A few days ago we received an email from Kyle. He wanted Cousin :)…HE gets Cousin!
We reached out to Cousin Deke. He’s Creative Services Director at KDGE FM in Dallas, Texas, an multi format imaging hero (he does 4!!), the main voice for benztown HotAC and very successful part of the Benztown VO Group. Cousin has put a lot of effort into the interview and demo!
Check out Cousin’s demo, his story, his favourite VO settings and his tips for everyone starting out in VO. An incredible detailed interview. Thanks Deke!
Cousin: “but I ain’t getting naked (again) – i learned my lesson on that! ha.”
How did you get into the VO business?
Probably the same way a lot of us did… Combination of frustration, desperation, and just something different to do. I never saw myself as a VO person – I had done nights on rock stations – and had gotten into imaging in order to “increase my value” and enable myself to feel more secure each year when budgets were being done. Starting out in imaging, I had Eric Chase and John B. Wells as my station voice – and they’re both so good – I never thought I would be able to do what they do – I knew I could read – but not like that. I had a few PD’s early on who would tell me I should do voice over – Jim Richards would drop mentions about it – also Tim Dukes – and I would just laugh and keep going. I eventually started doing it because I didn’t have a choice – I would send copy (not to Eric or John – but other talent) – and 24 hours later I still wouldn’t have it back… So, that’s the desperation part — I would just do it myself and hope the PD didn’t say anything or notice. Eventually, they did – but it was positive – they liked what I was doing – Dropped the current voice and went with me… It’s been wonderful to voice my home station – I get an idea – and in 30 minutes I can have it on air. I’m very fortunate in that respect. The frustration part I mention above was a major catalyst for me – I had voiced and produced a spot for a MEGA corporation – it was just as a favor for an AE and was only going to air locally – Somehow their national office heard it – and they picked it up to air all over the US and Canada… I didn’t know back then I could charge extra for that – I felt like I should be able to – but I didn’t know that was even an option… They did, however, drop off a gym bag filled with shirts and hats with their awful logo all over em. So, there’s that… The day that happened – I was walking down the promotions CubeVille – and there was a year-end “Best of Dallas” issue – open to the page that said “Best Talent Agent in Dallas – Suzanne Horne” — So, I called her immediately – and five days later I was signed. She’s been amazing – very encouraging – her assistant, Gillian, is constantly pushing us to try things we would never normally even bother with. I had an audition for a company in Minnesota that wanted an “Authentic sounding Minnesotan – We’re proud of brand and home state!” – I’m from Kentucky and I live in Texas… There are a lot of things I sound like – but Authentic Minnesotan ain’t on the list… But – she pushed me to read for it – and I booked it – over people in Minnesota, New York and LA… As for Radio station VO — I have Scott Stanley to thank for that. I wanted to do more radio – but it’s a really tough area to crack into – then, out of nowhere, Scott Stanely from 700 WLW in Cincinnati calls and asks what my rates are for radio VO – I didn’t have any – but he told me what they had available – and I was in… if he had told me they had 50 cents available – I would have been in – I grew up listening to “The Big One” – and to have that as my first “Official” VO gig felt amazing… Still does – That was almost five years ago – and the stuff that WLW is doing is consistently the most creative copy and production you’ll find. I also owe an enormous debt to Clay Hunnicutt and Brad Hardin – both of those guys have been amazing in their support and trust in me to get the job done. Clay was the first guy to call and say “You ever do any country stuff – because you should” – I hadn’t, at that point, but thanks to his call that day – I’ve done an incredible amount since…
What Pre-Amp, settings
This may end the interview, because I’m a huge let down in this area… I have never been even remotely interested in the technical side of what we do. I know what I think sounds good – and I try to make what I have, and what I’m provided with sound as good as possible – to me, and to anyone who hears it – but, I’m completely lost every time this subject comes up. In my work studio I use an AT 4033 — it’s run directly into a Digi 003 setup – Yup, just checked to make sure — it’s plugged directly into the back of the thing. So – everything I do – runs through the Pro-Tools setup – I do have a slight C1 gate on the mic channel – it’s a small room – and there are a good number of fans whirring at any given moment… Most are well hidden – but it does a nice job of killing what noise is left over. I’m also fortunate to have always worked with great engineers – every where I’ve been – I’m spoiled in that I come in – and things work… I don’t have to deal with the frustrations of tweaking and turning – I know a lot of people in our business love that part of it – and that’s great… just not for me.
Different Set-Ups for Different Formats
I don’t really do anything different from a technical standpoint – the reads I give are completely different – the style of the delivery – the amount of my natural accent I let creep through – or, the amount of my accent I purposely exaggerate to make the copy work. I do, actually add some compression for the News/Talk stations. They all seem to like that big, punchy sound – so, I’ll add a little of that in settings – and then they punch it even more (I think).
What is your favorite Mic
Truly, whatever mic is available to me at the time. I’d love to be able to talk about the difference in my voice with a Neumann, or a shotgun – or any of those things – but truthfully – I’m happy with what I have. I’ve used this AT for the past few years – I bought a Heil microphone – but only because I liked the idea of it — the whole small shop in Chicago — cranking out a product – one of the reasons I like craft beer – more the mystique of it – and the rooting for the under dog — but — that mic wasn’t good for me at all… it was sturdy and well made – but not good for my voice — I had a Shure in here forever – the one all radio stations have in the control room or production room — and I hated it.
Who Influenced You The Most
For imaging, and VO – definitely Joel Moss at WEBN in Cincinnati. I was fortunate enough to work there and learn directly from him for a number of years. It was incredibly intimidating for the first six months – I was young – and EBN is his child – he was (and still is) very protective of the sound of that station – he takes an enormous amount of pride in what he does – and I had to live up to that – everything I did had to be played for him and approved by him before it could get near the on-air studio. Luckily, I was just out of college, and could stay at the station late in to the night and early morning to work on stuff – that makes Joel sound like a Dickensian sweat shop manager — let me take that back — I did all that because I wanted to do that – I was on the air from 7 til midnight every night – six days a week – so I heard every night how good he is — his writing, his production – the way he would pepper sweepers with FX that only other radio people would even perceive – in the overall presentation – it’s the icing, and it does make the end product sound even better – but it would always leave me shaking my head asking “who would even think to do that?”, in a good way – and the answer was, Joel. He’s incredibly modest – and sometimes I wonder if he even knows how respected he is in this industry – and truthfully – how many doors he opened up by changing the way imaging was done – cross formats even – he was the first guy to throw away the laser/zap/explosion CD and start to use found audio and other sources for his work – To this day, I believe that a lot of what is good in our world can be traced back to WEBN – Eric Chase did some amazing stuff there before he went to Tampa – Tom Owens and Joel were the guys that started putting more emphasis on the WORDS and less on the explosions and screaming voice guys. I also owe an enormous debt to Ann DeWig for everything she has taught me – and the incredible amount of patience she showed working with me early on… Also – having Ann as a voice – I learned more through osmosis – I was able to write with her in mind – but then she would take it – and make it even better with her ad libs, off mic stuff – or just a different inflection on a word I hadn’t thought of… She’s the one who really pounded in to me that it’s ok to go off script – and ninety-nine percent of the time – it’s going to make it better. With all of the imaging share services out there – I’m amazed at the number of pages of copy I get sent to me – where my ad-libs are written into the copy — And I can never pull it off – I laugh a lot – I even had one for a News/Talk station where they’d heard a quick show promo – and before I delivered the “punch line” of the sweeper – I did a quick “sniff” – it was a sinus/nose thing – but it worked and they used it on-air… When another station sent me copy a few months later – that same line was in there – and they had written out (sniff right here). Ann is the one that taught me it’s OK to have fun with it – it’s actually better – this is a fun business, radio should be fun – and I think the station imaging – for any format – needs to reflect that.
Tips for people starting out
Patience is the number one thing I tell people. It doesn’t happen over night – especially in Radio… People like who they like, and try to use them wherever they go… Eventually – someone isn’t going to be available – or a station is going to want to change their sound – and hopefully – you’ll be in line for a chance at being that person. Also – never say no… If it’s experience and it gets your name and voice out there – do it! Especially when you’re trying to get noticed and heard – remember that the client is always right – even when you know they’re insanely wrong – just smile and do it the way they want it. My one caveat to this would be – never, never, ever, NEVER do a text-to-speech gig… EVER. I don’t care how much money they’re offering or how long you are given to do it – just – don’t. Just say no. I did one a few years ago for a tech firm in India – it was brutal and confusing and took weeks and weeks to complete… it’s fascinating – how they’re able to do it – but, it’s not worth it… Annnnd, now there’s a website (that I will never publish or acknowledge) where you can type in anything, and have me say it. I’m still worried someone will find it and call my mom, or boss, etc… TTS = NoNoNo.
As far as making it in a major market – at least in VO – I don’t know if that matters much anymore – where you are – physically, or just your voice – every market is a major market. I believe you need to treat every single station completely equally – to those people, in each market – it’s their livelihood and careers on the line — not solely on how you sound as a VO person – but that’s a big part of the station sound – and they’ve trusted you, and your talents, with making them sound as good as possible. Plus – this is a very small, tight knit, gossipy community… if you talk down about someone’s copy, or put a station off for a day and a half because they’re in a smaller market – word will get around – and you’ll end up losing everything. I love being on in big markets – but I also love being on in the smaller markets – the smaller markets are very enthusiastic – and get very excited about what you’re doing. A lot of the big market guys have been at it for a long time – and while they’re doing amazing stuff – they aren’t as enthused about it as they once were… That’s true with any job or career.
I’ve never worked with a coach or trainer – so I can’t recommend anyone… I think listening to other people – studying what they’re doing – just absorbing all that you can – is one of the best methods out there for getting better…
Tips for Producers in guiding VO talents
I’ve been very fortunate in production… I’ve been able to work with amazing VO talents in the past fifteen years – and I haven’t really ever needed to coach any of them with what I want in their delivery. As a producer – don’t be shy – it’s your money, and whatever is produced is going to come back to you – if you don’t have the sound you want from your voice person – call them and have them do it again – and if they won’t – start looking for a new voice person. I’ve got a few stations now that have me doing reads that I would never do, naturally, at least… But – they have a sound that they want – and I give it to them the best I can. Again – it always goes back to super serving the client – no matter the market or format. So – you should be able to tell them exactly what you want, if you’re not already getting it. I know it can be intimidating – twelve years ago, I had a station pay me to do the ISDN sessions with their voice person – the Imaging Producer in that market was so intimidated by the VO talent that they couldn’t do the sessions with them – so, I did them. There’s no reason stuff like that should ever happen. No matter how successful or famous a VO person is – you’re the one paying them – and they need to do what you need them to do – and again, if they won’t – or are critical – find yourself a new VO person.
Who are the top three VO people in the world
I honestly can’t answer that – and not because I’m worried about hurting someone’s feelings… I just don’t think it can be answered. VO is one of the most subjective businesses in the world. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone and thought “wow, really?” – and I don’t mean that in a positive way. BUT – somewhere, there’s a person who heard that and said “awwwww yeah!! That’s what I need!!!”. It takes a while to accept that – but – once you do – it makes missing out on gigs a lot easier to accept and handle. You’re going to audition for a lot of stations, commercials, corporate videos, etc — and you’re going to not get a lot of them – and sometimes, you’ll hear who DID get them – and it can be discouraging – but always remember, that it’s not personal – it’s just that to that casting person, or PD, or whomever – your sound wasn’t the sound they already had in their head… And they ALWAYS have a sound in mind before they start auditioning – they have to in order to write – it’s beyond rare for them to hear a different sound and change their minds.
There are so many people doing great work in imaging and VO in radio right now. Ann DeWig is amazing as a VO talent and producer – Rachel McGrath in Atlanta is a great voice talent – and – is almost solely responsible for changing the way the Country format is being imaged – I can’t tell you the number of PD’s that call or write and say “I want my station to sound like the Bull in Atlanta”. Eric Chase is still one of the greatest VO talents in the history of radio – and it makes me insane that he won’t do it anymore. Chris Rice in Sacramento does great work incorporating character voices in to his promo work – he’s been great at keeping things sounding creative in the limited amount of time we’ve been given – and he’s done it through character voices. Truthfully, I’m lucky to be able to do VO for great producers – I’ve heard good VO after it’s been produced by bad producers — it’s like watching someone pour a Dogfish Head 120 IPA out on the ground… just sad, heartbreaking, really. I can also throw this in here – and maybe someone can answer – I’ve got a production demo CD – I think the package was called ID-4 maybe?? It’s from the UK – and there’s a guy in the beginning of the demo who has an amazing deep, British voice – I have no idea who it is – but he’s up there on the list. If you know who he is – let me know – it’s bugged me for years.
I can tell you who I don’t like – that guy on the off-ramp – I could write a book on what was wrong with that whole story – he would have been incredible – INCREDIBLE – in 1986… But the one thing to take away from that whole terrible saga is that the perception of the public for radio VO is still that dude on the off ramp – not him specifically – but that big, pukey over the top, fake read. OK – I’ll let that go… seriously, I could go on and on about it.
Thanks to Cousin for sharing his wisdom and experience with us.