Where to Find God- And Chef

The voice of God spoke to me. It's true. He was sitting in the waiting room of Studio Center Worldwide Audio in Virginia Beach.

The man behind God is one of more than 2,000 voices from the talent roster at Studio Center, which claims to be America's number one production facility. The company is responsible for creating the voiceovers for more than 14,000 television and radio commercials and programs every year.

The Seven Cities facility serves as the company's hub. But Studio Center also has studios in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Memphis, with plans to add recording locations to its operation in the next few years.

In July, the Studio Center moved its headquarters from Norfolk's Ghent to its current location on Business Park Drive to accomodate its seven audio booths and to be closer to the interstate, as it attracts talent from areas outside of the region. The building is very non-descript and officey, its exact location chosen in part because of its distance from noisy train tracks, construction and jet-planes that might interfere with recordings.

A few of the more notable recordings it has produced include voiceovers for television's Allstate commercials and Isaac Hayes' dialogue as "Chef" on South Park. The studio also tapes the audio for the History Channel's Modern Marvels shows and special documentaries for A&E.

For commercials, the studio works closely with clients to get the exact audio they desire. The process generally includes Studio Center procuring the talent and providing clients with numerous audition tapes from which they can select. From there the clients can have as large or small a role in the production as they so choose.

On one recent morning, sound engineer Trent Toner was overseeing the recording for a corporation's website audio tracks. Although the man doing the voiceover was in the Virginia Beach studio, the actual producer was in Richmond and the clients were in Alexandria and L.A. to collaborate, they were all connected via conference call and the high speed cables that send sound back and forth between locations.

In this case, the client wanted an Asian voice. The actor, a white male in this mid-fifties, dove into character - affecting his deep soundwith a heavy accent. The actor, Ralph, then took direction from the corporate clients who instructed him to tone down the racial attributes and prompted him to emphasize certain words and timing.

The process is more complex than it might seem and the actors earn surprisingly good money from the gig. Studio Center's owner, William Prettyman, explained that many of the voiceover artists make more money at the studio than they do at day jobs. Some of the voice-actors have other work in radio, some do it as a lucrative side-gig and others make a living recording their voices full-time. An actor can make a few thousand dollars per session.

With national and local contracts, there's a decent chance that the anonymous voice you hear on TV or radio - whether it's the all-knowing boom of God or the deep, sexy croon of Isaac Hayes - originated at Studio Center.

Allison Hurtz
PortFolio Weekly