You’ve heard the voice before. It thanks you for calling when you’re on hold with The Mirage. It entices you to book a room at Best Western, buy Cindy Crawford’s Meaningful Beauty products and shop Proactiv skin care. And most recently, it oozed enthusiasm for Ellen’s “Biggest Summer Ever!”
It’s the voice of Las Vegas’ own Melissa Moats.
On a recent Saturday, Moats used that voice to lead an ongoing workshop at the Voice Actors Studio in Henderson, an 1,800-square-foot teaching and production facility she opened with her husband, Troy, in January.
“You have to believe every piece of copy was custom-written for you,” Moats tells her class of 12. Most of them are dipping into voice acting on a part-time basis. There are at least two would-be James Earl Joneses in the room and one woman in her 20s who sounds like a toddler. Another with a striking South African accent announces she booked a gig last week, and her peers applaud. “I told Melissa I think the classes here are really helping,” she says. “I couldn’t break in before.”
The studio lobby is adorned with dozens of Moats’ past client logos, representing her ability to consistently secure work in an industry where the next job is never a guarantee. Moats recently signed with a top voice-talent agency in Los Angeles and works with several regional agents across the country, but she still books the bulk of her work independently—an already full-time job she’s now balancing with studio duties.
“Sunday is really my only day off,” she says. “That’s the only day I allow myself not to look at a screen or stare at a microphone.” She’s not complaining, though. “I’m really lucky,” Moats says. “I get to max out on what I love to do every day.”
First a professional singer, Moats got her start in voice acting after taking an introductory course at UNLV in 2000. She studied commercials she’d recorded, cold called to build a client roster and, in 2008, she and Troy moved to Los Angeles for more training and closer contact to agents and patrons. “L.A. was just a little intense for me,” Moats says. So in 2010, she and Troy returned to Las Vegas, and she started mentoring and running voice-acting workshops from her home.
Over the course of her 15-year career, Moats—a two-time cancer survivor who smiles through life with a seemingly endless supply of optimism—has parlayed her positive personality into a profitable niche. She says about 80 percent of her work comes from commercials. “I’m really good at friendly hard sells, like infomercials and high-energy retail. … I do a lot of warm, caring mom. I do some sexy, sultry nightclub type reads … the gal next door, conversational, the big sister, the cool aunt.” (For reference, her Best Western campaign falls under “gal next door.”)
This isn’t to say that she always gets the gig. Moats auditions for as many as 30 jobs a day (the norm is five to 10, she says), and books maybe one out of every six. “Starting out it was one in every 50, or one in 100.” Pay is also a variable: ranging from $200 for a short-run local radio commercial to thousands of dollars for national TV and movie spots.
With the Voice Actors Studio, Moats says she hopes to provide the tools and resources for up-and-coming talent to immerse themselves in the trade without having to leave the Valley. Not only does she teach workshops several times a week, she books out-of-town lecturers from varied segments of the field (narration, video games, audiobooks, etc.), which helps Moats and her students stay abreast of the technology and techniques.
“You wouldn’t think of Vegas as a community of voice talent when L.A. is only four hours away,” says John McClain, owner of local Dog & Pony Show recording studio. “[Melissa] is building that community.”
It’s early july, and moats has the studio open late to screen the film, In a World … . The indie comedy revolves around fictional vocal coach/emerging voice actress Carol Solomon (played by writer/director Lake Bell) finding her place in an industry that “doesn’t crave a female sound.” Solomon cuts through sexism as she fights for high-profile, traditionally male-narrated movie trailer gigs (competing against her own has-been father and his entitled male protégé.) The film wraps up with Solomon (spoiler alert) opening a “vocal makeover” studio, where all women are welcome to abandon their learned “sexy baby” voices.
When the film ends, Moats—holding popcorn, wearing an “I heart VO” sweatshirt—gathers her students to take some “family photos.” She laughs, “I’m going to post these with #SexyBaby!” It feels so meta.
Moats was familiar with a few voice actors who made cameos in the film, and she confirms that Solomon’s groggy “morning voice” struggle is real. And jokes aside, the film points out a harsh truth about the world of voice acting: Women aren’t taken as seriously as men. “A lot of top agents and managers say it’s much harder [for women],” says Beau Weaver, veteran voice actor and Moats’ mentor. “But [Melissa] has never participated in that conversation.”
Ever sanguine, Moats chooses not to view being a woman as a roadblock. “That’s not the way I look at it,” she says. “There’s plenty of opportunity for women. I focus on what’s available to me.”
Then again, “what’s available” might just depend on your gender. “The top is male dominated,” Troy Moats says. “Broadcast, movie trailers … women aren’t thought of for that. Things are slowly changing, and women are growing in the marketplace. But [Melissa] is at the bottom of the top. She has nowhere to go but up.”
What does “up” mean to Moats? “I would love to be an announcer for the Academy Awards. Or be the voice of Starbucks. … Above all, I want to continue to make a living doing what I love for the rest of my life.”
As for the Henderson studio, Moats will begin teaching an ongoing course there through UNLV next month. “It’s coming full circle!” she says. After that, Moats says she and her husband want to focus on connecting their burgeoning bed of local voice talent with homegrown businesses that need them. Ultimately, Moats says she wants to stream her classes globally. “We want it not to be just a Vegas thing,” she says. “We want to try to help people worldwide.”
The Voice Actors Studio
1510 W. Horizon Ridge Pkwy., Suite 100, Henderson, workshops $49 and up, TheVoiceActorStudio.com.