5 Questions for a Professional Voice Over Talent – Natalie Stanfield Thomas

Voice Over Talent Natalie Stanfield Thomas

Today’s 5 Questions for a Professional Voice Over Talent are answered by Natalie Stanfield Thomas, a professional voice over talent based near Corning, NY.

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?

I remember being captivated at an early age with Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (followed by Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), nerdlet that I was, the ones I found most fascinating were the documentaries and docu-dramas! I was drawn to the voice of the narrator (yes even Marlin Perkins), and how he breathed emotion into the action before me (poor Jim didn’t know that lion was hungry). It began to occur to me that there was a dearth of female narrators though, except of the PBS stations, where they invariably had clipped British accents; which brings me to the next bridge of sorts in my journey. I loved cartoons, bad puns and comedy, so the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was a natural draw for me. But there was also a shortage of female characters in these shows. I paid close attention to the few that were there and discovered I was actually good at mimicking accents (yes, even the PBS Narrator Lady). I picked up on Rocky and Natasha Fatale fairly quickly and soon was annoying friends and family with impressions of everyone from Rocky and Lambie Pie to Mae West and Carol Burnett’s Tarzan yell. Always a fan of Broadway, Hollywood and all things showbiz, I fell in love with CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which lead to a desire to do Theater (cue thematic transition music).

I had the great fortune of having a high school theater teacher with a wonderful vision for a radio/TV/Theater department who introduced all of his students to the production side of both radio and TV. I was fascinated with audio production. I followed this through college and into my first radio job. Though I loved commercials, and was an excellent copy writer, being “a girl” in the early 80’s, we were not ‘encouraged’ to pursue the technical end of the business so much as the on-mic/on-camera side, …except in the journalism arena; so I decided to pursue radio news casting! During my first on air gig as a morning news anchor in 1984, while goofing around off-mic one day the show host discovered my talent for character voices. He chose to add me to his repertoire of bits which I got to help produce. This was a game-changer for me. I began to learn the production room, which by the way, engineers always designed for the ‘wingspan’ of a typically tall man – reel to reel over here… turntable over ….there…. control board over…. here… aaaaand GO!

I would later move to another station as a morning radio co-host and honed my copywriting skills and changed my focus to commercial and bit production. I loved the process of creating sound, of making an effective spot! Most people in radio do the commercials so they can get to be on the air. I did the airtime so I could get to do the commercials. I did morning and midday radio “Town to town, up and down the dial” and eventually received my RAB certification as a Certified Professional Commercial Copywriter. (cue time lapse music) I landed in network radio for a Contemporary Christian Radio network in 2003. By this time I had been writing and recording spots and had some outside clients, but primarily identified myself as an audio producer and copywriter. I wanted to ‘be’ a voice actor. But didn’t yet identify myself with the heroes I had in my head. It didn’t occur to me that when people bought my spec spots and said “no we’ll take it like it is” that they were validating me as a professional, even though these spots were playing all over the country. It took another voice actor that I admired greatly, my friend and mentor, Bob Souer, to point out to me they hired me because they wanted ‘me’.

One thing I love about the voiceover community is our ability to encourage one another. Because sometimes we can be so short-sighted, that we can be striving so hard for something, and be very good at it, but not recognize it until someone holds the mirror up to for us to see. And our community is so generous and so gracious to be quick to point those things out to one another. I’m thankful that Bob did that with me. Because it made me realize I had been in a rut of ‘trying’ when I was already ‘doing’!

Once the blinders were off things began to progress rather quickly. I realized I hadn’t been considering myself an entrepreneur. Once I made the mental shift, my business began to grow from more than a sideline to a full-time endeavor. Though still employed by a network as an audio producer, I have my own enterprise and client base in my voice over business, and serve as a copywriting consultant, contract copywriter and audio producer.

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

Wow, there are so many things that I can look and say “If I knew THEN what I know NOW” but I think by and large the most important thing would be to not let fear stop me. I was so intimidated by THEM, these VOICES, these people who were THE voices. But when I stepped into the arena, I found this was not like any other area of the business I have experienced. There was no one waiting to knock me down. No one waiting to sabotage my audition (and those that are don’t last long). What I found was a community of regulars, nerds and nerdlets, band geeks and squares, who are now the Cool Kids Table. I found the most welcoming tribe of gypsies that were willing to share what they knew. Many had the same off-beat humor as I, and all were so willing to foster, mentor and share! So what’s left to fear?

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?

My biggest professional obstacle is me. I get in my own way all the time. It’s important to know what you know, but it’s more important to know what you don’t know. I need to know more about what I don’t know so that I can make better management decisions, better marketing plans (I’m not good at marketing), better business models, better purchasing decisions.

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

Friendship. I use that word instead of networking because I’m so NOT a networker. Networking makes me think of handshaking and passing business cards, not really connecting. I am a friendly person, and I genuinely LIKE the people for and with whom I work. I think this is why my business has continued to grow consistently by referrals (I told you I’m not good at marketing – yet). I’m also rather good at remembering names and at least something about what a person does and sometimes even something they need. Often I’m able to suggest a connection between friends that can be of help, and that’s one of my most favorite moments! I think People are tied to your Purpose and to your Prosperity, but if you don’t genuinely like people you won’t ever get to the other two. Genuinely liking people, genuinely connecting, and genuinely enjoying helping my client/friends, I think that would be it.

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?

I can’t pick one. I have had so many wonderful people pour into me from Dan O’Day and his Radio Creative Production Summit. To the three guys who each taught me so much: Bob Souer, Blaine Parker, and Dick Terhune. Then there’s my wonderful voice coach Nancy Wolfson, and Harlan Hogan with his “Starting Your Voiceover Business” class, and my character voice acting teachers Pat Fraley and Richard Horvitz. How do I pick one? Each fit what I needed when I needed at the time. That in itself is part of the key that I learned I think. They each have given something valuable, individual, and not anything the other could give.

I take that to the mic with me when I audition. I can only bring ‘me’. The key is, “I’m not competing against YOU when I audition. Because you can’t do ME and I can’t do YOU. We’re all just auditioning to see if we fit what this guy needs right now!”

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7 Responses to “5 Questions for a Professional Voice Over Talent – Natalie Stanfield Thomas”

  1. Loved getting to know you better, Natalie. Ever since I first met you at the Atlanta Faffcon, you’ve been a shining example of joy (and talent!) in everything you do. Thanks for that. It’s inspirational. 😀 Sending many hugs — Jodi

  2. I love this!
    And yes, you ARE awesome! 🙂
    Can’t wait to see you NEXT week!!!!

  3. Good stuff Natalie! See you soon.

    Dan

  4. Enjoyed the interview, Natalie. May you enjoy amazing success in all that you set out to do!

  5. […] Posted March 19, 2012 by Bob My friend Natalie Stanfield Thomas is featured in an interview at Peter O’Connell’s blog. […]

  6. Rod:

    Natalie rocks! But when she’s on a roll the real fun begins…improv excellence!

    Best always,
    – Peter

  7. I’ll see both of you soon…I’m over some kind of mountains. They look orange, makes me think Arizona.

    Best always,
    – Peter

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