(corrected) What a great delight it is to talk with someone on the phone. Get direction. Record. Edit. Save. Post. Email. And boom, a few minutes later, a radio station on the other side of the country is producing two promos with my voice tracks.
The year was 1974. I was deeply in love, and to be blunt, poorer than the proverbial church mouse. I was putting myself through school at a private college in the Chicago suburbs. Every penny I had, and quite a few I was borrowing, were paying for my education, so I had no money for an engagement ring. You see, I wanted to marry Kathy. She wanted to marry me. Like I said, I was deeply in love.
She confided in her mother about our situation. Mom suggested that a family heirloom diamond was available, one that had belonged to Kathy’s great-grandmother. But, if I was serious about marrying Kathy, I would have to provide the engagement ring and the wedding band to go with it. One of Kathy’s very best friends was the daughter of a jeweler in Madison, Wisconsin; who had just decided to move his business to the Chicago suburbs and merge with an existing jewelry store.
So there we were, going through Mr. Johnson’s jewelry inventory, finding just the right setting for the diamond, and a matching wedding band. All for only $75, including the cost of mounting the diamond. But, as my Dad used to say, I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. Where was I going to get $75?
At the time, Kathy worked for David C. Cook Publishing Company, as an associate curriculum editor. (This was back when they were still located in Elgin, IL.) And one afternoon, a few days after our shopping expedition, Kathy attended a meeting about an upcoming convention. It was decided that the company should prepare a kiosk display that would include a pre-recorded narration about their new releases. But, who could they get to record? There was no narration budget.
At this point, Kathy spoke up and said that her fiance had a “nice voice” and would be willing to work pretty cheap. Whomever was in charge of this project agreed to this suggestion, asked her to call me, and eventually met me at the Domain Communications studio in Wheaton, IL. The agreed upon price was $50 an hour and when we were done recording, the session took one and a half hours.
It was an answer to prayer! And exactly the $75 I needed to get Kathy her engagement ring and wedding band. Thus did I get my first paying voice-over job, the very humble start to my life as a professional voice-over artist. How humble? It would be 9 years before I got another paying voice-over job.
Nearly everyone who does voiceover work professionally these days understands the value of training as an actor. Even straight single-voice copy often requires the ability to act in order to deliver the message effectively. Any acting classes, and especially improv, are beneficial.
But, I suspect not nearly enough people understand the value of musical training for voiceover work. I first learned this from Marice Tobias a number of years ago. I attended a master class she gave in Nashville, TN. During the class she made an off-hand comment about her experience that often the best voiceover people had some kind of musical training. As an illustration, she told us about an orchestra conductor from Canada who was at that time one of the hottest voiceover talents working.
In the years since then, I’ve often thought about that comment and about how valuable musical training is. For one thing, I’ve long believed that the most basic unit of spoken communication is the phrase. Not the sentence. Not the word. The phrase. Each phrase (typically) contains a single coherent thought or concept, which is connected with the other thoughts and concepts of a given sentence. How we shape and connect these phrases makes a huge difference in our ability to communicate clearly. (On the other hand, my friend Roy Williams breaks this idea down even further into thought particles. But, that’s another story for another time.)
And it is in this matter of phrasing where musical training is so beneficial. Because in order to play or sing well, we have to be able to shape and connect the musical phrases in a coherent manner or else our music doesn’t hold together the way we want it to.
Intimately bound up with phrasing (both musical and in voiceover) is the matter of timing and pace. Again, musical training helps us understand the value of timing. On the one hand, accurate…on time. On the other, not too rigid or we run the risk of seeming robotic rather than alive.
In my first post, I linked to a few of the people who have helped provide some polish to my voiceover craft. Without a doubt, the greatest influence on my work has been Dick Orkin.
Not that I can hold a candle or even a damp, unlit match, to Dick’s great talent. But, he has been kind enough to teach me a few things at various seminars over the last 8 years. Mainly at this one run by Dan O’Day, (though sadly Dick doesn’t seem to be actively taking part in these annual events any more).
Another powerful influence has been Dick Orkin’s creative and business partner, Christine Coyle (second item). Christine is one of the most gifted directors on the planet, at least when it comes to voice actors, and at these International Radio Creative and Production Summits each year, she has provided much valuable direction and encouragement.
Two other guys have influenced me a great deal, more as a writer than anything else; but writing, like music is extremely useful in the voiceover business. They are (the already mentioned) Dan O’Day and The Wizard of Ads, Roy Williams.
So this is blogging. Or, not. We shall see. I’ve done voiceovers since 1974; but it’s really been since 1997, that I’ve been working hard on getting better at my primary craft, which isn’t blogging; but voiceovers.