R.A.P. Interview: Howard Hoffman

JV: The other promo, “McCain/Obama Season” -- do you remember what idea popped into your head to give you the foundation for that one?

Howard: It was just one of those things of inspired madness, I guess. Every once in a while you putter around your studio looking for ideas. You look through the sound effects, you look through the music libraries, and you look through just whatever you can to try to come up with something new for the election, because everybody is covering this thing. So I was going through my stuff, and I found the CDs of Carl Stalling’s music, the Carl Stalling Project is what they called it. There was a series of CDs that Warner Brothers put out, and they all had the music from the Warner Brothers cartoons. I said, “Wow, okay, let me do something with this.” So I decided to try out my chops on doing the Looney Tunes thing, which I have been trying to do all my life since I was a kid, and I was pretty happy with the way it came out. In fact, I should say I was very happy with the way it came out when I did the character voices and the Daffy and the Bugs — without saying that it’s Daffy and Bugs, of course. What I did, before I put it on the air, is that I went to a recording studio for a session, and there was a fellow who worked there who worked with Mel Blanc. The name of the recording studio is Buzzy’s. So I played it for him, and instead of him being absolutely elated with how I did it, he stops it and he goes, “How fast did you speed the voices up?” I said, “About 3½ percent.” He said, “All right, try 5 percent, because that’s what Mel did. Take it up to 5 percent. I would definitely roll up the base on Bugs’ voice a little bit more,” and he just started going over these intricacies on all the voices and what they did with Mel Blanc when they made those cartoons. I got some really, really good advice. So between the really good coaching and of course the underscore of the music, I couldn’t have asked for it to come out any better. I was very happy with it.

JV: That’s a great tip, speeding up the voice track.

Howard: Yeah. Daffy Duck is only a sped up Sylvester. Same exact voice. If you take Sylvester the Cat, speed it up 5 percent, you’re going to get Daffy Duck. That’s what they did with Mel Blanc. Every once in a while — if you watch the cartoons -- Daffy would spout out a “suffering succotash,” and they just left it in because it fit. But yeah, that’s how they did Daffy’s voice.

JV: Do you use that speed-up technique for other voices or in other ways?
Howard: No, I really don’t. It’s just because dealing with the pitch control electronically is a pain. I know it sounds weird, but I’m so used to doing it on reel-to-reel over the years that when I do it digitally it’s like, okay, 5 percent? No, let me try 4 percent, but first you’ve got to undo it. Then you try 3½ percent and you’ve got to undo it. Whereas with reel-to-reel, you could just play with it until you hit the right pitch, rewind it, and play it.

But I’ll rely on that stuff every once in a while. There’s a great Pro Tools plug-in called Speakerphone, and I highly recommend that to anybody who wants to get the effect of any kind of speaker in any kind of environment. You get the sound of like a big, bassy radio from across the room or a transistor radio in the car or anything — telephone, walkie-talkie, bullhorn, PA speakers, along with the background. If I could make one recommendation for a plug-in, that would be it. It’s a really nice tool.

JV: Are you producing a lot of this entertainment type of promos and imaging for the station? Is that the general theme that runs throughout the station’s personality?
Howard: Yeah. We have two different approaches on production at the radio station now, and that is self-deprecating, fun and entertaining, and those would be the ones that I’ll lend my own voice to. For the more serious stuff — the news, the actual legal ID -- the de facto voice of the radio station is Ben Patrick Johnson, who’s done thousands of movie trailers. You hear his voice on Fox, you hear his voice on CBS, you hear his voice all over the place, and he’s been the station voice since I’ve been here. He does all his work out of his house. I send him the stuff, he MP3’s it back to me, and bam, we’ve got a promo.

JV: About how many pieces of production like this, promos and IDs, would you say you’re doing in an average week for the station?
Howard: In a given week, I’m probably doing between 15 and 20 brand new, entertainment-oriented ones along with the standard Dodger promos and news promos, etc.

JV: I would say, of the caliber of work that you’re turning out, that that’s probably approaching the maximum that a person could do and…
Howard: …and not have their brain melt down? Yeah. There are times when I’m just sitting here going, “What do I do now? What do I do now? What I do now?” I put self-imposed deadlines on myself -- otherwise I’d never get anything done -- and as that deadline draws closer, all of a sudden something will just hit me. I’ll do it, and it’ll be like, wow! Where did that come from?

JV: Where do you go for creative inspiration when tackling these deadlines?
Howard: Any form of pop culture is good. Anything that’s pervasive on TV. Most of us I’m sure find that pop culture is a good source of that sort of thing, providing you can pull it off as a good reflection of what that pop culture reference is. I’ll also get ideas from auditions because I audition for up to 40 or 50 pieces of things per week. Sometimes I’ll get ideas out of that without really directly stealing the idea, because after all, that’s another copywriter’s work. But I’ll look at that and go, hmm, okay, I’ll lock that away for later use. And if it’s something that they never end up using, I’ll try to essentially co-op it into my own thing without actually directly stealing it. Like I say, it if it’s another copywriter’s work, I don’t want to steal it verbatim, but I might tweak it and shuffle it around and use it for my own evil deeds.

JV: You have a rare combination of the voice talent, producer and writer. How do you stay on top of your game in all three of these areas? Do you find yourself having to work at it, or is it just something you wake up with and go, “I know what I’m going to do today”?
Howard: I would like to say it’s the latter, but I don’t know. I’ve had so many influences over the years that I’ve developed. As this career of mine has snowballed down the hill, I’ve picked up so many things over the years that it is really hard to say exactly where it comes from. But, I guess I try to keep up with technology. I try to keep up with what’s going on all around me. I try to keep up with pop culture, and just really enjoy humor. I love humor. I love to laugh, and I love it when I make people around me laugh. It’s just a really fun thing, and radio production is a great way of getting on the radio and being able to edit out all your screw-ups. It’s the safest form of radio there is. You can be fun and creative and not worry that something filthy might go out over the air by accident.

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