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How Pete Gustin Overcame Adversity to Make a Career in Voice Overs

By Lin Parkin

August 22, 2013

Comments (5)

Pete Gustin voice talentAt just eight years old Voices.com member Pete Gustin developed macular degeneration which eventually led to losing most of his eyesight.

In an attempt to pursue his dream, at twenty-one he was told by an agent that he'd never be able to make it in voice-overs.

Pete nearly gave up on his dream. But he persevered. With a steely determination he set out on a mission to prove that agent wrong.

For two years he practiced a technique that would eventually help him land major work in television and radio across the US and the UK.

Recently he told the public about his "disability" in a YouTube video. As his video shows Pete is far from "dis"abled. So I reached out to Pete to learn more about his journey into voice-over and how he overcame the obstacles he faced when starting out.

Join VOX Daily to learn more about Pete's incredible story and the amazing skill he developed to build a successful career in the voice-overs.

Why did you want to become a voice actor?

Well, my voice changed when I was 13 years old. I didn't have to go through the whole Peter Brady thing. It just kind of woke up one morning and was like "Hi Mom" {he says in a deep baritone} and everyone was like you should be in radio! I was like, "Okay, I guess that works!" But it wasn't that entirely simple.

I didn't have any brothers but with both of my cousins, one went to Harvard, one went to MIT, there was a lot of pressure to do something to live up to them so I went to Boston University. I wasn't entirely sure what I was going to do but my class load was relatively easy and I had some exposure to radio when I was a kid doing fundraisers for Schepens Eye Research Institute to help research my actual eye disease.

I remember how much fun that was and all the hosts and promotions people that I dealt with when I was there. When I got to college I wondered if they were still around, I wondered if I could get an internship. And I did. They started me in promotions because that was the guy I called and after the first three days they said, "you should be in programming, you should do some on-air stuff, you sound too good to be a promotions guy." So, it kind of started there.

Did you know going into it you'd face obstacles getting into voice-overs being legally blind?

I didn't think it would be a huge deal. At the time I was 18, and it is a degenerative eye disease and it gets worse and worse, but at the time my eyesight wasn't that bad. Shortly after I took that internship at the radio station, to back up a little bit, I ended up getting hooked up with a friend of a friend of a friend doing movie trailer parodies for Rick D's out in Los Angeles and I would parody Don LaFontaine, who was the big movie trailer guy. Whatever movie was coming out that weekend, I'd do a spoof on it.

The scripts for movie trailers and the stuff I was doing were really, really short and my eyesight at the time was holding out. I could read three, four, five lines at a time. I'd have to proof read it once because I don't read at the speed of other people but I'd get through it once and realize what it was.

I always knew I had {poor] eyesight and I knew it was a hindrance but, now, I wasn't exactly captain of the tennis or golf team in my high school, but I was captain of the swim team and an international champion sailor so whatever I could do with my eyesight I would do. I really liked doing voice-overs and I liked doing the radio production and I liked writing and it was like, well, I'm going to do this.

From 18, 19, 20, 21 {years of age} everything was going great. I was writing, I was voicing, I was producing, I was doing as much production as I could and was making connections. Enough connections that I found my way into {the agent's} office one day, I told him I wanted to be a voice-over guy and that's when he threw the page at me. It wasn't a page, it was a huge, huge, bunch of pages of copy and he said "read it." He'd been tipped off about my eyesight. Someone told him.

Now I don't like to walk into someone's office and go, "Hi! Pete Gustin, legally blind!" I figured I could meet him, get to know him, and then I was going to explain it. And I told him this. I was going to explain once we had a repertoire. He said, "No, no. You can't hide things like this from me, and you certainly can't hide it from my clients. You're going to embarrass my company, I have no interest and you'll never make it in this business." He had his secretary walk me out.

From the age of 14 I was like "I could do radio," to the age I was 21 when I was doing radio, I thought that's what I was going to do. Then {the agent} sat there and sledge hammered me and said "you're not going to be able to do this as a living." It was a really bad cold shower that I was not expecting.

What made you carry on and continue pursuing voiceover after that?

Well, I knew I had skill and talent in the field and it's just such an enjoyable job for me. In high school I really enjoyed art class. I did well in everything but I liked art, I liked creating, I liked being creative. The stuff I was doing for radio stations; I was doing a lot of my own writing as well so I didn't even have to read copy. I'd just write my own stuff, and by write, I mean, just say it. I didn't bother writing it down if I'm going to be saying it anyway.

I figured I was going to graduate Boston University, I was going to move to New York and I was going to be a voice-over guy. So I kind of staggered for a few months. I didn't really know what to do with myself but sat back and thought, "alright, well, I'm still a talented production guy. I'm still a good writer and I can do this radio thing. I'll take a job with a radio station if I can get hired." And I did. I got hired at the station I interned with to be their imaging director. It wasn't exactly what I wanted to do. I didn't want to be tied down in one studio all day dealing with commercials and clients and sales people - I wanted to be working voice-overs. But I was told it wasn't going to happen.

So I didn't even focus on it for about 2-3 years. I just did my own radio thing and did the production and writing but, eventually, I thought "I am doing voiceovers. I do it all day. I do it every day. Why can't I do it for other people?"

The first trick was learning to read the copy. I was basically developing my memory. I got audiobooks on how to improve your memory and I was studying memory tactics so that someone could read me a piece of copy and it was either 30 or 60 seconds and if I heard it once I could recite it back with a reasonable degree of certainty. Now, when you're working in your own production studio and it's just you and the microphone you can make a few errors. It's no big deal. You just edit and fix it up. But with the memory trick I wasn't quite able to go out there and say I can work with clients because I am going to make an error or two. I can't remember every single word of a 60 second piece of copy, word for word.

Eventually I came up with the idea of the text-to-speech thing because I had a cell phone with tiny, tiny, tiny font on it and people were texting me and I'm like, "I can't read this stupid thing" and finally one day someone was said "press the pound button." I hit the pound button and it read the text to me. That's when I realized "wait, maybe I can repeat the copy as it comes to me."

My girlfriend was helping me out at first but I figured I have to be more self-sufficient than that. My dad always told me the only person you can rely on to get things done reliably is yourself. So, I figured the computer and I will figure this out.

You taught yourself to use an ear prompter?

Yes. Yeah, I did. I downloaded a little program that basically had the same voice that my phone did and, oh, it was maddening. The hardest thing is to figure out was how far ahead to let the voice get because you can't read it at the same pace. A person speaks differently than a computer - obviously - and you have to deliver this with some sort of passion, not robotically. You have to let the computer voice get out ahead of you, a good 5 seconds ahead of you.

I was processing the information, reciting it back, and doing it with a degree of passion required of the script and I saw the potential. I knew it was going to happen. It just takes a lot of work. I have copy coming to me all day every day anyway and I just kept practising and practising and practicing. Eventually, almost a couple years later, I would sit down, hit F7, get through the copy, and be like, "I did it! I did it! It worked!"

Wow! How good did that feel?

Oh, it was life changing! I had about 4 to 5 radio stations that I was doing voice-overs for and I almost dreaded when they sent me copy. I loved doing it but I would have to blow up the font, use my magnifier, memorize the stuff and edit it all together. It would take me half an hour to get through one page of copy. Then, when I could master this as best as I could, I got a page of copy and I could read it in 90 seconds - as opposed to a half an hour! It was literally career and life changing. I wouldn't have been able to go forward had I not been able to figure this out.

In your video you say it took two years to perfect the art. What tips do you have for others pursuing voice-over with this method?

It was 2 year to get to flawless because of the level I want to perform. As I said in the video, I want to do movie trailers. I want to do more national ad campaigns, major market radio, major market television and those are where you're competing with the best of the best, of the best and you have to be flawless.

I'd say that after 6 or 7 months of working with the ear prompter it became reasonably natural but there were still times I'd get 15 seconds in and have to stop and reset because the voice, it gets ahead of you. If you can't process and deliver at the same exact time, the further that thing gets ahead, the weirder it's going to be. So it's literally just practice and retraining your brain.

If we're talking about people that have disabilities, we are used to making compensations, and doing things differently than everyone else anyway. Even the way the blind, or legally blind, the way people walk up and down stairs, might be different. The way that we go to the water bubbler; you can't see the water filling up in the cup so you dip your finger over the top of the cup and when it starts to get cold and wet you know that it's almost full. So we're used to making compensations and this is just another one.

This wasn't as obvious as figuring out how to fill up a cup of water; it took me a long time to figure it out. It took a long time for the technology to catch up but once you know that it's a viable way to get your job done it's a matter of sitting down, putting the headphones on, getting the levels right, getting your timing right and just practising every day.

Specifically, what kind of equipment do you use?

I'm just using my regular PC and downloaded a program called Claro Read. I think the thing that I liked about that program was that it allows me to hit F7 and it highlights each word. It turns it from white to blue. So with the font size, it was 55 point that you see in the video, combined with the audio thing in my ear and seeing the words change from white to blue; that's what I liked about that software.

If you took away the audio and just were highlighting words, I can't read them. I can't see it at all. But combined, when I'm hearing it and looking at it, it works. If I don't have the visual script in front of me at this point, with all the practice I've been doing, I just need the audio prompter and I don't need the visual. But the combination was a big help at the beginning.

Was your equipment a huge investment?

Surprisingly, no. {Laughs} I have equipment piled up in a closet. Teleprompters that are used in news programs, special scanners, and all sorts of v-tech readers and I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on all this equipment that was supposed to make it easy for font to scroll in front of me, in large print, and I'd be able to read it. {Claro Read} was $99 bucks. It was just a piece of software I downloaded off the internet and put it onto my computer.

As a member of Voices.com you would need to read content on the screen. What do you use for a screen reader?

I use the same program. Claro Read. It works with every application on your computer. I have enough vision that I can see when I go to Voices that it says job description. I know where that is, it's always in the same spot on the screen, and then I always know where the sample script is so I just drag my cursor over job description and the few lines underneath it. The little computer lady starts reading "job description, this is for a person 25 to 54..." So, it reads everything out loud to me.

What advice do you have for other seeing impaired voice actors trying to break into the industry?

That's a tougher question than I thought it would be because everybody's path is going to be different. I was just emailed by a guy {who saw the YouTube video} this morning from India with a spinal cord injury who can't get into studios and wants to be a voice-over actor. I actually referred him to Voices.com. I said, "I've been working with this site for awhile and they don't require me to go in anywhere at all."

Everybody's got limitations. I don't mean every impaired or handicapped person has limitations, I mean everybody does. Even the best voice actors in the world might be the best at doing scary trailers but aren't good at being happy friendly guys. So the first thing you want to realize is where you're limitations are; and understand that it's natural and normal. Then you want to find out where your strong points are.

So you find out your strengths, you figure out your own skill set, and you just work at it. Doing voiceovers is almost like going to the gym or preparing for any sport; you just go and you work out that muscle. If there's an obstacle, there's probably going to be a way around it. If it's something you want to do, you just have to practice and work and believe in yourself that you're going to be able to be as good as everyone else - or better.

Thank You, Pete

It was a true pleasure speaking with Pete and learning about his journey into voice-overs.

I hope you've enjoyed this interview! Please feel free to leave a comment below.

All the best,
Lin

Related Topics: ear prompter, High School, hired, how to, industry, Los Angeles, New York, Pete Gustin, radio, reading, techniques, YouTube


Comments


    Gutsy guy with a bucket load of talent, coupled with persistence and unswerving ambition. Well done Pete.
    IAN in South Australia

    Posted by:
    • Ian
    • August 23, 2013 7:20 PM

      Wow, Pete -- good for you!
      I'm incredibly impressed!
      Thanks so much, both to you and the folks at Voices, for sharing your story here.

      Posted by:
      • Matilda Novak
      • August 24, 2013 12:18 AM

        Inspiring story!
        A great example of overcoming an adversity, and finding success!
        Great work Pete!

        Posted by:
        • Anonymous
        • September 14, 2013 6:08 AM

          Proud of you Pete!

          Posted by:
          • Dad
          • September 15, 2013 9:28 AM

            Pete, Your life story is so inspiring! I just saw your story on Chronicle and immediately had to google you and find out more.. our son Daniel is visually impaired since 2 yrs. old. He graduated from Emerson College '12, he has been interning just 3 days week at WBOQ FM 104.9 only 3 days week. He has always wanted to do radio broadcasting. He is not getting paid but at least he is getting experience in audio production for past year. He is interested in doing voice over as well..He just hasn't had any luck getting a paid job. As I was reading your story and interviews, I thought this is just what Daniel needs to reach out to someone like you, to know that he is not alone. You are such an inspiration! I told him to look you up as well, he was not home to see chronicle. I know when he reads about you he will be as excited as I was to know that there is hope out there.. Maybe you can give him some advice to help him not give up on his dreams!! Good Luck and Continued success w/your life.
            All The Best.

            Posted by:
            • Lisa Martin
            • February 18, 2014 9:02 PM

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