I have been active in the voice over industry for 24 years, and in that time I have noticed one particular area that was not being addressed sufficiently in books, tapes and seminars, and it happens to be the weakest and yet, arguably, the most vital aspect of being a voice actor promotions and marketing. In the entertainment industry, otherwise known as show business, the moniker is spot on part show and part business. Having the pipes and the knack for doing different voices is one thing, but having the know-how to actually promote yourself in an industry full of showoffs, is like the title itself, only half of the game.
I love this area, and you should too. If you do not, I am hoping to start a spark that lights a fire under you! Some of my most creative juices are challenged in the area of promotion and marketing, but first things first, to clarify. What is promotion? It is more than just advertising and publicity, I promise.
Promotion: The act of advertising what you do in order to urge your career in a positive and more affluent condition. This is not to be confused with publicity.
Publicity: The act of providing information about yourself that is then disseminated through various types of media to attract interest.
- Marketing: The work of moving goods from the producer to the buyer, including selling, advertising, etc. In this case, you are selling YOU!
I still remember back in 81 how excited I was when I finished my very first demo tape. I was about to graduate from UCLA with a bachelors degree in theater when Daws Butler, my voice pioneer/mentor escorted me out to Hanna-Barbera to shake a few hands and pass out my tape. Being ushered into the biz by an icon was possibly the best promotion and marketing action one could ever have the opportunity to do, bar none!
As you know, the first tool of the trade for the voice actor is the demo tape. I get many questions from folks, (they seem to be getting younger and younger) who are interested in getting in The Biz. They ask me: How long should my tape be? How do you know when you are through? Who do you send it to? These are questions that are not to be taken lightly. In an industry wrought with competition and casting directors and producers with very little time to listen to submissions, it is vital that your demo tape represent the best you that you have. It is going to cost you a few dimes to get your tape into competitive shape, so do a good job. After all, you are going to be competing with professionals!
Your demo tape is promotion and marketing. It should consist of about two to two-and-a-half minutes of a sampling of your best characterizations. How do you know which ones are your best? You try them on for size. Play them for your family and friends; you will see which voices light up their faces. Take classes and work in a safe, non-judgmental environment that is conducive to helping you grow, rather than one which lessens your potential.
If you are in a class whose teacher negates your efforts, or criticizes you all the time, then you are in the wrong class! A class should be a safe place where you are encouraged to create these characters with the freedom to find that some characters have more presence and believability than others. If the character is not made of whole cloth, then it will not come across as believable to the listener. One of the key points to developing a character is How real is he/she? If it just comes off as a silly voice, this will not hold up in the casting department. However, do not just toss that voice aside; it is now part of your inventory so log it in.
Another suggestion I find it very helpful to take a childrens book and a tape recorder on occasion and just start reading. I will come up with any number of new characters and actually surprise myself. Out of 20 new voices, I might end up with two to three unique sounds that I have never used before. This is extremely helpful when it comes to auditions. I just go back to my files and pull up a brand-new sound.
Just for fun, go to the websites of some of the most productive voice talent in the industry and settle into a real lesson in talent. Here are a few you can check out: www.sbvtalentagency.com, www.icmtalent.com and www.cedtalent.com. You will find exceptional talent at all of these sites. Even more importantly, you will be able to actually hear some of their demo tapes! I did this recently and was knocked out by the sheer number of professional voice actors out there. Their demos are clean, clear and interesting. They capture your interest and hold it for the entire time.
For those of you who are just starting out in your career, this is Lesson Number One: Check out these sites!
Lesson Number Two: Dont be dismayed! Now that you have listened to some examples of professional voice actors, dont just quit! The truth is that casting folks and producers are ALWAYS looking for the next Dan Castellaneta or Hank Azaria! Its true.
Looking Forward, Looking Back
Interesting story: I went in to audition for the part of Megan on God, the Devil and Bob, the knockout, quirky and pulled-before-its-time animated series by The Carsey-Werner Co. I arrived at the audition and noticed a young woman sitting there who took one look at me and got totally introverted. She noticeably got sad, as she heaved a sigh and looked up at me. I sat down beside her and asked her name. I shook her hand and said, Glad to meet you. How are you doing? She, Darla, told me that she might as well go home because she did not feel like she stood a chance as long as I was auditioning too.
I took another look at her a stronger look, and I said, I want you to know something, you stand just as good a chance of being cast in this part as I do, but not with that attitude, you dont. We all have obstacles to overcome. Mine is, How do I not sound like Bart, Nelson, Rod, Kearney, Data Base, Chuckie and or Rufus the Naked Mole Rat? Yours is How do I compete with Nancy Cartwright? The bottom line, you have to do the best you that you can do. Do it with pride. Do it with integrity. Make bold choices and know that you would not be here if it were not for the fact that someone actually believes in you. Now, you have to believe in you! She brightened up, and I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Back to spring 1981 after I finished my demo tape and made that visit to Hanna-Barbera, I made numerous bulk mailings to ad agencies, producers and casting directors. I remember the first time I did this; I had reels (now you know for sure that I have been around the block a few times!) and boxes of labels and puffy envelopes all over my living room floor. In fact, the furniture had to be moved to accommodate my own in-house marketing warehouse. I was hungry. I was motivated. I had passion.
I did it all myself no mailing company for this fledging voice actress. It cost me a pretty penny, but the investment was well worth it, ala, look where I am today. I started landing auditions and booking jobs for radio and especially animation projects. It paid for itself quickly and I was on my way. I did mailings, postcards, flyers, then more postcards lots of postcards, promoting whatever show I was going to be on.
What You Need To Do
My theory is this promote, promote, promote! It is a very yen thing to do. You put it out there, and something is going to come along and fill in the space that you just created. It might not and probably will not come to you the way you expect or even want, but it will come to you. Although I still do postcards, most of my promotion comes in the form of The Nancy News a tri-annual newsletter that I send out to my 11,000 plus mailing list. Not only am I promoting myself, my company, my interests, but it is loads of fun to create with my team. We get great feedback.
The Pay Off
I just started to record for a brand-new series called Betsys Kindergarten. It is the sweetest new show by Corner Stone Pictures. The series is told from a five-year-olds perspective and it is not only entertaining, but educational. I believe it will become very popular with children and parents alike, because it helps them through one of the most important transitions in their lives. Sally Struthers, Tom Bosley, Fred Willard, Bess Armstrong, Cree Summer, Vicki Lewis, Richard Horwitz and Daveigh Chase round out the cast. I do not mean to toot my own horn (oh, yes I do), but it is a darling-of-a-show with some talented writers, producers and actors aboard.
And the final lesson of today is Lesson Number Three: Go ahead, try a little shameless self-promotion the next time you go to a party or out to a dinner with friends. Make up a simple postcard, buy some stamps, and send that sucker out. Believe it or not, people are interested in your voice, now you just have to willing to be heard!
Nancy Cartwright is best known as the voice of spiky-headed Bart Simpson on The Simpsons. She has voiced dozens of cartoon characters in her career that has spanned more than 20 years. Currently she can be heard as the voice of Rufus the Naked Mole Rat on Disneys Kim Possible and Chuckie on Rugrats and All Grown Up. To learn more about Nancys career, listen to her new audio book My Life as a 10-year-old Boy.