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Giving In To Economic Reality - 
But Not Giving Up! Here's How ...
 
By Mahmoud Taji
International Voice Actor
Dec. 23, 2009
 
One of the biggest misconceptions about the voice-over industry is that it is easy to be a full-time voice-over artist.
 
Personally, I would love to have enough clients to sustain me and my family, month in and month out, on the income that a lucrative voice-over business can generate.
 
Alas, my connections are not yet that vast, and my income from VO is not yet sufficient to do so.
 
FULL-TIME HARD TIMES
 
For those who are lucky enough to have established themselves in the voice-over industry and are making a full-time living out of it, things are increasingly looking hard.
 
Economically, the world is in a downward spiral that doesn’t seem to be stabilizing.
 
Whether this is because the world’s governments are still spending with no regard for the fast approaching cliff’s edge - at this stage the U.S. government’s reckless spending and loaning policies are the most vivid - or because of the collective belt tightening that almost all the mega corporations are starting to practice, being a full-time voice-over artist is just not bringing in enough to maintain some artist’s previous lifestyle.
 
WHAT TO DO?
 
As a blogger, I generally try to keep myself informed about how others in the industry are faring.
 
For some of the bigger names who have been doing well in this business for decades, it seems like the time has come to give up the reins of their professional life and seek employment in the “mundane” 9-to-5 world of corporate America - or, the "world" for us international types.
 
This transition not only scares the bajeezuz out of them, but seems to them like a step backward.
 
They see it as giving up their accomplishments and announcing to their peers that they are losers or failures.
 
DON'T GIVE UP!

I’m going to be quite blunt and tell these people to stop being stupid.
 
Yes, it's great having your own business and being appreciated for the talent that you have honed and invested in for years … and which has given back and supported you over the years.
 
The truth is that it is far better to go out and get yourself a part-time job - or even a full-time job - than to give up on the industry and sell your equipment.
 
If you sell your equipment, then friend, that is when you become the loser.
 
BE SMART ABOUT IT

The smart thing to do at this stage is to forecast how you need to supplement your income, and decide on what the best possible solution is for you to be able to maintain your lifestyle and not get rid of your hard-earned collection of audio recording hardware.
 
This means that before things get desperate, you start looking for work.
 
You can start with temp work.
 
There is nothing shameful about supporting your family and being a provider. This is the noblest of positions, and although sometimes it is the one most taken for granted, it is the one that makes you the most proud of yourself.
 
CONSIDER CHOICES ...
 
So before you decide to go and sell your audio equipment - way, way before then - go out and start doing temp work. Get yourself back in the working-for-someone mindset.
 
This does not mean that you give up on your VO work! Keep auditioning and keep up your contacts.
 
Our business is peppered with fluctuations and sine wave-like peaks and valleys. That means that you:
  • can land a lucrative job at any moment;
  • have to pick your projects carefully and not waste too much time on the lesser paying jobs;
  • look into other means of making money, using the skills you picked up as a VO artist;
  • maybe hold a class and teach them their way around the equipment;
  • hold specialization courses in your studio or be a consultant.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

The fact is, the voice-over industry has probably taught you a plethora of skills that give you an edge over normal folk.
 
Here is a quick list:
1. Public Relations & Marketing: You market yourself constantly and promote yourself through word-of-mouth and communications. How different do you think your job is to someone who’s full time job is doing PR and Marketing?
 
2. Accounting & Invoicing: You constantly have to keep track of different client’s jobs. You constantly have to send quotations, make adjustments in the case of extra work coming at short notice, and invoicing your clients and keeping track of all that.
 
3. Writing Articles, Blogging or Making Tutorials, Webinars or Podcasts: There are online and print magazines that pay people to write articles for them or hold workshops and seminars. Get paid for what you are giving out for free to promote your own business.
 
4. Web development: Maintaining your web site and updating it is a job that some people get paid to do. If you are somewhat savvy at this, it is yet another means of income.
 
5. Consulting: Be a language consultant. Teach English to people who want to learn how to speak it. Teach English via Skype video. Teach VO techniques over the phone or over VoIP… be creative.
MY STORY ...

Ten years ago, I immigrated to Canada.
 
I cut all my professional ties in Egypt, where I had lived for 10 years prior to immigrating, and up and moved to a country where I only knew two people.
 
I got swindled, I got played and I got wise.
 
But one of the hardest lessons I learned had nothing to do with my skills and everything to do with my cultural upbringing.
 
In the Middle East it is shameful to work at something outside your specialty. I mean, it's a major faux pas to go work as say, a waiter, when you have a university degree in communications.
 
THE BREAKING POINT
 
After six months of looking for work in my field, Graphics Design and Advertising, I reached the breaking point. I could forecast that if I kept living the way I was, there was no way I could survive the year.
 
So I had to conserve my savings and start generating some income.
 
The Canadians have a stupid work rule. They don’t hire anyone without Canadian work experience.
 
This is so beyond idiotic that I could not believe a country would push for immigration and bring in an international workforce - then leave them stuck in a limbo.
 
My favorite saying back then was: “How am I supposed to have Canadian work experience if I just got off the plane?!”
 
The employer didn't care. That is the rule. If you’ve worked with someone before, then I can hire you. Otherwise, go away.
 
Catch-22.
 
MOVED TO TEMP WORK
 
So I went to Apple, a temp agency in Toronto (or was it the People Bank in Mississauga) and I got hired as a mover.
 
I worked as a mover for three months - 16 hours a day, and I lost around 40 lbs … gained a crap load of muscle … got paid below minimum wage, and paid my rent using money I generated on Canadian soil.
 
I felt like crap in the beginning, but once I realized that work is work and that I have to survive, then my cultural obstacles didn’t matter.
 
BIDE YOUR TIME

Everything is temporary. The financial crisis is temporary. Your panic is temporary.
 
And how people view us is actually not important as long as we do what we have to to survive (I’m saying lawful good stuff, not chaotic evil).
 
You can be smart like voice actor Peter O’Connell and have your own casting agency (www.audioconnell.com) - you stay in the business and when you don’t have work for yourself, you take a commission on the work that you supply other VO artists.
 
Everyone makes a buck. Everyone is happy.

Ultimately, you have to realize that this, too, shall pass and that life will go on.
 
Be proud of what you have accomplished and never give up on your dream - whether it is to establish yourself in the VO industry or to get back on top of it.
 
ABOUT MAHMOUD ...
 
Mahmoud Taji is a voice actor based in Cairo, Egypt, specializing in Classical Arabic, New Standard Arabic, many forms of Colloquial Arabic (Egyptian, Shami and a little Khaleeji), bilingual Arabic / English text, and translation services. His voice is heard worldwide, from web promos to eLearning modules about Islamic banking and finance, travel documentaries for cities in Italy, promo videos for Brazilian oil conglomerates, and more. He has a degree in journalism and mass communication, is creative director at a Cairo advertising agency, and publishes the lively and informative blog, Taji’s Voice Emporium, and a directory of voice-over job and casting sites.
 
 
 
 
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Comments (8)
Mahmoud Taji
12/30/2009 at 1:27 AM
Hello Dawn,

I was there from 2000 to 2004. Although this article wasn't written to specifically criticize the Canadian work ethos, the TRUTH of the matter is that this is what I faced. A Middle Eastern man with a distinctly non-Anglo name.

Now if we Canadians (this does include me, btw, since I am a naturalized Canadian now), don't realize what the immigrants are going through and how it affects their lives, then we are turning a blind eye to reality.

The problem here lies with the government which encourages immigration quite aggressively worldwide (it's slowed down a bit since 2000), but then does not provide any means for new immigrants to find jobs easily or at least toput them through some government-sponsored work institute that gives them that 'required' Canadian experience. They're great with giving seminars and workshops, though.

This was also a case with a) finding an apartment to live in since I didn't have rent history (thankfully I had a co-signer); b) getting a credit card since I didn't have any credit history (that took me 2 years of Canadian tire department store card purchases to qualify).

If you have not lived in Canada as a first generation immigrant, then it is very likely that you have not experienced what I have.
Taji
Dawn Harvey
12/29/2009 at 4:13 PM
We Canadians do not have a work rule about not hiring someone without Canadian work experience. I would expect that Mahmoud was probably looking for work during a time when jobs were scarce and people were hiring those with experience before those without, and checking Canadian references is just easier than going overseas when applicants are plentiful. And, it could also be an issue with not recognizing foreign education, which is common around the world.
Mahmoud Taji
12/26/2009 at 2:48 AM
Hello Julie,
You know, Julie, you can get back into Voice Over work these days with a setup as simple as :
1. computer
2. usb condenser mic
3. pop filter
4. audacity (software)
5. A mouse to click record
You don't really need any fancy equipment if you are starting out ... and although I advise against selling one's recording gear ... you will find that some people have more than 1 mic ... or possibly a collection of microphones ... so selling a couple of them won't effect them much.
Anytime is a good time to start working towards working part-time or full-time VO.
Thank you for reading!
Taji
Jack Bair
12/25/2009 at 5:25 PM
Thank you, Mahmoud Taji,
I relate to what you have to say, and I like the way you say it.
Jack
Julie
12/25/2009 at 9:25 AM
Hi Taj,
I really enjoyed your blog- 1st time I read it. Very nice perspective right along with my thinking! I am re- entering VO work after family illness took my time and energy. I wonder if it is the "right time" but there never is a perfect time. Perhaps I can buy the home audio equipment from someone choosing to sell as I move forward! Best,
Julie
Mahmoud Taji
12/24/2009 at 9:24 AM
Hello Albert,
Thank you for taking the time to read my words and leave a comment. Although I appreciate what you have said... I have to say that not everyone is able to be naturally enterprising. Some are gifted in that field. It's like those who are musical virtuosos and those who have to work on becoming good. Almost all of us need to take workshops and listen to seminars to improve our skills... and there are so many different aspects to the VO business that its not really just a matter of being enterprising... for example:
1. ability to read, understand and deliver copy
2. ability to negotiate your work contract / fees
3. ability to find work
4. ability to maintain the business side of things without letting anything drop.
5. ability to promote one's self
6. ability to edit and cleanup your vo work using the appropriate software.
etc. etc.
Some of us might be good in one aspect of this.. and some of us might need guidance... and sometimes we could be so worried about the possible hardship ahead that our brains are fixated on the wrong thing and we don't see what is obvious to someone else. You never know when you will face a situation where its fight or flight... sometimes its smart to fight... others to flight.
Taji
Albert
12/24/2009 at 12:57 AM
In my view An enterprising person is one who comes across a pile of scrap metal and sees the making of a wonderful sculpture. An enterprising person is one who drives through an old decrepit part of town and sees a new housing development. An enterprising person is one who sees opportunity in all areas of life. To be enterprising is to keep your eyes open and your mind active. It's to be skilled enough, confident enough, creative enough and disciplined enough to seize opportunities that present themselves... regardless of the economy.
www.onlineuniversalwork.com
BP Smyth
12/23/2009 at 6:56 PM
Excellent advice Mahmoud, you've hit the nail right on the head, dead center.
Aside from the Rembrandt's and Picasso's of the VO industry, the rest must realize that the art of VO is no different than other "subjective" arts. If you aren't the flavor of the month, you aren't getting any work!! But if you desire to be the next Rembrandt, then hang in there, and never, ever give up. Besides; nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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