Behind the Mic: David Kaye

When working with any client – whether it be trailer houses, network television, animation, video games or promotional branding for radio and television – my number one job is to make their job easy.  The last thing I want is a client worrying about me. I’m good at what I do and they hired me for a reason. I never want them regretting that decision.  – David Kaye

What stations are you on currently?

  • KSRZ-FM Omaha-Council Bluffs
  • WIAD-FM Washington, DC
  • KJHM-FM Denver-Boulder
  • KBEZ-FM Tulsa
  • WOWO-AM/FM Fort Wayne
  • WDAE-AM/FM Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater
  • WCJK-FM Nashville
  • WBZE-FM Tallahassee
  • WOMC-FM Detroit
  • CFXL-FM Calgary
  • KHCM-FM Honolulu, HI
  • CJAD-AM Montreal
  • KTTH-AM Seattle-Tacoma
  • WBZO-FM Long Island
  • CIRK-FM Edmonton

Check out David’s Radio Imaging Real:

What was your on-air first gig?

Like many in this business, I began as an on-air jock in my hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada at the age of 17.  I was hired for overnights on weekends. Some of my fondest memories. I was horrible but Program Director Rick Johnson trusted me enough to throw me on the air. Between school announcements and weekends on the radio, I began to see a way forward as to what I wanted to do with my life.

Who are your VO idols and mentors?

I became a fan of Rick Dees and admired what he was doing on the air and as a businessman.  I wrote to anyone who would listen, including the late John Major from Chum FM Toronto/Much Music fame. To my surprise, we wrote back an incredible letter of encouragement. Much later on the late Don Lafontaine, the great movie trailer narrator, offered me a glowing review and again words of encouragement. These are  incredibly important people in my life and I owe them a great deal of gratitude. My dear friend Tara Strong, who is one of the top animation voices in the world, suggested my time would be better spent in Los Angeles and told me to “get my ass to LA!” Without these wonderful folks, including my amazing wife and family, I’m not sure my career would be anywhere remotely where it is today.

Many years back I realized if I could get a small percentage of work from the many radio and television outlets throughout North America, I could supplement my radio income and really start to grow something.  The great Jim Conrad was a hero of mine at the time in Vancouver. I remember hearing his voice as the voice of Rock 101 years ago and saying, “wow…I want to do THAT!” He inspired me to start my imaging business which at the time I had no idea that’s what it was even called.

What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on either on radio or  television?

My first big break for television affiliate work happened in Vancouver for U-TV, which I believe was a ‘Global Television’ outlet. Now it’s owned by Rogers in Canada I think.  I had a dozen letter ‘K’s made of chocolate sent over as an introduction. To this day, former employees still remember that. They hired me after a trial and the rest is proverbial history.

I went on to acquire a couple hundred stations throughout the 90’s and into the following decade.  One of the big ones pre 9-11 was ABC 7 in New York. I was the fill in for about 4 months and I remember the first time I heard my voice on the news opening in New York I almost cried.  This led to many more radio and television clients from WMGK Philadelphia, CFOX Vancouver, Detroit (now on WOMC FM) to Washington DC, Raleigh, North Carolina, and even around the world from Africa, The UK. Trinidad & Tobago and Thailand.

Radio and television imaging led to many other avenues and I quickly realized I needed to be not just ‘good’ at it, but good at many other genres of the business as well.  I wasn’t interested in being a ‘one trick pony’. In the late 80’s, early 90’s animation came calling and my first talent agent started sending me out to auditions because I told him, “yes, I can do voices.”  I had no idea what he was talking about or what I was doing until GI Joe came calling in ’89. I landed the role of General Hawk for DIC Animation’s ‘Joe’ series which was recording, of all places, in Vancouver, Canada!  Here’s this Canadian kid voicing ‘The Great American Hero.” Trust me, I felt guilty. So much so, that I got my US citizenship 4 years ago just to rectify that situation.

From the moment I was cast and began recording ‘cartoons’, that was it.  I quit radio and ventured out on my own. I wanted to get good at ALL of it!  On-Camera beckoned with my small share of roles in a burgeoning film town like Vancouver as well as many other cartoon roles until THE BIG ONE !  Transformers was going to do a new computer animated series in Vancouver and I secured an audition in 1993 for the role of Megatron. From the moment the first season aired, things changed. Imaging business was booming, a fair number of commercial campaigns had themselves under my belt, cartoons were speeding full ahead, on camera was still calling but I wanted more. My eye was on trailers.  I wanted to reach that pinnacle at some point. It’s the most difficult to break into and that’s why I wanted it.

How do you continue to stay motivated throughout your long career in voiceover?

There was a time not long ago I was thinking of getting out of the radio imaging game and focus on everything else.  I remember the exact moment and the conversation while driving the 134 freeway near Glendale (The home of Benztown) with my assistant at the time,  Steve Sisk. He said, “Listen, you remember Nate Zeitz from William Morris New York? He’s over at CESD now as a junior. Why don’t you reach out before you make any decisions.”  I always liked Nate and called him. To this day, he continues to not only grow that side of the business, but most importantly he is a very close friend. Thank you Steve and thank you Nate!

David Kaye and his agent and BZ amigo, Nate Zeitz

David Kaye and his agent and BZ amigo, Nate Zeitz

These days I still have a blast providing VO for radio around the planet. Everyday is different and I look forward to Mondays.  That’s always been my goal. I’ve been scratching trailers for 10 years almost and finishing on more and more lately. Hey, if you’re going to climb Mt Everest, you need to establish a base camp. Current campaigns are Secret Life Of Pets 2 (also did the 1st one), The Aretha Franklin doc, ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Sonic The Hedgehog.’  Animation has been steady with my roles in the Avengers animated series for Disney playing JARVIS, Vision and Baron Zemo.  My favorite moment was during Black Panthers Quest when I got to work with both Mark Hammil and Stan Lee. What a day that was. Also for DC’s Justice League I played Vandal Savage. I’m Grandpa Max in Ben 10, King Peppy for Dreamworks Trolls: The Beat Goes On and coming this fall will be appearing in the Ellen Degeneres executive produced Dr. Seuss series. I cried again when I saw my voice coming out of a Seuss character.  I guess the tears don’t necessarily stop and I hope I never grow up. Over the years many video game projects have come and gone but the one near and dear is the on going Ratchet & Clank series from Insomniac. I’ve had the privilege of providing the voice for the loveable Clank for over 15 years no …. long enough for them to make a feature film for us. I’ve been the voice for the past five seasons of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  To think I’d be anywhere NEAR an Emmy award seemed absurd, but I’ve done it now 3 times. What an amazing team they are. If an old ‘me’ would have also told a young ‘me’ you’re going to work for Saturday Night Live and do a bit with Edris Elba, I would have called myself certifiably insane. Thank goodness I didn’t ! It happened. ‘Surreal’ isn’t quite the word.

What gear do you use on the road? In your studio?

Things continue to be busy and I thank the stars I still love the hustle. I have to always travel with the ‘Road Kit’ though. George Whittam, my engineer has me firing on all cylinders.  A leather shoulder bag which consists of an Apollo twin, a Sennheiser mic, and cables assure I’m never ‘not available.’ My Tesla is also a perfect mobile studio. Many emergency sessions have been recorded from that cabin. Thank you, Elon!

In the home studio I use a Peluso vacuum tube LAB P-12.  It was the only one I was able to replace my beloved U67 with. This mic and the Apollo twin allow me to bang the hell out of it and get very intimate without blowing up the recording track. Because I’m switching gears all the time, day in and day out, I needed a mic that could take it. One minute screamy animation, the next an intimate story teller for NFL Football. Love the mic.

How do you schedule or prioritize your work? How much time do you spend auditioning for new work?

As far as scheduling, people ask how I’m able to accommodate so many varied clients on a daily basis. Radio imaging and TV affiliate comes in throughout the day and I don’t let it ‘cook.’ I hate seeing anything in my inbox so my goal is to get it out asap. If I’m in animation for 4 hours I can usually work around it but there have been times when on break I’d quickly use my road kit and set up in a vacant room or even my car if it’s close and get something done that needed attention. I’ve been in commercial sessions where I was able to set up (with agents and clients permission) in the booth itself and when I have some time or break I’ll get some stuff banged out. It is possible to be in two places at once but you need to know your client and the situation. I would never do anything if it wasn’t all agreed to in the first place. If you don’t, you could end up looking like an asshole. Whether it’s a large client or small, everyone gets the same attention. I do my best to accommodate when I can but some days can be a circus.

Can you offer tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry?

I’m also asked for advice often about getting into the business.  I got into it just when the internet was taking off. When you could place an ad in Radio and Records. I had no plan other than it’s what I had my heart set on doing. I wanted to get as good as I possibly could and then take it to another level.  I won’t settle of ‘ok’ or ‘good’. I want to be excellent and if I’m not, work to become excellent. If you want to do this you shouldn’t settle either just be forewarned there’s many more folks wanting to get into voice over more than ever.  There’s a lot of ‘noise’ out there. The best thing you can do is be comfortable with who you are behind the mic. Don’t BE anyone else but you. It’s easier said than done but that’s why it’s a lifelong profession. Travel, eat something different, read, be curious.  All of those give you perspective and a reference point, so when your asked to read a piece of copy, you already have an idea of how your going to read it. Everything you read should come from truth. From a REAL person. Study acting, take improve, write. What’s going to distinguish you from the thousands of others sending in demos to agents or hanging their shingle out to open a business ? You.  That’s it. Just you. So work on that.

Connect with David on the web!

Twitter  @dkayevo
soundcloud: @davidkaye


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