Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Tree of Ripe Peaches

But which fruit do you pick?

I've been doing voice work for all of my adult life. The first twenty-five years were in broadcasting and the next thirty have been peppered with on-camera and voiceover projects that I did while pursuing a public relations career. Now, retired from the PR work, I focus my efforts on the voice business. Training is an important part of this business because we need to try to stay ahead of the curve and trends. Some fields of work call it continuing education. In the voiceover business we call it coaching. It's important to have someone you trust and can work with to help move your career forward. I feel bad for the young or old entering this field of work for the first time. There are so many choices. It's like trying to pick the best peach from the tree.
There's Bill, Penny, Chuck, Harlan, Crispin, Tom, Marc, George, Terry, Bev, Susan, Lau, Tina, Anne, Maria, Marice, Leslie, Linda, Scott, Barbara, Julie, Sherri, and the list goes on and on and on. How do they choose? I'm in the same situation and I've been in this business all my adult life.
I really don't know the answer to the question I posed. You could ask other successful artists who they work with. However, there are several factors at work here. There's cost. Location plays a role. There's cost. Specialty is a factor. There's cost. The number of experts is a factor. And finally, there's cost. Hmmmmmmm.
It seems to me there are as many experts as there are students to learn and the cost to access those experts could be somewhat prohibitive, unless you have unlimited resources. It must be a good business to be in if there are so many experts. I've heard many people say "Those who can, do and those who can't, teach.” Well, I could never be that harsh. There are many many great experienced voice coaches. However, there are some that have no business coaching. Some only coach because it's a cash cow.
So, here are some questions those coming into this line of work need to ponder, and I DON'T have the answers:
  1. How does a person select the right voice coach ( both personalities have to be compatible)?
  2. Are voice coaches credentialed?
  3. Is the coach I select interested in me and my career or just watching the clock?
  4. Will the coach work with me “one on one?”
  5. If I'm in Pocatello, is it possible for Skype sessions or Google hangouts?
  6. Does the coach expect me to come to New York, Dallas, Atlanta or Los Angeles for the learning experience?
  7. Should the trainer be the one to put together my demo or just be an advisor during the process?
  8. How much should I be willing to invest in this coaching/training?
That last question is one being bantered about today relating to higher education, also. People are starting to question the high cost of education and wondering if there ever is a return on the investment. Student loans amount to the lion's share of consumer debt today. I'm sure this is also a factor in the voiceover business. The experts are quick to point out that success in voiceover is contingent on having a good business attitude and a routine that supports that. I agree. But, I continue to wonder about the other factors. So, I toss out one final question.

Where does one draw the line on the cost of this continuing education?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Grumpy old man...

and I have a right to be.
When you write a blog you can write damn well what you want to write about and vent when you want to.  This week I do both.

When you reach my age you have several privileges you have earned by just being knocked around life for many years.  One of those is the right to be a grumpy old man “if you wanna be.”  OK,  you already have the images in your brain of  Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon being Grumpy Old Men.
There was a fun loving side of those characters despite their grumpiness.  So let me first say that I can have fun but have little tolerance for things that I once found necessary to“grin and bear.”

So, here's the “lucky seven” short list of things that will set me off:

1. “I duh know, it's not my department.”  If you work there, every department is your department.  It's your obligation to know about where you work, because I'm going to ask and you should know.
2. “It's just our policy and can't be changed.” Yes it can. It's just a policy and policies can be changed if it's not good for business or your customers.
3. Rudeness.  Be rude and I'll be rude right back.  Eye for an eye. You're fair game now.
4. Discrimination.  No matter what coat you wear or hood. You be you and I'll be me.  Get over your insecurities.
5. Religious zealots. No!  I don't want to be born again. I'm OK with who I am and the fact that your god is not my god, or is she?
6. You lied to me.  I can deal with those little white ones even though they are still lies. But an outright lie to my face?  That'll end the friendship instantaneously.
7. Resale price maintenance (RPM) (just another disguise for the repealed Fair Trade Laws). If I buy a product from your company, I have the right to resell it for what ever price I want.  I can even take a loss if I want to. That's my choice, not yours (Bose, Calvin Klein, Jockey, Oreck, Sennheiser,  et al).

Can they be avoided?  Probably not.  They are part of life these days.  But, I don't have to like 'em.

I guess I could be a hermit, although that is the name of my favorite cookie.  But being a hermit is not good for business in the world of voiceover.  Although, living in Upstate NY does feel like I'm living a hermit life.  So close, and yet so far away.  They say that the Internet is supposed to be to the saving grace for voiceover. They say that you don't have to live in NY City or LA. But, I have found that if you don't and you are not well connected with the people that make the decisions, you might as well be living in the Arctic circle.  So, the grumpy old man in me strikes once again.  You can't get auditions without an agent and you can't get an agent if you don't have regular national clients.  It's frustrating when you have done all the things marketing experts have counseled you to do.

"There he goes, venting again."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dare to be different

...it's who you are that counts.

The Crystals had a big hit record back in the sixties titled “He's A Rebel.” There's a line in the song that goes like this: “He's a rebel 'cause he never ever does what he should. But just because he doesn't do what everybody else does...” That would be me. I am that guy.

I have always been that way. A rebel am I. Some people call that being an individual. I just don't feel comfortable doing something just because everyone else does it. Is that bad? Some say yes, some say no. I say that's who I am.

As an example, I can remember back in high school. I ran for the office of president of my junior class. Everyone told me that I had to do things a certain way. I needed to make posters, make speeches, and do all the things that everyone else had done in the past to get elected. But, I had to be different. I realized that the people that really got you elected and those in my class that had the most influence were the girls. So, I talked to my mom who had a large flower garden full of mums and asked her if I could pick enough to give every girl in class a flower. She hesitated but after some discussion agreed that I could pick about 60 flowers. That day every girl at Sauquoit Valley Central Junior Class (Class of '65) got a flower from me. I won (bought) the election, not because I followed the rules, but because I did something different.

I have been that way ever since. When it came time to buy a DSLR camera I researched and analyzed and decided to go against the trend and did not buy a Nikon or a Canon. I bought a Pentax. The company was certainly not the leader in photography it once had been. But, the camera I selected had some benefits at the time that the others did not. It ran on AA batteries, accepted all the lenses I had from my previous Pentax SLR camera and was waterproof, something the others could not boast. I decided to be different and bought the Pentax K200D. I still love that camera even though it's only 10 megapixels. I do have my eyes on a Pentax K-5IIs. That'll be my next purchase, soon as I do a few more voiceover jobs.

When I first got into computing I started with a PC. I struggled with all products Microsoft and those that bought into the Microsoft way of life. I never did fall for the Apple mantra. But, the Apple Computer company was clever by giving so many schools computers, starting the Apple Army early was a good business tactic. Adobe is clever that way also, making versions of its extremely expensive software very affordable for students.  That's good for business. 

In the early 90s I became a computing rebel when I fell in love with a short lived operating system called GeoWorks. Is was actually a product originally made for the Commodor 64 but was eventually ported to the PC. I don't know why the company failed but I think the big boys had something to do with it. The original America On Line software was based on GeoWorks. I was sorry to see the company fail. They had a great product. So, I went back to Microsoft until 2005 when my Windows XP computer failed and Microsoft wouldn't allow me to re-install the operating system on that computer despite having all the correct disks. I remembered having received a free disk in the mail from Ubuntu Linux. I put that disk in the computer drive to see if I could rescue my files. Not only did I rescue my files I entered a new phase of my computing life. I was an immediate convert to Ubuntu and the open source universe. I have never gone back and feel I can do 99% of what everyone else can do with their PCs and Macs. But, I don't have to shell out money every year to upgrade my software.

When it comes to my voiceover studio, I opted for the Ubuntu Studio version of the operating system. It's a flavor that's specifically designed for those that want a better multi-media experience. Oh, I can boot my studio PC into Windows 7 if I need to, but it rarely happens. So the rebel perseveres, “Cause he's not just one of the crowd.”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

In Your Own Self Image

...you are what you eat.

Narcissus by CaravaggioThere's a little Narcissus in all of us, especially those of us in the world of performing arts. Is that a good thing or bad? We have to be self promoters in the world of voiceovers. If we don't “toot our own horns” how do we expect others to do it for us? Just the thought got me thinking about life experiences and how they relate to what I do as a voice talent. 

(Painting illustration: Narcissus by Caravaggio gazing at his own reflection.)

There was a pop culture film back in the late sixties that had limited popularity but it's title has been bantered about for years. It was a hippie, flower children documentary of sorts that had cameo appearances by such notables as Paul Butterfield, David Crosby, Frank Zappa, Peter Yarrow and Tiny Tim.  I can't remember much about the film except the title: "You Are What You Eat."  That about sums up today's topic.

I look back on where I have been, what I have done, people I have met and things I like to do now. Are they important to the business of voiceover? You bet. I believe they add perspective and enhance the ability to take on roles as a voice actor.

So does having had the experience of working on a dairy farm as a youth help me in voiceover? It does when the product is a something like Udder Balm or a special herbicide or even a tractor for that matter. The voice talent in the radio or TV spot has to be able to relate to the product. Having first hand knowledge is extremely valuable.

Let's say you are going to do some travel documentaries. The fact that you have actually been there makes the job so much easier. So, in my case having actually traveled extensively makes it easier to place myself at the actual destination: Chiang Mai, Thailand; Gozo, Malta; the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, the top of Mt Etna in Sicily, the Bad Lands of the Dakotas, Yellowstone Park, The high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains, or James Bay on the Arctic Ocean. I have been there and done that and I can relate.

I love photography, computing, nature, canoeing, boating, camping, hiking, and cross-country skiing. I'm an avid genealogist and love family history research. I have baked bread all of my adult life and am an expert in making artisan breads and would be right at home doing a voiceover about baking.  I'm a home DIY guy and I can relate when it comes to selling a table saw or cordless drill. But, am I the guy that should be doing an NFL film or a documentary on the history of basketball? Not on your life. That's because I don't follow the sports, don't know anything about them and have no business even trying. Heck, I was born in Cooperstown, NY and lived a few miles north in my youth and still have never been to the Baseball Hall of Fame. So, I really shouldn't consider, even if asked, to do a documentary about the history of baseball. Why is that? Now this can and will be disputed, but I believe the audience can tell when you deliver the words if you have no knowledge of the topic, even if you are a good actor.