Ever wondered what it takes to be successful at Voices.com? Voice over coach and talent J. Michael Collins interviews Zack Taylor, one of the busiest working talent on the site, to learn more about what he’s doing to win jobs and his approach for auditioning via the online voice-over marketplace.
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As an industry-leading voice talent and coach, J. Michael Collins is able to call upon a wealth of experience and accumulated knowledge to provide his clients with the very best product possible. Throughout his career, he has dedicated himself to providing voiceovers of superior quality to all of his clients, large and small. From advertisements for major corporations such as Coca Cola and McDonald’s, movie trailers for worldwide release, television documentaries, Fortune 500 corporate narration, and audio-books, to promos for the local pizza place, his experience with a wide range of clients allows him to expertly create a perfect product for them, whatever their needs.
About Zack Taylor
Zack Taylor is known for both his clear and articulate voice and his passion for bringing a client’s vision to life.
He has a wide range of styles from conversational “guy next door” to hard sell pitchman, and has a relatable sound that works for everything from fun and friendly explainer videos to technical and medical e-learning.
His credits include such well-known brands such as AOL, Cisco, Swatch, Intel, Oracle, HP, Mobil, Chicago Tribune, Bank of America, Nissan and Planet Hollywood, and his client-based focus keeps them coming back again and again.
Welcome to Voice Over Experts, brought to you by Voices.com the number one voice over marketplace. Voice Over Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom, and techniques from top instructors, authors and performers in the field of voice over. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voice over talent. It’s never been easier to learn, perform and succeed from the privacy of your own home, and at your own pace. This is truly an education you won’t find anywhere else. Now for our special guest.
Michael: Hello, everyone. And welcome to this voices.com podcast. I’m J. Michael Collins. And I’m proud to be joined today by Zack Taylor, one of the leading voices in the history of voices.com and an example of the drive, talent and professionalism needed to succeed in the challenging business of voice overs.
Zack is one of voices.com’s all-time favourite voices, as chosen by clients and voice seekers. And Zack’s demos have been listened to more times than any other male talent on the site. Welcome, Zack.
Zack: Hey, thanks. Nice to be here. And thanks for that. You know, voice overs are, like, a borderline obsession for me. So I really appreciate that.
Michael: To begin, Zack, tell us a bit about your career as a voice talent and how you came to be a part of the voices.com community.
Zack: Okay. Let me see. I started doing voice overs as an extension of my radio work that I had been doing since college. And, at first, it was just like an assembly line of routine car dealer spots and “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday” and that sort of thing. And then, slowly but surely, I realized that it was much more about acting than it was about announcing. And certainly more than just about screaming.
But, anyway, I can’t remember who told me this but somewhere along the line someone said to me, “Find the love in the copy.” And it really took me a while to get that. But after I started to look at every voice over as a unique individual piece, whether it was a commercial, or when I got into e-learning or audio books or whatever, when I really tried to find the love in the copy and get into whatever it was that made this particular project unique, that’s when things started to take off for me.
And I don’t mean to sound all philosophical and everything but I, kind of, started looking at it from the client’s perspective. I mean, for me, this spot would be just one of several I was doing that day. But, for the client, this was the one spot he had spent all day or all week putting his or her heart and soul into. And, for me, that made a difference in how I approached it.
So at the point where I was starting to get some regular work, just mainly through my own website and referrals and that sort of thing, a friend told me about voices.com. And, at first, I was really hesitant about buying a membership. But I told myself I would try it for a month and if I could just book one spot that would pay for it and I would keep going.
Michael: That’s really great, Zack. Good advice. I think your customer service philosophy is … really exemplifies why you’ve had so much success in this business. How long did it take you to book your first job on voices.com?
Zack: I actually got one the first week. And I was so stoked. I mean, it was like this works, this actually works, you know. Because, with the internet and everything, it’s all going on in this little box on your desk and it doesn’t seem like it’s really real. But when I got that first one I was, like, I may actually be onto something here.
Michael: And how long after that would you say it was before voices.com became a significant part of your business?
Zack: I would have to say almost immediately. Within the first, like, few months it had become my primary source for VO work. And, on top of that, some of my new clients referred to some of their friends. So it really started to snowball.
And I was doing all my VO’s out of the production studio at a radio network where I had been working. But about six months in I realized that a home studio was absolutely mandatory, not just to do the work itself but to do all the auditions they send out as soon as possible. I mean, you’ll never get a gig if you’re not listened to. So the earlier you get it in, the better.
So, basically, I started spending more and more time in my home studio until, eventually, I would just be in there all day, either doing a job or an audition. I would do my gigs for the day. And then, in between projects, I would do the auditions as they came in, in hopes to generating new business and keep things snowballing even more.
Michael: In your opinion, what elements must a talent focus on to achieve success on voices.com?
Zack: Well, there’s a couple of things. I think the number-one thing is to get the job. And, for every job you get, you have to do a lot of auditions. What sucks is every audition I do I think to myself, “Nailed it,” “That’s one is in the bag.” But, of course, it’s not because there’s a hundred other very talented guys out there, just like yourself, who think they’ve nailed it too.
So, obviously, we can’t all be right. And it’s come down to some subjective criteria the voice seeker has in mind, whether it’s … you know, the tone of voice, the delivery, some unique style or whatever. You can’t control what they have in mind for the project. And all you can do is try to find the love in the copy, as I said. And then you give it your best shot.
And it’s just a matter of numbers. Sooner or later, what you deliver is going to match what one of these producers has in mind and you’ll get the job. But you got to keep auditioning.
I said before, I got my first job in about a week. And, believe me, I know that was very, very lucky. A lot of people I know get discouraged when nothing happens for a while. But you got to stay in there and you just keep at it. And them more auditions you do, the better you’re going to get. And if you’re doing good auditions, sooner or later, hopefully, good things will start to happen.
And you need to get the auditions in sooner rather than later too. Because after listening to a ton of auditions I’m sure a lot of voice seekers figure they’ve heard enough. So the earlier you get in the greater your chance of getting listened to. And, of course, you’ve got to be heard to get the job.
The other big thing is customer service after you get the job. You got to make sure your recording is clean, you got to edit out clicks, and pops and mouth noises and [breathes] loud breaths, you know, and stuff like that. And you got to make sure you haven’t screwed up the script at all. You got to listen back to the entire thing, while reading along, so you know you got it all right. You don’t want your client to think you haven’t focused 100 percent on their project.
And chances are your client will want a fast turnaround. Everyone seems to. You know, “I need it yesterday,” that sort of thing. So if you can give them same-day or 24-hour service they’ll appreciate it and, I promise, they’ll come back for more.
And, you know, obviously, if it’s some massive audio book or e-learning project that may not be realistic. But bottom line on any of that under promise and over deliver. If they say, “Hey, I need this spot by tomorrow,” get it to them today. They have a big project and say, “I need it by Thursday,”? get it to them on Wednesday.
I think it was FedEx that used the slogan, “Our most important package is yours.” And I think that’s a brilliant way to sum up how to make your client feel.
Michael: Tell us about your studio, Zack. What sort of acoustical treatment are you working with and what type of equipment do you have? What microphone or microphones have helped you rise to the pinnacle of this business?
Zack: Well, it does all start with a microphone. You just can’t skimp on that. There’s a lot of good options out there, a lot of different price ranges. But, for me, I like the Neumann TLM 103. It’s got a very clear and rich sound that I think works for everything from e-learning to a car dealer spot.
I think for people just starting out with a home studio they might want to listen to some demos that they really like with voices that have a similar tone to theirs. And then ask them what mic they use.
From the mic, I go to a Symetrix 528E Processer, which I love, particularly for the great noise gate it has. You know, if a client hears an audition and there’s a hiss or background noise or whatever then you’re not going to get the job. So, for my money, that is super important. The EQ is really good. It brings out all the right frequencies.
It took me a while to find the right settings that work with my voice and my mic. But one I did I have never changed them. And I don’t use a lot of compression and if I want to add some or if a client wants reverb or something like that I’ll do it in my editing software.
So, from there, I go into a Tascam US144 USB interface. And that goes into my computer. And I use Adobe Audition 3.0, which has everything I need.
Pro Tools I know is really good too. But I went with Adobe mainly because with Pro Tools you have to save in real time, which is not a big deal for a thirty-second spot but if you’ve got an hour e-learning piece or something like that, you know, that’s a lot of waiting.
And acoustics are really, really important. You simply cannot have echo and stuff like that. This is another thing where you got to do it right but you do have some options.
So, first, you got to look at your work space. I would really have loved to have converted a walk-in closet. But I don’t have one, so I used the guest room instead, which sucks for any guests that may come over now because now they’re relegated to the couch but, you know, you got do what you go to do.
So, anyway, I tried a bunch of things in the early going to try and do it as cheaply as possible and they all, pretty much, failed miserably. Like, towels draped over a Styrofoam, kind of, tepee. It was horrible and it kept falling down, kind of, like, every fort I had ever built out of couch cushions as a kid.
But, anyway, after tons of stops and starts and throwing good money after bad I figured this is silly and I’m just going to bite the bullet. And I actually built a wooden booth that’s six feet high and three feet wide. And I got the top of line acoustic foam from Auralex, and I put it inside and it’s awesome.
And it was, kind of, funny to my friends who knew I didn’t have the home improvement gene. Because for this booth I had to, like, plan it out, and make a diagram, and put piano hinges on it so it could be folded and moved and it’s got a lid. And they’re like, “Oh, my God. You did this? You gotta be kidding me.”
And it’s not like it’s really any great thing. But, for me, it was a big accomplishment and I like to call it “my TARDIS”, which is a Doctor Who reference because I’m a bit of sci-fi geek.
But, anyway, the whole booth cost around, like, $250.00 to make, with the wood and the foam, and it works really great. The only thing was it was only three quarters enclosed, because with the space I had to work with … I had my computer on the desk behind me. So I was getting a little echo off the back wall.
So I got some sound absorption sheets from Audimute and I put them on the walls. And they’re, kind of, like, moving blankets but, like, way better and they killed any remaining echo that was bouncing around. And they were, like, 25 bucks each or something. And they’re really big, like, four by six, so I didn’t need a whole lot of them.
Michael: Is your studio ISDN equipped?
Zack: No, I don’t have ISDN, mainly because personally I don’t have enough requests for it to make it cost effective. If I’m ever at the point where I feel like I’m losing work because of it then, sure, I would take the plunge. But, by and large, for me, I found that FTP pretty much covers everything. And if a client wants to direct the session or something like, that then we can do that over the phone. And Skype has become a necessity for a lot of clients overseas. And, of course, that’s all free.
Michael: Thinking about talent who may just be starting out on voices.com, what advice would you give them with regard to building a studio environment that will be effective in generating business for them?
Zack: Well, don’t skimp on the microphone. I mean, you don’t have to get a Neumann or any of the top tier brands but you can’t go Radio Shack, you know, and expect it to sound competitive. I would say expect to spend at least a couple hundred on a good mic and that will get you started.
What’s cool is some music stores have setups where you can test out different mics so you can get, like, the most bang for your buck. And the same goes for the rest of your audio chain and your acoustics. You don’t have to go top of the line just yet, especially if you’re just, kind of, testing the voice over waters. But you have to make some level of investment to get a good enough quality to be competitive from the get-go. And you can sometimes get great deals on used stuff on eBay, which again is great if you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of money to invest.
Michael: How many demos do you have on your voices.com page?
Zack: At the moment I have 32, which as I say it sounds kind of ridiculous. But, for me, I have things broken down into genres, as well styles. You know, I got commercials, and e-learning and audio books and such. And then high energy stuff, conversational, generation ‘x’ or ‘y’ or whatever other niches someone may ask for.
Plus, I was actually born in the UK, so I have different demoes for that accent too. Basically, my philosophy is when a job posting comes up and they want a generic demo for a very specific style, I want to make sure I’ve got one to send that’s exactly like that.
Michael: In your opinion, how many demos should a voices.com talent post in order to maximize their chances for success on the site?
Zack: At least one for every category you can do, since you never know what people are going to be searching for. I don’t know the exact number. I think there’s, like, a dozen or so categories on voices.com. They’ve got commercials, or podcasts or television. So you want to have one in every one that you can.
For your main demo, which is the one that will probably be listened to the most, put in a representative sample of all of the above since you never know what someone who hears it may be looking for.
Michael: All right. Tell us, are there any tricks or techniques you use when preparing for a read or do you just dive in?
Zack: As far as auditions go, the only trick to preparing, for me, is to really read the posting to find out what they want out of the read. There’s their description, and the key words at the bottom and the script itself. But the hard part is getting inside their head to see if what they’re saying they want is really what they want. They may say “high energy” but they may be thinking more like an upbeat friendliness as opposed to, you know, “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.” So try to get what you can out of the description and then just go with your gut and give it your best shot.
When I’m doing an actual job, particularly if it’s a long project, I’ll just dive in. If I screw up or don’t know how to pronounce something, I’ll just stop and go again and then I’ll edit it out later. And, for me, this is a much more effective use of my time than doing, like, a practice read. Or if I do feel I need to do a practice read, for whatever reason, I’ll record it anyway. And if it turns out great, I’ll just use it.
Michael: How many auditions do you record in an average week on voices.com?
Zack: I’m just ball parking here but I would have to say about fifty. Probably ten a day on average, sometimes more, not usually less though.
Michael: When you record an audition how many reads do you general give the voice seeker?
Zack: Generally, one. I give it my best shot and I hope for the best. And I’m really on the fence about the approach to take then I may do two. But, looking at it from the client’s perspective, if they have fifty or more auditions to go through I’m not sure they’ll give your audition enough time to get to the second read. So you really got to hope you nailed it right from the get-go. Plus, the time I take to do a second read for one audition takes time away from getting my next auction in as early as possible.
Michael: Can you tell us about some interesting clients you have booked through voices.com?
Zack: That’s a tough one. You know, it’s like every job is an adventure, so to speak. I’ve done a lot of video games and those are a ton of fun. But I’m always left wondering how it ends, which drives me nuts.
International clients are always interesting because, in a lot of ways, they have a different perspective on how they present things and how they sell things. And it’s always fascinating to see what someone in Belarus or whatever is into.
I did a thing once for Hungry Howie’s where they wanted an acapella jingle at the end. So I sang all four parts barber shop style and I mixed it together and that came out really cool.
And then some of the medical tutorials I’ve done. They may seem really dry and not too sexy but I actually learn a lot, and I find them really interesting and I learn a ton of new words I’ve never heard before.
And one of the big things right now are the explainer videos for, like, new apps and stuff with the kinetic typography type of presentation. You know, then wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to find, you know, whatever. And the apps they’re coming out with these days are just mind blowing. And I read somewhere that there’s something like 60,000 new apps coming out every month. So being the first to hear about these things is really pretty fun. And I’m actually probably some of these guys’ first customers.
Michael: All right, Zack. How would you describe your voice?
Zack: “In a world …” No way, that’s not me, that’s you. No, I always want to be an “in a world” guy but I was just not blessed with those kind of [wayvoes], so … really, you got to work with what you got. And in general I, kind of, have a friendly all-American corporate sound. And then, depending on the read, I’ll call upon whatever voice acting skills I have to branch out from there.
Michael: Are there any read styles that you would say your voice is best suited for or do you audition for anything and everything that comes your way?
Zack: Let’s see, Morgan Freeman, no, Denis Leary, no, Don LaFontaine, definitely no. You know, actually, when I first started out I would audition for some of these because I figured what the heck. But, after a while, I realized that by taking the time to do auditions for job I was 99 percent sure I wasn’t going to get it would take away from getting in early on jobs that I did have a realistic shot of getting, like, the informative corporate reads or the friendly guy next door stuff.
So, no, I don’t audition for everything. Not to say I don’t stretch my range a little bit sometimes but within reason.
Michael: Do you have any funny stories about work you’ve done through voices.com?
Zack: One that really sticks out for me is a job I auditioned for in February of one year and they awarded me the job in June of the next year, like, sixteen months later. I’m like, wow, some people really do like to mull things over.
What was really funny was when I was listening back to the audition on the site I’m all, well, I know that sounds like me, and I know it says it’s me and there’s my picture but I don’t remember reading this at all. And I started to think it was, like, some form of amnesia or something until I realized the date on it was from over a year ago. And I was like, whoa.
Michael: Any cautionary tales?
Zack: Actually, no. And, honestly, I don’t want to sound like a sales pitch here but I really haven’t had any bad experiences on the site. I mean, there may be the occasional Columbo clients, you know, “one more thing”, “one more thing” but that’s to be expected when you’re working with someone’s baby. You know, to us it’s our next job but to them it’s their baby. So expect them to treat it like that and we should too.
I know a lot of people are concerned about watermarking auditions and that sort of thing. So, for me, the answer is just not to record the entire project right there in the audition. I usually don’t do more than thirty seconds. Ideally, just like fifteen or twenty if there’s a good stopping point. And if there’s just, like, two lines I’ll just do one. And if I have any suspicions at all, for whatever reason, I’ll just send them my generic demo.
Michael: If you could leave our audience with one piece of advice for achieving success in this business what would it be?
Zack: I would say audition early and often. The more you do the better at it you’ll get and the faster at it you’ll get. And if you really, really believe in yourself, don’t give up.
Michael: That’s good advice, Zack. I think everybody should listen to what you have to say on that point. Thank you for joining me today, Zack, and for all of the valuable insight you’ve offered our audience. I’m sure everybody listening appreciates your willingness to take the time to give us the benefit of your experience and the expertise that you’ve accumulated over your time on voices.com. Much obliged.
Zack: Oh, my pleasure, sir. I got to say there were some great questions in there. And I really hope there was at least a nugget or two of info that will help some people out. So thanks for having me. It was fun. I love this stuff.
Michael: And I would like to thank all of you for listening today to the good advice of my friend, Zack Taylor. You can find Zack on the web at thezackman.com or through his voices.com page. And you can find me at jmcvoiceover.com or also through my voices.com page.
For Zack Taylor and for voices.com, I’m J. Michael Collins, wishing you a great day and continued success.
Thank you for joining us. To learn more about the special guest featured in this voices.com podcast visit the voice over experts show notes at podcasts.voices.com/voiceoverexperts. Remember to say subscribed. If you’re a first-time listener, you can subscribe for free to this podcast in the Apple iTunes podcast directory or by visiting podcasts.voices.com. To start your voice over career online, go to voices.com and register for a voice talent membership today. This has been a voices.com production.