A big part of the reason I wanted to include Connie among my interview guests is because of this page and this page on her website. Several months ago as I was searching for other voiceover artists’ sites, I was intrigued by the considerable amount of information available on Connie’s site. But, we’ll get into greater detail about that as the interview goes on.
My first question for Connie: I believe I’ve read that you worked in local radio, at least part-time. Were you ever in radio full-time? If so, how did you know it was time to move away from that and toward full-time voiceover work?
Connie: I never worked full-time radio. Did a couple of on-air shifts while at Coe College (licensed station â€“ KCOE-FM) and served as the volunteer Public Affairs Director. But never considered going into radio as a career. Ended up at a TV station as the weekend Graphic Artist â€“ my degree was in Art and Psychology. After moving to full time production assistant, floor director, I decided to get my Masterâ€™s in Radio and TV so that I could produce and direct TV programs. While I was at Indiana University, I worked about 20 hours a week at WTIU as a Producer/Director and as one of the hosts of a weekly â€œmagazineâ€ type show (before PM Magazine) called Bloomington Gazette. That was in addition to doing TV announcing, carrying a full graduate class load, teaching assistant for a class of outside the department students AND working a Sunday shift at WGTC â€“ spinning gospel music records (as I recall, the only live show in an otherwise automated station, but donâ€™t quote me on that part).
My Masterâ€™s degree got me a job at Channel 8 â€“ KFMB-TV in San Diego as a floor director/relief director, but after about 3 months of that, I decided that I didnâ€™t want to direct news, so I ended up as a part-time â€œliveâ€ staff announcer for the station and began free lancing as a producer, writer and on and off camera talent for corporate communications and commercials.
I started working weekends and relief in radio (KJQY-FM, KYXY-FM and finally at Sunny 103.7). The idea of working full time in radio never really came up â€“ I was simply too busy doing other things and never had any ideas about being the top morning or drive time DJ in the city.
For a while in the 80â€™s I was one of the most heard female voices in the city â€“ Channel 8 had both a busy production department and an affiliated radio station with a great creative department, plus with word of mouth and a good agent, I was working at all the recording studios as well. But I still never thought of myself as a voiceover person. I wore lots of hats and wanted it that way.
I did have a full-time job for about 9 yearsâ€¦I worked as a producer/writer/talent for General Dynamics â€“ in what was affectionately called â€œThe Hidden Film Factory.â€ During that period of time, I had to give up my weekend radio work due to travel requirements. At the same time, I was unable to do the kind of voiceover marketing I was used to and eventually my commercial voiceover work dropped off. We closed the doors at GD in 1995 and I went back out as a free lance producer/writer/talent. As each year passed, I started to focus more on the talent side of the business and finally now in the last couple of years I have been able to make my living doing voiceovers. I didnâ€™t miss the radio gig, and I also discovered that I really liked NOT producing! If an interesting script comes my way, I will still consider it, but time is the issue now. I am quite busy with voiceover work. Well, Iâ€™m also the President of MCA-I until January 2007, so that has been taking quite a bit of my time this year
My second question for Connie: Did you grow up with an interest in being “one of those voices” you heard on TV or Radio? Or was that something that came to you later in life?
Connie: I never wanted to be â€œone of those voicesâ€. I really had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didnâ€™t do the things you hear about. I never put on a show for the neighborhood, or recorded myself, or even did much acting. I â€œstarredâ€ in my 2nd grade play (I remember the play very well actually), but didnâ€™t get back on the stage until some 40 or so years later doing Community Theater.
It was more of a one foot in front of the other â€“ using each step as a building block. No real plan, but I have always had the ability to jump into things and figure them out â€“ without asking a lot of questions. Eyes and ears open. A side effect of a military dad, I think.
Now, I’d love to be one of those voices doing national spots â€“ but I chose to live in San Diego and donâ€™t have agents in LA, Chicago, or New York. So I rarely get an opportunity to audition for that work.
My third question: Do you have any musical training? If so, please describe your musical background.
Connie: I come from a very musical family. My mother taught piano (still does at 79), plays the cello – played organ during my formative years. My brother Eric is a world class French horn player in Europe. I played the piano, drums, stand up bass and violin in little bits and spurts up to about early high school. I sang in the chorus for a year or so. My dad was in the Marine Corps, so I moved a lot â€“ and it was difficult to stick to anything for any length of time. Perhaps that experience is what helped me learn to think on my feet. I can still read music and occasionally pick up the violin and scratch out a few scales.
Follow-up question: Several years ago I attended a master class with Marice Tobias. In that class she made sort of a passing comment about how often she found musical training in the backgrounds of the best voiceover people. How, if it has, do you think your musical training has helped your work as a voiceover (or even on camera) talent?
Connie: There is a lot of musicality in reading aloud. In my classes, I reference the musical scale and certain musical terms, as well as try to help the student understand pacing by discussing the different amount of time one might linger on a particular â€œnoteâ€ or word â€“ or how much time to pause between words, phrases or sentences. At times I encourage my students to follow along an imaginary musical scale as they are reading â€“ raising or lowering their hand as they use different notes. Some get it, some donâ€™t.
My fourth question: Do you have any formal theatrical/acting training? Again, if so, please describe.
Connie: Ah, formal theatrical or acting training. Not really. And none when I started doing voiceovers. I had a natural ability to read copy. However, at a certain point, I realized that I had reached the end of my ability to improve on my own. So I bought a book on voiceovers – â€œWord of Mouthâ€ â€“ and began to really study other voices and do some serious self-evaluation. Because I was doing on-camera work as well, I did take the occasional acting workshop and still do today. But, I was never going to be â€œjustâ€ talent â€“ I wanted to do it all â€“ so the talent part was never a primary focus. Now that I am working full-time as â€œtalentâ€, I am taking more acting classes and attending VO workouts with other professionals.
What I have learned about myself is that I take direction well and really appreciate another brain listening to my delivery.
My fifth question: What kind of training do you recommend for those who are new to voiceover work? What about for those who are already working professionals?
Connie: For the newbie to voiceovers, I recommend learning about the business and their own voice. A serious self evaluation to understand their own voice and how it might fit into the world of voiceovers.
I am working on a book for just this kind of person. Well, three kinds actually â€“ the complete newbie (Iâ€™ve been told I have a nice voice), the DJ wanting to do voiceover and the actor considering doing a demo). It is a pre-voiceover bookâ€¦basically a self-evaluation guide to see if you should start the process. But it is not published yet, so in the meantimeâ€¦
If there are reasonably priced VO workshops in your city, then take one to get the big picture of the industry and to establish a baseline understanding of your own voice. If there are not any VO workshops, then get one of the comprehensive VO books out there. â€œThe Art of Voice Actingâ€ and â€œThereâ€™s Money Where Your Mouth Isâ€ are two I recommend. Read the book aloud, recording all the exercises. You must have a realistic understanding or your voice and what it can do.
But if there are not any specific voiceover classes, then any acting class or improve class is also a good plan. But there are differences â€“ for example, no memorizing means no long rehearsals, so you have to understand and perform the copy very quickly. (edited for clarity)
Working professionals can benefit from the same things. And any acting class or performance will help dig a bit deeper into copy. And donâ€™t forget to listen to other voiceover performances.
Connie: Interesting question. In the process of working on this book I mentioned, I thought about this. No â€“ I didnâ€™t have one particular mentor. However, I think anyone who has crossed my path could be considered a mentor of the moment.
My seventh question: How do you deal with rejection?
Connie: There are two kinds of rejection. In my case, at this stage in my career, I am usually able to shrug it off because I know that the decision is subjective. With my background as a producer/director/writer, I have had to be the one selecting the talent for a project and I know how subjective this process is. It is very interesting to hear a spot that I auditioned for and try to figure out what it was about the selected voice that the producer liked. This in itself is like taking a voiceover class. Was it the voice quality, the pacing, the certain little twist on a word?
However, for a beginner, there may be something more to the rejection that needs to be considered. I find that many times the newbie still has not done that all important self-evaluation, so their auditions may not even be coming close to the â€œrightâ€ read. You read a lot of posts to the voiceover message boards about not landing any jobs. Then you listen to the personâ€™s demo and the answer is right there â€“ the demo is not competitive. They do not have a clear understanding of the industry or their own voice â€“ or what the producer is actually listening for.
This is a result of too many voiceover acting classes that offer the first time participant the â€œopportunityâ€ to create a demo. Too much too soon â€“ now the person â€œthinksâ€ they are in the voiceover business because they have a demo.
My eighth question: What do you like best about working in voiceover?
Connie: Not having to put on make up and wear formal work clothes. I still love to go to a studio to do a session – there is something about being there with the producer, the client and the engineer â€“ the energy I guess â€“ the opportunity to entertain. But I do most of my work these days out of my own studio (either ISDN, self-directed or with phone patch). I always challenge myself to try to bring a better understanding of the copy to every take. Sometimes itâ€™s hard to stop recording â€“ because there is always one more interpretation. But you have to stop sometime and send the client something that will prompt them to send back a little note saying that they â€œloveâ€ it.
At the same time, Iâ€™ve been doing this for so long now that I have regular clients who go back years, so in addition to trying to bring something new to the table, I also have to match tone and style for things that were done initially several years ago. That to me is fun.
I am a bit of a loner, so I love being holed up in my own place working at my own pace. That was one of the things I really didnâ€™t like about radio. You actually had to be there at a certain time.
My ninth question: What do you like least?
Connie: The bookkeeping. Negotiating rates and following up with the slow payers. I like the artistic technical things like mixing audio, but not the engineering technical stuff (troubleshooting that 60 cycle hum in the system) â€“ because I never really learned that side of things. I do love what my audio software allows me to do. I use Adobe Audition and a special telephony software for my IVR work called Vox Studio. Iâ€™ve always been an early adopter of computer technology, so that part of the technical side is interesting. But a seasoned audio engineer, I am not. Whenever a client wants to be on the line with me during a session, I would prefer to be in someone elseâ€™s studio (or using my ISDN studio) so that all I have to do is concentrate on my delivery, not if I remembered to hit the record button again.
My tenth question: What’s the inspiration for putting so many valuable resources, articles and links on your website? (For example, my introduction to the Voiceover Bulletin Board was through your site.)
Connie: As with most voiceover people who have a visible presence on the Internet (I have been online since 1996, so I have a pretty huge web presence), I get a lot of questions about the business. The same questions are asked over and over again, so in order to preserve my sanity (and have time to actually work) it made sense to summarize the basic answers on my website and provide links to other resources.
What has developed online over the years has been quite amazing. There is a sense of community â€“ a global community. As time permits, I participate in the various message boards and forums. And Iâ€™m not always offering advice. I have gotten some great tips on using my software and troubleshooting my system.
It is interesting how the same questions are still asked. And people still are putting the cart before the horse and then wondering why they are not getting the work. That will never change â€“ there will always be people who want something badly, but will never actually have that combination of right place, right time with the right tools.
My thanks again to Connie Terwilliger for taking time from her busy schedule to answer all of these questions with such thoroughness and thoughtfulness. I’ve linked previously to some individual bits of Connie’s site, but you really should explore yourself. There’s much there of value to you whatever your level of experience.