Thursday, July 29, 2010

Technique Tip of the Month: What's the [Back] Story, Morning Glory?

When working with a short commercial script or even reading a long narration piece, you don't have time as a voice talent to "develop" the character as you go along. Part of your pre-recording practice involves breaking down the script to figure out things, like: Who is your character? What is the point of the script? Who is the demographic you're trying to reach?

Whether you ascribe to method acting or not when it comes to voice overs, asking yourself what was going on the moment before the script begins can be a valuable tool to helping you get into character. Short scripts usually fall into two camps:

1) The character is easy to relate to and the problem or situation tends to be boiler-plate. If these voice jobs are your niche, you usually know what to do with it.

2) The script is so short or vague that you're not sure what to do with it! Sometimes copywriters don't flesh out their vision as well as they think do, and you're left wondering what they're looking for.

In the second scenario, imagining a back story can help you get into character and sound more natural.

Figure out where the script takes place, what your character was doing right before the script picks up, and who he/she is talking to.
Pick a scenario and commit to it. Then match your pitch, attitude, volume and energy to fit that situation. Your performance will probably become very natural after that.

Keep in mind that when you play it back, you may find your interpretation didn't actually make sense at all. That's OK! Tweak the back story and your character, but make sure to be specific with your interpretation. If you don't commit to a firm story or character, it will never sound quite right.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Insights from the Pro Tools Workshop!

This month we are showcasing our new Pro Tools Workshop that we started a couple of months ago, not knowing it would be so popular! In our efforts to provide our students with the three things they need to succeed in the voice-over industry (voice-over training, marketing skills, and the recording & editing chops), we scheduled Pro Tools Workshops all over the country to give students hours of hands-on learning with one of our best engineers from the Post Production department, Aaron Sullivan.

Faith Cripps, a student from our Boston workshop, says, "I found out about the Pro Tools Workshop in an email, and because it was being held through Such A Voice I knew they would teach me just the information I need to know about recording and editing voice overs -- and not a bunch of other information that I wouldn't care about or use."

Students are encouraged to bring their computers and gear to the Pro Tools Workshops in order to get hands-on experience through the entire weekend. For the first two hours, Aaron leads the whole group through a general tutorial on Pro Tools that covers the basics of recording, editing, mixing and bouncing voice jobs.

"Aaron was extremely knowledgeable and taught the class in language we could understand," Faith says. "He was open to any and all questions and was able to answer them without making me or anyone else feel like it was a stupid question."

After the general session, the class breaks up and Aaron works intensively with small groups of three or four students. Students learn to use Pro Tools effectively on their own equipment, learning by doing the recording and editing, as well as by observing while other voice talent.

"The best part of the whole thing was Aaron made it seem simple!" Faith says. "Prior to taking the workshop, I was so frustrated because I seemed to always run into some kind of problem while trying to learn Pro Tools on my own ... The skills I learned in that class are what make it possible for me to use my home studio. Prior to the class I had the equipment but didn't know how to use it. Now I can use my home studio to produce my own work and get it to the client. Things feel possible for me now and that is exciting!"

We suspect that Faith isn't the only voice-over artist who struggles with the technical component of being a professional voice actor! If you think you could benefit from the Pro Tools Workshops, please click here to find a city near you. Also, stay tuned for more dates and locations in the coming months!

Thanks for the feedback, Faith, and we look forward to hearing your work soon!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Marketing Tip of the Month: VO Meet-Ups!

A large aspect of marketing yourself as a voice actor involves networking. Networking not only with potential clients, but also with fellow voice actors. Forming and maintaining relationships with other voice-over artists is important for both your career and for your sanity!

One of the few drawbacks of doing voice over full time is that you get used to spending time alone. Lots and lots of time in a small, padded cell -- er, room.

Meeting with other voice actors will give you the opportunity to learn and grow from another person's experiences, ask for advice, and hopefully get honest feedback on your voice-over technique. In the right setting, a casual group could be the most affordable voice over training out there!

One such voice over group is the Orange County VO Peeps Meet-Up, which started out as a small group of classmates from a local voice over workshop. Anne Ganguzza organizes the group that meets bi-monthly, and it's as informal as a potluck with a group of friends with a common interest.

"Our group welcomes all talents, from beginners to advanced professionals in the industry," says Anne Ganguzza. "We strive to educate, motivate, and inspire -- hopefully helping members achieve their career goals and go out and get as many voice over jobs as possible!"

So far, the group of 23 members of varying backgrounds and levels of experience bring a dish to share, and they take turns reading copy and giving each other feedback as if the script were an actual voice over job. They even featured a special guest, Tim Keenan from Creative Media Recording to give them tips on reading corporate narration copy.

The group has set topics to talk about in the up-coming months as well. On the agenda is everything from marketing to finances, editing auditions to bidding, and writing business plans to working with VO agents.

One member, Eila Ulyett says of the group, "As a newcomer to the group and having attended just one event, I have to say how much it helped to encourage and motivate me. As we all work independently and alone in our recording worlds, it's great to have a group of like minded people who understand the problems we face as we build our vo careers. Without doubt Anne's enthusiasm and professionalism is motivational in itself."

While Meet-Up groups can be great for voice-over artists, they aren't a substitute for traditional voice-over training. Meet-Up groups tend to lend wonderful follow-up support and guidance, as the group can certainly become greater than the sum of the parts!

If you are living in Orange County, CA and would like to check out the group, please contact Anne at: info@annespeak.com

**Special thanks to Anne and all the fabulous VO members who contributed comments and testimonials!**

G4QXRVAFPWZU

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Watermarking Your VO Auditions

Today's blog post is inspired by a great question that was posted on Such A Voice's Facebook page about watermarking auditions that you post on directories such as Voices.com and Voice123.com.

A watermark in the audio world refers to a second audio file that is laid over the voice over to protect it from being used by a naughty client who wants to use your talent without paying for it. An example of a watermark for a commercial you audition for might just be a ding every few seconds that doesn't obscure the quality of your sound but would prevent the client from using the whole script without you knowing it. Another common method would be to insert, "This is just a demo by Jane Smith," after 15-20 seconds of a full script audition.

Although watermarking can protect your voice over jobs, it's not advisable to watermark every audition. Especially if you are working with a well-known client or someone you have worked with in the past, watermarking an audition could be interpreted by the client that you are distrustful of them. They might pass up your great audition that was watermarked because, "What, did he think I was really going to use his voice over without paying for it?"

The risk of having a dishonest client rip off your work (and hard-earned voice-over training!) often doesn't out-weigh the risk of offending a potential client. Good working relationships are vital to your success in this industry.

So, when is it a good idea to watermark your work?

It depends. As a professional voice-over artist, it is up to you to use your own good judgment. Instances that you might consider watermarking your audition could include:
  • An over-seas client you aren't familiar with;
  • A new client you haven't heard of who would like the entire script read for the audition; or,
  • An "unknown" client or project that was posted through a questionable venue. (I love craigslist.com, but anyone can post jobs there with any goal in mind.)
One good thing about the highly globalized world we live in today is that it's easy to network with voice-over artists all over the world. If a client treats you badly, you have the option to let the world know through social media. If someone is trying to scam you, it's also easy to get that information out there to protect future victims. (Ref., the Sleazy Sneeze Guy.)

What's your take on watermarking your auditions? Post them here for discussion!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

5 Habits of Highly Successful VO Actors

If someone doesn't succeed in the voice-over industry, chances are the person neglected one of the three legs of the stool that a successful voiceover artist relies on:
voice-over training, marketing, technical ability. If one of those three legs is shorter -- or non-existent, the stool will topple, taking the would-be voice talent with it.

There are, however, common habits and attitudes that professional voice talents share. See if this sounds like you --or if it sounds like your voice-over career could benefit from doing these:

1.
Never stop learning. Successful voice-over artists are constantly working on their technique through auditioning for voice over jobs, spending hours practicing, reading a book or blog, or taking a lesson. Embrace new technology, and stay on top of marketing trends.

2.
Never settle for mediocrity. A job is not done until it's perfect, even if it is late and you want to get to bed! Professionals aim for perfection in each recording, editing session, and communication they have with clients. If the client isn't thrilled with your voice-over job, then neither should you be.

3.
Always be fair with pricing. It is fair to expect the industry standard payment from a client for a given project, but don't take advantage of the client either. Be reasonable with late payment fees on the rare occasion that a client doesn't pay for your voice-over work in a timely fashion.

4.
Maintain sincere relationships with clients. The problem with a sales pitch is, well ... it sounds sales pitchy. Regardless of whether you're the client or the employer, everyone wants to do business with someone genuine. Be your professional self from the get-go, and send quarterly voice over newsletters or hand-written notes to stay in touch.

5.
Love what you do! Love it, and have fun with it! If you don't love it from the get-go, you might want to re-think your career path. Never lose your faith in your ability to achieve, as long as you are putting in the hard work.

Does this sound like you? What other habits do you have that contribute to your success?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Acoustic Treatment and Sound Proofing

Setting up your professional voice over home recording studio can feel like an impossible feat. Nearly every single house has at least one unique challenge: from noise up/downstairs to cars driving by, air conditioner vents to plumbing sounds, not to mention the ordinary conundrum of how and where to set up.

As you do your research, you'll hear two terms pop up quite frequently: acoustic treatment and sound proofing. What does this mean?

Acoustic treatment is used to:

1) To prevent standing waves and acoustic interference from affecting the sound of the recording studio;

2) To reduce the "echo" sound in small rooms and to lower the reverb time in larger studios, churches, and auditoriums;

3) To absorb or diffuse sound in the room to avoid ringing and flutter echoes, and improve stereo imaging; and,

4) To keep sound from leaking into or out of a room. Meaning, keep your voice over jobs inside the booth, and keep the passing trucks outside your studio!

The acoustics of your home recording studio will affect both your recording and the sound going in and out of your studio. Despite all your voice over training, there is no way to make a bad recording sound great in post production if the acoustics aren't up to par.

If you need help sound proofing your home recording studio, you should know that there are only three things that effectively stop noise:

1. Space -- a commodity that most voice-over actors don't have a lot of! Simply put, the further away you are from the source of a sound, the softer you'll perceive the sound to be.

2. Mass -- a solid thick wall of concrete that is six feet deep will stop just about all sounds! Again, that's not something that is realistic for most people's home recording studios, but it is certainly something to think about when you are looking potential rooms as a recording studio.

3. Dampening -- a way to absorb the noise by stopping the reverberation and reflections. Voice-over artist can effectively reduce noise by using household items, such as carpets, blankets, sleeping bags, and mattresses. Check out how professional voice-over artists record on the road!

One challenge of becoming a professional voice actor is figuring out the home recording studio. Don't let this task daunt you! Figuring out your studio is a learning process of trial and error, but the payoff of getting your professional studio up and running is well worth your efforts!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Technique Tip of the Month: "What?"

Every voice actor will at one point or another hit a wall while recording a voice-over. A place where the energy doesn't deliver, where you just sound dull and monotone.

If you dream of getting to a place in your voice-over career where you are so good at voiceovers that you only have to do one take to get it perfect, then keep dreaming. I have never met a voice actor who can do that, despite having years of voice-over training and professional experience!

Knowing that this will happen, the key is to keep a bag of tricks on hand that can pull the energy out of your voice when you yourself have none. Such A Voice Coach & Producer Jody Petersen's answer to this dilemma is, "What?"

This voice-over technique works wonders if you are having trouble nailing the billboard. Let's say that you landed an LG voice over job, and you're having an off day -- for some reason you're having trouble hitting "LG: Life's Good."

Instead of getting frustrated and banging your head against the wall, try voicing the script and the billboard, followed by "What?" and then voice the billboard again. So it will go like this:

"blah blah blah. LG: Life's Good.
What? LG: Life's Good."

Nine time out of ten, the second time you read "LG: Life's Good" you will deliver the goods! Just make sure to edit out "What?" after you get your good take.

Talent of the Month: Mike Markham

"I believe God blessed me with the voice to do it and He expects me to follow through."

Congratulations to Mike Markham, our Talent of the Month of July!

Like most other voice-over artists, Mike enjoys the freedom that comes with being a professional voice actor. The lack of a rigid schedule doesn't mean that he's not hard at work -- actually, Mike has hit the ground running as a full-time voice actor since he participated in a Vermont Master Program in September, 2009.

"The best part of my voice over training was learning to break down copy," say Mike. "Although I have a good voice, I needed to be taught the technique of script analysis, which Brian Thon was great at!"

Mike has found that his voice works well for "informational" voice over jobs, and he has already established his niche. Since graduating from the Master Program, Mike has been the Master of Ceremonies for the 2010 World Women's Military Volleyball Championships, voiced a narration project for the United States Marine Corps Hall of Fame, and even worked as a PA announcer for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights Minor League baseball team where he lives in North Carolina.

As Mike sees it, the most important components of his marketing plan are his website and branding. His business cards and stationary were professionally designed by Artist Upgrade, and he knows that a lot of his present success comes from investing in his professional image from the very beginning.

His advice for new voice-over actors?

1. Practice. Even if you're not great now, you WILL get better by working at it.
2. Figure out what you bring to the table as a VO artist and build a brand around that with a great website and other marketing materials that match.

3. Always market yourself with confidence and honesty and do so as if you were a seasoned professional. You're not a new voiceover artist or an up-and-coming voiceover artist ... You're simply a voiceover artist, and you don't need to sell yourself short or apologize for stepping up and taking a seat at the table!


We couldn't have said it better ourselves! Congratulations, Mike, and we look forward to hearing more of your successes!

Mike Markham

mike@mikemarkham.com

Voices.com Profile

www.mikemarkham.com

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513642500

http://twitter.com/MikeTheVoice

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Insights from the Mentor Program: Harold Graham

"In my lifetime of 68 years, I've had hundreds of people say to me, 'Gee, you've got a great voice. You ought to be on the radio.' and I agreed!" -- Harold Graham, Mentor Program Student with Brian Thon

Harold had never had any voice-over training, but in grade school he did play the part of a radio announcer, Ted Graham. He loved doing it, but never considered going into radio -- and at the time, voice-over classes were unheard of.

Flash forward fifty-some-odd years, and Harold is still being told he should get into voice over work! After a meeting last year, a woman approached him and asked if he was on the radio. Another man next to him said, "I've been in the audio/visual business for twenty-five years, and trust me -- you should be getting paid for your voice!" The man forwarded Harold a couple websites to help him get started, including the Such A Voice website.

After completing the Master Program in December, Harold quickly set up profiles on Voices.com and Voice123.com. His son was also able to put his website together, and his daughter introduced him to a Pro Tools pro who spent a few hours helping him out.

Harold's marketing plan was still lacking, which is why he signed up for the Mentor Program with Voice-Over Coach & Producer Brian Thon. Brian helped him through various challenges: cutting 33 seconds down to a 30-second spot, giving him advice on negotiating a voice-over contract, and even giving him tips on nabbing an acting gig!

When Harold wasn't sure if he was being offered enough money for his first voiceover job, Brian put it in perspective and asked, "How much would you make by not doing it?" He did it, got paid, and now feels more comfortable asking for the industry standard rate.

"Brian reminded me that having a voice for the business doesn't mean you're going to get work," Harold says. "He helped me find my edge -- and some of Brian's sharpness is starting to rub off on me, too!"