Friday, July 20, 2018

A Map for Voice Acting: Where is Your Destination?

JAMES'S NOTE: This article was written by AVA's new co-host, Kenneth Faircloth! Kenny is a fellow voice actor, an excellent friend of mine, and evidently, a great writer. You'll see more of Kenny in the coming days as both a writer and an interview host, and we'll be sure to give him a full introduction and a warm welcome soon after this article goes live. In the meantime, enjoy Kenny's insight onto what feels at times like a vast desert of voice over and the necessity of having a map to direct you through.

Article by Kenny Faircloth

The voice acting community is relatively small from a certain standpoint, depending on where you are at in your career. However, I think we can all agree that voice acting as a whole is a bit of a big place; and it can be incredibly easy to get lost when trying to find your way. We get a lot of vague blanket statements and self-help slogans pertaining to where to go next with our careers, but rarely do we get any actual guidance about where to go next.

It is not that we lack generous and helpful insight from our more successful predecessors. Instead, I think it mostly has to do with how the path keeps changing with the times. Throughout this modern era of online casting call sites, there is a newfound nuance that I believe has separated the overall community into three different “tiers” if you will. The three different tiers are as follows: the fan/online community, the indie community, and the industry. Of course there are numerous voice actors who do not fit cleanly into just one of the three tiers. There are some who fan/online voice actors who get indie work, indie actors who get industry work, industry actors who take part in fan work, etc. With these different tiers in mind, it seems a bit more clear about how your voice acting journey should go, right? From fan to indie, from indie to industry, yeah. Seems straightforward enough. However, it’s a bit more intricate than just that. A little bit of retrospect always comes in handy for times like these.

The age of information and technology is a time of rapid technological change and growth. Information travels faster now than it has at any other point in time. The Internet has made such a huge impact on the world since its creation, voice acting included. At one point, the companies and icons that now dominate the industry were working literally out of their basements. In the 1980’s all the way through to the early 90’s it was not uncommon for small ADR companies to dub by the tape then mail the finished product to individual consumers that would call in the order. I know right? That’s a far cry from today’s standard of mass production for general and niche audiences alike. The internet coupled with the growth of the industry itself has cultivated change for the voice acting community as well. 

This change has not been effectively documented or noted I feel hence why so many voice actors stray along an aimless path with only some vague idea of a destination. Instead of going from Point A to Point B to C and so forth, it seems like so many of us are at Point A going to Point “?” All our current tools for self-education give us great tools for how to become a better actor, but rarely do we see any real guidance about how to navigate through our current community. Mostly blanket statements and guidelines keep us in check while we work. However, I cannot pretend there have not been times I’ve felt like I was just plowing in the desert, waiting for gods to bless me with rain. With all the change in the past 20-30 years, who can be upset? 

The issue is that so few of our predecessors (or perhaps even none) have dealt with our current community. I mean, back then, they had student films and plays; or they were cast into big projects out of college because the ADR industry as far as anime is concerned was still budding. Even in the succeeding generation, machinimas and abridged series were fresh and new, so there was more value in capitalizing on those markets that had just begun to peak. From there, if you follow the work histories of Kira Buckland, Sean Chiplock, or Amber Lee Connors, the transition just seemed to organically move from fan to indie, indie to industry. However, now those fan markets are much more saturated, making it hard to stick out.

Now that certain avenues have become a bit more worn from how frequently people have traveled down them before, we find the modern voice actor in a very complicated spot. Abridged series, Fandubs, Machinimas, etc. do not have quite the punch they used to have. They are much less likely to go viral in the aftermath of such prominent staples such as TeamFourStar. Now, the modern voice actor has to be much more selective and forward thinking. Radio Plays, Comic Dubs, Video Game Fandubs, and even a little Fan ADR work on specific anime or movie scenes as opposed to entire episodes can be helpful showcases of what you can do. That’s where the priority should lie: showcases. It’s no longer about views or even just knowing a guy which seems to be every 90’s dubber’s story. “Oh yeah, this guy I went to college with knew I was into acting and told me about this gig for this show called Dragon Ball Z.” That age has long passed now. To even make it into a budding series, you have to be one hell of an actor with years of experience. 

For the next point, I would also recommend keeping the quality and character of the production teams you work with in mind. Who you work with can be just as detrimental or beneficial as the subject matter of the project. It is my personal belief that who you work with can determine who and what your name is associated with. To play it safe, I also choose not to be outspoken in the political arena. Industry icons fortunately have the luxury of an established brand, so you might see them speaking out more loudly about their political beliefs. As pioneers of the earlier eras in dubbing history, they came in on one of the first waves and cemented themselves from there. We, however, are more or less in a pool of dead, still water; and it is up to us to swim to our destination and hope the sharks don’t get to us first.

From that point forward, with enough experience in fan projects, you can move on to indie work. “Enough experience” can be vague, so assuming you are keeping a healthy work ethic, I would say 2+ years experience can be a great starting point. By this point hopefully you also have begun considering working on your resume and demo if you have not already made them. These are two very important tools to getting indie work. By implication, you should also have gone from USB Mic in the corner of your room to some sort of working recording booth. 

The next step is moving away from dependency on open casting call sites. Sure, you should most definitely keep an eye on projects there. However, it should no longer be your main source of work. Now, you should be moving more towards social media such as Twitter and Facebook. This is where a majority of indie devs and studios promote themselves, network with talent, and hold casting calls. It will not be uncommon for you to have to send an inquiry to receive an audition packet. From this point forward, you will have to market yourself wisely. This in large part is where who and what you are associated with can affect you. As you move forward and get more work in the indie arena, you can continue to build your resume. Fan projects will no longer be keepers for the resume, generally speaking. However, the indie work you are getting will easily supplant it. And at the end of the day, who says you can’t keep two separate resumes? You can have one for indie/fan work and the other for professional work. 

Next of course, comes the industry. This is where we probably have the most knowledge and familiarity despite having never set foot in a Whisper Room. By now you probably have tweaked your resume and demo a few times. You have been in your fair share of indie games. Hell, you might as well have your own search tag on Steam. So now you’re looking for representation by big talent agencies and aiming to get work with studios such as Bang! Zoom. All the inquiries and submissions you’ve made thus far give you a strong precedent for how to market yourself to these big companies. Honestly, everything you’ve ever done and read (like “Voice-Over Voice Actor”) comes in handy especially at this point. Either you have had training or experience with ADR to where you can sync dialogue with the lip flaps on sight all while giving a compelling performance. You’re so cemented in your niche(s) that the work just seems to flow your way. But what’s the point of outlining all this? Sure, the point is to sort of map out the current environment and generate a sort of shared understanding about it. However, it is also meant to serve as a bit of preliminary groundwork for this point. These three tiers are all separate communities.
While certain individuals may work and communicate between these tiers, they are almost entirely separate. As a fan/online actor, you have next to no access to industry work. You would also be incredibly lucky to magically find yourself in a paid indie project. If you are not careful and attentive to how you are moving through these communities, you can very easily find yourself stuck in one end of the community for much longer than needed. In fact, even now, it is not uncommon to see indie or industry grade talent restricted to fan/online work. It is one thing to be David Hayter and chilling with the homies in a Metal Gear Solid fandub. It’s another thing to be Chuck Newber, and you’re almost as talented and brilliant as Chuck Huber. However, you just did not navigate effectively; and here you are, an actor of 10 years experience in fandubs with no forward momentum. 

If you are a hobbyist voice actor, there is no shame in that sort of lifestyle; but if you have professional or even just working ambitions, you must have a sense of direction. Take the information from this article and think about how you can use it to most effectively map out your own 5 year plan in the current environment. In which case, I hope to see you in the credits of some big production in the next 5 or so years! Realistically, it’s going to happen at your own pace; but either way, I’m more than positive you can do it. Until next time, my dudes!

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