5 Questions for a Professional Voice Over Talent – Jeffrey Kafer

Today’s 5 Questions for a Professional Voice Over Talent are answered by Jeffrey Kafer, a professional voice over talent based in Seattle, WA.

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?

My story is fairly unique. I knew I wanted to be a voice over artist, especially an audiobook narrator for the past 7 years, beginning in 2005. Listening to the greats such as Scott Brick, Stefan Rudnicki, Grover Gardner and others, really whetted my appetite. But of course, the question is always: How and when do I take the plunge? And, Am I friggin’ nuts?

Well, getting laid off from the day-job at Microsoft after 10 years in 2009 kinda helps push that decision along. I had been doing VO on the side for a couple of years while at Microsoft, so I was lucky in that regard. I already had some clients, knew the basics of the business etc. As I began looking for work, it soon became apparent that I wasn’t going to just bounce back into the same industry I had left. Things had changed. So I was doing more and more VO work, all the while thinking my situation was temporary. Turned out, it wasn’t. 2 years after being laid off, I realized that my “side” job had become my full-time gig.

3 years later, I’ve not looked back.

2. What is the one thing you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first started out in voiceover?

I’m going to amend the question a bit and say that the one thing that I *was* told, but didn’t truly grasp, was that this is a business. First and foremost. You can’t just get a mic and a computer and call yourself a business. You need marketing skills, business acumen, solid communication skills, and accounting. Oy vey, the accounting. Tax time can get really messy. Luckily I have a good accountant who takes care of most of it for me.

The hard part is figuring out the things you *don’t* know when it comes to business. Most of your time as a business owner will not be in your booth recording. It will be marketing, invoicing (hopefully), bookkeeping, more marketing, tech support and customer service.

3. What do you see as the biggest professional or personal obstacle you face that impacts your voiceover business and how are you working to overcome it?

Self-Confidence. I struggle with the same thing anyone in a creative role struggles with: Am I good enough? Well, clients keep coming back to me and new clients hire me and authors seem to love the work I do with their creations, so I guess I’m doing something right.

When you have a 9-5 job, you can go to your boss and say “How’m I doing? Anything I need to work on?”. And if your boss is good, then s/he will give you some constructive feedback. With my current job, I don’t get that. I get the occasional “you suck” review on Audible, but even the great narrators get that. The trick is to not just let it go and write it off, but to see if there’s any validity to the criticism. Any place to improve.

We all love the ego-boo of a good review. It tells us we’re doing something right. And it gives us validation that the choices we are making are good ones. But we don’t grow from them. We grow from the bad reviews that shed light on how we can do things better. How we can grow. The trick is to take those in stride, learn from them, but not let them crush you.

4. What personal trait or professional tool has helped you succeed the most in your career so far?

My drive to succeed and my support system. Look, nothing lights a fire under your ass to get in gear better than getting laid off when you have a family to feed. I was pretty sure I wanted to find a job like my old one, but damned if I didn’t have better luck following my passion for audiobooks. This is not meant to be a Yay Me speech. I got lucky as hell in some places and other times I made my own luck. But when you know you want something, you’ve got to keep going. This is not a “follow your dreams” speech. This is a “make smart choices and don’t be afraid to deviate if you want to succeed” speech. Doesn’t have the same roll-off-the-tongue feel, I know. But the point is, try new stuff, see what works. Keep following the drive, but don’t do so with blinders on. Know when something isn’t working and change directions. Understand that you have one goal, one place you want to end up. But there may be many roads to get there. And my road is not going to be the same as your road. You have to find it yourself.

But you can have all the drive in the world and it won’t mean jack if you don’t have a support system. My wife has been a huge asset to me. She has supported my efforts and not once did she say “Dude, just give it up and go get a job at Starbucks.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s my professional tool, but she is my rock.

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?

There’s no on thing or one person. Your success/failure can’t be measured by one thing you did or failed to do. It’s the sum total of the experiences and people in your life that have helped you get where you want to be. From that perspective, the biggest thing that got me where I am is the support network of the VO-BB.com. For that, I give a shout-out to the owner, DB Cooper. But it’s not just her. It’s the other wonderful souls who are willing day and night to give honest feedback on a demo, prop you up when you’re down, give you kudos when you reach a milestone. And smack you down when you deserve it.

I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from DB Cooper: “When one door closes, another opens. And if it doesn’t, reach around in the dark for your chainsaw and make a new door.” Love it.

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11 Responses to “5 Questions for a Professional Voice Over Talent – Jeffrey Kafer”

  1. Ha! Love that quote from DB. 🙂 Great interview, Jeffrey!

  2. Jeffrey. Very nice. Thank you for your transparency. My mentor, Ron Feinberg, Said to me, “Kid, anybody can teach anything, but you can teach the inside story. They want and need the inside story.” Thanks to you, Peter for access to Jeffrey. PF

  3. “Making your own luck,” I like that expression, Jeffrey.

    Thank you for pointing out that this is indeed a business and that we need to treat it as such. It’s the number one thing people always underestimate.

    I applaud your success and I am grateful to you for sharing your experience.

    And Peter… this series is an excellent idea!

  4. Thanks for sharing your story Jeffrey. We can all can relate to some of the points you make. Continued success with your career and don’t forget to take care of that wonderful wife of yours. She sounds like my own wife. We couldn’t do what we do without our family’s support!

  5. So VERY true, Pat! My husband is extremely supportive of what I do. I hate to think of how things would have been if it were different. I’m very lucky I don’t need to worry about that. 🙂

  6. BRAVO! Excellent information shared, but I would add that Jeffrey is being modest and humble. Certainly, I have not completed the number of audiobooks Jeffrey Kafer has, but I will say that the work is long and detailed with many different moving parts depending on the project. Kafer has done well in a very competitive field of very talented actors and producers by creating his own opportunities (thus using the chainsaw he mentions). Jeffrey also hit the nail on the head by stating out loud what every actor fears…failure. It stops us in our tracks as we question whether or not we are good enough. As Jeffrey points out, the best thing you can do is to keep moving forward, have an open mind, realize there are many definitions of good in the world and be a willing student always seeking to make potential weaknesses into strengths. Wonderful interview Peter thanks for sharing this.

  7. Thanks Jonah, for reading the posts and offering more insights on Jeffrey.

    More great 5Q:VO’s coming…I’m going to try and do 2 per week based on how many folks respond to my requests.

    Best always,

    -Peter

  8. Yes Jodi – great interview AND no retakes required!

    Best always,
    –Peter

  9. Thanks Paul. You and I are in complete agreement about what is most underestimated in this voiceover business of ours.

    Best always,
    – Peter

  10. Wives are great motivators, Patrick.

    Mine is Sicilian. I think that pretty much sums it up.

    Best always,
    – Peter

  11. Pat, I’m just lining up the balls and Jeffrey is knocking them outta the park…which upsets some of the people in the parking lot because of the windshield damage but really it’s their own fault for parking there in the first place.

    Best always,

    –Peter

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