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  • Writer's pictureChris Butera

How Playing in Thrash Metal Bands Prepared Me for the World of Voice Acting



Four thrashers in a parking lot giving the horns and smiling.
Me and some pals at the Big Four concert at Yankee Stadium, 2011.

Believe it or not, voiceover was not my first love. Although I’ve always admired voice actors and eventually became one, my heart was originally set on being a musician.


A thrash metal musician.


Inspired by early Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Black Sabbath, metal hit me like a lightning bolt from the moment I first heard Thunderstruck off the AC/DC Live album: a 13th birthday gift from my uncle.


Later that year I’d get my first guitar, a basic Yamaha starter kit that I’d later gut, mod and paint to look like Eddie Van Halen’s guitar from their debut album. 


As that dream began, little did I know that it would prepare me for the voiceover work I’d get into many years later. 


A Lesson in Thrash


Voice Actor Chris Butera with his old band Zamboni backstage.
My old band, Zamboni, after one of our shows, circa 2010-2011.

I’ll never forget the first time I recorded my voice in a studio. It was the summer of 2008. I was 18 years old. 


The band I was in, my third at the time, had finally perfected our songs enough that we were comfortable with recording a demo.


We found a self-engineer on MySpace (remember that, folks?) named Andy who recorded all the local bands. He called his studio Little Foot Productions, after his childhood nickname.  


For two weeks we spent long hours getting it done. We started on the drums, then moved over to me on bass, where I laid down some wicked tracks. Guitars came next.  


When it came back to me to get the vocals, I remember getting behind the mic for the first time and feeling such a sense of power. I belted my lyrics, sounding as thunderous as my bass. 


After finishing the first song, Andy showed us the raw track. It was incredible. 


About a month later we got our four-song demo back. We huddled around our lead guitar player’s computer, waiting with bated breath as he pressed play. 


This sounded unbelievable. We were floored by Andy’s work. I couldn’t wait to do it again.



A band looking cool by a crypt, followed by the demo CD.
The Little Foot demo. We took that by a crypt in Greenwood Cemetery. Why did they let us in?


I would go on to do that for three more bands throughout my 20s, each time falling further in love with getting behind a mic. 


The last time I recorded vocals, winter 2016, I told the guitar player I would rather record as much as possible than play live ever again. We agreed that a large body of work trumped gigging every few weeks and started writing more music on the spot. 


Coincidentally, this was around the time I started getting interested in voiceover.


Tools of the Trade


Two goofy guys playing music in a band onstage with a mannequin head wearing a Deadpool mask.
Zamboni (and Deadpool's head on a stick) at our last show, 2016.

Playing thrash metal music provided me with skills that gave me a huge leg-up on voiceover. 


For one, it familiarized me with the way pitch and inflections can change the entire meaning of a sentence. 


It also showed me how we have a musicality to our voice, with each word hanging on a unique note and key for our speech patterns.


This helps tremendously with reads, where you’re looking at a script wondering and ad-libbing how to attack it while determining which inflections make the most sense.


On the tech side, the recording and editing experience I learned helped make that process easier when starting out. 


Like punk, playing in a thrash metal band is all about being scrappy while having a do-it-yourself mentality to make things happen and achieve your goals. Voiceover works the same way.


When I was active in thrash metal bands, most local club and show promoters were terrible. They would overbook shows, make one Facebook event, stick the bands with the tickets and responsibility to sell them versus doing their jobs. Then they would take the money and gaslight bands who didn't sell enough.


We didn't care much for that.


Instead, we would book and promote our own shows to get around this. We built up a community with other bands.


We even made money.


This taught me about factoring costs and running shows as well as booking and promoting them. It gave me a business sense, which is exactly what you need to have for any small business, including voiceover.


Here's a quick video detailing what we used to do in a nutshell:





A Gift from the Metal Gods


Chris Butera, John Kevill and friends doing a group claw pose backstage.
Me and some old friends with John Kevill from Warbringer at a metal show in 2009.

According to voiceover coaches and many well-known voice actors, a music background gives new voiceover artists an edge. As mentioned earlier, it helps with musicality, reading and a few other things. 


Thrash metal itself, however, provided me with an interesting ability that sets me apart from the rest. 


I’ve been told I have a wide vocal range that I can access rather quickly.


I can also switch between pitches and characters rapidly to the point where I can have full-blown conversations between several characters without taking a break. I’ve heard that this is quite difficult. 


Jim Cummings, one of my favorite voice talents, is famous for doing this. He too has a musical background. 


As for me, I believe this skill is a direct result of singing a fast style of music that requires various vocal tones and pitches to start and stop on a dime throughout a song.

  

Metal and Voiceover, United 


Chris Butera, a thrash metal musician playing in a band and singing onstage.
Thrashing on stage, 2012-2013.

I didn’t know it at the time, but thrash metal laid the foundation for my voiceover journey. In a way, music was like a voiceover boot camp.


Through the world of thrash metal, I obtained several arrows for my quiver, including an ear for vocal musicality, a diverse voice range and a DIY mentality. It made me gritty, scrappy and resourceful. Plus, I got a rare skill out of it. 


Music may have been my first love, but it unlocked the potential to help me cross over to the voiceover realm. 


Need a friendly, conversational voice from a thrash metal musician for your next project? Fill out my project contact form or send an email my way!

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