Listen, oh newbies, and you shall hear
of the way things were for the (…um…) voiceketeer…
(ooh! reserving that domain name right now!)
Whether you’re just starting your career as a voice talent, or have been at it for a few years, you’ve probably heard from some more seasoned talents that “the voiceover business has changed.”
Yep. True that. Honestly, what business hasn’t changed lately?
But what does that really mean? What was it like, back in the days before twitter and blogposts? And – is anything still relevant from back in the “VO olden times”?
Getting a Voice Over Start, Before the Internet
I started in the business over 25 years ago, when I was a fairly new Mom – a son, then a daughter, both at home with me most of the time. I began my career with a goal of part-time work, to supplement my husband’s income while being there for my kids until they were old enough for school. I live about an hour from NYC, but chose to focus on local work in Connecticut – with the occasional stroke of luck (or referral) that led to a gig in the Big Apple.
Here is what I did:
- Got some VO coaching to supplement my already-existing skills as an actor (made a living, not famous) in theatre, film,
- Learned about the business of voiceover.
- Found demo copy that suited my voice and delivery.
Hired an active production company to produce my demo, another to make copies of it onto cassettes. Both companiesended up hiring me as a voice talent (I chose their services partly because I knew there was a chance they would hire me after I hired them….one way to get someone to hear your work!)
- Asked for referrals from my two happy clients.
- Drew a geographical circle that would cover a 90-minute drive from my home, and researched possible clients there (recording studios, mostly, in those days). Called them for info. Sent demos. Followed up. There was postage involved, and the telephone.
- Networked with other voice talents – I recommended them, they recommended me.
- Thanked my clients regularly. With handwritten notes.
- Updated my demos every couple of years as new sample of “actual work” came in (I asked for hard copies of those)
Uh – gee. That all sound familiar? Yep. IT IS THE SAME PROCESS MANY NEW VO TALENTS MUST FOLLOW NOW. Minus the cassettes, and adding the good old world wide web to the picture. Now we have websites. Now we…well, you know. The possibilities are endless – and overwhelming.
It’s Still About Relationships. About People.
But some things don’t really change. Building relationships is still central to the business, however you make it happen. It’s just a different delivery system now. But at the each end of the e-mails, blogpost, and tweets, there is an actual human being. Never forget that.
So what was a day like back then? What was a session like?
We built our lists of clients, and kept in touch. Maybe we kept this information on index cards, or a rolodex, or in an address book.
If a client liked our work, they’d often call us to check on our availability for a new project. Many of us had answering services, or checked our home machines like crazy. If you didn’t check in every hour or so, you might lose a job. We all carried change for pay phones.
Voiceover Auditions and Sessions, Back in the Day
Local work: If a potential client liked your demo, sometimes they might take a chance and hire you for a project. If you wowed them, they’d call you back for more. Sometimes, they asked you to audition over the telephone (yeah, I know…not as weird as you think). Of course, in New York City, there were those live auditions – especially if you had an agent who “sent you out”, and you might have many auditions in a day. These still exist – but also we have the option of recording that “custom demo.” Almost always. Rarely doea a client hire you just on the strength of your demo.
Agents: Mostly, couldn’t get “big money” work without one. And the goal was to sign with one great one, exclusively. Freelancing was generally temporary – they either kept you after a few test runs, or dropped you. Now – we might have several agents.
Sessions: Ah, my dears…back then, very few VO talents had home studios, and if they did it was mostly a booth, a great microphone, and an ISDN connection to their big-money clients. Nope, we got in our cars and drove to recording studios, and cultivated those client relationships enthusiastically. I was mostly hired my recording studios back then – the end clients who didn’t deal with agents relied on them for casting.
The session were all LIVE and in person. Sometimes, it was just you and the producer – the client may have been present, too, or on the phone. You read your part, you followed direction, usually had a few laughs along the way, and left the rest up to the producer. No editing. Talk and scoot. At other times, you may work with another talent in the booth. Even better. This way of working, of course, still happens – but less frequently.
Once in a while, though, there were these marathon sessions, carefully orchestrated for time, where ten or more of us would
be gathered in a waiting room while various “chapters” of, say, a sales training audio would be produced. There was usually a narrator who booked the most hours – and the rest of us would play several parts – disgruntled customer, great salesperson, etc.
Ah, the waiting rooms. No one had cell phones, so we talked to each other. Imagine that. Sure, we went over our scripts, but a heck of a lot of networking (personal as well as business) happened while we waited. And I fell even more in love with the VO business, because I loved my fellow voice actors so much. No competition – we were each already hired for our uniqueness. We had each earned our way into the community by taking the steps to get there – including snail-mail marketing, cold calls, classes to update our skills, and business savvy.
Where is our Voiceover Network Now?
Actually, it’s still here – big-time. We just have to work differently to make it happen. Facebook, World Voices, Faffcon, VO-BB, Voice 2014, various meet-up groups,Twitter…we still need each other. Especially now – as many of us are spending way too much time working alone. As convenient as that may be, sometimes we need to meet for real. In the flesh. Or at least reach out in a human way. And we do.
Don’t hide in that walk-in closet! Our clients are now worldwide, and so are our fellow Voice Talents. That’s why we have World Voices, to unite us all in the way the waiting rooms used to unite our local VO talent. We can still learn from each other, and make each other laugh. It’s part of what makes the business fun!