Session Improvement Tips for Producers from Voice Talents

Tips-and-ToolsFill in the blank: “During my last session, I wished the producer would have ________________________.”

Or, if you’re a producer, “During my last session with a voice talent, I wished I would have ________________________.”

The job of a producer is not an easy one. They are part psychologist, part friend and part conductor. One minute, hand-holding a talent through a tricky script read.  The next minute, driving to keep the session from going off the rails.

Good producers want you to perform well and will do what it takes to bring out your best.

At the end of one of my sessions, I was asked by the producer if I had time to chat about working with voice talent. I was the first he’d directed and he felt unsure of his working method.

He was asking about what to do and know before the session begins and how to direct during the session.  I came up with a handful of suggestions, which I shared with the producer.

It Got Me Thinking

Afterwards, I wondered if I may have missed something so I asked the Voice-Over Pros group on Facebook for their thoughts and suggestions.

Their responses were brilliant and clearly came from the perspective of having worked with many producers over several years.

Another producer recently asked me for similar feedback so maybe there are others who would like the same. I think it’s good idea to make the info available to a wider audience.  So, I’ve compiled the best responses from Facebook and removed contributor names since the group is closed.

From The Mouths Of VO Pros

If you’re a producer, consider the things you may be missing. If you’re a voice talent, here’s some useful insight to remember during your next session.

Imagine being at the local pub or coffee joint and overhearing this conversation…

“Keep the sessions light, relaxed and fun where possible. Nobody’s life is on the line.”

“The thing about voice talent, as apposed to actors doing VO, is that we are generally affable and have a desire to fulfill the vision of the producer rather than have the producer conform to our artistic vision…”

“Always compliment them first.”

“Clear communication… From my time in the producer’s chair I found that open clear communication and friendliness got what I needed every time…it’s recording, not rocket science…”

“Keep their confidence high.”

“One safety is appropriate. When a producer asks for SEVERAL safeties then I’ve either not hit the magic spot or I’m totally clueless to what I’m being directed to do. In either situation, those extra takes are really not for safety, it’s more like the director saying, “what else ya got?” Yeah, there are times what a director says and what a talent hears is a mismatch.”

“…cant tell you how many sessions have been saved because of safety takes. Some times there are micro issues in your “good” take that you don’t hear until final processing of the vocals….and many times, the safety take can be even better than the “good” one….because the “pressure” is off the talent. I used that as a technique to get the delivery I wanted on numerous occasions…”

“In a commercial session, time your script before the session starts, and if it’s in danger of being long, have some edits in mind beforehand.”

“Always have the check cut so you can pay the talent when they leave!”

“Be positive, encouraging, and be mindful of the fact you both want the same thing and by working together you’ll accomplish it.”

“Trust the talent to tell the story. Don’t microdirect!”

“I’d never say this to a producer but: Know what you’re looking for before you hear it.”

“Sometimes the talent is not seeing the story the way the producer is hearing the story in their minds. I remember working with a talent once a long time ago in a galaxy far away where I was directing something that I had written. I could not get the talent to inflect the words I wanted inflected. I do this to myself in self-directed sessions. I record, and then during the edit I hear that I inflected the second word in a two-word grouping and send myself back into the booth to redo it. Sometimes by the time I get into the booth and find the script and record it again, I end up doing the same thing.”

“My advice to producers is, don’t settle. If you haven’t gotten exactly what you wanted, explain what you want done differently and go again. And once you do get what you want, say so.

“The moment a Producer makes the vo perp feel welcome, and at home, he/she can lead you a million miles in any direction.”

“It’s challenging working with anyone who isn’t sure what they’re looking for and it seems a bit time consuming coaching a client or producer on how to coach us. In the friendliest way possible, I would tell them to call me when they have a good idea on how they want the script read. Or, if the rate is good and the script is short, I don’t mind doing multiple takes for them and avoiding the live directed session altogether.”

“Know what you want! Be open to possibilities…but know what you want before the talent steps in front of the mic.”

“… remember why you hired this particular talent in the first place. They are trying to essentially interpret what is in your head and give their own spin on it.”

“…be clear in your communication on what you are listening for…. and if you don’t know, let the talent know that you would like to try a few different approaches to the project and even ask for suggestions. Creating a comfortable atmosphere is also a big help…”

“I agree with everyone else and would add: have another person look over your script and make sure it’s at least assumed to be the ‘final’ before you bring in the talent.”

This virtual conversion was priceless and full of suggestions that would help make most sessions a breeze to get through.

My Advice

Adding to what was said by other VO Pros, this is what I shared with my producer:

  1. Make sure the script is final and has been approved by the client.
  2. Keep the session relaxed and offer input when necessary.
  3. Allow the talent some creative freedom.
  4. Keep the momentum of the session moving forward.
  5. Take breaks during long-from narration sessions.
  6. When hearing mouth noises, suggest a water break.
  7. For short sessions with commercial scripts, allow the talent to make it through the script once before taking them in a different direction.

I’m sure there are more that haven’t been mentioned. So, I ask you, what would be the single best thing you would share with a producer or director that would improve their workflow during sessions?

Please leave your comments below.

© 2015 J. Christopher Dunn

Other posts you might find interesting:
Five Tips for Better Client/Talent Workflow
Unplugged and Loved It!
The Disturbing Voice Disappearance

Choice: The Evolution in Voiceover Rates

confused 3d character standing under direction boardHaving choices is a good thing. When I get my car washed I have a choice of three different levels. Silver, Gold, or Platinum and each level provides a bit more than its lower-priced sibling. I see the value of Platinum when compared to Silver and typically settle for Gold. I determine the value of my purchase and decide which suits my needs.

The idea of choice is something I’ve been considering for my studio. Offering three price points for professional services, each building on the services of the previous, just like the car wash. Would this give clients the perception of better control of their purchase or just confuse the process?

Currently, my rate per project includes a full range of services for one base price. This example is for non-broadcast and the size of the script and intended audience would impact the final rate.

SampleServices

Breaking things down into price point levels would look something like this:

The rate for the Green Package would be what I’d typically charge for a job. For example let’s say my current rate is $200 for up to 2-minutes of explainer video narration. With the tiered levels Green would be $200, White would be only 10% less than Green or $180. Purple would be 25% more than Green or $250.

I’m guessing I’d want the step-up between White and Green insignificant enough that clients would feel it was a good value for the small increase in price. The value proposition should still be in place between Green and Purple but maybe one that the client has to really consider before selecting it.

Another option is to create perceived value by pricing the Green and Purple identically. Numbers could be $200 for White, $250 for Green, $250 for Purple. According to a study by Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics, when a group of MIT students were presented with price points like those outlined above, Green was totally ignored and Purple was identified as the best deal.

However, when Green was removed, the students selected White because there was too much contrast between White and Purple. The students became bargain hunters and convinced themselves they didn’t need the upgrade. Hmmm…

Is there another rate method that might work better? I’d like to know your thoughts and ideas. Please share your suggestions in the comments box below.

© 2015 J. Christopher Dunn

Other posts you might find interesting:
6 Questions to Ask Mr. Google!
Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away
Are You Available?

6 Questions to Ask Mr. Google!

MrGoogle2The Google search box begs me to type in a question whenever I pop open a browser. The code-smiths of Google have spent years creating and refining their cornerstone service. Of the search engines available, Google is by far the most robust and powerful answer retriever available.

Google made search non-geeky by allowing the use of simple phrases. That’s helpful to me when I’m working in my studio; I’d rather reserve my brain power for creativeness behind the mic. Here are a few tools I use regularly that you should try.

Say WHAT?!

Whenever I get a script that has a word I don’t know how to pronounce, my go to helper is Google. The results include entries from several sources including Forvo.com, howjsay.com and others. This comes in handy for audition scripts when the client isn’t available. And, it’s particularly helpful for audiobook production. In the search bar type in…

How do you pronounce [word I’d like pronounced]
(How do you pronounce discombobulated)

At the Tone, the Time is…

I’ve got clients all over the planet and the multiple time zones are difficult to keep straight. A quick way to check current time info is to ask Google. The current time, date, and time zone displays taking the guess work out of calling a client at an appropriate time. Type in…

What time is it in [City] [State] or [Zip Code]
(What time is it in Pie Town NM) 

City and State, Please.

When I’m crafting one-off marketing e-mail to clients, I like to check out what’s going on in their town so I can personalize my message. Google makes getting quick details a snap! I get the basics, including time and current weather, plus points of interest, upcoming events and more. Type in…

[City] [State]
(Poughkeepsie NY)

It’s How Far?

Got a gig at a studio in another town? When your travel expenses include mileage and you need a quick way to calculate the distance, Google is the undisputed source for speed. Type in…

[Starting point] to [Ending point]
(Left Hand WV to West Thumb WY)

Convert this!

With clients all over the globe, I occasionally have one that want’s to pay me in their local currency. Google has a mind for conversion and has no problem returning a value based on the current exchange rate. Type in…

[Amount] [Currency 1] to [Currency 2]
(1500 USD to GBP)

Let Me Google That for You

Could an answer be just a Google search away? You probably know somebody who asks questions that trigger you to think, “Why don’t you just Google it?” To help them see the laziness of their ways, use LMGTFY to create a search and send it for them to use.

This is my fav… http://lmgtfy.com/?q=How+do+I+become+a+voice+talent%3F

 

Those are the ones I use the most, and of course there are many more Google tips and tricks to discover. What is your favorite Google shortcut or tool—one you couldn’t get along without in your studio?

© 2014 J. Christopher Dunn

 

Other posts you might find interesting:

Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away

5 Reader Recommended VO Podcasts Not to Miss

The Disturbing Voice Disappearance

The Magic Phrase that Pays

 

 

magical moneyThere is a small two-word phrase that carries much force. The utterance of these words could make you a hero in a child’s’ eyes. Saying these words to big macho men could melt their hearts. If you said this to your mom, she’d smile, knowing that she taught you well. Telling this phrase to your clients will let them know you appreciate their business.

Imagine a scenario where you work hard to get the business of a recognized client. You establish a professional relationship, and find that working with them is nothing short of amazing. They appreciate your creativeness and suggestions, then give you glowing praise for your finished audio. You work hard throughout the process and get paid exactly what you quoted.

You then move on to your next conquests. You’re feeling good about the growth your client list has experienced. You notice, however, that your business is not really growing much. Your revenue compared to last year is the same. No growth. Hmmm… You worked hard to get new clients, but what happened after project completion?

Did you forget about those clients you worked so hard to get? Did you say the magic phrase that pays? You know, Thank You! That’s right, THANK YOU. Most people like to be thanked, and your clients are people. Showing your gratitude for doing business with them will help keep you in mind for their next project.

There are a number of ways to say thank you. The easiest is to send a note card with a short, handwritten message telling your client how much you appreciated being hired to do the voiceover or narration for their project. Easy. It doesn’t have to be huge, one or two sentences will get your message across.

If writer’s block is getting in the way of sending a thank you card, check out any of the following four sites for inspiration.

Thank You Note Examples & Note Writing Tips

The Letter Barn\Thank You Letters

Thank You Notes

Thank You Note Samples

A thank you card could be one of the first follow-ups you make with your client after completing a project. I recommend sending it about a week after they’ve received final audio.

Another way to express thanks is a note of appreciation to clients for their interest and consideration in using your voice in their projects. Maybe send this four to six months later, either e-mail or traditional USPO mail. Keep them thinking of you. Stamp out client neglect.

Thank you for reading my post. I appreciate it. The magic phrase is Thank You! Help spread the phrase.

© 2014 J. Christopher Dunn


 

Other posts you might find interesting:

Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away

The Delicious Taste of Frog

Are You Available?

The Delicious Taste of Frog

Froggy

In a previous post, I detailed a method on how to work through the items in your e-mail inbox. If you missed it, the link below will take you to the article.

Your Inbox Needs a Timeout!

After spending time in your inbox, identify the one item you need to do today no matter what, and do it. This could be your most important or most difficult task. A project you need to finish.

Doing the most difficult thing in the morning will make the rest of your day breeze by with what seems like less effort. “Eat That Frog!” is the title of self-help guru Brian Tracy’s book, which details the strategy of taking care of the most important task before tackling the rest of your day.

Difficult could have multiple meanings. The task could be difficult because of complexity. On the other hand, a task that you don’t want to do and dread even the thought of, could be another meaning. Important tasks have a level of stress attached to them and with that, could become a difficult task to start. Whatever the hesitation, this is the thing you want to work on first. Maybe, think of it like when you were a youngster and were told that you had to eat your veggies before you could enjoy your dessert. Make sense?

My time for eating the frog is right after I finish processing my e-mail. I take 30-minutes and do everything I can to complete the task. Depending on how much of the task is left, and if completion is not necessary on the same day, I’ll do as much as I can and work on it again the following day. Some frogs are bigger than others.

My frogs will look different from yours but here are a few I swallowed this past week.

  • Monday – Followup phone call to slow paying client
  • Tuesday – Cold call to prospective client from a major corporation
  • Wednesday – Pay studio bills
  • Thursday – Compile business performance data for the month
  • Friday – migrate archived work from the past 4-years to a new backup drive

Fortunately, these were on the small side and none hopped over to the following day. Each of them, however, had me feeling anxious and wanting to postpone the task.

Imagine completing that nasty list item first thing in the morning and how relaxed and less stressed you’ll feel the rest of the day. Your mind will be free to contemplate other, more enjoyable parts of your day. You’ll feel like a big helium balloon has lifted your creative spirit to a new height.

There are going to be things you just don’t want to do on any given day. Like these tasks, eating a frog doesn’t sound like much fun. Of course, the alternative is to ignore the frogs until they’ve managed to multiply and take over your life with their incessant croaking. You’re much better off to eat the frog before that happens.

© 2014 J. Christopher Dunn
Photo by bethcoll

Other posts you might find interesting:

Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away

Five Ways to be Remembered by Your Clients

Are You Available?

10 Ways to Keep Your Clients from Falling Through the Cracks

under construction siteDo your business skills keep your clients form shopping elsewhere for their next voiceover need? Have you done the due diligence to develop your client relationships? Do you occasionally correspond with your clients to remind them about your services?

If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, you might be guilty of client neglect. Or worse yet, your voiceover business could become a casualty of unhealthy professional relationships, with many of your clients falling through the cracks.

Feel Good Clients

Feel good about your clients and the relationship you develop with them. Clients are what feed your business growth and without them there would be very little kibble in the cat’s dish. Not only are they cutting a check for your resonate tones and script interpretation, they are buying your voiceover brand.

  1. They’re Only Human

Working with clients can be unsettling because professional boundaries are important to maintain. Should I try to be more amusing than (I think) I am? Should I be stiff, overly stuffy and business like? Maybe I ought to distance myself from my clients and just do the work?

For me, it’s easiest if I’m just myself and treat the people I work with as fellow humans. Clients seem to like that.

  1. Ask, Don’t Assume

While you’re building client relationships, keep in mind that it’s a give and take process. You are learning about your client’s business and their voiceover needs. Be an active listener.

Ask questions that will help you become more knowledgeable and better prepared once work begins. Don’t assume because it can make an ass out of u and me.

  1. No Butt Kissing

I know when I’m being unnecessarily flattered or too extensively complimented by somebody trying to gain my trust or approval… and I don’t like it. Your clients won’t like it either.

  1. Quality vs. Quantity

Would you rather be known as the talent who does amazing work and is well worth the asking price; or would you settle for being known as the talent who is super inexpensive?

Do not take every job that comes your way, even just starting out. Focus on how well you can complete a project, not how low you are willing to drop your price to get the job.

Harvard Business professor Michael Porter states you can hold a competitive advantage in only one of two areas: price or quality. Play to your strengths, develop impressive voice acting skills, run your studio like the business you’ve always imagined, and you’ll never be forced to compete on price again!

  1. Know when to Say No

Just because a client wants your voice, does not mean your talents and skills are a good fit for their project.

A few years back, I was asked to do an opener for a music show that was in development. The producer was hooked on the “sound” of my voice and after our initial conversation I felt the job was WAY out of my wheelhouse. They were looking for something I was not. However, I was too full of myself to pass on the gig so I moved forward with the session.

After my first attempt I received this reply, “…like YOUR voice but need Hiphop grit.” While adding grit in my second take (which was similar to adding cotton balls to chocolate cake) I knew I wasn’t right for the gig and should have been brave enough to say so up front. After a week of attempts and back-and-forth communication, the producer finally arrived at the same conclusion I knew seven days prior.

Fortunately, I’ve worked with the same producer on other projects since. I cannot be everything to all my clients. I know my strengths.

  1. Open to Direction

When you receive comments from a client, do you ever feel like you’ve failed? Creating spoken audio is a process. We hope that we have all the details up front and will utter the words as described. A client might come back with a list of things to change that are clearly non-script issues.

Your client wants to work with you and is listening for the best performance possible. When receiving feedback, take it with an open mind. Ask questions when necessary. Offer solutions not roadblocks. Above all, be professional.

Your client will appreciate working with a voice talent that is not wildly sensitive to criticism.

  1. Exceptional Delivery

You’ve probably heard or read the phrase, “Under-promise and over-deliver”. This is about making sure client expectations are clearly set and then exceeding them. It could be as simple as delivering audio files ahead of schedule, or providing two different takes of a script instead of one.

This will enhance your value in the eyes of your client and that’s a good thing.

  1. What’s Next?

Clients appreciate being kept in the loop and updated appropriately. Let them know the steps of your workflow and what will happen next in the creation process. Hold their hand and get them from one step to the next.

Do you send project confirmations for clients to approve? Include a “What’s Next” section that explains what happens after their approval.

Something along, “Once I get your approval, session time will be locked in for your project.” This does a couple of things. It clearly puts the process in their possession and it lets the client know what is dependent upon their approval.

  1. Not as it Appears

Since we primarily work remotely from our clients, it’s easy to misunderstand actions and intentions or what could be perceived as misbehavior. In most cases, it’s wise to give them some space to be human.

Are they slow to respond to your e-mail or calls? Is their invoice still unpaid? An unavoidable event could be the roadblock. Life happens, so give them an opportunity to respond and take care of whatever it is that’s bugging you.

  1. Worth Every Penny

Do you know what you are worth? How much does your time and skill cost? Do you have established rates? It’s wise to know what type of work you’ll be doing and how long it takes to complete it, and it’s even more crucial to know what to charge for your services and feel good about it.

Don’t short yourself thinking a prospect might look elsewhere. Know your worth and stick to it! Once the numbers are agreed upon, it will be difficult to negotiate for more later.

As a Reminder

You are in business for yourself. You are a freelance voiceover artist who makes money by reading other people’s words. It’s fun and you enjoy doing it. Be professional and treat your clients with a healthy dose of support, appreciation and gratitude.

© 2014 J. Christopher Dunn

Other posts you might find interesting:

Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away

Five Tips for Better Client/Talent Workflow

Are You Available?

Your Inbox Needs a Timeout!

Whidbey Island is a beautiful place to live, and I can’t image a better location for my studio. The sunrises are typically inspiring and the sunsets are nothing short of visually spectacular.

Whidbey Sunset
Whidbey Island Sunset

Between those two times of day (and sometimes outside of those times) I’m reading mail, marketing my services, practicing, auditioning and working on projects. The day is full, and seems to zip by in a blink.

I find that following a schedule is a necessity to keep me on track so I cover all the elements of running my own business. My schedule is the perfect guide, yet flexible enough to allow me extra time when I need to focus on specific areas. My success and business growth depend on me paying attention to more than just what I do behind my mic.

In the upcoming months, I’ll write about each area mentioned above from the perspective of a voice artist. The information can be used by most freelancers, “solopreneurs” and collaborators. 

This month’s post focuses on e-mail and some best practices for dealing with it.

Make your inbox work for you.

mail box with lettersMy day starts with a trip to my mail application’s inbox. From the last time I checked it the day before, until the moment I peek inside its bottomless depths again, I’ll have received between 75 to 100 pieces of e-mail.

Triage
I spend less than an hour “in the box” first thing every morning. I’ve set up my mail application to take care of sorting and filtering so I won’t have to. I want to open my e-mail and quickly work through chunks of messages at a time.

Most e-mail software allows you to configure inbox folders or rules with criteria to match incoming mail. Items which match folder criteria or rules are moved to that folder automatically.

Want to look at all of your social media alerts? Create a Social Media folder. Subscribe to professional services or lead alerts? Create a Prospects folder. Get the idea?

I use Mac Mail and have set up several Smart Folders that capture mail items which meet my specific criteria. I also have folders for each of my clients. This sorting method lets the computer work in the background to do the first step of my process.

Not all e-mail I receive requires my immediate attention. It ranges from pings from peers, quote and proposal requests from clients and prospects, new work from existing clients, social media alerts, newsletters and online magazines and junk.

With the help of my e-mail app, I run each of them through a triage process that helps me focus on what’s important to my studio’s financial progress first, informational second, and fun third.

Important to Survival
Mail that comes from my clients is the first thing I deal with. They are either contacting me with more work, following up about a project I recently finished or introducing me to somebody they’re referring. These are marked with the Respond flag for immediate attention.

After I make it through all my e-mail, these will be the items I act on first.

I don’t open inbox items in the order received, nor do I deal with them in real time. I work through my Smart Folders first, flagging when necessary.

Mac Mail gives me the ability to flag items into categories that I created.

  • Respond - Items that need a reply and can be responded to without additional work.
  • Action – These require me to do something before I respond or things that I need to do that don’t require a direct response to the sender.
  • Work - Confirmed jobs waiting to be completed.
  • Auditions | Proposals – My pool for potential new gigs.
  • Add to Contacts - New prospects that I will add to my address book.
  • Read | Listen – Interesting news letters or social media posts. Look for subject lines that grab your attention. Whatever you do, don’t open these items until you’ve made it through the others. They will derail your e-mail process.
  • Keep – Items that I’ll refer to often and NEVER delete!

Each flag category gets its own folder where items of a particular flag are waiting for further action.

Next, I give the flagged items my full attention. The e-mails flagged with Respond, are first. Usually, these are handled with a one or two line reply.

Items marked with the Action flag are dealt with next. These items require me to do something else before I respond. Research…writing a document…locating audio from a prior job…are typical tasks.

Items with the Work flag set the schedule for the day or book blocks of studio time for later in the week. These have scripts attached or voice direction from the person who hired me.

When I’m not in a session or editing, I’m in the Auditions | Proposals folder working through those items. This is my pool of potential future work.

Items flagged as Add to Contacts and Read | Listen are self-explanatory and compared to the other flags, low priority.

It’s a Date
You’ll come across items that are date dependent. Take a moment now to add these items to your calendar.

While you’re in your schedule, take a look at what you’ve got scheduled for the day and the next seven days. It’s good to be aware of events that need special attention and preparation. Nobody likes a bad surprise.

Your Inbox Needs a Timeout
Your e-mail application works hard to make your inbox triage easier. Sometimes however, it gets in the way of your productivity.

If you are the type of person who needs to have e-mail opened all day, consider setting the duration your application rechecks for new mail to occur no more than once an hour.

However, a better option is shut it down completely and limit inbox checks to three times a day: morning, after lunch, and one of the last things you do when you’re winding up your work day.

The busier you are with your career, the more important it is to tame your e-mail demons. Don’t be afraid to give your inbox a timeout!

Other posts you might find interesting:

Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away
Are You Available?
Five Tips for Better Client/Talent Workflow