Illustration by Greg Stevenson Image by: Illustration by Greg Stevenson
My first real job was writing commercials for a large, popular radio station in Winnipeg in 1983. I was 20 and fresh out of college—and boy did I think I was something! The voice work for the commercials was recorded by the on-air announcers, but I was sometimes trotted in to play "the robot" or "the teenager," as required. It was my first taste of the voice-over business, but it wouldn't be my last.
I now live in Toronto where I work in magazine publishing. Not long ago, I was at a cocktail party, describing a project I was working on, one that would require me to record podcasts. The person I was talking to said, "You must meet my voice coach! You would love her." I signed up for the coach's group session with the hopes of improving my delivery, and it was so much fun I didn't want it to end. I began to think that voice-over work might be worth pursuing as a sideline career, because I wasn't half bad.
I followed up with a private session a month later, and the recording of my first professional demo reel soon after. Then came the hard part: finding an agent to represent me. This was no easy feat, mostly because there was nothing on my résumé. After meeting a number of agents—some painting a sad and sorry picture of a very competitive business, others barely interested or too busy—I finally got a reply from an industry heavyweight who said: "Love the demo!" â€¨I signed with her a few weeks later.
When my agent has something for me to audition for, she sends me a script with all the details: the approach I'm to take, the type of character the client is looking for, etc. â€¨I record auditions using a spiffy new microphone, then I use the GarageBand app to make an audio recording and create a simple MP3 file. I send it to my agent and she forwards it to various casting people.
I should probably say right now that I haven't booked a single commercial yet. All talk and no action? I don't think so; my time will come. The voice-over industry is a hard nut to crack. I have since produced a narration demo reel geared specifically for TV shows and films, which I hope will broaden my prospects.
There have been a few in-studio auditions, which are terrific. Sound recordists and casting agents all have excellent advice to impart, specifically in regards to projecting my voice more. I always learn something valuable to take to the next audition. My first was for an ad about traveller's diarrhea, of all things. "Don't flush your vacation down the toilet," I said over and over in my best Niles Crane. I've since auditioned for commercials for coffee, cars, condos, cleansers and two kinds of bathroom tissue. (Let's hope that is not a theme).
Fortunately, I can sound younger than I am (51), which opens up more job possibilities. I find myself dressing more youthfully for auditions that call for 40 and younger, and growing my (rather white) beard if the casting call is for 60-plus years. One day, my voice will connect with the right client and the rest will be history.
Very recently, a fellow voice-over artist leaving an audition cheerily told everyone waiting to "chip a tooth!" rather than break a leg. I thought it was the coolest thing anyone has ever said to me.
For more inspiring stories, read about how these other Canadians are embracing a year of firsts.
|This story was originally titled "Sound Bite" in the June 2014 issue.
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