In cleaning out my filing cabinets, I found the script and paperwork from my first voice-over job. I learned some valuable lessons that day, and I hope that telling the story today may help new talent.
I had produced my first demo and had mailed it without success for about 6 months to agents and prospects. I also created a database, using data I found on-line and in organization directories. I then started mailing postcards to these prospects.
Lesson 1: Always qualify your prospects before adding them to your database. I had not even contacted people to find out if they hired voice talent before entering all of the contact information into my database. Mail-outs are expensive, and I learned the hard way that repeatedly mailing things to people who would never hire me is a colossal waste of time, money and energy.
One person called me after receiving one of my postcards. I was elated when he said he wanted to hire me for a radio commercial. My first job, and a radio commercial, no less! I wouldn’t have cared what the job entailed; I was giddy with the knowledge that I had hit the big time! I didn’t ask any questions except for the scheduled time and directions to the session.
Lesson 2: Ask questions of potential voice-over clients. At a minimum, you need to know the type of project, the usage for your voice (both in the script and in geography) and the client’s budget. You can also ask about the frequency that voice talent is hired and samples of previous work. You have the opportunity and obligation to provide your own policies. For instance, I expect new clients to pay 50% up front, and I expect everyone to pay immediately upon receipt of my invoice. I also charge fees for revising or writing scripts, as well as re-recording segments due to client changes.
When I arrived at the address, I was confused. The address was at a duplex in a somewhat seedy looking neighborhood. Surely this producer had hired a recording studio? Was I at the wrong address? I rang the doorbell. I was at the correct address and felt a little distraught when the producer led me to a back room. I started thinking how I might escape and was relieved to see microphones at a table. He sat at one, and I sat at the other. I had produced my demo in a gorgeous studio at Todd A/O/Editworks. I naively thought that all recording studios were of the same caliber.
Lesson 3: Many people work out of their homes. If I were approached now by a new prospect to go to another location, I would inquire in person and/or through Internet research to determine whether the address is commercial or residential. If you don’t feel safe at an address, don’t be ashamed to cancel the session, even at the last second. If I felt my safety was in jeopardy, I wouldn’t care if I lost a prospect’s respect and business. As an aside to this point, potential clients who have seen the picture of my stunning soundproof studio have asked if they could come here to direct my performance in person. Since my studio is in my home, I do not allow anyone to come here until I am comfortable in the working relationship.
The producer told me that the commercial was a local spot for a small town in Louisiana. I had to sound like I had a cold when performing my 2 short lines for a company selling air conditioners. The producer read 50 of the 60 seconds in the spot.
Lesson 4: Not all commercials are well-written, and most probably don’t air in a major market. You should be prepared to have different rates for different markets and duration of use (1-time, 13 week cycle, buy-out). In fact, you will want to establish rates for each type of voice work that you pursue. After my first project, I never worked for $25 again! I established rates for radio commercials, TV commercials, podcasts, video narrations, audiobooks, voice mail systems, and e-learning projects, with a minimum fee to perform any kind of work.
When I completed my work, I was ready to be paid. I was shocked when the producer said he would send $25 to me. I said that my research showed that a radio commercial session paid X, quoting the AFTRA rates. He held firm; I could take the $25 by check, or nothing. I chose to accept his check. However, since I did not know him or anything about him, I insisted that he sign and date a document stating the he owed me $25 for my voice-over work on that commercial. He seemed to think it a strange request, but he complied.
Lesson 5: Get all details in writing BEFORE performing the work. If I had known the payment was so small, I probably would have passed on the job since the time and gas I spent was worth more than the amount I received. In addition, once you have performed the work, you have no position of negotiation. Finally, payment expectations should be discussed and resolved before the work begins. Most people do not pay on the spot (pardon the pun) and instead send payment at a later time.
I asked for a copy of the ad when it was complete. I’m pleased to report that he did send a cassette tape of the commercial when he mailed the check.
Lesson 6: Always ask for a copy of your work. You may want to use it on your demo.
In addition to getting my first paid voice-over credit, I learned valuable lessons that have served me well through my career. Hopefully, others can benefit from my experience.