How to Find the Right Coach, II

Visiting Voiceover Artist Meredith Peirick

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People who do voiceovers–hereafter known as VO–come from a variety of places, wherever good voices are found. Think about how many products you use everyday that has a voice attached to it, for example, a customer service automated voice on the telephone, the voice on your Global Positioning System (GPS), and all the other obvious devices like television and radio commercials, video games, etc. Who does the cartoon voices? Some are famous, but many aren't. Audio books are big now.

So the market is exploding with voiceover wannabees. Not really a problem, except with that explosion come some “entrepreneurs” who while they themselves may be good at the craft have figured out how to sell what they know. Since it is an art to be sure, and being “cast” in a voice role is like being cast in any kind of acting role–not at all guaranteed. When radio first came to everyone’s home, then television, there were schools everywhere to teach you to be a glamorous announcer and train you for your all-important radiotelephone third-class license, which made it “official” and you could be on the air. But first there had to be a job, then an audition… It didn't happen as easily as people thought. Without the benefit of today’s technology, many of the radio/tv announcing schools closed down. By the way, the “third ‘phone” is no longer required to be on the air.

When I came back from the Marines and assorted acting jobs in California, I was determined to have a sensible job like something in radio or television. I sent out resumes and a demo tape a friend helped me make at the base radio station. Through a local station that had no openings I learned about a small radio station outside of town that was the perfect place for a college student to work. I had flexible hours because the other part-time DJ and commercial announcer was a student from another college, which meant we had different test days and schedules. This was my training ground to apply my acting and mixing skills to create a commercial until I got the result I wanted (or the client wanted). No pressure though. I even found over time that I could do a commercial off air, while I played music on-air and not miss the end of the song. Later, I would work at different stations, including one where I was the news director and another where I had a talk show–all very different forms of “narrating” or communicating, depending on your context. I had time, facility and guidance to start. I even found time for some theatre.

To the left, that’s my friend and colleague, Joy Blatherwick and me, of course, in PLAY ON! Photo by Dave Gold.

So that’s my story. Everyone has a “how they got there.” How they learned to mouth the words correctly, find the rhythm, read phrases instead of words, emphasize this or that, add variety and color to your voice, sell the product, and I might say act the script given to you. Some of that I knew already. I was taking acting classes, but even then, voiceover acting is a different medium and there are things to unlearn as well as learn.

Many coaches are accused of wanting money up front. This is plain wrong with any coach. I don't even pay my personal trainer (when I had one) until after the workout. As a speech coach, I would wait until my clients announced we were a good fit and were ready to draw up some kind of contract. They might ask what I usually charge and I would tell them; naturally some asked before we started, but I assured each client, no money would exchange hands unless we both thought my services would be helpful. Sometimes it took a few weekly meetings. Chemistry.

Coaches aren’t there at the beginning like radio/tv schools of the past; however, I suppose there are some broadcasting schools still around; there has to be. I know Defense Information School still trains radio and tv on-air people for the Department of Defense and “DeeJays” pop up all over the place. Not all of them stay DJs. Not all of them want to be. Not all of them want to move around station to station to get a raise until they make major market, but it is good experience. If you’re into acting, all the better; however, you may find you have to overcome “mic fright” like I did. Ever wonder what the mirror in the control room is for. It’s not because DJs are “so vain.” It’s so the DJ feels he’s really talking to someone. It’s an eerie feeling at first. It was fun, but as many who start in radio, some for love of music and some for other reasons, we take different roads.

My road was military and government, and then corporate speech coaching and training. I still get the occasional question or job offer–usually from overseas, but I came to a point where family was more important than moving around. I still love the art of speaking, of acting, of writing and so I do it when I can. I’m previewing (not reviewing) a musical tomorrow. Smart of the director to ask for that while there is time to make changes, but if she’s that savvy she’ll probably won’t have to.

Voiceover actors or artists as some prefer (and some are on those sound boards) must have the voice and someone said to them, you should be doing this. If someone said it to you, and you aren't doing community theatre or practicing a lot of commercial scripts, you should be. Find out if you can quickly analyze copy, memorize it and act entire phrases, create characters and sell the products. And, make it bigger than life!

Other actors will be willing to listen offer advice, even direct you or tell you where to go for help in developing your vocal artistry. Actors even take lessons from acting or on-camera coaches to sharpen those particular acting skills. You may even find you like stage acting; however, if voice-over work is still your passion, I would bet there are actors there, some who have worked in Hollywood or L.A. and done the commercials, and voice-overs, who can coach you personally. This is all for free–except for the professional lessons the others take as well. Of course, that’s up to you.

I found a casting director in my area that charged newcomers to the area a $100 session to sit down and she would give you an assessment of where you were in the market. Every market is different. She told me the types of characters she would recommend for me, agents to whom I should send headshots and resumes, a photographer for headshots, and a production studio to make my demo. Don’t worry no kick-backs. She had been in the business a long time. Each session is tailored to the individual. I was told to use her name when contacting the agents and I had two immediate offers.

The hard part is either buying studio time with producer on a regular basis to make it worth your while or building the mostly soundproof, recording system somewhere in your house or garage. For that you will need a professional.

At this point, a voice-over coach who coaches beginners on equipment will be a great help. There are some who sell or recommend equipment themselves; the equipment is probably what you need. What you really need is how to use the equipment to make the best sound and market it. That’s what the voice-over artist coaches know best. Find a reputable one and a good fit as discussed above and check references. No guarantees.

I am willing to listen to you read and give you feedback for free as I noticed others were in these comments. I’m on the East Coast now (Philadelphia area), but I am a Southern California guy. Good luck.

I recognize experience as a great factor and I don't think any of my voiceover work would have happened without my experience in radio and television. I have over 40 years professional stage and commercial voiceover and on-camera acting experience. I have an interdisciplinary dual Master’s degree in Performance Criticism (English, Speech and Theatre) and am a working theatre critic.

Bottom line here. Coaches are not for novices. They are for someone who has pretty much to offer no matter the field. When I was a professional speaker, it was a common practice to have a coach watch your delivery and evaluate your work. Smart people do it no matter how good they are. One slip can bring that reputation down.

What does this have to do with business coaches? Absolutely everything. Don’t try to bullshit your way into the boardroom; you’ll just embarrass yourself. If you are in a position of giving advice to a contact, make sure it is good advice. Don’t shove coaching down his or her throat if it’s training they need or a consultant, or a motivator to raise morale. You’ll raise points and gain credibility by doing the right thing. It’s a code all coaches should follow. Give potential students the advice they need before giving them a class that should be down the road.

Happy training.

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