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Monday, August 29, 2016

What My Summer Vacation Taught Me

Summer is one of my favorite times of year. I love all the seasons, but there’s something about summer that makes it extra special. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of it...thinking back to childhood when school let out and you had 3 WHOLE MONTHS of freedom, swimming, riding bikes, ice cream treats, and of course, the family summer vacation.

I loved it all as a kid, but as an adult, I’ve come to treasure this time of year even more, and especially the vacation part. I mean, who doesn’t love a vacation? But for me, it’s become so much more than enjoying a new locale, oohing and ahhing over scenery, or finding the perfect souvenir.

Vacation is my mental respite. It’s quite literally an application of the brakes on my life. Vacation is a balm to my soul.

Don’t get me wrong. Voice over is my life. I love what I do, and I make a decent living at it. Of course, I am extremely dedicated and work very hard to continually build and maintain my business. This often means long hours in the studio, recording and editing and making sure I can deliver the best quality product to my clients. It’s exhilarating yet stressful. Fun but not easy.

Naturally, it’s nice to step away every so often and slow down and unwind. This year, I made a special point of truly disconnecting during my time away. It’s second nature to stay connected nowadays, what with smart phones enabling us to be available 100% of the time.

But this year, I said no. And for the first time since I was a kid eating ice cream cones and riding in my parents’ old car down a dusty road, I felt truly liberated.

Each day of vacation, I woke up feeling invigorated. I felt purposeful, but without a to-do list a mile long. I watched the sunrise, I went on walks, I ate delicious foods, I took naps - and I make a conscientious effort to be truly present in each of those simple acts.

I can tell you, without a doubt, that doing so was a vacation game-changer for me. I have never felt so refreshed and recharged, or so complete.

And I learned a valuable lesson, too. The key is in being present. That’s what changed it for me. Quite simply, I was just there. I removed the distractions, I focused my attention where I wanted, and I was present. It’s amazing how much this can promote peace within, and it’s something that I am going to apply to my life from this point forward. Sure, I know there will be times where I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed, but I’m going to look back to my summer vacation, and remember how I felt. I know that I can use what I learned this summer to help me be the best that I can be in all areas of my life, both personally and professionally. 

One suggestion though, make sure you alert your clients and potential clients that you'll be unavailable for a short while before you decide to take off!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Is Your Voice Over Work Emotionally Constipated?

A couple weeks ago, I overheard two women engrossed in a conversation about one of their husbands. “He’s emotionally constipated,” the one woman said to the other. I won’t bore you with the rest of the details of their chat, but that phrase got me thinking about how “emotional constipation” can affect actors in my industry.

But first, a definition: emotional constipation is not letting your emotions flow out, and keep them all bottled up in yourself. Sounds about like you expected, doesn’t it?

Usually this happens with young or inexperienced VO actors who haven’t yet mastered the art. They haven’t figured out how to make the copy their own, or how to inject believable emotion into what they’re reading. The very dedicated ones will learn how to do this, but for those who don’t spend the time or fully commit themselves to the process  - well, let’s just say there’s no such thing as voice over Ex-Lax.

So how does one overcome a case of emotional constipation then?

Through practice, of course. As I said, you need plenty of motivation and determination, but practice goes hand-in-hand with those attributes. The more you practice acting (because that’s what you’re doing, after all), the less constipated you’ll become... to put it abruptly.

Here’s an exercise that I used frequently at the beginning of my career, and still employ from time to time just to stay sharp. Come up with a mundane sentence, like “How are you getting to work today?” or “I’m going to Susan’s house tonight” and apply the following emotions to it:


Now, read your sentence with each emotion. If you can think of other emotions, go ahead and try it with those too. Record yourself reading the sentence, and listen to see if you can hear and feel the emotion coming through in your words. If you can’t, neither can your audience, and you can go ahead and diagnose yourself as constipated.

Keep doing this, over and over, and practicing with new sentences and new emotions if you like. The more you do it, the more comfortable it will become...and the more believable it will become as well.

Understanding and using emotions is an important part of our jobs as voice actors, and mastering this skill takes time and plenty of practice. If you’ve been emotionally constipated, it’s time to get….unstopped….or your career as a voice over actor could be headed straight for the toilet. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Downfalls of Joining a Voice Over Union

In my last post, I went over a few of the benefits that come with union membership. As a voice over actor, this is a question you’ve likely struggled with - whether it’s worth it or not to join. There are several significant benefits that come with membership, but there are also a few downsides that must be mentioned as well.

The biggest disadvantage that comes with union membership is the limitations that are imposed on available work. As a union member, you are not allowed to work on non-union projects. This prevents you from auditioning from lots of jobs, and even some that may the perfect fit for you. It can be a real bummer, and an even bigger one if union work has started to dry up. When that happens, there goes your paycheck, and there’s not a lot you can do about it.

Another downside? Annual dues. Union membership isn’t free, and it doesn’t come cheap, either. Some unions, like SAG-AFTRA, have annual base dues, but also additional fees that are paid based on a sliding scale determined by how much work is booked. If you’re new to voice over or struggling to land gigs, these costs can be especially painful because they must be paid (or at least part of them) regardless of how much you’re making.

Finally, remember the writers’ strike that occurred in Hollywood a few years ago? Well, it wasn’t just the writers who were not getting paid during that time. Many voice over actors were out of a job as well, simply because there were no scripts coming out. It was also a good reminder that an actors’ strike is also possible, and when you’re in a union, you’re expected to stand up for that union and not cross the picket line.

As hinted at above, you must also weigh the disadvantages of losing all the non union work and those clients that you may have been working with for years.. when you decide to join the union.

Now you have a more complete picture of unions, and what both sides of the coin look like. There’s good and bad on either side, and the decision to join comes down to you and your situation. I will say that if you are new to VO, you might want to wait to join until you’ve booked a few jobs and gotten a bit more experience. The same goes for those who aren’t doing voice over full-time, or are doing it as more of a hobby.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What are the Benefits of Joining a Voice Over Union?

The decision to join a union is one that nearly every voice over actor will consider at some point during their career. There are currently thousands of voice actors in a union - SAG-AFTRA being the biggest - but there are plenty more who have elected to go the freelance route. While there are good argument for both sides, today I want to talk about some of the benefits that come with union membership.

The biggest plus you’ll find with a union is in terms of pay. For most people, this is the deciding factor of whether or not to join. Union work typically pays much better than non-union gigs, and you are guaranteed a specific scale-based wage. Plus, jobs booked through the union also entitle the voice artist to receive residual payments. So, if you’ve done the voice over on a commercial, for instance, you’ll get a kickback for as long as that ad runs.

Here’s another advantage of booking union work that also has to do with payment: you’re guaranteed payment within a certain timeframe. If you’ve ever done freelance, you probably know all too well that some clients just don’t like to pay in a timely manner - or even at all in the worst cases. With union work, this doesn’t happen. You receive payment by a specified date, and if you don’t, you get to assess late fees for every day the payment is overdue.

Pretty sweet, huh?

The last perk to union membership that I want to cover is the benefits. I’m talking health, dental, retirement - the whole package. When you join a union, you get to enjoy the same benefits that full-time employees at “regular” jobs do. There’s no need to stress over finding your own health and dental insurance, or setting up IRAs or making other retirement plans (though you should still look into this). It’s all covered under the union, and you’re entitled to it as a member.

So is a union worth joining?  Thousands of voice actors just like yourself certainly think so, and it’s no surprise when you consider all the benefits that come with it. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Is Your Home Studio Harming Your Health?

It’s easy to overlook things when you have the luxury of working from home. If you’ve ever been trapped in a cubicle farm or have worked in the service sector, you probably dreamed about having a job where you could work from home, and not have to deal with people, and work whenever you want. Basically, EVERYTHING WOULD BE PERFECT.

But is it? Now that you’re actually doing it, have you thought about some of the pitfalls of working from home - namely the ones where your actual health is concerned?

I was surprised to learn that there are things in my home studio that can be harmful to my health, and I initially discounted many of them. But as time goes on and I spend more and more hours in my studio, I’ve learned to pay more attention to this because, hey, I like being healthy and feeling good.

Ever heard of digital eye strain? It’s what happens when you spend too many hours staring at the bright light of your computer monitor. You may think, but I’ll be recording most of the time! Well, I’m here to tell you that you’ll also be spending plenty of time on your computer, editing tracks, emailing clients, and managing the business end of things. To counter this potential health issue, make sure the lighting in your studio is easy on the eyes. Try using some form of bias lighting behind your monitor, like a small lamp or strip of LEDs, and reduce the brightness of your screen. Be sure to take frequent breaks from the screen as well, and look at something that doesn’t emit blue light, whether it’s staring out a window for a few minutes or focusing on paperwork. Try to be in a room that mixes natural daylight with softer lamplight, etc.

So much of our job has to do with listening, so it means that our ears are always working! Be nicer to them by investing in a set of high-quality, comfortable headphones that don’t pinch or strain your ears or head. Hearing loss is the main concern, though, and it’s something that can sneak up on you gradually. Listening to your recordings at a reasonable volume is an obvious preventative measure to take, but you can also do things like check your hearing regularly (seriously, it only takes a couple minutes) and keep the volume in check outside the studio as well (i.e., car stereo, phone volume, etc.)
Watch those great sounding earbuds! Don't crank up the volume level for extended periods of time.
Tinnitus or "ringing in the ear" is no laughing matter. That condition can be a lifelong problem. Just ask a few aging Rock n' Rollers like Pete Townsend from the legendary band The Who, whom suffer from permanent hearing loss and Tinnitus.

Other Body Parts
When you make repetitive motions all day, which most working adults do, you can develop RSI, or repetitive strain injury (or Carpal Tunnel). These are usually felt in the hands, wrists, and forearms, and sometimes even the neck and back. This is another sneaky one that can develop slowly over time, and before you know it, you’re dealing with shooting pains every time you sit down to edit a track or compose an email. You can help prevent RSI by taking frequent breaks and moving around, and investing in a good, ergonomic chair that provide lumbar support. Watch your posture, too, and try to avoid slumping when you’re working on the computer. I've had this problem for many years but have kept it in check simply by sometimes wearing cloth wrist bands, especially at the gym lifting weights.
They're cheap and effective. You can get them in the Tennis section of most sporting goods stores.

This is stuff a lot of VO actors simply don’t think of when it comes to their home studios, but they should. Your good health should be a top priority, and taking preventative actions in your studio can help you maintain it. 

*Search my blog for my Friday Fitness Tips: From a 32 Year Fitness Novice for much more specifics on staying healthy through exercise. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is Voice Over a Teachable Skill?

Well, here’s an interesting question I was asked the other day. Do I think voice over can be taught?  I gotta tell you, this one made me stop and think.

On the one hand, there is absolutely a certain level of innate talent that is involved. But on the other hand, voice coaches exist for a reason, and that reason is teaching others how to use their voice.

So, is voice over a teachable skill - yes or no?

The answer is yes and no. There are definitely things you can be taught in voice over, such as how to properly use a mic or use editing software. In terms of your voice itself, there are also plenty of teachable moments. Some of these lie in teaching you the proper way to project or how to control your volume. A great voice coach can teach you these things, but many of them are learned over time through practice and experience.

That said, there are plenty of things that cannot be taught. The magic of voice over is the ability to transform words on a piece of paper into something full of emotion and energy. Some people are just plain old incapable of doing this. That’s where the innate aspect comes in, and all the teaching in the world won’t enable you to do this if you don’t have a natural talent for it. Also, it's been said that actors, musicians/singers often make the best voice talent. They work from an innate ability to find emotion easily and express it as actors; as musical folks they "hear" in a specific way that isolates pitch, texture, dynamics and tone. This is not really teachable. However, one can acquire a sense of these abilities through awareness and practice.

Something else I would like to mention here: many voice coaches will claim to be able to “teach anyone how to be a successful voice artist!” FALSE. This is not true, and they are simply trying to sell their services and make money. I’m not saying all coaches are like this, but there are definitely some out there. I’m not saying you shouldn’t hire a coach, because I think many of them have valuable knowledge to impart. I’m just saying to be careful, and do your homework with them. Ask for references, find out what their experience level is, and understand that the material they give you to work with is nothing like the material you’ll receive from clients as a working voice over professional.

Friday, August 12, 2016

What to Consider When Choosing a VO Conference

I recently wrote a post about the importance of attending voice over conferences, along with what I think are a few of the best ones. Now I want to talk about the process that goes into choosing which conference is right for you, because there are A LOT of options out there. If you’re new to the business, this can be a little overwhelming, so use the following information to guide you as you narrow down the choices.

1.    Logistics - Where and when is the conference being held? How much does it cost to attend? Obviously, these are some of the most important pieces of information, as the when, where, and how you’re going to get there can be deciding factors, along with the total expense you’ll incur. Don’t forget, in addition to a registration fee, you’ll also have lodging, travel, food, and other miscellaneous expenses.

2.    Topics - What topics will be covered at the conference? Many conferences offer a variety of topics, including audition and acting tips, tech information, and business management practices. Take a look at the conference website to be sure the topics being offered are ones that are of interest to you as a professional.

3.    Approach - What’s the format of the conference? Are there workshops to attend? Are there lectures by other professionals? Some conferences offer a mix of approaches, while others stick to just one or two. Is there any time between sessions or are there several that overlap.

4.    Agenda - Take a look at the daily agenda to see if it suits your purposes for attending. Whether you’re going to learn more about a specific topic, network with others, hand out business cards, or all of the above, make sure that the agenda allows for this.

5.    Speakers - Voice over conferences usually offer a great line-up of speakers. These folks are experienced professionals who are sharing their expertise and insights with you, and it’s a great learning opportunity. Read the speaker bios and see if there are any people that you especially want to see.

6.    Attendees - If the conference website shows a list of attendees, give it a glance to see if any names jump out at you. Knowing who’s going to be there ahead of time can help you compile a mental list of people to seek out while you’re there.