Thursday, August 03, 2006

Selling Old Banana Skins To The Government In Order To Earn An All-Expenses-Paid Trip To Las Vegas!

Or, in other words, part five. If you had read part four, you'd know why I named this piece as I did.

You've made your tape.

(I know, I know. You haven't. We're pretending.)

You've made your tape. Now what?

(If you don't want to end up like me, go to the tallest bridge in town and chuck it as far as you can.)

(Can you tell I'm not the happiest camper in the forest right now?)

Maybe I should start over...


Perhaps I can start you off by telling you what NOT to do. Here's a good place to go to find out.

You're back? Good.

So, you've made your tape and you know how NOT to write a cover letter. What next?

You send me a big buttload of cash. That sounds good. Yeah, do that.


I'm sorry. You come here, in all good faith, expecting something of value. Instead, you get whatever the hell this is.

I apologize.

Of course, if I was really sorry I'd erase the whole thing and start over. Since that hasn't happened, you can feel free to judge my sincerity.



Slap a label on it and mail it everywhere. With luck, you'll get a job.

How's that?

Look, I don't mean to be abrupt or rude, but I already have been, haven't I? Too late.


OK, have the slackers gone home? Are the folks who are serious about this still here? Good. The above was just a test. If you're going to become a voice-over person, you have to get used to random dissing and not getting any good explanations.

And, of course, that's not really why I wrote the crap above. I just felt like it. But if you rode out that junk, you deserve something. So, here begin the real and honest-to-God pointers.

I am really testing your patience, aren't I?


OK, you need to label your tapes. You want to put your name and your contact info onto the labels. Phone number (or numbers), e-mail, names of your carrier pigeons, whatever will help someone contact you when they want to pay you gazillions of dollars for reading.

I shouldn't have to say this, but just in case: Get the labels printed. Don't just write on them with a felt tip. You're supposedly a professional now and you need to keep fooling people into thinking you are. Everything you do has to present a professional image.

You will want to put your tapes into the sort of cases that allow insertion of a label within the case. Like the below...

(You might even wish to buy your tapes from the place where I stole the photo so then I won't feel too bad about having done so.)

The reason you want these type of cases is because many producers store talent tapes with just the spine of the case showing. By making labels that insert into the case, and including your name on the spine, you will be allowing the producer to reference your tape quickly. Print your name on the spine vertically, as most producers will store them in that fashion.

The inserts are called J-Cards, by the way.

Your J-Card should also be noticeable from afar. I'd suggest getting them printed in a unique color or, at least, a color that might suggest your vocal qualities. If your J-Card is a cool forest green, the producer might associate you with a cool soothing read, for instance. If a deep lustrous red, perhaps a hot and sexy female. If black with yellow writing, the Pittsburgh Steelers. In any case, you're trying to make it stand out. Be creative.

Name alone on the spine will work, but you could also include some contact info. In that way, you'll be helping the lazy-ass producer (like me) who doesn't want to do anything as strenuous as actually taking your tape from it's slot to read it.

Who are you going to send these lovely tapes to? Well, it depends upon a few factors.

Factor number one is whether or not you have, or want, or need an agent. If you have an agent, YOU aren't sending the tapes anywhere. Your agent is handling that. If you want or need to have an agent representing you, you're getting your tapes into the hands of agents for them to listen to.

I have never been represented by an agent, so I won't pretend to know much about them or the best way to contact them. I do know that in certain locales you must have agent representation or you will not work, period.

You also need to consider whether you'll be a union talent or a non-union talent. Once again, in certain locales you will not work unless you are a union talent. You'll want to check with your local AFTRA chapter for more information on unions in your area.

I am a non-union talent. Boston - and New England in general - are good non-union areas. Union jobs are certainly plentiful in broadcasting here, but non-union dominates in most areas, such as my niche of telephony.

What are the pluses of being a union or non-union talent? If you're union, the pay is higher. The guaranteed rate for each hour or portion thereof is probably in the $400 range these days and can go much higher for an in-demand talent. There may also be residuals - that is, extra payments for re-broadcasts. However, being non-union in a largely non-union market will leave you eligible for many more jobs; will not tie you up with exclusivity clauses in contracts; and will not take union dues out of your pocket when you aren't working.

Perhaps most important, union talents are forbidden from working non-union jobs. So, if you carry a card in a mostly non-union region, you had better have good steady union gigs. Otherwise, you're much better off being non-union, IMHO.

Again, you MUST be union and/or you MUST have an agent in certain cities and regions. You will have to know the requirements for your region and for any other regions you want to work in.

If you start sending out tapes yourself in wholly union or must-have-an-agent regions, you'll immediately be labeled an amateur. More important, you'll have wasted your time and you won't get any work.

OK, if you're sending out the tapes, who do you send them to?

Every TV and radio outlet within driving distance. Ditto for cable providers. Every advertising agency and also every niche provider of services, such as my own place of employment, Marketing Messages. Any place that could possibly use a voice gets your tape. And, if you have a clean professional home studio, send them to every damned place in the country. That should keep you busy for a while.

Before you start throwing tapes into envelopes, though, get some names. If you just send your tape to "BIG ADVERTISING AGENCY, METROPOLIS" it will probably be shitcanned upon receipt. If you address it to someone specifically, it will at least reach that person. So, call every place you want to send a tape. Find out who to send a tape to. If you can't get an individual name, at least address it to Creative Director or Programming Director or some such, so that it has a chance of getting to someone who might actually care.


I'm going to finish this quickly now, since I have some of that actual paying work to do. As I've said before, if you're really interested and you have specific questions, ask me in the comments section. For instance, I know I've given short shrift to such things as cover letters (except for my bad examples) and head shots. Ask and I'll answer as I'm able.


Are there jobs you will refuse? You may have religious or ethical concerns. For instance, I know a talent who will not do anything connected with liquor. It's up to you, of course. I've never refused anything yet, but I'm a Libertarian (as well as a Libertine) so my moral standards may not be as high as yours. You might not accept a gig doing phone sex. I would. As a matter of fact, if you've got one? Get in touch.

Are you willing to travel and/or relocate? This question, and the above, should probably be answered now.

If you've done everything you can to get work, but you get no response whatsoever, should you hang it up or should you start fresh? Up to you. Do you believe in your talent? How much is it costing you? Will it end up costing you more than you can really afford, to do it again with a different approach? Maybe you should now take some classes or go to school? These are all questions I can't answer. Only you know how badly you want this and how much of your time, money and soul you're willing to invest.


Finally, if you get a gig? Congratulations! Here are the 5 absolute rules to follow if you are hired:

1 - Show up.

If you say you're going to be somewhere, be there. No excuses are good enough.

2 - Be On Time.

Same as above. And this does not mean thirty minutes early. The producer does not want you there early. He is probably busy with another talent or another job, or - worse yet if you show up - lunch. Otherwise he would have scheduled you for then, wouldn't he? Early is better than late, but being there when you're supposed to be there is preferable.

3 - Be Prepared.

If you were given a script, you should be ready to deliver a great take as soon as the mic is on. If you have pertinent questions, ask them before the session. If you are supposed to bring anything, bring it.

4 - Take Direction Without Complaint.

You are not the one paying for this. The client and/or producer is. Whatever sort of read they want is what you should deliver. No complaints if someone doesn't like your first interpretation. Give them what they want and you'll be called back for more jobs. Complain and whine and never work again.

5 - Say "Thank You!"

Enough said.


I hope this has been helpful. Again, feel free to ask questions.

See you Monday with something totally non-work-related.


Stu said...

Wow, really, that was an excellent series. Dude, I swear to Billy West, you should write this as a book. Expand it and sell it, as it is great advice, and more people are seeing V/O work as a serious career.

Also, you should do a weekly podcast. You would definitely pick up more work through that.

Suldog said...

Thank you, Stu. You're too kind, though. It's hardly exhaustive enough and that's due to my lack of knowledge in such things as unions, agents, etc.

For a basic primer, though, I suppose it was OK.

Stu said...

Yeah, but that's my point. Unions have support mechanisms. Non-Union folk don't. Non-Union folk need your brand of wisdom. I think that should be your pitch, Help For Those With No Union.

Also, you should do a weekly podcast. ECHO, Echo, echo...

Anonymous said...

What Stu said.

Excellent series! I thought it was interesting, compelling, and it firmly convinced me that I am probably too damn lazy to do VO work.

Even though I have been told that my dulcet tones render men helpless and leave the very birds in the trees speechless with envy. ;)


Stu said...


Based upon your capability of making men helpless, please consider Audio Blogging, which is free and works with Blogger. Us guys would dig it for sure.

Anonymous said...


Didn't you read my comment? I'm too damn lazy! LOL!

T. :)

Stu said...

Ok, seriously, "too lazy"? It's a PHONE! You just call the number, record up to five minutes of blather, post it, and hang up. Keyboard-entered posts expend far more energy. In fact, this comment took longer to enter than the time it take to set up AudioBlogger. And if you act now, we'll throw in a Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Tube Man!

Suldog said...

You folks are very kind and you expect way too much from a lazy bum like me. I thank you, though.