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What's the cool voice. Watch TV, Listen To The Radio, That's the Cool Voice.

Van Gunter

Out of Boutwell Studios in Birmingham, Alabama, Van Gunter joins us to talk about voice coaching, the appeal of podcasting and and the righteous power of silence

Read the Transcript

Daryl Moorhouse:            So you’re very welcome. You are listening to the Tinpot Productions Podcast, and today, we are traveling to Birmingham.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Well, not literally traveling, but, in broadcast terms, we are connecting with Van Gunter, who’s in Birmingham, Alabama. I wanted to start today with the reason that you’re here. We would have interviewed a mutual colleague, voiceover artiste, Biggie Smalls, a/k/a Lisa Biggs.

Van Gunter:                          She’s so brilliant and talented.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Who you know, probably a lot better than I do, in fact.

Van Gunter:                          A dear, dear friend. A brilliant dear friend.

Daryl Moorhouse:            How long have you been working with Lisa for?

Van Gunter:                          Gosh, I met Lisa at a voice actors convention, yo, man, I don’t know … about five or six years ago, and it was funny, because I heard, just, this adorable little voice, and I turned around, and see this tiny pixie that is just glowing, and all these people surrounding her, and I thought, “Who’s that magnificent person?” It was Lisa, and we just hit it off, and have worked together.

Van Gunter:                          She’s been a voice of an elf, and a little boy, and a little girl for us before, and it’s just, she’s just magnificent, and it’s-

Daryl Moorhouse:            She’s probably one of the most infectiously positive people I think I’ve ever dealt with. She just has that insane enthusiasm about her, doesn’t she?

Van Gunter:                          Yes. I mean, even if it was gray outside, it would be like, “Wow, what a beautiful day! Look at these clouds!” She can find happiness in pretty much everything, and in the business, and in the industry that we’re in, it is so much easier to work with kind people that can kind of, roll with the punches, and deal with comes up, rather than sour grapes. That’s no fun. We have a cool job, you and I!

Daryl Moorhouse:            Absolutely, yeah, yeah. So Lisa has given us, I suppose, an overview, kind of, about you. You started in radio, is that correct, and then, kind of segued into voiceovers and production? Is that the way things happen for you?

Van Gunter:                          Yeah, pretty much. I started out at Auburn University, which is … I’m wearing my colors, because we are deep in football season, which is kind of the front seat to religion. Yeah, you know, religion’s in the back seat, but football season takes precedence, so … I graduated from Auburn.

Van Gunter:                          I had studied radio, and mass comm, and then went and worked at a couple of smaller stations, and moved back to Birmingham, and worked at a bunch of big stations, some alternative, and then, some country, and then, Nu Country, spelled that with an N-U, and forgive me for ever playing that on the air.

Van Gunter:                          Once I got out of radio, ended up coming to the recording studio, and it was just, I’ve been here for about 14 years. I’m now one of the owners, which is just an honor, and work with a small group of unbelievable friends, family. I mean, they’re friends, but when you work that close for this long, the friends can just kind of drop. It’s more, we argue and hug like brothers.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Wow. Well, that’s a nice thing, to get up every morning to, to go into work, and think that you’re working with family and friends, and to have that relationship with the people you work with. So you’re kind of, not just an engineer, you’re also the music side of things. You’re also a VO artist, and the VO side of things, presumably, is a … that’s a reasonable percentage of what you do, is it?

Van Gunter:                          Yeah, it’s … and I’m very fortunate. I’ve been able to work here at the studio, which has give me a lot of my friends, like Lisa, who are full-time voice actors. That is a real job, in terms of cold calls. You got to track leads. You got to send the e-mails. You have to maintain good customer client relationships. And that’s what we do, what we do at the studio here, but we’ve got multiple people, and with VO, that’s just a one-person gig, and it can be a grind.

Van Gunter:                          Luckily for me, I’m in a place to where I can pretty much, just jump into the booth whenever I need to. I didn’t have to spend any money on gear. We have professionally made booths, so … on the voice actor’s side, I’m very fortunate, and kind of, not lucked in. I worked hard, but a lot of my friends have it a lot tougher than I do, and I support and respect the daily gig of getting out there, and always trying to be positive: “Ah, it’s really great,” when you don’t always feel really great.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Working as a voiceover, and as an engineer, and working with VOs, and being a VO, do you think there are benefits, in terms of you being able to direct sessions? Having the understanding of what it’s like to be, if you like, on both sides of the microphone?

Van Gunter:                          A lot of people, a lot of voice actors … I’ll say it’s 50-50, but, and we’ll point at me, have their own kind of anxieties, and are weird. We spend a lot of times in, and every voice actor says this, “in these tiny padded rooms,” which is true. But when the talkback mic is off, and you don’t hear anything, and you’re just sitting there, and you get worried, thinking, “Oh, God, I’m terrible, I’m terrible. I’m the worst.”

Van Gunter:                          I always like to keep constant communication, personally, with my voice actors, say, “Hey, great job! Stand by, we’re just gonna do a quick edit, and then, give you a playback, just to get some water. Be right back.” I’m huge on communication, because I hate uncomfortable silence.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Because, if you’re a voiceover, and you’re sitting in a soundproof room, and there’s silence, and you see people conversing, your imagination presumably starts to run riot.

Van Gunter:                          Or what’s worse is, a lot of the friends, a lot of voice actors, who are just working from their home-

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yes.

Van Gunter:                          And all they hear is just a voice, and they have no point of reference for any other kind of communication going on. My best piece of advice that I always love to give to folks is, walk in with a healthy ego, but don’t portray that to the client. Give yourself whatever you need to say, “I am the best, and I am about to knock this out of the park.” And then be gracious and kind. And you’ll have a good session.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Do you find, kind of, in terms of giving direction, that because you’re a VO, as well, you’re better able … particularly, maybe, with voiceovers who maybe aren’t as seasoned, who don’t have much experience, but maybe give them a better pass to getting the right read, or getting the right delivery through, because … often times, a good director can really make a big difference, in terms of the outcome of a voiceover session, just through their ability to be able to direct, and give guidance.

Van Gunter:                          I’ve noticed that, a lot of times, when we have creatives come in, or directors, or copywriters, to come in and direct a session, what they’ve done was wrote something that is perfect to them.

Van Gunter:                          They might not necessarily have read it out loud, so, the emphasis is not getting, isn’t being translated to the voice actor? So when they try to give words like, “If you could just kind of, go up a little bit on some words, any maybe a little down” … and, translated: “Hey, Lisa, let’s up inflect on ‘today,’ and down inflect, ‘or forever,'” that kind of thing.

Van Gunter:                          It is a lot of hearing, translation and feeding it back, maybe a concrete word into something that’s a little more abstract for the voice actor.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Can you remember, way back when, when you came into the … let’s call it, media industry, or radio, whatever it might have been. Do you think, is there a difference now, in the kind of, the people who are coming into the industry, or the interest that might be there, say with somebody who was interning, way back when, and now. Is there the same influx of people who are interested? Or is that there people who are more interested in other media? What’s your kind of sense on that?

Van Gunter:                          That is an awesome question. I think, when I was first getting into it, I did not have any other outlet to find out answers for, “How do you do this, that, and that?” Because this was in, before iPhones, and really, not before the Internet, but you couldn’t really get a lot of hands on experience. I didn’t have YouTube videos to watch. Which, I watched the other day, just to learn a quick, easy, jazz bassline. Like, “Good God, if I would have had this in middle school, I’d be a killer bass right now!”

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          But I’m okay. So I think what I’ve noticed, even with … I have an intern named George, and he’s just, he is wide-eyed, and so excited. I mean, he’s just soaking up information, and this was one funny thing that was a, that I thought, “Damn, dude! Are you always gonna just sit there, and text on your phone while I’m trying to talk?” He wasn’t. He’s taking notes on his phone.

Daryl Moorhouse:            That is very impressive.

Van Gunter:                          And I thought, “Oh.”

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          “My apologies. I just thought, like all Millennials, you’re being disrespectful, and just didn’t care!”

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah, yeah.

Van Gunter:                          He’s like, “No, I keep all my notes here,” and I write mine down, so-

Daryl Moorhouse:            If you have got an intern, and you’ve, I assume you’ve had different interns over the years. How quickly do you know, “This person is a keeper”?

Van Gunter:                          Extremely quick. George, for one, we met at a barbecue restaurant, and he commented on my orange shoes. Then he was very, very persistent about internships, and that was the one thing, because some people: “Hey, you guys need an intern?” No! I don’t need an intern now. The reason I wanted him was because he kept coming back, and asking questions, and I thought, “Hey! That was like me! Come on, in buddy.”

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          And it’s exciting, because it’s somebody else that has a passion, and really wants to know, “How do you do sound design? What is Foley? What does that mean?” And wants to know every term, every Pro Tools quick command, and all those things. It makes me feel better about, wanting to come to work and do my job. The things that were mundane, like, again, a quick command becomes something fun again, because I get to show it to someone.

Van Gunter:                          So I feel like I can gauge pretty quick, whether you’re just doing this to fill college credit, which I don’t need, or if you really want to learn, and make a … figure out what to do with your life kind of thing.

Daryl Moorhouse:            You mentioned that the podcasting side of things, what’s your take on … I mean, podcasting, certainly where we are, seems to be having a moment. It’s kind of the buzzword, and everybody wants to be doing podcasting, and I wonder, kind of … to me, it seems to me, it’s very interesting format, and I think it’s found, kind of the thing where it suits people’s lifestyles, where it works in the car, it works if you’re doing exercise, it works in different things.

Daryl Moorhouse:            And also, people are maybe into the, more storytelling aspect of it, but it seems that it hasn’t really found its footprint, in terms of being, revenue, or being financially viable, in a lot of cases, and maybe it never will be. I don’t know, what’s your take on that?

Van Gunter:                          Here’s the things that have recently blown me away with podcast, is that, since podcasts have become so ubiquitous now, and everybody has one, and it seems to be everywhere, which I think is fantastic. Because it means, that many more stories, but one of the amazing things that’s blowing me away is, the podcast has pretty much taken away the clock.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yes.

Van Gunter:                          There is no time, and time is no constraint, you know?

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yes, and that had always been such a consideration for everything, hadn’t it? I mean, for whatever you did in media-

Van Gunter:                          Yes!

Daryl Moorhouse:            Time was always in deadline, and everything was against a clock.

Van Gunter:                          Don’t you know? I mean, internally, a 30 and a 60?

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          I mean, you can feel that, when you’re reading. I know, my body clock knows a 30 and a 60, and now, it doesn’t matter.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          And I love that with podcasts. “Well, how long is your show?” Well, 15 minutes, sometimes, 45 in others-

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          Thirty-two. It’s amazing.

Daryl Moorhouse:            It’s not even the length, it’s even the fact that, in terms of podcasts being releases. I mean, if you’re doing something for TV and radio, it’s got to be done for close of business Friday, or Monday or Tuesday, whatever it is. With podcasts, it’s like, “Yeah, we’re doing it. We might release it, I don’t know, maybe we’ll do it next week, maybe a couple days after that.”

Daryl Moorhouse:            So it seems like it’s a, I don’t want to sound this to sound in a bad day, but almost like a much more lazy version of working, where you just take your time, and enjoy the process, as opposed to doing everything to smack up against a deadline.

Van Gunter:                          Yeah, I love that. I mean, you don’t have to, “Well, I mean, that was a cool mix. I just I’d had 15 more minutes, but they needed it.” No! Go, just go! Create. Put it out when it’s done, and it sounds great.

Van Gunter:                          I like having people anticipating the next episode: “What are you gonna do next?” “Oh, you’ll just have to wait and see.” That’s fun, and it’s freedom. The podcast is, it is freedom, and it is exactly the form that I need to create stuff I want to do, in the time that I want to do it.

Daryl Moorhouse:            We interviewed somebody else, and I thought they … we were kind of talking about the common traits of people who work in the industry, and I think one of the, the phrase, the words they used, they said, that the thing that people who are good in this business, and who remain in this business, the thing that they have is curiosity.

Van Gunter:                          Yeah!

Daryl Moorhouse:            I thought that was probably a good indication. You have to have that. I think, if you don’t have that interest, to try and do better, or to try and find out, new techniques and new technology, I don’t know how long you could survive in this, in our kind of industry.

Van Gunter:                          No, no, I completely agree, especially every time … we know this, when there’s a, whatever, a DAW upgrade, or a Pro Tools upgrade, something, and there’s, “Hey, there’s a new whistle that comes with this one, that you get to check out!” It’s fun. I want to see what’s behind that door.

Daryl Moorhouse:            What kind of, have you noticed, in terms about … well, the kind of business you do. Are you still doing a, traditionally, have you done a lot of work for radio and TV? Is that still the case? Or are you starting to find that more of your work has been generated with sound mix for stuff that’s going online, or into social media? Or has there been any change, kind of, in that?

Van Gunter:                          Man, that is a great question. Yes. There has been a huge change.

Van Gunter:                          Originally, I think our biggest clients, back in the day, was cars. Just, the car automotive industry, and that’s really what Boutwell centered around, for years, and then, just … changes happen like they do, and we got more into working with ad agencies that were focusing on different products, and different things like that.

Van Gunter:                          And auto, especially after 2008, and the financial burst, just dried all of that up. So we quickly … I mean, we were scrambling, but automotive was gone.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          So we kind of, we were just trying to figure out, “All right, what’s next? Where do we go?” And I have to say it again. I am obsessed with the Millennial, because I really think-

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          They have changed the face of advertising, and the face of just, consuming media in different ways.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          And so, we’ve been seeing the younger creative directors, and just younger ad executives, and things like that, that are focusing more on digital and online ads. Which is really cool, and it gives us a different opportunity. We’re still doing plenty of TV and radio, but now adding that element in there. I think if you don’t keep an ear to whatever the younger generation, that you were saying, then you will very much, dry up, and wonder where the business went.

Van Gunter:                          I tell voice actors: “Well, what’s the cool voice?” Watch TV, listen to the radio, that’s the cool voice. It’s whatever is happening now.

Daryl Moorhouse:            And it changes, doesn’t it?

Van Gunter:                          Yes.

Daryl Moorhouse:            The cool voice burns after awhile, and it’s okay, we need a new cool voice. The old cool voice isn’t cool anymore.

Van Gunter:                          Yeah, Morgan Freeman was just, the cool voice for years here. I mean, everybody used it, and it just became a joke. I mean, during political season: “Morgan Freeman, vote for the right …”

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          And then, at the airport, you’d hear a fake Morgan Freeman, and everyone had their own knock-off. And then, just done, Clooney was big for awhile. Not so much Clooney, little bit of Bradley Cooper.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Yeah.

Van Gunter:                          So it does. It changes with whoever the cool kid is.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Well, that’s the definition of cool, isn’t it, I suppose? One cool thing doesn’t stay cool forever, because that would be uncool, so-

Van Gunter:                          That’s right. That’s not cool, that’s your Grandma’s music, man!

Daryl Moorhouse:            If I was to ask you, what is the one piece of equipment, hardware or software, if you could think of one piece of equipment? Is it Pro Tools? Is it something else?

Van Gunter:                          Honestly, for me, and I try to teach this to people who have not been into the voice booth before. It’s hearing … the microphone. The microphone is my favorite instrument in the world, because I know how to play it. It’s such a simple looking instrument, but it is, it scares the hell out of people, when they get in front of it, and also, being in a room that is this quiet.

Van Gunter:                          I mean, it is so quiet in my room, I come in here just to sit and think. I had a friend in here who had recently gotten divorced, and had two kids, was going through tough times, and I was like, “Bro, come over to the studio! Let’s just hang out, and drink beer, and play guitar.” So we were sitting there, shooting the breeze, and I said, “Man, you gotta come in here, and hear how quiet the drum room is.”

Van Gunter:                          So we went into the drum isolation booth, and shut the doors, and he just started crying. I know he had a lot going on, but I said, “You okay, man?” He said, “I have not been anywhere this quiet in five years.” And we just sat there in silence. I mean, it’s … silence is such a powerful tool, and especially for a loudmouth like me, it is a disciplinary tool.

Van Gunter:                          Maybe it’s my sound booth, maybe I’m changing it, I don’t know. Soundbooth and my microphone are my two favorite tools, that have changed me.

Daryl Moorhouse:            Okay, and I’ll allow you both of those. Before we finish up with you today, Van, who should we interview next? So, it can be anybody, who is kind of related to production media, creative production. Doesn’t matter whether they’re accessible, or easy to get, or not. Just, who do you think it is, and we’ll try and get them on your say-so?

Van Gunter:                          My two top favorite people are Tiffany Morgan, and Kelly Buttrick. Tiffany is my writing partner, and she just has a way to talk to scatterbrained creative people, that makes it easy and palpable for them to comprehend the task at hand. She is just such a brilliant creative thinker, that it’s inspiring, and it’s hard to find people like that.

Van Gunter:                          Kelly, she’s basically my sister, and I have a sister, and I love my sister dearly, but she is a marketing and voiceover genius, and is one of the kindest people that I’ve ever met. I’ve learned a lot of customer relationship management from her. She’s just a smart, brilliant person.

Daryl Moorhouse:            I want to say, thank you very much for talking to us today, Van, and for giving us your time. It’s been very interesting to talk to you, and find out a little bit about what you do, what the industry is like in Alabama, and just … yeah, I’ve enjoyed it.

Van Gunter:                          Well, I thank you. It, truly, it’s a pleasure to make friends across the sea, and to, just to be on your podcast. I truly appreciate it, and look forward to having you guys on ours.

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