Level Up: The Voice Talent's Path To Booking A High Profile Job - A conversation with VO Pro Chr
The combination of exposure and high pay rates that come with voicing commercials makes them the voice actor's perfect booking. Talent who land these jobs literally have their brand (their voice) broadcast to hundreds of thousands of potential employers for free. And while booking one spot can pay really well, those lucky enough to be on a campaign will reap serious financial benefits.
So how can voice talent put themselves in the best position to be considered for these jobs? I teamed up with Chris Agos - pro voice talent and someone who's YouTube channel dedicated to acting and voiceover analysis I've been admiring for a while, to talk best practices. Chris wanted to work out a plan for talent to go from zero to commercial booking hero. Below is a transcript of our conversation. Let us know what you think in the comments.
CA: Hey Rob.
RM: Hi Chris!
CA: What do you think is the most important factor in booking a high-profile commercial? I'm talking about the higher end of the market, spots for big brands we've all heard of that are going to be seen and heard by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of viewers?
RM: I thought about this a lot and ended up boiling down my thoughts to one simple answer: be good. Now let's work backwards from that: To book any VO job you need to be good. To be good, you need to have the skills. To have the skills, you need to be trained.
But to land a high-profile commercial means you need to be better than good. You need to possess the skills to be able to not just deliver the lines the right way, but to deliver them at a level that a high end producer or casting director expects. You have to sound like you’ve been doing national spots for top-shelf clients for decades.
CA: I'm with you on that, it all starts with training. It's one thing to have an voice with a unique quality, but if you can't break down copy, come up with a solid interpretation of it, tell the story, deliver it in time and make adjustments based on what the client needs, nothing matters. There are a lot of moving parts to doing a high profile job, and they've all pretty much got to line up.
Thing is, there are some reads out there which, to me at least, sound like the creative team put an intern in the booth and told them to read a few words out loud. Advertisers are desperate for authenticity in their work, and sometimes they reach for it by using talent that sound downright disengaged with the spot's story. That's a choice, so there's an argument for talent to work on that read style. But again, that's training.
You mentioned agents and CD's. Can talent book a campaign for a big brand without going through those gatekeepers?
RM: I guess It’s possible that your demo is listened to at the exact time a Casting Director needs to hire a voice, but I wouldn’t hold your breath on that happening. A big advertising campaign is run by big agencies and they're busy. No one has time to sift through any unsolicited email or (god forbid) phone calls to find the right voice. They’re going to make a talent agent do the work of finding a voice. Depending on the job, the agent might send that job posting out to their roster of talent and then send the top 5-10 auditions to the client. I’ve never heard of anyone cold-calling their way to a national campaign, but hey, stranger things have happened!
CA: Crazy things do happen. I once booked a national campaign from an industrial audition. To this day I have no idea how my read for an internal video wound up being heard by a broadcast producer, who passed it along to the creative team. I didn't even book that job! But they put me on their spots and it felt a little like I was in Alice In Wonderland. Still, I couldn't have gotten that without my agent, who generally doesn't rep anyone who doesn't come to her through industry referral. So it behooves talent to get in front of agents somehow.
How did you get your agents? Any tips you can share about marketing to them?
RM: Oh man did I crash and burn on my first attempt at getting an agent! I had put together a big list of the agencies I wanted to be a part of. I put together my introduction email and attached my home-made demo and set it off to something like 40 different agencies….and (to my noob surprise) didn’t hear back from a single one. As it turns out, short of walking into their office unannounced and propping your feet up on their desk, this is pretty much the worst possible way to try to land an agent. My best agent came from me meekly asking a colleague for a referral. I’m pretty sure most agencies operate on a referral-only basis just to keep the flood of idiots like me from sending them emails with demos attached. It’s challenging to ask. I mean, no one wants to be a mooch, but the only way to get there is to ask for a referral. Respect and professionalism is the key.
CA: So aside from training to be really good with commercial copy and getting an agent, what's one other thing talent can do right now, no matter where they are in their VO journey, to better prepare themselves to do a big time job? I've got an idea but I want to hear yours and see if it's the same thing.
RM: A couple of things: First, get vetted. Go seek out a pro you respect or a coach you admire, (or better yet, a casting director if you’re on a first name basis with one) and ask them to evaluate your work. Ask them to be brutally, painfully honest about delivery, timing, tone, and the technical side of things. If there are things that need to be improved, work on them. Second, I would suggest that you treat voice acting like a business. Because it is. You are a business owner. That business is your voice. How you run your business says a lot about you. How you present that business on social media, to other peers, to clients, can spell the difference between success and failure. Was I close to what you were thinking?
CA: Yeah, no. Those are good things but not what I was thinking! Just goes to show that there are a lot of ways to skin this cat. You're right that being a voice talent is a business. The foundation of any business lies in it's relationships. All kinds are important: relationships with customers, vendors, coworkers, you've got to nurture all of them. But in this case the one you have to work on is your relationship with a prospective client.
So you've got to ask yourself, who plays a huge role in hiring voice talent at big ad agencies Copywriters.
Be on the look out for schools and training programs that offer workshops taught by the people doing the work you want to be on. Taking their class gives you the chance to not only learn from their perspective, but also get to know them outside of an audition environment. It's one thing to be one of 150 people reading for their next spot, but a whole other thing to have them think of you for something down the road because they know and trust you.
This will require some hustle. You have to find brands whose work fits your style of read, determine the ad agency who did that work, then find out who wrote it. Adweek, AdAge and iSpot.tv will be your best friend here. Then see if they're teaching anywhere. If they aren't, approach your favorite VO school with the idea of bringing them in for an afternoon. Worst they can say is no. But maybe they'll agree and you'll have an industry contact that works for a brand you want to work with.
Because guess who's going to coordinate all the details of setting up that workshop? Not the school. You. You're going to be the point of contact so you can establish and maintain the relationship.
This won't work 100% of the time, but all you need is for it to work once. Anything else you want to add before we close out this little convo? RM: You’re totally right: business is all about relationships. No one wants to work with a total stranger. This is a perfect way to stay “top of mind” with someone that can benefit you later on. Even then, though, you still have to be careful with your conduct so you don’t burn that bridge. To be successful with all of this, or at least increase the odds, it comes down to diligence. You can’t do this just once or twice and be disappointed when it doesn’t produce results. I’m always saying that the way to get to the “yes” is to get through the “no’s” faster. Have a strategy and a schedule and stick to it. Don’t give up!
CA: Every “no” is one step closer to your next “yes”. Thanks for chatting, Rob.