Moleboheng Sehume on voice coaching

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

Interviewing Moleboheng Sehume - radio producer, Ted-Ex Soweto project manager and voice-over coach.

(You can listen to the podcast here if you prefer)

Welcome to Talking Voice-Overs. Our guest today is Moleboheng Sehume, radio producer and voice-over coach.

Moleboheng Sehume: Thank you very much for inviting me it should be fun.

Gaelle Gosselin: It's great to have you here! So, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

M.S: I am a producer and I started in radio many moons ago at Prime Media in Cape Town with KFM and Cape Talk. Back then the stations had big station promotions for big staking promotions. So, I would have to produce things like the sound of the station with Cape Town, I don't know if you remember it.

M.S: We had a big one at the end of the year Christmas which takes the life out of you. We also had small business awards I think then with Nedbank, so that's how I cracked my teeth and really got into the meat of what radio product and what production is all about. Currently, I trained quite a lot of VO's (voice-overs) in the recent space of about three years ago. A lot of people have been wanting to get into this space and it's a difficult space to get into I must say because there are already so many established voices. But I still believe that there's space for new voices as I always say “hashtag open up the industry”. There's definitely new space for new voices!

G.G: So, without going into your whole course material if you had one piece of advice for someone who's looking at entering the voice-over industry in South Africa, what would that be?

M.S: Be yourself, because clients go for a person who's themself. You can hear it when someone is trying to be somebody else and there’s nothing worse than that. Watch yourself, have your water and clear your palate so you can clear your throat. And if you're starting out, I would say find yourself an agent. Go on google and search for ‘Top 10 agencies in Joburg’ which is where I am based. You'll definitely get the most popular ones, and those are the ones that most of the agencies are accustomed to. And depending on how great your voice is, that's definitely the first way to go.

M.S: What's great about somebody who's entering first and using an agency is that you get to understand the industry better because the agency kind of holds your hand. Secondly things like payments and your tax are easier when there's somebody who has been in the game long enough to assist you with that. So, I'd say the first step is to get a reputable agent to assist you. You are also allowed as an up-and-coming artist to quiz the person who's going to be representing you. You can ask for previous works online when you research them. You can see other voice-over artists that are currently on their books so you can kind of have a sense of that person: I've heard their voice so there's hence a form of trust if I can call it that.

G.G: Would agents take brand new voiceover artists that have no experience? I was under the impression that you needed to be experienced.

M.S: That's why I am saying it's very difficult to get in, but I think it’s your safest bet at this point because they understand the game. After all, it's such a quick turnaround, an agency can get a brief from a client and literally need to turn it around within 48 hours. Now if you're an independent artist you have to struggle with finding a studio to record in and paying for the studio. If it's a home set up the quality of the audio that you're going to record is a big thing. If you're going to go to a person who maybe has a small studio not to mention the quality of the engineer putting that material together- so I think it's a little bit more difficult if you're going to go independent as opposed to calling an agent and honestly, it's the good old-fashioned call and email. I hate to use the word hound but if you really want to get in that's practically what you're going to have to do and if your voice is really that beautiful clear crisp voice, you'll win.

G.G: Okay! But it's not only about having a good voice you need to have coaching as well wouldn't you say?

M.S: I would definitely say that, and I think the first step before even coaching is that you have to read everything you come across. Whether you're at the dentist waiting for the dentist, if there's a little pamphlet there read it because then you get to see how words are crafted. Because when you're coming into the studio for a 30-second commercial we don't have time to still be telling you how to pronounce certain names. We understand that as a professional you know how to deliver, so I'll definitely start off by saying read.

M.S: It’s something a lot of people find a bit stupid but read out loud because that's what you're going to have to do when you get into the booth. Read out a lot to yourself. If you've got kids there's a lot of time now during Covid-19, read them those beautiful kiddies’ stories because those stories have great pronunciation guides, alliteration guides, and range and tonality. Because you have to kind of play out the part, I recommend that reading is the first thing that you should do so that you don't jam when you get into the booth. After all, say what you will sometimes you just get stage fright and it's like you can't perform.

G.G: So, then the opposite question is what would you say not to do? What would you recommend new voice-over artists to not do?

M.S: Like we were saying, it is so difficult to get listed with an agent because most of the voices that are used seem to always be used; there is no other way to say it but don't be arrogant. You can have a great voice and you get there and think you've got the best voice–no there's a whole list of people behind you who've got great voices and who have a pedigree in doing this. So that's the first thing I'd say, humble yourself and don't come into the studio a little bit hazy or inebriated. Even if you know the client when you've gotten your first big role don't be too friendly with the client because we work in these industries and we are quite close-knit so get in, do your take and get on.

M.S: I also found that when you have fizzy drinks you can't measure when you're going to burp, and you don't know when you're going work. So, I would definitely say stay away from fizzy drinks and maybe have still water before you do a voice because it does cleanse your palate. I would also avoid things like chocolate and coffee because they tend to leave a flaming bit to your voice. You can keep yourself hydrated, clear your throat and play with your vocal cords (humming). One thing that a lot of voice artists always say works is a hot shower in the morning, you hum and warm up your vocal cords using the steam within the shower.

G.G: So literally warming up physically?

M.S: Absolutely, literally warming up like a hot warm mug with some lemon in it, apart from Covid, it's also a great way to just cleanse your palate.

G.G: That's true! So now here's a tricky question, what are the different payment structures with regards to PMA rates because nobody seems to understand PMA, do you have any clarifications?

M.S: All right, no I do not. Let me put that out there. But the first thing that I would do is add a budding artist. You can go online and download a pdf that gives you a rough estimate in terms of what to expect for a normal voice-over rate, that's the first thing. The second thing is that it outlines how much the cancellation fee is, the rate of voice-overs for audiobooks, movies, merch, gaming as well as what you will be paid thereafter: if you've done a voice today and the usage period is for three months you should be getting paid for that three months for which the ad is on air or on one of our page channels. So, you need to understand that!

M.S: Also, Gaelle I think it's critical that new guys are under a well-established agency because I can safely say here that 870 is the standard fee. Okay! So, you go in and you know that is the standard that you're going to get for a 30-second commercial. However, with an agency you will be able to know, because your script will say: A female voice over does her lines and there's a separate fee on the same script if you're a female voice over and an announcer. So those are the little things that you need to be aware of as a VO artist hence I am punching the fact that you really need somebody who has been doing this for a long time. Someone who has been putting together invoices for a long time and they look after you; it's in their best interest and in your best interest. And like you say it's quite muddy for lack of a better English term ‘Payment Structure’, but this is what we work with, unfortunately.

G.G: So, you wouldn't recommend going independent and starting out online? Anything like that you'd say go for an agent!

M.S: I know that what I'm saying is a bit of an oxymoron: hashtag open up the industry. But you know that there are things like favouritism. What clients love about established artists is that they are one-take wonders; they walk into the studio and boom you would have allocated 90 minutes for them, 40 minutes for them and within 10 minutes you're like “okay just give us a second and third take”.

M.S: The infrastructure of where you going to record is also going to cost you money: if you go to an independent person with their own booth, they're going to charge you an engineering fee and an hour of studio time depending on how long you take. They're also going to charge you for final mix and editing, hence I feel that the costs are a little bit more involved versus you walking into a booth with your script, shutting it down and making sure that your agents moved you out.

G.G: That makes sense! Yeah! So, you said you give coaching for new voiceovers, tell us a little bit about that. And how people can reach you?

M.S: Okay but first thank you, because since I reached out to you on Facebook, I’ve been getting quite a lot of requests. And it's quite interesting because people really do have–we have a wealth of talent in South Africa. And that's where Gaelle, I would say budding artists can perhaps spend a little bit of money. Because in that instance you can find somebody with a studio and record a demo and once you've recorded the demo then I can even give you tips and say “edit it in this way, enunciate it this particular way and pronounce this in this particular way” so that when you send the demo off to agencies you stand a better chance in life.

M.S: But from my services, what we do is we run a dual course where over a period of three days we give you the basics and a context of voice work; where it comes from because voice work is everywhere: tv and radio. We now have podcasts which is just ‘shoo’ a whole new thing that has just gone crazy. So, you kind of need to get a context in terms of the lay of the land if I can call it that. So, we do that, and I also try my level best to invite an established artist who can give sound advice such as “hey man, when I was starting out these where the tips I used, even currently these are the tips that I’ve interlinked with a theory if I can call it a theory–you're going to come into the booth and work on your voice clarity, tone and pace and how do you pronounce certain things”.

M.S: It is in everybody's best interest to have a little knowledge in terms of what a sound engineer does apart from the booth. Know what exactly each button means so that eventually when you are established, you have this agency and you've got rapport and you see that you've got a bit of work coming in–a lot of artists now really do record from home establishments. Especially with Covid-19 these days! You walk into the studio and there's a whole lot of spraying that you need to do, there’s a mic and the covering of the mic. I mean you really get up and close with that and you can't voice with a mask on because we really need to hear your voice. But as I said, start out with an agency.

G.G: And I suppose everybody's got a different opinion as well as to what's the best way of doing it, so any aspiring new voiceovers should really do their research and decide on which way they'd rather go. They also should contact as many people and coaches as they can.

M.S: Absolutely and I would also say if you go online and look at who they’re representing and you like “oh these guys are big names” – I'm not saying limit yourself here, these guys are big names and they've got all the big hitters. You have got to use a little bit of logic here because nine times out of ten that's what a client is going to go with. But if you do your research and you're like “okay, number five, six, seven and maybe number eight kind of have artists like myself: young, budding and coming up–maybe I should try them. So, if you have a relationship for example with the Executive Creative Director–because they make the final call-in terms of the voice selections that they want; the four are going to go to established artists and this one I can try out with somebody new, somebody up and coming.

G.G: So tell us how you got there, what's your story?

M.S: So, it was a lot of meandering, I really fell into radio by accident. I was still living in Cape Town then and I worked for Primedia broadcasting in Cape Town. They have KFM and Cape Talk and they still had four big station promotions so I would have to put the instruction sheets together and promos: the things that you hear that the campaign is about and that's where I really learned that production elements include things like promo top and tail.

G.G: Explain top and tail!

M.S: A top and tail for example is when a client is buying a number of promos and they're buying a top and tail, and they're sponsoring the traffic show so at the beginning of the traffic show you will hear "oh this traffic report is brought to you by xyz" whoever the name of the brand is. Right of course! Then you hear the traffic report and at the end of it "that traffic report was brought to you by xyz”–the brand name. So, there was that for two radio stations, the then Highveld ‘yes that's how old I am’ and 702.

M.S: I then moved up to Joburg and worked with a great team at TEDx Soweto and TEDx Johannesburg as a Production Manager and we would have to work with different venues (theatre). We would decide on the best theatre to host the number of people that were required. A huge part of it apart from the logistics would be sitting in with the ECD and listening in on the rehearsals because you can't have cards within to get you ready and you reading out. You have to memorize your entire script to this thing and be able to go. This is because we also broadcast live internationally so there really is no time. If we say that Gaelle is speaking at 11:00 until 11:15 you’ve got to get your ducks in a row.

M.S: Listening in on that also just honed my skills regarding listening in on what the ECD would say to somebody who's nervous: don't be nervous, if you are a very anxious kind of person perhaps just look at one person in the audience and focus on them. And how do you pronounce certain things because some of the guests that we'd invite have got very thick accents. Some of them are academics and they don't have to do this for a living so they kind of write what they want when you pronounce. There was a lot of that and that was a fun process while working with them.

M.S: After leaving them I went through to Power FM as a breakfast show host just when they were starting out with the legendary Tim Modise that was fun. Unbearable that 03:00a.m waking up call time in winter!

G.G: No that's not fun in the winter!

M.S: Exactly and people kind of think that it is easy because you put it together and they just switch on the radio at 6 O’clock in the morning. But there's a lot of churning, there's a lot of confirms of waking up people and pissing them off “Hi, don't forget we're going to speak to you at half-past six”. With that too there's a lot of production evidence, because you must work quite closely with your engineer. Every time after each show there will be show promos that go out. So, you not only listen in on the conversation and drive the actual show with the talent, but you also have to pick up after those three hours on what is a potentially great showpiece moment to advertise your show throughout the day.

M.S: I moved on to being the Problem Management at both Power FM and 702. A lot of that work includes giving feedback to the talent, so you need to listen to the show and sit with producers after every show to give them advice. “I think you could have crafted this in that manner”. “I think when you are being emphatic, and you really are putting your points across (without any editorial interference) this is how I feel that you could deliver this better”. So, your ears must be a bit supersonic because you need to pick up on little things and little nuances that a person who is in their car or home wouldn't hear.

M.S: To date, when I listen to radio nobody who's with me ever wants to sit next to me because they're like “oh my God we don't want to know that there's a problem, you can hear the problem just leave it and keep it moving”. So, the coaching element I think has always been there based on that. It’s been about two and a half odd years now doing coaching and once again thank you for your Facebook shout out because it's gotten quite a lot of new voices wanting to work with me. It's obviously tough based on what we are currently experiencing in the pandemic but it's also quite rewarding to work with new talent that wants to literally get into the building if I can call it that.

G.G: Do you think there's going to be enough opportunities for all those new people who want to come in?

M.S: That’s a difficult question that you're asking me Gaelle, but I think it's going to give us the opportunity to tweak the radio clock a bit thus allowing for opportunities. And I also think that with great innovations such as podcast–there's a whole new world with podcasts and I also feel that there are things like audiobooks. Not everybody wants to sit and read; audiobooks are also just kicking off in South Africa in terms of new voices that can enter the market.

G.G: So, there's definitely something for everyone if you put in the hard work?

M.S: Absolutely, if you put in the hard work, you are optimistic, you know you really love this and you listen to what your coach says then the sky is the limit.

G.G: Thank you very much for joining us and thanks for your advice.

Moleboheng can be reached here:

Facebook/Insta: The Producers Note

Twitter:@masehume LinkedIn: The Producers Note

Tel: +27 63 107 2986

You are welcome to join the Facebook group mentioned in the interview: Mzansi Voice-Over People

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