Sean “Mr. Voice” Caldwell
What radio VO work have you done in the past (stations/markets)? What are you up to presently (freelance/on-staff at a station)? There have been many tremendous stations I’ve worked with over the years. WKTU New York, KIIS-FM Los Angeles, WCBS New York, KYW Philadelphia, B96 Chicago, Capital FM London, WXTU Philadelphia, Q100 Atlanta, WSIX Nashville, Fun Radio Paris, and a few hundred more have used me to image and promote their station. Today, I work full-time from my studio near Tampa, Florida serving great clients around the world.
What do you love about working as a freelance VO talent? The variety of scripts and station personalities I get to be part of. Seeing my four kids each morning and afternoon. The lack of office politics. The freedom to set a schedule.
How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig? The independent voiceover career started back in the early 90’s voicing WIOG, Saginaw and WZEE, Madison. Both stations were well programmed and promotional monsters. They sent loads of work and helped shape my early style.
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it? I’ve used a few voice coaches over the years and continue to utilize this resource. Some help identify and break bad habits, others help to learn new styles. Others have helped get more resonance and endurance for the long-term. Regular deliberate practice and an external ear is a must if you want to stay current and improve your talents. Nancy Wolfson has been very helpful crafting a bookable commercial read. Marice Tobias has helped me get in touch with dramatic and powerful promos. Jackie Gartner Schmidt at the University of Pittsburgh has been my voice doctor and vocal coach for over a decade.
Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a voice-over artist? When I was a kid working in radio, we used Ernie Anderson, Charlie Van Dyke, Gary Gears, and a few others. Later when producing in Philadelphia, I had the pleasure to get to know Brian James, and Mark Driscoll. All had an influence on me. I learned how some of them fostered their relationship with producers, while others wanted to remain distant. Some of them crafted their reads to make it easy for me to produce, while others just read the copy.
What is your dream job? I’m living it now. Voicing promos for stations across the globe, broadcast TV and cable networks, and commercials for some cool advertisers. There’s nothing more rewarding work-wise than working with fantastic clients to be part of casting their message to listeners.
What did you do before becoming a voiceover professional? I was a creative director in Philadelphia and Detroit. Before that, programmed a station, helped in production, and did an on-air shift.
What would be your 3 main tips for a youngster trying to start a VO career? Study the great talents, develop your own style, and continually work to improve your sound by working with a coach in a specific genre. The way you interpret copy will always be more important than a new $2,000 microphone or preamp. Have a life outside work and appreciate everyone you are blessed to work with.
How do you schedule your work (priorities…..)? After I drive some of my kids to school, the studio is turned up and often there’s work from Europe or farther East that is waiting. I’ll voice for a hour or more, take a break, drink lots of water, and warm back up for another block. Then lunch and ideally a walk around the neighborhood or biking down a local trail to clear my head and be ready to start fresh. Next, a couple directed sessions over ISDN or IP connections, followed by another couple hours of solid voiceover work. Then a possible 30 minute break, and wrap up the day and everything that has come in during the afternoon. It’s not a rigid schedule; that’s a pretty average day.
How much time do you spend auditioning for new work? About an hour a day auditioning for potential clients.
How do you market your services to potential clients? Word of mouth has been my friend over the years. Keeping current clients happy has been the biggest advantage. I’ll call potential clients or send them a note.
Which production system do you use and why? Adobe Audition (version 1.5) for most dry voiceover work. Yes version 1.5 is 10 years old; no there’s nothing faster or better for the way I work. If I’m doing any multitrack production, Sony Vegas Pro is the choice. It is fast, imports and exports any audio format, and can also be used for video when I need to match to picture or work with video. It’s much faster than Protools in my opinion.
What are your favorite plugins (including screenshots)? Don’t use many plugins. When I do, some favorites are from Voxengo. For the most part, I’m using a hardware tube preamp and no software plugins.
What gear do you use (microphone, pre-amp, booth, …)? The mic of choice for most work is the Sennheiser MKH-416 shotgun. There is also a Neumann U87, and Neumann M149 that occasionally go online for some projects. Preamps include a Manley Voxbox, Aphex 1100, and Universal Audio 610.
My A/D box is a Sound Devices USB Pre 2.
I’m voicing inside a Whisper Room isolation booth that’s been pimped out with big bass traps, tons of acoustic foam, a big monitor for reading copy outside the window, and bright LED lights.
The computer that captures audio from the booth is a super tiny Intel NUC with an SSD drive (pictured).
How has new technology changed the way you work? The internet has been the biggest change. Prior to the mid 90’s, afternoons included an hour to get the reel to reel tapes labeled, boxed, FedEx or UPS labels printed, and a trip to the airport. Now, in minutes, I can deliver perfect quality audio anywhere in the world. Editing with a digital workstation happened near the same time and that has been an immense time saver for updates, revisions, and audio quality.
What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique anybody should know? The more processing you use, the fewer options the producer or station has. I use much less eq and compression today than ten years ago. Years ago, most producers didn’t have great tools at their disposal to get a voice to sit well in a mix. Today for under $100, most producers can buy a couple solid plugins that will work well on voices and get them in the dynamic window without over squashing everything. That’s a concern for voiceover talent and producers today: many have learned how to craft their read with tons of help from processing. When that edgy filtered effect is no longer in style, will they have a read they are known for? Producers that instinctively patch loads of compression or limiting are missing out on an opportunity to learn to build a great mix and use dynamics to tell the story. Use a tiny bit of compression or limiting and let the station processing shape it and make it loud. If you’re delivering a squashed vo, then the producer is using loads of plugins and squashing the work further, then it hits the overall station processing…it’s going to be missing some life. Sure it’ll be loud, but it’s lost some life along the way.
When it comes to VO work, studio & gear, what are your most ingenious methods/discoveries for saving time and cash?
A friend in the business watched me work and said I’m an editing ninja. Many times I edit visually—I see the breaths I want to reduce, or see a retake that needs to be edited out without having to listen. I’ve bought quite a lot of used gear over the years to try it out. If I don’t end up liking it, then I sell it for near the same. Occasionally I’ve made money trying out new gear! And I’m good with using a $500 piece of gear if it sound as good as a $2500 piece. I’ve tried some $5000 mics that didn’t sound as good as a different $500 mic for my voice. My mixes are usually listened to on some average speakers…sometimes a $150 Bluetooth sound dock. If the voice will cut through on an average system, it’ll sound great on a big system.
Do you have a different approach to reading radio copy as opposed to TV/Radio commercial ads? There is a vast difference between reading a promo for a station and reading a national commercial advertisement. Well written copy tells a story. You have to be a storyteller to read national ads.