Category Archives: Learning

8 Reasons for Hiring a Professional Audio book Narrator

Being an independent author is a mostly do-it-yourself venture. While I generally applaud the DIY mentality especially as it comes to things like mowing your own lawn or building a deck, I wonder how much better people’s books would be received if they had a professional quality narration, as opposed to doing themselves or hiring their uncle bill with a headset microphone.

In my humble opinion, here’s why you should consider hiring a professional narrator:

1. Savings

I can hear it now: “But Jeff, your services are EXPENSIVE!! How can paying you to read my book save me money??” Quite easily, actually. First of all, my rate is very affordable at around $.03 per word. The average 80,000 word books comes out to $2400. Now, for the unpublished writer with a day-job, this may seem horribly expensive. But what the naysayers are not factoring in is time. Let’s break it down.

80,000 words = 500 minutes = about an 8 hour book
Average time investment per finished hour = 5-6 hours on a  good day.
Total time to produce = 40-50 hours

That’s an 8-hour-a-day work week, folks. Suddenly $2400 for 1-2 weeks worth of work doesn’t seem like such and unreasonable salary, does it? This is, after all, my job. And what could you be doing with that time?

Marketing! PR! Networking! Marketing! Marketing!

Why in the world would you want to spend your time sitting behind a microphone when you could be out there drumming up business for the release? Isn’t your time better spent building the business aspect of your book and leaving the narration part to an expert?

2. Professional Quality

You’ve got a professional quality book. You’ve got professional quality business cards. You’ve got a professional quality website. You’ve got a professional quality cover design.

Then why wouldn’t you want the centerpiece of the release, the very product you’re putting out there to be professional as well? Grabbing a $50 podcasting mic and recording in your den is not professional. Why would you represent your work in such a mediocre way?

I don’t listen to amateur audiobooks. Why? Because I’m spoiled to the likes of Scott Brick and Grover Gardner, people who know how to narrate books. And with the proliferation of audio books, I can’t be the only one who gets turned off by a dull reader creating subpar recordings? Your book needs to have the same level of professional narration that you put into writing it.

3. Bringing your book to Life

If you’re one of those authors who’s so married to their debut novel that you figure you’re the only one who can truly capture the voice of Treenok the Terrible, then you’ve got a problem. Because if that is indeed true, your audience won’t be able to capture it in their minds either.

Thankfully, most writers who feel that way are incorrect. Most good voice talent are actors, plain and simple. It is their job to find the characters and bring them to life. If you think you’re as good as classically-trained Shakespearean actor Scott Brick, then, power to you. I’m certainly no Scott Brick, but I do have 20 years of theater experience. It’s my passion and job to have these characters possess my voice and make them alive. Narrating a book is not reading a book. Narrating a book is putting on a performance with a single actor playing all the roles. If you don’t honestly have those acting chops, outsource it to someone who does. Doesn’t your work deserve it?

4. Technical aptitude

OK, perhaps you’re a podcaster. Sorry, it’s not the same thing. While your audio book may be in podcast format, you really should think of it as an audio book. And audio books are different from podcasts. If you think that recording in Audacity and dropping your files into Levelator and sending them off is going to give you the best sound, then think again.  Will it be good enough? Perhaps. But do you really want your work represented in a way that’s just “good enough”?

You need to properly compress and EQ your voice for optimal quality. Failure to do so will cause fatigue with your audience. I use professional software in which I’ve fine-tuned the compression and EQ to best fit my voice and give professional results. As well, such publishers as Audible have fairly strict guidelines about how their audio is to be produced. I’ve narrated for Audible. I know how to do it.

5. Stamina

Narrating an audio book is hard work. Seriously. If you think sitting in front of a mic for several days reading a book is easy, I urge you to give it a try. There’s a reason why the folks at Podiobooks request 5 episodes up front. Not only is it to hook the reader, but to assure that you or your narrator have the stamina to pull off the whole thing. Because you’ll realize a few chapters in after you’ve spent the good part of a day just to record one single hour, that vocal stamina plays a huge role in this.

After recording dozens of audio books, I’ve built up stamina and patience for the process. I’ve also learned how to pace myself to get the most bang for my vocal buck.

6. Avoiding the “read by the author” Stigma

Go to Audible.com right now. Do it. Note how many novel writers narrate their own books?Very few. And they usually suck for a myriad of reasons, the primary one being that they are authors, not narrators.

Longtime audio book listeners often avoid listening to books read by the author. I learned my lesson with Harlan Coben. His book, Promise Me, gets absolutely slaughtered in the listener comments simply due to his narration. It’s bad. But honestly, I’ve heard worse. John Nance insists on reading his own books, and he has a pronounced lisp, for goodness sake.

Now, you may not have a speech impediment, but think about how it looks to a potential listener that you took the time to seek out someone else to narrate your book. You love your work so much, that you wanted to make sure it was in the right hands. You avoided the stigma of “read by the author” that turns off so many listeners. Plus, unlike most podiobooks, there’s a certain coolness to working with a pro. It’s a step above the rest of the pile.

7. Tax write-off

First of all, I have to say that I’m not an accountant or lawyer and this shouldn’t be taken as actual legal tax advice. However, if your book-writing is a business, you should be able to write off this expense on your taxes as a legitimate marketing expense. Consult your accountant about this, as tax laws vary from state to state.

8. Distribution

So once you record this book, what do you do? Where do you sell it? If you simply have one book, I guarantee you that distributors won’t give you the time of day and probably won’t even return your emails. There’s no point in making an audiobook if you can’t recoup your expenses.

I have your solution. With my partner company, SpringBrook Digital, I’ve got distribution channels and can offer higher commissions than anyone I know of in the industry. I can get your audiobook on Audible.com, iTunes, and Amazon.

Still not sold on the idea? Head over to my website for a FREE sample reading of your writing. I know you will be thrilled with what you hear.
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Do your Voice over clients know what kind of salsa they want?

I’m on the search for perfect restaurant salsa. There’s a nearby Mexican food joint that has darn near perfect salsa. Thin (but not watery), deep red, with some cilantro, a few pieces of onion and some spices. Delicious. No carrots, no fruit, no beans.

And I can’t find anything remotely close in the grocery store. I can’t even find a lesser-quality homogenized, pasteurized, factory-created replica of this style of salsa. Instead, I get bombarded with Thick n Chunky, peach, mango, pineapple, corn, or picante salsa. I don’t want giant pieces of food in my salsa.

I know exactly what I want, but all of these companies offer me what they think I want. Or even worse, what they want me to want.

This got me thinking. Are we doing the same thing with our clients? Are we delivering what our clients want? Do we know what our clients want? Do they? To answer that, we need to break down our clients into 3 different types:

  1. Clients who know what they want, how they want it, and don’t want anything but that. This is me as it relates to salsa.
  2. Clients who know what they want, but are open to other things.
  3. Clients who don’t really know what they want and expect you to wow them.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these kinds of clients. But as a voice actor you need to be able to recognize the kind of client you’re dealing with. You can’t treat a #3 as a #1 or they’ll walk away wondering why they weren’t wowed. And if a client is a #1 and you give them something they don’t want, they’re going to walk.

And this is where the newbie lowballers on the P2P site du jour can’t compete. This is where your value add comes in as a seasoned pro. Let your experience be your guide. Understand your clients and figure out what they need. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The client will be more than happy to give you an idea of what they want, if they know. Then you can deliver the results.

And if anyone has a good store-bought salse to recommend, knowing the kind I like, please post it in the comments.


How to increase Voice over profit without screwing your customers

It’s no secret that we’re in an economic downturn. But frankly, I’m tired of hearing about it. Yes, companies are reducing their advertising budgets and cutting training dollars to save some money. This means less gigs (theoretically) for some voice talent. So if you’re experiencing a slow-down, you might be tempted to raise prices to offset the reduction in income.

Don’t do it. It’s rude.

Rude? What? Think about it. If I went to a restaurant and found that prices had been raised because they said they had less customers, I would be offended. Why would you punish me as a loyal customer for being just that – Loyal? So if you raise prices on existing customers, you’re making them pay for your inability to get and keep new clients.

So what do you do?

The surefire way to increase profit is to increase your customers. Can’t do that? Then work on cutting your expenses.

  • Reduce your marketing expenses.
    OK, wait. Before I get Peter O’Connell flaming me in the comments, let me explain. I don’t mean that you should slash this budget willy nilly. But take a look at last year’s marketing expenses that did nothing to either bring in new clients or increase your brand awareness. Should you renew that P2P site that didn’t bring in new business? Do you need to pay someone to list your links on their site? If the answer is no, then take those wasted dollars and either reinvest in some other marketing strategy or bank the money as a reduction in expenses. Don’t ever cut an expense that directly brings in new clients.
  • Cut utilities related to VO
    This is easier than you might imagine. I use our cable company for TV, Internet, and phone. A simple phone call got them to reduce my bill by $50 per month. Do you use a lot of long distance? See how much VOIP is in your area. It’s usually unlimited long distance for a good price. Want to go even cheaper? Get Skype.
  • Go Green
    Do you print out every single script that comes your way? That’s an awful waste of paper and ink. That stuff really adds up. Instead, try installing a small LCD monitor in your booth. I did this and haven’t printed anything out in over a year. I’ve saved a ton in ink and paper. Plus I can still mark up the copy by using the highlight and bold functions of my word processor. You want to really pinch the pennies, you can install CFLs in your studio instead of regular light bulbs. 
  • Reduce your software/hardware budget
    Do you really need that new computer? Your old one worked just fine all last year. And the latest version of Pro Tools isn’t going to solve that H/W buffer underrun error you keep getting. You also don’t need to buy the latest version of your office suite. Consider some open source alternatives which don’t cost anything. If you like the office productivity software you’re using it, then keep using it. There’s probably very little reason to upgrade.

Ok, you’ve done all that and you still want to raise prices. Fine, but you don’t necessarily need to do it across the board. The airlines kind of had it right when they began to nickel and dime their customers. The backlash came from them adding new fees to things that were seemingly necessary, like luggage. Plus they didn’t really message it very well. The idea is to only charge more for those incidental items that are a mere convenience for customers. You need to be very careful with this so that you don’t give the appearance of nickel and diming your clients. Be very careful of suddenly charging for things that the client is used to getting for free. But here are some ideas:

  • Royalty-free music
    That set of music from Digital Juice wasn’t free. Instead of charging $10 for the use of it, charge $20. Or if you charged $10 for unlimited usage of it in one project, then consider charging for each time it’s used.
  • Studio/editing time
    You say you already charge for this, but how many of us actually give it away? I do. I don’t want the client to hear my mistakes or huge gulps of air. But maybe it’s time to really give the dry VO and charge for things like editing and breaking the audio into files. And if you already do charge for this, consider a bump in price. It’s a convenience.
  • Storage
    If your client wants to store their files for more than 24 hours on your FTP site, consider charging them for that convenience. After all, your FTP site costs you money. Why shouldn’t your client help pay for it?

You’ll need to have effective messaging for these added fees. Avoid saying things like

“I need to charge you for my FTP site because my ISP costs have gone up.”

Why should the client care about your costs? Sell the convenience by appealing to the interest of the client:

“For a nominal fee of $2 per day, you can store all your audio on my FTP site for as long as you need to. This allows you to access it at any time until your project is done or you no longer need it.”

See the difference?

ok, Your turn. Think I’m crazy? Have other ideas for cost reduction? Sound off in the comments!


Is your Voice over business still in standard def?

 

I was watching TV the other day and still marvelling at how great high definition content looks, even when compressed by the cable company. The picture is crystal clear and vibrant, and the sound is in true 5.1 surround. 

I was even impressed with the commercials and how the commercial makers have really learned to take advantage of the improved color, clarity and sound.

That is, until I saw one in standard def. There it was. A dull, pixellated non-widescreen commercial with muffled sound. I don’t even know what they were advertising. Beside all of those glossy, flashy high definition ads, this one just looked sad and antiquated. It made me wonder what the marketing team was thinking? This is a hi-def channel so it isn’t like the had to worry about people watching in standard def. Only people with HDTVs would be seeing this ad. And here they were putting a cruddy ad on the air that they knew would be shown up against the new flashy HD ads. 

Why would you use standard definition marketing on a medium designed for high definition?

So of course, this got me thinking. Is my voice over business in HD or am I still marketing in standard? What do I mean by this? Here are some examples of standard def things you might be doing and the High def things you could be doing:

Standard Definition

High Definition

Do-it yourself business cards Professionally printed, inexpensive cards via Vistaprint, Kinkos or even Costco
Do-it yourself  logo and website Be honest with yourself and hire a pro, if you don’t have the skillz. Not cheap, but this is often the first (and only) thing your clients see.  
Free web hosting for your site Get your own domain and a web host. If your site says “hosted for free by xxxxxhost.com. Get yours now!” not only do you seem very amateur, but alsotemporary. And don’t even get me started on Myspace “hosting”…
Old scripts for your demo Get new ones, better yet, use real spots that you’ve recorded professionally. Haven’t recorded any? Well, proof positive that your standard def approach isn’t working so far, hmmm?
Cheesy music in your demo that may not match the spot. Either don’t use music, or pay for some good stuff. Use your ears and get some royalty-free music that sounds good for the spot.  A simple web search will yield a ton of results. 
Impressions on your demo Dump them! Look, no one cares if you can do a flawless Bugs Bunny or Marvin the Martian. Someone else already has that gig and he’s better than you. Original characters only.
<embed> OK, this one might be controversial, but the problems with this is that everyone has a different app associated with MP3 files so you have no control over the experience. With the abundance of web-based Flash players, embedding your demos in your site is so 2001.
Stick-on CD labels If you still use CDs, then a printer that prints directly on printable CDs. No labels to warp, no sticky residue, much more professional looking.
A tagline Unless you have a cool one like “The hip Chick Voice” and can build a brand around it, then dump it. Having a tagline with rhyming words like “Voice” and “choice” are silly and don’t do anything for your brand (EDIT: and Peter o’Connell thought of it before you did). You’re not selling shoes or perfume. You’re selling yourself. Let your demos do the talking.
Standard sized postcards Big ones.

I’m sure there are many more examples, and I’d love to see them in the comments. But the point is that the industry is more crowded than ever. And like ads on TV, you’ve got to keep up with those people using flashy high definition tactics to draw in customers. Old standard def techniques won’t stand out when surrounded by high definition flash.

Marketing changes and you’ve got to change with it.


5 things that Voice-over is NOT about

1. Your voice.

The biggest misconception people have about voice over is that it’s about your voice. It isn’t. It’s about your ability to use the voice you have to convey the emotion and message that your clients want. Ex-radio people, listen up. Take off your headphones! Seriously. If you have a home studio, you don’t need the cans! Can’t you hear your own voice when you talk? Do you wear headphones out on the town when you talk to people?  And if you wear them when recording, then you’re concentrating on the sound of your voice too much and not the message you’re delivering.

2. The Script

This one will be met with confusion. Isn’t the script what you’re being paid to read? Yes, but while the client is paying you to read the words, they hired you to deliver the message. Focus on the message of the script and and deliver that. If you simply deliver the script, the message will be lost and you will not have done your job. 

3. The Money

But I have bills to pay! Not while you’re in the booth. Worry about the accounting later. Your job as a voice talent is to deliver the message. Deal with the finances later.

4. Your equipment

I always get amused by people who proudly list their studio and equipment front and center on their website. It really doesn’t matter if you use a TLM103 or a Neumann XYZ followed by a Digidesign whatever running Pro Tools 8. Your equipment is simply a means to get your voice in. Obviously you want pro level equipment and if something makes your voice sound how you want it, then by all means use it. but I don’t think any clients care about what kind of equipment you have. They care about the end result and your ability to deliver their message. If you give Itzhak Perlman a $200 violin, I guarantee you, he’ll make it sound like a Stradivarius.

5. You

I mean this in the nicest possible way, but you are a tool. You are a means to an end. The client has hired you to deliver a message. The client is paying you so the client and their message are what’s important. The client doesn’t care that you’re ill or hungover. The client doesn’t care why you can’t meet their deadline. So when you’re dealing with clients you need to make sure that you are speaking in their interests. There’s nothing wrong with getting what you need, but to quote one of Dale Carnegie’s golden rules, “Always speak in terms of the other person’s interests.” Voice over is about them, not you. At least it is if you want them to return.

So those are 5 things that voice over is not. Agree or disagree? Comment! Want to add to the list? Comment!


Voice-over: You may be in the minors, but play like you’re a major

I took my family to a hockey game last night and we had a really good time, cheering on the Everett Silvertips. Never heard of them? That’s because they’re a minor league team. You won’t see them going up against the Kings or the Sharks. They play against teams from Kamloops and Kelowna. Unless you’re a diehard Canadian hockey fan, you probably haven’t heard of them either.

But these guys played with all their heart. They checked with the best of them, they played different strategies: Zone, man-on-man, whatever. They shot hard and accurately, and if it weren’t for their fantastic goalies, the game would have been higher scoring than it was. They played like real pros.

The point is, these guys were in the minors, but they didn’t act like it. They played as if the Stanley Cup was riding on this game. At no point did any of their playing indicate they took the attitiude of “hey, I’m only in the minors, I’m going to play like I’m less than excellent.” They know that while they may only be in the minors, but the only way they’ll get to the majors is to play the best game they can.

You may not be Joe Cipriano or the late great Don. Your Voice over career may be in the minor leagues, but you need to act as professionally as the big guys.

You need to be as confident as the major leaguers.
You need to bring the best quality you can.
You need to be as professional as the CEO of a Forbes 500 company.
Don’t ever make excuses for a poor performance. Make the performance better. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re in the minors. Don’t ever give the attitude to your clients that you are anything but a consummate professional.

In short, like those minor league hockey players, you need to play your heart out.  So keep practicing, keep training, keep working out. Keep being the best talent you can be, no matter where your position in the industry.

And go Silvertips!


Voices.com presents the State of the Voice over Industry paper

David Ciccarelli of Voices.com alerted me this morning of the availability of his newest version of his annual State of the Industry paper. It’s a good overview, with some interesting highlights. While it makes some sweeping predictions about several different industries without much supporting evidence, I think the paper is pretty accurate and I commend David for writing this up in a way that isn’t just a marketing device for Voices.com.


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