Rudy Gaskins, CCO, Push Creative Advertising (left)
and Alan Kalter of Late Show with David Letterman.
Ask engineers how to get the most out of a vocalist, and they’ll start talking gear and psychology. Ask them how to do the same with a voiceover artist, however, and they may come up blank. As a result, when Pro Sound News was invited by lead event sponsor Neumann USA to cover That’s Voiceover—a career symposium for voiceover talents—we sent Keith Cousin, an emerging voiceover artist, to capture the scene from the performer’s perspective. The result is a peek into the minds behind the mics.
By Keith Cousin.
Voice talent from across the country gathered to discuss the industry from not only behind the microphone, but behind the scenes as well at That’s Voiceover. Held at The Times Center in New York City, the event was co-hosted by Alan Kalter (Late Show with David Letterman) and Joan Baker (voiceover artist and author of Secrets of Voiceover Success), whose message was loud and clear: Voiceovers are far much more than meets the eye—or ear for that matter.
The Three-Pronged Attack
The evening was divided into three important goals:
1. Raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease;
2. Have an informative discussion and Q&A with two distinguished panels about the voiceover industry;
3. Conduct an American Idol-style audition between six amateur finalists to see which would win the opportunity to be represented by voiceover agency TGMD Talent.
A Serious Topic
Kalter got the ball rolling by discussing a subject very close to his heart—Alzheimer’s disease, which has affected his mother, a long-time sufferer. Using his appearance to raise both awareness and funds for continued research, Kalter spoke movingly on the topic. Then, with the serious goal of educating complete, it was time for the fun stuff.
Panel 1: The Business Insiders
Panelists included Jeffrey Weinstock (VP & Creative Director, ABC Family); Liz Lewis, CSA (Founder, Liz Lewis Casting Partners); Tor Myhren (CCO, Grey Group and the original voice of the E-Trade Baby commercials–how cool is that?!); Vanessa Gilbert (President, TGMD Agency); Miranda Patterson (Creative Director, NBC News Marketing); and Rudy Gaskins (CCO, Push Creative Advertising).
Tor MyhrenAll the experts provided unusual insights and intriguing tips. Gilbert explained that honesty is the most important quality of a good agent, while Myhren suggested that a good voice doesn’t mean an “announcer” type, but more of a conversational tone. Even an awkward pause, a strong sense of timing, and the capacity for improvisation may be more valuable than a typical voice to a creative director.
Lewis concurred, and added that she likes to hear new, fresh voices or “a voice no one has heard before, creative and natural.” She also emphasized that an artist should treat every audition like gold. Her biggest pet-peeve is seeing artists chit-chatting in the waiting room, as opposed to studying the lines of the script. “Read the copy and be prepared,” Lewis implored.
Weinstock suggested that every new talent take at least one acting class, thus training the talent to be malleable and receive instruction (whether you have acting aspirations or not). Patterson hinted that perhaps the era of the celebrity voiceover might be over thanks to the internet, and Gaskins agreed, stressing that celebrities can have a negative impact on a brand, and that scale talent in general is more flexible and coachable.
Panel 2: The Artists
The second panel, featuring noted voiceover artists included Tor Myhren; Joan Baker; Rodd Houston (voice of Verizon Wireless, NFL); Joe Cipriano (Deal or No Deal); Valerie Smaldone (Voice of Broadway on Broadway); Cedering Fox (Voiceover Actor / Artistic Director of WorldTheatre); and Bill Ratner (film trailers, Discovery Channel).
Smaldone stressed that an artist needs a strong and committed “internal pilot light.” She explained that rejection is sometimes difficult to swallow, but with a strong support system, a belief in one’s self and a passion to succeed, anything is possible.
Houston said, “Don’t be afraid; there’s no set way to do it, just be fearless.” Baker agreed, believing a performer should “be uninhibited…understand your barriers and try to push beyond them.” Fox believes it is the voice, not the eyes, that is the mirror to one’s soul and expressing yourself through voiceovers is the most challenging and Zen of any artform.
Cipriano compared voiceovers to a golf swing. He explained that a person can receive endless instruction, but eventually one must step up and swing the club: “Just swing, go with your instincts and just swing!”
Ratner offered that if you sit and listen to numerous ads and think, “Hey, I can do that”–and know it with confidence– voiceovers just might be for you. Another useful piece of advice from Ratner: “Put yourself in what I like to call voiceover adjacent occupations. Work as an intern at a station. Sooner or later, you’ll have an opportunity to get on the air.”
A Tribute To The “Voice Of God”
At the conclusion of the second panel, there was a touching 5-minute video tribute of the life and career of legendary voiceover artist Don LaFontaine, aka “The King of Voiceovers”, who, among other things, coined the term “In a World” on a seemingly endless number of movie trailers. LaFontaine passed away on September 1, 2008 at the age of 68.
Joe Cirpriano (left) with
winner Rachel Logan.The Big Gig
The final event of the day involved finding the winner of the voiceover contest from six finalists. After all competitors had two takes to read a script, Rachel Logan, who had flown all the way from Atlanta, GA to compete, came away with a voiceover job and a contract to be represented by TGMD Talent. Congratulations, Rachel.
Those on-stage auditions were heard by all through a TLM 102 microphone, provided for the contest by the evening’s lead sponsor, Neumann USA. Typically the mic streets for about US$700, but in light of the occasion, an on-site Dale Pro Audio booth offered the item at a notable discount. The six finalists who performed in front of the live audience also each received a gift bag from the microphone company.
Dale Pro Audio offered
TLM 102 mic.
The Big Takeaway
After listening and talking to the artists and insiders for over three hours, the event boiled down to time-worn truths and keen insights:
• The voiceover industry remains extremely difficult to break into, easily requiring two or more years of complete dedication as one hones skills, finds trustworthy and reliable representation, sends out CDs and links to work, and networks.
• You don’t necessarily need a great voice, but you do need something different or fresh in your delivery and pitch.
• Success comes with a strong support system, so make sure those closest to you are completely on board.
• Rejection comes much more often than success, but it’s the one piece of success that can take you where you want to go.
• Be fearless in your expression behind the mic.
Keith Cousin [http://voice123.com/keithcousin] is a freelance voiceover artist whose experience includes billboard reads for ESPN’s FIFA World Cup; Smirnoff Ice radio ads; play-by-play sports announcing for PlayPusher.com; and more.