The guy featured in the opening clip is an enormously talented (as in he makes seven figures) VO talent by the name of Ben Patrick Johnson. He most certainly does have a great voice, and his talent is enough to justify the money he makes (and, by all accounts, he’s a really nice guy). Here’s the thing, though…this particular audioblog entry is about why I’m not really intimidated by him, nor am I worried about him–because we’re not competing for the same jobs.
The five words that are probably some of the most harmful words to people entering the VO business (or, at the very least, those who are thinkin’ about it) are, “You have a great voice.” I’ve said it many times, and people who have been doing it for much longer than I have said it even more times: it takes much more than a great voice to succeed in this business. So I was inspired to write this audioblog entry when someone was nice enough to give me that “great voice” compliment some time ago after visiting my website and looking at some of the projects I’ve done. My response? “Well, I’m glad you think so, but honestly, I only have a good voice–at best–for the things they use my voice for.”
What do I mean by that? I mean that I only get hired for jobs where my voice and acting ability can add something to a particular VO project–be it credibility, youth, reassurance, excitement, sincerity, what have you. Knowing what your vocal specialty is in this business is a necessity if you intend to compete. For me, that’s the “young, hip, cool” sound. Whenever I get an audition that requests a “deep, gritty, movie trailer voice”…than I won’t even audition for it. ‘Cause that just ain’t my voice (or, to use the metaphor recently employed by my online VO buddy Derek Chappell, it ain’t my make and model). Unless, of course, the client is intentionally looking for a humorously fakey-sounding parody of the typical movie trailer voice style perfected by the late Don LaFontaine, Hal Douglas, and Ben Patrick Johnson…but they usually aren’t.
Weird thing, though…in many ways, this goes against what I was taught in high school and in college, where I was educated in acting. There, they emphasized versatility above all else. They emphasized the ability to adapt to any character whatsoever…anything from a neurotic teenager to a grizzly old man. They wanted you to get inside the character’s head, no matter who the character was. Whether or not you’d realistically be cast in this role in a real-life situation was irrelevant.
As well-intentioned as that may have been (hey, education is about allowing someone to flex their creative muscles and think outside the box), there’s a bit of a disconnect between the art of acting and the business of acting. In the art of acting, we’re supposed to be as versatile an actor as possible so that we can take on as many roles as possible. In the business of acting, though, the most successful actors are the ones who can market themselves effectively by telling all potential clients, “Hey–here’s how you can use me.” Casting nowadays–not just in VO, but in all forms of acting–is typecasting. “Typecasting” used to be an evil word that meant the end of an actor’s career, but now it’s simply a wise business practice.
Discouraged that you can’t do whatever you want in VO? Don’t be. The good thing about this is that I don’t have to worry about the deep-voiced movie trailer guys. Why? Because, as enormously talented as these guys are, their voices sound nothing like mine, and are so far separated from mine that I don’t have to wonder if I’m losing jobs to them. I’m not. The jobs that they’re getting are jobs that I never had any chance of getting, because my specialty is different than theirs. Similarly, they’re not getting jobs that demand voices of the “young, hip, cool” variety. VO is competitive, sure, but you’re never competing against everyone.
VO is a tough job, but there’s one universal benefit–it requires a lot of introspection about what your talents are. Remember, you are enough! Don LaFontaine once said, “The best voice actors I know are the voice actors who understand their relationship with words.” So really, I know that few people talk this way, but if you really want to compliment a voice actor, the best thing you can possibly say is not, “You have a great voice”…but rather, “You really know how to use your voice.”
I’m gonna make a prediction in this entry about where VO is headed…in the future! The thing is, I’m a tad scared to make it. I mean, aren’t some movies pretty laughable in how off they were in their predictions about what will happen in the future? Take “Back To The Future Part 2,” for example, in the clip that I opened my entry with. According to that movie, our cities will look like THAT in…2015. Three years. If they’re right, then DAMN is there going to be a rapid explosion of technology in three years! Or how about “Blade Runner,” which supposedly takes place in 2019, and shows a Los Angeles with a smog-covered sky, lots of buildings, and lots of crowds that make it difficult to see where you’re going……..actually, that is Los Angeles, never mind. What I’m trying to say is don’t laugh at me too much if, years later, my predictions of the future turn out to be wrong. However, I’m gonna use some actual examples to back up my prediction: namely, my prediction that VO will be completely replaced with on-camera and 3D motion-capture acting.
What I’m using as the basis for my prediction is…video games. Yeah, I know, “But Dave, those are video games, not your usual day-to-day VO jobs”…right? Well hey, that’s why I said this is a prediction of the future. Currently, only clients like video game and movie companies can afford this top-dollar technology, but every technology gets cheaper in time, and I can definitely see the average client using this technology when it gets cheaper.
Y’see, I’m a bit of a weirdo when it comes to video games in that a game’s story has always been the #1 factor for me, and few stories had more effective acting than a game called “Heavy Rain.” To give the plot an absurdly quick summary, the protagonist’s 10-year-old son is kidnapped by a serial killer who continually taunts the protagonist with clues as to where he’s keeping the boy. Needless to say, that’s a pretty dark and intense story, but creator David Cage was pretty vocal that he wanted to create a video game experience that was just as emotionally provocative as a movie. To do that, it goes without saying that the acting needed to be top-notch so that players could get emotionally invested. Rather than just doing voice-over, though…Cage went the extra mile.
All of the characters in the game were designed to look completely identical to the voice actors who played them. And they did a pretty good job with it, if I do say so myself. Check out how creepy the similarities are.
The characters in “Heavy Rain” were designed to resemble their voice actors.
Conceptually speaking, that’s not quite new. Back in the old days, Disney was filming live-action sequences on film to use as a reference for their animation, and often had the voice actors serve as the physical models for the characters they played. The point behind this, though, is so that no gamer could ever complain, “That voice doesn’t sound like it fits”…because the voice belongs to the person they’re portraying.
Then, however, comes the voice acting. After designing the characters based on the voice actors who played them, and having them act out their scenes using motion-capture technology, it was time to record the voices. That’s a process that, under normal circumstances, means just having the actors come in, record their lines, and having the animators make the facial reactions. With “Heavy Rain,” though, they literally put motion capture gear on the actors’ faces while they recorded their lines, so that both their vocal delivery and their facial expressions would be captured. So the acting in “Heavy Rain” can’t really even be called “voice acting,” because it was acting on all three fronts–body, face, AND voice. To date, not even a Pixar movie has done this.
The video below shows the entire process. I’ll also end this portion of my audio narration here so you can watch the video.
FAIR WARNING: The scenes in this video from the 0:51 mark to the 1:21 mark, while not inappropriate per say, might be a little too intense for people who are bothered by physical violence, and it’s beyond my ability to edit out since I’m embedding this video from another source. So please skip that section if you’re bothered by violence.
DONE VIEWING? THEN GET BACK ‘TA LISTENING!:
“Heavy Rain” may be revolutionary now but, honestly…I think that’s where all VO is headed. Who’s to say that, when the technology gets (MUCH) cheaper, that e-learning client of yours won’t be asking if you have face-capture gear to give their e-learning program more of a personal touch? What if a major Los Angeles-based advertising company wants you to film a few sequences in your home green screen studio for use in their new commercial for Dove soap? Absurd, right?
Yeah, absurd. Just like people said home VO studios would only be a thing for the rich…before they turned into a necessity to compete in this business. Or just like people said that you had to go to a major studio to record VO…before people started delivering audio over the internet. Let’s be honest, folks…soon, more and more clients are gonna be asking us for HD audio, before moving on to more intense demands as the technology gets cheaper. Granted, I could be totally off, and either way, motion-capture acting isn’t gonna become commonplace any time soon…but I firmly believe that’s where we’re headed. Makes me all the more glad that I trained in areas of acting beyond VO!
*sound of record scratching*
EXTRA, EXTRA, EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT…OR LISTEN ALL ABOUT IT, DEPENDING ON YOUR PREFERENCE AND INTERNET CONNECTION SPEED! This audioblog entry was originally published on June 3rd, but I’ve got an update as of June 15th that I’d like to share with you all. This entry of mine received a very polarized response, with some very worried about my prediction, and others saying, “Dave, calm the heck down!” Well, this audioblog entry was written with a slight tongue-in-cheek tone, but it lies somewhere between a joke and a prediction. Like I said, motion-capture technology isn’t going to become commonplace anytime soon…but one VO talent by the name of Peter Drew was nice enough to point me to an article he wrote–years ago, mind you–on a threat that is even more imminent…a computer program that can actually mimic convincing human speech. I do mean convincing, too, not that fake stuff that you’re hearing in this particular clip. Check out the article here!
Okay, be honest…when you hear the word “dub,” it’s either this or those old kung-fu movies that you think about, right?
DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:
Ask any voice actor what inspired them to become a voice actor, and the stories are usually pretty similar. They were told they had a great voice, they began in radio, they listened to cartoons…stuff like that. I consider myself a tad different in that regard. Technically cartoons and video games inspired me to get in, which is why I’m not enormously different. What makes me a tad different is that the cartoon and video game performances that inspired me the most…were not the original performances of the source material. They were dubs.
Shows like “Dragon Ball Z,” “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” and “Pokemon” may not have quite the same name power as “Looney Tunes,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” or “Rugrats,” but quite frankly, they influenced me way more than any North American cartoon ever did. Even when I grew up, bought the DVDs, and was able to switch over to the original Japanese audio track with English subtitles, the original Japanese casts didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as the performances of the English actors who dubbed them. To me, the English dub casts will always be the casts that matter. Which is a pity, really, because while their appreciation has grown tremendously over the years, dub actors, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, “Don’t get no respect”…comparatively speaking, anyway.
In discussing last week’s audioblog entry, it became apparent to me that there is only so much “mainstream” respect and awareness for what we do. Voice actors are relatively obscure in the grand scheme of things. However, even within our industry, there are obscure parts, such as dubbing. The reason I’m using Godzilla as my featured image is because, in all likelihood, that’s what many people think of when they hear the word “dub.” They imagine the original Japanese actors talking for extended periods of time, only for atrociously lip-synced dialogue to ruin whatever mood was originally set up.
Well, in this entry, I’m gonna show some lovin’ for the dubbin.’ I don’t think it’s nearly respected as it should be. That’s partially because, up until (relatively) recently, the English dub actors were not allowed to be credited to specific roles, and instead the credits would simply say “Featuring the English Voices of…” and then list all of the actors in a seemingly random order. However, there’s also a lack of awareness of the process and art behind dubbing. It has come a long way since it originally started! Some of the stuff here will be “old news” to voice actors who have done ADR or dubbing before, but like I said, in the interest of spreading awareness of the job of the voice actors who inspired me most, I’m gonna talk about the three “Methods” of dubbing (and the third one, I bet, will surprise even the veterans).
METHOD 1: The “Three Beeps” Method
This is, hands-down, the most common method. This is used not only in anime, but also in dubbing for foreign films and ADR. First, the actor is played a preview of what they will be dubbing. Following this, the engineer will set up three beeps at a set rhythm to be played to the actor through their headphones. Based on the rhythm of these three beeps, the actor tries to imagine in their head where the fourth beep should be, and is supposed to start saying their line on this imaginary fourth beep, taking care to match the lip movements of whatever it is they’re trying to dub. This used to be a pretty long process in the days of laying everything to film, when so many analog machines had to be timed to be in sync with everything, but ever since things went digital, this process is much faster. Here’s an example of the talented Johnny Yong Bosch dubbing the main character of an anime called “Eureka Seven”:
METHOD 2: The “Rhythmo-Band” Method
DON’T WANNA READ? THEN (KEEP) LISTEN(ING)!:
While the Three Beeps Method has gotten faster, it’s still not nearly as fast as the Rhythmo-Band Method. This is a rare method of dubbing. In fact, it’s almost exclusive to France and Quebec. And…that sucks, quite frankly, because this method is so much more effective and useful for the actor. Rather than cue the actor with beeps, the engineer takes a blank strip of film and writes out the revised dialogue by hand onto the film strip. This film strip, the “rhythmo-band,” is then projected onto a separate TV screen beneath the main TV screen that shows the visuals that the dubbing actor will dub. Towards the left end of the rhythmo-band screen, a static red line is projected. As the visuals of the main screen move along, so does the rhythmo-band. Because the engineer took the time to precisely calculate how long everything should be pronounced, and adjusted the size and length of their handwriting accordingly, the rhythmo-band’s text scrolls from right to left in sync with the picture, and the dubbing actor simply reads the rhythmo-band’s moving text as it intersects with the static red line.
In doing so, the rhythmo-band displays to the actor the exact speed and timing at which they’re supposed to say their lines. An example of this is shown below, using behind-the-scenes footage of the French dub of “Pokemon” (fast-forward to the 3:29 mark):
YOU REALLY DON’T WANNA READ, DO YOU? WELL, LISTEN, THEN!:
Okay, actually, before I move on, I’d like to clarify one thing. I will thank all of my older readers and listens–and Herman Cain–to STOP mispronouncing the damn show’s name! It’s “POE-kay-MON,” not “POE-kee-MON.” It annoyed me when I was 11, and it annoys me now! Do you people not have ears? It’s in the theme song! Listen!
See, I’m not making this stuff up! So please, STOP it!
…Anyways. The reason the Rythmo-Band Method is awesome is because the guess work present in the “Three Beeps Method” is eliminated for the actor…
…But not for the engineer. The reason this method didn’t take off much beyond France or Quebec, is because it takes an exhausting amount of time to prepare for the engineer. Especially in the old days when they had to watch the film over, and over, and over, and over again so that they could calculate the proper length and size of their handwriting so that it would be in sync with the picture. Thankfully, they no longer write out the revised dialogue by hand, and have since developed software programs designed to mimic the rhythmo-band’s function and work in sync with audio editing programs like Pro Tools (one of which can be found here). I’ve heard rumors on the internets that a select few studios in LA use this method now. I’m all for this method replacing the Three Beeps Method, if only because I’m an actor and it makes the actor’s life much easier.
Well, that is, until we get to the third method…
METHOD 3: Revise The On-Screen Visuals
Since dubbing began, the idea has been that, since the on-screen visuals can’t be revised, dubbing actors had to do the best they could to sync their words to the mouth movements of the characters they were dubbing. Dubbing studios couldn’t go back to animation studios and ask them to draw alternative drawings to match the lip movements of the English actors, or ask film companies to shoot alternative scenes in which the actors on screen matched the lip movements of the dubbing actor. That would be absurd and impractical…
YOU ARE A LAZY, LAZY INDIVIDUAL..AND I RESPECT YOU!:
What you just saw (assuming you clicked the link–you DID, right?) is the result of a computer program developed by New York University called “Video Rewrite,” that uses CGI to rework the mouth formations of people on screen to match the mouth formations of the words spoken by the dubbing actor. They used Video Rewrite to dub an old video of JFK, making President Kennedy’s mouth look like he was speaking the words of the dubbing actor. The idea behind this is that, when mass-produced, needing to match lip movements in dubs will be a thing of the past, and the dubbing actors will finally be able to deliver their lines however they please, without regard for how the original actor did. This technology, though, is a long way off.
So for now, it’s mostly the Three Beeps Method and the Rhythmo-Band Method. Take some time to watch a foreign movie dubbed, or an anime dubbed (anything by Hayao Miyazaki will be good since Disney is in charge of dubbing his movies). For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the technology and artistic acting ability of dubs have evolved over the years, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
PS: From now on, I’m going to be doing something with my audioblog entries that I haven’t been doing before. Very often when I post my audioblog entries in social media forums, some GREAT discussions will come out of them. That’s good, for the most part…problem is, often some great material will come out after the fact. For example, in last week’s audioblog entry, I talked about how VO has zero presence in colleges except for Yale. Turns out…I was a tad misinformed. A few colleges do indeed offer it. They’re still few and far between, and I maintain that it needs to have a stronger presence, but more colleges were brought to my attention, and more elements of the issue were discussed. So, from now on, when I see a great discussion arise, I’ll post links to those discussion threads. Entry #20 has already been retrofitted that way, and I’m workin’ on the others. By all means, join in on the discussion! It’s not like you’re…actually, hold on a second…
It’s not like you have to wait for your time to speak!
Okay, not entirely accurate, but that’s how I envisioned myself when I found out that colleges don’t teach voice acting.
DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:
As a relatively recent college graduate, I can tell you that there were certain things I wish I had learned in college that I never did. Not because I didn’t pursue them, but because the opportunity just wasn’t available. I have a degree in theater, and I concentrated on acting. I was taught stage acting, mask acting, and camera acting…but never, at any point, was I taught voice acting. Whatever I know now, I had to pick up on my own (well, and with some coaches). So imagine the reaction I had when I found out that, apparently, some obscure college that no one’s ever heard of called “Yale,” does indeed have a VO class!
Here’s how I found out. In surfin’ around a few Linkedin forums, Jake Foushee, the kid who I mentioned in Entry #19, was brought up. I screwed up the pronunciation of his last name in that entry, but I can no longer permit myself to do that ’cause…Jake now has agency representation through Abrams Creative Artists! So it sounds like we’re gonna be hearing this guy a lot more! Still, he’s been quite the talk of a few VO forums, and in one of those forums, one voice-over talent expressed some concern that he’ll be competing against other VO talent who have much more experience and training than he does. Then, one of the replies said…
“…As a professor who teaches voiceovers at Yale, I can assure you that Jake will have the proper training and mentoring.”
However, that’s how the rest of the world read that sentence. Here’s how I read that sentence:
“…As a professor who teaches voiceovers at Yale–”
*sound of record scratching*
“WHAT!? They TEACH voice-overs? AT FREAKIN’ YALE!? I CANNOT BELIEVE–”
I then proceeded to rant, but it lasted for three hours, twelve minutes, and forty-six seconds so I’ll stop there. To summarize the rant, I was just cursing the fact that a college actually teaches VO!
To me, it’s something that no longer has an excuse not to be taught in an academic setting! I knew I wanted to get into voice acting when I was 12, so I remember back when I was 17 and looking at colleges, their acting curriculum was top of mind for me. Most had a good theater acting program, some even had a TV/camera acting program, but VO? Whenever I said, “Well, I really wanna do voice acting, do you guys have anything like that here?” The only response I would ever get back was, “Um…I mean, like, we have a campus radio station. Is that…is that what you meant, or…?”
Fast-forward a few years, the situation evolved to the point where I ended up teaching a one-day VO class. I don’t exactly mean that in a good way, though. Y’see, back when I was in the OSU theater department, it was mentioned by somebody that I did voice-overs. I’m not one to gossip, but many actors generally are, so the word quickly spread. For the next year, whenever I introduced myself to a fellow student at the theater department as “Dave Wallace,” their next immediate response would be, “Oh wai–I’ve heard of you, you’re the, the voice-over guy, right?” To which I would always respond, “Well I wouldn’t exactly put that as my legal name on my tax returns, but I do voice-overs, yes.” So eventually, I get hit with this bombshell from one of my acting professors–
“Would you mind making a one-day presentation to the class on voice-overs?”
Don’t get me wrong, it was nice of my professor to ask me that, but I was very reluctant to do that. I said to her…
“Well, I mean…y’know, I’ll be happy to do that, but I don’t know that I’m the best guy for the job. I’m not a newbie by any means, but I’m not exactly a veteran, either. My experience just isn’t up to the level that I would consider ‘professor-like.’ We’ve got some acting professors here who have been doing acting for decades and hell, we’re OSU–we’re THE biggest college in the U.S.! Isn’t there somebody here who’s more knowledgeable than I am?”
Their immediate reply was, “Nope.” So I, a kid who, at the time, had only been doing VO for three years, gave as best a lecture I could about VO. I tried to cover all that I could–the importance of acting ability, having a brand, knowing how to run a small business, utilizing various marketing methods, where to go to get one’s demo done…I answered any questions I could.
As glad as I was to help out, though…the academic world deserves better than me.
The now-common nature of home studios, combined with the fact that I’m one of the closest things that a major university had to someone knowledgeable in VO, is all the evidence we need that VO has to have an academic presence. Why are there not more professors teaching VO? Why aren’t colleges setting up a cheap booth with a USB mic just to give students a feel for how their voice sounds on a microphone? Why aren’t field trips being arranged to VO recording studios? Why are colleges giving prospective students blank stares when they ask to learn about a rapidly-growing medium of acting? I can’t think of good answers to these questions, so the excuses are up as far as I’m concerned!
So congrats to that one professor I saw who’s teaching VO at Yale. He’s teaching something that, as a kid, I wanted to learn so, so, so badly!
Some great discussion took place on this topic at…
First off, if you haven’t watched the video above, do so. It’s of a young dude by the name of Jake Foushee (my apologies to Jake if he listens to this and I mispronounced his last name…or his first name, but I’m pretty sure I got “Jake” right). Anyway, this young guy aspires to become an actual voice actor. As most of my readers and listeners know, it takes much, much more than a great voice to succeed…but hey, he’s got a great voice. To quote one of the people who posted on his YouTube video, “Dude, puberty hit you like a ******* freight train!” That same train has now carried his video to the status of “viral,” which most marketing experts, with college degrees in marketing, can’t figure out how to do. So that got me thinking…just what is it that makes a video go viral?
Hell if I know.
What, were you people expecting a more complex answer? It doesn’t sound like a lot of other people know, either. According to YouTube’s official Trends Manager, a guy whose job is to “professionally” watch YouTube videos (side note: HOW DOES SOMEBODY GET A JOB THAT AWESOME!??), forty-eight hours worth of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, but less than 1% of those will go on to get over a million views. There simply aren’t many ways to predict whether a video will go viral or not. For all the demos and official VO projects that I’ve put up for viewing on my YouTube channel, the video of mine that continues to get the most views is a God-awful parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that I was forced to write and perform for a college class. (It’s here if you want to watch it, but be forewarned, my singing should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention as a method of torture):
Now…having said all that…there do indeed appear to be some common trends among videos that go viral. It would only be fair at this point for me to say that some–okay, all–of my info was gleaned from several sources, so I felt it would be proper of me to list the sources at the bottom of the article. However, in the interest of giving it my own unique spin, I’ve tried to pull out the most interesting bits and apply them to VO where possible.
Trend Number 1: THEY’VE BEEN SHARED BY OTHER PEOPLE
A study conducted by Indiana University created a program that simulated Twitter, and it found that, despite the fact that all simulated Tweets were inherently equal, some Tweets became immensely more popular. When a Tweet was re-Tweeted, it was more likely to be seen by the simulated users, which led to the re-Tweeted Tweets getting even more re-Tweeting and, by extension, more exposure. Simply put, social media entries that are shared end up getting much greater web exposure than those that sort of languish in cyberspace.
This, to me, highlights the need to be social with other voice actors online. Share other people’s stuff, and they’ll be more inclined to share your stuff. There is a sort of invisible code that if someone likes and/or shares your stuff, it’s polite to return the favor when possible. Granted, not everybody follows this code, of course, and some would call that a wise business practice. The way I see it, though, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with contributing to a community and, in doing so, reinforcing the value of our profession through discussion.
Trend Number 2: THEY’VE BEEN SHARED BY OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE COOLER THAN YOU
Often times, things won’t go viral until it’s shared by someone else who’s (really, really) popular. There’s even an official term for them–“tastemakers.” Author Justin Halpern was able to get his best-selling book, “S*** My Dad Says,” published largely because tastemaker and comedian Rob Cordry (of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” fame) found Halpern’s Twitter account and alerted all of his followers to how funny it was. (On a slightly unrelated note, if you don’t like to read, listen to the audiobook, whose narrator, Sean Schemmel, was nominated for an Audie Award for his work there). Ted Williams, the “Man With the Golden Voice” became well known largely because the Columbus Dispatch newspaper released a YouTube video featuring him to all their viewers, and the infamous “KONY 2012” video had a huge surge in views when Justin Bieber Tweeted it.
I’ll admit, listing this is kind of cheating because it’s very similar to Trend Number 1, but if you have any hopes of your social media entries going viral, the key seems to be that they must be shared by other people in the hopes of being seen by other famous people.
Trend Number 3: THEY HAVE AN EMOTIONAL ANGLE
According to one study (cited at the bottom of this entry), the social media entries that are the most popular tend to be the ones that appeal to emotions first and foremost. Whether that emotion be happiness, sadness, positive, or negative, giving your entries an emotional edge does seem to help. This is a risky thing to do since pouring your heart out online doesn’t generally look good to employers, but…honestly, I can attest to this working. If the WordPress dashboard is anything to go by, the audioblog entry of mine that continues to get the most views is #13, in which I (half) jokingly referred to all actors–myself included–as “morons” for actually wanting to pursue an acting career. I considered it one of my weaker efforts, but it continues to be my most viewed and shared entry.
Trend Number 4: THEY QUICKLY GET TO THE POINT
It’s tempting to “set the scene” and have a long build-up to whatever it is you’re trying to say, but resist that temptation, because, according to creative marketing agency Seedwell, unless you can tell somebody in 10-15 seconds why they should care, they won’t. Some of my more frequent readers and listeners know that I loathe Twitter because of how it forces me to condense my thoughts, but the fact that there’s demand for such a social network is proof enough that people like things short and sweet nowadays.
This can certainly be applied to VO. I’m hearing more and more about how fast-paced our clients are. A few quick examples I can think of right off the bat?
-Sure, most of our demos are sixty seconds, but how many clients actually listen past three seconds? Almost none.
-I asked a few trusted ears for some feedback on a video reel I’ve been putting together, and the first thing they said? “That black screen at the beginning with your contact info is way too long–shorten it.”
-On a similar note–in my opinion, of course–don’t slate your demos, ’cause 99% of the time, people know whose demos they’re listening to.
-Way back in the first incarnation of my website (not this, this is my audioblog), I was told to put my demos on the first page. “Let’s be honest Dave, that’s probably all they’re going to listen to,” is what I was told.
Trend Number 5: THE THREE GOLDEN CATEGORIES
One study noted that there seem to be three golden categories for social media content that goes viral: parodies, unbelievably cute stuff, and funny accidents. This is going to be, hands-down, the hardest part for VO talent. Unless you do a parody of a famous voice, have a puppy in the background while you’re recording a spot, or someone randomly charges into your booth and bashes you on the head with your own microphone, it will be difficult for people in VO to do anything that remotely resembles something for the three golden categories. Since none of these three things naturally fit into the context of VO, our social media entries will never be the most viewed things in the world. And I would never be so immature as to include pictures of puppies to boost my SEO rating and entice people to keep reading.
That was a lie, I totally would.
Like everything else in this business, going viral involves a lot of luck. In the end, though, there do appear to be these five common trends that increase your luck. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and superimpose images of puppies over all of my demos.
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.
Y’know…those old Western movies are so cool. The ones where two dudes have a showdown on an old, dusty road, and then out of nowhere the good guy draws his gun and, aiming from his hip, takes out the bad guy in one shot. It’s so damned impressive…and there’s a reason it’s so damned impressive–because in real life, that almost never works.
In real life, both of the dudes in the showdown would take care to aim carefully so that they could hit their target–their life is on the line, after all! If one of them missed, then in all likelihood they’d run away screaming like a little girl while the other one kept shooting until they got a successful hit (and quite frankly, I really wish they had made a Western movie where one of John Wayne’s characters did just that, if only for my amusement).
All of this to say, if you want to hit your target, you have to aim very precisely and carefully. Carelessly aiming from the hip seriously downgrades your accuracy. And if you miss your shot, you’re just wasting your time and your ammo. Now, in the interest of honesty, I’ve never held a gun in my life except for this one time when I was 12 years old and shot clay pigeons with my Dad. I’ve also held guns before in video games, but I’m pretty sure those don’t count. However, I’ve watched enough episodes of COPS to know that no actual police officer aims from the hip.They raise their gun to eye level and are as careful and as calculating as they can be given how dangerous their situation is.
…Oh, what!? Don’t judge me, COPS is a good show!
In any event, here’s why I bring this up. I’m not switching the focus of my blog from VO to guns, weaponry, and 2nd amendment rights. Rather, it’s a metaphor for how best to approach VO–aim carefully! Think about the copy ahead of time. Think about where it will be used, who the target audience is, what words to emphasize, where to take your pitch during your reads, how fast to deliver certain lines, what tone to use…thinking about all of these things ahead of time will always, always, always lead to much better reads! Will it guarantee you the best conceivable read in the world? Absolutely not. It will, however, guarantee you the best conceivable read that *you* can give with your current skill level.
Because let’s be honest, for all the talk of how we should aim carefully, sometimes…we don’t. Not everyone will admit this, of course. That’s to be expected. There will inevitably be one or two voice actors who read this and proclaim otherwise. “Absolutely not! I put every ounce of energy and thought I have into every single piece of copy that I read, taking lots of careful time to get the details right!”
…With all due respect, pardon me if I don’t believe you for one second.
Nobody is immune to habits. In anything we do on a day-to-day basis, we inevitably fall into certain habits. Even if we don’t intend to. In the rush of a busy VO day, it’s very tempting to not mark up the copy, or not think about it before we send out an audition. Which is not to say that we don’t put effort into it, but rather, we don’t put that much thought into it. We’ll take a quick glance at the overall feel of the copy and go, “Okay, I’ll go with my warm friendly voice,” or, “Okay, I’ll go with my intense promo voice.” I think there’s some benefit to this very quick style of thinking in that it helps our cold reading skills, but the benefits of aiming from the hip are outweighed by the benefits of aiming carefully from the eyes. It sure beats turning out a quick audition, only to go back to it later and think, “Ugh…no, no, no, that wasn’t my best take!”
Let me end this blog entry with a quote by a guy named Shigeru Miyamoto. You may not know him, but you know of his work–he made all the Mario games, the Zelda games, the Metroid Prime games, the Donkey Kong games…even if you don’t play video games, all those iconic video game names that you’ve inevitably heard tossed around were his idea. He had a reputation for committing to a release date for his games, only to push it back again, and again, and again, all because he felt the final result wasn’t ready. When his producers asked him why, he always responded, “Because a delayed game will be good eventually, but a bad game is bad forever.” Same thing with VO. A take that you took slightly longer to think about, or an audition that you took slightly longer to edit, will be as good as it can be eventually, but a bad take or a bad audition…is bad forever.
“I’m so jealous, Dave, you just get paid for talking”….
These were the words spoken by a great friend of mine outside the voice acting industry. Immediately when he said that, I punched him in the face.
Okay, no. I just thought that would be a funny way to begin this entry. 😀
Nothing of the sort happened. I was just hanging out with him recently, but told him that I had to leave a little early because I had to record a spot for a client in a few hours. He responded with the quote you see above (or rather, heard a few seconds ago, if you’re listening).
I certainly wasn’t offended, of course. I’m sure to someone outside the voice-over industry, that’s probably exactly what it looks like. Many people come into the VO business under the misconception that it’s this easy career where all you have to do is read in front of a microphone. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, though. Our job is, more often than not, to make the words given to us sound natural, and it’s not the easiest thing to sound natural with words that are not our own. You need to be able to act. You don’t necessarily have to have acting experience per say, but you do need to have acting talent. Because every job we get, no matter what it is, is still an acting job.
If the idea of acting is intimidating to you, then I suggest you try it out. Sure, show biz is difficult, and Hollywood may not be very accessible, but acting, in and of itself, is very accessible. Try it by taking acting classes, or doing Community Theater or improv classes, and find out what you like about acting. If you try it and you don’t like it at all, that should be your first red flag. However, if you do find that you like something about it, figure out what it is, hone in on it, and let that be your passion for why you act.
And yeah, you guessed it, this blog entry is going to be about what my passion for acting is.
Something that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I am autistic. I have something called Asperger Syndrome, which is a disorder on the “Autism Spectrum.” To give this disorder an (absurdly) short summary, it means that I have difficulty in the area of social interaction. Thankfully, I had a very mild case of it to begin with when I was first diagnosed at the age of four. The signs were pretty clear, though. I didn’t really interact much with the other kids, got really quiet in large group settings, I usually couldn’t complete a conversation without imitating a Disney character, and despite being unable to carry out a full conversation, I memorized the entirety of “Phantom of the Opera.” When I was three years old. I suppose one could say I had a hard time understanding people.
Thankfully, because of consistent, effective occupational therapy, I have grown up into a functional adult. As Asperger’s is a life-long disorder, though, I’ll never truly be “rid of it,” and even to this day I’m given reminders of that. I still struggle with it in that I still hate interacting with large groups, and after about a half hour of being in one I just sort of “shut down” and stop talking. I’ll often drive to big events separately from my friends so that I can leave early. And every once in a rare while, you’ll hear me breaking the conversation entirely to bring up a funny YouTube video that saw the other day–even if it’s not at all related to the conversation at hand.
Speaking of which, have you guys seen this?
Anyways, joking aside, it has always been hard for me to be “normal.” And voice-over often calls for us to play the “normal, everyday guy that you’d go out and have a beer with.” That’s…not really who I am. In trying to figure out the mindset of someone like that, though, I feel I can get closer to that mindset and understand it more. For that reason, I’ve booked many jobs playing that kind of guy. With every character I play, I have to figure out why they think the way they do, and that helps me understand them. Which is why I credit my acting experience in addition to my occupational therapy to helping me mitigate my autism: I love acting because it helped me to understand people, and it continues to do so.
Someone once told me that you have to be borderline-insane to actually want to be an actor, because of how difficult the job is. It certainly is difficult, but it’s one that I have an uncontrolled passion for. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. So find out what gives you your passion to act, hone in on it, and all of your shortcomings in this career will, in hindsight, look trivial against the successes you have had.