiceover artists bid against each other, means that everyone loses in the long run. Its a destructive environment that breeds contempt for your peers. Which is absolutely NOT how this industry actually functions. In the real world of voiceover, your peers are your friends. Working together makes a hell of a lot more sense for the industry (and out bottom lines) than this cheap, cutthroat style haggling that takes place in the seedy freelancing marketplaces.

You don't want to spend too much time trying to make money in these places. They are a stepping stone to bigger and better work. Think of this as practice. Once you've done a few jobs and you're comfortable with your audio chain and your workflow, it's time to move your career on to the next level.

In the next installment of this series, we'll carefully wade out of the murky waters of the Dollar-a-holler kiddie pool and cannonball into the stormy "pay-to-play" ocean.

Stay tuned.


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
About Rob Marley - 
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com

So you Want to Do VO? - Part 6: The Most Important Tool In Your Toolbox

In the last post, I showed you a couple of places to start practicing voiceover and allowing you to develop and refine your audio chain and production process so that it's as efficient as possible.

If you've been following my advice, you will have hopefully spent some time recording voiceovers for the various people requesting jobs in the fan film/ RecordThis groups. Hopefully you've learned what works and what doesn't work when it comes to recording, editing and sending the finished product out. And hopefully you've learned how to communicate with the various clients in a professional manner. Because the next step in your VO career is where those skills are going to start to come in handy.

But before we get there, we need to talk about the single most important tool in your voiceover toolbox.

THE DEMO

A demo is a small sample of your work that a potential client will use to decide if you're the right voice for the job. In very much the same way a headshot is for an actor or model, your demo is your calling card: It represents you when you're offline.

To simplify things as much as possible, think about it this way:

To make money, you need to land the job. 
To land the job, you need a good demo. 

In the money-making real world of professional voiceover, your demo has to be as professional as possible. It's critical to your success in this business.

Yeah, this seems legit.
A lot of books and websites (and coaches, and pros) will tell you that you should NEVER make your demo yourself. And ya know what? They're absolutely right. To a person with a trained ear - like a casting director or a talent agent - what you make on your own will sound home-made. And if later on down the road you decide that you need to re-do your demo and have it done professionally, the casting director you send the new demo to may remember your previous demo, write you off as an amateur and toss the new demo in the trash.

Take my word for it: producing your own demo can be detrimental to your future career.

Now, having said all that...

When you're just starting out, you're not going to have the money to invest in a pro demo, which can cost anywhere from several hundred, to several thousand dollars. So you may have no choice but to produce a demo on your own.

If this is your only option at this point in your budding career, at the very least do everything you can to make it as polished and professional sounding as humanly possible!

There are a lot of things to think about. Here are some pointers:

  • Your demo should consist of several examples of your particular voiceover style in whatever format you're aiming for, cut quickly together. 
  • Listen to the demos of working professionals. (in other words, people who are getting work.) Hear how quickly they're cut together. Speed is important. Edit your demo to be fast paced. You don't want to play an entire 30 second commercial, just a sentence from one, then cut to the next one, etc. 
    • Listen to the music used. It should match the style of the promo. It should be in the background, out of the way and definitely not interfere with the voice at all. You are promoting your voice, not the music.
    • There are a variety of places where you can find production music that will work for your demo. A Google search for "free production music" will turn up some good results.
    • Get some sample scripts of actual commercials. Edge Studio has a large assortment of scripts. Registration is free and once you log in, you can pick the category you like and grab as many as you want. Of course, if you've been doing work in the various communities I mentioned in a previous post, you should have more than enough content to put together into a demo.
    • Don't mix formats. If you're more interested in commercial work, then your demo should be all commercial style recordings. If you're looking to get into voice acting - doing stuff for anime and cartoons - then your demo should be all about that. 
    • If you're interested in working in multiple formats of VO, have a different demo for each one. For example, I have a separate demo for commercial work, one for corporate narration and E-Learning, one for radio station IDs and DJ intro's and one for phone messaging/ Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. This way if I am auditioning for a corporate narration job, my potential client doesn't have to hear a bunch of DJ intros or hear me shilling for Ford trucks.
    • Your demo should be 60 seconds long. That's it. A narration or character demo might go a little longer, but not by much. 
    • You have an incredibly small amount of time to convince a casting director or potential client that you're the right voice for the job. Assume that for any particular job posting, the client may have to listen to hundreds of demos. They aren't going to be spending a lot of time on each voice. They're going to listen to a demo and decide within 5 seconds if that is the right voice they pictured for their job. 
    • With that thought in mind, you need to grab the listener's attention right from the beginning - put your absolute best stuff in the very beginning of your demo, followed by your second best stuff, etc
    • Don't record anything you can't pull off completely. A demo should represent the sum of your voiceover skills. Now is not the time to try out your newly learned European or New York accent. If it doesn't sound convincing, it's going to come across as amateur. And a client who is looking to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) on a national commercial is going to want a professional. Not an amateur.
    • For the love of God: STOP TRYING TO SOUND LIKE DON LAFONTAINE! If you've got that deep, basso profundo announcer voice: congratulations. Now, what else can you do with it?  A casting director can't swing a dead cat without hitting 5 people that are trying to artificially sound like "The Don." This style of voiceover is over-used and cliche. Instead, show your versatility. This will take you further than doing what you THINK they want to hear.
    • Always leave em wanting just a little more. In the chance that someone listens to your demo all the way through, you don't want to bore them. Keep 'em interested and entice them that if they want to hear more, they can go to your website. 
    • A trick to making your demo sound a little more "pro" is to have your voice processed differently on each clip. Things like compression, expansion and EQ should be different. You want it to sound like each clip was recorded at a different time, in a different studio, with a different mic and mastered by a different engineer.  If they all have the same EQ/ compression settings, it's a dead giveaway to someone who knows what they're listening for that the demo was home made.
    REAL IMPORTANT: Once you think you've got your home made demo sounding professional, have some professionals listen to it. Make sure that these people know what they're talking about. Don't just give it to your friends - they will all just say that it sounds fantastic and really professional. You don't want platitudes here. You want a tough-love, hardcore evaluation of the sound quality, your delivery, your tone, and your presentation. Listen to their advice. Make changes. Send it to them again. Repeat this until they tell you to go away.


    Beware of demo mills

    In every business, every industry, every niche... if there is money to be made, there is someone out there figuring out ways to take advantage of that. The voiceover business is no exception to this, and a perfect example is the so-called "demo mill."

    A demo mill is basically a slick operation that promises you that they will produce for you a top notch, professional demo. They will tell you exactly what you want to hear. "Oh you have a great voice! There is lots of potential here! With our professionally-produced demo, you can be making money right away!"

    Don't be fooled.

    Companies like this will do nothing but take your money and leave you with a demo that wont convince anyone who knows what to listen for. They are a waste of time and money that could be better spent on a proven voice coach.


    How to avoid a demo mill:
    Ask around. Talk to professionals. Talk to voice artists that are working (not just hoping for work.) Ask them who they used. Ask about costs. Shop around. Take notes.

    Don't just jump at some website that promises the world and can't deliver on it.  Demo mills take your money and crank out worthless junk.

    Consider yourself warned.


    The amount of time and effort you put into your demo is critical to your future success. The better you can make it sound, the better off you will be.  But remember: if you are producing it yourself, this only buys you some time. You will need to get a demo recorded by a professional in the future. Start planning for this.


    AND NOW FOR SOME TOUGH LOVE:

    A professionally produced demo is the key to your future voiceover success. However one final word of advice on this: don't get your demo produced too early.  If you don't get the training to learn the voiceover skills first, you're just polishing a turd. No matter how good you think you sound, an expert will see through the charade. Get professional training and learn the skills before you get your demo professionally produced. This is what separates an amateur hobby-level voiceover artist from  a voiceover professional.

    In the next chapter, we start making money by venturing into the murky waters of the freelance voiceover world.

    Stay tuned.




    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    About Rob Marley - 
    A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com