An Unexpected Voiceover Journey
Most of you know me as someone that helps facilitate Steve’s Classes, but I also enjoyed my own voiceover journey for more than 10 years. I want to share with you a powerful story from that journey that ties directly into Steve’s teachings, that I never even knew til I’d heard him teach it a dozen times and then experienced it myself.
A rather unexpected turn of events that led me into Voiceover
15 years ago I was working for AAA in Burbank, having recently moved to the LA area from the San Bernardino Mountains. I’d moved back at the behest of a jazz band I was in, who decided we’d never “make it” if we didn’t give it everything we had. Never being one to adhere to the starving musician stereotype, I worked a customer service job by day.
Having a New Zealand accent and a mouth that never stops, I spent most of my work days ensuring customers left the counter with a smile on their face. I’ve always done customer service, and feel if you can make the customer happy you’re doing two things:
1) Making their day a little lighter and brighter,
2) Making your day go faster while having a good time!
I’d come to America in 1995 to be a singer, so I’d never once thought about Voiceover. If I had I would have instantly thought “I have an accent that’ll never work”. I know some of you from other countries can relate to that.
It just so happens that my accent did work, at least it did in this regard, when I served a random customer one day – who just so happened to be a local TV Producer. His studio was responsible for packaging up programs and sending them all around the world, and the “International Department” needed someone to voice the monthly promos for their New Zealand client. He told me the New Zealand accent is very difficult to copy, and no one they’d tried had fit the bill.
“Sure!” I said when he asked me if I’d be interested in coming in and reading for them. Turned out I was pretty good at it, and I got the gig that week. That gig ended up paying $1000 – $1500 a month, and took an hour to do. Needless to say it was gravy.
Saying Yes! to the Journey, even when you don’t know where it will lead
For the next ten years as I moved around LA and had various other day jobs, that VO gig was the one solid thing I could count on. I also loved it. I loved the creativity, and I was at home in the studio as a session singer.
I found VO sessions far easier than singing sessions. Where an album BG gig might take days of tedious layers and harmonies, with VO I just went in, talked, gave them what they wanted, we had a great time, and then I left. The check came in the mail a week later.
The Journey is never boring!
One day I arrived to find the building half full of the usual folk. A new producer (pictured in the above photo) told me the previous one who’d gotten me the job had been laid off, and the company had been sold to a conglomerate in Canada. He said it was likely that “International” would be first to get chopped completely.
It was a good run! I thought, and while the work continued for a couple years after that, it dwindled down from 10 spots to 1-2 spots each month, due the fact the parent company were using graphics and sound bites rather than full promos. I was still always grateful for the experience and the work.
Bringing the Journey Home (aka remote sessions)
While remote sessions are far more common in this new age of covid and distancing, back then it was quite novel. I had Logic on my laptop, so when the sessions began to take only 10 minutes to complete, but 1.5hrs to get through (due to LA traffic) we all agreed that it would be easier if I simply sent the tracks in via email. I started to record my 1-2 spots from home, and even managed a decent recording from my mother-in-laws closet in Zealand while on holiday in 2015!
By the time I began working at Blumvox Incorporated in 2016, I’d been doing monthly promos for 11 years. One day, while going through Steve’s convention schedule, I received word a new promo script was ready for me to record. Steve offered to record it then and there, at what was then the brand new Blumvox Studios studio at his home.
The booth had only just been finished, literally no one had recorded in it. There I was, standing in Steve Blum’s brand new booth, while he sat on the other side of the glass, engineering me. It was raucous, I think I even have a photo of him from in there, it was absurd, and SO wrong, and yet he made it seem totally normal.
I’ve been friends with Steve and Trina for over 20 years, and he wouldn’t have a bar of me saying “No I can’t have YOU engineer ME!”. He’s not just a legend due to his VO work, he’s a legend due to his humility and willingness to always help others.
Not long after that my promo scripts stopped coming each month, and the work completely dried up. But here’s where it gets interesting.
Always say YES!
I went two years not hearing a word from the studio, until one day in 2019 when I received a text from the Producer – who I learned was now an Executive Producer. He ran the entire shop now, and had recommended me for a new show.
“Are you available to voice a part in a 12-episode series for us?”.
A series? As in, a Show? As in – not the New Zealand accented promos? Why did they want me? I thought. “Absolutely!” I responded. “Just tell me when!”. Because despite your internal not-good-enough dialogue, always say yes to EVERY opportunity!
“Great! I don’t have the details or the contract yet, so I don’t know what it pays, but just know we’ll take care of you”. I didn’t care about the pay, I was more excited to see my old buddies again and to catch up. It was also kinda wonderful that after facilitating Steve Blum’s classes for a year, I was going to get to practice what he’d been telling his students!
Journey’s are best when you’ve got a Guide
For a year I’d watched and learned from a VO Master. Now I had the chance to put it into action. And it’s a good thing, cause that 12 episode series involved acting, something I’ve never done in my life.
I leaned into SO MANY things I’d heard Steve say as he taught all of you, and wow did it make a difference. What were some of those things?
- Be Coachable
- Don’t be afraid to look stupid
- Do whatever you have to do to get the sound, the inflection, the whatever they want
- Have Fun!
I finished the episodes in half the time allotted, and the producer (who I’d never worked with before) said “If I’d known you were that good I’d have given you the lead”. I was beyond flattered, and as we made our way to the EP’s office (the guy who’d recommended me in the first place), I wondered “But why was I given this part?”.
What makes you Memorable?
The Executive Producer and I rode the elevator down together, catching up on our respective lives over the last couple of years, and once we were in the courtyard I asked him that very question.
“Why did you choose me?” I said. “I mean it’s a foreign spy show, so I get not having an American accent isn’t such a big deal, but why me? After all these years, and when you’ve got so many other folks to choose from?”.
“Because you’re so easy to work with” he said. “You’re fun, you make the sessions cool, everybody loves you here, it was an easy choice”.
And THAT my friends, ties into one of the most vital lessons that Steve teaches.
I had always shown up for my sessions through the years with 100% Gratitude. I was child-like, and excited – I didn’t have to do them, I GOT to do them. I played in the booth, I joked around (mostly in a self-deprecating fashion), and I approached the entire thing as if I was being given a gift. Because it was that. I was lucky to be there. We’d all become friends as a result, and that’s why they remembered me.
Even the security guard demonstrated this. “Hey haven’t seen you around in a while!”. Why did he remember me? Cause I always used to joke with him! We’d always had a good laugh, and it was always clear plenty of fancy LA folk walking in and out of that building barely noticed him.
The Executive Producer also echoed what many a music producer had told me through the years: No one wants to work with a diva. There’s plenty of those in LA as you can imagine. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would take such an opportunity for granted. I appreciated every minute of my time there, and everyone (including the security guard) that made it possible.
Ensuring you can continue the Journey
As I drove home that day Steve’s lessons hit a new place within me. It was my sense of gratitude and play that had gotten me a gig, many years after I thought I was forgotten.
Remember Steve’s teaching with regards to being remembered:
- Be a kind person when you go into your sessions!
- Be nice to everyone!
- You never know where that receptionist is gonna end up, and if you’re an insufferable jerk, or high on your horse, or simply arduous to deal with, you won’t be remembered. Or at least not favorably.
Believing you can make it to your destination
Another lesson from my VO journey, and worth mentioning as it’s come up in the live Q&A often over the years:
Your accent doesn’t have to be your downfall!
YOUR accent can sometimes be the one thing a casting director is looking for!
Take the New Zealand accent – which is a mix of British, Scots, Irish, Dutch and Polynesian. It’s one of the hardest accents for non-Kiwis to copy (trust me, y’all always either sound like you’re from Australia or England!). I’d also spent 20 years in the U.S. so my accent is all over the map.
Yet for some applications a non-American accent works. I’ve voiced promos on wine, and travel, sophisticated things that my accent is popular for and well suited to. I’ve also been passed over because of it, and that’s ok too.
Steve teaches about finding your authentic voice, and if that voice doesn’t speak with an American accent, I’m here as proof that you don’t need to discard your hopes of finding a place in the industry because of that.
I had a VO gig for over a decade, and solely because of my authentic voice.
Never lose hope that there’s enough work to go around for everyone,
and a place for you too.
Arohanui (Big Love – and a little Scottish r-rolling).
PS: You can of course work on both your own authentic accent and an American one, or even a particular dialect from within the U.S. Eliza Jane Schneider is Steve’s dialect coach and she’s amazing. Find her here, and in Class #33 if you’re a student.
If you’re not a student, OY! What are you doing! You need Guides on this Journey, and not just the one! BVS has an amazing intro deal to Steve’s Classes that’s 50% OFF your first month and it gives you instant 24/7 access to over 100 hours of content. Check it out here.
Reirani joined Blumvox in 2016 and is Steve’s Assistant for Travel and Convention Appearances as well as Marketing Co-Ordinator of Blumvox Studios, home of Steve’s wildly successful Voiceover Teaching Series. You can find her each month playing housekeeper in the live online classes with Steve and Special Guests.
She enjoys writing, teaching, and adventures with her daughter at “the edge of the world”, otherwise known as New Zealand.