Monday, 15th July 2024

Monday, 15th July 2024

Finding his voice: Nothing clicked till he became a voiceover artist

31 May 2024

Clutching a six-dollar mic and a dream, Mr Hagen Valerio took a chance on a major career change. . He knew he had gone off course till one day, he picked up a book that tipped him off to a career that was off his radar – voicing for commercials. He has tips for those still finding their career path.

You may not know him, but you most probably have heard him. From radio spots to YouTube ads to pre-movie commercials at the cinema, it is hard to miss Mr Hagen Valerio’s warm, rich timbre.

He is the voice behind a string of commercials that tempted you to buy a McDonalds Chicken McCrispy or drive away with a BMW 5 Series. 

The road to his unusual career has not been as smooth as his vocals, however.

Trained in chemical engineering, he spent a decade bouncing from job to unsatisfactory job before coming across the role of a voiceover artist at age 29. Suddenly, he felt like he knew what he was born to do.

Now 42, he says: “It’s not always easy, but as long as we have the courage to stay true to ourselves, we’ll find some way to enjoy the journey even through all the ups and downs.”

Dilemma over his choice of courses  

The “downs” first hit Mr Valerio at 16, when he received his O-level results.

Standing in the hall of Springfield Secondary School, he can still remember his anguish when he saw an F9 grade for Malay, his Mother Tongue. To apply to junior college, which was what he considered a natural next step, he needed at least a D7 grade.

The Singaporean, who is half-Filipino and half-Chinese, then considered what course he should sign up for at a polytechnic.

He recalled his English teacher encouraging him to join poetry competitions after she recognised his writing potential. It got him thinking about his strengths, which was his creativity and imagination, and how that could translate into a career in creative work.

He was tossing between a Mass Communications or Graphics Design programme, when his musician father consulted with some friends and advised him to pick chemical engineering because it promised a bright career. The boy didn’t like the sound of an engineering course but decided to respect his father’s wishes.

His father’s dreams were not his own

The three years of engineering studies were a struggle. After he graduated, the lucrative career that his father envisioned for him also failed to materialise.

After completing National Service, Mr Valerio job-hopped, never staying beyond two years at each stop as he sought to find his footing. He tried out many areas of work, from customer service officer and sales engineer, to flight attendant and technician.

What he did enjoy was to make his then-girlfriend (and now wife) laugh – by imitating voices from movie trailers and commercials.

One day, on a visit to the library, he picked up a book titled How to Make a Million Dollars with Your Voice (Or Lose Your Tonsils Trying) by Gary Owens and Jeff Lenburg. What an epiphany, that one could make money from voicing, the very thing he does so naturally!

As he read it, he was certain that voiceovers were something he could do, and could enjoy doing. By then, he was holding a comfortable job as an operations technician in an industrial gas firm, but “there was a void within me”, he says. “I felt like I was settling for less and not pushing myself further.”

So he decided to put his money where his mouth is, noting, “I had nothing to lose.”

With a $6 microphone he picked up, he started recording himself reading paragraphs from magazines and books on his laptop and emailed them to over 80 production houses and studios. Within weeks, he landed a handful of offers.

“After the first job, I just thought, wow. I earned in an hour what I was earning in a day,” he recalls.

After each trip to the studios, he’d take heed of feedback from the directors and producers and practise at home, on how to emote better and deliver to brief. He strived to sound natural, to convey the right tone and emotion, and not sound like he was reading off a script. All that work was interesting to him, even fun.

A year later, with his wife’s blessing, he quit his day job and switched to voiceover work full-time.

Mr Valerio with his wife and daughter.

‘No learning goes to waste’

To students who feel lost and aimless – like he did for many years – his advice is to “be patient and try different things”.

“You can’t be passionate about something you haven’t truly experienced,” he says, adding that it is more important to have a growth mindset. “The moment you stop trying to grow and develop is the moment you’ll actually start to fail, no matter where you are in your career.”

In an interesting twist, he found his engineering background useful when engaged to narrate more technical information, such as for videos related to the engineering or construction industries. He is also comfortable talking tech with the audio engineers who work on his sound recordings.

“Although it is a different field, the laws of mathematics and physics are all the same,” he explains. His engineering knowhow also came in handy when he was setting up his home recording studio during the pandemic.

Mr Valerio feels fortunate to have finally found his groove, and can count big names like Amazon, Citibank and Toyota among his clients.

Just because he enjoys his work doesn’t mean it’s a bed of roses every day. “But being driven by passion gives this journey a sense of purpose and meaning,” he says with a smile.