The voice business in the age of COVID

People are asking, so how’s the voice over business during the pandemic? Well, the overview is, the VO business will always be at the very least okay, as long as people still want to advertise. For all of April & most of May, 99% of the work has moved to home studios. This was obviously going to be the case when non-essential businesses were ordered to close.

Here in Toronto, as of late May, studios have re-opened so that obviously helps us. Once TV commercial shoots and productions were shut down, that was inevitably going to trickle down to us as there is not as much of this type of content to voice. But advertisers can always be counted on to be creative. I’ve been taking some time to watch commercial breaks on TV here and there, and have seen many commercials that were clearly produced after the start of the pandemic lockdown. More stock footage is being used. More animation and graphics. More shots of actors on their own. And certainly more shots of, or using, current tech platforms and technology: people in Zoom meetings, people on iPhones, more shots in apartments, homes & gardens…All of these visuals are still easy to shoot or obtain while practicing social distancing.

We are in a strange time because the hit to the economy has meant many businesses have had to close permanently or at the very least, severely cut their advertising budgets. And certainly many industries where we would normally have lots of content to voice are just not happening at all: travel/tourism, conferences & conventions, award shows & events etc. BUT everyone is at home, wanting to content to listen to and watch.

So I’m confident advertisers will continue to be creative and we will see more content in other areas: e-learning/educational material, on-line promos and videos, podcasts, healthcare-related projects etc.

Last month, some of Canada’s top voice talent agents, including yours truly, held a Zoom panel that was widely watched/attended. We discussed the industry as it stood in the early days of COVID. It’s worth a watch if you missed it.

The link is here:
https://zoom.us/rec/share/xd1UMLza5FtLaNLptU7_RYl8XYXbaaa8gyAf-KAOmUhQQgaJDFTszxG9jQR_8d_V

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My new project: Clusterfucked!

In addition to running a voice talent agency, one of the consistent interests in my life has been US politics. I was born in Detroit and though I’ve lived most of my life in Canada, I am still a U.S. citizen and spent a number of years on the Executive of Democrats Abroad Canada (DAC), handling media outreach in coordination with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in Washington.

I’ve combined my interest in politics with the voice over world and launched a US politics podcast. The angle? Liberals are too clustered in major cities and not spread out far enough across the US to win more elections, given the American electoral system. That’s the literal clustering.

Liberals also cluster figuratively by spending too much time talking to people who already agree with us and not enough time trying to persuade those who don’t.

So I am happy to announce the debut of the Clusterf**ed podcast. “A liberal host – but with red state guests”.

The podcast is going to be an ongoing discussion about how liberals/Democrats can win over more voters, particularly in red states. So I will talk to Republicans and others who don’t agree with liberals and when I do talk to liberals, it’s going to be mainly in red states to find out what’s going on where they live.
I’m planning to keep each episode to approx 30 minutes as I know everyone is slammed with content and have busy lives. I hope to do one episode per week.

I landed a great guest for the premiere episode: Matthew Dowd was George W. Bush‘s chief strategist for the 2004 Presidential campaign and had the same role for governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California in 2006. He is now Chief political analyst at ABC News.

The website is up and that first episode with Matthew Dowd is there, ready for your listening pleasure. As is an introductory episode I recorded to explain more about the premise of the podcast.

So click the link below and give it a listen. It’s free!

www.cfthepodcast.com

And I encourage you to sign up for the mailing list where you’ll get notifications about new episodes.

It’s available on iTunes and Spotify, with more platforms to come, but in these early stages, best thing to do is join the mailing list at the bottom of the home page.

Happy listening!

Roger King
Host, Cluster**cked
www.cfthepodcast.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cfthepodcast/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfthepodcast

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The State of the (non) Union: Ethnic voice casting

I launched Ethnic Voice Talent almost 15 years ago and it has been interesting to see the evolution of foreign language usage in commercials and other audio and video productions.

Back when we started, we already had a solid French Canadian voice roster as many commercials and productions in Canada also have a French language version for the Quebec market. This is similar to the US and Spanish language versions. In fact, because of that, we first developed a small Spanish roster which eventually led to the decision to launch EVT.

I’ve seen the languages requested change over the last decade or so.
The classic European languages like Italian, Portuguese, and to a lesser extent German, are less in demand- replaced by East Asian languages: Hindi, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese. Most of the Spanish requests are for the US and Latin American market, not Spain. Same with Brazilian Portuguese – instead of the dialect spoken in Portugal. Requests for Tamil, Tagalog, Farsi and Arabic are only increasing.

The other major change is the request for authentic accents. 15 years ago, most accent requests were comedic in nature. Casting directors would ask which voice actors could put on an accent. Now, this is considered almost universally unacceptable. In certain cases – for example, Hindi – it can be considered offensive for an English person to try to put on an accent, especially when there are so many talented Hindi voices. Authenticity is the name of the game now. Most castings will not accept anyone putting on an accent, even if it’s British or Australian.

The nature of projects requiring an accent has changed as well. Many of the projects when we started EVT were comedic in nature and mainly commercials. Now, clients want authentic accents across the spectrum of projects. There might be an e-learning Project with several voices for…say a medical company. Maybe a doctor is talking to different patients and we often get requests that a few of the patients have authentic accents to make it seem like real life. Or a series of on-line spots for a Bank where the voices requested are several different ethnicities to reflect the diversity of the bank’s clients.

In fact, I’ve said to several ethnic talents that this may be the future of ethnic casting: Depending on the language, some foreign language talents may find themselves getting more work in *accented English*, than they do in their native tongue.

Late last year,Mike Sholars a journalist for This Magazine interviewed me for a piece on ethnic Casting in the gaming industry. His article ended up touching on ethnic Casting in other aspects of the voice industry as well. You can read the entire piece here: https://this.org/2017/11/24/how-voice-casting-for-video-games-has-made-the-canadian-industry-more-homogenous-than-ever/

But it got me thinking about the future of ethnic voice casting…

We have rosters in 3 cities: Toronto, Montreal & New York. We only represent talents in those cities because our agency is about getting to know the talents personally and finding them work in their respective cities. It still remains to be seen what languages and accents will be requested in the next few years. And what talent will be available to meet those requests. It’s changing, trust me. But my gut feel is the number of languages requested may decrease but the demand for certain key languages may increase.

Stay tuned!

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How Fast Can I Sign You?

An actual email I received last week:

“I am currently looking for a voice agent rep. I do not have any previous professional experience, but I am very talented with numerous accents and voice dialects. I would love to meet with you so that you could assess my voice yourself. I can send you a quick voice recording, but unfortunately it will not be studio quality (as I only have my laptop as a means of recording). Looking forward to hearing back from you!”

So, no experience…and presumably no training, no voice demo AND whatever audio sample could be recorded will NOT be good quality.

Where do I sign?

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VO Atlanta

I just attended my first VO Atlanta conference and had a blast!

For the 6th year in a row, 600+ people from all areas of the voice over industry gathered at a big hotel in Atlanta to network, exchange ideas, banter, scheme and of course, raise a glass or three. I had never attended in the past because I had heard it was mainly voice talents and coaches but the guest list has now expanded to include casting directors, producers, managers and yes, talent agents. In fact, I wrote to the organizers suggesting I could do a talk about the relationship between talents and agents. Thankfully, they said yes.

I loved the conference to bits. The energy of the attendees. The perfect mix of business and pleasure (in my view). The mix of some people I already know, others I had corresponded with over the years but never met, and all the new people who were so approachable. The pacing of the conference was perfect for my speed: lots of events going on but sufficient opportunity for downtime as well. And the hotel bar of course!

The 3 conference days are divided between 1-hour talks given by various industry professionals, panels, intensive workshops that involve 10-12 talents and a coach, and other opportunities for voice industry types to work on their skills. For example, I agreed to be part of what I can only call Voice Over speed dating. Individual talents had 5 minutes to do a private read just for me and I would critique it. I met and heard 24 talents in 2 hours! This is not an audition for representation but rather just a quick chance for talents of various levels of experience to get some immediate feedback on their reads. I had sort of been dreading it to be truthful. The idea of it sounded exhausting but I really enjoyed it in the end. The energy of the participants was infectious and the diversity kept things interesting. Diversity of ages, of ethnicity, of experience – even location. One minute, it was a tall African-American man from Alabama, the next a soft-spoken single Mom from Phoenix. Then a British guy who had been in the business since he was 15. All of them trying to either break into the biz or get just a little bit better at what they do.

The conference offers plenty of time for socializing – from the opening night welcome reception to daily buffet lunches for all attendees, to the inevitable meet-ups at the hotel bar each night. The last night concluded with a 70’s themed disco party. I was amazed at the number of people who not only knew this themed event was happening but actually dressed up for the occasion. I did not but I liberally sampled beverages including some tasty tequila and hit the dance floor more than once.

I was pleased to do my talk, Secrets of An Agent Man (some of the posts on this very blog formed the basis of my presentation) as well as moderate a discussion panel of other agents. I dropped in on a few presentations from my fellow speaking colleagues and also a panel discussion on the state of casting. There was the usual complaining about declining rates but I don’t think that simple narrative captures the complexity of what’s going on in our business. People are watching/listening to many more platforms than they used to but in smaller numbers per platform. The natural result of smaller audiences is rates/budgets go down somewhat BUT because there are so many platforms and ways to reach people now, the *amount* of jobs have gone up.

I will no doubt have more to say on this topic in a coming blog post.

Long story short: I highly recommend VO Atlanta, whatever stage you happen to be in your career. It’s always great to meet like-minded people in the industry and there is a such an energy and enthusiasm at this conference. Everyone is either a talent or a coach or casting director so it’s a room full of outgoing people. No shy wallflowers here.

After the conference wrapped on Sunday around lunch, everyone was saying their goodbyes and I actually felt a little sadness like summer camp was coming to a close. But the great thing is – I plan to do it all again next year. Hope to see you there!

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Classic video: Voice Actor is asked to speak like a lion

Very funny video about what it’s like in the voice booth when clients give absurd directions.

Enjoy!

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