Samurai of the Studio or Voice of the Week: Harry…
1. Which production system do you use and why? Pro Tools – I’ve been using it since the mid 90’s when I was lucky enough to work for a station that was very forward thinking for the time and let loose of a nice chunk of capital budget. Blank CD’s were $14 a piece and the CD burner was 2k back then!
2. What are your favorite plugins? My new favorite plug-in is the Ozone 5 mastering plug-in – I just started using it this past week and am still learning to tweak it – but it is making a substantial difference on my final mixes. Other than that, the typical Waves plug-ins along with a few others like Melodyne. I also use Source-Connect and have had plenty of great results doing international VO sessions from NYC to Sydney and to Dublin.
3. What gear do you use (microphone, pre-amp, booth, …)? I use the Sennheiser 416 with a Manley Voxbox. I also have the Neumann TLM 103 which comes in handy when I have a singer in the studio or if I just need a different sound. The real gem is that Manley Voxbox – it makes ALL the difference in the world. Most VO talents skimp on their mic preamp… Now, I’m not saying you have to have the Manley which is really pricey – but using the typical radio station Symetrix unit versus a higher-quality mic pre can really bring your mic to life and give you a really clean, transparent and full sound.
4. What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique anybody should know? My favorite little trick is to add distortion to the voice. It doesn’t sound good if you solo your VO track – but in the mix over a song or over imaging effects it can be really cool.
5. How do you schedule your work (priorities, etc.)? By deadline. Every morning I plot out what needs to be done for the day and in what order I should handle it. In a perfect world, I try to leave time for last minute emergencies. There’s also a bit of a routine and I know when my clients need their stuff. It doesn’t matter if the client is large or small – they all should get the same quality of service. I handle the Benztown News/Talk Imaging service – so breaking news stories and the recent rash of celebrity deaths can turn things upside down…but I’m part of a great team and if I can’t jump on something right away, there’s usually someone that is in a position to help.
6. What do you love about working as a freelance VO talent? Where do I begin? Freedom! I have worked in radio for over 25 years (I started at 14) and without getting all negative, we know it is no longer the business it once was – people are stressed doing multiple jobs and for less money…and jobs are far more scarce. So, I enjoy being able to help the PD’s and Imaging gurus at my client stations – anything I can do to make their job easier is always my goal. I have a lot of international clients and it’s a ton of fun talking with people all over the world. I also love the diversity of projects…one minute I’m reading a narration for NASA, the next minute I’m “droppin’ the phat joints” for a Hip Hop client or I’m voicing “Judge Judy Today at 4” for a TV affiliate client. I love setting my own hours and I insist on having a quality personal life. I know far too many who put in crazy long hours constantly and it is so unhealthy. Now, I’m all for being a hard worker and going above and beyond – but you HAVE to take care of yourself. Jeapordizing your physical and mental health, your relationships with a spouse, family and friends is just not worth it to me. Running my own VO business has afforded me the opportunity to really take care of myself. Everyday, almost without fail, I’m out the door at 6PM to head to martial arts training. I’ve been doing it for 4 years and it has made an enormous impact on my life. I should also say what I don’t like… It can be stressful when you are having to juggle cash flow because clients haven’t paid in time – a regular paycheck from a station is a good thing. I do miss the daily comraderie you have at a station with a healthy environment, and I despise all the tax and accounting crap you need to handle. Overall, I’m very happy that I got shoved out the door from a station about 6 years ago. I could have moved for another gig – but after 8 markets and jobs only lasting 2, 3 or 4 years each on average – you ask yourself, “When will this stop?” The answer is never – since it is the nature of the radio biz…PD’s change, formats flip, ownership changes, blah, blah, blah. So, I decided to stay put in the NYC area and make this happen one way or another. I’m not sure if I’ll ever step foot into a station again – if I do, I’ll have to work mostly from home. I’ve learned to not put all my eggs in one basket and at this point, I couldn’t give up everything I’ve built and everything I’m continuing to build.
7. How did you get started as a VO actor? I spent the majority of my career as an on-air talent but I remember dying to know how they did all the cool effects on the station promos and such…and that kept me in the production studio a lot. I had station clients early on because a station where I did afternoons also let me voice some imaging and did a trade with a professional recording studio where I got to put my voice in a keyboard (really cool stuff back then) and they had a 24 track reel to reel and neato effects boxes like a Harmonizer. It wasn’t until much later in my career that I really began to market myself as an Image VO talent. When I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to work for a record label and then on-air at KIIS-FM, I decided to really reach out to the agency world. I soon learned that my radio experience left a lot to be desired when it came to going up against the agency VO people. In fact, saying you were in radio was a huge negative. It was suggested to me that I take voice classes. At first I wasn’t happy hearing that…I had been in radio almost 20 years and had plenty of success stories with VO clients…but fortunately, I didn’t let my ego get the best of me. A specific voice coach was recommended and I went to his website which asked quite a few questions that I didn’t know how to answer. So, I signed-up and had a lot of the radio VO delivery beaten out of me and I learned the protocols for dealing with casting directors, agents, studio sessions and so on… it was the best move I ever made. The larger VO world wants actors – I remember going into my agent’s office in NYC and being given a Subway Sandwiches script to read and the guy sitting next to me practicing the same script was the guy who had the leading role in the Broadway show I had just seen a few weeks prior. They do not want radio announcers. So, like any good athlete, I continue with coaching to continue polishing and keeping up with VO trends.
8. Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a voice-over artist? Well, how could I not say Don LaFontaine! I had the pleasure of doing an ISDN session with him and he was great…it was a bit intimidating but I felt at ease once we got going. I loved his sound and always wanted to voice trailers. I’ve had a lot of great mentors over the years…I’m hesitant to name names in case I forget someone – but here goes – Kurt Kaniewski, Bumper Morgan, Jay Stone, Bob Brown, Stan Main, Chris Shebel, Rich Marston, Liz Janik, Steve Davis, Marc Cashman.
9. What is your dream job? Well, that’s an interesting question – I’ve had what was once my dream job – Image Voice/Creative Director WKTU NYC…but life changes, the business changes and your goals and desires change. I’m now doing my next dream – but I’d love for it to grow further – a network or TV station chain group VO deal would sure be nice – know anyone?
10. What would be your 3 main tips for a youngster trying to start a VO career? Get professional coaching. Practice constantly. Always be networking (without being obnoxious or insincere).