Five Time Billboard Award Winner Valerie Smaldone

June 15th, 2020 | Deneen White | music

Deneen: Welcome to the VIP Ignite podcast.

I'm your host, Deneen White.

Today, I have the pleasure and honor of bringing Valerie Smaldone to the show.

Valerie, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast.

I really appreciate it.

Valerie: Hey Deneen.

Good morning.

Thanks for having me.

This is fun.

Deneen: This is so much fun.

I'm so excited.

Mike was saying, “Okay, you know who you're interviewing today.”

I said, “I know, don't worry.”

We'll have a great time.

Valerie: You know what's funny?

I'm so uncomfortable being interviewed, I’m so much more in the place of an interviewer.

As you know, I do so many of them, but to be on the other side is odd for me.

So I hope I'm not a bore.

Deneen: I've been really excited to have you on the podcast since we talked about it a couple of weeks ago.

STARTING A LONG-TERM CAREER IN ENTERTAINMENT

Deneen: As you know, my audience is primarily people who are entering the entertainment industry.

So can we start by just talking about how you got your start in the entertainment industry?

Valerie: Absolutely. Sure.

I've always been oriented towards this field, and entertainment is a huge umbrella, right?

When we say entertainment, what does that mean?

I was seven years old when I was struck by the theater bug, and I was just in love with anything live entertainment.

I did a lot of plays when I was in high school and college, and even studied with the Royal Academy for a summer in New York.

It was a wonderful experience.

I was always very oriented towards theater and live entertainment, but at the same time I wanted to earn a living, which I think is a good idea.

So I was introduced to the radio field through my dad, who was very focused on radio.

He listened to the radio all the time, whether it was opera from the Metropolitan Opera House or News Talk.

He loved radio.

And this is a fun story.

He took me to (this was many years ago, Deneen) a restaurant in Queens, New York called the Broadcasters Inn.

It literally was a restaurant with a radio station in the middle of it, and there was this guy spinning records while people were eating their spaghetti, watching him spin records.

So it was an odd conflagration of things, but I was sort of smitten by that idea.

I mean, certainly eating is always good, but the idea of radio with it?

Could I do this?

Could this be something, could this be a path for me?

So when I got to Fordham University in New York, they had a unique radio station.

It's 50,000 Watts, which is enormous.

It covers the entire Metro area.

I was a freshman, 17 years old, and I walked into the radio station and asked, “How does this work?”

“What do I do to be involved?”

That was the question.

From that question, to today.

It really was that path, and I started getting involved by auditioning for the Announcers Workshop.

I was accepted and I was trained by my peers, other students that were older and that had experience, who train the younger people.

And I did everything.

I did everything one could do from rip and read, which was when you rip the news wire and read a newscast to writing, to producing a radio program.

And my first radio show at Fordham's Station, WFUV, which is now a public radio station, was called Show Stoppers.

This is significant because today I host a radio show called Bagels and Broadway.

So I'm still doing what I love to do, which was incorporating theater with radio.

I find that if you have this tremendous passion for something, you'll always find an avenue to get to where you need to go.

It will happen.

It's sort of like magic in a way, when I think about it.

Deneen: That's awesome. I love that.

It all started in a restaurant where they were broadcasting and you were eating.

That's fantastic.

It's amazing how a moment like that can really shape a career.

It can shape the trajectory of what you want to do.

And it's also really cool that you now have a show called Bagels and Broadway.

Can you talk a little bit about that?

Valerie: So after my four years at Fordham and doing radio, I was actually hired while I was at school.

I was hired by a local radio station in Westchester, New York, and I never left New York City, which is unusual for people in this field.

People generally go to smaller markets.

I stayed in the outskirts of New York and by the time I was 24, I was working in New York radio and I stayed there for a very long time as a music radio host.

And I left that job on a high note.

I was top rated, everything was great, but I felt that I wanted to do something else in the field.

It was basically when you have a job for so many years, and you're doing the same thing.

I felt I wanted to be more of a personality because I was doing a music show, which had a specific format.

I wanted to find my personality.

I didn't even know what it was.

I was so used to being regimented in the format that I was in, and after some time it comes back to “What do you love?”

What did you love in your life?

And it comes back to theater, live entertainment, and food.

Remember, I was back in that Broadcasters Inn eating food and wine, which I'm very passionate about.

I love to cook, I love to meet chefs.

So there's that whole world: food, theater, and radio.

I combined those ideas, and I had the opportunity coming up on almost two years ago.

I had the opportunity to bring this concept to a New York City radio station where once a week I have a one hour radio show devoted to simply that: theater and food on the radio.

It's not a music station, it's talk.

And so I was able to develop more of a personality, and more of a point of view rather than a host thing that was so and so.

“The weather today is this and this”, you know.

I was able to develop more personality on a talk show.

And so Bagels and Broadway brings to the listener interviews, conversations with people on and off Broadway, and the people behind the scenes that make theater happen.

WORKING OUTSIDE OF THE SPOTLIGHT

Valerie: I'm fascinated by everything that goes on when you're off the stage.

The people who run the lights or who do the concessions or who pick the orchestra; all of that creates such beautiful opportunities in theater.

So I have these conversations.

I have a little news brief about theater and then I talk about food, restaurants opening and closing in New York or new food products that are coming out that are making news.

So it's this amalgam of everything that I love.

I know that not only I, but people love to talk about restaurants, food, wine, the latest show that they saw.

This is what makes life great.

Because otherwise, you know, what do we have?

Deneen: Yeah, it sounds amazing.

Community.

You definitely combine all of my favorite things into one show as well.

And especially being in New York City, there's such a vibrant restaurant scene.

There's such a vibrant theater scene.

And the thing is, I think a lot of times the people that do the job that you mentioned, like the one who picks the orchestra or the different parts of that, are positions on Broadway that are kind of overlooked.

Like the people who know about theater know that that's there.

But your average theater goer goes to see Phantom of the Opera, for example.

You're focused on the Phantom, you're not focused on all the other little pieces.

So I love that you bring to light all those other pieces as well.

Valerie: Yes, because I'm fascinated by that myself.

And I think that they're the unsung heroes of the industry.

I also focus a lot on the working actor.

What I mean by that is somebody who you may not know; they may not have a star name, but they consistently work, they go to the theater or they go do the TV shows, and whatever they do, they have their career.

And you say, “Who's that person?”

“Oh yeah, I saw that person in Law and Order”, or “Oh yeah, I saw that person on Broadway”, and they continue to work.

And this is something that I don't think people focus enough on.

They focus too much on the stardom part of it rather than the actual day to day.

That makes it happen.

These people don't need to be stars.

They need to have; they need to be paid, they need to have insurance, and they need to feed their family.

They're working like everybody else.

And I find that fascinating too.

Deneen: If you think about it, if any show only has the star, it would be so one dimensional because you need all of the moving parts on the show.

You need those extras, or those featured extras, or the people that just come and go.

You need all of those parts to make any show vibrant.

Otherwise you would just be watching monologues and dialogues and it would just be very boring.

So I love that.

I interviewed one woman the other day and she said “Yeah, I want to star in a Marvel movie.”

I said “Okay, well what else have you done?”

I think a lot of times people take for granted that there's a lot more than just being the star of the show.

ASK YOURSELF: WHY THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?

Valerie: Well, this is a whole other topic. 

We can talk about this for a week

I think that people who are in this industry have to examine why

And I think this is an important sort of exercise for everybody

Why are you attracted to this industry? 

A lot of people tend to want that ego boost of stardom and recognition when that's just such a tiny piece of it for such a small section of the population. 

But if you say to me, “I want to be in this because I love the craft”, or “I love the process of learning”, or “I love breaking down a role”, it's important because a lot of the themes that we see today in theater and music or movies are reflective of our culture and of our society. 

It needs to have a space so we can have a conversation about it.

So I'd like people to examine why they are attracted to this industry.

If you just say, "Because I want my name in lights", I think that's something that needs to be further examined. 

That's just my thought

That's my idea. 

And yeah, I think when people are doing well and they're working, but they don't have that recognition, they still say “Well, if you looked at what you have.” 

Look at what you have done, look at what you've accomplished and the experiences you've had, and the people you've met along the way. 

That's all part of it. 

It's not about getting to be a star because as you and I know Deneen, so many people, once they get there, are still so unhappy

It does not help them in any way. 

In fact, sometimes it's worse.

Deneen: Yeah, you definitely have to find that. 

I love what you said about the why, because that's something. 

As you know, I work with the coaching program for VIP Ignite and that's the first question I ask anyone on any podcast. 

It's “Okay, can you tell me why you're doing this?”

Because it's an indicator of success

What I've seen is if someone has a really strong why that goes well beyond, like you said, wanting the ego boost or wanting their name in lights, then they're going to be in it for the long haul

But for the people that I interviewed that say, “Oh, I want to be famous or I want to make people laugh,'' it has to go a lot deeper than that; if your whole goal is to be famous, first of all, what is that

1% of actors are actually famous, first of all. 

And that's not a statistic that I've researched, but it's a very small percentage. 

The other thing is if you just want to entertain people, that's fantastic, but there has to be something deeper like you said.

There's a lot of repetition in the entertainment industry.

There's a lot of practice, there's a lot of things that go on that people don't see until they're actually in it. 

There are a lot of auditions.

There’s a lot more that goes into it then that moment on the red carpet

So I love that you addressed that. 

That's something that we tell people all the time, that you really need to have a strong why

Otherwise you might as well just pack up and go to work at your local store or something like that, because you'll have better stuff.

Valerie: That's right. 

And the 1% is also probably in terms of money, because if you go to the union, SAG-AFTRA is the TV and radio union. 

In SAG-AFTRA there are thousands and thousands of actors and members that are working. 

And then the 1% are the people that are earning extraordinary amounts of money, right?

But the rest of them are still working and they're making a living. 

That's something to really consider

How much do you love this work? 

And if you don't love it, maybe just one piece of it is not for you. 

Maybe you want to find another way. 

As you know, I teach voiceover and I coach people and often I hear just like you, “I want to be in a Disney animation film.” .

I think, “Oh wow.” 

So do I, but there's a lot of other things to do. 

There's a lot of other things you can do that are just as satisfying, but you just won't be in a Disney movie. 

That's all. 

So I think we all have to consider it very carefully.

THE POTENTIAL OF VOICEOVER WORK

Deneen: Since you mentioned voiceover, can you talk a little bit about that? 

I think from the research that I've done and just talking to you a few times, I never understood just how robust the voiceover industry is. 

So can you talk about that a little bit? 

That's something that a lot of people can do that would help them pay the bills and be a part of the entertainment industry. 

So can you just speak a little bit about the voiceover industry?

Valerie: Sure. So I always say to my students that, especially if they're in the acting field already, this is just another tool in your toolkit that you may want to consider honing

Let's say, oh my gosh, you sprained an ankle and you can't be on stage, but your voice is still working, right? 

As an actor, your body is so important to everything you do; your health, your body, your movement, all of this.

But it's always great to have more knowledge, more wisdom so that you can grasp more in the field. 

So this is the one thing I say to anybody who's an actor. 

The voiceover industry has exploded for one reason. 

Well, there are many reasons, but the top reason is because of technology

Technology has allowed anybody access to this field. 

Deneen, it's exponential

I started doing voiceovers again when I was very young, and it was a very small group of people that had the ability to do this. 

I was lucky, and I got into the field in New York city and I was working consistently

I had an agent, but there were just a few of us. 

Today, anybody can do it because the barriers to entry are gone, and the cost is very small to get involved.

We can find potential jobs on casting sites online, on LinkedIn, in groups, or through relationship building. 

There are jobs to be had. 

So you're right, it's extremely robust. 

Having said that, because the barriers to entry are gone, everybody is jumping in the pool. 

There are several things you need to do to arm yourself. 

One is to learn the craft of voiceover. 

The second is to understand how you technically do this. 

You have to be a self producer. 

You have to know how to edit and send files, which we never had to do before. 

Back in the day you'd walk into the studio, and somebody else did all that work. 

You walked out. 

It was a cushy job. 

Today you have to have a little bit more knowledge to be in the game. 

You should know more. 

You have to know more.

And the third piece of it is marketing yourself. 

Once you're ready, once you have your demos, once you have your equipment, once you feel like you're ready and solid, how do you market yourself? 

So those three elements are extremely important for anybody who's interested in the field today, because it's absolutely doable

And I can tell you, I've had students I teach at a school of visual arts, through a workshop there as well as private coaching. 

I have had students who get back to me and say, “Thank you, I've been doing this, this and this.” 

I see them on Instagram all the time because they are at it

They're there working at it and they're making it a daily routine to market themselves and to improve on what they've done before. 

Because like anything else, you have to keep growing.

You have to keep learning and growing. 

It never stops. Never stops.

FINDING THE MOTIVATION TO PURSUE THE DREAM

Deneen: Yeah. That's awesome. 

Actually, after your voiceover workshop that you did with us in September, we have one girl in particular who is marketing herself and going all out trying to do voiceover. 

She took everything that you said so seriously

And for weeks, everyday, she would ask me, “What do you think, do you think I improved?” 

“I did this, do you like this?” 

“Do you like that?” 

It's amazing--the influence that you've had already over some of our people, and I can only imagine all of your students at the school that you teach, because people are very motivated

Once they learn, and believe they can do this, and you give them the tools that they need, it's amazing to see people grow and flourish with it.

Valerie: Yes, I find (as I'm sure you do because you're a coach) that this is such an interesting thing, having been teaching now for well over 10 years. 

The one thing that I didn't expect: I thought I had to have all the answers

“Oh, I'll just, you know, give them all the information, all the tools.” 

What I did not expect is the number one thing is to give them permission to do it, because people are afraid. 

The fear factor is huge

They feel silly and they feel they shouldn't, or are not deserving of it.

I never expected that, Deneen, to be almost like a psychologist in a way; to give them permission to do it.

There's this sort of spirit that's boosted when I see that, when I see that they agree, and say, “Okay, I can move forward.”

"I'm able to do this." 

"I don't have to stop myself."

I shouldn't be ashamed of this, or feel funny that I have this desire to be in this field.

It's fascinating, isn't it?

Deneen: Yes. Honestly, I actually wrote that down.

That's one thing that I've found the most fascinating also, is that people come to us, and say, “I need your help.” 

“I want to do this.” 

You give them all the tools and like you said, it's never clicked in my head until you said it. 

What we do is give them permission to live out their dreams or to live out their desires. 

That never occurred to me. 

That's exactly what we're doing every day; we're coaching people and we're teaching people, we're giving them the permission that they need

So they want to actually pursue their dream.

PUTTING IN EFFORT GUARANTEES GROWTH

Valerie: Yeah. Because a lot of people have been taught and rightly so. 

I mean, I'm not minimizing the idea that you need to make a decent living to live in the world today, especially in the Northeast. 

Many of us live in New York, New Jersey, or the Philly area. 

It's expensive

But they were sort of socialized to think that that was what other people do. 

That's silly

That's just a fantasy

So they're socialized that way, and they are programmed that way. 

And I have to sort of deprogram them, and take away that feeling of "I can't," or " I shouldn't," or "I mustn't." 

And the fear of it too, because there's the fear of feeling silly, or “What if I can't do it?” 

I tell you what, everybody can do it.

I have seen improvement

I don't think there is one student--I mean this, I'm not just saying it--I don't think there's one student I've had that has not improved after letting fear go and working with a coach, and after doing the work, they've all improved. 

They've all improved.

Will they be the next voice on a campaign for Campbell's? 

I don't know. 

But it doesn't matter. 

It's the growth

It's the process that is so important for people to understand.

Deneen: The journey is so important.

We talk about this with our people, with our clients all the time; it's a part of the journey. 

Yesterday I had someone who was sending me a message.

I want to get her on the podcast, and she said “I don't feel like I deserve to be on the podcast.” 

I said “No, you don't understand.” 

We're chronicling your journey here. 

Everything that we're doing is all about the journey. 

Like you said, as long as someone puts in the effort, if anyone who puts in the effort is going to grow, it's almost like a law. 

If you put in the effort, you have to grow.

Valerie: That's a good law. 

Deneen: I think we're gonna have to write that law. 

So it is written. 

So it is done. 

I think that's the law that we need to put into place, but it seems that for anyone I know that puts in the effort, even if you put in a little effort, it's amazing how much you'll grow.

Imagine if you actually put all of your effort behind something. Right?

Valerie: Right. It's true. 

And it's an endless opportunity

It's really up to you. 

It's the blank canvas that you can paint and create. 

I know people have complicated lives. 

They have families, they have children, they have elderly parents, they have bills to pay. 

I get it. 

But look at your life and see where time is a portion from something that can be redirected towards this field. 

I don't know what it is that you do. 

We always have time for something

So take that time and make it productive

Find it in your schedule.

Deneen: Yeah, you only have one life to live, so you might as well live out

The thing that excites you--does it make you want to get up in the morning versus the thing that you have to do to pay the bills? 

So why not? 

Why not put your effort towards something that's going to make you excited to wake up on a Monday morning?

Valerie: Perfectly said. I agree. 

Well done.

OVERCOMING PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL OBSTACLES

Deneen: Thanks. So one thing I would love to talk about, Valerie, is that you've had an amazing career. 

Your career is amazing

What is one obstacle that you've had to overcome that you've successfully overcame, that's really made you stronger?

Valerie: Oh wow

That's a good question. 

Well, there are many obstacles. 

We all have them, whether they're internal obstacles, or whether they're societal obstacles. 

I have been very lucky because as a woman, people always say it's difficult, or ask if you've had problems.

That's one area I can't say I have; I have always been in an environment where I have never thought about my gender

I didn't care about it. 

I think maybe that's the key. 

I didn't think about it. 

I just did it. 

And I think perhaps with that, with that experience, people accepted it in that way.

I also came along at a time when the entry was there for women starting to get into the field. 

So that wasn't an obstacle

What I think works for me, and I'll be a hundred percent honest--I'm never concerned about the work. 

I feel really confident about the work that I have, that I do. 

My anxiety comes in the preparation, meaning getting there. 

If I have to travel somewhere, getting there, or what am I wearing? 

This is the craziest thing. 

I am being a hundred percent honest. 

I have so much anxiety still, if I know I'm going to host the job, for example, or if I'm going to host an event next week. 

What am I going to wear

How am I going to look

Will I get there on time

When all of that is figured out and I'm at the job, I'm fine

I feel free

It's the anticipation of “Will I be late?” 

“What if I forget to go?” 

“What if I forget to get there?” 

“What if my clothes don't fit?” 

What if whatever it is.

I start to have this self craziness that to this day I still deal with, and I’m telling you and your students and your listeners because I think it's nice to hear somebody be a hundred percent honest about the anxiety that they still fight, but they still deal with. 

Isn't that crazy?

Deneen: It's funny, I'm sitting here thinking that I've been worrying

We have our event coming up in six weeks in New York, and for the last two weeks I've been wondering, “What am I going to wear each day?” 

What am I going to wear to this part? 

What am I going to wear

So thank you for making me feel less crazy, because now I understand that I'm not the only one who has these thoughts. 

All the other details are fine because I know everything will fall into place. 

But what if my shoes hurt? 

What am I going to do?

There's those little things that cause me the most anxiety as well. 

So thank you for sharing that.

Valerie: What I've done to help get over that, because I know there's a fear of just not being ready, is I usually bring two of everything

So if I'm doing an appearance, two stockings, two dresses--I want to be prepared

That's what I have learned from my anxiety, because if I don't, the anxiety doesn't go away. 

It's how we deal with it.

I just did an event in Washington DC, and I had to pack for three nights of an event in Washington. 

Each time I had considered the what if, and how will I prepare for that same thing when I go to a job. 

This is the craziest, but the most basic thing anybody needs is light when you're working. 

And oftentimes if you're doing work backstage, there's no light. 

So I've prepared, and I bring my own flashlight, and I bring my own water, and I make sure I have my glasses. 

That's what I've learned, and I say what the anxiety is that I still have today, but I've learned how to prepare for it so that it's minimized. 

That's the takeaway that I think is important to share.

Deneen: That's awesome. 

Always be prepared. 

It's very important no matter where you go and what you do to be prepared.

100%

Well, Valerie, I just want to thank you so much for sharing your insights and for sharing your journey with us. 

I know it's insane, but our half an hour is already up. 

Can you believe that?

Valerie: Oh no. We'll do it again.

Deneen: Yes, we should. 

So I just want to thank you so much for taking the time out of your Monday to be on the podcast. 

I really do appreciate it.

Valerie: Have a great day.

Deneen: You also, thank you so much.

Valerie: See you soon.

Deneen: I just want to thank everyone so much for taking the time to listen to this episode of the VIP Ignite podcast. 

If you enjoyed my conversation with Valerie, please make sure you hit subscribe because I have a lot of amazing guests coming up on the show. 

If you are interested in learning how to network with people like Valerie, please visit our website at ammsociety.com, where you can get registered for our next live webinar. 

Thank you so much and have a great day.