Our Crisis is Brand

Last month, a simple phrase ushered me into major panic mode:

“Hello! My name is Brooke Summerlin, and I’m a professional voiceover actor.”

Now that I’ve completed my training, should I really start introducing myself as a professional voiceover actor…Or is it voiceover talent?  Do I have the moxie to call myself a voiceover artist? And, just how do you spell V-O-I-C-E-O-V-E-R on a business card anyway? (Options I’ve seen include: voice over, voiceover, and voice-over.)

FullSizeRender (7)Some people devote years, decades even, to “finding themselves” and carving out their identity. But as an entrepreneur building a business (as anyone working for themselves must be), time is a luxury I can’t afford. Meeting potential clients and making a solid impression is the number one way I can garner new business. I certainly don’t want to neglect a vital networking opportunity simply because I don’t have a business card or professional looking demo package on hand to offer.

So, that brings me to the most unexpected existential, identity crisis I have ever faced: Who am I and what is my BRAND? We are talking identity crisis level: Johnny Depp.
Am I smart? Sleek? Technologically adept? Creative? Feminine? All business? And most importantly: Which font-type and color palette most accurately portray those characteristics? And keep in mind, everything has to be cross-branded, or uniform across multiple platforms such as website, social media, and printed marketing materials. (Still working on that…)

I spent hours playing with different fonts. When my favorite font turned my name to Brooke Dummerlin (no!), I briefly considered using my maiden name, Brooke Moon, as a stage name. But as that only adds another layer of complexity to my brand/identity crisis (and worse, more paperwork), I decided my second favorite would be fine. A bit overeager to get my cards and letterhead in hand, I hastily ordered as much as my budget would allow. (Thanks for the free shipping, Vistaprint!)

Immediately, the regret and doubt set in. Are the materials too girlie-girl? Is my tagline too schmaltzy? Every Dream Deserves A Voice. Sheesh! I mean, I’m not trying to get you to buy a diamond ring or anything. But the payment has gone through, and though it’s imperfect and a shade too sentimental, at least it’s better than writing “HIRE ME! I’M AWESOME!🙂🙂🙂 ” on a blank CD in Sharpie.

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Up next…”Pipe Dreams Coming Down the Pipeline” an update on projects slated for Fall 2016.

Hello, Demo!

ALBANYRoad trip, anyone? Spending 22 out of 48 hours on I-81 (infamous for its tractor-trailer dense traffic jams) might not appeal to everyone, but it sounds like fun to me! My motto is:

“All you need is a full tank of gas and a healthy sense of adventure!”

Throw in a couple of perks – dinner with a friend (Adrianne, you are a star in the kitchen!) and recording session in a professional studio – and I’m all in.

The VoiceCoaches.com studio, which shares the same space with White Lake Music & Post, has to have been the best studio I’ve ever had the pleasure of recording in. Most recording studios I’ve worked with in my experience have been utilitarian at best: a simple composite counter, a mic, a pop filter, headphones, etc., all blending together in various shades of beige.

However, the Voice Coaches studio pops with personality. The individual recording booths are styled with trendy, contemporary colors and vintage posters. The sound absorbing panels on the walls are carved into interesting abstract shapes. Rich, leather couches and chairs are available for guests and creative professionals who need to sit in on the session. And White Lake’s live music recording room is bedecked in an Adirondack Mountains theme. Exposed pinewood lumber is found on every wall, giving the room a bright, folksy feel. You can even smell the pine when you enter the room. It was fantastic!

During my session, I had the pleasure to record my latest demo on a Neumann U microphone. It was without a doubt, the best mic I have ever encountered. It picked up even the slightest click in my mouth, which given my pre-session jitters worked to my disadvantage for the first few takes.  Can you say, “Pass the Granny Smith Apple, please?”

After working through a bit of nervousness, betrayed only by my biology and not my demeanor, I was able to tackle most of the pieces of copy in a single take. Holy One-Off, Batman! I was able to get a few good laughs out of my producer, Tom Robinson, and Nate, who sat in on our session to provide some great insights. Even with the slow start and a ten-minute A/C break in the middle, we finished the session with 15 minutes to spare. Whew!

One of the highlights of the session was meeting David Bourgeoius, the President and Creative Director of both Voice Coaches and White Lake Music & Post. Having arrived a few minutes early for my session, Mr. Robinson offered to give me a tour of the facility. I met Mr. Bourgeoius as he was preparing for another artist to come and record in the studio. I introduced myself, and he was complimentary and encouraged me multiple times to submit my finished demo. (Okay, so it looked like he’d been struck by lightning from Heaven at the sound of my voice, but I don’t wanna brag too much, ya know?) That’s an encounter I’ll refer back to during those dark days of endless “Thank you, but no…” rejection letters. Perseverance!

Anyway, the demo is currently in post-production in the hands of my trusted producers and engineers. I’m so excited to share my latest demo with you all. Be prepared for another post soon once I can post the file online! Until next time…
Demo Day
This is Brooke Summerlin. Thank you for listening!

Please send all inquiries regarding voice-over acting to bsummerlin27@gmail.com.

Commencement Reflections

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA week from today my journey as an undergraduate will be complete. I will walk across the platform at Radford University’s commencement ceremony and receive my B.S. in English (with a concentration in technical and business writing). The ceremony will be long and extremely boring as all graduation days are, but I’m going to walk—it’s closure. Think of it like going to an open-casket funeral…sometimes you need to see the body to know it really happened.

When I first decided to get my degree at the age of 25, I was scared. I didn’t know if I would have enough money or time. Would I be able to make the grades? Eventually, I decided to take it one semester at a time. If it ever became impossible to continue, I would let myself take a break.

radford-universityIn the 2013-2014 academic year, I had to do just that. Two weeks before the first day of class I got a note: My financial aid had been refused. I thought I had turned in my FAFSA, but either I forgot or that paperwork never went through. I was ready to dip into our savings, and then my daughter’s childcare fell through. I called every daycare in town, and nobody had any open spots. At the time, paying for tuition and full-time childcare was not an option anyway. I withdrew from the university for a full year.

Las fall, I not only went back to school full-time, but I also accepted a part-time internship with Advance Auto Parts. They wanted me to work 20 hours a week, so I pumped out ten-hour days on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I wasn’t in class. Sometimes I had to stay up until one or two in the morning to finish homework and then wake up at 5:45 to get ready for the next school day. I spent most of the last nine months stretched in every direction, ready to snap.

So with the end in sight, I feel free and unburdened. Gone are any residual feelings of anxiety about the future. At the age of 29, I finally feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.

More blog posts to come. Check back soon for my upcoming post: Comic Corporate.

Fresh Eyes

For writers, be they published, semi-published, or completely unknown, feedback is essential. Open up any article about polishing your writing skills and you’re likely to find the author touting the benefit of having a pair of “fresh eyes” peruse your latest endeavor. This is one of those rare occasions when a cliché is not trite, but absolutely true. Having someone review your work before turning it over to the powers that be (Mr. Editor-in-Chief, Ms. Literary Agent) can provide invaluable insight to the strengths and flaws of your writing. One of the best ways to get regular feedback is to join a writer’s group.

I myself have been a member of a small writer’s group for nearly a year. We have four writers: two novelists, a poet, and someone who has no clue how to label herself. (That’d be me, the poet-screenwriter-blogger-fanfictioner-aborted novella-ista.) We all bring a different writing style to the table and have our own strengths. Some of us can hammer out dialogue in distinct voices, some of us can link up crazy plotlines, and some of us can capture a perfect image in the precise amount of words desired. We meet twice a month to review each other’s most recent work and offer up pointers, answer author questions, and confess what’s working and what just isn’t.

And I love it.

And I hate it.

(Hey high school kids, I’ve just illustrated the meaning of the term ambivalent.)

I love it because it keeps me in the writing vein. It’s too easy to drift away and call myself a writer when I haven’t strung together and independent clause in weeks. (No, Tweets do not count.) Meeting with a group of other writers helps me stay in writing activities, keeps my skills sharp. It also opens up to me the perspective of multiple kinds of readers from different demographics as they review various genres. For instance, I’ve learned that some men do not find male characters believably masculine if their inner dialogue is too flowery. For a girl like me whose work typically appeals to female readers in the 12-20 age range, this kind of insight is especially helpful.

But I also hate it. Being an active member of this writer’s group requires a lot of time. Our meetings typically last 2-3 hours, and we the required reading for each meeting takes me an additional three hours. (I take copious notes and thoughtfully consider what I wish to discuss.) For all this effort, the group usually only spends about 20 minutes on my work. They pay me lovely compliments such as, “You’re just such a good writer!” and “I couldn’t think of anything that really needed tweaking.” Sure, I walk away with a flattered ego, but over time I’ve begun to think the payoff is not equal to the effort.

And this is the point in the blog post when I sully the name of Monty Python by singing myself a Gregorian chant invoking the creative inspiration of the plot bunnies and slap myself in the face with the first volume of the OED. Because really…you just can’t beat a fresh pair of eyes.

One of Those Starbucks Writers

HeavenWriting in a coffee shop has become the quintessential writer’s cliché. The quickest way to broadcast the fact that you are not a writer (a paid one anyway) is to type away furiously as your iced latte sweats into the motherboard of your laptop. It’s like a huge cosmic joke that everyone who has had some measured success in the writing industry is in on. Professional writers know that writing isn’t done in a pretentious, mainstream caffeine-infused sludge factory. No, they know real writing happens in your office…or in your pajamas while lazing around in bed. Whatever.

I won’t deny it…I am one of those Starbucks writers. For some reason, I focus better when I’m surrounded by that soulless corporate décor. I love those friggin’ bonus stars that open the doorway to free refills on iced coffee. And yes, I entertain the notion that my fellow coffee aficionados (Take that, Maxwell House!) are looking at my open Word document and thinking, “Am I sitting next to a famous author? Should I ask her to sign that little cardboard slip around my cappuccino cup?”

I’m not that naïve, of course. I know they’re really looking at my antiquated computer and sneering, “A laptop? Is that a CD-ROM drive?!” Yes, me and my Dell-asaurus go way back…almost as far back as me and my flip-phone.  I cannot describe the waterfalls of self-deprecation which shower over me as I sit, writing for free in a Starbucks with my horribly out-of-date technology in hand.

But, hey, I am writing. And for me…that’s a good day.


The Words Elude Me

I’ve been working on a more polished piece for the last day or so about an oriental art form called kintsugi. Sometimes it seems the words just flow out of fingers and onto the pixelated screen in front of me. At other times, like right now, they just don’t seem to come at all.

Immediately, my mind springs into writer’s mode: It’s not good enough, You’re not good enough, This is a waste of time, Everyone is going to know you’re a no-talent hack, Do you know how many people have probably already written about this very subject? The voice of my inner naysayer is loud and obnoxious….and effective.

I’m sitting here in a Starbucks, working against a 15 minute deadline. Fifteen minutes. That’s when the shop closes, and I’ll have to return home to a husband watching a never-ending marathon of Pawn Stars and American Pickers. (Don’t hate me. I love those shows too, but not enough to make watching their reruns my part-time, evening job!) And, I’m sure my two-year-old will get out of bed and demand a snuggle, cuddle, kiss, and drink of water.

And those words will still elude me. That is…until I give up completely and lay my head down on my pillow. Then I’ll have to get up and jot them down before sleep steals them from my memory forever.

To Blog or Not To Blog?

You know, I’ve really agonized about this blog: the title, the layout, the topics, the quality of the writing. But in all honesty, I’m probably one of the world’s worst bloggers. I rarely post, and I don’t know that I’ve exactly pinpointed what this blog is supposed to be about. Is it about me? Faith? Fantasy? My so-called “writing?”  So, the topics are varied, updates sporadic, and the layout/formatting is not ideal.

I think I’ve read hundreds of articles talking about how writers/creative people need to build their “brand” online. Create an online presence and cultivate an online fan-base. This way when you finally convince some muckety-muck with the power to jumpstart your creative career to actually read your work then they will shower you with money and contracts. Really? Can I insert the “not buying it” emoticon? Where the heck is that thing? No really, where is it? I’m just awful at this technological stuff.

As far as I can tell, branding hurts like heck. I’d rather not emblazon my hide (biological or technological) with an iron-hot poker. It’s like that person you know who got that tattoo they thought was friggin’ awesome, but you’re just praying they don’t ask you for your honest opinion. Maybe I’m not ready to set myself in a specific brand. I don’t even have anything awesome for you to read Mr./Ms. Muckety-Muck.

So, what I’ve decided is simply to write. Maybe not every day. Maybe every other day. And I’m not going to edit myself too much. Some pieces will be more polished than others. Some will have cohesive theses, introductions, conclusions…shoot…I may even throw in some cool pictures. But more often you’ll get posts like this where I just let my mind wander and babble on about…whatever. Call it my “territories blog” or my “training wheels.” Ignore it or post a comment as you like. 

I just want to write more. And the hope is that the more I write, the better it will get.