As the Academy Awards nominees take their seats tonight, I recall my own LA “Oscar” like red carpet experience. In November 2016, I was in LA as I had been nominated for a Society of Voice Arts and Science award. What an honour to be recognised by the great and the good in the voice world. It is such a prestigious award ceremony that I was thrilled. I had made the shortlist for outstanding TV promo campaign for my work with Sony TV. Hopping across the pond, I was ready for a great adventure. My destination? The home of The Big Bang Theory: The Warner Bros. Studio. In the high-spec Warner Bros. studio, I watched a live radio drama; saw a panel talk led by ACX with narrators and producers; witnessed a live audition for a contract with an agent; and heard million-dollar voices talk about work. In the afternoon, I had a one-in-a-million chance to meet and greet some casting directors, agents and managers in a speed dating session. It was a huge opportunity to play my reels to people with over 300 years of cumulative experience.
The LA red carpet
Drum roll please! The day of the Voice Arts Awards gala ceremony! A knock at the door: a Redken artist appeared ready to make me look fantastic. What a fantastic gift – thank you Redken – Zoraida Saray is amazing! Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins were our hosts and – wow - they host in high-octane style with a fantastic red carpet. It was a glitzy affair and lights flashed on and off as I walked along it. I smiled widely, stepping along in my pink high heels that were clashing wonderfully. I stood centre stage and grinned as the light bulbs went off left, right and centre. What a wonderful red carpet moment!
My top tips for the red carpet:
1. Lights, Camera, Action - It can be daunting with banks of cameras and lights set up. When you stand on your mark, adopt a comfortable stance and turn slightly with the upper body to the camera (photographer’s top tip) and smile. Smile, smile smile.
2. Stars are wonderful up close - At red carpets events, with everyone all dressed up, it is like a show but this time when you are there taking part, you realise that even the Stars and Celebrities are like you and me. Or rather, wonderfully normal people like you and me.
3. Keep hydrated - From prep to red carpet it takes hours, so in warm weather keep hydrated by drinking water in sips, little and often.
4. Be more cat - Red carpet events can be overwhelming with something exciting to look for at each turn. Be cool and, just like being a cat, own each step you take on the red carpet.
5. Enjoy - Looking great on the red carpet is hard work but it is a lot of fun and an utterly fabulous place to shine, but it can be over in quick as a flash! Work that smile, take that step and ENJOY IT!
And the award goes to….
What a spectacle! The awards categories were announced in style. Everyone was cheering on their favourite nominee. My highlights included an academy award winner on stage, famous voices being honoured and Erin Brockovich making an impassioned speech. I held hands with other nominees that night and, although I didn’t win, I still felt like a winner. The best part was seeing and feeling the passion, respect and love for the art of voice over. Thank you. For all the Oscar nominees tonight, good luck y buena suerte!
After the fun festivities and gatherings in December, January can often look boring and grey in comparison. Not so. January is ….CREATIVITY MONTH. This is a great reason to carry on celebrating.
Being creative can take many forms and I love how you can feel fulfilled when you uncap a pen, bring out the paint, tap away on the keyboard or simply head out to take some photos. Even rustling up batches of some homemade cooking or baking can encourage the creative juices to flow. I even have a friend whose doodles during meetings are things of creative genius.
Creativity is magical. I love how taking a moment to imagine something can take you to new ideas and directions. As I was typing this, the radio was on. I sat through Pop Master in the morning and then came by my favourite feature, on the Jeremy Vine Show: What Makes Us Human. This time it was Brian Eno who talked about imagination and creation. Have a listen.
Many people tell me that they are not creative. I beg to differ. Everyone has creativity bubbling away inside of them; the form of expressing it just varies. I love to express my creativity through voicing, writing and even social media. I carve time and space for creativity so that I can come up with something personally and professionally satisfying.
This quote from Leo Burnett sums up that magical secret ingredient to creativity:
Being creative through curiosity brings us back to being a child. Remember those days when you had no concept of time as you played and played, making up stories, giving them life through the magic of your imagination? That joyous state should be celebrated.
But just how to unleash your creativity? Some of my favourite creative outlets include: bringing characters to life, dancing, taking photos, hiking and storytelling. The list is endless and I keep adding to it every month. What brings out the creativity in you? What do you enjoy as a creative outlet?
To tap into your creative side, take a moment and reflect what “being creative” means to you? Is it writing, painting, planning or something else? Even organising your books into colour-coordinating sections is being creative. Make the time to be creative and when you get the urge, use that energy to concentrate on your creative project. It will be rewarding.
Make January a creative month and celebrate what your imagination and curiosity brings to you.
Life is one HUGE learning curve. And what better curve than the beautiful sound wave? Those beautiful compressed and refracted undulations are glorious. Waves, I salute you! I am always struck, when I watch and listen back to the waves, by how much we can learn from them - not only about performance, style, and timing but also the subject matter itself. Did you know that Ibuprofen was first developed in Nottingham? Did you know that you are the master of your own confidence? Did you know that cats have different nutritional needs (and are also very cute)? Well, now I do and so do you!
Learning never stops and is a continuous journey where my aim is always to polish my skills and work on getting new ones. Life is an art form. Three little letters for you: CPD! No, not an articulation exercise but CONTINUOUS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. There is always so much to fine tune, not just in the VO world (breathing, articulating, reading and understanding) but in the business world as well. From technical audio skills to negotiation analysis to marketing your brand – these are just some of the areas that voiceover artists need to focus on.
To CPD or not to CPD? That is the question? No! How many resources will you set aside and commit to ongoing learning? That, I feel, is the better question.
Why is it just so important? TheRound Island maestro, Guy Michaels presents his case presents his case: “Are you the tortoise or the hare? CPD is constant, hence my preference for Continuous rather than Continuing. If you stop, then those around you who are plodding on carefully as the tortoise does, will be overtaking you. If you have not made time to consider your professional development in the long term, you are standing still.” Well there you go!
And as I mentioned before, CPD is not just about the VO side: change is happening and it is crucial to keep up with changes. Gary Terzza, the VO masterclass taskmaster makes his point clearly: “Social media has changed how we promote our VO services. Because this is in a constant state of flux, CPD is essential to keep up to date with new platforms and new ways of selling.”
So we’ve established that learning is a good thing and therefore should be incorporated into your annual voice over strategy. How should you go about this? Some hard thinking is needed to know which direction you want to go in, what your goals are and how to best get them. Then, as Gary says, “…look at [the] way of achieving [your goals] through development such as advanced voice over courses.” Maybe you realise your potential clients are all businesses on linkedIn but you aren’t sure of how to use that platform, so a course might be useful. Or perhaps you want to work on audiobooks but need to build up your breathing stamina, so an especially-designed course might work for you.
A word of caution from Guy: “Be careful of 'goal setting'. Many of us set ourselves goals for the forthcoming year, lose track, beat ourselves up over not reaching them”. Yes, good call Guy! I’ve been working on a 2016 goal chart, about what I want to achieve in the coming year. Yes, in some I have reached for the stars (anything 007-related please) but I have set achievable goals as well. Then every day, I work on achieving this goal. Sometimes a few reminders can help: “Schedule regular review dates in your diary. Set time aside to see whether the steps you are taking are helping you move towards you goals or not.” Always go back and reassess: goals can change as well as you learn more about yourself, so don’t be afraid to update your objectives.
Right, so now we have a set of goals in front of us and we know what we want to learn about, but how much should you be spending on CPD? Here’s a complex calculation from Gary: “You should set the cost within the context of future profit projections. Could £1,000 spent on CPD yield a further £2,000 in earnings? If so, any professional development outlay would pay for itself over and over again.” So, excel sheets at the ready….calculate! (I imagine that last word being shouted in style of Sue in the GBBO marquee.) Guy succinctly explains the expenditure thus: “As long as the CPD is focussed, it has identifiable benefits and enables you to take a step back from the day-to-day of 'work' then I would aim for a 10% of gross spend in the first 5 years as a VO.” And remember that we also have to spend time on the CPD, not just dosh. Will you commit to it and spend the time for the actual course or learning programme and also study for it beforehand (and afterwards)?
CPD is for everyone but if you are a voice over artist then why should you invest in this trio of letters? All businesses need to change and keep up with new ideas and innovations. Adapting and changing is key and for voice overs, wearing many hats means having to be knowledgeable about all areas. You may even find you build up more skills! Gary suggests that “Voice over artists should look to push themselves into different, unexpected areas. Joining a choir or improv group will enhance vocal dexterity and stretch performance talents.” Great ideas!
Every year, I line up some CPD – some are pure business or for VO and others are just for fun. One year, I decided to add hip hop to my dancing skills and even ended up body popping at a huge Nike event in a giant warehouse! Another year, I did some serious audio archiving – ahhh the feel of actual tapes! This year I have been consolidating my breathing techniques(yes more than just in and out), talking so that I sound like more than 100+ people and finally perfecting my home studio.
Next year, I have quite a few CPD items on my list. A really fun one I am looking forward to is a gaming VO course with THE Dave Fennoy, yep in person, yep here in the UK, yes, I know! A lot of fab CPD courses are offered by the fantastic VoiceOver Network, supporting VOs to reach their goals. Others are offered by agents, contacts or even clients! I’ll update my objectives during the year, but all along the way, I know that it will be great for me, for my VO business and for my Voice Art!
Ahhh autumn and as the leaves begin to develop that deep orange/red, I headed back to uni. Now, it has been over 15 years since I stepped out onto those lovely cobbles at the Aldwych and I was very excited to be stepping on them once again. This time, I went back as a mentor to LSE students. While I am still trying to figure out where the past 15 years have got to (work, travel, work with travel, study and fun) I was very eager to see what these students are up to and offer them the benefits of my experience.
As I prepared for my mentoring sessions, I felt that a bit of a recap about what mentoring actually is and the benefits it can bring, would be a good idea:
Purpose of mentoring
What exactly is mentoring? A quick internet and dictionary search offers a wide range of explanations but I feel this one on Wikipedia sums it up rather well: “Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger, but have a certain area of expertise.”
The key words that really stand out for me, are personal development and guide. I’ve been lucky enough to have some wonderful mentors that were just that: guides! Guiding me into realising where I wanted to take my vocal career or guiding me to find tools to build my confidence in certain business situations, mentors can really help and bring benefits to an individual willing to learn which all goes into your personal development. As award-winning voice over artist Jay Brittonpoints out, mentoring helps with choices from an experienced standpoint: “Your role as the mentor is to guide the mentee down the path they have chosen and give them the tools they need to make their own decisions and choices from an informed position.”
Mentoring is not a teacher-student relationship, it is more of a helping hand. “Mentoring is a collaborative process whereby you work with the mentee to help them achieve their aims in ways that work for them.” Very true, Jay.
And it’s not just about the benefits to one person; mentoring can actually benefit a whole team. As Hazel McCallum states from Moving on up coaching:“Mentoring is a very efficient way of transferring valuable skills, knowledge and competencies from one person to another and contributes to strong teams and staff retention.”
However mentoring is not just about transference of skills, it can be a safe place to share, a free place to discuss issues in a work-free independent context: “Mentoring offers safe advice, confidentiality and discussion with freedom wherever mentees are in their career”says Jenny Richards, CEO of Women in Games Jobs. And this applies to any areas of work: mentors can cover your career, your industry or even skill set that you are interested in working on.
So what would be the key principles for mentoring?
Time. Trust. Commitment. These three words came up time and time again when I talked to various people.
Do you actually have the time? We all lead busy lives and mentors and mentees alike are working to deadlines no matter where they work. It needs acknowledgement on both parts from the start as to how much time will both dedicate to this relationship.
Moving on to trust. “Trust is a huge one” says Jenny and one which I totally agree on. I recall an experience when I was assigned a mentor but realised my mentor knew some people I had worked with on a personal level. Hmmm, that could have been very awkward. Trust was crucial here. You both need to trust the other, both with advice given and sharing.
Commitment – pretty clear. This takes time, energy and both sides need to actually commit. The mentor should be clear about the time and issues they can help with and the mentee to commit to working as well. It is a “two way street”, so both sides need to be involved. It’s not just about the X amount of hours you said you would do that week, but actually acknowledging that both of you need to make the conversation and relationship work.
Benefits of mentoring
For the mentee, not only can they access someone who can guide them and bounce ideas off of but also develop a greater understanding of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses. Hazel summarises it in this way: “Mentees report a wide range of benefits, ranging from adapting to a new role to a deeper self awareness and understanding of their own limitations and development needs and Mentors experience greater job satisfaction and personal development.”
In some cases, the mentor may help the mentee uncover something about them and help them overcome any obstacles. This relationship can, as Jenny says, “reach conclusions much more quickly and then you can act on them”. In a simple case, it may be that a mentee feels unconfident when dealing with a certain situation or not getting along with other staff. The mentor should quickly spot the issue and advise how best to remedy it.
Mentors can feel enjoyment or involvement at being there for someone junior to them, “To the mentor the payoff is simple, that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see someone succeed and know you had a hand in it. If someone is mentoring, it usually means they enjoy transferring knowledge and helping people find their path. The chances are as well that they’ve also seen lots of people do the wrong things and fail and wished they’d have been able to help them so there’s also a “saviour” pay off there for the mentor” points out Jay. Many mentors, including Jay, have commented that: it’s about having someone there for them to help and guide. Not only that, but a mentor can learn about new ideas and see things from an experienced distance.
Many of us may have been lucky to have a mentor while studying but having one during your career development is perhaps even more important.An example of mentoring from student to graduate and beyond is thevery successful Global Advisory and Mentoring Platform, now coming up to its first anniversary. Andrea Balestrino, an HEC graduatewith CEMS, now at BCG in Italy said mentoring was very welcome, “When I was a student I highly appreciated people who devoted part of their time to answer my questions and give me advice about my future”. Andrea also has mentors who have influenced him when he was a student and after graduating. They have helped him to grow professionally and personally, and supported him in making difficult choices. He believesa trusted mentor is a key figure in one's career development.
How to be a good mentor/mentee
I have been lucky enough to have been mentored during my professional career and also have been a mentor. I have found it professionally rewarding and beneficial for many reasons. But what are the rules, codes or behaviours to be a good mentor or mentee? A lot will depend on personalities. “A huge amount is based around chemistry” says Jenny. Another key skill is to listen. The mentor must listen, in order to pick up on clues as to why the mentee may have an issue and offer real advice.
Mentors should always remain clear about the objectives. “A good mentor should constantly be adjusting the curriculum and content to fit the needs of the mentee.” Jay says, “To be a good mentor, you need to be focused on the aims of your mentee, not simply your aim of imparting a set amount of knowledge.”
The mentee on the other hand must also listen and take on-board that advice. As Jay points out, trust comes up again: “A good mentee….trusts their mentor and puts in to action the advice and knowledge they receive.”
Mentoring is something I believe in quite passionately. I’ve seen it really help my career and voice business. As Jay says, “By engaging with a mentor experienced in the field you are entering right off the bat. You are well-positioned to start out on your chosen path in the best possible way, without making careless mistakes.” Absolutely true.
When I returned to the LSE to run a number of mentoring sessions, I had a great time. The students came to the sessions with well-prepared questions, listened to my advice, and saw from the point of view of someone who has been there in those Econ B lectures, that you can makes your dreams come true!
In many professional arenas, being healthy is key to ensuring you are working at your optimal level. It is easy to understand that a good diet and healthiness are important if you are a health instructor or athlete, but have you considered how your diet can affect your professional life? Professional life focuses mainly on core business skills, but being able to deliver constantly day after day requires preparation and dedication, not only to the job, but to you as well.
As a voice actor, I have to take my health and my voice very seriously. If I get a cold or a sore throat, then I can’t work! Even my diet is important to ensure that I can generate - and keep generating - a requested voice for a script for hours on end. Even a simple one-minute video requires stamina and knowing how far you can take your voice. This requires a lot of preparation: I train a lot; perform daily vocal warm-up exercises; do physical exercises; watch my diet for optimal performance; drink a lot of water; take daily doses of omega 3 oils; and eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. Take the “five a day” and double it! Just like the effort I put into my business, I put the same into my health and diet.
I know from personal experience that changing diet can change a person, working from the inside out. I asked Fiona Gibson - nutritionist at AskNutrition- what foods are best for working long busy days, “Energy and stamina come from slow-release foods that contain Magnesium and B vitamins. These are in low supply in most people’s diet but can be increased from eating slow energy-releasing complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholemeal grains and dark green leafy vegetables.” When you have been out meeting clients, recording new tracks, doing social media marketing and having a social life, you need to have stamina.
To ensure that I keep my voice in tip-top condition for a day’s recording, I have to focus on keeping fit and healthy, both physically and mentally. Even if I am having a bad day, my voice has to sound happy, upbeat and cheerful. Moments of meditation, mindfulness and even practising Reiki or Tai Chi helps me to prepare for all vocal roles. With imagination, I can transport myself to each and every character, embodying them to deliver their voice in whatever direction is needed. This letting go is crucial: without it, my performance won’t be believable. The best performers, be they actors, business leaders or senior managers, are often those who have presence, either innate or learnt. They let go completely and live the moment, gathering you up and taking you on a journey. This belief and passion is a skill and one which requires practice. Former Head of voice at LAMDA, vocal coach Yvonne Morley talks about “submitting to the culture”. For any delivery, submit to the time, place and occasion and let it flow. She also talks about being willing to play a part and diving into things so really just go for it!
Voice work can mean long takes, standing up or sitting down and - in some cases - getting very active vocally and physically. It’s easy to forget to exercise when you have a recording deadline, but exercise is crucial in order to be able to continually deliver vocally.
“Make the body less sedentary” says Paul Edwards, Manager at Peak Fitness Gym. “Sitting down means that your metabolic rate drops, so you put on weight and you don’t create any endorphins.”
YIKES! If you are inside sitting down a lot, then watch those hip flexors: they’ll tighten up and your pelvis will move forward, which can cause pressure on your back as well as giving you that pot belly!
If you are working outside and already active, then your muscles and body are already tired and tight. “Here you need to release the tension before you exercise so some yoga or using a foam roller would work for you”, explains Paul. Cardio is king for whatever work you do so that the body can respond. Try to fit exercise into your day as a matter of routine. Do what works for you, but remember that it’s all about “specificity”: if you run a lot, you’ll use running muscles but not the other groups of muscles. Don’t forget that they need a work out too.
“The body likes doing everything – just the unconscious gets in the way”, adds Paul. I spend time doing Pilates and ballet to strengthen my core because that combined with my vocal exercises builds my stamina and keeps my shoulder blades tight, opening my chest so that I can breathe more deeply and work harder. I’ve even had deep tissue massages to release tight shoulder and back muscles. My voice is an instrument which needs to be taken care of daily.
But you’re going to say that you are really busy and can’t make all those changes in one go. If there was one dietary change which we could make today what would that be? Fiona tells us, “Decrease drinks such as coffee, tea, alcohol, and fizzy drinks and focus on giving the body plenty of clean still water. Drink about eight glasses per day (around two litres). The body needs water for every bio-chemical process which takes place, including the brain.”
As a voice artist, water is a must: the mouth and voice box must be moist and lubricated. After a day recording, I will have sipped, gulped, and swished at least those two litres of water; if I didn’t, you would hear those annoying mouthy sticky noises.
And what one change could you make for more exercise? As Paul says, “make it fun: the body loves to move”. That is certainly true. Whether I am a sexy senorita, computer voice, excitable cheerleader, military commander or Italian mama, movement is all part of the character. To embody those roles means to move in very different ways; doing this every day means that you need to be fit both vocally and physically. After all, you become the character: voice, body and soul.
These past few months, I have been on a networking frenzy, totally vocally voxed out! If it weren’t for my daily warm-lemon drink and vocal exercises, then I would have lost my voice. However, getting out there and networking is key to growing your business. Developing your business takes many forms: from design, to invoicing, to showcasing your talents. But it means nothing if you sit around and wait for jobs to roll in. Networking is another tool in your (ever-growing) business toolbox. Every person you meet can open a door. I love the idea that – through networking – you could learn something new, see an idea in a different way or just have a giggle with each and every person you come across. And these past few weeks that is exactly what I have experienced.
Networking can be defined as “interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts”. It should be treated as any other relationship and needs time and attention for it to grow and thrive. At times when you get out there, the interaction can feel a bit stilted, but if you set a genuine expectation that any relationship can provide you both with some positive actions you can relax and get into it.
I do enjoy a natter (well that is good as it is my job!) but networking can be hard if you have spent a few weeks sitting at home talking to yourself (into your mic). So I took the plunge, swapped my “home clothes” for some glad rags and went to three local and regional business networking events, where businesses often meet up to have a chat and share their goods and services. I ended up not just getting to know new people but being offered complimentary theatre tickets, meeting the incoming Mayor and getting a few contacts in the video production and creative design industries. Result! When you have lots of exchanging of information amongst like-minded people in a fun environment, then I would say you are doing some Nifty Networking!
I spent a great day recording a corporate guide 20 min explainer video for a modelling products maker and learnt so much about models. No, not the tall, willowy, painted, blow dried, sashaying sort (though I did work in that field but that is a whole other story). I’m talking about the painted, dried and then put-on-display models such as trains, planes and automobiles.
What I love about doing this job is that you get to learn about so many areas. Areas that I wouldn’t have known about before voicing them. How do you create dioramas and landscapes for models used in film sets, for example? Now I can tell you about it and how to use the products to achieve those effects. Brilliant. It was really fun and interesting and I found myself being tested on some tricky chemical words, as well as some positively plosive product alliterations which called for some extreme smiling to work them out.
Having been on the client side for many years, I’ve been on many a photo shoot. “That’s right dear, jump, swish your hair!” So to now be in front instead of behind (well actually it was more by the snack table grazing away) of the camera is nerve-wracking. But the lovely Karen Hatch, fab photographer, made me feel right at home. I’ve used Karen for years, from backstage to front-of-house shoots and launches as well as product shots. Headshots for an actor – I totally get that. But for voice acting? Across mainland Europe, CVs for even the non-creative industries always require headshots to be added.
So for voice acting? Yes a definite YES. We’re actors, of the voice. Showcase yourself! Whatever your voiceover focus, the client will definitely want to see you. As a former client on the other side of that glass, I always looked at the images. For anything, even choosing promotional material suppliers. Pictures+ paint = 1000 words – and they give you a sense of the person. In our portfolios it’s another tool to connect with the client. They want a voice to connect to a product, brand or service. Make them hear AND see that it is you they are after!
Last month, courtesy of the wonderful VoiceOver Network, the 5th floor of Waterstones Piccadilly was the venue for an exciting animation event. We all enjoyed hearing Keith Wickham, Dian Perry (as well as their (voice) box of tricks) and Dave Peacock.
I’ve yet to explore animation – though I am renowned at my former place of work for being able to compete with bats and the Bagpuss mice for my high-pitched squeals if something is (OMG - THAT) exciting! It was a great evening, I learnt loads and met loads of lovely peeps! A big call out to the “newbies” and also to Rachael Naylor for organising it all. Looking forward to the next event!