Misconceptions

One of the biggest misconceptions about the voice over industry that I have come across is that it is easy to be a full time voice over artist. Personally I would love to have enough clients to sustain me and my family month in and month out on the income that a lucrative voice over business can generate.

Alas my connections are not yet that vast and my income from VO is not yet sufficient to do so.

For those who are lucky enough to establish themselves in the voice over industry and making a full time living out of it things are increasingly looking hard. Economically the world is in a downward spiral that doesn't seem to be stabilizing. Whether this is because the world's governments are still spending with no regard for the fast approaching cliff's edge (at this stage the US government's reckless spending and loaning policies are the most vivid) or because of the collective belt tightening that almost all the mega corporations are starting to practice, being a full time voice over artist is just not bringing in enough to maintain some artist's previous lifestyle.



As a blogger I generally try to keep myself informed about how others in the industry are faring. For some of the bigger names who have been doing well in this business for decades it seems like the time has come to give up the reins of their professional life and seek employment in the "mundane" 9 to 5 world of corporate america (or the world for us international types).

This transition not only scares the bajeezuz out of them... but seems to them like a step backward. They see it as giving up their accomplishments and announcing to their peers that they are losers or failures.

Don't Give Up

I'm going to be quite blunt and tell these people to stop being stupid. Yes its great having your own business and being appreciated for the talent that you have honed and invested in for years... and which has given back and supported you over the years. The truth is that it is far better to go out and get yourself a part time job ... or even a full time job than it is to give up on the industry and sell your equipment.

If you sell your equipment ... then friend that is when you become the loser.

Being Smart About It

The smart thing to do at this stage is to forecast how you need to supplement your income and decide on what the best possible solution is for you to be able to maintain your lifestyle and not get rid of your hard earned collection of audio recording hardware. This means that before things get desperate you start looking for work... you can start with temp work. There is nothing shameful about supporting your family and being a provider. This is the noblest of positions and although sometimes it is the one most taken for granted it is the one that makes you the most proud of yourself.

So before you decide to go and sell your audio equipment... way way before then... go out and start doing temp work... get yourself back in the working-for-someone mindset.

This does not mean that you give up on your VO work... keep auditioning and keep up your contacts. Our business is peppered with fluctuations and sine wave like peaks and valleys. That means that you can land a lucrative job at any moment. That also means that you have to pick your projects carefully and not waste too much time on the lesser paying jobs. It means that you look into other means of making money using the skills you picked up as a VO artist. Maybe hold a class and teach them their way around the equipment ... hold specialization courses in your studio or be a consultant.

Possible Solutions

The fact is ... the voice over industry has probably taught you a plethora of skills that give you an edge over normal folk. Here is a quick list:

1. Public Relations and Marketing: (you market yourself constantly and promote yourself through word of mouth and communications... how different do you think your job is to someone who's full time job it is to do PR and Marketing?)

2. Accounting & Invoicing: (you constantly have to keep track of different client's jobs... you constantly have to send quotations, make adjustments in the case of extra work coming at short notice and invoicing your clients and keeping track of all that).

3. Writing articles and blogging or making tutorials or webinars or podcasts: (There are online and print magazines who pay people to write articles for them or hold workshops and seminars ... get paid for what you are giving out for free to promote your own business).

4. Web development: (maintaining your website and updating it is a job that some people get paid to do... if you are somewhat savvy at this... that is yet another means of income).

5. Consulting (be a language consultant. teach english to people who want to learn how to speak it. Teach english via Skype video ... teach vo techniques over the phone or over VoIP... be creative).

Never Surrender

10 years ago I immigrated to Canada. I cut all my professional ties in Egypt, where I had lived for 10 years prior to immigrating, and up and moved to a country where I only knew 2 people.

I got swindled, I got played and I got wise. But one of the hardest lessons I learned had nothing to do with my skills and everything to do with my cultural upbringing.

In the Middle East it is shameful to work as something outside your specialty. I mean its a major faux pas to go work as say a waiter when you have a university degree in communications. After 6 months of looking for work in my field (Graphics Design and Advertising) I reached the breaking point... I could forecast that if I kept living the way I was there was no way I could survive the year... so I had to conserve my savings and start generating some income.

The Canadians have a stupid work rule. They don't hire anyone without Canadian work experience. This is so beyond idiotic that I could not believe a country would push for immigration and bringing in an international workforce then leave them stuck in a limbo.

My favorite saying back then was: "How am I supposed to have canadian work experience if I just got off the plane?!" The employer didnt care... that is the rule... if you've worked with someone before then I can hire you... otherwise... go away. So catch-22.

So I went to Apple... a temp agency in toronto (or was it the people bank in mississauga) and I got hired as a mover. I worked as a mover for 3 months... I worked 16 hours a day and lost around 40 lbs... gained a crap load of muscle... got paid below minimum wage and paid my rent using money I generated on Canadian soil. I felt like crap in the beginning but once I realized that work is work and I have to survive... then my cultural obstacles didn't matter.

Bide your time

Everything is temporary... the financial crisis is temporary... your panic is temporary and how people view us ...is actually not important as long as we do what we have to to survive (I'm saying lawful good stuff not chaotic evil).

You can be smart like Peter O'Connell and have your own casting agency (www.audioconnell.com), you stay in the business and when you don't have work for your self you take a commission on the work you can supply other VO artists. Everyone makes a buck ... everyone is happy.

Be Brave

Ultimately you have to realize that this too shall pass and life will go on. Be proud of what you have accomplished and never give up on your dream... whether it is to establish yourself in the VO industry ... or to get back on top of it.

If you have something to say... leave a comment.

Mahmoud Taji

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Comment by Scott V. Palmer on December 30, 2009 at 8:22pm
Solid suggestions, Mahmoud. I imagine I'll have to find a regular steady paying job at first to keep the lights on, so to speak and move cautiously in the beginning. I have come to realize that I simply have to be self employed as I have worked for too long making others wealthy while I barely make a living. I imagine that if I'm going to fail, I should fail on a grand scale, right? At least I'll have no one to blame but myself. It's a shame to think that life always and only comes down to the money you make in life. It's difficult to be a creative mind at this moment in history. Thanks again for the insightful suggestions.

Scott
Comment by Mahmoud Taji on December 30, 2009 at 5:09pm
Hello Scott,

I think maybe you should consider the expenses that will be incurred. First you have the move... then finding a place then either renting, leasing or purchasing the extra equipment required.

I don't see anything wrong with you moving if you think that there are better business opportunities in nashville. In the beginning it won't hurt for you to be there and use the equipment you already have for the multimedia jobs that you get... the jobs that require equipment you don't have you can rent the equipment from any local vendors... This way you can figure out where the biggest demand exists and purchase the equipment for that accordingly.

It's a cautious way to move forward... but it is a form of taking action and instead of making a big time invest with commitments to other financiers with no guarantees you can go to the location... if the amount of work they are talking about really does exist and you start getting jobs then this will bolster the portfolio that you can present to investors who would be interested in financing the project. This would also give you the confidence to make the proposal to the financiers with the utmost confidence in the fact that the work does exist and the opportunities are lining up.

Like the movie says... baby steps.... also you'll need to research all the multimedia vendors that do exist there in case they have need for freelancers!! more work!

I hope that was helpful!

Taji
Comment by Scott V. Palmer on December 30, 2009 at 1:25pm
Happy to have you as a friend!
Something very odd happened to me 2 weeks ago that has me thinking of something rather radical. The country music capital of America, Nashville, is about an hour and a half from me. 2 weeks ago a friend of mine asked if I'd come to Nashville and shoot some on-set photos of a movie production ongoing there. I agreed. Once there, I found out that VIACOM/MGM had sent there own photographer and I was not needed. Well, oddly enough, they asked if I would like to be an 'extra' in the movie. Not one to turn down publicity, I agreed and had a great time for 3 days of shooting. I met some great friends there and made a film industry contact that mentioned Nashville was hurting for recording studio people and there was a need for multi-media studio professionals there. As I have a multi-media background I am considering moving to the area and opening just such a studio. I wanted to ask if you thought a photo/recording/VO/ On-line studio seems like a great idea or perhaps a bit over ambitious? I've managed a studio for years and know the ins and outs of music production and on-line media. What do you think of this idea? (of course, I would need a few other people and some financing to make this happen, but if it works I feel there would be a good deal of money to made)
Comment by Mahmoud Taji on December 30, 2009 at 12:55pm
Hello Scott,

It's water under the bridge for me now so no need to apologize. Especially since this has nothing to do with you. In islam there is a saying... no one is accountable but for his own actions. It is what it is and I came out of the experience stronger and knowing that I don't panic under pressure.

The VU friend invite has been sent.

All the best,
Taji
Comment by Scott V. Palmer on December 30, 2009 at 11:25am
Mahmoud,

I realize there is nothing I can say or express how deeply saddened I am about how badly you were treated after the 9/11 events. Please understand, as you must by now, that all Westerners aren't evil and ignorant. Unfortunately a large part of them are. There are days when I am ashamed to be a Westerner and like many travelers, I have had to lie about my nationality while traveling overseas. However, with Obama in office here, I have to say I'm thankful to be able to hold my head up again...LOL~ Again, except my apology for the way you were so unfairly treated on behalf of those of us that are able to think clearly in difficult times.
I am truly hoping for a life changing new year this 2010. (for the better, of course) I need to get up on my feet again and start walking down the path of my new journey in this life. Thanks for responding and I hope to be able to add you to my list of friends here at VU and perhaps be able to network for opportunities and ideas in the weeks and months ahead.

Scott
Comment by Mahmoud Taji on December 29, 2009 at 2:51pm
Hello Scott,

Thank you for your kind and very moving words. I cannot say that I was able to fight and win such a big battle only to face what you are currently facing... my experience is limited to a rough time that I went through when I lived in Canada.

You see back 2001 I had a finally landed a full time job in a graphic house and things were getting a little more stable for me. I was saving up to get married and things were kinda of looking up. Then 9/11 happened and everything went south. As an Arab living in the west at the time I saw all degrees of prejudice and discrimination. I went from having a full time job to going on employment insurance (Canadian welfare).

No one wanted to hire me... no one wanted to even give me a chance and its not like I could change who I was.

9/11 was a terrible time whether you had family in the towers or you're just a human being who happened to be of Middle Eastern descent. I was on the verge of bankruptcy and there was no end to this matter in sight. To this day I think if it weren't for the Grace of God I would have just given up and asked for my father to send me enough money for a ticket. But I stuck it out... People advised me to change my name... act North American... blend in. They couldn't understand that who I am is a point of pride for me... not of shame.

9 years have passed and I still remember how badly I was treated. I know people didn't act that way because they knew who I was. How could they? I know they were lashing out... trying to make sense of madness.

I hope things get better for you... things got better for me.
I hope your talents give you a chance to shine and that God provides the opportunity for someone to recognize what you have.
I hope people get a wiser about how they treat cancer survivors... because one day that survivor could be them.

All the best,

Taji
Comment by Scott V. Palmer on December 29, 2009 at 2:17pm
Mahmoud,

I have to say, my friend that you have inspired me. This year I battled a very rare form of cancer and it appears I have won the battle. Yet now, no one anywhere will hire me due to the illness. Talk about being in a bad place at 41 years old! I was an on-air radio personality and did my share of local business VO work for years. I got out of the business 10 years ago to pursue another trade I loved, photography. Now, in the world economy, I have had to close my studio and am now on the verge of becoming homeless because I can't find work. Anywhere.
Yet, I wanted to thank you for delivering some very sobering, yet informed wisdom to this tired old guy. No one is out there waiting to start MY life over again. It's up to me to start pushing buttons and creating a new path. I needed a reality check and you provided it. It's terrible to overcome cancer only to realize after surviving it, the world casts you out. I need to stand again and find strength....and a new future.
Thank you again, Mahmoud. Your strength has strengthened me.

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