With one of the hippest, most believable, and current deliveries in the industry, Joe Zieja has taken the VO world by storm. Rocketing to prominence in under two years, Joe has established himself as one of the most marketable voices in the business with a sound that defines “NOW.” In this installment of Voiceover Profiles, Joe will share some of the secrets of his rise to stardom.
What inspired your interest in VO?
I’m a huge consumer of video games and Japanese Anime, and I’ve always thought it would be really neat to get into something like that. I’ve always loved “doing voices.” Other than that, I can’t say it was as much inspiration as it was happenstance; I mentioned to another author friend of mine that I’d always wanted to give it a shot, and he said “Well, my company used to hire from this place called Voices.com for its voiceovers – why don’t you check it out?”
Your rise to success has been fairly meteoric. How did it all come together so fast, and where would you like your career to take you in the future?
Well, let’s hope I’m more of a comet than a meteor – I don’t want to burn up any time soon. But it was really sort of a snowball effect. My first job ever was speaking Arabic as a cartoon panda for a children’s game…not exactly where most guy-next-door voice types like me start out, right? But anyway, after I saw that someone was actually willing to pay me for my voice, I started really dedicating myself to my auditions. Every single opportunity, every single day. I never skipped. And 100% of my funds went back into my studio – I started with about $300 worth of gear and now I’m working with top of the line stuff. I had a steady day job, so if I was going to make the transition to VO, I had the financial flexibility to make sure I was completely solid before I did. That meant a lot of 16-hour days, but in the end it was absolutely worth it. From here I’d like to continue building my client base so that I rely a bit less on online casting, and I would, maybe, love to start dabbling in a bit of video game stuff. I’m working with Marc Graue to build a great demo and launch that portion soon.
Tell us about your studio. Any favorite gear?
Well, I also compose music for video games and stuff, so my favorite gear is really my instruments. I’ve been a musician for over 20 years and I play lots of different stuff, so even then it’s hard to pick a favorite. I have a Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone that is dear to my heart, and a Martin HD-28 Dreadnaught guitar that my father gave me when I commissioned as a lieutenant in the air force. Those are probably my two favorite pieces. On the VO side, I am absolutely loving my new Studiobricks One Plus isolation booth. With a toddler one floor above my studio, it was a gift from God himself.
What would you tell every aspiring talent they must do to succeed?
My college roommate, talking about playing his bass, once said to me, “What I lack in talent I make up for in persistence.” Be persistent. Commit to those 16-hour days while you’re trying to build a VO career without tanking your finances, and don’t waffle. And study the craft – despite popular belief, it’s not just talking into the microphone.
What mistakes did you make that new talent should avoid?
In every artists’ industry I’ve seen, a lot of new talent make the mistake of thinking that they’re not worth the budgets. They undersell themselves. I’ve been reading articles about folks doing e-books for less than two dollars an hour, when it boils down to it. Yes, you need to pay your dues, in some ways, but it’s not like a day job – there’s no voiceover internship where you do work for free and then, when you’re ready, you get paid for it. If you have a voice that’s worth $500 for a regional radio spot, it’s worth that much. Don’t be arrogant about it, of course, but know what you’re worth and ask clients to respect that. A good client will.
In addition to VO, you are also a talented musician and author, isn’t that right?
And a father, and a husband, and a parkour instructor (look it up) and a government contractor. So sue me, I love doing stuff. But yes, I call it the “Starving Artist Trifecta” – Author, Musician, Voiceover Artist. I write science fiction and fantasy, and I’ve been published professionally in anthologies and magazines (and hopefully there’s a novel coming down the pipe here soon). And I’ve done music forever. Right now I’m more of a hobbyist, but every once in a while, if I have the time, I’ll land a contract for an independent video game soundtrack.
Before your VO days, you served your country in the Armed Forces. Tell us how that shaped the person you are today, and if there is any way you relate what you learned during your service to your VO business.
As anyone that has ever been in the military will tell you, it changes you in huge ways that will stick with you for the rest of your life. It teaches you a lot of things and gives you a lot of experiences that someone who hasn’t served just doesn’t have access to, and you’re doing it all in, basically, your early 20s. But, regarding how it relates specifically with my VO business, I think it’s done a couple of key things. First it shaped my work ethic, which can sometimes be at odds with an artist mentality. 11:00 AM is 10:59 AM to me when it comes to appointment. A deadline of next week probably means I’ll get it to you today, because I can’t stand having things on my to-do list. The military also taught me to be a little more laid back, which is maybe a little counter intuitive. But even though the industry can be a little hectic, it’ll never be as hectic as the military, and it will never, ever, be as hectic in the same way. So when things don’t go as planned, or I have a difficult client, it’s a lot easier to be flexible and stay calm. Nobody’s shooting at me, right?
What is the best part about being a professional voice talent?
After spending so many years in the M-F grind, I’d have to say the flexibility and working from home. I like being my own master to an extent, and working from home has always been a goal (hence the Starving Artist Trifecta, all things I can do in my pajamas). As a new dad, it’s great to be able to take a break and color with my daughter and chat with my wife for a while while I’m still “on the clock.”