Saturday, December 23, 2017

6 things you should know about living with a voice actor

Are you a voice actor? Do you live with one? Are you about to live with one and you're concerned every other sentence they utter will be in a foreign accent or an impression of Yakko Warner? Or are you just curious what life with a voice actor is like?



At the end of the day, voice actors are just people with a really cool job. My day often consists of a lot of emailing, researching, recording, editing, writing, and setting milestones to get ahead in my career, but this is punctuated by playing video games, watching way too many meme compilation YouTube videos, hanging out with friends, and browsing social media. Ultimately, we're not too terribly different from your average roommate.



But we are different in some ways. Here's what you may want to bear in mind regarding this whole “rooming with a voice actor” thing.


1: They will probably require an entire room (or at least a good chunk of one) for their home studio. It's a modern, enlightened era, one that thankfully means voice actors can and often do record their lines from home rather than driving to someone else's studio. The caveat here is that they need at least part of their home to resemble that impressive professional studio setup, and those usually are neither cheap nor terribly small. Voice over studios come in all shapes and sizes (I wrote about mine awhile ago, and I'm considering doing an update article talking about the issue further); however, the reality is, you'll have to come to grips with the notion that part of your home is just going to be unusable for your own stuff because your voice actor roomie has taken it over.



The bulk of this “studio” is probably going to be some sort of elaborate setup designed to facilitate good acoustics and eliminate outside noise. It will either look like some alien telephone booth not unlike the TARDIS or a slapdash medley of sheets, pillows and blankets. They may also leave some recording equipment there for convenience's sake: microphone, mic or sheet music stands, interface, the works. In my case, my entire bedroom is my studio. I have a small table in the corner where I put my stuff, and the walls are (mostly) lined with heavy sound-dampening curtains. Good news for my roommate who no longer has to worry about our stuff getting in each other's way, but your situation may wind up being different.



Be prepared to sacrifice a closet, or a corner of the living room, or part of your basement, or somewhere you may otherwise want to actually store things. This is part of how we make a living.



2: Please don't eat the granny smith apples; that's for their work. Let me clue you in on a little secret: I actually don't like granny smith apples much. They're sour and they sort of make my teeth hurt. Normally I like sour things, but granny smith apples don't really do it for me. That said, I like to keep a supply of them on hand anyway. Why, if I don't like them?



Because they're invaluable to voice acting. By ingesting their juices, you can actually alter the timber of your voice. You think Steve Blum sounds the way he does because he's just that majestic? Nah, he eats a granny smith apple every morning.



Not really. That is completely untrue. The juice in granny smith apples is actually useful for eliminating those weird mouth noises that tend to pop up when we're thirsty. Ever heard someone talk and noticed there's just a whole lot of snapping, crackling and popping coming from their face? (Better example: ever listened to an ASMR video where the volume is turned up really loudly and you can hear EVERYTHING?) Granny smith apple juice helps negate that so you're not listening to an ocean of sound effects come from a voice actor's mouth aside from their voice.



Not every single bit of voice over work is necessarily going to mandate a granny smith apple, but they're important to have on hand for bigger jobs with more dialogue. Which is why we need an accurate count of how many we have left so we're not surprised when we need one and they're all gone because you were hungry.



3: Prepare yourself for some really weird vocal warm-ups. Warming up is ridiculous. It's highly important for actors to do, but there's no denying it just looks and sounds silly. This is something we've come to accept. It increases our vocal range, protects our voices from harm, and gives us better diction. What sorts of things can you expect? Well, go to a psych ward and listen to the residents for fifteen minutes. Something like that.



We raise and lower our voices like sirens; we say goofy tongue-twisters over and over again; we scream numbers and weird phrases; we talk through our noses or make gravelly troll voices; we massage our faces and make dumb facial expressions like we're auditioning for the next Zoolander movie. At some point while you're living with a voice actor, you're probably going to have to see and/or hear all this lunacy.



Of course, there are ways to be more discreet about it. I often warm up and do my work when my roommate is at his job, or barring that, I go out to my car. (Yes, I'm aware I'm at risk of my neighborhood seeing me and thinking I'm a mental case. Occupational hazard.) Regardless, it'll probably happen to you at some point. Just nod, accept that it's a totally normal thing, try not to laugh at them too much, and go along with it.



Incidentally, Markiplier's hilarious video where he warms up for five minutes is comically exaggerated, but still rooted in some solid warm up principles if you haven't seen it. (Be warned that the video contains some strong language if that's not your cup of tea or you can't currently play adult audio.)

On the note of hearing weird things from your roommate...



4: While recording, your roommate will say some really weird stuff. On the English dub commentary track for Attack on Titan season 1, voice actor Bryce Papenbrook (Eren Jaeger) mentioned he had to go out and buy soundproofing materials for his home studio when auditioning for Attack on Titan (apparently from home). The reason? Eren Jaeger is one salty boy, and many of his lines are some variation of “I'LL KILL YOU AAAAALL!!”



(Another occupational hazard: concerned neighbors.)



There's a good chance you'll be home while your voice actor roomie is recording. Whether they're auditioning or actually doing work, you're still probably going to hear some crazy things. This is a profession where playing aliens, or megalomaniacal supervillains, or an angry village boy swearing revenge on titans is commonplace. Be prepared to hear maniacal laughter, or intense crying, or lines that make no sense out of context, or angry swearing, or screaming as Shounen the Anime Hero plunges his sword of justice into Lord Zapalot's chest. Just nod and go along with it. This is normal.



5: Don't be too surprised if they turn down certain requests to focus on their work. Technically, voice acting is a very flexible profession. It's not quite like a regular 9-5 job where if you don't show up for work you get fired. A voice actor doesn't HAVE to contact studios for work. They don't HAVE to take that audition opportunity, or go to that networking event, or edit that audio. They don't HAVE to do any of that, but their career suffers if they don't.



It's the same as with a lot of people in business for themselves. Yeah, they CAN put off their work until later, but at best they're not going to grow, and at worst they're going to be backsliding. Sometimes they have to turn down hanging out with you or seeing that awesome movie that just came out because they need to focus on their careers in order to grow. That doesn't mean they should become hermits and cut themselves off from society, but every so often, don't be too surprised if they claim they have a lot of work they need to get to.



6: When a voice actor says they need silence in order to record, they mean SILENCE. Microphones equipped for professional work are very sensitive. Post-production can take care of some unwanted noises, but because they are designed to be sensitive tools, there's still a lot they pick up. When a voice actor is going to record, they will need relative silence to do their job. There's no accounting for the neighbor spontaneously throwing a party with loud music, a car with a bad muffler driving by, or a nearby dog barking for THE LAST FREAKIN' HOUR – IF I DID THAT, MY VOICE WOULD GO OUT – but voice actors do as they can.



That being the case, when they ask for silence, they mean silence. That's not your cue to nod sagely, say “Don't worry, I have you covered!” and then turn on the TV. Now obviously, as a human being, you're going to make some noise eventually – a cough here, a sneeze there, and if you've absolutely gotta pee, we're not going to make you hold it. However, there are some pitfalls you should avoid, such as:



  • Conversing in a loud or even moderate tone of voice with another housemate or on the phone.
  • Turning on the TV (or playing a video on the computer, or playing music, or turning on a video game...anything of that nature).
  • Working on that house project you kept putting off (can you put together your Ikea shelving unit when we're doing recording?!).
  • Playing with the household pet if you have one.



Rule of thumb: if you can hear it, so can the microphone. I try to let anyone in the house know well in advance (sometimes days in advance) when I plan on recording so they're not caught off guard.



Every roommate is going to have their quirks, and voice actors are no exception. If you are a voice actor, do share this article with your friends, family, or possible roommates; it'll be great for a laugh and they might learn a new perspective in the process. If you have any other pointers, let me know, and maybe I'll make a follow-up article going over more advice for living with a voice actor.



Thanks much for reading. Until next time, dear friends.

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