Interview for Tom Taylorson’s class

Tom Taylorson, the star of Octodad (and every single male voice in the game, save for Tommy), teaches voice acting in Chicago. He asked me to contribute an interview to pass along to his students. Thought I’d post it for posterity and it’s a swift read if you’re curious. Enjoy!

Ok so the usual starter question: What’s your background? How’d you start out?

I started working in video games at age 18. Immediately, due to the internal need and open auditions, it became obvious that I was useful for temp VO to plug into projects prior to release. After 3 and a half years at my first game company, a position opened up in the newly formed audio department for someone to implement dialogue. That became my jumping off point, permitting me access to directing and coordinating VO sessions with actors, implementing and managing the VO files, and eventually becoming a Sound Designer. I was still constantly being asked to perform VO internally because I was a warm body available whenever temp VO was needed. I logged a lot of time in the booth and in a sense that was the beginning of my training to become a voice actor.

I switched over to becoming a full-time voice actor after 12 years spent in video games, 8 of those as a Sound Designer.

 How did you “break in”? Did you even break in? Or was it more like slipping in through the side-hatch or something?

During a 2 year period when I couldn’t accept full-time in house work due to lengthy family and legal matters which required loads of travel, I became a freelance Sound Designer. A friend referred me to her coworker who was looking for a voice actor to be the voice of the company’s phone system, as well as some online commercial spots. I accepted the job offer, thinking I was ready to actually perform for a project outside of games. And that was the first time I accepted money for voice acting.

That first job jumpstarted me into thinking I ought to seek more training. Rather than relying just on talent, I highly value what comes from learning and applying the technical aspects of any craft. So I spent the following 4 years regularly going to Los Angeles and Burbank, taking a variety of voice over classes which are offered all over town. I spent the majority of my time learning from Richard Horvitz (actor as well as casting and booth director). Richard ultimately became my mentor. When I felt ready to make the switch from working full-time in games to calling myself a “professional voice actor,” I had Richard Horvitz produce and direct my commercial and animation demos. As soon as the demos were ready, I cold called over 120 agencies via email with my demos attached, also pointing to my website where my demos are hosted.

I received replies from 10 different agencies. The agency I selected was also the agency Richard Horvitz had just joined. I signed my paperwork the same day (at the same time, even!) as my mentor, which is insane.

 What was the moment/job/event that made you go all in as a VA?

Knowing that every actor lives on a permanent hamster wheel of auditioning for jobs, I did my best to let go of my anxiety with booking early on. Just like the guy who stinks of desperation doesn’t get many dates, neither does the actor who’s desperate to book.

I actively choose to trust the universe to meet me in the middle with jobs, and choose to feel deserving of it because I worked towards it for such a long time and so intensely.

How does an average day go? 

I’m at my agency’s beck and call. It is not unheard of for me to receive a phone call before rolling out of bed, with the agent on the other end saying “You’ve just booked a job, can you be there at 3pm?” (This was last week.) Scheduling is a nightmare so I’ve stopped trying to schedule outside of important events like appointments with doctors. All other personal items have to wait until the weekend. I try to stay close to home during regular business hours, since that’s where my recording equipment and my computer are. If I can, I’ll tackle auditions coming in from my agency as they arrive. Sometimes, auditions can be due just a few hours after they’re sent out, so it pays to be able to record at a moment’s notice. If it’s a slow day, I’ll audition via the VO web portals I’m subscribed to.

I wish I could say that I have an average day, but I don’t. Every day is a little bit different and I don’t know what it is until it’s happening. It’s taught me to be flexible and again, trust that the universe knows what it’s doing with me. I just have to be ready for whatever at all times!

How does a good day go?

The craziest good day I’ve had thus far was once I had 3 bookings, in completely different studios and areas of Los Angeles, back to back. While I felt like a crazy person driving all over town and snacking in parking garages, by the end of it I felt very satisfied with myself for having been able to have played so many different characters and have pleased 3 different clients, all before dinnertime.

If when the session ends the client is satisfied and I’ve had maximum fun, I can call it a win.

What do you do to keep the ball rolling? Self promotion, study, finding the next job? Or is it just audition, audition, audition?

The day you think you know everything, you might as well pack up and quit. Everyone has room for improvement, always. Despite having been signed to an agency and booking regularly, I have no intention of stopping my training. The more I work, the more my weaknesses are exposed and brought to my attention. I’m currently training privately with Nancy Wolfson, and will be completing the final 401 unit of Upright Citizens Brigade Improv.

For self promotion, I’m active on social media. I seek out creatives as a creative interested in other creatives as human beings, not for what they can do for me. When you network for the sake of making contacts based on what you presume a contact can do for you, you will be quickly detected as a self-serving slimeball. I prefer to make genuine friendships with people I’d choose to work with, regardless of the budget or the project.

Anything you’d want to add? Advice you’d give to college going 18-23 year olds? 

Get your hands dirty as quickly as possible. You won’t know whether you’re fit or whether you’ll even enjoy a particular job until you’ve done it. The sooner you get work experience to figure out your place in the world, the better. Hop to it!