If you told us that you have no idea what Erik Sagen looks like, we wouldn't hold it against you. His voice, on the other hand, is a different story. That's because outside of his job at AOL, Erik spends his time behind a microphone. Read on to find out why he's mostly heard and rarely seen.
Name: Erik Sagen
Suitless Pursuit: Voice Actor
What is your full time job?
I’m a senior visual designer for AOL tech and I work on websites like Engadget, Joystiq and TUAW. I’m on a small team with five others. I’ve been at AOL for about seven years so I’ve really seen a lot of change in the company.
How did you get into voice acting and why?
I’ve always had this creative inclination to follow my own personal compass and that keeps things very open for me.
Since I was a kid, I’ve always done different voices so it was always something that I enjoyed doing. I’m also a huge video gamer so I always wanted to do what I heard in the video games. Eventually, I found a school online and did the training and went from there which led into doing voice work.
What kind of work do you do for voice acting?
I’ve done voice work for radio commercials, television and ADR – which is a type of audio replacement where there will be an actor on screen and they’ll use my voice instead of his. I’ve also done voice work for internal company presentations like Kodak and Salesforce Inc.
What are you working on right now?
What I’m doing right now is a lot voice work for training at Salesforce Inc.
For TV, the most recent recording I did was for a spot for a car dealership. As for radio, most of the spots I do are for a college in Buffalo called Villla Maria. So the radio spot is very upbeat with a college guy’s voice.
It sounds like you really have to be animated and exaggerate in voice acting.
Oh definitely. In voice acting, there’s no visual to it so you really have to exaggerate your performance.
What's the process for voice acting? Do you have an agent?
I don’t have an agent right now but my wife helps out as one. She does a lot of networking on my behalf. And that’s really the process for me. Once you start working with one person in town, then others want to work with you because they hear about it or they see something on TV that catches their attention. So it’s really word-of-mouth. All of the work that I’ve done has been through what people have heard.
So when do you find time do this between working at AOL?
I mostly record in the evenings or on a lunch break. Sometimes if a recording is short enough (where they require about 15 minutes or an hour) then I’ll try to fit it in during lunch.
How often do you voice act?
Probably around once or twice a month. On a good month maybe I’ll do it about three times. It’s really just a side gig, nothing huge, but it’s really fun! I enjoy it quite a bit.
Tell me about your first recording. What was it like? Was it nerve-wrecking?
Actually, it was super natural! After I did the online schooling and landed my first job, it just felt like an unexplored territory for me – like a whole new world. It was something I wasn’t used to.
I would consider myself more of an introvert so voice acting is actually perfect for me. When I’m voice acting, it’s like I’m taking on a role that’s not myself. It’s a different part of me; the part that performs and likes to perform.
Do you have any specific rituals/routines that you did before you are able to voice act?
I actually do! I eat an apple before each recording. The acidity soothes your throat.
I know some voice actors take those soothing sprays but I don’t use those. I just take a glass of water and an apple, and I’m good to go!
So when you’re not voice acting and you’re just at home with your family, do you "practice"?
Yes I do. I have five kids so when I’m at home I do a lot of voices for them. And you’d be surprised - but - they don’t really like it! They prefer my regular voice. But I will practice certain voices with them, like a demonic voice - like the bad guy voice from Aladdin.
But funny you mention this - I used to do something really funny in college, where I would change my message on my answering machine every week and my friends would actually call in every week just so they could hear my new voice on the answering machine.
I also naturally mimic others where I just pick up on their accents. I sometimes can’t help it where I’ll slowly start mimicking their accents during mid-conversation!
Do you ever use different voice in public just for fun?
Sometimes. When I take my 10-year old to the store, I’ll sometimes fake a British accent that almost sounds Australian too. But it’s just for fun because no one would really know the difference.
Do you have any major influencers in voice acting?
I really look up to Rob Paulsen; he voices Pinky from Pinky and the Brain.
But there are several other actors as well like Troy Baker, who does a lot of voice acting for video games (like Bioshock Infinite). He’s the go-to guy in video games that would be your main protagonist.
But there are definitely quite a few that I look up to in the voice community, who everyone recognizes. You’ll hear their voices in cartoons again and again, and those are people that I really look up to. Their work ethic is so strong.
And speaking of challenging, what do you find the biggest challenge of voice acting?
The biggest challenge I would say is having a bad day; where you’re just not really feeling like you can bring it. Also, when you’re sick or have a sore throat and your voice is so shot that you just can’t do it.
What’s your favourite type of recording that you do?
Probably the commercials because you can be very animated. Even for my demo, I chose a Mexican accent and just had fun with it.
Lastly, do you have any advice for anyone who’s thinking of going into voice acting?
Definitely - to take a lot of acting classes. I was fortunate enough that I had a lot of passion for acting as a kid. In grade school, I use to do plays and in high school I was in drama. So I was always a performer and I liked to make people laugh to just entertain.
So I would definitely recommend anyone to take acting or improv classes. When you’re voice acting, you get the script the day of - which is called cold reading - so you don’t get to practice beforehand. You need to use the improv part of you so that when you’re reading the script for the first time, you have to be able to make live edits on the spot to whoever is directing you.
Aside from the foundational classes, the rest is up to your personality and a lot of practice.
To hear more about Erik’s Sagen’s work, check out his links below!
Follow him on Twitter: @kartooner
Commercial demo: https://soundcloud.com/kartooner/erik-sagen-voice-demo
Strangers on a Plane (for fun, to kind of parody NPR): https://soundcloud.com/kartooner/conversations-with-strangers-on-a-plane
Kodak - Info Activate VO (an example of ADR): http://youtu.be/cDjt64DD3u4
Interested in voice acting? Visit the Voice Coaches website where Erik Sagen did his online training: http://voicecoaches.com/