R.A.P. Interview: Harvey Atkin

R.A.P.: What do you mean?
Harvey: Well, they've got guys who are signed up with agencies, who are professional, who are members of the union and everything else, doing stuff outside the talent agencies.

R.A.P.: And the talent agents aren't catching this?
Harvey: That's right. But, obviously, if this service is going on, there must be a need. It must be filling some kind of a market niche, and it's appealing to all those people in middle America and all of the smaller market areas that want some professional sounding stuff. And for 200 or 300 or 400 extra dollars, they've got a spot that jumps out of the radio in comparison to everything else that is running.

R.A.P.: And they're getting it at a rate less than what they'd have to pay if they went through the agent?
Harvey: Oh, there's no question about that.

R.A.P.: But it's extra money nonetheless, and the talent isn't having to sit there and deal with directors and clients in the studio.
Harvey: Right. He's usually doing it after seven o'clock at night.

R.A.P.: Yeah, and they're probably keeping the first take!
Harvey: Yeah, right! "Okay, let's see this sucker! Let's dump this toad! Alright, you wanna go for a beer? How many spots you got? Nine? Give me a half hour!"

R.A.P.: Many times, a client or agency will approach a radio production person who has produced a spot for them, and ask how much it would take to let a spot they've produced and/or voiced go national. What should the radio person charge to let the spot go?
Harvey: The easiest way to find that out would be to call a local talent agency or a talent agency in the next major market that handles some voice people, and actually masquerade as a client. Say, "Look, I'm a small manufacturer, and we'd like to do a commercial. We'd like to know what it would cost us if we got one of your people, and let's say we wanna play it in twenty markets east of the Mississippi. What's it gonna cost us?" That's the only way you're going to find out what the cost is. Then, price yourself accordingly. If you go into this thinking that the advertiser has no conception on what it would cost him to get this done professionally, you're wrong. They do.

On the other hand, another thing a voice talent has to be well aware of is the fact they are in business, and the product you're selling is yourself. You have to keep yourself in the market, but you can very easily out-price yourself, too. When you do that, they hit the dialer, go down to the guy that's right underneath you, and they get him. Then you're history!

R.A.P.: You mentioned the mug you're mailing out. What other marketing tools have you used in the past couple of years to market your voice-over talent?
Harvey: A couple of years ago, I sent out pens. On the pens I put, "Write when you get work. Then call me." Anything you can do that can give you an excuse to talk to somebody that is in the position to hire you, is what you should take advantage of.

From the 10th of December through the New Year holidays, no work gets done because the only thing that the people in the agency are thinking about is, "Who's got the Christmas party tonight?" So, what do you do? You work the room. You make sure you've got business cards on you. You make sure you've got those pens on you. There's a friend of mine in the business who leaves memo pads in the studio, or he hands them to the agency people to take back with them. I've always argued with him that once the paper is gone, you're off the desk. This is why I did the mug thing. I mean, they may leave it in the car, but they're going to have that face looking at them all the time.

R.A.P.: Let's talk about demo tapes. What are some important basics we should know?
Harvey: Your demo is very important! It's your business card. Offer variety. Always have a good beginning and a good end. Make it no more than two minutes long, unless you're a really well established guy with so much good stuff that it goes to two minutes and thirty seconds.

R.A.P.: Should the voice talent put "fake" spots on the demo for clients he didn't actually do voice work for?
Harvey: You're getting into an area here that is very difficult because it's a double edge sword. Normally, you go into the station and get old scripts that have already been done, and you read those scripts for your demo. You are very likely to send your demo to the agency or company that did that spot. And the first thing someone's gonna say is, "That son of a bitch never did that spot!" You have to be very careful because that can come back to haunt you.

R.A.P.: How would you say the voice-over business has changed over the past ten years?
Harvey: It has become much more actor oriented, as opposed to announcer oriented. Still, there are a tremendous amount of dinosaurs in the industry who are doing those "hand to the ear" kinds of spots -- "For tonight's recipes from Kraft foods, write to P.O. Box...." But now there's the character stuff, the comedy. There's a lot more comedy being used.

R.A.P.: And this opens up a lot of doors for people who don't have those big, deep voices.
Harvey: There's a couple of announcers I know that have a very pronounced lisp, but they've capitalized on it. But it is not entirely just the voice that makes a voice talent good. It's the ability to read. It's the ability to be consistent. It's the ability to read and come in on time because when they say they want it at 28 and half, they want it at 28 and a half, not 26 and not 30. It's the ability to look at the clock at the same time you're reading. If you're doing voice over for television, it's the ability to make sure that your voice comes in at the right picture; the timing has got to be there. It's not just as easy as saying "Hey, I've got a good voice. People told me I should get into voice-over." It doesn't work that way.

And it's also practice. One of the things that I do -- my wife and kids always laugh at me -- I'll be driving down the highway reading the big billboards: "I'd walk a mile for a Camel." And I'll do it several different ways. Practice! What does a golfer do when he's not in a tournament? He's out there hitting balls.

Also, it amazes me, all the people in the voice business that smoke. I keep saying, "Man, you need those pipes to make a living. What are you clogging them up for?" I used to smoke, and I do a lot of cartoon voices for television. I used to do the Super Mario cartoons. And I remember coming in years and years ago to do a spot. It was 8:30 in the morning, and I was sitting in the studio with a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. The guy said, "Okay, what we want here is a little squeaky voice, you know, like a little tiny animal." I said, "Sure, (cough), sure (cough), be right with you (cough)...." I looked at the cigarette and butted it out, and that's the last one I had. You've got to take care of the pipes and keep them in tune. There are exercises and things you can do. I do a lot of Chrysler stuff, and they require a particular kind of read. When I'm on my way to the studio, I will make sure that I have a mug of hot tea and honey to sip on all the way down the parkway.

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