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Demo Numero Uno! Now What?

At long last my first demo is completed and ready to take on the world!

I hadn’t counted on my first demo dropped to be my Narration Demo, I had planned for my Commercial Demo to be first, but scheduling dictated otherwise. My Commercial Demo is due any day now.

It has been an interesting, steady road with some twists and turns, and the arrival of my first demo marks a considerable milestone in the beginnings of this new venture.

But now what?

There are several people to thank at this juncture, starting with Dave Courvosier for his initial generous advice many months ago, which led me to Cristina Milizia’s force-to-be-reckoned-with Global Voice Acting Academy.

The GVAA provided what I was so desperately in need of at the beginning—an actionable plan. Everyone’s journey in VO is a different one, and it’s a Herculean task in itself to figure out how to navigate the correct steps needed to proceed. Cristina and her team took much care and thought into my background, goals, budget, etc. and laid out a very clear, month-by-month game plan. Of course it was all prefaced with the fact that it was only an outline from which to deviate from at will or by necessity.

It’s clear to me that I need to be forever a student. Constant, regular classes and workshops are a must. But for the aspiring VO talent, where do I go from there? I gotta buy a microphone at SOME point, gotta find an area to record, gotta start working on the VO page of my website, courting agents, pay-to-play sites, the list goes on! All these pieces laid out like a jigsaw puzzle, which do I grab first, then second? Cristina’s plan helped for sure, but I took her advice and deviated from it after much gut-checking and instinct-listening. For one thing, I took more time than her timeline suggested by almost double. I spent a good while with GVAA teacher David Rosenthal on both Commercial and Narration VO. Then, when I felt the time was right, the demo process began.

All the while, my local VO connection, the great Voice Actors Studio in Henderson, NV was slipping from my fingers. Our schedules were out of sync, and I hadn’t been hitting the face-to-face workshops as much as I’d planned. I know I’ll make it back there eventually to get some more invaluable guidance from the indefatigable Melissa Moats and her team.

I built my home studio, procured my mic and interface, enlisted the help from VO tech genius George Whittam, listened to tons of podcasts, commercials, industrials, set up my membership on Voices.com, practiced auditioning—basically did all the things I thought a good, budding VO professional should be doing.

I came to realize that my demos should only be produced by the best in the business. And for commercial demos, Chuck Duran at DemosThatRock.com is second to none. His price tag reflects his quality, but I was in a place financially to be able to swing it, so I began the process. I think he’s the Demo Whisperer. In our few Skype meetings, I could tell he knew the VO landscape better than anyone and was able to nail my strengths in a snap. The recording process was hard work and a real pleasure. I’m so looking forward to the results (any day now!)

As for my narration demo, I sought out THE workhorse in the Narration VO racket, Bill Dewees. He knows narration and makes mint doing it. It was a no-brainer to go to him for my narration demo. He has such a easy-going, nurturing, sage-like way about his craft, and he taught me so much in our brief time of recording my demo. I’m super pleased with the results.

But now that the demos are in, the daunting question remains—what now? Like I said, student for life. Plugging away at practice, classes, workshops, and coaching. Marketing is also an ever-present beast to tackle. I have a hard time settling on how to market myself truthfully and at the same time set myself apart from the growing number of VO talent out there.

I’m going to be calling in a lot of favors from my VO friends, both old and new, to help me in my continued journey. The marathon is underway, and I’m loving the burn!

Advice, encouragement, wisdom are always welcome in my comments or at me directly. Wheeeee!!!

The Death of Conversational Reads

Alas Poor Voice Actor

I’m continuing some awesome VO coaching with the great David Rosenthal of the Global Voice Acting Academy. He’s been tireless in his efforts to help me train my ear so that I can self-direct on future auditions. (He can’t hold my hand forever!) Self-direction was addressed in my previous post, and I’m on the road to acquiring those tools.

The newest trend in VO, as anyone in the business will probably tell you, is a desire for “conversational” reads. Gone are the days of radio disc jockey inflections and boomy, announcer-y reads. Consumers tune out if they’re shouted at or have a hard sell pushed upon them. Now a commercial VO talent needs to employ a guy/girl-next-door character — a friend “suggesting” you try this product or that service, rather than a salesmen giving an enthusiastic pitch.

But even with a more subdued take on these scripts, it makes sense that SOME level of character needs to come through. You need to hook the listener in the first 1.5 seconds, or you’ve lost them for good. And one would assume the conversational tone should still have a bit of liveliness and an appropriate variance in cadence.

Part of my homework is watching, nay, listening to a bunch of commercials, from all sorts of genres, channels, and media outlets. I’ve jotted down several that sounded like something I could see myself working on, found them on YouTube, and transcribed them. Of course, it’s hard getting the actual actor’s voice out of my head, but I would pretty much practice the copy the way they did it — trying to get into my bones the style and trends of reads in today’s commercial environment.

But something that I’ve been finding in my commercial accumulation is quite a large number of reads that are SO subdued that they go pass the point of conversational and sound almost dead. Barely any hint of character or intention or emotion. It’s even more than just a shrug-off delivery, it’s non-delivery.

Take this Geico ad. While this may be on the more enthusiastic side of a dead read — there’s actually a little bit of nuance here — it’s still toned WAY down.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r2r0Cfs8DI

This seems to be a recurring style for Geico ads. Think of the tag, “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.” It’s delivered with an incredible amount of nonchalance.

William H. Macy provides the voice for several recent Turbo Tax ads. While celebrities providing voices for ads may come with its own set of rules and style liberties, it does speak to the trend that they have such a subtle sounding actor for this kind of ad. It’s actually a pretty interesting counterpoint to the visuals we’re looking at.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0QpOP8qbxw

“It’s amazing what you’re capable of.” What’s ‘amazing’ to me how dry that line is read! It goes against my instincts and against what I’ve been trying to accomplish in my trainings. I wonder what the creatives were thinking when they were putting this ad together, or what the recording session was like. “Okay, that was good, Bill. Can you bring it down a little bit…? Even more… Just bring it WAY down.”

And Ron Howard is the voice for this Gold Peak Tea ad. Both of these guys are unseemly choices to sell products with their voices.

http://youtu.be/Nv9Nx4G0Gkw

But rather thinking about it in terms of making the wrong casting choices or giving poor direction, I’m thinking the trend could be going from “conversational read” or “soft sell” to “dead read” or “no sell”. It’s certainly not how I’m going to drive my learning in this field, but it’s definitely good to follow possible movements like this in this business.

Do you think these ads are effective in terms of the voice over? Are conversational reads already becoming too passe? Will that goat in the Geico ad ever learn? Give me what you got in the comments!

Dr. Self-Direction, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bass

Foaming with Jimmy

Sounds dead to me. That’s a good thing.

It’s clear that a voice actor needs to be very proficient in self-direction these days. Auditions come in a mile a minute from pay-to-play sites, agents and other sources. There is no one in the booth with you giving you feedback on your reads or suggestions on what the client might be wanting. That’s something the actor needs to learn how to figure out for him or herself. It’s a large part of what my current coaching is about. Cracking the code, training for a discerning ear, then record, hit send, and move onto the next one.

And the training never stops! Even the most seasoned veterans get together weekly or more for coachings and workshops. It’s a muscle that should always be exercised, and there’s no better way than to have others around giving feedback when they can.

But I’m learning that an even trickier code to crack has been training my ear to assess audio acoustics. I recently gave an audio sample of my booth acoustics to VO tech guru George Whittam for a free analysis. He said everything sounded pretty good except for hearing a little mouth noise, but the biggest problem was that my booth was sounding too “boomy” or “boxy”. This is something I’ve since learned to be a common problem with small, square spaces such as mine. George recommended I install bass traps in my booth to absorb the low frequency bouncing around when I speak. It being a free consultation, he of course didn’t go into any detail. Which is why now I’m mired in seemingly fruitless research on bass trap logistics. I was hoping I could figure this part out on my own without having to pay several hundred dollars for professional consultation. So to avoid that in the future I need to start getting good at self-technical-direction.

It's all about that bass.

I’m all ’bout that bass.

They say that my mid-level-priced microphone will serve my purposes just fine, but a microphone costing several thousand dollars will make me sound completely different. It’s this difference I’m not yet in a place to recognize. Nor am I yet in a place, I don’t think, to troubleshoot how to reduce low frequencies in my booth with bass traps.

But along with all of the other great number of skills I am laterally learning in a very fast timeline, training my ear to recognize even the most minute sound aberrations and figuring out what sounds “good” or “bad” are things I obviously need to add to my curriculum.

Got any advice on learning to be a ninja sound engineer? Or ninjaneer? Have something to say about bass traps logistics? Or anything else to say about this post? Sock it to me in the comments!

A Voice Actor Prepares

Proper Mic Technique

Proper mic technique.

There’s been so much going on in the past few months, since I last posted here. It’s been almost too daunting to get it all down. I’m going to try to set some Mid Year Resolutions. First, blog more. Second, blog better.

In March, I shot a super-fun Doritos/Avengers commercial here in Vegas, playing a fake contestant in a quasi-reality obstacle course. Hard to explain, let the video speak for itself.

The short film, A Man Wakes Up–starring buddy Amos Glick, directed by the incomparable Voki Kalfayan, and shot by the great Light Forge Studios–has been making the festival rounds. As of this writing, it’s been selected to 5 different festivals, both here and Europe.

A Man Wakes Up

Say, who designed that spiffy poster? Oh yeah, I did!

But what’s really been taking up most of my Spring season is the beginnings of a voice acting career. I’ve been bitten by the bug for over a year now, since longtime friend Michelle Lynette Bush announced that she’d started her own path in voice over work. Then another friend Michael Rahhal revealed that he’d been recording audiobooks and other works for the past five years. And he does it from the comfort of his own personal studio, a 4’x4’x7′, sound-treated, free-standing booth. I had to figure out if this was also for me.

I researched voice over Meetups in Vegas and fortuitously stumbled upon the best in town, perhaps the best in the southwest region, Vegas Voicers. This group is led by one of the voice over world’s most prolific (and generous) voice talents, Melissa Moats. When I discovered her, she had just moved her Meetups out of her house and into a brand-panking-new commercial storefront space in Henderson, NV. The space, called The Voice Actors Studio, is roughly an 1800 square foot space and includes two different recording areas, one for a classroom environment, and one for talents and clients to work on auditions and finished work. It is equipped with ipDTL, Source Connect, and ISDN, and Vegas Voicers has grown to include multiple teachers and hold multiple workshops simultaneously. I was lucky enough to attend one of their first workshops in their new space, and I’ve been going back as many times as I possibly can.

TheVoiceActorsStudio

Booth rats at The Voice Actors Studio. Melissa Moats: bottom left.

Moats is an inspiration, not only as a voice over talent, but also as a business person, entrepreneur, teacher, and mentor. She is a total one-person band, wearing multiple hats in this many-faceted business, and she does it with uncompromising grace. I am super lucky to launch into this new venture with her nearby.

Since it’s best to diversify my education in this field, I’ve also reached out to another group, the Global Voice Acting Academy. This group is based in LA and is led by another inspiring voice talent, Cristina Milizia. She came recommended by Vegas news anchor, voicer, and author Dave Courvoisier, when I asked for recommendations on additional coaching. Milizia is an amazing character voice talent and a maven of voice career strategy. I’m just starting coaching with the teachers on her roster, but it’s been a blast so far.

For years I had perceived that voice over was a tightly-knit field with very few voice actors, and they liked it that way, so they can have all the work for themselves. But now with the internet’s influence, as well as more affordable and user-friendly technology, the number of voice over talent is skyrocketing. Luckily, so too is the volume of voice over work. With commercials, video games, e-learning, audiobooks, and more, as well as pay-to-play websites to find work, utilizing home studios for auditions, the landscape seems to be changing for the better for everyone! And so far, I’ve been met with nothing but warmth and generosity from the voice over community, especially here in Las Vegas.

All this is from my limited point of view, since I’ve only really started to dive into this in the past 6 months or so. But I have indeed been diving. Milizia recommends getting “obsessed” when getting into the business. For me, it’s been fascinating, a lot of work, and a lot of fun!

I’ve even built my own 4’x4’x7′ personal studio, based on plans from Justin Lynch at dawbox.com. It was great to break out the tools and create something from the ground up. It’s an added sense of accomplishment, even though I haven’t even started auditioning or recorded a demo yet! And it’s Moats (as well as a lot in the community) that reminds me not to rush in this business. Work on the craft first, and then start the hunt for work.

Personal Voice Over Studio

Fisheye of the Fish Bowl.

I’d like to begin documenting my journey here for you all to see/ignore. I’m sure it’ll help me focus my thoughts, and perhaps it’ll help you if you’re on a similar path.

To new journeys!!

One Night for One Drop

OneDropBlueCarpetJimmy springs into March with some great new adventures! He books a fun spot on a Doritos/Avengers web promo, joins an improv class, and performs in One Night for One Drop — Cirque du Soleil’s annual one-night-only performance benefitting OneDrop.org.

The third annual One Night for One Drop performed on The Beatles LOVE stage at Mirage Hotel & Casino on March 20, 2015. Jimmy was honored to be asked to create an original clown act. He roped in the talented Evelyne Lamontagne to assist. Not surprisingly, he opted to perform a lip sync — the Queen classic I Want To Break Free. It was super humbling to be in the same room with these world-class artists, much less performing on the same stage. And all for a great, world-changing cause.

The show was filmed and will be shown in select theaters this summer. Stay tuned for those details!

Erik Verduzco:Las Vegas review-Journal

Photo by Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas review-Journal

OneDropOnstage1Tom Donoghue

Photo by Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

32_1Tom Donoghue

Photo by Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

33_1Tom Donoghue

Photo by Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com