Friday, May 19, 2017

3 Things.....

It's Friday again, and time once more to scattershoot about what's on my mind this week....


Throughout the webinars and coaching I've been involved in this week, one consistent theme has been a particular focus of mine: Energy! Are you bringing it to every read? Many talent are afraid of going too far with their delivery, when in fact buyers and casting directors are often looking for the read that jumps out and gets their attention. Moreover, we perceive our own energy level as higher than it registers with the average listener; it's a phenomenon of the human ear that we think we are more energetic in our speech than we actually are. Top VO talent aren't scared of making a jackass of themselves, and audition-weary buyers sometimes need to be startled awake by a talent who is totally committed, (or perhaps should be.) Don't hold back!


This week I picked up a copy of the sponsorship prospectus for DevLearn, the nation's largest conference dedicated only to E-Learning developers. You know, the kind of people who hire voice actors for their modules. Moreover, those who attend this conference of over 3,000 E-Learning industry professionals are ponying up almost $1,500 each for a ticket, plus hotel and travel, which means the companies they work for probably aren't the type to skimp on talent quality to save a few bucks. I'm considering setting up a booth in the exhibit hall, either on my own or with a group of fellow voice actors. As I've often discussed, E-Learning is one of the fastest growing and most lucrative genres in voiceover. I want to be where the buyers are.


I'm looking forward to being in Sin City in just over a month for WoVO Con, where I'll be joining Dave Courvoisier and David Rosenthal for a live Rates Roundtable, and presenting on The Future of Voiceover. Will I see you there?

Enjoy your weekend!


Saturday, May 13, 2017

3 Things

Today I'm launching a new weekly blog series to take a look at three voiceover related topics that are top of mind at the end of my week.

First up:

The Future is Here

The issue of rates and compensation continues to percolate around the industry, and there is a certain sky-is-falling character to much of the discussion. In a figurative sense, the sky may well be falling. Rates at the highest end of the market are clearly under pressure. We are all seeing jobs from agents these days that look like they are missing a zero compared to what they once might have paid. I tend to believe that this is more a result of changing media consumption habits reducing the effectiveness of traditional broadcast media advertising than any supply/demand issue, but there's no denying that there are a lot of talent willing to take on major projects at lower rates than ever before for the sake of the credential. It will be interesting to see how this phenomenon progresses over the next couple of years, but the likelihood is that the days of making deep bank from working strictly on the national broadcast level are slowly coming to an end.

Nevertheless, there is a strong argument to be made that the broader voiceover industry is healthier than it has ever been, and will only continue to offer more and more opportunity to those with the ability to anticipate its evolution. For years, I've been telling people that the future of VO success is earning a robust income $500 at a time. That future is here. This doesn't mean accepting peanut rates for broadcast or new media work that generates large numbers of impressions, but rather embracing that the future for most talent will be found in corporate/industrial work, e-learning, and local/regional broadcast. Indeed, that's already how the vast majority of full time voice actors are making their living. The good news is that as commercial, and especially big league commercial, continues its inevitable decline due to new media and more segmented/targeted advertising, these other sectors are growing at an exponential pace. Moreover, the supply/demand curve for these genres is far more favorable than it is for commercial and even animation/video game voice actors. There is more work out there than there is quality talent to do it, which a quick review of auditions from any online casting site or other non-curated talent pool will demonstrate in abundance. The flow of $300-$1,000 jobs has never been stronger, and it will only continue to grow.

The sky is very much intact.

Demo Length

I've been following a few discussions on this topic this week, and I'm concerned that the debate over demo length is becoming a little too simplified. Not all demos are created equal. The conventional wisdom of around a minute with a fair amount of variety is a good baseline for high-impact demos like commercial, promo, trailer, and imaging. These demos lead to auditions or a foot in the door more often than direct hires, and buyers in these genres, very generally, tend to be high-end creatives with trained ears able to form impressions quickly. Fast paced, exciting, and packed with (reasonable) variety is key. No one wants to listen through two minutes of commercials, either, no matter how good you are.

What gets lost sometimes is the difference between buyers/gatekeepers in the genres mentioned above and those who are hiring for industrial narration, explainers, e-learning and the like. I've heard a lot of narration demos lately that are barely distinguishable from commercial demos. When I'm hiring for narration, or considering suitability based on a demo, eight seven-second cuts doesn't tell me much. Do I want to hear your range? Sure, but I just need to know how much of the conversational to polished spectrum you can cover. 3-4 different styles is plenty. What I'm more interested in hearing is whether you can sustain a read and engage my audience. These both require more than five or ten seconds of copy. Anyone hiring voice talent for multi-minute industrials/explainers or thousands of words of e-learning has run into talent who can flash greatness in short bursts but cannot sustain a read over time. This leads to awkward situations where re-casting can be necessary and compensation comes into doubt. Buyers in narration genres hire straight from demos more often than they do in other parts of the business. I would much rather hear 3-4 twenty to thirty second reads if I'm making that decision than a bunch of quick cuts. Show me competence, consistency, the ability to tell a story.

The Xanax Read

It all started with that Facebook Live commercial, (youtube.com/watch?v=YDmYpWhuGx8,) and now it seems like the post-Millennial trend is to reads that are actively sounding bored. Not even bored in a slightly edgy or sarcastic way, but rather just simply disconnected entirely from any emotional investment in the copy. I have my own theories on why this is, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on this emerging trend. Are we all going to have to learn how not to act?

Until next week, this is JMC.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Good Day

I had a nice Thursday last week. One of those days where a few things come together and you unexpectedly book more revenue in 24 hours than your usual monthly target. A happy dance may have been involved. Perhaps two.

My instinct, sitting there at about 3PM on the Thursday before a holiday weekend, was to power down the studio, slap myself on the back for a job well done, and open a nice cold cerveza. See you Monday, voiceover business.

Instead, I did another 30 auditions over the next few hours, replied to client emails, worked a bit more on my upcoming book, began writing several scripts for student demos, and did some marketing. I quit around 10:30 that night.

Do I have a problem? Maybe. It's hard not to love what we do. It's harder still not to take it for granted when it is going well. Yet, I recalled last April, when after a surprisingly good March considering over a week of lost workdays for VO Atlanta, I had the ugliest month I've had in a few years. Yes, it was an aberration, but missing your standard monthly target by 40% even once lingers in the memory. So I passed on the beer, and went back to work.

One of the most critical separating factors between the talent I see acting relaxed and comfortable in the consistency of their business, and those who always seem to have a little panic around the eyes, is the sense that the only answer to how much VO work is enough for the former group is always, "more." While many talent will catch lightning in a bottle from time to time, the glow of that big booking or career-advancing step fades quickly. Consistent, repeat business from a core of stable, loyal clients does not.

How do you get there? You do 30 auditions when you would prefer to have a brewskie. You make one more marketing call when you'd rather spend a few minutes making monkey noises with your kids.

You don't stop. You push harder. You keep going.

Monday, April 10, 2017

What Are We Really Selling?

The issue of what we should charge as voice actors continues to be the most talked about topic in our industry. From talent lamenting major national buyouts coming through agents for $5,000, and then reappearing elsewhere at even more egregious rates, to the festering discomfort caused by mega-discount portals where anyone with a USB mic can sell their voice for five bucks, to the Wild West of online casting, where excellent rates mingle with exploitative ones, it seems that each day brings a barrage of questions from talent both new and experienced alike about what they should charge. What is often lost in the conversation, however, is how they should charge.

Unlike craftsmen who create an object of great beauty or utility, or a professional who is paid to complete a defined task that serves a particular temporal purpose, voice actors ply their trade in a field where the majority of what we do creates lingering value for the buyer. When a voice actor is hired, their work is used to generate revenue over and over again; It is not a one-and-done proposition.

Unions understood this well when crafting the concept of cyclical and residual pay for signatories, most often applied in relation to voiceovers that are broadcast on traditional media. This is a structure non-union talent would be well advised to emulate.

That said, in an industry changing more rapidly than ever before, it is difficult to pin down what work has what value and for how long. What about Corporate/Industrial narration? E-Learning? Perhaps most critically, Web Ads and Pre-Roll. How do they fit in?

As talent, we are often thrilled to book a job and get paid. It's a rush, talking into a microphone and making more in an hour than most people make in a day, or a week. We are blessed, to be sure, but that doesn't mean we should compromise our value, especially when our work is being used to generate profits far beyond the compensation offered. Furthermore, it's easy to spin things negatively from a supply and demand perspective for talent, but a quick listen to the quality of the vast majority of auditions submitted online will demonstrate that we are in a much stronger position than we think.

We are not selling clay pots, or sculptures, or accounting services. We are not even selling voiceovers. Huh? What are we selling if we aren't selling voiceovers? Very simply, we are selling licenses.

Like musicians or software bundles, we should not think of our product as static or temporal. We are selling the right to obtain value from our talent for a limited time that is also limited in scope. This can apply to anything that isn't strictly internal-facing.

Don't be afraid to ask questions of your clients:

* How long will you be using this?

* Where will it be used...on what platforms/media?

* How many views/impressions do you anticipate it will receive?

The fear of losing work because you assert your rights too aggressively is not unwarranted, but it is overcome by the long-term gain in securing clients who are willing to treat you fairly. Moreover, if a client has reached out to you about a job, they are likely already committed to or nearly committed to your voice. You are holding more cards than you realize.

For Corporate/Industrial, E-Learning, Explainer, Telephony, and Medical, try negotiating a one year buy. For Web Ads and Pre-Roll, use union cycle templates if you can, such as the thirteen week standard, and go for a year as a compromise.

Remember, perpetuity means forever, and forever is worth a lot.

Monday, March 20, 2017

VO Atlanta Recap: A New Bar for Excellence

For the third year in a row, I had the privilege of attending and presenting at VO Atlanta. The past two years have been content and information-packed events which lifted the industry, and brought the community closer together. Somehow, Gerald Griffith and the team that make this event happen raised the bar even higher in 2017.

The content speaks for itself. With a lineup of presenters featuring dozens of the industry's leading lights, 8 separate training tracks, a youth program, a Spanish program, and a plethora of optional value-added X-sessions, not only was there something for everyone, there were full days of learning for anyone who attended, regardless of what their particular niche or specialty was. Add to this the included meals, constant giveaways and opportunities to connect with people who might advance your career, and VO Atlanta 2017 was a stunning success by any objective measure.

It's the intangible side of things that makes VO Atlanta truly special, however. The voiceover community is unique in the entertainment world in its selfless and unpretentious love of one another, and commitment to giving back. Petty jealousies and gossip that define so many other performance industries don't seem to have penetrated those who live behind the mic, and away from the camera. The discussion of community, mutual support, and spirit of sharing what many would consider to be valuable secrets aren't just matters of lip service in our industry, they are the way voice actors live their lives. Perhaps this is born of the blessing of abundance, the collective gratitude that comes from working in a field where those with talent will not run out of opportunities, but it is nevertheless a testament to the character of our colleagues and friends.

The buzz began as early as Wednesday, as voice actors from around the world converged on the Atlanta Airport Marriott, the staff of which likely had no idea what they were in for. The din that began more than 24 hours before opening ceremonies was but a preview of what would essentially become a 5-day rolling party spread throughout the public areas of the hotel, with singing, dancing, drinking and eating both planned and spontaneous turning a sleepy airport conference hotel into a funhouse to rival any nightclub. Through it all, one thing was clear: Here, there were no social classes, no stars separated from fans, no nervousness on the part of new talent engaging with industry leaders.....here, there were just friends.

What did I learn at VO Atlanta 2017? Unfortunately, I didn't have much chance to take in a lot of the incredibly valuable content, as I spent the weekend busy with presentations and social engagements....but I learned a few things nonetheless. I learned that people love baby pictures, that the British can drink anyone under the table and somehow remain both standing and able to have a witty and intelligent conversation.....I learned the origin story of the name 'Gravy for the Brain'.....I learned that when Joe Cip wants to share a Martini, the only answer is yes......and that not drinking much more than that might have saved me from the official conference virus.....I learned to be glad not to have to follow the irrepressible Scott Parkin on stage at any time....and how committed Gerald Griffith is to making talent understand the importance of the business of the business. I learned that in my future X-sessions I'll warn people not to wear shorts, and to bring a winter coat....and that online casting sites can be loved by voice actors when they take the time to love us back. I learned that Armin is still a rockstar, right down to the stray F-bomb.....and that the A/V team are the ones who really make everything come together. I learned a great deal from my colleagues on the E-Learning panel, and hope I offered a worthy contribution....and that Paul Stefano is not Peter or Mary. I learned that sushi sometimes takes two hours to prepare, but that a real friend will help it find its way to you nonetheless, and that people care about ethics in voiceover. And, on Sunday, I learned that when well-meaning people come together, a life can be changed, and an industry can elevate one of its own in the spirit of thanks and love.

I hope you learned as much as I did at VO Atlanta 2017, and I look forward to seeing you all again next March.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

VO Atlanta 2017 Panelist Profiles: Armin Hierstetter

Today I chat with everyone's favorite rockstar, Armin Hierstetter, CEO and founder of Bodalgo.com. Armin is sitting on my Online Casting Leadership panel this Friday at VO Atlanta 2017. Apologies for any formatting issues as I post from my iPad.


Tell us about your role with Bodalgo.


(laughs): It would be far easier to tell you what's NOT my role. Seriously: Not many people are aware of the fact that bodalgo is me, myself and I. There are no employees. I am basically running the show myself. For a year or so, I have had a dedicated PR manager, though, that helps in that respect. Apart from that, I am doing it all by myself. Bodalgo is programmed that way, that tasks like accounting and maintaining the website are very much automated – except approving profiles and jobs. This is ALWAYS done personally by myself to avoid abuse and fraud.


What was your professional background before you started Bodalgo?


I used to work in publishing for about 20 years. I started as a junior writer at a computer magazine, later I was editing a few magazines, (including the German edition of PENTHOUSE.) Later on I studied Media Marketing and went into management. When I lost my job during the financial crisis of 2007/2008, I was Publishing Director of FHM, one of the most successful men's magazines in the world.

In 2004, I started doing voiceovers, mainly by coincidence. First, I did training on the job, later I went to coaches. At the moment, I hardly have time to do any voiceover work myself, though. Bit of a shame, but you can't have it all, can you?


You are based in Munich, Germany, right? What is Munich like?


It is the "biggest village in the world" – that's how I describe it most of the time. A wonderful place with lots and lots of everything you ever want to do: Nature, culture, night life, sports (the Alps are an hour away) - you name it. Whenever your readers make it there, they should drop me a line in order to meet!


What do you find most enjoyable about running an online casting site?


First, there is one thing I really love about being self employed: Freedom. Nobody tells me what to do. The best thing about running bodalgo is to see that it actually… works! Clients post jobs, talents audition, people are getting booked and making money. That's so awesome!


What advice would you offer talent who are new to the site?


DO NOT GO PREMIUM! Wait. And then wait a bit more. Get familiar with bodalgo. Have a look at the jobs shuffling in. Are they of a quantity and quality you like? Then you might want to try going premium. But do not sign up and upgrade the first second. You are not in a hurry. Be patient, relax and get a good feel for it first.

Apart from that, I keep telling the same wisdom for years: You need to market yourself as a product. Like laundry soap commercials. It's no difference. Your product is your voice. And as laundry soap it needs to fulfill only this: It needs to be a relevant, distinct benefit for your potential client. You need to explain in as few words as possible why your voice is best and your demo must 100 per cent reflect that. That's the whole magic.


You are a Panelist on the Online Casting Leadership panel at VO Atlanta. What is Bodalgo's philosophy as a leader in the online casting marketplace?

Bodalgo wants to be the best Online Casting platform out there. Period. Now, I know, of course, that other websites have many more jobs than bodalgo (yet, bodalgo is very competitive because bodalgo features far fewer premium talents on the other hand). But when it comes to quality of talents, quality of jobs, budgets paid, usability of site, accessibility in multiple languages and many more thing – bodalgo is by far leading the market already.

But I also expect something from the talent, and I do appreciate not all talents would agree to this: I do not advocate a mind set of entitlement of any kind nor do I support a mind set where people do not seem to care any longer about the consequences of what they are doing (and what they are not doing) and expecting customer support to iron out their oversights. I tend to react very "direct," (I really should change that, then again: that's me,) when approached with a mind set of: "I am the customer and no matter what I did, I expect you to sort it out immediately because that's how customer support works!" No, it does not. At least not with bodalgo. 

Thankfully, 99 per cent of clients and talents are wonderful to work with.

Monday, March 6, 2017

VO Atlanta 2017 Panelist Profiles: Juanita Casas

Today I chat with Juanita Casas, head of Voice123.com. Juanita is a panelist on my Online Casting Leadership Panel at VO Atlanta 2017!


Tell us about your role at Voice123.


As Head of Operations at Voice123 I have a hand in virtually every aspect of the business. I am tasked with ensuring that the everyday activities run smoothly, and that the team has the best working environment, processes, and the right tools to succeed.


What was your professional background before joining Voice123?


I’m an Industrial Engineer, I studied this career in Bogotá, Colombia. I have a Masters in Industrial Economics and Management from a University called Blekinge Tekniska Högskola in Sweden, (no, I don’t speak Swedish.) Before Voice123  I worked with companies in the real estate sector in areas of production and management.


You are based in Bogota, Colombia, right? What is Bogota like?


With a population of over 8 million people, everyone might think that living in Bogotá is hectic, and crazy. Somehow, it is true: the pace of life is fast, but there are many possibilities. The city has an awesome urban feel to it. With lots of restaurants, nice bars, and cool cafés, Bogota offers thousands of places to hang out and meet with friends. The weather is quite variable, (if you don't mind some rain,) and it is always between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Bogotá is a large city where you can find anything you want.

Even if Bogotá has traffic jam problems, pollution and congestions in peak hours, the energy you feel is amazing. People think outside the box and are very creative when it comes to finding solutions. We are kind. We’ll smile at you in the street.


What do you find most enjoyable about working at Voice123?


At Torre, (our parent company,) our culture is solid. It represents who we are as people and as a company. I enjoy the positive attitude and the energy of my teammates; everyone is creative and passionate.....we keep an open mind and consider all opportunities. I also enjoy the communication with the users of our platform, learning from them and working to give them a better product. When we say that we want to help you take your voiceover career to the next level, it really comes from our hearts.


What advice would you offer talent who are new to the site?


The online market is fast-paced, exciting, and competitive. I’m sure you want to give yourself every advantage so I suggest that you follow these two points:

1. To be successful, coaching and training are absolutely essential.
2. Have a home studio to audition. In today's world of online casting, most buyers will expect you to record professional, high-quality audio from your home studio.


You are a Panelist on the Online Casting Leadership panel at VO Atlanta. What is Voice123's philosophy as a leader in the online casting marketplace?


We believe that great voice overs are created by those who master their craft. Voice123 was born to add value to the voiceover industry. We do exactly what we say we do:  Voice123 is transparent, trustworthy, concise and direct, energized and engaging. We are different and unique. We want to remain authentic until the end of time.  For these reasons we take very seriously the importance of achieving innovation while meeting the customer’s expectations to improve the effectiveness of our developments and technologies we intend to bring to life.