How many things do we take for granted? Elevator music, airport announcements, commercials? Do you ever pause to think about the voices behind the scenes of these ubiquitous features of modern life? And more importantly, how many of us have the guts and the gumption to actually stray away from what is the norm in terms of life, career and other decisions and make a foray into this world of voice-over acting? Here we have a mix of talent and serendipity, the result of dogged persistence and tenacity and we end up with our next Woman of Substance, Rupa Krishnan. Let’s find out more!
AM: Tell us a little bit about where you’re from, where you went to school etc.
RK: Sure. I was born in Ranchi and grew up essentially in Bangalore, which was then, a peaceful, beautiful green city – it took only 10 min to get from place to place! I graduated high school from Frank Anthony Public School and then college from St. Joseph’s Commerce College. When my MBA plans did not work out, I got a job in the finance department of BPL Automation Limited, and then with VeriFone, the company specializing in credit card and debit card transaction terminals. Soon after I got married and my husband and I moved to Mumbai. That was pretty much the end of my desk job career, since a job transfer didn’t work out. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise!
AM: What next then? How did you decide you needed to transition into something else?
RK: I always wanted to sing, and have sung in college at various competitions and won prizes, and I wanted to do something that involved either singing or speaking on TV, so I decided to try my hand at it. I found a small studio in Bangalore and tried recording a random news article just to hear how my voice would sound on the microphone. So, the seed of doing something different was planted in my head, but I knew that learning the craft would take time and effort. 20 years ago, Bangalore was not as happening as it is now, and radio was not as big then. But Mumbai was the hub of the advertising industry. It was an exciting time, and new experiences were waiting to be had.
AM: Tell us about your life in Mumbai, and your entry into doing voice-overs.
RK: Mumbai is where the entertainment industry is based – whether it be movies, ad films, shows. There was an initial culture shock, for about 6-7 months, adjusting to smaller apartments and missing home! But I learned to love it – I got used to seeing how things worked, how professional people were, and how they rarely wasted any time. The work culture was very different from how things were back home, and I was definitely intrigued. Soon, my husband quit his job with ICICI and started his own venture. That resulted in one more change of address in a very short time – a lot to deal with.
Around this time, I started looking for contacts within the industry. There were no smartphones at the time, and Google wasn’t really popular, but I managed to get the contact info of Nikhil Kapoor – the host of a popular show on Star World and the voice of several ad films and shows on TV. I gave him a call, and he agreed to meet me! He then directed me to Khodus Wadia, also a very successful voice-over artiste at the time who conducted voiceover training classes at his apartment in Andheri. Starting classes with him was an eye-opener, because I realized the demo I had recorded back home did not make the cut at all.
AM: How did you discover yourself in this process, and how did others discover you?
RK: There was nothing glamorous about that. The class took about 3.5 months and at the end of it, I cut a demo CD. It was a very basic demo – mostly commercials and narrative stuff. I obtained a registry of advertising agencies, agents, producers etc. which was the starting point to get jobs. I would cold-call people and set aside about two hours a day for just that. I learned how to market myself well – I made copies of my CD, printed out visiting cards. After about 4 months of persistently calling, I started to get a few odd jobs here and there.
Some of them were learning experiences because I would not get paid. Some would say that they were just giving me a chance to put my voice out there, and never use my work. I just had to go with the flow and be persistent. As a result, I met a lot of people in the ad business traversing the lanes of Bandra, Dadar, Worli, South Mumbai etc. I would take my Discman with my demo CD so people could listen to it right there. Lady Luck finally favored me, and I landed an audition for Star TV.
AM: That must have been simply out of this world! Walk us through the process, and what followed!
RK: Star TV was looking for a new channel voice to do announcements. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would land the assignment! I got the callback within 2 days, and needless to say, I was simply ecstatic. I was required to be the Hindi voice of Star TV and occasionally in English for Star World. It was a huge breakthrough and I was super-kicked about it. It helped me learn a lot, I met different producers and every show had a different promotional head for different countries. This was a great networking opportunity for me. However, I never stopped cold-calling. If I found a new contact, I would call them and go meet them in search of a new opportunity.
AM: And then, there was no looking back as they say? What other doors did this open for you?
RK: Star TV led to a lot of interesting work – ads, corporate films, character voices in the movie industry etc. But then I also started to become choosy in the assignments I accepted. I decided to do specific work where I could make a name for myself.
My India stint was for about 5 years, and Star TV was 2.5 years of that total time period. During that time, I did a few on-camera assignments, a few inflight entertainment projects for Malaysia Airlines, in Tamil. I am a Tamilian, but I had to learn to read Tamil for this profession! I used to read in Tamil, but with a transliterated script in English on the teleprompter. English and Hindi were my main languages and I sometimes also recorded in Tamil and Kannada. All in all, Mumbai was a great foundation to build my career and it will always be close to my heart.
AM: Would you say a mellifluous singing voice is essential to be a voice-over artiste? Or is it the quality of the voice?
RK: I don’t think a singing voice is required to be a voiceover. On the other hand, you do need classical training to get into singing professionally, which I did not have. Being a hobby singer is not enough for the industry. I did get the chance, however, to learn classical singing for 6 years in the U.S. Behind-the-scenes singing requires years of hard work, but it does give you an edge.
For a voiceover, it ultimately it depends on what the producer is looking for. The voice needs to sound real and genuine, not extraordinary. The days of a loud, over-the-top announcery voice are over. It is more about how you connect with the audience, act without acting, and send the message across. My voice has a lower register and most of the work I book is for that quality and for my international/global accent.
AM: What is the most exciting project you have worked on till date?
RK: Definitely Star TV – it was the beginning of my career and gave me a big boost. Another national commercial that I am super proud of, I would have to say is Tanqueray Rangpur gin. I landed the commercial through an audition – a big agency through my agent and it was almost immediately after I started working in the US. And of course, the first job I booked in the US – inflight announcements for the then Continental Airlines, which played on for a pretty long time.
AM: How was your entry into the U.S market? Challenges, breakthroughs?
RK: When I arrived here in 2005 I was very clear that I had to work and fortunately came with an L2. I had to wait until I got my EAD (employer authorization document). I had no idea how things worked here. I looked for voice-over agencies and came across an advertisement for a voice-over course at NYU. I decided to go for it so I would learn how it all came together in an international market. It was the summer session – I applied and did the course. It was a 4-month course and very educational. I got to see how people work here. It was also a great opportunity to network with producers, agents and voice talents – who did this for a living. I luckily secured an agent within a month at the end of the course and got signed on.
I pretty much started from scratch. I learnt how to set up a studio at home – with a mic and a laptop and basic audio software. It was a learning process – studio setup, submitting auditions etc. P2P sites were just getting launched at the time, now things are a lot more sophisticated.
I started building my base in NYC, I did phone messages for companies, documentaries, science videos etc. These smaller jobs led to bigger auditions and commercials.
AM: But the most obvious question would be – how did you learn to pick up the accent here? Because it’s not easy camouflaging an Indian accent?
RK: I knew that I didn’t want to work with an American accent – there were enough people here doing that, so I needed to figure out my way forward. I started pitching my work with a British accent and this slowly gave way to a whole new realm of international or global accent, where no one would know where the speaker is from. That way it would appeal to a broader audience. It wasn’t a typical accent – sort of a mix of British and American, and I ended up making my niche.
AM: How do you keep abreast of current trends and developments in your field? Tricks of the trade?
RK: Over time, I have gotten to know about many voice-over events and forums. You get to meet different people and learn a lot over the web. It is a very independent sort of career path, so I am trying to constantly learn and work on my accent, work on my branding – website, logo, brand name to get new clients, and of course, to retain my repeat clients. There is no way around hard work and constant learning. I myself learnt from four different teachers, and everyone has some nugget of info that I could use in a new way. There are no tricks as such really, you just have to be super professional like in any other field, deliver quality work on time.
AM: How do you take care of your voice, your moneymaker?
RK: I do not drink anything cold! I gave up sodas and soft drinks 20 years ago because they always gave me a sore throat. I have warm water with honey and lemon when my voice becomes strained. I always do a quick warm up before I start work.
AM: How flexible is your job in terms of work-life balance?
RK: It is extremely flexible! When I had kids, I took time off and did not take up any jobs. When I started going crazy – which was within 2 months of delivery – I took on projects that I could actually finish. If I could not, I would move it to the next week. This way I could keep things flexible and yet be engaged.
AM: And finally, could you name some projects/clients you’ve worked for, and would like to work for again?
RK: Sure, you could view all my work at http://www.myvoiceovergal.com/. But some that stand out are AIG, Gates Foundation, HCL, Wells Fargo, Accenture, Kimberly Clark, Pantene etc. I recently did a promo for a travel ad for Bali. You can find it here.
Thank you very much for your time Rupa, and for offering us an insight into this very interesting, glam world, and we wish you loads of luck for your future!