Kevin Minatrea is a big man with a big voice who works in a very tiny closet.
Many people locally will recall the Missouri City resident as Kevin Charles, an on-air radio personality in the Houston area in the 1980s to 2014. Today he is a voice-over artist doing narrations for audiobooks, commercials, animations, and corporate videos. He works in a small studio that he built inside the detached garage behind his house. Inside that is a 4-foot by 4-foot by 6-foot padded sound booth where he does his recordings.
“I’ve kind of got my toe in the water in the audiobook world, but right now it’s not my main focus,” he said. “I do more corporate narrations and commercials and things like that more than anything.”
Doing voice work is something he has been preparing himself to do for years as a second career. He jumped at the opportunity when News 92, an all-news format station, went off the air in 2014 after three years.
“I started this about five to 10 years before I really needed to use it, because I knew someday I would want to do something like this,” he said.
Although it seemed like a natural fit to go from radio to narration, it wasn’t.
“Radio and voice-over are similar but not the same in how you read things and the different way you read things. I didn’t know I had a lot to learn, but I had a lot to learn,” he said.
Years of speaking boldly into a microphone left him at a disadvantage when it came to doing voice-over work.
“Putting on this big voice that I used to do when I did radio was not what everybody wants to hear when you’re doing narrations,” he said in a loud, enthusiastic voice. “I got a coach. I first started out with a coach up in Dallas, Bettye Zoller, that I worked with for a while. She helped pull some of the radio guy out of me and got me to understand that I needed to back off and relax and use my natural voice.”
After working with Zoller, Minatrea stepped up to a higher level and retained Nancy Wolfson from California as his coach.
“After about a year of working with her on a semi-regular basis she’s like ‘you are where you need to be and let’s record you a brand new demo’ and that’s what I’m working with now,” he said. “I talk to her about once every quarter, just as a coach, because I realized pretty quickly that you don’t do this without one. Just like any athlete won’t go without a coach, and golf pro won’t go without a coach, they are all going to have somebody making sure they are still on their game.”
Minatrea has also befriended Scott Brick, one of the most prominent voice actors in the audiobook business. They met when Minatrea attended one of Brick’s seminars.
“Kevin’s narration is such a pleasure to listen to; he’s got such a natural touch for non-fiction,” Brick said. “The way he channels the author’s authority and passion really makes it feel as though the author himself is speaking to me. And it helps that Kevin is such a lovely guy himself.”
In addition to having to learn how to speak again, Minatrea discovered that he also had to learn the business side of the business. He doesn’t exactly excel at Excel.
“You have to wear all the different hats and I’m not really the bookkeeper kind; I’m not the sales guy as much as I need to be,” he said.
In the last four years he has been building up a significant client base. One of his biggest clients is a company in France that makes animated features for 4- and 5-year-olds.
“All these different little episodes. They package them up and they are like five-minute episodes, but they package them up in to 30-minute program of five-minute episodes of Car City. Everything is a car from Gary the Garbage Truck to Frank the Fire Engine. They don’t talk, they just make little noises and here’s Kevin out here in the background talking, telling their story as they act it out on the screen,” he said.
Most of his clients are local businesses and nonprofit organizations that need training videos and marketing materials. While that pays his bills, the part of the job he likes best is doing audiobooks.
“Commercials are quick and easy and pay a lot more, but books you kind of get into more of an acting role,” he said. “You also get a chance to learn a lot. I started out doing nonfiction work, because you didn’t have to do as much character reads and things like that in the nonfiction world. So I got books about Robert E. Lee and one about General Sherman. Civil War books that told the history.
“And as I’m reading them I’m also learning stuff that was probably was taught to me in high school but I didn’t pay attention. Then I got a new appreciation of what I wish I had paid attention to. So much so, that recently my daughter and I took a trip up into Virginia just to pay a visit to Antietam and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just to get a feel for the surroundings of where some of these stories took place that I’ve read about. It was nice to connect with that as opposed to just doing a commercial and saying ‘OK, it’s done’ and move on to the next thing,” he said.
In addition to becoming a historian, he is also studying medicine.
“I like to do a lot of history. I also have been doing a lot of medical narration here recently for some audiobooks that are basically what people would study if they were in medical school. And so I’m learning more and more about, not only how to say words I never thought I’d be saying, but just what and how all the body parts work and how they work together and how different diseases are diagnosed and things like that,” he said.
With his deep bass voice, one of Minatrea’s biggest challenges is doing female voices.
“Female voices are tough, but I have done some studying on these. They are generally softer and more breathy – that’s how I do them,” he said, speaking as he would in a woman’s voice. “And maybe a little more of a lilt and a little higher pitch.
“But you don’t have do it like this,” he said in a high falsetto voice, “because you don’t want to make it sound fake. So generally if it’s a female voice, the teachers I’ve worked with, seminars I’ve attended, webinars and things, they’ve all pretty much said don’t put on a fake voice for a woman, just soften it and talk in a rhythm that a woman might speak in. It’s like there’s different rhythms and different ways that they might speak. But mostly is a softer, breathier sound”
In addition to speaking, Minatrea can sing. He is on an a cappella praise team at his church, First Colony Church of Christ. As a man of faith, he likes doing work for Christian organizations.
“I did a thing for the Enunciation Greek Orthodox church here recently in Houston. And it was a 15-minute documentary of the congregation’s 100 years in Houston and how they built their cathedral, which they just added on to,” Minatrea said.
Just like Brick, his mentor, Minatrea said he is often asked what it’s like to record audiobooks for a living.
“People ask him (Brick) what it’s like to be a narrator. He says imagine going into a closet in your house, shutting the door, with a little light over your shoulder, and reading a book out loud for six to eight hours a day. Just by yourself. If you can do that, then you can do audiobook narration, because that’s pretty much what you are doing,” he said.
Even though he lives in a quiet neighborhood, there are occupational hazards he has to overcome. That includes lawnmowers, barking dogs and thunderstorms.
“The problem I have here is, in order to make it quiet in the room you have to turn off the air conditioning. I have, as you can see, a window unit in the wall back here, and when it’s on it’s roaring,” he said.
Not everything he records is for profit. Even though his two daughters are grown now, he still likes to record children’s books for them each Christmas.
“I record a children’s book for my own kids. We don’t sell it, so I don’t have to buy the rights, it’s only for their personal enjoyment, but I’ve got the biggest kick out of doing that,” he said. “That’s my Christmas gift of making something for them. … It became sort of a tradition.”
The recordings have been saved over the years and will likely outlive him.
“My kids, when they have kids, will have all this collection of grandpa reading all of these children’s stories. That was the idea,” he said.
To learn more about Minatrea, visit his website at kevincharlesvoice.com.