BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Most of the competitors in this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur field likely haven’t heard of Brad Hartz, but they almost certainly have heard him.
Hartz, competing in his first USGA championship this week at the Country Club of Birmingham, is a part-time voice-over actor who has done hundreds of television and radio commercials for the likes of Subway, ESPN Radio, Verizon and Comcast.
“Voice-over stuff is fun to do,” said Hartz. “When my friends hear commercials, they ask if I did so-and-so commercial. Sometimes it’s me and sometimes it’s not.”
The 46-year-old from Wellesley, Mass., operates his own residential real estate company in the Boston area, but supplements that income – and gets plenty of enjoyment – by doing voice-overs.
It’s a vocation Hartz stumbled upon while working as a radio disc jockey in Los Angeles in the late 1990s. The 1989 Tufts University graduate went into the radio business in the early 1990s, taking jobs in New Hampshire and Rochester, N.Y., before moving to Southern California. His dream was to become the next David Letterman and he felt Los Angeles was the right city to fulfill that aspiration.
“I wanted to get to L.A., so I could transition into TV,” said Hartz, who opened qualifying with a 9-over 80 on the West Course. “I started doing sit-com writing, but wound up getting into voice acting instead.”
In 1998, Los Angeles station Y107 flipped from a rock format to all-Spanish, and everyone at the station was let go. Hartz, who had been in radio for eight years, decided he didn’t want to move to a smaller market just to stay in the radio business. So he moved back to Boston – he grew up in Lexington – and started his real estate company, which has since taken off.
But he also hooked up with a Boston-based advertising agency, MMB, which needed voice talent for radio and television spots.
Slowly, Hartz began picking up assignments.
“It’s not unlike golf as far as honing the skill and practicing it,” said Hartz of his unusual vocation. “I started out with smaller stuff and then progressed to bigger and bigger things.”
So what makes a good voice-over actor?
It begins with having the right tone that can resonate with listeners.
“People would be surprised that the voice isn’t necessarily the pre-requisite,” said Hartz. “It helps a lot. But it’s also how you speak. The way I read something and the way an amateur might read it are significantly different. People enunciate the wrong words at times and it’s not natural.”
On Thursday morning, as Hartz was preparing for his first official practice round for the U.S. Mid-Amateur, an e-mail came from a client in Colorado. Could he do a voice-over for Verizon FiOS? So after Hartz finished his round, he quickly found a local studio in Birmingham. In 20 minutes, he had read the script and sent it to the client.
Normally, Hartz would have done the voice-over at his home studio.
“I had to bite the bullet on the studio time myself,” he said. “The guy I work for … pays me a flat fee.”
Most of Hartz’s spots fall into three categories: broadcast (radio or television), web and in-house projects. Hartz has risen to become one of the top voice actors in Boston, although the bulk of national advertising is done either in New York or Los Angeles. Still, he manages to complete work that enhances his national portfolio. “I did a spot for [ESPN’s] Mike and Mike program,” he said.
While Hartz’s real estate business provides a fairly steady income, he still has aspirations of landing with a talent agency in New York, where the competition is fierce. He said each of the 20-plus agencies will have a stable of 75 to 100 voice actors. Many companies use high-profile actors such as Morgan Freeman, Denis Leary, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.
“Those guys cost a lot of money,” said Hartz. “Sometimes I’ll audition for something and they want me to sound like Denis Leary. Or they’re looking for that Morgan Freeman sound. I tell them, ‘What did you call me in for?’ I know what I can do. I know my limitations. I know what my niche is.”
Under normal circumstances, Hartz can produce a voice-over in an hour, especially if it’s just for a radio spot. Television ads can take longer because “when you’re going TV, they are very specific. They want certain lines to go with certain pictures.”
Married with two young children (Jakob, 5, and Julia, 3), Hartz does find it difficult to fit golf into his busy schedule. He’s always been a decent player, competing in junior tournaments and then playing at Tufts, a Division III school that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships. He even briefly turned pro after college, spending 18 months in Florida before realizing his game didn’t stack up.
On a regional level, Hartz, who plays to a 0.7 Index out of Framingham Country Club, has competed in the Massachusetts Amateur and Massachusetts Open, but qualifying for the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur was a major breakthrough. He traveled two hours to Berkshire Hills C.C. in western Massachusetts to play his qualifier. He shot a 1-under 71 to garner the third and final spot.
“I usually only play one round per week,” said Hartz, whose childhood friend, Dan Hurwitz, of Grand Rapids, Mich., is on his bag this week. “I hit balls here and there and try to maintain [my game].
“[The Mid-Amateur] is bigger than I expected. It feels like a big deal.”
For Hartz, this week it’s more about being seen than heard.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.