Archive for June, 2010

     [Originally posted as a comment on my friend Pam Tierney’s excellent and introspective blog.  My comment went on so long, it turned into a post of its own…which wasn’t the intent.  So I’ll put it here too, even though Pam has first claim.]

     She was writing about the disappointment of realizing there wasn’t going to be any “magic bullet”, no “secret code” to instant and consistent voiceover bookings, fame, and big sacks of money.  Pam’s no slouch.  She’s a great talent (whether she know it or not), and has done marvelous work, while actively pursuing ways to improve what she already knows how to do.

     But she’s right.  Although there are plenty of people out there willing to sell you a book or a study course or a wonderful weekend master class complete with whiz-bang demo…all telling you otherwise…the simple fact is, there is no “magic bullet”.  What most of us think of as success develops over time, and quite often we don’t recognize even a tiny form of it in our own careers until someone else re-directs our attention.

[Here begineth the stuff of my comment.]

     Two of the first…and best…pieces of professional advice I ever got went completely over my head when I first heard them. Only in the past few years have they even started to sink in.

     The first was from a guy named Jack Shaw, who hired me for my first real radio job, and taught me how to adapt my talents to radio copywriting / commercial production.  I remember complaining to him that I didn’t have that great DJ voice the other guys on staff did. His reply was something like: “Don’t worry about that. Lots of people can do that. How many people can do what YOU do? How many people would love to do the voices you can do?”

The second was L.A. Lentz, who owned a studio in town and whom I’d become friends with during my radio days. When I finally committed to go freelance I asked him for the “Rules”. “The first Rule,” he told me, “is ‘There Are No Rules’.” I thought he was pulling one of his trademark wisecracks, and it wasn’t until he repeated it that I knew he was serious. I’m STILL trying to get my mind wrapped around that one, and it’ll be a glorious day when I finally succeed. 

     Obviously, my friend L.A.  didn’t mean to just go out and wing it…rather, that outside of a few basics, I would discover along the way what worked for me, and what didn’t.  And that trying to follow another person’s career path point-by-point would most likely provide more frustration on my part.

     And I’m pretty sure Jack didn’t mean I shouldn’t notice, study and adapt what I could from other voices I heard in the business.  He just wanted me to stop and listen to and appreciate my own.

     I’ll add another item here that wasn’t on the comment at Pam’s site, although she was present at the workshop where the “advice” was offered. 

     In my first learning experience with noted coach Marice Tobias, she practically pounced on some self-deprecating remark I uttered while agreeing with a point she had just made.   Without a trace of malice, she stopped and called me out on it, saying it was b.s. – along with another observation as to what I might rightfully be accused of being full of when assuming such an attitude toward myself (she used fewer and more precise wording, if you must know).  I don’t remember ever thanking someone for telling me something like that before, but I thanked Marice.  Hers is yet more advice I’m working to adapt and use.  Sometime I’ll have to tell you about the only “character voice” of mine Nancy Woflson hates…the little one in the back of my own head that keeps telling me I’m not good enough.  Oh…I just did.

     Anyway, my friend Pam is discovering now what it’s taken me wayyyy too long to even start “getting”.

     And if you’re looking for your career’s “magic bullet”, good luck.  Just make sure you don’t end up with a hole in your head!

— over and out —

Up All Night With “Uncle Paul”

     Finally putting some videos on my refurbished website (see lengthy post below), I also wanted to include some of my old Betamax video from my three years with Paul Montgomery‘s tv show.  I started way too late at night, and had to settle for re-editing segments of some local tributes to Paul which borrowed from my original tapes, since almost none of Paul’s 20 year run was preserved by the station.

                                                          In what has to be proof-positive there is indeed a Grinch, Paul was taken from us on Christmas Eve 2002.  I’ve been denying he’s been gone ever since.  So going over those old video images and hearing that big laugh of his was like a long-overdue visit with a great friend.

     I’ve resolved to eventually replace the current video composite with something of my own,using the same clips and more, with a bit more personal narration.  But not tonight.  Why not?  Because it’s now morning, and I’ve got to resist the temptation to get out the audio recordings of Paul’s “Jazz Journeymen” trio I was also priviledged to preserve.  So for now, the hodgepodge will have to do.  (It’s on the Video page of the website.  Just scroll down till you see the link picturing Paul and Zoot.)

     Sometimes spending a night with “ghosts” (Paul and a 1977-version of me) can be downright comforting.

— over and out —

Why Keep On? One answer of many…

This week has seen me working more for myself than anyone else.  In some ways it’s not as much fun:  the “boss” is a harder taskmaster, a perfectionist, can’t make up his mind, the hours are insane and the pay is lousy.

Working on updating your own promotional material does have its rewards, though.  For one thing, you discover things you hadn’t thought of in awhile (“Gosh, was I ever this good?”).  This usually offsets the discovery of things it turns out you remember being better than they actually were (“Gosh, how do I ever get hired?”).

Talking by phone with friend Bob Souer during this process, and getting some automatic encouragement by the mere fact of doing so, I wondered aloud about the reason for putting so much continuing effort into promotion this late in life.  Of course the obvious answer is twofold:  One – if I had known how to do this early in my career and had the tools we do now, I probably would be farther along.  Two  – the alternative now is to do nothing and quit (not an option).

Whenever I get a little envious of the younger, more energetic, more “with it” talent I see out there making the big splash, I temper my thoughts with the comfort that even one of my favorite character actors didn’t really hit it big until he was in his 60s.

That would be Sydney Greenstreet,who became a star with his portrayal of the aptly-named Mr. Gutman in the definitive film version of “The Maltese Falcon”.  He was 62.  I often wonder what he thought about his career choices during his younger years.

I know most people, if they have any knowledge of film and radio history, would rather think of themselves as another Orson Welles:  New York stage genius and network radio star in his early 20s, and creator of what many claim as the best motion picture of all time not long after that.

I can claim a small sliver of that Welles feeling with my own career highlights…on an admittedly much smaller scale.  Along the way, I’ve done regular on-air work in Radio, winning fans with what amounted to an unseen puppet character (Zoot) on a top-rated morning-show, collecting awards for creative writing/production in advertising, co-hosting a local kiddie show on TV doing the puppets and some on-camera cartooning (“Time for Uncle Paul“), enjoying favorable acclaim with local/regional onstage efforts (“Greater Tuna” and the It’s A Mystery troupe) and even snagging a slot somewhere between “extra” and “featured player” in two motion pictures with the Muppets.  If you’d asked me as a kid what I wanted to do with my life, these are the kinds of things you’d hear me mention.  They just didn’t take on quite the national prominence they might have done.

I’m cool with that.

Meanwhile, with that experience, and what I’m gaining through resources never before available, and encouragement from other friends in the business, I see no reason why I couldn’t at some point hit my “Sydney Greenstreet” stage.

I’ve still got a few years to get there.  Why stop now?

— over and out —

    Deciding to put more effort into writing my “clogged blog”, difficult as it has been, is nothing compared to the effort of finally getting some conceptual changes made in the rest of my website. 

     Part of the process is perfectly understandable:  working with artists, photographers, people capable of actually creating the website and making everything work…I’m dealing with other people’s schedules, not just my own.  But there are other things within my realm of creativity which still bog down the process.

      Current case in point: finally creating something other than Test Patterns to go where my Video Demos should have been all this time.

     I’m a decent editor, on a glorified hobby-ist sort of level.  But in trying to meet industry expectations for Video Demos…I was astonished to find a complete double-standard which I am at a loss to explain.

     For years we’ve all been pounded with the rule of Voice Demos:  “Keep It Short!”  “No More Than A Minute!”  “The Client Won’t Sit Through The First Thirty Seconds!”  “What Were You Thinking!!!!!?????”  “Are You Insane?”

     So…anyone here come across any Sixty Second Video Demos lately? 

     In looking for standards to follow, I found more conflicting information than when I tried to do my own taxes.  But the most maddening thing I found in nearly every source was that a Video Demo has to have time to show the actor can play a scene…develop a character…show interaction!  How could anyone be expected to make a casting choice on a little :10 clip?  Absurd!

     Yet in many cases, these demos are being viewed by the same producers who know with absolute certainty whether you qualify for a Voice Job within the first three seconds of hearing a VO Demo!!! 

     Upon further reflection, this must have something in common with the underlying element I noticed in some friends and co-workers over the years…almost apologetic about being “in radio” while they were waiting for their big break at TV.  You know.  The REAL stuff!

     Ah well.  I had to give up and admit to my web designer, Lou, that I didn’t have a good answer as to why I’d edited a 4:30 Commercial/Corporate Video Demo, when I’d been so adamant my Commercial VO demo had to be a tight :60. 

     As far as I’m concerned, he called the Emperor on his “fashion sense” with that one. 

     But as I’m learning more and more over the years:  sometimes trying to understand something like this takes more time than it’s worth. 

— over and out —

The Clue That Gives You The Clue

…or perhaps that should be “The Clue That Gives You The CUE”.

I was just at lunch at a local eatery (family-owned Ole Time Barbeque) where they treat you like family in all the best ways.  Along with a relaxing break from the studio and some great banana puddin’ I got a quick example of how to be a better voice talent/audio producer.

Overheard at the table behind me was the friendly voice of the waitress:  “Need some more tea?  I heard that sound.”

What she had heard…and I hadn’t even noticed…was the rattle the ice makes in a drained glass as it is lowered back to the table.  Maybe she couldn’t tell just by listening where the cue came from, but it put her other faculties automatically at work to locate the need and supply the solution.  She was probably there before the customer even finished thinking whether he even  wanted a refill or not.

So now I’m thinking about things I do in my own job which pick up on these “clues to the cues”.  It might be sensing where a read could be sped up when I know we’re over time.  It might be knowing a friendly, deserving client could use a break with a last-second rewrite that makes no sense (they have to be friendly and deserving…I don’t just give out my copywriting “gems”, nor does everyone consider it a favor when I do!).

But what else could I be automatically on the lookout/listenout for?

What clues could you better be atuned to in order to make a client’s time spent with you more of a pleasure?

Me?  I’m thinking about learning to make good banana puddin’.

— over and out —

I’ve always been fascinated with sound…especially the human voice.

Never realized how really important that was until I saw this video today.

It’s a little 8 month old boy, born deaf, who was successfully given “ear implants” that allow him to hear his mother’s voice for the first time.

Despite the fact that he has been able to see her and feel her touch…watch his little face when the voice registers!

Even “Silent Movies” were never silent.  Sound matters…voices make a connection.  If I had a way to have myself saying this instead of typing it right now, I would.

— over and out —