Today’s 5 Questions for a Professional Voice Over Talent are answered by Corey Snow, a professional voice over talent based in Seattle, Washington.
1. The beginning: When did you know you wanted to be a voiceover talent; how did your career begin (please include what year it started) and then when did your passion for voiceover develop into something professional?
From a very young age I was absolutely enthralled by audio. I used to pretend to be a DJ with a turntable and headphones in my room; I’d listen to a track, announce the next one to an audience of toys and action figures and play it. I’m sure I drove my parents up the wall as I only had a small collection of records. I could do that for hours- this was when I was probably eight or nine years old. I really wanted to be a DJ; to be one of those guys I heard on the radio was my fondest desire. As I grew older I became fascinated by radio in general- the process, the technology and of course the production. My friends and I would go up to the top of a hill near town on weekends in the evening to lay down hundreds of feet of wire to make a giant skywave antenna. We’d do all the math and try to get the lengths right to be optimal. We could sometimes pick up signals from thousands of miles away. I think we even once got something in Russian, although I was never sure. I was lucky to have a bunch of serious audio/electronic geeks as friends.
I knew I wanted to be in the business of audio from a very young age; that desire didn’t formulate itself as concrete action until I was about 17. At that point I tried to attend a broadcasting school, but I had a sort of “ick” vibe from the place; they didn’t seem to take me seriously and I was looking for other options as the place just seemed to want my money more than to educate me.
It became moot as a few things went wrong at that point. I lost my car in a wreck, I was hospitalized for emergency surgery (with no insurance) due to an unrelated household accident, became very ill, lost both my jobs because of that illness, and basically had a streak of bad luck that put me on my heels with no resources to fall back on. I chose to avoid being homeless or living off my father and instead joined the Army, and from that point my career went wildly differently than I had envisioned. I became a computer expert and software developer- not easy to do while being a paratrooper, but I had enough idle time to pursue my technical interests. By the time I was in my late 30s I was working at Microsoft and arguably could be said to be on the right trajectory for a stunning career in software development. However, I still remembered my passion for wanting to be a voiceover talent.
By this time I had the resources and the stability to explore this career while not risking my home or family’s welfare. Oddly enough it was the fact that I worked at Microsoft that sparked things. Another very talented voice actor, Jeffrey Kafer, used to work at Microsoft and had even been featured in the internal newsletter. I mentioned offhandedly to my boss one day that I was looking at becoming a voice actor- specifically an audiobook narrator, and he recalled the piece about Jeffrey, looked it up and sent it to me.
I tried to contact Jeffrey via internal email but he was no longer there. I found his contact information via a Bing search (yes, Bing- I did work at Microsoft after all!) and sent him an email on August 3, 2010. I could reproduce the whole thing here but it was very short and essentially was the stock “Hi I’d like to be a voiceover what can you tell me about how to go about it” email. Jeffrey responded with a very kind note and his form letter (the one many of us have) to novice VOs, and pointed me in the direction of some great coaches. I took his advice, went out and did some reading, a ton of practice, took a BUNCH of classes and worked with a great coach named Scott Burns.
I dialed my tech career back; I left Microsoft to take a position closer to home, affording me more time as well as being much less stress while keeping my income stable, yet allowing me to really focus on my VO work. It paid off; six months later I was doing audiobooks for Jeffrey Kafer’s audiobook imprint as well as another audiobook company. I also fell in with Amy Snively by way of helping her with some technical issues on her PC, which became an opportunity for me to work on the FaffCon web site and other technical projects- an opportunity for which I will forever remain grateful- that alone has made more opportunities available to me than any other thing in my VO career. I’ve also been using my tech prowess (rawr) to help other VOs with their web sites and such, which allows me to use my first career to great effect in the service of my second.
My income thus far from VO has not been close to what I have garnered from my first career, of course. That’s only to be expected when trying to change careers at the age of 40! But it’s been growing steadily month over month and I could not be more pleased with my current trajectory. I’ve been finding my niche in this business and then branching out from it and it’s been an incredible experience.
2. What is the one thing you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first started out in voiceover?
That raw talent means nothing. Being good at talking, telling stories well or having a “good voice” doesn’t help at all without the craft, and developing that craft takes hours, days- years, even! of hard work. I think I knew that intellectually when I started but we all have that little thing inside us that says “I’m the exception”. Well, I wasn’t. A lesson hard-learned but one I take to heart every day is that I’m never good enough. Once we decide we’re good enough we don’t develop any further and then we’re done for.
3. What do you see as the biggest professional or personal obstacle you face that impacts your voiceover business and how are youworking to overcome it?
This is an interesting question as it’s one that I would have answered very differently only a few weeks ago.
The biggest obstacle I have faced in my voiceover business is a fear of success. I think it’s something we all grapple with at some point or another, in our personal or professional lives but I didn’t realize that I was doing it to myself- literally sabotaging my own success because I was afraid of it; I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough to be worthy of where I was trying to go and that I would be found out for being a fraud. Of course, we all have those feelings- I was letting it actually hurt my work. I had an epiphany about this not long ago and looking at my actions through this lens I was able to see clearly what I had been doing.
As to how I’m working to overcome it, simply recognizing it is the first step. Being able to tell myself that I’m being silly for being afraid to even try is vastly empowering. Also, I’ve tried to rearrange things a bit in my life to give me some time to focus on the things I need to every day. My life can be sort of hectic and it was always easy to take the excuse of “oh, I’ll do it tomorrow” when things just kept coming up. So I now fence off my voiceover career and treat it like something that must happen and not just something I’d like to happen.
4. What personal trait or professional tool has helped you succeed the most in your career so far?
I think the best way to put it would be my desire to see others succeed. I really do care about people’s feelings and desires; I like it when people are happy and when someone is not, I try to find a way (if I can) to address it. In my voiceover career I try to project a friendly attitude (not hard, I’m actually a pretty friendly guy) and a professional demeanor. It’s amazing how effective just being able to communicate effectively with someone can be; whether it’s a client or a peer, taking an interest in them and making sure they know that you actually do care about their needs can be the most valuable marketing you can ever do. I like to be there when they need me, in their minds when they find a desire I can fulfill, and invisible when they’re busy with something else.
Being friendly and professional means taking others’ desires into account as part of your own. I know that my desire to see others succeed has made it possible for me to be more successful because people tend to reciprocate. People really can tell if you like them or you’re just pretending to.
5. In your development as a voice over performer, who has been the one particular individual or what has been the one piece of performance advice (maybe a key performance trick, etc.) that you felt has had the most impact on your actual voice over performance and why?
Since I can only pick one- Scott Burns. He’s been my VO coach, my demo producer and I’ve taken a number of classes from him, so while I can say I’ve gotten amazing amounts of great advice from many talents (the list of which would be far too long for this space), Scott’s had the largest overall impact. It’s not just one trick or piece of advice I could point to; rather, it’s the combination of all the advice, direction and performance hints he’s given me. I’ve spent more time behind a mic with him as the director than anyone else. I have to say that so many other people have given me great advice that I feel guilty not listing them here, but I hope they all know I love each and every one of them and that my gratitude for their help is bottomless.