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Fargo voiceover studio uses regional talent for work across globe

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Hired Gums voice talent Kim Douglas, in the recording studio, talks with audio engineer John Shea Friday, March 10, 2017, in the Video Arts Studio in Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 5
Hired Gums voice talent Kim Douglas rehearses a script for a commercial Friday, March 10, 2017, in the Video Arts Studio in Fargo.Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 5
Voice talent Kim Douglas signs a wall covered with the names and comments from others who have made audio recordings at Hired Gums Friday, March 10, 2017, in the Video Arts Studio in Fargo.Dave Wallis / The Forum4 / 5
Famous for his show "Dirty Jobs" and the unseen voice narrating many television shows, Mike Rowe signed the wall in the Video Arts Studio in Fargo after using the studio to do some voice-overs for a television show while he was in the area doing a segment for Dirty Jobs which took place in Detroit Lakes. Dave Wallis / The Forum5 / 5

FARGO—In a world where clients need voiceovers for commercials and radio spots, one Fargo studio is here to help.

Hired Gums operates as the "vocal arm" of Video Arts Studio, 1440 4th Ave. N., with a team of about 30 voice artists ready to record 30 seconds or 30 minutes of audio to finish projects for clients across the country and as far away as Europe.

It's been in business since 2001, and some of the vocal talent the company works with have a well-established background in radio. But sometimes, even an amateur comes in that has the right mix of vocal abilities and a knack for knowing the appropriate tone for a project.

"The majority of them have jobs that aren't in voice," said Aimee Mitchell, a project manager with Video Arts Studio. "They're just amazing voices that we were lucky enough to find."

'Making it pop'

John Shea, one of the studio's two audio engineers, said modern voiceover work is far less likely to feature the kind of "big booming voice of God-style" delivery that might be heard in trailers for a new action movie. Instead, it's all about "making it pop," he said.

Successful voice talents have a "natural presence," Shea said, but even a smooth set of pipes isn't enough. He once overheard a restaurant server with a great voice who he called in for an audition, but he said it didn't work out because the man couldn't read scripts in a natural, effective way.

"When you read in your head, there's nothing," he said. "You're not thinking about breathing, you're not thinking about tone and there's no pitch, so everyone can read in their head pretty fluidly. But when it comes time to actually speak the words, there's sometimes a disconnect between brain and mouth."

Kim Douglas, one of the vocal artists who works with Hired Gums, was a radio broadcaster for 17 years before walking away from radio in 2006. She now works as a counselor at The Village Family Service Center.

She has no intention to get back into radio, but she said her work for Hired Gums is a perfect way to keep using her natural talent and still get to hear her voice on the airwaves—though now it's a voiceover for a commercial, not a plug for the next song coming up.

"It's still using my voice," she said. "I feel like I'm keeping in practice."

To Shea, effective voiceover work is a lot like the role of actors in bringing a script to life in a believable way. Otherwise, the script is just words on paper.

"Just because you have a great voice doesn't mean you know how to deliver it properly," he said.

The right mix

While Hired Gums is based in Fargo, he said the company does regular work for agencies on both coasts as well as international companies.

The recording studio, designed by John Storyk, who rose to fame by designing the Electric Lady studio for Jimi Hendrix in 1969, can patch in producers or clients by phone to overhear recording sessions and make sure the tone and pronunciation is just what they need.

It also can be used by other companies to cut audio, like when "Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe was filming in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and came by the Hired Gums studio to record some voiceovers for "The Ultimate Fighter" TV show.

Shea thinks of his work as completing ads and spots and adding in sound, which he said has a "huge effect" on listeners and can make or break a project. If it's done just right, his work might not be noticed by the average listener, though they'd be able to tell in an instant if the voiceover is off.

"It's like cooking," he said. "You take all the ingredients and mix them together, and sometimes it's overcooked and sometimes undercooked. The right amount of cooking makes it perfect."

Business profile

What: Hired Gums, a division of Video Arts Studio

Where: 1440 4th Ave. N., Fargo

Phone: (701) 232-3393


Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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