Monthly Archives: May 2011

Don LaFontaine 2

Don LaFontaine - Walk of Fame StarDon LaFontaine, also known as “Voice of God”, “King of the Big Screen”, and “Thunder Throat”, was my first inspiration. Long before I knew his name, I dreamt of a day in which I might sound like him–as if the ability could manifest itself. Who among us male voice actors hasn’t tried it at least once? I know I did…several times…and not always in private, either. Some of my friends would laugh. Most would cringe. But I would forever continue trying to get “that sound” that only Don could get.

Several years ago, I owned and operated a small video production company. I wanted to improve the marketability of my services and thought, what better way than to have Don’s voice in my demo? So I emailed him and hoped for the best. In my letter, I introduced myself, gave him a little bit of my history, and explained what I’d hoped he might be able to do. And then I forgot about it.

Three months later, much to my surprise, I got a response from Don. He said he forwarded my email to his agent with “instructions to cut me a good deal”. Wow! Not only did he respond directly (as opposed to someone on his staff), but he was offering to hook me up from the get-go! I was humbled.

A few days later I received an email from his agent at Tisherman who asked me for a script. Really?!? Wow–this might actually happen! But there was one problem: I hadn’t yet written the script. Honestly, I never really expected anything to come of my request…I mean seriously — we’re talking about THE biggest name in voice. I was just some stranger trying to make my tiny company appear larger than it really was. So, I hashed out a script as quickly as I could and sent it right over, after which I got the quote: $8,250 — and it would be worth every penny.

But I didn’t have $8,250, and suddenly felt a little dumb for having started a process that I clearly couldn’t finish. I responded accordingly, and apologized for wasting his time. But then, his agent wrote back with “Don wants to do this…just gimmie a number.” Again I was humbled. I responded with an embarrassingly smaller amount — citing that my wife and I had just gotten married, and we had blown a good bit of our savings on the honeymoon and a really good wedding photographer. I even included one of our awesome wedding photos just to take the edge off my humiliation.

Unbeknownst to me, the agent forwarded our little email conversation to Don, and a few days later I received an email directly from Don’s private email account. It was very short:


… a wedding gift.

All the best,


And attached to the email was an audio file; he read my script and sent it to me free of charge. To this day, I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced such generosity from anyone who wasn’t my mom or dad. And from someone so HUGE… I still sometimes have trouble wrapping my head around it. To hear this amazing gift, check out my old demo:

Whenever I offered to do anything in return, his response was always the same: “Go and do something nice for someone else who may need it. That’s how you can repay me.” Humbled. Again, and again, and again…

Trying to somehow repay him for his generosity, Don let me and my team rebuild his old website — adding some animation, custom music, updated movie trailers and promos, photos, and a lot of other stuff too. We also created and managed a new monthly email campaign: if you were on his email list, you’d receive monthly emails that he’d write and we’d blast out to his thousands of fans. Sometimes he would offer to pay — citing that I had “long since paid him back” — but I never had any intentions on taking payment. We did everything for free. I was (and still am) honored to be a part of anything with which that man was involved.

And then there was the personal stuff. Don and I became good friends during those years, and I got all kinds of advice on life, love, business, you name it. I would ask questions about his interracial marriage and multi-racial children (a commonality we shared) and he would give me his personal insight on this somewhat rare domestic occurrence. Sometimes he would explain the ways in which he would put his wife Nita first; never letting his massive success eclipse his family life. And then every once on a while he’d surprise me with personalized voice overs. Once, he even narrated a little something for me to give to my wife on Valentine’s Day, and following the sound byte was the very song he said that he and Nita always danced to.

Forever positive, that guy made me feel like anything was possible. I feel very honored and blessed to have enjoyed our short but unforgettable friendship.

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Cheating Death

Nope — I didn’t narrowly escape a wave of horrible traffic accidents or barely survive a fall from a high place…nothing of the sort. “Cheating Death” Grim Reaperwas the name of a Georgia Lottery voiceover script for which I was hired, and I was to play a character I never thought I’d be asked to voice: Death.

I was accused of a lot of things upon entering the voice acting world, but a “baritone” was not one of them. Nor was “deep voiced”, “gritty”, “movie trailer guy”, or anything else that would suggest that I could ever sound even remotely like the Don LaFontaines, Ben Patrick Johnsons, and Ashton Smiths of the world. Even my agent, Sally Neal, once said I’d never compete with ‘those guys’…which is why I was so surprised when she said I’d been chosen to voice one of the most dark and grizzly characters in existence.

The funny thing is that I was actually trying for the other character in the script, “Guy” (who was later renamed “Steve”), and Guy/Steve was supposed to be just some average, ordinary man. I recorded the usual two or three takes in my home studio; picked the one that ‘felt’ the best to me; and sent it off to the agency hoping, as always, for that rare and somewhat miraculous booking to occur.

Later that day, just for fun, I recorded Death’s lines and spliced them into my original audition just to see if my version of Guy/Steve worked in conjunction with Death’s lines. I kinda liked the way the two characters sounded together, so I sent the second version off to my agent hoping to get some feedback about my acting, timing, delivery, etc. What I didn’t know is that she sent this second recording to the folks at BBDO instead of the first one. If you’re interested, here is that second recording of both Guy and Death:

When I got the booking, I was ecstatic — expecting to play the part of Guy/Steve — never pausing to verify which part I’d be reading until much later. For nearly an entire week I rehearsed Guy/Steve’s lines, but the day before the session, I began to feel a little anxious about it all. Just to make absolutely certain I was, in fact, supposed to read the part of Guy/Steve, I wrote Sally and asked which one was my character. She responded, “Death, I think.”


Wait a minute. Seriously? I had read Death’s lines almost as a joke, just for grins really, and then to get hired for the part?!? I didn’t even rehearse the character; how did I get this? Surely there were some basso profondos that had auditioned for Death…what happened? Okay… Well… I guess I’d better get ready to do this for real. Man, I sure hope I can hang…

My first inclination was to jump online and search out other versions of Death recorded by other voice actors and try to glean some tips and techniques on how to get “that sound” (whatever that may have been). But then I thought about it again and decided not to. It occurred to me that if I showed up at the session sounding like someone (or something) different from my audition, the producers might wonder what happened to the guy they ‘thought’ they hired. Georgia Lottery Script - Cheating DeathSo I decided to stick with what had gotten me the gig. Check out the script (image to the left) complete with tons of session notes scribbled everywhere!

The next day I was on my way downtown to the studio, and it was a perfectly dreary, dark, and rainy day — just right for my character. When I arrived, I met the session engineer, two producers, and the other actor Mike Stoudt (also from my agency) who played the part of Steve. There was also a third producer patched in via ISDN from Los Angeles, so at any point Mike and I might have to take direction from as many as three people at a time.

The session was a blast. We ended up reading two radio scripts and one television script with a collective total of over 100 takes. The first 15 or 20 takes were really just warm-ups, and then the real direction began: “Slow down the pacing…”, or “Now, interrupt each other. Step on each other’s lines…” or  “Tom: try to sound more irritated in the third line…” and “Mike: act a little more nervous and scared in the beginning…” And after witnessing the producers twist Mike’s delivery — literally turning him into Steve — I discovered why they hired him: He really nailed the essence of Steve’s character. I was honored to watch him work.

As a drummer, I am often confounded by music producers who can shape my part into something far better than anything I could have come up with on my own, and it can get a little frustrating at times too, considering that I’m the drummer — not them! But what I finally learned was this: it’s not my job to ‘guess’ the perfect part; instead, it’s my job to ‘play’ the perfect part regardless of the origin of it’s inspiration.

Same goes for voice acting.

Here is the final radio edit for the 60-second script of “Cheating Death” — enjoy!

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Drumming and VoiceOver

Tom Knight on stage with TLC

My first love was music; specifically drums. As a teenager, I listened into all kinds of rock songs, jazz drum solos, contemporary funk tunes…really any kind of drumming that I could get my hands on and try to imitate to the best of my abilities. I wanted to ‘become’ those drummers…growing my hair out to look like my favorite players; slowly acquiring the same instruments they used (translation: asking for equipment at Christmases and birthdays throughout my teenage years); and often donning the same clothes my heroes wore on stage–much to the dismay of my elders. I graduated high school feeling pretty darn good about myself, and just when I thought I knew what I was doing, I enrolled in college and discovered a whole new batch of pro drummers. Great. More painful practicing lay ahead. Awesome. (I can now say that I’m really glad I went through it all though!)

These days I’m on a similar path with voice work, and if I had to compare it to my musical journey, I’d say I’m somewhere between high school and college: I know enough to know I don’t know enough. For example, each time I finish a vocal session, I walk away wondering if I actually delivered what I THINK I delivered. As time progresses, I’m finding a convergence between these two–and that’s a good thing. I’m starting to feel as if I can accurately gauge my acting on the fly. I remember going through similar times in music: I’d have to listen to my drum tracks after-the-fact to really know for sure if I did the job. Later, as my skills improved, I could tell when things were going well or going awry without stopping. I’m looking forward to feeling that same level of confidence with my voice acting.

Just for fun, I’ve added a couple of YouTube videos of my drumming work. The first clip is an excerpt from an instructional video on contemporary jazz drumming (featuring music from legendary bassist Adam Nitti) released in 2000, and the second clip was taken at a concert in Japan where I performed with the R&B/pop group TLC.



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Getting Signed 2

My agent: Sally Neal at Houghton Talent When I first signed with my agent Sally Neal at Houghton Talent (photo on left), she gave me a hefty dose of reality…the same dose that all the books I own on the subject of voice acting say: do not quit your day […]