FOR THE HELL OF IT VOL.8 NO.2 July 26, 2016
EVERYBODY IS DOING IT!
By Johnny Heller
I need to write more blogs. I really do. On the plus side, I did a blog last month and here’s one this month so if it’s a monthly blog, it’s not so bad. But it isn’t so it is. Anyway — here’s a new one for you and I will try not to desert you again. I will also try to have fewer desserts.
I do my coaching through the fine folks at Edge Studio and I can’t begin to tell you how many students and would be students I see that come to me because someone told them that they have a nice voice. When Recorded Books sends me on the road to speak at library staff and public events, someone always tells me that they have a nice voice. They never tell me that I have a nice voice but they are adamant that they do. And what do they want to do with this nice voice? They want to get in on the easy money I get from reading stuff out loud.
There is no question that the voice over business is booming. There’s e-learning, narration, industrials, commercials, animation, video games, telephony, audiobooks…. And everybody thinks that all it takes is a good voice. (Everybody meaning, of course, everybody that doesn’t actually make a living at it.)
You know who makes a nice buck on voice overs? Gilbert Gottfreid. You know whose voice could make a monk who has lived 40 years without uttering a sound cry out – “For the love of God! – will you please shut they Hell up!!!!????” Gilbert Gottfreid.
It’s not the voice. While I grant you that having a nice sounding voice is much better than having a horrible voice, I’d rather hear the actor with the bad voice connecting me to the authors truth by being fully engaged in the moment to moment story than hear a person with a nice voice just read to me.
Interestingly many of these people who tell me about their nice voice don’t really have a nice voice. Or if they do they aren’t sharing it with me. Which leads me to two important points.
- As I mentioned, it is not the wonderful voice – it’s the actors’ connection to the story – to the authors truth – that makes for a compelling listen.
- You – the actor – need to know exactly what you sound like. You need to know what you can and can’t play and how others hear your voice.
Let’s say you have a voice. Good. That’s grand! Now you can, with varying degrees of success, ask where the bathroom is anywhere your language is understood. It doesn’t make you an actor. You may even get a compliment: “Well, what a lovely voice you have! You can drop a duke first door on the left!”
What makes you an audiobook actor who has some hope of success in what is a highly competitive industry, is how you use your voice to tell the story. I know that Simon Vance and I will not narrate the same book the same way. There are too many differences in our speaking styles and in our pacing and in the way we sound. Yet I am equally sure that both versions will be good and do justice to the text because we both believe that the narrator has but one task –to be a conduit for the author’s truth. That’s it. Just stay in the moment and tell the story.
Can it be simpler? Nope. I tell my students and I am telling you – If you have a script – a story all written out and waiting to be told – and you have you, where might any problems come from? You? Or the book? We’re not talking editorial errors here. My question is – if I give you Hamlet and a stage and I tell you to do Hamlet – what’s the problem? I’ll give you a hint. It ain’t Shakespeare.
It’s us. When we rely on our beautiful voice to carry emotion that we aren’t connected with we cannot expect our listener to be connected either and if the listener isn’t with us, what’s the point of the audiobook?
Some stories are more interesting than others.
I know that the Cosmos is interesting but I don’t really care about stuff like that. I much prefer Sherlock Holmes. So I am more likely to listen to Conan Doyle than Sagan but they are still stores that deserve to be well told. In the world of audiobooks, it’s never the story – it’s the story telling.
What skills might an aspiring audiobook narrator hope to have if he/she is to become successful? What techniques would be helpful? What craft comes to mind? Well let’s see. The job of a voice over actor is to take a script and understand it and share it with an unseen audience. The actor must become all the characters and must be believable and must sustain the characterizations within the confines of the scenes and remain always true to the author and must share the story moment to moment. The actor must inhabit all roles and tell the story the way the author needs it to be told.
I’m pretty sure that sort of thing is called “acting”. I believe that if you want to get into this voice over business that you need to understand two things:
- It’s acting and you need to be able to act and if you can’t or won’t, then you can’t or won’t be able to do it. It’s that simple.
- Classes in acting are a great way to understand acting. If you haven’t, take some.
- There are “naturals” out there. Same as in sports and music and mad scientists but most of us need to learn a bit and all of us can always learn something new and get more firmly grounded in our craft.
- It’s a business and you need to understand where you the “artist” starts and where you the “businessperson” begins.
- You can negotiate rates
- You need to know what expenses this VO gig requires – time and money.
- You need to know that this is a very competitive field and there isn’t a lot of room for error – so research all you can.
The list of things I can write down under Number 2 above is almost limitless. I suggest that you join every Facebook group for VO people you can and read the posts. There are no more wonderful people on the planet than the Voice Over crowd. They are helpful and they are warm and they care about the business – so they care about you. Unless you’re a jerk, then no one cares and that’s what you get for being a jerk. Shame on you!
So. Here we are again. Me telling you that this is an acting job and that you need to work on being a compelling story teller to work consistently in this field. You’d think by now that you’d have memorized this! I say it. Here’s who agrees with me: Scott Brick, PJ Ochlan, Patrick Fraley, Jeffrey Kafer, Hilary Huber, Andi Arndt, Carol Monda, Sean Allen Pratt…oh hell – I’m clearly just name dropping here but you get the point.
I hope that you will have great success in the voice over game and I think your chance to do so will be immeasurably improved if you take the steps necessary to ensure that you’re prepared and know exactly what you’re getting into and understand the skill set that’s required.
And now – funny stuff.
FROM THE FILES OF MR. ANSWERMAN:
(If you have a problem, a question or just want to get something off of your chest – send a note to Mr. Answerman!)
DEPRESSED IN MOLINE, IL….
Dear Mr. Answerman,
I am so pleased to have found you! I can’t seem to get anyone to pay attention to me. I grew up as the middle child in a large family and I was often overlooked. My brothers and sisters were smarter and more successful and frequently my parents would forget to call me for dinner and no one even noticed that I wasn’t there.
I graduated from a huge college where I was voted most likely to own a cat.
I got a degree in accounting and driver education and landed a job in a gigantic company that supplies lug nuts and dryer lint catchers to underprivileged 4th world countries. I have been there 15 years now and am currently a Junior Assistant 2nd VP in charge of envelopes and folders and my secretary still can’t remember my name and has never ever gotten a call for me from anyone. At the company picnics, everyone tells me that the picnic is only for employees.
I am very depressed and I hope that you will respond to my email. I have managed to get a date for next week with a woman I met on an internet dating site. Should I tell her the truth about my woeful life or act like I am the most popular confident guy in the world? And if it’s the latter, how do I act like that? What do popular people do? Do I need to be on Instagram?
MAN, THAT’S QUITE A STORY.
WHAT’S THE NAME OF THAT DATING SITE?
CONFUSED IN SPOKANE, WA…
Dear Mr. Answerman,
The other day I found out that I was adopted – that my birth parents and my adoptive parents not only knew other but actually traded kids because neither couple liked the looks of their actual babies.
Now the kid my real parents picked over me got decapitated while filming a Ginsu knife commercial and so now they want me back and my adoptive parents are willing to return me if my real parents will pay for the air fare.
The thing is, I’m 35 years old. What should I do?
BOY, YOUR LIFE SUCKS. SO GLAD I’M NOT YOU.
CURIOUS in NYC, NY….
Dear Mr. Answerman,
Strangest thing. I got into this – I dunno – contest. Huge contest. Me and a bunch of losers. For a while they even had a black surgeon in there and he, like I say – for a while, was actually winning the contest. We had like 17 people in this thing. It was like a clown convention, believe me.
Anyway, I figure I’m only in this thing to sell more stuff – lemme tell you – I can sell. You’ve heard people say: “I can sell ice cubes to an eskimo”? I could sell those people air conditioners! Believe me. I wouldn’t do it. I would not do it. You know why? There are too many eskimoes getting into our country – many of them are criminals, some are snowmen and many are here to take our jobs, trust me. They’re coming down here from Canada or wherever they are and they’re taking jobs here working in meat freezers and in refrigerated trucks and they’re going online and looking at our women in bikinis because they don’t get that up there and I would, if I win this thing, first thing, restrict eksimo migration. Believe me, you don’t want eskimoes coming down here – selling us those ice cream pies and their communist kisses…
Where was I? Oh yeah. So I say stuff off the cuff and I figure it will separate me from the herd you know? I said this: “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds a better wall than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall, mark my words.” I actually said that. You know how much a wall – even a 3-foot fence would cost along the border? And why would Mexico pay for that? Believe me, I meant it when I said it but I say lots of things that never happen and no one cares because I’ve always been like that. I also said this: “The beauty of me is that I am very rich.” That’s true of course. I also said this: “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” My own daughter! But she’s incredibly hot so I probably would.
Anyway, I just wanted to get some more notice, and believe me, I Iove getting noticed. So I say this stuff – that Mexicans are criminals and rapists, that I know the best words, that I have the highest IQ – all kinds of things and, of course, the contest ends and who wins?
Me. I win. I’m the guy they picked. Can you beat that? Anyway the reason I’m writing is that I wanna know if I win it all – the whole enchilada (Ha! I said “enchilada”! That’s Mexican!) where do I find that tunnel thing that JFK used when he wanted to get a hooker?
(I gotta use an alias but believe me, you want to know me – I am the best – trust me)
Orange Face Trump (You’ll kick yourself when you find out who this really is… or I can have one of my people come by and kick you, believe me – I have the best people kickers on the payroll)
BOY THAT’S…I can’t. I just can’t.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THE CLOWN CAR EMPTIED AND YOU’RE THE LAST MAN IN THE VEHICLE? I HOPE THE CONTEST WE’RE TALKING ABOUT IS BIG BROTHER OR SURVIVOR. OTHERWISE, THIS IS MADNESS. JUST MADNESS.
AND NOW – SOME PROMOTIONAL INFORMATION:
Feeling low? World got ya down boobalah? Then you need a wonderful weekend in Rhode Island! This fall you could have dinner at a lovely resort! You could eat with the likes of Jo Anna Perrin, Debra Deyan, Michele Cobb, Carol Monda! Or, if you can’t fit at their table, there’s always Steven Jay Cohen! Tom Dheere! Peter Berkrot! And if there’s no room with them, you could always go outside and throw peanuts to Johnny Heller!
There’ll be campfires! Cocktails! Cocktails near the campfires!
And learning? Did we mention learning? There’ll be one on one coaching! ELearning! Commercial VO and, of course, audio book intensive workshops.
And there will be plenty of time to just relax and enjoy nature! You may even find yourself neck deep in Yeti spoor! Who knows what the weekend may bring?
So follow the link at www.johnnyheller.com and click on classes. Then click on the red PLUS SIGN! Or just go here: https://johnnyheller.com/classes/new-england-audiobook-narrator-retreat/