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

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

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

Freelance VO Survival: Pt 1 – Find Work

File Dec 07, 11 41 34 AM
“I love doing it!”

“It’s easy to do.”

“It lets me be creative.”

“It’s a perfect work-at-home job.”

“It gives me a chance to do my own thing”

“It” is freelance work and there are many reasons why people decide to move from corporate comforts to a career in (insert any freelance title here). They all sound so positive, filled with dreams of rainbows and unicorns. Why work the 9 to 5 grind when it’s 1-million times easier to work from home? Duh, who would pass that up?

For the next few weeks I’ll be sharing with you the efforts it takes to work a freelance gig. These are insights discovered by me during my transition from the corporate high-tech cubes to freelance voice actor, plus tips I picked up from other freelancers. They’ll help get your head wrapped around what it takes to freelance.

Day 1 Excitement 

Good bye, full time job. Hello, ‘I get to work whenever I want to’ passion! Calling it a passion makes it sound so… Passiony. Warm, fuzzy and oh so comfortable.  First day excitement will have you full of good intentions. Now it’s time to find, dare I say, WORK.

Before, when you were working a full-time corporate job, work found you and you never felt like you had enough time to get it all done. Now, finding work is a necessity and quite possibly, to begin, you’ll have more time on your hands than work. Finding work takes much effort. Your hunter and gather instincts, which have been dormant for several millennia, need to be shocked back to consciousness.

“Much effort, much prosperity.” –Euripides

Make Some Noise

There is one sure way to find work that outweighs all others and you should use it from day one. Tell everybody you know and meet that you are available for hire. If nobody has a clue what you’re up to, you’ll never work or you’ll work very little. It‘s a numbers game, and the more people who are aware of what you have to offer, the better.

Contacting family, friends, past business connections, peers and acquaintances should be included in your list of people to notify about your new freelance business. Get the word out to as many people as possible.

Don’t be bashful and hide behind the feeling people on your list won’t be interested in hiring you. You may be surprised by those who you thought were long shots when they become your first clients. At the very least, people you contact might be able to introduce you to somebody who is looking for the type of professional freelance services you’re offering. Anyone is a potential client.

Let the Socializing Begin 

The best contact methods to consider are social media, e-mail, phone and in-person.

Establish yourself on LinkedIn and say you’re looking for clients in your profile. Join groups specific to your freelance business. Follow businesses you’d like to work with and start building your professional connections and developing relationships.

Reference the list you created of people you want to let know about your freelance offerings. They are probably on LinkedIn so don’t miss the opportunity to connect.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others should be considered along with LinkedIn. Use those that make the most sense for your business.

Little Black Book

Your address book is full of names and e-mail addresses. Start from A and work your way down through Z. All are potential clients.

Start by creating a boiler plate message about your new freelance business that you can paste into an e-mail and send to everybody.

When creating individual messages, write something personal in the first few sentences. Paste-in your boilerplate message. End with a single sentence personal closing. Keep the entire message brief.

One Phone – Many Numbers

The phone can be your friend. You have many people you talk with on the phone that should know about your decision to go freelance. These might be the people in your inner circle of friends, the ones you feel closest to. Take the opportunity during your conversation to tell them about your freelance business. They’ll have questions and this is the perfect time to practice your answers.

It’s Been a While

Running into old friends, business connections, and people you went to school with are opportunities for catching up face to face and finding out what’s new in each other’s lives. Make sure to have business cards available to hand out wherever you go. You never know whose path you’ll cross.

Listen Up!

The primary point is to let people know your freelance offerings are available. But, remember, it’s not all about you.

Relationships are easier to build when two people are involved. Word of mouth is important because referrals work both ways. Make an effort in your approaches to network and take notes about your connections. Find out what’s going in on in the businesses and lives of the people you contact.

Somebody you connect with may be looking for a web designer and within your contacts you can easily refer the person to someone you know. And likewise, a contact you’ve developed a networking relationship with knows you offer mad skills in the type of freelance work you do and feels comfortable referring people to you.

Once you’re plugged in the good vibes keep on flowing. You want your freelance business to survive so making the effort to continually network is key in building your client list.

More clients = more work = more $$$ = survival = SUCCESS!

What to Remember

  1. You are now a hunter! Work used to come to you unavoidably. Now you need to find work so your freelance business thrives.
  2. Tell everybody you’re a freelancer. One of the best methods of finding work is to tell people you’re available and looking for work.
  3. Use multiple types of networking methods. Social media, e-mail, phone and in person meetings are all business development tools.

For more suggestions on how to build your network and tell people about your freelance business, this post from Freelance Digital Consultant, Ben Matthews is worth a read.

11 Effective Ways to Grow Your Freelancer Contacts

Next time (Pt 2) Motivation

What drives you to keep traveling the freelance path? Next time I’ll focus on motivation. Self motivation is an important trait to develop to grow your business and become a successful freelancer.

© 2015 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

Increase Your Voice-over Income Potential: One Simple Action

“Whatever good things we build end up building us.”
― Jim Rohn,  Entrepreneur, Author and Motivational Speaker

How can you continue to build client relationships and increase your chances of more positive outcomes?

One word: Followup.

A followup e-mail or phone call will tell people you want to work with that you’re still interested and available. Your message or conversation should be short and to the point. They’re busy and so are you.

Following are e-mail and postal mail suggestions about when to follow up and what to write.

Post Quote Request

A potential client has contacted you requesting a quote for a job. You reply with your typical response and rate numbers. After a few days, take a moment to send them a followup e-mail, asking if there are any questions that need to be answered.

“Hello, I’m following up with you to make sure you received the proposal you requested for [voiceover / narration] and to invite you to contact me to answer any questions you might have.”

After Delivering Audio

Your client has the amazing audio you created for them and now you’re waiting for their fat check to arrive. Let them know you’re still interested in their project and send them a quick e-mail asking if they have everything they need.

“I’m checking in to see if you have everything from me for [name of project(s)]. I know sometimes additional audio or changes to what’s been delivered are needed.”

Project Completion

Once you’re satisfied the client has what they need for their project, remind them about getting a copy of the final video or audio for your demo reel and a testimonial.

“Thanks again for booking me to create the [project name] voiceover.

As a reminder, I would still love to receive a copy of the finished project and a testimonial from you. Both validate success for potential clients and feature my collaborative ability and talent. 

Thank you for taking a moment out of your busy day for me. I appreciate it.”

The Missed Payment

Not many people enjoy nagging clients to pay. I’d say the number is higher for folks who enjoy dental exams. When a client is past the due date for paying, be polite and accommodating. An article by Sheldon Nesdale, has what I think is a brilliant approach to the missed payment. The entire article is worth reading.

“I just noticed invoice [invoice number] is a few days overdue. Would you like an extension?”

When Asking for a Referral

It’s been a month or so since you last connected with your client. Followup by thanking them again for the work and to ask for a referral. Type your message on letterhead for an added professional touch and send it through the US mail.

“It was a pleasure working with you on the [insert project name here]. Thank you for using my voice!

When you come across other [producers / directors / professionals] that are looking to hire a voice actor, please feel free to share my name and contact information with them. For convenience, I’ve included two of my business cards with e-mail and phone number.”

Maxine Dunn has created a valuable package of 12 Voice-Over Business Templates and a referral request is included.

You care. You’re available to help. You like to be remembered. All are good additional reasons to Followup!

Do you followup with clients and prospects in other ways? Which one works best for you? Enter it in the comments section below.

© 2015 J. Christopher Dunn

photo credit: The Socialist (2/12) via photopin (license)