I was zoom chatting with a VO colleague of mine over the holidays and we got to talking about our careers and such. They’ve been in the business slightly less than my 20 some odd years and have done pretty well for themselves across multiple genres. We tend to like to rant and gripe about the state of the VO industry like a couple of Clint Eastwoods in Gran Torino, but it’s all in good fun. The topic of agents, managers and representation came up.
“I don’t get it. I see these postings from VO’s who talk about how THEY were approached by agents and managers and signed to rosters. In all my years I’ve never had an agent solicit me. In fact, I’ve had plenty who didn’t even respond when I solicited them. And I know it’s not me because I sure as hell am booking more than these actors who are posting these messages. Guess I’m not as successful as I thought”
Full disclosure – there definitely was a huge dose of sarcasm in the delivery. But I’m sure there was some truth in there as well. I had to remind them that they weren’t alone. I’ve never had an agent or manager reach out to me unsolicited (aside from some of those bot P2P emails we’ve all received at one point or another) – this in spite of what I’d consider a pretty healthy track record and client list. I’ve had the same Canadian agent for pretty much my entire VO career and even then, I had to approach them initially. Come to think of it, I waited 9 months AFTER I sent my stuff to actually get the nod. Since then, I’ve worked with a handful of regional agents in the U.S and abroad, but again all because I made the effort to approach them. For me though, that’s never been a part of my career that I lost sleep over, and it’s never hurt my feelings or made me question my value or worth. I’m a pretty realistic guy; I never expected the heads of places like Atlas, SBV, CESD, etc. to be scouring Canadian radio and television going ‘wow! What were we thinking?!? We need to sign him now!’ I’ve also never felt the need to shamelessly comment on any of their posts with a ‘what a great point you made in your random post! By the way, I’m TOTALLY the guy you should be signing!!’ (That’s an eye-roller for me when I see it happen). Maybe it’s the whole Canadian inferiority complex, but the reality is that it’s never crossed my mind. I’m happy just doing my thing up here in relative obscurity and just ‘working to live’ instead of ‘living to work’. I never really equated ‘being solicited by an agency’ with having made it.
A couple years back at a VO conference in Toronto that I was a guest moderator at, I was introduced to the wonderful Jeff Howell. We sat down and bantered about careers and goals etc. During our chat we talked about U.S. representation and I explained that I’d reached out to a few of the big agencies over the years but never got any traction. I also said that it didn’t really bother me because I was doing just fine up here in the Canadian market.
Believe me, that’s not a glib deflection to hide some sort emotional scars I might be carrying – that’s always been the truth; I REALLY AM good with what I’ve got going on here. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to build a career and personal lifestyle that, had you told underpaid “Full-time radio employee Mike” about 15 years ago was to come, he would have laughed in your face. Trust me, I’m so grateful for the varied opportunities I’ve had and continue to have, and dammit all – I worked my butt off for many years to get my career to this place. Ironically though, and maybe it’s my age and place in life, but I do find that I’m far less motivated now towards some aspects of the daily grind than some of my other fellow VO types. When I browse the groups on social media these days (which isn’t too often), I see so many who’s days appear to revolve solely around, ‘marketing…making a new demo…taking workshops…going to conferences…cold calling… more social media…looking for a new agent…”. The lists are exhausting. Look I get that it’s part of the hustle and that for many talents it’s a necessity. And yes when I was just starting out, I had a similar oft overzealous drive that consisted of many of the things on that list. But man… when I see these types of message threads, I start to get anxious – like I should be doing more of that in my own career. That’s when I snap myself back to reality and remember that everyone has a different approach to get to the finish line and I’m good with the path I’m on right now. Thankfully I’m fortunate to be working on the regular (or as I call it, ‘working enough to keep me from getting a real job’). Early on, some of the VO’s I looked up to had talked about getting to that point where you spend more time fostering and nurturing a handful of good relationships than spending all of your time working to make them. The comparison would be, watching your investments work for you as opposed to working for the money to invest. That was the goal for me once I realized that “Booking a TV show” or “Landing that national commercial” was the VO equivalent to having a cigarette; a quick fix that satisfies in the moment, but never quite fulfills the craving in the long term. Those things that I perceived as a noob as being the measures of success, ended up being not any of that at all.
Rarely do I post on VO chat groups – I’m not a fan of them for the most part – and when I do it’s usually with tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek. Social media platforms, while great marketing tools, have become a super easy way to skew the perception of one’s actual career success. I know that there are plenty of struggling talents who see all these supposed great accomplishments from their fellow VO’s, take them at face value, and then end up dealing with crushing feelings of self-worth that makes them question their own success. Yet, if only they knew the actual grey area where the truth resides, they might feel so much better about themselves. I know because early on in my career I was one of these people who felt unworthy to be in the same talent pool. Eventually I ended up meeting and getting to know some of these supposed successes only to find a great deal of smoke and mirrors. That’s when I had one of those ‘oh shit!’ moments where it opened my eyes to the fact that the only measure of success that mattered was my own personal happiness – not the acceptance of an awards committee, an agent, or even others in the VO community. I was happiest and felt my ‘success’ when I did things like, picking my kids up from school without having to worry about booking time off work. Having lunch dates with my real life friends during the week without fear of boss reprisal. Playing a round of golf at 11am on Thursday and not feeling any work guilt. Taking vacations whenever I felt like getting away without the concern of who I’m inconveniencing. Even something as silly as spending hours in my basement retooling a computer or fixing my arcade cabinet. All of those things combined as a whole made me feel like I had become ‘successful’. Those are the things I post about on social media. I suppose those are what some might consider my humblebrag posts of how well I’m doing in my career. Not a daily recount of the commercials or promos I’d booked (although once in a while for a cool project, yeah I was excited to share), or superficial and vague posts to establish my ranking in the VO community pecking order. Real things. Tangible things. Long term things. Most importantly, achievable things.
One of my favorite dinner conversations about VO I ever had, took place at WovoCon in Las Vegas a few years back. I was enjoying a great burger with the late great Patrick Sweeney – a fellow Canadian talent who was loved by all who met him. No one was ever more invested in your career and success than him, and if you needed a career cheerleader/motivator, he was the go-to-guy. So, as we sat there in the food court of NewYorkNewYork on a Vegas Saturday evening talking about future plans, he asked me,
“…so, what’s next for you? Moving to LA? Joining ACTRA (the Canadian equivalent to SAG/AFTRA)? Hitting up the big U.S. agencies?’ Almost without hesitation, I simply replied,
“honestly Pat…I’m good.”
Now instead of him following that up with the expected, “What?!? But don’t you want to get a big agent? Don’t you want to do big national commercials or a DreamWorks film? Don’t you want to voice promos for the big TV networks? Don’t you want to win a Voice Award?!?’, Pat simply looked at me with that smile he always had on and said,
“Good for you…”
Pat understood. He understood that for me, my happiness wasn’t defined by the work I did, the agents I had or didn’t have, the award recognition I received or didn’t receive. I loved Pat for that. Not just for the empathy and insight that his years of wisdom had, but for the person he was in general. He knew the real meaning of what it meant to be ‘successful’. I really do miss that guy…
So back to my original conversation with my VO pal who lamented at the fact that folks like Marc Guss, Mary Ellen Lord, Nate Zeitz, John Wasser, and so-on, hadn’t come calling during his career to sign him up. When the nerve that was touched by the topic began to relax, I just asked,
“Never mind all that…are you happy with your career and life?” to which they immediately replied,
“well yeah of course!”
I looked at them down the barrel of my webcam with a smile not so dissimilar to the one Pat had after my response to him and said,
“Good for you…”
The only measuring stick of success you ever need to concern yourself with, is your own personal happiness. Once you accept and appreciate that, everything else is just pure gravy…
“…this is a very simple game… you hit the ball, you throw the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes you win…Sometimes you lose…Sometimes…it rains.” – Bull Durham