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Maribeth Rayfield | 10.16.20

Bringing Words to Life

Her passion for bringing words to life was what initially drew us to her. We later found out that Michelle Sundholm’s passion extends far beyond voice acting. We had a chance to sit down with her to learn more about what drives her, and how her love of music, sports and parenting fuel her career.

You’ve been described as the best friend, the mom who gets it, and the inspired athlete. In your opinion, which one is closest to the real Michelle?

I can’t even say that one is closer than the other. I think with being a mom you’re gonna feel that protection of your kids. For me, relationship and drive is everything. Whatever title you need to be, if that’s a loyal friend, if I’m putting my mom hat on, an entrepreneur, if it’s me diving into sports, because I grew up in sports, and I played softball (shortstop). I love athletics, I do fantasy football, I love announcing for sports, so it’s for me—all those titles that were said about me—it’s an honor to wear each hat. I take each one very seriously. You know how when you’re making something in the kitchen and there’s different recipes that have to go in to make this one dish? It’s like all three of those titles, it’s not like I’m three different people, it’s one recipe and it’s… it’s the Michelle recipe.

Yeah, and you’re just turning on a little bit more of this or a little bit more of that at any given time.

It’s just always showing up, you know you’re going to make mistakes in every single category, but it’s showing up and trying to be present… to be the best friend, to be the mom, to be the wife, to be the avid sports player or cheerleader. I mean, I love my kids more than anything so if there had to be one that would be it. I would say that it all makes up a different part of me.

I think that’s a great way to explain it, because I think you come across as very sincere in all those roles. It’s nice that you can connect with each of them as a part of the whole.

It’s like all three of those titles, it’s not like I’m three different people, it’s one recipe and it’s… it’s the Michelle recipe.

Michelle Sundholm

What music are you listening to right now? I know you’re a music person so this is probably a hard one.

It doesn’t matter what kind of day I’ve had, I can turn on the 80’s, whether I’m cooking or if it’s in between sessions or if I’m cleaning or whatever, just turning on a mix of the 80’s is super fun. It takes me from a bad mood to a great mood or a great mood to like …a really exceptional mood. I grew up on country, and I sing country. I kinda like the older country more than the new. Old country to me is really cool because I feel like it always tells a story. I grew up listening to the Judds and in recent years, I had the honor of getting to harmonize with legend Kenny Rogers on a song my husband produced for our good friend Jim Brickman, called “That Silent Night”.

I’ll put on cello music, or classical if the house or the studio just kind of needs a calm, it’s that stuff, or the 40’s—you know? A good old 40’s station. I pretty much like all music. Then, of course, I love a good pop song, and I have to admit, I’m a sucker for those electric guitar riffs (laughs) like AC-DC or like Bon Jovi. I just enjoy music. I would pretty much enjoy anything LIVE—except for Death metal probably—because I appreciate people honing their craft and just expressing themselves through musicality.

Yeah, the talent and the creativity you have to admire, whether it’s your particular taste or not, you can really be drawn in by the passion somebody has for their music.

And just like food, music really brings people together.

Agreed!

It’s very personal, like where you can be in a room by yourself with maybe piano music or classical in the background and it pulls you into thinking about life and inspires creativity. Music also unites and forms a community. You can literally walk into a room without knowing anyone and you all join in singing one song. It really brings people together. So, it’s really cool. I like it.

The first project we had the pleasure of teaming up with Michelle on was a video marking a milestone for Syracuse University’s College of Arts & Sciences

I really want to make sure that I’m giving love to the project because I know that the writers, the designers and everybody involved, they’ve spent so much time.

Michelle Sundholm

The HGTV Coming Home ad. I just loved the whole feeling of that, and your voice lent so much to that feeling. I wondered, do you do anything in particular to get in the zone when you know that you have to nail a certain mood in a project?

So for me, because my brand and who I am is authenticity and being approachable, relatable, I don’t ever really go through a script and practice it, unless it’s for a character that I need to create and act out. I will look at the words and make sure if there’s a word there I don’t know, I’ll look it up just to make sure that I know what I’m talking about. I really want to make sure that I’m giving love to the project because I know that the writers, the designers and everybody involved, they’ve spent so much time.

I try to respect the branding of each project that comes across, even if it’s something that I might not be initially excited about. Like…maybe I’m not excited about cement, you know, but I’m going to study the brand and the product and teach it so I can be a subject matter expert on it. I value and appreciate someone’s story and their brand story of getting there, because I love the entrepreneur in people. With the HGTV one, it’s absolutely one of my favorites. I got to work with Emmy award-winning creative directors. I feel like I work with so many talented people but I…I love it when I can be challenged to take it from, you know maybe it’s already up here (gestures up) and make it even more intimate, take it up a notch.

I remember, because I’m a singer too, asking them, I’m like hey, if you have music for this that I could hear, so I could emotionally attach to it too. So they shared it with me, and I’ve got to tell you, I normally don’t cry in sessions, but a tear came to my eye because I’m like wow, this is really good, it gave me goosebumps.

Me too!

And I don’t remember as well as my husband does, because people have asked me about this particular commercial, he said yeah, ”she just did it in just one take”. It just felt so good and natural, and I hadn’t practiced the script beforehand. Because to me, it’s kind of like having a conversation with a friend over coffee, if you thought about all your answers and everything you were going to say, it’s scripted, it’s not going to be real, the relationship won’t grow. My job is to bring what I can, and my true emotions, and be in that moment, and get out of the way of the brand and make sure I’m supporting them. So yeah, that one was really special, it was just one of those magical ones that I will always cherish.

My job is to bring what I can, and my true emotions, and be in that moment, and get out of the way of the brand and make sure I’m supporting them.

Michelle Sundholm

Michelle’s voice served as a common thread to connect a series of two videos we created for Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans & Military Families. The first is a broad overview of the mission and values of the organization, the second an explainer video aimed at the participant audience.

Well, that could be kind of a segue into the next question which is: What project are you most proud of and why?

A lot of people will ask me what’s your favorite stuff that you worked on—that kind of thing. I feel very blessed and lucky to have just the amazing clients that I do, and get to work on different things. I mean I obviously love working with you guys and the Syracuse University work. Just teaming up and knowing that we have that camaraderie, but also that professionalism in getting things accomplished and created together.

I would have to say besides HGTV standing out, …I grew up a tomboy so I love sports. So to me, one of my goals in my career is to become more and more of a (thinks) …not a “live” sports announcer—and not necessarily one of the guys—but just kind of be welcomed into that world, whether it’s doing some more promos and commercials for college sports or the pros, particularly, the NBA, NFL and MLB. That’s something I want to continue to break into. So when the Boston Celtics got a hold of me and said “hey, we’ve never had anyone outside of our office do voice over and it’s unanimous, everyone selected you!” I was super floored and super honored because, this is cool, it’s the NBA! I would love to voice for the Portland TrailBlazers—the Blazers are my number one—but I made Boston my two now. It was a thrill because I felt like I had been accepted into a guys world. That was a huge honor, I think that men are awesome, but when you’ve got a woman in this world that’s really trying to break through, I really believe in empowering and cheering each other on, so it meant a lot to me to be accepted into a guys world.

The other one that is unique and quite a thrill since I grew up playing video games, was being hired to voice an artificial intelligence voice for a Nintendo Wii U game. It’s called Star Ghost and I am the AI voice named Maggie. It’s the only voice guide in the entire game. It’s a shoot-em-up game so it’s kinda like based off of Asteroids, but so much more extravagant. It was a real honor to voice for the things I grew up with. With sports it was the Boston Celtics and with video games—which can also be a guys world—to do the sassy, snarky artificial intelligence voice.

Those are the ones that really stand out to me. I love when you can just take your time. It’s kind of like when I make my caramel, you just kinda let the butter melt and let it do its thing. You don’t speed it along, so when I can have a script and let it really permeate, and just settle in, in a natural way, and it can be really alive in that moment. My motto is ‘bringing words to life’. I always enjoy trying to capture the brand and the heart of the story.

Sundholm recording studio

Design is kind of a social industry for us. We have a lot of different sites and places we go for inspiration. We attend conferences and we’re inherently visible so it’s easy to get to know colleagues and competition. In voice acting is it similar or different and how so?

I think it’s the exact same way, honestly, because there’s a lot of people out in the world trying to get into this business, but they always say that voice over community is a very small community. I think wanting to be a designer or wanting to be a voice actor there has to be that true passion behind it. It can’t just be something that sounds fun. It can’t just be something like “oh, that’s interesting”, “I think I want to move to New York and do this,” and “I’d make so much money.” It can’t be about the money. It can’t be about the publicity. It has to really come from a real core place—I think—to be successful in it.

I have found so many amazing friends, colleagues, mentors and coaches in the voice over community. I believe no matter how many things or projects you’ve done—(and I’ve voiced thousands of projects)—and also tell my sons that do voice over too, that I plan on never “arriving.” I don’t want to arrive. This is a journey—a continuation—and you can always get better at things and grow. You can always add more layers. I don’t want to ever stop learning, stop connecting and innovating. I will always reach out to my coaches and mentors, my colleagues and friends and family, because I need them. Relationships are key to accountability and living life fully. They’re really important. As far as the competitive thing between colleagues—even if there’s a casting call and maybe 10 of my friends are submitting—sure, you can see this as competitive in a way, but at the end of the day, I know nobody has my voice, my thumbprint. We all cheer each other on.

At the end of the day, I know nobody has my voice, my thumbprint. If I’m the right glove or the right shoe, I’ll get hired and I’ll be confident because I know that I was myself.

Michelle Sundholm When asked about competition

If I’m the right glove or the right shoe, I’ll get hired and I’ll be confident because I know that I was myself. I can mimic other things in voice acting but that’s not true to me, so I make sure that when I approach something, I’m being me.

I went to Normandy, France a couple years ago as an assistant to one of my coaches (who’s amazing!) I made a lot of new friendships there as well as spent quality time with old friends. I think getting out and being involved in conferences is so valuable in getting to know your voice over community.

I’m competitive with myself in my own Michelle Sundholm brand. I’m going to look at stats daily, I’m going to do some marketing, I’m going to make sure that I’m on people’s radar, but it’s just part of being an entrepreneur. It’s part of who I am and my true passion, so I don’t really see it as being competitive with my colleagues even though I think on the outside looking in it could be seen as that way. My husband is in the music industry and often says to me, “man, you are so lucky to be in an industry where everyone actually likes each other.” I feel very blessed with the tight community and all of the wonderful creatives I get to collaborate with on a daily basis.

Visit Michelle’s website to learn more about her and check out samples of her work.

Our video work with Michelle