Entrepreneurship Podcast post

Voice Over Talent with David Ciccarelli

George Grombacher August 18, 2023

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Voice Over Talent with David Ciccarelli

LifeBlood: We talked about voice over talent, creating the world’s #1 voice marketplace for voice talent and voice buyers, how the industry works, how to have a career doing it, and how to get started, with David Ciccarelli, CoFouder and CEO of Voices.com.      

Listen to learn how to become a successful voice over artist!

You can learn more about David at Voices.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

David Ciccarelli

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:01
left. This is George G. And the time is right welcome today’s guest strung apart for David’s sister Ellie. David, are you ready to do this?

David Ciccarelli 0:08
I’m ready. Thanks for having me, George,

george grombacher 0:10
excited to have you on let’s go. David is the co founder and CEO of voices.com. It’s the world’s number one voice marketplace, helping brands find professionals online to bring their projects to life. David, tell us a little bit about your personal lives more about your work and why you do what you do.

David Ciccarelli 0:27
Sure, well, first and foremost, you know, great to be here and have the opportunity to tell the story. I’m a growing up, I loved sound and music. And I came time from graduating after high school, decided to go to an audio engineering program, where I learned how to record and edit and mix music, and sound of all kinds actually opened up a small recording studio of my own. And that’s actually how I met Stephanie, my dear wife, she was a classically trained singer. She was looking to record her singing repertoire. I actually learned about my studio in the local newspaper. And so she came in and we ended up hitting it off. But because of that same newspaper article, there was an another couple of small businesses in town that wanted a female voice for some phone system recordings and some radio commercials. And since I only knew her, I said, Hey, Stephanie, do you think you’ve got a great singing voice? Would you consider doing some voiceovers? So I was the engineer, and she was the voice talent. And from there, we built a small website that started attracting other freelancers, who are voice actors. And also those future producers, creative producers, who are looking to record videos, again, commercials. Anytime you hear the human voice, then someone’s going into a studio. So we really were the one of the first kind of freelance marketplaces of its kind. And since then, you know, really, the industry has taken several leaps and bounds. But that basic idea of us being the connector between that voice selling talent, and that voice buying client has helped us work with clients from Shopify to Microsoft, every kind of television network and tech company that’s out there. And so yeah, we’ve we’re based in Canada have 110 employees and 4 million registered users from 160 countries around the world. So it’s been quite the wild ride since the founding days.

george grombacher 2:21
Incredible. So you made it sounds so easy. That says, became an audio engineer opened up a studio, you know, that that is, it’s one thing to, to go to university and get a degree and then quit another to become an entrepreneur who was that easy?

David Ciccarelli 2:38
Well, I think we learn things the hard way, as most of us do, by doing them, you have an idea, you try it out, you you pivot where need be, we tried a lot of things that didn’t work. But probably one of the best things was actually listening to customers. And, and by meeting that, what I mean by that is, we actually put a toll free phone number on our website at the top of every page. And this was in a day and age where most website owners kind of didn’t really want to be contacted. And so we made that exceedingly accessible. Where day and night, this phone would ring in our, again, the founding days, this kind of little corner of our of our home office, and we would just answer the phone. Thank you for calling voices you’ve reached David, how can I help you? And I’d ask questions like, oh, what brought you to the website today? What are you looking to accomplish? What you know, do you know what word you typed in to get here? Who did you hear about us from? It was in effect, kind of grassroots market research that it was doing. And so that was something that has continued to persist in our culture, from those early days is kind of having an ear to the ground and directly with our customers takes a bit of a different format nowadays, whether it’s surveys, roundtable discussions, sometimes we host dinners and go into cities, but being as close as you can to the customers, I think has been and building what they want has been one of the keys. Well, it’s

george grombacher 4:04
awesome. And, you know, it’s not always polite to ask, you know, how old people are. And I’m not interested in that. What what, what year did this website go up with, with with with the phone number on top?

David Ciccarelli 4:15
Sure. That was 2004 2005. So we incorporated in 2005. You know, I think that was pretty early on kind of predates a lot of the social networking apps that we have nowadays. Google AdWords, Google ads now called Google Ads was just getting started as learning about search engine optimization, you know, kind of digital PR a lot of the things that were like, in its nascent of like, how do you actually get people to come to your website, and we tried a lot of things that failed, including sending jumbo size postcards, like physical postcards in the mail, to advertising agencies in New York and Los Angeles and we sent out 15 1000 postcards and got two responses. So there’s lots of things that didn’t work. And then a few that did.

george grombacher 5:06
And, again, I learned about audio files in probably 2015 or 16. When I started podcasting, how were you sharing audio in 2004? Five? Yeah, it

David Ciccarelli 5:21
was really just mp3 keys that were uploaded to our website. You know, you couldn’t really, I mean, you’re just downloading the file. That was actually one of the first things that we hired a web developer to help us create was a means for the voice actors or voice talent, we use that term interchangeably. The talent to be able to create a profile, upload samples of their voice, so they were working from home studios, you know, Apple came out with GarageBand, there’s a industry standard application is called Pro Tools. So there was digital audio recording software out there. And people would record from home and then upload the samples of in terms of voice demo. And then clients could also request an audition, where they would listen to multiple talent, kind of compete, if you will, for the job. And then when they find someone they’d like, they could actually hire them through the website. And then those finished audio files, that kind of broadcast quality of the full scripts that would also be uploaded to the website. So it really served as a delivery mechanism, as well, too, because the past five, I wouldn’t say even five years prior to that. People were burning things on CDs, and shipping CDs by courier right across the country. So that in and of itself, the distribution of audio was a step change in the industry.

george grombacher 6:45
Yeah, fascinating. And now fast forward almost 20 years, for million users across 160 countries. That sounds like a great thing. But that also sounds like there’s a lot of moving parts and maybe even challenges with so many people.

David Ciccarelli 7:02
Well, one thing we actually actually have to learn, and I think Stephanie and I not being, you know, originally kind of schooled in business, Stephanie is more artistic and creative, certainly the marketer, the brand, leader, and then myself, you know, I’d say more on like the product development as we needed to fill in the gaps on our leadership team. And so something that we chose to do was, you know, we were bootstraps for many, many years kind of funding the company from either cash from sales, like our customers, or from bank loans that we had taken and kind of paid off and then gotten a bigger loan. But it came to the point where we were able to seek a what would be referred to as a series a capital investment. And we landed $18 million, with Morgan Stanley, their private equity group out of San Francisco. And so one of the first things that Morgan Stanley also recognized that, hey, we’ve got two passionate founders here, we need to build out the leadership team. And so we hired a great CFO, Chief Operating Officer, strong kind of product leader, technology, leader, human resources, and in sales as well, too. So we kind of filled in those gaps. And I think the whole company became a lot stronger, because, you know, there’s, they’re bringing their, you know, their own experience and best practices of what they’ve learned in the past. So it’s, it’s certainly challenging, being able to create the systems to serve customers from around the world, but something that encourages us to get up in the morning and keep doing more of it the next day.

george grombacher 8:47
Yeah, I totally get that. All right. So I’ll just be crude, you are a matchmaker between the voice talent and then and then the use the term earlier voice buying the buyers. And so you have these wonderful 4 million people with these wonderfully distinct voices and all these brands and organizations that want what what are what are some of the services that people are coming to the site for?

David Ciccarelli 9:17
The most 60% of all the requests would be some type of online video. So you can think of it as either and you know, Instagram real, it could be a YouTube video, like an explainer video explaining products and services. It could be kind of elearning content, either for employees or as well for customers, that in terms of like a customer success, we’re going to teach you how to use our software, our products and offerings. But so the online videos is definitely the most popular, but we also see things like you know, it’s, you know, advertisements for radio and television commercials. Still prominent but more recently would be a have voices and kind of other apps or games, so kind of more of an entertainment purposes. But those are the main use cases. In fact, on the homepage of voices.com, you can see kind of a ribbon of navigation all the different categories or genres, if you will, of voiceover work. And so that helps someone who’s maybe thinking about, Oh, I’ve got a project, in my mind, I want to hear people that have done similar projects, gives you a bit of a visual to be able to navigate and hear, hear people that have done that kind of work in the past.

george grombacher 10:31
Got it nice. And the business model is that you receive a portion of each deal.

David Ciccarelli 10:38
Yep. Yeah, exactly. So classic marketplace. We originally started as a subscription business for the voice talent. So kind of a freemium model there where anyone can sign up for free, which, of course, the vast majority of those 4 million talent or sign up for free, or you can upgrade to a premium subscription for $500 a year. And that really unlocks additional features and benefits, most notably gaining access, to respond to all of those job postings that are on the voices.com website. higher positions in the search results, kind of just more visibility, I would say is the main thing. So the subscription model, and then we have the transaction element as well, too. So when a talent, whether you’re on the free plan, or the premium subscription, when you get hired, there’s a 20 20% transaction fee. And so our business model is really based upon shared success, we’re motivated, financially and intrinsically to help that talent be successful, we want to ensure that they’re paid, you know, the most, you know, that the client has in terms of their budget, as well, because it because it helps the talent, put food on their table. It also, you know, benefits the team at voices because we’re generating, the more they make, the more we make. And that client found a great voice for their project. So it’s everybody wins in that situation. But yeah, those are the those are the two main revenue streams a subscription that’s also complemented with the marketplace transactions.

george grombacher 12:16
Make sense? So most of us have voices. And I think most of us like the sound of our own voice. What what is it that makes a successful voice over artist?

David Ciccarelli 12:28
Well, I would say the first thing is actually a lot of effort that goes into it, I think this can sometimes be the perception that oh, this this is it’s the easiest, you know, freelance career, you’re just reading for a living? Well, that’s similar to like saying, well, it’s really easy to be an actor, you just turn on the camera and record yourself. So the first thing we always advise is, study with a coach, a voice coach, they’ll tell you how to read a script, but also interpret a script, right? How to, we would say is kind of bring that script to life, you know, what is the meaning of the word who the audience that we’re actually even, you know, performing this for? How to add what some would call musicality to reading there’s kind of like a certain rhythm and cadence that can go with a script that’s well performed. And the best perform scripts sound like they’re not being read, they’re being performed. So I would say those are the artistic skills. In addition to that, let’s call them the technical skills. Nowadays, you’re recording from home. So you have your recording software, you have a microphone, and you have ideally some kind of soundproofed recording booth, it could be a closet, it could be some kind of vocal booth that you built out. But that’s really key, you’re not really going into a recording studio in New York or Chicago, clients are sending the request to you and are looking for a quick turnaround. And the last one would be that kind of client service, that kind of marketing skills. So that’s really the triple threat, the creative, the technical, and the kind of business skills, how do I communicate with clients? How do I price this certain project? How do I, you know, you’re a freelancer in business for yourself, I gotta send out invoices and do collections and all the rest of it as well too. So being a great voice talent is in some ways, being a great business person.

george grombacher 14:27
That makes a lot of sense. You need to be easy to work with. You need to be prompt obviously professional and deliver a great product and be able to manage the business and all that quick turnaround I bet there’s some folks that can get an email with a script and make one cut and send it off but is there oh yeah, what amount of time that it takes to turn something over?

David Ciccarelli 14:45
one hit wonders for sure. I would say the when we first started the expectation of like what was perceived to be fast was 24 hours and that was like mind blowing to people. Nowadays, I would say definitely with in the same business day, and so the talent have to balance their time between auditioning to win new work, right and keep that flow going. As well as when you get the job recording that and delivering those finished files to the client. And obviously, you want to do that quickly, so they can rehire you. So that’s the balance that needs to happen, I would say within a couple hours is often what we see usually a same days, depending on the length of the recording, of course, they range from as few as just a few words, you know, no one has like a tag, or kind of a short commercial through to some projects, or 10s of 1000s of words, hundreds of 1000s of words, whether it’s recording entire textbooks, or, you know, again, books audiobooks would be an A great example of that. So the on a per word basis, obviously the pays better kind of shorter commercial, commercial work, versus recording long audiobooks or elearning. Programs. But that’s, those are those are the two kind of ways that I think the talent need to think about how they spend their time, auditioning and then doing the work.

george grombacher 16:14
Got it. That makes a lot of sense. As you look into the future, and we see Chuck GPT, disrupting industries or potentially disrupting industries, how do you see that just artificial intelligence machine learning disrupting your work?

David Ciccarelli 16:31
Yeah, it’s probably the hottest topic in the industry right now. Text to Speech technologies. Are you typing text and generate speech? They’ve been around for, you know, going on 20 years, the issue has been that it’s sounded pretty laughable before. I mean, it was clearly very robotic, used predominantly for accessibility purposes. But not for commercial purposes, where you’d have it in an advertisement or try to create a character in animation or video, a video game. Nowadays, though, in the last, I’m gonna say, George, probably in the last 12 months, maybe less, it’s gone from laughable to passable. I mean, it’s convincing. We do these blind listening tests, if you will, where we don’t tell you if it’s a robot, or if it’s a human, and people invariably get this wrong. And, you know, sometimes it’s like very short recordings, the longer you listen, you kind of hear a bit of an artifact, but it is definitely getting better all the time. So at the beginning of this year, we launched our eighth what we call their AI voice Initiative, where, first off I went to the community of talent, I said, Would you consider having your voice cloned? And a number of them came back and said, Yes, actually, we would, they saw the potential, they feel it’s coming in the industry. So they gave consent to work with us produce recordings, where we actually now have cloned voices of our top talent, there’s 12 of them who participated in this particular program. And the next one is making sure that they get credit, because some of these text to speech or AI voice tools that are out there, you don’t really know who it is, that’s being kind of compensated or getting credit behind the scenes. So that’s why we refer to it as a voice clone. You can work with John or David or, you know, Bailey, or their natural voice, or you can work with their clone, and vice versa. And there’s lots of situations where maybe you just want to paste in a script and get a quick track back. And there’s other times you’re like, No, no, this is this is for the big commercial going on TV, I want to work with them and direct them and get some more kind of create creative direction. So that’s where we see it as these kind of complementing one another. And that is actually launching this week is what we call our AI studio, where clients would be able to someone who wants to get a voiceover done, can paste in a script, you know, up to, you know, probably about 500 words, but paste it in and be able to get instant playback, pick from a variety of voices, and change things like pronunciation, the speed, as well as added pauses, right? So that kind of adds a bit more of a humanity into that. So the talent that have chosen to be part of it, I think, are really excited. In speaking with them, they view the income potential. They can work when they’re sick, or on vacation or just otherwise unavailable. And there are certainly talent, I’ll acknowledge that view, it is really a threat to their livelihood. And like many of the technologies that I think have come and gone over the years. You know, I think there’s they’ve been more of a force for good if we can learn how to utilize these tools to our advantage. So that’s certainly my hope, that talent who choose to kind of create a clone of their voice. It’s actually Almost like an assistant who’s working alongside them and creates new opportunities.

george grombacher 20:04
Well said, Thank you, David, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? And how can they? How can they get involved with voices.com?

David Ciccarelli 20:14
Sure, Thanks, George. The best place to go is the website voices.com. If you’re an aspiring voice talent, there’s all kinds of resources on there from podcasts videos, signing up for free and creating a profile. And if you’re a creative producer, maybe you create videos of your own or thinking about starting your own podcast, what a slick sounding intro, you can hire any number of professional voice actors on voices.com. So that’s the place to go.

george grombacher 20:42
Excellent. Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did, show, David, your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to voices.com and join the community. If you are somebody who’s always thought you know, it’d be cool doing voice so voice over work, this is your spot. And obviously, if you are a brand or somebody needing a professional voice or a silly voice, I’m sure you can find any kind of voice on the site that you could possibly imagine. Go to voices.com and find the solution that you are looking for things good, David. Awesome. Thanks, George. And until next time, remember to your part by doing your best

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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