Acting is Key to Booking in Voiceover

So you can voice…can you act? The competition is fierce in the voiceover world. Just having a great voice is not enough. You’ve got to create believable characters in real situations.  You’ve got to know who you’re talking to and what’s happening. What are your objectives in a scene? What do you want from the other characters? Acting skills are essential in commercials, and even more so in animation.  In the gaming world, gamers want an action-packed experience; they want great stories but they also want to connect with the game’s characters. Take a look at the trailer for the June 2013 released PlayStation 3 hit “The Last of Us”.  This is a mini movie. Whether you like all the violence in it or not, it’s captivating. You want the main characters to succeed.  Here’s the link: http://www.metacritic.com/game/playstation-3/the-last-of-us/trailers

Let’s say you get the gig to play one of these characters.  You may not get the sides for a part until the day you get into the booth. You’ve got to be able to make some acting choices, and fast! Do you have the skills to do it?

As casting directors, more and more producers are asking us for voiceACTORS vs. voiceover talent.  That’s why we’ve designed a fantastic NEW class coming in September.  We are thrilled to have one of Vancouver’s top acting coaches, Jeb Beach at Soundswrite for a very special 2-day Acting for Voiceover Intensive.  Join us the weekend of Sept. 28th/29th. Jeb will help you take your career to the next level and teach you how to leave a lasting impression with casting directors. Get booking! Join us. Register online at www.soundswrite.ca or by calling 604-985-5532.  Space is limited. Book now!

*image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Voiceover Training, Who Needs It?

“I’ve been talking all my life.  How hard can it be to do voiceover?”  Well, that would be like saying, “Listen, Meryl, you can walk and talk, so how hard can it be to act? Why don’t you just read this script and go out and win yourself an Academy Award next week?” “Patrick Chan, you can skate. How about you strap on these new blades and we throw you into the Olympics?”  Ask any performer at the top of his or her game and they’ll tell you, it takes work and dedication and single mindedness. Your body is your instrument. Your voice is your instrument. Your mind is your instrument. You have to stay tuned up. You have to train with a variety of coaches and take as much as you can from each to craft your own style.  Top performers and athletes still train. They still go to workshops. They never stop learning.

Meryl Streep recently completed her new film “August: Osage County”.  Actors who worked with her – and there were big name actors on set – were constantly commenting on how after hours of performing a difficult scene, Meryl kept coming up with new ways to say her lines.  She brought new ideas to every take even after 10 straight hours of filming. That’s a true star and the kind of professional you want to work with.

Voiceover isn’t just talking. It’s acting. It’s a craft. You are performing. You have to be open to trying new ideas, new interpretations all the time.  If you want to voice commercials, take acting classes. If you want to voice for narration, take acting classes. If you want to voice for animation, take acting classes. Take movement classes. Do yoga. How serious are you about your craft? Train. Never stop learning.

Watch for exciting news this Fall as one of Vancouver’s top acting coaches teams up with Soundswrite to present an “Acting for Voiceover” Intensive.

In the meantime…keep living life OUT LOUD!

Build a Home Studio with Blankets

If you want to voice from home but you don’t have the cash to build a sound booth in the corner of your bedroom, try creating a hanging sound booth using acoustic blankets.  This is the coolest idea we’ve seen in a long time and it’s so simple.  Vocal Booth To Go carries this kit and has individual acoustic blankets that you can buy to fit a specific space. You can simply install a  half circle track on your ceiling, clip in an acoustic blanket and TA DA, you have a sound studio of your own. Check out http://www.vocalboothtogo.com. Then all you need is a Yeti USB microphone from Costco.ca (about $100), a pop filter, a laptop and editing software that you can download for about $60 – try Reaper or Audacity – and you’re in business.  You can audition for jobs around the world.  Want to find out how? Join us at our Soundswrite Voiceover Intensive or our Home Studio Setup Courses.  Visit www.soundswrite.ca for more details. Get your gear and get working!

The Healing Voice

I had to write a post today because I was so moved by what happened during a recent workshop here at Soundswrite.  We had a group of students in class who were working on a program to learn about filmmaking, editing and photography.  The goal was to give them some skills in the booth and to find out more about the sound end of things when making a movie.  We were told that in the group there was a very quiet girl and that she probably wouldn’t participate. She was too shy. She barely spoke at all.

We started out voiceover workshop talking about the industry and quickly got the students in the booth to voice commercials in pairs. I knew this would be terrifying for this girl so I gave her a small part in a funny spot.  She did it.  A slight smile came across her face and you could tell she was surprised that she had actually tried it.  The big shift came when she came out of the booth and heard her usually tiny, almost inaudible voice sound big and rich and full.  It had power and strength. It sounded like a “real” voiceover artist.

As the day went on this shy girl took part in improv exercises and tried so many more things. Her voice got stronger and stronger.  The rest of the class was great, offering her encouragement.

She found her voice.  She heard herself through our giant speakers and the voice she heard was strong and clear and confident.

Days like that remind me of why we teach.  We give a lot but we get back so much.

I am so grateful for that experience.

Find your voice.

Pricing for Voiceover

Probably one of the hardest things to do is figure out how much you’re going to charge for a voiceover job. Someone is always going to do it cheaper.  You don’t want to get into a race into the mud, so come up with a basic fee structure that you can follow.  Remember that it should be somewhat flexible.  At Soundswrite, we don’t have a published rate sheet because jobs have so many variables.  Quite often a client will tell us that, “It’s a small project, just about 10 pages or so.”  Then, we get the project.  Yes, it may be ten pages, but it’s full of complex medical terms and bad writing that has to be fixed and we need to spend a whole lot of time learning the lingo and going back and forth with script revisions.

Here are a few suggestions for figuring out how to price yourself for voiceover:

  • Always ask the client to see the script before you say a word.  Make sure it is the FINAL APPROVED script. Let them know that you will charge for any revisions to the script that have to be revoiced.
  • Always ask, “What’s your budget for this?”  Quite often you’ll think it’s so much lower than it is.  If the client is hesitant you can offer a range of prices, i.e. “I’m thinking for a job like this it may be between $400 and $600″.  Quite often that will help you narrow it down and find out if they can afford you.
  • Make sure you know if they want just rough tracks or fully edited tracks. 
  • You need to know if you are voicing to exact time (often the case with corporate videos). 
  • You need to know if you are finding music (a huge time waster) or if they are going to look for the music.  Let them know that if you have to look for the music that you will charge them by the hour for that service and that they will then have to pay the royalty fees on whatever music they choose. We often give our clients a list of music sites that they can listen to and get them to pick. Once they find out it will save them money, most are willing to give it a go.
  • Make sure that it’s clear whether you are giving them a one time rate – i.e. to voice one radio spot for a certain amount of air time (i.e. to run for six months) or whether you are allowing them to own the project outright to use forever.  We often include a buyout fee in our quotes.  If we are quoting $200 for voicing a spot, we would charge the $200 plus half of that as a buyout fee for a total of $300.  It depends on the project.
  • If you would like a guideline to follow, check out Voices.com.  This will give you a rough idea of what some freelance voice artists are charging. http://www.voices.com/voice-over-rates.html

We’ll post more info on pricing in the coming weeks.  It’s a tough one, but please don’t undersell yourself. People perceive value in pricing.  Think about the fashion world.  Sure Manolo shoes are beautiful, but finding out that they are $800 dollars and more gives them a higher status. 

When we first started teaching classes, we thought we’d have to cater to “starving” voiceover artists, so we priced our classes very low.  We got a fairly good attendance. But when we thought “this is crazy, we’re worth more than that” and we doubled the price of the classes, we started filling all the classes.  We started charging what we we worth and it elevated our status in the industry.

You are talented. Charge for your talent.

More to come…

Who’s Mic, and how can he make me rich?

Yeti Blue Microphone

Well, the only way you can get rich in voiceover is to be able to record your brilliant performance, and send it to somebody.  For this, Mic needs to be your best buddy!  Spend time with him.  Get to know him.  Know what makes him tick.  Buy him things…you know the drill.  Used to be Mic was an expensive cuss.  He needed all kinds of support, and was very needy.  Not any more; this is the “New Age Mic”: sensitive, frugal, and cooperative.   So what do you look for when searching for the perfect partner for your home studio?  Well, there are several things.  We’ll talk about those first and then suggest some possibilities on the market.

Watch Your Diaphragm

First, Mic should be a “large diaphragm condenser”.  These are by far the most common types of Mic in VO work, although we are seeing more “shotgun” types (looks like a long thin tube) in use.  Stick to the “large diaphragm condenser” and you’ll be properly set.  There are several versions of the large diaphragm condenser: cardiod, omni-directional, figure-8, and stereo.  In fact, you only need the cardioid version (called a “polar pattern” if you’re itching for a blog with technical stuff) for most VO work, but there some very good Mics out there that do all of these, are alone and single, and looking for partners RIGHT NOW!

Choose a USB/Low Latency Mic

Second, Mic needs to be a USB style.  This allows you to plug him straight  into your computer, and bingo-bango you’re up and running.  Yes you do need recording software.  Reaper and Audacity are two great FREE programs you can download.

Third, Mic needs to be what’s called “low latency” or “zero latency”.  This relates to your ability to monitor your performance in your headphones as you record.  Latency is the lag between when you speak and when you hear your voice in the headphones.  If there is any latency, it will drive you crazy, and keep you poor because you’ll just hate voiceover work, and quite needlessly.  Zero latency will most often mean that there is a jack on the body of the microphone, into which you plug your headphone jack, and Voila!, no lag.

So Many Mics…

Some suggestions for possible Mics that you might want to cosey up with, bearing in mind that there are new ones coming out all the time.  The mic that we are currently recommending (subject to change without notice) is the Yeti, made by Blue Microphones (http://www.bluemic.com/yeti/)  This puppy is quite chunky but satisfies all the above requirments.  It’s available from several sources in Vancouver: London Drugs, Tom Lee, and the Apple Store at the very least, for prices in the $150 to $170 (CDN +HST) range; good value for the money.  It might be a good idea to ditch the little stand that makes it look like a Yeti (the snowman kind) or R2D2 (the Star Wars kind) and get a microphone stand.  That’ll give you more options when it comes time to position the little cutie near your computer.  Oh, and get yourself a pop filter.  It’s a little hard to mount on the R2D2 stand, but change to a regular mic stand and, no problem.

If you need help with your home studio set up. Visit www.soundswrite.ca and join us for a one night course. Bring your laptop and your new mic and we’ll download the free software for you, set up your mic and even teach you how to edit.  Plus you’ll get tech support. A great deal.

‘Till next time…

Record yourself!

Audio recording hardware and software is getting more powerful – and less expensive - every day.  These days, voice talents are expected to be their own audio engineers to record, edit, and transfer audition files and even finished audio to their customers.  The upside of this evolution is that, as a voice talent, you can work anywhere in the world.  The downside is that you have a bit of a learning curve to contend with after you open the box that your nice new microphone came in.  Even getting to the point of having a microphone box to open can be a little daunting: so many mics, some costing thousands of dollars…where do I start?  Well, that’s what Soundswrite is here for; to guide you through the forest of audio “stuff” that’s out there, clamoring for your attention.  Over the next little while, we’ll touch briefly on the microphones that are out there, the software that you’ll need to immortalize that perfect performance, and some tips on how to set up space in your life to use all of that shiney new gear, without disturbing the dog.  The good news is: It’s not hard, and it’s not expensive.  Stay tuned!

Audio Book Auditions

At Soundswrite, I write scripts for the way I talk. I’m always using contractions. I don’t say “I will go to the store today,” I say, “I’m going to the store today.” Often when I’m in the booth doing a spot, I take the written word and make it conversational.

Great idea…but not for audiobooks!

I just had a big audition for a local audiobook production house.  I was well rehearsed with my characters in mind. I knew that script…or so I thought until I heard the engineer in my headphones.  “Ah, Pam… you have to say “it is” instead of “it’s.” You forgot an “a”.  Reading for audiobooks is just that. It’s reading. You’re there to voice every single word that the author wrote, exactly as he wrote it. No ad-libbing allowed! I kept thinking, “Ah come on, it’s only a small word  – “in”, “it”, “an”,” – but the sharp-eared engineer caught every single one and we had to “punch in” the correct words.

So warning, warning warning…practice reading books out loud! Practice every single word of that story. Then, practice it again. It’ll help you book the book gig.

Until next time….

Pam

Make a Great Demo!

In the old days, voice demos were about 5 minutes. Now, your demo should be no longer than 2 minutes. We suggest keeping it to a :90 seconds. Bob Bergen, the voice of Porky Pig? His cartoon demo is just :45 seconds!

Casting directors have a short attention span. You have to grab them in the first 5 seconds or you’re toast.  One L.A. casting director we talked to says she plugs all the CD demos into her car on the way home from work.  She gives them all 5 seconds and if she doesn’t like them, she tosses the CD into the backseat, never to be heard again.

Here’s a short list to keep in mind when making your demo:

1) Get a professional to do it. You’ll get great sound and nifty sound effects that will make your demo sing.

2) If you’re a guy, get a girl to slate it. If you’re a girl, get a guy.  Even better if the person has an accent. It catches the attention of the listener.  For your slate, all you have to do is say your name. Or your name and what it is. For example: Pam Jones, commercial demo.

3) Make sure your first couple of pieces show your best work and make sure they are contrasting. If you start with a piece about a giant snake squeezing the life out of someone, then you might follow that up with a funny character spot. Variety is key. 

4) You can do an all ’round demo but you should also have separate demos. We suggest doing a commercial demo, a narration demo and a cartoon demo.

Soundswrite just started producing demos – people kept asking so we finally said “yes.” We only take on two clients per week due to heavy volume in our studio. So give us a call and we can find a demo session at a price that works for you.

Want to hear a sample. Here’s my latest demo:http://voice123.com/pamjones

‘Til next time…Pam