~ Or: It actually IS possible for a larger event to feel like a small gathering
I’ve been wanting to jot down a write up* about the “That’s Voiceover!” career expo for what feels like a whole lotta weeks now.
Well here we are finally getting after it. The short version is that it was ASTOUNDING!
I don’t do short versions.
As a result of the convention being back in person, Los Angeles is the spot! And because it’s on the same coast as this bald guy, it was an easy decision to make as far as going. When balanced against the cost of going across the country by plane, the decision was a piece of cake.
It also didn’t hurt that my Clubhouse cohosts were going to be there too. More on that in a bit.
This is a long post! Pop some corn. Turn down the lights. Find a blanket. Enjoy some words about a pretty darn cool event and the people who run it.
* as I was writing that sentence I found it kinda funny that Jot Down and Write Up could be right next to each other and make perfect sense without actually making any sense whatsoever. It also sounds like it should be part of a James Brown song and now I’m going to have his discography stuck in my head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.
What exactly is SOVAS?
SOVAS, like so many other things in our regular and irregular lives, is an acronym for more words. In this case, it’s the “Society of Voice Arts and Sciences.” SOVAS is a charitable organization that has a powerful mission to “galvanize the global voice acting community.”
I would like to stop for just a moment to acknowledge use of the word “galvanize.” Because seriously, who else uses that fantabulous word in a sentence these days?
The way that SOVAS accomplishes its mission is via a variety of means. I am pasting the remainder of their mission statement below.
Connecting job seekers to the consummate sources of training, education, mentoring, and employment opportunities required to create and sustain a successful career in the voiceover industry. Our mission is accomplished by putting diversity, equality, and inclusion first. Through the ongoing development and administration of programs featuring educational events, financial scholarships, job placement, meaningful networking opportunities, and awards recognition through the Voice Arts® Award program, we intend to elevate the value of the art and craft of voice acting, such that it is fully respected as a vital element of media communications, art, and humanitarianism.
That’s a mouthful! It’s also an incredible mission to take on. Anyone who knows me knows that I have very strong opinions about individuals and entities who would easily prey upon folks who may not know any better due to lack of exposure or newness to an industry like this. Or any other industry, for that matter. The absence of ethical checks and balances and all that.
The mission statement above is an all-encompassing goal that lines up quite nicely with many things that are meaningful to me. All of the things under the supervision of individuals who have time and again demonstrated actual support to the best interests of the people they encounter. Folks who attend their events. Truly having the best interests at heart of everyone who crosses their path. Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins sum that up perfectly in their mission to provide that support and encouragement and live that mission by their words and their actions.
What is the purpose of the “That’s Voiceover!” Career Expo?”
The “That’s Voiceover!” Career Expo is one of the focus activities of the SOVAS calendar and an integral part of its mission. As difficult as it seems and as surprising as it sounds, it’s an event that carries appeal and benefit to just about everyone who attends no matter which side of the mic they are on or at what stage they are in their journey. Newcomers have opportunities to network with other folks in the industry who are both new and seasoned. New and seasoned actors both benefit from the expertise of the very carefully selected panelists who present at the event. I’ll go over some of that in the highlights next section.
Those very same panelists have opportunities to get to interact with people who make up quite a bit of the folks who they may be working with in the near and distant future. There’s definitely a degree of symbiosis involved that feels very natural in comparison to other events that I can recall being at throughout the years.
One of the things that I feel makes this possible is the fact that there are very few overlapping events, if any. One panel at a time. Tight scheule! The panel subjects vary up and down the entire spectrum of voiceover interests. Everything from animation to gaming to commercial to even more sensitive topics like AI. All were represented and every panelist was open to conversation about their subjects after each panel.
Ok, on to some highlights! There were SO MANY but I’ll try to condense them at bit so that this doesn’t have to drag on for hours of reading that ain’t nobody got time for.
Some Highlights from “That’s Voiceover!”
Like I mentioned above, the subjects of panels at the event were varied all across the spectrum of this wild and crazy industry. Deliberately. Joan and Rudy are very much into œffering wide arrays of information to everyone who attends and each subject was selected to bring the biggest impact to all of the attendees.
There’s no way that I can cover everything that took place so I’m just going to touch on a few of them. There are probably better write-ups elsewhere but this one is mine.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few of them!
Easily one of the most controversial subjects for voice actors across the board. And while AI is a very hot-button topic for copywriters, educators, artists, and just about everyone else right now, voice acting was the subject at hand at the convention. And this one was a doozie.
From my perspective, there were two angles of interest in the panel.
AI THE FIRST
The first was as it relates to scripted programming and rendering of voice output. The idea behind this is that text is entered into an engine. An AI system then takes that text and “interprets” it in ways that are meant to sound natural. It does this by having hours and hours of recorded speech patterns to draw from and being taught how things should be said.
Once programmed, the engine spits out different takes based on specific criteria. It takes direction in the form of description and interprets based on that information. The end result can be a variety of A B C interpretations for a director to choose from. The final output is selected and the recording is ready to use. Since this is all based on programming, actors are rightly nervous about how close it’s getting to sounding almost as good as them. By the same token, it’s not there yet.
AI THE SECOND
The second angle was interesting! I’d heard of C.L.Ai.R.A before but never seen it (her?) in action. C.L.Ai.R.A is an AI entity that has a visual representation and responds to inquiries in a conversational manner. Granted, that conversation at the moment is a bit slow. The questions have to be entered into a prompt and C.L.Ai.R.A needs time to “think” of an answer. Here’s the kicker though. The engine isn’t just spitting out stock answers to inquiries. It’s “thinking” about those answers. The same question might yield different answers! Or differently worded answers. Part of the panel was a bit of Q&A for this AI and it was a trip.
The live AI speech in the Q&A was obviously AI speech. No question about it. The time lag between question entry and response was tangible. Maybe a bit uncomfortable. A good practice in patience, nonetheless.
The programmed text to speech via AI interpretive engine? It’s getting better by the day. Not week, not month, not year. The DAY.
And it’s here. I won’t get all philosophical in this entry about the subject – maybe another one later – but there is no putting that cat back in the bag. I’ll talk about ramifications another time.
The Pandora Panel
So in the same vein as all things that are of interest to actors, this panel came complete with live auditions for possible roles at Pandora as the streaming company. How cool is that?? Pandora produces a not insignificant number of promo spots every month for their network. And for so long as they’re not using folks from the previous subject to fill those slots, they need a lot of actors to handle that. Oh gosh, look, they were at a voice acting convention. HOW CONVENIENT.
But this tracks with much of what Joan and Rudy are about. Bringing a wide array of education and opportunity to everyone involved. Pandora needs those actors. Actors need opportunities like that. The mission statement of networking and connecting folks with opportunities IN ACTION RIGHT THERE.
DreamWorks makes the .. er…. Dream Works!
Moderated by the AMAZING Ania O’Hare who I wish I could be friends with because she is ASTOUNDING, this was a panel that talked about all things DreamWorks. And really, who doesn’t want to be involved in the animation juggernaut that is their entire company? This was definitely a good panel to be at for folks who are interested in the animation side of things.
At one point a very important question was posed to the panel: what is their stance on casting for better and more accurate representation of the global majority. It was a powerful question and what I appreciated about them is that they did not shy away from it but rather embraced the topic and spoke in a manner that made it seem like this is something on their mind. This is in contrast greatly to what seems to be an avoidance of the topic in the AI world at the moment.
All in all this was a wonderful panel to be at for everyone who was there!
Also, if you ever make a third game in the Neverhood series – yes, I remember back far enough that it was your first thing that you ever did – I hope you’ll give an old school die hard fan a call. Koz, y’know.
Women Power in Voiceover
This was probably my favorite of the panels. For a variety of reasons. Everybody that Joan had up on that stage had a very, very powerful story to share with all the attendees. There was a sense of unity and strength in that group. Their histories were WILDLY varied. Some of their tales were heartbreaking. And at times infuriating about the ways in which they were treated during their rise to their careers.
And at one point there was definitely a difference of opinion about accuracy in representation. But you know something? It was civil. Open minds and open ears on a subject that is VERY touchy. No bickering, no name calling, no ganging up. And it didn’t even feel like “oh I have to be professional about this and I can’t really lay into something I disagree with.” It felt very genuine in the responses and the back and forth and it was real. How many places can we go these days where a divisive subject comes to the forefront and the first thing that comes œff are the gloves and all civility with it?
Joan, my hat goes off to you for bringing exactly the right people to speak at this panel. The questions were perfect! The discussion was wonderful. And the entire thing was very eye-opening for me and I can only hope for so many others who were in attendance. The perfect “That’s Voiceover!” panel put together by amazing people.
The Voice Arts Special Awards
Previous recipients of this award category have been such voices as Phil Lamar. Jim Cummings. Lily Tomlin. James Earl Jones.
This year? None other than legendary actor – whose voice my kids know better than I do – Tara Strong.
Cree Summer game an incredible introductory speech about how their careers were joined at the hip and told some fun stories about their past.
Tara had some very powerful things to say during her acceptance speech prior to some Q&A. She touched on something that is very rarely heard where the world of being a voice is concerned and I appreciated it quite a bit. Enough that it’s going to be a blog topic another time.
But for all of the people who say that you have to persist, keep at it, hustle, never give up, keep chipping away at the rock, keep auditioning, never give up….
She said she is connected to friends who are wickedly skilled and amazingly talented and they. are. not. booking. Why? They haven’t had that one lucky opportunity that got them into the right place at the right time.
That one word that is constantly omitted in every rah rah rah from everyone whose goal is to encourage folks. And maybe take their money. The single component of almost every major success.
The right place at the right time.
Luck is, in essence, the missing link in so many careers. She didn’t shy away from that reality and I appreciated SO MUCH how direct she was about the topic. I’d like to hear more of that level of honesty from quite a few more people.
Briefly on the Audition Spotlight
I could go on for HOURS regarding this but I’ll try to keep it brief.
One of the events: The “Audition Spotlight.” Over 1,700 actors! Only 40 semifinalist spots in this grand adventure. Each actor was given a piece of promo copy to read, 40 were selected, and then those 40 were given NEW copy to read for a live panel of three judges one at a time.
Six of those were selected to be finalists and all six were judged in front of the entire “That’s Voiceover!” audience. NO PRESSURE OR ANYTHING.
At stake? A paid union voiceover gig with CBS Los Angeles. A 3-month trial representation the with SBV Talent Agency. Microphonic superiority in the form of a Neumann TLM 103 and fashionable headwear in the form of the NDH 20 Neumann Studio Headset.
Any one of the six could have taken the entire thing they were all SO GOOD. The winner Bruce Nix edged out the other 5 by giving a read that, as my friend Roshelle put it, felt like a father comforting his children about tough times and letting them know through the feel of his voice that everything was going to be ok.
She nailed that description perfectly.
About the live The “Working” Voice Actor clubhouse event at “That’s Voiceover!”
Ok, so like: I cohost a weekly Clubhouse room for voice actors with two people who I have referred to as my “booth besties” for quite some time now: Roshelle Simpson and Megan Selke. We got it into our head that it would be fun to run a “hybrid” Clubhouse room on site at the event. The kind of hybrid room where anyone who was there on site would be able to communicate with and hear the people who were in the Clubhouse virtual room, and anyone who was in the virtual room would be able to communicate with and be heard by folks who were in the exhibition hall.
On kind of a wing and a prayer and some duct tape and maybe a few wads of bailing wire, I brought with me a shoulder bag jam packed with a mixer, a portable speaker, four microphones, cables, power cords, and I can’t even remember what else. The thing weighed a metric buttload.
The end result:
In spite of me, it worked.
We had a REALLY FUN scenario-based improv game that we put together based on awkward encounters at voiceover conventions. We had participants who were in the virtual world of Clubhouse who could be heard by participants who were in the exhibition hall.
Folks in the exhibition hall came by and participated in the exercise and had a great time!
The people at the Neumann booth were REALLY GOOD SPORTS AND WE THANK YOU SO MUCH AND WE DIDN’T REALLY MEAN ANY OF THE SILLY THINGS WE SAID. Much. Sorta. Maybe.
And I hesitate to share a moment of pride here but there is something that I feel very proud of. We were able to accomplish something that seemed like a logistical nightmare with what looked like ease. Social audio and realtime audio merged together and everyone had a great time. And we proved that it can be done. Which means we can do it again.
We intend to do it again. When or where remains to be seen but it was too much fun to NOT make into a reality.
Joan and Rudy: let’s talk. This is a fun panel waiting to happen. Since I’m pretty sure “That’s Voiceover!” is going to be my favorite convention going forward, it only makes sense.
A+ Would Go Again
The SOVAS “That’s Voiceover” Career Expo is an ASTOUNDING event. There is no other way to describe it. It has a little bit of everything for everyone.
Ok, that’s an understatement. It has a LOT of everything for everyone.
It’s relevant. There are panels across the entire world of voiceover. They FEED YOU IN THE AFTERNOONS.
The entire thing is successful as a result of Joan and Rudy being two people who demonstrate some of the most heart I’ve ever witnessed in any two people before.
This is something that cannot be fabricated. After all, fakery is as transparent as plexiglass.
There are many conventions of this nature to choose from. Some larger, some smaller. None of them are anything like this.
So in conclusion, I cannot recommend this event enough. It is in effect my favorite voiceover convention. Thus far. Also my only one.
Barring any changes in plan or schedule or stuff, it’ll probably remain that way.
Thanks for hanging in for my LONGEST BLOG POST EVER.
I hope you’ll come back!!
Until next week.
-= george =-