R.A.P. Interview: Bob Magruder

R.A.P.: Most of our readers are people who have been or are still on the air at a radio station. Is this experience as a disc jockey an advantage or disadvantage to them in the voice-over business?
Bob: It's an advantage, of course, because we try to gather things for our arsenal, and the "announcer" delivery is something you want to have in your arsenal. I have it. Sometimes you're asked to read some high energy retail stuff, and you want to be able to do that. But you need to learn some other things, and most guys on the air can do that. The thing they have to do is give up their voice. That voice doesn't go away, but for people who are trained on the air, that voice is a great crutch, and they're reluctant to give it up. To learn the techniques of voice-over, you've got to forget about voice. If you will forget about it and develop the techniques, then you become the chameleon who can change with the copy.

Where we operate, really, is way up in our throats. I call it a half-voice. It's the voice you use when you pray or when you make love. It's a very intimate thing way up in the top of your throat. Some announcers like to do it out of their chest and project a little more. Again, it's like film technique, and you have to take it inward. Tune in a movie and listen to where the actors are speaking from. They're all talking from their half-voice because that's the first thing they teach you in Film Acting 101.

R.A.P.: In your workshop, you cover several different techniques utilized in radio and television commercials. What are these techniques?
Bob: You must analyze the script and know what the thirty-second playwright had in mind. One of the things you do when analyzing the script is read the last sentence because you've got to know how the story comes out in order to figure out how to get there. Most commercials are formulized as a romance novel or a one act play. There's an attention getter to grab the listener's ear. There's the first mention of the product's name which they want you to say in a way that indicates what kind of a product it is. For example, Trans Am is a very macho thing, so it's pronounced in a very macho voice. On the other hand, Johnson's Baby Powder is a very nice, soft, babyish type product.

The second thing I get into, as I mentioned earlier, is establishing a premise: Who am I? Who's the audience? What's the objective?

We get into how to punch, color, and flow. When you say punch, most people would interpret that as leaning on a word, but there are a dozen ways to punch. You can say the word softer like John Houseman on the spot that says, "They did it the old fashioned way. They EARNED it." He whispered "earned" to punch it. If you just lean on a word to punch it, that might get you through a thirty second spot, but it won't get you through a ten minute industrial narration. It gets too boring if you punch the same way every time.

We get into coloring words and making the copy flow to make it seem like a kid's adventure story. We get into how to whisper, taste, and smile. You use that a lot in food products and in emo-tional material. Emotional material particularly calls for the whisper technique, and I don't mean necessarily whisper. You punch-whisper like John Houseman did on the spot I mentioned, and you do something provocative to a word to indicate taste. If it's humorous material, if you just physically smile, it'll sound like you're smiling.

Making it real is what you do with industrial stuff. We get into practicing how to not manipulate the words, but how to let the words manipulate you. Turn off all manipulation, read the material, and let us know how you feel about it by letting the words make you sad, or happy, or patriotic, or pompous, or whatever the material calls for. Let the words speak to you.

R.A.P.: What are some key elements to a good demo?
Bob: I advise people not to try and entertain. Put the very best thing you have number one, the second best thing you have number two, the third best number three, and so on, counting on the fact that the casting person is not going to sit there and listen to the entire two or three minutes of your demo. Hit them quick with what you do. They'll stay with you as long as they're hearing new, fresh stuff. If you do a lot of things, they'll listen. That's the idea of taking workshops, to develop yourself so you can do a lot of different things, the retail sell, the compassionate stuff, the funny stuff, etc.. They'll listen as long as there's fresh stuff, but when they hear three things in a row that are the same, they'll hit the rewind button and go to something else because they're busy.

People have a notion of what should be on a demo tape, and I think nothing should be on a demo tape except what you do well. A lot of people do character voices. I do character voices, but I montage them last on my tape because that's not the strongest thing I do. The thing that has the most call is the spokesman, and I try to put that stuff first on my tape. But if a guy does character voices and that's stronger than the other stuff, he might as well lead off with the character voices, but not imitations because nobody casts imitations. They cast character voices. Nobody wants Cagney and Stewart and John Wayne anymore.

R.A.P.: Are talent agents necessary?
Bob: Yea, they are. I have a mailing list, which is a very important thing to have. I jealously guard this list and try to keep it up to date because these are my customers. I have eighteen pages with about thirty companies per page, and that's my primary customer list in Texas including Dallas and Houston. All these people, when they want something, they don't call the individual talent. They call the agents and say, "I want a forty year old Albino spokesman" or something. The agents submit people who fit what the casting people want. So you really do have to go through an agent, but they don't promote you. They don't take you around and sell you. I really expect three things from an agent, and I have four agents. I just expect them to submit me for what I qualify, collect my money, and pay me on time. All of the promotion of myself, I do myself. I just did a mailer with Jerry Houston, another voice talent in town, to promote phone patch. We sent out five hundred sort of humorous pamphlets promoting phone patch outside of Dallas, and we've gotten some results on it.

R.A.P.: Jerry Houston used to be a Production Director in Dallas.
Bob: That's right. There's a guy we had to brow beat to get him in the business. At the time, he was a Production Director for KAAM-AM, and he said, "No, no. My bag is production." We finally got him to make a demo tape, and he's well into six figures now.

R.A.P.: What can a person do to make a good impression at an audition?
Bob: Just handle it on a very business-like level. Don't try to act silly. A lot of people do that just out of nervousness. They go to an audition, and they're so bloody nervous they have to hide it by acting silly and telling jokes. These people who are casting voice people are busy. They really just want you in there to do your lines and leave. I would advise just to go and be very pleasant. Just as if you were selling Fuller brushes, smile and shake hands with the person. Hopefully, you will have had time to go over your lines before you get before the caster. Do your lines. Try to get a reading as to whether they liked them, and if you get that you bombed, then ask if you can do it again. If they allow you to, do it again. Then shake hands again, thank them, and leave.

R.A.P.: What other ideas on marketing yourself can you give us aside from the mailing list you mentioned?
Bob: You need some basic tools. You need your demo tape. If you do industrial narration, you need two demo tapes. If you do character voices, three demo tapes. I wouldn't try to put them all on one because when people are casting, they're casting one or the other, not all. Keep your demo tapes up to date and keep them well packaged. You're up against some of the best people in the business, and the packaging is very, very important. I'm told by successful people that your packaging should give an indication of what they can expect when they listen to the tape. I've looked as some packaging by Lorenzo Music, who is a top national talent out of LA, and all of his packaging is Crayola kid stuff and fun, and that's what he does. He's the voice of Garfield the Cat and other "humor" stuff. With all that Crayola fun packaging, you pick it up and automatically your mind is set on the fact that you're going to hear something funny. And you do.

In addition to the demo tape, you need a head shot. People have asked, "Why on earth do I need a head shot if I'm in the voice business?" The reason is that most agents don't know anything about voice. The only inkling they have that you're a voice talent is when you get jobs and are making money for them. Otherwise, they don't really know the voice business. There are very, very few of them who do, in this part of the country anyway. So they will take you according to your head shot. They will look at it and decide that they don't have very many of you in their stable, and so they want you in there. And if you do voice stuff, great.

Most agents still pay most attention to the on-camera or picture people, and a very interesting thing happened recently. The local SAG/AFTRA office raised the dues not long ago, and they took a poll to find out who the top money makers in the local area were so they could do a little PR work in announcing that they were going to raise the dues severely. Of the top thirty volume people in Dallas, twenty-eight of them were "voice only" people. The twenty-ninth guy was Don Meredith who keeps his membership here. Number thirty was the lady who plays Lulabell on Hee Haw and keeps her membership here. There were zero picture people in the top thirty aside from these two. They were all voice people. BUT, agents still look for faces and not voices.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Your post will be moderated. Your email address will not be shown or linked. (If you have an account, log in for real time posting and other options.)
0 Characters
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location