Voiceovers Are Like Produce
Since my wife began pursuing her undergrad online and I started working more consistently from home, it has been necessary for me to take on more of the day-to-day household tasks that keep our lives running smoothly—well, mostly smoothly…okay, just running at least. They’re small chores for the most part: keeping up on the dishes, doing the laundry, occasionally cooking a meal, periodically checking to make sure our daughter is still alive, those sorts of things.
One task that has, surprisingly, been a bit more challenging is our weekly grocery shopping. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Seriously, Tyler? How challenging can it be to go to the store and collect items from the list you have in your hand? Oh, if only it were that simple. Because of the way we’ve chosen to pursue health through clean eating and due to the limited options and supply of stock in any given store here, I generally need to stop at 4-5 stores minimum to complete our grocery list. It sort of feels like a marathon and a scavenger hunt all wrapped into one mind-numbing—and often disappointing—event.
What’s more? My wife is a bit of a self-proclaimed foodie. She loves to cook; it’s one of the primary ways she expresses creativity and demonstrates her love for us. Because of this, she’s somewhat (read: a heckuvalot) more particular about the ingredients she chooses than I am. If it weren’t for her studies, she’d definitely be the one picking out our weekly sustenance. Not only does it give her more control over the screening process of what is allowed to make the transition from grocery store to our pantry, but she also genuinely enjoys it. It’s a sacrifice for her to have to delegate the shopping to me.
Alas, life often seems to be about making tough choices, so for the time being, you’ll find me scouring the shelves for limes and fresh chicken breast filets (two of our more regularly unavailable items, in case you were wondering). Being willing to give up the grocery shopping, however, doesn’t mean my wife permits me to do so willy-nilly. I needed to receive some basic education for how to shop well. There are many varieties of rice, for instance, but only one of them is suitable for her authentic Mexican dishes. This is also where I learned to read labels, and if certain ingredients are present, I return that item to the shelf like it wants to kill me—and maybe it sort of does… Most importantly, though, I had to learn how to select produce properly.
Don’t Be Fooled!
You see, fresh fruits and veggies can be tricky. They might look nice on the outside but could be so underripe they won’t be ready for the meal they’re meant to be a part of. Worse, they could be overripe and end up as an indistinguishable blob of mold in the crisper before you know it. Selecting produce that is just ripe enough for whatever its intended purpose, I have found, is an art form all its own. Do you know how to tell if a pineapple is ready to eat? I do! Try to pick it up by the small, center-most leaves. If the leaf detaches with little to no effort, it’s good to go. Gentle pressure on a lot of produce—avocados, pears, plums, peaches, etc.—will let you know if they’re ripe or not. A honeydew’s color is the first indicator of whether it’s edible or not. When the rind has turned from green to a creamy yellow, it’s probably ready. From there, you can also gently press on the melon’s end opposite the stem. If there’s some give, start prepping your fruit salad.
In a lot of ways, selecting voiceover gigs to audition for is similar to choosing good produce. By this I mean it takes time to learn to do it well, it should be done carefully and with some preliminary research, and it should never be done on an empty stomach.
Whoa, That’s a Lot…Right?
Like that devious produce, many VO gigs look really great at first glance—especially to newer voice talent like myself—but underneath the shiny exterior they are rotten to the core. One of the first, and most challenging, things I’ve had to learn in navigating VO is understanding project rates. Whenever I see the words, “Please state your rate,” on an audition, my mind sort of goes fuzzy and my internal processor needs a moment to reboot. What’s a good rate to charge for a regional commercial running for 3 months? How about for a company’s internal eLearning module? Or what about for web content narration that will be used in perpetuity? Uhhhh… Yeah, it’s all still very mysterious and overwhelming to me, too. Luckily, there are handy tools, like the GVAA rate guide, and other experienced VO artists (see Paul Schmidt’s recent blog post about handling lowball budgets; it’s super informative) to give voice talent an indication of what to charge for a specific type of project and how to assess if a listed project rate is reasonable.
Scammers Gonna Scam
Another, unfortunate, reality that voice talent need to be prepared for when selecting produce…I mean auditions, rather, is the fact that not everyone has your best interests at heart. As sad as it may be, there are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to prey on the naïveté and inexperience of newer VO artists. I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve seen on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter from other VO folks saying something along the lines of, “I’m finally a real voice actor! I received the Game Show Host scam email!” This is a scam that’s made the rounds so many times, the VO community has begun fondly mocking it because what else are we gonna do? Fellow talent and the King of VO-blogging, Paul Strikwerda, recently posted a mini-blog outlining some of the ways scammers try to take advantage of VO artists. He advises talent to “Be a PRO and PROtect yourself and your reputation…” His experienced insight and advice help us to do just that.
I’ve run into my fair share of scams in my work narrating audiobooks, as well. The Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), where many new and aspiring narrators get their start, has become so rife with fake projects it’s almost humorous—almost. Scammers will often post books they do not have the rights to or “books” that are artificially generated in the hopes of ensnaring unsuspecting new narrators to do the work of producing an audiobook, thereby generating royalties for the fraud. Thankfully, the VO community is one that takes care of their own, and I have learned how to spot and avoid these fake listings.
What Do the Stories You Tell Say About You?
One final piece to consider when choosing a ripe VO gig to audition for is whether or not it’s actually a good fit for you. It can be extremely tempting, especially at first, to audition for anything and everything in the hopes of gaining experience or getting credits under your belt. When sifting through listings, though, it’s important to ask yourself if a given project is one you want to be associated with in the future. Is it something that will strengthen your portfolio, or will you be embarrassed to have participated in it? Is it in line with your values, or are you compromising what you believe in for a few bucks? Is the client reputable, or do they give you that feeling in your gut that you should run away, hide, and protect yourself with the toy lightsabers that definitely are not in your closet.
My voice and my name are my products—my brand—in this industry. I want to make sure that I take the time to choose projects that are going to align with my brand and help build it up, make it strong, and enable it to last.
I’ve gotten a lot better at selecting good produce since I’ve become my family’s designated grocery shopper. Sure, there are times when I still pick a dud, but that’s all a part of the learning process. In the same way, I’ve come a long way in figuring out how to discern which VO gigs are worth pursuing and which ones to let slide. I’m not a PRO yet, though (always working on it, Paul), so I still ask a lot of questions and seek advice from the incredibly generous community of VO superheroes I’m privileged to be a part of. With their help, I know I’ll continue to grow and expand my repertoire with only the ripest projects. And who knows? Maybe someday soon I’ll receive the Game Show Host scam email and become a real voiceover artist! In the meantime, I’ve got to keep searching for those limes.
Until next time, friends, keep telling stories.
Voiceover Artist | Storyteller
Like what you read here? Looking for more ways to sate that hunger for VO-related content? Try checking out some of these other awesome blogs from within the VO community!