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Steve’s Personal Story

Steve’s Personal Story

Hey guys,

Welcome to the Blumvox Studios Blogosphere. I rarely talk about the early part of my journey, but I thought I’d share it with you here in hopes that something you see here may inspire you on your own path.

I’ve always been a bit of a loner. Even as a small child, though I liked people, I would be just as happy playing by myself. Creating imaginary worlds and talking to myself. I was overweight, shy, insecure, bullied often and felt like I was average or worse at pretty much everything. I found joy in art though. I wasn’t particularly good at much of anything, but I loved to create. I didn’t really care what medium. It all felt the same and somehow made me feel better. Music, drawing, sculpting – all of it helped me to escape my own perception of my mediocrity for my appreciative audience of one. Going outside and communing with nature has always been soothing to me too. I’d hunt for interesting bugs, lizards, frogs (and other fauna), plants and rocks, etc., and spend hours marveling at their designs, shapes colors, sounds… I had two dachshunds who were my best friends. I also began collecting fish, reptiles and birds for company. I was convinced that if I tried hard enough, someday I’d be able to communicate with the animals. I dreamed that I could fly, or eventually have superpowers. It was almost an obsession that took some of the harshness out of the rest of my world.

Later at age 12, my first job was working in the comic department of my grandfather’s book store. It was a beautiful place called Cherokee Books in Hollywood California. High ceilings, wood everywhere, rolling ladders that accessed a magnificent library of classic books and movie memorabilia from all over the world. I was mostly tucked away upstairs in a back room, sorting comics from recent purchases. My uncle Burt would buy huge lots of stuff from estate sales and collectors and I was charged with sorting and cataloging the titles. Since I worked alone most of the time, I read a LOT of comics back then. The characters would each have distinct voices in my head as I poured over the panels. I couldn’t voice them out loud yet (because boyhood voice), but every creature, every superhero and every villain would occupy a different vocal space in my brain. Back then, it never occurred to me that anyone could actually make a living creating these characters out loud. I was a huge fan of Looney Tunes, Disney, Hanna Barbera… pretty much anything animated. I’d often do terrible impressions of my favorite cartoon idols, but was too shy to share them with most people.

Later on when I bought my first answering machine – (back when they recorded on tape and sounded like crap), I did a Goofy impression as my outgoing message. Somebody called me by mistake and left a message with laughing in the background. They called back and shortly thereafter, his friends started to call to listen to the message. My friends picked up on it too and not too long after, were giving me character requests. I had to change the message almost on a weekly basis. It was fun, but I thought that was the end of it.

I still had no idea that “voice acting” was a thing or that anyone could even consider that as a career. When my kids were born, I began reading children’s books to them and acting out all the characters. It just seemed to be the right way to read those books. Later I went to their school as a volunteer parent and read for their classes. That’s when my voice training really began, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was already dabbling in Anime for fun on the side, but the kids didn’t really know or understand that – or care. They just knew if I was reading their stories properly and would handily and bluntly school me if I wasn’t.

Now this is the part you may have heard before. Regarding the Anime thing… a few years before the school schooling, I was working as a production assistant/driver/mailroom clerk etc. for a film studio called Empire Entertainment (the company that made Reanimator, Ghoulies, then later – the Puppetmaster films, etc.) My friend (actor) and head mailroom-slavedriver Victor Garcia asked me if I’d like to try working on a crazy “Japanamation” project he was helping to cast. I was probably the only non-actor in the building, but he noticed that I liked to mess around with stupid character voices with the actors who worked there. My friend Tom Fahn and I physically could not greet each other without our bodies slumping, hiking our pants up and transforming into two old Jewish men from New York. Still can’t (except now we’re actually much closer to that age!) Anyway, Victor offered us all an audition one weekend for his project – a show called “The Guyver.” I was terrified, but said yes, because he said they’d feed me a couple of meals whether I got the part or not and pay me a little if I booked it. He knew I had no experience, but I had the deepest voice in the mailroom and he needed somebody who could voice creatures. He had me at the “free food”. I was a below average starving R&B musician at the time, when everybody else was playing glam and heavy metal, so a free meal really meant something to me.

The pacing of the dubbing seemed musical and natural, and I took to it well. They hired me for 26 episodes, I eventually dubbed human characters, and learned how to act over the next couple of decades by just doing it and stealing technique from everyone I could. Not the easiest (or fastest) way to break in, and I screwed up A LOT, but the pressure is minimal when you have no idea why people are paying you to fart and bark into a microphone. I simply did it because I loved it and the community in the voice acting world was unlike anything I’d experienced in any other line of work.

I stayed at the film studio for almost 15 years, eventually becoming an executive with a beautiful office in Hollywood. What began as a fun, creative environment, became a competitive, back-stabbing, typical corporate entertainment hell and I hated going to work every day. I was praying for a way out, but had a decent salary in a steady job and was still able to do a little voice work in my off-time for fun and pocket change.

Then I booked a gig as the voice of 7-11. I thought “this is it!” I heard that once you book a big commercial campaign – you get to buy the house, car, decent clothes… So I quit my job at the studio and declared myself to be a full time voice actor! Unfortunately the commercials only paid a fraction of what I was expecting (only the big network national spots paid the big bucks and this was not that). Then the union went on strike for 8 months and I couldn’t get a decently paying voice job for about a year and a half. I lived on credit cards and every odd job I could scrounge to stay afloat. I went into huge debt and was terrified to pay the bills each month. The thing that made that time ok for me was every moment in the studio recording the stuff that still wouldn’t pay the bills. That and my friends in the Anime community who supported me by continuing to co-create art when everything else went to sh*t.

I remember those days vividly and it’s the reason why I insist that new voice actors really check themselves before getting into this business. You must be passionate about it and know that even if you NEVER make a living at it, it will be one of the most fulfilling art forms you’ll ever experience. That to me is worth every moment you invest and you’ll never be disappointed if you approach it from that perspective. If you’re in it purely for the fortune or fame… I suggest calling the Kardashians. That’s an entirely different business. Thanks for reading this and I hope to see you in my voiceover classes!

Integrity and Taking Responsibility

Integrity and Taking Responsibility

The voice-over business and the entertainment business in general can be wildly unpredictable. At times it seems like an endless marathon of hoops you have to keep jumping through, just to get noticed, let alone to thrive. This may seem counter-intuitive, but all of that has to begin and end with you.

Your attitude, your work ethic, your level of dedication, your willingness to play. Giving yourself permission to have fun, acknowledging that you don’t know it all, being willing to keep doing it even when it gets hard, and it will. Remembering to cheer others on when they get the part and you don’t. Continually taking risks and being open to colossal failure, while being open to learning amazing lessons from that.

All of that begins with you.

In general, most of us expect people to keep their word and do what they say they’re going to do. The fact is that just like in life, people in this business are going to let you down too. They don’t always do it intentionally, they may mean the promises that they make, but then they get busy and forget, or plans change. Perhaps they end up giving the gig to somebody else after they promised it to you. Or they don’t make time to help you when they said they would.

Rather than expecting others to be in integrity at all times, bringing it back to you is where your power truly lies. One of my favorite books is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, and in it he suggests that the first thing you can do is to be impeccable with your word. Your Word. No matter what other people are saying or not saying or doing or not doing. You can’t control that stuff. You’ll never be able to. You don’t have control over that, but you do have control over you. You have the power to take personal responsibility for what you put out there in the world and how you react to things in the world. If you make a promise, just keep it as best you can, whether it’s to yourself or to somebody else, and even if you slip up, just keep circling back to you and what you can do.

If you make a declaration that you’re going to study voice over, keep that promise to yourself. If you signed up for classes with me and you haven’t watched all of them, get in there!. Watch the class archives and do the exercises and read the newsletters.

If you say you’re going to be at an audition, show up on time and be prepared. Read the copy in advance if they give it to you in advance. Do your homework, study the craft and keep yourself healthy too. Pay attention to what’s going on in your body. Don’t overexert yourself. Do your warm-up exercises before you get there. If it doesn’t go perfectly, at least you’re putting yourself out there. You’ve kept your word with yourself and with everybody who’s in that process with you. If you don’t get the job or things don’t go as you expect, that’s ok, and if somebody says something that makes you feel bad about yourself, for whatever reason, you don’t have to let that have an effect on you. You always get to choose.

When you do this work, when you choose to do this work, you’re going to get all kinds of opinions from all kinds of people. People you know and love, or not, casual acquaintances and sometimes complete strangers. They’re all going to be offering their opinions. Even if it is personal, which many times its not, you don’t have to accept that as your truth and act on it or react to it. You get to choose.

The essence of Responsibility is having the Ability to Respond. You get to decide what you’ll do with all input that comes your way. That includes everything you read in these blogs or hear in classes with me!

I urge you guys to take responsibility for your life and for your actions. Start with you. Take responsibility for your reactions and just know that you have a lot more control over that than you think, and for your art. Take the time to squeeze every bit of juice out of this journey that you can, because it really is about the journey.

And lastly, remember those Four Agreements: Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. And always do your best.


Get a copy of Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four AgreementsHERE!

Marketing

Marketing

Long before we had the internet, we had to market ourselves the “old fashioned” way. At the time I got in it was all about submitting cassette tapes, and not long after that it went to CDs, which you did if you wanted to get noticed. We all paid A LOT in postage for mass mailings, it kinda sucked and it was expensive to do. I still remember going into the duplicator with my little cassette and having them duplicate 200 copies of it – and then mailing them out by hand. It’s a whole lot easier these days.

One of our colleagues, a voice actor named Wally Wingert, played John from The Garfield Show, and the Riddler in the Batman Arkham series and a bunch of other really great stuff. He had a bobblehead made of himself and he sent them to every casting agent and studio in town – you can still see these things sitting on people’s desks! It was kinda genius and people remembered him for it.

It’s still important to market yourself these days – probably even more so, because the talent pool has increased exponentially. It used to be a small group of people who did this kind of work, now everyone’s got a home studio, its global, and honestly – it’s tough for the new kid on the block to get looked at or listened to. You’ve got to be proactive with this stuff.

Fortunately, you guys have the internet. YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook. There are so many ways to get your stuff out there quickly and efficiently to a worldwide audience.

As I’ve mentioned before in my voiceover classes, if you’re marketing yourself please make sure that you are doing it honestly. If you book a job be prepared to use your entire skill set and don’t misrepresent yourself with characters that you can’t recreate, perform or sustain. That’s really important because it will bite you in the butt afterwards.

You are the product, you are your brand and you are what you were selling. So, you need to know who you are, what your strongest assets are and what makes you different and marketable. There are a lot of people out there. You need to know your stuff so you can accurately convey it to people who are in positions to hire you. This is why I stress the importance of figuring out WHO you are. If you’re ready for marketing it’s a good idea to start the branding process, and it’s a good idea to start it early. You can begin with the creation of a logo. But before you do that, you must figure out how you want to represent yourself.

Originally, the only thing I was interested in was animation. So, my logo was fun and playful and cartoony. I put the logo together myself, and soon after I started creating postcards with that logo. Before I had a lot of characters I would just do a blank piece of paper with my mug on it and some catchy little thing on there. My first tagline was: “The Right Voice Choice”. I used variations of that logo on everything: business cards, cassette covers for my demo reel, announcements, and at that time I printed most of my materials on fluorescent green cardstock so that it stood out in a pile of other stuff on an agent’s or casting person’s desk. People remembered it. People still remember the fluorescent green guy! I drew the little animated mouth myself and I even type set every element by hand and I cut out the individual letters with an exacto knife and physically glued them together before I took it all to the print shop. They didn’t have digital printing back then, so everything was manual.

You guys have the advantage of creating professional-looking branding and logo materials very inexpensively online, and because they’re digital they’re easy to manipulate and resize and repurpose. We didn’t have that luxury, I had to get it right the first time. I had to get the specs from the print house, and I had to cut those things out and it sucked!

If you’re ready to begin this process of creating a logo, I would recommend that you look at samples to get some ideas. There are sites like wix.com or freelogoservices.com, logojoy.com or Fiverr. I’m not endorsing these sites but browsing through their logo creation tools will give you an idea of what’s possible, especially if you’re not a graphic designer.It’ll help you to hone in on how you want to represent yourself creatively and stylistically.

When it comes to websites which I taught in Class #24 of my Voiceover Teaching Series, you need to take control of how you’re presented out there in the world very early on. That way you can evolve it on your own terms. You don’t want other people deciding who you are, that’s how you get pigeonholed, and that’s also how you get overlooked.

Once you get the logo in place, you can use it on your website and all your printed materials, and you can make branded letterhead for your email correspondents. I still use that same logo, just used a different variation of it, it has carried through my career.

You can also make thank you cards using your logo, I used to do that all the time. If you have a live audition with a casting person or an agent, send them a handwritten thank-you card. I still do that. They’re appreciated because most people don’t write anything by hand anymore. Just don’t send more than one! Don’t want to overwhelm them. One nice, short, sweet little thank-you is cool to write, and have your logo and your branding on that. If you have a color that’s associated with you or a pattern that that you like, or something funny or interesting, include that in your branding.

Even if you haven’t really gotten started professionally as a voice actor, you can still do charity events. You can read for kids. There are all sorts of things that you can do. And you can use that stuff to print on your flyers and business cards and hand them out at the end and at networking meetings.

I have a little Facebook community group that was created precisely for the purpose of letting like-minded people connect with each other and to network with each other. I don’t get to participate in it as much as I’d like to because I’m so busy, but the group kind of took on a life of its own, and we have a very strong anti-bullying policy in there, everybody is accepted. It’s free and it’s called the Blumvox studios community on Facebook. So, if you don’t know about it, please check that out, some great resources in there. www.bvsfb.com is the link. Find other groups like that, either in your town or city or online. They’re great ways to meet people and to potentially get gigs!

There are also professional associations like SAG-AFTRA, the Union, which offer lots of free classes and mixers to their members, but even if you’re not in the union yet there are tons of things like this available all over the country and many of them are free. You’ll need to do your own research to find those where you are. It’s great to do those in person, and great to network.

It’s critically important just to be nice to everyone, as a policy. Just get used to doing that, and if that’s not your normal way, work on that! You’re building your reputation in this process and you never know who will be promoted to casting, or a directing position in the future. I’ve worked with several people who are directing now that used to be receptionists.

If you don’t know how to create a resume or bio, or some way to have headshots done, get online and start researching. That information is abundantly available and nobody’s going to do it for you. Again, this is a business and you must be proactive and take charge of your own career from the very beginning and get used to doing that because it never ends. I’ve had an agent for years and years and years and I do most of my own leg work to this day.

A huge part of your career in this business, like I mentioned before, is about the relationships you build and the referrals that can result from the relationships. So, you really want to be mindful about how they begin. A lot of my work comes from referrals these days. I still have to audition, but at least I’ll get the chance to audition because they’ve had a good experience of me in the past or somebody else has and referred me. Even Engineers have referred me before. So build those relationships, I’ve mentioned these in other classes I teach too. I was able to get some auditions because I had a good first impression with a receptionist and they needed somebody. If they have three people on the list, and the receptionist says, “well he was nice”, they may just say “okay, bring him in first”. Do not underestimate the power of great relationships in the referral process.

Again, please remember to be polite and respectful in all your interactions, including social media. Make sure that you do your homework, know who you’re talking to in advance, if possible. Follow up without being a pest, and never, never, never, never, never, please, never come from a place of desperation. It just never helps. That kind of thinking can sabotage you, before you even get started. If one resource doesn’t work out, or even if you blow an audition or an initial meeting with somebody, don’t take it personally, it’s okay. We all make mistakes and learn from them. We must trust that other opportunities will come. If you’re in this for the right reason, just do your best and be ready when those opportunities do show themselves

Think about how you want to be represented out there long-term before setting up your pages, and don’t do stuff on YouTube that might embarrass you later, or sabotage your career later. Don’t do negative things where you’re spouting off on someone, try not to do that from the very beginning, if you can. Just be careful about what you’re putting out there because it’s out there forever.

Social Media can be used as a massive calling card and an unlimited resource for networking. So pay attention to what’s happening out there. Do you research on it. There’s so much that’s happened even in the last year. It’s increased exponentially, the opportunities that I’ve seen casting-wise for voice actors on Twitter are great.

I am NOT an expert in social media. I don’t have time to become an expert on social media, and we’ve made unbelievable mistakes along the way. Painful, super expensive mistakes. I pay people to help us with it now, but there’s a ton of stuff you can do immediately that will cost you nothing. I built my voiceover career, without any help in the beginning. I did a lot of it on my own so I know that you guys can too.

I encourage you to get out there, get going and please don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do this work because of where you live. You can do this from pretty much anywhere, if you have an internet connection.

So that is my marketing pitch for YOU! Get at it, and build the career you want!

Confidence and Self Care

Confidence and Self Care

So early on in our voiceover classes, and literally every time I talk to folks that want to get into Voiceover, I talk about building confidence, looking stupid and embracing it, and taking care of your voice physically, by warming it up and cooling it down. That’s because It’s all related, and the connecting thread is your well-being. I know. Dang it Steve, you’re gonna dig in again, aren’t you? Yeah. Might as well get used to it.

Your health – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually – can affect your ability to perform. In life, relationships, work and yes, even in voiceover. Simply put, when you feel good, you’re better able to express yourself.

So when I suggest to my students to let go of the fear and judgment they’ve been carrying around (in many cases it’s not even theirs!) – and going back to that childlike place inside where it was ok to be dorky, I’m simply encouraging them to work on their health.

When you forget joy and forget to play and let fear run your life, it manifests in anxiety, anger and sadness, and sometimes even physical pain or illness. Let’s go back to the sandbox analogy… when you see children playing in a sandbox and one of them is sick… unless the sickness is so bad the kid physically can’t function, that child is gonna play uninhibited with as much joy and energy as he/she/they can muster. Doesn’t matter if there’s a river of snot pouring from their nose, or if they have a cast on their arm, or they’ve got a diaper full of doody – they’re gonna use every bit of that playtime they have before they have to go take a nap, or clean up, or go eat, etc.

Unfortunately many of us lose that enthusiasm for play as we get older and start becoming self-conscious. We focus on what isn’t working or on what others tell us is OK to feel, based on their ideas and often, their fears. When you stop playing, you stop living.

I met a boy with ALS a few years ago. He no longer had any use of his body. He couldn’t speak. His organs were shutting down and he could only communicate with his eyes through a series of yes/no answers on an alphabet chart his father created. Yet even in that state, when his hero, Kari Wahlgren (if you don’t know her – look her up) came to visit, he communicated that he was a huge fan of her work… he was excited to meet her and was bordering on flirty! He remembered, even under the most extreme circumstances – the things that brought him joy and it gave him something positive to concentrate on – when everything else in his life was a struggle for survival. His family told us that it improved the quality of his life and that of everyone around him.

Now that’s an extreme example, but the point is, no matter what you’re going through, looking for the joy, staying playful and finding the funny – only serves to improve the quality of your life and enhances the quality of everything you do and everyone you interact with.

So how do the warm-ups and cool-downs apply? Even when I’m doing something as potentially mundane as a warm-up exercise, I look for the fun. If you’ve tried the warm-ups and cool-downs I’ve suggested in other blogs here, you know that most of them require some pretty ridiculous faces and actions. They’re designed to help you physically loosen the muscles and structures involved in voice work, so you feel better. But they also help you unleash your inner dork so you’re less inhibited by fear! To help you feel less restricted and more able to perform at your best, and most importantly – to ENJOY THE PROCESS. All this, plus, they help you to avoid injury and to recover from stress after. Pretty good stuff for just making weird noises and faces, huh?

When you’re feeling better physically, and emotionally, your mental abilities improve, you’re more creative, your perspective changes and life just seems a little better. I’ll leave spirituality alone for now, because some people aren’t comfortable with that. But trust me, when you seek the positive, you’re already doing that work.

Be happy, be healthy and be a dork!

Love you guys!

Steve

Trust

Trust

trust |trəst|

noun

firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

We’re called upon to trust often in this business. Trust the process, trust that our teachers aren’t full of crap, trust that if we do the work, something will come of it…
Trust that we’ll be remembered when we’re great and not forgotten when we suck.
Trust that they will forget when we suck, but not forget us!

Trust that we’ve got a handle on the fear, so it won’t be in control when we get our shot.

Trust that we GET a shot!

It’s tough to trust anyone these days. So with all of that swirling in our heads as we approach anything creative… whom do you trust? And how do you trust?

Starts with you, boo. In the Teaching Series classes, we’ve discussed taking direction and cold reading (reading something you’ve never seen before out loud). So while it’s pretty clear that you have to trust your director, the choices you make based on that, begin with trusting your own passion for the work, the months or years of study you’ve put in, and that you wouldn’t even BE in front of a director if they didn’t think you were worthy. The hardest part of all of this is remembering that you ARE worthy! Even when you’re by yourself, practicing your cold reading, it requires you to trust your instincts in fleshing out believable characters with no preparation.

Trust takes practice. And people often lose trust when they feel betrayed by others. A natural, and necessary protective human reflex. But what about when we let ourselves down? We have a chance at something and we blow it. We start beating ourselves up and tearing ourselves down. This isn’t a protective reflex, this is an unnecessary, but very common breakdown of our trust in ourselves.  When you make a mistake, or just weren’t ready for the task at hand, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s an opportunity for a breakthrough.  You get back up, dust yourself off, and get your butt back to work. Take the time to learn from the mistake.

DO what you need to do so this mistake doesn’t happen again!  Then get back up with this new wisdom in your pocket. Just the fact that you GOT back up is a huge victory! Celebrate that and you’ll be surprised at your ability to create something new and amazing from that.

Many years ago, I read for the part of Goro for the Mortal Kombat movie. I did a great first audition. Even made it to final callbacks. I had to read live for a panel of casting and studio people in an on-camera type, intimidating room where they sat in elevated chairs looking down at me and running me through the copy. I freaked out inside. Still did a fair audition, but my inner turmoil turned into a big, dramatic huffing and puffing after the read, like I’d just lifted a car over my head. They mentioned that I probably wouldn’t be capable of sustaining the role for a whole film if one little audition made me that tired. I insisted I wasn’t tired, just invested in the role. I thanked them politely, then left devastated, thinking that I just blew the biggest opportunity of my life.

But the next day, I got back up. Busted through the continuous internal beatings, and auditioned for a little anime show. Certainly not the same level as this movie, but made me feel a little better. I probably booked it. Don’t remember. But I kept moving forward. Now, more than 20 years later, I get to voice Sub-Zero in the Mortal Kombat games. The full circle took a while, but apparently, I used some of that fuel from that mistake to build an entire career. I trusted myself enough to get back up and try again.

As I was reading this back just now, I realized I never found out who ended up booking that role, so I looked it up. It was my dear friend, the amazing Frank Welker. Pretty good company to even be in the running with – so early on in my career! They probably had an offer out to him the whole time and were just looking for a backup plan. If Frank had declined the role, I actually may have still been in the running. So all of that anguish… all of that self doubt… may have been completely unfounded anyway.

Believe in yourself first, guys. You’re capable of so much more than you can ever imagine. Fail magnificently, and trust that you can grow from it. So excited to see what you bring to the party!

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