Archive for August, 2008

I did my first job for a certain Nashville studio last week.  Turns out the owners were fans of mine from radio days decades ago.  We re-discovered each other last year but it’s taken this long for me to connect with one of their clients.  That said, they had the job lined up for me before I even knew I was being considered.

I was asked my rate for this particular type of tv voicer and quoted what I thought would be reasonable for the market.

“Oh, I think we can do better than that,” my friend said.  She was right.  My rate wound up being almost double my quote…and there were four spots, not one as I originally thought.

When  asked if I could do a (very) slight discount on one of the cuts, since it was shorter and would only run on the local PBS station…you know I said “Absolutely!

Clients like these are treasures to be nurtured!

Just in case you need to be reminded…there can be much benefit in treating your clients as friends, even before you know they are clients!  You literally never know who your work is going to impress, or what amount of time may pass before you see any tangible benefit. 

But trust me, it does pay off.

— over and out —

     I’ll admit upfront, it’s good to have an idea of your limitations. It’s good to know what you expect from a learning experience. But when you’re asking a professional for help, rigid pre-conceptions don’t always produce the best results.

     Usually, I’m the “grasshopper”. But sometimes I am contacted by someone who thinks I might be “Master Po”. (If you don’t get the reference, study ancient American TV series.)

     Usually, I can find things in my experience which benefit the person who has sought me out.

     Usually, I can spot potential talent (or lack of) in the caller and try to provide helpful information. A lot of what I think I know was learned from someone else extending me a similar courtesy.

     And “Usually” I make a friend – either someone who becomes a good voice talent and future colleague, or at least someone who is grateful for free information instead of being sold a demo package.


     “Usually”…I have painfully learned…doesn’t mean “Always”.

CALLER: I was referred to you by (Studio Name). People tell me I have a nice voice and that I ought to get into voiceovers. (Studio Name) said you’re the man to talk to.

ME: Well, you do have a good voice. The thing to find out is what you can do with it.  What kinds of stuff have you done already? I ask just so I don’t start telling you things you already know.

CALLER: Oh, I get all sorts of compliments when I use the PA system at (Fancy Restaraunt). People are always telling me I should be on the radio.

ME: That’s a good start. Let me email you some material that’ll give you an overview of the business and what you need before you make a demo. Get back to me with any specific questions you still have and we’ll go from there.


CALLER: Me again. When can we start?

ME: I’m flexible. Did you have any questions about the stuff I sent you?

CALLER: Well, I really don’t learn from reading. And I’m certainly not gonna wade through all those pages of adobe acrobat. Do you have a contract for me to sign?

ME: I don’t usually need contracts, but I suppose we could work up something.

CALLER: Why did you send me all that stuff about “acting”? I don’t want to be an actor.

ME: Maybe I didn’t communicate that well. I meant that all voicework has some acting involved. You’re telling a story…even if it’s just a price-and-item radio spot. You need to be able to look at the copy, understand the message, and then communicate it to your audience, not just read the words in the right order. Let me do some web searching and I’ll try to point you to some websites that cover “acting” as part of getting started.

CALLER: (AN HOUR LATER) I don’t have time to wade through the half-dozen links you sent with 200-word essays on blah blah blah. And I don’t have time to do community theatre or read a bunch of books. I’m more interested in documentaries and commercials and stuff. ‘See, I learn by doing.

ME: Okay, I can relate to that. All the instructions I ever read about computer editing didn’t make any sense until someone sat down and showed me. But it would still help if…

CALLER: Do you have any examples of your (demo production) work I could evaluate?

ME: Yes, as I hope I mentioned in our first conversation, you can find a lot of them on my website.

CALLER: (LATER) They really weren’t that impressive. How can I learn anything from voices that really don’t “call out” to me? Anyway, I don’t learn by listening. I learn by practice…application…making mistakes and then correcting myself. What do we do next, master?  [RG note:  he actually called me that at this point.]

ME: Uhm. “Nothing”, I think. Those people have been doing local/regional/national work for years (myself included). And if you can’t listen objectively to them, I doubt you can listen to yourself. And if you can’t listen to what you are doing, you cannot possibly take direction…which will serverely compromise your voiceover career before it begins. I think we’re done. Good luck in your future efforts.

CALLER: If you can’t teach me, so be it. Just say so. I need someone who recognizes my talent and can work with me. Like Barbara Striesand says, “You’ve either got it or you don’t.” I’ve got it. I just need someone who will put me to the test.


     By this time I wasn’t sure if I was more angry with this narrow-beam seeker of knowledge…or myself for wasting so much time on him.

ME: You’ve just insulted me, my friends, my business. I did put you to the test…and you did not pass.

CALLER: No. You did not pass!


     And I know it was petty. God forgive me, it was petty. But I actually wrote back:

ME: I don’t need to justify my qualifications to an announcer from (Fancy Restaraunt).


     Now you know why I don’t advertise myself as a demo creator or voice guru. I obviously lack People Skills.

     I offer this as advice (free, if you want it) on how not to seek out advice.

     And I have little fear that “CALLER” will see this and try to sue me for slander.

     If you’ll remember, “CALLER” can’t be bothered to read.

— over and out —

The line was spoken by my “voice idol”, Daws Butler, as a two-faced robot despot in Hanna-Barbera’s first big tv series, Ruff n’ Reddy.  But even if you’re not ancient enough to have seen it, you’ve probably run into the same attitude.  You know.  From certain clients.

Come on, you know the ones I’m talking about:  the ones who want you to give them a deal (I believe the new phrase is “Cut Me a Solid.”), or meet a really tight deadline, or stick to your original estimate while the demands of the project itself double and triple.  Those guys.  Of course when it’s time to cut the check…they’re, uhm…having cash flow problems, or just flat-out ignoring you.  And what are YOU going to do?  Chances are they’ve got more lawyers than you do.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read about one creative group (admittedly a much more powerful one than called Modernista, who recently decided to call “time” on that game.  Here’s a quote from USA TODAY:

Modernista did the unthinkable: It filed a $500,000 lawsuit last year against its client, shoemaker Rockport, while working for it. The lawsuit claimed Rockport wasn’t paying for work. They’ve since parted ways. Regardless of who wins, the lawsuit is a clear message that few agencies dare to deliver to clients: Don’t mess with us.

Of course, I don’t bill in the billions the way Modernista does these days, but if I were ever to actually grow up, which at this point seems highly unlikely, these are the guys I’d like to grow up to be.

You can read the whole story of this fascinating group of creative folks via this link:

— over and out —

Hard Work In Reverse Order

Feeling like the kid with the measles watching his buddies play outside, I’m getting my “vacation” this year reading the posts from many of my VO friends who are out in Los Angeles for two big voice conferences.

I look at their pictures and marvel at all the hard work they’re doing (and rewarding themselves with some hard playing afterward), and the hard work they’ve done to get where they are.

Then there’s me.

I’ve discovered it’s hard work learning how to work hard.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’ve done alright.  On another writer’s advice, I’ve gone back over my own accomplishments, taking encouragement and satisfaction from the things I’ve done over the years. It does help bolster the spirits, and I recommend the idea.

But I notice that in most cases, I’ve done it in reverse order: not really working that hard for the opportunity, but being ready to jump in and work when the opportunity arrives. It’s a lengthy inventory, but here are some highlights.

First Job In Radio – didn’t seek it out, but my Uncle Willie knew the station’s chief engineer and heard of a part-time opening at the hometown station.  He arranged an audition. Pitiful though my try-out was…I still have the reel to keep me humble…I got the job and eventually gained proficiency, and a little local fame.

First Job In Audio Production – had no idea how to start a business (and still don’t), but met Richard Fish as we scrambled to the professor’s desk to beg a copy of the tape he’d just played in our college class (“Three Skeleton Key”, with Vincent Price, SUSPENSE on CBS). We formed a partnership and spent two years trying to become the next Dick Orkin/Chickenman sensation. (You’ll no doubt note, Mr. Orkin is in Los Angeles, and I’m here reading about him…although I’ve met him twice.) Rich is successful in Audio Drama, working with everyone from Firesign Theatre to Norman Corwin.   Benefit of those years – honing production skills, writing, timing, effects editing, character voices.

First Job Away From Home – sort of sought it out, answering ads in Billboard. Was flown to North Carolina on the strength of my production with the failed partnership. Was turned down by management over salary/lack of exprience, but the production guy (Jack Shaw…yeah, that Jack Shaw) liked me and kept in touch. He brought me out again after three months of guys who “couldn’t live up to their demo tape”. I took a lower salary but gained a mentor in commercial production and copywriting, earning several local ADDYs before the year was out, and was given Jack’s job when he moved on.

First Job I Filled Out The Application For After I Was Hired – Station consultants are usually spoken of in derisive terms, but I owe one of them (Bob Canada) a lot. He was working ours and WRAL in Raleigh, and knew they were looking for a production manager and put Bob Inskeep in touch with me. I had moved three times in the past 12 months and didn’t want to move again, but Bob made the offer just too good to turn down. He literally sold management on me, helped me find a place to live, even co-signed the lease when the landlord didn’t want to allow my cats! Over many years with Bob and WRAL I got my first taste of local character celebrity…and a couple of national advertising awards, including a national ADDY (which merited a write-up in Advertising Age alongside…guess who…Dick Orkin!)

First Job In TV – The aforementioned Mr. Inskeep knew I’d done puppeteering with local church groups, and introduced me to the kiddie show host at the company’s TV station, “Uncle” Paul Montgomery. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to suggest he take me on, but with Paul and Bob’s encouragment I auditioned and was incorporated into the Uncle Paul cast, eventually doing six different puppets and appearing on-camera as a cartoonist. Paul taught me so many things I didn’t even realize I was learning: improv (there was never a script), timing, jazz (which incorporates both). And his main puppeteer, station art director Art Anderson, introduced me to using a TV monitor in puppetry.

First TV Commercial, First TV Production Job – I don’t actually remember which was the first one, but I do know I did not seek it out. Someone watching me work with Paul brought me in on another station project, which led to some station clients asking me to do some freelance, to some corporate clients (who were by then fans of my radio work) asking me to do industrials.

First Work On A Real Movie – I’d long since given up the idea of moving to L.A. (too scared, too lazy, too risky with family obligations), but my agent for local video work got wind of Jim Henson Pictures doing a movie at the Screen Gems Studio in Wilmington, NC and sent me to audition as an “additional muppeteer”. While I couldn’t even get cast as an extra as myself, my years working with Uncle Paul landed me one of the dozen slots open for “Elmo in Grouchland” puppeteers. Not a star turn by any means, but if you had told me 20 years earlier I’d be working on the same set as The Count and Big Bird, I would have laughed. A year later, the same group asked if I wanted to come back for “Muppets in Space”. It was only a few days’ work, but hey…they asked. I never had the nerve to pursue it.

First National Commercial VO – I’d love to tell you I fearlessly lobbied the top producers. But no, I was put forward by friends I’d made at ProComm after they’d accepted me on their voice roster, taken the time to know what I could do, and recommended me to their client. I never knew I was even UP for the job until after I’d been cast. That’s happened a lot since then, courtesy of people like Procomm, SunSpots, and VoicesOnLineNow.  And talking about ProComm…I didn’t even have the nerve to call them myself.  My friend Wendy Zier went out there to sell them on using her talents, and ended up selling them on me…years before she got on their roster herself!

The list goes on: learning how to be a freelancer (free advice from my dearly-missed friend George Lee, who had started a few years before me), learning computers and non-linear editing after years of splicing tape (friend Scott Pearson, who started out as a fan of mine and turned mentor, even though he’s far younger than I), first foray into blogs and internet marketing, and long-neglected coaching (Bob Souer, who has taken me on as a personal project).

A lengthy list of accomplishments, to be sure. But none began with anything like hard work, determination, or a plan. That always came after the fact.

So now, I’m watching these talented people doing all the marvelous things they’re doing — actively seeking out advancement with a firm plan and a clear idea of how they’ll make things happen. And I understand for the first time why I feel so totally “at sea” in comparison. I’ve never initiated the action, though I’ve at least been ready to respond. As several of my director friends have noted, I’m a decent “actor”, but I’m an even better “RE-actor”.

But maybe it’s not too late in life for a little change. With help from teachers like Nancy Wolfsen (voice acting) and Peter O’Connell (marketing) and all the other friends and mentors I’ve collected over time, maybe I can stop doing this backwards.

Come to think of it, though…I didn’t seek out either of those teachers. Someone else introduced me.

— over and out –