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.”
It’s great to have pride in your job…just remember what your job is.
DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:
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.
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.
Bring HIM into a booth, and then we’ll have something new to talk about!
DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:
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!
The Sennheiser 416: a popular voice-over mic and, more significantly, a symbol of Ernie Anderson’s legacy.
DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:
The microphone you see near the top of this blog entry is the Sennheiser 416 shotgun microphone. It’s extremely popular in the L.A. area, and many VO talent praise it for its “up close and personal” sound that can cut through the toughest of music and sound effects mixes. However, this mic was not at all designed with VO in mind. So how did it get so popular in the VO world? It got popular, and became one of the most used mics in the VO industry…all because a man named Ernie Anderson was difficult to work with.
I suspect many people who have been doing VO for are while are familiar with this story, but for the benefit of those who aren’t—and because I love talkin’ about it—it bears repeating. You see, one of my biggest influences in the technical world of voiceovers was the late Mike Sommer, who tragically died late last year. I learned so much from him, but one of my favorite stories that he was able to impart to me was the “origin story” (for lack of a better term) of the Sennheiser 416.
Again, for the benefit of those who don’t know, a shotgun mic is a thin, longer mic that is designed to zoom in on a single source of sound. In doing so, it cuts through a lot of background noise so that whoever the mic is pointed towards can be heard accurately and clearly. It was designed primarily for film, TV, and on-site news reporting where someone needed to be heard above other background noise (for the record, shotgun mics don’t eliminate background noise, they only mitigate it, but often that’s all people who were using the mic were asking for). As such, it was not primarily designed with VO in mind.
To be fair, the only mic made so far that was constructed and actively advertised as being a “VO mic” is Harlan Hogan’s MXL VO:1-A mic, as most other mics that voice actors use were made with musicians and vocalists in mind (including the legendary Neumann U87). However, those are very sensitive condenser microphones that need to be in very carefully treated recording environments, because they will pick up EV-ER-Y-THING. Going into a booth and recording voice-overs behind a sensitive mic had long been considered the standard for the voice-over industry…
…Until one day…
Back in the late 70’s, the 80’s, and the early 90’s, when the industry was much smaller, the king of the industry was a voice actor by the name of Ernie Anderson. Anderson had a deep, warm, kind but authoritative voice that he put to use for pretty much everything ABC did. In fact, on one appearance on the Dave Letterman show, when introducing himself he said, “I am the voice-over for ABC.” I have been casually told by people who knew Ernie that he was a nice guy, with a very wry sense of humor.
He was, however, also known for not being the easiest man to work with. He swore constantly, he rarely had anything nice to say about the copy he was given to read (or the writers who wrote it), and if he was in a bad mood, he wouldn’t attempt to hide it.
No, seriously. Here’s a few outtakes of his. I’ve transcribed them for those who prefer to read, but Ernie’s actual audio samples have been inserted (and censored) into my audio narration of this blog entry.
ERNIE: “Soooo, if any of you or your friends—AWW, JESUS!”
ERNIE: “JESUS CHRIST!”
ERNIE: “I’m ****** leaving here!”
ERNIE: “Roll the ****** thing and shut her up. Just say ‘we’re rolling, quiet on the set.'”
ERNIE: “It ain’t gonna mean one more ****** video, Jesus God…there is a way to do this ****. And this isn’t it.”
ERNIE: “Aww, ****! Call Vince! I’m part of the ****** show, I don’t want to have to repeat—(producer interjects)—no [you may not have said anything], but you gave me that god-**** look.”
ERNIE: “Jesus, this is terrible ****** writing.”
ERNIE: “See…I’m gonna tell you how you can save this piece of ****.”
ERNIE: “Where do they find these ****** writers?”
ERNIE: “WHOEVER is responsible for producing this thing has no idea what the **** they’re doing!”
ERNIE: “Let me just also say that not only did I think it was not funny, I didn’t think it was well-done.”
ERNIE: “And, you’ll meet our special gue–**** it, *****, ****!”
ERNIE: “And you’ll meet our special gue–AWW, ****!”
ERNIE: “I’m not gonna do that whole ****** thing again—(producer tells him to “chill out”)—I’m chilled out, you should see me when I’m really ******.”
ERNIE: “WHERE ARE YOU, *******!? ****, ****!”
See? Told ya.
So one day, Ernie decided that he was fed up with being in a stuffy booth, and said that if he was going to be constantly doing so much voice-over work, he wanted to be comfortable and sit in the bigger, more comfortable mixing room. If I made that request today, the clients and engineers would tell me, “too bad,” as they would for almost every other voice actor. Ernie was the king back in the day though, so rather than tellin’ him, “too bad,” they immediately began looking for ways to make him more comfortable.
Enter the Sennheiser 416.
The problem with having Ernie work in the mixing room was that it was not as acoustically conditioned as the booth was. Furthermore, there were a ton of noisy, analog editing machines (remember that this was long before everything went digital). An engineer who was working with Ernie walked over to a nearby TV set and grabbed a 416. He set it up in the mixing room, figuring that a shotgun mic would help cut through the background noise of the editing machines. Some acoustic foam was slapped on the walls of the mixing room, and they tested Ernie out on it. They thought he sounded good, he thought he sounded good…and he was comfortable. From that point on, Ernie carried a 416 to all of his gigs, and never worked in a booth again unless it was an absolute necessity.
In being difficult to work with and demanding certain working conditions, Ernie would perhaps unknowingly affect an entire industry. All of a sudden, EVERY studio had a 416 on hand specifically with voice-overs in mind. Especially for deeper-voiced male voice actors who did promos, like Ernie did. It’s so popular in Los Angeles, where he worked, that the mic was eventually given the nickname, “The LA Mic.”
Before I go any further, I’d like to be clear that I’m not endorsing any particular microphone for anybody’s voice-over needs (you go to George Whittam for that). In fact, many people don’t have nice things to say about the 416, and the general consensus is that it sounds horrid on female voices. In fact, popular character voice actor Corey Burton wrote an entire article—which I’ll link to here—describing in great detail why he absolutely LOATHES this mic.
Rather, I want to talk about something else that absolutely amazes me to this day—that there was a guy whose influence was so powerful that an entire industry essentially adapted to his requirements…and all because he was uncomfortable and difficult to work with! How many among us can ever say that we have that kind of influence? Ernie may have set trends, but most of us have to follow trends.
So that got me wondering…to what extent is it our job to set trends as voice actors, and to what extend is it our job to follow trends as voice actors? On the one hand, we have to be able to do what’s popular as a way of being marketable, but on the other hand, we have to inject our own unique personalities into VO as a way of establishing our own unique brand. Several of my fellow voice actors have said, “The VO industry has enough voices, they don’t want another voice, they want you.”
I go back and forth about that. Yes, clients nowadays don’t want anything too generic. Leaving one’s mark on the VO world makes their VO projects not only memorable, but in many ways profitable. It’s also certainly nice to think that someone wants you, and when you get to the top of show biz, your very name can be your brand. In other words, rather than making your brand, “the tough, rugged, macho voice,” when you’re at the top, you have the power to brand yourself by simply stating your name—i.e., “My name’s Harrison Ford.” Ford can simply book jobs because he’s his own brand!
How many of us will reach that level, though? In the end, we have to provide a service to clients and give them what they want. They’re only so interested in someone who’s obsessed with their voice and putting their mark on another product, clients want someone who will accurately communicate their message, whether it be a promo, a commercial, or a character. Hence the reason that “voice acting” is considered “acting,” not talking in front of a microphone. If a client calls me back and tells me to deliver a piece of copy differently, it would be unbelievably rude of me to tell them how to do their job and say…well, actually, let’s drop another quote of Ernie’s.
ERNIE: “(In response to a producer): **** you. I’m not even gonna talk to you.”
ERNIE: “I won’t walk out the door if I don’t think it’s right.”
I could never get away with that. So, who knows what different life experiences will affect my opinion. For right now, though, here’s what it is: clients want voice actors who can deliver what they want. Injecting your own personality in small doses is a great idea to keep it from being too generic, but make your personality the absolute center of the project, and you’ll be treading too far from popular trends. The very same trends that clients hire us to follow.
Maybe some of us will reach the level one day where our name is our brand. In the mean time, whenever I see a 416, in my mind, I can hear Ernie Anderson’s deep, warm, kind but authoritative voice, saying…
ERNIE: “I am sitting here ******* dying!”
PS: For those interested, I’ve attached a separate audio clip at the bottom of this article that contains a string of Ernie’s outtakes, totaling ten minutes. They’re absolutely hilarious, and just like the samples used in this blog entry, all instances of swearing have been beeped out in the interest of considering those with sensitive tastes. Still, be careful how loud your speakers are when you listen to this.
ERNIE’S (BEEP)ING HILARIOUS OUTTAKES:
Ernie Anderson: Not only was he a legendary voice actor, but if the outtake at 7:39 is anything to go by, then if he had a horse, he’d buy it oats and **** it.
“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.
Superman Logo. For the record, he would beat Batman in a fight. To all Batman fans out there, I’m sorry that you’re in denial.
DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:
“Should I have a headshot?”….
This is a question that I wondered about much earlier in my VO career. Unlike camera or theater actors, where showing your face and having a headshot is vital, with VO it’s…up in the air a bit. This is an issue that my VO colleagues are often heard debating about, with some solid arguments on both sides.
As you may have noticed, though, I don’t have a headshot. So, you guessed it, I tend to side with the idea of not having one when it comes to VO.
It’s not an issue that I’m particularly passionate about, though. Like I said, there are some solid arguments to both sides. My fellow SaVoa member, Rick Lance, even wrote this very solid blog post on his own blog…
…arguing in favor of a headshot. In the end, there’s not really a “right” or “wrong” answer as far as I’m concerned. The answer is just to do whatever works.
As far as I’m concerned, though, what works for me is to not show my face to clients in any way, shape, or form. The reason? Because my voice, not my appearance, is the core of my product.
I’ve said before that I don’t sell my voice so much as I sell my services, but it would be fair to say that my services definitely revolve around my voice. So, I’d rather be judged solely on that. If a potential client sees my face and I don’t look like the kind of person that the client saw in their mind when they imagined the voiceover, then there’s no business to be had from that. They’ll simply move on.
Sure, I’ve heard the argument that, “Well, if you can make voices that don’t sound like what you look like, it will be all the more impressive!” Ehh…yeah…but that’s assuming they listen to my demos to begin with. They may very well take a look at my picture, immediately decide that I’m not what they’re looking for, and move on—even if my demo or custom audition may in fact be exactly what they’re looking for.
I’ve also heard the argument that it makes the voice actor seem more personal and less “salesy.” Some people claim that if clients can put a face to the name, it makes them a human being rather than an abstract entity. Ehh…yeah…but this is voiceover. The client may see my face when they decide to hire me, but their customers (or whoever else they’re playing their completed VO project to) will definitely not. As voice actors, we won’t have our faces available to show when the narration piece that we recorded plays over an internet video, or a radio station, or an audio book. Our job as voice actors is to bring our own unique personality through using only our voice. I can’t even count the number of auditions I’ve seen where the instructions read, “Don’t sound like a salesman, sound like a real guy.” The keyword in this case being…“sound.”
Finally, I would also say that symbols and logos have much more power to them than faces. Faces fade into memory, but symbols can leave lasting impressions that will not die with time. For example, take a look at this symbol.
See? I don’t have to tell you what that symbol means. Everybody knows what (or rather, who) this symbol represents. Granted, it means different things to different people, but this one image is enough to evoke so many different thoughts and ideas–all without saying a word.
Now, to be fair, I would never suggest that my logo carries as much iconic weight as the, well…crest of Superman….but hopefully you get what I’m trying to say. That’s just my opinion, though. Opinions change with time, and I may yet get a headshot for myself. Like I said earlier, there are some solid arguments to both sides. But for right now, I’m sticking with a logo. As always, feel free to chip in and say your two cents. Thanks for listening!
PS: Yes, I am indeed a big Superman fan! And the new Superman movie coming out in 2012? I’m gonna be first in line!
PSS: A rough-draft mp3 version of this blog was posted earlier as opposed to the final draft, which is the version you’re hearing now. Sorry for the confusion. 😦