: What does it take to be a voice actor?

BRIAN TALBOT: Voice acting has been a pretty fantastic creative outlet and professional opportunity for me over the past three decades. I have had the good fortune to be at the right place at the right time, and the good sense to make the most of the opportunities when they became available. Like most creative endeavors, it takes practice, persistence, and patience. Those are about the only constants in creating a successful voice acting career. Everything else is pretty much an individual journey.

Brian Talbot (photo by Joe Talbot)
People think that if you "have a good voice" or can do impressions, you should be a voice actor. The truth is that those things have very little to do with voice acting. It is first, and foremost, acting. It is understanding and interpreting the script. It is understanding what your voice can (and cannot) do. Then it is becoming the character, whether it is the retail spokesperson, the educational "guy down the hall", or the videogame character from a mythical land. Learn to take direction and give the producers what they want. Be easy to work with. Those are keys to becoming a working voice actor.

: How did you get started?

: I love to perform, because I can become someone else for a little while. I was in theater in high school and started college as a theater major. After a year, I changed schools and majors, learning audio and video production as a communications major and used my acting experience to shortcut projects without having to find additional talent. After college, I worked in radio and production studios in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York  and sharpened my production skills as well as my understanding for directing talent. As often happens, someone needed a quick voice over, asked me to hop in the voice booth, and my professional voice acting career was off and running. That's the right place at the right time. When I realized how much fun it was, and that I got paid for doing it, I started practicing so that I could get more voice acting work. That's making the most of the opportunities. That's how I got started in voice acting.

Brian Talbot performing
RAD: Voice actors typically have many role models.  Who were some of your early influences?

BT: I had the good fortune of working with the top talent in top markets early in my career. I personally worked with amazing talent in the 80's, including the big voice of Michael Stull (the original Fox Network voice), the versatile voices of Marc Graue (Alaska State Troopers and too many cartoons and games to count) and Wally Wingert (The Tonight Show announcer, Family Guy and hundreds of other credits), and even an amazing session with the legendary Peter Thomas (the first recipient of The Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Television and Radio Association), who went through a three hour session in only a few takes. These may not be household names, but you would recognize all of their voices. These top talents taught me just how high the bar should be if you want to be working as a voice actor. You have to be exceptional. They pay you to be exceptional. If you aren't, they will find someone else who is.

: Your voice runs the gamut, from cartoon voices, to video games, corporate presentations, commercials, and movie trailers.  What voice are you most comfortable with?

: I was very uncomfortable with my own voice when I started, so I gravitated toward characters and styles, learning to be versatile. Eventually, I became more comfortable with my own voice by pretending it was just another character. I started booking more as myself and less as other people, because it was a normal sounding "guy next door." Over the years, most of my work has come from using my "regular" voice rather than character voices. The versatility, however, comes in handy for roles when I have to be multiple characters in the same project, stylistic roles like movie trailers, and all those requests to sound like Sam Elliott, George Clooney, and other celebrities. Today, I am most comfortable with the voice that someone wants to hire me for. (Actors are always looking for their next gig.)

: What have we heard your voice on?

Brian Talbot recording with the Audio Technica 4033 microphone and ProTools
BT: Over my career, I have literally done over 10,000 radio and television commercials, dozens of characters in video games, voices for movies and television shows, movie trailers, signature voices and promos, telephone system voices, political ads, training videos, and more. I work with agents, studios, and clients across the country. I have been very blessed over the years. I was the voice of Big Boy restaurants for about three years, the voice for a cellular phone company for five years, and am currently the voice for Lending Tree. Video game voices include "American Chopper" (based on the television show) where I played five different characters and directed the stars of the show for their in-game performances, the lead hunter and four other guides in "Cabela's Big Game Hunter," and three characters in "World Series of Poker," along with directing 30 poker professionals for the game. Every time I finish a job, I feel like the kid who stole the
cookie from the jar while Mom was watching and got away with it. Voice acting is an amazing blessing in my life.

: Do you record in local studios or do you have your own home studio?

Brian Talbot in his home studio
BT: The business has changed dramatically since I started. Voice acting used to be local with all auditions, as well as jobs, recorded in local studios. ISDN technology did allow talent from one market to record remotely into another market, but that was the exception. If you worked in a market, you usually traveled there to work in a local studio. A handful of people in each market did a majority of the work.
Today, everyone has a home studio. Auditions are almost always done from a home studio. The quality can be good enough for broadcast recording from home studios. ISDN is still the defacto technology for remote recording even though it has been around since 1988. Other technologies are starting to weed their way in, however. I just recorded the latest Lending Tree sessions from my home studio, directed over Skype, and sending the files to the client via Dropbox. This makes everything more accessible, with a lower barrier to entry. It also means that your audition that used to be one of maybe 10 or 20 locals is now often one of 1,000 or more from around the world. The home studio has changed the business, and voice actors, studios, and clients are changing too.

Because I was an audio engineer for a part of my career, I can get excellent sound from my home studio. It's a basic set up, with an Audio Technica 4033 microphone going into ProTools on a Mac, via an AD/DA converter, and great acoustics courtesy of my walk in closet. It's one of the best sounding rooms I've ever recorded in with the clothes deadening the sound. I have a USB mic that I bring with when I travel and record with Audacity. The challenge is to adapt the environment in a hotel room with outside noise, bouncy rooms, and manipulating the "pillow fort" to deaden the sound. It generally works for auditions, but it can be a real challenge of my engineering skills.
Brian Talbot on set (photo by Joe Talbot)

I still love going into local studios to record. There is camaraderie in working with the engineer that is missing when you are recording in your own home studio. You get better feedback in face-to-face situations. 

: What else do you do to burn off creative energy?

: I still love to act on-camera. I used to teach high school theater and do stage work, which was rewarding and good for honing live performance skills, but the time commitment to do a stage play became more challenging as my kids got older. Plus, I really like the control that recorded media offers, and the ability to do another take until you have it the way you want it. I try to work on film projects as much as I can and have started to write and direct short films. I have a few feature film that I'm working on writing as well. I'm always open to new creative endeavors. It is energizing. Some people play golf in their free time. I like to be creative. It keeps me going.


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Thank you to Shannon Luster for research, proof reading, and testing.