Back in 1992, I remember starting out in the voiceover business was a combination of “taking classes in an expensive college as a theatre major” while listening to people tell me, “You can’t do voiceovers.” or “If you really want to do voiceovers, you have a lot to learn.” It is funny how the personality of the industry really has not changed all that much. It is just faster. I never could have predicted years ago that one day voiceover casting would be a combination of working from home, and offline. Some voice actors only work from home.
Unfortunately, what I do feel has been lost over the years is the “quest for education”. Even at age 18, I always listened to every tiny bit of advice because it was so hard to find, and when I did, it was expensive. However, the quest for education about a particular career, taught me a great deal on how to survive in it for the long haul. I want to share the three most unexpected places I learned how to survive the voiceover industry, and give you a perspective as to “why it helped”:
When students gathered around the callboard to see what shows were cast, all hell used to break loose. You had your heart-broken actors screaming, “I cannot believe they didn’t choose me!” or “This show is going to stink! I am not in it!”. I witnessed friends tear other friends to shreds for getting cast in plays or musicals. I also witnessed a behavior that I was unfamiliar with, “dealing with sore losers”, because I had played sports all my life and sore losers were usually taunted for throwing tantrums after losing a game. However, I learned, lived, and ate with these fellow students on a daily basis. What I came to realize was happening a long time ago is that these expressions of disgust were directly connected to the personal aspect of the industry. We do not sell cars or vacuums. When someone says, “I don’t want you”, it feels personal when it is not. In fact, I found that those who made it more personal than it was were never cast in shows, and as such, they had the most to say about everyone else when the cast list was posted. Years later, they are no longer in the entertainment business.
- Survival lesson: Do not listen to toxic, venom-filled negativity and never take anything personal. People you compete with will say anything to get inside your head, and discourage you from working. Filter it out. If you do not get cast in a show (or voice job), even if you are amazing, it may have something to do with you not being right for the part or creator’s vision. You do stand to get cast more, the more you respect people’s creative opinions. Cooler heads prevail in the bigger picture, always.
This one is quite simple. I was caddying one day for a couple of wealthy businessmen, when one of them got upset and threw his golf club and started cursing. His partner turned to me, noticing the look of shock on my face, and whispered to me, “Steven, never work for a person who acts like a jerk.”. He then apologized to me, of all people, on behalf of his partner’s behavior and gave me $20 dollars stating, “I want you to remember what I said.”
- Survival lesson: Never work for a person who acts like a jerk, in your own opinion of what you think makes one, and always remember the people in your life who wanted to help you for some reason you did not understand at the time. Learn to see the signs of people who genuinely wish to offer something to you.
Back in 2004, I quit voiceovers to “settle down”. Wow, did I choose the wrong place. I did so by working at AIG, which is now infamous for the US government bailout. AIG is a tough company, and someone with the work ethic of a voice actor oddly fit right in. Why? I never took sick days. I cared about how I sounded when I spoke to people. I do not quit. I am forever asking questions on how to get better at what I do, and social skills of a voice actor can be very helpful in a business with 133,000 people world-wide.
Before social media existed (Facebook just came out as a tool for Harvard grads and many young co-workers used it), I was on a front line of customer service for hurricane claims, the massive amount hurricanes that hit Florida every year, and I also had the opportunity to work as a business analyst when AIG was heavily investigated for SEC fraud. I was at work the day I watched one of the company’s top people get led out of the building in handcuffs. On top of it, I once had someone throw a rock at me for wearing an AIG t-shirt, even though the shirt was from a charity event in which I painted public schools for kids. I had the glorious chance to teach trip-planning and insurance claims software to people who made 7-figure salaries. I was stared at quite often with a look of, “Who is this kid and I should listen to him because….?”.
I watched as they turned stone walls, put in place to stop possible truck bombs, into flower planters so the fire department could not call them a fire hazard. It was a job where crisis were the norm, and company leaders made bold moves that left many thinking, “Do they really think no one noticed?”, and it is exactly what made me wrong for the company. My conscience was consuming me inside out, and the day I walked out, I applied to work for Voice123. It is a good thing I did because a year later, the office I was in was dissolved. However, the steel nerves of the people I worked with taught me a lesson I never saw coming. It may have been helpful given I started here a week before SmartCast was released, followed by the advent of social media.
- Survival lesson(s): We all go through crisis for a reason, if only to teach us that our moral and business ethics are what we should stick with for the bigger picture. Trust your work ethic. Never be angry for how someone feels, for it may be completely directed at something you cannot control. Finally, understand going forward that no matter what people say to me, if I am focused on what I believe is right, things will work out. The success of any business or person rests solely on the ethical foundation of the people running a business or the person.
Granted these read like preambles, but the fact is that the voiceover industry is filled with a complicated series of “absolute wrongs”, while there is no “absolute right”. Survival in a voiceover industry stems from a person’s nucleus and their ability to deal with adversity. These 3 places and events above, and my ability to remember when and why it happened, remains a support system I turn to whenever I start questioning how I should react during difficult times.
What do you turn to when you need voiceover support?