Voice Over Education Blog

Business & Money

Why wait for VO work?

Say "NO!" to New Year's resolutions. Instead make positive changes when you come across them. Why wait???? It makes no sense. Some examples from daily life:

  • You realize you need to pee. We don't mean to be indelicate, but didn't your parents once tell you, "You should have thought of that before we left"? They were right. Go now, rather than at some more awkward moment.
  • You have a good idea? Write it down. Or make a song of it that you can remember. Or send yourself a phone message. Anything but waiting till later. Odds are, you'll forget.
  • You come across a way to get more VO work. Why wait? Make it a "self-fulfilling" resolution by getting your rear end in gear now!

Let's look closer at that last one ...

How will you come across ways to get more voice work? The range of possibilities is virtually infinite. We can't predict which one of the countless ways you might encounter in the coming year. But we can help you seek and recognize opportunities that are suited to you, and expand the germ of an idea, and help you match yourself precisely to the opportunity.

There are lots of ways to get more VO work now:

Should you ever volunteer to do voice-over for free?

Here at Edge Studio, we've long made the point that a well-trained voice artist is already experienced when he or she produces a demo and enters the VO job market. Our course plan covers a wide range of script and directorial situation in the student's particular genre(s) or specialty, with comprehensive coaching and realistic performance situations, and what's more, we provide experience in business development and other aspects of our field.

Still, when starting your voice-over career, additional experience is almost always a plus. (In fact, it's a plus throughout your career!)

One way to add to your experience is volunteer work. But should you volunteer to do voice work for free? There are pros and cons, so read on...

Both schools of thought are valid. There are reasons to provide free services, and there are reasons not to.

Why you should not volunteer your services for free.

When are you done with a home-studio recording session? Part 2 of 2.

NOTE: This is the second post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 1!

Last week we reviewed what to do after the rare session at a client’s studio. Now let’s look at what you should do after a session at your home studio – 99% of most talent situations. Maybe the client is on the phone or another connection. Maybe there is a remote director. Or maybe your client is just listening-in as an observer or sounding board.

Even if (especially if) you’re working alone and largely self-directing, what all should you do at the end?

If you’re being remotely directed in your home studio, it’s the same situation as when working away: When the client is satisfied, the session is over.

But what you do next is somewhat different.

After a remote session, anyone can disconnect through a simple click, with little or no notice, and there may have no chance (or even desire) to schmooze. It’s not the same as when, in person, you must at least hang around long enough to grab your bag and put on your coat.

So get the “paperwork” executed before you record. If the hiring process proceeded too quickly for a formal contract, and especially if the client balks at signing a contract, you should have obtained an email from the client’s business email address that stipulates the details of the job, including your policy regarding revisions, script changes, etc.

Obviously, you can’t exchange physical business cards, so also get names and contact info before the session, preferably in an email from the client or producer. Otherwise, consider recording their contact details (including spellings) while you’re recording; it’s faster than writing.

When is your session at the client’s studio really done? Part 1 of 2.

NOTE: This is the first post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 2!

Sessions at a client’s studio (rather than your own home studio) are increasingly rare, but maybe that’s even more reason to review how to wrap one up. In an “away” situation, it may be your last chance to do everything right. Unless, of course, you DO everything right ... which will increase your odds of having more chances to come!

So, what should you do when your away-session is done?

The answer to this question depends partly on whether you’re being directed, even if the director is also the engineer or your client.

If the client is present (and/or client’s ad agency, etc.), that’s good. Even if the client is just tagging along, it’s good to have their immediate feedback, because they’re there to approve it. If they have any script changes, the voice actor can make them.

If the client wants to participate more actively, let them. (If the client is inexperienced at audio recording sessions, you might have to be a bit more diplomatic than if working with an experienced Director, but take them seriously. If you try to change them, they might hire another voice actor who is more welcoming of their input.)

Also, working with the client makes it a more personal relationship, which in turn increases the likelihood of having the client come back to you for future work.

Decades a lurker, radio drama comes back as a podcast.

To adapt a famous radio program intro, “Who knows what imagination lurks in the minds of humankind?” Without a shadow of a doubt, the listeners of radio dramas knew. And now, so do podcast listeners. The heyday of radio drama gave way to television drama, but the genre never entirely died. It survived here and there -- on radio, records, on-stage and the Internet – till now it has been coming back, in a big way.

Well, bigger. And it’s growing. It’s GROWING! We mean, it’s (SFX: EXPLOSION)...

In the 1960’s there was radio’s Firesign Theater, a comedy troupe delivering sophisticated absurdity on Los Angles radio stations, in an improvisational style but very carefully scripted. By the mid-’70s, Firesign’s four original performers had gone their own ways, but they also stuck together, performing on records and on stage now and then, in various formats, as recently as 2011.

In the early 1980’s, National Public Radio serially broadcast at least two of the first Star Wars stories, with their scripts greatly expanded to suit the extra available time, and in many ways even more vividly imagined. (For example, there was more character development and backstory, while the torture and garbage bin scenes were as gruesome as the listener’s imagination will allow.)

At the same time, Bob and Ray were on the radio, with their own brand of radio “drama” in the form of short skits about the loony family of “Mary Backstage, Noble Wife.” (The title itself was a play on an old radio program about marriage amid the footlights, called “Mary Noble, Backstage Wife.”)

Also about that time, Garrison Keillor was introducing America to Lake Woebegone and other dramatic characters residing on The Prairie Home Companion. Keillor has retired, but the program continues to feature radio dramas, complete with live sound effects, using techniques still very much alive in the film industry’s Foley studios.

Should voice actors accept buy-out jobs?

Ring, ring goes your phone. Or “bloop,” you’ve got an email from a prospective client. It’s an interesting job. But either explicitly stated, or reading between the lines, you see that it’s a buyout – an “in perpetuity” job or audition. No residuals. Theirs to use forever, in any way they wish.

Still, it’s an interesting opportunity. Should you be interested?

The obvious answer is, can you make your next mortgage payment and if not, will this cover it? At the other extreme is if you’re a union member and may accept this type of work only on union contract terms.

But there are many genres in which SAG-AFTRA or other union membership is not relevant, and situations where your actual existence is not at stake. At what point are you selling a valuable service for a simple, fairly valued price, and when do you begin to sell your soul?

The issue of “in perpetuity” has been discussed among talent almost in perpetuity itself. There is no absolute answer. But here are some questions to ask yourself before asking a potential client about this. Our point in these is that it’s not a black-and-white issue, and there might be self-limiting factors. Above all, our point is that you should think about it fully and carefully.

Is exclusivity also an issue? It’s not the same issue, but it is related. A voice actor could voice an ad for one advertiser, then for a competing advertiser several years later, without anyone objecting or listeners even noticing. But if sold “in perpetuity” and the two campaigns thus might run simultaneously, that potentially becomes a problem. Understandably, future prospective clients might at least want to have been warned. If you always sell your voice in perpetuity, the universe of non-conflicting clients begins to close in on your career.

Is it a genre or market where vocal identity is not a significant issue?

Laws you should know about before you start podcasting

Are you thinking of producing a podcast? 57-million Americans listen to podcasts every month (that’s 23% more than last year!), and although the lion’s share of that is driven by major TV networks (such as ESPN) and traditional radio outlets, you don’t have to be big to get on the bandwagon. Technically it’s easier than ever go from wannabe to podcaster in a couple of hours.

But hold up for a few hours more. You’ll be competing with heavy players, and the average podcast listener follows only five shows a week, so it’s helpful to adopt “best practices.” One of those practices is an understanding of podcasting-related legal issues. What’s legal to say and do?

This is not legal advice for any jurisdiction, and the rules and laws, etc. vary from place to place. We encourage you to investigate critical issues further, to find what details apply to you and your needs. This list may not be complete. Our purpose here is just to suggest issues some people overlook and to give you a place to start.

We don’t mean to be discouraging. Rather, we want to help you pursue your podcasting ambitions with energy and confidence.

Rather than give you legal advice, we advise you to obtain expert legal guidance, or at least educate yourself a bit – browse the Web and read up on the subject before proceeding on what might be mistaken assumptions. There are some helpful links in the text, and at the end of this article. In particular, whether or not you intend to grant some form of re-use rights to your podcast, you should review the Creative Commons Podcasting Legal Guide.

So, what are some of the legal issues that every podcaster should be aware of?

Copyright of works by others

Will you use copyrighted recordings in your production? In most cases, you’ll need appropriate permission – first.

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:

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 ...

Choosing a tax preparer for your voice-over business

Some people have a head for rules and numbers, . . . some other people don’t -- but manage to deal with them anyway, . . . and other people are better off assigning such work to someone else. Taxes are like that. For your voice-over business, you probably keep the books yourself. Do you prepare your taxes yourself? Would you have more time and/or peace of mind if you hired a tax preparer or accountant? Or will software do the trick?

We’ll let you evaluate the software approach, as there are reviews online, and trial periods or even free name-brand tax and accounting products to choose from. To those resources we’ll just add a few observations:

  • Sometimes the software is free for the Federal tax return, but you then have to buy the State module to complete the task.
  • Bookkeeping software, which can interface with the publisher’s tax software, is helpful only if you use the bookkeeping. If you fail to maintain your computerized records on a regular basis, it won’t magically automate your tax return, and your job at tax time will be even bigger.
  • Popular software is designed to be used by an entire range of people and/or small businesses. As voice talent, you are in a particular kind of business, and may need to make some judgments related specifically to the VO or acting industry. Does it know, for example, that you can deduct a suit purchased for use on-camera, but only if you NEVER wear it otherwise?
  • There may be additional forms or taxes related to your business. These may or may not be included in the software package. In fact, you might not even know about them till rudely informed by a penalty notice.

We think we have the above examples correct, but as with anything we say here regarding taxes or the law, consult your financial or legal advisor.

Which brings us back to our topic: How do you find such an advisor?

Talent agents, casting directors, etc. Who does what?

What’s the difference between a talent agent and a casting director? Once you know the difference, it becomes very clear. But many people new to the acting business, and even more of those outside of it don’t know the difference. So, in a few words: Essentially, a talent agent is hired by the actor to represent the actor. The actor’s agent looks out for talent’s interests, working on their behalf (the very definition of “agent”). A casting director is the agent of a producer (or an ad agency, etc.). They are hired by the producer or the end-client, and their allegiance is to that side of the production chain. But is the distinction really so simple?

No. We’ll need a few more words ...

First, let’s clarify the word “agent.” In the business of product marketing and marketing communications, there are all kinds of agents. There are casting agencies, advertising agencies, media agencies, marketing agencies, sales agents, and so on. Some agents have virtually nothing to do with voice-over. For example, although a sales agent (also known as a sales representative) might state the need for a commercial to help their selling efforts, they are unlikely to be involved in casting.

So who does decide what voice talent to hire? The answer to that is “it depends.”

Talent Agent: As noted above, the talent agent’s client is the talent, and they generally handle more than casting. They also negotiate for you, oversee contracts, handle invoicing and payments, etc. And yet, although the talent agent is paid by talent (generally via commission), they must also satisfy the producer to do their job successfully.

VO freelancer, do you know about Freelancers Union?

SAG-AFTRA, Equity, and other unions are important to many actors. As a voice actor, you should at least be aware of them. And as a freelancer, you should also be aware of Freelancers Union (freelancersunion.org). A non-profit organization founded in 1995 as “Working Today,” it now has reportedly more than 300,000 members nationwide. And it states its goal as to benefit the almost 54 million independent workers in America, by making “freelancing better now and in the future through joint benefits, live member events, expert guides, and online networking opportunities.”

Working Today morphed into Freelancers Union in 2001 (by the way, there’s no apostrophe in the name), to provide group healthcare insurance to people who didn’t have access to employer-based insurance. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, Freelancers Union no longer has group plans but does have a private exchange that offers some individual healthcare coverages through major suppliers in most states.

The organization continues to offer various other coverages, including Dental, Term Life, Liability, and Disability. They also have a Retirement Plan. (We don’t necessarily endorse these or any specific Freelance Union program or proposal. You might find better or more economical plans elsewhere. But they are worth considering.)

Membership in Freelancers Union is free. The only fee connected with enrollment is optional if you enroll in an insurance program.

There are other benefits to joining, including a Member Directory, discounts on products and services used by freelancers, member-to-member discounts, connections to services, a newsletter/blog, social networking online and through meetups, guides and templates, and legal advocacy.

Want to make more of your time? Make a list!

Lists are important to voice-over in many ways. You encounter lists in copy, and there are various ways to read them. There are lists of characters you may want to develop. Don’t just keep them in your head, write them down as you watch their characteristics grow. In a past article, we’ve even advised making a list of things you want but don’t really need or can’t afford – for some of them, somehow, writing them down decreases the distractive yearning. But most of all, making a list will help you make the most of your time. For example ...

Schedule your day. What’s a schedule if not a list? Not only will it help assure you do everything that needs doing, but it will also remind you that there's more to do when you've gone long. If you're going long on one scheduled task, it's generally time to move on to the next. (That is unless it's a job that needs to be recorded now!) Be sure it includes some time each day for practice.

Make a list of what you’ll practice at. Practice isn’t just for novices. A professional VO talent should practice every day, for many reasons. To help keep the voice and breath in shape (preserving and enhancing range, stamina, limberness, etc.). To explore potential new genres and specialties. To critically listen and spot bad habits (and good ones!) and much more. On the subject of practice, see these articles by Edge Studio coach Danielle Quisenberry (“Improve Your Daily Practice”) and former Edge Studio coach Kristin Price (“How to Keep Your Sanity”). [As well as one we've added since: "Up your game: What to include in your daily VO practice." -- Editor]

Follow your VO passion? Or love the one you’re with?

Do you dream of doing voice-over work? Should you pursue your passion? Let’s talk about that, starting with the other extreme.

If anyone knows about occupations that are not typically considered “dream” jobs, it’s actor, presenter and voice talent Mike Rowe, the host of TV’s “Dirty Jobs.” Although those pursuits may not be dream jobs, the people he profiles seem pretty enthusiastic about their work and are careful to do it well. Rowe has noted their dedication. It’s why he says, “Don’t follow your passion.”


Rowe has been making this point for years. He says, “'Follow your passion' is terrible advice.”

We hasten to elaborate – he means it’s bad to give such advice to someone you know nothing about. People shouldn’t follow their passion blindly. His point is that only being passionate about something does not necessarily make you good at it. Passion alone is okay for a hobby, but not necessarily for making a living.

Using his own life as an example, Rowe relates how his grandfather was a natural carpenter. Mike took all the shop classes in school, but by age 16, it had become obvious that he didn’t have his grandparent’s genius with lumber. On seeing a project that Mike brought home from wood shop, his grandfather advised him, “Mike, you can still be a tradesman, but only if you get yourself a different kind of toolbox.”

So, as an adult, after trying his hand at various types of performance jobs, he found a trade that he does excel at: Narration and hosting (although he characterizes his on-camera “Dirty Jobs” role more as being a stand-in for the viewer).

Financial planning for the voice-over professional

Where will you be financially 10-20-30 years from now? If you’re a U.S. taxpayer, you may or may not be confident that the Social Security system will still be around when you retire. In any case, it’s best to think of Social Security Income as a foundation, not your full retirement income. So you most likely want to do some additional retirement planning. Whatever your age, the time to start on that is now.

We’re not financial advisors, except to advise everyone to educate themselves on financial planning issues, or seek the advice of a reputable expert. If you use an accountant for your taxes, they may be able to advise you, but be aware that a tax preparer may or may not also be a financial planner. Or they may not view overall planning to be what you hired them for, so they might not give you important guidance unless you ask. Discuss that with them – ask if there is anything that you as a solo practitioner should be aware of, or should be doing, that they just assumed you have covered elsewhere. Meanwhile, here are a few more planning tips ...

Reading is good. With the Internet, self-education has never been easier. But so is self-inundation. Be sure what you’re reading is current, and that the author has no particular axe to grind. For example, the array of self-employed and employee retirement account options (IRAs, 401(k), etc.) has changed over time. So has your age. For a dry but dispassionate overview or your options, breeze over to IRS.gov, starting at www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-sponsor/types-of-retirement-plans-1. And while you’re there, click around further.

How do you spell voice-over? Does it matter?

In the voice-over world, what does it matter how you spell stuff? We’re audio, right? So who cares how anyone spells the word “voice-over”? Should it be “voiceover,” instead? Or two separate words, as we’ve spelled it at EdgeStudio.com for many years?

Well, we care. So, as you may have noticed over the past couple months, we've revised our spelling of “voice-over” in new content. (Existing content will take a while to convert.) It’s a decision born of long, painstaking research, involving, ... uh ... involving a phone call to our web developer and a quick check of a few dictionaries. Sorry we didn’t check with you, but let’s do that now ...

First, it may help to review the typical evolution of a “combination” word in the English language. Usually, it begins as one word modifies another, and the combination becomes popular for whatever reason. For example, the term “solid state.” When semiconductors were invented, this combination was coined to describe them, and the term was spelled as two separate words. But when used as an adjective, that can get confusing. Suppose you’re talking (to quickly grab a tortured example) about a really well-planned, publicly-owned transportation system within, oh, Nebraska. You might say the region has a “solid state railroad system.” In other words, it’s a robust system, within that state. It has nothing to do with semiconductors, but the phrase could be mistakenly read that way. So, to avoid confusion, two-word phrases often gain a hyphen over time. That way, if you refer to a “solid-state railroad system,” it’s clear that the trains are somehow run electronically.

A Strategic Approach to Voice-over Industry Networking

Some years ago, Edge Studio conducted an informal survey of our newsletter readers, asking their most effective strategy for securing new clients. “Referrals” came in first. Second was “Networking.” Actually, these amount to one and the same.

How well do you network among voice-over industry professionals? Successful networking requires as much effort as anything else in your career-development activities. By networking more purposefully, you’ll increase your odds of success. Here’s how:

To continue reading, click here.

Personal networking might be the oldest communications media of all. In Neolithic societies, one social group would seek out another social group, if only to find suitable spouses for their daughters.

Networking has become quite a lot more sophisticated since then (and a person might argue that today it’s the sons who often need special promotional effort), but a person who metaphorically makes arrowheads still often benefits from meeting someone who has an oversupply of feathers and shafts.

So it is in the voice-over industry. No person can meet every casting need, so by connecting with other voice-over talent, you may eventually find yourself being referred for a job that another voice actor isn’t right for, or doesn’t have time to do. And vice versa.

But, all too often, people just show up at a schmoozefest, chat a little, exchange cards, and fail to keep in touch. No real connection. It amounts to a little bit of effort, producing even less results.

So here’s the plan ...

Approach Networking with Purpose.

A Strategic Approach to Voice-over Industry Networking

Some years ago, Edge Studio conducted an informal survey of our newsletter readers, asking their most effective strategy for securing new clients. “Referrals” came in first. Second was “Networking.” Actually, these amount to one and the same.

How well do you network among voice-over industry professionals? Successful networking requires as much effort as anything else in your career-development activities. By networking more purposefully, you’ll increase your odds of success. Here’s how:

Personal networking might be the oldest communications media of all. In Neolithic societies, one social group would seek out another social group, if only to find suitable spouses for their daughters.

Networking has become quite a lot more sophisticated since then (and a person might argue that today it’s the sons who often need special promotional effort), but a person who metaphorically makes arrowheads still often benefits from meeting someone who has an oversupply of feathers and shafts.

So it is in the voice-over industry. No person can meet every casting need, so by connecting with other voice-over talent, you may eventually find yourself being referred for a job that another voice actor isn’t right for, or doesn’t have time to do. And vice versa.

But, all too often, people just show up at a schmoozefest, chat a little, exchange cards, and fail to keep in touch. No real connection. It amounts to a little bit of effort, producing even less results.

So here’s the plan ...

Approach Networking with Purpose.

Got a VO swipe file? Your secret source of fresh ideas!

Cartoonists do it. Copywriters do it. We don’t know if educated fleas do it, but we do it. So should you. Let’s talk about building a swipe file.

A swipe file is a collection of thoughts, ideas, observations, practices, whatever potentially inspiring information you happen to encounter in your daily activities. You’ll probably have no particular use for the thought or observation at the time you save it, but since it’s interesting or different, it might be useful sometime in the future. Make it your constant pal.

Something “interesting” could be anything – voice, a mannerism, promotional idea, turn of phrase, occasion, situation, tactic, motivation – simply add it to your file. Then, when you’re stuck for an idea, it’s the first place to look. You’ll probably find a bunch of prototypes you can swipe, improve and adapt to whatever need is at hand.

If the idea of “swiping” an idea doesn’t appeal to you, you can call it a “tickler” file, or an “idea” or “inspiration” file. But really, it’s not simply about “swiping,” per se. It’s about freshening your memory, getting out of a mental rut, planting seeds, and synergy. It’s about adaptation and creativity. It’s about taking an existing idea (or more than one) and combining or modifying it to make it your own. And yes, sometimes in a pinch, it may remind you of something to copy.

Even Newton needed an apple.

Whatever, when you add to and draw from your swipe file regularly, it becomes a treasure trove of fresh ideas. Also review your file from time to time just for the heck of it; with the different perspective and a more open mind, you may notice yet another seed for a new idea.

Here are some ways to use your resource:

How to avoid procrastination -- The answer is finally here. Part Two.

NOTE: This is the second post in a two-part article. Click here to read part one!

Last week we sorted through some common reasons people have for procrastinating when it comes to furthering – or beginning – their voice-over careers. But recognizing “reasons” for what they may really be – excuses – is only a start to the solution. Here are some practical things you can do, based on way, way too much practical experience.

Procrastination can be a good thing or a bad thing. If you’re not prepared to make your move – particularly if you (and your demo coach) are not able to produce a competitive demo that expresses your particular capabilities, goals and personality – it’s good to wait. A poorly produced or lackluster demo, or one that doesn’t truly represent your current capabilities, can destroy a career before it gets rolling. But meanwhile, keep at the process of developing your skills. Make that first demo a goal. The fact that you’re not ready to record it should not be an excuse to take things easy. After all, having no demo will also keep your career from getting off the ground. That would be bad.

Ready, Set, Ready, Set, R... How to stop procrastinating. Part One of Two.

NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Click here to read part two!

Just about everybody procrastinates at something, to one extent or another. Including voice talent at all levels of experience and stages in their careers. What have you been putting off? Do you have good reasons for delaying? Sometimes there are some. But are yours really good reasons, or just excuses? If the former, when does a delay turn bad? And if the latter, how can you get off that dime and start making more dollars?

What are we talking about really?

If you’re experienced talent, maybe you’re putting off freshening your demo or expanding your genre capabilities. Or, you’re coasting on your current client list, you’ve been putting off plans and activities for finding new clients. It would be wise to start. New-client marketing can boost your career, or improve the quality of your client list, or readily fill the hole when a longtime client goes away.

If you’re a budding talent, maybe you’ve put off making your first demo. Have you become a perpetual student? In VO, as we say, “learning never ends.” But learning alone is not a VO career.

Or maybe you’ve pulled the trigger but delayed doing your marketing homework. A voice-over career is (roughly) 20% recording, 80% business activities. Don’t put off the latter. Unless you’re doing the business stuff, you’re either very lucky or probably don’t have a sustaining career.

Or maybe you’re still eyeing the possibility of a voice-over career, but haven’t begun to work with a coach.

Let’s take these in reverse order. What are some excuses, and solutions to them?

EXCUSE: I don’t have time for voice-over training. I have a full-time job and/or other responsibilities.

A checklist for DIY SEO’ing your voice-over website. Part 3 of 3.

NOTE: This is the third in a 3-part article. Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.

In previous posts, we talked about how (and why) to make your website more interesting to search engines, in order to turn up higher in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). We also cautioned about heeding some of the SEO advice you’ll find online, as some of it is outdated and doesn’t reflect some of the major search engines’ current practices. And we noted several sites that do have good advice worth following.

Now let’s take a look at specific steps you can take to optimize your site, things that won’t quickly be outdated.

NOTE: Remember that optimizing your own site is only one of the three important SEO components. The other two are cultivating inbound links, and social-media presence. See Parts One and Two regarding those!

Website SEO

Start with the basics. Have a plan to expand your site, but don’t begin by tasking yourself with a big project. Priority #1 is for you to have a site that will speak quickly and clearly to your prospective clients about what you do, what benefits you offer, and easy links to download or play your demo. This can be accomplished with merely a home page, a bio page, a link to your acting and/or VO resume in PDF format, and a contact page.

NOTE: SEO is important to all search engines, not just Google, Bing and Yahoo. But, since Google holds 2/3 of the U.S. market, and a comparable share worldwide (including China’s Baidu and Russia’s Yandex search engines), we’ll focus on Google’s practices here. The principles are generally the same for other major search sites.

If you haven’t yet built your site:

What goes into Search Engine Optimizing a VO website? Part 2 of 3.

NOTE: This is the second in a 3-part article. Click here to read Part 1, and Part 3.

In our last post, we introduced the subject of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for voice talent websites. Now that we’ve explained generally what “organic SEO,” is, why it’s important, why not to obsess over it, and things to watch out for, let’s look at specific concerns.

What are the elements of organic SEO?

Organic SEO rests on three legs:

  • The content of your own website. How it’s organized, what it’s about (including the presence of keywords), and some of the content-laden HTML codes within its source code.
  • Links to your site from other sites of value. Just having a fair number of legitimate inbound connections is probably of value to you – it suggests that other people think your site is important. But the focus of those other sites is also relevant.
  • Social media. For example, you might regularly participate in forum discussions (if the forum is publicly accessible, a search engine most likely catalogs it). Or you might have a blog. Or you might have a professional Facebook page. Or you tweet, etc. Whatever works for you. If it relates to your voice-over services, it reflects on your site. And just as important, it makes you directly visible to prospective clients.

You can pursue these tasks in parallel, or you can do one, then start on the other. We suggest you first focus on your website, making sure it’s every bit as professional-looking and easy to use as it should be. If it’s not yet ready for prime time, attracting people to it via links and social media could be counterproductive.

How to SEO your VO website, PDQ. Part 1 of 3.

NOTE: This is the first post in a 3-part article. Click here to read Part 2 and Part 3

If your promotional materials -- email, letter, business card, attachment demo, etc. don’t spur a prospective client to phone or email you right off, they should at least inspire a visit your website.

But how do you entice total strangers to visit your site? Answer: help search engines to learn about it, by helping them understand what it’s about, and legitimately demonstrating that you’re an authority in your particular subject. That’s called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It helps your site get a higher ranking when someone searches for a specialty of yours. It’s also a potentially complex, detail-laden project that can drive you bonkers. Here’s how to approach SEO in a sane, practical way. ...

Why optimize?

Most search engine users rarely look beyond the first or second page of search results. Therefore, every site owner would like their site to appear in the top 10 hits, for every possible search involving their subject. Obviously not everyone can appear on the first page, let alone show up for every possible combination of search words. The odds are nil that your humble little website will show up anywhere near the top for the simple term “voice over.”

To complicate things further, your own tests might be unreliable. The search engine might know (from a variety of ways) that it’s you who’s searching for your site, and, tailor its results to you. It’s nice that they try to show you what you’re looking for. It’s lousy for researching your site’s search results. There are some ways to minimize that effect, but maybe the easiest is to double-check from a friend’s computer or a public location.

7 Ways better billing practices lead to better billings.

Work in any field long enough, and you’ll encounter a client who’s slow, or even fails to pay. Wondering if the new client you’ve just accepted will be one of those jobs, can be nerve-wracking ... and in a business where maintaining a calm, relaxed manner is a large component of your livelihood, that’s not a good mental state to be in.

Most often by far, payments are not a problem. You’ll be paid on time, or sometimes a bit late but at least eventually. Here are some suggestions for making your collections situation as calm as you are at the mic.

First, let us reiterate. Most clients are as professional as you are. They pay their electric bill, they pay their taxes, and they’ll pay you. But it’s often hard to tell before taking on a new client whether or not they’ll be an exception. Even an existing client might become slow to pay you if their financial or cash-flow circumstances change. The less time you spend hassling over such situations, the more time you’ll have for landing new clients and doing more work.

So, the 7 tips:

1. Try to be paid in advance, or at least, on delivery. Many clients, especially small or entrepreneurial ones, are willing. (And at Voices.com, it’s even required – clients pay Voices.com upon engagement, and the amount is held in escrow until you deliver.) This is no time to have stage fright. Simply state that it is your policy, or at least it’s your policy with any new client. The worst that can happen is, either they will tell you what their payment policy is (and you can decide if that’s acceptable), or they will not hire you (in which case they may not have been a serious or reliable client anyway).

Can you use copyrighted material in your demo? Part Two: Can you vs. Should you.

NOTE: This is the second post in a two-part article. Click here to read part one!

Last week we discussed copyright issues involved with using a paid job on your demo. Now let’s turn to the situation when you record an audition, or a “pretend” production made specifically for your demo. (And a reminder: This applies to voice talent at all experience levels, because everyone needs a fresh, up-to-date demo and most everyone should continually expand or strengthen their capabilities and client opportunities.) What may you use, and what should you?

If you were not paid for the job, or (more to the point) if it was a demo or a “pretend” production, the issues are more complex. This is where the questions shift from “May I” to “Should I?”

First, the “May I?” issues ...

May you use someone else’s script?

Using a script from (for example) an actual commercial, invites various complications. For one, you don’t own the copyright to that script. The legal principle of “Fair Use” says copyrighted material can be used as long as not directly used to make a profit, but opinions differ as to what constitutes “directly.” You’re not charging people to listen, but your aim is, after all, to land a paying client.

In Part 1, we cited a passage in the book Voice Over Legal by attorney Robert J. Sciglimpaglia Jr. On that page, he also said:

... there is a popular misconception in the voice over business that once a commercial airs, the copy is free to poach and use on demos. This is NOT the case, as that copy was probably copyrighted by the advertising agent or author of that copy.

Can you use copyrighted material in your demo? It’s not a simple case of yes or no.

NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Click here to read part two!

My, how time flies! In our newsletter a dozen years ago, we wrote a few lines about using copyrighted material in demos. And in Should you write your own demo copy? last January, we wrote about how to write demo copy yourself.

It’s a multifaceted issue that deserves revisiting. In fact, even this article can only touch on the various factors involved. That’s one reason why a coach is so important in producing your demo. Not only does an experienced, knowledgeable demo coach play the invaluable role of director, he or she can advise on the script material you (plural) will choose together. It’s not just what you may and may not do, it’s also what you should and should not do.

First, there two fundamental types of demo material: 1) Jobs you were hired to voice and were paid for, and 2) “Simulated” jobs that sound just as good or better in every respect, and that accurately represent what you can do under pressure.

It almost goes without saying that you typically can use a paid recording on your demo, IF it is okay with the client – and by “client” in this case we mean the copyright owner or their agent, not just the producer or whoever paid you. Clients rarely withhold their permission for work that has been openly published. That is, commercials that have aired, products that have been marketed, or other types of recordings that can be heard by the general public.

How To Write Your Bio: It’s about you. And it’s not.

People like working with people they like. Above all, clients want a quality product that meets their needs, but they can usually get that from a choice of providers. Who to choose, and who they look forward to giving repeat business to, is often decided by who will be most fun, interesting, easy, and/or productive (etc.) to work with. That’s why every voice over talent should have a bio on their website and be ready to give it to whoever can use it. That way, when a client makes the all-important choice of talent, your bio moves them to choose you.

With the vast majority of voice over jobs being produced off-site (that is, from your own studio), a professional bio is more important than ever. It helps a client feel they know you, even though they’ve never met you, and it gives them an idea of what makes you special.

A good professional bio is therefore much more than a resume. In fact, it may not be a resume at all – you already have one of those, right? (Right?)

Your bio is more about your personality, about the background that is the foundation of your ideas and contributions, about special personal qualities that you bring to the session. It might hint that you have some interesting (constructive) stories to tell. Or, if you have a celebrity quality about you (or if you travel in celebrity circles), your bio even suggests (tacitly or subconsciously) that a bit of that celebrity might rub off on the client. (Or make the client feel like a celebrity, too.)

So, to that extent, your bio is about you.

But it’s not all about you. It’s also about matching you to your prospective client and their needs. There are lots of things about you that don’t relate to their needs -- things that aren’t relevant to what you’ll contribute ... things they don’t want or need to know.

Inquiring clients want to know

How much are you worth? Why even a beginner can charge “experienced talent” VO rates

How much to charge is naturally a very common question. Answers range from absurdly little to unrealistically large, and even those extremes are sometimes valid. If there’d been voice over in Adam Smith’s day, he'd have said it's determined by the "invisible hand" of supply and demand. But is that a practical approach to use day-to-day, job-to-job? You know what and how much you can supply. But there’s an almost unlimited range of variables on the demand side. Apart from using a published scale (e.g., union scale) as a guideline, how do you know?

Factors that might influence the price of a particular job include:

  • The size of the product market or advertising market
  • What the client will bear
  • Whether the client is worth having
  • Is it truly a repeat-business relationship (not just a promise of one)
  • How your work will be used, and where, and how often
  • An intermediary’s specification (e.g., via a casting site or referral)
    and more.

So rather than simply ask “how much should I charge,” the easier rule of thumb is “how much am I worth?” The answer to that question will enable you to rule out jobs and clients that are not worth your time, rather than have to try to calculate their value.

First, though, let’s get the “published rates” issue out of the way, because they’re at least a place to start.

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