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Interview with Rachael Naylor, Founder and CEO of The VoiceOver Network

We speak with Rachael Naylor, Founder and CEO of The VoiceOver Network. She is working to bridge the gap between voice actors and game developers through her upcoming GET YOUR GAME ON event happening in London.

We had the great honor of talking with Rachael Naylor, a voiceover artist, an actor, and an award winning entrepreneur from London with over 20 years of experience in her field. She is also the founder of The VoiceOver Network, an organization dedicated to helping and strengthening the voiceover industry.

Through her work on The VoiceOver Network, she is also bridging the gap between the voiceover and the game industry, through events like GET YOUR GAME ON, which is coming for the second time to London on 28th April 2017.

Rachael, please tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up, how you started, and some of the projects you’ve worked on.

I’m originally from West London, a place called Cheswick and I am an actor, that’s my background. I started off acting when I was really young and I’ve always loved acting. I went to drama school and was introduced to voiceover at drama school. I had a teacher who said to me, that I should look into doing voiceovers and at the time I was like sure ; “sure… as acting is my main love”.

Then at drama school I came across a workshop, a two hour workshop about voiceovers so I thought I’d go along and give it a go. And as soon as I got in front of the microphone, I felt totally at home, and I knew that this is for me. So this was like sixteen years ago, back in the day where there was very little help and support in the voiceover world. It was very lonely and hard to get any information so, I started banging on doors, and pushing it. And as I said, there was no training, no proper support. It was also extremely difficult to have a home studio back then, since it was so expensive.

The industry has changed massively since then, I feel very lucky that

I’ve had some great jobs and I’m now with a fantastic agency, I’m with Excellent Talent who are wonderful.

I’ve worked on loads of different jobs from video games to animation, lots of commercials, lots of promos, telephones on hold, corporate videos… yeah! It’s an exciting industry.

It’s interesting that you have moved from acting to voice acting, when my impression would have been that people move from voice acting to acting. Is it common for people to move the other way?

No, I think it’s very normal for people to go from acting to voice acting, because it’s important to have the acting foundations there. Being able to create characters, and bring them to life is key.

You mentioned at the time it was hard to have your own home studio. Does that mean that now you have your own home studio, or right now you prefer to have separate studio from home?

I have a home studio, which I’ve had it for a while now and it’s fantastic, cause it means that I can work with clients all over the world. I have clients in America, Australia, Asia, Africa, South America… all over the place. And the industry has been massively changed because it’s now easier for people to setup home studios so there are more voice actors now than there have ever been but there is also more work, so yeah… it’s an exciting time.

So what would be the budget for someone who is just starting his own home studio right now?

On your home studio, spend as much as you can is what I always say,but you really can start with as little as 150 pounds to get a sort of very basic starter kit. Then what you need to do is build a pillow fort, which is how I started. You need just pillows, and a good place to record is a cupboard with all the clothes still in it because you do need the sound dampening.

You do need to think obviously about the external sound. So if you are in a flight path, like I am, that can be an issue. So I built a purpose-built studio into my house that deals with that issue, because trains and planes can be problematic when recording.

So yes, you can start with a basic studio, and I always think if people are starting up in voiceover, that’s the best thing to do. Get a basic studio to start then once you start getting booked for work, then you can improve and get a better microphone, get a better interface.

As someone who’ve worked in the game industry, what are some of your favorite games? Some of your work you always look back to.

I did a game for Microsoft. It was a kind of Lara Croft adventure game, that was a lot of fun. So that was a game I really enjoyed doing, but I love doing all kind of different game characters from the tough female role, and also the ‘baddy’ female characters.

So are you a gamer yourself?

I am!

Okay… what sort of game genres do you play?

Well I like playing puzzle games, I’m kind of that analytical mind, I like solving puzzles, and I like solving things. So those are the games that I play. I spend a lot of time playing Solitaire! To some of you it’s like “What… that’s so boring”, but to me I love those kind of problem solving type of games.

I just read that Zynga acquired some solitaire games for millions. So I thought Solitaire games are over, but it seems to be going on, as you say!

Yeah I mean I play it alot when I’m trying to put my daughter to sleep at night, when she doesn’t want to settle-down so I sit there in the dark playing Solitaire, to keep my mind occupied. (chuckles)

Have you played The Room or that sort of games?

I haven’t you know… The Room? OK, I’ll look into that!

Do you normally play the games you work on, and how does it feel to play, and you know control the character… technically yourself.

I never played a game that I’ve been in! I find it weird when I voice something to watch it, or get involved in it. I mean I’d watch a glimpse, but I just never have…

Rachael you are also the founder of The VoiceOver Network, which is
based in London. Tell us a little more about that, how it started and
what you’re currently working on.

The VoiceOver Network is a membership organization for voice over professionals and for anyone working in the voiceover industry. It came from… as I said, I came to the industry sixteen years ago, when there was no help and support. There was no training. There were no events in the UK. It was tough, really tough! And so four years ago, in 2013, I went for a drink in Richmond with three other voiceover artists and I thought this is really useful. We talked about agents, we talked about marketing, we talked quoting, and all sort of things and I thought, we should do this more often. And also I was thinking in regards to social media… I love social media. I could see what’s happening in the States, lots of events in the voiceover world, lots of training and I was like “Why isn’t there anything happening here in the UK?”.

So I started this very small, little meetup group once a month and it just snowballed. It got bigger and bigger. People from all parts of London wanted to come, so I then moved it to Central London. Then I got to the point where I thought it would be really useful if we get Agents and Producers to come, so we started charging so that we could provide food and drinks. By the end of 2014, it was really big and events were selling out. We had an event selling out in less than 90 minutes.

I looked at what I created, and I looked at the industry, and I saw that there was a massive kind of void, in-effect in the industry and I knew I was on to something good here. The voiceover industry is booming so there is more work in the voiceover world than there has ever been, with video games, with audiobooks, with corporate videos and there are more people that know about the industry now. It’s easier to setup a home studio so there are more people coming into the industry, but there was no where to go and get help and support, there was no where to go and get training, there was no events.

So I decided to take that role on with The VoiceOver Network and we launched the membership of The VoiceOver Network in 2015. What we provide is, it’s all about bringing people together, I’m really passionate about that and helping and supporting each other. So whether you’re a really experienced professional voiceover artist, or someone just starting out, I think that we can all bring something to the table and help each other. And I also think it’s very important that we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet. We all know what’s going on.

So we as a membership organization we provide events, at the moments they’re in the UK but they’re going to be global. We have the voiceover magazine, which is the only magazine in the world dedicated to the voiceover industry. We have training workshops both in person and online, there is The Voiceover Hour webinar which is every week where we interview different speakers, different casting directors, producers who share information on things like marketing and social media.

And there is an amazing community. It’s an incredible community, so we’re very much about community, about providing opportunities, about people developing, growing as a voiceover. You also get savings, amazing savings on our partners products and services. So yeah, it’s a lot!

And is it suitable for international voiceovers?

Absolutely, yes! So it started in the UK, but we have members all over the world. So we have members in America, in Canada, in Australia, all over Europe, New Zealand…

You didn’t mention the Middle-East, so I have to tell people about it!

I know. Yeah absolutely. We’d love to have members join from the Middle-East. There are few people who’ve become interested, so yes, please spread the word.

We’re about to launch a new website as well, so that’s exciting. So yeah, we’d love to have people from the Middle-East to come and join, they’re more than welcome.

Alright, will spread the word then!

I know you’re working on an event that is specific to the game voiceover, and it’s called GET YOUR GAME ON. It’s coming for the second time in London this April. Tell us more about it please.

Yes… GET YOUR GAME ON is on 28th April in London. It started last year. We had our first GET YOUR GAME ON in 2016 at Red Bull Studios. We had lots of producers, and casting directors and game developers come and do talks in the morning. And then in the afternoon, all the attendees got a chance to get into the studio and read video game scripts in front of the panel of producers and casting directors, and game developers.

We also had game character workshops going on, and then we did a panel talk, and then we did networking. It was so fun, and it was such a great event. We wanted to take it one step further this year, and looking at the video game industry, which is obviously booming right now, the voice acting side is so key to the success of video game, and the bar has been raised and raised and raised to kind of a lot more on the par of Hollywood films. So there are a lot of video game conferences out there, but there are none that are focused on the voice acting side of things and the audio side of things, so that’s what we have taken on with GET YOUR GAME ON, and that’s what I want it to be known internationally as the video game conference of voice acting and audio side of video games.

This year’s event, we’ve got a great venue in London, we have got Dave Fennoy, who is flying over from LA to come and join us for this event as our headline speaker. Dave is amazing, he’s been in you know, hundreds of video games, a fantastic voice actor. So he’ll be sharing up his knowledge. We’ve got Mark Estdale, who is another one who is really making amazing waves in the industry and changing the way that studios record voice actors, as he’s produced an actual software which helps to record the voice actors in a very natural way. He’s gonna be there talking to us.

We’ve got Yvonne Morley, who is a vocal coach. She’s going to be joining us. Another part of the GET YOUR GAME ON I’m very passionate about is about protecting voice actor’s voices. Because obviously in videogames there tends to be a fair amount of shouting and it can be quite high emotion, so there is cries, screaming, being punched and all. And as voice actors, we have to go into the studio to create these sound with our voices, it can be very, very strenuous. The voice is actually a very delicate instrument and it can damage very easily. So what I want to do with the GET YOUR GAME ON with The VoiceOver Network working with Yvonne Morley, who is a vocal coach, is put together some of the best practices, and help voice actors to be trained. So at The VoiceOver Network we have vocal extreme workshops that we do, which actually trains voice actors how to be able to scream, laugh, cry without doing any damage to their voice. But it’s a specific way to be trained, and there is all sorts of things you need to do with your body, and it’s a lengthy process.

We also wanted to talk to the game developers, and directors, and producers on how to direct talent in the studio without doing damage to their voice. So that’s something I’m really passionate about pushing. And we think by putting up some best practices and some workshops for directors, producers and game developers as well, everybody will become better protected. Cause the last thing we want is for people to damage their voices, and then people end up getting sued, and people lose their livelihood. We don’t want that, so that’s what I want to do with The VoiceOver Network.

You mentioned you’re trying to target developers. What kind of talks would a game developer benefit from?

So as I said, we’ve got a few different things happening at GET YOUR GAME ON. We’ve got Adele Cutting who’s going to come down she’s going to talk to the game developers about why they should be using a professional director in their video games, as opposed to doing it themselves and also why they should be using professional actors, as opposed to just recording yourself. Because it can be quite easy to do, you’ve got the words, you’ve got low budget, I can totally get that. But voice actors can be quite flexible and there are new people coming into the game industry that you can, you know, start working together and there are higher end voiceover artists too.

We’ve got Andrew Walsh, who is an award winning video game script writer. He’s going to do a workshop about script writing for video game developers. We have Mark Estdale who’s going to be there as I said. We’ve got Rob Yescombe, who’s an award winning writer director.

So yeah, it’s gonna be very interactive. All about bringing the community together, and supporting each other. And also for video game developers, there is going to be a room full of voice actors, whom you can use for your games.

Yeah… I’d be interested in that, honestly.

Yes, you should come!

If only I could fit in the trip!

Next year… 2018, you have to come!

Yeah sure…

And I heard this time there is going to be a game jam?

There is yes. So we’re just working on putting together this game jam, where we want to use the voice actors as well as the game developers. Because game jams are normally about game developers, but we’ve got this pool of voice actors, so we’re going to try and bring the game developers and the voice actors to this game jam together. So should be fun!

Great.. And is it gonna be a different day, or same day?

The game jam will be on the weekend before. It’s from 21st to the 23 April. And then the GET YOUR GAME ON will be on the 28th April.

And how does one signup for the game jam and the event?

If you go to our web page http://www.thevoiceovernetwork.co.uk/, and go to the events page, you will find the GET YOUR GAME ON page there for more information. This event is now SOLD OUT but if you send an email to: [email protected] we will get in touch to sort out tickets.

OK so the ticket includes the game jam?

Yes. But you can get involved in the game jam even if you don’t come to the event. So what you need to do is fill in this form and we’ll get back to you. It’s a global online game jam, and it’s open to both studios and individuals who would like to participate. You don’t have to come to GET YOUR GAME ON. At the GET YOUR GAME ON, we’re going to award a prize to the best game and that will be a trophy, and some headphones, and some other fun things. If your team can’t be there for the awards, the local voiceover talent can accept the award on your behalf.

OK, let’s talk about voiceovers in the indie game scenes a little. There are several challenges facing indie developers when it comes to adding voice actors to their video games. The biggest of which is usually cost. Indie studios normally operate on very tight budget, so it often happens that voiceover is either dropped from the game, or gets done by unprofessionals. Do you have any advice for indie studios about how to approach that problem, and manage to get decent voice over into their games without going over budget?

I think the ‘voice’ in games is absolutely key, because you’re going into the heads of the gamers. It’s so important, just like the writer of an audiobook is unlikely to read his own book. It’s so important to get the voice right, that’s the tone of the game. If you’ve got a brilliant game, but a terrible voice actor, it’s just not going to work. So it’s really important to get a good voice actor.

And you don’t have to pay thousands of pounds. Obviously there are top voice actors, but at the same time in the indie game world, there are people who are starting out, who are new to the industry, who are very good actors. So it’s worth investigating and doing research. Maybe you could do some sort or royalty share, but you should always try and pay as much as you can, because you get what you pay for.

I do understand that people are on a tight budget. But actually, often you’d be quite surprised at what you can get for not a huge amount of money. Don’t got to Fiverr, use proper sites. Come and speak to The VoiceOver Network, I’d be happy to help any developers who are looking for voice actors. Just send me an email at [email protected] And also, you’ve got your site [skirmish.io], so I’m going to encourage lots of our actors to sign up and hopefully they’ll be on your site. You’d get some good talent that way.

Voice actors wanna get involved in video games. It’s an exciting world, and if you talk to them, some of them want credit, some of them need to be paid. But you know there is negotiation that can happen. It’s a relationship that can build and grow to be creative together and produce wonderful games.

Indie studios also tend to lack knowledge when it comes to hiring and dealing with voice actors. If I wanted to hire voice actors, I wouldn’t have much knowledge about how to approach them, what details do they need from me, and what are some common pitfalls to avoid.

OK, so when casting for a voice actor, the best thing to do is get a picture of that character sent out to the voice actor if you can, and just write down the description for that character. So male, female, where they’re from, what age are they? Anything about their description you can tell a voice actor. Because we use our creativity, we use our imagination to develop that visually in our mind and then a lot of the time we use our physicality to create that as well, if it’s a big character, you see voice actors in the studio, it’s very very physical. So you know, as much written description of the character that you can give to the voice actor, is great. And then, see what they do with it.

So when casting, put together a description. If you can send a picture, and then few lines of script out to a few voice actors, get some auditions and see what they come back with and then cast from there. I mean you want somebody who’s going to be truthful, who’s going to capture your imagination, and someone who’s going to be good to work with.

A lot of game developers would come and say “I need a voice similar to that character (say Solid Snake)”. How do you feel about that approach? Is it a good one to work with?

That’s absolutely great. People often use a voice that they’ve heard to describe a character. I mean I get that all the time, when people use celebrities, and they say, “I want something that sound slightly like this”. So what I’ll do is I’ll listen to that celebrity’s voice, and I won’t mimic it, but I’ll take home elements of the voice, and use that for the character. But yeah absolutely, anything that you’ve got that you can use to describe the character.

Because, the thing about imagination, is our memory! All our imagination comes from memory. The voice is such a particular thing with all of us, you know, there are some that we like, some that we don’t like and it all comes down to things that probably happened, . so yeah, using what you’ve got, definitely.

Can I give an example, and you’d advise how to approach it. Let’s say I’m working on an adventure game, and adventure games are heavy with dialogue. They tend to have few main characters, say five, and throughout the game, you could meet fifty or sixty people. Now how do I go over casting voice actors? How many talents shall I seek? And should I seek the individually, or is it better to deal with an agency?

OK, so there are a variety of things you can do here. Voice actors can provide lots of characters, so you wouldn’t need that many voice actors, because we will be able to do different age ranges, different accents.

There are different options that you can do. If you go to an agency, that’s the top of the industry. If you’ve got the money, definitely go to an agency. Excellent Talent, as I’ve said, they are my agency, they’re fantastic, and they’ve got lots of voice actors in their books. And there are quite a few other voice over agencies now, that you can contact, give them a brief, tell them what you’re looking for, then they will go and find you the voice actors, get the auditions for you, send them to you and then you can choose.They deal with all the matters of money, it’s great. It’s much easier to use an agent. They’re the middle man, there is trust, they take some of the risk.

If you’re on a tight budget however, then you can search online for voice actors and I would say probably a good way to do it, go on Google, or contact us. I’m happy to help. Go on Google and search for voice actors, listen to their voice reels, their video game demos then shortlist a few, and contact them. Because the thing is, if you hear one that you like, they will know others, and they will be able to help you to cast. It’s a small closed net community of voice actors that do video games, so if you find one that you like, they’re likely to be able to help you cast others and they’d want to as well.

As voice actors, we love the industry, we love our craft and we want to see you guys get your video games up there and out there, at the best that you can.

Say I go the poor indie dev approach, and I approach several voice actors. Would you say it’s necessary to have a voice director?

It would help to have a director, but you don’t have to if you’re on a tight budget, that’s totally fine. You can send a script to the voice actors, they will record it at home, and they’ll send it back. That is a way that you can do it and that is the cheapest way that you can do it.

Obviously having a director does help because you get someone listening in, they’ll be able to guide the voice actor. Where is if you send the script to the voice actor, give them some directions, they will interpret that, and they will send it back to you. Now it might come back and you’d be like “BRILLIANT!” and then it might not. And there is the tricky thing of, you want to redirect it.

You can also often ask if you can listen in to the recordings and then you can kind of do a little bit of directing, but if you can get a director, then go for it. I know a few directors that can help. Do you have directors on your site?

Not yet, no.

Yeah it will be interesting thing to do, because I would imagine that there are probably a couple of theatre directors who would be good for video games, who are starting out, who are at the beginning of their theater directing career, who would be interested in directing video games. So that might be something worth doing.

But you know, work with what you’ve got. Do the best that you can with what you’ve got. If you can get a good voice actor, they can do amazing things without a director, it’s not an absolutely necessary.

Well, we’ve reached the end of the interview. Is there any final advice or thing you’d like to share with us?

To the young and starting voice actors I’d like to say, it takes skill, determination, focus, persistence, and talent to be a voiceover actor. But if you want to be one, don’t let that scare you away. Give it time. Give it all you’ve got. It might seem frustrating at first, but with every time you practice it, you can push yourself to be just a little bit better. At The VoiceOver Network would love to help and guide you along the way.

Also, at the The VoiceOver Network, we love the video game industry. I love doing video games. So if you want a video game voice actor, give me a shout [chuckles]. But also, The VoiceOver Network is passionate about beating the bar, improving standards, helping game developers work with voice actors and vice versa. If you want to do the Get Your Game On, come along, it’s gonna be amazing, with Dave Fennoy. There is going to be drinks and food. It’s going to be fun, really fun.

Sounds really great. Wish you all the best, and hopefully I can make it next time.

Yes, definitely come to London. But yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Thank you so much for your time.

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