In Out? In Out? Or shake it all about?

Voiceover people do what we do for numerous and varied reasons.

We’re all different people from different backgrounds with different circumstances and different motivations. Some motivational factors may be more common among us than others. Family is a big one for me, it might be for you too?

But there’s an even bigger motivator for me. To explain it, I first need to cover two separate and discrete areas:

Input and output.

Many people make, in my opinion, a mistake with their focus. They spend too much time focusing on output. I have seen it time and time again in many walks of life. Chasing a ‘number’. Seeking a ‘success’. Aiming at a particular ‘outcome’. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s important to measure the outcome. After all:

If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there.

Often incorrectly quoted as a line from Alice in Wonderland – but the paraphrase works here.

I am a huge fan of goals. But. I’ve learned that setting the goal, measuring the outcome or deciding ‘what great looks like’ should only be a small proportion of our focus. Output happens, it’s a ‘result’, an ‘outcome’. And it happens well, after we’ve finished working on great quality input.

Pareto sits nicely here for me to express a good balance:

  • 20% of our time working on, measuring and reviewing output
  • 80% of our time working on, measuring and reviewing input

So how can this apply to voiceover?

I’ve built my own recording area – as most of us have. That’s involved everything from carpentry, to rearranging furniture. From treating the walls, to moving around the room. Of course none of that input effort is driving the result whilst I’m working on it. Plainly, It’s not getting me a role there and then. Obviously that input is going to affect output at a later time. Our input is ongoing, and we work hard at it:

  • We create studios
  • We buy expensive equipment
  • We practise our practice
  • We learn ( every day is a school day )
  • We audition
  • We fail, often – because it’s in the nature of what we do. Picture the door-to-door brush salesperson with his philosophy, “Every door that slams in my face, gets me one closer to the customer who will buy!” That’s us!
  • We learn from our failures and we get better.

All this is input.

As a result of working on this, we deliver quality output in the form of our recording. But it’s the next bit which REALLY adds the magic for me:

Seeing this ‘output’out there‘.

The words we’ve delivered, crafted, worked up, transformed into something relevant and useful and interesting. Those words, sitting out there in the ether. With a life. People listening to them, and commenting on them. Sometimes even enjoying them!

That’s where the true magic is for me, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

So next time you’re trying to work out why you didn’t get that role. Or trying to deliver the same sentence for the 13th time in an audition. Or spending time experimenting with the sound. Or marketing your business with seemingly no response – remember, it’s all input, and it’s all good. And the better quality the input, ultimately the more rewarding the output.

Have a great week.

Steve

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Room in voiceover for new arrivals? The MORE the merrier!

Ah, the perils of expressing yourself in 140 characters or less!

This week I got involved in a little bit of Twitter to-and-fro about a particular aspect of our industry. The subject matter is irrelevant. Suffice to say people expressed their opinions, and most of those people acted respectfully and with dignity.

But as we all know, Twitter is not the place to get a nuanced and complex point across. Many have fallen foul of it – just remember Emily Thornberry’s White Van debacle. We’ve all seen examples of people who put the ‘Twit’ in ‘Twitter’.

The voiceover world is a great place to be, and there are so many helpful and supportive people in our community. Something I’ve never experienced on quite this scale. There are tremendous people who go out of their way to offer a helping hand to those on the first rung of the ladder, and it makes me proud to be a part of it.

People like:

Abbe Holmes(www.abbeholmes.com)

Derek Chappell(www.thevoiceofyourbusiness.com)

George Whittam(vostudiotech.com)

Dan Lenard(danlenard.com)

Bill DeWees(You Tube Channel)

Gary Terzza(www.garyterzza.com)

And there are MANY more.

Yes of course, no one is going to deliver your career for you. Each of us has worked hard to get wherever we have got to, and these people know that giving something back helps to grow the business.

There’s a difference between ‘community’ and ‘charity’. None of us do what we do just for altruistic reasons. But almost everyone I’ve had the privilege of coming across enhance that sense of community. That can only encourage more people to join our ranks.

No one is going to deliver your career for you

I want more people to come into voiceover. It’s a dynamic, interesting and inspiring business. The more people coming in, the stronger the competition, the more it inspires me to do well. And so we all grow.

Yes of course there are people who will take a ‘self-centred’ or judgmental approach – there always will be. I don’t need their affirmation any more than they need mine, and they can go on their way.

Howsoever you define ‘success’ in our business, it takes perseverance, determination, hard work and a positive attitude.

The difference between our community and many others I have worked in is that VO people encourage success among their colleagues. That’s healthy and totally the right way to grow our industry.

So this is just me saying ‘thank you’ to those people for helping me be part of a tremendous industry. For supporting me in my early career, and just being one of the best bunch of people who I am privileged enough to call colleagues.

And in some cases ‘friends’ (and you know who YOU are!).

Have a GREAT week

Steve

 

 

 

“A lexicon of linguistic limber-ups and verbal verbosity!” The voiceover artist’s playground

Q) What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?

A) You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo.

That joke sits in my top ten of ‘Dad’ jokes which become funnier with each telling. Well they do to me anyhow.

In order for that joke to stand a chance of working, it needs two things:

1) A passing appreciation of the spoken vernacular which can transform the word ‘basin’ into the word ‘bison’

2) To be said, and not written down.

I have spent this week voicing some interesting pieces. From another ‘JC soundalike’, (‘Cleese’ not ‘Christ’) to a simple piece for a finance company. I realised today that it was already March, and I’m 1/6 into another year of talking to myself in a padded room for money.

And I love it!

The world of voiceover is not for everyone. It can be lonely. It can be frustrating. It definitely isn’t going to present me with the dilemma of deciding which Learjet to take to work this week! But, it is rich, rewarding and the most satisfying vocation.

        I count myself privileged to be a part of it.

To be the one who brings to life (often) carefully crafted words, created by (usually) excellent scriptwriters, is remarkable.

Breathing gist, essence and meaning into a paragraph of text is a significant responsibility. It’s also a real privilege. We are presented a page of words, sometimes with a short brief on style, and then we give it ‘sense’.

We wrestle with homophones and heteronyms. We put polysemes in context and handle homonyms. I wonder if I’ll ever have to deliver that famous line:

      “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo”

I count myself lucky – I could be stuck in an office, talking to myself, for money. But I’m not, and I’m grateful.

So, before I fire up the e-mail and look at this week’s verbal challenges, it’s time to cook the Sunday roast.

First step of course to any cooking – wash hands. Where’s that copy of National Geographic?

Have a GREAT week.

Steve

Shiny things and the latest gear!

Sometimes people ask me how I got into voiceover?

Well, like many of my colleagues, it was a combination of things. I started out under the guidance of a talented film maker producing my first film narration several years ago. Eventually, after much trial (and error) I got some training, practiced (a lot) and learned about what works and what doesn’t.

Also similarly to many of my colleagues, I’ve always been interested in audio and recording. From making tapes on my portable cassette player in my bedroom in the late 70’s – to recording in the 80’s on a 4 track recorder (Yamaha MT-120)  through my mixer (Realistic 32-1200) mixer via my digital delay (Yamaha REX 50), a cheap mike and failed attempts to hook it all up to my Atari 1024st!

This was the kit which took pride of place in my bedroom back in the day:

old-kit

I wish I still had this gear, hopefully someone somewhere is getting some use from it! These days you can do everything the above did with a modern smartphone, and a handful of apps!

And today’s apps don’t need to come with a pencil:

unspooled-cassette-tape-2

But I love music, I love playing with sound – and I love gorgeous kit. I’m a sucker for it!

Unfortunately my love of the latter is tempered by overriding priorities to my family, life and the inconvenient need to eat every now and again. This has meant that I am usually an observer of sexy kit instead of a consumer!

The cover image is of course what a DJ works with these days when playing out, although this one seems to have forgotten his records!

I do all my VO work on good quality but relatively modest equipment, and I’m rather pleased that age has taught me to be able to focus on how I deliver my sound well – not doing it via the latest FLASHIEST gear. In my early 20’s I WOULD happily have all the gear and no idea, these days wisdom has kicked in – thank goodness!

We know that voiceover is about the delivery, and you don’t need the most expensive gear to deliver great quality work to many happy clients.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t LUST after lovely stuff – and I’m TOTALLY envious of my colleagues who enjoy gorgeous vintage mics, powerful computer hardware and ‘racks of beautiful studio gear doing nuanced and sumptuous things with sound’.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting these colleagues haven’t earned the right to use this great equipment through many years of work, dedication and practice.

(There are a few people who DO think that having shiny kit is all you need. But I don’t really consider them colleagues, and I do wish them luck as it must be tough making a living $5 at a time.)

I know my place, I know what works for me, and my clients seem to be very happy with the results.

But, in the spirit of that walk down memory lane – and my once youthful desire to own the next best shiny and new thing – I’d like to know:

1) What piece of equipment have you owned in your audio life which you have fond memories of?

2) What would you LOVE to have plugged into your setup which you currently don’t?

Your answers to number 2 will increase the size of the ‘stuff I want’ folder on Evernote – but DON’T LET THAT STOP YOU!

Now, where’s my TANDY catalogue gone…

SteeVO

 

‘Work’ in progress?

BALANCING THE BOOKS

There’s lot of talk at the moment on forums like LinkedIn about Work/Life Balance.

The posts are often aimed at achieving the holy grail of balance. Or sometimes they suggest the two things are the same and we shouldn’t worry about it.

Happiness = W/L+B? Or B=L-W? Or maybe it’s L=W+B? Who knows?

What’s interesting is the suggestion that there is conflict between the two elements. That somehow ‘work’ is at odds with ‘life’, ‘good’ at odds with ‘bad’. After all, would it even be a discussion if we had too much ‘life’?

Of course it is easy (and glib) to say that it’s all the same thing. My perspective is the opposite; it’s all different and we should embrace it.

To me, the labels themselves are the issue. They’re set up in opposition when in fact they’re not the opposite to each other. ‘Work’ is not the opposite to ‘Life’. The key to unraveling this is to see past the labels and look below the surface.

This week I was setting up the structure of my Evernote filing system. If you’ve not used Evernote before I thoroughly recommend it. A chap called Brett Kelly has written an excellent book on how to use it well. I’ve put a link at the bottom.

I was placing folders into two categories – Work and Personal. And I was really struggling with some. For example, one element houses ‘Book Titles’ I am noting which at some point I’d like to read. I realised that I was going about it all wrong!

A book on developing my ‘Communication Skills’ for example isn’t exclusively either Work or Personal – it’s both. And that’s when the penny dropped.

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

We often fail to get what we want and sometimes it’s because we get things wrong. But we don’t blame our ‘Coffee/Trousers’ balance, or our ‘Shampoo/Smartphone’ balance.

But maybe we should.

I recently listened to an episode of the Radio 4 Program “Word of Mouth” about ‘Time’. The link is at the bottom.

Near the end Rosie Gray talks about ‘Time Management’. She explains that you can’t ‘manage’ time. You can only manage what you do in each hour/day/month.

We know that there are always things we’re unable to influence which fill our time. Yet they don’t fill 24 hours of our day.  If we challenge them, we learn that they’re actually a lame excuse for not trying to manage the other stuff.

I’ve learned that influencing quality, is more helpful than aiming to influence quantity. Managing ‘what’ you do ‘when’, will work IF you’re clear on what you’re aiming to achieve.

The starting point is – what does ‘good’ look like? I would enjoy spending a full hour engaged with my kids in something THEY love. Compare that to being in the same room as them for an entire afternoon, but not actually connected to what they’re doing. I’m distracted by:

  • Emails
  • The phone
  • Facebook,  or 
  • A “remarkable new gadget on the TV which comes with 4 other gadgets free of charge”!
  • Etc…

In fact in the second scenario I’m doing a pretty poor job of ‘work’ and ‘life’!

To quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Backed up by one of my heroes Dale Carnegie:

“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”

If time spent on one activity is too extreme we need to sort it out, if we can.

You may know someone who has to work 3 jobs of 6 hour shifts, a single parent maybe. They struggle to be in the right place at the right time just to pick up their kids. As for spending ‘quality time’, that’s a rare luxury. A scenario which would fit the argument that WLB is at odds. Actually, someone who IS in that scenario isn’t suffering from a poor WLB. They’re having a tough ‘Life’ full stop.

Maybe considering what makes up our ‘Life’ is key. It may show that setting out to achieve a WLB is superficial. After all, how do you measure WLB? How much ‘Life’ is enough?

YOU GOTTA APPRECIATE TO ACCUMULATE (Inspired by my friend and colleague Debby Barnes)

I am so lucky to have what I do have in my life. I also recognise that I don’t spend enough time appreciating it.

I could go out right now and spend 10 seconds appreciating the rose bush in the garden.

Or stroking the cat.

Or listening to one of the kids tell me a joke.

It would be 10 seconds which would enrich my soul and my feeling of wellness.

10 seconds, and it would still leave me a further 604,790 seconds at my disposal this week. And yet, how often do we purposely plan to set aside time to do these things? Rarely in my experience. They happen as a result of doing something else. Surely, we would raise the quality of the ‘life’ side on my non-existent equation, if we did plan to do these things – and indeed more regularly?

Maybe setting some time aside to appreciate what we do have, is where we need to be?

After all, you managed to find a few minutes to read this blog. Was that a great use of those minutes? Maybe, maybe not. If you read it as soon as you saw the link, I’ve managed to interrupt whatever you were doing. I’m sorry – that wasn’t my intention, but to be fair – it was your choice.

I guess I’m highlighting what I’ve learned. We are more in control than maybe we give ourselves credit for. 

Do you count reading this as ‘work’ or ‘life’ ? Is it ‘business’ or ‘pleasure’? I’d suggest it’s neither, it doesn’t need to be.  If you read it because you decided it may be of interest or use, then at best it’s achieved that. At worst you’ve learned that you should be more suspicious of my titles!

Or you saved it for later to read at an allocated time. In which case please share your time management skills with me! You can do so by e-mail, message, or I’m always on Twitter… oh hang on a minute, not really ‘walking the walk and talking the talk’ there am I?

Oh well, as always, work in progress.

Have a GREAT day!

Steve

 

Link to the BBC Radio 4 Program “Word of Mouth” on “Time”:

 

Link to Brett Kelly’s excellent book on Evernote

Stars in your eyes

For anyone hoping to see pictures of Leslie Crowther, Matthew Kelly or Cat Deeley – I’m sorry to have disappointed you!

No this isn’t about people pretending to be Dolly Parton, Elvis or Cliff Richard (the most impersonated stars on that program which this blog isn’t about).

It is about my view and experience of the star rating systems on some pay to play voiceover sites.

Just to be clear from the outset, this is my opinion and my experience, based on my time with Voice123. Their operation is generally good, and I have got some great work from Voice123. I would recommend them as an option for anyone starting out.

However, I have two pieces of advice when it comes to what you should do with the results you sometimes get on an audition when they rank you with 1/2/3/4 stars:

  1. Ignore it
  2. Ignore it

I feel it’s good advice, I named it twice!

Why ignore it?

Because as a new voice talent starting out it will NOT HELP YOU ONE BIT!

In fact, it could damage your career if you change your approach based on the stars.

The thing is this: the voice seekers aren’t responsible for giving you feedback about the audition. The star system is only (sometimes) used by them to rank how close the audition comes to whatever criteria they are setting for the project.

You could have delivered a fabulous audition, clean, clear excellent in quality. But you get one star because the sound they have in their ‘head’ is completely different to you.

Alternatively you may have delivered a poor audition. But because your voice is the same as what they are looking for they may give you three or even four stars. This is because as a starting point it’s closer than many of the other auditions.

None of these things mean you’ll get the job! Nor are they a reflection of how good the audition was. After all what does ‘good’ mean anyway?

If you need feedback- the ONLY way to get honest and balanced feedback is to have your auditions reviewed by a proper voice coach.

Personally I enjoy working with Gary Terzza, he’s cool.

But of course there are many coaches out there. Choose one by recommendation though, not by putting your finger in the ‘Yellow Pages’ under ‘V’. This is for two reasons:

  1. You would need the Delorian/Tardis to go back in time to when the yellow pages was a relevant tool for finding a service provider
  2. An experienced coach who someone has recommended is going to give you the real support you need during the early days.

For example, with the star system if you’re getting lots of 1’s, there’s the possibility you’re auditioning for lots of projects which don’t match your sound. But you’ll never know why – so you’re still in the dark really.

If you start blindly changing things to increase the number of stars you get on an audition, you could end up removing things which ADD to the quality of your work.

In my experience – send the audition, and FORGET IT – unless they come back to you to say “we’d like to work with you”.

While you’re waiting practice practice practice. And while you’re resting, switch on a bit of UKGOLD* and watch another rendition of ‘Islands In The Stream’!!!

Harry Hill’s hosting the new series of “Stars In Their Eyes” next year – now that’s gonna get four stars from me!

Have a great day!

Steve

* Other daytime TV Channels are available

 

 

Scream if you wanna go faster???

I was reading an article today from Voiceover Herald with interest. (The link to it is at the end of this blog if you’d like to see it).

It was an interesting article, and in the main advocated choosing a professional voiceover person in order to create realistic characters for video games

However, I was sad to see that the section on the ‘freelance’ sites (I think we know which ones) refers only to potential quality issues. This isn’t the main issue – it is that artists are dropping their rates to exist on such sites at all.

This may appear to be in the interests of the client short term – but as it directly competes with those who charge a fair price for their work, it’s surely going to impact the reputation of the industry as a whole in the longer term. In my view clients with a tight budget will end up spending even less of it on the audio in favour of spending more on the imagery/video or other elements of their project.

“It becomes very difficult to revise your pricing once you’re stuck in it”

Of course the article needed to be balanced in its assessment of the options available – we can’t just ignore what’s going on. The challenge though is that people new to the industry could read it as advocating that it’s right to charge nothing or virtually nothing in favour of getting a testimonial. If you’ve been around even a little while, you know that’s not going to help in the longer term, in fact it becomes very difficult to revise your pricing once you’re stuck in it.

A difficult point to address agreed. I’m don’t think I’m a fan of an unofficial ‘union’ or membership/logo approach as I always think these things never get off the ground in the way it’s originally intended – however I could be convinced otherwise! 

I am confident of my personal long term success by sticking to fair rates and providing quality work – however will this become an ‘outdated’ approach if there is a shift in the industry? To be clear, I don’t worry about poor quality work being offered at a low price; I don’t see that as a competition or risk. Also, this is not the view of a ‘Luddite’ – I love technology and enjoy an ever-evolving world and the challenges we are presented with.

I think I know where most of my colleagues stand on the pricing side of things – I’m keen to find out what you think? Are you concerned – do you think it will just ‘fizzle out’ ?

I guess I’m keen to see if there’s a general sentiment that it’s appropriate to challenge how these sites are impacting things, is peer-pressure appropriate and will it be enough?

You can reply directly on this blog if you’d like to in the ‘leave a reply’ section at the top or using the contact form below.

I’d be really interested to hear your views!

Thank you for reading, and have a GREAT day

Steve

http://www.voiceoverherald.com/hire-hire-professional-voice-actors-video-games/