Tag Archives: Con-volution

How to Get Started as a Voice Actor – Panel Notes from Con-Volution 2015

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library bards poster smThis was the kind of panel I attend because it’s a subject about which I am Totally Clueless. It was totally worth it. Xander Jeanneret and Bonnie Gordon are voice actors who started in in theater, and now do voicing. As the Library Bards, they sing nerdy parodies of current hit songs.

Main points:

  • Major markets can be split into: Commercial, industrial, games, anime. Usually commercial and industrial pay the best – and may require Union membership.  They may also pay residuals i.e. like royalties every time the sound clip is used. (The relevant Union is SAG-AFTRA.) Anime, games, cartoons tend to pay a one-time fee and that’s it.
  • You need to be able to record and edit your own clips. They recommended Audacity and a good microphone that plugs into your laptop. They use a Snowball mic. (I’ve done Audacity once, and it wasn’t easy – but I could see how it could become so with practice.)
  • You don’t need a home studio, you can improvise. A closet makes a good studio, because the clothes damp the sound and improve the acoustics. In an emergency (like recording in a hotel room), you can throw a blanket or towel over your head, the mic and the laptop. Audacity has a noise reduction option; if you give it a few minutes of silence before you start recording, that defines a background “noise” to get rid of.
  • Sometimes, local studios are available for rental by the hour.
  • You can do a lot of voices by changing speed, level, pitch, or adding a speech impediment. T.C. Helicon  audio equipment can help change pitch.
  • You absolutely need a “reel” – a demonstration MP3. Some voice actors include actual work they’ve done. People who are just starting out can invent their own – read some stuff out loud and show the voices you can do. (Tip: Do not do existing commercials! But you can make up your own commercial for a fictitious product.) Xander recommends putting your reel on Youtube with a headshot so it’s easy to share.
  • You can get projects on the internet. The three sites they mentioned were Voices.com (free), Voices123 (which charges a fee), and ACX.com which is an Amazon audio-book site.
  • You can get voiceover agents, but Bonnie didn’t feel it was very valuable for her. This was in part because she took on a lot of very small projects, mostly from Voices.com
  • Bonnie recommended taking all the gigs you can get initially – even unpaid ones – to build your contacts. Sometimes, you can do voice work for someone as a favor, and they can give you some professional help.
  • Union membership is a double-edged sword. Union jobs pay better, but there aren’t that many of them – and especially people who are starting out need to do non-Union jobs to build their networks. If you’re Union, you can do a non-Union job, though it’s frowned on; but if you’re not in the Union you aren’t eligible for Union gigs.
  • Screen actors are beginning to do voice-acting work and are in demand because of the name recognition. Not all of them are good voice actors, though!
  • Voice acting usually requires exaggeration, not perfect realism. One of the best ways to learn is to listen. Watch the commercials, listen to how they do it.
  • They recommended Dee Bradley Baker’s blog, I want to be a Voice Actor as a good place for beginners.

First Time at ‘Convolution’ near SFO

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freebie table

Convolution, held last weekend at the Hyatt Airport Hotel near San Francisco Airport, started only 3 years ago. I’d never attended before, and really enjoyed it. I came at it from a literary con experience – Wiscon, World Fantasy, FOGcon.  I’m not giving up those Cons, but this was different.

people in awesome costumesConvolution was a multi-con, a big tent. From steam-punk people in gorgeous gowns or vests and hats to a troop of Vulcans and Darth Vader himself, to singers and authors and gamers, it seemed to have something for every flavor of fan.  It had literary tracks with discussions of genre divisions and publicity for authors. It had science tracks, and a Silicon Valley Science Fiction short film festival (which unfortunately I missed). It had filks and karaoke (going on simultaneously). It had costuming – people making them, people wearing them, and people entering a masquerade contest.  It had a whole children’s track – Playzone. And a Dealers Room and an Art Show. I even got to attend a panel about Babs Con, a convention for the thousands of followers of My Little Pony.

masquerade costumesThe programming was insanely wonderful. For a 700-hundred person Con, it had up to 10 events going on simultaneously! I always found 3 or 4 I wanted to attend at the same time.  The downside was that the audience for each thing was small – sometimes only 3-4 people. With such small groups, they tended to run out of steam before the allotted 90 minutes, though all the panelists were very good. (Well done, Convolution!) The only really well-attended events I went to were the Masquerade, and then the closing ceremony. Convolution hopes to grow into this amount of programming – they would like to see 1000 people there next year.

Costumes. Other Cons I’ve attended don’t encourage costuming. I thought it added atmosphere. This was especially important because owing to the hotel’s layout, Convolution doesn’t have a hub. There’s no place where people can hang out and gather.  The hotel is laid out in a giant square, with a beautiful tree-lined atrium with a restaurant. There’s no place to gravitate to. The sports bar is off to one side. The Con suite was up on the 2nd floor, a long walk from the elevator. (There’s only one set of elevators, so it can be a very long walk indeed.)

Convolution had events going in multiple venues on 3 sides of the square, which diffused the effect and reduced the buzz – except that there were all these people in awesome costumes wandering around.

dragon hunterI wondered how many of the 700 people attending actually stuck around the whole time.  I went in on Friday evening, after the opening ceremonies, and stayed through the closing ceremony  – but I think quite a few people only came for a day or even just a few hours.  That’s the downside of the location being so accessible.

The hotel is ADA-compliant, and quite a few people with mobility issues attended. It didn’t seem easy, exactly, because the hotel had some many different levels with steps up and down, but it was generally feasible.  It was also nice to see gender and race diversity.

The food situation at the hotel wasn’t great. It was not too bad in the morning and until 2 p.m., though their cafe easily gets overloaded. But from 2 p.m., there’s either nothing but the sports bar, or the rather expensive restaurant for dinner. The Con Suite, to my surprise, closed at 8 p.m. (though  parties went later, to maybe 2 in the morning). Some people ordered in food from outside restaurants. Next year, I might bring a care package from home and stick it in the mini-fridge.

Victorian wonder womanThe hotel apparently discouraged signage, and so there wasn’t enough. It took a while to get oriented, especially since the Con had so many venues . The parties (on the 2nd floor) were especially tough to find. I never was quite sure whether I was in the right room for a panel, because the doors didn’t have signs on them saying what was going on. Unlike FOGcon and Wiscon, where the hotel seems to welcome the Con and want to support and be part of it, this hotel seemed to just tolerate it. At the feedback session, some people mentioned maintenance issues, like the mini-fridge not working or not existing.

role reversal leia and slave Han SoloOther than that, the hotel was nice. The atrium was awesome – my room looked out onto trees inside the hotel! The hallway also had windows overlooking SFO’s runway, and planes were always landing or taking off. The staff were friendly. The person who checked me in comped my parking when I said I was at the Con but hadn’t registered early enough to get the block rate. They also comped the internet, which was good enough though not as fast as I would have liked. Apparently, they normally charge for it – even in the 21st century.

hyatt sfo atrium at night