By Trent Rentsch
The Marquis de Sade was a French Revolutionary writer of deviant pornography that would make Larry Flynt blush and a firm believer in practicing what he preached. In and out of prison most of his adult life for both his words and his exploits in the bedroom (and sometimes on a rack), the Marquis held fast to his belief that if it feels good (or sometimes bad), do it. Imagine a guy who would find the word Sadism named after him a huge compliment, and you get a pretty good picture of the type of person I’m talking about. I mention him here because I’m fairly certain that he would approve of the exercise equipment at the gym I’m now going to.
Pleasure is certainly the last thing on my mind when I try to use one of these implements of torture. The first device in the circuit of pain does its best to pull your arms out of the socket while making the muscles between your shoulder blades beg for mercy from the first repetition. You’re supposed to do 12. There are another 14 ways of bending, folding, and mutilating one’s body to look forward to after the first. Some days when it’s over, I limp to the locker room, hoping to see my body sculpted into the image of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian, only to find Danny Devito as The Hunchback of Notre Dame grimacing back at me in the mirror.
I’m doing this by choice, by the way. I could tell you that I’m doing it for my dear wife, but I’m convinced that if I weighed 500 pounds she’d still love me. I might say that it’s another creative outlet, Lord knows that I’ve created buckets of sweat, countless grunting noises I didn’t know a human being could make, and then there’s coughing up blood from time to time, but that’s all less creative than wimpy. I suppose that I could be the modern day equivalent of the Marquis’s best friend, the Masochist, but just the act of whipping cream can make me a little queasy. Do you really want to know why I’m putting myself through this pain? Me too.
Of course, all I’m really doing is trying to be better than I am. The kid who would rather pick up a book than swing a bat has become the 40-something man who would rather be healthy than take drugs to keep his cholesterol below 300. Since eating right can only take you so far and eating well is something I’m not ready to give up completely, the only other answer is exercise to keep the doctor off my back. Getting better might mean times of much less than mild discomfort, but it beats the alternative (I hear that the drugs have certain side effects that a middle-aged newlywed would not enjoy).
I used to believe that being better was something you were born with, that those who were good at sports or math or buying beer without getting carded had some genetic gift that others don’t have. I know that there’s truth to that, but it also seems that, if you really want to be better at something, whether it’s hitting a baseball, solving an Algebra problem, or conning the guy behind the counter into believing that you’re old enough to buy a six-pack of Bud, you have to work at it.
When was the last time you exercised your vocal cords? Of course, you use them every day; you voice 20-30 ads, possibly pull an air shift too. What I’m talking about is really putting them through their paces, running through all the characters you know how to do, practicing the words you usually have to stumble over when they come up in a script, or just plain warming up your voice with more than hot coffee in the morning. I promise you that the voice-over artists that you consider better than you do. Many have vocal coaches to run them through all kinds of aural exercises, most spend hours listening to others, reading and listening to themselves, all in an effort to be better. The same goes for the writers who come up with better copy. They read constantly, they listen to other scripts to hear what works and what doesn’t, they push themselves to find better ways of pulling meaning and emotion from the written word.
I don’t consider myself anywhere near a Production Guru, but I’m damned sure better than I was when I started. If I hadn’t burned them, one listen to my early tapes would prove my point. I obviously didn’t have a natural talent for production, but listening to really good people made me want to get better. I would sweat over the few spots they would throw the rookie, voicing them over and over, working my voice, hoping to improve my voice. I would try countless cuts of production music, listening for the cuts that would be right for the spots. I practiced mixing, trying this reverb or that flange effect to attempt to make things sound better. While I initially muddied up the mix and made it worse, I began to “hear” what worked. As I said, looking back, it paid off, and I’m much better than I was. However, I’m still nowhere near the people I find really amazing Producers, the Production Gods. That’s why I continue to exercise the “muscles” I need to be better at the craft. Of course, at the same time the Geniuses are working at improving their already considerable talents, raising the bar to new heights of artistry. So instead of a destination, the quest to become more talented, more skillful becomes a journey, and “work” becomes a fulfilling challenge.
There is pain, of course. Especially if you’re exercising muscles you haven’t for sometime. Still, it doesn’t make you a Masochist for working to be better. I hear from Creatives who are frustrated with where they are, who wish their situation were better. The truth is that you can’t change the situation, but you can change yourself. And it’s much less painful than a leg extension machine, certainly less painful than spiked collars and whips…at least, from what I’ve heard.