People often send e-mails to me with questions and comments, and I endeavor to respond to everyone. The topics raised in the message below were so interesting that I wanted to answer them here rather than in e-mail. With Ken’s permission, I have quoted his message.
Hi Karen. My name is Ken. I discovered your website one day when I was looking on Amazon for books on Voice Acting and I saw your recommended reading list…I must say that I found your site tremendously useful. I’m really impressed by your generosity of spirit and the fantastic information and resources you provide…Now to my questions. These have bugged me for years and I wonder if you can lend some insight.
Number one is:
If Voice Over is so competitive (and I have no doubt that it is) why are so many successful voice talents sharing their “secrets”. Doesn’t this just add to the competition they are facing? Do they really want MORE people in the business?
First, thanks so much for your very nice note and kind words. I am grateful for the feedback.
Coca-Cola has a closely-guarded secret formula. The US military implements secret plans that endanger lives. In my view, voice-over does not have any true secrets.
A voice-over career is like the notes in music. Only 12 possible tones can be made in music, yet you can hear them in numerous pitches. More importantly, those 12 tones can be held and combined in an infinite number of sequences to produce an endless series of rhythms, tempos and key signatures that form new music.
Our voice is our music; no two voices are exactly the same. Our interpretation of the words on the page and style in performing them is not the same. Like musical genres, some voices will appeal to one market segment and not to others. The reason the competition factor is emphasized in voice-over and all performing arts jobs is because people have a misguided viewpoint that they only need a nice-sounding voice. They think the work is easy and doesn’t require any special skills.
The truth is, that like any other profession, lifelong study in voice-over is necessary to achieve and maintain your market share. How does any newcomer learn if not under the guidance of a more experienced teacher? Do top sports figures stop practicing and working with their coaches on daily basis?
“When you are hired for a
voice-over job, you don’t take
anything away from me, my
accomplishments and my job
Do musicians stop practicing and studying with a teacher once they learn a piece of music up to tempo? Do people in the IT industry stop taking classes geared at maintaining technology? Voice-over is like other business ventures in that some people will find work more easily, often and lucrative than others.
I don’t view other people as my competition. (I also don’t view any person who lives on this same earth as my “enemy”, either, but that’s another discussion for another time.) We live in an abundant world, with more than enough work for everyone. More voice-over opportunities are appearing everyday with the advent of new media and associated outlets. When you are hired for a voice-over job, you don’t take anything away from me, my accomplishments and my job prospects. You would be hired because you successfully marketed yourself to someone who wanted to work with you because they liked your voice, your delivery style, your fee, etc.
If I tell you something that has brought me great success, you may or may not implement the tactic. Even implementing my tactic does not guarantee you will match my success. You will never do things exactly in the same way that I do because we are different.
In a simplified example, a coach or director can give you a line read. You interpret what you heard and reproduce the sounds and emphasis as best you can. Even when you nail the emphasis, your different vocal characteristics will guarantee that you won’t sound exactly like the other person.
Secondly, why does it seem like so many of these successful talents become teachers? Do they tire of the marketing grind? Do they find they can make a living more easily by teaching this business rather than actually doing it? Susan Berkley in particular seems more about the business of teaching VO than doing VO. I mean no disrespect, but the reality of this confuses me.
I don’t teach voice-over or produce demos, but I think those who do those things must still participate in marketing activities if they hope to have clients for those services. In fact, if you have any kind of business, marketing that business is essential for it to produce revenue!
I studied with Susan Berkley for several years. She is a fantastic marketer, and she doesn’t teach because she needs the money. I think she does it because she truly enjoys being able to give back to the universe some of the abundance and prosperity that has flowed her way.
In my current studies with Nancy Wolfson, I have encouraged her on more than one occasion to take a break from her heavy work schedule to enjoy some time off. She always enthusiastically assures me that she absolutely loves her work. When you have such incredible passion for your work, it no longer is work!
Sure, many people teach just to have another income stream and earn more money. However, many people become teachers for a variety of reasons other than money, including prestige and credentials. Someone who teaches voice-over may be perceived as a more credible expert or more objective than someone like me, who is a voice talent actively marketing myself. We tend to value advice only we have to pay for it!
I am a person who genuinely feels good if I help other people. Also, you get back what you put out in the world. If I help you today, somebody will help me in the future. I might consider teaching in person or via the web in the future. In the meantime, I frequently receive phone calls and e-mails from people interested in voice-over. I therefore use my blog primarily as an instructional and motivational tool for those wanting to join or improve in this profession.
It also confuses me when these books seems to say, “you can make a really great living” in one breath, but then in the next speak about how hard, competitive and difficult it can be to do this for a living. It’s enough to give me pause to wonder, “what am I getting myself into”.
If you were thinking of starting any other type of business, wouldn’t you wonder the same thing? People often think that they only need to have a good voice to have a successful career in voice-over. The most successful voice-over actors are often those who have the most savvy business skills. A person in voice-over or running any business probably can make a great living if they:
- figure out their strengths and skills
- determine a target market looking for those strengths and skills
- carve a niche within that target market
- define a marketing plan and budget
- market themselves relentlessly to their niche markets
- do great work while being easy to work with
- ask for repeat and referral business
- respond to changes in their markets and do what the market wants
In other words, we can’t all voice the starring role in a Pixar movie or even a local TV commercial; your market may want your voice for something else. You have to analyze your voice and delivery, and find those markets that want your vocal characteristics. A good voice-over coach can assist enormously in this process because we don’t see – or hear – ourselves as others do.
As a final thought, any business, including voice-over work, takes time to get established. No one can say how much time is needed because it varies with each person. If you are dependent on every dime from that business for your sustenance, your voice will reflect your inner desperation. It really IS hard and difficult to gain clientele and make living when you are approaching them from a point of desperation.
I just wondered what your thoughts were on this, since I respect your honesty about the business.
Ken, you asked some thought-provoking questions, so I hope that my answers are thought-provoking as well. Thanks for the message, and please feel free to leave any comments here on the blog.