Aloha!

I spent the past couple of weeks on Oahu for some much needed time off. Time to reconnect with myself, my husband and feel the earth beneath my feet. For me, there is no better place to do that than Hawaii. The Hawaiian islands mean a lot to me for many reasons. It was my home for four years, and it’s never stopped being my home, not really. We get back there whenever we can, and after slipping out of tight shoes and into “slippahs”, a part of me feels like I slip back into my old life too.

I can’t stress enough how important vacations are, especially if you’re self-employed. And I’m not talking about one of those vacations where you have your Apogee mic and ipad in your carry-on, although I do those kinds of trips too. I’m talking about the kind of vacation where you switch off. No auditions, no email at all. “But, but, but….what about all the potential work i’ll lose out on”? Trust me, there’ll be more work eventually. Remember what your job is actually about. How can you, as an actor, represent real life, when you’re stuck in a booth all the time?  Our job is to represent life, and no amount of movie watching and game playing is going to replace real experiences.

Personally, I really want to move back to Hawaii because I feel a little more in touch with what’s important when I’m there. I spend way too many hours in a 16 square foot booth, so when I get out, I want to feel the sand between my toes. I want to feel the ocean. I want to get in a kayak and feel strong and alive. Whether I’m looking up and seeing the surface of the water some 15 feet above my head while scuba diving, or watching leviathans glide by my kayak as I hold my breath and wait for them to move on, these are experiences that I can take into the booth and use to help inform my next performance.

And I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, my trips to Hawaii have always taught me the importance of patience and making my own luck, as what happened this trip when we paddled out for a third time into the bay, and finally saw sea turtle after sea turtle, when before there had been none. It’s a reminder to me that the only way to get lucky is to keep putting yourself out there: PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION.

As for life in the Emerald City, it’s been a little chaotic: Plumbing issues, and, ahem, website issues. Oh, and while I was gone, this little gem came out:

New Year, New You. Sort of.


Happy New Year!
Like many people, I’ve spent a good bit of time thinking about how I want to handle the coming year, and reflecting on where my business has been going work-wise.
 
Financially, it’s going well. I’ve managed to continually increase my business. Although despite the fact that I made 50% more income last year than the previous year, it was almost entirely from audiobooks, so that is something I need to work on.
 
This has meant going back to the drawing board as far as my marketing plan. This year I hope to try a few new things, which will include more of an online presence (because it’s so much more satisfying when work finds you) as well as more physical networking at meetups, conferences, conventions etc. It’s a necessary skill, but not one I feel entirely comfortable with yet. I’ve been back to work at my interactive demo, which is a work in progress, as I continue to refine my skills under the tutelage of my wonderful coach, DB. Lastly, this also means managing my schedule better so that i can make time for marketing even when I’m working on a tight audiobook deadline.


 
As it’s the beginning of the year, I also find myself thinking about health. One thing I’ve focused on is the tension I carry in my shoulders. You see, I’m a huncher, I tend to carry all of my stress in my shoulders.  This became apparent to me after going to see several masseuses. They all said the same thing. My shoulders and neck are so tight! First thing is first, I needed to stop hunching. I actually began this process a few months. I got a holder for my iPad that I could attach to my mic stand, so my head and eyes could generally remain level when reading copy. In addition, every moment I can, I try stop hunching. But the big change has been the Yamuna ball. I discovered it on a yoga site I subscribe to, and it has been transformative. I admit, I tried to use substitutes, but having seen the effects of Yamuna body rolling, I went ahead and visited the Yamuna USA site and picked up a Yamuna gold ball which is amazing. I use it at least twice a day, sometimes more often than that, if I’m feeling a lot of tension in my shoulders.  By rolling the ball into my back, neck and shoulders (I also highly recommend the smaller black ball for shoulder work) it relaxes my whole neck and jaw area. My shoulders look physically  less hunched, and my jaw feels less tight. I also love that I’m starting to see it affect my yoga too. One position I could never do was reclining hero pose. My hamstrings are just too tight for it to be comfortable even for a few seconds. But since rolling with the Yamuna ball along the backs of my legs, I’ve begun to be able to hold the position, which is amazing.

As for resolutions, well, I don’t tend to have New Year’s resolutions myself, because I like to challenge myself throughout the year. For instance, I recently completed 45 days of making art every day. It was tough to find the time for it, but I really think it helped get me to think more creatively. But one resolution I definitely have this year, is to try new things and be prepared to fail. A lot. Failure is a part of life, but most of us are ill-equipped to handle it. The thing is, sometimes brilliance comes out of failure. So that’s my goal. To fail astoundingly but elegantly.  

The End of Another Productive Year!

Wow the month just flew by! The whole year did for that matter. I released not one, not two but three new audiobooks all of which are available for sale right now- audiobooks make great Christmas gifts by the way!

The first to come out was book two in Jovee Winters’ Dark Queens series, titled The Passionate Queen, a retelling of the Queen of Hearts story from Alice in Wonderland, featuring both new and familiar characters.

The second is book two in The Ministry of Curiosities series by C.J. Archer titled Her Majesty’s Necromancer (I just completed recording book three also, but that won’t be available until the end of January).

Lastly, book three in the Awakening series by Lisa M. Lilly called The Conflagration. This was the closest I’ve ever come to not pre-reading a book. I had pre-read it much earlier when Lisa asked me to help proof it, so I made notes back then, which meant that even I had forgotten certain plot details. It was enjoyable to (re)discover the story at the same time as my listeners.

It’s been a really busy and yet fruitful year. Admittedly, not as fruitful as I would like. I’m always hungry for more, what can I say? It’s my fault, I still need to balance my marketing and recording time better. I was booked out until the end of the year since May which is crazy. Even crazier: attending APAC for the first time and getting to meet so many audiobook narrator A-listers. I still can’t believe I did that. I met some great people, learned a LOT, and honestly can’t wait to go again. Hello New York City!!

Let’s see, what else is on the agenda for next year? Hopefully some audiobook coaching, as well as a new video game demo featuring all my new skills, and I’m actually going to be helping out with a workshop in July which is so exciting! Aside from that though, I’m not sure what I have work-wise lined up for next year. At least nothing definite. Which is scary, as I’ve shared before. The next few days for me will be working on that business plan some more, doing taxes and putting together a proper marketing and blogging calendar for next year.

Stay tuned!

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

woman-screaming

Hello! Fear seems to be an appropriate topic, since it is now October. Fear holds us in place. It keeps us from reaching our goals. It also stops us from letting go of the things in life that aren’t working. It’s something we all deal with every day. These are just a few of my fears…

Fear of letting go of control.
A few weeks back my husband and I took a couple of days vacation. We decided to go stay up in a no kidding hobbit hole near Chelan. It was wonderful. But I was scared. I feared letting go of work, something I badly needed to do. Even on the day we left, I found myself with a number of tasks requiring my attention: an invoice needing to be issued, a contract needing to be signed, and an audiobook needing to be uploaded. All of these things I eventually chose to put off until after I came back. But it was difficult. “It wouldn’t take too long to do these now,” my fear reasoned. For me this was a slippery slope, and thankfully my gut knew it. If I did these seemingly minor stuff, I would be eroding that line between work and personal life I badly needed to establish for my own well-being. But for just a moment, my fear of control and seeming unprofessional ruled me.

Fear of taking the next step.
Another way fear tried to wrestle its way into my life recently was when I decided I needed to take the next step in my career and get more coaching. It’s so silly to even think about, but I was a jumble of nerves at the thought of coaching. That little voice in my head said “what if I really suck? What if those half a dozen game companies that have hired me don’t know what they’re doing, and I’ll find out I’m really not cut out for this? What if…? What if…?” In the end, everything was fine. But even if it wasn’t, so what? So I would learn sooner rather than later, not to waste my time. Isn’t that a good thing? Fear doesn’t think that way though.

Fear of losing my voice.
After a particularly gruelling game session on Monday I lost my voice. It was stupid and avoidable, but by Monday afternoon I had a croak which remained until Wednesday. I knew my voice would come back in a couple of days. I knew I just needed to drink lots of soothing herbal tea and steam my vocal folds. But my fear (and WebMD) told me acute laryngitis can sometimes last a couple of weeks, and what if that happened? I’ve got back-to-back audiobooks! I didn’t let the fear overpower me, but it was there in the back of my mind…

Unfortunately the only thing you can really do about fear is not let it rule you. Meditation and breathing have helped me a lot. I not only find it calming but it helps me to recognise the fear when it rears its ugly head. Recognition is key because fear can disguise itself. It might look like procrastination, or even practicality, and you have to discern whether what’s holding you back is real or the fear talking. What tools do you use to conquer fear?

In other news, I have two new audiobooks that just came out. Betrayals’ Price is the first book in a series by fantasy author Lisa Blackwood. Meanwhile, WhiteWing, the last book in the First Ordinance series also just came out. Have a listen!


The Last Straw

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Hello!

It’s been a super busy summer for me, both personally and professionally. Omega by Lizzy Ford came out a few weeks backs.

Since then, I finished the whopping 17-hour sequel to Aranya, Shadow Dragon by Marc Secchia and I also recently wrapped Betrayal’s Price by Lisa Blackwood. Both are really fun fantasy pieces that have stretched me, either with accents, or trying to create new, more animalistic voices. With Betrayal’s Price I had to create a birdlike race, a wolflike race, even talking horses! I’ve said this before but World of Warcraft videos have really helped me with coming up with ideas for voices!

Speaking of character voices, I’m also getting ready to record the final book in the First Ordinance series, which wraps things up very nicely. I think listeners will really like how everything comes together in the end. This is the first book where I’ve recorded the series from beginning to end, and it’s been such an interesting experience to live with all these (150-ish) characters for so long!

In other news, I recently discovered these amazing straw exercises in order to help stretch your vocal cords and warm up your voice. The idea is you basically do scales and sing songs through a straw. The thinner the better. Ideally you would use a cocktail-size straw, although you may find that you need to use a bigger straw at first. It really forces you to work your abs and helps your breathing so you’re not running out of air in the middle of sentences. My goal in life is always to make my editor’s job easier! I’ll be honest, I’m still pretty bad at the straw exercises. It takes a lot of work for me to do those high notes on a scale, but I definitely sense a difference. The first time I tried with the cocktail straw, I could barely get a sound out, and now…. well, I make noises anyway. I do a lot of other vocal warm up exercises, which I’ll have to save for a later post, in the meantime I’ll leave you with this video from Ingo Titze teaching the straw exercises.

Surviving the Summer Sniffles

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Gosh, it seems as though I’m playing catch up again. Summer is halfway done, although if you’re in Seattle, it’s only just begun, it seems. Which of course means I catch a cold. Actually my hubby caught a cold, which made me extremely likely to catch his, despite my crazy obsession with Purell and antibacterial wipes. I suppose I could have annexed him to the other side of the house. But I kinda like him.

As a voice actor, being laid up with a cold causes a bit of a wrinkle in my schedule. Thankfully, this is the first cold I’ve had in a year and a half. Not bad when you consider the average person gets 2-4 colds per year. True, I talk in a box all day, but still, not a bad score…

How do I avoid a cold? Preventative measures are crucial. I neti pot every day. It helps open up my sinuses for recording. And if I’m around someone with a cold, I neti pot twice a day. I use a solution of salt and xylitol that an ENT recommended, which tends to work for my immune system most of the time. I also use Purell often when I’m out and about. And when I fly- yep, I’m the crazy person with the anti-bacterial wipes, wiping down the headrest, arms rests and all around the tray table. I’m sure I look like some kind of freak. Plus, I always have my nasal spray handy. It’s the best thing for that dry, icky airplane air that keeps circulating germs around. It’s also the best way to flush out any germs wanting to take up residence in your nasal passages.

All of which still means I could catch a cold, as this week proved. If that happens, my first line of defence is lemon water with some salt, to correct the PH in my body. Usually, that and extra neti potting gets rid of the sniffles instantly, but if the cold really hits, and my throat is sore and I’m coughing, I love me some nin jiom pei pa koa which is a Chinese herbal cough syrup. It’s very soothing and tastes a lot better than cough syrup or even throat coat. I just pour a tablespoon into a cup of hot water and record at my leisure-assuming I’m up for recording.

My latest new (to me) discovery is using a steam inhaler. I’d heard from several vocal therapists that really the only way to hydrate your vocal folds is to breathe in steam. Even so, I didn’t bother getting one until this past week. The last time I had a cold, I had a pretty bad cough for several weeks that just would not go away, even with antibiotics. It left my vocal folds stressed out, and meant it took a tremendous amount of energy just to narrate for an hour or two. Now admittedly, aside from recording the first 15 minutes for Betrayal’s Price (by Lisa Blackwood), I haven’t actually tried to see how the steam affects my vocal cords. I’m trying to rest my voice for a day or two before getting in the booth. But so far, just for congestion, the steam inhaler has worked great. Before I bought the inhaler, I honestly couldn’t see myself using steam except when I had stressed my vocal cords,which is thankfully pretty rare. Now, I can see myself using it almost every day. It’s so easy to plug in and use for 5-15 minutes in the morning while I’m checking mail, and preparing for the day.

In other news, before I got sick, I’d been busy in the booth recording back-to-back audiobooks. The first, Omega by Lizzy Ford should hopefully be released in the next couple of weeks. It was such a fun book to record. A unique world, and such fun, sharp dialogue. The other book, is still in the process of being edited. That was also a very fun book to do. It’s the sequel to Aranya, Shadow Dragon by Marc Secchia. What a fun book. But oy vey, coming back to the characters and trying to remember accents and character voices after a year and a half was interesting. There’s also a whole lot of dragon voices in this book. Which just gave me an excuse to research World of Warcraft dragon voices on You Tube, because, why not?! 🙂

Quick Update

Gosh where has the last month gone? I can’t believe we’re almost halfway through the year. Yikes. Everything is blooming in Seattle, and it even got to the mid 80s the other day. I actually had to turn on the AC for my booth! It’s been a busy month too.  I had two new audiobooks come out: Gray Man Rising by PE Padilla and the third book in the First Ordinance series, BlackWing by Connie Suttle.

I also recorded two new audiobooks: Pirate Bound by Carysa Locke and I’m just finishing up the fourth book in the First Ordinance series SpellBreaker, both of those should be available around June.

With all that going on, I did still manage to take some time out to go to Emerald City Comicon where I was lucky enough to get a pro pass this year. I attended several VO panels, including the always entertaining Nolan North. I had hoped to meet some authors at the convention and maybe build some business relationships, but there weren’t as many independent authors there as I would have liked, although I did get intel on some new game and publishing ventures that I’ll be following up on.

All of these audiobooks this past month has meant I haven’t been too great with the marketing, although I have started to approach a overseas few elearning companies. I’ve gotten some good responses, so the seeds are still getting sown, just not as quickly as I’d like, and alas, the next month looks to be just as crazy. Which isn’t so bad….

Loneliness and the Voice Actor

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A few months back I was talking to someone who was interested in getting in to voice acting. She asked me an interesting question that I hadn’t really given much thought to: Do you ever get lonely?

The truth is, I don’t. Partly because I had already been working from home as a writer for several years before I began focusing full-time on voice acting. Even before that, my previous two jobs had me working alone quite a bit. My husband is also at home, so a conversation is only a few feet away if I need it.

As much as I enjoy being around other voice actors and going to an outside studio, I actually talk to a lot of voice actors every day on the various forums I frequent. Some of them I’ll even get to meet in person soon. How cool is that?! Not to mention, I have fellow VO I occasionally get coffee with, voice over meetups I sometimes go to, and most recently, I started going to an improv meetup. Add to that, my editing and proofing team for my audiobooks, and I feel as though I have plenty of co-workers to commiserate/share good news with.

So going back to the question, no I don’t ever get lonely, not really. I’m sure everybody does sometimes, and I certainly have those moments, but none of that is related to my job. Having said that, you do have to be a certain kind of crazy to be willing to shut yourself in a space the size of a closet for 2-4 hours a day. It’s not for everyone. It’s why many voice actors steer away from long form narration. For me, however, this works. I’m happy doing it. But I also have a family, neighbours, friends and co-workers who help keep me, if not sane, at least lucid.

In other news, book two in The First Ordinance series by Connie Suttle is going to be heading to Audible in the next couple of weeks, and I’m hoping to get started on book three shortly!

Happy New Year!

goals
I think I can still technically say Happy New Year. We’re only halfway through January! I got awfully busy towards the end of the year, finishing up sequels to both the Demon of Darkling Reach series (which is now out) and The First Ordinance series. After that, all my good intentions for the holidays went by the wayside, although I did manage to not check for auditions once during all my time off. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been wrestling with taxes and focussing on the year ahead.

Some of the things I discovered while doing the taxes, was that I can make a full-time living doing this. Or I did last year, anyway. With that in mind, my plan is to expand on that, and diversify, diversify, diversify.

The large majority of my work came from audiobooks. Like a good 80-something percent. So naturally I want to work on that. Do more video games. I’d like to start going to some of the video game developer meetups here in Seattle, for a start. But I also was to do more corporate work. I did a bunch of corporate narration last year, but most of it were from clients coming to me. I didn’t take the time to research and seek out clients. I hear that English Neutral voice is still popular, so I really need to start working on that area of my career.

I’m also looking at ways to diversify within audiobooks. I do the bulk of my work through ACX, and although that has become more my seeking out great books rather than auditioning for what’s available, I still need to branch out. Last year I was hired by one non-ACX publisher, and placed on the books of another major audiobook publisher. So for now, I’m going to look at expanding on that. One of the ways I want to do that is to (finally) go to APAC. I’ve talked about going to this audiobook publishers conference for a while, but I’m finally committing. I even joined the APA. I’m looking forward to meeting both fellow narrators and publishers, and just learning more about this industry. Oh yes. And I want to get more coaching. After listening to almost 20 hours of Kate Mulgrew’s gorgeous narration of N0S4A2 all I know is want to get more coaching so I can be that phenomenal.

There are other goals I’m working towards. A video game demo. Even a commercial demo, because really I ought to have one. Not to mention doing stuff that scares me. For instance, this weekend I plan to do an improv class. Terrifying. At least for me! I haven’t done improv in a long time, mostly because my last experience was not a great one. But improv is great for voice over and even better for the soul, so here goes nothing. But for the record, I’d rather go indoor skydiving!

That’s about all that’s been going on here. But Be sure to check out both The White Queen by PJ Fox and Finder by Connie Suttle.

100% Genuine Snake Oil

Snake-oil
I mentioned in my previous post that I’ve joined a Seattle VO meetup group. This has put me into contact with a lot of brand new VO talent looking to get coaching and break into the business. It’s a wonderful little group, all willing to share information. “Mr. LA Coach is in town next weekend for a workshop at XYZ Studios.” “Ms NY coach will be doing private sessions and you can even record your demo if you have a few thousand dollars laying around.” Okay, so maybe this kind of information isn’t helpful. If anything, I find it downright disturbing because you suddenly become aware of the sheer number of people who will happily take your money and leave you with the promise of a career.

Just in my few years training in VO I’ve had a coach contact me advertising his latest class with a reminder that he’s getting ready to help cast a major project so maybe if I sign up for the course, I can get hired too. I had another VO talent who I had contacted in regards to how she handled her British and American demos, who bombards me on a weekly basis with email about this course and that course that she’s selling. Even coaches who are supposedly beloved by professionals for taking them to “the next level” don’t seem above coaching beginners and producing their demos. I even saw a VO talent, with only two years in the business, teaching classes online, charging for basic information that is readily available online for free.

This isn’t to say that all coaches are like this. If you attend a Bob Bergen class for instance, he won’t even let you take another class for two years. Personally, I still remember working with Mary-McDonald Lewis, as we wrapped up the intro to voice over class she was teaching. She urged all of us in the class to continue studying with different coaches and not even think of making a demo for two years. Is that two years a hard and fast rule? No. Not necessarily. But she’s right that we shouldn’t make a demo until we’re absolutely ready. This business is harsh. You don’t get a second chance to make that first impression, and you have to be able to compete with the pros in LA who have tons of experience.

So how do we get that training? Well, for starters, by being discerning. Research, research, research. Lately, it seems, a lot of LA actors are discovering that Seattle is near enough away to come here for the weekend and teach a class. This is great news if that person is a working voice talent. But if that person has a small handful of video games under his belt and is more famous for his on camera work, maybe that isn’t the best way to spend $200. Ask around. Really ask around. Private message people. Nobody wants to openly bad mouth folks in this business, but they’ll be a bit more open about their experiences with certain coaches if they know it’s not available for the world to see.

But remember, it’s not just about coaching. We learn in all kinds of different ways. Some of those ways include practising with other voice talent so you coach each other. I actually hope we get to do more of this at our Seattle meetup group. If you don’t know any talent nearby, go to Edge Studios and record some of the practice scripts and put them up for evaluation. Also, go to voice bank and listen to demos from the pros. Record yourself reading copy, and listen critically. Compare yourself to the pros, and try to get a sense of what they are doing that you’re not doing. Voice Bank’s Voice Registry also has a great weekly workout session, which is a relatively cheap $84. The point is, coaching is great, if you can find a good coach you trust, who will bring the best out of you, but it takes more than money to get a voice over career started, and you may regret that four thousand dollars you spent on a demo when you consider that the average non-union voice talent earns about $4500 a year.

In other news, Intertwine, the time travel romance I recorded at the beginning of the year, hit number 11 on Audible (may have even gone higher than that, I only just discovered the stats) and was last seen planted between two Diana Gabaldon titles. I’m pretty chuffed, I must say! In the meantime, The Sea Queen by Jovee Winters is getting ready to be released on Audible, and I’m ging to be starting recording on book two of The Black Prince triology.