An Agent’s Perspective: Nate Zeitz of CESD Talent

We have had the privilege of working with Nate Zeitz and CESD Talent Agency for several years. He is a consummate professional, and a great friend to all of us at Benztown. Thank you Nate, for taking the time to share your expertise with our readers.

How did you get into the business of representing VO talent? Well it really kind of happened by accident.  I did not come out of college with the mindset that I wanted to be an agent per say.  However I did know I wanted to be in the entertainment industry in some capacity.  I spent the summer after college working for Miramax Films in regional publicity/promotions.  Later that Fall I was hired as an assistant to a celebrity/voice over agent at the then William Morris Agency.  The agent I worked for was involved in every aspect of voice over – promo, commercial, narrations, celebrity endorsements and…radio imaging.  It was a tough job but a great experience and really taught me the “ins and outs” of working with different types of talent and also working in a fast-paced, high pressure corporate environment.  More than anything it taught me about humility, something I still value a great deal and try to practice every day.  Two years later I left WMA and was offered what turned out to be a career-changing opportunity at Cunningham Escott Dipene, now Cunningham Escott Slevin Doherty (CESD), to develop the agency’s radio imaging and television affiliate divisions.  This fall will mark ten years with CESD.

Tell us the story of the first station you ever booked for an artist. Man you got me there.  That’s a hard one. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even remember.  I have worked with some many stations over the years, thousands in fact.  I guess I should have framed my first booking sheet and kept it as a memento.

What media (TV, radio, animation, etc.) do you specialize in? Talent representation in Radio Imaging and Television Affiliate voice over.

Nate Zeitz (left) sat on the panel “The Voice-Over Edge & How to Get It,” sponsored by Benztown at the 2012 Conclave Learning Conference in Minneapolis. Mark Todd (Journal Broadcast Group/Omaha) also pictured.

How do these media differ from your point of view? Radio Imaging VO work is really its own unique animal.  Each format, whether it is CHR, Rock, Country, Adult Hits, News/Talk, etc. requires its own type of “interpretive read”.  You just need to know your audience and adapt your reads accordingly.  Not everyone can do this and this is what separates successful working voices with a solid station roster, from those who are trying to compete and break in.  The ability to change your delivery and the tone of your voice really is an art form.   At the same time given the subjective nature of this business, a voice needs to follow the direction given by program and imaging directors because even if you think a news station for example should have that traditional hard-sell read that cuts through, a program director may be going for a much more conversational, real, one-on-one approach with the sound of the station, a growing trend in radio today.  A mainstream AC might want a more CHR, up-tempo, brighter approach.  Again it really is case by case and it can change from station to station and market to market.  You can’t be one-note.
TV Affiliate reads also vary based on the type of script.  But generally speaking, I think affiliates tend to look for the  compelling voice that cuts through to deliver the credible news read in a way that engages the viewer while not talking over them.  Captivating and compelling usually wins.  This is not to say that there is not a need to be conversational and real.
The main distinction I think is that affiliate reads are not “processed” nearly the same way that radio reads are, so the voice really needs to have distinction and gravitas.  Radio Imaging relies more on creative SFX and mixing.  Sometimes that can be a negative because too much production can sometimes mask what might be a mediocre voice or might overshadow the voice.
And if you’re the voice of a major TV affiliate, the work is much more topical in nature.  There is a tendency that the voice needs to be more readily available and on call.  Radio gives you slightly more freedom.  Don’t get me wrong.  A voice still needs to work efficiently and turn material around quickly in radio, especially if you have a lot of stations to service.  But affiliate work in many cases is deadline driven and same-day given the way news cycles.  And if it’s breaking news, you better be close to your microphone.
What does it take to be an agent? Persistence, patience, humility, a compromising spirit, flexibility, creativity, being a problem-solver.  You have to be aggressive and make things happen.  There’s no room for passivity in this business.  You can’t wait for business to come to you.  Sure the phone will ring.  You want it to ring.  That’s a sign that you have a built a good reputation and that you have a competitive client roster.  But truth be told, you have to go out there and hustle every day and work for it.  And get used to people telling you no.  It’s a numbers game and a process and I remind my clients of that every day.  But cream rises to the top and for those talent who bring something special to the table, good things can and will happen for them and for the agent, but you need to keep at it.  Your clients expect nothing less from you.  And once those opportunities develop, as an agent you have to cultivate and nurture those relationships.  That’s how you generate repeat business for your clients.  Being fair and flexible with the radio and affiliate decision makers plus being a good liaison between you clients and your buyers goes a long way in this business.  People have long memories.  More than anything, you have to have a thick skin.  Talent does too.  It’s a competitive business.  You’re not always going to win every job.

What are the criteria you look at when signing a voice talent? I usually look for enthusiastic and energetic talent who share my passion for hard work and teamwork.  I want to represent a voice talent who will work collaboratively with me and who take an active role inhis or her career.  Like I said earlier, passivity tends not to work in this business.   And within this talent model I am usually looking for two types: Developmental talent who already have a connection to the industry, namely producers and imagers who already understand what is expected of them and how to break down and interpret copy.  Talent who just need an opportunity to show their fellow industry colleagues that they do have what it takes. Veteran talent who have demonstrated an ability to be successful to a degree (there are varying degrees) but who want a partner to help them increase their clientele, market ranks, and formats they’re exposed to.  This idea is case by case and talent to talent. More than anything I want versatile voice actors.  Having a voice that cuts through is very important but having that same voice who has the ability to tell a story and make a connection with the listener is asimportant if not more important.

When signing new talent, do they come to you, or do you search them out? It’s really a combination of the two.  I get tons of referrals from programmers, general managers,imaging directors, producers, consultants and even my existing clients.  Then there are the solicitations.  I get emails and/or calls practically every day from talent who want to be on my roster.  I certainly appreciate receiving these but I have to be very selective about the voices I take on because I keep my roster tight.  But I am always honest with perspective clients.  There are also voices who I am targeting, whether they be free agents or talent signed with other agencies.

There are a million different sounding voices in this business. Are there any common traits they ALL share? Talent tends to be their worst critics.  From my experience, sometimes talent and I say this only generally, overthink the audition process.  I see it every day.  But I get it…they want the job and they want to be perfect.  We all strive for perfection.  I think talent are all striving to be better at their craftdo and are always trying to learn new VO skills.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? Creating an opportunity for a client from scratch.  Reading something in the industry trades and then making a call based on an idea you have which leads to a conversation with a perspective buyer andultimately new business for your client and you…there’s nothing more rewarding.  It often takes time for that job to come to fruition thus the need to be patient as I mentioned earlier but when you pick up the phone and tell your client how the job came about and what you did to make it happen, it’s a good feeling.  It validates what we do.

What are 3 things should every VO talent should know when trying to sign with an agency? Have a mutual colleague introduce you to the agent.  You’ll get noticed a lot faster than just sending an unsolicited email.  That can help get you in the door. Be patient.  See I said it again.  If you’re in a hurry to get signed, this is not the right industry for you.  It’s a partnership and it is important to find the right fit so shop around and fine the right match for you.  And when you do shop around, make sure your demos are more than top notch.  Sometimes you only get one shot and as we know first impressions are vital.  Don’t just throw something together.  An agent with a good ear can tell.  Have a strategic plan. Bring something to the table.  An agent’s going to want to see if you’ve been able to have “some” success on your own.  Again this will be case by case…talent to talent.

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