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 ‘voice coaching’

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 »

Train to win!

Posted by MikeCooper on March 13, 2009

In today’s instalment of my series on how to get into the voiceover business, we’ll look a little at how to improve your game. Most of us aren’t blessed with the skills to be a great voiceover right from the get-go, so how do you develop your talent? I’ve said before that you only get one chance to make a first impression, so you really want to make sure that you’re in fighting form when you come to approach your potential clients.

How do you know when you’re ready though? What you really need here is input from someone who knows, not just someone who wants to tell you what they think you want to hear. Friends and lovers, therefore, should probably not be your first port of call when you’re looking for constructive feedback on your voicey “chops”.

The availability of training and coaching is an area where the market in the US and the market here in the UK differ hugely. I could write another post about this (and probably will at some point), but suffice to say there’s a much, much wider variety of resources available Stateside than in Blighty. In America, voiceover classes, “workouts” and so on are widely available, especially in the larger metropolitan centres, and even the Learning Annexe runs affordable classes that make training in the world of voiceover available to a wide cross-section of the populace. Not only that, but many who set themselves up as voiceover coaches will tutor you by phone or on Skype.

Where there’s choice, there’ll also be a variance in quality, of course. Not all tutors and courses are created equal. So, before parting with your hard-earned, seek some feedback if you can, from those who’ve already taken the course or worked with the coach in question. Ideally, these shouldn’t just be testimonials supplied by the prospective tutor, unless they can be independently verified.

Here in Britain, things are a bit more limited. This might be because the population is six times smaller, and hence the market and the opportunities are correspondingly smaller as a result, or it might be because we’re much better at it and don’t need the practice (I’m joking, but I’m donning my flameproof nightie and running as I type…)

Even in and around London there are surprisingly few “off-the shelf” options for voiceover coaching. A quick Google search will reveal a handful of options, however. If you’re enquiring then be sure to ask pertinent questions. What’s included in the fee? Will there be something to take away at the end of it, like a CD or audio files? Is the course a one-to-one or in a class (and how large might that class be?) How flexible are they to what you’re looking for? And above all, what’s their experience, and where do they aim to take you on the journey?

If you’re starting from scratch, my own personal view is that you should be wary of anyone who promises to take you from a standing start to having a demo ready in the space of a day. You may go away with a shiny silver disc with your voice on it, but unless you’re truly blessed, it normally takes a lot more than a day to get up to speed (there’s a lot to take in). But that’s just my view, and your own experience may differ.

If you’re fortunate enough to be within striking distance of the capital, another option to try might be the “Introduction to Voiceover” courses run by the City Lit in Central London. The City Lit (or the “City Literary Institute”, to give it its full, but barely-ever used title) specialises in affordable training courses on all sorts of stuff, but prides itself on the quality of tutelage provided, which is generally offered by those who have a good level of hands-on experience in the area in question. If you’re not sure your voice is ready for this course, they also run a couple of “Technical Voice Production” courses, which are aimed at getting your underlying vocal technique up to scratch by the teaching and application of breathing technique, resonance and so on.

If you’re in the UK, but outside London, you may run into difficulties finding any voiceover coaching at all. So, if opportunities for classes or coaching are thin on the ground, what are your options?

Well, for a start, remember that voiceover is a form of acting. Indeed, in the States, the terms “Voiceover Artist”, “Voice Talent” and “Voice Actor” are pretty much interchangeable, so acting classes and actors’ voice training may serve you well. Improvisation classes might help you to “loosen up” and find your voice when you’re confronted with an unfamiliar script, too. So might a class on public speaking. Hey, whatever you can do in front of the room you can certainly do in a confined space (as my old scout master used to say…)

It’s worth remembering that if they’re not offering voiceover classes per se, then it’s worth talking to the tutor about what you’re after, to make sure that they know your ambition is in the area of voiceovers rather than playing the lead in the next production of Romeo and Juliet. They may, or may not, be comfortable in this area of teaching or, better still, might be able to point you in the direction of someone better qualified to help.

One of the few people here in the UK who was offering specific voiceover training was a guy called Bernard Graham Shaw. Sad to say, Bernard passed away just before Christmas last year. His book, however, is still available (you’ll find it here), so if you’re looking for some tips on approaching copy and getting your skills up to snuff, why not order a copy of it – I bet his family would really appreciate that! It comes with a CD which personally I don’t rate as the best voiceover training CD ever made, but the advice in the book on approaches to copy is as safe as houses and goes from first principles.

Talking of books, there are plenty of self study guides around, especially in the American market. They’re available from Amazon on both sides of the pond, so if you can’t get to a class, or can’t find (or afford) a tutor, then books might be your best friend. Many of them contain a CD on technique, too. The range of books goes across the spectrum, from how to read scripts, to getting work in animation, to how to market yourself and so on. Again, a quick trawl through Amazon will give you a flavour. Ordering two or three of these could be a good investment. If you do, why not submit a review to Amazon when you’re done, to let others know what you thought the books’ strong and weak points were? Pay it forward, and all that.

Of course, whereas you can leave feedback about a book, a book can’t give you feedback. Fortunately, all of the main voiceover forums online have areas where you can submit examples and demos of your work for other members to critique. This can be a useful way of getting input on your progress, and on what you may or may not be getting right. But beware: there are a small number of “knockers” out there too, whose alleged “helpful advice” may actually disguise a desire to knock you down and keep you off their patch. It’s a competitive business, after all, and not everyone in the playground plays nice. Nonetheless, if you don your protective armour and are prepared to sort out the useful comments from the not-so-useful, the forums too can be a great resource while you’re honing your craft.

Next time, we’ll cast an eye over what you might need to set up shop, as we turn our attention to building your first home studio.

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