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Almost heaven – Webster Springs, WV, pt 2

Continuing where I left off, some other memories of my mother’s hometown:

The drive to Webster Springs from Columbus always seemed to take forever – even more so when you’re a child, because your brain isn’t developed enough to occupy itself with other things without solid objects, like a coloring book.  The earliest trips I remember it took nearly 8 hours to get there before the freeways were completed, but after that it usually took 6 hours.  Most trips were on the weekend, leaving around 5:30 PM when my dad would get off work.  I would usually last long enough to drive by downtown Charleston and admire the capital building with its beautiful dome, and then I’d fall asleep until we pulled up to the house.

My grandfather had a small farm below the house, with a barn and an old tractor.  Some of me earliest special memories are of riding with him on that tractor, and him letting me steer a little.  He usually kept a cow and a calf for milk and to raise for beef, and my grandmother was always canning vegetables they harvested.

I developed a love for reading at an early age, so my grandmother would go through the closets for books they’d had for years.  I read my first Hardy Boys mystery there, and years later I was able to find and purchase some books on eBay that I remembered my grandmother letting me read.

There was an old ponderosa pine tree in the “front yard” of the house.  When I was eight, I discovered I could finally reach the bottom branch, and was able to pull myself up.  The next year I had grown tall enough to reach the higher branches, and I learned a “path”, or sequence of branches to climb in order to reach a particular spot where the branches formed a little sitting area.  I’d take a comic book up there, read, and listen to the breeze and sounds going thru the mountains.

One year, I think it was 1966, we made our only Christmas trip to WV.  We left Columbus on the afternoon of Christmas Day after unwrapping gifts in the morning.  We stayed overnight at my aunt and uncle’s house in Charleston, then woke up to snow.  That was back in the day when tires almost always needed snow chains, and my dad had them put on at the first gas station we came to.  It snowed harder as we drove, and by the time we got to the Miller Mountain road turnoff, the snow was four feet deep on the mountain road.  My dad drove the car about 100 feet before it stopped because the bumpers couldn’t clear the snow.   My father carried my sister who was two at the time, and he and Mom and I hiked up that mountain road, trying to forge a path thru the snow.  I was cold, tired, and hungry.  My clothes were soaked, my feet and hands were numb, maybe the worst hour of my young life, and I was miserable and in tears when we got to my grandparents house.  The quickly put me in some dry clothes and sat me in front the big coal stove in the living room with a cup of hot chocolate until I thawed out.  My father wasn’t able to retrieve our car for about three days until the plows finally made it up the mountain road to clear it.

Since I couldn’t easily visit my cousins – would have needed my father to drive me – most of the time I went out on the mountain road in front of the house and threw rocks.  The road was gravel, so I had plenty of rocks over the years to throw.  Hey, it passed the time.

My grandparents always had some dogs and cats around.  The two earliest dogs I remember were Bucky and Billy, and I loved those names.  Billy died when I was about seven, but Bucky lived another five years or so.  He had red hair and collie features, but was smaller.  After Billy died, Grandpa got a dog that was “part German Shepherd, part bear”, as he told us. His name was Ted, and he was a serious watchdog.  Bucky was a house dog, but Ted lived outside in a special house made from an old barrel, and was kept on a long chain while outside.  Ted was very friendly to me, because he knew me, but if anyone else dared walk up to the house or drive by, he would let you know in a hurry.  He could be a fearsome dog if you didn’t know him, and my uncles took him with them hunting several times as protection from bears or bobcats.

I even caught a tick in WV once.  I was about ten years old, and had just gotten a very short buzz haircut, which I didn’t like.  One morning I got up and staggered into the kitchen, half-asleep with my head down while my grandmother got me a bowl of cereal.  My mother noticed something on the top of my head, and found it was a tick.  She told me not to move, and I just remember sitting there, not quite awake, while she and Grandma got the tick off successfully.

Visiting my WV relatives on a regular basis was a stark reminder that life on the mountain in Webster Springs was no picnic, and was even harder when my mother was young.  But I came to appreciate the unspoiled beauty of the land, and to appreciate the memories and experience I’ve had there.

My grandfather passed away suddenly in April 1970.  He had a few health issues, and filed his retirement papers with Social Security when a heart attack took him.  It was the first time I saw my mother cry.  I had a hard time adjusting to the fact that the man who sat in his special rocking chair in the living room each night, with thick forearms and a chaw in his cheek, would not be there any more to sit in that rocking chair without a smile before giving me a little wink and a twinkle in his eye.

After the funeral, I claimed that rocking chair as my personal spot for the rest of the week, and made sure I spent time in it whenever we visited afterward.  I would close my eyes and picture myself in Grandpa’s lap, rocking slowly.

My grandmother lived another 17 years afterward.  Sadly, shortly before she passed away in a nursing home, the family house on the mountain was burned to the ground in 1986 by arsonists who did it for the thrill.  Unfortunately, my relatives in the area had not had time toremove things from the house when my grandma went into the nursing home.  There were some antiques, hunting rifles, pictures, and old foot-treadle sewing machine – and of course, the books I had always treasured when I went there.

I made my first trip to WV on my own in October 1987, while on a white-water rafting trip on the Gauley River.  At the end of the trip, on the way home I swung by Webster Springs, drove my car up the mountain, and stopped in front of the old homestead.  It had been 12 years since I was last there on a weekend trip, and the only thing to greet me this time was a pile of ashes and rubble where the house had been.  The old tree I’d learned to climb as a child was badly scorched and some of the climbing branches were gone. The concrete porches in the front were still there, and I gingerly made my way down the path and walked around where the house had stood.  Something caught my eye – I reached down and pulled out the wrought-iron treadle and belt wheel from the old sewing machine.  For some reason, it was important to me to pull it out and take it home as a more permanent memory of my childhood.

Thirty years later, those memories are still with me, and I hope I never lose them

How about you readers?  Have you saved something as a memory from your past  that is important to you?  Something nobody else would find significant except yourself?  What souvenir or memento from the past would you like to have if you could obtain it?  You’re welcome to share, just click on the “Leave A Comment” link at the top and share your thoughts.

(NOTE:  Serious replies only, please – NO spam and advertising messages, those WILL be terminated with extreme prejudice)

I hope you all had a safe and pleasant Independence Day holiday.  My wife and I did something a little different this year – we took a working train from the town of Nelsonville OH and rode it to Hocking Technical College for the annual fireworks display called “Thunder In The Valley”.  It was an old-fashioned display, with four guys carrying flares walking around and setting off the mortar tubes.  Reminded me a lot of our neighborhood celebrations in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

That’s all for now.  May you enjoy the rest of your summer, may your memories always take you back to pleasant times, and may you always keep your best voice forward.  Take care.

-Z-

Almost heaven – Webster Springs, WV, pt 1

A recent trip my wife and I made to Huntington WV for a cousin’s daughter’s high school graduation party gave me pause, because I hadn’t visited West Virginia in the last 10 or 15 years except to attend two of my cousins’ weddings.  And that made me realize I hadn’t visited my mother’s birthplace of Webster Springs for over 20 years.  That area, and the house she grew up in are part of what make my memories special.

Mom grew up on Miller Mountain in Webster Springs.  She was the second-oldest of 8 children, and also the second to leave home and make her way into the world.  I remember her two youngest brother and her two sisters (also younger) were living with my grandparents in their family home from as far back as I can remember, probably around 1961.  Her sisters married and moved out in the next year or two, and the brothers did the same around 1968.

Their house was humble and rustic, built on the side of the mountain structure, with no plumbing.  An old-fashioned outside well gave them water, and an outhouse provided the necessary facilities.  The weather was hot in the summer, with the mountain breezes helped somewhat.  The winters, however, were brutally cold with heavy snowfall, with only a coal stove in the living room for heat and a wood-burning stove in the kitchen to cook with and also heat the kitchen.  They did have five bedrooms, after my grandfather enclosed a back porch to build an extra bedroom when the last two sons were born.

Mom came from the Miller family on her mother Nellie’s side, which had many descendants and branches in Webster County where Webster Springs was located.  My great-uncle Sampson Miller, who I remember visiting several times, was a local educator and historian, and wrote a book called “The Annals Of Webster County”, which included a large genealogy of the Miller family, and even included me and my sister’s name.  That was a bit of a thrill to see my name in a book and know it was me.

My grandfather French Carpenter, who I got my middle name from, also owned 21 acres of property on Miller Mountain (dirt cheap back then), which included the family home and farm on the low side of the mountain road, and also included wooded areas on the high side of the road.  His parents Ballard and Allie (Pugh) Carpenter were still alive at my birth.  Ballard was a ruggedly handsome man who looked like he might have been a character actor on TV.  I don’t have a clear memory of him, he died before I turned 3, but my parents said I liked my great-grandfather and would always pat his knee to be picked up, and that he enjoyed nothing better than holding me and hearing me laugh.

I do remember visiting my great-grandmother several times, and that she was very hard-of-hearing.  Mostly I sat there quietly on visits, but once in a while she would turn to me and speak, and my parents would have to remind me to shout so she could hear me.  She had white hair fixed in an old-fashioned conservative hair-net, and had very prominent facial features, quite different than most of my relatives.  When I finally saw a picture of her in her mid-30’s with very dark and long hair, it dawned on me that she might have Native American blood in her ancestry.  I’m not sure if that’s definitely the case, but it was something to think about.

The winding trip up and down the mountain road, and another winding and treacherous stretch of county road to get to downtown are etched into my memory banks.  Downtown Webster Spring is partly flat – actually, part of it was on an “island” created by the Elk River splitting and creating “Bakers island”, while the other part of downtown Webster is on the side of a hill.

My grandfather managed the Texaco gas station on Bakers Island.  Dad would always stop there when going downtown, and I would always come inside and sit on a tree stump that was used as a “chair” and also to keep the door propped open.  Grandpa would usually get me bag of potato chips, and I would sit there and watch him gas up cars, check their oil, and clean their windshields.

My grandfather had to retire suddenly in late 1969 due to a heart attack, and then passed away in early 1970 from another one.  After that, it was like that Texaco station became a stranger to me, because I didn’t know the owners or workers, and I know longer felt like I “belonged” to it.

I traveled to Webster Springs on my own twice in my late 20’s, both in conjunction with white-water rafting trips.  On the second trip in 1988, I came in early, went downtown to the old gas station to fill up my car (self-service by now), and tried to picture the old office inside with my grandfather standing there, his brown muscular forearms bulging out his shirt sleeves, a chaw of tobacco in his cheek and a twinkle in his eye.  But I couldn’t do it, and the magic that place held for me had been long gone.  And now someone had built a small diner attached to the building the gas station was in.   I remember going in to have lunch, sitting there for a long time, thinking ……….

On my next post, I’ll tell you a bit more about what makes Webster Springs so special to me.  And later, I’ll talk about the other half of my ancestry and the Polish neighborhoods of Buffalo, NY.

How about you readers?  What childhood family towns are important to you or made a huge impact in your life.  You’re welcome to share, just click on the “Leave A Comment” link at the top and share your thoughts.

(NOTE:  Serious replies only, please – NO spam or advertising messages, those WILL be terminated with extreme prejudice)

What’s going on with me right now?  It’s the last week of June, and I still haven’t landed my first job on Voices.com, but I’m optimistic.  I’ve talked with a few local colleagues one-on-one, and they’ve given me some insights on how to tweak my auditions, and I’m getting some better feedback on “listens”, “likes”, and “demo listens”.

I haven’t played drums in the last 4 or 5 months, have been depressed about the lack of progress.  However, like doing voiceover, sometimes you need to go back and work with an instructor.  After watching some new and exciting local groups recently in the smooth jazz, funk, and blues styles, I’ve reached out to one of the top Columbus drummers who does a lot of work in those styles, and will be taking lessons from him starting July.  Can’t wait.  My passion to play drums isn’t greater than that of doing voiceover, but let’s just say it is a very, very close second.  VERY close.

That’s all for now.  May you enjoy these long days of summer, may your memories always take you back to pleasant times, and may you always keep your best voice forward.  Take care.

-Z-

Telephony, or the real thing?

Sorry, but I couldn’t resist the ridiculous title – the “real thing” part, that is.  It’s been a while since my last post, so a bad pun was inevitable.

I recently was hired for a job that involved on-hold messaging for a dental office specializing in implants.  It was quite interesting, there were a few pronunciations I had to learn, and it was a bit more involved than I originally thought, but I believe the client is happy with the results I provided.

I had done a job for a client last year recording a system of generic voice mail prompts for a presentation, and that gave me a good taste of what telephony voiceover work was like.

Our local Meet-up group hosted by Ron Allan (Voiceover Pros of Central OH) held its monthly meeting earlier this week.  One of presentations was by Ron giving us an update on the subject of telephony.  After we had some fun with Ron by pronouncing “telephony” wrong, he gave us a refresher on the more common forms that it can take – regular voice mail greetings, on-hold messaging, IVR automatic response – and a few less-common forms.  He reminded us how prevalent voice mail and IVR systems are in businesses, how many business there are in the U.S., and how many potential VO opportunities this means for voice artists.

I appreciated the reminder, because there are certainly a plethora of businesses who also have telephones, the vast majority of which usually have some sort of voice mail or answering machine after hours. 

I remember buying my first telephone answering machine 30 years ago.  It used two cassette tapes, one for recording the greeting and another to record the caller messages.  When I brought it home and opened the box, I started playing around while recording the greeting, manually adding sound effects and song lyrics by playing records on my stereo loud enough to be caught on the cassette tape.  The quality was horrible, my editing and production very cheesy, but it was fun.  Back then folks I knew were experimenting with “cute” answering machine greetings.  I had my cute greeting on the machine for a few months, then replaced it with a more standard greeting.

(You younger folks may need to ask your parents what “record”,  “cassette tape”, and “stereo” are – just kidding!)

Come to think of it, I got my first telephony voiceover job some time in the late 1990’s, even though it was related to my job with the Postal Service – actually for the main post office in Columbus.  The marketing folks there knew I had a decent voice, so they asked me to record all new prompts for the informational hotline for customers who wanted to apply for passports.

At the time we used a PBX system with an internal voice mail system built-in.  The IT person gave me a temporary authorization and instructions to access the admin portion of the VM system for the hotline number.  The instructions and scripts were easy to follow, but it turned out to be a bit more tedious than I had thought.  I came in on a Saturday morning, and painstakingly recorded all of the prompts on the sheet I was given (“to find out what hours you can apply, press 4 – for a list of offices that accept applications, press 5 – etc.”).

Did I say painstaking?  It was like trying to solve a maze, and making sure you traced all the possible paths you could take.  But when it was done a few hours later, I could call the initial hotline and get a kick out of listening to myself.  And it was cool to have friends and acquaintances tell me they heard my voice when they were calling to apply for a passport.

I dare say telephony systems today are more sophisticated.  Ron Allan told us that modern software allows the system owner to take the various mp3 files from a voice artist, load them into the software app, and it automatically sets up the messaging “tree”.

In any case, there are VO work opportunities to be had out there.  All we have to do is talk to someone at that business and make a good “business” case as to why they should hire us to give life to their phone messaging system.

How about you readers?  What experiences have you had recording for a telephony client, good or bad?  I’d love to hear from you, just click on the “Leave A Comment” link at the top and share your thoughts.

(NOTE:  Serious replies only, please – NO spam and advertising messages, those WILL be terminated with extreme prejudice)

That’s all for now.  Until next time, reach out and touch someone who is a potential telephony client, and keep your best voice forward.  Those businesses will thank you!

Take care.

   -Z-

e-Learning voiceovers

We tend to over-emphasize the term “eLearning” nowadays as if it were some magical thing that we didn’t have back when dinosaurs walked the earth and Perry Mason ruled television on Friday nights.

In truth, we could construe eLearning to be any type of educational curriculum using non-manual technology, including the old 16mm movie projectors or slide projectors that were “higher-tech” to us elementary school students in the 1960’s

Nowadays eLearning is mostly understood as web-based animated training courses with information to read, scenarios to ponder, and questions to answer to demonstrate our learning.  Of course, most include voiceover, either dialogue from actual actors on screen, or static photos of people (even animated avatars) representing characters in scenarios who are voiced by an unseen actor.

It is this model most people think of when hearing the term eLearning.  And it is that format from whence has sprung a plethora of both stand-alone and web-based training courses in the last 20 to 25 years. 

The big questions regarding eLearning are:  Is it quality production?  Does it achieve its objective?

As a voice actor, I’m primarily concerned about the production quality of the audio component (when sound is included) .  I have no control over the visual aspect, and certainly not whether the course achieves its objectives in impacting learning.  I certainly hope it does, because that always reflects well on everyone who had a part in creating it.

Within the past few months I have completed my first two eLearning voiceover jobs for pay, both for the same production company.  It was an interesting experience and less stressful than I imagined.  I’m extremely happy that I now have a business relationship with that company as a dependable voice actor and a known quantity, and hopefully that will lead to more work and revenue down the road.

In reading the direction provided, it seemed that the best approach was to use a clear, neutral voice, with just a shade of inflection – and I do mean just a shade.  The result could be termed bland and boring, but the client liked it because that fit the project, so I like to refer to it as “a professional sound” (ahem).

I participated in several eLearning courses as a trainee during my time with the Postal Service.  I may have complained about how dry or corny it was, or how little it provided in the way of inspiration or motivation, but in general I’d have to say that the technical aspect of the production, including visual and voice audio, was first-rate. 

Maybe one day a postal employee may view an eLearning course at their desk and hear a voice they remember as belonging to an older colleague who has since retired.  If so, I hope they’ll say it’s the best course ever!

How about you readers?  What eLearning courses have you helped voice, and what was the most interesting or strangest course you worked on?  Did you participate as a learner in any eLearning courses that were notably effective, or just plain bad?  I’d love to hear from you, so click on Leave A Comment to share your thoughts on this.

(NOTE:  please do NOT reply with any advertising or spam messages, those will be terminated with extreme prejudice)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Yesterday I worked my final track meet of the season at Africentric High School in Columbus at their brand-new stadium – actually they have a brand-new school building for K-12 and a separate indoor athletic center with a basketball facility that seats 2300.

As a PA announcer I always judge stadiums by their sound system and pressbox, and both were amazing.   My only difficulty was when I’d start to speak on the mic, then I’d hear a sound like the voice of God from Mount Sinai saying those same words a half-second later.  Man, those loudspeakers were strong – and my voice quality sounded great! 

The downside was that the delay and the intensity of the broadcast sound tended to throw me off and cause me to drop the ends of words.  It took some effort to tell my brain to focus on the voice coming out of my mouth and shut down the sound coming into my ears from outside. 

Hard to complain, though.  Maybe they’ll let me work a football game or two there this fall, that would be fun.  For now, I’m on hiatus from athletics, and will spend the next three months focusing on my commercial VO work from my studio.  I stepped down from RadioForecastNetwork.com a few weeks ago, and I’m now a premium subscriber on Voices.com, and am enjoying the daily audition routine.

Until next time, remember the capacity you have to enable others to learn from the words you speak, and keep your best voice forward.  Take care.

 -Z-

Goals need targets!

As a long-time trainer and classroom instructor with the U.S. Postal Service, one of the key things I learned early on was that for training to be efficient, the trainee needed to know at the outset exactly what they should accomplish at the conclusion of training.

That may seem like a “d’oh!” or “Captain Obvious” thing to say, but I also learned that folks can easily overlook the obvious unless they receive regular reinforcement.

My first postal training program was as a pre-hire to be considered for a future postal MPLSM clerk job.  MPLSM was the acronym for the machine those clerks worked on, pressing keys on a piano-style keyboard, while letter zipped by.  The keyboard actually had two rows of keys, one upper and one lower, ten keys per row, with a six-inch separation between the right keys and the left keys

I was required to key a series of 3-digit numbers on the bottom keyboard only at the rate of 60 per second, with a 95% accuracy.  Those numbers were important, because I had clear idea of what I needed to achieve to be successful.  And I needed to be successful to be considered for employment.

I was nervous when I reported on that first day as a pre-hire.  The training clerk showed me the replica of the MPLSM clerk station, and showed me how to run the cardboard “letters” thru.  I started with one-digit numbers at 40 per minute.  It took me ten minutes to finally pass that lesson.  It took me another ten minutes to pass the lesson with 2-digit numbers.

But the 3-digit numbers stymied me.  I finished that first day with a better idea of what I needed to do, and I was confident I could do it with some practice.  As I recall, it took me three more days to pass that 3-digit lesson at the top speed.   Success!  I was ready to be hired!

In reality, it was nearly two years before I received the letter to report for duty and be sworn in as a postal employee working on the MPLSM.  But I was informed I would need to pass additional training to be kept on past my probation. 

Once again, I was given a training program with a clear outline, and a final target of keying cards with actual addresses on them, this time learning to use the upper keyboard as well in combination with the lower keys – very much like learning to type and reaching for keys outside of the home row.

This time it was 3-digit numbers based on the address or company name, using a combination of lower and upper keys, sorting 250 “letters” with a 98% accuracy rate.  That meant having 5 errors or fewer in 250 attempts! 

Daunting?  Yes.  But I also knew exactly what I needed to do to be successful here.

And so I continued my postal career, moving into the training department after six months, and learning how to explain training goals to my fellow employees were now my “students”.  That point was hammered home to me by the senior instructors, and I made sure from then on that one of the first things I did when conducting a new training class on the first day was to let the participant know what objective they should be achieving, particular when measurable targets were involved.

How about you?  Do you have general goals, but no clear objectives?  No real targets, numbers, or general concepts you need to be reaching or achieving?  If you don’t, your likelihood of success is reduced by a factor of 10, 100, or more.

As I’ve mentioned before, I met Ron Allan, who showed me a quality training program in which I would given clear objectives I needed to be achieving, including:

          build a home studio

          learn to record and edit at home

          learn the mechanics, mindset, and business side of voiceover

          become an independent voice artist

–       use the Internet, e-mail, and the telephone to pursue business

I had started out wanting to pursue voiceover with a general goal, but without a specific target.  If I had stayed like that without meeting Ron, and just kept wondering if there was something specific I should be doing, it is highly unlikely I would have achieved that overall goal.

How about you, the reader?  What goal have you been able to achieve once you identified exactly what targets you needed to reach?  Feel free to share by clicking on “Leave A Comment” at the top.  (NOTE:  please, NO spam messages or sales pitches, those will be deleted with extreme prejudice)

That’s it for now.  Just as info, this is my last week working for RadioForecastNetwork, and I’m going out in style, recording some of the best forecasts those listeners will ever hear.  Now I’ll be contacting those radio stations and requesting to send my demos and get my name out there some more.

I’m starting to see some progress on the business side.  Made one connection last week with a person who works in creative design, and landed a job recording a sports-theme  VO for a video promoting a new app.  And I was just notified today by a media production firm that I’ve been selected for a an eLearning job that was a direct result of a previous job I had done for them.  My goals are becoming clearer!

Until next time, remember to aim high, make sure you’re looking at a target, and keep your best voice forward.  Take care.

-Z-

Paying those dues

When you hear that phrase about paying dues, you automatically think of two things:

          Belonging to a labor union and seeing that deduction on your paycheck stub

          Working long and hard to master a craft or skill that is your heart’s desire, and knowing it may take a long, long time to be successful monetarily from it

I did the first for 33 years at the post office – first paying dues to the APWU, which represented clerks like me, and then for NAPS, the advocacy group for most postal management employees. 

Now it’s my time for the second example.  It’s been a year since I was cast for my first commercial voiceover, a TV spot for a men’s clothing store in West Virginia.  It didn’t pay anything, since it was essentially intern work my coach gave me in addition to my training.  And I did about ten such spots during my six months of training.  That’s not to say they had no value to me.  I certainly profited from the reinforcement of learning each time, plus I had a ready-to-go resume when I opened JoeKat Voice-over, LLC for business last summer.

When I decided to pursue learning to play the drumset nearly ten years ago, I began subscribing to Modern Drummer magazine, absorbing the stories of the top drummers of today, and noting how hard and how long many of them had to work before making it big in the industry.  I’ve met and talked with a number of local drummers about how they started and how much work they have put into developing themselves as successful musicians.

As a Marx Brothers fan from way back, I first began to understand how many dues they paid after reading Harpo’s biography “Harpo Speaks!”.  It didn’t dawn on my until then that Groucho, Chico, and Harpo were all in their early to mid-40’s when they made their first movie “The Cocoanuts” in 1929, a smash success that followed their successful Broadway run of the same play.

Why so late in life?  Because in essence, for the last 20 to 25 years they had been on the road seven days a week, playing every vaudeville circuit in the country.  I can’t imagine what must have been like.

Their success did not come without cost – low pay, loneliness, riding buses, trains, and even stagecoaches, booing audiences, rejections from agents and theater owners, thievery and corruption by unscrupulous businessman, to say nothing of the fatigue and bad food. 

But those long years on the road were where Chico developed his piano showmanship.  Where Harpo taught himself to play a harp and become a pantomime.  Where Groucho practiced and developed and refined his unique persona, style, delivery, and penchant for snappy comebacks.  It was where they forged their determination, and molded their talent and skills day by day, month by month, year by year, until success arrived “overnight”.

While I don’t intend to leave my family in the lurch for the next twenty years in search of VO success (wives tend to frown upon husbands doing that), I do understand that patience is in order, as well as hard work each day.  I use any small success that comes up – a favorable rating from an audition, a compliment by a prospective client I’ve just struck up a conversation with – as the fuel for my determination to succeed as a voice actor.

If you’re reading this post, what dues are you paying right now?  What keeps your fire burning, whether you’re pursuing voiceover or another skill or goal?  Feel free to share by clicking on “Leave A Reply” section below (please, NO spam, NO advertising, NO messages inviting to buy your guarantees to increase my web traffic – those will be deleted with extreme prejudice, and they tell me you’re not reading this notice!)

That’s all for now.  Ouch – I spent the previous weekend in Denver at a conference, and my body still hasn’t adjusted back from the high altitude there.   Maybe I’ll write about that experience in a future post.  Until then, keep your best voice forward and make sure you set aside something in your personal budget to make sure those dues get paid.   Take care.

 -Z-

Vocal memories

Do you wish you had a memorable voice?  Me too.  Come to think it, maybe we both already do

Did you know that our amazing brain starts learning even before we’re born?  Researchers have determined that infants are able to hear their mother’s voice while they are in the womb, and will react to that voice more than anyone else immediately after birth.

I can’t remember that far back, but I’m sure when I was a toddler I was able to pick my mother and father out in a crowd just by hearing them.  And being fortunate enough to have enjoyed knowing all four of my grandparents, I can still hear how they sounded whenever I think about them.

What other voices can I remember?  That of my first grade teacher, Miss Blume, and most of my other elementary school teachers.  Strangely, I don’t remember what my kindergarten and third grade teachers sounded like, although I can see their faces even now.  But I can remember the voices of the rest of them, from middle school through high school, and maybe even more so those of my instructors at Ohio State University.

I can still hear many voices from our first church, including those of our pastor from when I was in 4th grade through 7th grade, and another gentleman with a deep gravely voice who used to read a story each year at our Easter sunrise service.  And there one guy in the choir who I never heard actually sing:  whenever he was given a solo, he would speak it, with an understated voice and very effective timing.

The great sportscasters of my youth – Ray Scott, Vin Scully, Curt Gowdy, Lindsey Nelson.  I remember exactly how they sounded, but what I wouldn’t give to hear them live once more.

When my sons were infants, those tiny voices imprinted themselves in my cerebral cortex forever.  It’s amazing how much power those voices had over me and my wife!

At the 2016 Midwest Voiceover Conference in Columbus OH, I was honored to speak one-on-one with Rodney Saulsberry, Joe Cipriano, and J. Michael Collins.  It was one thing to hear how they sounded over Skype or on Youtube, but to hear them in person?  Talking to me personally?  Save that to the hard drive, and make a back-up copy, brain.

Is my voice memorable?  I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s unforgettable, although that could be a good thing or a bad thing!  I do know that people I have come up to me at games where I’m the public-address announcer, and tell me they didn’t know I was there, but when they heard the loudspeaker, they knew it had to be me.  And I’ve had the reverse happen, with folks coming up to me at the shopping mall after hearing me in conversation with a store clerk, and say they recognized my voice from a football or basketball game.

That’s a sobering thought, when you think about it.  The question we all have to ask ourselves is, when folks remember how we sound, is it because we were giving it our best effort and content?

What about you, the reader?  How many voices can you personally remember from your past?  What are some of the more memorable voices you can recall?  If you’d like to share, please click on Leave A Reply in the upper right to post a comment.  (NOTE:  please, no spam or advertising messages, those will be deleted with extreme prejudice)

That’s all for now.  Until next time, remember that we all have memorable voices in some way, so we should always keep our best voice forward – someone may be listening!  Take care.

   -Z-

Trials of a voiceover blog

I’ll be painfully honest:  in addition to enjoying the sound of my own voice, I really do like reading what I choose to express myself in writing.  This blog is a great example.

I’ll be equally honest:  I’m a bit disappointed that I haven’t got any serious replies to my blog posts – yet.  That’s why I don’t get depressed.  At least I am someone who’s entertained and enlightened by words I’ve penned.  LOL, indeed.

So far, I’ve just gotten spam replies  and solicitations, with a certain weekly regularity.  I categorize them thusly:

          “Buy this app to increase the number of people  who will see your website” (the most honest of the bunch – no pretense)

          “I notice your website could use more original writing – buy this app to get more fresh original content!”  (What??? It’s ALL original!)

          (sic)”obviously like your website but you need to test the spelling on quite a few of your posts.  A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I to find it very bothersome to tell the truth however I will certainly come back again”

I think that last reply is rife with grammar problems and poor word usage, to say nothing of the fact that they didn’t notice I’d used spell-check on the post they replied to.  I may respond to them and sell them “Zunardo’s fool-proof app for making sure you don’t look like an idiot when you spam me”.   It’s on sale for a low, low down payment, and only  a $99.99 service fee per month.  And believe, I’m selling that baby cheap.

Yes, I am tempted to leave them on there and make it look as if my blog is active and click-worthy.  However, my upbringing reminds me to make sure I tag them all as spam.  It’s easy to tell that’s what they are, even the ones that are subtle, because they never refer to anything in the post itself.

But what of the future of Zunardo Sez?  Will anyone actually read the gorilla’s posts and reply in the pure interest of actual discussion?  Stay tuned next week to this blog.  Don’t touch that URL!

In the meantime, dear readers, what interesting experiences do you have regarding blogs, either running your own and filtering out the riff-raff, or getting into an interesting discussion through a blog post?  I’d love to hear from you, just click on “Leave A Reply” at the top right.  (NOTE:  NO spam or solicitations, those will be deleted with extreme prejudice)

That’s all for now.   Until next time, express yourself while choosing your words carefully, and keep your best voice forward.  Take care.

  -Z-

Dis-couraging the discouragement

Yeah, that’s a weird title, but I hope the hyphen clarifies what I meant – taking hold of that feeling of discouragement, and taking away its comfort level by giving it a dose of itself, in order to move it far, far away from our consciousness.

A few months ago I found this funny (but painfully accurate) voiceover meme:

(If the image is difficult to see, its premise is that our friends and family may think of us voiceover artists as all being wildly successful icons like Don Lafontaine, while the reality for many (like me) seems at times like the last image of a struggling artist pleading for the phone to ring).

That meme has been especially accurate of late, as I have gone the last 4 months without winning any jobs on Voice123.com.  Along with auditions, I have kept myself busy each weekday practicing my reads, weather forecasting, marketing, updating this blog,  volunteering with VoiceCorps, and picking up other paid work that has come my way.  But the lack of any successful auditions on V123 bothered me.

You see, I had landed my first job last year on Voice123 on my 20th audition, and then again on my 40th.   It was another 2 months before I was successful a third time – and then the long drought.

I was discussing this with my wife last week, and she asked me if I was discouraged.  I felt like saying yes, but then I realized if I did, I would be admitting defeat.  So I said, “No – but I am disappointed.  I thought I would be doing better by now.”  And right then I felt better as a voice actor.  That may sound counter-intuitive, but it solidified my motivation as to why I chose to pursue voiceover – because I like it, and because I know there are clients out there who will eventually hire me if I’m hungry enough and want it bad enough.

Coincidentally, during our last two monthly Meet-Ups for Central Ohio voice actors, the subject of dealing with non-success and strategies to strive for improvement no matter what were discussed heavily – and just when I needed it the most.  My fellow group members are some of the best resources available, and they are happy to share their thoughts and suggestions when asked.

I guess all those things made me buckle down by doing a few auditions this past Saturday, when I would normally not work.  One project was a very small part, just two lines – and with a foreign accent.  I hadn’t auditioned with that accent before, but I thought I could do it pretty well, and I sent it in and forgot about it.

Three days later, while going out for lunch, I got the notification I’d been selected, and my jaw dropped when I saw which spot it was. I came back home, re-recorded and polished it, and thanked the client for the business.

Interestingly, my successful jobs have been using voices that are, in my opinion, NOT in my wheelhouse:  a read that has “rookie” written all over it with over-enunciation, one with a “young adult male” voice (I’m 58 and I was proud of that one!), one with a plain flat voice with no inflection reading testimonial letters, and now one with an accent.

Then again, maybe my strengths are somehow in my weaknesses?  I’ll have to think about that one.

In any case, that little guy that calls himself “discouragement” has left the building for now.  He may try to hang out with me again someday, but for now I’m too busy, and may need to put on my sunglasses, a la Timbuk 3.

How about you readers out there?  Any anecdotes you’d like to share on how you deal with discouragement and disappointment, especially as a voice actor?  I’d love to hear from you, just click on “Leave A Reply” in the top right of this message.  (No spam or solicitations, please – those WILL be terminated with extreme prejudice).

That’s all for now.  Until next time, keep your best voice forward, and give yourself a mental shot of courage to dis-courage that discouragement.  Take care.

-Z-

 

 

 

Social media? Danger, Will Robinson!

I remember the first time I saw the downside of social medial.  Around 2003 a fellow high school classmate built an alumni forum website for our school, and invited me to join.  I wasn’t sure how it worked, so I logged on and watched for a few days before I dared post my thoughts.

It was immensely fun, and I enjoyed the potential for seeing people register who I hadn’t seen or heard from in years.

But all good things gotta come to an end.  The downside started the next year as the 2004 presidential election campaigns ramped up and folks started to overshare about what everyone else was saying.  At first I thought the hard feelings were being exaggerated, until one member contacted me personally to say they were leaving because someone had actually threatened them in a private message – over a political disagreement!

Mind you, we’d had some healthy detailed discussions that were on a mature level, where we’d disagree with someone else without disparaging them, just explaining carefully why our thoughts differed.  Nevertheless, I was beginning to see the wisdom in the old adage “Never discuss politics at the dinner table”, or any other place for that matter.

After being on Facebook for ten years and then starting my voiceover business, I had a second epiphany:  if I was going to have an online business presence, I would have to consider how my personal opinions on politics, religion and anything else might impact whether a potential customer might or might not choose to do business with me.  While I’m the biggest supporter of one’s right to express an opinion, I chose discretion over valor and decided I would forego direct political commentary online from now on.

On the delta side, it does stifle some of my creativity, because I’ve always enjoyed articulating my thoughts on paper and creating a clear coherent message about my opinions.  But that is easily cancelled out by having fewer emotional roller coaster rides caused by someone posting something that is, in my humble opinion, really idiotic – and who is just itching to be taken down a peg or two!

LOL, indeed.  Time is short, and social media is now my tool to promote myself to potential clients – not a soapbox for me to vent just so I can feel good about my baser instincts for a few minutes each day.

How about you readers out there?  What other have you experienced with social media?  Any tips or horror stories you’d like to share?  Just click on “Leave A Reply” in the upper right.  I’d love to hear from you (Please – no spam or sales message, those WILL be deleted).

That’s all for this week.  I’m going to take some Alleve and try to ease the muscle soreness I’ve been having the last week.  My wife and I started working out at the gym two weeks ago, and my body is still not accustomed to it even though I’ve been trying to ramp up slowly.  Guess I’ll have to slow it down some more and stay at one level for a month before starting to push harder – I’m not in my twenties any more.

For now keep your best voice forward, and remember that clients aren’t always impressed by oversharing.  Take care.

-Z-