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Where To Start in Voiceovers

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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Join Voice Over Expert Bernard Shaw of the UK as he teaches you about “Where to Start in Voiceovers”. The secret? Learn how to focus on the realities of the voiceover industry and carefully research what you have to offer, and equally, research what all employers are looking for.

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Bernard Shaw, UK, Voiceover Coach, UK voice talent, Creative Edge Audio, Voice Overs, Voice Acting

Transcript of Where To Start in Voiceovers

[Opening Music]
Julie-Ann Dean: Welcome to Voiceover Experts brought to you by Voices.com, the number one voiceover marketplace. Voiceover Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom and techniques from top instructors, authors and performers in the field of voiceover. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voiceover talent. It’s never been easier to learn, perform, and succeed from the privacy of your own home and your own pace. This is truly an education you won’t find anywhere else.
Now for our special guest.
Bernard Shaw: Okay. You say you want to be on the Voiceover Artist, where do you start? There are many answers as to where you can start. I think the most important thing you can do is to focus on how the industry actually works as opposed to how you imagine that the industry works.
In my opinion there are more lies told about voiceover than (sex and fiction) put together and one of the problems is that people will say to you, “I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do this. You ought to do that. You ought to do this.” And quite honestly, most of it is bollocks. Also I have to say that everything that I say is bollocks because it is the nature of life that whatever you say is either a truth or has a parallel existence that’s absolutely rubbish and there are people who will listen to what I have to say and absolutely disagree because for them, life was different. They just happen to get a different ticket in the lottery and suddenly there are voiceover artists without any rhyme nor reason or more dreadfully without any ability to do the job. But, they just have this magic wand waved over them that you know, the good fairy said, “You will be a voiceover artist and you will earn a fortune.”
For the rest of us, I think life is slightly different and the important thing is as I have said but I say it again, is to focus on the realities of the industry and also, the realities of what you, as a potential voiceover artist has to offer. Now, as a voiceover employer on behalf of other organizations and also myself from time to time, I noticed that I get approached by people looking for work who present themselves to me inevitably as a problem looking for a solution. The kind of thing I’m talking about is I get inevitably a letter in a horrible brown envelope often badly written, badly spelled and certainly badly presented which says things, “Mr. Shaw, I’m an actor and I left college four years ago and I can sing and I can dance and I can do classical and I can do modern and I can do 47 different accents, speak five languages and a range of city voices that impress my grandmother. But I haven’t worked for six months. I’ll do anything you want. Give us a job,” which doesn’t impress me or any other employer in the industry.
The person concerned is clearly desperate but not desperate enough to actually sit down and look at how things really work. They are presenting themselves to me and other employers as a problem looking for a solution. The people that interest us, all employers are those who present themselves as a solution looking for a problem. In that, the person that I’m interested in or anybody else is interested in is the voiceover artist who has done – or potential voiceover artist who has a, researched quite carefully what they have to offer and one of the guaranteed ways of not finding employment is to offer yourself as versatile.
It’s a fact of life that very few people cast versatile. You know if you think of two circle creative directors in an advertising agency having got pissed at lunchtime. You know, it’s 5:00 in the afternoon. It’s just about time to go out and get pissed again and they suddenly remember they have to cast this commercial for tomorrow. The last thing they say to each other is, “What we need is a versatile voice.” They know exactly what they want and the cliché I use is they need a 21-year-old female, Jordie, educated, husky voice with a sense of fun and so, the guy who sent out a CD with 40 minutes worth of material demonstration of 67 different voices and who has found himself filed under V for versatile doesn’t get a look-in because they’re going to look under J for Jordie because they don’t know any better.
So, the trick is to research exactly what it is that you have to offer and achely research exactly what it is that all employers are looking for and all employers are not looking for the same thing. The internet is a wonderful tool and it’s quite possible to put people’s names, company names, even phone numbers into Google and you’ll find a wealth of information of the areas in which different companies are operating and if you’ve researched what they are doing, what you have to offer, you can then put the two things together and present yourself as a potential solution to somebody else’s problem, i.e. you approach Saatchi and Saatchi, the advertising agency with three or four commercial voiceovers and not with your Shakespeare or your poetry. But actors are always making the mistake of thinking, “Well, I’ll send them my chocolate commercial but I’ll put my Shakespeare on the end as well so they know I’m a real actor.” They really couldn’t give a task whether you can act or not.
One of the reasons there is acting is about truth and commercials are about lying. So when you spend years and years being able to tell the truth through Shakespeare, who cares? They want you to lie about a flake bar or whatever. And so you can do yourself this service by mixing the various areas of work in terms of sending out demos or well, we never use the word demos – sending out tapes that cover to widen area.
One of the things that I tell people that they have to send – and in similar places, is the CD that you send out because mostly nowadays, it is the CD rather than a cassette is of paramount importance right from the moment it arrives on somebody else’s desk. In that, somebody sends me something in a scruffy brown envelope, it doesn’t make an impression. If it’s in a white envelope, preferably a patted envelope with a nicely printed label saying who it’s from, what it is they have to offer, that’s interesting because I know the person has a grasp of how the business works.
When I open it, I would expect to see a beautifully packaged CD that looked as if it had come from HMV or certainly being bought at the shop, not a blank, white label with a phone number written on (indiscernible) and I would also expect the packaging to tell me something about the person. I would expect a photograph, some details of the kind of work that they’ve undertaken or the kind of fields in which they do work both in theatre interestingly and television and film as well as voiceover and I’d expect a photograph interestingly. Although this is about voice, it is interesting to know what people look like.
One area which is slightly difficult for people is it – often the question, the race question comes into play. You may not be able to tell from a voice nowadays what their particular ethnic origin is but you may want to cast somebody for admirable reasons. You may want to cast a black man to be a black man rather than a white man to be black man. So although the voices may be indistinguishable, it’s useful having a photograph so that you can judge the – apart from anything else, the racial origin but also the age, the sort of look of the person. You know, it can get you a job.
Also, given that some of the things you’re going to be doing is dealing with advertising agencies, it can often get you cast in a commercial beyond just wanting the voice side of your work. Then, where I was going was what is on the CD which is a question that everybody asks and my answer is always as little as possible which always cause shock horror reactions. Nowadays, with the CD player, when you put a CD into the tray, the first thing the machine tells you is how much material there is on there and if you put one into a CD which says 45 minutes, one kind of groans and thinks, “I’ll do something else instead.”
If you put one on that says 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds or a minute, you’re fairly confident that you’re dealing with somebody who knows what they’re doing and knows how the industry works and that is an example of the kind of focus that people need and there’s two examples there. You need to understand that people package things absolutely fantastically and if you don’t, you will look stupid or you’ll certainly look inferior. You need to understand that people sending stuff out have the ability to pick and choose what goes on to a CD. If you’ve had a session in a demo studio or whatever, making recordings for this purpose, you do not need to send everything out to everybody and so you need to have the ability to pick and choose what goes on the CD which means you need to be able to make your own CDs rather than rely on duplicating companies to do them.
The person that I come across all the time who makes a hundred copies of a CD and starts posting them out will get no work other than statistically the chance that you buy a one pound lottery ticket, it might possibly win but it won’t – they probably won’t get you out because you are not taking the business seriously enough. You are not researching how it works. You are not taking yourself seriously enough. This might sound harsh but I think very often that people who are doing that are actually determined to be failures under that – that all their effort is concentrated on confirming their opinion on their position as a failure, whatever that is. I’d only mean professionally.
You know, it might be a bit dangerous if you got a job. You’d have to do it. There’s another danger of course nowadays with making CDs in order to get work is that you can end up making a CD that would definitely get you a job that you can’t do. Editing techniques nowadays are such that if somebody is working with me in the studio, I can make a (indiscernible). Given enough time and trouble, you can really can make people sound absolutely fantastic but faced with realities of work where you are in a studio with 14 people staring at your through a glass window, all of whom have opinions and all of whom feel obliged to express the opinions because otherwise, why are they there? You stand no chance under that kind of pressure if you’re not very competent and very cool which is why it’s best to try and get into the industry by being yourself rather than displaying a range of regional accents because while you might have a perfect Glaswegian in the privacy of your own bedroom, remember you get into the pressure of situation of working with clients and their friends and their mothers and their sisters and their cousins and their aunts. Looking on, you’ll find that your regional accents unless they’re genuine, will absolutely disappear out the window.
So if you think voiceover is being a door that you’re standing on one side of and the Elysian Fields of voiceover large sums of money underneath never to get out bed before 10:00 in the morning or on the other side, the only way that you can pass through that door is with a key and for each individual person, there is an individual key. It’s different for absolutely everybody but the key is your natural voice.
Once you’ve got through the door, got some work, made some contacts, made some friends, got something as a reputation, you can then start experimenting with your Scottish accent or your Jordie accent or whatever and if it’s discovered that you’re actually no good at doing this, it won’t detract from the work that you are already being employed to do. Everybody will have a good laugh and say, “Okay, we’ll get somebody who can do it.” But if that’s the ticket you’ve tried to get your first jobs on is the fact that you can do good regional accents, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t be able to handle the pressure of studio situation until such time as you’re quite experienced. I worked with a lot of Scottish people and they are always of the opinion they can speak perfect English and you know just for a joke, I’ll tell them, “Don’t bother. You won’t be able to.” And most of them can’t. They hear what they do as RP – English RP but at the reality, it’s Scottish RP and I make the example. You know, would you like to evaluate my Glaswegian accent? I’ll just do it for you now at great length and you know, they’re always horror-struck how awful it is quite rightly because it is awful.
Julie-Ann Dean: Thank you for joining us. To learn more about the special guest featured in this Voices.com podcast, visit the Voiceover Experts show notes at Podcasts.Voices.com/VoiceoverExperts. Remember to stay 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 voiceover career online, go to Voices.com and register for a voice talent membership today.
[Closing Music]

Links from today’s show:

Bernard Shaw
Link to Bernard Shaw’s book on Amazon.com

Your Instructor this week:

Voice Over Expert Bernard Shaw
Bernard ShawBernard Shaw has been working with Voiceover artists since 1980 and has produce over 1,600 ‘Demo tapes’ making him one of the most experienced voice directors in the world. He is also a freelance audio producer with credits as diverse as ‘Tweenies’, ‘An Evening With Peter Ustinov’ and ‘The Nations Favourite children’s Poems’. His book ‘Voiceovers a Practical Guide’ published by Routledge has become a standard work on both sides of the Atlantic. He runs Voiceover and Radio acting classes at the Actors Centres in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Newcastle.
Website: http://www.bernardshaw.co.uk

About Creative Edge Audio

Launched in England in 2006 by two actors and a producer, Creative Edge Audio is the world’s first monthly audio magazine for Professional Actors. This unique series contains exclusive interviews and mini master classes with established industry experts and key decision makers of the British acting profession including: ‘Lord of the Rings’ casting director John Hubbard, Actor Sir Derek Jacobi and former artistic director of the National Theatre Sir Richard Eyre. They all speak openly and honestly about careers, casting, marketing, the craft of acting and voice over.
Creative Edge Audio was designed to help established and aspiring Professionals gain the Creative Edge. Its reputation in England quickly grew and was soon dubbed by the British Press as:
“The missing link in the Acting Industry.” creative week 2006
Until recently Creative Edge Audio was only available to subscribers on a month-to-month basis. However the series was so successful as a monthly subscription that it was decided to reprint the entire 12 episodes.
Series one of Creative edge audio is now available to buy as a complete set of 12 CDs.

Enjoyed Bernard’s episode? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Stephanie Ciccarelli is a Co-Founder of Voices. Classically trained in voice as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. For over 25 years, Stephanie has used her voice to communicate what is most important to her through the spoken and written word. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, Stephanie has been a contributor to The Huffington Post, Backstage magazine, Stage 32 and the Voices.com blog. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.
Connect with Stephanie on:
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  • Lili
    October 15, 2007, 9:21 pm

    I really enjoyed this podcast. It reconfirms that branding and target marketing leave a better impression with employers and increases chances of booking jobs.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Sloan
    October 23, 2007, 7:28 pm

    This straight-talking podcast has a unique, useful perspective. I look forward to receiving the Practical Guide.

  • Connie Terwilliger
    October 25, 2007, 6:28 pm

    Thanks Bernard – solid practical information and lots of it!
    Not over selling one’s abilities is a critical lesson for a beginner – from the acting side and the technical side.
    Develop a true understanding of what you have to sell (your “sound” primarily – but these days it is also your ability to deliver clean professional tracks), where you might fit in the business and who wants to buy it.

  • Bernard Shaw
    November 2, 2007, 2:32 pm

    Thank you for your comments on my remarks. These recordings – there are more to come – were not made for the American Market so I am pleased that you find them useful. They were made about 2 years ago on a very hot day in a basement studio in the centre of London and I was feeling really ill at the time! I am delighted that they have found a place on your excellent site and I am flattered to be rubbing shoulders with such illustrious company. I have now had a chance to listen to some of the other ‘experts’ and am interested to realise that we all ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’! I often produce demos for people looking for work in the American market and the only difference between ‘yours’ and ‘ours’ seems to be length. We favour 2 minutes whereas your agents seem to have lost interest once the clock passes 1 minute!
    I agree with Connie – 5 seconds is enough but it takes a brave, confident, and well self-evaluated voice artist to send a demo this short.
    I recently, wearing my employers hat, received a demo that contained 54 tracks and ran to well over 1 hour!!!!
    Best wishes to you all,