On Excellence in voice-over. Do you dare to push yourself?
May 04 2017
These days, it seems everyone is a social media journalist, and there are more in the way of impressive wits, commentators and analysts than you may have thought existed. The same with photography – many of our non-professional photographer friends have an excellent photographic “eye.” In fact, there is a lot of excellent work to be found in many endeavors that today’s technology has opened to wide participation.
So it is, too, with voice-over. The technology is widely available, and quality voice artists abound. That’s good, because it strengthens clients’ understanding and appreciation of our work. But there is also an abundance of marginally adequate talent, because our industry requires more than talent and a bit of technology. It requires the ability to apply one’s aptitude, and that requires voice-over education and experience.
Where is the line between adequacy and excellence? Are you excellent enough to make the cut? And can you take pursuit of excellence too far?
What constitutes “excellence” in the voice-over business, anyway? Surprise! It does not mean “perfection.”
In some fields (brain surgery and astronautics come to mind), perfection must be the norm. But who can say absolutely what constitutes a “perfect” vocal performance? Virtually any script is open to interpretation, invention and creative choices. Excellence may therefore be defined as whatever pleases both the client and the listener.
Unfortunately, some clients are too easily pleased. This might be because, in some genres, more time, money or effort put into a production might not yield a comparable increase in sales or results. Or sometimes the client is not a professional producer or judge of talent. Or they’re the boss of an enterprise, focused on other aspects of their business, and don’t give audio scripting and production the respect it deserves.
Delivering a marginally adequate job might satisfy such a client. That does not make it excellent.
So, again we ask, what does?
That was the theme of 2016’s VO Atlanta conference, “Elevate to Excellence.” The many speakers, leaders, and hundreds of participants addressed the wide range of things a VO professional needs to be excellent at.
It was not all about performance technique.
Edge Studio Founder and CEO (Chief Edge Officer) David Goldberg wrapped up the gathering by pointing out the importance of understanding and predicting trends. Attending to business, he said, is as important as your reads, noting that many people become complacent.
“Maybe because you’re not busy,” he said, “and therefore lose focus, drive, and determination. Or maybe because you are busy, and end up working in your business but never on your business.”
The VO business requires overalll excellence, which is a combination of performance and business considerations. The business aspects, as summarized in our Voice Actor’s Performance Guidebook, encompass:
- Basic technical knowledge – obviously necessary to operate a home studio.
- Business practices – general practices of running a small business, and the standard practices of our industry.
- Marketing practices and strategies – including an awareness of industry trends, and resources for self-promotion.
- Your business plan – every business should have one, to keep track of all the above, measure growth, spot potential, deal with risks, and pull everything together.
(As for the performance aspects, the Guidebook’s preceding 118 pages give a good foundation in those.)
If you’re tending to all these aspects and your VO business is growing, odds are you’re doing them very well. If you’re only occasionally dealing with some of these concerns (or some not at all), you might be excellent in some respects, but doing poorly in another. That’s dangerous. Consider shifting your focus enough that you can pay more attention to the orphaned activity. As a result, you might be slightly less excellent in the one respect, but improve your long-term career prospects overall.
How to allocate your attention? What’s an excellent mix?
In all the above areas – business and performance – there are only two ways to judge: either through numbers, or by your gut. In business, numbers are usually the better guide, if you can get them. In performance, … well, that’s in your gut.
But notice that, above, we did NOT define “excellence” in terms of what satisfies you, the talent. That’s because often talent is never satisfied with their own work.
Your gut is telling you (we hope), “Try for perfection.” That’s great to try for, just don’t try too hard. Taken too far, it can have you overthinking as you read (the familiar “listening to yourself” effect). Instead, you should be loose, vocally free, and open to happenstance and invention within whatever performance framework you have set.
Overstriving for perfection can also make you … annoying.
Sure, if you feel your performance has been only adequate or merely “to specification,” don’t be shy about asking for one more take, where you give it your all. After all, a “merely adequate” performance might be okay with the client this time, but what about next time? And what about a demo-worthy sample?
So in your pursuit of excellence, try for perfection, but only to a point (except in your practice sessions).
Unless you can easily deliver what you hear in your head, others might not understand your objective. And, in any case, they may not agree there’s a need for it. Especially if the client is paying for studio time, further exploration could just run up the bill, waste time and even be embarrassing to you.
So when the client says, “Great, that’s a wrap!” that’s when pursuit of perfection stops being excellent. They have what they need, and have other things to do. Go through your parting routine and enjoy having a done the job well.
As long as you’ve done it expertly, you’re more likely to leave the client thinking you’re excellent to work with. That’s an excellent situation.
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