This week I have the pleasure of introducing not one, but two experts from Texas, who are an important part of the audio production world, Ray Schilens and Bruce Abbott, co-owners of Radio Lounge USA, a full-service audio production company that specializes in podcasts, voiceover, broadcasting, TV, radio and live events, among other things. As Ray puts it, “We were doing podcasting before it was even called podcasting”.
This week I have the pleasure of introducing not one, but two experts from Texas, who are an important part of the audio production world, Ray Schilens and Bruce Abbott, co-owners of Radio Lounge USA, a full-service audio production company that specializes in podcasts, voiceover, broadcasting, TV, radio and live events, among other things. As Ray puts it, “We were doing podcasting before it was even called podcasting.”
In this conversation, we talk about their interesting careers and they also offer key advice for presenting our demos and the importance of being authentic in our work field. They also share with us some of the ways in which they’ve created strong bonds with clients for years, where they have earned much respect and always make clients feel comfortable. They point out that we as artists and communicators must do something that is relevant, that moves the needle and changes the world.
Ray is currently the host of Ad Speaks Houston, the podcast and radio program that promotes the programs and people behind the American Ad Federation in Houston. Bruce Abbott has provided all types of voice overs and narration for the past 20 years for many big brand companies like Hewlett-Packard, Pearson Education, Verizon, Nickelodeon, Chevron, Google, Schlumberger, among others. He and Ray are also co-hosts of Feel the Ad Love, a podcast about all things advertising and marketing, featuring great guests and stories.
You can find Ad speaks and Feel the Ad Love, as well as information about their coaching and demo production services at:
**Visit www.nickymondellini.com to learn more about actress, voice-over artist, and TV host Nicky Mondellini.
Nicky is an international performer with over thirty years in the entertainment business. Her voice can be heard on national TV and radio campaigns, as well as digital platforms around the world.
Her on-screen work includes over 13 Mexican soap operas, classical and contemporary theater, feature and short films, as well as daytime TV hosting. She has been hosting and producing the podcast La Pizarra con Nicky Mondellini since April 2020.
Alan Villatoro: This is La Pizarra, a place where we explore creative minds in the entertainment industry on both sides of the mic and the camera. Here is your host, Nicky Mondellini.
Nicky Mondellin…: Welcome to another episode of La Pizarra. My name is Nicky Mondellini and we are still going on with season six. And today, I’m very, very excited because I’m going to be talking to a couple of dear friends and colleagues. And we have collaborated over the years. We’re all in the sweetest town in Texas, as Ray would say, which is Sugar Land, Texas. And well, they are experts on both sides of the camera and the mic. Their names are Ray Schilens and Bruce Abbott, and they are co-owners of Radio Lounge USA, a full-service audio production company that specializes in podcasts, voiceover, and anything of audio production for broadcasting, TV and radio and live events and many other things.
So I am very happy to be doing this interview also because Ray was one of the first people that actually told me or suggested that I do a podcast. And I had the pleasure of being a guest on their podcast, Feel the Ad Love! which I’m going to link to on the show notes. So I’m very happy to bring this full circle now and have them on the show. So without further ado, we will start this wonderful interview.
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As president and partner of Radio Lounge, Ray’s commitment to quality media has earned him much respect by his contemporaries. And overseeing all facets of broadcast production facility and organizational creative think tank, Ray has vast experience in various areas of advertising, marketing and business leadership. Ray’s extensive background includes broadcast programming and creative services management in Detroit, Houston, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale. His combination of creativity, dedication to quality, which I can attest to, and his strength in client relationships has driven his successful career. Ray is currently the host of Ad Speaks Houston, the podcast and radio program that promotes the programs and people behind the American Ad Federation in Houston. Ray is also a board member of the AAF Houston, and he is also the co-host of Feel the Ad Love! And if that wasn’t enough, Ray is also a licensed pilot. And now we will talk about Bruce.
Bruce Abbott has provided all types of voiceovers and narration for the past 20 years for a lot of big brand companies like HP, so Hewlett-Packard, Pearson Education, Verizon, Nickelodeon, Chevron, Google, Schlumberger, CBS Television and Radio, and hundreds more. And he’s also the co-owner of Radio Lounge, as I mentioned before. And well, Radio Lounge is, like I said, it’s a full production and sound design company. And they provide everything from coaching and production to high-end voiceover demos as well, and they do a phenomenal job. And he is the co-host of Feel the Ad Love! podcast. Now, we will talk about other special things and little secrets that you guys maybe haven’t heard about from Bruce and Ray, but for now I’m just going to give them a huge welcome. And guys, thank you so much for being guests on La Pizarra. I’m so happy you’re joining me today.
Ray Schilens: It’s wonderful. And I’m so happy for you that you’re doing this as well and doing it well. Well, you do everything over the top great.
Nicky Mondellin…: Thank you so much.
Ray Schilens: But again, I think it’s kind of comical. We’re people with microphones hanging over our heads, sitting in phone booths, talking to each other from around the country.
Nicky Mondellin…: I think it’s a wonderful thing.
Ray Schilens: Yeah, you’re doing great at this, Nicky. This is good.
Nicky Mondellin…: Oh, thank you so much. Thank you. I mean, you have been one of my mentors and so I’m kind of nervous. I’m like, “Oh, I have to be perfect today,” but if I’m not-
Ray Schilens: No, you don’t. No, let’s not be perfect today. Okay? Let’s just be us. Don’t you think, Bruce? I think we should be you and me and Nicky.
Bruce Abbott: You know? That’s all we can be.
Nicky Mondellin…: Just relax. Well, I’m going to jump in with a few-
Ray Schilens: Go ahead. Go ahead, Nicky.
Nicky Mondellin…: Okay. Sorry for interrupting. I’m just going to jump ahead with a few questions because I have many things that I want to ask you and others that you will obviously just talk about on your own, which is amazing. Well, the first thing is, Ray, as a licensed pilot, that you’ve been flying all over, trying to find the perfect burger joint, what have you found? I want to know that because we live in the same town and so…
Ray Schilens: Oh, there are so many places to go. And it’s funny you mentioned that. I’m in the process of buying an airplane. And some people… You would say, wow, but they’re not as expensive as we think they are. And the freedom of flight is so amazing. It’s like you’re in a different place. And especially on a day like today here in Houston, we have blue skies. It’s called [inaudible 00:07:27] clear invisibility. That’s the feeling. And it takes you to a different place. And I’m sure that everybody has something that they do, I know Bruce loves the ocean, when you’re there, you’re there and you’re nowhere else.
And that’s the cool part about flying. Also, sharing the love of aviation is a fun thing too, as well. I was involved with the civil air patrol for many years and just about to get back involved here in Sugar Land with them as well. But again, sharing that passion and sharing all of the cool vibes that go along with that. Bruce’s son Shane has a love and an interest in that area as well. And he’s now part of civil air patrol.
Bruce Abbott: Oh yeah. He’s part of the civil air patrol here in this [inaudible 00:08:10] airport. Yeah.
Nicky Mondellin…: That’s amazing.
Ray Schilens: So flight is wonderful. It was a gift. My wife, back in the seventies, when I got my license, she goes, “You better do this now because you won’t be able to later. We’ll be too busy.” And she was right. So because of her, I am a pilot. By the way, we’re recording this one day prior to my 51st wedding anniversary. That’s a factoid.
Nicky Mondellin…: Congratulations. Wow.
Ray Schilens: I know. So we’re gone 51 years now, the 26th.
Nicky Mondellin…: Oh, wow. Really cool. That is amazing.
Ray Schilens: So a lot of great things. And you’ve met Catherine before and you know what an incredible person she is.
Nicky Mondellin…: She’s a lovely, lovely lady. Yes. You guys have an amazing family, wonderful kids and grandkids. So yes. Yeah.
Ray Schilens: An inspiration, always a cheerleader, always a supporter, and always…
Nicky Mondellin…: Have you taken her on an airplane? I mean, does she like to fly as well? Yeah?
Ray Schilens: Not as much as I do, but there again, that’s an indicator of her selfless demeanor. She makes sure that other people have the opportunity to do things that they enjoy. So I think that’s part of the formula of longevity, 51 years. You look out for the other person and make sure they’re [inaudible 00:09:30]
Nicky Mondellin…: That is amazing.
Ray Schilens: So that’s the marriage part of Nicky’s podcast today.
Bruce Abbott: [inaudible 00:09:40]
Ray Schilens: That’s a real long answer to the airplane question.
Bruce Abbott: Welcome to marriage and family counseling.
Ray Schilens: Well, you know what’s funny about counseling, and talking about voice coaching and everything? It really is not here, it’s up here. And what we find is the people that come to Radio Lounge for voice coaching, it’s more of a psychology thing than anything else. Of course, we teach the business of voiceover and craft, the attributes that lead to being a successful voice actor. More importantly, and every time it happens over and over and over again, it’s like, I feel so good about myself. I realize that I can do something that I didn’t think I could do. So it’s more in the head than any place else.
Nicky Mondellin…: I agree. I totally agree. And you produce amazing demos. And talking about that, and in the process of that, because I know people always look for a good demo producer and if they have them already, then they want to update them or people who are just starting out. And what things do you recommend, or things that you have seen that are important to put in demos now that maybe you didn’t see a few years ago?
Ray Schilens: Bruce, do you want me to take this or do you want to take this?
Bruce Abbott: Well, I think that yes, you have to be aware of the current trends. Obviously, voice acting and delivery is very different now than it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. I mean, definitely, just look at how the styles have changed. But I think also, you look at the trends outside of voiceover where things like authenticity, transparency. When you’re an actor, whether you’re on camera or you are behind a microphone, yes, you can take on other characters, if that’s the word I’m looking for. But when it comes down to it, you’re yourself. That’s all you can be.
I do a lot of work in corporate and e-learning and I just come at it with the approach of, I’m me. I’m not somebody else. I’m not whatever. So I am that person that is sitting at the computer or maybe the front of the room, teaching this person who is taking, let’s say, an e-learning course that their job requires it or they’re taking it to achieve some upgrade in their job or something like that. And the demos, they reflect that too, is that when you pull up a demo, you don’t necessarily want to have the demo producer’s stamp on it. You want that to be just the vehicle. All we’re doing is providing the vehicle for the best of the best and that person’s authenticity to stand out. And I think that’s where, before they really had to be glorious and wonderful. I mean, they still have to be great, don’t get me wrong. You can’t be stumbling and mumbling. You have to [inaudible 00:13:05] But it’s that whole idea of it’s natural now, it’s more organic.
Nicky Mondellin…: I totally agree. I definitely think trends have become so much more that whenever you see the specs for any auditions coming in, they push for that so much more than ever before. Before, it used to be, oh yes, we just want it to be conversational. That’s not a word that is being used as much right now. They just want authenticity. They do not want it to sound like an announcer.
Ray Schilens: An announcer, yeah. Authenticity is connectivity as well. And as far as the individualistic approach to demos. And we’ve seen this by some of our competitors, they’ll allow the talent to pick the content, which is totally wrong. How we approach both coaching and both the demo production is it’s almost like going to your favorite store and you look on the rack and you go, “Huh? I wonder what that would look like on me,” or whatever. All of the things that we use are a good fit for the voice actor. It has to be that way. You have to fit the brand. You have to fit the style delivery and such. And we do that through the process of coaching, and what we do, it’s a process of fine tuning and discovering, fine tune, discover, fine tune, discover. And then launch with a demo as a kind of a graduation exercise. So the content has to fit the voice actor and you can’t make a voice actor be somebody who they are not.
Many of these voice actors want to be anime people as well. It’s like, okay, can you really, really, really do that? And we find sometimes that, no, you can’t do that. Or you need to go and get further training, possibly some acting and such and maybe some improv or something to kind of build that. But for the most part, the demo, the process of the coaching and the demo is a good fit. When it’s done, it fits the person and it looks good and feels good on them, because everybody, and you guys know this, we are all very specific in our DNA in terms of who we are and what we can do. And as soon as we realize that and understand that we can operate very well in that circle.
Nicky Mondellin…: And has it happened to you guys? Sorry to interrupt, Bruce. But has it happened to you that some people that come to you to look for a demo, they want a demo produced in a genre that, as you say, Ray, it probably doesn’t fit them well? Or people that really want to jump into it without having to go through the coaching process. They just want to speed things up. And we know that in the business, sadly, there’s companies that are what we call demo mills. But I know that with you guys, integrity and attention to detail and quality comes first and then you don’t end up producing something for someone who is not ready for it. And I think that part of coaching and getting to know the voice actor before you jump into the demo is so, so important.
Ray Schilens: Yes, it is.
Bruce Abbott: That’s the thing, is it really depends on the voice actor. It depends on where they are in their career. We had the pleasure of doing a demo of yours, Nicky, and that was one where you came to us, you knew exactly what you wanted. You are at a certain status of voice acting. So at that point, it’s getting your vision, and matched with our expertise and kind of putting it all together. At that point, we’re not having to train you in what you were about to do. You knew what you wanted, you knew exactly, and it was just a matching of the demos. And so what we have in certain situations, there’s times where we’ve said, No, we’re not going to do that. We’re not going go and just take your money for it.”
Because we know that, in other words, there’s the demo and then there’s everything after the demo. And the demo is just part of your calling card, it’s like your business card. And so we don’t want to put something out there that you’re not going to be able to take and effectively get work and have success with that. We do coaching in a lot of different areas, but there’s some areas that we don’t. And so there are some areas where we will say, “Hey, maybe look, at here are some of our favorite coaches in this particular genre.”
And so we’ll kind of guide them if we need to. But ultimately, they have to feel like, okay, well, what I got was of value. And we have to be able to, just with integrity, say, hey, we brought out the best in you. Sometimes that takes a while of training and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we come in and we get some pros that come in and we just work together and bam, I mean, they just knock it out of the park. It’s awesome. So it varies, but that’s the key, as you said, it’s knowing the talent. It’s knowing that person. It’s the psychology of it.
Ray Schilens: Everything that we do bears our name. Therefore, if we do a demo for you, it’s got our name on it or our fingerprints and we need to make sure that that demo is good. Let me give you a couple of examples of folks. There was a gentleman who came in who was high on the autism scale, but I wanted to see what we can do and make that happen. I had to think about that for a while, think about the best way to approach that. And you know what we got there? And it was a big victory for him and for us as well. Another gentleman came in who he opened his mouth and he was Morgan Freeman. And it was like he didn’t try, he opened his mouth and it was Morgan Freeman.
But the problem is, he had trouble reading. So instead of doing voice coaching, we did reading lessons and got him to a more comfortable place so that when he was in the booth, he could actually perform and do that. So you approach things from all different ways. And there are some people that we say, go get that improv, go get that acting before we can do something. There are also, and I’ll equate this to golf, if you golf, you develop bad habits. If you’re a disc jockey, you’ve developed bad habits. So what we have to do is we have to break those bad habits, and that does not happen overnight. And some people are resistant to change with those bad habits and don’t really get that.
But that’s a process as well. So there are so many little things that we do that are so important. But going back to what I said before, again, whoever comes through Radio Lounge as a coaching student or a demo client, they are wearing our name and we have to make sure that what we’ve done is make them feel good, that we’ve made them accomplish something that they may not have thought of, or given them something that is worth worthy of their talent. So that’s really important. We’re the opposite end of the demo mill and that’s a good thing.
Bruce Abbott: And just to add on, tag onto the end of that, we also believe in, when we do these demos, we’re obviously, we’re helping, we’re guiding the talent in the recording process. We don’t do tricks. We don’t do production tricks, the tactics to make somebody sound different than who they are. We want to present something that if that person goes into a session, they can replicate that live with a client. And we’ve been on both sides of the glass for many years. We’ve been in the booth, we’ve been on the production side.
We have been in some uncomfortable recording situations where we’ve got clients and an ad agency behind us. We’ve got a talent in the booth and they cannot replicate a specific read that they were hired to replicate.
Nicky Mondellin…: That’s a problem.
Bruce Abbott: And it was not pretty. And as the production component of that piece of the pie on that, and being a talent and a voiceover coach, all you could do is just cringe as this very uncomfortable situation took place. So that’s a thing too. And again, that goes back to that whole authenticity. Be who you are. You’re not…
Ray Schilens: [inaudible 00:21:50] the golden throat.
Bruce Abbott: No, that’s not true.
Nicky Mondellin…: Play to your strengths. That’s what you have to do. Yeah.
Bruce Abbott: Be you.
Ray Schilens: Yeah. And that’s the discovery process that we use for the coaching and for the demo. It’s like, we’re not trying to make you somebody different. You’ve got to be you. And there is a limitation to, depending upon where we are at in our voiceover career, of what we can do. And we take that person to that place. And I think reinforcement, positivity, there are some coaches out there, I will not name who they are, that are very, very, very tough to work with because of their demeanor and the way that their coaching style. And that’s not us, we don’t do that. We play to the person on the upside, the positivity side. And that’s so important. So, so important.
Nicky Mondellin…: Exactly. I want to segue-way now into podcasting because that is also something that you guys do very well, not only because of your own podcast, but also producing other people’s podcasts. And so what is it that you do in specific to let people know if they’re ready also to start doing a podcast? What are the things that you tell them when a client approaches you and all that? Because it’s hard specifically for people that are not voiceover artists, but that have a very genre specific thing or very niche kind of area that they work in or a type of service they provide for a company. And they’re thinking, oh yeah, this is great for our branding and we want to start a podcast. But it’s hard for them to actually go ahead and do that. How do you coach them?
Bruce Abbott: That’s an interesting question. Because first off, I think of podcast as websites. When websites first came out, everybody needed a website. They didn’t know what to do with it, but they needed a website. Got to have one because everybody else has one. So I think the most important thing with podcasting is why do you want to do this? What do you want to accomplish here? And the folks who want to make a lot of money doing podcasting, good luck with that. That doesn’t happen. The companies who-
Ray Schilens: It does, it’s just-
Nicky Mondellin…: It can do, but it’s not the norm.
Ray Schilens: It can.
Bruce Abbott: But yeah, there are some out there.
Ray Schilens: It’s not a pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow, so to speak. And the second thing is, do you have a plan? Do you have a plan for this podcast? Think of it as a weekly television show or something like that, a 26 week. Can you give me a 26 week commitment to doing this? Because if you can’t, don’t waste your time. We are not an inexpensive place to do a podcast. There are podcast places out there for they’re doing like 35 bucks an hour. It’s like, I don’t think so. And the problem is they were in a former life, something else and they’re trying to catch onto this podcast phase, so they plop a couple of microphones on a table and then say they’re podcast people. Podcasting is broadcasting. The core of podcasting has come from NPR and such like that, where you do in-depth conversations about stuff.
And if you can do that, that’s really good. So our experience in broadcast, both Bruce and I coming from broadcast, that’s a real important element. We are not just a studio that used to produce music last week that now decided we want to do podcasts. This is where we come from. And this is the important element. So the question is, what do you want to sell? You’re not going to make a lot of money going out of the chute with this thing. What do you want to do? And the other thing that we try to help us shy away from is don’t be stupid and be controversial with profanity and dumb things just because you want to show off to your buds at the bar. Do something that is relevant, that moves the needle and changes the world. If you want to do that, then we can help you, because it’s so much more than just sitting in the podcast studio here and pushing record and letting you do a podcast. It’s got to be meaningful and you got to have a plan.
Bruce Abbott: I think I look at it a little bit different, but I think that there is a… We were talking earlier about authenticity and connection. And Ray was talking about the language there. We have a specific client that we have in mind who is really trying to be the community person, loved by the community kind of thing, family, all this stuff like that, but has a little bit of a hard time watching language on their podcast. So you’re not going to get a lot of family listenership.
Nicky Mondellin…: Exactly.
Ray Schilens: What do you think?
Bruce Abbott: However, it depends on your listeners. It depends on the content. It depends on the situation. I mean, I listen to podcasts that sometimes may have a language type thing in there, but it’s content that’s relevant to me and what I’m looking for. And that’s the thing. The thing about podcasting is, and just to dovetail from what Ray was saying, why are you doing it? What is it? Who are you doing it for? And is there a connection? And as you know, podcasts now range from the most incredibly broad general topics, it could be relationships or family or parenting, to the most minute, niche, thumb tacks or something. But there’s that understanding of why you want to do it and also understanding that there is a certain quality level that you really need to meet, because you can have great information but if it’s hard to listen to… I have a truck that has a stereo system and part of it’s a subwoofer and stuff, and it’s just like, it’s amazing all the plosives that… And you’re trying to listen to this thing sometimes.
Ray Schilens: Good point, good point. Yeah.
Bruce Abbott: That becomes, after a while, you’re just like, errr. Now I don’t know, that may be just the voice guy in me.
Ray Schilens: No, that’s a really good point, Bruce. That’s a really, really good point. Quality, quality.
Bruce Abbott: And quality. And it can be any kind of distraction. It can be a content distraction. It could be something where you’re so busy trying to make money on it where every other sentence is some kind of affiliate push, or whatever. So it really is this whole concept of you’re really just making a connection. You’re making a connection and you want to make that connection frictionless in as many ways as you can. You want it to have this feel like just you and the host and the guests are sitting at the table together.
Ray Schilens: Just like we’re doing now. Exactly.
Bruce Abbott: Just like we’re doing now.
Ray Schilens: Hey, I wanted to bring up something too that we didn’t talk about for years. We were doing podcasting before it was called podcasting. We were actually working with our good friends at Enron, uh-oh, and we were doing a thing, it was a telephony-based program first where you “push one to listen to things going on in Buenos Aires,” or whatever. And then it went to, when they got bandwidth, we put it on the intranet then. So we did the Enron thing, but then we started doing The Advertising Show, Bruce and I were affiliated with Brad Forsythe with The Advertising Show. And we started out on the radio then we went to Sirius XM and then we were syndicated and everything. And finally it came to a point where it’s like, well, why don’t we just be on the internet? This is 2001 we started this show. And we were getting toward the end there 50,000 listens a month on The Advertising Show, which is kind of weird because it was a two-hour show. Who has two hours to sit around?
Bruce Abbott: There was no iPod yet. And especially no smartphones where all of a sudden, you can subscribe and the latest episode just pops into your… So these were people that they’d get on an email list and when that email newsletter would come out every week and they’d click on and listen to the episode. And by the time that show came to a close was just about the time where the iPhone comes out, the built-in podcast. And then obviously the term podcast had kind of been bounced around a little bit. But it was kind of funny that by the time that show came to an end, then everything just went boom and exploded.
Nicky Mondellin…: Flooded so much.
Ray Schilens: I think we’re taking full responsibility for podcasting. Just like, what was it, Gore took responsibility for developing the internet. We are taking responsibility for podcasting, birthing that.
Nicky Mondellin…: And what do you think of your-
Bruce Abbott: Steve Jobs and I, we were-
Nicky Mondellin…: And what do you think about it now? So many people, I think a number that’s been thrown there about 700,000 podcasts out there, or do you think there’s more?
Ray Schilens: Yeah. Oh, sure there’s more.
Bruce Abbott: I’m not sure, but there’s probably more.
Ray Schilens: Well, we’ll see who comes through the door today with a podcast idea. That would be 700,001 or 2 or whatever.
Nicky Mondellin…: And we are back with some technical difficulty there, but I’m happy we could reconnect and just go on.
Ray Schilens: No, actually, Nicky, I went out for coffee, so I apologize for that.
Nicky Mondellin…: And Bruce, you probably had also a run to…
Bruce Abbott: I went to the beach.
Nicky Mondellin…: Oh, nice.
Bruce Abbott: Yeah. If I look a little more sunburned there, I was just…
Ray Schilens: Actually, he can dive out of his second story window into his pool, so that’s truer than you might expect.
Nicky Mondellin…: Well, there you go. Because your booth is on a second floor?
Bruce Abbott: Yeah. I have to tell a great story.
Ray Schilens: Oh, this is a wonderful story.
Bruce Abbott: Okay. So for any voice actors that are out there and you’re looking at a booth. Okay. So Craigslist. Okay. I’m inside one of the… I think it’s vocalbooths.com, their silver series. So they’re like, I don’t know, 7,000 or something like that on their website. And I was looking-
Ray Schilens: That’s in home there, buddy.
Bruce Abbott: Yeah. So I was looking at… My camera’s mounted or else I would show you around the place. So anyway, I was looking on Craigslist one time and I see a… So there was a logistics company that had leftover stuff from a trade show. And there was a booth and it was wrapped, and it was actually vinyl wrapped in whatever that client was for the trade show. And it had this big metal sign on the top of it and stuff like that. And they were offering it for 1,800 bucks, and they were out of Dallas.
And so for those people who are not in the Texas area, so Dallas is probably about a four and a half hour drive from the Houston area. So about 200 something, 250 whatever miles. So we contact them and offer them $1,000 for it. I’m like, well, I can’t offer $1,000 for… I mean, this is a $7,000 booth. They’re already asking 1,800. So I offer $1,000 and then they said, sure. So now, here’s the problem. I got to get it down here. And if you own a vocal booth, you know the walls are 400 pounds or whatever.
So yeah, so they’re a logistics company. So I paid them like $400. They put the thing on the back of a truck with some guys, drove it down from Dallas to a suburb here of Houston. One of my neighbors owns a moving company. So I hired a couple of his big dudes, and they literally helped us bring these pieces up a flight of stairs to the room-
Ray Schilens: My suggestion on that, by the way. It’s like, I’m not lugging this upstairs. No way.
Bruce Abbott: And they held the walls while we put the screws in and everything. When all was said and done, it cost me about $1,800 or so for a $7,000 booth. So be creative, watch Craigslist.
Nicky Mondellin…: Be practical and do a little detective work.
Bruce Abbott: Yeah. You never know what kind of things. And I tell you what, as with many other talent and stuff, I mean, this is an essential piece of tool because your room sound and everything like that is so important. And I can be doing work while there’s all this stuff going on outside and it doesn’t stop me like it used to years and years and years ago.
Ray Schilens: Nicky can relate the same way. Do like Bruce. Do like Bruce and Ray. Well, you forgot a part of the story, because the booth arrives, it is threatening rain here in Houston. And it arrives in the driveway on casters and it’s too tall to roll into the garage. So Bruce and I are there trying to take these 200 pound walls down before the rain comes. We did that. We actually beefed it up a little bit as well, because it is a good vocal booth, but it wasn’t a great one. We put vinyl mask material on the outside with Green Glue and we added a nice layer of indoor-outdoor carpeting to make it look really spiffy on the outside.
Bruce Abbott: But well, the outside was pretty rough because what they did was for logistics and legality and stuff, they stripped all the vinyl wrapping from the outside, which was a major telecommunications brand that’s three letters that’s ends with T&T. So they had to by law take all of that blank T&T vinyl wrap off of the outside.
Ray Schilens: And don’t forget about the big metal sign that was on top promoting it.
Bruce Abbott: Yeah. There was a huge metal sign with their logo on there that I took to the local scrap metal shop and got like $150 for it.
Nicky Mondellin…: And you even made money off of that.
Ray Schilens: No, it was a good deal. Yeah. Don’t be afraid to offer-
Bruce Abbott: Be creative, be creative.
Ray Schilens: Yeah. People will sell stuff for less than it actually should be sold for and I have no problem with that. Well, Nicky, look at your place now. You’ve invested heavily in a booth. We were talking about actually building a booth.
Nicky Mondellin…: Yes. You remember that? You came here, you helped me make my case with my husband. Because he’s like, okay, looking at the prices of the booths. And he’s like, “Oh, there’s no way we can spend that much,” or whatever. Let’s just build one. Maybe it costs us half the money to build that or whatever. And we were going to hire a contractor who had zero idea of what a audio booth is. He’s like, “Oh yeah, let’s just hang it from the ceiling or whatever.” I mean, he had no idea.
Ray Schilens: There were a couple of language barriers there, Nicky.
Nicky Mondellin…: Yeah, that too.
Ray Schilens: One was me trying to speak to a person who speaks fluent Spanish, and the other one was he not really understanding what we were trying to accomplish. So your husband discovered that. And the next thing you know, we’re ordering your studio bricks or studio blocks, whatever it’s called. What is it called again?
Nicky Mondellin…: Yes. Which came here. Yeah. Yeah. Studio bricks, which came here right when lockdown started. And I was so worried that it wouldn’t get here on time, because I’m like, well, the country is shutting down. The whole country is shutting down. I’m not going to get my booth. I was really in despair. But then… I mean, not then, but studio breaks or someone that they hired to transport, they say “Ma’am, yes, deliveries will still happen even if the country is shutting down, don’t worry. We still need to deliver things so you will get your booth.” And so that made me calm down. But then instead of having more people that I wanted to help me out and build it, because you couldn’t be in touch with anybody else.
Ray Schilens: No. You did the right thing.
Nicky Mondellin…: So my son that was here, luckily, my 6’5″ son who is pretty athletic and strong, helped us, and between me and my husband and my daughter as well. And we only had a little mishap. So the door, which is a double glass door, fell on his toe and he lost a fingernail. I’m glad he didn’t break his toe, but yes. So that’s a heavy door to be falling on your foot.
Ray Schilens: Yeah. Here’s the other thing. There are some of these places that are selling, for way too much money, as far as I’m concerned, some PVC with some moving blankets hanging on it on grommets. It’s like, you have got to be kidding me. First of all, you can go to Home Depot and you can buy moving blankets. There are some folks, one of the guys who was here, what I had him do is put furring strips. Again, this is not soundproof. You’re controlling the sound with PVC or with the blanket.
Bruce Abbott: The difference between sound absorption versus sound.
Ray Schilens: Yeah. And people don’t get that. I’m going to put foam up on the wall and I’m not going to hear the lawn guys. Well, that’s not true. But what we had them do, and this one guy did a great job, furring strips on the top and the bottom and then simply stapling moving blankets with kind of an undulation on the walls. He put it on the walls, the ceiling. And it’s a great vocal booth because you’re creating that sound… Not a sound barrier, but allowing the sound to go through the blanket into the wall, you’re effectively creating a wall trap. Right behind me, these are wall traps. This is Roxul insulation and they’re just stopping the reflection. And this is Studio B, this is our voice coaching studio, this is our source connect studio as well. And it’s tainted and you can’t see above me, but there’s also clouds that we have hung.
And when you’ve got a vocal booth, whether you’ve got Bruce’s or Nicky’s vocal booth, you’re in a better place. Is it completely soundproof? No, it’s not. The anechoic chamber at NASA is the only completely soundproof booth. And wouldn’t that be nice to have one of those? But no. But the thing is, when people are getting into voiceover, the thing that we don’t want to see them do is to buy every gadget that’s out there that somebody said, “Well, this’ll probably work. This’ll stop sound.”
There’s a big foam basketball that people, I won’t say the name, that say you put it over the end of the microphone and it’s going to make it a great vocal experience. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. So you got to be smart when you’re getting into VO. And a lot of these people who are getting into VO, don’t spend money like crazy. Don’t go out and buy expensive 416s or 87s or something like that. Get into it comfortably, be smart. You’re starting a business. You got to have the right tools, of course, and you’ve got to have the right space. We’ve sent many people into their closets because a closet is a great vocal booth with all of the clothes hanging there and such. But in the case of Bruce, if you can get a good deal on a vocal booth, go do it. In your case, you needed this. You are a professional voice actor and you need a good professional space to work and thrive. But you also made that decision well into your career. This is after you had done this for many, many years.
Nicky Mondellin…: Exactly. Yes, I’ve had it for three years now. But before that, I was recording in the room with acoustic foam all around, which only helped me reduce the noise from the outside to about 50%. I could still hear the lawn guys. I could still hear the power washing, and boy, could I hear the power washing. But yes, so the next step up was that. So what I had to do before is just record when there was silence, stop when the garbage truck was going by, whatever. So there’s all of these interruptions, but ever since I’ve had the booth, I’ve been able to record whenever I need to record. And so that’s been a blessing.
Ray Schilens: If you’re doing a source connect session or you’ve got a client on with a digital phone patch or something there, you can’t stop. You have to think about the fact, what kind of bush league operation is this that we got to wait for the airplane to fly over? That happens as well. But it’s important that you present yourself professionally. You are a professional voice actor, present yourself that way. Another thing, Nicky, that we see sometimes, and you talked about SOVAS and the great conversations that we had with Rudy and Joan as well. And one thing that Bob Bergen said, “Show up, be nice, and stay late if you need to.” Be nice. And we’re finding, I’m dealing today with a voice actor. It’s like, “We need to get a spot done today. Can you please call me back?” And I’m hoping that this gentleman who will be doing this while [inaudible 00:44:31] doing that.
You gotta be available for people and you have to respond professionally. And I’m hoping after we’re done with this podcast that I’ve got an email from him that we’re good to go, because, again, it’s our reputation on the line for bringing somebody to the table. We’ve had voice actors show up late for sessions sometimes. “Oh, there was a train,” or “Traffic was horrible.” You know what? Figure that out before you get to the session and come prepared to be a professional at the session. And I think that again is part of the coaching process, teaching them to be a professional. It’s no different than when you hire the guys to come fix your plumbing. They put the booties on when they come in your house so they don’t make your house dirty. Little things like that go a long way.
Nicky Mondellin…: They go a long way. And you also, I think, both of you guys have a very good way of dealing with talking to clients. We’ve been in sessions there at Radio Lounge where I just can see how clients are so comfortable with you because you make them feel at home right away. And I just want to point that out because it’s not easy. Sometimes clients ask for very specific things that can’t always be done. And whenever they present something, you guys find the solution right away, and you make everyone feel at ease. And so talk to me about some of the ways that you have that and the ways that you’ve developed that in talking to clients and just doing that, just making them feel comfortable. And they trust you. And you guys have had clients for years and years that they know they come to you, they know they’re going to get quality and that you’re going to deliver. So how do you create that trust?
Ray Schilens: It’s a relationship thing. It’s really no different. You’ve got to, when the people who come in here, whether they’re a voice actor or an agency or a client, a direct client or something, they need to understand that you are there for them. You are there to respect their wishes and give them good guidance. We’ve had many clients, a local chain of hospitals here, that rely on us to coach the talent, even though they are the connection point between the talent and the product, because they understand that, well, Radio Lounge, they just got this way with people. They can make the talent feel good, feel comfortable and understand the importance of giving a great performance.
So it’s a level of respect, but it’s all about, as with anything in life, it’s all about the relationships. Do they trust you? Do they believe in what you do? And in the setting here, Nicky, and you’ve been here before, you understand that. It’s first of all, professional, and second of all, it’s a relaxed environment. It’s called the Radio Lounge. It’s an appropriate name for this place because that’s what happens here. You come in here, you’re going to do a good job because you feel good about your environment. And there’s no level of frustration for a talent and/or for an agency or a direct client. So relationships, I think, are the key here.
Bruce Abbott: I think, in addition to that, it is relationships being both sides of the glass, being both talent at times, and then being both producers at times. You get really good at recognizing situations too. So you start to get, for example, if you are working and you’ve got a client in an agency and you’re doing the production part of this, you can tell when a voice talent is starting to get frazzled. And so you know that, you’ve been in those situations before. We’ve been in many voiceover sessions that just go smooth as silk. And we’ve also been in some of those voiceover sessions where, I mean, they really ran you through your paces. And so we try to bring some of that experience, because we can start to tell where it’s a law of diminishing returns.
So there are times where we see a client and sometimes they may be somebody new at an agency, they’re not used to directing talent. And we can see that what is happening here is you guys are starting to push the talent into uncomfortable territory and this is only just going to start spiraling downhill. So at that point, that’s where having that relationship with those clients and having the relationship with that, so we’re able to, “Hey, you know what we’ve seen work? Let’s try this.” And, “Oh, okay.” And a lot of times we’re able to salvage that. And that’s just one particular situation, but those personality types too. In other words, Ray and I are pretty easy going personality types and so we tend to connect well, not only with clients and agencies, but also because we’re also talent, we can connect to the talent. We’ve been in their shoes.
And so we know the types of things that give them creature comforts that are helpful in situations. So, we do that year in and year out. I was looking at this the other day, Ray and I have been working together as a team here for 32 years. And you start to read people, like there are times we can be in a session or something, and I’m the talent and Ray’s the producer, and there may be something. And all I have to do is look at him a certain way and he can read my mind like a book. And that also happens with some of our clients. We have some of our clients that we’ve had for 25 years now. And so it just gets to a point where if we think that there’s something that can be done that improves it or improves the scenario or something like that, they’re open to that. They’re like, “Okay, you guys, we trust you on this.” And it just takes that, you have to build that trust.
Ray Schilens: I’m going to tag onto that as well. There are a couple of types of directors that come from either direct clients or agencies. Some that don’t know what they really want. They know they’re not getting what they want, but then they don’t know how to really demonstrate what they want, which is very confusing. And that’s many times in a session if we’ve got somebody in the booth and we see that they’re getting confused and not good direction, we will take over and make some gentle, persuasive suggestions on how to do things. And a lot of times, you might have the perfect take on the first take, but well, “We’re paying a lot of money for this person. We got to get more than one take.” So we’ll do it and do it again, until the agency or the client is happy with that. But you have to keep the voice actor calm and composed and confident.
And you have to make sure that you don’t cross the line as the relationship goes with the agency or the director or whatever. One of the things that we talk about here in the coaching sessions is some of the folks come in, “Well, what if I said it this way instead?” It’s like, okay, sitting over there, directing this session is the person, the copywriter, that they paid a whole bunch of money for to come up with this copy. They are not interested in your opinion of how it could be better. Shut up and read the copy. And come prepared as well. That’s another thing. So many times people come into a session and they will not know the right name of the product, the right name of the city. It’s like, shouldn’t you have done your homework before you come to this session?
Now that doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen occasionally. And that’s something that we teach as part of the coaching process, is: Be prepared. We do a lot for the Houston Symphony. And there are so many names out there of guest artists and composers and conductors and such like that. So you go to YouTube and you hear a couple of iterations of how they actually say the person’s name. And most of the time, Bruce, I think we get it right. There are times when we’ll have to redo something, but we try. And again, there’s that level of respect, the relationship thing with our clients. They believe that at the end, they’re going to get something good out of Radio Lounge or out of the voice actors and both of us and the people that we bring through here. So that’s an important thing that we do as well.
Nicky Mondellin…: Yeah. Can you guys talk a little bit about that great series that you did on SOVAS? Because I think those episodes were just phenomenal. On Feel the Ad Love!
Ray Schilens: Those were fun.
Nicky Mondellin…: And you had Rudy Gaskins and Joan Baker and also Joseph Cipriano and Bob Bergen and Debbe Hirata. Talk a little bit about how that started or whose idea it was to do that series. And it explains very well what the SOVAS are, the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences, how people get nominated or the voting process and the whole thing.
Ray Schilens: I love that. The fact that you are connected with that too is really cool. You were actually a recipient of an award or two, an award for [inaudible 00:54:46]
Nicky Mondellin…: Yes. In 2017. I’ve been nominated three times and then I got an award in 2017.
Ray Schilens: We met Joan and Rudy and we thought… Well, actually through Debbe. Debbe is on the board. That’s right, she’s on the board for SOVAS. Do you know that every coaching student that we have come through here, the very first thing we have them do is sign up for the SOVAS news letter? It’s free. You’re going to get a real good introduction to voiceover. And this is a great organization so go get that newsletter and start listening to that thing as well. But yeah, Debbe’s one of our voice actors on some commercials that we do here. And I said, “Debbe, can we do something to help promote the Voice Arts awards? Can we do a podcast where this is Feel the Ad Love?” She goes, “Oh yeah, that’d be wonderful.”
And it’s like, it’s a no-brainer. It’s like, yeah, we’re going to do it. So that’s how we hooked up with Joan and Rudy. And then people like Bergen and Cipriano. And of course we had Debbe on there as well. These are really, really good people and accomplished people in the voice acting field. So it was a lot of fun and it was just kind of a gift from Radio Lounge to the voiceover industry and to SOVAS and the things that they do. Let’s promote this event. I said, for the next six months, we’re going to do stuff to promote this event. And they said, sure, absolutely. And that’s what we did. Go ahead, Bruce.
Bruce Abbott: And I will say, being a voice actor, and I’ve listened to a ton of voiceover podcasts. And although this does seem biased…
Ray Schilens: Why not? Go for it.
Bruce Abbott: Those are some of the… Especially that Bob Bergen one, that Bob Bergen podcast, it has to be required listening for any voiceover artist, because not only does Bob tell a story, but we brought things out of Bob that I don’t think he intended us to bring out of him. And by the end of this, we were laughing so hysterically we could hardly breathe or speak. It was phenomenal. But the cool thing is, within all of the silliness that was happening and the laughter and the joking and all of this stuff, were these incredible pearls of wisdom, these nuggets of just voiceover gold within those. And it was just so much fun. And of course we were promoting the awards coming up at that time. And that was one of the most fun things I think in voiceover I’ve ever done, was those podcasts. We did just a few of them there, leading up to the event. I think we did, what, three or four coming up there? Five? So it’s required listening. I’m just saying that you have to.
Nicky Mondellin…: Yes, please. I’m going to link to that specific episode with Bob and then people can go back and listen to the others, but that’s definitely one of the ones they should listen to. Bruce, I wanted to ask you something about… I saw that you were reading Atomic Habits, and I heard an interview with… I forgot the name of the author, but he’s amazing.
Bruce Abbott: Is it James Clear?
Nicky Mondellin…: I think so. Yes, I think it is James Clear.
Bruce Abbott: Sometimes I get all confused in my head, so if I’m wrong, I apologize.
Nicky Mondellin…: How has that helped you? Has it made an impact on you? Has it helped you in any way in your career and your life?
Bruce Abbott: Yes, probably part of it, I am sometimes horrible at what I call discipline and commitment kind of thing. Some things I can be very disciplined on, but there’s some areas where I’m kind of like, [inaudible 00:59:07]. And I’m no different than probably 90% of everybody else, where it’s like, I go hot and cold. I’ll be very disciplined in some of the things I do and then I’ll end up somehow slacking off for a while and stuff. But I do believe that no matter what you do, whether you’re a voice actor or if you’re in a completely other field, never stop pushing for self-improvement, never stop trying to make yourself better. You mentioned Atomic Habits, and one of the things in that book is: be 1% better today than you were yesterday. Then by the time you accumulate a month or six months or a year, you’ve created incredible traction.
So whatever that may be, whether it’s habits, it could be marketing, it could be things specifically with voiceover, it could be performance, it could be coaching, it could be whatever, but just always be pushing for improvement, just always trying to do that. There was a big section of time where I really stepped away from voice acting per se, where it was like, I was just running the business side of things with the Radio Lounge and producing and doing all that stuff. And I’d do the occasional spot and everything, but I didn’t actively pursue the voice acting. And then when I decided that I was going to, I just started putting one foot in front of the other and trying to be a little bit better and do a little bit more and this and that. And sometimes it became almost an obsession and sometimes it would be very frustrating.
I’d bang my head against the wall because I wanted to improve in ways that it just wasn’t happening. But it’s just like anything else. It’s this thing where it’s peaks and valleys, but are you creating an upward trend? So no matter what it is, just be patient, be consistent. If consistency and discipline is a problem, learn how to try to be better in being disciplined in commitment and consistency, and then pursue some of these other areas. But I did, I loved that book. In fact, I’ve read it probably twice and I probably need to go back and read it again.
Nicky Mondellin…: But yes, we can definitely all do with little improvements. Atomic, meaning small ones, so that’s small steps that you can do every day and then just building up from there. Yeah.
Ray Schilens: I think that’s a really good way to put it as far as small steps go, because I think anytime you give yourself too lofty of a goal, you’re going to fall short and that’s going to discourage you. So little things make a big difference over time. And doing something daily, well, anything that you do as a repetitive thing builds good habits.
Nicky Mondellin…: Yeah, absolutely. Ray, how do you navigate the highs and lows of the business? I mean, not only as a production company, but also with all the other things that you do relating to the different areas of work that you do. And of course, there was a pandemic that was hard for all of us. But just as a general thing, this is a tough business with all those peaks and valleys, and so how do you navigate those?
Ray Schilens: Life is tough, isn’t it? And faith is at the forefront of my rock. And that’s how I get through the ups and downs. Basically, very simplistically, we do a thing in the morning as a family called sun up one. We do it as a family. And that is a prayer for strength and protection and such. And as long as you’ve got that foundation, you’re good, because days are going to suck and days are going to be sunshiny and blue skies and beautiful as well. But to get through the not so blue sky days, the rainy days, in my particular case, faith is the foundation. Very simplistically, nothing beyond that. And if you can reduce it to that, that’s a pretty good way to move forward. Don’t want to make anything too complex in life. You don’t want to second guess yourself. If you’ve got something you can lock onto that gives you good feelings, good vibes, and an opportunity to grow and be better, then that’s what you lock onto and you do that faithfully. So that’s my foundation.
Nicky Mondellin…: That is amazing and something that is a great bit of advice for all of us to follow. How can people find you when they’re interested in doing a new demo or starting a podcast or getting some coaching? Where can people log onto?
Ray Schilens: We’re in the yellow pages under demo. What? Oh, wait, no, we don’t do that anymore. Never mind. Radioloungeusa.com is our website and you can reach out to us anytime. We do discovery sessions as well. No obligation, just come in and talk with us. We put you in the booth and we’ve got people as well who are established voice actors. There’s one lady in particular who lives in Hawaii. She has relatives here in Houston and she’s coming in to do some demos. We’ll do some coaching.
Bruce Abbott: So for voice acting, we have a lot of local actors that come in, and we love having them when they’re here in person, because they get the vibe. But we understand with this podcast, it’s a global audience. And we also understand that voice acting is a global business now. And so we know that it’s not always an option to be able to get into a studio. And of course, many voice actors have taken advantage of Zoom coaching and everything. And if there was anything that COVID really taught us was that it’s okay to do things remote before where it used to be like, what?
Now it becomes more of the norm. So we offer Zoom coaching, in-person coaching. Location doesn’t stop anything anymore. We’re able to do demo sessions. We do demo sessions here in our place. We also do demo sessions where talent are recording from their own locations. If they don’t have a setup, then we kind of work and help, we either help them get a setup from wherever they’re at, or find a studio where they can connect to us via a source connect or something like that. But there is a multitude of ways that you can reach out and work with us in terms of the voice coaching.
Ray Schilens: As [inaudible 01:06:35] used to say, reach out and touch someone.
Bruce Abbott: Okay. Oh, yes. I think my vocal booth actually used to have a New York Yankees logo along with that company logo, and a big Derek Jeter thing, which if you’re a Yankees fan, I’m sorry, but we’re here in Houston. And so I would have a Jose Altuve, but then the booth would only be like four feet something tall.
Ray Schilens: Don’t say that.
Nicky Mondellin…: Oh, come on.
Bruce Abbott: I love Jose.
Ray Schilens: [inaudible 01:07:04] stature.
Nicky Mondellin…: Jose, small and mighty.
Bruce Abbott: I love that man. He’s awesome.
Nicky Mondellin…: Guys, this has been a pleasure. Thank you so much again for joining me today and for all your pearls of wisdom. This is amazing. People have a very clear idea of how they can reach out to you. And of course, then they’ll be following your podcast and just taking note of all the amazing bits of advice that you’ve given to me today. So what is one last thing that each of you would like to say that it’s… Let’s say it’s a little message in a bottle that you would want to put, and not only for the industry, but just for people in general. Okay? Bruce, do you think of something? Does something come to mind?
Bruce Abbott: I think when it comes to, let’s say for voice acting, be patient, soak it all in, absorb it, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. This is a business and a job just like any other one. It’s going to have ups, it’s going to have downs. You’re not going to go in and get your first job at a large company as the CEO. You’re going to have to come in and work your way as somebody new, somebody new to a company. So that’s the way the voiceover is, is don’t get discouraged, but also understand that this is not an overnight thing where people come in and it’s like, wow, you know what? I watched this YouTube video and I bought this USB mic, and right, I’m ready to make six figures this year. It takes time. I mean, it takes time. It took me several years to get to that point. So that’s my piece of advice is just be patient, work it, be consistent. 1% every day. And practice, practice, practice. Keep going and you’ll get it. You will get it. You will rock on there.
Ray Schilens: Be professional.
Nicky Mondellin…: On point.
Ray Schilens: Be professional. Be on time. Check your ego at the door. Be nice and make sure that you do and leave the very best impression with everyone that you touch, whether it’s an audition or a session. And stay in contact with people. Don’t overdo it. If you’re going to communicate with somebody, do it in a relevant way. Don’t try and sell somebody on yourself. Just remind people. Be creative as well in the way you present yourself. That’s an important asset as well. But the biggest thing is be nice. Be nice. And it’ll come right back at you.
Nicky Mondellin…: Exactly. Well, that is great advice for everyone to take to heart, for sure. Well, thank you so much, Ray and Bruce. This has been a true pleasure. And I look forward to collaborating with you guys soon, to seeing you guys soon around town or at a burger joint or someplace else.
Bruce Abbott: Absolutely. Thanks. It’s totally our pleasure.
Ray Schilens: Great job, Nicky. Keep it going, okay?
Nicky Mondellin…: I will do.
Ray Schilens: You can do this. You can do this.
Alan Villatoro: Thanks for joining us on La Pizarra. Want to listen to more episodes? Visit lapizarrapodcast.com or nickymondellini.com/lapizarra, where you can sign up for our newsletter and get exclusive previews of future episodes, as well as resources for your creative business. Tune in next week for another interesting interview.