Q It Up: How do you keep your voice-over business thriving?

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: This question is for all of you who either make a living doing voiceover, or who supplement your income doing free-lance voiceover. What do you do to keep your voice-over business thriving, whether you’re making six figures doing voiceovers, or one of the many who supplement other income doing voice work on the side? Is marketing the key? Finding a great agent? Is it customer service? Is it keeping on top of your voice game by always trying to improve your skills with training, exercises, education or other means? Is technical quality at the top of your list? Do you invest in the best mics, preamps, voice processors, studio acoustics, etc.? Is it constantly refreshing demos? A great website perhaps? Is it all of the above? Tell us what you think is key in your voice-over success, and please offer any other thoughts you have on the subject!

Mike-MoneyJeff Berlin [jberlin[at]jberlin.com], www.jberlin.com: My transition from full-time production to full-time voiceover took over a decade. I’ve been very lucky along the way, but I think the most important factor has been to provide stellar service. That means quick turnaround; generating easy to use voice tracks; your flexibility; and accurately gauging the unique needs of each client. Beyond that: a good room and good gear for recording are essential. Refining your skills should be an ongoing process. Agents can be great to have, but I know a lot of guys who voice plenty of stations with no agent at all, and plenty of guys with agents who haven’t had much luck. As far as marketing goes, I suppose it can’t hurt, but I’ve always tried to simply do great work for my clients, with the hope that word will spread that I’m a good VO guy to have onboard. Despite everything we all do for a living, I believe that word of mouth is the most persuasive form of marketing there is. Best of luck, all!

Pete Bunch [pete[at]spokenword images.com], Spoken Word Images Inc., Greensboro, North Carolina: One must prepare to market continuously, daily, every opportunity. Have demo CDs and business cards with you in your car — ya never know who you’re going to meet at the post office or Subway. Just yesterday I read a magazine article about sports agents and realized since I do a lot of sports related VO, there was a door in front of me that I need to knock on, so I phoned him. The agent said, “Amazing that you should call, as my partners and I were discussing this very idea for a couple of our clients.” Then he asked me to send him a couple of mp3 files. WOW! Have a variety of solid demos that spotlight your flexibility and get your stuff out there. Prepare to work your butt off. Also, very important: be a person of your word. Integrity is vital in life and in biz. There are a zillion guys & gals out there who want your gig. So why are you still reading? Go market yourself!

Jeff Laurence Gill [jefflaure[at]gmail. com], Jeff Laurence Productions, Autumn Hill Studios, Franklin, North Carolina, Madison House Studios, Atlanta, Georgia, www.jefflaurence .com: Is marketing the key? Marketing is key as far as keeping good connections with people I have done business with in the past. I can’t tell you how many new stations I have gotten from people who worked at previous clients. As far as outside promotion, yes we go to several of the various conventions each year, and actively seek new clients.

Finding a great agent? We have had some luck with the smaller agents, but many seem to be more concerned with fattening up their perceived talent pools than with actually marketing our individual services. Furthermore, many larger agencies tend to want to “take control” of our client rosters. To me that is not acceptable insofar as I have done much of the legwork to get these clients, and I deserve to keep my full share of the revenues. I have gone as far as offering to pay a 40 percent commission to an agency that can get me NEW business. All agencies declined saying that they “didn;t do business that way” whatever that means.

Customer service? Customer service is KING. There are a lot of really good voiceover people out here. The thing that separates us is our attention to the client, and the delivery of promises — all for a fair price. Customer Service is paramount to success. The other important aspect is the ability to enjoy the people you work with and make it a comfortable and enjoyable time when doing promos, liners etc. I always love having a consultant or PD on the “box” with me as we work. That way they get exactly what they want, and I get some feedback.

Is it keeping on top of your voice game by always trying to improve your skills with training, exercises, education or other means? We should all remain teachable and open minded to new methods, and styles.

Is technical quality at the top of your list? Best course of action for anyone starting or maintaining a business is to buy and learn to use the BEST possible equipment we can afford. There are some awesome mics out here that are under 500 bucks, and some really good ones for 5000 dollars. Our work should always be as good or better than the technical sound of the station.

Is it constantly refreshing demos? I like to make sure my demo is EVERYWHERE! We have demos available by mail, by Internet, via e-mail. I point potential clients to streaming audio of current clients. A voiceover website needs to be simple and easy to navigate. And a new demo every 4 months is essential. Update the client station list to keep it current. Make sure all contact info is easy to find.

I rarely if ever turn down a job because of price. Lots of guys don’t seem to think the smaller budget stations are worth the trouble, but I can tell you that I would not be able to afford the cost of airtime to feature my demo on all those smaller stations. It’s like getting your work showcased 24/7 and being PAID for it! Believe me, people hear those stations passing through, and they will call and find you if they like what they hear.

Johnny George [vo[at]johnnygeorge .com], johnnygeorge.com: I’ve been doing voiceovers like many of my brethren as a side gig to supplement my income for over 30 years. Last year I left Susquehanna when Cumulus bought them out and my CSD job disappeared. I decided to do VO work full time due to the respectable client base I had developed over my career. Best described as 90% marketing, 10% voice work.

My website, http://johnny george.com has been the backbone of my existence too. Additionally, I have had the good fortune to have met some very respectable clients, agents, agencies, production studio managers and online websites that I have made some very strong connections with, and they utilize me on a regular basis.

Auditioning now comes from a variety of sources. Several of my agents and one online VO site sends me 4-12 auditions daily. The ones from my agents are completed first and foremost and the others as time allows.

I publish a monthly newsletter, acknowledge a client base with “Thank you” cards and stay in close communication with clients that I have the opportunity to be their branding spokesperson.

I try to be available for any and all forms of marketing that can be beneficial to keeping my name and reputation in the forefront. RAP magazine is a good example. The audience may be my peers, but I have a great respect for the people who read Jerry’s magazine and we may all network and help each other at one stage or another.

I built a full scale digital production studio in my home in 1993 and have upgraded and tried to stay on top of the VO equipment trends with the advent of my newest studio that I updated in 2003 when we downsized our home for a condo, now here in Fishers, just north of Indianapolis. (http://johnnygeorge.com/studio.html).

I always try to super-serve my clients by under-promising and over-delivering on their projects as my standard. I believe in practice, training with qualified coaches (Marice Tobias, Nancy Wolfson, Dick Orkin and others), and have plans to continue that as often as time and money allow.

My philosophy is simple: Don’t promise anything you can’t give your client by 110%. Then, give them more when they don’t expect it. Treat them with respect and be budget-conscience so you can benefit further on down the line for future work. (Do not use the “I wanna get rich on one job” mentality.) Every client is your #1 client, but be practical when making promises so you don’t overwhelm yourself. Be honest. Show integrity. Don’t lower your standards just to get a job. Auditions are also “first impressions”. Treat them with the same respect and quality. It reflects WHO you are.

And last, but not least: Share your knowledge with others. Networking with other VO pro’s always pays off. It may be a referral. It might be a connection that develops into a new client. It may be simply a good friendship. Pay it forward.

Nowadays, everyone thinks that being a voiceover is so simple, and they too want to make a million dollars like you next week. Good luck. It only took me 30+ years to be an overnight success... and I’m still learning.

Jim Harvill [JimHarvill[at]clear channel.com], Magic 107.9, KEZA, Fayetteville, Arkansas: In the culture into which radio has evolved, at least for me, I struggle finding time to market myself for free-lance work. It’s become a luxury that, all too often, I don’t have time to enjoy.

Ralph Mitchell [RalphMitchell[at] clear channel.com]: I’ve been doing voiceovers since 1978 and early-on watched others send out bulk mailings with their demo tape packaged in some creative fashion or another. My friend Tommy Kramer, who had already “made it” while I was still quite green, sternly advised that most of those tapes went to the trash can -- a huge waste of postage and time. He had been in several major markets and noted that management pretty much considered those tapes to be an annoyance. IF they kept the tape, it was only to bulk erase and recycle it for their own use. Even the most creative ideas yielded little results. A perfect example comes from a friend whose family runs a pepper packaging operation in South Louisiana. She had a great idea SURE to get someone’s attention: She had a hundred custom labels printed to put on cans which looked like a can of peppers and put her cassette demo inside. The label said something like “a really HOT demo inside” or some such. The family cannery sealed the cans, attached her custom labels, and she mailed them out to a carefully selected list of very important people. Either they went to the wrong people or nobody owned a can opener because it was money down the drain.

The current favored marketing method for voiceover artists is having a website with your demo, client list, rates, etc. It’s cheaper than making dubs with custom labels sent through the U.S. mail and requires little or no time once it’s set up. But anyone searching the web for a voiceover artist finds far too many choices for any one particular site or artist to stand out above the rest.

I have to say that marketing to the “big boys” is not my forte’, but for me, getting regional business and keeping it through the years always comes down to two things (assuming quality work is a given): 1. Relationships; 2. Customer service. People I’ve worked closely with in the past call me when they move on to open their own agency or they get a job at another station because we have a good relationship and I take care of business. Some of the most creative people I’ve known can’t keep a gig because they’re not good with people, and some of the nicest people are always on the prowl for work because they’re not so good on follow-through once they’ve got the deal. Take care of your customer because, as I learned in sales training, the easiest customer to GET is one you’ve already GOT.

I look forward to hearing from our fellow readers regarding deals with the “big boys.”

CJ Goodearl [cj[at]wjrr.com], Clear Channel, Orlando, Florida: Practice, practice, practice. I consider all the spots and bits I read to be on-the-job training, as well as my “day job”. Get a decent condenser mic that YOU sound good on. You never know where the next gig will come from. I just got some VO work through word of mouth from a young sales guy whose mother owns an agency. He was happy with some specs I’d done for him that sold, and was telling her all about me. Free publicity! Pay it forward. Be professional. Make sure the client is happy. Also, have a website (cjgoodearl.com, updating soon! Check out my demos!)

Antonio McCoy [tonymacvox[at]gmail .com], tonymacvoice.com: Marketing is a big part of the key. You need to ensure you are ALWAYS sending someone something to gain new business. Getting comfortable because you have plenty of work now is a BIG mistake. This industry is very competitive. I believe with more and more newcomers getting into the game you can not rest; they are getting better with every spot they cut.

A user friendly website with your latest work is always a plus. I am a firm believer in updating demos with my most recent work opening the demo. People who do not know you may recognize a spot your voice appeared in. They will know how to recognize your voice if they hear it on radio or TV. This gives you credibility to be hired, because they know you are working.

Equipment is also important. They have a lot of great inexpensive products out there that can do some of the same things the more expensive equipment can. Follow your conscience, but I believe it all starts with a great mic and great voice processor. A great sound card makes a huge difference as well.

Training is very important. It helps you keep in touch with what agents and casting directors are looking for. In most cases, the person who is doing the training is well established and they know the industry is looking for. They can tell you the do’s and don’ts. I studied under Rodney Saulsberry and found his training to be quite effective.

Vaughan Jones [vaughanj[at]scoast radio.com.au]: Practice Acting. Every script is a character, even straight ones. The better you can “act” the more work you get.

Breathing believable realism into each script makes the message more compelling and your talent more desirable — doesn’t matter whether it’s a straight narration for retail or a theatrical character for branding.