R.A.P. Interview: Susan Berkley

JV: What about the guy who has a rent payment due, mouths to feed, and who doesn’t care if he gets $150 or $25 for the voiceover, he just needs the bucks?
Susan: If they’ve called you and they like you and they want to work with you, I don’t think they’re going to run away. They’re not going to make the decision based on price. If you word it correctly, they’re not going to go, “uh, that’s too expensive; I’m going to call somebody else” and hang up in your face. That’s never happened. You never quote price without asking a lot of questions. So before I even ask them what they can pay on a job, I want to know where it is. I want to know what their budget is. I want to find out all about what’s possible. I was talking to somebody the other day that found me on the Internet, and they wanted voice talent and said it’s just for a little local gift shop in town. I found out they were only paying a few hundred dollars to buy the time on this television station. They would faint if they heard my normal rate. But I’m not going to do it for $25.00. It is not a job for me. Bye. But there are plenty of other jobs out there. I just don’t think that lowering your price is ever going to work for you in the long run. And those people that are doing it, they won’t be able to stay in business.

And you don’t want to work with bargain basement shoppers anyway. Most people don’t buy on price. Some people buy on price but many people don’t. Look at what happened to me the other day; I brought the wrong person into the studio. The producer knows that if he does that, he’s going to look terrible. And not only that, he’s ending up paying more because of the studio time. The voice talent can’t cut it. It sounds like garbage. Guess what? He’s just lost two hours in the studio, and now he’s got to go back and find somebody else that does know what they’re doing. Actually, this price-cutting thing is not even as wide-spread as you think. And let’s not underestimate those producers. A lot of them are very savvy.

I think it’s like scare tactics in a way. People get very, very negative and they get discouraged, and it’s just an excuse because they’re not marketing themselves well enough. Maybe some of your readers can honestly tell me they’re really working hard marketing themselves and overall they’re finding that price is an issue. I want to hear from those people.

JV: You mentioned your voiceover boot camps. Tell us about the services you provide that you think would interest our readers?
Susan: Let’s start with what I can do for free. First of all, everybody should go to greatvoice.com and subscribe to my Inside VoiceOver newsletter. Every month I send them really good tips and I answer questions about the business. Then I teach by teleconference. My classes are by audition only. It’s great for people that live in cities where there is not a live voiceover coach. It’s an eight-week program geared toward helping people sound as natural and conversational as possible and getting that announcer sound out of their voice. There’s a mix of radio and civilian people in the classes.

For those who want something a little more comprehensive, they should plan on coming to New York City for my voiceover boot camp. If they go to greatvoice.com they’ll find a schedule, which they’ll also get if they subscribe to my newsletter. I’ve got one coming up May 15-16 in New York City. Those are ridiculously low priced at $595 for the two days, and there’s an optional third day at the studio. The tele-class is also $595 for the eight-week program. The boot camp is available on CD, and that’s also available through the website with a complete money-back guarantee. And coming soon I’ll have a book, but I need to know who you are so you can find out about the book. Subscribe to my newsletter or call us up and ask to be put on our mailing list. You’ll be in touch with all the things we do.

I’m also going to be starting a monthly coaching program, kind of like a group coaching program where I’m doing special interviews every month with producers, recording studio people, you know, people who can hire voice talent. And you’ll get a weekly fax from me and a monthly audio cassette, sort of like an inner circle club that I’m going to be starting soon. That’s great for people that want that on-going motivation from me where they can stay in touch with the industry, and it all starts at greatvoice.com.

JV: What’s one of the first things you tell radio people that come to you and say, “I want to get in to voiceover? What can I do to get started?”
Susan: There are two main areas. Let’s look at your demo. Do not produce it yourself. I don’t think we can be objective. Let’s face it; everybody that’s reading this has access to some wonderful equipment and can get into a studio and probably knows how to make a phenomenal sounding tape, but you owe it to yourself to bring in an outside director. I just don’t think that we can produce and act at the same time. So that would be the number one caveat. When doing your demo, try to get a set of outside ears to come to the studio with you. Even I have my own studio, but I never do my own demo. I have somebody else that produces it for me.

You need a separate one for commercials. You need a separate one for corporate industrials. You need a separate one for promos. You need a separate one for books on tape if that’s what you want to do. And you can even specialize. I’m doing one now for medical narration; that’s a specialty of mine. And all those things can have their own track on the same CD, a brief 90-second track on the CD.

JV: Now when you talk about an outside producer, do you mean have somebody else produce each individual spot or promo on the demo, or have somebody else produce the demo from spots you may have already produced yourself?
Susan: Well I think that the voice talent themselves, if they’re RAP readers, they know how to do produce the demo. So you don’t have to pay somebody else to do the post-production, unless you want to. But for the individual spots, it’s the talent direction part of it that’s key. We cannot direct ourselves. You’re just going to go mental trying to do it. You cannot be objective about your own voice. Everybody knows that. They should know that if they’re in radio. It’s so hard to be objective about the sound of your own voice.

And I want to say something else here because maybe they don’t realize that the spots we do as part of our production shift by and large are not acceptable for a voiceover demo that you’re going to send out to agencies and producers. You’ve got to have yourself reading national copy. Not the commercials for Jerry’s Waterbed Store # 59. That will not do it for you. Let’s face it, most people have not done a real live honest to goodness beer commercial or whatever it is for a national client, so what you do is you get the copy by transcribing off television or radio, or maybe you have it laying around the station. You go into the studio and you cut it as if you really did that spot.

JV: Where does one find good directors for a demo?
Susan: We do demos here although it’s not our core business. A really fast and easy thing to do is call up a production company and offer to pay a producer to direct you. Pay them by the hour for their time. And that has twofold benefits. Number one, they get to know you, and they might call you in for real work because you’ve reached out and you’re actually paying them for a few hours to come and direct you. And number two, you really get an experienced set of outside ears. You want to pick somebody that’s in the trenches every day doing the kind of commercial and/or the industrial corporate work that you want to be doing.

JV: What do you enjoy most about what you’re doing?
Susan: I was just thinking about this the other day. I’m back on the air. I do a talk show now at a local station just to have the job of doing it. I’m intoxicated by the smell of the microphone. I just love it. It lights me up like nothing else. I was born for this. And when I’m not doing it, it’s not as good a day as it could be. And I think I share that with everybody else that’s reading this interview right now. That’s our birthright. Let’s get out there and let’s do more of it. We all have something to say. We’re blessed with a unique talent, which is our voice. Not everybody has that gift. So we have to use the gift that we were given. That’s my favorite part of the job, having the privilege and the pleasure to make a living using a gift that I was given. That really lights me up and makes my day.

Don’t listen to naysayers. There’s tons of work out there. You just need to be flexible and learn to find it. And if I can help you, I’m here for that. I really am because it gives me great joy to really see somebody succeed.

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