( – originally posted October, 2007)
You know the moment. Impetuous young Luke Skywalker is frustrated with Master Yoda. He knows he’s ready. He doesn’t get why he has to go through all this uneccessary mumbo jumbo. He just wants to get-on-with-it and take on the Empire.
“You must un-learn…what you have learned,” comes the calm reply.
Now I’ve been in some form of audio production and voice work since high school. Before that I was enthralled with the work of Mel Blanc, Stan Freberg, Daws Butler, Don Messick, June Foray, Paul Frees, Bill Scott, and others…and was probably the only kid in the state who knew those names. While my friends worshiped Elvis and the Beatles, I was digging Spike Jones and his City Slickers courtesy of the 78 rpm records rescued from grandma’s discard pile.
I discovered early in my Radio career that as a disc jockey, I made one heckuva production guy. But I kind of liked that part more anyway. Aside from not having the “pipes”, part of what made me such a bad DJ was my insistence on cluttering up the airshift with a lot of voices and little sound effects gags.
In college I discovered what was referred to as “Old Time Radio”, and got confirmation that I had indeed been born 20 years too late. Still, this turned out to be a good thing…because at this stage of life, I was able to enjoy hours and hours of the best of these old broadcasts preserved on tape by collectors such as I would soon become. I learned timing from Jack Benny, a show called “Fibber McGee and Molly”, and yes…”Amos n’ Andy” too. I learned about wit and satire from the likes of Fred Allen (look him up if you don’t know the name). The joys of creative schizophrenia and irreverant wise-cracking came courtesy of Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd (I later continued Bergen’s legacy by performing a puppet on the radio as a sidekick on my area’s top-rated morning show for several years).
I picked up on voice acting (and over-acting) from anthologies like “Suspense”. I absorbed sound effects techniques while listening to “The Lone Ranger”. And I discovered that a great character can overcome a bad script after listening to countless episodes of “The Shadow”.
I also learned the joy of carefully crafted audio anarchy with the BBC “Goon Show”.
Of course, most of the people I worked with, and our audiences, had no idea what any of those things were when they heard their influence in my Radio work. They thought I was a genius. I did little to dispel that notion.
So perhaps I could be forgiven, with all those “voices” in my head, for wanting to cover so many different styles once I finally got the chance to adapt my skills to commercial radio, learning copywriting along the way from the brilliant Jack Shaw. For a long time, especially at radio stations where a small staff had to give different sounds to so many spots, that worked out pretty well. It even worked out pretty well when a lot of us Radio people started finding ourselves being viewed as over-paid relics when more and more broadcasting outlets got bought up by people who knew nothing about broadcasting…and everything about the bottom line…and we became instant freelancers.
Not being in a major media market, I’ve evidently been slow to realize a lot of the changes required of what we call Voice Talent today. Some of the “Variety” so prized in the radio station environment is viewed almost as clutter by modern voice seekers. A lot of the “fun” things we were famous for are now the new “Old Time Radio”. Not that what we knew then was necessarily wrong, but it doesn’t apply in perpetuity.
Of course I did grasp some of that early on, quickly discovering “Announcers” were “out”, and Disc Jockeys were labled “Pukers” (insert a little chuckle of sweet revenge here)…styles only to be used now for comic effect.
But I’m still in a period of “un-learning”, adapting what I can of my talents to the needs of producers in the present tense: making things shorter, more streamlined, more focused. The whole “branding” thing. I see a lot of frustration in posts on message boards from younger talents than I who still don’t understand why the industry won’t just let them “get on with it”. Why should they surpress all these wonderful things they can do and only show producers a small segment of their talent. I can relate, because I’m still struggling with that myself. For a long time I’ve billed myself as “The Man of 999 1/2 Voices”…the “1/2” being my straight voice, which I’ve never liked much, but which gets about 90% of the work these days.
Fortunately, the voiceover community allows us “Skywalkers” to encounter the occasional “Yoda”…someone who sees the potential, offers some guidance, and provides much needed perspective and focus. On Dierdre’s (DB Cooper’s) voiceover bulletin board, vo-bb.com, generous professionals such as DB, Connie Terwilliger, Bob Souer and others will often share what they’ve learned with those who are trying to develop their talents. And judging from their posted photos, they look a heckuva lot better than the little green guy from Dagobah (Their sentence construction is better too)!
If you’re a voice talent reading this and you don’t already know about the above-mentioned forum, or the one that’s part of the Yahoo! group for voiceovers…get thee hence. It costs nothing but your time and attention, and you can only benefit. You might also get an idea of what your “Yodas” have been learning from their own mentors lately!
And if you wander back this way in future, you’re likely to see structured ramblings that are still all over the place: some written from the side of the brain that’s sure of what he knows…some from the side doing the un-learning.
NEXT TIME: “All That Jazz…”
– over and out –