Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Primer, Part Two

If I didn't make it clear in part one, let me do so here. This is a wide-ranging subject. I assure you that I won't be covering everything. I'm only going to attempt to give anyone interested a good start.

For instance, many voice artists have their own home studios. I know squat about setting up a home studio. I can walk into yours and tell you if it's no good, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you how to correct that. When it comes to the technical side of things, I'm not very adept. I can give you tips for good microphone technique - get close and speak softly in your lowest register to sound sexy - but you don't want to come to me for advice on choosing which microphone to buy.

Another for instance: I am non-union and work in a largely non-union market. I'll give some basic advice on whether or not to join a union - whether or not you'll have to do so; what advantages and disadvantages there may be in doing so - but I don't know the current dues structure or the minimums guaranteed to union talent.

I would suggest consulting your local library for further materials on those parts of the discipline I don't cover. You also might want to contact your local AFTRA chapter if you have questions concerning union requirements in your area.


Last time, I tried to give you an idea of what you might need insofar as natural tools - your voice and the abilities you may have gained with its use through normal life - in order to make a go of voice-over work. We left off at the point where you would decide to make a demo tape by yourself or procure the services of a professional.


Doing it yourself these days is much easier than it was when I sent out my first tape. Computers with good digital recording capabilities are much more prevalent. I did my first demo direct to reel-to-reel tape, doing sound effects and music backgrounds live as I voiced, and then I transferred the results to cassettes for sending out. I thus lost one generation of sound quality immediately. These days, there's no excuse for that. You can record everything separately and mix to your heart's content, digitally, with no loss of sound quality whatsoever. If you send out a poor-quality tape today, you have no excuse other than laziness.

Of course, you have to know how to mix. You have to have the sound effects or music or whatever else to mix. You have to have good scripts to read. And the recording facilities themselves must be at least minimally professional. Recording yourself by speaking into the microphone that might have come with your computer will NOT be good enough.

Once you have a few jobs under your belt, you'll be able to access those jobs for use on your demo. The more you work, the better your demo will get as a result. And once you have a few "ins" in the industry, you might have access to use of their studios for minimal (or even no) cost. Until then, what are you going to do?

If you already have professional-grade recording equipment and facilities, good for you. Maybe you've been a working musician or had some other pursuit that entailed your getting such gear. If not, do you want to invest in a set-up before you know if there'll be any sort of guaranteed return on that investment? I wouldn't.

What I'm taking so long to say is this: if you aren't taking courses in media arts or broadcasting, you'll probably need to hire a studio (as well as a producer or engineer) for your first demo. How do you do that and not get taken to the cleaners?

First, you might wish to find out where other people have had tapes done. If you can, ask around. You might know someone who knows someone in radio or TV. See if you can secure a couple of minutes of their time to ask a couple of questions. If that person had a tape done somewhere, were they satisfied with the result? If you can, listen to that tape. Do you like it? If not, why not? Make MENTAL note of what you find interesting and what you find phony-sounding, and then use or avoid those things on your own tape.

(For God's sakes, if some professional is nice enough to allow you to listen to their demo tape and you find something cheesy or laughable, don't insult that person by saying how dreadful you think their tape is. UNLESS they beg for your honest opinion, in which case give it to them - first qualifying your remarks by stating that you're an amateur, giving the person a way of saving face if they really didn't want an honest opinion.)

Just cruising on-line will give you ample opportunity to listen to what other professionals (and amateurs) are trying to sell. Put "voice-over" in Google and you could stay busy for the next decade visiting the sites that will come up. Soon enough - if you have a somewhat discerning ear - you'll be able to separate some of the wheat from the chaff.

You'll also find thousands of listings for "demo tapes", "commercial production", "recording studios", and whatever other names the facilities you'll need might be listed under, in both the phone book and on the internet.

Once you've found a few, then write or call them.

(You might like to address your e-mail "Dear Voice Of God!" or something similar; that would get my attention, anyway...)

Ask if they do demo tapes for voice artists. If so, ask the producer or studio for samples of the work done with them. Ask if they might have a reference or two from past clients. Ask whatever else you want. Anything important to you, ask it. It's your money, so you may as well be totally satisfied before you give it up.

If you decide that you like someone's work and want your demo done by that person, ask the price of such work and what it includes. Be sure you get exactly what you want before settling. Some places will charge for the studio time and recording, but not include charges for duplicating your work. Some will charge for scripting used. Some might give you a break if you have your own scripts. You don't know until you ask, so ask. Find out BEFORE you begin. Ask for a detailed breakdown of what you're going to be receiving. How many copies of the tape? Labels for the tapes? Re-recording of anything you feel isn't as you wanted it? Scripting? Music beds? Sound effects? How much time in the studio before they might start charging you overtime? Ask, ask, ask. Don't be a pain in the ass, but be thorough.

(How do you know if you've become a pain in the ass? I'd say that if you don't know the answer to that question, you are one. It never hurts to preface your questions with, "Gee, I'm sorry to be such a bother..." or similar sentiments. Most people, hearing that, will go, "Tut, tut! Think nothing of it, old bean!")

(Well, that's what I'd say, but only because I've always wanted to say that. And I'm older than Methuselah. Someone younger and more hep to the cool lingo the kids use these days might say, "Yo, no shizizzle off the kilbasadizzle, my peep!")

(If they actually say that, run away. Quickly. And check your meds.)

(By the way, most of these same questions and qualifications apply to finding a broadcasting school or media arts program at an accredited college. Find what you need, in other words, and pay as little for it as possible.)

Now, if you've decided to make a tape - have found a good place, and a good producer, to make one (or have the facilities to do so yourself) - then you have to decide what you want on the tape.

First, though, you have to know how much space you have to work with, don't you? Well, how much space DO you have to work with? Do you know?

I'd say that somewhere in the neighborhood of two-to-four minutes is optimum. Shorter than two minutes isn't really enough time to show your versatility or to prove that you can sustain anything good. More than four minutes and you'll likely become a bore.

What are your strengths? Whatever they are, make them readily obvious. What are your weaknesses? Whatever they are, they shouldn't be on the tape at all.

You may have some general ideas from listening to other tapes, but what specifically do YOU want to show about YOURSELF? What is your goal, aside from getting work in general? Do you want to get work doing straight reads, narrations, cartoons, industrial films, news, telephony, the loudspeaker at K-Mart announcing blue light specials? Whatever you want to do, make sure that that's what you give samples of and spotlight heavily. If you want to be the next Mel Blanc or Billy West, it won't necessarily help your career if you make a tape of yourself reading a stock market report.

Above all else, make your tape your tape. If you hire a producer and a recording studio, that doesn't mean you have to let them dictate your final product. Yes, they are professionals and they may have good ideas, but it's your tape, so your ideas are more important. You have the final say. Don't let them bully you into using crappy tired-sounding music and effects. It may be easier for them to use what's handy than to actually search a bit for something more appropriate. If you don't like the music, say so. If you don't think the sound effects are appropriate, or you find them falling flat where they should be funny, say so. Do it politely, of course, but do it nonetheless. Be satisfied with the final product or else you'll just be giving yourself an excuse for failure.

That's a lot of info for now, some of it even useful. Next, some ideas about the actual content of your demo - including two or three scripts, written by me, that I'll give you permission to use, if you're willing to take a chance at looking like a maroon. See you then.

Go to Part Three (Kinda, Sorta)


Anonymous said...

Looking like a maroon - what's that, some kind of voiceover secret lingo?

Suldog said...

Nah, Bugs Bunny. Slang for "moron".

Michael Leggett said...

That would be "What a Maroon":

I've always wondered about who auditioned Tim Mc Carver & Joe Buck?