September 4, 2017

The Secret of Don LaFontaine’s Success

In my last message, I introduced you to Hollywood legend Don LaFontaine. Don reportedly voiced over 5,000 movie trailers. He sometimes recorded as many as 60 spots a week, traveling from session to session in a chauffeured limo.

I don’t know how much Don got paid at the height of his career, but for the sake of argument I’m going to estimate $100,000 per trailer. I based my guess on the typical budgets of the movies he worked on, the relative importance of a trailer, and the pay scale for other positions in the movie biz. Even if I’m way off, I think it’s safe to say that he made many MANY orders of magnitude more than base scale for voice over work.

The question is this:

Why would someone pay $100k for a two minute recording of Don LaFontaine reading?

Especially when you consider that legions of voice-over artists would probably do it for free.

Here are what I think are the top three reasons Don was such a huge success:

1. He Specialized In A High-Profit Area

There are all sorts of voice-over jobs. Podcast introductions, radio commercials, corporate videos, video game cut scenes, movie trailers, and so on. Don specialized on movie trailers. Several benefits accrue from this specialization, but the one I want to highlight here is this:

A movie is a very expensive and risky project backed by a large organization. There’s a lot more money on the line, so writing a six-figure check to hedge the bet makes a lot of sense.

Contrast movies with podcasts. No matter how good he was, I don’t think Don would ever have made millions a year doing podcast intros. The financials just aren’t there to support that level of investment in voice over talent.

2. He Focused On Outcomes

I assume that Don worked on the mechanics of his craft (e.g., how to warm up his voice, mic selection and technique, etc). But the craft wasn’t his focus. His focus was to deliver the outcome that was desired by the people who were paying him big money. Namely, to sell movie tickets.

Certainly there is a baseline of quality that is required to record a compelling voice over for a movie trailer. There might even be a causal relationship between mic technique and tickets sold. But Don clearly understood that no matter how seat-rumblingly sonorous his “Voice of God” might be, if he didn’t sell tickets he wasn’t going to get more work.

In other words, the value isn’t in the input (e.g., amazing voice), it’s in the output (e.g., tickets sold).

3. He Was Unique

From the very beginning of his career, Don LaFontaine was different. He was not interchangeable with other voice actors. He niched down on movie trailers from the start. He had a unique world-view about what he had been hired to do. He went beyond just reading a script and eventually redefined the form.

Sure, he had an amazing voice, but lots of voice actors do.

What made him meaningfully unique to the buyers in his target market was his combination of raw talent, unique world-view, and laser focus on delivering a specific (and extremely valuable) outcome.


You can copy Don to dramatically increase your profits:

Specialize in delivering a very valuable outcome to a specific target market in a way that makes you meaningfully different from all of your competition.

Simple, right? ;-)

I know it’s easier said than done, but that’s the secret right there.