Andy Roth is not only one of the busiest voice-over casting directors around, he’s also an in-demand voice director and voice-over teacher at the Terry Knickerbocker Studio. In his decades long career, he’s worked on projects for Disney, Blizzard Entertainment, Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV, and Crunchyroll.
After moving from his role as the in-house casting director for Cunningham Escott Sleven and Doherty (CESD) to start his own company, he’s collaborated with some of the world’s largest advertising agencies, casting houses, and production companies, serving as a casting director on a diverse array of projects, including commercials, animated films, television series, documentaries, and video games.
Roth took some time out of his schedule to chat about the business of voice-overs, voice-over reels and what he’s listening for, what classes you should take and if actors should be worried about AI. If you’re remotely interested in voice-over work, you definitely should check out this interview.
You’ve said that voice-over is mostly about personality. Can you tell me more about that?
Andy Roth: I actually think all acting really is. What’s gonna be unique about you is you. That’s it. I can give five people the same script. They’ll all decide to be happy because the first line is, “Oh my God, I’m so happy.” I can speed people up; slow people’s reads down. I can tell people how to hit a joke differently if it needs to be done, which often it doesn’t. But if it does, I can redirect people. But at the end of the day, the choices are probably gonna be similar in most cases. Scripts need what scripts need. So, what is somebody gonna bring to the table that’s different? It’s not whether or not they choose happy. If happy is the obvious choice, everybody should be choosing happy. But it’s who they are when they’re happy.
What I’m listening for is their happy, their version of it. And it’s just what happens when they’re being themselves. It’s not necessarily something you can fabricate. The thing we like about any star, about Jon Hamm is not that there aren’t other people that look like him or can act like him or have his voice. It’s Jon Hamm. The first thing you think of is the reaction of that person. Keanu Reeves, Vanessa Redgrave, it doesn’t really matter. Part of the excitement is who they are. Meryl Streep. That’s what makes them unique, not that there aren’t other people with the ability to do the same job. So that’s really what I look for. What personality is gonna be plugged into that human shaped hole in the cast. And it’s part of what gets people called in.
In this business it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. And auditions are really ways for people to know you better. If I’ve called somebody in to audition or offered them a job, I want them there. They’re not coming in to prove they’re a great actor. They’re coming in to not prove that they aren’t as good as I thought they were. I call them in because I already have a vibe of what they bring genetically, their voice type and all that.
But their personality, how I feel they’re gonna jive with the other people in the room because production is a hive mind. There’s so many of us all working together. There’s a queen bee in an office somewhere with a checkbook, and the rest of us are all just workers trying to put together a hive that’s not gonna fall apart in the rain. And part of my job as a casting director, and especially as a director, is to know who the other worker bees are gonna be, including myself, and call people in that I feel are gonna jive with that team.
Voice is great, but a voice is a genetic quality. It’s like a birthmark. It’s right for some things. It’s wrong for more things but you’re there because I want you there. And that’s really… That’s a personality thing. Plus personality cuts through, voice doesn’t always.
When you’re listening to an audition, how far into it until you’re like, “Thank you, next.”
Andy Roth: It really depends. First people need to realize what I’m listening for. Some of the shows that I work on have like 50 roles. I’m not gonna put out 50 sets of sides. So, I’ll put out one side for the men, 20-40, even though I know 40 may be wrong for this particular role, but the vibe of the sides is right for a whole bunch of other roles. So, you’ll be reading for one role, and I may be really listening to you for something else.
Also, if it’s a dubbed project, because I work on a lot of those, does this voice sound like it would be coming out of that face in the United States with the United States culture? It may not even match exactly the other voice because different languages have different placements in the throat. So sometimes somebody sounds totally different. But for the United States audience speaking English, United States words, does this voice sound right? So, if I’m listening and I’m just hearing that just genetically it’s not gonna fit, I will probably move on.
I do give people the option in almost everything I do to give me two takes. So, if I don’t hear it in the first, I will click to about where the second is, and I’ll listen there as well. But when I move on, it’s not because I don’t like an actor.
I’ve cast shows from castings from other shows. I may hear your voice and go, “Okay, you’re not necessarily right genetically for anything in this show.” But then the next show comes in and I will go back and I’ll re-listen to that audition that I had passed on the first time to see how you fit into this next show.
There’s so much that an audition does once it’s out there and all of it really serves you and serves your career. It may not end up in an immediate gratification of a job, but that’s life.
Do you listen to a lot of voice-over reels?
Andy Roth: I do. I do. When people send me a reel, I will often listen to it.
What are you listening for when you do that?
Andy Roth: It’s a tricky thing because when I’m working on a project, my mind is about that project. Or sometimes I’m casting two shows or three shows at a time. Or sometimes I’m talking with a colleague on something they’re casting and we’re going back and forth shooting ideas about my project or about their project. So, my mind is in what I’m being paid to work on at that moment. It’s tricky and kind of random as to whether or not it will fit in my mindset as far as whether or not I’m able to use a person right there.
But when I do listen to reels, really what I listen for is does the personality come through? Do I get a sense of this person? Not, can they do 15 voices, or can they do a whole bunch of accents? Just, are they funny? Am I hearing things in their voice that tell me this is a car commercial person, or this is a person for a Survivor type reality show? Or this is the hard-boiled cop on the edge, or the exhausted nurse. Everybody’s got a unique speech pattern. And I’m kind of listening for what that is to take stock of the person and who they are.
Demo reels can be tricky. Somebody who knows what they’re doing with a reel can make anybody sound great. So, the performances on the reel, I expect them to be good. You’re paying somebody to do it but it’s not necessarily what I’m focusing on. I’m focusing on the things that somebody making a demo with you can’t naturally craft. A good demo producer will see those things and give opportunities for them to come out. Like, do you hit your Ts? Do you say orange or orange? Little things like this are things that come out and I’m like, all right, this person has got kind of a cool quirkiness. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with them yet, but this is definitely something that I should keep in my mind and revisit later. So that’s really what I’m listening for.
It’s really weird. It’s sort of like asking somebody, when you go on a first date, what do you look for? And it’s like, you can go in with ideas of what you want down the line, but at the end of the day, you’re sitting at a table in a unique environment with an individual that you know to a certain level and its absorbing personalities. And is this gonna lead to a second date? Is this gonna lead to a friendship? Am I really into this person and want to marry them? Am I not so into this person? And how do I get out of it nicely? So, you’re really listening for that. You don’t necessarily know what you’re gonna be engaging with until you’re engaged with it.
What I also would caution people to avoid, because this does come up, is when people are trying to present something they think somebody else wants. People don’t know what I want and what I want today might be very different from what I want tomorrow. I can sometimes hear people cleaning up their voice, trying to get a read right. I can often hear if somebody did it on their own at home, and they’re just trying to say the words and give the soft read that they think I want. Those demos I often can’t really do much with because it’s like sitting down for the first date and somebody’s telling you they own oil wells when you don’t really. It’s like, I’m gonna figure it out fairly quickly and I don’t like being tricked.
Do you like them to be produced? Making it sound like an actual commercial with music running underneath?
Andy Roth: Oh, yeah. I do. And I’m not listening for production value. I do want it there, but the reason that I want it there, and I want people to pay for somebody who knows what they’re doing or if they’re lucky enough to live with somebody who produces commercials or whatever for a living, by all means do it for free but I do want something there, because mentally it puts me into the place of I don’t have to focus on that anymore.
Whereas if I’m getting something that sounds like you just recorded it at home and the sound’s not great, and it’s a little echoey, that’s what I’m gonna focus on. And I can try not to, but it’s like sending me a headshot as opposed to a selfie with somebody photo bombing. I’m gonna focus on the photo bomb, the person behind you doing this and the things that are not supposed to be there and things that are not supposed to be that way will tend to draw focus. So, I want something produced. I want it to sound good so it doesn’t draw focus.
Something produced also makes a statement of you know the demands of the industry. I don’t have to start compensating for the fact that you’re not working. I don’t have to compensate for the fact that you don’t have any money or don’t want to spend any money, or don’t think that this branch of the industry is worth you investing the money that you would invest in new headshots. I could be wrong in all of that, but it’s me sitting, listening to a demo by myself free to think absolutely anything I want to think that nobody’s gonna correct me on. So, a good production removes those concerns.
You do a lot of classes and intensive programs. What kind of class do you think is best for someone who wants to get started? Like a fully immersive one? An online class?
Andy Roth: Well, the thing about voice-over is online can be fully immersive. So much of this business is online. A lot of things are recorded remotely.
First off, I would tell people, if you’re gonna take a class, check it out first. Talk to other people who’ve taken it. There are forums, there are things like that. I’m a big advocate of Terry Knickerbocker Studios, I think they’re amazing. I don’t teach in a ton of places, but the places that I do teach in, I fully trust that there are people who are coming into it ready to work knowing the dynamic. I think Terry’s people at the studio come in with a degree of training, with a degree of competence, with a degree of comfort being in the new environment of reading copy that you haven’t seen before. And it makes my job easier if somebody comes in ready to connect. I am an advocate of an immersive environment like that.
I feel it’s kind of like learning a language. It’s like, go there. be in it and learn it.
What I caution people against is there are some people that think voiceover is a quick fix. “Yeah, I think it’d be a great way to make a few extra dollars.” And they want to go in, and they want to do like sort of a one-off class and expect to walk in and be discovered and start working right away. I would caution people against thinking like that. If you’ve been doing it for a while, sometimes the one-day classes are terrific. It’s a great way to meet somebody but I like an immersive environment. I think working with people with different levels of experience and different backgrounds is great because you’ll start to see which needs are individual needs and which needs tend to be more universal.
What about non-union roles? I feel like that’s happening more and more now.
Andy Roth: It is. It is. But voiceovers are happening more and more. Voiceover is the quickest to adapt to new situations. People come up with a new piece of technology, they put a voice on it. There are refrigerators that talk to you now. People came up with a phone and they’re like, put a voice on the phone. Alexa talks to us. It’s everywhere. There’s VR, there’s AR, augmented reality, there’s hologram technology. There’s more and more and more stuff popping up every day. And it’s not all union. And some of it there’s not a lot of money in it when it’s developing.
And it’s been around for a while, but what they call non-jurisdictional, which is non-union, but union people are allowed to do it. A lot of dubbing, what we call unscripted documentary series, documentary movies, reality shows. They tend to be non-jurisdictional, non-union. So, there are a lot of union people that do it, whereas scripted dubbing tends to be more union work.
How worried should voice actors be about AI?
Andy Roth: I don’t think worry is always the best answer. Be aware. One of the things I tell actors is all you have is the ‘is’. You don’t have the, ‘I wish it was this’, you don’t have the, ‘I did this’. You don’t have the ‘will be’, you have the situation that you’re in. Keep your eyes open. It’s been being used for a while. They know how to use it. I do think it’s not there yet, but AI is kind of a thing, and there are some protections in place in this country that are not necessarily in place in other countries. So be aware, know that you’re not alone.
How would someone get under your radar? Mostly through agents?
Andy Roth: Like I said, in this business, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. An audition is a very intimate connection, especially if it’s like in person or on Zoom, in a totally appropriate way. But it’s, it is a very intimate connection. It’s two of us in each other’s heads, getting to know each other, working toward a common goal of making somebody else in some other room think you are brilliant at what you do, and more importantly, I am brilliant at what I do. And you really get to, you do get to know a person that way. You get to know a person’s quirk, sense of humor, general vibe.
In my experience, the best way to duplicate that is in a classroom environment. There is a time limit. We’ve gotta get stuff done. There are things we want to impart. There is a very set relationship from day one between the two people in the room. And you start to get each other. I will learn the actors and learn what they bring to the table. It’s not a guarantee. A class is never a guarantee. And even if you do work together, sometimes it’s years before that happens, but it is a guarantee of a relationship being established. It really is the best place to duplicate that. Plus, the actor gets to know how I think, or how the other casting director thinks, or how the directors think. So when you’re in a room with them, it’s not as alien.
There’s no connection like a personal connection. And people will get opportunities and work in this business for one reason and one reason only, somebody wants them to, and that’s because of a relationship. I don’t even particularly need to like somebody. I need to not hate them, but I don’t necessarily need to love them. I just need to know who they are, or at least believe I know who they are, and get a feel of what they bring to the table and the vibe they’ll be in the room. And it’s, it’s really hard to duplicate in other places.
That being said, if you have an agent, great, because my relationship is with that agent. And so that agent knows when I ask for quirky and funny or a wise ass or a backstabby jerk or whatever, that agent will know the kind of things I work on, the way I direct and the people that will vibe with my personality.
And then there are personal connections and there are friends. There are people that have reached out to me, ‘oh, so and so connected me’. Friends will reach out and say, ‘my friend is thinking of getting into voiceover. Would you talk with them?’ Any connection you have to somebody is a good connection.
The first thing you want to do, exploit your connections. Who do you have in the industry you’re interested in connected to people that might be able to help?
And second, and this is a big thing, I call this second-generation reference, which I don’t know is the best wording for it, but if I were to connect somebody to an agent, if I work with an actor, I like them. I met them in a class. They did a show for me, bumped into them at the bus station. It doesn’t really matter. If I’m working with an actor, I feel they’ve got the chops. I feel like there’s a lot out there for them. I feel like it would be a mutual beneficial relationship, and I connect them with an agent or a manager or a director who’s working on a project, I’m doing that because I have a relationship with that actor. The person who’s gonna take the meeting that I’m setting up, they don’t, they have a relationship with me. So, they’ll take the meeting in deference to me.
But what are they gonna see? Before they have that meeting, they’re gonna look up that actor. Are they gonna see a website? It doesn’t need to be a great website, it just needs to be in existence. Are they gonna see an IMDB page? Are they gonna see contact information on that IMDB page? Are they gonna see an Instagram that’s not just pictures of them drunk, partying in a place that I wish I was? What are they going to see when they check that person out that says, this is going to be a person who is not going to rely on me to do everything for them.
Even if they don’t have a ton of stuff. Do they have a studio set up? Is it listed on their site? If they don’t, that’s fine, but what kind of media do they have? What is the person you’re being referred to going to see when they look you up? Everything you can do to fortify that will help. And not all connections will pan out. Most won’t. But you really only need one.