Thursday, July 30, 2009

5 Things in Voice Overs I Wish I Could Do All Over Again

5 Things in Voice Overs I Wish I Could Do All Over Again

Quality Assurance & Public Relations at Voice123 means listening to a great deal of voice talent. The level of talent ranges from 'newbie' to your most well-known, seasoned professional. I was working on Quality Assurance earlier this week, and while listening to some demos posted by a few new talents, I thought about what I did to get my first demo done... and what I wish I could do all over again. Even though it has been over 15 years now, I still remember all the mistakes I made, and... the money spent i.e. wasted.

To date, it still parallels what many go through, so I wanted to share with you my experience with getting my first voice over demo done, and what I wish I could do all over again, if not to illustrate the importance of doing things right with patience and care. You can automatically assume my first demo was awful, but I paid a bigger price, much higher than what I spent.

1. Selecting the guy to produce it.
My lesson learned here is that it is probably a good idea to spend the money on someone, who produces voice over demos... not rock music albums. Also, someone who actually knows how to produce voice over demos. The guy in charge of mixing levels was not keen on what worked in the voice over industry. He had a working knowledge of a soundboard, but in my anxious, youthful rush to 'just get it done', I had ended up selecting a person who neither knew what was needed on a voice over demo, nor did he know when to say, 'OK, you might not want to do that.', and I just went along for the ride...a very costly one at that, as I live in NYC. Things are not cheap here, and I paid way too much. Important to note, high cost does not always indicate you will get a great demo.

2. How many copies of my demo that I wanted for mass mailings.
Oh boy! I wish I could take this back especially when I think of how easy it is these days to promote yourself at a much cheaper cost on the Internet, if it costs anything at all:
  • I paid for 250 demo tapes at a cost of $1.00 a cassette. I paid for the box it was to be shipped in, and then after, had someone do graphics for the inside cassette jackets, which all ran me another $75.00. So, there I was with a mountain of bad demo tapes that looked good, and no postage stamps to mail them out! Now, mailing cassettes was not cheap. I believe back then it cost 53 cents a mailing.
Add to that cost: Padded envelopes and return address labels, which came out to about $1.00 an envelope. I also paid for those stick-on labels for cassettes and two printer cartridges (not cheap) when my printer ran out of ink. This killed my wallet, but it was about to get much worse! If only I could have said then, 'Check out my website.', but even with this demo, it still would have been a bad idea.

3. Script selected.
I am not sure if you have ever heard my voice. Let me be brief on this one, and just say, 'It was a mistake to choose a script, in which James Earl Jones did the original voice.' Unfortunately, 'the love' of a deep voice and Darth Vader is not sufficient reasoning to select a script. My voice is/was/will never be built for deep voices. I was not thinking of this as a 'business', or thinking about the balance between 'what I want to do' & 'what gets me hired'. I just wanted to do it so badly, and I paid for it.

4. Psychologically speaking... Giving people's opinions 'too much negative power'.
Opinions are important, seemingly as we base most of our success in this industry on whether or not others opinions of our work will get us hired. What I did is something I still see happen today in the voice over industry. I can sum it up this way:
  • If someone does not like what they hear, or shares an opinion about it, investigate the reasons why they stated their opinion. Take it with a grain of salt. Do not get upset, or worried. Not everyone will like everything you do. That is no reason to quit, give up, or change something good that you may have going for you. An opinion is only as powerful as you let it be.
My problem when I started out was that I took everything that everyone said so personally, it impeded the learning process. I did not like any form of criticism because I worked so hard on my demo. Yet, thinking back, did I really do my best? That was the reason I had to investigate, but was too young to know it.

5. The biggest mistake... mailing demos to everyone without thinking of the recipient.

If you like to say, 'Think big or go home.', you are like me. Except, when I started out in voice overs my idea of 'thinking big' always cost me more money than it earned me. I thought, 'I have this mountain of tapes, and the world cannot wait to hear me!'. I sent these demos off to the biggest names in the business, and the smallest names, too. The result was counter-productive to say the least:
  • A whole group of agents had new voice over coffee coasters called, 'Steven Lowell.'
  • I actually became a target for less than scrupulous people, who then sought me out to try to get me to pay them to make me a new demo, and charge me much, much more. Their reasoning, 'Your demo was awful. Do you know how much it costs to get a great one completed at the right price!' Sadly, they were right, but I had no money, so I had no funds to even try to research possibilities.
As well, there was a series of coffee coasters out there aka. 'Steven Lowell's first voice over tapes', that took all of about 3 seconds to display that I had no clue what I was doing. That can be a hard image to erase. The reality of life is that first impressions do matter, even if they are unforgiving and harsh. Luckily, when I was completely down and out that the mountain of demo tapes was gone and I was out a good amount of money, one of my last demo tapes I sent out made its way to a very nice coach, who told me, 'You went about this all wrong. I can hear what you were thinking, and why you thought that was a good idea, but it is not. Your voice is too real and conversational to try and sound like that.'

The most important thing he did was that he listened to my demo, knew my strong points, and told me what to stay away from. When it came time to making a new demo, he would not let me settle for anything better than what he saw could be my best... and did not charge me a fortune in the process. To this day, he still keeps in touch with me, and has been a mentor during tougher times when I felt I should give up.

This is perhaps is what makes the entire experience worth while for me. It showed me we all go through certain things for a reason, so that we may learn what to do next, and then we owe to it ourselves to do better.

Thank you for reading,

Voice123 - The Voice Marketplace
Steven Lowell
Public Relations Manager
My Blog
Twitter: @stevenNYC123


Anonymous said...

Steve, I have been on the Voice 123 site for ages and have never done anything because I felt intimidated. I even took a course at a local community college. Bottom Line, this blog entry has been a tremendous help and gives me the impetus to maybe try again. You've been a huge inspiration...keep up the great work.

Wayne June said...

Priceless advice for the "newbie".

- Great article.
~ Wayne

Tony said...

Steven, who was the helpful voice coach? I was in broadcasting for 40 years, including network radio and TV, but the demo I had professionally produced last year has gotten me exactly zero v/o jobs. Who can I trust to give me an honest evaluation?

Tony Russomanno

Jeremy W said...

This was a great article. I am new at this and am very frustrated with the whole thing especially home studio work and the amount of money I've put out. It's "nice" to hear that this is more common than what I thought.

odie said...


Thanks for the great advice. You are absolutely right, on all the points you covered.

It is important to not take criticism personally. (very challenging when the product you are attempting to promote is, in a sense, you; not a vacuum you believe in and are selling door to door).

Working with people that know what they are doing is also important. Finally, realizing all of us cannot possibly be good at everything, and one should focus on their individual strengths in order get the job done.

Excellent article!

Nan Ayers said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I'm not sure why I read this message (I don't read most) but now feel as if it may be time to pick myself up, dust myself off, start all over again.

Claudia Porras said...

I've been a member of voice 123 only for 4 years, but only have a couple of demos because most of them had been rejected and I know why. I make my demos at home, thanks to a digital recorder, I have almost no access to a studio, and have never worked for any projects. Voice overs have never been my specialty either, what I do is sing, and if anyone else gere besides me does, I'd like to know.
But seriously, who is that good coach you were talking about?,
I've been really inspired by your post, and I don't think I'll give up ever again, I would just like a little more advise from someone with better experience and better luck than myself, and
so I can learn more about this.

The Voice123 Team said...

I was referring to my long-time coach, David Zema. He actually introduced me to back in 2004, and at times when I felt like quitting, he was helpful in keeping me on track.

ahsaas said...

very appealing and encouraging too..................

SuzeB said...

Hi Steve,

I found this article very helpful. I feel a lot like Nan- maybe it's time to pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.


ROB C. said...

HI Steve, this was such great help to me. I am a newbie just started because my Girlfriend and friends say I so good with mimicing voices. So I This as maybe hidden talent I Have and would really like to persue it. thats so much valid points and spot on.

Keith said...

Outstanding article Steve. I have found everything you mentioned so very true. Thank your mentor and coach every chance you get. He or she may not give you the answer you want to hear, but will give you the answer you need to hear.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the comments...I want to begin and need a coach plus advice on how to produce the tape..what???should go in it??

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,Thank you so much for the advice and information and all your great work and inspiration! Much appreciated and right on target! Joscelynne

Jennifer H. said...

I agree with the anonymous comment fo been around Voice 123 4 years, but because of feelings of intimidation unable 2 do anythi9ng, but this Blog by Steve has so much information and actually a good start on plans 2 change that Thanks man. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!!!!