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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Thom

Coming to America (and back again)

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order… in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say. Kurt Vonnegut

My current time in the U.S. has come to an end (for now) and as I settle back into the throes of British life and a brand new year, I wanted to reflect professionally, on my time in the sunshine state over the past 2 years.

Credit: Melissa Thom

Go with the flow in Boomtown

Firstly, it must be said, there is a palpable sense of opportunity pretty much everywhere you go in California — if you are open to it. People aren’t afraid of networking in the oldest sense — i.e. simply talking to each other and finding things of common interest. I can’t tell you how many people I met on the Sausalito to San Francisco ferry. If you want it badly enough here, you just need to go and get it — keeping the spirit of the 1849 gold rush alive I guess.

Takeaway 1: Be open to chatting without the need to get something in return.

The industry

I was lucky enough to learn about VO in America by meeting some serious pros and getting signed by 4 influential agents across the country — including Stars, the Agency, in San Francisco, Solid Talent in LA, Go Voices in Denver and In Both Ears in Portland, Oregon. They are all excellent agents who send me high-quality gigs with no messing — the best experience you could hope for. (Read my post about going to meet my LA agent here).

But there’s always someone around to poke fun at any industry — someone sent me this clip while I was working in the US and I laughed till my sides hurt. Nobody does it better than Toast of London:

I took acting classes at The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, joined a choir and sang with the Mill Valley Philharmonic orchestra, went to local improv classes, and met a whole bunch of talented people who were only too happy to share their knowledge and wit.

Takeaway 2: There’s always more to learn. Never think you’ve mastered it all.

My time in the US coincided with one of the industry’s biggest strikes. It started on October 21, 2016, by the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) union against 11 American video game developers and publishers over a range of issues, including failed contract renegotiation terms, better transparency in the roles and conditions actors would perform, safety precautions and issues on avoiding vocal stress. This last point was talked about a lot and there’s no denying that 4 hour shifts belting out a range of character voices as loud as you can, really does take it’s toll. It’s probably why I’m a Corporate Queen.

Takeaway 3: Look after your voice. Rest it, treat it with respect and learn how to say no to things that just don’t feel right.

On the other side of things, the VO community stateside can be a little sycophantic, which doesn’t sit well with a cynical Brit. There’s lots of meaningless platitudes and daily quotes thrown at you via social (this of course extends way beyond the voiceover community)— and sometimes it seems like more people are training (and paying) to be voice actors than actually working.

Which ain’t to say that’s all bad. It’s just that I’ll save the Rumi quotes for chai and chit chat. But it serves as a reminder to cut through the chuff and concentrate on what’s important — i.e. finding and retaining quality clients. And I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of those.

Takeaway 4: Stay focussed on the task in hand.

Getting home

So it’s back to the UK with a bump. I’ve got a few things to be getting on with — upgrading the studio and buying new kit (too exciting to handle), learning, meeting new clients and developing relationships with current ones. So far, so good — they’re all lovely.

So in that vein, I’m bringing a bit of that Californian sunshine and attitude back with me. I’m committed to being a bit more chipper in the dank drizzle of January in England, chatting a little more to those I don’t know, and giving something back if I can, to anyone that should ask.

Sunshine and palm trees in San Diego
Sunshine and palm trees in San Diego. Credit Melissa Thom

That’s the plan anyway. Ask me for something (preferably voice-related) and we’ll see how it goes:

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