Kelley Buttrick is an Athens-based voice actor with a background in theater, five agents, and ISDN communications hooked up to her home. Through Kelley’s business, KB Voiceovers, she’s done voice work for regional, national and international clients, including non-broadcast narrations and radio and television commercials. She’s adaptable, and can match any message — on top of her more traditional projects, she’s voiced a plant, a dog, even a train.
From DJ to Voice Actor
Kelley’s husband is in the military, so when the couple moved from base to base, Kelley had to reinvent what she did. When she lived in Greensboro, she started deejaying on air with WDDK, and veejayed for WNGM-TV34 when she moved to Athens. That exposure led to requests for commercials — she didn’t know to call it voiceover then — and as people recognized her, the offers kept coming in.
When Kelley had kids, she wondered if she could record for clients full time. She connected with the late Paul Armbruster, imaging of 99X, an alternative rock radio station that was on air between 1992 and 2012. He became Kelley’s voice coach. Kelley calls Paul brilliant; in his instruction, Paul married theater and media experience, and taught her to get out of DJ voice and into the real-person, genuine sound so popular in VO work today. The transition from DJ to voiceover talent meant learning to take a script and make it sound like a natural conversation.
On Top of Her Game
Kelley’s career advice may apply to anyone: see your industry as a craft. Constantly make yourself better, differentiate, and deliver on what you promise. In her field, anyone with a mic can call themselves a voice talent. Many new entrants will get a demo done, and get booked without auditioning. But then they can’t deliver. From a client perspective that can be a nightmare, so there’s clear value in hiring a professional.
Kelley attributes a good bit of her success to professionalism. Her work is fun, but it’s a business, and whenever she receives direction, she respects it as a refined and collaborative vision. Clients invest in her to make the words important, whether she’s hired by a mom-and-pop business or a national corporation. She analyzes every commercial she hears in order to stay on top of the trends, learn which styles work for which clients, and stand out in a competitive industry.
In voiceover, you have to be trained to act natural. It’s one thing to have a good voice, but that has to carry through someone else’s words, words that have to sound like your own.
Kelley’s clients often comment on how easily she adapts to direction. She can record as a smiling, maternal mom for a national fast food chain, and easily switch to authoritative and accessible medical narration. She’s known for engaging the audience and shaping her voice to the message instinctively.
I hope people read this and listen to the voices around them. Voiceover talent is not just video and radio. Someone’s been hired.
Because voice actors are heard and never seen, it’s important not to be pegged as any one type of character. If she’s known for her work as a mother type, she has to embrace that image, but continually demonstrate her range of sound, be it flirty or dry or technical.
Getting the Story
Kelley never hands out her card unless she’s asked for it. To her, the key to good networking, however you do it, is to look at it as an opportunity to find out why people do what they do, not what they can do for you. People are fascinating storytellers when they’re talking about something they’re passionate about, so she suggests you shut up and enjoy the story, as well as the energy that comes with it.
Beyond traditional networking, Kelley emphasizes the importance of plugging in to friends and family. Make sure people in your family know what you do. Through volunteer work with friends, she made connections that led to voice jobs for Terry College of Business. She was offered two jobs for the state of Michigan after her father met a new fishing partner.
Kelley also does a lot of networking with her competitors. In a group of female voice talent, there’s sizeable competition, but also a lot of support, as everyone has a different sound and goes over the same hurdles. Kelley gets a lot of referral work, and when she loses her voice, she sends out five referrals she trusts to treat the clients right and deliver great audio. Those gestures of goodwill make a difference in the long run.