Happy Halloween - Client Horror Stories

You got the job!  You’re at the mic, you have the script and you did the audition.  You know exactly what you did in the audition and you are ready with your character.  You open your mouth and go through the first read.  The client says, “Great!  Now let’s try one just a bit more natural”  You think, “No problem”  You take another pass and yet again the client asks for it to be more natural “Just like you were speaking to a friend”.  Again, another passage…..still no celebrations of happiness.  The client is not getting what they want, and you are starting to panic!  “What do they mean?  What do they want me to do?  I think I’m reading it like I would to a friend”.

This is all too common in our world.  The outcome can be in our favor or tear apart our flesh and everything we stand for.  Then the “Itty Bitty Shitty Committee” kicks in.  “I would have, I should have, I could have”……but you didn’t.  Face it, you didn’t give the client the read they had in their head!  Why?  Well that is the trick answer and it’s not always a treat.   There are so many reasons for why you might not have nailed a read, or for the client to be unhappy – or even worse, difficult.  It could be you weren’t ready and fluked out on your audition, or it could be the client doesn’t know how to direct (which is usually the case), or it could be the client has something very specific in their head and they won’t be happy till it’s perfect.

Halloween is right around the corner.  My favorite time of year.  Many times I write about creating characters as this is the best time of year to do so, but my right hand man, John Harris, suggested I talk to you about ‘Client Horror Stories’ and I have a few.  Even the best of the best have client horror stories.  In fact, they probably have the most!  We go into this industry thinking we are suppose to be perfect, and when we don’t meet the perfection required of us, we can crumble and fall!  This is something YOU MUST prepare for.  It’s not a matter of “IF” it’s a matter of “WHEN” you will experience this – so I hope this article will prepare you for some of the biggest nightmares of your life!

As much as we beat up the client for their need of perfection, we must keep in mind that many of these clients have a lot at stake.  We are just a SMALL part of the money pool when putting together a project.  NO MATTER your rate/salary on a project, there is many more people to pay besides you!  We think we are high and mighty, but the truth is, we are just the talent.  We are replaceable.  Doesn’t mean we aren’t awesome, incredible and unique, but there is more talent to choose from – even at the top.  So it’s important we know how to handle these situations.

I will use one of my first client horror stories that happened in the beginning of my career.  I was in LA and I was cast in a job from an audition through a company called “The Big Fish Voice Company”.  This project was a major Furniture company and was a great campaign to nab and The Big Fish Agency truly went out of their way to accommodate me while I was in LA.  It was an ISDN session (which means $300 an hour that the client has to pay to the studio) so there was a ton of money riding on this one.  They loved my audition – so that is what I prepared for.  It was nice and natural and personable….as I’d studied so hard to master.  When we did the session they kept asking me to add more energy – so I did.  By the time they were done, I was doing an over the top broadcasting radio read….which was NOT AT ALL like what they requested.  So because I wasn’t expecting to go there – I kept adding back in my natural qualities (I’d spent enough to learn them, so by God I was certainly going to practice them).  I was just hating everything about the session and how the spot sounded.  In fact – if my head wasn’t so stuck in NATURAL at the time, I think I would have been fine.  If they could have said, do what you used to do before you got training, or we want an old JOHNNY RADIO read, I would have nailed it on read one.  Unfortunately my head was stuck in one direction and the clients aggravation at me for not getting what they want, took me into my nerve mode and my need to impress…pretty much the kiss of death.  I lost the job.  I was devastated to say the least.

Knowing what I know now, I know it was the clients direction and the confusion of going from natural to broadcasty.  But one never knows and all we can do is learn from each experience.  Remember though it’s not always the clients fault and so we have to find our lessons in each experience so that we can not let them get to us the next time.  Even recently I lost a job – not being able to get the read the client wanted – and I walked away beating myself up and questioning whether I should be voicing or not.  Then I confided in a friend/colleague, got a bit more training and understanding into the incident and got back to normal.

You have to protect yourself.  Don’t allow them to walk all over you or treat you like a walking Zombie…stand up for yourself when you know you’re not being treated humane, but at the same time prepare for these kinds of situations.  Realize its not always you and you can’t please everyone.  THERE WILL BE PEOPLE WHO DON’T LIKE YOUR PERFORMANCE and in the words of “Stuart Smiley” from Saturday Night Live, “THAT’S OKAY”.  There are many other clients and many other jobs.  DO NOT let them get the better of you.  It’s like the old adage “Don’t Feed The Bully,”  I don’t mean to say that all clients are bullies, but there are many – who just don’t have empathy at the time because they either just don’t have it, or there is a TON of pressure on their heads that you don’t realize.

I’ve gotten really good at listening, trying to learn my place in the room and realize, I’m just the talent.  I’m not a power house that is free of error.  I’m human and I too will make mistakes just as they do.  My favorite way to get through this and not live in the “Itty Bitty Shitty Committee” is to say, “I did the best possible job I could, under those particular circumstances”  and “Gosh Darn it, I like me”!  LOL (okay that’s a Stuart reference, but I couldn’t resist. )

Trust yourself and brace yourself.  If you’re prepared for the inevitable and realize it happens to everyone at some point – it’s easier to accept and move on to the next one!

Send me your client horror stories.  Maybe I can write a book, then sell it to the clients so they can see the monsters they can become!

Until next time everyone,

VO Chef Deb 

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Comment by Greg Uterhark on October 30, 2013 at 7:30pm

Boy! This and all the comments are ( and would have been 20 years ago when I started ) SO  helpful ! 

Really helps us 'perfectionists' cope with a 'bad' gig.


Comment by Bob Beer on October 21, 2013 at 10:12am

Being in a country where English is not the native language, I get some very...interesting texts at times, not only in terms of grammar but also (perhaps especially) of linguistic culture, where people express things in ways that just don't work in English. Usually they're happy to have the input of a native speaker but once in a while the egos get in the way. I was called to one job where the person in charge said, "you're going to hate this script." Turns out he (an American fluent in Turkish) had done the original translation but the client didn't like it because he didn't see his Turkish expressions rendered directly into English. So he gave it to a Turkish friend to translate. The result looked as if it had been written by Borat. But the client was unshakable, assuring him that his friend "knew English because he had done his M.A. in the U.S." So I was told to give the client exactly what he wanted: To read the text, complete with missing articles, horrendous grammar and even a word or two that did not exist in any English dictionary I'm aware of. Imagine Borat once again, but with a standard American accent. 

The other all-too-frequent nightmare here is when I am the translator of the text I'm going to read. I go into the booth, the film comes up, and it turns out that somewhere between the time I submitted the translation and the recording date, someone has made amendments, sometimes major, to the film scenario. So I get to figure out what they've deleted, moved or even added, forcing me to sit in the recording booth and do on-the-fly translation. 

Comment by Neil Williams on October 20, 2013 at 4:10pm

I think, being a voiceover, we sometimes take things a little too personally. If we cant do what a client wants, don't nail it first time, don't make the client happy - then we are automatically the ones at fault, and sometimes beat ourselves up over it.

Ive had clients who have emailed scripts over, with one or two words on what kind of read they'd like and expected me to nail it first time, its just not going to happen without the right direction and they're proper input.

I always remind myself of all the successful jobs and clients when the odd one goes wrong, all those people cant be wrong, its good to take a reality check.



Comment by Joe Van Riper on October 20, 2013 at 12:10pm

Many years ago I was hired for what seemed like a simple VO tag session; not much more of a challenge than,  "...see your local representative for more details." Nearly an hour later, dripping sweat and trying to hang onto some shed of self-confidence after more than 60 takes, I heard the producer say, "OK, I think we have what we need. You can go."

As I walked through the sound-lock between booth and control room I heard the producer say to the engineer, "Let's use the first take."

I went ballistic! Stepping into the control room, I asked; "Take one?! You're using my first read??!! What the hell were the other five dozen takes all about?"

The producer looked up and said; "Hey, it's a national spot... I just want to get my money's worth!"

After more than two decades, I continue to refuse to work for this guy!

Comment by Chuck Britton on October 20, 2013 at 10:53am

Before my blood pressure spikes, my ears start ringing & I'm loaded with self doubt, I remind myself & the client that I AM the voice that they chose so this is the voice that they get.  If they decide rught then & there to go with another then we all part friends.  Next....

Comment by Allan Soifer on October 19, 2013 at 9:26pm

Having semi-retired from the vo biz, I get to politely tell the client when I think that they are off base in their attempted direction of a session. I don't do that often, or I would be fully retired -- forcibly!  But once we are established pros, there is a reason that clients use us.......our style and type of voice and delivery. I always ask, even of repeat clients with whom I am very familiar, do they want the same type of delivery as heard on my demo, or are they seeking something different. That question and it's answer are my key to successfully delivering a quality session. And, I am not afraid to courteously remind the client of what they told me, should the session start drifting into retake after retake with nonsensical suggestions.

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