In this podcast interview recorded at VOICE 2010, Bobbin Beam talks about the lure of the microphone, creativity, personal development, and why you should dream big (this tip gives me goosebumps). An entrepreneur at age 8, Bobbin’s career has gone from strength to strength, and it was a pleasure to have this chance to talk with her during a break in the conference.
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Transcript of conversation with Bobbin Beam
Andy: OK. Well continuing our series of podcasts from the VOICE 2010 conference, I am sitting here with Bobbin Beam, who is one of the co-hosts of the conference. Welcome, Bobbin.
Bobbin: Thank you.
Andy: It’s great to meet you.
Bobbin: Thank you for asking me. This is very fun.
Andy: It’s lovely to be here, and to be actually meeting so many different voice talents, of so many different backgrounds, and different levels, and wonderful to finally meet somebody who I first met online a year or so ago. But Bobbin, I wonder if we could go right back – before we talk about what you’re doing now – if we could go right back to before you were at university, I believe your university degree was connected with theatre and mass communications…
Andy: Why did you decide… is that where you first, sort of, started your creative path? Or… how did you get into that? Why did you do that?
Bobbin: Oh! My creative path started very early when I used to put a little puppet shows and stuff for my parents, and then I started up a little theatre group where I lived, and I used to write, produce direct all these plays with me and my friends and then we’d, you know, make up little tickets and sell them to the parents for ten cents.
Andy: What sort of age was that?
Bobbin: Eight, nine, ten, eleven… I knew I was in love with theatre and performance when I was very young. Got into theatre, you know… I was cast as one of the snow children in the musical Carousel for my sister’s high school play, and then after that I was hooked, you know. So, I’ve always been a ham. So, yeah, that’s how that all started.
Andy: So it kind of started with imaginative play and grew from there, and became a little more formalised through your school years.
Bobbin: Through training, and then in high school I was in all the plays and, you know, by the time I was a senior, or something, I was playing the leads and all that stuff. So, theatre was my avocation. But then I fell into radio while I was also in high school, because there was this really cool radio station. It was called a “progressive rock radio” station where they used to play album tracks. See, up to that point everything was Top Forty, pop radio, or news radio – one of the two, you know. There was nothing in between… and this was also on FM, so it was very cool.
Andy: In stereo!
Bobbin: Yeah, and in stereo, and a really beautiful, clear signal, and people use to put on the headphones or just crank it up. That’s what I did. So I got my taste of radio at that time, so it was like “OK”. And then I was, like really bummed because I had to leave the radio station to go to college, and I didn’t want to do that.
Andy: Were you working professionally then, or was that…?
Bobbin: Oh yeah. I was like… When I was a senior in high school, that was when I got my first radio job.
Andy: That was a DJ job?
Bobbin: Yeah, on air, and that’s why I was saying in that panel this year marks forty years since I… So you guys do the math, and you can tell how old this broad is
Andy: Well, Bobbin, it’s your words, it’s difficult to believe seeing you…
Bobbin: No. Forever young. Hey, you know what it’s like.
Bobbin: You are as young as you feel. I feel like the teenager that never grew up sometimes.
Andy: That’s the way to be.
Bobbin: You’ve got to have a sense of wonder about everything, have interests in everything, and never let the moss grow under your feet.
Andy: So, the radio and school theatre experience was what drew you into looking for an education in that, I guess.
Bobbin: Yes. Yes, because I wanted to be a stage performer, but then it evolved because all of a sudden I fell in love with radio and broadcast media and then, you know, the lure of the microphone. And it turned out that I was able to do that very well and make money at the same time. I just couldn’t believe it. It was like amazing to me…
Andy: Being paid to play…
Bobbin: Being paid to play, and I got very focused and dedicated to the profession of broadcasting. So I really got into it, and eventually got promoted, went to another station, got a full time gig, became the music director… later became a program director. So I had management in the background there… and also an education. So, I was like trying to put all of that together. So it was like broadcast became the career of choice, and served me very well. And then somebody asked in the panel… “What was that epiphany moment when you knew that… What was it that made you become a full time voice over person?”
Well, I got fired one day, and after that I realized, “Wow. You know. There must be some life after radio”, even though I didn’t feel that way at the time. A friend of mine called me up and said, “Hey! What are you doing?”. I said, “”I’m collecting unemployment”. And he had this advertising agency, and said, “Why don’t you come on over, and we can talk”.
So then we started talking, and then… I knew a lot about creative… I knew a lot about how to sell reach and frequency, and analyze Arbitron broadcast ratings statistics, and show them to potential people who wanted to buy airtime. And this guy and I started an ad agency. And he had a studio… He had this amazing studio where he used to record bands in there. But he needed more stuff outside of just the bands, because that was very sporadic work, and he had this nice facility. So we started going out, and I had a lot of contacts through the radio thing, and one thing led to another. And then all of a sudden we were producing, and then I started voicing… And then he and I had this agency. We were kicking butt. And then we parted ways, and I started my own agency, and was rocking and rolling there. And then I was creative. I was doing TV, radio, broadcast… even some non broadcast stuff – producing it and everything. And then after a while – and I did some of the talent work, but then I hired talent as well – it got to a point though where I really wanted to do more of the talent stuff, because that was more fun and more creative than getting on the phone, or having to sell and make buys, you know, to the radio and TV stations, or collect money from clients… and having to wear that black hat. That was that was something that I found very distasteful so I really had that creative burn in me and just made that leap to do voice over full time. Moved across the country. Came out to the West Coast where there would be more of this kind of work – because I had been working in Milwaukee and Chicago as a voice talent, but I also had some family out here… so we moved out here. Pulled up the stakes. Didn’t have… I mean we had some real estate so, but we sold the real estate. Pulled up the tent, moved it across the country. Didn’t really have a job. Just had the faith in ourselves that we knew that we’re going to make something of what we were doing, and what we had inside. So, my husband and I moved out here and he’s doing something else, I’m doing something else, like this… and we never looked back.
Andy: That seems like, to me… you mention two key elements there. One is the love of being creative, and the other is creating your own opportunities. Would you say that’s true?
Bobbin: Yeah. Yes, the love of the creativity and playing. You know: give me a microphone! It’s like fun! It’s play time!
Andy: Would you say that voice over is a career that – of course for everybody it’s very different, everybody’s experience is different. My experience is entirely different from 90% of the people here, probably 99%, even everybody else here… Would you say that voice over is… to develop a voice over career something you have to search for your opportunities, or opportunities come to you, or… You mention taking the risk of moving across the country, so that’s…
Bobbin: Right. I think that me starting my own business with the ad agency, and all that, really fuelled my entrepreneurial spirit and that propelled me, because I realized… I didn’t think that I could do anything other than be a radio station employee up to that point. So it was learning how to be an entrepreneur that actually prompted me to say, “Hey. Maybe I can just be a voice talent and make a living out of it”. So that’s, I think that… not everybody’s cut out to be an entrepreneur. That’s why some of these people that are here are not going to make it.
Andy: So there’s a prerequisite?
Bobbin: I think you’ve got to be a good business person. You know… I mean, yeah, you can be creative and all of that, but you’ve got to have some business… I mean there’s a lot of balls that you got a juggle all day long when you’re… because you’re not just going in the studio and being cool. You’re a business person!
Andy: So it’s the difference between playing at a job, sorry, playing with creativity, and working at creativity.
Andy: There needs to be a certain work ethic.
Bobbin: Work ethic, a business sense and acumen. You’ve got to be able to act like, you know… You’ve got to be able to conduct yourself in a manner that is equal to the standards of the people that you are working for. And in a business sense you need to be able to, you know, send them their invoices. You don’t ask them, “Well, shall I send you an invoice?”. No. You just send them an invoice. Where do I send the remittance to? You know you’ve got to have a marketing component in your mix, and you’ve got to be getting trained. You’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on, you know, to keep your deliveries fresh. You’ve got to keep your chops oiled… So there’s a lot that you’ve gotta keep going on all the time. Not everybody’s cut out to do that.
Andy: And it’s quite interesting talking with some other folk who make their work look so easy, but in actual fact every day there’s a lot of personal development going into that, so actually they’re working very hard on the character, or the type of read that they’re doing. So there’s a lot of effort going in behind, but because that practice has been done…
Bobbin: Personal development is key. Every day. Every day I read, I look, I learn, I listen. I keep my mouth shut, and I absorb. That’s part of my personal development. I do a lot of research. I read a lot of books. I do a lot of personal… I read a lot of personal development. I take acting classes. I come to functions like this. I like to listen to others. I love to get those little nuggets from people. I mean, I don’t know everything.
Andy: So even with forty years experience, you’re still learning.
Bobbin: Every day! Every day!
Andy: That’s fantastic. We’ve been describing this with different people as a journey down a road, and people coming on to the road in different places, and spotting different sign posts as they go down the road. But, if you are in a vehicle you need to put fuel into it, and that’s the same for everybody: that you need to be topping up the fuel that drives the engine of your personal development.
Bobbin: And sometimes you’ve got to pull off the road, and take a rest. So vacation, making sure you take a vacation, and making sure you take a break… or if your voice starts to feel hoarse, like I’ve been talking a lot this whole week. If I started, you know, feel like I’m pushing myself, I just…
Andy: Knock it back a bit.
Bobbin: I do. Or I take just ten minutes and I just lay down and I meditate, or something, just to… Or I’ll drink some tea just to kind of relax.
Andy: You’ve got a fantastic range of experience, of course, over the years, and you are doing many different types of voice over work, but do you have a favourite type of work?
Bobbin: I love all of the things that I do. Some things I actually… no, I don’t… there are some things I don’t like, but I’ll… I hate things on really super tight deadlines. I’d like to… but you’re asking about specific genre, that I like one more than the other… I think, well I like you know I like making money so I like doing the things that make me money which are mostly commercials and narration.
Andy: What is the majority of your work, now?
Bobbin: I would say it the majority is probably about forty percent of my business is commercials – radio and television commercials – that’s definitely this year. But that can change. It changes from year to year, depending upon what kind of gigs you book. This year happens to be commercials. I’ve booked some national spots, so that what’s going on… this year. I don’t know how I’m going to pull that out next year, but maybe – you never know! I’d say next in line would be, maybe to about twenty percent, would be narration. The other stuff from there, you know, radio station and TV imaging. E-learning is actually… got a big e-learning thing going on right now… So, yes, and then telephony, you know, message on hold. I do some of that, that’s a lower part of my business, but I still do that. That kind of work doesn’t pay very much, but you know, you get some regulars… And over the course of time you look and see what that customer spends with you, over the course of two, three years, and that eclipses many others.
Andy: Yeah. This is an interesting thing, isn’t it? Not every job has a big budget, but a lot of small jobs add up. One job leads to the next job.
Bobbin: Work begets work. That’s my mantra. Yep. That’s very true.
Andy: So everything’s a stepping stone. In a sense the small things are… you don’t know where the small things are going to lead you to – they might lead to something else.
Bobbin: And you are only as good as your last gig. So that means you’ve got to get better every day at what you do.
Andy: And also every gig is a demo for the next gig… or potentially, it’s a demo, isn’t it? If somebody hears it, it can go on. Bobbin. You’ve had a very interesting career with… over the years… starting off with your childhood play, leading through to playing for pay, and loving every minute of it – I can see from you this is obviously your heart is pulling you forwards. So what sort of dreams would you have for the future for yourself, and would you have any suggestions for somebody who is finding themselves creative like you were, when you were a teenager, how they should move forward?
Bobbin: I’m a big believer in following your passion in your dreams. So don’t short-change yourself. Be careful. Be wise. Be excellent. What I aspire to do is to always book more work. I’d like to – instead of doing three nationals this year – maybe I can get five next year. So I’m going to work really hard, and focus on that as a goal. I write down my goals. Everybody should write their goals down, every year, and then evaluate them on a continuous basis. I have my goals pasted up on my… in my work station. Everyday I look, and I make sure that I’m looking at that… And you know, don’t compare yourself to others. You run after the dream, not the competition. That’s what I say. Pursue your dream. Don’t worry about your competition, because only you can do you. Everybody else is taken.
Andy: Is it possible to have too big a dream?
Bobbin: I don’t think so, because if you dream big, you know… shoot for the moon, and even if you miss you’ll still land amongst the stars.
Andy: Well, that’s fantastic… and well, I feel as though I’ve landed amongst the stars here in Los Angeles. It’s been a real pleasure to meet you, Bobbin.
Bobbin: Thank you for asking me here to do this with you.
Andy: Thanks very much for your time. Thank you.
Bobbin: It’s been my pleasure.
Axx. Thank you.
About Bobbin Beam
Chances are you’ve heard Bobbin Beam’s voice somewhere. Her work has been heard around the world in commercials, narrations, audio books, documentaries, and TV promos. ABC, Disney Channel, and Fortune 500 companies have featured Bobbin’s voice, which is described as warm, friendly, professional, wise, and sincere. (ABC, Disney, Pro Flowers, 3M, LG, Cisco, DHL, BP, Expedia.com, Toshiba, Tribune Companies, Microsoft)
Bobbin’s Beam’s professional career began in Milwaukee in 1970, when she became one of Wisconsin’s first female radio broadcasters. She attended University of Dallas and Carroll University majoring in Theater and Mass Communications. Bobbin’s broadcast career spanned twenty years among seven radio stations two television stations, and three major markets, including management positions. From 1980-84, she ran her own successful ad agency, On the Beam Productions, further enhancing her production skills and creative voiceover work. It was upon her move to Southern California in 1984, when her career evolved into full-time voice acting, which remains her passion, her craft, and her art.
Bobbin Beam comes fully-loaded with international voice over experience, a broadcast-quality recording studio, equipped with everything “state of the art”. Her ISDN studio also offers Source Connect and phone patch.
Photo of Bobbin Beam “on air” from “93QFM: The Halcyon Daze“