Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Performing Monkeys: Say No to Peanuts

In the past week alone, I have turned down several clients. This is not always an easy thing to do, (and especially not as we approach Christmas) but sometimes it is most definitely the right one. I am a firm believer in knowing your worth, and in researching the prospective clients. If you are sure they could pay a reasonable rate, based on the size of their company and the usage of the audio content they are expecting you to produce for them, then why accept peanuts?

For those starting out in Voice over work, it can be hard to have a concept about 'knowing your worth'. After all, it is pretty exciting that somebody wants you! Somebody has chosen your dulcet tones to represent their brand or product or company. The prospect of building your list of clients is an exciting one. However, what happens to the industry over time if many VO's continue to accept a low-to-miniscule rate of pay for the bigger jobs like the TV commercial spots? What happens is that there is an expectation that we will all accept those rates and they become the norm. And eventually the upshot of that is that many of us will not be able to afford to be in business as full time professional VO's, we won't be able to support our voice careers, and most importantly we won't have the funds to provide for our families.

I know my worth. I have invested time working out how much I must earn to reach my targets. I have evaluated the cost of all my equipment, my expertise, my knowledge and my skill. And I have worked out for how that translates into my fees, for corporates, television, radio, elearning, IVR and phone lines. I have my rates to hand per project, per minute, per word,  per hour and per session. I have a solid understanding of what I charge extra for and what I don't. For example- is there a fee for live direction via Skype, ipDTL, ISDN? Is there a localisation fee if I am expected to make the poorly translated script flow in 'proper' English? Am I expected to export to many separate files? What are the circumstances under which I provide free re-records? And when are they chargeable? Am I being asked to fit speech to visuals?  I keep my list on view prominently in my studio, and I keep a list in my handbag, so that where ever I am I can access this vital info in a jiffy, without missing a beat if a client requests an approximate quote. I can do this with confidence now because I know my worth.

We, the Voiceover Artists, are not performing monkeys. To do what we do takes, skill, ability, timing and talent. And that deserves to be rewarded in a reasonable rate of pay. There is wiggle room, ofcourse, when I negotiate with a prospective client, I am running a business after all, but there are bottom lines.  I refuse any longer to jump for peanuts. I urge you to spend some hours investigating your own financial worth and translate this into a rate card. It'll be some of the most useful time you ever spend on your career.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Keeping up to date

For many months now I have known that I was in need of an update. Not just demos but headshots and all the promotional material. Website overhauls and all that palaver. The trouble is, I had so little time in my schedule to actually make it happen! So I took all of October to work on it, as I knew it was important to represent myself in a way that I am happy with online.

I had loved my commercial demo a few years ago which I recorded with the lovely Gary Terzza, and I had refreshed it from time to time with completed real audio when contracts and clients allowed. I had been so chuffed with my website and publicity headshots and branding about four years ago when they were done. But times change, and so has my style, both vocally and visually. For a long while I knew that the image I was 'putting out there' no longer fit like a glove.  Also my focus has changed. I have established myself as not only a British female Voice over, but also as an Audiobook Narrator, and I have returned to my acting roots when time allows. So it certainly was high time I sorted my demo's out.

One of the things that held me back in terms of updating my reels was deciding whom I should ask to produce my reel. It is a very different beast creating new material once you have established yourself as a busy VO, to the experience of being a newbie entering a studio for the first time to have a stab in the dark at being behind the mic, or even refreshing after a few years in the game. And I decided that I wanted to go with someone that I hadn't worked with before who could give a fresh approach to how my voice can sound.

Time and again I had heard recommendations for JP at The Showreel from not only Voices but producers, so I decided to give him a go! The waiting list procedure itself speaks volumes about his credibility. He managed to squeeze me in to a cancellation slot thankfully.

I had a fantastic few hours in JP's new studio in Soho. He  really knows his stuff, and worked uber efficiently yet pickily (is that a word?) on getting the content of my reel to his high standard.

You can hear the fruits of our labours here:

When was the last time you created a new demo? Make sure you aren't letting the team down by sounding rusty (after all as a VO you are pretty much a team of one right?!). Styles and preferences change with time, and thought they might be subtle, it's important you try and stay on top of them. So go on, go and get it refreshed. It's given me a whole new lease of life!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Speaking with Respect for the Writer

I've been thinking a lot about words. Not just the ones I speak into the microphone, but you know, the ones actually written on paper (or more often that not on the screen these days.) My summer was bonkers-ly busy with narration, holidays and time spent with my three kids. In addition, the results of a long labour of theatre-love came to fruition, when I performed in production of Paper Dolls that  I co-devised and co-wrote at Camden Fringe Festival this year and gained FIVE STAR reviews!

Scriptwriting, together with my ongoing blog, made me stop and think about all those Voice scripts that land in my inbox for me to put a voice too. Often I am so focused on getting the words right in terms of production (finding the nuances, rhythm, clarity, pitch, pace, intonation and characterisation), that I forget to pay homage to the person who wrote the words in the first place.

Every script is someone's creation. Every script, from an epic novel to a Radio Commercial to  even those less-exciting telephone system Voicemail recordings,  has come into being through a writer. And every writer has considered for whom they are writing, and perhaps most importantly why.

So if the writer has thought about who they want to appeal to, it follows that as the Voice of the piece has to also. How often do you reel off a script without thinking about for the message is intended? Well, it's time to put a stop to that! What is the purpose behind the script you are reading? Suss that out first and foremost and your work will improve dramatically. The purpose and intention of the script is so fundamental to every recording, and indeed every audition demo, that you can't afford to overlook it.

Likewise, the writer will have used specific words, phrasing and even grammar for a reason. And if they wrote it, don't be tempted to suggest you know better (even if you do!). The client is always (well, mostly) right. If you are working in a studio or via ISDN with a client present, it is imperative that you do not offend or comment on the quality of the writing. It is somebody else's baby. If you absolutely must comment on the sense of a sentence, make sure you do so respectfully and sensitively, or you may find that you aren't asked back for a repeat performance. This can be tricky, especially when it is obvious that whoever wrote the piece may not have English as a first language, but with tact you can usually work out if it is appropriate or not to offer feedback.

No matter what the script, it is our job to flesh out what is on the page, exactly as it is.  So bite your tongue, until you need to speak the text!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Putting a Face to the Voice

Working in Voice is generally a solitary experience, working away inside a booth. Having just returned from an excellent networking opportunity at the Audio Publishers Association conference in New York, which gave me incredible opportunities to speak to and connect with the major players in the Audiobook industry, I am full of the joys of networking. And believe me, this is not something that I find easy. But I did it. I attended an Voice conference and Audies Awards Gala on my tod, and I am reaping the benefits aplenty from putting myself outside my comfort zone. So I thought I'd share with you other opportunities for Voice Actors to mix and mingle, to learn, connect, share and grow.
This Friday, June 20th 2014,  I shall be attending The VoiceOver Network's Summer Party in central
London organised by my pal and incredible VO lady, Rachael Naylor. This is the first big event for the network, which has been meeting monthly in London since late 2013. I think it looks set to be a great evening for networking with both my fellow VO's and with producers and agents. There may be a few tickets left, so why not join us? Email

I can also highly recommend VOX, the UK's Voice conference. Last year I was a proud sponsor of the event which provides a forum for debate on the current state of affairs in the UK Voice Industry, with Actor's Union Equity joining the discussion alongside top radio station directors. In addition talks regarding Radio commercials, Video Games and VO Equipment took place, entwined with many opportunities to meet other Voiceover Artists, established and new. The same team, led by fellow Voxy Lady, Posy Brewer are responsible for VOXMAS (which as yet has clashed with my birthday weekend, and so I haven't made it to this!) I look forward to hearing about the plans for VOX2015.

Sound Women is a great opportunity to network with other ladies working in sound and audio, although many work in a Radio presenting or producing capacity, there is something for everyone.  They run some fantastic training and mentoring schemes though, so keep an eye out for their excellent events.

In the US, there is more choice. There is the big one, VOICE 2014, held in Anaheim (actually at Disneyland!), and there is the popular, limited ticket Faffcon, held in Tuscan, Arizona. And I'm sure there are more, but I've run out of time, and my mind has gone blank! If I've missed any obvious ones, please link in the comments section below.

Go on, get out there and network. It is great to be able to put a face to a voice you have heard online, on TV and on the Radio.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Conference Conundrums

As I write this I am supposed to be packing my suitcase. I'm off to New York City  for a week of networking (and just a little partying too...). I'm attending APAC, the Audio Publishers Association's Conference which in on Wed 28th May. To be frank, the idea of 'networking' brings me out in a cold sweat, and sends me into a spin about what to wear. In my more rational moments, I look forward to networking with my peers as an opportunity to learn, grow and connect. I know that this is the perfect time in my Voice acting career for me to embark on a trip to the US, and to absorb the costs involved in that as a crucial business expense. I am a great believer that to win it, you've got to be in it.

I've been lucky enough to be selected for the Director Diagnostics which runs prior to the conference, which allows Narrators to be directed in a safe environment, to receive supportive critical feedback and to point out room for improvement. Increasingly in Audiobook production, and especially with the creation of the ACX system (Audible's Audiobook Creation Exchange), narrators (or Producers as they are termed by Audible) work independently in their own studios. Opportunities to learn and improve like this are vital, and as a relatively new Audiobook Narrator (albeit a very well established Voiceover Artist),  I am willing to be open to that process. The rest of the conference looks set to be full of interesting topics, including Home Studio Work Flow and Self-Promotion for Narrators. With both business and performance tracks to choose between, I'm hoping to take aware as much knowledge as I can fit into my teeny, tiny brain! I'm a huge fan of working on Children's and Young Adult Audio, so I'm planning to attend the session on that too.

What I am most looking forward to are the opportunities to interact in real live life (as opposed to Facebook!), with other narrators. The Pre-APAC Mixer is a perfect way to get started, if my flight gets in on time! Then, as an established narrator for Bee Audio in both their UK and US divisions, I've been invited along by our Casting Director for a pre-conference mingle, so I'll  be hopping across the city to be in two places at once. These sociable moments make all the difference in feeling at ease such a long way from home; or at least I'm hoping everyone is as friendly and open as they seem to be online!

I've been invited by Audible to attend their private Narrator Knowledge Exchange on Thursday 29th May (only a small amount of the conference attendees get the hoped-for email, so I was teensy bit pleased), and additionally, to audition for the studio themselves whilst I'm there.  I was the first to beta-test ACX for Audible just before it launched in the UK, so I shall be thrilled to meet the team I've been working with.

It doesn't stop there, oh no! Time to head home, put on my glad-rags and attend the Audie's. I've become very passionate about this industry in a short space of time. My specialist section is the Teens nominations, and whilst I can but dream at present about a future nomination in the category in years to come,  I have swotted up on the 2014 contenders, and I know who is my pick as winner of the Audie award. Fingers crossed for them. I shall no doubt be found afterwards at the alternative after party the Naudies..... (this runs at the same time as the Audies Gala, and is attended by narrators who chose not to fork out for the Gala but are still in town).

So this week, I have some editing to finish up, and a narration to complete. Oh, and some shoes and handbags to decide upon. Here's hoping my jet lag is mild!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Getting Out of the Booth

This post comes after a stint away from the Vocal Booth. I've been performing with a professional theatre company that specialises in immersive theatre, in a fabulous project which celebrates the role played by the Codebreakers at Bletchley Park in winning WW2. (Photo by Simon Raynor) Performing for up to six hours a day (of course with breaks) took its toll on me physically, mentally guessed it, vocally. However, it gave me a real opportunity to evaluate in the extreme how physicality can affect our voices. I think it brought home some lessons to me, which I am now taking back to the booth. And you're lucky, cos I'm sharing them with you.

As a performer, you need to warm up. If you don't stretch out and prepare yourself, not only can you hurt yourself, but you leave your performance work weaker and disconnected. Good vocal practice, both on stage and in front of the mic, requires effort, commitment and connection. It is highly unlikely that without taking time to complete a warm up routine that your voice will be at its best, and a good representation of you and your emotional being. It is also unlikely that your built-in equipment for enunciating properly will be ready to do its best work without some help - so utilise the muscles in your mouth, tongue and face that aide your consonants. Lesson number one: always warm up to the extent that you feel you need it. We are all different, so know your own voice and look after it.

And lesson number two: it is all about relationship. Whether you are on stage communicating to another character and/or actor or to the audience for that matter, or whether you are connecting with someone listening to a radio commercial in their car, or with an avid audiobook listener, it is all about how you communicate your material.  Think about the who, what, where and when in regards to the person or people, and your job is so much easier. The voice can be rich and varied, but it is the reason behind the communication that is interesting, not just how pretty you can sound. Consider who and what you are supposed to be communicating  in every Voiceover job, and you are streets ahead of the rest.

Lesson Number Three: GET OUT OF THE BOOTH! I love my Voice work, and it is a borderline obsession for me. However, at times it can be an isolating experience. There is so much value in making new performance connections outside of the studio, and a great way to put into context with the rest of the acting industry where our voice work sits. So go on, open the door & get out and about (it's spring out there and the sun is shining - well maybe not in the UK, but you get my point!)

And on that note, I'm going to finish up my backlog of Voice jobs that I'm still ploughing through since my return to recording. I'm going in the booth, and I could be some time.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Going the Distance

Some of my fellow Voiceover Artists utter shock, surprise or a degree of awe at my switch to encompassing Audiobooks into my repertoire. To me, this always seems strange, since I have fallen head over heels in love with the art form. It is an endurance test, it is a personal challenge, and it is a solitary experience. It offers performance challenges I never knew existed. Nevertheless, the rewards to be had are enormous just because of the gruelling demands on ones time, attention and concentration, and the potential for strain on the voice. Nothing good ever came with ease did it? Getting to the end of
an Audiobook project can feel like I have won the marathon!

In 1980's Britain we had a popular kids programme called Pigeon Street. I was always fascinated by the female trucker character who would pop into the village en route to whichever far flung destination she was going to for her work. 'Long Distance Clara' even had her own catchy theme tune. I didn't get it. Why do a job that takes so long to get from A to B? Now I understand a little better. By the time I have read, annotated, researched, recorded, corrected, edited, mastered and finally uploaded an audiobook I feel like I have been on an incredible journey. This of course is all the better if the book was well written in the first place, and I am fortunate that I am getting some very interesting projects thrown my way, especially since establishing my niche as a Young Adult British female narrator, I've been working back to back on fantastic stories.

Working as an Audiobook Narrator, I feel as thought I have truly created something that has not only been an endurance, but that may well be enduring. I read a quote somewhere, by someone (I'm a little hazy) saying that they loved narrating audiobooks because potentially they were creating material for people to listen to for the next 50 years. And I think that just about sums it up. When I work on producing and narrating a book, I never know who is going to be entertained by it, where in the world it is going to reach someone's ears, to whom my voice and my reading ability is going to give immense
amounts of pleasure. It isn't like theatre where the performance is over at the curtain call. My audience could be anywhere, doing anything, at any time now or in the future. There is something gratifying about that.

It isn't easy. I have been on a rollercoaster learning this side of the Voice industry, and I know others who are at the start of that journey, wondering if they have the stamina or inclination to continue. It isn't for everyone. Adapting to new methods of recording, perhaps even different mic techniques, and using alternative software. For some people accustomed to commercial work, this seems like an awful lot of hard slog. But for me, having worked on some corking characters in some gripping novels of late, I find it hard to get so much of a thrill out of a thirty second commercial. But my background is in theatre, performing, creating characters, and audiobooks give me an opportunity to do all of that.

So in short, it really isn't for everybody this Audiobook Narration malarkey. But it is for me. Now, if only there could be rapturous, spontaneous applause when I reach the last sentence of the final chapter in a ten hour novel, then that would be even better.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Relax and Keep it Real.

To make a great sound, you’ve got to look after yourself. A great voice is about more than lubricated vocal cords, it’s about more than using a natural gift. If you intend to work as a Voice actor you need to ensure that you keep your instrument in tip top condition. If you're stressed, tense or overly emotional those things are going to show up loud and clear in the tone and quality of your voice.

Vocal performance is more than technical production of sound. The sound of our voice connects us to the core of our being, in not only a physical sense, but an emotional one too. The slightest utterance can give away our true feelings, and sensitive ears can pick up on subtle nuances- after all, we spend a lifetime listening subconsciously to the finer details of speech to understand the underlying thoughts and feelings within a communication.
Phsyiologically, great posture can make a huge difference in the sound you make when you speak. When we laugh, it is from the belly, when we howl in pain it is from the depths of our being. It is what actors strive for on stage every night: to connect, to make it ‘real’. It is no less important in front of the microphone. We’ve all heard the false sing-song voice in ‘happy’ commercials. Do we believe them? No. They sound artificial, they sound put on. So how to ensure you don’t fall into the trap of throat-led, unconnected performances (which long-term can lead to vocal damage)?

Try some of these simple tricks. Allow your shoulders to relax, stand up straight without overstraining and overcompensating for usual bad posture, and stand with both legs planted firmly on the floor, weight distributed evenly. These easy adjustments enable your breath to flow to your belly, allow your diaphragm to expand and contract the way it is supposed to, and thereby allow the best possible sound to resonate through your body.  Try it. See if you can notice a difference on mic. The British Voice Association provides some excellent resources if you want more info on proper and correct use of Voice.

The first sign of tension in my own body is in my shoulders. Too much stress, and I know that this can affect my performance. I’ve taken to having a regular back neck and shoulder massage from a qualified masseuse, especially when I have know I have some intensive audiobook sessions to record. I also highly recommend Alexander Technique, to learn how to readjust and realign your posture naturally, to unlearn habitual posture errors. It is advocated and practiced in Drama Schools up and down the country. See if there is a practitioner near you.

Do the best you can to let your performance really reflect who you are, and let your performance come from your core being. Anyone can produce a sing-song effect. But only you have the power to engage the unique you.

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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Cracking the Accent Code

How often have you encountered a job where an accent other than your own native dulcet tones is required? Well, this has been quite a month for me. I've been working on projects which require Welsh, Russian, Cornish, Dublin, Chicago-esque (not sure of the right word to describe this accent!) and Mancunian dialects. No mean feat, I can tell you! And they were all for projects with tight turnarounds. Accent work often then has to be layered with male or female colourings and intonation, plus allow for differences in characterisation, including age, class and personality. So getting the basics right, and cracking the code, is really important.

So when this occurs in your work, where do you go? Where can you find the 'way in' learning an accent?  The quickest answer, and the one most readily at our fingertips is, of course, You Tube, and many gems of accent examples can be found there. However, sometimes the video searches contain the most random of information, and irritatingly when you are in a hurry, they are by people trying to imitate the accent of a particular region, rather than by the native speakers themselves. There is, it seems, a trend amongst Eastern European teenagers to try to copy accents of the British Isles (and often very badly!) - not helpful when I have a chapter or two to narrate, and really need to get to grips with the correct mouth placements and sounds.

Videojug contains a few diamonds though. Gareth Jamieson, British Vocal Coach, and Actor, puts his thoughts and expertise into producing short Videos on a few main accents, such as this American one. He isn't always perfect, but he can give you an idea of where to begin, and makes you stop and think about your lip and tongue movements as you formulate vowel sounds.

I've also enjoyed fellow UK Voiceover Artist Jay Britton's Raise Your Voice Accent videos on YouTube. You can find one of them (his Australian version) here.

My favourite method though, if it is available for a particular accent is, Accent Help. Although it comes at a (reasonable) price rather than as a free resource, the work is thorough, and well worth it. You download the resource materials onto your PC or Mac, and can follow a series of tutorials in combination with numerous audio recordings of natives speaking set pieces. It has been designed especially for actors who need to conquer a new accent, and fast.

Where else do you look? Am I missing a vital piece of the Accent pie?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Branding for a brand New Year.

As we welcome in 2014, it's an opportunity to consider what this year will mean for your business branding.

Have you considered using a Brand Voice for your business? A brand voice is a specific person that speaks for a company. All major companies use a brand voice but a lot of times you will only hear them on the radio or in a TV advertisement. A brand voice can and should be expanded to be used on customer support lines when a customer is put on hold, employee voice mails, presentations and other communication channels where a voice actor is needed. The voice in which a company uses to speak with its customers is important and carries business implications too. Studies have shown that using the right voice in an ad can increase memorability of an ad by 26%. By using a brand voice consistently across all mediums, the impact can be more consistent and even greater.

One thing to remember is that your phone system is your first point of contact with customers – you need to present a professional image. Using an employee who 'has a nice voice' is a cheap option, but a Professional Voiceover who understands the importance of pitch, rhythm and intonation, and has broadcast quality recording sound is invaluable, and in the long run a much better marketing choice for your business.

So, make sure you take the time to invest in a professional voice actor for all of your business activities. It’ll save you money
and headaches in the long run and will help you build a stronger brand that can withstand the test of time.

For many people being put on hold is just a fact of life. Do we really need to suffer through mediocre music and poor vocal quality sound?

Capitalize on your brands uniqueness by investing in a Professional Voiceover to integrate your Audio Output. How can you implement simple and cost-effective changes to your voice branding that will make you stand out from the crowd?