DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:
Do you want to see chaos easily unfold? Then here’s a fun little experiment you can do in your very own home. Go into a VO forum, and ask if a rate for a certain project is fair. In five minutes, you’ll get a response saying that it is. In ten minutes, you’ll get a response saying that it isn’t. In fifteen minutes, the person who first replied will defend their stance. In twenty minutes, the person who replied second will defend their counter-attack from the first person. In thirty minutes, a posse of people who believe in the stance of the first person will come to his aid. In forty-five minutes, a posse of people who believe in the stance of the second person will come to their aid. In three days, a holy war, fought only with words, of unprecedented proportions will have erupted. Many deaths.
Okay, I’m exaggerating…but only ever-so-slightly. From what I’ve seen, the most sensitive issue to ever arise in discussions about VO is the issue of rates. Friggin’ nobody can agree on what’s a fair rate anymore. A lot of this has to do with an issue that, to be fair, is very real. Forces are certainly at work to de-value the services of VO talent, either intentionally or unintentionally, and many VO talent–newbies and veterans, dudes and chicks, young and old, union and non-union–have rightfully taken offense to this. So it’s only logical that an issue like this would lead to very heated discussions and even debates.
And ya know what? I’m sorry–kinda–but I’ve had enough!
Seriously, it has gotten to a point where they’re unbelievably annoying for me. I’ve hit the “unfollow” button on so many rates-related discussions this week that I lost count of them. They’ve become annoying because of the chastising. They’ve become annoying because of the verbiage that people have used in their arguments.They’ve become annoying because of the opinions that people think should be universal. They’ve become annoying because of the complaining. They’ve become annoying because they’re…well, depressing, quite frankly.
So no one will mistake my intentions, I’m not suggesting that the rate discussions stop (which is convenient, ’cause they won’t). I think rates are a perfectly relevant and important thing to talk about. Yeah, I’ve turned down work with abysmally low rates. Yeah, rates are under pressure to go down, and…yeah, that kinda sucks! I simply think that if we embed ourselves in those discussions too deeply, rates become the center of our attention. They become all that we think about. I too have been guilty of this for a while now…
About two weeks ago, I received an email that really made me reflect on my attitude about VO now in comparison to the attitude I had when I first started out. The email came from a 16-year-old kid, who was referred to me by a friend. This kid said that he really wanted to learn about VO, and asked if I could just give him a general overview….
Here’s the thing, though…I rarely write short responses. Almost never. I consider myself a humble person, but if you ever see me brag about one thing, it’s my kung-fu typing speed. Put any court reporter before me in a typing contest, and I will destroy them without mercy. So my kung-fu typing speed, combined with my eagerness to talk, almost always results in responses that are perhaps unnecessarily long. My response back to this kid was no exception. I wrote a very, very lengthy email, but it covered pretty basic stuff. Stuff like…
-It’s a tough business no matter what people try to tell you otherwise.
-Your ability to act is the most important thing.
-Get your first demo produced by a coach and don’t try to make your own.
-Learn your strengths and weaknesses early so you can develop a brand.
Basic stuff. Things like that. What really struck me, though, was his response to me. He wrote a thank-you email back, but ended it with, “Thanks so much, this was such a wonderful experience!”
That really took me by surprise. Really? A wonderful experience? All I did was write him an email. Nothing special. Nothing out of the ordinary. I was wondering if maybe he was exaggerating, but a few minutes later I got an email from the friend who referred that kid to me to begin with, who wrote back, “Thanks man, he’s overly happy right now!”
Then it hit me. In an instant, I was brought back to a mindset I had long ago. My mind went back in time, to when I was 12 years old, when it dawned on me that the voices that I heard in cartoons and video games came from actual people who did that for a job. My eyes lit up, and I wanted to absorb all the info I could about voice acting. Me and my friends began acting out the voices for video game characters with text-based dialogue, and we Googled everything we could. We wanted it, we were fascinated by the idea of voice acting.
Then I remembered the cartoon that truly awakened my voice acting ambitions: an anime by the name of “Dragon Ball Z.” I was enthralled by the performances in the English dub, and came to idolize the performances of those actors. Sure, I did the research and found out that their efforts were a non-union job that didn’t pay a ton in the grand scheme of things, but I didn’t care. I was amazed at how they were able to draw me into the story, and I was determined to hone my craft as an actor so I could one day give TV viewers the great experience that the performances of those actors had given me.
Then I remembered my first gig. I won’t point you to it because it’s a tad embarrassing, but it was a pretty cheap gig. I didn’t care. I was friggin’ elated when I got it, I emailed everyone in my family, and my friends and I went celebrating later that night. Was that naive of me? Yeah, sure it was. With naivete comes passion, though, and it’s a passion that I really miss sometimes. One that diminished by focusing too much on the money, and one that this kid’s response partially returned to me.
Here’s something that’s kind of embarrassing for me to admit. I’m a Motley Crue fan. I love ’em (and 80’s metal in general). In their latest album, they have a song called “Down At The Whisky,” which talks about their earliest gigs, including playing cheapo gigs at the Los Angeles nightclub, the Whisky-A-Go-Go. My favorite lyric in the whole song? That would be this one:
“We never made a dime, but God we had a good time!”
So please understand…I’m not saying that money ain’t important. It is, for so many different and obvious reasons. Furthermore, unlike many of my peers, I don’t have a family that I need to support (at least not yet), so my struggles will never be completely identical with the struggles of someone else. As such, I’m not one to issue “calls to action.” I’m only saying, for the sake of public reflection, that I think if we focus on rates so much, we’re never gonna be happy, and we’re never gonna find satisfaction in our work. So if you want a call to action–and I know you didn’t ask for one–here it is: take a moment to remember why you got into VO. ‘Cause I don’t know about you, but I ain’t in it for the money.
Why did you get into it? Are you still having fun with it? Were you ever having fun with it?
Just some thoughts from a guy who recently remembered why he got into VO to begin with: because it’s a blast. Nothing more, nothing less.