Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sometimes, Silence is Not Golden...

Eight years ago, I came down with a very serious case of laryngitis. It was after a six hour session voicing a seven year old boy followed by a way-too-late evening out with friends. I was told by my doctor to be completely silent for two weeks...which put my radio job and voice over career in jeopardy.

Needless to say, eight years ago I learned a very, very, VERY valuable lesson! Since then, I've always treated my voice with the utmost kindness. I never yell (unless it's during a recording session), not even at sporting events. I drink tons of fluids, and I warm up properly before sessions.

However, despite my mildly obsessive ways, Mr. Laryngitis came calling this week for only the second time in my career.

Don't get me wrong, I've had a hoarse voice before- particularly after long sessions...but there is a difference between being hoarse, being vocally tired, and having laryngitis. Laryngitis is when your vocal chords swell causing the air to pass by them creating a weak or distorted sound. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a speech therapist, and these are simply my own observations)

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I attended Animazement, a fantastic anime con that takes place annually in Raleigh, NC. After attending last year and becoming hoarse from too much talking and 'doing voices', I decided to take it as easy as possible this year. I was restrained when voicing characters, I got plenty of rest, and I drank a TON of water. However, I realized early on that my nemesis was not the talking itself, rather the lack of proper ventilation in the hotel. I am allergic to dust, and it was very clear to me that my allergies were in overdrive all four days.

Upon returning Sunday night, I decided it would be wise to talk as little as possible. Monday morning, I realized it wouldn't matter- my voice was shot. I knew I had until Wednesday at 2:30 to get it back. Despite desperately needing to work on a large project throughout the week, Wednesday I had a session scheduled I couldn't back out of.

So- I went silent. Completely silent.

I e-mailed my client with the on-going project and asked for a deadline extension of a few days. No problem. Then, I loaded in some new music beds I had just received and started working on production elements...all the while sitting in silence.

My husband took to interpreting my hand signals and poor writing on a pad of paper I carried around. He also adjusted to blank stares in response to any questions. After day 2 had passed he mentioned that he was amazed at my ability to truly be silent for so long. (Followed by a comment that this was what most husbands dreamed for...yeah, he'll pay for that later!)

I wrote that I learned a valuable lesson eight years ago, and silence was the only cure to this ailment.

Wednesday morning I began with a few vocal warm ups. Some simple stuff as to not strain my recovering vocals. While I knew I wasn't in 'full voice', I felt confident I would get through the session OK. It went wonderfully! The other actor had a slight cold, so we had a big laugh about our mutual ailments. The client was thrilled, and I immediately resumed my silent ways.

As of today, my voice is about 95%. I'm still taking it easy until tomorrow when I have 2 projects I have to voice. I'll also spend my weekend catching up on the projects I fell behind on.

I realize how lucky I was this time around, to 'cure' in a few days what once almost cost me my career. As voice actors, it is up to us...and only take care of our instrument. Even with a stack of projects to complete, we have to put our long-term vocal health first. Silence for a few days is nothing when my dream career is on the line.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Supply / Demand

For well over a year now I've been buying my pet food from a local holistic supplier. Our dog suffers from acid reflux, and it was a challenge to find food she could eat. She couldn't have grain, corn, wheat, etc- and this one store was the only place I found that carried foods that met our specifications.

Shortly after we became customers of this store, the pet food recall happened. Suddenly, thousands of people began switching their pets to holistic and all-natural foods. I loved it, because I'm a supporter of all things holistic, organic, and all-natural! I was also pleased because this sudden increase in demand pretty much guaranteed that our new favorite pet store wouldn't be going out of business anytime soon!

This morning, I stopped in to stock up on pet supplies and noticed that prices had gone up. I asked the owner if it was due to the massive increase in fuel costs to ship the food. She explained to me that fuel costs were one reason, and the other was due to so many people switching to all-natural pet foods and the farmers and butchers not being able to keep up with demand.

You see, many of the well known pet food brands are made from the scraps left over after 'people' food is packaged. Holistic and all-natural foods are made from scratch. It's the same problem we are finding with corn and rice...there just isn't enough to feed everyone and produce alternative fuels.

Now, I realise that those of you that read this blog are very intelligent and don't need a lesson in simple economics, but I found it interesting that our voice over industry is experiencing a similar problem, only the opposite is at play.

There has been an influx of people trying to break into the voice over industry in the last few years, and it seems to grow exponentially each year. Basically, the supply has far surpassed the demand (and no, I don't believe there is enough work for every person making a run at VO like we all hear over and over!). I realize how fortunate I am to have many years in the business under my belt and a variety of regular clients that keep me hopping. However, I wonder about those just getting started, how do you make a ripple in such a vast pond?

Voice over is becoming an Internet based business, with each actor having their own website, home studio, and ability to audition with a relatively inexpensive membership to a variety of VO sites.

One of the studios I work with sent out a fantastic marketing postcard recently. It talked about how some places allow anyone with a microphone to audition, while they have a very select group of true professionals to choose from. Had I been a company looking for a voice, this would have sold me!

What it all boils down to is raw talent, knowledge, and experience. When this 'food crisis' began being touted in the media, I was happy to know I had a garden full of vegetables waiting in my backyard. When the 'inundation' of voice talent was being discussed on the message boards, I was glad to know I had experience in my corner.

The world is changing on a daily basis, and new ideas are being presented all the time. It takes drive and passion to push through barriers, and those that work the hardest will shine through the rest of the 'supply'. Just as the demand for all-natural foods skyrocketed when people realized the dangers associated with the 'cheaper' brands, so will the demand for all-natural talent.

It is just simple economics, afterall :)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Well Rounded

I receive many e-mails each week from people wanting to break into the voice over industry. I sometimes find it difficult to explain just what it takes to make a living in this business. This morning I was thinking about it, and may have come up with a decent comparison.

I was watching the movie 'Funny Face' starring Fred Astaire and Audry Hepburn. It was released in 1957. My husband came into the room and remarked that I love watching old movies. I explained to him that I especially love old movies because the actors had to be multi-talented. They had to act, sing, dance, etc. Without special effects, the directors had to rely solely on the talents of the actors to carry the movie, and I love watching true talent!

Being a successful voice actor is much like being a successful actor in the 'old days'...the more well rounded you are, the more uses there will be for your services. For example, the most famous movie stars are able to transform into any character. In voice over, animation is not the only place where we transform. In the last week I've gone from a woman gabbing with her friends over lunch, to a 12 year old giving advice, to a mom reading a story to her children, to a voice selling a product. In these instances, it was less about 'changing my voice' and more about 'selling the real person'. None of these involved a silly cartoon voice, they were each very realistic and very different.

2008 has also brought about several projects that required me to sing. I am not a trained singer, and never thought much of my voice...but I decided that if I had the confidence to use my voice to speak, then I could be confident in my ability to carry a tune. Turns out I have a stronger voice than I thought I did! Like the legendary actors we admire, a voice actor must be willing to tackle any role, and never say 'I can't'. How can you know what parts you are right for if you aren't willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone?

While voice actors are rarely seen, there is a form of 'dancing' involved with each job. One of the many things Bob Bergen teaches in his class is to physically become the character. When I voice a child, I fidget like a child. When I voice a mom, I put my hand on my hip and an all-knowing smile in my voice. We also must be able to 'dance' with the mic- otherwise known as mic technique (something that must be taught by a coach in person).

A great actor on the big screen must clearly possess natural talent and drive, but the best have also spent a lifetime studying their craft. I've been studying voice acting for over a decade, and I am nowhere near done with my lessons. I believe learning never ends. Not only do I study with some of the best coaches, I try to take something away from each session I do. What can I do better, different? How can I continue to stand out from the crowd?

Being a voice actor is much, much more than having an interesting voice. Even with technology as it is, with the ability to alter voices and add effects, you want to give the producer as much to work with as possible. You want to be well rounded, multi talented, and endlessly flexible. That is what I believe it takes to be in this business, and I make this my goal each day.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Few Things...

John Florian, creator of Voice Over Extra, has posted the results of a survey he conducted regarding health insurance for freelance voice actors. It's an interesting read, thanks John!

After a whirlwind April, I welcomed a couple of days this week that were relatively slow. Anytime I get the sense that a day may be open, I always try to schedule in some rest and relaxation. Genetics gave me high blood pressure at an early age, and I have found that through diet, exercise, and self discipline- I can stay medicine free.

Yesterday I planned to take a day off, or so I thought! I scheduled a morning massage and planned an afternoon hike with the dog. Shortly after my massage, work came calling...which is never a bad thing! My afternoon was spent recording, including a fun ISDN session with a great client! (Don't ya just love the clients that are happy with everything you do?)

It was a reminder that as freelance talent, we are never really 'off' for a day. We always have to be willing to be available with little to no notice. This is one of the main reasons I became a freelance voice actor, I love not always knowing what exciting jobs may pop up at any given moment. It keeps life fun and spontaneous!

Now, back to that glorious massage...I've been seeing Vera for a little over a year now. My wonderful husband got me a membership to a nearby spa that specializes in all types of massages. I'm a believer in the overall health benefits, so I try to make it in at least once a month.

In each of the rooms of the spa, music plays over a loud speaker. It is always something calming: a tropical beach sound, an Asian garden, soft piano, etc. However, yesterday- right in the middle of my massage- a very strange song came over the speaker. I'm not sure of the name (I plan to look it up later), but it is the song often played during a formal wedding when the bridal party makes their entrance. It is also the theme song of a national jewelry commercial- though I can't think of which jeweler at the moment.

All I know, is the song is beautiful....and very, very formal sounding. In an instant- my mind went from lying on a sunny beach listening to the waves lap onto the sitting in a pew wondering if my shoes really match my dress. It completely took me away from my environment and transported me to a cousin's wedding I once attended!

It started me thinking (imagine that!) about the person that chooses the songs for the spa. Technically, it is a beautiful song with lovely piano and a rolling chorus. However, put in the context of a relaxing massage, it just didn't 'fit'.

Now, I always find a way to relate everything back to voice over, so here it goes...

Have you ever listened to a demo and there is one spot that doesn't seem to flow right with the rest of the spots? It really takes away from the overall effectiveness of the demo. Your mind gets 'stuck' thinking about the strangeness of the transition, while you miss the 3 spots that follow.

It is important when compiling a demo that you tell a story, that each spot flows easily to the next- taking your listener on a journey. While a particular commercial, narration, imaging bit, etc might sound great on its own, it doesn't mean it will sound good in the overall context of your demo. It is important to have objective ears listen to your demo before you post it for clients to hear, someone else may hear something odd that you hadn't noticed.

If your brand is that of "young, fun, and fresh", you don't want to have a demo that only showcases your 'mature' side. Sure, you can fit something in to show your range- just make sure it flows naturally and doesn't distract the listener from your overall message.

It is remarkable how music and sound can transport us, so make sure you transport your listener to the places that best represent who you are as a voice actor.