Interview with NYC Vocal Coach, Jean-Marc Berne

Jean-Marc Berne is president of Berne Media Enterprises and a busy Voice Talent, Audio Producer, Casting Director, Singer-Songwriter and Voice Over coach. He is also a Spanish-English audiobook narrator, and the creative consultant for print and radio ads for HUD, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, and the National Crime Prevention Council. His list of commercial work includes Bud Light, McDonald's, Western Union, Timberland, Pollo Loco, McKinsey, Pfizer, VNSNY, Xfinity, NFHA, HUD, National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, Metro Cable and Eclipse Gum to name a few.

He's narrated the Spanish audio book "Negocios," from Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Díaz, the AP Spanish Princeton Review 2009 and "Yaks March In Washington," the first of a series of English-Spanish educational audio books. He voiced the role of the World Grand Prix commentator for Disney Pixar's ‘Cars 2' online video game in Spanish. He’s now back for a third season as the Voice Over Coach for the US version of the Disney animated series ‘The Octonauts.’ And, he’s one of the new songwriters for Nickelodeon’s animated series “Dora and Friends: Into The City.” In the summer of 2010 – Jean-Marc created an acclaimed series of in-person workshops, ‘Power Marketing for the Voice Over Actor,' ‘Intro to Voice Over Technique’, ‘Spanish Voice Over Technique’ and ‘Kids Voice Over Technique.’

At present, he teaches these workshops on a regular basis at Actors Connection and Ripley-Grier in NYC. He also freelances as a Voice Over coach who specializes in the production of Commercial, Audiobook and Character Voice Over Demos.

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Emily Correa: So I am here with Jean-Marc Berne, owner and president of Berne Media Enterprises who is a Latin-American voice talent, audio producer, casting director, singer/songwriter and voiceover coach. The goal of this interview is to share your perspective of what it takes for a voiceover artist to succeed in the industry, build their business, and stay inspired. So, my first question for you is how did your journey begin in the voiceover world?

Jean: So how I got started in voiceovers… I actually did my first voiceover right out of college. I was already known in college as a singer/songwriter. People knew my voice. I performed a lot in college, and I had my own band.   As I had just recently graduated, I got contacted by my college. And they asked me to translate a financial aid presentation into Spanish and then to voice it in Spanish.   So, that was my first voiceover. They had me do that work, and they did the presentation down in Dominican Republic. I had a few of my friends and their parents who had come to see the presentation. I wasn’t there. But when I did go back to Santo Domingo six months after they had done the presentation, a couple of the parents who attended recognized my voice.   So when one of the parents saw me, he asked me, “Hey, that was you, wasn’t it?”   I was like, “Oh, wow!”   And he was saying, “You should do voiceovers.”   I didn’t think much of it. I never thought about doing voiceover work as a career. But then I looked into it. I got all this training, commercial voiceovers, and animation, audiobook work, I got my demos done. And when I saw that I really enjoyed doing this work, and I was getting great feedback, that’s how I got started doing voiceover work.  

Emily: That’s great! So, you were able to build your own business. Did you take any voiceover classes in order to build your business, or did you do more freelance projects in order to build it or a mixture of both?

Jean: Oh, it’s a mixture of both. I have worked with many, many voiceover coaches, and took many classes. And one of the things that happened was that it wasn’t a thing that, boom, right away, I started getting work. No, I started getting auditions right away.

  Now, the feedback that I got was that people love my voice, but for some reason, they weren’t loving my accent.  I started in the English market, and English is not my first language. Actually, Spanish is.   And so, I went to all of these auditions, probably wearing my Latino man shirt because that’s what I read for. They’re always for Latino man. And that’s okay, I wore my red cape proudly.  

One of my coaches had suggested, “Why don’t you go into the Spanish market?”   So, I looked into it. I got some training with Manuel Herrera, which is one of my mentors and coaches. He likes to boast that I’m one of his disciples. I’ll give him that.   And right after that—actually, I wasn’t even done taking his class when I got a call from my agent that I had booked a major McDonald’s commercial in Spanish. And that’s when my career started taking off.  

Emily: That’s great! And I wanted to ask, how can you get on the top of your field in voiceover work? What does it look like in the industry, the voiceover industry?

Jean: So the voiceover industry is very competitive. A lot of people might think of it, “Oh, there’s all this work.”

  Yes, there is work. But what happens is that there are so many people that are flooding the business that there’s a lot of competition. So one of the things that I encourage people to do as voiceover talents, is to not only focus on getting work with an agent or just knocking on doors, it’s really making those direct connections.

That’s what’s going to make the difference.   When I was working with 11 different agents, 10 in New York, 1 in LA, I was still getting 50/50 work. 50% of my work, I was getting through my agents. The other 50% I was getting on my own.   That’s what I’d encourage to do to all my clients. That’s why I tell them, “You need to knock on doors, make those direct connections with producers, casting directors. Let people know what you’re doing.”   Every one of us has a story to tell. So what I tell people is be the magnet. Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Create your own story. Share your story.

  Emily: Because I tell you, when I was pursuing acting in those days, in my mind it crossed, “Do voiceover work. Do voiceover work.” And what I’m learning is that, “Oh, you can do it at home, at a home studio. You can just create a demo,” and all this and that. Or you can take a class and get a demo done in a studio.   And then I didn’t do it. But I wish I did.   So I would love to ask you, is there any type of voice that they look for and style? Is there a type of trend for what’s marketable for voiceover work? How do you go about it?  

Jean: So first of all, the market takes all voices. They’re looking for real people. So when the announcer voice, “Welcome to Toyota! Drive us today,” that kind of thing, they still want that. But more and more, you’ll see at auditions that they’ll specify, “We want conversational tone, natural-sounding, every day person.” So they want real people.   If you’ve got a voice and you’ve got a knack for it, there’s a market for you. Now, you also have to know that it’s not an easy market. If you can’t take rejection, this is not the business for you.  

I’m at the height of my career, I still get rejected, and I will still keep getting rejected. And I know that’s just part of the business.   So what I’ve decided to do is to grab the bull by the horns and become my own producer. And that’s really when I saw a shift in how agents saw me, and how producers saw me. That I was producing my own audiobooks, my own work. That’s when I became the magnet. It wasn’t just about me, “Look at me, what a wonderful voice I have, hire me.” It was more like, “Hey, listen. I’m working on my own podcast. I’m working on my own audiobook. I would love to work with you.”   And it was a totally different perspective. All of a sudden, I was like, “This guy doesn’t need me but he looks like he’s getting work. We should hire him.”

  Emily: I was speaking to Aaron Marcus, another great acting veteran in the industry about this. You have to produce your own products and content. So for leverage, you’re building more of a business around the voiceover. And you’re getting those connections as you build around it. And it’s just building more buzz because you’re producing your work, and at the same time, you’re coaching others and producing that content on top of that.

Jean: Absolutely. And this is what I encourage all of my students to do. In fact, I have one of my students. His name was Issa Deas. And one of the things I encourage him to do was to start his own podcast. And he started doing that. He called it Cynical Sentiments. It’s really funny, and it’s really helped him develop his own brand.   This is what I teach that’s different than most voiceover coaches. In fact, yes, I can teach you how to go into animation, into commercial work, into audiobook work, medical narration. Yes. We can do that.  

But what I’m really interested in is in building your brand. What will make you, Emily Correa, stand out from all the different voices out there that sound like you in age, in vocal age range, pitch, tone and delivery.   And also when you hear the specificity that there’s vocal age range, and you know this by being an actor that when you put on your resume, when you work on camera, it’s like, “Okay, what is your age range?”   When it comes to voiceovers, your vocal age range is very different. It can be very different from your actual age range.   I have one of my students. She is 38. Her name is Julieta.

She sounds like a 10-year-old girl naturally. So in coming up with her branding statement, we ended up with, “The fun, sweet and magical voice.” And do you think that it’s a coincidence that she ended up going to this audition for this animated pilot for the role of the toothfairy, and that she landed the role?  

Emily: Wow, that’s great. That’s amazing.

Jean: And that she’s also reading for Disney Storybooks.  

Emily: She must be so happy. That is great. Now, what is your favorite project that you’ve worked on, or currently working on?

Jean: My favorite project? My recent project, this was just awesome. So I had gotten selected to be one of the readers for the Nobel literature prize-winning author, Maria Vargas Llosa, La Fiesta Del Chivo. And I just finished recording it.   That was just an awesome experience. He’s one of my favorite writers. This is a really high honor. I feel like I’ve just been knighted.  

Emily: I can’t wait to hear it.

Jean: Yes, it will come up sometime in the summer.  

Emily: That’s great. So tell me about your book, Power Marketing for the Voiceover Actor.

Jean: So Power Marketing for the Voiceover Actor, what I share with people in the book and the audio course are several ways that you can get your feet wet in the voiceover industry that you can get started, hit the ground running, and I offer different strategies for use to take care of different parts of your business, which are critical to your business, taking care of your health, your marketing, your tools, and taking advantage of all the resources that are out there for you, the online resources, the different casting directors, different agents, and making sure that you’re taking care of each of these areas, the pillars for your business, for you to maximize your success in the voiceover industry.   As long as you’re making progress in each one of these areas that you will get work and make work for yourself. That’s what I encourage everyone to do, make work for yourself, produce your own work.  

Emily: And how can a student of acting or voiceover contact you, as well as what is the structure of your workshops or classes? How do you like to work with a student?

Jean: So I have different ways that I offer workshops. First of all, to contact me, you can go to And on that site, you can also download the free audio course, which is, Voice It with Confidence. You’ll get that. That’s my thank you for going to my site.   And in terms of the webinars, the different seminars that I offer, I do one-on-one coaching. I do in-person. And I also have clients all over the world. So I offer the option of calling in via phone, or we can do video sessions.   Either way, you get to keep the replay of each session, so that you can practice what went over each session.   So I offer the one-on-one, and I also have different workshops that I teach.  

Emily: And at the end of the day, what do you want the fans of your work to remember about you, and your legacy, and your work in the acting industry with the voiceover work?

Jean: As an artist that I did my way. Yes, really, because you know how the business works. That you have the acting business, you have this box that has been created and we are all conforming to this box. And the few that look to break out of the box look for outside possibilities of what is possible. All of a sudden, you have all these opportunities and possibilities open to you.   For example, when I decided that I’m not going to be just another voiceover talent, and there’s nothing wrong with being just a voiceover talent. I just knew that I wanted more for myself.

That’s when I became a voiceover coach for the animated series, The Octonauts, on Disney Junior. That’s when I became a songwriter for Dora the Explorer.   So when you look at the box and you’re seeing that, “This is not working for me. What else can I do?” Let me tell you, Emily, my biggest frustration in the acting business was to see how much time is involved. We’re talking about working with 10, 11 different agents.

I was at the point of my career where I was auditioning 25 hours a week.   For those 25 hours, I may have gotten booked one or two hours. And for that one hour, and let me put this into perspective, I was getting booked for about a year-and-a-half for McDonald’s national radio commercials.   You would think I would be swimming in it. Well, let me tell you how McDonald’s worked. One of the things that happens is that there are so many McDonald’s commercials that they just put them up for two weeks, and then that’s it. It doesn’t come back into rotation. So you don’t get any royalties.  

So basically, I was putting all this time into auditioning, and I was getting paid just per sessions, $267 a session.   So I was looking at the time I was investing, the return on my investment was not commensurate with the time that I was investing.   So that’s why I told myself, “You know what? No more. If you want me to audition for something, I’ll send you an MP3.” And I told that to all of my agents. Most of my agents except only one agent decided to stay with me, and I’m like, “Okay, if you want to work with me, this is the way that I’m going to work going forward.”   And he’s like, “Okay, you’re going to miss out on auditions.”

  “But you know what? I’m not missing out on anything. I thank you for your concern.”   Ever since then, I started booking more, and I also got more of the work that meant something to me because it’s one thing to just want to put your voice out there on anything, on whatever product, that if you don’t have a particular connection to what it is that you are voicing that it has no meaning or purpose, at least for me anyway, I just felt it was important for me to be able to connect to—

  Emily: Do your own way.

Jean: Yes, do it on my own way.  

Emily: And you certainly do.