Q&A: Tony Pasquale On Becoming A Voice ActorBlake Harris 06.10.2015
In my quest to find interesting ideas and intriguing individuals, I came across Tony Pasquale. Tony is versatile voice actor whose quest to become “the voice of something” has led him on all sorts of exciting adventures. Recently, he moved to the east coast and has lent his vocal talents to top brands like Chipotle, UPS and Walmart. With my interest piqued, we hopped on the phone to chat about his fun, funny and often unexpected journey, as well as take a closer look at the art and commerce of being a professional voice actor. Here’s how the conversation went…
Blake: Take me back in time, and give me a glimpse into how and when you discovered this passion for voice talent. Was it something that grabbed you from an early age? Or an interest that developed later in life?
Tony: As far back as I can remember, I was always very interested in sound. Even when I was very little, I used to carry around a tape recorder—one of those old-style, lunch-box handle, black tape recorders—and I would record everything. I would constantly talk into it, or pretend I had my own talk show and interview friends. And I used to record my favorite performers on radio and television, play it back (so that I could learn how to mimic them), and then run into my parents room and regurgitate it back to them. That’s where it all sort of started.
Blake: That’s a great image—you excitedly running into their room with an impression on the tip of your tongue—but I have to ask how your parents felt about all of this. Did they find this odd, or were they supportive of this hobby?
Tony: Well first off, I should mention that I grew up in Montana and there weren’t exactly too many outlets for creativity in the area. But even so, I always played the role of entertainer in my family and my parents loved that. Which worked out great, because we have a very joke culture in my family—we have a very gotcha attitude—so we were always pulling pranks on each other. So whenever I’d do weird, funny things, they pretty much always fostered it.
Blake: So at what point did your “audience” grow beyond your prank-appreciative parents and, of course, friends who appeared as guests on your imaginary radio shows?
Tony: When I was around 11 years old, my parents started a Fly Fishing Lodge Bed and Breakfast restaurant. So I started waiting tables there and all of the sudden had this captive audience right there in front of me. I thought: this is fun!
Blake: So it was like open-mic night, except almost every single day.
Tony: Exactly! So I kept on doing that and then, when I got to high school, I sort of fell into live announcing our basketball and football games. Then one day, a deejay from a local radio station heard me, and offered me a job at his station. Doing traditional country AM from midnight to six in the morning.
Blake: No way! You were still in high school. When would you sleep?
Tony: In the afternoons. I’d head home from school, sleep from 3-10, and then head over to the station to spin Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings from midnight to 6 AM. And then when I was done, I’d grab my backpack and head right over to school.
Blake: That’s amazing! But were your parents okay with this?
Tony: They were cool with it because, well, I loved doing it, but also because I could take my homework there and get it done in between playing songs.
Blake: As you were realizing that this becoming way more than just a hobby, what was it in your mind that you were hoping to become when you grew up?
Tony: You know, I can look back on it now and reflect a little more. At the time, my true ambition—and I always said this—was to be the voice of something. I didn’t necessarily want to be on the air, but I wanted to be the voice of a venue, or the voice of a brand. To be: oh, that guy!
Blake: So what was your next step towards becoming “that guy?”
Tony: After high school, I got a scholarship to attend a University [Johnson & Wales] in Rhode Island to study business and finance.
Blake: Great opportunity, but was it tough for you to venture away from radio?
Tony: You know, the radio thing I just didn’t know how to carve a career out of it. And I had this money to go to Rhode Island. So I kind of left the radio thing in the dust a little bit, but it was always nagging at me. And actually, not long after I got to college, I found an internship working for Radio Disney. The station in Providence was only a syndicate—meaning that nothing was ever live—except for when we did promotions. You know, like events at the bowling alley or other places were kids are doing crazy things. And because I was in my 20s and fun and outrageous, I basically became the host of these promotions.
Tony: Yeah, and from there I realized I really like this whole live event thing and I started working for a company [PDC Productions] who produces live events. This was still when I was in college, but I’d jump in a plane and tech shows around the country.
Blake: How long did you wind up doing that?
Tony: I did that for 14 years and kept moving on up the ladder with them. And that whole time, I was producing content and voicing their shows. So I’d be, like, the “Voice of God” at these gigantic events. Announcing things live at places like the Georgia Dome or Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City.
Blake: That’s amazing, but also all over the place. How intense was all the travel?
Tony: I went to 9 different countries and worked in 47 of 50 states. And through that I started gaining agents and more notoriety. But in 2010, my travel started to get ridiculous. I was on the road for 282 days.
Tony: Yeah, and after that I kind of came to a little crossroads. So I decided to leave the live show business and move out east to set up a studio. And since then it’s been awesome. Now I voice stuff for big brands like Chipotle, Walmart, Capital One and UPS.
Blake: And you get to do it all from home!
Tony: Yup! I tell people that I just get to talk to myself in a padded room all day.
Blake: Your decision has proven to be a successful one. Congrats on that. But I’m curious to hear a bit about how things have changed for you since then.
Tony: Before then, the voice stuff was always kind of on the backburner. Things would come to me and, when they did, I would take them. But now I’m going out there on my own. I’m kind of screaming in a wind storm saying “hiring me, I can voice stuff!” And to make a change like that, you’re kind of taking that leap of faith. But the thing I always felt like I had to fall back on was that first and foremost, I’m a creative. Someone who can add something to the process. So whether I’m an actor or a creative director, I always view myself as a collaborator. You know, it’s even in my signature line. I’m a piece of the pie. And, you know, this is my dream: to be the voice of something; to help those who are creating amazing content, to be that final piece to bring their entity to life.
Blake: Speaking of bringing things to life, can you tell me a bit about what sort of criteria you use to help inform your acting decisions? What I mean is, let’s say in the case of Chipotle, how do you learn about Chipotle beyond the copy that’s given to you? What kind of information are you trying to consume?
Tony: Well, with Chipotle I’m obviously consuming burritos in my face.
Tony: With whatever client it is, I’ll read a lot. I’ll explore their website, look at what kind of content they’ve been producing—on Youtube, Vimeo, Twitter, Facebook—and I’ll just try and absorb as much as I can. Basically, I want to ingrain myself and engross myself into their mindset as much as possible. You know, so I try to put myself—and this goes back to my being a creative director—I try to put myself in their shoes and get into the heads of their creative team. Why did they choose this word? What is the overall message here? And why did they select me, or someone like me, to be their messenger; as opposed to a woman or child or older individual.
Blake: And that’ll guide you through a script?
Tony: Every script, like a song, has a beat to it. It has lyrical properties. And I look for these beats, the nuances that string together these words, and use that to help me make choices as an actor.
Blake: With many things now under your belt, what excites you going forward?
Tony: Developing characters is a really fun challenge for me. One of my favorites was a Christmas promo I did for ShopKo, where I developed a character who wound up so closely resembling the giddiness and innocence of Will Ferrell’s character in Elf that they actually had me record a disclaimer the beginning!
Blake: My last question comes from a desire to look at things from a business slant. And in your case, you are essentially your own business. You’re the talent, you’re the creative producer, and everything in between. So, as you’ve excelled creatively, I’m curious what are some of the things you have learned from the business perspective? Especially in terms of managing your time or pursuing opportunities.
Tony: You know, a lot of it just comes down to treating this thing—which is obviously a passion as well as something that comes from a creative place—but you need to try and treat it like a business. You are your own brand, so you have to understand how people perceive you. And you also have to realize that this creative process, and the business behind it, is not a solitary venture. You have to be a partner, a collaborator and a creative resource. You need to respect your client’s time and hopefully they will respect yours. And you also have to constantly keep pushing yourself and remember that you are your own business. You know, between auditioning, follow-up, making cold calls, sending out demos and everything else, I think only about 10% of my time is actually spent recording.
Blake: It’s the same with writing.
Tony: Yeah, and that’s for any independent creative person really. I mean, you might be the best animator out there, or the best motion graphics person, or a ninja with photoshop…but what it comes down to is can you manage yourself? Can you work with other people? Can you not be an asshole?
Blake: That’s true: Don’t be an asshole! That’s about half the battle, isn’t it?
Tony: God, Blake. You need to start a podcast and that needs to be the name of it. Don’t be an Asshole.