'Train and train some more' Voiceover artist and Mandy member Toni Frutin shares her success story
Mandy Voices member Toni Frutin is an award-winning voiceover artist who has worked for a string of clients including STV, Tesco, Scottish NHS, Bank of England, Glasgow Credit Union and more. Here she tells Mandy News how she got started in the industry and what it takes to be a successful voiceover artist.
Toni, tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from and how you got into voicover work?
I’m a proud Glaswegian. I’ve lived and worked in Scotland all my life (except the odd short stint in London). I trained as an actor and got the occasional voiceover job in theatre, radio, TV and film. I was performing in a BBC Scotland radio comedy sketch show and was approached by the Head of Continuity at STV who asked if I’d ever considered being an announcer. That was 10 years ago and I’m still there. Outside of STV, I run my freelance voiceover work from my home studio.
You studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Tell us about your time there and how it helped.
My time there was amazing. They offer such incredible acting, vocal and physical training. I graduated with complete confidence in my performance abilities from script analysing to vocal strength and character creation. We were taught important tools like how to take on direction which really is vital in all voiceover work. Also I learnt how to play with the words and try different things which really brings the most out of a script, not just for character work but also corporate and commercial. Every script has a story to tell, from the driest of e-learning scripts about combine harvesters to characterful bloodthirsty video game scripts.
How did you go about securing voiceover work initially and then getting an agent? Luck? Hard work? Poached?
I decided to specialise in voiceover/voice acting and put all my efforts into finding work in this field. I got reels made and sent them out to production companies. I invested in a basic home studio. I got myself a website and set about creating an online presence. I tried getting an agent but had no success. I still don’t have sole representation. I am however the ‘international’ voice on a couple of agents’ books in the UK and US. Although an agent can certainly help, the main bulk of the work still has to come from me. I’ve built up a client base that I’m really proud of.
I wouldn’t say luck has anything to do with it. It’s a lot of hard work, continually forcing myself out of my comfort zone in terms of networking and marketing, and forcing myself to learn things that I never thought I’d be able to grasp. I realised that, if I wanted to be taken seriously as a business, I had to stop asking my husband for help with the technical side and learn how to do it myself. I used to get him to proof read every email I sent because I had no confidence in my business abilities.
I’ve certainly learnt a lot over the last few years.
What’s an average day look like for you? Not that there are often average ones!
I go through spells of being very busy, then being pretty quiet. During a busy spell, my average day consists of taking the kids to school, then going to the gym. If I’m going to be sitting for most of the day recording, I need to get my body doing something active in the morning. I plan my day around the jobs that need recording and the auditions that come in. Then it’s time for me to get to STV for my announcer shift. I’m there from 3.30pm until about 11pm.
If there is no work or auditions, I do a bit of admin, invoicing, checking my CVs are up to date, etc. During a quiet spell, I try to allow myself a break without the guilt or fear of "when’s the next job coming in". I take the opportunity to see friends and family who I’ve neglected over my busy period. It can be tough mentally when the work isn’t coming in, so as long as I’m enjoying myself, I can give myself a bit of a break. I’m a firm believer in having a healthy work/life balance. I’m not a workaholic, and I have no desire to be one.
Tell us your process from applying to jobs, to securing them, to working on the day?
Each job is so different and so is the process. For most of my commercial and corporate jobs, I’ll get an email from the client checking my rate and availability. If that works for them and they decide to go with me, I offer to record it myself, edit it and send it over to them. Sometimes I like this method because I can work it around my day and when it suits me to record.
However sometimes they’ll prefer to direct the session. I usually use Skype. I love being directed, I love working with directors or producers to bring the best out of a script or character. We’ll take a section at a time and work it until we’re happy with the delivery. I’m lucky that most of my clients are very good at giving direction and it’s usually a stress-free session.
If it’s an audition, that’s a bit of a different story. I’ll work on the audition until the point I’m happy to record, send it off to them and then try to forget about it, because more often than not, I won’t have booked the job. I try hard not to get too attached to the script or the characters because it can be really tough when you hear nothing back.
Tell us how working on something like a commercial differs from an audiobook or corporate voiceover or video games? Who do you communicate with traditionally on any of these?
The way my commercial work comes in, a commercial job arrives in my inbox one day and it’s recorded and returned to them that same day, often the same hour.
An audiobook is completely different. It’s incredibly time-consuming. It’s like climbing a mountain. You need to read the book and work on all the different characters and each of their individual journeys. Then the recording can begin. This takes (me) days, weeks, even months. It’s easy to get lost in the words. You get into your own wee world in your cosy, dark studio, but it’s a long process and requires real stamina. The author leaves you to your own devices and you send the finished book to them to listen to. So I get to work at my own pace, with no distractions.
Working on video games is a lot of fun, and can be very noisy. I’ve had to tell my neighbour not to worry if she hears blood curdling screams from our house. Sometimes there can be various different people listening in to the session, from the script writers, to the director or the animator.
What has been your most exciting or challenging job? What’s the one you’re most proud of?
My favourite job was a short film. There’s a poem read over the top of this film and I voiced that poem. It was a real labour of love. As soon as I read the poem I knew I wanted to do this job. It was so evocative and I really wanted to do it justice. I loved working with the director. He was so passionate about the work we were creating. It’s not been aired yet but I’m really looking forward to sharing it when it’s released.
Do you have to travel for your voiceover work often/ever?
Yes, occasionally. I recently travelled down to Cambridge to work with Frontier Developments on a video game. I have also been down to London on several occasions for castings or training courses.
Last year, I travelled to LA after winning a voice actor competition run by Society of Voice Arts and Sciences (SOVAS). My winning submission won me a ticket to the conference and awards ceremony, along with training sessions with one of LA’s leading coaches in animation. It was incredible.
Tell us what kind of kit you use and what your setup looks like!
I use the cupboard under the stairs. It started out very basic but, as I earn more, I upgrade pieces of equipment and adjust the sound treatment of the space. I have a wonderful mic which works beautifully for my voice. It’s an AT2035.
How often are you in your own studio or are in a production company’s studio?
I spend most of the time in my own studio, only occasionally I’m required to travel to another Glasgow or Edinburgh studio.
Are there any voiceover networking events or conferences you’d recommend to anyone, in the UK or internationally? We see you’ve won an award at One Voice! Congrats!
Thanks! Yes I’m delighted about my win. I was nominated for two awards and came home with one. Gravy for the Brain is the company behind the One Voice Awards. They run incredible training courses and their new conference "One Voice Conference" was a massive success. Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson are the guys running those.
The Voiceover Network is an incredible collection of people passionate about this industry. Rachel Naylor is at the helm. They offer many courses from beginners to advanced and I thoroughly recommend looking them up. They’re a force to be reckoned with.
What advice can you give to aspiring voiceover artists?
Don’t spend money until you know you’re going to make money. There’s no need to buy expensive equipment in the early days. It may end up being a waste.
Train and train some more. If you’re in Scotland there’s a great course for beginners. Look up ‘Voice over Training Scotland’.
Be honest about where your strengths lie and focus on them to make them the best they can possibly be. There’s an enormous amount of competition out there. Think about what you can offer that no-one else can.
Know that this is not easy, quick money. It’s a long road to even get to the point of booking a couple of small jobs a week. However, it is the best job in the world, so don’t forget to enjoy the ride.
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m at STV for my continuity announcing, that’s my regular gig. Freelance wise, this week I’ve got two website explainer videos and an on-hold message so far. I’m also working on a video game audition that I really want to book. I’m taking my time with that one so that I nail the character. I’m also aware that I have a tonne of admin to get through, but I always leave that till the last. There are always more fun things to do...