Recently my wife and I went on a much-needed night away in South Africa. It had been ages since we’d gotten away just the two of us for some R&R and a short break from the daily grind. Whenever we go to SA, we enjoy having breakfast at a little restaurant tucked into the corner of one of the malls in Bloemfontein. It has a great atmosphere and even better food. Seriously, the French toast with yogurt and seasonal berries is to die for!
With grumbling tummies and mouthwatering expectations, you can imagine our horror and disappointment when we arrived at the restaurant and found it closed. Permanently. We had just watched Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness the previous evening, and I was sure we must’ve somehow been transported to an alternate universe in which some maniacal supervillain had shut down our beloved breakfast spot. After several minutes of staring through the windows, hoping it was all a silly misunderstanding (and inwardly checking to see if I had any incredible superpowers in this alternate universe), we finally had to accept reality and seek our morning sustenance elsewhere.
I share this anecdote because I think it has a lot of relevance for those of us working in creative industries regarding expectations—and because I’m hoping someone can confirm or deny whether we jumped universes or not. Anyone?
“Forget Everything You Think You Know”
With the ongoing development of technology at a seemingly faster and faster pace and the inundation of information available at the clickity-clack of a keyboard, it is simpler than ever for just about anyone from any background to give VO a shot. As one of these newer voice talents still in my early infancy stage, I hear a lot about expectations in voiceover from other, more experienced colleagues. For many who have worked hard for a long time to create successful VO businesses, it seems naïve at best—and downright insulting at worst—to hear increasingly more noobs talk about how they’re pursuing voice acting because someone told them they “have a great voice,” only to then turn around and complain about not getting any work. I just imagine these VO veterans shaking their heads, saying, “What did you expect?” Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, voiceover is not an easy way to make a quick buck—at least not sustainably or significantly as a career. To any of my peers who think we can jump right in and have instant success with minimal effort, I’m with Mordo on this one.
Setting Realistic Expectations
So, let’s cut to the chase. Working successfully in a creative industry is not easy, certainly not any more so than any other industry and, in many ways, far harder. Being an artist isn’t all fun and games—even for those voice actors who may work exclusively in video games. Just as in any other professional arena, becoming successful in voiceover takes hard work, dedication, adaptability, a willingness to learn, significant investment (financial and otherwise) and time. There’s no express elevator to the top—at least, not in this universe… Man, why couldn’t the multiverse have spit me out in a place like that? Even with all these traits in place and genuinely applied, there will be lulls and slow seasons because, like many creative businesses, successful voiceovers require and are dependent upon clients, external from yourself.
With that in mind, let’s begin to alter our expectations and tailor them to the reality we actually find ourselves in. How can we best develop these important traits and use our time wisely during the lulls between projects?
Practice, Practice, Practice
It’s almost a cliché at this point, but it’s not because it’s just the way things are. The tried-and-true method of getting better at anything is to practice. How do you think Dr. Strange became a successful surgeon-turned-sorcerer?
As feedback from one of his monthly VO contests, David Goldberg, owner of Edge Studio, says, “Every actor should allow at least 15 minutes per day for recorded practice.” He goes on to explain that practice helps you focus on your art and apply what you’re learning, it helps you grow both in performance and working with your technology, and it helps develop your ear so you can begin to hear what things you do well and in which areas you need improvement.
One Is the Loneliest Number
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: working with a veteran coach is one of the best ways to grow as a voice actor. Raw, natural talent is helpful and it’s a gift, but it’s not enough to be truly successful in this industry. Why wouldn’t you want to learn from those who have come before you and have found success? Why not take them up on their generosity and learn from their journeys? Not only will you grow and learn faster (assuming you actually put in the work and take the coaching seriously), but you might just be able to sidestep a bunch of mistakes that your coach had to learn the hard way when they were new. Kick your pride or fear to the curb and accept help and instruction from others. Don’t go it alone.
Do Your Homework
In addition to working with other industry professionals, do some research and education on your own. Take some acting classes, read up on the production side of the process, find some instruction on how to develop your brand. The options are limitless and doing your homework will help you be more informed about your craft.
In a recent blog post, voice talent and coach, Anne Ganguzza, said, “If a voiceover career is really what you want, then you should be vested in learning more about it.” Between her blog and her podcast, VO Boss, Anne is a great individual to turn to for that very thing. I would also highly recommend any of the other VO-community bloggers listed at the end of this post. With a wide range of experience, they are a treasure trove of valuable information for any aspiring voiceover artist.
Look At Me! Look At Me!
Unless you’re looking to approach a career in VO from a more traditional standpoint (which I highly doubt most new talent are), you can’t expect to be successful as just a voice actor. If you’re not relying on talent agents to get you noticed and bring you work, you have to wear a bunch of different hats to make it happen. In fact, I would argue you have to see yourself as a businessperson first and an actor second. You can be the most amazing voice talent the world has ever seen, but you won’t book a gig or make a dime if the world doesn’t actually see you. Part of good business is good marketing. You have to put yourself out there—a lot and repeatedly—and connect with potential clients wherever and however you can (within reason, of course; don’t be a creep).
Admittedly, this is probably the area I’m weakest in currently...the marketing part; not the not being a creep. I’ve invested in coaching and learning the craft of voice acting, but I have a lot of work to do to become a better business owner if I want to have opportunities to put those skills to use. That’s why I’m super excited to be a part of Paul Schmidt’s Voice Over Freedom Master Plan (VOFMP) program starting next month. I’m excited to learn more about the business side of VO, how to connect more effectively with and land clients, and to start seeing my VO business take root.
Expect the Expected
I hope everything I’ve shared up to this point doesn’t really come as much of a surprise to anyone. It hasn’t taken me long in this industry to see the truth behind what it takes to be a successful voice talent. More so now than ever before, it’s something anyone can do, but not something everyone can do well. For those who aren’t willing to invest serious time, funds, and energy in building something long-lasting and great, VO cannot be anything more than a neat hobby at best. Why should we expect anything different, though? The best things in life aren’t free! Anything worth pursuing, professional or personal, requires something of us. And when we’re willing to actually give it, there’s a good chance we’ll see positive results.
What kinds of unrealistic expectations have you had to deal with in your life? How have you managed to overcome them? I’m still learning every day—and I hope I will continue to until the end—so tell me, what did I miss?
Until next time, friends, keep telling stories.
Voiceover Artist | Storyteller
Like what you read here? Looking for more ways to sate that hunger for VO-related content? Try checking out some of these other awesome blogs from within the VO community!