Here is Eliana Damsgard from Play The Voice answering our questions today:
Let’s start with some ice breaking quick questions
– Do you play any musical instrument?
I play guitar and write songs. Seth plays the euphonium (small tuba) and piano. He likes to compose. Ashley plays the flute. And Gracia thinks she wants to play trumpet next year.
– What’s your favorite Digital Audio Workstation for editing sound?
We are big fans of PreSonus Studio One because we can use it for voiceover as well as recording our music. It may not be as popular for voiceover, but we found a great Facebook group of other voice talent who use it.
– Who is the most famous person you’ve met?
We got to meet world golf hall-of-famers Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Hale Irwin, and Anika Sorenstam because of our golf business that Seth started when he was 9 years old. Seth later received a letter from Jack and got to hit the opening tee shot with Anika at a course she designed along with the late Arnold Palmer. Seth, Ashley, and I created the yardage book for that course.
Career Path & Insights
– Please, tell us a little bit about yourself! (Name, age, Where are you based, some hobbies, …)
My name is Eliana Damsgard. I am 17, Seth is 15, Ashley is 12, and Gracia just turned 10. We are based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Our business is called Play the Voice because someone asked me once what I play, and I said I play my voice. We love to sing harmony as a family with everyone one singing a different part. We also watch our favorite shows together. A recent favorite was Wayne Brady’s Comedy IQ which was a competitive reality show for talented kids who want to work in comedy.
My hobbies are writing – songs, stories, and movie scripts. Ashley loves soccer and gymnastics. Gracia enjoys karate chopping boards and playing Roblox. Seth is a competitive junior golfer and got to compete alongside the Senior PGA Tour last year at Pebble Beach.
– How did you start in the VO industry?
We never even thought of doing voiceover work, even though voice acting is all around us in commercials, cartoons, and more! But, one day, my dad needed to put together a startup business pitch for executives that needed a voiceover from a young, teen girl. I happened to be a young, teen girl with some stage acting experience and vocal training. Seth and I had recently set up a home studio for recording our songs, so he asked me to do the voice work. The executives loved it, and the startup got funded. So, we wondered if maybe there was another business opportunity here to keep doing this kind of work.
One of my dad’s co-workers just happened to live next-door to long-time VO professional Kelley Buttrick, who met with me one Saturday morning to really point me in the right direction. Once I got started finding VO opportunities, my siblings saw how much fun it was and how much they could be earning, so they decided to get started too. Kelley has been an amazing mentor to us ever since the beginning. Seth even got to record with her last year, playing her son in an animation project.
At that point we really started digging in and learning as much about the VO industry as we could. We invested in private coaching with Atlanta Voiceover Studio, Martha Kahn, Katie Leigh, and Lisa Biggs as well as some group classes with Sara Jane Sherman and Lynnanne Zager. Ashley was a winner in Edge Studio’s monthly VO contest and got some additional training there. Next, we upgraded our equipment, built out a real studio in our basement, and invested in professional demos and a website.
– Do you have agents?
I learned early how important it is to have a strong team. So, even though we do find a lot of our own opportunities and get awesome referrals from our industry friends, we are also represented by multiple agents and many studio rosters across the country and internationally.
– Great! What’s is the importance of it?
The importance of representation has been to gain access to the biggest opportunities. Clients really like that agents already have a vetted roster of experienced kids who can be trusted with their projects.
– Who are some of the clients you have done VO work for?
Some of the more recognizable names have been Samsung, Acer, Adidas, YMCA, Colgate, Pepsi, Kraft, General Mills, Progressive, PBS Kids, Kidoodle.tv, Scholastic, Warner Brothers Discovery, European Union, Getty, Junior Achievement, University of Oregon, Badanamu, Little Live Pets, and Character Toys. It has also been fun to learn about the smaller client companies and organizations. For example, Southeastern Guide Dogs who trains dogs to serve people who are blind or are veterans.
– Could you tell us some of the projects you enjoyed the most?
My favorite project will always be that first one for my dad because it made a big difference to his career and got us started in the first place. But my next favorites have been an educational series I did for The Getty Museum in Los Angeles as well as a corporate narration for Pepsi’s employees about the Super Bowl. Seth really enjoyed a recent project for the Civil Air Patrol – California Wing because he is a cadet officer in Civil Air Patrol here in Minnesota. They just happened to be looking for a voiceover. Ashley is currently enjoying playing a younger animated version of a major celebrity. And Gracia really enjoyed recording a whole bunch of Christmas commercials, a new toy, and some dialogue replacement for a big movie trailer.
– What makes you a unique VO talent?
I think that we are unique being four kids that really understand the business side of the business because we were entrepreneurs first for many years. We think a lot about the challenges of our clients and agents so that we can be valuable to their businesses. We know that our clients need us to be strong artistically as well as technically, but they need our professionalism just as much because of the fast pace of their projects.
– You just released a book called Kids Behind the Mic: A Parent’s Guide to Voiceover. Could you please tell us how that started, how was the process, who is involved, where we can find it, what is so special about the book and what we could learn from it.
In the past year, we started getting questions from other families interested in exploring VO for their kids. And we had so many questions ourselves when getting started in the industry. The answers are out there but are spread across many different sources. The VO resources that already exist are mainly created with adults in mind.
We thought it could be helpful to capture our thoughts and perspectives in a book to help the parents asking these questions. We wish this kind of a book had existed when we started! My mentor Kelley Buttrick loved the idea and suggested that I include interviews with long-time VO professionals. It was a great idea to highlight a lot of people that we trust and admire in the industry. I ended up having 21 interviews with coaches, agents, casting directors, VO pros, and other parents of VO kids.
The book covers every aspect of Kids VO that we could think of – getting started, voice acting, demos, studios, recording, auditioning & casting, performing & taking direction, working through platforms, working through direct marketing, working through agents, networking & community, managing the business, and managing the child. Whether a family is just curious about VO or is already part of this adventure, there is something for everyone.
Kids Behind the Mic is available only at Amazon because we self-published as a KDP book.
Home Studio for remote recording – Let’s get nerdy about techie stuff!
– Do you have your own studio? Could you tell us what setup, tech & hardware it consists of? How did you build it? Which kind of interface, DAW, setup, mic, headphones, speakers…
For our home studio, we started with a blanket fort in our music room because of the songs we had been recording. Our microphone at that time was an AKG that was good enough to get work. Once we were getting work regularly, we moved into an isolated basement room and upgraded to a Sennheiser MKH416. To deaden the room, we lined it with our bed mattresses and started sleeping on the floor.
Having a dedicated room for a booth also allowed us to keep the computer outside the booth, so then we bought a talkback microphone too. This lets Dad talk to us without having to come into the booth. Our next upgrade will be finishing off the booth as a room within a room so that we can have our beds back!
– Do you record outside your studio? How do you record when you travel?
We also work at multiple studios in Minneapolis. Those are usually booked through our local agent when the client or director wants to be right there with us. When travelling, we have been able to record auditions in our car with an iPhone.
Remote working with Source-Connect
– What percentage of your work is remote now and in the studio?
Almost all of our work can be done at home. Out of 800 jobs so far, only about a dozen have needed to be in a downtown studio. Those have just been special projects where the client or director wanted to be right there with us.
– When did you start with Source-Connect? Why did you decide to start with Source-Connect? How was your beginning with remote recording sessions?
We started with Source-Connect after about 6 months of working because we saw enough auditions that would require it. Those were pretty big opportunities that we wanted a chance at. Our house already had a 1000 megabit fiber optic network, so we just needed to run a wire from the router into the booth. Dad is a technical expert, so he was able to show me how to set up all the technology and port mapping and testing with the echo server. Using the echo server always gives me confidence that everything is working before connecting with the other studio.
Our first remote recording sessions were for Gracia doing a month-long animation dubbing project with a big studio in Chicago. It felt a little weird at first not seeing the other people in the session, but she got used to it quickly. Because there were so many sessions, my mom also jumped in to help out for some. She was able to pick it up quickly.
– What has been your favorite recording session with Source-Connect?
Our favorite session with Source-Connect was a Christmas commercial Gracia was recording. While the director was trying different approaches with Gracia in the booth, the audio engineer was sending us encouraging chat messages about how well she was doing.
– What made you decide to get Source-Connect Certified?
I did get Source-Connect certified so that could show our proficiency has been evaluated by Source Elements. We put the button right at the top of our webpage because many clients look for talent that already have Source-Connect. All of us also put this in our email signature.
– What is your favorite thing about remote recording?
My favorite thing about remote recording with Source-Connect is that the studio can capture our audio perfectly just as if we were there. And the client doesn’t need to be in the studio either, just the engineer. It makes it faster to get everyone together for the session. We get immediate feedback as talent, and they have the recording in their hands as soon as we are done.
Industry, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
– Since you are in a very specific segment for kids, how would you describe the opportunities, situation, auditions, in the VO kids industry?
There are lots of opportunities for kids in the VO industry, but they can be challenging to uncover. The platforms usually have 10-12 auditions a week. Some of our agents bring auditions every week, and others are every month or two. A lot of great work has come through referrals from other VO pros. And then the hustle of connecting directly with potential clients. Once you’ve worked with a client there is a high chance of getting called for more opportunities because they already know what you are like to work with. The opportunities are mostly commercials, animation, and eLearning, but also a good amount of narration, audiobooks, toys, video games, and dubbing. Every now and then we even see phone system, medical, and audio tour opportunities for kids.
– Would you like to change in the industry?
We would like to help reduce the barriers to getting started for other families because we received so much help. Kid VO is a bit more complex than for an adult getting started, and the adult resources don’t always speak to the kid aspects. So, my dad and I are publishing a book on Amazon called “Kids Behind the Mic” to share our journey with other parents who might be considering VO for their kids but not ready to invest heavily. I was also fortunate to interview 21 industry experts on the art, technology, and business of kids VO to include in the book. And then Gracia is going to be a kid panelist at VO Atlanta for the Kids Track to help answer questions about what it’s like to do VO work every day.
– How is the VO community around you? Do you belong to any platform, community or group?
The VO community is amazing. I have met so many wonderful people. There are a couple other kid VO families in particular that we have been able to connect with and support each other, which has been fantastic. We are also part of a small group of VO adults that meets every couple months to support each other.
– What’s your perspective on diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry at the moment?
I think it’s great that there are roles intentionally reflecting all kinds of ethnicities. It’s a beautiful thing. We do see a lot of kids auditions that are requesting specific heritage or accents. But I wonder if there are enough kid voice actors yet from those cultures because a lot of those auditions seem to have few submissions. That is one reason we want to contribute a book to help new families learn about kid VO and get started.
– What would you say is your recipe for success?
I would think our recipe for success started with the guidance and voice training we received. Until then, we were just guessing at every piece of this industry. Once we got established, we just constantly sought out new opportunities and built relationships with people. And so now it is kind of this mix of talent and technical expertise and professionalism focused on the client that wins us work
Don’t forget to say goodbye! Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Thanks for getting to know us a little here! We are just glad to be part of the kids VO industry. Look us up on LinkedIn or www.PlayTheVoice.com if you’d like to connect.
I would also like to thank Source Elements for helping us in getting started with remote sessions. The technical support team has been fantastic to make sure we were in a great place for our first Source-Connect sessions. And Kike even started a private group for young VO talent that we are looking forward to being part of!