Behind the Mic: Mike McKay
Mike McKay: A versatile, veteran communicator who talks to listeners, not at them.
Mike is represented by Nate Zeitz at CESD!
What radio VO work have you done in the past (stations/markets)?
The vast majority of my work has been radio imaging, although I’ve done some TV, Film narration and some national ad campaigns. I’ve been at this a while so I’ve covered some ground….from Toronto to San Francisco, Houston to Bismark and, thankfully, many in between.
What are you up to presently (freelance/on-staff at a station)?
I’ve been a freelancer for 20 years…so I’ve been quarantined since 2000. This is nothing new to me.
What do you love about your job?
The freedom is nice, but I’m still a radio nerd at heart. So dealing with the stations, seeing what makes them tick and combining forces to create new sounds and better ways to entertain and communicate with their listeners. That’s what I love.
Check out Mike’s Imaging Demo:
How did you get started as a VO actor?
I was doing production in Austin at KHFI when my program director (and newly named VP of programming for Clear Channel), John Roberts, asked me to help with some imaging in other markets.
What was your first gig? Any memorable ones since then?
My first was a station in Grand Rapids, MI (I 96)…oddly that ties into one of my most memorable. The program director, Jeff Andrews, ended up giving my name to the Super Radio guys and I landed the job as VO for the syndicated “Open House Party” show for many years. It’s amazing how many people still remember me from that show. Such a gift.
Who are your VO idols/mentors?
There are many. Brian Lee is so good at so many things. Love Scott Mathews, Scott Fisher, Ann DeWig…but Sean Caldwell is my mentor. He has selflessly given so much of himself to me and others. I can safely say I wouldn’t be talking to you without him.
If you weren’t doing voiceover, what else do you think you’d be doing for a career?
I’m sure I’d be working in radio somewhere. Maybe a knee model. I have nice knees.
What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on the radio/television?
Hahahaha. As a DJ, I wasn’t impressed. I wondered why anyone would keep me on, then it came to me. Let that be a lesson to all, working cheap does pay off sometimes.
How has new technology changed the way you work?
It clearly makes things more efficient. I’ll admit to being a late adapter on most things, but digital is better than 15ips and posting/emailing is better than having a daily FedEx pickup. I’m sure the UA Apollo is better than my analog rack and, one day, I’ll find out.
What gear do you use on the road? In your studio?
There are a couple of us who still refuse to take a rig on vacation. I think we all deserve a break from time to time. Besides, my vacation days usually start with a mimosa, so I’d have to record before I woke up and that seems unlikely. My studio is very simple: I need my MKH 416, my EL8, and my Whisper Room. Other than that, I have some gear in the rack that I pop in and pop out, but they’re nothing special and are interchangeable.
Which production system do you use and why? Any favorite plugins?
I’ve used Adobe Audition since Peter Quistgard was calling it “Cool Edit.”
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it?
I’ve never had a professional “coach” but I’ve had some great coaching from PD’s and imaging guys. There are some people out there with a great deal of talent in sound design and the best are gifted communicators with their VO.
How do you schedule/prioritize your work? How much time do you spend auditioning for new work?
It’s difficult to schedule anything when you don’t know that copy is coming. I just try to make myself as available as possible. Auditioning is hit or miss (for me) since radio imaging is my primary focus.
How do you market your services to potential clients?
I work with my agent, Nate Zeitz at CESD, I’ll do the occasional campaign on All Access. My wife is a program director (Leslie Whittle @ KRBE Houston) so I get invited to events where there are a lot of PD’s and very few VO’s…it’s a perk.
Do you have a different approach to reading radio imaging copy as opposed to TV/Radio commercial ads?
Not really. I do my best to read for the project and what kind of message they are trying to send.
Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry?
1. The $2k mic and expensive plug-in interface will not make you sound like Ernie Anderson. And it doesn’t matter what you have if you haven’t spent 50 bucks to sound treat the room. 2. Don’t undersell yourself. 3. Listen to yourself in context. It’s amazing how many times I will hear myself on very similar stations, giving the same read, and I sound “off” on one of them. Always police your work where it is being used. It’s just not that same hearing single, produced pieces in the studio.
If you could go back in time and hang out in any decade which one would you go back to and why?
Definitely the 80’s…that was when music and my hair were at their collective best.
Favorite 2 pizza toppings?
You don’t count cheese as a topping do you? Assuming not, pepperoni and artichoke.
If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would it be?
I’d say Johnny Carson, but I’m afraid he’d disappoint me, so I’ll go with Milton Friedman. A rousing discussion of market economics over cognac is never disappointing.