April 22, 2012 by JoBe Cerny
As a kid, I liked listening to records of sound effects. I had collections of all kinds of car engines, airplanes, and locomotives. I had recordings of Spike Jones who used to combine music and sound effects. And I had a lot of Mel Blanc records doing Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and all his other characters. They came with illustrations of the cartoon characters, and you would turn the page when a horn sounded.
Needless to say, those recordings had a lot of sound effects and music underscoring the stories just like the cartoons did. I also liked music and my musical instrument of choice was a xylophone. It was always a lot of fun playing the xylophone, but when I went to college, my mother sold my xylophone. When my son was born, I bought him a toy xylophone, but as soon as he stopped playing it, I started playing it, and my wife sold it at a garage sale as soon as she could. I was always fascinated by sound, but I never dreamed I would own recording studios one day.
When I was in college, it never occurred to me that I would have a career as a voice-over talent. Not very many theatre departments make their students aware that they can earn a living as a voice artist, but a voice artist can make more money doing a single voice-over than a stage actor can make doing eight shows a week. The reality is being a voice-over artist is a pretty rare talent. When I first registered with an agent, I asked her if I could audition for voice-over jobs.
She promptly said: “no”.
She said I did not have the kind of voice most people were looking for. She said my voice was too high, too thin, whiny, and a little grating. She said most ad people wanted announcers with a voice that was deep, resonant, and mellifluous like the people that sold things on the television and radio. I was discouraged to hear that, so I decided to get a second opinion. I went to see another agent, Emilia Lorence. I told her what the other agent said, and she agreed with what she said. But, she said occasionally ad people did need a voice like mine. I asked her if she would give me a chance to audition for a voice-over. She rummaged through a big pile of scripts she had on her desk and picked one out for me and told me to go to the advertising agency to audition for it. So, I did what she said, and my high, whinny, thin voice won the first voice-over audition I went on. I wasn’t an over-night success though. During the next year, I went on five other voice-over auditions, and I won all of them, too. When the other agent who said I couldn’t do voice-over work heard I won five auditions for Emilia, she decided to send me out on an audition, and I won it. And I became the voice of Motorola, and I did a new radio commercial every month.
But, I was fortunate in that I had a role model. My role model was Joel Cory. Without a doubt, Joel was one of the most successful voice-over actors in the history of advertising. He was a relentless promoter, and he seemed to work around the clock. I would watch him make phone call after phone call to creative directors at advertising agencies. He was a great salesman, and his enthusiasm was infectious. After watching him from afar, one day I finally got up enough courage to introduce myself to him. I smiled and asked him if I sounded like him. He laughed and said: “no”.
And I smiled back and said: “That’s what I thought you would say. So, I was wondering if sometimes people at advertising agencies needed somebody who doesn’t sound like you to talk to you so there would be a more recognizable difference in the voices.”
When I said that, I saw a light bulb appear above Joel’s head (If I had my xylophone with me, I would have used it to make a sound effect of the light turning on like they used to use in commercials.), and he said: “That’s a great idea!”
And the next thing I knew I was working with Joel Cory several times a week. The increase in my voice-over work was so dramatic I decided it was time to go exclusive with an agent. And, of course, I gave that job to Emilia Lorence who gave me my first voice-over audition. If it wasn’t for Emilia Lorence and Joel Corey, I might have never had a voice-over career. And, I will forever be grateful to both of them for giving me a chance that turned into a career.