As a full-time professional voiceover artist, I wasn’t sure how much my work would change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, I already had my website and portfolio built at voicebymaria.com, I had a ProductionHUB profile, I had already built a broadcast-quality studio in my home office (it was quite a challenge for my husband to get my StudioBricks OnePlus booth into my office after the delivery people dropped it off in our driveway!). And I was familiar with Zoom years before everybody started using Parks & Rec sets as silly backgrounds to amuse their co-workers. I’ve been recording, editing, conference-calling and participating in live-directed sessions from my professional home studio for eight years now, voicing commercials for national brands such as Pillsbury, Panera, Hoover and Dannon. But things HAVE changed – in ways I wasn’t expecting.
Access to Casting Directors
Ever hear a Mercedes-Benz ad voiced by Jon Hamm? Or American Express with Tina Fey? There’s a world of voiceover that’s only accessible to A-listers and celebrities. Then, there were other top opportunities that normally cast from the geographic pools of talent based in New York City and Los Angeles. And booking those jobs normally requires talent to report to work in those cities.
Despite having top representation in major markets, I started to believe that I wouldn’t be able to compete for some of those opportunities. Even if I was willing to report to a studio in NYC or LA for the job, the reality is that things move fast and session times change. But now that everyone is working from home, top casting directors who would normally only consider talent geographically based in New York City and Los Angeles, are willing to hear auditions from people like me (I built my career in NYC, but I’ve been living in Buffalo, NY since 2014 – a great place for wings but not exactly an entertainment industry hot spot). Not every A-lister or top studio talent had a broadcast-quality home studio ready to go, and companies needed spots recorded FAST. Advertising never stops.
My hope is that casting directors and producers will continue to consider talent outside of the major hubs even after the pandemic is over. Talent exists everywhere and technology allows us to be competitive.
Recognition of Professional Setups
Similarly, production studios, post houses and engineers have realized that there are actually a lot of full-time working voiceover talents out there with true professional set-ups. It wasn’t all like Eugene Mirman’s Instagram post of a pillow fort in his closet when he was doing pre-lay (though we’ve all been there when an audition request comes through while you’re on vacation). Professional voice talents aren’t just using iPhone mics under a fluffy duvet – I’ve got an isolation sound booth, a Neumann TLM-103 and a Sennheiser MKH-416 Shotgun Microphone, an Audient id14 Interface and a MacPro Editing Suite.
Industry pros have realized that voice actors might not need to travel to a separate recording studio to track broadcast-quality audio. In addition to providing pristine raw audio that’s ready to mix via services like SourceConnect, ISDN, ipDTL or CleanFeed – many of us also are comfortable editing our own audio for industrial projects like e-learning or explainer videos.
Overall, the voiceover industry moved forward & modernized about 10 years in 10 days – and I’m excited about that.
Covid-19 Voiceover Challenges
Of course, the pandemic hasn’t been easy, emotionally or professionally. At one point, the power went out across the entire Eastern seaboard – and I had scheduled a live-directed session with a client on the West Coast. They were supposed to be recording me remotely through SourceConnect. After realizing it wasn’t a problem with my router and actually thousands were without power, I quickly called my manager. I told her that I could set-up a Zoom call for the entire team to join and they could listen in and direct and I could record the entire session on my side and then upload all of the takes to them after we finished. Ultimately, the session went perfectly. The client got their takes, we were still able to collaborate over Zoom and because I knew how to troubleshoot and use my equipment, I was able to deliver exactly what the engineer needed to build the spot with my takes.
Although I’m beyond grateful that I’ve been able to continue working safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve accidentally become an even bigger workaholic. In the Before Times™, I counted on social engagements outside my home to signal the end of my work day: Monday night trivia at my local brewpub, Brennan’s, Tuesday night dinner club with my fellow foodie friends, and monthly musicals down at Shea’s Buffalo, where I’m a proud season ticket holder. Now that I can’t attend my usual gatherings, I often find myself in my office until 10 or 11pm (it’s always a bad sign if my cats start doing acrobatics while I’m still in my booth). And when home is also work, it starts to feel like you’re always at work, even on nights and weekends. I’ve actually had Sunday bookings and sessions recently, which stresses the balance even further.
Now I know how important it is to actively make time for unwinding, even at home. My husband and I bought a hot tub with the refunds we got from travel that was cancelled, so we’ve been trying to use that a couple times a week. I’m trying to make a scrapbook of pictures and brochures from our honeymoon in 2019 (I’m not a very good crafter), we bought a new record player and speakers and sometimes just listen to music without screens on, we’ve bought tickets for live-streams of concerts or comedians appearing at the Nowhere Comedy Club. It’s not the same, but it helps!
I’ve also realized that running my business is more work than one person can handle. I’ve started delegating some administrative tasks (hello, chasing invoices!) to a virtual assistant. I also use an external audio engineer that I trust to help me with my workload. I’d rather spend my work day actually performing and spend my night watching House Hunters and Below Deck Mediterranean with my husband.
How Actors Can Work From Home Successfully
I feel a little guilty saying this, but 2020 has actually been one of my best years as a professional actor. It helps that pretty much every company has been overhauling marketing to be COVID-19 appropriate. I’ve also begun to voice campaign ads for political candidates and issues I feel passionate about, something that’s always been a goal of mine. I’ve also reached the enviable milestone of being able to be more choosy about jobs and saying no to jobs that I don’t really want.
7 Ways Actors Can Succeed at Home (During COVID-19 AND Beyond)
I hope that my experience and my story can help other actors take advantage of their ability to work from home. Here are my top 7 tips to share:
- Be Reachable – Update your website and social media! Include your current contact info, make sure you come up in searches, embed your demos and reels and make everything downloadable. Some people don’t like using website contact forms, so make sure you have your e-mail and phone listed for someone to reach you directly!
- Be Honest – If you don’t have a specific microphone, camera or connection technology. Don’t lie about it. Be honest about your capabilities and grow as you go. I’ve heard stories about actors losing gigs because they were dishonest about their tech and it didn’t meet the production’s stated standards.
- Be Helpful & Flexible – Everyone is trying to do their best. Sometimes sessions start late because people are having connection troubles, childcare issues, dogs barking etc. Be flexible and stay calm. People will remember how easy you were to work with.
- Invest in what you need – If you’re an on-camera actor, invest in a ring light, a tripod and a blue or gray sheet to create a perfect self-tape station. If you’re a voiceover actor, worry more about your space than the cost of your equipment. A $1,000 mic will sound like garbage in a poorly treated space, but a $250 mic will sing in a properly treated and sound dampened environment. You also don’t need to run out and subscribe to every remote connection service, but know that things like SourceConnect and ipDTL have become must-haves if you’re auditioning for top commercial campaigns.
- Set boundaries – Don’t leave self-care out of the equation. Remember to warm up and down, just as you would in a studio. Don’t forget to give yourself bio breaks, steam, hydrate, etc. Consider investing in a pair of blue light filtering glasses if you’re spending a lot more time in front of screens on Zoom to help with eye fatigue.
- Learn your tech – don’t just buy everything and take it out of the box. Watch YouTube tutorials, ask questions in actor Facebook groups, and make sure you understand how your gear works. That way you can troubleshoot or be nimble if they need you to make changes.
- Keep your reps updated – Make sure your agents and managers are up to date on your various remote connection technologies and if you want to be submitted for new genres that might be open to people who aren’t in the major metropolitan markets. Also, don’t forget to book out if you’re taking some time off – even if you aren’t traveling.
Maria Pendolino is an award-winning voice actor who works in commercials, promo, animation, narration, radio imaging, e-learning and video games. She’s voiced for global brands like Pillsbury, Dannon, Google, Whole Foods and more. Maria’s fresh and authentic voice is perfect for speaking to youthful Gen Z and Millennial audiences and her reads are confident, conversational, real and a little sassy. Visit her ProductionHub profile here: http://studionics.com/profile/mariapendolino