RAP: Which gurus come to mind?
Jay: Probably the most important would be Tony Schwartz from New York. Sound designer extraordinaire. Sound philosopher. He was the one who conceived the Goldwater-Johnson daisy spot if you recall that--classic piece of political advertising. It communicated everything and said absolutely nothing. He's written a couple of excellent books on the subject of how thoughts get from one person's brain to another via sound. He teaches. He has a Chair at Fordham University, Harvard University, and Emerson College. He invented mnemonic speech.
He was very good to me. He would listen to my tapes and encourage me and talk about what I'd done and suggest other things I could do. You know that basic technique we all do in announcer spots where a person is talking and then his own voice overlaps it? He invented that. He was the first person to ever do it in the promos for the movie Woodstock in 1969 or 1970.
I saw an article in BME. Back in the late sixties it was a very hot little magazine with a lot of interesting stuff in it. There was an article on what he had done and it explained his technique and talked about other things he had created. I started playing on my little 2-track Ampex in my living room, trying those techniques, and I wrote him a letter. He wrote back and said, "Sure, come on down and talk." So it's for him--and for the instructor at Emerson who said I'd never be a star DJ but could probably be a writer. That's why I try to help the community and make sure there's another generation of good radio people coming up.
RAP: You mentioned that you write for DV (Digital Video) magazine. Is this a regular column?
Jay: Yes. I do a monthly column in DV which I try to keep as down to earth as much as possible. I explain the technology to videotape people and use video analogies to explain things like sample rate or where you place the microphone in a room and how moving the microphone a couple of inches either way can make a big difference in the guy's voice. I've also written maybe a half dozen features for them and occasional articles for Back Stage, Videography, and various places like that.
RAP: What advice would you offer someone in radio about making a move into what you're doing?
Jay: First thing you gotta do is either have a very understanding shrink or a very understanding wife or not give a damn because it is a major risk. You'll be eating a lot of Kraft dinners because what you have to do is go from the secure nine to five with paycheck where you don't have to pay for any equipment to a situation where basically you're selling yourself to the ad agencies. You've got to get a relationship with them where they hear what you've done, where they hear why it's unique, why you've got something more to offer than the studio down the street where they'll put a CD in and record your announcer and top it and tail it and say, "Here you are."
I get a lot of e-mail and phone calls from people who see my Home Page or they've heard stuff I've done and they ask, "How do you make that jump?" You have to be willing to play with a year of your life. When I started doing this, I was selling six days a week so that I'd have something to do on Sunday so I could make some money. I went to the agencies explaining my reel. It's marketing, and you can't do it part-time. You can't do it while you're working at a station because the guy paying your salary will always have the priority on your time. You've got to spend a long time pounding pavement and convincing your potential customers that you are unique.
I think what also makes a difference is that I don't use my own voice very much. So you listen to my reel, and there's a lot of different talents on it that you can pick from. It's not all Jay voicing them.
RAP: You must direct a lot of talent. What are some tips you can pass on about directing voice-over talent?
Jay: Know exactly what you're looking for before the guy walks in the door, and be prepared to accept something better. Have an image in your head of exactly how that spot should sound, every syllable of it, but don't stick with that image if he's coming up with something better.
Second tip. For most good talents, don't give them line reads. Don't ever give someone a line read unless you're absolutely sure of your own chops. Don't pick up the copy and say, "Well, George, what I want you to say is 'Tonight on WBZ you'll hear'...." It's a lot more efficient to say something like, "Look, guy, it's real important that you bring out the word tonight." What happens a lot--and back in my days of punching the buttons while other people directed, I heard a hell of a lot of this kind of thing--the director would say, "You said 'give it a crumb crisp coating'. What I want to hear is 'give it a crumb crisp coating', [sounding just like the previous read] you see, with the accent on coating." That gives the actor less than nothing to go on. Don't read it for them unless you're absolutely sure that the one thing you're demonstrating is going to come through, and point it out.
Another thing, pay a lot of attention to every syllable of what they read. Don't just say, "That was a good take. Let's do it again." Be more specific in your notes. "In the third paragraph I really need you to bring out the name of this product a little bit more because it's the first time the audience has heard it. When you get down here to the slogan--they use that slogan in everything--you can toss it off, but take some real pride in this word over here." A good actor/announcer can respond to that. And if you see they're not responding, then you give them a line read, but make sure your line read agrees with the direction that you gave.
I'll give you another tip. Don't be afraid to back down. A lot of times I will say to somebody over the talkback, whether they're in my studio or five hundred miles away, "Hey, you gave me exactly what I asked for, and it's not what I want. Let me try something else." It's not their fault. A lot of directors think directing is an adversarial process and you get points by being better than the actor.
I've worked with some fairly heavy name actors--James Earl Jones, Christopher Reeve--on voice-overs, and there's a process of about four or five minutes at the beginning of the session where they're the actor and you're just this advertising guy. But after a couple of minutes, they realize you're trying to make them sound better, and you realize exactly how much commitment they're willing to put into the project. And from then on, it's golden.
RAP: You've had your fair share of building studios and are presently working out of a very nice home studio. What advice can you give someone about to do the same.
Jay: You need a good ergonomics base, which means you probably cannot do it on a desk in your bedroom. This is an important distinction. I don't have neon in my place, but I do have a big counter top that puts the workstation at the right height for me. That's directly in the sweet spot of all my monitors. You've got to pay a little bit of attention to the acoustics, and there's been too much written on that for me to take up twenty-five pages of your magazine. But from the standpoint of room treatment and absorption and standing waves, as well as keeping the outside noises from getting in, you've got to pay some attention to that.
You've got to have some good libraries of sounds to work with--a good sound effects library, a good imaging sounds library, a good production music library if that's the kind of work you're going to be doing. Of course, all of these should have the proper clearances on them. You can't steal music. You can't steal sound effects.
I'd say these days, if you've got any musical ability at all, you probably should have a synthesizer because there are so many sounds that you can just walk over and grab. With a lot of my stuff, I'll use library music for nine-tenths of a spot and play one-tenth of it on a Kurzweil. I'm not a particularly good musician, but I know what I need for those six seconds.
And these days you've got to have an ultra-clean digital chain. You can't do it on a half-inch 8-track anymore.