Looking back at my writing of the past few years, I see that I spent a lot of time warning my readers:
“A voice-over career is not as easy as some people want you to believe.”
“There’s no success without sacrifice.”
“This business is highly subjective and unfair.”
“You’ll be competing against thousands of hopefuls.”
While some of you appreciate my “tell it like it is” style, others think I have a secret agenda. Recently, one of my critics wrote the following, after he had watched my video The Troublesome Truth About A Voice-Over Career:
“This video was made by an old-timer, unwilling to accept a changing industry, and the new competition it brings !!!”
I’ve heard that silly argument numerous times. Somehow, I supposedly feel so old and so insecure that I want to scare off the competition by telling them that they’re never going to make it. It’s either that, or people assume I’m recruiting new students for my VO-coaching by telling them how much they need me.
Well, let me set the record straight.
I’m not that old yet, and I’m certainly not insecure. I welcome any newbie who wants to give this voice-over thing a try, and I believe there’s enough work for talented, unpretentious people who sell their services at a fair price. I don’t advertise my coaching services, and those who want me to be their mentor have experienced that they need to go through several hoops before I take them on as a student.
Now, what I’m about to say is not meant to scare you, but to open your eyes.
Whether you’re an aspiring voice-over or a veteran, if you doubt your ability to deliver what clients want to hear and pay you for, you have some serious soul-searching to do. If -for some reason- you feel inferior, incapable, or undeserving, you will be undermining your chances of success every single day.
In the tough world of freelancing there is no room for the unprepared, the needy, the desperate, or the faint of heart.
That doesn’t mean that I want you to be an overconfident, self-absorbed know-it-all. On the contrary. You do need the ability to recognize your challenges. You have to be open to learning new things, and a healthy sense of humility will serve you well. However, if you don’t believe in yourself as a professional, don’t expect others to take your word for it.
What makes humans so interesting is that our thoughts and feelings come to the surface via our behavior. In the way we walk. In the way we talk. In the way we respond to our environment. Some psychologists call those clues BMIR’s (pronounced “Beamers”): Behavioral Manifestations of Internal Representations.
Whether we’re terrified, or madly in love, we will give ourselves away by the tone of our voice, our body language, and by how we interact and react to the world around us. It’s natural. So, if deep-down you believe you’re “just a beginner” who doesn’t deserve to paid a fair, normal rate, your actions will reflect that belief, and your results will confirm it. Ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy?
If a script requires you to play the role of a confident academic, and those grey cells between your ears tell you that’s “just not you,” you’re in trouble. One of my students wanted me to help her with a script that required her to use a sultry, seductive voice. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t do it. It turned out that she wasn’t comfortable with her own sexuality, and she thought the words she was hired to record were somewhat degrading.
“If that’s how you feel,” I said, “why on earth did you accept this job?”
“To be honest,” she replied, “I did it for the money.”
Rule number one: Don’t ever accept a job you feel you can’t be proud of, no matter how much it pays. If what you have to say goes against your belief system, people will pick up on that, unless you’re an amazingly talented trained actor who can fool his own mother.
No one forces you to say yes to a job you’re uncomfortable doing. That being said, if you wish to develop your range as an actor and be more marketable, you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You have to be bold, and be brave to take on a persona so you can serve the script to the best of your professional abilities.
Consider it a form of role play. It’s the perfect excuse to take on a role that might be far removed from who you really are. You can play the meanest villain in the universe, and get away with it without being arrested! You can be a tough business negotiator, closing a million dollar deal. The question is: how do you do that if you suffer from self-doubt?
Well, if you’re not the most confident person in the room, start by pretending you are, and see where the script takes you. If you need some inspiration, think of someone in your life who embodies certain qualities you’d like to emulate. How does this person walk, talk, and breathe? What would they be saying to themselves?
This does require that you give yourself permission to let go a little. Can you do that? Can you stop that critical internal dialogue, and focus on the external dialogue, if only for a moment? Chances are that you’re by yourself anyway, so no one is going to judge you for experimenting.
Once you’ve tried on this new persona, you might discover that you’re not half as bad as you thought you’d be. It can actually be fun! It’s like trying on a new style of clothes you never saw yourself wear, and find out that you look pretty good in them!
Let’s say you do this a couple of times, and you find that it’s getting easier to step out of your comfort zone (and by the way, a comfort zone is nothing but a story we tell ourselves). Here’s what will happen: not only will you start seeing changes as a voice actor. You may notice that you’re beginning to be a bit more bold and brave in your personal life as well. I’m not saying this will happen overnight, but it just might.
For the longest time I was socially shy. You’d see me hiding in a corner, pretending not to be there. It wasn’t fun at all. But one day, someone asked me if I’d be interested in playing a character in a variety show a group was putting on for a charity. The day I said yes to that opportunity, my life changed. I put on a funny costume and some make-up, and tried out a silly voice. The public loved it! This gave me a tremendous confidence boost. Now I don’t need those props anymore.
The trick is to put yourself in a position where you have to take a risk. Mind you, I’m not asking you to become a different person. I want you to discover a different aspect of who you are. Is that something you’re willing to try?
Then challenge yourself this week, by doing something you’ve never dared to do.
Don’t pick the biggest thing in the entire universe. Start small and build from there.
Give yourself a chance to succeed, and watch yourself grow.
Be bold. Be brave. Be you!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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Mike Harrison says
Spot-on again, as usual, Paul!
I think many – including VO newbies and even some of the experienced talent out there – fail to keep in mind that voice-over is just like stage or screen acting; the only difference is that we are not seen.
All forms of acting require hard work, commitment and the taking of risks. If our favorite stage and screen actors accepted only those roles that were easy, they would not work very often; probably not nearly enough to keep a roof over their heads.
Tom Hanks first came to prominence in a sitcom (Bosom Buddies) where he dressed as a woman in order to get a room he could afford. Think of all the widely varied roles Tom has since played – and amazed us with. Of course, he is just one example of many who know this is not the kind of work where one just steps into a studio or on a stage and becomes an instant success.
It’s not just the learning how: it goes beyond that to the “I can play this role because I know I’m right for it” and then working to make it uniquely yours.
To Paul’s critics: I know Paul, and his only “agenda” is to help people know themselves better as it applies to what will be expected of them in this or whatever their chosen profession may be.
Howard Ellison says
As a rule, I sail through the noes, treat them as learning, and celebrate the yesses. But what you say about authenticity of tone and intention does remind me of the biggest shock to confidence I got in more than seven years at the mic: I spoke into that app that detects mood. “Full of regret for what’s gone” it murmured.
I tried again, mustering all the acting zoomph I could. Back came the beastly bot: “Outgoing and cheery, but wishing things to be as they were”.
Oh help! If an algorithm can detect that, so can clients. And before long, they may well use such software as a casting filter, who knows?
At the time, my wife was descending into her permanent illness and I had not yet come to terms with it. My distress was detectable – though not by me.
So I had to listen very carefully to everything I recorded, and form a habit to recover positive zone before switch on.
I think it’s working because I get booked despite a drastically shortened week. And, given the available time, I particularly treasure the opportunities – those I really believe in, that is.
Mike Harrison is spot on: it is a job, and we simply need to give it ourselves, our true selves, for the rewards to flow.
Thankyou Paul for, as ever, activating our inner thoughts!
Conchita Congo says
This is right on time TODAY Paul.
I am stepping out of my comfort zone to participate in a work shop with pros I’ve long admired & aspired to emulate in this VO biz that I love so much. I’m ready to
We’ll see how it goes.
Conchita Congo says
That’s the word I was going for!
Paul Garner says
“…a comfort zone is nothing but a story we tell ourselves.” Never thought of it that way, Paul, but it’s spot on. Constantly working to move beyond my comfort zone so maybe I need to change my story! Thanks, Paul.
Paula Faye Leinweber says
Thank you Paul. Your blogs are very helpful, every one of them. I learn and am encouraged every time I read one. Thanks for being you and being bold enough to put your thoughts and experience out there for us all to learn from!