Q It Up: Voice talent -- the producer’s perspective. Who is your favorite voice talent to work with, and why? Is it the one-take wonder? The guy/gal who needs no direction? The guy/gal who takes direction better than anyone you’ve ever worked with? The voice that’s makes your production sound better than anyone else? And if you want to also go to the extreme, tell us about your least favorite VO talent to work with -- but let’s leave out those peoples’ names!
Craig Allen [craig.allen[at]citcomm .com], Citadel Marketing Group, Saginaw, Michigan: My favorite talents are the ones who need no direction. And if I need a revision, they do it without griping. At least through the first 4 revisions.
After that are the ones who bring something delightfully unexpected to the read, and it comes out a helluva lot better than you hoped.
Next are the ones who take direction well. If you point them in the right direction, they’ll get to where you need them to be.
My least favorites typically are the know-it-alls (both clients and air talent) who have been around since the dawn of time, won’t learn anything new, and don’t want to take direction from anyone younger than they are. That, and the one-trick ponies who give you the exact same read, regardless of the script.
Pete Jensen [petej[at]kxly.com], KXLY Broadcast Group, Spokane, Washington: I love working with people who bring more to the part than I thought was there; people who care enough to add to the character or the read in a way that makes the spot better than I thought it could be. I am fortunate to have a few people like that around here — not many, but a few. Happy New Year!
Drake Donovan [drake[at]drake donovan.com], WZPT/WDSY-FM, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: A great station voice is one that is not only a voice “talent,” but a voice “actor” as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a great promo that loses all of its punch when the voice person fails to put the right emotion into it. And it’s not so easy to direct voices anymore. These days, as ISDN sessions have been phased out, working via email and FTP is more the norm.
I consider myself very lucky to work with the voices that I do. John Beach is my Hot AC guy for WZPT. He is amazing in that he always gets ‘it’. No matter what I write, he always finds the right interpretation for the copy. It also helps that John fell into station imaging by mere circumstance. He was a commercial and animation voice actor who was sidelined by the actors’ strike of 2000. That’s when we got him for promo work, and it’s been 6 amazing years of fun, creative and award-winning production thanks, in a large part, to what I get out of John. If you wanna hear him, visit www.voiceguy.org.
Ian Fish [Ian.Fish[at]chrysalis.com]: We’re really lucky at Heart to have 4 regular voiceovers - all of whom are a pleasure work with, easy to direct and happy to help! Davinia Palmer and Dave Bethell are our male & female station image voices, and over the course of the last few months, myself and fellow producer Mark are at the stage with both of them where only minimum direction is needed. Both DP and DB have the Heart station sound and delivery style absolutely nailed. Davinia, although from Wales, with an English accent, is based in Los Angeles and comes us to via the studios of legendary composer and producer Rob Rettberg, so I produce/direct/interject via phone whilst Rob records the session in beautiful, uncompressed, full quality .wav!
(I’ve included an MP3 of Davinia in action [on the RAP CD]: This script required some acting, but I needed little input on the session because Davinia knows so well what’s “in my head,” and understands the station sound – now that’s a great voice!)
Our other two voices, Matt & Anna, are used exclusively for commercial activity - and once again we’re lucky to have two talents who totally get the Heart sound and can deliver with a minimum number of takes every time. In fact, 90% of the time I use Anna’s first take of each script!
Mike Mlazgar [mmlazgar[at]sri.ca], Standard Radio, South Okanagan/Kootenays, British Columbia, Canada: At a previous station I was privileged to work with someone who could do many character voices and accents. I sure miss having him around now! And, is there such a thing as a one take wonder, who get’s it on the first take every time? As for least favorite, it’s a tie between clients and one announcer who I swear must have been legally blind. They’d read words not even on the page! When they make you check their script to see if it’s the same as yours, something’s wrong!
Anthony McNutt [amcnutt[at] ns.sympatico.ca], www.imaging work.com, www.atlanticmedia.ca, www.Q104.ca, Kentville, Nova Scotia, Canada: Hmmm... not a very hard one for me. There are tons of voices out there, but there are few that can deliver the goods consistently. My top two would have to be David Kaye and Jim Conrad.
David Kaye... really need I say anymore. With all the freelance production I do, I get the joy of working with Mr. Kaye and his pipes. He gives tons of takes on liners, every delivery is so good it is sometimes hard to pick one to go with. His range is second to no other. Any style, any delivery, and I swear he could make his voice sound like a 97 year old German model with a broken hip and a glass eye. Need I say more? Okay, I will. Another thing about David Kaye that is cool is he often has some outtakes that he leaves in the voice file that as a producer you can turn into gold. I love it... some voice talent tends to stick 100% to the script and won’t loosen up. David lets loose and has fun, and he delivers. As far as direction, with David I have never had to say, “no I need this voiced this way.” He knows how things should sound. To sum it up, it is like he is a producer with a big set. He voices with us little fellers in mind.
Jim Conrad: In my day job I produce for Newcap radio in Halifax for CFRQ-FM, Q104. There we use Mr. Jim Conrad. Wow! Talk about not needing direction. Conrad has the ability to take a promo script or liner, and make it his own with his brilliant delivery. Like Kaye, Conrad goes above and beyond when voicing for the Q. He will sometimes change a line that he may think sounds better a different way (always giving the script version as well). 9 times out of 10 we go with his line cause it is pretty damn funny, or just plain clever. This guy, like David Kaye, has a whack of voices in his head and can also deliver the goods. With a writer like J. Calnan at the mighty Q and a voice like Conrad, the production pieces are amazing. The producers at Q could quite seriously drop a bed behind his voice and have an amazing promo (not that we do that). He can sound warm and gritty; he can sound like Mexican Chihuahua on Ludes. The man is amazing.
There are also some voices out there that are different. I won’t say bad because every PD has a vision of what they want there station to sound like, and some of these voices could work. One thing I will say about some of these “Different” voices is I hate when you get a voice track that is compressed up the wazoo before you even get your ears on it. I know some talent want to make themselves sound big and full of juice, but that does nothing for me. Conrad and Kaye are clean crisp, delivered on time, and are a joy to work with. There are a few others that I like to work with, but I have to go produce now.... Now where is that Keith’s...ummm Beer.... That’s better.
Good producers can make just about any voice sound good, but a good voice can make any producer look good in the eyes of his PD.
Any coments welcome.
Johnny George [jg[at]johnnygeorge .com], www.johnnygeorge.com, Indianapolis, Indiana: Even though I’m not the CSD for Susquehanna Indianapolis any longer, I do have quite a few impressions of some great VO talents I could share.
When I began imaging 95-5 WFMS in 1997, their talent was Randy Reeves. I picked up where my predecessor, Matt Rawlings, left off. Randy is a straight-forward, honest, Christian man who brought his personality, experience and wonderful understanding of our “family values” type of writing and producing to our airwaves.
Over my broadcast career I have worked with a variety of imaging talents from R&B to CHR to Oldies, to Classic Rock to Oldies once again and Country. Randy brought a true and honest interpretation to our writing like no one else ever has. There are not very many talents out there who can pull that off consistently and not sound hokey. RR is the real deal.
Randy does have a real intense desire to get the right inflection and “step-off” to his reads and would sometimes repeat the calls & freq. until he felt he had it just right before continuing. Used to drive me crazy prior to digital files because the tape would look like Swiss cheese trying to pull it all together. <G> When editing, my PD, jocks and others would shake their heads and show me sympathy thinking of all the time I would spend weeding out the takes and making it all flow seamlessly together. LOL!!
In looking back, I have to say that the final version you heard on the air made it all worthwhile. And that’s what it’s all about, right?
My other favorite was Doug Paul who was the voice of Gold 104.5, our Oldies station. Doug gave a great variety of deliveries, inflection and humor that I’ll never forget — quite the consummate pro and a man whom I became very good friends with over the years. And Doug, like Randy, could do so many formats so well and give that adaptive read that transcends formatics. Doug is one of the best around with a distinctive sound.
On the front of least favorite? Uh, I produced one talent that had one read and one read only. I’d asked, quite politely I might say, to give it a kick here or there. Or add a little chuckle on a specific word. No matter how many times he did it, it was always the same. Not one nuance differently. I was one frustrated producer. And his contract ran for the next 12 months.
Additionally, I produced a “big” talent from the left coast once that literally told me to shut up because I asked him to “please try it this way.” Oh boy. You would have thought I had asked him to say something against his religion the way he reacted. The rest of that session was a mess and I learned to never “direct” him again. What I heard was what I got. No ifs, ands or butts. Live & learn, huh?
Dave Cruickshank [dave[at]borderrock .com], 106.1/99.7 The Goat, Lloydminster, Alberta, Canada: My favorite kind of person to work with doesn’t have to have a “Ronny Radio Voice.” The people in my station who get the most prod-studio time are the ones who can act. If you can act, and know how to pretend to be someone else or in a different situation, you can pretty much mold your voice to any kind of read. I will often encourage my voices to try to get minor roles on stage in an amateur theatrical production. They learn script interpretation, proper projection and breathing, and character development, plus most of all, they learn how to take direction.
Craig Jackman [craigj[at]canada.com], Rogers Media, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Easy. I’ve worked with some great local talent who ask first if I want 59 or 59.5 then bang it off perfectly first take. I’ve worked with some diva’s whose stubbornness has pushed the whole production to another level. However, the voice talent who consistently gave me exactly what I wanted, responded perfectly to whatever direction given to him, who let us play fast and loose with the amount of material we sent to him every week compared to what we were contractually allowed to, who understood the underlying absurdity of this business and would include any and all out-takes in his voice tracks (including the wrong number call on his new cell phone) trusting that we weren’t going to make him sound bad, is David Kaye. Anything we did that included his voice tracks automatically made it a better piece of audio.
Worst voice talent? The client who wanted to voice his own spots, but literally froze solid at the sight of a mic. All that came out was the occasional croaking noise. Of course, my first efforts at reading spots probably weren’t that much better and likely took as many takes.
Blair Trosper [btrosper[at]jpc.com], News/Talk 1110 WBT, Charlotte, North Carolina: I’ve been lucky from the start of my career to work with a high quotient of great voice talent: Lonnie Perkins, Matt Anthony, Zack Powers, JJ McKay, Jeff Davis, Steve Stone, and Jim Cutler. These are the people you can just send copy to and not have to worry about it. I know that I can write copy and get a consistent result. On the other hand, these guys are versatile enough to take excellent direction when it’s needed.
You wouldn’t BELIEVE some of the stuff I’ve had Lonnie & Matt say and do — it’s fun to work with talented people and see how far they’ll go out on the ledge. (All the voice talents I’ve ever worked with could rightfully and justifiably injure me at a time of their choosing.)
There’s the darker side of voice talents, though. I was working with a guy at a sports station in a small market. I realize we weren’t paying the guy jack squat, but he literally acted offended and put off whenever we sent copy or called. It was amazing to me. We were living in fear of asking for a liner for Jim Rome’s show! I’m not sure how he expected to compete in radio’s production climate if he was exasperated every time someone asked him to voice a pickup line. (Haven’t heard from him since...)
Laurent Boulet [kiwi[at]choiradiox .com], RADIO-X, Quebec, Canada: My station is in Quebec, a French speaking region, therefore we broadcast in French. I will not bore you with the French voiceovers because most of you won’t know who they are. That being said, I am not the kind of guy who knows exactly what he wants when recording VO. I have a general idea of where I want to go, but I expect little input from the talent.
The one I remember really liking is the late Keith Eubanks. For many reasons: 1) He had a style of its own. 2) He had a way of speaking that made you believe that he had not finished chewing on his meal and I found that funny. 3) He did not care about outtakes (many times these were the takes that would go on air instead of the good takes!) 4) You did not get just a session but a 10 minute excerpt of his life. If he had friends in the kitchen while recording in the living room you would know — you would hear them and eventually he would yell at them. There was a firehouse not to far away; you would know when they would go out. 5) Keith did not really speak French, but he would do liners in French. They were horrible, but still he did put a funny twist in it and it made the station stand out.
I find that nowadays sessions are too clean.
I don’t really have least favourite VO talents except maybe one…. She was dyslexic. It was long.
Ok... So what’s the speed of dark?!?