If we blame the economy for all of our freelance failures, perhaps it’s only fair that we should credit the economy for all of our successes. After all: we’re hopelessly helpless.
It’s the economy, stupid!
In 2000, Cleanthi Peters sued Universal Studios for $15,000. Cleanthi claimed to have suffered “extreme fear, mental anguish, and emotional distress” after visiting Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights haunted house. She said it was too scary.
My European friend Philippe is eager to bring these type of examples up whenever he tells me that Americans live in a country of finger-pointers. I agree.
If we get lung cancer from smoking, we blame the tobacco industry. If we slip on a wet surface, it is the cleaning lady’s fault. If we burn our lips on a cup of fresh WaWa-Java, we sue the company that forgot to print a warning.
Heaven forbid we should take some credit for our own actions. Why should we? Blaming someone else could bring in big bucks!
So, what’s next?
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When Claire Dodin was about seven years old, her mother built a theater in the attic of their apartment. Claire and her sister started putting on plays for her friends. Claire:
“It was such a happy time, and I decided I’d just have to play for the rest of my life!”
Fast-forward a few years, and you’ll find that Claire is as much at home in front of a camera as she is behind a mic. Born and raised in France, this actress, model, singer and voice-over talent moved to the UK before she made Los Angeles her home.
Bi-lingual, multi-talented and exceptionally professional, Claire has done well for herself. Her story is one of dedication, discipline and of following your dreams.
PS Let’s pretend that I’m a client and your agent had 30 seconds to describe Claire Dodin to me. How would your agent “sell” you?
CD I guess he would say that I’m versatile; I can handle pretty much anything, and can do several character voices including children’s voices. He’d probably tell you that I’ve voiced several jobs for Disney and the X-Box 360, and that I usually don’t need a lot of takes to please the clients. That’s why everyone wants to work with me again.
PS Percentagewise, how much of your career is taken up by voice-over work?
CD In the acting business things are always changing and moving. There can be months when all I do is voice-overs, and months when I’m shooting film after film and I don’t have much time for voice-overs. This always makes me sad because I have to pass on really fun jobs. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything. I have to turn down so much work, mainly due to lack of availability.
I would say that on average, voice-overs represent about 70% of my income and maybe 30% of my time. It always makes me laugh that it costs more to get only my voice, than to have me on camera!
Having said that, it can happen that a week goes by and there’s nothing, not one job offer. Then I start thinking that it’s all over and that I will never work again! It’s the nature of being self-employed. Nothing is ever set in stone. No one is ever entirely safe. You’re fashionable one week; the week after you’re not.
That’s why it’s so important that we value ourselves and feel an inner sense of security, and not let our job define who we are. Otherwise it becomes impossible to handle the stress. Luckily, a job always seems to come along when I need it.
PS Speaking of voice-over projects, what are you most proud of and why?
CD There are quite a few jobs I’m very proud of like the French-speaking FisherPrice cuddly bear who says things like “I love you, hug me…” Just thinking about it makes me smile. It’s the cutest thing ever! Or being on the Statue of Liberty tour in New York and being in the gardens of Versailles in Paris. I just love that my voice is over there! Next I want to be at the Taj Mahal! 😉
But the job I’m the most proud of right now is my Zombiepodcast in which I’m a series regular. It’s called “We’re Alive” and I play Riley. The scripts are fabulous and the production quality is amazing. It’s an honor to be part of it.
We have reached over 600,000 downloads with the first season! We’ve won the Gold Ogle Award 2010, the Communicator Award 2010 and we were a finalist for the Parsec Award 2010. The episode submitted for these, is one that is centered around my character, which makes me even happier! The second season has begun, and it’s free to listen to, so catch up with the episodes now!
PS Let’s talk about accent. Some people believe that -in order to make it as a foreign actor in another country- you need to get rid of your accent. Others believe your accent is what sets you apart. Where do you stand?
CD Well, I am not able to put on a convincing British or American accent, so I don’t even try. I believe clients would go for native speakers anyway, so it really doesn’t matter. When I get hired for an English job, they want my accent, because it sets me apart from everyone else. Sometimes they want a stronger French accent, which I can tone up or down. Sometimes, they just want a very clear English accent with a hint of French.
Accents are great, as long as the diction is excellent and people can understand it. That’s where many foreign voices fail: they are not clear enough. I only started booking work in English regularly, after years of working at speaking more clearly. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
PS Does another accent come naturally to you, or do you have to work with a coach to get it right?
CD I do work with a coach for accent reduction when a part requires it, but it is never for voice acting, always for on-camera. In the voice-over world, if they want a British voice, they’ll hire a British voice. Nowadays, it’s so easy to get a native speaker.
Accents do not come naturally to me. It’s very difficult if you were not immersed in foreign sounds as a child. In France, all TV programs and most films are dubbed. I pretty much never heard English sounds before moving to England. It’s different in other countries like Sweden or The Netherlands. That’s why the Swedes and the Dutch are usually much better at accents than French people.
PS Do Europeans have an advantage over Americans when it comes to foreign languages and accents?
CD Being European in America is certainly an advantage because there are fewer of us, and Americans love European accents. If you are an American in America, there are hundreds of other people who sound exactly like you, so it’s harder.
This is where personality is incredibly important, because in reality, there is only one of each of us. And we hear so much that we need to sound like this or this… In truth, what will make you book the job is YOU, your quirkiness, your own little things that most people are trying to get rid of. Keep them (but use the correct techniques)!
Being French in a foreign country has absolutely made my career. I was working as an on-camera actress in the UK, and people found me because they needed a French voice and couldn’t get one.
That’s how I landed my first jobs. Then I thought that maybe I should get an agent, so I sent samples of the jobs I had done. I didn’t have a demo at the time, and pretty much all the agents wanted to sign me and I started booking national jobs straight away. I think I recorded my first demo a couple of years later. I was very lucky. To this day, jobs still come to me. I don’t have to work very hard at getting them. I am in a very fortunate position. There isn’t much competition.
PS You have lived and worked in the UK and now you’re in LA. These days, we’re all connected via the Internet. Does location matter anymore?
CD Unfortunately, location still matters a lot. I’m hoping that clients will get used to ISDN, but today, most major clients want to meet up with the voices at the studio. This means that by moving to LA, I’ve lost most of the work I was getting in London. When I go back there for a week, suddenly I’ve got bookings every day in London studios. They haven’t forgotten me, but they want me there in person.
It’s the same in France, I know several people who would hire me regularly, but they want me in the studio in Paris. I imagine that it is the same for Los Angeles and New York.
Of course there are many jobs we can do remotely, but they rarely are high end. I once did a six months national radio campaign for the UK, and the client was happy to do it via ISDN for each recording. This was an exception, and I think it was because it was for radio. In the UK, most radio ads are recorded via ISDN. But for TV, you have to be in the room with them. I did record the Versailles job at my LA studio though, so sometimes it can happen if they really want you.
PS How do you get work, these days?
CD The reality of the business is that most voice-over talents audition every day. I’m in a very different position. The vast majority of the work I do, comes from direct offers via my agents, or directly from existing clients or new clients through referral/reputation.
It may sound strange to American voice talents, but I did not audition for any of the national commercials I did, video games, TV documentaries, high-profile jobs… That’s the way they do it in Europe: we get hired based on our demo or based on a recommendation from our agent or producers/sound engineers. I did however audition for the Fisher Price toys I voiced, but they paid me for the audition and then hired me. I also auditioned for the Versailles job, but they had specifically asked for me.
I think that the system works differently in America. Even established talents have to audition. That being said, I have many American clients that don’t ask me to audition either. I’m glad it works this way because I usually don’t have time to audition. When happen to I have spare time, I will record some open auditions, but this rarely leads to work (funny, no?). That’s the problem with open auditions: they don’t want You; they want A voice, and usually the cheapest one.
PS Do clients, agents, producers and directors have different expectations based on where they’re located? Do you approach an audition differently based on the country and culture?
CD Actually, everyone wants the best product at the best price as fast as possible pretty much everywhere. What may be different is the style of the voice-overs. For example, I find that promos and documentaries on US TV tend to have a “sensational” factor. In the UK they tend to be more casual/matter of fact. In France there’s also a distinctive sound for news or documentaries. The voice talent simply needs to adapt to the style of the country, but also to the medium and the client. Each job is different, which is part of the fun. For an audition, I try to find out as much as I can about the client and the target audience. That way, I can make a best guess as to what style is appropriate for the script.
PS This is a highly competitive business. Apart from talent and experience, what do you think is absolutely essential, in order to have an international voice-over career?
CDObviously, to have an international voice career it is essential to speak English, so you can communicate with clients anywhere (pretty much everyone will speak some English). Apart from that, you just need the same qualities that will make you a successful national talent, as well as a good marketing plan so people abroad know who you are.
The internet is an excellent medium, but it’s not essential. I know voice talents who have booked major international campaigns through their local agent. By local, I mean: one of the top agents in one of the top cities. It still seems difficult to book high-profile work without one of these agents, and you can usually only sign with one of them if you live in one of the major cities. That would be Los Angeles or New York for America; London for the UK and Paris for France.
Of course there are rare exceptions. There are a few very successful voice talents who do not live in the major cities, but they used to live there at one point. They moved away, and kept their agents and clients thanks to an ISDN-line. I only know of one person who has always lived far away and who is hugely successful.
This will hopefully change in the future, as home studios are becoming as good as studios in the big cities. I think it will still take a while before major clients accept not meeting a voice talent in person. This is why Don LaFontaine had a limo, so he could quickly go from studio to studio to record several jobs a day. It would have been so much easier to have him in one studio and the other studios would connect via ISDN, but it didn’t work that way and he had to drive from place to place.
I wish things were different, but nowadays, the best jobs are still recorded in major studios in major cities.
PS What’s most overlooked by up and coming international talent?
CD Something that foreign voices often overlook is to have an English version of their website. I was once looking for an Italian voice, and all I could find were websites in Italian, which I don’t speak. Had they had an English version, I would have contacted them. But I couldn’t work out if they had a home studio etcetera.
Also, they should indicate their location on the website. I was looking to book voices to come to a London studio, and I didn’t know where they lived. I nearly booked a voice once; I was ready to pay for a ticket to Paris, when he told me he lived in a small town in France and it wasn’t possible to get to where he needed to be, fast enough.
Another voice that I thought was in London, turned out to have moved to Paris. So, keep the info on your website up to date. Location is a big one, not just for outside studio bookings, but so we know your time zone in case we want an ISDN booking or we need you for a rush job.
PS What do you tell people who think that voice-over work is easy money, and that basically anyone with a good voice could do this?
CD Ah, ah! It’s a tough question, I could probably write a book about it! Voice-over acting is an art and the voice is the tool. You might have a fabulous canvas, great paints and a brush, but how easy is it to paint something that will sell for a few hundreds or thousands of dollars and be exhibited in a museum? Hmmm… But if you work hard, learn skills and have talent, maybe you’ll make a living as a painter. Same thing for voice-overs. And a few gifted ones will make it to the top.
PS What technology can you not live without, and how has it helped you book clients?
CD The only technology I really need, is my computer for my emails and my phone so I can take bookings. That’s all. But, with my home studio I can record more jobs and make a better living. Some voice talents earn a lot more than I do, and don’t have one, so it’s not essential. However, other voice talents only work from home.
PS You work for clients on different continents in different time zones. On one hand you need to be accessible but on the other hand you can’t be available 24/7. How do you handle that?
CD Ah, ah! Another tough one! I don’t handle it; it’s a bit of a problem. I get called in the middle of the night (when I forget to switch the phone off), I wake up at 5am for an ISDN session and I sometimes record till midnight! I need to be better at saying “no” to clients and regulate my hours. But I’m weak when people are nice and need a favor. I try to schedule ISDN sessions with Europe starting at 8am, LA time. That’s the end of the day for them. It usually works.
PS How much did you map out your career? Did you follow a strict plan or is it more spontaneous, “go with the flow”?
CDAt first I just went with the flow: voice-overs came to me not once, not twice but many times. This is when I realized that I should pursue it. Somehow, people knew I had a gift for it, even before I knew it. Then I started buying equipment to record from home. When my agent asked me to, I upgraded my equipment. When clients asked me to, I got the ISDN. I guess I always go with the flow. I don’t force things, they just happen when they need to, but I’ve got my ears open and I’m listening to the signs that tell me in which direction I need to go to.
That said, when I do something, I don’t do it halfheartedly. When I made the decision to work from my home studio, I practiced a lot to learn how to use the equipment. I listened to other voices and took advice from many people. I took classes etcetera. It took me a long time before I was able to make a quality recording.
When I upgraded to ISDN, I asked an engineer to come and install it for me, and install my sound booth so the sound would be good enough. I also bought a Neumann microphone. What’s the point of connecting to another studio if your own sound isn’t as good? So basically, every time the decision to go to the next step was made following the flow, but once the decision was made it was thought out and I followed a careful plan.
Being disciplined is absolutely essential if you work from home. It’s too easy to do something else if you don’t have a boss checking up on you, making sure that you are putting the hours in. You have to do it for yourself and be very organized. For me, one of the hardest things is to keep track of the jobs recorded, the invoices sent, the invoices paid/unpaid etc… I find the admin part the hardest.
When I get really busy, I forget to reply to emails that aren’t essential, like companies asking me to fill out forms and send demos for future jobs. Sometimes I struggle to find the time to send invoices. That’s not a good thing. Staying on top of the paperwork is not easy. I’m dreaming of the day I’ll be able to employ an assistant to do these things for me!
PS What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you in this business, and how has it helped you?
CD The best advice I was ever given, as far as performance is concerned, was:
“It’s not about you. It’s about the person you are talking to”.
This changed everything. I stopped watching and listening to myself. I stopped getting nervous and I became so much better.
The best business advice I was ever given, was to set up a website. I had no idea how important it was, until I did it, and it boosted my career immensely.
Thanks to the internet, any business is now a global business. Getting through to non-native English speakers can be a serious challenge. But just because your client knows a few English words, doesn’t mean he understands everything you’re saying.Here’s how not to get lost in translation.
“I have a good one,” I said to my friend from France.
“Why do gun-carrying Americans usually wear short-sleeved shirts?”
“No idea,” he answered. “You tell me.”
“Because they believe in the right to bear arms.”
“Sorry, but I don’t get it,” said Philippe. “Explain.”
“Well,” I said, “I can try, but I don’t think it would make the Second Amendment any funnier.”
“Oh, was it supposed to be funny?”
“Well, Philippe, some people think that puns are bad by definition.”
“What’s a pun?” Philippe wanted to know.
Have you ever had a conversation like that? All along you…
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“If a picture’s worth a thousand words, why didn’t I become a photographer instead of a voice-over?”
That was typical Bill.
No “Hello” or “How are you”. Bill always comes in with some kind of wisecrack.
“Why do you look so happy?” I asked. “Just watching you makes me miserable.”
“I think I nailed that last audition, man. I totally rocked the house,” Bill said, beaming from ear to ear. “I even added some special effects.” He made the sound of an airplane on the runway. I was utterly confused. What audition was the man talking about?
Bill is no Shallow Hal. Bill is deep. A while ago,
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You’re searching for a specialist who can handle almost anything.
Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?
Does your family doctor make a great brain surgeon?
Can a novelist write irresistible advertising copy?
Yet, some clients are looking for a be-all, do-it-all freelancer with young, fresh ideas and years of experience.
Is that too much to ask?
Some psychologists say that the fact that we humans are able to hold two diametrically opposed ideas in our mind at the same time, is a true sign of intelligence. Part of me wants to believe that this is indeed correct. The other part thinks it’s
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I don’t think it has made it into the DSM-IV yet (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Give it some time and the American Psychiatric Association might include it in the next edition (together with Orthorexia nervosa, a harmful obsession with health foods).
If your plate or glass always appears to be half empty, it’s tempting to feel hopeless and helpless about the current state of the nation. Of course your freelance career is down in the dumps. It’s the economy, stupid! It has nothing to do with you.
Here’s the thing:
If it has nothing to do with you, it means that you can’t turn it around.
You’re a victim of circumstance. Now go to your doctor and ask for a happy-pill. You might be depressed, but the least you can do is feel good about it.
Remember that no matter where you look, you’ll always find a way to filter your perception of reality to justify your outlook on the world. If you feel that this time of economic crisis is limiting your chances of landing freelance jobs, you’re right. If you feel that the current recession is creating brand new freelance opportunities, you’re right!
What you focus on most, is most likely to materialize. That’s the idea behind the self-fulfilling prophecy.
As a blogging freelancer, I get a lot of emails from colleagues who want to pick my brain. Here’s the number one question people ask me:
How do you beat the recession?
My first inclination is to ask them “What recession?” but that would be insensitive. Of course I know that millions of people are scrambling to get by. I used to be one of them. But feeling overpowered and helpless about it is not going to pull you out of your slump. If you’re giving in and giving up, it’s game over. But that would be too easy. I think you deserve better.
At the risk of sounding like a self-help guru, I do believe that one way to beat this recession is by working from the inside out. Before you do anything, I recommend you look at the way you are perceiving yourself right now.
In Holland we have a saying:
“Als je voor een dubbeltje geboren bent, word je nooit een kwartje.”
Or in plain English:
“If you were born a dime, you’ll never become a quarter.”
It’s another way of saying: You need to know your place and stay there. Well, if that’s really how you feel, what impact could this have on the choices you make?
If you’re applying for a job, and deep-down inside you’re telling yourself “I don’t deserve this” or “I’ll never make it,” aren’t you setting yourself up for failure?
Other people grow up believing: “I can do anything I set my mind to” or “No matter what happens, I’ll always find a solution.” How do you think this impacts the way they lead their lives?
Here’s the remarkable thing about beliefs: it doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not. Yet, beliefs are a powerful driving force behind behavior. Beliefs can give us hope, strength and courage, or they can fence us in and bring us down.
A belief is not some innocent abstract concept without consequences. Some people are prepared to kill and die in the name of whatever they believe in. Americans wouldn’t be celebrating the Fourth of July, if it weren’t for a set of certain powerful beliefs!
Proponents of mind-body medicine like Bernie Siegel, M.D., are convinced that our beliefs can heal or harm our body, and that our state of mind has a measurable impact on our immune system.
If you think that all of this is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, realize that this too, is a belief. Beliefs don’t have to make any sense. Beliefs don’t need to be scientifically sound. Beliefs give people a feeling of certainty. All that matters is that a belief is plausible. The powerful placebo effect is entirely based on this assumption.
Nevertheless, a group of medical students who firmly believed in a logical, analytical approach to medicine, wouldn’t have any of it. How could ordinary thoughts possibly influence biological functions and seemingly autonomous chemical-electrical responses? That’s just a bunch of New Age baloney!
One day, their professor walked in and said: “By a show of hands, how many of you believe that the mind is capable of influencing the body?” Not one single hand went up in the air. Mind over matter wasn’t science. It was science-fiction.
Then the professor started reading one of the more notorious passages from “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence. Soon his audience started to blush. At the end of a few quite explicit paragraphs, he looked up at his students and asked the same question again. “How many of you believe that the mind is capable of influencing the body?” This time, they all raised their hands.
So, let me share one of my empowering beliefs with you. It goes like this:
THERE’S NO ONE LIKE ME
I can already hear some people’s reaction:
“Well, duh… After all that build-up, is that the best you can do? Thank you Captain Obvious, superhero of platitudes! That’s not much of an eye-opener, is it? Of course there’s no one like you (and that’s probably a good thing).”
Well, once you get past the sarcasm and cynicism, consider the following.
Every day, thousands of people are waking up with a dream. Some want to become writers, news anchors or architects. Some want to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis or invent an environmentally friendly way to clean up oil spills.
By the time we enter our teens, most of us have learned that dreams are figments of the imagination and that in order to grow up, we must face “reality.” Isn’t it strange? We start out as this helpless but boundless human being filled with infinite possibilities .
Then the process of social conditioning and conforming sets in. If we wish to please our parents and other role-models, we better be compliant and allow ourselves to be conditioned in order to be worthy of their love, attention and affection. We learn to blend in and not to raise our voice. If we do well, we are rewarded. If we don’t fit the mould, we have to face the consequences. Heaven forbid that we should stand out from the crowd…
When my 8-year old daughter wanted to go to school in a Yankees-shirt while 98% of the kids were wearing Phillies-Jerseys, some parents thought I was nuts. Why would I expose my daughter to ridicule and make her stick out like a sore thumb? What kind of a parent does that?
Here’s the thing: my daughter didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy about the Phillies. She happened to root, root, root for the Yankees. And when she went to school, she soon found out that a few other kids were Yankees fans too. Yes, some classmates made fun of her and others ignored her. But she held her head up high and felt even stronger because she stood up for something she believed in. Months later, the Bronx Bombers defeated the Phillies to win the World Series.
What does that have to do with beating the recession? I’ll tell you!
If you want to be self-employed but you don’t believe in yourself, you are sabotaging your success even before you’re out of the gate. You have to be comfortable with who you are and with what you have to offer (comfortable, not cocky).
If you’re in the service industry, you are your product. If you’re producing a product, you will be identified with it. Whether you like it or not, you are your brand and you better embrace it.
RIDICULE AND MOCKERY
When I set out to become a full-time voice-over professional, I knew the odds were heavily against me. Some people said:
“Do you honestly believe that you’ll make it as an actor? Dream on! The restaurants of New York and LA are filled with thousands of hopeful waiters. All they do is wait and wait for an opportunity that never comes. These days, anyone with a mic and a laptop can claim to be the next Don LaFontaine. The market is saturated. The economy is bad. Why don’t you get a real job, my friend?”
Here’s why I didn’t: because I knew that there’s no one like me. Yes, there are tons of people who do what I do, but they don’t do it the way I do it. It’s just a matter of letting the rest of the world know what I have to offer.
Believe it or not, when I wrote this article, my business was less than twelve months ago. A year before that, I had no ‘corporate identity’ and there was no company website or a blog. I didn’t own expensive equipment and I had no big shot agents ready to represent me. All I had, was a bunch of excited neurons bouncing around in my brain forming thoughts about starting my own business.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I had a number of people who believed in me, and who were willing to lend me a very generous helping hand. But before they could believe in me, I had to believe in myself.
After less than a year I achieved a lot.
My writings are read and reposted by more people than I ever hoped for. I have built a terrific studio and have invested in top-of-the-line equipment. I am recording voice-overs in four languages for clients on all continents.
Now, this list of personal achievements is not some vain attempt to show off. Rather, it’s my way of telling you what could happen if you refuse to give in to recession depression.
The skeptics will tell you “I will believe it when I see it”. I am telling you that you have to believe it before you will see it.
When Disney World opened its doors, Walt Disney was no longer alive. Before the opening ceremony, a reporter asked Walt’s brother Roy:
“Don’t you think it’s a shame that Walt Disney isn’t here to see it all?”
No, I’m not going to tell you what it is just yet.
Let me begin by asking you a simple question:
Do words have power?
When you think of it, aren’t they just letters, arranged in a certain order? Or are there words in our language that are so potent, that they have the potential to transform our life and our livelihood?
Now, before you think that I’ve gone all philosophical instead of practical, just STOP for a moment and think about it.
In the past few days I’ve asked some of my friends about words they feel have had (and still have) a profound impact on their professional lives. Here are some of the words they came up with:
As for me, the one word that has been my guiding light in the past 25 years as a freelancer, is neither grand nor deep. Yet, I believe it to be one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. Without it, my career certainly wouldn’t be where it is today. It consists of two letters.
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Two psychoanalysts were walking down a narrow road. A colleague came up to them for a stop-and-chat and asked:
“How are you today?”
Both analysts looked at each other and wondered:
What would he mean by that?
When I first came to America some 15 years ago, I noticed something strange. Whenever I asked someone: “How are you?” people would usually respond by telling me about their work, as if I had asked them: “What do you do?” TO DO OR NOT TO DO
This begs the question: is our work so important that this is how we ultimately define ourselves? Isn’t there’s a big difference between ‘being’ and ‘doing’? Isn’t what we do only a part of who we really are?
Now, I completely understand that for some people, a profession is an expression of their identity, especially for those working in a creative field. But if we confine our definition of ourselves to the job we do, are we giving ourselves enough credit?
On one level, it is a privilege to be able to turn a passion into a profession and make it the center of our universe. Beethoven did it. Picasso too, perhaps. It can also be dangerous. How dangerous? Let me tell you about John*.
John was a colleague of mine at the station I used to work for. Radio was his life. It was his ‘magnificent obsession.’ In fact, that’s all he ever talked about. He was a walking encyclopedia of all things wireless.
John was one of those gentle men you would easily overlook at a party. He seemed socially shy and out of place. But put him in front of a microphone, and you almost wouldn’t recognize him: he was engaging, energetic, funny and full of… life! The two sides of this golden coin couldn’t have been more different.
One day, serious looking men in charcoal gray suits walked into our station. They had one mission: to make us do more with less. Cutbacks were unavoidable. Layoffs were a certainty. It was only a matter of time.
Rumors were spreading fast. Would they get rid of those who had joined the station last, or would they turn to the veterans who, because of their seniority, were making a very decent salary, thereby draining the budget?
A LOST MAN
Two weeks later, I got my answer. John and I shared an office, and I saw him putting some old tapes and CD’s into a cardboard box. “Getting ready for the show, tomorrow?” I asked. Then I took a good look at him. His face had lost all color as if he had donated too much blood. “John, are you alright?” I said. “Do you need some help?” He never said a word to me, and continued packing, as if in a trance.
The next morning, the sound engineer knocked on my door. “This is John’s desk, right?” he wanted to know. “You’re looking at it,” I said. “It’s never been cleaner.”
“Do you happen to know where he is?” asked the engineer. “We’re supposed to tape his show in a few minutes. Usually he sets things up way ahead of time and I can’t find him anywhere.”
“To be honest with you, I haven’t seen him all morning,” I replied. “That’s not like him at all.”
Of course we called John’s home and he didn’t appear to be there either. Where could he be? All of us knew that he lived for his radio show and that he hadn’t missed a taping in thirty years. We were getting worried.
THE FINAL ANSWER
Two hours later, the management said they had an announcement to make. Two kids playing together had spotted John… hanging from a bridge.
One of John’s long-time colleagues and closest friends exploded when he heard the news. He stormed off saying: “Those bastards. They killed him. They should burn in hell!”
“What was that about?” I asked the sound engineer.
“I just heard,” he said.
“Heard what?” I asked.
“John had a meeting with the management, yesterday.”
“And?” I wanted to know.
“They fired him. Just like that.” A LIFE’S WORK
The example of John is extreme. But I’m sure you know people for whom their work is their life. We praise them for their dedication. We admire them for what they accomplish. And when the reason for their existence is suddenly taken away from them, they are left with a void.
So, let me ask you: How are you?
Who are you?
How much of you is shaped by the work you do? Are you still chasing your dreams of a life filled with fame and fortune? Do you feel that you’ve achieved success? CHOPRA
Writer, endocrinologist and one of the principal proponents of mind-body medicine, Deepak Chopra, came from India to study in the United States. He authored more than 50 books, including “Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul.”
His writings, CD’s, seminars and appearances have made him a wealthy man. But does he consider himself to be successful? Well, it depends on the definition.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him once, and Chopra defined success as follows:
The progressive realization of worthy goals;
The ability to love and have compassion;
To be in touch with the creative source inside you;
To ultimately move from success to significance
ALWAYS ON THE GO
So, measured by those standards, how are you really doing? And how are we doing as a society? Sometimes it’s best to have others hold up a mirror.
Many years ago, a visitor from a distant land came to the New World. He had never seen any skyscrapers, department stores or the subway during the Monday morning rush hour. He was obviously overwhelmed and couldn’t wait to get back to his country, to report to his tribe what he had seen.
“What are the people like?” was what they wanted to know.
“The people?” he said? “I’ll tell you!”
“All they do is hurry-worry, hurry-worry. Day in day out.”
“What are you wearing on your wrist?” asked one of the elders, pointing at a watch that was given to him as a present.
“This is a device that tells you what hour of the day it is. It’s called a watch,” the man said.
“And you know what?” he continued,
“In this New World I visited, everybody wears a watch.
But nobody has time.”
“Nice story”, said the psychoanalyst to the narrator. “Thank you for that.”
Then he turned to me. “I believe we have to welcome a new member to our group today. Tell us who you are.”
Daniel Stern is known for his roles in films like “Hannah and her Sisters,” “City Slickers” and the first two “Home Alone” films. He’s also the narrator for the “The Wonder Years” and the voice of Dilbert in the animated TV series.
One day, Daniel got a script for a voice-over audition, and his mouth practically dropped to the floor when he read the specs:
“Must sound like Daniel Stern”
He’s thinking: “Piece of cake. This one’s in the bag!”
So, Stern goes to his booth; records a demo; sends it in…
…and doesn’t get the part!
Has that ever happened to you? Probably not, because your name is not Daniel Stern. However, we’re all too familiar with the story of that brilliant audition we did, that disappeared into nothingness and left us wondering:
“What just happened? I knew I nailed it. Why didn’t I get the part? Was it something I said?”
There are two ways of dealing with this sad smack in the face:
1. Tell yourself: “Those ignorant producers don’t know talent even when it’s staring them in the face. By not selecting me, they have proven themselves unworthy of my God-given artistic gifts to this world. It’s their loss; not mine. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m late for my pedicure.”
or you could
2. Ask yourself: “What did I miss? Was there anything I could have done or should have done, to turn this audition from ‘good’ into ‘great’?”
Let’s be honest. All of us get stuck in a rut from time to time. Without prior warning, we lose our “magic touch,” our “MoVo”. That Money Voice that used to sell so well ain’t doin’ it no more. Does that mean your career is over? Of course not. It just means that it’s time to take a step back and get a second opinion.
You see, most of us aren’t as good as Baron von Munchausen, who reportedly pulled himself up from the swamp by his own hair. Sometimes, we need someone who’s not going to tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear.
We need a Dr. Phil who listens to people playing the same old tapes inside of their heads over and over again, and who will “tell-it-like-it-is”.
Or perhaps we want to go with someone with more hair, more flair and with more experience in the voice-over industry. Someone like David Rosenthal.
David is not only a top voice-over talent, actor and director with over 25 years of experience; he’s also a sought-after voice coach and teacher. A few days ago, I had a chance to talk to him about his craft, his approach as a coach and about his latest endeavor: Internet Voice Coach.
ALL WORK, NO PLAY
Rosenthal: “I tell all my students that auditioning has to be one of the most enjoyable parts of their day. If you are worried about getting that job or needing to sound a particular way, then it will never happen, because then you’re judging yourself; you’re in your ‘work-mode.’ The whole point is that people who truly know how to take life in the most optimistic and playful way, are priming themselves for being wonderful voice actors.
I feel that a lot of people getting into voice-overs have forgotten how to play as adults. All the actors in this industry that have created and sustained careers for 25, 30, 35 years, have done so, because they know how to play. They know how to roll with it; to be creative and imaginative and they’re never too hard on themselves.
This is another great secret: when you’re playing, nobody can judge you. You are free. You can’t judge play. It’s creative, in-the-moment stuff. It is attractive. It’s what keeps clients coming back to us as voice-over professionals, because we know how to bring that sense of play to life for their products. They know it’s magic.”
BIRTH OF AN IDEA
Rosenthal received his BA in Theatre, Anthropology, and English Lit. from Sarah Lawrence College. He studied acting in NYC at Herbert Bergoff Studios and in San Francisco with Richard Seyd. He is a regular voiceover talent for Sony, Nintendo, Sega and for commercial radio, with over 600 voice-over credits to his name. David teaches Spokesperson trainings, the Art of Voice Acting and he is a staff member of the Kids-On–Camera Acting School in the Bay area. He continues:
“Students would come up to me after class and say: ‘Dave, if there was any way that you could bottle this up -not just the lessons but the way you in which you teach them- and put it on the internet or on a DVD, I would buy it in a second.’ That stuck in my head. So I decided to take this particular philosophy that I have about this industry and our art, and present it to as many people as possible, in an extremely informative manner.”
ON-LINE VOICE COACHING
Rosenthal kept his word. In 2010, he launched a brand new website called Internet Voice Coach (IVC). It’s an extensive on-line resource as well as a community that brings industry experts, trainers, students and voice-over veterans together. Rosenthal:
“The primary focus of the site is on PLAY. People often come to me saying: ‘Everyone tells me I have a real nice voice,’ and I tell them: That’s really wonderful but, when you talk about essential prerequisites for making it in this industry, a really nice voice is not one of them. It’s a great asset, but that, by itself, won’t cut it.
So, I started thinking of creating a website around the philosophy of play, but also having all the tools that are necessary to help people who are just getting started, as well as more specialized advice and tips for seasoned pros.
For instance, we have interviews with casting directors and we’re asking them: What are you looking for? Why did you hire me for this last job? What’s going on in the industry right now that people need to be aware of? What are some common mistakes that you hear in auditions?”
“When you go on the site, you don’t just see a bunch of people talking about the industry. You can watch me as I prepare for an audition, literally playing in front of you, messing up my face and my voice, joking around.”
Here’s David on keeping a voice consistent with a character:
Internet Voice Coach offers more than videos, how-to articles and interviews. Rosenthal:
“We have an incredible aspect to our site. It is something I do not believe any other site has out there in the voice-over world and that is: ongoing personal feedback.
When you become a yearly member, you will get 20 opportunities a year to send in a voice-over demo for an audition or practice files that you’re working on. You can send them as an MP3, and you’ll receive an MP3 from us, loaded with feedback.
The advantage to that over one-on-one phone coaching is that it’s very focused and it doesn’t cost $130. I’m trying to be conscious of people’s pocket books, and at the same time give them a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow (membership is $199 per year PS).
We also have monthly webinars. That means we’re live on video, and members can log in and join in. After we talk about a particular subject for about 45 minutes, we take questions.”
IVC is David’s brainchild, but he teamed up with voice-over actor and coach Jason Klofstad, who just happens to be the voice of Apple computer. His other partner is Mary Windishar, a broadcast producer for over 20 years (Oprah Winfrey Show); a voice and on-camera talent for over 15 years and a prominent spokesperson for women in the field of voice-overs.
Then there’s a whole list of regular contributors such as Elaine Clark, author of “There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is”.
“The site is purposely called Internet Voice Coach and not Voice-Over Coach. It has modules on public speaking (featuring expert-in-residence Brian Collins) and articles on vocal health, overcoming rejection, marketing and much more.
Ultimately, IVC is a resource that isn’t just for learning the craft, but for staying on top of your craft. Had I had this site 25 years ago, I really would have been able to kick-start my career a lot faster. Why reinvent the wheel if you can learn from the best in the business?”
One of those people is actor Daniel Stern who was recently interviewed for the site.
He didn’t get the part, even though it his name written all over it.
I couldn’t help but wonder who eventually landed that gig.
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