Although I would not consider myself a trained musician, I do admit I have played guitar and ukulele for quite some time. As a result, every once in awhile someone will ask me how to get started on guitar. I always caution them to never buy an expensive guitar. I advise a lower end brand, for several reasons. One reason is that when starting on a new skill, especially in the arts, one never knows if that person will stick with it. A $100.00 guitar will serve equally as well as a $1000.00 dollar one for purposes of learning. Why spend a ton of money on something that may collect dust? Also, truth be told, that person will sound equally as good with a high or low end instrument. That is to say, they will sound like a grouchy puma trying to cough up a hairball while scraping their claws on a chalkboard.
Also, I strongly believe there is an inherent merit to using a lower end, and even somewhat awful instrument. Through the use of a mediocre guitar, eventually the student will have to come to terms that it is their skill that does most of the heavy lifting to sound good. One needs to be adaptable and learn to deal with curves thrown down the way. For instance, if the strings are too far away (that is to say, the action), one has to cope by pressing harder and with more authority with one's fretting hand. That is a reason I recommend that even if one wants to eventually play electric guitar, that they start on an acoustic. The stronger hands will allow the person to play both instruments rather than just one, as well as one can't hide behind the sound effects that electric guitars can provide. And so their craftsmanship is improved.
The same goes for painting and illustration (which I know much more of). An understanding of color theory, anatomy, perspective, composition are all valuable tools, even if one decides to become an abstract expressionist. A thorough understanding of the basics count in both music and the visual arts.
What does this have to do with voiceover? You guessed it, everything. Although someday I sincerely hope to obtain all the coveted doo dads (a proper home studio, better software, hardware, and of course coaching and training), I am for now satisfied that I have had to start at the bottom of the hill before I move up. Since I have had to start at a bit of a disadvantage, I have been forced to learn new and unexpected skills. I have had to learn how to edit my audio files and make them sound clean, and understand how to soundproof my tiny closet studio. I've had to learn how to work a mic both near, far and side to side. I've had to write most of the copy for my demos, to do all the social media. how to create and edit videos and a make website. Did I also mention how to write up an invoice and a legal agreement? This list goes on and on, and also continues to expand as I learn more.
While daunting at times, this process has been energizing and enabling.
The slow steps I've had to take just to get from there to here (and I'm at the very beginning of my career), has given me an understanding of just how much work goes into this job.
It makes me understand just how fortunate I am when I get in the booth and get to announce, narrate and act. After this start, if I ever in the future should be fortunate enough to be able to hire an assistant and agent to help me, I will be thoroughly grateful.
Conversely, I also will know if they aren't doing their job, since I once did it in their stead and have an understanding of the time it takes.
So in the end, it is all good. As a little nod to the Thanksgiving season, be grateful for where you are in your career, how you started, and where you are going.
The hard times, the difficulties, will just make you stronger as a voiceover actor as well as a business person, and if you are lucky a human being.
So last week was more or less finishing off my first demos (will they ever truly be done?).
I do believe they are polished to the best of my current skills, enough to begin my climb into getting work at Fiverr, and eventually Voices.com. Not to sell my work short, but I believe that my initial work will come from Fiverr. It will be low paying relative to the pay scale of Voices.com, but it will be steady and allow me to pursue my goal of getting much more real experience, and also to put away money for better equipment and more lessons. This will be much of my money for the foreseeable future, perhaps several years. I will also be pursuing gigs on Voices.com, and I want to work on establishing a beachhead there, also. If I eventually reach the desired level and density, I will then switch to Voices.com and other pay to play sites as a more primary source of income.
I have heard the hue and cry of not selling myself on Fiverr. I agree with their arguments, which is that it sells myself short, and I will be taken advantage of with low paying gigs. And yet, if the audition ratio at Voices.com is 100 to 1 gig, I'll never make any money because I couldn't achieve the density to get gigs and buy more training and equipment. I know this, but I really don't have a choice. We'll see how the experience goes, and I'll keep an open mind anyways. I may just as soon stop Fiverr. We'll see!
So, both my audio books are out. I am very proud of them, these books. A few hundred hours went into their development. I am marketing the heck out of them on Facebook, this website, twitter, and Soundcloud. I've contacted reviewers. I have free coupons. I've contacted friends and family. And no one is listening, and I have no one following, no one really seems to care. This should make me very upset. It does, a little. However, it really doesn't.
And I'll tell you why. Because I truly believe that this is a calling of mine, a rediscovered part of me that needs to be brought out. I want to share my voice and characters with the world. I think I can give something of my art and expressiveness. It's just being drowned in the clash and din of the VO world, and the competitiveness of life also. I am also learning. To develop an art and craft takes time. While I think my efforts are very good ones for first and second (really simultaneous efforts), I also know I will keep getting better. So I know, it's nothing personal, and not necessarily an indictment on my art, which I believe in both now and my growing skill set.
I have to realize I'm paying now for future results. I need to get my words out there, and I need to do it a lot. After that I need to do it more. I need to finish my all my basic demos (which are almost there) to the best of my ability, and then showcase those abilities.
I'm also not bitter because I have learned so much in the last 6 months, and I'm motivated every day to do more and more! I wake up thinking about VO and go to bed thinking about it. I still take the time to go out and enjoy life in a balanced manner, but I don't sleep 10 hours a day because now I have something to get up for. I get to play characters and voice peoples dreams in the products they have created. I get to act and sing and be an artist! I am grateful for the chance to do this, money or not, listeners or not.
I understand I do want to make a living from this, someday, and the sooner the better. But it's not just about money except that if I can do this, I can do this on a full time basis which allows me to create more. So this downtime in the final analysis is a gift. I can continue to learn and develop, and learn more in my art, my business and marketing skills and get to know cool people in the process.
And I am writing this down, because I truly believe that I will be a success in this field. And I want to remember this. And if anyone reads this in the future, I want them to see that this is a long road. I have put probably 600-700 hours into this endeavor in the last 6 months (learning how to use software, voicing and producing 2 audiobooks, creating many individual tracks, listening to at least 200 hours of podcasts and videos, reading, networking, creating my own website, learning social media, taking improv classes).
And still: I am just barely off the ground! I am like a newborn, just wiggling his legs and opening his eyes. This is what many of you will have to do. For some it may be easier, if you are a trained actor with connections and do good work. For others it may be harder.
But always, ALWAYS assume it will be harder. This is a marathon, not a footrace. You must be able to take punches, and learn to love the process. You must shrug it off, laugh, and do it again and again because you believe it's just a matter of time.
You have friends and fans of your work. They just don't know it yet.
It's up to you to let them know.
At last, things have really been coming together! It's only been since May, but it has been a long trudge. In Six months I have learned how to use a mic, edit files, setup my closet and soundproof. Work on my range and vocal ability. I have been through an improv class and I'm now in an improv group. I've cut dozens of practice tracks, listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts (2 hours every day to work!), done vocal exercises in the car, read at least 5 books voiceover, and narrated (and edited) 2 full sized books (65K and 95K words), and built my website, opened Facebook, Twitter, Google Business and Soundcloud and YouTube. Fiveer and Voices.com accounts will be following shortly. And now I made my first 3 demos (Commercial, PSA, and Narration) and I'm working on my character demos. This all seemed to happen in a few weeks, but it's been a ton of research and learning and it just came to fruition the last week or so.
Not that I don't have a lot more to do! More website development, learning how to edit video, getting a following and marketing, get gigs to pay for better training and equipment. Learning how to make (and eventually get produced) professional demos) All this while having 45 hours a week +2 hour commutes to work.
I love this stuff though. I want this so badly, I want to be a part of this creative process. And now, being late into the game, I feel a great sense of urgency. And I have plans. And I really want to be more in charge of my own destiny (i.e. have my own business), because I finally got it through my head that no business is going to protect me and my family, no matter how much I work and give. Now I give to myself and family. I invest and believe in us. This risk is worth it. No more plan B's. Just Plan A's to the utmost. Which I have been doing for 6 months.
The human mind is a morphic entity. One of its interesting abilities is the ability of believing in things that fly in the face of statistical logic and what many would say is real. While having the ability to distinguish fact from fiction is a highly useful tool, so is the ability to believe, to conjure up dreams and make them real.
This is one of the reasons that propaganda works so well on the mind. If a message is delivered with conviction and repetition, the human psyche often accedes. Especially if the propaganda if accepted by a mind that is already conditioned or agrees with the message delivered.
While the negative consequences of propaganda are well documented through an examination of religious and nationalistic policies from past history and present global politics, the ability to use such techniques on oneself and others can also be used for kinder, gentler purposes. Marketing is a form of propaganda, though in (hopefully) less antagonistic and brutal methodology.
To to what we do, we do need to apply some of these techniques to ourselves.
We need to market and pitch what we are doing in such a way that we believe it with conviction and confidence. In the beginning we need to do this constantly until we "buy-in" to ourselves. In short, we need to be our own best friend and cheerleader for ourselves, the home team. This has to become second nature, with no hesitation. Repeat until you know what you are, what you do, how to do it and how to present it to a client.
This is a competitive business. Many people are in the fray, and grabbing for the ring. It's a VO stampede! It's so crowded, that many people give up after several months, especially when faced with the growing realization just how much time, effort, networking, marketing, hardware and software upgrades and overall education it takes to truly succeed in such a niche field and artform.
This is why in the face of logic, we need to keep dreaming and making our minds strong with conviction. We need to make our voice over part of what we are to our core until it's second nature. Not just speaking into a microphone, but also acting, self-promotion and business efforts too. This isn't a job for the shy. You should be trying to have people like and hear you constantly.
This is hard to implement, especially for those that have been told humbleness is a virtue.
Yes, being humble is a virtue. But understand that you can be humble and confident at once. Many people get confused between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is knowing what you are doing and knowing you have a service to provide others. Arrogance is thinking you know more than others and others owe you something.
This last statement is key. One of the things we should think of, to keep ourselves humble is that our self belief is ultimately armor to help ourselves serve clients. We need to believe in ourselves so clients can believe in us. If the client believes in us, it allows us to help the client. If we are allowed to help the client, then we can help their customers believe in them and their message. It's an ever widening ripple effect.
Most businesses, no matter how seemingly cold, are at their heart stories about relationships. And voiceover is especially about relationships. We specialize in conversation, in storytelling, in making notions into dreams, dreams into reality for ourselves and ultimately for our customers.
This is why at the heart of it all, we need to self-indoctrinate, and promote to ourselves first. We need to believe in what we say more strongly than anyone else. When we work a gig, we need to show palpable confidence and humbleness at the same time. We do this so through our sense of self we can then allow ourselves to inhabit the dreams and messages of others and infuse those messages with life and character of their own. And that ultimately begins inside us.