Behind the Mic: Roberta Solomon
Roberta has been a full time voice artist for over 20 years. Calling herself a radio and TV “lifer,” she’s imaged hundreds of stations, has voiced promos on every major television network, and narrates documentaries, concert spots and movie trailers. In a former life, she did morning radio with her husband in Kansas City, appeared on a sketch comedy show carried on Sirius/XM, and drew a rabid following as a TV Horror Host.
What radio VO work have you done in the past (stations/markets)?
The bulk of my imaging work has been for AC and Soft AC, Newstalk and Sports radio, and I’ve voiced some legendary stations: WCCO/Minneapolis, KPRI/San Diego, KEZK/St. Louis, WDBO/Orlando, WMGC/Detroit, The Game/Portland, etc.
I currently image radio stations in about 20 markets, including KCBS/San Francisco, Sunny 92.3/Chattanooga, CV 1043/Palm Springs, and I’ve been the sponsorship voice of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network for 14 seasons.
I’m also the branding voice of a number of TV stations around the country and pop up regularly on network TV. (Jimmy Kimmel Live, Late Late Show with James Corden, NBC Sports, Reelz, Adult Swim) I’ve narrated documentaries for NatGeo, Discovery and Smithsonian Channel and have voiced a handful of movie trailers.
Check out some of Roberta Solomon’s demos:
What do you love about your job?
Well, I’m doing what I was put on the face of the earth to do, and I’m happy every time I’m behind the mic! I fell in love with radio in part because it was a mysterious kind of story-telling, and the “theater of the mind” aspect of VO, regardless of the project, still excites me. Whether I’m voicing a radio imaging piece, a promo or long-form narration, I get to tell stories for a living and how cool is that? But what I really love is when the producer shares a finished piece with me and I can “hear” the story. Creating radio and TV is a communal act, and when I hear how all the elements fit together because of our collaboration, and especially when the CLIENT is happy, that’s the real gift of this work.
How did you get started as a VO actor?
In college, I was a semester away from a degree in theater when I was invited to audition for the campus radio station. The minute I opened the mic for the first time, I knew I’d found my path. Within months, I’d moved to another station in the market, and producers and local ad agency folks started calling the station to see if I was available to voice spots for them. My outside work began to grow and after a few years I joined with a group of busy voice actors to co-found a talent agency. Eventually, it got to the point where I was doing so much outside VO work that it was conflicting with my “real job” on the radio. At that point, I put a studio in my home and stepped into voiceover work full time.
Who are your VO mentors?
The late Drew Dimmel, a talented VO and on-camera actor from Kansas City, was the first guy I knew who was voicing radio and TV stations from home. He was the most generous mentor and basically gave me a template for how to run a VO business. I got a lot of radio-specific guidance early on from consultants: Dick Stadlen (who was also the first to hire me as an image voice), Vallie Richards Donovan, Gary Berkowitz, McVay Media, Holland Cooke, Albright & O’Malley & Brenner, etc. VO legends Joe Cipriano and Beau Weaver were incredibly helpful. Pat Garrett introduced me to my first imaging agent. My current “VO Tribe of Counselors” includes Ann Dewig, Jen Sweeney, Virginia Hamilton and Steve Stone.
I admire not only their work but also how loved they are by their clients.
If you weren’t doing voiceover, what else do you think you’d be doing for a career?
I’ve always been fascinated by the science of sound, and could easily see myself as an audio engineer or field producer. There’s some amazing work going on now researching ocean sounds — I’d love to be out on a boat planting hydrophones and listening to whales. Bernie Krauss’ Wild Sanctuary Project is fascinating: recording and archiving the soundscapes of the natural world. I’d go to work for him in a heartbeat.
How has new technology changed the way you work?
It’s made the work so much easier, but it’s also turned VO into a solitary job. On the one hand, the technology has freed us: with the right gear, voice work can be done from anywhere. On the other hand, we’re often alone in our booth for hours at a time. And the more successful you are as a voice talent and the bigger the projects you work on, the more isolated you can become.
The days of “next day turnaround” are over; producers often need their VO tracks back within the hour, sometimes late at night, early in the morning, often on the weekends. It’s part of the job to be available whenever you’re needed, and depending on the type of work you’re doing it can be nearly impossible to unplug. The voiceover joke is: “You wanna book a big job? Try to take a vacation.”
In addition, technology has changed the way we tell stories, and that’s changed the VO performance. Social media in particular has had a huge impact on the “sound” of voiceovers. That’s why working with coaches is more important now than ever.
What gear do you use on the road? In your studio?
In my home studio, I use a Sennheiser 416 most of the time and a Neumann U-87 on occasion. I pair the 416 with a vintage Focusrite Red-7 processor, and I also use an Avalon 737 from time to time. I built out a gorgeous studio above the garage in my last house, but when I moved cross-country to an apartment a few years back, I bought a double-walled Vocalbooth with a floating floor and a window.
I carry another Sennheiser 416 when I travel, run it through a Scarlet 2i2 interface, and plug it into my laptop. In addition, I’ve got a little Apogee mic that I toss into my purse for emergencies when I’m in transit. I can plug that into my phone for quick fixes; I once used it to record tags for a TV spot while sitting under a massage table at an airport spa. (Long story.)
I use Adobe Audition in both my home and main travel studios because it’s the software I’ve used forever, but if I’m recording on a mobile device, I use Twisted Wave.
For longer projects when I’m traveling or if there’s a ton of work, I’ll sometimes book a session at a pro studio and let someone else handle the recording
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it?
Yes and yes. I’ve worked with voiceover coaches for years and it’s been an essential part of my growth as a VO artist. Each coach has different techniques and tools but they all focus on the same thing: helping you get out of your own way so you can best serve the story with your voice.
A good coach will not only teach you how the structure of each genre of VO differs, but can also help you identify the trends in VO and how to stay current with your read. That can be really difficult to do on your own, when you spend all day talking to yourself in a booth.
I’ve worked with Marice Tobias for years. She’s kind of legendary, and has coached most of the top VO artists in the biz. I’ve also studied with David Lyerly, Bob Bergen (for character VO) and Dave Walsh. In addition, I’ve trained with a number of singing coaches, which has been helpful in learning how the voice actually works and ways to keep it healthy.
How do you schedule/prioritize your work? How much time do you spend auditioning for new work?
There’s no real schedule to my day; I voice projects as they arrive, prioritizing by the deadline, and I juggle sessions all day long. I live on the West Coast but I’ve got a lot of East Coast clients, so my days start early. Directed sessions (usually narrations or network promos) are scheduled ahead, so on those days I work everything else around those bookings. But it’s not unusual for me to start recording a project and then receive a promo that has to be cut immediately or an audition due within an hour. So I drop what I’m doing to accommodate the most pressing deadline. Auditions can come all day long, and I average about five a day. There will always be a couple of auditions due first thing the next morning, so sometimes I’ll record those after dinner.
I’ve always told people that if you’re not dealing with ADHD before you begin a voiceover career, you will be once you’ve done it for a while. If you’re working a lot, it’s a life of constant interruption.
Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry?
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The art of VO is what you’ll spend the rest of your life studying. And just when you think you’ve “got it,” the art form will change. That’s the exciting part to me, and it’s why this work is never boring.
- The gear is not the career. VO folks love to talk about what mic they’re using and how they’ve constructed their studio. And yes, you need to know how to set up a studio, record, edit and deliver broadcast-quality audio. But those are merely the tools for the work, not the work itself.
- It’s not a hobby, it’s a business. If you’re serious about getting into VO and don’t know how to run a small business, you’ll need to learn. Should you become a Corporation? How will you market yourself and to whom? What are the particular needs of your potential clients? As your business grows, developing a trusting relationship with a bookkeeper, accountant and lawyer is important, and each of those people needs to be familiar with media and entertainment.
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