Mr. DK from WPLJ – Dan Kelly Reveals All!!!!
Dan Kelly was kind enough to take a break from his post as Creative Services Director for WPLJ/New York to answer a few of our burning questions.
1. Which production system do you use and why? If I’m producing imaging I use ProTools. Even when I’m just voicing something I’ll usually use ProTools. I guess I just like ProTools. But for straight voice, Cool Edit Pro or Adobe Audition is totally fine too. Though I like manipulating audio and moving pieces around much better with ProTools.
2. What are your favorite plugins? I can’t say that I use many plug-ins for voice work. I generally just let my processor do the work. Maybe I’ll normalize or possibly use a simple compressor to add little extra if the project needs it…Sometimes I’ll use my favorite Renaissance EQ to add a teeny high end to make sure the track doesn’t sound muffled. Producers do different things to a v/o track when putting things together, so I try to send it as “ready to go” as possible. Sometimes a producer will want no compression or EQ so in that case I’ll turn things off and just give the flattest mic I can.
3. What gear do you use (microphone, pre-amp, booth, …)? My main mic is a Sennheiser 416 shotgun. It sits on a little desk stand (one of these days I’ll get an arm). I have a little Pearstone pop shield in front of it. As for a preamp I have an Airtools 6200. I’m not really fantastic as settings mic processors so my good buddy helped me out. I try not to touch it. As for my booth it’s a room in the basement of my house with a lot of foam Auralex panels on the walls. My wife complained about it, but hey…it’s not that bad! And before I treated these walls, it sounded like an echo chamber. It’s a small, extremely square room. Now when you clap your hands, there is no slapback. It’s pretty cool actually. You must be in a dead room to do v/o. Without it, it just sounds echoey and bad. If you don’t want to spend money on panels, hang up some kind of blankets on the walls or something to absorb the sound, rather than reflect it!
4. What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique anybody should know? I really don’t know that I have a great technique per se, except to try to have as many different sounds as you can. Cool, intense, loud, old-fashioned big, friendly…as many things as you can possibly find yourself doing the better. Just try to make sure you’re doing them well. Try listening to other guys and imitating them to figure out how to do new things with your voice and pick up some new styles.
5. How do you schedule your work (priorities)? Well, just like production work I do whatever has to be done first. Some days are busier than others…. there’s no rhyme or reason. Whenever possible, I try to get tracks back as fast as possible to a producer because I’m also a producer and I know what it’s like. The sooner the better, though if I need more time I’ll ask when they really need it by.
6. What do you love about working as a freelance VO talent? Because it’s a lot of fun! Sure it’s also hard work but it’s fun. I love the challenge of trying to deliver the copy in just the right way or make it funny…or whatever it calls for. I’ve had the chance to do some really cool things like voice promos for Nickelodeon, CNN & MLB network among others. I love looking at the copy and I’m trying to perform it perfectly. It’s also a good challenge to try to direct myself in auditions or in a session where there’s nobody on the line with me. I’ve directed lots of other voice talent over the years so hopefully I’m pretty good at directing myself….though it’s always great (and probably better) to get somebody else’s insight and direction. Being able to take somebody’s direction and apply it instantly (and re-read a line or paragraph with that new direction) is so important. Always try to practice that. You’ll only get better with it in time and it’s critical to doing v/o.
7. How did you get started as a VO actor? Like anybody else as a radio DJ I had to read commercials. I was very apprehensive about it when I first started. I remember one time I was working at station in Westchester County New York…I was assigned a commercial to read and I read it in about 43 seconds. I called the production director at home and I told her the spot was short. I read it to her and she said to me “You’re going to read it like that?” As if I read it wrong. Gulp. I was then asked to get Paul Cavalconte in the studio and he sat and read the exact same commercial and it was 1:05. He gave such life to the copy and romanced the words. I believe it was a jewelry store spot and needed the extra emphasis. It was a great learning experience to watch Paul read that. I then continued reading commercials at WPST and when I went to Philly to work at Star 104.5. One particular thing I remember that stood out was when I read a spot for the Nissan Altima. It was very relaxed and friendly read, different from the typical radio announcer read. I remember several people came up to me and said “Dan is that an agency spot?” I wondered if maybe I had gotten better? I always doubted myself… so that gave me a nice boost of confidence. I then started to try to get into some imaging work the best I could….but you have to network and find the work. It rarely comes to you. I remember doing an imaging read and I thought it actually came out actually pretty good which surprised me. At one point I joined voice 123.com. Which turned out to be a really great tool to find work, get practice auditioning and make connections. I booked a few small jobs and a few really cool bigger jobs. So I highly recommend it. There’s a ton more people using the website now than there were seven or so years ago when I started, but I still think it’s a great way to find work. Just make sure you’re ready when you join and that your demos are good. You don’t want to make a bad impression on potential clients. As they say, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” Find a voiceover coach (hopefully one on a recommendation from someone you trust) and work on your craft. Then make a demo only when you’re ready. Don’t waste money making a demo before you’ve had a ton of practice and you’re truly ready.
8. Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a voice-over artist? My voiceover idols and mentors are probably my good buddies Chris Corley and Brian Lee. Brian especially has been a huge mentor, friend and motivator. He constantly kicks my butt and gives me great advice in so many ways. Also I first met Dave Foxx from Z100 maybe 15 years ago and he’s been a really great dude and awesome v/o talent. Also, he may not know it, but James Justice (also known as James Rosenthal) was a big influence on me in Philly. He was our Star 104.5 imaging voice for about a year and a half and he had (and still has!) such a cool refreshing friendly style. He added so much fun with his awesome personality. In some ways I model myself after him. He’s very successful and you hear him everywhere. I’m really happy for him. Check out his demos. You’ll love them. But I appreciate the heck out of a lot of guys these days. Mason Pettit, the awesome Joe Cipriano….it’s really hard since there are so many. Somebody I’m also blown away by is Sean Donnellan. He voices comedy promos for ABC, tons of commercials as well as being an actor and comedian. He’s so versatile it’s ridiculous. He also went to my high school so that’s a plus! There are some guys who can get away with doing one type of read, but I’d try to have as many styles as you can. At least the ones you can do well!
9. What is your dream job? My dream job? I suppose that would be working at WPLJ which I ready have. But as for voiceover….I’d say just being a working v/o actor. Voicing network promos and movie trailers is pretty much the holy grail for v/o guys so continuing along that path would be really cool.
10. What would be your 3 main tips for a youngster trying to start a VO career? Practice practice practice. You can start without even having a microphone to record yourself…but work on controlling your voice and imitating things you hear on TV. Transcribe copy and just keep reading. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Work on your range. You’ll constantly need to “dial it up” or “bring it down” or “add some sarcasm”….and it’s so important to doing v/o. You really have to have that ability and you need to work on it constantly. Whether you improve it through classes, or auditions you get or whatever….Work on your range and be as versatile as you can be!
If you haven’t had a chance to regularly read copy (at a radio station/etc), find a voice coach and take some classes. You’ll learn some good tips on how to attack the copy and get more comfortable reading on a mic and taking direction.
If you’re planning on recording at home, make sure you have a decent quality mic and an acoustically dead room. Lots of people use closets….because the clothes soak up the sound. Whatever it is that works for you, make sure the room sounds good before sending off auditions or sessions to clients. If it sounds good, hopefully they’ll come back. If not, they likely won’t. Send a test file to a friend with experience or somebody who can advise you. I haven’t met or spoken with him, but I’ve heard George Whittam is a major expert in all things studio and he can help you set up the right thing at home. But however you do it, get it set up right and so that you’re comfortable and can record without contorting your body in weird ways! Trust me, many times I read with a blanket over my head. It mostly worked, but it wasn’t great. Make sure your audio sounds good!