Hugh Edwards is an award-winning voice director and casting director who has worked on over 200 games, films and TV shows. He is also the CEO, Founder and Team Captain of Gravy for the Brain, an incredible online resource and community for the voiceover industry. Here he tells Mandy News what voiceover artists can do to get ahead in the industry, what the benefits of Gravy for the Brain are, as well as offering an amazing 12 day FREE trial to Mandy members.
Hugh, please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you got Gravy For The Brain set up.
Gravy For The Brain was one of those funny things that came about through necessity. I’d been working on various projects with Peter Dickson beforehand and we were having a liquid lunch, as you do, back in 2007-8 and were talking about games for which Peter and I did a lot of direction and casting. We were talking about the fact that all of the people I was using in the games were the same people, a lot of the time. My competitors were using the same people as well and, in fact, there was a little clique of voiceover artists that were being used mainly because they were really good at it and the only ones who actually knew how to do it.
So we decided to do something about it and created a workshop in London in around 2008. They were workshops with 10 people where we basically trained how to become a gaming voice actor. They were very successful and we trained loads of people – close to 3000 in those workshops alone. It showed us that there wasn’t just a demand for training in gaming but a lot of people actually wanted, or rather needed, base-level training as well. So we started looking at a beginner’s course and started teaching that as well.
A couple of years later, we got this idea that we were very much restricted by the classroom size. We were getting so many requests and there was a huge, long list of people waiting to come on. I had just had a baby and we couldn’t fulfil the amount of requests we were getting – we would have had to have been in the studio permanently. We decided the best way was to create an online version and we built two - the two that had the most requests at that time - which were the beginner’s course and the gaming course. In order to be able to fulfil it, we had to create a company to do it.
Before that, we’d been doing them through my company High Score Productions, which I’m still running now. As people took the courses, they were asking for more and more such as a home studio course, demo reels, etc. Pay-to-play sites came about too and there was a big growth explosion in the industry so we started doing courses on how to audition properly for those.
That’s how Gravy For The Brain came about – an organic thing based on complete need in the industry.
Where can people go to do these courses? What is Gravy For The Brain now in comparison to what it was originally?
In its first day, it was a beginner’s course and a gaming course. Since then, it has evolved and we’re now on our fourth version, with our fifth version in development. The fourth version that is currently public has 16 different courses, we do five webinars a month to all our students and it’s essentially a membership service. So you pay once as a member – between £29-39 a month – and you get access to everything we do.
One of the big things we were concerned about was that there are a lot of global trainers, even in the UK, and they all share one common trait – they charge extortionate amounts of money. We decided that we didn’t need to do that and the idea is you pay a small monthly fee, in the same way you do with Netflix, and get everything. Each of the webinars we do are recorded and go into our webinar library so there are close to 200 webinars in there now.
We then started to do a career profile website which is basically an online resumé where people can put all of their demo reels, all the work they’ve ever done; images, video files and home studio details. And that’s free for everybody, whether you’re a member or not. We have an online CRM which is specifically designed for voiceover artists to be able to track their auditions and their ratios. We have two different types of mentoring: we have a forum-based mentoring which is every day with five professional mentors and we have live mentoring which is once a week covering various topics. So there is a lot going on!
More recently, we’ve done things like the rate guide which has been quite important for the industry in my opinion. Overall, it’s brought in a certain amount of financial success and because of that, we have been able to do lots of free things too like the rate guide, reading speed calculators and the career profile website. We’ve got a few more things in the pipeline too.
That idea of giving something back to the community culminated in our first voiceover conference as well and the feedback we had from that was just immense and way above and beyond what we hoped for. Actually, you’ll be the first people to know about this as we haven’t publicised it yet but One Voice 2019 is 9-12th May.
Today, GFTB is a complete education platform, as well as a community, for people who need training and for people who don’t. There are lots of ongoing resources and tools for them to use. It has grown way beyond our wildest dreams from just a small training platform to a global success with members from 89 countries and just north of 40,000 people have taken our courses. We are categorically, and by a country mile, the largest trainer of voiceover artists in the world.
That’s incredible! For those who might not know, tell us what we can expect from the One Voice conference as well as the awards?
It is split into two things which run at the same time but are separate – the conference and the awards. The conference is a meeting place, an educational forum and a networking environment which runs over four days. It’s the largest one in the UK and the second largest in the world, already. This year we had just under 300 people there – all voiceover artists or people involved in the industry. There is a lot going on and a lot to take in but it’s really good fun. This year, we had four different streams of things all running simultaneously and we employed a company called Reattendance to come and record everything so you can watch all the things you may have missed.
I must say that it’s incredibly good value for money too. One of our competitors at the minute is running a two-day event with one person for £600 and our event is £300 for four days with 35 people. We really try and be as competitive as possible while providing the best quality output for everyone.
What advice could you give to an aspiring voiceover artist in terms of putting themselves out there and getting work?
For the absolute beginners, I would encourage people to come to us and get an evaluation. You’ve got to be careful who you go to for your training. There are a couple of reasons for that. The first one is, a lot of the trainers charge a lot of money and you don’t want to invest too much on the first day before you know if it’s right for you. Secondly, you should never do your demo reels until you’re at a point where you’re ready.
For example, there is one particular trainer in the UK which is offering an introductory one-day course with four demo reels, and that’s just madness. In the same way that you don’t take your first driving lesson and then take your driving test on that same day, you need enough time to be able to learn your craft and work your skill to the point where you are ready for it. Then do your demo reels. For some people, that might be three months and for others it might be a year. It depends. Actors have a slight advantage as they already six of the nine skillsets required but the ones that they don’t have are really important. You can give the analogy that even when you were doing your dramatic training at university, you might have done your film reels on day one of leaving the course but actually, you’ve done three years of training before you got to that point.You have to apply that analogy to voice acting.
The second piece of advice I’d give is that you shouldn’t put yourself forward for work until you’re ready. It’s detrimental to you. There are some areas of thought that you should use the pay-to-play sites to learn your craft - that’s a load of rubbish by the way - but they are just as valid for work as agent’s work or self-sourcing work. Get your training done first, continuously rehearse, get to a point where you’re ready and then look for work.
What does an average year look like for a voiceover artist?
It really depends on where you are in your career. The life of a voice artist is a long-term one and it’s definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme – anyone who tells you so is wrong or ignorant. It’s a long-builder because you build up your clients over time and you turn those into repeat clients.
It’s also worth saying that it’s a relatively flooded market at the minute; there are a lot of new VOs coming into the market which is a good and a bad thing. It seems like it’s a bad thing at the start because you’re competing with so many people however because the majority of people don’t manage their training, auditions, home studios or career properly, it’s actually quite easy to stand out above the crowd if you’re properly trained and know what you’re doing.
In that case, once you’ve got your marketing, branding and voice stuff sorted then it’s actually relatively easy to become a working, professional VO because there are so many people who don’t do it well.
With video game voice acting, what is the usual setup for that? Are they recorded in a home studio or at a company’s studio?
I have two roles in the gaming industry: I am a casting director and a voice director. Out of the close to 300 video games I have done, I have done two sessions remotely and they were only for specific reasons. For me and for the vast majority of games, they are all studio-based. There are some smaller indie titles that have very low budgets and get done in home studios. They are just as valid and it’s not to say those games are bad but it’s not the norm.
Much like in animation, you need that symbiotic relationship with the director and that’s just much simpler to do in the studio. If you’re in the US, you need to be in LA, New York or Texas and Toronto if you’re in Canada - where the big game developers are - but for those in the UK, it’s London.
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As a member of GFTB for the last year or so, I cannot recommend it enough. Only after their training do you actually realise how wrong you were as a beginner thinking you had an idea of what's required! Hugh and Peter (Dickson) are brilliant hosts and trainers - the forum is there providing so much useful feedback and answers to questions, critique of your voice demos and appraisal of your technical set up. Both Hugh & Peter are always there answering any question you may have.
The huge library of webinars is set up so that the site actually designs a complete learning course based upon your needs... and you just work through it in your own time. Thanks to these guys I've won my first few jobs recently - all primarily down to following their great advice.
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