JV: Are these workshops that you do something that our readers can get access to?
Jay: Yes. The next big workshop that I’m teaching in person will be in Sausalito in August, and for more information they can go to GreatVoice.com. That’s through the auspices of Susan Berkley at Great Voice. And I also teach tele-seminars over the telephone. I teach how to self-direct and how to find the colors of your voice. Those are two different seminars I teach over the phone through Great Voice. And then I have my private students and do my own private workshops on top of that.
In development right now is a website called VoiceoverSchool.com, and in the next six months to a year, that will come online. VoiceoverSchool will be a way for radio people or voiceover people in general to work with me over the phone. I’ll be able to record the lesson and then post the lesson on an FTP so they can go back and listen to it. We’ll work on commercials and promos. I hope to reach out to Production Directors in smaller markets who want to add to their repertoire of voices, to have more control over what they do, a sense of their own style and other styles that they can do, so they can be more useful at their stations, and also be able to take some of my ideas — in terms of direction, which could have to do with opening up a vowel sound or hitting emphasis in a certain way or working on tonal qualities and gravel and all that stuff – and work with people around the country via the telephone.
I’m finding that that really works. I have private students all around the country who I work with when I get home from work. I get home at 5:30, and then at 6:00 I’ll do a half hour lesson over the phone with somebody who’s in Connecticut. This happens fairly frequently now, and that’s why VoiceoverSchool.com will be coming online. I’ll have a way for people to schedule half-hour workouts with me over the phone. But the in-person ones are a lot of fun, and the big ones are with Susan Berkley. I’m co-teaching with Susan Berkley in Sausalito. Rodney Saulsberry, who’s a very prominent voice actor in Los Angeles, is also coming out too to help co-teach that. He’ll be teaching one night, then I’ll teach two days with Susan. That’s in the middle of August, I think.
JV: You mentioned thousands in the voiceover business now versus hundreds back when you were starting off. From your perspective, what has that done? How has that affected you? Have you had to cut rates? Have you been able to keep your head above that?
Jay: I try to do exclusively union work, and that comes from my agents. But with Voice123 and these other casting houses, it really gives beginners particularly, an opportunity to get scripts in front of them and get opportunities. Early on when I started, my agent would say, “Hey, come on up and audition.” So I’d go drive into San Francisco and park the car and go up and read it a couple times and maybe have an opportunity to get the gig. Now you have your home studios and people are knocking out two, three auditions a day. I probably do two to three auditions a day, or at least have that many opportunities. I don’t always do them; it depends on my time.
There are X amount of opportunities and there’s X amount of people, so you just do the math. It used to be hundreds of people, now it’s thousands of people. So your odds of getting the work are not as good. But if you’ve got the chops, if you’re really seasoned and you’re very good, you have equal opportunity to all that work. But because there are so many people, your odds aren’t as good, and there’s a lot of nonunion work out there.
I don’t participate in this, but I see voice jobs going out at $25 and $50. In fact, we got a solicitation from a fellow that was offering voice work to our radio station for $10 a commercial. The general manager showed it to me and gave me the demo. It’s a little upsetting to me, and I think it hurts the industry when people start lowering prices. I listened to the demo and the work was okay, not great.
But stations will take advantage of that. Ten dollars? You can’t beat it, especially in a teeny market. However, it really brings the industry down. I think these low rates that people are accepting — $25, $50 — really hurts us and we need to keep our rates up. We need to make it worthwhile for the people who are doing so much training, spending thousands of dollars for training, and working really hard at getting good.
Still, there are plenty of good, high-paying jobs, I’m happy to say, starting at $200, $300, $400 and up. A lot of the auditions that are coming through these days that I’m seeing are paying in the $600 to $1,000 range, and that’s where you want to be. Most of that is either heavy-duty regional or national. If it’s a union spot, you can make thousands of dollars. And there are people out there making a really good high six-figure income doing just voiceover. You read about them, year hear about them, but it’s a handful as opposed to the norm for us voice actors, us freelancers. If you book one gig a week, you’re doing very well if you’re freelancing; and if you’re doing more than that, then you can start thinking, “Yeah, I think I may have what it takes to make a living doing voiceover.”
And then there’s the whole industry of doing promo voice work and imaging voice work for radio and TV stations, which is something that I love doing. I still love doing promos and doing hard-sell. I love exploring my tone – you know, doing a hard-sell sexy thing, just really down and dirty, and then you can do a light thing for an AC format. That’s the fun of being a voice actor. I guess I’m old enough to have learned to do these different styles and different tonal qualities, different attitudes that you can bring to a read to be able to do multi-formats, to be able to do a rock format and then also do a talk format or a sports format — that can be fun.
But to do that full-time, again, you’re going to have to do your marketing. You’re going to have to have the chops to compete with the John Driscolls. People like Bobby Ocean are still out there competing for work. And then you have all these new voices that have come on with these softer conversational styles that are very young sounding, very youthful. These people are getting the work now.
But there’s plenty of work out there for everybody; you just have to find your niche. For the people just getting into it, figure out what your thing is. What do you do? What are you going to bring to a read that’s going to make it stand out on the air? Do you have some direction? Do you know what to do when you look at a script, how to size it up? I know on the RAP website and in RAP magazine that you talk a lot about this, about copywriting. It starts with the words; but then you, as the voice actor, what are you going to do with the words on the page to fulfill the writer’s and the producer’s dream of what this is going to sound like? When they conceived of this idea, they had something in their head that they wanted it to sound like. Can you bring that to them? Or can you bring them something so good and different that they’ll have to go “Wow, there’s something we hadn’t thought about, and we even prefer that over our vision.” That happens too, and that’s always a great moment.
But you’re going to do a lot of auditions and not get the gig, and what’s important is to just move on, just get into the next audition. Don’t look back. Don’t worry about it, and don’t think you’re bad because you don’t get the gig because it’s so subjective; and then there’s the politics of getting work and the enormous amount of people out there. On Voice123, occasionally there’ll be over 100 people auditioning for one 30-second piece — they actually tell you how many people have auditioned. If I saw that 50 people had already sent in their demos… I’m thinking, me, as a producer, how many people am I going to listen to, to hear the read? If it’s not in the first ten, maybe I don’t know what I need.
JV: Tell us about your home studio.
Jay: I use Pro Tools here at the home studio. My favorite mic is a Sennheiser 416 shotgun, and I’ve been using that for about eight years. In fact, we use it at the radio station too, and we also have a U82 Neumann there. Here at the house studio, I also have an AKG 414 and a Rode NT2, the Australian mic, for some purposes. I kind of use the mic that fits the piece based on what I want to sound like, but I do prefer the 416.
In terms of processing, I don’t use a lot. I do have a DBX 166 stereo compressor/limiter that I use that I like; it’s very smooth. I’ve got a DBX preamp, the 386 preamp. From the compressor, I go into a graphic equalizer where I do maybe a little bit of fine-tuning on the mics. Then I run all that through a BBE Sonic Maximizer. It’s an older model called the 422A. I’ve had it about 15 years, but it really kind of tightens up the high end and you can add a low contouring if you want. I pretty much use it in the default position. It just adds a quality to the high end that I like. And I don’t always have everything on. Sometimes I’ll just run through them in bypass mode.
For libraries, I’ve got Megatrax and Killer Tracks at my disposal, and I’ve got thousands of sound effects. I do a share of voiceover demo production in the home studio these days, but I kind of avoid it because they tend to get very time consuming. I’m doing less of it. I’m doing more of laying voice tracks with people, giving them heavy direction in terms of laying voice tracks for the demos, and then sending it out. I have some producer friends in LA and San Francisco who will lay in the music and sound effects.
JV: What advice would you give to someone who’s been in radio 5 or 10 years and would like to enjoy a radio career as lengthy as yours?
Jay: Say yes. Just say yes. Don’t fight it. Just enjoy your work. It’s what you do every day for eight hours. The people around you and the experiences you’re having, that’s your life. Do your best. Use your work experience as a life experience, getting along with people, helping other people to improve in their craft, lifting the whole game for everybody.
And yeah, I’ve worked with every kind of salesperson, hundreds of them by now in major markets and smaller markets too, and there are always conflicts. But basically it’s just trying to get along with people. For me, that’s been what I enjoy. I love the personal interaction. In radio, we have so many personalities — I mean big personalities, oversize personalities and egos. I’ve worked with huge ones, and we’ve had our conflicts. I’ve worked with major radio stars in LA, I mean heavy hitters, and I’ve put them in their place. I just say, “Don’t pull that.” When the people fly off on their ego trips, I just get down to let’s do the work and let’s do a good job and do the best we can.
So I would just say to people with ten years working towards a long-term career, just try to enjoy each day as much as you can when you’re at work and just give as much as you can. And don’t worry about the money because the money always comes; if you do a good job and really work hard, the doors open for you. We all go through formats changing and losing jobs or leaving for whatever reasons; but if you treat people well at radio stations, you will have a good rep and you will find other doors will open. Door after door after door will open for you if you just do the work, do the best job you can, and keep a positive attitude when you’re there. Don’t gossip on the job. Don’t get involved with other people’s lives. Just go into work and do a good job each day.
I’ve talked to people, even just recently, about personality conflicts. My counsel is don’t get engaged with it. Just come in each day and do the best job you can. If you have problems with certain people, yeah, you want to communicate about it and work that out, but in general, just do your best to get along with people and work hard because after working hard each day, you go home feeling like you’ve done something, like you’ve gained something. Go in, get along with people, and work hard. That’s my credo.