Our Date with Drew (Carpenter)
Meet Drew. He got his start behind the mic in radio at age 15. He moved on to voice work about 15 years later has since been trusted by some of the most successful brands around to bring the right voice to their advertising. He’s often hired for his hip but relatable sound and his credits include: McDonald’s, Google, Allstate, Carfax and many more. And, oh yeah, he’s also a licensed pilot and skydiver.
First, please briefly introduce yourself by answering these 2 questions: What radio VO work have you done in the past (stations/markets)?
Is this were I get to do my best Troy McClure from the Simpsons? Great. You may rember me from such stations as KENZ Salt Lake, WLXV Cadillac, WWMP Burlington, Channel 11 KTVA and KPAK. I also just narrated a video about how to artificially inseminate a cow. So remember, whatever you are doing today, you are doing alright if you can still see both your elbows.
What are you up to presently (freelance/on-staff at a station)?
Primarily voice over, but I’ve been on staff in one way or another at iHeart Northern Colorado for 15 years now. I voice track a couple of shifts from home (KPAW, KSME) and make it out for big events. Former OM Chris Kelly hired me as his first intern for my first ever job in my Sophomore year of High School. I ran boards, popped tents and snuck a lot of free drinks at the bar remotes through college. After that I was the Promotions Director for a short time and then worked full time in programming until I dropped back to part time a few years ago after the voice over business started to pick up. Eventually, they set me up with a NexGen machine at home and that has allowed me to keep my foot in the radio door. Everyone there is like family and I feel damn lucky to be able to do both.
What do you love about working as a freelance VO talent?
It’s fun because there is no right way to do it and the possibilities are endless, but the subjectivity of what’s “good” can really be frustrating at times. I also enjoy the entrepreneurial aspects. The feedback is so much more direct. If you come up with a killer demo or marketing plan and it works, you reap 100% of the rewards. Though, the inverse is true as well. Starting off each month without a guaranteed paycheck can be stressful. But you learn after a while that as long as you keep putting yourself out there and doing the leg work, you will keep booking and be able to pay the bills.
Another thing that drew me to the business is the freedom. As long as you have a quiet room and the internet you can work from anywhere. I have a 2nd very small studio in San Diego where I work all day and surf every evening for a few months a year. Not being tied to one place makes up for the fact that, as a VO, you can’t really just take a week off. Taking time off is possible but not practical. I’ve gotten too many gigs because the usual guy took a vacation without his gear, so that’s always in the back of your mind.
How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig?
Totally random. I was shortlisted for a SAG commercial campaign on a fluke, didn’t book it. I was having a bad week at the radio station and one night I sent out resumes to a bunch of places, one of which was a recording studio in Denver. Six months later I got an email requesting an audition for a TV campaign they were casting for. I knew absolutely nothing of the VO industry and hardly remembered sending the resume, but somehow ended up on their list. I (very wrongly) assumed I would have a big leg up being a radio guy. I got a call a week later saying the client had narrowed it down to just me and one other guy. I had no idea of the pay and didn’t expect much, having only worked in radio. When they told me what a Union TV campaign paid, I got interested real fast. I didn’t get the job but the industry had my attention. After that I got a subscription to one of the pay-to-play sites, and out of sheer beginners luck, booked the 2nd job I auditioned for. I didn’t book another for at least 200 auditions, go figure.
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it?
I still work with 2 coaches regularly. I don’t personally don’t know any talent succeeding consistently at the higher levels that doesn’t have a regular coach. I’m sure there are some, but they are the exception. You really can’t trust your own ears. You need someone who knows the business to be honest with you about what you are doing with your reads and to show you sides of yourself and your voice that you would never find on your own. That and the fact that when you are a one man show and there is no set path to establishing yourself in the industry. It really helps to have someone who’s been there show you the way. It’s invaluable.
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Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a VO artist?
Chris Fries and David Lyerly have been a great friends and mentors to me since day one. When I decided I wanted to do VO I emailed a bunch of guys on one of the big name LA agency rosters and Chris was one of them. He is one of those rare and awesome people who loves paying it forward in the industry and has been incredibly generous with his time and knowledge. He’s works at the highest levels of the business everyday, and every time we talk I’m reminded why. His talent and drive are remarkable.
I’ve been working with David, who is a former agent at Atlas Talent, for several years and wouldn’t be where I am now without his help. In addition to being a great guy, he’s got the best ears in the business and is a brilliant and patient teacher. He has been listening to and directing the best actors in VO for years and understands the business better than almost anyone. I can’t thank either of them enough.
What is your dream gig?
I’d like to do more in animation. The one major downside to doing VO full time, for me at least, is working alone. Working from home has it’s upsides too. You can make a big breakfast or whatever between sessions every morning and sleep in occasionally. You can work in sweats, which everyone seems to think is so great but personally, I like to prove I can dress myself everyday. It’s a battle I know I can win and those can be hard to come by. Really, I just miss being part of a team. Animation has that element. Less waffles and you need at least a pair of jeans but it’s all done in the same padded room with other live human beings, usually very fun ones. Luckily, I can always drive in and bother people at the radio station, which I often do on slow days.
Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry?
One, Find a mentor and a good coach. Two, don’t expect it to come quick, you will get discouraged, expect it. Three, don’t be cheap. Meaning, don’t be that guy or girl asking what’s wrong with a $25 mic on the bulletin boards and doing jobs on Fiverr. Like attracts like. Aspire to work with producers who want their work to be the best, that will make you be your best. This is an art as much as a business and it’s your business and your art, take pride in it! There are so many things in the industry you can’t control, you have to be all over everything you can and make it the best it can be. Equipment, website, marketing, training, etc. Don’t skimp on your own business and don’t work with people who are skimping on theirs by trying to hire you cheap and put out crap work. The cheap skates are always harder to work with than the pros. Be the best you can be and work with the most talented people you can find.
How do you schedule/prioritize your work?
Ever seen that game Whack a Mole? That’s a bad analogy but stuff pops up and you take care of it. I’ve tried to impart some more structure to my day but it usually goes out the window when emails start coming in. Some days it’s all paid work and some days all auditions and some neither. Every client and agency works differently and after a while you get better at picking up their vibe and knowing how much time you have before they start wondering where their audio is. Commercial stuff is generally done in live sessions booked a day or two out. Automotive is always needed yesterday. Imaging can go either way. A lot of the time it depends on the format, but the PD plays a big role too. I had a guy recently who would text me his liners at like, 8pm every Friday wanting them that night. Mind you, this was a Classic Rock station, not News Talk, and he did it consistently. I’ll always hop in the booth at an odd time to help someone out of a jam, eventually though you have to realize some people are just not respectful. Thankfully, people like that are few and far between. I mean, there’s something to be said for being Johnny on the spot, and that’s an awful pun, but you have to be these days. However, you also have to set limits and manage expectations if you want to have any sanity. Good clients will respect that and those are the ones you’re happy to help out late on a holiday weekend when they need it.
Basically, my goal each day is to get done with all the “must do’s” so I can have some time to try and grow new business. That and waste a minimum amount of time on the internet. Of course the goal is to get to the point where your entire day is doing paid work, but I don’t know anyone who’s gotten there yet. That’s voice over’s Great White Buffalo.
There is also a trap that comes when you get just enough clients to pay your bills. It becomes very tempting to open up 20 tabs in Chrome and waste the rest of your work day watching stupid videos. You have to realize that just because you are sitting at your desk on Tuesday morning doesn’t mean you are working, unless you get a salary. In that case, watch as many cat videos as you can without getting fired.
How much time do you spend auditioning for new work?
A lot, auditioning is the job. Bookings are the fun part.
How do you market your services to potential clients?
You’ve got to try as many things as possible. Have you heard the phrase, Ready, Fire, Aim? Basically, try something, evaluate the results, and try for a little better on the next shot. This isn’t a shuttle launch. No one dies if you screw up an email blast or overvalue a keyword. In marketing, done is always better than perfect. Finding 10 wrong ways to do something will get you to the right way a lot faster than deliberating about the best way and doing nothing but second guessing yourself. You have to be okay wasting some time and money to find out what works best for you. In the end, it’s really just about having systems and being consistent.
Which production system do you use and why?
Adobe Audition. I learned on it and figured there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken. Lots of people say one is better than another. I say pick whichever you want because your choice of DAW has little to no relation to the quality of your final product. The one thing I would say is don’t get Pro Tools unless you are already very familiar with the program or have ambitions in sound design or music production. It takes much longer to get even just proficient with than most DAWs and is touchy when it comes to updates and equipment. And remember, there’s are more than a few seven figure talent out there still using SAW and it’s older than the Simpsons.
What are your favorite plugins?
Depends on the end use. Most of the stuff I send out is dry voice to be produced elsewhere, so I leave it basically flat. Usually, just a little compression from an outboard unit, a low cut filter from the pre, and I hard limit my tracks in the box with no make up gain. Just a hair cut to grab any stray peaks, normalize it,and off it goes. Also, some gating if I’m not in my home studio. A lot of producers will say they hate getting gated audio but the Symetrix’s downward expander is so good no one even even knows when it’s working.
What gear do you use (microphone, pre-amp, booth, etc)?
I work from a spare bedroom. I had a whisper room and couldn’t stand it. It felt like a coffin. I got rid of that pretty quick and modified my office with double drywall and GIK acoustic treatment. I like having the space to move around. There are train tracks about a half mile from my house, so I have to stop for about 90 seconds twice a day, but there’s not much I can do about that. I do wonder about (and envy) all these custom constructed, floating room studios. Every time I start thinking about one though, I think of all those videos on YouTube of Joe Cip doing promos for Fox from his car and think, do I really need that? Would even that block out a train whistle?
As far as my audio chain goes, I have the obligatory Sennheiser MKH416, which was an easy choice to make. It’s used by some of the biggest names in the business. It sounds amazing when it’s placed correctly, which takes a lot of experimentation, but once you figure it out, it has something that other mics just don’t. In addition to it’s sound, I suspect it’s still so popular because it’s such a great travel mic. Meaning it sounds pretty good even under a blanket in a hotel room, it’s small and durable, made to swing around on a boom in the rain with a dead cat on it.
It also has an interesting history that I just read about the other day. As the story goes, it got popular after Ernie Anderson, who was the voice of NBC and a ton of other really big stuff, refused to record in a sound booth. The engineers needed a mic that would sound good when placed on a table in the control room, and the 416 was it. You couldn’t do that with a LDC.
I plug the 416 into a Grace M101 Preamp which is about as clean as they come and made by some very nice folks just down the road in Boulder, CO. Then through a Symetrix 6200 outboard digital channel strip with some very light EQ and, and then on to the computer or ISDN.
It can be fun to get caught up in gear but, at the end of the day, I think equipment is maybe 1-2% what really makes someone successful. A great read will book from a cell phone recording, but if your read isn’t dialed in, all the Manly tube amps in the world aren’t going to help you.
What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique everyone should know?
Hotkeys for editing. If you use a function more than once a day, make sure you don’t have to look or move your hand to access it. Cut, copy, paste, +1db, -1db, record, normalize, hard limit, etc. Audition has a feature called Auto Heal that is awesome for fixing mouth noise and other unwanted squeaks.
That, and listen to your audio on something other than your studio monitors. Test important mixes on cheap earbuds, cheap computer speakers,and in the car, in addition to well balanced studio monitors. After a while you get a sense for it and don’t need to use all the sources, but it really helps for important projects to establish a baseline for what something sounds like to the average person listening. That and make sure to mix broadcast spots with the music a little too hot. Most people probably know that though. Station processors are very good at bringing out voice and that has to be compensated for when you are listening through a set of monitors tuned for accuracy. Lots of clients complain at first but once they hear it on the air, they thank you. I’ve found the best way to do this is by setting levels when monitoring at very low volume. Turn it down, down, down until you can barely understand the words and then set the bed level. No clue why that works but it’s been a pretty solid method for me lately.
When it comes to VO work, studio & gear, what are your most ingenious methods/discoveries for saving time and cash?
I’m conflicted about this one because I’m a strong believer that you need to stand up and act without distractions to deliver a good read, but I just broke down and installed a mic at my editing desk. It’s a real time saver to not have to print scripts or walk to the keyboard just to insert a pick up or whatever. I still print scripts and stand up for live sessions though.
Also, I just got the program call Mouse Without Borders. It lets you use the same mouse and keyboard on two entirely different computers, as long as they are on the same network. The cursor just moves seamlessly to the other monitor like you had dual monitors but they are different computers. It’s amazing. Now that I think about it, maybe I should get out more.
Do you have a different approach to reading radio imaging copy as opposed to TV/Radio commercial ads? (if applicable)
They are two different businesses, with different protocols, but seem to be trending towards favoring more similar reads than in the past. An imaging voice is more of a team member than a hired gun. Not that the voice of an ad campaign shouldn’t try to be a team player, but their role is much more specialized. If you’re doing a session for a big TV commercial and they need to change the copy, the voice guy isn’t really a part of that discussion. The VO just sits in the booth and plays Angry Birds or whatever until the creative team figures it out. It would be like involving your painter in a discussion of what color you want your house. It’s just not the VO’s place to meddle in the particulars. You get hired for a few minutes to say what they tell you to, but the strategy of the campaign is usually above your pay grade. In radio, it’s much more personal and low key. You work with your stations every month and radio people all kind of get each other and have the same sense of humor, so it’s more relaxed. If you miss the mark on a few outtakes, no one cares. There’s also the fact that you are working with the end user in radio. Commercial sessions are a little more tense because those campaigns cost a lot to air and generally you’re working for a producer, who is working for an advertising firm with multiple people on the account, who are all working for the end client, so there’s a lot more people trying to impress one another.
The one thing that’s similar is that good acting will dominate in either field. I think the true test of a voice actor is can they tell a joke. Having a deep voice just doesn’t cut it anymore, in advertising and radio, everyone wants a personality who can tell a joke and make stuff funny. Not just a big, ballsy read. That’s kind of going out, everyone, radio included now specs for “conversational”, which is like the color 6, it’s non direction and it’s in every spec. They might as well say they want a really good voice over. But if you can make stuff funny, you can do anything. Humor is hard to do well, especially with other people’s words and the price for failure is high. We have all heard those cringe worthy promos or commercials that try too hard and fail. It’s the worst feeling ever when it’s you, eeek. So I try not to be that guy with radio or commercial copy.
What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on the radio/television?
I was on the air at 17, so I was pretty stoked. After a while though, you realize that this is just entertainment and advertising, and your job isn’t more important than anyone else’s, despite having the mystique that broadcast does. There are people out there curing disease, building roads, really important stuff. We just read scripts to convince people to buy Shake Weights, or watch Modern Family, or whatever. Still though, radio and VO are special and have a lot of magic in them. I feel very lucky to be able to be a small part of it all.
Favorite TV show of all time?
Seinfeld, hands down. Though I have been a big fan of Parks and Rec lately. Ron Swanson is a modern hero.
If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would it be (non-family)?
Bill Murray or Dave Grohl. That story about Bill Murray driving a cab around NYC for 2 hours so the guy who owned the cab could pratice saxaphone in the back has always stuck with me. That dude just has fun with life.
What’s your professional wrestling name?
Is this like that thing where you pair the name of your first dog with the first street you lived on? Isn’t that suppose to be your… um. It’s Chester Hotchkiss. The formula works.
Biggest Pet Peeve?
THE ALL CAPS THING. WHO DECIDED SCRIPTS SHOULD BE IN ALL CAPS and WHYYY?? It’s not 1985 and it makes your script look like it was written by internet trolls. Wingdings would be a better choice.
That, and restaurants that don’t have Tabasco. It’s a staple! More and more places are replacing it with lesser hot sauces. Terrible trend. I just bring my own now and deal with the looks. That’s also a great way to weird out your date.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Working in Top 40 radio for so long will make you like a lot of songs you really shouldn’t. Let’s just say I have to drive with my windows up more than I’d like. Also, hot sauce and craft beer, but I’m not as ashamed of them as I am of accidentally enjoying Chris Brown songs.
Dogs or Cats?
Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?
Back in 1990? In a trunk in my basement? Oh, you mean the board game?