Thanks for reading, and if you are a new subscriber; Welcome and thanks for joining us! I wouldn’t normally post a guest blog so closely with another, but this week I am breaking all the rules. Below you’ll find an article written by my VO coach Scott Burns. Along with coaching, Scott is a producer, AND VO artist himself. He writes below from the perspective of coach and producer. I hope you enjoy this insight from Scott!
Gary, thank you so much for inviting me to share my perspectives of not only being a Voiceover Coach, but that from my perch as a producer as well. I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to work on both sides of the glass over the years and the experience has lent favorably to how I approach auditioning. Instead of the, “Here I am…I hope they like me” approach, I’ve adjusted it to, “How can I help them hire me?”
Who’s listening, anyway?
Most audition listening parties involve the audio engineer who’s going to produce the commercial, narration or animation project you’re reading for. Thus, I tend to aim my reads towards the engineer who has probably already built the basic soundtrack or pieced together the video timeline. If I provide them with what they’re looking for, instead of, “Here’s me reading the words just as you punctuated including the typo,” there’s a better chance my read might persuade them to slip it into their “Selects” folder.
So how DO you provide reads they’re looking for? This where self-direction comes into play. In essence…you become a coach.
Back in the day…
There was a time when voice actors were invited to audition by traveling to a local recording studio, mingle with other talent in a waiting area, be handed copy to familiarize themselves with and eventually be escorted to a room, “where the magic happens!” The audio engineer would adjust the microphone to your height, make sure to point out the volume adjustments for the headphones, then shut the heavy door with a whoosh…leaving you to settle in to the sudden yet comforting silence.
There were benefits to in-person auditions…
While you’d lament that you should have actually familiarized yourself with the copy rather than spending way too much time ‘catching up’ with fellow VO talent in the lobby, you knew the engineer would offer the opportunity for you to do a second take if the first one lacked luster. You might even have the ad agency’s creative director there to offer clarity as to what they’re wanting to hear. Ahhh…the good old days.
Now of course we’re going it alone. Just you, the foam and lot of ambition.
And how DO you stand out?
So how CAN voice talent know if their performances are actually resonating with their intended target audience of producers, writers and casting directors? Are all the workshops and classes they’ve invested in are paying off? What guidance IS there to know if they’re turning in flawless auditions or not so off the mark their reads are set aside for the ad agency’s office Holiday Party for a good and hardy laugh?
Sadly, there are no guarantees to assure you’ll book a job, even if you have checked all the boxes for ‘perfect presentation.’ You just have to take solace in the fact that, in voiceover, “It’s not rejection…it’s selection.”
Remember, they WANT you to be the one!
Casting directors and producers WANT you to be good! They have a lot at stake to find the perfect candidate for a project that’s probably 89% done, but just needs the cherry of your vocal performance to top it all off. The last thing they want to do is suffer listening through countless lousy auditions, putting them in a foul mood and questioning why they got into advertising in the first place. (Mother wanted them to become a dentist to begin with and now here they are…trapped…with nary a trace of Novocain to numb the pain!)
Based on my experience from casting spots for the ad agency I produce for, you’d be amazed at just how MANY bad auditions are submitted regularly. Not just from the Pay to Play sites either…but from various talent agencies. I’m not sure if some actors feel like producers can get an essence of what they’d sound like on the commercial simply by reading into their iPhone while standing in the kitchen…or if we can make the leap of “here’s what I’d sound like reading your heartfelt public service announcement” while auditioning from my car.
If you can’t be in a perfect space, do the best you can…
Mind you, I’ve auditioned from my car! I’ve even booked a job where I’d auditioned from my car! So yes, there are exceptions. I just had the presence of mind to utilize a great quality mic in a secluded part of the town I was visiting. I lucked out of course, but had I done the read with the window down and car in motion as the young person was apparently doing for her audition it’s doubtful my submission would made the first round of cuts. (The holiday party folder, yes.)
In the case of Pay to Play sites, take heart in knowing that around 80% of the auditions submitted are pretty bad. So even though you’re competing globally, the chances are if auditioning skills are GOOD, your reads will consistently float to the top.
Even from talent agents…
With regards to auditioning through talent agencies, here’s a few things topping my PEEVES list you’d be wise to avoid doing.
- Mislabeling your file. Some projects require a ton of organization to keep all the names and roles straight. So if it’s requested you label your file: Anncr_PatSmith_VOagency and the talent labels it: Pat S. (or some other variation), then there’s a real good chance that file is going to get lost in the shuffle or tossed to the trash.
- Sending a file that’s NOT an mp3. Wav, Aiff, Mpeg4 or anything other than the industry standard mp3 just tells me you’re a novice and might be difficult to work with. (OK I’m not that harsh really…but it is annoying)
- Loosely edited files. I’ve had auditions come in where you click to play and don’t hear anything until about 5 seconds in. IF the reader sounds decent enough, I’ll go ahead and trim it down for the listening party participants…but that’s an added step I can’t guarantee many producer/engineers would have the time or patience to do.
- Unmanicured audio. I’m not asking that you run your audio through every de-clicker, lip smacker and breath sucker plug-in on the market…but DO trim, clean and make it sound as broadcast ready as you possibly can. Remember that a lot of other talent are taking these extra steps necessary to present their vocal wares, so you’re being compared.
They won’t listen “through” the bad audio
More and more we can’t rely on the decision makers to ‘connect the dots’ as to how you might sound on their commercial, narration or game project. In years past they might hear an audition come through that was less than stellar quality-wise…but they were told, “Oh he’s on vacation and did this over the phone for Jenny at the front desk. We’re lucky she had her cassette recorder handy!”
It has to be good NOW…
Today it’s do-or-die. You’ve got to knock them out of their socks and off the chair from the moment they hit play. Remember too that your audition is a marketing tool. If your voice isn’t right for the particular project they’re producing…there’s a chance you’d be PERFECT for another one they have in the works. Again, speaking from experience here as the owner of the company I work for actually said, “Oh wow…not for this spot, but keep her in mind for another spot I’m writing.”
OK, so how do we knock their socks off?
“So, Scott, you’ve told me what NOT to do. How about something TO do that will help me when I’m sitting all alone in my Self-Director chair?!”
Well, I’d honestly suggest you consider investigating a variety of well-respected industry professionals to help with a tune up every couple of months or so.
“But Scott, wouldn’t that take clients away from you?!!”
“Not for long,” I’d reply. Because I always provide candy for performances well done!
Learn from those that have gone before you.
No, of course that’s not the case…Zoom meeting calls don’t have that feature on their platform yet. But I do believe it’s wise to seek the opinions of others in the voiceover industry. We all have different doors used to enter this business and perspectives may vary on how to manage one’s way through their voiceover career. One thing’s for sure, working with a person who’s learned ‘on the job’ their entire career can shave years off yours having to do the same.
At some point, you HAVE to audition…
Mind you, I’d caution against OVER coaching yourself! I’ve seen cases where some people settle into a comfort zone and as long as they’re “in school” they’re excused for not booking work.
Again, tune ups are fantastic! With the ever-changing trends in advertising, it’s good to stay fresh with what’s booking. The onus is then on the performer to apply which methods and techniques work best for them.
In closing I’d say the best way to achieve greatness and dazzle producers with your auditions is to continue reading everything around you ALOUD. It helps build your memory muscles for eye-to-brain-to-mouth functionality, breathing and more. Truth be told I talk to myself while driving to work every morning. It helps me develop different character voices and keeps my improv skills nimble by reading billboards, signage on trucks and most everything I observe along the way. So far I’ve been lucky not to be pulled over by the Nut-Job Police. Give it time.
Scott Burns is a highly sought-after coach and demo producer with voiceover credits including Nintendo’s Super Mario Games (Bowser), Nickelodeon, Amazon, Miller Beer, Microsoft, T-Mobile and more. Burns day job includes casting and audio production of radio commercials as well as video projects for the Seattle area advertising/marketing agency, Destination Marketing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Voice Over from my friend and cvoach Scott. He brings many year’s experience to this craft, and has helped me immeasurably to become a better VO artist. If you’re interested in possibly discussing coaching opportunities with Scott, or to book him for a VO gig you might have, you can reach out to him through his website: Book Scot Burns. Thanks for reading, see you next week!
If you enjoyed this, please leave a comment below to let me know. If you DIDN’T enjoy it, well, I’d like to hear from you too!
If you haven’t already, please feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss anything!