As a student at Clark Atlanta University, Kareem Taylor had dreams of becoming a film director and worked tirelessly to gain footing in the industry. But as an intern at the production company Rainforest Films, Taylor was approached with an opportunity that quickly changed the trajectory of his career.
After serving as the voice for the office’s voicemail, the film major student was discovered by a CNN producer who asked him to come to the company’s headquarters to do voiceover tryouts. For a couple times a week, Taylor would go back and forth from Clark Atlanta’s campus to CNN to simply meet with producers and learn more about the industry. After shopping around his demo tape to various talent agencies for a year, Taylor eventually signed with the agency Don Buchwald & Associates in New York and booked his first commercial in 2010.
Now, with years of experience as a voiceover actor, Taylor has worked with several big name brands including UFC, Taco Bell, McDonald’s and most notably CNN’s Black in America series.
BlackEnterprise.com: Outside of an agent, are there any other tools or resources people need to become a successful voiceover actor?
Taylor: I think personal branding plays a big part. When I sent my demo to agencies, I would introduce myself in a way that made it seem like I was doing big things in Atlanta. I said I was involved on campus, I was the voice of CAU and now I’m ready for the big leagues. So I told that story in the email, and when I arrived in New York they were like ‘Yo, there is this kid in Atlanta doing really great things.’ For them to see that I was competent and hustling before they even found me was good. When I actually looked at the roster list of talent that [Don Buchwald] had, it’s just like being on a record label where some people just sit on the shelf. It’s not because they aren’t talented, but they don’t have the work ethic.
You’ve been able to create a brand outside of voiceover acting that includes a blog and even your new book Get Your Life. How has the process of building your personal brand led you to publish a book?
When I graduated I moved to New York and I was there for about two and half years and then I moved to Los Angeles last year. But while I was in New York I started to realize something that I wasn’t good at. For instance, with voiceover acting I have a good voice but I thought that was all I needed and I would be fine. It turns out that’s not the case. Most successful voice actors have worked in creative entities and production companies for years, and I got my first start when I was 23. So people with this crazy amount of talent are not just good at voiceover. They are also good at story telling. So one of the things I became obsessed with while in New York was how do I tell a good story? One of the ways was to write and speak a lot. Advertisers are spending thousands of dollars for these good commercials and they are not just paying me for my voice. So that kind of led to me writing a blog, which led to Get Your Life. I want to be good at writing so that I can tell better stories as a voice actor.
What advice do you have for voiceover actors looking to put together a good demo tape?
A demo should be a minute and a half maximum. The thing I did was went online and typed in my favorite commercials and then went on YouTube and transcribed those commercials. I used to intern at BET and one of my main jobs was to transcribe the interviews they were doing at 106 & Park, so I sort of took that knowledge for my voiceover demo because it’s not easy to just find scripts. Then, I went to my fraternity brother and asked if I could use his studio. I brought him a bunch of references of other great voiceover actors and told him I want [mine] to sound like this. I took some music from YouTube, he recorded my voice and I went back to my dorm room and put my vocals over the top of the music. I combined it into a minute and thirty seconds and I put my best work in front so that immediately the people knew that I was a serious talent.
Can you give a ball park figure for how much someone can make from doing a commercial?
You can certainly make six figures. For one of my first commercials I didn’t know how much I was supposed to get paid because no one talked to me about it. I just signed some contracts that said my agent gets 10%. So I did one commercial and when you do promos for TV you get paid per line. So I got this email that said I will get paid $300 per line. So I thought, ‘Ok, cool.’ Then I got the script and there were two pages of lines and I was like this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I had just moved to New York. I was living at my aunt’s house in Brooklyn and I was like this is what I want to do. I was doing that every week at 23 years old.