Sunday, January 31, 2010

Technique Tip of February: Leave the Punctuation on the Page




When you analyze an audition script for a voice-over job, you probably mark it up like you learned to do in your voice-over technique training classes. Make notes about what words and adjectives the writer employed, look for hidden meaning and clues to who the target audience or speaker are. You might makes notations for where to take a breath, where to come up or down in your volume or energy. Sometimes you think you are on the right track, but then you get thrown off by some funny punctuation that is inconsistent with the way you want to read the rest of the copy. Instead of scrapping your work, keep these notes in mind so that you can keep the punctuation on the page, and not in your voice!
Commas can provide good natural places to pause in the copy to take a breath, pause, use inflection in your voice to denote a list of items, or to set off phrases. Depending on the script, pausing for every comma could be (and sound) laborious! Often the commas are used for grammatical purposes, but if you don't hear the pause when you say it in real life, don't add it to the copy. It will sound forced and unnatural!
Rhetorical questions are questions that look like a question on the page, but they are not meant to be answered. Common rhetorical quips might include, "Why me, God?" or the sarcastic remark, "Who knew?" You're not actually expecting an answer when you say that, so don't end the remark with an inflection in your voice. Similarly, a longer rhetorical question could look like this: "How much longer will we have to put up with this?" The trick with the longer rhetorical questions is that they are more often situation-specific. Use your good judgement on these, and don't be afraid to try it a couple of different ways to see what sounds best.
If every sentence in the copy has an exclamation mark after it, don't assume the writer meant every sentence to be read with the same intensity! Again, this depends on the context! Even a high-energy, hard-sell copy should ebb and flow! Maybe the writer was too excited and didn't know what sentence deserved the most emphasis!
Ellipses is another tricky one ... According to Wikipedia, an ellipses is, "an intentional omission of a word or a phrase from the original text. An ellipsis can also be used to indicate a pause in speech, an unfinished though, or at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence..." All though the ellipsis has become pandemic in today's emails or Facebook, inserting the sound of an ellipsis can make you sound listless, depressed, or flaky ... Of course, if that's the sound you are going for, then by all means...
No matter what kind of shape the copy is in when it falls into your hands, use your good voice-over technique training and judgement to know when to follow the written word or not. Record it a few different ways to see which areas don't sound natural to you, then re-work them. And never, ever comment to the client about the writer's poor English skills -- they may have written it themselves!
By: Catherine Marshall

Friday, January 29, 2010

Crack A Smile ... And Keep It There!


Such A Voice Producer & Coach Brendan Coyle is working on an invention. He's devising a metal device that will go in every voice-over artist's sound booth around the world. It's not sound equipment or a new and improved mic, but it's a special stand that will prop up the voice-over artist's body, extend up to their cheeks, and force the voice-over artist to maintain a constant smile during recording!
He's kidding, I think, but his point is that the most common direction he gives people in the recording studio is to do another take while smiling. Maintaining a smile while doing a voice-over changes the whole energy of your voice, and therefore the voiceover. It's one of the fundamental voice-over techniques to producing a believable voiceover that's enjoyable to listen to. For many, keeping a smile while you read a voice-over can be challenging -- it feels unnatural, you forget to keep your smile after the first couple sentences, or you feel cheesy doing it.
Follow some of Brendan's tips to cracking a smile -- and keeping it there.
1. Write "SMILE" at the top of your copy. Big. BIGGER. Now, do that every time you practice voice-over technique or working on a voice-over job.
2. If you get frustrated and say, "Ah! I can't speak and smile at the same time!" --notice that you're probably ac
tually smiling while you're saying that! Hold on to that feeling of smiling while you're talking and give it another go.
3. Practice in front of a mirror. I personally hated this one, but it worked! If your smile doesn't look like your genuine smile, your voice might not sound genuine either.
4. Record yourself while telling a friend a joke. Get a sense of how you sound when you speak, not read. When you play it back, you'll be able to hear the point at which you started smiling! Make that sound a goal to work toward.

One of the biggest problems is voice-over artists sometimes think more about what they are reading than what they are saying. The goal is to sound like the words are coming out of your brain, and not off a piece of paper. Once you hear the difference between your voice-over with smile vs. no smile, smiling in the sound booth will start to become second nature to you!

-By: Catherine Marshall

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dave Radtke's Professional Voice-Over Home Studio


OK boys and girls, it's time to open myself up to you, bare it all, to "show you the goods." Yep. It's time to pull back the curtain (literally) and give you a sneak peak into my ultra high-tech voice-over home studio!

Now I warn you, if you are a beginner to voice acting and doing voice overs, then you may have images of sleek and sophisticated studios complete with effects cabinets twinkling with little LED lights, microphones that cost more than some cars, and mixing boards longer than many people’s hallways. If that’s the image you hold in your mind, then prepare to be disappointed. But hey, at least after reading this post you’ll have a better idea of what many home studios look like!

The Room

My studio fits in a room that isn’t even big enough to hold a twin bed. I’ve got my old, old, old midi keyboard on the left, then my desk complete with iMac and studio speakers in the middle, and then my practice area on the right.


Gotta Practice

To the right of the computer I keep my mic on its stand along with a whiteboard on the wall to hang scripts. This allows me to practice anytime without the hassle of setting up my “sound proof booth” (which you’ll see in a minute.)


The booth

When it’s time to do an actual recording to send off to a client, I gotta set up the “sound proof booth” (for lack of a better term.) I simply open my closet door, push aside some of the clothes hanging there, and place my mic stand right in the middle. I use a highly sophisticated system to attach my printout of the copy to the blanket covering the back wall (a.k.a. cellophane tape). Take a look:

The movable wall I place around the closet was constructed out of parts I bought from the local hardware store. I think in total it only cost about $50 (excluding the blanket I drape over it — that was a freebie.) I took photos when I built the thing to be used in a future post, so stayed tuned. In the meantime, here are some pics:

And that’s it!

As I said before, if you are a beginner to voice overs, then your image of what a home studio consists of might be skewed a little. Of course, if you’ve got the money to buy some really good stuff then by all means, go ahead. But since I’m the type of guy who tries to find the path of least financial resistance, this set up works perfectly for me! (And if you think my studio is a little “barren” then be sure to watch this video I posted a few months ago.)

David Radtke has been an active performer for over 20 years. His experiences include storybook reader for young children, radio DJ and announcer, part-time TV actor, and English language speech therapist. He currently broadcasts at his local FM station, where he does imaging and promos, commercial spots and various other creative jobs.

Check out his blog at: http://www.voiceactorsnotebook.com/



Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't Sell Yourself Short!



In order to compete in the voice-over job market in 2010, you may be considering lowering your fees to attract more business. Although we are not out of the economic recession just yet, selling yourself short only hurts you and the industry in the long run. Instead, try to out-shine the competition by offering more services and attention.

If you audition on a popular site such as Voices.com or Voice123.com, the client will disclose their budgets. Either they have the money to pay for a vetted industry professional, or they are working on a tighter budget to cover a talented novice. Even if you are being hired for one of your first voice-over jobs, it is unusual to be offered less than $100 for the gig. The normal range is between $100 - 250. Instead of haggling for a few more bucks (and as long as you are being offered a decent wage for your voice-over work), congratulate yourself on landing a gig, and look forward to increasing your rates in the future. Another way to leverage an offer is to offer proofreading, production work, or a follow-up recording -- as long as you can provide these services at a professional level. If the client was happy with your final product, it is also acceptable to ask for a referral in a few days.

If you have been a professional voice-over artist for a while, you have more room to negotiate. According to Voices.com, the average job has increased recently to about $263 per job. Of course, this rate still depends on the project and the client's budget. For an audio book, some gigs will pay $500 for a recorded hour, but others are as low as $175 per recorded hour. Again, there is a beginner's rate for audio books and a separate rate after you have done a certain number of audio book recordings. When weighing a job offer, be sensitive to the client's needs and budget while taking into account the services you are offering, the timeline, potential referrals and repeat business.

Selling yourself short sends the message to the client that you are not confident in your skills. On the other hand, demanding too much may create the impression that you are insensitive and might be demanding in other ways. Translation = You're a pain in the neck to work with. Offering to do work at a reduced rate also tells clients that the average industry rate is or should be dropping -- which none of us want either!

The truth is, you are a talented voice-over artist who deserves pay commensurate with your voice-over training and work experience. Take into account the other benefits of working with a particular client, such as connections, your resume, the practice, and repeat business potential. If you are willing to do work at a reduced rate, consider offering your services for no money to a non-profit organization or community benefit. There are plenty of ways to network and gain on-the-job experience to beef up your resume for future voice-over gigs without hurting the industry standards on the whole.

-By Catherine Marshall

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

10 Ways to Reduce Stress inside Your Recording Studio



When you're stressed, your voice automatically jumps to the upper registers, which makes you even more stressed. Whether you are feeling rushed or disorganized, tired or preoccupied, chances are you haven't reorganized your recording studios to make it a "happy place." Many of us doing voice-over jobs part-time squeeze in audition time in the wee hours of the morning, or put in over-time after dinner. While there are no magic time-saving fix-alls, you can make a few modifications to make sure your home studio time is quality studio time!

1. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier. Let's face it, many of us are over-worked and under
-relaxed ... meaning our minds, bodies and voices aren't getting the love and attention they deserve! This will make #2 a bit easier...

2. Get up 20 minutes earlier. It's not as painful as you think! Plan to dedicate that extra morning time to yourself, whether it's scanning auditions with a cup of tea, sending follow-up emails, or fidgeting with Pro Tools.

3. Wear something comfortable. Comfy clothes puts you at ease, making your home studio a happier place! If you feel relaxed, you will sound relaxed, and you will be able to nail the read more easily. Soft fabrics are also less likely to create annoying background noise that will
be impossible to edit out later.

4. Clean out the clutter! Get in the habit of cleaning up your work space and your computer. Just as, "A clean home is a clean mind," you can say, "An empty desk is an empty mind." Wait...

5. Check your other work at the door. If you are in the habit of bringing work home with you, do not bring it inside your studio! Your mind will focus on your voice-over work if you don't have Friday's office deadline staring you in the face.

6. Plan a schedule, and stick to it! Make a weekly plan of attack, which should include a balanced schedule of networking and making cold calls, auditioning, making follow-up calls, and producing. Even plan time into your schedule to plan next week's schedule. You will learn from experience how much time each task takes you. It varies from person to person, and from what phase or stage of your voice-over business you are in.

7. Be courteous and fair. Mind your P's and Q's with clients and all contacts! First of all, there is an appropriate way to address clients who owe you for past work, and it does not include being rude. Second of all, there is a fine but distinct line between politely (but persistently) pursuing a lead and stalking someone. Know the difference! This is a big industry, but you could still get black-balled if you're just not a nice person to work with.

8. Follow someone else. No -- not stalk them! Follow a fellow voice-over artist you respect and admire on their social media sites. Congratulate each other on work well done, and note how they market themselves successfully. Keeping track of another successful voice-over talent can inspire ideas or directions you may not have thought of. Also, voice-over artists are generally friendly and more than willing to give a tip or two as well!

9. Stock your home recording studio. With water, tissues, green apples, pencils, and a couple mouth sprays to reduce the pops and smacks. Some of our favorites: Entertainer's Secret, Mouth Kote, or Slippery Elm lozenges.

10. Keep things that put a smile on your face! Whatever works -- your favorite comic strip, a funny picture, or some kind of inside joke. Most of the time, a great voice-over starts with a big SMILE! Plus, sometimes you just need something to help you laugh off challenges and set-backs!

By: Catherine Marshall

Friday, January 15, 2010

Optimize Your Voice-Over Technique Practice

Optimizing your practice time on voiceover technique has several advantages. While you want to avoid rushing through your voiceover scripts, being more efficient at how you practice will make you a better voiceover artist -- faster. As you become more proficient at breaking down copy, consistently using the basics, and coaching yourself as you go along, your turn-around time for producing a high-quality product for paying clients will shorten.

Follow these 4 voice-over practice techniques to get more bang for your buck (or time) on each voiceover script:

1. Practice in front of a mirror. You will probably feel silly and self-conscious the first few times you do this, but looking into a mirror while practicing voiceover scripts will help you improve in more ways than one. First of all, go ahead a try it! Find a mirror and try reading anything -- the back of your shampoo bottle, for example. Did you smile? Were your head and body gestures natural, or did your body freeze up? If so, you will be able to hear all of that in your voice. When you're just getting started as a voiceover artist -- and maybe even after you are a pro, it can be hard to remember to smile all the way through your read. If you practice in front of a mirror, you can see exactly what you sound like.

ghost-mirror.jpg

2. Memorize the first line of the voiceover script. Sometimes, even if you practice a voiceover script that appeals to you, you will have trouble delivering the lines naturally. When this happens (and trust me, it will happen!), memorize the first line and then put down the script. Walk over to a friend and say the line as conversationally as possible. Pretend that the line you are having trouble with is something you say all the time. Depending on what the copy is, you may want a "Hey, did you know X" tone, or a "Can you believe what a great deal X is?" Your friend might give you the hairy eyebrow, but capture your more casual tone of voice and carry it through the rest of the script!

3. Emulate commercials you like. Be careful with this one! I am not suggesting that you get in the habit of always mimicking other voice over artists. While you are practicing voiceover scripts and technique, mimicking a successful voiceover talent will help you get into his or her head and understand why the artist chose to read the spot that way. Start by picking a commercial that sticks with you, either because the copy was witty, the voiceover artist has a memorable voice, or the product interests you. Notice what emotions you hear in your own voice when you imitate the voiceover artist. Ask yourself what the voiceover artist accomplished by the tone, inflection, pace, and energy.

4. Record yourself!
That's right -- record yourself practicing your voiceover scripts and play them back. I used to cringe when I had to record my voicemail message, play it back and accept or re-record it. "That's not what I sound like!" Believe it or not, your phone, answering machine, and tape recorder are not lying to you! Eventually I learned to get over my shyness, and now my recorder is my best friend. For me, listening to my playbacks helps me identify where to neutralize my faint Southern accent, and it's invaluable for listening for awkward breathing places and rushed se
ntences. Plus, if I can't "sell it" to myself, there is no way the client will "buy it" either.

-By: Catherine Marshall

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Meet Mel Allen!

Name and Title: Mel Allen, Voice Evaluations and Coaching

Where You're From: The Green Mountain State of Vermont!

Job Responsibilities: Evaluating voices, offering insight into the industry while offering answers to many of the basic questions posed by those looking to get into the industry. Most importantly, I help students and talent reach their goals in the world of voice-overs!

Favorite Food: Tiramisu is a food that always goes down so well, but honestly any dessert or chocolate will do! If you mean the stuff I eat before dessert, I've always been a big fan of lasagna, sushi, and anything that has 'sandwich' in its name.

Hobbies: I love to see music performed live, since I have little realized musical talent myself. I'm into the outdoors and being active - I hike, occasionally run, go on short distance touring trips on my motorcycle 'Elwood.' I also love snowboarding (but can ski too) and the best of all - spending time with my kids and our dog Jake!

Destination Vacation: St. John, USVI. Best place ever (besides Vermont)!

What are you listening to right now
: Cake, "Stick-shifts and Safety Belts"

One piece of advice for aspiring voice over talent
: Play to your strengths! Don't try to be everything to everyone, especially when starting out. Retain your individuality and unique sound. If you sound just like everyone else, then there's no reason for someone to hire you. Last but not least, if there's something you know and enjoy - medical terminology, computers, or technical knowledge about anything - then go after companies who can use your knowledge in keeping them on track with their voice-overs!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Revise Your Voice Over Marketing Approach in 2010

The new year brings the perfect occasion to celebrate or lament (whichever the case may be!) the previous year's voiceover marketing and business strategies. What approaches brought the dream voice over jobs, and which ones ended in a surprising disappointment? Reworking your voiceover business plan requires more than a quick look at your books. While it's easy to just focus on the bottom line, in order to grow in the coming new year, analyze last year's approach to getting professional voice over jobs and make sure these career-killer mistakes don't get repeated in 2010.

1. Spending too much time building your contacts database and not enough time making the cold calls. A red flag that indicates you are procrastinating is when you spend more time organizing something than doing it. No one likes making cold calls, and it takes most people a while to become comfortable making them. While your Excel sheet of potential contacts might be up to 50 or 100, they are getting out-dated just sitting there! As a rule, keep no more than 12-15 new potential clients in your database a week. Each day that you dedicate looking for new voice over jobs, make sure that you call 3 of those new contacts. Spend at least one day a week working on your marketing plan, and don't forget to follow up with new contacts the following week. Eventually cold calls will be no sweat, and your network of new clients will hit a growth spurt in 2010!

2. Spreading your talents too thin. There is a fine line between marketing your talents for niche you are in, and advertising a niche you would like to be in. While it is important to continue exploring your voice over talents and shooting for new voice over jobs, careful about how you advertise yourself to potential clients. Don't promise something you can't deliver. Be honest about your experience doing work in a particular niche to avoid getting a bad reputation among clients you would like to build professional relationships with. Your demo should speak for itself. Take a look at your online profiles and see if there is a disconnect between how you are pitching your voice talents to clients and what you actually sound like. This is what you sound like to clients.

3. Going into business with shady clients. There are certainly more legitimate clients out there than shady ones, but be careful who you send your auditions to. If the client is not clear about the type of voice they are looking for, or if the advertised spot is not from a reliable source or client, take heed. It is not unheard of that a dishonest client will use a demo for a spot without telling the voiceover artist. Protect your auditions by leaving a watermark somewhere in the audio of your demo, either in the form of a beep or by leaving off the last sentence of the audition. Also, be hesitant to continue working for a client who has yet to pay you for work you have already done for them. Stay polite and friendly, but it is appropriate to remind them about past fees due before doing more projects for them.

4. Not following up with clients. This is a big no-no for when you are trying to establish new contacts and for keeping in touch with old ones. Especially if you talked with a new client about potentially working for them, you do not want to make the mistake of falling out of touch with them. Be persistent without being annoying. After all, they have more going on than thinking about your voice over work, and there is nothing wrong with sending a friendly reminder -- as long as it sounds friendly. Keeping in touch with previous clients is the only way to get repeat business! Set up alarms and reminders in your database to follow up with happy clients 4-6 months after a project. This time of year is the perfect opportunity to send them a holiday newsletter, letting them hear about your recent achievements and reminding them that you are available for future projects.

After analyzing your voiceover marketing approach, set a new goal for 2010. Whether it is being more organized or marketing yourself for different voice over jobs, set a goal and write it down somewhere. Print it out and post it somewhere near your work station and again in your home, like on your fridge. In the voiceover industry, only you are going to hold yourself accountable for your triumphs and failures. Stay on the ball in 2010 to continue growing into the kind of successful voiceover artist you want to be!

-By: Catherine Marshall

Monday, January 4, 2010

10 Questions Voice Over Artists Are Asking

Technique Tip of the Month: January

Enunciate with a Carrot!

I once heard that the actress and voiceover artist Kathleen Turner uses two marbles tucked somewhere in her mouth to help her create the sexy, sultry voice that helped make her famous. I'm not sure if that's true, and I'm even less sure of how she would have discovered that to begin with. Urban legend or not, voiceover artists have been known to try techniques that are just as whacky as the marbles to create a certain affect with their voices.

Certain technique tips will work wonders for some, and not produce a hint of difference for others. Hopefully you are recording your voice-over technique practices and playing them back to see what you sound like. (I repeat: Hopefully you are recording and playing back your voiceover practices!) If when you listen to recordings of yourself you find that you are cutting off certain syllables or swallowing others, then a carrot can be your best friend to help you enunciate more clearly. I personally have a subtle Southern accent, and despite my best efforts to neutralize it, I often hear whispers of an accent at the ends of certain words. Of course I don't hear it when I'm speaking, but it screams out to me when I play back my voiceover!

The technique is simple enough: take a carrot and hold the end in between your two front teeth. Practice reading a copy aloud -- keeping the carrot there the whole time! Record one of your voiceover scripts and listen to yourself. At first, you'll get a good laugh listening to playbacks of your voiceover while holding a carrot between your front teeth, and I congratulate you if you are able to discern even half of the words that you read! Repeat reading through the same script while keeping the carrot in place without biting through it or dropping it. Your mouth will learn have to learn to work around the carrot, and you should start to produce the words more clearly.

Finally, remove the carrot and read through the script without slipping back into old habits. You'll notice that you are enunciating words more clearly, and your accent should be considerably watered down. The best part about this technique? It's cheap, it's easy, and you even get a healthy snack out of it!

-By: Catherine Marshall