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

"9,223,372,036,854,775,808"

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?"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Technical narrations are fun, aren't they? ( I said... "Aren't they!?")

Much of what I voice is of a technical nature for corporate videos, websites or Power Point learning. I just finished about thirteen minutes of narration for an overseas client. Needless to say, as a voice talent (even one with experience in these types of tongue twisting scripts), it's standard practice to go through the script before recording and check accepted pronunciations. Here's an excerpt from the one I just voiced in first person, as if delivering a lecture.

" Next, I would like to talk about unusual NRPSs producing b-lysine homooligomers, which are involved in the biosynthesis of streptothricins (STs). However, I would like to brief you on it, because one of our Ph.D. candidates will give a more detailed talk on this the day after tomorrow.
STs are broad-spectrum antibiotics that were first isolated from Streptomyces lavendulae in 1943. However, STs are not currently used therapeutically due to their nephrotoxicity. All STs have a homooligomer of 1 to 7 b-lysine residues in their chemical structures. Recently, we have identified a novel enzyme, the ST hydrolase, SttH. Interestingly, the selective toxicity of ST-D was altered from broad-spectrum to bacterial-specific, although ST-F-acid was detoxified in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, demonstrating that the moiety of the b-lysine oligomer plays a crucial role in antibiotic activity. Thus, the biosynthetic mechanism of b-lysine oligomer is intriguing in ST biosynthesis."


In my experience, sometimes the client wants you to say the word differently than what is recommended by Merriam Webster's audio dictionary, which presents another unique challenge. (Ahhhh, those "regionalisms.")

I've learned to assume nothing. When it comes to medical scripts, doctors sometimes have their own unique way of saying industry specific words, so again, it just makes sense to ask beforehand to avoid excessive (and time consuming) revisions.

A cool piece on VO legend Don LaFontaine (The movie trailer guy)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Dad the "voice over man"

As I write this latest post, it's early morning Father's Day. For all of us in our family, this one will be a bit different. Dad passed away months ago. He was bigger than life, had boat loads of charisma, and enjoyed a good joke and cigar. He also was a BIG ham.

Years ago, his brothers, sisters and cousins would get together at Christmas time and have a "party for grownups." A big part of that was Dad's funny tape recording where he would mercilessly roast all those in attendance with bawdy, inside, family humor. (Think Dean Martin celebrity roast and you're on the right track). It drew big laughs, and those in attendance couldn't wait to hear what he had drummed up that year, even if the cringe factor was off the scale.

Dad had one of those old reel to reel tape recorders and a microphone always set up in the bedroom, and when the inspiration hit him, he'd fire it up and use homemade sound effects, and his own devilish vocal delivery, to tell a funny story or joke about some unsuspecting family member. I remember him laughing hysterically as he put the whole thing together,and I could tell he truly enjoyed creating that year's comical masterpiece. It was, as they say, a labor of love.

This is one of my favorite memories of Dad on this Father's Day. Another is of our Sunday morning golf outings, where he taught me the game that I still enjoy to this day.

Thanks for the laughs Dad, and the memories.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Common Errors with Word Usage

Here's a really terrific guide to word usage that I think is fascinating. Don't be surprised if you find that you have made (or are making), some of these same mistakes.

WARNING: Once you click on one word and explore, you'll want to keep clicking on one word after another. That could take all day!

Thanks given to Paul Brians for posting the lengthy list and sharing. Credit to Nancy P. McKee and George P. Kennedy, who wrote "Correcting Common Errors in Writing," published by Kendall/Hunt Publishing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 rolls out into theaters this weekend to very good pre-screening reviews.
USA Today says: "This installment of the franchise, the best of the three, is everything a movie should be: hilarious, touching, exciting and clever. The voices behind Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the other playthings contribute mightily to the character development in what is easily the summer's best movie thus far."

Interesting factoid: Toy Story was the first foray into animated voice work for Hanks and Allen. (Not a bad gig guys, right?)

Interestingly enough, Toy Story 3 voice work was done by Hanks, Allen and others at Pixar, in Emeryville, California, just to the north of my studio.

UPDATE: I just went to see Toy Story 3 yesterday and it lived up to all the hype.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Interesting" direction I've seen on audition scripts

Like a good number of full-time voice actors, I audition on a daily basis in between paying voice jobs. I like to skip the morning comics section of my newspaper and instead look at the baffling direction that tops some audition scripts. Here are a few I found "interesting." I have not altered them in any way.

From a Voices.com audition:

“Don't be afraid to add emphasis on certain words just as long as it sounds PROFESSIONAL.” (So glad you gave us that permission.)

And this one:

Male, 30-60 years old.

"Should sound intelligent, but not professorial. Non Announce sounding. Casual but not everyman. This person should sound as though they are smarter than the audience, but are still very approachable. The voice should carry a weight of understated intelligence." (I may be mistaken, but I think they want to hire Oprah. Oops, no their job spec says,"Male, 30-60 years old." My bad.)

And of course, I absolutely love the casting calls where they're looking for a James Earl Jones sound alike ("Voice of God") and they're budgeting $100 for the voice-over. I almost want to email them, tongue planted firmly in cheek, and tell them that instead of posting for a James Earl Jones sound alike, they might want to get in touch with him and see if he'll take a pay cut from the norm and voice their script for $50. I'm pretty sure I already know the answer.

In all fairness to accomplished producers and casting folks, the above are not typical of most audition notices I receive. But they do provide some much needed comedic relief in our often very stressful and time-line driven business.

If you're a voice talent, undoubtedly, you've had a few amusing job leads come your way. Feel free to post them in the comments section below.