Voice-over Guru, Joan Baker
Joan Baker, author of Secrets of Voice-Over Success, has performed hundreds of promos and commercials for TV, film and radio throughout her highly regarded career. ABC News, American Express, King World, ESPN, SHOWTIME, HBO, are just a few of the numerous clients who regularly call upon her unique sound.
Prior to authoring Secrets Of Voice-Over Success Joan built a lucrative following among people seeking training in the art of voice-over acting. Nancy Grace and the late Johnnie Cochran are counted among her high profile students.
In honor of her late father, James P. Baker, who passed away from complications of Alzheimer's disease, Joan contributes all royalties from the sales of Secrets of Voice-Over Success to the Alzheimer's Association of which she has become a steady patron and advocate for a cure.
Joan Baker also runs an award winning ad agency called Push Creative along with her husband, Rudy Gaskins.
Watch some of the highlights of Dana's interview with Joan and then read the complete interview below.
Joan Baker is as warm as she is passionate and her enthusiasm for life is contagious. So is her laugh. She is a firm believer in the fact that we are each the captain of our own destiny and she proves it every day by living a decidedly successful life...
DR: Tell me about your personal relationship to Alzheimer's. I know that it is a disease that has touched you quite directly.
JB: It has.
My father passed away from Alzheimer's in 2003. No one really knows exactly when he officially got it although he was diagnosed three years before he died. By the time he died he had already progressed well into it. Because I live in New York and my parents lived in California, I would go home for Christmas and that is when I noticed his behavior was different. I was told by therapists that it sounded like he was at the beginning stages of Alzheimer's.
What was disturbing to me is that he seemed to be violent. The interesting thing about my Dad and why I think it was unusual that he would get Alzheimer's was that he was someone who really took care of himself. He was someone who was in tip top shape and, about the time he passed away, he was almost eighty years old but the doctors said that his organs were that of a thirty year old man. I never knew my father to have a cold. I never knew him to have a headache. I never knew him as someone who took aspirin or medications. So the fact that he got plaque on his brain, which is what happens with Alzheimer's, no one would have put that together with him because he was also an incredible genius mentally.
Alzheimer's is now much more of a household name than it was in 2003. When my father got diagnosed in 2000 it happened out of a violent scenario with my mom. One of the attributes to someone having Alzheimer's is that they become violent. Because my father's nature was opposite that my mom just thought he grew to hate her. No one was thinking senility and because he was in such incredible shape and very handsome and very vibrant, we weren't suspecting that something sinister was going on...
DR: So this all a complete surprise for you guys, like out of left field?
SECRETS OF VOICE-OVER SUCCESS
The inside how-to scoop on the lucrative career of voice-over acting told by the top talents in the field, including voice-over actors from Law and Order, ABC News, The Today Show, and The Sopranos. An inspirational, real-world, practical handbook that gives a complete picture of what it takes to a launch a career in this field. Through the compelling stories of nineteen highly successful voice-over professionals, the author inspires and teaches novices and experienced actors everything they’ll need, from developing their talent to landing that first big job. Listen to this rare, remarkably unselfish group as they share the tricks and secrets of the trade they discovered along their journey to success.
Ms. Baker’s book is among the most unique contributions I have seen to the Alzheimer’s Association’s mission...
-- Sheldon Goldberg, President & CEO of The Alzheimer’s Association
"Secrets of Voice-Over Success" is enlightening, moving, informative and destined to be the greatest audio book in history...
-- Ron Scalera, Executive VP & Creative Director CBS Marketing Group
JB: Yeah, except for me because I am someone that didn't live there. I would visit and notice that his behavior was odd. I saw him about a month before he passed away. I went to visit him at a home. I was struck by the fact that I was spending my life honing in on communication skills and my self expression and really wanting to do this for my life and my father, on the other hand, had lost his ability to speak and to communicate.
What really ends up taking you out if you see Alzheimer's all the way through is that you end up starving to death...
DR: What do you mean?
JB: You end up either forgetting you can swallow or you use the ability.
DR: Oh, so you mean that you end up literally starving?
JB: Literally starving. I have talked to many people that have shared that their mom or dad or grandparent ended up starving to death.
DR: So that is what happened to your dad...
JB: Yes. A month before he passed away I went to visit him in a home. He was in a wheelchair. He couldn't walk. He couldn't hold himself up anymore. He was literally staring into space because he actually had no thoughts left in his head. You know we are always thinking; how we constantly have thoughts?
JB: People with advanced Alzheimer's are actually are void of thoughts...
DR: I had never heard that.
JB: There is no thinking going on. I would ask him "Dad what are you thinking about" and he would say "Oh, nothing." He wasn't kidding.
Can you imagine?
DR: No I can't. That is why I am sitting here wondering about how difficult that must have been for you to watch someone that you love go through that.
JB: It was so outrageously difficult that at the time I could have gone on the Internet and read a lot about the disease but I was so terrified about what I would find out. It wasn't until after he passed away that I started reading about the disease.
A month before he passed away he was quite a sight. But I got a chance to tell him how grateful I was that I had him for a father. The whole time he was just looking at me with a blank stare. Finally, for some reason I asked him if he was okay and he shook his head "no". At least that was some kind of connection. Maybe he was trying to communicate before that but I had no idea how to read him.
When I was leaving, I walked to the door and turned around to say goodbye and he was sitting up out of his seat and his arms were holding him up, his eyes were really big and he was just staring at me. I went back to give him a hug and I knew, that was it.
DR: That's the last time you saw him?
JB: The next time I saw him was at his funeral.
Alzheimer's is excruciating. When you experience someone you love going through that, you will never forget it.
Out of the experience with my father and the parallel life I was having as he was sick, I was really touched. Through my grief I discovered that I really wanted to do something. It prompted me to realize that I wanted to contribute to this cause....
Then, an opportunity came up in a class that I was taking to create a project. So, I created the book called Secrets of Voice-over Success.
DR: How did a voice-over book come out of your grief?
JB: In this class we had to create a project that was going to impact your community. I got an idea to interview the top people in the voiceover community, including myself, and that I would put together a book that would have an impact. I also wanted to donate the proceeds to Alzheimer's. I remembered the kind of picture I had of my father losing his ability to speak while I was honing in on mine.
When I was interviewing people for the book, there were two questions that I asked everyone:
"How would you like your voice to be remembered?"
What would you do if you lost the ability to communicate?"
The book really connects what we do in voice-over and our ability to communicate and self express to people that have lost that ability.
One hundred percent of my royalties from the book go toward fight Alzheimer's.
DR: I am really struck by your commitment, demonstrated by the fact that you are giving away one hundred percent of the proceeds to Alzheimer's. You are clearly passionate about this cause. What are some of the other things that you are passionate about?
JB: One of my passions has to do with the company that I started with my husband, Rudy. The name of our company is Push Creative.
We are passionate about advertising, promotion and communication. My husband is an Emmy Award winning creative director. We met at ABC News. Rudy was a producer there and I got hired to do voice-over work for Peter Jennings and World News Tonight. So, actually voice-over work has been very good to me.
We both started teaching voice-over and out of that has come, not only an advertising agency, but also a love for teaching.
People used to say to me when I was younger that I would make a great teacher. If I let teaching go, for whatever reason, I would really miss it.
DR: What is it that you hope your book will ultimately contribute to people?
JB: I hope that it inspires them even if their path is not voice-over work. I hope that the book will inspire people along a path that allows them to connect with their passion. It is a book that is universal in that sense. You don't need to be a voice-over performer to be inspired by this book.
One of the things that I have learned is how to be unstoppable. There are many fears that can crop up for us but those fears usually generate from us and we project those fears out into the world.
I have really learned a lot about being unstoppable around the power of "no" in life. Not necessarily in the sense of man handling things in life but, I mean where you are tapping into what makes you tick, what really ignites your fire and creating your life around that.
DR: You seem to be a person who has made a conscious choice to be passionate and to be inspired and to be excited...
JB: Yes! And motivated...
DR: ...in spite of the circumstances. That is refreshing to be around. What would you say to people who might be struggling or might be feeling discouraged.
JB: I do get discouraged sometimes.
Out of being told "no" and out of the things that make you feel discouraged, there is a level that you can rise to, but it takes being connected to what you are passionate about. That will get you through the obstacles that will keep coming up. You have to connect with what really lights you up...
DR: But what if someone is having trouble figuring that out?
JB: A lot of our truths in life came to us when we were little and without baggage. I never lost track of how I wanted to be in life, which I discovered when I was little. I would suggest soul searching and really getting in touch with how you really saw yourself as an adult, when you were younger.
When you become an adult and you are trying to find "that thing", you really have to let go of the pretenses that are around what you think you want to do.
DR: Can you be more specific?
JB: There are people who come to me and say that they want to be involved in voiceover work but their actions are of someone who isn't really interested in tapping into their own power or into what it really takes.
DR: So what they say is inconsistent with what they do?
JB: Right! You have to be very consistent with your thoughts and your actions. And when that happens naturally, that's when you really know what you want to do but that passion is going to be connected to that. There is nothing you can do about that. Nothing. I don't care how hard you try to disconnect from that. It has nothing to do with you and your distress around things. You just lost touch with things.
DR: What do you believe most to be true?
JB: I do believe that at heart, without all the gunk that can get in the way, that we really are connected to ourselves and therefore we are connected to a higher power. I think that we have the answers to everything. And I mean the answers to your own life. I mean we really understand, not just our collective truth, but our individual truth. I do believe that we are all our own intuitive psychics and that we hold the key to ourselves and to each other. I believe that we are all united and that we are all one.
DR: I think that is why we discover that we are happier when we are looking to contribute to others or to solve a problem for someone else, even if that doesn't sound logical. I know that I feel much better when I do something for someone else.
JB: I think that contributing to people helps to build a healthy self esteem. It also ignites your greatness.
DR: What do you like most about yourself?
JB: I am very disciplined. I am very consistent and I really count on myself to be that way. I can trust myself. If I say that I that I am going to do something, I do it.
DR: Boy, that's an important muscle to develop. If you can start to know yourself as someone who you can count on – that's huge!
What are you looking forward to the most?
JB: I really treasure my relationship with my husband. We have similar issues as well as strengths. I look forward to diving in and communicating deeper, traveling and really creating magic with him. I really look forward to having more of that. I also look forward to branching out in my career and getting involved with projects that are about story telling. I really feel that I have a lot of stories to tell. I look forward to growing in my knowledge and wisdom and to tapping into other areas of my thinking.
DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?
JB: My ability to transform myself and others, however that might manifest.
One of the things that really inspires me is connecting with people and them having an impact on me and me having an impact on them. But, my impact on them? I would like it to be that they were given permission to be who they want to be and to fly...
Thank you Joan!
Secrets of Voice-Over Success Gala Event
On Wednesday July 29th, 2009 at 7 p.m. in New York City, Joan Baker will be co-hosting a special event with announcer Alan Kalter (Late Show with David Letterman) promoting the re-release of her book "Secrets of Voice-Over Success", demonstrating how one can create a career in voice-over acting, through the journeys of those who have already succeeded.
Other special guests on hand include Jim Dale, award-winning narrator of the Harry Potter audiobook series, Richard Thomas (voice of Mercedes Benz), Joe Cipriano (voice of Deal or No Deal), Valerie Smaldone (voice of Broadway on Broadway), and Rodd Houston, the voice of Verizon Wireless and the NFL.
The discussion includes:
- Basic steps to breaking in
- How to cultivate your talent
- Creating a demo reel
- How to work with agents
- Auditioning technique
- Self promotion and networking
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit:
Call Push Creative, 212-269-0700.