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AGENTS
An Open Letter To Agents: Let's Discuss
A Standard Email Template For VO Auditions

June 3, 2014

By Peter K. O'Connell

Voice Over Talent & Producer

Hello Good People,

As Voice Talent Agents, your work on our behalf is tireless and we all thank you for that.

In that continued spirit of mutual cooperation and profitable partnership, I thought I'd offer an idea that would help make your business day more efficient and the voice talent's business day a lot simpler!

I propose a standard email template for voice over auditions.

On this standard format, you can simply and easily input information for new jobs each time, and maybe be able to send them out more quickly.

For voice talents, the benefits of this format would be a universal voice over audition response format to follow.

Why this proposal? As a voice talent, when I get different auditions from different agents, Iíve got to try and remember how they like it labeled: slate or no slate, etc.

I want to do it correctly each for each individual agent, but sometimes when I am doing auditions while also looking at the mirror combing my perfect hair, I get confused!

A SAMPLE FORMAT ...

So agents, see what you think about this:

1. Standard Template For Specs

Using a standard template, each audition email you send out would include the specifications for how you want your auditions recorded, labeled and returned. And once you create the audition template in your email system, youíre 90% done! You only have to fill in the specs of each job, which hopefully is mostly a copy and paste task.

2. Standard File Labeling

I propose the following format:
FirstNameLastName_ProjectName_Agency.mp3
Iím not saying thatís best (we need to include character names on some files, for example), but letís discuss and agree on a file name style that will work on 95% of the jobs.

3. Standard Slating

Some agents like slates, some do not. So I propose that all auditions include slates. YES, there will be certain circumstances where slates wonít work, but again, for the majority of the work, slating will be fine.

The format of the slate could be as follows:
"This is (TALENT NAME) for (AGENCY NAME).Ē
THAT WOULD DO IT

Thatís really it.

Itís been my experience that almost all auditions are in mp3 format so I donít think that needs to be addressed.

Of course, unique return email addresses are necessary based on how agents would organize themselves.

Nor can voice talents really do anything about audition lengths (specifically long form). On this topic, I believe the voice talents need to take their cues from the agents, knowing the agents will look out for the talents to make sure (as just one extreme example here) a voice talent isnít required to read an entire book chapter to audition for an audiobook.

LET'S DISCUSS THIS!

Let's start an industry discussion about this. The "it will never work, there are too many variables with each jobĒ lament is off the table.

Please share your thoughts in comments below, to me or to this article, and letís see if we can get a professional discussion between the agency world and the voice over world started on developing a logical solution to a universal industry issue.

Thanks for your consideration. I think itís doable. What say you?
---------------------
ABOUT PETER
Peter K. O'Connell is a voice over talent and producer - "America's friendly, neighborhood voice over talent" - whose clients range from Fortune 500 companies to companies that think $500 is a fortune. From his conversational everyman voice to hard-sell straight announcer performances, his voice overs appear in commercials, narrations, e-learning, documentary, TV promo, radio imaging and live announcing.


Email: peter@audioconnell.com
Web: www.audioconnell.com


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Comments (11)
Jeffrey Umberger
6/7/2014 at 12:51 AM
I am completely game for a unified system. One that cannot be breached and one that is soooo simple and intuitive. It can be done! I will follow/lead/amend/adjust-to whatever we need. I do agree that it's high time we streamline all of our extraneous and otherwise self-serving VO procedure wishes/needs so that the talent, buyers, and agents/casting/producers can all go home by 3pm. (Eastern standard) :)

Jeffrey Umberger
Umberger Agency
Peter K. O'Connell
6/6/2014 at 7:42 PM
The human condition is a funny yet often predictable thing.

"Change?!! Change is hard! It'll never work! It's impossible. And let me tell you how it CAN'T happen in all kinds of detail."

Really?!

Of course change isn't easy, but from a creative community like ours I'm surprised by the lack of vision from a few of you. Of course all talent don't properly label. Of course some agents aren't going to be immediately swayed. Does that mean you just stop?

Labeling is just a little administrative issue. We can't all work together to fix this little problem?

Remember when people told you starting your own VO business or agency was nuts? But you did it anyway.

Change starts with an idea - even, in this case, if it isn't this exact idea...maybe it evolves. Or maybe someone comes up with a better idea. Awesome...but at least we are moving the ball forward. We are progressing.

How about this....be proactive. My attitude is I try not to point out a problem without then proposing a solution. It may not be a perfect solution but it's a start.

So don't come to this discussion with a "no." Come here with a "no, but..." Each of you has great insight on how to make things better in your own successful businesses...so let's do that!

We are a community, let's work together like one! :)

Best always,
-Peter
Trouble Starter and Earth Scorcher :)
Connie Terwilliger
6/4/2014 at 5:25 PM
Usually the slating and naming specs are on the same page as the audition copy, so it is fairly simple when I am awake while doing auditions (with my win ratio lately I am beginning to think that I must be doing them in my sleep) to read the slating instructions - do that - then scroll down to the audition copy - glancing at the specs along the way. Then cutting and pasting the file name and saving it to the right folder.

My biggest trouble lately is doing the edit on an audition - getting it all cleaned up and nice - and then forgetting to save the edited version and ending up attaching the raw read to the email back to the agent. Yeah, that's happened. Hopefully not with the takes where I am swearing like a sailor because the copy is so frikn' ridiculous. That happened today - the swearing part - but I edited that out before sending.
Johnny George
6/3/2014 at 4:26 PM
Frankly Peter, I think mostly all of what you said makes perfect sense. However, there will always be agents who prefer their own way of doing it and the chance that the client themselves have their own style will override that too.

You broached the subject and got everyone talking about it. That's more than anyone else has done, so I say, good luck to all of us and I applaud your efforts to even bring the subject out of the shadows and put it on the table.

Bravo. Now, let's toss it around and see where it goes. Thank you, Peter.
Peter Bishop
6/3/2014 at 2:07 PM
As a group, VOs sometimes forget where they are in the order of things. Only last night (on EWABS) there was a discussion where VOs were asking "should we/how should we slate." The only answer is "However you're told to." Not doing so (as per Erik's post) simply shows that you are not paying attention to detail, or, at worst, an arrogant SOB who knows better! Either way will get you into the big round file in a heartbeat.

This is an agent issue, and I suspect that getting them to agree on anything will actually be more difficult than organizing VOs! (And we know how easy that is!) In the meantime, I'll just do what I'm told and simply request that all agents make it very clear on the request what they need (as most do). Don't make me guess.

I hate to say it, but this is getting into the area of the tail wagging the dog... nice if we could, but I don't give it a snowball's chance in hell! Bob (as usual) pretty much nailed it.
Alan Sklar
6/3/2014 at 12:07 PM
Peter...
Lovely idea! So sensible and user friendly.
I wonder if the egos of some industry folks might not accept your suggestions.
Ah, well, if many agents jump onto this very sensible bandwagon, we will all benefit.
Bob Bergen
6/3/2014 at 11:44 AM
In a perfect world, this would be great. But this is not a perfect world, let alone perfect business. Not all agents would comply.

First of all, they don't have to. They have the talent, they have the clients who hire the talent, they have the staff, all conditioned on how they like their submissions for their business. To alter their business model just to make actor's lives easier is not a priority.

My own agent has us adjust our labels depending on the buyer's preference. They have their own formula, but I need to look at every single audition to see exactly how I need to label my read. Some are very particular. Do we tell the buyers that we have our universal way of labeling, take it or leave it??

With every audition my agent makes it very clear how the file needs to be labeled. Yes, some actors don't pay attention and the agent needs to adjust before submitting. But I also happen to have an agency that listens to every single audition. It's not uncommon that they ask for a redo, or even re-edit the audition before sending to the buyer, especially if more than one take is on the file. The agent might decide to start off with take 3 rather than take 1. This happens a lot. And the agent has communicated with the buyer. You need to trust their expertise and input. If they are willing to go that extra mile to get us the job, adjusting the label is par to the course.

And many agents don't want us to slate the name of the agency. Time is money, and when the buyer is listening to the file from the Joe Schmoe Talent Agency, to have to listen to each and every actor slate the name of the agency over and over is stating the obvious. It's redundant and time consuming. Yet, many agents like this. That's because they want to make sure they get the credit for the booking, as today many of us have an agent in every port. And, as often as I've heard from buyers how they hate this kind of slate, it's still a common practice. And, ya gotta do what your agent prefers.

Same goes when doing a character audition. Unless directed to, there's no need to slate the name of the character. It's on a file labeled for that character. Put yourself in the buyer's seat. Each actor gets a 4-10 second chance to wow em. If some of that time is taken up slating the obvious, I know to the actor it doesn't seem like a lot of time. But multiply that by 500 submissions, and the time adds up.

Our job is to audition. The booking is everything from circumstance, luck, relationships, sales, etc. But our job is to audition. The easiest part of the process is labeling. I have post-it notes all over my desk to remind me how each agent likes the slate and label. It is what it is. And if I want to be in the game, I need to follow the rules. That's show biz!
Peter K. O'Connell
6/3/2014 at 11:31 AM
Hi Erik,

I had to smile when noticing the first response was yours because Voice Talent Productions has the clearest and simplest audition labeling specifications of all my voice-over agents. And you're so on top of file labeling that you were the first to advise on audition files that I not include the apostrophe in my name because the computers were having trouble with the apostrophe on the upload. Now I omit it on all file labels.

You're correct that every agency that has their own labeling system will want to keep their own file labels. But if every voice-over agency could "drop their shields" for a moment on this one issue and be willing to change their audition file nomenclature (I'm not sure if that's the right word but I sure feel smarter using it) to a more universal format, then I think the efficacy for both agent and talent will make their collective professional lives just a bit easier.

Oh, and one last thing I neglected to mention. Like Mr/Ms. Dewey who invented the library filing system Dewey Decimal, I would like this this universal voice-over audition labeling system to be named the "O'Connell Oh Hell Yes Voice-over Audition Labeling System." And everybody must pay me a penny each time they submit and audition.

Best always,
- Peter
Jeffrey Umberger
6/3/2014 at 10:40 AM
Hey Peter, great topic, and one that I have been attempting to hone and perfect myself. Streamlining is ALWAYS a good thing. As you say, there can be several variables with each project that cause a standardized format to become flexible but not break.

I have tried to use a template for auditions, and sometimes it works great, and other times not. A lot depends on how the end client actually submits the auditions to us as agents, and therefore our eventual audition release reflects their materials and specs, etc. For the most part, thankfully, it's pretty uniform.

I would say your ideas are very workable ones, and I would only change a couple of things according to how I need/prefer when compiling and posting my audition returns. I don't mind a slate, but definitely not at the top. At the end is best. I want the client to hear their material first thing. Clean.

Also, as far as labeling the mp3, for a couple of technical and organizational reasons I prefer to have the client name or project/product name first. That keeps files easier to locate on a saved hard drive or in 'downloads,' as well as the standard uniformity of having the client's name first, then the talent, then the agency (and yes, with sometimes adding in character or 'role').

This is a very quick off-the-top-of-my-head response. Back to the auditions! ;) Thanks for caring and for trying to help make it better for all of us!
Anonymous
6/3/2014 at 10:25 AM
As someone who works in an agency's booth, I can tell you that we have an established file naming, formatting and slating protocol that is clearly defined, and that perhaps 40% of our talent actually follow these guidelines. In addition, we frequently have buyers who have their own file naming preferences. When that is the case, we clearly put that on the copy in the specs. Again, about 40% compliance.

As a talent you may have as many as half a dozen agents for which you need to adjust.

As Erik said, that's a good problem to have. As an agency we have to take scores (sometimes hundreds) of auditions and make them as consistent as possible, from file formats to sound levels to file naming. It takes hours out of the work day that could be better spent recoding more talent.

We do the work because we want every one of our clients to have the best possible chance at booking, Your agent or buyer may not be as conscientious, as evidenced by the Cashman quote. Just food for thought.
Erik Sheppard
6/3/2014 at 9:30 AM
Sure. Please get all the other agencies to follow our format and then we'll be fine. Of course, they will say the same thing.

We have begged and pleaded with talent to name files properly and still have some that can not get it together even though we send a reminder with every audition and it's just FirstLast_Project.mp3. Improperly named files can result in your audition not uploading properly (we all use different systems) or just not being heard because it gets lost in the shuffle or because it's not really our job to correct them so they are just deleted.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor inconvenience for talent. Those that have so many agents that it is hard for them to keep track should be thankful for all of their representation.

To paraphrase the great Marc Cashman: "If you can't label your file as asked then I will assume you are an idiot and incapable of doing the job anyway."
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