Peters artist gives voice to ads, books and more
Bob Souer can find the story in just about anything, whether it's a documentary about George Washington's youth or an instructional video on forklift safety.
For three decades, Souer, 58, of Peters, a voiceover artist, has lent his bass-baritone to everything from commercials to documentaries; audio books to instructional videos; and corporate narration to telephone recordings.
No matter the project, Souer considers himself a storyteller first.
“I'm recording a safety video for forklifts. That's pretty serious business,” he said. “Someone can get hurt. I want to tell that story in a way that's interesting. You don't want people to fall asleep.”
Souer's commercial clients have included American Express, Dollar Bank, Wheeling Hospital and the San Francisco Giants.
Listeners might recognize him as the voice telling them that “The No. 1 prescribed allergy medicine is now available without a prescription” for Children's Zyrtec or that Sleep Number Bed “invented a better way to get sleep at night.”
He's recorded dozens of audio books — 18 this year alone. The process is like a “marathon,” he said, and fiction can be trickier than nonfiction.
He recalls one of his peers recording a work of science fiction without first reading it. When he got to page 289, he realized the character was supposed to have an accent. Pressed for time, the author instructed him to remove any reference to the accent, a decision that affected the six subsequent books in the series.
“You have to read the book,” Souer said. “You have to know each character, each person. If they're a man or a woman, if they have a tough voice or a squeaky voice, you have to find a way to do that.”
When he's working on a book, he said, he records two to six chapters a day during hour- to 90-minute sessions.
Souer, a member of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, works from a sound-proof studio he built in the garage of his home.
His career started in 1979 in a Chicago suburb when he was working as a sales manager for a homebuilder.
Frank Dawson, a program director at WKKD Radio in Aurora, Ill., who bought a house from Souer, insisted he audition for a position at the station. After weeks of coaxing, Souer finally agreed, and went up against seven others — five with radio experience — for the job.
Souer got it, and for three months, he was on air during the overnight shift once a week when the regular deejay had the night off. Three months later, he was in a full-time, daytime slot.
One day, during the midday show, the rest of the office was out at lunch when the phone rang. It was a man from a company called Video Impressions, who was seeking someone to do voiceovers. Souer sent the company a demo tape but heard nothing for nine months.
Souer had moved to WAIT AM 820 in Chicago by the time Video Impressions contacted him again. They wanted him for a federal high energy research laboratory called Fermilab. Souer took the job, and Fermilab remains a client.
For 26 years, Souer did voiceover work on the side, apprehensive about dedicating himself fully to the ever-changing industry. He worked as a senior producer for the Billy Graham Association and as a program director for a slew of radio stations, including WORD-FM and WPIT-AM in Pittsburgh.
In 2009, he began doing voiceover full-time.
Now, Souer is a resource for the field. On his blog, bobsouer.com/blog, he highlights the work of his peers, offers his own insights and helps people connect.
Fellow voiceover artist and friend Rowell Gormon said he's relied on Souer many times for guidance. He describes Souer's voice as “very solid, very friendly with a touch of authority but not so much that it puts anybody off.”
“He really enjoys telling a story,” said Gormon, of Raleigh, N.C. “He engages the ear. It's not just someone reading words in a nice voice.”
Souer and his wife Cinda have four children: Karen, 30, Eric, 22, David, 17, and Brian, 15. Eric helps edit his recorded copy, and Karen helps direct.
Cinda Souer, who studied vocal performance in college, said she can't get enough of her husband's “calm and collected” delivery.
“I melt just listening to him,” she said.
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.