Interview: Alec (Social Residence Hana-Koganei)

I can do all my work from the share house. A voice actor and musician shares his logical working techniques

More and more foreigners these days want to live and work in Japan long-term. But there are still a lot of hurdles for foreigners to rent an apartment in Japan. Contracts are almost always in Japanese, or require a lot of up-front fees and guarantors. That's why many foreigners choose Oakhouse share houses to start their life in Japan.

In our 6th Oakhouse resident interview, we spoke with Alec Shea, who lives in Social Residence Hana-Koganei. Alec is from Australia, and works as a freelance voice actor and composer.

We asked Alec about his life and work.

I can do all my work in my share house room

What do you do for work?

I freelance. I mostly get my voice-over offers through Australia, but I have clients all over the world. For example, when I do voice over work for English textbooks, the clients may be a Russian company, or a Japanese company. The reason most of the requests come through Australia is that there are not many freelance English voice talent with an Australian English accent, which is one of my strengths.

Since my work is freelance, my fees are paid into my Australian bank account, so to be specific I actually work in Australia, but I use that money to live in Japan.

I do many things, like compose music for video games, or do voice work for games, anime, and commercials. I also record lines for English textbooks, so there might be a chance that some people studying English in Japan have heard my voice. I can do all the work from my share house room.

You can even do voice recording in the share house?

Yes! When I lived in Australia I had pro studio equipment, but since I just have the share room I don't really need that much specialized equipment. I studied sound engineering in university so I understand room acoustics, so I'm able to still make high-quality recordings. This may be hard to believe, but actually I hold the microphone and mic stand, and cover my head with a blanket. This actually cuts down a lot of unwanted reverb. Recording in a private share room is not the ideal situation, of course, but I make it work!

Of course it's not very comfortable under a blanket, recording lines. But it's not that much of a problem. But there was one time I had to record an Australian audiobook, that was around 4 to 6 hours long, and it took 3 or 4 days, basically holed up in the room with a blanket over my head. Not very fun!

Using the blanket isn't just because it's a cheap option right there; it actually gives you surprisingly good sound quality. So for example, when doing voices for games, you can change the quality of the recording depending on where the character is speaking from. So if the character is in an underground dungeon, the voice my reverberate. But in order to get a basic take from which to work on, you need to record the original line without any reverberation at all. So if I cover myself with a blanket I can do just that. Now, of course you could also spend 10,000 yen on acoustic paneling and line the room with them, but I mean, I already have a blanket. So really, as long as I have a blanket and a quiet environment I can record anywhere.

Making game music in the share house

You also compose music in the share house?

Yes, I do. I need a blanket to do voice work, but for composing I can do that anywhere, even on an airplane.

I composed music for a game called "Learn Japanese to Survive". It was a big job, that needed over 3 hours of original music. In other RPGs you have to fight monsters; but in this game your enemies are "Japanese language". If you can't read the kanji or hiragana, you'll take damage. It's that kind of game.

Other than a microphone, I have a keyboard, a guitar, a sampler, and music editing software. Even if I can't actually play a real violin or cello, I can find sounds that sound like those instruments, and play the keyboard.

Expanding freelance opportunities thanks to the share house

How were you able to have such a flexible lifestyle in Japan?

Leaving aside the fact that I just like Japan, to be honest I came here for work. A lot of games and anime that need voice acting are made in Japan, and they make a Japanese and English version. If I get better at Japanese, and make more Japanese friends, I might meet new clients and get more projects.

Just recently in fact, a friend of mine here introduced me to a Japanese game company. They wanted to expand overseas and gain more users, but they were having a hard time forming contracts with overseas game retailers. So I was able to help out with the contract process, and gain a connection to a company that way.

I would assume there are differences in the culture and working culture of Japan and Australia. Has living in a share house helped you acclimate?

There are a lot of foreigners living here too, among the Japanese residents, so even if you don't understand completely there are people who will help, or give you some slack. I think that's something you wouldn't get if you were a foreigner living here completely on your own. There are actually a lot of things that would be rude in Australia that would be just as rude in Japan, so it's good to be in an environment that helps you notice those similarities and differences. The Japanese housemates also understand there are cultural differences, so they kindly helped me understand the bare minimum of business manners.

What are your goals for the future?

There are lots of Japanese people here, but also people from all sorts of different countries. I haven't been to many countries other than Japan, so now that I've made friends from other countries too I would like to go visit their countries.

There's a possibility I'd be able to meet with people I met in Japan, if I traveled to their countries. I'd love to make connections like that all over the world, and find other potential places to live for awhile.

Thanks to: Alec Shea

It sounds like you've found a lifestyle where you're not limited by country or even work space. It sounds great! Thank you for spending time with us.

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