The First Atlanta Comic Con happened last weekend and I, of course, had to be in attendance! This event was produced by Imaginarium Agency, who have also hosted comic conventions in San Francisco, Detroit, Tamp Bay, Florida, and Indianapolis.1
Full disclosure, I went solely for personal (aka ‘nerdy’) reasons however I actually realized – or re-confirmed – a two key factors for my own voice acting career.
The convention was hosted in Building C of the Georgia World Congress Center, the third-largest convention center in the United States #humblebrag. This Center has also been the home of the Anime and Gaming convention Momocon, although that is housed in Building A. I only mention this because I had to walk from Building A to Building C (it’s all under one roof but they’re just that large that they have to divide the center by ‘buildings’) and I learned the hard way that the strap of my super comfy shoes can, in fact, rub against my skin quite punishingly.
But I digress.
I only attended Saturday and I actually did not partake in any of the panels; I found the gaming hall to be a bit lacking – comparatively to other conventions I’ve attended – although in actuality, it was the size of a modest Arcade found inside a mall.
The Exhibit Hall (Dealer’s Room / Artist’s Alley) felt a bit more like a Market, in that both dealer and artist were mixed in with each other (at least, that seemed to be the case). It was again, different from what I’ve experienced but the mingling of “Company” and “Artist” was actually quite complimentary and it did give more of a ‘community’ vibe that was appreciated.
Now, on to the meat of my experience – the guests! There were so many amazing talent in attendance and due to time (and budget) restraints, I had to narrow my visits to two; Austin St. John and David Hayter.
Austin St. John is probably best known for his portrayal of Jason, the Red Ranger from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. However he has been in other projects that I’ve just recently learned about, so I’ll definitely be checking those out soon!
The visit with Austin was mostly for my childhood self; as a young girl, I had a crush on ‘Jason’ and absolutely hated when he left (along with Zack and Trini) – their replacements were lackluster in my childhood’s opinion and since I couldn’t connect with Rocky, I ultimately stopped watching the show regularly. But that didn’t stop me from adding Jason into the Lego games my sister and I played (based off Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books… don’t ask, it’s this whole thing). Needless to say, that character – and in turn, Austin – had a big influence on my childhood.
Obviously, I didn’t tell him all this. But I did admit to having a crush on him and in return, he offered a very genuine and warm hug; it didn’t feel like an obligatory “I have to do this for PR” hug, which was very refreshing. With this meeting, I reaffirmed that what we go through in our childhood should not be ignored or forgotten as we age. So much of our growing experiences shape who we are as adults. If some have to seek a therapist to get over bad experiences and traumas then why should we not also encourage and celebrate the fond memories?
I will continue to make my child-self’s dreams come true and this picture will always remind me of this vow.
And also… I might have that crush again. 😉
I then ventured to my second visit – David Hayter. David is a screenwriter, actor, and (for me) most notably the voice of Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid Series. (Technically, he does a few versions of Snake but I won’t get into that).
I am obsessed with MGS and I ‘collect’ photos of me with Metal Gear Cosplayers, especially Snake. There’s something about that gravely voice and dutiful nature to do good that elicits loyalty to the character and I project that onto David because… well, that’s just what I do!
But what I find so fascinating about this encounter was that it was so simple yet poignant to my current situation.
I approached him with my chosen picture for his autograph and in response to his “Kept you waiting, huh?” (A popular Snake quote) I said something along the lines of, “It was worth it” and jumped right into “I know you hear it all the time, but I love Metal Gear.” Then, realizing that he in fact does probably hear it all the time, I added “but I’m also a fan of your directing” – for which I’m a bit embarrassed because he’s more of a screenwriter than director but I mistakenly believed he directed X-Men, so go me *eyeroll* Always do your research before opening your mouth, kids!
Nonetheless, he brushed it off smoothly (he has directed, so it’s not impossible for me to be a fan of his work. At least I didn’t name any titles!) and said (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember the exact words he used), “Thank you! That is my main job – this voicing stuff is fun and great but that other side is my bread and butter.” (perhaps he said 9-5, I can’t recall sadly!)
He then asked me where I was from and what my job was. I stumbled and said “sort of a voice actor” because, well, compared to him I’m not really anything. But I continued with “I do commercials.” I did also state my day job in Children’s Entertainment but he honed in on the VO portion, guessing that the market is good in Atlanta (it is). He then told me that was good because I have a great voice. *Insert Schoolgirl Squeal* (or did he say ‘lovely’ voice? I wish I had been less flustered!). I thanked him, took the below photos and walked away, trying not to make anymore of a fool out of myself.
That conversation could have gone a bit better, on my part. (David was great – his hands were incredibly soft too, as a random fyi). However, I was still able to take from it a few points:
First, don’t ever sell yourself short. No, I am not as well-known as David nor is my resume as affluent as most voice actors, but I have done actual voice work for real clients. I have earned over five figures in my very, very part-time career, in which I’ve taken multiple months off of actual auditioning throughout that time. I am not a “freebie” or “fanmade-only” talent, I have never sold my services on Fiverr and I only took one gig (my first) on Freelancer. I am doing this thing correctly and while it may not be a steady source of income, I have benefited by it and seen an ROI, so to speak. You do yourself a disservice by speaking so humbly that you undermine your accomplishments.
Second, we as a society idolize “the rich and famous” so much that we often forget that they are people, too. Successful people; people you can learn from. It’s hard, I know, when you’re standing there and have all of 1 minute of time with a person. But like a radio call-in or a Q&A Panel, don’t waste your precious time spewing “I’m such a fan”. Yes, they know. That’s why you stood for however long in their line, paying whatever price for some ink. Really think clearly what you want out of this opportunity. When I met Jim Cummings, he sang me a verse of “Little Girl Blue” (Darkwing Duck’s lullaby to Gosalyn) and honestly, looking back, that’s more than I could have asked for. It may sound silly but that song means so much to me for probably unrelated reasons. But that moment was more precious than any advice Jim could have given me (and that’s saying something because man, is that man talented!). David taught me this just by simply starting a conversation. Sometimes, it’s hard to think “how can I learn from this?” or “What’s the take-away?” but if you ever have a chance to meet someone in your career-field or even just someone successful in whatever they do… make it count.
Third, Instagram isn’t Reality. I know, it doesn’t make sense but hear me out. I’ve heard this lesson before but it didn’t truly hit me until this encounter; it actually made me gasp internally with realization. David is not a full-time voice actor. He has talent and he does get voice work but he does not (seem to) rely on that as his main source of income (i.e. career). I knew this, of course. In Scene Study 101 I was told that only 2% of Actors are full-time and only about 0.8% of those are “household names”. Well, my vocal coaches have also told me that most voice actors are not full-time. In fact, if you want to be a full time voice talent, you need to do Commercials, E-Training, and Promos. That’s where the money is; the “Acting” side is just for fun. Unless you’re one of the few.
And certainly the proof is clear. How many successful voice talents also coach or produce demos on the side? Run a podcast or blog that produces income. Are also singers or writers or casting directors for other projects…. how many seminars have you been to where the speaker does voice work as their sole source of income? Just by being a speaker negates those chances, doesn’t it? I suppose one can dabble, of course….
But that’s not how they sell themselves, is it? Back to Point #1 – they don’t say they are “sort of” successful because why would you train and take the advice of someone who isn’t happy with where their career currently lies? They will instead highlight their champion moments like a well photo shopped picture with the perfect filter.
In that same vein, there’s nothing wrong with multi-tasking careers or having a successful side hustle.
Take David, for example. He was perfectly happy and confident to exclaim that Screenwriting and Directing is his “day job”; he just does voice-over work for fun. Wouldn’t he be considered successful? I did pay to meet him, after all!
And that is my fourth take-away. You have to find your own definition of success and happiness, which is something I’ve touched on before in my blog, so I won’t go into this idea further now.
Going back to the third point which goes hand-in-hand with the fourth: Instagram isn’t Reality. People will boast at events or post exciting opportunities but they won’t show the times in between. What happens in the time when they don’t have a gig or a seminar they’re teaching or a convention they’re attending. Yes, they – the other talent in the industry – may in fact get steady work; I am not trying to discredit their success. But I cannot let their declarations discredit my own success.
So often I am disgruntled, not by the grind of auditions or rejections I may face, but by my own community advertising weekly workshops, four-part seminars, and class after class, just in the hopes that I might become “good enough” to even warrant the chance to audition. And that’s not accurate. Yes, one must always continue to learn and grow; refresher courses are good to keep your skills honed. Even nurses do this. But just because I have a “day job” doesn’t mean I am failing at being a voice over artist.
It’s okay if it’s only part-time. It’s okay if it’s “just a side-hustle”. I can still live my dream and free my passion while relying on a steady source of income.
Boy, it sure did take me a long time to get my point across! Some lessons are difficult to put into words, I think. It’s more a ‘feeling’ of reassurance or perhaps justification. But thanks for sticking with it.
As I move forward with my career, I must nourish my childhood’s imagination and wonder and never diminish all that I have achieved. Yes, there is still more I am capable of; but that does not lessen what I have already done.
Progressing with the understanding that voice over might always be “part-time” for me, and the idea that that’s okay, will help me remove the pressure I put on myself which is what ultimately leads to my burn-outs on this journey. I need to be disciplined – like Austin with his martial arts – and confident in “doing it for the fun” – like David.
Thank you, gentlemen, it was a pleasure meeting you both!