Voice Over Education Blog

March 2017

In an audio tour, are you a Docent, or a Tour Guide?

A “docent” is a person who guides people through a museum or such, explaining as they go. So why the heck why aren’t they just called “tour guides”? Why use a $50 word just because it’s a museum???

True, a common word would sound less pretentious, but it would also say less about the guide. “Docent” comes from the word “teacher.” A “guide,” like many VO talent, might just present a script, whereas (in principle, at least) a teacher knows what they’re talking about.

So, are you a docent?

First, let’s elaborate a bit on what we are talking about ...

Another reason for saying “docent” is that the word also has other applications. It often designates an unpaid museum volunteer, or a parent assisting on a school field trip. In some countries, it refers to an associate professor.

Let’s also make clear that this question is relevant to more than museum tours, or tours of any sort. It’s also a valid issue in other genres, from eLearning to industrial explainers, and in online virtual tours, as well.

And while we’re at it, you might like to know that “docent” comes (by way of German, “Dozent”) from the Latin word “docēre.” Incidentally, the English word “docile” – as in “she was a very docile pony” – does not mean “gentle” as some people think; it means “easily taught or trained,” and it comes from the same Latin root.

So now you can docent the word “docent”! (In which case you would also want to know that, grammatically, “docent” is only a noun, not correctly used as a verb. But plenty of people do.)

Where were we?

Oh, the distinction between a “teacher” and a “guide” – that should be obvious. A teacher typically knows their subject intimately. Whether they are holding class in a semester series, or leading tourists through a museum wing, a teacher knows much more about the subject than they are able to tell in such a brief time.

Should you “watermark” your VO audition?

In the voice-over world, “watermarking” is the anti-theft practice of ensuring your audition is unusable for final production. Voice actors do this to prevent the client from using their audition without telling them ... and more importantly, without paying them. Loosely defined, watermarks are implemented in various ways -- such as adding an undesirable sound at some point in the audition, deleting a moment of sound, omitting or misreading part of the text, degrading the technical quality, or some similar measure.

Watermarks were a trendy practice back when online auditioning was a new phenomenon. Is it still a good thing to do? Was it ever? And what alternatives are there when submitting an audition to a voice seeker you do not know?

(And does watermarking apply only to auditions? Probably yes. Once you’ve landed the client, you shouldn’t have to even think about watermarking the final production, ready for approval. By then, you should have their identity and pedigree, some sort of written agreement (at least a detailed email).)

Let’s review various watermarking options. But be sure to keep reading, because these are NOT necessarily recommended!

  • Add a beep now and then, or at a critical point (e.g., the phone number or product name). Or any inappropriate sound.
  • Mix in a copyright notice at a low volume.
  • Drop out the sound in significant places.
  • Misread a word or phrase, or web address, or transpose a couple numbers in the phone number.
  • Degrade the technical quality, for example by adding hiss or overcompressing the file (that is, by making the file size too small, not audio compression).

You get the idea. Such a list even acquires its own set of tips, such as:

Up your game: What to include in your daily VO practice

With the professional baseball season near, we might use it as a metaphor for voice acting – namely this: Pre-game batting practice is often one of the most fun, interesting parts of a day at the park, and it’s an essential part for the players. The analogy works for any performance skill, from musicianship to chess, and certainly includes voice-over.

Pros practice daily. Do you?

Before you made your first demo, you of course practiced intensively, under the guidance of one or more coaches. But – temporarily using another sports metaphor -- that demo was just the on-ramp that leads to the track, so we hope you didn’t stop practicing once you became proficient at consistently landing work. That’s no time to quit. It’s all the more reason to practice, thoughtfully. Every day.

Furthermore, although “learning never ends,” an actual recording job or audition is not the time to learn. On those occasions, it’s important to be free of inhibition, and to use your ability to innovate, but that’s not the same sort of learning. Confidence and innovation are skills that themselves require learning, and these skills are in turn comprised of others. Practice makes them ... professional. And pulls them all together.

To practice well, you need four things.

1. A recorder
2. Scripts
3. Discipline
4. A plan

The first, of course, you have. Scripts, you can get. Some people find it harder to come by the necessary discipline, but try. Consider practice time to be just another part of your business, and you will find a way to build-in the time required.

What makes these all come together is the plan. It can vary according to your personal preferences, genre and schedule, etc. Here’s one to consider ...

Does your VO website’s SEO meet 2017’s best practices?

In late 2015, we wrote extensively on “How to SEO your VO website, PDQ.” We still recommend that article, but, as our friends at HubSpot remind us, a lot on the Search Engine Optimization landscape has changed in even the short time since. One thing that hasn’t changed is our advice that you should market yourself using the full range of marketing materials and practices, and not obsess over where you appear in search engines or artificially building out your website. But here is where to focus to give your search presence its best shot these days.

The impetus for this advice comes from the publication of yet another piece on SEO, this one from HubSpot. It’s a free download, called “18 SEO Myths You Should Leave Behind in 2017." Since it's available to anyone (if you fill in their form), and much of our previous SEO series still applies, we’ll just add our two cents to update the VO perspective.

After all, the site of a typical SEO talent is not the same as other websites, and neither is VO talent’s situation.

Let’s remind ourselves of those issues first.

Your website services multiple functions, of which is to "position" you (what part of the VO marketplace do you serve?) and to reinforce your brand "personality" (are you fun, ominous sounding yet fun to work with, science-oriented, whatever), but most of all, your website is to present your demo(s). As such, even a simple one-page (not even a mobile-friendly scrollable page) will suffice, with contact info, of course. More important than length and content is that your first be impression be aces and same for your demo.

Now let’s look at some of those 18 SEO myths and see what’s changed in the past year or two.

Would you hire yourself full-time for a one-time VO job?

If our headline seems a bit jumbled, it’s meant to be – because we’re about to take a skewed look at an article in Forbes magazine, called “Ten Things I Look for When I’m Hiring.” The article is about what to look for when hiring a full-time white-collar employee. Most voice-over jobs are on a freelance, contract basis, not full-time. Hence the jumble. How relevant are these criteria to your work as a voice artist? And how well do you fare with regard to these attributes? The answer to both should be, “very.”

First, some caveats ...

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