You Gotta Spend Green

Last post, I discussed the importance of charging a fair rate for your voiceover work. This post is a companion to that, because I want to also mention how you’ve got to spend to make.

I often see newbies coming into the Facebook and other groups asking for mentors and recommendations. That’s not in and of itself bad, but when you buckle down and start building something that is going to take you places–your business–you want to build it right, and not have to come back later to fix mistakes or try and rebuild client relationships. It might seem hard or make you wince to imagine how much you’ve got to pay for a good coach or a demo, but trust me, in the long term it’s worth it.

Let me give you an example from my work in audiobooks. In more than one case, I have gotten a job from a frantic client email that says ‘this took way longer than I thought it would! Help! I need to make my deadline!’ (Or sometimes they’re way past their deadline!) What does spending money have to do with this? You need to spend time with an audiobook coach to understand the process and the marathon involved in audiobook recording. If you’re going to self edit, you need to understand exactly how long that will take you, and factor that in to your time. And honestly, in order to create a well functioning assembly line of audiobooks, you should outsource at least the proofing part of your work. Yes it involves spending money, but you can cover production costs in your rate.

Or other cases, where someone who didn’t know their equipment or software wasn’t able to make ACX specs and had their book bounce back. Or they edited something in a way that made them sound bad. Or their mic was backwards, or they had ferocious static. They didn’t check with an engineer, or they didn’t get their space looked at, or they didn’t do one of many costing things before they got started.

The ultimate result of things like this is your client relationship and your reputation as a voice talent. Your ability to make your way in the industry in general rests on your product–your voice–and you want to make what you hand out as good as possible, as soon as possible, because if you damage one of those relationships early on, you don’t generally get a second chance to impress the client.

You’re Worth Green

My friends, rates are a common and sometimes contentious battle in our industry. I’ve seen a very common thread of thought that when you begin in voiceover (and particularly in the audiobook part of the industry) you have to accept lower rates as you ‘build your portfolio.’ It’s probably wise not to charge top tier dollars, but no matter what you should always make sure you’re making enough to cover your expenses and turn a profit. Not doing so is not smart business. Voiceover is an expensive industry to start out in, that’s for sure, but it’s important to build habits and reputation that will keep you going there for the long term. Cheap is not a word that you want to have associated with you, in my opinion. It’s doesn’t denote craftsmanship and hard work, which is what good voiceover is made of!

Most voiceover talent I know have worked their butts off over the course of years to improve themselves and their craft. They’ve spent thousands on equipment, training, courses and more, and their rates should reflect that! Even if you’re so new that the shiny hasn’t worn off your mic, you’re worth more than bottom dollar.

There’s a segment of talent that I have seen around social media who seek out the lower paying jobs, and are quite content to work a great many low paying gigs, rather than seek out the higher paying jobs. They can (I have read some quite lengthy arguments!) get quite angry when you question this strategy, not only for their own work, but for the health of the industry in general. I know it’s pretty impossible to change anyone’s mind on the internet, but the ‘oh ignore them they’re just haters’ mindset doesn’t really help this. I think it’s important, no matter what you’re doing with your life, or what industry you’re a part of to not dismiss expertise in your field. Don’t get so stuck in your own perspective that you leave behind advice that could save you a headache and fill your wallet better!

But as I said, my friends, don’t be afraid to seek advice on rates, to look for guides–I have heard good things about the GVAA rate guide–and to believe in your own worth as a voice talent. You are part of a creative, growing, evolving industry, and you should be proud of that fact. Plus, your rates are about more than you, you are affecting the course of the industry as a whole. In general, rates are trending downwards, and it seems more common for companies to ask for exclusive rights buyouts when they’re paying you.

One last side note–I know that we all have struggles, and I would never advocate someone pricing themselves out of a job they need to survive. My goal with this post is to encourage those that are able to think of their own worth and the bigger picture when it comes to what they are charging.

Believe in your craft and remember you’re worth a good rate!

The Devil and the Danger in Comparing

These days, most folks are on Facebook and other social media platforms. It’s wonderful in a lot of ways, allowing you to keep up with friends and family you might not stay in touch with otherwise. There’s plenty of uplifting posts, puppy pictures, and food porn to amuse. (Not to mention games to while away the time)

And it’s also a cesspool of argument, vitriol, and poor spelling. People defend their opinions from the towers of half-educated ignorance and personal attacks. It can really get you down, reading the same kind of negativity day after day. Even voiceover can fall victim to these type of arguments, as we have our well known bastions of polarization. (p2p, anyone?) Arguments over the ‘right’ way to engineer something, or who has the most (best) resume and many other issues light up every group I’ve ever been a part of.

But in my opinion, the greatest danger to us is in the land of comparison. When you look at social media, the picture that you see of someone’s life is very one dimensional. There aren’t usually the smudges, the busted corners, or the effort it took to set up the perfect photo of 4 family members and 3 dogs. Whether it’s just that it feels like every other mom (or parent) has it together when you don’t, or that every other vo has booked so much more work than you, those comparisons are everywhere and a slippery slope of bad feelings and worse consequences.

VO (and freelance in general) is a very isolating way to work. For those of us who work full time, you’re home, often alone all day with a work environment of a small padded room. It’s natural to look to the internet to provide the ‘water cooler’ that we lack. And those comparisons seem to follow along right after. This person is always posting their great gigs, and gosh, it seems like they hardly have any down time. What are they doing that you aren’t? The next person not only has time to record audiobooks, they also go to the gym and look fantastic in the bargain. Yet another person has an attentive spouse, a great looking home, and beautiful children.

It may sound silly, but I really believe mental state is an important component of work for freelance professionals. We sometimes have very little work day structure, and a ‘bad brain day’ can make it much harder to get things done. Where I’m trying to go with this is to say that you don’t have to compare. Remember how much you don’t know about other’s lives. You don’t know how much down time is between the photos that are posted. (They may have been saving pictures for 6 months.) The second person has no kids so they’re able to get up early and make it there. Not a fair comparison since that’s not your life. The perfect home? You missed the fact that out of 3 hours of tornado kids, this was the 15 seconds they were still and smiling.

Don’t let appearances lead you into false comparison. You’re on your own journey, and that probably looks different than everyone else’s. The important thing is how far you’ve come and where you’re going, not what someone else is doing.

No One Size Fits All Solution – Rerun

One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned is that most voice talent love the idea of outsourcing some of their work, but many people aren’t sure how to get from their idea to their goal. When they reach out to me, they are very enthusiastic, and also often rather uncertain. They’re looking for answers, but not sure exactly what the task is. I always feel bad when I get these calls, because I wish I had a one-size-fits all easy solution or system on how to create a project from people’s ideas. 

But here’s the thing–even if I did have a system, chances are, it probably wouldn’t work for you. Why? Because every life is different. Every business is different. I wouldn’t offer the same kind of organizational advice to a single mom with young kids as I would to a mom who has older children and a spouse, even though they have some obvious common points. The shape of Single Mom’s life is going to be different, the needs of her children will be different than Married Mom’s would. Also, Married Mom has the potential of asking for spousal help. Though both have to deal with kid interruptions, Single Mom has likely more, and probably a different level of need than Married Mom.  People learn differently, process information in their own way, so it’s pretty difficult to come up with a single plan for everyone.

I’ve done many research or organizational projects for folks, and I’m always happy to do more. But there is one absolutely vital task you ought to complete BEFORE you seek outside help.

What is it?

Know what you want, as completely as possible.

Sounds simple? It isn’t. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you want to get in touch with ad agencies, to open up a new area of business for yourself. You come to me, and you say that, and I ask exactly how much you want to spend, because I could do that full time for a month, and not be done. Then I start asking questions, do you want to look nationally, or regionally? Do you want smaller or larger agencies? I’m happy to ask all these questions to help you define what you’re looking for, but hopefully you can see my point that what you want requires some refining and digging down to actually find it.

Perhaps a more specific example. You want to, say, be more organized. Organized in what? Your daily routine? Your invoicing? How you record? If it’s your daily routine, the only real way to do it is to tailor it to the facts of your life. If you’re like one of the moms in the examples above, it might be helpful to think of your work in terms of 15 or 30 minute periods. What can you get done in that amount of time? If you’re a single person, obviously you have a different dynamic. It’s more likely that you can work for longer periods of time, yet it’s important that you have time for your non-work life also.

The idea is that in order to know what you want and need, you have to break the problem down, to ask a lot of questions in order to specifically identify where the next steps are, and what the best steps are for you in your particular career.
So if you want to take those further steps in life and career, do some hard thinking first, and you’ll find yourself farther down the path than you might realize! It’s so much easier to take the steps you need to when you know exactly what those steps are!

Jeff Bowden Interview – Rerun

jeff1. You have an amazing 40 years of experience in media related fields. How did you get started along this path?

Karen, it has been a very interesting path. I actually started my career as a newspaper reporter after graduating college with a Journalism degree from the University of Georgia. I worked for several newspapers, the last being the Tampa (FL) Tribune. But after my first daughter was born, I felt the need for a change and moved to the arena of public affairs for a multi-county planning agency. There I began to be involved with graphics, speechwriting and photography. This provided a background for an eventual transition to jobs involving the production of multi-media presentations.

I had started in 1969 by recording a speech and adding slides (early multi-media?). After several years and jobs, eventually I was developing multi-image presentations with up to 5 screens, 25 projectors, and computer control that featured elaborate soundtracks. And that last bit, producing sound design, was what eventually captured my attention. I was fascinated in the studio with what the engineers could do and I finally gave in and went to night school to study the craft while maintaining my day job. I felt that know what engineers did would help me to communicate with them more effectively. Little did I realize that I would eventually switch chairs.

After a three-year foray into video production in the late 1980s, I returned to book and bible publishing to launch an audio book library for Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville. Interestingly, the first full-length book I directed and produced was a Charles Dickens story and the talent was – wait for it – Ben Kingsley. My first session was even in a London recording studio. Not bad for my first outing. Of course, that was a mountaintop experience and most of my subsequent work was in the valleys.

I produced a total of 12 books that first year (1991) as the fledgling audio book industry (cassettes) was getting underway. These products were two-cassette abridgements, and seemed to find some traction. But while at Nelson in the early 80s I had produced 36 titles as single-cassette highlight audio books that went nowhere. And of course, eventually, the public made their desire for the entire book content, not abridgements, known.

After three years and more than 50 books, I was invited to come to Michigan to Zondervan Publishers, where I spent the rest of my career retiring in 2008. I am not real sure of the final numbers but I probably worked on more than 400 books and eight editions of the Bible during those years, as well as a dozen video-based curriculum kits. It was a fantastic way to spend one’s career. I loved going to “work” everyday.

 

2. You have done production work on an astounding 400 + audiobooks and eight editions of the Bible. How can your experience be of benefit to talents in the creation of their audiobooks?

While I did edit and master most of the titles I worked on, I also spent a lot of time as producer in recording sessions in studios across the country directing authors and professional voice talents. We had a studio in the building, but it was not always convenient for the narrator to come to Michigan, so I went to them. As a result, I spent quality time with some very fine engineers in studios in Tennessee, Florida, California, Colorado, Texas, NY and Washington. And those engineers were always willing to teach me tricks of the trade, which I have always tried to pass on and share.

In my current role as an editor/proofer, I am happy to offer any assistance I can in helping the talented people I am working with to produce the finest audio product. Since I am not involved in the recording, my suggestions frequently involve quality issues such as ambient noises, microphone placement and level fluctuations among others. Most times these suggestions will help on the next project, but I have been asked about many technical issues like microphone choices, use of plugins and outboard devices, noise control, etc.

While on the subject of noise, perhaps you will allow me to get out my soapbox. I have become dismayed over the public’s apparent acceptance of “poor audio”. I was always ticked when a beautiful, high quality video project would have a lousy soundtrack. Money was always spent first on lights and sets, and lastly on the audio. Come on folks, the first word in Audiovisual is – AUDIO.

But in recent years, with the advent of podcasting and Youtube, there is some real crappy audio circulating. I understand that the goal is to get the content out there, but I hate to see this lack of concern over quality spill into audio books. And I have listened to some books from major NY publishers that had some noisy artifacts that I find objectionable. I guess my philosophy is that if one is going to spend hours recording an author’s work, make it the best possible audio you can. And now that many, if not most, books are being downloaded at low bit rates, it is more important than ever to start with some good clean audio. To quote a famous Nashville personality, Mack Truck, “That is my opinion. Ought to be yours!” Nuff said.

3. After you moved back to Tennessee, you described yourself as retired. What led you back into the world of audio production?

After I left Zondervan, I worked under a contract for a year and produced 180 titles using over 25 voice talents across the country. My daughter worked with me, handling scheduling, scripts, proofing and invoicing, while I did the editing and mastering. She trained several proofers and after I finished my contract, she continued to proof for other publishers.

Things slowed down for me and work almost stopped completely after that. I was producing the odd book, taking long motorcycle trips and enjoying “retirement” but I started feeling that there had to be more to it than that. Then last September, I got a call on a Sunday afternoon from a narrator I had never met, but who knew me by reputation. He had three books due and his editor was not able to keep up with recording and editing. I agreed to edit/proof two of them for him. It was exhilarating to be back in harness and under a deadline again.

Then this new friend introduced me to his broker, who also knew of me, and the rest is history. He put my name out to his suppliers and now I am honored to have more than a dozen new friends that I am able to edit/proof for. Since that first call, I have worked on more than 25 books and as of this writing, I am committed for 7 more. Needless to say, I am not riding the bike as much now as before. And that is ok.

4. Do you prefer long form projects – audiobooks – or are you available for other work as well?

While I have produced other audio and video projects over the years, such as radio theatre and audio sales catalogs, I prefer the long form projects if given a choice. I am still doing full production on several titles for one publisher, but I am really fond of my “new career” as an editor/proofer.

5. What is the best way for people to reach you?

I can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (615) 995-5296.

As a post script, if you know anyone who you think would fit in to my ‘techie’ interview series please email me at [email protected] Also, you can check out previous interviews with Morgan Barhart of SociableBoost.com here, Dan Friedman here, Jeff Kafer here, Eric Souer here, George Whittam here, Dylan Gamblin here, Louanne Frederikson here, Dan Lenard here, and Zak Miller here.

And next week I’ll be talking to another audio professional Jake Walther, that I met on Linkedin.

Looking in the Mirror-And you!

So as the last part in my series here, I have to touch on one more little bit of self examination. It goes along with my last post, talking about negative self talk. It’s negative self opinion about your own talents.

In my time serving the voiceover community, I have heard so very many talent talk about flaws in their voice or delivery, their mouth noise, their read, or any one of a number of things. I honestly make a point with every one I talk to to reassure them that whatever it is they are worried about, that they believe is ‘their’ thing, lots and lots of other people do too.

Working from home is such an isolating profession, and the voiceover industry in particular since we spend so much of the day in our offices or booths. You hear your voice, or maybe one or two others on a regular basis. Me? I hear dozens, and have heard dozens. I can promise you that you’re not flawed or unique in your amount of mouth noise. Or whatever you’re worried about! Don’t let your anxiety or negative self-opinion drag you down and lead you to be hard on yourself for no reason. You’re not alone!

We all have so many details to worry about as self motivated entrepreneurs, so don’t let something this minor trip you up.

Now let me say as an addendum here, there is one way that positive self talk can harm you, and it’s not about mouth noises. In extreme cases I’ve seen people so convinced that they knew what they were doing, they ignored pro advice from experts in the VO genre because they believed that they knew best. There’s a good self examination, and good self opinion, and there’s evaluating advice that we don’t want to hear from people who know what they’re saying. And it’s pretty easy to figure out who is worth listening to–the internet is all around us as a fantastic research tool to figure out who’s done what, worked with whom, studied with whom and so forth, plus reams of past advice in many cases. (Thank you FB search-in-groups function.)

Many talent have seen a flood of people enter the industry, lured by unscrupulous coaches after their dollars, or idiotic articles that paint voiceover as nothing but ‘talking’. These newbies will often make transparent grabs for advice, having done little to no research or learning on their own, and in some cases have even asked for people’s client lists! That being said, sometimes you might get a grouchy response when you ask questions or look for information, but don’t let the snark dissuade you. We’re good people. We work hard, and the best friends I’ve ever had have come through industry relationships.

Next week I’ll be discussing another major thief of joy from my voice talent friends-comparison.

Looking in the Mirror-What Now?

So you’re here. You’ve got some guides looked at, you’ve made your notes, and you’re full of ideas. Now what?

The place you’re at is a tough one. It’s easy to get paralyzed at this point, or to have an awesome start, but then fall off the wagon with your plan a few weeks or months later. (It bears an uncanny resemblance to those New Year’s Resolutions!)

I have two pieces of advice for you to help you get going on your self improvement train. Number one, keep it small. Whatever your first task, your first step on what you want to do is, keep it as small as possible. At this point, getting the ball rolling is a whole lot more important than how far it moves. You want to keep it small to help make it (whatever your steps are to your goal) doable, and something that can turn into a habit. If you make grand and vast plans, life will probably get in your way in a hurry, or you’ll fall off the wagon before you can lock in your habit forming, so that you’ll have the regular turning to your tasks as part of your daily routine.

Second piece of advice–watch your self talk! Maybe this sounds a little too ‘self-help-book’ to you but listen to me for a second. The way we talk, to others and ourselves influences our thinking. The more you state or think something, the more you’ll believe it. If you call yourself stupid or some other negative word it’s easy enough to believe it on some level over time. You don’t have to talk to yourself in sunshine flowers and hippies, but if you call yourself stupid, counter it. Say, ‘no, I made a mistake, that doesn’t make me stupid.’ The reason why I emphasize this is because many of the voice talent I’ve met are extremely self critical, particularly when they make a mistake, and feeling like you’ve failed will only make you do so. You’re going to screw up on your goals. Maybe you’ve fallen off the wagon for a while. Accept it, learn, and get the heck back on! The race is only over when you’re dead.

Next time will be my last post in this series, covering one of the most common things I’ve seen voice talent do in the 7 years I’ve been in this business.

Looking in the Mirror-How To

So when you decide it’s time to slow down, to do that self-examination, how do you go about it? For me, it starts with picking up a pen, and writing. Personally, writing on paper has always helped untangle my mind. I love making lists and writing out my thoughts to help me get myself in order. I often discover numerous things about whatever I’m working on while I’m writing. Other methods may include sitting down on the computer and doing research, or typing as opposed to writing out your thoughts. Whatever works for you, as long as you’re taking time and taking a good look at where you’re at, that’s the important thing. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have a hard time with recording their thoughts, or even just stopping long enough to do so. I believe this is important though–even if it’s a pad and pen on your counter you scribble on as you move through your day. Or an app on your phone, whatever works!

While you’re here, ask yourself some questions. Where do you want to go with your business? What is your ‘big’ goal? How are you going to get there? Do you have an infrastructure in place to handle a greater amount of work? Do you have a business plan, and if you don’t, when will you make one? And don’t get overwhelmed because something seems big or far away, when it comes to your goals. Make the goal, but then look at what the first step is. The goal is important, but after that, it’s only the step in front of you that matters. For right now, just get down as much as you can. You can fine tune later.

When you’re looking at guides and how-to’s, make sure you’re considering how they can work with your specific life circumstances. Kids, outside jobs, and many other factors influence how we make organizational plans fit our lives. It’s easy to give up on getting more organized or evaluating things if we feel like we’re failing whatever plan or guru we’ve found. Don’t let someone else’s idea of how you should be running your business make you feel like you’re not good enough.

The important thing is to take a solid look at where you are, where you’re going, and how far you’ve come. To make plans, and consider new things. To admit things you could have done better, but also to celebrate your successes. The mirror may be uncomfortable sometimes, but we all need to take a good long look to be sure we’re going where we want to, and we know how to get there!

Looking in the Mirror

In my recent series, I discussed many of the lessons I learned after having been in the hospital with heart failure at 36. One of the major ones was the need to stop and asses where you are from time to time. In these next few posts, I’ll be looking into that concept more in depth.

Like many people in our line of work, I’m often very busy between career and real life concerns. There’s the work itself, which takes up a fair bit of time. There’s marketing, client management, and looking for new leads. You’ve got to make sure you have enough work, pay the bills, and try and tuck some away for a rainy day. (Not to mention taxes.)

Then there’s plain old life needs. I don’t have kids, but I have a number of personal concerns I have to deal with regularly. I try to get out once in a while and have fun, as well as work on outside projects, and try and diversify my income. I have some down-the-road plans, as I’ve always wanted to grow what I do and be able to not have to rely heavily on audiobooks for my income. (I do love them! Don’t get me wrong, I just don’t want all my eggs to be in one financial/business basket.)

But what I’ve found I have to take time for, and is sometimes pretty difficult, are those moments of looking in the mirror. Evaluating where I am and what I’m dealing with, not just with my business, but with how business and life balance and interconnect. It can be easy to just work and work and work, and worry only about what’s right in front of me. Then I find myself weeks or even months down the road with no notion of how I got there, and behind on numerous ‘office’ aspects of my business. There’s always more that I ‘mean’ to do, things I ‘should’ do to get more organized, or other vague ideas like that.

For me, making the effort to do these things is about staying mindful, staying present, and not just letting life sweep me along. It’s also about having people to keep me accountable, and making the effort to do the needed things even when I don’t want to. I’ve taken a little time off this week to sit down and consider where my business and life are going. I’ve been working with voice talent since 2011, and I’ve been very lucky to have had as much success as I have. I’m very grateful to everyone I’ve developed a relationship with, and how much goodwill I’ve found throughout the community. I hope sharing some of my journey to business accountability can help you consider your own mirror, to see where you are, how far you’ve come, and where you want to be.

Blogger Profile: Bob Souer – Rerun

bob_souer_professional_story_tellerThis series came to mind before the new year, and I knew one of the first people I wanted to feature was my father–and not just because he’s my Dad! I can’t count the number of people over the years who have mentioned Dad’s blog and how much they’ve enjoyed it, learned from it, and valued his words. They usually start out by telling me how awesome my Dad is, and then mention the blog, but still… 🙂

Dad has been blogging since May of 2005. He doesn’t post on a regular schedule, but I know that his readers find him worth the wait. His posts cover a pretty wide range of topics, but one of the first things he told me when he and I were discussing blogging, online content, and how you should present yourself was that he made a point of featuring other people whenever possible. Not only does it generate goodwill, and make you look good, there is also a lot of cool stuff going on out there that people should know about! In that vein, Dad also keeps a pretty lengthy blogroll of everyone he’s ever been able to find who blogs about voice over in some fashion.

In short, I would venture that my Dad is one of the mainstays of the voice over blogging world, and someone that is always interesting and valuable to read.

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