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.