Many people have asked me how I got started doing telephony, so I thought I would write down my story and a few tips for newcomers.
What it is:
Briefly, telephony is one of those ‘below the radar’ types of work that many people don’t know about or care about, however, it can be very lucrative and generally your clients will stay with you for a long, long time leading to continued earnings for you.
Telephony includes everything from the messages you listen to while on hold (Message on Hold, or MOH) to Interactive Voice Response and Auto Attendant systems that route the caller to the correct department within an organization. It also includes all the voice mail and set-up instructions that you hear when you program your cell phone. It includes automated bill-pay systems, tutorials and a host of ever evolving products that I am not as savvy about.
Who is this for?
This is great for those for those who want to be at home (or happen to be stuck there as the case may be) and are willing to set up a home studio.
It's good if you are relatively new as it will afford you constant practice reading copy.
It's good for you if you are looking to supplement your voice over income.
It is GREAT for you if you are fluent in another language.
Pros and Cons:
You get daily practice reading copy.
Daily practice with your home studio so you really learn about your software and develop basic engineering skills which are always good to have as a v.o. artist.
You get recurring clients.... constant revenue stream!! If you're "the voice of ABC Company" you'll be getting a lot of future work.
You work from home.
You can squeak by with virtually no overhead. Don't need fancy promotional materials, don't need photos, don't need nice clothes.
You can make a VERY good income doing nothing but telephony and some narration.
Some of the work is really low paying (offset by volume in many cases).
Some clients are really slow to pay.
The work is not particularly creatively challenging.
Turnaround is fast. Clients expect their files back in about 24 hours for the most part.
There is no fixed pay scale and you have to set up terms with each individual vendor.
The work is non-union and so you have no protection as an artist.
I became an actress in the early 90's and voice over was a sideline for me, as it is for many on-camera actors. I happen to be fluent in Spanish and English and was immediately identified as someone who could straddle both markets. I also have a very non-threatening, approachable sound, that corporate clients seem to be drawn to.
As a stay at home mom, voiceover work, and telephony in particular, went from being a tiny part of my work to my main dish. With twin babies and no help at home I had very few job prospects. Well, I did have some help. My husband is around a lot and is very helpful, but you know what I mean.......
I got my first telephony gigs by responding to ads in Backstage West back in the early 90’s. I think GTE en Espanol was the first one. It was a huge application. Three days locked in a little tiny room up in Carpinteria recording such enchanting phrases as..."lunes..... martes....... miercoles......" and so on. And each word had to be recorded three ways: with upward, downward and neutral inflection so it could be placed at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence.
Over the next several years my on-camera career continued to develop in the areas of on-camera hosting, commercials, indie films, and later, lots of theater. But when my kids were born, it all changed. I gave up the on-camera completely and have never looked back. It holds no appeal for me any longer. The voice over work was always there and I had a handful of narration and commercial clients who were using me regularly. I had just one telephony client, Time Warner Cable, that I'd picked up some time in the late 90's. I figured, being pregnant with twins, it would dwindle and go away. I couldn't see an alternative at the time.
But things turned out differently. Thanks to the wonderful people at Time Warner, I was able to continue my work with them. Every couple of months I would pack up my two little babies and take the whole dog and pony show over to Chatsworth or Garden Grove where the staff would marvel over my babies while I did my schtick on the telephone!
They were very good to me, and still are to this day. However, I knew there would come a time when mom could not realistically show up to work with two small kids in tow. Something had to be done. With the help of the TWC staff, I tried to record from home with a $15 microphone I got at Radio Shak. You know, one of those little table top things. I called my microphone Eraser Head.
Eraser Head worked relatively well with the Microsoft Voice Recorder, but I really wanted more. I can't remember all the details, but the net result was a home studio equipped with Pro Tools, an MBox, a lovely AKG c300B microphone, some cables and big fat manual that I still have not read. I got it all set up and learned how to make my voice files at home.
I had A LOT OF HELP getting set up and working out technical glitches. This was back in 2004. Home studios were not nearly as commonplace as they are now. I think it was the beginning of the home studio revolution, if you will.
One of my biggest fans is Frank Guthrie. He created the phone system used by Time Warner Cable in L.A. Frank lives down in San Diego (his company is Infiniti CTI). I've never met Frank, but would speak to him periodically when I'd be recording prompts at the TWC facilities. Whenever there was a technical glitch, we'd just call Frank and he would fix it. Frank was the one who uploaded all my voice prompts for years so he knew my voice really well and one day, out of the blue, he asked me.... Roxanne, do you do this stuff only for Time Warner, or what? What kind of job is this???
Amusing question and not an uncommon one for those outside our industry.
Long story short, Frank has been my greatest cheerleader. Today, Frank's referrals comprise most of my business. He uses me for his own applications and he has recommended me as voice talent to HIS many clients. My roster has expanded tremendously thanks to him. And those clients led me to others and those to more and so on and so on.........
And here I am today. Kids are in kindergarten and for the first time since 2003 I am able to think about my career and what the next step may be.
I have big plans.
I have only begun to scratch the surface of the potential that I see in this end of the business. Over the next year I plan to make strides to raise my profile to a national level and to streamline my office systems so that I can manage the business without any wasted time. Once those things are done I'm going to refocus my efforts in narration.
I am passionate about this business. Every day presents a new opportunity. An opportunity to sharpen my skills, expand my services, and improve the efficiency of my office. I feel very blessed and happy to share my story with those who might be inspired by it.
On to the nitty gritty.
Here, in a nutshell is how you can get started.
So step 1: You must have a way to record from home and send voice files to your clients by email or ftp. Setting up a home studio is a big project and the easiest way to go about it is to make friends with a local engineer who can help you set up. You can negotiate a fee for services rendered. If you don't have an engineer friend, then contact a local recording studio and see if you can hire someone from there.
As far as recording software, I hear very good things about Sound Forge for home recording. You will spend anywhere from $300 to $1000 to set up your studio. This includes the cost of a microphone, some cables, software, a mic stand and pop filter, and some type of interface to make your analog signal go digital. The cost does NOT include a computer with lots of Ram and an external hard drive. The cost also does not include a recording booth. You can spend a lot of money on a booth or you can do what I did, get a really long cable and record in your closet where the clothes and small space will provide lovely acoustics.
For software, I use Pro Tools LE with an MBox and I get by very well, although I find this program to be not-very-intuitive and I'm always having some sort of technical issue. So if you haven't spent the money yet and you're just doing voice tracks, stay away from Pro Tools.
Step 2: learn the basics of recording and creating mp3 and wav files. Again, your engineer friend can help and of course there are those wonderful product manuals.
Step 3: find clients. This is the fun part. You need to be somewhat creative. There are dozens of companies that record Messages on Hold. Simply google this and see what comes up. You will soon start to get a picture of what services these companies provide and how they are set up. Make inquiries. Contact a couple, send them your demo and see what happens. Find out how much they pay. They may have full rosters or they may need someone with your sound and special abilities. You have to sell yourself a bit.
Some words of caution.
Don't go looking for clients until you are sure you can deliver what they need.
If you look like you don't know what you're doing they will not want to work with you. Most companies will require 24 hour turnaround, so be sure you can deliver. That said, I have found the engineers at all the companies I work with to be extremely generous and helpful people. When I run into technical trouble or want to add a particular service to my studio (such as a phone patch), it's the engineers who have been there to help me.
So be open about your technical limitations, but be willing and prepared to learn whatever you have to learn. Voice talents are not expected to be technical wizards, but they are expected to be able to learn what they need to know to get the job done.
Don't bite off more than you can chew.
Start with ONE MOH company. See how it goes. If you contact 10 companies at once and they all want you and start sending you stuff you are going to get swamped and go CRAZY. Take it easy at first. Nurture each relationship.
And lastly, be creative in looking for work. MOH companies are a wonderful place to start and they might send you lots of interesting work, but they are not the end all and be all.
Here are some things you might try:
1. look into telecom companies. They create phone systems for other companies. See if they want to work with you.
2. Call large corporations and find out who is in charge of their phone system (IT department, usually). See if they can put you in touch with the company that manages their network or if they want to hire you directly.
3. Get creative with the internet. Do some brainstorming and see what you can turn up.
Like any other sector of the business, this one demands just as much ingenuity, gumption and perserverance as any. I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I am!!