Looking back at the Postal Service

If you’ve read my bio on the “About Joe” page, you know that I retired from the U.S. Postal Service – actually in June of this year.   I started in April 1983 as clerk on the MPLSM (a mechanical letter sorting machine with a piano-type keyboard), and left 33 years and 2 months later.

I first heard about the MPLSM job in 1977 when some of my high school classmates got jobs there a year out of high school, told me about what it was like to key mail going by, and said they were making almost ten dollars an hour (I was working at Arby’s making the minimum wage of $2.30 per hour).  But the catch was, they had taken the test for the job when it was offered earlier that year, and I would have to wait until it was offered again

It took three years before the test was given again in Columbus, on a miserably hot and muggy summer day in 1980, in a large building at the Ohio State Fairgrounds with no air conditioning.  Talk about tough conditions.  Plus,  I was nervous about the part of the test that required you to memorize names and address and which boxes they went in.

But, I was determined to do well, and I was in the zone that day – so much so that when the girl sitting next to me fainted from the heat and slid to the floor, I simply leaned down to make sure she was breathing, waved to the test monitor, and went back to my own test …….

Did I say I was in the zone and determined?  Yes, I was!  And I remember the girl was helped up and was taken for treatment by the test monitors.  I hope that didn’t seem too callous of me, but it shows you how focused I was on passing that test.

Even with a passing score of 89%, it took me three more years to be hired.  But when the letter came on a Thursday telling me to report for orientation the following Monday, I was ready.

That decision irrevocably changed my life.  On the delta side, as a new clerk, I knew I was going to work either the afternoon/evening shift or the night shift.  That meant saying goodbye to the “regular” life schedule I’d had for the past 24 years.  Goodbye to seeing my buddies on a regular basis like I had been doing.  Goodbye to a carefree life.

On the plus side, I began maturing – every so slowly, you understand – but it did happen.  I had a full-time job, with good pay and benefits, and once I learned how to key mail, I actually enjoyed it.   And I learned the importance of showing up for work each day, on time, and resisting the urge to call in and play hookey on the days I just didn’t want to get up.

I also enlarged my circle of acquaintances by a factor of maybe 100, maybe more.  I also began to appreciate there were other folks in the world who didn’t look like me, think like me, or act like me.   And I began socializing with them – usually playing in the postal softball leagues and hanging out afterward, or going out to breakfast with my crew and co-workers after working the night shift.

In that time I met a LOT of interesting people – some of them more interesting than others, shall we say.  And maybe they said the same thing about me!

I thought I would be keying mail for 31 years, and then retire.  Little did I know that barely six months after hiring in, I would be detailed to the training department to learn to work there as a relief for a few months.  The months stretched to three years, a full-time position in the training area came open, and I was selected for it.

Two years after that, I was assigned to teach the orientation classes that were given every two weeks (the Postal Service did a LOT of hiring back then, and still do today), and it was there that my speaking voice began to develop, and the germ of an idea to do voiceover began to take root and grow, way down deep in my subconscious, where I wasn’t aware of it for a while.

And so, I just kept showing up for work each day, building on the day before and the day before that.  I didn’t really start marking time, until 1998 when I got a promotion from the clerk craft as a training technician to management as a training “specialist”.  Then it dawned me that I had reached the halfway point of 15 and a half years as a postal employee, with another 15 and a half years to go before I was eligible to retire with full benefits.

Had my life changed during that first half?  Boy, and how!  I had traveled to several cities for the Postal Service,  purchased two houses, vacationed in Hawaii once and Israel twice, married and had two sons, and become a PA announcer for my high school.

And the milestones seemed to come more often – ten years to go, five years to go.  I finally achieved a promotion to manager that seemed to cause more wear-and-tear that it was worth.  But I kept showing up.

The longest period of time was that last year before retirement eligibility.  I made a 365 day calendar with a small square for each day, and marked it off one day at a time.  In retrospect, that was probably not a great idea, since it made the time drag mentally.

But I kept showing up.  And one day I marked that last box off and said, “I made it” – and then I decided to stick around a while, since the mental pressure was off.

So I kept showing up.  When I reached that fatefuly day in February of this year, the day my co-worker Ester Steele introduced me to Ron Allan, my future voice-over coach, I realized I could bring a close to my postal career, and direct my life’s journey in a new direction.

Was it hard?  At times.  Were there times I doubted myself?  A plethora of times.

But I kept showing up.

The Postal Service is quite a bit different today than when I started, and so is its workforce.  Three things that have driven the change are technology, the economy, and the Internet.   But we both fulfilled our ends of the bargain we each made in 1983, and I’m thankful I had a job that could support me and my family, keep us fed and clothed, and keep a roof over our heads.

Today I can look back at my career, and take some small pride that I helped move people’s mail, and that I helped fellow postal employees along the way by being a part of their training.  But I’d have to say it was a team effort all the way.

Voiceover seems to be very similar.  I had determination and focus to succeed in VO, and it’s been a team effort, starting with me and my coach, and all the other people I’ve met in this profession that I have learned from.   This may be hard to believe, but I’ve been shocked to learn that there are people in voiceover who don’t look like me, think like me, or act like me.  They are interesting people – some of them more interesting than others – and I hope they’re saying the same thing of me.

How about you readers?  What strange twists has your life’s journey taken?  Feel free to reply to this post by clicking on “Leave A Comment” and share your story, I’d love to hear from you. (NO spam or advertising replies, those WILL be deleted with extreme prejudice)

As for me, I’m making another mocha cappuccino to enjoy on this somewhat chilly October morning, contemplating my voiceover performance as my high school marching band’s halftime announcer for the final week of the regular football season here in Ohio tonight.  Next week I transition to my gig as a college basketball announcer – and I need to start preparing my notes and charts for that sport.  How the time flies.

Until next time, take care and have a great weekend.  As always, keep your best voice forward – and just keep showing up!  One day you’ll look back, and be glad you did!




Accent-u-ate the accent

Does anybody else besides me have trouble voicing accents?

By that, I mean the broad area which includes characterizing the voice of someone who is not a native English speaker, or uses different regional pronunciations of English across the United States.

I remember being fascinated as a child by British accents that I heard on TV.  I was envious of my elementary school classmates who could do such an accent.  Try as I might, I could never come close.

It took me a long, long while before I realized there were two big factors in my friends’ success.  One, they had a parent or close relative from the UK who lived with them, so they heard it around the house every day.  And two, some folks just more natural ability than others to approximate or duplicate an accent.

And it took me even longer to understand that I could learn to do accents, it just required a lot of work.  Mindless repetition, as it were, much like learning to play a musical instrument.  I played trumpet back in the day as a younger lad, but deep down I wished I played the drums.  For some reason, I set myself up early for failure back then by deciding I could never play with the speed and dexterity of drummers I admired.

But as I approached my 50th birthday, I was determined to give it a shot, and not go to my grave regretting that I never tried.  I haven’t put as much time practicing as I would have liked, because of other life commitments, but I have noticed an improvement every year since then.

Practicing accents for voiceover?  Man, I got an even later start for that!   But like I said, I’m never going to know for sure unless I try.  Along my recent VO journey, I learned that I can do a few accents and characterizations, and my instructor Ron Allan helped me put together a holiday/character demo that I was very pleased with.  I’ve watched enough James Bond movies and Monday Night Football to do decent parodies of Sean Connery and Howard Cosell.  And I’ve watched “The Quiet Man” so many times that I can do a passable Irish leprechaun, who sounds suspiciously like Barry Fitzgerald for some reason.

Right now, the most popular voice characterization I’ve seen requested seems to be Morgan Freeman, aka “The Voice of God”, and for very good reason.  Somewhere along the way Morgan edged out George Burns for that role, but he definitely worked hard for that title.  Am I going to try learning to capture some of Morgan’s style and nuances?  If there’s a job in it for me, you bet – but it’s going to take a lot of work.  Mindless repetition, as it were.

How about any of you readers out there?  Do you have a particular accent, dialect, or voice characterization you can’t quite master?  Or ones you do well?  How do you approach this from a voice artist perspective?  Feel free to reply to this post and share your challenges, techniques, and successes, I’d love to hear from you.  (NOTE:  please, no spam or solicitations, those WILL be deleted)

Well, time to get ready to work the Circleville OH Pumpkin Show festival as one of the announcers for this afternoon, and get ready for week 9 of the high school football season tonight.  Gonna be a great autumn day and weekend.  Until next time, take care and put your best voice forward!


Thoughts on thin skin and marketing

Last time I mentioned some of the things I didn’t know (and have since learned) after going into voiceover, and one of them was that I didn’t know I’d be making less money than I actually am at this point.

Welcome to reality, Zunardo.

Auditioning disappointments seem to go hand-in-hand with marketing attempts that don’t bear fruit right away, at least to me.  I guess that makes me human (with a rueful shake of the head). 

Had a good example just a few minutes go.  I auditioned for a job yesterday on Voice123 that was a commercial spot for a medical center.  It didn’t give a lot of direction other than to say the pacing and timing was important, and added a script with the video shots diagrammed along side.  I  thought I did a darned good job on it, but today I learned the client gave me one star out of a possible four.  One!  And I was tied for last place with one other person, out of 9 talents that auditioned.  How dare they!  Don’t they know how hard I worked, and how talented I am?

You get the idea.  And I have to admit, my instructor Ron Allan told me this was going to happen, and to quickly forget it.  He told me that a top defensive back in football who just allowed a receiver to score a touchdown better have a short memory and a big ego, and better keep his confidence and game high.   Easier said than done, at least for now.  But tomorrow will be another day.  It’s certainly not the first time, and it won’t be the last – but it still cuts like a knife for now.

Same thing goes for contacting potential clients and introducing yourself cold, and then getting permission to send them your demo and info.  Part of me expects a call back the next day, while the other more realistic part of me says it’s going to take a while. 

But, I’m counting my blessings and learning that marketing is where you find it.  I just did a VO job recently that came about because I play in a band where the other members work for a company that markets call center IVR systems for companies.  Understand, I wasn’t thinking about voiceover when I went to band practice for the first few months.  But after a while, I broached the subject of suggesting they consider advertising my company to their clients as someone who could provide a professional voice on their phone prompts.  Lo and behold, their Chief Tech Officer (also our talented keyboardist) hired me to record a series of sample prompts that he put on a Powerpoint presentation to show at a convention in Florida.  Not only did I get a paying job out of it, he agreed to take my business cards and rate sheet to the convention to pass out.  Nobody’s burning up the phone lines to call me yet, but the seeds have been planted.

And just last Friday, after doing my high school marching band’s halftime announcements at an away game, the home team announcer asked me if I did voiceover for a living.  After modestly answering “yes” (ahem) and talking briefly about it I asked him if he did also.  He said, “No – I’m an attorney with my own private practice.”   I must be thinking faster now, because I immediately asked him if he was considering any radio or website advertising (he was, in the near futre), and I was able to give him my business card and e-mail my demos the following Monday.  I don’t know if that will bear fruit, but again I planted the seed – and this case, there was personal interaction and a relationship established even  before the marketing contact took place.

Those two examples highlight how much I still have to learn, and how much patience and determination I still need.  I’m pleased that I’m making some progress – averaging roughly one job a week for the last two months – but I know I’m capable of much more, and I’m going to keep pushing forward while I am blessed to be alive.

How about you?  Anyone out there with an interesting experience you’d like to share about let-downs, disappointments, frustrations in the voiceover business?  Feel free to reply, I’d love to hear from you.

Until then, keep your best voice forward – and your confidence high.


Things I didn’t know about VO

Things I didn’t know before I made the decision at the beginning of this year to pursue a voiceover career full-time:

You can work from home, out of your own studio, independently.  How cool is that?

Editing software may not exactly make you sound a whole lot better on an mp3 than in real life, but it’s a step in the right direction.

People will actually pay you to do this.

The money I’ve made in voiceover up until now is definitely less than what I thought I’d be making at this point .

There are an impressive number of voice artists out there who are scary good – a LOT.  And I’m just confident enough and arrogant enough to try to become one of them.

There are a lot of interesting and different people doing voiceover.

And, there are a lot of voiceover niches to work in.

Having  a “great voice” is one thing – learning how to use it is another.

Just like taking lessons from a skilled performer and instructor when learning a musical instrument, the money and time invested in a qualified personal VO coach and for a specific program of training and learning is generally more effective than trying to learn voiceover by just reading a book and watching YouTube videos

On the other hand, there are quite a few books on voiceover, and a ton of interesting videos on Youtube about voiceover – a LOT – that you can always learn from

You do not have to buy the absolute best (i.e., “most expensive”) equipment to get started and turn out acceptable-quality audio, but you can never go wrong by making an investment in high-quality equipment (and acoustic treatment), commensurate with your budget.

Not every job is right for me and my voice – but there are enough jobs that are right for me to make it worth my while, and it’s my job to seek those out, and use my time more effectively.

Auditioning on a “pay to play” website is a humbling experience – sometimes a depressing experience – but it’s also a great learning experience – with some lucrative experiences in there!

You can create your own website.  I’m still marveling at this.

Unless you’ve got the funds to pay somebody else to do marketing for you, nobody is going to know about you or care about hiring you until you introduce yourself, tell them who you are, and let them know what you can do.

Yes, I’ve learned a few things so far, and learned voiceover is not as easy as it looks – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Remember – as long as you’re learning, you’re still pushing down daisies!

What about you?  If you’d like to share some “truths” about voiceover that you’ve learned along the way, or that there are things you never knew you never knew, feel free to leave a reply to this post.  I’d love to hear from you.

That’s all for now.   Time to get ready for week 7 of the high school football season in central Ohio!  That means I still have two home games as PA announcer for this season.  Woo-hoo!