Delaware voiceover family gets success with Nike and Netflix

WILIMTON, Del. (AP) — Whoever said talk is cheap hadn’t looked at Dom and Nicole Draper’s bank statements.

The Newark couple rely on voice-acting to pay a chunk of their bills. Through their company, The Voiceover Couple, the pair has worked with major brands including Nike, Netflix, Mountain Dew and Minute Maid and helped clients win international awards.

(At the top of this story is a behind-the-scenes video featuring the award-winning Nike project Dom worked on. You can hear his voice starting at 1 minute and 4 seconds.)

One upcoming project from The Voiceover Couple is a job Nicole Draper, 29, did for an animated series on the streaming service Pure Flix, a streaming service for Christian entertainment.

“My favorite thing to do is character voices for animations, so I was very excited to get the opportunity to be on a major platform,” she said, adding she couldn’t reveal more about the project because she signed a confidentiality agreement.

Although the Drapers have been doing voice work for a few years, it was during the pandemic that they decided to take it more seriously.

HE QUIT HIS JOB IN PANDEMIC TO BE AN ACTOR

Last year, Dom’s day job was at his dad’s telecommunications company Integrity Technology Solutions.

When the pandemic hit, work began to slow down, so Dom found himself at home a lot more with his newborn son, Dominick “DJ” Draper, Jr., who was born March 8, just a few days before the global pandemic struck our region.

The elder Dom, 33, used that down time to improve his skills for video and audio editing.

Voice actor Dom Draper, 33, of Newark, is half of The Voiceover Couple.

During this time at home, Dom was doing more voiceover gigs. Nicole chipped in when she could. The Drapers also launched a website for TheVoiceoverCouple.com.

“If anything, the pandemic has caused the voiceover industry to boom even more for freelancers, because everything is so digital now,” Dom said.

At the top of this year, Dom’s dad sold Integrity Technology Solutions to a bigger company named Assurance Media. Dom said Assurance gave him an opportunity to work for them. But his wife had a different idea.

Nicole, who was working as a teacher for Harlan Elementary School in Wilmington, believed their family would be better off if Dom quit his day job to expand their voice-acting business.

The fate of the Draper family rested in Dom’s hands; and his legs became noodles as he wondered which path to take as he stood at this fork in the road.

“I feel like we were sweating in the garden of Gethsemane, because it was a hard decision,” Nicole Draper said, referencing a passage from the Bible where Jesus was under so much pressure before his crucifixion that he began to sweat blood.

“And of course, with (Dom) being the man of the home, he wanted to make sure we would be provided for. He wanted to go back to work, and I literally had to convince him (to quit).”

In July, four months later, Nicole accepted a new job as a literacy specialist at the University of Delaware.

Since Dom’s been doing voiceovers full-time, combined with the income from Nicole’s new job, the Draper family already has eclipsed the yearly salary Dom earned working for his dad, he said.

“The company that bought my dad’s business offered me a position with benefits and everything,” said Dom, who worked for his dad for 10 years. “But my wife is the one that really encouraged me. I think she saw the potential with how we were growing and the money that we were making.”

FIRST GIG ONLY PAID $10

In 2017, the Drapers dipped their toe in the voiceover pool.

This came after Dom’s mom encouraged him to give it a shot. It made sense to him, because he already was involved in the recording arts and had experience running his own radio show as a student at Delaware State University.

“I had a little Christian rap group when I was a kid. And that’s how I taught myself to record and edit,” he said. “But later in life, I always had the equipment for it because I started doing radio.”

Voice work appealed to Nicole, too, because she minored in musical theater at Newman University and performed in theater productions there. She was used to using her rich voice to grab an audience’s attention.

These days, the Drapers said they use the website Voices.com to find jobs. But for his first voiceover gig, Dom said, he used a different site and was solicited to do a radio drop for a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony rap concert in Michigan in May, 2017.

The gig paid him $10.

“I remember that. We were all hype,” his wife reminisced.

Two months later, Nicole landed her first gig, a voiceover gig for a Michigan radio station.

When The Voiceover Couple started out, they did a ton of jobs such as radio drops, church announcements and podcast intros and outros. They weren’t getting rich off the pay, but they were gaining experience and building up their network.

NIKE AND NETFLIX CAME KNOCKING

Fast-forward to 2019 and The Voiceover Couple won the prestigious Clio Award for a case study video for Nike Air Max graffiti stores in Brazil. Dom’s voice was featured in the project, which was the couple’s biggest gig at the time.

A case study, Dom said, is when a brand creates a project centered on a specific campaign. For this Nike video, graffiti artists created murals of Nike Air Max shoes in Brazil.

Edu Luke, owner of the Brazil-based audio company Hefty, said he was drawn to Dom’s voice because it didn’t have the iconic low-pitched, professional voice you often hear in Hollywood movie trailers.

“I was looking for more natural voices who (provide) authenticity, thus more connection to the listener. For instance: the voice of a graffiti artist having a real conversation in street fashion,” Luke, of Sao Paulo, told Delaware Online / The News Journal via Facebook Messenger.

”Don’t get (me) wrong, deliver(ing) this natural acting when reading a script wrote by an agency and follow(ing) directions are very difficult tasks. And that’s when I found Dom, and he delivered brilliantly.”

In 2020, the Nike graffiti project received multiple D&AD Awards. The D&AD Awards, according to its website, are the most prestigious benchmark in the world for creative excellence in design and advertising.

After that Nike gig, audio company Hefty discovered Nicole and hired her for the 2020 Netflix case study for the “One Story Away” campaign, which celebrated the art of storytelling.

The Drapers have done additional work with Hefty, becoming among the company’s favorite professionals to work with.

“I found out that Nicole, his wife, has the same talent; add to that their efficiency and professionalism. That’s why I count on them on many of our international projects,” Luke said.

“The Voice Couple helped us be awarded in the most demanding advertisement competition festivals in the world like Cannes Lion, Clio, D&AD, London Awards with projects for Nike, Deezer and Netflix.”

THE LOWDOWN ON VOICEWORK

The Voiceover Couple said they’ve done over 3,200 jobs, with Nicole accounting for 2,000 gigs. A number of those jobs required voiceovers that were under a minute.

Nicole said they can record a 30-second voiceover, edit it, and then turn it around to a client in under 30 minutes.

There’s a demand for voiceover specialists for a number of jobs including video games, commercials, PSAs, radio drops, intros and outros for podcasts, explainer videos and for employee training videos.

There’s a need for Black voices, Nicole said.

Other voiceover freelancers like the Drapers market themselves to prospective clients all over the world on sites like Voices.com, Fiverr.com and Bodalgo.com.

Fiverr is one of the most popular sites, a place where clients (from civilians to reputable brands) commission people to do jobs. The site is attractive because people can purchase a variety of services (voice work, graphic design, etc.) for an affordable price.

The Draper family said they use Voices.com, a site where freelancers have to pay to find work, to find new clients. According to Voices.com, a voice actor can earn anywhere from $100 for a local radio commercial to $10,000 for a national TV commercial.

For voiceovers in cartoons and animation, industry rates typically range from $100 for a short, 15-second animation, all the way up to $10,000 for the starring role in an animated short.

Nancy Cartwright, who voices Bart Simpson from hit cartoon “The Simpsons,” makes about $400,000 per episode, according to Voices.com.

One thing to keep in mind about voice work, Dom said, is freelancers must have good recording and video software, because some smaller clients might not have the ability to edit their own projects.

The Drapers use Adobe software such as Audition (audio) and Premiere Pro (video). Sometimes voice actors also are responsible for adding music to a project, if a client requests it.

‘IT’S A 24-HOUR BUSINESS’

Voice actors are expected to be a little bit psychic, because some clients are too abstract about what they’re looking for in a project.

“Sometimes people don’t know what they want. And that is the most frustrating,” said Nicole Draper, who posted a new voiceover video on Instagram for an HBCU football match between Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University on Nov 20, which you can watch here.

It’s common for voiceover specialists to be uncredited for their work, Dom said, especially in case study videos, which can make it tough.

The Newark man said he’s not received a good answer from industry as to why.

There also are times when a voice actor might do a gig for a major brand, only to realize when that project finally airs the company chose a different actor to narrate it.

Nicole said the reason this happens is because sometimes a brand will hire a person to read lines because they love their voice and they want to make sure their script sounds good before officially launching their campaign. But in the end, the actor they hired to do the job isn’t always the same person they’ll want for the final voiceover.

Voiceover specialists who are hired to do a gig are still paid if they record a job, she said, even if their voice doesn’t make it in the final cut.

Another thing to know about this business is voice actors are always on call.

There are times, Dom said, when a client has contacted them in an urgent situation early in the morning and basically told The Voiceover Couple: “We have an emergency voiceover we need completed, and we’ll pay whatever price we need to pay you to get your butt out of bed and get it done.”

The Voiceover Couple gets paid extra for this, but it can still be stressful.

“With the voiceover industry, it’s a 24-hour business,” Dom said. “We’re never closed.”

PLANS TO HELP YOUTH, GROW BIZ

The future for the Newark couple involves growing their business and offering consultation sessions for people interested in voice acting.

Nicole said she’s interested in hosting workshops for the youth. “I really want to find a way to help harvest their talent and help them build some generational wealth in their families.”

Scott Louis, co-owner of the production house LP Creative Studio in St. Louis, worked with The Voiceover Couple on multiple gigs, including a food campaign to highlight St. Louis eateries, which launched last year.

Louis said The Voiceover Couple is on point.

“Dom is always professional and timely, he elevated our projects … which is huge for our clients,” Louis said. “We work on all different types of video projects and having Dom in our rolodex is priceless. He delivers every time.”

Voice actor Gina Scarpa, of Connecticut, is a friend of the Drapers who said they have a knack for injecting warmth into their gigs.

“Their sound is totally believable and trustworthy. You really hear their unique personalities in their work,” said Scarpa, who has done voice work for big brands like Burger King, L’Orea, Xfinity and Frito-Lay.

“I also love that they’re doing this together as a married couple, as well,” Scarpa added.

The Drapers said they’re grateful for how far they’ve come. And while they’re looking forward to new opportunities, they can’t help but remember when they did their first job for a measly $10.

“Oh, my gosh, we got robbed back then,” Nicole said, before her husband decided to share a piece of his mind.

“We would have not charged anywhere close to that now.”

You can watch The Voiceover Couple’s new football voiceover for the football match between Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University on Instagram at TheVoiceoverCouple.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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