Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Very Good Question

A short time ago, I offered my readers a chance to quiz me concerning my profession. The lovely Karen, from Karen Cooks, took me up on the offer, and asks a very good question (three of them, actually, as well as two requests for elucidation):

Years ago I met a guy on-line. We eventually talked on the phone and he had the most wonderful voice. When we finally met in person, I found that his voice was just like any other Joe - nothing to write home about. I learned he used to be a radio host and when we talked on the phone he used his "radio voice". (This was only the first of many inconsistencies I had the displeasure of encountering with him). So, to my question...

1 - Do you have a different, normal speaking voice when you're not recording?
2 - Did you have training to acquire a radio voice? If so, what type?
3 - Is it work to speak with a radio voice? In other words, are you always conscious of having to speak a particular way, or does it come rather naturally?

Thanks, Karen. I would have assumed there were others curious about the answers to these questions, but I've never been asked them before. Maybe nobody else cares? I hope not, because then the next 1,200 words will be mighty boring. In any case, I'm happy to provide some answers. I'll try my best to cover everything in one interminably long ramble.

I don't have a different working voice than conversational voice, per se. That is, I don't consciously change the timbre of what emanates from my throat when I'm in front of a microphone. Unless the job calls for something radically different from my 'at home' voice (a characterization, or perhaps a dialect; rarely the case) I speak fairly much the same whether working or not.

Having said that, however, I am more careful with my speech when recording for a client. I make sure to pronounce everything clearly and distinctly, and also give added emphasis to those things that would seem to need it. For instance, most clients will want the word FREE to receive more oomph than you'd use if it showed up in conversation with a friend or spouse. The word YOU will often be given a bit of punch, in order to let the listener know that he or she, personally, is the target; that sort of thing, giving the listener verbal cues to pay attention.

There are also some 'tricks' employed by announcers to add flavor to a read; mic presence is one, and projection another. If I want to sound intimate, or even sexy, I'll get right up on the mic and speak softly. If I'm really trying for a hard sell, something difficult to ignore - possibly even irritating to the listener, but unlikely to be forgotten quickly - stepping back a bit from the mic and really projecting (adding power to the voice, similar to a stage actor making sure that the person in the last row can hear the lines) can be a useful technique. These things do not change the actual voice, but are an accentuation or diminution of what is already present.

As for whether or not I trained my voice, or had lessons, yes and no. I went to broadcasting school because I didn't know any better. That is, I didn't know that what I already had would have been enough to land me the job I now have. Some of the training I received was useful in a technical sense - learning the basics of operating a board in a radio studio and such - but I didn't really need the elocution lessons. Mostly, what I received in return for my tuition was confidence in my skills, and that was valuable.

Again though, having said that, one thing I had to train myself to do was actually something I had to train myself NOT to do. Having been raised in Boston, I had a slight Boston accent. Luckily, my parents (most specifically, My Father) had hipped me, early on, to the fact that some people found the Boston accent annoying. So, I was educated, at home, to include the 'R' that so many Bostonians drop naturally from words such as 'park' or 'car' (I don't pahk my cah in Hahvid yahd.) I did still have to watch out for some regional pronunciations (I used to say "hahf" rather than "haff" [half] and "ahnt" rather than "ant" [aunt], and those would never have been accepted in a professional setting.)

How I got to broadcasting school is a semi-interesting story, so I'll fill some space with that.

I had been employed in the customer service department of an office supplies company, answering phones and putting together orders for pencils, typewriter ribbons, fax paper, and other things nobody uses anymore. Then I was laid off. While on my way downtown to collect unemployment, I saw an ad on a subway train. It said something to the effect of, "Why not become a radio personality? Attend our school and we'll show you how!"

Many of the customers of the office supplies firm, upon hearing my voice on the telephone, commented how much they liked it. Some asked if I had been in radio, while others said that I should get a job in that field. Seeing the ad, and remembering those kind remarks, I immediately went to the school (after picking up my unemployment check) and enrolled.

When classes convened, I found that I was the oldest person in the class by a good ten years. I was thirty three. I graduated as valedictorian - it would have been a crime if I hadn't, given my age - and got a job here, at Marketing Messages, a couple of months afterward.

Now, on to your friend. If I understand you, and I hope I do, he did something totally different when on mic. He actually changed how his voice sounded, as opposed to working with his natural voice. Some folks can do that to good effect; most can't. I haven't heard him, of course, but many folks who do that, from my experience, suffer from what we at Marketing Messages call "cheesiness". It's the Ted Baxter effect. Or we might call someone like that Rick Radio. Usually - not always, but usually - when someone effects a voice that they feel is announcer-like, it will actually be overblown and unintentionally comic.

For my part, I was blessed with good pipes. I can no more take credit for my voice than I can my eyes or ears. I didn't choose my genes. If you have the chance to do so, however, get yourself a father and mother who both have good voices. Mine did (in the case of my mother, does!)

Let's see... anything else? Oh, yes. Is it work? You bet it is. When I'm reading a script, I'm always conscious of my pronunciation, my pitch, my timing, my emphasis, and how much I'm being compensated for my time (which isn't enough to make most folks jealous, but it does pay the rent, so no complaints.)

And I think I've answered your questions. If you (or anyone else) wishes me to expound upon any of the answers, feel free to ask for specifics via your comments.

Talk to you soon.