R.A.P. Interview: Anthony Mendez

JV: Tell us about your studio.
Anthony: I’m in the New York market, but my studio is actually in downtown Jersey City, which if anybody knows, after 9/11, Jersey City is becoming the new financial center. A lot of companies moved out from there and are moving here to Jersey City. Even Donald Trump has invested in establishing some office buildings and condos here. It’s really an area that’s going through some changes, but it still maintains its urban flavor. Just last week a guy was selling jewelry on a table across the street from my studio, which I took a picture of. I like the idea of coming to this environment because I think it informs people of not only what my brand is, but it informs me of what’s going on and what’s relevant in this particular culture that I’m aiming to make a living off of.

The studio is basically a room that is maybe 10 feet by 20 feet. I have Pro Tools in here, but I’m still running OS 9, believe it or not. I’m the kind of person that says if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I have a Control 24 unit here, which is really overkill for what I do now. I used it because I used to produce the radio spots, so I needed all these automated faders when a radio spot or a demo or a music production was 10, 12, 15, 24 tracks. Now, I’m just doing one or two dry tracks, so I’m thinking of getting rid of it.

The studio is on the second floor above a storefront, and I share space with a company called NuLife Entertainment, which initially established themselves as promoters of clubs here in New York. Now they are running a record label, and they have several Spanish artists that they have on board and a couple of different urban artists. So it’s good being on this floor because I get to hear a lot of the music that’s going on right now too. They keep me informed. I’ve got my ears to the streets through them. I’m definitely in the right place. Where I live, all you hear is crickets. I live a few blocks from where Eddie Murphy used to live, and it’s an area where I can’t see myself working from with a home studio. I’m afraid of losing my flavor… or flava.

I have two different mics. I use a U87, transformer one, and a Sennheiser 416. The U87 I use for most of the stuff because I think it really grabs some of my lower resonance a lot better. I have a voice that some engineers have said has low frequencies to it, but there’s also a midrange peak, and I think the U87 represents that low end more. For promo and hard-hitting stuff, and sometimes for Los Angeles because they’re more used to the sound, I switch it up to the 416, but very rarely. I run that through an Avalon, the VT737. I don’t use the compressors or anything on it. I don’t use the filters on it. I just use it as a straight pre-amp.

And believe it or not – and this is a secret I’m giving away — I use the Behringer Composer Pro, which I believe is the MDX2200. In certain cases, as isolated as I’ve made the studio, I am still in an urban environment, and there are some low frequencies that make it through from people in the store downstairs that’s like a record shop. I’ve had this Behringer since I was working from home when I first started because to me it’s the magic expander/gate of all time. I have it set where it doesn’t really cut out, it doesn’t really sound like a gate or an expander, but there’s something magical about it that just drops whatever’s in the background. I’m still using my vocal booth, and I have a 4 by 4 vocal booth, but I don’t tell anybody that I run it through the Behringer. I don’t use the Behringer for compression or anything; it’s just for the slight, slight expander on it.

And then there are my monitors. Because of the fact that I come from a music background, I use the NS10s because every other hip-hop studio that I used to go to used to have them, and it translated well on my mixes, and I understood what they did. They’re not the best in terms of responding to all the frequencies, but I understand what they do. And then, for the bottom I have Event 2020s.

JV: Because you’re right there in the heart of New York, are you physically going to a lot of local auditions, or do you find that you’re doing a lot of auditions via MP3 and email?
Anthony: With my agents now, Atlas and Vox, yes. I would say that 99 percent of the auditions are all emailed MP3. As for the sessions, I just did a video game for Activision, which is coming out in September, and that we phone patched ISDN. I think most of the stuff I’m doing now is ISDN phone patch, and then FTP and the MP3 or the WAV or whatever they need.

It’s weird, last year when I was doing mostly Spanish, I was running around all over the place in New York to different casting directors, riding the subway because you can’t drive in Manhattan. It would be suicide to try to get to somewhere on time. I’m coming off the subway, the R Train, the E Train, the A Train, the V Train, the F Train. Sweating in the middle of summer, going from casting director to casting director; freezing my ass off in the middle of winter, going from casting director to casting director. And it was great because it shows faith, and still, as much as technology has become prevalent, by human nature, we establish relationships, I think, faster and better through personal and face-to-face contact. That’s why I’m a strong believer in the idea that your best bet really is to be in a large market. I’ve been blessed that I was born and raised in this market in New York, and yes, there is a lot of ISDN and there are some people doing great work that are not in New York or Los Angeles. But I still firmly believe, and I’ll probably get flamed for this, that it is easier – and I hate to use that word – but relatively easier to establish relationships and yourself when you are in the actual market.

But yeah, to answer your question, it is mostly MP3s, and maybe once every two or three months I’ll go out on an audition out of the studio.

JV: What do you think is going to happen in the Spanish-speaking radio and voiceover markets in the next five to ten years?
Anthony: Well, I obviously intend to establish myself as the go-to guy for that [laughs], but aside from that, what’s going to happen is really a homogenization of everything. Everything is going to have an urban flavor to it, informed by Spanish culture, but it will predominantly be in English. It’s going to be more about multicultural ad agencies than strictly fullservice Hispanic agencies, and that’s really where the trend is going to be. As you saw even with Clear Channel when they were testing their Hispanic urban thing – I think they coined the phrase Hurban – where they started adding more hip-hop and more English-speaking to the Spanish radio. I think that might happen with TV as well.

There’s a fear, I think, in the general market or people from the Midwest or some people that want to push for English only policies, there’s a fear of losing English to Spanish in some areas. That’s not going to happen. That’s not going to happen because once people understand that if the majority of the Spanish or Latinos in this country speak English and are US born, they’re really going to sit back and say, “Okay, so it’s the older generation that speaks mostly Spanish.” The 30s and below, we speak all English. As a matter of fact, it’s the first language that I speak to my daughters, to my children. It’s the first language that my children speak. They’re still Latino by culture and nativity, but that is going to influence really where the Hispanic market is going to go.

I’ll give you something that gave me a sign of where it’s going to go. Late last year I auditioned for a spot for Hennessey, and it was a bilingual spot. I never saw it run, but the fact that somebody was opening auditions for something like that really goes to show that it really will be mostly English. As much as the Hispanic industry has grown, it’s going to be more about the acculturated read, the English, acculturated read. You might be Hispanic or Latino and can speak the language, but where it’s going to head in 5 to 10 years is kinda like what Richard Wayner wrote in an article in AdAge. He referred to the hip-hopification of the English language. It might be the Spanishification of the English language, but it still will be English. It will just be different flavors of English.

JV: Is this “Spanishification” basically English with a Spanish or Hispanic accent?
Anthony: I don’t think so. I think it’s English with a Spanish “flavor.”  If you listen to some of my demos, especially narrations, if I’m doing a bio on a Spanish talent, I have a Spanish flavor. So it’s more English with a Spanish flavor or English with a hip-hop flavor, which already exists. Look at some of the words that are used now that come from the hip-hop circles. The same thing can happen with Spanish. But as fast and as big as the Spanish industry is growing, it still will be English. It’s all going to mix up. So there’ll be hip-hop, there’ll be general market English and there will be Spanish-English as well. It’s all just different flavors, but it’s still going to be English.

It’s not going to be so obvious as simply English with a Spanish or Hispanic accent. Good advertising is good advertising. Good voiceover is good voiceover. What people are going to grasp onto first will be the product or the message that’s being sent. That’s the responsibility of a good voiceover actor. What people may understand on second listening or as an afterthought is the culture of that person. That’s going to indicate that there’s a wider acceptance of diversity in the general market of different voices. That’s what’s going to happen.

So again, pointing back to the Verizon Wireless or even the Chevy campaign, most people may not even say what it is. They just know it’s a Verizon Wireless or a Chevy campaign. They won’t go back and say, “Oh yeah, the African-American voiceover for that,” unless you listen to it closely because it has a certain flavor. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is not a mistake, that it’s intentional.

JV: You’ve obviously done your homework on marketing. What advice would you give to any voiceover talent on marketing themselves?
Anthony: It’s funny. I was talking to somebody the other day. The first advice I explain to anybody not only in marketing but in order to establish themselves is to stop entertaining doubt. Just stop it. I grew up in a culture where they say get a good education, have something to fall back on. I don’t believe in having something to fall back on because the term falling back means that at one point or another I expect to fall. So I just don’t entertain doubt.

Some people might say that’s not being realistic, but what is realistic? We create our own realities. Since the very first moment that I submitted my resignation letter in 2002 to my employer, I had no idea how I was going to survive. But here we are in 2007 and I’m still not out in the streets. That’s because I had no doubt that I was going to succeed in the entertainment industry. And in 2004, I had no doubt that I was going to succeed in the voiceover industry. I just don’t.
It’s funny because by nature, in this culture – and I mean the culture of the United States of America – we are raised to have a backup plan. It might come from the technological industry. It might come from the industrial industry. But in all honesty, if you know 100 percent that you cannot be as confident as I say you should be, then what you need to do is start practicing that.

Just last week I sent out 1,000 postcards. To be quite honest with you, I didn’t expect a return on that. All I’m doing is sending 1,000 postcards because I want to keep my name out there. But at one point I said, “Should I put this money into this?” Because at the time I said maybe I don’t want to put the money into it. But the money shows up for that; I don’t know how it happens. But when people ask me what they should do about marketing, I always say the first thing you need to do is stop doubting. Don’t entertain doubt. That’s my bottom line. And then start getting your name out there. Do your monthly newsletters, your email newsletters. Send out your postcards. Make some phone calls here and there; just understand you’re making phone calls for the basis of research, not to try to get an interview because people are busy. They don’t want to entertain voiceover talent over the phone. And then you can move on to the nitty-gritty.

And there are hundreds of books on marketing and branding yourself, but if you cannot get beyond entertaining doubt, all that stuff is just not going to work for you.

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