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Do you need a voice over agent?

When you are starting out in voice overs you may assume that the only way to get work is through an agent.

But this is not necessarily the case.

In this video I look at the pitfalls of representation and how you can access voice over jobs through other means.

My thanks to the clever infographics team at Direct Voices.

Why That Chocolate Ad is Spoiling Your Voice Over Showreel

Picture this: you are a voice over agent, it is Monday morning and you are itching to find out what the new week will bring. And there it is on your desk - your assistant has left a package containing what looks like a good old fashioned CD.

And why not, you think to yourself, everyone else may be communicating electronically, but here's a chance to hear a pristine quality showreel delivered differently. You open up the padded envelope taking out the silvery disc and then hunt around for a CD player.

The side of your Macbook Pro is smooth and does not contain any slots for physical media. You look around the office in vain.

In desperation you call your assistant.

He too has a search, peering under desks but doesn't seem to have much luck either, "we've updated all the computers to laptops" he says "the last CD played was that Robbie Williams album".

Then a light bulb goes on.

"Ah" he exclaims "I've got a player in my car" and off you both traipse to the multi storey down the road. "I'll get you a coffee while you're listening".  You nod approvingly and realise why you hired this super efficient colleague in the first place.

The voice coming from the Ford Fiesta's speakers is interesting. You are pleasantly surprised as this voice-over hopeful has an interesting sound; she's around 40, you estimate, with an edgy huskiness and intelligent, assured performance.

The first ad is about the importance of holiday insurance; knowing, contemporary and well paced - you warm to the voice even more. This could be just the talent you are looking for.

Then the second track makes your heart sink.

There it is in all its syrupy-ness, oozing saccharine and delivered in a gooey, hammy way: yep it's the dreaded chocolate commercial. "Mmmmm this is a chocolate bar to be lingered over....smooooth and creeeeeemy" the words drip on the floor of the car, putting you off your coffee.

"Sugar?" enquires your assistant "no thanks, my glucose levels are now high enough" you say with a sigh of resignation.

Leaving aside the issue of whether your demo should be on CD (I hope to cover this subject in a future post) I want to know what it is about voice over showreels and chocolate ads. Why do some people and some recording studios who should know better, insist on including them on a reel?

Let me tell you straight: such tracks are hackneyed, cliched and outdated.

Agencies and clients want to hear something new and fresh; they want to be surprised, thrilled and engaged not bored witless. Imagine spending your day listening to demos everyday and coming across these the same old stuff over and over again.

They also want you to demonstrate you have an idea of current voice over trends. If you still think the Cadbury Caramel bunny is what advertisers want, you are so last century. However lovely those ads were with their luscious Miriam Margolyes and Tara Flynn characterisations, they scream 'eighties and 'nineties.

If you fancy yourself as the seductive voice of the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate bar in the world you need a reality check.  This is not 1985.

Also, if you are just starting out in voice overs, I'll wager you won't be very good at soft sell commercials either. I say that through years of experience.... many beginners think a silky soft delivery is easy and will come naturally. It won't.

Pulling off that kind of read is not a piece of cake and most people need tons of practice in order to sound convincing and believable. In my years as a voice over coach I have heard so many examples of corny velvety/creamy performances and my advice to newbies is always the same; stay clear, until you have perfected this style.

So why are chocolate commercials prevalent on voice over demos?

I believe it is a mixture of misunderstanding and stereotyping. If someone tells you you have a voice 'like chocolate' it is perhaps understandable you assume you will be suitable for a TV ad about confectionary.

But the reality is very different. There are actually very few chocolate commercials on television:

The list is a real eye-opener isn't it? No Mars, no Cadburys (owned by Mondelez International) and not even my favourite Lindt makes an appearance.

Look at the top advertiser on British TV..... it is the television broadcaster, SKY. There is also a preponderance of soap powder/cleansing products thanks to their parent companies Unilever, Proctor & Gamble and Reckitt Benckiser, along with supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda.

But the sweet brown stuff is certainly not in the charts.

Look at the number of telecoms companies too: Virgin Media, TalkTalk, BT and their ilk. I can honestly say I have yet to hear a showreel featuring phone, TV or media ads and I've heard precious few burger, supermarket and toilet cleaning recordings.

Don't think your voice will be suitable for these products? Think again.

If you want to stand out from the crowd with your commercial reel do yourself a favour, ditch the chocolate and record a script from one of the products that companies really do advertise. The agents will find it a refreshing change.

What do you think about chocolate commercials on a showreel? 

Please let me know your thoughts below...

Voice Over Business Essentials: What The Experts Say

Being successful in voice overs means running an effective business. 

In this post I want to share with you some stellar advice given by the Voices of the Industry panel who came together to talk specifically about voiceover business management. Voice acting veteran Tommy Griffiths is your host exploring the following key areas:
  • Generating Business
  • Customer Service
  • Quoting Strategies
  • Marketing Tips

In the video you will hear various perspectives from industry professionals, who all provide their own unique insights into the biz. 

The five panelists explain how to attract those clients and provide winning promotional strategies. 

Plus there are helpful technical tips, along with indispensable advice about charging and steering your voice over business in the right direction. 

Let's meet the contributors

Debi Derryberry - one of Hollywood’s most active voice-over artists. She has voiced hundreds of cartoon characters and is best known for the voices of Jimmy Neutron, Draculaura on Mattel’s Monster High, and her work in Legends of Oz

Bryant Falk - has been a voice-over professional and on-camera commercial and corporate producer-director for over 20 years. Bryant has worked with clients such as Foot Locker, Bloomberg, Walmart, AMC, MTV, and the NBA.

Mindy Williamson -  teaches a voice development course for broadcast journalists at Fanshawe College and coaches on public speaking and presentation skills.

Jordan Wiberg - has a background as a studio engineer. He has coached and produced demos for many people over the years and works out of his home studio near Vancouver.

Kim Handysides - started in theatre, radio, and her voice has been used on multiple award-winning commercials, business and eLearning project and even a Cannes-nominated animated short film.

Moderator Tommy Griffiths  - has produced demos for nearly 500 voice artists worldwide. He produces and hosts commercial podcasts and voice-tracks radio shows for stations across the U.S. Tommy is also a home recording studio consultant.

So grab yourself a coffee and settle back for an informative and invaluable guide to managing your voice over business.

10 Effective Ways To Find Voice Over Work

As a beginner in the voice over industry you are probably wondering where and how VO talents get hired. 

In this post I am going to rundown ten steps that will increase your chances of finding voice over jobs.

Some you will have heard about, others may surprise you.

1. Find Local Production Companies

These can be a great source of work and often get overlooked. Enter 'production companies' or 'video production companies' into Google (or whichever search engine you are using) and you will be spoilt for choice. 

Now localise this by putting in your nearest city or the county in which you live e.g. 'production companies Leicester' and you will be able to target large and small outfits. 

In the first instance send them an email with an mp3 demo attached; if you do not receive a response, follow up with a phone call. Even if you are just placed on file, you have made contact and many smaller companies are happy to know there is a voice over artist just up the road they can call upon.

2. Use Family and Friends

Our nearest and dearest can often be an unexpected source of work. An aunt may be running a successful business and considering commissioning an explainer video that needs a voiceover. How about that cousin who works in training and is involved in e-learning or the builder neighbour who needs a more professional on-hold message? 

Let them all know you are a voice over artist and can even offer 'mates rates' for VO projects.

3. Advertise

But where? Allot a small budget to online advertising. Google, Bing and Yahoo ads provide a way to make sure you are on the first page of those search engines; you only pay when people click and you can start/stop whenever you like, giving you total control over expenditure.

Also consider places other voice actors may not be prevalent on such as Gumtree and Craig's List. Local newspapers are also worth looking at and if you can stimulate publicity then even better. 

My former student Jay Britton managed to get himself in the Wiltshire Times talking about his award winning voice over career.

4. Recommend Other Voice Over Artists

This may sound like career suicide, but it is actually an accepted way of working in the industry. Flag up someone who complements your own voice style, so if you are a male voice talent it is a good idea to endorse a female VO you like the sound of. 

You can do this on a few sites, but Linkedin has this facility built in and you can also provide positive comments about someone on Facebook and Twitter.

If the feeling is mutual, you may find yourself being recommended by that very same female voice actor - quid pro quo.

5. Network 

Meeting people is the lifeblood of any business and let's face it, your voice over endeavours are a business service. 

For free promotion consider Twitter's network hours which allow you to Tweet about voice over services during a specified time in your local area. It's a great way to hook up with other businesses and sell your voice.

Linkedin is definitely a great way to network and one of the powerful tools it possesses is its search facility. So you could look for influential television professionals by selecting 'people' in the drop down menu and then entering 'TV producers' in the search field. 

Asking to connect would be your next step, or you could send them an InMail, although this latter action requires premium membership. 

6. Invest In Pay To Play Sites

Ok I know these come in for a lot stick from some quarters, but in my book they can be a very effective way to source work. If you really don't want to pay the subscription (and I recommend you do), then using the free facilities of Voice123 or StarNow et al could still yield results. 

Remember success depends on how targeted you are - use these sites intelligently and they can be a profitable part of your marketing mix.

7. Join Freelancer Platforms

These differ from the pay to play sites in that they are usually free to join... they take a small commission from your earnings. 

They are not only concerned with voice over, but anything in the creative industries from copywriting to graphic design, but most have a VO section enabling you to upload your profile.

Sites to consider are Upwork, PeoplePerHour and Freelancer.co.uk.

8. Contact Game Developers

If you are interested in videogames (or even if you haven't thought about this avenue of work before) it is worth making inroads into this burgeoning market. 

Such is the nature of the industry that companies can come and go quickly, but there are lots of thriving independents and they should be on your contact list.

Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of developers in the UK and around the world. Make sure you produce an impressive character reel to send off to them.

9. Narrate Audiobooks

The audiobook market has increased dramatically in the last few years as publishers have looked at new ways of increasing revenue streams.

One of the best sources of narration work is on Audible (which is part of Amazon) and signing up to their audiobook exchange programme ACX.  

Many of my own students have had success using this marketplace, but bear in mind you need plenty of vocal stamina to plough your way through a long novel. 

10. Visit My Jobs Board

Let me stress that I am a voice over coach and not an agent; however I do scour social media and the internet for interesting voice over vacancies.  It is worth checking in to my Latest Voice Over Jobs Page  on a regular basis and seeing if there is anything that catches your eye. 

It is a free service and as such I am not responsible for the jobs links themselves, so always do your research. 

Gary Terzza teaches voice overs in the UK

Should You Alter A Bad Voice Over Script?

Your job as a voice over artist is to bring the words on the page to life. VO coaches like myself are constantly banging on about owning words and breathing life into them. 

But what if those words don't read well or, worse still, they don't make much sense?

Should you rewrite them to make them easier to say?

One of my students recently asked my advice on this very question; "I am a bit of a stickler for grammar" he said.  "I often cringe at adverts that have bad grammar in them... how much of an issue would it be to have a little talk with the director and/or client? Is it the done thing, or should I just let it go?"

A good question.

Likewise I once trained someone who remarked that he shuddered at the incorrect use of prepositions. 

What particularly irked him were sentences that ended in a preposition such as 'in', 'on' or 'to'. For example:

"It is the best film he has starred in." 
"Who was she talking to?"

But to write these according to strict grammatical rules, we would have to say: 

"It is the best film in which he has starred"
"To whom was she talking?"

I certainly would not want to read these out loud myself and to be honest the technically correct sentences would probably only work if you were recording an audiobook in ye olde English. Fine for Jane Austen, but not a 21st century corporate.

In my opinion that is where the problem lies; how strict should you be when it comes to grammar? 

Are we referring back to the Latin roots as with the stranded prepositions above, or is it just a case of making the text read well in Standard English?

Most of us would probably opt for the latter, but here too there are problems. 

English is a living language. New words come in all the time ('podcast' and 'app' are just two recent additions that did not even exist a few years ago) and the way we say sentences is constantly evolving. 

Just the other day I was recording a voice over for a high end technology company when I spotted a grammatical error: 

"There's 3 big issues" it said on the script. Hmmm, I thought, should I quietly change that to "they're 3 big issues" and see if the director notices? I didn't.

Instead I stuck to the script and it kind of worked.

The reason it was ok was because it sounded fine when spoken - it was conversational. If the script had said "there is 3 big issues" it most certainly would have jarred on the listener (and on me), but the contraction to 'there's' helped smooth out the imperfection.

And that is the point.

Voice overs are said not read; in other words the way we speak in everyday life does not necessarily reflect what we write. 

This is the nub of the argument.  

If you start pointing out errors to clients, they may not agree. "That's how the audience speaks nowadays" is a perfectly legitimate riposte to your pedantry. 

However there are occasions when you may make a few suggestions.

Firstly contractions are usually acceptable. 'We are' can be reduced to 'we're' and 'they are' to 'they're' and 'it is' to 'it's' etc.  If the client queries why you are doing this, just say that it will make the piece sound more natural and flow better.... which it will. 

Secondly most clients are grateful when you point out glaring errors such as missing words, or obvious typos.

There are also times when the copywriter does not have English as a first language and really appreciates a little help from the voice over artist. 

Colloquialisms are a common stumbling block and I once came across a script where my Latvian customer had written "you can take this as Bible."

Without flagging up the error, I quietly substituted the word 'gospel' for 'Bible'. I never heard anything back from the director so I am sure he appreciated the amendment.

Are there times when you should never change the script?

Yes, there are and audiobooks are a classic example. If you start fiddling around with the author's carefully crafted prose, you are not going to be very popular. It would be like a pianist saying that Beethoven had not written his Moonlight Sonata correctly and making suggestions to the conductor on where to alter the notes.

Your role is to interpret the text the best way you can, not rewrite it. 

As a voice actor you are equivalent to a musician in the orchestra contributing your part to the whole symphony. 

Also bear in mind that some scripts are highly specific to that industry. Marketing and creative types are renowned for their eccentric jargon. 

You may think that a phrase could be better said in plain English, but a 'paradigm shift towards an omnichannel value add' may be exactly how the writer wanted it said.   

Sometimes biting your lip and swallowing your pedantic pride is the only way to handle it.

Have you ever had a script you wanted to amend? What did you do? Please let me know in the comments below. 

Gary Terzza is a British voice over coach