Sometimes, in between eating pizza and naps on the couch, I think of stuff.
One of the things I have increasingly pondered, is the concept of "settling", You know, making the "responsible" decisions in life in lieu of the shallow things like happiness and self actualization.
I have made many responsible "settling" decisions in my life. From taking any job I could find to survive, to not having children for lack of time and resources, and going to college and graduate school based on the hope that I would make a better living. Over time (sadly, too long of a time), I realized increasingly that I regretted making the responsible decisions. When I didn't take risks, I ultimately wound up not getting anywhere for it. The trade offs I imagined (better employment, stowing away money for retirement or to have kids) never came to fruition. The sacrifices were for naught.
So about 5 years ago, my wife and I took a huge risk. We gave up our house, our jobs, our retirement (no big loss, we could never save enough for it anyway), and moved out to the west coast with no jobs and only a dream. Very idealistic. Some would say very stupid. The opposite of settling.
The result? I felt alive for the first time in decades, and I landed a job at a great place with great people. It wasn't exactly the job I wanted, but my environment (literally and figuratively) increased 10 fold. This was a confirmation to the huge wake up call I had.
Fast forward a few years, and I felt myself getting comfortable. This started to bother me, as deep down (though not as deep as it would have been a few years before) I knew that ultimately, this was a bad thing for me. When I feel comfortable, my growth as a human being usually slows or stops. Sometimes, I even start to slide backwards.
So now I am moving on, adding voice acting to my repertoire of strange and esoteric skill set like illustration, bad ukulele playing, medieval history and of course, lame rhyming and puns. I understand I have years and years of learning to attain some semblance of mastery in this new skill. I must come to terms that I will continue to struggle, to crawl forward in my creative development.
And that is as it should be.
We should always keep striving, to keep pushing ourselves forward, and dragging ourselves (sometimes kicking and screaming) to our next big goal. We do this so we can feel the elation of true accomplishment - that extraordinary high where you have stretched beyond what you thought your limits were. You go beyond what you thought possible, and suddenly you hit that magical moment where every pitch is coming at you at once and you just keep hitting them out of the park.
Of course, this elation though is relatively short lived unless one keeps upping the ante, and taking new risks. Despite my fears, I know I feel my best when I know much of what I am doing, but not quite. I need to know that I can fail, that I don't know everything. I bore easily otherwise. This is where the intellectual and creative apathy usually sets in.
I understand. sometimes stretching beyond is hard. Many times our fears and circumstances can prevent us from going full tilt towards our artistic destinies. Time, money and relationships can sap so much from us if we are not careful and guard our time and energy well. We can feel trapped by our responsibilities. And being trapped is one of the worst things that can happen to us, and the brilliant muses dwelling within our souls.
I can say this though. Almost all of us can change the direction of our lives. Maybe not overnight, and maybe only in small increments over time, but it can be done.
Don't have a good computer to work on? Sketch on paper, notebook paper if you have to. Can't afford a great microphone? Get a crappy one. Don't have time to work on your voiceover? Do what you can, when you can. Do it for an hour a day. More on your days off. I you are like me, you need this to feel like a human being.
The key to this is you have to want change. You have want it so much and powerfully that the work is only a secondary thought, a side cart journey as you push onward. You need to look forward to the time in your creative grove. You need to be in love every aspect of it - the art, the marketing, the people you engage and work with.
You have to feel the fire inside you burning like a nuclear furnace as you create. If you don't cackle with unhinged glee to yourself incessantly on your next creative plan you intend to unleash upon the unsuspecting world, you are doing it wrong. You need to be as optimistic as a mad scientist or super-villain - even if that plan doesn't go as planned, you need to pull yourself up and just know the next plan will work. Not like the one before that, or before that this time it will work! ;-)
I sincerely believe to be in the creative arena, one has to have a combination of confidence, vulnerability, and ingenuity reinforced with the ability to selectively forget past mishaps. Come to think of it actually, that also applies to life in general.
You need to believe in your work so much that the effect spreads from your imaginings to your art, with such force of personality that it affects and touches the personality of others as well. This could take a long time, true. But it shouldn't be just about time. When you ask yourself, "How long until my art is recognized? The answer is always "as long as it it needs to"
You may not be able to change the direction of your creative life all at once, but you can steer it incrementally in a new direction if you work hard and long enough.
Be bold. Be Brave. Trust in your ingenuity. Don't give in or up and never settle for half-measures.
Like many people, I sometimes read articles and books on how to succeed in my studies and in my business. Although I have found these sources can at times be useful, I also sometimes roll my eyes when I read them. This is because to me, a fair amount of these sources can seem disingenuous, leading some of us to believe we can simply construct a simple path to success in our endeavors if we just do "A through Z". I think many of us know deep down that for most people, it isn't *quite* that simple.
To learn skills, all people have to go through the trial and error, the "pain" of committing mishaps to help our minds and bodies truly learn. This is however in contrast to what we are sold in many self-help sources and our society, which many times imply successful people don't make mistakes. The result is we tend to stare at these paragons of success with rainbows in our eyes and admire them forlornly, with their natural "talent". Alas, as a result we then see in ourselves pale reflections who could never attain such "talents". The undercurrent in our mind is that if we would try to emulate our heroes, all we'd do is make such horrible mistakes it would be too embarrassing to even attempt it. So why even try?
Well, I submit you should try to attain such skills. Not just try though! I say we should try and fail, try and fail again and again! Fail often and (if you can manage it) fail spectacularly! The bigger you fail, the more you'll learn, and learn quickly. And do it with intensity and with a secret smile. The smile part becomes easier when one realizes our traditional concept of "failure" isn't really failure. It's just rapid learning. Doing is never truly a failure.
The failure is in never trying. never doing. I know this from experience. Not trying is where dreams wither and die, my friend. It's a slow, craven withering of the mind and spirit.
We rarely learn without making mistakes. The greatest lessons are often learned after spectacular failures. People can tell a person again and again how to do something, but it rarely "sticks" until they try and make the accompanying mistakes and experience the stress of failure until we triumph. If one doesn't try, how can the knowledge be truly absorbed?
But you are afraid you say? Afraid of terrible, crushing embarrassment? Understood! I feel for you. I've been there, and sometimes still fall prey to fear.. I was really shy growing up, and it took many years to overcome it, in small, incremental steps. Although I am what many people now would call a "free spirit" I sometimes can still feel that little shy boy in me trying to shut me down. Though not often, it sometimes even gets its way.
So how does one deal with fear? I can only tell you what works for me. Simply put, I acknowledge my fears, understand it's there, an entity inside my skull. This gives me some introspective quality, so I think a bit about my current manifested fears. Most of the time, realize that my fears are just excitement wearing a mask. Unless some event truly puts me in danger, I just sidestep the paralysis of fear because I understand the perception of making mistakes is almost always much worse than making the mistake itself! You don't have to let fear rule you!
Another way to combat fear is by planning ahead. This sometimes works. If done properly, After all, planning and execution can lend confidence. On the other hand, sometimes a jump into what is causing the fear with both feet works well also. I will say, in my experience, I think many times jumping in is preferable. This is because I have found I tend to overplan, to the point where the "plan" just becomes a holding action for my fears, allowing me to whittle down the clock of my dreams and aspirations until it's too late.
By committing completely to a project or skill, many times the fear starts to melt away. If you go all in, you spit in the face of fear and say "come hell or highwater, I'm doing this, with or without you, fear. Are you with me or not? Usually the fearful side realizes that someone is taking control, and acquiesces. Once one commits fully to a project or cause, despite fear of making mistakes, one learns to cultivate and develop a faith in one's own ingenuity, or at least the capacity for it.
What I mean by capacity for ingenuity is that one should acknowledge that the first time you try something different, you may not succeed, at least not entirely. And that is ok! You should force yourself to have faith that you'll figure it out along the way, Let the fear, the jitters register as excitement, as a sign you are alive and trying a new frontier! My experience with fear it that when you encounter it, you are onto something. You are doing something right.
I also urge trying and (most likely) making mistakes in the beginning of your studies and through your career. While I'm not saying to purposely make mistakes (you should always try your best), however, you should just plow forward, and go for it. Feel that strain and stress, because the beginning is a great time to do it!
Why in the beginning? Here's the scoop: Let's face it, there is a huge amount of competition out there. So much so, that it's incredibly hard to get noticed. However, this anonymity is actually a very good thing! Because when one is struggling, not knowing what the heck to do the first months (and to a lesser extent years as you learn more aspects of your craft). you can take big risks in your training and development. Because really, no one cares! That's right! The only one who truly cares is you. And you need to get out of your own way! Think about this: wouldn't you rather get all that unprofessional stuff out of the way now when it matters little, instead of waiting until years later? If you wait later, you'll either be unequipped or feel there is too much at stake to take risks. And when you do make mistakes, it will through you for a loop, and you don't want that to happen years down the line.
So how does risk taking and mistake making translate into voiceover? Glad you asked!
Crack open that audio software! Start playing with mics and plugins, and play with them a lot! Turn up the gain, turn it down, plug things in, see what works and what doesn't. No sound? Move cables around! Read this and watch some of that! If you get feedback in your headphones, you'll learn pretty quickly that wasn't a good idea and find the magic knobs and doohickey's quick. Play with sound effects, music. Edit your own work like crazy! Try to figure out what makes sound punch up more. Figure out how to decrease mouth noise and other ill human sounds like stomach growls. Deal with nearby traffic messing with your noise floor! If you try new things and make mistakes, when you watch instructional videos or read books, I promise you what you try to learn will make more sense when you struggle a bit and learn what the parlance and definitions of what you are trying to do.
Speaking of which, as you read and keep playing, the vocabulary of voiceover will make more sense, Even if it doesn't register at first, don't be shy! Dive into conversations with your more experienced peers. So what if you call what you do "cartoony voices my mom thinks is cool" in the beginning. You'll learn how to say the cool stuff later on. Jump in the conversations, learn, grow. You belong there as much as anyone else and if you are fearless, you'll learn that much quicker than being a wallflower or worse yet not even listening.
Experiment with your voice
Mess with your vocal range. Record it. Do it again and again! Try voices way above and below your common vocal register. Don't think you can sound like a burly man or petite woman or monster or bird? Have you ever seriously tried? Maybe you can, maybe you can't. But you won't find out until you really try! You may find out you can do things you never thought of, and suddenly it'll be a part of your arsenal that at least some of your other voiceover artists can't do, Why? Because *they* never tried and experimented!
You may find you can't do certain voices - but I can predict most likely you'll stumble upon voices and characters that are interesting and unique. Maybe your horrible imitation of Don Lafontaine isn't going to get you the movie trailer gig you wanted, but now you find that horrible imitation translates well to a gritty cowboy voice for your next Audiobook! More experimentation will lead to voice blends, and casts of characters that you can be familiar with and comfortable with when called upon.
To do this of course, you have to try to experiment first, and allow yourself to be *gasp* weird. Don't worry, weird is ok, it's great! Weird may feel uncomfortable, but that uncomfortable is wonderful. Because chances are if you feel strange about doing these silly voices, then many other people do also. And they may not go places you go. This will make you more astute and varied in your skillset. Take note, this isn't just for us animation/video game types. It helps for narration, and even commercials. You can sound like different ages and moods more easily if you experiment often which helps in commercial work. In short, embrace the awkwardness in life!
Get on that social media train, now! Try twitter, pinterest, build that website, get on Youtube! Who cares right now if your website is a hunk of junk that isn't even worthy to flush down the toilet! Explore and keep adding and developing and use that anonymity gift I mentioned earlier. Remember the "no one cares rule" ! Your 7 (or 0!) followers won't know that you messed up. Or if you do mess up with them, no truly big deal - you learned your lesson early on! Now you can be more professional with your next group of followers.
Diving into and acknowledging mistakes, and glorying in the possibility will serve you well.
Because each time you give your experimentation your all, and face your internal "danger zones", you'll benefit greatly. Knowing you may fail, will cultivate a sense of fearlessness and self control. You'll get used to making the leaps of faith in your art and business. I know, it can be difficult if you are shy, but it will become easier the more you do it, and eventually, you can stop being shy (or at least not be crippled by it) and do what you want to do when you want to do it.
To me, it's sad our society in general puts way too much emphasis on the perceived "prize", which implies being perfectly successful from the get go. What many people fail to realize is that success is a process, a journey, and to truly be the best you can be, the path to to such heights is a meandering line of off path turns along the way. We should jump in, and enjoy these off paths. Even better, we should learn, and take the tales of triumph and woe and spin them into our stories we narrate and commercials we help sell.
One of my mottos in life is this: whatever you do or whatever happens to you, if you get a good story out of it, it is usually worth it.
So make those stories, and have fun with your mishaps and triumphs. It's a part of living! So live it!