DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #31: Why I Can’t Think…no, I mean why I have to work to get over writer’s block sometimes. What did you think I meant?

Hey, it happens…well, actually, THIS doesn’t happen to me, because I don’t write music, but you get the idea.

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The first person to ever comment on my audioblog said something that became eerily prophetic. To be clear, I do mean the first *person*..technically, the first comment I ever received was an automated comment from WordPress welcoming me to the world of blogging. Don’t get me wrong, that was very nice of the automated comment, and I thanked it, but the first living, breathing human being to comment on my audioblog was European voice-over talent and blogging machine, Paul Strikwerda. Being the damn good blogger that he is, he said something that has haunted me more and more as time goes on (and NO, I will not attempt to read this with his Dutch accent):

“Having a blog can become a burden if you feel that it’s a must. Before you know it, it becomes one more thing on your to-do list and you start putting it off.”

I haven’t quite reached that point yet, but as time goes on, I occasionally get the feeling that it’s starting to feel like that. I’m not putting it off, nor do I consider it a burden, but this audioblog is occasionally feeling a bit more like a…chore, I suppose would be the proper word. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing, that’s my favorite part! What I don’t enjoy is thinking of something to write about. Writer’s block has been most unkind to me on more than one occasion.

For that reason, I decided to reach out to my fellow bloggers this week, and to any potential bloggers worried about not getting anything started due to writer’s block. Here are some ideas that I have!

1) Talk about why your life sucks. Okay, not quite, but rather, talk about a problem you recently had in your VO career and see if you can’t write your thoughts about the best solution to it. Other people may appreciate your contributions! Not too long ago, my main email address crashed on me, and I think my story of how I solved the problem and remained in contact with my clients will probably end up becoming one of my next audioblog entries.

2) Talk about why other people’s lives suck. The VO industry only has so many subjects that haven’t been talked about. I won’t repeat them here, because I don’t need to…you’ve likely heard them over and over again. What’s the best editing program, is ISDN worth it, how do I market myse–NO, NO, I promised I wouldn’t repeat them here, sorry. Still, write about some questions that you see others asking, so that way, if somebody else ever asks you one of the many questions that gets asked for the eighteen quadrillionth time, you can just say, “Well, I actually wrote on this–here’s a link, have a look!”

3) Write about how you don’t have anything to talk about. Very lame if used repeatedly, but once in a while won’t hurt if it’s given some context. I did it once!

4) Strike up a conversation about VO…with someone who has nothing to do with VO. Why do we want to know what outsiders think? Because it gives us a very good idea of how our business is perceived and, by extension, the value of our business. I was depositing a check from one of my gigs not too long ago, and the guy behind the desk asked me, “Voice-overs sounds like a cool job…how does work find you?” Most working voice actors should know what’s wrong with the last five words of his question. Actually, hold on, I’ll give you a second to go back and count the words.

Okay.

Anyway, I responded, “Ho boy, if only it were that simple…work doesn’t usually find me, I have to find work.” That could be a blog entry in and of itself!

5) Set a deadline, but wait until the last minute to actually do anything. Some see this as irresponsible, and indeed, with certain things, it is. However, if used properly, procrastination can be a powerful creative tool. I once had an English teacher who assigned both in-class and take-home essays, and he always said, “Guys, the in-class ones are so much better. I think it’s ’cause you’re pressured to do well. When the pressure’s off, you guys suck!” And he’s right! When the pressure’s on, you think harder. For that reason, I write (and voice) an audioblog entry every Sunday, but about 90% of them are conceived and written Sunday morning. It’s not just me, either! Even Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys who make “South Park,” said that they only feel they’re at their creative best when an incomplete episode is due to go on the air in a few hours.

Writer’s block doesn’t have to cripple you, and I hope some of these suggestions will keep your creative juices flowing. On the other hand, sometimes writer’s block inevitably does cripple you…so take a week off! Y’know what’s going to happen? Nothing. Nobody’s internet presence is indispensable (and yes, I’m counting myself as well). The world will continue to go on it’s daily business. If you write, write for fun, and about something you enjoy!

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #28:…Cop Out

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Were it possible for me to post a picture of the poster for the movie, “Cop Out,” I would. Since that’s not legally possible for copyright issues, I decided to just use the trailer of the film. Which is legal, for some reason…how does that work? Oh, well. The reason I’m putting it there is because this weekend, I’m moving, so I haven’t had time to think of an audioblog entry of sufficient merit…I’m coping out this week.

However, for the sake of not *entirely* copping out, I do have one minor thing that my regular readers may wish to take note of. Since I started writing/voicing my audioblog, I didn’t know if it was going to turn into anything substantial or not. It was just a glorified experiment (at best). However, in the time that has passed since then, I decided that I really like blogging, and that I’m gonna keep doing it! Since I’m gonna keep doing it, though, I decided that “DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG” was in need of some organization, rather than a giant list of entries (which is what it has been so far).

So…to that end…I have divided all of my audioblog entries into sections, each one about a particular subject, and each one containing a short audio intro by me. Click “|| Navigate This Blog! ||” to learn more about them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to disassemble my booth…oh, man…this ain’t gonna be fun.

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #24: Why I’m Confused…no, I mean why I’m confused on how personal I should make my audioblog entries. What did you think I meant?

C’mon…that’s not how it works.

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When I set first set out to make a bog late last year, I asked the VO community for advice on what makes a good blog. The most interesting thing, to me, was how consistently I received two particular pieces of advice that were completely contradictory! The first one was, “Personalize your blog, so you can make sure it’s unique.” The other piece of advice was, “Don’t talk about yourself.”

…Umm…wait, what? Am I, like, the only one who was confused when I read that?

And I friggin’ heard it over and over again, too!

“Make sure that your blog is unique to you.”

“Don’t talk about yourself.”

“Personalize your blog.”

“Don’t write ‘ME-ME-ME’ Stories, no one will read them.”

“The best voice actors are the voice actors who let their unique experiences and relationship with words guide the delivery of their copy, and it’s the same thing with a blog.”

“Nobody cares about your personal trials and tribulations, they’ve got their own to worry about, especially since it’s mostly other VO talent who will read it.”

“Only by making your blog personal can you make it stand out among the cluttered blogosphere.”

“Don’t talk about yourself, that’s just advertising.”

The best conclusion I could come to was that good blogs were blogs where the authors kept their personal experiences brief, and then used them to talk about a larger point that was relevant to the VO community at large. So there were personal experiences, sure, but they were usually summed up in a sentence or two before moving on to talk about the bigger picture. For that reason, there is a line that divides blogging and advertising, but it’s pretty razor-thin if you think about it.

For example, here’s something I’ve been really conflicted about. Recently, I got a new website and a spiffy new logo created for me, and–

Wai-wai-wait, hold on, hold on! I’m getting to a broader point, I promise!

Anyway. I was thinking about writing an audioblog entry about the process behind its conception, and why I like my new website so much. The idea, of course, being that I would be starting a conversation about the larger, broader topic of what I think makes a good website (unique design, downloadable demos, easily-accessed contact info, stuff like that). The thing is, every time I sat down to write that entry, I kept thinking to myself, “Hold on…am I advertising? I don’t mean to…how do I make that last sentence sound more helpful and less like the copy for an infomercial…?”

There are a few audioblog entries that I simply never went through with for that exact reason. They just sat in my draft folder, and never saw the light of day. I started from scratch, because I couldn’t help but think, “Hold on…of what use is this to someone else? Not much at all, really.”

I set out, long ago, to divide my blog and my website as distinctly as I possibly could with regard to its goals. I’m not saying I don’t advertise myself. I have to. Go to my website, or my Facebook page (page, not profile), my Tumblr account, or a couple other social media profiles that aren’t particularly conversation-centered…and you’ll find that I advertise the living hell out of myself. Like I said, we have to, it’s the nature of our business. If no one is aware we exist, we can’t expect to get work. My goal, though, was to make sure, to the extent that I could, that my blog would be an open conversation, for anyone, on all things VO. My audience, after all, is mostly other VO talent. I’d have to imagine that if I just turned my blog into a long rant about myself, that the immediate reaction’s just gonna be, “Uh-huh, that’s nice Dave, we don’t care.”

So, for however little it’s worth, here are a few ways I tried to make my blog personal without turning it into a glorified ad.

1) Keep your personal experiences brief. A sentence or two, but a paragraph at the most. One of my earliest blog entries, entry #4, was an entry in which I talked about why I got into acting–namely, because I’m autistic, and wanted to get to understand people better. Personal, sure, but not very relevant to the vast majority of my other readers. Not surprisingly, it’s one of my least shared entries.

2) Add a (somewhat) unique feature to it. For me, that was the narration feature. I figured, I’m in voice-over, so it only makes sense for me to narrate my own entries, right? I figured it would give a personal touch. Sure, many people won’t listen and would prefer just to read, but the narration feature is there if they want it.

3) Add a blogroll, or a list of other blogs people can check out. It’s a nice little way of sayin’, “Hey, I’m not the center of the universe.”

4) Link to other social media in general. I post my audioblog entries in a number of forums on Linkedin, and whenever I find that good discussion has arisen on a particular thread, I go back and edit my audioblog entries to include links to those discussion threads. I think other people bring up great points about my entries and further the discussion to the point where I want future readers to know about it.

5) Acknowledge that it’s partially impossible. My website is for advertising, and my blog is for discussion, and I try to keep the two separate…but there’s no denying that my blog will help me a little bit on the advertising end. Each blog entry makes me a tad more Google-friendly (something we ALL want, let’s be honest), and while I don’t claim myself to be a VO superstar by any means, it did help my internet presence–more people knew who I was after I started blogging than before.

I guess a funny way to end this entry would be a sentence with some sort of “wink-wink” humor to the effect of, “So remember, make your posts relevant, and don’t advertise yourself…like placing videos to projects you did, such as this one I recently completed for Miken Accu-Flex 2.0 hockey sticks.” However, I’m not going to do that. I would never, ever, EVER post videos of VO projects I recently completed below this paragraph.

Okay, sorry, now I backed myself into an uncomfortable position where I have to post the video to make the joke work–you don’t have to watch it, go ahead and ignore it if you want!

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #23: Why Nobody Wants To Listen To Me…no, I mean why sometimes it’s important to keep our egos in check. What did you think I meant?

It’s great to have pride in your job…just remember what your job is.

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Times are tough in this economy. So, in an attempt to keep our business strong, I think many of us, as a natural reaction, have come to uphold VO as a sacred art. An irreplaceable one. One that only we can do! One in which we, as sacred keepers of our god-like voices, stand atop Mt. Olympus and declare to the heavens, “GOD, I ROCK!!!” So imagine how much of a reality check it was when a respected colleague of mine posted this in one of my favorite forums (voice-overs.com–I highly recommend it!). By all means, go check it out for yourself, but here’s the most important part of it: he quoted another (successful) voice actor who said, “I think some people are taking our jobs waaaay too seriously. We say words for money. That’s it. And we should be grateful we were given nice voices and the ability to learn how to act.”

Ho. Ly. CRAP. Considering all the talk about the “infestation of newbies,” the “rates crisis,” and the “devaluing of VO services” that takes place today, this was a very brave thing of them to say…and, in my opinion, so desperately needed!

I love what I do. At the same time, I feel like it’s important to be realistic about what my job is really worth. I think it’s important to take criticism, to laugh at myself, and to keep my real-life priorities in check. Heresy, I know, but it’s a heresy that we all need to take to heart a bit.

Think about it. Sure, as VO talent, for the sake of our business, we want as much exposure as we can get. We all want that national spot for McDonald’s. We all want to dethrone Robert Downey Jr. as the voice of Nissan. We all want to be recognized as serious, competent VO talent so that we can command a respectable business. Because if we command a respectable business, we command respect, right?

Nope. C’mon, guys. Most people don’t want to listen to us…and “us” includes Robert Downey Jr., for that matter–most of the people I talk to have no idea that he does the Nissan commercials! The average person doesn’t watch TV for advertisements, they watch it for their favorite TV shows. In fact, I don’t think it would be such a stretch for me to say that there are people out there who hate ads. Think of it this way. Y’know when you’re watching a YouTube video with a lot of hits, and an ad pops up, and the “Skip To Video” button becomes available after five seconds? How many of you just have your cursor hovering over that skip button, rapidly clicking, just begging to get to your video and not caring at all about whatever ad is being shoved in your face?

Yup. That’s what I thought!

For that matter, businesses are catching on to the fact that people don’t like ads…most notably, DVR makers. According to an article* in the Wall Street Journal by Shalini Ramachandran, Dish Network unveiled a new DVR feature back in March that’s slowly gaining more prominence called “Auto Hop” which allows watchers to automatically skip the ads of their recorded programs. Apparently, some networks aren’t too happy about this.

To be fair, clearly advertising on TV has some value, or else it wouldn’t cost anything. By “some,” I mean that the same article noted that CBS brings in $4.9 billion in advertising revenue from “Two and a Half Men”‘s time slot alone. NBC brings in $4.7 billion from ads that air during “Smash,” ABC brings in $3.9 billion from ads that air during “Modern Family,” and Fox gets a nice $3.1 billion from ads that air during “American Idol.” So, yeah, not exactly chump change. Still, the fact that there’s a demand for something like Auto-Hop is proof enough of what our job is in the grand scheme of things: we speak words for money.

Sure, there’s acting involved. Sure, it’s more difficult than it looks (well, sounds). Sure, one has to make sure they can do the best job they can do with their audio equipment and their recording environment. Sure, it takes a consistent marketing effort. Sure, not everyone can do this. Sure, being successful at this business–at any business–involves taking ourselves seriously to a degree. I won’t ever say, argue, or imply that this is a skill-less, thankless, meaningless job. It most certainly isn’t! My point, and the point of the person quoted above, is merely that there is such a thing as taking one’s job too seriously sometimes. Remember, we speak words for money. Words that, even when spoken by Iron Man, people generally aren’t interested in hearing.

PS: Sorry for plugging them again, but…well, actually, no, I’m not sorry. 😀 The voice-overs.com forum, which I linked to early in the entry, is a forum that everybody should sign up for and join. It was immensely helpful for me, and unlike other forums, egos are checked at the door there!

*Source: “Zap! New DVR Wipes Out Ads” by Shalini Ramachandran, Wall Street Journal, May 11.

Some great discussion about this topic took place at…

1. The “Voice-Over Professionals” Linkedin Group

2. The “Voice-Over Vision” Linkedin Group

3. The “Working Voice Actor” Linkedin Group

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #17: Why I’m Reclusive…no, I mean why I take an effort to separate my private life from my professional life. What did you think I meant?

I avoid being too expressive over the internets because it often leads to…well, this.

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Several years ago, I signed up for an email list that posts jobs for actors. I’m not gonna say which one specifically because…well, you’ll see why. In any event, I observed that a discussion had started over the email list about proper audition protocol, and I was a tad–okay, VERY–surprised to see one particular email. The email–sent by someone that we’ll just call “Person X”–was directed at someone who had written earlier, and it was very rude…again, in the interest of not sensationalizing other people’s problems, I’m not going to drop too many specifics, but let’s just say that the email concluded with the following sentence: “So mind your own ******* business, *****.” I wouldn’t have known this were it not for the fact that Person X thought they hit the “reply” button when in fact they hit the “reply to all” button.

Say it with me now: tchhh……oooooooohhh……..

Despite being (UNBELIEVABLY) rude, I understand that sometimes passion takes over, so I gave this person the benefit of the doubt. Except that two days later, I–and everybody else on the email list–received an email from the list’s administrator. The email said that, in reaction to learning that their remarks were public, Person X sent several emails to other people on the list that were, at best, bullying, and at worst, life-threatening. The sympathy from me ends after that. If Person X didn’t understand that everything they said after their first less-than-polite email would be heavily scrutinized then they needed–and hopefully got–a harsh reality check.

On the other hand, it got me thinking about a growing trend that I’ve been noticing for the last several years, and I’m sure many others have too: thanks to the internet, private lives are becoming increasingly public, to the point where we have become afraid of expressing ourselves.

Especially with social media. I’m of the younger generation that was supposed to catch on to social media the moment it began, but I never signed up for MySpace when I was in middle school and it was all the rage, and I didn’t first set up a Facebook profile until my freshman year of college. The reason for that was because social media was this relatively new thing, and back when I was in school, “MySpace” was synonymous with “pictures of parties and drinking that were made public for all to see.” I’ve never been a huge party-goer (you can thank the autism for that), so perhaps this was a moot point. Nevertheless, I still didn’t want to be a part of “this MySpace thing” or “that Facebook stuff” because of the connotations associated with it.

I felt vindicated, though, when I started to hear a certain story popping up again and again from my peers: “Yeah, I applied for a job, but they saw pictures of me on MySpace and didn’t wanna hire me after that.” So I felt good after that. I was out, and now I had an excuse to be out–if I joined, everything I said and did would be so public that I would be vilified out of employment! I no longer had to be the “uncool” kid who didn’t sign up for MySpace or Facebook!

…Then college rolled around. I missed my high school friends. I wanted to talk to ’em. I got a Facebook account. Quite simple, really.

I would have been left behind in the dust if I hadn’t. The evolution of a global cyber-society more or less forced my hand. Social media is no longer this thing for people to post party pics on (though many still do, regrettably). Rather, it is the avatar through which we interact with the world at large. Now people are expected to have profiles on many different social media platforms, and marketers are regularly setting up Facebook pages so people can “like” them, and Twitter pages so people can “follow” them. Not having an online presence is simply crippling nowadays–on a business and a personal level.

Which is why I have two of each: a “business” profile and a “personal” profile.

On the one hand, we’re expected to have social media profiles, but on the other hand, we’re expected not to express our opinions too blatantly for fear of alienating the wrong…people (okay, let’s be honest, here’s where I should put “read: employers”). The best available compromise I could think of was to simply create two profiles for each platform. I have a “personal” profile for interacting with my friends and family, and a “business” profile for interacting with employers and colleagues, and since I don’t use a headshot, nobody has any way of knowing which of the Dave Wallaces out there is me. While I don’t have a radically different personality on my personal profiles, I’m a tad more open on those, and I take a little more risk with my humor.

Still, there’s only so much risk I can take before somebody will Google a joke I made that they will take out of context and find wildly inappropriate or offensive. There’s only so much risk I can take before employers screen my social media pages–and yes, they DO do that, click here to be amazed at the extent to which they do it. I’m not sure it’s right that my sense of expression has to be limited, though. Who in this world has ever lived a perfect life in which they never did anything they regretted?

Bottom line: I feel like hanging out in our global cyber-society is like hanging out at a party with the most conservative and humorless people in the world sometimes. Say one thing that’s even slightly undiplomatic, and even if it was in the interest of creative expression, you are branded as a moron. I’d rather not be branded as an unreliable VO talent for making a joke that some people didn’t like…but I can’t help but feel that social media’s atmosphere is such that creativity is often squashed in the interest of diplomacy.

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #16: Why I Caved In…no, I mean why I caved in to the growing realization that we as talent only have so much control over our business. What did you think I meant?

Classic image that the game opens on.

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Ever get the feeling that you’re losing power in your industry? I thought about this in light of an incident revolving around one of my favorite video games growing up…”Silent Hill 2,” released in 2001. Sure, it’s a game, but I remember it–and highly recommend it–mostly because of its compelling story. James Sunderland receives a mysterious letter from his wife, Mary, who supposedly died three years prior, telling him that she is waiting for him at their “special place” in the quiet Maine town of Silent Hill. When he arrives, he encounters a woman that he has never met named Maria…who, very unnervingly, resembles his dead wife in appearance and seems to be aware of some of their most private memories.  While a tad depressing, it has one of the most complex stories and some of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen. I’m not alone either, as many fans believe that game to be a masterpiece. So much so that, when video game company Konami announced that they would be re-doing all of the voice acting for the HD re-release in 2012, a long and bitter war of words erupted on the internet.

Since I’m a voice actor myself, I don’t want to intensify this war by taking sides or mis-quoting the specifics of a situation that, by the public admission of all parties involved, got to be very messy. However, to be absurdly short and basic, Konami claimed that they could not re-use the audio of the old voice cast due to legal issues. This resulted in a massive four-way battle of words between the original cast, Konami, the fans, and the new cast. It got worse when Konami released a “preview clip” of the new voice acting on YouTube, which only served to make fans of the old cast even more angry. Personally, I think it was more overzealous anger over the behind-the-scenes situation than it was disapproval of the new cast, but that’s besides the point. Angry fingers of blame were being pointed everywhere, to the point where somebody (we’re not sure who) gave in. The old cast ended up signing waivers giving Konami permission to re-use their audio for the 2012 HD re-release. However, the new voice acting had already been recorded, which prompted Konami to include both of the casts. When you begin the game, you are now prompted to choose between “Original Voices” and “New Voices.”

Like I said, I’m not about to take sides, especially since I’ve now heard the performances of both casts, and…quite frankly, think they’re both good! To me, one of cool things about going to see a play with different casts is that you get to see the different artistic choices that the different casts make, so it was interesting to see that concept applied to a video game. Sure, you’ll probably like some choices more than others, but in the case of Silent Hill 2, I can confidently say that both casts made artistic decisions in their acting that–while different–were all valid and completely enjoyable. People like me experienced the ultimate win-win situation being able to select either cast, and we are VERY grateful to Konami for their efforts. I can either hear the good ol’ performances I grew up with, or hear a refreshing new spin on an old classic!

Grateful as I am, though, the question I ask is…did Konami really have to do that?

Some fans saw the inclusion of both casts as a necessity. They saw it as, “this is what we want, so do it!”…and when Konami complied, the fans felt that Konami had done what was necessary. I see it quite differently…from my point of view, Konami was under no obligation to use both casts, and they all but bent over backwards to coordinate everything so that all groups would be satisfied. Despite that, when it was announced that both casts would be available for people to listen to, the expressions of “gratitude” among the fans were relatively minimal. That’s not to say that they were non-existent, but the most common expression heard among the fans was, “okay good, they did their job.” To be honest, I was a little put off by that.

The question that this event raised throughout the voice acting industry was this: to what extent is it a company’s job to do what they feel is right, and to what extent is it a company’s job to please their customers? The internet proved to be a powerful tool for fans influencing a company in this case, rather than the other way around. I’d have to imagine that if this situation had happened before the internet, and most certainly before social media, that Konami would have just re-recorded the dialogue and not even offered an explanation as to why, because they wouldn’t deem a public explanation necessary. However, when Konami and the original cast started to speak online about the situation, where their thoughts and opinions were immediately accessible, fans took notice, and the demanding began in large numbers. Large enough that Konami caved in and gave them what they wanted.

The implications for this are interesting. Granted, this is a unique situation in which the fans had an original cast to compare the new one to…but what if this incident has set a precedent for a business model in which the fans, not the artistic directors and game companies, are in control? What if this means that when companies put out “preview clips” of the voice acting on the internet, and the fans respond negatively, they re-cast the entire production?

I’m not sure I like that prospect. On the one hand, it’s a pretty basic fact that production companies want to please their customers, but on the other hand, I don’t like the idea of their creativity and their business decisions being under the mercy of people who are not doing what the companies do day-in and day-out. Many–not all–but many of the angry fans who complained were people who have never directed voice actors, never cast anything, never made business decisions on a grand scale like Konami has…and yet these are the people who more or less decided the outcome of this ordeal.

To me, this has sent a very powerful message about who’s really in charge nowadays: the consumers. The customers. The fans. I have devoted myself to my business, I do devote myself to my business, and I always will devote myself to my business. However, if there is anything that “Silent Hill 2gate” has taught me–well, okay, not taught, but reminded me–it’s that we only have so much control over our business. That’s not an excuse not to try, but it’s important (in my opinion of course) to be mindful of the fact that there will always be factors beyond our control, and that those factors are growing in power.

P.S.: I didn’t realize until today that this would be published on April 1st, so, for clarification’s sake, NO, this is NOT an April Fool’s joke–this did legitimately happen.

P.S.S.: For fun’s sake, here’s a video showing the intro of the game as it was heard with the original cast, and a video of how it was heard with the new cast. Please note, only the beginning and end of each video feature voices.

ORIGINAL CAST (2001, clip features actors Monica Hogan and Guy Cihi):

NEW CAST (2012, clip features actors Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Troy Baker):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGtpJc538sU

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #12: Why I Felt Worn Out…no, I mean why I felt worn out in trying to find new things to talk about in VO. What did you think I meant?

Bring HIM into a booth, and then we’ll have something new to talk about!

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The other day I met a zebra from the Columbus Zoo, and learned something valuable about VO. Me and the zebra went to Walgreens to pick up some cold medicine, and then I took him back to my studio and got to know him a bit better. We talked about his family, his kids, and then I asked him if he’d like to record some stuff for a project that a client had recently given me–animal noises. I’m sure the client probably wanted me to do all of the animal noises, but since I believe in going the extra mile, I went out and got an actual zebra for the zebra sounds. I squeezed him into the booth, and he recorded some of his more traditional calls. I thought he was a blast to work with, but I know other people have horror stories about working with zebras. So to all my readers and listeners, let me pose this question: do you traditionally find working with zebras to be easy, or are they a hassle to work with once you get them inside the booth?

No, that did not actually happen…but GOD I wish it did, because it would give me something new to talk about. And c’mon, you have to admit that opening paragraph got caught attention. Few in their right minds can just ignore a blog entry that begins with someone talking about their adventures with a zebra. Granted, I’m sure a fair deal of you left once you realized what this blog entry is really about, and sure, discussions about hanging out with zebras probably exist in social media discussions among safari guides (actually, do those exist?), but never in the context of VO. If I actually did bring a zebra into the booth, that would be something genuinely new, that nobody has talked about before.

Here’s why I bring this up. One of the problems with VO–a problem that I would imagine faces any profession–is that there’s only so much to talk about nowadays. I have nothing but good things to say about how fun VO is, but it’s a profession that can be a little on the monotonous side. We follow a fairly “wash-rinse-repeat”-style routine. We market ourselves through our various marketing methods. We send out auditions, acting under the assumption that we will never hear back. We hear back from some, and then a few of our regular clients ask us to record a project. We then cheer up a bit because we get to do the fun part, the actual recording!

…Then we get to the editing. We listen to the raw audio, maybe adjust the EQ a bit, add a bit of compression, and then we spend the next hour looking at waveforms for clicks so that we can edit those out, and occasionally to correct some P-Pops that jump out a bi–

–Actually, gimme a sec. Let’s see, go to the waveform, highlight the “p” part of the word, turn the lower frequencies down…

“…and occasionally to correct some p-pops that jump out a bit.”

There we go. Then we send off our completely edited projects to the client.

And then…in that peaceful reprieve that follows the completion of our work…there is a sigh of relief…when it is done, and we remember…that we are alive…and human……

…Until we go to Facebook. Or Linkedin. Or Twitter. And find our peers discussing the things that we’ve been doing all day. Questions like…

*What’s the best microphone?

*Am I ready for an agent?

*Should I join AFTRA?

*Should I go to the VOICE conference?

*What’s the best editing software?

*What do clients expect when you say that you can write the copy?

*Could you listen to my new demo and give me some feedback?

*What about SAG?

*Will the merger help the VO business?

*I need help setting up my home studio, what materials should I get to dampen the sound?

*What’s the best P2P site?

*D’ya guys think my headshot is okay?

*What’s it like to do voice-over jobs for videogames?

*Is this rate appropriate for this job?

*Does a background in radio help for VO?

*Does a background in theater help for VO?

It can be a tad exhausting in the sense that the same old questions tend to arise. One of my readers, Susan Bernard, recently told me that she’s afraid of starting a blog because, to quote her, “I’m seeing a lot of hashed re-hash and it is hard to want to add to the noise.” Well, she’s kinda right! So why do the same questions persist?

Because they’re helpful questions to ask. They’re the right questions to ask. Don’t ever be afraid to speak up and add something new to the mix, but sometimes just contributing to the mix is both helpful and appreciative! Yeah, the discussions may be the same, but often the contexts are completely different. Here are some thoughts from a few of my colleagues on that very subject…

Dave Courvoisier: Because, even if it’s been done before, the context and the audience is different. Every year, our newsroom does a story about the last minute rush to the post office with IRS Tax forms on April 15th. Nothing new…but it’s been a year since we did it. Sometimes it’s a familiar story, but with modern twists, or a new player shows up, or new developments come around. The union-vs-nonunion debate has new life with the possibility of a merger. New mics are always coming out.

Terry Phillips: Great ideas are worth repeating….plus your opinion on a subject may not have “been done.”

Paul Strikwerda: The trick is to look at an old topic in a new way. A good message is worth repeating. I take the temperature of the VO world by looking at what’s being discussed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other forums. I also add my own experience to the mix. Frustrations can be a great source for inspiration.

Long story short…yeah, the same questions come up, but that’s because they’re the same questions that continue to be relevant. So yeah, it can be a little tiring thinking of new things to bring up in VO…but keep talking, and you might be surprised how “new” your opinion may be. On that note, if any of you should manage to get a zebra into your recording booth…TELL ME.

PS: Thanks to my VO colleagues who were willing to share their thoughts with me!

PSS: Wait! I know! Something new! Chris Rock said that acting for animation is easy, I could TOTALLY blog about tha…….wait……………eight actors already did?……..Aww, ****!

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #11: Why I Grew Tired…no, I mean why I grew tired of all of the rates-related discussions that I see in VO social media forums. What did you think I meant?

Pretty much how I’ve felt lately.

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…

…Until recently.

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.

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG Entry #8: Why I Shut People Out….No, I mean why I’m a little particular about who I connect with on (some) social media sites. What did you think I meant?

Awkward Connections

DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:

“I’d like to add you to my professional network on Linkedin.”

Okay, so I may not have the best social skills in the world (as outlined by my fourth audioblog entry). Having said that, in spite of my disability, I put in the effort, even when it’s not that easy for me. So, to be perfectly honest with you, those first eleven words that I began my audioblog with are, hands-down, the words that annoy me most on a regular, day-to-day basis in social media. In case you don’t recognize it, this is the stock message that you can send to someone when you want to connect with them on Linkedin. It’s a bland, lifeless, and kind of awkward message that Linkedin provides for people who don’t want to bother to write out an actual reason for their connection.

So, my simple question is…”Is that all ‘ya got?”

Lord knows that there’s business to be had with connections. Connecting with the right agents, the right clients…heck, connecting with the right voice actors, even if you never meet them in person, can work wonders through the exchange of information that can be gained through good discussion. I’ve had the opportunity to “meet” some great voice actors entirely through the internet. I’m hesitant to name names because I’m afraid that I’ll forget some–which would lead to awkward emails–but suffice to say, I truly do love the VO community. If you know where to go, you’ll find some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable, most giving, and most informed people–who will be more than happy to give you their opinion on the industry, whether it’s friendly and informative or grim but honest.

So why not appreciate that by giving a reason for your connection? Why attempt to make connections with people that are not going to make use of the connection in any way, shape, or form? I hate to pick on the stock invitation for Linkedin, but in my mind it is that eleven-word phrase that sums up what annoys me most about connecting for no reason. ‘Cause think about it for a sec. If you were going about your daily business in real life, would you ever respond positively to something like this?

“Hey man.”

“Oh, hey, how you doi–”

“I’m doin’ fine, so I can I say that I know you?”

“Well, why?”

“Well ya’ know, uh…just ’cause.”

That’s the “conversation” that I hear every single time in my head when somebody just sends the stock Linkedin invitation. It doesn’t send me into a furious rage, not by any means. It’s just…a tad annoying.

For the record, I’m not saying that one has to know the people they’re connecting with like they’re siblings. Like I said, I’ve met some wonderful people online who, in the interest of honesty, I probably will never meet in real life purely because of geographic distance. The other day I got an invitation from somebody I’ve never met who simply wrote…

“Thank you for posting [your audioblog entry] ‘Aiming From the Hip.’ I enjoyed listening to your read. Incidentally, you are quite correct regarding how an officer aims for his target. However, not unlike the Fictional Western Hero, the officer is merely hoping to hit …something.

Best,
      Eric Anderson”

Okay, so, first and foremost–thank you, Eric Anderson! 🙂

Secondly, see how simple that was? I’ve never met Eric, and–again, purely for geographic reasons–probably won’t. In spite of that, he offered to connect with me on Linkedin because he was thankful for me posting a blog entry that he enjoyed (I KNEW officers aimed from eye level!). Gestures like that, simple and short as they are, are all I’m asking for, especially on business-related social media sites like Linkedin.

However, the more observant among you may have noticed that the title of this audioblog entry was “(some)” social media sites, and that’s not a typo. When I was just learning about social media with regard to business, I learned that there are, in essence, two possible strategies: connect with as many people as you can to form a vast, wide web of connections, or connect with select, targeted people for specific reasons to cultivate fewer but stronger connections. I tried out the former with Twitter, following a lot of different people so long as they were involved in some sort of media production according to their profiles.

Honestly, in hindsight, I think that was a huge mistake. I’m following thousands of people who didn’t follow me back, and whom I’ve never gonna correspond with. And to top it off, if I get followed by a deal finder from Finland one more time, I’m considering legal action against the Finnish government. At this point, I’m convinced that all those “deal finders” are part of an elaborate spying process, and I got what I deserved for all my mindless following when my Twitter account was…hacked…by somebody offering weight loss solutions. Again, I blame the Finnish government.

Oh, and uh, yeah…if you got one of those tweets from me, sorry…that wasn’t me.

Anyways. I have come to find that I value actual, legitimate connections in social media, not “numbers of followers/friends/people I’m connected to.” Even if the connections are fairly simplistic, I also love meeting new people online, hearing their thoughts, and discussing the industry with them. So by all means, if you want to connect with me, or any other voice actor for that matter, go ahead and do so…just remember to say why.

PS: Thanks again to Eric Anderson for allowing me to use his invitation as an example. While you guys are at it, check out his website here!