Opposites-Chess Kings, Jon Gardner Voice-Overs
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I did something I don’t normally do. A while ago, I was going through a period of discouragement and frustration. The bookings weren’t coming in and I had begun to question if I had a place in the voice-over world at all. Have you ever felt those times of self-doubt? My attitude was bad, and when I walked into the booth to record that day, I knew I was only going through the motions. That day’s auditions were not getting done because I was inspired, but because I knew I needed to do them.  I was rapidly headed toward the need for a desperate change, à la George Costanza.

The first take was my “normal” take, the one where I try to give them what they asked for; to match the specs as closely as possible. I did a technically good job, but knew it was less than memorable. *Yaaawnn* 

Attitude

I was sick of it. Sick of doing what I always do. Sick of doing everything “correctly”, but not getting the jobs. So, in a moment of childish pique I took a great big OMG bungie jump as an act of rebellion. I was going to do a take the way I wanted to, ignoring the specs and damn the torpedoes! The resulting delivery was over-the-top, dripping with snark and sarcasm. It was a pure expression of my frustration; not at all what they asked for, but damn it felt good! And why not? I already believed they weren’t going to book me.

Finishing the process, I quickly edited it, then sent in both takes before I could have second thoughts.

Have you ever clicked the send button, then immediately regretted it? Something you were embarrassed by—the sound quality wasn’t great, your performance was off, or your attitude sucked so you took a huge dive off the deep end and went a little too crazy and now you wish you had never been born and why oh why isn’t there an “unsend” button? I immediately felt shame for my childish behavior and was apalled to have sent something to a prospective client which was so unprofessional. What was I thinking? I was certain I would be added to their “DO NOT HIRE under any circumstances and be sure to save for everyone to laugh at during the company Christmas party” list.

Shocked

Well… I got the booking*.

As you may imagine, I was shocked. No, not just shocked. Shocked and pleased. Shocked and pleased and… enlightened? Challenged?

Getting this booking in this particular way reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza realizes that every decision he has ever made has been wrong. Why the connection? Possibly because my brain has a mind of its own and I count myself fortunate if the memory file it pulls out of its dusty cabinet is related in any way to the matter at hand? Yeah, pretty much.

Anyway, fed up with the way his life has always been, George chooses to step out and do the exact opposite of what he would normally do, no matter what. Et voilà, he begins to speak French. No, that isn’t right. Once he starts to choose the opposite of his natural instincts, the world miraculously opens up for him and he goes from being an absolute loser to being an instant success. Walking up to the first beautiful woman he see, he blurts out with “My name is George, I’m unemployed and I live with my parents”. You’ll need to watch the clip for her reaction. Using the same tactic of doing the opposite of what he would normally do, he eventually gets a dream job with the New York Yankees.

Being safe is a good thing, right?

If you’ve read my blogs in the past, you know I tend to overthink. Overthinking can lead to a habit of taking the safe route, or worse yet, not doing anything. Why do I do that, you ask?

  • I want to be seen as a professional, so refrain from doing things which might make me look foolish,
  • I am afraid of my first impression being a bad one so refrain from risk taking,
  • I want to give my clients what they ask for, so don’t take the risk of giving them something they didn’t ask for,
  • The audition specs have influenced me too much,
  • I have so much training and advice floating around in my head that I get distracted trying to remember what I am “supposed” to do,
  • I am bored with writing bullet points.

Setting aside how easily I get bored, my natural inclination is to go the conservative route and do what is expected. The problem with that should be obvious. Doing a “safe” take won’t stand out from all the other people who also did it the “right way”. When a person doing casting is clicking through 100 auditions as fast as they can, it isn’t like playing roulette where the ball is eventually going to drop on your number by the whim of random chance. I know that to be chosen, my auditions need to somehow be different. To stand out. To make that happen, I sometimes need to set aside my natural inclinations and take risks like George Costanza.

Is it me?

At the most recent VO Atlanta conference, J. Michael Collins spoke on what he called being “the weird little car” (This link will take you to a webinar he gave on the topic; the recording is available). Being who I am, I may have missed the point entirely, but my takeaway was an encouragement to take a little risk in auditions, to add some of my personal “special sauce” once in a while, to give them something that might take them by surprise. JMC described it as sounding  “A little bit different, a little more interesting”. Hmmm. And maybe a little bit more me?

Careening from one topic to another like a pinball machine as my mind is inclined to do, I went from the weird little car idea to realizing again that I need to embrace who I am and how I sound. Being me naturally sets me apart from everyone else. To put it another way, I need to quit trying to be what I think everybody else wants. Instead, I need to let more of my creative and sometimes emotional side come through. I need to be the best me I can (within the parameters of what is appropriate; there are parts of me which never need to see the light of day).

Too much of a good thing

My natural inclination is to please people. I’ll admit it, I want to be liked and admired. I especially want my clients to like me so much they repeatedly send me high paying jobs over and over ad infinitum. However, experience tells me that I can get too tangled up in what they say they want, what the trends in the industry are, or the words and advice of coaches and friends. When I do, I can easily lose my grasp on that special spice that is me.

The risk

Having once again digested this reminder, I quickly realize that being my real self can be scarier than hell. Oh, it sounds easy enough. If I want to stand out, all I need to do is not get too mentally caught up in all those other things and let myself be myself. What could be easier?

Well, think about this: If being me and sounding like me is the key to standing out, then all of the “rejections” I get just became a lot more personal. All of a sudden not being booked is looking a lot less like getting passed over on a whim, which is what I tell myself to make myself feel better, and a lot more like they didn’t like ME. Or at least the sound of me. Yikes! What if who I am isn’t interesting enough? What if my natural sound is too generic?

So how does taking risks and doing things opposite of my instincts factor in? Can the two ideas peacefully coexist? Can I learn to take risks that are not my first impulse while still letting my unique personality shine though?

George to the rescue

Once again, I take inspiration from George Costanza. When he embraced the idea of doing the opposite of his norm, he jumped in with both feet. Bravely risking rejection and humiliation, he put his shoulders back, strode boldly forward and did it, letting the chips fall wherever they might. If you’ve watched the episode, you know it worked for him. And since we all know that everything on TV is real and reliable, I know this will work for me too. What could go wrong?

Well, it might not always be the best idea to do the exact opposite of your natural inclination, but give yourself the freedom to step out of your comfort zone once in a while. Especially when I am struggling to get bookings, or discouraged because nothing I seem to do works, I tell myself to do the opposite of what I have been doing. It probably won’t get me a job with the Yankees, but it can break me out of an entrenched mindset, and sometimes offers a bit of comic relief. Then, if necessary, I go back to doing the read I “should” do, but with a new state of mind.

In light if George’s example, and as a life-long Star Trek fan (speaking of TV shows), I am hereby resolving to “boldly go”. Where I am at on that journey may change from day to day, but I am choosing to go boldly. (More about Star Trek on an upcoming episode of this blog—subscribe so you don’t miss it!)

Homework

So here are some creative ways to take today’s ramblings to heart.

  • Be yourself as much as possible,
  • Fearlessly take (reasonable) risks,
  • Randomly watch Jerry Seinfeld reruns hoping for wise guidance for personal development,
  • Watch everything ever made with the words Star Trek in the title to prepare for the upcoming episode of The TL;DR Voice-Over Blog, so while you are wasting your time doing that, I can book the jobs you haven’t auditioned for, and
  • Believe everything you see on television.

What could go wrong?

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*In case you are wondering, even though I booked this job, they did not want the “wild” take I had sent them. The final was something closer to what the spec asked for, with just a hint of snark. They didn’t directly say so, but I got the idea they did hire me because of the second take, even though they didn’t use it. I believe it was mostly because they thought I might be fun to work with. Whatever works, right?

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-Jon

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7 Responses

  1. Great blog, Jon! I’m so happy that you booked that job and that you took some risks. I think that most of us want to be liked and rehired, so you’re not alone. It’s great advice to try to be you authentically, but adding your little special sauce to stand out from the crowd!

  2. Oh I was going to ask if they booked you because of your Side B…but if they didn’t, I’m sure it was a factor in them choosing you. See? It pays for your brain to have a mind of its own! I’m glad you got that gig, buddy. I truly am. And I totally know what you mean about all of the training bouncing around in your head, and wondering if you’re banging on all cylinders and checking off EACH box EACH time. Sometimes it can all be too much and can make my head expl- BOOM!

    *all the king’s horses…*

    Anyway…seriously glad for you. Get of your head, and your head’s head, will you? There are jobs to be booked, and while I’m watching Star Trek, I would like for you to book them all please. Especially that one that just came across calling for an effeminate 10-year-old Jamaican boy with a lisp. I’m confident you’ll nail that one with your A AND B takes. What could go wrong?

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