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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Joy of Coaching, December Edition

The holiday season brings so many reasons to be grateful. As my family and I prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, I'd like to take a look at some of the incredibly talented folks I have had the chance to work with as a voiceover coach and demo producer over the past few months.

ELLIOTT LOWE  www.lowevoice.com

Elliott has one of those voices with the power to actually blow your hair back a little, (which would have been an issue if I had any hair to speak of.) Equal parts Don LaFontaine, Sam Elliot, and Tim Allen, Elliott combines classic rumble with the ability to find conversational tones that paint pictures in the mind. Whether you are looking for a promo to get your heart racing, or a calm, believable voice to tell your audience about your newest investment options, you can't go wrong with Elliott Lowe!

JIM ELLIS www.jimellis.us/voice-over.html

Jim is the consummate guy next door. With a voice age that defies definition, moving easily from late twenties to late forties, Jim has that neighborly presence that casting directors are going gaga over these days. His insightful ability to interpret a script, coupled with tones of credibility and authenticity, make him a perfect solution to the question: "Where do we find someone who just sounds real?"

KRYSTA WALLRAUCH krysta@krystawallrauch.com

Krysta is the definition of the word dynamic. From excitable girl next door, to supermom, to a voice of competence for your e-learning project, Krysta has a smooth but natural sound combined with genuine talent. From day one, Krysta made every script come to life, instinctively knowing where to add emphasis and where to back off. Already consistently working as a professional voice actor, Krysta has just scratched the surface of what will surely be a long and successful career. Hire her now!

ANGEL BURCH www.femalevoicetalent.net

I've really been blessed this year to work with so many naturally gifted talents, and Angel is one of the shining stars of the group. A true actor's actor, she jumps in and out of a myriad of characters in ways that will delight any listener. Highly proficient at classic and polished deliveries, Angel bursts to life even more when she gets to step outside of the corporate and predictable, and become someone else entirely. If you are looking for a finished product that will WOW any of your clients, and a fun time to boot, give Angel a call!

MELANIE GRANFORS voice123.com/melaniegranfors

Melanie is the talent you call when you want it done right the first time. Few coaching clients have ever been one-take-wonders as much as Melanie was during our time working together. Her strong and classic voice can cut right through any mix, taking you from the runways of Paris to the local coffee shop, to a house full of crazy kids, and beyond. An ideal choice for business narration or e-learning, Melanie also has the quintessential TV Narration delivery, bringing a national market presence to anything she touches. If you are looking for a true pro, Melanie is your voice!

ANTHONY POWELL www.anthonypowellinc.com

A former college athlete, vigor and authority define Anthony's sound, with a healthy dollop of competence and authenticity thrown in for good measure. A perfect fit for industrial narration, e-learning, and anything that requires a voice of strength, Anthony also slides comfortably into more casual reads, getting into character and becoming the friendly dad next door. Looking for a voice when your project means business? Anthony is your guy.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Customer Service as Your Career Grows



If you've ever read through my articles, or listened to one of my webinars, you know that I'm a devout proponent of a "The Customer is Always Right" attitude. I have always believed that success is in large part a direct result of the way you treat your clients, making them want to return over and over again.

As boilerplate advice, this should be an ironclad principle; but what happens when business picks up so much that you find less and less time to offer your clients the personal touch? How do you avoid becoming a victim of your own success, and creating a negative cycle that harms growth right as things seem to be coming together?

This is a challenging question, and a problem most of us would be happy to have. That said, it's a very real issue for talent with careers that are mature or maturing.

Your most valuable asset is your time. Keeping this in mind is the foremost element in finding a happy medium between customer service and opportunity cost. If you are booking regularly, the single most valuable use of your time is likely auditioning for new work or marketing to new clients. These are the activities that generate new revenue, and create the potential for establishing new long-term clients to power the growth of your business. Therefore, time spent servicing existing clients, though important to keeping them happy, is creating opportunity cost by taking you away from activity that has the potential to generate additional sales.

What this means is that you need to establish a minimum figure to define the value of your time. If your metrics tell you that one hour of auditioning or marketing is likely to lead to at least $300 in work, you would be ill-served to devote an hour of your time to servicing a client who is paying less than that. As such, there comes a point where you need to re-evaluate your rates, and even terminate client relationships that are potentially costing you money. A bird in the hand is certainly worth two in the bush, but if you have an established pattern of results that can be statistically demonstrated to yield X amount of revenue for Y amount of time investment, selling your time for less than that ratio is selling yourself short.

There is a false perception in our industry that buyers are exclusively cost-driven these days. While many are, just as many value quality over saving a few dollars, and are very likely to consider a reasonable rate adjustment to maintain access to a talent with whom they have an existing and positive relationship. Don't be afraid to tell your clients that due to increased demand you have to implement a price hike commensurate with how the marketplace is now valuing your time. Will you lose some clients as a result? You bet. However, the 75% who are willing to honor the value of your time will make up for that lost revenue, freeing you to spend more time generating new work at your new rates.

Your revision policies deserve some attention in this respect as well. Early in my career, I was happy to offer copious script changes and round after round of performance revisions to clients, often at little or no charge. I was thrilled to have the work, and when you only have a few gigs a week....or a month.....your time doesn't seem so valuable. Today, I'm sure to spell out clear revision policies for my clients. Live-directed sessions are considered final sale, and sessions over 60 minutes will incur an additional session fee. For jobs completed offline, I'm happy to offer reasonable performance revisions as long as they don't include wholesale direction changes.....it is our duty to get the job done right, after all. My price will also include one round of minor script revisions for non-broadcast work, or broadcast work that has not yet aired, (if it's already on the air and the script is revised, that's a new spot.) Clients deserve service and reasonable flexibility. That said, minor means minor. For a commercial, that's a line or two. For an industrial, perhaps a paragraph. For a training module, maybe a page. Anything beyond that, or any additional script changes, are billable, because they take me away from activities that will grow my business, and quite literally cost me money by using my time.

Your clients deserve respect, cordiality, and professionalism at all times. They deserve attention to detail, diligent work, and a reasonably flexible attitude that accommodates the eventualities that everyone encounters in this business. You, however, deserve to be fairly compensated for the time you spend making their product shine.......after all, your time is valuable.

Monday, September 26, 2016

An Interview with VO Mastery Founder Randy Thomas



For the last two years, voiceover legend Randy Thomas has hosted the VO Mastery Event, (randythomaspresents.com,) originally in Fort Myers, Florida. This year the event moves to Los Angeles.     

I had the pleasure of presenting in 2015, and will be back in 2016 to talk about the business of voiceover, and how to build a career through whatever path is right for you.

Recently, I chatted with Randy about what makes the VO Mastery Event such a unique and valuable entry on the conference calendar. 

JMC: What inspired you to create the VO Mastery Event?

Randy: Truthfully, I am a teacher at heart. That is why I wrote Voice For Hire. I feel there is so much to share with others who are in pursuit of their dreams, especially when my dreams align with theirs. To that end living in Ft. Myers, Florida for the past 14 years, I got lonely for my LA and NYC VO Pros. So I created an event to bring them together to help aspiring voice actors reach their goals and the defy the odds to put a little town like Fort Myers on the national map of conferences, and it did.

JMC: For two years the event was in Fort Myers, Florida. Why have you brought it to LA this year?

Randy: This past August, my husband of 32 years and I sold our Florida home and have moved back to Los Angeles. The 3rd Annual VO Mastery Event follows in tow and is an opportunity for me to tap the shoulders of my superstar Animation heroes and ask them to come spend a day in Studio City, to generously share how they do what they do.

JMC: There are more and more VO conferences these days. What makes VO Mastery unique?

Randy: I am so blessed to have had the career that I do. After 24 years as a Voice Over Actor and Announcer I have experienced the extreme highs of working at the very top of the industry, as have many of my friends who participate in this event that always has limited seating. At VOMastery our goal is not to be the biggest event where we run the risk of losing personal touch. Every VOMastery event offers a boutique, intimate and welcoming atmosphere which absolutely sets us apart from other voiceover events. Even our venue selection is part of our one-of-a-kind formula that makes our event different. Were in the business of telling stories and, we seek to gather in a places that offer a unique story and history.

JMC: Tell us about this year's venue.

Randy: The Sportsmens Lodge is a famous and premier landmark in Los Angeles. More than just any other hotel in Studio City, its doors have been no stranger to Hollywoods Classic and most iconic stars like Katherine Hepburn and Clark Gable. When my husband and I first moved to LA, and becoming regular visitors thereafter we relocated to FL, we would always stay at this family oriented hotel. The BEST perk to me is without Valet, self-parking is free. In LA, being able to park at a hotel ALL-DAY for free is unheard of. For the main event we are using both of the their hotel meeting rooms and providing breakfast, lunch and a ticket to the rocked out networking cocktail party from 6-9PM. Melissa Disney is singing a few songs, and we are putting together a House Band for the party that begins in the Zen Garden which is beautiful and an incredible way to end the day.


 JMC: For those who have attended VO Mastery before, what will be the same this year, and what will change?

Randy: Every year is different, but the thread that runs through every VO Mastery event is that you will come out of this experience inspired, informed, educated and  enlightened by the fact that we are a community coming together to raise the standards and stakes to ultimately become better, more successful and influential within the world of voice over.

 JMC: Can you share any stories with us of how VO Mastery has impacted an attendee's life or career?


Randy: First of all, it has impacted my career because I feel so much more connected to the work and the folks who do the work. For those who come with their hearts open and their dreams of success we do not disappoint. I have seen voice actors from small towns across America who arrive as I just described but leave with the very clear message that they can succeed in this amazing and fun business. I have honestly lost count keeping track of the lives I have witnessed changed. The most recent is an attendee whos name I will keep private, was homeless. After dedicating many coaching hours  to this individual, years later it was a priceless overwhelming feeling to hug this person and to hear their life turn around because of the opportunity I was fortunate enough to give. Paying it forward through education is the greatest reward of what I love to do.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

An Interview With Brenda Robinson, 2015 SOVAS Academic Scholarship Recipient



The 2016 Voice Arts Awards, ( http://sovas.org/home-vaa/,) preceded by the That's Voiceover Career Expo, (http://thatsvoiceover.com/,) are just around the corner. These November staples of the voiceover industry social calendar, conceived and brilliantly managed by Rudy Gaskins and Joan Baker, who founded the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences, offer all members of the voiceover community the opportunity to both learn from industry luminaries, and celebrate the business that is so near to all of our hearts.

In 2015, The Society of Voice Arts and Sciences introduced the first SOVAS Academic Scholarship, (http://sovas.org/sovas-scholarship/,) which I had the honor of sponsoring. This year, the scholarship has grown in content and support, and the opportunities for career advancement provided by the package of training, equipment, and access being offered is second to none.

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the scholarship with 2015 recipient Brenda Robinson. Here are some excerpts from that interview:

JMC: 

Tell me about your background in voiceover, and where you were in your career when you won the SOVAS Academic Scholarship.

Brenda: 

I was involved in the film industry in Utah off and on for years, first doing background, then auditioning for minor parts and commercials. Later, after starting voice over, I joined Utah Women in Film and started learning a little more about film-making behind the scenes. I also sing, and have studied Broadway, opera and pop. Voiceover was something I was intrigued by, and it was just the love of being creative and acting but being somewhat anonymous that made me want to dive in. I worked with a coach on and off for about two years before I made my first commercial demo almost 8 years ago, and I have been working at it ever since, doing a few various spots, from E -books to some corporate narration, commercial work for web and TV, to recently working with a childrens' author in the UK narrating one of his stories. There will be more collaborating to come. There’s been a lot of learning, sometimes through the school of hard knocks, along the way.

JMC:

How did you first hear about That's Voiceover?

Brenda:

I met Joan Baker two years ago at VOICE 2014, which was produced by Penny Abshire and James Alburger. She won the Humanitarian Award. Afterward, when everyone was dancing, I started talking to Joan as we were dancing and I mentioned that Rudy was already a Facebook friend of mine, and then she and I connected on Facebook. After that I started taking notice more about That’s Voiceover, and I knew I just had to attend last year.


JMC:

What were your thoughts when you were announced as the winner of the scholarship? There was no formal application process in 2015. Was it a surprise?

Brenda:

I had absolutely no idea it existed, and yet even though I didn’t know anything when you, (J. Michael,) started talking and got ready to announce it, a feeling came over me that my name would be called; Yet it was all in one moment and very surreal. More than anything, I felt humbled and so grateful to have been chosen. That has meant as much or maybe more to me than even the financial aspects, but of course that helps too. It was great to be the recipient of such fantastic opportunities, and to be given this gift. Many VO friends I was sitting by kept telling me to run up to the stage, and although I remember some of what happened, much of it is a blur.
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JMC:

What did you enjoy about That's Voiceover in 2015?

Brenda:

I enjoyed the chance to mingle with other voice artists, or those looking to get into the business, and to hone my craft and learn more from some of the best in the business, like you, JMC, Joan and others. I love how the voice community in general is so giving and I feel there is less ego involved than in some other forms of acting and entertainment. I really like the opportunities it gives us to audition for big jobs like the Channel 2 news and the Speed Dating with agents, as well as attending the awards themselves, which are such a wonderful addition to the entertainment industry by honoring voice artists.


JMC:

How has the scholarship helped you advance your voiceover career?

Brenda:

It has given me the confidence and more of the tools I need to take me to higher pursuits. It was great to work with Joan one on one, and I feel we have made a real connection emotionally and professionally. I took away some valuable information that I have kept and implemented regarding the auditioning process and getting out of my own way so I can soar. We have a lasting connection on both fronts. Pat Fraley has always been so genuinely kind and helpful as well, and he has such a wealth of knowledge about different aspects of the business, in addition to various genres of voice over, which when followed and practiced make a difference for the better in the audition process and when voicing anything.

JMC:

What do you hope to learn at this year's That's Voiceover expo?

Brenda:

That by continuing on this path and working through the tough times, I will continue to hone and gain invaluable skills. Also, learning more about the business end and technology, and to grow more as a voice actor, It’s always wonderful to see so many friends I know and to make new friends in the business. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Why No One Needs a Voiceover Coach

"I did it my way."

That's likely to be etched on my tombstone for a number of reasons, some more laudable than others. Among them can be counted my voiceover career. From building it based on a radio background, (not the dreaded announcer!,) to embracing online casting in its infancy and defending the platform concept despite many controversies, to eschewing Los Angeles for Luxembourg, my career has been defined by the non-traditional......and there's not much I would change.

One element that I look back on with some regret, however is the history of my own personal skill development as a talent, long before I became a coach myself.

As a self-starting entrepreneur first, and an artist second, I have always put the business of voiceover ahead of the more metaphysical performance side of the equation. I didn't need a coach, by God, I was a natural. I could do it on my own, figure it out through trial and error, and develop by doing. Either you have talent or you don't, and I didn't need to pay someone hundreds or thousands of dollars to be taught how to read copy. I had it within me, I was quite sure. There was a time when I genuinely believed voiceover coaching was a scam, plain and simple, designed to separate wide-eyed newbies from their money, or to feed upon the dreams of those nibbling at the edges of the industry with promises of cash and glory. Not going to fall into that trap was I.

With regard to having the ability to learn and perfect my craft on my own, I was right. Over twenty years I slowly transitioned from a one-trick, big-voiced pony into a versatile voice actor capable of delivering just about any read from late-twenties hipster conversational to movie trailer to grizzled old cowboy, and pivoting on a dime between them. To this day I've never had an hour of coaching in my life, and I'm damn proud of what I've been able to teach myself over the years by doing, failing, and learning from my mistakes. I'm walking talking proof that no one needs a coach to be successful in this business.

I'm also a damn arrogant fool.

As I've become a part of the coaching and demo production community over the past eight years or so, I've been blessed to watch both talent I've coached personally and those taught by my colleagues build incredible careers often in a matter of just a few years. In a handful of cases, I've seen people go from zero to big league bookings and earnings in as little as a year with a well-planned strategy, intensive study, and the guidance of a coach who became a mentor. Seeing this magic at work has filled my heart with my joy, but it is also bittersweet.

It's bittersweet because I now realize with absolute certainty that if I hadn't been so mule-headed for the first ten years of my career, (when I was stuck in a lazy middle rung on the VO career ladder,) and had accepted the help and guidance of people with more experience who knew better, and who could have made me a better talent faster, I could have been where I am today far sooner. Indeed, I would be willing to bet that my rejection of coaching has cost me as much as a million dollars in lost earnings over the course of my career, simply because I thought I could do it all on my own. In the end, I did, but my wallet is a lot lighter because of it.

There is no doubt in my mind that any and all talent can benefit from the ear of a quality coach, and that newer talent can position themselves for success far earlier with such guidance than they can without it.

That said, there's been a lot of discussion lately about what makes a good coach, and what to look out for as potential red flags when finding the right fit for you.

Personally, I believe the core definition of a quality coach is someone who possesses the background in the industry, knowledge of the marketplace, ear for nuance and subtlety in delivery, and the heart of a teacher, taking genuine joy in the development and success of their students.

This can take a lot of forms in our business. Some people prefer a coach who is also a successful, working talent. These people experience the life they are training their students for every day, and will always be on top of the latest trends and shifts in the marketplace, as they have to be aware of the lay of the land in order to compete in their own right. There's a strong argument for learning from someone who has been there and done it, and continues to do it every day.

Of course, successful working talent by definition will have limited availability if they choose to move into coaching, as coaching rates, (however high they may seem to some,) will never match what a busy talent can earn from actually doing VO work. As such, you may have to approach several of this type of coach before finding one with an opening to take on a new student, or you may have to accept spending some time on a waiting list.

There are a handful of highly-respected coaches who have never been VO talent, but rather have come from backgrounds as casting directors and agents to develop followings as trainers of talent. These folks can offer the unique insight  that comes with having been on the other side of the glass, and though they may not be performers themselves, as experienced buyers their ears are in tune with what the market expects.

Many successful talent turn to coaching late in their career in order to transition to a lifestyle where they have more control over their own scheduling. There are several well-known coaches who fit this mold, and who can offer the wisdom of accumulated experience to teach what it takes to build and sustain a career for the long run.

Finally, in recent years several credible organizations dedicated to training have emerged, often aggregating some of the top coaches in the industry under their banner to offer a wide variety of a la carte services to talent. These organizations will manage your VO education in a more classically academic manner, often laying out a series of classes and programs for you to complete in order to progress in your training.

All of these options are valid and can potentially help you build your career, but you also must be vigilant in protecting yourself from less ethical players who may simply be looking to make a quick buck by offering cookie-cutter services with questionable content to anyone with an active credit card.

Red flags you should consider include hard sell or high-pressure tactics, constant streams of spam or solicitations, emails shouting at you in all caps to SIGN UP NOW BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE! Prices that are suspiciously low can be a warning sign as well. Successful coaches, especially those who are talent, don't need to cut their rates to pay the bills. Watch out for programs that are over-long, or over-short. Voiceover isn't nuclear physics; You aren't going to get a degree, and you don't need to study for years before you are marketable, (and if you do, your coach should be discussing whether this career is really the right fit for you, and maybe not taking your money.) On the other hand, a weekend intensive coaching package with a demo attached is usually a sure recipe for a waste of cash. Some months of training and a well-thought-out demo plan should be a standard expectation.

Moreover, the Internet is your friend, because the Internet never forgets. When checking out coaching options, do your homework! Google the name of the coach or organization and look for reviews, good bad and neutral. It will be hard to find complaints about the best coaching choices.

References are gold. Any coach should be able to give you at least a handful of verifiable references of people who will attribute part or all of their success to working with that coach. An even better test? Ask them to give you a reference of someone they have turned away because they didn't think they could help them, or didn't think it would be a good personality fit. An ethical coach doesn't accept everyone who walks in the door.

Once you've done your research, make sure you and your coach mesh on a personal level. Different coaches have different styles of teaching. Some are shouters, screamers, and cursers. If tough love is what motivates you, you can find it out there. Some are nurturers, peppering constructive criticism with praise. Styles vary from energetic and performance driven to didactic and academic. Not all will be the right fit for everyone, so get a feel for whether you will be happy spending many hours of your life with this person.

Ultimately, though, however you do it, if you are considering coaching, don't hesitate. I did for a long time, and I'm poorer for it. Learn from my mistake.





Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Joy of Coaching, Summer 2016 Edition

It's time once again to take a look at some of the fantastic folks I have been working with as a coach recently. Due to time constraints, I only get to keep a handful of talent on my coaching roster at any given moment. It's always such a joy to watch them develop the skills needed to consistently book work, and these examples below are getting ready to take the industry by storm. Hire them now!

JON NOLES, voice123.com/jonnoles

Jon has a warm resonance that evokes equal parts the sophistication of George Clooney, the friendliness of Tim Allen, and the authority of Mike Rowe, with ability to pivot between each on demand. His capacity to inspire confidence and trust is exceptional, and instantly puts the listener at ease. With an acting background and a tremendous ability to adapt to direction, John brings warmth, gravitas, and a trustworthy note to any script he reads.

ERIN FREEL,  erinfreel.com

Erin IS the girl next door. Her voice is like liquid sunshine, filling every read with brightness and smile. With a natural ease that makes the conversational read a breeze, coupled with just a touch of flirty sass, Erin makes the listener want to hear more every time. With remarkable vocal control, Erin can also switch to a more polished and corporate sound on a dime, and bring credibility to any industrial or e-learning project. Erin booked her first job after just four auditions, and you had better hire her soon for your project......before you can't afford her!

STEVE HAMILTON

Steve's voice reminds me of that friendly dad I used to encounter when dating teenage girls in high school. The kind with a glad hand and an easy manner which suggested that you could become buddies.....but which left no doubt that there was a shotgun in the closet if your behavior called for it. Mixing easygoing charm with Deadliest Catch-style authority, Steve is the voice of reassurance in a crisis. A natural fit for medical, legal, and financial pieces, Steve is also a gifted storyteller with a flair for explainer videos and other fun VO genres. Demos and website details are coming soon! Watch this space!

MICHELLE FERGUSON

If you could bottle, "happy," that would be Michelle. Possessing a dynamic vocal range that allows her to read for everything from young adult to grandma, Michelle's versatility and perky personality make for a very bright future. Transitioning effortlessly from genuine and natural to more formal, Michelle goes from sexy to thoughtful to boundless enthusiasm without missing a beat. If you are looking for a voice that will leave your audience smiling, you can't go wrong with Michelle. Demos and website are coming soon! Watch this space!

ROBIN LAREE BERRY, robinlareeberry.com

Robin defines energy. Filled with a lust for life that comes through in every read, Robin's robust speaking style is a fantastic fit for multiple VO genres. From commercial to explainer to industrial, e-learning, telephony, and beyond, Robin offers an articulate and fluid sound that brings class, professionalism, and a bit of bounce to any piece. A pleasure to work with in the booth, Robin's physical and spiritual involvement with every script guarantee that she is always dialed-in. Hire her today!

LEIGHANNE TURNER,  leighannesvoice.com

Leighanne hails from the other side of the pond, (depending upon which side you are on,) based in merry old London, England. A British Voice with the hip, current tones of London's East End, Leighanne has a wellspring of natural talent that few people are blessed with. Her aptitude for script interpretation often left me without comment as a coach....other than a simple, "That was pretty good." She knows how words connect to each other, and can handle the most complex material with ease and alacrity. If you are looking for a U.K. voice that defines being relevant and now, Leighanne is an amazing choice.

ROSE SMITH
I had the pleasure of meeting Rose at the 2016 Midwest Voiceover Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Gracious and humble, I've enjoyed watching and listening as Rose, (who is a poet,) has developed into a capable voice actor. Her ability to walk the listener through a story with wit and charm is top notch, and her friendly and kind voice makes you regret when whatever she is reading comes to an end. Watch this space for demos & Rose's website in the near future!


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Recap of The Midwest Voiceover Conference: More Progress from the Online Casting Sites

The 2016 Midwest Voiceover Conference in Columbus, Ohio was the fourth installment of this staple of the conference calendar, and it was once again a testament to the organizational skill of James Minter and his team who put on a top class event.

Featuring a lineup of industry luminaries led by keynote speaker Joe Cipriano, this conference continued to cement itself as a worthy annual pilgrimage for those eager to learn about the business and expand their VO knowledge. Rodney Saulsberry offered his mastery of technique to the eager attendees, while Cristina Milizia showed why she is one of character VO's fastest rising stars. These were only a few of the highlights of an information-packed weekend renown for an intimate setting that encourages attendees and presenters to mingle and socialize together.

This year, I was pleased to bring my panel series to The Midwest Voiceover Conference, as we continue to address the issues which will define the future of our industry. VO Atlanta 2016 was the beginning of these panels, featuring representatives from the major online casting sites on the first day, and an assemblage of experts on the second day drawn from the conference presenter list.

In Atlanta, we began to get clear answers from Voices.com regarding their policies and some of the controversies that have revolved around their site recently. These included increased transparency for Professional Services clients, a commitment not to attempt to convert public jobs to managed ones without the client initiating the conversation, and a commitment to maintaining talent access to client contact information, (and vice versa,) on public jobs not managed by Professional Services. Representative Jennifer Smith also clearly stated that Voices has no intention of offering transparency to talent regarding the spread between talent's bids and Professional Services' ultimate rate.

Voice123, (voice123.com) then represented by CEO Margarita Rueda, and bodalgo CEO Armin Hierstetter pledged in Atlanta to continue to offer services without a middleman, and each made changes to their platforms at the request of the community, with Voice123 removing the requirement to list experience, (which created an unnecessary bias against talented newcomers,) and bodalgo becoming the first online casting site to build in an optional time-based cyclical usage model for licensing, thereby creating the possibility of earning residuals through the site, and training buyers to be aware of the paradigm.

Armin and Jennifer joined the panel again in Ohio, with Juanita Casas representing Voice123.

In Columbus, with the core controversies already asked and answered two months earlier, the discussion progressed into a wide-ranging examination of rates and ownership. Most pressing was the need for clarification from Voices.com on the sixth point of their Terms of Service, which reads as follows:

"Upon the earlier of the transfer of the audio file to Voices.com or the Client, the Talent assigns to Voices.com all right, title and interest, absolutely, to the copyright and other intellectual property in or relating to the Talent’s work throughout the world, free of all licences, mortgages, charges or other encumbrances, unless agreed otherwise by the parties in writing. The Talent hereby waives their moral rights in the work. Voices.com and its Client assignees or licensees may use the Talent’s work without restriction from the Talent and without any rights of approval by the Talent. Upon payment by the Client, Voices.com assigns the audio file purchased by the Client to the Client. If the Client’s rights to use the work are limited, the limitations will be specified in writing."

This language has caused much anxiety within the voiceover community over the past few months as speculation ran rampant regarding the implications behind Voices seeming to make a claim to all rights in perpetuity for any work done through the site.

Again speaking on behalf of Voices.com, Jennifer Smith stated that the language is necessary to protect Voices.com in the instances where the site pays talent in advance of receiving funds from the client, (which apparently happens with some frequency,) thereby necessitating that the rights transfer to Voices.com and not to the client, who has not yet paid for them.

Jennifer further stated that Voices.com intends to continue publishing intended usage media and duration on managed jobs, and encouraging buyers to do so on public jobs, and that Voices considers this language binding. Though they will not attempt to police or enforce unauthorized usage, Jennifer encouraged any talent who believe their voice is being used in excess of the published scope of the job to contact the site to discuss how they might pursue their claim.

Moreover, Jennifer indicated that Voices would be open to offering talent who were concerned about protecting their rights additional written assurances if approached, and made it very clear that Voices was not interested in obtaining rights to the work of talent except in cases where Voices has yet to receive payment from the buyer.

In another somewhat surprising twist, Jennifer stated that Voices was willing to study the idea of creating a usage cycle structure for clients to have as an option on the site, and that formally opening work on the site to residuals could be a possibility in the future.

All three panelists pledged in no uncertain terms that their sites would never impose an enforced rate card, like certain other sites have chosen to do.

Voice123 strongly defended the principle of an unfettered open market for talent and clients alike. While accepting that the sites had a responsibility to protect the interest of their users on both sides of the glass, Voice123 clearly articulated a vision that revolves around being as hands off as possible when it comes to letting buyers and talent find common pricing ground on their own. Juanita did note, however, that Voice123 also considers $100 to be the minimum price of for-profit work on the site, and encouraged talent to report any buyers trying to circumvent this by using the "To be defined," budget feature.

Armin, bearing freshly printed #rockstar tee shirts, once again impressed with his candor and no-nonsense approach. He revealed that bodalgo is more likely than the other sites to intervene in rate-related matters, regularly restricting buyers from posting work with budgets lower than professionally acceptable. Armin also discussed the continuing evolution of bodalgoCall, an ipDTL-like service that is free to premium subscribers, allowing seamless remote recording without any extra equipment.

All three sites were of a single voice that while they do feel obliged to work to maintain and improve rates for talent over time, the single biggest factor in helping them do so is talent education as to what professional rates are, and talent willingness to maintain those rates when quoting for work.

The second panel, on Saturday, featured Edge Studio CEO David Goldberg, GVAA head Cristina Milizia, star talent Joe Zieja, World Voices executive board member Randye Kaye, and respected blogger, talent, and marketing expert Marc Scott.

This panel featured an intense discussion regarding many of the issues that have been percolating in the community over the past year. The panelists all stated a desire for increased transparency from Voices.com on matters involving compensation, and echoed the sites' comment on Friday that it is incumbent upon all in the talent community to educate themselves about what constitute credible and professional rates.

As opposed to the Atlanta experts panel, which dismissed any concerns about ultra-lowball sites, this group was more wary of the dangers posed by bargain basement sites like Fiverr, especially in light of the massive investment being made in industry-specific SEO, (search for anything VO related on Google and see where Fiverr comes up in the rankings.)

There was also a rollicking discussion on the role of unions in voiceover, and how effectively they represent the interests of voice actors, with differing opinions on the matter.

Ultimately, everyone agreed that though the surface of our industry may sometimes seem stormy, the seas beneath are as calm and plentiful with work as they have ever been, and that through continued dialogue and engagement we will emerge stronger and wealthier as a profession.

I couldn't be prouder to count myself among such a loving and generous community, and I am ever grateful for the contributions of everyone who joined my panels in Columbus.

I can't wait to be back next year!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Chasing the Unicorn




I was thrilled this past week to land a pretty high profile national TV spot involving a three-letter network, a major prime time TV series, and a blockbuster movie release from the mouse ear people. Indeed, I dropped a short post on social media telling everyone where and when to tune in. Not surprisingly, there were some congratulatory posts. Hopefully they won't replace me between now and the scheduled airing!

What caught me a little off guard, however, was the level of excitement and enthusiasm among my friends and colleagues over this booking, which while high profile, is a one-off spot that did not involve a life-changing addition to my bank account. It was a humbling and gratifying expression of good will from people I'm proud to call friends, but it seemed a bit much.

A good friend in the business explained it thusly; "That's a unicorn job."

Which got me thinking.

You see, this job was, in my mind, by no means the most important addition to my client portfolio last week. That honor went to a far less glamorous company working on a Siri-like process for adding audio to videos car dealers post on automotive resale sites. Not a sexy gig, by any stretch, especially when considering the first job involved creating over two thousand separate one sentence files. Nevertheless, the first project alone was worth far more than a one-airing national spot, and the likely future work may well lead to a 2016 that exceeds my annual target.

"Why is JMC bragging about all this," you may ask?

Well, the backstory is a necessary part of a larger theme.

Something that stuck with me from my conversations with Gerald Griffith, founder of VO Atlanta, during this year's event, was his comment over breakfast about how the business mentality of talent affected his signup rate for the private X-sessions the conference offers with presenters. "It's amazing how every year, the performance sessions fill up immediately, and anything involving business struggles to get more than eight or nine people."

One casting director at VO Atlanta sold out TWO X-sessions. The character workshops? Full. Automotive? Full. Anything with agents? Get there early! However, if it involved numbers, tech, strategy and systems, fuhgeddaboutit. Like a fancy restaurant with a very public rat problem, you could get a seat anytime you like.

Which makes one wonder if the focus of the industry is perhaps a bit too concentrated on that which is shiny and fun, at the expense of growing our businesses in ways that will sustain a livelihood for the long run.

I often get asked why I'm not in LA, where all the high profile work is. Aside from simple lifestyle tastes and choices, the truth is that I've never been all that excited about, "Being the voice of X." A fair number of those gigs have found me over the years, which is a great blessing, but my business is built on a foundation of steady mid to low-profile clients who come back over and over again with regular work of the sort that would get about three likes on Facebook, (and those from immediate family only.) It's why I get more excited about an order for two thousand one sentence files than I do about a quick high profile national spot. Six months from now, I'll be sending the first of those two another invoice, while Mickey will have moved on to the flavor of the moment.

Unicorn jobs? If one trots by, I'll hop on and ride it for as long as it will let me. Otherwise, I'll take methodically growing my business over the thrill of the chase.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Progress at VO ATLANTA 2016

VO Atlanta 2016 was the most heavily hyped voiceover conference in recent memory, and it did not disappoint.

With a vast array of presenters, panels, breakout sessions, exclusive X-sessions, a Spanish Day, a Kid's Day, and hundreds of attendees from across the country and the world, VO Atlanta was a testament to the vision and organizational skill of founder Gerald Griffith and his dedicated team.

In addition to seeing many friends, students, and colleagues, I had the privilege of conducting my usual breakout session on Success in Online Casting, as well as an X-Session delving deeper into the subject of how to effectively utilize sites like Voices.com, Voice123.com, and bodalgo.com.

It is always rewarding to get thanks from the attendees for the insight they glean from the information I present, and seeing them book in the future makes it all worthwhile.

This year, I was honored to host two groundbreaking panels which allowed the talent community to hear from, and provide feedback to, the leadership of the four leading online casting sites.

On Friday, in the Grand Ballroom, (and streaming live online,) we had an elucidating conversation with decision makers from bodalgo.com, Voice123.com, Voices.com, and RealTime Casting. CEO Armin Hierstetter of bodalgo stole the show with his personality and candor, pulling few punches and repudiating the tactics of bargain basement sites like Fiverr. The word, "rockstar," was repeatedly used to describe his appearance, and appropriately so.

Margarita Rueda, Voice123's CEO, exhibited poise and class representing her site, advocating for their simple no-middleman premise, and hopefully putting paid to my recurring nightmare about any takeovers by a bunny!

Jim Kennelly of RealTime Casting painted a picture of a future where voiceover jobs would be cast and completed almost instantly, (hence the company name,) and gave hope to those who would like to see more union work make the transition into the online casting space.

Of course, much of the buzz driving attendance centered around Voices.com, and the controversies that have raged around the site over the past year.

Jennifer Smith, Director of Talent Sales at Voices.com, handled herself with grace and dignity under a series of very challenging questions.

Jennifer clearly and unambiguously stated that Voices.com has addressed the primary source of controversy by adding prominent disclaimer language to written and verbal communications with clients utilizing their Professional Services department, informing them that the quotes they receive represent a mix of talent and service fees.

Jennifer further asserted that clients requesting detailed breakdowns of how fees are distributed between Voices.com/Professional Services and talent will be provided those details clearly and without resistance.

Together, these two promises, if indeed implemented in practice, represent a substantial and laudable move forward towards the transparency the community has demanded.

Citing client confidentiality, Jennifer also stated that talent members of Voices.com would not be provided with the same level of detail. This was disappointing, if not unexpected.

Another highlight of Jennifer's comments was her guarantee that talent who book public and private jobs not managed by Professional Services will continue to receive the full contact information of the client, and vice versa, meaning that the site will continue to be a potential source of long term relationships with clients independent of Voices.com.

While it is unlikely that Jennifer's answers satisfied all comers, they nevertheless represent a step forward, and I applaud Voices.com for sending her and co-founder Stephanie Ciccarelli to engage with the talent community.

While we must maintain our vigilance at all times as we protect the collective interests of ourselves and our fellow actors, we must also accept that the answers we get won't always be the answers we want. We cannot ever hesitate to call out shadowy practices, but ultimately, this is a business, for all of us, and so long as the facts are on the table, we are responsible for making our own decisions as professionals and adults.

The dialogue in the community surrounding online casting controversies has too often strayed into the realm of personal attacks and acrimony in recent months, with talent at the throats of their fellows in more cases than I would like to count. This is not the community that we have all come to love.

It is my sincere hope that this weekend's discussion will represent a first step in re-setting the conversation onto a more positive track, which will allow all of us to prosper and thrive together.

Saturday featured a panel of industry leaders reacting to Friday night's session, and discussing not just online casting, but the future of the industry as well.

I had the pleasure of hosting Melissa Exelberth, World Voices Vice President Peter Bishop, Edge Studio's Graeme Spicer, Anne Ganguzza, David Kaplan, and Beau Stephenson as they offered a wide variety of perspectives on the issues of the day.

There was a consensus on the need to push for continued engagement and transparency from the online casting world, strong commentary about the union's level of commitment to voiceover, and general agreement on the premise that lowball sites don't pose a threat to professional talent. Ultimately, they demonstrated that talent from all sides of the industry can come together to address the concerns of the community, and do so in a passionate but dignified manner.

It was, in short, a weekend of substance. Few events have addressed the issues that our business is struggling with so comprehensively as VO Atlanta 2016. In addition to my panels, there were discussions featuring agents, casting directors, and other opinion leaders on every topic challenging us today.

Gerald Griffith, Ron and Susan Minatrea, A.J. McKay, Kerri Donovan, Roy Yokelson, and so many others worked tirelessly to make everything come together. They should be proud of the profound success of their efforts.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Joy of Coaching: February 2016 Edition

It's time again to take a look at some rising stars I have had the pleasure of coaching to begin the year. I am always amazed by the wellspring of talent out there just waiting to either make their VO dreams come true, or take already existing careers to the next level. These five are a shining example of practice making perfect, and I highly encourage my friends out there on the casting side to give these folks a long look for your next project!

Rick Hoem https://www.facebook.com/VoiceOverPizza/

Rick is one of the most dedicated talent I have ever encountered. Launching his career with a diligence and attention to detail that is a sure path to success, Rick has honed his delivery into a compelling blend of neighborliness and gravitas. Able to pivot deftly between guy next door authenticity and stately narration, Rick has a bright future in the business. If you are looking for a balanced voice to bring your script to life, Rick is your guy.

Susan Bernard http://www.susanbernardvo.com/

An active and well known member of the voiceover community for many years, Susan Bernard's passion for her craft is as fiery as the hair on her head. Blessed with a fountain of natural talent, Susan takes direction exceptionally well, and can adapt her very professional sound to any kind of copy. Susan has a wonderful ear for how a script could sound, and is able to bring both stirring humanity and striking calls to action to the table. Whether you need a classic, polished professional voice, or just the girl next door, Susan Bernard has what it takes.

Alan Adelberg http://www.alanadelberg.com/

Alan is among the most singularly gifted folks I have had the pleasure to work with in quite awhile. From our very first session it was very clear why Alan already had a steady stream of bookings. Throughout his coaching program, Alan demonstrated an easy genuineness that would make any casting director salivate, while still being able to imbue reads with authority and seriousness where called for. Very few of my coaching clients have ever made me work as hard as Alan........because he so frequently nailed his reads on the first take. It was all I could do to keep up! From start to finish, all the way through one of the smoothest demo sessions I have ever directed, Alan Adelberg left no doubt that he will be a force in our industry for years to come.

Heather Foster http://www.heatherfostervoice.com/

Heather's infectious personality is one of the biggest reasons she has already put together a great VO business, So often as a coach, I have to push my talent to smile......not Heather! She brightened the booth from word one, and complements her enthusiasm with a highly marketable sound blending energy and smokiness in a well-rounded package. Heather can do the conversational thing with the best of them, and has an impactful way of injecting a subtle hint of warmth and depth at precisely the right moment. Moreover, under direction she is an absolute sponge, soaking up feedback and never needing to be given the same direction twice. All of this adds up to one thing: A true pro.

Erin Gullage

A Boston girl with big goals and a no-nonsense attitude, it has been a joy watching Erin begin the processing of becoming a professional voice actor. Erin surprised me early on with her natural grasp of copy and intuitive understanding of what works and what doesn't. A fast learner with a distinct and matter of fact voice, Erin has evolved over a short period into a marketable voice actor ready to embark upon a new career. With a website and demos coming soon, keep an eye, (or an ear,) on Erin Gullage, who you will be hearing in the very near future!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Engage With the Online Casting Sites at VO Atlanta!

This March at VO Atlanta (voatlanta.me), I am honored and thoroughly excited to have the opportunity to help continue the conversation regarding online casting and the future of the voiceover industry with two first-of-their-kind panels that will allow the voices of the talent community to be heard.

On Friday, March 4th, for the very first time, the management and senior leadership of the major online casting sites will assemble in the same room, on the same stage, at the same time, to hear and respond to the questions and feedback of the voiceover community. Acting as host and moderator, I will be joined by the CEOs of Voice123.com and bodalgo.com, along with a senior representative from Voices.com, among others, for an open and frank conversation about the pros and cons of each site, their business philosophies, and feedback from the community. This discussion will be followed by an open Q&A session with the audience during which each site representative has agreed to field several questions from attendees. This is your chance to get the answers you have been looking for directly from the sites themselves in a candid and unprecedented setting.

On Saturday, March 5th, we have assembled a panel of industry leaders to discuss the ethics of online casting, and the future of the voiceover business in general.
I will again act as moderator as we discuss what online casting sites need to do to satisfy community expectations, and what tomorrow's voiceover landscape will look like. This group of industry opinion leaders will offer insights that will help you set the table for how the next ten years of your career might unfold, as our industry continues forward on an ever-shifting path.

For those interested in understanding the mechanics of success in online casting, I am pleased to have with me two remarkable talent offering their own individual presentations. David Kaplan will demonstrate his prolific auditioning technique and how he adapts it while on the road, and Beau Stephenson will discuss how he used online casting as a stepping stone to the classic LA union/agency career that so many dream of. I will also be back with my presentation on Success in Online Casting, adapted from my one-on-one course.

Most important, however, is the opportunity this event will provide to carry forward the discussion that has exploded onto the scene regarding industry practices. The dam has broken. The voice of the community has been heard. It is clamoring loudly and clearly for a seat at the table, and a fair, equitable and thriving marketplace where we can offer our talent to those who have a need for it.

I, for one, believe that it is entirely possible for the interests of the talent base to coexist in harmony with those of corporations who profit by creating marketplaces and aggregating job opportunities. The willingness of the representatives each site is sending to participate in this forum is laudable, and it is a hopeful sign that they believe the same. I am looking forward to seeing all of you this March as we continue to move the needle forward towards a day when voice actors and online casting sites are partners equally sharing the many blessings of our industry.