Behind the Mic: Jen Sweeney
Tap tap tap…is this thing ON? Hi! I’m Jen Sweeney. Like WEENIE with an S! I’ve been doing this VO thing for quite some time now and frankly… It found ME! For Real. I was in a play my Freshman year of college and was literally hired off the stage to become an “ANNOUNCER” (such a naughty word these days) at KEZA in Fayetteville, AR…where…I I made TONS OF MISTAKES!
What radio VO work have you done in the past?
As far as radio imaging goes, I’ve been on some GREAT stations over the course of my career. KLLC, San Fran … KFOG, San Fran when Alice let me go because the PD became the voice. That’s for another article.☺ KINK, Portland, KISS-FM, Dallas, KBCO, Denver, WMMR, Philly, WYCD, Detroit, KPEK, Albuquerque, WCLZ Portland Maine, The River, Boston, WWUZ, Fredicksburg, Sunny FM, Ft. Wayne, WRVW, Nashville … Just to name a few. Most of these stations I’m still voicing!
Check out some of her demos:
CHR Imaging Demo
Hot AC Imaging Demo
Country Radio Imaging Demo
AC Imaging Demo
What are you up to presently?
I’ve been at this full time over 20 years. Before that I worked as a DJ in the Chicagoland area, Boston area and Denver. I work or have worked in all aspects of VO including imaging, TV and radio commercials, promo, video games, TV affiliate, IVR, narration, e-learning … all of it!
What do you love about your job?
There are so many things to love about this career … work from home … dress like a hobo … fart and just delete it! But seriously, I am a mountain of gratitude for being able to make a living this way. I’ve spent so much time standing in front of a mic that it feels like home. The job becomes me and I become it. Pretty sure it’s my dharma. And here … I am. Ha! There’s your Zen with Jen.
What was your first gig? Any memorable ones since then?
My first job was for the EZ listening station I mentioned earlier, KEZA. My very first paid VO gig was for The Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs, AR. They brought in a mobile recording studio from Los Angeles and I was cast as all the DARK bible characters…Salome…Claudia…Leper Woman 1 … voices in Hell! They paid me $30.00 and hour for 3 weekends of work AND put me up in a hotel! My Dad told me I was the first Sweeney kid to ever send money HOME!
One job I’m very proud of was being cast as a female Orc in World of Warcraft. Blizzard Entertainment was looking for a very specific voice and when they didn’t find it in LA they searched the country and somehow I booked it. It totally trashed my voice. Especially the fight scenes. LOL … but it was a huge honor.
Who are your VO idols/mentors?
Years ago, a voice guy I worked with doing Promos in Denver became my good friend. His name is Bill Hessin. He had his own studio in his basement. I knew I wanted that and actually was one of the first of a handful of VO women in the country with her own studio. Today I have a coven of VO babes that amaze, inspire and make me spit take on a regular basis. Annie DeWig, Roberta Solomon and Virginia Hamilton. Email water cooler talk with outtakes!
If you weren’t doing voiceover, what else do you think you’d be doing for a career?
I’d be an actor or a sushi chef if I wasn’t doing VO!
What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on the radio/television?
First time I heard my voice on something? I honestly don’t remember my reaction but I DO recall hearing something on TV once and I was all like WHO IS THAT! I liked how she sounded and was jealous for a second until I realized it was me. Is that totally conceded? I don’t care if it is. It’s true.
How has new technology changed the way you work?
OMG… keeping up with technological changes is a job in itself! Things move pretty quickly so ya gotta keep up with it whether you like it or not. And it’s next to impossible to unplug. I work every time travel. It’s just the way it is now.
What gear do you use on the road? In your studio?
At home I have a Whisper Room with a U87, Grace Pre, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, a Mackie board and a Mac. I use 2 Macs in my studio, one for editing and one for Source Connect, ipDTL and Skype. The technical part of my job is not my forte, my performance is… But I hire people to help me with that techo stuff.
On the road I use the Scarlett, A Sennheiser 416 and a Mac Air. I also carry an ipad, an Apogee mic and Twisted in my bag. You’d be surprised how often I have to whip that thing out! LOL On a moving train I think was the funniest and most MOVING time…if you will.
Which production system do you use and why? Any favorite plugins?
I currently use Pro Tools. Way more than I need but I know how to get myself around in it. All my engineer friends used it so I knew I’d have tech support.
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it?
I’ve worked with some AMAZING coaches! All of them have their own unique approach to doing VO. Nancy Wolfson, David Lyerly and Marice Tobias. I gravitated toward Marice because she was more like an acting coach when we started working together and that resonated with me. I still work with her today and when I do…she’s SO intuitive about what she does it’s like getting spiritual CPR for not only the VO biz but also the being HUMAN biz!
How do you schedule/prioritize your work? How much time do you spend auditioning for new work?
I have a dry erase boards and sticky notes in my studio and in my house. I make notes all the time. I have my phone remind me too! LOL! The more places it’s written down the better! I totally SUCK at math but somehow I’m really good at time management! Perhaps it’s because I often work in :30 to :60 increments! ☺
How do you market your services to potential clients?
Most of my work is…wait for it…word of mouth. I work hard at keeping clients happy and try to make their job easier. I’m in the service business, after all.
What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique everyone should know?
One of the VERY BEST techniques I learned was from a casting director in Chicago when I was pursuing an acting career there. Judith Jacobs was her name. She had me record myself on the phone…over and over…and listen to my natural way of speaking. THAT was invaluable. I have an acting background so I think learning the art and craft of acting is also important, at least for me it has been. You can never have enough tools in your bag o’ tricks!
Do you have a different approach to reading radio imaging copy as opposed to TV/Radio commercial ads?
More or less, yes. Radio imaging is it’s own breed of read…however…I really try to keep it real…even when I’m doing a more heightened or energetic read. Commercial is often more understated…quieter but it really depends on the type of read the copy calls for.
Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry?
My 3 tips for newbies? You wanna seriously do VO? Sell your soul to it. It’s not just talking into a mic and something you can do in your spare time.
Study. Get a coach. Take acting classes. Get some experience behind a mic however you can. Be real and make friends along the way. Plan for rainy days when you ARE successful and just be nice. Okay that was more than three. Sorry.
If you could go back in time and hang out in any decade which one would you go back to and why?
Pretty sure I was a Victorian Burlesque performer in a past life.
Favorite 2 pizza toppings?
Pizza makes me fat.
If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would it be?
Cher! I’m really a drag queen trapped in a woman’s body… are you detecting a THEME here?
Grateful for you Benztowners for having me on your roster with such an amazing group of talent.
Connect with Jen