Gustin explains, “I was 21 and finally going to give voice work a serious shot, and this agent tells me that if I can’t read copy off of a page I can’t work in the industry. From that point on I decided that I couldn’t tell anyone that I was blind.”
This post originally appeared at Blast Magazine
By Anthony Geehan
“Hi, I’m Pete Gustin. I’m a voice-over guy, and I’m legally blind.”
Now a working radio producer and voice over actor, Pete was diagnosed at the age of eight with macular degeneration, a condition that would eventually leave him completely blind. Pete, rather than fret and linger on the condition, decided to pursue as many creative endeavors as possible. These included, but were not limited to leading the rock/hip-hop band Penthouse J, writing a full length novel about a questionable messianic figure, and creating short flash animation cartoons.
“I’ve always enjoyed being creative,” said Gustin, “and in a way I was lucky the condition was degenerative. I noticed a difference in my sight about every five years, so I made the effort to get as many expressive things done while I could.”
While his other endeavors are worth mentioning, Pete remains best known as a voice-over actor and his work on radio; a career that actually started as a result of his condition.
“I used to listen to Dave Maynard (WBZ host) when he did his events for eye research. I called him on his show one day and told him my story. From that point on I was involved with his charity work, and by the time I went off to college I had caught the radio bug.”
After studying at Boston University and becoming interested in voice-over work, Pete made the big move from Boston to New York in order to meet with an agent. It was there that Pete met with his big road block.
“It was a devastating experience,” explained Gustin, “I was 21 and finally going to give voice work a serious shot, and this agent tells me that if I can’t read copy off of a page I can’t work in the industry. From that point on I decided that I couldn’t tell anyone that I was blind.”
Having depended mainly on memorization and looking through a magnifying glass to read his given copy, the change that technology brought to the industry helped Pete out immensely.
“Now that the tech got better, not only can I work around my condition, but I get to read copy in my house and send MP3s for my audition. This along with the advancement of text to speech software has been a tremendous help.”
After practice with these techniques and honing his voice skills, Pete found himself with work for Super Bowl commercials, an international campaign for Sony Playstation, and daytime TV advertisements. He also found work locally as a personality and creative service director at WEEI Sports Radio Network. A job, he says, that is more connected his love of voice work rather than sports.
“I played sports in high school, but I was never the guy who could recite stats or anything like that,” Gustin confessed. “When I got into radio though, I found that you have a lot more control and influence over talk stations as far as production and content, whereas music stations are built mostly around songs.”
It was after finding a career in voice work and production that Pete made the decision to post his now famous video. The inspiration for it came from a somewhat circular and ironic source.
“I was encouraged by an agent to make the video and tell my story. It was funny because I had been told by one agent that my macular degeneration would stop me from working in the industry, and here was another one saying he thought it would be a cool story that might help get me some attention for work. After it was posted it really exploded and I found myself as a face featured on local and national news.”
The video, one part personal story and one part free life lesson, resonated with several different people and has launched Pete on everything from Fox 25 news to N.P.R’s daily talk show Fresh Air. Still, as Pete says, he isn’t sure he will never be on the receiving end of prejudice again.
“I don’t know that I have the full perspective on the impact this story has had on my life.” explained Gustin. “I’m nervous that I will become known as ‘that blind guy’ and have people not want to hire me because of this. But I think I have enough proof that I have no disadvantage or hindrance in my job, and I’ve been able to turn this into such a positive thing. I get the job done just as well as anyone else does, and I’m really glad that I put the video out.”
Despite this slight nervousness, Pete stresses that the positive things the video has brought into his life already outweigh any of the negative consequences he might have to face.
“I’ve gotten emails from all over the world from people who were discouraged to pursue something they wanted due to their own ‘disabilities’. Some people have said they wanted to be actors and thought that no one would look at them twice due to their conditions, but after seeing my video they say that they’re going to go for it. I never intended for this video to inspire people, but I’m happy that it did.”
So, with the video out and his career as a voice-over artist paying off, is it back to behind the camera work for Pete Gustin? Not if he has anything to say about it.
“I’ve been in talks to get a T.V. show,” Gustin told Blast. “People have screen tested some videos I’ve done and they’re encouraged by the reactions they’ve been getting. It’ll be a whole new set of challenges for me, trying to see where the camera is and having to memorize the lines again, but even if it’s a long shot, I’m really excited about it.”
And for anyone who may be thinking about going into voice work, Pete reminds them to be confident but ready for a challenge.
“There seems to be a misconception for people who are just starting out that you get voice work by just having a great voice.” said Gustin. “It’s like any other job in art, you take small jobs first and work your way up. The talent pool is enormous now, and if you want to make it, you really have to deliver on voice-overs and express what the writers and directors want you to sound like. Always remember that Michael C. Hall and Kevin Spacey do voice-over work, so don’t rest on your talent.”
Read more from Blast.