Voice acting can be a struggle. Training, investment, hours and hours of auditioning and marketing. It’s tough. Eventually, though, it can start to pay off. Before you know it, there you are, face-to-face with paying clients from major corporations who are looking to you to bring their message to the masses. It’s intimidating. Like a professional athlete, singer, or stage actor, the spotlight is on you. It’s time to perform.
And then….suddenly….you have marbles in your mouth. Lots of marbles. It’s practically a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. And the butterflies in your stomach are flying in formation like insectoid Blue Angels threatening to cause the marbles to depart your mouth in a most inglorious fashion. You’re sweating. They’re looking at you. You start your first read and halfway through…..word salad.
How you react in that moment will define your client’s impression of you. Will you catch your breath and seamlessly hit a pickup? Will you show your fear and apologize? Will you run screaming from the studio in utter panic?
As a coach, demo producer, and commercial producer I have directed a lot of talent. Over time, I have come to see a pattern among the ones who make it versus the ones who don’t. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have as much to do with actual ability and hustle, (both of which are, of course, very important,) as it does with confidence, or at least the ability to project it.
When you are hired and find yourself in a live-directed environment, more and more of which take place with an on-camera component these days as clients are increasingly moving to Zoom and other video platforms to conduct sessions, even if the audio is going through SourceConnect, you are in both an enviable and vulnerable position. Most live-directed sessions pay well. Typically at least close to a thousand dollars, and frequently many thousands. Looking at you are people who would sell their beloved puppy to earn several thousand dollars in thirty or sixty minutes. Most people don’t understand the life of a voice actor…they just see someone with a $5,000 an hour price tag who better be freaking amazing. You’re gonna get a solid payday from your session, but you are now in the dangerous position of providing a high-priced service that is extremely subjective and intangible when it comes to defining quality. You have to own your value.
In a session, WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES. We have good days and bad days. There are good directors and bad directors. There’s good writing and bad writing. You are GOING TO fumble words, slur something, have mouth noise that sounds like Churchill’s bulldog, and otherwise suck from time to time. It’s normal. We aren’t machines.
How you handle these hiccups, however, will often determine whether or not you get hired again by that client.
There are two kinds of voice actors. Those who look at the mic and say, “I hope this goes well,” and those who look at the mic and say, “Wait ’til they see what I can do.” In my experience, the latter find themselves booking far more often than the former.
With your clients, you always want to be respectful, courteous, customer-service-oriented, and professional. With the mic? You need SWAGGER! Blew a word? No worries. Take a beat and hit that pickup like the star you are. On take 10 of a three word script? Make a joke in a cartoon voice and then hit that next ABC like it’s fresh. Client over-direction driving you nuts? Smile, and dance monkey dance. It’s their time. But whatever you do, DO NOT apologize. Do not ask if, “that was okay?” Do not say, “This doesn’t usually happen.” And do not ever show uncertainty on your face.
It’s your job to make the client comfortable that you’ve got things under control, even if you’re panicking inside. Put on your poker face. Project confidence. You can ask a question if you are unsure about their direction, but ask it clearly and concisely and without hesitation. When you screw up, instead of saying, “I’m sorry,” you say, “I’ll take that from the top,” then hit it again. Be the pro, at all times, and the client will respect you and see your value. Show fear, and you lose your credibility.
It doesn’t always take a straight flush to win the hand. Sometimes it’s enough to make the rest of the table BELIEVE you’re holding the winning cards.