I’ll admit upfront, it’s good to have an idea of your limitations. It’s good to know what you expect from a learning experience. But when you’re asking a professional for help, rigid pre-conceptions don’t always produce the best results.
Usually, I’m the “grasshopper”. But sometimes I am contacted by someone who thinks I might be “Master Po”. (If you don’t get the reference, study ancient American TV series.)
Usually, I can find things in my experience which benefit the person who has sought me out.
Usually, I can spot potential talent (or lack of) in the caller and try to provide helpful information. A lot of what I think I know was learned from someone else extending me a similar courtesy.
And “Usually” I make a friend – either someone who becomes a good voice talent and future colleague, or at least someone who is grateful for free information instead of being sold a demo package.
“Usually”…I have painfully learned…doesn’t mean “Always”.
CALLER: I was referred to you by (Studio Name). People tell me I have a nice voice and that I ought to get into voiceovers. (Studio Name) said you’re the man to talk to.
ME: Well, you do have a good voice. The thing to find out is what you can do with it. What kinds of stuff have you done already? I ask just so I don’t start telling you things you already know.
CALLER: Oh, I get all sorts of compliments when I use the PA system at (Fancy Restaraunt). People are always telling me I should be on the radio.
ME: That’s a good start. Let me email you some material that’ll give you an overview of the business and what you need before you make a demo. Get back to me with any specific questions you still have and we’ll go from there.
(THE FOLLOWING IS A SEVERELY CONDENSED VERSION OF EMAILS OVER AN EIGHT-DAY PERIOD. I’LL STILL REFER TO THE RESPONDENT AS “CALLER”.)
CALLER: Me again. When can we start?
ME: I’m flexible. Did you have any questions about the stuff I sent you?
CALLER: Well, I really don’t learn from reading. And I’m certainly not gonna wade through all those pages of adobe acrobat. Do you have a contract for me to sign?
ME: I don’t usually need contracts, but I suppose we could work up something.
CALLER: Why did you send me all that stuff about “acting”? I don’t want to be an actor.
ME: Maybe I didn’t communicate that well. I meant that all voicework has some acting involved. You’re telling a story…even if it’s just a price-and-item radio spot. You need to be able to look at the copy, understand the message, and then communicate it to your audience, not just read the words in the right order. Let me do some web searching and I’ll try to point you to some websites that cover “acting” as part of getting started.
CALLER: (AN HOUR LATER) I don’t have time to wade through the half-dozen links you sent with 200-word essays on blah blah blah. And I don’t have time to do community theatre or read a bunch of books. I’m more interested in documentaries and commercials and stuff. ‘See, I learn by doing.
ME: Okay, I can relate to that. All the instructions I ever read about computer editing didn’t make any sense until someone sat down and showed me. But it would still help if…
CALLER: Do you have any examples of your (demo production) work I could evaluate?
ME: Yes, as I hope I mentioned in our first conversation, you can find a lot of them on my website.
CALLER: (LATER) They really weren’t that impressive. How can I learn anything from voices that really don’t “call out” to me? Anyway, I don’t learn by listening. I learn by practice…application…making mistakes and then correcting myself. What do we do next, master? [RG note: he actually called me that at this point.]
ME: Uhm. “Nothing”, I think. Those people have been doing local/regional/national work for years (myself included). And if you can’t listen objectively to them, I doubt you can listen to yourself. And if you can’t listen to what you are doing, you cannot possibly take direction…which will serverely compromise your voiceover career before it begins. I think we’re done. Good luck in your future efforts.
CALLER: If you can’t teach me, so be it. Just say so. I need someone who recognizes my talent and can work with me. Like Barbara Striesand says, “You’ve either got it or you don’t.” I’ve got it. I just need someone who will put me to the test.
By this time I wasn’t sure if I was more angry with this narrow-beam seeker of knowledge…or myself for wasting so much time on him.
ME: You’ve just insulted me, my friends, my business. I did put you to the test…and you did not pass.
CALLER: No. You did not pass!
And I know it was petty. God forgive me, it was petty. But I actually wrote back:
ME: I don’t need to justify my qualifications to an announcer from (Fancy Restaraunt).
Now you know why I don’t advertise myself as a demo creator or voice guru. I obviously lack People Skills.
I offer this as advice (free, if you want it) on how not to seek out advice.
And I have little fear that “CALLER” will see this and try to sue me for slander.
If you’ll remember, “CALLER” can’t be bothered to read.
— over and out —
Some Audio Guy says
You went through ALL that and you say you lack people SKILLS?!?!? BWAAHHH_HA-HA-HA!!!
Holy crap dude. Man, that is hysterically frustrating. I’ve stopped trying to make demo production a major service of mine. I still get referrals from people, and I take those very seriously, but I try to keep my selection process down to one phone call. It might be a three hour phone call, it might be twenty minutes, but at the end of that call if I’m not comfortable with the idea of a working relationship, then there isn’t one.
I know it’s blog spam, but I wrote my experiences recently with a similar situation, and I’d love your thoughts:
Caryn Clark says
Holy Cow, that’s just ridiculous. You are very patient. I would’ve ended things when “Caller” said they didn’t have time to read all those Adobe Acrobat pages.
Some people just can’t be taught, I’m afraid.
Steve Anthony says
Incredible, Rowell. You have the patience of a saint.
Jodi Krangle says
Oh my, Rowell. WOW. Yeah – what they said. You DO have the patience of a saint. You know, I’ve found all of the folks I’ve been in contact with in this weird and wacky business to be truly WONDERFUL people. You are certainly no exception. It’s not YOUR people skills that are lacking, so worry not. I just can’t believe that a TOOL like that would take up so much of your valuable time with nonsense! Sorry you had to deal with that. :-/
Connie Terwilliger says
And I’ll bet you are the one who ended up with a stomach ache – I know I would have.
Bob Souer says
The patience of a saint and a mountain of talent, yep, that’s my friend Rowell Gormon. Thanks for offering a hilarious (for those of us reading) recap of what has to have been a very frustrating experience.
connie: …stomach, head, neck, shoulders, upper torso and my arms down to the wrists.
fortunately, writing about it has indeed proven helpful…and the supportive response from people whose talent i respect has helped even more.
thank you (all).
Chuck Davis says
You totally had your heart in the right place. Sadly “caller” had his head in the wrong one. There’s two ways to take that.
John Weeks says
I have to hand it to you, patience is an understatement!
I’ve had people ask me for advice and when I give it to them, they would argue with me about the advice I’ve given them. It’s very frustrating and I’ve never lasted as long with someone like that as you did.
By the way, someone once told me that I had a good voice…got a few minutes?
Some Audio Guy says
Just watch the potential clients that cause a sharp stabbing pain in the left shoulder that is quickly replaced with numbness down the whole arm.
Also the clients that cause you to taste copper are bad too…
Dump all that crap here. It’s a great catharsis.
Kara Edwards says
About 3 years ago, when I was still in radio…one of the jocks at the station told me he wanted to do VO. I took him aside, gave him tons of advice, and told him he’d need a demo. He asked what it should sound like. I played him mine. About 20 seconds in- he asked me to stop it. Why? He explained that he really only wanted to do voices for the Simpsons, Family Guy, etc- and all those ‘random’ voices on my demo couldn’t help him. Thanks anyway. And he left.
He’s still a jock…and has never worked as a VO.
Rowell, you are a wonderful man to offer help and advice…I hope this guy really learns his lesson…or stays far away from the VO biz!!
Greg Houser says
Wow. Well, there’s an old saying about getting into an argument with an idiot. They’ll drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.
I’m sure we’ll be seeing them on V123 sometime soon =-/
He did,however, take the time to read those “restaurant announcements” on the “PA”.
He’ll be sorry that he had no clue the caliber of talent from whom he sought guidance one day, Rowell. I have no doubt!
I must say, I’d relish the opportunity to be his first recording engineer.
Ya know I published an article last year that, while doesn’t directly pertain to this particular situation, certainly applies. In case you’re interested:
Party on, partner!
great article, doc. i don’t know how i missed it in previous visits to your site.
thin-skinned as i can sometimes be, i am usually able to at least shut up and listen to constructive criticism. but it has to be constructive…and from a source i respect. the worst times i remember from my days in radio was having to take criticism from people i felt knew nothing about my business, or worse yet, only criticized without offering any reason WHY something was no good or what could be done to improve it.
thanks for your comments. i’m tempted to give you my CALLER’s email address, but then i really could get sued. …oh, and as to “reading” his announcements – according to our initial conversation, that amounted to going on mic and saying something like “Smith, Party of two. Your table is ready.”
Sandy Weaver Carman says
Rowell, you have the patience to go with your talent. Thanks for sharing this experience with us. Hope it helped you to just pound it out on the keys, and you’re right…not much danger of repurcussions because Caller won’t read.
People like Caller exist in all walks of life…they want your secret to instant success and don’t want to know how you REALLY did it. We know…and we also know Caller will be rockin’ the restaurant mic for years to come!
James Clamp says
Rowell, I’m with Caryn on this, I would have dropped him on “I’m not gonna wade through the adobe pages”. Life is far too short for this – next time take a deposit from this kind of client at least for your minimum session fee. Thank you for sharing this,
Peter O'Connell says
Freakin hilarious. It almost sounds like a joke but I’m sure it happened.
I only hope there are thousands more like this twerp from the phone so we can properly thin the ranks of those who refer to themselves as voice over talents.
I don’t need to justify my qualifications to an announcer from blank! Hilarious.
Me I’m not as creative as my response would have started with “f” and ended with off.
I’m amazed at your patience with “caller”…kudos!
One of my first real awakenings as I got into the business of voiceovers is how others perceive the business. When I tell them that 10-12 hour days are the norm, they say “Doing what?” When I tell them about all the reading, training and practice I go through, they say,”Why, you’re only talking” What other profession compares?
Great story Rowell!
Arlene Kahn says
I stumbled on your blog today and I had just had a similar experience that I discussed on the Yahoo Voiceover Forum. I was contacted by someone I met on a film set. I don’t represent myself as a producer of demos but have been studying the business for some time and can intelligently discuss the business. He overheard me talking about recording auditions and gigs at home and contacted me to record a demo. I approached him pretty much the way you initially did, asked the guy for his background, i.e., training. Since I really didn’t know the guy I told him that I would need to meet with him to find out his vocal quality, delivery style, etc. so we could choose copy for a demo. I also quoted him a price for my time (which was well below what would normally be charged.) What I really think he wanted was to use my time and equipment for free. It just amazes me that people think that doing voiceover is oh, so easy.