The climate for the advertising business is uncertain as ever. The unsettled world, the price of oil, the precarious state of the economy, the explosion of new media channels, all of that makes the people spending ad budgets are far more cautious, especially compared to the roaring 90’s.
Meanwhile, since it’s so much less expensive than it used to be to outfit oneself with a starter home studio and since you no longer have to be in the physical place you’re working, a predictable by-product of those roaring dot-com 90’s is that there are lots more people trying to work as voice actors. So it’s not the easiest environment in which to start just now. You’ll have to be serious about it and really dedicate yourself to it.
It will be important to familiarize yourself with the business as a whole. TV Week is widely read, iwantmedia.com is a good resource for general news. I have a link to ad industry news from the web company Moreover elsewhere on my site. Also try Poynter.org , a nice journalism site from the school in Florida.
Here’s some blogs and other sites I try to check most days:
- Lost Remote
- Media Bistro TV Newser
- Media Channel
- News Blues. This one’s subscription, but it has a data base of some 1600 TV stations.
- TV Spy
- What’s Happening at CNN
First thing to know is, it takes a long time. It’s not really as easy as it seems. I don’t know of any shortcuts through the heavy lifting part – you just have to constantly, I mean constantly, market yourself.
Isn’t there an adage something like, ‘a hero is reviled in his own land’ or something like that? In this business it means that once a year or so there’s a fresh, new voice discovered that everybody in the market flocks to.
You work with your established clients, but to continue to prosper you have to be that fresh, new voice somewhere, by always expanding into new markets.
(Ad guys, don’t read the next line) Ad agent people who pick talent can be like cattle – listen carefully to the national ads and notice how they flock to the ‘flavour of the month’ – the currently fashionable voice over person or type of read. So you have to stay top of mind. Keep stuff in the mail. Mail CD’s, then mail a card, then mail more CD’s, then do it again.
But I’m going too fast, aren’t I?
Okay, first: Get printing done. Look legitimate in print. Try to come up with a logo or at least a distinctive type face that you’ll “brand” yourself with. Do letterhead, envelopes, cards, etc.
Then do a CD.
It’s not really all that daunting. Call a smaller radio station, ask for the traffic department, explain what you’re doing and ask them if they’ll save the scripts from some of their commercials, and go pick them up. Practise reading them, then find a little studio, book two hours ($60 – 70/hour probably), read them and have the studio guy put music behind your voice and edit what you’ve done into a demo. He’ll know what to do, he’s done it before (and if he hasn’t, go somewhere else).
Your final demo should have a few different kinds of reads (did you listen to my demos on my front page?) and last not much more than a minute per track (maybe one track for commercials, one for narration, one for characters, whatever you do). Nobody will listen much past that. Get that CD done first, because talent agents won’t want to hear from you until you have that.
If you don’t have the gear to make copies at home, ask the studio guy to put you onto a duplicating house. Maybe there’s a retail store in your town that does it – there is one here – but in any case get a hundred or two – not thousands because ideally you’ll get some work with the first batch. Then you’ll want to include the real jobs on new, revised tapes.
Spend a little time to design what they’ll print on the CD, or arrange to have labels printed. Use your logo, or make it reflect the printing you’ve had done for your letterhead, etc. You can get clear CD cases so that the label will show through the case and you won’t need a lot of fancy printing for the CD case. Mail ’em to all the talent agencies in town. Get a list of recording studios in town from the Yellow Pages and mail to them. Mail to the smaller ad agencies. Mail more than one.
Now, at this point, a few weeks will go by and nothing will happen. Don’t be discouraged. Just mail to the list again. Then start to work the phones. Eventually you’ll get a relationship with an agency or two.
This is important: Unless you’re in a market that demands it, don’t go exclusively with any one agent. In many places, all the agents can book all the top voices. No need to limit yourself to one agent.
Once you get an agent you’ll give them thirty or fifty CD’s or tapes and they’ll mail them under their letterhead. Later there’s the issue of whether or not to join the voice union AFTRA or the Screen Actors Guild. One of these days I’ll address the pros and cons there, but that’s for later.
Here’s a little math: The cheapest blank CD get cheaper all the time – well under fifty cents apiece in bulk. For a couple hundred dollars you can get a CD burner that you can attach to your computer and make them yourself at home. I use a CD duplicator to make about a thousand CD’s per run, but for the purposes of getting started you can make them one at a time on your computer. When I get a good prospect I do custom demos that I mail to TV stations with their logos on the labels and covers, these can usually be obtained on the web.
We haven’t talked about pay rates, and we haven’t gotten into alternative potential employers. You have to do the first things first.
Thing is, there’s really not that much pre-preparation necessary. You just start. And when you do, be free with your CD’s. Try to have them lying around every studio in town. People have to see them to know about you.
I do coffee mugs and sticky notes. I mail a mug to all new clients and, when I used to go to studios, I’d leave sticky notes and mugs behind everywhere, so they’re just lying around. I have also done mouse pads, and (if I can make myself spend the time) I’m going to do a calendar one of these years. All that’s stuff that stays on people’s desks. You gotta do that.
There is one thing you could be working on; one of the things an employer will appreciate is your ability to be easily directed. If you can take a script, look it over, and read it the first or second time in :30 or :60 (or whatever), this can reduce the money they have to spend on studio time. So once you get some scripts from a radio station, buy a stopwatch and just read scripts over and over to develop this skill.
Tips on demo content:
1. Keep your demo short.
I’ve been told countless times that producers, casting people, agents get a glazed look in their eyes after much more than a minute. In the old days, when I used to actually go to the station to do voice-overs, I was doing daily news topical’s for the local NBC affiliate. I would get the copy and read three takes onto a tape and bring it to the producer. One day I asked which read she had put on the air for that particular promo, and she said something like, “Bill, I always use the first one. I just don’t have time to listen to them all.”
2. Vary the types of reads.
Don’t let the same style read occur twice in a row. If you have the same type read back to back on your current demo, pick the one you like best and either delete the other one or move it to elsewhere on your demo. Alternating the types of reads you can do, say first a frenetic then a sad then a calm then a tense read, seems to me to make your demo more dynamic.
Now go get started.
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About The Author
Bill Murray is a professional voice talent and works from a real live log cabin! It’s a custom-built studio bordering National Forest in the southern Appalachian mountains. Bill Murray has been talking for a living for thirty years, all the way back to the college radio station. Bill was a disc jockey for fourteen years, last in Atlanta, during which time he grabbed a promo voice job for the Turner TV networks. Bill did promos for SuperStation TBS and CNN, and, beginning with the sign-on of TNT Network, was their daily promo voice for fifteen years. Nowadays, Bill works for TV stations across the country, from that little cabin on the left, and lives with his wife Mirja on a horse farm in the Appalachian Mountains of north Georgia. Besides horses, they travel extensively. They’ve been to more than half the countries in the world.