I resigned from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the end of 2012, after 22.5 years with the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. The last few years I spent in the Fed were ones of increasing frustration as political pressures spiked, budgets were slashed, and respect for civil service and civil servants plummeted. I decided to leave at the earliest possible opportunity that would still preserve my maximum available retirement benefits. That meant leaving upon achieving minimum retirement age — 56, for someone born when I was — but postponing taking my pension until I turned 60, when it wouldn’t be reduced. I’d started planning and saving for retirement with my very first post-law-school job, so I was in a good position to walk, but I still needed something I could do to bring in some income to avoid draining my retirement funds too soon. I wouldn’t want to run out of savings before running out of life!
I didn’t want to turn around and consult in the same field that was driving me nuts, so over 2 years before I could leave the Fed, I started thinking about things I would enjoy doing that might bring in money to help meet living expenses. Curiously, in the span of a couple of weeks, I saw articles from 3 different sources about how advances in digital audio recording had transformed the voiceover industry by allowing people to record from home studios without having to invest a lot of money up-front in complex sound equipment, at the same time that opportunities for voiceover work were growing with the expanding popularity of audiobooks, elearning courses, and videogames. Being a singer and frequent public speaker, I had a strong and well-trained voice; this sounded like fun! I did a lot of research, and while there were plenty of caveats, it looked feasible.
Knowing I had a LOT to learn, I researched potential coaches in my area, and met with Michael Minetree of Minewurx Studios in Fairfax a year and a half before leaving EPA. I started to work with him one evening a week, learning everything from interpreting copy to microphone technique and seeing how audio editing programs worked. I threw myself into studying and practicing with a will, and began transforming the closet of my master bedroom into a recording booth (clothes, pillows, and quilts make for good sound absorbing room audio treatment!) and playing with the free Audacity audio editing software. After working with his different mics, I bought one of my own (an AKG C2100B condenser, for those wondering) on which I sounded pretty good. To get some additional critiques and a different perspective, I also took some training through Susan Berkeley’s Great Voice Company, which reinforced what I was learning from Michael.
I knew I wanted to start doing voiceover work before I resigned from the Agency, to see if I could really do it, but I had a challenge: strict Federal executive branch ethics rules limited my ability to work for any company regulated in any way by the EPA, especially since I was in a senior staff position dealing with policy development. However, there was no potential conflict of interest between EPA and works of fiction, so I chose to go for audiobooks. One night, Michael told me I was ready to just do it, so I posted my bare-bones profile on ACX.com — the Audiobook Creation Exchange website created by Audible (now a division of Amazon.com). I had recorded only one sample narration at the time, and planned on taking a couple of weeks to record and post additional samples before searching and auditioning for available titles. However, less than 24 hours after I posted that skeletal profile, I got contacted by a publisher who liked what they heard and asked if I’d be interested in auditioning for one of their books! It was a royalty-share deal, meaning I’d get paid only based on how well the book sold, but it was also a great opportunity to hit the ground running. I never looked back!
That first book was a scary-wonderful experience, and doing it taught me a lot more than just voice-acting a bunch of British characters, fumbling through my first intensive (and interminable!) audio editing sessions, and figuring out with Michael what tools and settings I should use when processing and mastering my final audio files! It showed me that I could do this new and wonderful thing, and be terrified and happy and challenged and accomplished all at the same time.
And a little over half a year after that first book went on sale, about two years after I started planning my departure from the Fed, I handed in my EPA badge and walked out the door. Now I’m BardicVoice Studio, and I work for myself. Whee!