Creative partnerships can take the place of other resources like time and money, and is more than worth its weight in gold.
Artists Starving for Money, Time and Companionship
One of the oddities about being an artistic soul (especially one starting out with little prospects and less money), is slogging through all of the knowledge acquisition, the floundering, and frankly the solitary loneliness of being holed up when we make our art, It is a necessity many times, because devotion to art takes a single-minded concentration when one is in pursuance of personal excellence.
This can be especially daunting if you are short on both time and the funds to get a quality education. If one doesn't have money, if you self educates, it can help make up for the lack of money, but it takes longer to learn. If you have money, but little time, quality coaching and education can give targeted education to efficiently maximize the time you do have. However, if one has neither time nor funds, then the situation is compounded with the fact as artists we are often sequestered like medieval monks in a monastery.
That is the situation I have been in (and truthfully can still be in). But, I have found a few workarounds that have helped me. Maybe they can help you, too.
So how does one get voice over education with little time? Well, first of all, one has to sneak it in bits and pieces. Study and experiment when you can, take notes and send yourself follow up emails or notes, record yourself in the car, learn accents through tutorials, characters, business, etc. Kindle books are incredibly cheap. I listen to low cost or free alternatives like Udemy, Youtube and acting workshops in the car also, as I commute 90-120 minutes a day. Instead of raging at opposing traffic, I work on my French accent, oui?
And yet, this type of self- education has limits. Not just as artists, but human beings, we crave genuine interaction with others. The creativity interaction sparks is interesting and exhilarating. The is especially true when money and time are short, we are slogging through day jobs, keeping our friend and familial relationships afloat and just general living, creative partnerships can keep the spark alive when otherwise it might fizzle.
My Own Creative Partnership Story
Here is how I'm doing it, and it's helping keep the creative fuel going for me and my friends. One of the reasons I want to use my own example is that while the movers and shakers of industry have wonderful stories, while inspiring, they still can seem inaccessible to us boots on the ground folk.
The tale I am going to spin is of a much more humble origin, and didn't take more than time, patience, and a few caring people who wanted to make something fun. A couple years ago, I grew frustrated with the fact that I wanted to learn more about the craft of voice over, but it could cost so much money to get the mentoring I desired, sometimes hundreds of dollars an hour for professional coaching.
Now don't get me wrong. I have actually been able to save for a few sessions like this (or managed to get in on discount with group meetings), and they are well worth it. They are inspiring, and they teach and also confirm and validate such an artistic path is feasible. Well worth it, if you can afford it. Most of the time I (and my friends) can't.
So I had a conundrum. I had no funds, but I couldn't wait around and sit on my hands hoping for lightning to strike me rich.
As a result, I started the SF-Bay-Voice-Acting-Meetup, for anyone interested in joining. ;-) Its purpose is an affordable alternative (and by affordable I mean free) to paying an arm and a leg for educating oneself in voice-over. We meet online once a week 3 times a month on weekends, so we can all stay at home and not slog through traffic or pay fees. And 1x a month we meet in a community center that allows us to use a room for free. Granted, our group is a mixed bag of professionals, semi-pro, enthusiasts, and beginners who learn via books, videos, trial and error from what advice we can get from full-time voice over professionals that we us cobble together voice over and acting coaches, etc.
The important thing is though, because of this group, we continue, we grow, we forge on.
Secret Super Skilled Artists
One of the endearing traits of artists is that we are an intense subspecies of human, most of us tend to dabble in other endeavors, sometimes even going into deep dives and getting skills one would not normally expect.
Still, it's difficult to be good at every artistic and business skill, however. That's why professional business people hire contractors and consultants after all. The cash strapped artist doesn't have such recourse, However, as mentioned above, we often have secret skills.
So together, with our Powers Combined, we became CAPTAIN CREATIVE!!! The Power was OURS!!!
Ok, I go over the top sometimes. Many times. Most of the Time.
My point, however, is this:
If you can find and cultivate a like-minded group of people, and explore your creative and mundane passions, you can unlock great potential from each other.
Meanwhile, back at the Meetup....
So let's progress the story in more detail.
After a time of many Meetups and dinners, and nights of coaching each other and listening and learning about script analysis, characterization, narration, e-learning, and each other's spouses, hopes and dreams, I sensed among myself and others that we should be doing more beyond just acting practice. We were topping off in some ways. After all, where do we go from there? So I created a series of meetings where we discussed goals and just made ourselves available for brainstorming.
Shortly thereafter from these meetings, one of the co-leads of my Meetup group (Ashley Hansen-Benson, an excellent voice-over artist, if I do say so myself) came upon an interesting idea of having live comic book narration, with comic slides and music and fx. It was like combing radio theatre with comic book geekiness. And out of this, VoXomics was born.
It took off in our collective minds like crazy, like we were starving for it. At last, using our skills for collaboration and seeing people's smiling faces! What could get better? Next thing we know, this tiny project had a professional website and software developed (1 of our group is a social media maven, the other a software engineer), as well as a professional logo (from yours truly), and sales and direction (from Ashley). It sprung up quickly, more quickly than one person could possibly do, and with more of a long burning fervor, as we quietly held each other accountable and energized for the next step.
Through all of this, we've learned skills we didn't have before, through each other and also through experimentation. Of marketing and making relationships with each other and our clients. Of teamwork. Of sheer grit and learning that someone saying "no" is ok. Of learning someone else might say "yes". We already had won in the creative lottery before one person took a seat at one of our live shows.
Among this group. I am promoting the idea we each, in turn help each other likewise in other endeavors in the future, Together, despite our handicaps, we might still yet make this passion of art and business and voice work for all of us. When we can draw upon the skills of others and they can draw upon you, suddenly time and money are not such a barrier to fulfilling one's creative destiny.
I am finding the old adage that the sum is greater than its parts holds quite true. I hope that with your creative endeavors, you will do likewise and see how working with others can enrich your creativity as well.
I have been thinking about it for sometime, and I decided to create a Meetup group for local voiceover artists to get together, collaborate, and have some fun in the SF Bay area.
I did this, because I think there is a need for a group of this type in my area. I am lucky in a sense due to geography and culture. The SF Bay area is rife with artists and creative types, and I think this is an excellent place to build from. And yet from what I see, the voiceover community seems scattered, at least for the beginning and intermediate artists building towards true professionalism.
To be honest, there are several very good voiceover institutions and organizations in the area, but they can cost a fair amount to get into, or are built for those with greater resources, as well as predominantly in San Francisco. Meetings for the organizations are at hard to hard to reach times. Slogging through both San Jose and San Francisco traffic during the weekday afternoons? Pretty difficult especially when one is still a wage slave. This leaves folks like me pining for artistic companionship and support.
While this group I am forming cannot and does not hope to compete with these finer institutions for quality, that is not the point. I wanted to create an information and social hub, a place where people could talk about our niche group, learn some interesting information and guidance, as well as just have a good bite to eat and shoot the breeze.
To clarify more, a good reason to have this group is simply pointing people in the right direction for those who are interested in more academic pursuits of honing their craft. Acting lessons, music lessons, improv are all instrumental to the learning process of what we do. They are are part of what we need to grow, and while we will use all of these tools in this group, there will always be better resources in that regard If coaches are interested in joining I would love to have people meet them, and use this group as a feeder for greater business and student opportunities.
Still we can maybe offer something more. I want this group to be a place where people who know or at least want to know about what its like stepping up to the mic, understand the trials and tribulations of editing, and casting. A place of free exchange of thoughts and creativity where people looking to develop relationships with voiceovers can join and visit. Animators, and audio engineers, feel free to join, and we can pool our resources for collaborative projects together and bring more opportunity to all!
If you are interested, please check us out at http://www.meetup.com/SF-Bay-Voice-Acting-Meetup/
Talk to me long enough, and you’ll find out I’m a shameless quirky weird geek. Perhaps my only saving grace (and one that gives me social skills beyond my odd little click of associates) is that I know this, and I mercilessly poke fun of myself whilst I do the same for the world around me. I delight in the world’s seeming oddities, and spare nothing (not even my sense of dignity and pride) to bring out a laugh or spark some form of delight with others through writing, debate, voiceover or illustration. Because I adore the strange and the odd, I can’t help but smile at an interesting animal, imitate a strange voice or accent, or be inspired by a mountain vista or drink in the sound of ocean waves lapping on the shore.
Hey there! So this is just an update on my little VO biz. I haven't wrote in a while, so thought it would be a good time to let folks know what is going on! In short, I have been learning (reading books, listening to and practicing lessons from luminaries such as Pat Fraley), and of course, creating audiobooks! I also have dabbled in e-learning and even cut a few voiceover tracks for a progressive Dutch Rock band called the Aurora Project. I am, in short, constantly busy, and have a backlog of projects. I just started on my new audiobook project, On the Matter of the Red Hand.
Through this all, I've enjoyed each and every project I have been fortunate to work on. I have even learned to embrace the audition process, and even though I haven't been fortunate to pick up any commercial projects (I seem to be continually growing towards more narration and possibly animation projects in the future, which is what I love anyways), I have enjoyed attempting the process to the best of my ability.
My next goals are to refine more. I'll soon be adding more animation/video game demos (all those auditions really help in developing the tools necessary to pursue that further), and also expanding my social media presence more. I have learned one of these well (Twitter), but I have expanded my base to close to a couple thousand followers, so I may dust of the YouTube account and start adding content there too.
The thing is, and I'm sure people know this, it's a never ending, always learning process. You learn one thing well, and find five more things you can shore up and develop. What skills are up to snuff? What can get better (well, you can always get better, right)? How about networking? What is the plan? And what resources do you have to implement it?
For me, being at this only part time, presents challenges. On the one hand, I have a day job, so I'm not starving to death. On the other hand, I lack time, except in late evenings and weekends. I have to keep working on being very smart with my time. And I also have to learn the business more, and brush up on business skills (which was not historically my strong suit) Like many artists, I am more suited to being a creator than a small business owner. Alas, I need a patron! Where are the medieval kings of old?
It's one of the reasons I have been reading books on social media and time management and business as much (and sometimes more) than voiceover books. Creating for me (be it in voiceover or illustration or music) is relatively easy by comparison. But managing myself as a business with specific goals, marketing, accounting? A challenge. But I need to, and in some weird way, it's kind of fun.
Learning such skills may not be what we aspire to initially, but there is a thrill to learning things that we have a trepidation to, and find we can do them after all. It's very liberating!. Not that someday I wouldn't love to delegate some of these tasks to allow me to make more creative content! And yet by learning business skills, we are shown an excellent way of learning discipline. Also, if you learn how to do these things for yourself, even when you delegate you'll learn at least 2 valuable skills.. First, you'll learn empathy for those that help you, and secondly, you'll be much better equipped to know if the people you hire are truly helping and are good, honest and ethical in their dealings with you.
So these are my present challenges. At first it was setting up, then navigating, then finding work, any work. Then it becomes finding finding work that will grow and sustain a lifestyle until it becomes less a hobby that is treated like a business and becomes a business. And growing a network of fellow professionals that I can prove myself to and grow relationships with. And of course. seeking more guidance and honing my skills on a shoestring budget and squeezing formal training between projects. That is where I am now. I understand how things work, to an extent. But the next few years will be very telling. If I do it right, it will be incredibly gratifying. If not, well, it's just a little roadblock. I'll get there.
What about you? How far along are you? How is it going?
Within every person there are many personas. I think indeed that we as humans aren't really one person, but rather a composite of personalities, each with their own agendas, vying for attention, sometimes working with each other but other times at odds.
Through circumstance (by being joined in one brain and body) we can this be engaged in a messy affair of trade-offs, sacrifices and sometimes even outright wars and rebellions within ourselves.
This is in part because at times it feels as if the roles placed upon us give us little choice - father, mother, employee, son, daughter, sibling, as well as constrictions of gender, age, race, social status, religion and nationality, All these roles carry a certain weight and responsibility that we drag around daily. Add the alchemists brew of emotions that we have to contend with that color or intellectual lens - love, hate, jealousy, fear, curiosity, and more.- It's no wonder we are being pulled in different directions from the inside out.
It is important however to understand that our inner squabbles are natural and even engender a healthy cathartic from the strain; It lends a beautiful dynamic.to our humanity, On the other hand, we want this tension to propel us through greater creativity, and we must learn to cultivate teaching the various factions of our self to get out of each others way when appropriate. We should if we want to get anything meaningful, to consistently work toward shepherding ourselves to a greater industry, not a lesser indolence. Our playfulness that allows us to create has to roam into more fun pastures, yes, but we are also business people. We have also face deadlines, for better or worse. When I think about it though, deadlines are usually a creative galvanizing machine. Fretting away days with no consequence usually gets little finished.
Our creativity I believe is tied to the parts within us, We have all of these sometimes disparate thoughts and emotions, being tied together by mere threads of our moral fiber and work ethic. In the more contemplative times of our days and nights, we wonder at what we have been, are, and will be. Since the creators within us are storytellers (be it through acting, or painting or music) we strive to convey our stories, or even the stories of others with our own personal stamp on them. We do this be chronicling these stories in word, brush, voice or dance. In our stories, we assume aspects of ourselves even when we are playing other characters,
Somehow, as artists, we are striving mightily by projecting aspects of our personality into the world outside ourselves to make the jump from mere artifice into something that is "real". This "realness" is validated when our personal work touches the hearts and minds of others with our creations. If successful, we make an emotional and intellectual connection, and we truly feel an understanding between people, and they can understand us. , between artist and their patrons. It this understanding leads to an empathy for all parties involved..
We reach out too, because even with all our aspects within ourselves, it it still a solitary and sometimes lonely place of psychic echoes in a great hall.. We know deep down no matter how differentiated, our personality aspects know each other quite well. A fair amount of introspection within ourselves reveals their parlour tricks to each other. Thus, reaching out of ourselves into the world around us provides a catalyst for creative growth and outreach. Our personal dreams and philosophies can and should be sent out to resonate with others in some way or fashion,. At it's basic level, it doesn't always matter, that it well received or not. The message from artist to viewer/listener just needs to be received.
I do believe most artists of course want their work to be well received and validated, since the most powerful works of art are part of the person that created and shaped them. Validating our work validates us to our community. Validation is important to both the artist and the patron. An artist feels the admiration of others, and the patron feels like they are witnessing something, an in some way is charged emotionally by it. In this way, they become a part of it, a part of the arts personality, and the artistic experience that is shared between the artist and their viewers (even with each other). In such a way, all our personas (both internal and external, the artists inside and the viewers outside), get to briefly join in the abundance of the creative experience.
In the end, it's not just healthy to acknowledge these aspects of our personas, it's our responsibility to show our various aspects to the world, to show ourselves at our greatest and most sublime abilities. To show ourselves as the multi-faceted humans that we are, and to validate and acknowledge that same humanity in others.
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!
On Saturday (Jan 23rd), I attended my first voiceover seminar through the yearly San Francisco Sketchfest that is held for 2 weeks every year in January. As a bit of an aside, I have been to this festival almost every year since I moved to San Jose 5 years ago. I would heartily recommend attending it if you are anywhere nearby, doubly so if you are an actor or comedian. From a practicality standpoint, the hours of the events are evenings and weekends, with prices that fit nearly every budget and schedule.
Although I wanted to go to several events this year (the other most important to me would have been the cast of Futurama), I had a choice to make. I could only go to one event because of budgetary and time constraints.
I chose Rob Paulsen's Voiceover Seminar. Why this over others, you may ask?
I chose his seminar because after listening to his Talkin Toons podcast (my review of which can be found here), I felt I had a sense of the man and his methods, since he has spoken at times about his teaching methods.
I admired him for his growth as an artist, and his willingness to try new methods in both his craft and business. He was, and is a very busy working voice actor, in the field that I would like branch out to (animation and video games). The portfolio of his work is astounding, well chosen and well rounded. His voice is on my side of the spectrum (we're both tenors in voice range).
I also like that a little bit of Mr. Paulsen bleeds through what he does in much of his voice work. He exudes a gentle snarkiness that makes you comfortable. At the same time you get the sense he chooses to use his considerable vocal and mental elasticity for good, not evil. Kinda like a badass jedi that when you see his lightsaber work, you're glad he's on your side. I have a feeling that like a fine tuned comedian, one doesn't want to get on the wrong side of an argument with him. It would be like trying to use a knife against an a-bomb.
Another reason I chose Mr. Paulsen is I wanted something more personal. I thought one celebrity instead of several in one venue would mean potentially less people trying to vie for his time. I wanted, if possible get his input on A) whether what I was doing was viable and B) to see if my own working methods, how I craft characters were similar to his, and if not, possibly modify what I was doing.
There is a danger of course, to meeting those one adulates. More so, this was my first seminar, so it had the potential for ongoing miscarriage if I happened to observe Rob striding in with his posse petulantly demanding the double-mint cherry froyo instead of the mint froyo and snapping his fingers at everyone to fix his celebrity woes quick-quick. I would have to try to slink off with my twitching eye and try not to retch while my working class psyche would be wrestling in inner turmoil whether jail time would be worth my forthcoming outburst.
My concerns were luckily and brilliantly allayed. Mr. Paulsen was nothing but kind, humorous, communicative and gracious to his audience. He answered everyone's questions with candor and attentiveness, and readily talked with people personally and in small crowds back and forth. My sense (and the sense of others in attendance I spoke with later) spoke of how genuine and pleasant he was.
His demeanor gave the sense that he was speaking to you like an old friend. He did this to everyone he met, gave this sense of genuine encouragement, concern and reality. He wasn't there to sell anything. His genuineness is a powerful trait. More so, since at times we looked and acted a bit like the crowd from the Mos Eisley Cantina. But kindly, he spoke with a common adulation to his audience and fans.
In the end, he was a bit like Springsteen in the 1970's - he practically had to be dragged away from his admirers by his driver to catch his flight. It was as if he liked us as much as we liked him.
That my friends, is beyond cool. I say this - even though Mr. Paulsen rocks the cool black cowboy boots he wears, that couture cannot come close to match the sense of kind belonging he exuded to us. People will be back to see him, for sure. People might come for the voice, but they'll show back up for the person.
I got around 15 minutes of his time between breaks, but I wasn't the only one. He took the time to talk to everyone that wanted his attention. I had the feeling he would have stayed later if he could. Even so, he was there early to talk to his fans, and he stayed an hour later after his seminar speaking with people. This was after he spoke for over 4 continuous hours. People (myself included) wouldn't leave the man alone.
As for his seminar, while it was entertaining (just through the sheer force of his personality and humorous demeanor), it was also very informative. About half of it was his personal story, his experiences, peppered with some light Q&A, while the other half (actually more than half considering he stayed so long afterwards) was heavy Q&A, where he answered everything people threw his way.
This included (but not limited to)
- his own personal approach to preparing for a role,
- vocal care,
- how a session works,
- how the paradigm has changed and his views on it,
- how he has learned from others,
- how to generate original characters through pitch, vocal location, cadence and accents and physicality,
- a lot more.
- He gave thorough examples on the nuts and bolts of his techniques.
Personally, I knew most of what he spoke of. His Talkin' Toons has most of the content of his seminar. Then again you'd have to listen to the whole podcast (which I recommend BTW) to get this high octane version in just half a day.
That wasn't the true value for me, although the value would have been wonderful for those not familiar his podcasts. The true value was being able to engage with him both as an audience member and for him to give us a bit of light mentoring when he spoke directly to us on breaks or Q&A.
When I heard how he works in voiceover, I smiled knowingly and was nodding readily. He affirmed that what I do ( the mocking and emulation of people, doing voices and accents when I'm alone spontaneously, the constant play I somehow can't stop doing since I was a kid) was the right thing to do. I wasn't crazy after all! Ok, maybe I am crazy. However, there is a niche for people like me. And it's not necessarily in the local asylum. Some people even get paid for it!
The other value I found in attending this seminar was the people in the audience. Seeing 75 or 100 people so stoked, so intense on this aspect of voice over was validating in itself. Hearing their intelligent and heartfelt questions, and talking to some of them (in between our merciless after event peppering of Mr. Paulsen) was enlightening. People from all walks of life - actors, comedians, engineers (this is Silicon Valley, after all), all were there because they have these delightful little demons forcing these characters and voices out of them, and god help us, it's ok! We were all at different skill levels, ages, genders and backgrounds. And that was what was so spectacular for me. The diversity of our experiences bound by the commonality of our humanity.
I thank Mr. Paulsen for being such a gentle guide of my first voiceover seminar. I will now go on to other seminars and more education, much more readily since this was such a rich and dynamic experience. And even if I have less than stellar teachers and coaches in the future, at least I'll know one of them, my first, was wonderful. And that will be the fuel to keep me seeking other's of Mr. Paulsen's caliber going forward.
As I keep moving through the span of my life (more and more with the velocity of a hurtling star, it seems), I have been thinking about where I am, what I have to do, and why I need to do it. Although dwelling on such things can lead to being maudlin, it still helps once in a while to take stock of one's advantages and disadvantages.
One trait that can be seen as a disadvantage is being older (i.e. over 30, in my case 17 years past that). Being older, especially in a society that worships youth, can frankly be intimidating. Younger people seem faster, brighter, and don't have the dings, dents and flabby/saggy skin that an older person does.
A younger person to an older person is a creature full of life, hope, and beauty. Seeing a young person gives me pause. On the one hand, I'm a bit jealous, seeing their lives all before them, their great potential. On the other hand, I really hope they break the mold succeed. I really hope that they don't fall into the pitfalls of the previous generations quite as much. I hope they remain helpful and hopeful, and not succumb to greed and jadedness. That they make the world better for their sons and daughters.
So where does it leave the older gently used (or not so gently used) folks left in the wake of the youthful horde? How can us crotchety folks possibly hope to compete?
Take heart, there is hope! I will tell you why!
Older people have experience in life.
One of the things about being older is we've seen and heard things younger people may not have yet. We know the spirit of the times from a generation or two ago. We can do imitations of older characters and roles more easily because actually saw them. And some people may not know of these characters, and if they do know, what was once hack is now classic VO gold, baby.
Older people know how precious time is.
That old saying "Youth is wasted on the young" does hold some truth to it. Many people that are younger don't quite understand the fragility and preciousness of life. They may not have seen loved one's die yet, and if they do, it's usually older people, not your friends and siblings, and usually not in the number that people who watch the years pass by.
This can spur an older person with much more focus. An older person may know how to better manage their time, because they're had to wrestle with balancing work, love and homelife. In the end an older person understands more about their mortality. This is morbid, but a truism.
Older people understand true gifts of work and friendship.
As we move about this planet through our lives, many of us gain the wisdom to know that some things come very rarely, or only once. Someone with less time on the planet may not understand that. An older person can thus be more daring because when they see an opportunity, they may be more prone to grab for it. I had a bit of this issue when I was younger. I didn't understand personal or professional opportunities like I do now.
I understand increasingly that life, both on a personal and professional level is about forming and building relationships. It's about establishing bonds of trust and friendship that will carry you (and the people you live or work with) for a sustained time, and to the next level.
Older people have been young; they understand.
Being older, we can play younger. They was a time that we were younger. and we remember how a younger person feels, a bundle of raw emotions, energy, pride and insecurities about their place in the world. A young person brazenly tries to plow through with unbridled ambition in their attempts to shape rule the next world.
We've also been around long enough to see how people our age have or are becoming, including ourselves. We've watched our parents succumb to age and frailty. We've known all these things. These true human experiences shapes us, adds nuance to us. If we are aware, we can add value to people younger than us by being mentors. And if we pay attention, younger people can pull us out, lend us their enthusiasm to our work.
I do want to note that this is a truism, but not absolute. Some people who are young have seen and lived through experiences by the time they are 20 that most people haven't seen. Some people it is true are "old souls" wandering around in their tight skinned shells until their bodies catch up with them. Most of us are in-between.
But in the final analysis, I still feel that for some people (me included), coming into a career choice later in life can provide some advantages over attempting it beforehand. So listen on all you young whippersnappers.
All you older folks, just give a bit of a wise smile at the younger peeps, like you know something (even if you don't).
As I continue down my humble journey of voiceover and narration, I'm discovering that I sometimes to use some voices over again. But to me, they seem to be like actors in my head with their own personalities. For instance, I noticed in one of my first book narrations, "Forneus Corson", the "actor" that played "Artie, Steve's agent" is now a tough owner of the Blue Aster, a high class entertainment venue in 1940's NYC. They are very different characters, but the same voices filtered through their circumstance.
I have other voices that walk on different books too. Some that only had supporting roles are the leads, and vice versa. Perhaps it is part of my illustration background, but I can see these people. I increasingly know how tall they are, the color of their eyes, their age, how they are wearing their hair for the parts I play.
I know that the "actor" who played Artie isn't handsome, but he's an actor who's done hundreds of character parts, and is well respected amongst his peers. Other characters may have been action heroes, but are now coming into their own as versatile actors now that they are ensconced in middle age. Some of the women may have been classically trained in theater, others are just human eye candy. The little boy I may play is an acting prodigy. He comes from a home though that is cold and unloving.
Voiceover keeps giving back to me in other ways too. I actually want to illustrate these characters, and goodness knows, if I ever get the time, to set chapters to music and sound effects. Someday I think, when I get pockets of time, I'll do this, even if for myself.
I have a tendency to fall in love with the characters I act, be they ones I create, or ones that have been created for me by the authors. I love them all, I feel for them. The heroes, villains and all those in between.
As my experience and confidence has grown, I really believe that what I have been doing all these previous years has led to this. The art, the non-art, just living has forged me into something that can give and do these characters that the authors have entrusted me justice. If a character cries in a book, I cry too, genuinely. Because living on this planet, if one pays attention has known great amounts of love, joy and loss. When I channel these emotions into the characters I play, some slice of me goes into them, and I can feel them, and I become a part of them, and they me.
Over time, I look forward to working with these "actors" in my mind. Be it in reprisals in sequels, or in new roles. I really look at them in my mind's eye, and want to see what they can do. Yes, the character that sounds a bit like Clint Eastwood, he's played a secret agent, but can he play a half-drunk investigative reporter? Can he play a timid man from Iowa? Can the woman I voiced, who was the sweet love interest in one book, can she also play a stern ice goddess from the frozen north? Yes, she can speak in standard north american accent, but she also now has to speak with a thick Russian one. The list goes on and on. I'm really excited for them.
I'm not just their voice, I'm also a gushing fan.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll have to indulge in my happy realm of latent schizophrenia. I hope you'll continue to listen in.