This interview really is a gem for anybody approaching the voice over industry, full of captivating points of view, advice, and fascinating exchanges, with industry-leading talent, coach, and demo producer J. Michael Collins.
He has worked with some of the biggest companies, brands, sports leagues, and organizations on the planet.
This interview really is a gem for anybody approaching the voice over industry, full of captivating points of view, advice, and fascinating exchanges, with industry-leading talent, coach, and demo producer J. Michael Collins.
He has worked with some of the biggest companies, brands, sports leagues, and organizations on the planet.
In this episode, we talked in depth about the evolution of the industry to a place where talents can go out and find their own work, as well as the importance of diversifying, the fledgling market of voice synthesizing and voice models, and the growing diversity and representation in voiceover for Latin American and BIPOC talents, among many other things.
J. Michael is a 50-time Voice Arts Award winner as a voice actor, demo producer, scriptwriter, and casting director. Along with his wife and business partner Anna, J. Michael is the director of VO Atlanta, https://www.voatlanta.me/ the industry’s largest and longest-running conference, he’s also co-producer of the One Voice Conference USA, and a gracious host to a small group of voice actors each year at luxurious venues in Europe for the signature JMC Euro VO Retreats.
He also shared with us a little glimpse behind the curtain of these huge conferences, and how they brought back the Hispanic program by integrating the Spanish language content essentially into the main conferences. He also highlighted how we not only learn about our jobs in conferences but most of all, we create tribes and connections within groups of people who then are the ones that hire us and who can become our friends too, which is priceless.
If you’re interested in coaching and recording a demo with J. Michael, contact him at jmcdemos.com or jmcvoiceover.com. He will also be happy to chat with you via email Jmichael@jmcvoiceover.com
Try out Squadcast for seven days at no cost and discover the best way to record your podcast interviews or conduct virtual meetings with the highest sound quality.
Don’t forget to subscribe to La Pizarra on social media and get access to all of the episodes, download them, and share them on social media. Your comments are welcome!
** Visit https://www.nickymondellini.com to learn more about the host, actor, and voice talent Nicky Mondellini.
Nicky Mondellini is an internationally known actor with more than thirty years in the entertainment industry. Her voice can be heard on national TV commercial campaigns, radio spots, and streaming platforms. She has been the host of La Pizarra since 2020.
Her on-camera work includes 14 Mexican soap operas, drama shows, feature films, and short films, as well as musicals and classical theater. She has also hosted daytime TV shows in Mexico and the US.
Follow Nicky on:
Announcer: This is La Pizzara, a place where we explore creative minds in the entertainment industry on both sides of the mic and the camera. Here is your host, Nicky Mondellini.
Nicky Mondellini: Welcome to another episode of La Pizarra. I’m your host, Nicky Mondellini, and today we’re talking about all things voiceover with a man who knows everything about the business. He is the person to follow if you want to know about the latest trends in voiceover and also the elements of an award-winning demo and of course, a lot more. His name is J. Michael Collins. Before we go into the interview, I want to remind you that all of the episodes of La Pizarra are available on lapizarrapodcast.com and also on nickymondellini.com/lapizarra, where you can also find the transcripts and you can sign up for the newsletter which is always in English and Spanish.
It’s our monthly newsletter. I would like to also ask a small favor and if you would give us a five-star review on Apple podcast, that would be amazing so that other people can find us and your comments are always welcome on social media and on YouTube. With over 20 years as a professional voiceover artist, J. Michael Collins has worked with some of the biggest companies, brands, sports, sports leagues, and organizations on the planet. He is a top-grossing talent in the online marketplace and has become recognized as an industry-leading talent coach and demo producer as well.
J. Michael is a 50-time Voice Arts Awards winner as a Voice actor, demo producer, scriptwriter, and casting director. Along with his wife and business partner, Anna, J. Michael is the producer of Voiceover Atlanta, the industry’s largest and longest-running conference. He is also a coproducer of the One Voice Conference USA and a gracious host to a small group of voice actors each year at luxurious venues in Europe for the signature JMC Euro VO retreats, and last but not least, he is also the host of the podcast This Week in VO. J. Michael, welcome to La Pizzara.
J. Michael Collins: Thank you, Nicky. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
Nicky: Well, I’m very happy that you’re here, and also I want to say congratulations because we are recording this podcast in November, a day after the Voice Arts Award nominations have come out, and of course, you are nominated several times. Congratulations for that.
J. Michae: Well, thank you, and congratulations really due to my demo clients. It’s mostly their work and we’re proud to see them recognized.
Nicky: Yes, for sure. You know exactly all the elements that go into an award-winning demo, but before we go into that, I would like to just talk a little bit about your beginning. You grew up in Dallas, is that right?
J. Michae: Not really. I grew up all over the place a little bit. I was born in Washington DC. We lived in Paris, France when I was a toddler. We moved from there to the Boston area, then to the New York area, and then back to Washington, and then it was only in high school that we moved to Dallas and finished my education there, went to university there, and then fairly promptly moved back to the DC area. [laughs]
Nicky: Oh, wow. Okay. You are used to traveling around from a very early age because right now you’re going between countries, you have studios and I don’t know how many places.
J. Michae: Just two.
Nicky: Just two, okay, but they are top of the art places, just amazing. What was your start in VO like?
J. Michae: I think I’ve told the story so many times now, but I started in radio and when I was twelve, I was running coffee for a couple of shock jocks in the afternoons after school, and by the time I was 15 I had, believe it or not, a business news, local economic news talk show by which I say really just reading, mostly reading copy off the Bloomberg Wire and doing a couple of phone interviews. It really wasn’t that daunting, but by 15 I had my first radio show and I wanted to be Howard Stern when I was a kid. My parents probably shouldn’t have been letting me listen to him when I was 11 or 12, but-
Nicky: Yes, exactly.
J. Michae: -it’s part of my misspent youth, but I wanted to be a shock jock and it didn’t pan out that way, but what was interesting is that when I had that first radio experience, even though I wasn’t being paid much for the actual radio program, I started to make money doing VO for sponsors on the station, doing commercials for sponsors on the station and, and some pretty decent names, and before you knew it, I’m 15, 16 years old, making a couple of month doing voiceover, and all of a sudden I said, well, all right, this could be a thing.
Proceeded to continue to do that through my high school years and then through college, and by the time I graduated college, I was making a small but legitimate living doing VO and actually passed up the chance to go to law school to see if this would continue to be a thing, and my family thought I was nuts but turned out all right.
Nicky: It actually did, but what was the turning point for you from having a job and making a decent living into skyrocketing and really being one of the top industry leaders in invoice over?
J. Michae: That’s a really good question, and I think that it sort of began with the shift in the industry to more of a DIY model back in the kind of mid-2000s. I always tell people the first ten years of my career I lived on a golf course. I made decent money, but not a fortune, but I worked 5 hours, 10 hours a week, and those were the days you would go in and record auditions in studios or agency offices or forecasting director, and I might audition for 10 or 15 things in a week and book a couple of them, and it was enough to pay the bills. I thought it was a great life. Now, if I had known that we could go out and find so much work on our own at that time, I’d probably be retired right now.
I think the ascendancy to greater planes in my career began when we started to realize that we could actually go out and do some of this on our own, and don’t get me wrong, we love our agents, and we love our casting director friends, and we love our managers, and we love all the people who are involved in the process for us, but the evolution of the industry to something where talent can go out and find their own work is something that dramatically changed my career and I think just changed the careers and the trajectories of many other artists in the business.
Nicky: Yes, I think you’re right, because it is a turning point, and it’s something that we have to do because there’s so much competition. I mean, for example, my agent in Houston, I remember when I started doing VO like that just more seriously in 2007, there was not that much competition. I would book fairly consistently. We were doing a lot of eLearning, a lot for the oil industry, the medical industry, and I would go out to other studios, and that was the model. Then bit by bit, suddenly I didn’t book as much, and I was like, “Well, what’s going on? I was really wondering what the problem was.
Then I started to find out that my agent was actually broadening. They were having a lot more people in the roster, so the level of competition was really heightened at that point, and then I learned from other agents or from other talent, oh, you can have agents in several cities, and you can do this and you can do that, but not until I saw that it was really up to me to start getting serious about my website and about looking for work in my own clients is that my business really started to go to another place. Speaking of that, I wanted to touch on something about conferences because you, of course, are heading VO Atlanta with your wife Anna and it is-
J. Michae: I’m following closely behind. Anna is mostly how it works.
Nicky: I’ve heard she’s like, the most wonderful organizer and event producer, and she has a lot of experience in that. We’re very happy that now VO Atlanta is in both your hands and Anna’s hands in that aspect, but I really can sense a difference between a before and after of going to conferences like VO Atlanta. For me, it was also a game changer, and this year, the Hispanic program you’re bringing that back because it wasn’t there last year, correct?
J. Michae: That’s right.
Nicky: What are some of the things and it’s been headed by Valentina Latina, who has also been on this podcast and she’s, of course, amazing.
J. Michae: She’s dynamite force of nature.
Nicky: She is really, she’s great. What are some of the things that Hispanic talent have to look forward to when going to Villa Atlanta in 2023? By the way, this program is being heard a little bit after that because it’s part of season seven, which is being published in the spring, but of course, people can learn about all of this to sign up for the following year.
J. Michae: That’s right. Well, Valentina’s put together an absolutely tremendous program of content for us, and I think the thing that’s going to be a little different about what we’re doing compared to the way it’s been run in the past when there has been a Spanish track, is that we’re integrating the Spanish language content essentially into the main conference. It’s not like they’re all going to be stuck in one room, and that’s going to be the locus of everything. We are going to spread it out among the entire conference.
It’s part of the standard offering and standard program and we’ve got some great speakers in Spanish. Hernan Orjuela is the keynote for the Spanish program. She’s got Victoria Atkin and just a really tremendous group of leaders within that part of the industry that we think represent the best of the best among the Latin American community in voice over, and I think it’s important to Anna and myself to– I know that the Spanish-speaking community had been maybe a little alienated by the way that certain things had happen in the past with VO Atlanta.
It was important to us to try to start on a new foot, and to welcome everyone back in a way that allows them to be a part of the main event and to be respected and treated with the place that they deserve to be in considering how much growth there is in Spanish language VO in the United States and elsewhere, and how important that community is just in terms of the population now in the United States. We want the voice-over industry to look more like America looks, and we need more Spanish representation. We’re glad to have Valentina in charge, and we think we put together some great content.
Nicky: Yes, I’m very happy to hear that because I think the Hispanic talent can definitely learn a lot from the conferences, not only for all the sessions that are being offered in Spanish, but I would also encourage people to go and listen into the panels, for example, that are so important like the pay to play panels. I don’t know if you’re going to be giving a conference in political commercials.
J. Michael: We’ll probably have some political content, yes. [laughs]
Nicky: I think that’s so important because that’s such a big part of the commercial world right now. I think Hispanic talent have a lot to look forward to.
J. Michael: It’s important. I actually literally just today directed a talent through bilingual political demo, and with varying degrees of her authentic accent, and then also one spot completely in Spanish and some that were a little Spanglish. It’s such an important part of the market because again, the Latin-American population in the United States has been exploding for years and will continue to, and it’s such a big part of our culture. We need to have that representation, and so I think it’s important for the conference to do that.
Nicky: Yes, absolutely. I encourage people to sign up. I’m going to have links to that in the show notes, for sure. Now, I wanted to ask you something else. Of course, you’re a coach and you’re a mentor to a lot of people, but who is your mentor?
J. Michael: [chuckles] That’s a good question. In terms of did I learn from anybody or study with anybody? I didn’t. I learned this from getting into the radio business and some level of trial and error when I was younger. If there’s somebody in the industry that I would describe as someone I look up to, and someone who I like to emulate in terms of the way that I carry myself and the way that I approach the industry.
I don’t think there’s anybody classier in the business than Joe Cipriano. He’s become a very, very good friend of mine over the years. He’s the older brother I never had in a lot of ways. If I’ve got a mentor, I’m not sure that’s the right word, but certainly, someone that I look up to and I aspire to model the same engagement, and behavior, and class that he’s demonstrated over the years, and I think he’s a good role model for anybody getting into the business.
Nicky: Yes, absolutely. You commented a little bit about it that he would’ve gone into law school. Is that the route you would’ve gone if VO hadn’t hypnotized you?
J. Michael: Probably, yes. Probably. [laughter] I think considering the kinds of people you have to deal with in that profession. Regardless of what side of the courtroom you’re on, that’s probably a good choice to play on the microphone. [laughs]
Nicky: For sure. There’s so much acting as well in the courtroom and all that.
J. Michael: A little bit. It’s still a show at the end of the day.
Nicky: It is. It’s either in front of the microphone or in a courtroom that it’s connecting. We are so glad, and I think I speak for most of the voiceover community to say, we are so glad you are in the voiceover industry.
J. Michael: I’m glad to be. [laughs]
Nicky: Definitely. I want to mention something that I saw in your website, which I thought it’s– I chuckled at first, but then I thought, “No, this is so real.” You have this. I’m going to read it off of her. There’s a little sign that says, verify human.
J. Michael: That’s straightforward.
Nicky: Then that note that says, J. Michael Collins guarantees that all work is authentic and will never be created by a voice clone or AI model. Actually, it’s so important to make that distinction, isn’t it?
J. Michael: Yes, it is. It’s funny because we don’t really know where all this is going. My suspicion is that it’s going to fairly substantially impact the very low end of the business, and will probably have a little impact towards the middle end and not much impact on the high end. One thing that I have made a habit of over my career, and it’s typically worked out well for me. We’ll see if it continues to is, swimming against the stream a little bit or going against the herd a little bit.
There a lot of people right now who are in a rush to go out and make AI models, and I still haven’t quite seen a use case for how voice actors are going to really monetize this in any meaningful way. If I do it, maybe I changed my mind. For the moment, one thing I do see as something we’re going to run into in a few years, and the people who are out creating voice models probably want to think about this right now, and I don’t think enough people are. That is that, I believe particularly when it comes to things that involve very, very proprietary information, sensitive information, even classified information.
I do a lot of government work, and that kind of stuff comes with very, very serious overtones, and privacy requirements, and non-disclosures, whatever else, but even in the corporate world. I think you’re going to see develop over the next few years of market for talent who can certify that they have never lent themselves to a voice model because there are going to be companies, and governments, and other organizations that are concerned that if they hire a talent and was a voice clone out there. That their very sensitive content could be reproduced by a competitor, or an enemy, or whatever it may be and reproduced in a false manner or in a manner that maybe detrimental to company security, national security, who knows.
There’s going to be a market for this for people who can certify they’ve never gone to voice clone route. I’ve decided for the moment that I’m going to be one of those people who chooses not to have my voice synthesize. Now, again, show me how I can make five figures a month doing a voice clone, we’ll talk. Anything less than that, I fail to see the advantage for an individual voice talent compared to the potential income lost over time.
Nicky: Yes. I’ve heard that there are companies that you can license that too, but that has to be done in a contract and that has to be so well laid out for you to say finally, “Yes, I’m going to record X amount of prompts for you, sell them to you, but this is how much you’re going to pay me in royalties, and every time you use my voice.” Not many companies are going to be willing to say, “No, because I have more people that I can do this for, and they charge half of what you do.” Or whatever.
J. Michael: It also doesn’t prevent a defense contractor, for instance, from saying, “Look, it’s great that you’ve protected yourself by creating licenses and making sure they can’t use it in a manner that you don’t authorize, but because it exists, we’re not going to work with you.”
J. Michael: Nobody’s thinking about that right now. Nobody’s thinking about how important so many of these companies take their security. That this could be looked at as a liability. I think we need to think more about that.
Nicky: I think you’re right. That’s definitely something that has to be talked about and considered, and I think more voice actors should say that upfront, and maybe also have a little disclaimer thing on their website.
J. Michael: Verified human, right? If you [unintelligible 00:18:12] me, do I not bleed?
Nicky: For sure. My goodness.
Before we go on with the interview, I want to tell you about SquadCast, the platform that I’m using to record most of the interviews for this podcast. SquadCast has excellent sound quality, and the best thing is that your guest can join the session from a computer or their mobile device from anywhere in the world. All they need is a stable internet connection. Find the link in the show notes and try SquadCast free for seven days, and then you can decide which plan best fits your needs. Either audio only or the video option.
SquadCast has many advantages like the possibility of having up to nine people in the session. For example, in a virtual meeting, and you can download your mixed and mastered audio files with Dolby sound quality. Try it out at squadcast.fm/?ref=La Pizzara. This link is in the show notes. You, of course, work with several agents and you have managers, and you’re also on pay to plays. How do you find the time to be everywhere to do everything? I want the name of your vitamin supplement. [laughter]
J. Michael: Lobster. [laughs]
Nicky: I don’t mind that.
J. Michael: Use to be gin, but after we had a kid, we have change. [laughter]. Of course, my great saying is sleep is for the dead. [laughs] Look, I’m a big believer in work hard, play hard. Today, I’m in the middle of my week. It’s a Tuesday, which means I’m pulling 14, 15 hours today, and that’s pretty common for the middle of my week. 16 is not unheard of. 18 is not completely unheard of. Look, I get a lot done in a condensed period, usually during the work week. People see me on social media.
I take a lot of little three-day weekends and go play in places. We take our time off too, and we have fun. I think the biggest thing is having a disciplined, consistent routine and schedule and sticking to it and not bailing and quitting when things get tough and when you’re tired and understanding also when to walk away when you’re completely out of gas, because we do have to give ourselves some relief. I think to some degree routine is the key because I do have a lot on my plate.
I’m making a lot of decisions relatively quickly on a daily basis, doing a lot of auditions on a daily basis, doing a lot of recording on a daily basis, and running numerous other VO adjacent businesses at the same time. Part of it’s also the fact that I’ve got a tremendous team around me. I’ve got, number one, the most wonderful wife on the face of the earth who supports me in everything I do, and who has become more integrated in our business over the years.
I’ve got what we jokingly refer to now as the lob mob which is my collected group of about a dozen or so knuckleheads who support our businesses in various ways. People like Bridget Riley and Jen Henry and Kayla Jackson and Lynn Norris and Jessica Matheson, who’s Anna’s personal assistant, and AJ McKay and so many more. Without them, obviously, it wouldn’t be possible to function at the level that we do, but I think for an individual voice actor, have your days be consistently scheduled in a manner that works for you. That’s different for everybody. If that means six hours, six days a week, great. If it means 14 hours, three days a week, and then you need some time to decompress, great. Whatever works for you. Work hard, play hard, it’s my philosophy.
Nicky: For sure. I think that, for a lot of people, it’s hard because you’re working from home to really establish your own times, your own schedule, it helps if you have kids, like for me at the beginning, that’s the thing, make sure they get to school on time and then just work, do most of what I can in the morning and then afterwards I pick them up but now they’re all in college, and so I have more, but then I tend to go on the too much. Like, “Ooh, now I have all this time to work on my business. There you go.” Then sometimes you forget to also set an end time to the day, which is also good. It’s also important. You need to rest.
J. Michael: It is important. Also, treat it like a job. Look, there’s a reason I’m in a white Brooks Brothers button-down business shirt and slacks and whatever else. I dress for work every day. I don’t put on my PJs and come and try to be voiceover guy who doesn’t have to show up to a real job. This is a real job. I dress now– That doesn’t work for everybody, I don’t know, but it works for me and it reminds me that I’m in the office. This is my office. When I’m in here, I’m at work.
Nicky: Exactly. I think that that plays a big part in your mindset, if you get ready for work, for women, you comb your hair, you put your makeup on, whatever, and you take two– Your commute is three steps from your bedroom to your studio, for example. That’s it. You’re there, you close the door, that’s your workspace, and you treat it as such. That’s the only way to get things done. Otherwise, it’s just so hard to create that schedule and to put yourself into those working hours and producing all of that.
J. Michael: It’s not just women, by the way. This face took hours to put on. Give me some credit here.
Nicky: Little touch here, little touch there.
J. Michael: I’m not sure it worked, but yes.
Nicky: Oh, my goodness. Don’t we do so much? Beauty hurts and then we have to do a lot of for it, but okay. Let’s talk now a little bit about the luxurious side of VO. You’re much coveted Euro VO retreats, which I still have to get on it. By the way, can I get into your waiting list because it’s– Of course, as soon as you start talking about it, it fills up [unintelligible 00:24:13] within hours. Tell me the difference between going to a conference and paying for the X sessions, for example, and then going to the Euro VO retreat.
J. Michael: Well, it’s a pretty dramatic difference. In the sense that you are– Essentially, it’s full immersion. Conferences are fantastic because you come and you get a little bit from everybody and you learn or you accumulate a lot of knowledge over the week. You make a lot of contacts, you have fun and I probably shouldn’t put something over the content at conferences, but for me, what I’ve always thought was the biggest draw to conferences is it’s where you find your tribe. It’s where you find your group of friends and you hang out and you make connections.
We hire each other all the time. Sometimes you do better when you go to a conference finding a group of friends that you have lunch with than you do hanging out with some casting director who’s going to forget you in 15 minutes because those friends are people who will send you work in the future and you can reciprocate and send them work in the future. The retreats– The biggest difference is it’s small group when we do our smaller venues like Barcelona, we’re limiting that one to 10 people now and we bring in six or eight teachers who are some of the best in the business and they get to live with them for a week. That is Big Brother VO that particular venue.
They come in and they basically hang out in this really cool big house overlooking the Mediterranean and these beautiful white sand beaches for a week. They form little families and they just get to know each other. We never advertise, “Oh, you’re going to get signed by an agent or a manager, or you’re going to book work with this casting director or anything like that.” People do take people under their wing, people develop relationships and they get to know each other and things can develop from that over time as long as you treat it like [chuckles] a respectful business thing that it should be and treat people like human beings. It’s small group.
The sessions are two and a half hours at a time all of them. They repeat during the week, which means that oftentimes by the time you get to the third time, the presenter’s doing their session. Even the really big name people we’ve had Mary Lynn Wissner have two people for two and a half hours. We’ve had Pat Brady have two people for two and a half hours. There’s most recent one, I think, Trish Ryan from DPN had one where she had four people for two and a half hours.
You get the chance to really, really dig in with these people in a way that, number one, yes, you could do a private with them, you could do a one-on-one, you could do a couple of one-on-ones, but if it’s over Zoom if it’s a mile away or a million miles away, it’s not quite the same experience as being in the room and then going downstairs and having a glass of wine with them afterwards and talking about something other than shops.
It’s an experience and we try to whine and dine people and make them think about nothing for that with no worries for that week except for voiceover and the ability to hang out with some of the coolest people in the industry and get to learn things to a depth that might not be available elsewhere. I think that’s the draw. We genuinely aren’t making money on these things. [chuckles] I think part of the reason that they become popular is people see that we put back pretty much everything we take in into these, this has never been about making a profit. There’s some, we clear a little bit on really, I always say if I can clear what I lose in a week of voiceover, we’re happy with that.
They’ve almost become a– For us, even though it’s work. It’s often a lot of work for Anna and a little less work for me because I’m hosting and she’s doing all this stuff behind the scenes. At the end of the day, it’s become almost a week-long getaway for us with some of the people we love most in the business. Then we make new friends and we have these new families.
The Switzerland group, the WhatsApp group from Switzerland is still going now. That retreat ended, what is it, November, that retreat ended six weeks ago, eight weeks ago something like that. We have some of the Facebook groups that are still going two, three, four years later. They’re fun. Look, I get that I did an interview with Paul Strikwerda recently where we talked about the accessibility of these, and obviously, it’s a price point that not everybody in the industry is going to be able to attain, but they’re not really designed. When we have newcomers come to these, they’re pretty advanced newcomers.
They’re people who are all-in on it. For the most part, the people who are coming are people who are already fairly well into a professional voiceover career, a lot of five-figure earners. We do even have people coming in now as attendees who are in the low to mid six figures coming in to attend. There’s a price point associated with it, but the type of talent, who it’s really meant for are the people who are looking to go from doing okay in the industry to elevating to the next level.
That’s what it’s really all about. It’s not for somebody who just discovered voiceover and wants to get their feet wet. That’s you don’t, please don’t come spend that kind. We probably wouldn’t let you anyway, but please don’t come spend that money on something like– Go to the VO Atlanta, go to One Voice, go to the conferences that are out there. The retreats are– Yes, they’re a labor of love.
Nicky: Oh, yes. Well, it certainly has all of the elements that a lot of people that have been in the business for a while, are looking for because you want to specialize on certain things and then get more of what you’re doing in a very nice way. You get away in doing it in a different setting, is very inviting.
J. Michael: I want to add one other thing if you don’t mind, which is that one of the things I always say at the beginning of the retreats to the people who are attending, and I’ll give you a little glimpse behind the curtain here, is that I asked them to look around and to look at the venue that we’re in, which is often fairly spectacular, and understand that there’s so much promotion of mediocrity and grind and be happy with less in the voiceover industry today.
What I want to demonstrate to people is that that’s not the way it has to be. Look around, this can be the life that you have. This can be not a fantasy that you experience once in a lifetime. This can be your every day, that’s attainable in this industry. It doesn’t happen for all that many people. Iit is attainable in this industry, and I really believe that, when we shoot for the stars, we make it sometimes, sometimes we land on the moon, but we’re still doing pretty well. That’s what the retreats are all about.
Nicky: I’m so glad you brought that up because a lot of the time, especially when we’re starting out and you see all the prices, the budgets on pay to place or even what agents are throwing your way and all that. You’re thinking, you start to form yourself like a mindset of how things are and you’re barely breaking even and thinking, well, you have to keep grinding and have to be throwing, 50, 60 auditions a day.
Then thinking that you turn into a little auditioning machine and then at some point, you lose a little bit of that inspiration or that passion that you started in the business with. I think it’s important to look at the other side of things and saying, okay, you need to learn how to set your rates, that’s always a point of discussion. I think it’s so important to be able to negotiate and to learn what you can ask for and to value yourself.
If you’ve been putting money into your business and all of a sudden, you have a booth and you have better equipment and all of that, and that shows the sound quality shows, then it’s okay to look at things in another way and say, okay, I’m going to turn down these things that are not within the budget that I need and I’m going to put my attention to more of these other things. What are those opportunities? Where do you think those mostly come from? The ones that are game changers for voice actors
J. Michael: In terms of an individual job?
Nicky: In terms of maybe the sources where you can get those from?
J. Michael: Well, I think that we source work from different places. You brought that up at the beginning of the show. I think that every pipeline offers different things to a voice actor. I think one of the smartest things we can do is to treat this like an investment portfolio and to diversify, to make sure that we have multiple streams of income within voiceover.
I’m a big believer that the people out there preaching, you must choose one thing in voiceover and become a master of it. Well, why can’t you be a master of five or six things? I don’t believe in being a jack of all trades and a master of none. I want to be a master of as many as I can. There’s some areas I don’t play in because they’ve just never spoken to me as much as some others have. Or maybe the pay is not quite what I want.
I’ve made a concerted effort over the years to be highly proficient in the better part of eight or 10 different genres and that’s help. During the pandemic and if you go back to the early days of the pandemic, the people who were getting killed in the industry were the people who were doing anything tied to Hollywood, who were doing animation, trailer, promo. Anything that was just something tied to on camera, something tied to in-person production. It was not a good time for about six months for those voice actors. If you were doing commercial surprisingly, I was shock commercial actually went up during the pandemic, but it did.
Nicky: Yes, it skyrocketed.
J. Michael: If you were doing e-learning, doubled medical narration, tripled corporate narration was strong. If you were in those places, there was more work than there had ever been. If you had a broadly diversified career to where, okay, you do, I do a little trailer, I do a little promo, I do, I don’t do much animation, but that work, okay, that’s gone now that’s great, but here’s medical narration going crazy.
Here’s e-learning going crazy. We’re thinking at the beginning, ah, we in the apocalypse? here are these things that come in and replace the things that go away. Where do those opportunities come from? I think if people are on pay-to-play sites, it’s often about two things. Number one, with commercial, it’s volume. I don’t really usually do national spots off pay-to-plays because they tend not to pay what they’re worth.
Generally speaking, I tend to avoid those because the usage or the pay is usually not what it should be. Regionals are hit-and-miss. Some are good, some are not. Where I find really good success on pay-to-play sites with commercial is short-run local smaller market, automotive, casino, and gaming, grocery, retail, pharma, that kind of stuff where there’s volume and it doesn’t run for a long period of time and it may not pay a lot.
Local automotive, $150 to $400 is pretty average for a spot, but if you’re the voice of five or six dealerships, you might be doing 20, 30, 40 spots a month.
J. Michael: Casino and gaming, I picked up Hollywood Casino and Penn Gaming off of Voice 123 back in 2017, actually during our first retreat. That booking on a to-be-defined budget job on Voice 123 has led to about 4,000 commercials in five years. Do they pay individually a ton of money? No, they’re locals. They’re going to run in Mahoning Valley, Pennsylvania for the two or three weeks, but they pay enough and you x that by 4,000, you’re in pretty good shape. I was able to also pass that job onto a colleague of mine and she’s doing well with them now. That kind of stuff is what’s on pay-to-play. Pay-to-play also, it’s non-broadcast narration.
The one area where you’re going to find that does with some consistency pay fairly and you’re going to run into your garbage clients just like you want any other genre, but explainer, corporate e-learning, medical narration on the online casting site. Those are usually the ones that pay fairly. If you’re a union actor, those are the ones that typically are going to be convertible because most of those are going to meet scale or do better because Union Scale on those genres, if you actually go take a look at it, isn’t all that high.
The actual non-union pay-to-play rates for non-broadcast narration are typically considerably higher than SAG-AFTRA card. Those are good places to play. Now, if you want the stuff that’s going to pay for a car in one session, that’s mostly coming through your talent agents and a handful of managers in the business. You have to get yourself to an elite level as a performer.
You have to have elite demos. You have to have probably a referral from somebody on their roster who they trust. You need to have a decent body of work behind you. Doesn’t have to be 10 years’ worth, but couple of reasonably decent brand names. Some wins. If you’ve got something current, that’s great. You have to be persistent and also understand where you fit and make sure that you target those kinds of applications effectively.
I always joke that these days, the days of a single job paying for a house that’s over, unless you’re a celebrity. The jobs out there that’ll pay for a nice automobile for an hour’s work, they still exist. That’s the land in which you find them. That top 1% of work, a lot of that is still union. If that’s really what you want to focus your career on, then becoming a union actor at some point might be right for you. Particularly if you’re LA or New Yorker, Chicago. Those are markets where it can be very effective.
Everybody’s got a different path and everybody sources things from different places. Ultimately, it’s about, like you said, knowing what you’re worth, standing up for what you’re worth. I think we do get sometimes a little too pitchforks and torches about rates in the industry in the sense that there are times when accepting a rate that is a little low is fine. You got to feed your family, you got to pay your bills.
There’s a difference between a rate that’s a little low and a rate that’s abusive and part of the job as we have as talents and part of the job some of those of us who teach and those of us who coach have, is to educate ourselves and to educate others about the difference between those things. What’s a great rate, what’s a good rate, what’s an acceptable rate and when you should absolutely walk away and that’s all part of the game. The cool thing about the voiceover industry in 2022 moving into 2023, despite so many people wanting to be a part of this, there’s still far more work out there than there is quality talent to do it.
I always tell newer talent, I’m like, “Look, you probably not going to get rich doing this”. The bottom line is that there are 200,000 people in North America calling themselves voice actors, out of those 200,000, 10,000 are making any decent money. It’s a thousand or two thousand booking most of the work. There’s a reason that if you look on voiceover social media and you look at who’s popping up with new work all the time and talking about their wins, not bragging, just posting their spots, whatever it might be, it’s still like 80% the same people it was eight or 10 years ago. It hasn’t changed.
There’re newcomers who have come in and done really well. It’s still a lot of the same folks and it tends to be a lot of the same folks and there’s a reason for that. There aren’t that many people who are actually that amazing at this job and if you’re one of them, if you can handle the tech, if you’ve got the performance, if you treat this like a profession, it’s still a good place to play.
Nicky: Yes, exactly. There is a difference, and you have to see your career as something that is progressing. Because if you find yourself stalling at some point where you’re stuck and you don’t know what to do or how to go about those things, I think that’s the time to get more coaching, more into it. But then first of all, really think if that is what you really want. Because maybe people have reached a point where I know they couldn’t give more in that area. I think that’s part of why conferences are great to go to and you get a little bit of everything you can go to, you can see a little bit of every genre, maybe it’s time to change into another genre, but also, about meeting people and talking to all of the ones that are going through the same thing.
We’re working on our own most of the time. It’s good to go out and see how other people are doing. One of the things I want to say, I know you have a good work-life balance, but what do you recommend for people who are too afraid to let go of just five more six auditions, [laughs] even though they’re super tired, don’t they just have to get them done, but maybe their voice is not at the best.
J. Michael: They’ll be there tomorrow. They’re more than there have ever been. There’s more work than there’s ever been in this business. New streaming media. There’s more work than there’s ever been in this business. The pandemic more work than there’s ever been for e-learning, for medical narration. There’s still so much more distance stuff going on than there used to be, even though we’re coming out of it.
It’ll be there in the morning and set boundaries. Look, because I split time between Europe and the US and one of the things I’ve learned over the years in Europe is that you do have to have that balance. You do have to understand that there are times where you’re off the clock. I don’t work weekends. Now, you throw a five-figure job at me, we’ll talk.
If it’s less than that, I do not work weekends, period. Not interested. I have to have family time.
Understand that there’s quitting time whenever that may be for you. One of the reasons I work really aggressively, usually three days out of the week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I’m going 14, 16 hours is because I only want to work four or six hours on Monday or Friday, or I may want to take Monday and Friday off. Have a three-day weekend or a four-day weekend.
I tend to cram it all into a fairly short burst of high energy. That’s how I like to work. Whatever your boundaries are, set your boundaries. I think the biggest thing I can say is this and this really speaks to talent who are starting to experience some success. That can just be your first couple of dozen jobs or whatever it might be, or it can be, this is starting to become real income for you.
There does come a point where when it starts to work. That’s a great thing when it starts to work, but there does come a point where you start to look at your studio as a little ATM machine and there comes a point when you have to remember that we don’t live to work, we work to live. That you’re not losing money by not being in your studio, you’re gaining the things that you were in your studio for originally. Treat it that way and you’ll probably come out all right on the other end.
Nicky: That is so true. That’s a lot of the things that we say about the European mindset is exactly that, you work to live, not the other way around.
J. Michael: I think we’re seeing that in the US now. There’s more of an acknowledgment since the pandemic of the fact that-
Nicky: I think, so.
J. Michael: -the constant hustle and grind it is soul-sucking in so many ways, and maybe it is necessary at the beginning of your career. There are many– I still pull 60, or 70 hours a week sometimes. It’s part of the nature of what solopreneurs do.
J. Michael: At the end of the day, it can’t be the only thing. You got to have a life. If you have a family, you’ve got to pay attention to your family. Otherwise, what are we doing? Voiceover is wonderful, but you’re never going to have
Elon Musk money. [laughter] If you’re trying to get the private jetter the yacht, you’re in the wrong business.
Nicky: You are in the wrong business.
J. Michael: What’s the point? There comes a point where enough, live your life, enjoy your life, and then come back to the studio when it’s time to go to work.
Nicky: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I wanted to see a little bit about what your opinion is on people who are– I have a lot of bilingual listeners for this podcast, and maybe they are living in Latin America or in Spain or also maybe in the US but they have different levels of accent when they speak English. Are you seeing more of an opening now for commercials that have that non-distinct or non-descriptive accent? Where do you see it more?
J. Michael: I do. It’s funny you asked that because I saw one last night or the night before while I was watching football. I forget the brand now, but it was a, maybe that means it wasn’t the best [laughs] commercial, but it was a major brand. It was a female VO with a vaguely Latin American accent that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. It wouldn’t have been cast in English that way 20 years ago. I think it’s such a positive evolution now that, again, we start to see that representation in commercials of people who not just look like America, but sound like America. I do think that that’s a growing market.
You see it a lot more in political now. That’s becoming a much, much more common thing in political because they want representation. What’s interesting sometimes is there’s counterintuitive casting, which means that sometimes it’s the left that’s hiring more old white guys and the right that’s hiring more minorities and females these days because they want to move that 1% in the other direction. At the end of the day, there are many opportunities in political for accented work and I’m seeing it more in retail commercials. I think it is a trend that will continue to occur. I think you’ll probably see more of the hybrid, the Spanglish a little bit as well.
It’s interesting times we’re. The cool thing is that I think there was an instinctive reaction and it’s not just with the Latin American community, I think the BIPOC community, obviously, is so much more represented now than they used to be. I think there was an instinctive reaction among some older guard talent going, what is this? Are they going to take, is this going to cost us work? It’s not. What’s happening is the pie is simply getting bigger and now everybody gets a piece and that’s the way it should be.
Nicky: Absolutely. I think so. What are some of the things that you recommend for people who want to break into the US market that maybe they haven’t done yet? Of course, you mentioned pay-to-plays and certainly, then there’s an idea for that. People who may be think that they shouldn’t go and look for agents in US cities, do you think it’s good for them and they shouldn’t be or I don’t know, undervalue themselves? They should actually work for those opportunities.
J. Michael: Work with coaches who understand that market, work with demo producers who understand that market, and then make a plan. People think, oh, I’m different so I won’t get signed or I won’t get hired. It’s exactly the opposite now. I can’t tell you how many specs I see. We are looking for something different. If you’re something they don’t already have 10 of on their roster, your chances are getting signed are so much higher than somebody who looks and sounds like me. For crying out loud, please get on it because this is your time.
As much as we talk about diversity and representation and voiceover for Latin American and BIPOC talent, this is still the ground floor. This is still getting in early and it may not feel that, but it still is because there is not as much competition as you might think, get in now. Because it is the moment and if you get a foothold now in the business, in 10 years, you’re going to be one of the go-tos, you’re going to be one of the stars
Nicky: For sure. Speaking of that, what type of demo should someone have, let’s say a commercial demo? Should it represent commercials or spots or pieces in both languages or just in English with their own Hispanic accent or whatever
J. Michael: I think that’s different from every talent based upon their level of proficiency with English. If you’re highly fluent in English or if it’s one of two mother tongues or something like that, then I think English with an accent and maybe a Spanish phrase or two thrown into the demo is probably the primary one that you want. You can, obviously, do a full Spanish demo as well because there’s a very large market for that in the US. I think the one the agents will be most attracted to is the one that is primarily English accented, maybe a couple of Spanish phrases or pieces or maybe one Spanish spot on the reel. We tend to hesitate a little bit to mix accents on commercial demos these days.
In general, what agents will tell you and what a lot of managers will tell you is that they’re targeting specific people and specific buyers with specific demos. They want to hear a lot of range within whatever that thing is. There’s always a little attitude to that. Anybody who ever tells you that there are hard and fast rules with demos and how you market yourself and everything else. Look, the rules are meant to be bent a little bit. Not necessarily always broken, but there’s always a little flexibility. I think the best thing you can do is work with people who know what they’re talking about, who can give you an individual recommendation based on your situation because it’s not a cookie-cutter for everybody.
Nicky: It’s always the way to get in with a top-rated agent is always through a recommendation of someone who’s already in their roster.
J. Michael: It’s very valuable. Even more so, if you can get a recommendation from an ad agency that you’ve worked with that they trust. Somebody who might bring them business or who already does bring them business, that can be even more valuable. It’s your pecking order. I probably shouldn’t say this because it sells what we do, but at the end of the day, it’s kind of like ad agency or current or potential client.
Or production company, current or potential clients, followed by talent who books consistently on their roster as a good referral, followed by coach or demo producer down here. They love to see that you go to me or Chuck Duran or Uncle Roy or Eric Romanowski or any member of other [unintelligible 00:50:23] or any number of other people to get your demo done. That’s a mark that you’re taking your business seriously.
Nicky: For sure.
J. Michael: At the end of the day, we’re a little less important to them than somebody who will vouch for you, who is already putting money in their pocket or could. Right?
Nicky: Sure, yes. Absolutely. Where can people find you to get information about, of course, the conferences and to learn everything about the demos and all the different genres that you do demos in?
J. Michael: If you butter up a lobster tail and just throw it out somewhere, within 10 or 15 minutes, like, a truck-
Nicky: You will be there.
J. Michael: [unintelligible 00:50:57] guys.
Nicky: That is the best way. Okay.
J. Michael: It’s kind of like the bad signal.
If you’re interested in coaching and demo stuff, jmcdemos.com also Jmcvoiceover.com. The best way to get a hold of me is always, email. Jmichael@jmcvoiceover.com and I’m happy to talk to you about those kinds of things and/or VO Atlanta or whatever else you want to chat about.
Nicky: I also like that you offer that, it’s like a loyalty or success level.
J. Michael: Yes, the [unintelligible 00:51:33]. I talk for a living. The Success Club.
J. Michael: Yes, and it’s actually the first-ever loyalty program for voiceover services. If you are a client of JMC demos or you work with me for coaching, or you come to one of my workshops, or you come to a retreat or VO Atlanta or Gravy For The Brain, or Bodalgo. If you spend any money with any of us, you accrue points just like a frequent flyer program. You can gain tiers of status and eventually, redeem those points for various free goodies, some of pretty substantial value depending on how many points you’ve got. It’s basically a frequent flyer program for voiceover services.
Nicky: It’s free to sign up?
J. Michael: Free to sign up.
Nicky: Well, there you go. I wish I would have known that before. I have so many points now.
Nicky: I check a lot of those boxes you just mentioned.
J. Michael: Well, anything. If you’ve got any receipts from 2022 or 2021, send them to my assistant firstname.lastname@example.org, and she’ll set you up.
Nicky: Good to know. I’m very happy. I will sleep a very happy woman tonight knowing getting all those points in. J. Michael, it has been a pleasure talking to you today. Thank you so much.
J. Michael: Thank you. The pleasure is all mine. Thank you for having me, and hope I didn’t ramble too much, but good to see everybody out there.
Nicky: No. You rambled in a good way and the way that everyone needs to pay attention to. I’m going to link to all of what we mentioned today so that people can find you and book their conferences and everything else on their demos and all that. Thanks, again, and well, you’re going to sign up from here and look at the election results. I know it’s,
J. Michael: That’s right. [unintelligible 00:53:13] delivered right now and we’re going to go down and watch that and see if we all wake up in the same place tomorrow.
Nicky: Yes, hopefully so, yes. Okay. It’ll be interesting to know. Other than that and the good thing is there will always be enough voiceover opportunities for everyone no matter what happens.
J. Michael: That’s right.
Nicky: Yes. Absolutely.
J. Michael: Thank you.
Nicky: Okay. Well, thank you so much.
Announcer: Thanks for joining us on La Pizarra. Want to listen to more episodes? Visit lapizarrapodcast.com or nickymondellini.com/lapizarra, where you can sign up for our newsletter and get exclusive previews of future episodes as well as resources for your creative business. Tune in next week for another interesting interview.
[00:54:05] [END OF AUDIO]