Connie Terwilliger – ISDN Voice Talent

June 22, 2015

Usage has Value

Filed under: Business, Communication, Musings, Negotiating — connieterwilliger @ 4:20 pm

One of the lessons free lancers – independent contractors – need to learn in this Internet age is to negotiate a fair price for their work. We see it day after day – people wanting the free lancer to work – well, to work not necessarily for free, but close to it. And in fact, in some cases – people DO expect it for free. It is happening in all creative areas.


Oh, for the good old days…

You wouldn’t ask the plumber to cut rates by half or more. The dry cleaner. The tailor. The electrician. But on the creative side of things – the graphic artist, the writer, or the voice talent – it seems like a “name that tune” experience nearly every day.

Part of it is educating the people doing the hiring. But the people doing the work need a bit of education as well in order to arrive at a rate that is fair for everyone.

This is tough, because there are no set rates other than union rates – and those don’t cover every new genre of voiceover work. Nor does the union understand how the majority of voiceover people work these days – in their own studios, on their own time, with their own tools. Some union contracts have value, but a lot are simply hangovers from days gone by. Some rates are too high – and others are too low. And some areas of voiceover are simply not even addressed.

And the scale rates also don’t take into consideration the additional money the producer pays for payroll taxes (the talent is working as an employee), disability, social security and health and retirement benefits. So if you are using union contracts as a guide, be sure to add the extra %!

Nor do the scale union rates consider that the talent will be using their own studio, which under the old model was extra. Then, add to the confusion that the new producers (outside the major markets) might not know any differently. The idea that they would hire a voice talent and then hire a studio to engineer and edit may simply not even occur to them.

And most of the work being done today is non-union. There are “suggested” non-union rates, but these are all over the map. And none of these union or non-union rates are applicable across all projects.

One key area for each side of this coin to think about is “usage.” What is the product designed to do? And where will the end product show up and for how long? Creatives – be prepared to ask. Producers – be prepared to tell.

What is the product designed to do?

Let’s stick to the voiceover side of things for the example. Is the script in front of me going to train in-house people on a process or change the way they think about a process? Or is the end product promoting a product/service to a potential client? Both have value.

Both the producer and the talent need to be aware of the potential for profit for the person paying the bills. While you may not be able to predict profit, you at least must be aware of the potential. This is a starting point for negotiations. If you don’t consider it at all, then there is no room to haggle. Not that I am encouraging a lot of haggling!

Where will the end product show up and for how long? 

How will the final product be used? Is is going to be shown only on a company website with plans to upgrade it each quarter? Or is the script generic and the clients wants all rights in perpetuity throughout the known universe (yes, read the fine print!).

I call it shelf-life and eyeballs/ears. And it is part of any response to the emails that come in saying “How much?” Using those words can break the ice a little when tiptoeing around the dollars.

Usage has Value!

What we do as voice talent is of value to our clients. It will help them communicate to someone to achieve a certain result. That result could be sales. It could be happy productive workers. We all need to aware of what these results could be. Will it keep visitors at a plant safe? Will it cut production costs? Will the project be seen by millions of people over the course of a 10-year lifetime? Will it be seen once by a 12-person board of directors – who control a 6 billion dollar company? Or will it be shown to the board of a small non-profit. Will it help sell thousands of low-dollar product, or hundreds of high-dollar packages?

While results and sales figures can’t possibly be known before the project is produced, we should all evaluate the potential as we negotiate.

Our joint job is to recognize that there is a new business paradigm created by the internet. Some of us have been in business since before the Internet became ubiquitous. We see the changes and struggle to figure out how to stay in business as rates plummet. For those who know nothing of a time before the Internet, they must try to understand that lowering the rate of pay for the creative people who create and produce their messages to a level where they can’t stay in business will result in everyone losing.

One way to help this along is to use an agent. Yes, consider using a middleman…the person the Internet has basically cut out of the equation. An agent will know to ask these questions. Agents are used to discussing rates. Creatives are not as a whole. It has become a very stressful part of a talent’s job – and actually can create barriers to creativity.

In the end, there will be compromise of course. But always, when negotiating directly with the talent, or using an agent, there has to be awareness of the value of the work that is being done.

June 19, 2015

A Change of S-pace

Filed under: Communication, Musings — connieterwilliger @ 12:02 pm

Coming up on about a dozen years ago, I did a major remodel of my kitchen, complete window replacement and interior repainting. What I learned was that I am actually quite comfortable in a much smaller footprint. I lived out of my back bedroom with one of the bathrooms doubling as the kitchen sink and found it actually soothing. Perhaps because I didn’t have so many choices at every turn.

I had a chance to experience this change of space again recently. After attempting to rid my deck cover of termites using a heat treatment, I opted for the more drastic, but more conventional tent and gas method. The last time I tented a house was probably 20 years ago. It ended badly, with the house robbed as soon as the gas dissipated enough not to kill the perps. I am fairly certain it was an inside job, but it wasn’t ever proven. I had insurance and since it was so long ago, my life wasn’t so tied up in hard drives, so I really didn’t lose anything that couldn’t be replaced – except for my grandfather’s antique cherry wood view camera.

RVThis time I was not going to leave the house unguarded. So the plan was to rent a motor home and park out front. I thought I was going to be able to access my back studio and garage in order to keep working and simply sleep out there, but as it turns out, there are electrical and cable conduits running from the main house to the studio and garage, so they counseled me not to enter – even though the risk was low.

So, basically, I went car camping in front of my house for a few days.

And once again, I found that I liked the smaller space. For a while anyway. The 25′ motor home had a big bed, a shower and potty, a stove, microwave, refrigerator/freezer – and I was close enough to my house to hook up to power, water and wi-fi. So except for access to my studio, I was set.

Since my studio is in the back part of my lot, I do not spend much time in the front part of my property. I get out to walk the dog a couple times a day and back out of the driveway when I leave to run errands. But hang out in the front? Nope.

What I discovered by living on the street in front of my house was – in addition to reminding myself that I was comfortable living in small spaces – was my neighbors. They would walk by – poke their head in the open door – climb in and chat. Or we’d meet out on the sidewalk under the Mulberry tree and chat. Or someone would suggest going for a walk. It was delightful. I met and/or reconnected with a lot of neighbors. I got lucky that no one needed an ISDN session and the work that was due wasn’t urgent, so I was on vacation for a few days – no place to be. No deadlines. A change of pace as well as my space.

The tent is off. The food unpacked. And once again I have room to spread out. And choices to make at every turn. The pace is back to normal – busy busy. I would hope that I learned something from this little front yard camping experience, but now that I am back in my office, the front yard is again abandoned. People pass by with their kids and dogs and friends – and I am oblivious. But now more mindful of the parade I am missing.

June 10, 2015

Alphabet Soup

Filed under: Business, Musings, Techniques — connieterwilliger @ 5:57 pm

When a normal person hears the words “alphabet soup” they probably think of the kind you eat with the little noodles shaped like letters. When a voiceover person hear the words “alphabet soup” it means that their mouth is going to be filled with lots of acronyms.

soupOne of the things that endears a voice talent to clients is a talent’s ability to see past the noodles in this word soup and find the broth. This doesn’t necessarily mean understanding every word that is spoken, but it does mean understanding the context and how the words relate to each other.

It helps to have a little bit of understanding about a LOT of stuff. For voice talent who do marketing pieces, informational and corporate communications work – we see scripts for IT, healthcare, the financial business, the military or the government and many other types of industries. I did a long piece recently for a municipal building project that spoke to the prime contractors about their required paperwork at every step of the project. Another large project was for a government agency website describing every department within the agency in minute detail.

We need to see past the word soup and understand the message so that we can hear when something just doesn’t sound “right” during the recording.

Many scripts are not written by scriptwriters, so the words may have never actually been spoken aloud. Sometimes a script is written by an experienced white paper writer, or annual report writer. These are words that are written for the eye and not the ear. Long sentences with multiple compound phrases. Experienced talent can parse through the words and generally get the message across in their delivery.

Knowing who will be seeing or hearing the presentation is helpful, too – along with understanding what is new information for the audience and what they might already be familiar with. An experienced talent will know when to ask questions so that the message doesn’t get lost along the way.

I had a script today with several newly invented acronyms which referred to other newly invented acronyms about a subject that I am not completely familiar with. But familiar enough to get to the flavor of the story I was telling.

That is my job. I have to look past the noodles and concentrate on the soup.

June 8, 2015

Getting Your House In Order

Filed under: Business, Musings — connieterwilliger @ 3:41 pm

I am a bad homeowner. About 10 years ago, I had a major remodel done that included replacing all of my windows with new wood dual pane windows. Of course I was told that wood windows needed to be maintained. A coat of paint every few years was part of my responsibility as the homeowner.

Bad WindowDid I do it? No, so the result is going to about $1000 worth of repair and then new paint everywhere – which I will probably hire out because the idea of painting 14 windows and all the trim around the top of front of the house seems like a daunting time suck – plus I don’t have a ladder tall enough to get up to the roof line.

The list of things to do around the house after living here nearly 30 years is starting to get long. First on the list is tenting for termites. The heat treatment I tried on the deck cover just didn’t work and there is evidence of termites in other places, so that is first on deck for the checkbook. After that, the windows, then the stucco.

Inside there is some work to be done too. Lots of little handyman things. Although, if I win the Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes, then the rest of the hardwood floors will be redone and the inside of the house repainted.

If you take a quick tour of the house, you would think that everything is great. But look at it with the studied eye of a real estate broker and you can hear the property value dropping. (Not that I am selling anytime soon!)

The same thing can be said for my VO business. Despite the fact that I am a successful working voice talent, my VO house is not quite in order. For example, my website is in dire need of an update. Last year I tried to hire a popular website company to upgrade the site and they were simply too busy to even put me on the schedule for months down the road.

So, the website got shoved to the bottom of the pile of things to do. Much like I walked past the windows in my driveway day after day and sort of shoved the site into the back crevices of my brain.

But it is time to stop procrastinating. Put the sticky note that says WEBSITE in block letters in the upper right corner of my monitor, and make a promise to myself not to ignore it like the windows…

Maybe that busy website company isn’t so busy this year.

June 3, 2015

The quest to get better without losing who you used to be…

Filed under: Acting, Auditioning — Tags: , , — connieterwilliger @ 6:19 pm
Connie and Liz de Nesnera

Connie and Liz de Nesnera on the way to the workshop – Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner.

I just got home from a weekend workshop in Henderson (just outside Las Vegas) with Marice Tobias. It was an all-woman workshop with 10 working pros held at Melissa Moats new voiceover studio The Voice Actors Studio. Marice does this same thing with all men and also co-ed. The women’s workshop is usually – OK, pretty much always – a lot more emotional therapy along with the voiceover component. It was a wonderful weekend for many reasons and I think it has shown in the auditions and the projects I have done since getting back to my studio on Monday.

Getting coaching is something that a lot of working voice talent does during the course of their careers. Some do it a lot, some never and some fall somewhere in between. I’m probably in the in between camp.

And you can break it into categories: one-on-one, small groups of pros or very specific genres of VO, mid-sized groups of pros and large groups with voiceover people of all levels.

The larger groups tend to be mostly for beginners – pros usually find that they get more out of a really large conference by hanging out with their friends. The mid-sized groups have more substance for the working pro with something gleaned by the end of the weekend – sometimes lots and lots of things. Small groups can work specifics and hone in on approach. And of course, one-on-one is all about specifics.

This weekend was a small group and we worked on some specific approaches to what we do, lots of insights into our business as it is today – and our mental health.

The interesting thing for me is that after I get back from one of these weekends in a small group or with a one-on-one coach, my conversations with agents who I book with on a regular basis worry that I am going to change my basic delivery.

No, my goal with these workshops is to hone in on the real me – the person I am with my friends, with my speech patterns and energy and believe-ability.

Not change me, but be a better me.

We spend so much time in a vacuum these days that we second guess who we are when we get a piece of copy. So, while the read is good and the client is satisfied – the read COULD be great and the client can’t think of any reason not to hire you again for another project. I want to continue to be in that group – a voice that people remember the next time they have a project that needs a VO.

So, when the opportunity arises, I will continue to attend small workshop, or a mid-sized conference like FaffCon. And maybe I’ll pony up for a one-on-one every once in a while.

But for right now, I will be reflecting on this most recent experience and try to bring the “real” me to new auditions without losing who I was before.

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