People who aren’t in the voice over business often wonder how professional voice talent get to where they are. For a little insight, we sat down with ProComm Voices talent Grace Cantrell

Grace, how long have you been in the voice over business and what got you started?

I did my first voiceover in 1985.

When I graduated from college I really didn’t know what to do with my life. As a singer, I began hitting up the local studios for jingle work. By ’84 I was working for several studios fairly regularly. One day one of the producers asked if I had ever considered doing voice work. I didn’t really even know what he meant. He explained and later that day I made my first demo on a jam box I had at home, reading ad copy from several magazines. I submitted my homemade cassette demo to the producer the next day and got my first VO gig as Snow White in a spot for an athletic shoe store. The commercial even won a local Addy award later that year.

Have you noticed any trends in the types of voices you get calls for or the direction you get in sessions?

Although I do a smattering of characters, I’ve noticed that most everything I voice these days is written for announcer/spokesperson types. Years ago, character voice sessions were much more common. Luckily, being Japanese-American has enabled me to at least be the go to girl when someone needs an authentic Asian-American accent.

How would you characterize your style, sound, or signature read?

I supposed if pressed, I would call my “signature” read one that’s natural and friendly with a hidden element of persuasion. I get a lot of hospital jobs so I’m assuming people feel I have a soothing, reassuring voice. I’m pretty busy during political season and I suppose that’s because I can sound fairly authoritative (for a girl!). I have no background in broadcast announcing which I believe gives me an advantage when clients want a voice talent with a more “natural” sound.

Have you had any interesting, unique, funny or scary experiences while voicing that you can recall?

Once during a session the entire lighting apparatus in the top of the booth fell on my head. I just said, “Sorry for the noise” and kept right on voicing. I also did 2 radio spots for a presidential candidate in my pajamas once because the agency didn’t get script approval until almost midnight.

Do you have any heroes, mentors or others in the business that you look up to or have influenced you?

I’ve worked with so many great people it’s hard to single anyone out. Back in the very beginning though, I learned a lot about the art of the performance and the benefits of being ultra-prepared for the session from Joe Van Riper. I was struck by his ability to read the script as if he wrote it and realized it must be in the preparation. Because of that influence, I always try and read through every script 3 times before the session starts, even if it’s a 25-page narration!

What is the best advice you can offer people who are just getting started?

Hmmm…that’s a toughie. Because of the easy availability of hundreds and hundreds of talents across the country to every studio, I tend to warn those thinking of “getting into” the business these days that it’s considerably more competitive than it used to be. But I would tell them that if they can get their foot in the door, confirm session requests quickly, study scripts ahead of time whenever possible, don’t be late for sessions and during the session listen more than you talk, except of course when you’re reading the script.

You mentioned that the business is more competitive now than it was when you began, what other changes have you noticed in the voice over industry since then?

The “no driving” aspect is awesome! It amazes me when I think back on all the hours I spent on the road ONLY voicing for studios that were within driving distance. That seems like a lifetime ago. I’ve also noticed that as I’m getting older, my directors and producers are getting younger, which of course presents the challenge of reminding myself that even though the person calling the shots may have been in diapers when I did my first voiceover, they are ultimately in charge and therefore I should always try my best to listen thoughtfully and comply.

Of the thousands of commercials you’ve voiced and the many clients you’ve worked with, do any stick out in your mind as being special?

I’ve been fortunate enough in all these years to have voiced for many interesting and impressive (if I might say) clients, truly far too many from which to choose one or even a few as special. I DID have a client propose marriage during a session once. There was of course, no follow-through. And one of my most interesting “blocks” of work would probably have been when I shifted gears from voicing a 5-minute narration as a Chinese woman for a large global company to playing the parts of the grandmother AND the granddaughter on a single radio spot, all within the same hour.

What would you be doing if you were not a voiceover talent?

Since I really love doing voice overs and after 25 years still think it’s pretty cool, it would take something major like winning 115 million dollars in the lottery for me to give it up. I DO buy Powerball tickets every now and again when I’m feeling lucky. If I ever win, I would like to buy a big ol’ piece of land somewhere and start an animal sanctuary.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned since you started in this industry?

A positive attitude is the key to a good session experience for everyone. It’s not always easy and I’m not always completely successful, but when I leave the session knowing that the client was not only happy with what they got but how they got it, I believe it’s a job well done.

Grace Cantrell can be heard on voice overs nationwide with a client list that includes Disney, IBM, Meineke, the PGA Tour, Mattel, Merck, Caterpillar, CarMax, Garmin, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Rockwell Collins, Time Magazine, Kraft, The Hartford, QVC, CNBC, State Farm, and more.