Promo Voice Over on Pandora

Do you listen to Pandora? And are you like me in that you hate paying for free online services, even if it means you have to listen to a lot ads? Well, if that’s the case, than you’ve probably heard me in your ears or on your car speakers or at your gym or wherever you hear/listen to Pandora.

Why am I, then, coming at you here with a spot you probably would have rather ignored while listening to your free Pandora? Well, because I heard from the feedback the production company got that people listening actually said liked this promo. Go figure. And also, color me flattered.

Narrator Voice – Telling a Story. You Know. With Words.

As a voice over artist, I’ve been very fortunate to do a number of narration gigs over the years. My very first was for TLC, and it was called “Living with Bugs.” It was all about the trillions and trillions of bugs that exist on the planet, and also the ones that live on and even inside us.

It event featured—and you can skip over this part if you’re eating breakfast—footage of maggots being used to eat away at a gangrenous foot. Fun!

Directly after that (and this was right after 9/11, when we were actually living in NYC), I narrated a show for what was then the brand-new National Geographic network about how West Point grads were getting ready to serve in the global fight against terrorism.

During the years since, I’ve done show about giant construction projects, about miners, drug addicts, about pretty much every movie star MGM have ever produced, even a very young Beyonce. And I’ve loved it all.

Narration is addicting. You get in the booth, you’re watching the picture, and you’re telling the story. It’s like being put in the driver’s seat of a performance automobile. Save for the fact that there are people in the passenger and back seats telling you if you, say, take a curve too fast. Is that a weird metaphor? Probably.

Anyway, I now share with you my narration reel, featuring the highlights of my many years of storytelling. I’m actually pretty proud of it. Enjoy.

Voice Over Artist – TV Announcer Reel

You fellow voice over actors know this moment: You pick up a piece of VO copy, look it over, mouth the words to yourself, and then you scan the specs. What are the two words you see more often than any others?

Say it with me now…

“No announcers.”

And, look, I get it. The age of the golden-voiced pitchman (and it was always almost exclusively men) is over. Relatable reads are where it’s at. No one wants some slick announcer voice telling you what to think, do, read, or buy, dammit. I know I don’t. I’ll think for myself, thank you.

But. Sometimes, despite all of that, an announcer voice is just the thing that’s called for. Maybe it’s a spot sends up those old-time ads. Maybe it’s a promo that requires some serious gravitas. Maybe it’s a loud ad with a ton of stuff going on that needs a voice that cuts through. Or maybe, for whatever reason, it’s a spot that calls for someone with a traditionally strong voice, one with perfect diction.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the younger, relatable read. I can do the guy next door. I can do the young dad. I’m actually very fortunate that I have a pretty flexible voice.

But I can also do a kick-ass announcer. I’m a classically trained actor, one who’s taken a ton of voice and speech classes, so I’ve had all traces of my native California accent trained right out of me. I can do an old skool Gary Owens or Don Pardo, I can do new skool Ashton Smith or Beau Weaver, I can do a 1940s announcer with a proper Mid-Atlantic accent. I can do pretty much any classic announcer you throw at me.

It’s not often I get to bring it out, but I savor every opportunity. Oh, and for the record, I use the one-hand-to-the-ear method every time I do it. I met the late, great Gary Owens at a time when we were both repped by the same agency, and he taught me how one time when we doing an audition together. Needless to say, it’s rad.

Here’s my announcer reel:

Living with the Toothpaste – Coming to Terms with Stage Fright

I have a confession.

I have stage fright.

There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Actually, it really was. I’m not congratulating myself, mind you, but as anyone who suffers from anxiety can tell you, one of the things we all have in common is that we’re really good at hiding it. I will guarantee that there’s at least one or two people in your social circle who suffers from anxiety or panic disorder, and you don’t know about it.

That’s because it’s a source of shame for most of us. And, sadly, that’s what gives it its power.

It wasn’t always like this for me. I had panic problems growing up, but it never impacted my performing. I did community theater and high school drama, and it was never a problem; on the contrary, the stage was one of those rare environments in my life where I felt like I was in control. I used to look forward to those times in a production where something would go wrong, because I loved the fact that I could think on my feet and figure out a way to improvise my way through it.

That all changed one night.

I was seventeen. Someone I knew asked me if I wanted to perform in a talent show in my home town. I agreed and said I would sing a solo. The song was “Those Magic Changes” from the musical “Grease,” a choice that would turn out to be an ironic. And prophetic. Ironic because it’s such an unmemorable song, and prophetic because of what happened next.

I arrived backstage maybe fifteen minutes before my performance, mostly because I wasn’t sweating it. I was used to getting up in front of hundreds, even, on occasion, more than a thousand people, and just doing my thing. I didn’t even bother to warm up my voice. I remember seeing other kids practicing and warming up backstage. Amateurs, I thought.

I was announced, I walked out on stage in front of what was 500 people, the music started, the spotlight hit me, and I started in.

The first two verses went fine. I could feel the crowd was with me. They’re impressed, I remember thinking. This kid can really sing.

Then I went to hit the first high note of the chorus. And my voice broke.

Did I mention I was 17? I was late to puberty. My voice was really high up until that point.

I shrugged it off and kept going. I figured it wouldn’t happen again. I went into the chorus. And it happened again. I was out of control.

My heart started to pound. My vision swam. I went into a full panic attack. My voice broke again. And again. I think it happened probably six times. I remember hearing a voice in the audience: “You can do it!” I think it was my grandmother.

The song ended. Finally. I made it off the stage, and went directly for the exit. I had a loop in my head: This is bad. Everything will be different from now on. This changes everything.

And it did. The toothpaste was out of the tube.

I tried to fit it back in. I continued to perform on stage, mostly because it’s what I did. I was still planning on the one thing I’d always wanted to do since I was a kid, which was to be on Broadway. I figured I’d keep going and it’d get better. It’d get easier.

It didn’t; In fact, it got harder.

I thought, Okay, I can do solos, but no high notes. And then, I can sing, but no solos. Then, straight plays, but no musicals, and certainly no solos. Then it was it was, I can do plays, but no monologues. And then it was, no plays at all. And then no acting.

My world got smaller and smaller.

Years later, I got into voiceover, mostly because that was all that was left for me. As it turns out, it was a great fit. I worked in radio some during college, and I loved recording commercials and promos for the stations I worked at. It was fun being able to channel all of my acting into my voice, especially with no audience watching.

But stage fright is always a progressive thing, and eventually, it started to eat away at the kinds of voiceover I could do. I could do spots, ideally promos, as long as they had a break in the middle. I certainly couldn’t do 60-second spots. And on and on it went. It even started to bleed over into my regular life. I was having anxiety just talking to people. Even my wife.

Until one day I had this realization. I realized that if I kept letting this go on, I’d get to the point where it could box me in completely. That I would likely get to the point where I’d be afraid to speak at all.

I knew I couldn’t stop the fear. I’d done enough therapy to know that it was never going to go away completely. The toothpaste was out of the tube. I couldn’t ever go back to the point when I was a kid and I was able to simply perform in front of people without fear. That wasn’t going to happen.

But what I could do was recognize that the fear was just a physical sensation. It was just happening inside my body. It didn’t have to control me. In fact, it didn’t need to have any impact on me at all other than making me feel physically uncomfortable. It could only keep me from doing things—like performing, like monologues, like solos with high notes, like 60 second spots—if I let it.

And so I made a choice. I decided to live with the toothpaste. I knew I had a contribution to make, and I didn’t want fear getting in the way of that. But more than that, I decided I didn’t want anything limiting my life.

That was about five years ago. Since then, I’ve made my peace with it, as much as I’m ever going to. I actually try to tell people about it as much as I can, mostly because that diminishes its power. And I’ve been surprised by how, not only are people okay with it, but a number of them have told me about their own stage fright issues. About their own experiences with the toothpaste.

So there it is. Next time you hear me on TV or radio, know that I probably was dealing with some form of anxiety when I recorded whatever you’re listening to.

Because I have stage fright.

There. I said it again.

But I did it anyway.

Promo Voiceover – Travel Channel Menu Promos

Given the political climate right now, pretty much everyone I know (myself included) would love to be traveling. So I’m moved to share a sample from a few years back when I was doing the daily promo menus for good old Travel Channel. I’ve been watching a fair bit of them these days, for the virtual escape.

Political Commercials – Biggest Political Blunders

With politics all anyone can talk about right now (and understandably so), I’m moved to share a satirical piece I did in 2011 talking about the biggest political blunders of the year. Today’s standards, they all seem so… quaint. Who knew we’d someday be looking back at 2011 with nostalgia, longing for a simpler time?

Video Game Voice Actors – Sudden Acquired Accent Syndrome

So I’m one of those guys who, when he hears an accent, he can’t help but imitate it, usually immediately. For this reason, Lori usually leaves the room when I listen to the BBC World Service. I’m helpless to the cavalcade of accents: the twang of East London, the musical clip of broadcast-standard British, the smooth Glaswegian brogue, the irresistible Irish, the Yorkshire accent that ends every sentence like a question. Each time I hear one of those accents, I immediately start talking in that accent. Lori made up a term for this: Sudden Acquired Accent Syndrome.

It used to be that this was a straight-up annoyance. And, for all intents and purposes, it still is, but ever since I started doing voice acting for video games, all of that accent study has started to pay off.

Because voice over artists get paid by the session, producers will often try to have them do as many roles as possible during that allotted session. And most video games have casts of hundreds, or sometimes thousands, so if you can do a few different accents, it makes you pretty useful. I’ve played everyone from a German-accented town crier to a Northern Irish archer to an Edward R. Murrow sound-alike, complete with 1940s Mid-Atlantic accent.

I’m happy to have a session next week for a new video game, and I just learned I’m going to have to do a Minnesota accent for my role. Time to pop in “Fargo.” Watch out. My SAAS will be out in full effect.