David Kaplan is a force of a nature, a voiceover powerhouse who chases down work like a velociraptor on a blood trail. Want proof? Just go check out who the recipient of the Voicey 2021 Best Male Voice Actor Award is. Compiled from voices.com internal data, David was hired the most times in 2021, and to date he has completed more than 2,700 jobs through the Voices platform (with over 2,000 5-star reviews).
Peter: So the first of the questions, the one I like to ask everyone, is “How did you get started in this crazy biz?”
David: I started in this business as a director in sports television back in the days when I still had hair and I was skinny. Back then we really didn’t have much of an internet at all. That’s certainly dating myself! And the way it worked was in sports programming, you had to have an announcer on staff for changes in programming that would happen during the game, because this team beat that team so now the next game coming up will be this, so there was supposed to be an announcer available to jump into the booth, to do the live announcers of what’s coming up next. And very often there was no announcer so I would do it. I never really took the voiceover thing seriously as a career. Back then they’d pay me an extra $50 for the week and I thought I was the king of the world. I bought the beers for everyone after the game and it was wonderful.
And then somewhere along the line, I started to take it seriously when I realised there was money to be made the business. So that that’s really kind of how it started. I mean, I had always been playing with my voice recording from the time I was a kid. And as a matter of fact you just reminded me that when I was a must have been about six or so, and my dad brought home a cassette recorder, which was new technology at the time, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I just thought being able to record your voice and play it back had to be just the most amazing thing ever. And that kind of started my career in broadcasting. And now, this is not the one, but I found the same model on eBay [David produces a boxed and apparently pristine Web Core tape recorder with all the extras like hang-tag, manual and original batteries]. And there it is. That’s where it started. That red record button.
Peter: I can relate as a guitar player because when I was a kid, I would have the two tape decks so I could overdub myself, you know?
David: Yeah. So you get it. So that’s kinda where it began and it’s interesting because I left the broadcasting industry and became a gemologist. Learning to work with stones, diamonds and things of that nature. I figured I was just kind of done with broadcasting. I wanted to move on, make some real money. And the whole time, while I was working in jewellery manufacturing, I was still playing around with recording and VO and just kind of couldn’t leave it behind. It was in my blood. So while I was working for somebody in manufacturing, I was running out to my car every 10, 15 minutes or so to record auditions. Because the boss was never there, I was running the place. And that’s when I really said, ‘You know, I’m gonna do this, I can do this.’ So I decided to get back into broadcasting in an untraditional way; I was going to find a job somewhere in an allied field. And I worked for a company that manufactured the furniture that would go into studios, console furniture. And after a very long process of interviewing with them and them checking me out, said they wanted to hire me. I was like, great. And I took the job and I worked for about two weeks and I was running to all the major networks taking measurements because we were building things with them. And I was like, okay, great. I’m back in the broadcast world. And after two weeks they fired me and I couldn’t go back to the job I had in jewellery! I said, ‘Okay, so now I guess I’m a full-time voice actor.’ I had no choice! I have no other skills! And at that point I was now active on voices.com and voice123. I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t know how to tell my wife I’d gotten fired. I’d never gotten fired my whole life from anything. So I went home and I said ‘Hey, I got fired. I’m now a full-time VO.’ And obviously she was all freaked out. So my first month as a full-time VO, I made decent money and I was like, ‘Wow, I guess I can do this. I guess this is gonna be okay.’ It was harrowing. I’ve got three kids who were little at the time, but it worked. It, it worked really well. And I never looked back.’
Peter: Amazing. And where do you record?
David: There have been many iterations of my studio in my home. It started with a whisper room, which was no simple task because I couldn’t afford to buy a new whisper room. I found this guy in Ohio who had a company where they had bought a bunch of whisper rooms to put in shopping malls for karaoke. So one half was where the singer would go in, and the other half was where the computer was that accepted the credit card payment and played the music. But his business went belly up so he was selling these booths and I got it really cheap. So I put in my computer, my speakers, my preamp, my microphone. That’s all I had. I had to make it work. And in the summer months it was over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit and you could only get so naked! And all the equipment was generating heat. But I suffered through because I was building this business. So eventually came a point where my son, who’s now 23 and also in the business full time, he’s was like ‘Dad, we gotta build something, a real studio.’ And that’s where I sit today. That whisper room is in the corner of this studio and I jump back and forth, although I do 99% of my work out here because this room is treated so there’s no real reason for me to go into the whisper room at all. And I have portable equipment so I can audition 24-7.
Peter: That’s dedication!
David: It’s funny, I audition from every place. I was in the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan on Saturday and one of the quietest places in the Met at the time was the Asian pavilion. There was just nobody in there and they were big thick rugs, and I was like, ‘This’ll do when auditions come in!’ And that’s really where the secret to my success came from, is that I’m always there, always available. I walk out of restaurants, I walk out of movie theaters, it really doesn’t matter. My wife’s used to it at this point. I get up and I go. And that’s really where the success has come from. That and not sucking at this.
Peter: I guess you must know exactly why people come to you specifically. What is it that you bring that other people don’t, that’s made you such a success in this?
David: It’s white glove service? I kiss all my clients’ asses. Even the ones that are just terrible, and the there’s a lot of them that their expectations are ridiculous. The jobs that pay the least amount of money are the ones that are the most difficult to work with. The ones that have big budgets, the big national accounts, never a problem. And I treat everybody with the same care and respect because the people I meet on the way up, I’m gonna meet on the way back down. If I do end up going back down, which I hope I don’t. But they always come around. The percentage of people that are return clients on a daily basis has gotta be about 75%. And 25% new clients that eventually come back as part of the 75. They have a good experience because the turnaround time is so crucial.
The other thing that I do are the emergency announcements for the power companies around the country. That came about with being portable, because that’s a five minute turnaround time. Whether there’s a storm approaching, or a pipe exploded and they have to boil their water. Hurricane season is really, really when I get busy through the South. Although last year with what happened in Texas with the freezing weather and all the power outages, I was busier than I am during hurricane season. So I’m always on, I never know when I’m gonna get a call and a script and I turn it around when it really is hurricane season. The studio doesn’t even get shut down at night. I just leave everything on and hot, they wake me up, I hop outta bed, I come down two flights, I get it done. I go back to bed. Sometimes I don’t even know I did anything until I get up in the morning. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I guess I made some money last night.’
Peter: What gear do you use to record?
David: I’m very Mr. Manley when it comes to my microphone. Even though I have a brand new U87 sitting here. Everything I do now I do with a Manley. Just for my voice I prefer the sound of a Manley. And I have a couple of 416s, like when I travel, but in the studio, this is the mic of choice.
Peter: So tell us about remote working with Source-Connect.
David: When Source-Connect started, all the big guys were still ISDN, and an ISDN codec was like $5,000. And then you had to pay the monthly fee for the phone lines. Even if you weren’t using it. I was like, ‘Well this is ridiculous. I can’t justify the expense at this point in my career.’ Source-Connect was just coming around but nobody really understood it yet. I had no fricking clue, but I knew there was something there. And I knew that I was able to purchase it. I think my original buy-in, maybe it was $400. I don’t remember at the time, but you know, you owned the license, you had to have a dongle. So I had to go out and get an iLok, which I still have and use to this day. And then the support was so crucial to what I was doing. Cause I didn’t know what I was doing, and Robert was always there for me. So Source-Connect is definitely the preeminent way to connect with clients.
Peter: Especially over the last two, two and a half years, you know, the whole world shut down but people still get to record.
David: The beauty of it was, there was no change for me in anything I did as a result of the pandemic. Life just went on the way it did. I would say I had about a two month period where business dropped off. That was it. And then then I started with all the COVID announcements, so it got real busy with that. And then slowly but surely advertising came back. So commercial work was there again. But during that time period, before the commercial stuff really kicked in, I was swamped with e-learning work, which just keeps coming. Sometimes I don’t know where it’s coming from! But I mean, I have my daily clients, my weeklys, my once a month people and my once a year people.
Peter: What’s some advice you wish you didn’t have to learn the hard way?
David: I tell everybody, because people come to me all the time, and I used to speak at voiceover conferences. Everybody wanted to hear why and how I was successful: ‘What’s the secret of your success?’ And I was at an event in Ohio and I got angry because I’m in front of the room – this was a Friday, people took time off work to attend this event – and I’m in front of the room and I’m talking and I’m going on and on, and it was right before the lunch break. Well what do you think I did during the lunch break?
David: Yes! Auditions! I always have my gear. I travel with it. I make it available to other talents who maybe don’t have anything with them. So we get back from lunch and I ask ‘How many of you went and did auditions during that?’ And out of a room of about 200 people, I think four people raised their hand. And I said, ‘Why am I here telling you how this is done if none of you want to do it? I said ‘A lot of people here have portable gear. I have mine with me, the opportunity is there, and if you don’t take that opportunity, you are missing out and leaving the opportunity for guys like me to succeed.’ And I think that was the last speaking engagement I did. I was like, ‘I just can’t do it anymore!’