Reinventing Your Craft

Voice acting is about story-telling. There… I’ve said it!

It’s not about how you read the script. And it’s not about your performing technique. And it’s definitely not about “selling,” Continue reading Reinventing Your Voiceover Acting Craft

A Threat to Our Industry

By now, you’ve probably heard the news… and it’s probably not good news.

One of the major pay-2-play sites, specifically Voices Dot Com (VDC), has acquired Voicebank.net.

So, why is this acquisition a potential threat to the voiceover industry and why are voiceover talent at risk? There’s a pretty simple answer to that question.

For the past several years, VDC has made a variety of business decisions that have seriously undermined the fees paid for voiceover talent. The result has been the commoditization of voiceover talent and a consistent lowering of compensation paid for VO work. To be honest, most of the pay-2-play sites are guilty of this to some degree, but none to the extent of VDC.

One thing I noticed several years ago was that VDC, more than other pay-2-play sites, seemed to be intent on serving the talent buyers – and themselves – much more than their customers. The shift in the VDC business model has been well documented by other voice talent and VO blog sites, so I won’t get into the details here. The important thing to keep in mind is just who are VDC’s customers? Here’s a hint… it’s NOT the talent buyers – they don’t pay a dime for the service beyond the negotiated talent fee.

You, the voice actor subscribing to the audition service are their customers. Any reputable business with good business ethics will work hard to retain customer loyalty by serving their customers. But that’s apparently not what VDC does. Sure, on the surface and in their marketing, they’ll make your subscription sound like the best thing you can do for your VO business. But once you’ve paid your fee, they’ll put you in a bidding war to compete for work (which ultimately drives the price of voiceover work down), they’ll take an often unrealistic commission for the work you do (I’ve heard that can be up to 80% of the talent fee), and on top of that, they’ll hold they money you’ve earned in an escrow account in order to guarantee you’ll be paid, and charge you for allowing them to manage your payment. VDC will tell you that these aspects of their business are for your benefit, but I have serious doubts about that simply because they are making money at every turn of your VO job while chipping away at your hard-earned talent fee. And I haven’t even mentioned the (very expensive) “hidden” levels of membership that garner auditions for the prime, highest-paying gigs. As a regular VDC subscriber, you’ll never see these auditions.

Granted, VDC is in business to make a profit, but in my opinion, the business tactics they use are, at best, questionable, and more likely highly unethical. But far be it for me to tell someone else how to run their business. VDC has clearly been very successful with their business model, even though that’s not how I choose to run my business. 

The way in which a pay-2-play site serves you, the voice actor, as their customer reveals a lot about the company in general. 

A new twist…

VDC’s recent acquisition of Voicebank.net is likely a major game-changer. The purchase of Voicebank.net in August 2017, is a clear indicator of VDC’s intention to dominate the voiceover world. And, in my opinion, there is no way that can be seen as a good thing – for either the voice actor or for businesses that use voiceover talent. 

Since its launch in 1998, Voicebank.net has served as a sort of clearing house for talent agents throughout the country. The service has given represented voice actors access to auditions from talent buyers that they would otherwise never know about. And it’s given talent buyers access to literally thousands of voiceover talent represented by hundreds of reputable talent agents. That diversification was a good thing… while it lasted.

But, now that VDC has acquired Voicebank.net, the voiceover industry is likely to change. And if the history of VDC’s business model is any indication, that change will not be good for many of us working in voiceover. One potential threat is to the talent agents who have relied on Voicebank for at least some of the work they have booked for their talent. 

From what you’ve read so far, you can probably figure out that I see this acquisition as bad news for the VO world. I’ll reserve my final judgment until after the dust settles and we find out what VDC has in mind for Voicebank.net. I must say in full disclosure that VDC was a sponsor of more than one of our VOICE conventions, but that was several years ago, before some of the major shifts in their business model and the steady degrading of talent fees. I’ve met Stephanie and David and they both seem like very nice people. 

Now, what?

OK… with all that said… VDC is claiming that there will be no major changes in the way Voicebank.net operates. There is, of course, really no way of knowing what will actually happen. Time will tell. But judging from VDC’s history, I suspect some major changes in the way voiceover auditions are handled will be coming in the not-too distant future. Julie Williams’ post (linked below) covers some of the possibilities.

As with many other voice talent, coaches and talent agents, I’ve chosen to disassociate myself from VDC and I’m making my concerns with this acquisition very clear. I’m recommending to those I know who are currently listed with VDC to re-consider their association with VDC, remove their profiles and cancel their subscriptions – at least for now. If you have an agent who is listed on Voicebank.net, I’m recommending that you encourage your agent to cancel their subscription to Voicebank or at least re-evaluate the value of that relationship. It will be interesting to see how quickly – or if – VDC responds.

If you’d like to know more about this acquisition and the opinions of some of voiceovers major players, I’ve included a few links below. Just click the link for the blog or video:

Press Release:

Businesswire.com announcement of VDC acquisition of Voicebank.net

Blog Posts:

Julie Williams posts her thoughts about the acquisition

Paul Strikwerda (Nethervoice) posts his thoughts about the acquisition

Dan Friedman’s blog post about the acquisition

Videos:

Terry Daniels interviews agency owner Eric Sheppard about the VDC acquisition of Voicebank.net

Dealing with Conflicting Values

which-way-300x300Whether it’s a political position or a product or service that you don’t agree with…  Having to deal with the occasional voiceover session that might be in opposition to ones personal views or values is something every actor must deal with at one time or another. This is generally a pretty uncommon problem from my experience, but at certain times a voice actor might be requested for a session to promote a candidate, ballot proposition, product or service he or she might oppose.

There is no single correct solution to this quandary. For some, the issue is as simple as black and white, and the actor will refuse the work (and income – no matter what the fee might be). Others will take the view that they are an actor being hired to play the role of a character. They view their performance for the voice over session as being no different than if they were playing a role of “the bad guy” in a stage play or movie. If the project is a commercial and the topic is known in advance, the actor can make the decision to refuse the work. However, if the booking is accepted and the topic is not fully understood before arriving at the studio (which can, and does, happen), a serious problem may result, which could affect the performer’s future in the business. If you are hired for a session it is expected, (and in fact you are obligated under verbal or written contract), to perform to your best abilities at the session.

There’s a reason the word “acting” is a part of the voiceover business. Acting is all about taking on the attitudes and characteristics of someone or something other than the real you. It’s about pretending, it’s about play, it’s about creating illusion, and it’s about stepping beyond your true self to momentarily become someone else.

The reality of all forms of acting is that performer is playing a role of a character. The words on the script are NOT the words of the performer (unless the performer wrote the script to specifically express his or her personal point of view). The script contains the words of a character. That character may have a belief system quite similar to that of the performer playing the role, or the personality and belief system of the character may be the complete opposite. But the fact remains that the performer and the character in the script are two completely separate entities. The only exception to this is when the actor’s real name is used and they are expressing their personal opinions.

What it ultimately comes down to is the actors ability (and/or willingness) to accept the role of the character he or she is being asked to play. Not all actors are right for every role, and not all characters are right for every actor. If a role is being cast through an audition process, the actor will have a fairly good idea of the character he or she will play – and their performance at the audition will generally reflect their acceptance (or lack thereof) of the character, pretty much guaranteeing they won’t get the job – assuming they were to go through with the audition. However, many bookings are made directly from demo tapes, in which case the voice actor must be prepared to deal with a variety of situations. If personal or moral values are a serious issue with you as a voice actor, you have four options:

  1. Focus your marketing efforts on only those producers who you know work on projects that are in alignment with your personal philosophy. This will reduce the amount of work you will get, but you will avoid the conflict of having to choose to refuse work. The characters you play will most likely be close to your own personality, so your growth as an actor may be somewhat slow.
  2. Make every effort to find out as much about the message you are being asked to deliver BEFORE you accept the booking. Sometimes this just isn’t possible, and asking a lot of questions can create an image of being very choosy. If you end up refusing a lot of work based on your personal beliefs you may end up losing work by getting a reputation of being a primadonna. The world of voiceover is a relatively small community – the producers and agents all know each other and word can spread quickly.
  3. Arrive at a personal acceptance and understanding that you are playing a character, and that the character you are playing is NOT you! This can be a stretch for some and can be impossible for others. However every good actor will tell you that the only reason your character exists is to play a part in the telling of a story. And if the character is not believable, the effectiveness of the story will suffer. They will also tell you that an actor who cannot create a believable character should not be playing that character in the first place. The worst thing (and least effective performance) an actor can do is to play his or her self doing the lines of the script. The hardest thing for an actor to do is to create a believable character when that character expresses feelings, a philosophy and a belief system that is in direct opposition to that of the actor.
  4. Get out of this business – because you will find yourself constantly being frustrated and confronted with the necessity of making uncomfortable choices.

As an actor, voiceover or otherwise, we are constantly making choices about the characters we play in the scripts we perform. Our acting ability can often be challenged by a difficult script or character. Regardless of the challenges that might confront us, we are the ones who must make the choice as to how we will deal with the situation.

What's YOUR Motivation?

quote-when-an-actor-comes-to-me-and-wants-to-discuss-his-character-i-say-it-s-in-the-script-if-he-alfred-hitchcock-85799If you’ve watched any TV or movies, you’ve probably heard the phrase “What’s my motivation?” That’s a very common, and basic question that every actor needs to ask regardless of the type of performance. It’s the motivation that determines how the actor will ultimately interpret the story and play the role.

OK, sure… we might be motivated to complete a project because we want to get paid. But that’s not the motivation that counts. The important motivation is the “why” or “what” of the story in the script.

“Motivation” is the word most often used in theater, and it simply means: What is the reason behind a particular action, behavior or interpretation of a specific event taking place in the story. In the world of voiceover, we need to have a motivation for every script we work with. For those scripts that clearly tell a structured story, the motivation is often easy to understand. However, with dry, corporate or medical scripts, the motivation can often be challenging to understand. Without an understanding of what is taking place in the story, your interpretation of the script can lack inspiration and energy.

In our world of voice acting, we literally don’t have the time available to study a script in detail to determine our motivation in telling the story. A theatrical script for a play, film or television program will usually have a fairly comprehensive breakdown that explains the interaction between characters and a synopsis of each scene, or the story as a whole, that helps the actor to better understand their role.

0-backstory-mjbporion9b6hja3osvxgb7f2dxvu7psfnw54gunhsThese components also provide the actor with a history of their character and other aspects of the story. When combined, these descriptive elements form the “back story” and it is the back story that forms the foundation for every actor’s motivation.

Back story can be defined as the events or history that has led to this moment in time, or the moment in time during which the story in a script is taking place. There are two basic forms of back story:

  1. your personal back story and
  2. the character’s back story.

And each of these has two basic elements:

  1. Long-term back story – the history of events that have brought you (or the character) this this moment in time, and
  2. Immediate back story – the specific event that occurs immediately before the first words out of your mouth (or the first word in a script). Of the two, the immediate back story is the most important for a voice actor. But you may want to define a long-term back story for your character as well to provide more substance.

When performing a voiceover script, you will find it much easier to allow the character in the script to come to life. Your character’s back story is critical because:

  • it tells you exactly who you are talking to
  • it gives you the essential information about the character’s past that you need in order to effectively portray your character
  • it provides a reason, or motivation, for the story that is taking place
  • it establishes the emotion and feelings your character is experiencing
  • it always answers the question “Why?”, which is ultimately the reason your character is speaking

Although it is important to understand the full story in every voiceover script, we can take some short cuts to discovering the back story. With the exception of Audio Books, we can usually use our first line of copy to determine the back story, or simply “what just happened that causes our character to speak the words in the script.”

Sometimes a script will clearly define the back story while other times, you may have to make it up. If the back story is described in the script – take advantage of it! If you need to make up a back story, be as detailed as you can be, but be careful not to get into a long dissertation of the scene. You only need enough back story, or “pre-lif,e” to give you the inspiration on how to deliver your copy. The more real the back story is the more real your character will be and the easier it will be for you to get off the page with your performance.

Here are a few tools you can use to make your back story more real:

  1. visualizeUse visualization to create a vivid mental image of the scene for the immediate back story
  2. Use sense memory techniques to recall an experience from your own life that is similar to the emotion or feeling your character is expressing in the script.
  3. Observe the physical sensations that come up when you recall a past experience. Hold onto that physical tension and speak from that place in your body as you MOVE during your performance.
  4. Remember that Movement Orchestrates Vocal Expression. MOVE your body and your face to create the appropriate energy for the attitude and moment. “If your body isn’t moving, the only thing people will hear are the words.” (Bob Bergen)
  5. Use a lead-in line to verbalize the back story (the action that leads to your character speaking) and to bring you up to full speed for the first word of the copy. Your lead-in line could be an ad-lib response to what the person you are speaking to just did or said.

The more effectively you can create a back story for your character, the more real your character will be in your imagination. In most cases, the goal of voice acting is to allow the real you to step aside and allow the character in the copy to speak through you, expressing the mood, emotion and feelings that are in the script.

Shirley MacClaine was once asked to describe her thoughts on acting. Her response was: “It’s all about listening and forgetting who you are”. Remember, its not you saying the words on the script – its the character in the copy who is really saying those words. Learn to “forget who you are” and let yourself step aside so the character can become real.

Listen to how your character is speaking and make adjustments as needed, but be careful not to impose your personal attitudes on the character. You need to develop your performing skills to a point where this becomes automatic and you don’t have to think about it. When you reach that point, you will be able to bring any back story – and character – to life.

Acting Technique & More... a Refresher


refresherEvery actor knows that there are a number of fundamental techniques and processes that must be understood, mastered and applied in order to create a compelling and believable performance. If you’ve studied voice acting at all, you’ve probably been taught at least a few of these techniques and you may have even developed your own process for wood-shedding and creating your performance. 

Every once in a while, it’s helpful to review some of those things we already know, if for no other reason than to simply remind ourselves that we are on track and working in a way that is moving us forward.

If you’ve read my book, “The Art of Voice Acting,” or if you’ve attended a VoiceActing Academy P.I.E. workshop, you already know what follows. If so, please allow this to be a reminder or to reinforce what you already know. 

If you haven’t read my book or attended P.I.E., what you’re about to read is just scratching the surface of voice acting. but it will give you a head start with any other study you might pursue. If you’d like to study with VoiceActing Academy, you’ll find everything you need to know at www.VoiceActing.com

The Seven Core Elements:

7-tophatThe “Seven Core Elements of Performance” is a process we’ve developed to allow a voice actor to very quickly define the critical elements of a performance and develop a strong and effective interpretation, resulting in a compelling performance. Once understood, you can use these 7 steps to quickly analyze, or woodshed, just about any script in a matter of seconds. It’s almost magical!

A = Audience:  Who are you talking to?  It will always be only one person.  Your audience is the perfect person who needs to hear the message. Define that individual and give him or her a name.  Doing this will make your delivery more conversational and believable.

B = Back Story:  The back story is the specific event that took place immediately before the first word of copy.  It’s what you are responding to. The back story is the reason why your character is saying the words in the script.  If the back story is not clearly defined in the script – make one up!  This is a very important aspect of performing from a written script because the back story sets your character’s motivation, attitude and purpose for speaking.

C = Character:  Who are you as the speaker?  Define your character in as much detail as you like.  The more details you can come up with, the more believable your character will be to you and to your audience.  Every script has a character, regardless of how poorly the script may be written or what the content of the script may be.  Find that character and give it life to take the words “off the page.”

D = Desires:  What does your character want and need as a result of speaking. This is your character’s intention or objective for speaking.

E = Energy:  There are three levels of energy that must be present in a performance in order to communicate effectively:1) Psychological Energy – the thoughts behind the words. A thought, or subtext, is the underscore of the interpretation or attitude that is necessary in order for the listener to understand the meaning. 2) Physical Energy – gestures, facial expression, posture, body language, and other physical movement. In everyday conversation, you are constantly moving. You must also be moving as you work from a script. Physical energy breathes life into the words. 3) Emotional Energy – how does your character feel about the subject or message being spoken. This has nothing to do with how you feel about the message, but rather how your character feels. These three levels of energy can change during the course of a script to create a “flow” or “arc” that results in a dynamic delivery and interpretation.

F = Forget Who You Are and Focus – One of the most challenging aspects of all forms of acting is mastering the ability of “getting out of your own way.” The basic process is that you (as the actor) step aside and allow the character you are creating to become real. Focus simply means that you must be paying attention to what you are doing with your performance. At first glance, this may seem like a contradiction. However, when the technique is mastered, Focus becomes a natural aspect the performance.

G = Gamble – Be willing to take the risk to get out of your own way and give yourself permission to do whatever is necessary to create a believable and compelling performance.

M.O.V.E. to more effectively communicate your message:

Move-itM.O.V.E stands for Movement Orchestrates Vocal Expression. This is another way of looking at the Physical Energy in a performance. The degree of your physical-ness, or physical movement, can directly affect the expression of your emotion and attitude. Movement includes facial expressions, the movement of arms, head and body, and even the posture of your body as you speak. Make some choices as to what your character’s emotions and attitudes are concerning the copy – even down to how you feel about a specific word or phrase. Every emotion has a related tension someplace in your body. Look within yourself as to how you personally feel about the copy – experience where the tension is and hold it there as you move and speak the words in the script. You may be amazed at the difference in honesty, sincerity and believability that results from simply moving your body.

Warm up before each session or performance:

cork-vaa-croppedDancers, singers and athletes warm up.  Voice actors should too!  After all, you are using very specific muscles to perform your craft.  Keep yourself “toned up” by using warm-up exercises.  Stretch your face, relax your neck and shoulders, yawn, or do your favorite tongue twisters.   Warming up will not only help you speak more clearly, but can also serve to relax you as you enter a studio for your session – and being relaxed is extremely important in order to be able to quickly find your character. 

My favorite warm-up exercise is one I call “The Cork”.  Get a cork from a wine bottle and place the cork between your teeth (I’d suggest saving the wine for later!).  With the cork between your teeth, read some copy out loud V – E – R – Y    S – L – O – W – L – Y.  Over-enunciate every vowel, consonant and syllable in every word, and make sure you clearly speak the ends of words.  Be careful that you don’t rush through little words like “a”, “in”, “the”, “if”, and so on.  You’ll find your cheeks, jaw and tongue will start to get tired after just a few minutes – but you’ll also notice that after this exercise you will speak much more clearly without sounding forced.  I have one student who uses this exercise by reading traffic signs on his way to the studio.  Another of my students keeps his cork on a chain around his neck.   This is a good one – use it.

The Conversational "Read"

During our weekly VoiceActing Academy Conductor’s Club coaching calls, we’ll often discuss a specific aspect of voiceover performance, or get into the nuts and bolts of some aspect of our business, or discuss something new in home studio or recording technology. I’ll be sharing some of those topics and tips in these blog posts. If you’d like to be part of our regular weekly coaching sessions, please visit www.ConductorsClub.com for all the details.

Now… on to this weeks topic:

We see it in audition directions. We hear it from our coaches. And our clients are constantly asking us to do it. 

It’ac38c931b069f179da7377b4_1920s the “conversational read”… and it’s a trend in voiceover delivery that has been around for awhile and shows no signs of going away any time soon. Long gone are the days of the VOG announcer, although there will be the occasional project where the big and boomy delivery style will be requested. And there will still be times when the requested delivery style is more “talking at” than “talking to.”  Continue reading The Conversational “Read”

Alternative Marketing Sites - Good, Bad, or Just Another Option?

Alternative marketing websites have become a very “hot” topic. I’m talking about sites like Fiverr, Odesk and Elancer, among others.

If you’re not famMarketing16iliar with these type of marketing sites, their basic concept is that they attract prospects by offering services at “discount” prices. This discount concept flies in the face of traditional marketing and is often considered to be “low-balling” or “undercutting” prices, often to the point where some conventional voiceover (and other) professionals consider these discount services Continue reading Alternative Marketing Sites – Good, Bad, or Just Another Option?

A Government Controlled Internet

The Internet is a huge part of our daily lives. As voice talent, it is also a critical part of our business. We receive scripts, negotiate contracts and deliver recordings all via the Internet.

This coming February 26, the FCC will be voting on a proposal by Chairman Tom Wheeler for “Net Neutrality” – a vote that, if voted in, would reclassify Internet Providers as Public Utilities under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. This is a hot topic because it is something that will not only affect us on many levels, but it is also something that is easily misunderstood. The term “Net Neutrality” in itself is deceptive in that it implies a free and neutral Internet. The reality is that it does just the opposite by creating several tiers for access to high speed Internet services. Net Neutrality also opens the door to future taxation, regulation, and potentially even control of content.

Is the Internet really broken?

Chairman Wheeler’s proposal for “Net Neutrality” assumes that the Internet is broken and needs to be fixed. Although there are some issues that certainly need to be addressed, these can be dealt with in ways that are far more efficient than a complete reclassification of the Internet. History has shown that,many times, when the government attempts to “fix” something that isn’t really broken, things only get worse.

As with most important issues there is more than one side: On one side are those who feel Net Neutrality will put controls and constraints on the big Internet providers like Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner. On the other side are those who believe that Net Neutrality is little more than a power grab by the government to take control of the Internet.

Although the proposal to be voted on implies that there will be no taxes or fees associated with Net Neutrality, the simple fact is that, if passed, the proposal will reclassify the Internet as a Public Utility – and that will fundamentally change the way in which the Internet is managed.

In 2010, the FCC enacted rules designed to maintain an Open Internet. Reclassification of the Internet would change that and could possibly open the door to future changes that might include fees and taxation. At the very least, reclassification would put the Internet in the U.S. directly under governmental control.

If you believe that governmental control of the Internet is a good thing, I would encourage you to take a look at the complete lack of online freedom that exists in China. That level of control will likely not happen immediately – or it may never happen, but the possibility for future censorship and excessive regulation will exist if Net Neutrality is approved by the FCC. A Google search for “Internet in China” will reveal what may be in store for future generations if “Net Neutrality” becomes a reality.

Whatever your personal opinion may be regarding Net Neutrality, we feel that it is important for you to know what is about to happen and for you to voice your opinion clearly and concisely.

Below you will find several links to the FCC. website that include the full proposal by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the page of current posted comments which we encourage you to read, and the page where you can post your comments.

You can read our position on the FCC comments page – look for the post by James Alburger (or click the link below). And, should you decide to post your own comments, we encourage you to be as clear and concise with your statement as possible, providing reasons and explanation when necessary. After all, your comment will be part of the Public Record for this matter.

As an industry that requires an accessible Internet, we have an opportunity here to influence the FCC in their decision – one way or the other.

If you feel, as we do, that this is an important issue for those of us working in voiceover, I encourage you to please share this information on your Facebook page and with your networking groups.

Please make your voice heard by submitting your comment on the FCC website so it becomes part of the public record. And encourage your Congressional representatives to pressure the FCC for a NO vote on Chairman Wheeler’s proposal.

Here are the links:

Share this link to send people to an on-line version of this email:

http://voiceacting.showbizsender.com/o2f9e5

Read James Alburger’s comment here:

http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=60001026829

FCC links:

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposal (full text)

Comments page for proceeding 14-28

Post your own comments – or click on the “Submit a Filing” link in the left-hand menu. You’ll need to enter 14-28 as the “Proceeding Number.” Fill out the required information on the first page, then click on “continue” at the bottom of the page.

Contact your Congressional Representatives and encourage them to pressure the FCC for a NO vote on Chairman Wheeler’s proposal for Net Neutrality:

Find your House Representative here

http://www.house.gov/representatives/

Find your Senators here:

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

The end of ISDN

You may have heard the buzz that ISDN is being phased out. It’s going to take some time, but ISDN will be going away… eventually.

There are several contenders vying for the position of being the replacement of ISDN. They include ipDTL, Source Connect, and several others. Recently, Tim Keenan of Creative Media Recording in Anaheim, CA ran a side-by-side comparison of ipDTL, ISDN and Source Connect with VO pro Bobbin Beam. To listen to this test, CLICK HERE.

If you’d like to keep up to date on the race to replace ISDN, the best place to do that is to subscribe to Dave Courvoisier’s blog HERE.

Tim Keenan presented a full seminar at VOICE 2014 all about recording technology and how the coming changes will affect voice talent. The recording of Tim’s session is just one of more than two dozen cutting-edge programs at VOICE 2014 that will take your voiceover career to the next level.

The entire set of VOICE 2014 session recordings – more than 36 hours of incredibly useful information – is available in the VOICE Store.

James & Penny