Too Long, Didn’t Read

In the spirit of Random Act of Kindness Week, I have made this week’s entry very voice-over business-specific. This will hopefully serve as solid productive advice for anyone getting started, or considering getting started, in the business as well as shine a light on both the perks and the challenges that things like the internet and social media bring to our industry.

As I was going through various levels of corporate training in my early 20’s, one of the most enforced and drilled-down concepts of the curriculum was the act of utilizing one’s available resources first, before asking your coworkers or manager for help and answers.

This means that one would be required to do, and responsible for doing, their own research and seeking the available answers somewhere already within the company’s extensive database. There were already tons of documents, quick reference guides, frequently asked question pages, tutorials, and explainer videos pretty much everywhere and covered pretty much everything.

If you had a question, odds were that the answer could be found. At most, the answer you find would guide you to an ultimately more specific but different question than the one which started you on this path. And that secondary or tertiary question would be the acceptable one to ask.

For anyone who has worked in a corporate function anytime in the past 10 years or so, you already know that it isn’t like that anymore. Documents and materials aren’t quite written that way anymore as much as they used to be. That is mainly because the audience is simply not doing the reading anymore.

My last corporate job started out as the former but evolved into the latter over the years as the average employee age began to drop. The younger crew brought with them, it seems, this new doctrine of instant gratification and immediate return. At least when it comes to seeking info, anyway.

Research, note-taking, asking preliminary and secondary follow-up questions – all gone. Even the emails I was responsible for sending to the end-user as a reply to their inquiry had to be groomed and shortened because there were too many words. Literally, that was the reason I was given. It was “too long, they won’t read it”.

Attention spans plummeted and the desire to seek knowledge went extinct along with it. Seekers want their info delivered right to them, already organized and outlined, so they can skim and move on.

This much is evident online in focused groups and social media communities as well. I am a member of no small amount of said groups. On a near-daily basis, I’ll see an inquiry posted in one of the social media groups from new talent, asking “How does one get started in this business? Where do I begin? Where do I go for work?” etc.

One of the problems is that this question has been asked and answered thoroughly numerous times already. Entire threads filled with lengthy conversation and extensive banter are easily found. Existing pros have spent tremendous amounts of their valuable time laying out these details and their own experiences, for better or worse, all throughout these threads online.

In the time it takes a new member of the group to ask this question in a new active post to the members, they could have entered the same text into the search field and found pages and pages of data, already existing, from which they could mine for information. And this is my suggestion for the new talent out there, as it was also my own method as well (still is, actually, and remains very fruitful).

… Are you still reading? …Good!

By finding these existing conversations where long-time and very successful pros have laid out their info, experiences, and resources, I was able to go through each one slowly. All the comments, replies, debating, devil’s advocates, experiences, and takeaways from every established professional was all there in black and white. As I would read through, I would take copious notes.

Some provided details on their daily practices, such as warm-ups, business related tasks, and organizational tips. They would go back and forth about early mistakes they made in the business, where it led them, what they learned, and what they wished they had done instead.

Others would review their coaching teams or demo producers, and I would make lists of who to seek out for more information (and also who to avoid as well, which is often equally valuable knowledge to sponge up). Others still would talk about their equipment, what they started with and why, what they upgraded to and why, and all the pros and cons that came up along the way.

Agents, managers, producers, filmmakers, casting people, content makers, beneficial networking opportunities and methodology, methods of communication, guidance on direct marketing, and so so much more. It’s all in there.

To be successful in voice-over, one must become a student of the material. A LOT of material. It doesn’t begin and end with your performance or your determination. It actually begins with the homework you assign yourself, and the extra credit you choose to undertake as well.

I always recommend to people, when they ask how to get into it, that they google the statement itself. Put in “I want to be a voice-actor” and hit enter. There are more than a few detailed articles written already by established, working, big-name voice-over people. The articles provide some tough-love but also very accurate descriptions of the prerequisites to getting into this business as well as the joys and benefits.

I tell people “read one of those articles two times and take notes, then if you still think you want to try this, send me the new questions you have and we’ll go from there”.

Mining the data from LinkedIn and Facebook groups has been essential on my path into professional voice-over. For one thing, the information is abundant to say the least. Gem after gem of solid gold info, complete with the strong perspective and sincere hindsight of the person providing it.

For another thing, it is free. The only cost is the time it takes to read through it all and take notes (and that’s normally where we lose people). It allows me to educate myself and put myself through the punches that someone else already endured, but without having to take the beating myself. It also enables me to cross off many of my existing questions and come up with pages of new ones that I can now search for as well, all without actually having to ask anyone anything (yet).

Over the years I have made this a hard and fast rule of my own. Before I ask an active question in a group or to an individual, I first enter that exact same question into the search field and see what posts I can find on the subject with comments. Almost 100% of the time I find my answer, plus the answers to the next handful of questions too.

The only questions I will tend to ask in a live forum are the ones I myself was unable to answer for myself in research. The depth of detail found online is considerable, so I view it as my responsibility to use what’s already there and not take someone else’s time until/unless I have something I cannot find on my own first.

We are forever challenged in this industry to stand-out, to differentiate, amidst an ever-growing field of “competitors”. There are many subtle ways to accomplish this, and one of those ways is to be the person who does the work. Don’t be the person who wants it all laid out in front of them to follow blindly, but rather be the person who rolls up their sleeves and starts digging.

I am personally more impressed with the person who doesn’t ask the first question, but rather asks the third or fourth after having found the previous answers themselves. That person is a forward-thinker who shows intelligence, drive, and respect.

Respect for the industry itself.
Respect for the steps necessary to success.
Respect for the people, their time, and their expertise.

The Journey of a Thousand No’s

For the record, believe it or not, the conversation I mention below was had long before I knew of any such similarly-named children’s book. It’s purely a coincidence, but one that indeed proves great minds think alike.

Most of us have hopes and aspirations that are different than where we are currently. Right? Maybe you always wanted to be an artist of some sort, a writer of books or songs or music. A painter. A digital artist or cartoonist. A performer. A filmmaker or storyteller. Maybe an athlete or other competitor in some sort of professional capacity.

Whatever it was (is, I should say), the usual tendency is for so many of us to opt for the safe route. We get a job with benefits and security. We pay bills. Buy houses. We may never go all-in and go for it with those dreams out of fear, or maybe out of sensibility and logic. Maybe we’ve been told it’s too tough by someone we love and trust, and maybe we took their word for it.

Maybe our inner voices are not telling us the truth. Sometimes these voices sound like us, but are really the words and skepticism of someone else. Not everyone’s inner voice is as trusted and collegial as others. It all depends on what you have been fed and told in your formative years, and by who.

Sometimes what keeps us from the pursuit is the simple matter of the challenge itself. Some of these dreams take years to come to fruition and might involve going up against high volumes of competition with even higher stakes. They might cause us to risk spending years in poverty and financial insecurity before the eagle finally lands, if at all.

For some there is one thing and one thing only that dissuades them from going for it, and that’s fear of the sheer amount of rejection involved. The Arts in particular have this characteristic (as well as the aforementioned poverty and competition factors, of course).

But what if someone told you that your greatest dreams and aspirations for success, and the most ideal version of your happy life, are right around the corner? That the only thing standing between you and victory… is a thousand rejections?

No, seriously.

If you finished that rock opera you’ve been writing since the 8th grade (or that book you’ve been penning etc) and started out on the journey to get it produced/published/recorded, and were guaranteed to succeed in your mission on your terms and live the life you’ve always dreamed of… with the sole condition being that you have to endure one thousand rejections first before getting a Yes, would you go for it?

I have a friend who is an aspiring novelist. She is an extremely creative and artistically minded person with an exceptional imagination, an inventive way with words, and a unique perspective. She wrote a book and was unsure about seeking publication. The primary concern which she voiced to me? Rejection. The stress and disappointment, and risk, of rejection. After all, it’s a hard thing to take in any sized dose and it makes some tasks unattractive to those who would otherwise undertake them.

For many people, fear of rejection is enough to keep them away from their true goals and desires and cause them to choose a safer road with less uncertainty, less risk, and less rejection.

And less fulfillment.

As we were talking about this fear and it’s power to limit people’s ambitions, I naturally gave her my related take on it all as an actor. I mean, performing artists are no strangers to rejection, so I knew where she was coming from. I didn’t ask her the question above, but rather told her how I came to terms myself with this fear and with the massive obstacle that is rejection in my business.

Embrace the “No’s”. They are not permanent.

I knew going in that I was bound, absolutely and totally predestined, to be the recipient of numerous rejections before I’d get into orbit with my freelance voice-over work, as well as the other facets of performing arts (like TV and Film). My rationale was simple: if it takes me 1,000 rejections before I achieve success, well then I better get crackin’!

It’s not that I enjoy the rejection, I don’t at all. And I certainly do not go into these auditions and opportunities hoping to be rejected, ever. But I am acutely aware that there will always be more No than Yes in my line of work, and that the No’s will be abundantly front-loaded in the early years of this endeavor. This allowed me to fully embrace the notion of rejection. To accept it as merely one component of a larger process, and one that is essential for progress and success.

Each occurrence of rejection gets us closer to our goal. Sometimes we receive criticism and feedback from which we learn and improve. Other times we get rejected because we barked up the wrong tree, such as publishers who favor one style of writing over another or producers who favor only one genre of music, etc, and yours isn’t it.

We get turned down for various reasons. Some reasons have to do with us specifically, but not all. Fortunately, we get the opportunity to grow from each “No” and show up stronger the next day (yet another absolutely essential component). We learn what to do and what not to do. We learn where to go and where not to go. That’s where the power lies in this perspective. That’s why I’ve never been heartbroken or devastated by getting passed over for an opportunity. You cannot let it in.

I make sure I take away a lesson from each “No” and show up better and stronger the next day. And I also count that rejection as one of the thousand needed. Therefore, with every “No” I hear, I view it as being one more closer to the big “Yes” (not the ‘Harry & Sally’ kind of “Yes”).

This doctrine must have resonated with her too, because the next day she emailed me her manuscript to read. She had decided to start on her journey of a thousand No’s after our talk. To me, that felt like a win for sure. It warmed my heart to have been able to say anything at all that helped my friend, a true artist, to break through and break out.

Powering through, staying strong, and staying positive are among the prerequisites to success. Listen more closely to your inner voice than you do to the “No”. Never stop moving forward.

“So, how did you get into voice-over?”

This is a question I get asked a lot. I’m sure many of my peers in the business hear it often as well. Some of these questions come from people who have an interest in VO, or in the arts in general perhaps. Some come from those who want to break in and are struggling to find that point of entry (as it is a narrow one).

There are others though who, in the midst of the discussion, reveal to me that their question was based on an assumption. Meaning that I either must have “known someone”, or got handed a unique opportunity and tried to run with it, or some other unearned short-cut which led me to an unintended career. It’s usually pretty clear that one of the next questions they want to ask is “can you do that for me, too?”

When I give them my answer though, and tell them the abbreviated story of how and why, many change their tune fairly quickly.

The truth is this is a fantastic job to be fortunate enough to be doing, but it in no way gets handed to anyone. No one gets bubbled up or fast-tracked. There are no short-cuts on which you can plot a reliable course. There’s no side-doors or secret passwords to the upper levels. There isn’t anyone for us “to talk to you for you” or anything like that.

Even in the extremely rare instances where unexpecting talent gets handed a large opportunity to voice something, it rarely goes anywhere after that unless/until said talent puts in the rest of the work required.

So, how did I actually get into it? Simple. I decided to.

I made the choice, did the homework, paid the dues, did the diligence, and started kicking doors open myself. That’s it. I’m sorry the answer wasn’t more romantic, or more Rocky-movie-esque or whatever. But that’s the deal. I just freakin’ went for it.

Where it really started, though? Acting.

I have been an actor since I was 18, and an acting-hopeful prior to that. In 1998 I took a bit of an unintended hiatus and started a corporate job at 22 years old. This turned into 9 years away from acting entirely, and a geographic change of 650 miles away from my New York home. That became too long, and too far for my taste. So I started up again. I’m sure many of ushave something we did in our youth that eventually phased out or fell by the wayside. But how many of us have the guts to go back to it and re-commit to it?

I began auditioning for local productions and got my chops back pretty quickly by doing several great plays with excellent people all over town. Even after my first audition in phase ‘Steve 2.0’, I knew I was back where I belonged. The feelings of elation and exuberance were familiar and undeniable. I had found home. I had found North again. And this time I had no intention of losing my way.

My inner voice was now shouting at me, desperately trying to get my attention to make sure I didn’t derail again. Even as I left that first audition in 9 years, I walked down the sidewalk on Second Street in Wilmington back towards my car with a literal spring in my step. At that moment, I was speaking out loud to myself with no one around, saying “Yes! YES!! That was awesome! You did it! You’re back now!” For the first time, my real voice and my inner voice were in perfect sync with each other. They were one voice. I’ll never forget that night.

After a few years of this I had racked up a solid resume, a couple nods for best actor, an agent, some commercials, and film work. Two primary goals emerged out of this. The first? Get back to New York somehow some way. The second? Find a way to unload the day job I had at the time.

As many people know, but maybe not everyone, having those pesky 40hr/wk scheduling issues makes it near impossible to get traction and make progress as a serious professional actor. The conflict is too great and the powers-that-be within the industry do not have the time nor the inclination to deal with whether or not you can get the time off work. It’s viewed as a metric of your seriousness. Yes, it sucks. But that’s how it is.

So how do you keep the lights on and food on the table without a survival job?

Answer: You make a new one for yourself.

People start businesses from home all the time. Etsy. Ebay. Making and selling products online. Apparel. Jewelry. Customs artwork, graphics, photography, etc. So many possibilities.

For me the answer was obvious. Voice-over was something I had always been interested in doing but didn’t know how. Yet. However, it was cut directly from the very same cloth of my acting training and experience. It did not require me to reinvent any wheels and start learning to make coffee mugs or anklets to sell online. It did not require me to embark on any new ventures in learning, equipment, or fabrication of any kind that was UNrelated to my career goals.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a huge learning curve and I most definitely had to embark on a research and development mission. There was training, yes. Equipment needed, most definitely. But all of this was under the acting umbrella, which made it easier for one thing, but more importantly it made it obvious. A no-brainer.

It wasn’t the same as starting something brand new and unfamiliar completely from scratch. It wasn’t the same as going all the way back to formula. It was more like “what can I do with what I already have, what I already know, and what I’m already pretty damn good at?”.

I worked long and hard to turn myself into a trained professional with knowledge of and respect for the many, many facets of this business. Through homework and humble questions, I started sponging up as much data as I could (and a future blog entry will explain how and where I mined much this data).

There were no favors done or hands-out given. I didn’t get bubbled-up or fast-tracked. I didn’t stumble into this blindly or accidentally. There was deliberate planning and action. Phases. First this, then that. Preparation. Budgeting. Spending. Patience.

Think of a rocket. Before they put any two pieces together, there’s countless months of drawing board work. Then, countless more months building inside the hangar where no one can see the progress.

The first items built are the tools. Then using those custom tools, they build machines. Then using those machines, they build the parts of the rocket and begin assembly. After that, the rocket gets rolled out to the pad. Not for launch, yet, but for more months of work. Tests. Adjustments. Improvements. It takes time. Lots and lots of time. Take it apart, change it, put it back together, test it again. Over and over.

“The more time at the drawing board and in the shop, the more powerful and perfect the launch will be.”

Like I said, I kicked the door in, but not on day one. Nobody came to me and said “Hey you, handsome man, wanna fly this rocket for us?” No. I built it myself with the help and guidance of others who built theirs as well. I came to the party with my own tools and machines, my own rocket, my own mission control, my own crew, and my own flight suit.

Most importantly, I arrived with my own mission. The same mission as it has been since inception.

This information is frequently off-putting to those who make the inquiry and/or seek entry into the business but don’t know how or where to find it. Of course it would be much easier if we all had Uncles who work in the business or people who vouch for us with their connections. It would be lovely to ask the question today and have the job tomorrow. But that isn’t reality. The people who ask the first question will sometimes ask a follow-up such as “but isn’t there a faster way for me to do it? I don’t have that kind of time or money to do it that way. I’m looking to earn money sooner than that.”

What else can I say except,, “if there were an easier, faster, cheaper, more effective way, I would have found it already and gone that way myself.” But in the end I know full-well, it can’t be achieved without the struggle, without the work.

“Someone always knows more.”

For the past several weeks to months, I have been doing no small amount of podcast homework. Before launching anything and trying to invent it as I go, I have to ensure I do my diligence and pin down as much as I can.

Could it grow on its own, organically as I progress? Sure, of course it can. I count on it doing just that.

But with what I already know about recording and producing, to the accessibility of a fairly vast network of people in various backgrounds and careers, I owe it to myself to have the best starting point as possible when guests start coming in. To be honest, I owe it to the guests as well.

I also knew it was time to relaunch a blog as well. Not just in addition to, but in conjunction with the podcast and utilizing my various platforms already in play.

I did this once before too, and I’m sure this will get touched on again as well. When I had bariatric surgery in 2012, I had about 4 full weeks notice from scheduling to surgery and I was given a checklist of must-do’s during that time as well. Things like Cardiologist visit, Pulmonologist, Psychological eval, and more.

This was going to be a process and a half in 28 days and would be a huge change in my life forever. I thought a method of documenting and sharing was in order. Thus I created There, I documented my pre-op process in detail in hopes that readers considering the surgery would have solid reference and expectations. It was also a record for me to look back on someday as well.

I continued posting for over a year steadily before it trailed off. I don’t post there anymore and am unlikely to do so further. So this will be the main spot now. But the old one is still there if anyone wants to see it.

The podcast is going to be 1-on-1 coffee talks with eclectic guests on a variety of topics. So many people know more than I do and I want to learn from them as much as I can. I am talking with potential guests now, some of whom have changed their lives by changing their career and leaving their survival jobs as well as some who have also had the surgery. I will also be bringing on guests who have helped change other people’s lives through kindness and generosity. Imagine something closer to talk radio as opposed to straight interview Q&A.

Similar to this blog, there will be a focus on people’s inner voices and the relationships they have with them. Not everyone’s path is linear. Not all progress is straight forward. Not all who wander are lost. These themes, among others, are very important to me and I am sure will cause my guests and I to enlighten each other, as well as enlighten listeners and viewers.

This will give us plenty of topics to discuss and react to/expand on for shows. I do not fancy myself a guru of any kind, no self-help expert or motivational speaker-type, but rather a regular normal person with a story of how I got here and where I’m going. Along the way I encounter others like me and am interested in how they got there and where they too are going.

My inner voice and I agree fully that these discussions will provide knowledge, perspective, and strength. I am a big advocate of listening closely to people’s stories and trying to find a parallel to our own for the purposes of growth and learning. In general, we’ve become people who don’t listen anymore. We don’t take the time to internalize the meaning and purpose of the message we are being sent. We have stopped “receiving” and are only sending now. Pure output, no input. I vehemently oppose such a doctrine and will always do my part to fight against it. By listening, truly listening, I can benefit and gain from the information I am receiving. If it then allows me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and learn from their trip, then I save myself having to walk that mile myself and pay the cost of doing so.

Not to mention the fact that the sender of this information will appreciate being truly heard. Never underestimate that.

I made life changes in the past decade because I was heading like a rocket to being a sad, cautionary tale for others and I just simply could not allow or accept that. In doing so, my journey has presented me with challenges, hard lessons, and new growth. Some of the above came from others as well, because I knew their information and experiences were not only important, but also applicable.

Never stop learning. Mr Miyagi was right, someone always knows more. Your inner voice wants and needs that information and that knowledge from others in order to be able to fully communicate with you. Don’t keep yourself in the dark on purpose.