An (Up)state of Mind with Donna Frank
Thank you to Donna Frank, one of the newest talent on Benztown’s roster, who hails from WEQX-FM in the Northeast. Donna chats with us about everything from ProTools to motherhood, from Victoria’s Secret to quick & cheap soundproofing.
For more about Donna, check out http://www.donnafrankvoicetalent.com/, or click here to listen to her radio imaging demo on Benztown’s roster.
What do you love about working as a freelance VO talent?
Everyday is different. In the morning, you can be in your studio, pretending to be a genie trapped in a bottle of Axe Deodorant for an internet piece, then in the afternoon, you’re at a studio surrounded by creative and energetic people, doing the voice of a forest goddess for a graphic novel. I also really like being on the air in different parts of the country on lots of different and very cool radio stations…that is very exciting to me.
How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig?
I have to thank WEQX for almost every good thing that has ever happened to me. They taught me how to use a mic and produce when I knew nothing. During the part of my career I was co-hosting the morning show there, I got a call from The Albany Symphony Orchestra because they liked my voice and wanted to me to voice a spot at a local studio. In radio you are always looking for ways to supplement your income, so, though terrified they would find out I had no real world experience, I went for the first time to Cotton Hill Studios in Albany to record it, met some really great people and friends there (Ray & Margherita), and they made me feel really good about and more confident in my voice, and started using me on other spots. The studios at Cotton Hill are one of the coolest places on the planet, a masterpiece of materials and sound architecture, and I was/am always so happy to go back there. Studios are like going home to me, I learned that I love the intimacy of a studio, the little shimmering lights all over, being the origin of the sounds that fill the room and working to make them sound as good as I possibly can. The rest grew from that.
Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a voice-over artist?
This is very easy. My dad. He has the best voice I’ve ever heard, and was the first country music DJ in New York State. I think everyone that knows him wants to be like him, because he’s such a great guy. A couple of times as a little kid I watched him host telethons for the Heart Association on TV and he carried himself with such grace and spoke so well…it seemed conceivable that if he did it, maybe a little bit of his magic could be a part of me, genetically. If not I would just copy him! That’s why I will always use “Frank” on the air, out of respect to him, I like his name continuing on. He had a studio in our basement he used to work at when he was not at his radio station. I thought the equipment was so very cool, though I was not allowed to touch any of it! He also did not let us grow up mispronouncing things, that there was a beauty to the spoken word. My mom wholeheartedly supported his career, as my husband does mine now. She even managed his fan club for him!
What is your dream job?
To be a Victoria’s Secret Angel. Oh, wait, you mean like in real life, voice over? Two things: to be the voice of Victoria’s Secret, because it’s my favorite company, and Macy’s. I always thought Macy’s ads were so magical. Especially around Christmas time.
What would be your 3 main tips for a youngster trying to start a VO career?
I get this question a lot from people wanting to get into the business.
- Besides being courteous and professional to everyone you work with, the most important thing is your demo. Put a ton of energy into it, and keep it short, like a minute tops. Everyone is going to want to hear your demo, but they are very busy and don’t have a lot of time. They will decide in the first 10 seconds if they like it or not. If you don’t have real ads or imaging to put on it, create some.
- Lose yourself in your own voice and learn how to make it do what it can do without being overly self-conscious about it. You really have to be in the zone to do this. You (at least I) can’t be in the zone if you’re tired, upset, hungry, unfocused. If I’m not feeling it, I walk away from a project and come back to it later that day or the next morning.
- Don’t take rejection personally. Don’t dwell on it. If they don’t pick you or call you back, it doesn’t mean your voice was bad…it just means you were not what they were looking for at the time. You can be the juiciest, reddest, prettiest apple on the tree, but if someone’s looking for more of an orange, they’re not going to pick you. Move on.
Your headshots definitely stand out. Any secrets there?
Yes! Take about 200 pictures, pick the one passable one and save it. Then take the other 199 pictures, where you look like you were caught mid-sneeze, throw them in the trash bin on your computer, turn off computer, unhook from wall and walk it outside to your jeep and run over it, several times, to make sure the horrific pictures are fully destroyed. Other than that, I can say, it helps to go outside and smile. I don’t know if it’s the light or what but outside pictures always seem to come out better.
How do you schedule your work (priorities…..)?
On an average day, I get up, go to gym, blast music on my headphones, then while on the elliptical, I organize my day on my notes section of my iphone: current clients first, auditions second, marketing third, etc. I tend to prioritize “things that make money” first. And I have many, many little to-do lists all over the house, my car and in my wallet, written in black sharpie and looking like ransom notes. About once a week I consolidate them. Into one giant ransom note.
Which production system do you use and why?
Protools with MBox on a G4 Mac with a Nuemann U 87 Mic. In a pinch, I can use other systems, but Protools is what I started on in the late 90’s so it feels like home to me. And the mic…I love that mic. I have a voice that can be whispy sometimes and the Nuemann picks up on every nuance. But it’s a double edged sword…you can be recording and if a little ice falls off the roof of your house it sounds like an airplane has just made an emergency landing in your studio.
What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique anybody should know?
So awesome and easy to sound like you really know what you’re doing: always hit the last letter, ESPECIALLY if it’s a consonant, HARD. Saying, “Chic?” Hit that last C with a little sass. Now that dog hunts! Besides that, I rely on really good engineers, the likes of Pat Tessitore and Ed LaComb, who can really make my voice sound about 1,000 times better than it actually is.
When it comes to VO work, studio & gear, what are your most ingenious methods/discoveries for saving time and cash?
I’ve noticed that these “ingenious” solutions usually come about 10 minutes before the client calls in for a phone patch, and you discover that the rain on the roof sounds on mic like someone crazy wizard is throwing a million marbles at your house, a handful at a time. This is where I find myself taking our nice throw blankets from the couch and nailing them to the windows outside my studio and the ceiling of my studio. Any port in a storm, you know? You can always buy new blankets later.
For all the moms out there, how do you juggle motherhood and work?
The kids come first. Always. I think clients respect that. New clients and old…many of them have kids too and are balancing parenthood as well! And so many of my clients and I stay together for a long time, we’ve come to consider each other friends..and they know I am balancing. They’ve seen my career move along and I feel like they root for me, as I do them.
But to balance…you have to start off believing you can do it all and rock all of it, just refuse to put limits on yourself. Then you have to commit every day to executing it, which takes a certain amount of time devoted to organization every day. At home, we have a big calendar in the kitchen on which everyone has to write down what they have going on, baseball games, swim class, voice over sessions events, concerts, whatever. Then we work from there. There’s a lot of planning, parents helping, sitters and whatnot. Because having three kids, and a job that requires ABSOLUTE SILENCE can be a challenge, especially when one of the three little loves is only a year old! I luckily also have two very supportive older kids who think what I do is cool, and a supportive husband. Even though he is a very busy attorney, I know will make the time for me to always be my back up if I need him with the kids. I can always promise my clients 24 hour turnaround, because if a day gets really crazy, I can just record at night when he gets home from work and puts the baby to bed. We’re a team. Just like my parents were. And I think that’s the key.