Overcoming the Struggles of the Industry
If you’ve played a Sonic game in the past decade, you’ve likely heard voice actor Mike Pollock bring Dr. Eggman to life. What you may not know is that he’s a seasoned veteran of the voice over industry with extensive experience and an impressive resume to boot. We recently sat down with Mike to discuss his career, how he got to where he is, and the struggles he’s faced along the way.
The following interview primarily focuses on Mike’s experience in the broader voice acting industry. For more information on his work in the Sonic franchise specifically, please visit the FAQ page on his website.
TSSZ: Since I want to focus on your broader career as a whole, I think it would help to go back to where you got your start, which was in New York radio. What did you learn from that field that helped you establish yourself as a voice actor?
Pollock: I refined my sense of humor from what little on-air work that I was able to do, but I also honed and established my vocal repertoire – or at least the basis of it – by doing wacky voices in commercials and comedy bits. I eventually realized how that was much more fun than the daily in-and out of radio with the levels of suited, corporate people and focus groups and other stuff like that. So I said, “You know…the freelance voice over industry is a thing! Let’s concentrate on that!”
TSSZ: Obviously, that’s worked out fairly well for you in the years that followed! As you started to establish yourself, what challenges did you face as you tried to get your career off the ground?
Pollock: It’s the continuing saga of a freelancer, which is the constant cycle of auditions. Even when there are gigs, they can be very short-lived. A gig can last twenty minutes, and then it’s, “Ok, next?” So it’s a constant cycle of auditioning and hoping someone likes you enough to book you on one of those auditions. The constant auditioning continues to this day because jobs are short.
TSSZ: Have you found that the constant cycle has eased up over time? Has it become easier for you to land jobs now that you’re more established, or do you still fight for gigs?
Pollock: It only really helps with people who you audition with a lot. They grow to know you, trust you, and call you in without an audition. There are plenty of producers that have never heard me, so it’s often a case of “Who’s this guy?” You’ve got to prove yourself to the new people each time, and that is a challenge that never goes away.
TSSZ: Do you think part of it stems from the fact that your industry is so broad, involving both a lot of talent and a lot of people looking for talent?
Pollock: Sure. There are so many different genres, too. There’s animation voice over, there’s gaming voice over, there’s commercials, industrial and corporate narrations, medical narrations, audiobooks, e-learning, all sorts of stuff! It’s a very fractured industry with people concentrating on just the stuff they know, but the voice talents can work in any genre as long as they can speak a language fairly well.
TSSZ: It sounds like that audition cycle is one of the biggest challenges you’d face. Is it the biggest challenge that you face in that industry, or is there something else that’s bubbled up over time as a greater challenge?
Pollock: It’s the challenge within the challenge. Auditioning is challenging enough, but it’s the rejection – or, more accurately these days, the ignoring that comes from the auditions that you don’t book. The idea of “don’t call us, we’ll call you” is only partially true. Very often, they don’t call! If you don’t book a gig, nobody calls…well, that’s a lie. Very rarely will someone call or email and say, “Oh, so sorry! We went with someone else!” They’re too busy. They don’t care about you unless they’re booking you. If you get an email after an audition, you usually think, “Hey! I booked the…oh. It’s a rejection. Thanks for the taking the time out of your busy schedule to send me the rejection which got my hopes up for a split-second there!”
So, it’s the rejection and, as I’ve been doing this longer and longer, hearing the stuff I didn’t book when it airs and realizing, “Hey! That sounds familiar…oh, because I read that in an audition! Oh, they went with that? Well, had I known they would go with that, I would have given them a different audition! But that’s fine!” One can only hope that the people who audition for stuff that I end up booking feel the same way. *evil laughter* Too bad for you!
Rejection is part of the deal. It’s like any job search. You’re not going to get every job you interview for. You’re not going to book every job you audition for. So, at some point, the common wisdom is to do an audition and forget about it. If you’re going to book it, you’ll hear about it. If not, there are dozens of other auditions and bookings waiting in the wings.
TSSZ: Would you agree that that’s part and parcel of overcoming those obstacles? Learning to recognize that rejection is a part of the process and not let it get under your skin?
Pollock: Absolutely. You’ve got to realize that you’re competing against ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred – or, in the days of the Internet – a thousand or more people for a certain gig. So, the odds are always against ya, but one would hope that the cream rises to the top so enough people will say, “This guy’s worth hiring! Let’s book him!” Once in a while, someone’s gonna book you.
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