The following letter arrived in my inbox this weekend.
Here is my anonymous response to some to the recent postings at your blog.
Feel free to quote from it, as it may be something others may find helpful, or they may be able to relate to my career situation, time of life or personal/professional goals. However, I’d rather not say who I am because parts of this may seem like I’m lazy or not passionate about the VO biz, which could not be further from the truth. Also, some financial disclosures I’m mentioning are such that I don’t want others to attach them to me, my reputation or my name. For some, I’ll be perceived as rich, for others I’ll be viewed as not aiming high enough in the VO field.
You may also want to re-word or re-work some of this, if you even want to use it at all. If you don’t use it, I will view it as a chance to “talk” with an old friend, as well as review some important aspects of my life. At this stage of the game it’s hard to really be in touch with how one really feels about some things, but your blog and other VO forums of late have sparked some serious – as well as some fun – thinking!
I’m much like you and your friend, Mary C. McKitrick, regarding the point of consideration by some people to get out of the VO biz. I just hate to see anyone have to do it, but any number of factors can force the issue. Lack of money is the main one ….in other words, not seeing one’s venture really take off. This is where my perspective of being in the business a full 30 years may be helpful.
To me, it’s all about finding your niches …. NOT niche, niches. Plural. Yes, this is a crowded business, more competitive than ever. But with technology, more media beyond radio and TV commercials has evolved, requiring more specialized voiceovers.
Look at the landscape now: Internet and cable outlets, training videos and CD-ROMs, web presentations, messages on hold, flash presentations, tutorials, documentaries, corporate presentations, industrials, Imaging voices for television and radio promos and station identification, voice prompts, voice mail trees… There are hundreds of new opportunities to explore!
Even 30 years ago I learned that I needed to diversity in the VO work I offered. I marketed myself for dialog spots, character voices, straight VO, narration work, as well as on-camera. I even started getting good using the ear prompter before deciding to focus just on voice work about 10 years ago.
Here’s what happened for me: I lost two huge voiceover accounts in the mid-90’s. At that same time, there were 3 concurrent “technology megatrends” emerging:
1) ISDN studios enabling real-time sessions from studio to studio.
2) Home studio digital recording and editing.
3) The Internet, offering the means for distribution of audio files and other media, as well as scripts and email communication across great distances.
From these innovations, new VO niches began to spring up.
I was rattled for a while, after losing those major accounts, but decided to get my demos on as many studio and marketing sites as possible and promote myself like crazy using the Internet and by developing a web site. The website not only serves for promotional purposes, but also is functional as a means of delivering large sound files to clients.
The strategy worked! Some new niches emerged for me right away … churches and ministries that need VOs for local broadcasts or even cable networks …. narrations for business PowerPoint presentations … message-on-hold …. government training CD-ROMS and videos … ad agencies in different parts of the country that need announcers for car spots and other local accounts. … colleges and universities that need donor-appeal narrations for banquets and DVDs …
Yes, I am still do a lot of work with one local studio and I still do tons of auditions and love reading and learning about the VO field…but I feel I have enough tops spinning that I can now call myself “semi-retired” and enjoy other aspects of my life.
I read online recently this statement from actress and VO artist, Karen Hutton:
The (home) studio’s usually up most of the day, since if I’m not recording client work… I’m working on a number of my own projects I’ve got in the works. Also… it’s fair to say that some days I just have to shut it all down and go skiing, get outside, go hear music and have some other life too. Because I’ve always felt that part of what I can bring to my work that’s unique… is me. If I’m not living a rich, multi-faceted life of many colors… how can I bring that to my work? That’s something I’ve always lived by…which was reinforced many years ago by some wonderful acting mentors. If my world gets too small, my work gets stale and flat. The most successful and well-rounded people I’ve known DON’T work 24/7…they have balance and live a really full life. So, I really listen to that voice inside and try to be in the flow of things.
Exactly, Karen! I’m learning the same thing too.
After working in a deadline-driven business for 30 years, I am now at a place where I can realistically aim to make $300 – $500 a day. If at the end of a given week or month I see I am off pace, I’ll take a look at what’s slipping, but for the most part, I remain on course.
Should I aim higher? Do more? Be better? Try harder? At this stage, frankly, I want to reap the harvest. If something big comes my way, great! Several times a year, I do a national spot or get to record some cool character voices for a museum, whatever. But I am no longer striving for such things. The good Lord is my agent and I am reminded of the scripture that says, “teach me, Lord to number my days”. I’m in my 50’s now. Do I want to work night and day like I have been for the last 30 years? No. Do I want to wait until I am 70 to start traveling with my wife? No.
Two scenarios coming up highlight what my “semi-retired” life is starting to look like.
1) A producer friend I’ve known for years, but haven’t heard from in a long time, is now the public relations manager for a Bible college in one of my favorite parts of the country. He called me the other day and says he has me in mind to narrate two projects for the college. One is a 5 – minute piece that I can do by phone patch from home, the other is a long form narration for a DVD and possible broadcast. We’re negotiating a rate for this that would allow me to record at their facilities. They would fly me and my wife there on a Wednesday, I would record on Thursday and Friday while my wife shops or hangs out at the hotel … and we would take Saturday and Sunday to tour around some more.
2) To celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, I’ve decide to make it extra-special for my bride. I’ve arranged for two weeks on the Hawaiian islands. Since I’m incorporated and own my own production company business, my “boss” (the owner) is paying for most of the trip. I will work out of an ISDN studio in Sacramento on the way there, which will break up the trip. Plus we’ll spend a weekend to take in the Redwoods and giant Sequoias along the northern California coast. The company has enough frequent flyer miles to make airfare free.
I experienced a panic attack this past summer that sent me to the local hospital emergency room. While there, I happened to see in the waiting room another VO talent that I have known for years. He’s near 80 years old, has a great voice and has been know for always being there and always doing a good job. But I realized as I looked at him that this guy was not known for having much of a life outside of doing voiceovers. He was at the studio all the time. Yes, he’s made a ton of money, but, well, it was a “Christmas Carol” moment for me, and it was as though I was observing the “ghost of Voiceover future” if I’m not careful. How many vacations had I put on hold or canceled altogether over the last 3 decades? How many rounds of golf have I passed on, or even opportunities to be of service in the church or community?
So what I’m saying is…don’t turn up your nose at the low-mid range VO jobs out there. Don’t think you have to be on the upper tier of VO work to make a decent living and enjoy the one life you are given on earth to make the most of.
Folks who desire to do voiceovers should not give up too soon. If you work in radio, do what I did and get a night shift so you can freelance during the day and get that home studio going along with the web page. Hone your demos, sign up with online voiceover services and aim to make $300 – $500 a day so you can quit your night job 😉 … Phase into the VO work you love, and then begin to really enjoy your life!
Mr VO Anonymous
I’ve made a few slight edits to what was sent me to clarify a few points made by my friend; but the substance of what he’s written is entirely his own. I’d love to know your thoughts. Leave a comment.