Friday, March 07, 2008


Recently, I've been doing a lot of essay correction work for one of my students. This is relatively unusual as most lessons are spent actually speaking with one another rather than my staring down at a paper scribbling corrections in silence. During these corrections, it's so quiet that I can hear the clock tick.

As of late, my student's stomach has been loudly rumbling during these periods of quiet correction. While she's very embarrassed, I reassure her that it's not a problem at all and it happens to everyone. She feels obliged to tell me it's because she eats lunch just before coming over and I continue to tell her that it neither troubles nor offends me. In fact, I've become adept at ignoring all sorts of bodily noises after years in Japan including the sort which are accompanied by less than rosy odors. The human body doesn't obey the will of its owner, and this is more often so as you get older.

In an effort to hopefully make my student feel more at ease, I told her a story of an incident at my former job about 12 years ago. In addition to making textbooks, my former company made CDs of various types of content to accompany the books. For one of the books devoted to improving TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) scores, my company decided it'd save some money by making a male coworker and I do the voice acting in the recording studio.

On the surface, voice acting may not seem like much of a chore, but it's actually quite difficult. Voice actors in Japan ask for anything between 10,000-25,000 yen an hour ($97-$242) (or at least they did at that time, rates may have changed by now). In fact, I believe the woman they hired for the Japanese voice acting chores may have been on the upper end of that range. Since my coworker and I were both North American (and therefore had the "right" accent for such work in the opinions of the Japanese), had reasonably nice voices, and, most importantly of all, were only being paid 2,000 yen ($19) an hour, we were pressed into service.

The sessions were held in a ramshackle studio in the armpit areas of Shinjuku. We sweat because using the air conditioning in the small, tightly-sealed space caused too much noise and would be picked up by the mics. What's worse, certain heavy traffic nearby would shake the room and the vibrations could be heard. It was hardly the ideal set-up for recording, but I'm guessing it had the same benefit that my coworker and I did. That is, it was cheap.

We would have to record for hours on end and we were not up to the task. Neither of us had any experience and there are certain "tricks of the trade" we weren't aware of like making sure you don't blow air out of your lips too strongly when you pronounce a "f" or a "p" sound as it'll make a strange noise on the recording. It also seemed that we never had enough "acting" skill and were both constantly told we sounded too "flat" and had to infuse our speaking about things like exchanging business cards or buying a pair of pants with more life and energy. They also expected us to time the pauses between dialogs and sentences by counting in our heads rather than offering us a watch, clock or timer, and I was always starting too fast or slow and being chastised for not waiting long enough. It was hard enough to focus on the script and not flubbing up or losing my place, not puffing out too much air on my "f's" and "p's" without having to silently count between each sentence.

After sitting in that small room for hours on end with the oxygen running out and the heat building up and being constantly criticized, it was rather difficult to build up much of an energetic vibe. Some sessions lasted 3-4 hours and we were pretty wrecked by the end of the first one. If all the various inadequacies of the soundproofing of the studio weren't enough to frustrate our progress, my coworker started to have serious empty stomach rumblings. They were so loud that the mics were clearly picking them up and we had to keep stopping and doing things over. Eventually, someone ran out and bought a bunch of bananas at a "Mom and Pop" fruit shop near the studio and he crammed a few down to try and quiet his disruptive digestive system.

After these experiences, I never wanted to set foot in a recording studio again and believe voice actors who are good at what they do deserve every yen of their high fees. Getting back to my student though, I told her this story mainly to let her know that it happens to everyone, and that it's clearly out of one's control. Even when you desperately need to stop it like in the situation we were in, there's nothing you can do.


Cutetwirler said...

Haha what a good story.
I saw on Gaijinpot jobs that they are looking for voice actors in Osaka but I think that it's 4000¥ an hour.

I tend to have a problem with yawning; when I'm nervous (for example, in a one on one situation like teaching a student), I don't breathe as deeply as I do normally and so my body yawns. Well, this is my theory anyway. I get lots of sleep on work nights so it's not that I'm tired. I just find it so embarrassing though!!

badmoodmike said...

Oh, my...

I can never, ever forget the time in 7th grade math class...I was new in the school, and no one...NO ONE...liked this math teacher. It was always so quiet you could hear a pin drop in the classroom because everyone was watching the clock in anticipation of the bell.

Well, I sneezed. I stifled it, and the pressure of such pushed out a fart.

Oh, how embarrassing. :)

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Oh how I hate recording. We have to record listening tests every term (5 times a year) and even though they are short sessions, I dread them everytime. The room is either freezing in winter or boiling in summer (same problem you had with the air con).