Whether you’re a seasoned professional voiceover, or an actor looking to add another skill to your repertoire, the VO Social Podcast ladies can help you move your career along.
The VO Social Podcast’s Nic Redman and Leah Marks have got more than 30 years of voice experience between them, and this episode of The Spotlight Podcast is stacked full of tips on not only improving your skills but also setting and smashing your goals.
Photo credit: John Bentley
The episode also features a discussion about:
- When and why you should say no to work
- How to start a podcast to help further your career
- The impact of AI on the voiceover industry, and lots more!
Whatever your ambitions are for your voiceover career, listening to this interview with Leah and Nic will help you make them happen.
Listeners of The Spotlight Podcast can also get a special discount on The VO Social’s Voiceover Career Planner – listen out for the code mentioned in the episode.
56 minute listen
- Find out more about The Voiceover Career Planner
- Listen to the VO social podcast
- Work with Nic Redman
Kristyn: Hello and welcome to the Spotlight Podcast. I’m Kristyn Coutts and in this episode, I’ll be talking to Leah Marks and Nic Redman. Nic and Leah are voice actors and co-hosts of the award-winning and very funny VO Social podcast.
They’ve worked extensively in the world of voice and lend their vocal talents to radio plays, video games, audiobooks, TV commercials, and lots more. Nic’s also a voice and accent coach, and together they’ve created the rather excellent Voiceover Career Planner. They give lots of tips and advice for anyone wanting to progress their voice career or improve their craft. Also, they’ve been kind enough to give us a discount code for their planner, so listen out for it at the end of the recording.
Welcome, Nic and Leah to the Spotlight podcast. Lovely to have you.
Leah: Thanks for having us. We’re already having a fantastic time.
Kristyn: We’re having a lovely time.
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and your background in voice and the industry in general?
Leah: Yes, Nic you go first.
Nic: Okay. So, I trained as an actor and accidentally got pulled into voice over one day when I was working in London because they were like, “You’re an Irish one, we need that.” So, I went to a studio and did some voice over work and I was like, “Well this is much more fun than what I was doing.” Which was a great but very low-paid, very intense fringe show at the time. So I was like, “I’ll take all that money for saying those lines.” And then I just got obsessed with that and I sort of did a bit of snoopy networking and infiltrated a little meet-up with people and said hello to people and found out what was going on.
Found out that I needed to have a home studio. So I bought some stuff and set it up in my parent’s attic. And then I got obsessed with voice in general. So I went back to Central School of Speech and Drama where I trained in musical theatre and I did a masters in voice studies. So now I’m half voiceover, half podcaster and half, well not mathematician clearly, half voice geek. So I work with voice users of all kinds, voiceover artists, podcasters, narrators, comedians, presenters, and actors on their speaking voice technique.
Nic: Is that everything?
Kristyn: Right. I mean it sounds like a lot.
Leah: We haven’t mentioned all the other stuff like the house, what did you call it? It’s not a bed and breakfast anymore, is it?
Nic: Oh yeah. Well as part of my work as a voice coach, I run retreats where I live in the north of England. So I run voice training retreats, which are we got one this weekend and I coach on my-
Leah: They’re so good. I’ve been on one. The food’s amazing and it’s right next to Hadrian’s wall.
Nic: We do wild swimming and walking and-
Leah: I don’t do wild swimming.
Nic: Lots of breathing and things. It’s lovely.
Kristyn: That sounds delightful.
Leah: It is delightful. It’s delightful.
Nic: Leah, who are you and what do you do?
Leah: Well, who am I? So I always wanted to be an actor all through my childhood. I was in all the different kids’ theatre things. I had a wonderful time. And I knew my path was set. And then I was at university, and I was surrounded by really, really great actors. Didn’t go to drama school, I studied English literature and was part of the university theatre company. And all these amazing actors were super great around me. And I suddenly had this huge, horrible crisis of confidence where I thought, “Oh God, I’ll never be as good as you, but I will be as good or if not better at the voice stuff.” So I started concentrating on voice things with the intention of getting into audio drama and having a wonderful life in audio drama. And then I got really distracted by voiceover because like Nic says it is like a career and you can make money out of it. And it was a way, I thought, of making money in a kind of adjacent industry while I was aiming myself at audio drama. That was going quite well. And we started doing the podcast, the Voiceover Social podcast and then that was going really well and it’s now the UK’s most popular podcast for voiceovers. And it was nominated for British Podcast Award last year and it was just brilliant, all wonderful things. And I was about to turn 40 and I suddenly was like, “Huh, there’s something I’m supposed to be doing. What is it? What is it? Oh yeah, it’s acting.” So what I’ve been doing now is throwing myself back into all that. I’ve written a solo show, I’ve got myself an acting agent and things are back on track.
Nic: Leah’s the most amazing example of making things happen you’ll ever come across. She’s just like, “Well, I’ll just be an actor now.” And off she goes. It’s amazing.
Kristyn: How did you meet and how did VO Social come to be?
Leah: We’ve got a story. What is it Google that has it?
Nic: Origin story.
Leah: We’ve got an origin story. Should we do it one word at a time? We’ve told we’ve been the story so often.
Nic: You do it best.
Nic: Website, with a grammar error. Tell the story.
Leah: So this is what happened. It must have been about eight years ago now and I’d been a voiceover for a couple of years, and I was in all the Facebook groups, and I noticed Nic kept popping up and saying funny things and I thought, oh she seems interesting and hilarious. I’ll go and have a look at her website. So I did. And it turned out that she was hilarious, and her punctuation was also quite hilarious. I spotted an apostrophe that was very, very far away from where it ought to be. And I thought I’ll email her. I’ll email her and let her know. So I did and instead of saying, “Ugh, get away from me, you horrible punctuation, grammar freak.” She responded very kindly and invited me to a party.
Nic: Clearly I was very much in need of friends at the time. It’s like, “This person hates my grammar, I definitely want to hang out with them. Come to this party.”
Leah: So I did. It was a voiceover party that was going on in London. It’s like a networking event every month. So I started going to that and then it so happened that Nic and I both moved back up north at the same time because Nic had studied in Salford and I was from Bury in Greater Manchester and we both moved back and went to live in Salford, coincidentally around the same time and decided what we really wanted more than anything was to meet other voiceovers in the north and strengthen the voiceover industry across the north of England. Because there were loads going on in London, there’s always London stuff, blah blah blah blah, blah London. So we thought we’d get Manchester happening. And so we did. In 2015 we started The Voiceover, VO Social North, and I started inviting all the voiceovers from across the north of England to come.
And about after a year of that happening and as like phone bashing and hassling people on Twitter, people started not only coming but inviting other people. So we didn’t always know who was going to be there. And then it went really, really well. Then the pandemic happened and now we’re back on track. We had a voiceover, VO Social North event just the other day and we were back to 30, 40 people showing up. So it’s really, it’s back to where we were beforehand, which is rather lovely. Was that the point? What was the question again?
Kristyn: How do people find out about your events if they wanted to come along?
Nic: Mailing list. Probably.
Leah: Mailing list. Oh yeah. So well I mean we’ve got all the things. So if you can follow us on Twitter, which is @TheVOSocial and we post on there. But then also if you join the Facebook group – if you’re on Facebook – then that always has the most up-to-date event dates and also, so you just search VO Social North if you are in or from the north of England. And you can find us on Facebook there. We’ve also got the VO Social podcast Facebook page, which that’s for the podcast. And also the mailing list. If you just go to thevosocial.com and you can sign up to the mailing list at the bottom of the page and then we’ll just send you a monthly email with stuff in it. Like dates and things.
Nic: Yeah, I think the mailing list is the easiest, most concise way to make sure you know about the events.
Leah: Yeah, that’s true. Except people don’t-
Nic: Well, that’s their own fault, Leah. If you want to know about the events open the email. Facebook might implode. Do you know what I mean?
Leah: Yeah, yeah. Well yeah, also it never tells anybody about anything. You put stuff on Facebook, ha! Kristyn’s like “fingers crossed”.
Nic: My group’s massive now so it’s like insane.
Leah: Oh yeah. Because Nic has a separate group. So as well as VO Social North, which is for voiceovers across the north of England and from the north of England, and as well as the VO Social podcast and as well as the Voiceover Career Plan, which we’ll talk about later, Nic also has a Facebook group which is completely out of control, what’s it called?
Nic: It’s called The Voice and Accent hub. And there are over 5,000 people in there now, which is even more people than I had accidentally at my wedding.
Leah: What’s it for, your Facebook group, Nic?
Nic: So it’s basically for all voice-related questions and accent stuff too. So it’s where you can come if you’ve got a weird voice issue that you’re not sure about or if you need help from a coach. Hi! If you want to just share some silly voice thing or article or whatever. I put content in there and I do lives and I share lots of information and nuggets of wisdom, voice-related wisdom.
Leah: Nic’s the expert out of the two. So the way this sort of partnership works is that, when it comes to the podcast at least, Nic is the knowledge base and the comedian because Nic actually also used to be a stand-up comedian, didn’t you?
So she comes in and she sprinkles like knowledge and glitter and hilarity all over the podcast. And then I do all the work.
Nic: Leah does everything else.
Leah: All of it.
Nic: Yeah. But that’s the way she wanted it, in fairness.
Leah: It is how I want it.
Nic: And also, the way I wanted it. But we got there organically.
Leah: Yeah, we did, but we didn’t plan it out at the start. Because the podcast happened completely organically. So we started off by doing this social event in the north of England via Social North. And then we were trying to get people to come to it. So we just recorded ourselves wandering around the streets of Manchester going, “Come to the pub.” And then uploaded it to SoundCloud and then we started doing Vox pops for people at the pub. So we asked them questions like, what’s your biggest voiceover job you ever did? Or what’s the most ludicrous voiceover job you ever did? And then we put them all together in a little, I guess they were episodes by this point and put them on SoundCloud. And then I went to this freelancing event…
Nic: You went to a course, didn’t you? Like a day course?
Leah: There were two, yeah. No, you’re right. I can’t remember which one it was now. There was one that was organised by the Business and Freelancers Organisation or whatever it’s called. And there was one that was organised by Spark Lab, which does lots of podcasts and audio drama production in Greater Manchester. And I can’t remember which one it was now that triggered it, but it was-
Nic: I only remember the Spark Lab one.
Leah: It was the Spark Lab one then.
Nic: So I think it was that one?
Leah: She said, “What is this that you’re making?” And I said, “Oh, it’s VO Social North SoundCloud podcast blog audio thing.” And she said, “Oh catchy, maybe you should try turning it into an actual podcast.” And so we did. We put it up on Anchor instead of on SoundCloud. So it was being distributed to all the different podcast platforms, and we started to really elevate what the content was. So instead of it just being random stuff that we happened to have recorded, we started thinking about interviewing people. So for a little while, we were an interview podcast. We would talk to different people working in different areas of the audio industry that was interesting to voiceovers. So whether it was an audiobook narrator who’s narrated a thousand audiobooks or whether it was an agent or whether it was an animation.
Nic: Dave Peacock. He was the first one I did from Peacock Sound, animation director.
Leah: Animation, voice director and all those sorts of people that it would be really useful to hear from their perspective what they want from us. So we interviewed them for a while.
But then in episode 27, I think it was, everything changed. And we did an audio diary of our trip up to the furthest bit of Scotland, one really, really far north bit of Scotland to interview a guy who does loads and loads of promo voiceover in America. Is it Jimmy Kimmel? He does the promo stuff for and a bunch of other people. And we made it into a whole sort of holiday diary where we interviewed people locally.
Nic: We tasted some whisky.
Leah: Tasted some whisky, made a really amazing recording of a guy with the Doric dialect, which is sort of impenetrable from outside of Scotland, but amazing to listen to. And also we’ve recorded the sound of the sea and all that sort of thing. And from then on, every episode was based on a concept. So whether it was gender and voice or editing or breathing or animal noises or there was even one, we came second in the comedy category of the International Women’s Podcast Awards for our sex noises episode -I enjoyed making that one.
Kristyn: I must have missed that one. I’ve just been listening to the animal noises one yesterday funnily enough. I love it.
Leah: We do an hour-long episode these days of a proper dig around in something that is really useful for voiceovers. So sometimes it’s like a series. So we did a three-part one on how to make yourself more findable and castable. There was a two-part one we did, which was called The Bad Session and then the Good Session. The Bad Session was about abuse within the industry, and it was quite dark and miserable and horrible. It’s all about how to tackle it and how to stand up to it. And the second one was the Good Session, which was a live workshop where we brought together voiceovers and producers and put them in the room together and made them talk to each other about what they really wanted and how to make each session the best it could possibly be. And so that’s where the podcast is at now really is that big, massive ideas-based stuff.
Kristyn: It seems like a nice thing. I mean you’re both working voice and to make a podcast just seems like a natural thing to have happened, which is lovely. Do you have any tips for anyone else who’s thinking about maybe getting on board the podcast train?
Nic: We’ve got two episodes that help with that.
Leah: One is called,’ Oh, So you’re thinking of making a Podcast’, which actually is not supposed to be read in that sarcastic voice, but that was what it’s called. There’s also one called, ‘How to Get Your Podcast to Win Awards’, ‘How to Get a Sponsor for Podcast Without Selling Your Soul’. So there’s content that we’ve already created, but generally one of the main things that we say about starting your own podcast is just pick something that is different and useful. So for example, when it comes to voiceover, there are a lot of great podcasts which are voiceovers talking to voiceover about voiceover. And a lot of the stories are kind of the same. And I’m not really sure who it’s aimed at and I’m not really sure how it benefits the people who are creating it. It sort of establishes you as a mover and a shaker in the voiceover world. But I don’t know if it necessarily gets you more work.
Think about something that you can really bring that’s different to that landscape of the industry that you’re making the podcast about and make it worth your listeners’ while. Because if you’re just making something that’s already there, that already exists, then why is anyone going to listen to it? Give people a reason to tune in. Yeah. Nic, you also have a separate podcast, don’t you?
Nic: Yeah, so I have another podcast called The Voice Coach Podcast, which is very different to this one. Well, it started weekly, it’s gone to every other week now.
Leah: Because weekly is insane. Don’t do a weekly podcast.
Nic: It is insane, don’t do weekly. But it was basically like 10 minutes a week of me talking people through the voice training process and giving exercises and it’s very conversational and very chatty. And the reason I could do it weekly was because I get help with people producing it and editing it for me and doing everything else. So all I have to do is organise my thoughts into 10 minutes of notes and talk about it for 10 minutes and I send it off. And that’s the only reason it’s manageable, and I pay for the privilege to have somebody to do the other bits for me.
But I think for me the main tip would be: do not underestimate how much work it is. To be consistent and interesting and engaging and useful and really think about what it is you enjoy. Because if you don’t enjoy it and it’s not going to be useful for you, then you won’t keep it up. So if you’re going to do it more regularly than monthly, keep it really short and really simple in concept and batch record about 20 before you launch.
Kristyn: That’s a great tip, because the admin, as people will know, the Spotlight Podcasts are always interview-based, but the amount of admin of arranging the time and getting people on board and writing the questions and all that stuff actually takes up way longer than I ever think it will.
Leah: And you’ve got Spotlight doing the promo for you as well. But actually, if you want to get your podcast listened to by people, then they need to know about it somehow. So how do you do that?
Kristyn: Absolutely, yeah, the marketing side.
Nic: It’s been incredibly useful, both podcasts have been useful for us, haven’t they? For various reasons. And I highly recommend it. It’s a really exciting, wonderful, unregulated get-on-in-and-give-it-a-go kind of medium, which is exciting. I think the fact that there are less barriers to getting things made, you can do it yourself. And we’re always encouraging artists to do that, aren’t we? Create their own things and there are loads of really exciting, innovative, interesting things you can do with audio. So if you’re interested in audio in any way, I think you learn an incredible amount about yourself, your voice, and the whole technical process. So I think it’s an incredibly worthwhile thing to do. But do just bear in mind that it’s probably not going to go viral and probably not many people are going to listen and it’s a big time suck.
Kristyn: It can be a really fun one though.
Nic: Yeah. It’s what you make of it.
Leah: Well. Yeah, exactly.
So I’d like to talk about how voice artists can progress their career. I feel like we have a lot of content on our website for people who are starting out in voice, but it’d be really great for people who are already kind of doing the job, how they can take things to the next level. So on that note, you have a lovely new book out if you’d like to introduce it.
Leah: Since you mentioned it, let me play it to you down the line [flicks book pages]. There it is. It’s a real book. It’s a real book you can hold in your hand. Shall I start talking about it now?
Kristyn: Yes. Congratulations on it as well, by the way.
Nic: Oh, thank you.
Leah: Thank you.
Leah: How long have I got?
Kristyn: As long as you need.
Leah: Okay, great. It is a very exciting thing that we have made. It’s been nearly two years in the development of this. It’s called the Voiceover Career Planner. And it is designed to help voiceovers or people who want to work in voiceover, whatever stage they’re at in their career to work out what they want to do next and how they’re going to get there.
The main body of it is a 52-week undated planner. So you can start wherever you want in the year, you don’t have to get it ready for the 1st of January. And you start off by spending a few pages working out what your goals are. And then you move into the weekly planner. So you’ve got a page to decide what is most urgent or important using the Stephen Covey time matrix, if you are familiar, which is rather brilliant.
And then a little half a page to plan out your social media content ideas for the week. And then we move into the daily planner. So every day you have an opportunity to write down what you’re going to achieve that day, what time of the day you’re going to achieve it if you like. There are also reminders to warm up and hydrate. There’s a hydration tracker at the bottom of each day. There are eight little droplets that you can tick off each time you’ve had some water or whatever it might be.
Nic: Or colour in.
Leah: Or colour in.
Kristyn: I love colouring in.
Leah: And then at the end of each quarter, you’ve got an opportunity to review your goals and then at the end of the year you can look at how they’ve gone and what you want to look forward to for the next year. That’s the main body of the planner. And we’ve designed it with voiceovers in mind because actually if we just break off for a moment from me talking about the planner, Nic, the reason we even created the planner in the first place was because you are an avid planner user, aren’t you?
Nic: Yeah, I love a planner. I like getting my thoughts out on paper with an actual pen or pencil or crayon or felt tip or whatever I can get my hands on. My own blood if I feel really passionate about it.
So I’ve been through all kinds of planners over my career. Really intense business planners, planners that I pay a lot of money for, slightly more casual kind of social media planners and content planners, just to-do lists that are in book form that’s slightly more organised. And I find myself with, at one point, I mean I’m looking around, I can see five different planners in my periphery and I’m like, this is mad because they’re all really great…
Kristyn: You need a planner for your planner.
Nic: But yeah, yeah, exactly. Or some kind of assistant.
None of them are actually for voiceover. And I was like, there’s got to be one. There’s got to be a planner for voiceovers. [I looked] on Google, and I was like, “Oh, nobody’s done this yet.” And I was like, “Well, that’s silly.” There was one fellow in the US recommending the planner he likes to use, but it wasn’t a voiceover plan, it was just a normal planner. So I was like, “Leah, I want to make a planner. Do you want to make it with me?” And she said yes. And I said, “Thank God. This woman gets things done.” I’ve mentioned that before. So we just got together and we were like, “What needs to be in it? How can it be really specific for voiceover? How can it help day to day, but also in the long term and the short, medium term.” And that’s what I love about it it’s not just a diary, and it’s not just a diary with some lovely little droplet icons. It’s designed to help you carve your career and reach the things that you want to reach. And that’s really exciting for me. Because so often in voiceover, sure you get to record stuff and you get to sit behind the mic, but that’s probably like 10% of your day, 20% maybe if you’re a home studio voiceover. And sometimes you sat there and you’re like, “Right, there’s nothing to record. I’ve done my accounts surprisingly, what do I do now? How do I spend my time?” And that’s what this is about. It’s about having everything in one place so that you can decide what you’re doing every day and you’re doing something for a reason because it’s working towards a career goal to help you be successful and get more work.
Leah: And one of the things that we did was we started out by having quite a small focus group of voiceovers to figure out what would be useful. So it wasn’t just me and Nic putting things in a book that we wanted, even though we both work in voiceovers. It was also people who plan differently to us. So we got a real range of people. So people that already use planners, people that are trying to create their own with spreadsheets, people that don’t plan at all, and people that just write down ideas on a piece of paper at the start of the year, squirrel them away somewhere and then check in at the end of the year to see if they’ve actually achieved their goals. All these different types. And then we figured out what they wanted and how we could make the planner great for everybody.
We did the first generation of the Voiceover Career Planner a year ago and sold about a hundred copies and then hammered those people for feedback. So we got so much user feedback on how usable it was, how efficient it was, how it felt to use. And we put all of that information into the second generation, not completely changing it but developing it in a few different ways. So we turned it into a coil bound rather than whatever the other type of bound is. And we added in some extra bits and slightly tweaked the layout.
One of the things we developed was that in the first generation we had some advice on warm-ups from Nic, but in the second generation, she went mad and spent days developing four separate individual warm-up routines that cater for every type of scenario. So whether you’ve got five minutes to quickly get a warm-up done, whether you’re about to do something really hardcore and intense or your voice is really tired or whatever it might be, wherever the situation, one of these four warm-up routines does the job. So we put them in the planner. Nic’s also recorded a video of her doing each one. And that is up on a secret page on the website that you can only access if you’ve got the planner and you scan the QR code at the back. So that’s pretty cool. And I use that. I use it. I scan my QR code, I follow Nic’s videos. It’s incredibly useful.
Nic: Sorry in advance when you buy it because you see a lot of my face, in my office, my studio. But there are loads of other bits of advice in there that are really voiceover specific as well, aren’t there?
Leah: Well yeah, we’ve got a few different versions of this. So we spoke to 52 different industry experts. So whether they’re audio or mindset or whoever it might be, we spoke to 52 of the absolute best and got them to answer the question: what is the one most useful thing that you need voiceovers to know that you are best placed to advise on? And what we’ve got is, I mean it’s amazing. It just means at the beginning of every week you’ve got something really tangible to grab you and progress you through the week. But we’ve also got a whole page on successful habit creation from a chap who knows all about that sort of thing and who we also interviewed for one of the podcast episodes. We’ve got a page on studio troubleshooting. We’ve got a page on web, branding and SEO. Oh gosh, there’s a load of stuff like that.
So there’s content that is really handy for people working in voiceover. But then there are also lots of different types of trackers. So like Nic was saying earlier, you want to have everything all in the same place and not be using one planner for that, one planner for this, one planner for the other thing. So we’ve got a page to track your social media reach. We’ve got a page for recording your expenses. We’ve got a page for telling the jobs that you are doing throughout the year so that you can see your business growth. You can see what parts of the year you are busiest. All that sort of thing as well. And one of my favourite things is at the end of each week there’s a little reminder to pop to the back of the book and write down one thing you’ve achieved that week that you’re most proud of. And then at the end of the year, there’s a whole page, 52 things that you’ve achieved that year that you can be proud of, which is just incontrovertible proof that you are great and you’re doing really well.
Kristyn: I think it’s such a great touch to add because I think it’s really hard actually to reflect on all the things you’ve been doing. Well, you’re so busy, what’s the next thing? What’s the next thing? I got to grow my social media, I got to do some networking etc, etc.
Leah: Yeah. Full of stuff.
Kristyn: I mean, you mentioned the advice – this is probably really hard question – but is there anything of all the bits of advice you got, is there anything that has particularly stuck with you?
Leah: The first one that we used was from Kristin Linklater. Do you want to describe who she is, Nic?
Nic: Kristin Linklater is one of the queens of the voice coaching industry. May she rest in peace. She was a remarkable lady who kind of, along with Cic Berry and a few other people, carved the way for all voice coaches who came afterwards. And yeah, she’s written many books and done many wonderful things throughout her career. So we got permission to use…
Leah: To use the following quote, which is, ‘You don’t get the inspiration without the expiration and its accompanying moment of nothing’. I feel that’ll carry you through the week. But I mean that’s a brilliant one.
Nic: A practical ones for voiceovers was from David Thorpe.
Leah: Oh yeah, I saw that. I love that one.
Nic: He says, “If you’ve looked on Forvo, HowjSay, YouGlish, YouTube and Googled it, and you still can’t find a pronunciation, and you can’t ask the author, say it however you like.”
Leah: I love it. I love it. Great. And then there’s other things like, so from the How To Do Accents, women, Jan Haydn Rowles and Edda Sharpe. Their quote was, “Did you know every accent has its own hesitation sound a little, um, urm, am goes a long way and is a great way of checking you’re in the right zone when you shift from accent to accent.” It’s all quality stuff like that.
Nic: Books to read and quoting resources and-
Leah: Oh yeah, I forgot about the resources.
Nic: Key dates in the industry and some useful kind of social awareness days. There’s loads of stuff in there. Script analysis-
Leah: Oh yes, there are two whole pages of that.
Nic: A page for support as well, if you need guidance or support in any way.
Leah: Because I think a lot of planners, well not a lot of planners, but some planners, they’ll say, “If you are having mental health problems, then phone this number.” But we wanted to be a bit more useful than that. So we’ve kind of broken it down into different issues you might be having and some people you can approach and why you might want to approach them and what they can actually offer to help you. But yeah, the resources thing is great. So we’ve got-
Leah: … a bunch of different resources for quoting, resources for accents, books that we recommend for various different topics and two pages on self-direction. Because the thing about being a voiceover is that actually a lot of the time you are on your own and sometimes it can be a bit tricky to figure out what to do with a script. So yeah, we’ve got two pages of bullet points and how to, and think about this, think about this, this, and then you’d be great.
Nic: So this book is like a diary, a goal-setting manual. It’s your ‘how to in the studio’ manual. It’s a voice coach, it’s a director, and it’s an inspirational motivational mentor. It’s an accountability pad. It’s everything.
Kristyn: And bonus video content.
Nic: Bonus video content! Sorry, it’s me. Hiya.
Kristyn: Can we talk a little bit more about the goal-setting aspect that you just mentioned there? So a little bit more about what that is, why it’s helpful to, I mean I’m sure people must know that it’s helpful for a career, but perhaps they don’t.
Nic: Yeah, so I think with any career, particularly one in the arts where you don’t necessarily have a tangible environment that is encouraging you to move forward, apply for promotions. Have you tried to do this CPD? Do you want us to fund this thing for you? You’re sort on your own. You do drama school, and you get out and you’re like, “Right, I’m going to do the performing thing. I’m going to be a voiceover, great.” And it’s like what happens now? And I think it’s important to have goals because you have to be aiming for something. That goal can be any kind of thing.
That goal could just be to make a friend on the internet who also does voice over. Find someone who’s at the same stage as me so that we can keep each other accountable and go through this journey together. And in fact, that’s a really useful and necessary goal at any stage of your career. But I think it’s just the importance of having something that you’re aiming for. Because if you’re not aiming for something, you’re just, I mean, how do you know what to do every day? Literally, what are you trying to achieve?
Leah: And also when it comes to ambition, if you don’t have a goal, you’re just pottering about doing the next thing, the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. And actually, you’re not necessarily packing as much in as you can, in order to get higher than you could have dreamed.
So If you want to work in animation for example, and you don’t have a goal, then you might at some point work in animation maybe. But if your goal is to work as an animation voiceover for Disney, then you need to know how you’re going to get there and start making steps in that direction. And actually sometimes turning down stuff that doesn’t support that goal, that doesn’t get you moving forward in the right way. So that’s something that I’ve certainly done when I’ve been trying to get back into theatre and audio drama acting is I’ve turned stuff down, I’ve stripped things away. I’ve quit jobs. I’ve said no. And if I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have the time that I need in order to progress in the direction that I need to progress.
Nic: It’s incredibly important for day-to-day productivity to have, your goal becomes a little thing on your shoulder. It’s like, “Okay, so I’m going to work for Disney. Today my plan was to practise my princess voices.” And then a job drops in and it’s maybe not loads of money, but you feel that you should take it, but you’ve only got an hour and your goal is there going, “Well what are you going to do? You’re going to work on the thing towards your goal or are you going to do this piffly little job that really means nothing to you?” Do you really need to?
Leah: Literally £5
Nic: Yeah. Or do you want to do something that gets you a step towards your goal? So I think it’s just really important for organising day-to-day where you are.
I think in the UK we have a bit of a mindset that is like, “Oh gosh, no, I could never put a yacht on my vision board.” You know what I mean? It’s like, “I could never dream of… Gosh, how dare I think I could do that.” Or I think we have a fear about setting goals. In America, everyone’s like, “Wow, look at all these things I’m going to achieve. This is great. I’m going to do this.” And then work backwards, work at the steps and make it happen. I think sometimes in the UK I don’t think we foster a hugely supportive environment around setting out those goals and wanting to achieve it. It’s like-
Kristyn: Do you think it’s a bit of fear of failure as well?
Nic: Yeah. And that comes down to the education system and how we’re taught all our lives, blah blah blah, blah, blah.
Nic: I think day-to-day productivity is hugely important and in order to have that, to know what you’re doing all the time, you need a goal.
Kristyn: And then if anyone is struggling to… if they’ve got their goals, they’re struggling to get to that endpoint. What can they be doing? Is it a case of breaking down step by step? Here’s a little thing you can do and here’s the next step you can do.
Nic: But I think the important thing to remember is that work backwards, don’t work forwards. So set the goal and then work backwards. So if the goal is, I mean you can be as into the minutiae as you want with this. If your goal is to work for Disney, seeing as that’s one that’s come up today, you could literally be like: arrive at the door, get the bus, drive through LA. But in order to get to those points, you also need to think about, well in order to work for Disney, I need to have auditioned for Disney. In order to audition for Disney, I need to have made contact with someone who has the door key to the Disney auditions.
Leah: i.e. an agent in LA
Nic: or a casting director workshop or whatever it happens to be. In order to do that, I need to have a really good demo. In order to do that, I need to have really worked on my character voices. In order to do that, I really need to get some voice coaching. In order to do that, I really need to…
Leah: Earn some money
Nic: So working backwards is much more powerful than working forwards a lot of the time.
Kristyn: And do you have some tips about how performers can master their craft or perhaps improve their voiceover skills?
Nic: Yeah, play, practise, make noises. I always used to find it really funny or interesting when people come for voiceover coaching to me, for example. And I’m like, “Right, so what commercials do you like at the moment?” And they’re like, “Oh, I never really see commercials because I watch Netflix all the time.” And I think one of the important things is to play and explore what’s happening in the industry right now, so you can always be really current. The voiceover industry has trends. Any industry has trends, particularly advertising, but also the corporate sector and even games and animation. They do go in trends and different things are in vogue at different times. And it’s important for you as a voiceover artist to always be listening to what’s going on so that you can throw an extra little track in your demo, for example, if there’s a new conversational style of commercial read coming out so if you’re going for coaching – which I also think is a hugely important part of staying current and always working on your craft, you don’t just go for six weeks of coaching and then you’ve completed it and you’re the best voiceover ever. And I think this is another interesting difference between the UK and the US market. In the US everyone has coaches for everything. My clients in the US use me for voice technique. And they’ll have a commercial voiceover coach, they’ll have a character voiceover coach, they’ll have a voiceover business coach. Everyone’s always coaching and staying on top of things. And I think, from a mindset point of view as a voiceover, always know that if you’re playing with your voice, exploring what it can do, either on your own, by listening to what’s out there and speaking along and seeing what you could bring to that brand or that read and then also reaching out to people to help push you, then you’re always going to be getting better and keeping on top of things.
I think it’s understanding that coaching doesn’t mean that you need help. Coaching keeps you accountable and helps you work on your skills. So from a performance point of view, that’s what I would say. Get a coach and work with one. Keep playing and keep on top of what’s happening and listening and exploring. From a business point of view, get out there and talk to people. How important is networking been for us, Leah? And I hate networking it’s such a crap word.
Kristyn: Everyone hates it.
Nic: yeah, [it’s] just making friends. That’s all we wanted to do with Social [VO Social North].
Kristyn: Talking to people, right?
Nic: Yeah. Yeah. We talk to people. We set up an environment that brought people together because we know we like it and we like talking to people and we learn from people and we get inspired by people in our industry. And that’s the whole thing with the Voice Over Social and all the voiceover social meet-ups across the UK that have sprung up.
Leah: Yeah, they’re everywhere. There’s one in Scotland, there’s one in Northern Ireland, and there’s a couple, well one or two in London. There’s one in Bristol, one in Hull.
Nic: One in Midlands.
Leah: One in the Midlands now. I’m working on Wales.
Nic: But yeah, get out there and talk, make connections. Don’t be on your own.
Kristyn: So if you want to build your network, get along to VO Social events.
Nic: Yeah, definitely.
Leah: Come along. It’s very nice. Very friendly people.
Nic: And they’re all free.
Leah: Oh yeah.
Nic: Well as far as we know they’re all free.
Leah: Our one is always free. Always.
Nic: It’s not about money.
Kristyn: I thought you meant there was someone secret at your door taking money for you, you didn’t know about them?
Leah: Oh no. Other socials. I mean they do their own thing.
Nic: But I did why that guy stood at the door every time? Yeah. It’s not a business, it’s just friends. It’s just friends.
Kristyn: How important is it in voice for people to understand and really know what their castability is?
Nic: Hugely, I think. Yeah. Well yeah.
Leah: And also it’s quite different from in-vision acting to vocal acting, I think. It’s obviously vitally important, you don’t want to be wasting your time putting yourself forward or being subbed for jobs that you just can’t do or are totally unsuitable for.
But I suppose with voice, what were you going to say? Were you going to say that it is important to know your casting type, but also there are variations because you can shift your voice?
Nic: I was going to say there are two ways of finding out really. There’s, you plan and exploring what you do, what feels easy, what feels nice for you to voice. Say if we’re talking about the commercial world, for example, you may find really upbeat, exciting read dead easy to do. Or you might be more of like a charity warm, gentle kind of voice.
So instinctively going, “Oh I enjoyed that one. What sort of a read was that? That’s interesting.” And giving yourself that feedback and information is really useful. But also if you’re mid-career or start of your career or even later on in your career and you’re having a rethink about things, you also find out your castability because of what people cast you in. So it’s sort of a constant feedback loop that changes as your voice changes when you get older as well. I think it’s important to know if you’re a newcomer because you need to initially pick a niche and get stuck in.
Trying to be all things to everybody all of the time is not hugely useful for the most part. Unless you are Susan Every-voice and you can just do every single character and then you’re going down the character route, which is great. But mostly for commercial and corporate stuff at the moment, everybody wants native, natural, “hey mate”, kind of stuff. So yeah, work with what you’ve got, but it is important to know so that you’re not trying to fill holes that you can’t because it’ll be a waste of time.
Kristyn: And then just moving slightly onto more the business side of things. What are the essentials that people should know about when they’re trying to build upon their voiceover business?
Leah: What do you mean exactly?
Kristyn: Well I think for people who are maybe starting out, you can, I guess you have your reel and you start. But then what happens if this is your thing, you’ve discovered you love voice, you’ve been doing a little bit here and there, but what about if I want this to be my life?
Leah: So you’ve already got your website, you’ve already got your demos on your website, you’ve already got your headshot that that’s up on your website somewhere. You’ve already got a social media account that’s got the same name as what’s on your website, all these sorts of things. And then what?
Kristyn: I mean, even exactly, even those are good like tick boxes.
Leah: Oh okay. So first of all, listen to the three episodes of the Voiceover Social podcast called ‘Shine Online’. And we’ve got an interview with somebody who does a lot of casting about how to make yourself more findable and castable. And we did a whole thing about social media and how Nic does social media, which I think is particularly authentic and useful and not annoying. And then we did a third episode all about SEO. And I think that those three episodes you’ll need to make notes, at least on some of them, is quite a good way of taking what you’ve got and pushing it out into the world. Because it’s all very well having done your amazing demo and putting it on a website and all those sorts of things, but if people can’t find you because you’ve got one name over here and one name over there or you’ve not bothered putting any keywords in your whatever it’s called.
Leah: You need to listen to the expert actually for that one. I’ve forgotten what she said. But yeah, those three episodes really cover, I think a lot of those things.
Nic: From day-to-day, if it’s your thing and it’s happening then I think a home studio is kind of a non-negotiable. What do you think, Leah?
Leah: Yeah, it’s tricky, isn’t it? Because there are a lot of actors moving into voiceover and that certainly happened during the pandemic as well because it was crucial to be able to find a way of using those skills that actors already had to make some money and survive. I think having a home studio opens up a world of possibilities that you will not have if you’re just depending on an agent to get you into an in-person studio. But it’s also really important that it’s of good quality and that you know how to use it. Because if you are saying on Spotlight that you are a home studio voiceover with Source-Connect or whatever, then people need to be able to trust that. And if then they connect and you’ve got a really, really crappy USB mic and you can hear the dogs barking and you can hear the neighbours having sex upstairs and all these sorts of things, then that is not good enough.
And also if the other thing happens, say for example you’re popping on the microphone or you don’t know to turn the gain down when you’re shouting or doing something really noisy and angry, then that’s no good either. Because a lot of the time you’ll be recording at your end and you’ll need to send that raw audio to the producers to deal with. And if they have got loads of stuff they can’t get rid of, if they have any stuff they need to get rid of, that’s not good enough either. So yes, absolutely having a home studio, but A, it being good enough and B, knowing how to use it, then those are the things.
Kristyn: As you become more successful in your field and you get more experience, does the way that you get jobs change?
Leah: Now is this question because for actors initially, you’re auditioning, auditioning, auditioning, and then sometimes you just get handed work eventually when you become more famous.
Kristyn: Pretty much, it’s kind of that and around, does networking play into that? For auditions, do people start to remember you and start coming back to you?
Leah: Yes. So I think when a lot of voiceovers when they start out, they’ll use pay-to-play sites, things like Voice 123 for example, it’s like a jobs board for voiceovers where people pay to post their jobs and then voiceovers pay to see them and then people will audition. And in North America, that is how the industry predominantly works is voiceovers get up in the morning, they audition all day and hope that something sticks. And that’s kind of it.
Here there’s a lot more business-to-business, client relationship development, all that sort of thing. Which means that yes, when you’re starting out you might use pay-to-play sites just to try and just get a bit of practice, maybe try and land a couple of jobs here and there and start building your client base. But yeah, once you’ve actually developed those connections with clients, then a repeat client is the dream. And that’s what people are mostly working towards. And I think that’s what both of us now have is people that do keep coming back to us because they know exactly what they’re getting and they know exactly the quality that they’re getting.
Kristyn: If you wanted to expand out of the UK and Ireland, if you wanted to expand out and sort of start working I guess Europe or America or wherever else is, how easy is that to do? Maybe easy is the wrong word, but how accessible is that?
Nic: I think it depends on how findable you make yourself. How much you work on your online presence and also your networking skills. The remarkable thing about the pandemic for those of us who were already experienced voiceovers is that we’ve ended up being able to attend conferences in America that we wouldn’t have potentially been able to go to before. So from that point of view, it’s been easier to make connections and network with people in the US. You can also get a US agent if you’re based in the UK without any kind of visa or whatever. You’d have to fill out a particular form to make sure that you’re not liable for tax. So there are ways of doing it, but it’s about how findable and accessible you are really, I think.
Kristyn: Shall we talk about AI?
Kristyn: So I wanted to get your thoughts about James Earl Jones and about how he’s gone about licencing his voice for future productions. I think it’s just for Star Wars, I think it’s just Darth Vader from what I understand, he’s just had enough of that character
Leah: Well he’s 91
Kristyn: So he signed those rights over. So yeah, I just wondered what your thoughts are on that and if you think we’ll see more of that in the future.
Leah: There are a lot of fears in the world of voiceover around AI coming for our job. So it’s across the board really, not just in Hollywood but in audiobooks, in corporate narration, in video gaming where there are huge numbers of non-player characters that we think of as ours but AI actually is a very efficient way for some horribly overworked games developers to cut corners and get things done. And actually, we spent a few episodes exploring this in some detail a couple of years ago. It was in our two-part AI investigation. And then again we looked at it a year later when the voice of TikTok sued TikTok’s parent company for using her voice without permission. And she won actually.
But when it comes to James Earl Jones, he can do what he wants, right? He’s fine. But this is already happening across Hollywood. So rather than having busy, important, famous actors come back into the studio to do pickups or extra lines in post or whatever, but AI is instead being used to fill in those gaps. That’s already happening. And you could say that it’s a useful tool but crucially it’s monitored and under contract and all above board. But where things are getting mad and terrifying right now is outside of that structure.
As I understand it, the current UK government in the name of innovation wants AI systems to be able to essentially opt out of copyright protection laws. So any video or sound recording that is publicly available could be used to create AI content without those people having to pay anyone, without the AI creators having to pay anyone. And Equity is right now fighting this and lobbying the government to protect our rights and give us the opportunity to consent and be paid for our work and just for them to have a little bit of common sense. And I think that’s the gist of it. So I would, in this situation, watch what Equity do and support them wherever you can because they are across this and they have been for ages and they’ve been striving really hard for a long time to stop the madness. So yeah, watch Equity is my view on that.
Kristyn: Brilliant, thank you. Again, I will definitely link to this on the webpage that goes along with this podcast. So if anyone wants to read in more detail what they’re doing, then please do.
So on that cheery note.
Nic: Oh God.
Leah: I would recommend you listen to the second episode of our two-parter because the first one was all about talking to a production company that are making AI’s that can express emotion and the actor that recorded that voice and also Equity on their view on it. And it was all pretty doom and gloom. But then the second one, we had some really encouraging perspectives. I mean it was two years ago, so things may have progressed a little bit now, but it was some more encouraging perspectives about how actually some of the real basic work is going to go and some of the standard corporate stuff is going to go because people that want to make things cheaply are going to do that regardless of any kind of moral implication. But actually, the stuff that requires real acting chops and the ability to connect with a character or to connect with an audience in a purely human way, is going to stick around for a bit longer, at the very least.
Kristyn: I wonder if there’d be more of a premium around that as well. Digital art versus something… I’m talking about artists’ work of painting, you would pay more for a watercolour or an oil print.
Leah: Than a print out.
Kristyn: Yeah. I’m just curious about where the premium will point will come in this?
Nic: Some people have started putting ‘certified human’ on their websites.
Leah: Oh, have they? Great. Yeah.
Kristyn: I wonder if we’d get to the stage where we all have to do that no matter what your job is.
Nic: Well the interesting thing as well is that we as humans are getting more used to accepting AI as an aurel aesthetic. And that will have an impact.
Leah: TikTok actually has to take a lot of responsibility for that. People are really used to typing in what they want the AI voice to say.
Nic: And that being okay. There are a lot of us who are like, but they’re not real voices. But actually all them young ‘uns, they’re used to, [speaks in robotic voice] everything sounding just like this.
Leah: Yeah, yeah, exactly that.
Kristyn: Do you think it’s a tongue-in-cheek thing though? Surely. I hope. Maybe not.
Nic: Hopefully. Well, I don’t know.
Leah: I don’t think it’s a fad, and then we’ll revert to how things were before. I think it’s a step on the route to that being normalised.
Kristyn: Yeah. It’s an interesting world we’re living in.
So just to kind of wrap things up, I’ve taken up quite a lot of your time, but I just wondered what you’re currently working on.
Nic: Leah, do you want to go first?
Leah: Yeah. So I’m onto the second draught of my solo show, which is about an Orthodox Jewish Lithuanian, Yiddish-speaking lesbian widowed mother in the 1890s whose town burns down and she moved to Manchester. That’s what that’s about. I’m working on that. I’m also throwing myself at the Greater Manchester Fringe theatre scene. And when this comes out, we’ll know where I’m at with it, but I’m through to the second round of the Norman Beaton fellowship, which is like, really exciting, right? So yeah, that’s what I’m working on at the moment.
Nic: And I, as a voiceover, am working on a lot of Christmas scripts.
Leah: Oh yeah.
Nic: Yay. Lots of deals coming up in the supermarkets over Christmas, folks. But from a coaching perspective, I’ve got loads going on actually. So I’m still continuing to grow and develop the voice getaway retreats that I’m doing at my gorgeous property here on the Northumbrian/Cumbrian/Scottish Borders. So if you want to come join me for a weekend, please do. I’ve got a great little warm-up card deck out as well, which is fun. So it’s a little, like you know you can buy an affirmations deck with positive statements or whatever in it? It’s chock full of voice warm-ups. And again, another QR code to take you to a website with videos of me doing it. So it’s a brilliant little tool.
Leah: I love your voice deck. It’s brilliant because it can be quite boring doing the same warm-up every single day. So Nic just made this thing where it just makes it all exciting. Just pick a card. Pick a card, any card. Okay. Do a little lip trill.
Nic: So yeah, you shuffle it up, you take some bits from the different sections and you create a new warm-up every day. Just a silly little 3am idea I had, but turns out people are really enjoying it.
And working on, still developing my online course offering, which allows me to work with voices all over the world. So I’ll be just finishing, I think when this comes out, My Vocal Empowerment Programme, which is a six-week online course. So loads going on in the way of voice training. And if you want to find out anything about may just go to my website, nicredman.com or get me on Instagram @NicRedvoice.
Kristyn: Fabulous. I have two more questions for you.
Nic: Oh, sorry, I thought that was the end.
Kristyn: It’s not, but I’ve got two more for you. I said wrap-up and then I was like, “I’ve got three questions”.
Well, I just like to always finish with some recommendations of what you are watching or for you both perhaps listening is more appropriate. But yeah, so what have you seen? What are you listening to? What are you watching that you would recommend to others?
Leah: Well, on a professional development-type basis, I’ve been really enjoying The 98% podcast, especially the interviews with casting directors. I thought that was quite illuminating. And also my recommendation for BBC audio drama is to look up the winners of the BBC Audio Drama Awards and then find them on BBC Sounds because there’s great quality content, but there’s also some stuff that’s really boring and rubbish. So if you want to find the really good stuff, then find the winners. That’s like a starting point anyway. And some of them licencing issues abound, but some of them are on BBC sounds right now.
Kristyn: Great. And for you, Nic?
Nic: Oh gosh. I have no autonomy over what we watch in our house because my husband is a comedian and an actor and he’s always like, “We need to watch this and I want to watch this.” So I just sit down and watch a bit and fall asleep. So I’m probably not the right person to ask. What could I recommend?
Leah: The Voice Coach podcast?
Nic: Oh yeah.
Leah: Sorry. Oh yeah, no, sorry. Do you listen to that as well as make it?
Nic: That would be good. You could listen to my pod. I can’t recommend my own, The Voice Coach Podcast. I’m really enjoying, sorry, I’m a massive Alan Partridge fan and I’m really enjoying his podcast on Audible. I also really enjoyed The Dead Eyes podcast, which is a good one for us.
Leah: I listen to that now, since you recommended it.
Nic: It’s really good. Dead Eyes, it’s called. It’s basically this guy, once upon a time, lost a job because Tom Hanks said he had dead eyes and he’s sort of been investigating the why, the how and what that’s meant for him as an actor. But he talks to loads of amazing people and it’s a really lovely show. It’s really, really nice. So Dead Eyes, Alan Partridge, obviously on my podcast, The Voice Coach Podcast. Oh, and if you want some mad-ass comedy, listen to Tiredness Kills by the Delightful Sausage.
Leah: Oh yes, do.
Kristyn: Brilliant. Thank you. I’m actually going to listen. I’m going to add those to my lists, so thank you, that was just a question for me.
And finally, if anyone wants to get your career planner, how can they buy it?
Leah: The best way to do it is to go to thevosocial.com and then go to the VO Career Planner tab at the top of the page. And that’s where you can get it from. There are two different ones. There’s a UK one and an international one. The UK one, we’ve got just only a few left by the time this [podcast] comes out. Then we might not have any left of the fancy limited edition version. So if there are any left, well done, you’ve just caught the last few and it’s gorgeous. It’s got gold letters and a ribbon and all sorts. And after that they sell out, we’re going back to the standard version. That’s the one the international people have as well.
Kristyn: Fabulous. Nic and Leah, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. It’s been lovely talking to you.
Leah: Thanks for having us.
Photo credit: EvgeniyShkolenko / iStock