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Harlan Hogan: Tales of a Voice Over Actor - 2003-04-06

One of America's most successful actors is a man who performs from a room in his house and whose face is rarely seen. Harlan Hogan is a voice-over actor, someone who provides many of the voices you hear on radio and television commercials, on documentaries and movie trailers. Mr. Hogan has just written a book about this relatively unknown but potentially lucrative profession called, V.O.: Tales and Techniques of a Voice Over Actor.

"This is anxiety..."

Harlan Hogan, an energetic, blonde-haired man in his fifties has informed the nation about how to sign up for the best-long distance telephone service, where to buy the best used car and to how to quit smoking. He is a freelance worker, a kind of disembodied voice that may be hired through a talent agency, an advertising company or directly from the clients themselves.

Mr. Hogan describes voice over work as "fun" but says the time he spends before a microphone is miniscule compared to the "real work" of getting the work. "This is true of all actors. And sometimes people don't want to hear that like all you do is just go in, do it and leave and you're in there for ten minutes and they pay you very well, but they don't see all the work and all the time that goes into establishing yourself," he says.

But how do you establish yourself? Harlan Hogan says he has been asked that question so many times -- that's the reason for his new book, VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice Over Actor. "There's not a clear cut career path for getting into the business that I've seen. Although most people come out of either broadcasting or some kind of performing. It seems as if a theater background and a broadcasting background is about as good as it gets or some advertising experience, perhaps, in terms of getting the work," he says. "Depending on where you live, in the smaller markets, it is still quite possible to go right to a client and call them and say, 'Hi, I do voice-over work and I have my demo here that I'd like you to listen to and perhaps you'll hire me. Larger markets, you have to have an agent. That, and having a good demo tape is like an actor's 'head shot [photograph],' is critical. And getting an agent is tough. But it can be done."

"Raid!... Kills them dead"

Actor Harlan Hogan says many actors are drawn to doing voice-over work because of its lucrative potential in a profession that is known to be unpredictable in terms of a steady income. Fees for television and radio commercials may range anywhere from $250 per hour to many thousands of dollars for commercials that air nationally and provide residual income that is generated every time it is repeated on the air. Mr. Hogan says the profession that was once dominated by "anonymous-sounding men," has evolved into one that includes women and more familiar voices, celebrities who advertisers believe will give their product "an added luster." "One of the things about being a voice-over actor is that you don't draw the light away from the product," he says. "Suddenly it's all celebrities. They have cut in on some of the important accounts. On the other hand we have cable and the internet and a lot of other outlets."

The internet has created a major shift in the way voice-over actors are hired and do their work, says Harlan Hogan. Where at one time an actor would go to an advertising agency, audition and get to know the people who work there, today, he says many actors have their own digital studio set up right at home. This requires a computer with MP3 audio compression technology and an ISDN phone line, that is an integrated services digital network.

Mr. Hogan says this makes working more efficient but "at the same time, the fun of being together in a voice-over community has been lost." "I was doing some Verizon spots. And so I'm at home in my home studio on ISDN headphones doing the part about a gumshoe detective and a beautiful woman walks in. [The actress playing the beautiful woman] of course, is in New York, at her home studio in ISDN with headphones. The young man who does the 'tags' [identification announcements] is out in Los Angeles on ISDN on headphones. The producer and client are in Texas and a studio in Norfolk is coordinating all of this ISDN hook-up. So we hear each other, we say, 'Hi, how are you doing?' but you know, you don't go out for coffee. And you never get to know them. So I miss that," he says.

Harlan Hogan, voice-over actor and author of the new book, VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice-Over Actor. Mr. Hogan is working on another 'how-to' publication how to set up your own home studio.