When your mind goes wandering
If you’re worrying about your recording space or your settings - or if your concerned that you're making too many errors, taking too many noisy breaths, are having mouth noise issues - if you’re thinking about anything other than what you’re actually READING, then these wandering thoughts will make it impossible for you to fully connect with the text and to give a memorable and compelling performance.
Voicing anything, particularly an audiobook, take 100% concentration. If your mind wanders at any point, then the listener’s attention will also wander - they’ll hear the difference in your voice, and will know that you're just 'not present'.
If you find your mind wandering - take a break. Refocus, Regroup - then get back in there with 100% concentration. You know it makes sense!
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!
Muse from The Booth - It's that time of year again
2018 was the year in which I was fortunate to get represenation from one of the UK's top voice agents, Suzy Wootton at Suzy Wootton voices.
2018 was also the year I began my personal studio upgrade - purchasing a new mic and interface and investing in a Kube isolation booth. I also attended more coaching and audio related workshops than ever before and invested in new headshots and new voice reels. I am blogging more than ever and have joined Instagram and You Tube as well as being on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
A 'silver surfer' grasping the nettle with a vengeance!
As far as audiobooks are concerned I have been so lucky and have performed some really wonderful titles in 2018 including several for publishers and producers I hadn't worked with previously. I am so grateful to them all - existing colleagues as well as new ones - for casting me and giving me such great books to read.
Looking forward into 2019 - I have, as many of you may know, been considering offering audiobook narrator coaching for some time. I spent several years running BeeAudio's highly acclaimed Audiobook Narration Studio Certification Course - and when that came to an end, the material I created for that course was sitting on my laptop doing nothing. Several friends and colleagues approached me last year asking me to work with them, so using my existing material as a starting piont, I developed it into a comprehensive and detailed coaching package designed for trained actors wanting to get into audiobook narration and for narrators who want to raise their game and find out about working remotely.
I'll be sharing more information about this exciting development shortly - and adding some coaching content to my website in due course - so watch this space.
I'm still going to be narrating of course - so am limiting the number of students I take on at any time to six - so will still have lots of time to collaborate on more wonderful books.
In the meantime - I wish to thank all my blog and social media followers, my friends, coaches and mentors, my fellow narrators, actors and voiceover colleagues; all the people I have worked with and for - authors, collaborators, producers, proofers, audio engineers, directors, casting directors for their continued support - and wish you all A Very Happy, productive and creative year in 2019.
I am delighted to announce that I have new voice reels! They've been a long time coming - but I think the wait has been well worth it.
These voice recordings are my calling card if you like - a way of allowing casting directors, producers, publishers, prospective clients and indeed anyone seeking a professional voice, to hear what I sound like across a range of different types of voiceover recording across a range of genres.
My voice reels cover Audiobooks, Commercials, Corporate VOs - including IVR & Explainer voiceovers. E-learning, Gaming, Narrative VO - including narration for documentaries - and Web commercials.
You can find the full version of my these recordings on the HOME PAGE of my website - or by visiting my VoiceZam profile HERE
The compilation Voice Reels - short clips combined into a genre specific file on my Soundcloud profile: By clicking HERE
That sinking feeling - money thrown away or a wise investment?
Do you ever get a sinking feeling after you've made an impulse buy that you perhaps couldn't afford, and which, when you get it home, turns out to be a big mistake?
I certainly have a few disastrous impulse buys hanging in my wardrobe - and it's even easier to buy impulsively online. However - this post is not about buying a new dress or a pair of shoes. I am talking about spending money on your career and investing in your business - and how to avoid making some costly mistakes.
It's important to invest in my career and in the equipment and software that I use. I want to learn how to use my skills effectively, I want to build my business and to expand into new areas of work; I want to make social media and marketing work to my best advantage - and to make the most of my USP in an increasingly overcrowded market.
And it goes without saying, there are numerous individuals and organisations that will take my money and in exchange, will promise to help me with all of these things. However, it's all too easy to get swept away on a cloud of enthusiasm leading to some very expensive mistakes!
- Can I afford it?
- 'Will this new thing be compatible/work well with what I have already?'
- 'Does it suit me and my lifestyle?'
- 'Will its value last and will I get good use from it for years to come?
If I can honestly answer 'YES' to those questions - then I ask myself
- 'Have I already got something that does more or less the same thing and is still working?
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?
Has the Audiobook industry in the UK become obsessed with keeping down costs? Judging by the numerous discussions on various Facebook Narrator and VO groups, the answer is 'yes'.
Despite being told that Audiobooks are the darling of the publishing industry - the largest growth area in publishing for decades, it seems that rates for all the creatives involved in audiobook production are not showing any improvement. It seems as though a lot of audiobook publishers are asking studios to compete on price rather than on quality? If profits are so high, why are the rates for bread and butter audiobook narrators, not to mention freelance producers, audio proofers, editors and audio engineers in the UK, sinking so low?
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?
Your Natural Voice - Is it 'Authentic'?
Your voice is your voice … or is it?
There is a lot of talk about ‘authenticity’ buzzing around at the moment. Just Google ‘Authentic Voice’ and you’ll see 11,000,000 results. Many of them are about writing, urging authors to find their ‘authentic voice’, but ‘authentic’ also seems increasingly to be seen as a desirable asset for actors. Everyone, it seems, is trying to achieve that ‘an authentic performance’. Surely there can be no such thing! A performance by definition isn't 'real' or 'natural' or 'authentic' - it can never be. It is a performance.
I became ‘bi-lingual’ within a few days of starting school because I knew that if I spoke at school the way I spoke at home, I would sound too different to be accepted by my peers. So I am left struggling with the concept of one voice being more authentic than another - particularly within an audiobook, or any other kind of vocal performance.
We are actors … it is our job to make whatever we are doing believable and authentic. When we act, we aim to create something that is credible and convincing even though we may be playing a character light years away from ourselves in age, in experience and in attitude. And the joy of narration is that we get to play all of the characters - many that we would never be cast as in any other genre - and the narrator's skill is to make every single one of those voice sound 'authentic'.
Does this mean that I lost my ‘authentic’ voice? Does the fact that I (and many other actors and narrators) speak with a neutral ‘RP’ accent, make our voices less authentic than someone a voice with a regional dialect?
I don’t believe so … and actually I am inclined to think that applying the word ‘authentic’ to a voice is just so much gobbledygook!
An open letter from an Actor to Casting Folk
Now I am sure that I am sure I am not the only actor to whom this has happened - but it makes be mad!
On Wednesday morning an email pings into my inbox with details of a job: How exciting! It asks whether I am interested and available, gives me dates and rates. It's an interesting job that is almost certainly going to lead to more work - and yes, I am available! I agree to the rate - and put the dates in my diary.
I email the casting director by return saying thank you, how nice to hear from you. Yes I am available/interested and can do the job within the deadline you specify - I ask a couple of technical questions - and she helpfully suggests, that since I've not worked with these guys before, it might be a good idea to chat to one of their tech guys regarding my queries. He is not available right now, so we arrange a time for me to talk to him the following afternoon. The tech person and I speak late in the afternoon of the next day. A very useful helpful conversation - and everything I was uncertain about is cleared up. I email again as soon as we have spoken (though I know they won't pick up the email until Friday morning), to say all is now clear and I am happy to go ahead.
I have a lovely weekend, happy in knowing that I have a job in the pipeline ... and not just one, potentially a series of jobs.
On Monday morning, I email the casting assistant again, just to confirm everything and to ask her to send me the scripts as soon as possible. It's a big project ... and as I have other work in the pipeline, plus I will be away for a couple of weeks before the delivery day, I'd actually like to begin doing my preparation as soon as possible, even though the deadline for completion is some way away.
The response comes by return ... thank you, we have gone with a different voice! A male voice!
Now, I have been around the block a few times and I know how casting works, and I know the final decision is not always down to the casting director - or even the producer; there is normally an end client who calls the shots. That's quite normal and I accept it is part of the job.
My problem with this particular 'offer' that wasn't an 'offer' was the wording of the email. Never once was it indicated to me that I was being 'considered'; was being 'asked to audition'; was being asked of my availability for a 'possible' job that might or might not happen. There is an enormous difference between 'we have an upcoming project that we hope will interest you. Are you available between these dates to record it?' and 'would you be interested in being considered for a project within these dates?
Perhaps it was just a fishing expedition to check whether I would work for the rates they were offering - not the greatest, but with the mention of this being an on-going project - yes, I would accept their rate on that basis, though perhaps not for a single job only. Perhaps they were just thoughtless.
So ... a weekend spent on a high thinking I might have a lovely job popping into my inbox on Monday morning, giving me a couple of months work at least, has turned out to be a damp squib - a rotten tomato - a nothing! Plus the fact that I have cancelled several other jobs to make room for this one ... the job that never happened! Thanks a bunch.
So casting people - I know you're busy, I know you're stressed and working to tight deadlines, just as I am ... and I know the final decision is not likely to be yours, but I beg you, please consider the wording of your emails and how it reads to someone on the outside. Are you emailing with a firm job offer, or merely an availability. You know us actors ... we're often out of work; we're often up against immense competition. We know the industry is vastly overcrowded and we know how busy you are. We also know it's not you who makes the final decision. We know all that - and we accept it is just 'part of the job'! But dear casting director, have you ever thought how it feels to receive an email that appears to be a firm job offer - only to have it pulled from under your feet? How such an event may not actually incline an actor to feel kindly towards the organisation you work for - and how actually, you've been totally unprofessional.
We actors know we're totally expendable, that there are a hundred others waiting to step into our empty shoes - but that is no excuse for not behaving professionally when checking availability or making job offers.
Who knows, next time you want me to work with you, with a bit of luck and a following wind, I might just not be available.
A jobbing actor!
A helpful tip!
One little tip:
Never ever share a link to you P2P profile on your own personal website.
Imagine you're a voice seeker for a moment and you've just found Fred Voice Actor's website ... he has just the voice you're looking for. You're reading through his client list, his experience, his home studio details and yes ... he is perfect! But wait! but wait, what's this link at the bottom of the page? Oh, it's a link to his online profile on a casting site. Out of curiosity, you click on it, and it immediately takes you away from Fred's personal website and into a whole other world where there are lots more voices to choose from. You decide to have a quick look around ... and you find lots of people who sound a bit like Fred - and some whose rates are lower as well. Then, because it's nearly lunch time, and because you haven't actually bookmarked the link to Fred's own website, you just pick the first Fred soundalike and book him instead. It's easier.
OK Got it?
When people find you on your own website - you want them to stay with you and book you to do the job, so why are you helping them to go wandering off to another website where there are literally hundreds of other voice actors for them to choose from? Don't give them the chance!
Podcasts & Webinars
An irritation or a Useful Resource?
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'
The narrator's view
'Acting ... Audiobook narration is all about acting'
Performing Audiobooks is a whole different ball game from doing any other kind of voice work - and you might think that 'performing' is an odd word to use. Most people use narration or reading - but to my mind - audiobook narrators are performers in exactly the same way as actors, dancers and singers are performers. There is so much more to reading an audiobook than just reading aloud.
'Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning'.
There is absolutely no doubt that performing an audiobook is a huge challenge - and it is little wonder that so many voice over artists balk at the idea of being shut in a padded room for days on end for such small reward - for there is absolutely no doubt that financially at least, audiobook narration is the poor relation. A thirty second network commercial shown across all networks at peak time for a major brand can command a higher fee than a ten hour audiobook ... and the work will be completed in hours rather than days. People do make money in audiobooks - but we generally don't make very much - and we certainly don't make it quickly - and we earn every penny.
In this article, I am going to look at what's involved in creating an audiobook from scratch from the performer's point of view.
February 2018 ... Newsletter
Crikey it’s been cold here in Derbyshire! We’ve been in the grip of ‘The Beast from the East’ and storm Emma – and have had snow! Proper snow and -10C temperatures if you count in the wind chill factor. Fortunately, I have heat and a cosy and toasty recording space.
Here’s my latest news:
Published in February:
Fern Britton’s latest novel, ‘Coming Home’ – reached no 5 in the Sunday Times Best Seller list within four days of being published. The audiobook, read by me and produced in-house by the lovely folk at White House Sound for Harper Collins UK is now available on Audible.
Jung’s Psychology – An Introduction’ by Freda Fordham recorded for Ukemi Audiobooks. Something of a classic this one!
‘The Wicked Wit of Queen Elizabeth II’ by Karen Dolby recorded for W F Howes Ltd
In the Studio:
‘The Allotment Girls’ by Kate Thompson is a WW2 novel woven around the lives of the extraordinary women who worked at the iconic Bryant and May match factory in London’s East End. In production for Lamplight Audiobooks
And in other news . . .
Sun King Media - investigated by Simon Hare on BBC ONE
This organisation has cropped up in various guises - and they're still at it - I recently saw them advertising jobs for Audiobook Narrators recently on LinkedIn - of course they were calling themselves something different, but a little digging revealed it was good old Sun King. And it sounded very appealing ... audiobook narration at a PFH rate of £300 - in the UK? The old adage holds true - it it sounds too good to be true - it probably is!
Reporter Simon Hare of BBC One's Inside Out programme has Sun King Media in their sights ... and his report airs this coming Monday on Inside Out on BBC One at 7.30pm across the Midlands and on BBC One HD - also available on BBC iplayer for thirty days. A must watch (and a warning) to every voice actor, actor, and voice artist in the UK. Watch and Learn.
You can find out more here. HERE
Advice on Social Media? - Take it with a pinch of salt!
But hang on a minute - we all know deep down that not all the 'facts' shared on Social Media are well researched, accurate or appropriate ... but when we're looking for answers it's almost as though we throw caution to the wind and believe whatever we read. It's on the internet ... therefore it must be true. One only has to look at all the hoax posts that are continually re-posted to know that the majority of people don't ever check the facts or look beyond the headlines.
Read it all and at best you'll end up confused - just a quick glance at the advice on eating a healthy diet and you'll see confusion at its most chaotic. There is just so much information that is downright misleading and inaccurate. There are folk who have little knowledge and even less experience blithely posting their two penn'orth - not deliberately to mislead - but often because they're trying to sell something and because on Facebook or Twitter everyone can be 'an expert' - though in actual fact, a lot of the information posted is just plain wrong. If you're looking for answers - don't accept what's posted on social media at face value, you need to do a more research - if someone offers advice, look at their profile, are they qualified to give an opinion, what is their experience? There are all kinds of people with all levels of experience selling their services, offering advice and support.
I have noticed that certainly in the field of VO, there are literally hundreds of people offering technical and performance related advice - and even 'coaching' - and of course some of them have a lifetime of experience, and are truly expert ... but this doesn't apply across the board. Some are more expert than others. I spotted some audiobook advice posted online the other day, by someone, who a little research revealed, had recorded three whole audiobooks ... not sure they were really qualified to offer their 'expert' advice.
You know you owe it to yourself to check out the accuracy and validity of advice online. The person posting may have have vast knowledge and experience and may truly be an expert in their particular field ... or maybe not! Buyer beware!
Voice Over Auditions
An invitation to audition for a VO has arrived in your inbox. What do you do? Instructions are minimal. The pay is OK but the deadline is tight. You're not particularly busy but it's not a genre you feel confident in or are particularly interested in - so, do you audition or not? Before rushing to record your submission - bear in mind the wise words of veteran voice actor and coach Johnny Heller
'You only get one chance to make a good first impression ... make it count!'
There are exceptions to this way of working, though not often. However, some audiobook producers and production studios in UK studios still invite actors into their studio to do a sight reading before casting. The drawback of this is obvious ... especially to those of us living outside of London; thankfully there is usually some flexibility and narrators are given the option of recording their sight reading and share it over the internet.
This ability to record remotely and send an audition or a sample read directly via the internet to a client, or agent, or online casting site or producer or publisher has fundamentally change the way we work and look for work. Because it's comparatively quick and easy to record and upload your thirty second read, the temptation is to submit for every job going - a kind of knee jerk reaction - without really thinking about whether you stand a chance of getting it, whether your read is showing you to your best advantage - whether you're playing to your strengths and whether you really WANT the job.
In my opinion ... this kind of auditioning frenzy - pile em high and hope (that simply based on the law of averages) one of those reads will result in a job, is counter-productive and even damaging to your professional reputation.
Don't audition for practice ... practice in order to audition!
Winding down . . .
Professionally, 2017 has been a wonderful year. I recorded more audiobooks this year than ever before, and made my first ever trip to New York for the Audio Publisher's Association Conference, where, as well as making many new connections with authors, publishers, coaches, narrators and producers; I also met many 'virtual' friends and colleagues face to face for the first time.
I feel so grateful to be able to do all of this - and look forward to narrating more wonderful books; and to sharing my voice-related musings and experience with you all during 2018.
A Bit of Background
Almost fifty years after graduating from drama school, (GSM&D) I am amazed by how useful and relevant my formal acting training still is - and even more amazed that I remember so much of it in such detail! As I now work mainly as a voice actor, the rigorous vocal training I received is something for which I am constantly grateful. So I thought it might be interesting to examine some of the things I learned during my training and as a young actor working with some of the best actors and directors in the business. I've moved from the stage to the recording booth now, but what I learned when training for the stage is equally relevant to the voice actor. So here goes .... start with 'A'!
A is for ... Accents
The term 'accent' describes the combination of pitch, stresses and rhythm of someone's everyday speech, as well as how they pronounce their vowels and consonants. Everyone has an accent. You speak with an accent even if you speak like all the people around you and even if you speak modern (or traditional) received pronunciation; defined as: “the regionally neutral, prestige accent of British English",
An accent is not, strictly speaking, the same thing as a dialect though they are often confused and it is difficult to imagine a dialect that is not associated with an accent. Strictly speaking the definition of a dialect is:
‘A dialect (or patois) is a particular form of language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.’"
Everyone has an accent to a lesser or greater degree – no matter in what language they are speaking; French with a Parisian accent is very different from French as spoken in the Marseilles, Catalonian Spanish is different from Andalucian Spanish; The American of the Deep South is very different from the accent of the New York suburbs … and so it is the whole world over.
Even the classic neutral voice as heard in news bulletins and documentary narrations, in theatres and on radio in every country in the world, is in itself a kind of ‘accent’.
We are all judged to some degree by our accent. Some judgements are positive, others less so. Certain accents are seen as more 'authentic' than others - but surely, your voice is your voice. Or are are we all naturally bilingual?
Listen to a child playing with their friends - they will almost certainly speak differently in the playground than they will when speaking with their parents or grandparents. I did when I was a youngster - my Northern flat 'A' 'bath' and 'path' with my friends, 'bahth' and 'pahth' at home. Both are my 'authentic' voice - I am not putting on either - it just depends who I am speaking to - and because of the kind of work I do - the neutral RP voice is the one I use most, though not exclusively..
'A' is for Accuracy
There are two kinds of accuracy that challenge the voice actor. Firstly there is the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the text you're reading, which may contain grammatical errors, errors that change the intended meaning, naming errors where a character starts out as Freddy and changes to Eddie half way through the MS, factual errors, or claims that you believe to be untrue.
Then there are the bloopers - those moments when your eyes, your brain and your mouth become totally disconnected so that you say doesn't actually bear any relation to what you see on the page! Some small errors such as contractions are usually acceptable, the reader says 'it's' when the text says 'it is' for example.
Surely as long as you don't change the sense and meaning, a few slip ups don't really matter do they? Or do they? Here are my thoughts . . .
An open letter to VO clients everywhere
I truly am delighted to work with you, collaborate with you, create wonderful voices for you, but please remember that my life does not revolve around you. Sometimes my diary is very full, and fitting everything into my working day requires a degree of juggling. (Or perhaps that should be a degree IN juggling)!
You see, I have other clients, other jobs awaiting my dulcet tones; I have a home; I have a family, I have a dog that needs walking. I need to shop occasionally, I need to feed my poor long-suffering husband from time to time - and even I need to eat! Yes ... amazing though it may seem, I have a life!
You see, despite the fact that I am a full time voice actor and am really very happy, thrilled, proud and pleased to work with you, I do not actually spend my entire life in a small padded room, sitting at my microphone talking to myself twenty four hours a day seven days a week. So, when you promise to deliver a script at a certain time, I work on the assumption that you will deliver said script when you have said you will ... and that when said script arrives, unless you tell me otherwise, I assume it will be 'THE SCRIPT' in its entirety, complete, whole, perfect, checked and double checked and approved by all concerned at your end. I would never expect to receive an incomplete script (any more than you would expect an incomplete recording with bits missing here and there unless it is an audition or a sample read). Once we have agreed that I am doing the job - then I will only ever upload the full and finished recording. Once we are actually working on the project, if for any strange reason you felt the need to send me an incomplete script, I would hope you'd include a note saying that 'this is a draft' - 'for your information only' - 'please do not record' ... something along those lines would be really very helpful.
Adding to my slight irritation is the fact that despite having agreed the schedule and having told me the script would be ready for me to record on Friday morning, it didn't actually arrive until after lunch.
So dear client - having turned my perfectly ordinary Friday into something approaching a nightmare ... please forgive me but I am likely to be every so slightly abrupt if you contact me tomorrow (which in case you haven't noticed is a Saturday ... part of what we call 'The Weekend') to ask me where my recording is.
Got that dear client?
Kind regards ... and have a great weekend.
Am I being too harsh? Perhaps .... but it's been a tough day. And in case you're wondering, I didn't send it!
My opinions are mine and my views are my own!