Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Technique Tip of the Month: It's Not Your Commercial

Something to take into consideration when marking up copy is the degree of creative license you can reasonably take for a given piece without hijacking the script altogether. You may be tempted to make your auditions stand out in a sea of 50+ other auditions, but sometimes standing out is a very bad thing!

When being unique does work, the most memorable commercials get stuck in your head because they feature a voice-over actor with dramatic flair. Brilliant commercials off the top of my head include: Beggin' Strips, Kibbles & Bits, and Meow Mix -- and not just because I'm an animal lover!

Whether the commercial script is animated or not, you will still have to make judgment calls on what "voice" the voice-over job calls for. Answering the basic questions, like whether to use high/low energy or hard/soft sell, etc., are easier to answer than others, like pause here/there or how to make a laundry list sound more distinct. Something to keep in mind: this is not
your commercial!

In addition to thinking, "How would
I do this commercial if it were my project," consider what the client wants. Ask yourself, "What is the client's goal with this copy?"

Taking the client's objectives into careful consideration will require you to remember everything you learned in voice-over training on breaking down scripts. When you record a commercial script for a client, think of yourself as a consumer
and member of the company. How would you want to be sold on the product or service?

Analyzing copy from the client's perspective will also help you become better at
selecting voice-over jobs to audition for. Rather than taking the "wet noodle approach" of throwing auditions out there and seeing what sticks, apply for voice-over work that best suits your niche. You will not only save yourself many headaches in the long run, but you will actually become better at 'what you do'.

Monday, April 26, 2010

LOST Fan Finds Voice Acting

-Ms. Wendy
Co-Host of "The LOST Revisited Now" podcast and host of "It's About Bunnies" LOST blog


Who would think that watching a television show would lead to a new career in voice-over work?

Back in 2004, certainly not me. But a show about a plane crash on a mysterious island with its surviving passengers equally as puzzling changed all that. With its movie quality cinematography and soundtrack, and its high caliber acting and storytelling, LOST wasn't asking for the audience's attention... it was demanding it.

For me, LOST wasn't just passive entertainment. While it touched on subjects like physical science, world religions, classic literature, famous historical figures, etc. -- it was more like going back to school. I was completely hooked, and during the summer hiatus of Seasons 1 and 2, in 2005, I went searching online for anything LOST-related.

One day while looking up something about a completely different subject, I found out about podcasts (i.e., internet talk radio). I figured there had to be at least one podcast on LOST. During my search, I stumbled upon "The LOST Podcasting Network," hosted by Ryan and Jen Ozawa of "The Transmission LOST" podcast. At the time, there were a handful of LOST podcasts that were just starting out, and I became a faithful listener to just about all of them.

Cut to 2006, the start of Season 3 of LOST was about to begin and I felt like I wanted to give hosting a LOST podcast a shot. I asked another LOST podcaster (Cliff Ravenscraft of GSPN's "Weekly LOST" podcast) how I would do this. With his help, I recorded 3 episodes -- none of which ever saw the light of day. Just as I was ready to post it, I got laryngitis twice and broke my ribs, which put me out of commission for 2 months. There went podcasting, or so I thought.

After I recovered, with the help of my husband Scott, I reopened the blog he set up to house the podcast and started writing. This was about midway through Season 4 (spring 2008). During this time, I corresponded with some LOST podcasters, including one who was a VO talent, Wayne Henderson. Not only did he produce a podcast about LOST, Wayne also does another podcast called "The Voice Over Journey Podcast with Wayne Henderson."

Wayne was the first person I personally knew who was a voice talent. It was through him that I found out that voice-overs is actually a possible career. I found voice-over to be very interesting, but thought it was only for people with deep, super cool voices like Wayne's.

During the LOST Season 4/5 hiatus that summer/fall, a new bunch of LOST podcasts came out. One of them was called "The LOST Revisited," which aired with a single host when another co-host dropped out. Heath, the host, was considering stopping the show all together. I decided to send him an email to encourage him to continue and that I really enjoyed his podcast. On the email I sent him was my LOST blog address. Heath then sent me a note back, saying he really liked my LOST blog ("It's About Bunnies") and asked if he could interview me.

We did the interview about a month later. We were total strangers from two different coasts, but we hit it off almost immediately. Halfway through the interview, Heath asked me if I would be his co-host. We have been working together since January, 2009.

The more I podcasted over the past year, the more I more listeners and fellow podcasters told me that I should get into voice acting. I did my investigating and even sat in on free teleconferences about voice-overs. It became clear to me that entering the voice-over industry
was a natural progression for me.

I was, and still am, pretty clueless about the industry! A while back, I decided to bite the bullet and go to a local studio for an evaluation. And it just felt "right." After that, I signed up for training, and I have since then taken classes on voice-over technique, home studio set-up, business, and marketing -- and I'm loving it!

Like LOST, voice-over is becoming a little bit less mysterious, but no less exciting. Hmm... maybe John Locke was right about that whole "destiny" thing?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Say It, Don't Spray It!

Preparing for a voice-over job is a funny thing. You have to first network to get the job, utilize your voice-over technique while sounding as natural as possible, and produce a quality edit after you finish recording.


Sometimes no matter how much you prepare for each step, your mouth rebels against you! Dry mouth is a common phenomenon, but new voice-over talents are more likely to experience
wet mouth when they step into their home recording studio for their first few jobs.


Wet mouth can ruin a recording because the smacks and "wet" sounds are nearly impossible to edit out later. By understanding why it happens, and keeping a few food items in stock, you can circumvent this problem altogether.

Our voice-over talents here remember getting wet mouth when they first started out in the voice-over industry because they were nervous. Mel Allen says that taking a few deep breaths usually did the trick to calm his nerves. If that didn't work, he would swish water around his mouth and spit it out.

Here's our short list of foods to have on hand:
  • Cranberry Juice: Although it's sweet, cranberry juice can dry up a drooling mouth because it's tart.
  • Green Apples: Seem to be a wonder food for voice-over artists! They tend to balance out the moisture in your mouth, whether you're running too wet or dry.
  • Green Tea: The tannins in green tea can help sop up a messy mouth, but make sure not to add cream or sugar.
Remember to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day, and not just the days that you have voice-over work. Get used to drinking a couple liters of water a day. When you're are actually in your home recording studio, remember to just sip, not chug.

What do you use to combat wet mouth? Share with us your tips & tricks!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Going the Distance

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I occasionally tweet about my training for an up-coming marathon. I was recently perusing a runners forum for advice for first-time marathoners, and I stumbled upon a question posed to the forum that still has me wondering, What is with people? The person asked something along the lines of:

"I just started running this year, but I smoke. I'm training for my first marathon, and I'm wondering if any of you endurance athletes also smoke? Any advice on how I can run without quitting?"

After my giggles subsided and I read further, I realized the person was for real! Not only did this person just start running this year, but he/she wants to go from a lifestyle of running zero miles a week to maybe 40 miles a week in a few short months ... while smoking.

You'll find people with the "I have a limitation and no experience, but I want to go all the way in a very short period of time" mentality in all areas of life. Applying the same psychology to those in voice-over training, the go get 'em attitude can actually take a person a long way.

... As long as they know their starting point. I think of the long-term heavy smokers who can't read more than a few sentences without wheezing. Being a voice-over artist means taking care of those pipes! Mel Allen swears that voice-over artists are frequently advised to smoke to develop a dynamic quality, but the thought of intentionally destroying your instrument, not to mention the rest of your body, deeply disturbs me!

Knowing your starting point from a realistic perspective will keep your expectations in check. If you are new to voice-over training, figure out what your limitation is. Some are challenged by dyslexia or another reading disability. If this is you, it certainly doesn't mean you should not continue! Take it in stride, and address the problem early on. Some of our own voice-over artists admit they had to go to speech therapy as a child. Others might be "technologically challenged" or not have the slightest clue about how marketing works. These, too, are hurdles that can be over-come.

Set realistic goals for yourself, and reach those benchmarks. Instead of trying to run a marathon while smoking, make a realistic plan based on your starting point. Get a solid foundation of voice-over technique, and never think that you are the one exception in voice-over history who doesn't need an ounce of help. Ostensibly, you are scaling back your efforts, but what you are actually doing is preparing yourself to succeed in voice-over work in the long run ... get it, get it?!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Making Your Task List Work for You

I am a huge fan of lists. I make lists for everything, both at work and at home. If it weren't for lists, I would probably spend more time than is healthy for someone my age trying to remember a brilliant marketing idea I came up with or the important errand I had to run, which was time-sensitive for some reason ...

It is safe to say that I'm at least 20% more productive because I make lists for everything. Not only does it keep me on track to accomplish my voice-over work, but putting my ideas on paper keeps them from bouncing around my head at night when I'd rather be sleeping.

This may seem pretty basic, and maybe you're even wondering what this has to do with voice-overs. If you're new to the voice-over industry, you might be surprised by how much organizational work voice-overs requires. As a voice-over artist, you are always juggling multiple balls at once: clients to follow up with, new contacts to make, quarterly newsletters to write up, not to mention your voice-over jobs, recording and editing, and voice-over technique to practice. And that's assuming you don't have a computer glitch or tech malfunction. The key to keeping track of everything is to make lists!

Make sure your list works for you. If you aren't a list-maker by nature, it might stress you out the first time to see exactly how much work you have yet to do. It's OK -- go ahead and label this your "Stress List".

Pull items fro your Stress List to make your actual Task List, and consider how much time you'll need to accomplish each item. Some things I know will take a few days to accomplish, so I like to throw in a few easy tasks that I know I'll be able to get done right away. At the risk of sounding anal-retentive, it sure feels nice to strike something off that list, even if it was a simple task!

In order meet all of your self-scheduled deadlines, make sure to work
backwards from your due date. If you want to complete a project by the end of the weekend, work backwards from that due date and figure out how to accomplish your goal. By doing so, you will have effectively taken a large task and broken it up into manageable chunks of time, and you're much more likely to get it done!

Do you have other methods that work for you? Let's hear 'em -- we're all about efficiency here!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Young Man & The Sea: How To Survive in International Waters

-By: Taji

Consider if you will this new world we live in, where communication is close to instantaneous, and one can work for years with someone without ever meeting them. The world is still suffering in the wake of the last financial crisis. A few people have come to the conclusion that if we are to survive the tsunami that passed, we must establish something that will survive the tempest ahead.

This article will contain some references to religion and politics. So if either these subjects offend you... please read on.

What wisdom is this?

As a Muslim (one who follows the religion of Islam) there is a tradition (saying) of the Prophet Muhammad that has always helped ease my worries when it comes to financial woes.

The Prophet said: Do not worry about starving to death. Instead, look to the bird who leaves his nest everyday with nothing and is able to feed itself and its chicks by the will of its Creator.

That saying goes well with the concept of bounty in Islam. Subsistence (rizq) and the wealth that God has, which he will give you, have been predetermined. So, if all the wealth that you will ever collect in your lifetime is predetermined, that means a number of things:

1. That the job that you really wanted and got. That was meant for you. No one would have ever gotten it but you because it is your destiny to hold that position.

2. That fact that the wealth you will get is predetermined does not mean that you sit at home and just wait for the money to come knocking at your door. That's not how it works. You work and you make money and that money that you made was predetermined to be yours.

3. Never forget that there are things more important than money... like family. Work to Live; don't Live To work.

I mention this tradition as a prelude to the article because between the lines and intertwined within the words of this article is the strong belief that your wealth is there if you earn it.

Swimming in International Waters

It takes a long time to build an empire that lasts. That is how I see things. I hope my voiceover business lasts a long time so that I can enjoy working in it for more than just the hours after my day job.

I am not a full-time voiceover actor. I wish I were. I think that this business has the potential to be more than just a great side job, and I am working to build it as a brilliant career to make my empire last.

For those who don't know who I am: My name is Mahmoud Taji. I am an Arabic Language voiceover talent based in Cairo, Egypt. I also run a voiceover business out of my home studio here in the land of the pharaohs, and although some aspects have proven to be challenging, I have been able to successfully forge some fruitful relationships with voiceover casting agencies worldwide.

So what is the secret to swimming in International waters?

Plan Ahead

If you were going on a trip to a foreign country... you'd go online and take a look at reviews of the more famous sites. You'd see what the most economical way to get around is, and what the traditions are in that country... like when in Turkey, don't blow your nose in public!

If, on the other hand, you are planning to do business with a foreign company then you will need to educate yourself in the business traditions of that country. Find out what the norms are when it comes to talking about payment, deadlines, or what the etiquette is during telephone conferences.

As for myself, I've worked in 3 different continents: Africa, North America & The Far East. Each is very different from the other, and in each area I was looked at differently (whether due to my ethnicity or people's perceptions of who I am, etc.).

To run a successful business that caters to an international market, you have to be aware of how to speak to people. I can't teach you how to do that. In my case, I have just absorbed the differences between the different markets and automatically adjusted my speaking tone to the different nationalities. I suggest that you read as much as you can about foreign business markets before even considering contacting them. It could prove to be of great benefit. Respecting their views and traditions will help streamline your business and endear you to these business partners (as well as make you a better human being).

A Lasting Foundation

Once you have decided on a business plan, you need to then decide on how much you need to invest into representing yourself online.


Website

If potential business partners have a means to get more details on you, then in this day and age the only logical place for them to go is your website.

First impressions are everything. If your website looks like rubbish to them... then you are rubbish. If you are not interested in maintaining your global image by keeping your website updated and enticing ... then you might as well just forget about catering to the global client.


P2Ps

That stands for Pay to Plays. Those are websites like Voice123.com and Voices.com that list you in their directory and send you job leads daily. For me, the P2Ps leads have never really panned out. What has worked for me though is their brilliant SEO (search engine optimization). Why reinvent the wheel? If they already have a website with great SEO (high visibility on search engines) then you don't have to really waste your time and money trying to match your personal website's SEO to theirs. Don't get me wrong... you need a little of it in there... so for God's sake don't commission an all FLASH website since the SEO for flash is almost nonexistent.

What I mean is, use the P2P websites as a gateway for clients to come to your personal site. That means that your budget will have to include at least $500 for the $200 preferred membership with Voices.com and $300 for the standard membership with Voice123.com.

Like I said you might not get that many jobs off the sites... but your profile page on their sites can easily filter some real clients to your personal site... and then to you.

Social Network Sites

Sure, you might want to Tweet about your services and maybe eventually someone will contact you about a job through your Facebook page or your LinkedIn page. Personally, I use social networking websites to get to know other voiceover talent around the world. I am a strong believer in the "Pay It Forward" ethic, and I don't mind helping 20 or 30 people and never hearing from them again. But one of these people will remember you, and one day when you least expect it your Rizq (refer above for what that means) will catch up with you and the person you helped out last year will be asked by a casting agency if they happen to know an Arabic Voiceover actor. They might just remember you.

Taji's Voiceover Casting Directory

I did mention that I'm a big fan of the "Pay It Forward" ethic right? Which is why I setup a directory on my blog that has 230+ links to voiceover casting websites worldwide. Not all these companies I listed were interested in adding me to their roster of voiceover talent. They might have already had a resident Arabic voiceover guy that they're quite happy with. That doesn't matter... because the directory is there for everyone. Use it to plan your takeover of the international voiceover market and then when you have done so... pay it forward.

Many Hooks, One Boat

If you take anything out of this article then take this: Be smart. Don't go quit your job and sit at home scratching your head trying to figure out how to "Break Into" the international voiceover market. Instead, understand that you have to first get the ball rolling ... and then when it's time... and the snowball is big enough... hold on for dear life.

Part of being smart is putting out as many hooks into the international waters as possible. The more hooks, the better. Keep your day job, and keep fishing. Follow up with those who don't mind you following up (refer to what I said about international work ethics). Don't spam anyone with unwanted mail. Be polite and courteous and never... under any circumstances accept ridiculously low rates.

Payment Options

It doesn't matter how good I am at what I do. If clients cannot pay me then there is no point in even contacting them. Thankfully I was smart enough not to close my Paypal account when I left North America, which has allowed me to receive payments and be a far more appealing freelancer than the other Arabic speaking guy who doesn't have a Paypal account set up. Paypal not being available in Egypt is a political decision. Ironically, you can have a Paypal account in Saudi Arabia but not in Egypt. Go figure.

Another thing to keep in mind is currencies. Consider creating a rate card for different countries. If you are able to get in contact with a local voiceover talent (preferably specialized in another language) and asking them what the normal rates are, you can get a better idea of what is the accepted norm for voiceover work. But keep in mind that if you are offering a unique product (an uncommon language, for example), then you can probably keep your rates as is and not sell yourself short.

What Goes Around Comes Around

If you sit and do nothing... nothing will happen. If you go out and do everything... but that everything is not well thought out, then you might have been better off staying at home and not doing anything at all.

The world is your oyster, and being able to work for people thousands of miles away is no longer a problem. The problem now is... what are you going to do about it?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Marketing Tip of April: An Opinion on Second Opinions

People working in a creative industry tend to value their artistic style and interpretation. This goes for those in music, acting, voice-over work, and writing. What works for me may not be the next blogger's style, just as your interpretation of a voice-over script may differ from the next person's. While there are certain hard and fast rules to follow for any given genre, other rules can be tactfully bent or broken altogether.

When it comes to creating your professional website for your voice-over work, it is important to strike a balance of artistic license and straight-up information. Some of the best websites are the simplest, but this does not mean that you should sacrifice your image for the sake of a professional-and-nothing-more website. Just the opposite! The best voice-over website design will be centered around your personal branding and logo design. The font and colors should be consistent across your social media sites and business cards. Redundancy will make your brand more memorable. If you have no background in website design or content management, creating your website may be fun and challenging at the same time.

That being said, ask for feedback on your website from people whose opinions you trust. One of the benefits of going through the Such A Voice Master Program is that you have your fellow voice-over artists to stay in touch with for help, questions, and feedback. It is up to you to determine whether the advice you get is "stylistic differences," or if their suggestions will genuinely make your website more navigable or interesting. Remember: the point of having a website for your voice-over business is to provide potential clients with information. If they have to hunt down your demos or can't find your contact information, you aren't doing yourself any favors by being "unique" in your design.

Getting a second opinion on your website layout and design can save you from making a common sense error, too. A lot of times when you design something (or write, play, compose, etc.) you can't see the forest for the trees. That's why movies and plays have producers, writers have copy editors, and voice-over actors have friends!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Technique Tip of the Month: Mess It Up, Then Get It Right!

For years I trained in classical flute. Anyone who has ever played a musical instrument knows how frustrating it can be when you hear how something should be played in your head -- the notes, the rhythm, the volume, articulation, but you just can't play it as it appears on the page. You keep stumbling over it, missing the same notes or timing again and again. One day at my flute lesson, I stumbled into one of these road blocks in the middle of a complicated run, and it was clear that I was getting frustrated with myself. My teacher stopped me as I was about to try it again and told me that this time I should make sure I mess it up.

Mess it up? Wasn't that what I had been doing -- wasn't that the problem? She told me to intentionally mess it up, let myself mess it up. She knew that by allowing myself to butcher the music, I wouldn't put the unnecessary pressure on myself to play it right the next time. Oddly enough, that bar was very easy after messing it up on purpose a couple times!

Voice-overs are just the same! Especially when you are starting out as a new voice-over talent, it can be difficult to produce your "natural" sound when you're busy thinking about what words to emphasize, not duplicating the rhythm in each sentence, billboarding, and enunciating the words clearly. Voice-over work, just like playing flute, takes hours of practice practice practice. The good news is that you can have faith that you will get better with practice. One of the more rewarding benefits of recording practice reads is that you will be able to hear yourself make progress with each read!

When you do hit a stumbling block -- whether it's a tongue-twister of a script, or you just don't sound like you think you should, try messing up on purpose. It can actually be fun to take a voice-over job and read it as if you're doing a caricature of the part you are reading for. You may even discover that your phony version actually nails the sound you were going for to begin with. Over-acting a part can sometimes reveal that the reason you weren't getting it right to begin with is because you were under doing it.

Messing up all the time can certainly damage your ego, but being comfortable with messing up will alleviate the pressure to get it right the first time. Sometimes it takes messing it up royally to finally get it right!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Congratulations to the Talent of the Month: K. Farrar!

K. Farrar joined the Such A Voice's Master Program in February 2009, after her state job was dissolved during the recession. Looking to get into a more creative career, she thought she would love working in voice-overs because, as she says, "I announce everything... It's natural for me!"

In the short year that has passed since graduating the program, K. Ferrar has successfully marketed herself in several different genres of voice-over work. Without a doubt, one reason that makes K. the go-to woman for voice-overs in her area is because she has mastered Pro Tools so well. Because she is able to professionally record, edit, master, and add creative effects with precision, K. can focus more of her attention on nailing voice-over techniques for the range of projects that she works on.

K. Ferrar owns her own studio, which she mainly uses for her band, Bloodline Music Group. Her other projects include voice-overs for commercials and creative, short promos for up-coming events. She lends her voice to advertise concerts, celebrations, artists, and books for the radio station she works at. Not only does K. do professional singing, audio recording, producing, voice-over narration and commercial voice-over jobs, but she also writes her own copy for clients at the radio station she works at, WAUQ in Richmond, Virginia.

K. loves the flexibility and creativity of each voice-over job. When asked what area she spends the most time on, she says her niche is commercials for radio and creative promotions, which are her "bread and butter" right now. K. has also proven herself as a whiz in marketing, and she gets most of her voice-over jobs now from word of mouth, repeat customers, or from Facebook. Her advice to new voice-over artists? "Offer free work to build your portfolio in various genres, and then clients will want to pay you for more work!"

Keep up the good work, K!

You can connect with K. Farrar at:
www.BloodlineMusicGroup.com
www.BAMMStudios.com
www.MySpace.Com/BloodlineMinister
www.MySpace.Com/BloodlineMusicGroup

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools'! ... No, Seriously.

Instead of playing a prank on all of you this April Fools' Day, let's celebrate this made-up holiday by remembering all the zany voice-over jobs you've experienced! Here are a few real stories from professional voice-over artists about odd requests, bizarre payment methods, or hilarious first gigs!

What would you do if you were handed a part for a
lobster? David Seys had to channel the character moments before the ISDN session with no direction from the client as to what they were looking for! He never heard back from the client, of course, but it was approved for a computer game and he was paid. Good clacking claws, David!



Oh, and he can also be contacted for all of your gnome voice-over needs.

Think you have what it takes to make it as a yodeler? Joe Thomas won this voice-over job by entering a competition with Archie McPhee. He can be heard on three products, the first of which was a remote-controlled, yodeling, Hopping Lederhosen. The next logical step was, of course, to market yodeling pickles, which were even featured on the Today Show with Cathy Lee. After that, the sky is the limit! Did I mention he was paid 100 Deluxe Rubber Chickens for the work?

Getting a call from Hallmark is a big deal -- especially if they want you for the next "laughing Santa" for their line of Christmas ornaments! Dan Hurst agonized over what a laughing Santa should sound like and sent in 3 very different takes of "Ho Ho Ho!"s and "Hee Hee Hee!"s. A whole three months later he was contacted to sign the release form. When he asked how they wanted the final project to go, they responded, "Uh, we already have what we need from you." If you have the 2002 Tickle Tickle Santa Christmas ornament, then you're listening to three very different versions of Dan!



Every voice-over actor has a right to get psyched for their first gig. On Shane Elsberry's first day at Birmingham, Alabama's Magic 96.5 radio station, his producer asked him to do his first commercial spot. Not wanting to act like a diva on his new job, did his best to hold it together in the recording booth while he talked about "prostate management" and "infrequent urination." An hour or so later, his producer played for him the final product, complete with background noises of flushing toilets and trickling water. Fortunately the final copy was a gag to welcome him to the gig, ... but the rest was really for a commercial.

Post your best April Fools' Day gag here and give us all a good laugh!