R.A.P. Interview: Anthony Mendez

JV: Are we talking Spanish-speaking hip-hop or the same stuff you’d hear on a typical English speaking hip-hop station?
Anthony: Both. If a Jay-Z or a 50 Cent track is really hot right now they’ll play it. And that appeals to US-born Latinos because it is still American music. If you look at the radio formats and the Hispanic demos, anything above 35 – let’s say 35 to 44 — their main preference is news and talk radio. Where if you look at anywhere between 18 to 24 and 25 to 34, their main preference is the urban and contemporary hits radio. I think that comes as a shock to most people because they only think of things in terms of Spanish radio.

It’s also happening with advertising agencies. The biggest advertisers in Spanish radio are English companies like GE, McDonalds, Verizon, AT&T, Toyota and companies like that. But if you really want to reach the majority of the Hispanics or the Latinos in the US, you should deliver your message in English, obviously with a voiceover or a person who is informed of the culture. And I think that’s where I come in, and that’s why I think it was a good time for me to get into the business because I’m kind of reflective of where the culture is moving to now or where the culture is now, even though it’s mostly English.

JV: Have you ventured into the radio imaging side of things?
Anthony: Everybody keeps telling me I should do more imaging, but the radio arena has been a tough nut to crack. I think it’s because of relationships. It seems all the work you get in imaging or in voiceover in general is a result of some sort of relationship, whether it’s your direct relationships or your relationships with two or three degrees of separation. I’ve been mostly in the commercial arena and have done some promos now, but the radio imaging has been on the backburner for me. I think it’s because they don’t know where to put me yet. It’s either they don’t know where to put me yet or I haven’t really established those relationships yet.

If I do Spanish imaging, strictly Spanish radio stations would most likely go with a person whose first language is Spanish. I learned Spanish at home first, but because I was educated and born and raised here in the English system, English became my stronger vocabulary, but I also have an urban flavor. I realized that while I was trying to market to some of the Spanish stations, that I overlooked trying to advertise to some of the urban stations.

It’s not so much an influence because I think Latinos and Blacks have already become the dominant cultural influence in the US in terms of music and fashion. It’s more of a homogenization of the cultures of both the urban African-American and the Latino cultures, and that is what I keep referring to with regards to perfect timing for me because it’s basically where my background is.

JV: You mentioned there being less competition in the Spanish VO market. Elaborate a bit more on that.
Anthony: Well, it’s just a numbers game because the majority of the people in the US speak English. And there’s going to be less Spanish voiceover talent than there is English talent. Also, a lot of the Spanish talent– what is traditionally known as Spanish voiceover — a lot of guys have been doing the old school announcer reads, although all that’s changing now. A lot of Spanish talent here in New York supplement their income by also doing theater and TV commercials, on-camera stuff, because while there is less competition in Spanish, there is also less work in Spanish than there is in English. Also, it pays less. For example, I think it was either last October or November I became the voice of the US Army. They have a new campaign called “Army Strong,” which is McCann Erickson’s account now. I did the commercial for the “Army Strong” campaign in Spanish. I’m sure you’ve seen it on English television. There’s a bunch of different variations for the English one, but there was only one for the Spanish. Doing union work you would obviously get paid for your session plus the networks and how long it runs. Mine can only run on limited channels because it would only run on Telemundo or Univision. So my pay would be based on that. So yeah, I would get paid for network, cable and Spanish language, and my session fee; but for the guy who did it in English, there’s a bunch of different variations plus he’s on a lot more networks, he’s on a lot of different cable. They play it on MTV; they play it on FX and things like that. That is a major reason why I also wanted to make the crossover to English as well.

JV: What percentage of the work that you’re now doing is Spanish versus English?
Anthony: Now it is maybe 5 to 10 percent Spanish. It was up to 50 percent at the beginning of the year, and then last year the Spanish was 80 to 90 percent and 10 percent English. That’s changing now, and I think it’s because of the vision of my agents. They understand the more flavorful version of Anthony Mendez is the English one because of my urban flavor and my upbringing, where I was born and raised. They know that that is basically where I am going to make the larger leap, and where I can basically interpret the copy, possibly up to two times better than I can interpret Spanish copy.

JV: Are your agents the ones that came up with your slogan, “Hispanic American Urban Cool”?
Anthony: No, I had that already. That’s very descriptive for a VO talent, and I think a lot of voiceover talent are afraid of pigeonholing themselves like that. I’m not. I think to a certain degree you have to brand yourself and help people know what you do. I always say when somebody either reads your business card, reads your ad or goes to your website, they should already have an idea of what your flavor or brand is before they even click “play” on your demos. That’s very important. I think there’s a fear of doing just one type of work. Just like how last year I was afraid that I was always only going to do Spanish. Nothing wrong with Spanish; I mean, it helps pay the bills. But I didn’t want to do just that.

One of the first casting directors I met over the phone asked me, “Are you Black? Are you African-American?”  I was, like, “No.” It was the first time I ever heard somebody refer to my voice as that. You grow up speaking the way you speak, and you never realize what kind of dialect or speech pattern you have. And that’s when I realized, “Yeah. That’s basically the environment that I grew up in, and we’re all a product of our environment.” So that’s when I started running with it, and I knew that my step into the English crossover was going to be in the urban market.

But I think what many voiceovers neglect is that by branding yourself and being specific about what your voice is, because your voice is your product, you are not pigeonholing yourself. What you’re doing is you’re basically finding a hole to get into that market. It’s like breaking down a wall. You can’t just ram the entire wall down. You’re going to punch a hole in it, and then you start breaking it apart. Once you’re in the room you can move wherever you want, and that’s what I have been able to do with the assistance of my agents. I have been able to say, okay, I’m Hispanic, but I’m Hispanic-American and Hispanic-American in this case is very important because yes, I speak Spanish, but I am American, which means I can speak to African-Americans, I can speak to Hispanics, and I can speak to the White population or the general market population.

The “urban cool” basically solidifies the fact that I am American, because as much as urban is seen in some circles as African-American or Black, it is just that: it’s urban. I mean, I’m urban but my last name is Mendez, and I think that’s the whole idea. I’m making it easier for people to understand where I fit in the marketing puzzle by doing that for them.

And then later on, as we establish relationships and they understand who I am as a person and understand what I can do through auditions and through other sessions, then that will lead to general market work as well. Look at some of the general market stuff now. The general market stuff, in terms of that word itself, was understood as a non-regional, maybe Midwestern type of delivery; a standard American. But even now that’s changing. There are several spokespeople for major campaigns. Look at Verizon Wireless, which I believe is voiced by Rod Houston; an African-American voice. The Chevy campaign on TV — if you listen closely there’s a certain turn of phrase, a certain rhythm in that speech pattern that says this is not a standard American, but it is definitely general market. Take the Canon Rebel TV campaign, the Canon Rebel EOS I think is the camera. Listen to that closely. It sounds like a grandfather maybe from the south, maybe a little bit north. And even Oscar Meyer has a similar campaign.

So these are campaigns that aren’t necessarily for Hispanic or African-American products, but are just simply products, because in the end we use whatever American products there are. So that’s what I think I find most interesting about branding myself, and I don’t understand why more voiceover talent don’t do that.

JV: What’s a typical day like for you?
Anthony: I’m staying pretty busy. This month has been mostly auditions. It’s weird. It’s up and down. Everyday is different for me, but typically, my day consists of getting up at 5:30 in the morning. I’ve never been an artist that sleeps in late because I always grew up with the idea that I want to wake up when the money starts moving in New York to try to capture some of that energy. So I get up at 5:30 in the morning. I help my wife get our two daughters ready for daycare. I drive down the FDR, which anybody who drives down the FDR in Manhattan knows it’s like driving into a full parking lot, and your average speed is 10 to 15 miles per hour. So I have a drive of an hour to take my daughters to daycare. I park the car there. I check my email to see what’s up for the day. Vox, my agent in Los Angeles, usually sends me my auditions at night or any work at night or any bookings two days before. New York is obviously a faster moving environment so Atlas sends me stuff that’s more last minute, or they send me stuff in the evenings that’s due first thing in the morning. So it really varies.

It’s weird right now because of the fact that I’m the new kid on the block playing with the big boys. My days can go from being swamped with auditions and maybe a couple of bookings to sitting here for a couple of hours working on my next mailing list. So it really varies, and I can’t complain about the fact that it’s so different everyday, and the fact that I get to commute and see people.

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