Why did I decide to get into voice over? I suppose it was a day like any other normal day in my home in Houston, Texas. My beautiful wife was doing all the amazing things she does, and my adolescent kids were passing through the kitchen/diner at random times as if we weren’t even there on their way to snack heaven and back. There was one important constant in all the comings and goings as always. The radio was on. Music had been such an important part of my life since, well I can’t remember. Is was that early in my life.
From those early days I can specifically remember that music was always around me. My grandfather played the fiddle, my grandmother played the piano and my mother was always singing harmonies to whatever was on the radio. In addition to this, my parents had the stereotypical 70’s hi-fi system contained within a smoked glassed door that had a shelve at the bottom for LP’s. I remember it like it was yesterday. Pressing the small metal rectangle at the top corner of the glass door that released a magnet and transported me to hi-fi heaven. Every time I looked at it, it was as if the angels were singing from above.
The bottom shelve of this particular hi-fi system was full of box-sets and albums. Curiously, the majority of these were from one group. Now, I am sure if I let you know that this memory started in the 70’s and into the 80’s you may start to hazard guesses as to this group’s identity. A true Supergroup of the era. If I let you know that this household was in the UK then it may lead you closer. The group was made up of two men and two women. They were not from the UK but across the North Sea to the East. The first ever hugely successful group to ever come from Sweden. You must have guessed it by now. ABBA.
Now, I have never discussed with my mother her fascination with ABBA, but growing up, I didn’t care. And in truth, she obviously wasn't alone. At the peak of their career, ABBA were reputedly second only to Volvo in their contribution to Sweden’s exports. This was the time of Rock and Roll, Punk Rock and heavy metal. Music based on sexualized lingua, debauchery and the excesses of life rather than the hopes and fears of modern day suburbia which are in no way any less epic or less valid. The secret was this latter demographic had the added advantage of outnumbering all the others combined.
I didn’t realize it at the time but the constant melodic refrain of those box sets coloring the rooms of my house as I grew up was a huge part of my life. Their music had a familiarity, a delightful melodic folk style with a subtle melancholy streak that came from their Nordic roots. It wasn’t cool, quite the opposite, kitsch and sentimental. Call it what you want. All I knew was it was a pleasure to listen to.
Looking back, that was the foundation for something I have learned I have a talent for. As I moved through all the stages in my life, I had a keen ear for knowing if a song or a group would be a success. And there were no boundaries to my taste. Adam and the Ants to A-Ha, Bucks-Fizz to the Beastie Boys, The Cure to Coldplay, Dire-Straits to Depeche Mode. You get the idea. I could listen to a brand new song played on the radio for the first time and I could tell whether it would be a success or not.
The first time I consciously understood this gift was when Deee-Lite, Groove is in the heart was first played on the morning show on Radio One. It was a mild August morning in 1990 and I was a successful nightclub DJ at a club that was ranked the No.1 in Scotland. I was a young go-getter and part of my duties were to go to the surrounding local towns and ask the local stores to put posters up in exchange for complimentary tickets to the nightclub. I had just left the office with my stack of posters and tickets and started the engine to the companies yellow Bedford van. The most unstable and underpowered vehicle I have ever driven in my life. Think of a miniature version of the VW bus with a lawn mower sized engine. Before I had even made it out of the parking lot, a strange rift with the words “we’re going to dance and have some fun” started, followed by a funky disco bassline. It was the first time I had ever said out loud to someone that I knew immediately that a song would be a success. It went on to be a huge Club anthem and reached number 2 in the UK charts.
This added to my success as the resident DJ at the top nightclub in Scotland. I started to accept that I had a great gut feel for choosing amazing play lists. I could feed off the atmosphere of the crowd and the selections just came natural to me. Unplanned and on the fly. I had no pre-planned idea of what tunes I would play each night. Seriously. I just turned up and the order would just “come to me”.
A few years later, we made the decision to emigrate to the US. My wife is a US citizen, so the process was made relatively simple. This move introduced me to something I had never heard before. Commercial radio! Living in the UK, I was only ever exposed to the BBC. Radio 1 was the station for the kids. This station had absolutely no commercials. For some reason, my interest was peaked by these commercials. A combination of never hearing radio ads, the amazing American accents and the freshness of radio ads compared to the stuffy UK TV ads that I was used to fascinated me. I started to look forward to hearing the commercial breaks and my knack for knowing a good song seemed to translate well to commercials. I could instantly tell the bad ones from the good ones.
And that’s what got me to where I am today. 3 years ago, I was standing in my kitchen in Houston, Texas and another set of commercials came on the radio. For what seemed like the millionth time I thought “I could have read that commercial better”. I wasn’t being cocky or self-important. I truly thought I could add a nuance from my background that would have given the commercial an edge. This time, the difference was that I did something about it. I immediately searched Google for a voice over coach within the greater Houston area and booked my first introduction to voice over class within a week.
My journey has started. 3 years in and I am in love with voice over. The feeling of being behind the microphone again is exhilarating. I love analyzing the script and bringing my perspective to somebody else’s story. I love the customer service side of things. And I love hearing back from clients saying how happy they are with my voice and the end project. It may not be the instant gratification of a crowd in a nightclub, but it means much more to me now at my stage in life.
The moral of the story? Love what you do. Cliché, I know. Don’t let any boundaries get in your way. Use your passion and be creative. It doesn’t matter what your journey was to get where you are. Classically trained, radio DJ, on screen actor, school teacher, firefighter. None of this matters if you have a true passion for this profession. If you are willing to take the time, pay your dues and truly listen to the myriad of advice from professionals. Most importantly go and have fun putting it into action. Hopefully I will hear your voice one day in a commercial as I listen to the radio in my kitchen in Houston!
Craig Williams is a British Voice Over Actor based in Houston, Texas.