Q It Up: What do you do when the client or agency comes up with a script that has children in it? Do you explain the child labor laws in your area, which prevent you from having a child on staff, and make them change the script? Do you drag your kids in from school to cut the spot? Do your kids get compensated? Do you make the sales rep or agency people provide the child talent? Or do you put that pitch shifter to good use?
Allen Bailey [atbailey[at]midwest info.net], KEYL/KXDL, Long Prairie, Minnesota: As someone who is involved in production and sales (small market, you know), I will come up with ideas for my clients that involve children in ads. In fact, my oldest daughter provided the voice for an ad I produced that garnered RAP Awards Best of the Rest in 2002. As far as dragging kids out of school, I just ask them to come into my home studio after supper and record. I have the luxury of many kids’ voices (we have 5), and they expect to be paid. If dad gets paid to do this, then we should, too! Kids in ads are a great attention getter, and it’s also a way to show a real life and conversational setting in the ad.
Mark Fraser [fixitinthemix[at]hotmail .com], Metro Radio Group, Halifax, NS, Canada: This question has been cause for lots of debate at our stations. Our “official policy” is that we require the sales rep to make arrangements to find the kid talent or at least to compensate our kids if we get a staff member’s child in.
But still, it happens time and time again. We’ll get a script for a spot that runs tomorrow with kids’ voices specified, and when you contact the sales rep to find out what the arrangements are, you’re met with:
Q...”well, you have kids, don’t ya? Can’t you bring them in?”
A...”I suppose I could drive home and get them out of school, but you know what, my kids don’t work here!”
…and then I hit them over the head with the largest object I can find!
Sean Bell [seanbell[at]yahoo.com], NYPD, UK: Here in the UK, just about every voice-over artist who has a child is actively pushing their availability as soon as they are able to talk. Most voices work from home via ISDN, so it’s quite easy to arrange a post-school session, or even better, during school holidays. The same rates are paid as would be paid to the adult voice—whether it’s invoiced in the child’s name or their parents’. There’s one VO who has trained many youngsters in drama and has set up an agency specialising in young voice talent, for which the child gets the set fee, and she charges an additional #5 per script.
Then again (especially if you really want a particular delivery, perhaps with comic timing), there are some adult female voices who can deliver the right read and still sound authentic.
Carlos Montoya [agmaprod[at]live radio.com], AGM-Nevada, LLC/Albuquerque: Fortunately, we don’t get spots that call for children very often. But when they do come in, depending on the age of the child, we can usually find a male staff member that can squeeze out that pre-puberty sound, or a female with a squeaky voice. I would always prefer to arrange for a real live child to come in because I really don’t like the “duct tape” method of doing things. However, since 90% of our fully-produced spots air at 12 am or 6 am the day after the order is turned in (despite my carefully laid-out production time guidelines for salespeople), that is almost never a possibility.
I don’t like to pitch voices for non-special-effects purposes, and I discourage my staff from this practice as well. When you pitch a voice to sound like someone else because you’re short-staffed, it sounds like you pitched a voice to sound like someone else because you’re short-staffed. It’s better to just rewrite the copy and scratch the kid part.
If some miraculous day the clouds parted with Divine Light shining down on our radio station and a production order did somehow come in several days before the air date, I would arrange to use a real child of a staff member or something. In a perfect world, I’d expect that that child (or the parent) should be compensated at least a small amount for the effort. But I am just the lowly Production Director and have no say whatsoever as far as company policies are concerned—particularly those dealing with money.
I make it a point to remind the sales department on a regular basis that we are not an advertising agency and we are only able to use voices from people in the building who are available at the time (this conversation usually takes place around 5 pm the day before the spot airs). So here in the real world, we just reach for the duct tape and try to get an adult to grab their jewels and belt out a pre-pubescent squeak.
Donnie Marion [dmarion[at]104krbe .com], 104 KRBE, Houston, TX: We haven’t had much demand for kids over the years. Usually the Program Directors try to avoid hearing kids on the radio, so I act accordingly. When I write a spot, I avoid even thinking “it would be great to have a kid in this spot.” But as for how I handle it when a script does need a kid, we’ve done it both ways. I’ve used the pitch shifter and gone home with a portable DAT to tape my kids.
I just remembered, once for a haunted house, an AE wrote a spot with a kid as the central character, so I brought my daughter (4th or 5th grade at the time). She nailed it. But all in all, a kid’s voice on spots is very infrequent.
The AEs avoid going outside the station for voices. I remember it happening once, but it wasn’t for a child’s voice. It was a woman for a fetish clothing store. But she didn’t model any clothes for us. That AE thought outside the box.
Justin Taylor [studio[at]voiceimage .com], VoiceImage Productions, Orlando, Florida: Well, for me, there is always a supply of kids to draw from. I grab my portable DAT or MD recorder and head off to where the kids are. Usually it’s not too hard and not too far.
I coach the kids, one line at a time. You know, I say this ... you say it back just like me. Then I head back to the studio and put it together. I always try to mix in some of their off/on mike comments. Sometimes there are some great wild tracks that can be used. Kids say the darndest things.
If there are no kids available, there are a couple of voice talents that I work with that can do an incredibly realistic child-like voice. Not only the voice but the phrasing and attitude. It’s a gift.
As for compensation, the kid(s) usually get paid. Unless they just want to do it for fun. I pay by check or gift certificate. After all, if there’s a payout, it has to be traced. It’s a legitimate business expense for me.
On the other hand, if it’s grown up talent... well we know that’s not free. I pay regular talent fees.
Ryan Stockert [rstockert[at]yahoo. com], CJAY92, Calgary, Alb., Canada: We’re lucky at CJAY because one of our writers has a very young voice. She can pull it even younger when we need a 3 or 4 year old, and can also play the part of teenage boys! We also have a 10 year old boy that can come in and voice a script or two when we need him. His school and parents are somewhat lenient in letting him miss an hour or two after lunch, but we also try to schedule the sessions around days he has off from school. We compensate him with gift certificates, or else the clients might pay him $50 for a spot. “Ya know back in my day, we’d get paid two bits for a spot and be happy as we trudged back home through the snow, enjoying our moon-pies and rocket pops...”
Ron Harper [ronharper[at]fuse.net], The New 96.5 / ESPN 1160 BOB: Usually, it’s the client who comes up with the idea, and more often than not, he just happens to have children. I really don’t mind. Kids are fun to record... MOST of them, anyway. About a year ago, an AE came to me with a spot for one of their clients and told me that he always used his little girl in his commercials. The AE said the girl had done this before, so she should be familiar with what to do. Yeah, right. On the day of the session, the client and his daughter were in my studio, and I began just talking to the girl, trying to establish a rapport before we started recording. But whenever I asked the little girl a question, Daddy answered. As you can imagine, it took a bit of work to get any halfway useable takes from the child.
Johnny Milford Productions [studio[at] prodgod.com]: Got my daughter involved in voice work from an early age of about 2. Now, she’s 14 and commands a higher talent fee than I do! I’ve seen it advised here many times to only write spots around your readily available talent. Good advice, I suppose, however, I think you miss some terrific opportunities to not only grow as a producer, but also build a solid voice bank of exclusive talent. Believe it or not, there’s lots of talent potential in your market right now, and they’re not all disc jockeys. Of course, if you simply can’t find the right child talent to pull off the read, it’s better not to do it at all. Few things sound more irritating than inarticulate kids in commercials. Whenever a client insists on using their own children, it’s usually a nightmare session, but I try to do the best with what I have to work with and it all works out. I have several coaching techniques that I employ, depending on the circumstances. Compensation is a must, otherwise it’s exploitation, no matter how much the kid claims to enjoy being a star. My daughter is allowed to keep a small percentage of her earnings for spending money, with the rest going into her savings account. Bottom line? Never walk away from a challenge. Find that talent! They’re out there.
Chris Wrapson [chris.wrapson[at] musicradio.com]: I prefer not to use the pitch shifter as it is quite difficult to make it sound authentic. It is possible — you just don’t always the amount of free time available that’s needed to be fine tuning it for a couple of hours.
I always get one of the members of our Black Thunder Team (Ground Patrol – Promo Girls) who has kids to bring her son or daughter in. It may take a couple of attempts to get the right kid—maybe one of the sales team has a son or daughter that really wants to be on the radio—and you can bet your bottom dollar that their best friend wants to do it too.
I don’t pay them any money, I may give the Mum or Dad some sweets to pass on to the child, or as frequently happens with movie screenings I make sure that they receive some of the station’s complimentary quota. That way everyone wins. We get the child’s voice we were looking for. The kids are happy (they get to see a special preview of a movie). The parents are happy (think of all the other kids at school who are gonna be told, “Listen to <stn name> cause I’m on the radio today,” then both the parent and the child become celebrities).
The next time you ask them they say, “Can ‘Mikey’s’ friend come along and read a bit too?”
Part 2 Next Month!