A Second In The Studio With Michael Bower
What radio VO work have you done in the past (stations/markets)? I have been working in radio for the past 20 years. In CA, I worked in San Jose/San Francisco, Chico, Santa Rosa, Fresno and San Bernardino. I have been on the air in Detroit, MI. and Pensacola, FL. I hosted Internationally on Sirius Satellite Radio on their “Maxim Radio” Channel as well as with EA SPORTS on their video game “Game Show” . And was most recently hosting a daily sports talk show in Hartford (and simulcast in New Haven) CT. In every single one of those places, I did radio VO work.
What are you up to presently (freelance/on-staff at a station)? Presently I am a freelance Podcaster, Voice Over Artist and Audiobook Narrator. I am hosting 2 different podcasts that release about twice a week. I have 2 audiobooks available at Audible/Amazon and iTunes with a third one in the works and another set to begin in early October.
What do you love about working as a freelance VO talent? I love the vast range of work I get to do. It literally is something brand new every day. One day, I’m reading a script for a cable company, the next I training video for online poker players. And I get paid for it all! And on a personal level, I have been able to be home for the better part of 6 months working from home with a (now) 6 month old daughter.
How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig? Well, with all of my radio work, I voiced TONS of commercials produced by the radio station. In 1999, while working at KRZR in Fresno, I was approached by an agency to record some voice over for an out-of-market client. I went to their studios, for about 30 minutes total, and made more than the two-week check I was expecting from the radio station.
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it? I have. I found it VERY beneficial. When I cam to NYC in 2005, I was swamped at Sirius and with my first daughter on the way and was focusing on standup comedy. When I came back to NYC in 2008, I immediately knew that voice over was going to be a big form of work for me. I looked around and began working with Peter Rofe. Coaching developed into networking and paid off when I was introduced to my current NYC Voice over agent, Jason Sasportas at Stewart Talent.
Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a voice-over artist? For me it all starts and ends with Warner Brothers cartoons and Mel Blanc. In more current forms, I loved what Robin Williams did in both “Aladdin” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” – playing the voice over artist. When I grow up, I hope to be like them.
What is your dream job? I think I am pretty much living it now. Getting to stay home, record some voice work, pay the rent and spend time with my family. So I guess I am living it. It would be great to be making more money at it, but I could say that about anything. I guess to be a modern day Mel Blanc/Tom Kenny, that would be dream come true. I would love to do more animations and finally release some of these voices in my head. But I would also LOVE to be the guy on the DIY Network or HGTV as their respective announcers.
I still dream of having a successful Morning/Afternoon Radio show, syndicated across the country and entertaining as many people as I can every single day.
What did you do before becoming a voiceover professional? Radio. Really, that’s all I have done my adult life.
What would be your 3 main tips for a youngster trying to start a VO career? 1) You CAN produce your own demo(s). And if you can’t, then you need to spend some time working on digital editing before you even think about getting in to the voice over business. 2) Develop a think skin. You will get turned down. You will not get called back, no matter how good you felt your audition went. And even though YOUR character best fit the animation, they will go with someone else. Maybe even the guy you were sitting next to in the lobby. Rejection is a part of working. Get ready for it and take it in stride. Networking and meeting the right people will keep your foot in the door. 3) Be coachable. I found that my coach in NYC had a once-a-month class (with students) where he brought in a casting agent, voice over artist…someone in the business. Those of us invited (and paying the extra $ for the opportunity), were able to read for not only this coach (who handpicked the script for each of us based upon our strengths) but for the guest that he had brought in for the evening. That was an awesome networking opportunity! To have them hear you – and direct you – and meet with them afterwards, there is no better way to get a foot in the door.
What’s the secret to keeping up a successful show? My key to keeping up a successful show – wherever I have been – is relateability. Yes, you have to be creative. Yes, never stop looking over your shoulder. And yes, it is clear this is a “who” you know, not “what” you know business. But through it all, you have to relate to your audience. Talk with them, not at them. See the movies they are in, the TV shows they record…mirror your audience. And live a life to prove it. Go do stuff. Your audience is…
How do you schedule your work (priorities…..)? Obviously, in this business everything is deadline based. So I have a giant dry-erase calendar in my office littered with dates and deadlines galore. If I pick up a new client or a new piece of work, I let them know that I am currently wrapping a few projects and that I will fit them in to my schedule in a specific date and with a specific deadlline for completion.
How much time do you spend auditioning for new work? I have two voice over agents and a freelance business…so, frankly, I spend more time than I’d like to. Sometimes WAY more than I’d like to. Living about 45 minutes away from NYC – where one of my agents is located – I sometimes have to take train rides in to audition for casting agents. That could be an hour in, an hour back, maybe 20-30 minutes to walk to the audition, audition and get back to the train station…and you can’t always get a train at that moment. So, face to face auditions could legitimately take 3+ hours out of your work day.
How do you market your services to potential clients? I have my business website (http://meatshopproductions.com) and my Audible/ACX webpage as well as websites for both of my agents (Stewart Talent – NYC / SunSports Productions – FL) and I do a lot of networking through Facebook, Twitter and digging on places like Odesk, Elance and I’ll even hit up Craigslist.
Which production system do you use and why? Since I use Apple computers exclusively, getting an older version of Adobe Audition is relatively difficult. And the new one doesn’t allow all of the recording functions that I would like. So I use the always free Audacity for my digital editing needs.
What are your favorite plugins (including screenshots)? I’m not sure you’d call WireTapPro a plug-in, but it’s an application I use a great deal in podcasting to capture everything my computer is running, audio-wise. It’s a great tool for pulling audio from websites in addition to everything else.
What gear do you use (microphone, pre-amp, booth, …)? I run my Neumann TLM 102 through a Focusrite iTrack Solo and that, directly into my MacBook. There I use Audacity for the majority of my digital recording and editing needs. It’s just simple, easy to adjust and…free.
How has new technology changed the way you work? Probably the best example is no longer needing an ISDN line and Zephyr to do any of my recordings for my agent, with clients listening in. Between ipDTL and Source-Connect, I have great ISDN quality, over the internet. Just make sure to have your computer connected via ethernet to avoid wireless internet connectivity issues. Skype has been a great way to have clients on a “phone patch” as well.
What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique anybody should know? I use it for finalizing my audiobook files (because of the requirements from Audible), but I now use Levelator to set the ceiling and floor levels of all of my audio files. It does a great job, it too is a free application and it’s a simple drag and drop system. I can’t live without it!
When it comes to VO work, studio & gear, what are your most ingenious methods/discoveries for saving time and cash? I don’t know that I have come up with anything ingenious. Or cheap for that matter. Other than using moving blankets to deaden the sound in my voice booth (a.k.a.: the downstairs closet). One other thing I like that is Apple based: I have an Apple wireless keyboard and trackpad that hook up to my laptop, from my booth, via bluetooth. So I don’t need my computer in the booth, by the mic, making unwanted noise. I have a 19’ TV monitor mounted on the wall inside the booth, wired back to the computer so that I am looking at my desktop and open applications on the TV Monitor inside my booth. Makes recording, editing and script reading that much easier.
Do you have a different approach to reading radio copy as opposed to TV/Radio commercial ads (if applicable)? Yeah, there is a lot more acting and improv needs for what I am doing these days than what I had done for radio spots. And i feel that clients are selective about who they choose based upon what kind of range you can show them. Radio spots, for me, were a lot of “rip-and-read” type spots. Just get in to your production directors studio, read the script and he did all the rest. Now, I have to set a tone. A pace. And I have clients who aren’t afraid to tell you (after you read and edit a file for 50 minutes) that you need to do it all over again because it didn’t sound conversational enough. This is where the coachable part comes in. You have to be coachable.