Building a Cathedral

If you visit Europe (or many parts of Asia), one of the things that will immediately stand out to the “average” American, is the intense, almost overpowering assault of history. Cities such as Paris or Prague (that weren’t leveled by the savages of war) with their architectural glories built over hundreds of years is at times too much for the senses of the modern American lens. The Sagrada Familia for example first started construction in 1882 and continues to this day. It’s slated year for completion is 2026. When famed architect Antoni Gaudi died in 1926, the construction was only one quarter of the way completed. Could you imagine starting a project that you knew might only be completed a century following your death?

In the US, this sort of long-term vision about everything from architecture to business is just the status quo. In a culture that views long-term planning as looking ahead to the next quarterly report, the concept of taking 400 years to build something like Angkor Wat is just well beyond of our field of vision.

I’m not disparaging the Americanized world-view of short-term vision, just pointing out that the kind of long-term, nobility in pursuit of other cultures, especially other cultures immersed in a previous world view of that kind of nobility in pursuit, is very far removed from the short term gain that drives us in western culture today.

So what the hell does this have to do with voice acting and voice over? Stick with me a minute. Too often we are looking at the short-term and the payoff, when we should be looking at the potential benefits of a longer-term strategy. All too often to I hear questions from the VO community (whatever that is) asking, “how do I get started” or “how do I make money now!” Face it, most of the folks who are very successful at this biz (and I do not count myself as one of them) approached it from a very telescopic viewpoint of “how do I get there from here” as opposed to “I need to meet that goal now.”

We do live in a western culture that is possessed in the “now” and that desires near instant gratification. Pair this with the current “gig economy” and it’s easy to enter despair over our inability to reach near-term goals that closer resemble a much less myopic view of talent that have already reached or come close to reaching those lofty goals in their VO career.

I’ve read inquiries ranging from, “Hey, I want to start voice acting, do you think I can make a $1000.00 next week?” to “If I send my VO reel to Fox do you think I’ll get a job voicing the next Simpsons episode? I sound just like Bart!” The answer is no and no. You know, I can put a sentence together (for the most part) and I have no delusions that I’m going to write for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Those folks put in many years of work and training to get there, struggled, clawed their way to the top and many others who did, who may or may not have just as much talent, still don’t get there. No one ever told you anything was going to be easy, and if they did, well, they were wrong. Life isn’t fair, even for folks who work hard, struggle, claw their way through the mire and desire and/or deserve all the success that’s “owed” to them. It just isn’t. Sorry.

Still, there is a chance you can get there from here. Study, train, rehearse, work work work. You may not reach a “top-rung” but you will reach a rung. And keep your eyes on the cathedral. That is, think long-term and don’t sell yourself short.

In today’s gig economy world, more and more of the pie is being sliced into smaller and smaller slices. If you don’t live in NY or LA, well your chances of eating the big slices are very small. The P2P world of VO is even chewing into that (just consider that a lot of the former “big-league” talent aren’t even doing voice over any more, they can make more money training an ever widening pool of talent wading into ever receding waters). I do not believe that P2P is the epitome of all evil in the VO world, it has opened doors to talent that were garrisoned by what could almost be considered a cabal of professional talent and agents that was just inaccessible to all but a very few. And why shouldn’t they have kept those gates locked? It served their interests well. But the flood-gates have opened and well, the levy has broken and and the 5th ward is under water boys and there’s just no turning back.

But VO isn’t the only business or “art” that is or continues to be under siege from the flood of disruption. We just happen to be close to this particular shattering and hear the rage of voices sailing in our glass bottom boat above a river of offal. The digital revolution and computers were the greatest thing to ever happen to music, because it gave everyone the ability to have a voice and make their own music to share with the world. The digital revolution and computers are the WORST thing to ever happen to music, because it gave everyone the ability to have a voice and make their own music to share with the world. Just replace “music” with “VO” for a bit of fun.

Still the cathedral is there, off in the distance. Will you build it without learning architecture (training)? If you try your cathedral will undoubtedly end up looking more like a woodshed than a wonder. Can you reach your goals by filling up your coffers with $5 gigs from Fiver? It’s undoubtedly not a good long-term plan. Find the nobility in your own pursuit, looking backwards through a telescope isn’t a plan, it’s just an exercise in short-term frustration and the cathedral becomes a spec instead of a vision.

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