R.A.P. Interview: Don Elliot

R.A.P.: What weaknesses should one pick on?
Don: The ones that have been heavily researched and have people coming back again and again saying, "I don't like this about that station because they do too much of this or too little of that. The jocks talk too much, or so and so talks too much about the car he drives," or whatever. If there is a particular trait that a jock is known for, the competition can have fun with it.

R.A.P.: What are some things your extensive voice-over work has taught you?
Don: There's a little thing you can do when reading laundry lists in a piece of copy. We learn things in patterns, usually in threes. If you give things in a laundry list in groups of threes, it's easier to handle the interpretation of it. "We've got red cars, and blue cars, and black cars," (pause) "and orange cars, and pink cars, and green cars." If you read them in groups of fives, the mind can't handle it. For some reason, we've learned things in threes. I don't know what that goes back to, but it's deeply rooted and it works.

Another thing: Many times you'll get a piece of copy that has a tired, old expression or figure of speech. It's very hard to read those phrases well, but you can if you read it as though you're reading it for the first time in your life, like you've never heard it before. Some examples are: "fresh and new!" or "a penny saved is a penny earned;" anything so trite you can hardly stand to look at it. Read it like you've never seen it before.

There's a voice exercise that most people don't know about. Read a piece of copy and cry all the way through it, then read this piece of copy and laugh all the way through it, then read it straight. It's unbelievable what you'll be able to do with a piece of copy after you've done it the other ways first as a warmup. It stretches your delivery. It makes you hit words you never saw before. When you practice this, read the copy straight first and record it. Then go through it laughing, crying, then do a second straight read. Then compare that second straight read with the first one. It opens your eyes. It makes you think about the content of what you're saying rather than what your voice sounds like.

One of the most dramatic things you can do to effect your delivery is to stand up, take your headphones off, and read a piece of copy. Then put them back on, sit down, and read the copy again. It helps you shake that thing of listening to yourself. Granted, you have to wear the cans for a lot of stuff, but a lot of us have gotten so grooved into the idea of having to wear cans that you become addicted to it. The hardest thing I ever did was get rid of the headphones. I couldn't get in front of a mike unless I was sitting down at an 80 degree angle, body folded with one hand behind an ear, headphones cranked to the hilt, and squeezed up to a desk. If you asked me to stand up and say something into a mike without headphones, I'd say, "What? I've gotta go find my cans!" The day I get rid of this addiction was the day I started getting national spots.

R.A.P.: Your promo production library, "THE LEGEND," is your first. How did it come about?
Don: I had been wanting to do this library for ten years before I actually did it. I kept a list of things I always needed in the production room but could never find, thinking, "Someday, I'm going to put something together with one of the Dallas guys." Finally, New Year's of last year, I said, "Shoot! I'm just going to do this!"

I was partners with one of the Dallas guys, and I went to him and said, "Look, I've got an idea for a production library FOR promo people BY promo people. I know what's needed because I've been in the trenches all this time, and you guys have the musicians and know how to put it together. True, I've got 'em out here too, but I'd like to come to Dallas and get it all done." They said, "Well, send us a dozen or so idea tracks. Send us your proposed table of contents, some samples of what you've got, and let us hear the plan." I sent the package to them and they said, "This is great, but you're doing so well with it, what do you need us for? Besides, we don't want to compete with what we're selling."

R.A.P.: Who was this in Dallas?
Don: It was Toby Arnold, and Toby thought that his partner would think that it would dilute what they were doing, which really wasn't true because it's a commercial library. So, I put the thing together myself with the help of a lot of Hollywood people. I had to do a lot of noodling around with MIDI stuff, and I took it to musicians that I worked with. I played them samples of promos to show them how things were going to be used and just stayed very focused on it. Everything was all recorded within that year, so it was all fresh and digitally recorded -- no old stuff. We released the library at the NAB in April. Scott Shannon bought the first one for Pirate. Tom Rounds, at Radio Express, saw some press on it and we talked about him representing me internationally to sell it to the rest of the world. I signed him on to handle that part of it. We're planning a German sales trip this year as well as a trip to Australia. We're also going to do some programming seminars in Australia this year.

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