Know Your Role and Shut Your Hole. You are the highest paid person in the room..
In the first ever Tinpod podcast, Lisa Biggs talks to us about 20 years in the voiceover game, finding her true voice and taking the alias of a rap legend.
Daryl Moorhouse: So, this is our first inaugural Tinpod and the idea with this podcast is that we wanna just talk to people from different sectors of the media. Creative people who are involved in radio, TV, online, cinema, film, anything really and just kind of get an insight into their production process, how they do their job, what they enjoy about it.
Daryl Moorhouse: Today, we are traveling to the States. We got Lisa Biggs with us who is a fabulous voiceover artiste as well as media trainer, social media [don 00:00:44], all those kinds of things. You’re very welcome Lisa.
Lisa Biggs: Thank you, thank you, you’re fabulous.
Daryl Moorhouse: Oh, thank you very much. Let’s just compliment each other for the next 30 minutes-
Lisa Biggs: Right? That’s good, yes, yes.
Daryl Moorhouse: I think everybody else will enjoy that podcast as well.
Lisa Biggs: Words of affirmation. It’s what every artist needs more of, I think.
Daryl Moorhouse: Absolutely, you can never have enough.
Lisa Biggs: To give and to receive.
Daryl Moorhouse: So, do you want to maybe start by telling us just a little bit about the history of your media career? How you started out and kind of what the backend is?
Lisa Biggs: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been doing voiceover for a little over 18 years. I got started right out of college, I booked my first job when I was in college. And then for my college graduation present, my parents paid for me to have a voiceover demo. While all my other friends were doing cool things like traveling and backpacking across Europe, I was in a dark room making funny voices. And as a result, I took that demo and I was able to circulate it via email to a couple of the big agents in LA and I got picked up right away.
Lisa Biggs: I had a really awesome lucky streak right at the beginning and moved out to Los Angeles for a couple of years. Was able to, as the industry shifted and where people are able to work remotely, I was able to kind of move my business back East and keep up with the Jones I guess, with Miss Jones or whatever, not necessarily competition ’cause I don’t really look at the voiceover industry and the people that are in it as necessarily competition but I’ve been really blessed. I work everyday multiple times a day and I do it all from house in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Daryl Moorhouse: Do you remember the first voice demo you did? Had you done acting classes or anything prior to that, or speech and drama or anything, or were you prepared for it and can you remember what it was like and where you did it?
Lisa Biggs: I did it at a studio called J. Howard in my hometown in Charlotte, North Carolina. The studio’s no longer there. Now, all of their business has moved to Groundcrew Studio, which is also in Charlotte. And the guy who produced my first demo’s the head engineer at Groundcrew still. And I had a little bit of acting training but not as much as I should have or could have simply because this voice, this voice that I’m talking to you in now is my real voice.
Lisa Biggs: Obviously, I do tons of other voices but it kind of held me back when I could have been studying drama and taking acting classes in high school and college. I was pretty insecure about speaking out loud and so I just kind of developed a bit of a complex and was super hesitant about performing publicly.
Lisa Biggs: Fortunately, I’ve always been super goofy. Kind of worked out those voices on my own, just kind of growing up. So, I already had a nice cast of characters to put on this first demo but I was not … If I could hear it, I’d probably lock myself in a room and not come out for a week, ’cause I’d be like … ‘Cause I feel like, I hope after 18 years of taking tons of classes and done a lot of acting, done a lot of theater, a lot of live performance, I think really helps you up your game especially if you’re doing a lot of character-centric stuff.
Lisa Biggs: So, I think I’m way better now than I was, I hope, that many years ago. But I was just kind of … What’s that quote? It’s a Mark Twain quote and it’s like, the secret to success is a combination of ignorance and confidence. Like, I was confident because I was ignorant. I had no idea.
Lisa Biggs: So, I just had no reservations approaching people about voiceover, approaching agents, approaching potential clients, ’cause I was just like, “Yeah, so I got this weird voice and this demo thing.” If I knew better, I probably would have never made it.
Daryl Moorhouse: And do you remember your first ever paid voiceover job?
Lisa Biggs: Oh god, yeah, it was a national commercial right out of the gate. In fact, it was the studio that I did my demo at, which I always recommend to people. Consider doing a demo or at least recording your demo at a studio that also is in a position of influence who could hire you, because it just so happened that the studio that I recorded at, I was there for a couple of days doing my demo and about a month and a half later, they were like, “Hey, we’ve got this audition. We wondered if you wanted to take it for a test drive and give it wack.” And I did, and they booked it, and it was a national commercial in the US for the Red Cross.
Lisa Biggs: It was a PSA and I know the script by heart. It was great, I went in and did my thing. A couple, 30 to 60 days later, I got a paycheck and was like, “Holy cow, that’s a ton of money for 15 minutes of my life.” I was like, “Wow, I wanna do that again.”
Lisa Biggs: So, I guess I’ve fortunately been doing that again and again and again and again. But it was cool, it was really cool. I was like, “Whoa, this actually might work.” I remember thinking, “You know, I’ve got this weird voice and this voiceover thing kind of seems like a long shot but you know,” yeah I’d just kind of graduated college, I was kind of like, “Well, you know, what have I got to lose?” And yeah, so things definitely worked.
Daryl Moorhouse: You can still remember the script for that ad, can you?
Lisa Biggs: Oh yes. I know it by heart. Okay, here we go. When you give … Oh shoot, I messed up already. Hold on, okay.
Lisa Biggs: When you give blood, you give another birthday party, another wedding anniversary, another day at the beach, another night under the stars, another talk with a friend, another laugh, another hug, another chance. The American Red Cross. Please give blood.
Lisa Biggs: Boom. That’s right. And you know, it’s so funny. Years later, I took a voiceover class with a very well-respected casting director in LA and she had a bunch of scripts laid out and we were supposed to pick what we wanted and then get behind the microphone and impress everybody. And I saw my script so I guess she had been the casting person on it, I don’t know. So, I saw the script and I was like, “oh my god, that was my very first commercial from 15 years ago.” And so I got it and said, “I’m gonna read this one, it’s gonna be amazing, ’cause obviously …”
Lisa Biggs: So, then I got behind the microphone and I did it and she was like, “Yeah, so that’s not exactly the direction that I think they were thinking.” I was like, “Hey, I’m not trying to challenge your expertise but on this particular script, I am the expert because this was my commercial.” I was like, “So, not trying to be disrespectful but this is actually how … I can play this back for you, this is exactly how it was done, ’cause I did it.”
Daryl Moorhouse: I mean, I’ve always thought about voiceovers. There aren’t that many industries where you can potentially be paid when you look at the amount of time potentially a voiceover can take and potentially what you can be paid-
Lisa Biggs: Oh yeah.
Daryl Moorhouse: -if you were to boil that down to an hourly rate or whatever, it can be fabulous, can’t it?
Lisa Biggs: Oh, it can be and not like, you’re working for 40 hours a week, but people get so flustered or frustrated about things related to their sessions, especially when they’re supervised sessions, like Source-Connect or ISDN, and I’m like, “You know what, know your role and shut your hole. You are the highest paid person in the room at the time, during that hour. That doesn’t mean that you are the most successful person overall but in that time and space, you’re making more money than anybody else in that time and space. So, just do your job, just do your job, have fun, don’t get weird and then hopefully they’ll ask you to do it again.”
Daryl Moorhouse: I mean, ’cause that is kind of the point. Like any other industry, if you’re easy to work with then people are more likely to book you again and that’s the basis of your career really, isn’t it?
Daryl Moorhouse: You mentioned when you started in LA and you were there for a couple of years and you mentioned because the industry started to change you were able to move and potentially build your own studio. What kind of changes have you seen? I mean, technology’s changing at a pretty rapid pace certainly in the last decade. How has the American voiceover industry changes in the 18 years that you’ve been in it?
Lisa Biggs: It’s changed drastically. It’s certainly less expensive to have a home studio than it was when I first started. Actually, I’ve got right next to me, it’s not plugged in, my good old trusty [codec 00:10:19] which is currently collecting dust because I’ve successfully transitioned all my ISDN business over to Source-Connect-
Daryl Moorhouse: So, is there any demand for ISDN stations or is it all Source-Connect now?
Lisa Biggs: I would say, all of my clients have moved over to Source-Connect. The last one to go was Fischer Price. They were the ones that were like, “Oh, you know, ISDN, ISDN, ISDN,” and that’s fine. I don’t have it hooked up in my studio anymore but there’s a bunch of ISDN studios in my town so I’d just go crash a booth and do my thing. But they were about … I don’t know, 6 or 9 months ago were like, “Hey, this Source-Connect thing, kinda cool.” And I was like, “Yeah, it is. And it’s way less expensive.”
Lisa Biggs: And just in general, the technology has changed. My “booth” is in a closet in my house. Obviously none of the walls of the closet share a wall with anything that has plumbing but I’ve got this thing, I’ve got soundproof foam about 7 and a half feet up ’cause my ceilings are 9 feet tall and I actually put it together.
Lisa Biggs: Aside from my microphone, which was pretty expensive but it didn’t have to be, I just like Neumanns, they sound great for me. But aside from my microphone … My microphone and my computer. I have an iMac and then I have a Neumann microphone. But everything else was around 1500 bucks, total.
Daryl Moorhouse: Was there a period of time, maybe when you first moved into your own studio, was there a fair perception that if the client knew that Lisa Biggs was voicing from her bedroom that it might have a negative impact either in terms of your perception of being professional or else in terms of the rate, or did that ever matter?
Lisa Biggs: I mean, most people would never ask where specifically is your studio but you definitely want to, before you put yourself out there for sessions that are supervised or directed, where you’re connected to another studio, you wanna make sure that you test your sound with someone who has well trained ears because my first session with Fischer-Price, probably 12 or 13 years ago, was a nightmare and they didn’t come back to me for a couple of years.
Lisa Biggs: Something was wrong with the ISDN, there was all this echo and I was stressed because I didn’t know how to fix it and I sounded stressed and the session was weird. At one point I remember, ’cause I was getting so much echo, I had to take my headphones off and then do my lines, and had to put my headphones back on to hear what they were saying. And at one point I heard one of the directors or producers who was in the room in their studio at Fischer-Price, she was like, “She sounds really sad.” I was like, “I am sad.” I didn’t say anything but I was like, “Yeah, I am.”
Lisa Biggs: And it was years before they hired me again and now we work together all the time. But you have one chance to make a good first impression and if it bottoms out if it doesn’t. And a lot of times there are things that are out of your control, then it may … That opportunity may never [circle 00:13:56] back around again or it could take a decade for them to show back up.
Daryl Moorhouse: Do you find in terms of where the business is coming from, some of the VOs have told us in the States that it used to be more that it was auditions through agencies. Now what’s happening is, or is it happening in your experience, that clients are finding voiceovers directly themselves and doing deals directly with voiceovers as opposed to through a studio or an agency?
Lisa Biggs: My business has always been, being a niche voice, people certainly are at first like, “Oh, your voice is so great, your demos are great, we’d love to add you to our roster,” but a lot of people don’t know what to do with you at that point. You just kind of get lost in the shuffle.
Lisa Biggs: So, while a lot of wonderful opportunities come through my agents and I’m very thankful for the stuff that they … The auditions they invite me to that are appropriate for my voice. I would say 90% of my business is me initiating conversations or relationships directly with potential clients. I treat my business like a B2B. I’m a business, you’re a business, let’s do business. I don’t really wait for people to necessarily find me because some people spend gobs and gobs of money on SEO, I don’t. I would rather just use things like Linkedin and just searching things online and approaching people. I have other resources that I use. And just approaching people directly about working together.
Lisa Biggs: And sometimes people are receptive, sometimes they ignore your emails. And it’s cool. There’s so much opportunity out there that you can’t get bummed out if somebody doesn’t return your email because there’s 500 bajillion other people that might return your emails, so just keep going, keep pursuing.
Daryl Moorhouse: Absolutely. And you’ve also kind of latterly, you’re now doing training. It’s not just voiceover training, it’s also around the marketing and the digital media side so, I would say that you’re very clued into not just the voiceover side of things, you obviously also have a fantastic pedigree, but you’re also very aware on the business to business side, on the marketing side, on the social media side and you’re happy to share that as well, ’cause you do-
Lisa Biggs: Oh yeah.
Daryl Moorhouse: -as I say, training.
Lisa Biggs: Yeah, I love teaching. Especially mainly teach obviously character stuff for animation. I teach two marketing classes. One specifically for animation and character work and then one just a very broad voiceover marketing masterclass and I cram a ton of info into our two hours together, and I tell people, “Hey, I’m gonna tell you so many things, I’m gonna give you all my dirty little secrets and I’m gonna do that because here’s your challenge. I’m gonna guess that maybe 9 out of 10 of you are not gonna do any of it. You’re gonna go, that’s great information, I’m gonna go get a back of chips, and you’re never gonna come back. So, let that maybe stick and hopefully you’ll actually apply some of this stuff,” because like I said, it’s a great time to be … We’re all connected globally and it doesn’t really matter. Your zip code shouldn’t hold you back. So, it’s a good time to be a solopreneur who specializes in voiceover services.
Daryl Moorhouse: And if you were Lisa Biggs in 2018 as opposed to in 2000 coming into the industry as you did back then, would there be any difference in approach do you think, or would it be the same kind of thing? Would you need to approach it differently or would your success path of starting in a different way, given the way the industry is today?
Lisa Biggs: I mean, I would have definitely … You know, it’s funny. My boy voice is probably my biggest booker. People hire me to be a little boy way more than they hire me to be a little girl. I would have figured I would have dialed that voice in a lot sooner because it has been probably 40% of my work, I’m pretending to be a little boy. And it took me a while to figure that out and it’s just because I as an actor wasn’t as diligent as some folks are where people are like, “Yeah, I practiced voiceover today for three hours,” and I’m like, “Really?” And it’s like anybody, it’s like, “Yes, but it’s my job. Can I not do it though? Do I have to do it all the time?” So-
Daryl Moorhouse: I suppose if you’re working and working regularly as you are that is practice, that is rehearsal.
Lisa Biggs: It is.
Daryl Moorhouse: And as well as which, I think, in the case with someone like you, you have probably instinctively almost the raw kind of talent so it didn’t need probably a lot of practice or rehearsal in the first place, you probably had it from the get go, I would think.
Lisa Biggs: To a degree, but I certainly could have cultivated it better. I mean, I’m working on a show right now that actually is coming out of Ireland, out of Jam Media called Becca’s Bunch and they booked me for a bunch of different characters but one of them is a mom and so I came in there thinking, my first session, and I didn’t even do this voice, like the mom voice, and I’ll do it in a second, that I did. That it ended up being on the show. And I came walking in and I’m thinking, “Okay, she’s a mom, she’s a bunny, she has all these kids.” So I thought maybe she’d be something like this, “Oh, I’m so silly,” or maybe she’d be Southern. I don’t know, I just thought it would be something goofy and silly and they were like, “No, like your voice but a mom,” and I was like, “But I sound 8.” No one’s ever mistook me for a mom.
Lisa Biggs: So, all of a sudden, in the session, it was kind of difficult at first because I’d never really tried to push my voice down into this register and keep it there for two hours, but apparently it worked, because that’s the … Yeah, that’s it cool, let’s do it. I was like, “Okay.”
Lisa Biggs: And then as a result, I was like, “Well, that voice was really fun, I wonder if I could do radio imaging.” And so then I was like, “Maybe I could do …” Like I always thought radio imaging was for girls with big girl voices and friends of mine like Rachel McGrath and girls that do a ton of that stuff and was like, “Well, if I can be a mom in a TV show, then I can alter that and be this really fun edgy voice for radio imaging,” and so I developed this whole other arm in my business, just kind of by default because I was in a session and it was like, “Oh, I have to sound like that? Yeah, I can do that.” And as a result, now I am pursuing imaging work.
Daryl Moorhouse: And isn’t it great that you’ve developed a whole other arm to your business. You didn’t need to invest in a voice machine or $20000. You know, it was just another aspect of yourself that you discovered while if I just changed my voice a little bit, suddenly I may have 20% more business that I never had before.
Lisa Biggs: Right, yeah and I love the imaging and promo, it’s kind of where I’m heading my business. Just because it’s super steady work so yeah. I wish I had known that I could … I always was like, “Oh, I can’t do that.” And I would do that voice when I was trying to sound like my friends, you do voiceover, “My name is Diane [inaudible 00:21:41]” and I would just joke around. But then it was like, “Well, if I can do it when I’m being silly, why can’t I actually turn it into something like a book.”
Daryl Moorhouse: There are two questions that we’re just asking everybody we interview. The first one is, what would you say is your, what I’m calling, a killer piece of kit. The piece of equipment that you think is just indispensable. It could be hardware, software, but just something that has been just the saving of you or has been the best that you’ve worked with in terms of the work you do?
Lisa Biggs: Hardware, I would say my microphone. I love my Neumann. I’ve a 103. It’s great. And I really wanna update to U 87 for Christmas, that’s gonna be my Christmas present to myself.
Lisa Biggs: And software, Source-Connect. Totally saved my butt because ISDN got so expensive but that is how I built my business, is having supervised sessions, directed sessions, and so when Source-Connect came along it was such an amazing alternative and so much cheaper and just runs pretty much without a hitch. And I got it to secure the handle Biggie Smalls. That was a big day for me. I was like, “I’m the coolest person in this booth.”
Daryl Moorhouse: Who called you Biggie Smalls? How did that come about?
Lisa Biggs: Growing up, that was my nickname in high school ’cause my last name is Biggs but I’m five one and I’m small. And so, growing up, they were like, “Biggie Smalls, Biggie Smalls.” So, it’s kind of always been my nickname. People call me Biggie, Biggie Smalls. Usually, they’re just “Biggie, Biggie Smalls.” And so, when I signed up for Source-Connect I was like, “I wonder if anyone’s …” And I was like, “Oh my god, this is meant to be, I am Biggie Smalls, I am Biggie Smalls. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”
Daryl Moorhouse: So, Biggie Smalls, your final question. I will never refer to you as Lisa ever again, it’s Biggie from here on out.
Lisa Biggs: Awesome.
Daryl Moorhouse: So, the final thing we’re asking people is, we wanna try and create some connection maybe between different episodes and the way we’re hoping to do that is just … So, this is a series as you know about production, about people, about the various creative productions they do and how they do it. If we were to ask you who do you think we should interview next and it can be anybody and we’ll try and get them, if we can’t get them that’s fine. But if there’s anybody you think who would be good and incisive and an interesting person, who would that person be and we’ll try and get them.
Lisa Biggs: Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Okay, wow, there’s so many great people. Okay. Actually, I know this is so obvious ’cause, you know, but Dan Gunther, he’s an engineer at GM Voices in Birmingham, Alabama. Dan is one of the most delightful people. He sends the best banter via email and he’s great at his job. He’s so, so good at his job. He’s also a voice talent but he’s also a producer and engineer … Oh my god, did I say GM Voices? I meant Boutwell.
Daryl Moorhouse: Boutwell.
Lisa Biggs: Yes. GM Voices is great. They’re lovely people too but Dan is at Boutwell Studios. I have a session with GM later which is why I said that ’cause it’s Friday and my brain’s marshmallow fluff.
Daryl Moorhouse: It’s early where you are.
Lisa Biggs: Yes, and Dan Gunther at Boutwell Studios in Birmingham, Alabama. He is both talent and producer. And he’s just a cool dude. He’s so cool.
Daryl Moorhouse: Cool. Excellent and if I tell him Biggie sent me, he’s gonna pick up the phone isn’t he?
Lisa Biggs: Yes.
Daryl Moorhouse: He can’t refuse.
Lisa Biggs: Nobody can resist Biggie Smalls.
Daryl Moorhouse: That was great Lisa.
Lisa Biggs: Thank you.
Daryl Moorhouse: Thank you very much for your time, really appreciate it.
Lisa Biggs: Yes. You’re welcome.