Voice Over Coach Michael Minetree…
One of the Top Technical Voice Over Coaches in the Industry Today. Learn the Voice Over Craft from One of the Best
When it comes to coaching voice over and training new talent how to handle the complex demands of the craft, I like to take a realistic approach, teaching in a fashion and at a pace my students can understand. After all I’m working in voice overs. I make no bones about sharing my experiences and mistakes with my students so they in turn don’t make them.
I’m on the phone daily with producers, listening to their concerns. I’m holding ISDN and phone patch sessions on a regular basis. Each day I’m sent copy from around the country and sometimes the world. I go through the same struggles all the time that my students will be facing. And I share those stories, along with tenured guidance, with my students. Real voice over training, from a real voice over coach. Someone who has not just been there – but is there. When it comes to coaching, These are the things I try my hardest to bring to the table.
I take my students on a journey through the studios, agencies and unions. Through classes on digital audio editing and commercial production. I consult my students on each and every aspect of the business. I do this to prepare them for the reality of trying to work in voice over, rather than fill them with hopes and dreams about some mystical potential. Reason being, potential doesn’t pay bills. Yes the potential to make a lot of money is there, and after lessons and coaching from us, you will have a full understanding of what it takes to achieve it. Below is a very short, somewhat abbreviated bio, at least where voice over is concerned.
I started my voice over training in late 1992, working one on one with a voice coach for several hours a week. I continued that training for close to two years. It was a rather conservative coaching style. It wasn’t until later in my career that I began to realize there were a lot of things my two-year voice over coach had never shown me or told me about. Some of that may be due to the fact that he couldn’t because he didn’t know. Some of it can also be attributed to the fact that the business changed once everyone had computers and digital editors in their home. But I trusted him then and it wasn’t until later that I began to question why he hadn’t shown me many of the things I would have to learn the hard way later on.
Though I used to be a bit bitter about this, I have grown to realize there are many good foundations he actually taught me, even if he might have been more than a little guilty of leading me on to keep me paying and coming back, which I think upsets me the most. It just goes to show, that even with two years of coaching there was still a whole lot to learn about how things were done.
I started getting professional voice over work in 1994 with my first set of commercials for a doctor named Whitten who performed a then relatively unknown procedure known as Lasik. The doctor went on to bigger and better things, like performing his surgery on Tiger Woods, after which his career exploded, as did mine and Tiger’s. I would like to accept responsibility for their success, but oddly enough, neither has called to thank me.
When I was done with the training and D.C. as a whole, I moved to New York with demo tape in hand to find out about the next level. I knew there had to be another level to this stuff, but my coach just looked at me cross-eyed when I asked him if he could take me there. During a brief relationship with William Morris, I learned more about the acting and the character work involved and required when it came to pursuing voice over in the big leagues.
I went into industrial narration, political and commercial work in both the New York and Washington Baltimore markets. For a while I lived in Manhattan 4-days a week and Virginia for the other 3, driving back and forth to work and sleep.
While living in New York I attended Broadcast School where I learned a lot more about the internal operations of the radio and television business, which led me to a radio job back in the Washington DC market working for Metro Shadow Westwood One.
I loved the people I worked with, but that was about it. Full time split-shifts as a traffic reporter were definitely for someone other than me, and the whole adventure, broadcasting school, on-air shifts and all, did absolutely nothing for me as far as voice overs are concerned. I’m not sure being on the air even ever bought me a beer.
I left commercial radio and never pursued it again, and now work full time in the studio. While I was working at the radio station I began building my first recording studio, which I subsequently named MineWurx Studio. Several years later, I finished my second recording studio, still named MineWurx, where I now teach new voice talent how to break into the market and properly say the word W.
After well over a decade of working with studios, voice talent, producers, agents, audio engineers and radio people, I have been fortunate enough to gain quite a bit of experience. I have taken that experience along with my voice over talent, and used it to my advantage. Overall the experience has led to making me a better talent in the studio as well as an all around production guy. That experience coupled with as many years of coaching other people on how to do it as well as how not to do it, has led to me becoming a pretty good voice over coach, or at least that’s what they’re saying…
I thirst for this stuff. You have to love it or there is no sense in doing it. VO is a lifestyle, as well as a craft.
I’ve been called a lot of things over the years, and I think some people have drawn some fairly accurate conclusions concerning my attitude about the voice over business in a few cases. I know well enough that I come of as a bit brash on a few topics as my opinions tend to make up the mortar which binds together the building blocks of my platform.
I’m also well aware that this turns a few people off to me. Maybe more than it turns on. Truth be told, I’m not in the voice over coaching business to make friends and influence people. In fact, I’m not in the voice coaching “business” at all. I am a voice over talent and performer in the industry who is driven with an at times, uncontrollable and unbridled passion to educate and inform people on the correct way to approach the learning aspect of this business.
Very early on in my career, when I was a newbie-know-nothing kid with big dreams and a distorted vision of what voice over was all about, I got taken advantage of by a few people who propped themselves up as people who could help me out in the voice over industry. Part of my susceptibility to being hustled by these voice over shysters was my own naivety, but I wouldn’t have gotten hustled if it weren’t for the people out there who freely prey upon the naive.
People who through tremendous marketing efforts, wiggled their way into every aspect of voice over, found a bunch of canned crap to sell to hopeful voice over talent and held seminars as the primary vehicle for distributing their canned crap. These people were (and quite sadly some still are) steadfastly endorsed by some people in the voice over business as being the ones with the key to the city when it comes to getting into voice over and finding a voice over coach.
The real horror is that 15 years later some are still in business and the one who hustled me for some of my hard earned money is still out there regurgitating the same old crap to legions more suckers that have joined the business since the major inception of the digital age.
If anyone has ever wondered why I have such a chip on my shoulder and why I am so absolutely against seminars, tele-classes, cd’s, pamphlets, meditation and massage therapy for voice over, or any other crap people can think up to try to sell aspiring talent other than private voice over training, this would be why.
The secret is out. I’m a voice over coach with a bone to pick, an axe to grind, a bee in my bonnet, a grudge.
Plain and simple, I don’t like, nor do I trust the intentions of many people in the voice over business. Around every corner you will find someone who is all too quick to slide up next to you and tell you they can help you for a price. You see it every day; “Only two seats left!” “Make Millions with your voice!” “I hire my students!” “One day only with the voice over legend!” “Voice Over Secrets Revealed!” and the list goes on and on.
It’s all hype, it’s all hogwash and it is all meant to do one thing and one thing only… separate you from your money.
I have made it my personal mission to make sure that as few people as possible believe that crap when they read it on the web or get it in an e-mail. The part I find truly comical is that much of it shows up in my e-mail inbox. They’re so desperate to blanket the land with it that they don’t even realize they’re sending it to me. The one person on earth who wishes them the least success.
I’ve been criticized in the past for my views about these people and have been accused of being overly accusatory, and have been told there actually is some good that comes from all of it. Fine.. If that is the case – then prove it. Sure, there are going to be some people who find a little success because of it, they’re not the ones I’m worried about. My concern is for all the others that never stood a chance in the first place and these Internet voice over profiteers took their money any way. Those are the people I’m fighting for. The naive ones that had no business attending an 800 dollar seminar when they hadn’t even spoken into a microphone before.
It’s all about the ethics and the principal of it. Show me ethical practices in the voice over training industry and I’ll show you a guy with a lot more time on his hands. Until that happens I’ll continue to rally against the machine that every day sucks in the suckers freely and spits them out the tail-pipe with out a hope, a wish, a prayer or a dollar, but a voice over demo in their hands. Please, I beg of you Dear Voice Over Coaching Industry, stop pillaging the landscape and robbing people every day. I could think of a lot of other things to do with my time. Like offer more coaching. Where people actually coach people, in a studio, one on one, like it should be done.
You guys could actually make it very simple for me by putting these few simple paragraphs on your web sites, all of your marketing literature and on anything else you are trying to sell from here on out:
“Even after attending this (workshop, one day class, seminar, cruise, boot-camp, tele-class or buying these cd’s or training materials) you will not be guaranteed any work in the voice over industry. Voice over training takes a long time and a great financial and lifestyle commitment.
Success cannot be achieved in a day, a week, a month and in many cases even a couple of years. You will need extensive knowledge and practice in acting techniques and a qualified technical background to reach the highest levels of this business and no one class will ever show you every thing you need to get there.
If the seminar you are considering attending does not clearly state that it is an introductory seminar for beginner voice over talent then beginner voice over talent should not attend because it is meant for advanced students. Even if the seminar is clearly labeled as a beginner seminar, you must understand that attending the seminar will only provide you with information about the business and will not make you a voice over talent, nor will it bring you any closer to success in the industry, it will only give you some ideas on how to do it.
This (workshop, one day class, seminar, cruise, boot-camp, tele-class or buying these cd’s or training materials) is merely meant as an inexpensive marketing tool to bring you in closer where we can introduce you to people and programs that cost more money.
If it is not a seminar meant to bring you in closer to people who want to sell you things that cost more money, then it will be very clearly outlined exactly what you will learn or be exposed to in this seminar… and because it is a beginner voice over seminar, there will be no mention of demo tapes, web sites, agents, head shots, hats, t-shirts, coffee mugs, memberships of any kind or anything else you are encouraged to pay for.
It will be a seminar where we actually teach you things, like what you will need to know before you embark on voice over coaching or training, like studios, time, lots of money, some talent, desire, an understanding and compassionate family, access to markets where voice overs are actually recorded, an understanding of who gets hired for voice over work and who doesn’t and an absolutely complete understanding that if you live in Des Moines, Iowa that no one will ever hire you to do movie trailers in L.A.
The only thing you will get from this (workshop, one day class, seminar, cruise, boot-camp, tele-class or buying these cd’s or training materials) is information, which we have compiled from free sources into a package we are trying to sell for a profit, and which you could probably find yourself for free if you looked hard enough, but we have provided a service for you by compiling it and that is why we are charging for it, and because we are charging for a service, then technically, legally, there’s really nothing wrong with it.
But just understand that you are only paying for information and will learn very little, or next to nothing about the actual performance craft of voice over unless the seminar clearly states you will. That is what you will be getting for your money when you send it in for this (workshop, one day class, seminar, cruise, boot-camp, tele-class or buying these cd’s or training materials) and after you attend or receive them, you will still have to get some training, because these products or classes will not actually get you where you need to be in order to perform, participate in the craft or make any money at it. As long as you understand the preceding paragraphs, and know on no uncertain terms that you will still have a long way to go after you pay, please send your check or money order to…”
Here is my promise to you. You guys start putting that or an accurate and like variant of it on your materials, event literature and the stuff you’re trying to sell to people where they can see it before they pay for it… I’ll stop being such an oppinionated ass. Hell, if I see a coach doing it I’ll personally endorse them and their event. When I see that kind of honesty in the voice over coaching industry, I will get quiet and move on with my life. From my chair here, it looks like I’m going to be here for a while.
Below you will find a transcript of an interview I did a while back, which was conducted by voice talent, professional journalist and newscaster Dave Corvoisier of Las Vegas, Nevada. The interview is posted on his blog and linked to from mine, but I thought it was important to reprint it here where people might bump into it more often because it offers a perspective other than my own. Maybe it will help clarify some of who I am and why I do things the way I do.
Doing it RIGHT
A few people you run across just resonate with something inside you.
I’ve never met Michael Minetree (Minn’-uh-tree) in person, but his posts on the VO-BB, and other online VO forums grabbed my attention from the get-go.
His thoughts had a sort of refreshing REALITY to them…an economy, mixed with worldly common sense that appealed to me. With Michael you know immediately where he stands, as his personality oozes from his well-chosen words.
I understood he was a voice actor, and a coach, and adept at technical challenges in this business. His online presence belied his facility with marketing and the internet…but lots of us fall in that category (Peter O’Connell immediately comes to mind…and Bob Souer).
But what seems to distinguish Michael from the masses, is an energetic passion for what he knows is right; and his willingness to put his money where his mouth is.
Michael’s investing huge resources of time, talent, and (I’m sure) money into preparing to launch a new casting site where quality voice actors can be matched with appropriate “seekers” (for lack of a better term). So far it’s called:
“MineWurx Studio: Online Voice Over Talent Casting Directory”
Having lots of questions about all this (and him), I approached Michael out of the blue to see if he’d be willing to submit to a few questions that might explain his background, his business model, his philosophy, and how (and why) he could make a casting site after his own heart.
His reply was so worthy…so courageous (yes, I mean that), and so packed with thoughtful (gestalt) wisdom that I’m choosing to break it up into three parts.
Michael is not one to spare his opinions or his keyboard, but he’s one smart guy who has obviously given some deep thought to some of the most vexing issues that lie before voice-actors today.
You will do yourself a favor to come back for parts 2 & 3… ’cause he really dissects subscription sites of today, what’s intrinsically sick about them, and how he plans to do them one better.
For now — Part 1 — a chance to see where Michael’s come from, and why he’s so well tempered by experience, business, and life’s hard lessons.
Michael, just by way of introduction, how long have you been working in the area of voice-overs, is this your full-time job, and when did you become a VO coach?
First Dave, let me say thank you for taking the time to ask me some questions. You’re a brave man, or at least one with a fair amount of free time on your hands, because you knew going into this I’m not very short winded when it comes to writing about my passions. Maybe your blog readers will learn a thing or two about me, and by the end of this hold up a single digit in salute to me. The real question lies in whether or not it will be a finger or a thumb…
I cashed my first voice over check in 1994. I had trained one on one with a coach for 2 years before that and spent a lot of time practicing how not to be, and sound like an idiot. I was a mess when I started this stuff. Some day I’ll put it in a biography, probably when I know people care, but suffice it to say, I trained for so long because I was a train wreck when it came to voice over in the early days. I knew jack. Even after all the coaching I was shocked at how much I still needed to learn once I was out beating the streets.
Over the years I have floated in and out of full-time status with voice over, sometimes out of sheer necessity and on a few occasions because I floated in and out of love with voice over. There were times when I loved this business and others when I hated it at blood-boiling levels. Voice over can be a mind job at times, and when I mix that with my overall passion for it, I either want to elope or get a divorce. Right now I’m in one of those stable, content, middle grounds with it. As with everything, VO needs to be a balance, and usually if I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about it, something is out of whack, and most likely out of balance. Currently I’m full time at it, and have been for a while.
I kind of became a voice over coach by accident. In the early days, while I was training and for a short while after I was out in the market, I was just like any other young actor looking for a break. I used to attend a lot of open calls and do a lot of background work here in DC as well as NYC. If anyone who is reading this has ever done any background for television and film, you know how much sitting and standing around is done throughout the frequent 16 hour days that are put in on set. During the down time on set, conversation would switch to networking pretty fast, and I was surprised to find how many people absolutely lit up when I mentioned I was into VO.
People kept inquiring about training, and I would hand out business cards at craft services and talk to people between takes about how exciting voice over was for me, and many of them started to call on a regular basis looking for voice over coaching and instruction. I had never really seen myself as a VO coach, but people kept coming back and I began to take more students. Eventually, after coaching students in my living room for a while, I built a little production studio in which to coach them and record demos for them. That studio led to me building another larger one (that still isn’t complete, but functional). This is the coaching studio I’ll be in for the foreseeable future here in Fairfax, VA. I have no urge to move, or uproot and go back to NYC or LA.
What is your main focus in your voice-coaching business?
I have to step back and take a look at the word business, and I ask that everyone else do the same for a moment. If my voice over coaching is just a business, then I am one of the worst businessmen on the planet. I spend 75 to 80 percent of my time talking people out of pursuing this craft. ‘Not very good for business, and a lot of people don’t like me for it…at least, not at first. Let me give you some business numbers: I only take students after they suffer through one of my evaluations, which last upwards of 2 hours when everything is said and done. Out of 50 inquiries for voice over evaluations, 25 people will write me back after I email them the evaluation information. Out of those 25, 10 will call to make an appointment for an evaluation. Out of the 10 that made an appointment, 6 will show up. Of the 6 that show up for the evaluation, 1 or 2 might sign up and take lessons. Those are the real numbers. Part of the reason I think they are so scant is because I am a tough coach and I don’t freely accept students. I make it hard for people to give me their money. I make it hard for them to want to pursue the business. I make it hard for them, because in reality, I want them to know this is a very difficult craft to get into and succeed at. Particularly the way things are done today.
Now, some people may call me a fool for doing things this way, but I have my reasons as you might imagine. The main reason for being tough on people is that I don’t see anyone else doing it. Far too many people in the “voice over coaching” arena are conveniently too quick to take people’s money and then tell them the business is hard. Or they take money from people and never tell them, leaving them to find out when they head out into the real world with empty pockets. Or they take money from young talent for an informational seminar that leaves the talent with nothing other than information. Information that could have most likely been harvested for free from the litany of experienced talent on the internet willing to offer it.
My favorite is when they take money for a small slice of information and then tell young talent that the rest of the information lies behind another curtain which only opens with additional payments. Or maybe my real favorite are the ones who take a whole lot of money from people, cram them with two days of questionable instruction, make them a demo tape and fire them out into the world. It’s hard to pick a favorite with so many options to choose from.
No matter how you slice it, they’re always taking people’s money, which is the first law of any business and appears to be their root inspiration for being in business, at least from most of my observations. If you ask me, those are the people who are in the voice over coaching “business”. I just happen to be a guy who coaches voice over talent; a working talent and voice over coach who cares about people. I’m willing to take the losses in order to live happy and humble. Maybe I’m dumb, but given a good number of my contemporaries, dumb is just fine with me.
The main focus of my coaching, though it has evolved substantially over the years as I have become a better coach with practice, has remained relatively unchanged in one primary area; technical ability. I deal with a lot of ground-floor, turnip truck talent. I’m not saying that to be mean or degrading, but more to give you an idea of the types of challenges I face on a regular basis. Many of my students started out with nothing. No studio, no real computer aptitude. No exposure to commercial copy. No real time spent focusing on the market and where they might fit in…just raw canvases.
I was always somewhat selective in whom I would take on, and have only gotten more selective over the years, but many of the students I have taken, aside from their given abilities, have been very raw. My goals for them throughout the time they spend with me are to have them end up with a set of tools they can carry with them along the road to voice over discovery after they leave my studio.
I want them to know not only the ins and outs of copy interpretation, breathing, pacing, timing, conversational development, scene development and finding where they fit in the story and what role they play, as well as figuring out who their audience is, I want them to be able to balance all of these things with the technical requirements of delivery.
They should know all of the above, as well as where to stand, appropriate mic proximity, preparatory breathing, focus and physical approach. I want them to know when to reach for memory or emotional recall to help them get into a script. I want them to be able to see the intention of the writer by finding the keys in the copy. I want them to be able to feel comfortable reaching inside themselves and trust their feelings with the copy. I want them to know how to personalize it and make it theirs. In essence I want them to know how to take possession of it.
I want them to be able to do all these things on a performance level, while at the same time be able to record themselves, edit their audio correctly, mix music with their scripts and churn out complete productions that are broadcast ready. Those are a lot of requirements to teach raw students, and I put a great deal of pressure on them sometimes to try to make things happen for them. At any given time I only have 10 or 20 weeks with a student, and many of the things I’m trying to teach them take more time than that to fully sink in, commingle and coagulate into something they can reproduce effectively, on demand, time and time again.
Now, you’ll have to bear with me on this because some people find my analogies to be a little weird at times… I wonder where that comes from?
To me, coaching voice talent is like working with a Hoberman Expanding Universe Sphere® (http://www.coolstuffcheap.com/hobexunspher.html) To see one in action you can look here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8fesJorUcQ) If you have never seen one of these spheres before, they are ingeniously constructed plastic spheres that increase and decrease in circumference depending on whether or not you pull them apart or push them together. When they are fully compacted they are extremely dense and strong. When they are expanded fully they are quite fragile and difficult to compress. Anyway…
When I look at a new talent, I see them as one of these spheres, completely expanded. In this state the sphere is very fragile. If you simply took one in your hands and pressed together on the sides in an attempt to compact it, the sphere would snap into pieces because it is actually a series of several different moving parts that must be gently worked back into place in order to get the sphere to compress. You must carefully and slowly twist and mold the sphere back into shape in order to get it to compact correctly without breaking. Each part of the sphere, particularly when they are new and haven’t been broken in, must be coaxed individually to get the sphere to do what you want it to do.
New voice over talent are the same way. If you just take all this information and slap them upside the head with it, rather than slowly work on all the angles with them, they will break. This is why my lessons run so long and why I take as much time as I do with people. You have to be able to shape and mold the sphere slowly. Another fascinating correlation between the sphere and new voice talent, is that the more compact the sphere becomes as you compress it in on itself, the stronger it becomes at the same time, transforming from a fragile state, to a state that is more dense, and able to support more pressure from all directions.
Once the sphere is completely compressed it is exceptionally strong and can handle excessive amounts of pressure when you squeeze it from all sides. Voice talent that have gone through a long series of training sessions and adapted well to the things they have learned along the way demonstrate the same behavior. Once the information you have been feeding them is completely compressed into a dense, understandable, resource-able ball of information which they can draw from and utilize on a natural level, they will ultimately be more in tune with the environments they find themselves in while participating in voice over auditions and hopefully jobs in the future.
In my view, you must start out slowly and work at a pace the student can absorb, or else you will simply break them. I have never been an advocate for weekend voice over seminars and “learn it all in a week” type lesson structures because of this philosophy. My approach isn’t for everyone and I completely understand. But it has always been the only type of lesson structure I have been comfortable taking money for.
Unfortunate as it might be for me from a financial perspective; it is one thing I have always adhered to. Even telling myself on a few occasions not to give into the temptation of easy wealth that comes with operating a “voice over training mill” with one way turnstiles on the back door, rather, I should stick to my guns and keep doing things the way I do them. So far, in over a decade, I’ve never faltered.
I know there are many people out there who coach talent, who see this business completely differently than I do, and have their own set of core values when it comes to what students should know and learn. I’m not going to fault them for their beliefs, but I will fault many of them for their methods. No voice over student should ever enter your doors and hand you a check without first being asked this one simple question. “There is no guarantee that even with training you will be able to walk out into the market and land work, you understand that don’t you?” There isn’t a student I have ever accepted that hasn’t heard that question from me before they ever handed me a dollar. I’d like to see others in the industry begin to follow suit.
Those are my core concerns and primary focus when it comes to coaching new talent.
How important is it for the voice actor of today to master the technical aspects of the business?
This is something I have rallied for since I started. I hammer my students on this topic again and again, often from day one. There are two primary types of voice actor; those who live in major market cities who will never have to know the first thing about digital editing and audio production because they will always go to a studio to do their work and all they have to do is read and act. They are usually successful actors or celebrities, or highly successful voice actors who have never had to have a home studio. Then, there is the home based voice actor, who goes to other studios when required, but is fully capable of delivering the goods from their home studio when they can get away with it. The best example of this would be Joe Cipriano, or Beau Weaver, who have excellent quality studios at home, but also go out to the studios to do their work when they need to. They’re both in Hollywood and that type of life is accessible to them.
But what about someone in Kentucky, or Texas, Michigan or Virginia or any other interior area where the term “voice over” will draw odd stares at the local diner. What are people to do in those areas when they want to grab their slice of the digital market that is available today? Do they fly out to one of the urban areas, learn voice over in a day and fly back home and listen to their new demo on their iPod? What good will that do them?
Those people, and there are many of them around, will need to learn everything the highly successful home based voice actor knows in order to be able to compete with them in the open market place. The quantity of learning necessary is monumental when it comes to the time it takes, and the expense involved in doing it right.
They’ll need to be able to edit as well as, sound as good as and be as technically proficient as the next guy or girl. If they don’t know how to hook up a computer and a sound card as well as all of the other required elements, and then know how to use them once they get them hooked up – they will NEVER BE ABLE to do this type of work unless they move to a major market. That is a technical fact about the technical requirements.
If you can’t edit a simple audition, nobody will trust you with actual work when it comes to participating in the all digital, fast paced world of online voice over work. Even with as much as I know, I still make mistakes and can get lazy every now and then about my editing. But I know how to fix it and can get away with it. A newbie can’t.
I am also speaking directly of the product quality that is required when you want to work for large clients. Big clients don’t have to hire you, they can hire anyone they want. So if they do decide on you because they listened to a nice, polished demo tape, you better damn well hope you’re the one who made it, or that you know enough about audio editing, sound isolation and equipment hookups to be able to deliver the same product to them. If you want to cut IVR scripts and work for dopes for the rest of your life, then don’t worry about it. But you’ll at least have to be able to convert audio in the digital realm. You’ll never escape it.
MineWurx, Part Deux
Worlds_collide Worlds collided for Michael Minetree Wednesday.
Part one of my published Q & A with Michael brought one of the highest visitation days for some time to my blog.
On top of that, a blog HE published on his blog the same day, “got a lot of traction in the blogosphere” (according to the author).
But, as promised — more from the mind of Michael Minetree on THIS blog today.
In Part 2 of our interview, Michael waxes eloquent on mostly the subject of (for lack of a better term right now): online subscriber services for voice seekers/talent.
You have voiced some strong opinions and sensible advice about the realities of Voice acting to “newbies” in online forums. What are the main misconceptions most people start with when they get serious about being a voice-actor?
One popular misconception would be that you can buy your way into the business by handing your money to someone who says they can help you. This rides sidecar to the belief that because someone says they know a lot about the business and they spend a lot of money on advertising and marketing, it means they must.
The biggest misconception is: This stuff is easy, anyone can do it. “Everyone says I have a nice voice and should be doing this.” I know we have all heard that one more than we wish.
Another misconception is that it will be cheap. Some people actually think that cutting audition demos on a hand held voice recorder will get them by. It’s sad really. It’s the American Idol effect. Everyone can do it, right? Look at William Hung.
The one other giant misconception I notice is how fast people think they’ll be able to learn how to perform. So many people want it done in a weekend or a week. Most of my voice over “business” is lost by telling these people that they can’t.
You’ve also made no secret of your feelings about certain online VO subscription services. What is wrong with their model?
Allow me to digress here for a moment and fall into my all too comfortable realm of opinions…
If you’re in the business of taking money from hopeful voice over talent, then you’re in the right business and you do it well. In the early days, they made a fortune leading people into joining highly promoted sites which for many people later turned out to be little more than sites propped up on half filled fantasies and promotional hype. Many of the early adopters, who joined these sites without question, stuck around and made the conscious decision to sell themselves out as the lowest bidder. While many others held out for the occasional good job that came along instead of subscribing to the bargain basement free-for-all that the sites eventually turned into.
The really good clients eventually jumped ship, and the really good leads quickly followed, as did many older more established voice talent. Some of us did quite well and made a lot of money the way the services were when they started out, but were turned off by among other things, the many fly-by-night producers and outright snakes-in-the-grass who lurked around the sites looking for suckers, and finding them. So we eventually jumped ship as well.
Overall this model has cheapened the business, it has stained this craft, and has become fodder for many people’s ulcers, as well as for round tables of laughing high-end producers and casting houses. Their push for profit over substance has left them bleak and tarnished examples of how not to do things. Am I a bitter ex-pat of them, yes. Well, at least of one of them.
To sum up what is wrong with their model, rather than blather on with my opinions… Some of the sites hung their members out to dry immediately after increasing their annual premiums by altering their service in such a way that it ceased to provide the type of business it once had. Before they made this mistake, which will most likely lead to their ultimate demise, their services were generating tens of thousands of dollars for me. After the change, they have yet to deliver 2000. That is yet another cold hard fact from Capt. Honesty.
I just don’t think the services are, in their entirety, services solely for voice talent and with the talent’s best interest at heart. There will be a few talents who survive and do well on these sites in the long run, but that doesn’t remove the fact that the sites still want the same amount of money from people even after some of them have come out and quite publicly stated that they won’t be sending people an equal number of leads. Why not, your members all pay the same price, don’t they?
What it means is that there are people fiddling with your money, and throttling your leads, and determining whether or not you succeed on the service. On one of the sites, some of the people who make high-level decisions about a number of site operations and customer service related issues are members of the service who also work for the company. Do these employees pay for their subscriptions like everyone else, or at least claim their subscriptions as a taxable benefit on their end of year statements? Who is watching the watchmen?
Add to this that their “oh so prestigious and high paying” clients can leave feedback about you if they think you charge too much, their utter contempt for the people who pay for their service and their complete lack of honest disclosure and it’s a recipe for disaster, dishonesty and distrust. They have done a lot of damage to people in a lot of different ways. People will vote with their feet and their wallet. Eventually, I think they will become very passe.
You are proposing to launch a competing service based on a different model. What was the final impetus for you to do this?
I had been working behind the scenes on a casting site for a while. It never made it past the “This is a really bad shell of what I want” stage. I joined up with someone for a short period of time and launched a concept site. It was hideous, and I didn’t like the direction it was heading, so I trashed it.
Months later I began working on another shell, and got it to a functional point where it did what I wanted, to a certain degree. At least it was enough to where another developer could look at it and get a rough idea of what I was looking for. Out of the graces of the gods, another VO, who happens to be a good developer and a friend of mine, came into the fold and I showed him the project. He took one look at it and we began working on what will eventually become the new web site.
Temporarily, some of the data-collection aspects of that site live on the MineWurx Studio site simply because it’s a place I visit everyday anyway and it’s nice to have it on the same server for now. Once demand steps up and there is enough information to warrant it, the new site will be plopped on a dedicated server and all of the current database information will be transferred over.
I have been after a casting site for a while, because like everything else in this business, I have my own way of looking at things. Call it distorted if you like, but it’s mine….
I can’t say there was any one thing that got me headed in this direction, or was the impetus of it all, but I do know the current state of affairs in online voice talent casting is defiantly what got the vehicle in motion. There are a lot of things that have gone on in the past year or two that brought a certain group of minds together on this project. Some for very different reasons, but all for wanting something better. If we cant make it better, then I don’t know what we’re doing here.
What is the philosophy behind this new service: “MineWurx Studio: Online Voice Over Talent Casting Directory”?
Here’s something we have to clear up, and I really don’t know of a better time to try to bite it in the can… The “Online Voice Talent Directory” which currently resides on the MineWurx Studio site is not the database we are developing, nor does it have anything to do with it, or how it will look or function. That online directory was something I set up as a way of saying “Thank you” to the people who took the time to upload their demos early and give us some data to move around.
It is there exclusively for people who have uploaded their demos to the database to enable them to list their site and get a link to it. Beyond that, it has no other purpose or function. It’s just a display directory for the talent who got in early. I had said in many of my newsletters that I was going to try to do some special things for the people who helped us get the new site off the ground. That directory is one of them, for now, until I think of something else. It is purely a stop-gap measure meant to give people something to look at while they’re waiting for the real site. I would be absolutely thrilled if someone were contacted from that directory, but I don’t have my hopes up in any way.
Now, in the event we were talking about the philosophy behind the new web site:
Let me sum it up this way…
I want a site for voice over people. Real voice over people. Not people who think they are, or wish they were, but a site for real voice over people. My definition of “Real Voice Over People” is people who have taken all the right steps in becoming a voice talent; some sort of training, whether it be on the job or in the conservatory, a good demo, a website, the ability to function in a recording studio or home studio capacity, and the ability to read at a level where they can be competitive amongst their peers in an online casting environment. This isn’t meant to be exclusionary as much as it is inclusionary. I don’t want to build barriers to keep people out, though to some extent I must. My focus has to remain on providing incentives to keep good people in.
I know and speak to on a regular basis, several casting people, producers and agents who believe that many good talent have been poorly represented by some of the existing online casting services. There is a consensus that some of the sites, in their quest for money, have improperly introduced many people who do not belong in this business into the ranks of those who do. They have muddied the waters, driven down rates and flooded in-boxes across the globe with content from poorly qualified individuals.
With us, my new site, that all stops…Now.
No more crap from either end of the bull.
Talent get a great site, and producers get great talent. Talent profit from the site, producers profit from the talent. Talent are protected from schmucks, producers are protected from schmucks. That is the philosophy, without getting in to the how of everything.
I know what resides in my heart as a talent who has had to fight like Balboa for everything he has ever wanted.
I know what I want the site to look like. I know what I want it to do.
I know who I want as members and I know who I want for producers.
I know how I want the talent treated and I know how I want the producers treated.
I have a very clear picture of everything, and with everything I do, I will feel good about it or I won’t do it.
I know there are a lot of “I'”s in there and that may make this seem like some sort of vanity project. I can assure you it’s not. This site won’t be about promoting myself or trying to make me look good. It is entirely about the talent. I have even questioned whether or not I will have a profile on it.
What will distinguish this service compared to “the other guys”?
If the above didn’t sum it up, we’re gonna have a really cute logo… Actually, the display features will be one of the biggest differences. People haven’t ever seen talent the way we’re going to display them. It’s a feature that we really like and are very proud of. I’m sure we’ll have to test the hell out of it – but so far it really looks good. Don’t let me crow about it too much though. These casting sites have a tendency of hyping everyone up for some new feature that turns out to be a turd when it’s revealed. We haven’t seen any of that recently have we?
We’re also working with a different type of search indexing, which allows for absolute precision in talent searches. Much better than any highly touted, brainless algorithm can come up with. When a producer wants something, they will find it. Also, everything is very hands on and verified by experienced human eyes. There are those of us that have been doing this since long before there were casting web sites. We just did it on table-tops with stacks of head shots and cassette tapes.
Is this an endeavour you are managing on your own? Do you have a staff, or plan to develop one as you proceed?
My hand is heaviest in the concept and visual design. The language, the words, the philosophy, branding and marketing are all me. Of course, I bounce things off of people all the time. Or I’ll float them out there and see if they sink or swim. The day-to-day email stuff and customer related stuff is also all me for the moment. It will be a long time before I release customer service issues to anyone else. It’s the same as running a restaurant; the place runs great as long as the owner is walking around and seems to run at half speed when he isn’t.
Everything else is done by committee. Even if it’s a committee of two at times. My teammate developer is the other hands on guy, dealing with all of the crazy crap I want done on the design and making computer languages integrate. There are so many little things that are spaced out from one another right now so they don’t affect other systems should they decide to go kablooey on us. Piece by piece we are bringing them together and letting them all play in the same schoolyard.
I will most certainly expand as demand requires. Right now an official “staff” would be in violation of my business license, so that part will have to wait. For now, if it’s difficult, or customer oriented, I’m the man. Seeing as how we haven’t charged a penny for anything yet, there is a certain flexibility in the word customer. But we still treat every issue that crops up with the same importance.
What time commitment has this project demanded of you thus far?
A pretty big one. There are a lot of things going on that are self inflicted when it comes to time. There is a lot of research to do. A lot of web related stuff. A lot of projects that are up in the air waiting for one element or another to be completed before we can proceed. Recently we’ve started putting out some videos for the site as well and video takes a ton of time depending on how you do it.
So far the least amount of time has been spent answering questions or helping people with login information or problems. The little tiny upload feature we have right now has not caused us too much heartache. We’re really rolling things out very, very slowly in little pieces so as not to get bogged down in any one detail. The biggest time hog is concept and design. We can spend an entire day on one silly feature. That is what kills you.
Did you have any idea what would be involved with launching a project of this magnitude beforehand? Has the effort surprised you?
We knew going in what the big issues were going to be. The real X-Factor is the users. You can predict what users might do with a utility when you release it to them, but that prediction and what people actually do with it are two completely different things. Even with the upload feature, which is pretty straight forward and a really small app, you would be surprised at the ingenious ways people have been able to monkey up the process. You can never really predict what the people will do. No matter how you design your system.
One part that is working in our favor is the fact we are going for simplicity in the design. There is no reason for another bloated albatross of a web site out there. Form, function and usability are the most important factors for us. Because we’re not swinging open the doors to every TD&H with a USB microphone, there is a lot of extra stuff we don’t have to do to accommodate them. There is no way we’ll be getting bogged down in that quagmire like the last one.
3 X Minetree
You’ll be glad you came back for Part-3 of my interview with Michael Minetree.
Part-1 (Doing it Right) was a chance for MM to introduce himself.
Part-2 (Minewurx Part Deux) delved into some of the realities of voice acting for newbies as well as the more seasoned.
In this last segment, you’ll see Michael really tear into the challenges of subscription service, or pay-to-play, or whatever-you-want-to-call-them sites. Minetree is not big on the moniker “voice-seeker”.
But read on, and see how Michael is working on a casting site that will differ in important ways for YOU the voice talent.
What sort of hands-on support do you expect to be able to provide to those who sign-on to your new service?
Very hands on. Almost all of it. There is a real conundrum when it comes to how much of your system you automate versus how much of it is manual. Automation might lead to greater efficiency by volume, but assembly lines only work if they are constantly fed the same parts. Add one poorly cut item to the line and the whole operation either grinds to a halt, or begins to churn out sub-par products. Voice over talent don’t fit into a cookie cutter mold and they shouldn’t be treated as such.
The flip side of this is the “Mom-and-Pop” voice over shop, where the store is fine on a back country road, but if you put it on a highway they would either collapse beneath the weight of their consumer’s needs, or they would gradually adjust to them and flourish. With automation you lose the good, down home feel of the old country store. Conversely, the old country store cannot compete with a Mega-Store that opens next door if they stick too closely to their old ways of thinking. In order to survive they must create new ideas and change with the times. Though in doing so, they run a risk of alienating their core base of customers by changing too much too fast and appearing to abandon what made them successful in the first place due to their desire for growth.
Trying to answer a thousand emails by hand each day isn’t practical, even if it rests at the very heart of your desire to do so. And even if you did answer them personally, what good would it do you if the people answering the emails didn’t know what they were talking about? Do you automate those email responses to lighten the load? In some instances you might. But that temptation leads to a separation between you and your customers. Will it be the separation that drives them elsewhere? Will your desire to answer them personally take you away from other core areas of focus and stymie innovation?
People are creatures of habit, and if you always serve them a good burger, they will most likely always come back until they a) Find a better burger in a more comfortable place to eat or, b) get the feeling they’re not wanted anymore because the business they once knew and patronized, seemed to forget the original relationship they once had with their customers.
Our intention is to avoid the pitfalls of both of these examples. We don’t intend to create a gala, voice over super-store where everything is marked down to try to make a sale and drive our competitors out of business. We also don’t intend to be a Mom and Pop that takes 15 minutes to ring up someone’s coffee because they’re too busy to get to anyone on time and in a personal manner. Our desire is to remain innovative, yet not attempt to force unproven innovations on our customers when they don’t ask for them.
We want to build a system designed around growth, but not so large that we have to spread the merchandise out to make the shelves seem full. We want to attract people to the service, and maybe have a door greeter, but we don’t want a polyester clad salesman swinging in from the rafters to try to fit them into a vehicle they don’t want to buy.
Because we aren’t targeting people who need their hands held every step of the way, it allows us to hold the hands of people who may not even know they need it or want it. We’ll be more accessible when people do need attention because we won’t be tied up with people who lack the simple understanding needed to function on the site. We’ll also be able to stay out of the way of talent who don’t need or want any help at all. We’ll be there when we’re needed and not when we aren’t.
This approach leaves us free to offer deeper, more talent-centric services that the other sites haven’t even considered. I’d love to tell you what they are, but that will come in due time. Just know that being VO people we can do things the other guys can’t or won’t. There are still many things left to question, even with our current clarity of forward motion.
Those are the issues and questions that have to be answered and very carefully balanced. There is that word again, balance. I don’t think you can be too extreme in any one area. You have to innovate and find ways to strike a balance between the flood of needs and desires of your customers and the reality of fully serving and satiating them.
How do you propose to invite the interest of voice-seekers to your site?
First and foremost we have to be willing to do whatever it takes to win the hearts and minds of the type of “seekers” we seek. Many of whom were early adopters of the original online casting model that headed for higher ground upon being inundated with auditions from inferior talent. Though the term “voice seeker” has become a convenient way of describing someone who is looking to hire voice talent, the term was coined by someone else with whom we “seek” no relationship to or with, so our policy will be not to use it, but for the purpose of this question it can live a while longer.
Some of our methods of attraction will be quite overt, others will be somewhat covert in nature. We have formed direct relationships with a lot of people over the years and we still have a lot of relationships to build. Many of the people we are targeting will have to be brought back into the fold slowly, as they still have a bitter taste in their mouth after the first go-around.
We will market to them directly, and through word of mouth. We will contact them directly and invite them to take the system for a ride. We will present them with a roster of quality talent. We’ll protect their privacy while at the same time protecting the interests of the talent. We’ll take our time to win them back slowly, rather than try to bonk them over the head and drag them in.
We have all the time in the world to do it right. And we’re willing to take our time to make sure it is done correctly. What we can’t do, is do it at the expense of the talent’s trust. But it will be very hard to do without some expense from the talent. The adoption of our pricing model will determine how fast we can move on that front to some degree.
What is the main source of return (money or other) for this service? The voice-seeker, or the voice-talent?
Some people have proposed that we charge people who want to hire voice talent for using the service. If you want to see this site quickly added to the scrap basket, we’ll follow that model. I don’t think you will ever be able to charge people to find talent. Voice over people are like crickets in early summer or car alarms in Manhattan. You will never have to look far to find them, and I don’t think you could charge anyone to listen to them. That idea seems much akin to charging people for the sunrise. It’s just going to be there in the morning. Why bother paying for it. If someone else wants to give that a try I’ll be happy to pull up a lawn chair and warm my feet by the fire surrounding the foundation of their business shortly after opening day. It’s like Mandarin to me. I know it exists, but I don’t understand it.
The real onus is always going to rest on the backs of the talent as far as we can see it. What really has to be better defined is the how much, where and why of it all. How much do you charge the talent, how much do you supply to them for paying into the system, and what do you do with what they give you? Where do you invest their money so it works more for them than it does for you while not leaving yourself broke and busted in the process.
Where do you focus your efforts? In self promotion or the promotion of your members? Why are you doing this in the first place? Fame? Glory? Riches? Or to serve some deeper, inner desire less linked to projects of vanity and greed… It’s one thing to want to be successful in business, so long as your path to success isn’t littered with the bodies of people you burned along the way.
Do you propose to “hand-pick” those who would want to appear on your site? If so, what is your criteria for selection?
The many discussions we have had with talent in recent months, as well as some of the information supplied to us by talents who have joined the database so far, has revealed to us that a “lick-em and stick-em, one size fits all” approach to this is probably the worst approach we could take, if not the most redundant. We never had plans for this type of design anyway, but it was definitely a reinforcing observation. The world is full of voice talent with many different skill sets and at different and ever-evolving levels of professionalism in their career. Should a brand new talent be offered the same opportunities as you when it comes to jobs you may be cast for? Not right away. It would be inappropriate to enter you both into contention for the same job because a brand new talent is not going to be able to deliver the same product as you, if you were both cast for the same project tomorrow. If a project came in and it was perfect for you and say, our good friend Bob Souer, isn’t it more appropriate to have the two of you competing for that work? (Which by the way I wouldn’t want to go into a head-to-head with Bob, he’d kick my tail every time.)
Should a brand new talent be left to bottom feed on all of the jobs nobody else wants? No. This in itself is a patently unfair approach as well. What you have to do is correctly assess what it is that makes one talent a true contemporary of another. Is it their membership fee which brings them onto a level playing field? Hardly. Left with this equation we’d be right back where we started with everyone fighting over the same scrap of meat. Even when that meat was above some people’s standards and below those of many others.
Should voice talent be forced to pay the same fee and then be treated differently from one another? Once again, we have a living, choking version of this model already in existence. Who on earth wants to repeat it.
When it comes to “hand-picking” talent, it is something that is being given a great deal of consideration and thought, but as with everything, it is being balanced with the realities of the business model as we see it and we are in no rush to try out experimental attempts at its implementation. Our interest, though tempered by our goals, has to remain focused on the overall equity and integrity of the service, as it applies to the members.
I’ll go so far as to acknowledge that there are definitely some plans on the table that further clarify this particular issue, and some of you have been very keen when it comes to reading between the lines when we discuss it. But we aren’t at a point where we’re going to come out right now and say exactly what we’re going to do. There was actually some forward motion in this area today as I was writing this. Some motion that I’m very excited about, and will reveal to the appropriate people when the time comes… I can hear it now… “Gee, thanks Houdini…”
What would be your definition of success for this project in the short term?…in the long-term?
I think some of the short term goals for success have already been met. People are joining the database at a great pace. Talents are becoming energized about some of the issues we feel so strongly about. Some great design ideas are being developed. The future of the database seems solid and strong. We have momentum headed into the new year and a reason to keep moving forward.
The long term goals are pretty easy to define as well. I think we have attempted to categorize them and compartmentalize many of them throughout the course of this interview, which I must say thank you for taking the time to conduct and to put it together.
In the long run, we want a high quality online voice over casting system and database that our members and we can be proud to be a part of. We want it to be functional, thoughtful, fair and profitable for everyone involved. Our commitment is to see it through to its success, and hopefully with very little variance along the way, be able to come out on the other side still feeling good about ourselves and having everyone feel good about us.
It’s a very big undertaking, but hey, I’m married now. Where am I going anytime soon…
I really appreciate your time and effort.