Behind The Mic: Nate Johnson
Nate Johnson is an actor and a storyteller. With a naturally friendly voice, he has the ability to switch it up and do impressions, documentaries, cartoon characters, video games, and even accents from New Zealand! How’s it going mate?
1) What radio VO work have you done in the past? I’ve voiced Church’s Chicken for the Inland Empire market and Labatt Blue for the Rochester, NY market and a few others. I also do a mean Delilah impersonation.
2) What are you up to presently? I do most of my work in commercials but my specialty is emceeing awards shows and conferences. For example, I announce all events for Inc. Magazine around the country.
3) What do you love about your job? My favorite part of the job is perking folks’ ears. You hear commercials, promos, emcees every day and you come to expect what it will sound like. I love doing something different so that the audience will turn and pay attention. Hopefully they’ll be entertained.
4) How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig? I moved to NYC to be an actor. I soon found out that was difficult (why didn’t anyone tell me?) but more than that, I was frustrated that teachers didn’t teach you how to get hired and treat acting like a business. I’m a singer so I tried out for a couple VO agents. I thought I was going to rock it. They all said, “Yeah…you need lessons.” Haha. So I talked my HR manager into letting me use my tuition reimbursement for VO lessons. I had an awesome coach who told me if I didn’t want to get paid as a VO actor, I should find a new coach. What a gal. She got me my first job. It was a radio spot for Labatt Blue. Recording took 3 hours and I made more than I did in a month at my job. I was hooked.
5) Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it? Absolutely! I’ve had two coaches, both while in NYC. I couldn’t recommend a coach enough. You think you know technique, but you can’t be as honest with yourself as a coach can. Even Tiger Woods has a coach.
6) Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a VO artist? Modern VO has a big focus on realism and storytelling and I think it makes for much better commercials. But honestly, I love the old Voice of God artists. They were big and bold and ridiculous. They’re memorable, iconic and people love to imitate them. When I do live announcing and product stuff, I try to ham it up as much as possible. Michael Buffer, Bruce Buffer, Don Pardo, and Alan Kalter are big inspirations. On the other end of the spectrum, I love the hilariously dry delivery of Patrick Warburton and H. Jon Benjamin. And last but not least, my mentor, Steve Mackall is a huge inspiration for me.
7) What is your dream gig? As an emcee/VOG, I would love to announce the Oscars. Later in life, I want to announce minor league baseball games…and I want to mow the outfield. No joke. My biggest dream would be to perform in a Pixar movie and a more adult cartoon like Archer.
8) Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry? 1) Get a private voice coach. Private coaching usually costs as much as classes. You can get to know the coach personally, they’ll know your strengths and weaknesses, and they’ll also help you cut your demo. I highly recommend getting coaching from a casting director as he/she can call you in without an agent and of course they can recommend you to agents. As a beginner, this was invaluable for me in terms of “breaking in”. 2) Don’t be deterred if you don’t get a job right away. I got my first job on my third audition, then nothing for 8 months and like 150 auditions. On that 8th month though, I booked the voice of Amazon Kindle Fire. 3) You’re not tied to gatekeepers. Create an Instagram or Youtube channel and do funny stuff there. Be your own brand and don’t wait for someone to say you’re good enough. There’s no grading scale for something subjective like VO. Your voice is unique. Even if you’re terrible, be awesome at being terrible and create your own niche.
9) If you weren’t doing voiceover, what else do you think you’d be doing for a career? Voice over is just one of the things I do. I do online advertising for home improvement companies, I want to work for XPrize, I’m working on becoming an on screen actor.
10) How do you schedule/prioritize your work? I’m honestly always struggling with this. My VO work comes in so randomly that the best I can do as far as scheduling is just record when my room mates aren’t home.
11) How much time do you spend auditioning for new work? At the moment, most of my work has been pre-booked. These are things like live shows. For commercials, it just depends on work that comes in from my agent.
12) How do you market your services to potential clients? My agent takes care of a lot of this. At live shows, it’s much easier. I just come out from behind stage and introduce myself as the VOG. Most people are expecting a portly, old guy. When they see that it was me, it’s usually a fun icebreaker that leads to me handing out my card.
13) What gear do you use? I have an M-Audio condenser mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 preamp. I just use the free version of Audacity and that does the trick for auditions. My walk-in closet is a converted booth.
14) How has new technology changed the way you work? I haven’t been in the game that long so I’m not sure what constitutes “new”. Audio quality plays a huge role in being taken seriously, but you don’t need to have the best, most expensive stuff. When giving a seminar, someone asked Steven King what kind of pencil he used to write with as if that would give them an edge. I try to be great at what I do and if my tech is actually costing me jobs, I’ll update it then.
15) What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique everyone should know? You’re not selling the product. You’re selling the emotion. Learn to elicit an emotion from your audience and your voice will naturally adjust. Use what’s unique and if you need some training for the particulars, get a coach so you’re not guessing at what you need to fix.
16) When it comes to VO work, studio & gear, what are your most ingenious methods/discoveries for saving time and cash? Craigslist and Ebay. There are so many audiophiles out there who don’t have use for their “outdated” equipment, so you can get a steal on great equipment out there.
17) A big difference between commercial and imaging vo…how do you “get rid” of the radio in your voice for commercial VO? Personally, I ham up my radio announcing, imitating big voices and having a ton of fun. I try to entertain the crowd. For commercials, I trust my natural voice and all its imperfections and then I try to just speak to the emotion that the product is meant to make the user feel.
18) You’ve got to harness your acting skills in comm vo, how do you tap into the emotions the script is trying to convey? I learned at Kalmenson & Kalmenson to speak to one person. Use substitutes if you personally connect to a product. And of course, identify what the emotion is you’re speaking to. That’s not always given in the script.
19) To that end, how are you sure you’ve nailed the writers intention for the copy with your VO delivery? Agh, I’m honestly never sure. Ultimately, you just have to choose how it makes you feel and then go for it. Even if you don’t nail the intention, it can give a fresh perspective to the script that the writer hadn’t thought of. Sometimes, that can get you the job.
20) What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on the radio/television? Psh, unbelievable. I never heard the Labatt commercial on the radio because I didn’t live in that area. But I was laying in bed with my girlfriend before she went to work when I pulled up the Amazon ad on my phone. I had just quit my job the day before I booked Amazon so it felt like a huge accomplishment to be paid the day after taking that big risk. It was surreal and awesome to share that moment with someone close to me.
21) If you could go back to any decade and hang out which one would you go back to and why? I like the decade I’m in. But there are some experiences I would have loved to have been present for. I would have loved the suspense and disbelief of the first moon landing. I would have loved the surprise of Darth Vader revealing that he is Luke’s father. I would have loved being at one of the few concerts back in ‘91/’92 where Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were all on the same bill after coming out with three of the most iconic albums of all time.
22) If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would it be? Teddy Roosevelt. Followed by Ben Franklin. Then Casey Neistat.
23) Favorite food? Pepp & Mush all day.
24) What’s your guilty pleasure? I think Sean William Scott is hilarious.
25) What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever dressed as and why? I had no costume one year in college so I took the sheet off my bed and cut three holes in it. I went with friends to Isla Vista in Santa Barbara. Out of the thousands of people there, I never saw one ghost. Sometimes less is more.
26) If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would you go and why? As long as this is a wish, then I would go somewhere you can’t get access. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, Area 51 or the Super-Kamiokande Neutrino Observatory in Japan.