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.

Posts Tagged ‘internet’

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!

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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 »

Gobs on the Web

Posted by MikeCooper on August 22, 2009

Welcome to my roundup of voiceover-related news from my week on the web.

My friend and colleague, Stefania Lintonbon has been digging around the internet and on her blog this week she’s posted links to two useful tutorials. The first throws light onto the sometimes murky subject of audio compression, and comes courtesy of Radiodaddy.com. If terms like “make-up gain” and “ratio” bring you out in a cold sweat then this excellent article is the online equivalent of a magic sponge. The second article which Stef references in her piece deals with removing pops and clicks for users of Sony Sound Forge. Stefania goes on to dispense some of her usual wisdom on positive thinking and getting the universe to deliver – something I support wholeheartedly!

Over at Vox Daily, Stephanie has a couple of goodies this week. One comes from Richard Weirich and deals with what happens when your client keeps pushing and pushing you, and the read you thought was great to start with goes off in a completely different direction. I’ve certainly been there and you may have too! Is the customer always right? Richard would love to hear your views.

Also on Vox Daily – as part of the ongoing series of Voice Over Experts podcasts, Marc Cashman shares his views on why practice makes perfect (or at least, better…)

Finally this week, following on from the awards recently bestowed on the animated series, Family Guy, the creator, Seth MacFarlane has decided to “out” the youngest member of the Griffin family. That’s right folks – in an announcement which will shock, well, barely anyone, I expect – MacFarlane confirms what we’d all suspected: Stewie is gay!

Until next time!

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To renew, or not to renew?

Posted by MikeCooper on May 16, 2009

This week I received an email from Steven Lowell in Voice123 Customer Services, asking for my thoughts on their site as a premium subscriber. Here’s what I said:

Hi Steven,

No problem sharing my thoughts. I’m about to come up for renewal, as it happens.

I find the Voice123 system usable and reliable from a technical point of view, but the pages can be extremely slow to load (I have fast broadband and don’t experience these problems with other sites).

This year I’ve made my money back several times over, but I’m still not sure it’s worth me renewing, bearing in mind the inordinate amount of time I spent auditioning to get nothing back the vast majority of the time. I also get a lot of frustrating “You were ranked 1st – 31 other talents received the same rating” kind of responses or “Likely hiring” responses that then go… nowhere.

The system is now sending me higher budgeted jobs as a matter of course (and as it promised) though my experience to date means that replying to SmartCast invitations is now very low on my daily list of priorities, with the majority of my work coming from elsewhere.

So, to renew or not to renew. My jury’s currently out!

Thanks,

Mike

What are your own thoughts on this? I’d love to know what you’re thinking…

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

London Oncology Clinic video now online

Posted by MikeCooper on April 20, 2009


The second of my medical video narrations for the London Oncology Clinic is now online.

The LOC, based in London’s world-famous Harley Street, wanted to give prospective patients an idea of what they might expect from the clinic, and the they created a first video “walk-through” in the virtual world of Second Life last year. This was so successful that they decided to make a second video, showing the different types of scan for patients. You can also see both videos and visit the London Oncology Clinic website here.

Posted in news, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 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 »

Voice directories – your key to getting started?

Posted by MikeCooper on March 20, 2009

We’re coming to the end of this short series on getting started in voiceovers. I promised that before we finished I’d take a look at how to find work, and I also said I’d give you a tip on how you might find work that fitted around your schedule, if you weren’t working as a full time Voiceover Artist. It’s my belief that this is where the online voice directories might become your new best friends.

I’m talking about sites like Voice123.com and Voices.com (though there are plenty of others). A lot has been written elsewhere about the usefulness and efficacy of these directories, so I’m not going to do that again here. Suffice to say that plenty of people complain that they never get the gig, while others can’t praise them highly enough and claim to be working virtually non-stop. You will have your own experience if you choose to use them. The fact that you generally have to have a paid subscription in order to take part in castings on these sites has led to them becoming known, somewhat derogatorily, as “Pay-to-Play” sites, and a lot of voice talents don’t like that model. For them it goes against the grain to pay a subscription in order to audition for a job they statistically stand little chance of getting. In fact, the long-standing advice is “never pay to audition”, and the very idea is enough to enrage some actors.

The bottom line is that each of these sites allows you to set up a profile, along with audio clips and demos, and then to audition for work. Hell, you can even use one of these sites as your own website if you haven’t got one (check out mine here and here – I did this for a year or so until I got my website set up properly). Each time a job is posted that fits your profile, you can opt to be notified by email, prepare an audition and submit it.

Here’s the key for the new Voiceover Artist: this doesn’t happen in real time. There’s always a delay. Now granted, there’s nothing to stop someone picking an early audition and closing off the project early, and if you consistently audition at the last minute you may fall foul of some of the metrics used in the automated system, but I think this gives you the opportunity to respond in your own time to jobs without having to drop everything the minute the phone rings. Most projects run their course and many projects don’t even get cast for a while after they’re closed, so although the owners of the sites may furrow their brows at me here, I’m suggesting that you apply when it suits you.

A couple of things to bear in mind, though:

Firstly, only audition for jobs that you honestly think suit your voice and your talents. It’s so easy to take a scatter-gun approach and audition for everything. If you do that, you’re wasting not only your time but that of the voice seeker too. You’ll get better at judging as time goes on, but don’t use the auditioning model to rehearse. You won’t get feedback and critique; you’ll just piss people off. By all means print out the scripts of everything you get sent and use them for practice, but don’t audition unless you really think you can “nail it”.

And secondly, remember that these services are very, very busy with jobs – especially in the US. The number of jobs is outweighed only by the number of prospective talents applying. You may get nowhere fast, but remember that it’s a numbers game. If you’re doing everything right; if your demo is technically good; and – most importantly – if you’re what the producer wants today, then you stand a fair chance of getting the gig. Bear in mind though that recouping the cost of your subscription may take time, and I can’t guarantee of course that it will be an investment that works for you.

All of that said, though, what the voice directories do give you is a way of not having to be at the end of the phone and ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice. The jobs often require the talent to record and edit at home, rather than attend a session at a fixed time, too.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short series on getting starting in voiceovers as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Thanks for reading, and for your comments (you can leave yours below). If there’s anything else you’d like to see discussed here, drop me a line!

Posted in Freelancing, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Gobs on Sticks meets… Trish Bertram

Posted by MikeCooper on March 2, 2009

Trish Bertram is a British voice talent who has been in the business for many years. Her voice is immediately recognisable to TV viewers and radio listeners all over Britain from her work on TV networks as an announcer and promo voice, and for her extensive work in the corporate sector. She’s been around long enough to see plenty of changes, not least the trend towards artists setting up their own studios and working from home, which is something she now does herself.

She’s a great friend and has always inspired and encouraged me as I moved towards a full time career in voiceovers. So, I asked her to share some insights into how she views the business as we go forward.

GoS: Hi Trish, thanks for playing! I’m midway through writing a series of blog posts on how to get started in voiceovers. So this seems like a good time to ask – how did you get started?

TB: I started as a live TV continuity announcer. I always wondered who the people were doing the links between the programmes on TV… then my friend and flatmate from college got herself one of those jobs at Westward TV in the early 80s and wrote to me suggesting I had a go too. So I made a home made tape on a little cassette recorder and sent it round to various TV stations asking to be considered. Considering my only microphone experience had been doing tannoy calls as a theatre stage manager, looking back my naivety was quite staggering! Anyway, I was lucky as LWT [London Weekend Television] took a chance on me. My friend at Westward grew up to be one of our most well known tv presenters by the way – Fern Britton – but we both started out as theatre stage managers.

GoS: What kinds of projects do you work on now, and has that changed over the years?

TB: Yes, one area of my work is radio station imaging and these days I can supply imaging updates from my home studio via email as opposed to always having to go to an outside studio. You and I also write and record continunity links for a TV channel and email them off to their transmission base, which I don’t think either of us would have envisaged happening a few years ago when we spent all those long shifts together in transmission! I have also come to realise that the whole world is now a marketplace for voiceovers – which wouldn’t have happened with out the rise of the internet or without the availibilty of reasonably priced but quite sophisticated kit that one can now set up at home.

GoS: The internet’s certainly changed the playing field, you’re right, and being able to work at home would have been unthinkable even when I started in TV. That said, there are loads of different kinds of work for Voice Actors. What’s your favourite kind of work, and why?

TB: I don’t really have a favourite – as every area of work brings it’s own challenges and it’s the variety I like. (Although we all dream of being the voice of the one tag line on a global big brand commercial that pays £££! It’s not happened yet… but you never know!)

GoS: Yes, good luck with that – lunch will be on you, you realise? Meanwhile, what’s your biggest gig to date?

TB: Bill Gates gave a presentation to the United Nations about four years ago when he was donating computers and software to the Third World. I was chosen as the voice of the video that accompanied him, explaining the initiative. When I was rung by the production company they said “it’s a job for Bill” I replied, “Bill Who?” Did I feel dumb when they told me! My biggest live job was for The Asian Games in Doha in 2006. I was the live stadium announcer for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. The TV audience was estimated as around 3.8 billion across the world, so it was a bit daunting!

GoS: Yes, that’s certainly a couple more than you’d have got with LWT! International stuff brings a different dimension, but what about the voice industry itself? Do you think there are differences between how it works here in the UK and other countries like, for example, the US?

TB: Having researched many US voiceover sites, directories and forums I am impressed by the way our transatlantic VO cousins market them selves and “sell their wares”. Another difference is cultural… for example the “big voice of God” style for TV and film promos and trailers is still  popular in the US, whereas we seem to be moving away from that style over here. There’s no right or wrong but once again the rise of the “cybervoice” way of working means that we have to consider other countries’ cultural requirements – for example, when submitting demos.

GoS: Good points. I also think there’s a difference in the culture of auditioning, which seems to play a bigger part in a VO’s life Stateside than it does here. Plenty for a newcomer to get their head around though, isn’t there? So, what do you think is the biggest challenge to someone wanting to get into the business at this point in time?

TB: On the one hand there is a whole cyberworld out there now so, in theory, more opportunities for everyone. On the other hand it also means that there is much more competition! So if you are new to the business you have to do a lot of flag waving! Get yourself a good demo made, launch a website, join some business and social networking sites, email prospective clients, join some voice directories and forums, pick up the phone, and immerse yourself in it all. (Something you are really good at, Mike!) One person who has been an inspiration to both of us is our fellow voice Philip Banks who has been brilliant at developing his own online presence (and generous enough to give us his advice).

GoS: Yes, Philip’s certainly a bit of an act to follow online isn’t he? So there’s plenty we can do for ourselves with the power of the internet. How important is having an agent, then?

TB: Not overly important these days I think. An agent can find you work where you don’t have any particular contacts yourself – but should never be relied on for your whole income. Voices go in and out of fashion, and agents can put you forward for projects while you are “voice du jour”, but there will be quiet times where you have to be proactive yourself. Having said that, an agent can give you the credibility factor and also deal with any contractual issues that may be more complicated than a straightforward fee. (For instance if your voice is going to be used across territories or for a cross media campaign.)

GoS: OK, I’m not going to tell the world how old you are, but you have been at this for over twenty-five years now. What’s changed in the business in that time?

TB: Definitely the technology. The rise of the internet has opened up a whole world of  opportunities for being a “cybervoice”. I had reached a time in my career where it was a question of keep up or get left behind. It’s still a brave new world for me – but thanks to you and other fellow voices I have been dragged kicking and screaming into voice cyberspace! Now I think I should have done it years ago!

GoS: And how do you see the role of the voice directories like Voice123 and Voices.com? Do you use them?

TB: I am monitoring various friends’ experiences of these but have dipped a toe in and have joined the US site VOPlanet and the European directory Bodalgo. It’s early days for me yet so we’ll see. But it seems to me that they are a good way of marketing British voices to other territories. And in theory you just need one job from a voice directory to recoup the joining fee.

GoS: Yep, as long as the “voice seeker” is paying decent rates. That’s a whole other discussion though! Finally, Trish, what are your aims for this next phase of your career?

TB: Develop my ‘cyber’ career! I am learning a lot from younger voices like yourself and am also listening hard to changing voice styles. Like Madonna – the key to survival takes a certain amount of reinvention! One inspiration was the great Patrick Allen who, thanks to E4, was still socking it to us all at 80!

GoS: There’s hope on the tellybox for us all, then 🙂 Thanks, Trish!

Trish Bertram is my fellow voice on movie channel Film24 (Sky Digital channel 157) and regularly voices station imaging for the BBC Local Radio network and promos for QVC, among other things. Find out more about Trish at www.TrishBertram.com.

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I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers

Posted by MikeCooper on February 5, 2009

It’s always a nice boost when someone says something nice about you, isn’t it?

It’s especially lovely when it comes out of nowhere, without any prompting/arm-twisting/threats of blackmail. And it’s extremely welcome when you’re feeling as down-in-the-dumps and ill as I’ve been all this week.

So imagine my delight when my twitter feed filled up with messages from someone I’d never met and never worked with telling me that I posess:

“a voice that trickles you all over with chocolate sauce”

…that has:

“a tingling timbre”

…and that my voice is:

“fabulously sweet … like smouldering applewood”

She’s obviously not heard me in the last five days (it’s currently more like a crackling bonfire) but I’ll gloss over that.

This, friends, is one of the nice things about twitter. Whereas Facebook lets you stay in touch with your friends, however tenuous and tentative those connections may be, twitter encourages you to reach out and meet new people. Look at who your followers are, see who their friends are, check out who the friends of your friends are, and then follow them too! Of course, for this to happen, you’ll not want to be “Protecting” your updates, so switch that off in twitter’s preferences (what are you here for, if not to share?)

There are even services which help you find people to follow to enable you make those connections (here’s an article about some of them, and Grader, apart from telling you your “twitter grade” also does a good job).

The instantaneous nature of the response to twitter’s question “What are you doing?” begs more frequent updates than Facebook’s status updates, and keeps things moving along at a pace. Plus anyone who’s interested in following trends or finding out more on subjects that interest them is well-served by twitter’s in-built search facility. It’s hidden away at the bottom of the page, but it works very well.

Users can also “tag” their “tweets” with a useful word to make finding them easier for others – this week the tag #uksnow was a prime example for anyone following the story of a Britain caught in the worst snow for years.

I suppose this has really become that first post on social networking that I promised earlier, and I promise to write some more. But I also promise not to become a social networking “expert”, because those posts are already oversubscribed.

Back to the lady in question who prompted me into action. Her name is Anthea Bailey and she’s from somewhere in the North of England. She works in PR (hey, maybe I could use her?!) and her website is being constructed “as we speak”. So in the meantime you’ll just have to “follow” her, here

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The internet. Not just for porn, after all.

Posted by MikeCooper on January 10, 2009

So, what’s 2009 going to be all about then? Apart from the aforementioned New Year’s Resolutions?

For me, it’s going to be – at least in part – about learning how to get the most out of the various opportunities for engagement that the internet now provides. These tools, if used correctly, have the potential to help me in my business and help people to find me, so that I can help them with their own challenges. That’s all that business is about, really, isn’t it? Oh yes, money changes hands, but not unless those conditions exist first: Person A has a need, Person B has a solution – and as long as the those two people can find one another at the right time then everyone’s happy.

The challenge, if you work alone as a freelance, has always been – at least partly – how you make yourself known. But social networking online, in its various forms, is giving people like me, who are spread out all over the world and working on their own projects, a chance to link up with other people, either in related – or completely unrelated – fields. This aspect of the internet is shrinking the world and making us all less isolated – if we choose to use it, and if we know how to get the best out of it. And right now there’s a huge buzz around the whole thing. Most of these tools are also, amazingly, for now at least, FREE! And the ones that aren’t are surprisingly cheap. It’s never been easier to make yourself heard on the other side of the world, if that’s what you’re trying to achieve.

What kinds of tools am I talking about? Well… this blog is part of my effort to engage with the world at large for a start. It’s an outlet, a sort of diary, and a channel for some of my thoughts. The tag line at the top says “mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business”, and that’s intentional: I want this blog to be relevant to anyone who’s interested in voiceover work, on whatever level (and I intend to do less navel-gazing and more practical writing about the business in the coming months), but I also want anything I say to be placed in the context of my existence as a human being who’s more rounded than just being an, erm, gob on a stick…

As well as this blog, I’ve somehow managed to accumulate accounts with LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as half a dozen or so accounts for bulletin board systems used by Voiceovers and Voice Seekers, where tips are traded, help is sought and offered, and everyone can chip in with their latest tale of success or woe. I’ve got my own website up-and-running in the last few months, complete with its own little news feed of my work exploits which, for now, I’ve chosen to keep separate from my ramblings here (mostly for the sake of everyone’s sanity).

All-in-all, I’ve been playing at this for a little while now, but it’s getting to the point where the “scatter-gun” approach needs a bit of refining. I’ve been reading lots of stuff, mostly online, about “leveraging” social media for business (in particular some of the stuff that Chris Brogan has written), and now seems like a good time to start putting it to the test. So, in the next few posts I’ll share a little about what I’ve been up to, and I’d welcome your own thoughts and suggestions in response.

Come on now, don’t be shy…

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