VO Atlanta Pre-trip

It's been so long! Have you missed me? I certainly missed me. Just a brief blog this time. 

January was not fun so I did not blog about but February has opened up new challenges and slow forward momentum for the business so that's good all in all! 

So the time doth approacheth where I will head down to Atlanta for my first Voiceover convention at VO Atlanta!

I will be driving down to ATL with Matthew Curtis who is also going to be my roommate for the con.

If you haven't yet, take a moment and check out his website and take a listen:

Matt's Website

All things being well, we'll be down there late Wednesday night to see all you lovely people. I believe we shall be bringing board games and the like, so I'm sure we won't get bored. 

Quick cheat sheet for Chris: 

Do you do karaoke?: Typically after I drink

Can I talk to you?: Absolutely! Looking to meet as many people as possible.

Do you have business cards?: Of course. It would be silly not to. 

Do you drink? : Yes.

Are you social?: Absolutely. 

Can I hug you?: Only if you've bathed. 

There's a distinct possibility we might be VLogging the entire event but we will see! 

Apart from that, I look forward to meeting you lot in a few short weeks. 

 

 

Mind your manners.

 At the end of the day. You're serving your client. 

At the end of the day. You're serving your client. 

 

I might be writing this because I’m British and manners were drilled into me at a young age or maybe because I see it more and more and it rubs me the wrong way. It irritates me and I think it’s something that could help a lot of people.

 

A huge gripe of mine is that people don’t know basic customer etiquette both online and offline.

This might sound harsh to sound so blunt but from a customer perspective, you can ruin or reward a business relationship based on how you act.

If you’ve ever worked in retail or at a restaurant, you’re face to face with your customer. There’s no emails, there’s no social media. You’re talking to them in real time. You are *typically* trained to be polite and courteous.

You wouldn’t ignore someone talking to you face to face if you were assisting them, so why would you let an email sit for two days before you respond? Madness.

Politeness should be your mantra in your business. It goes a long way. Clients want to work with artists that are easy to get along with, who are professional and courteous. It makes you stand out when others may not give them that level of attention.

People that play it fast and loose in their communication can give off a bad vibe to a customer. Lack of responses or heavily delayed responses makes it seem like you don’t care about their project. They will remember that and undoubtedly will become frustrated.

Text is interpreted differently to speech. This is a huge talking point. Before you rush through an email and hit send, think about what you’re saying. Read the words aloud and say ‘If I read this, what would I think?’ I’ve put my foot in my mouth a few times and experience has taught me blunt replies can be misconstrued as you don’t know the emotion behind them.

Communication MUST be kept open when doing a project. I can’t stress that enough.  If your client asks you a question, answer it as soon as possible. Don’t let it sit. You may be busy but in today’s world, instant is sometimes not fast enough, so you need to make sure YOU’RE staying on top of your call backs, your emails and your follow ups.

You don’t have to write them an essay (Believe me, us Brits LOVE to pen lengthy letters). However, starting with clear, concise communication is vital; just as if you were writing a cover letter for a prospective job.

The medium will dictate how you respond to people. This is absolutely true.  For Facebook, you may write a few lines to a colleague or client. Nothing too lengthy. For Twitter, you have a finite character limit, which can be fantastic for getting straight to the point. In emails, you have some more room but conversations may already be established, so adjust accordingly. Be flexible but when talking to a client or prospective client but keep it cordial and on mission.  

Even with more challenging clients, I always take the extra step of asking what THEY need from ME to complete the project. You will find the wheels become greased far more easily if you remind them of why they hired you. If you offered to do A, B and C – why not offer D as well?  Prove to them you’re worth the fee.

 

Make them remember you for all the positive things you’ve provided, so next time, when it comes to hiring for a new project; you’ll be at the top of the pile.

 

In a world of ever decreasing attention spans and seemingly less care, take that time to stand out. Take that time to make yourself stand out as distinguished, not just mediocre.

 

 

 

You work a day job?! Hah!

“I’m just working this job until I get my big break!” – Said every actor ever.

“Oh it’s just a waitressing job, I’m really a full time actor!” – when asked the question of why do they work at a certain place.

A subject that I’ve noticed a lot of people do not like to talk about is the proportion of time they spend working other jobs in order to make the dream come true. The dream that is voiceover or even acting in general.

Now, just to clarify, I know quite a few full time VO’s that do very well for themselves and it is their ONLY source of income. It absolutely can be done, however, the path to get there is far less clear at times.

However, this post is for the majority of people I know that are striving to be full time but aren’t quite there yet.

For the subject of this particular discussion though, I’m more focused on making sure that you are as dynamic and as varied as you can be as a talent in general.

Auditioning and marketing are the exhausting majority of what we do and that’s alright because when we do book, it’s the best feeling in the world. The momentum starts, the ball starts to roll! You’re feeling like a winner! Then comes that deposit into your account.

“If I do the same amount each week, I’ll be set!” – you tell yourself.

Then…as the last job wraps up; Emails dwindle…you market your hardest, hitting every contact you know! You’ve got this. Then a day goes by…two days...a week…two…a month. You’re doing everything right and you know you’re firing on all cylinders. Nothing comes through. So now what? You can’t pay your bills with IOUs.

So a little slice of reality creeps in, while the dream seems to be on hold. So what now? You pick up a part time job, or perhaps you work a full time job alongside building your VO business. Does this make you any less dedicated to your goal of being a full time VO? Does this make you a failure?

Of course not.

A lot of people like to talk in extremes. Such as “HAH! You work a day job and you call yourself a pro!” – That lovely nugget I tend to ignore, mostly as it comes from people who already have a book of business built up. There should be no shame in working multiple jobs in order to ensure your bills are paid.

People will argue that you can’t be a ‘professional’ unless you’re sitting by your computer 24 hours a day in order to be a success. This just isn’t true for people up and coming into the industry. With the internet and the advent of P2P casting sites, flexibility is achievable while maintaining a professional manner. I make time for my clients. However, I will agree on the fact that working multiple jobs WILL impact your availability. So I’m willing to meet halfway on that issue.

Now, is this a typical situation? I’d say so. From what I’ve experienced and what my colleagues have experienced the notion of ‘Full time VO’ seems to be a professional label rather than an absolute truth.  I’ve even spoken to friends who have quit doing VO completely despite being immensely talented and successful, it’s just the money and the infrequency of booking did not meet their expectations.

So as artists, do we rely solely on this income or is it also our responsibility to stop ‘waiting for the money’ and make sure we are as diverse as possible. How multi-talented are you? Can you bring more than VO to your client? Have you considered on screen work? Have you thought about branching into other creative areas to help ‘pad’ your talent base.

I don’t believe in the myth of the ‘overnight success’. Hard work will get you so far, talent will get you further. Having the right timing or luck to land that project you want, that’s the hardest part.

A better analogy for switching to ‘Full time’ would be a boat tied up to a jetty  prior to a long trip. The jetty wobbles as you walk down to the boat.

 Do you just jump in the boat? If it’s a long trip, you’d want to make sure you have enough fuel and provisions? Is the boat in good shape? Did you check the engine?

Also, neither the jetty nor the boat is a stable platform. They both sway back and forth with forces you can’t control.

You have to time it right. If you just run up and jump, there’s a good chance you could land in the water. Instead, time the moment until you are ready to literally step onto the boat.

Treat your business and your professional journey like the boat and the pier. Take your time and step across into that new threshold of full time VO, only, when you feel ready and more importantly prepared. 

Why you should be yourself.

"I'm worried about being type cast" - I said

The bad guy.

The Imperial Officer.

The Knight.

The list goes on and by Hollywood standards, these are usually portrayed by British people.

This frustrated me. Especially as I hear AWFUL British accents in shows, played by American actors. I wanted to do better and show I can provide both. 

This conversation started as I have asked many high level and successful voice actors in animation in video games where I should place myself. Again, the response had a similar tone but I could not tie the pieces together to see what they meant by it. All good advice but I still thought 'No, I want to get more US accent parts!!' - I protested. 

Living in the US as UK voice actor puts me on a very small runway. What do I mean by this? In a country dominated by extremely talented US born vocal artists, clients come to me looking for something very specific. They are looking for a British accent as it will bring something they WANT to their project. I feel I have more to offer than just that...however...

They aren't looking for a Southern accent, they aren't looking for the New York Cabbie voice, they are coming to me because I offer something unique. Something that others can offer perhaps but I have something they WANT. 

During a workshop this weekend, the ladies on the conference blurted out during my read 'He sounds JUST like Kit Harrington' - which I took as a massive compliment for obvious reasons. For another reason however, his voice is very unique. It's higher register, like mine, it's more empathetic, like mine. This got me thinking that what I have vocally, is unique and makes me stand out. 

This isn't to pat my own ego but an example that you can apply to yourself and your voiceover business. Ask yourself: 

What about you, makes YOU special? What makes your voice unique?

I can't bring that rich, gravelly, Sam Elliot aka the voice of God sort of voice. It's just not in my range. However, I don't think Sam Elliot can do softer tones like I can. It's all relative to what you are offering and to what your client is looking for. 

So onto the advice given by Marc Graue this weekend. I asked him about my worry about being type cast. To paraphrase: he said that an agent won't come to you for an American accent off the bat, so you will not see those auditions. Focus on what makes you unique as that is what allows you to book *that* work.' 

The moment he said it, it sunk in. I have been looking at this all wrong. It doesn't mean I can't audition for a US part, if the casting director likes my US accent. However, it won't be the first thing you'll be hired for. Accepting this fact will help you immensely in targeting your clients and showing them what YOU can offer them.

The way I approach clients and projects will be different after coming to this realisation. Trying to force yourself to sound like someone else isn't being true to you or your craft. 

Be unique. Be yourself. No one else can bring what you bring. 

Patience and why you should fail.

There, I said it. You can fail. It's OK to fail.

There is an overwhelming pressure in today's society that if you're not instantly successful, then you must be an instant failure. Completely untrue and honestly it is a reflection of the world we live in. Patience is small and dreams are big.

This applies to voiceover as it does any other profession. 

Fail. Fail over and over again. You don't start out amazing at anything in life. You have to fail a great number of times before you can get good at something. I've failed so many times so far and I've only been doing this over two years. I've been frustrated, angry, disappointed and had zero confidence in the fact that I was making any progress. If you fail - find another way to make it work. 

Pick your phrase, 10,000 hours....big oaks from little acorns grow...the list goes on. The point is, look at anyone that you consider to be great or successful. Do you think they came out of the gate that way?

Let's take successful/career youtubers as an example. I dare you. Find the one with an insane amount of subscribers. Go look at their first video. I am willing to place money on the fact it is 5 years old or more. 

Pick your favourite athlete - Research them, see when they started playing the sport. Compare it to their age and status now. Is it less than a year? I doubt it. I'd bet 10 years of playing the sport even before he or she went pro. 

Think how many hours of practice, planning and so on that went into getting their channel/persona to the stage you see today? 5 years. Think about that number for a moment. Are you trying to sprint or are you marching toward your goal? 

If you can sprint and can get there sooner, bravo my friend. However, for the vast majority, you will be marching. You will not see the goal, you will just see the road. You may fall, collapse from exhaustion or be injured. The question is do you let obstacles in your path dictate your success? 

Surround yourself with people that support you. People that are more talented then you. People that are further along in their journey than you. People that will make you reach. People that will push you to excel.

Is being 'okay' at something going to fuel you to strive for greater things for yourself and your business?

This applies to any one who is running their own business or in life in general.

Grind. March forward. Take risks. Be patient. Don't compare your journey to anyone else. Remind yourself, it is OK to fail. Just don't let failure consume you. 

Only you can dictate how far you take anything. 

 

 

Voiceover - it's just commercial or animation...right?

A little impromptu post here but I have been chatting to people of late that seem to be under the intense worry and dismay that unless they do either character work or commercial work, it's time to throw in the towel with voiceover. 

This could not be further from the truth and many other working professionals would agree. The number of genres for voice work is growing at an exponential rate. Now, is it all glamorous? Hardly. Does some of it pay extraordinarily well? Absolutely. 

Whatever goal you might have starting out with this work, it's still a goal to aim at but to parrot a number of people, it probably won't be the bulk of your work unless you are extraordinarily talented and are situated in LA. However, this doesn't mean you don't work because you don't get what you want initially. 

It worried me a bit that people were so dismayed and under the wrong impression. 

To rail a few genres off from the top of my head:

Explainer, Corporate, IVR, Narration, audiobook, podcast intros, voice matching, ADR

There are many, many sub genres of the above but some of these are extremely lucrative and VO pros will structure their marketing around what they are good at. Here's a crazy thought, you want to do *insert genre here* work so bad...you get trained, you make a demo and...you end up hating it! What now? If you start to feel that way, your coach should be picking up on it in your reads and maybe suggest some other genres you could tackle. Always ask, your teacher is your mentor and your guide. 

This leads me to my next point. You may not know what you are good at just yet and that's okay. I myself am still feeling out (after 2 years +) on which genres I take to easily and which do not appeal to me. Being passionate about one genre is important but that shouldn't be your only focus. Find what you like and really charge full steam at it. You'll amaze yourself on how much you can improve in a year. 

You may not like your 9-5 job, the same will happen in VO. You will have projects that make your soul light up and there will be jobs where you can't wait to wrap it up. There is no escaping the grind unfortunately. 

Now I don't live in LA, I live on the East coast in Maryland, however, I have made strides to land jobs which have been lucrative and fun. Does it mean I won't move to LA when the time comes? Who's to say but that would be nice for sure!

Bottom line is, don't get discouraged so easily. Everything in life is hard but if you really enjoy your VO work, you will find your slot in the industry and truly grow. 

Here are a few links with very successful VO professionals who talk about their struggles and victories in this business: (Helpful to know even the pros have bad days!)

https://www.youtube.com/user/vobuzzweekly

https://www.youtube.com/user/ewabsshow

My personal favourite is Dee Bradley Bakers site. Very honest but there's a lot to read, which is a VERY good thing. 

https://iwanttobeavoiceactor.com/

Video games - Voiceover and escapism

A random thought, as I sit here at the day job, planning for my next client email, studying for my next lesson and preparing to audition tonight, I'm reflecting on the reasons why video games mean so much to me and why they are so massive even in the voiceover industry. This is one level where voice acting to me, is a very personal and passionate place.

Before the comment arises, the majority of the stuff I record is NOT video games at all. Those jobs are fewer but extremely rewarding when they arise. While I record narration, e-learning modules, phone messages and all the other jobs I love to do, I have an unshakable love for character acting. Now, there is an argument to be had that each script is performed as a character but that's not what I'm eluding to here.

This might sound childish to some but to the many that understand that these are the modern day 'novels' of our time. While there are still books, movies and television shows, the video game industry has nestled itself into a wonderful niche where story telling runs right along the dynamic of the player living the experience, not merely just observing. 

Despite people thinking, 'It's just a game' - I couldn't disagree more. Look at the progression as we've gone from Pac-Man to full on immersive adventures where you get emotionally attached to some of the characters. To me it, is no different than reading book and having those same feelings for the character in that medium. Games have become massive epic stories now, no longer merely objective based time wasters. 

In the news, we hear of heartbreak and tragedy all the time, yet we wonder why people are so invested in lengthy video games. This form of escapism, just like any other, I think can be healthy and help people come out of a social shell they may not usually be comfortable leaving. There are always those who obsess but in this instance, the characters, I believe truly help the player feel like they matter. 

The likes of Troy Baker, James Arnold Taylor, Nolan North, Brian Sommer, Adam Harrington - to name a few. Listening to how easily and fluidly they shape their voice and how believable they sound. That's what matters to the players and helps them become immersed and more attached to the story. Real VO heroes to look up to and aspire to. 

I've only had the opportunity to voice a few characters in various indie games but as this slowly becomes part of my progression, I rather relish the idea of perhaps performing as a character where someone becomes emotionally invested. Exciting stuff for sure.