How to Win the Game of VO Aggravation

Aggravation was one of my all-time favorite board games when I was a kid. If you’ve never played, the object is to move your four marbles from “Base” to “Home” before anybody else does the same. And you don’t want to get aggravated in the process, which means another player landed on one of your four marbles during their turn and sent the marble back to your Base to start again.

Voice acting has aggravating moments. And like the game Aggravation, starting over from Base is part of the business. For me, there are four stages of a booking. Let’s call these my four marbles, which are waiting to move from Base to Home.

Marble 1 – Quote
Marble 2 – Audition
Marble 3 – Session
Marble 4 – Payment

Marble 1 – Quote
 This is the first one to hit the board. Along with rate information, a quote should answer all the client’s questions in detail plus anything else you feel they should know. I use a boilerplate and fill in with the type of project I’m quoting for and the dollar amount. It takes me about five minutes to write. Make it a practice to send it the same day as requested. Potential clients appreciate a quick response.

I usually give the prospect a day to respond. If I don’t hear from them, I follow up and ask if I’ve missed anything or if they have questions about the quote. When I’ve addressed their issues, and we agree to terms on the rate, it’s time to move to the next stage.

One marble down, three to go.

However, if after three follow-ups I haven’t heard a peep, I move my marble back to Base. Aggravation.

Of course, there is always the possibility they’ll contact you again several weeks or even months later. If that’s the case, move your marble from Base to Home and proceed to the next stage.

Marble 2 – Audition
The client wants an audition to consider with other talent they’ve contacted. Read the script and pay attention to the directions.

If there are unfamiliar, profession-specific words or acronyms in the script, there may be a phonetic guide included. Read it. Even if you think you know how to say every word in the script. If a phonetic guide isn’t part of the audition, you’ll need to investigate pronunciations on your own. The web has some tools (How-j-say and Forvo) plus YouTube is a great source too.

Along with what to read, there may be specifics about filename, slating, file type delivery, and deadline. If you have questions after reading the script, and you couldn’t find answers on your own, ask. ALWAYS ASK!!! Don’t guess.

“We love it!” or similar client response followed with a booking is what will advance your marble Home. Sometimes, after you’ve moved your audition marble back to Base, the client notifies you they’re ready to book.

Yay! Advance marble 2 to Home. Two down. Two to go.

However, when there’s no immediate response, this marble may sit on the board longer than you like. My advice is to submit your audition and forget it. Most times, if you didn’t get the booking, you’ll never hear back. Aggravation. (Don’t let it get to you. It happens a lot.)

Marble 3 – Session
It’s a busy time. The script gets recorded. The audio edited. The final files delivered. The project approved by the client. This marble should be the easiest to get Home. At most, the client may want some pickups or a reread. Convince them it’s a good thing for them to direct your recording session. Also, if you have it to offer, talk about connecting to your studio by SourceConnect or ipDTL.

Directed sessions have the added pressure of an audience, and the recording is in real time. Be prepared with enough sleep, water, a fresh mouth, and being familiar with the script. Make sure you have the correct connection info, whether it’s patch, Skype, or any of the voice over Internet services.

Self-directed sessions are all about you. Include everything from the previous paragraph, sans the bit about connection info. If the script is short, be flexible by delivering a few reads. When the script is lengthy, a sample read of the first few sentences sent to the client for review is a good thing. It’s better to make changes in speed, tempo, and overall sound before you read several pages of narration.

Three marbles down. One to go.

On rare occasion, you might find yourself in the session from hell. You and the client may not be able to dial in the sound they’re listening for. You’ve been stopped and spoon-fed lines, and it’s feeling a little humiliating.

Or, you’ve sent what you thought was your best work ever. You delivered many reads to the client for review, and nothing worked. You’ve read the script a dozen different ways, and you sense that maybe you’ll never get it.

How thick is your skin?

Time to take a deep breath and tell the client, “Thank you, but this just is not working out.” 

Aggravation. Move the Session marble back to base. I know, ouch, right?

Marble 4 – Payment
 At this point, you’re just waiting for the check to arrive to get that last marble Home. Make it easy for clients to pay and discuss options ahead of time. Once you agree to payment terms, make sure to include the details in your contract with the client. Advancing your last marble Home means that you’ve won. Good for you!

When the due date arrives, and payment didn’t happen, reach out gently to your client and remind them.

“I noticed your invoice is a few days past due. Would you like an extension?” 

Most times this is enough to trigger action. However, there may be times when a kind nudge isn’t enough. I recommend waiting a few days then reach out to them again. Sometimes life derails the best intentions, and your client may just be off track.

To recap, there are things you can do to improve the chances of a complete booking or moving all marbles to Home and winning the VO aggravation game.

Marble 1 – Quote
Respond same day as requested
Provide your rate
Include detailed information about services
Followup when you don’t hear back

Marble 2 – Audition
Review the script before recording
Follow all instructions/directions
When something is not clear, ask questions
Deliver promptly

Marble 3 – Session
Prepare mentally and physically
Have patch number or other connection details
Give multiple, different reads
Know when to quit

Marble 4 – Payment
Establish payment method and due date
Include payment details in your contract
Offer easy methods of payment
Nudge gently when payment is missed

Not having a clue about what you’re doing in the studio can make you sorry. Managing risk when dealing with clients creates a smooth operation. There were other careers you could have chosen, but you settled on the one that allowed you to have a life.

What gets your marbles around the board?

© 2017 J. Christopher Dunn

5 Tips To Build Solid VO Client Relationships

Forgetting is more of an excuse than a reason for failing to be remembered. As a voice actor, or any freelancer for that matter, what is one of the leading things that make your business grow? Clients who come back for more. But, if you’re not at the top of your client’s mind, you’ll be left wondering what happened when they don’t come back.

Here are 5 tips from business professionals that will increase the odds in your favor.

1. Can They Hear You Now

From MBO Partners, a company providing Business Management Solutions for independent workers suggests to “Focus on Exceptional Communication” as one way to keep connected with clients. From their article, 6 Tips For Building And Maintaining Long Lasting Client Relationships:

Make timely, efficient communication a priority. Of course, communication with a single client should not consistently and unreasonably encroach on your personal time or negatively affect your productivity. However, being available demonstrates that your client’s project and satisfaction are important to you.

This could include following up a few days after delivering your audio files to find out if your client has everything they need. Ah, but you may be thinking that if they need something more, they’ll let you know. Maybe. Give your client an opportunity to ask. Who knows, it may turn in to more work. At the very least, your client feels cared for.

2. Being One with the SME

When I worked in the corporate world, I heard the three letter acronym SME for the first time. It made me giggle. It sounds made up. However, being a SME is nothing to laugh at. It stands for Subject Matter Expert, which means the person with this quality commands knowledge worth knowing. Clients respect SMEs and count on them for guidance.

Alyssa Gregory, Contributing Editor to The Balance, a company with a focus on understanding money and earning more, had this to say about SMEs in How to Strengthen Relationships with Your Clients:

Many times, your clients will welcome and appreciate suggestions on how to do things better or more effectively. Use your past experience and in-depth knowledge of the work you do in your business to help your clients develop solutions that surpass their initial expectations. This can be accomplished by comprehensive consulting, or even more informally, such as by sharing tips, advice and resources that will help your clients in their own businesses.

So when a client contacts you with a voiceover project and is not sure how it should sound, take the opportunity to give input. Or if a script seems a little wonky, take the initiative to ask questions and offer solutions. You’ll be a hero to those clients who’ve never worked with a voice actor. You’ll be their SME.

3. This is Pure Gold

Now, just because you’re s SME, doesn’t give you the license to be all snooty and hoity-toity. Give your clients the respect they deserve. You like to be treated nicely. They want to be treated the same way. In Entrepreneur Guest Writer Allen Duet’s article, 5 Tips for Building Strong Relationships With Clients, his first tip is to treat others the way you want to be treated:

This classic lesson seems like the simplest of tasks: Yet it is often the one forgotten. When engaging in business with a customer, put yourselves in the person’s shoes and provide the same level of service and respect that you would want.

Keep positive and make your clients feel working with you is hassle-free. It’s a pleasure! I always go back to the businesses that treat me well, and I’m sure you do too.

4. The Perfect Stranger

Be the best you that you can be. Coming off as something you aren’t will make you appear robotic. That doesn’t mean being sloppy and careless with work and clients; it means being genuinely human. In the Small Business Trends article, 7 Strategies for Better Managing Client Relationships, Larry Alton writes:

Stop trying to be such a polished version of yourself in front of customers. In an effort to clean yourself up, you’re actually cheapening your image and transforming yourself into someone you aren’t. They don’t want some ideal image of you. They want the real deal.

Mistakes are going to happen and it’s much better to be open about them. This proves that you’re human and, while they may be frustrated at the moment, it ultimately puts them at ease.

Whew, what a relief! That should take a massive weight off your shoulders. You want to be professional but real. There’s no such thing as perfect.

5. Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Working in solitude has a significant drawback. Opportunities to connect on other levels besides professional are almost non-existent. Developing ways to connect socially and getting to know your clients better will help create a stronger business bond.

Product Designer Fabio Muniz wrote in his HOW article, A Freelancer’s Guide to Building Great Client Relationships, being friends with clients is a good thing:

Get to know your clients. Get to know who they really are—what is their story, what they are building for the world, what kind of food they like. Do they have children? Do they like to travel? Put in the hours to learn about them. Show that you care, that you are not just in it for the money, that you want to truly help them.

Now, when you Friend you clients on Facebook or invite them to join your Linkedin network, you’ve got more in common than work.

To recap 5 Tips to Build Solid Client Relationships:

  1. Keep the communication flowing
  2. Be the expert your clients can depend on
  3. Treat clients like you want to be treated
  4. It’s OK to be human and have flaws
  5. Becoming friends with clients is a good thing

What are your suggestions for developing client relationships that last? Leave your comments below.

© 2017 J. Christopher Dunn

How to Track Voiceover Projects That’s Quick and Easy

Have you ever searched your computer for a script, sound file, note, invoice or anything else specific to a project and frustratedly came up empty handed?

I found an easy way to keep track of the pieces. Here’s how.

Tried and Tested

Before accepting gigs and working with clients, I knew I wanted an easy way to track everything for a given project. My first thought was using system folders on my computer and filling them with all the parts associated with a project.

After a few test runs with pseudo clients and projects, I quickly concluded the system folders method was not the way to go. It was cumbersome and found myself drilling through folder after folder looking for what I wanted. It was a huge time suck.

Eureka, a Winner!

Other methods I tried were just as worthless. A huge spreadsheet, document files, an expansive database. Nothing was working and it all was so meh.

And then I discovered what I was looking for. I found using a project number as the base helped to keep everything in order. Simple.

How it Works

Once I’ve received the nod a client wants me to work with them, I assign a number to all the project pieces going forward. Which, by no coincidence, the project number is also the next sequential invoice number in my accounting software.

Email, contracts, scripts, notes, sessions and anything else associated with a particular project receives this number from this point on.

As an example, typically the first thing I send after the client has agreed to book me, is my Project Confirmation for them to review and approve. The title of the Project Confirmation and email subject line looks like this:

[PR1600] QuickStop Messenger — Project Confirmation – CONFIDENTIAL

To break it down:

  • [PR1600] – This is the invoice number used on everything associated with the QuickStop Messenger project.
  • QuickStop Messenger – The name or title of the project, typically taken from the script title.
  • Project Confirmation – This refers to the item I’m sending or in other cases, the primary purpose of the e-mail.
  • CONFIDENTIAL – (optional) A one-word callout detail about the item.

More Examples

Now that I have a project number, I apply it to everything to keep the work organized. Here are a few ways I put it to good use.

[PR1600] QuickStop Messenger — Voiceover script – approved
Once I receive a client’s script, I rename it to something that makes sense to me, using my numbering system.

[PR1600] QuickStop Messenger — Script Questions
There are times when clients are available only by e-mail. When I have script questions, this is the subject I’ll use for the email.

[PR1600] QuickStop Messenger — Ready for download
When I’ve finished the session and uploaded it to the server, I send my client a quick e-mail with the download link and password.

Some Other Uses

  • [PR1600] QuickStop Messenger — Invoice
  • [PR1600] QuickStop Messenger — Payment received
  • [PR1600] QuickStop Messenger — Anything else?

What I’ve Found

Since the number is consistent across the project, it gives me a failsafe way to locate related parts and reduces search time. Using Spotlight, a system-wide search on my Mac, I can instantly find what I’m looking for just by searching for the project number. An equally useful system-wide seek method is also available on Windows machines.

As an added benefit, this also helps clients in the same way. All of our correspondence will most likely be in their inbox. So all they’ll have to do is search for the project number.

It takes some time getting in the habit of using a project number, but the ease of finding what I’m looking for is a sweet return.

What is your ‘can’t live without’ method of tracking projects? I’d like to hear about it and maybe work it into my process. Leave your comments in the section below and happy tracking!

© 2016 J. Christopher Dunn

It’s Booth Gear, Baby!

When you stand or sit in your recording area (whatever your booth may be), are the tools you need at arm’s-length away? I’m almost positive your copy or music stand has at least one item you use every time you record. Maybe a pencil? A stopwatch? A good luck Beanie Baby? Almost everybody has something. At the very least a script.

The accumulation of booth gear doesn’t necessarily reveal the type of person you’ve become. It’s not a reflection of what makes you, you. Instead, it’s what makes you comfortable so you can do an excellent job recording and impress the heck out of your clients who will shower you with repeat work. It’s all important stuff.

This picture is a snapshot I took of what’s on the music stand in my booth. (click to enlarge)


Big Office Clip
– It’s a simple and efficient headphone hanger. However, since it’s two wires doing the job, the clip has destroyed the padded head cushion covering. There are better choices, like this from Sweetwater- K&M 16080 Headphone and Cable Hook.. (Also check out the K&M 16020 Drink Holder.)

Headphones – I’m using my Sennheiser HD 280 Pros less for self-directed projects but find them necessary for remote booth direction. They spend most of the time on my editing desk.

iPad – Going green is a good choice to reduce printer/paper usage. Printed scripts in the booth are becoming more rare with each passing year. Apple’s iPad (or similar tablet) is the way to go. Mine is an iPad 2, which I bought new in 2011, and with its 9.7-inch display, it’s a good size for reading scripts.

However, while visiting the Apple Store recently, I saw the bigger display of the iPad Pro (12.9-inches), and I think it’d be a sweet upgrade. I would see more of the script on a brighter, crisper display. That’s a win for my eyeballs.

Mighty Bright Light – On those few occasions where I print a script or need to read from an actual book, this light is fantastic for its brightness and adjustability. Since I purchased mine, Mighty Bright has created new, brighter versions that appear to take up less space.

In Your Face iPhone Holder – Phone-patched sessions have become more common and the In Your Face iPhone Holder is a handy place to mount my phone.

Carpet Sample – A music stand is nothing but a flat piece of sheet metal on a pipe. The flat surface can produce unwanted sound artifacts, which are muted with a carpet sample.

Make a trip to your local carpet retailer and ask if they have any samples they’d let you take off their hands. Just make sure it’s clean and a color you can live with. And while you’re there, introduce yourself as the person to call for everything VO.

Pencil – This is a carry over from when I was working with paper scripts. I got in the habit of having it in my hand and feel naked when I don’t. It’s handy for gesticulation. Not so good for marking up copy on an iPad.

Dog Clicker – Marking the waveform with a clearly defined click is indispensable during audio editing. I use it to mark mistakes (1 click), takes (2 clicks), and self-guided booth tantrums (countless).

Cork – For the times when I can’t convince my mouth to cooperate, and articulation seems more like fantasy than reality, I rely on my cork. Pop it in. Read the script. Pop it out. Magically, my mouth takes notice and articulation improves.

Bath Towel – When I slapped my carpet sample on my music stand, I quickly saw it was on the small side. Sooo…  a bath towel covers the entire stand. It’ provides a bit of contrast and color plus keeps the carpet in place. I know it’s a stretch, but it sounds good, doesn’t’ it?

Do I use all the items every time I’m in session? Nope. One or two items come in handy. The rest are on standby waiting for their chance to be helpful.

Do you have things on your stand (or in your booth) that help you get through a session? What’s the one or two items that make what you do easier? I’d like to hear about them, so leave your comments below.

© 2017 J. Christopher Dunn

Your Voice Could Be the Next Great Thing in Computing

her_loading_helixA headline to a post written by Backchannel Editor, Jessi Hempel, reads, “Voice is the Next Big Platform, and Alexa Will Own It.”

Hempel writes about the maturing of Amazon’s Echo in the coming years. How we’ll access information using our voice and not the keyboard, touch screen or other input devices we rely on now. Speak it, and it will come. Think Star Trek’s Computer on the Next Generation Enterprise, Theodore Twombly’s assistant Samantha in the motion picture Her, or the HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It’s Not What You Say, it’s What You Hear

Part of the excitement of using voice input are the voice responses from the device. Retrieving requested information and executing tasks on demand is a natural extension of how we live with computers. The voice feedback should sound natural and genuinely human.

What We Have Now

If you own an iPhone, Siri responds when you utter a request. Asking Siri to do the same thing multiple times might give you a variety of verbal responses, but the intonation of the same response sounds the same from the first instance to the next. Changes in vocal texture are missing, and they’re what’s needed to make the experience more comfortable and life-like.

Could This Be the Next Big Thing for Voice Actors?

Imagine being booked to record thousands of phrases multiple times. Each time you repeated a phrase, it would contain unique vocal qualities. Then, intelligent AI programming, using natural language processing, would use your words to build responses on the fly. Voice stress, breathiness, pace, and volume would be part of the reply computation.

Maybe you would audition your voice from one company to another. Companies, like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, and others, could catalog voices and make choosing a specific one an option when buying a device like an iPhone or Echo.

You wouldn’t pay to have your voice hosted, but would receive a royalty payment whenever a client selects it as the voice for their new device. Perhaps in the future, there will be a need for a new type of agent who focuses only on voices for vocal response.

It’s Happening

Last year I was invited to record thousands of phrases for a cutting edge company working on delivering a unique voice to vocally challenged people. VocalID is transforming digital speech replacement with human vocal characteristics. Their charter is to bring speaking machines to life. They’re doing that by matching vocal efforts of people who don’t have the ability of speech with those who do and using special software to meld the two. The result is surprising.

What’s next?

Vocal banks may become a new opportunity for voice actors. More devices and situations for vocal feedback are coming. The companies working on AI and voice interfaces, like those mentioned above, will create more needs for vocal feedback and your voice may be part of their roster.

© 2017 J. Christopher Dunn

EZ YouTube Setup Guide for Voice Actors

youtube-blog-img

Early 2016, I began developing a business specific to videos for voice actors. I noticed many fellow actors used video to showcase their work. Most were links to full TV commercials, explainer videos, and corporate videos. I imagined a better way to visually demonstrate talent would be to use multiple short clips in a single demo video and make it available on a voice actor’s YouTube channel and website.

Ready for the video Internet?

Guardian Editor, Chris Trimble, wrote that by 2017, video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic.  Internet portals YouTube and Vimeo will deliver videos to everything from mobile devices to your desktop computer and your living room television.

Trimble continued by writing that small businesses which don’t embrace video in their marketing approach, “…will do so at their peril.”

That caught my attention. So, the first part of the process was creating a setup guide to help get a person up and running on YouTube. My initial thinking was to charge a token amount that could later be applied to the cost of creating compilation videos for voice talent.

The guide is in three parts and instead of selling it I’d like for you to download it for free. No strings attached.

About the videos

Here are two different approaches. One using a business card form factor mixed with details about me. The second is a compilation from a number of projects that use my voice.  It works well for audio demos, why not video as well?

Voice-over Demo

Corporate Narration Demo

The final development stage of this business is in progress and I’m getting close to releasing it to the wild. Stay tuned!

Free Download

Merry Christmas! Here’s the link to a zip file that contains the YouTube setup guides I mentioned.

YouTube Channel Setup Guides for Voice Actors

And, here are the individual guides.

Youtube Channel Setup Guide for Voice Actors
Youtube Channel Customization Guide for Voice Actors
Youtube Channel Video Upload Guide for Voice Actors

It’s yours to peruse and keep forever. Look through the guide and let me know what you think. Is it helpful? Missing crucial details? What would make it better?

Leave your feedback below and happy videoing.

© 2016 J. Christopher Dunn

Movember – Remembering Granddad

granddad-enders

The handsome teenager pictured above is Ed Enders, born October 31, 1911, in the Gallatin Valley, close to Bozeman, Montana. Ed was raised on the ranch his grandparents owned. He married Ruby McCampbell and they raised two children on the same ranch, affectionately called Sis and Butch.

To his wife, Ruby, he was called Edward. His kids called him Daddy. Friends called him Ed. I called him Granddad and he was my living Superman.

On the ranch, Ed raised cattle, pigs, chickens, a few sheep and a goat named Nanny. Over the years, his companions out in the fields and pastures were four dogs: Tex, Little Dog, Charlie, and Bowser. His favorite cats were a Siamese named Big Boy and a long-haired Tabby called Mouse. Deer and other critters could roam freely on Ed’s land. He took pleasure in seeing them run across his fields.

Ed diversified in the 1940s and bought a truck for long-haul cargo transport across the United States, and drove for BonTon Bakery in Montana.

His super power was endurance. During harvest, Ed would combine for hours after sunset and be back out in the field early the next morning. When winter hit, he worked in sub-zero cold, taking care of cattle and pigs, and making sure pipes didn’t freeze. He warmed up with visits to his rickety old shop which had a space heater that sounded like a jet.

One cold winter morning when I was sledding down through the barnyard, Granddad flagged me to his shop. I walked in with my American Flyer sled, the space heater roaring. He took my sled to his work bench  and rubbed the runners with a chunk of paraffin. When Granddad finished, he smiled, kind of mischievously, and took me back outside to the top of the barnyard. He told me to get on and HANG ON. With a push, I was off and traveling through the barnyard faster than I’d ever gone before. Granddad knew how to make a rocket out of a sled.

Granddad had a sweet tooth and judging by the number of candy bar wrappers I found behind the seat of his Ford pickup, I’d say it was a happy addiction. Grandma never knew. It was our secret. He also had a taste for french fries. He bought Grandma a tiny fryer so he’d have them available whenever the craving hit. In his 60s, he discovered pizza and brought home one from Little Caesar’s. It was delicious and was fun watching him enjoy something he’d clearly never had before.

When Ed was 65, he was diagnosed with emphysema. The doctor told him quitting smoking would extend his life. After his visit to the doctor, he came home and handed his Lucky Strike cigarettes and Zippo lighter to Grandma and told her to put them away. He stopped smoking, cold turkey. Willpower was another of Granddad’s super powers.

I saw my granddad cry exactly twice. The first time, after he decided to retire from ranch life, was when he and I took the last of his pigs to the Bozeman Stockyard to sell. He watched intently as they left the back of the truck. A huge part of his life was ending and I could see sadness take over his entire body. I felt his pain. I had never seen a man cry before.

With the livestock gone, the Enders ranch was silent. Gone were the sounds of content pigs in the barn, the mooing of grazing cows in the pasture, the random clucking of chickens in the coop.

The second time I saw Granddad cry was the March evening in 1985 before I left for Seattle to go to school. It was during dinner with my grandparents, a simple meal of soup and sandwiches. I remember it was quiet, nobody said a word. We were afraid to speak. I looked up to see my granddad with tears streaming down his face. He said, “You’ve always been here.” It was true. I spent a lot of time on his farm growing up. Seeing my granddad like this made me reconsider that trip. I was very close to canceling my move and still wished I had.

While I was away at school, in 1986, Edward, Daddy, Ed, Granddad was diagnosed with testicular cancer and it was metastasizing throughout his body. The news seemed surreal. I could not believe it. On July 7, 1987, my Superman died of cancer that ravaged his entire body. From youngster to young adult, I grew up working with him on his ranch in Bozeman. He significantly influenced my life and inspired me to be the man I am today. I miss him.

If you have or have had somebody in your life, like my granddad, who was or is a victim of cancer, I urge you to support men’s health awareness during the month of November (Movember).

This Movember I’m getting active for men’s health. I’ve taken the Move challenge to raise funds for the Movember Foundation and I need your support:

http://mobro.co/jchristopher

Too many men are dying unnecessarily from testicular cancer- the most common cancer in young men. The Movember Foundation is working to halve the number of deaths from testicular cancer by 2030. I want to help them get there.

There are two ways you can contribute to my Move fundraising:

  • Or, write a check to ‘Movember’ referencing my registration ID (1453032) and mail it to: Movember, P.O. Box 1595, Culver City, CA 90232

Learn about the important work Movember is funding and the impact your donation will have: http://us.movember.com/programs/cause

Together we can create a world where no man dies of testicular cancer.