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

Freelance VO Survival: Pt 5 – Push Yourself

Making yourself more marketable and improving your chances for success was covered in my previous post, Freelance VO Survival: Pt 4 – Continuing Education.

Review

  1. You are your best investment. To be ahead of everybody else, learn what that means.
  2. Learn as much as you want. The opportunities for learning more can be as long as a structured class or as short as a YouTube video.
  3. To Group or not to group, it’s your choice. Participation with other freelancers has the benefit of socializing; whereas training on your own grants you a peaceful learning experience.

And So, it Begins

Pushing4You wake up each morning with a feeling of dread. It’s been several weeks since your last booking and you’re starting to question your decision to be a voice actor.

A part of you loves the idea of working with clients who value your talent and trust that you’ll bring their script alive with believable feeling and emotion. The other part of you is nagging about bills, groceries, gas for your car and family responsibilities.

Sitting in your studio, you ask yourself “What am I doing wrong? I don’t know what to do. What should I do?” But, you do nothing. You are stuck.

Comfortably Comfortable

For the past two years, you’ve had a steady income from clients who give you repeat business and referrals. Your day is predictable with scheduled times when you walk into your studio and when you leave for the evening.

You are comfortable, since any job that comes your way is easily handled. The type of work you do is normally the same every day. You’ve found a niche and are performing well within its boundaries.

You often think about what would happen if your repeat clients took their business elsewhere. Marketing or doing anything besides walking into a booth and recording, then handing off finished audio is considered by you unnecessary.

You’d like to reach out to new prospects. But, you do nothing. You are stuck.

No Work Left Undone

At night, you find yourself exhausted from working a 12-hour day that included 4 sessions, one almost 2-hours long. Following that were 5-auditions, 4-hours of editing and preparing invoices for completed bookings. Finally, you sent quote request responses and marketed to prospective clients.

This is a typical day and you work hard to maintain this performance level. You are a success. It means working nonstop with very little of yourself left to give to anything else.

Friends and family invite you to take a break and have some fun. Your son reminds you about his basketball game. Your daughter personally invites you to her choir concert.

You’d like to attend all that you’ve been invited to. But you do nothing. You are stuck.

The Art of Being Stuck

The feeling can be intense or barely noticeable. The need to push forward takes on many faces and each one may be perfectly obvious to an outsider and totally obscure or ignored by you.

As a business owner, pushing forward to ‘what’s next’ is important to the growth and success of your business.

The three instances of being stuck I called out above are probably the most common and the scenarios for each one are on the extreme side, I admit. Each of them requires us to push forward in a different way. Getting past the sticking point is the beginning of the push.

What follows is a look at ways to get unstuck and the positive benefits of moving forward. It’s time to push yourself.

Send an S.O.S

Starting your day bewildered and not knowing how to improve your business is stressful. Don’t spend time processing your feelings of failure. Doing so will not get you where you want to be- a busy, productive, well-paid professional.

There is nothing wrong with asking for help. There are many professionals who have been at the same exact place you are right now. But, what do you do to get past the morning dreads?

Be ready to work. When asking for help, you are looking for somebody to provide assistance, suggestions, and guidance. Don’t expect somebody to do the work for you.  Nobody can. You need to take the responsibility and ownership of this process so you can benefit from the positive outcomes.

A mentor is a good start. Somebody you can talk with about what you’re currently doing. They may be able to identify problem areas that you’re too close to, to sort out yourself. Your skills as a talent, business acumen, marketing approaches and more are all worth examining.

Neutral, the UN-Gear

Becoming complacent in your career as a voice talent is more dangerous than it seems on the surface. You have consistency with clients you’ve worked with for several years. Bills are being paid. Your income is at a level you can easily maintain.

Work is effortless and the process is automatic. Script in. Audio out. It’s been this way for several years. Congratulations.

Are you challenged? Are you doing new, interesting work? Are you talking with new prospects? Do higher paying clients interest you? Have you attended a workshop or sought out a coach? These are the things that will push your career out of neutral and help grow your business.

Limitless. Regardless of what others say about professional limitations, your opportunities to push your comfort envelope are limitless.

Continuing to listen to what others are calling fixed boundaries keeps you from discovering the stuff you’re made of and prevents you from taking risks. Playing it safe is easy and preferable to many.

Risk is less about being an adrenalin junkie and more about discovering yourself.

For instance, focusing on a single genre for voice-over. If commercials are your specialty and you’re doing well, why consider doing anything else?

What if you push yourself to audition for documentaries or character voices and find that you like them as well? There’s even the possibility your performance is more human, closer to who you are.

Sticking with one genre or style of work could create that stuck feeling. Always thinking about the other possibilities but never taking them on leaves many opportunities untried.

If trying something new requires you to learn, all the better. Continuing education is one sure way to make you more marketable. The increase in what you’re able to handle makes you more valuable. Push yourself out of your cushy performance comfort zone.

Looking Out for Number 1

Taking care of your primary asset has to be at the top of your needs list. Without you, there is no business. Without the business, there is no income. Without income, there is no survival.

Working 10+ hours a day and most of your weekends to meet client needs satisfies exactly one side of the talent and client relationship. Spending vacation time working is great for your clients but probably not exciting for the people you’re with.

Ideally, you want to work with better-paying clients and clock fewer hours. Being stuck in a mode that’s counter to this will shorten your career as a voice talent or at the very least, make it less enjoyable.

Managing clients so you get time to rest your voice and mind is so important. Vocal health should be a primary consideration. Take care of yourself.

Set hours during the day that you’re available to clients. Let them know what your availability is. Push yourself to stick to a healthy schedule. There are people in your life who genuinely want to spend time with you. Restful nights of sleep and eating a healthy diet are important for keeping the talent machine that you are, running in A-1 form.

Earn What You’re Worth

The rate card you’re currently using may be keeping you from making the kind of money you set out to make.

The push begins by evaluating your client load. Are you at full capacity and turning work away? Or, does your schedule have room to fill with work?

The goal is to work less while earning more. It’s not a bad thing and if most people had the choice, they’d work less for more money and not more for less money.

If your skills are top-notch and your business practices are sound, but you’re not attracting clients, try adjusting your rates down incrementally or find ways to add value.

You’re looking for a noticeable improvement. Perhaps a new marketing approach is what’s needed. If you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to get the same results. Change it up!

On the other end of the spectrum is working a full schedule and turning work away from existing clients or refusing to take on new clients. What a great ‘problem’ you have.  You are set for a rate increase.

This is scary territory for some who fear losing clients. That’s OK because you are looking for clients who’ll pay what you’re worth.

Those who don’t see your value will find someone else. New prospects who understand what you have to offer and like your talent will pay your rate.

Confidence Booster

After you’ve made a change that moves you outside your bubble of comfort, a couple of positive things happen.

First, you realize that taking a leap into the murky unknown, was not as bad as you thought. You learned something along the way, maybe picked up a new skill. Most importantly, you discovered something about yourself.

Second, you’ll be better prepared to deal with feeling apprehensive. Remind yourself that you made it through the change and are better for it.

Even results that didn’t turn out the way you wanted or expected can have value. The key is not to give up on yourself when things get crazy.

There will be bumps along the way. You’re making a change or trying something new and it feels awkward and unfamiliar. If you ditch your efforts early, you’ll never learn to navigate.

Understanding the navigation of change is what brings about success.

Naysayer Respect

Why follow the pack when you can set your own standards? You’ve seen and heard many times things like, “It’s always been done this way.” Or “That doesn’t apply to what we do.” Or “The clients will never go for that!”

These statements are limiters and allow people to stay comfortable and unchallenged.  It only takes one person to pierce through the protective coating of complacency.  A different idea or method proves change can happen and is appropriate.

When you hear, “That’s the way it’s done.”, you’ve received a signal, loud and clear, for you to challenge what others are accepting as the norm. Do not be afraid to push forward with your radical ideas. The success or failure of those ideas will never be known if you don’t push forward with them.

Pushing forward is constant. Like the hands on a clock, each is always in motion but at different speeds. The rate of push is less important than the act of moving forward. Sometimes it takes baby steps to get to ‘what’s next.’  Other times, you’ll find a smooth paved superhighway with clear signs to follow. Keep moving forward.

What to Remember

The moment you are comfortable is the precise time to find ways to push yourself.

  1. Moving out of your comfort zone can take many shapes. A small change can have huge results.
  2. Boost confidence with every push. That feeling you get when change has a positive outcome can be repeated and become easier to repeat with every new push.
  3. The negative results of pushing boundaries are valuable. Learn along the way. Discard what didn’t work. Keep what did. Persevere.

There are many examples of professionals who pushed forward with their careers and never looked back. An article written by Renee Jacques, Associate Viral Content Editor for The Huffington Post, calls out 16 individuals who hit obstacles along their journey and found ways of dealing with them. They never settled.

16 Wildly Successful People Who Overcame Huge Obstacles To Get There

How have the moments you pushed resulted in amazing outcomes? What did you learn along the way for those instances of push that didn’t work out? Leave your comments below.

© 2016 J. Christopher Dunn

Don’t Blame the Bird

ThanksgivingHowever you celebrate, surround yourself with the people you love to be with.

Be thankful. Have fun. Stay safe.

And, don’t blame the bird. Scientists say that extra glass of wine, the high-calorie meal or relaxing after a busy work schedule is what makes you drowsy. Turkey isn’t responsible for “food coma.”  So eat until it’s gone. You have no excuse other than not wearing stretchy pants.

Enjoy an amazing Thanksgiving!
Chris

Secure Your VO Floatation Device: Are You Sponge Worthy?

Yellow-SpongeThe big VO talent sponge, in which we cling is saturated to the point of being unable to absorb any more. Capacity has hit a limit and any moment now we’ll hear a great big soggy SQUISH!!!

Just thought I’d toss that out there. It’s my opinion.

Welcoming All Comers

Folks out of work are hoping a swing at a voice-over career will get them by. Parents home with kids are looking for some easy-grab money. Even retirees are giving it a go. And why shouldn’t they? They’ve read it’s easy, there’s work for everybody and working in pajamas is super cool!

Polly Anna Would Love Us!

As a group of clear-speaking, well-intending professionals, we put a positive face on and pretend everything is fine and there is room for all. Heck, I welcome any talented individual who has it together enough to jump in the sponge. I wish them well and will provide any advice when asked.

The Low-Ballers

There is this ever-present thing with low-ballers. These folks will do anything on the cheap. That’s outrageous you scream, but they simply don’t care, I reply.

The sad truth is that the low-baller mentality is this bread’s suicide pill. They are in business for a few magical months, and after a time, will most likely decide it’s not so magical and the money amounts to just enough to buy a thimbleful of used breakfast cereal.

So they leave. Only to be replaced by the next wave of Kitchen-Table-Studio-VO-Newbies from the Low-Baller Academy. It never stops!

To use a phrase coined by Elaine from the TV show Seinfeld, they are not “sponge-worthy.”

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

I’ve read a number of blog posts from established talent who are feeling the impact of the impending squish. They are finding gigs elusive and are auditioning more and landing fewer jobs.

The letters and messages I’ve received personally and read in a variety of online forums, indicate that instant gratification is at an unattainable level. “How do I get jobs today?” “I wan’t to make good money.” “How come I haven’t landed one job in over a year?” “How come nobody is contacting me?” I don’t have the exact answers for any of them. Do I utter encouragement to keep going? <heavy sigh> …yeah.

I wonder, are we doing our biz a disservice by being so openly optimistic? Shouldn’t we instead be writing and talking about the direction voice-over has taken in precise, laser focused words that everybody can understand?

But WAIT, There’s More!

Voice-over support seems to be in the business for it’s own sake. An increasing number of options for education are popping up. Personal coaching, Online group classes, virtual meet-ups, studio workshops, and a growing number of conferences. Go. Buy. Enjoy. All are tax deductible!

Yeah, they’re all write-offs. When tax time comes around they end up being line item deductions. However, there has to be income to make the expense a tax deduction.

Pain-to-Play

Pay-to-Play sites continue to pop up, offering the chance to audition with 100s of hopeful, (and UN-vetted) new talent. The competition is fierce for these lower paying jobs. It appears to be a race to the bottom for the new voice-over talent coming online to participate. Are they forcing the rates of all gigs down? Could they be creating a VO bubble?

A Possible Direction

On the (not-so) far-fetched side, since the ‘natural’ or ‘conversational’ delivery is the direction more producers ask talent to go, how soon will it be before voice-over is handled in-house by the clients. They sound natural and oh so conversationally convincing, right?

Almost Done…

When a sponge releases water, it’s indiscriminate about which molecules get pushed out.

Are you ready for the squish? What will it take to survive? Will you remain in the talent sponge or be wrung out and looking for someone to buy your gear? Is there anybody safe from the squish?

Your comments are always welcome.

© 2015 J. Christopher Dunn