Monday, August 31, 2015

Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

"The road outside of your comfort zone is bumpy and uncomfortable – but it's worth the trip." 

When I decided to break out of my comfort zone to get started in voiceovers, there was not a safety net to catch me. I walked away from my radio job without a lot of money saved. I even borrowed $10,000 with a crappy business loan. Why was it crappy? I ended up paying back $15,000! Most batting averages were higher than my credit score at the time; not to mention that the bills and my mortgage still needed to be paid on top of everything else.

However, I was determined to make the trip outside of my comfort zone worth it. I used the money that I received from that crappy loan to upgrade my equipment and invest in professional coaching sessions. I attended numerous networking events, made contacts and send out demos every single week.

It took a couple of years, but the hard work and effort started to pay off in a big way over time. I took the time to go out of my way for my clients – providing superior customer service. It paid off, because many of them are still working with me today.

Bottom Line: You need to break out of your comfort zone to get on the road to success. However, it takes a lot of hard work and effort for you to stay on that road. Many people try to break into the voiceover business with goals of becoming "the next big thing" in the industry. They have huge pipe dreams and expect those dreams to come true overnight without applying any effort. They do not want to invest in themselves mentally and financially primarily because of the books and blogs that claim they do not have to since ANYONE can do it. You have to be brutally honest with yourself and understand that there are no shortcuts to success in this industry.

I shared my story to make it clear that success within the voiceover industry does not come with shortcuts, cliff notes or "Pass Go, Collect $200" cards. Making sacrifices and playing the waiting game are part of the package. You will not achieve overnight success in this industry, but you can achieve lasting success. Invest in yourself. Invest in your goals. Invest in your business. The bumps on your trip away from your comfort zone will seem a lot smaller once you have reached your destination. You will then be able to help others that are right where you are now and sincerely say, "I've been there."

If you are not willing to put in the work… if you are not willing to make the sacrifices… if you are not willing to endure the journey… then you are wasting your time and should consider a different road headed in a different direction.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Voice Over Sermons by Terry Daniel

Last week, I started a new mini-podcast where I broadcast a VO sermon every morning at 7:45am central. Why 7:45am? I have no idea. I wanted to pick an odd time that would stick out! It's going well so far and I already have about 1350 listens total. I know, who cares about stats! I'm pretty pleased with how it's going and people have been pretty darn supportive. These sermons are are good tools for voice actors both seasoned pros and brand new. Check out all of the shows below. Have a great week!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Amazeball VO Nuggets with Terry Daniel and Jeff Kafer

Terry: Kafer! Thanks for doing this, man! Doug Turkel and I chatted about VO in my last blog and I know you can do better than him. J/K! Doug rocked it and I expect the same from you! Did I really just write J/K? What’s with all of these hip abbreviated acronyms? Even my father is using LOL now. Anyway, I think we should have a cooler of Guinness brought to us before we start this thing, don’t you think?

Jeff: Guinness. Nectar of the Gods.

Terry:  Why yes it is! So, you’re an audio book guy. At least according to my research you are! I have the attention span of a Boxelder bug, so audio books are no longer a part of my forte. How do you stay focused on these? Well, when there isn't someone like me bothering you!

Jeff: Well, I’m not JUST an audiobook guy. I also do a ton of e-learning. But yeah, long form is my main focus. And audiobooks keep me the most busy simply because they are so much work. The key to doing the marathon audiobooks is to set daily goals. For example, I know that I can finish 2.5 hours of finished audio per day. If I know the audiobook is going to be 10 hours, that’s 4 days. I start on Monday, then I’ll be done on Thursday. This helps me plan out my calendar so I know exactly to-the-day when I can deliver.  So you wimped out and gave up on audiobooks. What’s the matter, Princess, couldn't handle it?

Terry: That’s Mr. Princess to you! Thanks for not being a jackass about it. I got spoiled when I started doing more and more theme park announcement type work and my ADD brain could no longer handle audio books. I would still consider narrating a fictional or sports related audio book, if it were less than 20 pages long. Lol! Do you remember when they were called “books on tape” back in the 80’s and did you own any?

Jeff: When people ask what I do and I say I narrate “audiobooks”, I often get a dumb stare. Then I’ll say “... Books on tape?” Then the lightbulb goes off and they know what I’m talking about. And then they usually go on to say how they tried one and hated it, so they gave up. That’s like saying, “I don’t like this song on the radio. I hate music!” Anyway, I digress. So what were we talking about?

Terry: Good question. What are we EVER talking about! Speaking of music, do you ever add background music in the audio book narration? I did one where the client wanted it in the epilogue but that was it.

Jeff: You only add music at the bumpers, the opening and closing credits. Unless it’s a full cast audio drama, listeners do NOT want music. It’s distracting and sets up a false, forced emotion. What works in movies, doesn't always work in audiobooks. Plus getting the rights to music can be icky. What’s “royalty-free” isn't always, depending on the distribution. Fine print.

Theme park announcements? Is there a lot of that kind of work? It would seem to me that once you record “Keep your arms inside the vehicle, you frickin’ moron”, they use it in perpetuity.

Terry: Lol! It’s very seasonal but it’s brought in some decent revenue the past couple of years. I’m not buying BMW’s with the money I make from them but it’s been a nice addition to everything else I am doing. I actually did one where I said, “Please wait for the ride to stop before exiting.” What kind of moron would jump from the ride before it stops? Well, I guess it happens! Every now and then, I’ll send my client a few phony ones like these;

     1.          “If you’re going to vomit on this ride, please aim it at someone you don’t like.”
     2.          “Ladies and Gentlemen, smoking is permitted and highly recommended at the park.”
     3.          “If you've soiled yourself on this ride, a $5000 fine will be assessed as you exit.”

So, when did you get started in this crazy business and how soon did you determine that audio books were going to be your niche?

Jeff: I always wanted to do audiobooks. That’s actually how I got started. When I was working at Microsoft, I commuted to work listening to audiobooks. I listened to many hundreds of books over the years and fell in love with it. So when I was beginning my career while still at microsoft, I did a few books. Once I left (re: got laid off), the transition to VO and audiobooks was a little less difficult than had I started from the beginning while jobless.

Now, you also do a lot of medical narration. Is that what inspired your penchant for hot nurses and pharmaceutical-grade drugs?

Terry: Who is this? What’s your operating number? Sorry, I just have to squeeze in a random Star Wars Line in wherever I can. It’s a sickness. Medical narration sort of fell in my lap uninvited. Like many others, I would rather be doing the fun stuff like TV promos and character voices but in the past few years I realized there was a trend developing in the eLearning and medical narration field. A few of my clients who use me regularly found my website online in a Google search. Another client, found me via my Facebook business page. From there, I started marketing to companies to produce medical and pharmaceutical supplies. Referrals are a plus when it comes to medical narration as well. I hope we haven’t put people to sleep. Perhaps a brief intermission is in order. Quick, what is your all time favorite 80’s hair band?

Jeff: Bon Jovi. Do they count? I know there was a lot of Aqua net used. Hey, have you ever noticed that some movies from our childhood that we thought were AWESOME just suck now as adults? I watched the Michael Keaton version of Batman a couple of days ago with my kids and it really is crappy. Kim Basinger spends 90% of the movie being thrown by either the Joker or Batman. Not exactly a strong female role, there.

Terry: Yeah, Michael Keaton wasn't exactly the scariest of Batmans! When I was in high school, I thought “The Terminator” was the greatest film of all time. Yes, it was directed by the now terrific James Cameron but man, what piece of shit that movie is! I suppose music works the same way. I thought “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III was the greatest song ever recorded and when I hear it now, it’s the cheesiest song I've ever heard.

Jeff: It’s really funny to watch cartoons from back in the day. Some of them hold up so well and others are total headscratchers, especially those that reference pop culture from 70 years ago! Speaking of amazing segues back into VO, do you do, or want to do, much character work?

Terry: And give up the entertainment value of medical narration? NEVER!! Actually, I've done some character work here and there and love it! How can you not? I’m not Mr. Cartoon voice but my stage experience has helped me with real life like characters in commercials and explainer video projects. I imagine with audio books that you do a little character work in the fiction books?

Jeff: Audiobooks feature a LOT of character work, but it’s not the over-the-top kind in animation. The tend to be more realistic characters with normal dialogue. The trick is to NOT overdo them and yet differentiate them. Your conversations in real life tend to be flat and void of much vocal theatrics (like you might hear on a soap opera) and audiobooks need to have that level of realism. Coaches like Paul Alan Ruben really teach people to pull back and flatten it out, which is the opposite of what our instinct tells us to do.

So what’s the one thing in your career you wish you had done differently? Deep question, I know, but you can handle it. I have some Kleenex if you get all weepy and nostalgic.

Terry: Great thanks. I’m weeping all over my equipment. Well, there are plenty of voiceover domains I wish I would have snatched up first! The other thing I wish I would have done differently was the way I got into voiceovers. I did it half-assed and didn't take the proper steps i.e.coaching. I wasn't getting anywhere but then I came to my senses and hired a great local coach who assisted in helping me curb by lovely MN accent, as well as my “radio announcer” delivery. As you know, that will usually kill you in this business. As we close this award winning blog, is there anything in your career you wish you had done differently? My brain is dead and I couldn't think of an original question, so I am copying yours.

Jeff:  Wow, what an original question! If I could do anything differently, I would have not made a demo so quickly. My first demo was TRASH. When I shopped it around to agencies, of course I got no nibbles. And finally ONE of the agencies said basically, “would you go listen to other demos? not only are yours mediocre, they aren’t the right length” (Mine was about 3 minutes). Plus it had this cheeseball picture of me on the label (which was a sticker, BTW). Pretty much anything that one could do wrong, I did.

Oh and that agency that gave me the advice? They put me on their roster a year later after I became a little less stupid. So in typical, blunt Kafer fashion, I give this advice: Never underestimate how much you don’t know.

Terry: Well said, my friend. Thank you for taking the time and we’ll see you at FaffCon!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Get Off The Wheel!

“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” – William James

When you look at a hamster running on a wheel in their cage, what do you see? Some people might think it is cute and captivating to see how fast the hamster is moving – especially when you consider its overall size and body structure. Most people, though, will basically shake their heads and sigh as if to say to this little pet, “All of that hard work – and you don’t even realize you’re not going anywhere!”

Before you start feeling sad about Ernie the hamster, you need to first take a look at yourself and make sure that you are not following the same routine when it comes to educating yourself about the voiceover business. Yes, you could actually become a hamster trapped on that wheel. How so?

Thanks to the Internet and mobile technology, there is an overabundance of different ways that you can stay informed, updated and educated about the voiceover industry. For those of us who have been doing this for several years, I’m sure that we can all agree that the resources available 5 or 10 years ago fail in comparison to what is available right now. Regardless of how long you have been in this business, you can actively use these resources to polish your craft and become a better voiceover talent and a better business owner. However, the key word in that previous sentence that we need to pay close attention to is “actively.”

You can have all of the resources in the world. You can join every single online forum, Facebook group and mailing list that pops up when you Google the word “voiceover.” You might even be able to add a substantial list of academic credentials and accolades to your resume that you have acquired and obtained over the years since you first started your journey in this industry. However, if you are not taking action, none of those things are going to matter. All of it will just be an absolute waste – a waste of time from your day, money from your pocket and space in your brain.

From the outside looking in, it may seem like you are doing a lot. You might look at all of the blog posts that you have “liked” and commented on when visiting online groups, forums, chat discussions and Facebook pages. The list of relevant bookmarks that you have accumulated within your favorite browser might appear to be very impressive, especially if you are actually visiting each of those saved websites daily. However, that is not taking action.

You are not putting that information to work for you actively. You might have commented on that great article filled with tips about mastering vocal variety, for example, but still have yet to actually use any of them. You could have shared that amazing blog on effective marketing strategies to maximize exposure to your voiceover business on all of your social media platforms, but seem to draw a mental blank all of a sudden when someone asks you if those strategies actually worked for you.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “Never confuse movement with action.”

Remember, you are not receiving any type of commission or payment for each online forum or Facebook group that you join. If you are, let me know ASAP! J If you are not, then you more than likely have realized that spending countless hours basically stalking these industry leaders and experts instead of actively following them can rob you of valuable time and energy – eventually killing your business.

Don’t get me wrong! As mentioned earlier, I strongly believe that there is a lot of value in the abundance of resources that are currently available. I personally and professionally have signed up and registered for quite a few of them recently that have done wonders for my business because I put what I learn into action.

Some people might have the mentality that they have to know everything before they can do anything. This line of thinking is one of the most effective ways to guide yourself straight to that hamster wheel.

There are some things about this business that you will be able to learn simply by reading it, but you are not going to benefit from that knowledge until you use it! Even if you actively try one of those points that you learned in that blog that you commented on several times last week and fall flat on your face, you can at least learn from the experience and move forward. You will even be able to return to the same blog and see it with a brand new perspective.

Mahatma Gandhi was once quoted as saying that “action expresses priorities.” Is your business a priority? Is polishing your craft and harnessing more talent one of your list of priorities? Do your actions prove your answer? Or, are you just a hamster…stuck on a wheel?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Voice Over Thinking with Doug Turkel and Terry Daniel

Have you ever wanted to eavesdrop on a conversation between two voiceover pros?

Terry: Hey man! So, instead of another typical interview with a pro, I thought you and I could just shoot the shit about our daily lives as voiceover artists. Is that cool with you? Wait, are we truly artists or do we just tell people that because we're starved for attention?

Doug: Yeah, that’s cool with me. But “artist” always sounds so pretentious. And since I’m not nearly as arrogant as you are, I usually go with voiceover “talent.” ; ) Plus, since I own, I figure it can’t hurt the old SEO, right?

But anyway, my day usually starts with a quick look at my to-do list to see if there’s anything that needs to be recorded right away. After that I’ll scan my emails to see if there are any new requests from clients or auditions from my agents. How ‘bout you?

Terry: Thanks for whoring out your website in the first part of the interview. That was awfully kind of you. Don’t expect a hyperlink to it, either. Ha! I wish I could say I didn't start my day with a giant mug of java because I know how awful that is for the voice but that's what happens! Twice a week, my fiancĂ© and I head to the gym early in the morning to get a good workout in. It helps reduce the stress of the work week.

Like you, I have a task list that sits on my Google Calendar that works very well for this sort of thing. Do you use any fancy software for your task list or calendar?

Doug: Hey, you know's all about the marketing, right? so any time I have the chance to mention, I'm gonna mention With hyperlinks. Get over it.

As for to-do lists and task lists, I've tried a bunch...Remember The MilkAstridToodledoWunderlist, and others, including Google Tasks, which is built into GMail. And that's the one that I'd go with if I had to pick some software solution to the to-do problem. Mostly because I live in GMail all day anyway. But for me, any of those solutions is just another layer of hassle between me and what needs to get done. And another layer of remembering to check my list.

So I go old school: I've got a dry erase board in the studio. That way, it's always staring at me, and at a glance I can always see everything that's on my plate. What’s your favorite way of managing what you've gotta get done?

Terry: Doug, I’m such a superstar in this business that I have 10 employees that keep me organized. Actually, I'm a Google freak myself. I live, sleep and breathe Google! In Google we trust. Okay, I’ll stop. Between the Google task tool and calendar, it keeps me pretty organized. Google Drive is another good wrench for the tool box! You can create documents and they automatically save in seconds. This works well for contacts, billing records and tasks. I also use that cute little reminder app on the iPhone.

The dry erase board is a great idea. It’s the old school ideas that still work best for some folks. Speaking of old school, I've decided to revert back to my pre-school days and just write on the wall with a permanent magic marker. That works great! What are we doing? Is this getting too nerdy? By the way, I just tweeted that we were working on this gem of a blog and noticed you weren't following me. What a jerk!

Doug: Yeah, of course I don’t follow you on Twitter. Do you have any idea how often you tweet? Back when I did follow you, all I saw was your freakin’ headshot popping up every 45 seconds or so. I’m just not strong enough to handle that.

But that brings up an interesting question. You've tweeted (@voiceoversbytd) more than 30,000 times. I’ve tweeted (@Voiceover) about 1,700 times and I’ll admit that my ROI on Twitter hasn’t been great. I know that we probably disagree on this, but I’ve never felt that focusing on Twitter for marketing made a whole lot of sense. You've obviously been using it a lot more actively than I have...has it generated much work for you?

Terry: First off, thanks for stalking my account. Second, perhaps if you weren't just following me, you wouldn't have seen my ugly mug pop up every three seconds! Twitter has been a great tool for me. I can honestly say that I get at a handful of new clients every year based on relationships I've made via Twitter. It takes more than just tweeting pictures of your cat or tattoo. I like posting links to cool VO projects I’m working on and occasionally will post helpful YouTube videos as well. I follow as many agencies and production companies as I can.

Sometimes it's as simple as just sharing ideas back and forth with these companies. If you’re not careful, it can be a total time suck. This is the case with any social media sites. I do pretty well with twitter. It sure beats picking up the phone and making a cold call, although I understand the importance of it. Are you a fan of cold calling? Sometimes I would rather drive my knuckles into the pavement than make a cold call.

Doug: Believe it or not, the thing that’s been most effective for me on Twitter has been recommending other voice talent. When clients or connections of mine on Twitter are looking for voice talent who don’t sound like me, I’ll refer them to someone who meets their specs. It’s a win-win...I help someone find just the voice they’re looking for, and a VO buddy of mine gets some work and a new client. Those clients are always very grateful, and often come directly to me the next time they need an “UNnouncer” sound.

Cold calls? I hate ‘em. I know that some people love them (or at least don’t mind them) and if they work for you, start dialing. They don’t seem to work for me, mostly ‘cause I don’t enjoy them, so I’d rather focus on marketing efforts with a better ROI. For me, that’s laser-focused marketing aimed at individuals who I can build relationships with. Less scattershot “advertising,” more one-on-one “interacting.” Do you have a favorite type of marketing?

Terry: I really enjoy just going door-to-door in random neighborhoods. “Hi, Mr. Thomas! Do you and your family need a voiceover for anything? If not, do you have any beer?" Like you, I enjoy the relationship building process. Sometimes it’s not even about voiceovers. It’s more about what I can do to help their business grow and bouncing ideas off each other. Even if they don’t need an actual voiceover right away, if you can come up with a cool marketing idea for a prospective client, good things happen!

For example, I recently developed a good relationship with prospective client and he hired me to do their voicemail when at the time, he really wasn't looking for a voiceover. All I did was give him a couple of key ideas for their website. This is a great example of building trust. Doug, this may seem random but what kind of wine do you like?

Doug: Yup...totally random. I’d expect nothing less from you, Terry. And I wish I had an answer for you, but the truth is, I've never really liked wine. And I've tried to like it. Back in my radio days, we used to host regular wine tastings and intimate concerts at the station for some lucky listeners. Every time, I’d sit there and listen to the wine expert discuss the finer points of the wines’ cherry or plum nose, its complexity, and its oak-y finish, or how it, “hints at green tomato and mineral notes as the finish dances.” Whatever. To me, it all just tasted like, wine, I guess...nothing special. So I could totally live without wine, and I pretty much do.

Can't live without VO, though...I love everything about it. (I know this might sound cheesy, but it’s true.) The work, the clients, the challenge of finding effective ways to track down new clients, and especially the incredibly cool, supportive and generous people I'm lucky enough to call my colleagues. What helps you keep making that long commute downstairs and into your studio every morning? Other than the wine. : )

Terry: Lol! The cold winter weather in Minneapolis motivates me to keep coming down to “The Cave!” Yes, I have a nickname for my studio! There is truly nothing like coming down to the studio in your flannel pajamas pants and being able to record at 2am, 2pm or whenever you need to. Like any sales oriented job, you’ll have your slow and stressful months but the busy ones more than make up for those.

One of the greatest feelings in the world is when a client calls to thank you for the job you did and gives you credit for helping their business grow. I love that. I am extremely passionate about voiceover and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Well, except singing in a Johnny Cash Tribute Band!

Mr. Turkel, this has been a blast and if you’re not sick of me by now, we should do this again soon. Doug? Doug? Doug!!!!!!

To be continued...

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Lost Art Of Listening

When was the last time that you really listened to someone? Do you remember the last time that you had an extended conversation with someone over the phone? Whether personally or professionally, it seems as if technology has impaired our ability to communicate with each other.

Many people have adopted the mentality that whatever I need to hear from you, I can receive in a short text message, tweet or Facebook post. It seems as if our brains have grown accustomed to paying attention to short and sweet messages only, tuning out anything that is long and drawn out – even when it comes to the detailed instructions that are provided to us by our clients.

I personally know of quite a few voice talents that have lost jobs simply because of not paying attention to the instructions that were provided. One talent lost out because he was expecting to receive a phone call from the client instead of following the simple instruction to make the call himself.

Fortunately, this lost art of listening doesn't have to stay lost – you can find it again! You just need to make some slight adjustments to your attitude, approach and overall way of thinking when it comes to your work.

In the voiceover business, your ears are just as important as your voice. You have to pay attention to what a talent agent or a client is telling you. Especially when it comes to reading copy, delivering files or submitting a demo for representation.

Do Not Rush to Be “Artistic”

Jeffrey Umberger, of the Umberger Agency, believes that voice talents seem to get hung up on the “artistic” side of their work a little too soon and end up inadvertently shutting the door of opportunity by doing so. Remember, just because you can be considered a vocal artist doesn't mean that you have the right to use your client’s projects to express your “creative liberties.” You may feel that the script should be delivered differently when compared to the instructions provided by your client, which is why you might decide to take creative control when it comes to the actual recording. By doing so, though, you are forgetting that you are not the one that is calling the shots – that job belongs to your client.

Think about any other actor – such as the A-list actors and actresses in your favorite movies. What happens when they decide to take creative control and not follow the director’s instructions? They are replaced with another actor that can! Your target objective should be to professionally use your art to satisfy the needs and expectation of the Director (the client) and not the actor. You are not striving to achieve an Academy Award nomination for your performance – your job is to simply focus on providing the client with what they need.

The Long-Term Advantage of Building Rapport

Your clients hire you because they feel as if you are the best candidate that is qualified and capable of following their directions and meeting (or even exceeding) their expectations. That is why you got the job in the first place! By making the decision to change the play on the field against the coach’s instruction, you are basically begging to end up warming the bench.

The key is to work with the client. Prove that you can follow the instructions and meet their requirements so that you can build rapport along with a long-lasting relationship with that client. Once you have earned the trust and respect of your client, then you might be able to eventually have a little more breathing room when it comes to your creative input. However, you need to always make sure that your first priority is to actively listen to and follow their clear and concise instructions – no exceptions!

You Got a Golden Ticket

Focus on the details that are provided within the instructions provided to you, especially when it comes to the desired tone, delivery and overall client expectations for the project. If you are searching for an edge over the competition, focusing on even the smallest details that others may view as insignificant is an essential step towards achieving that goal. It will allow you to have a clear understanding of the client, the product and how you can quickly get your name added to their very short list of favorites to call for future projects and other opportunities.

The specific directions and instructions provided by your client should be viewed as the golden ticket of opportunity. Keep in mind that competition within this industry is very steep – the same instructions may have also been provided to many other potential candidates in the past or even the present. Your goal should be to provide them with exactly what they need so that they will not have to search for any new candidates in the future.

Does Selective Listening Make You a Rebel?

If you are not actively listening to your client, does this mean that you are simply trying to “rebel against the man” by resisting their instruction? Not necessarily! I mean, if that is the case, then you are clearly just in the wrong line of work and should seriously reconsider your decision. However, in most cases, it is simply due to the fact that your selective hearing is getting in the way.

Erik Sheppard of Voice Talent Productions believes that either you are very reluctant about freeing yourself from your comfort zone due to a lack of confidence in your abilities or you are overconfident and think that you know what is best for the project. Regardless of which side of this fence you stand, you will still come across as either ignoring the direction all together or not being capable of taking direction – two great ways to get yourself blacklisted by those clients!

Don’t Become Too Distracted by the “Business”

At the end of the day, you are running a business. We enjoy what we do and have fun doing it, but it is also how we financially support ourselves and our families. However, it is important to not become too distracted by the needs of our business that we forget about our customers. Yes – you are a business owner, but that means very little if you don’t have any customers.

You need to treat your position more like the customer service representatives working on the sales floor and less like the upper management tucked away in their corner offices – completely isolated from the customers.

Focus on finding effective ways to please your customers. Make sure that they are able to come directly to you to get exactly what they need without any headaches, complications or exceptions!

Special thanks to good friends and agents, Jeffrey Umberger and Erik Sheppard for contributing some helpful nuggets!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Is Your Voice Worth More Than $15?

If your voice was a product on a shelf at the local department store, what amount would appear on the price tag? Think about the time, effort and hard work that you have put into developing that product from scratch just to get it to the point of where it is today. How much would you charge customers and clients interested in buying your product?

When you think about it from that perspective, it’s easy to feel offended by the mere thought of placing a $5 or $10 price tag on your talent, right? There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling that way either, even though there are many different lowball directories that will make you feel otherwise.

Now that we are two weeks into the New Year, you may not be very happy about the amount of new business you have been able to generate since the first. You could very well find yourself on the short end of the stick when it comes to bidding for different projects simply because lowball contractors and freelancers decided to submit bids that were a fraction of what was on your proposal.

What should you do now? The old saying that, “If you can’t beat ‘em…join ‘em” may quickly cross your mind, but should you pay attention to it?  NO!!

If you take your craft and career seriously, then you always have to remember you are worth so much more than the $10 and $15 jobs that seem to be popping up out of nowhere. You might be saying to yourself, “But, those are the only jobs that are available right now!” By thinking this way, you are clearly not able to see the forest for the trees. Believe me, I know what’s like to struggle to get as many jobs as you can when you are sitting on a big goose egg for the week or even the month – bills piling up, prospective clients bailing out and you're left wondering whether or not you should have gotten into this business in the first place. I went through this when I first got started in voiceovers. Take a deep breath and erase this level of thinking from your mind.

The key is to make sure that you focus on what is really important – the quality of the client instead of the quantity of the payment. When you’re not making very much money or closing very many jobs, you may start to think about joining such sites as Voice Garden and Internet Jock just to scrounge up as much work as possible. As is the case with any business, you need to focus on working smarter and not harder by focusing on high-quality clients.

There are always going to be clients that are simply looking to save a few bucks by getting whatever they need done as cheap as possible. As long as their basic needs are met and they don’t have to spend a lot of money to do so, they are happy. Even if they are not familiar with the average rates that professionals within our industry charge for our services, they will find themselves simply searching for the lowest bid amounts and hoping for the best. Those are low-quality clients that accept low-quality work as long as they get it done for low quality prices.

You need to be focusing on the type of client that is the exact opposite. The type of client that clearly understands the simple fact that quality work requires quality prices. Even if they have limited experience when it comes to this industry, they know that if they want it done right the first time around with no exceptions – they will have to pay for it. In comparison to the lowballing clients looking to save a few bucks, high-quality clients ARE OUT THERE and could be just around the corner. Keep in mind that one high-quality client can do a heck of a lot more for you in the long run than twenty low-quality clients.

When you're a new voice talent, it may come easy settling for these types of jobs for the long haul just because they seem easy to close. Professional anglers don’t use their best tools, equipment and boats to find goldfish just because they are available. Not only would they be wasting their time, money and resources, but they would look absolutely foolish doing so, wouldn't they? How do you think you look with all of your time, money and available resources chasing after the “goldfish” clients and jobs of this industry?

I look at some of these lowball VO directories like a kiosk in a shopping mall. Full of junk that true professional voice talents don't need. So, do yourself a favor and avoid them! Focus on revamping your marketing strategy in order to effectively target the “big fish!" This can be done much easier than you might think.

The key is to simply remember that your work is worth more than $10 – regardless of any rejection notices and emails from prospective clients that would rather keep their money and sacrifice quality than the other way around.

Think of your voice as a showroom-quality product that just hit the shelves today for the first time. Don’t place your brand new product on the clearance rack just so it can sell quicker for pennies. You could easily miss out on the high-quality sales opportunities that will slip right past you along the way.

Keep in mind that my entire sermon here is based on working with clients direct. If you’re represented by a talent agent, the agent will negotiate the rates with the client and more often than not, they are really good rates!  Thank you, talent agents!  More about the agency game in a future blog.

So, I ask you again….what amount appears on your price tag?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Let's Rock the Mic in 2014!

The clock has been reset. The slate has been wiped clean. You are back at day one. Now what? Do you put the pedal to the medal and go for broke, hoping for the best? Sure…if you want to crash and burn before February.

Look at January 1st the same that you would the first of any month. Just because the holidays are over doesn't mean that the fun, vivacious and jolly spirit you had for the last three months needs to end right along with them. However, it can definitely be tough to get the ball rolling after the holidays. You have to go back to reality – away from the close friends, new friends and family members that you became so close to throughout the holiday season. Whether your holiday season didn't pan out the way that you planned or you weren't quite ready for it to come to an end, it is very easy to shut down emotionally and mentally at this time of the year. For those of us who live in the Midwest, the cold and snowy January weather really doesn’t help us to put any pep in our step either. What are you supposed to do? What is the best way to break through this awkward period and get us back on track?

For voice talents, keep yourself pumped up with water and Vitamin D, make sure that your studio AND your face are both well-lit and get back to work! Even if you don’t have any solid sales or meetings coming up, fill up your calendar anyway! Schedule time to catch up with a client that you already have or a prospect that you've had in your funnel since last year. This will help you to keep your mind busy, blood pumping and energy flowing.

Take a look back at your business plan and make sure that it POPS! No, I don't mean to make it colorful, bright and filled with pictures. I mean – make sure that it P.O.P.S – Predict, Organize, Present and Stay up-to-date. Let’s break this down a little further.

Think about where you were able to take your business back in 2013, but focus on where you want it to go in 2014. Get back to basics when it comes to studying the market, searching for potential opportunities for growth as well as improvement. Network with other voice talents in the industry today to pick their brains and use the Internet wisely as a resource for further research and reference. Keep in mind that everything is not going to go as planned, so you have to be fully prepared for the bumps and roadblocks ahead while remaining optimistic.

Before you become too focused on how big you want your business to grow in 2014, make sure that you can afford to get it there. Consider all of your expenses for the year and make sure that you will have enough capital and generated revenue to stay afloat. Keep in mind that clients may come and go but remaining under budget will keep your business open forever. Maintain balance by considering a 10 percent cushion hypothetically – reducing projected revenues by 10% and increasing them by 10%. Develop a detailed marketing plan that covers your complete strategy when it comes to maximizing exposure, reaching new customers and getting more work from your old ones. Make sure that your marketing plan covers the online and offline worlds. Having a Facebook brand page has been extremely effective for me. Make sure to get one going this year!  They show up not only in facebook searches but Google searches as well. Complement that brand page with an official website and traditional advertising methods (i.e. post-cards, business cards, etc.)

Whether you're marketing via snail mail or email, have some effective templates ready.  Keep them brief. Prospective clients do NOT want to hear your life story or how incredibly awesome you think your voice is. Your demos should speak for themselves. Have a game plan in place. When I first started doing voiceovers from home, I built a spread sheet of potential clients that I discovered from directories on the Internet and Linkedin!  Spend ample time putting something like that together before you make initial contact.  

A perfect plan today is not necessarily going to be a perfect plan tomorrow. Think about the different loops, twists and turns that your business had to endure throughout the roller-coaster of 2013. Do you honestly expect anything different just because the year changed? Take the time to study and update your business plan periodically throughout the year, measuring your progress and searching for new opportunities for growth. Never be afraid to make changes, especially if those changes can potentially lead to you taking your business to the next level.

Go back in time to 11:59 PM – December 31, 2013. You are filled with hope, ambition and drive. You are pumped, motivated and excited. You are clearly ready to take on the world, making your professional and personal life so much better in the year to come. You can’t wait for the final second of the night to pass so you can get to work. Keep that passionate drive! Do not allow the change of date to change your pace and focus.

HAPPY 2014!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gratitude in 2013

It's that time of the year again! Since 2013 is coming to an end very soon, I thought I would list my top ten things I am thankful for. This is not a ranking system. I am just listing them as I go.  I would love to read YOUR list as well. Feel free to share it at the end of my blog. I'd love to see what you come up with.

1. Parents: I am very grateful to my parents for the all of the support they have given me over the years. As a teacher, my father has been an inspiration. My writing and speaking skills are a reflection of what I learned from him.  He is also the reason I am such a Minnesota Gopher fanatic.  It's a sickness that runs deep within the Johnston family. They've both put up with a lot of shenanigans, especially during my high school years. Or, high school year depending on who kept track of the days where I actually showed up! More about that in another blog.  Well, that would take 2-3 blogs!

2. Tracy: The love of my life. She has helped me so much. In personal growth as well as my business. She has a way of lifting a person up when they get down or are having a bad day. Waking up next to her every morning is like waking up and finding a gift at your bedside. Her smile is like a beam of light coming down from the skies. She does an awesome job with her photography and social media customers as well. They love working with her and I love being with her. Last year around this time, we got engaged by the Rockefeller tree in NYC. It was a beautiful moment and one we'll never forget.

3. The Neumann TLM 103: Would I sound insane if I told you that my microphone was one of my best friends? I think he would make a heck of a best man!  I just need to find a tux that fits him! We're a match made in heaven and without it, I wouldn't be in business and doing what I love.

4. Family: I am grateful for my family and Tracy's family. They make living life such a joy on a daily basis. My family even has a private facebook group page that we all stay in touch on. Some of the conversations are downright off the wall but that's what makes us unique. It's also brought a few of us closer together and with my youngest sister and brother-in-law living in NYC, it's been a great tool.  A good support system can be taken for granted but I have been lucky to have such wonderful support from my family throughout my life and career.

5. Facebook: Rumor has it there is a cool social media site out there called facebook? I'll have to check it out. Seriously, facebook has not only been a ton of fun but it's proven to be a powerful business tool. Just this year, I was hired by at least a dozen clients who found me on facebook! Not to mention that Tracy and I would not be together if it wasn't for this addictive little gem. Tracy and I went to the same high school in the early to mid 80's but we weren't exactly close friends. We got to know each other via facebook a few years back and the rest is history. Just like many others, I also reunited with several cousins, high school friends and even my sixth grade teacher!

6. Friends: I am honored to have so many friends not only in the voice-over industry but close friends who I have known for quite a few years now. They were there for me when I went through my divorce, when my mother had a stroke and on days where I am feeling a little down. As a die hard Minnesota sports fan, you need good friends to help you cope with the disappointment! Lol!  The closeness of some friendships have the tendency to fade over time.  It happens with everyone but it doesn't dilute the importance of them.

7. Pets: My dog Kaytee has been a staple in this house since 2003 and with the addition of Tracy's cat, Huckleberry, they are as entertaining as a good sitcom! A couple of true characters that amuse us on a daily basis. They should shave their own comic strip! Kaytee is aging now and she's a had a few minor health issues but is still a beautiful dog and is enjoying life to the fullest.

8. Clients/Students:   It's true!  Without them, we would be living at YOUR house! What good is a microphone if you don't have any clients? I am grateful for all of my clients and students. They are fun to work with and we learn from each other. The learning factor is something that gets taken for granted on occasion. Think about it. Every time I do a medical narration or an audio book, not only am I getting paid to do it but I am also getting an education! Many of my students move on to becoming successful voice talents and it's such a joy for me to watch their careers blossom. I'm honored to be their Obi-Wan!

9. Eggs: Sometimes it's the little things, right?  Scrambled, boiled, over-easy.  It doesn't matter.  Eggs are the answer to most of life's problems.  I love them and they love me.

10. Working from home: There is nothing like heading downstairs to the studio in your flannel pajama pants and your hair standing straight up. Sometimes I take this for granted until I have to run to the store and see Highway 394 backed up to Jupiter! I didn't handle rush hour very well back when I was working in Corporate. It's even worse now because I'm no longer used to it. One morning, I came close to pulling a "Bill Murray in Stripes" and considered leaving my car on the side of the highway and walking away!

It's always tough to come up with just ten but this is a start. Again, feel free to comment with your own lists. I would love to read what you have been grateful for in 2013.  Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's Just Reading!

"It’s just reading! Anyone can do it! Grab a mic, plug it into your computer, press record and ta-dah….you’re a voice actor!” We could spend hours listing off all of the different myths and misconceptions that we hear and read about our line of work on the Internet every single day. Just like the person who thinks the entire pool is completely shallow, you realize just how deep the water of this industry can be the farther you go into it.

From the surface, sure! It may seem like one of the easiest jobs that you can have. The truth seems to get overlooked within these myths and misconceptions, because it is much harder to make a living doing voiceovers than many people think. Think about all of the planning, training and execution that is involved – all of that takes not only time but money as well.

The person that says, “It’s just reading!” has clearly never had to handle a grueling medical narration or even be the sole reader for an audio book that is over 350 pages. Too many people just think that all that we do is pick up a script, step in front of a microphone, read the script and then collect a check. Don’t get me wrong; I would absolutely love it if that were the case but it’s not. It takes a lot of work to train your voice to be able to have the endurance, versatility and quality delivery that is required in order to complete the average project. Once the recording phase of each project is complete, many people seem to forget about the review and revision stages as well, which take even longer than the recording itself.

One advantage and common saying that is true about this business, though, is that it is not very intense on the physical side because you are really not required to put forth any physical labor in this line of work. However, the mental exhaustion alone can completely drain you much quicker than you might think. I absolutely love my job primarily because you can have a lot of fun doing it. You just need to make sure that you are realistic about what to expect from this career, especially if you are in it for the long haul.

Even the A-list celebrities that are hired to do voiceover work for multi-million dollar movie and video game franchises admit that it was much harder than they thought it would be. Having to basically stay in character as you record sometimes for hours at a time can be strenuous for anyone – especially if they make their living doing this on a daily basis. Many voiceover professionals have studied this art for countless hours, polishing their craft daily so that they can continue to be successful in a competitive market Acting, improvisation and voiceover coaching are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the quality instruction that we receive behind the scenes both in and outside of the studio.

As is the case with any business, we also are responsible for the marketing, advertising, accounting and administration side of our jobs on top of everything else. Becoming a voiceover professional is truly rewarding, enjoyable and can allow you to eventually fulfill your dreams of never having to punch someone else’s time clock ever again. However, it is imperative that you always remember that it is much more than just reading.