Ian Russell, a voice actor who has been nominated for five One Voice Awards, shares about what it’s like to be a UK talent in an American industry. He shares six key lessons that have helped him to thrive in a global industry.
What’s in this Article?
My Journey Towards Winning 5 One Voice Awards
I got into Voice Acting because my wife bought me a Christmas gift of a 1-day workshop Intro to VA. I then went to many subsequent ones (I was that guy that goofs off at the dinner table with his kids).
After the financial crisis in 2008, it seemed the writing was on the wall with my then career (Working in Financial Advice) After three rounds of layoffs in 5 years I’d had enough so we upped sticks and moved from the UK to the US in 2014. My wife is American so we ended up in South Carolina near to her family. With no job planned I decided to give VA a go. That was almost 6 years ago.
Close to 2000 projects later I’ve been surprised, honoured and delighted to be nominated for 5 One Voice Awards in the last 2 years.
Adjusting to a Different Culture
There are many similarities and many differences between the UK and the US. As I am sometimes heard to say. Two countries separated by a single language! I think there are certain deeply ingrained ways of life that are different.
Here in the US South, Church going is a very important part of the social make up. In the UK the pub (a bar) is more the center of a town’s social life. I think having a strong sense of one’s own self helps. I have to be who I am rather than try and become just like a local. That can be good for social interaction too.
I’ve lost count of the number of times a conversation has been struck up starting with “I love your accent where are you from” There are other home comforts you miss. Certain foods. So both my wife and I have I’ve learned to be creative in the kitchen. We can now make and bake just about everything we miss. My family are a long way away so we miss them of course but video calling technology has also eased that and we try to visit every year.
Being a Native British Accented Talent means I am in a Niche market. There is less work for me than for a US talent but equally there is less competition so if I can find a way to stand out in a less crowded market, I have an advantage. And in the US I have an advantage over my UK based colleagues in that the time difference is less and I know what a W9 and a 1099Misc are. I am able to solve a US casting directors problem in a ‘local’ way.
Top 6 Tips to Thriving as an International Voice Actor
Tip 1: Deliver a Natural Performance
Some lessons I learned in my previous sales career have been pivotal. Whilst we are actors, the ability to be ‘you’ and not ‘act’ really makes you stand out. I get booked in games a lot for my ability to perform in multiple accents but still retain elements of myself. So the ‘me’ in the performance shines through. I found in sales that the more natural I became, the more successful I became.
Tip 2: Network with People in your Industry
Also early in my sales career I learned that being busy, seeing more people, gave me a greater chance of success. It seems so obvious I know but there are so many people in the performing arts that don’t make themselves busy. I audition more, network more, market more. Guess what. I book more. And running yourself like a business.
Thinking creatively about how to find potential clients, being open for business, and being prepared. Internet. Search Engines, Social Media these are great tools that enable you to find potential clients.
Tip 3: Get some Awesome Equipment
Never buy the cheapest equipment. Always buy the best you can afford. The top casting people CAN tell the difference.
Tip 4: Be Confident when you’re Faced With Rejection
Park that at the door. Casters have a problem to solve. They need a voice for this character or that. They do not reject YOU. They do say YES to someone who they feel solves their problem. How many times does a producer write to you saying you didn’t get cast. Not very often. And if they do, use it positively. Thank them for taking the time to let you know. Congratulate them on finding their perfect voice and express your hope that you’ll get to collaborate in the future.
Tip 5: Be Professional to your Clients
If you do a great job, provide great customer service, say please and thank you and turn up on time, then those clients will come back again and again. I think it’s a universal truth, it doesn’t matter what country you are in, everyone appreciates a good job well done.
Tip 6: Keep Improving your Skills
Be so good they can’t ignore you. (That’s Steve Martin’s quote not mine) That means investing in training.
Learn Skills Beyond Acting
For me, that means not necessarily acting training. Learn how to edit, learn how to market, learn how to run a business.
About 80% of our time in not spent in front of a microphone performing for clients. So be great at what you need to do in that 80% of the time you are away from the booth.
Once you’ve done the hard yards and found an opportunity, give yourself the best chance of success. In simplified terms, in any casting call, probably a third will submit a poor performance and another third will have a poor recording environment. You want to be in the third that’s left. If you can do that you already beat out 60-70 of the 100 that submitted.
Give a great performance in an environment that makes you sound great because you are now competing with the 30 other talent that also perform and sound great.
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