In building our new site, I've had the opportunity to revisit a lot of old audio projects and samples we've done over the years. I remember taking that leap into professional voice work around 2003, and how capable I really felt when I landed that first voice client.
Soon after I ended up moving my studio to a much different, bigger location, and I felt like the new environment I created improved the overall quality of what I was producing. At the same time, it was obvious that my performance ability was also growing due to all of the experience I was picking up along the way.
Then I felt like I really hit my sweet spot a few years back. My environment, my production level, and my performance level, were all consistent, and my client base was largely a solid group of return clients that I knew how to please.
But, there is a danger in this kind of thinking. It lies in getting too "comfortable". I can hear it now when I listen to those audios I created at that time. The same performances aren't fresh or relevant now. My experience has lead me to be better now, but what else can I do to make sure I don't turn myself into an audio dinosaur before my time?
Step One: Acceptance. Change is happening all around us, all of the time. As industries grow into different markets and technologies are innovated, we have to keep up as professionals. If we stop learning, we stop growing, which makes us stop being useful to our clients. They will not run the same campaigns, create the same kinds of projects, or have the same audiences forever.
Step Two: Research. Are you keeping up with your clients' industries? Following what ad agencies, publishing companies, or the other creative companies who hire you are following, so you can stay on the cusp of their innovations? It's not just about what they're doing today, though it's great if you're an audiobook artist to be listening to current audiobook productions, or if you're an e-Learning specialist to be keeping up with those current releases. But with an eye to the future, you can help your client develop the kinds of audios that can put them--and you--on the map. It's not just about the voiceover or studio industries when we're working for someone else.
Step Three: Practice. Being a performer or producer of any sort means keeping your chops in top form. If you're waiting until you're in the booth or behind the desk to practice your art, you're relying on conscious competence. This is when you're spending too much 'brain time' coming up with solutions or approaches. What you want to aim for is unconscious competence, which is that gut knowing how something should be done. This comes from keeping your skills sharpened with constant reading, recording, reciting...all of the things you love anyway.
If you don't have a client, give yourself an assignment. And see it through. It doesn't matter if it's getting through a tutorial on a new piece of software you want to learn, going to a seminar, finding a voice coach and keeping up with your exercises, studying how others in your field are creating, or just recording for recording's sake.
Volunteer to read to school children to practice character voicing and narration. Help a neighborhood teenager produce their first demo. Just do something to challenge yourself to not stay in that comfort zone.
So now, I'm working on some new samples and projects that reflect my new skills. I still have most of those clients from a few years ago, and guess what? I can still provide what they need--faster, and better--because I chose to stay on the bleeding edge of my craft. Sometimes it's not cozy, but it's always necessary.