Rachel Butera: From Stern to Stardom
Rachel has been entertaining people with impressions, characters, and unique point of view since childhood. As a voiceover artist, she brings characters to life by drawing from years of imitating everyone she meets. Rachel was recognized as the world’s best female impersonator when she won $5,000 in the Howard Stern Impressions Contest. She now makes regular appearances on the show, and provides the voices of Wanda Sykes, Rosie O’Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Rivers, Jodi Foster and more. From impressions on the Raw Dog Comedy Channel, to hosting The Worst Family Ever, to opening for Kevin Pollak, to performing as the celebrity guest at Second City’s TMI sketch show, it is her blend of fearlessness, honesty, yet vulnerability that makes Rachel one of today’s most endearing and sought-after comedic performers.
Where can we hear your voiceover now? I’m currently voicing commercial IDs for various stations, such as 93.1 WPOC, K-HOW, KTRH, KFAB, etc. Now the voice of the Toyota Big Prius Event commercial on TV and radio. The voice of Alexis on Fox’s Golan The Insatiable and other animation like Harvey Beaks on Nickelodeon, Turbo:FAST on Netflix, Dog With A Blog on the Disney channel, Trip Tank on Comedy Central and King Star King on Adult Swim. I’ve also narrated over 30 titles for Audible.com
What do you love about working as a freelance VO talent? Working as a voiceover talent gives me two things – fun and freedom. If I want to go to my agency and record auditions, I can. If I feel like staying home, I can record from there. Voiceover also helps me remind myself that I have a very specific skill not everyone has and that many people would be grateful for. Getting in a booth is still a sacred experience for me every time and I feel privileged to get to do it.
How did you get started as a VO actor? What was your first gig? Technically, my first gig was voice replacement for a character called Beverly Badgecicle on a cartoon called Viva Pinata. My friend Kristen Thorne worked at 4Kids in New York and needed to replace some dialogue of an actor that moved to LA. She knew I could do impressions and gave me an audition. I booked it. From there I began narrating for Audible.com, but there was no real VO career until… in 2010 I entered the Howard Stern Impression contest. I went on the air and competed against five male impressionists and I won $5,000. Then it began. Billy Serow, a voicover agent at Abrams in New York heard my appearance and called me the next day. They wanted to represent me. I started going on auditions, but didn’t book any commercials. I was a little worried they put the cart before the horse. But then Jim Shaughnessey, a writer in LA heard me and needed a voice match for a cartoon he was working on for Sony Crackle called Effin With Tonight. He had Patrick Warburton on board and needed a Chaz Bono soundalike and someone who could imitate a Fillipino woman he knew. I was able to do both, so he asked me to come to LA. March 2011 I flew to LA for the first time and found myself in Titmouse Studio, recording with Patrick Warburton. After a meeting with VO agent Erik Seastrand at William Morris, who told me I needed to be out here for all the animation voices I could do, I decided to give it a go. And it’s been an amazing four years since!
Have you ever had a voice coach? Would you recommend it? I actually am a voice coach. I teach privately for animation and characters, and I’m also a coach for Edge Studio. Early on I took some classes at Edge Studio, and here in LA I take workshops all the time. It’s impossible to be objective to your own voice. Just as great actors need directors to help bring their performance to life, I feel good voice coaches can help produce more marketable reads. That said, I do believe one needs to have an inclination for using their voice. The misconception is, “I speak, I have a voice, therefore, I can do voiceover.” To be dead honest, not everyone can do this. For some people, all the coaching in the world won’t help. But for others who have a penchant for it, coaching will make all the difference in the world!
Who are your VO idols/mentors? Who influenced your work as a VO artist? I have to say the regular people in my life in New Jersey were my greatest teachers. Such a rich array of characters that shaped me and helped me find my talent in this life. From the 2nd grade teacher who’d steal our snacks, to the loud-mouth guy that worked at my father’s deli, to Chuck the oil man, who’d come by for coffee and stay for three pieces of pie, I cut my teeth—or in this case, voice—on these people. Now that I’m immersed in the actual world of VO, I must say that Maria Bamford is one of the most incredible voices you will hear. I often get voice match auditions for her and it’s impossible to copy what she does. It’s off the charts brilliance. And of course Billy West, who can do ANYTHING! He was on the Howard Stern show throughout the ‘90s and definitely influenced me. But to me the pinnacle of VO actors is Mel Blanc. There wasn’t a voice he did in any cartoon that I didn’t run around the house trying to imitate. He was, is and always will be the best that ever lived. Although at the time, I didn’t know I was admiring a voiceover artist. I just wanted to be Yosemite Sam.
What is your dream gig? I always dreamed of being the female Howard Stern. I’d fantasize about having my own four-hour radio show where I get to voice my opinions, views and ideas and make people laugh. I had a podcast for a while called Rachel Profiling that I loved doing. Gotta start that up again. That, and I’d love to be the first female voice of a major network.
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Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry?
- Get some good, honest opinions from working pros about your potential. I have students that come to me with lisps or they sound like they’re talking through Halloween masks and they want to do VO. I don’t encourage those folks.
- Don’t expect to start working right away. Voiceover is seriously competitive and it takes time to make your way in this industry no matter how talented you are.
- Build relationships. “It’s all who you know is not a myth”—it’s reality. Mediocre talent with the right connections can go far. Find casting director workshops and ‘meet the agents’ nights. Meet people, don’t be shy. It’s like Samuel L. Jackson says in Pulp Fiction: Personality goes a long way.
How do you schedule/prioritize your work? Simple—I record whatever is due first. If I get something from my agent and it’s due next day, I do that first. If there’s screaming involved, like in a video game, I save that for last. And I use a hand-written calendar. Phones break and fall in the toilet. I like to write by hand.
How much time do you spend auditioning for new work? Several hours a day. The luxury of recording from home is you get to do it over and over until you’re happy. I record, listen and edit one piece at least three times. If it’s not due right away, I’ll read it, absorb it then wait a day to record it.
What gear do you use (microphone, pre-amp, booth, etc)? I have an AKG 214 mic, a Scarlett interface and a Focusrite pre-amp. All done from my closet-turned-booth. I took the futon cushion and lined the walls with it. My friend calls it “the vertical bedroom.”
What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on the radio/television? It would probably be inappropriate to say that I still listen back to me on the Howard Stern Show and get tickled by it. It was miraculous! Me on the radio. On THAT radio show! I cried and laughed and listened on repeat. And sometimes, I still do.
Favorite TV show of all time? The Larry Sanders Show
If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would it be (non-family)? Non-family? Family are the last people I’d want to invite to dinner hahaa. Michael Fassbender. Santa Claus! I have so many questions for him.
What’s your professional wrestling name? Andre Mars, which is a great one!
Biggest Pet Peeve? People with their rescue dogs.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Sex And The City reruns