R.A.P. Interview: Sean Bell

JV: Is fast turnaround time a major request from stations? Do you feel that you’re given a reasonable amount of time by the stations to do your job?
Sean: I think on the whole I’ve probably made the situation worse myself because I always like to deliver a fast turnaround. At the end of each working day, if I finish at 6:00 in the evening and I’ve still got three or four commercials to write, then even if I don’t write them in the evening I’ll be thinking of them so that I get them turned around quickly the next morning. So the clients get used to having a quick turnaround, and then they begin to think that’s the normal way of doing it, which I sometimes find a bit frustrating because everybody will ring you and think they can go to the top of the pile because they’ve gotten theirs turned around quickly in the past. When I was at Pentagon, the production company, we used to say we are now living in the age of the never satisfied customer because technology allows everything to be done so quickly. We used to say to clients, “We can make changes to your commercials really quickly,” but now I think that’s almost inviting people to look at reasons to want to have the commercial changed quickly. But I tend to turn around commercials quickly. Briefs will always get turned around into scripts usually within the same day, and then in the afternoon we’ll plow through and produce a good number of commercials and get them turned around equally quickly.

JV: So it’s not unreasonable for a spot to be turned around in a couple of days?
Sean: Oh yeah, usually a maximum of a couple of days. There are occasions when a radio station will ring me and say, look we’ve forgotten that this needs doing or somebody else was looking after this and it hasn’t been done. This commercial needs to be on air tomorrow; can we do it? And obviously there are certain times that I can fast track a commercial and get it turned around within two or three hours, but I can’t allow clients to believe that that’s going to be an everyday practice.

JV: There are a lot of voice-over talents around the world now, and a lot of people with decent home studios equipped for the voice-over business. Supply is up. Have you had to cut your voice-over rates to remain competitive?
Sean: No, not at all. I had a situation recently where there was a new production facility that had just set up, and they’d gone to one of the stations I was supplying to and undercut me by twenty-five pounds sterling per spot, and the radio station said to me, “Look, we can get this twenty-five pounds cheaper; what can you do about your prices?” And I said, “Absolutely nothing.” I’m not going to get into a position where people are lowering my prices. I’ve got loads and loads of work. So I’m not desperate. Obviously, I didn’t tell them that, but I’m not desperate for the work. If you start to go down that road, then I think it’s a slippery slope; whereas I stuck to my prices, and they stayed with me. In fact, this last month I sent letters out to all of the stations telling them I’m making a slight increase in production costs as of the first of January. I’m not asking them can I, I’m telling them I am making a small increase in production costs. Here in the U.K. voice-over rates are set by the British Actor’s Union Equity. Equity increased the voice-over rates very slightly, so I’m putting my rates up accordingly.

JV: What kind of voice-over rates does a talent make in the U.K.? For example, how much for a commercial voice-over that runs in a major market?
Sean: Say for example the commercial is for a radio station in London. The top stations in London would be attracting fees around about 90 pounds [approx. $173 US]. Then you drop down to the next bracket which is round about 60 pounds, which is still some of the equally big stations in London but perhaps more niche music or something like that. And then there’s another London bracket, which is down around the 50-pound mark. Then the majority of the other U.K. radio stations are around 20 pounds per voice, per script.

JV: You’re doing some in-store production as well. Tell us a little about that.
Sean: The in-store production is actually very simple because it’s a very straightforward message with straight voice and music. There are no character situations. There’s no need for sound effects. There’s no need for clever writing. It’s a very quick and simple sort of thing. I write and produce and voice in-store commercials and in-store messaging for quite a few national clients all around the country. It’s a weird sort of effect when you’re walking through a major store and all of sudden you hear yourself trying to sell barbeques or some other product.

JV: Well, are you making more money that you’ve ever made in your life?
Sean: Yes… at the moment. These last eighteen months have been quite busy, and there’s absolutely no sign of it letting up. We’ve got work lining up. I’m just about to hit the season when I do a little theme park sound design because, unlike in the States and other places around the world, we don’t have the nice weather, so they’re only open across our summer months. I start working on theme park work in January/February and deliver the audio in late March, early April. It’s a very seasonal thing, but that’s going to be a big part of my turnover for the early part of next year.

JV: You sound like you’re really enjoying your work.
Sean: I’ve always used the expression that I don’t have a job; I have a well-paid hobby, because I absolutely love the production work I’m doing. I love writing. I love the production aspects. I love voicing. I’m getting paid good money to do it, and I get the satisfaction of doing it.

JV: What’s down the road for NYPD? Do you think you’ll expand the company as business grows?
Sean: No, definitely not. I did actually go to a position about three years ago when I had somebody working with me. This was up until that point when I mentioned the radio stations had been sold and I lost all my work all of a sudden. I did have someone else working with me, and although the guy was very good at what he did, I was never comfortable being an employer. I have no intentions of developing NYPD to be a bigger organization than just me alone. There is only me here as a writer and producer and voice-over. By the way, I don’t tend to voice my own commercials either. I must emphasize that. And on the demo I’m sending for the RAP CD, my voice only appears on there once, on the Sussex Safety Cameras 10-second spot. As a rule I don’t voice my own work. I only voice for other people.

But no, I’ve got no intentions of developing NYPD to be a bigger organization. It will always be just me doing this.

The only other thing I would like to do is work as a Disney “Imagineer,” sprinkling the magic across their parks, or perhaps work in American or Canadian radio. From a creative point of view, there are some excellent Disney Imagineering books, and American radio seems so much more vibrant than most UK radio. Since becoming a RAP member, I’ve made many great like-minded friends around the world

JV: Any advice for people thinking about leaving a radio station and starting their own production house?
Sean: Well it’s easy for a lot of people to do now. When I did it, it cost me somewhere in the region of about 10,000 pounds to set up. And you can do that now easily for maybe 3,500/4,000 pounds for a setup at home. But you’ve got to be able to get the work. There are an awful lot of people out there now. You’ve got to be able to get enough work to keep going. Thankfully, I have enough work and in fact I’ve got more than enough work. Why? I must be doing something right, and probably because I enjoy what I do, I make the extra effort. But you know, there are a lot more people coming and going these days, so you’ve really got to put yourself out there and deliver the goods at the end of the day.

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