Impressions are important in VO.
No, not those impressions… FIRST impressions.
Hypothetical: an office job is hiring for a position and the only way to be considered is to walk up to a ballot box where the hiring person is standing and drop your resume/CV in the box.
If I’m that hiring person, ten bonus points to whoever acknowledges my existence. Hell, you can even just say “here’s my resume” and I’ll throw you a couple bonus points.
That’s how we submit for jobs in the voiceover industry. In some cases we’re in direct communication with the person doing the hiring, in other cases, there’s a middle person ie: agent, production house, casting director. And that’s if we’ve even got to the submission process!
Making First Impressions
There are a few different “first impressions” you can make in the industry.
The most common is making an impression on a casting director/client when submitting for a role you found on your own or through a casting site. You may not have the chance to add a note of any kind to the audition, but if you do, THANK THEM FOR LISTENING. It’s a super small gesture but it goes a long way.
Another way you can make an impression through just submitting an audition is through a slate. Slates have been getting less and less popular over the years, but I LOVE a slate. I’ll do different voices, crack little jokes, play with the emPHAsis of the letters of my agency or my name. But don’t make slates longer than they need to be! If you’re slate is longer than five seconds then you’re likely to piss off the listener.
A lot of what your first impression does is it helps you stand out. Apart from appearing polite, friendly and a person that people want to work with, you need to stand out!
Back in 2019 I submitted to be a volunteer narrator for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The first step of their audition process was to call into their office during off hours and leave a message introducing yourself then reading a couple paragraphs from a book.
I read from 50 Shades of Grey. I prefaced my reading by saying “the book I’m reading from prompted google user James27 to say ‘this is hot garbage’”.
When I was brought in for an in person audition, they told me how much they loved my audition. It made them laugh. It was memorable. After two more rounds of auditions, they brought me on as a narrator and I’ve been narrating for them ever since!
Making a SECOND First Impression
There are also some cases where you can make a first impression TWICE. I know that sounds confusing, but bear with me.
You’ve sent in an audition, reading from the provided script. It’s potentially gone through a casting director and a client/several clients. They’ve likely all heard your audition and have selected you based on your performance in it. Your sound quality was great, your diction was awesome, you didn’t have any flubs and you nailed the spec that they had provided. You’re the right voice for the gig!
That’s your first impression.
Now, they’ve requested a live directed remote session/in-studio session.
When you hop on that call or enter that studio, they’re meeting you as a voiceover artist, as a fully formed human being.
This is the SECOND first impression.
Now you’re not just a recording. This is the first time they’re interacting with you in real time. They’ll probably chat with you, make small talk, ask you questions.
This can be where people falter. They can get too crass with their answers or perhaps too political (left or right, it doesn’t matter!), unknowingly insult someone or even just come off as an asshole (through no fault of their own!).
I’ve heard many stories of people getting jobs then showing up for the job and actually being fired or not hired by that client again because of their lack of manners or lack of etiquette or even just bad technical performance skills.
Etiquette and Technical Skills
Now etiquette, showing up on time, being friendly and polite are all things that I would argue are pretty easy to be “good” at. If you aren’t inherently good at these things, then work on them!
But having good technical skills takes time and experience. You can work on an audition for 45 minutes, nail it and be hired for the job. But when it comes to the live session, you can crumble because you don’t know how your gear works or you don’t understand the terminology that a director is using.
Being able to hand in a strong self tape does NOT mean you’re ready for a live directed session. Keep that in mind.
There are a lot of things that people can do wrong in this industry. And there are a lot of things that people can do RIGHT in this industry. I would argue that a lot of the things you can do “wrong” are somewhat obvious (at least to me). Other’s need to be learned through experience in sessions or workshops and webinars. Same for the things that you can do “right”.
If you maximize the number of things that you do “right” and minimize the number of things you do “wrong”, you’ll be just fine.
Please keep in mind, this is my personal opinion drawn from nearly a decade of experience in the industry. Always question people’s opinions and take them with a grain of salt because that’s only one point of view.