Welcome to our first installment of Behind The Mic, where we pick the brains of amazing voice talents working in our industry today. We’re lucky enough to kick off this recurring column with one of the most recognizable and talented voices on air (and one of our personal faves here at ReelWorld) – Ann Dewig. Ann can be heard on nearly every format across the dial as well as in the film, TV and video game industries. Coming from a radio production background she has a unique view on the industry and is a model of success for many up-and-coming voice talents.
Most people may not know that you were an imaging rockstar back in the day. How do you think that background helped your VO career?
Rockstar is a bit of an exaggeration, but I’ll let it slide. 🙂
I’m super-sensitive to any kind of hype, coercion or manipulation, so I have always had a strong passion for how we communicate with one another. So in a way, VO just feels like an extension of my job as a Creative Services Director. I spent much of my time in radio experimenting with all sorts of crazy new ways to connect with the Gen X audience. Today, I just continue to try and find new ways to connect by trying to be as genuine, open and honest as possible, even if it means my tracks are vulnerable, messy and unpredictable. I may be wrong, but I really think that a bit of authenticity goes a long way – and I think the audience hears it . . . maybe even on a subconscious level.
Also, aside from a general understanding of how a typical promo is constructed, and, hopefully, sometimes intuiting what the producer has in mind, I always try and be considerate of what it’s like to be on the other side of the mic waiting on voice tracks with a tight deadline hanging over my head.
Were there other VO talents that inspired you early on?
I gravitated toward other writer/director/producer/voices at the time like Ned Spindle at Q101 in Chicago. He wrote, produced and voiced all the imaging and everything he did was so incredibly imaginative, three dimensional and clever. He also seemed to be trying to connect to the audience without any kind of false pretense. And my voice guy at KBPI in Denver and KEGL in Dallas, Chris Ryan, was very intuitive and just knew how to deliver a script based on how it was written. He’d also toss out funny lines or out-takes that were way better than what I had written – and often times brutally honest in a funny way. Both Chris and Ned have an honest, irreverent, sarcastic and clever wit that I tried to emulate in my work, but they’ve always done it naturally and are WAY better at it than I am.
But also — I was influenced by what I WASN’T hearing at the time. In the late 90’s, It seemed to me that there were still a lot of voice people doing radio reads that didn’t really speak to me as a 20 year old, Gen X punk. Keith Eubanks was just becoming really famous for his anti-announcer and I also took a lot of my cues from the pop culture of the time. The Real World had been out for a while, and I was experimenting with my own anti-announcer read when Daria came out on MTV — and that helped give me the confidence to continue pursuing the shift in attitude. Anyway, I kind of became known for my own version of the Gen X “Anti-Announcer” at the time and that kicked off my voice-over radio career.
What’s the most effective way for a producer to give you copy direction?
Maybe it’s because radio stations know what they’re getting into when they hire me, but I really don’t get a lot of direction. Once we dial in the energy level and vibe on a station, whether it’s Rock, CHR, Hot AC, Country or whatever, I’m mostly told: “Do your thing.” Usually the only direction I get is a word bolded or an adjective before a sentence. That seems to be a great way for me to incorporate my own passion for being real — and also give the imaging director the pauses and inflections he or she is wanting.
I’d like to add that one of the downsides to working with me is that my sessions can be pretty messy. As you at ReelWorld know, I’m definitely not a one-take wonder as I work to find an authentic way to deliver. I’ll toss around out-takes, stop, and start over if something isn’t feeling genuine. I know that with tighter deadlines and radio people doing multiple jobs — well, I understand that my approach isn’t for everyone. Another downside is that I now have a hard time when a producer or program director has somewhat rigid idea of what the read should sound like: “Hit a certain word harder, come up in the middle of the sentence, and then stick the landing.” I have a hard time getting excited about that kind of voicing and I end up doing mental gymnastics to try and find, not often successfully, my own authentic way to communicate the stylized read.
What kind of mic and preamp are you using? Any other secret weapons?
Bock 507 through a Hardy M-1 and a UA-1176 and that’s it.
Any tips for a home studio on a budget?
There are loads of people better qualified to answer this question than me, but I have heard audio engineers complain about room noise the most. So one approach could be to spend most of the budget on a really quiet space or a ready-made vocal booth like a Whisper Room. If you start with the best space you can, then you’re never compensating for it or trapped by it. Once you have a really quiet space, you can upgrade gear later and the sky is the limit.
How has the Radio VO industry changed over the years and where do you see it headed?
Again, there are probably loads of people better able to answer this question, but I think the biggest thing I’m noticing now is maybe an undercurrent of fear that radio is becoming obsolete. But like newspapers and magazines, people are hungry for news, it’s just that a lot of that content shifted from being delivered to your doorstep to being delivered online. I really believe that there will always be an audience for entertainment, music, sports, news-talk and local programming — It’s just may not come from broadcast towers.
How do you keep your voice in top shape?
I have tried a bunch of stuff, and I probably would benefit from tons of professional help — in more ways than one. But for right now? I’m really into not talking. I limit phone conversations, take “quiet breaks” when I can and sneak in “vocal rest” on the weekends.
Any advice for newcomers trying to break into the VO industry?
I’d like to also say, I think everyone has a wonderful, unique voice and perspective and I really believe that there is plenty of room for all of us. And because we’re all so unique, I’ve come to believe that there are no one-size-fits-all rules. I don’t think there’s a book, or coach or technique that works for everyone all the time. So I think I’d say to chase your curiosity — even when it comes to voice technique and voicing scripts. I started learning more with voice coaches, then acting techniques, and now I’m seeing a sports psychologist who is teaching me things about finding the zone. Who knows what I’ll interested in next?
What’s the most insane (or worst) request you’ve ever gotten from a client?
I have a station who hired me to help them come up with an angry, drunk, country red-neck image voice. There’s a bravado and swagger that female country singers have when they perform on stage — and I think the station wanted some of that. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m probably not the best angry, drunk redneck around, but experimenting with that imaging character really helped loosen me up and cut loose for a lot of other projects. I feel like I’m much more free spirited in all my sessions because of this one station.
If your life was a movie, who would voice the trailer?
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