Q It Up: Dealing with Agency/Client Scripts Requiring Kids' Voices - Part 2

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95This month we get the rest of the responses to our question from last month:

Q It Up: What do you do when the client or agency comes up with a script that has children in it? Do you explain the child labor laws in your area, which prevent you from having a child on staff, and make them change the script? Do you drag your kids in from school to cut the spot? Do your kids get compensated? Do you make the sales rep or agency people provide the child talent? Or do you put that pitch shifter to good use?

Pete Jensen [PETEJ[at]kxly.com], KXLY Broadcast Group, Spokane, Washington: You forgot the part about how it’s late Friday afternoon and the spot starts tomorrow. Or maybe that’s a given.

For kid voices I ask the salesperson to provide talent if possible. Failing that, maybe my kid’s voice will fit the spot. If not, I ask the rep to postpone the flight, if necessary, or rewrite the script. One of our rep’s kids is pretty good, and with enough lead time I can schedule a session. With enough lead time I can usually figure out a solution. I see to it that the kids get compensated in some way.

I needed a few kid lines once, back when my daughter was about 5 years old, and I promised her dinner out if she would come to the station and voice them for me. My mistake was taking her to dinner first, because when we got to the station she absolutely would NOT talk into the microphone. I learned you always get the voice recorded first. This parenting lesson has been helpful to me in many other situations as well.

Chris Adams [ChrisAdams[at]Clear Channel.com]: Clear Channel Audio Design, Boise, Idaho: If an AGENCY brings us a kid spot to do, they (the agency) are expected to bring in their own talent. They are also expected to know the talent well enough to direct him/her. If a DIRECT client wants us to write and produce a kid spot we usually will: 1) try to dissuade them from this course of action, 2) say “okay” if THEY know some talented kids who can pull it off, and/or 3) suggest THEY write the spot, let us clean it up, and then make THEM find the talent anyway (we will generally direct them to the local talent agency). In other words, finding talent for this kind of spot is left up to the client. The client or agency is also responsible for any talent fees that might arise. I must also add that while we don’t do a lot of this kind of production, when we DO do it, we ALWAYS schedule at least twice the amount of studio time. Kids and animals: ALWAYS unpredictable.

Richard Stroobant [bigdick[at]cjay92 .com], CJAY/CKMX, Calgary, Alberta, Canada: We don’t often get requests for children in spots, but when they do come in, we have a couple of different options. One of our copywriters does a great little kid voice and we get her to voice those lines for us. If the spot requires a “REAL” child, we often bring in a staff member’s child before or after school. When that happens, we usually compensate the child with something from the promo cupboard. I usually try to stay away from the pitch shifter.

Scotty Webb [ScottyWebbVoice[at] aol.com], SW Creations, Inc.: This is sometimes a win-win. If the client has children or relatives (a brother or sister) with children, then they supply the children, and they get jazzed when they here their family on the spot. And if it’s a lousy take, it’s never your fault. So option 1 is the clients’ kids, or in my case if I need a child I use my own 3-year-old daughter. If the child is the client’s, no pay is needed. If the child is mine (the production person) then my bill is set up with a flat voice talent rate, and the kids are free. As a footnote, most children are used for their natural realness, and an AFTRA kid is not an option!

CJ Wilson [ksmb.prod[at]mail. citcomm.com], KSMB/KVOL, Lafayette, LA: If the script calls for a child, I ask the sales rep to provide the talent and I’ll schedule them for a session. In some instances, it’s been a staff member’s child, and some clients have brought in their own kids. I have put my pitch shift to work on occasions, but it’s not as natural sounding as a real child. Sooner or later you’ll hear the complaints fly if it doesn’t hit the mark. It all starts with the copy. The script has to fit what a child would say and the voice needs to be believable. Kids need a few takes to loosen in front of the microphone and others blossom.

Kevin Charles [MINATREA[at]aol .com], Houston’s Radio Connection: I have been quite lucky to have two talented daughters available for the past few years who could take on a role at a moments notice. I have also been known to ask the AE to bring in their own kids for a line or two. The problem is, now my kids sound more like grownups and so I have to find new voices. As for compensation, my kids did the voice work with enthusiasm just to be able to work with “daddy” and to hear themselves on the radio. No money needed.

Ric Gonzalez [Ric.Gonzalez[at]cox. com], Cox Radio San Antonio, Texas: I really dislike hearing ads where the children are really grown-ups whose voices have been pitched. It seldom is believable and only works in the most animated type commercial. It does not work in what is supposed to be a sincere and real situation. The audience doesn’t buy it and it sounds hokey and cheap. So the solution is to bring in a real kid. One that SOUNDS like the age of the child in the spot. And it should be a child THAT CAN ACT. Otherwise you’re back to a hokey and cheesy ad again. So when I get a script from an agency requesting a child, I ask them whom they are providing since we have no children on staff or on retainer. If they have no child, I give them the name of a couple of agencies in town that may be able to help them out. Of course, very few of these “agencies” want to pay. (And when did agencies stop earning that discount rate for their client by supplying a “ready to air commercial” anyway??? OK, OK...that’s another topic for your Q it up column.)

I hate when an agency says, “Oh don’t you have a salesperson with a child who can pull it off.” I don’t see that we are obligated to pull our children out of school or bring them in after hours to do this deed for them, and then give THEM a discounted rate for the client.

Now, if they have a talented child (a brilliant natural) then I’ll produce them. Their arrangement with that child is their affair. They pay us 100 dollars an hour for studio time so I hope this brilliant talent won’t take a couple of hours to record and post, otherwise, they would have been better off hiring a pro with an agent, who could nail it in a few takes, not the son or daughter of a “stage-mom-stage-dad-so-called-advertising-agency.”

By the way, I love kids. I have a nine-year-old son who really surprised me once doing a reading for church. I broke my own rule and let him do a commercial for me. Several people who heard him, asked me if I’d sign him up or get him an agent. I received several emails from folks asking if he could do voice-work. While this may work for other children, I prefer to pursue other interests with my child. My child will be a child. He’ll play, build dinosaur models, be a scout, sing in the Church choir (as long as he desires), and most importantly try and stay on the A and B honor roll, or better yet move up to all As. But I’m not going to have him carted around from audition to audition. Kids have enough to deal with today.

Craig Jackman [craigj[at]canada.com]: The first thing I have to do is to tell the rep and client involved that if they REALLY want children in the spot, it’s going to take longer to put together. I usually want an extra 2 or 3 days. If I can’t get the extra time, we change the script to eliminate the children. If we are doing it with kids, then it’s finding whose kids are available to come in. Proud parents always want to show off their kids, the kids just want to ham it up, and generally it’s setting a time and they show up after school. Other times we’ve sent people home with a portable MiniDisc recorder to get the lines read. If I’m really jammed, I’ll have my daughter read the lines at home into the computer and bring them in as MP3s. None of the kids or parents get any compensation.

Mario Lajarca Jr. [mario[at]channel 4fm.com], 104.8 Channel 4FM, United Arab Emirates: Greetings from the UAE. 1. Consider a 24 to 48 hour search for a “child talent” or “kids” for that matter. 2. Having good relations with a production house nearby with good “children” talent is also very helpful. 3. A good contact with a good elementary school around town would be beneficial as well. 4. If you have contacts overseas that do ISDN or mp3 productions, and they have “kids,” even better.

Talent fee should really be arranged for these kids. Their parents will be very helpful too as they’re proud to hear their kids on the radio or watch them on TV. It boosts their ego too.

Johnny George [jg[at]johnnygeorge .com], Susquehanna Indianapolis, Indiana: I would have to admit that when someone from sales comes to our door with a script that includes children, it immediately sends up the flag, HELP! I admit, those cute little kiddos can charm the pants off of some people and get them to buy the product or visit the circus or twist the consumers arm into a smile-faced “Awwwww.” Frankly, they don’t come up too often, and when they do, we have already attempted to keep a list handy in the production studios with who on staff has what kid, how old, how good and how available.

Sometimes the client may say they will supply the kids. (Oh Lordy. Someone wants their own cute little child to sing their phone number.) Yes, that has happened. We discourage this type of thing, but you know how some parents can be (or clients).

And then there are the salespeople who are smart enough to head off the problem at the pass by bringing in their own kids who actually have some talent due to Mom or Dad’s genes, and they advise the client up front that it’s gonna cost them $20 per child. This happened last fall to a campaign I helped develop that turned out to be quite lucrative for those kids. I think they both ended up earning over $60 each. And the spots sounded great! But then again, we’re not all that lucky every time.

My advice: Stay away from it unless it appears you have a sure thing. Sure talent. And sure patience. ...oh sure!

Rich VanSlyke [richvs[at]bellsouth.net], Rich VanSlyke Productions, Suwanee, Georgia: I record my kids. They love it and the client is happy. Works every time.

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