Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You Are the World's Leading Expert

The number one question I receive on an almost daily basis is, "What is the first step to becoming a voice actor?" Since my own journey to becoming a voice actor was a bit unconventional, (I was literally hired off the street for my first radio gig, my first agent heard me on the air and called the station to sign me, and I booked my first paying VO- Dragonball Z- after attending an open audition on a dare) I at first found it hard to give advice.

I began telling people that the first step was to take an improv class. I had taken an improv class when I was younger and have continued to use so much of what I learned throughout my career. Improv teaches you to be in the moment, to create a 'character' and stick with it, to think fast on your feet, and as my friend Peter O'Connell recently pointed out on my Google+ page- it teaches you to listen.

So...I've decided to put my money where my mouth is and sign up for an improv class. I strongly believe that the learning should never stop and that one can't take too many classes. Especially when those classes help break up your routine, and get those creative juices flowing.

We had our first class this past Monday. What a fun and talented group! I had a basic idea of what to expect- each improv class is different, but many of the 'games' are the same. I don't want to give too much away because I think it's better to experience something than to read about it. However, there was one 'game' we played that is so very relevant to what I do as a voice actor.

The game was called 'You are the world's leading expert...' Our teacher gave each of us a topic- and with no prep time whatsoever we had to spend the next 5 minutes convincing the class we were the leading expert on that topic. It didn't matter what we said or how wrong we were- we had to convince everyone we were right. My topic was ice cream. I do love to eat ice cream, but I've never made it and really know nothing about it. Yet I found myself going on and on about the proper order to put the ingredients in the machine, how a flat wooden spoon is better to scoop with than a rounded metal scooper because it creates a more organic shape in the bowl...on and on. What was interesting was that the more I talked, the more I believed in what I was saying. And the more I believed it, the more convincing I was. When I was finished one classmate commented that they wanted to go to my ice cream shop!

This happened with every single student. They started off a little unsure- but then once their attitude shifted and they really believed what they were did we! People were coming up with some really ridiculous facts about drilling for oil, or creating a shoe, or wrestling an alligator. But the ones that allowed themselves to believe they truly were the experts were by far the most convincing. As voice actors (ahem...ACTORS), we have to be convincing every single day.

Someone in my class asked how improv could help my job...I mean, all I did was read a script, right? I explained that it takes more skill than anyone can imagine to convince an audience that this restaurant really is the best, that a brand of shoe really is the most comfortable and stylish, that this truck is really safer than that one. It isn't's explaining. And the more we believe in what we say, the more convincing we will be.

From now on when I am sent a script, I will be telling myself that I am the world's leading expert on this topic. I'm accepting what the writer says as my reality and believing in that reality so I can really deliver the message. Listen to your radio and TV- I promise you will be able to tell which voice actors are truly believing what they are saying and which are not.

Finally, whether you are thinking about getting into the business- or you've been doing this your entire life- I can't recommend improv enough. Just one class already has me thinking and reflecting. Thankfully, I have 7 more classes to go...and then 5 more levels. Because, after all...I am the world's leading expert.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Quality Matters

Over the weekend, my friend Dan Friedman wrote a fantastic blog about the correlation between studio quality and voice over rates. I highly suggest you check this blog out if you haven't already (and all of Dan's blogs...he really knows his stuff!)

This blog struck a bit of a chord with me. Throughout my career, I have regularly been approached by people wanting to break into the industry. I can usually tell within a few minutes (or a few lines of an email) if someone will succeed it or not. Like all industries, you can't just wake up one day and be a success. Otherwise I would have been a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist! No, you have to study, train, practice, take a few hard knocks and make the decision to move forward no matter how many times you feel rejected.

I've spent 15 years learning how to be a voice actor (obviously, I started at the age of 6). Yes, I've been working while I've been learning- but each time I turn on the mic it's a new chapter in the lesson plan. Every session is different and I've had to learn to be as good with my people skills as I am with my acting skills. And that is just the beginning! A voice actor must also learn how to run a business, how to market themselves, how to invoice and collect on debts, how to budget...and oh to build a studio from the ground up, edit, produce, render, ftp...this could go on and on. As with any job, one must be dedicated and educated to pay the bills.

Which brings me back to Dan's blog. A professional studio is not cheap. And while cool gadgets have made it possible to record on the road, there is no substitute for the quality of an actual studio. Case in point- last month I took off to the mountains of North Carolina for a week. I decided to only take my iphone and my Macbook. No mics, no audio interfaces, no ability to record quality audio. Why? Because I knew that where I would be staying would not be conducive to recording quality audio. I was, however, a mere 2-3 hours from a professional studio that I knew I could rent at the drop of a hat. Now, for auditions I did have my iphone and the ability to send samples if I needed to.

During this trip a job came up. A really cool job. One worth driving down the mountain for. We scheduled the day and time and then I discovered this would be a 2 part gig. Half of the script would be recorded while on vacation, half when I returned. I immediately let the client know that while I was more than happy to make this happen, I was concerned that the audio would not match when the entire thing came together. In the end, they decided to wait until I returned home from vacation. (a couple of days later, and they were my first session when I got back)

Quality matters. It really matters. If you are putting time and money into something, don't you want it to be the best it can be? Our clients feel the same way. And it's my job to offer the best I can...with my talents, my equipment, and my business. And yes, quality does cost money. But as we've all learned at some point in our lives, some things are worth the little extra expense.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Practicing What I Preach

In my last blog I wrote about the need to stay current with technology and keeping all the 'tools' you might need as a voice actor close at hand.

Well, I've decided this week to practice what I preach. Remember the e-learning project I mentioned in a previous post? The one that was around 40,000 words? This past week it expanded to 60,000 words. With a project that size, there is no way I'm going to print my scripts. It would take a ton of paper and ink to do so. My Macbook came in quite handy at first- I loaded up the scripts, placed my laptop on my copy stand, and off I went!

Unfortunately, as we are all aware- there is scorching heat around the country. I'm in Dallas where we've spent the last several days hovering around 110 degrees. Ouch. I don't care how good your air conditioner is, there is no way it's keeping up with temps like that. When I'm in my Whisper Room, I can't have ventilation running while I record because the fan is too loud. It's rare that the heat really gets to me (I open the door or run a fan between takes and drink plenty of water) so I wasn't overly concerned. However, as this e-learning project went on I noticed the heat was bothering me more and more.

Then, it hit me. My laptop was acting more like a heater than a computer and was increasing the temperature inside of the booth...a lot! As if to confirm my theory, during one of our sessions my laptop fan kicked on twice- delaying things by several minutes.

So, I took off to the Apple store for an iPad 2. No fan noise, no heat. I can read my scripts easily, and thanks to Pages and Numbers- I can even edit them on the fly! I posted something on Facebook about how great my iPad was and a fellow voice actor said that he would love to read more about how I'm using it on the job. I figured others might be curious as well, and a blog idea was born!

Here are a few ways that in only 3 days of owning my iPad 2 I've used it for VO:

1. Numbers and Pages. These were 2 of the first apps I installed on the iPad. Numbers opens xls files, and Pages handles docs. You can edit on the fly if a client needs you to do so, and can expand the screen to enlarge the copy. I'm saving ink and paper, and the lit screen means I don't have to strain my eyes (I currently use LED lights in the booth- but the iPad is much brighter)

2. Splashtop. What a cool app this is! Thanks to a couple of recommendations on my Facebook page- I decided to give this a shot. This app allows me to link up to my iMac giving me full control of my desktop in the booth. Now I can start and stop ProTools without leaving my Whisper Room! The only negative is that it 'squishes' your desktop. Or at least, it squished mine. Then again, I am using a 27" iMac!! All of the icons on my desktop began overlapping each other making it hard to find the sessions I needed. Hopefully once I take the time to clean up my desktop this issue will be remedied.

3. Email. Previously, if I was in a session and a client needed to email me an updated script, I would have to step out of the booth- go over to my iMac- open email and print. Now I have instant access to my email, and with the preview function on the iPad I can open scripts instantly.

4. Recording. I'm adding this not because of my own personal experience, but because of others I know that have used their iPad to record files. In fact, one of my dearest friends- Kyle Hebert- recently texted me that he is using an AT2020 mic with the camera kit to do high quality recording when he is traveling. I didn't believe it could sound that good- so he sent me a recorded sample. Well, wow. I was impressed. It sounded as good as my mobile set up- but it takes up much less space than my laptop, audio interface, etc. And less is certainly more when you don't want to check your luggage at the gate!

5. Twisted Wave. Again, this is not from my own experience but my friend Beau Weaver mentioned this on my Facebook. Apparently Twisted Wave not only created a recording app for the iPad- they also created a remote app that allows you to directly control Twisted Wave on your main computer from inside the booth. Much like Splashtop it sounds like- but I'm guessing less buggy and squishy.

6. Words With Friends. OK- this does nothing to help my business. But it sure is fun! :)

I'm sure there are a million other functions and apps I have yet to discover. As I learn more, I'll be sure to update this blog. In the meantime, feel free to comment and share your favorite apps and uses- both for VO and for fun!

**As a small side note- I want to make sure I'm not coming across as someone telling you that a gazillion dollars must be spent making sure you have the latest technology. Quite the contrary. When I realized my laptop was on the fritz I chose to buy an iPad instead of another laptop. It was about half the price, and did everything I needed my laptop to do. Plus- I'll save a ton of money on ink and paper. Win win!!