Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happily Ever After

One Actor’s Success Story in the Voice-Over Industry and How She Got There
Guest blog post by Erica Retrosi

Ever listen to a children’s audiobook with your kids and the narrator’s voice suddenly whisks you back in time to your own childhood, when you listened to your favorite bedtime story being read to you? Do you ever get carried away doing voices while reading to your children and wonder if you could become a “professional story reader”? Meet Diane Havens: award-winning, children’s audiobook voice-over talent.

Havens, a New York City-based voice actor, reads children’s audiobooks for a living. She’s also the most recent recipient of the Voicey Award for Best Voice Team. She and her voice partner, Robert Jadah, were honored at the third annual Voicey Awards ceremony in March.

“The Voiceys wanted actual work to judge from this year,” Havens says, noting that this hasn’t always been the case. Unlike in years past, when people could submit demos of read copy for consideration, Havens and Jadah received their Voicey Award for a gig they had recorded for a previous client. That was the most gratifying part, according to Havens, who felt the award was a tangible prize for a job well done. “I’m happy to be recognized in that,” she says.

The Voicey Awards are the only honor of their kind, distinguishing the most accomplished in voice acting talent. Held annually, this prestigious Award includes categories such as Best Male Voice, Best Female Voice, Best Voice Team and Best New Voice, among others. Revered by voice-over professionals, the Voicey Award truly sets voice actors apart from their peers as stars of the industry.

“It does give you a little boost,” Havens says of the win. “There is very little recognition in voice-overs because we’re always behind the scenes. It’s a nice, warm feeling to get that recognition from colleagues.”

Havens, a former teacher, and Jadah, an actor and children’s book author, met in a forum back in 2006. The voice-over dream team was born.

“Robert is very accomplished,” Havens says of her partner. “He’s been instrumental in giving guidance, and he’s great at production.” The versatile pair recently lent their voices to a motion-activated security camera, but do everything from Shakespeare to pieces penned by Jadah himself.

How does a teacher with an acting background start recording her voice for a living? With retirement just around the corner, Havens started exploring other career options. In 2006, she came across Dan Levine’s voice-over beginner training course, “You’re On the Air: How to Really Make It in Voice-Overs.” Levine’s company, Such A Voice, has a battery of voice-over professionals traveling around the country teaching voice-over novices and the curious alike. Based in Burlington, Vermont, the company also offers high-level training for the serious aspirant. Havens furthered her research by visiting their website and found that Dan Levine and his company had a top rating with the Better Business Bureau. Havens decided to take the leap and jump into voice-overs.

The kind of success that a Voicey Award recognizes inspires newcomers to the voice-over field. When one of their graduates, like Havens, achieves it, it is cause for celebration at Such A Voice. When the staff sees their methods working so successfully, it seems to only motivate them to become better still. In addition to the MasterClass, the advanced, all-encompassing preparatory course, Such A Voice provides support to students even after they’ve graduated. The staff provides bi-weekly teleconferences, which are on-on-one coaching sessions designed to hold students accountable for their own success. One of Havens’ favorite perks was a quick-and-dirty ProTools course. “It gave me the confidence to use ProTools,” she says. After studying the instruction booklet specifically designed for graduate Such A Voice students, she says, “Now, it’s a breeze. I keep the packet as a reference.”

The best part about voice-overs is that anyone can do it. And now they can do it without ever leaving their homes, making their own schedules and using the Internet to market their voices. “That aspect attracts a lot of people,” Havens says. Havens does much of her recording from the comfort of her finished basement, which houses the home studio her husband custom-built for her.

The real reason a voice-over career enthralls Havens isn’t the flexible scheduling, she says. What’s exciting for her is the constant state of flux of the market itself. “It gives you the ability to do so much digitally. It’s always growing and changing.” Such a market houses Havens’ background and interests perfectly. “I like the creative end of it,” she says. “I come at it all from an actor’s perspective.”

Voice-overs, especially narration work, allows her to do what she loves every day. She is currently working to get a solid hold in the audiobook genre of the market, especially in classic children’s literature. “That’s where I see myself going,” she says. “I’d love to do a book by an author I admire,” she adds, naming Lowry or L’Engle as her two top picks.

“It’s hard work,” she says of the audiobook world. “It’s not the most highly paid work, but if you love it, it’s a reward that you can’t put a price tag on.”

Havens is no stranger to hard work. In this industry, a huge part of success can be attributed to how actively you market yourself. Having already learned this lesson from her acting career, Havens was ready for it. Novices, however, are often unprepared for the challenge of constant follow-up, contact and never letting up. “You have to be realistic about it,” Havens advises. “It’s learning that no matter how talented you are, you have to work at it. People think they’ll get their first gig and coast from there, but in reality, every day you have to work, take another step, market yourself.”

Such A Voice takes this line with their students as well. They present a marketing plan as part of their advanced class, preparing students to know what’s coming so that they aren’t surprised at the amount of effort necessary to get the work.

Havens found this marketing plan useful as a jumping-off point to get her career rolling. “I used it at the beginning,” she says. She then shaped the plan to fit her individual career goals, making it her own. “I think it’s different for everybody. It just depends on which direction you want to go with your career.”

According to Havens, one of the great things about the voice-over field is “how many niches and how many different areas” you can work your way into. But once you get out there, you may be surprised by where you land. “The market will really define you; you don’t define yourself,” she says. “That feedback will help you figure out for yourself where your niche is. It will give you a strong basis, a clue.” Such A Voice’s mantra seconds this. They say, relax into it! Be yourself and the rest will come to you.

“If you love it, and have the talent for it, invest the time and the effort to get where to you want to be,” Havens says. She certainly did.

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