Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Voiceover Bakery...

Voiceover work is like making bread

One of the many things I enjoy doing when I'm not in the studio doing voiceovers is baking artisan breads. Every bread baker knows that the basic ingredients to a loaf of bread are : flour, water, yeast and salt.

To those you can add things to change it's appearance, flavor, texture and aroma.
Like in making bread, all voiceover artists start with the basic ingredient – the voice (flour), to that we add interest (water) and a desire to succeed (yeast). But left uncontrolled the mixture can become unwieldy. The bread will grow too fast, become course and full of holes. So we add a little salt to the mixture (training). And, then we bake it (make the demo). If left unattended to rise too long, the dough will fall once it hits the heat of the oven, resulting in a flat, unappealing mess suitable only as a door stop. It's the same in the voiceover world. Some are happy with the results and go no further. They have a product and it looks good and tastes OK, but not everyone likes plain white bread. So we add additional ingredients to give it texture, a special flavor and even an appealing aroma.

Voiceover Bakery image

In the voice world, we have to do the same thing. Some people do very well marketing their plain white bread (generic announcer read). Many bakers find that their customers want something different so they add some variety flours, perhaps some seeds, spices or nuts, or maybe something for appearance like a little sugar so the crust will brown up nicely. We might add some salad oil to the initial mixture so the bread is softer. We do that same thing in our voiceover world. We add variety, an accent or dialect, pitch and tone. We change our character for effect. Sometimes the client needs a curmudgeon and other times a caring grandfather.

Not everyone can or wants to be an artisan bread baker. But, those that do and have the perseverance can succeed. It takes time, patience and lots of practice till you get it right. Oh yes, there are snake oil salesmen in our midst, claiming that anyone can make a beautiful loaf of bread and live happily ever after, if you buy their special bread machine. “Oh it's guaranteed to make a beautiful loaf every time.” Sure they might look good at first but there's something half-baked about a machine-made loaf of bread. It lacks the character and the over-all appeal of a hand crafted loaf that comes from careful kneading and baked in a slow oven with event heat.  

Next week:  The Petrified Buffalo Heart

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jackson Beck's Advice to Voice Actors:

“Accept mustn't let that get you down...” 

I have so many interests it's mind boggling at times just keeping track of things. In last week's post I talked about my fascination with radio and the desire to work in that field. I always admired the radio actor and the play or performance on the radio. That started, I suppose, when I would visit my grandmother. She was semi-invalid and didn't stray far from her chair next to the huge mahogany box with the glowing green eye that got brighter when she tuned to the radio station she wanted to listen to, usually WGY in Schenectady. It was and is 50,000 watts of AM power and its signal reached most of the eastern seaboard. From an early age, I would hear the stories of Pepper Young's Family, Young Doctor Malone and Ma Perklins coming from her radio. I loved how I was able to create my own images. I didn't have to watch that cathode ray tube that sat in the living room with a black and white screen. I was able to have a full color image. The characters would be as creepy or as beautiful as I wanted them to be. I often think how difficult it must be for the youth of today to do that. Everything is “in their face,” no imagination required.
 As a teenager, once I had my own portable radio, I discovered there were some other drama shows being broadcast. However, they all disappeared from the airwaves with the final broadcasts of Gunsmoke, Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. There was a short renaissance from 1974 to 1982 with the CBS Mystery Theater.
 Later in life, once the technology presented itself and I was able to buy tape recorders, I started collecting “Old Time Radio Shows.” One voice I always admired was that of Jackson Beck. He introduced each episode of Superman on radio. It was through that hobby that I began attending The Friends of Old Time Radio Convention held annually in Newark, NJ. It was so much fun to mingle, chat and interact with some of the people I had heard on those radio shows. It was at one of those meetings, in October 1982, that I met and had a chance to talk with Jackson Beck. At that time, it was said that Beck was making seven figures doing voiceovers in New York City. Our discussion starts as he is listing the many radio shows he was part of and later in the ten-minute chat he gives some advice to aspiring voice-actors. Jackson Beck died in the summer of 2004 at the age of 92. You can read his obituary here:

Next week: The Voiceover Bakery

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Branded for life..

More than fifty years ago a young fifteen year old boy had dreams of being a radio announcer. That's what they were called then. That young man was me. I had no idea that those aspirations would lead to the world of “Voice over.” I didn't even know the term back then. This a short story of how the generosity of local company would brand a person for life.
I was focused. The Boy's Life article I read in November of 1961 titled How to Become A Disk Jockey was the inspiration. The story was about Howard Miller and Martin Block to name a few, both well known radio personalities. From that day forward I knew that's what I wanted to do. So, I started visiting local radio stations to see what it was all about. The folks at a new FM station in town, WUFM, were kind and accommodating to this teenager who was fascinated by radio. They took me under their wings and let me watch and learn. They even helped me with some of the electronic theory I would need to pass the FCC exam for the 3rd Class Radio Telephone Operating Permit which an announcer needed at the time in order legally operate the station's transmitter. They encouraged me and impressed on me the need to practice, practice, practice. And that I did.
I convinced my parents to designate a portion of the basement of our home to set up a “make believe” radio station. I found some old hi-fi equipment and turntables to put together a crude radio studio for the practicing to begin. Another radio station gave me discarded UPI and AP teletype news stories and I even made up radio commercials to practice, but always wanted some of those transcription discs that I had seen the station use to play recorded commercials. So, on a whim I wrote a letter to the West End Brewing Company, makers of Utica Club Beer asking if they would send me some of the popular radio commercials that were being broadcast at the time. I didn't hear back from them and had figured that they were too busy to respond to a young kid's ambitious request. Then one day, mom brought me a large envelope that arrived in the mail. It was from West End and inside was a transcription disk of Shultz and Dooley Utica Club radio and TV commercials.

I was ecstatic. I'm sure the family got tired of hearing me play those over and over. But, it sure made me feel like I was running a real radio station. I continued to practice and visit local stations and eventually passed my FCC exam and was issued my license on April 17, 1964. I got my first job as a Sunday evening DJ with the Top-40 station WTLB 1310 AM in June of that same year. And a career was launched. That random act of kindness by the makers of Utica Club Beer is remembered to this day and I still have that disk.

And, yes I did eventually end up being a consumer of Utica Club Beer when I came of legal drinking age and still do today. I'm branded for life.  

Next week... I share my chance meeting with the late Jackson Beck in October 1982. He talks about his career and gives advice to the aspiring voice actor.


As my profile states, I have done a lot of things in my life and met a lot of people along the way.  Some people say I should write a book.  Yup, I should.  But, I never seemed to get a

Round Tuit

So, this blog will have to suffice as my personal journal about thoughts, things, experiences, places, & people. There are no limits and no one will be intentionally harmed in this exercise. The opinions expressed here are entirely mine unless I specifically attribute a quote to someone else in the dialog.
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