I’ll admit upfront, it’s good to have an idea of your limitations. It’s good to know what you expect from a learning experience. But when you’re asking a professional for help, rigid pre-conceptions don’t always produce the best results.
Usually, I’m the “grasshopper”. But sometimes I am contacted by someone who thinks I might be “Master Po”. (If you don’t get the reference, study ancient American TV series.)
Usually, I can find things in my experience which benefit the person who has sought me out.
Usually, I can spot potential talent (or lack of) in the caller and try to provide helpful information. A lot of what I think I know was learned from someone else extending me a similar courtesy.
And “Usually” I make a friend – either someone who becomes a good voice talent and future colleague, or at least someone who is grateful for free information instead of being sold a demo package.
“Usually”…I have painfully learned…doesn’t mean “Always”.
CALLER: I was referred to you by (Studio Name). People tell me I have a nice voice and that I ought to get into voiceovers. (Studio Name) said you’re the man to talk to.
ME: Well, you do have a good voice. The thing to find out is what you can do with it. What kinds of stuff have you done already? I ask just so I don’t start telling you things you already know.
CALLER: Oh, I get all sorts of compliments when I use the PA system at (Fancy Restaraunt). People are always telling me I should be on the radio.
ME: That’s a good start. Let me email you some material that’ll give you an overview of the business and what you need before you make a demo. Get back to me with any specific questions you still have and we’ll go from there.
(THE FOLLOWING IS A SEVERELY CONDENSED VERSION OF EMAILS OVER AN EIGHT-DAY PERIOD. I’LL STILL REFER TO THE RESPONDENT AS “CALLER”.)
CALLER: Me again. When can we start?
ME: I’m flexible. Did you have any questions about the stuff I sent you?
CALLER: Well, I really don’t learn from reading. And I’m certainly not gonna wade through all those pages of adobe acrobat. Do you have a contract for me to sign?
ME: I don’t usually need contracts, but I suppose we could work up something.
CALLER: Why did you send me all that stuff about “acting”? I don’t want to be an actor.
ME: Maybe I didn’t communicate that well. I meant that all voicework has some acting involved. You’re telling a story…even if it’s just a price-and-item radio spot. You need to be able to look at the copy, understand the message, and then communicate it to your audience, not just read the words in the right order. Let me do some web searching and I’ll try to point you to some websites that cover “acting” as part of getting started.
CALLER: (AN HOUR LATER) I don’t have time to wade through the half-dozen links you sent with 200-word essays on blah blah blah. And I don’t have time to do community theatre or read a bunch of books. I’m more interested in documentaries and commercials and stuff. ‘See, I learn by doing.
ME: Okay, I can relate to that. All the instructions I ever read about computer editing didn’t make any sense until someone sat down and showed me. But it would still help if…
CALLER: Do you have any examples of your (demo production) work I could evaluate?
ME: Yes, as I hope I mentioned in our first conversation, you can find a lot of them on my website.
CALLER: (LATER) They really weren’t that impressive. How can I learn anything from voices that really don’t “call out” to me? Anyway, I don’t learn by listening. I learn by practice…application…making mistakes and then correcting myself. What do we do next, master? [RG note: he actually called me that at this point.]
ME: Uhm. “Nothing”, I think. Those people have been doing local/regional/national work for years (myself included). And if you can’t listen objectively to them, I doubt you can listen to yourself. And if you can’t listen to what you are doing, you cannot possibly take direction…which will serverely compromise your voiceover career before it begins. I think we’re done. Good luck in your future efforts.
CALLER: If you can’t teach me, so be it. Just say so. I need someone who recognizes my talent and can work with me. Like Barbara Striesand says, “You’ve either got it or you don’t.” I’ve got it. I just need someone who will put me to the test.
By this time I wasn’t sure if I was more angry with this narrow-beam seeker of knowledge…or myself for wasting so much time on him.
ME: You’ve just insulted me, my friends, my business. I did put you to the test…and you did not pass.
CALLER: No. You did not pass!
And I know it was petty. God forgive me, it was petty. But I actually wrote back:
ME: I don’t need to justify my qualifications to an announcer from (Fancy Restaraunt).
Now you know why I don’t advertise myself as a demo creator or voice guru. I obviously lack People Skills.
I offer this as advice (free, if you want it) on how not to seek out advice.
And I have little fear that “CALLER” will see this and try to sue me for slander.
If you’ll remember, “CALLER” can’t be bothered to read.
— over and out —