Well, here we are…
And I’m having to come up with my own topics again. I’m discovering that writing is easier than deciding what to write. I’m not complaining, but when I decided to start writing a weekly blog, I thought the topics would be easy and the writing not so much. I confess that I never (used to) enjoy writing, and yet, here I am enjoying it! What I’m not looking forward to is coming up with fresh topics each week, so if there is something you’d like me to write about, leave it in a comment below. Anyway, such is life. Enough whining, let’s get on with it!
In doing a little research into the topic, I found that this phrase, which is common and recognizable, has its origins in the 1800’s USA when bars would offer a “free lunch” to anyone who bought a drink. Of course, all of the food was very salty, which compelled the diners to buy more drinks. Eventually there was a recognition that the “free lunch” had hidden costs such as driving a desire for more drinks.
But we’re not really talking about “lunch” here…
I mean, we could be, but speaking more generally it is referring to the idea that everything, even free stuff, has a cost. And no, I’m not getting political and talking about governments giving people free stuff that other people have paid for. For this discussion, we are talking about the cost to an individual receiving something for nothing. Bear with me, it’ll all be clear soon.
Everything has a value
If you think about it, everything we have has some value. It may be monetary value, it may be sentimental value, social value, psychological value…the list goes on. We start with the basis that everything has intrinsic value of some kind. The scarcer something is, the greater its value.
What we are really talking about here is this: Opportunity cost. Resources are finite, so if you use a resource for one thing, then you don’t have it for another thing. It’s kind of like the “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” thing. That one always baffled me; I mean… I always thought if you didn’t have your cake, there was no way you could eat it…but I digress.
It occurs to me that this phrase is usually, but not always, true. In rare circumstances there actually IS such a thing as a free lunch (well, getting something for nothing anyway). Chances are people who love you have given you food or presents or their time and expected nothing in return. So, it is not really fair to say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but it sounds better than: There are very few instances when someone agrees to give you something without expecting anything at all in return.
Never look a gift horse in the mouth
Have you heard this one? My stepdad had this mindset, he even told me when I left for bootcamp: “If the government wants to give you something, take it, even if you don’t want it”. He took anything that was offered “for free” and never seemed to get ahead. The truth s you should ALWAYS check out the gift horse’s mouth. Ask yourself what this “gift” might be costing you. In most cases, you’ll be able to figure out the cost if you just pay attention.
A couple examples
- Mom offers to make your favorite dinner Friday evening since you are a freelancer, and she knows you don’t have steady income. What a sweet thing for her to do! But what is the cost to you? TIME. Time may be the scarcest resource we have, and if you spend time with mom, you won’t have that time to do something else. Now, spending time with mom while you still have her is also very valuable, but the point is you won’t be able to record that audition or go on that date Friday. You have to decide whether time with mom is more valuable than whatever else you intended to do (hint: it probably is).
- You want to go someplace for a quick vacation. You can drive or fly. If you drive, it may take hours on the road, dealing with traffic and (depending on how far away) maybe even an overnight stay along the route. Flying may be a lot more expensive, but far faster. You need to decide if the cost of the airline ticket has more or less value than your time in the car.
There are tradeoffs in nearly everything in life. We make these tradeoff decisions sometimes hundreds of times a day, usually without even thinking about them. If I was going to summarize what I’m getting at here it would be: Think about them.
What’s the catch?
It’s wise to always look at a “free lunch” situation by starting with the question: What’s the catch? I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase often, and it forces you to look for hidden costs. In the vast majority of situations where you may be receiving something “free” there is an expectation that you’ll give something in return. I’ll help you move for free, but you have to feed me and buy the beer. Or we’ll give you three nights in our beautiful resort if you’ll sit through three hours of high-pressure sales tactics for our time share program.
It’s not always money
Sometimes the catch is money, sometimes it’s time, or maybe even some emotional drain. The “catch” may be well hidden, but you’d do well to at least find and understand the catch, so you know if it’s worth taking whatever is offered. Sometimes the free thing is worth more to you than the hidden cost, so it is perfectly reasonable to accept…but it should be a conscious choice.
As a VO artist or actor (or both) it is imperative to look for and understand the cost of that “free” thing you are considering. At the very least these things are likely going to cost you time, workmanship quality, money, or reputation.
I get it, you want to do VO or start acting in order to earn extra money, not spend a bunch. I’ve seen countless people on social media trying to get started as cheaply as possible, and I get it. You’ll definitely have to make tradeoffs in your career in order to start generating income but be aware of the costs of doing so. Can’t afford a professional booth and want to build a moving blanket fort to record in? Fine, but know going in that means you’ll wind up having to record at odd hours when everyone else is asleep and spend longer editing/processing afterward.
Training and coaching
This is where I see most beginners make the mistake of not understanding the true cost of either not doing it at all or finding the absolute cheapest training you can find. This industry requires you to know what you’re supposed to do and how to do it and do it well. The only way to do that is through training and coaching. Well, assuming you want other people to pay you for doing it.
If you want to be considered a professional VO artist or actor, you just can’t avoid buying professional equipment. You simply cannot record VO on your mobile device and get hired. You’ll need a decent microphone, interface, and software to accomplish it. If you are an actor, while you CAN record good video on your mobile device, without proper lighting, background, and a microphone you will struggle to land paying jobs. The cost of buying equipment on the cheap (unless you are buying good quality used equipment from a reliable person or place) is that your quality is going to suffer. At a minimum it will require a lot more time to have a good, finished product, and at worst you won’t EVER be able to have a quality finished product.
There are a million more things
There are a multitude of “free” items that you’ll have to assess every day in this business. Make sure that when offered some free service or item you are asking “What’s the catch?” and looking for that hidden cost. And remember: There’s no such thing as a free lunch!