Friday, May 29, 2009

Why My Job Is Never Boring

Much of what I do - recording voice-over artists, mixing Messages-On-Hold and putting together Music-On-Hold productions, or editing Auto-Attendant Messages, for example - is somewhat repetitious work. What I mean to say is that the general tasks are the same from job to job. And, if I constantly worked with the same client or talent or music, the routine could easily become mind-numbing.

However, one of the really good things about my work here at Marketing Messages is that we have a great variety of clients, a large roster of voice talents, and an interesting library of production music. The particulars of each job are rarely the same. They change often enough to keep my mind engaged and also give me some fulfillment in an artistic sense.

Artistic? Yes. When I put together a Messages-On-Hold production, for instance, clients often leave it up to me to choose suitable background music, matching it to the product being offered, the voice talent used, the pacing of the script, and so on. I usually decide how much time will be given to the music between speech segments, as well as the mixed level of the voice vis-a-vis the music. Does that fade-in sound right, or could it use some tweaking? Is that bit of instrumentation - a cymbal crash, perhaps - interfering with the speech? This is a longer production, and it requires three separate songs, so what three will mesh well together? All of these things are artistic choices, and I really dig it when I have a small puzzle to solve.

Of course, the voice talents are numerous and their sound varies greatly. We have some superb sets of pipes on our roster. All of our talents, aside from bringing their individual styles to the table, present differing levels of challenge during the recording and editing processes. As engineer during some of their recording sessions, I again get to make artistic choices, asking for a re-take to emphasize certain words or to get a pronunciation just right. And, during editing, I remove breaths, tighten spaces, boost or decrease volume levels, and perform many other small tasks that engage me creatively.

Another interesting thing is that I'm not always working with a talent whose first language is English. We do many recordings in foreign languages, and those present their own unique challenges for me.

(The foreign-language talents are interesting enough to be a post of their own. They will be, someday soon. Keep an eye out for it.)

Since our client's products vary greatly, there's often something interesting, fun, or quirky to latch onto within the actual script. Check out this listing of some of our clients:

A. D. P.
AIG Insurance
Air Products Healthcare
Atlantic Bank of New York
Au Bon Pain Restaurants
Avaya Business Communications
Avery Denison
Bank of America
Bed, Bath & Beyond
The Boston Herald
Burt’s Bees
Children's Hospital Boston
Coldwell Banker
Congoleum Corporation
Corning Bioran
Cox Communications
Dairy Farmers of America
Decision One Mortgage
Del Monte Foods
Dick's Sporting Goods
Direct Marketing Association
Direct Tire
Electronic Data Systems (EDS)
E. M. C. Corp.
Ford Motor Company
Fuji Film
G.E. Global eXchange Services
Hilton International Hotels
The Hartford Insurance
H.S.B.C. Credit
Hong Kong Electric Co. Ltd.
John Hancock Insurance
John Deere
Kaiser Aluminum/Tennalum
Lexmark International
Liberty Mutual Insurance
Lucent Technologies
Marriott International
MBNA America
McKesson Pharmaceuticals
Parker Hannifin Corp.
Partners HealthCare Systems
Pepsi-Cola Bottling Group
Philips Lighting
Publix Supermarkets
Raytheon Corporation
Remington Arms Company
Rockwell Collins
RSA Security
Sears Auto Stores
Smithkline Beecham
Sony Electronics
Texaco, Inc.
Timberland Footwear
U. S. Tennis Association
Western Union

That's quite a varied clientele, wouldn't you say? And we have thousands of other companies for whom we do work (over 3,500 total.) I'd have to be brain-dead to not find at least something interesting from day-to-day.

And, on top of all that, the people who work with me here in the office are, without a doubt, the most versatile and entertaining group of humans with whom I've ever had the pleasure of sharing space. But, I told you that not too long ago.

OK, I've got to stop now. If I keep on writing like this, about how great my job is, my boss might get the idea that I'd be willing to do it for a lot less than he's currently paying me. That's an artistic choice I'd rather he not make.

See you soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fighting Out Of The Blue Corner, At 187 Pounds...

One of the things I've had to do on occasion, as a voice artist, is audition for a client. This is a relatively painless procedure - until they tell me that I'm not right for the part, at which point I break down in tears and contemplate suicide.

Just kidding. If there's one thing you need, as a performer of any sort, it's thick skin. If you can't take rejection - and sometimes for no apparent objective reason - you'll wind up as a basket case. I'm not saying that I'm utterly immune to criticism, but I've certainly had to become more so since entering this business.

Recently, a Marketing Messages client, RINGSIDE, placed an order for some new voice prompts.

(I think that may be a personal best for links in one sentence.)

RINGSIDE sells equipment for boxing and other combat sports. When they placed the order, they were leaning toward another talent on our roster. He wasn't a bad choice, but I've been a fight fan for many years, and my Dad was a boxer while in the navy and had a handful of professional fights afterward, so my doing some work for this boxing-related firm was something I really desired. And, aside from any personal considerations, I felt that my voice was perfect for the gig - a strong male voice, low baritone/upper bass register. Thus, I asked if I might be considered for the work rather than the other fellow.

(I feel I should point out that this wasn't a case of my undercutting another talent for personal gain. My getting the job would not affect my monetary situation. I'm on-staff at MM, and there would be no extra income accruing to me. I wanted the job for personal reasons only.)

So, in order to give the client an idea of how well I could perform for them, I sent them a demo of myself reading one of their telephone greetings. Two demos, actually. I gave them a read in what would be considered my normal delivery and then one in a bit more of an upbeat style. Here are the two now, if you'd like to listen to them yourself.

Sample #1 - Normal

Sample #2 - Upbeat

And I'm happy to report that I was not reduced to tears and made to contemplate suicide in this instance. After listening to my demos, they chose me to do their work!

(Which read did you like? They preferred the upbeat read, so I did all of their prompts in that style.)

See you soon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


"Talent" is another term for an on-air professional in radio or TV, as well as for voice-over professionals. If you have the chance to listen in on the production end of a TV broadcast, for instance, you might hear the director say, "Cue Talent!", and that means, of course, that he wants the floor director (or someone else outside of the booth) to give the announcer a signal that he or she should begin talking. Likewise, when we schedule someone for a recording session, we always refer to that person as our talent; "What time is our Lithuanian talent coming in?"

One of the interesting things about Marketing Messages is that, in addition to the obvious populating of our actual talent roster with pros, we employ many current or former talents in our office positions. They do things such as production of recording sessions, editing of voice files, script writing, and other tasks that benefit from trained ears and real-world experiences.

My office/studio is surrounded by talents.

As I sit here at the computer, Dan Nelson is in the office to my left. His past experiences include some on-air work in radio, but one of his major strengths is as our "go-to guy" on technical issues. He probably knows more about the mechanical aspects of recording than the rest of the office personnel combined, and that's not a slight to the rest of us. He just truly enjoys that aspect of his work and takes great pride in being the best he can be at it.

In the office to my right sits John Hutchinson. John, or "Hutch", originally hails from England, but he hit these shores quite a while back and found great success as a disk jockey. He's had gigs in St. Louis, Tucson, Miami, Boston and New York (where he was David Lee Roth's studio producer and co-host), as well as his original hometown of Birmingham in the UK. He's also had a few parts in movies and TV commercials. Aside from his work in broadcasting, he has a BA in sociology, and has worked as a youth counselor and in educational exchanges. Wonderfully generous man, great sense of humor. I've only given you a bare-bones listing of his accomplishments. He's been in broadcasting far longer than some of the current crop of DJs have been alive, and would still be outworking 98% of them if he wasn't sick of battling some of the slimy folk on the business end of radio.

Sarah Colvin sits directly behind me. She spent quite a bit of time working in news down in the Cape Cod area, Ocean 104.7 and WQRC. She still has that same type of distinctive delivery when doing one of our scripts. In addition to many aspects of recording, editing, voicing, etc., her talents also extend to photography. She has had her work published in a number of places. For instance, if you go to her blog, you can see where some of her recent work has appeared in print.

I'm continually impressed with the skills I see displayed by the people with whom I work, and not just by those of us who call ourselves "talents". The folks who don't do voice-work are just as talented; maybe even more so. There's not a single person in this office who doesn't have some other amazing skill they could fall back on if worse came to worse.

Take our office manager, Kim Gorton. She's a nice person to work with - pleasant, intelligent, all that good stuff - but she also has a pilot's license. Isn't that cool? Nice to know you could just fly off into the sunset if need be.

Rich Snider is the main man here. Without his work, we'd all have blessed little to do. He's the company's leading salesman and he works damned hard at it, too. I respect his work greatly. My Dad was a fine salesman, so I know how hard that work can sometimes be. And I sure as hell know that I have little talent in that area myself. Anyway, aside from being a swell salesman, Rich is also - like Sarah, mentioned above - an avid photographer. His specialty is the landscape; nature shots and such. Want to see some superb outdoor photography? Check out Rich's site.

Aside from the myriad of radio voices, actors, singers, and other entertainment types who have been employed here, other folks I've worked with in this office have been, mostly in their spare time, trained paramedics, working musicians, professional nannies, schoolteachers, computer programmers, elected officials, instructors in religious education, and major league lacrosse players (I'm not kidding. One of our current roster talents once played lacrosse in a now-defunct professional league.)

It's all pretty humbling to have "softball bum" be your major claim to fame while in the midst of such people.

See you soon.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Editing Voices

A few days ago, I was working on a production for a client of ours, a place called Small Engine Warehouse, and it occurred to me that it might be a good one to share with you, in order to show some of what's involved in bringing one of our productions to completion. I won't give you every detail, but some highlights may prove interesting.

First, here is the script from which our voice talent worked, and then the production order I referred to during my work. Please click onto them for enlargement, if needed.

You'll notice the specs - what sort of machine the client has, what sound file is needed in order to be compatible with that equipment, who the voice talent is, the name of the background musical selection chosen by the client, the approximate timing of breaks between speech, etc.

My editing platform will be different for different specs, and the medium used for the finished products will, of course, also vary. Having worked with most of the voice talents for many years, I know what pluses and minuses each one brings to the table - variables such as breath control; whether or not there may be multiple takes for me to listen to and then decide which one I like more; regional pronunciations which may effect certain words; and so on.

I see that the script was written by Hutch, one of our writers, from talking points supplied by the client. It's a good script - clean, well-written, grammatically correct, and should supply little problem for Scott, the voice talent.

Now, I'll give you a sound file to listen to. This is Scott's unedited read of the first paragraph.


Pretty good read. He invests it with proper emotion, energetic but not over the top. His voice is well-modulated and pleasant. I can use this as is, right?

Wrong. Listen carefully to it, with a critical ear. There are a number of breaths that will have to be removed before it meets our standards. Also, he does make one small mistake in the read. Did you catch it? If not, listen again.


The mistake is this: At 17 seconds in, Scott says, "... and have over 25,000 small engines in stock at all times." The script actually said, "... and WE have over 25,000 small engines in stock at all times."

Granted, the "WE" could be understood from the previous part of the sentence, but we always try to give the client exactly what the script says. I'm not saying we're perfect - once in a great while we prove our humanity, as Scott just did - but we have an excellent track record overall. And we think that one of our top selling points is our attention to details such as these.

So, my first job was to see if I could fix this mistake with an edit, rather than having Scott re-voice the whole thing. I scanned the script and saw that the second paragraph contained a sentence beginning with "We have..." Would it be possible for me to take that bit of speech from the second paragraph and then insert it between the "and" and the "over" in the first paragraph? As it turned out, yes. It was a small bit of fine-editing of which I'm justifiably proud.


As I mentioned, the breaths had to be removed, too. Of course, removing the breaths is just the beginning. Each time a breath is removed, we have to make a judgment concerning whether to replace the breath with silence or just remove it and leave no gap. It's a matter of taste, in most instances. And there's not always a "right" answer. Sometimes, you want the flow to be casual, and sometimes you want it to be a bit faster. Mostly, you have to use your ear and then trust your instincts. If it sounds too stiff, or robot-like, you haven't gotten it right.

To give you an idea of how much work is involved in this fine-tuning (which, by the way, not all companies similar to ours do, or for which they may charge extra) listen to this mp3. It contains all of the breaths I removed from the first paragraph.


That's 14 breaths, just in the first paragraph. Scott's whole read had well over 100 which I ended up removing. In addition to excising the breaths, we also search out and remove extraneous little noises that emanate from the throat, nose, mouth, or perhaps from a slight defect in the talent's delivery (popping plosives - a tendency to give a bit too much air to letters such as "p" or "b") or even something as prosaic as an inadvertent kick to a microphone stand; anything which might provide unwanted clicks or pops in the final production.

Here, one last time, is the first paragraph unedited. Please listen again.


And here it is after removal of breaths and other unwanted sounds, as well as with the edit made to correct the small mistake in Scott's read.


Could we have gotten away without removing the breaths and correcting that mistake? Probably. Many companies would send it out to the client that way. We don't. We care about our work and we're proud of our work.

Finally, here is the completed Messages-On-Hold production that went out to the client. If you call Small Engine Warehouse in the near future, and end up being put on-hold for any reason, this is what you will hear.


I hope this was educational and informative. I do take pride in my work.

See you soon.