R.A.P. Interview: Eric Chase

JV: You broke away from the radio gigs and went full time with ECCS in early 1991. What was that first year like?
Eric: It was a bitch. [laughs] Scary as hell. Well, the thing about it was, I had my own mic chain -- which I still use, an Orban 442 limiter kind of built the way I like it; and I know they have some wonderful equipment out now, but I just like the way that stuff sounds. Anyway, I had the mic chain, but I didn’t have a studio to go with it. So I wound up doing a deal with a guy named Jay West here in town. He had a studio, and he always closed up tight at 5:00. I would sublet his studio between 5:00 and around midnight, and I did that for the first two years.

I set up my schedule where I’d get all my clients together in the day. By this time I was doing national work for Men’s Wearhouse, and I was doing some casino work with Sam’s Town and Tunica, just building a client base. I would do all my production between 5:00 and midnight or 1:00, and then go home and crash. I was trying to save my money and build toward getting my own studio. This was right before digital came in, so I was still doing everything in analog.

A group approached me in 1994 or 1995, and they had a studio they were putting together for television production, and their biggest client was Six Flags. They needed an in-house guy who could be a go-to guy for sound design. So for about six or seven years, I was the voice of Six Flags nationally -- not just Dallas and Houston, but all of them. They had like 20 parks back then. Of course, now they have one or two because the bottom fell out of the theme park business a few years ago. But back then it was a thriving business. They were doing multiple commercials for television. I was doing sound design for TV, voiceover for Six Flags, national stuff for Men’s Wearhouse... I mean, it was a huge year.

Then I had just acquired my first Pro Tools system, and I was making the jump between the analog and the Pro Tools, which was a learning curve, but the way they had set up Pro Tools in my mind was very linear. It was a very good way to take the concepts of tape and tracks and make them simple. And of course, being digital, there were so many things that you could do. My productivity went sky high at that point, and I was able to do a lot of cool stuff. I didn’t look back. Now I’ve got a much more modern Pro Tools system, but I’m still working with the same creative group, Off The Wall Productions. They do a lot of stuff for industrial and theme parks still. We’re kind of a loose association of creative talents where we don’t bother each other and we get the job done.

But those early years, the first two or three, man, it was very difficult. I said, “I’m going to give myself one year to see if I can actually make a living doing voiceover and production,” and it’s turned out to be 18 or 19 years now. Time flies fast.

But all that discipline in radio kind of came into play, because there’s a lot of hard work there. If you’re in the production side in radio, it’s like from one door it’s coming at you, and you’re shoving it out the back door as soon as you can produce it. You get used to that pace. The freelance world was hardly anything compared to radio stations, but that discipline really helped me stay on track and get stuff out. It was just great training. It’s hard to get people into radio now in the same way, because radio’s changed so much. But it certainly helped me at the time.

JV: You obviously do a lot of voice work. Are you still doing a lot of production work?
Eric: Well, I do have a few specialty clients. I work with casinos. Wheeling Island Twin River casino up in Providence, and I’ve done Sam’s Town. I do a lot of sound design in the casino world, a lot of concert-oriented stuff, music things, like the old Pace concert stuff. They have a lot of artists that go through these casinos, and so I do a fair amount of sound design for that. I do a lot of sound design for the TV guys here. But a lot of my emphasis now is mostly doing voice work. I do a lot of narration work. One of my accounts is GTV, God TV, out of England, and they have a channel on 365. They kind of like this delivery I do, it’s a movie trailer guy, but it’s for a religiously-oriented channel, so it’s very apocalyptic-sounding at times.

But most of my work is voiceover; 65 percent is probably voiceover only. I do some imaging for some stations. I’m back in Detroit. I’ve got a jazz station up there, so that’s kind of cool, and I have a TV station here. So I would say 65, 70 percent is voice, but I still do a good amount of sound design. When it becomes good for the clients to use me, I try to push that because I can do a turnkey deal. I have the writing experience and the mixing, and I have the tool libraries. I can make it very easy on a client if they wanted to go that way. But when they’re outside of the market, they sometimes like to produce their own stuff, and that’s the beauty of the internet, being able to send the tracks anywhere and everywhere. A lot of time, you never hear the final piece. Why would they even send it, except if you asked for it? But I’m glad to say that my talent, my ability to read, my narration skills, have gotten better with time, and that’s good. Some things don’t.

JV: Narration can be an awkward jump for some who’ve only done the commercial or imaging stuff. Did you find that to be the case on your first few jumps into narration?
Eric: Well, I had a lot of good training, people to help me out once in a while. There was a guy, I think he lives in the Dallas area, his name’s Tommy Kramer, and we worked together briefly back in the KNUS days. He is one of my best coaches. He is the master of the understatement. He’s the master of being able to take the radio out of you, if you will.

Of course, I can hit the button and go one direction being like the radio guy, “Today on….” But when it comes to the understated narration, that natural style, that took a while to work on. I did a lot of voice workshops, acting workshops, and sending tracks to different people. I still do it today. I’ll send something to Tommy or some people that I trust, and they will give me feedback. They’ll say, “You’re sounding a little radio here, or you’re sounding a little bit too strained.” A lot of it’s how to de-train yourself from those old bad habits that are appropriate for radio but are not nearly for voice acting, because they’re two different things.

Announcing and voice acting are way different, and they can be the same. But the acting part is something that you have to have a different mindset for. And if you don’t, then you won’t get that kind of work. I really worked hard to get the voice acting right, and I still fall back on my old habits or old voice styles. I do get a lot of this hyperactive, really up stuff, but I’m now getting a lot more of the serious narrational style stuff. It’s taken several years to get to that point, and you cannot stop learning. If you do, then you really just become yesterday’s news real fast, because there are a lot of people who want to do voiceover now, more than ever. And because of radio being as it is, laying people off, these people come out of radio saying, “Oh, I guess I’ll be a voice actor now.” Well, it doesn’t quite work that way. You really have to have the right talent. Actually, talent is one thing, but some of the skills just come with time, working at it. It hasn’t been easy, but I feel like I have two minds now, I have two sets of skills in the voice world that I can go to. It all depends on what’s being called for by the script.

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