Inside The Booth With Greg Simms
What do you love about working as a freelance VO talent? That I get to spend the day in a quiet house while the kids are at school, just me and our dog ‘Buddy’, without my two boys fighting or asking me to cook them something! Plus the fact that I can be as busy as I want to be.
How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig? My first paid VO gig was in 2006 for “The Michael Jackson Commemorative Coin” (and he was still alive then too, go figure). My wife got me the job cuz she worked on another job, on camera, for the producers. She told them I was on the radio and could voice any projects for them. So I drove up to Orange County from San Diego to their studios, I was treated like an absolute pro by these folks, got in the booth and started reading the copy and it just wasn’t happenin’…and the worst part was…they could tell I’d never done this before. So, we tried it several different ways, and finally the Executive Producer steps in to the booth and handed me a check for $750 and very kindly said, “Thank you for your time”. HAAHAAAHAAA!!!! It was then that I realized that just because I had been behind the mic on the radio for almost 20 years in NO WAY qualified me to be a voice actor! In fact, the only 2 things voice over and radio have in common are headphones and a mic…and that’s it!
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it? OHHHH YEAHH!!!!!!!! If you want to be a voice actor, you absolutely have to have several coaches and take multiple classes. If you meet a successful voice actor who says they never took a class, they are the exception and not the norm. Like I said, it’s acting, whether you’re narrating an audio book or reading a tag for a local car dealership, you should be using some form of acting, and that can only be learned in classes, workshops, and mentoring. I would highly recommend Kalmenson & Kalmenson in Burbank., Harvey and Cathy are among the top. They’ve been in the business of voice over and voice casting for over 30 years and they really know their stuff! Marice Tobias is insanely amazing, she’s like the Cesar Millan of the voice over world. Pat Fraley is the absolute authority on narration and audiobooks. Bob Bergen, aka The Voice of Porky Pig is the BEST for animation. Elaine Craig is also outstanding! Mary Lynn Wissner at Voices Voice Casting is the best for workshops with industry pros, and then find a successful voice actor you look up to, contact them and ask them to help you. I’ve never experienced a business like voice overs where other actors are so nice and willing to help, it’s just incredible! Also, if someone is just starting out and needs free information, go to you YouTube and search “Bill DeWees”. I really respect what he’s done building a six figure voice over career on his own; he has tons of videos on YouTube that I have found SO helpful!
Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a VO artist? The biggest would have to be my friend Joe Cipriano. I’ve known and admired Joe since the early 90s when he was our ‘voice guy’ on Star 100.7 in San Diego. I used to sit quietly in the background listening in on the ISDN sessions he’d have with our Imaging Director, Tom Watts. I would say to myself, “WOW, I would love to do something like that someday” (p.s. – I’m still waiting, LOL). When I worked at Star 98.7 in L.A. he would let me meet him at CBS and watch him do live sessions for the network…then he would hop in to his convertible Jaguar and rush off to his next session. That’s when it hit me…THAT’S what I wanna do!!! Who wouldn’t, right? He has definitely helped me over the years with great advice, and he and his whole family have become great friends in the process.
Two other incredibly successful voice actors, who just happen to live literally down the street are Scott Rummell and Chris Fries. They have both opened up their homes, their studios, and their worlds to me and have taught me things that I will never forget for the rest of my life. Their generosity is so humbling. My friend and agent Anthony Kotan has always been there for me and helped me get started, produced my very first demo and never charged me a thing.
My all time favorite voice guy…and who wouldn’t agree…would have to be Ernie Anderson. His style wouldn’t fit today, but in the 70s and 80s he was KING! I don’t think there’s a week that goes by where I don’t imitate him and yell out, “Spittin’ fire, from the top of the Empire” or “Live, high atop Sunset and Vine”…nobody has or ever will do that stuff better than Ernie!
What is your dream gig? I would love to sign a 40 year guaranteed six figure contract with a major network, doing all my voice work ISDN from a beautiful home in the Italian Countryside in the majestic hills around Florence. Script in one hand and cappuccino in the other!
Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry? Funny question, cuz I still consider myself a newbie…I’ve got SO much still to learn and develop. But, for anybody who is where I was just a few short years ago, try these 3 things:
1) Have a good quiet place to record in your home: a decent mic, a computer and good editing software like Adobe Audition or Twisted Wave. I started my career in a closet with my down comforter clamped up behind me for 3 years.
2) Find a class/coach/workshop: I mentioned some earlier, but those are only if you’re in the Southern California area. A lot of coaches do lessons via Skype, but also try Edge Studio in NYC, they do TONS of coaching online. And by the way, it’s in these classes where you’ll figure out if you CAN and WANT to be a voice actor. They will stretch you and challenge you like nothing else, but it’s for the better!
3) If you don’t land an agent right away, you’re going to need a place to put in to practice all that you’re learning by auditioning on a regular basis. That’s why I recommend either Voices.com or Voice123. If you have a decent enough place to record and are acquiring all kinds of new knowledge in classes, what better way than to sign up on these sites and start practicing. Even if you never book a job, which is highly unlikely, you’re still getting practice on a daily basis. I’m friends with a guy on Voices.com who does 60 to 80 auditions a day, and has for years – and makes over six figures a year doing it mostly by building clients over the years.
How do you schedule/prioritize your work? It all depends on the client’s deadline. Most of the time, they need the work done within 24 hours, but at least once a day I get a job where they need it back immediately. One thing to watch out for is being TO available. Being busy and making money is a good thing, but I have clients in France, Switzerland, Germany, Israel, Lebanon, India, and Ireland who are ALL on different times zones. They email you in the middle of the night (on the west coast) and need a job right away, LOL!!! Heck, I even have a client in L.A. who seemingly begins his work around 11pm every night and emails me things he needs back right away…and multiple takes!!! Hahahahaa! It’s a fine line between being accessible or being a ‘doormat’. The more busy you become with clients that you’ve secured, it’s good advice to have some “normal operating hours”.
How much time do you spend auditioning for new work? I usually have about a half a dozen priority auditions every day, so it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours. “The audition IS the job” – some people I know just blow through them really fast, but I’ve learned that it’s the audition that secures you the work. Once you book the gig and are at the session, the client loves you…you’re all good! But the audition is what gets you there, so it’s incredibly important, and you should spend as much time as it takes to get it to sound best…without over-thinking it LOL!
How do you market your services to potential clients? Not as much as I should. Chris Fries, one my mentors, is the master at this. He sends out emails and marketing materials a few times a year. I learned from him you have to constantly remain top-of-mind to your clients without being annoying or pushy. Establishing a good relationship with them, and then casually shooting out emails a few times a year with a list of your latest projects and/or links to projects you’ve done is a good way.
But, between running another business with my wife, have another job of my own, and raising two boys…if anybody knows how to find time to do this PLEASE let me know!!
What gear do you use? I have the 4×6 Whisper Room. Inside the booth I have a monitor that’s mounted and mirrored to my laptop outside the booth. A Sennheiser 416, Neumann U87, and a Blue Reactor mic. A Neve Portico 2 Channel Strip, an Apogee Duet 2 interface that goes to my MacBook Pro, where I use Adobe Soundbooth.
On the road I bring my Sennheiser 416 that I plug in to my CEntrance MicPort Pro. Believe it or not, a car with cloth seats in a quiet spot is the best place to record on the road. I was recently in Napa and I parked our car on a quiet street next to The French Laundry. Hung the Sennheiser over the sun visor and plugged it in to my laptop sitting in the passenger seat. I turned the A/C on low to keep cool and sat there for an hour voicing stuff. Then went back to the hotel and used their WiFi to send it off…it was AWESOME!!
How has new technology changed the way you work? (hahahaa, see the answer to the previous question)
What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique everyone should know? Make sure your environment is quiet and is soundproof as possible, Native Remedies Mucus-Clear drops, and George Whittam’s cell phone number!
Do you have a different approach to reading radio imaging copy as opposed to TV/Radio commercial ads? Most definitely!!!! You have to be VERY VERY careful when switching back and forth between the two. For example, I can’t do certain jobs after I’ve just recorded a session for a radio station imaging. You’re just in such a different place in your head, even the way you position your body, as opposed to reading copy for a Lexus spot. I have to space them out, I have to step out of the booth for a while, go play with the dog, get something to drink or eat, then go back in and switch gears. You will find in the voice over world that people who come from a “radio” background are in some way looked down upon. There’s a “radio sound” that they can spot in an instant and you’re dead meat! My agent Anthony spent a lot of time with me working to shed that sound, and I didn’t have it as bad as some. It took me a while to wrap my head around this fact that at the core of this business you’re an actor, and you must think like one when performing; learn acting techniques and methods, if you ever want to make it in this business, it’s tough. Having a background as an actor for TV or Film, OR in Improv or Stand-up Comedy prepares you MUCH more for voice over than a radio background does. You can do it, it just takes more work…but it’ll pay off!