BY JOHNNY HELLER Jan. 2, 2107
Welcome to a brand spanking new year! Full of possibilities and dreams and hopes. Of course, the year is new but it’s still the same old you so if anything is going to change, it’s going to have to come from you. The calendar is pretty much set for the foreseeable future.
Let’s talk about that future.
At this time of year, everybody likes to make resolutions. New Year Resolutions have a long history. They are, in fact, older than Dick Hill. Some 4000 years ago, ancient Babylonians would make resolutions or promises to their Gods to repay their debts and return any borrowed objects. If they failed, the Gods would send Vinnie Gambolino and Sal Mattaliano to “chat” with them. Babylon eventually fell to a fellow named Cyrus but the resolution habit was firmly ingrained by then and almost everyone resolved not to name their kids Cyrus.
Ancient Rome also practiced resolutions. In fact, Julius Caesar tinkered with the calendar to make January 1st the beginning of the new year in homage to the 2-faced God Janus. The Romans promised to behave with only good conduct in the new year and some of them very politely stabbed Julius Caesar to death only a few months into the year.
While ancient Rome and ancient Babylon are long gone, the practice of making resolutions is still going strong.
Resolutions can be a huge motivational tool for the VO Actor. Of course, if the VO Actor is huge tool himself, there is little a resolution can do about it. Unless the actor resolves to be less “tooly” – which would be nice but it is difficult to change one’s personality – which is why I suggest you hide your personality if you are a jerkwad whenever possible (see Resolution number 5.)
I recently read a stat that said that over 50% of Americans make New Year Resolutions. Of that number 46% who made goal-oriented/common resolutions were 10 times more likely to be successful than those who didn’t make resolutions at all.
I have no idea what that means but I thought I would share it since one of my resolutions is to throw meaningless stats into my essays in order to appear more scholarly. That I intend to make up almost all of the stats should in no way diminish the point I make them up to support. The problem with the stat I just mentioned (and did not make up!) is that it seems to say that people who make resolutions are more likely keep them than those who don’t make resolutions at all. Which is idiotic. Of course, people who resolve to do something stand a much better chance of doing it than people who don’t resolve to do anything at all. People who drink lemonade are 80% more likely to enjoy lemonade than people who never ever under any circumstances drink lemonade.
But I digress.
The key to success in New Year Resolutions is to make resolutions that are achievable. That doesn’t mean you should resolve to breathe in 2017. That’s cheating. Your resolutions need to be goal oriented, realistic and specific. A recent study (that I did not make up) said that while 1/3 of the population make resolutions, only 8% follow through on them.
Here are some more numbers: 6.;19, 183; 81; 9,008,379.
Eye opening, aren’t they? (see how stats and numbers make this thing sound better? Excellent resolution I must say!)
Let’s consider some resolutions you might want to consider for 2017.
- I will do something every day for my VO business (except for weekends and birthdays)
It’s important to consider your VO life as a business. Because it is. So make it a point to send a note to a producer, audition for a job, do a vocal exercise, prep a script, email an author or a fan… some thing each and every day.
- I will get involved in the VO community.
Share your knowledge and/or your questions in the community. Facebook is loaded with VO groups. Get in one. Talk about your VO life and be a mentor or a learner.
- I will work with a coach to improve my craft.
I think it’s very important to work with a coach at almost any point in your career as there is always something you don’t know you didn’t know. If you are doing well and have no time, consider a weekend workshop or an all-day workshop (like the ones I discussed in my last blog.)
- I will expand my client base.
You need to reach out to producers and authors and casting directors and agents if you are going to garner more work. If you do no more than you are presently doing, you cannot move further. If you take action, reach out, research the market – then you have some new possibilities.
- I will give myself a thorough once-over.
In this business, you are selling one thing – you. So you really need to know your brand. You really need to know more than what you sound like (and some VO people don’t even know that!) And you must know how you are perceived. This is more than just a talent business. For the most part, we all are marvelously talented. But we aren’t all marvelous. Some of us are miserable curs, despicable cretins and some -dare I say – are feckless oiks.
I often tell my students that asshats know that they are asshats. There’s no way in the world that you can be a complete jerk and not know it. Can you change it? Ehhhhhh. No. Probably not. At any rate, it isn’t a reasonable resolution to say: “In 2017, I will change my personality because I am, for the most part, a total A-hole.”
So what can todays’ VO A-hole do? HIDE IT.
Seriously. First impressions are everything in this business. Everything. There is absolutely no need go to an APA Mixer and come across as an ass. Why offend the lovely Debra Deyan when instead, you can choose to just be nice and have her thinking what a fine person you are? Even if you aren’t. She’s not an idiot! Of course she’s going to discover what a loathsome toad you are eventually. But why lead with that? Get some work first and let your talent convince her to keep you working despite your horrible personality. How do you think Jeffrey Kafer gets all that work?
Bob Souer is known as one of the nicest guys in the business. And he is. Scott Brick is also known as a nice guy. But he isn’t! Deep inside, he’s very jealous of me because he always wanted to be shorter and he resents me for my lack of height. He acts all friendly but he never fails to give me a welcome kick in the nut sack by way of Hello. I’m no psychiatrist, but I’m certain that means something.
Anyway (now that I’ve made fun of a few friends) the point is that you need to know yourself and how you are perceived and make any changes to the latter that you can in order to put your best foot forward. So do it.
- I will remember that I am an actor.
Commit to the craft. Every single VO job is an acting job and every piece of copy is a script. Ask the actor questions: Who am I? What do I want? Why am I saying these things? Where am I? and – for God’s sake – who am I talking to? Answer these questions and you will do a better job. Make it a point in 2017 to think like an actor. Too many of us have lovely voices and that’s all we bring to the gig. What does the author want? Connect the listener to the author’s truth and you will improve your success rate and you will be a better actor. It’s that simple.
- I will be professional.
What I mean here is that you need to approach producers, agents, coaches and the like professionally. That means you should contact these people the way you would wish to be contacted. Some producers have websites with detailed instructions on how they wish to be contacted. If you don’t follow the instructions that they’ve take the time to delineate for you, guess what they think of you? If you want to talk to a coach, realize that they are pros and that the time you want to talk “over coffee” is exactly the time their students pay them for. I am always getting MP3s and demos sent to me asking for me to evaluate them and I know that other coaches get that too. I am not a bad guy but c’mon! Use some common sense when reaching out to people for work or education. You will be thought of professionally and treated with respect or you won’t. You get to pick.
- I will have a website and a demo and be easy to find.
I think every VO pro needs a social media presence. I think they should have a website and place to house their demos. AND YOU NEED A DEMO. You may actually need demoS. If you want to work in audio books, have an audiobook demo; for commercials, have a commercial demo…and so on. A good professionally produced demo costs some money but as we learned in Resolution #1, this is a business and there are business expenses. Producers and agents and casting directors need to hear your work so they can market or hire you. It’s that simple. And if you don’t have a website or a link to your demos that they can find easily, they will just move on to the next talent. They are busy people and, unless you are absolutely the only possible choice for a project – like a western that simply cries out for J. Rodney Turner’s deep rumbly voice – they aren’t going to spend time hunting you down. So be available and easy to find.
- I will listen.
If you want to do this job, listen to the talent who are already doing it. Go to agents’ sites and listen to demos. The demos you hear are from people the agency signed. They are actors you need to hear because you are going to be competing with them. If you want to do audio book narration listen to audio books. You can join Audible. You can download audio books from your local library. If you want to do the kinds of books that Hillary Huber, Karen White, Carol Monda, Jo Anna Perrin, Tavia Gilbert and Barbara Rosenblat do, listen to them. Listen to Grover Gardner, Scott Brick, Sean Allen Pratt (although he has 3 names which means he might be a sociopath serial killer – but still a great narrator), Patrick Lawlor, Peter Berkrot, Robert Fass, Simon Vance, Simon Prebble (anyone named Simon really), John Pruden and me. We are working all the time so listen to what we are doing because it’s working.
Also -since we’re talking about listening – you really should listen to what the coach you are paying has to say before ignoring him. I work with a lot of actors who read something. Then I start by saying something and this happens:
Me: “That was just great! A few things though. I think in that first paragraph you might want to –“
Actor: “Oh yeah! I got it!”
And then off they go. I didn’t say a thing and they “got it”? It’s a very strange thing and it happens more than you might think. It’s very difficult for a coach to work with someone who really isn’t coachable. I spend an hour with the student, say almost nothing that doesn’t get cut off before I can make any points and then the actor posts on Facebook about how swell I am.
If that’s what you do, resolve to not do it anymore. Let your coach work with you. You can reject the coaching later if it doesn’t work for you.
- I will enjoy this job.
This is crucial. Life is hard. So many people work at jobs they hate that many of them take up hobbies like stamp collecting so they can find something to enjoy. Stamp Collecting! Don’t hate what you do. Acting is make believe. We get payed to pretend. If that isn’t what you want, if that doesn’t bring you joy, please find a job that will. Apparently, you don’t need any skills at all and can be a horrible person and still become President so maybe consider that. If you want to be a VO Actor – you need to love it because otherwise, what’s the point. There are easier ways to make a living. Do this job. Love this job. Or make a different choice.
AND NOW SOME PERSONAL RESOLUTIONS:
(some of these are Manhattan-centric so forgive me)
- I resolve not to think negative thoughts about grown up adults using scooters on sidewalks or streets even though they are grown up adults. I will not think —oh rats. I already blew it. Those people are just damned ridiculous. I’m sorry. Give the scooter to a kid and stop it.
- I resolve to try harder not to condemn people who say they aren’t bullies, haters, Nazis, or other loathsome things even though they voted for Trump. I will try to understand them and their obvious difficulties in dealing with the reality of their actions and I will try to be a shoulder for them when the horrible truth becomes too ruinous to ignore. (This means I will try to avoid saying: “Nyah Nyah! Ha Ha! Told ya so!” …even though every fiber of my being will want to.)
- I resolve to stop spreading rumors that Simon Vance is actually from New Jersey; that Steven Jay Cohen is an alien; that Bill Lord secretly collects Doogie Howser memorabilia and that Scott Brick and Dion Graham are actually the same guy.
- I resolve to stop standing stock still to listen to complete strangers talk really loudly on their cell phones about very private things and shout encouragement to them when they pause to listen to whoever they are on with. “You tell her! She can’t sleep with your cousin and give you chlamydia! No sir!”
- I resolve to continue to spout opinions, make stuff up and write this blog. In short, I intend to continue doing just what I have always done because I love what I do! (see #10 above)
HAPPY NEW YEAR – LET’S STICK TOGETHER. IT MIGHT BE A ROUGH RIDE!