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8 Questions You MUST Ask Before Getting Into Voice-Overs

You are intrigued. Voice-overs sound like a great way to make some additional income, don't they? If people have remarked on your 'pleasing' voice, perhaps you should give it a shot. 


But be careful.


Before you take the next step, here are the essential questions you need to be asking yourself.


1. Do I Really Understand What Voice-Overs Are All About?

You will be surprised at the number of beginners who assume, somewhat naively, that voice-overs are all about 'putting on a funny voice' or 'doing impressions'. True, character voices are required in some areas of voice acting,  especially video-games, animation and some audiobooks. 

However for the vast majority of voice-over jobs, you will be required to use your own, natural voice. Your real voice is your USP, the instrument you use and the one thing that distinguishes you from every other voice-over artist out there. 

The bulk of voice-over work is straight narration; in other words it is to be found in the corporate, e-learning and training fields. If you want to get famous doing impressions, try Britain's Got Talent instead.


2. Do I need Training?


I once received an email from a guy who said he didn't need any training. He said he was 'a natural' and just needed the chance to prove himself. After all, his mates liked the way he could change his voice in amusing ways.

However much we respect our family and friends' opinions, unless they work in the industry their comments are just benign pleasantries.

Achieving VO work requires vocal talent, sure, but if you don't know how to shape and develop your skills you are unlikely to make it.  Of course this particular individual may go on to become a high earning voice actor, but my gut feeling is he is a prime example of somebody who would benefit from coaching... and a reality check.


3. What Do I Put on My Voice-Over Showreel?


You may be aware that all voice-over artists have a reel or collection of demos. When you have been doing it for a while, this will be a showcase of your finest work.  But, if you are just starting out you will have to record some sample pieces from scratch.

My recommendation is concentrate on the following categories: corporate, commercial, audiobook, online training and on-hold voice prompts. That will mean you have covered 90% of the industry and the kinds of areas where you are most likely to secure work.

A word of advice: for goodness sake don't record one of those toe curling chocolate ads. They are cliched, dated and my pet peeve.


4. How do I Find an Agent?


Good question. Let's be upfront here - an agent probably won't even consider you if you have not got any paid voice-over work first.  You are asking an industry expert with inside knowledge of the VO business to represent you; are you good enough to be hired out? Are you professional enough to be able to complete voice over work in the time allotted? If you are being paid good money, can you meet a tight deadline?

An agent will probably say - go on, prove it.

That means first having a body of VO work under your belt to demonstrate to agencies you have the talents to meet exacting standards.

See the video below for more details on getting an agent:







5. So, Where Do I Find Voice-Over Work?

Your best bet is to use the online market places. These provide a rich source of voice-over jobs and divide into two sorts: the so-called 'pay to play' sites such as Voice123 and Voices.com, where you pay a subscription, but there is no commission deducted and the freelancer sites like Fiverr where you do not pay anything upfront, but commission is creamed off your earnings.

Do some research and make sure you are aware of how these sites operate and how they may benefit you.


6. Am I prepared to Record at Home?


Imagine a professional wedding photographer arriving on the big day without a camera and saying "sorry I can't afford the price of a decent DSLR and wonder if I could borrow someone's iPhone please?" and then billing you for the privilege.

Amazingly this what some wannabe voice actors say and do.

Of course they don't need a Canon EOS 750D to do voice-over work, but they do need a good microphone set-up which they are foolishly reluctant to buy.

Purchasing quality recording equipment is an investment in you and your career.


7. Can I take direction?

Slow down, speed up, add more energy, emphasise this word, lose the dramatic tone. Sound familiar? These are the kind of directions voice actors receive all the time and being able to understand what the director, client or producer wants is essential.

Just as importantly you need to be able to do what is asked of you.

If you have a habit of thinking you know it all and can't respond to commands, you should bring yourself down a peg or two.

Don't let your preconceived ideas or bloody mindedness get in the way of being a darn good voice-over artist


8. Do I Know What My Voice Sounds Like?

I once trained a lady who sounded like she had come straight from Downton Abbey... the upstairs part. She was precise, terribly British and classically elegant.

She sounded fabulous.

When I remarked on this, she shot back a worried look and pleaded "oh please don't say I am posh. I don't want to be called posh".

But you are posh I replied. This is your selling point, the Americans will love you.

I had to convince her that we could not turn her into a cool, urban, edgy voice actor. She had to play to type. Understanding how you sound to others is an important step on your voice-over journey.

Learn to appreciate your voice and listen back to yourself as much as possible. That is the only way to come to turns with its qualities.

Are you comfortable with your voice?






Get Into Voice-Over Work: Beginner's Guide




Are you just starting out in voice-overs? Perhaps you have never done any at all in your life. Well, here are some essentials I think will prove useful, as you take your first steps into the industry.



READ, READ READ. 


You should read. Read and read again. Read as much as you can, anything, a magazine, a book. Pull something off the internet. It doesn't really matter. What is important is that you are reading and specifically you are reading out loud because that is what voice-over artists do. They read scripts. 

The better you are at reading out loud, the better you will be at performing voice-over scripts. Lock yourself away from other people in the house. Just grab a small corner and read anything you can. Record it if you can on your phone, or on your computer (most will have a built-in microphone).


MAKE IT BELIEVABLE


Once you are reading out loud and you are quite happy with your performance and as you become more and more confident, the next thing is to make what you are doing believable. You have to be genuine when you are delivering your lines. 

In fact, in some ways, you have to make it sound like you are not reading at all. That way you will gain authenticity. 

You want your audiobook, your commercial, on-hold phone message, e-learning etc to sound credible and genuine. It is all about getting under the skin of the words and making it believable.



TALK TO ONE PERSON


You could do a commercial which is heard by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. It is  perfectly conceivable that if you are narrating an audiobook, that might be heard by thousands of people too. But, really you are only addressing one person, a single individual. 

Voice-overs are very intimate.  

When you think about it seriously, it is a very human occupation. In its basic form it is simply you talking to another person. Direct your voice-over at that one individual. You can personify the microphone if you like or you can just imagine it is a friend or a family member... even a pet if that makes it easier! But, the main thing is you're not addressing a crowd. You are talking to a single person and remember you are talking to them as well. You are not talking at them.



DON'T BE A PERFECTIONIST


A lot of people who are starting out in voice-overs set the bar too high. They try and do everything and they try and do it so well that it is perfect in every way. 

Of course nobody is perfect. 

You are never going to be perfect. It doesn't matter if you have to do retakes. It doesn't matter if you flunk auditions. These 'fails' go with the voice-over territory. It is what we all do. 

If you try and set that bar too high, if you try and make your voice acting perfect, you're going to tumble... in more ways than one. Sadly, you will always be disappointed with your efforts. What I recommend you do is just learn to accept a certain level. Now, you want to get that level to get higher and higher of course, but you are not aiming for perfection. 

It is very important you remember that, because if you try and be perfect all the time, you will never do anything and you will never get anywhere.

Go easy on yourself.



NEVER GIVE UP 


Perhaps the most important advice I can give you is: never give up. I see so many people throw in the towel far too early. They get rejected and, let's face it, it hurts a lot. 

Sure, it is very painful to be turned away from voice-over work, but you have to overcome that. Keep on going. Doing the auditions will make you stronger and improve your performance too. 

It is the only way to do it and eventually it will happen - trust me.

You only need that first voice-over job to make you think, "Great, that's fantastic. Someone actually paid me for my voice. That's amazing. I can do more." 

And you certainly can do more. Keep on going. Keep on honing your voice-over skills. The work will follow.

See the first Five Golden Rules here:




 Gary Terzza helps newcomers break into the voiceover industry with his training programme VOmasterclass.com -  a complete training package that includes voice tuition, showreel, jobs guidance and marketing support.

What The Heck Does PFH Mean in Voice-Over Job Quotes?



The letters 'p.f.h.' often appear at the side of voice over job quotes, for example "The client is willing to pay $250pfh." It is important to understand what these letters mean and how they impact on your earnings. Get it wrong and you could severely dent your hourly pay rate. 


In this video I discuss the meaning of PFH in voice overs and how to work out the real amount you are being paid.

Here is the transcript 

There are three letters which can make quite a big difference to your voiceover career, because the way you handle them will determine how much you get paid. We're about to find out what those three letters are.


Hello. I hope you're in fine voice. Now the three letters I'm talking about are PFH. You may have seen them crop up at the side of numbers, and those numbers are normally how much you're going to get paid, possibly. Also, you may see clients, or experienced clients, asking you how much you charge PFH. Now the words stand for per finished hour. Let's say you're being paid £100 PFH. Now you might think, "Well, that sounds great. That means I'm getting £100 an hour."


But hold your horses, because it doesn't really mean that. It means the finished audio, the completed voiceover, lasts one hour. They're willing to pay you £100 for that hour that is completed audio, finished audio, per finished hour. But of course, it's going to take you much, much longer to produce a single hour of voiceover. You've got to record it. You've got to edit it. You've got to produce it. You might have to do retakes and so on.

You're talking at least four times the length, possibly five. Now that's an awful lot of time to produce that one hour. Now one hour is actually something like 10,000 words, to give you an example. What you're going to do then is divide that figure by four, at least, to give you a realistic view of what it's worth. Let's take the £100 PFH example, £100 per finished hour. That's what the client's going to offer you. In fact, you'll need to divide that by four. That means it's actually £25 an hour. In real terms, you're going to earn 25 quid per hour.

It's really important to understand the implications of PFH, because it looks like you're getting paid more than you really are. Always bear that in mind, so particularly for stuff where perhaps it's only paying £25 or £50 PFH. Obviously, that's a much, much lower rate. £50 PFH would be effectively £12.50 an hour. And as you get lower, you're probably going to go under minimum wage. Always bear that in mind.

All right. I hope to cover some other letters in the future with some future videos. All right, thanks very much for watching today. Look after your voice and see you next time.

5 Reasons Not to Use Brand Names on Your Voice-Over Showreel




By Gary Terzza UK Voice-Over Coach.

When it comes to recording voice-over demos, the use of brand names inevitably crops up. Read a few blogs and dive into those forums and you will see this issue sharply divides opinion.

My personal opinion is that you should NOT use famous companies' names when producing your voice-over showreel.  Here are five reasons why:


1. You Don't Have Permission


Perhaps the first and most obvious argument against the use of proprietary names is the legal one. All scripts are protected by copyright and their use is strictly controlled. Ripping off a script directly infringes this copyright - do Mercedes or Nike really want your voice associated with their product?

Unless you have permission from the client, stick to generics, buy royalty free scripts or write your own stuff.


2. It Misleads The Listener


And by 'listener' we are not talking about your Aunt Mabel - your important audience is made up of agencies and other potential clients. In other words folks who might hire you.

Let's say you have genuinely recorded (and been paid) for a high end voice over job for Sainsbury's and you add this to your showreel. Nothing wrong with that (as long as the supermarket giant gives you clearance of course) and then you decide to also include a mock demo sample for Heinz Baked Beans, for which you have ripped off the script from the TV.

How confusing is that?

The listener could assume you have been hired by both Sainsbury's and Heinz, but only one of these would be true. How is a voice-over agency to know which is the 'real' track and which is the fake? 

In my book that is deception.

As Armin Hierstetter the founder of voice-over marketplace Bodalgo said to me once "If the voice talent was not actually booked by a company he/she must not use anything that looks like the company booked her/him". 


3. Scripts Date Quickly


A few years ago my agent booked me for a job with a big financial institution. There was the promise of on-going work, which would have been a nice little earner. Not only that, but this company's name would look great on my demo reel. The investment bank in question stood for solidity and reliability and the sheer cachet of its brand name would be a feather in any voice artist's cap. 

The script had been sent and the date had been set when, at the last minute, the job was abruptly cancelled due to 'unforeseen circumstances'. I was bitterly disappointed and considered using the script they had sent me anyway to record something for my showreel.

That would have been a big mistake.

The bank was Lehman Brothers and they went bankrupt a few months later during one of the most turbulent periods in financial history. 

Lucky escape from my point of view, but using the brand name in this instance would have carried with it a whole load of unwanted baggage, not least a dated, toxic institution.

Other household names that could have badly aged your reel are Woolworths, Low-Cost Holidays and most recently here in the UK, British Home Stores. When famous brands bite the dust, so does your reel,

You can't future-proof your demos if you mention known companies.




4. Copycat Performance


There is an editorial reason too.

I have spoken before about the cliche of using a chocolate commercial to sell your voice. These are so ubiquitous, not a week goes by without some wannabe voice actor recording one of these and submitting to an agent who, yawn yawn, has heard this type of syrupy delivery time and time again. 

What's happening is that the prospective voice over artist listens to an ad on TV or radio and then tries to copy the style. This will do you no good at all. 

Agencies and producers listen out for individuality. 

Trying to sound like the mellifluous voice on the old Marks & Spencer food commercials will leave egg on your face. 


5. Beginners Only Use Premium Names


I have noticed a distinct trend - if you listen to talents who have used trademarked names on their reels, something strange strikes you. They only tend to refer to big, blue-chip conglomerates.

Car commercial? Ah that has to be Audi, BMW etc.... I have yet to hear a 'pretend' demo referencing Vauxhall or the cheap 'n cheerful Dacia Duster which are big sellers here in the UK. 

Footware? Nike and Adidas feature frequently, but where are Clarkes or the budget label George from Asda? They never get a mention. 

What about small neighbourhood businesses? Why are these rich sources of local voice over work missing?

Funny that.

Why would these 'other' orgnaisations be omitted? Is it because voice talents mistakenly think their voices are upmarket and would only be chosen for expensive German marques? Is mass market too downmarket for most aspiring voice over beginners? 

Come on, get real.  

Of course if you have actually recorded a corporate training video for Microsoft, or a promotional video for Barclays Bank then it is perfectly ok to use on your showreel, but make sure you clear with your client first. 

Have you used brand names on your demos? Please let me know why in the Comments section.


















Voice Over Agony Uncle




It's that time again - I am taking on the role of agony uncle, answering your voice over questions.



I can't imagine me getting any voice over work, because I don't sound distinctive enough. What can I do to stand out in a crowded market?

Really? I assume you perceive your voice to be exactly the same as every other British middle aged man do you? Well try this experiment: phone a friend, partner or family member from a different number and just say, in your natural speaking voice, "can you guess who this is?" 

Will they think you could be one of thousands of other guys, or will they know it's you from the sound of your voice?

Of course they will recognise it is you straight away. 

Whilst our voices can be grouped into demographic categories such as age, ethnicity, class and so on, we all have a unique sound. That's why voice recognition software is valued by security experts.

Your voice is as singular as your face. Learn to appreciate its defining qualities and carve out a niche for yourself in the voice over industry. 


In sales, for every 10 qualified prospects one should get 3 interviews leading to 1 sale. I have done 16 auditions leading to 0 paid jobs. What are the average statistics in the voice over industry so I can at least have a realistic plan for work? Or what am I doing wrong or what can I do better?



I'm not sure you can be so empirical with voice acting stats, after all it's a performance art. American voice coach Bill DeWees reckons you should be aiming for a 1 in 10 success rate (which would match your quoted sales target) but I would counter that this is too optimistic and not always achievable.


Instead I prefer Brian Cranston's take, which is to refocus your objectives; your aim is not to 'get a job', but provide a compelling audition that serves the text. After that, it's out of your hands.


Which marketplaces are you doing auditions for? You should be on the major freelancer sites as well as at least one pay to play site and of course ACX for audiobook opportunities.




A company I have just completed a voice over project for wants me to sign a release form. The problem is it was advertised as: 'Training, business presentations, sales, and web sites'. However the release form seems to state that it is for broadcasting and they are pushing me to sign it today. What would you suggest I do?


Are you sure it's for TV and not non-broadcast platforms such as website and/or YouTube? If it is for a TV commercial (and before you sign) you need to find out whether it is national, regional or local. 

You should also determine the length of time they wish to use it for. A television ad would typically have two elements: a basic session fee (BSF) and usage fee. 

The longer they want to run the commercial and the more eyeballs that will view it, then the more they will have to pay you.



I'm always a bit concerned whether a far-flung client will use one of my auditions without paying. I know that a 'watermark' can be inserted such as a copy change or telephone number alteration etc. However, some clients may be offended by this action. What do you recommend I do to protect my work?



There are various opinions on this and my feeling is that if the client seems legit (ok website, physical address etc) then leave out any watermark. However if you get a gut reaction that this is a dodgy client, then by all means add one. Of course you could argue that if the client is coming across as untrustworthy then why would you bother auditioning for them in the first place?


If you want to know how to add a protective spoiler to your recordings 
using Audacity software then see my instructional video.



Can you help with this verbiage: what does the client mean by 'punch rates'?


'Punch' refers to retakes and pickups. In simple terms these are lines of script or words inserted (ie 'punched') into the main body of your existing recording, sometimes called 'punch and roll'. Basically the client does not want a nasty shock with the price and is asking you for clarification on what these extra reads would cost.


It is always difficult to estimate accurately, since you do not know in advance how many revisions they will need. My rule of thumb is that if you are being paid handsomely then offer these without charge. Alternatively you may wish to provide a couple of pick-ups for free, but any more above that threshold would mean you bill the client for an additional 25% of the quoted fee.





I wondered if you knew of an American dialect coach in Newcastle or the north east?

I can't say I do. 

Your first port of call is Google, but I'm wondering what you need a US accent for anyway? In voice overs different dialects may be useful for some audiobooks, animation, video games and perhaps the occasional local radio ad. 

But remember, the vast majority of voice over jobs require you to use your own voice. If a client wants an American accent, they will source the genuine article.

Likewise if a producer requires a real life Geordie they can come to someone like you. Stick to what you know and what you do best.



I recorded an audition yesterday and I intend to follow up in the next few days with a request for feedback - and if so is there a polite form words used as an industry guideline to avoid seeming pushy or offensive?


I would not recommend asking a potential client to critique your audition. That is like asking them to be an unpaid coach.

Clients often use agencies and online marketplaces so they don't have to respond directly to talents. Do your audition and leave it at that.

If they like you enough, you will soon know - you'll get hired. 

***

Gary Terzza is a British voice over coach.