Friday, July 8, 2016

5 reasons you shouldn't (and 3 big reasons you should) be a voice actor

Ever gone to a job fair? Everyone and their cousin wants you to have a job just like theirs. "Great benefits!" "Flexible hours!" "Wear capes to work!" (I've never really been to a job fair.)

However, voice acting is one of the only professions I've seen where so many of its members tell you to stay away. Why in the world would they do that? Why would voice actors, who worked long and hard to get where they are, tell other people not to become voice actors?

The truth is a bit more complicated than that, but it boils down to two things: one, acting in general is a really difficult profession, and two, most people spend lots of time, effort, and money thinking they want to be a voice actor, only to realize too late they don't like what it entails.

Let's take a moment to evaluate five reasons you "shouldn't" be a voice actor, and three big reasons you should be. It's worth it to identify why you're truly pursuing this goal, and if your motivations will reward you in the end. Let's start with the negative and end with the positive:


WHY YOU SHOULDN'T BE A VOICE ACTOR

#1: You want to be in your favorite shows and games. There's actually nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be a part of one of your favorite hobbies. As a matter of fact, that should be a driving reason for becoming a voice actor. Why did I put this on this list? Did I skip ahead somewhere? Let me check... Nope, I'm right on target.

It's not that wanting to be more involved in your hobbies is wrong at all, but if that's your primary motivator, it will probably fail. Acting for a living is difficult. You try and try and try to get ahead, and just when you think you're about to get to a better place, it falls through, and you're reminded once again how little money is in your bank account. There's also a ton of other stuff that goes into being a voice actor, like audio editing, marketing, and extensive research on jobs and people. If that doesn't sound appealing, remember that it's a large part of the job.

And really, point number ones ties in with point number two...

#2: You want to be "nerd famous." If you admire voice acting at all, you've probably daydreamed at being invited to speak at anime conventions and being interviewed. I have. I won't lie. I still daydream about that. And it's not a bad goal to shoot for; striving for that level of success can be a big motivator. But again, if this is what's leading you, it will fall short.

Most voice actors, regardless of genre, are obscure at best. Do you know the leading audiobook narrators in the country? 'Cause I sure don't, and I am an audiobook narrator. You have to be very, very, very lucky to have anyone outside of a small, dedicated circle recognize you. If you're thinking of all the fans and cool jobs you'll have, think again. More than likely, no one will know who you are. So if your driving reason for being a voice actor is to be nerd famous, it will fail. You must love what you're doing unconditionally, like your own freakin' child, or it will fall through.

#3: People say you have an awesome voice for voice acting. Let me obliterate a common misconception about voice acting. Your voice actually doesn't matter that much. It doesn't matter if you sound like Steve Blum, Dante Basco, or anyone in between. If you've ever heard me in real life, you'll know I sound like a nerd, and so do most professional voice actors. A few may be blessed with the "golden chords," but the vast majority of us are just nerds.

The difference is that we know how to use our nerdy voices, and they can sound great as a result. I've heard only too many voice-actor-hopefuls send in auditions and demos using these really deep, powerful voices, only to sound utterly boring and lifeless because they can't act and they're not intimately familiar with their internal instruments.

I mean, hey, if you naturally sound like James Earl Jones and you're interested in voice over, pursue that dream. Make the most of your voice. But unless you naturally sound like Skeletor, your inherent vocal qualities aren't what make and break your delivery. (And even if you do sound like Skeletor, I'm sure there are some interesting characters you can play.) Learn to use your voice, and don't worry so much about what the next guy sounds like. Learn to be the best actor you can be, and the rest will follow.

#4: I want to act, but I'm too shy to act on camera or on stage, so voice acting is the perfect compromise. You may not like this answer, but it's not much better behind a mic. Unless you limit yourself to low-to-no-budget jobs where nobody is directing you, or some audiobook jobs, there will always be someone listening to you and critiquing you as you're working. The higher up the production chain you go, in fact, the more people may be listening to you at once - the director, plus the client, and an engineer, and the scriptwriter, not to mention the catering department in case you all get hungry. Even if it's only you and the engineer in the studio, likelier than not more than just the two of you are listening in.

Beyond that, acting takes confidence. Can you project? Can you scream? Can you be someone that is not yourself? On top of all that, are you comfortable with dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of people all hearing your voice and judging what you sound like? Because they will, and if you're too shy to step into another's shoes and sound believable, your delivery will suffer. Just because you're not on stage in front of a crowd doesn't mean that people aren't paying attention. If you have nerves, they will be wracked. The best of the best still get jitters. If you're too shy to act in front of people, voice acting won't do much better for you.

#5: Because voice acting is easy money! I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of my rapidly-depleting bank account. I'd ask my voice actor acquaintances what they think, but they're preoccupied with trying to keep their own careers afloat in this stormy sea.

Acting is hard because you are literally working in order to get work that may or may not even pay that much. Even if you're the most talented actor in the world with tons of connections, there's still a ton of work involved if you want to stay ahead of the curb - making calls, setting up schedules, and generally watching your social life slowly die in a fire. There are perks to being a voice actor that we'll get to in a moment, but it's not "sit at your computer, do voices, rake in the cash" in those three easy steps. Voice over can be a great way to supplement your income from home (over time), but not an easy one.

After all this negativity, some of you may be ready to slump your shoulders and call it quits. However, I'm a man of passion, and I can honestly tell you I would not be a voice actor if I didn't legimitately love what I do. So how can you have this passion? Why should you be a voice actor?

WHY YOU SHOULD BE A VOICE ACTOR

#1: BECAUSE YOU LOVE IT. THIS must be the driving reason you pursue voice acting. Not to have adoring fans, not to hear yourself in the biggest anime and video games, not because you love the money (and Lord knows that's hard enough to come by), but BECAUSE - YOU - LOVE IT. You love acting. You love working with people to create stories and characters and morals, even when it's difficult and the director is telling you to read the same line for the eighteenth time.

So ask yourself this right now: "do I love acting?" Unconditionally, like your child, as I said before. Can you not even imagine your life without it? Will nothing else bring you quite the same level of satisfaction as playing pretend and using your imagination for a living? You may not yet know the answer. That's alright; dip your toes into acting and sees if you like what it entails. But do not take this plunge or market yourself as the next hotshot voice actor if acting is not one of your biggest passions in life. It's not about doing cool voices. It's about playing the most believable, engaging character you can, and loving it all the way.

Voice over has its sticky parts, and there are always days that can have steam pouring out of your ears by the end. But after all that, the thought of acting and bringing characters and stories to life must draw you back. If this is not the crux of your pursuit, it will fail. Whether you do it professionally or as a hobby, it will fail if you do not love what voice acting is inherently. Remember that.

#2: Because you want a career that's always changing. I'm not a big fan of stagnancy. I'm usually the first guy to promote what other people view as unnecessary changes in entertainment. Voice acting works out well for me, then, because there's always something new I'm working on. A new audiobook may have new themes and writing styles; new animations and video games mean new characters. There's no stability, and yes, it still barely makes me any money, but it beats working at McDonald's any day.

By the same token, though, if you want a job with a guaranteed income or job security, this ain't it. Every audition, every job, is a gamble, and it doesn't always pan out. But if you're willing to risk eating dirt, the constant change gives every day flavor (even if it's dirt flavor). I have never woken up in the morning for any of my previous morning-to-afternoon jobs glowing with excitement for what I get to work on later. I do with voice acting. It keeps me going.

#3: Because you want to be part of your favorite entertainment. Hey, we looped back to this! I told you this was a positive point!

Though we do need a touch of clarity. You can't be driven by the thought of fame and fortune; more than likely, it won't happen. However, you do need a love for not only acting, but the medium you'll be acting in. Want to be a commercial actor? You'd better love the jib of the ads you come across in daily life. Want to play a character in a Japanese cartoon? You'd better love the weirdness within. I can say from experience that my performance can suffer if I'm not genuinely invested in what I'm doing. Do what you love, and love what you do.

So that's how this can be a positive point - not to be nerd famous, but to play a part, whatever it is, in making your favorite entertainment or media a reality. Beyond that, you need a respect for everyone involved and what their jobs entail. It can be long, hard, stressful work sometimes, and you need to show love and appreciation for how the whole product comes together, not just that you like anime or video games. Look up videos on how cartoons are animated and put together; it's pretty fascinating stuff.

Voice over is a difficult way of life, but for some it is a necessary one to keep from going stir-crazy. If you have an interest in it, do some serious evaluating of yourself and your wants and needs, and research how the voice over industry works. If you discover you're not really sold on it, it's okay to bow out and pursue other interests. If you, like me and many others in the industry, uncover an insatiable hunger for that kind of life, then pursue it without giving up. To quote a thing hanging up on my wall, the pain of discipline is far less than the pain of regret.

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3 comments:

  1. According to this, I should definitely keep on Voice Acting. I did the tips you passed off about voice acting out of nature, so that was interesting to find out my little habits are actual recommendations. I like this blog you have here.

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    1. Good to hear, Fireally (or do you prefer Xela?). I remember having to do a lot of self-evaluating during my training and preparation processes to decide if this was really something I wanted to commit to, and I discovered it was something I really couldn't turn away from. It's not an easy profession (and sometimes life blindsides you with...predicaments you weren't expecting, and you have to scramble to keep your career intact), but if we truly desire that kind of life, we shouldn't give up on it.

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    2. Yeah. Just call me Fireally. That's what most people know me as. I tend to like the shakier careers or hobbies. I like making video games, being a VA, and being a YouTuber (and editor). Any of these can drop rather quickly, but it's what I like to do so I'll keep trying!

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