Tuesday, August 29, 2017

VO Agent Alliance Challenges Unethical Behavior In A 'Fight For Our Livelihoods'

By John Florian
Is the voice over agency world riddled with unethical practices?

You might think so after reading the pledges for fairness, transparency, integrity and more, made by members of the VO Agent Allianceat the new trade group's website.

But Alliance President Erik Sheppard says their target is the voice over industry as a whole.

"It's a problem in the voice over world in general," says Sheppard, owner of the Voice Talent Productions agency. 

"With the lower and lower rates and fewer union jobs, agents are starting to panic and are doing what talent have been doing - accepting jobs they would not have taken in the past because they have to put something out," he says.

"But it's self-defeating behavior that just creates a new environment and culture where voice seekers are expecting more for less," adds Sheppard. 

"I believe most agents strive to operate fairly, out of respect for their talent and craft, but other business models for finding talent are pretty much solely based on unethical behavior."


Formation of the Alliance was announced on August 23. And no, it was not created foremost as a counter-punch to the announced purchase on August 9 of Voicebankby Voices(dot)com.

That deal was a trigger to hurry up, notes Sheppard (pictured). But the founding agents were discussing the Alliance earlier.

Traditionally, voice over agents are not ones to bond. 

Yet as described on the group's website, they gathered as a response "to industry pressures from outside forces and online casting sites, which have had a negative impact on talent, their representatives and most importantly, those hiring voiceover talent." 

Sheppard lists specific concerns:

"Declining rates, the exodus of clients from union projects, the expansion of usage and multiple version/lift requests from clients with no additional compensation, and generally unethical practices becoming the norm," he says.

"Some of these issues have been bubbling for a while, but the recent downturn has been so rapid that we felt something had to be done.

"All agents - union and non-union - and the talent they represent are under serious threat right now, and we believe we have a better chance of righting the ship if we work together," he says.

The Alliance's "to-do list is outrageously long," Sheppard adds, also noting that members are in constant contact with each other about upcoming projects.

On the Alliance's Board of Directors and co-founders with Sheppard are Stacey Stahl (In Both Ears), secretary; and Carol Rathe (Go Voices), treasurer.

At the time of the August 23 announcement, the founding agency members were: In Both Ears, Go Voices Talent Agency, Voice Talent Productions, Play Talent,Umberger Agency, Desanti Talents Agency, Rockstar Entertainment, The Actors Group, and ta-da! voiceworks.


The Alliance's website says the group is "actively expanding and ready to speak with other agents willing to stand up for our industry."

Yet some applicants are already being rejected.

"Agents who we know do not adhere to our standards are having their membership applications rejected as we speak," Sheppard says. "We are not interested in members who are with us in name only. You have to walk the walk, even if it hurts a bit for now."

The door is not entirely closed to rejected applicants, though.

"We would love the opportunity to educate them about the damage their practices are doing to us all - and hopefully they will see things as we do and join in earnest," Sheppard explains. "The door is open for anyone willing to put in the work and stick their neck out for talent."


In the eyes of the new Alliance, what would brand a voice over agent or agency as behaving unethically?

That would be an agent/agency that is not upfront about fees they receive from client and talent, Sheppard says. 

And "anyone skimming fees off the top is basically operating illegally," he says.

He also trashes lowball fees.

"Anyone - an agent or a manager or a casting entity - who is putting out lowball garbage jobs is hurting the industry for us all," he argues.


An interesting feature at the VO Agent Alliance's website is the opportunity for voice seekers to submit auditions to member agents.

Is this an fledgling competitor to Voicebank?

Sheppard soft pedals that notion. 

"We have no interface in place," he says of the audition option. "It's only a form where (voice seeker) clients can reach us as individual agents at once."

Yet Sheppard clearly draws a distinction between Alliance members and Voicebank.

The audition option is "a way to send an email to agents they know are operating in a fair and transparent manner," he says. "There are a ton of folks working on the 'new' Voicebank. We are not one of them."


Sheppard sees the course of the voice over industry now as "self-defeating" and "rapidly leading to unsustainability."

Voice talent who have been in the business for decades are hurting and leaving, he says.

"If we don't clean up our act as a whole and work to fight negative influences and practices in our industry, we'll all be in the same boat.

"In many ways, it's a fight for our very livelihoods."

For more about the VO Agent Alliance, visit www.VOAgentAlliance.com.
John Florian is the founder/publisher of VoiceOverXtra, the voice over industry's award-winning online news, education and resource center, offering thousands of resource links, how-to articles, calendar of industry events, industry directory, webinar training and more. A former magazine editorial director/publisher, John is also a voice talent who merged those two career passions to create VoiceOverXtra in 2007.
Web: www.VoiceOverXtra.com


Thursday, June 22, 2017

How Important is Voice Over for Video?

Voice Over or No Voice Over, Smiling Woman
About 15 years ago when I first became a corporate video producer – back in the days of Betacam SPs and linear editing systems (old school analogue video production) – we used voiceovers in almost all of the productions we created. If an interviewee wasn’t overly articulate or failed to use a noun that would have made the subject more comprehensible (and I failed to notice until it was too late), there was a simple solution: Grab a half-sound bite to put a face on the screen and give the piece credibility, then explain the rest of the point in a narrative track.
Startup Stock Photos
Among its other advantages, this method offered an opportunity to mask any subject behind good writing. Besides, with linear editing, the numbers of cuts in A-roll had to be contained, particularly in the absence of much B-roll to use as a cover. Transition devices were limited to cuts that abutted images and to dissolves, and the latter required separate machines.

The Modern Promotional Video

Times have changed, and so has the style of promotional video presentations.
The digital conquest offers infinite ways to showcase material that have pushed aside a reliance on narrators.
The range of interesting transition devices today can make frequent cuts in sound bites more appearance-friendly.
2016 Design Trends
Well-designed motion graphics can be created to roll across partial or full screens, explaining in a few words any concepts that sound bites leave unclear. Further, in this age of user-generated-content-citizen-journalism, a good deal of respect is accorded to the voice of the everyday person as compared to the reporter-type storyteller, whose actual objectivity, the public has seen on occasion, can be skewed by the bent of the publication printing the story.
In short, that objective assertion of a narrator currently is perceived in many instances as much less convincing than the voices of subjective interviewees offering their thoughts.

Interviewing Corporate Staff vs. Actors

Producing a corporate video that does not use narration offers challenges at each interview.
Company speakers are not trained actors. Their natural speech patterns are generally replete with “um”s and “you know”s and “like I said”s. Their cadences, especially when a camera is turned in their directions, are often somewhat monotone and may bear little resemblance to their more colorful tones of voice that go into gear when the camera goes into off-mode.
The job of the producer asking questions is also double-layered: In addition to probing for substantive responses that go to the heart of points to be addressed in the video, the producer needs to listen to each answer through the ears of how the video will later be cut.
He or she must be aware when interviewees make sentences that contain vague pronouns, for instance, ensuring that such thoughts are restated in ways that will make them useable in the production.
A key benefit of using corporate employees as thought leaders rather than having narrators tell the company story is that frequently the former have real passion for their work, their offices, the products or services they are involved in offering, and/or their colleagues. In these cases, it is vital that a producer tap into that passion, then draw it out in the responses to interview questions. The expression of these sentiments by unscripted respondents can be very impactful.
And yet, good video is customized video.
In some cases, narration continues to be an effective avenue for presentation of material. For example, in retelling a history of an old company for which there are no speakers with knowledge of key events that the video would like to convey, a voiceover relaying some details and giving flavor to the larger piece might be a sound choice.
Or getting across the significant information in how-to videos, i.e., each step along the process, might call for a straightforward narrator.

How to Decided to Use a Narrator, or Not

In deciding whether to use a narrator or not, a few questions that might be helpful include:
  1. Who is the ultimate audience, and what will their reactions be to the different approaches?
  2. What category of video is involved, and which alternative makes the most sense in terms of getting across the point for which the production is being created?
  3. If a decision is made to use a narrator, what type of voice (e.g., male/female, young/old) would be most appealing to the intended audience? Whatever the determination regarding this point, a narrator with professional voiceover training will provide a significantly better read, ensuring good and even pronunciation, than someone without experience or lessons.
  4. If a decision is made not to use a narrator, is the interviewer prepared to ensure that responses are stated in ways that can be used in the final product?
Startup Stock Photo
In short, while it is stylish to produce corporate videos without narrations, these pieces present challenges down the line in post-production that can often be averted only with a lot of preparation in pre-production.
Further, there are no hard and fast rules in this arena, and some types of videos benefit from voiceovers rather than or in addition to interviewee soundbites!

Ellen Friedland

Read Ellen's comprehensive bio here. Ellen is the founder/president of and producer for two video production companies: Voices & Visions Productions (V&V) -- specializing in corporate videos across a range of industries for marketing, web, social media, investor relations, HR, educational, fundraising, and other end uses -- and JEMGLO, producing documentaries for PBS, international film festivals, and educational venues. Ellen looks forward to video's ongoing evolution on the web as rich-media matures in consonance with social marketing.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Three Reasons Why You Need Voice Over In Your Marketing

Three Reasons Why You Need Voice Over In Your Marketing
Written by John Lano
1. Customers Become Familiar with Your Brand
According to a study by the Department of Psychology at Washington University, adults are more likely to remember words when spoken by a familiar voice (Yonan and Sommers, 2000). For marketing purposes, it is extremely important to continually use the same voice for branding your product. Customers are more likely to remember your product and its benefits in their lives when they hear the same voice again and again.

2. Customers Learn Your Brand Faster
U.S. scientists from Boston University and UCLA say their study demonstrates that stimuli involving both vision and hearing can be combined to produce speedier learning of visual information (Current Biology, 2006). When creating a marketing video, commercial, eLearning video or any other kind of video, it is best to target multiple senses (i.e. visual and auditory) at the same time so customers can learn your brand faster.
    •  Do this: Use visuals and a professional voice over talent to help customers learn about your product more quickly.

3. Customers Have Short-Term Memories
An average person can store between five and nine items in their short-term memory. The more times a piece of information is repeated or learned, the more likely it is to be transferred into long-term memory and retained by the customer or employee. With so little time to get your message across, you must take full advantage of the time you have. By following the first two reasons above, you can fully engage your customer or employee. They will be more likely to remember your message for months and hopefully years to come.
    •  Do this: Keep it simple and to the point. By doing this and using a professional voice over talent and visual stimuli in your projects, customers and employees will be more likely to store your message in their long-term memory.

Question for you: What companies have branded their product well with a consistent female or male voice over talent?
 Jastive, Kira. “STUDY SHOWS COMBINATION OF SIGHT AND SOUND HELPS ADULTS LEARN BASIC VISUAL TASKS MORE RAPIDLY.” Boston University. N.p., 24 July 2006. Web. <www.bu.edu>. Website.
Yonan, CA, and Sommers, MS. “The Effects of Talker Familiarity on Spoken Word Identification in Younger and Older Listeners.” Psychology and Aging 15.1 (2000): 88-89. Web.

Not landing the audition is NOT a failure. Yeah, right.

Greek Statue of philosopher with head in hand, dissapointed

People who know the power of positive thinking realize that failing to land an audition is not really a failure. Nor is it rejection. The positive way to look at it is this: You just weren’t the one person they selected.
Easy to say. Not so easy to feel. So here’s some help 
Although not landing an audition is disappointing, even frustrating, it's part of the acting business. Another part of the acting business is knowing which auditions to try out for, and understanding what you can learn when you don't get the role.
Nobody ever wins everything. Just as not even the best batter in baseball will hit perfectly over an entire season (in fact, a 30% average is considered good), no actor ever won every role they were up for in the course of their career. The key is to know which roles to try for, and when you don't get the part, learn how to learn from the experience, or (eventually this will be the usual case) simply slough it off and move on.
Is that easier said than done? Probably. But putting missed opportunities into perspective is easier when you look at them as variable situations, filled with gray areas, and not absolutes.
  • It's not a matter of having been right or wrong. Assuming you're a competent voice-over professional, you made various creative decisions before delivering your read. You may or may not have executed them perfectly, but even if you did, someone else may have made exactly the same decisions, or made a decision that the casting team liked better.
  • It's a value judgment, a personal opinion. Not the judgment of God. The reasons for not choosing you might not even have to do with the quality of your performance. Maybe it was the inherent nature of your voice (we purposely have not said "voice quality"). Maybe it was you sounded older or younger than they wanted. Maybe they wanted a totally different attitude or interpretation (even though yours may have been just as valid). Maybe they had no idea what they wanted and essentially flipped a coin?
  • It's not a public performance. The only people who know you didn't make the cut are you and the client. You have not been publicly humiliated, so don't feel as if you have. You haven't even been privately humiliated. You simply didn't get the call.
  • Only one person could make the cut. It's not as if you're not good enough to enlist in the Marines. In this case, the "Marines" needed only one person. Plenty of other smart, hunky, gung-ho voices didn't get chosen. That doesn't make any of you "failures."
  • They didn't select your audition. It's not that they rejected you. The casting team didn't mean it personally, and you shouldn't take it that way.
Still, not landing a role feels like a downer to some extent. The key to handling that feeling is to avoid considering it a setback. It's a one-time thing. Unless it becomes a long-term pattern, let it pass and move on.
Even learn from it, if you can. Maybe there's a trend, or maybe you pushed the envelope too much, or too little.
If you're at an impasse, or just can't land any auditions (or have lost more than you think is appropriate), that's your cue to get feedback and recommendations from an experienced expert. You might even consider a review consult with our Chief Edge Officer, David Goldberg.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Importance of a Professional Voice Over

At some point in the last ten years, you’ve probably heard one of “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials from beer brand Dos Equis. As you read through the lines you can hear the voice in your head: “His reputation is expanding faster than the universe. He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels. He lives vicariously through himself.  He is the most interesting man in the world.” The lines are humorous but delivered in a serious tone with just the right pauses giving the commercials a sly yet authentic documentary quality to them. The commercials are memorable. They set a mood and bring the viewer into that world. These qualities are the mark of great voice over work.
Odds are you’ve never heard of Will Lyman. He isn’t a household name. You wouldn’t recognize him if you passed him on the street. If he was in line in front of you at the coffee shop, his voice might sound familiar. You’d rack your brain wondering how you knew him. “I know I’ve heard this guy before,” you’d say to yourself. And you’d be right. This goes to show the importance of a professional voice over. 
Lyman has been doing the voice over narration for PBS’s award-winning Frontline television series since 1984. His voice is synonymous with the program and its serious, in-depth journalism. When someone wants to parody a news expose program, they often go for a Will Lyman sound alike. If you want to give your commercial an air of professionalism and credibility, hire Lyman.
And that’s exactly what the marketing firm that produced the series of “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials did for Dos Equis. Lyman’s tone was a perfect match. While video is primarily a visual medium, there is more riding on the success of a video than just the footage and graphics. You don’t always notice when voice over is done well because it seems so natural and part of the final product that you can’t imagine it any other way. It’s when the voice over is poor that it becomes noticeable.
Think of someone whose voice you can’t stand. Now read the lines from that Dos Equis commercial in their voice. Does it still convey the same meaning? A weak voice or a mismatched voice can take a video from professional to amateur quickly.
Even if you’re working on a smaller scale or a smaller budget, the voice over is still a critical component of the work. A good voice can make up for a lack of production quality. Here are eight aspects of voice work that can impact your production. Take these into consideration when searching for voice talent.

Show You’re Sincere

The right voice can be reassuring. It can let people know that you’re honest. The voice you choose will be representing your company or your product. People want to know you are on the level and the way the words are delivered go a long way in reassuring them.
Ford, and later Wal-Mart, didn’t just hire Mike Rowe for their commercials because of his distinct, opera-trained pipes. He represents honesty and hard work, and his voice carries that same essence. Even if you aren’t familiar with his TV shows, those qualities are present in his commercial voice over work. He doesn’t sound like a slick salesman. He sounds like your neighbor.

Get Emotional

How should people feel when watching your video? Confident? Concerned? Hopeful? Excited?  Voice artists can imbue the script with emotion. Professionals know where to pause and where to change the inflection of their voice. The viewer makes an emotional connection and becomes invested. What tone do you want to set? What is the mood of the piece? The answers to those questions should play a role in who you hire to do voice over work.

Relate to Your Audience

If you are making a video directed at senior citizens, would you want a young person doing the talking? If your video is about women’s health, would a male voice over be the right choice? Knowing your audience is crucial. Age, gender, and ethnicity are all factors to take into account when choosing voice over talent. Just because something sounds good to you doesn’t necessarily mean it will sound the same to someone else.

Convey Authority and Credibility

Let’s revisit Will Lyman and Frontline. It doesn’t matter which episode you watch, Lyman’s serious, authoritative tone makes you feel as if that particular subject is the most important problem facing the world today. On top of that, everything he says is so convincing. He could rattle off a list of made up “facts” and you would still sit there nodding in agreement because he sounds credible. It’s not the music, the footage, or the editing that makes it feel that way. It’s the voice over. Who is saying it and how they are saying it matters.

Make it Memorable

Great voice overs can be so catchy that they become a part of the brand, and in some cases popular culture. “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner.”  Did you hear Sam Elliot’s cowboy drawl when reading that line? His voice doesn’t just make you want to have a steak; it makes you want to ride a horse across Montana.
John Facenda, best known for his work narrating NFL Films in the 1970’s, never actually uttered the phrase, “the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.” Sportscaster Chris Berman was impersonating Facenda when he first delivered that line. Facenda’s voice was such an integral component of NFL Films that the reference seemed genuine. That’s the power of great voice work. If people are still mimicking your style forty years later, you did it right.
When you’re looking for voice talent, you want someone you can use long term. You can’t develop a voice for your company if you change voice artists for each item you produce. Take the time to find the right talent and then stick with them.

Leave Them in Stitches

Have you been at a conference and heard a presenter tell a lame, forced joke? That cringe-inducing delivery followed by awkward chuckles and slow sympathy claps? Often the difference between a joke hitting or missing comes down to timing. Comedic timing is a skill. If your piece includes humor don’t leave it to an amateur. With the right voice artist, you can hear them wink.

The Power of Persuasion

Voice has the ability to persuade.  Have you ever been sold something by a salesperson who was so good at their job you didn’t even realize what had happened until you were driving home with your new purchase? Were they dull and dry? Did they speak in a monotone? More than likely they were engaging and spoke very deliberately. If you have a call to action or a sales pitch in your video, having a convincing voice over artist will help drive that point home. You want your audience to take action, not lose interest or fall asleep.

Represent Quality

People judge on appearances. Whether you like it or not people will judge your company or product based on the quality of the video and voice over. You wouldn’t show up for a job interview in jeans and a t-shirt just like you wouldn’t use paper plates to serve food in a Michelin starred restaurant. Don’t ruin your project with lackluster voice over work. Your video could be a potential customer’s first impression of your brand. They will draw conclusions based on what they see and hear.

Final Thoughts

Think about the tone you want to set, how you want your company represented, and with whom you are trying to communicate. Spend some time researching voice talent. Listen to voice samples and make sure you are getting someone who matches your criteria. The right voice over will elevate your video and make you look like a pro.