Voice Talent Wisdom: Not Your Typical Advice Column
Right Place, Wrong Time
We often hear of most success stories in this industry that involve being in the right place at the right time. Stories from the fortunate few in this industry who have gone on to make six, even seven figure salaries and achieve a massive amount of recognition for their talents and the story is pretty much all the same. A top agent just happened to be waiting in line at Starbucks and heard them speak, pulled them aside and now you're the voice of this channel and that network. Their long-standing voice was out sick or on vacation with his/her family. It just so happened that they needed an emergency job and hired someone else. Now they like that person's take better and they changed their mind completely on the campaign/show. The previous voice is now gone but the new person just "lucked out" and got the biggest break of their career.
Yes, sometimes its circumstantial. Sometimes it just happens. And we never planned on it. But a great quote the other day from actor Peter Dinklage brought a new thinking to mind. He said, "I hate that word--- 'Lucky'. It cheapens a lot of hard work. Doing plays for 50 bucks and trying to be true to myself as an artist and turning down commercial where they wanted a leprechaun. Saying I was lucky negates the hard work I put in. So I won't say I'm lucky. I'll say I'm fortunate enough to find or attract very talented people. For some reason I found them and they found me."
Other than thinking this is the best quote on the subject I've ever heard in a long time, it couldn't be more life-affirming. Not everyone's story is the same but what you don't know about the person who got that big break is that perhaps they were also working their butts off to get in front of the right people. Maybe the old-fashioned "lucky" story is what they say to discourage others from pursuing this increasingly popular line of work. Or they want to appear to be some kind of overnight success story. With the exception of a few instances in the past few years, Voice Over is anything but overnight.
One nugget sticks. Sometimes success comes from creating opportunities for ourselves, our agents (even though they might discourage it), our business partners, our colleagues. Sometimes success comes from cold calling, emailing new and old clients a few times every couple of months, maximizing your presence on social media, reading for a new casting director, attending a popular voice over networking event or creating one yourself. In today's world of voice over, you've got to be a mover and a shaker. A lot more work than being the voice of Chevy in 1992 and just chillin'. Sometimes it boils down to planting seeds anywhere and watching them grow over time.
A word or two on Improv Classes. I don't know what the deal is with people making improv mandatory to voice actors. Improv is not for everyone. Not EVERY voice actor should be required to take improv classes. If you're a stiff with tension running throughout your body and have trouble loosening up, improv might be one solution for you. Then again so is Yoga. And that's good for your body, your mind and your breathing. Improv can be a great confidence booster but so can any voice over class with a group of people at all different levels or in a private session with a trusted coach.
It is possible that we take improv because:
We want to be the next SNL sensation
Lack confidence in daily life
It's fun and a great way to meet people
Just love doing improv.
Sure-- all valid reasons. Casting directors particularly love telling talent to do improv. "You absolutely must take classes to augment your career." Really? Personally, I find you'll get more experience by conversing with your friends, family, and strangers you meet in daily life. If someone challenges you in that setting, it helps to be on your feet and trust your instincts. When doing doubles auditions for voice over and on-camera or animation, yes, being vulnerable as in improv, comes in handy and responding to what the other person is giving you....but shouldn't be mandatory. If you're just naturally good at talking to and connecting with people in a any setting, you're improvising already. You're not going to be ad-libbing on the ANNCR part of a TV Commercial or on an extensive industrial or brand video.
So, You're an Expert?
Here's what's increasingly popular and also not cool: When fellow voice over artists call themselves "experts." When the time is right, call yourself a "VO Coach" or better yet, "Voice Over Consultant." Or make up some other more attractive, less generic noun. Calling yourself an "expert" can come off a little haughty. It's like you're wearing a shirt that says HIRE ME! What makes you better than everyone else? And why should I pay ridiculous fees for your 'expert' advice? I find that the term can mislead folks into thinking this is the business of guarantees.
Balance is key in this business. I still haven't gotten to the point where I'm drowning in work. Where I'm bragging about every day's new gig to my colleagues on social media. To me that's just a sign of weakness. And honestly, I don't know if I want the golden handcuffs. There are slow times (like now) when I don't think I can handle the drop in work or have the fortitude to press on and miraculously find new clients. So I spend my days following other colleagues advice, watching their videos, reading blogs and trying to find some harmony. Newbies who have signed with ivy league agencies will book massive amounts of work right off the bat because their voice is currently "IT" but when those gigs are over, they'll forget what they should have been doing all along. And then there are hard working pros out there who are trying to navigate better quality and higher paying jobs but get sucked into the online cesspool that drags everything down with it.
Because of this, it's key to fill your life with other interests and not let that drag you down. Currently I have a very flexible, although, at times, erratic schedule. Unpredictable can be exciting and adventurous. It allows me to be creative in my daily life and leaves room for other activities, outside of my normal routine. Like expanding my photography portfolio and focusing on my health. Many people want to be busier in voice over but haven't realized the amount of energy and patience it takes over time. Be careful what you wish for while being open to all opportunities that come your way.
6.) If you're going to label yourself as the official voice of a brand or company, please make sure you didn't sign an NDA which could cost you dearly in the long run. Perhaps you just happen to be the voice of choice right now. Chances are, they're going to change the campaign and cast someone else down the line. It's not always the case, but you have to be wary of that. Are you voicing some spots for the brand but not their main voice? Did you speak to the producer (in most cases NOT the actual client) and they confirmed you were their official voice? Make sure. And be careful what you divulge to your colleagues.
Negotiation Doesn't Hurt
Over the past year I've noticed a trend in the lack of negotiating skills on the part of voice seekers and potential clients. Some people are simply afraid of it. It's not a part of their business vocabulary. It becomes apparent when a higher figure than expected is given after the initial quote inquiry. In some cases it might be a few hundred dollars off and in others it's only $50 or $75 yet still the voice seeker runs the other way. What happened to the days of working together to achieve some happy medium? Does non-celebrity voice over hold any value at all?
I'll tell you without opening another can of worms (too late, just did)--the rise of low-ball sites that boast "cheap and fast" voice overs or "affordable." Affordable for whom? The small ad/media agency working on the client's behalf? Yes, it affords them the convenience of getting your work for cheap but doesn't actually help YOU. One minute you're their favorite person in the world for becoming available on such short notice. The next minute going onto their "don't call" list once they realize, not only that they can't afford you, but that your quote has rendered them speechless and incapable of making any effort to reach some mutually agreeable figure. It becomes of no value to them. Afterall, "you're just talking."
And that's a good thing. Because you don't want to do business with these folks ever. They're looking for a one-night stand not a relationship.
In the past (and I mean, like, a really short time ago) someone at least made the effort to work with you because they recognize YOUR value to THEM. I am fortunate to have done and continue to do business with those people.
In the meantime, stay strong, keep believing in what you do and don't settle for less. If you enjoyed what you read or have general questions or issues please feel free to comment below or email me directly.
Thank you for taking the time to read and I look forward to chatting soon!
Best Wishes for a great week!