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How Do You Stay In The Voice Over Biz?
A Guide For VO's Who Want To Grow ...
August 5, 2016

By Dan Hurst
Voice Actor

"How do you stay in business?Ē

It was the frustrated question of a fellow voice talent who was struggling. I thought about his question for some time after our conversation, and it led to this article.

How DO you stay in the voice over business?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there were a number of things that I knew but had somewhat neglected and needed to revisit.

And there were a few things that I seemed to be doing well, but the truth is that a balanced business is a healthy business.

Perhaps some of these thoughts and reminders will help you to grow a balanced and healthy voice over business.

But let me say right up front, Iím addressing those voice talents who want to grow their business. If you are a VO hobbiest and are fine with the workload you are doing, God bless you. Go for it and have fun (and ignore my comments about rates). I mean, I know it really is fun, and I wish you well. I really do! However, Iím addressing voice talents who are making a living at this, or at least attempting to do so.  

1. ALWAYS BE BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS  


The voice over business is one of the most unique businesses around. Our product is in demand and growing.

And yet, our product is an intangible. We have no product on the shelf. Everything we deliver is custom-created. Itís not like we can go in and buy someoneís voice over service, take over their client list and immediately be in business.  

This business must be built by the individual voice talent. You canít even hire someone to build it for you. Of course, you can hire someone to help you, but overall itís something you have to do on your own.

And building it takes time. Itís further complicated by the fact that often you never even meet your client face to face, so youíre at a disadvantage and so is your client. Itís hard to build a relationship that way.

CLIENTS ALWAYS CHANGING


Furthermore, many of our clients change their clients, so we have to continually work to re-establish ourselves, build new relationships, and create confidence.

In my case, 60% of my client list is international. Iíve never met any of those clients face to face. It took time to build those relationships, and it is something that I have to consistently work at developing.  

I say all of that to encourage you to create a plan to continually and consistently build your business. Think and work through the scenarios of what itís realistically going to take to find and develop clients.
  • What will your client turnover be?
  • How often will each client most likely have work for you?  
Iíve found that I need to spend up to an hour a day reaching out, making new contacts, connecting and reconnecting with new and old clients.

Now get this: I HAVE to do that just to maintain my current workload. Iím not even talking about increasing my business. I mean, I have to spend up to an hour a day just to stay even, and Iíve been in business for over 25 years!  

2. DELIVER WHAT YOU DO WELL  

This took me way too long to learn. Iím ashamed to admit that.  I spent so much time over the years trying to do stuff that Iím, at best, average at doing.

But clients donít hire average. If youíre average in this business, youíre starving.  

For me, the turning point came when a client asked me to do a Dick Vitale impression for a spot. Well, I have nowhere even close to a Vitale impression. But the client insisted. They really needed me to do the job and they were down to the wire on getting the job done.

I sent them a few takes of a pathetic rendition of Dick Vitale. A few hours later they came back and asked me to redo the audition with a few changed lines, and "could you give us a bit more of the Vitale emotion?Ē

I tried again. The client was still not happy. Another try. And a couple of days later this email: "Our client has decided to actually hire Mr. Vitale for their project.Ē  

What a waste of time. I should have just told them from the very beginning that Iím no Dick Vitale and that they needed to look elsewhere.

BE WHO YOU ARE


My point is that you are who you are. Do what youíre good at. Donít try to be someone or something else, unless of course you are an impressionist.

Can you learn different styles? Perhaps, but do yourself a favor. Get a coach and trust them to tell you when you are ready to deliver those goods.

In the meantime, excel at what you excel at.

3. REVISIT YOUR SOUND  

This is one of my pet peeves. If you are going to compete in this business, for goodness sake do what you have to do to get a quality sound.  

I am so amazed at how cheap so many voice talents sound as they try to pawn off their efforts as a professional voice talent.

In fact, I just saw a post (again) on Facebook from a start-up voice talent who asked,
"What microphone and interface should I use, and I need to start as cheap as I can.Ē
Look, Iím not trying to be mean here, but if you want to compete in this business youíd better make sure you sound as good, if not better than the rest of the dogs in the hunt.

Quit playing the mind game that you can go cheap, and then as you get more business youíll build your equipment quality. No! Start with good and then upgrade!  

IT'S ABOUT SOUND QUALITY


Seriously, your potential clients are listening to up to 100 auditions or more for a particular job. If your sound quality sucks, nine times out of ten that will automatically disqualify you. They are only going to listen for the first few seconds and if the quality isnít there, youíre toast.

Itís not about expensive equipment versus cheap equipment (although cheap equipment is one of the main culprits). Itís about sound quality.

If you want quality clients, you have to produce quality sound. Oooooo! That was a good line. Read it again.

CRAP ISN'T HIRED

Every couple of months a client will ask me to help them find additional voice talent for a project. I used to put those jobs out on Pay2Play (online casting) sites, on Facebook, and whatever other means I could think of. 

I must tell you that at least 90% of the auditions I got back were crap. I was amazed at how bad so many of those auditions were. Bad sound. Bad reads. Bad interpretation. Bad editing. Just bad.

Iím not kidding! 90%!!!  

Now, I just go back to the voice talents whom I know will submit good auditions.  

SEEK HONEST OPINIONS, GET HELP

Question your sound quality. Share some samples with your fellow voice talents. Ask them to give you an honest appraisal of your sound quality.

If there is an issue with your signal, get a sound engineer to help you out. But donít embarrass yourself by sending out poor quality sound.

By the way, hereís an aside, Based on my experience that 90% of the auditions submitted to potential clients are awful:
Donít be afraid to submit even if theyíve already received a large number of submissions. I can promise you that most of those auditions are garbage. Just make sure yours is not one of the 90%.  
4. BE DIFFERENT  

Along that line, be the exception.

After having been on the receiving end of searching for voice talent on behalf of some clients, I can tell you that another one of the most frustrating things of going through auditions is that almost everyone sounds alike.  

Think about it. If the client hears 10, or 50, or 100 people who sound almost alike and interpret the copy almost exactly alike, why in the world would he/she hire you if you sound and interpret the copy like everyone else?

Chances are, if the client wants the read that almost everyone has submitted, theyíve already chosen their talentÖand itís not you.  

5. SET THE STANDARD

In other words, define, develop and set the standard in your niche.

Quit wasting time in VO niches that you are not good at. The old 80/20 formula is as real here as it is anywhere:
20% of the voice talents get 80% of the work in any niche you are pursuing.  
If you want to excel in a particular genre, youíd better train, develop, deliver, and market yourself better than 80% of everyone else.  

6. BE EARLY  

Face it; clients donít want to have to spend a lot of time looking for the right voice and interpretation. So, the first one who comes along and grabs them is often the one they go with.  

This is where the combination of copy interpretation and production make or break an audition. The client doesnít expect the audition to be the final spot, although that does happen on occasion.

The client is just looking for someone who gets it and delivers what they are looking for, or as sometimes happens, surprises them and takes them in a completely different direction.  

MAKE CLIENT JUMP ...


I mean really, when you think about it, what difference does it make if you went up on that word or down on it? Donít sweat the little stuff in the audition.

The client is looking for a unique interpretation that speaks to their image, sense and intent. They know they can get you to change little things here and there if it is that important. And as soon as they hear the "soundĒ they are looking for, they will most likely jump on it, or at least flag it for review.  

So, be early!

ALWAYS AUDITION


BTW, hereís a little trick that works for me. I warm up in the morning with auditions. Then I get back into the groove after my lunch break with any other auditions that have come in. And finally, I close out my day with any other auditions that might have come in.

That sounds like I audition a lot, but it really isnít that much. Iím very selective, and there are times, almost daily, when no additional appropriate auditions have come in.  

But for heavenís sake, donít put off auditions for a day or two, no matter how much time the client/agent gives you.  

To quote a current client the first time I sent him an audition:
"(Expletive deleted) if what you sent me, as fast as you sent it, is what you do, weíre going to have a wonderful life!Ē  
7. CHARGE WHAT YOU ARE WORTH  

No client has the right to establish your value and your rate. Frankly, not even the union has that right (and really, they donít do that. They just establish a base rate).

You are the one who should decide what rates you work for.  
  • Iíve never been to a doctor that let me establish his/her rate.
  • Iíve never been to a gas station that let me establish the rate I was going to pay.
  • Never gone to a restaurant, looked at the menu and said, "Nah, thatís not what I pay for pommes frites. My budget is half of that.Ē  
You establish your rate and your worth. When you work for less than an acceptable rate, you are telling the client, "Iím not worth what you should pay for this project.Ē 

I'M EMBARRASSED FOR YOU

Iím not angry or upset at you for doing that. You are not a threat to my business if you do that. It doesnít really matter to me because I wouldnít work for that lowball rate anyway.

Iím just embarrassed for you. Youíve undercut your worth and youíve enabled a client to cheapen his work. If you are even a halfway decent voice talent, you can and should get what you are worth!  

I recently had a potentially new client that wanted to hire me for half of my rate. She said thatís what they had paid in the past and that other voice talents were fine with that rate. 

I suggested she contact those voice talents again because I just couldnít work for that rate. Yesterday, I got an email from her saying that her client had approved my rate and they were ready to proceed with the project.  

YOU ESTABLISH YOUR RATE

My point is that you are the one who should establish your rate. If you donít have the confidence in your talent or value, you will most likely undercut yourself.

This is where connections and relationships with other voice talents and agents are so important. What are your peers charging and getting for similar work? Ask! Be willing to walk away if the rate is too low. And hold on to your self-worth.  

The old excuse, "Hey, $25 is better than nothing,Ē is simply baloney. If you are marketing to that client crowd you are in the wrong store.

Think about it this way: if you can get $25 for that job, you can most certainly get more for it. I know several voice talents who work for those kind of rates, and who say they are happy. But if you plan to grow your business, you have to move beyond that low-ball mentality.  

By the way, in my experience it is the lower-paying clients that are often the hardest to collect from. Learn from my mistakes.  

So, these are some thoughts on staying in business. No doubt you have a thought or two to add. Please do! Part of what makes our voice over community so great is the willingness we have to help and encourage each other.  
------------------
ABOUT DAN
Dan (Daniel Eduardo) Hurst is an experienced bilingual (English and Spanish) voice talent operating out of the Kansas City area. His business extends internationally, with clients including Maserati, Boehringer Ingelheim, British Petroleum, Kimberly-Clark, McDonald's, Volkswagen, Telemundo International, Shell, Hallmark, TransCanada, and many more, along with his national work for numerous infomercials, ESPN, MLB, and the Golf Channel, among others. When heís not working, he spends time cheering for losing sports teams, getting kicked off of golf courses, and cursing his boat motor. 


Email: danhurst@danhurst.com
Web: www.DanHurst.com


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Comments (12)
Jack R Smith
8/23/2016 at 9:50 AM
Thank you, Dan, for this article. I am a full-time voice actor and constantly work to improve my craft. Although not as successful as I hoped to be as yet, I still stay with it. Your article is a no-nonsense breakdown to stay in the game and be successful. As the saying goes "it's not a sprint but a marathon," and I am getting my second wind...
Justin Hibbard
8/12/2016 at 3:58 PM
Great insight, Dan! Jus
Brad Waldo
8/5/2016 at 3:28 PM
Well said, Dan.
Peter Bishop
8/5/2016 at 3:19 PM
As always, wise words from a man who know the voiceover business and how to make a success of it. Some of the more general points could easily be applied to any business. Too many people think the Field of Dreams attitude will win (Build it and they will come), but it takes far more than a good set of pipes to make it in VO!
Bettye zoller
8/5/2016 at 2:58 PM
Understanding this nutty business is not easy. But all the new people venturing in and mostly non Union have glutted market. Also the pay to plays hurt. But if you are new and think "career" better heed Dan's advice! If it's only for fun" or part-time extra wages then fine! Just think about not hurting us pros too often!
Lynn Benson
8/5/2016 at 2:54 PM
I truly enjoyed your post! No bull. Too the point. Not offended. There are things I just do NOT need to spend much time on. The things that I do best should be shined.
Debbie Grattan
8/5/2016 at 1:09 PM
Dan - you are and always will be a wonderful example of doing it "right!" Thanks for all these confirmations on what we as professionals have to do to keep it moving. If you're not growing, you're dying (or at least withering a tiny bit!) so best to keep the engine at a good clip. And, please add me to your list, if your clients ever want female VO talent. I still get clients all the time who say "I have a lot of good male talent, but can't find a good female." That always baffles me a little bit. Have they ever heard of Google??
J. Christopher Dunn
8/5/2016 at 1:00 PM
And just like that, you've summed up what creating a functioning VO business looks like. You've offered some great, honest guidance, Dan. These are the basics every serious voice worker should practice. Wow!

Imagine if the same doctor, gas station, and restaurant did nothing to grow their businesses. They'd be gone. And, none them are doing it because it's a nice side hobby that brings in a bit of extra play money.
Steve Hammill
8/5/2016 at 12:49 PM
Excellent post.

The "what are you worth" element is bigger than what you charge for this job or that.

The reason I no longer do VO full time is simple - my annual income varied wildly. How do you budget when one year you make $100k and then next $60k (1980 money)? That's tough. Today, I'd need to make $150k consistently to commit to full-time VO. One good account could make that happen, but what happens when they pull the plug?

Consistent annual income is a key element of staying power in VO. In my experience, no matter how diligently I pursued work, the annual income was always in question.
Rick Lance
8/5/2016 at 12:05 PM
Great to read your thoughts, Dan! I appreciate your candor here, too... straight talk, no BS. Sometimes what I read in some articles about the biz the writer tends to dance around certain issues. You haven't here! I especially enjoyed... (chuckling as I read) the "setting rates" comparison with your doctor, gas station, restaurant... my feelings as well.

It's funny too, just like you, I warm up my voice with early morning auditions... do my work and then do a couple more auditions later in the day if I want. That's a good work day for me.

There's no better example of seeing what experience can teach about this unusual business we're in... than you, Bro! Thanks for your contribution!
Dan Hurst
8/5/2016 at 11:11 AM
>>Jim Conlan

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Jim, that last line made me snort coffee all over myself! Thanks a lot!!!!
Jim Conlan
8/5/2016 at 10:12 AM
Dan, this is a whole career course in a box. I'd like to pass it along to my students, past and present - and keep it handy for myself as well. I especially appreciate the message to "be yourself." Why is this so hard to understand? For example, dude, I'll never have your hair!
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