Follow your VO passion? Or love the one you’re with?
Jul 12 2016
Do you dream of doing voice-over work? Should you pursue your passion? Let’s talk about that, starting with the other extreme.
If anyone knows about occupations that are not typically considered “dream” jobs, it’s actor, presenter and voice talent Mike Rowe, the host of TV’s “D***y Jobs.” Although those pursuits may not be dream jobs, the people he profiles seem pretty enthusiastic about their work and are careful to do it well. Rowe has noted their dedication. It’s why he says, “Don’t follow your passion.”
Rowe has been making this point for years. He says, “’Follow your passion’ is terrible advice.”
We hasten to elaborate – he means it’s bad to give such advice to someone you know nothing about. People shouldn’t follow their passion blindly. His point is that only being passionate about something does not necessarily make you good at it. Passion alone is okay for a hobby, but not necessarily for making a living.
Using his own life as an example, Rowe relates how his grandfather was a natural carpenter. Mike took all the shop classes in school, but by age 16, it had become obvious that he didn’t have his grandparent’s genius with lumber. On seeing a project that Mike brought home from wood shop, his grandfather advised him, “Mike, you can still be a tradesman, but only if you get yourself a different kind of toolbox.”
So, as an adult, after trying his hand at various types of performance jobs, he found a trade that he does excel at: Narration and hosting (although he characterizes his on-camera “D***y Jobs” role more as being a stand-in for the viewer).
Okay, most everyone reading this article would agree that Rowe still has a dream job. But Rowe’s point is that people shouldn’t necessarily follow their initial dream. Passion is important. But just as important is the ability to do the job well. Sometimes there are things we are passionate about but will simply never be great at, no matter how much effort we put into them. Basketball, auto racing, the piano, watchmaking, opera, whatever.
So, says Rowe, a young person’s first objective should be to find and explore opportunities.
That’s why he advises that people first identify a job they can do very well, and become passionate about that.
He uses the example of a man who started a business cleaning septic tanks. Why? The man saw a niche that people were not clamoring to occupy, and he got good at it. Then, Rowe says, the man realized he’d become passionate about it. And along the way, it probably helped that his business was turning him into a millionaire.
How does this relate to voice-over? Should you pursue it only if it will make you a millionaire? (Because, although it might, it much more likely will not – at least not without fruitful saving and investing your income over the course of your career.)
Applying this advice to voice-over:
Consider voice-over if you can do it well.
We’ll be the first to agree with Mike on that count. Not everyone is right for a career as voice talent. In fact, of the people who have taken our Investigate Voice Over class through the years, we have greenlighted only about half of them to proceed toward making a professional demo (with the prior coaching, practice, and planning that it entails). The others may have had the passion, but after various VO run-throughs, these people appeared unsuited in some way or another. In those cases, we candidly and politely explain why they seem unsuited for pursuing voice-over at a professional level.
(Professionalism and candor is why Edge Studio has received testimonials even from people whom we did not greenlight — because we don’t so much “reject” unsuited applicants as we encourage them to go in directions that would be potentially more fruitful for them – see below.)
Passion IS important.
Remember that Rowe’s point is that passion should not be pursued blindly. But, with any endeavor you might be good at, passion is highly important. In fact, among the self-written profiles of voice talent whose demos appear on EdgeStudio.com, many of them mention their passion for performance, a subject matter, or genre, or in some other sense.
Passion in voice-over equates to more than a sense of dedication. It also improves performance. Passion for whatever your script (or your character) is about, contributes to your delivery’s energy and credibility. Passion for a subject also makes it easier and more fun to pursue clients in that area. And it tends to make the “busywork” go more quickly. In short, passion – when combined with ability – contributes to professional success.
And, in turn, that contributes to passion. (That’s why we say “Voice-over work is the perfect positive cycle.”)
Business is important, too.
If that guy who turned to septic tanks had not operated in a businesslike manner, it’s unlikely he would have had much of a business at all, let along become a millionaire. The same is true of a voice-over career. It’s a business. It requires training, and practice, planning, marketing, records keeping, adaptation to changing markets, all the things that are also necessary to run a plumbing service or a framing store. These are things that you might not be so passionate about. But take a cue from the p**p-management guy – learn to become passionate about them, too, and watch that passion pay off.
Find your voice-over niche.
At Edge Studio, when you’ve been greenlighted for demo-track training, you work with various coaches, and before long you (and they) will get a sense of what VO genres you are best suited to. For example, have you always wanted to do audiobooks or animation? Explore those genres a bit. But it might be that your schedule, voice, stamina, versatility, personal nature, experience or some factor makes you better suited to Narration. Or some other genre, or the other way around. Go with your strengths.
The point is, learn to excel in the genres you can excel in. Love the one your with. Become a professional in that genre. Later, after you’ve got your business rolling, maybe you can try the first one again. Or maybe, with all your experience and insight by then, it will no longer seem so important.
If voice-over is not for you, explore other options — widely.
Although discouragement from proceeding is disappointing for some wannabees, it shouldn’t be discouraging altogether. It’s valuable information to know because it lets people re-focus on other possible goals. That’s where Rowe’s advice comes in – by exploring a range of interests, you’ll discover what you are really good at.
And keep exploring. For example, one of Rowe’s earliest show biz jobs was as a pitchman at the QVC shopping network. But he started out in opera, and his crossover into TV was actually a fluke.
We’re experts in the voice-over industry, not in every profession there is. So, if you’re not greenlighted for a demo, we don’t try to point you in a specific alternative direction. But we know that people with an initial passion for voice performance (or gab, or fame, or collaboration or whatever voice-over industry qualities were appealing) have instead turned that passion into a career in production, or personnel, or corporate scriptwriting, or audio technology, or computers, or sales, or some other field. Sometimes it’s a related field, sometimes unrelated.
So, whatever your passion, identify an opportunity that you’re good at, and bring your passion with you. That might be voice-over, maybe not. Just remember, it wasn’t until Mike brought home his craft project and asked for an expert opinion that he knew which direction to go.
Passion is Too Important to be Without, but Too Fickle to Be Guided By. By Mike Rowe