When I introduce myself to people, I always say, “Hi, I’m Virginia–like the state.”
I didn’t always say that. I used to say, “Hi, I’m Virginia–like the state but not after it.” I had a Great Aunt Virginia who was a sister to my paternal grandmother and, typically enough, I was named after her. Until I jokingly remarked to my dad how I would introduce myself like that:
“Oh, no, you’re named after the state.”
*record scratching sounds* “What.”
“Yeah, I like Civil War history and I liked the way Virginia Lee sounded so yeah you’re named after the state.”
For fucks sake. I should probably mention my father’s name is Robert. I don’t know what he, or my mom were thinking. We’re from the midwest and the great lakes region. Have been for generations.
Anyway! Growing up I didn’t hate my name but I couldn’t fathom why I wasn’t called Caitlin, or Kimberly, or Britney, or Kate, or any of the plethora of other, more popular, more 90s names. Virginia? I sounded like my own grandmother! As I got older, I liked more and more being the only Virginia under 60+. The name had a brief comeback in the late 2000s, but the name’s still pretty uncommon. Hooray for me!
Back to my introduction. After omitting the “but not after it” part of my standard intro, I learned about some of the techniques memory competitors use, such as the memory palace. Associating something you want to remember with something tangible is a useful trick to mastering recall. Turns out when I was introducing myself I was already doing this very thing for other people. I’ve had an extremely high rate of people who remember my name when I introduce myself as “like the state”. At worst, people called me Veronica or Victoria, which have the same first and last letters so that's in itself still a win.
When a friend sent me a t-shirt from Walmart with “VIRGINIA” emblazoned across the chest in colorful letters, I began to wear in in VO webinars to make me easier to identify (‘cause we all know by now zoom names do disappear after awhile if you don’t move the cursor).
I got more Virginia shirts. Then I started wearing them to conferences. “Like the state!” people would exclaim when they saw me. “See! It works!”
Works indeed. That’s why my website is VirginiaLikeTheState.com and my business card has a watercolor image of the state printed on it.
The funniest moments were at the most recent VO Atlanta when I wore my “Virginia is for Lovers” t-shirt and had about a half dozen different VOs come up to me saying “Where are you from?” and I would sort of blink dumbly at them, realize what they meant, and clarify, “Michigan. My name is Virginia–like the state.” Then we would laugh about it.
On the flip side of introductions I have a technique as well. When I meet someone new, I repeat the person’s name back to them. I do this to be sure I’m hearing it right and for some reason repeating helps me to remember it a little easier. Often, after hearing my spiel, they will give me an association back. “Jake, like rake but with a J” for example. Sometimes they would start to find something to associate, flounder a bit, and I would jump in and we’d figure it out together. A quick little bonding moment between strangers. I love that kind of thing!
Here’s a little tip from me to you: if you say the other person’s name once in a while in a positive way while talking to them, it makes you *really* likable. Think about it: How often do we hear our own names? It feels nice to be acknowledged, to be recognized, and hearing our names in a positive tone is lovely.
So how does this tie into branding?
I’m no master, but I like to think people find me likable and likable people tend to be remembered. Want to know a secret? Here it is: be candid af. Genuinely be interested in other people and they will pick up on it. And they will like you! This is especially handy in an industry (like VO, for example) where relationships are perhaps just as important as your skill.
Remember how fast things changed when the pandemic hit? When we were, for the most part, taken completely by surprise and life as we knew it was no more? The same thing is happening with AI.
Artificial Intelligence is everywhere it seems. It’s always in the news and people have been using it to streamline work and to come up with ideas for awhile now. This is the Wild West of technology and it’s slipping its way into all of our lives (and if it hasn’t for you yet, just wait!).
Everything is happening so quickly that it’s a struggle not to fall behind. There’s so much to learn every day and I personally feel like I’m barely treading water trying to keep abreast of these changes. I don’t want to be like my mother, who knew how to program back in the 80s but stopped paying attention right around the start of more user-friendly operating systems in the early 90s. This put her firmly in the computational stone age and I was doomed to years of not so patiently explaining how to use basic hotkeys. Despite being in the first generation to inherently understand computers, I feel like I hardly recognize this crucial and once so familiar tech.
In the VO industry, many people are panicking over AI. Or at the very least sense a looming dread as they worry for the future. Companies have already been using AI to create audio recordings of articles that sound very human-like (until the inevitable hiccup that jolts the listener straight into the uncanny valley) and this will put a lot of voice actors out of work. Not the ones at the top, mind you, but the ones in the mid to lower levels, which is most of us. Jobs in eLearning, corporate narration, and other non-broadcast voiceover doesn’t need a great deal of emotion or dynamism. In other words, it doesn’t need actors. It needs narrators. And a computer can do this just as well as a person. It’s cheaper to use AI than to hire an actor to record something straightforward. And AI makes fewer mistakes. It can process a wall of text in just a few minutes. It is, unfortunately for artists, good business practices for the company to use a program that does the job as fast and as cheaply as possible.
Quantity over quality and all that.
Worryingly, some companies are hiring actors at stupendously low rates--and some actors are willing to trade their voice for a little bit of cash so their voice is used in an AI trainer or as an AI voice. A lot of newer actors see these offers of a few hundred or thousand dollars and jump at the “opportunity”, not realizing that in the long run they’ve sold off their future in VO for next to nothing. Because once the company has your voice, why the hell would they pay you again? They already own you.
Some companies have gone the nefarious route of posting “auditions” that are used to harvest voices without the actor’s consent. This is illegal, but good luck protecting yourself when you don’t know where your intellectual property has gone in the world wid e web and the guy stealing your voice is in another continent. Some big companies have supposedly been harvesting audiobook narrator's voices too, claiming the authors gave them permission even though the actors who did the recordings didn't.
The world is changing, whether we like it or not! This is all the more reason to be savvy and know how to protect yourself! Here are some steps you can take:
I think, most importantly, don’t panic! Automation and the desire to streamline has been around forever. Socrates said writing things down would be the end of good memory, yet we remember just fine. TV came along to ruin the radio, yet we still listen to terrestrial, satellite, and internet! Virtual reality has come along to replace actual reality, yet we still seek to be present through meditation and forest bathing. Art will not disappear because of AI--instead there will be more of it and we will be overcome with choices like we already are with streaming services. The trick, I think, is to be flexible. To keep your eyes, your ears--and your options--open.
But where does that leave the artists?
AI can mimic humans very well (this blog, for example, is being recited by a clone I made of my own voice), but there is a narrowness to the performance. AI can’t make dramatic leaps and choices, it can only say what is put in front of it. Plainly, with limited range and no spontaneity. And always a little bit of monotone.
Considering that humans still seek out art at all, after the tens of thousands of years we’ve been making it, I imagine this will lead to a range of buyers: ones who just want the jobs done quickly and cheaply and ones who seek the humanity of a well-made, artisanal product. Like how there are bargain shoppers and luxury shoppers. There will be more of the former and less of the latter--something that we already see in this industry--so if we want to survive we need to keep moving, polishing, and crafting. We give buyers ideas by being our creative selves and we are the ones who connect to the people at the end of the line whom our art is made for. Because, remember, it’s not AI buying or consuming the end product--it’s people.
It's been a whole minute and a whole half since I wrote anything more than a few sentences on the internet for the rest of the world to see. I don't know why, to be honest, the idea of blogging is so alien to me, considering I write almost every single day. Maybe I felt no one would read it.
Maybe they won't! But that's okay, because I want to now and what I say goes, nya-ha-ha!
Weirdly enough, I always felt (and frankly still do) like my diaries aren't fully personal. I can't be the only one who feels like this. It's not like I have anyone sneaking peeks at my musings, but I always felt, I dunno, like someone's eyes would eventually end up on them in a thrift shop somewhere or something.
Actually, that'd be kinda cool. The history nerd in me would like that very much.
So I write nearly every day the things that go on in my life, the trends I see, the feelings I have, and for a while now I've been doing the tedious but rewarding task of editing a manuscript I've spent the last 5? 6? years on since completing it in NaNoWriMo (that's "National Novel Writing Month" to you non-writing nerds). God, I want to be published so bad I can taste it.
Anyway! Writing isn't all I do, I'm also an actor! On the stage! *dramatic cape swoop*
And also in the booth. That's right, I'm a voice actor! I've been doing theater for over a decade now and the voice stuff for 4 years (actually 3 and some change, if I'm honest). I have a lot of feelings about art and beauty in the world, how it's learned and experienced, and I've always had a soft spot for the humanities.
Before I even begin in earnest, in case anyone makes it this far, I'd like to share some VO (that's "voice over" for you non-VO nerds) resources I've found to be helpful over the years. This is in no way a comprehensive list, but maybe it can help point some people in the right direction, if that's a direction they wish to pursue:
For everyone else?:
Va the Vo
Actor, Vocal Pro, and Writer Extraordinaire!