FOR THE HELL OF IT VOL 9 NO 5
July 23, 2017
By Johnny Heller
ON MAKING CHANGES
So, APAC is over and you are still fired up to take your audiobook narration career to the next level!
Wonderful. But have you actually changed anything you are doing?
“Before APAC, I didn’t know how to approach casting directors and producers!” said one APAC attendee to me recently. “I was always afraid that they didn’t really want to meet me or care about my work. But I met a lot of them in New York and they were all really nice! They took my card and they gave me theirs and told me to keep in touch!”
“And have you kept in touch?”, I asked.
“In touch! Have you reached out as they suggested? Have you sent them a note saying how nice it was to meet them and how you are looking forward to the opportunity to work with them?”
“Um. No.” She responded. “But they were really nice!”
It’s always a pleasure to meet nice people. They always seem so much friendlier than mean people – don’t they?
Let’s go over a few things that you might be doing right now that you probably shouldn’t.
- IGNORE INTRODUCTIONS AND CONTACTS.
If you meet a really nice producer– say Debra Deyan – and you think “Oh my God! What a wonderful person! She’s really nice! I can’t believe I was worried about meeting her! What a jerkwad I am!”
And you never ever send her a note telling her what a pleasure it was to meet her, what will she think of you? What will we she think of that meeting?
“Gosh,” Debra might think, “I really thought that was a lovely person. I thought we hit it off and I was going to find a book for her…but she never sent me a note. She said she would.
Oh why oh why do they promise to call or write and then never do it?
I know I shouldn’t get so invested. (maybe a tear and a sniffle here)
I was just hoping we could work together and become friends and maybe go shopping or just gossip on the phone about Scott Brick and Simon Vance and Tavia Gilbert. Maybe – just maybe- we could even have discussed politics! I know – right? A risk I was willing to take.
…sigh. I’ll just drink alone in my gigantic house.
Damn heartbreaking narrators. They’re all bastards. Especially Brick.”
1.A. Producers, casting directors, coaches are all real people with real feelings. They like to laugh. They like to do things. They have lives and families and favorite Seinfeld episodes. Like us, none of them like bubble tea – it just makes no sense—drinking beverage through a straw and suddenly getting a soft lumpy rock in their mouth. Gross. They like to know they are valued. Does that sound like – I dunno – everybody? I think it does.
1.B. Only proofers and engineers and tech gurus are not real people. They are evil robots invented by mad scientists. They have zero gray areas and they love to make you do retakes even though the first go round sounded just fine. I’m telling you – Amanda Rose Smith has broken more hearts that Chris Evans. But don’t let them know you are on to them. They will kill you while you sleep using just your household appliances. And they will replace you with clones. Jeffery Kafer, you may have noted, is a clone. The real one was killed with his nose hair trimmer in 2003.
- DON’T HAVE A WEBSITE.
Everyone, even the Javits Convention Center janitors, told you that you need to get a website. Still don’t have one?
Wonder why things haven’t changed much?
I recently asked 10 different producers what they wanted on an actor’s demo. I was hopeful that there would be a consensus so I could have my students give the producers exactly what they wanted. Of course, I got 10 different answers.
Except for one thing.
Every single one of them said that they prefer that actors send them a link to their demos instead of attaching a file.
I wonder where would be a good place to post such a link?
I wonder if there was some sort of internet place where one could put stuff about themselves so potential clients and fans could find them and samples of their work.
That would be amazing, wouldn’t it?
GET A DAMN WEBSITE.
- TAKE EVERY SINGLE JOB YOU CAN.
I know many actors who narrate awful books even when they know they are awful. And by awful, I don’t mean the subject matter. I mean the books are poorly written, poorly edited, poorly promoted and poorly distributed. The only way to make any money on it is if you could use it to hit a rich person over the head, knock them out and take their wallet and run. That’s not a good business plan. Too many rich people don’t have cash on them and you have to walk around holding a crappy book in hoping to find a rich guy. It’s an awful plan.
So is taking every book you can.
“I’m only doing the book for the experience,” I hear.
“I only did crack for the experience.”
“I only drank some Drano for the experience.”
“I only voted for Trump for the experience.”
None of these make sense. You don’t have to experience a horrible thing to know for certain that it’s horrible!
If your website has links to you narrating titles like: “Fun with Dead People!”; “What’s Inside Septic Tanks”; “Adventures in Bus Station Restrooms” and “50 Shades of Mauve” I think you are destined to do awful books. Because that’s what your demos say about you. Your willingness to take on any job means you will get crap jobs. Because no one else will do them.
Don’t be that guy.
- WORK FOR $50 PFH
I’ve worked for a very long time now with the likes of Richard Ferrone, Karen White, Patrick Lawlor and others serving on the SAGAFTRA AUDIOBOOK STEERING COMMITTEE to get every publisher to offer decent PFH rates so that narrators can earn a living narrating – regardless of their union affiliation. Because of those efforts, almost every publisher has an agreement with the union that guarantees the actor a fair PFH rate.
(The full list of the committee is at the end of this article. These people deserve my praise and your thanks!)
Then someone tells me that they are going to do a book for $50 or $75 pfh. If you are willing to narrate a book, edit and master it and make it ready for digital downloads for $50 pfh then you are worth exactly $50 pfh.
Think about that.
Clearly not every book is going to sell well enough to pay you a decent wage to record it. If you want to do the book because it may lead to better pay with the same author or because it is near and dear to your heart, I understand. If it’s a risky royalty share or a low PFH rate but you want to do it for whatever reason – go ahead. But don’t make it your rate. Make it clear it’s a one off and make it clear you will not be able to ever do it again.
You are worth what you accept as payment. If you accept $50 pfh on a regular basis, you are not going to get paid more because everyone will know that they can have you for $50 and it doesn’t make sense to them to pay you more when you are so clearly willing to work for less just so you can say “I’m a narrator!” You’ll make more than that if you can honestly say “I’m a barista!”
And there’s nothing wrong with being a barista.
There is something very wrong with pricing yourself absurdly low. It undercuts efforts to set a reasonable bar for hourly rates for all narrators. It gives hope to those who think actors are the least important part of the process. It means you will not be taken seriously.
AND I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT ACX. I will now though!
- ACT LIKE ACX IS EMBARRASSING.
If you are doing work on ACX, you have zero reason to behave like you are in the minor leagues. Craig Tollifson, Greg Tremblay, Kevin Pierce, Teri Schnaubelt, and tons of other excellent narrators all do very well with ACX. They are no less talented because of it.
Neither are you. ACX is not only a wonderful opportunity to get into this business, it is an excellent way to make a living at it.
If you treat it like the minor leagues and believe that you are a minor league player because you work in it, then it is and you are.
But that’s on you.
I have yet to meet a publisher who thinks ACX is a bad thing or that ACX narrators are not talented. Don’t think that.
Is there a difference working in ACX than working for a PFH Publisher? Yes. Do both require acting and talent and skill? Yes.
So, don’t sell yourself short. Unless you truly believe you are not good. And if that’s what you think, why are you doing this? If you have a bad attitude and a genuine sense that you are, at heart, no good – for God’s sake! Stop narrating and get into the legal profession. You’ll fit right in.
There. 5 things to do to make a difference in your career.
I also think you should take some workshops. Jo Anna Perrin, Steven Jay Cohen and I have one coming up Oct 13-15 in New England. You’ll be able to enjoy the wisdom and companionship of Paul Alan Ruben, Sean Allen Pratt, Paula Parker, Tavia Gilbert, Bryan Barney, Carol Monda and eat smores! Sign up on my website.
Scott Brick and I have one coming up in January in LA. It will be focused on the business of audio books and it will feature Jeffrey Kafer and some other leading lights who will help you turn this dream into a functioning profitable business. (I make the assumption that you are a talented narrator to start with of course! For me, it’s all about the acting first.)
I think Gerald Griffith’s VO Atlanta is one of the great workshops for voice actors in any genre. You should plan on attending March 1-4, 2018. (It’s in Atlanta – hence the catchy name!)
Working with a good coach is also helpful. And there are coaches for every facet of the business – but do your research. There are far too many coaches who have far too few years of experience and far too few titles to be offering their services as a coach. I’m not naming names but do your due diligence. And understand that they are professionals. You wouldn’t ask a psychiatrist to analyze you for an hour if you buy him a cup of coffee, don’t ask a coach to do so either. A coach who will work with you for a cup of coffee is worth a cup of coffee.
I think you should join APA and participate in their seminars – Suzanne Elise Freeman is going to be running them and she has some excellent ideas.
I think you should be active on social media too. That means joining voiceover-oriented Facebook groups and getting to know your fellow actors. They are an amazing group of people and I am proud to call them friends.
So that’s it for this edition of For the Hell of It! …except for the rest of it.
As Promised: SAGAFTRA AUDIOBOOK STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBERS: – please feel free to thank them for their efforts. They are led by the SAGAFTRA negotiating team of Richard Larkin, Jane Love, Steve Sidawi and John Richkus.
John Lee, Karen White, LJ Ganser, Holter Graham. Carol Monda. Nick Sullivan. Scott Brick, Cassandra Campbell, Hilary Huber, Lisa Renee Pitts, Susan Ericksen, Patrick Lawlor, Ralph Lister, Sean Pratt, John Pruden, Robin Miles, Gy Mirano, Mark Turetsky, Paul Boehmer, James Patrick Cronin, Don Leslie, Adenrele Ojo, David Colacci, Jonathan Davis, Tanya Eby, Jeffrey Kafer, Miron Willis, Johnny Heller
IN THE NEWS!
SWEDEN…For those UK voters unhappy that their choice for a new ship – “Boaty McBoatface” – was rejected for “HMS Another Stupid Boat We Don’t Care About and What the Hell is Brexit?” or some such thing, Sweden’s electorate has come to their rescue naming their new intercity train – “Trainy McTrainface.”
It is hoped that quirky names for government projects will catch on across the globe. In fact, it is rumored that North Korea, in an effort to display Kim Jung Un’s sense of humor, has renamed one of his missiles “Bomb McBomb the American Imperialist Dogs Face.” The North Korean electorate was not consulted on the name as he was not home at the time of the vote.
FINLAND…789 Finnish swimmers attempted, for the third time, to break the world record for the World’s Largest Nude Swim.
“Previous attempts were not successful,” said nude spokesman Pekka Henriksen “as some swimmers got bitten by little fishies on their parts that hang down and out or are otherwise attractive to little fishies and had to come out of the water. This year we just ignored the fishies. If we can get the record for the most naked swimmers it will be a very big moment for Finland.”
Meanwhile researchers in Canada continued to work on finding a cure for cancer.
DENMARK…A penis shaped rock formation, popular with tourists and rock climbers is back up! Vandals broke off some 12 tons of the penis rock in a wonton act of destruction certain to make the rock embarrassed and ill at ease.
“Once you take even a ton of penis off a penis,” said climber Olaf Jorgenson, “you have really damaged the penis. Psychologically and physically. And we are talking 12 tons. That’s a lot of penis that is no longer there for climbers and tourists to enjoy.”
Citizens donated over $27,000 to erect the penis.
“Now, of course” Jorgenson added, “we need to wait to climb on the penis. It may take a little time for the iron wedges and concrete to fully hold but we are hopeful that we will soon be able to enjoy climbing on our penis again.”
Meanwhile researchers in Canada continued to work on finding alternative sources of energy to save our planet for future generations of penis climbers.