Behind the Mic: Wendy K. Gray
A female voice talent launched the Entercom New York Alternative Station, Alt 92.3 at the same time as Alt 103.7 in DFW. For months the stations had no commercials and no on air talent. Just a female voice! Yeah, that was me! How did this happen? This is my story, the story of WKG.
What do you love about your job?
Many things to love about being a voice over actor! One thing, for me at least, is the anonymity of the job. I’m a shy and private gal. I don’t like the whole wide world knowing what I’m up too. That kind of secret spy information is reserved for my Rottweiler only! However, kicking off my own (dream) side project this last year has forced me to come out of my shell and spill it! So thanks for having me, Benztown!
It’s an honor!
What radio VO work have you done in the past (stations/markets)?
My very first radio VO imaging job was on Star 98.7 in Los Angeles decades ago. Doing some stations ID’s and promos for a Billy Idol concert. I had no idea, later on, this side of the industry would embrace me. Flash to…Trevor Shand finding me on an Internet search after a friend insisted I create a Youtube channel for my voice over spots. Clever! Folks weren’t utilizing Youtube this way back then. Trevor asked me to demo some stuff for a jazz station. That led to nothing. But years later, he found me again and hired me for his show Hitstorm on Kiss in Toronto. Then, he started using me on the “Uncover New Music” promos on KROQ in LA. And that’s when things exploded! I got my first contract with Rogers working with Justin Dove, Ron Tarrant, LF Fabiosa, AJ Traspaderme and Russell James. Soon, Adam Schneider, voice over actor and imaging producer of Rock 105 in Atlanta, hired me from hearing me on KROQ! And the list goes on from there. Lesson here was to say “YES” to opportunities, like doing free demos!
Check out Wendy’s Demo:
How did you get started as a VO actor?
I was a really good waitress! And I liked my job at Mexicali in Studio City, CA. I was a lead singer/songwriter in a rock band pursuing a career in music. The owners let me play my CDs in the rotation on Friday nights and I had lots of regulars! I met tons of people, like writer and director, Mick Garris, who licensed out a song of mine on his NBC Movie, The Judge. I also met Rolf Hanson who produced TV promos and trailers. He got me started in voice over! He changed my life. Even though I loved playing music and I desperately wanted to be Alanis Morissette, I said “YES” to an opportunity he gave me.
I worked for an entire year for him and took classes at the same time. Once I had enough jobs to make a reel, I started sending it out to agents. I had some small agents interested but it’s when Rolf asked Debbi Cope to help out that things began to happen. She, admittedly, didn’t get my sound but as a favor to him, sent it out to a few agents. They all asked to meet with me! It was like what I dreamed about with record companies. Everyone wanting to sign me… a singer, a waitress and a shy gal from Colorado! Amazing! I wonder what my life would be like had I NOT taken the opportunity that one person gave me…..
What was your first gig?
My first job was Christmas TV spots for VH1. I got paid $1,000. Which took me two weeks to make waiting tables. Rolf hired me for loads of TV record releases, like Josh Groban, Hillary Duff, Faith Hill, and Madonna. And TV spots for movie soundtracks like Valentine, Scooby Doo and Space Cowboys. This was a time when mostly men voiced these kinds of spots. Rolf was ahead of his time. Like I said, he changed my life. One person!
What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on the radio/television?
I think I was most excited to see/hear my first national commercial. It was Philadelphia Cream Cheese and it aired during Entertainment Tonight. I wasn’t expecting to see it, I just happened to have switched to that channel and there it was. It didn’t sound like me but it was me! I don’t even remember recording it! I do remember the lobby at Buzzy’s Studio in Hollywood, being so scared out of mind and nervous I was pacing. I started a conversation with another voice over gal, Jessica Anne Bogart, to calm my heart before they called me into record.
When I saw, I squealed out loud at the TV thinking I’ve made it! A national commercial! I’m in. Only to discover I was just cast for that particular commercial and new casting specs where handed out at William Morris for the next Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercial, which I did not get! Ouch! Ahh, to be that green again!
Any memorable ones since then?
It seems jobs are memorable because of the people. I remember like it was yesterday, auditioning for the voice of Bellmedia Much More Music in Canada with my then-agent, Jeff Jones. We spent hours on a phone session with the producers going over and over this one spot, a football spot. After the session was done, I wasn’t done! I had something I wanted to do as an alternate and Jeff trusted me enough to voice it and then send it! This was a risky move and he did. I booked that job and a few months later went on to be the main and only TV station voice of Much More Music, then Much More and then M3. No other voices on the TV stations. Just me. They were also ahead of the times. You don’t always get to do what you want when you are working on someone else’s project. And most of the time you don’t get a second chance. This was a rare occasion and risky for both of us, for that, it was memorable!
How has new technology changed the way you work?
Because I sang/sing I already had a mini studio in my home when I began VO. But after I signed with CESD in LA and got the introduction to Nate Zeitz in NY, my “at home” work-life became much bigger. Everything radio came out of my studio. Then some TV stations started having me work from home. Soon I had enough work to step away from LA for a few years and take all of my at home jobs with me. That wasn’t the world I started vo in. Now I have two studios to work out of. In my home is my back up set up and The Barn is the main creative place I like to be. I also take my laptop, Sennheiser mic, and Scarlett 2i2 with me when I travel. Except on vacation. A gal deserves a break every now and then!
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it?
Yes and yes! My singing coach is the amazing Liz Lewis of The Singers Workshop. Her husband is also a long time voice over actor. Singing keeps my voice in good condition and I still enjoy it. I take classes regularly for voice over too. And, when you work so much on your own, like I do, I find it helpful to have that direction and socialization with a casting director or coach. Elaine Craig, Jeff Howell, Kathy Kalmenson. And the late Cynthia Songe gave me a piece of advice I am really using on my side project right now. She said not to think about making “funny voices” but rather to think about the character, what do they look like, are they nice, mean, heavy, small, old, young, etc? Then, the voice will come. I also learned from her to catalog my voices. So when a director says they want something, that may not make any sense to me, I can start going through my catalog, in my head, to find something for them. Making a choice at the beginning gives you a place to start from and the director (or you) can easily move around from there.
3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry?
I have to be honest, there is no one-way to get in. But I do think it’s really about who you know. Everything I have is because I met someone who helped me get to the next place. Yes, I did the work. Yes, I love my job. But I am no more deserving of it then the next girl. Three things I do and suggest is…
Be prepared. That means read out loud, go to auditions, practice on the mic, with and without headphones, know your voice and what you are capable of. Ask for help. Everyone around you needs to know what you are doing and what you need, so speak up!
Keep trying! CESD passed on me two other times before I finally connected with Vinnie Biunno in promo, which led me to Nate Zeitz. And knowing Nate has opened up so many doors for me, like Benztown, where I have been on the Top 50 list since it’s beginning, back when there was only four gals on the whole Top 50 list! Along with providing me the support I need to be happy and successful. I am very lucky. If I had quit before I met Nate I would not be doing this interview.
And when you do get there…help someone else. It makes the world go round
How do you market your services to potential clients?
I’m not the best at slinging my name around, schmoozing with folks and strutting my stuff. I let my reps do that kind of work. I do my best work, I care about the copy, I try to get requests returned quickly and if people like working with me and what I do, then they keep me on and take me other places with them. But what if you don’t have an agent? Casting directors in LA hold classes! This is a great way to meet them. Yes, it costs money. So wait until you are ready to showcase yourself to them. Because I know they will call you in again if you are good!
Do you have a different approach to reading radio imaging copy as opposed to TV/Radio commercial ads?
No, I do not! This is what is so fabulous about radio! I have a variety of stations Country, CHR, Rock, Top 40 and Alternative. I get to do everything. I started voicing TV Promos, then Commercials, then Animation. Voicing radio stations, I read on promos, commercials, sing and sometimes play characters! I have never been confined to one area or genre. And it keeps me on my toes moving from genre to genre every day. Keeps me versatile and creative and allows me to continue to love my job!
If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would it be?
Well, I would say Madonna but I waited on her once at a fancy restaurant I worked at so I kinda feel like I already did that! Ha. She smelled like raspberries and I have never seen so many other people take notice of a famous person. The room was hers! And she did nothing but walk in, sit down and eat her food. It was surreal. But my real answer would Jim Hensen. Hands down. I connected with Kermit the Frog from an early age.
Who are your VO idols/mentors?
So much fantastic female talent out there, Jessica Bogart, Rena-Marie Villano, Vanessa Marshall, Lisa Keyes, Rachel McGrath, Kelly Doherty, Heather Walters, Anne Dewig, Kari Whalgren, Kate Higgins, Amanda Madi, Taylor Kaye, Cindy Robinson, Marieve Harrington, Joanna Rubiner, Melissa Disney, Jessica Lynn, Blaze Berdahl, Anne Vydra, Tara Sands, Sylvia Villagran and hundreds of others!
The real superstars are the people who make me and everyone else sound SO good!
The producers! Adam Schneider, Scott Fisher, Dan Stone, Justin Dove, Ron Tarrant, Steve Dubbs, Pants, LF Fabiosa, AJ Traspaderme, Chris Rice, Dan Gustafson, John Reilly, Taz, Justin Weiner, Chris Knowles, Albert To, Troy Dorman, Greg Murray, Matthew Anderson, Patrick Laporte, CJ Wilson, Patrick Laporte, Andy Safnauer, Edward Sisneros, Chris Chatburn, Brian Thomas, Sean Galbraith, Brian Viggiani, Axel Lowe, Trevor Shand, Benztown Imaging, Rich Witt, Ryan Drean, Savannah Volzone, and so many others! Can I name them all? I can keep going….
Thank you to ALL of them over the years who made me sound the way I do! I couldn’t have done any of this without YOU!
Visit Wendy’s website to check out her demos and projects!