My Life in 5 Minutes

As a self-proclaimed “Technologist” I have spent a great deal of time working in video and video production. This is a sample of what happens when you try to capture your life in 5 minutes, or there-about.

 

I feel unbelievably fortunate to be where I am now. Lots of years, and lots of work as a story teller and thanks to ACX, it’s all coming together. It’s been an amazing career and it literally feels like the train has pulled into the station.

Producing audio books is singularly satisfying for me. It is where all roads converge. So grateful to ACX and my authors.

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Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Postpartum depression (PPD), also called postnatal depression, is a type of clinical depression which can affect both sexes after childbirth. Symptoms may include sadness, low energy, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reduced desire for sex, crying episodes, anxiety, and irritability.

OK, I checked the symptoms. I got it. Now what do I do?

All creators understand the phenomenon. Your field of artistic endeavor doesn’t really matter. As actors we may suffer from this malady in direct proportion to the degree of engagement we have for the characters we portray. When the final curtain is run down and we retire to the wings, not only have we given birth, but we have also witnessed the passing of the unique characters we have become. And then, the depression sets in.

When you have collaborators, the passing away of the play is smoothed by joyful reminiscing of your fellows, the toasting to a job well done. When you are a voice actor reading long-form in your closet-studio; the boards are empty. Not so much as a janitor or stage manager with whom to share your sorrow.

For us ACX’rs we know the moment. That big button in the upper right hand corner with the ominous words: “I’m done”. We have let our mouse glide over the button a few times, refusing to click in the secret hope that somehow we are not really done. But eventually we square our shoulders to the task, we press the button which knells the ending of the mini-life we have been living. We step away from our browser and busy ourselves with the ton of housework we have been avoiding in the hopes that it will prove a balm to our sorrow. Now matter how clean you get the bathroom sink, it doesn’t help.

So, what’s an actor to do? Here are some hints:

  1. See it coming. Know it’s coming. Be OK with feeling like moldy bread for a day or two. (I know this isn’t good news, but we’ve all tried denial and know how well that works)
  2. Reward yourself. You have just accomplished a feat that few have dared to undertake.  Go to the store. Buy new underwear. Or better yet, go somewhere where there are tons of strangers (an airport works great) and watch the people. For everyone that passes by, say to yourself “I just did what few can do” – and if you’re feeling particularly adventuresome, hand out a few cards with links to your work.
  3. Hydrate. Yea, I know it sounds silly but if you are obsessive-compulsive like me, you have forgotten to take care of your instrument, especially in the final sprint to completion. Take time now.
  4. Finally, know deep down, that for we who sit in studio for insanely long hours, the cycle of birth-life-death is only briefly interrupted. There is always another book. Another family of characters to become. Another story to tell.

 

ReThinking the Work-Flow, a radical idea

What if, just what if we were to rethink the process. Currently, audio books are an after-thought. It’s what you do when you have finally put your pen down and written THE END. You send your child off to the publisher, the publisher prints the copies, distribution delivers them, and then you say to yourself: “Maybe I should make an audio version?” Then straight away to ACX you go and post your audition sides and engage a talented voice actor to help you realize a performance version of the 2D work. (notice I didn’t say audio version)

What if we change the work flow. What if, the audio actor becomes part of the creative team that helps you craft the book from the very first pages.

As an actor, I was regularly engaged in “New Works” programs, where an author/playwright would get to hear their words from the mouths of actors long before the ink dried to permanent. They would work with their dramaturge to change the language, the nuance, the scenery, every element of the work once they actually saw, and felt the work come alive in front of them. So what if we took some of these principals and applied them to the audio-book universe.

I dare ya. That’s right, I double dare ya. OK authors, here’s the dare. Post your new, unfinished, unpublished, unrefined, unexpurgated, blemished work to ACX and contract with voice talent for a rendering. Listen to your dialogue come from the actual brain and mouth of a live human being before you cement the words in place on the page. Engage a voice actor to be part of your creative process from concept to finish. Work with him/her right alongside your editor in helping craft a work that won’t just translate to a brilliant audio-book. It starts off as one.

I suspect that the finished result might just be spectacularly different than what might have gone directly to the page. If a voice actor has difficulty articulating the words or the emotions your characters are expressing, the reader will too.

Just a wild notion and it’s quite possible nobody will be foolhearty enough to give this a shot. But then again….

“I’m gonna wait for the audio-book”

Hello fellow newbies. Funny story.

Around the beginning of August I was contacted by an author to audition for a rather specialized project. The book is called: “Flying with the Enemy” and is the memoir of a Yugoslavian bomber pilot in WWII.  The author is the son of our flyer, and for the sake of anonymity we’ll just call him “George”. George Okshewsky. Wonderful guy. (Sorry G, your name is out there now).

What made this project rather specialized, is that the story is told from the first person perspective of his father, and George wanted to be faithful to the Eastern European dialect even though written in english. George had run across my ACX sample page where there is a snippit from another work with an Eastern European character.

This is where I want to spend a minute talking about relationships. After just the few months I have been working to build my ACX business, I don’t think of my authors only as business associates. For some, like George they have made it over the wall to friendship. Yea, I still have a few clients that are all about the bidness, but I also have my Georges. They can be better than the first cup of coffee at 5:00 am when I am getting ready to cloister myself in the studio. Such was the case this morning.

I don’t know what your morning ritual is, but for me I get up before the roosters and the very first thing I do – even before I get that steaming mug of Joe, is check my email. First is my Yahoo (which I use exclusively for VO stuff), then my gmail – then read a little world news, and then straight to the medicine cabinet for anti-depressants. Kidding.

This morning was priceless. George and I work a chapter at a time. This is because of the intricacy of pronunciation of the multitude of languages the manuscript is riddled with. Before each chapter, G sends me a word list with a phonetic breakout of the foreign words. Well, everything was going along just fine. George and I were finding our groove and refining our methodology. About 3/4 of the way through the project, after submitting a rather taxing chapter George shoots me a note that says: “Don’t worry, it’s all downhill from here”.

A few days later he sends me the wordlist for chapter 14 and it reads like my wife’s grocery list. It’s huge! Now I don’t like to send authors superfluous communications, but a day or two later I sent George a note that said: “I thought you said everything was downhill from here?”. The response that was waiting for me in my Yahoo inbox this morning., was priceless. It simply said:

“LOL! Yeah, silly me. I should read my book, but I’m waiting for the audiobook to come out. ha-ha”

I laughed out loud. Good thing I didn’t have my coffee yet, or I would surely have blown coffee out my nose.

So on this bleary morning my good friend and collaborator George lifted my spirits. Isn’t that what friends do?

And now, my inner-marketer is churning over the opportunity value in his quip: “I’m gonna wait for the audio book”. I’m thinking I’m gonna find a way to spin some gold out of that little gem. At very least, it’s the stuff great T-shirts are made of.

PaxOut.

What I AM v/s what I do…

I am new to audio book narration, and as I get more traction with my work I am once again beginning to sit and ponder my place in the universe, looking for definition. It goes to an age old, cultural dilemma that I suffer from as an American. The idea of self as it relates to how I make my living.

I once had a German teacher who told us that when you ask a European “what they do”, they will answer with: their hobbies, their arts, their heritage, their vacations, their fashion sense, their religiosity, their cuisine, their political persuasion, their cause….almost anything but their “Job”. Here, as an American, my identity is wrapped up tightly with what I “do” for a living.

As an actor, I haven’t always made a living with my art. The phrase “day-job” was created specifically to describe the myriad tasks I have undertaken at times to either supplement or supplant my income as an actor.

When you introduce yourself to someone as an actor, their first question is: “Oh, what would I have seen you in?” And since death rattle of live theatre has been adding to the general cacophony for a many decades, the answer is, probably nothing. Until now. I ask:  “Well, do you listen to audio books?

What I am, vs what I do. When the two find alignment, magic happens. That scraping sound you hear, is me getting out my soap-box and my megaphone to address the crowd.

First, let me tell you what we are not. We are not a narrators. We are not producers. We are not sound engineers. Those are aspects of the work-flow.  You and I, gentle friends are actors , practitioners of the ancient arts, purveyors of mirth and merriment, jesters, story-tellers, troubadours and shaman. We are the keepers of the deeper truths and the wand that manifests them in the world.

Writers can write until the inkwell runs dry, but when they want their work realized as an audio performance, they need an actor to bring their page to life, to give breath to their characters and a heartbeat to their story.  We are the yin to their yang. They are the pedals of the bike we ride, together we pave the bikeway.

Technology has opened a door for us. We, who record audio books are standing before a brilliant new day. And the job we do, once again has a place to find succor. While the opportunities in live performance dwindle, the opportunities for voice actors are soaring thanks to the ubiquitous MP3 player, a hugely shifting economic reality and innovative companies like ACX. But where to begin?

I began auditioning a few months ago and began voraciously reading all the blog posts and information I could find. Post after post about how to become more successful. What you are doing right, what you are doing wrong. What microphones to use, the value of your analogue to digital converter, how to make cold-calls, what to do when you have a cold. Sheesh. When I move my head from right to left, I am beginning to feel like a maraca. Yea, I get it, there is technology involved. Yea, I get it, voice-over is a business. Yea, I get it, there are hundreds of hours to spend just leading up to sitting down in the studio and starting to record. But nobody is talking about the core. Your responsibility as a story teller, and most importantly…the value of your gift.

So let’s backup to the very beginning. Before the red light comes on and the recording begins; a little self -examination and critical analysis of who we are and why we do what we do, is the very fuel that ignites the engine of the career choice we are making.

Even if you are currently working a day job (and many of us are) ask yourself the question: “What compels me?” If you can’t wait to sit down in your studio and immerse yourself in the practice of creating worlds, then you have chosen rightly.

If you find yourself tearing up when you voice a character who is suffering, you have chosen rightly.

If you take your work so seriously that it is your first waking thought and your last of the day, you have chosen rightly.

All the rest is mechanics, all of which you can learn and acquire. But the spark, the very essence of who you are as an actor is the feeling you get when you are plying your craft. And now, in the digital age there is another more ponderous aspect. The result is cast in amber. The digital recording you make today may survive for millennia.

I had a voice teacher many years ago who insisted that anyone could be taught to sing. After many years, and many of my own students later, I wasn’t sure I agreed. But then, age and reason won out and I began to understand what she meant, not what she said. She was talking about artistry. She was trying to impart in her gentle way that everyone is born with the spark. Whether you fan it into flame is completely up to you. Some people have to work hard, some do not. Them’s the breaks. What really matters is the desire. If you have the desire you can find the tools. But, don’t lose sight of your core identity. The identifiable selfie you take in with your mind’s eye-phone.

Be an actor first. Practice your craft. Get on stage. Get behind the mic. And remember, when a stranger stops you on the street and asks you how you get to Carnegie hall. The answer is always the same.