Far and away, one of the best aspects of the Internet is knowing that, no matter what you do, you are never alone.
Building off of our “Digital Nomads in a Gig Economy” post, Maria and Ian chatted recently with fellow millennial voice talent Sean Gray, known as the “VOMad” [or, “VONomad”]. Sean’s a smart, talented fellow voice actor who is taking full advantage of the portability of voice over work to travel all around the world. Read on [or listen below!] to learn more about this fascinating fellow, and how he’s carving out his niche while traversing the globe.
Ian Fishman: Sean, where are you right now? Where are you joining us from today?
Sean Gray: I’m in Berlin. It’s kind of becoming a little bit gentrified now, but it has some nice history. Where I am has always been the neighborhood where the artists would always go — I think David Bowie spent some time here in the 80s. It’s where the Turkish families came and it was always very cheap to live here, which is what attracted the artists. It’s just a very nice, relaxed atmosphere. It definitely feels like a city, but the atmosphere is not tense, like I would usually feel in a city. It’s a very relaxed, laid back place.
IF: I’ve always pictured it as being like the best parts of the Village in New York and Wicker Park [Chicago], but with less yelling and shoving like you get in America. Or at least like a different kind of rudeness. I picture sharper elbows but less yelling.
SG: Yeah, for sure. I haven’t been in the States yet, but I would imagine there’s maybe a bit less yelling from the movies, you know?
Maria Pendolino: Obviously, we always slam our fists on car hoods and scream that we’re walking just to let people know that we are, in fact, walking.
IF: “Hey, I’m walking here!” is the unofficial slogan of America at this point.
MP: Sean, a big part of why we wanted to talk to you is because as millennials, a lot of us have become digital nomads in a gig economy and especially in the voiceover community. And one of the things that kind of freedom allows us is to travel all over the place. And it sounds like that’s something that you’ve figured out really well for yourself.
SG: For sure. I’ve had my sights set on this for about, I’d say, three years. I read [Tim Ferriss’] “Four-hour work week,” and I was already in voiceover by that time a little bit, very slightly, and then it just clicked for me — I don’t need to be some kind of e-commerce guy, I can do voiceovers anywhere I want. So why not do the four hour work week thing as a voiceover?
IF: That’s one of the best things about it. Being alive in 2019, as long as you’ve got the chops to do it, access to the auditions and a good internet connection, you really do have the freedom to do it from anywhere. Even 10 years ago doing it outside of New York, LA, London, and to a lesser extent, Chicago, it was significantly harder to just to build your business, let alone exist in it.
Speaking of which, where have you gone as a VOMad? What’s reaches of the planet has this taken you? Make us jealous.
SG: I started in March with an experiment. I went to Bali. I decided, let’s do five weeks and see how it goes. I figure, I’ll get all the gear and we’ll see how this works. If this is gonna work for me — a six hour or seven hour time difference and basically living in the jungle — then I know at least most other places will also work for me. I’ve just arrived in Berlin a couple of months ago. I’m pretty much at the beginning of the journey. I’ll be in San Francisco at the end of October.
MP: So with someplace like Bali, which is perhaps a little bit more far-flung and less industrialized than Berlin or San Francisco, how did you find things like internet access, or different sites to upload large files?
SG: Bali came with pretty much all the challenges that you can possibly hope for… or let’s say, not hope for. The main challenge in Bali — they had some decent internet, but you had to kind of find it, which was a big challenge.
IF: How did you find it?
SG: I spend a lot of time and energy looking for the right place. And you know, the internet was one thing, but that was the least of my worries, to be honest, because the houses there are kind of made of bamboo, or the doors have holes in them and it’s in the middle of the jungle. So you’re hearing the jungle screaming through the walls or even the roof, you know? The big challenge was finding a place that not only had internet but that also was not filled with jungle sounds or mopeds or what have you. It’s a pretty loud place to be honest.
MP: So you’ve just got like, screaming Howler monkeys as a watermark on all your files.
IF: I was just thinking that I’ve been doing this all wrong. I’ve been adding all of that in post.
SG: If you could just go to the source, I recommend it. If you do a lot of jungle work, go for it. If “jungle” is your niche voice, Bali is the place for you.
IF: Did you find any challenges in this kind of first experiment in Bali with of your long-term clients? Let’s say there was a project you did before you left for Bali. Did you have trouble matching audio? How are you thinking about that as you move from space to space?
SG: The sound stays pretty consistent in this booth that I bought. I didn’t have any problems with that. That was totally fine. And I didn’t have many projects at the time that were carrying over to this five week thing. I made sure that most of the jobs I did in the weeks coming up to Bali that I did them on my portable set, so that if there were any pickups that needed to be done it wouldn’t sound too different.
A couple of instances did occur when a client asked, “Hey, can you redo this sentence?” This was totally unexpected and a job from like, a few months ago. I said, “Sure, but do know that I’m on a portable setup now, it could sound slightly different.” And when I sent it to him, he was like, “Hey, this is perfect. I don’t even really hear the difference. So thanks very much.”
IF: I’m always so relieved and terrified when I hear that. I’m like, “Oh good, that’s awesome that it matches! Wait a minute, you’re telling me that this mic matches that mic, when… how much have I spent to treat out my sound booth and such?”
MP: You just get a little overconfident on your pillow forts. You get that plane coming in, but then you don’t have to add it back in post. [Laughs]
SG: It’s a good point what you’ve just said here. One of my fears before doing this came from not wanting to compromise in the slightest on quality, because this is my business and my goal is to have my business grow throughout my travels. I want it to grow, so no compromises, and at the same time, how can I possibly offer the same amount of quality with so much less? I think the main difference is that I have slightly more challenges in terms of sound coming from outside. It’s just a matter of finding a quiet environment. And other than that, I think the quality is pretty much the same.
IF: I was wondering initially whether or not you would line up a number of gigs and rent out a studio and then just go and bang all of those out in one afternoon. But it sounds like you do everything from your portable rig. Is that correct?
SG: I had a few instances where I had to do a live recording. For those, I went ahead and just hired a studio over there because I don’t want to take any risks at seeming unprofessional of course. And that was fine, too. They are very affordable, actually — especially in Bali. It’s like, I think I paid like 25 euros an hour for a very, very nice studio. I just took a scooter, brought my iPad, brought my own gear because I didn’t want to deal with an engineer and everything, so I just set up my own gear in that studio. I had a nice quiet space with internet. It all went perfectly.
IF: Logistically, time zones are already a slight mathematical nightmare. But as far as where your business is based out of, versus where you are, versus where your client is… does that cause any hiccups for your business? Has that affected you at all in the ways in which you can procure and complete work and get paid?
SG: My business stays in the Netherlands, and that’s not gonna change anytime soon. In terms of time zone, that was a challenge in Bali mainly… but I guess I work with people from all over the world already. We just figure it out. We make it work because that’s what we’ve got to do.
MP: You’ve just added like 14 world clocks to your iPhone, so you always know the time.
SG: A funny thing happened with the first call I got in Bali. So, it’s like a six hour time difference. And so, it’s evening where I was, and it was just normal working hours back in Holland where I have a lot of clients. And they called me and I was like four beers into a nice night out at a live music event. So I was like, okay, what should I do? So I picked up and I had to play it cool. I was like, “Yeah… I’m at an event. Uh, is it okay if you email me this and I’ll get back to you in a couple of hours when I’m back home?”
It did take a bit of getting used to: I could get a call in the middle of my evening. How am I gonna handle that? And I don’t want to lie, but at the same time, I don’t need to make it more complicated by saying, “Oh, I’m in Bali now, but I can still record, etc.” I keep it simple and just provide the same level of service and convenience. The “no compromises,” that’s been the whole basis on which I’m doing this, that I don’t want to compromise in service or quality of what I’m delivering.
MP: Yeah. I think there’s this element millennials in general are more comfortable with, perhaps than some of the other generations. in the expectation of always being “on.” And especially in the gig economy and freelancing, there’s a lot of people who are side hustling — you know, some people doing something like voice over or another creative pursuit, and they’ve built up a portfolio of clients… but they might also still be working a day job.
It’s interesting because I feel like there’s this surge right now, where people are trying to recapture work-life balance and like, “Don’t forget to download your six meditation apps and write in your gratitude journal!” But also when your client emails you at 1130p EST, the expectation might not be that you’re getting up to do the job, but there is an expectation that you’re going to reply to their email, because they know you’re seeing it with your notifications, because they know you have your phone, because they know you’re scrolling while you’re doing whatever you’re doing.
So, how do you find that? Like, as you know, as the gig economy keeps building and as you’ve got clients all over the world, different time zones, whatever — how are you finding balance while taking time to explore these new cities that you’re in. Obviously there’s a reason that you wanted to travel — so, how’s your work life balance?
SG: I’d say it’s pretty good. I try to be reachable as much as possible. So that does mean that, you know, during a nice evening with friends, I might have to take a couple of minutes out in order to let a client know I’ve read their message and when I’ll get back to them. I mean, not every job, not every email needs to be responded to immediately. But I can always respond and say, “Hey, I got your message, I’ll get back to you.” If it’s really pressing, I’ll go for it. Of course I’m here to enjoy my travels… but it’s also my career, my voiceover business that’s allowing me to do this.
I will admit there have been some stressful times during evenings out and that kind of stuff, but then again, that’s also occurred when I’ve just been at home in a normal time zone. I think it’s part of the voiceover industry… or at least, it has been for me. It takes a bit of getting used to how to handle boundaries in that respect.
MP: I feel like I’ve conditioned my friends. I’m in Buffalo, New York, which is Eastern time and they know I do a lot of work with people on West coast time in Los Angeles, and they kind of know the look on my face when I pick up my phone and like, turn my body slightly away from the table to try not to be rude. And they know I’m teeing something up to record after dinner and I’m only going to keep it to one margarita.
IF: It’s a trade off — it’s that blessing and a curse that there is always everything to do, and nothing to do. “I’m going to go live my life as I see fit, but I’ve gotta take my work with me.”
SG: For sure.
MP: Sean, if people are interested in reaching out to you and pitching a city where they think you should visit or want to hit you up for a drink if they’re in your city, what are your socials and stuff where people can find you?
SG: Feel free to reach out on Instagram. My handle@seangray1 is just kind of my personal one, but I post both personal and business stuff there. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to reach out, I’d be super happy to chat!
Sean Gray: Voice of Gray [website]