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Whoops! There Goes My Voice Over Reputation

How would you handle this dilemma? 

A student of mine was a bit stuck the other day. She had just completed a voice over job and for all intents and purposes it had been signed off. Then a few days later, the client asked her to add an extra paragraph - not a huge amount admittedly, but she would have to fire up the studio again and try and remember how she had delivered the lines in the first place.

Getting an extra piece of script to match the original in tone, pace and recording quality requires skill and judgement. 

I suggested she ask for a small supplementary fee to reflect the additional work involved, which I didn't feel was unreasonable. After all this was not a retake or correction; this was at the client's request. Tentatively she agreed and then... the bombshell landed

The client sent back a stinging email saying he found the request 'unprofessional'. For goodness sake, he opined, it was only a few lines and he would have expected her to do this for free as part of the original quote.

Quite rightly my student was hurt by the comment and, to be honest, I think she was a little angry with me too. Who can blame her? She was in the early stages of her voice over career and here was her coach dispensing duff advice. 

She was worried this incident would tarnish her with a bad reputation.

I couldn't blame her. I wondered whether I had misjudged the situation, scuppering her chances of future work with this client. Not wanting to leave bad feeling between us, I asked her to give me some more background about the job. 

What she said surprised me.

The client had approached her directly through a well known pay to play site. He liked her voice and was offering a modest fee for 2,000 words. It was on the low side, but not too bad she thought. However when the script arrived she was alarmed to see that the word count was actually 4,000 words - double the number specified.

Not wanting to upset the client, she decided to go ahead without mentioning the extra work involved. In my opinion this was a mistake and on learning this information, I felt my advice had been vindicated. 

So what did she do?

She said she ate humble pie and recorded the additional paragraph for free. Personally, I'm not convinced that was the correct response.

What we can we learn from the incident

The above scenario is not uncommon and voice over artists come across situations like this all the time. You can't stop them arising, but you can learn to deal with them effectively and retain your professional integrity in the process.

For me the biggest mistake my student made was right at the very beginning - she didn't flag up the fact the job was not what the client had quoted. The word count was twice what she had been expecting. That greatly increases the workload.  

Of course it is feasible the client simply miscalculated and wasn't intentionally trying to get a bigger bang for his buck, or he may have just been unaware that words are our business and that we can't price a job accurately without knowing how many we are going to have to read. To him there may not be a huge difference between 2,000 and 4,000. Let's be generous and assume this was the case.

Had my student mentioned this from the outset she could have, quite reasonably, negotiated a higher fee.

There is another omission; she didn't include any terms and conditions in her initial quote. I know voice actors are not mortgage companies, but you need to set out your stall clearly from the start so clients don't receive any nasty surprises. You can't charge for retakes where it was your error, but you can stipulate that additional words, not in the original job spec, will be charged for. If the client does not agree they can always question this before you begin work.

There was a third mistake too. My student didn't take control of the situation.

I know we need to be respectful of clients, but an honest relationship is what is needed not a lopsided contract where you might be pushed about. She was suddenly at a loss when the client challenged her revised fee. Explain why you are charging more and do it with confidence and pride. 

You are a professional, offering a high quality service and treat your clients with respect and expect this to be reciprocated.

Oh and one final thought -  the lowest payers make the worst clients.

What would you have done? Please let me know.

Your Voice Over Showreel Is Not As Important As You Think

Are you placing too much emphasis on your demos? Do you regard your reel as the key to booking voice over work? Perhaps it is time for a rethink. 

What? Have I taken leave of my senses? Surely someone like me who makes a living out of recording showreels for beginners ought to be promoting their importance. After all a demo is like an audio CV; it provides your potential listeners (in other words, clients) with a guide to how you might sound recording their voiceover job.

But in reality, how effective are voice reels? 

When I was at school back in the 1970s, we were told the options we selected at 14 were crucial; choose the wrong subjects to study and you would scupper your chances of going on to further education. In other words the enormous decision we youngsters were about to make would determine our vocation and ultimately shape our future. You could not afford to make a mistake.

However, I got it very wrong.

I had a stupid idea I wanted to be a doctor (probably a result of watching too many TV hospital soaps) so I chose chemistry, physics and biology, three subjects I was frankly useless at, instead of humanities and social sciences. Following consistently poor marks and dire results in exams I assumed I was doomed. I was in no-way medic material and so had a bleak future ahead of me.

Yet, as the years rolled by I was pleasantly surprised to find life throws up new unexpected opportunities. It actually didn't matter that as a naive adolescent I had chosen the wrong subjects. Something different and exciting would always be waiting around the corner.

So it is with voice reels

The showreel you make today won't be the one you will be using in 2 or 3 year's time. It will change, evolve and improve as your voice over career progresses. 

Ah, but you are probably thinking 

'Ok, but I have to start somewhere and that very first demo is going to be extremely important'
Not necessarily.

I am pretty unorthodox compared to other voice over coaches in that I begin by making a showreel for the VO student and then provide more training afterwards. Most courses do the opposite. 

My reasoning is a kind of reverse engineering. I want the trainee to really appreciate recording in a professional studio, talking into the mic and taking direction. Then I want them to learn how to do this at home where, let's be honest, they will be doing the vast majority of their auditions and work. 

The result is that the showreel we record at the beginning is certainly good enough to get them on the first rung of the ladder, but won't sustain them throughout their career. 

Voice reels need to be constantly updated and improved. Just like a resume.

Then there are auditions

In the days before the pay to play sites (p2p), your demo was the only way a casting agent could hear your range of material. They would then sell your talent to the client who hopefully would book you for the job. 

Fast forward to the present day and things are very different.

Prospective clients want to hear what you can do with their script. They want a level playing field where all the applicants are reading exactly the same words.

Your carefully crafted, expensively produced voice over demo is unlikely to be of much use in this case.

You may, quite rightly, retort that agents appreciate a good demo. That may be true, but they also want it to show off your best bits of work. Ain't got any work yet? Well tough, because an agent probably isn't interested in your 'pretend' tracks no matter how well they are recorded and spliced together.

Also how many voice over artists have agents these days? Ok some do, but unless you are at the top of your game, the chances are the vast majority of your bookings will come through your own endeavours.

The showreel refresh dilemma

Say you have been doing voice overs for a little while and you want to invest some of your earnings into promoting your business. Should you splash out on a new updated reel?

Hiring a studio and an audio engineer will mean a polished, slick demo with high production values, but will this work of art actually get you any more work? I would urge you to think seriously before forking out.

Could your money be better spent?

Let's face it, a decent showreel is going to set you back a few hundred quid, but in many cases I believe this money would be better spent on marketing such as a new website, or upgrading at a reputable pay to play site.

So by all means make the best demo you can, but don't worry too much if it is not as good as you would like it be.

The best is yet to come.

Are You Scared Of The Microphone? How To Combat Mic Fright

Are you gripped by terror before a voice over session? Does the thought of doing a voiceover job sometimes give you clammy hands and a sweaty brow?

Fear not, you are in good company.

In this video I explain how a simple technique will help you gain confidence behind the mic and help you give a better, more assured performance.

Video Transcript

Gary Terzza:                You're about to go into the studio. You're very excited about doing the voice over. And then your mouth becomes dry, and your voice gets strangulated. You're suffering from mic-fright.

                                    Hi, hello. I hope you're in fine voice. Now, I want you to meet a very close, very special friend of mine. Here he is. There we go. It's mic; my mate, mic. He's a very special friend, actually, because he never questions me. He's all ears, all the time, never answers back. He's always with me in the studio. I know he's there. I can totally rely on him 100%. I may be fallible, but he's not. Now, the reason I've made mates with mic--made friends with him--is because I know it helps me to deliver voice overs. That may sound strange, but having your microphone as your friend or even another microphone in another studio as a friend is a great asset.

                                        The reason is you're talking to a friend. You're not talking at them; you're talking to them. They're listening all the time in a friendly way. They don't want to criticize you; they just want to listen and see what you've go to say. That's exactly the same in voice overs.

                                        If you can make the microphone your friend, that is a great leap forward. What it means is you are talking, when you're delivering a script. You're not talking at someone. You're talking to them. You're just chatting away. Even if you're not sure about the words, or you're not sure about the environment. The mic is there. It's always the one constant you have. It's very important to do that. It's a psychological boost really, and it will help you cope with microphone fright, which is a bit like stage fright that actors suffer from.

                                       My top tip for today is make the microphone your friend, and that will stop you having scary mic-fright. See you soon. Thanks for watching, and look after your voice.

Is Your Lover Trampling On Your Voice Over Dreams?

Our partners, family and friends have a huge bearing on our journey through life. Those closest to us help us achieve our ambitions and advise us when we might be going off track.

I've been very lucky in having a wonderfully supportive wife who has backed me and my madcap voiceover career through thick and thin. But what if one of these special people (or even a group of them) disagreed with what you were doing and started to question your judgement?

In voice overs this is quite a common issue and one that can be detrimental to your progress.

Let's be honest, voice overs are a pretty obscure niche to try to explain to the uninitiated and their reaction is often one of bewilderment:

"What are you saying? You mean you want to talk on TV adverts, or read stories or be in a videogame and actually be paid for it?" 

This is often the initial reaction and it can be quite crushing to your aspirations. After all, you have been thinking about exploring the world of voice overs for a long time and the last thing you need is someone (especially someone whose approval we want) to dampen your enthusiasm.

Some will be incredibly supportive (even if they don't understand the machinations of voice overs) whilst others will be very dismissive and try to dissuade you from progressing with your ambitions. It is this latter group that can cause serious damage to your dreams.

In this video  I look at this delicate, personal problem and suggest a solution (but I don't provide marriage guidance!)

Video transcript

Gary Terzza:    Here's a provocative one for you, is your lover or a friend or family member stopping you from getting voice over work? Interesting question isn't it? Why would someone you know and trust and love stop you from getting voice over work? It doesn't make sense does it? But I've had so many people contact me in the past who said, "Oh, really interested in doing voice overs," and I've given a bit of background about what you should do, the steps you should take and so on, and they've gone, "Yeah, yeah I really going to do it," and then a few weeks or months later they come back to me and say, "Oh no, I decided not to do it."

When I've probed that further, the reason seems to be because friends or family or someone very close to them has said, "Well, do you know well I don't think you should do it. Why you doing that you're wasting your time. There's too much competition, or why would you want to do that? Who would want your voice?" You'll be amazed at how many lovers, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives and so on, and just friends in the family circle have that reaction when you say it. That's why a lot of people doing voice overs actually don't tell other people. They just keep schtum about it, because they're rather embarrassed about it. I quite understand that.

I think that's a natural reaction, and so what I would say is, "Look," to those people, "Look, I really really want to do this. Please don't tread on my dreams. I don't want you to, it's something I really want to do, or at least I'd like to give it a go. Please support me in this." You never know they might come around to your point of view. Now, if you're lucky and you've got a really good supportive spouse, or a friend, or relative, whatever, who is supportive and will really help you then that's great. 
Those people are worth their weight in gold. As for the others, well perhaps it is time to say goodbye to those people.

I don't want to be accused of fuelling divorce or anything like that, but by the same token you need a cheerleader. You need someone who's going to support you through the good times and the bad in voice overs. They're a tricky business to get into. Lots of rocky roads ahead, so if you can choose your friends carefully, and choose your lovers carefully, and at least trying to get them on board. I think that's the main thing, the main advice I would say. Anyway, that's the end of today's rather spiky Voice-Over Masterclass. 

Thanks very much for watching today, and of course look after your voice. 

Breaths Playing Havoc With Your Voice Overs? 3 Ways To Make Breathing Less Intrusive

One of the big issues that concerns voice over artists is hearing breaths on the recording. You can reach the stage where you become SO obsessed with the sound of the sharp release of unwanted air that you forget about the voice and the job in hand.

But there are practical steps you can take to ease the effect and allow you to concentrate on the voice over job in hand. 

In this video I go through 3 steps which I hope prove practical and allow you to breathe more easily: http://youtu.be/BEJuA9TPMKs

Video Transcript

You’re reading your script; it’s all going rather swimmingly, and then suddenly, you have an urge; an urge to do something, and you can’t stop it.  It is … breathing.


Hi, hello, I hope you’re in fine voice.  Breathing in voice overs can be a real issue, or so it seems.  You can be recording that piece, listening back, and you think, “All I can hear is my breath.”  The main thing to do, is not to panic.  Breathing is quite natural.  Everyone’s doing it these days.  You wouldn’t … In the real world, you wouldn’t be chatting to a friend and thinking, “Right, in about 4 sentences’ time, I’m going to take a big lung full of air.”  It just wouldn’t happen.

You shouldn’t have that approach in voice overs, either.  One of the ways you can help your breathing in voice overs, is to actually mark the script.  I would go through the script a couple of times, and put a little “B”, or a tic, or some mark, where you think the breaths should be.  If you’re rehearsing it, you’ll get to have a feel for it, and you’ll get to have a feel where the natural breaks are.

Number one is, mark the script.  The second way of dealing with breathing in voice overs is to remove the breaths, using software such as Audacity, if you’re recording in that, or Adobe Audition, or GarageBand, or whatever.  You can just highlight it, and delete the offending breath.  You can do that between sentences, or indeed, between words.  However, you can’t do it within the word itself.

Be very careful with this method, because if you do it too much, it can make the whole piece sound rather odd, and it makes it sound like you’re not breathing at all, particularly if it’s a long form read, so just be careful of it.  Sometimes, it’s actually easier and better to reduce the volume of the breath, so that it’s actually dipped vis-à-vis the rest of your reading.  That’s something to bear in mind as well.

That’s method number 2.  The third way … shock, horror, a bit of a radical solution, this … Is to leave the breaths in.  This is perfectly acceptable, particularly in long form readings such as audio books, where breathing is part of it.  It allows the … Let’s admit it, it allows the piece to breathe, and the listener doesn’t mind a little bit of breathing from you.  Leave those breaths in; don’t edit them out.

That’s not necessarily the case if it’s a very punchy piece, such as a promo or something like that, where you might want to edit the breaths out.  In the main, I would say, leave them in and see what happens.  Your client can always send them back if they don’t think it’s suitable, and if you’re too breathy.

Also, I would remove your headphones as well.  If you’re wearing headphones, it will cause your ears, and your brain, to simply focus in on the breaths, and not on the meaning of the script and the words, which is what you want, really. 

Please, don’t get hung up on that breathing.  Just relax, don’t worry about it too much.  There are lots of solutions, and it’s probably affecting you and concerning you far, far more than your client or your listener.

All right, thanks very much for listening today, and I’ll look forward to seeing you next time.  Take care of your voice.