Behind the Mic: John Willyard
John Willyard is a veteran voice artist with experience in radio, television, film, and the voice of the CMAs. He takes us behind the mic to show us more about him and share stories and lessons from his fantastic career.
What radio VO work have you done in the past?
The first station on which I went live on the air — my private liberal arts college station in San Francisco. I was 18. Hired at the end of my freshman year by a local radio network and their flagship station. I was also a personality on two Top 40 and Hot AC stations, including the legendary 94Q (WQXI) Atlanta while simultaneously their imaging/promo voice. My first freelance imaging station was KZLA Los Angeles and the first station I was approached via contract was KATM Modesto-Stockton and have been with them for 31 years. I’ve voiced a few hundred stations through these three plus decades with a current roster of about 90.
What are you up to presently?
My home studio work entails mostly radio station imaging (for about 90 under contract), some commercial and narration work and some TV affiliate work.
Hear John’s Demo!
What do you love about your job?
I live for the entertainment value and art form that it is. I love the visceral reactions, from heartfelt emotion to someone spewing a carbonated beverage out their nose because I voiced something unexpectedly funny.
How did you get started as a VO actor?
The venue of each radio station (and one radio network) I worked within gave me a great opportunity to hone my acting chops that continue to challenge me to this day. In my 20’s I worked with people who had actually been a part of the Golden Age of Radio — immeasurable experience! I was blessed.
What was your first gig? Any memorable ones since then?
College radio work was a blast (being on air 6 hours in the evenings) then my first paid broadcast job was an FM station in San Francisco. Working at the legendary 94Q (WQXI Atlanta) was a pleasure where I performed the high end commercial work, promo voicing/production and some on air shifts. I was the commercial and promo voice for WCW (World Championship Wrestling) for 6 1/2 years until it sold to then WWF. Network TV Specials and Awards shows have been enjoyable and popping in during CMA Awards week at the radio broadcast complex making the rounds and introducing stars and artists impromptu (as well as being interviewed) was a kick.
Who are your VO idols/mentors?
When I was an on air personality, Rick Dees. For purely voice acting/promo work it was everyone from Ernie Anderson to Orson Welles to Bobby Ocean.
If you weren’t doing voiceover, what else do you think you’d be doing for a career?
Wow, I’ve not even thought about it. I just broke out in a cold sweat considering that.
What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on the radio/television?
Hmm, I can live with that. Seriously, at my first station, I did look at an oscilloscope with our chief engineer when some recorded VO was airing and he pointed out some interesting facts about what he heard and saw in my voice.
How has new technology changed the way you work?
Well, I remember the days of recording tape, grease pencils, splicing blocks, so ANYthing digital has improved efficiency, quality and time spent.
What gear do you use on the road? In your studio?
I used to take out a laptop with a Pro Tools M-box while out of town (but I really don’t want to be tied down when gone as I rarely take vacation time). In my home studio, I love my Sennheiser 416 on most work, a big tube mic on a few select projects, and Pro Tools for recording/editing.
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it?
Yes, I did have a session or two with David Lyerly. Saw a small panel session with the great Marice Tobias while at the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville. I do recommend having some coaching and wish I’d taken improv classes, actually. I’ve spent enough years listening and emulating the greats on both radio and TV to think I know what works — at least for me.
How do you schedule/prioritize your work? How much time do you spend auditioning for new work?
I try to “clear the decks” of all work that comes in within a few hours, sometimes turning it around within minutes, just to surprise them. I work on auditioning perhaps better part of an hour each day from auditions that hit my inbox from Atlas Talent.
How do you market your services to potential clients?
Even though I have agency representation, it is still incumbent upon voice actors to “hustle.” I sometimes make cold calls, emailing an appeal with link to audio I want someone to hear.
When it comes to VO work, studio & gear, what are your most ingenious methods/discoveries for saving time and cash?
It’s not necessary to spend big bucks on the most expensive gear. I’ve done well with low cost gear for years.
What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique everyone should know?
I edit all my voice over tracks down to the best takes, even eliminating mouth noise, clicks, etc. Producers love that I save them time and grief.
Do you have a different approach to reading radio imaging copy as opposed to TV/Radio commercial ads?
I think one can have more fun with radio copy, but it seems it needs to be streamlined, cleaned up, and sometimes corrected more than that of TV.
Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry?
Don’t be dismayed by “no.” DO have fun, experiment, find your sweet spot, work to improving your strengths and loves.
If you could go back in time and hang out in any decade, which one would you go back to and why?
Ooh, I think that the early 20th century would be the best in terms of hanging out in those big radio studios, watching them create the magic we know to this day.
Favorite 2 pizza toppings?
Black olives and sausage!
If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would it be?
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