Learning to Listen by Speaking Up
Imagine a little kid who was such a good mimic that when he replicated the sound of firetrucks and police cars when playing, his mom would come running to see what the emergency was. That child was Bill Neal, now a regional sales director for Supply Source. Based in Denver, and honing his skill since childhood, Bill has been doing voice-over work as a side hustle for about 20 years.
“As a teenager and young adult, I was always told that I have a ‘radio voice,’ but I never did anything about it,” Bill recalls. “In the early 2000s, I left a voicemail for my boss’s boss. When he heard it, the first thing he said to me was, ‘Dude. You should be in voice-over or radio work.’”
That was the ah-ha moment Neal needed to kick off his voice-over career and he immediately began exploring his options. Although Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings were still trends of the future, Neal was able to utilize early versions of virtual training.
“These classes were more like correspondence courses, but I also did some in-person classes in New York and in Burbank to hone my craft,” Neal reflects.
At one acting workshop, Neal fondly remembers an activity where members of the class would shout out different situations, personalities or styles. When it was his turn, Neal had to act out a scenario while reading a letter or an article.
“I really had fun with that activity, and when I finished, I got a big round of applause from the class and a hug from the teacher,” he recalls.
Looking at Neal’s website, you’ll see that his voice-over work mainly falls into one of three categories: commercials, corporate narration and documentaries. His favorite category is commercial, because there is more acting there and it normally gives him the opportunity to morph his voice into something fun.
Neal has lended his voice to projects ranging from radio spots for a cable company, and a training video for a roofing company, to an introductory video for a hiking footwear company. In the cleaning industry, he’s done training voice-overs for manufacturers and some pro bono work for associations.
Despite some successes and the joy it brings, Neal says it’s challenging to maintain voice-over work.
“It’s difficult to keep up with the voice-over demands and the work has gotten more competitive,” he says. “Earlier barriers are gone because the cost of voice-over technology no longer requires a big investment. These days, anyone can say they’re a voice-over artist.”
According to Neal, just because you audition for a voice-over gig doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll get picked for the job. For example, maybe something went wrong in the recording studio or a client didn’t like your voice. In fact, it’s a family joke that Neal’s daughter, who works in the gaming industry, chose someone else to do the voice-over work in a game she was designing.
“She didn’t even ask me to audition. Like I said, not everyone likes your voice for a particular job,” Neal says with a laugh.
Neal, whose voice has been described as “warm and authoritative”, said that voice-over work is a creative outlet, and to him, there’s a joy in that.
“You’re usually reading someone else’s words. It’s your job to bring those words to life in a creative way through acting and the use of your voice,” he says. “I’ve always felt I have strong control over my voice, and I like that part of it.”
Gretchen Roufs, a 25-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns a marketing and public relations company in San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “Freetime,” contact her at Gretchen@GretchenRoufs.com.