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.