When you’re a voice over and write about it every day, people easily assume that you must be living and breathing voice overs twenty-four seven.
In my case, nothing could be further from the truth.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do for a living, but VO is what I do. It doesn’t define who I am. It never has, and it never will.
If you’d follow me around for a day or two, you’d notice that I often turn to my first love: music.
As a teenager, I wanted to become a professional musician. I was admitted to the conservatory, and for a while I studied musicology. A few years into it I realized I wasn’t God’s gift to the musical arts, and that I would be better off keeping it as a hobby.
Instead of becoming a musician, I married one!
When I need my spirits lifted or my heart consoled, I always turn to music, and to me, there’s no instrument more moving than the human voice.
So, the other day I was watching Eric Whitacre, the Hugo Boss model turned superstar composer, talk to Voces8, one of the best vocal ensembles based in the UK. If both names are new to you, let’s listen to Voces8 singing Whitacre’s “A Boy and a Girl.”
Even if this type of music isn’t your cup of tea, I’m sure you’ll recognize the level of vocal artistry required for such a performance. And if you happen to be a singer yourself, you know that what Voces8 is doing here is astounding in many ways.
As Whitacre mentioned when he talked to Voces8, in a small ensemble like that, everyone needs to pull their weight because they have no one to lean on. Every voice is equally important, so when someone is having a bad day, it will affect the entire group.
Whitacre said: “When each voice is so exposed, you have nowhere to hide.”
ALL BY YOURSELF
And that’s where I made the link to voice overs. The singers of Voces8 operate as a group. Every day they experience the joy of making music together. Voice overs like you and me are condemned to always be soloists.
If you were born a loner, or if you have anti-social tendencies, this would be the perfect job for you. You spend all day by yourself in a small, dark space, talking into a metal tube. There’s no one to hold you accountable, you’ll receive little or no feedback, and no one is going to bother you. If you’re an introvert and a voice over, consider yourself lucky.
By the way, these introverted voice actors are often hard to direct because they’re not used to receiving and incorporating feedback. They tend to interpret comments as negative criticism and become defensive.
If, on the other hand, you’re a social butterfly craving water cooler conversations, outside encouragement and the kind company of colleagues, life as a VO is going to be challenging to say the least. Some people just wither away like plants outside of the sun. They quickly find out that social media isn’t so social after all.
This type of voice actor is often quite insecure, and will be looking for outside validation. They’ll take feedback as a personal blow and become overly apologetic.
Of course these are gross generalizations, but I think you get my drift.
ON YOUR OWN
Whether you’re outgoing or withdrawn, sooner or later you’ll have to deal with the fact that as a voice over talent you have no place to hide. In the recording studio you are always exposed. Your microphone will hear every mistake you make, every distracting sound, every breath you take, every time you move in your chair.
But there’s more. If you’re sad or angry, your microphone will pick up on that. If you’re not in good health, your microphone can tell. All your insecurities, your lack of technique and limited experience is out in the open, and you have nowhere to hide. There’s no one to cover it up.
Here’s the bad news: There is no technical fix for that.
Just as owning an expensive kitchen isn’t going to make you a better cook, buying a pricey preamp or microphone isn’t going to turn an insecure amateur into a confident pro. If anything, better equipment will expose your flaws even more.
Voice acting is in essence a mind game. It begins and ends between the ears.
Now, here’s the good news: You and you alone, are in charge of what happens between your ears. It is up to you to take care of your level of preparedness and your mental health. Let’s talk about the latter for a moment.
YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
The question becomes: How do you stay sane? Well, the recipe for that is surprisingly simple, and yet for many of us it is very hard to put into practice.
The best way to heed your mental health is to do things that make you happy. Ask every performer who is at the top of their game why they think they’ve made it, and they will tell you two things:
1. “I LOVE what I do. There’s nothing in the world I’d like to do more. It makes me HAPPY…
2. “I never made my career the single focus of my life. My work is what I do. It’s just one aspect of who I am. I like to fill my life with other meaningful experiences.”
You want examples? Since it’s close to Christmas I’ll give you two. Bing Crosby was much more than a crooner. Danny Kaye was much more than a funny song-and-dance man.
Crosby became a pioneer of early day radio recording (inspired by German reel-to-reel technology). He helped develop videotape, bred race horses, and co-owned a baseball team. Crosby made millions as an entertainer, and even more as an investor. He invested in real estate, mines, oil wells, music publishing, and television. He was a major stockholder of the Minute Maid Orange Juice Corporation, leaving him with a fortune.
David Daniel Kaminsky (Kaye), was a renowned chef who specialized in Italian and Chinese cuisine. He also loved airplanes and became an accomplished pilot. Kaye co-owned a chain of radio stations in the Pacific Northwest, and his company was involved in concert promotion and video production. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and became an honorary member of the American College of Surgeons and the Academy of Pediatricians. As UN ambassador he travelled the world and conducted symphony orchestras to raise funds for charity.
So, to me, one of the keys to becoming a successful entertainer (which I think a voice actor is), is to not have your life revolve around entertainment only. If voice actors would only focus on voice acting, it would make for a boring, isolated, and unhealthy life.
Another takeaway is the importance of lifelong learning. Both Crosby and Kaye were curious people with inquisitive, open minds. They both became very wealthy people, but they were not only driven by financial gain. Both men pursued their passions, and were motivated by the opportunity to give back.
Here’s another thing both Kaye and Crosby knew very well: you may take your fears and flaws into the studio, but you also take the sum total of all your positive life experiences and your strengths with you. These experiences inform, enrich, and empower you, and they will inspire the way you approach your performance.
Now, I’m not suggesting you should become the next crooner or comedian. I AM suggesting that you find what makes you happy (apart from work), and go after it with energy and enthusiasm.
It will infuse the work you do in your booth, I promise!
Job Redelaar says
Awesome piece Paul!
Paul Strikwerda says
Thank you, Job! Happy Holidays!
Joshua Alexander says
I loved your last full paragraph, Pastor Paul…it reminded me of Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” I wholeheartedly agree. And I agree that people can all too often wrap their identity up in what they do, rather than who they are. When I thank someone for something, I always try to remember to say “Thank you for all you are” before I say “Thank you for all you do” or “what you did.” Yes, I’ll remember your kind gestures and your actions, but those flow from your identity. If you gave me a gift, thank you…but the Giver was there first. How true all of that is.
And hey! Now is just as good a time as any to tell you that my new shiny kitchen is on its way…I’ll be an excellent cook in no time!
Paul Strikwerda says
The proof is in the pudding, chef Josh 😉
Memo Sauceda says
Another excellent article (blog entry?). Truer words have never been spoken, thank you for your ever insightful look at what we love doing.
Paul Strikwerda says
You’re very welcome, Memo. Thank you for taking the time to read my writing. Happy holidays!
Otis Jiry says
I am an absolute and total keep to myself introvert and think VO is the PERFECT job for me. I have a Studiobricks booth and set up with quality equipment and software. I HATE recording anywhere other than my own booth. I very much prefer you just send me the script, and I’ll send you back the finished product.
While I have three agents, and get auditions sent to me, unless they are ‘perfect’ fits for me I rarely do the auditions. My VO model is from my weekly two hour, horror short story podcast, where I’m a global top 0.1% podcast (top 500 out of 30 million podcasts). This setup further fits my ‘lone wolf’ approach. I have total and complete control of whatever I narrate. Authors (who apparently crave that I do their material) have to sign a multi media release form, which essentially states, they give up all control of the script and how it’s interpreted and performed, plus all marketing rights to it. What this means is, I get the script, perform it the way I think it should be done without any input from anyone other than me, and we market it in our podcast. Since we have a company that sells ads for us, my business partner and I split approximately $250,000 in annual income (from which we pay various production expenses and then split the remaining income). So, for my 6 hours a week of work, I make a 6 figure income with no interference from anyone. It took close to 8 years to get to this point, but now I easily make enough income to get by, and have all the time in the world to practice guitar, bass and drums, write screenplays, and read, along with following my favorite sports teams.
Being an only child, plus not having any family alive anymore, and not married without children, I’m used to being a ‘loner’. But I’ve been one pretty much my entire life. So, with my VO endeavors set up as they are, I can’t think of anything more perfect for me.
Paul Strikwerda says
And you seem perfectly happy, Otis. Win – Win!
Mark Ballou says
Lovely to read to the soundtrack of Voces8. Thank you!
Paul Strikwerda says
Aren’t they amazing?