R.A.P. Interview: CJ Goodearl

CJ Goodearl, CJ Goodearl Voiceovers, iHeartMedia, Orlando, Florida

CJ-Goodearl-1by Jerry Vigil

We bumped into CJ Goodearl in RAP’s recently launched Facebook Group (www.facebook.com/groups/radioprodgroup) and realized we were long overdue for a revisit. It’s been 14 years since our last check-in with CJ, who is still holding things down at iHeartMedia in Orlando, at a bigger cluster of nine stations now, with considerably less help than he had 14 years ago. On top of that, he’s managed to get a VO career well off the ground while keeping the radio station’s appetite for quality commercials under control. Some of CJ’s VO clients include The Travel Channel, Bacardi, Samsonite, Chevrolet, Snap On Tools, McDonald’s, Las Vegas Tourism, University of Maryland, and various car dealerships and credit unions throughout the fruited plains, to mention a few. We find out how he manages this juggling act, and we get some great insight into how you can get your VO career off the ground. Be sure to check out the R.A.P. CD for a couple of VO demos from CJ.

JV: When we last checked in, you were Director of Creative Services at CC in Orlando, which is now obviously iHeartMedia. At the time, it was a cluster of seven stations, and you and Dave Green were overseeing seven other producers in the building. What’s changed with those numbers, if anything?
CJ: Right now it’s just me and Dave full time for seven of the now nine stations, and we have Carmen De Las Nueces, who handles our Spanish station and also a station in West Palm. We also have one part-timer who gets about 20 hours a week with us.

JV: Are you still holding the title of Director of Creative Services?
CJ: That right now only extends to our rock station and our sports station. I’m one of the image voices for the sports station and I still image the active rock station, WJRR, as time allows. Dave is Director of Production Services, so he’s over all of us.

JV: You guys were also doing pretty well with your company, Friggin Inc. Is that still alive?
CJ: That’s pretty much dissolved. I think Dave still has some CDs on a website. I actually ended up being hired, so to speak, by the morning show of the rock station to create comedy bits for them, and I ended up putting out four CDs on my own under the morning show banner, which was super fun.

That takes me up to about 2004. We lost Stan Fisher for our CHR station, so Dave asked me if I would like to step into commercial production, which was perfect timing because I had been wanting to get more into voiceover. Rather than just doing all the crazy character voices, I wanted to do more straight stuff and kind of work on my chops.So I stepped in and have been doing that ever since.

JV: Also when we last talked, you guys were considering upgrading to either Pro Tools or SADiE, and you had a ton of studios for all those producers. Which DAW did you go with, and what happened to all those studios now that there are just three of you?
CJ: We went with Pro Tools, and the studios are actually still up. We have seven, including mine and Carmen’s. Two of the main ones are used by Dave Green and our part-timer Dave Allen. I still have mine on the other side of the building. The other ones are great for jocks to come in and out and do their stuff.

JV: From seven stations to nine, and a lot less people to handle the work. What are your greatest challenges cranking out that much material?
CJ: Well, it’s all speed, and we don’t do a lot of copywriting anymore, which is unfortunate because we really enjoyed it. We were sort of forced to streamline, so a lot of the writing is left up either to the agencies or sometimes to clients themselves or the salespeople, God forbid. But we do the best we can with it and sort of polish it up. The quantity can get insane, but it really keeps you on top of your game. We have to keep pretty strict deadlines, which are somewhat adhered to. We’re basically servicing a ton of salespeople, and some days are slower or faster than others.

We do have one really cool thing that Clear Channel did, and that was to come up with some dub centers. There are three national centers spread throughout the country that handle a lot of our dubs, so we don’t have to deal with a lot of that.

JV: How does that work?
CJ: Basically anything that comes in before 3: 00, we can assign to the dub center and they’ll dub it.

JV: They have access to your server?
CJ: Oh, yeah. And we’re all on the vCreative PPO, and they can upload to NexGen. It’s really cool. I love the vCreative PPO. It works great. Every once in a while they’ll have a glitch if they’re upgrading something, but I would say 99 percent of the time it works really, really well. You can track things better. You can archive stuff.

JV: The whole iHeart chain is on the PPO, right?
CJ: Correct.

JV: Do you have access to every voice talent in iHeartMedia through the PPO?
CJ: If someone asks for it, we definitely do. The only problem with that is, it looked really good on paper, but what happens is everybody’s busy, so it’s just kind of a shell game. If someone asks us to voice something, we’ll certainly step up and help them out. But it’s not used a lot, only because there aren’t many stations that have very little workload; everybody’s slammed. The stuff I do end up doing a lot of is for our Creative Services Group in Atlanta, which I love. They are sort of our in house agency with the bigger clients. There’s a certain budget number the client has to hit to get there, but the CSG will produce stuff that’s just phenomenal. So they will hire voice talent, and I end up doing a lot of stuff with them, which is super fun because all their stuff is really well written and their producers are great. But yeah, as far as the sharing of the voices, it’s not really used. I check the little voice pool on PPO and there’s usually nothing in it.

JV: So it’s there if you had to use it, but it sounds like everybody pretty much is handling it within their own cluster.
CJ: Right. And it’s rough because a lot of times they’d be like, well we need a female voice, but I need it now. The female voices are a challenge, but there is a certain number of staff members in our cluster that work either in promotions or sales or as assistants that we can kind of coach up and go to. We’re lucky that way.

JV: Do you have an idea of how many scripts you guys might be producing in a week?
CJ: Probably on the average -- myself and it’s probably the same for Dave – it can be anywhere from 50 to more. I think I usually do around 12 to 15 a day on a normal day. I think I’ve cranked out like 30 in one day where it’s just nonstop.

JV: With that kind of quantity, finding music for the spots has to be important. Search engines with music libraries have become really key, wouldn’t you agree? What are you using?
CJ: Absolutely. We have FirstCom, which I love. They’re constantly updating and their stuff is just topnotch. I mean it’s used on national TV shows and movie scores. Love, love, love the FirstCom library.

JV: Deadlines. This is an age old story and situation. I don’t recall any interview where I ran into somebody and they were like, nope, you missed the deadline by five minutes. It’s not going on. That’s probably not happening. But you have some guidelines, and if it’s like I would think many places are, if you’re really in a bind and a salesperson tries to turn something in past the deadline, you do have a little clout in being able to say no, we can’t get to it, its past deadline. Would that be accurate?
CJ: Sure. I mean, we always try. It’s kind of like feeding a stray cat. You don’t want to do it too much because then they’ll just keep coming back. But generally speaking, we’re not going 24 hours a day. So if there’s something we can crank out, sure, unless we’re just absolutely slammed that day. In that case it’s like no, we’ll ask them to bump it, and they’ll do it.

JV: What kind of guidelines are we talking about for, let’s say, just a basic single voice, any voice, with some music underneath it?
CJ: We try to do two business days. For instance, if it’s something they want to start Monday, we’ll ask for it before 5: 00 on Wednesday. That gives us all day Thursday and all day Friday. They generally hit a day after that, so usually we’ll have about a day. The only stuff that really drives me nuts is if it’s like 4: 00 in the afternoon and they want something for the next day.

JV: What about client approval spots? Do you get any extra time for spots that require client approval?
CJ: Most of them ask for client approval anyway, but very few of them will actually build in the time. Generally though, we’ve got a pretty good batting average between Dave Green and me. We like to keep the quality high, and generally speaking, not much gets kicked back to us. Generally it will be approved. But sometimes you get the tricky clients that really don’t know what they want.

JV: Is there a trick or a key to maintaining the quality with that much quantity?
CJ: I think it’s just really focusing on everything you do. I try to treat all the iHeartMedia stuff as if it’s a freelance job -- as if it’s a huge budget national spot -- and really pour everything into it and kind of come at it from a voice actor standpoint. I think if you do that, it’s just going to come out. I mean, it’s the voice, it’s the music, it’s the sound effects, it’s everything; but you kind of go, where am I coming from with this? It may be cliché and kind of corny, but the voice actor stuff really works. Who am I? Who am I talking to? What’s my motivation?

CJ-Goodearl-3 License-PlateJV: And speaking of freelance voiceover work, you really starting pursuing that around 2004 when you started doing more commercial work there. How did you get things off the ground?
CJ: I had it in the back of my mind for some time. Way back when I started at Clear Channel, I had a mentor who’s a really successful VO guy right now by the name of Jeff Lawrence. I was kind of his assistant for Creative Services. We would go to lunch and he would stop by the bank and be depositing all these checks. That kind of got my attention. I thought, well I don’t have his classic, big booming voice of God pipes, but then I found out later, there’s kind of a niche for that real conversational sort of every man. So I had it in the back of my head as I was moving into commercial work.

I went through a divorce in 2006 and started looking into leaving radio. I was getting disillusioned. I was going to be a firefighter. In Florida, you have to take an Emergency Medical Technician Course. So I went to college. It was super hard, but I aced it. And then somewhere along the line, I’m doing the ride-alongs with the fire departments. I’m doing all this stuff and I’m like, man this isn’t for me. I bet if I put this much money and time and effort and concentration into my voiceover work, I might just make a go of it. So I didn’t apply to any fire departments. I hunkered back down in radio, got recommitted, and got picked up by a production house on the strength of my character demo, which comes from the morning show stuff. From there, they made me a custom commercial demo with some straighter reads. And the beauty of it was, I wasn’t nervous because at the time, I’m thinking I’m going to be a firefighter, so I really don’t care if this thing takes or not. So I went into the studio, they gave me a bunch of scripts, I was completely relaxed, and it came out great. They did an incredible job with it.

So I started getting little things here and there from them, and then I was lucky enough to get some referrals from some friends of mine that were in the business. Zach Miller is one. He’s a former radio guy. It’s all about relationships and people trusting you, and if you do good for them, they’re going to come back. Just be professional and show up.

So I got lucky that way, and you just really try to build it from there. Some places will accept demos; others won’t, referral only. I’ve just steadily built up a little base of production houses and agencies that will send me auditions, and then it’s just auditioning for what you think fits you. I’ve been lucky enough to book some stuff, and from 2006, it has snowballed.

JV: What was that one big gig in the early going there that made you realize that the VO path was the right one to pursue -- the one that gave you that wow factor when you saw the check?
CJ: Well, it wasn’t so much the check, but the sort of notoriety. I got a Travel Channel promo gig for a show called Bite Me with Doctor Mike, which isn’t on anymore, but I did the one season they did do. So I would hear my voice on TV, and there’s still a promo on my website, but that just blew my mind. I said, oh my God, I can maybe actually do this for real. That was the one that really got my attention.

JV: Are there some other things you’ve discovered to be very important in VO work?
CJ: The number one thing is be directable. That is huge. Just be able to take in their direction. I would say most of the creative directors and writers and engineers know exactly what they want, so most of them are very, very good at getting you there. It’s a lot tougher than the radio stuff where it’s almost like being a surgeon as opposed to a general practitioner if you were a doctor. They really, really dial you in -- hit this word harder, throw away that line. So the ability to listen and take that in and execute what they ask you is huge.

JV: Do you have an agent?
CJ: I’ve got a couple. Basically I’m on some rosters with a bunch of production houses. I would say to anybody that wants to do this, have a website, have some killer demos and then get out there and start emailing. There’s room for everybody. There’s tons of work out there and nobody sounds alike. If you’re not doing top national stuff, who cares? An analogy I like to use is: I might not be making a lot of touchdowns, but I’m kicking a lot of field goals, and you can win games that way.

JV: Are you using any of those voiceover websites?
CJ: The pay-for-plays? I’ve considered it. I haven’t done it yet. I’ve heard bad things and I’ve heard good things.I think I’m going to sign up for a couple in January. Some people sort of look down on them, but I think it’s a tool. I wouldn’t do it exclusively, especially if you’re just starting out. I don’t know if I even knew about those when I started or if they were around. I would have liked to have had that to use, but I don’t know if they were around in 2006. But it’s another tool. Try it. You might be able to book some gigs from it. I’ve had some voiceover friends kind of secretly tell me that they’ve gotten some clients from them. They don’t like to talk about it. It’s kind of like a dirty little secret.

JV: You’re not SAG-AFTRA are you?
CJ: I’m not. I did a Taft-Hartley gig with that paperwork they make you sign. One time I got booked for a lottery spot. As I understand it, since I’m in Florida, you can do a certain amount of non-union work. I would love to have enough huge gigs to be union only, but I don’t know a lot of people that are outside of Hollywood that are union only. I love the idea of the protection and I know they do a lot for people. Who knows, maybe someday, but right now I wouldn’t want to turn down all the non-union stuff.

JV: What have you learned in the way of the tech side of VO -- mics, preamps, processing?
CJ: The first big oh wow moment was the first condenser mic I got, which really lets you kind of relax and not push. I think a reason a lot of the radio jocks push so hard is because they’re going through dynamic mics and they have to push through the station compression. I got an AKG mic; it was the first condenser mic I bought. I started playing with it and I was like, oh my God, this is amazing. I can just relax. It just really opens up your whole performance. That and also your room, which I’m sure everybody talks about. I had enough room in my production studio to build a sound booth -- just out of medium density fiberboard and foam -- and I put a roof on it and a door and soundproofing, the limp mass vinyl. And people laughed. They’re like, what’s that? It looks like a shack or a tepee or something in there. But I do all my voice work in there and it sounds phenomenal. So your room and your mic are big. And I don’t do any processing when I send the stuff out. I do use a really good Universal Audio tube preamp, so I would say your preamp, your mic and your room are the biggest things.

JV: Which AKG mic is that?
CJ: That one is a 414. It’s a sweet one. I also got a U87 a few years ago. I found a really good bargain on it. That thing sounds super sweet. And lately, for about a year, I’ve been using an Audio-Technica shotgun mic, which really kind of focuses in on you and almost gives you like an EQ’d sound.

JV: Is that one that’s like $250 bucks?
CJ: Yeah, I think it was like $300. I was thinking about the Sennheiser, the one all the promo guys use, and that’s 1,000 bucks. I thought, I bet this Audio-Technica mic sounds pretty sweet. So I gambled, bought it, shipped it to my house and I love it.

JV: Interesting. I have two mics in the home studio, the same as yours: an AKG 414 and that same little shotgun.
CJ: I love that little mic. That’s my secret. I asked my buddy Zach how it sounded because he’s also an agent and has been a producer forever. He said, “Man, that sounds great.” He went out and bought one the next day.

JV: Are you doing many live sessions, ISDN?
CJ: Oh, sure. A lot of the stuff is ISDN, which is great because the studio at iHeartMedia has it. I’d say probably about 40 percent of the stuff I do is live and directed. I’ll do either ISDN or phone patch. And the new thing out there is SourceConnect, which is really cool and it’s free. And ipDTL I’m going to check out as well. I’m hoping SourceConnect replaces ISDN because I really don’t want to have to pay to put ISDN in my home studio.

JV: What areas of VO are you doing the best at, what styles? You seem to be involved in several areas. I even noticed some radio imaging on your site.
CJ: That stuff is mostly local for the iHeartMedia material. The thing I get hired most for is probably the conversational guy stuff. It’s an announcer but you know they all say “real”.So they want the real sounding guy. Another thing I do is car dealers, believe it or not. It’s really good because they’re so frequent. I’ve got about five of them now and possibly more on the way. That’s real hard hitting stuff, a little more hard sell.

It’s funny, when I first started I was kind of type cast. I only did a lot of character stuff because of all the crazy morning show stuff I did. Then people will try you on other stuff and find out you can do other things. I don’t really do the super deep voice guy, but I do a lot of the real conversational stuff, I would say.

JV: What, if anything, has surprised you about the VO biz now that you’ve jumped in?
CJ: How nice everybody is. Once you get into it and you’re kind of accepted into the brotherhood or the family and sisterhood, you can pick up the phone and call somebody and ask for advice, kind of like we’re talking now. Everybody shares everything. There’s not a lot of competition. There’s competition for business, but there’s not a feeling of competition, which is great. That’s the cool thing about your voice; everybody is so different that I’m not going to be perfect for everything and that’s fine. If they want me, they’ll get me. If not, there’s a million other people to choose from. I thought it would be sort of cutthroat, but it’s really not.

Also, the higher up the chain you go and the bigger you are, I think the nicer people get. I got an amazing, super inspirational email from Joe Cipriano back in 2006. He was interviewed in your magazine, and he talked about critiquing demos and stuff. I’m sure he doesn’t even remember this, but I thought, let’s put his money where his mouth is. So I shot him an email. I said, hey, I really respect you. Would you mind checking out my demo if you’re not too busy? He sends me back an email saying, hi, just got back from vacation in Hawaii. Thanks for your demo. I don’t really have criticism because it sounds like you got a great pro demo working for you and I hope to see you in the booth someday. I was like, wow. My hero just emailed me!

JV: What are some of the mistakes you see others make in the VO world or maybe some mistakes that you’ve made that could have been prevented?
CJ: I would say, don’t try to misrepresent yourself for something you can’t really pull off. It’s got to come natural. It’s got to be in your wheelhouse. One time early on I did a spot and I put a ton of compression on it. I tried to go too low. It was early in the morning when I kind of had that big growly thing going. They actually booked the spot. They booked it for later in the day when I was kind of hoarse from reading a million spots at the radio station, and she was just not hearing it. She’s like, this is horrible. This is not what I asked for. So I ended up re-cutting it the next day and giving her what she wanted. So I would say, don’t audition for something that you’re not a million percent confident you can pull off.

JV: How are you managing the balance of the work between all the VO stuff and the stuff at the radio station? Crazy hours?
CJ: Generally if there’s a lot of imaging work – which is what takes a big time chunk -- I’ll come in a few hours early if I have to. Generally speaking though, these sessions are so quick. The typical session is like 15 minutes. If there’s more than one spot, maybe 30 minutes. And it’s not like I’m booking a directed session every single day. Some weeks are like that, but it’s not a huge, huge time suck. I don’t audition for everything that pops into my email box anymore. So it’s not really a huge amount of time, and I’m able to actually do all of it, which is great. And some of that stuff is for people who trust me. So they’ll say, “Just fire me an MP3; give me three takes and we’re good.”

JV: Is this growing at a pace that you can see you’re going to have to make a decision on where you’re going to go?
CJ: It is. And that would be nice. I’d love to be working from home, so that’s definitely the plan. I’ve got a custom booth built here at home. I’m all set up with my iMac and ready to rock. I’ve got Pro Tools. So if something happens at work and it’s not my decision, I can start next day. That growth would be a good problem to have, but every year is different. I never really know how much I make until it’s tax time. And that’s another important thing I would say to anybody that’s doing this stuff; save money for your taxes. That’ll bite you. Set aside about 30 percent and I think you’ll be fine.

But yes, that’s the dream and that’s the plan. But I’m kind of a hybrid. I’m not full-time VO but I’m not radio only. And if it stays like this until the end of my career, that’d be cool too because it’s kind of cool to do both.

JV: There are a lot of guys and gals out there in the studios at radio stations, large and small, in large clusters and small clusters, that would love to be able to tap into the VO market as a pro and actually get some clients with big names, as you have done. You’ve already mentioned some great tips. What other advice would you offer these people?
CJ: Listen to the national radio commercials. This is nothing new, but really, really listen. When I was a teenager and taught myself to play drums, I listened to Led Zeppelin. I studied it, I broke it down. I used to make CDs of commercials and listen to them in my car. Most people turn down the commercials. I would turn them up. Just study it as the craft that it is. Not to get too artsy, but I was just obsessed with it. You have to really love it and study it. Just listen. When you hear something good, ask yourself, could I do that? And you can. You just have to open up your ears and don’t be afraid to sort of break yourself down. And coaching is good. I did a little bit of that here locally.

You can get there if you are really honest with yourself and say, you know what, I’m a little pukey or I’m a little like this and I can change that. Every day, with all the iHeartMedia stuff I do, they benefit from my study of this and my passion for and pursuit of it because I’m constantly trying to get better. So just listen to things and stay inspired and stay fired up. We all have those days where you’re like, oh, this is really a grind today, but then you think, you know what? I’m not digging a ditch. So just keep on it, and you’ll feel that arc of improvement. You’ll feel yourself getting better or you’ll hear it on the air. You’ll be driving around and hear yourself on the air for your local station and say, man, that doesn’t suck too bad.

CJ welcomes your correspondence at CJ@cjgoodearl.com. Be sure to check out his website for more audio at www.cjgoodearl.com.

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