Archive for February, 2012

Warm-Up Act

Corpsing can have its advantages ..........

Much as I retain a lingering affection for my home city of Birmingham, it has what is probably the worst accent in the country – and I was exposed to it from birth.  Over the years, I’ve managed to eradicate most of it, although the occasional Brummie whine still creeps in, especially if I’m talking to a fellow native.

But it wasn’t until my voiceover workshop that I realised I still had the characteristic flatness that goes with the whine.  I’d always thought I had quite an expressive voice but take away my facial expressions and hand gestures, and some of the energy goes with them.

So one of the big learning points from the session was to work on those energy levels.  Gary Terzza, my trainer, suggested I smiled while recording to give my voice some warmth.  That wasn’t difficult – I’m a habitual grinner – and I could hear the difference, although keeping that smile going for several minutes was another matter ……

I have, though, found an even better way of energising my voice – and it was totally by accident.  In the middle of what should have been a relatively straightforward audition for a telephone answering system, I repeatedly fluffed one word – “voicemail” kept becoming “voicemeal”.  Heaven knows why, but I found it funny at the time and I had a fit of the giggles.  Letting them take their course seemed the sensible thing to do, and I did another take when I had barely stopped laughing.

The difference was an eye-opener.  My voice was warmer, more vibrant and welcoming.  Now I have to laugh rather than just smile just before recording anything that needs that energy.  Admittedly, I have to get my timing spot-on so that I don’t guffaw down the mic, but it really does work for me.

In case the laughter dries up, I now keep a list of things near the microphone that I know will make me laugh.  Top of the list is the current TV commercial for PlusNet, with “embarrassing Dad” giving a cheery “Hello, son!” to his mortified lad.  It never fails.  Then there’s the Family Fortunes classic: “Name a bird with a long neck.” “Naomi Campbell!”  And, of course, the single word “Fenton!”

It will need refreshing from time to time, so if you can think of anything else that belongs on my laughter list, please feel free to suggest it!

Two Short ……..

Just out of reach. This year.

We all learn from experience – either our own or that of others – so when the idea of becoming a voice over artist first crept up on me, I knew exactly who would give me the inside story.

The very same friend, Natasha Tobin, was probably responsible for planting the idea in the first place.  Experienced in broadcast news and voice overs, as well as being a first rate PR consultant, she was kind enough to allow her brains to be picked shamelessly and pointed me in the right direction.

One invaluable piece of advice was to have a professional voice reel.  It’s an essential tool of the trade for any voice over artist, but the key word is professional.  There’s a myriad of articles on the subject so I’m not going to labour the point, but if you’re serious about getting into this line of work, don’t skimp: get it done properly.  Mine was done as part of my training workshop, but I’ll cover another time.

As well as being my audio CV, as it were, I found another use for my voice reel.  At the start of the year, one of the voice over websites launched the Demo Of The Year competition.  It was pretty much a case of doing what it said on the tin.  Entrants were asked to send in their demos, regardless of whether  or not they belonged to the site, which were then put on a special Facebook page for the first round of the competition.  Votes were cast on the page with the aim of whittling down the list to ten male and ten female finalists, who would have their entries judged by a panel of industry professionals.

So I decided to enter one of the tracks from my voice reel.  I had nothing to lose, after all, and knew that I could rustle up a reasonable number of votes, courtesy of my friends – and, hopefully, some of their friends as well.

Having listened to a lot of the other demos, I knew my chances of winning were nigh-on zero: they featured actual projects, such as commercials, and were really impressive.  Mine was a studio piece using a generic script and, while I thought it was good, I also knew it was more than likely that something that had been previously broadcast would win.   But making the final was just about achievable and would create a good impression on my website.  I thought.

Well, the list of finalists was released yesterday – and I didn’t make it.  Despite all my friends rallying round, I was just two votes short of making the top ten, dammit!  It’s disappointing, but you can’t win ‘em all – or, indeed, make the final.  However, with any luck, as I continue to get work, my voice reel will grow so that next year I won’t just be aiming to make the top ten ……!

Watch This Space ……

I will tell you about my new booking - but not now

It was, as I’d hoped, third time lucky.  My first two bookings were unpaid, but they were work and reassured me that I hadn’t been barking up the wrong tree.

I kept my fingers crossed that my third would have some money attached.  It did. I was thrilled to get the booking, not just because it was paid, but because the audition piece was easily the most satisfying of all the ones I’ve done in recent months.  My enjoyment must have showed!

I’ll be one of the voices on a new, mobile phone based service – but that’s all I can tell you at the moment.  It hasn’t launched yet and, understandably, the company concerned is playing its cards close to its chest.  But as soon as they give me the thumbs up to publish something more detailed, I will.

In the meantime, the auditions for other projects continue, but with more confidence.  There are a couple that look as though they might come through so I’m hoping I’m on a roll – but I’m also superstitious enough not to mention here what they are for fear of putting the mockers on my chances.  As the saying goes, success breeds success, and I have to confess that breaking my duck definitely feels good.

I’m sure the novelty of the inherent variety in voice over work will wear off eventually, but at the moment I’m enjoying seeing how far I can stretch my vocal talents – such as they are – by auditioning for such projects as a children’s fairy tale app, a wildlife documentary, a nappy rash cream commercial and telephone messaging systems.  It also means that, in just a few months, I have a much better idea of the type of projects which best suit my voice – and, just as importantly, which don’t.

So, on to Paid Job Number Two …….

Taking Pod Luck!

Tom? Tim? Whichever ......

I’ve loved movies for as long as I can remember, so last autumn my own film review blog came into being.  The Coops Review (some of my friends call me Coops …..) has developed a regular, and growing, following and I have great fun writing it.  Shameless plug alert!  It’s at www.fredacooper.wordpress.com if you’ve not come across it before. 

Initially quite distinct, the line between my voice over work and writing The Coops Review has now become more than a little blurred which, as it turns out, is no bad thing.  And that’s simply because, when I started producing my auditions in MP3 format, the penny dropped that I could also produce podcasts.

So, once I’d arranged my podcast hosting, I set about writing my first script, based on an original blog post.  There’s a world of difference between something written to be read internally and something that’s going to be vocalised – don’t we all know it?! – so it took some time to make sure my script was trip-up free and as easy on the ear as I could make it.

With the script done and a perky little jazz number – royalty-free of course – as my theme tune, I was ready to go. The podcast was about my predictions for the BAFTA film awards and, as I was not only looking at who would win but also who should, it was quite a lengthy piece – about five minutes.  Which was asking a lot of my hoped-for audience.

It asked a lot of me, too, as I wanted to record it in one hit.  It doesn’t matter how familiar you are with a script, even if you’ve written it yourself: the potential for bloopers is infinite.  Anything from drying up for no apparent reason to knotting your tongue over a phrase that’s been as easy as pie a thousand times before!  Best – or perhaps worst of all – was thinking I’d done a complete take and then listening to it only to find a ridiculous gaff.  My downfall was my predictions for the Orange Rising Star Award, which was towards the end of the piece – where else?  On one occasion, it managed to change its name to the “Orange Star Rising Award” and on another my preferred winner, Tom Hiddleston, acquired a (twin?) brother, Tim.  Who?

It got done – not without squeals of frustration, swearing and I forget how many re-takes and has since been joined by two more editions – shorter, better edited and recorded in far fewer takes.  The listening figures aren’t bad but, more importantly, they’re great voice over practice, a welcome addition to my voice reel and will also find their way onto my website, when it launches next month.

Whether or not there’ll be a podcast version of this newer blog remains to be seen, but stranger things have happened.  If you want hear what The Coops Review podcast sounds like – sorry, here comes another shameless plug – it’s at http://www.cyberears.com/index.php/Show/audio/5984.  Assuming you like movies, of course.

Into The Unknowns

Did Rumsfeld know what it was like to be a voice over artist?

Exactly ten years ago to the day, much-pilloried US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld uttered his most famous words.  You know the ones I mean.  The ones about “known knowns” and “unknown unknowns”.  At the time, it seemed gibberish, but actually there was a nugget of truth in there – particularly about “known unknowns”.  Anybody would think he was closely acquainted with the voice over world…….

There are so many unknowns when it comes to getting voice over work – at least, that’s my experience so far – that it should come with a health warning for those of a nervous disposition.  Before taking the plunge, I’d worked on a contract or freelance basis, so I was used to a level of uncertainty.  Which is just as well. 

If I’d moved straight from corporate life to being a voice over artist, it could have been something of a shock.  While the job market has changed in recent years, the convention still exists of getting a job description when applying for a role.  And, while receiving silence in lieu of a reply isn’t as unusual as it used to be, some form of response is still likely.  If you get to the interview stage, and you’re using an agency, they can often give you an idea of how many other applicants you’re up against, as well as some feedback at the end of the process.

All of which seems a dim and distant memory.  At the moment, I’m using about six websites to get bookings: it sounds a lot, but it should up my chances of landing work.  After all, I’ve yet to find the same job on more than one site. They all work differently but the basic idea is much the same: to give you a showcase to get work.

The whole process is full of known unknowns, to use Rumsfeldspeak.  You do your audition, you submit it via the website – and then you wait.  Sometimes, in theory, you could wait for ever.  On some sites, you only hear anything if you get the booking: otherwise, silence.  On others you can track the progress of the job, but only know if you’ve got it when you’re emailed with an offer: otherwise silence.   And I should say I do appreciate that the equation No Reply = No Booking is regarded as the acceptable norm.

It’s like working in a vacuum, whichever site you’re using.  On one site that gives you something approximating feedback – but very much at the client’s discretion – you can see how many others have auditioned for the job.  And, again depending on the client, you can also see where you were ranked among the other applicants and whether you reached the final selection process.

But it’s those unknowns again!  You don’t know who you’re up against when you’re auditioning: in some cases, you don’t know how many either.  And if you’ve applied on the site giving feedback, you might receive a ranking, but you don’t know what the standard was.  Being ranked, say, 30th out of 40 sounds really grim – but if they were 40 really top notch auditions, then 30 isn’t so bad.  But you never know …..

Nor do you know why you didn’t get a particular booking.  Even the site with the ranking system doesn’t go this far.  In fairness to the clients, if they did this they’d spend all their time giving feedback and never get their jobs done, but it is still rather sterile from our perspective.

The audition itself can be one large guessing game too.  There are clients who give you a good script and everything else you need to decide how to pitch your audition.  On the flip side there are the minimalist ones that tell you hardly anything about what you’re auditioning for.  Sometimes there’s not even a dummy script, so you’re flying blind and have to turn detective to glean as much as you can from the crumbs you’ve been given.

Do I sound like I’m whingeing?  I don’t intend to.  This is simply the reality as I’m finding it at the moment and, as I’ve said, I’m used to some uncertainty. This just takes it one step further.  It’s also a word to the wise for those who are considering going into voice over work or think it’s a highly-paid doddle.  It’s neither.

I do seem to be turning a corner, though.  My first piece of work arrived a few days ago and I landed my second last night.  It’s another student project, so unpaid (again!), this time a film interpretation of a poem, with yours truly reading the text.  Hopefully my third one will have some money attached to it.

It takes time to set up a new business, especially in the current climate, so I’m being patient, determined and learning a heck of a lot along the way, none of which will be wasted.  With a mail-out of my voice reel planned for a month’s time, together with the launch of my website, I’m hoping that will create some interest – but, again, I know it won’t happen overnight.

In the meantime, I can live with those known unknowns – after all, they’re better than unknown unknowns! – because I know that if I can make this work now, it’ll work at any time!

This One’s On The House

Somewhere in New York .....

 

I’m a voice over artist, and I’m just getting into the habit of saying that.  After nearly 30 years in one line of work, a change takes some doing.

A comparative newcomer, I launched myself on the unsuspecting and highly competitive world of voice overs just a couple of months ago.  It’s early days, days that are taken up with choosing auditions, submitting them in the hope of landing my first gig – and waiting …….

Waiting is one of the many unknowns that are taken as read in this job, but when I heard of another artist who took nine months to get her first booking, I realised it could be a longer haul than I’d thought.

I spoke too soon.  My first piece of work came through just a few days ago.  A project by a couple of students to make a commercial for a TV station, it will go to competitions all round the world.  The word ‘students’ is a clue, by the way: I don’t get paid.  But I have to start somewhere.  It’s experience, it’s a testimonial and it’s something to add to my voice reel.  And who knows who’s likely to hear it?

I should also add this project isn’t exactly an ego booster.  The commercial features a family and in my original proposal I suggested I would be most suitable for the role of the mother.  They had other ideas.  I play the grandmother.  So much for having a voice younger than my years …..

The script came through – and I had a grand total of four words of dialogue.  How much can you do with four words?  In the end, I did about fifteen versions, which I duly sent off, feeling rather pleased with myself.

The reply that came back wasn’t a total surprise.  My character had to nod off, so could I do some appropriate sound effects?  Of course I could!  Standing in front of my microphone in splendid isolation, I snuffled, grunted and snored away to myself.  Well, I thought they might want some sleeping noises as well.

So there are two advertising students somewhere in New York with a couple of MP3s, containing my speaking voice and my sleeping voice.  I’ve not heard back from them yet, but I guess that just means they’re getting on with producing the ad.  They’ve promised me a copy, so when it arrives, the link will find its way onto here.

In the meantime, if you’d like to hear what I sound like, just go to my webpage on Voice123.com, http://fredacooper.voice123.com.   

It’s just my voice.  No snoring or snuffling.  I promise.