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Following Gary are ......

Do You Sound Too Posh To Do Voice Overs?


By Gary Terzza.


Is your voice too upmarket to do voice overs? Do you speak with an upper crust accent? If so, will that preclude you from doing voice over work?


Accents change over time and are shaped by fashion and social events. The classic British accent was once as sharp as cut glass. When radio and film sound came along, the announcers and voice over artists all had a clipped way of speaking. In part this was due to the fact that recording and broadcast equipment was relatively primitive (though cutting edge at the time) and the performers needed to be heard on poor playback devices.

It was also because organisations such as the BBC wanted to project a solid image of reassurance and strong character, after all they were broadcasting from a nation that had an Empire. Received Pronunciation (RP) was considered the gold standard and early media reflected this.

This unique sound even influenced Hollywood and actors such as Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn who adapted RP into a distinctive mid-Atlantic cadence. To some extent this continues to this very day and Kelsey Grammer is a good example - just listen to his Sideshow Bob,  Bart Simpson's nemesis.

Of course this upper crust delivery was not just confined to an English accent. Ireland has its distinctive 'Dublin 4' enunciation and Scots have the handsome Edinburgh burr.

But as the twentieth century drew to a close so the classic Home Counties accent appeared to becoming obsolete. This was especially true on British TV where producers were encouraged to use regional accents. It seemed the quintessential BBC English way of speaking was doomed.

RP had become R.I.P

But were reports of its death premature?

Anything goes

The British Isles are small in size, but pack a lot of accents into a tight space.

(courtesy Google Earth)

Here is a whistle stop tour  of the huge variation in dialects by Peter Barker; it is an impressive performance too.

During the 1990s and 2000s, media outlets were encouraged to experiment with different regional and national accents. We suddenly started hearing far more Scottish, Irish, Welsh and northern English spoken on TV and radio.

In addition the wide spectrum of ethnicity in the UK meant the British Asian and Black British communities needed to be represented too. Suddenly professional voice overs were becoming incredibly diverse. 

However it would be wrong to assume that the South East English accent had disappeared for good.

RP Revival


In the last decade the voice over industry has become globalised. In addition there has been a dramatic increase in the number of platforms a voice over can appear on. 

Those traditional British tones have found new markets in countries like the US and genres such as audiobooks, corporates and e-learning are prime examples of areas where a refined, classic English voice is often the preferred choice. Take a listen to Surrey based voice actor John Andrews in this commercial for a US based luxury car dealership.  He is definitely not the sound of urban youth. 

An upmarket meter transcends racial boundaries too. Popular BBC Radio 4 continuity announcer Neil Nunes has a poised, gentlemanly delivery underpinned by his Jamaican heritage and his shipping forecasts are required listening.

 Posh is still in demand


Knowing your market


In a previous post I spoke of the importance of not pigeonholing your voice; boxing yourself into a corner can be a foolish thing to do. YOU may think you are suitable for corporate projects only, but in reality your voice may be ideal for a wide range of voice over jobs.

That said, some self awareness about your own voice and its position in the marketplace is crucial. If you do sound upscale and dignified then don't apply for voice over work requiring a gritty delivery. It sounds obvious, but sites like Voice123 often cite talents applying for jobs they are totally unsuitable for.

Learn to love your voice.

I don't mean to adore your voice in a narcissistic way, but to appreciate it for what it is - warts and all. If you are well spoken, then celebrate the fact.

You will be surprised how many clients want a sumptuous, elegant voice to sell their product or narrate an audiobook.

Be proud to be posh.










Are Voice Over Fees Getting Lower? Don't Believe Everything You Read


By Gary Terzza.

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about voice over rates and how they are not as attractive as they once were. But in the last week or so, this concern has really come to a head.


The internet chatter has been swirling around a particular incident. It seems a well regarded voice over marketplace has allegedly been promoting professional voice actors as 'cheap talent'. Voiceover artist Marc Scott has wasted no time in making his views known  and taken decisive action. It would seem many other talents agree with him, myself included.

But are we really entering a depressing new world of lower earnings?

Some Background


Back in 1996 I did my first network TV commercial. I was already well established as a live announcer and corporate VO, but this was my first chance to hit the jackpot. The job was for an Australian travel company who, for some unknown reason, wanted a British male voice to sell the attractions of holidays 'down under.'

I got lucky and was chosen as their preferred voice.

All I had to do was voice a 30 second ad along with two cut down versions of 20 seconds and a shorter 10 second commercial. They were to be transmitted across the major TV channels and on a selection of the fledgling satellite and cable stations. No radio broadcasts were included.




It is worth bearing in mind that here in the UK (and in some other territories too) television adverts have two main elements to the pay structure: the basic studio or session fee (sometimes referred to as BSF) and the buyout or usage fee. This latter part means your commercial can be played an infinite number of times over a specified period of time e.g. two years. 

This  replaced the old royalty system where the voice talent was paid on the number of 'eyeballs' viewing the programme. This was dictated by the TVR, an industry metric that measured the number of viewers, multiplied by the times it was shown. 

If your commercial was transmitted a lot in peak time, your fees could by eye-watering. There were stories of voice over artists raking in six figure sums for just one ad!

And my fee? This was £200 for the BSF plus £4,000 for the buyout. This was 18 years ago. Allowing for inflation, it now equates to £6,880 or $11,741 in today's money. (source: This Is Money Historic Inflation Calculator.)

Not bad for an hour's work.

Where did it all go wrong?


I believe we can trace the decline in fees back to the 1980s when Reagonomics in the US and Thatcherism in Britain liberalised the markets, ended union protectionism and helped usher in globalisation. By the 1990s Equity was losing its 'closed shop' status whereby members in the entertainment industry could dictate sky-high fees and a major battle between the ad agencies and the union resulted in the expensive royalty system being replaced by the usage payment method we see today. 

But something more profound was about to have an even greater effect on rates.

The internet.

The advent of the Web revolutionised the voice over industry. Suddenly it did not matter where you lived, you could access VO work anywhere in the world. And the drivers of this incredible change were the marketplaces, now often referred to as 'pay to play' or p2p sites.

Companies like Voice123 and Voices.com have enabled clients to find the perfect voice at the press of a touchpad. In addition, developments in software mean there are more platforms requiring voice overs from e-learning to audiobooks; from videogames to website audio content - voice actors have never been in such demand. 

As the CEO of Direct Voices Constantino de Miguel says
the number of voice artists is growing ... probably at the same pace as demand. Just go to Twitter and search #voiceover you would be surprised."

However he adds a note of caution
"the bottom line is that despite a market expansion in the VO market there is an increased competition, therefore rates are still under pressure.”

So what is the state of play today?

Reality check 

Broadly speaking fees have been on a downward trajectory for a long time, but is very easy to get the issue of lower rates out of proportion. We need a sense of perspective.

As Constantino says there are certainly more voice over artists around, but there are also more jobs, so perhaps of greater importance is the growth in the sheer number of outlets for your voice. Who would have thought when I was doing that TV commercial back in the 1990's that ads would one day be seen around the world on a channel called YouTube? 

But what about the actual rates?

I am not totally convinced by the argument that pay is falling uniformly. In fact I am going to stick my neck out and suggest that in some cases voice over fees are actually rising. 

Take a look at this graphic. It is from Voice123 and is a list of some (not all) of the voice over jobs posted over the 16th-17th July 2014. For brevity I have omitted the projects paying under $200.



Admittedly the Sports TV Commercial looks a low payer, but the rest of the rates look pretty healthy to me. Of course you might be thinking we can't tell how long it would take to record some of these projects, but I have checked the details on the Theft Of Dragons audiobook and the word count is 77,000.  The fee of $1,600 to $2,300 is at least on a par (if not above) that paid by audio book heavyweights BeeAudio and ACX./Audible. 'Pong VO' does not cause a stink either, it is just 37 seconds long and is for internet use only. Pretty decent remuneration at $500.

All looking good then, but if you are British (like me) you might be starting to think that it is the North American market where prices are holding up, but not the UK.

You would be wrong. Take a look at this. 



This is from the day before. It is a corporate, not a commercial, and lasts 6 minutes. Even if you took your time, I reckon you could complete the work in 2 hours. That is £1,500 per hour! Not exactly minimum wage stuff.

I know this is just a snapshot from one p2p site over a short time-frame, but it does provide us with an insight into the more positive end of the pay scale.

A penny for your thoughts


What are we to make of all of this? The anecdotal evidence strongly suggests some voice over fees are weakening. But that was also the case 20 years ago when talents were recording commercials for a few thousand instead of the tens of thousands earned by the previous generation of voice actors.

I firmly believe the massive increase in the number and type of voice over jobs far outweighs any softening of rates. In addition many genres such as audiobooks and videogames are still finding their feet in terms of market value. Consequently if you choose carefully you could end up with a nice little earner. 


What do you think? In your experience have rates been getting progressively worse or are there golden nuggets still to be found? Please let me know.


Thanks for reading!
GT. London, England July 2014






Is Your Amateurism Preventing You From Getting Voice Over Work?




By Gary Terzza.


Why aren't you getting very much voice over work? Or should that be why aren't you getting any voice over work? Is it, perhaps, because you are acting like an amateur without even realising it?



I am going to explore why so many voice over artists fail to make the grade, not because they have the wrong voice (whatever that is) or their performance is poor, but because they simply do not take their own voice over career seriously enough.



What does the word 'professional' mean to you? In voice overs it could be the adjective:

"she is a professional voice actor"

Or it could be the noun:

"he is a real professional in front of the microphone"

How often do you describe yourself as a professional voice over artist, or do you shy away from using the word? Many of us are reluctant to do so for fear that it sounds, well, a bit naff.

But some of us do not even deserve the epithet .... and here's why. 


Blunder


A couple of years ago one of my voice over students was explaining to me how she had auditioned for a job at a major TV broadcaster - pretty impressive stuff; they liked her voice for sure. Sadly she did not secure the job, so we explored the possible reasons why.

We went through the audition step be step. All had been going well until the director had questioned her read of the script. "He told me it wasn't read correctly, but I replied I thought I had delivered the lines properly" she said.

What???!!!

She was arguing with her potential employer. The director wanted it read in a specific way (it is what director's do for goodness sake) and she had disagreed ..... at an audition!

This is a prime example of being unprofessional. 

It is the voice over talent's role to give the director what they want. If they say speed up, you read faster. If they say less drama, you tone down your delivery. Arguing your point is not on the agenda. Needless to say my student felt the industry was not for her (she cited her 'strong personality') and I have not heard from her since.




The Little Things 


Although that is an extreme case there could be more subtle ways you are saying "I'm an amateur and I don't really know what I'm doing."

Let's take your voicemail. If a potential client was to phone your mobile and you were out of range, the call would be diverted to the messaging system, so whose voice would they hear?

Would it be yours, or the default phone company voice? 

It needs to be YOUR voice. You are the voiceover artist, not the preset message - she's already successful .... that's why she got the gig! Imagine a photographer displaying generic stock images on their website; would you book them to take your wedding photos? Of course not and that is why you need to promote your talents at every opportunity.

Make sure your voice is the one that greets people every time they call.

Likewise you should add an automatic signature to your emails. This should be a clickable link that takes the visitor straight through to your webpage.

Haven't got a website? 

That's no problem as there are numerous alternatives. You could create a Soundcloud account and point the link directly to your uploaded showreel, or create a free profile on one of the pay to play sites such as Voice123.

The important thing is to show you are a professional voice over artist by making your voice easily accessible.





Undersell


There is nothing likely to make a director's or producer's heart sink faster than receiving an email that says 'I am looking for voice over work'. Instead explain to your prospects, in a positive manner, what your voice can do for them. 

You are offering a solution to their problems; they may want a voice over on an explainer video for example and you could be the voice they are looking for. Tell them what your voice sounds like and how it might be useful to them. If you need help on writing a covering letter and CV for voice over work please see my earlier post on the subject. 

If you use Twitter (and it can be a great resource for marketing yourself) don't start pleading for work, It smacks of desperation. Instead tweet about your life in voice overs - are you building a studio?  Are you practicing a tricky script? Can you help someone with a question about performance?

Always make yourself sound like a true professional.


Etiquette

Let's go through some of the studio do's and don'ts of being a voice over pro:

☛ Don't be late. Obvious I know, but you will be amazed at the number of  voice actors who stroll into the studio 10 minutes late (or worse). Be punctual because studio time is money.

☛ Remove noisy jewellery. Bracelets, bangles, earrings et al  can all be picked up by the mic. The sound engineer may even assume there is an audio issue with the track before locating the source of the noise.

☛ Turn off your mobile phone. It is easy to forget this one, so make it a routine before you enter the studio. Even putting your phone on mute is not enough as the signal can still cause interference on the recording.

☛ Don't rustle the script. Develop the newsreader's art of the silent page turn. Or better still, have your script on an iPad or tablet.

 Respect the sound engineer. It goes without saying to be courteous to the director and client(s), but  always work closely with the talented individual who will be making your voice sound awesome. Developing a good working relationship is essential.

☛ Liaise. Don't guess how a script should be performed, find out. This is especially true if recording from home. When doing long form reading, send a sample to your client for checking first. Always keep your client updated and informed. An amateur just gets on with the work, a professional asks questions 


Projecting a business-like image is essential. Clients want to know that you are a safe pair of hands and can be trusted with their project. 

Remember ...

A professional voice over artist gets paid, an amateur does not.








Standing Up Or Sitting Down: What's The Best Position To Do A Voice Over?



By Gary Terzza

Aching limbs, knotted muscles - what can cause such stiffness and irritation? A trip to the gym perhaps, or the remnants of a nasty virus? No, this discomfort is caused by doing a voice over!


Voice overs can be short or long .... very long in the case of audiobooks. A 100,000 word novel (not uncommon) would take at least 40 hours of recording and editing time. 

Tolstoy's War And Peace clocks up over half a million words (561,093 in the Oxford World's Classics version) which equates to over 20 hours of listening time, requiring a couple of months sitting in front of the microphone, including the occasional toilet break.

That is a lot of speaking and one hell of a lot of sitting.

So would you be better off standing? Let us look at the implications.

Performance Differentials


One of the tricky issues newcomers have to deal with is energy, or more precisely lack of it. If you are just starting out in voice overs you will know just how tricky it is adding oomph to your voice. No matter how much zip you try to put in to the delivery, it just does not seem to want to come out of your mouth.





Sounding 'flat' is a common experience when reading a script and one of the ways to add bounce and zest to the words is to throw yourself physically into the piece. That could mean waving your arms around (don't hit the mic), pulling faces (don't worry your audience can't see you) and generally getting your body to do the talking.

Bear in mind over half of our communication is visual, so your voice overs (which by definition are audio only) need to make up for this crucial, missing element.

Standing in front of the mic will allow you to bring the energy up from your boots. It also means your diaphragm has more room to push the air from your lungs through the voice-box.

Standing definitely has its advantages when performing hard sell commercials. But what about reads requiring a softer, gentler tone?

This is where sitting comes into its own.

Being seated allows you to create an intimate atmosphere. The philosophy behind voice overs is that the voice actor is talking to one person, not a whole audience - even if hundreds or even thousands are listening.

So there is something to be said for having the option both to sit down and stand...... especially when reading classic Russian masterpieces!

Health Implications


The other aspect worth considering is your well-being. There has been much talk in medical circles recently about the need to stand rather than sitting down. The latest research seems to suggest that our chances of developing serious cardiovascular conditions increase the longer we remain seated.

Alarmingly women may be especially at risk of life-threatening illnesses if they are sedentary and do a lot of sitting, particularly in office jobs. The NHS reports that post-menopausal women who sit for longer than eleven hours a day are more likely to be in the high risk category.

By extension, a long form read such as an audiobook or eLearning project could prove problematic. Although I do not recommend standing to deliver high word count voice overs, taking regular breaks from your recording is essential.

Not only will it clear the head, but  it could save your life.


What the experts say


Notwithstanding the health issues, what do professional voice over artists have to say on the subject? First let's have a listen to pro voice actor +Frank James Bailey as he gives us a  practical demonstration of the sound he achieves when standing up compared to sitting down in his home studio.

I was personally surprised by the marked difference.






Voice acting guru +Nancy Wolfson has definite views on the stand up sit/down debate and certainly does not mince her words in this video.

You would not dare argue with Nancy's direction in the studio!

However there is a more nuanced approach from Voices.com founder +Stephanie Ciccarelli who canvases opinions from readers, resulting in a real mixed bag of views thoughts and personal experiences.

My own thoughts


What are we to make of all this?

In the last thirty years I have spent thousands of hours holed up in voice over over booths and I have to say that I am mostly a sitting down kinda guy. That said at Uptown Studios in London (where I run my voice over training course) we do it standing up.

As you might have guessed, this is to help our students achieve the necessary performance. 

The important thing in all of this is to experiment. It is down to personal preference, so try it both ways, but always remember to take regular stand up breaks if you are seated while recording.

What do you do? Have you discovered a halfway house between standing and sitting perhaps? Please let me know.

Unlocking the Hidden Secrets of Your Voice


by Gary Terzza

It is weird, wonderful and frankly amazing. The voice box is your weapon of choice for doing voice overs, but the way it works can seem a bit of a mystery. Join me as I probe deep into its inner workings.


When voice over artists get together or share experiences online the conversation usually revolves around recording equipment, moaning about agents, late paying clients and why they haven't heard so and so on TV for a while (while guiltily thinking that could be a gig going spare). 


You will rarely hear them talking about the physiology of their voices. Not that they should of course - it's a bit like a saxophonist constantly going on about the mechanics of her sax; not many people would be interested.

But the voice is a fascinating instrument that holds many secrets.


Shhhh....


For example contrary to what you might think, whispering actually makes the voice-box work harder. As vocal expert Jeffrey Lehman MD, the clinical professor at University Of Central Florida and Florida State University says "Whispering is hard on the vocal folds due to turbulent airflow and increased muscle tension. Its best to use your voice in a quiet relaxed manner." 

In voice overs we are sometimes expected to whisper so try to develop a technique that is not actually whispering per se, but rather a stylised approximation. This will help lessen the impact on your larynx and reduce straining.



Gulp



It is interesting that many of the muscles we use for swallowing are also used for speaking. Swallowing and the gag reflex were often thought to be related, but since the 1990s this has no longer been considered the case. 

In fact swallowing is now recognised as a 'pattern-elicited response' where the action is dependent on sensory information from the brain resulting in a motor response (source: Patrick McCaffrey Phd in 'Neuropathologies of Swallowing and Speech' )

Hard to swallow, I know.


Slurp


One of the misconceptions in voice care is that drinking liquids directly coats and lubricates the vocal muscles. But, as pointed out by speech therapist Goh Huai Zhi, if this really happened we would cough and choke. It simply cannot happen physiologically.


That said, hydration (which is very important for keeping your voice in great shape) should not be ignored. The British Voice Association  recommends 6 to 8 glasses of water a day. 

Fluid levels are important for mucous and saliva production as well as brain function.


True or False?

Perhaps most intriguingly we have both 'false' and 'true' vocal folds. The false vocal folds are either of the two upper folds not involved in vocalisation, whilst the true cords are the two lower folds that come together to form the 'glottis' creating sound when air from the lungs passes between them.

The true vocal folds are made of finer tissue allowing them to vibrate easily and giving the ability to produce the audio needed for speech. 

The false vocal cords are thicker membranes which do not vibrate so easily. Amazingly the upper (sometimes referred to as 'superior') false folds can regenerate if removed, but this is not the case with the lower true folds.

Whilst the true folds are used for producing finer speech patterns, the false membranes come into their own when deeper growls or screaming are required.

Something to shout about.

Good Vibrations


So how do these lower folds actually produce refined speech that we can understand?



It is all about the vibration of the lower more delicate tissue folds. At rest and during quiet breathing, the true folds are in a 'V' shape;  as air comes up from the lungs (and when your brain gives the appropriate vocalisation instructions) the left and right folds come together.

These oscillate causing the air to make a noise - rather like the buzz that comes from a bumblebee as its wings beat very rapidly. This sound is carried by air molecules up through the throat and eventually out the mouth. It is the latter,  the tongue, lips and even the teeth that shape the noise into decipherable words.

Clever stuff.

Pardon?


Another aspect of speech production is amplification. Humans have a wide dynamic range, hence the phrase 'from a whisper to a scream'. It is this variation in loudness that helps create the message in addition to what we actually say.

In voice overs this is most noticeable when we compare soft sell to hard sell reads. If you are narrating an audiobook, the author may require you to push your voice eg "watch out, watch out!" At the opposite end of the scale a softness may be needed " 'I have something very important to tell you' said the woman as she moved closer to her lover "

Not only is the voice box used to create the actual sound, but the mouth and even the nose provide additional power to pump up the volume. It is the interplay between these anatomical parts that creates variations in amplitude.


I don't know about you, but I am in awe of this amazing device. It is so precious and in the case of the voice actor, it's loss would be catastrophic. 



As always your thoughts, opinions and experiences are most welcome.