Oh…did I just drop that name? Here, let me pick that up.

You heard it right folks…Benztown’s roster of top-notch voice-over & imaging talent has just gone up yet another notch with the addition of Joe Cipriano! Now his VO chops will be available for barter to radio stations across the US. Not to mention our readers get this radtastic exclusive interview…

Press Release | VO Demo for Radio | Joe Cip’s Website | Joe Cip on Facebook

Here’s the interview I did with Joe. If you’d like to ask him any additional questions, he’s totally cool with it. Just shoot me an e-mail at cj@benztown.com, and I’ll gladly introduce you.

What do you love about working as a freelance VO talent? Every day is different.  Most days when I wake up in the morning, I don’t even know if I’ll have a booking that day.  Thankfully the day fills out and it can be anything from network promo work, to game show work, presentations for a new show that are being pitched, radio imaging and of course lots of auditions.  I never know what the day will bring me.

How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig? I started when I was in radio as an on-air personality in Washington, DC.  My first voice over jobs were for local and regional commercials.  Department stores like Woodward and Lothrop, Garfinkles and a lot of US Government PSAs.  I realized early on that if I wanted to get up to bat in the big leagues I would have to move to Los Angeles or New York.  This was 15 years before ISDN.  You had to be in either of those two cities.  I also had a very hard and fast rule that I would never move unless I had a “day job” waiting for me.  In this case, a radio job to support me.  I had no interest in moving to LA and becoming a starving actor.

Have you ever had a voice coach? Oh yes, many.  Voice Coaches, voice workshops, classes, workouts both in Washington, DC and here in Los Angeles.  You can’t do this on your own, you need input and guidance from someone you trust.

Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a voice-over artist? Well, number 1 on top of the list is Danny Dark, the legendary voice of NBC, Budweiser “This Bud’s for you” , Keebler Cookies “Baked by Magic Elves in a hollow tree”, Raid “Kills bugs DEAD”,  StarKist Tuna “Sorry Charlie” and countless other legendary slogans and campaigns.  His voice was iconic.  I first recognized his voice when I was in DC and he was the reason I wanted to do network promos.  Years later I got to meet him through my agent Rita Vennari. By then it was the early 90s.  Danny wanted to learn about ISDN and how to build a home studio, so she asked if I would talk to him.  I was thrilled.  Danny came to my house in Pacific Palisades one day with a brown paper bag of home grown tomatoes from his garden and that began one of the greatest and most fun friendships of my life.  My wife Ann and I along with Danny and his wife JoBee had many dinners together on both coasts.  He was one of the most original, unique and wonderful individual I’ve ever met.  When Danny spoke it was pure Jazz.  There’s never been anyone like him.  I have so many Danny Dark stories, he was a classic.

Joe Cipriano was honored to receive the 2010 Don LaFontaine Legacy Award. Photo: courtesy of JoeCipriano.com (www.joecipriano.com/)

You were lucky enough to be a close friend to Don LaFontaine and in 2010, you received the Don LaFontaine Legacy Award. You beat me to the punch in mentioning the next person on the list who influenced my work and my life, Don LaFontaine.

What did that mean to you, personally and/or professionally? Simply put, Don liked me.  And when Don likes you, well, you’re in for a fun ride.  He invited me into projects that I wouldn’t have been a part of had he not done so.  Don was irreverent, funny and he was incredibly smart.  A wordsmith, a reader…a voracious reader.  His vocabulary was huge and his knowledge  of all things was grand.  He was The King.  And it was good to be the King.  Don would also make sure you didn’t get too full of yourself, he would put you in your place if he sensed you were starting to believe your own PR.  We all are familiar with his talent, not sure if you know that based on shear number of signed SAG contracts, he was by far the busiest actor in the entire Screen Actor’s Guild.  He worked on more SAG jobs than anyone, ever. Receiving the Don LaFontaine Legacy Award was surreal.  It was presented to me at the Promax BDA convention which is attended by just about everyone who works in network promos.  I stood on stage in front of just about everyone I’ve ever worked with and I chose to speak about relationships and how we have gotten away from face to face encounters in our business.  I’m very adamant about getting OUT of the home studio and getting IN to the networks, production companies and vendors we work for.  We need to keep face to face, person to person contact as much as we can.

What was your relationship like with Don LaFontaine? First of all, I was not one of Don’s closest friends, he had close friends like Steve Susskind, Paul Pape, Lauren Dreyfuss and others who all played poker together.  My friendship with Don was a result of the amount of time we worked together.  I would see Don several times a day at many different studios.  He was kind of a touchstone for me.  No matter where I worked, Don would be there too.  It’s hard to explain, but I always felt better because Don was at the same studio or at the network with me.  Later in his life just before he passed, he and I were working on a couple of business deals together, because of our friendship and our desire to give back to the voice over community.  I wish he had more time to spend with us because we were going to do some really fun stuff together.  When he passed I knew I had to carry on his desire to give back to the voice over community and it’s part of why I so easily and wholeheartedly joined Paul Pape in the creation of the Don LaFontaine Voice Over Lab at the SAG Foundation.

Can you share something you learned from him that no one else could have taught you? He and Danny Dark gave me confidence to believe in myself and know that what I had to offer as a professional, as a voice over talent was unique in it’s own way.  The way they lived their lives taught me as much about what “to do” as what “not to do.”  We can learn from our own mistakes and from other people’s mistakes as well. I wrote a piece for John Florian about some advice Don gave me at a time when I needed it most.  It’s on Voice Over Xtra http://www.voiceoverxtra.com/article.htm?id=k0c6oyq2 But I have to say the person I’ve learned the most from and rely on for solid advice is my wife, Ann.  I can go to her with a complicated decision that I’m wrestling with and she can break it down and look at it from a different perspective. She can lay it out simply, linearly and help me see a complex puzzle clearly and as something much easier to handle.  She’s very smart and she’s very fair in everything she does.  I’m a better person because of her influence.  She’s my best friend and closest advisor.

What would be your 3 main tips for a youngster trying to start a VO career?

  1. Never move to a new city to pursue voice over work without having a day job set up ahead of time.
  2. “It’s not about the microphone.”  I would like to SHOUT that from the tree tops.  I get countless emails asking what mic I use, what Don used.  It’s not about the mic.
  3. Strive to be the best you can be.  Don’t settle for jobs where you have to chase your money, don’t sell YOURSELF short.  I relate to a stage actor who doesn’t want to do community theatre all their life. Shoot for the top, strive to get to Broadway, shoot for legitimate work…what I call “above board” work. There are lots more, but that would be 3 tips.      

How do you schedule your work? My agents schedule what my day looks like, but I set aside mornings for radio imaging clients and sessions that are either done on my own or that are directed via phone patch.  I love doing radio imaging.  I have about 20 stations at a time in my calendar and I would happily add 20 more.  It keeps me connected to something that was such a big part of my life.  Network promos and other work that is either ISDN or in person usually starts at about 1pm.  My days are very different.  I can be done at 2pm or work until 9pm.  I never know what the day will bring.

How much time do you spend auditioning for new work? I audition at least once a day but usually about 3 times a day.

What gear do you use (microphone, pre-amp, booth, …)? Reminding you that “the microphone doesn’t matter” J  I’m currently using my 416 most of the time, through my Avalon M5.  There is no processing, no EQ…it’s completely flat.  When I do radio imaging I do run through an LA4 at about 4 to 1.

Which production system do you use and why? If you mean, what recording software I use…it’s ProTools.  I use it because all of the studios I work at use ProTools and I have a natural connection with it.  It’s very easy for me to use every day.

What are your favorite plugins? I don’t use any plugins.  All my vo is recorded and sent completely flat.

What is the best voice processing trick or voice-over technique anybody should know? No tricks.  It’s just me talking into a microphone.

A couple questions from Matty, one of our readers…

Why, in this era where most successful voice over artists have home studios that sound fantastic, you still have to live in LA to do promo & trailer work or NYC to do commercial work? At this point, you do not HAVE to live in LA or New York to do the work you speak of.  There s no doubt in my mind that is a true statement, BUT…it’s very difficult to break into these areas of voice over no matter where you live AND unless you are truly unique and different and strike a cord as a stand out performer (causing people to fall over themselves to hire you) I believe you will find yourself at a slight disadvantage over “in-town” talent.  If you live in the town where the casting and work is…you can show up for these auditions and or work and make a visual connection.  Still, nothing beats face-time…a chance for them to see you and interact with you.  No matter what, there still is an intangible there.  Again, this is a SLIGHT advantage, but it’s something to consider in your hopes for a career.

Since Mr. Cipriano is so great at varying his sound, how does he suggest we market ourselves if we can do multiple vocal styles? I ask this because there are a lot of voice over coaches out there telling clients to stick with only one vocal style and brand themselves that way alone. The thinking is to focus on ONE genre and knock it out of the park.  Be absolutely amazing in that one type of voice over and then grow your career from there.  If you go in trying to be everything to everyone it’s a much more scattered approach.  Focus is very important.

Check out Joe Cipriano on The Today Show, alongside his peers Don LaFontaine, George DelHoyo and Mark Elliott.

Prime Time Voices for Children

Last year, Joe also Executive Produced the album “Prime Time Voices for Children,” in which 31 of America’s most recognized voices recorded the single Twas the Night Before Christmas.  It got a good amount of radio airplay last year and is available again this holiday season. Let’s see if YOU can recognize any of the voices.

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