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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. 

Are Your Prejudices Hurting Your Voice Overs?



A former student of mine had a bee in his bonnet - "the majority of voice over jobs are done by female Scottish voices" he opined.

His reasoning was that he was not getting any VO work, because a certain type of voice (in this case female Scottish ones) was hoovering up all the jobs. Middle aged males from England had no chance.

Of course this is absurd.

I am sure many Scottish female voice over artists would counter this by asserting that most of the voice acting jobs in the UK go to Sassenach blokes.

So why did my student have this distorted view of the voice over landscape?

When I studied sociology at University, our lecturers always cautioned that true objectivity was impossible to achieve. We brought to our studies of society our own biases and opinions and this often compromised impartiality in academic research.

The only way around this was to look at statistics in a scientific way and take an unbiased approach.

But this is easier said than done. Just look at the newspapers we read or the Facebook friends we have; they tend to reflect and even reinforce the views we already have. 

So it was with my student - he had a preconceived idea that female voice actors with Scottish accents were in fashion and he could prove it too. "Just turn on the TV or radio and listen" he said "you hear them all the time".

It was true, there were Caledonian burrs and brogues all over the airwaves. 

But I also heard (amongst others) Welsh, Irish, Geordie, Manchester and Yorkshire accents too. In fact if I focused on one particular style of speaking, every time someone with that tone of voice appeared, my ears would prick up.  We only hear what we want to hear.

This phenomenon is known in psychology as confirmation bias and it can can have a negative impact on your voice overs. 

Here's why.

Have you ever thought your voice might be suitable for a specific type of voice over job, for example narrating children's books? It is an understandable thought to have - you enjoy reading to your children/grandchildren and they have giggled approvingly at your funny voices.  Also they tend to be good fun and, let's face it, easier to read than their grown up equivalents. 

You are wrong.

Apart from the big famous sellers which do very well, narrators often find children's books sell poorly on Audible and that means fewer royalties for the narrator. One of my other students has said that from her experience, romantic fiction by certain authors far outsells the youngsters' audiobooks she has recorded. 

Other genres that do well are sci-fi, crime and fantasy. 

Not thought about these areas? You should.  And if you are thinking 'my voice isn't suitable' I would say - how do you know? We tend to be chosen for projects because clients like our voices and the way we deliver the words and that could cover a multitude of categories that have not even crossed your mind. 

It is not just in audiobooks that this is the case, but other areas of the industry too. Far too many beginners pigeonhole their voices too early on and in so doing cut out swathes of work opportunities.

You may be thinking to yourself your voice is suitable for documentaries, but not commercials. Who told you that? Many commercials are like mini pieces of narration, slow and measured, whilst some documentaries are upbeat and pacey and delivered in a commercial way.

Likewise when you see an audition don't assume you know how it should be done, but look at the brief carefully. I once made the mistake of recording a corporate piece for computer software in a serious, business-like tone. 

How wrong I was.

The producer came back to me and said the delivery needed  to be upbeat and cheery "internet security software is a fun business!" he insisted. Who was I to argue? I was just the voice over artist. 

In voice overs, your mind should be as open as your mouth.

*****
Gary Terzza  runs VOmasterclass coaching and mentoring beginners in the voice over business.
























6 Essential Hacks to Boost Your Voice Overs




Voice over work can be rewarding and fun, but sometimes you need that shot in the arm to energise your performance and increase your chances of getting hired. 


Let's look at half a dozen ways to give your voice-over job chances a leg-up.  


1. Treat Your Voice to a Tune Up



First thing in the morning add a little voice warm-up to your routine. Gentle humming will ease your vocal cords into action for the day. Get into the habit of doing this while you are running the shower or about to brush your teeth. 

Sounding a bit rough around the edges? A throaty or even croaky voice needs attention. Watch your alcohol intake, avoid smokers - including 'vapers' - and try not to shout or whisper (yes whispering can put a strain on your vocal cords too). If hoarseness persists seek medical advice.

The British Voice Association has produced an extensive range of free, downloadable resources which will help keep your pipes in peak condition.



2. Turbocharge Your Voice


Once your voice is in tip-top shape you can start practising proper voice exercises. I have a useful one where you work your way through a combination of vowels and consonants using the phonetic sound of the letters. Give it a go and see how you get on. 

A basic singers exercise will also help; start by breathing out through your mouth and once your lungs feel empty of air, relax your diaphragm, but keep your mouth open and then let the air whoosh in. Do this a couple of times making the sound of a snake with a 'sss' noise. Try and hold this for as long as you can. Now repeat, but this time use a 'shh' sound and move on to a 'fff' sound.


These procedures will help you strengthen different vocal muscles.



3. Read, Read, Read


Voice over delivery has many different facets, but underpinning all of these is a single talent... the ability to read a script. It is at the core of what you do and so learning to read out loud, but not making it sound like you are reading, is an essential skill and one most of us spend a whole career trying to perfect.

In the last few years there has been a move to a more conversational style of voiceover, one where the artist is not 'announcery' or 'Mrs/Mr Voiceover Woman/Man'.


     Learn how to be conversational in this video

Next time you have a spare moment, find a quiet room on your own and read out loud. Any material will do, in fact the wider range the better; books, magazines, websites. Deliver the words as if you are talking to one person and remember to tell the story.




4. Work at Voice Over Work 


 I have spoken before about the best ways to find voice-over work, but I have to admit that when it comes to jobs in this industry it is feast or famine. 

Tweet: Voice over jobs are like buses - you wait for ages and then 3 turn up all at once. via @VOmasterclass.


One minute you can be struggling to keep up with demand - the next you are twiddling your thumbs. Use the freelancer sites like Fiverr and PeoplePerHour along with the pay-to-play sites such as Voice123.

The best kind of clients are those who come back for more, so nurture the relationship and keep them updated with any special offers you may be running.



5. Use Downtime Wisely


When the work isn't flooding in, keep busy. You want to remain focussed on your voice over business so concentrate on housekeeping by adding content to your website, updating your CV or web profile and perhaps even consider refreshing your showreel.

You should also use this dormant time to engage in social media - join voice over communities, see what other voice over artists are doing and garner as many tips and tricks as you can. 

Don't ignore work that may be on your doorstep too; seek out local production companies (which may be just one person and her laptop working from home) and see if there are any start-ups in your area which might look like they need a voice for their product or service.


6. Learn to Take The Knocks


In voice overs insecurity will be your lifelong companion, so it is best to accept this as an unwanted, but persistent fellow traveller. All voice actors feel insecure at times, it goes with the territory and we could argue it helps give a better performance. 

Bear in mind that if your success rate is one in ten (ie 90% failure rate) you are doing well! Expect most of your auditions to go nowhere - your aim is to give the best performance you can and understand that the final decision is out of your hands. 

A calm acceptance of this is the best way to put failed auditions behind you and move on to a successful voice-over future. 

******
Gary Terzza is a voice over coach and showreel producer based in London, England.






How to Succeed in Voice Overs (and Why We Fail)



Voice overs can sometimes feel like you are hitting your headphones against a brick wall - you keep auditioning, but it's all in vain. No work, just a string of failed auditions. 


Don't worry, there is hope and you are probably doing something wrong that can easily be rectified.

One of the biggest errors you can make is ploughing a fallow field - by that I mean going for genres where the work is sparse or highly competitive and your chances greatly diminished. Or you could be occupying a niche which isn't a true fit for your voice-type. 

A student of mine has the silkiest of silky voices and her first language is German rather than English. Don't get me wrong her English is outstanding, but as you might expect it comes with an accent. Although she has been getting voice over jobs in her mother tongue, the English ones have been thin on the ground. 

She has been trying to perfect the art of delivering lines in RP (received pronunciation) which is standard British - what used to be called BBC English, or sometimes Oxford English (although strictly speaking Oxford has it's own accent distinct from RP). She has worked tirelessly on this endeavour, only to be told by listeners that they can detect a German accent. 

I am not saying she shouldn't apply for English VO jobs, but self realisation, developing our own voice descriptions and acceptance of our limitations is so important in this industry. 

In this case my recommendation was to concentrate on the German voice work, but in addition promote herself as speaking English with a central European credentials as an hors d'oeuvre

Clients would then know what to expect. 

In many cases voice over genres choose us rather than the other way around and we should not pigeonhole our voices too early on in our careers. Another student of mine has recorded over half a dozen audiobooks since her initial training and is currently narrating a biography about celebrated film and TV actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Authors love her measured delivery and hushed tones. 

However, try as she might, she just can't seem to secure work in other areas. She has auditioned for commercials, online videos and corporates  - all to no avail. My advice to was to stick to the audiobooks and build on her expertise. She could easily become the go-to voice for all sorts of long form narration. 



One of the other main issues when it comes to achieving success is what I call the 'voice over delusion'. This is where talents think they are suited for something just because they love that particular genre. 

Prime examples are videogames and animation. 

Make no mistake, these are fiendishly difficult areas to break into, not least because of the intense competition and formidable voice acting skills required. 

Yet I have some students who steadfastly refuse to accept that being an anime voice over star or becoming a character in Call of Duty is out of reach for most of us. They delude themselves into thinking that because they love these brands, they have some unique route in to fame and fortune. 

Never forget that character acting is about much more than just putting on silly voices, you have to have an amazing range of tones, styles, accents and exemplary acting skills.

My most successful graduates are those who know that the vast majority of voice over work is in more prosaic areas such as narration, explainer videos, industrials and online training. If you don't accept this, then you are living in a dreamworld. 

Of course it is possible to secure video game and cartoon work, but this will tend to be from indie developers or low/no paying fan dubs. I do have a small number of graduates who have gone on to character acting work, but I am sure even these would admit that most of their money is earned in the meat 'n potatoes world of narrative voice overs, using their own natural voices.


Takeaways

  • Stick to what you do best
  • Get some feedback on what your voice sounds like
  • Don't be delusional
  • Appreciate your good voice qualities


What tips do you have for voice over success and what are the best ways to avoid failure? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

***

Gary Terzza coaches beginners in voice overs via Skype and one-to-one in the recording studio. VOmasterclass.com