Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some Music For You To Listen To

My apologies for leaving you without new material for a while. The reason for the long time between posts is that I've been working on making our company website better.

Now, I'm not a techie, even by the wildest stretch of anyone's imagination. At one time - and not too long ago, when you consider the entire history of mankind - I actually believed that "HTML" was pronounced "hittamill". So, I haven't been writing code or actually constructing anything. What I've been doing, with help concerning the technical end of things, is populating our latest version of the website with selections from our music library.

I'm going to send you there at the end of this, to listen to some of the new selections I've chosen to offer our clients, but first I want to explain exactly why we offer music on our website.

You see, we deal in both music and voices, for use in telephony applications. We offer these services individually or in combination. For instance, if your company needs to prompt callers through a menu of choices, making their interactions with you go quickly and smoothly, you can purchase stand-alone voice prompts from us. If, instead, you wish to enlighten your potential customers concerning what your company has to offer, by way of sales or specials or new goods, you might order a combination of voice and music, which we call Messages-On-Hold. You can choose to have that play on your phone system whenever customers are put on-hold for a minute or two. Or, you can order Music-On-Hold, which is simply nice music, chosen by you from our music library, that entertains your customers while they wait.

Music-On-Hold, to my way of thinking, is a much nicer option than just having your customers waiting on-hold with silence for their only companion. If all you offer your customers is silence, they're never quite sure if you're ever actually going to come back on the line at all. At least if music is playing, they'll know they're still connected. In addition, most of your callers will probably find the music quite pleasant. Some may actually be disappointed when you come back on the line, bemoaning the fact that they didn't get to hear the end of the tune that was playing.

(OK, I'll grant you these people may be nutjobs. But, if you have to deal with nutjobs, why not make them happy nutjobs by giving them good music to listen to? It will certainly make your job easier than if you just leave them to stew in silence.)

Getting back to the delay in posting, I wanted to specifically do a piece concerning our Music-On-Hold, but I didn't want to publish it until I could send you to our brand-spankin'-new music pages, complete with super-duper new audio players embedded on each page. These new players should allow you to more-or-less instantly hear any musical selection you click onto.

(I'm presupposing that your computer isn't so ancient that it's powered by a hamster running on a wheel inside of it. If you've at least upgraded to twisty rubber bands, such as those found on balsa wood airplanes, everything should work just fine.)

Before I send you on your way, however, I'll answer a question that some of you may have been thinking: Why should I pay for your music when I can just play the radio over the phone, or perhaps some CDs, while my customers are on-hold?

The simple answer is that it's illegal to play the radio or CDs over the phone. ASCAP and BMI, music licensing agencies, vigorously pursue criminal copyright complaints, and if you play CDs or a radio over the phone, you are, in effect, stealing their product. You can be hit with a fairly hefty fine if you're caught and prosecuted. Meanwhile, our music is fully-licensed and legal for you to do with as you please, once you purchase it. And our prices are extremely reasonable, especially when compared to what you could be paying ASCAP and/or BMI should you be hit with fines.

Anyway, go HERE to listen to some of the newer selections I've chosen. Of course, we offer 12 distinctly different categories of music for use in productions, so feel free to roam around amongst the various categories and listen, at your leisure, to whatever strikes your fancy.

(Of course, if you don't like having your fancy struck - it can be painful - then just go on your merry way and I'll see you next time around. You'll be missing some dandy tunes, though.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Notes From The Music Director

Get it?

Music Director? Notes?

OK! OK! I'll get to the point.

My work, as I explained in the first piece published here, involves doing voices for advertisements and telephone applications. If that were all that was involved, I'd be a very happy man indeed. I'm a big ham at heart. Give me a script to read and then let me imagine that many thousands of people will hear me? I'm in heaven.

However, that isn't all that I do. My actual workday usually includes much more of the stuff I don't like to do than the stuff I truly enjoy. I suspect that's how it is for most of you, and some of you certainly have jobs that are more gnarly than mine, so my complaining about life not being all lollipops and roses probably won’t endear me to you. Oh, well. I'm going to complain a little bit anyway, so you may as well pour yourself a cool drink, sit back, and make the best of it.

My actual job title at Marketing Messages is "Music Director". So, aside from doing voice work - and handling production chores on the recording sessions for other talents - I am in charge of choosing which music will be included in our production library, and thus available for use in our productions.

Unfortunately, this does NOT mean that I get to buy everything ever recorded by my favorite musicians and then sit back grooving on righteous tunes all day. All of our production music has been recorded expressly for use as production music. The licensing fees involved in acquiring the rights to Top 40 tunes, for use in our productions, would most definitely not be cost-effective for our clients or for us.

Another factor is that, since most of our work is for on-hold telephone applications, the music has to be instrumental. The majority of what I do ends up being heard while someone is on-hold, waiting for an actual live person to pick up the phone. While they wait, they hear a mix of our music and, intermittently, one of our voice talents extolling the virtues (and/or pitching the latest products/bargains) of the company they are calling. It can't include vocals because those vocals would cause confusion to the caller listening to our work. Listening to one person singing while another is talking isn't conducive to... well, anything, except a headache.

Now, if you go to our website and click on "select music", then choose a category from the drop-down menu, you can hear samples of the various types of music we have available.

Some of the music is decent enough for me to listen to outside of the job. To be honest, though, most of our clients prefer music that is non-threatening, non-jarring, easy-listening, and other hyphenated terms not usually associated with the type of music I like to listen to when not working. However, if you look around there a bit, you'll find that we have a fairly large selection of styles to choose from and, within those styles, quite a few samples.

I mention all of this as background for what follows.


Another part of my job is to recommend music to clients. For example, say they own a mortuary and they ask my opinion concerning what music of ours to use in their production. I might suggest a medium-tempo classical piece, nothing too somber but definitely not upbeat, either. Or perhaps some sort of pleasant and non-threatening new age stuff. I would NOT recommend that they use a Doobie Brothers sound-alike or something in the style of Fats Waller.

Usually, I ask them to go to our website and pick out exactly what they'd like from the many choices available. In that way, there will never be a production coming back to me with a request for different background music, which is what occasionally happens when they ask me to choose the music. I can usually gauge what's appropriate, but I can't always be sure of someone's tastes, so sometimes they'll request a change. Just because I think a Van Halen knockoff isn't right for a nursing home’s telephone message doesn't mean that someone from their PR department won't think that "Hot For Teacher" would be perfect.

We guarantee satisfaction with the finished product, so if they didn't choose the music to begin with, we will change it at no charge. Obviously, if they choose the music, it's best for all concerned. Especially me.

Now, here's an e-mail I received Friday from a client:

"I am particularly interested in religious or faith-based music. Do you have a catalog of music that you could send me?"

So far, so good. He has stated his preference and then asked a simple question.

My reply:

"We don't have a great deal of religious music in our on-hand catalog. There are a number of Christmas Carols, of course, but not so much of the non-seasonal variety. I can do a search to come up with something, but it would be helpful to know exactly what you'd like. For instance, I can specifically try to locate Gregorian Chants or even Buddhist Temple Music. So, what sort of religious music are you looking for? If you could give me an idea of the instrumentation desired, that would also be helpful. Thanks!"

His reply to me:

"Generic Christian and Judaism (separate, of course) and I would also be interested in holiday music."

Ooooookay. That doesn’t tell me much of anything. We've eliminated the Buddhist Temple Music, I suppose, but that's about it.

My reply:

"For the holiday music, your best bet would be to go to our website and give a listen. As far as the other selections are concerned, might you be interested in classical, i.e., aves, requiems, etc., by Mozart, Bach, Handel? I have a few of those. Otherwise, I come up with some ‘churchy’ organ pieces and a few chants for the Christian side of things. For Judaica, I find a fair selection of horas, Eastern European violin pieces, and a few klezmer-inspired wedding songs, among other things.

Anything strike your fancy? Something to narrow the search parameters for me?"

His reply:

"Whatever sounds good."


(That's the sound of me taking a bite out of the corner of my desk, chewing it up, and spitting it out.)

I think ALL of our music sounds good. I wouldn't have the music in our library if I didn't think it sounded good.

Now, if I send this guy an upbeat klezmer piece, and it turns out he wants something less joyful, then he's going to come back and ask for a reworking of his production. That will mean another couple of hours work which could easily have been avoided if he'd just been specific about what he wanted. And what if I give him a generic "Amazing Grace" type of song, for the Christian side of things, and he actually wants something more folky or more classical? Or perhaps Gospel would be more to his liking? And does he want piano, trumpets, guitar, clarinet, organ, tuba, sitar, accordion, vibraphone, or perhaps a chorus of kazoos?

I truly want to help our clients as much as possible, but it’s so hard to do so if they’re not specific about what they want.

What I feel like writing back to him is a rant asking him if he actually has a clue concerning what he really wants. However, I can't write to a client and tell him that. It’s not good for business and I’d regret having done so. So, instead, I told you about this. And I thank you for letting me get it off of my chest. One more day of sanity, thanks to you, and I'll gladly return the favor somewhere down the road.

But only if you're extremely specific about what you want.

Friday, April 3, 2009

I'm Not Just Saying That

Here at Marketing Messages, I perform a number of different functions. My actual job title is Music Director, but I’m also one of the people on-staff who engineers recording sessions. In addition, I occasionally do voice-overs for our clients.

When people ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them that I do voice-overs, they’re genuinely interested in hearing about it. They ask, "What have you done that I'd be familiar with? Have you done anything that I've heard?" My answer is, "I've probably done something that you've heard, but probably not much you'd be familiar with."

That’s not doubletalk. Most of my voice-over work involves telephone applications, so there's a decent chance they've heard my voice, but it's doubtful they’ll remember exactly where they heard it. For instance, I was the voice of the National Amusements/Showcase Cinemas chain of movie houses, in some 17 or 18 states. If you called one of those theaters - to find out when a certain show was playing, or for directions, perhaps – I was the guy you heard, in a recorded announcement.

Outside of Marketing Messages, I do some TV and radio spots, but only very sporadically. If I had to rely on that money to put food on the table, I'd have starved long ago. However, when you get placed on-hold and a deep baritone voice tells you interesting things about the company you're calling, while music plays in the background, it might be me you're hearing. If a male voice is instructing you to "Press One for Customer Service... Press Two for Shipping...” it could be me.

Sometimes, in the course of my duties, I’m asked to read a script concerning a product I know little about. For instance, I recently said this:

New technology and innovative techniques in the field of cosmetic procedures now produce enhanced aesthetic results in the areas of facial rejuvenation, contouring, skin youthening, eyelid beautification, nasal sculpturing, tumescent liposculpture, and radiofrequency laser photorejuvenation.

Of course, "youthening" isn't really a word, but I'm being paid to say it, so now it is! And do you think I could tell you even one salient fact concerning nasal sculpturing? Not even if you told me you were holding my mother hostage and you wouldn’t let her go until I did so. However, I sure do have the ability to sound like a board-licensed nasal sculptologist, and that’s why I get the medium-sized bucks. Tumescent Liposculpture? Sure, who wouldn't want that? It’s probably very good for the economy. Radiofrequency Laser Photorejuvenation? Absolutely. Had some yesterday. Tastes like chicken.

We’re an honest company. So far as I know, we’ve never done any productions which contained outright lies. There have been occasions, though, when I couldn’t have told you if what I was reading was the truth or not. For instance...

Do you know what the wearable computer and rugged mobile computer markets did last year? (Client Name) can keep you informed about industrial measurement and control with reports like Industrial Distributed Remote I/O and web-addressable distributed remote I/O, which will be a must have. Learn about the critical issues suppliers face as they attempt to establish competitive positions in next generation application segments.

Sounds entirely plausible to me.

Some of you may think that voice-over people, like big-time actors, are exorbitantly well-paid. I have no complaints concerning my salary here, to be sure, but when I do get the rare TV or radio job from a studio independent of Marketing Messages, I usually get in the neighborhood of $100 or $200, which is not exactly the ritziest of neighborhoods. I don't get residuals - that is, no matter how many times a spot airs, I don't get anything extra. Heck, I've done spots that are 5 years old and still airing, but the only thing I get when they show again is an ego boost.

And, insofar as a real ego boost? As I implied at the beginning, unless I tell someone what I do for a living, nobody really knows who I am. If I speak to a stranger, the best I can hope for, as far as fame is concerned, is a quizzical "Do I know you from somewhere?" look. Every so often, something clicks in his or her brain. They've heard the voice, but they never, EVER, know where they've heard it.

Well, this is beginning to sounds a bit like a whine now, and I really don't mean for it to come across that way. I generally enjoy my work, and I have a really good gig compared to some folks. It’s still a major kick when I'm not paying attention to the TV and I suddenly hear my voice on it. And it’s truly spooky when I get put on-hold and I’m talking to myself!

Anyway, the next time you get put on-hold, and you hear a male voice telling you "We're sorry to keep you waiting..." it might be me. And, if it is me, I really mean it. I’m just that kind of a guy!