Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What do you charge for your services?
A. This may not be a terribly satisfying answer…because most people would prefer to see a menu of prices. The problem is that so many factors can go into a job that it’s really unfair to boil it down to such a simplified format. I will occasionally do a very, very simple job from my home studio for as little as 50-75 bucks….and, at the same time, I’ve done relatively quick jobs (less than an hour) for thousands of dollars. Some of the factors that can go into this include where the final product will be aired (for example, network television is very expensive, but local radio or something airing exclusively on cable TV is less so…), how long it will be used, the length of the script, the complexity of the script, whether or not the final audio files need to be edited down into individual assets or can be delivered as a single “lump” file, whether or not you need music or sound effects added, whether or not I need to dial into your phone system to record voice prompts, etc. Get the picture? It’s best to describe your project in some detail and ask for a quote. But a good rule-of-thumb is about $350/hr…but there’s not always a one-hour minimum. Again, it depends…
Q. Is there any work you won’t accept?
A. Absolutely. I have often refused work from a number of web sites containing adult content or from organizations whose vision I found personally uncomfortable or unclear. It’s not that I believe they don’t have a right to exist, or that I don’t feel they should have a chance to sell a product or tell their story. It’s just that I don’t feel any obligation to employ my talents in promoting their stuff. Make sense?
Q. Do you do work for free?
A. What an interesting question! In fact, I do believe in the concept of “giving back”. In addition to the fact that I offer quite a few of my solo piano tracks for free, especially to folks who are struggling with loss or battling physical or mental illness…I also do occasional pro bono voice work for certain religious organizations or for certain organizations whose work with at-risk youth has captured my attention. If you represent such an organization and would like to inquire further, feel free to contact me. But, please understand…this is how I make my living. So I am quite choosy about which opportunities I will accept along these lines.
Q. Will you barter your services in exchange for products or services?
A. Yes, I’ve done that occasionally. Usually for services. For example, I have done work for some high-traffic web sites in exchange for a prominent traffic-producing link on their sites. If you have needs along these lines and would like to propose an arrangement, get in touch.
Q. People tell me I’ve got a great voice. Can I do what you do?
A. This is a multi-faceted question which deserves more than a quick answer. What I can say with great confidence is that it’s about way more than your voice. I’m not sure anyone can answer your question fully for you. But I invested quite a bit of time writing my thoughts on the business as I have experienced it, and suggesting what’s required and how you might make a go of it if you decide to pursue it. Check it out here.
Q. Let’s say I’m hiring a voice talent to do a marketing PowerPoint for my company’s flagship product. What can I do to save money on the job?
A. Good question. And two answers come blazing to mind:
- First of all, make sure the script is ready…and that it’s been seen by everyone who needs to see it (re-reads can be very costly). Make sure it all makes sense…no extremely long sentences. Make sure that SOMEONE on site knows the authoritative pronunciation of terms and names in the script. It’s really not cool to be paying some guy $350/hr to stand in a booth with a microphone and another guy $120/hr to sit behind a recording console while you call back to the office to ask whether this person’s name is pronounced “KER-stihn” or “KEER-stehn”…
- The second point is this (and this really only applies when hiring me to work from my home studio): Many final applications of voiceover end up being chopped down into individual “assets” (chunks of audio in .wav or mp3 form which are matched with visuals in the final product form, with specific names for each chunk). While I am fully capable and completely willing to prep your audio in this manner, you probably would have a hard time finding someone who gets paid more per hour than I do for such a task. So, where possible, if you or someone you know can cut the audio down for a few bucks per hour, you’re likely to save a fair amount of money. This is especially true for larger jobs with many assets. In such cases, I will deliver the audio to you in one big chunk, which can be cut down as needed at your end.
Q. I have to write a script, but I’m not a writer. As a guy who reads scripts every day for public consumption, can you give me some tips?
A. Sure. Let’s think first about why scripts are good or bad…or, if you’re not into value judgments (I am…), why a script works or why it doesn’t. The fact is that most scripts are not written by professional scriptwriters. Most are written by “whoever was available”. Sometimes that person is an expert on the subject of the script…other times they are barely conversant. The plain fact is that scripts usually have an initial writer…but then a bunch of people who come in and hack it up with their input…and then others who have to approve it before it gets recorded. Egos are involved. People feel the need to justify their paycheck by contributing. That’s just reality…and nothing I say will change that. But here are some things to watch out for and one really great tip to improve virtually any script:
- avoid bullet points (despite the fact that I’m using bullet points to make this point). Bullet points are fine for visual text in a limited space (Powerpoint presentations and web pages, for example), as your mind tends to “fill in the holes”. But they are awful to listen to (or, if you’re me…to try to translate into spoken English on the fly as I read them out loud)
- from the Redundant Department of Redundancy: There is a tendency to over-explain the main points of a script…and to arrive at the same conclusion from several different starting points. Scripts need to be concise. Usually, there are entire sentences (even entire paragraphs that can be be excised from a script without any real loss. Let the reader understand: Shorter is (almost always) better.
- make sure that at least SOMEONE speaks the language. In our increasingly world without borders, scripts are often read (or contributed to) by someone who is not a native speaker of the language. Now, we all know that, in general conversation, we can usually figure out what’s being said…often there are nonverbal cues that can help. But languages are filled with colloquialisms that don’t translate well. So it’s really important that someone gets involved in the process who can make every script “work” in the language of listening audience.
And here’s that great tip I promised you: You are about to pay someone quite a bit of money to read your script professionally…but you or someone you know is fully capable of reading it out loud first. If there’s one thing I could say to everyone who is charged with writing a script for voiceover, it’s exactly that. READ IT OUT LOUD before sending it out! You WILL change many things when you’ve heard them read out loud. You WILL make your script better. You WILL be eternally in my debt (and Paypal payments can be sent to me at chuck@… 😉 )
Q. Do I routinely hear your voice on NBC doing promos for Law & Order and stuff like that?
A. Nope…but you have heard Ashton Smith doing that…in fact, I get a kick out of the way this guy promotes that wonderful show he calls “Lawn Order”. I haven’t watched it myself…but it sounds like it must be a sequel to “The Lawnmower Man” (falls down laughing). Here’s a great story from 2003 on National Public Radio on “a day in the life of Ashton Smith”. It sounds a lot like my life…except for the million dollars a year!
Q. Sooo…you have sort of an “announcerish” sound. I thought most agency people these days were leaning toward that “guy next door” sound. Why would someone even hire you?
A. Well, if you’re looking for a “guy next door” sound, I hope you don’t. Let me explain it this way. When I listen to music or watch a movie, I really don’t want to see the guy next door. I much prefer to watch a skilled actor. When people hire a gorgeous face to advertise their makeup products, they get Halle Berry or Beyonce Knowles…they don’t grab the girl next door. In fact, most of us probably live next door to a good mechanic, an IT expert or an insurance salesman. That’s great…but I don’t want to watch them act, or listen to them sing or sell cosmetics.
Now, I may be a bit goofy, but I’m not ignorant. I understand that the concept is to get someone “non-announcerish”, so that their product/service can be pitched in a more personal and accessible manner. However, very few producers write good scripts for “guy next door” stuff. They usually write the same old copy “Our institution was founded in 1856, and we’re absolutely the very best at whatever-it-is-we-do. Try us, and you’ll see.” So, if you’re going to go hunting for a “guy next door” sound, please keep in mind that the script should be written in a manner similar to the way that people talk to each other. Otherwise, it just sounds silly.
People hire me because I can provide a range of sounds…from warm and personal to detached and professional, from slightly menacing to somewhat humorous or empathetic… and I can do it with clear articulation (very critical if you hope to be understood) and a pleasant voice.
And remember, I live next-door to somebody, too! 😉
Q. What IS voice over, anyway? Where did that term come from?
A. Heck, I dunno. It wasn’t a part of my “become a VO guy” entrance exam. I assume it had to do with an announcer talking over “location audio” or music. I get a kick out of the term in all its permutations (and all the related ones), though:
- voice over (not to be confused with VOIP…Voice Over IP…phone calls over the internet)
- voice over talent (does this mean if you have a good voice, you don’t need talent??)
- narrator / narration
- voice-over artist
- presenter (popular in the UK, from what I hear)
- VO talent
- V/O talent
- V.O. talent
Q. What does a voiceover talent actually do?
A. Voiceover is being used everywhere these days. With tons of web site, YouTube videos, mobile apps, etc…people are discovering that it really helps their product stand out by investing a little bit of coin to bring the sound of a professional into the mix. But…here is a fairly exhaustive list of “what we do”…or, at least, “what I’ve done, so far”…
Commercials, promos, narration, telephony (voicemail, voice mail, on-hold messages, IVR), training (eLearning, e-learning, elearning, online training, WBT or web-based training, explainer videos), corporate image or business presentations, sales presentations, web site audio, VOG or Voice of God (pre-recorded for sales conferences and awards ceremonies), video games (narrators and various roles), documentaries, audio books, trailers (for books, movies and games), podcast VO (intros, segment headers and commercials), on-camera, infomercials, live events, and character voices (for cartoons, animation, children’s productions).