Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that I’m having a pretty dreadful week.
My friend and voice over colleague Bliss Michelson passed away on Sunday, March 14th, from complications of COVID-19. He was 71 years old. His wife, oboist Peggy Wiltrout, died February 26th, also of COVID-19.
Losing two sweet friends to such a nasty virus in such a short time is not something I know how to handle. By all accounts, Bliss seemed to be recovering. He was no longer in the ICU, so his death came as a shock to all who knew him.
I think we can tell a lot about a person by listening to their voice. Take a listen to his demo:
Apart from his voice over work, Bliss was a professional double bass player, and classical music host at WRTI in Philadelphia. As soon as the news of his death was announced, his fans started sharing their reactions:
“Bliss had a rare talent for making his listeners feel like they were friends to him, and he always seemed to take such joy in his job. I loved his soothing voice and his musical intellect.”
“His smooth, calming voice made some of the worst days a little better. I often stopped what I was doing to pay attention to his stories about how certain compositions came to be. He will be sorely missed.”
“One of my few positives during the pandemic shutdown was spending mornings working from home with Bliss’ pleasant voice in the background. He’ll be deeply missed by many.”
“This is heartbreaking. We feel like we have lost a dear friend. Loved his on air announcing. I’m so glad to have had his voice in my car and in my home for so many years.”
THE MEANING OF IT ALL
These comments are not only a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man, but a testimony to the positive impact of the human voice.
If at any point in your VO career you ask yourself:
“What am I doing this for? Do people even care? Is what I do affecting others in a meaningful way?”
…look at the responses of these listeners. They were glued to the radio, but they might as well have been listening to an audio book you narrated.
In times of grief it becomes terribly obvious that the world does not stop, even though you may want it to. You just have to soldier on, even if you don’t feel like working. To me, that is one of the hardest parts of the job.
While your whole being feels like crying, you put on a smile and pretend everything is A-okay. The client is waiting on the other end of the line, expecting you to be your very best.
CHALLENGES IN THE VOCAL BOOTH
Even on good days it isn’t always simple and easy in our home studio. We just make it look and sound that way. In reality, we are doing many things at the same time. For one, we’re constantly monitoring how we are doing.
During a recording session, for instance, we listen intently to ourselves, often through headphones. They reveal every agonizing detail. Every breath, every lip smack, every bit of mouth noise, every time we wiggle in our chair, or inadvertently touch our desk.
Meanwhile, we listen to our performance while we’re narrating, analyzing it on the spot.
“Did I place the right emphasis on the right words? Was this pause too long, or too short? Should I “read” that comma, or ignore it? Did I nail the pronunciation of that foreign city, or do I sound ridiculous?
Does this paragraph flow, or is it just one unconnected sentence followed by another? And what about the different people I’m supposed to portray? Is there enough contrast between the male and the female character?”
Underneath all of that, our mind wonders whether or not we’ll make the deadline, how many auditions are still waiting for us, and we want to know if that difficult client has finally paid his invoice.
And what about the kids? Don’t they have to get ready for soccer practice? Do they have enough water and snacks? Did you arrange that playdate or do you still need to confirm?
And so, this internal, unconscious dialogue goes on and on, taking us more and more out of the moment. We get distracted, we start making mistakes, increasing the level of negative self-talk and stress.
CREATING A BUFFER
To avoid all of this mental chatter (and in my case, the overwhelming sadness), I have made a deal with myself. The moment I shut my studio door, I leave everything behind. I’m in my own, protective bubble where time does not exist and the problems of the world don’t matter.
I usually take a few, deep breaths and tell myself:
“All you need to do, is focus on the now.
Your script is your score. Your voice is your instrument, and your studio is your stage.
Get out of your head, and into your heart.
You know what to do, and how to do it.
Trust yourself and let if flow!”
Here’s what I want you to remember.
Leave your troubles behind when you close that heavy studio door.
The world will still be there when you’re done reading scripts.
Treat your time in the booth as sacred time. YOUR time.
This is where the magic happens. It’s where you connect to your best self, and to your imaginary audience.
Relax and listen.
You are meant to be where you are.
Embrace it, and put your heart into what you’re doing!
Our small but mighty voice over community has a heart of gold. When I let my voice over friends know that Bliss was fighting COVID, messages of encouragement started pouring in. So many, I eventually lost count, but I know Bliss saw every single one, and he felt comforted by them.
Bliss was a blessing to so many. Before he passed, he sent his close friends the same, short message. Here’s the one he sent to me: