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.
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Posts Tagged ‘web’


Posted by MikeCooper on June 18, 2009

If you follow me on twitter, you may have stumbled across this message yesterday:

“We are happy to have voice artist Mike Cooper @LondonVoiceover as our official English voice on the @twitwoop voice service.”

So reads the tweet. But what does it actually mean?

Well, “twitwoop” is a spin-off from German Voice Application Service Provider, “woopla“.

Still no clearer?

OK, here goes. twitter, as you must surely know by now, is an online service allowing you to send short messages of 140 characters or less for other people to read. twitwoop takes the idea a little further:

“Let your followers hear what you are doing. At the ocean? What about some ocean breeze? Stuck in traffic? Let us hear some New York horns. Sing a song, tell us a joke or simply say something with a meaning. twitwoops can be 140 seconds long – that’s twitter style.”

twitwoop logo

twitwoop is a new service which allows you to post audio to your twitter timeline

The idea is that you register up to two phone numbers (typically your mobile and a landline) and give them access to your twitter account. When you dial in, the system recognises your number automatically and allows you to post audio. At this point there are numbers in London, New York and LA, as well as in Germany. You can choose to post to your own twitter timeline, or to twitwoop‘s own public timeline.

When I called in yesterday to try it out, I found it worked rather well, but it was apparent that the voice prompts had been recorded by a German speaker. Don’t get me wrong: Mark’s English voice prompts are far and away better than anything I could attempt, even in my best GCSE German, but there was still a noticeable accent there. So, I seized the opportunity and offered to make them some new ones!

A couple of hours and a bit of mutual back-scratching later (I recorded their voice prompts; they are now kind enough to promote me on their web pages and allow me to do likewise in the intro prompt) and I have become the English voice of twitwoop. It’s cost nobody anything for this to happen, but there’s a mutual benefit.

Sometimes a little deal like this is a great way to improve the reach of your voiceover business and get heard by more people (last time I looked they were up to over 1,000 followers). And, just as importantly, the whole thing’s quite a fun thing to be involved in.

Check it out at twitwoop.com, select your country from the drop-down list, then dial in and have a listen!


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“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!

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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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