Making the transition

November 5, 2013

Ever have that experience of thinking of all the great ways to answer a question long after the conversation is over?  Yeah, me too.

Matt Bailey graciously invited me to be part of his podcast series on ventriloquism.  You can hear the full interview here at Ventriloquism Weekly.  Aside from my session, if you’re at all serious about ventriloquism, you should check out that podcast. He’s doing a great job with it.

The key question Matt was hoping to answer during his interview with me was, “How do you make the leap to being a full-time self-employed ventriloquist?”  And, of course, it was only after our podcast time was over that most of the good stuff came to mind.  Meaning, 3:30 in the morning I woke up with all the voices in my head screaming, “You should have said…”

So, in an attempt to capture a few of those extra bits, and quiet the voices that are keeping me awake, here we go.  We’ll do this in FAQ format.

Q: How much money should you have in the bank before you pull the plug from your day job?

A: It depends. Really. I’m not being a Smart Alec when I say that.  It completely depends on your personal situation. Do you have a family? Are you the primary income producer of that family? To what lifestyle are you accustomed?

Q: Say more

A: What level of income and financial stability are you used to? If you are used to a steady paycheck, especially a hefty one, it’s going to be more difficult to step away from that. You can ease that by having more in savings. People who have never stayed in upscale hotels will be more comfortable in a Motel 6 for much longer than those who have become accustomed to an establishment with a lot full of Mercedes and BMWs.

Q: No, really, how much money will it take?

A: I can’t give you a $ amount. You might like shopping at Walmart. I don’t.  As a general rule, here’s what I suggest.  Figure out your monthly expenses. Estimate how long it’s going to take you to start generating that level of income (after business expenses!) from your business. Now double it. Why? Because it’s going to take you a at least twice as long as you think.

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of making the change?

A: Healthcare. Hands down, the single biggest issue. Go back through my posts from a few years ago and you’ll see I had that same challenge the first time around. I am not happy about numerous impacts of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, but the promise of being able to get insurance coverage, whatever the cost, is huge. Can you say, “preexisting conditions”?

Q: What is the biggest thing you didn’t cover in the podcast?

A: This is a business. If you want to know how to go from day job to full-time ventriloquist / performer / speaker / whatever, learn business. Talk to other small business owners in all kinds of fields.

Q: Anything else?

A: I touched on this in the interview, but I can’t stress it enough. Your success or failure in this business is all up to you. How hard are you willing to work? Are you willing to accept feedback, real feedback, sometimes painful feedback, and make the adjustments necessary? As an independent business owner, the only person you have to blame if things aren’t going well is the person in the mirror. Economy is bad? Deal with it.

Well, that’s about it. The rest is in the podcast. I hope this is useful to at least one person out there. If so, then it was worth it.  And if this is all complete gobbledegook, well, remember I got up at 3:30 in the morning to write it.

Can you hear me now?

September 24, 2013

The importance of a good sound system cannot be overstated.

Before I go any further, I will once again fully admit that I am a total snob when it comes to sound systems. I have been blessed/cursed with ears that are able to tell the difference between good sound, bad sound, and merely adequate sound.  A bad sound system to me is way worse than fingernails on a chalk board. (Or, for those of you who are too young to understand that, imagine a screaming 2 month old baby in the seat behind you on the airplane.)

As a result, I have invested heavily in my sound system equipment.  I almost always bring my own sound system when I perform. Obviously, I can’t do this when I travel by plane. But, if I drive, I typically haul my gear. And if I fly, I typically insist on contacting the person who will be responsible for operating the sound system at the venue to ensure it will be of sufficient quality.

At a recent corporate event, I decided not to take my full system after being promised by the event organizer that they would have a good system there, along with skilled people to run it.  Big mistake.  It turned out to be one of those built-in ceiling speaker systems. Even worse, there was a self-appointed person in the group who was fiddling with it using the “cool” iPad application that allowed remote control. So, despite a successful sound check before the event started, by the time I took the stage, he had adjusted things to where there was horrible distortion and raspiness in my microphone.

After the program, I sent the organizer a link to the feedback page on my web site and asked for it to be forwarded around to those who attended.  All of the comments on the content were positive and glowing. However, the quality of the sound system was an issue. Here are snippets from two of the responses:

“It wasn’t your fault, but the audio acting up took away from the performance.”

“You don’t really have any control over the sound system that you had to work with – but … the sound kept cutting in and out.”

Here’s the deal – it was my fault and I did have control over it. I could have brought my own gear. I could have had it in the truck, ready to use if needed.  But, I got lazy that day and didn’t bother.

I’ve heard many performers, speakers, etc., blame others for bad audiences, bad room layouts, bad lighting… The list goes on and on. The bottom line is that we, those taking the stage, do have quite a bit of control.  We simply need to exercise that control and do everything that we can to ensure a successful outcome. We are the ones with the most experience in the events where we work and it is up to us to make it right.

This past weekend, I had the opposite experience. I had the chance to work on a stage with a professional sound company and use the system they brought for the concert that night, right after my performance. It was fantastic.

But, you know what was in my truck? My full sound system.  Just in case.

Keep it simple

August 27, 2013

I have a strong tendency to over complicate things. It really doesn’t matter what it is, if it can be made more complicated, I will do it. If there are features available, I want them all! Hey, I might need that some day.

Unfortunately, the impact of this is that even the most simplistic things become harder to use.

One example – Eugene. When I ordered him several years ago, there were lots of facial animations available. Fortunately, you could only select a certain number and had to make some choices. Unfortunately, that number was still higher than it needed to be. The result? Levers everywhere. Oh, sure, his eyebrows will go up – and down. His eyelids can close independently. And they can even go up, for a wide-eyed look. His upper lip will go up into what can only be described as a sneer. And he has side-to-side moving eyes.  He is complicated to operate, fragile and expensive. What do I really need? A mouth that opens and closes. That’s pretty much it.

By way of contrast, Gus has a basic moving mouth and side-to-side eyes. That’s it. He is a breeze to operate, the controls are melted-butter smooth, and his character comes out loud and clear. I have never once wished he had any additional controls.

And one more example, Wilmer. Animations? Ha! He doesn’t need them. He’s a basic muppet style puppet. his mouth moves. That’s it. And yet, he exudes more character than both Eugene and Gus combined. True, I have added rods to his arms so he now has full motion of his hands. But, as a puppet, the only movement built in is his mouth. To transport him, I can literally toss him in a gym bag and go.

The point? Simple is better. I’ve seen Jay Johnson use a tennis ball made into a puppet, and Taylor Mason with a simple pig hand puppet. Both of them get more out of those simple props than I get from my fancy-schmancy hand-crafted figures.  It’s not the puppet. It’s the character.

What drove this home lately is that I have been struggling over the past several months with a new email marketing platform. While it is full-featured, it is exactly this aspect that makes it overly complex. It is way overkill for what I actually need. And it is expensive, especially for what I am able to get out of it.

What do I really need to build my business? Basic email and a telephone. That’s pretty much it. Everything else is just baggage. Building the business is about building relationships, one client at a time. All the fancy email systems in the world will not change that. In fact, they get in the way.

Entertainment is about connecting with the audience. The audience really does not care about how many movements the puppet is capable of making. What matters is the connection.

My goal is to simplify everything I do. Break it down to the core essentials and work on those fundamentals. Basic blocking and tackling. Maybe with football season upon us, that will provide the reminder I need to do just that.


AMC Showville

June 12, 2013

It’s here. Tomorrow night is my 15 minutes of fame. Or so people tell me. After nearly 5 months of waiting, the time is here. June 13, 10PM Eastern, on AMC.  The Athens episode of Showville is finally airing.

The Showville experience was amazing. The crew was fantastic. They treated all of us with the utmost respect. The coaches were super to work with. My whole act is better as a result of the comments and input that they provided.  That might seem like a stretch, since we only worked on a 2-minute segment of my act. And I now have well over 90 minutes of A-level material. (OK, we’ll go with B+)  It’s hard to capture exactly what they said that had such an impact, but here are a couple highlights I remember:

  1. “The characters of the puppets are very well defined. Who are you?”  One of the things I love about being a ventriloquist is that I often get to fade into the background. Lisette was having none of that. She pushed me to consider what my stage persona is and what character I play as part of the act.
  2. “Edna needs to be stronger.” Again, Lisette. She challenged me to find ways for Edna to be more sassy, to push back on Wilmer’s strong character. This is still a work in progress, but we’re off to a good start down this road.
  3. “Put it out there.” This one from Alec. Alec was an inspiration in being more bold, more crazy, put yourself out there, don’t back off.
  4. You’re always on camera. This was drilled in pretty strongly throughout the experience. We were always on camera, even when we thought we were not. It is a reality TV show. Know that. What I took away from this was that as far as my clients are concerned, I am always “on”. From the moment I pick up the phone for our first phone call, until the last bag is packed and I’m on my way out of the parking lot, everything I do, every word I say, every smile (or frown) is important and relevant. There is no separation between my on stage persona and my off stage persona.

As I write this, I have not seen the finished product. I was there, I know who won – and I’m not saying! But, it is still a reality show. Despite all of the honor and respect I felt while filming the show, it is entirely possible that I will be made to look like an idiot. Having seen the first 3 episodes, I find that highly unlikely. Come on, I play with puppets. What more needs to be said? I simply don’t know how it will play when it airs tomorrow night.

The DVR is set. My family is primed to sit and watch with me. It’s just a matter of getting through these next 24 hours until showtime.

If you see the show and find this blog, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show. Post them here, or go to my Facebook fan page and post them there.


Dumbstruck – A story of hope and dreams

April 3, 2011

The movie “Dumbstruck” is being released on April 22 in NYC and April 29 in Los Angeles. I had a chance to see a pre-release screening of this at the Venthaven Ventriloquist ConVention last summer and recently had a chance to see it again.

I was apprehensive to watch this movie the first time. If you’ve ever seen how ventriloquists are represented in movies, you’ll understand why.

Let’s cut to the chase. The movie is great. Not for the image it paints of ventriloquists, but for the story it tells.

It is less a movie about ventriloquists than it is about 5 individuals who have big dreams.  If you have dreams of a non-traditional job, this movie will speak to you – musician, magician, artist, public speaker – you will be touched.  If someone you love has this dream, you will be touched.

At its most basic, Dumbstruck is a movie about 5 individuals pursuing careers as professional ventriloquists, all at different levels in that pursuit. They could be pursuing any dream. They happen to be ventriloquists.

It’s also a story of the families of the individuals. I am truly blessed to have always had the support of my family in the pursuit of my crazy passion. The movie shows how unique that support is. So, here’s a big shout-out to my family – THANK YOU!

Watch for the movie in theaters near you. See it. Be ready to laugh – and cry.

Click here for the official web site of Dumbstruck the movie.

Have you seen the movie?  Post your comments here. I’d love to hear what you think.

Personal post – My brother Alan

December 15, 2010

On December 13, 2009, my younger brother Alan died from cancer. To mark the 1 year anniversary of that day, I am posting the text of the eulogy that I gave at his memorial service. I realize the vast majority of you, the readers of this blog, did not know him. Forgive the personal use of this space for my own continued healing.

Oh, and a note for those who read this and didn’t know Alan. He was a funeral director by trade.


Eulogy for Alan Crone.


My brother.

If you gave me a single word to describe my brother that word would be “compassionate”.

The dictionary defines compassion as, “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”.  I can’t think of a better way to describe my brother.

Of course, if you gave me two words, it would be “compassionate jokester”. He was always quick to add humor to a difficult situation. His mischievous side would come out when you least expected it. I’m still waiting for the punchline to this latest elaborate hoax.

As a part of his compassionate nature, Alan could talk to any one about any thing. And he could do it for hours.  Alan didn’t just nod his head and say “yeah”, “mm hmm”, while you were talking. Nor did he dominate the conversation, just to hear himself talk. Talking with Alan was truly a two-way dialog, the epitome of the word conversation. When you talked with Alan, you knew he was wholly present, engaged and interested.

We first realized his gift for gab when he delivered newspapers as a kid.  Alan loved delivering the newspaper. Actually, it wasn’t the delivery that he enjoyed.  It was doing the collection route. Most people I know who delivered papers hated collecting.  Not Alan.  On collection days, Alan would be gone for hours. Sometimes Mom was tempted to send out a search party.  He would knock on a door, be invited inside, handed a plate of cookies, maybe a cup of hot chocolate, and he would listen patiently for as long as the person wanted to talk.  He was rewarded with huge tips. But, for Alan, those tips were a side benefit. He truly enjoyed the connection with the people.

Alan inspired me. He had an incredible drive and would plow ahead until he got things done. He never let fear get in his way. Buying the business, pouring a concrete driveway, it didn’t matter. He’d just do it. He often asked me for advice. He’d take that advice, then extend it and do things in his own way.  Better. I loved that. Of course, sometimes these pursuits didn’t end the way he intended. Like the time he was chasing me around the house. We were running full tilt. He failed to make the final turn and ran right into the wall.

For a long time, I had a hard time understanding Alan’s choice of profession. I couldn’t fathom having an interest in dealing with dead people. In time, I came to understand that, once again, I had it all wrong. Alan’s job was really about working with the living. He eased the burden of those who had lost a loved one. He treated everyone with dignity.  He was exceptionally good at his job. I wish he were here now to help us all through this one.

Alan was full of joy. He was a truly happy person. On the rare occasions when he did feel sad, it was sadness on behalf of someone else. Throughout his illness, Alan had no sadness for himself.  He never said “why me”.  In fact, what he said was, “why not me?”

He had a quiet confidence that God was with him and that he would be fine, whether here or in the next part of his journey. He had a complete acceptance for whatever God had in store for him. But, it filled him with anguish to see how his illness affected everyone around him.

Alan had an incredible faith. He simply believed.

A few weeks ago I heard a sermon that really struck me.  I thought, “Wow, that’s Alan.”  The minister read the following quote from a book by Francis Chan.   “I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know I couldn’t be doing this by my own power.”

I don’t know if Alan felt that way, but I do know that there is no way to explain Alan without the Holy Spirit. I hope to someday believe the way that Alan believed.

Alan and I loved to share with each other whatever was new in our lives.  From the latest gadget to plans for remodeling, to bragging about our girls.  When I would visit, there was always something that caused him to say, “Come here, let me show you something.”

I know that right now, Alan is in heaven. I don’t know what heaven is or what it looks like, but I know he’s there with a big grin on his face. He’s sharing a joke. He is making everyone around him laugh. He is excited about all of the cool new things he is experiencing, eager to share it. And he’s concerned for those he has left behind. He is asking us to continue on. He’s telling us that he’s doing fine.

When it’s my turn to go, I don’t expect to meet St. Peter at the pearly gates.  It’s going to be Alan, waiting for me with that big grin on his face, saying, “Come here, you gotta’ see this!”

Alan, I have always been proud to be your brother.




If you’re going to dream, DREAM BIG!

November 15, 2010

On Monday, September 13, 2010, I received an email inviting me to an invitation-only audition for the next season of America’s Got Talent.  It was signed by some guy claiming to be a casting agent for the show. Yeah, right. My first thought was, “OK, who’s playing with me.”

Being the paranoid type, I did some checking. I Google’d the sender by name, email and phone number. It all looked legit. So I picked up the phone and called. Direct dial. He answered quickly.

After a fairly long conversation about how they found me, the format of the audition and a few other details, I’m finally buying this. Pinch me now! Then, here’s what came next:

Me: “When is it?”

Agent: “The 18th.”

Me: “What month?”

Agent: “September.”

Me: “You mean this coming Saturday?”

Agent: “Yes. Can you be there?”

Me: “Uh, Yeah!”

Holy crap! I hung up with so many things running through my head. What am I going to do? Which character am I going to use? What am I going to wear?

Here’s a picture of me at the audition.

Photo of David at the entrance to the America's Got Talent audition

AGT Audition


Filling out the audition questionnaire was interesting. Kind of like a job application, but for a reality TV show. One of the questions was, “If you won, what would you do with the million dollar prize?”  My answer was that I would buy an RV/tour bus, and travel the country performing at community theaters.

The audition was in Indianapolis.  I live in Columbus. Between the two cities is Tom Raper RVs, one of the largest RV dealerships in the country. Being a visual kind of guy, I decided to stop on my way to check out what kind of tour bus I’d like to get.

This was a blast. I stopped in, explained to the sales lady what I was doing, and asked if she could help me. She was great. Here’s the model I picked out.


Photo of David welcoming you to the tour bus

Come on aboard!
David sharing the inside of the proposed tour bus

Make yourself comfortable!

Hey, if you’re going to dream, DREAM BIG!


For those who are wondering, the audition went well. It’s hard to know with a reality show. Whether I am what they are looking for on the show, I don’t know. The way it works is that I won’t hear anything at all until March or April. And I’ll only hear something then if they want me to go to the next level. Keep your fingers crossed for me!  And get ready to call in your votes if I make it. I’ll be counting on you.