Monday, October 19, 2015

My consultation with, Dan Lenard.

I know my next post was supposed to be on Habit 2 of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Peoplebut I needed to interject and share a great experience I had a couple of days ago with a highly regarded figure in the voice over business.  Come to think of it, this experience is related to Habit 2 in a big way and I'll explain when I get to that post in the near future.

At the start of 2015, my goal was to re-tune and pick up the momentum in my VO career. That entailed practicing more, getting as much coaching and feedback possible, auditioning, and continue building a web presence, hence this blog :)

I am a huge fan of VOBS (Voice Over Body Shop), formerly known as EWABS (East-West Audio Body Shop). Though I don't often catch the show live on Monday nights at 9 pm ET, I almost always see the play-back on YouTube by the end of the week.  I hardly miss an episode, much like how I am with The Walking Dead.  Anyway, I had the utmost pleasure to work with a true expert in the voice over field - the Home Studio Master himself, Dan Lenard.

Why Dan Lenard?
Dan is one-half of the duo host team of VOBS, and along with co-host George Whittam shares a treasure trove of knowledge not only about the technological aspects of voice over, but also on coaching, unions, online-casting, marketing, vocal health, genres, and much more.  In addition, the guests that have been on the show such as notable VO actors Mark Graue, Rick Wasserman, and Randy Thomas to name a few give it additional credibility - not that it was in any need of it.  I've been hooked for the better part of the past three years and have put so many of their tips into practice that it really made a difference in my continuous career development as a VO.  

One of my favorite segments from the show is Dan's Tip of the week - snippets of valuable information explained in very simple terms.  Basically, it's an enlightenment of sorts showing that you don't need to go crazy in buying equipment (not to mention the expensive stuff) when all you're trying to do is produce professional quality recordings in your personal studio.  "Broadcast quality" and "industry standard" are two terms that invoke grimaces. That's because they're ambiguous and can often mislead anyone in the early or exploratory stages of the voice over biz into spending thousands of dollars on equipment, software, recording space, and whatever additional things are out there based on misinformation. Dan's guidance shows that simple, effective setups are all that's required and they won't break the bank.  

Voice over is certainly an investment of time and money as you dig deeper and develop.  I realized this at the very beginning when I started to look into costs associated with equipment, coaches, demos, and supposed experts that say they can help you along, for a fee.  I could've gone to Dan a lot sooner, but if it has anything to do with me putting down my hard-earned coin on the table you can bet I'll be patient, do my research, and wait until the time is right before I go ahead with my purchase.   Watching the show put any doubts I may have had to rest.  I thought, "this guy must be the real deal".  It was time for me to have that one-on-one consultation take place.

Before meeting up with Dan, I sent in a sample specimen for a free analysis as he offers on his website.  My initial issue was that my recording levels where too low. Dan confirmed it and offered to troubleshoot with me.  However, being the IT person that I am where troubleshooting is second nature I figured out that my gain was simply set too low on my pre-amp.  I responded back that I had figured out what the issue was, but that I would be interested in doing a consultation with him anyway - a "pick his brain" session is what I called it.

Booking time with Dan was fairly easy and after a couple of email exchanges we found a spot that worked for both of us. Right before we were scheduled to meet I had my booth setup and ready to go as I do for recordings and connected with him via a video conference using Zoom.  I didn't have the Zoom plug-in client prior to our session, but I just downloaded and installed it effortlessly from Dan's meeting invite.

The meet 
First impression - great guy, very friendly, down-to-earth with a clear intention to offer any assistance necessary.  In other words, he's the same guy I see on VOBS, but with the one-to-one focus in this case.  I started off describing to him my booth setup, audio chain, and some general challenges I face from time to time.  Because I watch the show so much I was able to build my booth based on some of the ideas and best practices I drew from it.  If you're curious, in a corner of my basement I built a PVC frame that's about 4' 5" x 2' 5" x 6' 2" surrounded by VocalBoothToGo sound blankets hanging off the frame with shower curtain hooks.  Square-foot wedge sound absorption tiles are glued to the ceiling covering the the space overhead.  Though it's not "soundproof", it makes for a nice "dead" space to record in.  I was pretty elated to find out that I had done it right.  Dan noticed my noise floor was at better than acceptable levels as far as a personal studio goes (around -54dBFS to -60dBFS).  

Audio technical 
We talked about mics and it was a delight to see that we were using the same one in our session, the CAD E100s. My decision to buy the CAD about four months ago was partly based from another tip I picked up watching the show.  I like the fact that it has a built-in hi-pass filter which is great for personal studios where you may get the occasional street sound rumble from cars, trucks, or even planes.  It cuts off all those low frequency noises.  What's more important though is that it makes me sound like me.  Dan spoke of how crucial that is because no one else sounds the way I do and he thought the CAD was a good match for my voice based on how my sound was coming across in the session. Another check off the list.  

My cozy recording space.  Notice I am using a Heil PL-2T mic arm attached to a shelf on the right side of my booth.  My CAD E100s hangs upside down.  When recording, my eyes are at level with the diaphragm while I read copy off my laptop which sits on a sheet music stand.  The 2i2 is on a small folding table to the right below the stand.

We then went over the sound sample I sent him a week or so earlier.  My issue and the main reason for reaching out to Dan then was that my sound wasn't peaking past -12dB.  To go back in history a bit, our previous home was on a secondary road, with the local commuter rail-road passing directly behind the house, and in the flight path of JFK at least three times a week.  As you might imagine I had to pick the right times to record and I grew accustomed to keeping the gain at a lower setting on my Focusrite 2i2 in an attempt to keep as much ambient noise from bleeding into my recordings.  When processing the audio thereafter I would have to normalize to -3dB which became a bit of a hassle.  After some testing in our current home which thankfully is in a much quieter neighborhood I found that all I had to do was turn up my gain on the 2i2 to the 3 o'clock position, and voila!  The one thing I thought was strange was the gain knob being up that high; at least to me it seemed to be high.  I even checked my sound settings in Windows and verified that my OS recording level was at 100% which is also reflected on the mic recording level in Audacity (my current DAW of choice).  Dan confirmed that the 2i2's knob position at 3 o'clock is indeed normal. Whew!  

We did a deeper dive into editing and processing.  He did a screen share from his end and pulled up Audacity.  He showed me some new tricks using the amplify plug-in to take care of some over-accentuated spots in my read.  He also went over some breath removal techniques using the silence function and went over deleting pauses I had left between some words to improve the flow of the read.  

In analyzing the audio sample further, he pulled out the big guns.  He showed me some editing features that Adobe Audition has to offer and I was completely blown away by its capabilities.  The spectrogram which pretty much reminded me of both my sons' sonograms while they were still in the womb, offers greater editing options. For instance, the removal of mouth-clicks which is a bit challenging in Audacity is something that clearly shows up in Audition's spectrogram such that you can highlight the area that indicates the mouth-click, delete it, and it's as if it never existed.  The same is true for breath removals.  Normalizing, compressing, and other common tools are done with a mouse scroll on-the-fly.  Truly an amazing piece of software, and Dan gave me a great crash course in it to say the least.

A sample screenshot of Adobe Audition's spectrogram

Performance coaching 
This was totally unexpected, but he went into a little bit of coaching with me. Remember, he's not only a voice over tech guru, but a working voice talent.  He pointed out some things I did well and some things were I needed some improvement - like being able to read a 20 second piece of copy in one breath :p .  Practice, practice, practice, was the key take away.  

A helpful organization 
We talked about WoVO (World Voices Organization) the non-profit organization he helped put together with other notable figures in voice over.  WoVO's purpose is to set the record straight by providing proper information, mentoring, and debunking any myths to success in this business.  It's also an entity serving as the ethical light in the crooked darkness created by groups and individuals out there trying to take advantage of hopefuls getting into the business with the lure of false promises guaranteeing success.  WoVO also has a personal studio certification (in beta at this time) available to anyone with with professional member status.  The distinction of a professional member is showing proof of having booked at least five paying gigs.  Sounds fine and fair to me.    

We chatted a little about the on-line casting sites or as they are affectionately known, "pay-to-plays".  He gave me some advice on certain things to watch out for and how the online casting places have changed in the last 4 or 5 years with even more cropping up here and there.  If you already follow some of the discussions around this topic you may be thinking about two of the biggest casting sites both of which begin with a V and end in a .com.  
I told Dan about my experience approaching one of those sites for membership right after I cut my demo at Edge Studio a few years ago.  At the time, I thought they were the better choice because I heard that the voice actor who was cast for Buzz Lightyear's Spanish speaking setting featured in Toy Story 3 came from this particular site.  That must make for some credibility, I thought.  However, after I submitted my professionally produced demo I was perplexed to receive a message from them claiming there was "background noise" and they wouldn't accept my entry because of it. I immediately went back to Edge and forwarded this correspondence to them to which their response was that they would take action.  A day or two later, the casting site apologized and said that it would be OK for me to join after all.  Needless to say I really wasn't too keen on dealing with them after that experience.  I still have a "free" profile up on that site meaning that if I want to audition for their jobs I would have to pay the yearly membership fee of $395.00 US.  The membership also includes being able to submit auditions on a regular basis along with getting private audition requests.  Dan mentioned that the way this casting site does things now is that you can set a bottom limit to the dollar amount on the auditions you want to receive not to mention an abundance of work that they post.  I had also heard from others who are members of both of these major casting sites, that this one usually generates more opportunities for talent. Knowing all of this now...I may just give them another shot.  

Business sense 
There are lots of things to consider when generating business. Yes, online casting sites require membership fees, but they do all the marketing, job sourcing, audition setups, and handle payment for you.  In other words, they can be very convenient for someone with a full-time job, a husband, and a parent like myself who really doesn't have the time to devote to those things. But, as I shared with Dan part of my goals in addition to being a member of an online casting site as a supplement to generating work is to start my own little CRM (client relationship management) system and continue building a client list the old fashioned way - networking and referrals.  It's a time commitment for sure, but Dan helped me realize that even devoting just a few moments each week will generate a lead eventually.  

Wrapping up 
As you just read Dan and I covered a good range of topics. He also encouraged me to keep doing what I'm doing, be consistent and hammer through, but stressed that it's also important to maintain a good work-life balance.  

Overall, the consultation exceeded all of my expectations.  Dan's knowledge is expansive, and his experience and reputation precedes him.  He's absolutely great to work with and won't beat around the bush because he knows your time and dedication are valuable (so are his).  He's very encouraging and emphasized that being truthful to and believing in myself is what will bring success.  Not only did I feel pumped and energized after the consultation, but I felt I had done something really productive in moving my career forward by getting together with an expert in the field who helped assess my situation specifically.  In short, it solved some mysteries for me regarding my technical setup and performance as a VO.  Dan let me know where I stand in my progress and I think I'm in a pretty good place now.  I now have someone trustworthy to reach out to if I ever need additional help.

Whenever you feel ready, no matter what your level of experience is in VO, get out there and go see the Home Studio Master!  It's well worth your time and your investment.

A BIG thanks to you, Dan Lenard!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Good habits? There are se7en of them (Part 1)

A couple of months back I attended an Edge Studio webinar lead by coach +Tom Dheere (the 'h' is silent, but he's not) on Money and Business and the session's focus was on how to keep clients coming back.  Tom offered great tips on how extending courtesy, showing respect, and demonstrating the entire value you bring in your service delivery.  What's more, when you show up to gigs at a recording studio always be on time, smile, be nice, and most important, follow directions.  Seemingly, it's what "highly effective people" do. 

Highly effective...where have I heard that before?   

I've noticed lately the phrase,"highly effective people" has been brought up a few times among some of the voice over trailblazers on their blogs, vlogs, interviews, etc.  The origins and teachings behind that phrase are used as a reference for dare I say, good behavior not only in business, but life in general.   

I'd like to introduce you to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey.

I read this book back in 2007 and you'll never guess where - at my day job.  Yes, we IT folks (I am one by day) are also into the powerful lessons of personal change that Stephen Covey teaches.  Our organization went a few steps further and got the 7-habits corporate training package that included curriculum for collaboration sessions based on each habit .  We as a group participated in exercises that defined and helped us understand the significance of the book's teachings and put those habits into practice.  I'll admit back then I was younger, I and a few other participants met this with some resistance. "Oh, what bullshit are they trying to push on us now?"  "Doesn't IT leadership have anything better to do than to force us to join these dumb sessions and to read some dumb book written by someone who had a little bit of success and decided to make money off of it?"  "This crap has nothing to do with technology".  Looking back I was a bit ashamed if I had partaken in some of the bashing, but I started to realize then as I was getting older that having an open mind would lead to opportunities that may not have existed or been noticed if I hadn't evolved in my thought process.     

As I skimmed through the book before our first session, I realized that most of the things I read really resonated with me.  For me, it came down to common sense. I wouldn't say it was life-changing, but the concepts presented in the book helped illuminate the behaviors that I already thought were normal to me.  The sessions that followed (it lasted 7 weeks, one for each habit) really brought home those lessons by helping us apply and find correlations to our personal and professional lives.  I know for others it was still cream-puff hogwash, but I felt it was all worth it because in the long run corporations needed to get back down to a human, individualistic level in order to move forward in increasingly competitive times. 

Here's a summary based on the points that impacted me the most.

First, just as you start a new course in an educational institution there are prerequisites to consider before learning about the 7 habits:

  • Know who you are in terms of your principles, beliefs, and values.  How does that all apply when you react to things?  It's the life-long conditioning based on your upbringing and socialization that leads you to respond and make decisions based on what you know about yourself.  Those variables are known as your 'paradigms'.
  • Be prepared to undergo a paradigm shift when approaching the 7-habits.  This shift is better known as having an "aha moment" or when you finally see things another way.
  • Habits, as Covey defines is the intersection of knowledge, skills, and desire.
  • Interdependence is the key goal because it promotes collaboration; you accomplish more when working with others versus working on your own.
  • Effectiveness is a balance between the work put into getting the desired results (money, promotions, gigs, etc.), and the entity that is actually doing the work (you).

Habit 1 - Be proactive

The proactive model focuses on our responses to all situations.  You could have had a disagreement with your spouse or co-worker, mass transit was delayed and you were late for an important meeting, your mobile device fell and cracked its screen, while a thunderstorm is dumping buckets of water all over the place.  

These incidents can invoke feelings of anger, resentment, weakness, incompetence, low self-worth and a typical reactive response would be to blame it all on the situation.  Reactive people will find a scapegoat for their woes, but proactive people make a conscious choice in how they address all situations.  It doesn't matter if it's 72 degrees with blue skies or 99 degrees with haze and choking humidity because proactive people are driven by their values and not their immediate situation.  This is not to stay the proactive people aren't at all influenced by environmental factors; it is the choice of response made which is based on their values.  It's evident in the language spoken by proactive people such as, "I choose, I prefer, I will, I can choose a different approach", versus reactive responses such as, "I can't, I must, if only, that's just the way I am".  It's about what you can DO versus what you allow to happen to you.

Being proactive is the ability to "act and not be acted upon". The book mentions a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which I particularly enjoyed, "no one can hurt you without your consent". You make things happen for yourself based on what's called your Circle of Influence.  Within this realm you have 100% control to create change and the more change you create within this space, the larger your circle grows.  The larger your circle grows, the more influential you become.  I continually read about and see YouTube videos on the debates about online-casting sites (pay-to-play as a more derogatory term), Fiverr bashing, how 'everyone' is a VO these days many of whom are untrained, misguided, and these factors and circumstances are more or less devaluing the profession and setting a dire future for VO.  These negative sentiments are part of what is known as the Circle of Concern, or where reactive people live.  There is very little if nothing that you can do about directly changing what's in the Circle of Concern because you don't control it - it's out of your reach, beyond the boundaries of your Circle of Influence.  Proactive people don't spend time or energy on the blame game.  For instance, proactive VO will do the research, get the proper guidance, train, invest time and money, and build their value as a VO.  Others will then recognize the actions you take are genuine, based on values, and set a positive example as your Circle of Influence grows.

It's very easy to lay blame on whatever you think is the cause of your problems, but the problem or the area that really needs changing is within you.  Realize that you have the power to choose your responses.  As an IT manager I deal with the occasional complaints from customers that are angry, frustrated, impatient because their laptop is slow or their mobile device isn't receiving emails, the conference rooms keep disconnecting for important meetings, or worst of all that one of my staff gave off an attitude when responding to support request.  As a reactive person I could blame the laptop manufacturer for putting out a sub-par product, or the wireless network provider for not managing bandwidth, or even the A/V team for not setting up the conferencing equipment correctly, or that my staff got up on the wrong side of the bed, but I don't control any of these things.  Proactive responses would be "I'll run some diagnostics on the laptop to see what's wrong", or "I'll check with the local carrier to see if there are any problems with the service", or "I'll check in with the A/V team to see if any configurations changed on the back-end", or "I'll speak to may staff person about the interaction you had - thank you for bringing it to my attention".   I remind my support staff that they do their best to get ahead of their customer's technical problem before it takes shape, anticipate what's going to happen and head it off at the pass.   This in my view is how things such as reputation, competence, and trust are developed especially in the minds of people that rely on you for your service.  

What are the fundamentals for success?  According to the 7 habits they are knowledge, skill, and desire.  Covey explains that all three intersect and that any one can be worked on to strengthen the balance of the three helping us move forward in a leveled manner as we increase our effectiveness.  The common phrase "knowledge is power" cannot be any more true.  When you embark on a VO career or any other career for that matter starting off informed will give you an advantage.  The desire should already be there since it's the very thing that pushed you to pursue your chosen profession. Once you begin and continue the learning process, your skills develop thereafter.  

Take a moment to examine who you are and then make a promise to yourself that whatever it is that needs to change, you'll commit to seeing it through.

Next time...Habit 2 - Begin with end in mind

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Breathe, and while you're at it have a laugh. It's good for you!

Breathing.  Ancient people commonly linked breathing or the breath to a life force.  Those who practice certain kinds of meditation where breathing is a focused activity know "prana" as the sum total of all life force energies to be a relative concept.  Along with the obvious necessity for sustenance breathing cleanses, refreshes and also helps clear stress and tension.   

As a voice over talent, proper breathing is essential in delivering reads yet it's one of the things some of us, maybe most of us, I for one forget to be mindful of sometimes.  I won't get into the mechanics or techniques of breathing exercises, but will just point out that a "tension free" delivery is key as we aim to sound and be natural during the read.

I was reminded of this important concept a couple of nights ago when I attended an Edge Studio audition ringer session with coach +Marjorie Kouns.  There was a good number of participants all with unique approaches to three commercial scripts we had to choose from; an oat snack, a Tabasco sauce, and a BBQ sauce.  We probably should have had a script for an antacid to help balance things out, but I digress.  I chose the oat snack script. The audience I envisioned to guide my delivery was of a friend that was looking for a healthier snack alternative. Based on the wording of the script my goal was to sound knowledgeable about the product as someone who perhaps has some of that stuff in my pantry and highlight some of the delicious choices available.

I ran through the script a few times to myself to get a good feel for it (which is what I usually do for all auditions) and came up with a "main" and "backup" delivery.  One annoyance was that we were all experiencing connectivity issues on the webinar.  People were dropping from the call at random, and I heard some of the reads and coaching feedback in spurts as in-and-out moments of silence.  Then it was my turn and I was just hoping my connection wouldn't falter.  After all, I wasn't doing it from my mobile phone, but from my actual audio chain (condenser mic into a pre-amp/analog-to-digital converter into my laptop via USB) and wanted everything to go just fine as I would in a real audition.  Isn't that what we all want all of the time?  Murphy's law, anyone?

As soon as I introduced myself, Marjorie pointed out that my sound was a bit weak at first, but had increased in amplitude as I was introducing myself with the customary pleasantries.  I went ahead and did my first take and made it through, but there were still audio problems being heard from my end.  After a few moments of "can you hear me now" banter, Marjorie said, "Ok stop!  Stand still! Which ever way you're positioned now is perfect".  I tried to hold my position albeit my chair in my booth was kind of in the way so I wasn't in a comfortable stance.  The other thing was that prior to my take I had been fiddling around with my mic and stand placement for the best setup I could and wasn't 100% satisfied with how I left things.  So the combination of mic placement, standing on one leg, and persistent connectivity/audio issues started to creep up in the form of stress.  All of that projected in my second take and as the consummate coach that she is, Marjorie called me out on it.  I knew what was up, but I wasn't going to make any excuses. In a real audition, making excuses would probably have meant hearing "thanks for your time" from the producer/director and be sent on my way not expecting a call back.

I really was tense and felt it emotionally and physically.  This is part of why I enjoy these audition ringers because there is only so much one could do when self-directing.  It's always good to be listened to by peers or a coach because they will give you the objective feedback you need.  So how did I address my tension? By breathing - normally.  To take it one step further, Marjorie gave me a tip that laughing before delivering the read would loosen me up more.  According to the Mayo Clinic's webpage on stress management, laughter "enhances your intake of oxygen rich air", stimulating various organs including the lungs.  It also stimulates circulation and relaxes your muscles; I had felt the tension on my back and shoulders.  So I gave a laugh, re-balanced my footing, made sure I had proper mic distance, and did my third take (or was it my fourth?). Sure enough a difference was noticed.  On the part of the script that Marjorie directed me to focus, my delivery was more relaxed, fluid, and natural.  The rest of the group concurred.  

Two lessons learned/reminded of here are: 1.) When delivering a natural conversational read, you have to breath naturally just as you do in an everyday conversation; you don't even notice it.  When feeling tense, a couple of good cleansing deep breathes will help clear tension and any mental/emotional crap you may have interfering with your concentration.  Physically, it will help loosen your mouth, jaw, and vocal cords.  If you want more assurance, laughter will seal the deal as it brings added benefits to your body and mood.  2.) We're already under pressure to interpret and deliver what's on paper to the expectations of the director/producer so we must carry on through the pressure. There may be distractions in the immediate area, but we're professionals and we rise above it (that's for you Spinal Tap fans).  I always think back to being in an assured place of my skills and capabilities with my dedication to continuous self-improvement knowing I can deliver a read and do it well. The rest is all about being yourself and remembering to always have fun!

Inhale, exhale, laugh and get going!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How about we see that mug of yours?

I'm an avid and frequent attendee to Edge Studio's "Talk Time" on Sunday nights at 9:15 ET.  I enjoy listening to the various topics brought up in the call ranging from technique to technology, styles and genres, union or non-union, and everything else in between that's related to voice over.  It's also a wonderful networking opportunity for anyone looking to find practice groups or maybe even some leads for work. The best thing about the calls is that experienced pros, part-timers, beginners, practically all experience levels, are in the discussions and I occasionally put my two pennies in when I feel I can contribute something of worth.

This past Sunday night's call was designated as "Open Talk" which is basically a free-for-all topic discussion.  I find that format the most lively because the conversation can get unpredictable and go just about anywhere.  The calls are moderated by one of Edge Studio's coaches +Graeme Spicer in case anyone or anything crosses the line, and/or gets too off-topic.At one point someone asked whether we as voice over providers should include a picture of ourselves on our websites, business cards, etc.  I was a bit surprised at what I heard which seemed to be a resounding "no, don't do it".   Those supporting the notion conveyed that by putting a picture of yourself on your promotional material may be a detriment because to some directors and producers you may "not look like what you sound".  An example was given of a supposedly well known voice actor who had auditioned and was awarded a job to play the part of a young man on a project, but when the actor showed up to the recording session the project's director called the booking agent and complained about why he had an "old man" show up at the studio.  I don't remember if the caller completed the story on whether this actor was able to go ahead and record the part he had rightfully earned by auditioning remotely, but that real world example suggests that there is a great risk to revealing what you look like as it equates to possibly losing gigs.

[The topic was taking up a bit too much time on the call and I wanted jump in with my opinion, but Graeme pulled another unrelated question from the chat box to help address other topics and move the call along. And, this is why we blog :) ]

What I was going to add to the conversation is that I think in this day and age it's all about transparency.  What does that mean?  Not withholding information, putting ourselves out there and showing all our cards essentially.  I've only been involved with voice over off and on for about four years, but I do have almost 20 years in the corporate client facing capacity.  What I've learned from that experience is that when we reach out to people for any type of service I am willing to bet that most us would like to put a face to a name.  Sure it's great to establish a rapport over the phone or by email, but after a while I'd like to see who I'm dealing with especially if additional exchanges are anticipated.  To give you a real life example, my wife and I will be going into contract on a home purchase and as home purchases go it is in one's best interest to hire an engineer to give the house a thorough inspection and let the potential home buyer know whether or not the house will collapse in a month.  We found a great guy here in Long Island with the necessary credentials, licenses, certifications, and recommendations. All of this information is right on his website's homepage. Guess what else he has on his homepage?  A picture of himself!  Yep, a building engineer showing the world what he looks like.  Speaking to him on the phone thereafter was a pleasurable experience as he presented himself to be cordial and professional.  Try browsing some big company name websites and go to their leadership "about us" page.  Most of them will have pictures of their C-level team on display. Transparency. 

Now, let's look at +Joe Cipriano , +Randye Kaye , and +Paul Strikwerda  (who wrote an awesome book last year which I will review on this blog at a later date).  All are voice over providers and all have pictures of themselves on their websites.  So what gives?  I'll be the first to admit that I had some apprehension on putting my picture up on my webpage, online profiles, etc. when I first got started in voice over. Why?  Because I thought that it didn't really matter at first.  Why should anyone care what I look like? It's all about my voice, right?  But, then I felt that if I wanted potential clients and colleagues to get to know who I was part of that process for me is for them to know what I look like.  Why hide it?Let's go back to the rationale that that defends not displaying your smiling face.  If it is true in most cases, then wouldn't it also affect the seasoned pros I mentioned earlier?  We know that Randy Kaye is an expert when it comes to medical reads among other types she provides.  What if a hospital system decided to produce some internal explainer video on training doctors with a new procedure and wanted someone who sounds like a doctor?  They get a referral for Randy, hear her demo and say "great, let's meet her".  Would it not be possible at the face to face meeting that someone on the hospital's board of directors could say, "nah, I don't think so.  She doesn't look like a doctor, this isn't going to work"?  After all, I think most potential clients don't have a clue about who's who in voice over and wouldn't realize the opportunity they'd be throwing away to work with such a great talent.  I'm of the mindset that if we have websites and online profiles then we should let our clients get to know us before they meet us.  If we're putting ourselves out there by providing such a valuable service that at the very core is human (our voice), then it is that very thing we have to promote.  Let's not be so mysterious.If we're treating voice over as a business, part of growing that business is starting and fostering relationships. 

What follows is accountability and ownership of a process and product which certainly deserves a face especially when it's a job well done.  Still thinking "no" to putting that picture up? We can't hide behind technology anymore.  Technology has brought everyone closer together virtually and although there is a perceive sense of anonymity that one can use to shield themselves it's getting a bit harder to stay hidden. There was a time not long ago where it seemed that we were losing more of that human contact with each keystroke because of the convenience of technology.  As +Paul Strikwerda says, we really can "make money in our PJs" from our personal studios at home.  No more going out to audition.  We can even go grocery shopping from our couches.  It seems then that the sacrifice for convenience might be a partial loss of identity that we capitalize on in order to hide. But, things seems to be taking a different direction now.

Think back to those words of accountability and transparency.  Customers are looking for a deeper connection. Something beyond just the service delivery with an invoice attached.  They want to be listened to and understood so that their needs are met with expected outcomes.  More importantly they want to know what you're all about.  I recently read in an Entrepreneur magazine article that talked about clients not just being interested in the surface qualities of what you do as a service provider, but why you do it.  What makes you love this type of work?  What about voice over drives you to perform and deliver so well? The value you provide is clearly defined when your clients know about your passion for doing voice over. It does become all about you.  My observations in the corporate world tell me that when a person leaves a company and has a great relationship with their clients, guess what happens next?  Their clients follow them on to the next company they work for.  The company, firm, etc. is not why clients do business with them; it just so happens that the person they're used to doing business with happens to work there.

I understand that there are different comfort levels or reasons for a voice over provider not wanting to advertise what they look like. As I think if it more, showing your face just might be risky in getting those Hollywood voice over gigs especially if you're an unknown and where looks are all that matters; it's the nature of the biz as they say.  On the flip side, what I've always been told ever since I got into this business is that about 80-90% of the voice over jobs out there are not even in the entertainment biz.  That's something else to think about. In the meantime, let's bring a little humanity back into the fold and just show us that mug of yours!

Hope you like my smile :) 

Friday, April 17, 2015

The first one - Rookies can talk about, what?

How did I get here?  Oh great, not another blog from some voice over artist, actor, talent...what are we calling ourselves these days?  Let's keep it simple and call me a "VO", but I'm also fine with "voice over talent".

I've been inspired.  I decided at the beginning of 2015 that this was the year that I'd really get back into voice over, and that I was not going to slack off anymore; aside from my day job I'm also a husband and a father of two very young high-energy boys.  I really don't have time to even slack off come to think of it, but with voice over I've been kicking the can around long enough to realize that I can make something out of this.  Through independent research and listening to the wise folks that have been doing this for a long time, I've come to grasp the notion that this just isn't all about recording reads and sounding good, but it's about running a business.  Scary, but I'm accepting the challenge.  So what brings me here, to this blog page?

I first would like to thank the well known talent/coach/instructor +Joe Loesch.  I attended a webinar he conducted through Edge Studio last night on the subject of Marketing, specifically first impressions and how your website represents you.  So, how does my website represent me?  Take a look here at my webpage.  That's all it is, one single webpage - a "landing page" as some may refer to it in web parlance.  I wanted to keep it simple and have everything that you need to know about me on one single scroll-able area.  Granted, I do have links to my G+ page, profile, an email hyperlink, and yes my rate sheet is also linked from my page as well.  It's got a couple of simple colors; red, gray, blue, and I found a cool looking cork-board background wallpaper to help you imagine that you're seeing my add at the laundromat/supermarket community board/college dorm/FBI wanted poster wall, wherever you'd find a cork board with local small businesses doing the old school advertising.  I'm going for that down-to-earth familiarity - the honest, laid back, everyday man (hey, I didn't make that up - those descriptions were from my coaches when I got started).  You be the judge though as my demo and a couple of samples of work I've done are on my page as well.  The rub is if you run an Apple based browser e.g. Safari on your iPhone you'll miss out because my demos are on a customized flash based player (thanks for shutting that out, Apple). Nevertheless, it's something I'll be looking to fix, but in the interim hear me out on my Soundcloud page. Oh, and my site doesn't have a mobile version of itself either - something else on the to-do list.

So why am I here?  As present day marketing strategy dictates blogging is one of the popular ways to get yourself known and keep your business up with that good ol' SEO (search engine optimization).  To me, it seems blogging goes a bit beyond the social media posts and 140 character submissions.  One can expand their thoughts and maybe have some fun (or get into trouble by stirring the pot too hard) when blogging is taking place.  I don't intend to start a raucous, I'm just here to share what I can and promote our profession in a positive light.   

The question I asked Joe on the webinar was how a "new talent" on the scene can market themselves to potential customers.  More specifically, when we invite visitors to our website, blog, etc. one of the best things in creating awareness and establishing relationships is to give out something gratis, perhaps some nuggets of knowledge that backs up the "solopreneur's" professional image.  Well, what if you haven't been around for that long or maybe you have, but you've got one or two steady clients and are doing this part-time (like me)?  Or maybe you just started yesterday?  Joe's answer was quite simple: Write about your current experience - mention a class you took or an article you read and what it meant to you essentially building a story about your journey.  It introduces a level of humility that's certainly real.  I thought that advice was brilliant.  

And, here I am :)

More to come...