Voice Acting and the Pandemic | Interview with Sean Chiplock

Raw audio of the interview between Sean Chiplock and myself

Introducing: Sean Chiplock Interview

Let’s be straight here, the past year and a half have been rough for many. We have seen countless delays and even shifts in distribution from many different media sectors. Though I couldn’t help noticing that within all of the game delay news over that time, there was little mention of how the pandemic was impacting the different people that make your favorite games. So, I reached out to the very talented Sean Chiplock to discuss his voice acting career and touch on how the pandemic has impacted him and other voice actors.

How About it Sean, Care to Introduce Yourself?

“Hello and geez, what a charmer already throwing those compliments around left and right. My name is Sean Chiplock. I have been known online as sonicmega since I was like 12 or 13 years old. I am a professional voice actor working full time in the Los Angeles area and living in Southern California. As of last year, largely due to the pandemic, I also became a Twitch streamer.
Though I wouldn’t call myself a full-focused content creator, I mainly started streaming to play games that I enjoy and share that experience live with other people. I have an insanely busy lifestyle and am very happy to be busy. My wife has been very supportive and I just make it my personal goal to do the best job that I can with each new opportunity I am given.”

When Would You Say You Got Started in Voice Acting?

Kiyotaka Ishimaru from Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Source: Ju’s Game Guide

“I didn’t start doing voice over until 2007 and even then I wasn’t working as a professional until at least mid 2013.” 

So, How Do You Normally Find Work?

Subaru from Re:Zero Source: Re:Zero Wiki

“That is definitely a question where you could ask 10 different voice actors and get 11 different answers. The main reason is that for me you just don’t know where that next job opportunity will come from. So I have always taken the approach of doing the best job that I can with each job I have been given and have faith. Trust me, I know it sounds weird to just put blind faith in it, but I just have faith that if I keep doing the best work that I can that people will remember me.
That over time I will just build up this clientele that will provide a consistent sort of work. In truth, my work comes from all over the place. I do work with an agency, SBV Talent, and I have a mix of projects from different sources, be that union projects from the agency or indie projects where I get to work with the client more directly.”

What Would You Say is Your General Process for Determining the Voice of a Character?

Revali from Breath of the Wild/Age of Calamity

“Well, it is a collaborative process. If it is an anime dub or a video game part, I am obviously going to have another client in the booth that is going to work with me. Sometimes pointing to a vocal signature for the character or asking me to replicate a specific audition that I did. Most of the time I will ask if there is a previous job I did for you that they liked and to send me a reference so I can copy that. Also, understanding my own vocal range is another part of it.”

Is It Different Working for a Bigger Company Like Nintendo Over a Smaller Company in Terms of Oversight or How Things are Set Up?

Diluc from Genshin Impact Source: PC Gamer

““In general it will really just depend on the client. Some clients want to be a little more hands on while others just want you to understand the basic idea of what they want. In terms of the recording process it is really no different. They are going to be in their section, whether it being the other side of a booth or office, and I am going to be either in front of my equipment or the equipment they set up for me. They will talk back to me through my headphones and give me direction while I record. The process of recording that content is fairly consistent across all mediums “

What Would You Say Your Favorite Project to Work On Has Been?

Yuuki Mishima from Persona 5/Royal Source: Samurai Gamers

“Well, I tend to give what some people see as a cop-out answer for this. And perhaps because I do think this way is part of why I have a career that’s still so full of passion, and a successful career on top of that. I don’t often pick favorites when it comes to roles that I’ve done. The reason is that I try to find something in every role that I appreciate whether it’s a new milestone that I accomplished or something that I knew I was going to do well on and I knocked it out of the park or a particular challenge that I overcame.”

How Do You Pick the Personalities of the Characters You Voice Generally? Or Do You Get a Feel for Them Based On the Script?

Pewter from AI: The Somnium Files Source: The Beard Baron

“Oh, I definitely get a feel for them based on the script. You know, the longer that I stay in this industry, the better I get at noticing trends on characters. Like, this reminds me of this character, I bet that they probably act a little bit like this. And then if there’s anything that you’re not sure about, that’s the whole point of asking questions. You want to find out exactly what the client is looking for.
So you’ll start the session, you’ll ask questions, and you’ll play around with a couple voices until you guys land on something that you all are in agreement with. Then you work through it from there. So that’s what I think a lot of people forget, is that this is a collaborative process. It is something that you guys have to work out together. It’s a mix of what the talent brings to the table. But also, you know, meeting the needs of what the client is looking for. So being able to work with other people is one of those very important aspects of the industry.”

How Does it Feel Working On a Series Like Trails of Cold Steel for Roughly Four or Five Years? 

Rean Schwarzer from the Trails of Cold Steel series. Source The Legend of Heroes

“First of all, I never take it for granted that I’m voicing a character. Like, I never make the assumption that I’m going to permanently be a part of that character for the rest of time, Like what happened with Powerpuff Girls and Metal Gear Solid at that one point. So that again, this all plays back to that whole thing of I’m going to just do the best job I can and try to leave the client with the impression that they want to continue using me no matter what.
Outside of that,  it’s hard to say this without it feeling like that sense of entitlement or bragging but like, you know how most people consider Robert Downey Jr. to be the Iron Man like he is THE Iron Man. I would kind of like people to see me in that way.
In voicing this character, I would be a little weirded out if I heard someone else voicing that character, but I also don’t ever want to get into that position where I make the assumption that  I’m supposed to be that character. It’s a careful balance of saying, I would like to stay voicing this character as long as possible, but also understanding that at the end of the day, I don’t have control over that.”

How Does it Feel Seeing Your Work Live?

Ozma from Ys: Memories of Celceta Source: Selray (YouTube)

“It’s honestly nerve racking at first. It’s one of those cases where I’m just like, I hope I didn’t screw this up. I really hope I didn’t screw this up, you know  you just  want to trust that you knew what you were doing. But it’s really fun.I’m a big gamer. I’m someone who grew up on this sort of thing. I would spend hours upon hours upon hours playing these games.Sometimes envisioning what I think the characters would sound like, you know, back before games had voice acting in the first place. So to be a part of that next generation, to be a voice in those games that people are playing, where, I think about this is kind of like the full circle moment for me.”

You Mentioned Covid Pushed You More Towards Streaming, But Was it Just Covid That Got You There or Were You Probably Going to End Up There Anyway? 

“I mean, the interest had always been there. The problem is, prior to the pandemic, I was like I don’t have the time. I don’t have the space to do this sort of thing. Similar to how I’ve always had this miniature interest to get into animating, but I couldn’t even begin to find the time to sit down and work on stuff like that for hours a day, I don’t think I’d be able to stay committed to it.
So it just sat in the back of my mind for a while, and then the pandemic hit. And for that first month or two, after the isolation restriction started, there was nothing to do. There was no work because everyone was just expecting that we’d be back into the studio within a month. 
Anyway, with the pandemic already in full swing, I was like well I definitely got the time. I can figure out the space and I can ask people about the equipment because they’re probably just as “out of work” as I am. Okay, all right, I think I can make this work. And the more I learned about what you actually required, the more I was willing to give it a shot. Because if all else failed and  it didn’t work out. If I got all this stuff and I can’t make space for this, I could think, alright, I didn’t turn down work to find out.
But I had some guidance from amazing people like Mic_feedback. And he helped show me the ropes. I got tech advice from some of the folks who were helping me out with my Discord. And little by little, I attempted streaming. And saw that it wasn’t a complete failure. I was getting better each day and each week.
I was like, alright, well, we’ll figure this out. And within like a month, I had figured out my routine. I had figured out you know, like the gimmicks. I had a solid understanding. You know, I’m not as flashy as a lot of other Twitch streamers. I don’t have transitions yet or anything like that. But my, and here’s me tooting my own horn. I feel like my personality and my existing support base helped make it a little bit easier for me to get into the groove and for people to enjoy my content.”

How Has Covid Impacted Voice Acting in the Industry and You Specifically?

Clearly an expensive set up. Source My New Microphone

“The problem is if I were to try and answer why I think it changed. I feel like I would only be able to speak in regards to myself. And I’ll admit that I’m a little blind as in regards to the reality of the outside world. Like I could say, Oh, I think it’s because of this and be dead wrong. So take whatever I’m about to say with a grain of salt.
When work stopped for a while, the big concern was that clients were usually willing to record talent from home if it meant getting to continue working on the project. Like, we’ve got deadlines and clients are getting impatient. Another big thing was, a lot of international countries like Japan and China, were able to start opening stuff up much sooner because they actually took the pandemic seriously. Whereas a year later in the United States, we’re still not out of it, because people refuse to listen to common sense.
But, at the time, the studios were like, we’ve got clients breathing down our necks and we need to get this done.So they were like okay, we’re willing to let talent record from home, send us a sample. And they very quickly learned that, and this isn’t necessarily bad but was just this very unexpected situation thrust upon us, the majority of talent, (and I mean, I would put money on this statement,) the majority of talent, have home studio setups that are perfectly fine for sending auditions, but are not good enough to submit audio that can be put straight into broadcast after a little touch up by the engineer. The problem was that there were a whole bunch of actors that would send samples where they come in, they come into the studio, they rock it and they kill it, but their home studio setup is not good enough to be used for official broadcast purposes.
And so a lot of studios were like here’s some equipment recommendations and some ideas on how you can better soundproof your booth. The other problem being they were making these recommendations and these products suggestions, but no one was funding it except for myself. The suggestions were just for stuff for me to buy with my own money, and upgrading my home studio to the degree that it is now, cost me between $3,500~$5,000. Yeah, that stuff doesn’t go cheap, it’s expensive to buy good audio equipment. And that’s because we’re talking about a brand new microphone, the subscription to Source Connect so that I could do remote recording and saving, and the wall to wall acoustic foam that I spent two weeks setting up over the course of many different sessions.Not everyone in this industry, especially people that are still trying to make a name for themselves and get their foot in the door with these clients, has that kind of money sitting around where they can just spend $5,000 upgrading their home studio. I know colleagues that don’t even have $5,000 in their savings account.
So in my case, I consider myself extremely lucky. Because between a combination of having those established clients, and having the money available, and having the time to upgrade my home studio, I was at a degree where the clients were going, we can work with this. And I would not be surprised if part of why I got so much work early on into the isolation was because I was one of those first people who was ready to go when people were scrambling to find anyone that would be a good fit for the role that could also submit broadcast quality audio.”

Do You Think That the Gaming Industry Will Go Back to What They Used to do After the Pandemic Lets Up?

Noob Saibot from Mortal Kombat 11 Source: Ani-Game

“I don’t honestly know. And the worst part is that because I don’t know, I’m not comfortable giving an answer. But also there are pros and cons to both sides.
On the one hand, I have been able to do so much extra work. Because of the whole working from home situation. Whereas previously, if I had a single session in a day, I might have to drive out to Los Angeles, which takes about an hour to an hour and a half, do this session and then spend another hour to an hour and a half driving home. And that’s before you know anything I did in regards to stream.
Right now there have been days where I have two sessions at home. In between those sessions. I do auditions and I do freelance work. And then I do stream and I’m able to pull it all off because there is no commute time between one job and the next. It would not be possible if we went back to solely recording from studios.
But I also understand that it’s so much more work on the sound engineers. Because if you record 10 different people from home, it doesn’t matter how good their setup is, there is always going to be slight audio quality differences that the engineer now has to equalize. And that’s going to just add on to their workload. So, you know, making life easier for one person makes life harder for another person.
I don’t know how the engineers feel about it. I don’t want to speak on their behalf. But I’m kind of scared, because I really, really, really like the lifestyle that I have right now. It can get boring at times, but it works very well for the kind of work ethic that I have. And the kind of free time I want for myself. Plus I’ve gotten used to it. I’m really scared that if we get to the point where clients start going, Hey, we want you back in the studio even though you could easily record from home, that I’m going to have to give up stuff.
I’m going to have to sacrifice my streams, or I’m not gonna be able to audition for things as much. God forbid, this is my biggest fear, that I’m going to have to actually start telling some of these clients that I’ve built up, I’m sorry, but I won’t have enough time to take care of this job for you. Or it’s going to result in more work evenings. In most cases, I’ve had free time to myself, after streams, where I’m able to stay up until one to three in the morning playing what I want to play. Previously, that one to three in the morning is how late I would be up doing the freelance work that I didn’t have time to do during the day. So maybe it’s still going to be possible for me to fit it in if we go back to recording in the studio. Though at the cost of no longer having free time to myself anymore.” 

What Are You Working On Right Now That You Can Tell Us About?

Though this is something we could have talked about since it was just announced. Source Steam

“If I am working on it and I am allowed to talk about it, then I have already mentioned it on my Twitter or stream. If I haven’t mentioned it yet it is because I am not allowed to yet. As soon as I am allowed to talk about it I will post about it. I am always excited to share my projects with my community.”

What Advice Would You Give to Up and Coming Voice Actors?

Source (VAC) Public Group Facebook Page

“There is all kinds of info out there saying that you have to take voice lessons or have to make a demo. The way I started was I just opened up a voice recording program and I just started doing stuff. I looked for forums and I went to the Voice Acting Club. The two biggest parts are educating yourself and practicing. If you are willing to put in time to educate yourself with the immense amount of free information out there, then you are willing to put in the time to practice. The same attitudes and habits that would help you be successful in voice acting are the same habits that would help you be successful in any career. The main point is that you have to get started.”

Before We Go, Is There Anything Else You Would Like to Say to Those Reading or Listening to This?

Source: UCSF

“This was enjoyable. I hope that this helps people understand that things are not normal. We are working with what we got. A lot of voice actors are grateful to be able to get the vaccine since studios were pushing to get us back in earlier. There is still a lot going on and we are not out of this yet. So, I implore people to keep wearing masks. Just please be safe and take care of yourself.”

I cannot agree with this sentiment more. This is not my primary job, more of a passion project for me, and I make my living  working in healthcare. I cannot implore people enough to get vaccinated if you can. And to wear your masks and social distance. I know it is a drag guys, but these measures do help and by working together we will get past Covid and be able to live life again.

Signing Off

This was a rather enjoyable interview. I want to take this chance to thank Sean again for sitting down with me and discussing voice acting and the pandemic. There is so much more we talked about that I couldn’t put in the article so if you want to check that out be sure to listen to the raw audio of our interview. Also, make sure to check out Sean’s socials and his Twitch (linked below). His streams are a blast, he even does live voice acting streams, and the community he has put together is great and supportive. Until next time, stay safe out there everyone.

Twitter | Discord | Twitch

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