Production 212: Getting the Right Read

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

Every now and then, as a voice-over artist, I get that dreaded phone call from a PD saying that they no longer require my services. Usually, I react with an urbane “I understand,” even though there have been times when I really didn’t. What I’ve often wanted to say is “What? Are you NUTS? You’re taking a pass on the best voice in the business!” While I might think so, clearly I might be wrong. As this column is somewhat of an advice column, I’d like to write about your relationship with your VO talent and how important it is to keeping your reads on point.

The reason I even bring this up is this week, I figuratively sat on the other end of that call as Z100 decided to change our female VO from Ann DeWig to Kelly Kelly Kelly. I didn’t make the call myself…that odious duty fell to my boss, Tom Poleman, but I called Ann later and had a wonderful chat. (If you’ve never met or worked with Ann, I’m sure you know that she is genuinely one of the sweetest and most caring people in the world, let alone this business.) Ann basically said, “No regrets.” She feels that her time voicing Z100 was enriching for her, not just in the fiduciary sense. She says that we ‘pushed’ her to new heights of skill and ability and that since she started doing our VO, she’s really grown as a voiceover artist. Ann opened my eyes to an emotion I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before – a towering respect. Ann pointed out that Kelly (if you’re a good friend, she’ll let you call her by her first name) is ALSO an incredibly talented producer and VO artist. I count Kelly as a very good friend as well, which made this entire experience feel a little weird.

Kelly and I met several years ago in Los Angeles at a programming seminar, the week before the R&R convention, when we both worked for a company called AM/FM and she was the Creative Goddess at KDWB/Minneapolis. Ann and I first met online at a site I was running at the time that was all about radio production, back when she was imaging DC101 in Washington, DC. The site has long faded into memory, but our friendship has endured.

Now, what I’m about to say might make that statement seem artificial, but I assure you it’s not. Our friendship made working with Ann an absolute dream. All I had to do was tell her, “I need Pink.” Ann would then shift gears and become the artist Pink. If you’ve ever seen Pink in an interview, you know that she has one of those incredibly sexy, almost ‘husky’ sounding voices that almost oozes attitude. Angie Harmon (formerly of Law & Order) has the same kind of voice. It’s almost a tomboyish sound that says, “I can kick your butt at anything you choose.” As soon as I said “Pink,” Ann had exactly the attitude I wanted.

Kelly has the same kind of delivery. You can hear it clearly in everything she does at KIIS-FM in Los Angeles. When I called her to say, “Welcome aboard,” she was giggling like a school–girl. Oddly, she felt bad because she is also a very good friend of Ann. She was worried about calling Ann, but I assured her that Ann’s head was in a great place and not to worry at all. I suspect Kelly called her almost immediately after that.

OK, enough of the gossip. I don’t think you’re all THAT interested in our little soap-opera world. The essence of what I want to pass along to you is that short of voicing something yourself, the only sure-fire way to know that you’ll get what you really need is to communicate well with your VO talent. If he/she is living in Scottsdale or LA and you’re not, your VO sessions will either have to be done on ISDN (does anybody still do that?) or you’ll have to accept whatever is sent, good, bad or indifferent. If you want to make sure that it’s always good, you must communicate well with the talent. Make sure they totally understand not only the content but also the intent of whatever you’re trying to say to your audience.

I remember working with the late Keith Eubanks and falling on the floor howling with laughter when he tried to pronounce some of the town names in New Jersey. How would you say Hopatcong, Hohokus or Paramus? Well, he didn’t have a clue either, until I started sending pronunciation guides. (hoe-PAT-kong, hoe-HOE-kuss and puh-RAM-us, by the way.) Now, whenever there’s the slightest chance that a word or name can be mispronounced, I not only send a written guide, but I also attach an MP3 of the word pronounced the way the locals say it. (Most of the world pronounces the word Piaget the same way the French do, pya-JAY. In New Jersey they say pee-AD-jit. Bogota becomes buh-GO-tuh. Go figure.)

But, aside from getting correct pronunciations, getting the right attitude and feel for the copy is terribly important. Have you ever played the game ‘telephone?’ One person whispers something in the ear of the person sitting next to them. That person then says what they heard to the next person and so on until everyone has heard the message. The last person to hear the message then says it out loud. I’ve YET to play the game once when the ‘end’ message was the same as the ‘beginning’ message. Usually, it bears no resemblance the original message at all. My point is your VO talent was probably not sitting in the room when the copy was written. How can he/she interpret the copy exactly as it was meant?

To make matters even more difficult, if the person writing the copy is not producing the promo or spot, you’ve just added another layer of potential communications error. You, as the producer, need to be a part of the process when the idea gets put down on paper. If you’re not the writer, that’s fine. Just make sure you and the writer have a nice conversation about what it means, and likewise, you or the writer need to have the same conversation with the VO person. What’s obvious to one person isn’t always so obvious to the next.

Finally, one of the biggest benefits to both you, as the producer, and the VO talent is that they don’t have to do 40 takes to make sure they send the right VO, and you don’t have to comb through 40 takes to find the right one. Everyone gets it right the first time. As a VO talent myself, Jeff Berlin, former Creative Services Director at Kiss108/Boston told me, “You’re getting it right on the first take almost every time. Just do it once and move on.” Now, I do that with everyone, with the understanding that they can ask for a re-cut any time I don’t get it right. So far, it’s never happened except when I mispronounced the name of a mall or something.

I’ll miss working with Ann, for sure. But I’m also very excited to work with Kelly. They are two of the best friends I have in this business. I am certain that I’ll always get the right read from Kelly, just the way I always have with Ann.

Some of you will have already heard some of this stuff since I write this column almost a month in advance, but for those who haven’t, my audio track on this month’s CD features Z100’s new female VO talent and my good friend: Kelly Kelly Kelly.

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