Valerie Smaldone: Stick With What You’re Great At!
When it comes to VO work, studio & gear, what are your most ingenious methods/discoveries for saving time and cash? I work in my home studio in New York City…in midtown Manhattan, and no matter what you do, there is bound to be some kind of sound leakage in this noisy city. I learned to record during lunch hour (when construction hammering and drilling knocks off as the work people are out to lunch) or early in the morning or late at night.
Generally, my studio works just fine, but if the President is in town and traffic is crazy, I can move my mic into my walk in closet, or throw a blanket over my head and create a tent over the mic. It may suffocate me just a tad…but it works!
I have an RE-20 mic in my NYC studio, but I also have a mobile recording set up for when I am on the road. Then I use a USB mic (Apogee) and it works just fine.
Your success has really opened the doors for many women in the broadcasting/VO field, are you able to recognize the impact you have made? How does it make you feel? Honestly, I was just around at the right time. Women were really starting to become much more a part of the fabric of the industry, and roles that were previously set were beginning to change. When I went from over night weekends to evenings at Lite-Fm within 4 weeks, I was beyond thrilled. During those 5 years when I was the night time host, I was often given the opportunity to do morning or afternoon drive. Ultimately, I became the mid-day personality, a time slot where I stayed put for a very long time. I was always one to ask the questions about why certain “rules” were what they were. Nobody ever seemed to have a very good answer, but they all agreed it (whatever the tradition was) was just the way it was always done, and that never was a satisfying answer for me. Still isn’t!
You’ve devoted a lot of your time and passion into projects that focus on breaking through the glass ceiling, did you ever face any struggles during your career because you are a woman? If so how did you overcome them? What did you learn? I was pretty lucky. I never really felt this struggle, and always enjoyed working with men.
What advice do you have for women trying to make it big in the broadcasting/VO field?
- Be your own business.
- Differentiate yourself from everyone else.
- Find out what makes you unique.
- Be an expert in some area.
- Have someone you know interview you about you to discover something that may be terribly un-interesting to you, but fascinating to someone else and use that to your advantage.
- In terms of VO, I always tell my students and clients, a demo tape is not the end of the story. It is just the beginning. Do your research to find how, who, where voices are used. People generally want to rely on agents, but you have to participate in the effort to find work as well.
Did you have any mentors? I have had a few mentors who I call my angels.
What radio VO work have you done in the past (stations/markets)? Most recently, I was an announcer on WOR-NY and did some liners for a station in Japan. Of course, I hosted a mid-day show on 106.7 Lite-FM (WLTW) for a couple of decades.
What kind of VO work are you doing presently? My main voice -over work actually was in television. I have voiced promos for NBC, CBS, HBO, Cinemax, Lifetime and many more networks. I can be heard as narrator on the series “Fatal Encounters” on Investigation Discovery.
What do you love about working as a freelance VO talent? I love the variety and the ability to stretch as a performer…from doing a “sports-type” voice to a “newsy” voice, to a “true crime” voice, to a “sultry” voice to a “nurturing” voice…it is the best part of the field.
How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig? I started working in radio at the age of 17. I walked into the 50,000 watt student run radio station at Fordham University in New York and asked “how does this work?” I was trained by students (upper class) and went on the air and learned and learned.
When I was 19, there was a note on the bulletin board at the station asking for a voice to record a brief narration. I applied and got the job. I was paid $25 and I thought it was the coolest way to earn money. I still do.
What is your dream job? I love interviewing and hosting in an entertaining and authentic manner. I would love to have the opportunity to do a show or podcast focusing on conversations with fascinating people to find out what makes them get up in the morning and keep going, no matter what befalls them. We are all just trying to figure that out, after all, aren’t we?
Where did you work before radio? I began working in local radio while still in my teens, but before that, I worked in a contact lens fitting office. It was a rather big company at the time, and I had my own spiffy white uniform to wear to work. The doctors liked me and wanted me to quit college to come work for them full time and run the office. If I had taken them up on their offer, I probably would have been an optometrist today.
What would be your 3 main tips for a youngster trying to start a VO career?
- Determine what area of voice over you are naturally attracted to (audio books?, narration?, commercial?, promos?). We generally are attracted to what we like because we feel comfortable doing it.
- When picking up copy, look at it like a mini film or play, with a story line. Figure out where you (as the voice) fit in to the copy.
- It’s not about the sound of your voice. It’s about what you do with it. Too many people think they should be in voice overs because they have a nice voice. That is a great attribute for sure, but the main point is how you use it.
- Don’t eat anything creamy, salty, buttery before doing a voice-over. It will truly inhibit the action of your mouth..and watch out for the kind of lipstick you use too! (Nothing glossy or heavy in emollients!)