This post is the fourth in the series of interviews Iâ€™m conducting with people I think you need to meet, people who have valuable and important advice and comments about voiceover work; although in this case you probably already know my guest by his excellent work for Fox, CBS, NBC and many other high profile clients.
We’re talking this time with Joe Cipriano. In addition to his main web site, Joe blogs about his work from time to time here. You don’t need me to tell you how talented Joe is, but in case you need reminding, you can check out his demos on his main web page, here.
My first question for Joe: You grew up in Connecticut. How do you think growing up there influenced who you are today?
Joe: Because I grew up in a small town (Oakville, Connecticut) I think I’ve always had a sense of community in everything I do. It’s important to me to know my peers in my business and know my neighbors where I live. In our business your peers are your support group. There is a great exchange of information and support as you collectively work towards a similar goal. Same goes in my personal life, there is a great comfort in having friends with similar goals, whether it’s the shared experience and support of raising your kids together or doing something together to give back to your community. Some of my best friends are my neighbors.
My second question for Joe: The first time I heard your name, it was as you were being introduced as a member of a panel at the Second Annual International Radio Creative and Voiceover Summit in 1997. The panel’s focus was on getting out of radio and into voiceover full-time. I’ll come back to the other members of that panel in a moment, but for someone reading this interview, who is thinking seriously about making that transition, what are the first few steps he or she should take? Or, what are the questions to ask of oneself?
Joe: Making a career change is not something to be taken lightly. It always seems I’m contacted by someone in radio who has just been fired and thinks now is the perfect time to start up that voice over career they’ve always wanted and start makin’ some REAL money. Wrong. That’s not the time to start a voice over career. It takes a long time and a lot of commitment to build a voice over career and the chances of actually being able to make a living off of voice overs is unfortunately very slim. With that said, I still think it’s worth the hard work, if it’s what you want.
The time to start pursuing voice overs is when you HAVE a radio gig. If you’re on the air 5 hours a day, that leaves a lot of time to work on your other career. I’ve often said that if you spend just one hour a day, every day, on your voice over career you will see great success. Too often many will start that way and then a few weeks into it, loose interest or find other distractions. Make the commitment to work on your voice over career every single day and I guarantee you will make progress. Keep your day job and pursue your dream. It’s much easier pursuing a dream if you have a day (or night) job to pay the bills.
My third question: If I remember the story correctly, you were working on the air in LA, someone at Fox heard you and thought you had the sound they needed for their new network. That’s not likely to happen to Joe or Joan Jock working in upstate New York. So, does that mean he or she has to move to LA to start full-time in voiceover?
Joe: Actually, I was doing the afternoon shift on KIIS FM when this happened. I was filling in for Big Ron O’Brien on KIIS FM and the head of on air marketing (for Fox) was driving home in rush hour traffic and heard me on the air. My voice interested him and he called the station to find out who my agent was and brought me in to kick my tires, so to speak. I ended up getting the job. That was in 1988. 18 years later, I’m still at Fox. That was the best fill in shift I ever did on KIIS 🙂 But truthfully, it was pretty flukey. That just doesn’t happen very often. Anyone working in radio in any market anywhere in the country can be a player in the voice over field because of the proliferation of ISDN and the fact that it is now the standard in the industry. It doesn’t matter where you live anymore, you’re just an ISDN phone call away from Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.
My fourth question: On that panel with you back in 1997 were three other very talented guys, John Leader, Bobby Ocean and Danny Dark. You were, I think, the youngest member of the panel. Did these guys influence your work?
Joe: I knew John Leader from my radio days. He was the CHR Editor at Radio and Records at the time. I got to know him a little better while we both were doing voice overs in LA. I had never met Bobby before but always admired his on air work and his radio imaging work so it was a pleasure meeting him that day.
Danny Dark was the MAN. I had admired his work on NBC for years and as the voice of Budweiser, Keebler Cookies and all those wonderful commercials with Chuck Blore. I met Danny in 1995 and we became instant best friends. He was a mentor and such a great supporter of everything I did. My wife Ann and I had so many great times with Danny and his wife Jobee. He was an amazing talent, every word that came out of his mouth was pure jazz and he was probably the most fun person in the world to be around. Everywhere you went with Danny, he was a star. People just flocked to him, waiters would fall over themselves to get whatever he wanted and he would remember their name and show ’em the love. He had a personality bigger than life.
He had a nickname for everyone, mine was Josie. He would call me on the phone out of the blue on any given day and say, “Josie, you sounded f-ing fantastic on Fox last night.” He was so supportive and such a warm and giving person. I learned a lot from him about the business and about life and was so saddened when he passed away in 2004. I can honestly say I think about Danny just about every day especially when I walk onto the NBC lot every afternoon.
My fifth question: In the 10 years since I saw you on that panel, what have been the most significant changes in the voiceover business?
Joe: ISDN was already being used for voice over sessions in ’97, but in the past 10 years it has become the norm. When you sit in a movie theater these days, the voices you hear narrating those trailers were 98% of time recorded via ISDN. Many of the trailer houses don’t even have voice over booths anymore.
I use ISDN as a convenience, but I still go into sessions as often as possible. I go in to NBC just about every day and I’m the only announcer who still goes in to Fox for sessions when it fits my schedule. When I go to Fox they have to check the voice booth, clear out the cobwebs and tap on the mic to make sure it still works because all of their voices are ISDN now. I think it’s important to have face time with the people you work for and with. It takes an effort to do that and it means you have to build in travel time into your schedule which also means you can’t do the volume of sessions you could do ISDN without driving in, but I think it’s worth the effort and the lost time.
I was among the very first voice over people to use ISDN. I made a deal with Fox back in 1994. I told them about this new technology (at the time it was Switch 56…ISDN came later) I explained the benefits to them and to me and we agreed we’d give it a go. They bought a Telos Zephyr and I bought one for my home. We ended up with two of the very first Zephyrs to come off the assembly line. Just look what we started. 🙂
Follow-up question: Given the greater isolation that has resulted (at least for those who don’t make the effort to get out and go to a studio in person), do you sometimes regret playing a role in the proliferation of ISDN?
Joe: As a business decision it really isn’t an isolation, in fact it’s more of an outreach, a door opened not closed. I do sessions several times a week via ISDN to Food Network in New York City. I’m in Beverly Hills, CA. Without ISDN not only would I not be able to do a job like this, I would also not have had the opportunity to work with the great people there. I think I’ve been a voice on Food Network for about 4 years now and the relationships I’ve made with the folks there will stay with me for a long time and if I’m lucky I’ll probably work with them in the future as they move on in the business. So, ISDN doesn’t isolate you as much as it makes you available to many more ad agencies, networks, trailer houses and so on all over the country, perhaps the world.
No regrets on being early in to the ISDN technology in 1994 and seeing how it is used today. It’s been a win/win for both producers and talent alike. Also, please don’t mistake a talent’s decision to do all of his or her work via ISDN as a lack of effort. Many times it’s a decision made because of where the talent lives and where the buyer is or by the fact that it would be impossible to handle all of the bookings in one day by driving to each one. It’s an economic decision as well.
I just don’t want to see talent chained to an ISDN box. Sitting in one room and cranking out sessions can be wearing. It’s healthy to get out and go to sessions, if you can and that is why I do it. I’m not the kind of person that can just be hunkered down in my studio each day. My motto has always been moderation and variety in business and life.
My sixth question: Regarding technology, I loved the story you posted on your blog about doing a voiceover session using Source-Connect from a cruise ship. How confident were you, going in to that session, that things would work well enough for you to get the job done?
Joe: Actually we didn’t use Source Connect on the cruise ship because the Internet connection was too slow. We did use the Internet on board the ship to do the sessions. Fox and NBC sent the spots I was to read to as mp3s. I downloaded them and imported them into ProTools on my laptop and recorded my voice tracks and then mp3’d my tracks back to them.
To answer your question about how confident I am when using technology to do sessions, the answer is: all you can do is plan it out the best you can and accept that if it works…great…if it doesn’t, you did your best. I’ve done ISDN sessions from a house in Barbados. I’ve put ISDN lines into hotels and homes all over the world. From Aspen to New York City…Positano, Florence and Venice, Italy to London, England. I did ISDN voice over sessions from the Royal Albert Hall in London in a BBC booth court-side while watching a tennis match with my friend John Lloyd.
My seventh question: Some people see auditions as a form of competition, trying to beat out the other applicants. Others see it as a process of providing the clients with a variety of options from which to choose the right voice, experience and tone for their project. Do you come down on one side or the other?
Joe: I love auditions. Auditions are when you can be your most free and really have fun. There is absolutely no pressure, it’s a clean slate. You can do whatever you want and make it as memorable and different as you can. Auditions are a true joy. You’re lucky if you book one job for every 50 auditions you do, so relax and enjoy it.
Sometimes the reality hits you when you actually GET the job and you think…hmmm, do I remember what I did in the audition? 🙂
My eighth question: Back when you were growing up in CT, did you wish you could be one of “those voices” that you heard on TV? Did you always want to be a performer of some kind? Or did that come later?
Joe: Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be involved with television, either on-camera or as a voice. I thought radio was the logical way to do that. So I used radio to move me along through the business. Radio supported me while I reached for other goals and finally after many tries brought me to Los Angeles. I owe a lot to radio, it was always a good friend.
My ninth question: Some folks seem to think the voiceover business is shrinking, with consolidation and other corporate mergers. Others see the voiceover business is growing, with new (sometimes non-traditional) opportunities for work cropping up all the time. Your thoughts?
Joe: There is a new cable channel introduced every few weeks. The business is growing faster than ever before. These new channels need marketing, they need promos and people to voice these promos. There are more opportunities than ever before for an up and coming voice over artist and more ways to market yourself than ever before. Because everyone uses ISDN now, you can be a voice talent and live in Florida or Maine or anywhere and do sessions every day in Los Angeles, New York or Chicago. The opportunities have never been this huge. When I started as the voice of the Fox Network in 1988, there were about 8 guys who did network promos and they all lived in Los Angeles. Today there are hundreds of promo voices and they are scattered all over the country.
My thanks to Joe Cipriano for taking time out of his very business schedule to such thoughtful answers to these questions. I’ve never forgotten how gracious and kind he was (as were Danny Dark, John Leader and Bobby Ocean as well) to me in the moments following that panel discussion back in 1997. Clearly he’s a first class guy and I wish him much continued success not only professionally but personally as well.