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With Coronavirus forcing most people to work from home, voice work is in the spotlight like never before. This week, Jolie Williams, founder of London voice agency Yakety Yak, takes us through what they look for in actors, how the agency is setting trends and why – when the world’s not in quarantine – turning up at an agent’s office is a massive turn off.
Describe your talent roster.
A treasure trove of fantastic voices! Certain types of voices go in and out of fashion but we help to set voice trends by representing unusual talent alongside the popular guys. We aim to be one step ahead by representing the kinds of voices we anticipate clients needing.
How do you find new talent?
They tend to find us. Otherwise, through artist recommendations and from friends of friends. We also listen to every showreel we receive as a team and try to come to a unanimous decision.
Are you currently looking for any particular types of clients?
Anything new, unusual and forward-thinking. We’re always interested in exploring! Yakety Yak is an open-minded agency with a good mix of agents, from young to mature, experienced to up-and-coming. This creates fresh, exciting, and sometimes radical ideas on casting. We don’t specialise in a particular area – anything to do with a voice and we’re in on it!
What do you look for in a reel?
Atmosphere, presence, character. Something that gives us goose-bumps. A voice reel should show versatility within your range. That means lots of nuance, not lots of different voices. Concentrate on your strengths and be honest about your capabilities. You can’t be brilliant at everything, even if you think you can. Finally, pick scripts to suit your voice. Certain voice-reel companies use the same old scripts and so make everyone sound the same. Trust me, we plough through hundreds of these and I don’t think we have ever taken anyone on from these identikit reels. Also, don’t be a tight-arse – pay for a decent, professionally produced reel, because even a brilliant voice sounds cheap if it’s recorded in a cupboard on an iPhone.
What do you look for in clients?
We seek artists with naturally interesting voices and with the technical ability to bring a script to life. They need to have some studio experience, the right attitude and be adaptable in the studio. We have no specific selection process – artists can be BAFTA-winning actors or train drivers. What ultimately matters is their voice and their ability to interpret a script.
How should someone go about getting a meeting with you?
Not by sending a generic email entitled “Dear Agents…” And not by coming into our office unannounced and doing lots of different voices loudly. A distinctive showreel and a fabulous voice should get you through the door. Failing that, chocolate, cakes, etc.
What should actors have prepared for a first meeting with an agency?
Be prepared to work! We have been known to send artists straight into an emergency studio session as a result of an initial chat. It’s also worth having a list of the kind of work you hope to be doing, ie animation, book reads, etc. And have a think about any kind of work you may not want to do. There’s nothing worse than securing someone a great job only to find out they aren’t interested in working for that client!
What would stop you from signing a client?
Auditioning in the office when we’ve invited you for a coffee and a chat about your reel – can you tell we’re traumatised by this? Or, if we have too many similar-sounding artists, as we always focus on getting work for people we already represent. Very limited availability is always off-putting due to the fast-paced nature of the industry. Also, lying about what you are good at. We can tell!
What is the No. 1 mistake actors make when trying to get a voice agent?
Unreasonable expectations, or lying about their capabilities. It’s not a problem if you don’t have much experience but we need to know that so we can send you in for the right jobs. Oh, and trying to do every voice under the sun.
How has the business changed since you started?
There used to be a few artists doing most of the work. Even if it was a specific dialect, clients were happy for an actor to “learn it” and record. Now, a voice usually has to be authentic, so artists are expected to actually be from that part of the world. It used to be all about talent and experience. Now it’s mostly about uniqueness and availability.
What recent client performance are you proudest of?
We are proud of all of our artists, whether it’s an award-winning promo or a highly acclaimed book read. But it’s especially satisfying when you’re watching TV and hear five ads in a row with our artists’ voices on. Especially if that ad break is between one of our actors voicing an award-winning documentary series – woo hoo!
Check out Backstage’s voiceover audition listings.