I love me a good conference, but I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect for VOcation, since this year was the first one (September 13-15, 2019). The conference was conceived and run by voice actors Carin Gilfry and Jamie Moffett, exclusively about the business of voiceover. I was surprised to hear at the closing when Carin said that this was the first conference they’ve ever been to, either!
The conference was held in at Symphony Space on Broadway in Upper Manhattan. I was fortunate to find an Airbnb apartment within walking distance.
At the Kickoff Party, it was tight (as in the amount of space). I’ve been to several VO conferences in the past few years, but I only recognized about 10-15 people, max in that piece (I was familiar with some folks because of Facebook groups).. I’m an extrovert, but I was exhausted when I arrived, and all those people in that tiny space was a lot, even for me. And in general, it’s easier to come into a room with fewer people as it fills up than to arrive with practically everyone already there.
It was LOUD! Having conversations meant you had to yell. Not good for a voice actor. Carin provided folks with drink tickets at registration, and passed out more later (I needed food, and the although they provided food, I was doing Keto, so I didn’t have much there). I had a really nice conversation with Joey Schaljo, who used to be a coach at Edge Studio when I first started in VO. I got her advice about something and we talked like we already knew each other.
I sat with a few people I knew and didn’t know, and hung out for an hour or two. I texted another voice actor I had been meaning to meet in person, and she found me during the, um, entertainment.
Our entertainment was a performance by a drag queen. He talked and sang songs and played games with the audience. When I lived in Atlanta, a friend invited me to a drag queen show for her birthday (the Braxton sisters showed up there too), and that was the extent of my experience in that genre. But even with just one person here in the bar, I was uncomfortable, and it got even louder— so networking was more difficult. I ended up leaving with the voice actor I connected with and we had dinner a few blocks away at Jacob’s Pickles. I picked something Keto-friendly, and it was delicious! Plus, I could hear my new friend and get to know her better. I heard from several people the next day that they enjoyed the show, but it wasn’t my cup of tea— I’ll just leave it at that.
Before I left the Kickoff Party, Carin announced that if we wanted to attend any breakout sessions, to sign up early (9:30 am) because space was limited. (The breakouts are shown on the schedule on the right-hand side at 3 pm, 4 pm, and 5 pm.) Since I planned to attend them all, I arrived about 9:10 am and there was already a line outside, wrapped around the building. Once I got to the table to register, only one of the three breakouts was available. (Only 30 people were allowed in the breakout room.) I was very disappointed and asked Jamie if I could attend the others. He asked me to pick one, so I did. It all worked out, but I wish we had known in advance— I’ve never been to a conference (and I’ve been to tons) that only allowed 30 people in a room and didn’t warn us. I traveled quite a ways and had in mind to attend certain sessions, but I chalk it up to them being first-time organizers.
Thanks to WoVO for the delicious New York pizza lunch we had in the park. Sticking to my Keto guns, I just ate the cheese and pepperoni off the top with salad, and had snacks packed for when I needed them.
It was a long, 12-hour day, but the sessions were good. My favorites were:
Working Pros panel (So many great stories and tips!)
Keynote (JMC was very inspiring, talked about opportunities in VO and what our attitudes about this business should be.)
Organizational Marketing (Brad runs Upper Level CRM, and he provided everyone at the conference with a link to download his presentation, since seats were limited.)
I attended the audiobooks session which was in the auditorium (all sessions were except the three aforementioned breakouts), because I didn’t make the cut to get into the Networking session. Since I’m pretty familiar with audiobooks and how to do them, I was just there, if you know what I mean. Sort of like passing to 10th grade and taking a 9th grade test again.
Similarly, I have heard the topics held in the auditorium at 4 and 5 pm before at other VO conferences, as many of these speakers attend the same conferences, so I attended the breakout sessions instead. The Demos session had us listen to several commercial demos (I wish I had known this), and hear critiques on them. Attendees were on the spot because they had previously submitted them for feedback. Agents, producers and casting directors are very opinionated about what they want to hear on demos, and you can’t please them all. Two or three people on any given panel will disagree on the merits of a demo (this is true not just in this session but at other conferences I’ve attended) In addition, I am all about narration, and commercials not as much, so I don’t know how much of their critique I can apply to my work.
I really enjoyed my dinner break with the voice actors I was with— the VO community has a very giving and sharing vibe to it— especially in person.
The AI session was very interesting—there’s still so much about it that we don’t know about, as far as how it will impact voice actors. I caught a few snippets you can watch here.
Another amazing day packed with info! Today, I didn’t attend any breakout sessions, so I can’t comment on that content.
The agent panel gave insights on what agents are looking for when they accept submissions or referrals for new voice talent on their rosters. As mentioned earlier when I talked about demos, they didn’t always agree on what they were looking for, or their processes. Some agents only focus on commercials, some will mentor you as you work, etc. What we can all agree on is not to submit your demo to an agent until you are ready and available to work during business hours.
The lunch was even more amazing than yesterday— Dinosaur BBQ catered for us in the park. The bees tried to get my sauce and land on my ribs, but I wasn’t havin’ it. I don’t share! :)
In the Online Casting panel, they talked about having the proper recording setup and studio environment to submit quality auditions, and the differences between different sites, often called pay-to-play (P2P) sites.
Side Note: I have to shout out Sam Ufret, for taking the time to help me tweak a couple things about my setup so I sounded my best. I contacted her after the conference, but she’s busy wearing about 4 different hats at Lotas Productions— she didn’t have to help me with that. And once the tweaks were set, she added me to her VO roster! I’m grateful.
Although many voice actors rely on P2P sites (at least at first), direct marketing is the main way to get voiceover clients. Tom Dheere talked about his ratios, and direct marketing is over 70% of his clients come from (same here). Agents were a much smaller percentage. The point is, you have to do the work to secure clients— no one else will do it for you. As voice talents, we are B2B businesses. He talked about portals, email marketing, and newsletter strategies.
My favorite session was Maria’s. Really.
Maria Pendolino broke down how to negotiate rates with clients. It was the perfect continuation of direct marketing. As a business owner, you don’t have to just accept anything. You’re a professional, and your rates are just one way it shows. She was a powerhouse of information on how to communicate with professionalism, and not sell yourself short. She also shared real numbers from her own business to show that a voice actor living in a non-metro area can have real success in VO. In an industry that is seeing rates plummet in commercials and online casting sites, this session was empowering, and my favorite of the conference.
At the end of the session, she proposed scenarios, and invited folks to come on stage and quote their rate for the projects, based on her actual work. For each project, she explained what she charged and was paid. Beyond helpful and practical, and it ended in a standing ovation! Maria dropped plenty of gems in the Working Pros panel the day before, but this session was all her, and because it was so popular, she offers a webinar and consultations too.
Once again, dinner was fab. I went to a diner with six other talented voice actor ladies, four of whom I’d never met before. I love networking with smart people AND good food! It was steak and salad for me. Then I hurried back just before 8 pm, because I was the final live announcer for the last session, the Casting panel. There was a sign-up sheet to announce every session in the auditorium, and I grabbed the last slot. One of the new ladies I had dinner with was kind enough to record my “performance.”
I had a great time at VOcation, met some wonderful people, and I think Carin and Jamie did an amazing job, especially as first-timers. Because I have gone to so many VO events that require travel, I don’t know if I will attend next year— I need to scale back a bit, especially since I am getting some of the same info or seeing some of the same speakers at multiple events in the same year.