What Makes You Stand Out As A Voice Over, by Kate McClanaghan

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At first blush, you might think voiceover is all about the ability to parrot famous stars, create cartoony characters at a moment’s notice, and authentically mimic any accent under the sun. And while these skills are certainly useful to us as actors and might be asked of us from time to time, it may surprise you to learn that they’re not the primary skills necessary to keep you steadily employed as a voice talent.

It’s ironic most of us spend a solid six years or more training to “become someone else” as actors, and the primary thing asked of us is to just be ourselves.

Or maybe you thought being a voiceover was solely dependent on having an exceptionally mellifluous voice that cooed each commercial, narration and announcement.

Well, it wouldn’t hurt, but to be honest, there are at least 7 things that make you stand out as a voiceover.

#1. The ability to be yourself. You being you is the most desirable thing you can be. You’re the only one of YOU! Bring it! Everything on the page should sound like it just occurred to you, rather than the client putting words in your mouth. Certainly your ability to assume a believable point-of-view that may be a dramatic departure from your own is the job of every professional actor. Most often with all affectations, accents, dialects, and heightened realities aside.

#2. Proper training. You’re expected to consistently deliver dynamic choices. If you’re not working your performance muscle, it’s going to atrophy, which means you won’t be ready at a moment’s notice. Training consists of proper conditioning. It’s imperative you maintain a steady diet of supportive, honest, challenging training. Work with people that are better than you. A LOT better than you. People you admire and trust. You must learn to self-direct.  This is a keystone to our training at SOUND ADVICE, because it’s unlikely you’ll get much direction at all, especially considering so many voiceover auditions are done from home on your own. Besides, no one can direct you if you can’t direct yourself.

#3. The ability to offer options. You’re capable of a limitless number of amazing takes. If you sound like a broken record on every project, no amount of direction will be able to chip you out of marble. No one is interested in hiring a robot. You’re paid to have a pulse! Master Improvisation to build your ability to think on your feet and stoke your imagination.

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A recent article in the L.A. Times about how voicing video games can potentially be damaging to vocal cords, by Tyler Hersko

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Those blood-curdling screams you hear in video games might be causing voice actors permanent damage, union says.

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing actors and other performers in Hollywood, recently asked the state of California to open an investigation into allegedly unsafe vocal recording sessions held by companies in the video game industry.

In a letter sent to the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health on May 25, SAG-AFTRA said that long hours, coupled with the need to record loud and strenuous noises such as violent screaming and inhuman voices, were damaging the vocal cords of its members.

David White, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director, sent the letter to Cal/OSHA regional manager Hassan Adan after collecting months of feedback from the union’s members. SAG-AFTRA began reaching out to the agency in early February after receiving a strong response from its members concerning unsafe voice acting practices in video games.

According to the union, its members have suffered from issues including cysts, polyps and cord hemorrhaging. SAG-AFTRA warned that the practices would cause permanent and “career-ending” changes in vocal quality or complete vocal cord paralysis.

White added that the union’s members were given insufficient time to warm up their voices and, in some cases, were given special candies to stop the actors from feeling the damage they were inflicting on their vocal cords.

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To Be or Not To Be a Voiceover, by Kate McClanaghan

One sign reads 'Come over here'. The other reads 'How?'.

Let’s say, hypothetically, you come from a business background and always wanted to transition to voiceover. Let’s say you’ve been doing a bit of “fact finding” and finding a lot of contradictory information about this business. Not the least of which, will any one tell you honestly if you can cut it as a voiceover?

Careful what you wish for. There are plenty of people of varying degrees of expertise who are more than happy to quickly tell you “you can’t”—sight unseen, without ever testing your mettle.

What you really need to know is whether you’re applying yourself or not. You need to know what you should be doing and how to apply yourself in nearly any situation in this field. That’s proper coaching, provided the experienced source offering the advice is offering more than just their subjective opinion.

Ideally, your coach/demo producer is in this industry for the long haul and you are too. But, if you’re asking, “Will you tell me whether or not I can join this very exclusive club called voiceover?” then maybe you need to ask yourself something else, such as, “Do I want to be in this industry?” Because NO ONE has the right to tell you whether you can or cannot have a career in this business—or any other for that matter! It’s elitist. And, to be perfectly honest, you don’t have to take that form of browbeating from anyone. Ever.

Granted, a great many people are not all that forthcoming with information in this industry, and hold their cards very tight to their chest. It could be that they’re afraid you may discover how little they actually know about the subject. Or maybe they view you as a threat to their livelihood. Perhaps they’re laboring under the misconception that there is “not enough quality work to go around” and you might cut in on their business. To add to this, what if you know something they don’t?  What then?

Frankly, there’s plenty of room in this industry for everyone—provided you’re trained and make yourself available to the work. In fact, there’s been more than a 2000 percent increase in the amount of voiceover being produced annually than there has been in the last two years. This can be attributed to the rapid expansion and consolidation of media through Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, cable, network, Internet, interactive games, ADR (looping), animation, commercial and corporate/industrial, e-Learning, and various forms of new media. This explosion of media has become commonplace in today’s entertainment industry—all of which require voiceover of some capacity or another. To add to this, the demand for corporate presentations and the necessity of continually updating various content, in order to effectively and professionally forward brand message and represent various industries on multiple platforms, has become a given. They all require professional voice talent who are trained, reliable and available to deliver their best in order to properly embody a successful vocal brand.

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What To Do When You’re Under The Weather, By Kate McClanaghan, www.voiceoverinfo.com

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As a voice talent, as an actor, maintaining your health can be a real challenge, especially when a variety of stronger than average cold and flu strains are circulating. We’re all susceptible to catching something that can put your voice and overall health at risk for up to two months or more after a simple trip to the local Supermarket, or an afternoon at the movie theatre. If you’re in contact with the public, you’re exposed.

If you feel you’re coming down with something, please don’t hesitate to see your doctor to ensure you’re not putting others at risk. We often think we have a cold, when in fact we have the flu. Whether you have a cold or the flu you’re generally only contagious within the first 24 to 48 hours. Here’s a link to help you distinguish the difference between the two ailments: http://goo.gl/GnWi08. A cold generally lasts only a week or two, while the flu can lasts 6 to 8 weeks or more.

Voice actors are most concerned with losing their voice by coming down with laryngitis, which seldom, if ever, is contagious. However, if your laryngitis is coupled with bronchitis, it can be contagious, so again-see your doctor as soon as possible to spare others, to save your voice, and to shorten the duration of your illness.

If you do have the flu, a dry, unproductive cough typically accompanies the chills, body aches, and a fever that turns on and off a few days at a time. The flu comes on very quickly and without warning. You can probably narrow it down to the very moment you got sick, but a cold can be a bit more gradual.

Beyond getting more rest, managing your symptoms with natural remedies can help avert added downtime that may keep you from bookings and performing at your best. I’ve found the following natural remedies to be particularly successful in lessen the discomfort of colds, allergies, and the flu alike.

Emergen-C is half the solution I refer to as my “flu bomb.” If you find yourself coming down with something, empty your favorite flavor Emergen-C (I prefer Tropical or Raspberry) and an orange Airborne into the same glass. Add water, hot or cold. Allow the ingredients to dissolve completely, then drink the entire contents. It tastes great and, if you caught the illness within the first 48 hours of your initial symptoms, you could very well prevent coming down with a cold. (At the very least, the duration of whatever is trying to take over will run its course in a fraction of the time you might ever expect.)

Follow-up is key. Be sure to repeat this “flu bomb” formula at least once more before you go to bed, and continue this regimen twice a day for two to three days. Then follow with one “flu bomb” a day for the remainder of a solid week-EVEN if you feel better. This tends to work well for allergies as well in many people.

If you find you have a cough, as simple as it sounds, at least 3 to 4 tablespoons of honey in a mug of hot water suppresses and soothes what ails you. Add a slice of lemon as you see fit. (Personally, I found the honey alone did the most good for me, but to each his own.)

Zinc dries you up when you need it, while vitamin C has the opposite effect. C allows your sinuses to open up and self-moisturize when your eyes, throat, and sinuses are too dry. If your eyes and/or nose are runny, try 50 to 60 mgs of zinc. In most (minor) cases, this will help you to get through an hour-long recording session, for example, without incident. Nothing shy of miraculous here. Again, if you have allergies, zinc can handle a world of woes.

In a nutshell, if you honestly don’t feel well, and you’re convinced you won’t be able to recreate what you did from your initial audition, or your auditions aren’t up to your standard professional abilities, then do the responsible thing, and book out with your agents. If you start to feel under the weather, pay close attention to your symptoms and see a doctor. Take care of yourself, get lots of rest, and do your best to stay healthy. It’s the professional thing to do.

Copyright © 2016 by Kate McClanaghan, Inc., All Rights Reserved.

Getting Paid, by Rachel Fulginiti

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This week I received a delightful and unexpected gift. I got paid for a job I thought I’d gotten burned on. Let me backtrack. My business is divided into two parts. There’s the agented side of things: I audition for jobs with my agent (s) either at home, in their office or at casting places and when I book a job they send me to the studio. These are the “Cadillac Jobs”. Kushy and smooth. I am just a voice for hire. I go into an awesome studio, record for a half hour and then get a check sent to me a while later. No engineering, no invoicing, no call for pickups, (unless there’s another paycheck attached!); it’s pretty sweet.

But to make it as a VO in this day and age, you pretty much also have to have a home-based business, as well. On this side of things, I am not only the “talent”, but also the engineer, as well as the accountant and office manager. Most times, I am also the director and sometimes the producer. Jobs come to me through referrals from past clients, online sites, or by people finding my website.  Someone contacts me about a project, I provide a quote and tell them my policies, they send me a finalized script and I record it, either with them on the line or on my own depending on their preference. Then they may come back to me with one round of pickups. After that the job is usually (hopefully) just another good memory. Next. I fondly refer to these jobs (privately!) as “turn and burn”. No disrespect, they’re great. I get paid, complete the job quickly and it’s wrapped up nice and tidy with no unnecessary time and energy lingering. Everyone’s happy.

To this end, I always ask for payment up front, especially the first time I work with a client. I didn’t always do that, but I learned the hard way. Many times, clients seem to magically disappear after they get what they need, and understandably so; they are typically on tight deadlines and still have post production ahead of them. A few times I was stiffed completely. More often, I would eventually get paid, but it might take months and months…and that meant months and months of me following up with them, sending gentle reminders, more terse reminders…you get the idea. The whole process was a hassle, uncomfortable for me, a time suck and just plain not fun. So, I decided to adopt a policy that was in place at a corporate job I had years ago.

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Alan Rickman: It’s not all about his voice, by Edge Studio

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With the recent passing of the actor Alan Rickman, much has been made of his voice. Which is more than the vocal department at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art said he would make of it. Many years later, he told an interviewer that his voice had been “heavily criticized.” In fact, Rickman described one teacher as saying, “Alan, you sound as if your voice is coming out of the back end of a drain pipe.” So it would be tempting to make this article about pursuing your dream, never giving up, and not heeding the opinion of even a prestigious drama school.

But would that be wise?

Yes, and no.

No, in that if three people tell you you’re drunk, you should at least consider switching to soda, and if qualified professionals suggest you should consider a different line of work, maybe you should at least reconsider your game plan.

But we note that Rickman did not say his teachers discouraged him from acting. And his voice has been described more lately as seeming like a cello.

So there’s the “yes.” In fact, many a “yes.” Rickman’s acting career provides a wealth of examples to inspire the growing voiceover artist.

To begin with, Rickman started relatively late for an actor. Although he had been interested in acting as a youth, professionally he first tried his hand at graphic design, figuring it would provide a more dependable income. It didn’t, so in his mid-twenties, he got himself accepted by the Royal Academy. Then he spent a dozen years on the boards and British TV repertory.

It was soon apparent that Rickman had more going for him than his voice. It wasn’t just the voice, it was how he used it. That’s another valuable lesson to heed.

For example, in Rickman’s first movie role (in “Die Hard”), he not only ranged through that German-who-learned-English-in-England accent, it was his idea to connivingly switch to American. Rickman also offered (or maybe “insisted on” would be more accurate) certain creative views as to his character’s actions, revealing his judgment and ability as a director. (He went on to direct and teach, including here in New York City at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.) Throughout his career, from the first days in repertory, through to the end, he showed range and versatility in both drama and comedy.

And, as many have noted by now, Alan Rickman showed how he could use that voice. (Including off-camera; he voiced the depressed robot in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and the Blue Caterpillar in “Alice through the Looking Glass,” an animated film not yet released.)

Many obits have mentioned that in 2008, a scholarly study found that Alan Rickman had the “perfect male voice.” Well, yes and no to that, too.

The study was commissioned by Post Office®, the British government-owned entity providing retail mail, financial, telephony and other services. Why on earth were they investigating the perfect voice?

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The Biggest Misconceptions About Voiceover Demos, by Kate McClanaghan

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A voiceover demo, by definition, is a professional demonstration of what you do best and what you want more of. Yet many well-meaning, even experienced talent fall prey to the following misconceptions regarding what should be included on your voiceover demos.

  1. “My make-shift demo oughta hold me for a while until I start working steady—then I’ll make a ‘good’ demo.” 

Okay, who’s foolin’ who here? The truth is you can’t book work with a lousy headshot—or a lousy voiceover demo. Period. Do it right the first time and save yourself time, money and frustration.

  1. Your demos were created solely for talent agents. 

The standards for what should (and shouldn’t) be included on your voiceover demos are defined primarily by commercial creatives (producers, copywriters, and creative directors) from advertising agencies. They’ve been creating demos defining their own aesthetics for more than 50 years now with the intent to remain employed. Producers and their assistants contact casting directors and your talent agents when they are looking to hire you. If you’re not servicing the producers with your demos, you’re not hitting your target audience. They’re who you created the demo for in the first place.

  1. Every spot on your demo is a something you were paid to voice.

Just because you were paid to voice the job, doesn’t mean that segment belongs on your demo. Many of the jobs we book don’t necessarily best define us professionally and therefore should NOT be included on your demo.

  1. Commercial and Industrial spots can all be included on the same track.

A commercial demo consists primarily of spots that sound like national caliber TV spots. Industrial demos (also known as Corporate Announce, or Narrative, or Non-Broadcast) by design are meant to service producers looking to hire voice talent that demonstrate narration typically reserved for training films, documentary, medical, corporate sales, or tradeshow style narration. (To name a few.) Consolidating a variety of voiceover styles on the same demo cancels each other out. It exhibits a lack of understanding for the client’s professional needs, and therefore a lack of professionalism overall.

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Agents – Part 1: The low-down, by Rachel Fulginiti

Today kicks off the first in a new three part series, inspired by one of my readers (thank you Britt Dyer!). Over the next several weeks I’ll be talking about agents: what they do, how to get one and how to work with one once you’re in partnership. It’s a subject that can often feel mysterious or frustrating. Sometimes it’s a challenging part of getting “to the next level” in your career, but it doesn’t have to be confusing!

What exactly does an Agent do? Well, the short and sweet is: they negotiate contracts. Legend has it, there was once a day when they sought out budding young talent with potential and cultivated it…but that doesn’t happen much anymore. Basically, you and your agent are part of a team. You come to the table a completely formed product, and then your agent (hopefully) helps to sell it. Ideally, they find lots of opportunities for you, they talk you up, push for you and go to bat for you, and when you book jobs, they get you the very best deal they can, which will be mutually beneficial for both of you, as they earn 10% of what you make. With union jobs, that 10% is typically added to the top of your rate, so the agent’s cut doesn’t actually take away from what you’re making on the gig.

Wait, how are Agents different from Managers? Technically, to call themselves an agent (at least in the state of California), they have to have a license, adhere to certain guidelines and practices, and they can only take 10%. There are no requirements for someone calling themselves a “Manager”. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some great managers out there, and typically they get more involved in the day to day career of the talent (or at least, they used to), but beware, there are tons of unscrupulous ones out there, as well. Most managers take between 15- 20%. A lot of times they will add an additional percentage onto the client’s bill and still (also) take 15-20% out of your cut. That being said, if they are getting you work that you wouldn’t have had otherwise, then it’s probably still worth it.

So, do I need one?

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How To Secure Return Business, by Paul Strikwerda

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It must be hard to be Balloons the Clown.

For years, Balloons has been a fixture in my Borough.

He drives around in a silly red VW Beetle with a slogan prominently printed on the back:

“Honk if you like clowns.”

I’ll be honest: in all the years that our paths have crossed, I’ve never heard a single honk. That must be pretty depressing, if you’re a professional clown. But as one of my old teachers used to say:

“The meaning of our communication is the response we get.”

Here’s my question: Why would someone like Balloons even ask us to make some noise? My guess is that it has to do with the theme of last week’s blog postreassurance. Perhaps this family entertainer is hoping for honks to confirm his presumed popularity.

Even though you probably don’t make a living walking around in huge shoes wearing a red nose, you and I, and Balloons, have something in common: we like to be reassured.

Our need for reassurance has to do with a deep human desire: the wish to be accepted. It’s this universal, comforting feeling that we matter, that we are safe, and that everything is going to be alright. It’s what lovers love, preachers preach, and what politicians promise. The person able to reassure us the most, gains our trust and gets our vote.

Clients are no different. They want to know that they are in good hands, and that their money is well spent. It is your job to convince them of that fact. As I suggested last week:

Selling is about reassuring. Before the sale, during the sale, and after the sale.

THE DO’S AND DON’TS

As the client is making up his mind, here are a few things that will make him feel confident that you’re the right person for the job. This is what you have to do:

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Why Self-Direction Matters, by Kate McClanaghan

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When was the last time you heard another actor say, “I auditioned for that role. I would have done that—if they would have they told me to play it like that”? Maybe you heard yourself say it.

Frankly, it’s doubtful you would have been told exactly how to play it for the simple reason no one told the actor who booked the job precisely what to do. Most talent bring the core of their performance into the room during the audition. Auditions demand you make dynamic decisions if you hope to get booked. Yet, one of the greatest misconceptions about this industry is whoever hires us already knows precisely what they want and will direct us.

It may come as something of a surprise, but you’re not likely to get much direction at all. This is the case for auditions and sessions alike. All the more reason why you must effectively self-direct rather than wait to be told what to do.

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