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Disaster Strikes: Why Your Voice Over Career Is Vulnerable & How To Protect It.


How safe is your voice over business? What hazards do you need to guard against and how exposed are you to danger?


Am I being alarmist? I don't think so and here's why.


A couple of weeks ago I spent some time with one of my voice over students working on a grant application. He needed the extra investment to buy new recording gear and pay for marketing costs. We were filling in the form, ticking boxes and answering the usual questions about his outgoings and expected earnings, when we came across an intriguing query:

"What are the threats to your success?"

Hmmm, I pondered, that is a strange enquiry. What could possibly go wrong in voice overs? No one gets hurt if you mess up a script, or mispronounce a place name. You are unlikely to face legal proceedings if your breaths are too prominent or need extra time to record a project.

And yet the deeper I delved into this issue, the more I realised there are actually quite a few perils that could scupper our best laid plans.

Backup and survive

When I worked for a major network TV company, we would periodically have to decamp to another studio complex on the far side of town as part of our 'disaster recovery' practice. The back up facilities ran in tandem to the main channel 24/7 and cost in excess of one million pounds a year ($1.6m), yet had never been used for a real emergency. Many people were sceptical about the rationale behind this service. Surely such expenditure was hardly justified?

Then one day the building opposite our HQ reported a gas leak and everyone evacuated the building. The well rehearsed procedure immediately swung into action like a military operation, resulting in a seamless transition from one transmission centre to the other.

The result? 

The viewers didn't notice a thing and not a single commercial was lost. Had the ad breaks failed to be broadcast during this time, the loss in revenue would have been several million pounds - more than justifying the auxiliary service.

Do you have an alternative in place?

What would happen if, in the middle of a voice over job with a tight deadline, you (or even your next door neighbour) had a gas leak and you were ordered to evacuate the house ? If there was a power outage in your area, how would you cope?

My advice is to make friends with your local studio. Get to know the sound engineer/owner and book them a few times for work or record some demos with them. See how flexible they are and explain you may need to hire their facilities at short notice; it will be a relationship well worth fostering, because you never know when you are going to need their services.

Prepare your own disaster recovery plan.

Equipment failure

Another reason for having that studio as a standby is that even the best microphones, pre-amps and computers can go wrong and it is usually right in the middle of something important.

But in this case, hiring an external audio suite need not be your first fallback.

Any professional studio worth their salt will have a back up mic and so should you. Even if you are thinking to yourself 'but I've just spent a small fortune on my gear', you should prepare a contingency. 



A good quality USB mic may be no substitute for a Neumann U87 with a Focusrite Liquid Channel processor, but when a client is breathing down your neck and there's an untraceable buzz coming from your equipment, at least you will have the reassurance of the standby microphone.

Even if you only have a cheap and cheerful set-up as your primary recording system, you should seriously consider a substitute USB mic to hand. Accidents will happen.... and when you least expect them.

But it is not just the techie stuff that can let you down.

Also look at buying a decent second laptop running your recording software. As we all know, computers have a habit of failing at critical times


Vocal Health

Of course being human means we are vulnerable creatures, especially when it comes to our health - colds and sore throats can seriously impede our voice over performance. Is there anything we can do to help offset the negative effect of these inevitable maladies?

In short, not really (apart from rest), but we can make provision for their occurrence.

When you quote your turnaround time for a job, always give yourself lots of headroom. This is especially true with long-form work. For example an e-learning project may be 10,000 words, which is about 60 minutes of finished audio, but the production time will be nearer 4 to 5 hours in total.

To help guard against the unexpected,  it is best to allow a large margin of error - so in this example you may be able to do 2 hours recording a day and your initial thought might be 'I'll quote 48 hours turnaround', but I would advise adding in another day when you provide the client with an estimate. In this case 72 hours (or perhaps even longer) will build in a 'recovery buffer'; chances are you won't need the extra time and you can deliver earlier than the client anticipated.

But there is one risk factor which can really cause your voice overs to crash and burn.


Reputation Damage


Many businesses face a constant battle with online reputation management - one bad review can have a detrimental effect on the bottom line. Now, I have not heard of any voice actor being publicly castigated by clients (unless you know differently), but in our business the damage is usually self inflicted.

Here are my tips for keeping your voice over services in good standing:

✥  Don't turn up late to bookings,

✥  Refrain from bad mouthing other voice talent on social media,

  Resist the temptation to share dodgy pictures of yourself especially on professional sites such Linkedin,

  Never publicly criticise companies you have worked for. You never know when you might want to work with them again.

It is common sense of course, but you will be amazed at the number of people who forget themselves and do something they later regret.

Do you feel your voice over business is vulnerable? Please let me know the risks that concern you in the comments below.



Gary Terzza is a voice over trainer. Check out his services on his Google+ business page.



Who Needs a Voice Over Coach? How To Get Training For Free!

Voice Over lessons can be expensive, but there are cheaper alternatives.


Now this may seem an odd topic coming from a voice over coach who makes his living out of training beginners  - you may even consider it nothing short of career suicide as I give away coaching secrets, but I don't see it that way. Let's face it, not everyone can afford to embark on an expensive course.  

That said, you cannot get away from the fact voice overs require talent, hard work and tenacity. There are no short cuts. It is highly unlikely a newbie will be able to phone an agent, the BBC or a production company and say "I'm available Wednesday morning at 10am for your next voice over project" and for them to reply "great a complete novice, untrained and with absolutely no experience ... just want we want, see you then."

Voice overs look easy because the pros make them sound easy. To succeed you have to develop your performance skills, learn your craft, record a showreel and market your voice.

This all takes time and.... money.  Or does it?

Well, yes it is possible to break into the industry without spending too muchbut you will certainly need to invest plenty of effort - there is simply no getting around this.

However, that said here are some steps you can take to help you learn the art of the voice actor... and they won't cost you anything except your time.

 Join a drama group


There is a large overlap between acting and voice overs, although personally I do not subscribe to the view that you have to be an actor to be a successful VO. My own stage experience is limited to a couple of school plays and a short pantomime season playing Wishee-Washee in Aladdin (some of you may conclude I was simply I was just playing to type!) 




That said, if you are on a shoestring joining an amateur drama group will help you -

1. Develop performance skills and character voices
          2.  Interpret a script's meaning
     
          3.  Become more confident in your vocal delivery
       
   
Above all, you will have great fun.

Here is the link to the UK Drama Groups database that you should find useful. You may also find some free improv groups in your local area, so well worth doing a Google search.

  Use videos


There are lots of free voice over training videos on YouTube. American voice actor +Frank James Bailey has recently written a pithy Google Plus post on this very issue and you will find helpful luminaries included such as Bill DeWees and Terry Daniel, plus other experts in the field. Frank also adds his own insightful vids for good measure.

As this is my blog I hope you don't mind me mentioning my free training on YouTube too. Of course my advice is from a British perspective, but elements are still relevant globally.

These instructional tools deal with everything from recording at home and finding work to vocal care and performance tips. The great thing is, unlike a coach you might see on a weekly basis, you can simply pause and rewind when you want to hear the instruction again.

Whoever you choose to watch, and it is worth dipping into all these guys, they are great teaching resources... gratis.

  Radio training


If there is a proving ground for future voice over artists, it has to be radio. The sheer intimacy and directness of the medium means the voice has to engage with the listener. Broadcasting will help you learn the art of talking to one person - an essential attribute in voice overs.

However, trying to get into radio is tough. 

Thank goodness for community, student and hospital stations. 





Many of these not-for-profit broadcasters are crying out for volunteers and even though you will be starting at the bottom (which after all is the best place to start) you will learn everything on the way up from microphone technique to recording and live presentation.  You may even end up doing news reading or sports commentary.

Interested?

Here are some helpful resources (Great Britain and Northern Ireland only): 


  Business and marketing advice


It is very important to run your voice over career (even if part-time) as a business. You are selling your vocal services to producers, authors, video game developers, training providers and companies so you need to be professional.

There is plenty of marketing advice online, but you may want something more hands on where an expert can provide guidance, support and recommendations. One of your first points of contact should be your local Chamber of Commerce.

Many of these have business venture support teams which not only provide free consultations for startups, but can also show you how to access cheap loans, which you may need to help with recording equipment and advertising (yep, even if your training is free you are still going to need to make investments to move your voice over business forward).

If you are aged between 18 and 30, unemployed or working fewer than 16 hours a week, then an excellent source of free business training courses, mentoring and funding is The Prince's Trust which is a charity set up by Charles The Prince Of Wales.

But what about more mature people?

Realising that it gets harder to begin a new venture as we become older, Prince Charles has recently turned his attention to the over 50s. He has set up The Prince's Initiative for Mature Enterprise  a charity whose aim is to support people who have been made redundant or are at risk of redundancy and provide them with first class help in becoming successful entrepreneurs.

If you are over 50 and out of work (or about to be) then this organisation will be able to give you the guidance you need in setting up and promoting your voice over business. 


What about the showreel?


I have deliberately left out voice demo production, because in this article I wanted to concentrate purely on the training aspects, but if you want to make suggestions as to how you would produce a voice-reel at no cost then please enter them in the comments below.

That is also the place for further advice on achieving free coaching - all ideas welcome.

For those on a tight budget, I hope the above links point you in the right direction  - good luck!

Gary Terzza runs VoMasterClass a voice over coaching programme for beginners


Is Hesitancy Allowed in Voice Overs?


I have recently been following a conversation on a media site in which a radio professional criticises a presenter for using too many 'ums' and 'erms'. The exchange has divided opinion so much, the thread has been sizzling with lively comments for well over a month. 


For one contributor this style of presentation is best described as a 'curse' that needs to be eradicated with proper training. To be fair, they are referring to a broadcaster on a local community station and the poor radio presenter they are castigating is most likely a volunteer who gives up his spare time generously and freely. 

However, it does raise interesting questions about this type of speech interruption. Is it really undesirable and should we all be pursuing a silky smooth delivery?

Of course it's not just the 'ums' and 'erms' that cause speech patterns to be ruptured; punctuating our delivery with 'like', 'actually' and 'literally' is often regarded as unwanted sentence intrusion. In public speaking such jerky dialogue can be attributed to nerves, but the effect may be to diminish the authority of the speaker.

You may have noticed a lot of people start a sentence with 'so' and I know personally I have a bad habit of dropping 'I think' into my speech... usually when I am not thinking at all!

But, surprisingly, these linguistic tics can help improve your voice over delivery.




The good news is that in voice overs the words are there on the page clear as daylight, so aberrant terms and phrases are simply not on the script. The voice actor does not need to know which thought or idea is around the corner, because the sentences are there in front of her eyes. The difficult job is to bring meaning to those words in an interesting way. 

But voice overs are changing.

The last few years have seen a dramatic shift in what clients want from a voice over. No longer the mannered polished delivery of old, but rather a subtle, natural, more nuanced approach is often required. In short, conversational or un-announcery.  

Directors and producers eschew 'voiceoverman' or 'voiceoverwoman' in favour of the neighbour next door or the fellow parent we may chat to at the school gates. Not all voice overs are like this, of course, particularly where characterisation is required, but the mainstream has now seen a marked move towards an easy, 'normal' style of reading.

Ordinary is the new distinctive.

This begs the question - should we now be adding hesitancy into scripted copy, so as to reflect natural speech patterns?

Have you ever watched BBC News presenter Huw Edwards?  As he reads the teleprompter, he pops in the occasional 'ahm' or mini-pause. This loosens up his anchoring style, so it is less formal and more natural. He is giving the impression of talking to the viewer as an equal, rather than delivering the news in an announcer style at them. It is very effective, but the irony is you need bags of experience to sound 'everyday'.

"Ah" you will be thinking "that's all very well, but I can't really put ums and erms in an explainer video or e-learning script - the client will have a very dim view of me taking such liberties."

The answer is - it depends how you do it. 

Peppering your VO performance with ill-considered 'ahs' and 'ums' is not going to go down too well with your director, but judicially applied in a spontaneous way can enrich any prosaic copy. My advice is not to overdo the 'erm' intervals, but to let them out when you feel they will work. 

In fact 'feeling' is an accurate way to describe the process. Although I usually suggest marking up a script before you begin voicing, in the case of adding in these interjections, you should take a more organic approach: if you sense a 'filler word' coming on, let it out - if not, leave well alone.

Don't force it.

Not only do your spurious utterances have to sound convincing, they also have to be appropriate. A corporate project requiring precision and authority will not benefit from your ad-hoc vocalisations, so leave well alone. 

Experiment with these 'verbalised pauses'; as with many aspects of voice over, it is all about trial and error. Record, playback and listen - some hesitations will work, others won't, but if you are sounding false - leave out and stay fluent.

You don't want to lose your, er, credibility.


Gary Terzza has over 30 years experience in the business and runs voice over training programmes in the UK.

How Should I Describe My Voice?



Useful Ideas For Describing Your Voice. 



Now, it may seem like a minor thing, but in voice overs a voice description is essential. 


How would you describe how you sound to a stranger? I must admit I find it difficult to describe my own voice. In fact it's my agent who came up with the words for me. She suggested something along the lines of 

"Intelligent, factual reader"

You can see her full description here

Of course it does not mean I am an intelligent person (!), it is simply one person's perception of my voice. But it is a very useful handle to have.

Let's have a look at some adjectives that could be useful for describing your own voice


Fresh 

Contemporary

Throaty

Unconventional

Compassionate,

Polished

Velvety

Sassy

Deep

Rich 

Mellifluous (perhaps a  little overused)

Classical

Charming


I've just tossed a few ideas in there to see if you think any of those match your voice. 


One of the problems of doing your own description is it can end up sounding like a cheese or wine! On occasion, the attributes end up like a restaurant menu!





It's very easy, also, to use cliches. Sometimes you have no choice to use one in order to accurately describe your voice, but try not to if you can. 

My pet hate is....

Sexy


A lot of people like to describe their voices as sexy, but  I'm never quite sure what that means exactly. It conjures up different images to different people of course. It is too subjective, value-laden and hackneyed.

The other overused adjective is 



Professional



What does that mean? To me professional means not being an amateur. Things like turning up to the studio on time or crafting your work to a very high standard and getting paid for the job. I don't quite know what that means in terms of of describing a voice. It's too vague really and very subjective.


The other thing is to think about is age. What age is your voice? Remember, your real age and your voice age may be two totally different things. You could be 30,  but your voice may sound, 20s or teens, or it may sound, 40s or 50s. 

It's important to try and get an objective opinion. For example record a few spoken vocal samples and then ask friends and family to sit down, put your recording on the speakers or smartphone and then make notes. They can then scribble down some useful adjectives.

I think that's a really good way of getting ideas about your voice from those who know you best.


If you really want an objective opinion what you could do is use social media. Post your recording on to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Just say, "Hey everyone. What does my voice sound like?" You might get some interesting views. The important bit about that of course is you're getting people who've never heard you before. Never seen you. Also, it's better if you don't put your face on, because that always colours and tarnishes how they might perceive you.






It is important to get a voice description. You don't need too many adjectives -  it's about honesty, but at the same time there is a promotional element. Obviously don't be negative, you need to be positive about it and give your voice a good thumbs up. 


 Be as accurate as you can  

Make sure that a potential voice over client does not have a nasty shock. If they read a description saying the voice is"elegantly British" and when they listen to the showreel they hear a regional accent that's not going to do the voice actor much good. In a way you have deceived the listener.

You voice description needs to match the reality of what your voice actually sounds like. How do you describe your voice? Please let me know in the comments below.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, you may like to see the video version here. 


Gary Terzza has spent over 30 years in the business and teaches voice over technique at his VoMasterClass

Royalties or Flat Fee? What's Best for Voice Overs?




"What an insult! I've been an author for years and I don't intend to tell you how many books I've sold!"

This was the response of a writer to one of my voice over students who had made an enquiry as to the number of likely downloads her audiobook might achieve.

My student was merely doing the groundwork for a book the author had asked her to narrate. There was to be no upfront fee, but instead payment would be in the form of a fifty-fifty share of the royalties - half for the writer, the other half going to the narrator. Such a deal could result in a nice little earner, or a complete waste of time depending on how many copies of the audio version were bought.

In this case my student was taken aback by the brusque response, but came out with the perfect riposte:

"You've just answered my question, thank you". 

In other words it seemed this particular author was reluctant to divulge the sales figures of her back catalogue for the simple reason she was selling very few books and that would mean poor earnings for the narrator. Not a good investment of time and effort thought my student and she resolutely walked away from the project.


So what is it with these royalty payments and how do they impact on a voice actor's earnings?



Not that long ago I wrote an article about how traditional TV commercial royalties had been replaced by a one-off buyout; the desire for a more transparent pricing structure and loss of union (i.e. Equity) influence here in Britain was changing the way voice actors were being paid as far back as the 1990s. But recently something strange has been happening: the royalty payment is making a comeback.

However this time it is different.

Instead of a way to reward voice over artists for repeat airings of television adverts, the new wave of royalty payments has shifted to audiobooks. The more downloads, the more money the voice over artist gets.

But beware....


..... you could end up with less than you bargained for.

Here are few steps you can take to help you secure the best deal if you are offered a royalty payment scheme for narrating an audiobook.

 Check to see if the book is on Amazon. Has it garnered favourable reviews? Has the printed version achieved consistently high star ratings? If so, this is an indicator it may be a good seller.

 Despite my student's bad experience detailed above, don't be afraid to ask the author that direct question: has he or she any idea how many downloads they are expecting? Not everyone is like Mrs Snippy. One of my other students was given a very encouraging estimate (based on previous sales) of six thousand units; at £3 per download royalty share (the quote in this particular instance) this would yield a surprising £18,000 in earnings.

 Work closely with the author. It is in both your interests for the audiobook to sell well. Seize any opportunities you can to promote the work and increase sales. For example could you both do radio interviews? These could even be done by Skype or on the phone.

 Calculate what your hourly rate is in real terms. Always bear in mind there is a substantial ratio of time to record compared to the finished product. So a typical eighty thousand word novel would take approximately eight hours to listen to, but from your perspective as the reader it will take four to five times this length to record, correct mistakes, edit and review. That's around forty hours work!

Therefore if you pencil in a modest £25 per hour, you want your royalty payments to at least yield £1,000 for all that hard work you have put in.


At the end of the day, any voice over work involving a royalty share payment is a bit of a punt.


The question is whether you are willing to take the risk.

One of the ways to increase your chances of a decent royalty payment flow is to choose books that are part of a series. This is for two reasons:


  • You have a better opportunity for a steady(ish) income stream, because of the number of audiobooks being recorded.

  • If the writer likes your voice on one book, there is a fair chance she will pick you for subsequent works and perhaps even for the back catalogue. 

Proving the point perfectly is my voice over student Sarah Evans  who is three quarters of the way through a quartet of children's audiobooks. She is the narrator on a series of publications for girls aged five to eight, called Witch Trouble by Charlotte Bloomfield.



Sarah's voice and delivery are a perfect fit for the stories and you can hear how she develops the characters and storytelling across the collection, ensuring that her voice becomes synonymous with the tales.

She is creating a strong bond with the listener and developing a deep relationship with the author. In fact some writers often report that they have the narrator's voice in their heads as they tap away at the keyboard.

Which other genres pay royalties?


So if repeat fees on commercials have fizzled out, but royalty payments for audiobook narration are now commonplace, it begs the question do other categories operate a similar remuneration system? 

Interestingly just last week I received an email from a start up company who were exploring the idea of creating self-help guides. These would not appear in written form, but just as mp3 downloads on their site; every time a customer bought a training lesson the voice over artist would receive a payment. 

It is an intriguing idea, but again there is risk involved - what if these guides do not sell? If you are not being paid a flat fee, you are effectively investing in that start up. Your voice talents and time are valuable, so you have to decide whether you want to speculate to accumulate.

Conversely, becoming an early adopter with this company could produce significant results if they are successful. If they like your voice, you will be the voice of choice and that bounty scheme (for effectively that is what it amounts to) could pay handsome dividends. 

At the end of the day, you must decide whether you want to invest your voice talents into an unknown quantity; do as much research as you can beforehand to minimise risk. Only then can you make an informed decision.

Oh, and if it is on the table, accepting a one-off payment may still be the most sensible and profitable route to take.

What is your experience? Do you feel cheated by royalty payments, or is it a good way of avoiding low rates? 


***

Gary Terzza has been in the business for over 30 years and has been running his successful Voice Over MasterClass since 2005.