Behind The Mic: John Pleisse
If you want to learn some real radio tricks of the trade, John Pleisse is the one to talk to. His wealth of industry knowledge and experience is enough to want to make you grab some ‘smores and sit around a campfire just to listen to what he has to say…especially because he has one of the greatest voices ever.
1) What radio VO work have you done in the past? I worked in several small markets, winding up in the Baltimore and Washington markets working for programming legends like Steve Kingston, Chuck Morgan and Lorrin Palagi. I also had associations with Scott Shannon, Jym Ryan, Tom Cuddy, Chris Conley and many others who were a wealth of knowledge. My last stint was creative services with WRQX Washington DC. I was also the station promo voice. I succeeded from full time radio in the late 90’s and have been doing 100% freelance V/O since.
2) What do you love about your job? I like being my own boss and being rewarded commensurate to work. If you go after it, you’ll make more money.
3) How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig? I actually voiced the station I produced, WRQX. The mothership in the company was WPLJ, who later hired me for V/O. This was my biggest break and the mark of all that has followed.
4) Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a VO artist? Scott Shannon molded me for radio instantly. While I am a fan of legends like Ernie Anderson, Danny Dark and Don LaFontaine, it is actually today’s contemporary success stories that shape the future. I actually take more stock in who is hot NOW.
5) Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry? No. I can offer only one tip. Never give up. 51% of V/O is a business.
6) If you weren’t doing voiceover, what else do you think you’d be doing for a career? I liked law, but never had the academic prowess, scoring only average on the LSAT. Probably Real Estate.
7) Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it? Yes and I could not recommend it more. Remember, it is not just voicing that happens. Today’s coaches are up on all trends and provide endless knowledge on everything from marketing, to who is hot, to how much you can make, to motivation, to where you fit in and so on. $250 for one hour with a V/O coach will change your life.
8) How do you schedule/prioritize your work? I used to prioritize based on rate and market size. Now I don’t. I work as hard as a I can, as fast as I can, without compromising quality. The days of scheduled windows and 24 hour turnaround are a thing of the past. People want it now and the market requires immediate work. I start work late in the morning eastern time and I am still voicing west coast TV clients at 8pm eastern.
9) Which production system do you use and why? I like Adobe Audition for voice work. Remember, you have to work fast and Adobe offers the fewest number of keystrokes to code an MP3 file. I am a Pro Tools lover, but to code a mono MP3 file is too many keystrokes, one window even asking for copyright information (silly). My interface is a Focusrite Saffire. It’s easy, has killer headphone amps and offers everything a small Mackie board has.
10) What gear do you use? I use the Sennheiser 416 for TV and I use the Neumann M149 for radio. There is a reason for this that is too long and convoluted to explain here. The 416 matches what TV and film use for mic’ing. TV sets use either the 416 on booms or similar sounding lavalier mics for anchors and sound on tape, so the 416 makes you blend in better. However, the 416 has a characteristics that pick up spit and saliva sounds, is quite colored and has a pick up pattern that is razor thin. The M149 is flatter and warmer with much more room to process if you wish. It has a fatter sound for radio and the bottom end booms. But remember, it is a large condensor mic, so it will pick up all studio noise….literally everything in the room. My channel strips are the API and the Avalon 727. Both are great. One is solid state, the other tube and on the other end, they sound alike. I built an in-home studio 15 years ago. The V/O booth is a custom, octagon shaped room with fiberglass insulation and built in rear wall bass traps. It has its own HVAC system to deal with the heat a human body and equipment generate.
11) What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique everyone should know? Working a flat mic. No, really. The more you process, the worse you’ll sound. If you work a heavily processed mic, The Today Show and NBC News or HBO will fire you on the spot (learned that the hard way). Flat is the reference by which film houses and TV networks produce. If you start turning knobs to make yourself sound good, they’ll know it. I have a simple approach. If you are limiting/compressing more than 6db or EQ’ing more than 5db, you are talking into a brick wall. I am a disciple of Marine Tobias, working the mic close with very little pressure. Let the mic pull the words from your mouth, not the other way around.
12) Do you have a different approach to reading radio imaging copy as opposed to TV/Radio commercial ads? Yes, radio is a single dimension medium with nowhere to hide. It requires a more muscular, one dimensional presentation. All other mediums are more pulled back requiring greater acting ability. Commercial ads and film trailers are the epitome of acting ability and I am still honing this craft. My favorite reads are radio……there’s nothing like working to cut through. Now days, this needs to be moderated somewhat so your voice prints evenly across all platforms. If you are a screamer, you’ll sound yucky online, on a phone or on an I-pad.
13) What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on the radio/television? I immediately cringed and thought I sucked. Fast forward to last night hearing a TV promo?……….Same thing. I am critical of everything I do. It’s a curse that drives me to always work hard to try and sound better. Does it work? I don’t know, because I will always be self critical. I felt the same way driving out of the Lincoln Tunnel starring at Empire State hearing my voice on CBS FM. Seems like a a rough existence, but always running scared has netted me the best result.
14) Being the branding king of New York City for over a decade, are you partial to a good slice of NYC pizza OR living in the D.C. area…some Old Bay seasoned crab legs? Actually, I have been on in New York City continuously since 1996 (on 3 stations). I have been told by many that if a V/O person wants to succeed, your best chance at continuous work is to live in NYC or LA. Sure you can work out of a home studio in Florida and make millions, but if you wanted the edge, living in these primary markets, though expensive, can only help. Lots of people do it and I believe in it. I am born and bred in the DC area, went to the University of Maryland and had all my major market radio successes, all within the 40 mile zone of Baltimore and Washington. Met my wife and had three kids here and really don’t know anything else. Plus, where else can you eat jumbo crabs for $40 a dozen?
15) If you could go back to any decade and hang out which one would you go back to and why? Ok, how’s this for a weird, outdated answer………….the 1940’s. The advent of radio and TV were life changing, to the same extent multiple platforms have changed today’s world. It would be fascinating to see. Second? The 90’s…….radio was still the number two medium, the primary driver of music sales and concert promotion………and all the goodies that came with it. But alas, there is tomorrow and all the blessings that come.
16) If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would it be? Can’t say. My wife would kill me. Bahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!
17) What’s your guilty pleasure? Flying airplanes. I solo’ed on my 16th birthday, have over 1,200 hours flying time, hold Private, Instrument and Commercial licenses. Flying is too expensive for a guy like me and I basically gave it up some time ago. Freelance V/O can be a financially worrisome business and there is only one thing that makes an airplane fly…………money. I have three kids and college to think about. But if you are the next Don LaFontaine with a private jet, I’d love to be your corporate pilot.
18) If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would you go and why? Well, since I haven’t had a week long vacation in over 7 years (welcome to freelance V/O), I’d go to the Florida Keys for 30 days and just chill with the white sand and western sunsets. Oh, and I would hold a drink up high to YOU!!!!!!