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TRANSCRIPTION OF INTERVIEW:
Benjamin: Hi there, this is Benjamin Portnoy, founder of the voiceover training company, VoiceoverPal, and I am on the line here with my new friend, Rick Gordon, founder of e-LearningVoices.com and CommercialVoices.com.
Rick, why don’t you tell us how it got started.
Rick: I started out the band as a DJ in the private radio stations, working in various small and large markets here in Canada, and I really took a liking to radio commercials. I really had a lot of fun on the air as well, but I specifically really liked radio commercials. And I always had an interest in being a radio station owner and I accomplished that in 1985. And along the way I work in various positions in radio, including programming promotion and of course sales, and that’s how that came together.
Benjamin: That’s great, and more recently, you started two websites: e-LearningVoices.com and CommercialVoices.com, so tell us a little bit about that.
Rick: Sure, love to. Like many voiceover talents, I started out with my own website and I soon realized that one on one promotion was not getting me anywhere, so I decided that I should join a group for more exposure and I joined “V123” way back when they started, and after 200 auditions and no jobs, I looked at the starting my own group. My first site was VoicesInternational.com which worked out nicely. I learned a lot of the ropes and then one evening while searching for a better domain, I found CommercialVoices.com; that was back in the year 2000. Then with the help of colleagues, for something new, we started e-LearningVoices.com. Harlan Hogan was an original founder with me on e-learning voices; that was in 2007. My mandate for both of my professional websites, CommercialVoices.com and e-LearningVoices.com, is not to gather hundreds of members. As a matter of fact, I have a limit of 50 North American English speaking members on e-learning voice.com. Personally I would like to get some ‘VO’ work for myself, so I just want to associate with professionals in the industry and give my clients quality talent to choose from. The fees charged on my websites are spent on website maintenance and we rebuilds from time to time in the last three months, we rebuilt all three websites including with WordPress , and that doesn’t come exactly too cheap. And I currently, the rest of the money is used generally for promotion. I’m currently using Facebook and LinkedIn for website promotion.
Benjamin: Great. So we’re talking about promotion. Before we get into that let’s talk about new voice talent we’re seeing more and more people [come into the industry]. It’s easy for somebody to go buy a microphone and call themselves a voice talent. But what are some of the big mistakes you see; people just coming into the market?
Rick: You know it’s so funny that you look at it that way. I would [look at it] another way, but it’s exactly the same thing. Everybody with three hundred dollars and a Radio Shack is a voice talent. And I may…
Benjamin: Does that even exist anymore?
Rick: Not up here, it’s called The Source now. But anyway, you get the idea. I mentioned that to a colleague the other day and he said actually its way less than three hundred dollars. That’s what it is. Voice talents have really high expectations, not realizing the amount of work it takes to get noticed and in demand. It’s a tough world. There are thousands of competitors looking for any kind of voiceover project; trying to earn a reasonable fee is also a huge chore. I’m sure you guys are all aware of Fiverr.com. There’s always someone who record the project for beer money, or I call them a “weekend warrior”, not you can put in a full time effort. And they’re chopping prices, of course. It’s a big job, a really big job to promote yourself to your target market, and I’m sure you know that personally from your business as well.
Benjamin: Sure absolutely. So people coming in, thinking that they can just get into it right away without much work. They’ll just plug in their USB microphone and within a week they’ll be getting $1000 gigs with top, Fortune 500 companies; it’s that easy, right? [sarcastically]
Rick: That easy, no problems. You could do it in your sleep, everybody, everyone can talk, right? So they can all do this. [Sarcastically]
Benjamin: Yeah, so when it comes to marketing, for serious contenders, people who really take this seriously, and want to do voiceover as a vocation, as a profession; well, when it comes to marketing, what are two or three things that are absolutely essential in your mind?
Rick: Firstly, get an experienced producer to create your demo. It’s very rare that a voice talent can do justice to their own recording. A producer will hear things that you have never thought of and he or she will advise you on which genre you should direct your talents. Yeah, I know it’s not cheap, but you do want to make a great first impression, right. Then, send an email or make a phone call to your target market if possible, and of course prior to that, determine what your target market is; you can’t be the end-all to everything.
Rick: it’s impossible.
Rick: Try and choose a market that uses a lot of voiceover, such as car dealers. They’re always looking for deals and repetitive projects, with them no problem. E-learning course creation companies, even recording audio books, if you’d like to do a lot of practice. There’s not a lot of money in it but there’s a lot of practice. And always contact your market by phone or email and ask if you may send them a demo, otherwise it’s considered spam. Then establish a rate sheet; if anyone is interested in you, their first question “Will be what does it cost?”
Next, get yourself a professional website. Very few voice talents are taken seriously without one. There are three simple areas that you must address on your website. Actually there are four.
Answer these four questions. “What do you sound like?”
So you put up a demo or put up a few demos or put up a compilation of e-learning narration, commercial telephony, whatever you’d like.
“What is your name?”
“How can I contact you?”
“Why should I hire you?”
Everything else is promotion, sell yourself; you can put up answers to questions that you know you will get, such as “When can you deliver? What is your guarantee? Do you have more audio samples I can hear? Where are you located? How long have you been doing this?”
It goes on, and on and on.
Benjamin: That’s good, that’s really good. And sometimes that’s tough to condense into a website.. If you had to put together a bio or something like that, that you know really boils it down for people, is there a quick way to do all of that? Because voice buyers, voice talent buyers are busy people. So what’s the, how many words do you suggest, what’s the easiest way?
Rick: It’s got to be a commercial; it’s got to be a commercial about you. Beautiful way to start off is “Why should I hire you [or] why should you hire me?”
“Let me tell you why you should hire me. I’ve got 15 years’ experience, 20 years, 30 years, 10 years, 5 years in this business. I have a dozen clients that are using me for repeat business. I’ll be happy to give you their names, or listed on the bottom of my website. I can deliver almost overnight. I guarantee my work, that I if I ever make a mistake there’s no charge for it. If at any time you make a mistake, if they’re small mistakes, there’s no charge for that either. I’m looking for a long-term relationship with you and I want to be your go-to voiceover guy; and by the way if I can’t do it and you’re looking for someone else, ask me because I have friends in the business I would highly recommend”. Something like that.
Benjamin: That’s great; so you’re allaying a lot of people’s fears right from the beginning, saying that you’re easy to work with, you’re reliable, you’re trustworthy.
Rick: That’s right; you know a lot of cases have been and I’ve been in this business a lot of years, especially in e-learning. Two or three or four years later, a client we’ll come back to you and say, “By the way, we’ve revamped the course you recorded for us in 2015. It could change a few paragraphs or a few sentences; would you mind recording that for us?”
Your answer should be yes, and your answer should be “No charge!”, unless it’s a long, it’s a big effort. You know, “we changed fifteen pages” [is different];, but things like that, you’ve got to be remembered. You’ve got to be the go-to guy and you know if you put yourself in their shoes. Think about that they’ve got this effort in this production and they’ve got many man-hours in writing, and there’s a lot of people involved, and you’re just a small cog in the wheel. If you don’t help them they’re going to have to put in a voice that they try and sound like you, and of course they’re not going to be able to achieve that and their product is going to look like garbage; so they are they are really on the on the on the wire for this. You’ve got to help them out, and you can’t be nasty about it.
Benjamin: Yeah, so just be easy to work with and realize that some people take the word talent, voiceover talent a little too seriously; we are a mechanism to help something get done.
Rick: That’s right, that’s right. You want referrals; you want them to talk about you to their friends. “I was speaking with Ben, three or four years ago. I just called him; he said I’d be happy to do it. I’ll be having a read tomorrow morning. Send the script over. If you or any of you guys need a new for your project voice, make sure you call Ben. Yeah we like him, we’re promoting him”, you know.
Benjamin: That’s great; so you have particular interest and experience, obviously with e-learning. So if somebody wants to get started in e-Learning, are all the jobs the same? What are some differences within that specific vertical?
Rick: E-learning projects fall into many categories: Instructional e-learning as in “How do I Drive a pay loader?” I’ve done recordings for that for my client. Explainer videos; like “How do I fix this? You can go on YouTube, you can see a million of those, no problem. Informational, such as “How our Human Resources department works”, and “The view on your benefits if you join our firm” type thing; so those are two or three categories that are good money makers. They’re generally fairly long term, they’re not, you know three minute projects, so anything where you’re instructional and informational, I would say those are the two where a very few of them are, although some are selling, they sell; like a bank for example. It may come off as, “Let us tell you about our loan department and how we work.” But believe me, it’ll end up in a sales pitch, it will do.
Benjamin: Oh, if you have that funnel…
Rick: If you’ve got commercial experience that’s to your benefit to do that.
Benjamin: I did some work for a series of dentists who were putting together a membership site and they needed a translation done for actual on camera dental work and there was it the original was German and they provided me the translation and I had to match it time for time. Well that meant actually watching the dental practices, the actual operations and having to match up when this particular scalpel went into this person’s jaw and it’s like well this is a year you’re either tough enough for this or not. So that was a fun gig, absolutely.
Rick: Oh yeah, I hope charged extra for the timing?
Benjamin: Of course I did.
Rick: That’s man hours you know. I mean unless you’re really lucky
Benjamin: and I charged a little extra for the emotional duress as well.
So if a new talent wanted to get started in e-learning, what are some good ways to do that?
Rick: A producer or agent should be able to tell you which market you should target; some mentor, somebody you know, someone with a lot of experience. They would give you a good guess that’d probably be able to tell you what markets you should not attack, that they doubt. You may very well get lucky, but I doubt it. You would probably so record a few demos and get some opinions. This is a great door opener by the way, especially if you get opinions from clients or potential clients. Call a prospective client; tell them you’re just starting out in voiceover. Do you have the time, maybe you could lead you on to the producer for the company. If the producer would have any time to talk to me, you could, maybe a family member who’s running a business because they can open some doors for you to get in and get an opinion. but don’t ask the opinion of your family member because it’d be slanted. It won’t be the truth. You want to go behind the scenes and you want to talk to the people who actually put the commercial or whatever it is production together and you want to get an honest straightforward opinion. Then you take it from there.
Benjamin: Those are some really good ideas. I like the idea of informational interviewing with producers; approaching a producer and saying hey, “I’m not looking for work from you, I just need some opinions; what do you think of this?”
Rick: You might also call some recording studios in your city or town, because there are a lot of producers that work there and a lot of times they are twiddling their thumbs. That’s another opportunity to audition even though you’re not asking for that. “I’m not asking for an audition with your studio, but I’d like to make sure I’m going in the right direction. I recorded this and would you have a minute to listen to it and I’ll just do it right over the phone and if you could give me some guidance, I would really, really appreciate it and if ever I could return the favor, let me know.”
I’d do that you know, but very nice and a little bit of this, a little bit of that and pat each other on the back and try and get the job done.
Benjamin: That’s terrific, that’s great advice.
So when it comes to an e-learning specific demo, what should be on there?
Rick: It would have to depend on what target market you’re after, but I would do, I call them read styles, you know, where you can be up-tempo, medium, drawn-out, excited, not excited, informational, that sort of a thing. There’s no such thing as a single call on this. It all depends what the e-learning project is created for. I don’t know of any talent who can who can do it all. They specialize, everyone specializes; they could specialize in two or three areas, but they specialize.
Benjamin: Great, okay so bare minimum showing some range, being able to show that you, even though you can’t do it all, you can cover several different styles even within one project if you needed to.
Rick: That’s right and if you can do a little bit of another stuff. For example, give them an Irish accent. If you say I can’t, I can’t get away with being one hundred percent Irishman, but I can come pretty close. The reason you want your client to know this is because, in many e-learning projects, there are multiple characters, and they may have one character who pops his head in the door and said, “What are you up to today mate?” And he wants it with an Irish accent and that’s all he wants. Your producer, your client is not going to go out and hire a talent to say that one line, that unless they come to e-LearningVoices.com and get somebody there, because we all, we all collaborate to do that. I mean we all do short, little characters bits you know, and put it all together. So, but if you can tell your client; like by the way I can do this, I can do a little German or Italian and I can sound like a frustrated old man. I could sound like a hippie stoned on grass. You know whatever you say, if you can ever use any of that in any of the work, you might send me even though I might be hired for a specific narrator lead role or whatever, but I could do these other things too. I like doing these other things too. We have a couple of members on e-LearningVoices.com like that. I can’t recall right now who are; they do, one person does over 30 different voices and the other one does 52, and a lot of them are cartoon.
And that’s another thing too that we talk about if you have the time is characters. A lot of people when they hear character voices; “Well, I don’t do character voices.” They all think character voice is a cartoon. Character voice in e-learning is, and I touched on it a minute ago; is, I could sound like a frustrated old man or I could sound like a middle-aged business executive. “I can sound like I’m talking to my wife. I can sound like I’m yelling at my kids. I can sound like I’m yelling at my mechanic. I can sound like I’m watching a hockey game and my team just scored.”
Those are all characters. You have many characters in your life that you may not realize, but you can do those things because you could take the same script just for the sake of pronouncing words and read it to your wife in bed, and then read it across the kitchen table in the morning; they’re going to sound a little different, you get me.
Benjamin: In addition to that, let’s say, what advice do you have for developing some of those characters even within the e-learning space?
Rick: Listening, obviously. You’ve got come up with the idea or the read style or the voice style of the person picture and say well if I was a coal miner I come home from work and all I wanted to do is relax and have a beer, how would I sound; so if I just from the pizza joint and I’m ready to go get my stomach pumped out without what I sound like?
Benjamin: So, really getting into character understanding the character and his motivations?
Rick: Absolutely, absolutely. We have people that that sound like a black woman in New York City and it’s a hundred degrees and her three kids have been bugging her all day, and on top of that, she’s sick and she broke. Now read that script. You know, I mean that’s a little over the top, but you get the idea.
Benjamin: I come from a marketing background as well and what you’re describing is understanding an avatar; really understanding not just who that person is or just their demographics, but what’s going on. What is the fringe of their life that’s affecting them on a daily basis? How does it color their emotions? How does it color their subtleties of how they exist in the world, and when you really know all that you can understand it better.
Rick: We have many clients who send us pictures of the character and these are cartoon pictures are just hand-drawn just to give us an idea just to look at it; oh ok that’s a white woman about 40 years old, or hair is not done too well and she’s not very expensive clothing and she looks a little bit beat, you know how could I sound, you know.
Benjamin: It’s terrific; got it good stuff, Rick. Thank you very much. A couple more questions. Sure, some final advice on top of all this, that you’d have for new voice-over talents who are just getting into the game.
Rick: Expect tremendous competition. Remember the Radio Shack and the three hundred dollars. They’re all up there. When you do get a client, never let them go. Do everything you can to keep them. Oftentimes, clients will come back to the same voiceover talent as long as the quality and the service is there. Never doubt that one small project cannot lead to long-term relationships with many facets and many projects, because these instructional designers whose project leaders in eLearning, they like to deal with people who have done a good job that they can relate to, communicate to, haven’t had any problems with, can guarantee the work, they like that. They’ll bring that sample of a project to another client, say, “We use Ben, we use Rick, we use Judy for this, and here’s how they sound.” That’s the clients; well everybody’s happy with that, how does the company like it? How long have they been running it? You know, fine okay we’ll go on. With them, so then you’ve got a chance. It doesn’t mean you have the job, but you’ve got a chance because you still have to audition; and you know if you’re talking to a bunch of young guys learning how to drive a mining truck, you’re going to talk to them differently than if you’re talking to a bunch of scientists and explaining like your dental procedure person, slow and meticulous and thorough and you’re going to be right on, and you’re going to be looking up your words to making sure you’re trying get them right.
Benjamin: That can be a challenge if you’re trying to do that on your own as well ,because I’ve had pronunciations come up where you look it up and you have four different versions of how to pronounce it. So you really do have to do your homework and make sure before you read you get it right.
Rick: Yeah you’ll have to ask your client which way they want it and what about what I’ve often done is recorded both ways if there’s two or maybe three ways, record that sentence the two or three different ways and depending on your client and they let it out in their own editor. Usually their editors on that unless they want you to do all the work and they say okay I like version number two then you have to win an edit and send it back swivel usually they’ll do it.
Benjamin: All right; well this has been terrific and I’ve actually learned quite a bit, so I appreciate your time so much; what, because I know you’re busy making your own wine up there!
Rick: Yeah, the time is busy Ben. It’s feast or famine, you know.
Benjamin: Of course; so give us the best way to either explore and, or get in touch with either of your company’s e-LearningVoices.com and CommercialVoices.com.
Rick: Now, the contact has my home address on it; phone number, mailing address entered in Google Earth and you see a picture of my house. I’m very easy to get a hold of them all over the Internet. That’s why I get so much spam every day.
Benjamin: Do you have a preference phone, email contact form, email?
Rick: Emails’ always best and then establish a time to call, or I’ll call you; or whatever you’d like to, whatever works all right.
Benjamin: We have been talking with Mr Rick Gordon, founder of e-LearningVoices.com and CommercialVoices.com. Again Rick, thank you so much for your time.
Rick: Thank you.