Lots of fun here catching up with Dave Fennoy in his Los Angeles home studio. Great story of determination leading to success: if anyone’s told you “no”, or that voice over is already saturated, you’re not the first to hear that! Big thanks to the Voice of Hulu, games, and cartoon voices which my son loves!
In conversation with Dave Fennoy
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Transcript of conversation with Dave Fennoy
Andy: Here we again in sunny Los Angeles, and we’re at the home of Dave Fennoy. It’s great to meet you, Dave.
Dave: Well, actually we’ve met! Come on, let’s be serious!
Andy: OK, we’ve met a few times. We actually met 2 years ago, and again last week at the VOICE…
Dave: Spent some time at VOICE 2012…
Andy: That’s right.
Dave: And we’re Facebook friends.
Andy: And we are Facebook friends, and that’s something we can talk about later on because I think that’s changed some of your perspective on the voice-over world. But we’ll come back to that. Dave, could you just throw us way back to before you did any recordings. As a kid, what was the seed… was there a seed in your childhood that got you started? How did that all get going?
Dave: Well, you know, I think one, I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid. Two, my mother made sure that I spoke English properly, and had me… as a child when we were driving down the street… read the signs on the billboards, out loud.
Andy: OK, which city was this?
Dave: This was Cleveland, Ohio…
Dave: …The armpit of the nation. Or it was… I think it’s no longer the armpit – that might be Cincinnati, now.
Dave: But I think because my mom was an educator, my father was a veterinarian, and they want the best for their kids. So, speak well, read well. So I got that from mom and dad and watching cartoons, or I played the… You know, I imitated Deputy Dog and all the popular cartoons at the time. But I kind of went the direction… I was a theatre major when I first went off to college, but I also played music. I also went to school for a couple years as a theatre major… dropped out. Went on the road as a musician. Went back to school, finished up in music. Got married. Had a kid… And realized that I wasn’t going to grow up to be a rock-and-roll star after all. So I went into radio.
Dave: Radio really introduced me to voice-over work… and really up until that point I guess I’d never really thought about it, considered it, saw it… There was a buddy of mine, at a radio station I was working at, was leaving one day and, “Hey! Where you going man?”. He said, “Well, I’m going over to…” this was up in the Bay area, and we were in Berkeley. “I’m going over to the city – San Francisco – to do some voice over work.” And I said, “Voice-over work?” And he said, “Yeah! I make more money doing that than I do on the radio!”
Dave: And I scratched my head, and said, “Well, how do you do that?”… “Well, you’ve got to get an agent, a demo tape… you know… voice commercials, and cartoons and stuff. It’s a gas!” And I’m like, “Wow! Yeah! That’s perfect!” Well, I’d already been voicing commercials for the radio station…
Dave: But this was even early in my radio career, so I hadn’t done a whole lot, and… it was actually another couple of years before I started knocking on the voice-over doors. And it took me a while to get started but once I got started out I was hooked!
Andy: So, how did you get started? Did you do…? Did you just go into the studio and do jobs, or did you have any training?
Dave: Well… I eventually got training, but I did all the wrong things first. I was a disc jockey, so the first thing I did was I put together a bunch of commercials I had recorded at the radio station – in the radio station, with the radio station microphone – that were all like… local retail spots, and put together like a five or six minute tape. Send that over to an agent, who I’m sure when she heard it… Joan Spangler in San Francisco if you’re still living, Joan… I’m sure when she heard it must’ve shaken her head and said, “Jeez, who is this guy?” But…. and then, of course, I was expecting a call in the next day or two after she received it. Didn’t get one, and I called and called, and about a month later somebody actually let me speak with her. And… she had me come in and take a meeting and she told me, “Well, you know, you don’t want the retail stuff on there… you know, you seem like a nice young man… little bit talented… Come back and see us in six months.
Andy: So, she was like your mentor?
Dave: In some ways, yeah. In some ways, yes… so I pared down the tape – she told me to do that – to three minutes which was the standard length at the time. I got rid of some of the retail stuff… the more offending retail stuff. Added a couple things. By this time some buddies of mine had had a band. I did a commercial for them, and a couple of other things that were less “selly”… and… got the tape back to her, and she signed me. I also, and I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this to many people, I had my first voice-over lesson about the same time. Somebody told me that I should get a voice-over lesson, and I was fortunate enough to meet Lucille Bliss, who was the voice of Smurfette. I mean, I think she’s still alive. She’s like 96, 97 now… But the voice of Smurfette in the Smurfs and tons and tons of other work, and we had one lesson, and she says, “Uh! You don’t need a lesson, you’re ready. Just do it!” So I struck out on my own to seek my voice-over fortune.
Dave: But I got signed, finally, with Look! and Joan Spangler in San Francisco and one of the very first jobs I auditioned for I booked. It was California Lottery, and I was still on the radio and I became the voice of Marine World Africa USA for their concert series. I did those every summer for several years and I made up my mind that when I made as much money doing voice-over as I was making in radio, I would quit. Now we’re kinda telescoping down several years. Also at that time close to 1990… I guess it was about 1988, ’89, a buddy of mine and I who got in the business about the same time – we were both booking about one job a month – and suddenly he started booking a job a week, and I wondered, “What’s going on?” And he told me about a class he was taking, with a woman named Samantha Paris up there, who had been a voice talent down here. I tool a weekend seminar with her. She brought her agent Lee Gilbert up from Los Angeles to the Bay area, and after that weekend seminar Lee said, “Well you know you’re really talented. If you ever want to come to LA, look us up at SPB, and we’d be happy to sign you.” I had no idea how fortunate I was then. And I went, “OK. Great.”
Well, a few months went by. I was a morning man. OK. Swell! The number one station in the market. Working under the Billy David Ocean… Why am I confessing that? But… One day, as radio stations are wont to do… they fired the whole staff.
Dave: I believe the date was January 9th, 1990. And I called Lee Gilbert and said, “Well, were you serious when you said you would sign me if I came down there?” And she said, “Yeah. Put together a new tape.” So I did, and in May I drove down to LA to get representation. I should tell you another story, in the meantime…
Dave: … about how badly I wanted it at the time. A friend of mine, John Kafka – I’d gone to high school with him – and at the time he was the cartoon director of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – and I a got in contact with him, and told him I wanted to do voice over and he said, “Well… Put together an animation tape, and I’ll play it for some people… Maybe we can get you started.” Well, I’m still living up in the Bay area, but I did the tape at the radio station – this was before the firing, and everything – and sent it to him, and he called me back a few days later, and said, “Wow! I didn’t expect it to actually be good!” I don’t really feel bad about sharing this with people, and we’ve all been there… you have the friend that… anyway! So, he got me some auditions. But for the auditions… of course they were in Los Angeles, and I was in northern California, in Berkeley, and this was not in the age of mp3s, and computers, and the internet. This is 1990. Back in the old days! So, I got in my car… I’d have an audition, say at 2 o’clock, and I’d get in my car six hours later, and drive to LA. Audition. Get back in my car, and drive back to the Bay area. I did that three times and you know how many of those jobs I booked?
Andy I’m guessing none.
Dave: None! No, not one of them. But I still had a lot of confidence, and I still came down and when I first came down to the… to LA… I was married at the time, had a house up there… I would drive down on… you know… Sunday night or Monday morning stay all week and drive back home on Friday or Saturday. I stayed with an uncle for a month. I stayed with another buddy one of the Kafka Brothers – John and Tom, they were twins. Stayed with Tom Copper for a month, and finally I got an apartment that I shared with another voice-over friend of mine from up north and we shared the apartment. He came down from time to time. I was there most of the time and that’s kinda how it got started, but I took the leap of faith and knock on Formica, it worked out.
Andy: Yeah. So there’s quite a… lots of interesting bits… the connections, the networking, the making connections with people and being very patient… I’m sure you were impatient…
Dave: Oh! I wasn’t very patient! I wasn’t patient at all!
Andy: Well, maybe patient is the wrong word.
Dave: I was determined.
Andy: Patience is the wrong word. Determined, and seeing it through… that’s what I mean… the antithesis being, “Oh, it didn’t work today, so I’m going to give it up.” So you believed in yourself enough to keep going forward.
Dave: And I had people that actually told me I wasn’t going to be able to do this, and you can’t do this, you’re not good enough. There’s something wrong with your voice. Had a guy from Grey Advertising, up in San Francisco, tell me “Oh! We’ve got enough people in voice-over.”
Andy: OK. Yes, there is… yeah!
Dave: You’re going to get one more dammit!
Andy: So now you’re doing a whole range of stuff from promos, and games, and…
Dave: Narration, and commercials, yeah.
Andy: Is there anything that’s particularly of interest to you? What’s your favourite aspect of voiceover?
Dave: I like the variety. Voice of Hulu, love doing that. But I really like doing the games. Right now I’m doing the Walking Dead which was named the number one game on Playstation in May of this year. So… I like it all! I really do. There are some things that I don’t go after… audiobooks… not that interested in doing audiobooks although I like narration and long-form, but not that long.
Andy: It’s a different use of time, isn’t it?
Andy: I get the feeling you like the instant creativity.
Dave I kinda do… I think things that are under a couple hours are better for me. My attention span is not that long. I cannot imagine going in the studio nine to five everyday, reading the same book until it’s done, you know, a month later or however long it takes.
Andy: And you have a very nice home studio here which I’m jealous of…
Dave I do. I do. And I’m kind of a “do it yourself” guy, so I built a lot of this myself. Of course that’s a Whisper Room that I bought used. Found it online in Chicago, and had it shipped. And even with it’s being shipped it cost me about half the price of a new one. So, I like that. Rather than the put the foam in, I’ve got the Owens Corning 703, that I wrapped myself in black burlap, and Velcro-ed to the walls, and it actually is a superior sound absorber than the foam. Put my nice red carpet in there…
Andy: It’s very swish…
Andy: Metallic chair, glinting in the light.
Dave: Oh yes!
Andy: But the home studio takes you… we were talking about the home studio is taking you away from meeting people. Earlier we were talking about community and social media, and Facebook. So how has that changed the way that things work for you?
Dave: Well, you know that everything changes, and when I got in the business you had to have an agent, you had to go to your agent’s to audition, and you went to a studio to work, and little by little people started getting home studios. ISDN became popular, and of course as the internet has grown… and how much information you can send down the internet, and that has grown, but it took you away from being at your agent’s. Seeing other voice people there… Away from meeting people at the studio and you kind of became a hermit at your own home studio, which I kind of am now, but thanks to Facebook… I was able to reconnect with a lot of my old voice-over homies… and new homies, like you… I mean, we met on Facebook long before we ever met in person.
Dave: And it really gives you an opportunity to get to know people a little bit… your co-workers, as it were… without meeting them. And do you do have community I have found that I have learned a lot from my Facebook friends who do voice-over. They help me solve problems with ProTools. Given me ideas for marketing… because… like anything else you have to stay fresh. You have to keep reinventing yourself. You have to, you know, let the marketplace know that you’re there. I’m amazed by the number of voice-over people who don’t market. What is it that you do? You’re a voice that markets products. You are a product! You have to market yourself!
Andy: Even Coca-Cola advertises and that’s a pretty well-known brand.
Dave: Well, you know what? I think if Coca-Cola stop advertising, pretty soon we’d forget about Coca-Cola. The public is very fickle we don’t have long memories which is why they have to keep writing history books to remind folks.
Andy: Yeah, just how special they are. Well, I’m sure you’re going to be in many history books about…
Andy: Yeah! We’re stroking now!
Dave: That’s called one smoke at the end.
Andy: It’s very interesting to hear about where your road to where you are now, and we can learn a lot more about what you’re doing daily from elsewhere, and catch up with you online, and check in. Thank you so much for your time and it’s been a great pleasure to come and meet you in your home here.
Dave: Well, thank you. It’s an honour. I truly am honoured that you would come all the way from Istanbul to do this.
Andy: Yes. We did indeed. Yes, it’s nice to meet real people. Thanks very much, Dave.
Dave: Thank you.
Andy: Thank you.
About Dave Fennoy
Dave Fennoy has been a pre-eminent voice working in Los Angeles since 1990 and one of the most versatile voices in the industry providing voices for Commercials, Narrations, TV Promos, Award Shows, Animation and Games.
Lately he is known by 30+ million Hulu viewers as “The Hulu Guy”, the omnipresent voice of HULU.COM. His promo clients over the years include ABC, The WB, Fox, CBS, Showtime, Starz, ESPN, The Disney Channel and TV One. His campaign spokesvoice credits include Lexus, McDonalds, Corona Beer, KFC, Toyota, Chrysler, and ATT, Time Life Music R&B/Gospel and Southern Company. Gamers enjoy his work on STARCRAFT II, Metal Gear, That’s So Raven, Ultimate Spiderman, Delta Force, Star Wars, Laura Croft Tomb Raider, and many others. Narration credits include programs for National Geographic, Discovery Channel and Science Channel’s popular series, “When Earth Erupts”. His various film voices include “Ghost Rider”, “Happy Feet”,and “King’s Ransom”, and he has proved a cartoon favorite in such series as The LeBrons, Kim Possible, Ben 10, Darkwing Duck, New Kids on the Block, Pro Stars, Johnny Quest and Sonic the Hedgehog. Dave has been the show voice for several TV and Award shows, among them Late Night with Gregg Kinnear, The Billboard Music Awards, The Teen Choice Awards, Cedric the Entertainer Presents, and for the past 15 years The NAACP Image Awards.
Dave is a sought-after VO instructor, and the subject of a chapter in the book “Secrets of Voice Over Success” by Joan Baker.