Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Afraid to Leave the Studio?

It’s every voice over performer’s dream to be so busy, you can’t leave the studio, right? Well, yes and no, I suppose. We all want to keep busy with those great high paying gigs! Some jobs fit that category, but of course, many don’t. Still, work is work and it’s a blessing to have it.

During political season, things happened fast! I’ve personally experienced losing several jobs simply because I went out to lunch or to run errands. Although I thought I had the bases covered and everyone would call my cell phone if I wasn’t there to personally answer the studio line, it didn’t always work out like that – for whatever reason. Sometimes, I was just minutes away and could have raced back to turn on the ISDN. Other times, I was booked in another studio here in town. But, hey, some jobs just aren’t meant to be…. I’ve always been of the “don’t miss a job” school of thought, though, and have jumped through hoops to be able to make everything fit into the schedule!

Another situation that arises is for those of us who are On Camera actors, as well. I’ve been so focused on voice over for the past several years, especially since establishing my own studio, and have been keeping busy enough, that I find I do a little mental cringe when an on camera audition comes up. Although I’d love to do more film work, the thought of driving out of town – as is often the case – and missing a day or more in the studio for the audition, let alone if I get the job……causes me concern. Also, on camera auditions and work take so much more preparation. You have to learn lines, rehearse, decide on your wardrobe, what to do with your hair, etc. Am I saying that voice over performers are lazy? Of course not! I’d never say that….. but…. not having to memorize the lines and not having to worry about wardrobe do make things quicker and easier, for sure! That being said, I really would enjoy being on set and acting in a television show or film again, sooner rather than later.

I know there are quite a few voice over performers who have started taking their laptops and mics on the road. I just haven’t hit the road often enough to really dig in and see how it would work for me. Of course, usually, when I’m out for a week, it’s a vacation, and I’ve actually been deliberately leaving work behind to just enjoy and regroup. For day trips for work or auditions, I’ve just tried to keep the pda handy and respond to email requests as best I can.

I’m just not certain that recording on the road could possibly have the same quality as working from my studio. Are people really doing long form narration or e-learning projects on the road? Are they just auditioning, or are they doing commercials, promos, etc.? I know some of the big promo guys, like Joe Cipriano, do take gear on the road and record via Source Connect for national promos!

I guess a laptop and wifi should be on my list. I think I could take my Rode NT 1000 on the road easy enough…..maybe even the Sennheiser 416…..Something to seriously start thinking about. Of course, hard to do much recording while you’re driving 4 hrs each way on the way to and from an audition. But, for a longer stay…..might be worth a try!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Just thinking today that even though this wonderful world of cyberspace and instant connection and comment via discussion groups is great for information gathering and sharing, it can get to be too controlling at times. I had avoided getting involved in all the usual hoopla for a long time. Maybe avoided is not the right term. Just didn’t have or take the time to follow discussions, post comments, or yes, even write in my blog.

Now that I’ve become more connected in a variety of venues, I’ve found that they can turn into nearly “virtual” obsessions which can keep one running back and forth to the computer or otherwise checking online for new posts, comments, etc. Who is being clever, cantankerous, or questioning? What’s everyone talking about?

Nice to check in now and then, but good to be too busy to get caught up in it too much.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Play To Your Strengths

There’s been a reoccurring theme that’s been playing through my head lately. Actually, it seems that it has been cropping up everywhere I turn from a narration I recently recorded, to a tele-seminar I attended, to other bits and pieces from all types of media. So, it’s finally gotten my attention. It has to do with playing to your strengths - focusing on the things you do really well or just who your are at this point in your life –what could be described in more folksy terms as “dancin’ with the one who brung ya”. In other words, identifying and then nurturing and capitalizing on the particular things that make you unique. In acting and voice over, we often try to be all things to all people – a daunting task and one that is difficult, if not impossible to achieve. A task that will only bring us frustration and often a sense of failure, because we’re just not going to be the right type, style, or size for every job. One size does not fit all. One style does not fit all. One voice type is not all there is….

In the old days, if you didn’t have the deep resonate perfectly articulated voice, you weren’t in the running for the majority of announcer jobs. Now, it’s shifted to the antithesis of that description. There are lots of requests for young and hip. If you’re neither, there’s really no point in wasting your time trying…..That isn’t to say that you actually HAVE to be young and hip. What I mean is if you don’t DO a credible young and hip, leave those auditions to someone else, and focus on who you are, naturally.

Do I mean that an actor or voice talent shouldn’t stretch themselves to go beyond their comfort zone…No. I think we need to try things to see where we can go, but as far as marketing ourselves, our demos, our “brands”……we’ve got to do some serious, objective soul searching to see where we feel the most comfortable. Because, if we feel best doing certain types of roles both on camera and off, then those are probably the ones we’re best suited for and we should do everything we can to hone those so that we’re the best we can be in that type of role, genre, etc.

Some of us might put off going down this road because we think we’ll wait until we can fit another mold better. For example, an actor not getting updated pictures until he/she loses weight, gets a new hair color, hairdo, or transplant(!), but what might we be missing out on by not promoting ourselves as we are at that time? What we are might be perfect for a role we haven’t imagined. We put off working on a new voice over demo thinking we’ll wait until we can make ourselves sound like someone else….. When who we are and what we sound like is perfect for someone casting and producing the perfect job for us.

Contrary to some who claim performers are insecure, as actors and voice over talent, we have to have a lot of self confidence to put ourselves out there. Second guessing ourselves sometimes goes with the territory but when taken to the extreme, can lead to inertia. We need to be OUR best for us and know where WE feel most comfortable and put ourselves out there with confidence and grace knowing that we are unique and perfect for that perfect role.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Keeping it Interesting

Work is fun. Work is work. Work pays the bills! Really, I enjoy all the voice over work that I'm privileged to do everyday. Along with just being grateful for jobs coming my way, the joy of voice over work often comes from the variety of projects that come my way. It is fun and interesting, and I usually learn something from each and every project. Although I have always done all kinds of voice over work, sometimes, the jobs that come in are heavy in one genre, such as e-learning......for awhile, and then things switch and it maybe something else: corporate narrations, IVR or phone messaging, commercials, promo, imaging, etc.

The past month or so has been especially interesting and varied with all kinds of new and unexpected projects. I recorded a large batch of medical center commercials both for television and radio which were recorded in another studio here in Houston - Audio Bob. This used to be how all my jobs were recorded - driving into town, working in a studio, with an engineer and a producer/director in attendance. It was really fun to work with "real people" again like I used to! The fact that it was such a nice large project was gravy.....

Work that has come directly to me often finds me via my web site. I just never know who will be calling or emailing me with what kind of project. In addition to a slew of large e-learning, commercial, and IVR projects here in my studio, I've had several wonderful and new narration opportunities. I narrated a very well done documentary style production for the American Museum of Natural History in NY, a moving airplane accident case study for AOPA, and several different voices of the women's suffrage movement for a PBS special all via phone patch.

Political commercials are definitely on the upswing, too, as you may have noticed, and I've voiced several in the past week - usually at the last minute - via ISDN. In fact, I missed one, just because I was invited out to lunch!! Note to self, don’t leave the studio during an election year. J

Throw in a variety of smaller market commercials for all kinds of clients, a few radio imaging projects, some regular repeat work for IVR and phone messaging clients and the interest level grows. The variety of clients, producers, and projects open to voice over talent now that we can work from our own studios via the internet is amazing compared to how we used to work... Of course, it all requires more background/non voice over work from us as well. Marketing, bookkeeping, producing, editing, and just generally keeping track of a business all take a lot of time and attention. But that can all be interesting, too. Marketing, alone, is a topic worthy of a great deal of time and attention, and something to be talked about in more detail in another article.

Until we meet again, “Be well and prosper!”

Friday, August 20, 2010

American Museum of Natural History Video Narration

I was very pleased to view the final production of the video that I narrated for the American Museum of Natural History recently: The Polar Intro for the Race to the End of the Earth. It was such a pleasure to work with the producers, and I'm very proud to be a part of this wonderful project.

I do love to record narrations, and I'm particularly interested in doing more documentary narration. Of course, I always enjoy corporate narrations and recording commercials, e-learning, on hold/IVR and more!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Don't You Just Love it When.....

Don't you just love it when, as a professional voice talent, you get a narration job and then find out that you have to match the scratch track done by a non-professional? Sometimes, it's not a huge issue, but more often than not, whoever is reading it is speaking way too fast with pauses and inflections that don't come near to the way you would do it - and they are usually not reading in the style that the client wants, either. So, for example, you might need to be soft and mellow - while still reading at double or triple time in order to fit the time limitations of the video.

Often the client will want to send you the video to "match" the scratch track. I don't think they realize how time consuming it is for us to view and time each section. It is important to let them know that it will take you much more time to do that than to just voice it. If at all possible, try to get the client to time those sections for you and send time codes with each line or paragraph of the script - depending on what drives the timing. Otherwise, you will need to increase your fee to take the time to do that for yourself... or just eat it.

In all fairness, sometimes this just can't be helped and clients are very sympathetic and apologetic. Another person narrated the video and then the "powers that be" decide that they want someone different. There may not be time for your client to re-edit the video to your track. They just need to drop it in. If it's been narrated by another professional, your chances are better of it being less painless, but still, we're all individuals with our own timing and style, so it can be a challenge. If you're working in a studio with another engineer, it's easier, but if you're on your own, you get all the extra work to make it right.

A little thing I do to help get the timings right is to play the video while recording the audio track from my computer. Then, it’s easier to isolate the voice in my audio software to time it exactly. That’s half the battle right there – determining exactly what those timings are. Then, in these situations, I record section by section in order to time it perfectly with the scratch track. When it’s all been recorded, I check my sound levels from section to section and normalize the levels. I also need to make sure that it flows naturally from each section to the next and sounds like it was recorded all at once even though I’ve had to chop it up to work. I clean up the air between each section, too, so that I don’t have any little stray noises – breaths or parts of breaths, other noises leading into or out of a section. I really turn the headphones up for that part, because I want to end up with a perfectly clean audio track that the client will be pleased with. Or I want to end up with perfectly clean individual audio files for the client to drop in….and be pleased with.

After all, no matter what the task or what it takes to get there, that’s the name of the game…..keeping the client happy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Studio!

Well, guess it's been quite some time since my last post! The late spring and summer have gotten away from me with graduations, family reunions, work, and continued work on the new studio. The great news is that while I was away attending a family reunion in June, my studio equipment was all moved into the new studio - thanks to my husband and sons. When I returned, I immediately started working in the new audio booth exclusively. The rest of the studio is almost complete with just a few more cosmetic touches needed.

It took about 7 months to get to this point because my contractor walked the job last December after most of the major construction of the audio booth and new roof and porch of the building were complete. We did shop around for another contractor to finish up, but my husband - fortunately, a jack of all trades - decided he'd just do it himself. Although he had to split his time between work and other major projects, he's plugged away at the studio and done a fantastic job! AND at least we know the work has been done "right the first time" - although we sure wouldn't have minded help from one of our TV favorites - Mike Holmes of Holmes on Homes:)

I'm anxious for everything to be completed so that I can post pictures. There's really not much left to complete, but I'm trying to be patient until everything is perfect......and we're close. Until then, I am at least able to work in the new booth, and I'm loving being able to look out the window of the booth through the large windows of the studio to the outdoors. Such a change from the "cave" of the past 7 years! Don't get me wrong. I was thankful for it, and I did a lot of good work from there, and it was pleasant except for the fact that I had to plug the windows with foam and plywood and create a little enclosed "cave"of a booth with office dividers and comforters to eventually get the acoustics to my standards. With hours spent narrating e-learning tutorials and other long form narration, it could get a bit "other worldly". And it was always a worry with ISDN sessions as to whether the neighbors' yard services would show up at just the wrong time....

Now, I just feel so much freer and it's a joy to be in this space!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Do You Do On A Slow Voice Over Afternoon?

Besides taking off to play hooky (which isn't a bad idea once in awhile), you can check on all those voice over web sites you've been listed on forever and update your profile and demos! If you're like me, you may have received leads from some old sites based on old rates. Makes for a sticky situation when the potential client says "but your rates on the site were...." after you quote your normal current rate. Oh, yeah, right, well..... You either have an unhappy client who may go away or you're stuck working for less than you'd really like if they don't like your explanation, and you want to be a "good guy or gal".

Some of the sites don't make it particularly easy to update your profile and demos while others are relatively simple. It's usually just a matter of finding the time or remembering to take care of it when you have some quiet time. There are sites that I'm listed on that I really just forget about until I get the occasional request from a client. I just checked on one that showed clearly printed on my profile that the last time it was updated was 2003! Yikes!

So, along with promising myself that I'm going to set aside some time during at least one day a month to double check all the downloads in my financial software to make sure all the categories are correctly listed (making it easier at tax time), I think I need to schedule regular maintenance on the many listings I have on the internet....or delete some of them. It's not particularly fun to get caught unaware!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Remember to Ask Those Questions!

Well, I have to say that I've done it again. In the heat of the moment with a busy day, a new client who was in a rush and on a budget, I agreed to "help" them out by providing an ultra quick turnaround of a short narration at a discounted rate no less! All was well, and I was aware of what I was doing. However, after providing a complete audio file - for which the client had paid via Paypal - and after having played the audio via phone for the client for confirmation......that evening I received an email telling me that the audio was too long to match the audio of their already completed video....and could I watch the video and sync my delivery to the original (client) delivery....

Ugh..well, yes, I can, but at the rate I quoted and was paid, it would have been nice to know up front that my audio had to match that timing. I should have known better, and I take responsibility for not asking that question. I knew there was a video and I knew they didn't like the audio that they had created, but due to the busy schedule that day, I didn't snap to press them on the issue of whether they could slide the audio and video to match or if it had to be absolutely timed. I mean I did discuss it to a degree, but I don't think the client even realized what they could or couldn't do. I've run into both situations in the past, and I guess, when it wasn't specified and requested by the client up front that I needed to match the exact timing of their original audio, I just didn't realize it was an issue. BUT, I should have asked and confirmed their situation before the initial recording.

So, being committed to making sure the client was well taken care of, early the next morning, I proceeded to make it work. When the client didn't seem to know whether they could even provide me with the timings of the audio, I plunged in to time them myself and match my read to theirs. To their credit, they did finally provide a script with timings, but by that time, I had already finished as I knew the client had a fast approaching deadline.

Bottom line, even if it's a very busy day and you're running in and out of the studio, it's best to try to remember to ask ALL the questions. Maybe a cheat sheet of questions to ask clients would be useful, especially on those frantic days. I asked all the OTHER questions, but forgot that very important one or at least didn't press it for a definite answer. Of course, on an already busy day, one could always just say no to the gig.....but I always try to find a way to make it work.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Generous To A Fault

This is a bit of a sticky situation in which some working professional voice over talent may find themselves. Actually, I'm not sure how often this particular thing might happen, as it does seem to me to be a bit extreme, and may be an isolated type of incident, but something to think about nonetheless.

I'm reminded of the Bonnie Raitt song "Women Be Wise" (Don't Advertise Your Man) - originally performed by Sippie Wallace .

As working voice over talent, we want/need to promote our work by listing projects and clients in our resumes and elsewhere. Sometimes, people may ask us who we're working for as well. But I had an interesting and uncomfortable situation arise awhile back that took me aback and made me think about what kind of information we want to put out there.

I like to think of myself as an open and generous person both professionally and personally. So, that may be the only reason this particular incident even made an impression on me and has caused me to think and rethink my response.

I have answered a lot of questions both from beginning and experienced voice over performers, and I've written "How To" pages for my web site as well as publishing many blog posts aimed at helping voice talent. I've sent voice over work to other male and female voice talent when I've had the opportunity. Awhile back, however, a male voice talent who I've met online contacted me on behalf of a female voice talent friend of his. He wondered if I'd be so kind as to forward a note she had written to one of my major clients who uses my services almost exclusively. In the note, addressed to my client, she introduced herself as a voice talent who was interested in working for his company......What? I'd never actually made this business relationship a published fact. I had not promoted my work for this client via any resumes, articles, etc. So, I was, number 1, curious as to how this particular female voice talent would even put us together, and number 2, flabbergasted that she would ask me to put her in touch with my client!

I had an inkling as to the answer of number 1 after doing some research to find out who this unfamiliar female voice talent was in that there was only one connection that I could think of between the male voice talent, this woman, and I, and that particular person had asked me casually in the course of conversation who I was working for. Upon describing to her the situation that followed, she was mortified and apologetic for her role in passing on the information that instigated it.

After thinking more about the request, I responded to the male voice talent - who, I might add, I would have recommended to this client in a heartbeat and who had not asked for an introduction for himself - that I did not feel comfortable being put in this position and also did not feel comfortable forwarding on the female voice talent's message as I did not feel that it was appropriate on any count. Later, I responded directly to the female voice over performer , who I had never met either "virtually" or in person, that I respectfully declined to forward her message to my client for the same reasons. I never heard directly from her at all regarding the situation - initially or after my response - although the male talent said he understood. To be kind, I'll call it a gutsy move on her part to ask through a 3rd party that I simply pass on a message seeking work to my client. It would have been nice to have received an apology from her, but given her actions, I suppose she didn't feel one was called for.

Was I right or was I wrong? I feel that in this business as in life, it is good to be generous and helpful, but we also have to protect our business and look after our own interests as well.

Warning Signs that the Job's Just Not Worth It

It's so hard for some of us not to pursue every avenue for work that is open to us, and for the most part, that's a good thing. But sometimes, even when potential clients contact us via phone or email after visiting our web site, and our first inclination is to cement the job, we might be better off to remain clear headed and just let the job slip away.

What types of things should alert us to the fact that the job may just not be worth the trouble or worse, might even leave us without proper pay or regretting accepting the job in the first place?

While most potential clients are completely honest and above board and are sincerely looking for a quality recording, there are some things that cause my hackles to go up after 6 years working via the internet.

I find that many of these relate to clients looking for telephone recordings, probably because they are most often least experienced in dealing with professional voice talent. Again, most are wonderful potential clients who appreciate what a professional brings to their business by projecting a totally professional image when customers contact them by phone.

Those clients who can be troublesome are those who are only looking at the bottom line and seem to balk at the rate you quote them for your services. While we can all appreciate budgetary needs, a modest but fair quote should not have to be defended.

So, although there are no doubt other things to watch for - and I'd be happy to hear from you with more - I'll just list a few things that may indicate it is better to let this job slide.


asks for quote and sounds defensive or stresses need for lower quote

suggests more work to follow if quote is "right"

requests additions of other company names in the script for no additional cost

balks at additional cost for music added to on hold messages

requests recording to be provided " to see what u can do on it" before sending complete script or completing payment process - keeping in mind this person came to you after presumably hearing your demo.

does not respond to explanation that you'd be happy to provide a brief sample to confirm style, etc., once full script is sent.

Note: I always seek that confirmation of style, tempo, quality, etc. prior to recording on my own, anyway. And although I do require payment before sending all complete audio files, I always stipulate that I'll correct any mistakes on my part at no extra charge.

While I've often found it beneficial for me and appreciated by my clients to follow up with them if there is a gap in time between the initial contact and ultimate booking, I've learned that sometimes, it's best to just let those slide that don't feel "comfortable" to begin with. There are too many wonderful clients out there who truly appreciate what we do!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Back to blogging

Well, time has been marching on, and I haven't been keeping up with my blog. Too busy to blog is good, and I can't complain about the amount of voice over work. I will try to schedule in the time to write more in the coming months.

The new studio is still moving forward after a bit of a glitch before the holidays.....on to new contractors to do the finishing work. The major construction has all been done. I'm really so anxious to work in there, but I have to be patient. Meanwhile, new furniture for the space is piling up around my living room and garage as it arrives.

Also, a newly designed web site is on the way.... I'm being patient about that, too. For now, I have a slightly updated version from what I've used for years. The new one may be totally different . I'm going to be as surprised as anyone!

I also wanted to be sure to write today to pass on to you the 11 nominees for the World News with Diane Sawyer faux-dition which VoxMarketising is conducting. Check it out!