Auditioning for Voice Actors In The New Era - The Best Way To Ensure More Bookings
If you follow trends, you can tell that the Voice Over Casting business is turning to online sources. At the very least, it is becoming the most economical way for new talent to break into the market and get heard. Many of these talents venture into the market with home made everything; demos, packaging, websites, commercial copy, studio setups and the list goes on. They send out home made CD's that they made in their home made studio, labeled with their home made labels and promoted on their home made websites. Not to frown on this, because it is the way that almost everyone gets started. Problem is now... EVERYBODY wants to be a voice guy or girl, which means the talent pool, or somewhat stagnant water for that matter, has gotten quite muddy with demo after demo after demo on the market from talent after talent after talent.. You get my point I guess.
A lot of these guys and girls are filtered out through the cost of doing business, and many get discouraged after a few attempts at getting hired, and they too fall by the wayside. Which is good for all of us that choose on a daily basis to remain in the game and continue to deal with the rejection and other headaches that come with the business. What it does leave behind is the chaff of those who have moved on to greener pastures. Producerís shelves continue to be lined with demo tapes and CD's.
I've been in a lot of agencies and it is almost laughable what some people will send to agents trying to drum up business. All one has to do is watch the new season of American Idol to witness how people throw half hearted attempts at getting to the big leagues. At times all of us are guilty of it. I noticed a while back that I myself had gotten "a little lazy" in the audition process. After 10 years, you tend to develop a routine where by you do everything the same. I sat back and took a good look at how I was physically positioned when submitting online auditions. There I was at the mixing console in the studio, sitting in front of the mic I usually use for coaching, talkback, ISDN and booth recording sessions.
The mic stand as it turns out was set to low, I was slumped over in my chair, leaning to the right a little, and doing little more than muttering my way through the auditions. Then with little concern, I would do some basic editing to the file and ship it off. I had over time, ceased putting the right amount of effort into the auditions. I was still doing a good job. Question is, was I doing the best job I could. The answer was no. I could certainly do a lot better. I began by rearranging the mic so I had to stand up to use it. No more of this sitting down and firing them off like they didn't matter. I stand up for all of the other production I do, why shouldn't I put just as much effort into the auditions? That's a pretty easy one to answer... Auditioning is tiresome and boring. The only thing that makes it tolerable is the idea you might land something out of the deal. And your spirit sure gets renewed every time you do.
Auditioning is also one of those things we have to do in order to get any work, so after a while it becomes like taking out the trash. If we don't do it no one will - and as long as no one is watching, we can let it pile up for a while. What happens after it sits there for a while? It starts to stink. Much the same way our auditions do after we begin to see them as a chore, or something "that is beneath us" because we have been doing this long enough and we know what we are doing.
What a poor attitude to have. Each audition is a new opportunity to be reborn. We can get up, sit up straight, (or in my case stand up) and go after the new job lead with some real gusto. I have gotten some auditions into the studio in the past month or so where you can tell that the talent just didn't care, or thought the job was beneath them for some reason. So why even bother applying? If you aren't going to give it your all, why even take the time? Some of these auditions were mixed up with younger talents that were trying way too hard to sound "Cool".
You can hear it in every aspect of the audio they sent over. Straining and pushing themselves to sound like who knows what. The one thing they accomplish is sounding like anyone but themselves. But compared to the experienced talent that "Phoned In" their read, the two demos sound strikingly familiar to one another. In what way you ask? They just weren't right. Out of the 100 or so submissions I received, almost half of them hit the round file (trash) due to audio quality alone. If they were sending junk like that out in an attempt to get a gig, what nightmares would I have to deal with if I had them produce the audio in their own studio? Of the other 60% or so, some of them nailed it. Just plain old nailed it. They got the read, they got the voice, and they got the interpretation. It made it hard to decide who to pick.
Then there were the Shatners of the bunch - That is the self deprecating Shatner I speak of. They just pushed too hard, or tried to do something that was totally out of their range or experimental. Auditions should never be "Experimental". At times it was just a little issue that could be overlooked if there wasn't anyone else to choose from, but in this case there were other talents that hit the nail on the head. Other times it was glaring; some talents chose to put their own words into the script because they didn't like the way it was written, then there were the English professors who took it upon themselves to correct us as if we were the writers of the copy. I mean they actually took time at the beginning of their read to say, "Oh, and by the way ______ is not the correct use of the word" or "this part of the script really needs some work." Absolute no-nos. I don't care who you are.. The words on the page are the words the client wants to hear. You will never, ever get hired if you think you can get away with scorning the people who wrote the script. At least we wont hire you. It's not to say if someone had the tact to call on the phone and start with "I have some concerns about the copy." they would be turned away never to hear from us again.
At least then, the producer or client may be willing to listen. Sometimes, talents have pointed out some really good stuff, and they get thanked for it. But anyone who thinks they can stand up on the mountain top like some sort of Shakespearean authority and dictate to clients and producers what is and isn't right has got another thing coming. Hopefully, it's a habit not too many people have.. Needless to say, their demos ended up in the round file too.
Then there were the ones that made you laugh. Once again, think of American Idol... Auditions where Mommy is in the kitchen on her laptop with a $5 computer microphone and little Johnny is riding his Big Wheel around on the linoleum floor and little Jenny is yelling at Johnny in the background. In the middle of her read, mommy turns around to shoosh her kids "Would you all quiet down, mommy's trying to do something here.." I kid you not; she actually left that part in the audition.
This would be the "Chaff" I mentioned earlier. Just people who had no business even trying but they continue to try anyway. There were a few of these auditions. They were remarkable! It's the only time Iíve had a client rolling around in tears on my studio floor, and if you've been to the studio, you know there isn't enough room to roll around. (One quick note to all those who submitted your demos to the studio last month: This article was not inspired by any of your work. It is referring to completely unrelated demos submitted by people actually auditioning for a job we did. Just wanted to let you know.. Thanks)
The point I am trying to make is this: There is a lot of competition for voice work out there. Some of the best talents in the world apply for the same jobs the rest of us do. As well as do some of the worst. We need to find a way to make sure that we don't resemble the latter while we strive to become the best we can be. New talent and old alike are guilty of not putting their best foot forward on occasion. It is in these instances the good VO's sound bad and that in turn makes the bad VO's sound better, or at least not as bad as the worst. The only way we can combat our natural tendencies to grow complacent is to switch up the way we do things.
Also realize, the only people who survive in this business are the ones willing to scratch and claw their way to the top. The really hungry ones who refuse to take no for an answer are the ones that are going to outlast a lot of the rejection.
Rejection is just part of the game. Voice over is acting. It's as much acting as acting itself. The only difference is in today's market there is very seldom an audience for a voice talent. When you had to go to a studio all the time to work in the business there was always some sort of audience. Even if it was just the producer and engineer. In New York City, almost every audition you go on has an audience. That is the beauty of the trend I mentioned at the very beginning; slowly but surely, the need to leave the house to audition is fading away. I doubt it will ever completely disappear. The big companies are not known for letting talents with their own studios run wild with projects for major advertisers. Still, if your studio is good enough and your reputation is such that a producer feels confident with the product you are going to supply, you'll find that quite a few "Do it yourself" type productions are possible.
That is why I canít stress enough the need for you to bone up on your audition skills, and make sure the product you are sending to clients is the best it can be.
Take a look around; see if there are ways to improve your product.
Have you spent a lot of time sitting for your auditions? Well then stand up.
Have you done a bunch of quick pass editing on your reads?
Then start to spend a little more time on them, or try reading each script three times and choosing the best of the bunch.
Maybe you don't know what the best is.. Drop the studio a note, we'll tell you the difference.
Family can be a big problem. Not only are they noisy, but also you may not feel comfortable reading out loud with them in earshot. A lot of times family can be a real killer. If they don't fully understand your pursuit, they are liable to bug you about it, or give you a hard time by making fun of you or mocking a read or voice you were trying to deliver. They don't realize the effect they have on you. It's the same thing about dieting. If you start to loose a little weight and go to a family function, in the same breath a family member is using to compliment you for your accomplishment, they say the words "Here, have a piece of pie." or "Anyone for pizza?" I have heard a few people liken it to the family member being subconsciously jealous of you, and doing things to derail or sabotage your efforts. Without this turning into a Dr. Phil episode, or me turning you on your family, just know this:
For what ever reason, family members or people in the house are going to run the vacuum or decide to re-tile the kitchen 2 minutes after you sit down to read. They are just going to do it, and they will do it again and again. Until you make them understand. You have to sit them down and talk to them. You have to get the point across however you can, that you are trying to do one of the hardest, most un-natural things in the world, and you are trying to make a living at it. You need them to understand how their interruptions or disregard for what you are trying to do is making it impossible for you to do it. Once they understand, with a little practice and a few reminders, most family members will begin to get a little more understanding, and may even eventually turn into your biggest supporters.
If they continue to be obstructionists after you have tried to talk to them, then I think it gives some merit to the whole jealousy thing. If you find that having family members in the house makes it hard for you to really get into what you are doing, you are not alone. They bother me too. That is why the most private place you can find is the best. If there is no privacy, and you are afraid someone might hear you, you are just going to have to get over it. This is a performance art, and no actor ever got famous performing for his showerhead. You are going to have to learn how to belt this stuff out, even if someone might over hear you.
While we are on the family topic: Have you started reading your scripts while Johnny and Jenny pretend to have a WWF cage match in the background? If so, exercise the demons from them by giving them a book to read on the other side of the house or something. Oh.. One more thing.. Please turn your baby monitor off if you keep it in the "Studio". We've had a couple of those too. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff people send out...American Idol all over again.
Take a look at your surroundings in the studio. Anything that makes noise at your place is subject to sensitive ears when you send it out. The people that are listening to your work are usually sitting less than four feet from $1000 dollar monitors (speakers to all you American Idol and WWF fans) and they can hear your toenails growing. Sound isolation is a good hobby to study, or at least get some info on it if you want to land more work.
Take a serious look at your audio chain. What is (or isn't) in the path of your signal? Do you have the most modest of setups, or do you have every piece of equipment known to man linked into your microphone. Towers of rack equipment burning in the background of your studio put off a ton of heat and noise. Locate them to a different room, or better yet unplug them and put them on Ebay. More often than not, producers are looking for good, clean, dry audio. No effects, no processing, no nothing. Now I know you "Radio Gods" will dispute that, and you have a valid point. Many producers hiring imaging voices are looking for fully produced audio, and you need that stuff to do your job. Many talents produce their own audio, that doesn't in turn make them good producers. Production skills are learned either from a tutor or the hard way (years of trying to get it right on your own).
Beware the opinions of the audiophiles of the world. While they have many good points when it comes to the true fidelity of music, as applied to commercial voice work, a lot of the audio you produce with your $20,000 setup is headed for a $2 dollar Chinese made speaker. Knowing the difference is the real trick. Which leads me to one more way you can polish your product. Know which medium it's headed for. If you have been hired to voice and produce a read for a website, there isn't a lot of sense creating a masterwork better suited for THX and Skywalker Sound. Your file isn't going to be playing in a movie theater; it's going to by coming out of someone's computer speakers at work. I have witnessed audio actually rumble a persons tinny little Dell speakers off their desk before.. There's no need for it.
I've known a few VO's who like to think of themselves (and only of themselves a lot of the time) as "Audiophiles". Some of them in the not so distant past. They were very talented production people with very good ears. Unfortunately, their talent was only overshadowed by their own arrogance as to what qualified as "good sounding audio". Many of them will paint themselves into esoteric little corners where the only production they'll be doing is for the Boss Jock's which litter the AM and FM dial. Sure, it's good work if you get enough of it. But does it make you a voice talent? Maybe.. But what kind of voice talent? One that's a one trick pony and hardly good at anything else? More than likely.
Sorry to break the news to you, radio imaging isn't voice over. It's a part of it. But it isn't the real deal. It's radio. Being able to say "The best hit music in all of Barbados" isn't quite the same thing as carrying a 2-hour narration for the History Channel, the US Military, A&E or Discovery. Producers who work for those companies steer very clear of anyone having a "Radio" or "Announcer" sound and last time I checked, imaging pays about $150 dollars a sheet, whereas narration and top shelf commercial talent can make $750 to $1500 for 10 seconds of their voice. Which one do you want to grow up to be?
Auditions get posted daily with direction such as "Please no Announcers" and "Not looking for a radio guy, but a real person."
Goes to show you that many of the people out there don't consider "Radio Guys" real people. If you have ever worked in radio, which I did for four years, you know that in many cases it's the truth. Many people in radio resemble anything but people. Maybe a certain part of a person's body, but not people. Ok, I'll stop the editorial. Wait a minute, it's my opinion. I own it. Therefore I'll do with it what I please. As opinions go, just like Radio Guys, everybody's got one.
The trick to landing more gigs lies in your ability to satisfy the masses. Let the underdog businesses of the world get the same kind of audition that the big guys are getting. Don't deliver a lame duck to some guy just because he is a small client. Give him the same product you would try to give Pepsi or McDonald's and leave the bad auditions to the bad VO people out there. Strive to do your best with every chance you get. If you need some advise or don't know if youíre doing the right thing. I'm always available to talk.
Take a look at the time of day you are auditioning and see if there is any way you can make it earlier. See if you can audition first thing in the morning, within four hours of getting up. It's the time that your head is clear, your voice is most rested and there is little else going on in the world. If you work at night, or can only audition at night, try some nice hot tea when you sit down (or stand up) to read. Don't make it one of the strong Black teas; try something a little more mild like green tea. If you can only audition in the mid day, make sure you clear all the left over Big Mac tidbits from your throat, drink some hot green tea, and try not to strain your voice in the early part of the day. If anyone out there has there own list of elixirs for the throat please share them here. I'll post them on my site.
When I was in radio, I worked a split shift where I was out the door at 3:30 am and didn't return until 10:30. Then I had to turn around and leave at 1:30pm and didn't get back to the house until 8:30 at night. I was always tired, my auditions suffered, and overall I felt like I was loosing touch with the VO biz.. Solution: Leave radio.. That's what I did. I never looked back.
Radio isn't what it used to be. I don't think it will ever be the same since the disrobing of Janet Jackson.
There will be no more Howard Sterns, no more freedom to rattle off at the mouth as long as you don't curse. It will all die off into a mere fraction of what it used to be. I had even more incentive to jump ship when I got a letter from my company (big company on the scale of Big) that said Congress and or Congress Jr. (the FCC) had passed an "Emergency Bill" that in effect said if I, little ol' me, so much as uttered something deemed indecent that I could be fined 14,000 dollars or some absurd amount of money. The company I worked for made it clear in the letter that they would immediately toss me in front of the bus in the event such a situation took place. That's all I needed. I didn't even clean out my pod, I just split. Left my posters on the wall and pictures of my family on the console.. I was gone.. I didn't need it that bad, and radio wasn't what I got into radio for. I got into radio to get more voice work.
I won't call it a big mistake, because there were a lot of benefits to working an air shift for a while. You get in touch with a lot of different technologies and you spend a lot of time on the mic learning to get really comfortable with it being around. After a while, it kind of becomes your friend, you hold it, nurture it, talk to it.... Ok.. This is getting weird.. What I'm trying to say is there was nothing wrong with the experience. It's just that very seldom does radio experience apply to freelance voice work when it comes to getting any. Yes, your opportunity to voice stuff for the local auto dealership or hair salon will come. Those opportunities only come because you are on the station. Leave the station and see if any of those clients call you when you are no longer affiliated with it.
There are guys that have been on my hometown station for over twenty years and I think I've heard them in maybe 20 spots apiece. And that is being generous. I'm sure there are lots of people out there gearing up to claim their days in radio launched their VO careers. Let me save them a minute.. Save it. Keep it to yourselves. The last thing I or anyone else will benefit from is someone coming by to blather on and on about their success. If you are a working talent and you think you owe it all to radio, good for you.. Your anecdotes are welcome if it is obvious that someone may benefit from them.
So you say "Hey Mike, you're being rather hard on radio guys aren't ya?" Well, yes...I am. Much like your parents might have told you not to touch the stove or that playing with matches was dangerous, I'm trying to keep potential VO's from thinking that radio is the way to go to become a voice guy. Because it's not. Let me make this clear delineation. If you want to be in radio, go to a broadcast school. I recommend the Connecticut Schools of Broadcasting, because that's where I went and when I graduated, I sent out 2 emails and got hired 45 minutes after sending them out. If you want to be a voice over guy or girl, don't go into radio. Don't sign up for broadcast school, and one more thing... Don't go into radio.. They are two different entities and need to be treated as such. If you do sign up for broadcast school, you will spend as much as you would trying to break into voice over. In that case the two are alike. From that point forward, they each take entirely different roads.
So you say "Hey Mike, (if you haven't already called me a few things by now) don't you think you are alienating people who are in radio and discouraging them from finding out more about voice over?" I was getting to that.
If you are in radio, and you think you want to get into VO as a freelancer, don't give up all hope just because of me. I'm sure at some point some one told you "Hey, you've got a nice voice, you should be in radio." to which you said, as you slid closer and ordered the little lady a drink, "Why yes, I should be.. and I am.." That right there is a radio guy. A voice over talent would say, "Thank you, I'm glad you noticed. I've been doing commercial voices for four years now." "You might have heard me in the Betty's Florist commercial which ran last month on cable channel 26." (and is scheduled to run for another 10,000 years.) To which she nods "uh-huh" and then he proceeds to tell her about every other job he's done to which she nod's uh-huh. Then he runs out to the car to get her a copy of his demo tape. When he returns to hand it to her and asks if the company she works for hires voice talent, he finds her sitting huddled on her bar stool, looking at him as she sips her drink purchased by who? The radio guy.
That story I admit is an absolute embellishment, but not too far off from the way a desperate young voice talent might act when confronted with a new lead. It's also similar to the way an aspiring radio guy or girl might act if they wanted to get into radio and they just met someone who worked at the local station. It wouldn't even matter if all the guy did there was mop the floors, the thought would cross their mind. The feeling is the same, the desire and emotion to succeed at either is the same, though the roads one must take to do either are completely different. Radio is very "learn as you go." You will get a check while you learn the ropes, although it's a very meager check, you will get paid while you learn.
When you start out trying to do voice work, you will pay as you learn. You will pay a lot... and you can pay in many more ways than one. A few hours on the Internet should prove to you that there is no shortage of people with their hand out, offering to help you for a price. I am one of them. You're best advised to take very careful steps when it comes to putting anything in any of those hands. The people who want to act, or do voice are a desperate lot when they get hungry. There are a great many people in "Internet land" as well as everywhere else waiting to prey upon that desperation. Hungry people will do a lot if they think it leads to food, or whatever it takes to satiate the palette for this stuff. A lot of talents will get hurt along the way and end up with nothing. Will it be their fault, or the fault of the people who offered to help them? More often than not, people's nature when they fail is to blame others around them. It takes quite a bit of character for someone to turn the lens inward and see how they might have contributed to their own demise. When it comes to who's at fault for a voice talent failing, it's a mixture of both the teacher and the student on a lot of levels.
What a student has to do in every case is hold up their end of the bargain by practicing and following instructions. When the coach on the other hand appears to be the one who failed. The coach needs to sit back and ask why he ever took the student in the first place. Pardon while I "break Star Warsian" here, but Obi-Wan tried to teach Anakin the ways of the force on his own, without the guidance of Yoda. He failed his student and Anakin turned to the dark side. Even though Obi-Wan failed Anakin, you still end up liking Obi-Wan at the end of the movie and thinking he was a good man. That is Hollywood, now back to reality.
There is no Voice Over Yoda and the only force is the force you'd like to use on the person who took your money when you realize you're not getting any work and you stink. When your coach fails you, or whomever you give your money to fails you in the real world, you are not going to like him and you certainly aren't going to think he is a good man. Most times, it is the student who convinces himself or herself that the person has failed them because they haven't succeeded in their venture. What that student also fails to realize many times, is that they took very few precautions when handing over their money to someone who was going to "make them a voice talent."
So many times I have had potential talents show up on the doorstep, wanting me to do it for them; wanting me to make them into a voice talent. I try my hardest during their evaluation to scare them off. I tell them how hard it will be. I tell them how expensive it will be. I tell them how long it will take. I tell them that even with the training there is no guarantee they will get hired. I have even told talent that they would probably never be able to work in the commercial market, and would only be doing phone systems and cable spots for the rest of their lives. And they still wanted to go ahead with it. They would toss their money on the table and say, "OK, do you think you can make me a voice guy?" No matter how hard I tried, they just didn't get it. It is at that point no coach should ever take a student. Because they are destined to fail, and will turn on the coach and spend the rest of their lives doing nothing except saying bad things about them. You cannot be made in this business. You have to make yourself.
Young talent, whether they come from radio or Radio Shack, are best advised to seek and gather all the information they can patiently, and not jump into anything right away. Make the soundest decisions you can based on the information you're able to collect after an exhausting search. Every talent that has ever walked into my studio with stars in their eyes has had to listen to me say the same things you've read here.
Many people would have charged you for this type of advice. I put a lot of information out there for people without cost for two reasons:
1. So that potential VO's have more arrows in their quiver as they step out in search of learning how to "do this voodoo that we do so well." (Thank you Harvey Korman and Mel Brooks)
2. So that anyone considering paying a studio or demo producer a hunk of money can reflect on the information my studio provides and decide for themselves who can be trusted.
Shop around.. Caveat Emptor.. Go with your gut in everything you do.. I trust you'll come to you own conclusions. I just hope they are the right ones. Have any doubts - just ask. I've been this candid here. I'm only more so in private.
As a side note, while I was writing this, an audition came in from a major national advertiser. By the time I had gotten to it, 70 some people had already auditioned for the job. It was easily one of those where you say ďAhh, thereís no way I get this. Look at how many people have sent in..Ē Which did cross my mind. I almost deleted it and moved on. But I went ahead and did it anyway.
The next day they contacted me and said that there were some people who ďkind of got itĒ but I hit it ďspot onĒ. I got the gig, recorded the spot and was paid twice my talent fee because I did the work in my studio and they were so happy with the result. I found out a week later that the clients were blown away by the read. Iím not tooting my own horn here. This actually happened. The spot is up on my site http://www.michaelminetree.com under various reads. Itís the first one. Just goes to show you what a little practice, belief in your abilities, and some effort will do for you in this business. Have a great year everyone. Iíll see you on the air.
As always, if you have any questions, just ask....
This article was posted on February 23, 2007