“I KNOW THAT VOICE” An interview with Steve Blum!
Have you ever sat back and watched your favorite cartoon or animated feature and wondered who was doing the voices? How they did them? Or most of all why they did them? Well now you can finally get some answers! A documentary about the voice acting industry John Di Maggio, Tommy Reid, and Lawrence Shapiro combined their abilities and over two years created this awesome movie.
From this I will now segue into my very awesome interview with Steve Blum, a voice actor that has been in everything from Big-O as lead character Roger Smith to Wolverine and the X-Men as Wolverine himself. He has voiced more than 261 credited video game voices, and is the voice of Starscream in Transformers: Prime. So please read, comment, share, and enjoy this interview.
People always make assumptions about voice acting and what it really is, what is one thing you’d like the general public to know about your profession that they may not know already?
That most of our time is actually spent driving, auditioning and reading descriptions of characters we’re auditioning for. Not the *glamour one might expect from us “Hollywood” types. (For you literals – that’s a joke. I rarely comb my hair or put on pants if I don’t have to) For most of us, it’s a blue collar gig. I’ve done several of those, so I can actually speak to that from an honest place. I’ve seen, fixed, shlepped and smelled things that would make Mike Rowe wince. Ya can’t be afraid to get your hands (or anything else) dirty.
You’re well known for a plethora of characters, what character is your favorite to play and what character do you find the most challenging?
I like characters with a life. Something to chew on emotionally. Doesn’t matter if they’re good, evil, human, alien or creature. If the writer and/or designer has created a character who might have a personality, I’ll dig in and flesh it out as much as they let me. Even if they haven’t, I’ll still try. Sometimes that challenge is even more fun! Choosing one is like choosing a favorite organ in your body. Kinda need ‘em all.
How much does physicality play into doing a voice? Do you move around a lot, or try to get into a pose or motion that the character you’re voicing would do?
Physicality is key for me. I look horrible when I voice many of my characters, because I will literally do anything to get the best sound out. I’ll throw punches, sweat, shake my jowels, practically unhinge the jaw, strain till every vein in my head is visible, etc. The trick is to be able to do that and still keep your mouth in front of the mic at a consistent distance and control your volume for the moment. This is the part that trips up a lot of on-camera actors trying to make the transition. The mic is the entire audience – all compacted into a 2 inch (or smaller) diaphragm.
What kind of background do you have that helped with voice acting? What kind of background do you suggest to those that would like to try their hand at what you do?
Music was very helpful – especially in the early days when I was doing a lot of Anime. Language is rhythmic and melodic – and when dubbing from one language to another, being able to recognize beats and rests and nuance is critical to a good performance. As I’ve progressed in the business, I find that some of the best people are also great at Improvisation and comedy. I would suggest learning an instrument, taking acting and improv classes and reading Dee Bradley Baker’s blog – http://iwanttobeavoiceactor.com/ and reading Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt’s book http://voiceovervoiceactor.com/
How often do you get recognized at conventions you attend? Do you have a favorite fan moment from one of them?
I rarely get recognized at home and on the first day of a convention, it starts slow, but after the first panel, it gets nuts. It’s like what I imagine being a rock star would be like – but without the lavish accoutrements and for only 3 days. Then I go home and nobody knows me again. It’s pretty amazing, humbling and wonderful.
So many great fan moments, but the ones that stick with me are the ones when people share a huge positive moment in their life that was somehow connected with something I worked on. The story I share the most is of a (previously nonverbal) young boy with Autism who spoke for the first time after connecting with one of my characters from Digimon. It opened up something in his brain that allowed him to connect with his family and others. He’s now high functioning. That stuff changes me cellularly.
To a lot of folks you are the quintessential voice of their childhood, is there anyone you’ve met that you’re a fan of and they a fan of yours?
Both sides of that question are a little tough for me to take in. I’m finally getting used to the first part, mostly because of Toonami, how close I am to that show, and how many people stepped up when we made the effort to get it back on the air. The second part’s kind of funny to me, because in voiceover in particular, there’s a lot of mutual admiration society going on. Most of us love this work and more importantly, the people we work with. One of my favorite things to do is to sit back and watch some genius actors create something from nothing. I’m as happy giggling in the corner as I am at the mic. I’m a fan of pretty much everybody at this level! If I had to choose one moment tho… I think when Frank Welker and Peter Cullen said nice things about me in Transformers: Prime interviews and sessions, my inner fanboy squee reached new octaves.
What is the biggest struggle of being a voice actor today compared to when you first started?
It’s basically the same deal, just a bigger playing field, more competition and less time to do anything.
Traffic’s worse. Auditions are expected to be done and uploaded immediately upon receipt. We used to have days or even weeks to do them. Now I have to have a portable recording rig with me everywhere I go. I once did a session for broadcast from a rental car at 4 o’clock in the morning in New Zealand! Celebrities are given many more roles and eating up bigger chunks of budgets, so we have to work faster, smarter and often for less money. We’re often expected to clean up or even voice match celebrities who came in, recorded for 30 times the amount of money that we’re paid, and couldn’t do the job. Just before I started in V/O, it was common that people who did a lot of commercials – could get very rich. It still happens occasionally, but with cable, internet and radio advertising, the residuals are significantly less than you might think. The only other struggle for me personally is staying healthy. I’m often asked to scream, roar, growl, fight and create a huge array of loud, scary, weird and intimidating sounds. I’m grateful that folks hire me for it, but it can take a serious toll on the body when I have multiple sessions of it per week. Sleep and silence is becoming more and more precious.
I’d like to thank Steve Blum for his time and great answers! I hope you folks enjoyed reading them as much as I did getting them!
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