I am not a trained actor. Besides one acting class in college (and presently about 4 months of Improv training), I'm just a guy pretending to be another dude pretending to be another guy. And yet, for all my seeming rawness, I do have one, perhaps seemingly laughable advantage to academics out there reading this.
I've Dungeon Mastered for over 35 years, and it's really helped me out a lot so far. Why? Because in every game I played, I wrote the storylines, played major and minor characters. The kings, queens, beggars, spies, butchers, constables, orcs, dragons, demons, angels, children, elementals, talking trees, puppies, wind, waves, vampires, and literally thousands of different characters from the past, present and future. Some characters were meticulously crafted, but many were made on the fly when my unruly players did something Not According to Plan (which was 75% of the time, the tricksy things!).
As a Dungeon Master, I had to not only speak but I had to listen, a lot. I had to find out what made the characters (and more importantly, the players behind them), happy, sad, angry, amused, bored, hateful, spiteful, jealous and joyful. I had to learn what buttons to push, and just the right amount of pressure to carrot and stick them into an enjoyable experience.
I had to figure out who, what, why, when, where, and how. Some of our roles at times went beyond slapstick, but that was fine. It helped diffuse the other times when we got serious, sometimes horribly dark in our storylines. We rode emotional highs and lows that would be more exhilarating than a roller coaster ride to us. And we'd have nights in our emotional explorations sometimes where someone would come up with something really profound, such as a battle speech, a vengeful act, a comedic zinger, or a heroic sacrifice. Sometimes it was me, sometimes it was one of my players. Either way, there was a powerful effect weaved upon us, and it would stay with us a long time, and would be whispered or boldly told for years to come.
Ultimately, to be a good Dungeon Master, I viewed my mission is that of a servant of good communication. If done right we serve the players that have chosen to spend at least one evening a week with us. We earnestly attempt to forge bonds of trust and friendship, looking for that mystical spark that is many times missing from our mundane professions and lives. When trust is created, together the DM and Players make something greater. The campaigns become serious acting, a sort of improv that weaves it's way through months, even years.
And that brings me back to voiceover.
In voiceover, one does their best work not when serving just one's self, but when serving the client with the best delivery, the best acting that can be summoned. This can sometimes be through a pressure cooker when one has to make choices, fast choices. Sometimes the choices have to be off the wall, sometimes cut from straight and narrow cloth. No matter the choice, as long as it is the best that can be rendered in service. One has to find out what emotional buttons need to be pushed to keep the clients satisfied, and happy if possible. If one can create a bond of trust and friendship, so much the better.
It is true that I am still at the beginning of a very long process of exploring both the art and business of voiceover. I am going to learn great truths in the months and years that follow.
I've been around long enough to realize such truths are usually simple truths that have to be explored to minutiae to apply them properly.
But I am writing it down here and now. The beginning, for me, is roleplaying games. The kernel. The spark. The big bright sparkling egg from which the dragon hatched. The rest of my training will be fanning that flame, and making it burn brighter and purer in the quest for excellence.
It has been longer than I thought since I updated this blog. I do have a few good reasons however. The first is that I just don't want to update without a good reason. The second is I have been busy on several other voiceover endeavors. To be succinct, I have been auditioning and recording like mad. I am now recording and editing my third audiobook, the Herald of Autumn, which is going quite well. This project will be much of what I will be doing over my holiday break.
Secondly, I have been striving to make sure that I audition every day that I can. Why? When I launched my little voiceover empire, I decided that I must treat auditioning as a daily routine. Primary profession skills and habits should be cultivated from the outset, and must be incorporated into one's life, no matter if one has a busy day in one's day job, or feel like one can't press on through indolence or fear.
Auditioning is an important skill for acting. The most obvious reason is that jobs will not just come to the vast majority of us. We must find them. Secondly, consistency is king in any profession. When we audition, we aren't just auditioning for this job. We are auditioning with and towards future jobs with the client.
As mentioned previously, we must audition constantly to overcome fears and prejudices. We may have fears of being inadequate., a prejudice of slanting towards reading only certain kinds of scripts. We need to audition to learn to speak other people's words with our voices. Auditioning makes us strong that way, through the twists and turns of the tongue and sentences, the long run-on sentences, strange accents and demeanors we have to tap into to make a project work.
Auditions help us rise to the challenge. When one encounters similar scenarios in the future, we've be more ready for them, more able as actors. And worrying about being inadequate? Well, maybe you and I are inadequate, or maybe we aren't. But we won't know until we lay the tracks down and give it a go.
It's important that after we listen, we listen to the auditions again before we send it to the clien. We need to listen and cultivate with a critical ear towards our own work. To try to understand what strengths and weaknesses we have, and what we need to work on.
We may even be lucky to receive critical feedback from our audition, which is extremely helpful. The more we audition, the greater chance we have at landing jobs, establishing clientele and long standing relationships within the voiceover community.
When we are new in a group, we have to many times just jump up and down like crazy to get noticed. Because this is a business also, clients will most likely be hesitant to hire us. But one thing that can help is up showing up again, and again, and again in their auditions. Because then, they know we are at least taking the process seriously. And by sheer attrition (and of course excellent auditioning!), our names will be increasingly burned into their minds. Then someone will give us a chance to prove our worth.
In conclusion, we all have to pay the gatekeepers of our profession, more so in the beginning but truthfully even when our careers become more mature. This is a just and fair process. The benefit for us newer voice talent is that the seemingly slow going process in the beginning gives us time to grow in our art and craft. Later, the auditioning process also keeps us humble even if we should be fortunate to rise enough to make a full time profession of our aspirations.
So hail to the audition! May it continue to help us in all aspects of our acting careers!
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.
Hello and welcome to my little corner of the voiceover world! It's my hope you will visit often, and use this site as a place for tips and resources as it grows into an eventual repository for voice over. And of course, indulge me in a little bit of shameless self-promotion when it's called for! As of the date I write this, my first blog entry, this site is a small and tiny thing, fragile by comparison to many websites. Thus, I haven't really shared it to others, because it's a mostly a skeletal frame of logos and blank spaces. But it won't be for long, I promise!
I am determined to see this site grow, and become something I (and you) will be proud to participate in. I have a ton of ideas and I've been reading and practicing quite a bit, and studying everything I can get my hands on. While I do not yet consider myself an expert, I do think I have acquired enough knowledge to have an informed opinion. And I want to share it with all of you! And since I am still a beginner in many ways. I want to share this process with you. You will be able to read when I triumph, and see when I fail. And make no mistake, I accept failure is huge part of this process. Although I hesitate to use the word "failure" - I instead think of it as more like "lessons learned".
Granted, anything I share here is still no substitute for personal experience. I am however hopeful that knowing that someone has been where you are is a comforting thought. And make no mistake, despite my studies, I am still a beginner in many ways, and am joining this battle at middle age. But you know what I say to that? So what! Let's do this, let's run into the fires of VO war together and give our best and go all in.
Anyone in this business, no matter what is shared and where will still have to do the work and study and gain experience; we all do. Some people may bemoan this part of the process. But I say they shouldn't. There is a joy to hard earned discovery, as well as the satisfaction of a strong day's effort in the acquiring of knowledge for the joy of it. For me (and I hope for you), that feels pretty darn great.
So how did I start getting into this? Well, I'm new to this as a profession, starting the middle of this year. However I've been creating voices and characters for as long as I can remember, not just because I enjoy it, but it's a part of my family tradition. My family has always been a little strange to most "normal" folk - our household was full of the use of humor as important as air or water. We weren't a gag lot - we didn't like hurtful humor. Rather our stock and trade delved into sarcasm, irony and self-deprecating humor. Part of that wonderful tradition was the use of voices and characters in the household. It's how we made each other laugh when things we were in otherwise rough times.
I was a very shy child, and it took me a long time to overcome that. But inch by inch and day by day I slowly discovered I could use my voice to smooth talk myself out of bad situations. Shortly after I found out if I could make people laugh by doing strange character voices or imitations of people famous and local, I might not have to fight the school bully after all, if I could set them at ease and give them a chuckle.
Eventually I grew up, at least physically! But I never stopped with the voices and the imitations and flirted with acting in college. When I left college, I had to try to be a regular, " normal"human being. I tried, really tried, but guess what? I couldn't. It just bubbled out, and I delighted in suppressed laughter by others at (supposedly) inappropriate times.
Eventually, I hit my middle-age crisis, and through circumstance and environment I realized working forever for things and people I didn't like or doing things I didn't love doing would just leave me poor in both my bank account and in spirit. I needed a change, and luckily, my wonderful wife supported me in it. So we moved to the West Coast a few years back. We put it all on the line, and came out here, with no job, nor prospects, we just did it.
After 9 months of scary time in the SF Bay, we got employment at very nice places! We survived, and met kind and caring people that that helped us thrive! I was content in many ways, but still, I was not living an artistic life. This is what we came out here for. The desire to live art kept calling.
The SF Bay is a wonderful place geographically, culturally and artists abound. I increasingly decided the next stage of risk had to come. I had to join the artistic community again, and become part of their reindeer games.
As part of the process of unleashing my creative mindset, the voices started to get louder. And yet, deep down I still think I was that shy kid. How could I do this? Why me? What could I possibly have to offer compared to such skills and talent?
My answer to myself was this: Why not me? I didn't know if I could do it, but I had to find out. And so I started studying voice acting on as serious a level as I could with my time and resources. I have been listening to hundreds of podcasts, reading at least a half dozen books, and have bought a dozen more.
I do something with voiceover at least 2-3 hours a day on weekdays, and 8-10 hours on weekends. It has become in short, an obsession. I can't stop the ideas. I go to sleep thinking about it, and wake up wanting to do more. This is something I remember in my youth, being an artist. When I had my desire submerged for over 20 years (never completely mind you, the impulse was too strong), I despaired. I never could forget. But I wasn't sure if I could bring my dreams to fullness once more.
Now, I have the desire again. And I will not let go. Why? Because being an artist, being a creative makes me feel like I've come home.
Thanks for reading along!