He’s a Grammy and Emmy winning post sound mixer and sound designer, a composer, a voice actor, a professor, a killer harmonica player, and all-around cool dude. He loves working on podcasts, but this time he gets to be the guest. Please enjoy the musings of John McClain.
Amanda: I’m an awkward starter.
John: Awkward starter. That’d be a good punk band name.
Amanda: Awkward starter, yeah. I think I’m going to start it now, awkwardly, with a question that might not seem business related, but I think it’s a huge part of being successful. You strike me as someone who is truly comfortable with who you are. You just seem to love what you do. You go with the flow. And that, along with your talent, of course, makes people want to work with you. Has it always been that way? Or did you have to work to develop that confidence or comfort throughout your career?
“I’ve done a pretty good job of learning to let go.”
John: I’ve always been, since high school, pretty comfortable with who I am and my own outlook on the world, if you will. But you know, I mean, I think like anybody else, I’ve gone through my ups and downs. We all have insecurities. And certainly as an entrepreneur, I’ve had the bottom of the trough as well as the top of the trough. And you have to learn that it’s going to be okay, no matter what. And when you get to the bottom of the trough, you tend to hold on to things really tightly and try to control. And it’s counterintuitive, but that actually makes stuff worse. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of learning to let go.
Amanda: I think that’s really important. The control thing, that’s something that I’ve always had issues with. I just want everything to be perfect. And I know that perfection isn’t a realistic goal in life, or in anything really. You want to do the best that you can, but it’s okay if it’s not perfect. And that, I think, is one of the things that has become easier in a way since everything has changed via pandemic. Things like the podcast, I don’t have the gear to make it perfect. I can learn and do what I can to make it better. But I have to be okay with, well do I want to get something out there and focus on “It’s good content, and it’s the best that I can do,” or just not do anything at all. Because I think a lot of people get stuck and think “I can’t do it perfectly, so I won’t do anything at all.”
John: Yeah, I won’t disagree with that at all. I’m working on putting together some video content. And it’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I even get started. Because I look at it and I say to myself, “Well, I don’t know how to do video, because I’m an audio guy and I’ve never had to.” So that, in the past, has stopped me. But now I’m just gonna go ahead and do it. One thing I’ve learned, especially doing podcasts – producing them – is that my expectation is not the audience’s expectation. And that’s a really important thing to put in our heads when we’re professionals in the media business and we want things to be just so. One of my favorite clients of all time had a saying that I’ve held on to: “It’s not done, it’s due.”
Amanda: It’s not done, it’s due. I’m going to sit with that one for a minute
Amanda: Not a minute here. But I will think about that a little bit later. I really like that.
John: Yeah, because we could always tweak this, or change that, or dial the color in a little better here, or fix the mix a little better here. But in reality, I think that we cross a threshold where we’re not making it any better. We’re just trying to satisfy our need for perfection.
Amanda: And I find a lot of people, especially what they call solopreneurs – we’re running our businesses completely by ourselves. We don’t have any of that input where you might have… like you have a business partner and somebody that you work with. There’s somebody to bounce ideas off of. But when you’re doing it by yourself, it’s very easy to think that you know what your audience wants. Some people forget to actually ask that question, whether it’s doing polls on social with the people who are actually in that group to find out what is it that you want, not what I think you want. I know, for me, my brain doesn’t work the same as anybody else’s. So I don’t want to make those assumptions because it just wouldn’t work out. It’s like I always say on big production shoots and things, you never put the vegetarian in charge of meal services. It’s not what everybody else wants. Because I can’t figure out what you want. The only way I can do it is by asking you what is it that you want.
John: Right. Asking what it is they want, but then applying our own experience to it and saying, “Okay, well then let’s try this,” whatever “this” is.
Amanda: I feel like you have tried a lot of things. You’ve developed your career in a way that is very adaptable, I think, as times change. I know there are times when you work from your home studio, there are times when you’re in your physical place at Dog and Pony, and that was long before the pandemic forced people to start working from home. Being able to adapt, I find, is the most important thing because everything is changing. And again, it comes back to that control. We can’t control what happens. So, all you can do is accept it, and change, and go along with it, and figure out how you can move forward or get stuck. And nobody wants to get stuck.
John: Yeah. This is a great question.
Amanda: You’re used to being asked about other stuff.
John: Yeah, but I like this. When I look back, I get surprised. The business goes through changes. And I always seem to find myself in the position of being able to find work, no matter what’s going on in the business. The business is really advertising heavy, I get some good ad work, but… you’ve caught me without words, Amanda.
Amanda: That’s a win. That’s all for today.
“Stuff just keeps getting better.”
John: One of the things that’s always been interesting to me is that I find something, and I kind of suffer from shiny object syndrome, and I’m like, oh, I want to try that. And I turn into it. And I find work in that. And it always seems to happen just as this falls off. As a for instance, I got really interested in doing game audio in like 2006-2007, and Dog and Pony really got into game audio, specifically casino gaming, in mid-2008. We picked up a huge client. They were keeping us super busy and, as we all know, the advertising business completely tanked right after that. And we just coasted right through it with all of this game work. And then we actually kind of hit our low after that when that gaming client went away.
But since then, we’ve picked up new gaming clients, we’ve picked up new advertising clients, we’ve picked up other work, there’s podcast production going on. I guess it’s just me being interested in a lot of different stuff. And now I’ve found partners who are simpatico in that regard. We’ve got three absolutely unreal composers on staff. Now, we’ve recently hired a wonderful young lady who got an internship at Dog and Pony from when I was doing guest lectures at UNLV School of Film, simply because she just had question after question after question. And finally, I was like, “Okay, why don’t you just come intern for us?” And then we ended up hiring her full-time. And then there are other super talented sound designers and mixers on staff. So now that I’ve got a whole crew of people who are as curious as I am, man, stuff just keeps getting better.
Amanda: You find the most talented people, but also you make sure there are people that you get along with, that you share those interests with. I know you have jam sessions with your team, and I’d see these videos and you’re playing the harmonica or whatever other instrument you seem to find that day. To want to spend time with the people that you work with, after you’re done working, says a lot.
Rule #1: Have Fun. Rule #2: Don’t be a dick.
John: It’s silly fun. We have rules for our now 13-year-old son. And he’s had these rules since he was like five or six, and all the parents agreed on the rules. I’m telling you this in advance because some people might get offended by rule number two. Rule number one has always been “Have fun.” And rule number two is “Don’t be a dick.” And all the parents were cool with it. All the kids have grown up with these very simple rules, but we also apply those rules in the rest of our life. Don’t be a dick, and have fun. Because you only get one time around on the big blue marble, so go out there and enjoy it.
Amanda: It’s pretty good advice. I don’t know why anybody would take issue with it, unless they don’t like to follow number two. I think there are some people that don’t want to follow that rule, just in general.
John: I think there are some people who really enjoy violating rule number two.
Amanda: In all of this work that you’ve done… I’ll brag for you a little bit. You won a Grammy for your work with George Carlin. You have multiple Emmys. I think you’re secretly pursuing an EGOT.
Amanda: I feel like EGOT could be in your future. But regardless, I don’t think you do anything for these accolades. I think you appreciate them, but awards are not the motivation for why you do what you do. So it’s similar to choosing the people you work with – it’s also the clients that you have and the type of work that you do. You’re able to choose the projects that align with you, and that helps keep you happy.
“Find clients you like working with, too.”
John: Yeah, that seems to be a thing. I don’t have any clients that I don’t enjoy working with. Whether it’s political spots, or commercial advertising, or indie film, we’ve really hit a place where we really dig all the folks we hang out with. We have one client – we’re so tight with him and his wife, and it has nothing to do with the client relationship. It just turned out once we started working together that we all really like each other. We’re actually all going out for his birthday this weekend. I guess the point is, just like with the team, find clients you like working with too, right? I mean, you and I share a bunch of clients. And we really like all these people. They’re great human beings. And that’s fun.
Amanda: It is fun. There are some really great people, and one of the big reasons that I left my old job job was that I wasn’t having fun anymore. There were a lot of reasons, but the underlying push was, this isn’t fun anymore. And why do you want to spend 50 hours a week not having fun? That doesn’t make any sense. I don’t want that in my life. Part of me, at the time, thought that it was the industry – that I didn’t like this industry. There were just too many catty people, and too much gossip, and just ugliness that I wanted away from. Then I got away from that particular job and I realized it has nothing to do with the industry. It’s just the people that I was stuck working with. There were some great people, but I didn’t have any control over what clients there were. Whoever the company got, that’s who I had to work with. Right now, on my own, I get to say no if I don’t want to work with you, and I’ve fired clients. A lot of people have a really hard time with this, because it’s scary to send a paying client away. You worry about the income potential. And I feel that two things happen. One, if you’re spending that much time with a bad client, it’s taking away time that you could be finding or working with a good client. But also, if you’re miserable, no amount of money to me is worth being miserable.
“I don’t need to be rich. I just need to be comfortable.”
John: None whatsoever. I don’t need to be rich. I just need to be comfortable. If that means that I turn down work from, or fire, clients who are not cool, then that’s what happens. Even if you like somebody, but that person is not cool with your employees, then you got to work something out there. Because if that starts messing up your team, then that’s not good for your business overall. Keep looking for people you align with.
Amanda: Pretty early on into working for myself, I had been hired by a company to do some videos for them. My client was great. He’s still one of my clients. But the end client, not so much. He clearly had issues with women, which I had never experienced in my career up to that point, but would not talk to me directly. He would talk to my clients, who was like, “I don’t know that. You need to talk to Amanda. That’s what she does.” And it got to a point where we shot this video for them, and they were completely unprepared. They didn’t bring anything that they said they would. He didn’t want teleprompter because he feels awkward on teleprompter. But then he didn’t learn the material, so he needed a teleprompter, and then he was awkward. And it just didn’t work out, and they didn’t get what they wanted. But they wanted it to be fixed. And we kept offering solutions. And he wanted a new estimate. But he wouldn’t tell me how many people he wanted on camera and how many locations they want to use. He’s like, “I don’t care about all that stuff. I just need to know what it’s going to cost.” To me it was like, well, you can’t say, “I want to redo my floors, but I’m not going to tell you how much square footage or what material I want to use, but I want you to give me a price.”
He went to my client and said, “You need to handle this.” And I called my client and said, “He clearly has an issue with me. I’m going to take a step back here. I don’t want to jeopardize your relationship. Here’s another person you can work with. Or I can help you find somebody.” And then we got on a call to discuss the project, and both this new director and my client, they just said, “Well, if this is the way he’s treating you, we don’t want to work with him.” And so he cut ties with his own client because of how that client treated me. And I think sometimes you have to do that. You have to stand up for the type of people you’re forming relationships with, whether it’s in business or your personal life. You have to be able to stand up for what’s not right and say, “I don’t want to work with somebody who’s gonna treat somebody like that.”
“No is by far the most powerful word that we need to learn in order to take control of our own lives.”
John: Right? Earlier, you said something about saying no. And I think that’s by far the most powerful word that we need to learn in order to take control of our own lives. Because everybody’s gonna ask you for favors. But we don’t have time to do all of them. You are well aware, because you do all the scheduling at TVAS, that I don’t want to do stuff on the weekends. Yeah, I’ve got Dawn and I’ve got Declan and I want that time free.
Amanda: I always admire that about you, where you make your family a priority. And you say, ‘I’m not available on weekends.” You’re allowed to do that. It’s your business. You run your own life. You can say, “I’m not going to work those days.” If the studio or wherever else takes problem with it, and they say, “Well, we need you to do that,” then you can say, “Well, we’re not the right fit.” It’s fine. It’s not any issue other than you have different priorities.
I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to say no. It’s something that I do a lot. And I always say I think you have to be a selfish person. Not selfish in the way that you’re doing whatever you want at somebody else’s expense, but selfish in that you have to take care of yourself first, because nobody else is going to do it for you.
Amanda: And if you’re constantly giving of yourself to all these people, are they really giving back? Is it reciprocal? Because most times it’s not. I think, especially when people are starting their businesses, but even people who are a decade or more into their career, they feel that they have this obligation to their clients to be available when they’re needed. And I don’t believe in that. I keep my evenings and my weekends. That’s my time. If there’s an urgent project, of course, I’m going to do it. And I get the added caveat that I don’t have a family. It doesn’t matter. It drives me crazy
John: As it should. So see, somebody saying that means they just broke rule number two.
Amanda: Thank you. Yes. Don’t break rule number two. But all the time, it’s just been an issue like oh, well, you don’t have a family. So I don’t get a personal life because I don’t want kids? That doesn’t seem logical to me.
John: But what you said, if there’s an urgent project, or it’s a client you like, you have to be flexible. We have a political client that we really like, great folks. And guess what season it is right now.
John: Like it was just Labor Day weekend. I ended up doing a job for him on Monday. Dawn cast voices for them when they asked because that’s the scale of the business. But then to the other thing you said, that client is really reciprocal. They’re super generous. They take care of you. Everything is fantastic. And when you have that two-way street going, it’s easy to be flexible with somebody.
Amanda: It’s definitely different when it’s the client that you have that good relationship with asking for that kind of favor. Usually, it seems to be the ones that don’t pay you for six months, and they still want you to be available because they need something right away. Not that you work with anybody who won’t pay within six months, and nor do I, but it just always seems like the clients who treat you the worst in some way – whether they don’t pay enough, or they don’t pay on time, or they’re just very demanding -they are the ones who will want the most from you. The ones who pay you full rate and understand how business works are usually the dream clients. I think because they’re proper businesspeople and they understand you’re running a business. And just because I hire you doesn’t change that you still have to do what you need to do.
“I don’t think you become a proper businessperson without being a proper person in general.”
John: Also, I would extrapolate that further. I think it’s because they’re proper people, right? I don’t think you become a proper businessperson without being a proper person in general. Just being cool, understanding that everybody’s got their life and other things going on and hey we’re going to get this done together. And we’re going to work together and we’re all going to be cool. And that’s super important. And if you’re not a decent person, then I don’t think you become a decent business. Right? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems really weird that somebody might be like this awesome, amazing businessperson that everyone wants to work with. But in their personal life, they’re a complete twat.
Amanda: I think you have to be a proper person. Everyone’s so busy, and then you forget that you’re working with people. So yes, you might be inundated with a million emails, and you don’t feel like you have time to get back to all of them. But you not responding is affecting that person. If you don’t want to do whatever they’re asking, just say no. Do it politely but let them move on. Because no is an acceptable answer.
Amanda: But just give them an answer. Ignoring people, or if you’ve spent weeks talking about a potential project, and then it doesn’t happen for whatever reason, follow up with them and say, “It’s not going to happen this time. Thank you for your time” instead of just ghosting and leaving them in that place where they think they might have a job, but they don’t know. I don’t respect ghosting in any way, shape or form.
John: Absolutely not. No. And there are so many tools, you know, like, I am certainly a victim of inbox overload. But I use Gmail. And I take advantage of the tools built into it. In Gmail, you can click on an email and turn it into a task and assign it a time and an alarm so that you get notified to get back to somebody about something. Or you can snooze the email until a time that’s better for you. Learn your tools.
Amanda: What are some of your favorite tools right now?
John: For productivity?
“You have to be able to make that tool work the way that you want to work and not twist the way that you’re used to working into something else.”
John: I am actually getting ready to switch the company over to a project manager/task manager tool called Plutio, which I discovered on AppSumo. If you’re not familiar with AppSumo, it’s a website and a company that finds really interesting tech and partners with the developer and offers up deals. So you just make an account on AppSumo, and you sign up for the emails, and all kinds of really cool stuff comes over. But I discovered Plutio on there. I’ve been test driving it for two weeks. The developer is unreal. Like the guy who’s the CEO of the company is the guy who’s answering my questions in chat. He’s got people working for him, but he just happened to be the one that I got. So far, I’m just digging the heck out of the tool. It’s, like I said, project management and task management. And you can set it up as a Gantt chart, or a kanban board, or list view. And it integrates with your Google Calendar, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I needed to find something. I had talked to you probably two years ago about different tools. And we settled on a tool called Apptivo, and it’s been okay, but the developers are peculiar. They’ll go to fix something and break 10 other things. I don’t think the team has got their poop in a group. So I needed to get another tool. And we use the heck out of the G Suite tools at Dog and Pony, so the integration is super important.
Amanda: That’s one of the things that people struggle with the most, is finding that app or that system that will simplify everything they need to do. And there are so many, so once you start researching, you can lose hours or days trying to figure out which one is the right solution. And then you think you find it, but then you read some reviews and it makes you question it. And then it’s oh, this has A, B and C but I still need D.
John: Or they only give you like a 10-day test drive, right? And that’s not long enough. Even 14 days is kind of tight. I’d love to have another two weeks. I think what’s super important is finding a tool that speaks to you both visually and ergonomically. You have to be able to make that tool work the way that you want to work and not twist the way that you’re used to working into something else. That never works out for you.
Amanda: That is one of the things that I always say when people ask me, “Well, which CRM tool should I use?” And I can’t answer that for you. Again, my brain doesn’t work the same way as anybody else’s with everything business. You have to create the system that works for you or find the system that works for you. So many people, I think they get into these online courses, and self-help books, and all the productivity hacks, and all the articles, and they read all this stuff and they just want to fit into that box. And they forget that the most important thing is the internal, the instinct, the what actually works for you.
Amanda: You can follow somebody else’s blueprint to the tee, and it’s not gonna work for you, because it’s not the way that you work.
John: Yeah, we turned down one tool simply because, in the trial, one of our team members just said, “I don’t like looking at it. It’s got too much whitespace.” But you got to stare at that tool all day long. When it comes to audio, I don’t use the same program that most of the audio people in North America use. I don’t like the way it works. I don’t like the way it looks. I don’t like that they force you to learn their key commands rather than being able to write your own key commands. There are a lot of things that it does. It does it really well. That’s why so many people use it. But from an ergonomic standpoint, and with the type of creative work that we find ourselves doing most of the time at Dog and Pony, it’s not the best fit. So we went and found tools that work for us. And we actually tend to jump around between a handful of different digital audio workstations, just depending on what is required for the job, as opposed to trying to take one tool and cram our work into somebody else’s idea of how you’re supposed to do sound. Or video, if you’re a video editor. Or whatever.
Amanda: It has to make sense to you, or you’re going to get so frustrated and fed up with it that you’re not going to do it. In the very beginning, and it’s still a little bit, that’s how I feel about audio. And I’m sorry, but when I started realizing I have to do my podcast by myself now, I had no idea. Because as much as I’ve worked with all this stuff, it just didn’t make any sense. I feel like with video, I could figure it out a little bit. I’m not a pro editor by any means, but I can do enough to get by for social media or something like that. But when it came to audio, just the whole interface, it was like an alien life form. And I got so frustrated for a long time and was like, this will be the first thing that I outsource.
John: You should come take the TVAS four-week tech class,
“Spend a little more money up front because that gear lasts longer, so ultimately you end up spending less.”
Amanda: I probably should. There was time early on in a pandemic, when I remember having talks with multiple people. I’m like, “I don’t want to do this. I just don’t like it at all.” But a big part of it, as you know, is having the right equipment. The tendency is to start cheap, because “I don’t know if I’m gonna want to do this, so let me just get this cheap lav mic on Amazon, and I’ll get a little tiny light or something. And I don’t want to spend a lot of money because I’m not sure.” And you can get by with that, but then it makes more work on the post side, where if you buy a better microphone, and an interface, and you use the right programs, and you start off sounding okay, you’re not going to have to spend so much time on the part that you hate.
Amanda: Making the investment in yourself up front is going to save you the time and the money and the frustration.
John: That’s one of the first things I touch on when I’m teaching tech to voice actors, or anybody else who needs to learn the tech side of audio. Spend a little more money up front because of what you just said, but also because that gear lasts longer, so ultimately you end up spending less money. I’m a big fan of paying more money for a better tool because that tool will last me however many years. Case in point – microphone cables. I always tell the TVAS students to buy one of these microphone cables. They’re going to run you like $40-$60, but these ones that are $14 they’ll work fine, but over the course of 15 years you’re gonna buy so many $14 mic cables that you’ll have outspent the $40 mic cable. That’s really important. The quality of the tool.
Amanda: I want to mention that when John says TVAS, he’s referring to The Voice Actors Studio.
John: Oh, yes.
Amanda: I know sometimes people speak in… not anagrams. What word am I thinking of? The initials.
John: Yes, self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.
Amanda: Thank you! When people speak in SCUBA (I’m just gonna call it that from now on). When people speak in SCUBA, sometimes we get lost. That’s when you ask questions.
Amanda: It’s okay to not know something. But we are in this world where technology makes it possible to know anything you possibly want to know. Again, it goes back to using the tools
John: As our son Declan will point out to us when we’re having a conversation at the dinner table and something comes up, and people are like, “Well, I think it’s this.” “I think it’s this.” And he’ll lean in and say, “You’ve got a computer in your pocket.”
Amanda: That it takes away the fun of the argument though, and I’m not an arguer, but I don’t mind a good debate.
John: Well, or just a discussion. Yeah, right, trying to figure it out, it does take that away. Agreed.
Amanda: For me, it’s especially when somebody tries to argue my musical knowledge. If I know something for certain, I want you to look it up. I will name some obscure band from the 90s and you’ll be like, “No, that that can’t be the answer.” And it is. Just go look it up.
John: Don’t mess with Amanda’s musical knowledge.
Amanda: There was a time I did a trivia night with a bunch of people from the US Attorney’s Office, and I think they were fascinated because their knowledge base was vastly different from mine. When it came to the music and movie categories, I just happened to have the answers that night. I don’t think that would happen every time. But it just seemed enough that it gave me the mystery that I like. And then I snuck away, and I don’t think I ever saw them again. So hopefully they are left with his image of the mysterious musical knowledge person.
John: I love that you say you snuck away. That’s so Amanda.
Amanda: You do know this about me.
Amanda: It kind of goes back to saying no. When social outings were a regular part of life, I often will say no, and it’s not always because I’m trying to be anti-social. But I know my introversion very well, and there are times if I’ve had a busy week, or it’s just been too much, I can’t be around people that day. But sometimes when there’s somebody important, like a john McClain, and he says, “Oh, I’m having this little get together,” I will make the exception and stop by.
John: Yes. And it was awesome.
Amanda: Thank you. And sometimes I even stay. I believe at least one of those, I wasn’t the first person to leave.
John: Not at all. In fact, you didn’t even sneak away. You came and said goodbye.
Amanda: Sometimes I actually do the right thing. I’m trying to follow rule number two, because apparently, sometimes leaving a party without telling anybody is not a good thing.
John: It doesn’t violate rule number two, though. Sometimes you just got to ghost.
“I’m getting better at knowing what I like, and what suits me.”
John: I’m gonna segue this though. Because I think that’s cool, right? It’s part of self-care. It’s part of knowing yourself. At first, you commented on how I seem to just roll with stuff. And I’m getting better at knowing what I like, and what suits me, and you’re there. You’ve got that figured out. And you’re like, I’m going to do this, or I’m not going to do this. And that’s cool.
Amanda: Well, thank you.
John: That’s a cool thing. Because it makes us happier people.
Amanda: We need to be happier people in general. But I think, especially if you run your own business, you should be a happy person. You’ve earned your freedom to do what you want to do. So do what you want to do. I know you get offended when I say that I’m boring. You don’t like it when I say that. I don’t mean it in a self-deprecating way. It’s just I don’t do what most people do.
John: But that’s actually interesting. It’s the opposite of boring,
Amanda: I can’t just say yes because that’s what you want to do, if it’s really going to be miserable for me. The way I always look at it, if people don’t accept that, cool. It’s not for me to change your perception of me. And I’m just telling you, this is who I am, and this is how I do things, and that’s how I run my business. I still get it from people, “You should do this, or you should try this, or go out there and do this on social media, this is how you should market.” I will do things my own way. And so far, it’s worked for me. So I’m going to keep doing what works for me.
“I don’t want to put something on social media unless it’s something I find really interesting.”
John: Yeah, we’ve discussed this many times in the past. I’m of a similar mindset. I don’t want to put something on social media unless it’s something I find really interesting, something fascinating. I made one of my rare social media posts today on Dog and Pony and on my personal Facebook, because I found this really cool article that compared the cost of building a small studio or a home studio in the late 80s to today. And it was a chuckle for me because I remember. I was in the business back then. What it cost and what kind of gear we had versus now, those are the kinds of things I want to put up. I have a very difficult time putting up an Instagram photo or a Facebook post or sending out an email just because that’s what I’m supposed to do to market myself. That seems very inauthentic to me.
Amanda: I’m exactly the same. People say I need to post every day. I don’t. I don’t have anything to say every day. What people don’t realize is most of the time… well, if I was on a shoot, there are NDAs involved. And if I’m not on a job, I’m doing what everybody’s doing now, and I’m sitting in front of my computer in my PJs, and there’s nothing to share necessarily. There’s nothing of interest. And I can’t post a cat photo every day. I could, but I think people already worry that I’m the becoming the crazy cat lady. I try to only post the cat photos every so often.
John: Are you in your PJs right now?
Amanda: Of course.
Amanda: The working from home angle is something that I’ve been working towards for many years. It’s part of what keeps me feeling better. Because if I’m at home all of this time, it actually forces me to be more social, when things are normal. When I used to work at an office and I was around people all the time, then I get drained by being around people all the time. So then I was not likely to go out and do more social things on evenings and weekends because I needed to recharge. Now I’m by myself all day, so I actually want to go out and see people. This model works for me.
“I had a new employee contract I was supposed to sign, and I just ignored it and figured let’s see what happens.”
John: Excellent, excellent. I dig working from home. The biggest thing that I miss is when everybody’s at the studio and everybody’s working on a project. That energy is palpable. And that’s super fun. We had a day last week where all of us were in and it’s just a gas. But working from home is cool, too. Declan is here schooling at home, and Dawn’s here, and as far as clothing goes, nothing’s changed for me. I still wear shorts and t-shirts and take my shoes off every chance I get so I can wander around barefoot.
Amanda: Because you are who you are. And that’s what you have to do.
John: And it’s hella more comfortable.
Amanda: I know that a lot of people have had a hard time adjusting to working remotely for different reasons, whether there are too many distractions at home, or they miss that energy. There are some people who have to work with people, more of the extroverted types in the creative field, especially. There’s a difference being in the room where people are creating and editing, and you can speak to somebody right away and collaborate a lot more. That is more difficult when the whole team is working in different places. But also, a lot of what you and I do has been remote for a while. I think I probably worked with you for at least a decade before I ever met you.
John: Yeah, definitely,
Amanda: I’d heard your name, and we’d work together with various companies on different projects, but it was all via email or remote sessions or different things. That’s not so new for us. And I think that’s helped a lot. We kind of had a little bit of a head start in figuring out this remote workflow that’s been pretty beneficial.
John: Yeah, definitely. That was a bonus, I think, for any of us because it wasn’t so hard when the lockdowns happened to just pick it up at home. And thank goodness, because imagine. In our business, on the voiceover side of our business, I read a couple of stories about major voice actors in cities like New York, or Los Angeles or London, who really struggled because they never had a studio at their house. They always went places to do everything. And suddenly, there’s no place to go.
Amanda: Sometimes when you’re forced to do things… And I kind of feel like that was the push that got me to start my own business. I kept trying to quit my job, and they wouldn’t let me. They kept saying they needed me to be there. And then I pulled the “Office Space” and I just stopped going. I didn’t go to the office for four months, because I figured that should probably send a message. I didn’t think it would take them four months to get the message. But then eventually, the decision was made for me and I was out, and I had already lined up everything I needed to and haven’t stopped since. But I probably needed that push.
When I was a teenager, I worked the same job from the time I was 16 until I was 21. That’s how I paid for my college. That kept me going. But at some point, even back then when I was in my early 20s, I realized if I don’t leave this job, I’m going to be stuck here because I’m content. I like the people. It gets me what I need to do, but I can’t work at TCBY why my whole life. That’s when I moved to LA. I just kind of, almost on a whim, I just up and left because it was… I have to push myself at this point. I don’t want to ever be stagnant. That’s one of the things that I never want to be. That’s kind of what pushed me, and that’s where I learned about post-production. It actually started at an audio post house of all places. And that’s what changed the trajectory of everything. Sometimes a push is okay.
John: So many people I’ve talked to in this business have similar stories. Mine’s very similar. We were living in Detroit. I was very content with the job I had. And my only complaint about the place was the insanely long and bad winters and lack of mountains.
Amanda: Lack of mountains would be hard.
John: So I talked Dawn into moving, and we moved to Vegas, and then I worked for a company here and I was content. I was also a buffer because they were bad humans. Luckily, they were 3000 miles away, but they were bad humans. I did a very similar thing to you. I didn’t go home for four months, but I had a new employee contract I was supposed to sign, and I just ignored it and figured let’s see what happens.
Amanda: It just worked itself out.
John: Yeah. James, my studio partner, broke his leg. He was a gondolier at the Venetian and working part time for us. And he broke his leg and couldn’t gondolier anymore. And that was the kick over the edge he needed to commit.
Amanda: If you look at it as an opportunity, instead of something that happened to you, it’s almost like something happened for you. Maybe you don’t want to break your leg again, but you broke your leg, and this is what happened because of it. The bad thing that happens can be a trigger to lead you to the best things that happen, even if it might not seem like that in the moment. If you look for that positive message or thing that you can learn out of it, sometimes the worst things are actually the best.
“Bad things happen. Turn it into something good.”
John: What’s the old adage, a silk purse from a sow’s ear or whatever it is. Bad things happen. Poop happens, as we like to say. Turn it into something good. I’m not a believer in predetermination at all. But I do believe that the universe provides a path that makes you happy. And there are all kinds of signs that you can walk this way and be happy. But a lot of us tend to try to walk upstream, against the current, and then we figure out hey, it’s a lot easier to walk with the current and good things happen.
Amanda: That whole control thing. Gotta let go.
John: Gotta let go.
Amanda: I noticed and a couple of your bios, cooking paella was mentioned.
Amanda: What is that all about?
John: You’re familiar with the film director Robert Rodriguez? He did the Spy Kids franchise and El Mariachi. Okay, so back when films were on DVD, he used to put this thing on the end of his films called “10-Minute Film School.” And at the end of “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” he put a thing called “10-Minute Cooking School.” And so it comes on, and he’s like standing in his kitchen, and he’s like, “Hey, man. Everybody’s got to eat. So learn to make a couple of things really, really well.” I have always liked to cook. I enjoy it. I’m halfway decent at it. But I’d always wanted to try something difficult. And for whatever reason, when he said that, paella popped into my head. It’s rarely ever the same, and it’s certainly not perfected, but it gets better every time. It’s not an easy dish to make. There’s seafood and sausage and vegetables and rice and you want to cook it so there’s, like, this sort of crust on the bottom of the pie pan is called the socarrat. So the rice gets crunchy, but not in the undercooked rice kind of way. And it involves saffron, which is still to this day like the most insanely expensive spice on the planet. So I learned to cook paella.
Amanda: It makes me think of Barcelona. In 2015, I couldn’t figure out where I wanted to go, so I went everywhere. I think I hit 11 countries in 11 days or so. It was something crazy, like I just went from place to place around Western Europe. And at the end of kind of moving from country to country every day, I finally got to this place in Barcelona and I decided to stay there a couple days. I was there by myself and I was enjoying it. It was one of those things where I had no plan. I was just gonna do whatever I felt like doing
John: Such a great city.
Amanda: Normally, I don’t do the touristy things. But if I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language, and I’m alone, I tend to stay more in the populated areas. But I got on one of those hop-on hop-off bus tours because I figured I’ll just get off where I want to get off, and then I know I can get my way back. I did a lot of things, but at one point I realized I was hungry, so I got off. I think there was a beach nearby and then I found this restaurant and they had a vegetarian paella on the menu. I know it’s not real paella without all that stuff in it, but it was there, and it was the best thing I ate that entire trip. At least food-wise. Dessert-wise, I mean, I ate dessert everywhere.
John: Well, you were in Europe.
Amanda: Yeah. I did make a French waiter very happy when I ordered a second dessert. His face lit up. I have no shame in eating, as everybody knows.
John: I have a friend who’s a vegetarian, so I’ve cooked vegetarian paella for her. She says it’s delicious.
Amanda: If you had one piece of advice for a business owner, what would it be?
“If you’re not having fun, why’d you start a business?”
John: Make sure you’re having fun. Because if you’re not having fun, why’d you start a business? Maybe you’re in a field where maybe the business isn’t that much fun, but it makes enough money and you have enough freedom where you get to go have tons of fun, and it balances out? That’s cool, too, I would imagine. I’m not in that business. But have fun. That’s my advice for everything. Are you having fun? Because you should be having fun. We might be producing a piece of audio that could be the most boring thing on the planet, right? Let’s say we’re producing a piece of audio, and it’s an e-learning module about how to unplug a septic tank, right? But if the client and I are having a good time, the content doesn’t matter. As long as we’re enjoying our time together, our interaction.
Amanda: I genuinely believe that you can have fun in any situation. You just have to do it. It’s that mindset again, and I’ve been saying this for years, I can find the fun in any situation. And that’s kind of what keeps me just happy and peaceful and enjoying life. Because it doesn’t matter what the situation is, I’m going to laugh about something. And maybe it’s an inappropriate to laugh in that situation, but I would rather laugh than not.
John: Yeah, right. There’s got to be a Shakespeare quote about laughing right?
Amanda: There should be.
John: Yeah. Somebody in the job might be a complete jerk, so we’ll laugh about them. We’re gonna laugh about something. If I was doing an e-learning piece on how to unstick a septic tank, there would be a lot of poop jokes flying around.
Amanda: You do get to choose how you feel.
Amanda: Nobody else gets to decide that for you.
John: For me, that’s been a huge part of the journey. And I’ve really only locked into it in the last five years. Happiness comes from within. I probably spent too much time seeking external happiness. And nothing exists there. There is no such thing.
Amanda: But if you find some bright orange shoes, then you’re going to be pretty happy.
John: Well, yeah. My latest fascination with shoes is actually the Vans sneakers with the Vans “Off the Wall logo,” all of them. I have them in black and red. I’m seeking other colors.
Amanda: So if anybody knows where those other colored Vans sneakers are, please let us know.
John: Especially if you can find purple, my favorite color.
Amanda: I could see that happening for you. You are who you are. And if you want to wear purple shoes, you’re gonna wear purple shoes.
John: Wear purple shoes.
Amanda: There you go. Have fun and be a proper person.
John: Yeah, that’s it.
Amanda: It’s that simple.
John: I have to share a little have fun story for you.
John: I teach “The Power of Sound for Film” at UNLV Film School. Last semester, they switched my classroom, and I go up to the second floor and I can’t find it. And then I go around to the other side, and it turns out I’m in a room that has two doors, and there’s the room number but that door’s locked, so I have to go around to the other side. So I’m probably like five minutes late for the class. So I go walking in and of course I’m in my skateboard shoes and shorts and a t-shirt, and I’ve got my skateboard under my arm, and the students thought I was another student. It was so much fun.
Amanda: And that’s what you have to do. John, thank you for taking the time to join me today.
John: Sure thing, Amanda. Thank you.
Amanda: I will talk to you anytime
John: Awesome. That was fun.
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