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  • Writer's pictureChris Butera

My Voiceover Origin Story Part 1: The Call

A microphone in a soundproof room set up for a voiceover session.
Photo courtesy of Wix's library.

When people find out that I’m a voiceover artist, they always ask me a few questions.

“How did you become a voice actor?”

“How does someone get started as a voice actor?”

“What made you want to start voice acting?”

“How do you get voiceover work?”

Over time as I flesh this blog out I’ll get to all of those things, but if you know me, you know I’m a comic book guy.

And every comic book starts with an origin story.

I've always loved cartoons. So much, in fact, that I took an interest in the actors responsible for the the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig (Hi Bob!) as a child after my dad came home with The Making of Space Jam book and I was drawn to (no pun intended) the pictures of the voice cast from the film doing their thing. Whenever we went to the Staten Island Mall, we went to the Warner Bros. store and he’d stop and look at the Mel Blanc memorial painting “Speechless,” where all the Looney Tunes take a moment of silence in front of a spotlit microphone stand all by its lonesome. It was his favorite, and my favorite too.

Between being a kid living a pretty normal life in Brooklyn and always having goofy (again, no pun intended) characters in my head and making wacky sounds (aka pretending to be a dinosaur), I didn’t realize the world of voiceovers started calling so early until the moment I wrote this.

That said, I was eight years old at best when that happened, and I wouldn’t hear or answer that call until almost 20 years later.

I was a few months away from graduating college when on a walk with a friend, he started telling me about a movie he just discovered on Netflix.

Friend: “Did you see the John DiMaggio documentary?”

Me: “No. Who’s John DiMaggio?

Friend: “You know, the Bender guy.

Me: “Bender?”

Friend: “Yeah, you know, Futurama Bender? He does a bunch of other things too but that’s what he’s mostly known for. You’ve definitely heard this guy.”

I had only watched a few episodes of Futurama at the time, and to this day I still haven’t seen too many more (I’ve just always been more of a die-hard Simpsons guy and haven’t watched too much of Matt Groening’s projects outside of that. If you’re reading this, Matt, I’m sorry, I’ll get around to it at some point. Disenchantment’s pretty decent). Having said that, I knew exactly who my friend was talking about and started asking more questions about the movie.

A couple of days later, we were hanging out at my place (aka my parent’s basement) and the flick came up in conversation again.

“Wanna watch it?” my friend asked. I agreed and had him put it on while I grabbed a couple of cold ones from the fridge.

That documentary was I Know That Voice, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it would change my life, and my path, forever. Yes, it’s super cliche, but it’s the truth.

If you don’t know the doc, DiMaggio and his pals – a who’s who of elite voice actors and casting directors in the animation and video game spaces (they’ve also voiced just about any national brand commercial you can think of) – break down the voiceover industry at a high level for anyone interested at a peek behind the booth. I highly recommend watching, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

A few years went by and I was into my second job out of college. I found myself listening to Rob Paulsen’s Talkin’ Toons podcast religiously and had been watching I Know That Voice every few months like clockwork ever since I first checked it out with my pal. At this point, I was way more interested in trying it out for myself, but I didn’t know the first thing about the first thing about voice acting. I was also really shy about my abilities and had near-microscopic levels of confidence.

The office I worked at was across the street from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), where I would occasionally take my lunch breaks (it was outside, convenient and quiet for New York City, and offered plenty of places to sit and read. Plus, I’m short and have been told I have a young face, so security probably thought I was a student).

Like all college campuses, FIT had a bookstore, where I’d sometimes browse when I needed some air. During a peruse, I came across Voice for Hire, by Randy Thomas. The book was exactly what I was looking for, a beginner’s guide to getting into the voiceover industry.

I didn’t buy it.

I was too nervous.

I didn’t think I could do it.

I left the store and went back to work at a job I hated.

But as I continued to drone away in the office while listening to Rob Paulsen and friends chat about this great business I was too scared to try, I kept thinking about giving it a shot.

After a few weeks of this, I made a deal with myself. If I go back into that bookstore and Voice for Hire is still on the shelf, I’d grab it and give voiceovers a try. If the book was gone, then it wasn’t meant to be and I’d get back to daydreaming about what could have been if only I tried.

I went to lunch the following week, marched into FIT’s bookstore, and was stunned to see that Randy Thomas’ Voice for Hire book was still on the shelf, waiting for my prying eyes. I walked over to the counter, and the cashier, an older woman in her mid 40’s, said the most encouraging words I needed to hear.

Voice for Hire? I didn’t know we had such a thing!”

She did say that, but those weren’t the words.

These were.

“I know you can do it.”

I never saw that woman again, but I hope she’s happy, healthy, and living the best life possible. She had no idea how badly I needed to hear that.

Two weeks later I was the voice of McDonald's.

Just kidding (if only it were that simple).

I didn’t start training to become the New York voice actor I’d eventually become until a few months later, when I convinced my next job, an editor at a finance publication, to pay for it. But that’s another story for another day.

Looking for a friendly, conversational voice for your project? Fill out my project contact form or shoot me an email to get in touch today!


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