JV: You mentioned health insurance provided by SAG-AFTRA. I’ve often wondered if that’s decent coverage for a fair amount. How does that work?
Ty: Well, I don’t know what year it was but as the economy went south, all the members in AFTRA and SAG got letters basically saying it wasn’t free anymore. Used to be that if you made a minimum amount of money a year in sessions -- and I want to say at least at some point in time it was $12,000 -- your coverage was free. Incrementally the economy has forced them to charge for that service so it’s not free any more. The last letter I received said the premium was $975 for 12 months, and I don’t remember the specifics of whether that was basic or extended or what the actual deal was.
I’ve gone elsewhere for my coverage. I think they’ve upped it and I don’t know the exact dollar figure, but unless you’re making maybe at least $15,000 a year, you don’t get coverage. It could be more than that. I forget. But you do get that money put aside for you in your pension.
JV: So is there really a career, a future for somebody that wants to do VO seriously, outside of getting lucky and being one of the cream of the crop in LA or Chicago or New York?
Ty: I think it’s exponentially more difficult now than it used to be. I do know people who have been lucky before the current economy went into the bottom of the well. They have managers or agents and they do get work frequently. When you start that, you actually have to be in town. One of the guys I know is an old friend of mine. He hasn’t told me how much work he’s doing, but he had some pretty good hits and he says he can now do it from home. He’s got a setup that’s okay to work with, and they don’t drag his butt up from Maryland all the way to New York every time they want to audition him.
And that’s another thing. I’m pretty sure this is the same way now. Even if you got the last voiceover for the whatever-national account, you normally have to audition for the very next spot that comes up, indicating how much talent there is out there.
So, to answer the question specifically, I used to be able to make a good living just doing voice work and the other stuff because I had a passion for it. Now, it’s on the other end. The balance is completely 180, and I’m doing many other things to make my living, which I totally enjoy. But this is maybe a different view of the eggs in one basket thing that voiceover people typically get into where you have one client that starts to take up all your time and you’re like, “Well, I just don’t have time to market,” and then they leave and you’re left with an empty nest.
In my case, it wasn’t the clients because all that just kind of went sideways. I looked for other kinds of things to do to populate my nest.
JV: So what other kinds of things did you get into?
Ty: As the economy splintered the voice work, I went first to location audio recording for film and video shoots. I have wireless gear. I have booms. I have mikes. I have mixers. I have the cables to feed cameras and a solid-state hard drive recorder. I went that way.
I started doing music production for local singer-songwriters and tapped into that market. Then I bought a video camera, a Canon XL2 about five years ago. I started shooting with that and eventually got the tripod, which was pretty damn expensive itself. You think audio toys are expensive; you take a look at the video toys and you’re like, “What? Holy mackerel!” And then there’s lighting because the essence of good video is good lighting, and the editing software, and another computer to handle that kind of stuff.
As I was doing that, I was putting out a pretty healthy presence on some of the forums, and a couple of the forums were basically video forums where people came to ask questions and get solutions. There was always an audio room. So I’d hang out in the audio room and people would ask questions that I knew the answers to quite easily. So I did that, and at some point I thought, “You know, I could probably do a seminar on this, a workshop.”
So I set one up at a video post-production house down in Washington on a Saturday, and we did five hours. I said, I don’t want any more than eight people here, and bring your audio gear because many of the solutions are device specific. I want to solve your problems, so bring your problems. Make a note: I was out, I did this, and I did that. Bring your problems. We’ll solve them and we’ll see what’s going on with your gear.
One of the women that came to that said afterwards, “We took copious notes. Do you have any of that written down somewhere?” I said, “No. It’s just kind of sloshing between my ears.” She said, “You should write it down.” So between February and November of that year I spent time writing a little book that’s only like four by six inches and 78 pages. I put a link to PayPal up on my website with a page describing the book, and I sell about 100 of those a year.
Last year B&H Photo Video, the guys in New York who do the online stuff or the catalog stuff, they reached out and said, “We’d like to carry your book.” So they sell about another 100 a year or so. I just sent a shipment off to them this morning. This afternoon I’ll answer my email and there’ll be a note from PayPal saying Charlie Brown in wherever bought my book.
I thought it was going to be local. I thought I’d use it as a way to brand local videographers who at first could not afford me on my day rate. My day rate for audio for an eight-hour day is 400 bucks. Five hundred for a ten hour day, and above that we really need to seriously talk. So I figured, all right, some of them can’t afford me. They bought these $3,000 to $4,000 cameras as have I, and they’re making personal films, documentaries, their first “movie” and they need help with audio. They can afford a $24.95 book.
And when I sell it to them it’s got all my info in there, so when they finally get around to having a project big enough and can afford a separate sound person, hopefully I will have branded them and they’ll call me. What happened was, I started to get responses from all around the globe. The only continent I have not sold a book on is Antarctica. I’ve learned that the penguins are pretty audio savvy. They don’t need me down there, so I think.
So the point for your readers is: what product can you manufacture easily to put this type of income together? I wrote it originally in PageMaker. I converted it to whatever the Adobe thing is now. I sent the file to the printers as a PDF. In the quantities that I order, it costs a little less than $6.00 a book and I sell it for $24.95. Now that’s not going to buy me that island in the Bahamas, but it’ll buy me a couple of bags of groceries every month.