When you go to conventions there are always a bevy of people who are attempting to be the next big thing. They want to be an actor, musician, or in the case of anime fans a voice actor. You would think people working in the industry would encourage others to get involved and follow their dreams, yet when prolific voice actor John Swasey was asked what advice he’d give about becoming a voice actor he replied, “Don’t become one.” We’ll analyze the deep meaning of that “advice,” why his best advice is to not get into the voice acting business, and why that advice applies to all art.
First, voice acting is a strange artform. In its beginnings, America anime voice actors were simply actors and actresses looking for side jobs. They simply got an audition for a job, did it, and got the job. They simply weren’t anime fans, and it was a job. Because of demand there are now educational methods and college classes for voice acting and of course acting. And these programs can help people get into voice acting. People attempting to get into the field of voice acting want the 3 F’s fun, fame, and fortune just like those getting into most other arts in a capitalist culture. There can be a lot of fun, but the other 2 things come hard.
Swasey has had a lot of fun throughout his voice acting career, and he is known for doing Lord Death from Soul Eater and Sir Crocodile from One Piece. Lots of times the voice actors are never in the same vocal booth together. Voice recording is nonlinear with lines being filled in here and there. The way voice acting typically works is that the main character comes in and records all their lines separately from the other voice actors. The additional voice actors come and fill in the gaps at another time. However, doing things this ways provides less ability for the lead character to act. Swasey says, “Acting is just reacting.” It’s being very aware of the situation and reacting accordingly to the character.
John Swasey reveals that anime voice actors get only about $50 an hour, which perked up most peoples ears at the panel. $50 an hour is a lot of money, and it’s the amount I paid to take lessons from world renowned flamenco guitarists and composers per hour! However, Swasey also revealed that voice actors for anime only work about 10 hours a week. So most voice actors have to take on side hustles and voice acting jobs. Just like any other art voice acting is a hustle if you’re main goal is to make money from it.
Why is his advice the best advice for any artist? For one he is a high value person in his field, and by Swasey saying that he dissuades a lot of people from getting into voice acting. I think he’s being very rational and kind by saying so. For one, he’s simply telling the truth that making a living from voice acting is near impossible. Second, it keeps the people out of the industry who are not really passionate about the work. I’ll address the second point.
I love making music, and I love seeing people come and go from the making of music. Most people get into arts like music for what they perceive as fast rewards. Money, power, and women. Most are simply fake. At best they are trying something for fun that they enjoy, but the reality is the majority of people that get into an art like making music want to appear hard, appear cool, and really think they will achieve fortune and fame. Meanwhile, most people don’t have the love and dedication of the art they’re dabbling in. In the realm of hip hop, 1% of the rappers and producers I’ve met have any real music knowledge like music theory or can actually play an instrument. If you have any knowledge of music you’ll know being able to play an instrument at performance level, meaning playing in front of a crowd, requires an absurd amount of practice and musical knowledge. That’s real musicality. Of course, with computer programs like Autotune and more, making music is now accessible to anyone with a computer. That is a really great thing because making music is what we all originally did together as hunter gatherers. Every member of the tribe could sing, dance, and make music. So it’s great that in the modern day world we can make our own form of music relatively easily, but when it’s for individual self gain then it becomes part of just another market of the capitalist consumer culture. Luckily, all the time, effort, and money required to make real music keeps the majority of people out of making music for the long run. Meanwhile, for people who really love making music we will be making music for a much longer period of time than the fakes who come and go. We do it for life. So I really liked John Swasey’s advice to would be voice actors to not do it. If someone told me not to make music I simply wouldn’t care, and I’d continue making music, whereas weaker people who really don’t love what they would stop when being told not to do something by someone they respect. I’d offer the same realistic advice to people who want to make music. Don’t do it.