Behind the Mic: Ben Blankenship
Ben Blankenship is a versatile voice talent specializing in Radio Station Imaging & Affiliate TV Promo Voiceover as well as commercial voiceover. He is represented by Nate Zeitz at CESD Talent, NY.
What are you up to presently? These days I’m providing imaging VO for several stations across the US. I’ve found a home in News Talk, Country, Classic Country, and Rock. I’m also constantly auditioning for commercial and promo VO work.
What do you love about your job? My favorite part of this job is getting to be a part of so many teams. By that I mean that Radio and TV Imaging VO puts you right at the heart of a station’s sound and allows you to be a part of that station’s success. Getting to work closely with so many program directors and brand managers is fun and rewarding. Many of the stations I work for have been with me for longer than 6 years and I take a personal interest in the lives of those station employees and their families. Those relationships are the best part of the gig.
How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig? I was mainly a production director in radio here in Arkansas for 28 years. The last 19 years I worked for the Jonesboro Radio Group in northeast Arkansas. I remember the day my station manager came into the production room and said, “Hey, a lot of production directors can make good money on the side voicing projects for outside clients.” He was open to me exploring that and that was all I needed to hit the “go” button. I soon began asking the ad agencies we worked with how they chose their voices and soon was voicing commercials for agencies 1000’s of mile away. Not long after that I secured a couple of small market stations for imaging VO work and the rest is history. That was back in 1998 when it all got started. I stayed with that production director gig at the Jonesboro Radio Group for a total of 19 years before I wanted to go out on my own in 2015. They were very good to me and allowed me the time I needed to work on my VO projects so I had no trouble staying as long as I did. So a big thank you to Bill Pressly, Trey Stafford and Kevin Neathery for putting up with me for so long at JRG and for fostering a love of VO too.
What is your dream gig? I was one of the two promo voices for Fox News Channel for four years and that was challenging and fun. The truth is I love every gig. The small gigs are just as fun as the big ones. Anyone who hires me sees their own project as a big deal, no matter the market size, so I try to embrace that opportunity with the same passion they feel about it.
Who are your VO idols/mentors? That’s a long list! For “idols,” in the early days it would’ve been Ernie Anderson & Chris Corley on the deeper side and Keith Eubanks on the higher pitch side. As far as mentors, Mike Carta gave me the most advice and personal time helping me understand the industry and even sold me his back up gear for my first home studio. Having a mentor is very important. I think the most important things you can learn from a good mentor have to do with running the business of your voice over career. That’s an area I could still use help in these days. It takes a lot of discipline, which is sometimes hard to come by for creatives like me.
If you weren’t doing voiceover, what else do you think you’d be doing for a career? I’d be a production director in radio again. I always loved the production room. I had no interest in the On-Air side of things. Being let loose in the production room to create audio pieces was my first love.
What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on the radio/television? It felt surreal. I think the first time that feeling really hit was when a friend told me they’d heard my voice in the market in which they lived. Watching/listening to the promos on Fox News during the time leading up to the most recent presidential election felt the most surreal to me especially during those debates that were so heavily watched by so many viewers.
Which production system do you use and why? New tech in the home studio has taken me a while to embrace. I had always been one to rely on my analog board as the central hub for my studio. Releasing that analog equipment for more up to date digital equipment, like my UA Apollo Twin Duo, sometimes leaves me feeling vulnerable but it’s definitely more efficient and faster.
What gear do you use on the road? When I need the studio onthe road I use a Mac Book Pro with Pro Tools and the Apollo Twin Duo or at least the Mic Port Pro from Centrance, as well as my Sennheiser 416 microphone.
What gear do you use in your studio? My Main set-up is the Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo, Sennheiser 416 & Neumann U87 microphones, Mac Mini, and Audio Technica headphones. For the software I use the Console of the Apollo to route it all through Pro Tools. Many say Pro Tools is overkill but I’ve been using it for so long in radio that it just feels like home to me. For microphone pre-amps I use the Universal Audio versions of the Neve 88RS channel strip for the Sennheiser 416 and the Manley Voxbox software version for the Neumann U87. I use just a little EQ and very little compression going in and level out the sound in Pro Tools with light Limiting.
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it? Coaches for Voice over are very important. I don’t live in LA and can’t attend workshops in person, so I’ve relied on a coach to help me think outside the box and continue to grow in VO.
I’ve most recently worked with Jeff Howell for Promo VO coaching, which I feel has benefits for commercial work and for Imaging work as well.
How do you schedule/prioritize your work? How much time do you spend auditioning for new work? I prioritize work by when it arrives with the exception of booked/scheduled sessions. I try to get the work done within an hour or less or when it comes in. I find the client appreciates speedy work and attention to detail. As far as auditioning I do that whenever I have access to an audition. You should always strive to get your auditions done well before the deadline. It’s our job to audition whether that comes from your agents or from pay-to-play sites. Audition, Audition, Audition.
How do you market your services to potential clients? You can advertise anywhere and everywhere you can or want but the secret to marketing is building relationships with decision makers every chance you get and finding a good source for auditions.
When it comes to VO work, studio & gear, what are your most ingenious methods/discoveries for saving time and cash? I’m not so much of a time saver as some. I’m thorough in making sure I keep all emails and scripts for future reference and safety.
Best voice over technique you’ve ever received? Don’t over compress! Use just enough to level things out and leave final processing up to the producer, unless you are able to hear the final product and notice that a specific producer doesn’t have a handle on things and you’re required to process more to make sure you protect the sound quality of your audio.
Do you have a different approach to reading radio imaging copy as opposed to TV/Radio commercial ads? Radio station imaging styles will vary for each format. TV News Promo VO will vary more based on the emotion of the script. Whereas the Radio Imaging VO will require different emphasis based on the feel of the station and the specific format.
Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry? My first tip for newbies in voiceover is to get a coach as early as you can! Second tip, learn how to run a business!! Find books about going into business for yourself. I didn’t do that early enough and wish I had. My third tip is to not quit your full time job until you simply can’t do both. It’s a big jump to go out on your own. Take all the time you need to make sure it’s the right move for you. Things like saving for retirement and paying for medical insurance are very important.
If you could go back to any decade and hang out which one would you go back to and why? I would go back to the early 80’s and strive to be a radio station imaging voice again. It seems like imaging voices of that era held the most wonder and awe in them and that kept up through the 90’s.
What’s your guilty pleasure? I like mushrooms and spinach!
Twitter: www.twitter.com/benblankenship or @BenBlankenship