Everybody likes tacos....some of us a little too much, (just ask my doctor!) Whether loaded with beef, chicken, cheese, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, or other healthy things, a good taco can turn a bad day around.
What does this have to do with voiceovers, you might already be asking yourself? Has J. Michael finally lost his mind after countless hours locked in a small booth talking into his Neumann?
Well, possibly.....(my wife is shaking her head, "yes," in the background,) but, just like my waistline, voiceover success can be defined by a taco as well....actually, not a taco, but TACO.
What is TACO? TACO is an acronym that is everything you need to know about how to make it in this business. Remember these four simple letters, and you will be on the right path.
T-stands for TALENT
Well, J. Michael, that's obvious, isn't it? Not as obvious as you think. Natural talent is an essential part of making it in the voiceover industry. Talent is comprised of two things: 1.) A voice people want to listen to, and 2.) Some inherent ability to deliver copy in a manner that connects with your audience.
This is why having your voice heard by an established industry professional BEFORE you go out and buy fancy microphones, preamps, and spend thousands on building a rocking home studio is a good idea. Find a local studio where you can attend workouts, and get yourself heard. Or, schedule a one hour copy-reading session with a reputable coach who will give you honest feedback. There are hundreds of coaches, (including myself,) who would be happy to work with you, and provide a frank evaluation of your raw abilities.
Voiceover is kind of like sports. Coaching can make an average talent good, and a good talent great, but some measure of natural ability, a good voice, some delivery instincts, and a bit of acting skill, has to be present from the beginning. If they aren't there, your path will be long and frustrating.....so get a qualified opinion BEFORE you build a home studio, spend hundreds or thousands on demo reels, join the P2Ps, or purchase a 6-month coaching package. An hour of copy reading is enough for a professional to tell you if the building blocks are there or not, and to prescribe a course of instruction if they are.
A-stands for AUDIO
So, your evaluation went well, eh? Got the chops, do ya? Great! Now, the hard part.
Somewhere along the way, people started to believe that plugging a Blue Yeti into your laptop was all you needed to do to call yourself a pro. Really, it's true. I cast for many of my clients through Voices.com & Voice123, and folks, if your sound isn't up to par, it doesn't matter how good your read is. I press STOP after less than ten seconds on about 40% of auditions I hear because the audio just isn't good enough.
This doesn't mean you have to spend ten grand on acoustical foam and soundproofing, but here are some simple steps to get you pointed in the right direction:
1.) Make sure your signal chain is passable. The RODE NT1A is a good entry-level PRO microphone, and it will fit into most budgets. Based on the design of the Neumann TLM 103, it is a popular mic among radio stations throughout the US, and many VOs use it as well.
A decent preamp will make you crisp and clear. There are many varieties in the $200-$500 range that will be a good start.
2.) Listen to a commercial on TV or the radio. Do you hear any hiss, echo, line noise, or room tone? Are there dogs barking in the background? Probably not. If these things are present in your audio, you will have trouble booking any work.
Your audio needs to sound warm, clear, and as unprocessed as possible. It needs to sound like what you hear on the air. If it doesn't, more work needs to be done to treat your space, whether that means expensive soundproofing and acoustical paneling, or homemade solutions like memory foam & clothes racks...it has to SOUND like you are in a professional studio, even if you are recording from your wife's walk-in closet!
There are so many talented folks out there who are having their auditions discarded because the audio quality is poor...don't be one of them! If you are in doubt, consult with a pro, whether an audio tech or an established VO professional.
C stands for COMMITMENT
Becoming a successful voice talent is a process. Whether you are looking to build your career through the agency-based VO world, or online through the P2P sites, it takes time to get noticed, no matter what your talent level is. I arrived on the P2P sites with fifteen years of full-time VO experience, and it still took me six months to book my first ten jobs. For many, it will be slower than that.
Success in this field is a result of talent combined with extreme persistence and commitment, as well as strong business building skills. Looking for agency gigs in a major city? Be prepared to send out dozens, even hundreds of demos.....and the demos better be AWESOME! Have a strong cover letter and a compelling headshot, (some still require these,) and be prepared to wait months for a reply. While you're at it, start networking. Attend every local VO event you can find. Get known, and get noticed. Market yourself to local studios, production companies, and businesses. Book gigs through old fashioned legwork. Besides, if you bring a great client to an agency, that can fast track you for representation.
Want to be successful on Voices.com & Voice123.com? Be prepared to ride your computer like a champion thoroughbred. If you aren't doing twenty auditions per day, you aren't doing enough. The highest booking talents online are landing no more than 10% of their reads, and that is on a good week. The more ears you get your voice in front of, the more work you will book. Simples.
Market yourself online. Write a blog, join in discussions on the various fora, get your NAME, and your BRAND out there. The more visible you are, the more seriously you will be taken.
Never stop. If the talent and the audio quality are there, you WILL book work eventually. Every third client you book will turn into a repeat customer. It may take two or three years, but eventually the hard work will pay off, and jobs will walk in the door as often as you have to chase them. There IS light at the end of the tunnel....even if it is a long tunnel.
O stands for ORGANIZATION
Repeat after me. "I am not a performer. I am a business."
This is rule one of voiceover success. Assuming the first three parts of your TACO are in order, this is the hot sauce that will make it a meal.
Create systems for every part of your VO business. Administrative, accounting, auditioning, production, communication, marketing, networking, and so on.
I have a structured process for filing my audio, keeping my books, sending payment reminders when necessary, and doing the other VO grunt work in a manner that minimizes time lost to administrative and accounting functions.
Become proficient with your audio editing software. A dry :60 should take you five minutes max to edit. If you aren't there yet, go online and find tutorials to help you get there. Efficiency is key. If you do a lot of long-form narration, consider hiring outsourced audio editors to help you save time to focus on booking more work. I employ four people almost full time in this capacity. Found them on Elance and Freelancer. They do GREAT work...for $15-20/hour. Why edit a 60 minute training module yourself, when you can pay a professional $30-60 to do it for you, and have 2-3 extra hours to dedicate to booking the next job?
Have an auditioning strategy. Be decisive about which jobs to audition for. Make sure they are a good fit budget and spec-wise. If they aren't, delete and move on. Audition as the jobs come in if you are working online, (the same goes for agency castings looking for remote-recorded samples.) If you are recording something for a client, keep an eye on your email, and when the auditions are posted, pause and POUNCE! Early submission is essential both online and with your agents. Don't wait! If you have a day job, clear the auditions in order of newness, (least submissions,) and budget/work ratio. If you aren't on a tight deadline for client work, do your auditions FIRST!
Answer your emails as they come in. If this means pausing in the middle of a long project, so be it. There's nothing worse than recording for an hour and having twenty new messages to answer, which will take time away from other booking-critical functions. Furthermore, your clients will love your responsiveness if you get back to them in a matter of minutes, and you will gain customer loyalty.
Market yourself every day, if you have time. It's 3PM and there are no auditions left in your inbox..no client work to do? Write a blog post, send emails to production companies and businesses, create a newsletter for clients...whatever you do, DON'T go watch that old Seinfeld rerun, (am I dating myself here?) Make every hour of your workday count!
Have a networking strategy. Attend local events, and get active online. Find the resources that fit your situation best, and spend time getting to know people every day. Connections are EVERYTHING in this business.
Ultimately, have a PLAN. How do you intend to build your business? If you can answer that question conclusively, you have just added the perfect topping to a very profitable TACO.
Good luck, my friends!
All the best,
J. Michael Collins