Thursday, August 03, 2006
No, actually this is part four in the series concerning voice-over work. It's just that, as with most continuing series I've done here, my readership has gone down by about 10% each day. So I just fooled the folks who get a headline feed into at least coming here again. Of course, now they're pissed and may never come back.
I understand the drop in readership. Any continuing series or saga has a built in trap. Those coming into it late don't know what's going on and may not wish to invest the time into starting from the beginning. Some folks just don't give a rat's patootie about the subject matter.
Oh, well. I started it, so I'll finish it. Much of the first part of this is a balls-out rant, if that helps. Some of you seem to enjoy me going off the deep end.
In part one of this series, I said that you didn't necessarily have to be able to read three or four sentences in a row without a mistake in order to get a job in this business. That is still true. However, let me add to that.
If you can't read three or four sentences in a row without stumbling, go away. Become a lawyer or a doctor or an accountant or a bus driver. Become anything except a voice-over person, if you value what's left of my sanity.
Since I wrote part one, I've worked on perhaps eighteen or nineteen different productions. Three of them were jobs that I voiced, so no problem there. Out of the remainder, I've had to excise breaths, edit flubs, trim silences, cut out burps and coughs, and otherwise become an alchemist and attempt to make gold out of shit, until I've literally gone round the bend - to have a smoke before coming back inside and tackling the damn job again.
I've had a recording session with a wonderful person, a friendly and funny person whom I tremendously enjoy laughing with while we work, but who on no less than six occasions during a fifteen minute session I had to correct on reads, either misread or words entirely skipped, and whose scripts I marked up with red pen until a third of the sentences had "2x" "3x" or even "9x" written next to them, wherein "x" stands for "times", so that "9x" means we had to do that sentence NINE TIMES before it was read correctly. This person also takes deep breaths in the middle of sentences - sometimes between syllables. I then had to edit that session into something coherent. The reader sounded great when I was through - and insofar as personality is concerned, this is true - but what a royal pain in the ass to record and edit.
I have voice talents send me recordings from their home studios with air conditioners or computer hums in the background. They also send me all of their mistakes. They begin, for instance, "Thank you for calling Fred's Widgets, where the crustomer... where the customer is king. We'll be with you in just a minute. Meanwhile, if you know the number of the people you're reaching... if you know the number of the preach... if you know the number of the person you're trying to reach, you may dial it.......now. You may du... you may dial it now." Then a cat meows in the background. And on the last "now" the sound of a page being turned is mixed in. And I have to make that sound as though it was read perfectly. And I do. I do, because I'm damned good at what I do.
But it's driving me more and more insane with every passing day. So, if you can't read an entire page cold, go away. If you don't have enough breath control to wait until the sentence you're reading is through before taking a big rasping breath, go away. If you can't send me a remotely-recorded file with no mistakes and no extraneous noises, go away. Do every producer in the world a favor - go away.
You don't have to die or anything. But don't try to pass yourself off as a professional.
A professional voice talent should be able to use his or her voice in the same way as a professional musician uses his or her instrument. A true professional musician sight-reads music and can generally play a passage as it is written on the first run through. A professional voice talent should be able to do the same with a page of copy. If you aren't able to do that, or aren't willing to train yourself to that level, go away.
By the way, let me not leave you with the impression that I think I'm perfect. I'm not. I've certainly made my share of flubs. I've even saved them to put onto outtake tapes, they were so bad and funny. However, I have a professional level of proficiency. And I have the courtesy of a professional. I would NEVER send a recording to someone else before listening back to it and making sure that I had done it correctly. I have NEVER sent a job to another producer without first cleaning it up and giving them a good take. I know how much of a pain in the ass it is to receive slipshod reads that have to have a major overhaul before they are useful, so I don't inflict that on anyone else. You shouldn't either, if you're planning on going into this business.
OK, I've let off some steam. If I haven't scared you away, let's get back to your demo.
What should you include on your tape? It depends upon what sort of jobs you wish to get. If you're looking for work in cartoons, you don't send someone a tape full of news reads. And if you want to do the news, you don't send out tapes of you impersonating Krusty The Clown.
Some talents have three or four different demo tapes; one for straight reads, one for comic voices, one for narration, one for news. They'll send out a specific one depending upon the studio and/or the job. If you have a load of versatility, you might want to do that. However, let's concentrate on one commercial demo for now.
First, what comes first? What is the first thing a producer should hear on your demo?
A quick hello, your name, and a thanks for listening. "Hi, this is Suldog. Thanks for taking the time to listen to my tape. I hope you enjoy it." Short and sweet. Don't give your phone number or your address or a list of your experiences or any other damned thing. All of that will either be on the label of the tape or in your cover letter.
Immediately after the short intro, put the first bit that showcases your voice. No gap. Hit 'em right between the eyes with a good one. No more than a second of music or anything else before they hear YOUR VOICE because that's what you're selling, not the music or sound effects.
You're also not selling someone else's voice, so unless you're part of a comedy team or another voice is absolutely integral to the presentation, yours should be the only voice on the entire tape.
How long should the first sample run? Different producers will give you different answers. Some folks like tapes that showcase abilities in short ten or fifteen second blasts; 12 or 15 different samples in two or three minutes. Others want to hear you sustain your pitch; prove to them that you can do something good for more than one sentence at a time. I'm of the latter school of thought. I want to know if your voice can hold my attention for thirty seconds. I also want to know if you can string four or five sentences together without stumbling. And I want to know, if you're doing comic voices or impersonations or foreign accents, that you can keep the energy level, timbre, and pitch constant for more than a few words. Just about everybody these days can do a passable Ahnold - "Ah'll be bahk" - but can you keep it up for the duration of the spot? That's what I want to know.
No matter which way you go, you'll be losing some producers immediately. Those who like many short blasts will hate your in-detail tape. Those who want sustaining quality and full productions will toss your immaculately-produced series of short takes. Such is life.
If you just have one voice, the samples should be a tad shorter than if you have a selection of voices. You'll want to show your versatility within that voice. A regular read, a faster read, perhaps a slower read invested with deep emotion. Show some variance within your narrow range.
If you have a bunch of comic voices, you'll want to get as many of them into the mix as possible. Your versatility will be your selling point more so than any one of the voices - unless you've already established one or two within the industry, in which case why do you need to be reading this? Go make your big bucks and leave us peons alone.
Keep it clean. An obscenity-laced demo will not help you. It can only hurt. How many commercials have you heard with obscenities? Right.
Remember that you're selling your voice. Don't let nifty sound effects and music overshadow what you're selling. They should enhance it, but your tape shouldn't leave people saying, "Wow! What was that piece of music? It was great!"
And don't put anything on your tape that you can't duplicate live. I don't give a flying wallenda what you sound like with echo, reverb, phase shifting and the low end boosted to woofer-busting. That's my job, to supply those things when needed. It's your job to supply you. If you go into a studio and the producer expects you to sound like you did on your tape, and you can't, that will be one justifiably pissed producer who will never call you back - and you don't know how many others he'll tell about you, either.
Much of the above is personal sentiment on my part. Remember part one? Subjectivity rules in this business. What I like will be seen as a load of crap by other producers and vice-versa.
The only constant is to present yourself in a professional manner. A clean-sounding tape - no extraneous noise. Perfect pronunciation. Good levels. To the point. Showcase your assets and leave out any liabilities. Be honest within those things you do include. Try to not offend anyone.
Feel free to ask specific questions of me - I know I must be forgetting something important. I wouldn't be me if I wasn't.
(Hell of a sentence, that. I wouldn't be me if I wasn't. Brilliant.)
Tomorrow, I'll try to help with other parts of your presentation - cover letters, labeling, head shots, whatever other ephemera I can imagine might be useful.
Or I might just tell you how to sell old banana skins to the government in order to earn an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas! You never know, so come back tomorrow!!!
The End Is Here.