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voice over coach nancy wolfson

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing L.A. voice over coach and super woman of the voiceover industry, Nancy Wolfson. Her energy and passion for this industry are so contagious. As the owner of BrainTracks Audio, she provides coaching, casting, demo production, branding, and more. I’ve gotten to know Nancy over my years of working at Voice123, and I love her honest, no B.S. approach to not only coaching, but to the business of voice over.

TT: We’ve talked a lot over the years, but I never got the chance to ask you why you got into this crazy business in the first place!

NW: Well, my dad had hoped I might become a doctor, but after I passed out in 9th grade Biology attempting to dissect a fetal pig, we knew that was out. I never planned to work in the entertainment industry, but after following my passions in the marketplace, I was hired by a serious celebrity Talent Management company.  We worked with industry icons and many of our TV and movie stars were crossing over into sitcoms, film, music, on camera commercials, and voice over work. At the time, there was no “voice over” division at the management company, and when I suggested we open a department for that in 1994, I was told, “Celebrities don’t do cartoons.” (It also wasn’t long until a little Disney film called “Aladdin” came out. “Celebrities don’t do cartoons?” Give me a freakin’ break!) This is when I knew this was not the place for me, and I left to run the voice over division of Commercial Talent Agency.

Working at a small agency also meant that I was the agent, booth director, assistant, etc. As the head agent, I had the ability to contact the folks at the ad agency who sent us the copy, and as the booth director, before directing my talents in the audition, I made a practice of tracking down the person who wrote scripts to ask them to give me a line read on the copy. Hearing exactly how the writer heard it in his or her head gave my talents a HUGE advantage when they auditioned, and the writer was usually delighted to talk to me. They were grateful that I was actually taking the time to find out what they had in mind when they wrote the script. It seems like such an obvious thing to do, getting them on the phone and hearing “their voice,” yet I didn’t know this was an unusual thing for me to do. I asked why the client/writer made the choices they did when writing the copy, wanted to hear the level of sarcasm they felt was appropriate on the comedic moments, listened carefully for the words they hit when they performed their own storytelling. I mean, why have assistants talking to assistants and playing this stupid game of telephone? I got the creatives on the phone and asked them directly what they wanted. Then, I delivered.

Performing all those different roles at the agency, I knew what I needed a new talent’s demo to showcase in order to hook my interest, I honed my skills at directing talent into performances that would make the phone ring the next day with a booking, and I became adept at negotiating and building lucrative careers for entry level talent as well as taking working pros from good to great levels of success. I learned to “reverse engineer” the copy and this is the knowledge that I pass on and books voice over work for my students.  As the person who helped introduce and champion talents to casting directors, I knew I could also do this for talent who might not have representation… yet. The confluence of these experiences lead me to start coaching people not just on how to improve their acting abilities, but how to “break in” and create lucrative business models.

TT: Your “tough love” coaching style gets brought up in most interviews with you and I certainly do love your approach, but I think what you really “get” is the business part of this industry.

NW: That’s actually why I call my business “BrainTracks Audio,” because I believe it has to start in your head first. Most people only think of the performance side of voice over, but to succeed you really must take a business-minded approach. Set goals. Know exactly what you want, and then plan out your road map as to how you will get there. Stick to it, but at the same time, make changes where necessary. Once we’ve got your plan, your blueprint established for your education, demos, marketing, home equipment/means of distribution, then we can start helping you analyze copy, map out  how you will establish your brand the marketplace, build your home studio, pursue relationships with buyers, monetize social media, seek relationships with opportunity providers and agents in various markets, and grow your business with the right actions at the right time for you.

TT: And what do you say to those who call you “a tough love coach” or say you have an “aggressive teaching style?”

NW: Look, I’m the toughest client my students are ever going to have. If you can handle me in the voice over booth, every client you work with thereafter is going to be a cakewalk. I did not set out to be a charm school teacher, but those skills can make or break your career and it might be necessary for some folks to learn something here about how to adjust their behavior to help them get what they want in business and personal relationships. You can be the most talented voice actor in the world, but if you cannot follow the client’s instructions properly, you are not going to work. Slate your auditions properly, label your files according to their directions, submit auditions on time, show up to jobs on time. Don’t be high maintenance. Don’t be a homework person. Working with me is like enlisting in the Marines or matriculating from Harvard. It’s hard for a reason. I want to make certain that my students continue to uphold our reputation of being the best of the best. I don’t get off on being a pain in the a**, I’m just a coach with extremely high standards to help you bring the marketplace the Very Best You.

TT: My dad was an Army guy, so I totally understand and appreciate the strict and “detail oriented” approach. Those kinds of things he instilled in me about never being late, staying organized, etc. made me so angry at times, but, now I realize how important those seemingly minute details were.

NW: Yes, the failure to responsibly tend to those “quotidian gremlins” can ruin your career. Being disorganized is the black mold behind the walls of a voice over business. It’s rude and narcissistic to be late, disorganized in sending out invoices, consistently fail to do what is expected of you, etc. and it will slowly eat away all your clients, no matter how talented you are. There are a lot of reasons, but no excuses. You could be Robert DeNiro, but those types of mistakes eat up everyone’s time and money and could lose you the job and/or the client relationship. Not to mention, if you very, very rarely ever make mistakes, clients will be more forgiving if you do make one at some point.

The first thing I run through with every new student when we discuss the business part of running their business is The Three A’s:

  • Availability
  • Affability
  • Ability

in that order. If you’re not Available for clients, you will not get work. That’s the most important factor. Second, is Affability. People are inspired to champion and hire talent who are delightful and charming and easy. If you are labor intensive to work with as a client, no one will want to work with you. Last, is Ability. Yes, you must have a critical skill set in the area of performance, but that’s the part that I can teach you. I cannot control if you show up late or are a clerical burden to the people who provide opportunities to you. But I can try to help you see yourself as others see you, and if you have sloppy tendencies in the areas of Availability and Affability, I can try to redirect those tendencies wherever possible to help keep you from killing your own business. Again, the skills for acting and performance? Given my curriculum, one that isn’t easy or fast, but one that generates results, I have proven that the Ability zone is more teachable than folks fear.

The bottom line is that as a voice actor, you are really a service provider. Being courteous, organized, and respectful will carry you far in your career. Plus, when you are operating from a place of generosity and confidence, the buyer can actually hear that on your demos and auditions. And your personal confidence carries through to what then sounds like a confidence about the product and broadcasts a professionalism that makes you magnetic to people and to money.

TT: Here at Voice123, we see a lot of newcomers who want to jump the gun and start auditioning before understanding anything about voice over. Many of them don’t have a home studio or even access to one. One of the most frequent questions we’re asked is, “I need a demo to get work but how do I make a demo if I’ve never gotten voice over work?”

NW: I just hate it when someone comes to me with a demo that just does absolutely nothing for them. Whether they made it themselves or paid thousands of dollars for it, if it’s not going to work, I have to break it to them as gently and yet as pointedly as I can; those conversations are tough and necessary. There are many steps that must be taken before you even think about making a demo.

Being a great voice actor is usually a process, yes there are some people who just get in front of a mic and vomit word jewelry, but for most people, you aren’t going to be awesome right away. It takes time and a teacher with a solid “How To” curriculum. To those people in the voice over industry that say you either “have it or you don’t,” I call B.S. If I were a ski instructor, I wouldn’t kick out the students who fell a lot their first time on skis. It’s the same with voice acting. Most people aren’t great before they have been taught how to do this, and if they are not great when they start, that’s perfectly okay.

TT: How do you use Voice123?

NW: You can put this in your article because I am that passionate about it: the very existence of Voice123 makes me optimistic about the future of our industry. Before Voice123, the biggest factor in booking work was geography. If you weren’t in LA, NYC, Chicago, it was a big “Forget about it.” A person’s ability to create a robust, lucrative voice over business was subject to being choked by geography or winning the good favor of human beings you didn’t know and whose interest you could not control. Voice123 creates a level playing field and behind all the machines, there are real humans. Voice123 simply automates the hardest and most tedious parts of voice over casting. At the end of the day, this is still a “people business”. I’ve worked in the offline world of agents and it is not always based on fairness and equality, trust me. The technology behind Voice123 doesn’t know and doesn’t care who your famous uncle is or who you are dating, it doesn’t owe anyone any favors; the goal is to get the best voice for the projects, plain and simple.

The marketplace is a living, breathing thing. If you abuse the system, it will spit you out. If you decide to make it work for you and spend time making that happen, you will find success. Now that everyone has the access, it’s up to the individual to do something productive with their ambition. Personal responsibility is something that I talk about a lot. The voice over industry is more accessible than ever before but it does not mean it’s easy to be successful.

BONUS! Nancy has a great YouTube channel with tons of great tips. Here are two of my favorite videos from her:

MEN: How to relax your voice for auditions:

WOMEN: How to relax your voice for auditions:

About Nancy:

NANCY WOLFSON is a private Voice Over Teacher, Coach and Consultant and freelance Casting Director for Commercials, Animation, Gaming, Audio Books, Promos and Narration. She also writes, produces, and directs demos for Voice Over talent, and is recommended by top-market talent agents as the premiere “Go To” person in advising talent on Personal Branding. If you are interested in applying for Nancy’s coaching, “agent ears” demo review, branding advice, etc. please visit: braintracksaudio.com and click START NOW.

More info:

Most Popular Teaching Trick (Video) “How to sound real”: http://braintracksaudio.com/soundreal/ 

Just getting started? Here’s the mp3 blueprint for what’s ahead. Listen to this so you do not invest any money “cart-before-horse”: http://braintracksaudio.com/albums/your-vo-biz