In this podcast interview Michael Minetree talks about how his life was turned around by voice over, how early frustrations have led to exciting opportunities, and how one particular vo commission played an important role in his personal life.
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Transcript of conversation with Michael Minetree
Andy: Today I’m in what has become my home town, I’m in Istanbul, and come over specially from just outside of Washington DC is Michael Minetree. Hoş geldiniz.
Michael: Hoş geldiniz… I guess that would be a “Hoş bulduk” to you, right?
Andy: Hoş bulduk it would be…
Michael: I’m still learning my Turkish.
Andy: OK. So Michael, you’ve come over to Turkey, I think you’ve just had a short holiday here.
Michael: Yeah, 19 days short.
Andy: 19 days short, so… and you’re going to leave us in a couple of days, and go back to the US, hopefully with some good memories.
Michael: Some, of the parts I can remember.
Andy: So, it’s been very nice for me to meet you during this trip…
Andy: … we were together a couple of times with Mehmet Onur who we’ll mention again a little bit later on, because he’s part of your story.
Michael: Yeah, he really is, he’s part of why I’m here in Turkey, which is so funny.
Andy: OK, well we’ll come to that in just a little bit, but first of all can I ask you, where did you… where did you start off? How did you become interested in voice over, because I think voice over hasn’t been something you’ve always done.
Andy: How did it start off?
Michael: I don’t think it’s something that anyone always does. I was a very directionless young man, and really was kind of.. I always had an urge for something artistic, something creative, something made by my hands in a way. Unfortunately when there was nothing there for my hands, we all understand the saying of “the devil finds work for idle hands”, and so I was a pretty directionless young man, and a newspaper article was handed to me by my mother. It had I guess about four or five different voice over coaches in it. I think four. All of varying degrees, all of varying skill sets, all of varying production and professional backgrounds. And also all of varying price. And being me, of course I picked the most expensive one saying, “Well, that must be the best”. And I wasn’t terribly far off, I don’t think, but you know I didn’t know the first thing about voice overs. I didn’t really know what a voice over was. I understood it was “Hey, do you want to be on radio? Do you want to be on television? Do you want to get your voice out there?” Which of course for me at the age meant doing stuff to my voice to make it sound all funny because no-one had really shown me at that point how inappropriate it was. And so I went and started taking lessons, all the while still not really realising what was the end game. And at that point the game was a lot different than it is now. CDs were really still kind of something that only really, really rich people had. CD players were also something that really, really wealthy people had…
Andy: We’re talking late 80s, 90s?
Michael: Yeah. exactly. So right as that was happening. It was not ages ago. It really isn’t, but it’s long enough that there was a big change in technology. We didn’t have computers in our houses, most Americans, at least. We didn’t have an internet – it was there, but it wasn’t there on the level that it is there today.
Michael: The computer processing power was really only in the possession of major studios, and even then their computer processing power by today’s standards was pretty shabby, and everything was still analogue. We hadn’t really made the transfer over to full digital anything. So here I am kind of being birthed out of this coaching – which lasted for about two and a half years – because I’ve said it publicly, I think I say it on my website, and I’ve said it in other written interviews, that I was a basic dumbbell coming in to this stuff. I had a really bad accent. Not country, and not really Larry the Cable Guy kind of Redneck, but I had this Southern tinge that was in everything that I did, and I had to learn how to deal with, among many other things. And so I kind of hit the street with this “background in voice over”, really, my fingers going quote, quote, that was in its own right somewhat antiquated when I hit the street, because everything was changing. And it was changing with lightening quickness. The idea of being able to sit in your own house, record, edit, process, email, upload, ftp… none of that was there. It was go out, create your reel on a quarter inch tape, and then send it over to a dub house, that’s going to take it, and dub it on to cassettes that are printed with your phone numbers, and your pager number, and little printed label inserts, and all this other crap. And by the time you get done paying for it – three, four dollars a piece – and then you’ve got to stuff it in a padded mailer, and ship it off to people, and pray to God that they listen to it and not just throw it in the trash… and those… that was the way things were being done at a time when the way things were being done was changing. And so it was a very – I had every excuse in the world to quit.
Michael: Every excuse. And I didn’t.
Andy: Why not?
Michael: I really don’t know! It was as the technology began to emerge that allowed me and us, as talents, to yank the power back from the establishment, in a way. That was kind of how I felt, I felt like I was being empowered. I was a little bitter that I had to pay as much money as I did for the studio, for the tapes, for the printing, for the coaching, in a way… I had my own little thing to deal with there, which is another story in itself. But I really felt like there was this opportunity to take the power back, and that if I had all the control, if I had the ability to produce things, if I had the ability to take things and put them where I wanted them, rather than having someone always kind of dictate to me where there were going to be, or what was going to happen, or how things were going to sound, or how my tape was going to be cut – those types of things. That intrigued me to a point where I saw the challenge, I just ended up putting one foot in front of the other long enough that ultimately I kind of made it through a very trying time. It was a real hard time to be a newbie, and an even harder time to be a newbie if all you were doing was mailing out cassette tapes, they are both very challenging.
Andy: So, I’m kind of curious that your mother had this idea out of nowhere, “Hey, son! You should do voice over”…. and then slowly you caught a bug that got you hooked on…
Michael: Yeah. It wasn’t an idea so much out of nowhere as it was maybe, “This will keep him off the streets”. I mean I was not a good kid, and I certainly wasn’t a good young adult… in many ways, this business has given me direction that I never had, and probably kept me out of an asylum or a pen, because it really did kind of give me the opportunity to express myself in a way other than I was expressing myself.
Andy: That’s very candid. I find that hard to believe… So this shows that having the right creative outlet is very important in everyone’s lives, and obviously this is the right creative outlet for you.
Michael: It feels that way, and it’s grown more, and there’s a cycle of events over the years that have allowed certain doors to open. That have allowed every thing to grow more. I never came at this like I was a Bill Gates. I really got into this under the impression and guise that we were artists, in a way, that we did things artistically, that we weren’t just kind of mechanised eunuchs that walk up in front of a microphone and regurgitate words… And that I still cling to that in a way, you know, in some ways pretty strictly, but I did also discover that if you walk around claiming yourself to be an artist, most artists are out on the street corners selling paintings, in order to get by. And you can do the same thing to yourself in this business. You can cling so strongly to the art aspect of it that you don’t manage to look at it from a business perspective, and see it as a business. There are a lot of things happening today where people talk about “your voice over business” to such an extent that they don’t seem to pay much attention to the idea that this started out as an artistic pursuit for many people, and that if you come in to it from a business perspective I can’t imagine a worse business to get in to. You can go out and open up a restaurant, and it’s a pretty bad idea if you didn’t spend the last twenty years of your life working in restaurants. Those types of things… I’m more, I tend to allow a little more exposure as more time goes on, because even I just wasn’t sure that I was going to stick with this, and there had been times – not too recently, but there have been times within the last two or three years that I’ve been a couple of photo shoots away from putting all this stuff on e-Bay and going fishing. I mean I had reached that point over a period of time where you just… you know, voice over has been many different faces for me, and I had to sit back a while ago and look, and say what has been frustrating me about it. My… I would say the first six years that I did it, once again I was going through all that big dynamic change, all the technological change, trying to grow along with that technology, and understand it, and become fluent in it, and not lose the artistic aspect to it. And that’s the big, difficult part when you get in to full scale production with these types of things, is losing the artist, because you begin to focus so much on all of the other little details that the amount of attention that you can spend, just being a voice guy gets limited, and it’s a hard balance. And I envy people who just walk up in front of microphones and read. I really do, because to serve my own demons I have to do this stuff. I have to get in there and pull wires, and solder things and nail them, and screw them together, and glue them, and try to make them quieter, and try to make them better. I have to do those things. Because if I don’t, I honestly think I’d go nuts. Which led me into all of the other little pursuits that have come along with it – production wise, coaching wise, people wise, that it’s become an immersion for me, and I always look at people and I say… because they come in the studio, and they kind of look around, and they see everything, and I’ll talk to them for hours on end – as you’ll see here – They look around and I tell them, “You don’t have to like this as much as I do”. Is one of the first things I tell people is, “You don’t have to have all this crap you see here”, because they’re looking around and they see the booth and all the microphones, and all the equipment, and the mixers, and all of the computers, and they get kind of overwhelmed by it…
Andy: It freaks them?
Michael: Yeah. You know, you don’t have to do this. In order to be a part of this business, you don’t have to do this. And then to go, of course, to Mehmet’s set up, very simple, very nice, very good… efficient. Just walk in and go. It’s done. Me, I’ve got all knobs and twisters, and faders…. everything! I don’t even know what a twister is, but I know I probably have one, somewhere.
Andy: Actually, mine’s even more basic than Mehmet’s… I just have the interface and the computer, and of course the microphone… So there’s a full range there, and it’s interesting looking at your résumé, you’ve obviously got an entrepreneurial spirit in you, as well. And you just mentioned that you’re doing production, and training, and also you have an interest in video, as well. But all these things, together, have enabled you to – I guess – to make a balance then between the technical and the artistic side, which satisfies your individual, personal needs…
Michael: Yeah… It does, and I think when I talked about the first six years of doing this, it was solely as just a voice over guy. What do you do? I do voice overs. Well, what’s that? Which is what most people ask… because we really are much smaller than anyone would really think. I mean it’s a very, very small community. But I went from the pursuit of just being a voice over guy, and I got bored with it. I really did. I got bored with the process. I got bored with standing in studios being told what to do, and reading stuff that I really didn’t want to read… Most people go… they look at the money, and they say, “Well, how could you not want to read it?” I said, “Because it’s boring as hell”. That’s why. I could live on a beach in a pair of cut-off short, with a piece of straw between my teeth, and probably be pretty happy in life. And I’ve always really only wanted just enough to allow me to pursue the artistic elements of the craft, and of production, and of performance. And I was never hypnotised by the money, other than when I very first started. I was completely… when I very first kind of hit the streets, you know, I saw the flashing light bulbs and the red carpets, and the kind of Hollywood gala BS that really is sold today, still, because that was how I was sold on it, and many people are sold that bill of goods, which they’ll never be able to cash, today notwithstanding… So I kind of went at it from the wrong angle to begin with, and didn’t really have the proper mentoring, or someone to slap me around and say, “It’s not the way you need to pursue this stuff, son. Slow down”:
Andy: You need to fall in love with it first, and love the process…
Michael: Right. And so in the very beginning I was hypnotised by the money, by the popularity of you know, being “that guy”. My first local commercial on the radio, people said, “That’s not you”, and I said, “No. It’s me”. But they said, “Well, that’s not you. We know you, and that’s not you”. And I said, “Well, that’s the idea, dumb ass!”: And it was so hard to convince people that that’s what I was supposed to be doing. And they said, “You know, all these funny voices, and all this different stuff, and it’s not you. We know you. That’s not you”. Well, they knew the me before I did that stuff, and I don’t know if they really liked that me, but I knew that I liked the new me, the voice over me better than the old me. And so I kind of ran at it and my whole mentality of all of it shifted over time, thanks to several defeats, and several successes. And you know going to New York as early as I did was probably one of my biggest tail between my legs moments… because I got into an environment where you are surrounded that one, are far more talented than you. As a new anybody, going to a major market you are surrounded by people that are as good, and better, and by far better. And many by far worse than you are, immediately. It’s much like kind of high school theatre. You get the one kid, he’s the star of the high school, and he’s going to go somewhere in theatre – we have one of these in our family, which is kind of where I pull this story from. Everybody thinks he’s Hollywood bound, and then he gets out and he goes to college with all the other 500 kids that were the star of their high school, and suddenly they’re nobody anymore. When I went to New York, that was… that “nobody” had a terrible effect on me. I didn’t like being “nobody”, because in my mindset – dam it – I was somebody, and you’d better hear it. At that time. I hadn’t been humbled yet. And it really took that experience to humble me. It took subsequent years after that for me to finally force that piece of steak down. And that changed the way that I pursued a lot of it, but yeah, that was…
Andy: And now with your studio you have the chance of working… of having other artists coming to you, and recording…
Michael: Which is a gift…
Andy: … on your premises. You were talking about that the other day, and that was quite interesting. What’s that give to you?
Michael: It gives me the opportunity to watch other – I don’t necessarily have a revolving door of people coming through my studio, but I have a select group of people that are… most of them are national talent that are going through the process of being in DC, or something like that, where they’ll come through, and to watch veteran talent walk through and, you know, just nail stuff is always fun. Sometimes they don’t nail stuff. Sometimes it’s very frustrating. Sometimes I don’t like being the studio engineer – like when your $4000 ISDN box decides to crap on you in the middle of a session.
Andy: That could be awkward.
Michael: Yeah: And that’s happened a few times, actually. So that part of it I don’t enjoy, but what I do enjoy is watching the business being done, and being one of the little spokes in the wheel… and it allows me to step back and kind of sit in the lawn chair, and watch the business from a different angle, because for so long I’ve stood in that dam booth for hours on end with headphones on, and somebody yapping in my ear, telling me what to do and who to be. It’s nice to watch somebody else suffer for a while! Really… I hate to put it that way, but it’s refreshing to not… we spend far too much time in this business listening to ourselves. And listening to ourselves babble on and on. And I certainly get to hear a lot of myself babbling. And so it’s nice to see somebody else under the spotlight for a little bit, and look at fundamentals that work, and also look at fundamentals that don’t work. The… I think of it as an advantage… Some of the talent that come through don’t necessarily want to think of it as an advantage, but a producer will be going nuts somewhere down the line, and I’ll cut their mic, and I’ll go into the talent’s cans, and I’ll be able to tell them, “I think this is what they’re after”. Then have them go back and actually nail it and make everyone happy, because what you find a lot of times – particularly now – is there are more and more people from the production aspect that are getting into this that have never done it before…
Andy: OK. So they don’t really know what they want…
Michael: Well, they don’t know what… they know what they want, but they don’t know how to ask for it. I mean I had somebody, one time, say specifically, “You sound too much like a voice over guy”, and I wanted to reach through the microphone and choke him, because I am a voice over guy. So, what exactly are you after?. They said, “Oh! We want that voice right there. The one you’re talking with to us right now”. In translation, what they weren’t able to tell me is, “Get about six inches off the mic, and just start talking”. Because I was up on the microphone… Hello there… And that was their complaint, but they didn’t know how to say it, and it took me – in retrospect – a little while to figure that out. So… sometimes… there just aren’t good producers, and there are good producers. I’ve worked with people that are just so unbelievably efficient that they just let you go, they give you a little hit here, a little hit there. They get exactly what they want, and they’re out the door within twelve minutes.
Andy: That’s the great job.
Michael: I’ve had the other people, you know 45 minutes or 90 minutes later, like… Culvers. Are you listening Culvers people? Seven and a half seconds, and it was a 90 minute session.
Michael: “Try the Texas sized taste of a savoury butter burger cooked up fresh, just the way you like it. Hurry in to your nearest Culvers today”. I will remember those words for an eternity, because these people said, “You know what? We want you to do it like ‘Beef, it’s what’s for dinner'”… Then what don’t you go call the “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” guy? Was kind of my attitude. Which may not be the best one in the world, but… It’s neat to be able to take a backseat to the business and just to like… when all you’re doing is engineering a session, you’re just a fly on the wall.
Andy: You’re just absorbing… absorbing experience and that experience you can feed back into something else later…
Michael: And you can bring to your own professional repertoire later on down the road.
Andy: So, meeting and learning from other voice over people is a great opportunity, and this week you met a voice over guy that did some work for you a few years ago… Of course I’m talking about Mehmet Onur. Mehmet did a very special voice over job for you… I think…
Michael: He did. I was under the gun. I had to put together a wedding – which is so funny, because normally it would be the woman’s job to put together the wedding. I was the one wearing the wedding gown, this time around, and doing all the logistics – my wife is from Turkey, which of course is why I am here in Istanbul, here visiting my wife’s family. This is my second trip over here. We had gotten her parents on last minute’s notice to be able to get plane tickets to come over for the wedding.
Andy: To go over to the States…
Michael: So her mother and her father, and both of her sisters – her brother stayed behind, but both of her sisters were able to come for the wedding, and literally it was: they were flying in one day, and the wedding was the next.
Andy: OK. But her parents at that time didn’t know any English…
Michael: Right. They didn’t know any English at all, and so I had – you know there’s another whole big story about the wedding vows – but I had written my own wedding vows, and I didn’t want her parents to be kind of sideline observers to this wedding. One, coming all the way from Turkey to meet a guy for the first time a day before he marries their daughter was a little strange, and I wanted them to be as involved as possible. So, of course me, “Bing!”, why don’t I call a Turkish voice over artist, and get him to do my wedding vows in Turkish… not understanding the dynamics of translation, localisation, or any of those other fine talents that someone has to have to do it the right way. And so, of course Google, “Turkish voice over talent”, or “Turkish voice over artist”. Whatever, I think it was “Turkish voice talent”, and you know “tadaa – boom” there’s Mehmet Onur. Previously when… actually subsequently to that I had listened to a lot of Turkish radio, and I swore that everybody was Mehmet. He must do every commercial in Turkey! And so I sent – I actually just sent him a note and said this is what I am doing. I don’t have a lot of scratch, because I didn’t at the time, I don’t have a lot of cash to pay you, and I don’t even know to pay you anyway, you’re in Turkey. And he said, “If this is for your wedding then I’ll just record it. It’s not a big deal” – which I always thought was really, really charming, and very nice, and also very telling of who he was. So, of course he read the wedding vows, and then I put them into – once again – a voice over production with music and narration, and all of these things, and then of course I said the vows. I believe, I’m confused on the order now. I had told you the other day that Mehmet said them first in Turkish, and I said them in English, but I think it’s the other way round.
Andy: I hope so, because I’m worried that he’s married to your wife…
Michael: Legally, Mehmet had married my wife? But I said them in English, and then Mehmet’s voice would come in and say them in Turkish.
Andy: Let’s keep it that way. I think that’s safer.
Michael: I remember standing there, and I’m holding my wife, and out of the corner of my eye, being a production guy I’m still looking at their parents to see what is it… is it working? Did it go over? And his translation was so, so nicely done that the poetic feel that they were intended to have was just spot on. I saw the tears start to come, and everything. And I said, “I know I have them now. At least for a little while longer until they get to know me a little better”. Because they’ve really turned out to be special. But when you look at how big of a part that was, in the wedding, then… You know I thought he was pretty inaccessible too, and it just turns out he’s busier than hell.
Andy: He surely is, yeah.
Michael: He really is a busy guy. And to come over and be able to just sit around, and have a bottle of soda water. I had to.. there’s a little bit of – what do they call it? Star struck, in a way… Just a bit because he’s just a busy guy, but he’s also just so nice. So to meet him, and see that part come to fruition – to have this thing come full circle, and then to be able to hang out and have dinner… I would have never expected it. It just goes to prove just how small this little rock we’re on really is, in some ways.
Andy: And how strong the connections in the voice over community… that we want to spend time with each other. I think that’s cool.
Michael: Yes, some of us do!
Andy: Is that a message to me?
Michael: No. There are… people are people. I still – unless it’s a figment of my imagination. I still kind of feel I tend to run from egos… even though I have one, I tend to run from egos that are right out there on someone’s shirt sleeves. We all have egos, but I just don’t think that the machismo element of some of this… There’s people like to hype themselves, and you know, noticeably so – they want to be noticed. I’ve tried not to be a hype guy, for me… but I think I might be changing. Now I’ve been to Mehmet’s house and seen his little Hollywood reels, and his name everywhere…
Andy: We were in Hollywood together – you should have been there with us. We had a great time in June. Well, Michael, it’s really great that you were able to come over and meet the guy that was part of your wedding, and great that I could meet you, as well… and we’ve had the chance the last couple of weeks to meet together a couple of times. It’s been very special.
Michael: It has been. It’s been great.
Andy: And thank you so much for agreeing to meet today, and I met your extended family just before we started speaking, and I can see that you’ve married into a good one.
Andy: So… the journey continues, but it looks like you’re going in the right direction. That’s great.
Andy: Thanks mate.
Michael: Can you hear that hand-shake?
Andy: We did.
About Michael Minetree
Michael Minetree is the owner of MineWurx Studio, a voiceover production studio in Washington, DC.
As a coach he specializes in training new voice talent. He also works in the industry as a performer and producer, provides studio construction consultation and is an avid technician and studio engineer. Michael was also a contributor to the recently published “The Art of Voice Acting“, 4th edition, by James Alburger.