By Dave Cockram
I highly recommend anyone still employed in radio to have something to fall back on. You never know when the Radio Reaper will creep up on you with that dreaded pink slip. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are safe. It’s radio life… and it’s full of surprises. Here are some Tips and Tricks to keep your bank account in the black while working in a generally low paying industry
This is an obvious one. But it’s definitely true. If you put the time in, network and hustle, you can find ways to generate extra income outside your 9-5. Never give up. Believe in your dreams. (This is the cliché motivational section of the article. Did you notice it’s not very long?)
Entertainment Industry Pitfalls
Be aware. Your boss/employer may not be cool with you producing for another radio station, especially if you have the gonads to try this in the same market. They think that your work for them will somehow not be as good if you work for other people too. I disagree. The more experience you earn is a benefit for anyone you do business with. Knowledge and experience is essential to bettering yourself and getting better at what you do. The more you know how to do the better. Try to hustle radio stations NOT in your listening area to avoid conflicts. Your employer may even have a problem with you voicing stuff for agencies in the same city. You could be a nice guy and ask permission, but in my experience you’re just giving them the opportunity to say no right out of the gate.
This has sadly happened to me more than once by a bunch. I was approached early on in my radio career to have a documentary filmed about me and my co-host as we traveled to an alternative festival in the American Midwest. Despite the opportunity for great publicity, they didn’t allow it. Why did I even ask? The reality is some upper-ups (Management) want to feel like they own and control you. This is pretty standard in any business. Depending on the contract you signed… they might! This is incredibly frustrating as a talent of any kind. Don’t let them own and control you, if at all possible. Just do it, and if they have a problem with it they will certainly tell you about it. By that point it’s too late. Apologize and go about your business. You’re already committed to doing the extra work and now you have a small business on the side. Congratulations! You’re an entrepreneur! If you’re like me and have mouths to feed, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Most employee contracts make you give up any rights to anything you create. Some even go as far to say that they own your likeness and can continue to use your likeness long after your employment is terminated. Also, there’s the dreaded non-compete clause that makes any lateral career move frustrating if you have a controlling employer. Make sure you talk to a lawyer before you sign anything! If you can’t afford an hour with a lawyer then ask a radio veteran who’s been through all this nonsense before. Know what you are signing. Sadly I have signed contracts that didn’t work for me in the long run. The more you know about your contract, the easier it is to ask for what you want before you sign it. It’s also easier to know how to get around it. Sign a contract you feel good about. Don’t settle. If you’ve already signed the soul of your first born away to your employer, they may not be willing to revise it later when you need to. The contract they already have has your privates in a vice… .so why would they?
The First Hit is Always Free
When you are just getting started don’t be afraid to offer your services for free. Don’t undercut! Yes, I know that sounds like I’m contradicting myself. Remember; only the first hit is free. After that you are free to charge black market prices if you choose. Just make sure you knock it out of the park consistently, and you will always get return business. If you have a prospective client tell them you will produce something for them, just like your radio station would produce a spec ad. If they hate it they can forget the whole ordeal ever happened. But if you impress them, they will be back. Then you talk money. Remember, if they haven’t paid you for it yet, you may want to tag your product with tones so they can’t steal it. Making a super low quality mp3 for approval may work too.
Every radio person wants to do voice work on the side. I get asked about this a lot. I have done voice work for nearly 15 years -- most of which was un-paid at whatever radio station I worked at. It wasn’t until last year that people finally started to pay me for it. What I make is still not enough to live off alone. You can also never count on it as being regular or forever. Approach all freelance work as if it’s the last time you will ever work for them. Unless you are locked into a contract, they can fire you at any time for no notice.
Let’s clear up a few misconceptions about VO.
You typically don’t just walk right into a booth and get paid.
You have to be able to act, or at the very least do a specific read really really well.
Most radio people can read a script. Most radio people can’t interpret a script. What sets the pros apart is being able to deliver a poorly written script and have it sound normal. It’s a lot easier said than done especially since most scripts are generally written in ways no one speaks. It actually takes a long time to figure out… and figuring out usually means faking it. Practice and training can get you there a lot quicker.
So don’t expect to be able to make money right away. Like I said, I waited 15 years to make any money from my voice. Take voice acting classes, practice and network.
I hear a lot of people being able to drum up voice work themselves. I admire this. Sadly, I don’t have the time. Recording an audition for my agent is way easier than going through the motions of cold calling businesses and production houses. However, it can be done.
There are ways you can start working right out of the gate doing voice work. Try this!
Message on hold: Yup, there’s a goldmine here if there’s any voicers who are willing to try this. I can’t count the amount of terrible on hold messages I’ve heard. Not only are you on hold while you listen to it, but the voice is usually the mic-shy secretary fumbling with the phone cord trying to read a script. So next time you are on hold, wait to have your call answered and do your business. At the end of the call ask the rep who is in charge of your message on hold system. Then ask to be put through to them. Introduce yourself. Tell them you are a professional voice talent that would love to come in and get their message on hold system up to a tolerable quality. I can pretty much guarantee whoever they got to voice it didn’t want to do it in the first place.
Remember, the first hit is always free. Don’t be afraid to volunteer your time once a week at a radio or TV station. It’s only a matter of time before someone starts noticing you.
Medium and small market stations are typically bombarded with last minute commercials and requests from sales. Depending on the size of the company, their imaging is likely done by a senior guy in corporate HQ. But if it’s a private company, they may need help and better quality Imaging. Network with PDs as much as possible. They are your connection to future jobs. They can also help you get better. You can be first on their list when their prod guy leaves, but you need to start a conversation.
Everyone and their mom has a podcast now. Most of them don’t sound that good either. The fact you already work at a reputable media business should mean a lot to someone who doesn’t understand how to properly record something. Figure out what your hourly rate is and tell them you can work with them to get a setup that works, or offer to produce it for them. If it’s their business, they should want their product to not suck. Easy money! Ask your manager at work if you can use your production studio after hours and charge them. Your boss will (should) like that you are showing initiative to bring in outside revenue to a department that normally brings in no extra money beyond what sales runs through the Creative Department.
You work at a radio station right? The equipment you use is paid for and kept running by someone else right? So you have access to professional recording equipment at no cost to you… right? I worked as a radio producer for 15 years and never used any of my own equipment when I did freelance work. It’s expensive, and I never wanted to take my work home with me. I didn’t get my own home studio until last year. You really don’t have to. Just clear it with your manager. “Hey, are you ok if I stay late a couple nights a week to do some freelance?” If they say no then say you are willing to pay to rent the studio. Charge your clients for the rental time. Whammy! You get to make money and use professional gear literally at no cost for yourself. Make sure you keep the freelance to outside your regular office hours.
The mystical dark art of knowing better than any of the staff currently employed! Consulting is when upper management doesn’t believe that you (the staff) know what you’re doing or how to get there. So they hire a has-been for a wad of cash to tell you everything you are doing wrong. They bore you with meetings about radio basics you should have learned in school. They are generally out of touch with new technology and new ideas but will often throw around cliché business terms to sound smart. I’m not saying there are no good consultants. I’m not saying you can’t learn anything from them. They all seem to recommend the same Band-Aid fixes.
Just play hits. Minimize Talk. Add More Lasers to your imaging. Spend a million dollars to re-brand everything. Fire the announcer who had one bad book.
Hell, they might as well just tell you that your radio station is doomed without their help! But for some reason we listen. We should all inherently know what makes good radio. If you are fortunate enough to have the experience to be in a consulting position, you should incorporate the ground floor staff in on these decisions. Create a bottom up management mentality that gives the young employees who are still in touch with what’s cool a voice. They are the future and the future is now.
If you are lucky enough to survive in this business long enough to be able to work as a consultant… congratulations! Start offering to do training sessions for small market announcers and producers. Be open to incorporating their ideas with the tried tested and proved ones. Pretty soon their methods WILL be the ones that are tested and true so get on the bandwagon early.
Blogging. Editing web content. Social Media. We now have digital departments larger than our creative departments devoted to spewing out memes on the internet all day every day. Remember when the internet wasn’t a job? Web content is the future for writers. If you can stomach it, this will be your bread and butter.
The internet will always need content on everything that exists! Think about it. Type in ANYTHING into Google and there is information about it. Someone has to put it there. Someone has to write it or at the very least edit it. If you’re already a copywriter, you should be able to pick up content contracts on the side.
Join the dark side! They make money!
Negotiating Raises (Good luck with that.)
I’ll speak very honestly about getting a raise. It does happen. But typically you will have to take on a heavier workload and more responsibility. The sneakier way to go about it would be to get another offer from across the street. Employers are more likely to fork out a couple grand more to not have to go through the hassle of re-hiring and re-training someone. Sadly, that’s usually what it comes down to. But then they still can say no, so you have to be prepared to lay it all on the line and be willing to move somewhere else if you want to play that game. Until you have something they need, they won’t be as willing to go offer you free money. If you want to impress your employer in order to put you in good standing for more than the 2% standard raise every year, start thinking about how you can cut out unnecessary costs from your department. Think about what processes you do every day that would save you the most time if they didn’t exist. I remember a few years ago some 14 year old kid saved the US Federal Government a billion dollars just by using a smaller font! So perhaps it’s time to go paperless in your studios. Put a few flat screens into your voice booths and end the paper trail entirely. Take some time to do the math on what paper costs the company, and I guarantee it will outweigh the cost of a few computer monitors.
It may be easier to get extra income freelancing. You will have more control over what you make seeing that YOU make the rules.
If all else fails… TRADE
Remember the barter system? Me neither. But money saved is money earned. I’ve been working with an online magazine start-up company voicing and producing podcast type features for their articles. They don’t pay me… but they can trade online ads for my business. They may even be able to trade work for publicity for you. Maybe they can trade your work for your own website. Don’t be afraid to work for trade. Everyone has something to offer, and if it’s mutually beneficial why say no?
Networking: Annoying but Highly Beneficial
Producers are typically people who like to be left alone in dark studios for hours. Networking was never high on my priority list early on in my career. But you never know who you might meet. Networking sucks time and the monetary returns are rarely immediate. Networking karma can take years to work its way back to you. Seek out industry nights, jam your wallet with business cards, and try to only stay for the free drinks. If you want to make money I assume you don’t want to be wasting it. Always carry a business card. At station events talk to the announcers. “Hey, you ever thought about doing your own podcast? If you need help let me know.” That’s all it takes to plant a seed.
Offer to teach one day or one night a week at your local College that teaches broadcast. Start your own web tutorial and sell online ads from your website. Knowledge and experience is worth something to people just starting out. They can pay tuition to learn it, or get creative with this thing called “Google”. You could also start your own YouTube course. I search for video tutorials online often. It’s amazing what you can learn without ever setting foot inside a real school.
There you go. Start thinking outside the 9-5 and you may be bringing in extra coin so you can actually start saving and not living paycheck to paycheck. In a later article I will share a few ways you can bring in extra income to your creative department. Stay classy.
Dave is a Producer at Indie88 in Toronto, ON. He welcomes your correspondence at