After you have made it through my curriculum, at whatever speed it takes you to do that (most folks require about 14 privates), we book you a studio time to go ahead and record your demo. I cull, write, and arrange material for your demo that is tailored to your particular brand. I then direct you on that material in your demo recording session. This session takes place at a professional recording studio, and it takes about two hours to record the bits from your seven to ten spots. Ideally, when we are done editing, the entire demo runs about a minute and fifteen seconds in length. After my engineer and I finish the post-production on your demo, you will receive a hard copy of it on cd in the mail. You then book a post-demo private session, wherein I help you with ideas for artwork for your cover, provide a list of agents to whom you ought to submit your cd, and advise you on what to say in your submission packages.
It is the first means by which an Agent or a Casting person or a Producer can get a quick, bite-sized understanding of who you are,
what your voice sounds like, and what your perspective is on the world. It is a thumbnail "sketch" of your perspective via your voice. Some call this your "voiceprint." No accident that this is, in effect, a sister-term to a "thumbprint," because each term implies a unique and signature manifestation of what is yours and yours alone.
If you somehow manage to get an Agent to sign you without having one, you are still doing yourself (and your Agent) a disservice by not having a representative sales tool. Because not only is this Demo what nearly everyone must use to shop for an Agent, it is what the Agent uses to prove to a Casting person that you merit an audition slot.
Send me a copy of it. I am an ex-Agent who used to spend hours each day sifting through dozens of these tapes looking for new voices to represent. As such, I have an excellent ear for what "works" and what does not on a Demo. I can tell you exactly at which point the Agent pressed the "stop" button when listening to your Demo. If you would like to set up an appointment, I can explain exactly what was not working in your favor from what I hear on the Demo. Mail the Demo to: Nancy Wolfson, P.O. Box 292, 11693 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90049 or EMAIL HERE.
As a sales tool, this Demo is analogous to your On Camera head shot. You would not take the crafting of that sales tool lightly. You would not send out a Polaroid of yourself taken in your kitchen by your Uncle who happens to own a great little camera and was willing to take them for you for free.
Most likely, he has no idea what truly belongs on a Commercial Voice Over Demo. And just as you would not submit photos taken in an Austin Powers costume, nor should you duck under the cover of character voices on your Demo.
Same thing goes for your Voice Over Demo. It is your audio snapshot. It is the Producer's earpiece into your personality. The production of this marketing tool should be taken as seriously as the creation of all of your marketing tools, be they your head shots, theatrical demo, resume, etc. As such, you should hire a professional to coach you. A professional ought to write, direct, and produce it with you.
My standards as your Demo Producer:
When I produce Voice Over Demos for my students, I write original material for them. Demo production is not a cheap enterprise. I believe that if someone is hiring me to tailor make them a suit, it is my responsibility to ensure that the talent will not see anyone else wearing their suit or even sporting the same fabric elsewhere. Few Producers agree with me on this matter, perhaps because the crafting of original material requires an infinitely greater amount of time, thought, and talent than the recycling of old radio copy on new voices. But if you are trying to show Talent Agents that your sound is unique, you do not want to run the risk of being told, "Not only do we have someone who sounds like you, but we represent the real voice of the campaign you have on your Demo."
Here is one of those big "mistakes" people make quite innocently when they have not taken the time and effort to study this business before they attack it. Here's a big "inside tip": It is considered amateurish for anyone to put impersonations and/or unoriginal character voices on their commercial demo; it tells the prospective agent that the actor has not done his or her homework.
Here is why: No matter how skillful you might be at trotting out character voices, no agent wants to hear them without first hearing (on a professionally produced commercial demo reel) where the center of YOUR voice sits. Any voice over agent who hears someone trying to be versatile with character voices on a demo often assumes that the actor has not studied what voice over is really all about these days. To them, the actor sounds like they are "hiding" behind the "characterizations" because they have not done the necessary work to figure out their signature on their own sound.
You might well be the next Rich Little, Jim Carey, Jim Cummings, Pat Fraley, Rob Paulsen or Wally Wingert. But when you first introduce yourself to the voice over community, you must earn the agent's faith in your versatility by first proving you know who you are. Your demo must reflect your comfort and confidence in your OWN voice in the categories for which IT would likely be cast.
HOWEVER, there might be something worth saving on that recording of yours. Perhaps some of it can be incorporated into your commercial demo. If you decide to have me help steer you in the right direction, please bring that recordiing with you to our first meeting so that I can help you hear how an agent hears it. You can also mail it to me in advance of our meeting.
Mail the demo to: Nancy Wolfson, P.O. Box 292, 11693 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049 or EMAIL HERE.
Nothing is more valuable than the objective ear and advice of a professional when you are trying to figure out how others (especially Advertisers) perceive you. I endeavor to help you hear yourself without placing value judgments upon the category(ies) you fulfill. An "Earth Mother" sound is not necessarily better or more attractive-sounding than a woman who suits the "Smart and Sassy" category. Blue is not better than red; it is critical, however, that you are aware of the colors (and sounds) you unconsciously project to whomever might be listening.
In the meantime, it is helpful to consider the "demographic" category of the population you naturally represent. Are you a Caucasian 30-something Mom from Ohio? Are you the same age as the kids on "Dawson's Creek," slouching around town in baggy Gap khakis with a messenger bag slung across your shoulders? What music do you like? The better you can learn to see yourself as the Advertisers see you, the better able you will be able to market yourself right back to them via your Vocal Point of View.
In between my one-on-one sessions with my students, I encourage them to do a rare kind of "homework": WATCH TELEVISION. Become aware of your viewing habits, patterns, and preferences.
* How many Voice Over talent were hired for that spot?
* What was the overall feel of the spot?
* What was the general attitude?
* Where did the talent emphasize key points? How was this executed?
* What did the Voice Over talent do as he/she said the name of the product?
* Do I recognize the voice? Celebrity?
* What was the spot advertising?
* Do I use that product?
* Does this commercial inspire me to buy that product?
Commercials that run during your favorite shows are likely to be geared to your demographic. The Voices you hear on those commercials and the styles of sarcasm, warmth, and/or intelligence you witness reflect modern cultural standards.
Watching TV with "your demographic" in mind will teach you a great deal about yourself. It will also put you in touch with Contemporary Cultural Character Archetypes. To accurately interpret casting and direction, you must familiarize yourself with the actors who play today's "Ditzes," "Guys Next Door," and "Smart Alecs." The nuances of how today's actors manifest these stereotypes differently than actors of earlier generations is critical in helping you understand EXACTLY what Ad Agency Producers want to hear.
Advertisers are trying to make their "art" imitate life. And you are trying to help them. By watching TV, you can learn their language.
"Sarcasm" played itself out differently to the "Father Knows Best" generation than it did to the generation that grew up with Bill Murray. To whom do we look for contemporary models of American sarcasm?
Study Prime Time TV:
David Spade and Wendie Malick/NBC's "Just Shoot Me" (Sassy, nasty, cold)
Ray Romano/CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond" (Flat, dry, wry)
Dennis Miller/HBO's "Dennis Miller Live" (Acerbic, suspicious, surly)
There are about ten separate styles into which men's voices are categorized and about nine for women. I will isolate each of these for you in our study together, and I will play samples of demos from voice over talent considered exemplary in these categories. This, literally, will help you "hear" what advertisers hear in their heads as they request certain vocal styles.
Our task is to figure out which categories you cross-fade in the overall presentation of your Point of View. This is something I will help you uncover as I give you objective feedback on your performance.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. There is a very limited number of Voice Over Agents in this town, and you only want them to hear your Demo when you are consummate in your skills.
Demo production is an expense I do not want my students to incur more than once at the onset of their Voice Over careers. Prepare well, and that first one ought to be money well-spent on an excellent product. Try to short-cut the process and you will have to revise that Demo later (expensive) after you have already submitted your first half-baked attempt (embarrassing).
If you need to update your Demo a couple of years down the road, it should only be because you are adding real spots that you have booked to your marketing tool.
In all of my experience, I can only think of two people who were 98% competitive enough to go make that Demo immediately (and pursue representation) from the moment that they arrived upon my doorstep. The reason Voice Over Talent Agents trust me when I encourage them to take on my students is they know for certain that I would not recommend anyone who is not at least as competitive if not more talented than the people that Agent already represents. The students I send might not have as much experience as some of the people already represented at that Talent Agency, but I feel comfortable that they have enough appropriate information and skill to compete on a professional level.
Produce a Product that makes you Proud.
Present it to Agents.
Practice some more.
At the launch stage of your career, a well-branded commercial demo is actually all you need to sell yourself to the commercial buyers AND to animation buyers - at least for the time being!
A killer commercial demo ought to show the center of your brand sound as you would sound in the role of a narrator of a commercial, and that well-branded commercial track will also paint a portrait - in bits and pieces - of what your brand is when it's "dialed up" as the comedic device in a radio spot.
Animation Casting Directors and Producers (a.k.a. "buyers") can hear which duck or animated grapefruit you'd best be suited to play by simply just listening to those "dialed up" moments of your narrowly-branded commercial demo track. Your most castable animation "character" is not you doing funny voices or accents but rather the sound of how your friends would impersonate you.
It's "The Cartoon that is YOU."
And they can often glean this from just a commercial demo.
A Braintracks-Produced Demo means something to my collagues who we hope to be "buying" you in the VO world - it means something on a quality level, and carries a value on a reputation level that I am obliged to honor and uphold to them, to myself, and to my clients.
A Braintracks-Produced Demo carries the quality that it does and maintains the reputation it has held in the VO community every bit as much because of the creative contributions and knowledge of the VO scene of my engineer, Rick Santizo as it does because of me and my work.
Engineering your own auditions? YES. But it is inadvisable to engineer your most significant sales tool to insiders.
I have had students in every top aspect of engineering - from NBC promo producers to feature film engineers (many of those, actually) to ad agency producers, all whom gratefully defered to Rick and to me when it came to hiring us to produce their demos
It is about a career expertise in this business as much as it is about loyalty, and neither has a price tag I am willing to risk.
Reviewing demos is a paid professional service and needs to be done during proper paid lesson time. There are many reasons for this, but the one most important is that this detailed, professional review is something you need to be present for (either in person or on the phone) - the value is in hearing my immediate reactions as they happen, where the agent would hit "stop" an for what reasons, etc. Sometimes a demo is failing to hit the necessary mark b/c of production issues, sometimes b/c of direction issues, and sometimes b/c of performance issues...It is important to give talent particular notes on the reasons and areas in which the demo is working and not working and why - and this takes professional time and has professional value.
I have literally dozens of VO folks each week contacting me about wanting to get their demos professionally reviewed - my in box would jam up to the high heavens if all these people were to email the large MB files to me while I'm teachin' instead of during fair lesson time.
I invite you to email me back with a request for a lesson's time slot wherein we can review your demo. Once we book and confirm that time slot, I'll ask you to re-email me your demos the morning of your appointment but not before then as I can't warehouse all the demos I get in advance.
A: Definitely not. Nope. (Warning: unpopular POV upcoming):
A well-produced top market demo lures the listener beyond the first four seconds, and the entertainment journey of the overall experience of *that* kind of demo is totally cannibalized by modulated separation. To suggest in the coldest, most unartistic way, "This is my retail read!" "Here is a moment of me being sexy!" "Here is my hip dude!" denies layers, nuancing, and cleverness that make each layered moment uniquely, complexly BRANDED and aesthetically resistant to separation from the overall whole. In a top market demo (which covers you for any market), there ought be no formula to the thing's creation (therefore, such demos will have some long moments, some teeny cartilage carriers, each of unpredictable but decidedly UNEVEN length, all of which makes the notion of splintering it apart into spoon-fed, mono-dimensional intent cubes decidedly... pedestrian. If you want high art (oh dear - I just compared this to high art - well - there can be top end design in a chair and a web site and a building and other sales tools, ours can have a high end design standard, as well, right?), it ain't gonna cotton to being chop shopped. Would you (or McCartney) take Sgt. Pepper and break it into sections for iTunes so that people could "get it" better? Nope. It was (WELL)-crafted to get you through a larger experience of the thing and would be reduced to the most common denominators at best to reduce it to that.
Listeners know how to use a pause button.
Ok, this is a display of your abilities, I get it, it's a sales portfolio, so here is a better example: One of the most job-landing, eye-grabbing, award-winning, RESULTS-GENERATING, branded Art Director portfolios I ever saw from a hot new designer was not housed in a standard big black display notebook with standard tab separators and vellum casings for modular flip-through-a-bility, but rather in a lunchbox. It contained all the necessary elements (comparable to a VO demo being, say, a reasonable, standard length), but modulated separation would be - what - slicing the lunchbox into bits someone could most easily understand? Woulda killed the branded creative experience. I don't mean to spark a big ole debate - I know the fella who created that platform is a lovely, LOVELY person and very well-liked by folks I adore and respect. There are many valid opinions that oppose mine. I am just speaking to why I, personally, wince the biggest wince of all winces in Wince-ville when a top market demo gets chop-shopped into that platform.
ME: Beg y'pardon, but that "No one" absolutism is neither fair nor accurate.
FACEBOOKER: Yikes! Pardon me ma'am. "No one" excludes the honest folks like you, Nancy Wolfson. Everyone who knows you appreciates the fact that you are a straight shooter. I should have said, I wish more people were like Nancy Wolfson, she tells it like it is. So Nancy, what would you tell a bright-eyed beginner who believes talking on mic will lead them to stardom and a multi-million dollar career?
ME: Squeeze. What would I tell them? I caution myself against absolutes, as well...so... remembering the very few who have made a spectacular amount of money after and over years and years and years invested in pursuing the skills of performance and BUSINESS, the many who have actually made a sum of millions over the (MANY) years, and the many who have not, I would discuss the odds. I would take into account the intelligence, wit, and (needfully bordering on -->) irrational levels of DRIVE. Most importantly, I would (and do) bring out the punch list of what's to be tasked. It has more check points than PCH on the 4th of July. We'd get to work. They are in the effort business, I am in the education and casting business, their other audition providers/agents are in the opportunity business and the God I don't believe in is in the booking business. I can teach more people than you'd think possible how to count cards in Vegas, but in the end, they're walkin' into a casino. I also remind them that ya don't see me doin' it. I have the ability to perform the reads, but not nearly the necessary stuffing or desire to withstand the pummeling of NOs. Do they? We then discuss what I call the Reservoir of Tolerance for Rejection. How big is theirs? Have they used up a third of it already by being on P2Ps before they even know what they're doing? Have they been rejected hither and yon after having made demos before they are ready and don't realize they've used up much of that reservoir prematurely and need to hit a big REBOOT/refill if possible now that they're to be on an actual plan? (GoodnessGracious, please forgive the mixed metaphors, I've not had my cawfeee yet.) Anyhoo - it's a long discussion. Folks are best served to avoid hyperboles. I have not heard someone expect hyperbolic success in a while, but that kind of expectation signals they've come to the right place. I don't take 'em to the woodshed, I bring 'em to the workBENCH. What they do, what they can withstand, and the pixies who work the marionette strings will write the rest of the story. Xo
OK, listen up, I know you've tried everything in the book to get an agent--referrals, cold calls, blind emails, mailers, drop-offs, flowers, candygrams...
But it's time to STOP. Just stop.
Time to regroup. If you listen to me now, in the long run, you are gonna have agents beating down your door instead of you having to chase them down like that girl desperate for a prom date.
OK, you have a kick-butt narrowly-branded commercial demo that shows your unique voice print. You have trained with an amazing coach through a course of private study, so you have all the chops you need to book a job. That's a fantastic start. Do you have your matching narrowly-branded website completed yet like I've nagged you about before? Do you have your home studio equipment set up, tweaked, and ready to go? Have you joined at least one of Voice123.com or Voices.com premium memberships and been auditioning and booking like crazy? NO???
The reality of the marketplace is that agents are not going to sign you unless you can prove you are a commodity that can make them money. An agent doesn't want to take someone from ground zero and develop them. Agents want their jobs to be easier, and a proven product (you) makes their job easier. Let's see, AFTRA minimum for a radio spot is $249.50. The agent busts her hump reading 30 clients for the job, but only stands to make $29.50 off the job. That's a lot of work for a $29.50 commission. Now, do you think the 30 people the agency is going to read on the job are the people who may or may not have the potential to book it? Or the proven VO talents on the roster who give a broadcast-worthy audition EVERY SINGLE TIME? Do you think the agent wants to work with an actor who has little audition experience? Or the actor who not only has audition experience, but on-the-job experience and home studio engineering chops?
Go make money in Voice Over, THEN get an agent.
Yes. Someone forwarded this to me recently. It was put together by a casting director and so better explains the wrong approach that I am pasting it here.
Please look at the attached headshots and tell me which one I should use. I can't decide between these 200.
Please also look at my demo reel, which is at my website. It's long, but I think it's really great. Do you agree? Can I come read for you now that you know my work?
Also, I am desperately looking for representation. Please send me a list of your favorite agents. And let me know if you are willing to recommend me to them, now that you've seen my headshots and demo reel. I know you're a good friend to actors everywhere, so I appreciate you getting back to me ASAP on this.
Okay. Where do I begin? Wow.
Those who know me already know the diatribe I can launch into after receiving the Nth email per day of this ilk. (Seriously, I get thousands of emails like this every month.) There is only so much patience I can muster when I'm on the receiving end of a seemingly nonstop parade of calls and emails from actors who refuse to understand that a referral is a major favor (and that my opinions on your headshots and demo reels are nearly totally irrelevant, unless I know you.
Yes, of course, you get the answer "no" 100% of the time if you never ask, so I understand that you have to "go for it," especially when you feel that a casting director is exceptionally accessible. That said, I think it's all in the approach. You need to know exactly what it is that you're asking of someone, when you put together a request like this. And you need to let us know that you "get it" too. I say this because emails like the one above are usually followed by emails in which the same actors say, "Hey. Did you get my email? I'm still waiting to hear from you. Which headshot did you like? Have you watched my reel? What about the agents? Time is ticking away here and I'm not getting out this pilot season without your help. Please at least let me know you got this email, wouldja? I mean, I thought you were so actor-friendly."
Okay, first of all, I'm busy. I get hundreds upon hundreds of emails every day. I cannot possibly answer them all. Ever. Second, I have written about what elements make good and bad headshots. Several times. I have also written about my feelings on attachments in unsolicited emails. As for demo reels, I've written about those too. Several times. And sometimes you just have to learn how to apply what's been written in general to your specific situation.
As for the representation issue, if you're not getting yourself out (with or without an agent, there is nothing any referral is going to do to help you get an agent, even if you do get a meeting with one.
But I guess I need to make VERY clear how big a favor a referral is. My ability to get an agent to send me his very best clients on even micro-budget feature films relies on the strength of our relationship. And that means he has to trust that I'm going to cast excellent scripts on which amazing crews are working. And I have to trust that he's going to send me the best-matched clients on his roster. When I see an outstanding actor doing exceptional work and that actor has no representation, I will occasionally reach out to an agent or manager with whom I think the actor is a good match and make an introduction (and I usually will offer to do this, rather than being asked to do so). The reason agents and managers will even consider meeting with someone I recommend is because they too want to keep our relationship healthy. If I suddenly become a pimp for every actor (even those I've never cast, never called back, HECK--never even met), I will never hear from agents or managers again, no matter what cool project I'm casting. Because they don't value casting directors who are really just spaghetti-slinging actor pimps disguised as CDs.
So, please, know when you are asking a favor of a casting director (to look at your headshots, watch your reel, or recommend you to an agent), that it is indeed a favor. It's not in our job description to do these things for you. Sure, we sometimes may! And absolutely, you have to ask because we're not generally running around begging you to let us do favors for you. But please don't expect anything, demand that we do things for you, or slam us with guilt trips when we don't take care of your needs. If I were to simply reply to every email I get from an actor every day, I would never have time to cast a film, write a book , turn in this column, see a showcase, or speakat a SAG event. I am not kidding. I could have a full time job as an "email answerer" if I wanted to. (And it's not just email. I get calls. I get asked for very specific advice by actors at social gatherings. And no one ever seems to think it's rude to stop me from having a meal out in public with "one quick question" about an agent's reputation or where to find the best cold reading class.)
I'm not asking you to feel sorry for me! Just like celebrities KNOW they're going to get hounded by the press or asked for autographs, I KNOW that I'm going to be asked for my opinion on just about everything actor-related and I don't mind, as long as the appropriate amount of "I know this might be an imposition and please feel free to tell me to go away" comes with the request for information. But if you wonder why I sometimes need "non-actor downtime," understand that it comes with the territory of rarely being treated like a "normal person" who has absolutely nothing useful to say to actors at all. Heck, I guess it's like comedians who dislike hearing, "Be funny!" when they're at a party. Being "on" is exhausting after a while.
Oh, and don't feel sorry for the poor kid whose email I copied and pasted above. The actor who sent it will never know it's his (or hers) since I changed it a little bit (and because I've received thousands of variations on it, which means it could've come from anyone). And if you're reading this Your Turn in the archives because I've replied to your email with a link directly to it, then this is your reply.
It's not that I don't love you with a fiery passion. It's just that I'm busy.
And I'll always do what I can to help as many actors as possible in as efficient a method as I can. Believe that.
Several major players in Voice Over who have powerful Agents also have Managers, though most do not.Few mid-level VO earners have Managers. Even fewer Voice Over hobbyists benefit financially from the presence of a Manager, but I am willing to be proven wrong on that one.
It is standard practice in the Entertainment Industry for Talent Managers to commission 15% of your acting income (Talent Agents take 10%). Managers oversee your career path, help you hire Agents/Business Managers/Publicists, and the others on the "staff" of the company called Your Talent. Managers do not have the legal ability to negotiate deals as Agents do, and because they have fewer people on their roster than your Agent does, a Manager has more time to devote to publicizing you than an Agent would.
If that Manager can get you a job that you wouldn't have had access to without their participation and/or you wouldn't have booked without their influence, then signing with that Manager would put you 85% ahead of where you had been without them.
Very few, I daresay only TWO Voice Over Managers in LA have well-established reputations with proven results.
In other areas of the Entertainment Industry, Managers often have means of procuring work for talent that Agents do not. This is not as much the case in Voice Overs; the main pipeline for auditions comes almost exclusively through Talent Agents. Exceptions are everywhere, though, so do your homework and research the track records and results of any potential representation before signing.
If signing with a Manager means giving him or her a percentage of all the other money you earn in VO, including residuals on jobs you booked before you met them, then you must decide if you feel that is prudent.
If you do not have prior bookings or are not currently represented by an aggressive Agent, you might be in a great position to hire a manager. If you have little or nothing currently airing that they'd be commissioning (that they didn't earn), what's to resent? On the other hand, if you are bringing them more money relative to the opportunities you feel they could create for you, then perhaps it is not advisable to hire that Manager.
Excepting a few rare exceptions, the only way I've really seen a bi-coastal circumstance work for people is when a talent first establishes a relationship with an agent by living in (or spending a great deal of time in) that city. The relationship solidifies as does the agent's earnest fondness for and faith in that person's viability...perhaps that talent books a few things here and there and the agent cements a willingness to do whatever it takes to make something happen for that person that booker had "discovered." Then the talent moves away to a distant city, but because of the relationship that had been planted and cultivated while the talent was a local, that agent might then be willing to go the extra mile to include the now long-distance person on auditions. While it is not a massive inconvenience, in an agent¹s mind, it is more work to consider, email, download, and dub the audition of a long-distance person than it is to just haul in a guy who lives down the street. Also, if the talent is a celebrity, the agent is more willing to gamble the time expenditure of facilitating a long distance audition, because if that celebrity talent books the job, there will be over-scale payment attached to the booking (a better risk on the time/money odds table.) I guess there are lots of people who now have "bi-coastal" representation, but I bet if you asked them how often they really and truly get to participate in the day-to-day auditions of the things that are coming across the desk of their opposite-coast agency, you'd not get a phenomenal number thrown at you. Having said all that, though, I will acknowledge that every audition does help the odds game, no doubt about that.
The intense, specific attention (writing, music, packaging) I put into the ascertainment of your "Brand" on the demo is the neccessary help you need in pursuing talent agency representation. Trust me, that demo is the only marketing and/or contact that any agent wishes to receive from either you or from me.
In the private session that you schedule immediately after we record your demo, I provide you a tailor-made list of the agent names and addresses you need for submitting your demo to people who will actually listen to your demo. Due to the large number of demos that come out of my "shop" every year, it would be inappropriate for me to call my agent colleagues and sing the particular praises of any one student over over another.
At the risk of issuing a bad pun here, your demo speaks for itself.
The agents and I have a somewhat unspoken agreement that I will not swamp up their phone lines with "sales" calls from me about my students. In return, agents do indeed listen to the demos submitted by my students with careful and particular consideration over other unsolicited material. There have been dozens of occasions when my students have submitted their demos to agents with nothing more than "Produced and Directed by Nancy Wolfson" on the outside of the envelope and an amazing, graphically branded, demo inside the package....then received a phone call from an interested agent. To date, the success rate has been darned good, as you can see by the number of sample demo folks on my site (and there are still more who are not on the site) who have agency names listed next to them.
In pursuing a business relationship, operate like a businessperson.
A successful creative career indulges and demands creative free play, and the fun of that is the muse that calls people into this pursuit in the first place.
But because Voice Over artists are still after a legitimate money-making enterprise called a “career,” it is equally imperative that these artists strategize, communicate, and network like a businessperson. The whole career must be managed with this concept, and the first time it is critical to shift out of “creative mind” into “business mind” in the pursuit of an agent.
Before pursuing an agent, one must be ready to be represented. Of course, this means making sure that you know you have had training that is particular to acting for this area of performance, so make sure you’ve studied and trained from the best, with a coach who focuses on developing your individual strengths.
Then, you must have a proper sales tool on yourself (the commercial demo, at least) and one that is produced according to contemporary, top market standards.
That tool ought to be presented to these agents via web link (a site you will have created to house your VO career.)
And if you have had the necessary training (skills) and do have the demo and the site (inventory), the one thing that will help you attract an agent is the uniqueness of how you have managed to market yourself (branding).
VO Business reality number one:
If a talent agency is currently running a profitable business, they generally do not need to sign one more new talent to their roster. And yet new people still manage to sell themselves to these agents and get signed all the time.
It’s not deep Acting that’s getting these new people signed.
Versatility, the thing encouraged in most acting classes, the quality you might value most about yourself as a performer, is not what an agent values most about you.
Look at it like this. Performance is a creative endeavor. Pursuing agency representation is a business endeavor. In this, you become the seller and the agent is the buyer. You can’t sell someone something they don’t need or don’t want.
Performers (sellers) value their ability to be versatile – to offer ten personalities in one person. Agents (buyers) value one brand per individual. It keeps the selling of those brands quick, easy, and simple.
Agents do not care to economize and get seven goods in one person. It is easier for them to sell ten different brands into ten different jobs than it is for the agent to get one person ten jobs.
Because casting people are buyers, too, and they believe there is one person who is most right for a job, and the degree to which that one person can do other things is the degree to which the talent blurs out of being perfectly right to be doing each job.
Like a fine wine, each brand may have complexities and nuances, but white wine is not red wine, and Opus doesn’t come in a box.
New “incoming” talent must understand that agents have all the versatility they need covered in the breadth of the individuals on their roster; on a per-person basis, agents value and “buy” new brands.
Do not sell those agents something they don’t need or already have, even if you know it takes ten people to do what you can do.
Agents don’t care if it takes ten people to do what you can do – In fact, they prefer it that way.
Instead, sell them what is unique about you – something they cannot possibly have already. If your demo presents a portrait of versatility, you are saying “I can give you a range of what you already have covered in seven other people.”
Your only hope of being attractive and useful to the agent is if you understand your strengths, quirks, and limitations.
They will only “buy” a new talent if that new talent presents a clear portrait of what that agent does not already have in the roster.
Later on, your performances will be providing a service, but also a good – and at this stage, your brand is that “good.”
To make the sale, to sell yourself to that agent, you must think like a marketing person, not an actor.
You must know what is unique about the brand of the good you are trying to get them to buy, given the fact that they already have plenty of different “goods.” In fact, the variety of the different people already on the roster is all the versatility that agent needs.
What the buyer (agent) needs is the opposite of what actors are most proud of having developed and what actors are most tempted to want to present. Agents crack open the door only to “buy” a new brand.
So one must think about marketing as the act of marketing oneself.
Your training needs to help you not only get the skills to perform, but must have you ultimately understanding what is unique about you and the Brand that your personality (via your voice) offers. Only then can you begin work with a producer on the content and tailored packaging of the demo and website artwork – the product on yourself you will be using to present something an agency cannot possibly feel they have already. Even if they already kinda do.
There are some "musts" with regard to how the artwork is presented. I prefer my students hire my current graphics/web designer colleague, Jason Sikes. Click Village Green Studios to view his website and you can email HERE.
Generally speaking, I have provided art direction on the bulk of the cd demo covers you will see posted on my site, and Jason has executed the design for us. (Actually, David Kessler did a batch of the earliest ones, but I have had Jason working his magic for us for the past eight years or so.) Jason always brings something extra and professional and clever to the ideas we concoct and present to him for assembly. Should you choose to construct your graphics yourself, make sure that the image and the arrangement of information follows the standard guidelines before you send it to press.
The priority, of course, is that the image that you use for branding the cover of your cd reflects your personal style accurately, intelligently, and creatively. It ought to speak to how your personality, your voice over "signature" fits into a category but manifests something interesting and unusual within that category. If you fit into the zone of teenage girls, which one are you? Are you on the cynical side of the teenage girl radar? (see Sarah Wulfeck on our Voice Demos page.) Or are you more like Britney Spears? (See Kristina Anapau's demo.) Or are you the quirky one in the teen girl crowd? (See Alicyn Gianukos). If you are a contemporary mom, which one are you? The Sexy Professional Mom? (Mary Page Keller)? The Mid Western Mom (Jane Edith Wilson)? Are you a W.A.S.P.y mom with a wink like Blythe Danner (See Chelsea Taylor).
The rendering of your image could be, for example, a cultural icon, image, or recognizable brand from a product we all know and recognize and that shares something stylistic with your personal style. Then, to make that brand more your own and to show that you understand satire, you might change that brand somehow to address something else that is unique about your personal style. For example, take a look at what we did to the Charlie's Angels icon to make it more "mom-like" for Renee Sams (replaced guns with cell phones and put a baby in the karate chop hands). Take note of what we did to a Matzo Box for Moe Gans-Pomerantz.
It should not display anything considered corny by the VO world (lips, microphones,tag lines that attempt to describe your voice, etc.).
No print campaign for a health care company would just put the medical caducei symbol in the middle of their magazine ad; the symbol only identifies the profession, not the person in particular.
You have to have your phone number and/or email address on collateral. Make certain that you package your cd in the plastic cases that have some amount of dimension on the spine. Those new thinner cases, the ones that are not much thicker than the cd itself, do not allow you to put information about your name/contact number on the spine. In other words, when sitting on a shelf like a book, those new thin cases do not give you any real estate on the shelf and the agent scanning the library for your materials won¹t see your name on the cd case of those thinner cases. Make sure that the information on the spine is running down the spine in the proper direction (As a guide, look at how information on the spine of a book or album is positioned).
When I produce and direct a demo for a student, I always have my graphics person put a "Produced and Directed by Nancy Wolfson" credit on the back of that client's CD. This serves as a Stamp of Approval. Mentioning my name proves that this person has graduated from my extensive course of study. There is a tacit agreement in this industry between agents and producers like myself; agents know and trust that I would not make a demo for someone unless I estimated that the person's skills can back up the talents displayed on the Demo.
Given all that, you are going to put yourself head and shoulders above your competition if you have a professional (like Village Green Studios) design your tactics.
NO! Don't EVER use a name-play as a substitute for branding.
That is the kind of idea that they shove out there in the most amateurish of branding classes (or attempts at them) and OMG it is so corny.
If your name were Jennifer Campbell, I'd only put the soup can on your cover art IF and only IF you sounded folksy and homespun. But certainly not if you are hip and cool. Ya see what I mean?
Synonyms and name overlaps do not have anything to do with True Style.
ABOUT BACKGROUND RESEARCH
Yes, many people do make a great deal of money using their voices in Commercials and Animation. Like anything else, those who make millions are skillful, well-studied, and well-established. Few of them started as specialists in their field. It is hard to get into anything and be at the top of that game. It is not easy to get into medical school, not every Doctor is guaranteed a million-dollar-a-year salary, and every Cardiologist had to take basic anatomy classes no matter how "naturally proficient" their mother thought they were in math and science. Same goes here. You might be funny and you might have a great voice, but there are some tangible skills that need to be learned, practiced, and perfected if you hope to make the kind of money that the serious professionals make.
If you want to get work Voicing Commercials for Television, you must be conversant in Television culture. If you do not watch much TV, begin by picking the top ten Prime Time shows and start videotaping. Then, when you go to an audition and they ask for something "a little more along the lines of a Lorraine Bracco-type," you'll actually know who they are referencing. (She plays the educated yet realistically vulnerable therapist on HBO's "The Sopranos.") The same goes for Cartoons: If you are interested in pursuing Animation, watch as many different styles of cartoons as you (and your family) can tolerate.
• How many Voice Over talent were hired for that spot?
• What was the overall feel of the spot?
• What was the general attitude?
• Where did the talent emphasize key points? How was this executed?
• What did the Voice Over talent do as he/she said the name of the product?
• Do I recognize the voice? Celebrity?
• What was the spot advertising?
• Do I use that product?
• Does this commercial inspire me to by that product?
We will get history/cover all groundwork during your first paid session time, for sure.
Please trust that I will maximize our time together without pressure.
No VO background is necessary - actually no acting background is necessary, and this coursework is for anyone/everyone inculding some students of mine who are six and seven figure working pros. I will be curious about whatever classes you might have taken, though this will be entirely new and different.
If, during your experience of the Braintracks coursework, we find there is material you already can tackle with proficiency, we will skip it and get on with the getting on!
I love your eagerness to get in here and get on with the "getting on!"
I have over 4 times as many students who want slots in a week as there are time slots in a week.We can pre-assign you as best I can, a promised slot about a month out in advance, sometimes closer if there are not holidays, meetings I must take or out of town lecturing functions that take me away from teaching.
Again, once you're prepaid, the more you are able to grab any of the many openings you were offered and will be offered between assigned time slots, the more quickly you will be able to move through this.
I have about a 35-40% cancellation // fall out rate on slot openings that offer many opportunities for those as eager as you are who have prepaid for their next pre-assigned slot to get in OFTEN.
I have a fellow who was not due to have his first lesson till next week but who, because he has been on top of grabbing the cancellation openings, has had six lessons in the last two and a half weeks. So by the time we hit what was scheduled to be his first lesson, he will have had six appointments already!
All that said, there is one more option that a handful of my students have chosen because their passion is as strong as yours and they are too busy working and earning paying work to grab the many slots that they are offered in between.
They are on a Platinum Plan, where they "own" me for a pre-assigned promised slot that is all theirs, once a week.
(Excepting emergencies, of course.)
Those slots are held for them and only them, and a few folks who are too busy to grab openings because they are busy earning paying work happily pay a premium for that.
The cost of owning an exclusive "all yours" slot is double rate. For ex, as long as the base rate is still $160, the gentleman who "owns" the Tues at 4:30 pm PST time slot prepays that at $320 for 50 mins, and that slot is his every week, never offered to anyone else.
If you would like an All-Yours Premium Plan time slot, EMAIL ME and we can quickly find one to make ALL YOURS.
It depends upon who is teaching and what you are trying to learn from them.
Studying with experienced talent can be a great way to find a mentor in a particular area of focus. I believe it is best to study with someone like this only after you have first obtained a good overview from an impartial Voice Over Coach, a Voice Over Casting person, or a former Talent Agent. (SAG does not allow currently practicing Voice Over Agents to teach.)
When you study from a fellow actor you get their perspective from their category.
A Casting Agent knows better than talent what a Casting Agent wants to hear.
Only someone who has been a Talent Agent can really tell you the "dos" and "don'ts" of how to approach an Agent with a submission.
Unless they have been in business for many years and have successfully covered many categories, most talent can only tell you what has and what has not worked for them. And while that is valuable information, it is limited.
There is camaraderie in learning from the hard knocks of a fellow actor, but their advice will reflect the category in which they book. And their category might not be your category. A person who makes the bulk of his or her income in Animation is not going to have the sense that there is a lot of work for announcers out there. Similarly, if you were to study with an actor who makes the bulk of their living voicing On Air Promos, they might give you the notion that there is a great deal more opportunity out there for announcers that there is for wacky character voice people.
Say you have confirmed that your likeliest zone of potential employment will be as a female announcer. You have done your demo, you understand the requisite skills, and you’d like to know more about what life is really like out there in your Category.
Depends upon which group class you’re talking about, who is teaching it, what the goals are, etc.
Some group classes are great because they can provide a cost effective way of getting broad a overview of the business. Broad overview information on this industry (what is an agent, why do I need a demo, who are the players in this town, etc.) can be procured three ways:
1. from a book
2. from a teacher in a one-on-one setting
3. from a teacher in a group class.
Group classes can be loads of fun and sometimes, they provide the students the opportunity to hear and meet guest speakers from different areas of the business when those people come in and talk to the group. Group classes are also great for networking once someone reaches a “Working Pro” level (skills are in place, demo is in tow, agent representation is locked in.)
When it comes to the very needful amount of at-microphone experience/practice, the critical issue of branding, and career strategizing I believe there is only one way to go: Private (one-on-one) consultation.
It is important, when you procure representation amongst tried and true professionals, to continue to work on your craft. Loads of folks get to demo thinking they are done, and do not continue working on getting excellent at this...not that people ought to stay in classes forever, but being ready to have a demo made for you only really means that a you are about ready to compete with pros.
To really book jobs in and amongst the pros, ya' gotta continue to sharpen and refine your skills.
How? Stay in some amount of occasional study with me, study with one of my colleagues, study another area of VO (animation, promos, etc.), but somehow, find a way to continue to work on your skills.
There has never been a better time for people in what once were considered “secondary markets” to pursue a career in this. Thanks to the internet, thanks to Voicebank.net, thanks to the new internet casting web sites, thanks to the globalization of casting, and now that everyone local/regional/EVERYWHERE can assemble an easy and affordable home recording situation, you no longer need to live in LA to have access to major national campaigns that are now being cast via the internet and via agents in cities all over the country.
PEOPLE WHO LIVE OUTSIDE THE MAJOR METROPOLITAN CENTERS OF THE US NOW HAVE ALMOST AS MUCH ACCESS TO THE SAME COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITIES AS ANYONE ELSE.
Let’s chat about that in your first phoner!
As to NYC - I do visit NYC a few times a year to teach both privates and an occasional group class, in which case I could put you on my call list to set up a private appointment for you when I am out there.
I am not in NYC regularly enough for us to take you through my entire curriculum and demo production as I do with my LA students, so I advise the NYC folks to study with me via phoners.
HOWEVER, there are some folks I have put through my entire 15-chapter curriculum via long distance "phoner privates." You would be amazed at how much can get done over the phone. Indeed, the phone is very much like a microphone in that there is a microphone in your telephone receiver! I either snail mail or fax these students the curriculum guide and the packet of commercial copy in advance of each of our phoner sessions. With phoners, the student simply phones me at the time slot we have scheduled, and we have our fifty minute consultation over the phone.
($130 per fifty minute session).
Some cell phone plans have unlimited weekend calling plans, so many can call me on their cell phone without having to pay the long distance fee for the call. I currently work with students who live in Nashville, Seattle, Vancouver, North Carolina, Denver, Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago, NYC, and even a few in Europe. When it comes time to hone in on your signature and do your demo, it would be ideal if you could come to California to have me write and produce your demo here in LA.
People who study with me long distance (over the phone) often prefer to come to LA to have me produce their demo, and I produce demos on Fridays, so we often book the remaining two curriculum privates for sometime in the days before that Friday recording session. However, DEMOS CAN BE RECORDED VIA LONG DISTANCE PHONE PATCH OR INTERNET RECORDING – so it is no longer a “must” for you to fly out to LA to record your demo.
As of Jan. 2006, people who study with me long distance have had the option of recording their demo from a studio in their hometown (without having to haul to LA) via phone or internet patch. However, the in-person experience of meeting and getting directed in person on the demo itself is always preferable (and fun).
After demo production, there is one necessary post-demo private wherein I advise you on how to proceed with submitting to agents, provide an inside list of agents to whom you ought to submit, tailor your letters to those agents, discuss artwork branding, etc.
Beyond that, most folks come “back” either once every other week at the most or once every six weeks at the least to keep their chops up until/during/after work opportunities start to come around.
Big best news is that I have some major new opportunities that have opened up in the last year that are allowing me to put real auditions in front of people who have gone thru the full course of study with me into demo, which is great (more on that in your first lesson.)
I am very honest with people about their strengths and weaknesses. I will help you understand how competitive your skills are as we take you through this coursework. But because it is my job to teach, inform, and encourage, I feel it would be irresponsible for me to determine after just only one meeting that someone has no hope of learning anything or ever being able to understand what it takes to perform well on a script.
An evaluation that discouraged someone based their performance before they have a chance to learn from me would be unfair and meaningless. Each student deserves more than of a chance to learn than that.
Some people have a natural facility for learning these skills. For those folks, the learning curve is not very steep, and they get through this coursework quickly and easily. For other people, the instincts for the rhythm and comedy and timing of this area of performance are less intuitive, and after about four consultations, it will become clear to the student just how steep (and costly) the learning curve might be for them.
I have told some people that there are certainly softer walls to beat their heads against than this Voice Over endeavor, and advised them that they might not be well remunerated if they were to make an extended investment in this.
Some of those people have chosen to stop this course of study mid-stream.
Others have chosen to persist in spite of their limitations, because even though they realized that they might not wind up as major players in the competitive area of Commercial Voice Overs, they wanted to overcome stage fright, learn to read aloud more smoothly, get comfortable making oral presentations at their workplace, etc. And they did.
I have taken some students who, at the outset, appeared hopelessly nervous and confused to a level of comfort and proficiency and agency representation. If everyone were great at this from Day One, what would there be to learn? I will give you a chance if you give yourself a chance.
"I think I've realized over the past few months that VO isn't for me. I'm glad I tried it out though, and I can't imagine a better tutor - you do a really great job, and if anything I think I learned that as a creative outlet, essentially 'acting' or anything in that vein just isn't my thing. It was really nice to work with you!"
For people who worry that TiVO is a scary thing that might be corroding the future of VO work and for all the fearful concerns about celebrities taking all the animation work (not true) --
Don't worry, for every dinosaur form of media that might be dying off, TONS of new kinds of content are being created that require VO talent!"
Besides all the web based "welcome to this web site" VO work that has been in the swirl for quite a few years, there are new FUN projects most people have never even considered demanding VO talent every day: Downloadable Ringtones, interactive gaming, and things like what my dear pal and onetime client, Rick Zieff just booked - it's a fun example of all the new opportunities that are out there.
Hey, this is fun:
Go to budlight.com.
On the left you'll see the APOLOGY BOT 3000
You can send anyone an apology with MY VOICE!
I'm doing a new set of racier ones next week.
Have you bought/listened to Acting for Advdertising #8?
That explains a lot of it to varying degrees in the portion covered by Anna.
It's an impossible call for me to make for someone else - so it's not a cut and dry "is it worth it" question like me knowing whether some particular other class is only fun no value or fun and value.
Getting ISDN can be a wise "priming the pump" issue for some - a "spend money to make money" matter.
I see jobs that cast across my desk where buyers are only considering people with home ISDN, so those who are in that position are sitting pretty in that they can be put forward for that job where they wouldn't have been eligible without ISDN, and also, there are still relatively fewer folks who have it than who don't, so those who are in consideration for those jobs are up against fewer folks to win the job.
That said, those who have had ISDN for a while tend to be the top talent, so it is a pool of competition that is fierce.
Historically, generally, people have bought it in the past when they've been with a major market agent who has gotten them enough promo work with buyers in another time zone that the talent needed to have it in their home in order to do feeds at 4 in the morning, perhaps residing in a city that could have been an hour-long commute into Manhattan or Los Angeles.
Today, there are many union and non union folks who do jobs via their home ISDN that they have procured for themselves.
You are good, you are talented, you have great training, you have a superior demo. You have some agency representation. For someone with all those irons in the fire, if it feels like you've already paid back the investment of your training and your demo and more and if it is within your budget to put another $3-4,000 into this investment, it might be worth investigating.
The things your mother never taught you.
I can teach someone voiceover, no problem. But I'll be honest; there's a bit of vetting that goes on when people are studying with me.
If they prove to be a person who can't follow directions or they become a lot of homework for me and my team, I can't risk my reputation with buyers by ever giving an ornery or sloppy student an audition. And God forbid, I would never put them in touch with a buyer or an agent.
But if they're a great student just in terms of their diligence, their passion, their professionalism and their demeanor, I am their biggest champion.
I train on skills. I brand them and I also make sure they'll be a great client, or they're out.
The thing that's the most difficult to teach is professional respect, being on time, not being what I call a "homework person" to a buyer.
But the voiceover...that part is easy.
Vince Lombardi, widely considered the greatest coach of all time (not VO) never played in the NFL. Many of the best acting teachers were not performers. Howard Fine, one of the most highly respected acting teachers in NY/LA is not, himself, an actor. I can only speak for myself, but I am a coach and I have less than zero desire to be a VO, to compete with my students for gigs, or to live a VO's lifestyle. Ability to break down copy and perform it notwithstanding, I have not an OUNCE of the special indescribable grit or desire necessary to WANT to keep at a career in the arts as an artist. My reservoir of tolerance for "you're on hold oh wait never mind" is drier than the LA river (loosely translated: really dry.) That said, I find great purpose and joy helping people who have that desire actualize their potential. Sometimes that potential has nothing to do with voice over. Sometimes their initial dream is not realistic, but the things they overcome on the way to what they'd held as their initial dream are far more profound than the dream that launched the journey towards something else. While many phenomenal coaches never played the game, many phenomenal (or marginal) talents could not (and some ought not) articulate the game, much less how to build a business from the outside in from the ground on up to others aspiring. Most who embark upon a "side" biz coaching to pick up some spare cash not being made from performance have no nodding acquaintance with what it takes to stay inspired as a champion of others or how to run a business of teaching. Time sorts that out quickly enough. Back to point, though - many legendary, and more importantly, USEFUL, HELPFUL coaches never played the game as players. Then again, those truly legendary coaches are not in the business of "selling the dream." I always make sure to tell my students that if you have a low threshold of tolerance for "no" and lack a fierce, nearly irrational desire to perform, drop your dream before I finish my sentence. I also think your skepticism, though, about shenanigans is justified. Caveat emptor, y'all.