Podcasts Vox Talk European Voice Casting Tips for North American Talent with Agnes Kes
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European Voice Casting Tips for North American Talent with Agnes Kes

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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Do you audition for companies in Europe? Wonder what European producers are looking for when casting voice actors? Agnes Kes from Media.Monks shares her perspective as a Sound Production Manager on what makes a good brief, what she looks for in voice talent, tips for North American voice actors auditioning for European voice castings and quality she values most when working with a voice over talent.

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Media.Monks

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Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Hi there and welcome to Vox Talk, your weekly review from the world of voice over. I'm your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli from Voices. So what do you do when you work at Voices and you're an account manager and you know all kinds of cool things about casting and you find yourself moving across the ocean? Well, we're about to find out because today in studio we have Agnes Kes. Agnes is a wonderful producer. Perhaps you've worked with her at Voices. She works for Media.Monks. Agnes, welcome to the show.

Agnes Kes:

Thank you for having me.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Wonderful to have you here. It's so amazing that you're literally in the same building as us right now, which is fabulous because you're in Germany now, right?

Agnes Kes:

That's right, yeah. We moved to Europe at the end of 2018 and I've been in Germany for a while now.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Oh, well, I miss seeing you. I'm so glad you're here and just thinking about all the cool accounts that you had here at Voices, I'm sure many of you listening, have actually auditioned for Agnes. And so the account in question is Media.Monks, and that is where you are employed now in Europe. And, yeah, it's very exciting to have you there. So there's likely a lot of cool stuff you learned at Voices that you're able to bring into your role at Media.Monks. What about the work itself? What's a typical day like for you, Agnes? And is there even a typical day for a producer?

Agnes Kes:

I don't think so. I don't think there is really a typical day. I would like to say that a typical day for me is I first check what my team is booked on for the day and then I check if we have all information ready and I check the particular emails or Slack messages for those projects and then I get on with the rest. But that's really not how it goes. There's always something top of mind, there's always something that needs to happen first. There's always people who are in a bit of a rush or in a bit of a pickle. So I just then try to help them first and I just kind of start the day however it wants to be started and go from there. Which means that sometimes the day is very chaotic. Or the morning at least. And sometimes it means it can be really structured. But I just do what needs to be done.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

That's exactly what everyone needs to do, is what needs to be done, right? There's always a job to be done. And so, as we're talking about jobs, you have new clients that you bring on every now and then, right? So we all know that it's very important that we understand our client, that we know their brand and what they're about before we go about creating a creative brief for them or a job description for talent to read. So when you're bringing this new client on board, you're learning about them and you're helping them to create this creative brief. How do you know what goes into a good one? Can you give an example of what you would be looking for to include in a good creative brief versus one that is not so good?

Agnes Kes:

Yeah, I think it really shows when a brief is quite extensive and thought through. In terms of VO briefs, I do think it makes sense to think about the type of voice that you want to attach to your brand and the type of voice that really jives with your audience. I do see now that there is a trend towards briefs that it doesn't really matter if voices are male or female. And I kind of like that. I respect that idea, but I don't think that it should be a free for all. I think that you then still want to think about maybe a certain age range or tone or something that fits with your script. I think that that's another big one. References are great, but some references are great because of the script that they read. And sometimes a script is in need of a bit of a different tone than a reference voice does, for example. So I think just thinking about all these things and what fits best really makes a good brief.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

That's something we tell the talent all the time, is that you have to know a brand before you can embody that brand to know what it sounds like. Or you at least need to have the help from someone like you to know those details. Because the talent isn't always the one who is in touch with the end client. They're not always the one who's able to say, oh well, tell me why you think this, or how would the voice of your brand express that idea? Or is there a personality that we tell them to research, go on their social media, look at their help section, see what kind of personality kind of bubbles to the top because that's often how they can tell. But also if they're looking online at past work that you've done, for instance, then that is a good indicator too of what that client might be looking for in the future. So when you give talent direction, how clear and concise is that for you? Are you like, we have to only tell them one thing, or do you give sometimes confusing, I don't want to say that you personally do, but a lot of directors will give contradictory kind of direction. They'll be like, ‘oh, do this, but do it in this way.’ It's like, well, that is the opposite of what the first word meant, right? So how do you find creating that brief for knowing a talent going to read it, first of all, but then how do you position it so that they understand what you really need them to do?

Agnes Kes:

I think ultimately things like that come out in recording sessions. We almost always do live sessions and I really like live sessions where we all work together best and everybody gets to have their say about their interpretation of the script or of the tone or of the brand and what fits. And together you figure these kinds of things out. I don't really believe that one person can say this or that is the best way of doing it. I think a talent is often very aware of what they can do with their voice and what fits best with their voice. And I think it's important to have that space within a recording session to make that work. I also work with a number of sound engineers that have done so many sessions that are actually often very insightful in what makes a good tone or session or how to make people feel at ease. And yeah, if you then have a creative director on there who is open to the dialogue, that usually gets us to the best reads for our projects.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

That's really key what you said is that you're working not in a bubble, like you're not in isolation. You've got other editors, you’ve got people who are involved. Perhaps they're even, I don't know, the client themselves or a copywriter. Just how involved are some of the other people kind of helping either to create that brief or in the listening to the samples that come in.

Agnes Kes:

So listening to the samples is actually something that me and the other sampling do. We often do the first round just because we listen to a lot of different things and are quite aware of general, I guess, trends or what we often see does or doesn't work. So we usually do the first rounds and then we send them on, often with a bit of a recommendation. It does depend on the makeup of the entire creative team and, you know, just kind of figuring out what works for that team. Every team is different, obviously. Then after that, it goes usually through another round at Media, amongst at least another round of creatives before it's sent out to the client. Usually clients are sent about three demos to pick from and they make an informed decision. That's our job, to help our clients make an informed decision about the direction that they want to take.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

I love how you've got a process, and everyone clearly does. If you've been doing this work for any amount of time, you know that you need to have a certain order that you do things and involve the right people at the right times. But so far as the actual listening goes, what is it that you are looking for? Because it's one thing to narrow this down with what you know you need to find. But how is it that you approach listening to an audio file when you're trying to find the right voice for your client?

Agnes Kes:

Yeah, I actually like to look for something that isn't too generic. I like to look for that one voice or few voices that just kind of make me go, ‘that's different, that's new.’ And it doesn't even need to be something quite out there or completely new, but just a little different. I like a little different.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Yeah, well, a little different. So something that doesn't sound generic, he said. I think when we've talked to talent and I've heard other coaches talk, one of the best ways to not sound generic is to just be yourself. Like, would you say that the talent who are more authentic, they're likelier to bring their own special approach to the script? They're the ones who get hired?

Agnes Kes:

Yes, I think so. I think it also shows if you're just really comfortable with what you do, which I think also ultimately is something that just comes with time. I don't think that that is something that you can really teach yourself. I think it's just learning by doing, I suppose, and it shows when you're comfortable with your voice and how it sounds. And I think I also admire it when talents say, ‘You know what? This is just not for me. This is not my kind of brief. This is not what my voice does. This is not a script that really jives with me.’ I think that kind of honesty is important because I do think that you ultimately hear it in somebody's audition or read whether or not it fits. And if it doesn't, that's fine.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

All right, so we know what makes for a good audition and why someone would want to keep listening or even move ahead with a voice. But tell us, Agnes, what causes you to skip someone's audition and move on to the next talent?

Agnes Kes:

My number one thing that I really don't like is vocal fry, which is something that you hear more with North American talent than anywhere else. It's not for me, and I can't get around it.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

So do not send in vocal fry and what else might be a disqualifying audition?

Agnes Kes:

I think it's quite easy to fall into a bit of a commercial sounding read. I think that that definitely has its place, but often it does not. So I think it's just really important to understand what kind of script you're reading for what kind of brand and also what the brand's audience might be. Now, I do realize that oftentimes briefs are not really very explicit about that. I think just for me, I cast for offices and clients all around the world. So chances are that I am casting for either a European client or an Asian client or anything that is not North American, I suppose. And the perception of commercial reads is just a bit different outside of North America.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Yeah, commercial reads. So by that you mean they sound like they're selling you something, like they're on the radio trying to sell you a car.

Agnes Kes:

I can't stand radio voice, I can't stand BBC voice. It's just too much for me.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Yeah, well, it's good to hear though, because if you're auditioning for someone, I'm talking to you in North American town in particular, because it's easy to not know what's going on across the pond to be in this little bubble of North American voiceover work. But when you are working with clients overseas, they're going to have different expectations, different preferences, ways that they want to hear something read aloud. So that being said, I know that being honest and applying for those roles that you see yourself doing is important, but what are other traits that maybe the European talent are doing that perhaps the North American talent could learn from and apply in their next audition for a company like yours?

Agnes Kes:

It's a good question, actually. I don't think I really have a ready answer. I think, again, it's just important to sound a bit different. I think, for example, German talent can also definitely have this very set way of sounding and you'll hear it all over German radio or TV or any kinds of ads. Just be aware, I think, that the listeners have heard that voice and tone of voice before. Now sometimes it is some place where you are directed to and that is just what your client wants on a session and that's where you go. I think it is important to give listeners, and so by listeners, I mean customers of our clients, a chance to hear something new and catch their ears and just not hear the same thing over and over again to make something that is enjoyable or thoughtful or surprising to our viewers and our listeners.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Well, that's really interesting what you said about surprising people. Because I once heard a story from a lawyer who was responsible for helping to decorate their law offices and anyway, he was put in charge of this task and instead of just getting what you would normally see in a law office. He thought, ‘Well, instead of giving them what one would expect to see in his typical. I think what I'm going to do is show them what I think they ought to see. So to show them something new, something I hadn't thought about before.’ And I think that that's the same way when you bring that short list of talent auditions to your client, is you're like, OK, well, here's some of the ones that they expect to see, here's some of the ones that I just really like. And then here's, whoa, this one might actually be the one they go with, even though it is something that is more different and unique.

Agnes Kes:

Yeah, I think that that probably sums up most of the auditions that I sent through. The makeup of the list that I sent through is probably exactly what you just described. And again, I think that people have a bit of a deserving of hearing something new or seeing something new and not just the same thing over and over again.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

You're a great account manager and producer, Agnes, because not everyone is thinking about, how can I, you know, add value in this way? How can I, you know, share something that they may not have thought of, but also, how do I do well by the talent? Right? Like, you want to reward those talent who are following directions. They're reading from their heart however it is that is coming through that is most authentic. And you want to just say, yep, this is a great read. we're going to pass it along. So once someone's actually booked the job and we're now in a situation where you need to possibly direct them or get the read done for the actual job, are you seeing that there's a rise in more live directed sessions? Like, are people coming into studios in Europe? What's going on?

Agnes Kes:

The majority of our sessions are live sessions. We really like to connect our creatives or our clients or anybody who wants to steer the talent. We want to connect them with those actual talent. Also, as I mentioned before, I really like sessions where there's a collaboration to get to the best final product. So almost all our sessions are live. They usually are remote because we are in Europe and a lot of our talent don't live in the same place as we do. And yeah, well, with digital help, everything is possible. We are now also having some talent in our studios, in our Hilverson office from time to time, which is really fun. I don't know if that is really a trend, because it's just something that we have done for a long time and it's something that I prefer. But I can see that now that people start to connect a bit more, maybe it is something that's on the rise.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Do they bring you cookies?

Agnes Kes:

Hardly.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Oh, see, that was something I know the North American talent were like, let's bring the muffins, let's bake something. Right? So I wasn't sure if that enthusiasm for food transcends geography.

Agnes Kes:

This is a call to European talent. Bring me cookies!

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Yeah. Some speculaas.

Agnes Kes:

Yes.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

So I think there's a great opportunity here to show some love to your recording team. Right. Because, as you say, it's very rare, or at least in the last two years or so, it's been rare to have people come into studios. But that doesn't mean it's any less desired. Like, you like seeing people. I mean, you're here at Voices right now. You're on a trip, you happen to be free and came in because you're social and you wanted to say Hi, right. So just thinking through, like, for talent who are out there, like, maybe you can answer this because I've asked a couple of different producers this question, but what can talent do to be memorable?

Agnes Kes:

Yeah, I think the big word for me here is reliability. If we've come to an agreement on something, then I want to see that agreement pulled through. I don't mind negotiating at all. I think it's part of it. I admire talents that have their standards and have their, well, maybe guidelines of what they want in terms of rates or how a session goes or how long a session is, or when they want their material. I really, really appreciate it when people are honest and upfront about that. But once we have an agreement, I need you to be there. And if you're not there, that's a big no no for me. Sometimes life happens and something changes, let me know and we can figure something out. But reliability for me really is key.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

So along that same kind of idea of being reliable, following directions, and in general, just being a great person to work with. When someone is actually in the studio and they're doing work with you, do you just let them read the script and go at it on their own? Or are you more hands on? Is your team directing the talent as opposed to just letting them do it?

Agnes Kes:

I think our team is probably a little more hands on. What we usually like to do, or what I like to do, and therefore it happens, is that a talent reads through a script one or two times, first by themselves to familiarize with the script and also for us to kind of see where they would kind of naturally go with it. And then afterwards we often go line by line or through different chunks to get there. And then again, just a collaboration of what works and doesn't work is, I think, the best way of getting a good read.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Right. And you've talked about collaboration earlier. I just wanted to be really clear on this point. Are your end clients in the room or is that kind of like just your creative team? Did the talent find it’s too much pressure to have the end client? How does it work generally?

Agnes Kes:

It's not really a generally, I think the majority of jobs probably is without the end client. But there's also plenty of clients who like to be on a call. Some clients are more hands on than other clients. For us, of course, it's important that our clients trust us and the way that we move the creative process to a final product. So we do want to touch base with them, but we also hope that they let us do the direction and give the direction. Yeah. And then I do always let a talent know when a client is on a call. I think that that's just really fair. But oftentimes when clients are on the call, they are usually quite familiar with what it is that we're doing and are quite helpful in getting us where we need to be.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

That is interesting and I'm glad that you tell a talent, like out of disclosure, ‘the clients on the call just so you know, this isn't just us.’ But that said, you probably have other do you have like a pre-conversation with the talent before the client gets on the call? Do you like prep them beforehand?

Agnes Kes:

Sometimes. I usually am on a session a couple of minutes before everybody else and then depending on whether the talent and the engineer are a little earlier as well, which they usually are, we'll just have a little quick chat together of what to expect. Sometimes it doesn't happen, but then I will just do an introduction round of ‘this is so and so and they're the client or this is so and so and they're our creative team,’ just so that everybody is aware.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Well, I'm glad that your clients want to be involved because I'm sure there are some that kind of they don't care one way or another. But the ones who are really invested, I have a feeling that those voiceover recordings turn out really well because they've communicated what matters to them. What they hope to hear. But they've also had a chance to help shape, you know, that creative brief or the process. So yay for all your clients who might be listening, you never know who's listening to Vox Talk actually helping a producer to figure out what it is that you want the talent to sound like. That's always good, so well, that's fantastic. And I know that we are at the last question here, so for producers who are listening, and I know a lot of talent wear this hat. They tend to wear this hat, too. What advice do you wish that you could have had like five or ten years ago that you could share with us today?

Agnes Kes:

I've really had to learn that I also have a place in the creative process and I can say what I think about something or give a little bit of a personal touch to it. I feel much more comfortable in that role now that I've done this for a few years and I've also done it quite a lot, that I know that if I say I prefer this or that, then that has value to it. And what I actually like when we work with younger producers or sometimes also younger sound designers, is kind of that boldness of like, ‘I would do this or that.’ And I think at some point in your career you kind of lose that because you start to feel a little more insecure and then maybe later on you regain it again. But I really think everybody has a place in the creative process and it may mean that what you think doesn't align with the overall idea or isn't what is finally executed, but that doesn't mean that there is no place for it.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Wonderful thoughts. And that's where we're going to leave it for today. Well, thank you so much for coming in, Agnes. It's a real pleasure to have you here.

Agnes Kes:

Thank you so much for having me.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

You're welcome. And for anyone who wants to learn more, where should they go? To find out more information about Media.Monks?

Agnes Kes:

I think you just Google Media.Monks, and then you land on our website, and there you can see all of our work, everything we do, and yeah, just find out what kind of company we are.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Fantastic.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

And that's the way we saw the world through the lens of voice over this week. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your time with us here in the studio. We had Agnes Kes here from Media.Monks, in the Voices Studio, no less, which is awesome. I think there's so much that she shared about how to work better with the clients that you're auditioning for. There's a lot that you can take from this episode. Be sure to write down what you thought was of use to you. You can tweet it out. You can use the hashtag Vox Talk if you like. And that's our show for this week. So I'm your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli from Voices. Our producer is Geoff Bremner. You've been listening to Vox talk. Thank you so much for joining us, and we'll see you next week.

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®.
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