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Episode 270: Interview with Emma O'Neill and Mike Tobin

business tips Feb 07, 2024

The Voiceover Actor Road Map

About Emma:

Emma O'Neill is a multi-award-winning voice actor specializing in radio and TV commercials, TV narration, TV promo, and corporate training videos. Outside the booth, she's a fitness and wellness enthusiast, and has been a certified yoga instructor for more than 25 years.

About Mike:

Mike Tobin is an accomplished, Montreal-born, award-nominated voice actor, MC, and event announcer who has made his ultra-fluent bilingualism the cornerstone of his brand for more than 20 years. He also loves technology and is an avid Mac enthusiast.

What it's like to be a voiceover actor in Canada.

And it can be very isolating and very lonely.

So when you have people that understand the business, they understand the hustle. They understand the self-doubt that can come with things during slow times, or, you know, I was talking to somebody yesterday, and it was, you know, why them and not me that you can get into these spins in your head.

And when you have someone who understands all of the levels of that, it's just; it makes you feel less crazy, it makes you feel less alone, it makes you feel like, you know what, I can reach out to Mike today, I have a little bit, and with Mike and I, it's great because we work so closely together, we've kind of gotten to this place where if I'm losing my mind, he's calm, and if he's losing his mind, I'm calm, so it's like, oh, this works, this is great, thank you.

The universe's wind blows at different times.

Part of this comes from our leaning on using accountability groups, which is a big part of our experience.

So we do have our accountability groups that we lean on, but sometimes you just need one person.

Weekly accountability group: At the beginning of every session, I say, okay, what did you do from this last week to this week? And in the end, what are you going to do? And we get into that and how important that is. So, I love that you guys are talking about weekly accountability.

There are the things that are there regularly.

There are, of course, auditions. Audition has to play a big part in every voice actor's life. There's only a few things you're going to get. Unless you're getting direct clients, which is another part of it, which is marketing and following up and keeping on top of all the business aspects of it, it's so huge.

Many people who are creative, artistic, and talented get into this industry and this business—all the things that put a voice to a microphone, but then everything else.

It can be very scary and intimidating for them because, after all, it's the voiceover business.

You can have clients around the world. It doesn't matter, especially now with the connectivity that we have with Source Connect and other technologies.

So it comes from all over the place.

I love that you said that voiceover is a global industry.

I love that. It's just because there's so much possibility.

What do you think is the most important thing starting in Voiceover?

Coaching. I always say coaching is the most important thing.

There's voiceover, and there's voice acting.

And there are people who don't do commercials. They don't do video games. They don't do audiobooks. They don't do character-based work. They do e-learning and corporate and stuff like that, which is still character-based, but it's much more accessible to the average person.

You're not necessarily fully fleshing out a character.

There's a commercial promo TV narration, things like that; you are fully fleshing out a character, but you still need to understand the nuance.

Acting is acting. Period. End of sentence. It's got nothing to do with the sound of your voice but everything to do with the connection to the story.

So, you need to understand the story you are telling. Once you understand the story you're telling and who you are in that story, whether you're just the storyteller or actually participating in the story, you can do whatever aspect of voice.

So I think that with that, with getting it telling the story, this is the difference between voice acting and voiceover, is that I think that with AI coming in, and it's not going to go away. We need to work with it and understand it that as a voice actor, to be able to connect with the story, that part of voice isn't going to be taken over by AI.

Because a computer can't yet do that.

Acting is key. Learning the craft is key. I will say that people need to have some foundations in business in general.

So they need to educate themselves and train themselves on basic things. I was listening to a show on the radio recently. They were talking about how many people now entering the workforce force don't have what we call many of the soft skills that are just expected of people in business, how to write a good email, how to handle yourself on a telephone call, how to, handle yourself in a meeting, either face to face with a real person or over video conferencing.

So, many of the soft skills required to have a successful business need to be there to support your craft.

The craft is great. You need it. You need to train to differentiate yourself, but if you can't deal with people, sell yourself, and market yourself, you'll be a great actor but won't make any money.

Talk to me about AI. What are your thoughts about AI?

AI, synthetic voice, generative voice, anything that is learning. It's not going to go away.

And it's something that we need to be on top of, and I watch other actors who are much more advanced in their career than I am.

When this became a thing, they jumped on it immediately, created their own avatar voice, and are using it for all sorts of things.

I think with any new technology; there's always the fear, right?

And because, yes, anything new, especially in technology, can be used for not the greater good as we're seeing already, there are also fantastic things that can come from this.

It's just like a voice actor putting, creating your own synthetic voice. You can use that for pickups and long-form narration. You can use that; you're getting on a plane on vacation, and your agent's I need this audition now. And you're like, I am sitting on the plane.

You've already got your different voices put into whatever version you're using, whatever platform you're using. So, the 11 labs. For example, you can put feed corporate, your corporate voice in your radio voice in all of your different voices and create like voice one through 10.

And so this particular copy, you just feed the text into the AI and it spits it back out in your voice.

And you just like. Let them know this is my AI voice. It's not actually me, but at least they get their copy in my voice. They can hear the basics of how this would sound and I can do and there's been so many stories of people doing that and getting off the plane, they've booked the job.

Let me ask you, because devil's advocate here, my question is aren't you afraid that they will then take your voice and then just use it and not pay you?

I am a cautious skeptic when it comes to the state of AI in voiceover right now.

And part of that I think stems from looking at past disruptions of industry. If we take, for example the music industry. The music industry was disrupted in a big way when file sharing started.

And to, to what Emma was saying nefarious characters, even though people didn't think they were doing any harm by, sending 500 files over the internet, over Napster in the middle of the night that led to some big changes in the music industry.

I would say, you don't need to look very far and headlines and things like that is that the artists still haven't really recovered.

I would think I think that there's ripple effects that even go beyond You know the fact that a stream only pays zero point zero zero, whatever how many cents?

And I could you know one could argue this is what possibly led to the craze of crazy concert ticket prices and things like that because artists want to make their money and that's where they can do it.

To bring it back to voiceover. I think what Emma said that it's not going away, it's there. We need to make ourselves aware. We need to find a way that we can. Leverage this into our own business model.

I really praise people like Nava who are doing great things for the industry and who really have our backs and are trying.

But like any technological thing the industry, and the technology itself moves forward very quickly, and the legislation and all the protections and the ethics of the whole thing tends to have to catch up.

And that's the concern. I agree with what you say that’s the concern is there.

Is someone going to take our voice and use it without our consent? That is a big worry. But What I'm hearing is that there are technologies that are coming into play that will hopefully protect us. Are we there yet?

Doesn't sound like it, but it's coming. So things are moving at light speed. So definitely a finger on the pulse.

Let's keep our head up and eyes open and we'll see what happens.

It's the importance of having a contract going back. This is a business. You have to have a contract with all of your clients and a contract can be as simple as an email exchange. Once it's writing, it's a contract, but AI specifically working with companies to create synthetic voice to create your own synthetic voice and allowing them to then use said voice to create content.

The contract has to be rock solid and there are loads of people in this industry who are really well versed in contract that are willing to review contracts for you.

So it's talking about contracts, understanding contracts, what needs to be in the contract, so that it's, this is for this job or for this series of jobs. It's not for anything else. If it changes, you must come back to me with the change. And like I was saying, there's a lot of different technologies that are coming in that it's like, you can water stamp your audio that is not audible to the human ear, no one would ever hear it, but it's, you can track it.

I really hope that those technologies that are going to help protect our voice prints and things like that really come to fruition in a very robust way.

You go on YouTube, for example, and you search I was watching a video on how to use this AI technology that's built into some of the photo and video editing software.

And the person, the content creator says, I'm going to show you how to do this. And this is the tool that you use. And then he says look, when you do this, you'll see that it.

It puts a stamp, like a watermark down at the bottom that it says it was created with this technology. Now, let me show you how to remove that watermark.

Hopefully we don’t experience that kind of thing.

What’s one business skill that you think is super, super important?

I think one of the skills that needs to be honed for many people is the ability to search for information and to vet that information on your own to decide is this good, valid information or is it not.

Because we live in an age you can learn to do anything. YouTube University, let me tell you, if your washing machine is stuck and won't turn on, there's a YouTube video that's going to tell you how to fix it.

I'm saying the skill to be able to find information that you need. And decide, is this from a source that I trust, is vetted, and then to take that information and take action upon it.

I think that's a really critical skill, not just in voiceover but in anything.

Networking. Learning how to network and understanding that networking is about relationships.

It's not about shoving your business card down someone's throat.

It's not about dumping your demos into someone's inbox.

It's about getting to know who you're speaking to as a person. Because people are people, at the end of the day, yeah, as a casting director, as a coach, it's a producer, it's a roster, whatever.

It's an agent.

It's a person. It's a person who has interests outside of the acting world, outside of voiceover. Yeah. Get to know people as people.

Build your network and make it into your community. Connect with people as humans, become friends with them. And that's how you're going to build your business is by having people as friends.