Your VO Routine: Confining or Confirming?

routineShall we agree that a routine is desirable?

Whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly, the routine assures we’re hitting all the marks in our business plan, yearly goals, and priorities for success.  It’s something we have to do, and yet it’s something we should want to do.  And therein lies the conundrum.  Routine often gets a bad rap, but I would argue it’s dual nature.

Does your routine feel like a ball ‘n’ chain, or your saving grace?  Is it reassuring or a real drag?

Often, it may depend on your mood for the moment.  On a day when it seems hard to pull thoughts together or focus, a routine can be the glue that holds it together for you.  The routine confirms you and keeps you productive.  Conversely, when you’re in a creative groove… fresh ideas popping right and left, a routine may seem terribly binding.  In that instance, keeping to a rote schedule may seem confining.

Obviously, there are also the friends and foes of routine that constantly alter the course.

Enemies of a VO Routine:

family ‘n’ friend incursions (God bless ‘em!)
external neighborhood noises
surprise phone calls
demanding clients
unexpected or unscheduled emergencies

Enablers of a VO Routine:

keeping a daily calendar/appt scheduleenvisioning your day
commitment to repeating priority tasks regularly
standardizing procedures
keeping recording protocols
family and friends (yes, here too!)

Although both lists are incomplete, you get the idea.  The plan here is to create, or evolve a familiar routine — definite points in your work process — and stick to them… be they confining or confirming.  All of this assumes you want to be productive on a regular basis…  no matter your mood.

Thoughts?

CourVO

Recipe for Holiday Recovery: Small Bites

gggggggoalsIs it just me, or do you have a hard time getting back in the groove after a holiday?

Even worse; the time between Christmas and New Year’s is off-the-charts unique.  It’s like being in limbo between time-shift universes.

Never is there a moment when I feel a greater need to “have a vacation to get over my vacation”… and this is also when I feel the greatest resentment at the breakneck pace and culture of the American work ethic.

I know it’s what made our country great, but now I wonder if that’s not the force that’s making our country tired.

Well, I’m not going to change it in this blog article, and Lord knows my own work ethic contributes to the problem.  I get restless if I sit for too long, and when I’m working, I seem to be happiest.

But just working is not enough.  Hard work can move mountains, but if there was no reason to move the mountain in the first place, then what have I really achieved?

One of the things I’ll be paying greater attention to in 2014 is working smart, and making progress by breaking down the BHAG  (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) into achievable, realistic, daily…even hourly steps.

We all want a “win”.  One win — however small — emboldens us to do more.  Set yourself up for a win:  an achievable goal — and move on to the next.

Lesson:  For all the lethargy that may come from having taken BIG bites of Christmas cheer (and dinner), pick yourself up by your bootstraps with a few SMALL bites for a hasty end-of-year recovery.

CourVO

 

 

In Defense of: “The First Take”

take oneThe main point of this blog is not going to sit well with many…least of all the accomplished voice coaches I’ve worked with.

So, consider this point of view more as an idea I’m floating out there as a counter-argument.  It’s a counter-argument to the other end of the spectrum,which is a school of thought that says you do as many takes as you need to until “it sounds right”…or until “you get it right”…even perfect.

Common Wisdom

The idea that your first take may be your best take is tantamount to heresy for a good many seasoned, schooled, and mature voice talent.  The common wisdom follows this general thinking:

  • You throw away the first take as just a rough scratch-track.  You’re discovering the copy for the first time.
  • The second take is for finding some sweet spots in the flow of the copy, and the intent of the writer.
  • In the third take, you find the true emphasis on some key words, playing off other words.
  • For the 4th take, you’re sensing the timing.
  • In the fifth take, you’re putting it all together, now, and it’s starting to take shape.
  • by the 6th take, you’re feeling confident, and just a few takes away from the final?
  • Etc.,  ad infinitum

REALLY?

Or do you just continually add takes of certain sentences and phrases to the whole, editing it all together until you have the completed “perfect” spot?

So let me ask you — knowing what a perfectionist you are (we all are) — when is the take good enough?  How long do you spend doing endless takes until you’re satisfied?  How much time do you spend perfecting perfection?

By your 20th take, have you lost all perspective of what the client originally wanted?  Do you have what YOU think is the best take, or have you truly hit the ball out of the park on this audition because you’ve NAILED it?

A couple of years ago, I rented my studio out to one of the top actors/voice-actors in Denmark.  He was in town playing the World Series of Poker, and had a full film crew with him.  But a client back in Europe needed a re-take of one line for a spot, and his producer went hunting for an ISDN studio.  My name popped up, and one afternoon he showed up at my door with his film crew.  Nice guy!  I showed him the studio, how to operate things, and gave him a bottle of water.  Remember, he was there to cut ONE LINE.

52 minutes later, he emerged from the studio with something like 23 cuts of that one line…finally happy with the last one.  I shook my head in disbelief.

Now, the other side of the coin

This line of thinking will feel familiar to anyone who’s done live broadcasting.  Radio. TV.  Even live announcing at events.

YOU ONLY GET ONE TAKE.  It better damn well be good.  Necessity breeds intensity…even perfection (sometimes).

I remember when I got serious about Voice-Over work.  I was amazed that it was OK to do more than one take.  Wow!  What a concept! How cool!

But… I’m pretty happy with the first one, thank you…why should I do another?

Now mind you, I’m not saying your read comes from the first time you’ve seen the copy.  I’m saying you only get one chance to deliver the line out-loud.  In this school of thought, you first analyze things pretty good.  Edit the copy.  Mark-up the copy…maybe even practice under your breath once or twice, but the idea is that the first spoken take is the best take.

In favor of the “first take” philosophy:  It has the greatest first-time discovery of the words, it’s the most innocent, and in many ways the most genuine.  It’s the one following closest to your comprehension of the client’s direction.  Could it be, it’s more the true you than the one that comes contrived from all that coaching you’ve had?

If the first take is so bad, then why do so many voice-over sages encourage us to get IMPROV experience.  Lessee… you only get one take with improv, no?

Final Analysis

Hey, all those coaches are telling you… what?  Be the real you, right?  Only you can bring to this spot the experience and savvy that is unique to you, so bring it.  Make it authentic the first time around and walk away.

There I said it.

Now, do I believe it?  Not entirely, but I’m more likely to trust my instincts with the first take, than second-guessing myself on to continuous re-takes into the night, with 5-10 more auditions waiting for my attention.

But then again, my first-take comes after 30+ years of continually doing ONE TAKE three times a day, five days a week in half-hour portions.  You can dismiss it as broadcast “newspeak”…or puking in to the mic… but experience is an undeniably hard taskmaster, and I’ve learned my lessons well.

In the recent November sweeps, all the newscasts in which I anchor, won their time-slots.  That’s not bragging, or even taking credit for such success — it’s a team effort.  But seeing as we’ve won 18 of the last 23 ratings periods, I think I can own a little of that accommplishment as my contribution of an authentic “first-and-only-take” to an audience appreciative of the fact that I didn’t keep reading the line over and over till I got it right.

CourVO

Striking a Balance

balanceWe’re all subject to polarizing emotions, thoughts, cultural trends ‘n’ tugs.  We’re influenced, not just both ends of an issue, but by all the chatter, confetti, and diversion of the world in the middle.

So, if you’re at all like me, finding your way through the middle (finding moderation)… is tough.  By that I mean choosing the best path through the clutter, and doing so in a manner that keeps you in the mix, achieves your goals, but also keeps your sanity.  If any of that sounds familiar?… then read on.

SCENARIO #1

VO friend “Clarence”  is struggling with his marketing, waffling about the P2P’s, and working himself ragged auditioning, with a low ROI.

VO friend “Clarice” is working constantly, considering going Union, installing ISDN, and getting on the roster of more agents.

Clarence can’t seem to get momentum.  As en ex-radio DJ, he tries to be diligent about connecting with the VO  industry online, follows the advice of his peers, and has had worthwhile coaching.  Still, his focus in the face of conflicting advice is all over the place.  He’s easily distracted by the latest new thing, and tends to drop business approaches before they’ve had time to mature.  He’s wandering.

Clarice has more time in the market, and she feels sure about her place in it. With extensive experience in theatre, She’s whittled down her approach to just two voice-acting genres where she shines.  She’s trusted by her peers and her clients.  Her plodding approach to steady progress has brought her success in voice-acting, and she’s carefully considering next steps.  She’s confident.

SCENARIO #2

My middle daughter is 22, a college student/athlete, and a serious-minded, conscientious, thoughtful student of life.

My only remaining aunt is 86, single, a “creative”, and a saucy, perceptive, independent liver of life.

Daughter proclaimed to me last night that she’s withdrawing from Social Media, the lifeblood of young people, no?  She’s deactivating her FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.  She’s hoping to find more time for studies, personal human interactions, and relief from the distractions of mindless social surfing.  Daughter is stepping back.

Aunt (again, at 86)  is deeply involved in learning the ins and outs of computers.  She’s already prolific on Gmail…has mastered Picasa, and loves to pepper her messages with emoticons.  She writes to me daily with questions about how to do graphics, and install programs.  Her digital discoveries are palpable in their delight and connectivity.  Aunt is surging forward.

SCENARIO #3

Time cannot be controlled, but it can be organized.  Set long-term goals, and break down those goals into ever smaller bite-sized pieces while you parse the year into months, weeks, days, hours.   Keep a calendar and stick to it.  Use a daytimer or an app to set reminders and notes.  Make lists.  Write things down.  Do what’s important, not urgent.   Follow-up with calls and appropriate emails for clients and prospects.

Each day is a new opportunity for discovery and choice.  Enjoy life’s surprises rather than labor with an over-burdened sense of duty. Respond to challenges as they come, within a broad framework of life’s loosely-chosen directions.  Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.  Build strong relationships and everything else falls into place.  Be responsible with your promises, but never be hamstrung by rigid protocols.

_________________

I could go on.  The choices are endless, and those choices will define you…or they are an extension of you, and you define THEM.  There’s no right or wrong… but… sanity and happiness are good things.

CourVO

ChangeUp

dreamsMy wife has vivid multiple dreams every night…sometimes waking up exhausted, and often sharing rich details about each one.

Me?

There’s usually a hint that I was doing something during my slumber, but it’s gone in the ether the moment I awake…except yesterday morning.

I had an involved dream about a blog I was destined to write for Voice-Acting in Vegas.

Seriously?  Maybe it’s time to see my shrink again.

But it’s true.  This dream was a multifaceted inspirational blog idea with a deep and intricate structure.  The idea was so bountiful that I just knew I would have enough material to write one of my longest, most erudite blogs ever. The title was even revealed to me in big bold letters:  CHANGEUP.

In this landmark blog article, the word ChangeUp would describe a roadmap to successful auditions, reveal an ironclad business plan, and would seal my voice-acting success.  It would even be a metaphor for how I should/would approach LIFE in general!  Upon awaking, the article was practically written for me!…profoundly evident and clear.  Crystal clear.

Then reality set in.  By the end of the day, I realized that while the title had legs, the concept was less than inspirational and far from clear.

What’s evident, though, is that my subconscious is busy at work with MY work.  MY change-up.

30+ years of Television broadcasting, and easily 8 years of dedicated immersion and commitment to voice-over work has yielded precious little of the runaway VO success I just KNEW was in my future back in 2005.  So much for unbridled expectations.

Maybe yesterday’s blog about “doing the time” crept into my cerebral cortex a little deeper than I realized.

Undaunted by dashed (unrealistic?) expectations — and probably being more pig-headed than is healthy — I’m in the middle of a change-up.  I’ve been pinging the people I consider to be my mentors, my experts.  I’ve been asking tough questions about my approaches, my marketing, my business plan.  I’m building a new website…recording videos…getting new headshots…launching new marketing materials, and taking a HARD look at how I spend my time.

This is MY change-up.  What’s the cliche’ saying?….if you continue to do what you’re doing, you’ll continue to get the same results.

Yep.  Change-up.

What’s yours?

CourVO

Doing the Time

doingthetimeYou’ll hear the stories of a meteoric rise to the highest levels of accomplishment:  11-yr-old college graduates.  LeBron James.  Bill Gates.

But for the other 99% of us, “making it” means doing the time.

Think about it.  Anything with which you have a proficiency is probably the result of taking the time, over and over.  Such a commitment of time usually arises from an immersion into molecular topic minutiae – born of either passion or dedication.

Example:  Cliff Zellman lives, eats, and breaths audio.  Ask him virtually ANY question about the music industry — especially from his generation  — and you’ll be guaranteed an example, a personal reflection, and a tidbit of trivia.  The passion oozes from his core.cliffy-a

That passion doubtlessly spawned his career as an audio producer/director/engineer/technologist/demo maven.  But the passion alone didn’t carry Cliff.  The immersion did.  Cliff “did the time”.

Zellman is a convenient top-of-mind victim for my blog today, ’cause we just broke bread together during my visit to Ft. Worth to see my daughter play soccer.  My daughter is actually another example of “doing the time”.

So, what constitutes a voice-actor “doing the time”?  This can vary depending on specialties, niches, focus, and preference.  Regardless, you’ll find that accomplished voice-actors everywhere have an immersion in the detail of their work, a passion, dedication, commitment, and the WILLINGNESS to do the time.

Let’s list, though, some typical elements of a commercial voice-over talent honing her/his skill set (doing the time).

  • Practice
  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Getting coaching
  • Practice
  • Trial ‘n’ Error recording
  • Auditioning
  • Learning business, marketing, promotional skills
  • Refining audio chain
  • Practice
  • Get feedback
  • Give feedbback
  • Join VO communities
  • Contribute
  • Get comfortable with the technology
  • Practice

This list could go on and on.  I’ve written about immersion, passion, and commitment  in this blog countless times.

As timeless wisdom explains:  There are no shortcuts. 

Celine Dion discovered Josh Groban one day when her usual male rehearsal singing partner was sick.  Groban showed up — but he was ready.  He had done the time.  His work met opportunity that day, and a star was born.

When your big break comes, will you have done the time?

CourVO

3 Constructive Ways to Gauge VO Success

successSuccess is one of the most over-burdened, misunderstood, and maligned notions in American culture.

The popular (and most unenlightened) definition invariably includes some mention of money, status, or power.  It’s unlikely I am going to shake that foundation in this blog.  No one really can.  Much better writers than I have tried.

Money, status and power DO reflect success on many levels, but those marks are just convenient and largely measurable affirmations of success… not very deep or reflective of the work that’s gone into it.

So let’s keep money, status, and power in the mix, but I’m going to peel back some layers, and mention some other factors that you can legitimately claim as measures of success in voice acting.

PROGRESS.  This is a tough one to define across the entire population of voice actors, but YOU know.  You know how much progress you’ve made.  So this can only be judged on a personal scale.  Remember when you started?…the mic you were using, the questions you had, the environment you were recording in…the auditions you first sent out.  Makes you cringe?  Then you’ve made progress…maybe a little, maybe a lot, but there’s forward movement to celebrate there, and always room for more progress.  Progress is a success marker that can always be depended upon.  Today reveals more progress than yesterday.  You’re going somewhere, and it’s contributing to your success.

AUTHORITY.  Now you’ve arrived.  You understand what it takes to call yourself a “success”.  There’s a plan…goals…work to be done… regardless — you get it.  There’s a certain comfort and confidence in that knowledge.   You’ve paid attention, listened to mentors, done your homework.  You don’t know it all, but you know a lot.  You find yourself able to offer advice, answer questions with a certain mastery, and even mentor a little yourself.  You have ideas to contribute to the VO community, and people are listening, because you have authority.  Have you been approached about how to break into VO?  Then you have been judged to have authority.

CONSISTENCY.  Reliability, dependability.  You’re on a roll, and the roll is uniformly good.  The peaks and valleys now are all on a high plain of professionalism.  Gone are the panicky moments of insecurity.  The voice product is always good.  Maybe not good enough to always get the gig, but good enough to be in the top 10%.  You’re hitting on all cylinders, and there are almost no misfires.  We’re  not talking cocky here, we’re talking quiet confidence.  The audio chain is crisp and clear…the prospecting and marketing is a well-oiled machine, and you have control over your daily schedule.

Your challenge is to impress upon your prospects that these 3 factors are in your wheelhouse.  You ARE a success, and everyone wants to be part of success.  Who wouldn’t want a voice-talent with a consistent work-ethic; someone with the authority to deliver the copy with a knowing interpretation, and a person who exhibits improvement from one session to the next.

Build on THESE, and the money (and if you want them) power and status will likely come too.

Congrats on your success!

CourVO

 

 

The Stupidest Thing I Ever Did as a VO Newbie

embarrassmentEven now…years later, I’m embarrassed about my misstep.  But I’m big enough to admit it.  I made a tactical mistake.  Maybe you’ll learn from it.

…and the whole thing left me with a question I still have not answered today.  Below.

The Story Begins…

Eager to start racking up successes as a voice-over novice, I over-stepped my bounds one day.  It wasn’t a terribly damaging mistake, but it left me smarting from the realization of my own headstrong stupidity.  I was an apprentice voice actor, but I was also already in my 50′s, and had some world experience under my belt.  Still, it never should’ve happened.

On one of the online VO forums, I joined in a conversation with someone I later found to  be an established big city voice-actor.  Here was someone who probably had little to gain from mixing it up with the likes of a starting voice talent like me.

Over-confident from being able to access such real-life voice-acting professionals on this forum, I started to believe real success was within grasp.  There was nothing to this freelance voiceover thing!   Sure, I was going to have to do some work — eventually — but ripe fruit was within my grasp!

Following the trail on this established voice-actor’s signature, I found myself on his website.  I noticed the phone number given in the contact information, and promptly called it.  I was one of the brethren!  I was assured of peer-contact with a real pro!

Taking Advantage

To my dismay, I got a phone message from the gentleman’s Agent.  Adjusting quickly, I stayed on the line to leave a message.  It went something like this:  “Hi, my name is Dave Courvoisier from Las Vegas.  I’m a friend of XXXXX, and I’m sure it’s OK with him if I ask to maybe send you a demo?  I’d sure like to be a talent in your agency’s roster!”

UGH!

Not only was I ill-prepared to approach a big-city agency in this manner, but I had falsely suggested I had a friendship with a major name in the business.  I was name-dropping a name I had no right to drop!

Word got back.

He could have been livid.  He was merely terse (lucky for me).

Eating Crow

In ensuing conversations, and prolific apologies, this gentleman came to understand that my misstep was not malicious, nor deviously opportunistic…. merely the actions of the uninitiated.  I was someone who didn’t understand how it all worked.  I was also stupidly arrogant and impulsive.  Big lesson.

Every business has unwritten rules of nuance, finesse, understanding, experience, and courtesy.  I had just been schooled in Voice-Over.

The Lingering Issue

In the penitent conversation I had with this talent, the salient comment that sticks in my head is:  “…this is why I no longer find it worth my while to hang out in these online forums…”

He essentially captured in one comment, the quandary that established, knowledgeable, seasoned, mature VO professionals are presented with:  What is the benefit of hanging out online with a bunch of newbs?  What will I learn?  How can it help ME?  Heck, I might even get taken advantage of ! (oooh, that smarts!).

To this day, I don’t have a decent answer for that.  Sure, it behooves us all to pass back a little of what was given to us as apprentices.  Many tenured voice actors offered me sage advice along the way, and I try to mentor or pay it back as much as I can.  In fact, I do it every week.

But — honestly — after the umpteenth post about “how do I choose a microphone”… do you STILL want to chime in with an answer?

What is our responsibility as experienced VO professionals to the newly-minted, eager, and green up-and-comers to the business?  How far do you go to give newbs a leg-up?  If you are online and in the Social Media conversation, doesn’t that bid you to participate?  Why else are you there?  To lurk?  Really?  Is that right?

Or is the answer (as my “victim” concluded) not to be online at all.  At what point do you no longer need that sort of milieu to succeed?  Do you EVER reach that point?

Does being in an online community benefit your business, or just give you a relational context to your VO life?

Different for some than others?

Let me know what you think.

CourVO

Dublin is Beautiful

The place is all grey and wet and cool…a welcome respite from the relentless heat and sun of Las Vegas.

Sunday we took a bus tour of the city, and even attended an Anglican service at this cathedral - Christ Church of Dublin — the oldest church in the city… built of wood in the 10th century, then changed to stone in the subsequent centuries.

DSC02335

We attended Sunday services, and heard the most beautiful choir sing Gregorian chants.  A choir has been extant at this Cathedral since 1480.

DSC02340

Later – to prove we’re not exactly saints…we also visited the Guiness Brewery.

Monday:  on to an archeological site older than Stonehenge, then to the North coast.

Brilliant!

CourVO