What's In A Name . . . ?
You - a voice actor, a voiceover, the talent - call yourself what you will - want to have your profile and voice reels included on an on-line casting site, that is are advertising itself as 'An Agency' and opening its books to voice artists looking for representation. All fine so far - but they're asking their represented artists to use a different name from the one they are known by. This rings alarm bells. I don't get it - and I find it a really worrying trend. Why would a voice agent ask a voiceover to be listed under a different name from the one they're known by and recognised by in the industry.
Some audiobook narrators do have a nom-de-voix that they use for certain genres - but such pseudonyms have their own persona - their own website, twitter account and social and on-line profiles; this isn't quite the same thing.The name on your website, your business cards, you social media profile, is your name, your professional persona. It matters that there is consistency as your portfolio grows and you become more recognised.
We are all working in a vastly overcrowded professional - so to make our voices stand out from the crowd, our voices combined with our names and our reputation are what get us every enquiry, every job and every repeat job. We're a package - and if you have an agent, then they should, in my opinion, market you under that persona. To force an actor to use another name is surely counter productive.
I know the argument is that having a nom de vox on an online casting site means that potential clients can't search for you directly and book you direct, thereby cutting out the middle man; but surely it's about trust.
As voiceover and impressionist Darren Altman says:
"One word, trust. Personally I think it shows a distinct lack of trust on behalf of the voice over artist and insinuates that we will take on a repeat client and bypass the source from whence it came. That’s not my style. I will ALWAYS refer back to the source if it came back from an agency. Personally I’m not a fan of a pseudonym at all."
Surely a true agent works in your best interests. They actively seek work on your behalf, have a great network of contacts and are known as professional and trustworthy. They negotiate on your behalf and you pay them commission on your earnings, this is how they gain their reputation as an agent. Surely its in your interest as an artist, to refer any direct enquiries to them, they take all the pressure of negotiation and invoicing off your shoulders, and as this is how they earn their money, its in their interest to negotiate the best possible rate on your behalf. Any other way of working seems to me to do nothing to enhance the reputation and credibility of either the artist nor the agent. After all, in an agency has even a moderately recognisable name on their books - they want everyone to know that the artist has chosen to be with them, not their competition.
If you get a great gig then you have the right to claim that work as your own, to use a clip (with permission of course) on your website - you earn bragging rights, but if that work appears to have been recorded by Felicity Flybynight, then you can't add that work or that client to your portfolio - without giving the name away which totally defeats the object - so in effect, you're giving away the right to claim that work as yours.
Of course, if the middleman, whether it be a Pay to Play site or an online casting site purporting to be 'an agency', is charging the end client huge fees for booking us, then there is something very wrong.
It's your choice of course - and I know many people sign up for this without thinking beyond the possibility of earning some money as a voiceover - but for me it's not an option, and I can't help wondering whether this rule applies to everyone listed on such an online agency. Do any even moderately well-known voices on there have to chose a different name too? I wonder.
Re-inventing yourself from time to time leads to a fulfilling and continuing working life. It's easy for actors and voice actors - and I guess for artists of all kinds - to get stuck in a rut and just repeat and rehash whatever has brought you success, to play safe and to concentrate on whatever brings in the pennies. But experimenting in new areas of work, changing your perspective or finding new outlets for your abilities, is something I have found to be rewarding emotionally and professionally and also to be lucrative. You change - your skills develop - and if you have the ability to be flexible, to accept and build, to continue developing new threads and honing your craft, you realise that all of the skills you have picked up along the way help you to stay relevant and employable - even in a young industry such as audiobooks.
My first visit to the theatre was a Christmas treat in 1954. The play was 'Toad Of Toad Hall' (designed by Voytek I know now) at the old Nottingham Playhouse in Goldsmith Street - with Michael Hordern playing Toad. It was magical. I left the theatre on a cloud and announced to my astonished parents 'that is what I am going to do when I grow up!', and really, I never wavered from that ambition - and I still haven't. Every job I have ever had of any meaning has been connected to that one desire. To be an actor, to interpret language and emotion, to bring words to life.
It wasn't an easy journey to begin with. My father was of the impression that being an 'actress' was akin to walking the streets! He insisted that I went to secretarial college before drama school - and though I hated every moment of it, the touch typing has come in very handy! Fortunately, I won a scholarship to Guildhall, and got a grant as well, so with the financial burden out of the way, and the unwavering support of my half-sister and my mother, he was eventually persuaded that I was actually going to drama school, not into some den of iniquity! So - at the age of eighteen I headed for London and the start of the greatest adventure of my life.
At about the same time, my oldest friend, whom I first met at primary school at the age of seven was also embarking on a career in the theatre. She had a similar passion and though our journeys were different, our careers ran a parallel path - these paths crossing surprisingly often during a friendship spanning more than sixty years. We did drama classes together as children, were in numerous plays together, did public speaking and poetry exams. We both went to a summer school at Rose Bruford college when we were fourteen - and we were both bitten by the acting bug. I went to college, she joined the local repertory theatre as an student acting ASM, then after I graduated from Guildhall, we both ended up in the same repertory company at Nottingham Playhouse for several seasons. When she was pregnant, I stepped into her role in Stuart Burge's production of 'Sons and Lovers' for the BBC, when I was pregnant, she was my maternity cover at Central television - and when I returned from maternity leave, she and I worked together at Central for several years. We both had young families by this time, so when Central stopped in vision live continuity, our options were a little limited - going back to treading the boards wasn't really viable for either of us, but we both found a way to use our skills in different ways and we stayed in touch, meeting when we could. I went into television production, she retrained as a drama teacher (some years later, I directed a student production at the school where she was head of drama). Latterly she travelled the world as a LAMDA examiner - I got into audiobooks and voiceover - and so it continues.
We have re-invented ourselves yet again. Both returning to our roots!
The day after my birthday - we went to our monthly 'Speakeasy' voice and accent class at our local theatre. We are years older than the vast majority of participants, two silver haired women with a few creaking joints - both of us once again jobbing actors - quoting passages from Shakespeare to each other (from memory I may add) loving what we do, supporting each other and enjoying ourselves while continuing to explore and discover. My pal Evadne Fisher and I, developing our skills, honing and practising our craft - and acknowledging that re-inventing yourself every now and then is a really good idea - and that we are both very lucky!
But My Brain Had Other Ideas
Don't let the-less-than-catchy title put you off reading (or listening to) this beautifully written, funny, brave, scary and ultimately uplifting book. Of obvious interest to anyone who has any kind of brain injury or disability - as well as to those helping and supporting people with brain injury, this book deserves a much wider audience.
Cavernous Angioma (in which abnormal clusters of blood vessels in the brain sometimes burst and bleed) and the three life saving surgeries that Deb has undergone, have had a profound effect on all aspects of her life. She has to deal with sometimes terrifyingly random symptoms: loss of taste, dizziness, seizures, memory loss, depression and a heightened sensitivity to smell, noise and light that cause her to 'zone out' in difficult situations and environments..
Deb tells her story with humour, rage, pragmatism and hope and manages to find humour and courage amid the nightmare that is happening in her head which affects everything around her; her work, her life, her children, her relationships - even her belief in herself. She tells her story of survival with searing honesty and self-knowledge and a complete lack of self-pity. Her conversations with herself carry you through her journey to survival with her and the whole memoir has a lightness of touch and sensitivity that engenders not only empathy, but admiration for her courage and determination - not to mention admiration for her skill as a writer.
This is a book that made me thankful to be alive and healthy - and gave me a new perspective on my life, my family and friendships and all the things that I value the most. I was so honoured that Deb chose me to 'get inside her head' and tell her story in Audiobook form - it was a privelige - and I am so grateful to her and 'She Writes Press' for giving me the opportunity.
Here's what Deb says about the audiobook:
'Helen did a fabulous job narrating my memoir “But My Brain Had Other Ideas.” Not only was her voice and intonation perfect, but she really captured the essence of who I am. She hit all the nuances of my inner self, fear, humour, grief, just right. As I listened to the final product, I felt as if I was listening to (a better version of) myself telling my story. I can’t be prouder of this audiobook.
About Deb Brandon
Deb Brandon PhD was born in England, raised in Switzerland, Israel and England and is now Professor of Mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She has participated nationally and internationally in Dragon Boating and is a renowned textile artist and enthusiast. Her essays have been published in Dragon Boat World International, Hand/Eye Magazine, Logan Magazine; and SIAM Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Journal of Integral Equations and Applications. She has also written 'Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe'
That sinking feeling - money thrown away or a wise investment?
When I am out shopping in the real world and am tempted by an impulse buy, I take a break - I leave the store and have a walk around, get a coffee and talk to myself very severely! If I haven't convinced myself not to buy whatever it is within half an hour, I go back and take another look - a very critical look and I ask myself some questions:
If I can honestly answer 'YES' to those questions - then I ask myself
But what about shopping online for stuff I need for my business, whether that be equipment, software, coaching, mentoring, support - or membership of an industry related organisation or group?
I know that on more than one occasion I have been swept along on a wave of optimism and have pressed the 'buy now' button without a second thought. It's so easy to do - maybe I've succumbed because colleagues are posting on social media about joining this or that amazing organisation; signing up for this fantastic course; taking classes with this wonderful coach; or how simply doing X, Y and Z has transformed their career.
Sometimes it's a persuasive sales pitch or an hefty discount 'upgrade to the latest version of 'A' and save $100 dollars ... offer ends on Friday' that convinces me that my life and career can be transformed. Why am I tempted to buy a new mic, or the upgrade to the latest version of my editing software rather than sticking with the tried and tested version that I already have - and which works perfectly well? Why on earth do I find myself being tempted into signing up for this, that and the next thing? Why and how is usually-cautious-me being so easily seduced?
UK Audiobooks - Competition, Cost & Quality?
According to US figures provided in 2016 by The Audio Publishers' Association over 55 million Americans listened to audiobooks and more than 35,000 audiobooks were published in the States - and those numbers continue to increase. Figures recently released for 2017 indicate that total net sales of audiobooks were worth $757 million US, a rise of 22.7% on the previous year - and I read another report estimating that $900 million US would be spent on audiobook downloads and CD purchases this year (2018). In the US at least it's a growing and profitable industry. Why are things in the UK so different?
Speaking at Frankfurt’s half-day Audiobook Conference, Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association (APA), highlighted growth in audiobook output and sales in the US (46,000 titles published in 2017 with sales up 23%) and the UK (3,700 titles produced with sales up 16% in 2017). As a percentage of all sales, Cobb said audiobooks were averaging out at around 4% in the major markets, including Germany. In the UK, 36% of audiobook consumers were new to the market in 2017.
So - though we're lagging a long way behind - with just 3,700 UK productions as opposed to an amazing 46,000 in the US. But sales are increasing even in the UK and I can't help feeling that we should be feeling more of this audiobook related golden glow should surely be reflected on this side of the pond? UK sales are a long way off the figures in the US, but although there is certainly not anywhere like as much work available for narrators, many UK studios seem to keep pretty busy, but rates for narrators in the UK appear to be static - I am being offered exactly the same rate (or in some cases rather less) as I was being paid four years ago.
It seems to me, that the Audiobook industry in the UK has become obsessed by bringing down the costs - but at what cost to the listener?
I have recently returned from a wonderful few days in New York, where, for the second time, I attended The Audio Publishers' Association Conference.
APAC, hosted by The Audio Publishers' Association (The APA) and sponsored by Audiofile Magazine, is held at the same time as Book Expo America. APAC is totally centred around Audiobooks and there were over 500 attendees; narrators, tech folk, casting directors, producers and publishers - authors, audiobook reviewers, and listeners as well. There were workshops, panels, and break-out sessions on performance related issues, industry developments and business and marketing strategies - and lots and lots of opportunities to meet fellow professionals in informal settings - at a cafe on edge of the Hudson River, the roof garden of an Irish pub in Manhattan and various other bars, cafes and restaurants. venues - and at the AUDIES Gala, (the audiobook equivalent of the Oscar ceremony) and the now equally important NAUDIES (Not the Audies) where those not nominated, or not able to get a ticket for the gala, socialised and waited for the glittering nominees and their guests to arrive in their finery after the gala was over. For narrators there was also a worksop day of performance related coaching and advice hosted by Johhny Heller held the day before the main conference and a technical workshop examining the technical side of audiobook production hosted by Amanda Rose Smith.
The whole thing was loud, enthusiastic, invigorating, exciting, inspirational, surprisingly 'ego-free' - and utterly exhausting - and it was over all too quickly.
There were half a dozen other UK based British narrators who also made the journey - as there were last year and in previous years - and we were all genuinely and generously welcomed by everyone involved. Every one of us, no matter what our level of audiobook experience, felt that we belong to a community who values us and acknowledges us as colleagues and friends. It was an extraordinarily heartening experience that all of us will cherish.
So looking back with nostalgia at the amazing three days, at the various audiobook related workshops bracketing the main conference day, the numerous social events, the early mornings and late nights, I wonder whether that feeling of camaraderie was just an ephemeral thing that vanished into the clouds as everyone boarded their flight and returned to their padded cells? I don't think so. Despite the many miles that separates people in that vast country - and there were folk flying in from all corners of the US - I believe that the community spirit and contact continues once APAC is long over.
Perhaps I am looking through rose-coloured glasses, but I truly felt blessed to be there. I have never come across anything even remotely similar in the UK, though of course there are various organisations that host social events, webinars and workshops geared to the more general voiceover fraternity - Gravy for the Brain and The Voice Over Network for example. There are many voiceover performers belonging to these organisation who also read audiobooks and both VON and GFTB hold the occasional audiobook related event or workshop, but audiobooks are not why either of those organisation exist. There is no equivalent to The APA, no UK based professional organisation whose raison d’être is audiobooks.
I know the audiobook industry is significantly smaller over here than it is in the US - but if the articles in the US and UK press are to be believed, it is growing apace. It seems to me therefore that there is a real need for an UK based, professional audiobook-related organisation which welcomes audiobook producers, narrators, editors and engineers. The question as to whether that would be viable is already being asked - Neil Gardner of Ladbroke Audio posted an article on LinkedIn recently asking whether it was time for a Professional Organisation to represent those of use who earn our living from creating audiobooks.
I think the time is absolutely right.
We are constantly being told that Audiobooks are 'saving' the publishing industry, but few people within the industry are seeing any benefits of this alleged 'boom', in fact for most of us rates are falling. Our Union, Equity, though it has an audio committee, is unable to set audiobook rates, or even to suggest them, and in the competitive world in which we live, cost becomes an overarching consideration for audiobook publishers. We are all. whether producers, voice actors or technical folk therefore increasingly competing on cost rather than on the quality of the product we create and ultimately, surely that is something of an 'own goal' with disastrous results for the industry and the listener.
A UK based professional organisation might just be able to steer audiobook production out of the chasm it is in danger of falling into and give us all a sense of professionalism and unity such as appears to exist among our US colleagues who are fortunate in having the APA (and a strong Union) to support them.
Podcasts & Webinars
I have never been overly fond of listening to podcasts or tuning in to webinars; I so often find them frustrating and unsatisfactory and usually lose interest and drop out of the session. But why? My antipathy to podcasts and webinars puzzles me because as an avid 'talk radio' listener (BBC Radio 4) : people talking about what interests them, interviews and radio documentaries are what I listen to most. As far as TV is concerned, I watch far more factual programmes than anything else, so why do I frequently find podcasts and webinars, which are essentially an online version of what I enjoy so much on the radio and television, so singularly unsatisfactory?
Today it suddenly struck me ... a lightbulb moment!
One of the cardinal rules for journalists, interviewers and presenters - it is not about you; it's about your guests.
It is most definitely not the interviewer's role to judge, nor to give an opinion and definitely not to pop in their two penn'orth or their comments - or worse still, to chime in with the dreaded 'Oh yes, that happened to me! I remember when I did .... blah blah blah!' At this point, I (and probably everyone else listening or watching turns off ... literally as well as emotionally! Of course this is not solely the province of webinars and podcasts, it occasionally happens in broadcast interviews as well particularly when the person doing the interviewing is in the same line of work as those they are interviewing when it becomes almost a competition. I can think of several cringe making moments where an interviewer refuses to take the back seat and feels he or she has to 'top' whatever the guest says at every point in the discussion.
Listening to a discussion where the interviewer is following their own agenda is like having a health related discussion with a hypochondriac - every illness, every ache and pain you've experienced, they've had - not only more often, but more seriously!
Only at the end of a podcast lasting for over an hour, did I find out that those doing the interview were actually in the same business as those they were interviewing. Their names are Sean Daeley and Paul Stefano and their podcast series, about all things voiceover and audio related, a series which I thoroughly recommend, is called 'The VO Meter - Measuring your Voiceover Progress'
I actually narrate more than I listen ... I am very picky when it comes to listening and hypercritical - but when I love a narrator's voice and what he or she brings to a book - then I will look for other works they've read and the narrator often leads me to books that I would never have previously considered.
Anyway back to the article ... Theatre of the Mind! Wow.
Click on this link to read it
My opinions are mine and my views are my own!