Saturday, April 30, 2016

The importance of having a good recording space

For many voiceover artists, especially new ones, dealing with unwanted sound reflections off of
walls and surfaces, as well as outside noise, is a common challenge. You can have an expensive microphone but if you're not in a good recording environment your voiceovers are going to suffer. It's sad to see so many new voiceover folks having their auditions or work rejected not necessarily because of how they voiced the copy but because of negative sound related issues. You don't have to build an exceptional recording studio but get into a space where you're not going to have your voiceovers sound like they were recorded in an echoing cave. Foam, sound blankets, baffles are just some things that can be used to improve the quality of your voiceovers. Do some research on Google about this or go to You Tube and do a search about setting up a solid recording space before going out and spending a lot of money. And don't forget that large walk in closet that you might have would be a very good option to record in! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

San Francisco-a great place to be! (and play)

I consider myself very fortunate to live and voice here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Such diversity, things to do, wonderful weather (OK, it can be downright chilly in the city during the Summer so bring a jacket or a sweater), and I've met some fantastic folks at recording sessions who also do voice overs for a living-voice overs for a living, not a hobby. I'm up and at 'em every morning at 5AM PST and my day generally wraps at 2PM PST. But when it's time to close down the studio for the day, I'm out the door to enjoy all that this area has to offer. Golf is one of my favorite things to do and for the last nine months or so I've been coaching a twenty something, very talented basketball star. His natural ability has allowed him to quickly become a good golfer and I'm amazed how far he hits the ball. And the coaching aspect works wonders for me too at the end of a busy day.

As mentioned in another post, if you're planning on visiting San Francisco, make sure you get your tickets early for things like the Alcatraz tour. Showing up same day is no guarantee you'll be able to go.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

e Learning!

Newbies to the VO industry are often surprised to learn that around 90% of all voice over work is
non broadcast stuff-on hold messages, corporate video narration, audio book narration,
website audio, and learning voice overs. Much of my work consists of voicing learning projects. Many of the scripts that come to me are quite lengthy and detailed. After the recording comes the editing. In many cases, you'll be labeling and separating hundreds of files. I totally enjoy this segment of VO as you can learn a lot. And there's a large amount of learning narration work to be had. Online learning, mobile learning, and e learning is exploding by the second.

While newcomers to this business may be attracted to the more "glamorous" jobs like TV and radio commercials, overlooking non broadcast voice over can be very costly. The key to voicing learning narrations is to speak naturally, clearly, understand key words or phrases to emphasize,
maintain a pace of speech that's not too fast nor overly slow throughout the learning modules and remembering that learners will need a bit of time to absorb what you're saying. Former radio deejays most often will find learning narrations to be challenging as everything in radio is generally said very fast. Slowing the pace of speech down, but not sounding robotic, takes some practice and self awareness.

It's been a while since I've posted on this blog. E learning narrations have been keeping me very busy!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Today's laughable job lead from

Most of my voice over work comes through referrals, repeat clients, producers who found my demos on my website and once in a while through a job lead at Voice seekers go there to find voice talents for their projects. A good deal of their job leads are below budget considering the scope of the project. I pick and choose very carefully with the auditions that come to me through them.

This morning, this audition invite hit my in box from

Need to present client with a person who can NAIL (his caps-not  mine) a Morgan Freeman impression. Please only submit if you SOUND EXACTLY LIKE MORGAN FREEMAN. Or James Earl Jones.

Thank you.


No, thank you Tom for the laugh. I would pay good money to hear those submissions.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Award winning film I voiced

A few years back, I was called upon by producer Donald L. Vasicek to voice a very somber narration for "The Sand Creek Massacre." Don emailed me a few days ago telling me it had won numerous prestigious awards and is being distributed in North America and Asia. It's played at festivals in all states and recently was catalogued in the Smithsonian Institution. Needless to say, I was thrilled and very proud to be part of this. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Some videos I voiced for a German agency

The Internet has opened up many doorways for me and other voice talents. Going global with my voice overs has been very satisfying. I recently voiced a series of videos for Conrad Caine, a very large, international agency headquartered in Munich. Here's a link to one of the videos.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Some of the best female voice talents band together

So a select group of stellar female voice talents have banded together to put up a "For Ladies Only" website showcasing their talents. They have a mission. You can check out their demos here

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The 10 Most Irritating Phrases List

I'm posting this on a Sunday morning with "Meet the Press" on in the background. Once again I cringe throughout the broadcast as politician after politician (and commentator) keeps saying "At the end of the day..." Ugh! Is there some national law that I missed that says on any nationally televised political show the phrase "At the end of the day" must be said at least 100 times? It got me to thinking so I Googled "10 Most Irritating Phrases" and lo and behold, "At the end of the day"claimed the top spot according to an Oxford survey. Here's a link to the list.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Remembering my friend Ed McCarthy of CNN radio

What a shock I got the other day. Having some down time between voice over jobs, I Googled the name of a friend I use to work with at WIRK in West Palm Beach, Florida. Don't know why, but I had him on my mind and was curious if he was still in the business. Like me, Ed had traveled around the country from station to station and landed a great job at CNN radio in the mid 80's. Back when he worked at WIRK, he was our news director. But he was also more than that to me. He was my golfing buddy, one of the funniest people I've ever met, a darn good broadcaster, and every year he would invite his co-workers from the radio station to come by his apartment for out of this world corn beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. A real character with a huge laugh. When I did my Google search, it indicated he had passed away back in 2009 at a hospital in Georgia. We had not been in touch for a very long time-I continued my career in radio and then voice over, and he became a national radio correspondent at CNN Atlanta.

I'll always remember the great times we had and how I was with him on a par 3 golf course in Florida one afternoon when he made a hole in one and fell down on the grass laughing his rear end off. He hit the world's biggest slice ball off the tee. And he used a fairway wood to make the hole in one on a VERY short hole. Most average golfers would have used a nine iron. The ball did its usual wicked slice routine and fell in the hole much to our amazement.

R.I.P friend. Thanks for the laughs and cool memories.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The free online talking dictionary of English pronunciation- Howjsay

Lately I've been voicing some very technical medical scripts. One of my favorite sites to go to for audio pronunciation is Howjsay. It's pretty thorough. Some of the words I've been voicing are:


These kinds of words can be challenging to even an experienced voice talent. Making them roll off the tongue smoothly is key and may require multiple takes until it sounds natural. Long medical words are often several words strung together so you have to kind of break the word down. Like the word "alkylisothioureas" above. (alkyl-isothioureas). Howjsay can be very helpful in actually hearing the word pronounced, or a word within the long word.  Check out the site here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Emphasis 101 for new voice over talents

One of the primary skills when doing voice over is knowing which words in a script to emphasize. (Or not emphasize).Of course, you'll have many choices. If you're being directed while in the booth, the director/producer may tell you exactly which words to emphasize.

Let's take this very simple sentence and see what the variables are for emphasis.

"Did you walk the dog today?"

If you emphasize the word "you" that would imply you're asking whether a said individual walked the dog as opposed to some other individual.

If you emphasize the word "dog" that would imply you're asking whether a particular person walked the dog as opposed to some other animal.

If you emphasize the word "today" that would imply you're asking whether the dog was walked today as opposed to yesterday.

You can click here to hear the audio for the sentence.

So, as you can see, a sentence meaning can be drastically changed with emphasis. Knowing which words to emphasize before even turning to the microphone is key.

There are many ways to emphasize a word when voicing. Many get slightly louder when they come to the key word. But you can also emphasize a word by getting softer, elongating the word ("It was h-o-t today!"), taking a very brief pause just before you say the word, and changing up your pitch as you say the word. Again, it's all about choices. Using a mixed bag can make the read much more interesting.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ugh! Mouth clicks and other gremlins of the VO world

With the hyper sensitivity of today's microphones, recording a voice over without lip smacks, mouth clicks and such can be a bit of a task. Being well hydrated with water before a recording session is a good foundation. Another tried and true trick is to eat a Granny Smith apple. That particular type of apple works wonders when it comes down to eliminating or minimizing mouth clicks. Not just any old apple-a Granny Smith apple, the green one shown here.

Of course, in post production, clicks between words can often be eliminated. However, some nasty clicks are layered right over the word or a syllable. So, it's best to eliminate them at the source-your mouth. Every voice over artist will tell you what type of mouth noise they battle from time to time. A case of "clickitis" can be particularly frustrating on long form narrations. For me, the water and the Granny Smith apples work wonders. Plus, they taste good.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Craigslist, voice over and the lure of "easy money"

Recently I received some interesting emails from voice talents in response to a post I put on Craigslist. Essentially, I was warning newbie, or simply inexperienced voice talents, to be very careful about responding to ads for voice over work. When someone puts in their ad that it's a quick and easy job, I can feel my blood pressure rising. If the craft of voice over is so easy, then why isn't everyone doing it? (Scroll down the blog in a bit and read "So you want to do voice overs?" for a humorous take.) Most of the ads for voice over work on Craigslist are way below industry standards regarding pay and some even offer no pay with the proverbial dangling carrot of possible future work, or copy and credit. Here's an actual ad posted on Craigslist casting for voice talent. Take a look. This was posted under New York Craigslist jobs. I've altered nothing including the misuse of capital letters.

"Director in search of Voice Over Actress for Great looking Short film tomorrow in mid town studio bet 3-5p. The Original actress is unavailable and we want to release this within the month. We are looking for a youthful ( mid 20's ) and sexy voice. We have a great post house ready to let us do a few hours ( which should be more then enough). The movie is 90% done. Only missing V.O and color correction. This is for credit and $50. Please respond with headshot, voice sample and contact info

it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
Compensation: $50"

Let's break this ad down and look at the specifics.

This voice seeker wants a quality voice but is offering a "whopping" $50 for two hours of time. Also, if all they need is a "youthful, mid 20's, sexy voice," why are they requesting a headshot? The ad says nothing about the actress also being on camera-it simply refers to a voice. BIG red flag. In addition, a nice looking 20 something female should be very wary about going to someone's studio alone. Bad news scenarios are rampant about Craigslist predators.

I understand that inexperienced voice talents might be desperate to land some work, but in my opinion, the majority of Craigslist ads for voice talent need to be reviewed very carefully. In the ad above, they promise "copy and credit." My question to them would be, what makes you think that your copy is something that's going to be so special that I would want to include it on my demo reel or VO resume? Another dangling carrot.

If you're an inexperienced voice talent or someone looking to explore this business, feel free to contact me for some solid input. I'll be happy to assist you. No charge.

In all fairness to Craigslist voice seekers, I have landed a few decent jobs from Craigslist, but those were few and far between.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Alcatraz audio tour

If you ever visit the San Francisco Bay Area, I highly recommend you take the ferry from Pier 33 and head out to the infamous Alcatraz. I was joined by my sister and brother in law from Ohio when they vacationed here and we went on the walking tour through the prison. The narration and sound effects you hear through the rented headset are really outstanding. The audio tour is optional but you'll be missing a lot if you decline. You'll get an amazing look and listen into the way things used to be for the inmates and guards. Travel tip: Get your tickets in advance as the tours book very quickly. Showing up at Pier 33 the day you want to go over to Alcatraz is no guarantee of being able to go that day. You can get ticket information here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Vincent Price and Michael Jackson's Thriller

It has always fascinated me that Vincent Price supposedly recorded his haunting narration for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in just two takes. Not bad Vincent!

Having him on that recording was pure genius. Who better to do the narration than the late king of horror movies-Vincent Price?

Vincent apparently got paid a flat $20,000 to add his voice to this monster classic. But as an option he was offered a percentage of the album sales, which he turned down. Ouch! Read other fun facts about Vincent and the song here

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Practice doesn't make perfect

I'm a life long golfer and during my junior and senior high years played competitively against some very good golfers. My father taught me the game when I was very young. I did however receive a few structured lessons from teaching pros, always looking to elevate my game. I recall one golf pro telling me on the practice tee, "Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent." That always stuck with me, even well beyond my golf game. If you're practicing the wrong things with your golf swing, your muscle memory is going to groove those things, and instead of improving your game, you'll be ruining it. Of course, the same applies to so many things in life, not just golf. I always tell those who approach me wanting to get into voice over to get some solid instruction from a qualified voice over coach. These days there are many people teaching voice over, but not all are qualified, or they're simply looking to make a buck. Be selective. Do your research before you receive instruction. And remember, practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. Make sure you're practicing the right things.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Have you voiced anything I would know?"

It happened again yesterday at my bank. I had a check come in from a first time client that I was not able to deposit at the ATM so I went inside. I was standing in a very long teller line at Bank of America, when a customer rep asked if anyone had just a direct deposit-no cash back transaction, which mine was. So, she pulled me out of line (Yippeeee!) and we went to a service station where she handled the details. I told her for whatever reason the check was not able to be processed at the outdoor ATM.

At one point, she asked me what I do for a living. I told her that I do voice overs for TV, some radio, but LOTS of non broadcast stuff for websites, corporate videos, e learning narrations and the like. She then asked me a question I usually get when folks find out what I do for a living- "Have you done anything that I would have heard, or that made you famous?" Of course, I always chuckle inside a bit when I get asked this as it's hard to know what people have heard. I told her that I had voiced four TV spots that aired nationally on the Game Show Network in support of a show called "Think Like a Cat" that she might have seen and heard. (I have one of the spots posted in the video section on this blog.) I went on to tell her that I voice many different genres of voice over, much of it non-broadcast stuff. People are sometimes surprised to hear that roughly 90% of all voice over work is non broadcast-it's a huge part of the VO pie. (Audio book narration has exploded). Those just learning the voice over craft tend to want to gravitate toward the more glamorous stuff like TV commercials and animation voice. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you ignore all the opportunities that abound in non broadcast work, you'll be missing out on a lot.

Another thing I get often is "Oh,that's cool!' "C'mon, do some voices!" I politely decline
and hand out a business card with my website address where my online demos can be heard. Hate to be a party pooper, but...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

So how much do voice actors really make?

So, I was enjoying my morning coffee and newspaper on a Sunday at one of my favorite restaurants here in Castro Valley when I came upon the Parade Magazine insert. This particular issue was billed as their annual "How much do they make ?"survey. I've sometimes had folks ask me if the money is good for doing what I do. My initial response is it depends how accomplished you are, what niche of voice over you excel in (or don't), whether you voice full time or treat it as a hobby, how you structure your rates, whether you're a union or non union voice actor, etc. As you can see, there are lots of variables.

With a natural curiosity to see if this issue of Parade had voice actors listed, I opened the pages to find they did in fact have a listing for voice actors. The voice actress they showed from New York, New York made a "whopping" $10,000! My immediate reaction was this must be a typo. No offense to this woman, but you have to try really hard not to make more than $10,000 per year if you have decent voice acting abilities. I know non union voice actors who are making six figures. And we're not talking about celebrities paid large amounts of money to voice a commercial. We're talking people whose names and faces you would never know. My next thought was, "OK, well this is what this particular voice actress makes per year, and she might be voicing part time, but it is not a true indicator of what the average income of most voice actors is."

So my answer to "How much do voice actors make?" is a lot... and sometimes, not a lot, depending upon many variables. How's that for a vague answer? Like any of these so called salary surveys, you have to take the information with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Celebrities in TV ads (thumbs up or thumbs down?)

If you're like me, when you see a famous person doing a TV commercial for Wrangler Jeans or a brand new car, you might wonder to yourself just how much they got paid by the agency/company to appear on camera. In most cases-LOTS! But, there have been more than a few debates and studies within the advertising world about whether the amount paid to bring in a hot celebrity to be a part of a TV commercial is really worth it. Ad Age takes a detailed look into this topic. You can read it here. Personally, I don't think I've ever made a buying decision based on seeing a celebrity in a TV commercial. And sometimes, even though a TV ad may be funny, it's not particularly memorable once I'm in a store. But that's a topic for another post.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Let's Get Physical!"

Some of us remember the old Olivia Newton John song, "Physical," from way back when. It was a song full of sexual tension and play. Here's the chorus line.

"Let's get physical, physical, I wanna get physical, let's get into physical. Let me hear your body talk, your body talk, let me hear your body talk" 

Why am I posting this on a voice over blog? Folks are often surprised to see all the physical movements that voice over artists use in the booth. Established Hollywood actors often find voice over quite challenging. That makes sense. Think about it. If you're on camera, you have both sound (your voice) and visual (body movement) coming into play. With voice over, visual is not a factor. So, there's that additional requirement of needing to convey the emotion through words alone. Not always an easy task.

Beginning voice over artists are often told by their coaches to go ahead and get physical. (Not the kind Olivia sang about but you get the idea.) Move those hands! Make those facial expressions as you voice! In other words, don't just stand at the microphone!  It all comes through in the recording. So it should come as no surprise to see expert voice over talents gesturing a lot in the recording booth. 

Here's an experiment. Grab some copy for an auto dealership ( or write a paragraph or two) where the direction is "High energy-over the top" with the delivery. You've no doubt heard these hard sell spots on your TV. (Yep, the loud, annoying ones). Now, put both your hands in your pocket and try voicing with that high energy direction in mind. I'm sure you'll find that the hands in your pocket will clamp you down considerably. It's much more productive to get those hands moving as you read. It's the same reason why many VO artists record standing up. Sitting down can cramp your style. Studies have shown there is a direct correlation between your vocal chords and body movement.

When I was in high school, I used to get teased for talking with my hands. When I entered the voice over world, I realized that talking with your hands can make you money. Not a bad trade.

So, go ahead, get physical when you voice that copy! 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Regis Philbin to retire

Hats off to Regis Philbin as he announced his retirement from "Live with Regis and Kelly" this morning (January 18th, 2011). He's in the Guinness Book of World Records for most hours logged on TV.

I use to co-host a radio show in West Palm Beach, Florida for five years and getting up at 3:30 AM to hit the air at 5:00 AM all bright and cheery was sometimes no small feat. And in Regis' case, he had to face a camera. One of the reasons I enjoyed my twenty seven years on the radio- no cameras! Job well done Regis!
You can read about the specifics here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A great audio pronunciation guide

For those of us who voice scripts for a living, there's a very handy website to bookmark. It's called Forvo.
All the words in the world. Pronounced
You'll find audio pronunciations of words from all over the world. Lately I've been voicing some Japanese to English corporate video scripts and this site has been helpful.

Check it out here .

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Levelator

A useful little application I sometimes use here in my studio is called The Levelator. You can drag and drop a WAV or AIFF file into it and it will "equal out" the overall volume of a file like magic. This is especially useful if you were to have multiple voices  at different volume levels.

I sometimes will use this when I'm speaking very softly at the microphone but want the volume of my recording to be elevated. The best way to see what it can do for you is to try it out. You can download it here. There's also a more detailed explanation as to what it does.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Voice over in a nutshell

I was doing some house cleaning on my computer and stumbled upon one of my favorite quotes I had saved years ago in a folder. It came from the late advertising legend, Bill Bernbach. (More about him below from Wikipedia.)
In one sentence, he managed to not only sum up the ad world of which he was such a large part, but he also described what voice overs are all about. Here's the quote.

"It's not just what you say that stirs people. It's the way that you say it." 

I would add that voice actors spend years learning the nuances of the craft.  Anyone who thinks that voice over is just about reading words off a page has missed Bill's insightful comment completely.

Here's a bit more about him from Wikipedia:
William (Bill) Bernbach (August 13, 1911, New York City - October 2, 1982, New York City) was an advertising creative director. He was one of the three founders in 1949 of the international advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB). He directed many of the firm's breakthrough ad campaigns and had a lasting impact on the creative team structures now commonly used by ad agencies.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bloopers ("Help! My tongue just got stuck!")

What was it that somebody once said about not taking yourself too seriously? Voice over retakes in the booth are the norm. When being directed, the producer may ask you to read the same line over and over until he/she hears what they feel is needed. Then there are days when your tongue gets wrapped around your teeth and you just can't say what you want. I was voicing some particularly challenging copy for a bait and tackle shop, and the copy had the craziest names for fishing lures you've ever heard. Not only that, but the sentence structure was a bit unusual. You can hear my blooper here with your media player. It's a very brief clip.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shifting gears

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest challenges any voice over talent faces who works alone from a home project studio is being able to make the necessary adjustments throughout the day to give a particular piece of copy the read it needs. My day starts very early, 4-5 AM PST, as I have East Coast clients who come to me on an almost daily basis (Hello Comcast New York/New Jersey!). I tag a fair amount of TV spots and on air promos for them. So, they might come to me needing a very uptempo tag  for a  Monday Night Football sponsorship. Then I'll have something else hit my email that calls for a very deliberate read, such as e learning where the copy needs to be voiced rather slowly, so the learner can digest what's being said. After that, an audition comes in that requires a whole different pace and feel. So, it's important to take a breath between jobs and really try to refocus. It's part of effective self directing. All day long you're shifting vocal gears if you voice a wide variety of scripts. Sometimes just opening up the door and walking outside in between jobs for a moment helps to clear your head for the right read. When you're super busy, it's easy to forget to do this.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Say goodbye to the Walkman

I could have titled this post, "My how time flies." Sony announced today that it is halting production of the Walkman which came out in 1979. With the lightning speed of digitization and new technology, you have to wonder what new toys we'll have in the next five to ten years.
From a CNN article posted on the site today:

After retiring the floppy disk in March, Sony has halted the manufacture and distribution of another now-obsolete technology: the cassette Walkman, the first low-cost, portable music player. The final batch was shipped to Japanese retailers in April, according to IT Media. Once these units are sold, new cassette Walkmans will no longer be available through the manufacturer.

The first generation Walkman (which was called the Soundabout in the U.S., and the Stowaway in the UK) was released on July 1, 1979 in Japan. Although it later became a huge success, it only sold 3,000 units in its first month. Sony managed to sell some 200 million iterations of the cassette Walkman over the product line's 30-year career.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Thanks for calling!"

When I lived in North Carolina a number of years ago, I use to drive over the border three times a week to Muzak headquarters in Ft. Mill, South Carolina and voice countless on hold messages. (Yes, Muzak does a lot more than just produce elevator music.) I was one of many voice talents who would drop in throughout the week to voice from a VO booth. We had an audio engineer down the hallway who would roll scripts on a monitor in front of us and capture the on hold messages for editing and formatting later. As voice talents, our role was to come in and voice as many two-three paragraph scripts as we could in an hour. This required very good "cold reading" ability. That is to say, we didn't have a chance to see the scripts before the session, so you had to be good at voicing on the fly. If you made a mistake, you'd simply revoice the line and move on-the fix would be done in editing. There was a HUGE premium put on voice talents who could whiz through the scripts and voice say, 35-45 separate messages in an hour.  We were paid a decent hourly rate and the work was relatively stress free with nominal direction. I did the math once and know with certainty that I have voiced literally thousands of on hold messages in my career.

Phrases like, "You're call  is important to us," "Thanks for holding...we'll be with you in a minute," and "While you're waiting, did you know...?" have been the norm for many years with little change. Of course, many folks hate to be put on hold or get caught up in an on hold hell of sorts as they feverishly push buttons to be connected to a live, breathing, human being.

I've had a few funny experiences over the years when calling businesses. Recently, here in California, I called an online auto parts supplier to follow up on an order I had placed through their website. It was very early morning and I received an hours of operation, on hold message. ("We're currently closed, but our hours of operation are from..."). I heard the voice and thought, "Boy, that guy sounds a lot like me," when it dawned on me it WAS me! Having voiced so many on hold messages it's easy to lose track and some can run for quite a while before needing to be updated.

Another time, a producer/client friend of mine emailed to tell me he was with friends in the middle of a California desert getting some gas when he heard my voice overhead at the gas pump beckoning customers to come in the convenience store to get a Slurpy or cup of freshly brewed coffee. He said it kind of freaked him out as my voice came out of nowhere and he told his friends, "Hey, that's John Miles. I hired him to voice for me." This type of messaging is what is known as "overhead." You hear these messages in stores all the time.

I still voice on hold messages for a Long Beach, California producer and a few others, but not to the extent I did while voicing at Muzak.  Many voice talents stay away from on hold work. I still enjoy it. Part of the challenge is to combine a conversational read with some enthusiasm without sounding cheesy.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Loud commercials skating on thin ice

You know the situation. You're watching your favorite TV show and they go to a commercial break, when all of a sudden, your ear drums are assaulted by an extremely loud commercial. Complaints have been filed with the F.C.C. for years. It looks like something is finally going to be done about it. (Insert applause).You can read about it here.

It got me to thinking about what a loud world we live in. And it seems to some folks, the thought of complete silence sends shivers up their spines. There's a tendency to want to fill the perceived void of silence with something-chatter, music on the radio, or a TV on in the background.

I've been working for some time on trying to get my personal"noise factor" down a bit. I almost always drive with my radio off. Silence-priceless.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"The voice of Bart"

The voice of Bart Simpson-Nancy Cartwright
In the San Francisco Bay Area, if you were to ask someone who does the voice of Bart, he or she might ask you for clarification. Here, B.A.R.T. stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit. And as you wait on the platform for the train to come, you'll hear several voices announcing departure and arrival times. They're actually synthesized voices called, "George and Gracie." The history behind them is kind of fascinating. Read about them and hear a sample of their voices here.

Another suitable answer would be Nancy Cartwright. She's the voice of Bart Simpson. When the series first became a hit, many were surprised that Bart's voice was being done by a woman.

Years ago, Nancy took a big chance, packed up her beat up car in Dayton, Ohio, and headed to California. She was lucky enough to study under the legendary Daws Butler, a master of animation voices. He originated the voices of many famous cartoon characters, including Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound. What an education she got from Mr. Butler. Not to mention landing  the gig of a lifetime. Her book, "My Life as a Ten Year Old Boy" is a fun and informative read.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"What the heck is VO imaging ? "

From time to time, someone will ask me what I mean by imaging, as it applies to the voice over world. The short answer is that it's the pre-recorded voice you hear promoting the upcoming newscast on your TV station ("Tonight at 10-find out where to buy the cheapest gas in your area!"). Or, the voice you hear between songs on your local radio station ("We play the most music! Star 104.7!"). It's what program directors use to "brand" their stations. There are many voice over talents who specialize in this type of work, and their voices are heard across the country on many stations or across networks. The money can be very good for exceptional talents in this niche of voice over.

One of the best  to ever come down the pike was Ernie Anderson. I grew up on the west side of Cleveland (Insert joke here) , and as a kid, use to watch Ernie on TV 8 as he hosted a scary/corny horror flick. He was "Hot in Cleveland" long before the current hit TV series with Betty White. Ernie went by the character name of Ghoulardi, and to say that his comedy bits were a bit strange and unpredictable is a huge understatement.

What's cool is, he used that local TV show as a springboard to launch an incredibly successful imaging career on national TV networks when he made the move to L.A. His voice would truly rattle your speakers. And believe it or not, some of his pre-recorded, generic, imaging liners are still being used by radio stations today, even though he died back in 1997. Many will remember him as the deep voiced "Love Boat" announcer.

Click on this link and then the other links you'll see to hear his amazing take on copy. Also, check out the video link you'll see to watch him and several other VO talents at work. The clip is very dated from an old L.A. TV magazine show, but still fun and interesting to watch.

Friday, September 3, 2010

My quiet haven

I enjoy walking in San Francisco, most often on weekends. But when I don't want to take our rapid transit up there and am looking for something closer to home, I hop in the car and head to this beauty of a lake a few miles from my studio. Here's a pic of Lake Chabot with wonderful walking paths on each side here in Castro Valley, California. You often see folks either fishing or boating on the lake, as well.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's indeed a small world

Yesterday I was hired to do a voice over for a fledgling company's website. I had auditioned for the job earlier in the day and that afternoon received an email from them that I had won the audition- they wanted to hire me to voice for them. It was a relatively short script that called for a certain amount of enthusiasm, but not too over the top. Job finished, I emailed them a link to download the audio file. Within fifteen minutes or so, I received an email from "Eran" that they liked what I did and he requested an invoice. I emailed a Pay Pal invoice, which I usually do for first time customers. The payment came through within minutes and was from Haifa, Israel. It got me to thinking once again about how the Internet has really made it a very small world. I also voice for clients in Germany, India and Japan when they need an English/American voice over. Count me in as one of those folks very grateful for the Internet and what it allows me to do every day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sage advice from the late Master

So I was scouring through my book bag the other evening, and pulled out a book about voice over I bought several years ago. It's called, "Secrets of Voice Over Success" by Joan Baker. And while there are many voice over books on the market, I particularly like this one, as it features some of the top voice over artists in the industry talking about their path from unknown to the A list. Each chapter features a different voice, and the first one, fittingly, is the late movie trailer superstar, Don LaFontaine.

As anyone in this business knows, auditioning is the norm for landing jobs. I was taken by Don's observation about not only auditioning, but rejection. Here's the direct passage.

"No matter how good you may be, you're not going to book every job for which you audition. Sometimes the answer is going to be no. I never let it bother me. I keep in mind that this is a very subjective business. I am certainly not right for every job. As an actor, rejection is the first thing with which you learn to deal. It's not so much rejection as it is a process of elimination. You do it all the time. If you select Burger King over McDonalds, you're not rejecting McDonalds; you simply prefer Burger King. That's the way it is in this business. Don't dwell on it. Move on. Believe me; your career is not over."

This coming from, arguably, the most successful voice over artist of all time. Powerful stuff indeed.

The book is a great read. You can find it on Amazon.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"It ain't over till it's over"

I was surfing the net the other day and stumbled on a link, which took me to a page full of Yogi Berra quotes. Funny stuff! For those with little sports knowledge, he is a retired baseball player and manager (now 85) who has a tendency  for malapropism. I think his most well known is, "It ain't over till it's over." (That kind of reminded me of some e learning projects I've voiced, which can go on for weeks with numerous additions and revisions of the copy.) By the way, his real name is Lawrence Peter Berra. "Yogi" was a nickname a friend gave him who thought he looked like a holy Hindu man. Here are some of his other gems.

"We make too many wrong mistakes"
"Slump? I ain't in no slump... I just ain't hitting"
"You can observe a lot by watching"
"It gets late early around here..."
"A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore"
"If I didn't wake up I'd still be sleeping"
"I usually take a two hour nap from 1 to 4"
"If you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up somewhere else"
"The future ain't what it used to be"
"If they don't want to come, you can't stop them"
"Always go to other people's funerals otherwise they won't go to yours"
"You have to give 100 percent in the first half of the game. If that isn't enough, in the second half, you have to give what is left."
"Never answer an anonymous letter"

Can you imagine having to voice copy written by Yogi? Yikes!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A new member of the family

I just added this preamp to my audio chain in my studio, and absolutely love it. A good preamp teamed with a good microphone is a must. I have to say that after reading many of the glowing, online reviews of the Grace M101, it certainly lives up to all the positive buzz. Some even saying it could sell for two to three times as much. I like that it doesn't "color" the microphone sound, in my case, a Neumann TLM 103. And the simplicity and ease of use is a winner.  The Grace Design company is based in Colorado. By the way, there was nothing wrong with my other preamp, I just like what this preamp brings to the studio. Money well spent.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Natural" and "Believable"

I wish I had a nickel for every time I saw one of the two words above in an audition spec. If you go to You Tube and click on any of the TV commercials of yesterday, say back in the 50's and 60's, you're more than likely going to hear an announcer type delivery that sounds over projected with volume, and a lot of "sell and hype" in the voice. Not to say that those don't still exist in today's advertising world ( i.e.-Hard sell auto commercials or infomercials). Now more than ever however, casting directors are looking for voice talents who can sound natural (non-hyped/ conversational), and believable, while standing or sitting in front of a microphone. That takes good old fashioned experience.

I have found  newbie voice talents tend to often make the mistake of speaking too loudly into the microphone. This results in an affected and over projected voice quality that is far from sounding natural. The key is to let the microphone do the work of amplifying your voice, and "get small" with your voice-less volume. Imagine that your best friend is standing right next to you and you're speaking to him or her. You certainly wouldn't get overly loud in their ear when speaking, so why do it when recording a voice over? Another analogy would be people who feel the need to yell into their cell phones, as if the listening party cannot hear them.

Quick tip:  Recording with headphones off (or maybe just one ear outside the phones), can help you to achieve a more natural sound. What happens is many folks get too caught up listening to themselves through the headphones, which can result in an unnatural sounding voice over. I realize that in studio settings where producers/directors are giving you direction from outside the booth, you'll need to have them on to hear. But if you're voicing from a home studio and self directing, try taking the headphones off sometimes. I think you'll find that  helps to make your reads more natural. Still, there are many  experienced voice talents who can sound natural with headphones on while recording. My advice so far is mainly intended for those just beginning their voice over endeavors and struggling with this issue.

Another part of making the voice over sound natural and believable is not overly enunciating the words. If you're voicing a "real person" type script , you'll want to aim for  more conversational diction. Pronouncing ev-e-ry lit-tl-e syl-la-bl-e with over emphasis will make you sound very stilted, unnatural and amateurish. On the other hand, you're not aiming for sloppy either. You have to kind of split the difference. Grab those audition scripts and practice! Sounding natural while in front of a microphone is an acquired skill.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"Where's the beef?"

I see they've come out with the top 10 advertising icons of all time and Clara Peller, the "Where's the Beef?" Wendy's spokesperson made the list. No surprise there. I had a moment of reflection, as back in the 80's, in my "former life" as a radio broadcaster, I had a chance to interview her. I was on the air in West Palm Beach on a Saturday morning when a call came in from a photographer friend of mine who had a knack for taking pics of celebrities. He happened to be visiting with Clara and her son, who were staying at a Palm Beach Gardens hotel. Sam asked me if I would be interested in doing a short interview with her on the air as she was in town for the Senior Olympics. At that time, everyone was running around saying "Where's the beef?". Folks were wearing t-shirts with that slogan on it. If you were around then you no doubt remember. It was insane! So, I told him that I'd be happy to put her on, figuring it might be somewhat comical. There was one small problem though. Her son informed me that she was extremely hard of hearing and doing the interview over the phone might be difficult, to say the least. I told him that I had an in studio reel to reel tape recorder patched into the phone line and I could roll tape, and then do an edit before putting the interview on the air. That in mind, he put her on the phone and I opened by asking her what brought her to the Palm Beaches, so she could talk about the Olympics. From the beginning, I knew I was in deep trouble when my questions were answered with absolute silence and she would occasionally bark, "Where's the beef?,"as if on command. (Think of one of those play dolls with the string you pull to hear a mechanical sounding voice). Her son grabbed the phone extension and said perhaps if I asked him the questions, he could ask her and I'd have enough stuff on tape I could use. So that's what we did.  I  edited out the pauses and gaffes and eventually put the very brief interview on the air, my listeners none the wiser. I later learned that Clara was in fact so hard of hearing that when they filmed the infamous Wendy's commercials, someone hidden from sight would tap her on the leg from behind the counter to cue her to say her infamous line, "Where's the beef?"

You can read  more about her and the other Top 10 advertising icons here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur."

No doubt, the headline above applies to many businesses, but since I'm in the voice over world, I'll touch a bit on what I know. As a politician has said more than a time or two, "Let me be brief."

"El Cheapo" voice overs are aplenty. With the explosion of affordable, digital audio equipment, many are hanging up the "I'm a professional voice over talent" shingle. Problem is, when it comes time to deliver the goods, they fall short. And not just in their abilities, but in the actual sound quality of the audio.

Getting good, clean audio in a home studio set up is not quite as easy as it may seem. For one, each recording space has a unique room tone. That is to say, XYZ microphone will sound differently if it's used in this room versus that one.  Some record from voice over booths. Others create an isolated space with proper acoustical treatment. I use products from this company. Then there's the additional challenge of blocking outside noise if you're recording in a busy neighborhood. When I moved into my new studio location several years ago, my main goal was to find a very quiet location, so buffering outside noise would be minimal. I was very fortunate to find a cool spot that literally sits near a quiet creek. Love it!

If you're planning on hiring a voice talent and having them record a paragraph or two of your script as an audition, listen to the audio with headphones on. This will highlight any audio deficiencies that may not be audible through your speakers. Things like computer fan noise, excessive echo flutter bouncing off walls, or let's hope not, but even barking dogs in the background, will be readily noticeable.

I'll wrap this post up by saying that I have made more than a few dollars from producers who have phoned me in a mild panic because they hired a low priced talent and needed a quick fix on a voice over.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Morgan Freeman dust up

Back in 2006, when Katie Couric started anchoring the CBS evening news, viewers were comforted with the trusted and familiar tones of the legendary Walter Cronkite introducing Katie with the news open. It goes without saying that Mr. Cronkite's voice was one of the most recognizable voices on TV. Not to mention his unforgettable, nightly news sign-off, "And that's the way it is." Since his passing, CBS big wigs decided to replace his voice with that of actor Morgan Freeman's as the news intro. This has caused a major uproar on forums everywhere. Just Google "Morgan Freeman replaces Walter Cronkite," and you're likely to see links to comments from news viewers who are less than thrilled with the change. Some take issue with the way Mr. Freeman pronounces Katie's last name. He says it more like "Coor-egg." I even saw one post on a voice over forum where the individual said that when Mr. Freeman was hired to record the news intro, no one wanted to direct "The Great Actor," and decided to let him do it his way.

My take on it is somewhat different. I think CBS hired Morgan Freeman because he has one of the most distinct and recognizable voices in the industry. And as far as directing him to voice a more classic, stylized news intro with a promo voice, I believe they hired him to be Morgan Freeman, not "Morgan Freeman trying to sound like an announcer." Some voice over colleagues of mine have noted how he mangles Katie's name. One adamantly stated on a forum, "Well, I think it's horrible! As voice over folks, we're hired to say things correctly with clear diction and enunciation." My response would be that Mr. Freeman is not a voice over artist per se and secondly, if perfect diction and enunciation were qualifiers for being accepted by the public, then Tom "Marble Mouth" Brokaw or Barbara "Wa-Wa" Walters would have never had flourishing journalism careers on TV.

Just for the record, here's what the big shots at CBS had to say regarding pulling Mr.Cronkite's news intro and replacing it with Mr.Freeman's.

"As comforting as it is to look back on the great career that Walter had, we're looking forward now and we just felt it was the right time to make the move that at some point had to be made," said CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus. "This seemed like the appropriate time since Walter's passing to make the move."

Having Freeman on board gives CBS the flexibility to record different intros when Couric has special reports and is on location, he said.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Arm robbery

What a laugh I got this morning when I read that someone had returned a stolen arm to one of my favorite breakfast places in San Francisco, "Lefty O'Doul's."  "A stolen arm?" you screech. "What's so funny about that?" (But wait, there's more!). Lefty was a legendary baseball player for numerous clubs and a manager of the old San Francisco Seals. (Yep, we're talking a long time ago.)

I often go here for a great meal before heading out to walk on the weekend, but I had no idea that poor Lefty's arm had been stolen three years ago. Well, not exactly his arm, but that of a Lefty mannequin that was near one of the front entrances. Not only was it stolen, it was taken on quite an adventure before being shipped back to the restaurant in a box this last Tuesday. Read the amusing tale and wonderful outcome here.

Hoarse throat relief in a bottle

One of the challenges of voicing many scripts is that your voice may decide to get in a funk from time to time. Dryness, raspiness - just plain ol' sore throat. Not being able to deliver projects on time can mean money lost, or worse yet, the loss of a client.

I heard about a terrific product from that great animation voice talent and coach, Pat Fraley, called "Entertainer's Secret." This stuff's been around for some time and professional singers (including Billy Joel), as well as voice over folks, have put it to good use. You spray it into your throat or sniff it into your nostrils. It's distributed by a company out of Indiana. The bottle indicates the main ingredient to be Aloe Vera Gel.

I ordered several bottles and keep them handy in my vocal booth.

I know that there are many other tricks of the trade that VO folks use to keep the voice fine tuned (such as nasal irrigation with saline solution), but this stuff works for me. And it's not messy.

And of course, staying properly hydrated with lots of water before a session takes place is key.

I saw Celine Dion interviewed on TV, and she said before she hits the stage, she likes to eat potato chips. She said the oil in them helps to lubricate her throat. No joke. (Isn't there a Lay's potato chip commercial in there somewhere?)

Monday, July 19, 2010

"But it came out at 30 seconds when I read it"

Sometimes, like other voices, I receive scripts from individuals who don't need a voice over very often. I always try to bring things up to speed by communicating that when timing out your copy, it's important to read the copy out loud- not just with your eyes silently.

I received a particularly challenging 30 second TV spot from a client where they wanted high energy and fast paced. Even at lightning speed it was coming in at around 35 seconds.  The client said that when so and so at the agency read it, they had no trouble timing it out at 30 seconds. I reminded him that the copy needs to be read out loud to get an accurate timing. A voice talent will also be inflecting and coloring the words, and that adds a bit of time too. The client realized that some copy needed to be cut, and all was well. As a voice talent, we can shave a few seconds off simply by voicing certain sections of the script at a faster pace and marginally slower for key copy points, like an address or company name.

For corporate video narrations, here's a quick tip to find out how long the voice over is going to be -not the entire run time of the video. Most corporate narrations are voiced at a rate of 150 words per minute. Simply do a word count of the voice over part in Word under "Tools", divide by 150, and you have your  estimate of the length of the VO. So, for example, if the word count is 784 words, that divided by 150 is just over five minutes. Pretty basic stuff, but useful.

While we're talking about timing, I voice medical narrations now and then. These can require a snail's pace when being voiced, as the content can be highly technical, and the viewer (learner) needs time to digest what's being said. Sometimes the pre- recording direction I'm given is "It needs to be slow." One person's slow may be another one's medium. That's where I find voicing a paragraph or two beforehand and sending the audio to confirm with the producer to be very helpful. Works like a charm.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


So I'm voicing some technical e learning scripts having to do with Java 8 that contain numbers references foreign to almost everybody. Today, this number, 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, came up in the script several times.

So glad this company is great at providing pronunciation keys, as upon first seeing this number on the script, my mind knotted up and went into a deep freeze. Whah?!!!!

Here's how the above should be said- Nine quintillion, two hundred twenty three quadrillion, three hundred seventy two trillion, thirty six billion, eight hundred fifty four million, seven hundred seventy five thousand, eight hundred and eight.

And yes, it took me a number of takes to say it (several times) and make it roll off the tongue. While you're at it, why not give it a try.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cell phone inventor

Here's a picture of the man considered to be the inventor of the cell phone, Martin Cooper. Look how large and clumsy that first phone looks in his hand. He's 81 years old now. The first words he uttered on April 3rd,1973? "Hello, Dominos, I'd like to order an extra large with anchovies." (OK, just kidding about this).

I saw him interviewed recently on "60 minutes," and he seemed like a very humble man.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Photo or no photo?

From time to time, I'll see posts on a favorite voice over forum of mine regarding whether personal photos should be used on voice over websites. I've never quite understood why the debate exists in the first place. Those of us who work in this industry do so with our voices -we're talking, disembodied heads. When I receive an audition notice, I know I'm going to be judged by the producer or voice seeker primarily on how well I interpret the copy, color the words, pace and tone, proper emphasis, the choices I make, etc. My facial expressions, the color of my shirt, how much hair I have on my noggin, and whether or not I look like their brother in law, is not going to be part of the selection process. And I like it that way.

There are many 40-50'ish year old voice talents who can effectively sound like a hip teenager voice on a spot. Why, I ask, would you want to post a photo on your website and possibly have that work against you? (And yes, if you're sending out MP3 auditions from your home studio with links to your website, some producers will be seeing your photo.)

Putting a head shot of yourself on your voice over website, in my humble opinion, is a big no no. Even if you look like Brad Pitt or Penelope Cruz.

If you're a voice talent who also does a fair amount of on camera work as well (such as a corporate spokesperson), then that's a different story.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why your voice sounds so different to you on playback

I was recently reminded about this phenomenon when a friend of mine visited my studio to record a few demo intro tracks. David has a wonderful South African accent and I asked if he wouldn't mind helping me out. He said, "Sure, no problem." After the very brief recording session, he came out of the booth area to watch me edit the tracks and hear his takes through my monitors. He noted how it's always strange to hear your recorded voice, because it sounds so different from how we hear ourselves through our heads. If you've ever wondered why that is, check this feature out.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Larry and his suspenders bid farewell

So I saw the announcement on the Internet this morning that Larry King told his viewers last night he's packing it in after 25+ years of interviewing the masses.

My all time favorite interview was when he went to Marlon Brando's
estate with his TV crew to do a full hour, and there sat the feisty actor in his easy chair, feet propped up, spewing all kinds of personal and show biz anecdotes. It was compelling TV. But Brando saved the best for last, when he planted a kiss on a somewhat stunned Larry King. I don't know whether that was planned or not, but judging by the look on Larry's face, it sure didn't look like it.

Of course, until "The King" steps down in the fall, speculation will be running wild about who the heir to the throne will be. In my mind, there's really no need for debate-the gig goes to Ryan Seacrest. I mean, between his thirteen other shows he hosts (including morning drive radio and American Idol),what's one more? Then again, maybe not. I know Ryan could handle the lighter, show biz, celeb stuff, but I'm not so sure how he'd do interviewing world leaders like Mukhtar Kul-Mukhammed.

UPDATE! Piers Morgan, a judge on "America's Got Talent" and British journalist has been chosen to replace Larry King. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The San Francisco Treat

I enjoy walking in San Francisco, especially on weekends when the streets are extra busy with tourists and locals. I live in East Bay, so I hop on BART (our rapid transit service), right near my studio, and zip on up to the city in about 30 minutes or so. Couldn't be more convenient. I like to get off at the Powell and Market cable car turnaround to start my walk. Such interesting characters! Street performers are always there, and the ever present line of tourists waiting patiently to take a cable car ride up Powell Street and down to Fisherman's Wharf. (The going rate is $5). If you're looking for exercise, there's no better place to walk than the hills of San Francisco. And they're not for the faint of heart. It's just a whole lot of fun to walk and people watch at the same time, plus the health benefits are obvious. After a good long walk up and down the streets, your legs will be screaming for relief.

If you ever plan to visit our great city, by all means, email or call in advance. I'd be happy to take you on a "leisurely stroll." (And I also know some terrific restaurants where we can take a momentary rest.).

UPDATE: Here's a link to a story just published in our San Francisco Chronicle about a man who walked every street, alley, cul-de-sac (you name it), in the city. It took him 500 hours over the course of seven years!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Voices, voices everywhere...yacking freely...not a care

It never ceases to amaze me just how many unique voices I hear when I walk through a busy place like a supermarket or a mall. I tend to categorize voices. I'll hear the person in front of me at the check out line interacting with the cashier and think, "Good voice for corporate narrations." Or, "WOW! She's a grown woman and still has a little girl's voice. Maybe animation/cartoons would be a good place for her voice." Of course, to be a successful voice over actor, it's all about what you do with that voice. That's where the acting part comes in.

Recently, I received an invite to audition for a job where they wanted a gruff, drill sergeant type voice. And while I can do an adequate one, I decided to pass on the audition. Days later, I ran into a mid 60's gentleman who started talking to me and had all the characteristics to pull that type of voice off, with a bit of practice and a touch of acting. His natural speaking voice was raspy, deep toned, and had lots of authority in it. I told him he would be the perfect drill sergeant voice over for a script I had received. He smiled at me and said, "Voice over? What's that?"