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 #30: Why I’m Not Myself…no, I mean why I do research for my VO roles and auditions. What did you think I meant?

A green apple. Surrounded by water. Is it *possible* to have a more fitting symbolic image for the preparation a voice actor must undergo for their auditions and roles? I think not.

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Daniel Day-Lewis, one of my favorite movie actors, is…a bit unusual. He’s unusual in that the degree to which he will prepare for a role is almost unrivaled. He will actually try to live the role if he can. When he was done training for his role in the movie, “The Boxer,” his trainer said that Day-Lewis probably could have gone pro if he wanted. His extreme efforts, and the efforts of actors who use similarly extreme methods, were parodied through Robert Downey Jr.’s character in the hilarious movie, “Tropic Thunder,” and rather ironically, Downey was nominated for an Oscar…for his portrayal of an actor who cared for nothing more than winning Oscars. Thankfully, as voice actors, we don’t quite have to do things like live in a replica 1692 village and build our own house without electricity or running water to prepare for our roles (something that Day-Lewis actually did for his role in “The Crucible”), but if you think for one moment that we can do this without preparation…think again. 

Granted, we don’t have all that much time. You’ve likely heard many experienced VO talent recommend improv classes for beginners, and that’s precisely why. We gotta make creative decisions with lightning-fast speed, not only because we’re not given much time to prepare, but also because in today’s “I need it yesterday” world, we’re not even given that much time to actually do our job, quite frankly. Still, this job is competitive, so if you’re smart, you’ll do a tiny bit of preparing to give yourself a slight edge. Here are a few suggestions that I’ve got:

1) LOOK UP words you’re not sure how to pronounce! Nothing says, “I’m lazy and doing this quickly” quite like mispronounced words. Heck, you can write, “How do you pronounce (insert word here)” into Google nowadays! If it’s a company name, scour YouTube for it. If you can get in touch with the client, ask them how to pronounce odd words! Otherwise you’ll end up sounding like that guy in the “Mr. Dumass” commercial (search YouTube for it when you’re done with this, it’s one of my favorites).

2) Determine the age group! Be as specific as you can possibly be. I remember when I was 6, I got very offended when somebody said I was 5. I mean, I was polite and said, “No, I’m 6,” but on the inside I was thinking, “No, I’m 6, and I will thank you not to lump me in with the other 5-year-old morons, thank you very much!” I once did an infomercial in which I spoke in my regular voice, but when the client called me back and said, “Great delivery, but this is a children’s toy, think 6 years old”…then I had to up the pitch and the enthusiasm little bit! It might have annoyed an older audience, but hey, this product wasn’t for them anyway.

3) If the thing you’re auditioning for has a length–30 seconds, a minute, whatever–make damn sure that your audition is that length as well. A mistake I made early on was that I didn’t pay too much attention to time in the interest of giving a relaxed performance where I wasn’t pressured. Looking back, I think that was a mistake. Why, pray tell, would the client choose your 50-second audition for a 30-second spot when they’ve got a gajillion other voice actors who actually took all those little details into account? Furthermore, while this isn’t exactly super-common, some clients are so rushed that they may just ask to use your audition as the final product. Like I said, we live in a “we need it yesterday” world!

4) …..Okay…….please don’t yell at me for stating a “no, duh” fact….but…..keep hydrated and eat green apples. I know, I know, a ton of my readers and listeners just said out loud, “Thank you, Colonel Obvious!” I don’t mention this in the context of vocal health, though, I actually mention this in the context of speed. If you sound too dehydrated, it may necessitate another take, and things like mouth noises and clicks…I mean…yeah, they can be edited out, but that takes more time than just making sure your mouth is click-free beforehand. For that reason, I consider green apples to be the symbol of preparation for a voice actor.

5) Think of something that generally evokes the emotion you’re trying to convey. I know many people advise thinking of the specifics of your target audience rather than going for a general feeling, and I’m not opposed to that. At all. However, I think that, before you get into specifics, it’s best to think of something that has the general, overall emotional feel that you’re going for. ‘Cause if you just go straight into specifics, then–in my humble opinion, of course–you’ll just end up carrying your every-day baggage into the recording session. If the spot you’re auditioning for calls for a humorous tone, and you’re in a bad mood, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got the specific choices of your target audience down. You won’t sound funny, you’ll just sound like someone who’s in a bad mood and trying to be funny (who has their target audience figured out). So if it’s a funny spot, think of something funny before you start making specific choices. For me, that would be Ernie Anderson’s blooper reel.

As always, I never give advice, only opinions, but I hope my opinions might prove a little helpful to somebody out there. Anyway, now that that’s over with, search YouTube for “Mr. Dumass!”