Voiceovers by Gregory Houser
A man, a martini, and a lot of microphones.: April 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Own your mistakes!

A lot of new, and even experienced talent fall into this trap... myself included. A lot of voice actors far more talented than I have mentioned it in passing. I just want to offer my take on it.

When something goes wrong, when we make a mistake, we beat ourselves up over it or we simply view it as a negative. It's a common practice, and definitely one which is not unique to voiceover. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard people grumbling about the quality of their auditions while going over copy before heading into the booth at any number of casting sessions in Philadelphia or New York City. One professional talent called them "the mistake mumbles" because we all knew what they were complaining about, but it was done in such a way that all you can hear is mumbling as they walk past you grab their stuff and head out to the car.

I'm not so subtle, but I leave my complaints about my performance to the car ride home. Driving on the Schuylkill Expressway and dealing with the traffic gives me plenty of time to vent my frustrations. I'm sure that my fellow motorists stuck in traffic think that I've lost my mind (probably even more so when I'm taking NJ Transit on the way home, lol).

It's natural, it's human, and it's really self-defeating. Don't get me wrong, we need to get out the negativity. To bottle it up is really bad for your long-term mental health. However, when we get to the point of being negative, we've basically just lessened ourselves. That's a bad thing, but we do it anyway because so much of society and our own nature as people is to look at mistakes as a negative action, as a weakness. We then equate that negative action, not with the action itself, but with the person who committed that act. Sometimes it's an appropriate response (without getting political, I can point to examples in Darfur, the Middle East, acts of terrorism, etc.), but in a lot of cases it's overblown (a teenager working the register for the first time at my local supermarket). In voice acting, or nearly any kind of creative art, it's almost always an overblown thing. After all, you can't have people who are doing emotional work, using their inner feelings, hopes, and fears to draw out the emotion from a piece of paper, and then act surprised that they get emotional about their performance.

I'm telling you that all of this is normal, and much of it is part of how we deal with things in society. I'm also telling you that when it comes to voiceover it's wrong, it's bad, and it's self defeating. As a species, we've become so trained to avoid mistakes that we run away from them, we look down upon ourselves for making them, and normally, we will do anything but the one thing that's necessary when we make a mistake... admit it, own it, and move on!

It sounds easier than it is, but if you watch a professional actor, a true genius of the craft, you'll see that even when a mistake is made, it's owned. To be certain, some of this is based on ego (the irony of ego in acting is an amusing thing to me - if you get into acting for your ego, you'll be disappointed, yet you need your ego to have the confidence to be an actor... it's a twisted circle), but mostly I think it's based on experience. I don't know of anyone who has done anything and become proficient without making a mistake. Even those who are proficient make mistakes, they've just learned to own them in order to better their craft, and so should you. You need to accept the fact that practice, and the experience which we learn from our mistakes that is going to make us better at pretty much whatever we do.

If you have to, think of it like this - the only job you're ever going to have where you start at the top, is when you dig a hole.

Instead of digging a hole for yourself by ignoring your mistakes, I say that you own them and use them to learn how to do things better.

Now if the idea of owning your mistakes makes sense to you, and you want to see how one particular voice actor was able to use a post mortem analysis to do exactly what I'm talking about, then you're going to want to check out Jeff Kafer's blog to see how a good example of this.


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Monday, April 27, 2009

RIP Harry Kalas

As I am sure many of you know, Harry Kalas passed away two weeks ago today. For those who aren't familiar with him, Harry was synonymous with Philadelphia baseball, serving as the announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies since 1971 and also as an announcer for NFL films since 1974.

What you may not know or have seen is the outpouring of sympathy and condolence which which family, friends, and fans from all over showed in the aftermath of his sudden passing. Unless you live in Philadelphia, it's difficult to describe, but Harry Kalas was considered by many to be the voice of this town. He was one of the city's biggest proponents, known for his love of baseball (there are few who denied him the fan-given title of of being the "Phils biggest fan"), and of the people who lived here. Over the past two weeks, news crews have been outside of Citizens Bank Park to interview fans about the games and their reaction to Harry's passing. It seems like everyone had a favorite "Harry Kalas moment" or a personal story from meeting the man which they could share. He was even known to be the wedding announcer for fans when asked; he was so loved by the people of the Philadelphia area that many considered him to be family, despite never having met him, and the reverse was true as Harry was known for mingling and spending as much time with Phillies fans as he possibly could.

In the days after his death, a memorial tribute was set up around the Mike Schmidt statue outside of the third base entrance to Citizens Bank Park. I'd like to share a few of those photos, because without seeing the outpouring of emotion for Harry, it's tough for people to understand how one person's voice can touch so many lives.

I don't think that anything can really compare to this kind of respect the man had earned. The past two years have seen a lot of great voiceover talent move beyond this mortal coil. Harry Kalas was one of the greats among them, and his passion, his humor, and his voice will be missed by those who had the opportunity and privilege to call him one of their own.

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The missing ingredient.

It's funny how things work out. I wanted to post something tonight that had more to do with the actual acting side of things, especially since I often find myself looking at the business aspects of voiceover, the technology, etc., but nothing was really coming to mind that I could say that either hasn't been 100 times before, or by people who are far more experienced than I am...

and then I get an e-mail which provided me the answer I needed.

You see, it was from someone I've known for a long time who was looking to take their VO career to the next level. Now I'll be the first to tell you that I'm no guru when it comes to acting. I very much enjoy using the "school of make believe" when it comes to acting (mixed with a smattering of Adler, Meisner, and Stanislavski, not to mention more than a little physicality... especially when voice acting). Despite all the wonderful things that each of these methods offered me, I just wasn't all that believeable. So for someone to ask for my advice when it came to acting was a bit out of left-field for me.

So, I listened to the demo he had recently recorded and it was nice. The copy was nice, the production was very well done, the FX were timed appropriately, the voice was there... and then it hit me that I didn't like this demo at all. I was just listening to this person's voice, and nothing more. There was nothing which I was drawn to, nothing to keep me engaged or interested. I couldn't believe it, becuase the actor asking for my advice was wonderfully charasmatic. I didn't get any of that.

There was something missing and I knew exactly what it was because for so long, I'd been doing the same thing. He was missing the most important thing which a voice actor can bring to his/her performance. Themself.

Sounds crazy, but it's true. Think about it; what is the first question which an actor asks themselves when preparing for a role or a scene? "Who am I?" Why would they do that, if not to figure out just what they need to bring to a character?

Another way of thinking of it is this. If you ever meet any successful voice actors, you'll quickly notice the the same general characteristic for each and every one. Yes, they're talented, and yes, they're versatile, but you know what? Every character, every role they perform has some aspect of themselves which makes the character they're playing undeniably their own, and irrefutably believable. Don't believe me? Spend some time around guys like Pat Fraley and Bob Bergen, Deb Monroe, D.B. Cooper. It's part of who they are. If you really want to see something interesting, look at interviews with Daws Butler, Mel Blanc, and even Don LaFontaine and Joe Cipriano. What draws you to these folks in person and through their interviews is the same thing which their personalities bring to their performance as a voice actor.

And unfortunately, it's the hardest lesson to learn (at least for me, and I suspect that I'm not alone).

So my comment to anyone who stumbles across this blog is this. Don't worry about the gear you're using for your voiceovers. Don't worry about your level of experience, or whether you'll get the audition. Don't even worry all that much about your voice. Just be true to yourself and stop worrying about the little stuff and most of it will work out for itself. As Bob Bergen is often quoted as saying "the world has all the voices it needs, but what it doesn't have is you. What you bring to the table is what makes your characters come alive."



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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why you need to think about an invoicing strategy for your clients.

I've recently read the posting from John Taylor about his adventures with PayPal. I'm very glad that things worked out for him and that he was able to get his session fees back from the client. However, this raises a good time to point out that you need to have a strategy regarding how you invoice a client.

Being a true fan of the Age of Information, I love the ability to send out invoices to my clients. It makes life a lot easier for both them and myself. However, it's a bit more difficult to prove that you delivered a service via an electronic format. I'm sorry, but there are two major factors working against you if a client should choose to abscond with your voiceover work without paying:
  1. The law has yet to catch up with technology, and it probably never will.
  2. Since most voiceover work is defined as a "service" it's very difficult to prove that the service was provided if we use electronic formats for everything. Since a civil court will usually side with the defendant by default, the fact that your voiceover work was "neither earned nor realized" (one of the key conditions for payment, from a financial viewpoint) is not taken into consideration.
To me, this represents a risk. Now, with some of the posts I've had on this blog, I get asked what a risk represents. I'm going to define that for you right here and now, and you can use this definition for more than just voiceover. A risk is the threat or probability that an action or event, will adversely or beneficially affect an organisation's ability to achieve its objectives. Wow, that's wordy, isn't it? Here's an easier way to think of it: risk represents the uncertainty of outcome. To me, that's the easier way to figure out whether or not something is a risk.

We face risks every day, and for the most part we do pretty well at identifying which ones are real, which are assumed, which are deceptive, and which can be ignored. And taking a page from a previous blog post of mine and revisit the things we can do with a risk:

  1. Accept the risk - basically we acknowledge what the risk is and the consequences for not doing anything to protect ourselves.
  2. Remove the risk - stop performing the action that puts us at risk (obviously this isn't an option if you're trying to run your voiceover business).
  3. Transfer the risk - have someone else assume it for us (Voices.com's surepay system would be a good example of this)
  4. Mitigate the risk - take proactive measures to limit our exposure to the risk.
BTW: I don't plan on rehashing old stuff I've blogged about too often (nobody needs to re-read stuff I'd talked about in the past), but a lot of the concepts build upon each other so I wanted to identify that little goal of mine.

Since one of the goals in a voiceover business is to make money, we're probably going to want to mitigate the risk. From John Taylor's blog post, he identified that since there wasn't any "physical good" for his voiceover, PayPal could not do anything more than to automatically refund the client's money back to the originating account, leaving John without payment for the services he provided. As part of the normal course of my operations (as you'll find in the FAQ section on my webpage) I use a two-pronged approach to making sure that I invoice my clients properly. Since most clients request an electronic copy of their invoice, I e-mail them a copy (which is what most folks do). I additionally send a copy via USPS in order to guarantee that they've gotten the invoice. My own philosophy and experience is that it's easy for someone to accidentally forget about an e-mail which was sent weeks ago and is now lost in the dustbin of my inbox (or worse, accidentally deleted). Providing an independent secondary source of supplying a client with my invoice reduces the chance of a client accidentally misplacing it. It further serves as a means (via delivery tracking) to provide a paper trail should something go awry with payment.

Don't get me wrong, I trust my clients. Without a measure of trust, you need to get out of this business. But I'm a firm believer in "trust but verify". The flip side of the coin is that it also provides my clients with an additional degree of protection since they can match the two invoices to make sure that the cost of my services have been properly stated, and just as importantly, they now have a physical copy (via CD) of the tracks I've recorded for them.

Greg's personal note: Being a little sneaky, I'll also admit that this gives me the chance to do some extra marketing by making sure that the mailed invoices use a mailing label with the website and logo affixed to them (trust me, you don't want to send invoices using a handwritten envelope; take the time to make something more professional for your clients... they do notice).

I'm not saying that my way is the only way, just that it seems to be covering the bases and providing a risk mitigation plan that permits me a stronger level of assurance than just using electronic methods alone. If you've got a method or strategy that works for you, let me know in the comments. Who knows? We all might learn something from each other (which is why this blog was put here in the first place ;)



Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's alive... ALIVE!!!!

Sorry, but I had to go there =-)

With all the stuff going on, the illustrious Denise and I decided that it was time to take my website live. Considering how long I've taken to actually put it up since I originally got into voiceover, and then again considering how long I had the domain name, I am certain that some people are taking this as a sign of the coming apocalypse.

Who knows, they may be right...

Regardless, there was a lot of work that went into just being allowed to put it up (to explain which would take a lot more time then I'd really want anyone to have to read on here, lol). Suffice it to say, that the only reason that www.gregoryhouser.com is now operational is in no small measure to a handful of people who did a lot of hard work helping me get this thing together (and kicking my butt when necessary). Speaking of which, I think I just figured out the subject of my next blog posting...

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Philadelphia acting blog.

While I am from the Philadelphia area, I don't usually keep my interests focused on the acting environment within the city. This is for two reasons:

  1. A lot of the stuff I do is all over the country. Nowadays, you've got to be accessible from clients all over if you want to compete in the VO market, and while I also do stage and film, let's face it... I'm way too much of a voiceover guy to deny being anything else.
  2. Trying to work in the word "Philadelphia" for the blog simply wouldn't make any sense, and saying "A man, a cheese steak, and a whole lot of microphones" really doesn't have the same vibe to it, lol.
So no, I don't really keep my interests limited to Philadelphia. There's a lot going on, to be sure (we have one of the largest theatre districts in the country, and the oldest theatre in the country is located on Walnut St. at the aptly named Walnut St. Theatre). However, for those who read the blog and are from the area, Jennifer Williamson has put together one of the nicer blogs I've seen that deals with a lot of the things which an actor living in the Philadelphia region has to face.

The only downside is that it's not a blog that gets updated all that often. Regardless, it's worth taking a look if you want to get a quick overview of the Philly acting world.



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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gears of War Interview

I recently stumbled onto this video through YouTube, and I have to say that it's quite amusing.

It is obvious why the voice work on the game has taken so many awards. The voice actors loved what they did (as evidenced by their shenanigans when given the microphone), and while it's not one of those videos that gives great insight from an actual voice acting standpoint there's a lot to be said for the sheer level of fun that these guys had while voicing their characters for the game.

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Directing the Voice-Over Actor

I am not a director, though I have played one on stage (and even received an award for it).

However, Vicki Amorose has recently written an article on Gamasutra that is specifically aimed at directors through the experiences and advice of voice actors such as JS Gilbert, Kevin Cooke, Diane Havens, and Bill Painter. This is a simple, but relatively straightforward approach for people to better understand what things your voice actor needs to know in order to give you the best performance. According the Vicki's article, it's broken down into three main point, with three subpoints each:

  1. Questions which must be answered for the Voice Over
  2. Types of Direction which the Voice Actor Hates
  3. Types of Direction which the Voice Actor Loves
If you've got the time for a quick read, the article can be found here.

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Pardon our dust while we renovate...

I've been getting a LOT of e-mails lately. My thanks to those who have been offering their support and kind words on the blog, and on the site while I drive the graphic artist doing the layout insane (Denise has the patience of a saint).

The e-mail with a marriage proposal was... unexpected. And I'm going to have to say "no" to the offer. My significant other might have some problems with that.

I've had a few people ask me about when the site is going "live" (if you go to the main page, you see a "under construction" sign). The answer is soon. We're working on the contact page (I think you'll like what we've come up with) and doing some final adjustments to the other pages. As you can see from the links on the right-hand side of the blog, nearly everything is done.

Frankly, we were in the testing phase when the blog went up and I never expected to get as much traffic as I have from the stuff I've been posting. Keep the e-mails coming, and I'm happy as a clam to see that folks are getting something out of it.

Take care, and I'll have a small announcement here when the site goes live in a week or three.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Human Experience

Earlier this evening, I was at a local Penn State Campus, to see a screening of a movie I'd heard about in the past but never seen called "The Human Experience". It was one of the first big projects put together by Grassroots Films and while I'll be the first to tell you that the films can get a bit too preachy at times, it's one of those films that you just have to see.

I wish that blogger.com would allow me to share the video, but it doesn't. So you'll just have to hit the site (which I've linked to). For those of us in the rat race the film is a good reminder that life is about more than those things we usually end up being concerned about (money, career, etc.). I was lucky to learn that two of the cast of the documentary (Michael Campo and Jeffrey Azize) were attending the event and it was moving to hear how much the film had affected their lives.

If you get the chance, check these guys out and attend a local screening (and believe me, they'll be happy to work with you to get one local to wherever you are). Their film is one of those healthy doses of reality that we all need from time to time.

Make sure to get your daily allotment!

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

CISSP and Voice Over? Learning to "own it".

For those who didn't know, I recently took the exam to become a Certified Information System Security Professional. Normally, you want to take a few months to prepare for the exam since you have ten domains of knowledge upon which you are tested, and the adage "mile wide, but inch deep" is very true when it comes to the exam certification.

And true to course, I was given less than 10 calendar days to prepare for the exam due to the nature of my employer (who, unfortunately, does not understand the nature of the certification). That okay though, because at least they were offering me the opportunity and covering the bill.

Since this is a voice over blog, you know that I'm going to find something from one and use towards the other. And you'd be right in stating so. In this case, it has to do with confidence. Both with the CISSP and in your own voiceover career the confidence you have in yourself will often make or break you. Without turning this into a self-help posting, how often do we go into something and simply say "I own this!"?

Probably not as often as we should, and as I scrambled through the 3500 pages of material that I needed to know for the exam, I found myself at wits end about 4 day prior to the exam. Quite simply, there was too much to do and I hadn't been given enough time. Were I allowed to put my job on hold, in addition to my coursework, and all other responsibilities, then I know I could have done it. However, in the state I was in I just couldn't see it.

And then I looked at it from the point of view of a performer. I remembered what I'm so often told by those I train and perform with. Simply put, it's to stop worrying about what might happen, and to go in with guns blazing knowing that regardless of the decision that I owned it as best possible. From that moment on, that's exactly what I did. When I was able to study during the rest of the week, I told myself to own it. When I did the practice exams, I told myself that I owned it. Reviewing the materials one last time before the exam, I'd remind myself to own it. And regardless of the outcome, I knew that I owned the exam. Pass? Fail? It doesn't matter anymore... the important thing is that I got the experience. If I didn't get it this time, then I continue working on it until the next exam and I'd get it then.

Precisely what you need to do in voice over. I'm as guilty as the next of getting into my head and psyching myself out over the audition. I mentally beat myself up on the drive home, or worry about how I did, if I'll hear anything, or if I just bombed. Does that help anyone? No. Instead, you need to go in with the attitude of owning the audition, moving on to the next challenge as soon as you're done. Leave the worrying to someone else, because it's out of your hands now. The only thing you can do is to continue to train, strengthen up your weaknesses once you've identified them, and go after the next audition with the same philosophy of owning it.

Ironically, it took an infosec certification to really learn the message that people have been telling me for years. If you don't own these challenges, they're going to own you, and regardless of how you learn that lesson, you'll never reach the next step of your career without it...

-Happy Easter!

BTW: for those interested, I passed the exam on the first shot.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

It might be time to take a SWOT at your VO Business

No... that's not a spelling error you just saw.

If you think about it, there have been a LOT of articles that have come out lately about looking at your business, figuring out whether or not your VO business is an actual business or a hobby, whether or not your brand is dead, understanding the producer's puzzle, the top ten mistakes that you can make, and even about concentrating on the business's share of wallet vs. share of market.

All written by professional voice actors who are known in the business, who are very talented, and who are all absolutely correct.

But are these articles actually dealing any issues you face with your business? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is that you probably don't realize it. I'm here to help you with that.


Well, let's take a SWOT at your business.

Again... that's not a misspelling.

A SWOT is a strategic planning analysis tool that is used on projects or business ventures (like your's). For those who've never had to use one, let alone think of the phrase "strategic planning", there's no need to worry this is pretty simple. We just want to think about your business's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. In other words:

Now I'd love to take credit for this little idea, I really would. Albert Humphrey came up with the idea while at Stanford, but the important thing isn't how SWOT came to be, but how we can use it in our business activities. This requires us to be very honest with our analysis (or to bring in someone we trust if it's known that we'll have observational bias) , to identify an objective for our business, and then to list out the following:

  • What are our Strengths? What attributes of the organization are helpful to achieving the objective?
  • What are our Weaknesses? What attributes of the organization are harmful to achieving the objective?
  • What Opportunities do we face? What are the external conditions that are helpful to achieving the objective?
  • What Threats do we face? What are the external conditions which could do damage to the business's performance.
I'm sure you're thinking "this is great, but what can it actually do for me?" Well that's also pretty simple if you think about it. Once we've identified an objective for our business, then identified the specific quadrants of a SWOT analysis, we need to examine the following:

  • How are each of our Strengths used, and how can we further capitalize on them?
  • What is necessary to improve on our Weaknesses?
  • What is the benefit from each Opportunity, and how can they be leveraged toward a positive outcome for the business?
  • How can be mitigate the Threats?
To use an example, Keith David is known to use the following method of SWOT analysis while auditioning a piece of copy. He'll look at the specs and cross off each descriptive word that he feels is part of his nature (identifying the Strengths). He then looks at what remains and picks a few that he wants to concentrate on as his choice for his read (identifying and focuses on his Weaknesses in order to improve them). This affords him the Opportunity to take the copy in a direction which is he may not be accustomed to, or at the least uses often. By doing so, he's showing himself to be a more versatile actor and reducing the Threat of not booking the job.

Obviously this is a very simplistic example, but we can take the model and use it for more complex matters, such as running one's own voiceover business.

The fact is that we use these strategies nearly every day, but most of us have never identified them or seen the relationship identified by a SWOT analysis. With some luck, I hope that a few folks reading this will find a way to take the principle and to successfully use it in their own ventures, whatever they may be.


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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Funimation Update

I can't say that it's the most original name for a blog, but considering what the blog is about I think that it's more than accurate.

I know two of the three guys involved with The Funimation Update, and can tell you that they're not just employees of Funimation Entertainment; they're also some of the biggest anime otaku you'll probably run into. If you're into Japanese animation like I am (I shudder to think of the money spent on hanken cels and the like), then this is definitely a blog that you'll want to have on your radar screen.

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Would you rather be busy or add value?

Since it's 3:30AM out here, I'm going to make this one short (I hope).

Let me ask you a question. Regardless of your chosen vocation, how do you measure success? For most of us, and especially those of us who work (full-time or otherwise) in a creative profession then answer is to have a lot of bookings, which we hope will result in more than a bit of influx of income. For others, it's the idea of working more, being busy and getting a step ahead of where we currently are in our chosen profession.

There's nothing wrong with that, but are you actually suceeding? If you look up the definition of the word, you might be surprised to find that "being busy" is not part of the definition for being successful. Yet, how often do we equate the two?

If you talk with an accountant, their traditional definition for success is "to add value". This is something which was drilled into my head at grad school. Words like talent, busy, etc. had very little to do with it (though obviously, situational requirements bring these characteristics into play). When it came time to put pen to paper, the determination of success on the balance sheet was how much value you and your efforts added to the balance sheet.

Since we're not merely figures and accounts on a page, the question to ask is this: is what I'm doing adding value to the things I want to do? It's a qualitative question, and for each person the answer will be a little different. But it's worth asking:

  • Did taking that low paying VO booking add value to what I want to do?
  • Did spending $3,000 for that U87 add value to what I want to do?
  • Did that conference add value to what I want to do?
Noticing a theme? I'm not talking about justifying your efforts, but honestly asking if they're getting your closer to your goals. For each person, those goals are going to be different, and many of them will change over time. However, if we take a look at what we want to do and comparing that goal to what we're doing to achieve it, I think you'll find that there are a few things which we do in order to "stay busy" that simply aren't adding any value to our personal bottom line.

It's worth thinking about... are you just keeping busy, or are you adding value?

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

If you're having a martini... do it with some style.

One of the things I'd like to do with this blog is to talk about stuff that isn't just about VO, but still has some interest. If you're like me, you like to do things with a little style. There's nothing wrong with that so long as you stay within budget and do so for your own enjoyment, instead of trying to make a statement. Frankly, if you're trying to make a statement, odds are that you're trying too hard.

For me, enjoying a good martini now and again is one of those simple pleasures that everyone should have at least once in their lives (and if you're lucky, have a good eye, and a steady hand, you can enjoy as often as you'd like). One of the things which always bothered me though was that you were stuck with a wooden toothpick for your garnish. A good martini has often been referred to as being "clear, potent, and never misses its mark", and I'm sorry but a wooden splinter with an olive on it simply doesn't give me that feeling...

and then I stumbled upon this guy. Without a doubt, this is a man who knows his drink, and has turned an otherwise boring aspect to a classic drink into a work of art.

Ironically, if you think about what the martini represents, there's a lot of commonality between it and a good actor in that a strong actor will have a statement to make (regardless of whether we really understand it), is clear about what their particular goals are, and never misses the mark when it comes to leaving the audience with something to ponder or enjoy. Seems to me that the characteristics we give to the martini are also the same we ought to find in our work as voice actors.

or perhaps, I'm just really in the mood for a martini.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Adventures in Voice Acting blog

If you're a fan of BangZoom! (and let's face it, who isn't) then you know of their "Adventures in Voice Acting" clips and DVD. I had the chance to sit in their studio the last time I was in Los Angeles and was really impressed with both their professionalism and their friendly personality (they really went out of their way to let me into the studio and partake in a session, which I greatly appreciate).

Well, they've got a blog for their AiVA series now. If you're like me, and enjoy hearing the tales of voice actors and such, then you'll want to check it out for yourself.

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

The VO motto: Be Prepared... and Persistent

Over at VoiceoverXtra, you'll find an interesting first half of a two part series by Lisa Rice that focuses on persistence and "the producer's puzzle". I'm not saying that you're going to agree with everything Lisa says (there were a few pieces that I know I disagreed with), but not even my nitpicking could devalue the wisdom shown in her writing and experience.

Trust me, it's worth the time to read and digest the information.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Rate card for voiceover talent? It's a start to understanding the terrain.

A lot of folks have been chatting about this, and while I hate to jump on the bandwagon this particular item is worth repeating.

Seems that the folks at Edge Studio took the time to take some rates and put them together into a very nice list that the average voice talent can use.

I recommend that any voice actor take the time to learn what the rates are in their local area and spread out from there, learning about the rates and general working conditions of whatever areas they're working in. Quite simply, you wouldn't plan a trip cross country without having a map would you? Then why would you try to work someplace without knowing what the rates, etc. are?

Don't believe me? Well Sun Tzu thought enough of it to dedicate a good chunk of "The Art of War" to warn the reader:

You need to be aware of the terrain and its affect on your soldiers, as well as the enemy. This will allow you to fight with advantage. From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you may sally forth and defeat him. But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and you fail to defeat him, then, return being impossible, disaster will ensue. knowing these things is a test of a great general.

Carl von Clausewitz also believed it to be a crucial factor towards victory, and I think that anyone who want to succeed in business should understand the advantages and constraints of the terrain/environment in which they operate.

The good folks at Edge can't know all the different rates across the country, but their rate card is a very good start (though I'd like to know the specifics behind the census they used... it's the engineer in me). It's a great resource that a lot of talent can definitely use, especially if they're trying to establish an online presence with any of the P2P sites out there right now. Don't get me wrong, some of the online sites are genuinely working to provide a service in an equitable manner,as you can see here or here, they might not totally sync up with what the rates are in your neck of the woods.

I guess the long and short of it is this, Edge Studio put together a nice resource, and there are others out there which I've linked to this post. Don't be afraid to use them, but don't be defined by them either. You are the CEO of your voiceover business. Don't be afraid to take command of your position, or your rates.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What a little risk analysis can teach us about ISDN

Kara Edwards recently mused the question "are your kitchen cabinets stocked?" in which she retells Nancy Wolfson's comments regarding the question of whether a talent needs ISDN in their home studio as a means to discuss our "preparedness as voice actors to handle anything that comes our way". For those who have the time, it's a great read.

My comment is this: do you really need ISDN? Preparedness aside, and yes you should be prepared for a multitude of options, risks, and opportunities which will come your way (I still have a "go bag" ready, so I'm pretty keen on preparedness), I think that there's a lot to be said by asking oneself if we need ISDN for your home studio.

Before we start, I need to be perfectly clear that what we're about to do is very simple, and also very personal. If you're not honest about some of the metrics used, then this isn't going to work. If so then you'll have a better idea of whether or not you really need ISDN for your voiceover business.

Second point, you need to accept the probability that ISDN is a dying medium. It's becoming harder and harder for people to get ISDN lines installed for domestic use, and the originators of the medium are moving towards VOIP, and other IP-based technologies. ISDN was originally used for those businesses (please note that it was designed for business use, not for the home consumer) for those applications which required a dedicated line, and for video teleconferencing solutions. Technology has changed, and while we're moving on from ISDN, one of the cool things is that the recording industries quickly realized that talent could use ISDN as a means of providing an acceptable quality recording from the talent's home studio to a remote studio location. Don't get me wrong, ISDN isn't going to die off tomorrow, but it is slowly fading away.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's go onto our risk analysis. In a risk analysis we're faced with a risk, which is nothing more than the probability that a vulnerability (in this case, losing a booking due to lack of ISDN capability) will have some impact (for us, a financial impact and possible loss of reputation within the industry) on our business. Yep, it sounds bad, but there are four things we can do with our risk:

  • Accept the risk (go after jobs that might require ISDN and risk the backlash)
  • Remove the risk (choose not to audition for anything that requires ISDN)
  • Transfer the risk (develop relations with ISDN-equipped studios and retainer for access)
  • Mitigate the risk (purchase a codec or use alternate technology)
Since we all like to make money, the last two choices seem to be the sensible ones, right? But how many studios will let you have unfettered access to their place, especially if they've got a booking? Regardless of your rapport with them, a booking in-progress will always trump a "maybe booking". That narrows our choice down to one, mitigating the risk.

Now before we run off an buy an ISDN codec, we now need to think about our cost benefit ratio. If you're losing business because you don't have ISDN, then it's an easy thing to do. However, most talent aren't in that position. You might like to think that you are, but probably not.

Regardless, you want to take the dollar value of the bookings you'll be losing without ISDN (which is the asset value times the exposure factor of the risk) and then compare that with the cost of the countermeasure (the ISDN codec plus costs for installation, monthly costs, etc.) divided by expected years of usage. Put another way:

Risk <> (Countermeasure / years of expected usage)

We need the Risk value to be greater than the value of the Countermeasure divided by years of expected usage. It's only when that occurs that the countermeasure (in this case the ISDN codec) becomes a worthwhile investment since we're reducing costs loss by the risk by investing in the countermeasure. For example, let's say that I expect $10,000 of new voiceover business that is ISDN based to come into my studio over the course of the next five years. The risk is that I'll lose that $10,000 since I don't have ISDN. Now let's say that I can get an ISDN codec for $3,500, with additional costs of $200 for the installation fee, and with a monthly bill of $100 we have an additional $6,000 to spend for the monthly charges. Our Countermeasure cost becomes $3,500 + $200 + $6,000 for a grand total of $9,700 over the course of five years time. Let's hit the equation. Since we are doing this on a per year basis, we'll average the costs our over the five year interval.

Risk = $10,000 / 5 = $2,000
Countermeasure = $9,700 / 5 = 1,940

Risk < Countermeasure, but just barely.

The addage within the voiceover community is that you'll know that you need ISDN when you know that you need ISDN. I truly believe that, but in the interim it's a good idea to use simple cost and risk analysis techniques to better understand just what you're getting into. The rate of return might not be worth the risk of investment for some, in which case, use of an alternative technology (Source Connect for example) or working with the local studios to mitigate the risk are your best bests.

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So why are we here?

I love this question. Ironically, I get it a lot (apparently some think that I philosophize about things like this; they give me far too much credit). On blogs, it's our own way to justify why we have a blog. I'm no different than anyone else in that regard, but I like to think that being honest about it counts for something.

For those who are interesting in "why are we here?", George Carlin had an interesting response to this question during his "Jammin in New York" comedy special back in 1992. Regardless of your feelings toward the man, his philosophical insights are some of the most amusing you could ask for.

But I'm digressing...

Back in August of 2008, Bob Souer made the comment that I really ought to start up a blog based on my knowledge of voiceover recording. Let me be the first to say that while I have earned the reputation of taking the concept of voiceover from a home studio to the point of overkill at times, there are others who know just as much as I do, and probably more. More to the point, I am a relative unknown within the world of voiceover, and to a certain extent I prefer it. More importantly though, who really cares what my insights into things are anyway?

Later on in the day, I ran into Bob Bergen. Bob's a great guy, one of the most knowledgable and talented guys I've met in the world of voiceover (seriously, he's a walking encyclopedia). He's also quite the stalker, but only if you're Mel Blanc (and to learn more about that story you need to either attend one of his workshops, or his one-man show... both of which I highly recommend). Anyway, while we were sharing a little time to catch up on each other's lives he made the comment that I was very observant about things, and always bringing out the pros and cons of whatever issues I adressed in the various voiceover forums, regarless of whether the topic was popular or not. I had been weaning myself away from them since I saw a lot of negativity and was concerned that I'd become the same, but Bob's comment let me know that I was being anything but, and that my view on things outside of the studio were something that others really appreciated.

(on the side, I have real money for anyone who can tell me how he's 10 years older than I am and looks 15 years younger)

That evening, I shared some time with both Dave Courvoisier and later with Ron Levine, shooting the bull and exchanging some tales of adventure from our infamous pasts. Dave was serving as the M.C. for the VOICE conference and is just one heck of a talented and nice guy, and Ron... well Ron is Santa Claus, so how can you not love the guy? Then you get to hear his work and you're totally blown away.

Well, on both occasions they make comments about my experiences in life and how they've shaped me, and how much fun it would be to share those experiences with others since it's brought me into the world of voiceover from a different route than most others. I have my own biases towards my experiences in life, but I found it interesting how differently I came into the fold compared to most others.

That's it in a nutshell. My self-aggrandizing reasons for being here. While I'm doing this, I plan on blogging a bit about my experiences, tossing out assorted wisdoms regarding the art of mixology, a lot about voiceover and recording.


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