Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.

Archive for the ‘Freelancing’ Category

The paperless voiceover

Posted by MikeCooper on September 30, 2009

For some time now I’ve been operating my voiceover business in a largely paperless environment. Sure, I still print out copies of invoices, remittance notes and the like for the benefit of my company accountant (who likes a paper file), but when I upgraded my voiceover booth last year I made a point of installing a flat panel computer monitor at eye height, with the intention of moving away from printing scripts and carrying them with me into the studio.

How does this work in practice? Well, it has its plusses and minuses.

On the plus side, I haven’t had to buy a ream of paper in quite a while, and my outlay for inkjet cartridges is at an all-time low. It’s also a lot quieter to use the scroll wheel on my cordless mouse to advance my way through the script than it is to turn a page, and it saves space as I don’t have to have a script holder propped up on top of my equipment rack.

On the negative side, it’s harder to annotate scripts with inflection marks and so on, though using bold, italics, underlining and highlighting go some way to making up for that. And for a while it wasn’t quite as easy as I’d have liked in terms of getting scripts from the Mac in my office to the PC in my voice booth. The first workaround for this was to give the booth its own email address and forward anything I needed in there to it. Then along came Dropbox, which has been one of my favourite tools of recent times and probably the thing which has changed the way I work most this year.

Dropbox is an online service – and free to use for someone at my level of usage – which allows you to deposit files in folders and then have them “mirrored” on all of your machines. So, I have a folder called “Scripts”, and when one comes in I just save it to that folder on the Mac. By the time I’ve walked through to the booth there’s a message telling me that Dropbox has updated the folder, and the script is good to go. This also means that I can make changes on one machine and then see them on the other before I start work.

Share and share alike

Dropbox also has a facility to share folders with other people. I work as a continuity announcer for Film24 (Sky 157), and I share those duties with two other voiceover artists: one in London and one in the Lake District. On an almost daily basis, cue sheets are emailed out to us for use when writing and recording the links for the channel. For months, we were constantly trying to keep our own individual systems up-to-date using email folders and there was a weekly round of “Has anyone seen a cue sheet for ‘x’?” Not anymore: I now manage a shared folder which allows us to keep a central repository of cue sheets, which has saved everyone a lot of time.

To cap it all, Dropbox now has a free iPhone application available too, which adds some nice features like picture sharing and so on.

But I’m getting off-topic. The fact is that I now print very little, and read from the screen a lot. I just set my audio recording software running, switch to my word processor and begin work, which speeds up the process and does a little bit for the planet in the process.

If you’ve got any stories to share, I’d love to hear them as always!

Posted in Freelancing, Tech, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Honour System… or do you pay for “free” software?

Posted by MikeCooper on September 24, 2009

As my friends who write software will quickly point out, “shareware” and “donationware” are not “free software”. But you catch my drift, I’m sure. How many bits of software do you use that occasionally (or regularly) “nag” you to spend some cash and support the developer?

Human Nature is an interesting thing: many of us wouldn’t think twice about copying Photoshop or Office from a friend, or even buying a copy of dubious provenance. “Hell,” we think, “Those big software companies deserve it with the prices they charge!” (I hasten to add that both my copy of Photoshop Elements and MS Office are legitimate.) But the smaller guys give us license to avoid paying by making their software easy to download and use without too much hassle. It’s a balancing act: as a smaller developer, you’re more likely to find a wider audience for your program if you’re prepared to distribute it for free, then support it either with a “nag screen” or with advertising. But will anyone ever pay up?

Cyberduck is a case in point, for me. It’s my Mac FTP client of choice (see below). I like it because it’s “Mac-like”, whereas a lot of FTP software looks like it fell out of a timewarp from 1996 and gives me the shudders. I’ve been using Cyberduck for (this is embarassing) nearly two years now. I use it regularly, because my work as a Continuity Announcer for the History Channel here in the UK requires me to download the latest versions of programme billings, and some bits of video, before I set to work crafting the week’s links. But I never paid for it, dismissing the gentle invitation to “Donate” whenever it came up, often because I was busy doing other things, but on other occasions because the bit of my nature that likes the idea of getting something for nothing got the better of me.

Cyberduck is one of the nice guys: it just asks me politely if I’d like to donate, and then even gives me the option not to be nagged again until the next software release comes along.

Then yesterday I did big voiceover job which involved editing and recording a lot of files (a lot more than I’d bargained for, actually). Once I’d finished uploading my ninety or so files to an FTP site somewhere in India, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I can’t remember the last time somebody actually wanted me to send something via FTP, rather than using YouSENDIt.com, to be honest, but doing it reminded me just how much I rely on Cyberduck in a pinch. It performed flawlessly all day, and yesterday – desperate as it was – would have been a whole lot more so if Cyberduck hadn’t been there for me.

Once I’d got my breath back, I clicked the “Donate” button and sent the developer some money. There wasn’t even a suggestion of how much I should send, which made it interesting, so I sent €25 as a token of my goodwill (gosh, did I send enough?) and immediately felt better about the whole thing.

Then this morning I woke up to an email telling me that version 3 of my Mac RSS reader, NetNewsWire, had finally come out of beta. It’s been a very difficult birth: the developers decided they’d move away from using their own syncing engine and bundle it all into the Google machine, but to my eyes it was rushed, premature and has resulted in two months of (almost daily) betas, each one attempting to use sticking plaster to cover the deficiencies of the previous, before we got to today and a proper release. I like NetNewsWire: it keeps my RSS feeds in order across my two Macs and my iPhone and caches material locally – which is where it scores over using Google Reader on the web or Google’s own iPhone web app. NetNewsWire’s own proprietary syncing was always a bit hit-and-miss for me, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt with the Google move. So far, so good.

And you know what? I’ve just paid up. It was £6.44 (+UK VAT @ 15%, which always rubs me when you don’t see it till the final page). And if it works, it’ll be worth every penny. Plus, I won’t have the distraction of the ads in the corner of the page. And, just as importantly, I’ll feel like I’ve done my bit.

FTP? WTF?

You could be forgiven for not knowing about FTP. If you’ve come late to the party you might not have noticed it (it was probably in the kitchen, where the most interesting people invariably are on these occasions). You probably got accosted in the hallway by YouSENDIt, TransferBIGfiles, FilesDIRECT, and many other pretenders to FTP’s throne, who all seem to feel a need to assert their status by spelling part of their name in CAPITAL LETTERS.

But before all these wannabes appeared with their offers to take your “files too big for email?” and send them to “anyone, anywhere!”, there was File Transfer Protocol – an old and trusted method of doing exactly the same thing.

FTP has an air of mystique (and probably goes to the same sorts of voiceover parties as Phone Patch and ISDN) but once you get talking, you realise there’s less to him than meets the eye.

All we’re talking about, really, is a directory (or folder) on a machine like the one you’re using now, that you keep your documents or audio in. Except this folder is on an internet-connected server, so it’s available to anyone who knows its address and login details. Some “Anonymous FTP” sites don’t even require you to log in, but in our line of work that’s unusual (no one wants their work being seen by the competition, or downloaded by the wrong person) so there’s generally a username and password involved. Once you’re in, you can deposit your files, download any files your client thinks you might need, and so on. Depending on what privileges your login has you may even be able to delete and rename things or even create folders of your own (in which case be careful as there’s generally no way to undo your deletions!)

This can all be done by purists (for which, read “nerds”) from the command line, by typing in lots of Unix commands. But for the rest of us there’s FTP client software, which issues all of these commands in the background without us having to remember them, and presents us with a nice window onscreen that looks very much like a directory listing of a local folder. All you need to do is drag-and-drop as needed, then wait while the files make their way across.

Some filing systems used on the internet don’t handle special characters very well (£,$ and the like), and some don’t even like spaces, so good working practice is to use dashes and underscores to break up words, and keep things simple, so “Mike’s FANTASTIC £5,000 voice track – version 2” (yeah, I wish…) becomes “mikes_fantastic_5000_pound_voice_track-version_2”, for example. If you’re uploading a lot of files your client will often tell you exactly how they should be named.

As for software, it’s up to you to choose some you feel comfortable with. There’s plenty for all the platforms, and though Cyberduck is my Mac client of choice, your mileage may differ. Wikipedia keeps a list here.

So, there you have it: FTP isn’t scary at all. You just need to remember that a stranger is just a friend you don’t know yet – and go up and introduce yourself.

Posted in Freelancing | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Content is king (…distance is nothing!)

Posted by MikeCooper on August 12, 2009

I recently provided the voiceover for a documentary film for a producer in Sydney, Australia called Craig Tanner. Craig is from South Africa and his film, “Fahrenheit 2010”, charts the ups and downs of his homeland’s preparations to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup football tournament.

You can read more about the project in the News section of my website here. With the film’s successful debut last week at the Durban International Film Festival, I took the opportunity to ask Craig a few questions about how the film was received, and about the process of collaborating with a voiceover artist who was 10,500 miles away!

MC: So, how was the Durban premiere, Craig?

CT: The film went down very well.  The Q and A following the screening involved positive feedback, and came to an end, not because the audience ran out of questions, but because the next film was due to start soon. An animated Q and A session the following day was also encouraging.  Input from “industry” people has also given me cause for optimism regarding TV sales. (You will be interested to hear that I have had several people enthusing about the voiceover.)

MC: <blush> That’s encouraging! The film’s a South African production, set it South Africa and looking in detail at that country’s struggles and challenges in the run-up to next year’s World Cup football tournament. So what made you want to hire a British voice?

CT: In making a film about South Africa, with its myriad of languages and accents, it was important for me that the voice of the film did not represent any particular class or ethnic group within that society.  I wanted a voice that had hallmarks of independence and neutrality, and would not itself involve an exotic distraction. Received pronunciation or Standard English meets those criteria. It is the voice of international news, and of documentary films.

MC: Understood. And how did you find our long-distance collaboration?

CT: It was really easy.  I sent the material via email.  We proceeded to have a discussion over Skype regarding the tenor of the voice, and the pronunciation of various African names.  I then listened in as you did your stuff.  We discussed the odd variation in emphasis, and you provided some alternatives.  The sound files arrived in my inbox within minutes, and my editor was working with the material later that day.  The distance between London and Sydney was no barrier at all.

MC: Thanks, Craig – and the best of luck with the next stage of selling the film to buyers!

Here’s a tip for you: As a voiceover artist I work on my own most of the time, and marketing is something I have to focus on for myself – there’s no one else to do it for me, after all! So, I always take an opportunity like this to ask for a few words by way of a testimonial from a happy client. I won’t publish them here to save further blushes, but if you’d like to read the very nice things that Craig said about me then check out my Testimonials page over at www.MikeCooperVoiceover.com.

Posted in Documentaries, Freelancing, news, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Finding a Voice

Posted by MikeCooper on August 7, 2009

The following is a short piece I wrote for the current issue of the IVCA’s “Update” magazine, on the subject of how to find a Voiceover Artist for your production. I hope you enjoy it! To read the article in its original form click here.

What do you normally do when your client comes to you and asks you to find them a Voiceover Artist? Do you point them to an agency and let them deal with it? Perhaps you suggest hiring the voice you hired last time, to save the trouble? Or maybe you panic about the best way forward, perhaps even by trying to convince them that they don’t need one for their project, and that it’s strong enough to “speak for itself”?

If any of the above seems familiar then you’re not alone, but it doesn’t have to be quite like that. In the same way that technology has revolutionised the business of making video in the last decade, that same technology has seen a quiet revolution in the world of the Voiceover Artist. The equipment to produce professional audio doesn’t cost what it once did, and this has meant that more “voices” than ever are working from home studios and marketing themselves either outside – or in addition to – traditional artiste/agency relationships. I know because I’m one of them. Voiceover Artists all over the world now use the internet to find, or attract, work – whether through their own websites, or via one of the “online casting directories” like Voice123 or Voices.com, which have seen explosive growth over the last few years.

If your client is on a budget, then cutting out both the agency fees, and the time and cost of taking your talent into a production facility with an engineer, could make an attractive difference to the balance sheet. Not only that, but the quality of the finished audio might well surprise you…

Of course you need to do your homework. The lower the bar of entry, the more any profession becomes attractive to those who don’t necessarily possess the skills to do it justice. But the beauty of the internet is that you and your client can check out what you’re likely to get back before you engage a talent. You can even ask for a sample to be provided by way of an audition. Most voices will be happy to record a portion of your script and deliver it in a format of your choice. Get them to do that, and you’ll know exactly the quality of what you’re likely to get back for the end product – including the artiste’s delivery, technical quality and editing skills.

What should you expect to pay? Well, the price range varies hugely. On some casting sites you might be lucky and pay well under the £200 or so that’s still perceived to be the ballpark hourly rate you’d pay for taking your talent into a studio. But make sure you do that homework: if you don’t, then that £45 voiceover track that seemed like such a bargain at the time might not turn out to be all it promised. It’s still true that in voiceovers – as in life – you generally get what you pay for. And if you’re paying £200 to your voice, but not paying the traditional associated costs on top, the chances are that’s still quite a saving.

Check that your agreed rate includes things such as prep time, session fees, studio costs, editing and supply. Check the talent’s policy on “recuts” in case there’s anything you or your client aren’t happy with. Don’t be afraid to ask for a written quote. Ask if the talent has a Service Agreement you can check out. And make sure you have agreed any usage fees, if appropriate.

It’s true that not every project needs a voiceover (sometimes, as Ronan Keating pointed out, you say it best when you say nothing at all). But next time one does, take heart: With a bit of care, and with the help of the internet, Google and casting directories as your new best friends, Voiceover Artists from all corners of the world are now well within your reach.

Posted in Freelancing, news, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Oh look! I’ve just got bigger Down Under…

Posted by MikeCooper on July 2, 2009

KEVM_clean_logo_90x90I’m pleased to report that Sydney-based Kathy Evans Voice Management is now acting as my agent for voiceover work in the Southern Hemisphere.

As a result, I’m hoping to take my voiceover work to a greater audience in places like Australia and New Zealand.

Read the full story here.

Posted in Freelancing, news, Voiceovers | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Mike’s Mid-June Voiceover Update

Posted by MikeCooper on June 17, 2009

The year is whizzing by faster than I seem to be able to keep track. This weekend it’s the longest day of the year already, which means it’ll soon be Christmas, no doubt. I’ve been keeping busy the last few weeks with some interesting new projects.

A couple of weeks ago I voiced a documentary for an independent film-maker based in Sydney, who’s producing a programme on the preparations for next year’s football World Cup in South Africa. The programme is still in the editing stages, but when it’s finished the idea is that it will be shown at various festivals and sold to interested broadcasters. I’ll post an update on this in due course.

An interesting meeting at Pinewood studios at the start of the month revealed some great new programmes coming to Film24, for whom I work as a continuity announcer. These include “Sordid Lives: The Series”, which will be airing on Film24 from the start of August. Think “Desperate Housewives”, but set on a trailer park, and with Olivia Newton John and Golden Girl Rue McLanahan, and you start to get the idea. Andrew Burns, CEO of the channel, has some other new programming ideas up his sleeve for the next few months too, all of which should bring exciting improvements to the schedule.

Also this month I’ve voiced a science documentary which will soon start showing in museums in the United States. Called Planet You 3D, it’s been produced by Chedd-Angier-Lewis, in Watertown, MA, and will shortly get its premiere at the Health Museum in Houston and the Museum of Science in Boston, before hopefully rolling out to science centres across the United States. You can read the production blog (including the very nice things they said about me) here.

Aside from these projects it’s been the regular round of corporates, including jobs for Capgemini and British Gas, commercials for radio stations in the UK, and my ongoing work for the BBC World Service and the History Channel. And outside work I’ve been trying to get to see as much of the ICC World Twenty20 cricket as I can – after all, I only live ten minutes from Kennington Oval!

Posted in Broadcasting, Documentaries, Freelancing, news, Television, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mike’s Late May Update

Posted by MikeCooper on May 27, 2009

It’s been a busy month, all told. I’ve been writing furiously for the History Channel (which now prefers to be known simply as “History”). They’ve asked me to become a regular continuity announcer for the channel for the next little while, so I’ll be popping up between programmes there quite a lot for now, and I’m actually on air all week this week (26-31 May).

WhP, in France, asked me to produce some voiceover material for the Renault Academy last week, which I delivered this week. A complex project which involved a lot of editing to produce files which could be split up by an automated process. I learned a lot about the new Mégane Coupé in the process, should anyone ever call on me to do a repair.

Meanwhile, IC Group in Winnipeg, Canada, approached me to voice the British version of some training materials for Brit Insurance.

And tomorrow I’m looking forward to voicing a documentary programme about the preparations for the FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with a producer based in (wait for it…) Sydney, Australia!

Never let it be said that I don’t get around…

Posted in Broadcasting, Documentaries, Freelancing, news, Television, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Will work for $25” – or, How Low Will You Go?

Posted by MikeCooper on April 2, 2009

There’s been some talk in the Voiceover Blogosphere this week about that which is the root of all evil: money. We Limeys generally think it’s vulgar to discuss it, but fortunately the Yanks are on hand to put paid to such nonsense…

First up, EdgeStudio, the voice-over training and production company, published their advice on the rate card as they see it, listing ballpark figures in US Dollars for various types of voiceover job. It comes with the following caveat:

“Edge Studio put together the following rates as pure suggestions. It is meant to reflect average and realistic dollar amounts being fairly charged within the industry. PLEASE USE THIS ONLY AS A GUIDE – RATES VARY from city to city, client to client, job to job, and voice talent to voice talent.”

Nonetheless, it makes an interesting starting point. The article was then picked up by Voice-Over Extra. Both Voices.com and Voice123.com also make their thoughts clear with their own guides to industry rates.

Then secondly, Stephanie Ciccarelli of Voices.com posted an interesting article on her Facebook page here, which also got me thinking.

Of course, for the benefit of anyone reading this Stateside, we’re talking about “Non-Union” rates: SAG and AFTRA have their own, very firm, ideas on pricing for sessions, usage, residuals (ah, remember those?) and so on, and they aren’t negotiable. The thing is, here in the UK we’re not subject to the same union pressures, and Equity doesn’t have the same grip on the voiceover business as the American unions seem to (possibly a good thing, if Equity’s paltry rates for commercial radio are anything to by – but that’s another story).

All the same, the rise of online voice directories – though they may be your friend, if you’re starting out – means a huge rise in the number of non-union people, both in the US and elsewhere, pitching for work and not necessarily knowing what to charge for it.

It’s very tempting, especially if you’re trying to get a foot in the door of voiceover work, to price the job as low as you think you need to in order to get the producer to say “yes.” But anyone who adopts this approach risks two things: one is that they reduce their rate to the point where they can’t make a living, and the second is that they begin to drive down the perceived acceptable rate for the industry as a whole. After all, if Gary Greatpipes has just voiced your TV documentary for £50, why would I then want to pay Mike Cooper £500 next time around?

Now, if you’re a casual reader and you’re just picking yourself up off the floor at the idea of me making £500 (about $720 at today’s conversion) for voicing an hour-long documentary, you may think I’m the one with the loose grip on reality. After all, I’m only talking, right? But the thing here is that I might only get one of these £500 jobs in several weeks. On a quiet week it might be the only job I do… If I’d charged £50 for it, that means I have to find ten of them to pay the same amount. And that’s a lot of work. Literally. Put it this way: ten one-hour documentaries should each take me about ninety minutes to two hours to voice. Two hours is what producers generally allow, so that means my ten documentaries will take up twenty man-hours, or about half a week in working terms. If I’ve sold that time for £50, that means I’m now working at below minimum wage!

OK, I appreciate that my figures above seem extreme. But there are people in this day and age that are prepared to go low – really low – on rates, and I just don’t think that’s either right, or sustainable.

It’s important that you go into this business with clear ideas about the income you need in order to make a go of it, then stick to them. The idea of pricing yourself low to start with, then working up to the bigger fees is fraught with danger. Why should those hard-won clients who paid you $25 last month suddenly start paying you $250 six months later? They won’t see the logic. Sure, your technique may have improved. But improved tenfold? If they really thought you could improve tenfold then they probably wouldn’t be hiring you in the first place (they’d be hiring the guy who was quoting $250…)

There are two problems here (actually, let’s reframe that and call them “challenges” – it fits my outlook better):

Number one: Prices will inevitably come down as a result of a larger market. “Voice seekers” – as the online directories have termed them – are looking for savings, and rightly expect that a Voiceover Artist working from a home studio should be able to undercut the cost of recording in a “professional” studio with an engineer and the associated overheads. But that Voiceover Artist would probably be being paid at least £200/$300 an hour, and the seeker would be paying studio costs on top of that. Why should they expect to get the talent cheaper than their “show-and-go” rate when the talent is recording and editing in their own studio, for which the seeker probably isn’t paying anything at all?

Number two: there are more voice seekers than ever before. The market for voiceover is growing hugely as everyone wants a voice for their eLearning project, computer program, phone system, Flash video or whatever. These seekers are largely, and through no fault of their own, uneducated about that they should expect to pay. Recently I’ve been signed up to a few “virtual outsourcing” websites (like eFreelancer, GetAFreelancer, EUFreelance, and so on), just to see what’s around. I saw a job yesterday where the client wanted twenty separate reads, in twenty separate files, and – although they’d parked the job in the $50-$250 range – they stated in the text that they wanted to pay $2 per file. That, my friend, is just barking mad. No one can earn a reasonable living at those kind of rates, and these voice seekers need to be educated about what is, and isn’t, realistic.

Fortunately, I have two responses to these “challenges”, and the first is to think a little about how people do business.

Clients, in any sphere of business, don’t automatically want to buy the cheapest option. They want the best deal on the finest product they can get. This is true whether you’re buying a cup of coffee (why do I pay over £2 in Starbucks when the guy in the kebab van will sell me one for 60p?), whether you’re shopping for a new car, or whether you’re buying voiceover services. If the client needs a voiceover, then they need a voiceover. They’ll have budgeted for a voiceover, and that budget stands a good chance of being somewhat higher than the $25 that’s on the table. And if it’s not, then who’s got the problem with reality? The Voice Actor who says “Sorry, that’s not realistic remuneration for my time and services”, or the client who needs to revise their budgetary aspirations? $25 is their opening offer, and of course they’ll be “quids in” (to use the Limey vernacular) if you’re naïve enough to accept the offer. But we’re not living in the “Land of the Stupids”, so wise up.

Business works on the principle that one party has something the other doesn’t, and is prepared to pay to get it. If you’re a professional Voiceover Actor, then you have not one, but two things they need: a great voice and the vocal chops to lift their words off the page in a way that engages their audience – in other words, their own customers. If Joe from Marketing could do that himself, he wouldn’t be hiring a Voice Talent (we’re called “talent” for a reason, y’see…) Ask yourself the question: what is the potential net worth, in sales terms – in taking the message to the audience – of hiring a professional Voiceover Artist to read the script, rather than doing it for nothing in-house? Again, I’m willing to bet that it’s more than $25.

There may be a “challenging economic climate” out there (I’m not doing the recession, remember?) But ultimately, your voice track might be all that’s standing between where your client is now, and where they want to be. Where would they be without it? You’re selling, remember, so maybe you should point that out, in the nicest terms, of course…

And what if they decide to pass, and to go to the next guy who will do it for $25? Simple. Let it go. Clients will learn eventually that a $25 voiceover sounds like a $25 voiceover. But this will only happen if the rest of us maintain that grip on reality I mentioned earlier.

Before this gets too “ranty”, I’ll close – with an impassioned plea to my fellow Voiceover Artists.

Professional Voice Talents need to stick together and not devalue the worth of our product. We need to be realistic about our costs, and be prepared to ride it out. Otherwise there’s no future in this business. We’re not selling “widgets” here, where we can undercut to break even: all we have to sell is our time. When all you’ve got to sell is your time, you need to put a realistic value on it. Lawyers, doctors and other consultants wouldn’t sell an hour of their time for $25. Their skillsets are, of course, very different, but your own unique skills are just as desirable to your own potential clients as are those of the other professionals I’ve mentioned.

So… DON’T sell yourself short. KNOW your talent. BELIEVE in its worth. And be prepared to CHARGE accordingly.

Comments, as always, are very welcome!

Posted in Freelancing, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , , | 14 Comments »

Recession? What recession?

Posted by MikeCooper on March 27, 2009

Try this one on for size: “Recession is a state of mind”.

Controversial, eh? Let me say, right up front, that I’m not being flippant here. Anyone who’s been laid off and is reading this shouldn’t take offence at what I’ve just said, but I think it’s time I set out my own stall on this for anyone who is working as a freelance. You see, I decided some time ago that I wasn’t “doing” the downturn, myself, and guess what? Things here are going from strength to strength. This post applies to anyone who works for themselves – not just Voice Actors – and the three points I make apply pretty well to anyone who falls into the freelancer category.

I’ve studied more than a little NLP (that’s “Neuro Linguistic Programming”, if you’re unfamiliar), and one of the tenets of NLP is that you get more of what you focus on. Call it the Universal Law of Attraction if you like (plenty’s been written about that, after all) but the truth is that you usually get what you expect, and if you’re spending a lot of time thinking doom and gloom and convincing yourself you’re just holding off the inevitable decline, then you’ll probably talk yourself into just that.

So, if you’ve been walking around sounding like Marvin the Paranoid Android for the last few months, what can you do to “reframe” for a more positive outlook? Here are three things to consider, to get you started on the Road to Recession-Free Enlightenment:

Firstly, remember that there are always some businesses that thrive in a recession. In any given sector there are always survivors, even when their competitors go to the wall. The key is working out what sets these businesses apart – and then doing the same things yourself. NLP calls this “modelling behaviour”. What is it that makes a successful business a success in the “current climate”? (I hate that phrase, by the way.) Is it how they market themselves? How they treat their customers? The quality of their work? Or something else? What could you be doing differently to give yourself that same advantage?

This leads into my second point: how much are you applying yourself to the business of making new clients? Repeat business is often said to be the best form of business – it just keeps coming, without you having to put in the effort. But at the moment there’s a chance that your existing contacts may be cutting back on their requirements, whether that’s in voiceover or other areas. Even if this applies to just a few of them, and even if that’s just by a small amount, the voice talent or freelance who relies too much on their existing clients for work may soon find that the pot starts to shrink…

So, get out there and make new contacts! Talk is cheap, so pick up the phone. No good at cold calling? This is a seriously good time to get over it and get some practice! (What’s the worst that can happen? They put the phone down? C’mon!) Alternatively, increase your chances of success by doing some research and reframing them as “warm calls” instead. Martha Retallick has a great article on this at Freelance Switch (which is, incidentally, a great source of information for anyone who’s working for themselves).

Finally, for now, here’s another powerful reframe that might help you to shift gear. One of the greatest benefits of being freelance is that you’ll never be made redundant. You work for clients on a per-project basis. Projects and clients may come and go, but you’re self-employed for as long as you want to be. And no one can tell you different! This is a really powerful shift in mindset, if you choose to accept it.

The above three tips apply to anyone who works for themselves. Please share them with everyone you know who might have convinced themselves that this has to be a struggle. Replace “struggle” with “hard work”. Then ask yourself if it even needs to be that hard. If you’re going to work for yourself, then you’re going to have to work. So, as someone once said, “work smarter, not harder”.

Next time I’ll talk about why the Voiceover business might actually be one of the better places to be in the throes of a recession, and I’ll share some great resources I’ve found recently.

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The Bullet-proof Voiceover Industry

Posted by MikeCooper on March 24, 2009

Last time I wrote about the things that freelances can do to reframe their outlook in the midst of the recession. This time I’m going to share resources from just three of those in our industry who are convinced that the voiceover business may not get hit that hard, if at all. In fact, there’s even a school of thought that says this may be a time to make hay…

Minneapolis-based voice talent Terry Daniel has been around long enough to know a thing or two about the peaks and troughs of working as a Voiceover Artist. On his blog, he shares his top “5 Tips to Grow & Maintain Your Business in this Tough Economy“. It’s sage advice that will keep your feet on the ground but your brain in the right mindset.

The second and third resources come in the form of audio podcasts from Voices.com. The Voice Over Experts podcasts are a mine of useful tips for anyone starting out in the business, and are full of useful reminders for those of us who’ve been at it a while longer, too.

In Voice Over Experts episode 74, veteran voice actor Pat Fraley sets out his 9 reasons why there’s no need to panic. Among the points he cites are that in a recession, people stay in more. And they’re going to want to be entertained. That’s good for people like you and me who provide voiceovers for everything from video games to TV programmes, right?

Finally, award-winning voiceover and voiceover coach, Bettye Zoller, has her own take on “Areas of Demand for Voice Overs Despite the Economic Downturn” in Voice Over Experts episode 82. She says: “One of the greatest things about the voice over business is that it keeps reinventing itself. Why not reinvent yourself as a voice talent, too?” And you know what? I think she has a point.

All of these three people have stuff to say that’s worth listening to, and they’ve even recorded them to save you having to read, which seems very reasonable indeed, especially as this advice is being given out for free, already. So, why not get some refreshments and indulge them with half an hour of your time, right now?

There we are then, it’s official: I’m opting out of this recession. I have better things to concentrate my efforts on. Fancy joining me?

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