R.A.P. Interview: Bob Magruder

R.A.P.: Are you aware of any "voice only" agents in the Dallas area?
Bob: No, I'm not. There are some on either coast though, and it would be a great idea if we had one here. I think the reason we don't is that they would have to live, if they were voice only, on ten percent; whereas, if they had models and print people, that's thirty percent money. If an agent bills a million dollars of just voice business, their cut is only a hundred thousand. When you start paying the rent and four or five salaries and the FICA and withholding, a hundred thousand doesn't go very far. There's also the limitation of the amount of voice talent outside either coast.

R.A.P.: What is one of the most asked questions in your workshop, and what's your answer?
Bob: Probably how you make money, and how you get started. I spend the last hour of the workshop in an hour called, "The Business of the Business." We try to get into how to get started and how to market yourself. It's very difficult because in New York or LA or Houston or Tyler, Texas, a little clique rules the town, and you just fight like hell to get into that clique because the dollars are big. If you're lucky enough to fight your way in, and people do all the time, then you're king of the mountain, and somebody else is going to have to come after you.

I was once in an awful movie called "The Bermuda Triangle." If you remember it, it had an on-camera narrator narrating stories of some of the things that had happened in the Bermuda Triangle. I met this narrator in a bar one night during the shooting, and he said it was very unusual for him to do a movie because he was primarily a voice guy in LA. He said, "I'm not one of the elite members of the clique. I've always dwelt on the periphery of the really big guys in LA." I said, "Well, if it's not too personal, what can a guy who dwells on the periphery of the big guys expect to make?" He was actually apologetic when he said, "I've never been able to make over two hundred and fifty thousand a year. I just seem to be stuck on that figure." I thought, "Poor baby."

That's how lucrative the business is out there, and that's why big name actors are trying to get into the voice business now. And I say that by way of showing that it's so lucrative that the top people just formulate the clique, and it's tough to fight your way in.

So, knowing that, a novice has to polish his craft, so when he is listened to, he'll be paid attention to. Then he has to have an offense. For your offense you first get all your tools together, your demos, your head shots, etc.. Then, I suggest, you go after the audio studios because these people will probably listen to you. People from out of town will call engineers at audio studios, and, not wanting to go through a day of casting and all of that, they'll usually say, "Why don't you just pick out two or three for me to listen to." If you've made yourself known to the audio engineer, and he likes you and trusts your tape, then he'll recommend you.

The second line of offense is usually the production studios because these people must keep up with different faces, and again, they're looking for faces, not voices; but if you can sell them your face, then you can say, "By the way, I do voice-over work too." Then leave them a tape, and hopefully, they'll listen to it.

The third line of offense, ad agencies, you can just forget because you can't get to them. They're busy people, and they don't want to see you until time to do a casting, and then they'll go through agents. So you spend a lot of time with your agent. If your agent is going to be responsible for selling you, he or she has got to know what you do, and it's amazing, but a lot of people are too timid to get in and show an agent all of the various things they do. Therefore, they miss out on an awful lot of business.

And then you compliment all of that with mailers. When I got started, I tried to do at least one mailer every month to everybody. You send them things like Rolodex cards and tapes, and instead of sending it all at once, you space it out so they can receive something from you often. It works just like the percentage in direct mail. They say the first direct mail piece, no matter how good, does a very small amount of good. Then the first follow-up improves the potential.

R.A.P.: What's the secret to landing that big national spot?
Bob: Pray a lot. Light candles. You know, it's just dumb luck. It really is. I have gone up for a national that really suits what I do best and just psyched myself up and nailed the audition and didn't even get a call back. Other times, I've gone out when I'm tired, read a youth market spot for which I'm not suitable, and they call and say, "Hey, you got it! It's a Pepsi!" Why?! You just never know, but the thing is, every time you get a national that plays all markets or a lot of markets, especially if it goes beyond thirteen weeks, you can just count on every national making you twenty thou-sand that year. So you get four, five, six of those a year, and you don't have to do much more. But you do have to be very, very lucky. There's no secret except to make people like you. You're a salesperson, and I guess you keep your Fuller Brush case full and up to date, and you smile at people and make them like you.

R.A.P.: When you listen to Dallas radio, what one thing do you most hear voice talent doing wrong?
Bob: I hear the directors doing wrong things. You have to assume the voice guy or girl is doing what they're told. You go to your ad agency, and in many cases -- the only exceptions being let's say the top four agencies here in Dallas --your director is almost an entry level position at the ad agency. That's not the way it should be, but in many cases, that's the way it is. These people really don't understand what voice people do or can do. It never occurs to them that a voice person can do two things. They're thinking in terms of announcers. So many times the voice talent is either under or over directed. It's the directors who are weak in many cases, not the voice people. The voice people, for the most part, just do what they're told.

R.A.P.: Is there much money in the voice business in the small and medium markets?
Bob: No, not really. In Texas, you have to come to Houston or Dallas. There is some business in Austin, but it's at a pretty reduced rate. In Austin and San Antonio, if you get to where you're really crankin' out the business there, then you come to Dallas and Houston where you can make some money. And you have to work in all those cities. I have agents in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Little Rock, Arkansas. The Little Rock person covers the Memphis/Nashville area. You can't stay in just one city, or you'll limit your horizons.

R.A.P.: How much can someone who is only moderately successful expect to make in their early years?
Bob: If you're moderately successful, if you're not doing another job and you're concentrating only on the voice-over work, easily fifty to sixty thousand. If you crack the clique, you're in six figures. There are five hundred plus members of the SAG/AFTRA union in Dallas, and it would be nice to think that they're all making good dough, but they're not. There are about twenty or twenty-five people in town making good money. But, in LA, there's probably five thousand making the money. Then again, there's probably five hundred thousand members of SAG/AFTRA. The ratios hold up the same no matter what city you're in.

R.A.P.: Do you make your workshop available to people outside the Texas area?
Bob: Oh, sure.

R.A.P.: How often do you do the workshop?
Bob: I do about four a year in Dallas and about three a year in Houston, sometimes one in Austin. There's a lady named Maurice Tobias who comes through twice a year, and I always take her workshop. People have said, "Gosh, you're so experienced. Can you really learn anything?" I pay a hundred and fifty bucks for her workshop, and if I learn two things I think, "Good Lord, a hundred fifty bucks! That's what you get for one radio spot!" If I learn two things that make me better, it's worth ten times that much money, and I always manage to learn some things from Tobias' class.

My next workshop will be sometime in the summer through the agent, Elite Dallas. I never know exactly when. When people call me, I just save their names, and when I get five or six names, I call the agent and say, "Schedule something within the next month." I only take ten to a workshop. It gets too boring for the students otherwise. Most of the workshop consists of the students reading. It's not so much them listening to me, and there's an element of boredom there when you have to sit and listen to nine other people read before you get to hear yourself.

R.A.P.: What have you done on national TV or radio that our readers can watch and listen for?
Bob: One of the things I was very proud of was the "Lone Star" series on PBS. It was an eight hour mini-series on Texas that won some awards. I narrated that, but I don't know if it's still on. I also did something called "The Desert War: A Rock-umentary" for some cable operator a couple of weeks ago. I don't know where it's going to play, but I play a Ted Knight character reporting on the Desert War, and they followed the entire war through the eyes of this anchor team. They had a very sensible female anchor, then this very pompous, blustery Ted Knight type character. Then they would tie it into a rock video. It's going to be a two hour thing on cable, but I don't know where.

As far as national radio, I did jillions of the old "Aim High Air Force" things. There's BC Headache powders. I'm still doing Long John Silver voice-over on TV. I did some Subaru national TV voice-over. If they ever hear the Bob Larson mini-series, wherever that is, that's me.

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