The Faffcon Experience – Voiceover Camp for Grownups

George Washington III and Mike Wong at Faffcon 2

Me and Mike Wong

Think back to your summer camp days. You remember, don’t you? Sometimes a weekend, sometimes a week or more spent with kids you may not have seen before that moment, but can suddenly become your closest friends. I have an experience like that: when I was in high school, I attended YMCA Leaders School in Decorah, IA. Some of the kids I met in each of those three years are still friends that can call on each other to this day, almost 25 years later. And the reason why we can do that is shared experience: a moment in time when we let our guards down, and were able to share things about ourselves that we weren’t able to in our hometowns, with our high school friends.

On looking back on the Faffcon 2: Electric Boogaloo experience, I am reminded of those days at Leaders School. Because the Faffcon experience is built entirely around sharing: sharing the tips and tricks, the knowledge and experience that all of us have accumulated over the years with peers who are just as eager to share their own.

The morning I arrived, the main meeting room in the Westin Peachtree was buzzing as we got prepared to start. Seeing people like Doug Turkel, Mercedes Rose, and Dave Courvoisier (who arrived a bit later from Vegas) in person for the first time was amazing. Seeing friends I already had met like Peter O’Connell, Vance Elderkin, and Jamee Perkins was just as good.

Then the real value of Faffcon got going. I was unfamiliar with the “unconference” concept, but it is a great one: we decide what we are going to talk about in 1 hour blocks in small groups, with us being the leaders of each of the sessions, like Mike Wong talking about social media and the voice artist, Dan Friedman and Dan Lenard (sporting the greatest handlebar mustache in the biz) speaking on EQ, compression, and sound isolation/suppression, Bruce Miles on characterization. My only regret was not being able to see every one of them, knowing that even 10 sessions wouldn’t be enough.

Voiceover godfather and second nicest man in voiceover Bob Souer held the crowd in his session, telling us to “Invite the Avalanche.” You may agree or disagree with his message of take everything you can, even when you can’t. But there is no doubting his openness and sincerity.

I could go on and on about the sessions. But some of the greatest value of this unconference was in the hallway discussions and talks over snacks and meals. What we do as voice artists is often a solitary existence. We work in our booths and studios mostly alone, sometimes talking to others during sessions, but not really connecting. We see the successes of our peers in our Facebook and Twitter streams. But is was here at Faffcon when we could openly and safely discuss our failures. Our vulnerability, our sense of “what the hell am I doing even trying this.” These are the feelings that make us believe we are alone, that no one in the world is going through what I am, because they are all so successful. At Faffcon, you learn you are not alone.

I would be remiss if I didn’t speak directly to the women most responsible for making Faffcon happen: Pam Tierney (whom I got to thank personally for the honesty I so admire in her blog posts), Connie Terwilliger, and Faffcon founder Amy Snively. They were tireless in their labors to get this organized and running from across the country, raising money for a worthy charity Everybody Wins Atlanta, getting door prizes (I won a great one, a CEntrance MicPort Pro), taking care of us all.

Everyone left with at least one “golden nugget,” that piece of information you would never have come up with on your own, that the person you got it from may or may not even know they gave to you. Tanya Schoenwolf could barely contain herself when she found her nugget, and went on a domain buying spree. I can’t wait to see what she gets going. Doug Turkel gave me one I hope to capitalize on in the short run. And on and on.

I can hardly describe the feeling I had being among all these terrific people and great talents. I was walking around grinning from ear to ear for most of the time.

Faffcon 3 will be September 23-26, 2011 at the Hershey Resort in Hershey, PA (where I am one of the marketing on hold voices, I am proud to say). If you haven’t been to Faffcon, you must try. If you feel stuck for ideas, you must go. If you feel like no one has been through what you are going through, you must come. Faffcon may not be for everyone, but it feels like it. Just like going to camp.

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It’s not about who deserves it

If you are in the voiceover industry (or watch the Today Show), you have probably heard all about it by now. 71 year old homeless man Ted Williams is recorded and put on YouTube demonstrating his “golden pipes.” And really, his voice is spectacular.

I, like many others, posted the video, commented on it. The post explodes on the Internet (7.5 million views as of this writing). And Ted’s story has a wonderful next step;  he has been offered gigs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, MTV, and others. and others have offered training scholarships, and it looks as though he will have someplace to live.

The response from people in our industry to that has been…varied.

I have seen many truly happy responses, pleased to see that a man who has made mistakes in his life and been drawn away from a potential career by drugs and alcohol has been able to bounce back and virtually hit the jackpot in getting the opportunity of a lifetime. Others have thrown the cynical “heck, I’ll go write up a sign and get a gig.” Some, like my friend Mercedes Rose (@girlactor on Twitter)  has celebrated the fact that it throws a light on the somewhat hidden world of voiceover, and gives her a chance to point out that you can’t always hit the lottery like Ted, and if you want to get into voiceover, you have a lot of work to do (I used some of her stuff in my own how to get started post).

Ted, bless him, has gotten an opportunity many of us would give our eye teeth for. But I want to point out what he went through that put him in this position.

He had the chance to do this before, but had it derailed by alcohol and drugs.

He has been clean and sober for two years, but was living on the street panhandling for cash to stay alive.

David Houston (@DavidHoustonVO) said it best: “Memo to Haters: Dude is 71. Lots more days behind than ahead for him. Ease up, ‘kay?”

Ted’s story brings two things immediately to mind for me.

My father is just two years older than Ted. George Washington, Jr. is a man any of you would be proud to call your father, and am lucky enough to do so. He has a simply amazing vocal instrument, and I can only wish I had the depth and fullness he has.  He sings and speaks, and I have accused him of using his voice as a weapon to get his way in arguments and discussions at the county board he has served for so many years. Everything my voice is, I owe to him. And with the stubbornness, tenacity and willingness to do what it takes to keep his head above water, he and my mother still live in the house my brother and I grew up in, when he could have been in the same shoes as Ted. No, my father was never an alcoholic or drug user. But in this country (or almost any other), it doesn’t take too much to push a life over into disaster. Lose a job, get sick at the wrong time, and there you are. My father stood tall through all of the difficulties and struggles of his life, and I am proud, again, to say he is my father.

I then look at my life.

I lost my job about 16 months ago. Through the gift of my incredible wife, I have been able to make progress on a goal, a voiceover career, that I was only nibbling around the edges of for years. Now I am having to make some changes in what I do to accommodate a big change in my working life. But again…I was close enough to the edge that I could see where Ted is from where I was standing, at least in my head. And yes, there is a small pang of “I COULD DO THAT” that come up when I see the opportunities that are being thrown Ted’s way.

But I will make my way. I will keep working hard, and find my place. Do I deserve it? No more or less than Ted does. Opportunities come; sometimes when you are at the very bottom, sometimes when you are at the very top. Celebrate them and keep working, whether for you or someone like Ted.

It isn’t about who deserves it.

It’s about what you do with it when it comes.

Update: Super voice talent John Taylor points out that Ted is actually 53. This shifts a little of my points, but it also makes him closer to my age.

An artist you should know on camera

One of my “Artists You Should Know,” Lauren McCullough, stars in a new ad for the Lincoln MKS. The music is “The Future is Where We Belong” by The Hot Pipes. Lauren knocks this one out….click and watch!


He’s not an octopus

I haven’t met David Houston in person. We are linked on most social networking platforms, but I haven’t yet had the pleasure of shaking his hand. Regardless of that fact, David Houston is a funny man. And he is not, in fact, an octopus.

Follow him on Twitter. Because he’s not an octopus.