In my never ending research, I often come in contact with some fascinating individuals who have proven themselves to be successful in this crazy voice over industry. Guy Harris is one of the most successful VO talents that I have met to date, and he kindly agreed to answer some burning questions that I had. My questions and his answers are below:
Taylor Stonely: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started in the voice over business?
Guy Harris: Following many years as a radio presenter and always being someone that “did great character voices,” I thought maybe I should give this a go. I signed up on a voice website and before I knew it, job offers were coming in. It was a slow burn of maybe 3 or 4 jobs a week, which evolved to something now which can be as many as 20-30 bookings a day.
TS: Describe your recording studio. What do you like most about it? What would you change?
GH: Like most I worked out a wardrobe/closet. I lined the inside with soft duvets and acoustic tiles. This lasted for a couple of years, then I took over one of the bedrooms, creating a small booth made of wood, and lined it with acoustic panels. This also was fine for a couple of years. Then, I decided I’d build a studio. Work was going well and “Why not? It’s an investment.” So I built a studio onto the house with a proper booth and acoustic treatment. I added a control room area and good insulation to the outside world. I use the Neumann U87 mic with another Neumann as a back up. I have 2 of everything, 2 pre-amps, 2 mixing desks, 2 ISDN units, 2 headphones and 2 iMac’s. My reason is that should one bit of equipment fail, I can quickly swap it out and continue in the space of 30 minutes. It may sound a little extreme, but it can be too costly to not have backup equipment. I love the set up. I feel the mic has a really nice sound. There is zero noise from outside and this was really important when I designed it. What would I change? Well, I’m not sure. Maybe I’d have a slightly bigger booth after I watched a video of Joe Cipriano’s studio. However, mine works and I’m happy. It’s very important to me to always be able to say, “No problem!” so I’m connected to by ISDN, Skype, Source connect NOW, ipDTL and have phone patch TBU. There is no excuse for a client to not have the option to direct a session.
TS: Describe your typical day and the routine that you follow.
GH: My day runs from 8am – 7pm approximately. It starts the same as any other voice over. Most of the time with only a handful of jobs pre-booked. I work with the biggest on-hold companies here in the UK and generally they send jobs around 9am. So, during my 9 to 10 hour, I become the voice of several new companies each day. This is not usually my first job of the day as I do a lot of work in the Middle East and, as they are 4 hours ahead in the winter, I can wake up to jobs waiting for me. As the day goes on, jobs pop into my in-box and the phone starts to ring. I feel I’ve gained a reputation for being available at short notice, so I win lots of radio work that’s needed quickly. It’s important to note that doing it full-time is where you will win in this industry. I treat it with the same respect as anyone else in employment. Sure, it’s easy to do one job and take the rest of the day off, but I’m in it for the long game.
Since voicing a bunch of iPhone TV ads a couple of years ago, my natural conversational style gets me a lot of work with web videos and corporate work. It does seem a new, fresh direction that producers are taking rather than a hard sell. So I get quite a lot of these every week.
With most new enquiries for corporate or narration I’ll always offer to read a few lines of the script first. This is really important. I’m a big believer in making sure the client has the right voice for the brand rather than taking the money and hoping they like it.
Mostly I manage to eat whilst in the studio in between replying to jobs and new enquiries. In the gaps between jobs, I add bits to my website, fine tune the social media, and record audio for new app ideas. Working with an app developer, we have over 100 apps on the app store. I also have 2 other businesses which I run with my other half. It can be quite a full day, but it’s worth it. Hey, I’m in my shorts and tee shirt and working from home, how can you not love and respect it?
TS: What genre of voice over work are you best suited for? Least suited?
GH: I love character voice work. It’s great to play around with styles of voice and create new voices. My dream/ambition is to work on a big animation. Voices on apps and games are always a lot of fun.
I really seem to have found a nice market with explainer videos for my casual natural read style.
What am I not suited to do? Audio Books. I have a short attention span and I can’t imagine being in the booth for hours and hours on one job. Any audio book enquires I get, I politely turn down and point them to voices better placed for it.
TS: Who have you used for voice coaches? What did you appreciate most about their advice? Do you still use a voice coach?
GH: Wow, this might sound really bad, but I’ve never booked in with a voice coach. I take feedback and direction daily from producers during live sessions. So I guess I get daily coaching from a huge diverse range of clients and directors whilst doing the job. These are the people and their advice that matter and I’ll work with them to get it right.
We are always learning in this industry and I’m currently looking at a coach for some new character direction. If you are just starting out, I’d heavily recommend having some. It’s invaluable to know what your voice is capable of. There are lots of coaches out there and lots of things for you to learn to make what you do much better.
If I was to recommend a voice coach, I’d say check out Bill DeWees. I’ve chatted to Bill and watched a bunch of his videos. He just gets it. I like the way he talks to the viewer, and he makes a lot of sense in his advice and tips. Nancy W is always held in high regard too.
TS: What are your thoughts about having an agent or agents? When should someone who is new to the business try to find an agent? What are the things that one should consider when trying to find agent representation?
GH: If you are just starting out then personally I say don’t get an agent… just yet. Just wait. Ask yourself, are you as good as the other 100 voices on that agent’s website? The answer will be no if you’re just starting. The talent on the site will have had years of experience, will have credible clients on their portfolio, and will be used to voicing to a room of people in a voice session. Look for representation once you have had some time in the industry. An agent won’t want to send you off to an important job if you crumble when faced with 8 executives and producers staring at you through the glass asking you to read that 1 line 50 times because it’s “not quite right.” It can be quite daunting early on in the career.
TS: Where do you see the greatest growth for VO jobs, especially for someone who is just starting out?
GH: There are voices everywhere. 20 years ago voice work was mainly TV & radio. Now, voices are on everything. Apps, e-learning, games, toys, books, in shops, elevators. The list goes on.
I’ve always maintained and said that there is plenty of work out there. You just gotta know where to look.
If you’re starting out, then sure, do some auditions, listen to radio spots, ask yourself, “Am I as good or capable of being as good as that voice you just heard on the national spot for Audi?” If you are, then you’ll win jobs and you’ll soon become busy.
TS: Can you offer your perspective of the VO business from your side of the Atlantic?
GH: From the UK? Yeah, my perspective is this. It seems over on “your side” you guys spend all the time auditioning for jobs. I constantly read how voices are auditioning for 20+ jobs a day on the Pay-to-Play sites. I’m on Voice123 like most voices over here, but I only audition for maybe 2 jobs a month if I have a quiet spot.
I’d rather be on Google looking for my next job. Honestly, a good email and a demo to someone who happens to be in the audio production business can lead to jobs coming in without auditioning. From the UK we also see a lot of voices dishing out advice to people on how to become a voice over. Then, you read a blog where people complain there are too many voices. It’s quite funny. I know most of the big players over here in the UK and they just get on with voicing and running their business. And that’s what it is. It’s a business like any other. Yes, you have to have a great voice, but you also need to be a business person, a marketeer and social media expert, too. It’s almost 2015 and times have changed. It’s more competitive than ever, but if you are hungry enough for success, you can win. I am thankful for the career, and every day I wake up, I am eternally grateful that I can fall out of bed and come to the studio and do this.
TS: So, what’s next?
GH: What’s next? Well, most of my work is here in the UK, Europe, Australia and the Middle East. I’d actually love to do more in the USA. I’m flying out to California in early January, do you think Pixar would let me knock on their door and say hi?
(End of Interview)
Guy, thank you so much for your time! And, to make this worthwhile for him, I’m going to give him a little plug on the upgraded Santa Voicemail app that he just released (version 1.4), which you can download here.
If you want to reach Guy, his contact info is below: