by Dennis Daniel
"Where do you get the leads, Dennis? How can I get extra outside V.O. work?" Without a doubt these are the most common questions that come my way from production brethren and sistren all over the country. There's no one easy way to answer, so I'll give you a brief history of how it began to happen for me. It all started with my obsession to do quality, distinctive work for my radio station clients. I started in this business at a young age (18), and from the get go I was on fire to do something different, something unique to my own way of thinking. I still have the first memo ever sent to me by a Program Director, Bob Buchmann from WBAB. It simply reads, "It's terrific to see you attack the Production Director job so aggressively. So far, you've taken a big load off my mind, and I appreciate it. Keep it going." I kept it going for ten years at 'BAB! I was a man with a mission: to write, produce, and perform commercials that entertained as well as sold the client's product. (That mission has never changed!) Almost every client that ever spoke to me on the phone regarding concepts, copy facts, and script approval could hear my utter dementia and mania about the spot I was about to do for them. (I say "almost" because, no matter how psyched you sound, you're bound to have living prick clients who aren't moved by anything. A thousand puppies could have just died and they won't bat an eye.) Herein lies the first line of defense in getting that extra cabbage: a deep-felt sense of enthusiasm for the work. Let your clients feel how happy you are to be doing their spot! Joy is infectious. I've seen the most hardened, stuck-up, sticky beats turn to jelly after I've regaled them with a glowing dissertation on how incredible their spot is going to sound and how crazy I was about getting my idea on the radio. All of this translates into great sounding work on the air--out there, filling the void, being heard by the multitudes, giving your work the billboard it needs to be noticed and appreciated. Know what comes with that? Phone calls. Inquirers. "Who's the guy/girl who cut that blankity-blank spot?" "Is that person available?" It's questions like these that are the building blocks of your reputation in the biz. It's one of the ways your future free-lance employers are going to know that you're alive. Best of all, it's a natural by-product of just doing your job!
Just as great spots can bring in work from without, it can also lead to extra paid work from within. Many was the time I created a series of commercials for regular station clients that proved so popular they either decided to run them on other stations or paid me cold hard cash to continue the fine work in-house and give them that extra edge. I have had arguments with colleagues about the morality of having in-house station clients pay cash for something they are supposed to receive as a gratuity for buying spots, the argument being, "It's our job to do great work, period." I disagree, to a degree. Why not receive payment for extra effort? Let's face it; we bang out thousands of spots a year! It's an assembly line. If someone wants to shell out a few shekels to ease the pain and get a bit more, what the hell? From a cost effective basis it makes complete business sense. For example, if a client is paying, say $100 a spot to air his commercials, why not pay the Production Director $100 to really kick ass! Besides, the situation would never have existed if the Production Director hadn't already done a fine job for the client in the past under normal circumstances. It was within this scenario that I've garnered the most combustible cash over the years.
The preceding were examples of how to get free-lance work right in the confines of your own job description. The other obvious way is to solicit work by sending out a demo tape. Aah, yes. The demo tape. "What do I put on it? How can I be objective about my own work? How long should it be?" Oy, gavolt! Could there be anything more necessary, yet more of a pain in the ass, than having an up-to-date, totally representative voice-over demo? Yet, have it you must! In fact, if there is anyone reading this who does not, finish the article and get going on one immediately! I kid you not! You never know when someone will ask, or the opportunity will present itself, for you to submit one. (Not to mention the chances of getting a pink slip out of the blue! Then what, Bunky?) Nothing could be more important to the future of your free-lance than that friggin' demo tape! The two key words when it comes to demos are "montage" and "presentation." A general 5-minute montage of your work should be compiled, with no more than 10-15 seconds per spot representation. Depending on your individual abilities, you could mix various straight voice reads with character reads, or create one 3-minute montage of straight voice and another separate montage of characters. If you really excel in writing, your montages should also give perspective clients an idea of your creative/conceptual ability. On side 2 you could include 5 full 60-second examples of your work to let listeners sample your wares in their entirety. Hopefully, they'll be so taken by the montages, they'll look forward to hearing more. The quality of the sound should be as impeccable as you can get! Only the best cassettes will do! Do not present your work on substandard tape! Do not use bulked cassettes!
Try to make the presentation as classy as possible. Preprinted cassette labels with your name, address, phone, and fax would be great! Too rich for your blood? Get a computer printout or well-typed label. Avoid being cutesy in any way! Don't do any intros or outros to the montage a la "Hi, I'm Harry Lipshitz and this is my amazing tape!" I, for one, click that crap off pronto! Let the work speak for itself! Enclose a brief, professional, realistic resume. Just speak of your pro life! The fact that you read news reports on your college radio station doesn't mean squat! Last of all, a quick "thank you for listening" letter and business card attached to or enclosed in the cassette box. Want to really go nuts? Have a logo created for your name! You must show pride and professionalism. Why should I give a rats sphincter about you if you don't?
When I mentioned in these pages that I now had my own production company, I received hundreds of tapes, 70% of which ended up in the garbage! I can't stress enough how important it is to present yourself in a clean, professional light. It will make all the difference!
"Okay, Dennis, I have my tape. Now, where do I send it?" More on that next time.