At the Top of Her Voice

Warrenton’s Diane Burket

On a recent afternoon in Warrenton, Diane Burket shared the fascinating details of her life in show business over lunch at Black Bear Bistro & Brick Oven. An avid animal lover, she ordered vegan pizza before discussing her illustrious career as an acclaimed voice-over artist with a dazzling client list. Diane radiates warmth and charm, and possesses a sharp wit and lively conversational style that would quickly put anyone at ease. There’s a charisma about her that indicates she’s just a little different than the average person. Whether she’s talking about her chosen line of work or recounting stories involving her rescued pets, her anecdotes are full of color and vitality. She has significant star quality.

Long before achieving fame in her industry, however, Diane left her native New Jersey to pursue a music and voice degree at Furman University in South Carolina. To help pay for school, she started modeling and developed an interest in acting. She quickly noticed that casting directors favored people with non-regional accents. Knowing that her competition primarily consisted of women who were disadvantaged by strong southern drawls, she worked hard to lose any trace of her own accent. In no time, she was landing speaking roles on television.

After graduation, she headed to California, where she spent a large portion of her more than 25 years in show business as a casting director and award-winning voice-over artist. Her impressive range of voice work covers commercials, corporate films, multimedia events, telephone prompts, games, and much more. Her client list is comprised of businesses of all sizes from around the world, including well-known brands like Apple, Tiger Balm, Visa, Genentech, and Southwest Airlines, as well as smaller companies. A recent film, Zebrafish, featured her narration and earned the honor of being an official documentary selection at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

One of the most appealing aspects of a career in voice is the freedom to work from anywhere. About 11 years ago, Diane took advantage of that freedom, packing up her home in San Francisco and moving to Warrenton with her long-time partner. Relocating to the east coast has not slowed her success at all, especially since she records much of her work from a studio in her house.

Not surprisingly, many people are curious about how they can launch a career like hers. The most common question she’s asked is how to get into the business. But before Diane will offer advice to anyone, she gives them homework. Friend and fellow voice-over artist, Dave Webster, wrote a book called You Should Do VOICEOVERS! that Diane highly recommends. In fact, she tells anyone seeking her guidance to read the book first. It covers everything related to the voice-over industry, including equipment. She believes in this resource so much that she highlights it on her homepage.  

By Kara Thorpe

To underline that point, Diane tells the highly entertaining story of being in Amelia Island, Florida, at a hotel that had paper thin walls and an unfortunate location next to a railroad. A client contacted her with an urgent request, but she knew the recording quality would be unacceptable from her noisy room. With her ever-present creativity, she ran out and bought moving blankets and turned them into a makeshift studio. With a bit of careful editing, she was able to salvage a potential audio disaster. Now she never travels without a portable booth that makes it possible to record anywhere.

Diane says having a mobile booth and home studio can be quite affordable. She uses a Shure microphone from a well-insulated space in her house and edits with WavePad software. This works for most situations, but as she explains, “If clients want a really clean, really high end recording, they’ll ask me to come into a professional studio.” For example, a recent job took her to Henninger Media Services in Arlington, which she says is “gorgeous — the nicest studio I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in a lot.”

While Diane can make what she does seem almost effortless, it’s most assuredly not. For starters, voice-over work requires acting skills. Diane knows her words will come across most effectively if she mentally speaks to one person instead of many. She believes, “If you’re talking to everybody, you’re discounting the individual.” Additionally, she’s emphatic about the importance of getting into character. Before stepping up to the microphone, she asks questions about who she is supposed to be, even though she’s not on camera. Is she blond or brunette? How old is she? Who is she talking to? Diane says voice-over artists “need a bunch of voices in their bag of tricks.” It’s amazing watching her transition seamlessly into different accents and moods. When she casually puts an audible smile in her voice, the change is remarkable.

Speed and consistency are also vital in the business. It’s not uncommon for clients to want to condense a 15-minute script into 10 minutes. There’s no room for pauses or choppiness. On the other side of the equation, Diane can read lengthy scripts flawlessly, and advises that if someone cannot read 100 pages without their voice changing, they won’t go far in the business. She says, “It’s like sports. You’ve got to build up to it. You have to practice.”

Diane is especially well suited for a wide range of voice-over roles not only because of her considerable talent and experience, but also because she can accept union and non-union jobs. She is well versed in the nuances of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the financial core (Fi-Core), and the Taft-Harley Act. Understanding these union-related aspects of the business is essential, and Diane navigates them with the ease of a seasoned professional.

The pay-off for achieving the status of a highly lauded voice-over artist is substantial. Asked what her favorite jobs are, Diane immediately responds that she’s partial to SAG-AFTRA commercials. The reason? Residuals! She laughs, explaining, “When it plays, it pays.” Regularly finding checks in the mailbox is quite a perk.

In addition to her voice career, Diane is an artist agent for her partner, Armand Cabrera, an accomplished oil painter represented by galleries across the country. She actively works on Armand’s behalf and speaks of his artistic ability with obvious and well-deserved admiration. While many of his paintings go to galleries outside of Virginia, some of them are featured locally, like in the rooms at Salamander Resort and Spa. Some of Diane’s clients are also close to home. For instance, a recording of her welcoming voice greets those calling The Inn at Little Washington.

We live in a time when the podcasting boom is making a lot of people believe they could use their voice to earn a living. And while that may be true for some, being able to resonate with an audience from behind a microphone is an art form. Diane Burket is a shining example of someone who understands that and has dedicated a lifetime to honing her craft. Her numerous awards, honors, and recognitions are testimonies to her soaring success. Through it all, however, Diane has managed to stay grounded. After talking about her extraordinary career, she says simply and humbly, “It’s a great way to make a living.”

To learn more about Diane and hear examples of her work, visit www.dianeburket.com.

 

Laura Clark
About Laura Clark 2 Articles
Laura Gresham Clark is an Entrepreneur in Residence for Georgetown University, a mentor for the National Science Foundation through George Washington University, and a mentor for Union Kitchen, a food accelerator in D.C. She founded Wylie Wagg, a regional retail chain, and was the company's CEO until its acquisition by a large national retailer in 2016. Prior to Wylie Wagg, she was a communications executive. She has a BA in Communications from Wake Forest University.

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