Not all advice is worth taking. So, how do you know when you are getting bad advice?
Is the advice coming from a know-it-all?
Does the person offering advice reflect on their own past mistakes?
Is the advisor asking thoughtful questions?
Does the person offering advice tell you what you should do or leave room for you to make up your own mind?
Sometimes it’s obvious: the best advice often comes from the person who is trying to understand the situation and help you make a good, well-informed decision.
“Ron’s Orange Juice?” the teacher asked skeptically.
I was taking a songwriting class in the summer between fourth and fifth grade and our assignment was to write a jingle. “Ron’s Orange Juice” is the product name I came up with. Ron sounded to me like a guy who could make orange juice, and I liked orange juice. Therefore, this was a product that would sell itself without any effort from me.
What ten-year-old me failed to realize is that not everyone sees the same intrinsic value in a product and that marketing depends on developing a connection. But, again, I was ten and not a natural marketer or copywriter.
If I were to revisit this assignment now and keep the product name “Ron’s Orange Juice,” “Ron” would be a farmer who loves oranges and wants to share the juice of his oranges with others.
Thankfully ten-year-old me is not in charge of marketing anything.
Now to write that jingle...
You know the saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what happens if you don’t know whether something is broken or not?
Then you lean on another cliché: “You never know unless you try.” Trying something new can give you an insight into how you might do something better, even if it’s an incremental tweak…or that what you’re doing is actually working.
I do this with emails: trying different subjects, different copy, and even different audiences. I am always trying to figure out what resonates.
Some people might remember “New Coke” as an extreme example of this. Many years ago Coca-Cola tried a new formula which met with a lot of resistance. Coke ended up reintroducing the original formula after three months. It might not have been broken…but they would never have known unless they tried.
Trust is critical. Sometimes that trust is as simple as presenting a consistent brand.
Today, as I often do, I was looking for companies that could use my services as a voice talent.
I came across a video production agency and went to its website. A chat window popped up and the chatbot welcomed me with the name of a different video production agency than the website I was on. I stepped away from my laptop for a while and when I came back, the chat window now welcomed me to a third video production agency.
Huh? Who were they?
I decided not to reach out to them. There were other factors in this decision, but presenting itself as three different companies did not make me trust that this was a company I wanted to work with.
What if I was a potential customer? I probably would have moved on as well, unless I was desperate to hire a company that paid so little attention to detail that it did not present itself consistently.
“It’s interesting to someone.”
My one-time voiceover coach used to say that when we would rehearse narrations on seemingly dry topics. Since then, I’ve voiced a lot of scripts focused on financial regulation, pharmaceutical industry training, and employee benefits, among other topics.
These are subjects that would make many eyes glaze over, but my coach was right. The script is interesting to someone: the copywriter who wrote the words, the client who wants their project to sound good, the target audience who needs to engage with the narration.
I received an email recently with the subject line: “A WING AND A PRAYER.”
My GenX pop-culture brain immediately referenced “The Greatest American Hero” theme song. If you don’t know it, “The Greatest American Hero” was a show about a guy who receives a superhero suit from aliens, but does not know how to use it because he lost the instruction manual. Ah, TV in the early '80s!
It could very well be that this was not the intent of the subject line. “A wing and a prayer,” is a pretty common phrase meaning hope with very little chance of success.
I have some questions about the email:
Would the subject line inspire you to open it?
Does it pique your curiosity?
Is it too clever?
What benefit is there to opening it?
How well did this email perform for the sender?
You ever try to tell a joke in an email…or express sarcasm…or do anything to convey tone…and it falls flat?
It’s happened to me a few times, and let’s just say it’s pretty awkward. Email is good for communicating information, not necessarily tone.
Before sending that email, ask yourself how you would interpret the words if you were the recipient. What might sound like a joke to you might be interpreted as an insult.
You can’t automate personalization.
I got an email recently in which the sender writes to tell me, “how I think we could be a great fit for you and Chris Vallancourt.”
Given that I am Chris Vallancourt, was he telling me that his service is great for me and also…me?
If he had taken even a few seconds to look at my website, he could have rightly concluded that my business is just me and tweaked the copy accordingly.
Side note: there were a few other issues with the email, but this one stood out as the most glaringly obvious.
It’s easy to make mistakes when composing email or any other quickly drafted 1:1 communication. I could fill a book with my own embarrassing moments in email prospecting. But if you’re going to personalize, make sure you are actually personalizing.
Minor annoyances highlight how good we have it.
The power went out in my neighborhood yesterday morning.
It was after I normally make my morning coffee, but, ironically, on a day I decided I was going to make my coffee late. So, I picked up coffee at a coffee shop and got waffles for the kids at a local restaurant.
Aside from buying two cups of what turned out to be pretty awful coffee, the entire power outage was a minor inconvenience lasting less than two hours. If it had lasted another two hours, I might have made a run on toilet paper before the neighbors could get to it.
The experience was a reminder of how good I have it with access to conveniences. Also how much we rely on others to keep things running smoothly. The power company’s communication was vague, but the issue was handled quickly. The outage did not interrupt my recording schedule for the day, thankfully, and my laptop was sufficiently charged enough to keep working if the outage lasted longer.
Now, if only I could get the taste of this coffee out of my mouth.
Cherish the people who respond negatively to your outreach.
You were never going to grow your business with them anyway.
They have given you the gift of time that you can use to connect with others.
Voiceover is a “people tell me” industry. As in, when I meet people who aren’t voice actors they say, “People tell me I have a great voice, and that I should do voiceover.”
But voiceover so much more than having a great voice and talking into a mic:
You have to learn to act.
You have to take direction.
You have to make every script relatable and interesting…even if that script is an elearning module where you recite industry regulations.
You have to constantly market.
You have to find ways to be noticed.
Because there are a lot of great voices out there who don’t do those things, and being discovered is not a strategy for success.
My second grader plays soccer. Due to COVID the local league cancelled its spring 2020 season. I deleted the emails from the league about fall registration because we did not plan to have her play. She mentioned wanting to play this spring, but I had not received any emails from the league about spring registration. It turns out that we missed the deadline, so I had to sign her up for a wait list and pay a $30 late fee. I also had to create a new account in their system for her.
I emailed the league to ask about this, and their response was that they migrated to a new registration system last fall and sent out multiple emails about it then…when my daughter had no plans to play. Seriously?
There are a few email communication lessons here:
Once upon a time when a client wanted to listen in to a recording session from my studio, it involved a phone call, where the client would listen while I recorded with my headphones pressing against my earbuds. The client could not hear the audio chain and just had to trust I would send them a good file. (Don’t I look trustworthy?)
Side note: When I first started in VO, I once had a session where I did not have my audio chain hooked up properly and had to re-record the whole session while trying to piece together the direction the client gave me on the phone. This is known as a #VOFail
But this has all changed in the past year…clients who aren’t using SourceConnect are now setting up Zoom sessions to listen to me record. The audio is better, but I’ve taken to using a Zoom background so they don’t see the tight space I record in. Based on where my laptop is, it sometimes looks like my head has been absorbed into the background.
At least the audio sounds good. That’s what they’re paying me for.
Have you ever been surprised by how someone looks after only hearing how they sound?
I recently auditioned for a roll in a radio drama podcast. The character’s physical description was essentially me: a white male my exact age, height and weight. After listening, the producer wrote “Great audition, but voice does not fit.”
I’m curious as to what about my voice did not fit when I matched the physical description so thoroughly. My guess is that I sounded too young for the character, or perhaps too polished…if I had only started smoking in high school I might have been a better fit!
Would you trust a cold email from a person who addresses you, a sole proprietor as "Team," does not say the name of their own business, does not provide a link to their own website (while claiming they do SEO work), and uses a Gmail address? It's worth it to spend the time crafting an email that establishes your credibility.
Here is the email:
"Hi vallancourt Team,
"Hope you are doing well.
"Without wasting your valuable time let me provide you with the reasons for not able to acquire expected online presence. You might consider this irrelevant but believe me; I have a complete analysis report ready with me for your website and needs immediate improvement on some of the major factors mentioned below:
"- Less visibility for many competitive keyword phrases
- Errors that prevent your website from being indexed properly by search engine.
- Unorganized social media accounts.
- Shortage of content based back links.
- Less participation on social media portals.
"We offer several services for your website such as Online Reputation Management, Social Media Optimization, SEO activities among others. We have well experienced Team who can deliver the result as per the expectation without binding our customers with any set up fee or contract, i.e. (NO CONTRACT or NO SET UP FEE).
"Mutually we can work on your website and make sure you get proper returns on investment as providing you with the best possible result will be our main focus.
This e-mail provides you with a glimpse of services which we offered from our company. If you find this interesting, feel free to email/call us for more details about our service, pricing and more…Alternatively you can let us know your best number and time to call you back."
I’ve had the privilege to count so many amazing women as mentors, colleagues, and friends over the years.
One mentor I especially want to recognize is Wren Ross. Wren was my very first voiceover coach and demo producer. I was saddened to find out that she passed away last week. Wren encouraged me to relax in the booth and have fun with the copy. She was also an advocate for my career, helping me connect with so many people in the industry. She understood both the creative and business ends of voiceover. Her infectious enthusiasm is already missed.
You ever just sit and do nothing for ten minutes? Stare out the window, perhaps? Take a shower?
What happens during that time? Your brain loosens up and generates ideas.
Spend ten minutes staring at social media and all you do is fuel your outrage.
Which ten minutes are better spent?
My daughter asked me to draw with her before school one morning. I brought in my sketch pad and a pencil. For a moment I did not know where to begin. I stared at the blank page and it hit me: I
was thinking too much about the outcome.
I had to remind myself that I’m not creating something that will hang at a museum, I was creating as a means of being present with my daughter. So, I took a breath and started doodling different shapes, then coloring it in with colored pencil.
Sometimes all you have to do to jumpstart creativity is to just create.
All it takes is one little win to keep going. Then the wins pile up.
Every day I go out for a run or walk or just get outside is a win.
Getting a script from a client is a win.
Being asked to play someone 30 years younger than I am is a win.
Connecting with a potential new client is a win.
Knowing that spring training is happening is a win.
What are the wins keeping you going?
Do you ever feel like you’re accomplishing very little?
As this pandemic has dragged on, it’s easy to think we’re not accomplishing as much as we should. Maybe we feel like we’re watching too much television or spending too much time on social media.
You’re probably accomplishing more than you realize.
Do yourself a favor. The next time you feel like you’ve done nothing, take a look back at the last week, month, year. Look at everything you’ve delivered. Look at the time you’ve had to adjust to Zoom meetings. Look at the time you’ve had to take care of yourself. Look at the times you’ve exercised. Now look at the time you’ve spent taking care of your family. Each of these things is an accomplishment.
That’s not saying you should rest on your laurels; it’s just a reminder that this past year changed the life trajectory of many of us.
Now if you want to break the habit of television and social media? Sit and read a book or go for a walk.
When you let your creativity loose, there’s no telling where it can take you.
I recently offered to write with my 7-year-old while she worked on her writing journal. She insisted I use this prompt: "Would you rather be a snake that can detach its tail or a marker that the cap cannot come off of?"
I answered that I would want to be a living being, even if that living being was a snake with a detachable tail. I wrote about the joy of eating (even recently killed rodents), and of growing. The marker is made, does not get to learn, has one purpose, and then it’s gone to the landfill. As a parting thought, I wondered if a plastic-eating snake would ever evolve,
All too often we put up barriers the prevent us from exploring new ideas and limit our experience. Dismissing my daughter’s question would have been such a barrier. Exploring new ideas and seemingly ridiculous questions can lead us to new insights. So…which would you rather be a snake or a marker?
What are communicating when you say you have “X years of experience?” My guess is that you think that experience alone is your most valuable asset. Queue the loud buzzer sound telling you you’re wrong.
Here’s what you’re really communicating: that your thinking is fossilized. Spend a lot of time doing one thing and you get complacent and the work becomes routine, and then you’re running out the clock until you retire. Sure, you’ve got “experience” but has your industry passed you by while you’re crowing about your “experience?”
True, there are things we learn from experience, but “experience” itself does not mean those lessons have been learned. Think of it this way. I have over forty years’ experience in handwriting. Pretty impressive, eh? But my penmanship sucks. No one can read a word I write. Myself included. My “experience” in handwriting doesn’t mean I’m good at it.
Instead of years of experience, let’s talk about the value you provide. If you value bad handwriting, I can certainly help you write an illegible letter with my many years of experience doing so.
If you were in my neighborhood the other day, you might have seen two people pushing a mail truck. One of those people would be me. And no, we weren’t shaking our letter carrier down for still undelivered packages; the mail truck was stuck on the ice.
I had just returned from the store when I heard our letter carrier gunning the engine in front of the neighbor’s house and getting nowhere, its tires spinning. As I walked over to help, my neighbor had also come out of his house to start pushing. Together, with a few pushes, we got the truck unstuck.
Our letter carrier thanked us effusively, as did several people out walking their dogs. My neighbor fist-bumped me…which was weird because I haven’t fist-bumped anyone since before COVID.
I wasn’t looking for praise. If I didn’t help, someone else would have, or my neighbor might have pushed her off the ice eventually on his own. When you see an opportunity to help, just step in, it might make all the difference.
Are you a source of comfort food for your clients and colleagues?
I don’t mean literally, of course. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “comfort food” is often high-calorie food people consume when stressed out. For me it’s pizza. Something about the combination of sauce, cheese, dough and whatever topping I put on it activates my happy feelings.
Why bring up comfort food? Here in the US, this past week has been pretty stressful. As well as this past year of dealing with a global pandemic. I’m willing to bet that great portions of comfort food were consumed, and even comfort media: TV shows, movies, or music. Whatever it takes to activate your happy feelings.
As a professional, I often ask myself how I can source of figurative comfort food to clients. I come away with: be reliable, be uncomplicated to work with, and leave good feelings behind. As an added bonus, working with me is a whole lot healthier than consuming a whole pizza, which is a sort of comfort in itself.
After the events that happened at the US Capitol yesterday:
It’s okay to be unfocused today
It’s okay to update your social media feeds looking for answers
It’s okay to not have answers
It’s okay to be at a loss for words in explaining it to your kids
It’s okay to dive headfirst into your work when the answers don’t come
At some point, you’ll find your focus and keep moving forward.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of 2020. If you want to make sure it’s gone for good, you’ll have keep looking over your shoulder until at least August. Just don’t use one of those rearview mirrors that reminds you that objects are closer than they appear.
But then, should we really forget 2020? Or is it beneficial to remember for the challenges this past year presented? In other words, how can we look back to 2020 to make a better 2021?
You could try New Year’s resolutions… but New Year’s resolutions are essentially worthless for three reasons. The first is that people are aware that resolutions are nonsense and don’t take them seriously. The second is that the resolutions themselves are often lofty ideals with no clear path to achievement. Saying you’re going to write a novel does not get the novel written. Making smaller commitment to writing every day, while not as bold, will eventually get the novel written. The third is that any day is a good day to evaluate how we can make our lives better. January 1 is no different than, say, June 24 when it comes to making positive change.
In that spirit, I’m not making any resolutions. Instead, I’m going with New Year’s questions. Asking questions leads to better understanding and ultimately better outcomes. Here are some I plan to ask myself:
What can I learn today?
What can I do better?
How can I do it better?
What have I done to grow my business today?
What assumptions am I making?
What help can I offer someone else?
What’s one small, positive habit that I can develop?
What creative project can I explore?
What physical activity can I do today?
Is this food I’m eating healthy?
Is this news/article I’m sharing factually accurate?
Why am I sharing this piece of news/article?
Are there any that I’ve missed? If you’re making a resolution, best of success in making it achievable and actionable.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
What do you normally do during the Holidays that’s changed this year?
Every year I send physical Holiday cards to my clients. It’s one way to thank them for their business and wish them success in the coming year. I enjoy the process of putting together the mailings. I design the cards, and then set up a mini fulfillment center on my dining room table where sign them, stick them into envelopes, label them and affix the stamps. The whole process is a reminder that I have had the privilege of working with so many great people in my voiceover career.
This year, since I’m not sure how many people I’ve worked with are still going to their offices, I’ve decided to send an email greeting instead. It’s…just not the same.
It’s a small change…but one I plan to reverse next year.
Every morning brings a fresh headache: somewhere between 30 – 50 new emails. They come from a variety of sources: places where I might have bought something, communications I’ve signed up for in order to join a giveaway, non-profits where I’ve given money, webinar signups, newsletters I might be interested in.
I’ve arranged my email inbox between “news” and “Noise.” I hang on to anything marked “news” until I have to time to get around to reading it. “Noise” frequently gets deleted without reading. I could just unsubscribe from the “noise,” but every now and then a “noise” email is something I need.
All our online activity is a transaction for our attention. As a person in business for myself, I need clients and potential clients to be receptive to the message that I can deliver what they need. It’s a question I think about every time I reach out: am I providing “news” or “noise?”
How do you distinguish between “news” and “noise” in your in-box?
My first crack at entrepreneurship came when my cousins and I decided to sell rocks at my grandparents’ house. You read that right: rocks. My cousin Erin and I were about nine or ten at the time, and her little brother Michael was about five or six. In texting with her recently, Erin does not remember this at all, so it’s entirely possible I’m making the whole thing up, or that this memory just stuck with me more.
As I recall, the rocks in our grandparents’ driveway seemed extra special. They glittered when we held them up to the sunlight, so Erin, Michael and I naturally assumed they were incredibly valuable. We collected a bucket full of rocks and shouted, “Rocks for sale!” at the passing cars or anyone who walked by on our grandparents’ quiet street. We also had a sign written in ball point pen, which is impossible to see from a moving car.
You might be shocked to learn that we did not sell a single rock, but we did get a few dismissive looks. I’m not sure how long we were out there…maybe an hour at most. We gave up when it was apparent that no one was going to buy our rocks. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re not making any sales. Instead of using our crushing disappointment to adjust to market conditions, we just gave up on trying to sell rocks and went inside to watch “Tom & Jerry” or “The Brady Bunch.”
Not being a seasoned entrepreneur at nine or ten is forgivable, but even now there are lessons to be learned almost forty years later:
Find a product that fulfills a demand – The rocks we found were just standard issue granite with bits of quartz. They were not especially rare or valuable in southeastern Massachusetts. To the average consumer, a cup of lemonade or a baked good has more value than a piece of granite.
Pay attention to branding - “Rocks for sale!” Doesn’t make you want to get out of the car, and fork over any money, does it? If we had done some market research and conducted a few focus groups, we could have picked a better name for our product: “Rocks” is such a boring product name for rocks. Perhaps we could have positioned them as “Artisanal Fragments of Slow-Roasted Earth Crust” or we could have painted the rocks and sold them as “Locally-Sourced Handcrafted Bespoke Artwork.” We would have been ahead of the curve as “Artisanal” and “locally-sourced” weren’t so trendy in the early 1980s.
Don’t give up - My cousins and I fantasized that selling rocks would make us a make a quick buck. We had no real plan for our rock selling business. As a result, we gave up pretty quickly when we realized there was no market for rocks. If we were sufficiently motivated, we could have pivoted to something else, such as the previously mentioned lemonade or baked goods and actually had some cash to blow on candy and soda.
While rocks may not have been a lucrative commodity, there was still value in them. The geologic process for creating the pieces of granite in our grandparents’ yard is truly remarkable. I see this in my seven-year-old daughter who loves rocks. This past summer, she collected so many rocks from Lake Superior that we could feel the drag from their weight in the car. Those rocks were not even valuable Lake Superior agates; she just liked the looks of the ones we took. If she wants to try to sell her rock collection, though, I’ll advise her to offer lemonade instead and keep the rocks for herself.
I started writing this while in my home office looking out the window on a beautiful day. The morning frost was thawing, and I was wondering what I have to be thankful for. I was feeling stuck due to a little thing you might have heard of called a pandemic, and being home with the children, and the constant interruptions. This is the pandemic condition: a continued sense of malaise at the seemingly unending quarantine. So many of us are feeling it. This Thanksgiving is different because so many of us are choosing not to be with family. On the bright side it should be easier to stay out of political arguments.
Upon reflection, I do have a lot to be thankful for:
I’m not in a hospital hooked up to a ventilator. Nor is anyone in my immediate circle.
My wife, Val, who always pushes me to be better, and bakes a mean carrot cake when my birthday comes around. Sadly, I have to wait until June for another one!
Our children, Sam (13) and Emily (7), who are forging their own paths in this twisted year and play together so imaginatively.
For healthcare workers. Not only are they dealing with a deadly pandemic, but they are forced to suffer the fools who’ve been fed misinformation about the pandemic.
Misinformation. It’s exasperating, but also a reminder that people form their own truth.
People who suffer fools. Suffering fools is an underappreciated superpower.
Questions. A properly asked question will teach more than a condescending speech. I’m still working on learning this. A good question should challenge your assumptions.
Clients who come to me with voiceover projects.
The voiceover coaches I’ve worked who’ve helped me get better at this profession.
The sense of accomplishment that comes from pushing myself to be better in anything.
Walks in the woods with the family.
Spring/summer neighborhood walks with Val where it stayed light well into the evening and we could catch up with each other without interruption.
The time Val and I had to sprint nearly a mile when we were caught off-guard by a thunderstorm…and neither of us were struck by lightning.
Bike riding as a family.
The friends I’ve made throughout the years, and continuing to be part of their journey.
Lake Superior. Especially after a thunderstorm has gone through and we’re left with a rainbow over the lake.
Hooting owls on a summer night.
The hills that make me want to quit running and nearly break my spirit every time I go out.
New fallen snow.
The music in our house: Emily playing “Burning Down the House” on the ukulele. Sam rocking out on the piano, playing Radiohead, Styx, and Beethoven.
The way Val and the children harmonize.
The realization that your kids will find their own motivation and passion.
The teachers who’ve had to be flexible this year and displayed true creativity in helping the children learn.
Playing Wiffle Ball with Sam. He might not play baseball any more, but he can still kick my butt at Wiffle Ball!
Technology that allows us to connect with people even if we can’t be with them.
For the countless people who inspire us to be better.
Photography. There’s just something about capturing a picture when you are in the right place at the right time.
Plungers may be a low-tech tool…but they sure come in handy when you need one.
Libraries. Like most institutions, libraries have had to pivot, but without libraries I’d be in a lot of debt.
Playing guitar. Val helped me wall-mount my guitars so now I can just pick them up at any time. She may come to regret that decision.
Doodling with Emily. We can be quiet together and explore our creativity.
Board games and card games with the family.
Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems – Emily was extremely comforted when we went on lockdown and she could doodle with Mo for three weeks. She even watched some episodes on repeat.
Journalism. Actual journalism that seeks to dig beyond a surface understanding of events and makes you think beyond your own confirmation bias. Any real journalistic outfit will correct itself when it gets a story wrong.
When someone laughs when I’m trying to be funny.
Junk mail. If someone wants my money, I must still be alive, right?
Getting up before sunrise every day. It’s like being in on a secret that no one else knows about. Plus, I get to watch my small corner of the world reveal itself.
Science. Because science is about trying to find the best solution with available information. Science isn’t perfect, and often scientists have to correct their assumptions when new information becomes available.
That I don’t have to drive as much.
And you, for getting to the end of this list.
Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?
Do you have a side passion that keeps you going?
When my wife Val was pregnant with our first child, she went on a lengthy trip out to California for work, and then to visit her sister and her sister’s newborn in Oregon. This left me all alone at our home in Massachusetts, so I spent my waning childless free time taking lots of photos; thousands of photos. It was October 2006. In New England, October is just glorious, and the window for getting good foliage shots was limited.
I was so obsessed with getting photos that one morning, I was the first hiker to summit Mount Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire. This is no mean feat…Mount Monadnock is widely considered the second most climbed mountain in the world behind Mt. Fuji in Japan. I got to the parking lot before there was a guard on duty to collect the parking fee. I also spent some snapping foliage photos at Mt. Misery in Lincoln, MA. Just to be clear, Mt. Misery is not a mountain, it’s a hill with a peak elevation of 284 feet. Some “mountain.”
While I was at Mt. Misery, I noticed the leaves falling into the water, creating ripples. I set out to capture a leaf falling into the water and the ripple that came from it. I obsessed over catching a leaf at just the right moment. I was hampered by the camera shake from using a telephoto lens in relatively low light, and getting the camera to focus on the right spot at just the right time.
After several attempts, I got one that worked. My obsession with photography and capturing the right shot continued even after son was born that March, I took many shots of him both sleeping and awake. Val would say I was a bit obsessed. And I was. I also entered the leaf into a local photography competition for which I won a prize.
Fourteen years after hunting foliage shots in New England, I still love photography. Whenever we go on vacation, I usually spend a few hours with my trusty 15-year-old Canon DSLR, trying to get shots and playing with lighting and angles, and trying to find interesting patterns. I also take a lot of pictures of the kids: mostly action shots.
Having an outlet like photography is a way to focus on something other than my voiceover business. Photography is an outlet that I can then share on Instagram, or with family and friends. Every year I spend hours culling photos for calendars, Holiday cards, and a family photo book from our previous year’s adventures.
The photos are also a great reminder that, despite the pandemic and social unrest, I have a lot going for me in my life. Whatever your line of work, I hope you have a side passion that does the same for you.
For more photos, you can find my instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/chrisvallancourt/
Many years ago, in the late nineties, I was at an afternoon Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park. The Yankees won, and a young Yankee fan was gloating and taunting a group of Red Sox fans. One of the Red Sox fans, rewarded this young Yankee fan by putting him in a headlock and bashing his face in so that he was bleeding from the mouth and nose. Security was on the scene quickly, not quickly enough to prevent the beating, but quickly enough to keep it from escalating further. The Red Sox fan was led away from Fenway Park in handcuffs, and security tended to the Yankee fan who was obviously hurt and shaken up.
Did the Yankee fan receive karmic retribution for acting like he did? Was the Red Sox fan justified in his response to taunting? How you answer might be colored by which team you root for. A highly partisan Red Sox fan defined by his fandom might say that it serves the Yankee fan right for acting the way he did. In other words, a victim of violence was asking for it. We see this when sports brawls break out…a fan will always assign blame to the other team, and in politics, the other side is always acting unfairly.
That is because what we believe is part of our identity. Being a fan, of either a sports team, a political party, or a political figure is a fundamental part of who we are. Any challenge to that thing we identify with feels like a personal attack. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I still react when someone wears a Yankees cap…I’m working on it, though.
Here in the USA, vote totals are being counted and finalized, amid the threat of violence and lawsuits galore. At least the Red Sox had security on hand to deescalate the situation. Also, and the manager did not openly refuse to acknowledge the score, nor did he welcome violence against Yankee fans over the PA system.
Red Sox-Yankees games are always intense. The fans take the rivalry incredibly seriously, and it often always feels like the rivalry could spill over into the type of violence I saw that afternoon at Fenway Park. I was with a roommate that afternoon who happened to be a Yankee fan and refused to wear Yankee gear in case this kind of thing happened. We both agreed there was no need for a fistfight. But to that one Red Sox fan, it seemed incredibly important to use force to make his point. This is the way politics feels right now. But the stakes are higher. At Fenway Park we were all baseball fans trying to enjoy a game. Some people just need and realize that we’re all Americans, too, even if you don’t like the outcome of people exercising their right to vote.
When my son Sam was two, he and I went out trick-or-treating with another family who have a son that is one day older than Sam – we had met in the hospital when the boys were born. Sam was dressed in his cheetah costume and ready to hit the neighborhood. I figured we would be out fifteen minutes to a half-hour tops, after all he was two. After a few houses, the other boy was done with of trick-or-treating, and his dad took him home. Sam wanted to keep going…for an hour-and-a-half. He rang doorbell after doorbell, collecting candy and, at the house of a dental worker, Play-Doh. When Sam was finally finished, I had to pick him up to carry him home in his exhaustion. I was dressed as a humpback, and Sam immediately put his head on the pillow I put under my pullover to provide the illusion of the hump. A woman who was in earshot said, “Oh, look, he’s putting his head on his daddy’s hump!”
Halloween may not have the cachet of Christmas, or Thanksgiving, but it is still special. It’s a communal way to welcome fall. I love to see the costumes that kids wear, from the little ones dressed as pumpkins to the older kids who threw a costume together last minute to score some candy.
This Halloween will be different, though. In the age of COVID, Halloween is fraught with concern. We are planning to leave out Halloween grab bags for the trick-or-treaters. I am curious to see how many kids actually go out trick-or-treating, and how many will wear the masks that we now wear every day to reduce the likelihood of COVID transmission, in addition to the mask or makeup that goes with their costume. I’m also curious to see how many of the greedy little monsters will take more than their share of candy.
Sam is thirteen now, and is not planning to trick-or-treat. He likely would be staying home with or without COVID due to his being a teenager. My seven-year-old daughter is not planning to trick-or-treat either. She’ll still wear her Carmen Sandiego costume, however, because it is Halloween, and we’re planning to celebrate with another family in our neighborhood. As much as she loves the candy, she could do without going door-to-door to get it. Last year, she only lasted about a half-hour – in her defense, she was getting sick with a cold.
The candy is nice, but the real fun of Halloween is pretending to be somebody different. Instead of a costume, I’ll likely just change my voice for the evening – that’s one of the secret superpowers of voice actors, we can make voice costumes!
However you choose to celebrate Halloween, please do so safely.
My daughter Emily finally got a desk for her room. It took months for the one she wanted to be available at IKEA…and here it was…all sixty-nine pounds. I always forget how heavy boxed IKEA furniture is. In true IKEA fashion, I spent hours putting the desk together due to its multiple little parts and making sure things like the rails that guided the drawers were put on properly. If I don’t follow directions closely, I’m likely to put things on backward, which would mean having to undo and re-do steps in the process. When the desk was finally finished my whole body ached, but Emily was ecstatic. She started organizing her things and making the desk her own.
For the first two days of school after getting her desk she was the most motivated student in the entire state of Minnesota. At least the most motivated second grader. She did all her work, and I did not have to help her at all. She was proud of her desk…
Then came Wednesday.
Emily regressed to being a seven-year-old. She lost her focus. Instead of completing her assignments efficiently, Emily would watch and re-watch the instructional videos on her assignments without completing any of the steps involved and forgetting what she had to do. Her lack of focus was compounded when one of her online classroom teachers started reading a book that afternoon that Emily found scary. The plot of the book involves a Scooby-Doo-like caper in which some evil developers are trying to make people think a school is haunted while a group of kids figures out the whole plan.
After finding her in her bed, wrapped in blankets and talking about how scary the book was, I knew that Emily needed a re-set. We went outside and played in the early season snow that had fallen the day before. I pulled her around the yard on a sled, completing several laps while she giggled: a kid playing in new snow. She eventually got her schoolwork done.
Managing Emily’s school days can be an obstacle to my voiceover career. When I help her, I have to take a break from my own work: recording, connecting with clients, writing blog posts, artfully staring out the window while drinking coffee. Thankfully my career is flexible enough that I can help her when she needs it, or go play Wiffle Ball with our thirteen-year-old son when he’s done with his school day.
Despite the pandemic, and learning from home, our family is fortunate. Our kids have space to learn, and schoolwork is an area where they are both quite capable. My wife has a job that demands a lot of time and attention, but she helps out when Emily needs her.
Helping Emily has actually helped me too. I’ve learned to be more patient, and listen to what she needs in the moment as opposed to what I perceive has to get done. This has not been easy. I want her to be done with her schoolwork, but sometimes she just needs a ride on a sled, and to forget her worries, if only for a few moments. It’s a reminder that I sometimes need a re-set too.
Some time ago when I was working in the commuter transportation industry, I was giving a presentation on using rewards to encourage people to not drive. I was overly reliant on my company’s slide deck and talking points. I could sense that I had lost the audience. I would have been bored as well. In fact, I was bored. Abstract numbers on commuting trips and the environmental impact of single-driver commutes, while important, are incredibly mind numbing.
My presentation needed a lifeline. So, I threw a hail Mary and started talking about how my wife, Val, and I have different approaches to the evening commute. At the end of the day, I like to ruminate quietly. Val likes to dump all the details of her day in a non-stop monologue. This is the complete opposite of how we are in other facets of our life. I like parties and conversations, while she is not as fond of them. As I told the story of our commutes, the audience was now with me and fully engaged. I had made the idea of commuter choice relatable by using my own commuting story.
This was a lesson in public speaking that I recalled after reading Kindra Hall’s Stories That Stick: How Storytelling Can Captivate Customers, Influence Audiences and Transform Your Business.
The central premise of the book is that businesses need to tap into their own stories in order to better connect with their customers. No matter how much better your product or service is, a slide deck with features and benefits is abstract: a story makes it concrete.
Stories That Stick is a quick read that gives practical tips for constructing stories for business, breaking down four different story types. Hall is not suggesting that our stories need to be the great American novel. In fact, she makes the case that stories do not have to all that complicated in order to resonate with the audience. Everyone can craft a short, impactful story. Hall gives several examples of effective storytelling throughout the book, many of which come from her own life experience.
If you’re looking to better connect with your customers, Stories That Stick is worth the read.
Another day in voiceover, another obstacle: roofers.
Let’s back up to last month when a middle-of-the-night thunderstorm blew through my town. I woke up to what sounded like the loudest rain I’ve ever heard. But it was hail. A previous thunderstorm had knocked down one of our trees onto our neighbor’s boat, and my wife and I wondered what kind of damage this storm would cause. The neighbor’s boat was fine, by the way, it just needed a tree removed. This hailstorm sounded bad. It sounded like an airplane had dumped a cargo load of marbles on our roof in the middle of a thunderstorm. When we woke up the next morning, all our trees were still standing and the hail had melted. By the next day, the “storm chasers” were canvasing our neighborhood in an effort to capitalize on insurance settlements and replace everyone's roof. An insurance adjuster and our contractor agreed: we had roof damage due to hail.
As a voiceover talent, I’m sensitive to any noise that can bleed into my recording. When you’re paying for a voiceover, you probably don’t want the sound of scraping shingles and hammering in your recording. Unless it's a construction-related piece, and then you probably want to add those sounds in after the voiceover recording is done. Besides, I don’t often book for construction-related voiceover projects because I don’t sound like a gritty construction worker. I do sound, maybe, like the architect who makes the plans for the construction workers.
The roofers started yesterday morning…which meant that I had to rearrange my schedule to be sure my clients got their recordings in a timely fashion. Any recording would have to wait until the evening, unless it could wait until today. I was waiting for one script in particular. I’m not a night person, but I’ll record in the evening, as the project demands. My wife likes to say I “turn into a pumpkin” at 10pm. It’s true, I'm useless in the evening. I wake up early, and go to bed early. Recording a script at 5:30 am might wake up the rest of my family though, so I use that as my quiet time. Just this past week, I recorded a health plan open enrollment script in the evening while my family watched “Toy Story 4.” Since most companies do open enrollment for their health plans in November, it’s critical that these scripts get turned around so that the production company can get the video to the client. I told my family I could watch the movie another time, but my seven-year-old insists I have to watch it with her so she can help me through the scary parts. She's thoughtful like that.
The roofers finished in one day, so it was only a minor obstacle. However, every roof in my neighborhood will likely be replaced either this fall or next spring once the "storm chasers" line up their schedules.…so I guess I’ll need to clear my evenings, unless my clients want the sound of hammering in their recording.
Voiceover is an obstacle course. There are the business obstacles: getting started, growing your business, keeping your clients happy. There are the personal obstacles: working around your family members' schedules and needs. And then there are the physical obstacles: the occasional cold and…
Last spring, I had a script to record, but some neighbors were having a tree taken down. My studio is pretty good at keeping outside sounds out, but there is no competing with chainsaws and a wood chipper going full blast all day. I cursed the voiceover gods as I had to wait until the tree cutting was done for the day to record. It’s an unexpected obstacle, but it comes with the business.
My studio also can’t compete with gas-powered mowers. No one in my neighborhood mows the lawn on a consistent day…except for the retiree across the street who mows his lawn every three days. One day recently, as I was getting set to record, a different neighbor powered up the mower every hour, making me wait until all the lawn mowing in my neighborhood was done for the day. It made me long for the days of push reel mowers.
Now that fall is here, the sound of mowers will stop and give way to…
Fall is my favorite season, but when I have a script and there is a chorus of leaf blowers that are neither in tune, nor in rhythm, I wonder if anyone knows how to use a rake.
The Voiceover Obstacle Course is filled with lawn mowers, road construction vehicles, leaf blowers, croaking frogs, wind chimes, woodpeckers, crying children, footsteps, water heaters, washing machines, airplanes, delivery trucks, etc. These are the sounds that make up our days, which for most people is not really a big deal.
Early in my voiceover career I lived in an apartment that abutted a commuter train track. I would be recording, and would hear the low rumble of the train approaching. This caused endless frustration and a slew of four-letter words that would have to be edited out before sending to the client. It led me to wonder whether compliance training would be better with f-bombs sprinkled throughout.
On the scale of actual problems, the Voiceover Obstacle Course is really quite small. I’m fortunate to have a profession where people pay me to do this work. My voice often helps people when I'm narrating an e-learning course, training or PSA. Voiceover is also flexible enough that I can work around the obstacles. It can be frustrating however to have to rely on external cues to determine when I actually do the work.
Most people can continue to work with the sounds all around. My fellow voiceover talent and I have to wait for the tree work to be done, hope the wind is calm enough that the wind chimes aren’t bleeding into a recording, and that the owls have the courtesy to stay quiet while we’re in session.
Ahhh, the life! I wouldn't trade it for anything!
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, advertisers let us know that “we are all in this together.” At first, it felt as though we were all in this together, through our collective grief in being locked inside the house, and finding some way to navigate e-learning, but, somewhere along the way, responses to COVID-19 quickly became political and we were no longer “in this together.”
Advertisers now realize that “We are all in this together” grew tiresome and trite and now that message no longer resonates. People wanted to go to restaurants, get haircuts and not wear masks, confusing the word “freedom” with the right to spread a potentially fatal disease, or at least the right to not listen to accept scientific consensus. Lumped together with “in these uncertain times,” “we are all in this together,” now makes me cringe when I hear it.
Now we are nearing the of the most unusual Back-to-School season ever. Here is a sampling of messages I saw while looking at the most recent Sunday flyers:
“Work from Anywhere”
“Learn from anywhere”
“Open for Business – Let’s Tell the World”
Even the cover of Parade magazine had the word “Homegating.” This is our reality right now: we have to be flexible to learn and work from anywhere. Many people are not going back to the office, and many students are not going back to school. As advertisers have been forced to reckon with this reality, I’m curious if it opened up new lines of business for them – those of us that are long-hauling it in the home office or the home school?
Our school district opted for a hybrid model of learning, with the option for all e-learning. Our family decided on the e-learning route. While we bought them some new clothes and supplies, we spent less than normal for the back-to-school season. I’m curious to see how retailers fared this year, and if our experience was normal.
Books open us up to possibility and understanding. Through reading, I’ve been able to discover new strategies for my business, explore viewpoints that differ from mine, and often escape into a good story. I also enjoy reading a wide variety of subjects.
Here’s a sampling what I’ve read recently:
Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker. Overall, I am a fan of the genre of books about looking at the world counterintuitively, and this book is no exception. Also, Barker’s newsletter is densely packed with interesting life tips for gaining perspective, and links to a lot of other interesting things. When I do read his newsletter, I have to make sure I have time set aside to explore many rabbit holes.
Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. It’s your customer’s journey that should be central to your brand. Too often, when we market to customers and prospects we focus on our own journey and the bells and whistles we offer, which makes us the hero and not our customer. This book offers great insight as to how to flip that script and position the customer as the hero that comes to rely on your brand.
The Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. Not an easy or accessible book by any means, but one that is often heartbreaking. Its central story is that of a family coming apart during a long road trip, but it weaves in the migrant crisis at the border and Native American history as well, and delves deep into the magical thinking that comes with childhood.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Fiction can provide you with a window into a time and place. This is a devastating look at a juvenile detention facility in Florida in the 1960s. Although the facility is fictional, it is based on a real place. Overall, it’s an often overlooked story of the criminal justice system and its treatment of young Black men in particular.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang. The short stories in this book really made me think a lot about our place in this world. Each story has a fantastical or science fiction element to it, but they really speak about what it is to be human.
The Funjungle Series by Sturt Gibbs. This is a series of middle-grade mysteries that take place in zoo/theme park set in Texas. I’ve been reading them out loud to my 7-year-old who can’t get enough. She listens to me read while she plays, eats and gets ready for bed. Since I’m a voice actor, maybe I should send her an invoice. The action moves pretty quickly, there’s always an element of danger, and some of the scenes are really funny. Each book also has a pretty solid animal rights/conservation message attached to it.
I’m always interested in what others are reading, and I’m curious as to what book or books you would recommend. Do you have a favorite book on entrepreneurship, creativity, or just straight up fiction? Send your recommendations my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My family and I live in the Minneapolis suburbs about 17 miles from where George Floyd was murdered. Like many, I saw the video of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. It was cruel. It was inhumane. It was unnecessary. I wondered how many times that police officer used that same tactic on how many different necks, and how many of those necks were those of persons of color.
My neighborhood saw no protests, save for the one house that displayed a “Black Lives Matter” sign and other houses that wrote it in chalk on their driveways, or put homemade signs in the windows. One house wrote it as “Black livs matr:” obviously the work of children trying to make sense of everything.
When my wife and I were out for a walk recently, we noticed that the neighbor’s sign had been removed, along with the “Justice for George Floyd” sign that was on the same lawn. It would not have surprised if that sign was taken by someone in an act of passive-aggression.
What we’re trying to make sense of is both the murder and the violence that followed. During the height of the riots, there were rumors that rioters were going to spread out to the suburbs because all of the stores in Minneapolis had been destroyed. Of course, some of those rumors were spread on NextDoor – which is a site where one goes to wonder if they should call the police on an unmarked delivery van driven by a person of color. Seriously.
The police, armed to the teeth, seem to not have been trained in the art of de-escalation when their own actions are called into question. You’ve seen the videos of police instigating violence with pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas and good old-fashioned clubbing. Somehow, the police acted under the assumption that there would be no consequences and that they would not be held accountable. But it raises the question, why weren’t the armed white people marching on state houses in order to open restaurants, bars and barbershops met with the same show of force?
I’ve heard it said that in the voiceover business it’s best to cast aside politics. This is a time when that is complete nonsense. It’s clear that something needs to change and there is a groundswell of support to change it. The nature of police work has to fundamentally change. But how?
When the pandemic hit and schools closed, I took a break from connecting with clients. Correction: I initially tried communicating that I was available to help with any voiceover needs, then realized that might not be the best idea after getting a not so positive reply from one of my contacts. I get it: we were all stressed, and scrambling toward an uncertain future. A voice talent looking for work was not a high priority.
Voiceover can be unforgiving business, but I’ve been lucky enough to develop relationships with a few clients that have work they send my way. And I’m always grateful for it, whether it’s a two-minute explainer, or a one-line pickup from a previous project, or an in-depth medical eLearning module. That works comes because I stay in touch with people. In order to stay afloat, you have to keep reaching out and trying to connect with people, or else you have no business because you’re not staying stay top of mind.
So, given the uncertainty, I took a break and focused on getting my kids through their school day, as what amounts to a volunteer teacher’s aide. Their success depends on my availability to meet their needs. My day became one of consistent interruption. Because I couldn’t focus for a long period of time, I started writing a series of daily absurdist Facebook updates. It was a means of focusing my attention for a short period of time and channeling my anger at the situation elsewhere, and it made me feel better to make people laugh with something I actually wrote.
Recently, I started to reconnect with my contacts again. The world had changed so drastically that I thought the time was right to check in on them and get a sense of how their business is doing. It has been ugly for a lot of people I’m connected with. I work for myself, many of my clients are in business for themselves, and our end clients, well, some of them were getting laid off, furloughed, or otherwise cast into the wind. Uncertain times indeed.
Given this uncertainty, many of us need to pivot and change how we’re doing things. But what does that look like? How else can I help those I’m connected to?
My days are so full that I mostly don't notice that all sports have stopped for the time being. But, every now and then I remember. This past Monday was Patriot’s Day – which is a big deal in the Boston area – where I’m from. It’s typically the first day of April vacation and Marathon Monday, as in the Boston Marathon, and the earliest start on the MLB schedule, with the Red Sox throwing the first pitch just after 11am. But this year, MLB is shut down and the Boston Marathon is scheduled to be run in September.
When baseball shut down, I honestly thought I would miss it more than I do. My family and I always look forward to baseball season, but this year not so much. There was the cheating scandal that rocked the Astros and the Red Sox, and the Red Sox trading their best player and one of their best starting pitchers. My daughter is still upset at the notion that Mookie Betts would be playing for the Dodgers. And with the Red Sox best pitcher needing season-ending surgery, this looked like a lost season.
But we still had the Twins, at least. We moved to the Twin Cities last summer, and Target Field is a great place to see a game. It doesn’t have the energy of Fenway Park, but at least it’s more comfortable and I feel less likely to need a shower after going there. We were looking forward to spending a few summer nights at Target Field, getting to know the Twins just a bit more.
MLB shut down Spring Training after the NBA suspended its season. I mentally marked opening day, the Target Field home opener, and Jackie Robinson Day when all players wear #42 to celebrate the breaking of the color barrier in baseball. Why a color barrier had to be broken at all is another discussion. But those were only fleeting acknowledgements. Where we once watched baseball and basketball, my wife, son and I have been watching reruns of “The West Wing.”
There is enough content out there to fill the sports void should this continue for any length of time. All of this raises a serious question, when sports do come back, will the fans come too? Perhaps, to a degree, but there's no telling how much this quarantine will shake our culture. I miss the last inning or last second comeback. I miss not knowing how the game is going to play out. I miss second-guessing game tactics. Mostly, I miss sitting in a crowded stadium with a group of strangers all invested in the same outcome.
So, yeah, sports will come back. It has to, right?
Anyone else suffering from Coronavirus Fatigue yet?
I’ve heard that this is a real thing and that ennui sets in around the fifth or sixth week of quarantine. Now that we’re in our fifth week of social distancing, the novelty is wearing off and everyone is tired from the loss our old life. Makes sense to me.
Forgive me for not researching it further, and relying on hearsay, but now that my wife and children are home, I have less time for things like fact checking. Who really needs facts when you’ve got cable news talking heads dispensing misinformation and cavalierly suggesting that losing 2-3% of our children is worth the kick start to the economy?
I’ll admit, I’m suffering from Coronavirus Fatigue. As soon as I see the word “Coronavirus” or “COVID-19” in a news story, I skip it. Yes, I get the irony that I’m writing about it; being fatigued does not mean that I’m not a hypocrite. Every now and then I’ll check the number of infections and deaths. To a medical layperson (who occasionally does play a doctor in medical trainings), this seems like a pretty big deal: five weeks at home and the virus is still ravaging our healthcare systems and no one has any solid idea of when we can resume life as “normal.” Imagine if we had not been practicing social distancing. Or imagine if we had started earlier. Fatigued or not, the signs tell us that we are doing the right thing.
Coronavirus Fatigue is all around. The ads sound tired: “we’re all in this together,” “In this uncertain time,” “your safety is our number one priority.” The quirky zoom meeting screen captures have lost their charm – hey look, another Brady Bunch meme opportunity! Gun toting mobs set out to bully state houses into re-opening…what? Restaurants? Barber shops? So we can all get sick?
So…what are we doing to combat Coronavirus Fatigue? Getting outside helps as does consuming non-virus-related media. I try writing an original joke every day instead of spreading memes, which really are the virus of the internet. My joke always centers on some absurd thing I’m trying to keep from my wife. Thankfully she doesn’t know about it.
The fatigue we’re feeling is real. I’m not suggesting we stop social distancing. Far from it. I’m fine with not being violently ill. And I’m especially fine with not passing it along to other people. After all, in these uncertain times, we’re all in this together.
What sacrifices have you made to the god of productivity?
Since most of us are now being forced to work from our homes, there’s a lot of content out there about “productivity.” Which means, I guess, “work completed.” You can find content about how to get more done with the kids at home, with you being home, with the pets wanting more of your attention, and even how to barbecue during a Zoom meeting while juggling a baby and stainless-steel knife. Okay, I made that last one up, but the collective shock to our economy has us willing to sacrifice our children, homes, pets and sanity to the god of productivity.
Here’s what you need to know: the god of productivity is one of those trickster gods who make you think you are accomplishing something, only to have that rock roll back down the hill, forcing you to then have to re-navigate the obstacle course of your home life to get the rock back up, and then, you know the drill. The god of productivity wants you to feel like a failure so you sacrifice more to it.
It’s time to stop worshiping the god of productivity and release yourself from the tether of the 9-5. Granted there are so many professions where you can’t do that, where shifts make sense: retail, medical facilities, factories, public services such as police officers and firefighters, and teachers, etc. I’m sure I’m leaving someone out. But these are the helper jobs – the ones we try to unreasonably quantify for the god of productivity through classroom test scores, number of arrests, numbers of mortalities, widgets made, numbers of people churned through the checkout.
But there are quite a few of us who don’t need to drive to a place to get to work. I’ve been working from a home office for years. I get more done when I spend time away from the computer and the distractions of social media. I’m even more productive when I take a shower…and not because there’s a market for videos of me showering, but because that’s where I might generate an idea.
And your kids don’t need to make sacrifices to the god of productivity either. Allow them time to play, create, draw, imagine. The schoolwork is there, it will always be there. There will be more to learn, and they will do that. Your kids will be okay. You will be okay.
…and the god of productivity will wait to be fed once more.
In addition to the overwhelming grief, sadness and frustration we are all feeling as we practice social distancing, we are now undergoing a grand social experiment: how do we keep moving forward while trying to stay apart?
This begins with distance learning. Think about it, school-age kids no longer have the structure of the school building, and there is no clearly defined timeframe for when they will have that structure back. Like many people, when I first found out that the school buildings were going to be closed, I had a few days of panic not wanting my kids to fall behind. Then I realized that every family with school-aged kids is in the same predicament.
Those of us who have reliable internet access and a good space for working are fortunate that we are able to move our schools and non-essential office work online in this way. Recently my thirteen-year-old son speculated that we would not have been able to have e-learning or distance learning in 1970. I gently reminded him that I wasn’t yet born in 1970. But then I thought about what my son said, and I suggested that we would not have had the capability to work and learn from home in this manner even ten years ago, let alone when I was thirteen…
So here we are now – undertaking this grand social experiment in distance learning, zoom meetings, and non-essential people staying home. There are so many things that we’ve taken for granted – being able to move freely, going out to dinner or a bar, attending sporting events.
So…what hypothesis can we make about these new experiments? For that you might need an actual social scientist. No one truly knows the overall impact of these grand social experiments, and anyone who says they do is a fool.
I’m fairly certain that my kids will not fall “behind” – they are both naturally curious and will find the rhythm to their days that allows them to get their work done. But what of the kids who don’t have the structure at home to enable them to learn?
Video blog post about how our lives have changed and how we can give our brain a mental break while working from home.
I hate to add to the COVID-19 pile on, but here goes.
The run on toilet paper is an overreaction to the out of control feeling of there not being enough tests, and not knowing just how long our lives will be shut down, and not knowing the full extent of this outbreak. If you were seriously low on toilet paper to begin with, you might have to get creative. Anyone ever “MacGyver” a bidet? Fun fact: I’ve never watched “MacGyver” but I still know what that means.
Our toilet paper situation is just fine for now, thankfully. We had plenty stocked from before. I checked at the local Target just in case, but there was none in stock. There were other signs of panic shopping as well. People, you really don’t need all that soda.
There are only two other times when I felt this sense of unease: after 9/11, and after the Boston Marathon bombings. On 9/11 I had to navigate an uneasy Boston public transit system to get home. On the Friday after the Marathon bombings I found myself driving in Boston the day that one perpetrator was killed and the other caught. There had been a moratorium on driving in the city, and I drove on streets that were as empty as I’ve ever seen a Boston street.
Amid the closings, event cancellations, and companies telling people to work from home, I’m fortunate. The COVID-19 outbreak does not change my business model at all. Most of my work is done remotely thanks to existing voice recording technology. Instead of bringing me in to a studio, my clients can send me a script and schedule either a phone call, Skype call, or SourceConnect session to listen in on the recording session. And that’s whether there’s a worldwide pandemic or not.
Yes, there are disruptions. I lost out on one potential project because of the outbreak. In a fitting irony the project was to record an introduction for two clinical care specialists speaking at an event: one of whom works for the CDC.
And there are other personal interruptions, as well. My wife will be working from home for the time being. She has her own office space, thankfully. My son had his basketball tournament cancelled as well as his play scheduled for next week. My daughter’s birthday is next week, and we’re not sure if her party will go on as planned. But for now their schools remain open.
Eventually we may return to normal. Start flying, watching live sporting events, gathering for conferences. When it does get back to normal, let's think of all those in the service industry losing out on income and tips due to all the cancellations. But now is not normal, and we’re right to try to prevent COVID-19 from spreading despite how inconvenient it is.
And yes, I’m still open for business.
How do you communicate your value? It’s a question that those of us who develop relationships and new business have to ask daily. Without proving your value to customers and prospects your business stagnates.
Everyone provides some value…it’s just that some people have a hard time communicating what that value is, or they’re out there trying to prove the wrong value.
This was brought to my attention recently when someone I follow on twitter posted a screenshot of an outreach email that he received, which began:
"Attached is my resume and a couple of demos.”
He was taken aback at the lack of personalization at the, “Hi there,” but I think the problem runs a lot deeper. You only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention before they move on to the next thing. “Attached is my resume” offers no value at all and no context. It asks the recipient will do all the work to figure out who you are and how you will fit.
A voiceover talent might lead with something more like: “My name is Tralfaz, and I have a velvety smooth voice that’s helped XYC Corporation, 123 group and XFGHLSK in a variety of explainer video and elearning projects.” While it may not be perfect, the recipient knows some quality of the voice in question, as well as brands that the talent has worked with.
But it’s not just voiceover. Just don’t send an email or LinkedIn request to someone without some helpful background. I sometimes receive LinkedIn requests from people I've never met with no explanation as to why we should connect. Why do I care about your email or about connecting with you on LinkedIn if you're not going to help me understand the benefit of doing so?
And the answer better not be: "I want to connect so I can show you our new widget." Again, no value. The value is not in your widget; the value is in how your service or widget can help.
When I reach out to new prospective clients, my goal is to develop a relationship and let those clients know they can depend on me when they have a need for a voice talent. I only send my resume when they ask.
“Focus on what’s important.” I hear this all the time. It’s become a modern-day mantra. But I wonder if it gets repeated so often that the meaning gets lost.
It covers everything from focusing on our families to reminding ourselves to put our phones down to thinking about who we are going to vote for in the upcoming US presidential election, to staying away from social media because it’s driving us crazy.
So…what is important?
My voiceover business and my clients are important. As is connecting with new clients who might need my services. But every afternoon when the school bus comes, or I have to go pick my kids up from their after-school activity, the focus of what is important shifts. I then help my first grader stay organized enough to do her three minutes of homework and practice the ukulele. I make sure my kids are fed, I clean up the containers from their lunch so they are available the next day, because neither kid wants to ever buy lunch. And then have to remind them to get ready for bed, because it’s important that my kids are fed and get enough sleep so that they can focus on what’s important: schoolwork, developing friendships, pushing their own boundaries of what is possible.
It’s also important to spend time with my wife. After she was away all weekend at a trade show, she took a couple of days off from work. So, she and I got to hang out without our children. We went to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, shoe shopping, and had a delicious breakfast out without having to make sure our first grader was entertained. Just a side note: having blank paper and crayons on hand works wonders in keeping your children entertained in a restaurant; it also has the side benefit of fostering their creativity.
And then every Friday, I have lunch with my first-grader and her friends – my daughter’s school allows parents to come have lunch whenever we want. The conversations may not seem important: we discuss the reality of unicorns, how to speak fairy language, and whether the floor is lava. But this time is important. My daughter wants me there…for now, and I know that one day that will change. While that time breaks up my day and takes me away from my voiceover business for a while, it is still important…to me and to her.
And that gives me enough time to manage my voiceover business in the morning, and in the afternoon after I get home…while still being there for the bus in the afternoon.
That, to me, is important.
When people find out I’m a voiceover talent, I usually get one of three responses:
“That is so cool.”
“Where have I heard you?”
“I was thinking of doing that; people tell me I have a great voice.”
There’s a fourth response which is bored indifference. The person who is bored and indifferent is usually rehearsing what they want to say next and would probably “Uh-huh” you if you told them that you waterski-jumped over shark infested waters while wearing a leather jacket – but then again, who hasn’t done that? Those people are not interested in anyone else.
There is an assumption among those who are not in the industry that working as a voiceover talent is glamourous. Not quite. There isn’t a stretch limo driving me to studio sessions that net me one million dollars. I could ask for that, but I’m pretty sure all my clients would say no if they weren’t laughing – at which point they would no long be my client. Though, if you do happen to have a spare million lying around for me to lay down a vocal track, I would not say, “No.” In fact, I might even be willing to fly to the studio of your choice. I would even say that you’re a fabulous client. But I digress.
I think that’s part of why so many people attempt to do this work – they think that there is some hidden luxury waiting for them on the other end of “making it” in the voiceover business. I can assure you there’s not. VO involves a lot of hard work and hustle. I won’t say “sweat” – it’s not construction or farming or landscaping. Even if you have a great voice that people like to hear, you still have to do a lot of marketing, connecting and outreach, all while maintaining and growing your acting skills. And even then, when you’ve done a fair amount of work, you still have to maintain relationships with your clients.
People always told me I have a great voice too. And I had a background in sales and marketing. And I love acting, and reading out loud. So, I took the steps to start a voiceover career – which is essentially a sales and marketing career, with brief interruptions to talk on the microphone when projects and auditions come up. When I am not on mic, I’m sending emails to clients and prospects, discussing projects, coming up with creative for my marketing efforts, researching companies and people who may be a good fit for my services.
And when I’m not doing those things for my business, I’m making sure dinner is ready, lunches are packed, chauffeuring children to music lessons, sports practices and play rehearsals, dish cleaning, trash maintenance, occasional toilet plunging, and sleeping when that’s all done.
So, no, voiceover isn’t glamorous, but it is worth the effort.
Before moving from Massachusetts to Minnesota my family and I decided we would adopt a bunny for our new home. Sam, my twelve-year-old son had done some research on the types of rabbits we might want to get once we settled in. I’m not a big pet person to begin with, but a rabbit seemed like less maintenance and effort than a dog, so I went along with it. Val, my wife, on the other hand, is allergic to cats and also did not want a pet that could conceivable jump up onto our kitchen table. So, a rabbit it was, perhaps even two.
It took a while to find our bunny, though. One Saturday, while I worked on voicing a lengthy pharmaceutical eLearning training module, Val took the kids to the closest Animal Humane Society. The bunnies they met were skittish and unfriendly. Emily, our six-year-old, attempted to change the scope of the mission to getting a dog, even though she generally doesn’t like it when dogs come near her.
As other bunnies came on the Animal Humane Society website, we continued to make the twenty-minute trek. One bunny we met spent the whole visit under a chair, which I totally get. We were strange, large, and loud people (at least Emily and me) in a small, enclosed room. It seemed we were never going to find the right bunny.
Then we found a bunny that I’ll call “Bun-bun.” She was friendlier and less skittish than the others and seemed to want to engage with us. Her ears that stuck straight up. At close to six pounds, she was also large. From the time we met her, until the time we took her home the next day, we had to get ready to have a bunny. This meant getting a cage, food dish, litter box, water dish, chew toys, bedding, timothy hay, rabbit pellets, vitamin c tabs, baby gates and learning as much as we could about care and feeding of a rabbit.
Armed with all of our stuff, we brought “Bun-bun” home. She was scared on the drive because she was in a box with holes. Once she was set up, we let “Bun-bun” wander out of her cage and around our living room/ dining room. Right away she started pooping and peeing everywhere. Rabbit poop is not as disgusting as dog poop – it’s like malleable marbles - but nothing can prepare you for the sheer volume of poop a bunny produces. Every ten minutes there would be 20-30 more “marbles.” Since we let her wander, “Bun-bun” found a way to get a mixture of poop, pee and hay onto her hind legs and stain our carpet. She would also try to chew on electrical cords and could also be found going after wood furniture. And one time she got brave enough to try the stairs, where Emily found her in the guest room. That was the end of her free wandering. It was like having an infant all over again.
After a few days, “Bun-bun” started pooping and peeing more or less where we wanted her to with some exceptions – like peeing and pooping in her hay. The slurry of rabbit pee, rabbit poop and hay make for a rather unpleasant smelling soup.
Despite the “rabbit excrement stew” we spent some time getting to know “Bun-bun.” The kids enjoyed feeding her romaine lettuce and small servings of apple. They liked it when she nuzzled against them, and especially when she was “in the flop” – meaning she was laid out on her side. Being “in the flop” was a sign of her comfort with us.
But…there turned out to be a big problem with “Bun-bun”…or with the hay we had to feed her. I turned out to be allergic. After a few days with “Bun-bun” in the house, I would wake up every morning with a full-on allergy attack. It got to the point where my throat would constrict and I would sound hoarse all day. This is not the optimal condition for a working voice actor. All my recordings were a struggle because I did not have my full vocal range available. Plus, I felt and sounded hoarse ,and I noticed a difference in my delivery and my stamina in the booth.
For the kids’ sake I was prepared to tough it out with “Bun-bun” but it was clear, though, that “Bun-bun” was affecting my livelihood and would be better off with another family. So we made an appointment to bring her back to the Animal Humane Society after no one to adopt her.
Emily made the decision to come with me to bring “Bun-bun” back. The night before and the day of, Emily spent extra time with “Bun-bun” telling her it would be alright. At the Aniumal Humane Society, Emily did most of the talking, explaining that “Bun-bun” liked her the best and that I am allergic. Almost on cue, I started a sneezing nonstop as “Bun-bun” hopped around the room.
That night “Bun-bun” went up on the Animal Humane Society website. The next day she was off the website – a sign that someone else was going to give her a home. Thankfully it happened quickly. Hopefully she went to a good family with people who can breathe with her in the house, where she has a rabbit friend, and where she has the receives the same kindness my children showed her in the short time she was with us.
The kids went back to school this week. I’m both happy for them to move on into their new lives, and finding myself wondering what to do with myself with them out of the house for most of the day. (Answer: more writing and prospecting for new business). So far we’ve been keeping up with our ritual of a “Night-Night Bike Ride” as my first-grader calls our late afternoon/early evening rides that take us around our neighborhood, to local parks, and even finding rainbows if we’re out at the right time.
Both kids also expressed interest in biking to school. For Emily, my first grader, it’s a little over a mile: a manageable distance, but she is still tentative on hills. She comes to a complete stop and straddle-walks her bike downhill. In our hilly neighborhood, that makes for a challenging ride to school. Sam, my seventh grader, on the other hand has about a four-and-a-half-mile ride to school. His ride would have a number of steep hills, as we discovered when he and I set out on Labor Day morning to see if we could make it to his school. Halfway into the ride, he realized that he is not ready to ride his bike to school and we headed home.
One-mile and four-mile bike rides may not seem all that ambitious, but it is important to keep in mind that both of my children have been able to ride a bicycle for only two weeks. It may seem odd for a 12-year-old to have not yet learned to ride a bike, but we did not live in an area conducive to learning. Our old condo in Massachusetts had a tennis court where we played Wiffle Ball, but we weren’t supposed to ride bikes there, and our driveway/parking area was not a good spot either since some of neighbors were less than aware of their speed. Sam also didn’t seem all that interested in learning, probably, in part, because Val, my wife, and I left our bikes languishing in the garage for years where my gear shifters melted and my Val’s tires tires flattened from under use.
Once we got to Minnesota, all the kids in our neighborhood rode bikes and/or scooters. That’s what motivated Emily to go out to the driveway every day: she wanted to keep up with her older friends. Our driveway in Minnesota was not a great place to learn to ride a bike. It’s a fairly steep incline from the street to the garage – looking forward to winter! It evens off at the top of the driveway, but does not leave a lot of room to maneuver a bicycle.
But Emily was determined. She would take out her very small Frozen-themed, or “Anna and Elsa,” bike with training wheels and ride around the top of our driveway. She would then exchange it for the slightly bigger hand-me-down bike that some friends had given to her. She would stop and start but not really get going with the hand-me-down bike. Then she would switch back to the “Anna and Elsa” bike. Occasionally, I’d be tasked with removing the training wheels, only to have to put them back on five minutes later. She discovered that the “Anna and Elsa” bike was too small. But she was determined and every day we would go out.
While she was attempting to ride her bike I would take out Val’s bike and ride it around the driveway hoping to entice my son into learning to ride a bike as well. But he was embarrassed about learning at his age and felt defeated every time to did try. While Emily was riding on the driveway, he would head out to the yard to hit Wiffle balls into the street from the worn-out patches of grass where we played Wiffle ball all summer.
Emily went from half a pedal turn, to two pedal turns to being able to ride a bike across the driveway. When you first see your child pedal upright on a bicycle, it’s like some magic has taken over. I knew, from riding a bike myself, that riding is possible, but to watch Emily, who had been struggling with it, suddenly keep her balance was beyond special. “Look at you!” I shouted, which broke the spell of her ride. Once Emily learned to ride, we brought her bike to a local park where she would ride around in the outdoor skating rink. On her second day of riding the rink was flooded with rain. At first, she rode around the puddles, but then decided to ride through them after seeing some boys ride through them on scooters. I simply rolled my eyes and let her get soaked.
Now that his sister could ride, Sam was inspired to try. He would try to move forward and lose his balance and his temper. He could not quite understand how the bike worked from pushing on the pedals to maintaining balance as it moved forward. Despite his frustration, he kept coming back to it as his sister had done. And then, magically it seemed, he too was balancing on two wheels, pedaling around the outdoor rink, wondering why he had waited so long to learn. Now, his bike offers him a certain freedom.
It’s easy to forget what a challenge it is to learn to ride a bike. My kids both said it felt like they could always do it once they actually did it. But watching them from the outside, I saw a lot of frustration and doubt. There were times where each one of them wanted to give up. But they didn’t because they knew it was possible. Sometimes when we’re frustrated, we need to take a break, reset, and get back to it, and then we’re magically moving forward on two wheels and thinking about where we can go next.
When my daughter Emily started talking about secret doors to magic lands, I thought it was the right time to break out The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. She’s six, so that may be a bit young…but she likes it when I read stories to her, and she had already moved beyond The Magic Treehouse series and the A-Z Mysteries.
I wonder if six is the age where our belief in magic is at its highest and needs to be tested. When Emily’s older brother was six, he wanted a magic wand with all the powers in the world…what he got was a story I wrote about a boy who receives a wand with all the powers in the world only to have everything go wrong. Instead of reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to my daughter I could have just written a story about a magic door that leads to a world filled with wonder and danger. Now you have no choice other than to hear the movie trailer voice: "In a World...filled with wonder and danger...".
If you aren’t familiar with the plot of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, it follows four children in World War II England who have gone to live with a professor in his large house in the countryside. The youngest child, Lucy discovers that the wardrobe in one room is a secret doorway to a world called Narnia which is under control of the White Witch who makes sure it is always winter and never Christmas. Think Frozen’s Elsa as a sociopath. Meanwhile a talking lion named Aslan is returning to Narnia after a long vacation bringing spring along with him. One of the children (Edmund) gets some drugged Turkish delight and betrays the others because he wants more. The lion is killed, comes back and the children become rulers of Narnia due to some prophecy that there must be two human kings and two human queens regardless of their actual preparation for office. Edmund gets clean and doesn’t relapse. After reigning for several years the now adult children tumble back through the wardrobe becoming children once again and leaving Narnia behind. (note: this synopsis is intentionally sarcastic).
Before she and I began reading I outlined the basic plot, and told Emily that Aslan the lion gets killed, but that he comes back to save Narnia. Although she knew what would happen, she was still nervous at various points in the story…mostly having to do with the White Witch. I also had to skip the paragraph where Aslan is killed. Depending on her level of nervousness, she had three modes of listening to the story: sitting in my lap, drawing at the table, or sitting next to me.
There were times where we would take a break from the story – for an hour, or a couple of days. Yet…she wanted to keep reading more. I told her that good stories make us nervous because we care about the characters, and that being nervous means the author has done his or her job.
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is ultimately a well-told story, despite some of its more absurd elements. The triumph of good over evil is inherently appealing in a world in which it’s often hard to distinguish good from bad. The writing was different than what she was used to, so I would take breaks ask her what was happening, or explain the Lewis’ language in a way she would understand.
I like to think that having a professional read to her was part of the draw of the story, but that’s just me stroking my own ego. It was good practice for me to read the story aloud to her in between recording sessions focused on regulatory compliance and pharmaceutical sales training. Now, we’re looking for our next book, and I’m planning out a story about a girl who discovers a door….to a world filled with wonder and danger.
My family and I recently moved to Minnesota from Massachusetts. I tell people that it’s because I’m such a big fan of the Mary Tyler Moore show and want to be close to the statue in Minneapolis or that I was sick of Boston sports teams winning so much or that I wanted a colder winter. In all seriousness, it was a planned move to support my wife’s career and our family's sanity. Val has been working for a company based in Minneapolis and traveling 2-3 times per month. Being a voice talent, I can work from anywhere…and, as an added bonus, my voice comes with me!
That’s not to say that moving halfway across the country in my mid-to-late forties with two children was easy. Every mention of our move involved conversations about how cold the winters and how nice Minnesotans are. There were also lots of tearful good-byes over the last two months of our time in Massachusetts. It constantly felt like we were attending our own funerals, and the grief over the loss of our old life was real. However, it was also a realization that my family had made a net positive impact in our community. Hopefully we can do that in Minnesota as well.
So, my son and I set out on the road while my wife and daughter flew. Along the way we stopped in Cleveland to take in an Indians game where the people working concessions are among the nicest I’ve ever met. There’s also a statue of Jim Thome that makes me shiver with memories of him destroying the Red Sox in the late ‘90s. After the game we got lost trying to find our car after being shuffled out of the wrong gate. Thanks to a police officer we found our way back. Then we couldn’t find a hotel room because of various state athletic tournaments. Luckily someone at one full hotel found us a room – the only room- just outside of Toledo. We also stopped in Chicago, after a lengthy traffic jam in Gary, Indiana, for a Cubs game where we got to see Victor Caratini, a backup catcher who started at first base, take a turn pitching and make a “Jeter jump” play coming off the mound as the Cubs were getting smoked by the Mets. From Chicago we drove through Illinois and Wisconsin our new home in Minnesota, as I counted deer carcasses along the road.
Back in Massachusetts life moved forward: someone else is living in our condo and driving past the five speed bumps to get there. According to social media friends and family are spending some time at the beach this summer. The kids my son has played baseball with the past few summers made it to the regional semifinals of the Little League World Series Tournament.
Our lives have moved on also. Now that we’re here, we’ve been welcomed as part of our neighborhood in a way that never happened this quickly back in Massachusetts. My kids can frequently be found playing with other kids from the neighborhood. One set of neighbors shows movies in their driveway, another set of neighbors invited us for s’mores. The neighborhood kids play “night games:” while my wife and I watch the fireflies in our backyard. My son has found a summer baseball league and his coach is hoping to have him on his fall team. My daughter is excited to play soccer.
Soon it will be time to go back to school, and my kids will be missed but will be creating their own new lives. As will my wife and I. My wife has her colleagues and her work in Minneapolis, and I have my business. My studio is up and running, and I keep getting scripts from clients who want to hear the sound of my voice on their projects. Although I had to give up my part time job recording underwriting announcements for WBUR, I don’t have to start completely fresh thanks to the Internet.
Life does indeed go on.
Losing sucks. We all know that. Just ask the Boston Bruins after losing the Stanley Cup Final at home. I’m not a hockey fan, but I know a few, and know how much that will sting. It’s how we react and what we take away from losing that can pave the way for future success. That’s the overall takeaway from Sam Weinman’s Win at Losing: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains.
Throughout the book, Weinman cites several examples from the sports world: golfer Greg Norman and speed skater Dan Jansen just to name a couple, but the lessons of the book can be applicable to those of who aren’t elite athletes.
As a small, freelance business, I am constantly fighting a battle against losing. When I started in voiceover I signed up a client right away which led me to believe that it would be easy. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Although I still work with that client, it has taken time and effort to develop other client relationships. Along the road I’ve had some losses and have had to learn to roll with it. Another early client was going to work with me on a series of videos, but then went with another talent – and didn’t pay me for the work I did on the first video. In hindsight, I was better off without that client.
My son’s baseball team seemed to encapsulate many of the different approaches to losing described in the Win at Losing. They won a few games early in the season which might have led to some overconfidence as they lost a bunch toward the end. One player gave himself a pass for not trying in the outfield because he wanted to pitch more. Another player calculated the team’s win probability against another team at twenty percent to which indicated that he had already given up.
As much as losing sucks, it can be a positive, instructional force if we can break it down into focusing on the process versus the outcome. The best athletes have a process for training and a routine for playing at the highest level. If you’re doing what needs to be done, then you can better live with losing. When we focus on the end result only we lose sight of the process that got us there. One player on my son’s team pressed so hard in our playoff game that he dropped an easy fly ball and struck out three times swinging at bad pitches because he kept thinking about it being a must-win playoff game.
I wanted to let him know he could just relax, and enjoy himself. That the game is just a game. That he could keep working at the things he knows how to do. But he had already beaten himself in those moments. I can only hope now he learns to put it behind him and emerges a better player.
Every time you type a search into Google you are feeding it data: the questions you ask reveal things about you personally and about your group when taken as a whole. In exchange you get information. Then there’s Facebook which offers you the chance to like certain posts made by friends, pages you follow, and posts your friends have shared. Each of these interactions is a data point that, when collected, begins to tell us who we are as a collective. And then there are countless other companies collecting data on your likes, wants and interests.
In Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are Seth Stephens-Davidowitz discusses the ways in which social scientists can use our online truthfulness to get at what is really going on in our society. For years social science and opinion polling have been ruled by the survey, but people can lie to survey takers and pollsters. I always tell pollsters that my vote is swayed by soybean futures. However, we admit things to Google that we don’t admit to anyone else – everything from racist tendencies to sexual proclivities, and that data we give to these big institutions can provide a better snapshot into our society than do surveys.
There are many implications as to what big data can tell us, we just have to ask the right questions of it. The first question is what exactly are we telling Google that we don’t tell anyone else?
On the flipside of what we tell companies like Google, I’m curious if the ability to search on just about anything makes us more emboldened to pursue regressive lines of thinking? For instance, does the ability to search for racist jokes using the n-word make being a racist seem less repugnant because those search results are out there? Or does it merely signal that racist attitudes have never really gone away?
Likewise, does being able to find links between vaccines and autism – however erroneous – lead to spikes in unvaccinated people who then ignite outbreaks? Same thing with climate change denialism – as there’s always someone out there to refute the science with erroneous, un fact-checked "data."
Everybody Lies asks different questions, though. Perhaps as we learn what big data tells us, we can understand the impact on our own lines of thinking and attitudes.
You got a problem with this blog post? What are you some kind of moron?
Chances are that you’ve probably worked for an organization or had clients who thought that being a jerk was a key to their success. Early in my work life I worked for a company where the CEO acted like a crime boss and would verbally abuse people in meetings. This culture permeated throughout the organization leading to high turnover and burnout. The CEO was wealthy, and the company was profitable, but there’s a chance it could have been even more wealthy and profitable had it followed the advice of Christine Porath in her Ted Talk Why Being Respectful to Your Co-Workers is Good for Business.
Porath and her colleague Christine Pearson conducted a survey quantifying the role that incivility plays in demotivating employees. It turns out that being rude to employees makes them less motivated, worry more, or quit their job.
Asking people if they are a moron is not much of a motivator. Who knew? Perhaps this means that the way to suffer fools is gladly, and not just at work. It’s not always easy – occasionally you do run into people that leave you wondering if they mentally checked out to the point where you want to shake some sense into them. But then shaking them is more likely to lead to brain injury, which is the opposite of the intention of shaking sense into them. The lesson then is that shaking people does not ever have the desired effect of either motivating or knocking sense into someone.
(Just a side note: I do not ever seriously advocate shaking or physically abusing anyone.)
As you’ve no doubt guessed, I left that job with the bullying CEO and went on to other positions with other companies, some more civil than others. As a freelancer, I find that my clients and I often treat other with mutual respect, but that doesn’t always work out.
Once I was in a session with some tricky jargon in a field in which I did not have a background. I spent some time the night before the session looking up pronunciations of the words. During the session, with the end client on the phone, I asked the end-client to clarify pronunciation and tripped over some of the sentences which necessitated alternate takes – not unusual in the voiceover business. In fact, nailing a read the first time is highly unusual.
At the end of the session the end-client said something to the effect of: “This has been a waste of time and Chris needs to come to the session better prepared.” I was taken aback. Before I could respond she hung up the phone. Was she really expecting that I nail five syllable words I’ve never used before on the first take?
Her comments were passive-aggressive, rude and uncivil. As a freelancer, I value every client that wants to pay me to voice their script, but this end-client motivated me to not want to work with her again with her dismissive comments about my effort.
So the bottom line is this: treat your co-workers, employees, freelancers and clients with respect. Your business will be better for it.
The movie Office Space – a comedy released in 1999 – is a meditation on finding a purpose at work. Most of the characters work for a fictitious company called Initech. Peter, the main character, is disgruntled, and trying to work as little as possible, while also trying to avoid working on Saturdays. Milton, a mumbling character with little to no purpose, keeps having his desk moved against his wishes and has an overwhelming attachment to a red stapler.
And then there is Tom, whose job it is to take customer specifications and deliver them to the software engineers. Over the course of his conversation with “the Bobs” – who are efficiency expert consultants - it becomes clear that Tom’s role is relatively useless. Sensing where the conversation is heading, Tom desperately tries to defend his position at Initech.
“What is it you say…you do here?” one of Bobs asks.
And that is really the key question the film poses. In other words: “What is your purpose?”
Prior to being a voiceover talent, I had worked for a number of organizations in various roles. Some provided more purpose than others. There was one organization where I would go to work with so little to do that I would dread going in. There’s nothing that taxes your brain as much as trying to look busy. I liked the people, I liked what the organization stood for, and there were some interesting things I was able to accomplish, but in the end, my role, as defined by the organization, provided little value.
That company was eventually forced to go under. We were all allowed to interview for positions with the company that took over its main contract. In the interview process I felt like Tom: an employee whose role is exposed to provide no value. Unlike Tom, I was offered a new role, but chose to move on, wanting a clean break.
It still took me a while, and a few careers from there, to find my purpose as a voiceover talent, but along the way I managed to find roles that offered more than busy work. Running my own business, though, offers an enormous sense of purpose. The job is creative and requires a sense of dogged determination. But you don’t need to run your own business to have purpose at work. At the end of Office Space, the characters are in a different place than they were in the beginning. Peter is working construction and is much happier, having found purpose in building something.
If you can honestly say you help people, make something valuable, or benefit your organization, you might just have a sense of purpose.
Susan Cain’s Quiet: the Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking focuses on the introverts – big surprise given the title. Specifically, it focuses on how introverts can defy expectations. We have come to expect that our CEOs, salespeople, lawyers and, let’s face it, anyone who’s successful will be an extravert. Our culture is also steeped in extraversion (or is it really exhibitionism?). As Cain points out throughout the book quiet, contemplative and thoughtful people - a.k.a. “introverts” - can achieve success not despite - but because of - their personalities.
But what about the ambivert? The person who can be an extravert or an introvert depending on the time or situation? I know I sometimes want to be around people and other times I relish the time I have to read before my family wakes up in the morning.
I suspect many people fall into the ambivert camp, as I do. I have a loud voice, enjoy public speaking, have been known to joke around, and like to be around people. But I do seriously need time to reflect, and I like to observe new social situations before inserting myself. For the ambivert, Quiet is an opportunity to recognize that there is value to the quiet and reflective side of your personality.
Defining ourselves by a binary and arbitrary bucket can be self-limiting. Personality testing is like putting a lab coat on an astrologer anyway – you’ll see yourself in any general description offered and you may even get different results every time you take a test. For this reason, it’s worthwhile to check out The Personality Brokers: the Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing by Merve Emrer, which details the creation of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and subsequent attempts to prove its validity.
This is not to say that there aren't true introverts out there, it's just that there is a whole spectrum of experience and many of us are in the middle. While I may not be a true introvert, I can appreciate the moments I seek to be alone with my thoughts before the next time I am navigating a room full of strangers, telling jokes.
In his book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek challenges us to find out why we do what we do. (It’s also succinctly covered in his Ted Talk "How Great Leaders Inspire Action"). All too often, he points out, companies and people are fixated on what they do. He cites several examples of companies that never found their why and failed. In other words, these companies were focused on what (e.g. “we make widgets that have these features and benefits”). According to Sinek, that’s simply not good enough because it does not inspire customers, and turns your product into a commodity that gets bought on price.
So, this got me thinking. What I do is voiceover. I talk into microphones for a living, and I do this for a variety of clients. Simple enough. But why do I do this for a living? There are many easier ways to earn a living with a more defined schedule, and a steadier paycheck. I’ve tried that path, and it just wasn’t for me – and that’s a discussion for another day. But still – why voiceover?
To find fame and fortune as the voice of some hot animated property? Well, I’d have to move the family to LA for that, and we have no plans to do that. Because I like being sequestered in a dark windowless area? Well that depends on the day. Because I like being judged by strangers on the relative merits of my speaking voice? Sign me up for that any day, he retorted sarcastically.
My why, it turns out, is quite simple. I’ve always loved reading aloud. You can hand me the most boring, dull, dry as dirt financial regulation script, and I’ll welcome the chance to speak it into the microphone. Same with industrial flooring, HR benefits, and the proper ratios of medications to treat disease. Yes, these are all actual projects I’ve worked on. I’m not picky, just send me the copy!
And this did not start recently, either. I’ve always loved reading aloud. In school I wanted to get called on to read aloud and would be frustrated when a classmate butchered the text. Yep, I’m not above my own judging, thank you. But now, I get to do this. I do it for projects that have a limited audience, and I do it on the radio. I do it for sales training and e-learning.
I’m not looking to be famous. I just like to talk on a microphone. If you’ve got something to say, I’m happy to say it for you!
So, what is it you do? And what is your why?
She asked if she could take a photo of my shirt because she knew so few people who would know what my shirt meant.
Let me back up. I was in Boston to run the BAA 5K this past Saturday. Not as glamorous as the Boston Marathon, but a lot less training intensive. Plus, you can finish a 5K in well under an hour. I went into it hoping I would have a few weeks of solid training and that I could run at a decent pace, but I had been feeling horrible in the weeks leading up to the race. I had spent the past four-and-a-half weeks battling a hacking cough/cold/sinusitis that made running difficult if not miserable every time I went out. So, I came to the race with one goal: finishing.
I was hanging out with my friend under a tent before the race because it was a rainy morning, when a woman approached me and asked to take a picture of my shirt. On the front my shirt read “AT Cure Team.” She explained that her son’s friend’s sister has AT, and at 12 years old is now in a wheelchair. She said she knew very few people who knew about AT and wanted to take a picture to share with her son’s friend’s parents and show them that there are people out there who understand.
AT stands for ataxia-telangiectasia. AT is genetic, typically manifests itself before five years of age, and leaves many children in need of a wheelchair by adolescence. You can read more about AT here.
I told the woman about my nephew who had AT and passed away last summer right after his 18th birthday. She started to tear up. A man listening to us asked about AT so she and I told him about AT, describing some of the symptoms and challenges that kids with AT face.
If you go to a road race you’ll see a mix of shirts from other races as well as runners wearing cause shirts, many related to medical conditions such as cancer. You’ll see groups of runners with pictures of their lost loved ones on their shirts. You’ll see blind runners running with guides, and people challenging themselves to run with a blindfold in order to understand running while blind.
I picked the AT shirt out of a pile of shirts I could have chosen. And by choosing that shirt I made a brief connection. It was a reminder that what you wear can matter even in ways that you may not intend, and a reminder to keep running no matter how slow I was going that day.
The more I read about cognition and neuroscience, the more it seems that our brains are masters of deception. Actually, that’s not true, our brains are masters at creating an individualized reality – think of the fallibility of memory and how we double down on beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. So it is with our emotions. In How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, Lisa Feldman Barrett goes into a detailed description of how emotions that we think are universal are not universal at all, and that we are actively constructing emotions based on experience and language. We can have wildly different interpretations of people with the same facial expression: for example, a person screaming with joy could look like fear to someone else, or even anger to a third person.
My key takeaway from this book is that we can give names to emotions that have been to this point nameless. A couple of examples are the Danish concept of hygge – comfortable coziness, and the German word schadenfreude – the joy in someone else’s suffering, or what haters feel every time my Red Sox lose.
So, I’ve come up with a list of emotions and feelings that I’ve taken a stab at naming:
I’m sure there are others out there – just name them. If you come up with some, drop me a line at email@example.com. I’ll be sure to give credit where credit is due.
Who doesn’t want to be absolutely certain when making a decision? But life, like poker, does not always show its cards. That is the premise behind Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke. Duke is a champion poker player – as well as a former PhD candidate in Cognitive Psychology – which makes perfect sense because poker is a mind game after all.
Duke weaves poker stories into larger discussions of the cognitive blind spots that plague human beings. Many of us are guilty of “resulting” – that is letting the outcome of a decision affect how we view that decision. All one has to do is listen to sports “experts” talk after a big game goes awry and the “should haves” that these experts spout. One example Duke cites in the book was Super Bowl XLIX (or 49 for those who don’t want to decode Roman Numerals) when Seahawks coach Pete Carrol called for a pass instead of a run at the goal line. If the Seahawks score they win, but Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted the ball at the goal line and the Patriots won. Duke maintains that the call to pass was not a bad decision because it had a low probability of the utter failure that resulted. Go read the book for her more detailed argument.
And this what I took away from this book. Sometimes good decisions – when playing the odds – can backfire. This leads us to assume the decision itself was bad simply because the outcome was bad. Now I’ve got a list of decisions that led to bad outcomes. After reading this book – it could be that some of those decisions weren’t so bad after all.
Duke also outlines strategies for making better decisions, including relying on a trusted group. So remember, no decision is perfect and good decisions can go bad. Life is not a zero sum game. We just have to keep making the best decisions we can to be successful.
Sometimes, I do have to use my voice to plug products. It’s my actual job.
In the spirit of fundraising, I’m raising funds to fight cancer. Specifically, I’m raising money for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and running a 13.1 mile road race next month.
Anyone who sponsors at least $1 will be entered into a drawing of absolutely no material value: you get to pick the baseball cap I wear on race day. You could pick the Red Sox, or even, gulp, the Mets. You could pick your alma mater, your favorite hockey team, or even, gulp, a camouflage hunting cap. You could even pick the hat I’m wearing in the photo.
The only hats I will not wear are: those that cost more than $40 to buy, any hat promoting a politician or political agenda (e.g. no Make America Great Again) hats, no hats that could be construed as insulting. I hope that covers everything….
Some ideas below:
Over the course of the last week, month, quarter, year, I’ve reached out to a lot of prospective clients. It’s not a task I particularly enjoy, but it’s necessary. After all, just because you’ve “hung a shingle” doesn’t mean anyone is going to come looking for you. I trust that a name like “Vallancourt” is sticky enough for them to remember - even if it is frequently misspelled. Maybe I should have called myself the “Voicing Vallancourt;” but the idea of that cutesy alliteration makes me want to barf.
I digress. When I reach out I typically get one of the following responses:
Happy to listen to my demo - These clients are the very smartest in my estimation. They can tell I’m the man with pipes golden enough to make their voiceover projects come to life! My guess is that these folks are members of Mensa and had a 4.0 GPA in college.
Little or no use for voiceover -These clients must be unaware as to how much better their projects will be with a voiceover. Particularly my voice. Another voice might work, but not as well as my voice...
“We’ll put you on our list” - It’s a polite brush off that’s just vague enough to give you a glimmer of hope they might hire you (but they probably won’t). They’re typically nice people who don’t like saying no. Under the right circumstances you might be able to get them to buy a nonexistent timeshare. That is, if you were the sort of person who sold nonexistent timeshares. That would make you a horrible person who takes advantage of people, though.
No response - These people are obviously horrible and ignorant. Who needs them? I can grow my business without them. They probably flunked out of college.
Then there are those people that respond with something like the following:
“We post all of our jobs to [online casting/freelance site].”
Sounds promising, right? All you have to do is look for their jobs to post, and you don’t have to keep checking in with them. After they hear your voice a few times, they’ll hire you, right? And bingo! You’ve just made a new client…
Ummmm, no. It’s a brush off. In directing you to a third party site, the prospect is really telling you that they see no value in your time or talent. Any effort you put into responding to their auditions will, at best, result in a transactional one-sided relationship. There is no partnership to be had with these clients. You’ll spend a ton of energy auditioning for, maybe, one gig. Yay.
That’s not to say you can’t find clients on third-party sites. It’s possible, just not gonna happen with a producer who tells you that’s the only place they book talent.
A sustainable freelance business involves finding clients who want to work with you on an ongoing basis. That’s what’s known as relationship building. The more your clients see you as partners, the better off your business will be. These clients value your time and your talent and, more importantly, bring you repeat business, and possibly referrals. These clients are the best.
Every Thanksgiving I find a lot to be thankful for:
13 years since “I do,” and being married to someone who brings such thoughtfulness and joy into my life.
That our house is full of music.
That my wife and my children all sing so beautifully.
That our 9-year-old appreciates the music of Hamilton, but still knows not to say the bad words in the songs.
That our 3-year-old insists that “Kiss the Girl” (from the Little Mermaid) is “Kiss Tigger.”
That the election is over. For now. Is it still too early to begin the 2020 campaign?
Baseball. Major League, Little League and just playing catch.
Rainbow Unicorns. Don't ask.
That I get to make a living talking into a microphone. Seriously. I talk into a microphone. For. A. Living.
My clients who appreciate the work I do for them. And then give me more work.
It’s only an hour to Fenway Park from where I live.
Vibrant New England Falls.
Making up silly games, songs and dances with my family.
Snuggling up with my daughter to read books, and then hearing her mimic my inflection and the voices I give to characters.
Hearing my children play together.
The quiet of a gentle snowfall.
And a garage for when the snow is a bit heavier.
That I’ve still got so many ideas to explore.
The hummingbirds that visit our porch in the summer. And the other birds, too: cardinals, woodpeckers, goldfinches, house finches, blue jays, chickadees, tufted titmice, and so on…
That our daughter asks deep and thoughtful questions about Ariel, the Little Mermaid.
Drawing with our children.
Our creative household.
I hope you have lots to be thankful for also!
This morning I woke up, had some breakfast, drank some coffee, waited for the rest of my family to wake up, then voted. There was no line at 8:30am. My three-year-old daughter helped me decide who to vote for. My nine-year-old son son wanted to inspect my ballot to compare my ballot to my wife’s. I don’t consider this voter intimidation, just curiosity.
The Freakonomics podcast made the case a while ago that your vote in the presidential election is essentially meaningless. I buy that from a mathematical perspective, but not from a cultural perspective. Casting a vote one way or another is meaningful. You’re buying into a particular vision of the next four years, or you’re so repelled by one side that you need to vote against it.
In this campaign, there was plenty that was repellent. It’s fascinating to watch the mental gymnastics that we all make to justify choices we likely made a long time ago. It’s like a nation-wide experiment in the effects of cognitive dissonance (i.e. clinging strongly to a belief despite seemingly little reward for doing so). I’ll admit, I made my choice for president a long time ago, and nothing I’ve seen since then has caused me to change my mind. In fact, every news cycle reaffirms my choice.
Here in Massachusetts it’s pretty much taken as a given who will win our electoral votes, unless we’re so into “Cat Scratch Fever” that Ted Nugent can make our voters change their minds. Actually, “Cat Scratch Fever” is a terrible song, so cat scratch that, I guess. I wonder how much entertainers actually move the needle on Election Day, but that’s another topic for people with far more time on their hands as well as access to the data. But then who trusts actual data anymore when you can find a news outlet that echoes your beliefs.
There are other races as well as ballot questions that made it worth my time to go the 1.7 miles to my polling station (Town Hall). I’m fortunate that voting is not a huge inconvenience, and I get to share it with my children. So, nothing to complain about for me.
Since I didn’t voice any political ads this election season, my conscience was clear in my choice, and no cognitive dissonance necessary. Tomorrow, I’ll still have my voiceover business, and, likely a new president-elect. Now, get out there and do your thing: vote!
This is Little Brown Bear. He was a gift from my then girlfriend (now wife) some 14 years ago. This was before I was a voice actor, and before we had children, and, of course, before we were married. He came with a bouquet of flowers that he likes to remind me are long since dead. Little Brown Bear immediately developed a character and a personality - I was always going to be a voice actor. He’s a little obnoxious, but spirited and enthusiastic about the things he likes: bears, eating fish, and the Cubs.
Little Brown Bear only likes bear themed sports teams (Cubs, Bears, Bruins, Grizzlies), with his favorite team being the Cubs. He’s fond of saying, “I love the Cubs,” followed by a sigh. I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, and Little Brown Bear was disappointed that the Red Sox broke their World Series curse on 2004. He wouldn’t talk to me for a week. He wanted to maul Steve Bartmann in 2003, and now he’s nervous for Game 7.
Kids have always loved him - nieces, nephews and now my own kids. My 9 year old is a Cubs fan also, and they are rooting for the Cubs tonight together.
What does this have to do with voiceover?
Little Brown Bear allowed me to practice my voices, acting and improvisational skills while I worked in other industries, and before I discovered I could make a living talking into a mic. My voiceover career owes him a debt of gratitude.
So, Go CUBS!
I just finished an in-depth e-Learning project for a pharmaceutical client. It was filled with words I just don’t get around to saying on a daily basis as I’m not a doctor. I won’t say that I play one on TV because it’s a lame joke, and I did once play a doctor in a video shoot for a different pharma client. The client for the video shoot asked if I wore glasses, though - which I don’t. They thought it would make me look more professional.
But I digress. Much of the work I do is corporate narration: sales training, compliance training. Stuff that sounds “really boring” to people who are initially fascinated that I’m in voiceover. They want to know if they’ve heard me somewhere, not if I can pronounce epinephrine.
But recently a light clicked on for me: the content may not be interesting, but the words are. When I’m recording these things that are “really boring,” I’m fascinated by the linguistic hurdles of the text whether it be pronunciation of medical terms, discussion of financial regulations, or just breaking down complex sentences into digestible fragments. As long as I "stick my landing" on these words, my clients walk away happy. (Couldn't resist the metaphor with the Olympics going on...)
After all, I tell people that I “eat pronunciation for breakfast.” That doesn’t mean I go into each recording session knowing how to pronounce everything. It means that I go into a recording session with a willingness to learn new words, and strategies for doing so so that my clients believe I sound like I know what I’m talking about.
Just don’t expect me to write a prescription.
A friend recently asked me to emcee an auction. Not to do the actual auctioneering - warm, friendly and professional is not exactly what anyone wants from an auctioneer anyway. My role would be to deliver announcements throughout the evening, introduce key people and transitions. I said yes as the auction was months away.
Fast forward to the day of the auction. On my way to the auction I had a moment of panic: what if I’m terrible? What if I tell a joke that no one finds funny? I had dressed in a lavender shirt and purple tie in tribute to Prince. Would it be okay to start singing “When Doves Cry” or “Purple Rain?” My wife was away for the weekend, would the kids be okay with their grandmother? (They’re always okay with their grandmother, remember this was a moment of panic).
I had to settle my nerves. Calm down, I told myself. It will be okay. My nervous energy was just telling me I want to do well. My nerves were further calmed by the presence of friends and friendly faces. I took the mic and made the announcements. Being up on the stage was much different than being in the friendly confines of my recording studio.
And this is where I stretched my boundaries. I tried something new despite a moment of panic and being out of my comfort zone. By all accounts, I did well. I introduced the auctioneer, got the crowd to clap for the barbershop quartet, and managed to not offend anyone.
Stretching our boundaries is one key to success. Even starting my voiceover business was an exercise in boundary stretching. Could I develop relationships with clients? Would they like my sound? Oh, boy, I’m feeling a moment of panic again...
“Why does this always happen?” I’ve said this phrase a lot, and have been tempted to say it a lot more.
Most recently, I spilled a pile of coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are like sand - wonderful, delicious, aromatic sand. What I mean is that they get everywhere, and you never truly feel like they’ve been cleaned up. This problem might be eliminated by a single cup coffee brewer, but I prefer my French press even though the fact that I French press my coffee makes me sound like an irredeemable snob. I cancel this out by wearing baseball hats everywhere I go. The baseball hats also cover up the fact that I’m bald.
I’ve already diverted from my point. When I spilled the coffee grounds, I was already having what could be considered a crummy day - my daughter had been sick and was still moody, I learned I had lost a major project, and it was cloudy outside. My first instinct was to say, “Here we go again! Why does this crap always happen?”
But then I thought about it. I had mishandled the coffee grounds, that’s it. The universe was not passing judgement on my quality as a person. And no, things do not “happen” to me. So much of our perception of luck is really just that - perception. And attitude. When you’re stuck in a traffic jam, it’s not because the other drivers are trying to make you late - they’re stuck too, and some of them think you are conspiring to make them late.
My daughter is feeling much better, the coffee grounds got picked up, and that project I thought I had lost ended up back with me. I’m still bald though.
Just recently, I had a moment of synchronicity. And no, that’s not performing the same dance routine in the pool as someone else wearing a nose plug. Thankfully, The Police were around in the ‘80s to introduce me to the concept.
I have a relative who desperately wants to be famous; let’s call her Jill. Jill wants to be famous so much that she signed up for emails from several acting and modeling “talent agencies.” One agency sent a text: “...we’re searching for new faces & talent to represent in 2016. This is your chance to be discovered! This search is being held at our office… By Invitation only, call for details & to have your name added to the list…”
A quick web search reveals that this company engages in a “Bait & Switch” strategy. Essentially Jill would be invited in for an “audition,” the “agency” would tell her she needs to take some classes, and then she would be pressured sign a contract that has her spending a lot of money for these classes in order for her to then be famous. There were pages upon pages of horror stories about people getting bilked out of their money for these classes with the promise of being “discovered.”
Before Jill and I discussed this “Talent Agency” my eight-year-old son asked me what “bait & switch” means. I explained it within earshot of Jill which then gave me an intro to her “talent agency.” (That's where synchronicity kicked in!) Jill seemed genuinely crushed when I told her what I’d discovered. I asked Jill if she thought this agency was a ticket to stardom, and she evaded the question entirely, saying: “It just looked like fun.”
What this agency is selling is a fantasy that preys on the hopes and dreams of people like Jill. In other words the lottery dream. When I got started in voiceover, I wasn’t sure I would make any money, and I had no illusion that I would be the next Don LaFontaine or Mel Blanc (although I can do a number of character voices and impressions, my bread and butter is my corporate professional tone).
Granted, if Jill does want to be and actor or model, she does need training, but she doesn’t need to be sold a false promise of fame.
As we sit on the precipice of 2016, it’s time for that yearly exercise in goal setting - the New Year’s Resolution. Most resolutions never get realized; my assumption is that because we’re all
worthless, lazy and weak-willed. Just kidding, my real assumption is that we focus on the end point rather than processes that will help us reach goals. Setting goals without the steps to achieve
those goals is just wishful thinking - go buy a lottery ticket and wait for your fortune. It also helps to not be drunk when goal setting.
One resolution I have for the coming year is to grow my voiceover business. That’s all well and good, but I can’t do that if I don’t commit to:
Attending 2-3 networking events
Scheduled outreach to clients and prospects
Continue to tweak and improve my recording studio
I also am looking at 2016 to not engage in politics on Facebook. I have many folks I'm connected to on social media that I politically disagree with because they’re ignorant jackasses. See how I was a troll in that last sentence - social media allows us to be trolls. Also, politics distracts from my business and other pursuits. I know where I stand on the issues and pretty much on the candidates. Distancing myself includes:
Looking at social media less overall
Hiding posts I find particularly egregious
Reminding myself that social media is an echo-chamber
In 2016, I want to live healthier. This is a common resolution that will require me to continue to:
Walk 12,000 steps/day
Eat more fruits and veggies
Eat fewer snack foods like crackers, chocolate, and ice cream
Say no to birthday cake
I also want to use 2016 to venture into other projects:
Publish at least one blog post per month
Start a podcast
Publish my novel or children’s stories
Or at least record audio versions of them
I hope you set some goals for yourself in 2016 also! Happy New Year!
If you’re a freelance creative professional or small business and you haven’t you sent Holiday cards to your clients and customers, my question to you is WHY? Did you dedicate your free time to
learning scrimshaw? Perhaps you were getting up-to-date on all the Star Wars movies before “The Force Awakens” opens? Or maybe your fantasy football team needed a couple of tweaks? If any of
these are the case, just stop freelancing and find a job where somebody pays you to show up somewhere on time. If you were caught up in something more important such, as a health scare, then by
all means give yourself a pass.
Holiday cards are sticky...they are proof to your clients, customers and friendly prospects that they are actually important to you. Following Harry Potter threads on Quora does not fall into
that same category. Every year, I create a Holiday card and mail it (yes, an actual card, and, yes, snail mail) to my clients. This is my way of thanking the people who help sustain my business
year over year, whether they’ve done one project with me, or request my services on a regular basis. Let me repeat: I mail my clients a Holiday card because they are important to me and sustain
my business, and it is a way of thanking them.
There are several sites out there that have pre-designed Holiday cards. I created my own cards using Canva*, an online
graphic design platform. I find Canva incredibly easy to use, cost effective (usually free or $1 for an image), and I can play around with designs until I get one I like. I design my
postcards and social media images in Canva also.
My card might be a little corny, but I wanted the message to be personal. I wanted it to reflect my passion for using my voice, whether it be as a snowman, narrating an e-learning course, or being the voice in an ad campaign. Now, go out and create your own card and show your customers that you are thinking about them this Holiday Season!
….and HAPPY HOLIDAYS to you!
*Just a side note: Canva has not paid for any promotional consideration in this blog. If they wanted to kick a few ducats my way for a voiceover project, I would not say no.
Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year. It’s less stress than Christmas, no one expects you to push your limits like New Year’s Eve, and there’s no real risk of blowing your fingers off while playing with fireworks like on The Fourth of July. On Thanksgiving, you just gather with people and eat some food (OK - a lot of food) and roll your eyes that the Detroit Lions are once again on TV. Thanksgiving also gives us a great reason to pause and reflect, before the madness that is the Holiday Season.
Here are some of the things I’m thankful for
For my wife - she’s pretty great! We can still take in artistic events, listen to music and share childcare. Plus she willingly makes two of my favorite desserts: carrot cake, pecan pie.
She’s also got a great voice, and it’s a joy to hear her sing...
Our fifteen-year-old’s creative risk taking - trying out for plays, continuing to push her artistic ability.
Plus she learned the F chord on the guitar after many struggles with it
The eight-year-old’s rocket left arm and ability to command the strike zone.
And that he loves a good game of Scrabble.
The two-year-old’s grasp of language.
And her creativity in making up games like “Mushroom Marble Whale.” This is a game where we take mancala marbles and put them on the cover of the book Whale.
That I can still read books to her.
That I can still make up voices for my kids’ stuffed animals and this is what makes them laugh during photo sessions.
Making people laugh, in general, especially when I am pushing the boundaries of good taste and annoying my wife.
For all the music in my household - even the ear worms. Lately the two-year-old subjects us to the repetition of “The Unicorn:” a pleasant song about beautiful animals drowning in Noah’s flood as punishment for playfulness.
That my kids can logically think about the plausibility of Noah’s Ark, but also be scared there might be some evil creature in an open closet.
That my wife allows me to pursue this crazy voiceover business despite its uncertainty.
That the voiceover business is a struggle - nothing worthwhile comes easy.
For other talented voiceover professionals and what I can learn from them.
For the hummingbirds that visited our feeder all summer.
For the house finches that made a nest above our downspout.
For Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
For Fenway park.
For David Ortiz and his great career.
For the Kansas City Royals - long my second favorite team in baseball.
For my clients and our great working relationships.
For well-written, clean copy that rolls off the tongue while recording.
After every terrorist attack, mass shooting, natural disaster, or any other senseless tragedy, I find myself asking what can I do to make the world a less cruel place? This week, I’ve been asking that question again, after the attacks in Paris. While I might not be in position to remove the threat of ISIS, there are ways I can make the world a less cruel place.
I can start with my family...being here to answer questions about the attacks, their safety, and the state of the world overall. I can spend time with my children to show them that the world can be kind as well as cruel.
I can give money... to charities that help those in need: victims of war or terrorism. I can donate to local charities that help those less fortunate than I.
I can give time...I coach baseball, am the photographer for my son’s Cub Scout pack, and narrate audiobooks for Perkins School for the Blind. With three kids at home, I’ve got a lot on my plate already, but surely there is something more I can do...
I can create something beautiful...to share with the world. A song, a poem, a painting that expresses hope.
What can I do to make the world a less cruel place? is a question that transcends the needs of my business.
Be shocked by the events that unfolded in Paris last Friday, but double down in your efforts to make the world a more humane place.
It was a rough inning. The pitcher had only recorded two outs on 40 pitches. There were four runs already, a few walks, and a hit batter. The catcher thought his job title was more of a recommendation than an actual job description, thus any runner at first base ran to second on a passed ball. After the hit batter, the pitcher, visibly shaken, asked to come out. He was on the verge of tears. Just the week before he had pitched two solid innings. This time it was only two outs. Since then, this player has reluctantly pitched when we needed him. Keep in mind that this player is only 10.
I’ve coached T-Ball and other levels of baseball development and am now coaching a team with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. With T-Ball you had to watch for inattentiveness - grass pulling, dirt kicking, and in one instance a player who got drilled in the head when he had his back to the play (he had a helmet on). In general the kids didn’t take anything to heart because everyone gets to bat, you hit a stationary object and can only take one base at a time. In our league, the development league before “Majors” level Little League, the stakes are higher: called balls and strikes, outs at bases, three outs in an inning, the knowledge of who won and who lost, pitchers who put pressure on themselves when the defense lets them down, and umps who are frequently wrong.
This past weekend our team fell to 3-5 after two Thursday night games followed by Saturday morning games. We are now on a 4-game losing streak, and the kids continue to put enormous pressure on themselves. If our baseball season were a 1980s sitcom, there would be some take home lesson about learning to handle adversity. Maybe there is some of that with these kids. With my own son, I often have to remind him that it’s just a game, the umps are going to blow some calls and that he needs to focus on the next play. Part of my job as a coach is guide these players through whatever it is they are feeling and help them build success. The kid who doesn’t swing? I’m trying to help him develop fielding skills. Another kid who can’t hit? He’s been great at first base.
the tough season, I am amazed at the resilience and talent these kids can show - our fireballing third-grade lefty who pounds the strike zone and strikes fear into the opposing team, our
defensive wizard who can catch anything, the kid who has such command of the strike zone that he gets on base at an .800 clip (that’s real good!), our catcher and only girl on our team who stays
in when she gets hit by a foul ball, the center-fielder who caught a fly ball and doubled off a runner at first.
In our most recent loss - a Saturday blowout because our fireballing third grade lefty was unavailable threw 60 pitches on Thursday - the kids finally let loose. Led by our catcher, the whole team started to Whip and Nae Nae in the dugout. It was a good sign that they could still have fun with baseball and not take it so seriously.
As a freelancer, it’s a lesson I should heed as well. There’s no frustration that a little Whipping and Nae Naeing can’t cure.
I had almost forgotten how important vacations are as it had been so long since I actually took one. After getting back from some family time in the Outer Banks, I recognized that I had fallen into some unappealing ruts. Being on vacation with my family was a good reminder that some routines are just fallback positions, and that I can live without checking Twitter all day, or keeping up-to-date with all the latest baseball statistics. Most importantly, the microphone stayed in Massachusetts.
I spent some time on the beach and in the pool with my kids and various nieces and nephews. We played pool and chess. We scoured the beach for crabs at dusk. We admired sunsets. I spent some time reading an actual novel. I got precious time alone in the morning before the whole house woke up. We saw what appeared to be a squadron of pelicans flying over the beach. Kites were flown.
We ventured out into the waves despite the recent shark attacks. I figured that anyone with a boogie board was going to get eaten before me and sharks don’t really have a taste for human flesh anyway. At one point my nephew saw what he thought was a shark in the water – but cooler heads prevailed and we realized he had only seen a bird. The waves pounded me nearly senseless breaking over my head and chest.
When it was time to leave, it was time to leave. Now I’m glad to be back with my microphone.
Tommy's life proves it is still possible to have a meaningful life despite your obstacles. He will be missed.
If you’re a freelancer, small business owner, or in any type of sales role, you will eventually have to deal with the PSYSOB (pronounced “sigh sob”). The PSYSOB is the prospect that tells you to “Pound Sand, You SonOfaB****.” They may not say it in these exact words, but there’s very little room for doubt as to their meaning.
The PSYSOB pounces on your timid, pushy, interrupted-their-day, not-relevant, poorly-explained, or you-don’t-understand-their-business-and-overwhleming-lack-of-interest sales pitch. You may want to cry or punch the PSYSOB in the face, depending on how you handle rejection. Crying is the better option as it will less likely result in an assault charge. If you’re on a phone call with the PSYSOB, you’ll want to smash the phone. This is okay if it’s a land line, not so okay if it’s your iPhone. You will need a new phone.
It could also be that the PSYSOB has had a rough day - is in the midst of a divorce or death in the family. Maybe the PSYSOB’s business is crashing no one wants to do business with a PSYSOB. The PSYSOB could be balding - trust me, this is a reason for despair. Fair enough, but the PSYSOB is also a bully and gets off on an aggression. In short, the PSYSOB gives in to the Dark Side of the Force.
The best thing to do at this point is sign the PSYSOB up for a variety of email newsletters. Actually that’s a bad idea because the less time you waste on the PSYSOB the better. Face it: there are clients who want to talk about your products or services, and those people will actually pay you for your time and skill, and twill be happy with the value you provide. Those people are worth your time. The PSYSOB is not worth your time.
Is Hamster Wheelin' is killing your creativity?
Hamster Wheelin' is the time we spend killing time. It could be a menial, mundane tasks, performing the same inefficient task over and over again, endlessly monitoring social media (Facebook, Twitter), or just waiting for the clock to run out.
If you're Hamster Wheelin' there is no forward progress. You're Sisyphus and that stupid rock. The first couple of days it's not so bad - look! you got a rock up a hill! Accomplishment! But then it settles in that every day it’s the same rock and the same hill, and pushing that rock is just activity for activity's sake, and the rock will be waiting for you tomorrow.
Some days you have to do the dirty work: invoicing, prospecting, cleaning up your database. Those things are all part of doing business. It's only Hamster Wheelin' when you’ve sucked yourself into an activity that prevents you or your business from growing (cat videos, anyone?)
So, how do you get off the wheel? The first step is to recognize that Hamster Wheelin’ does not bring out the best in you; it keeps you in place. Take a walk. Take a shower. Listen to a podcast. Call a friend. Volunteer your time. Anything to get you out of the rut you're in will put you in a different frame of mind and get you off the wheel.
The universe may only be 14.6 billion years old, give or take a week, but we humans get only a small chunk of that time. Every day we encounter Time Villains who want to deprive us of precious minutes we could be spending with family, writing that novel, or quietly meditating. Take control of your own time by avoiding these 8 types of Time Villains:
Here we are – on the threshold of 2015. This is the time of year when many people look forward after making lists of things that happened in the previous year. Since we can’t go backward in time – despite the plot twists of many movies, we can only look ahead. Many people aim for generic resolutions: lose weight, quit smoking, find new places to bury the bodies.
While well intentioned, most New Year’s resolutions are not so sticky – probably because they are vague and do not involve any sort of behavior change. “Not eating birthday cake at the office” would be a better resolution than “eat healthier.”
That said, here are my 2015 goals – call them resolutions if you will. I’ve broken them down into Personal goals, business goals, and aspirational goals – which will require more effort:
If you’re reading this, I hope it's not to kill time. Now go out and have a great 2015!
You might be dreaming of a white Christmas, and so will we here in Central/Eastern Massachusetts. The latest reports are that we will have a wet Christmas. I blame the meteorologists – they could at least find a way to get their heads together to bring us snow. It might actually be a good thing to not have snow should Santa bring my second grader a left-handed catcher’s mitt, but then I don’t imagine him wanting to play catch on a cold and rainy day.
I also don’t imagine him believing that Santa brought the mitt. Last year that same second grader was in first grade when he gave up the ghost on Santa. Logic, reason, and persistent demands for the truth finally won out. The school bus was where he first heard the rumor that Santa is not real; if you do not have children, the school bus is a rolling experiment in social Darwinism designed to crush the spirit and innocence of your children. It was traumatic for him to give up that belief. In hindsight I should have said, “You can’t handle the truth!” but only I would have got the joke, and Jack Nicholson impressions are so overdone.
In order to get over the trauma, he decided that he would pretend to believe in Santa for the benefit of his sister – who is now 21 months old. She still doesn’t grasp the concept that Santa brings presents to all the good boys and girls, makes lists, and has trained flying reindeer – although one of her favorite toys is a plush Rudolph whose nose no longer glows. She thinks that ornaments are just bracelets that hang from the tree.
Next year, when she is two going on three, Santa will be real and magical. And when she demands the truth in a few years, I’ll hesitate before impersonating Jack Nicholson.
There's a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. For me there is, at least. It's not my job to tell you what you should be thankful for. Here's only a partial list of things for which I am thankful.
I'm surrounded by creative, talented people; both personally and professionally.
My wife's singing voice.
The elaborate, imaginative games my seven-year-old son creates with costumes and newly discovered old toys.
The attention to detail my fourteen-year-old niece gives to arts and crafts.
The boxes, and packaging materials that helped us move to our new house, and now serve as toys for my twenty-month-old daughter.
Turtles. Especially those that say, "Ribbit."
A certain giraffe named Gerry (my daughter’s lovey).
My new studio set up. The sound is so much
cleaner, with fewer audio distractions.
Speaking of that, I get to step up to the microphone for some great clients and put a voice to their vision.
My children have access to quality education and
My daughter still likes to listen to me read books.
That my son and niece sometimes likes to listen in as I read to her.
The bold taste of black coffee on the back of my tongue.
I'm mostly left handed. Trust me, being a lefty is special.
Introducing my niece to the Serial podcast after her English class completed a unit in 12 Angry Men.
Playing catch outside with my son.
The curve of the whiffle ball on a summer evening.
A nice glass of red wine shared with my wife.
The excited sound of “Daddy!” when I pick my daughter up at day care and that she no longer cries when I leave her in the morning.
The voice of an old friend calling.
An old client with a new project.
A new client calling out of the blue.
Carrot Cake and a glass of milk.
That the inside of my car does not smell like cigarettes.
That I can choose to or not choose to throw elbows on Black Friday.
Still trying to decide on Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.
A juicy soft delicious peach.
Health insurance, and access to some of the best healthcare in the world
For people who try to affect a positive change as opposed to resorting to trolling and name calling. Those people make me want to be a better person.
That said, I hope you have a wonderful
Thanksgiving and have plenty to be thankful for.
Like me, you probably don't spend your days contemplating turtles – but turtles may provide you with an unanticipated shot of creativity. It's not that I have anything against turtles, they are marvelous animals after all. They carry their home with them wherever they go which is convenient if you've had too much to drink, don't feel like driving all night, or just want to pick up and move out of state. They figure prominently as teenage mutant ninjas. Heck, even a relative of the turtle (a tortoise mind you) bested that cocky hare in a foot race.
But then I started thinking about turtles a lot, and for that I have my daughter to thank. She's 20 months old, and a few months ago she declared that turtles say, "Ribbit." She was positively reinforced by the laughter and smiles she got in response - who can resist a toddler saying, "Ribbit?" It could be that she met the world's first bilingual turtle - if so that turtle has a bright future helping frogs and turtles communicate.
And then one day I drew a turtle for her. She asked for another and another and another. "Daddy, draw a blue turtle." "Daddy, draw a red turtle." Daddy, draw a orn-jinge [sic] turtle?" I draw. She colors. Soon our paper is populated with crudely drawn turtles of different colors. I then tried giraffes, whales, sharks and owls, but she always came back to turtles. Lots of turtles. Her stuffed one-eyed (it wasn't glued on very well) pink turtle inspired the song "I'm a turtle swimming in the water/I'm a pink turtle bloop, bloop, bloop!"
Turtles had become so much a part of our life, that my wife commissioned my friend Joe to weld/sculpt a turtle out of found metal parts. That's his creation in the photo. As a side note, his work is truly amazing. When he and I talked about the process, Joe mentioned that creating turtle was a challenge – this from a guy who welded an enormous giraffe. He had to think about his process differently. My daughter was so amazed when she saw the turtle that she wanted to pick it up, but couldn’t lift it. She settled for sitting on it and patting it.
So, while my daughter insisted that turtles say, “Ribbit,” she sparked a small wave of creativity, gave us some time together to create art, and brought into our life a wonderful welded sculpture. Lesson? Accept what you think might be wrong, and see where it leads you.
So, does your turtle say, "Ribbit?"
Consider the Box. More specifically, consider the phrase, “Think outside the Box.” The person who coined the phrase was actually using outside the box thinking at the time. Like many good phrases, though, “Think outside the box,” has become a cliché. Once innovative, “Think outside the box” is now “out of the box” – or prefabricated - thinking. “Think outside the box” now sits there for anyone who “thinks inside the box” (i.e. followers, sheep, non-creatives, middle management), to use as a crutch-phrase (like catch phrase, but more lame) when an actual solution is needed.
Inside versus outside the box thinking isn’t really the solution to any problem. The solution is how we actually view the box. In other words, how do we view the set of constraints placed upon us when finding a solution?
A recent meme suggested that we actually do away with the box. That simply doesn’t work. The box sets the boundaries. Jackson Pollack, for all his inventiveness, still used a canvas, after all. Getting rid of the box, just spills paint on the floor – any toddler could help with that.
The box can be a tool. When my family and I recently moved, I had the pleasure of contemplating many boxes used in this manner, such as the one on the photo above. My arms contemplated the weight of the boxes against the awkwardness of carrying more than one. These were the utilitarian, “let’s move these boxes,” boxes. Although my son did get creative with some of the labeling and my daughter asked me to draw a turtle on another. (Just a side note, my daughter believes turtles say "Ribbit," which is an outside the box view of turtles).
When it has finished serving it's purpose as the carryer of stuff, a used box is a doorway, or a canvas onto which we project our imagination. The box is, after all in the toy hall of fame -
A box can be re-used, recycled and repurposed. It can contain fragile glassware, books no longer read, or contain memories that are best left boxed and in the corner of the garage. Special memories can also be unlocked once the memory box is found.
So the next time someone tells you to “think outside the box,” tell them that you are working at putting the box to use.
Just make sure you do it right.
I received two rather curious, and incorrectly targeted emails in my inbox last week.
You may have heard about the first in the news. Shutterfly, the online store where you can buy any photo related item – prints, mugs, calendars, keychains, billboard covers and casket liners (I made up the last two) – sent an email congratulating me on my “new arrival.”
Since my daughter is now 14 months old, I thought it was just a touch late, was a little concerned they were mining data from photos I had uploaded, and then simply deleted it. I get so much email from Shutterfly – celebrate Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Flag Day, Christmas, Easter, the Ides of March, NFL Draft Day - that I didn’t think much of it.
It turns out that Shutterfly hadn’t mistakenly targeted the parent of an almost toddler with a message aimed at new parents; it had sent this email out to a large number of people who do not have or cannot have young children at all. Oops. Shuttefly was so chastened that I received not one, but two emails apologizing for the mistake.
While I may no longer have an infant, I am most certainly married. Happily. And with two children. I also love baseball. Specifically the Boston Red Sox. It’s no surprise that I am on the Red Sox email list, but I was taken aback to receive an email inviting me to “Meet Single Red Sox Fans Near You!” I thought my wife might take exception:
I receive a lot of emails from the Red Sox – offers to buy shirts, hats, apparel, tickets, Caribbean cruise, luggage, branded wallpaper, etc. An email offering to hook me up with Red Sox fans seems a bit much. Their current losing streak seems to have coincided with this unfortunate email campaign.
Both Shutterfly and the Boston Red Sox offer instructional lessons in targeting. Make sure you are sending the right message to the right targets, and make sure those targets are properly segmented. As a voice actor and a small business owner, I strive to keep my messages and outreach relevant. I am not reaching out to CFOs, IT people, or mimes to introduce myself.
If you’re targeting a married man with an almost toddler and a first grader who loves baseball, perhaps a photo book, and discounts on tickets would be better offers than those aimed at a single man with a newborn looking for a date.
We often cruise through life not wanting to stand out. When we meet someone new it is a bland conversation about weather, family, weekend activities or work. Not that there’s anything wrong with
these conversation topics, mind you. I’m guilty of it, also. It helps to tell people that I’m a voice actor – instant icebreaker.
Recently, I had met a couple that sought to be a bit different. It was a coffee hour gathering and they were wearing nametags. I noticed his nametag first, it offered the tagline: “Married to a reasonable person.” Then I noticed hers: “A reasonable person.”
Naturally, I asked how she knew she was reasonable. Her reply was that she was once unreasonable, but has since become reasonable and that now she “just know[s] it.” She then asked if I thought she seemed reasonable. I gauged that the couple did not take themselves too seriously before I said: “Often I find if you have to say it, it isn’t true.”
They laughed, thankfully. Sometimes, people who don’t know me find my sense of humor hard to take at first. As I thought about this encounter, I realized that this couple had created a brand for themselves and natural conversation starter.
So, how do we best create a personal brand without repelling other people? For starters, try to avoid the weather, or jokes about dead bodies buried in the basement. Like the couple I met at the coffee hour, you could focus on some aspect of your personality that makes people take notice. I think I’ll make my nametag say: “Silly man with a serious voice.”
The Doughboy Dash is only 2 days away!
Anyone who donates more than $50 to Team Vallancourt (http://www.atcp.org/vallancourt) - can have me, a professional, trained voice actor, record your telephone greeting. Whatever you want (select reading from 50 Shades of Grey?), in whichever voice I can do (drunk Big Bird is always a hit). This is a great cause, and our nephew Andrew is a great kid...
Our wonderful nephew, Andrew, has A-T. What is A-T you ask?
Imagine a disease that combines the worst symptoms of muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, immune deficiencies, and cancer. Children with A-T are usually confined to
wheelchairs by age 10 and often do not survive their teens. Because A-T is a multi-system disease, scientists believe that A-T research will help more prevalent diseases such as
Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, AIDS, and cancer.
- See more at: http://www.atcp.org/vallancourt#sthash.Klm8hnTe.dpuf
Please consider supporting us by sponsoring us in the Doughboy Dash in honor of Andrew. Any and all support is greatly appreciated. No donation is too small.
Apparently you can’t be all things to all people.
Like any business, voiceover is not for the faint of heart or the thin of skin or the thin of heart. Inevitably there will be clients who reach out to you thinking that you are what they need, only to find that they have a different vision of what you actually offer. In this case it might be best to get your payment up front.
This happened to me recently. I sent in a sample read for one of many proposed videos, and did not hear from the client for almost a week. It was then that it was revealed that the end client was just not that into me – and this after negotiating a price.
Apparently my sound is too “mellow.” Or friendly, or something. They were looking for Denis Leary, and I am not Denis Leary (or James Earl Jones, or Sam Elliott, or Denholm Elliott for that matter). They were looking for someone to sound just a bit snarky and with a slight edge. The funny thing is that I am snarky and have a slight edge. I have a caustic wit, but just sound like a friendly nice guy – and was completely wrong for the client’s vision of the project.
So I’ve been taking the “lemonade” approach. In the end – if the client did not think I was right for the project, it was going to be take after take after take of trying to get to the right place, turning my quoted price closer to minimum wage than into a fair payment for effort. Hours I could spend marketing to actual clients who think I’m right for their projects would have been frittered away for a client who is unsure.
If you have a small business, or freelance as I do, I’m sure this has happened to you as well. Sure you lose out on the business, but it frees you up to find clients/customers who value what you do.
Just recently someone I was once close to reached out to me with expressing regret. The regret being that we had not spent enough time together in recent years. I replied that I think of regret as a “sad, useless, and wasteful emotion” because it is backward looking rather than forward looking. “Regret” implies that one’s life is somehow incomplete because of actions taken or not taken some time ago.
Not to say that I don’t have regrets (I’ve had a few). Regret can be helpful if used as a learning experience to set us on the right path. But when regret is dwelled upon, it simply festers into a sea of what ifs and is compounded by more bad decisions and more regret. A person living in the past has no focus on the present and no hope for the future.
So how does this translate to voiceover? When I started doing voiceover, people often asked if I regretted not doing it sooner. The answer then was “yes” but now the answer is “no.” I’ve always had the vocal skills – my family can attest to all the different voices for stuffed animals and the angry, drunken Big Bird impression that makes my kids giggle. The years I spent in sales and marketing and the skills I have learned in those positions have helped me in my voiceover business – how to find and connect with prospective clients, how to communicate in short bursts of focused attention, how to let rejection slide, and how to have no regrets and move forward.
Although, someday I may regret teaching the kids that Big Bird impression (hint: he really hates Elmo).
Snow days are great days for creativity. It’s like showering or a vacation – the snow upsets the rhythm of the ordinary and forces you to meet new challenges. My neighbors digging through the
roughly one foot of snow we got in this most recent storm might have some disagreements with me on that count, but hey, I dug through it also, so let your mind wander.
Today, I spent the early evening trudging through the snow with my son while he imagined us being chased by bears and mountain lions that hated to have snowballs thrown at them. Understandable. I envisioned the ground underneath where we play baseball as hibernating, waiting for the snow to melt and coming alive with the first pitch of spring.
One snowy day, when I was much younger, my cousins and I started recording a an audio improvisational play using a boom box and a cassette tape that we called “The Snowy Day.” It started as a three kids talking about a snowy day, and then evolved into a crime story. I recall it was a murder mystery, which was likely the result of too much television. Crime, after all, is conflict while nice play on a snowy day is not.
Retailers and manufacturers are always looking for something new to offer. Now that the calendar has flipped to 2014, we’re likely to see new feature sets, improvements, and upgrades on many
products in an effort to make them generate buzz, keep up with competitors, or even offer a better product. Even before the dust settles from the holiday season, retailers will get ready for the
coming spring/summer, by clearing their shelves and bringing in new product with the season’s new colors, fabrics and textures.
Those of us in media production have only one product: our unique skill set. With that skill set we make the things our clients request. My voice is my primary product. My voice isn’t subject to seasonal whims or anything that can be upgraded with a new feature. My voice does not come with a new online summer catalog, or Back to School savings in the summertime. There is no Chris’ Voice 2.0 with a new setting for teenage girl or “In a World”-type movie intros.
While I can alter my voice to create characters such as an old man, my son’s stuffed bear, my daughter’s orca whale, or even sound like Big Bird (it’s a fun party trick), it is still fundamentally my voice. That said, I do have some control over my voice and can meet the demands of client scripts that are right for me. In 2013, I was a young salesperson, a compliance professional, a corporate trainer, a golf instructor, and a person angry with an energy utility, among others. While I did sell compliance software for some time, I’ve never played a game of golf that did not involve a windmill.
So for 2014, I’ll have the same voice as I did in 2013, but there’s no telling who this voice can be.
Christo’s has served its last meal.
For the uninitiated, Christo’s is a restaurant in my home city of Brockton, MA. Former Governor and Presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, christened the now deceased owner, Christos Tsaganis, the “Greek Salad King.” Christo’s was a throwback to a bygone era in which time stopped in 1979. There were four color-coded rooms: the Red and Blue rooms were nondescript with vinyl seating in the aforementioned colors, while the Green Room contained the bar. The Gold Room, however, whisked you back in time. It can only be described as a wooden column/structure that was meant to be evocative of a golden fountain. Access to the Gold Room or any room was granted by Christo himself: Christos Tsaganis. He would announce your party and room in a thick Greek accent over the microphone: “Vallancourt, party of four to the Gold Room.” The only voiceover audition he might win was as himself.
It’s been almost a year since the founder and owner passed away, and now his building has been sold to a local community college. Its doors closed on New Year’s Eve. His daughters plan to open a takeout restaurant, but the atmosphere will be gone.
Whenever I think of Christo’s, I immediately have a taste sensation: the greasy bar-style pepperoni pizza with the thin crust that I consumed frequently while growing up. It also reminds me of the signature Greek salad, covered with feta cheese and smothered in Greek dressing. My grandparents lived about a mile from Christo’s and it was our frequent takeout spot. I always favored that pepperoni pizza. My family did not like feta cheese, so the Greek salad was always cheese-less until I learned better.
Waiting for takeout, you could see in the kitchen as the line cooks moved with speed and precision to finish all the restaurant orders and the takeout orders.
It would never win any awards for new and adventurous cuisine, but Christo’s perfected a repeatable process. It was the place to go when you could think of nowhere else. You always knew what you were going to get, and were never disappointed.
My last meal at Christo’s was just a few days before Christo’s closed for good. I found myself making last minute plans with an old friend who grew up in the area, but whom I met after moving to Boston. It was my first time there with her. My family came along, too, as my six-year-old son wanted one last hamburger. After a two-hour wait and a seat in the Gold Room the pepperoni pizza and Greek salad tasted the same as always.
This past weekend we introduced our infant daughter to the yearly ritual that is the slaughter of the evergreen tree. Proudly we mounted the butchered tree on our car and drove it home as the
flakes began to fall. "See, baby girl," I said to my baby girl, "we slaughter evergreen trees and put them on display in our living rooms as a reminder to the trees that they are not to mess with
I then told her that we further humiliate the tree by decorating it in lights and tinsel and hang decorations from its limbs. Many of the decorations are smiling snowmen or jolly guys in red suits that laugh in the face of this so-called “majestic” tree. And then the tree is expected to stand there and take it as we open gifts, laugh, and be merry in general.
And then, when its sap has dried up, we throw it out onto the lawn and curse its needles. We then haul it to the dump and throw it into a grave with all the other composting evergreen trees. The living trees remember to mind their manners until next year after Thanksgiving when we have to remind them again.
My daughter laughs at the tree also, pulls at its branches, and spreads needles on the floor. I have taught her well.