So, have you ever heard anyone say they are in “The Doldrums”? It seems that January and February are the doldrums for both Voice over AND acting, at least my agent tells me that these first two months of the year are traditionally, agonizingly slow. And then there’s COVID…but let’s not talk about what’s happening “in these unprecedented times” (Aren’t you tired of THAT one now?) And to be honest, that has definitely been true for me.
Not saying I haven’t been working…I certainly have. I’ve managed to land a role in a feature length independent film, I’ve finalized and published a book and produced two audiobooks to boot. I’m also working on a production for a ZOOM play. But man, I’ll tell you, for me anyway, the opportunities sure have been sparse!
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OK Marketing over…for now anyway.
So, what ARE the doldrums exactly?
If you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ve probably heard people talking about “The Doldrums”. At least I did. I never really knew what that meant, except that it was bad. Later, after joining the Navy and traveling by sea for a while, I learned that old sailors (those wooden ships and iron men types) referred to the doldrums as periods when there were no winds to move the ships through the water, so progress slowed to a crawl.
Both of those ideas are true to a degree, but I wanted to know for SURE what it meant, so I looked it up and here’s what I found:
noun (used with a plural verb)
a state of inactivity or stagnation, as in business or art: August is a time of doldrums for many enterprises.
- a belt of calms and light baffling winds north of the equator between the northern and southern trade winds in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
- the weather prevailing in this area.
a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits.
What surprised me most about this definition is that the term “doldrums” actually refers to prevailing weather in a particular part of the world. Which is interesting, but not what I’m talking about when I mention doldrums in this context. What I am discussing here today is that “a state of inactivity or stagnation, as in business or art”. I suppose, if it lasted long enough, it could also describe “a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits”, but we are not there yet!
Not everyone is in the doldrums…
Maybe it’s a localized phenomenon, or maybe it’s just me (Please God, not just me…that would crush my fragile ego) (Can you see my virtual eye roll?) because several of my fellow narrators are definitely NOT experiencing a slowdown in the last couple months. My friend Joshua Alexander is reporting some pretty stellar, record breaking, sales in the last couple months. Envy much? (Yep).
Now a shameless plug for Josh!
Listen, if you are in Voice Over, Josh is a fantastic resource to learn all about self-promotion and direct marketing. He is always willing to help a fellow VOA, and he administers a great FaceBook group to boot! If you are IN the doldrums, head over and sign up for Josh’s blog and receive not zero, not one, but TWO free e-books that will help you learn how to effectively market yourself! On top of that his blog is always informative, relative and humorous to boot. You’ll enjoy it, I know I do!
OK, back to the doldrums
While the methods Josh preaches work wonderfully (and implementing them has been fruitful), what I need is to be more consistent. All of my failings in consistently marketing myself aside, it’s not to say I haven’t been busy.
What follows are some things to help you keep busy during slow periods and avoid the doldrums. At least, these are some ways I’ve found to keep busy, and keep moving my business forward, during the “doldrums”. After all, the last thing we need is a bunch of VOA’s who are dull, listless and depressed!
Training, Training, Training!
Can you ever be so good at your craft that you don’t need to continue training? If you are struggling to find the answer to that question, I’ll just give it to you here to make it easy for you to keep reading. No. The answer is NO. You are never so proficient that you won’t benefit from more training. Using my above example, I happen to know that Josh continues to train with a coach he introduced me to (THANKS JOSH!) Scott Burns. Josh introduced me several months ago. He still thinks Scott is HIS coach…HA HA HA – He’s MINE!
Sorry, I got a little carried away…where were we…Oh yeah, training.
Book some sessions with your coach
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll have already found yourself a coach for your VO work, now, while things are slow, may be a good time to book some sessions. Maybe you need to refresh your demos or produce a new demo in a new genre. This is a PERFECT time to work on that until work picks up. If you don’t already HAVE a coach, now is a great time to FIND one. Reach out to Scott if you like (just remember he is MY coach, Josh!) although I have no real idea if he has availability for any more students. Or spend a few mijutes reading my post on training here.
You don’t have to be an expert or a polished author to write a blog. This post is living proof of THAT. Everyone has something to say, and that includes you. Take a few minutes to sit down and brainstorm a dozen or so blog topics. Do some research if you have to, and then think about what you’d like to say about them. You may feel like you are not a writer, like you’ll never figure out how to write something every week – just like I did – but if you spend a little time (30 minutes?) just thinking about what you’d like to write about, you are SURE to come up with some great ideas.
You MAY think no one is really interested in what you have to say, and at the start, that may be right, but eventually you will attract some followers who DO care about what you have to say. Like I tell my kds, you NEVER KNOW how something you say may impact someone.
A story about impacting people
Let me give you an example from my own life of how things you say may impact people around you. I recently reconnected with an old friend from my days being stationed in Naples, Italy (yeah, lucky me, I know), Phil. (HI PHIL!) Anyway, as we were catching up over email Phil told me a story about something I had said that has stuck with him. Now, I want to tell you I have no real recollection of the actual conversation he was recounting, nor do I remember saying what he remembers me saying – it was a throw away comment to me – but to Phil it had meaning, and it has stuck with him for more than 20 years.
Rather than write it all out, I’ll just paste what he wrote to me here below:
“Back in Naples, Italy, I had that small business fixing VCR players for my friend in the PX, who rented them out. I would troubleshoot the machines, order the parts, and wait weeks for the parts to arrive before I could fix the machines.
I really couldn’t keep up with the work, due to extensive travel. I gladly relinquished the jobs to you.
When I returned from my next trip, I asked, “Hey, Gary, how are the repairs going? Do you need any help?”
You responded, “No, Phil. I took all the parts I needed from the worst of the lot and fixed four VCRs for the PX. They agreed that the trashed machines weren’t worth fixing, so they are going to order new ones.”
“And they’re happy trashing the old machines?”
“Oh, yeah. They’re only interested in the rental income. The VCRs are worthless sitting on the shelf, waiting for parts.”
That was when I realized that you understood the value of time much better than me.”
All I was doing was explaining how I was handling the business he had bequeathed me, nowhere in my mind was ANYTHING about time management or the value of time. I’m sure Phil fully understands the value of time, and in this instance, apparently, I got lucky and made a good decision, the point is that you never know how something you say may impact someone. So SAY IT. Write that blog!
Perfect your setup…
Another good use of your time during a slow period is reaching out to an engineer and tweaking your audio setup to make it better. Especially if you are a new narrator or have limited audio engineering experience (like me) it is possible your audio setup or editing/mastering chain could use some optimization. Best case, it makes you audition submissions sound better (when you get them) and worst case you find out that everything is tuned properly for you. More likely, somewhere between the best case and worst case, you’ll streamline your processing and make recording/editing/mastering quicker. In this business it is WAY better to be first in than last.
Add a complimentary skill to your portfolio…
There are a number of ways you can add to your VO business, or even start a secondary part of your business. If you are accomplished, experienced and have been IN the business for some time, become a VO coach. If coaching is just too much for you, become a mentor to someone with less experience than you. Maybe you are an AWESOME sound engineer, pick up a sideline to work for less skilled narrators editing and mastering their audio. Maybe you always wanted to be a Hollywood star and you can start looking at stage or screen acting as a sideline. Acting proficiency can ONLY help your VO abilities and could land you a couple paying gigs to boot.
But don’t just do what I suggest…
There are a LOT of ways to not only stay busy, but stay busy building your business, when times are slow. Think about some of those “Quadrant 4” (for all you Steven Covey fans out there) items you’ve been putting off that could probably use some attention. If you spend just a few minutes a day thinking about all the peripheral things that need to get done, I’m sure you can come up with a pretty long list. Then, when the work starts to pick up you have fewer things to worry about, and can dig in and give the performance of your life!
Joshua Alexander says
Hmmm. Why do I read this blog and picture Scott Burns being pulled in different directions by two different voice talent, until his arms pull off?
Gary Mason says
I can’t imagine why…!! I just hope someone films it when it happens. It’s like a grudge cage match!
Joshua Alexander says
I’ll take care of the voiceover for it. *clears throat*
In a world where desire reigns, one man will be split in two. He alone must decide…who will win the prize…