By Craig Alan
I’ll never forget the day, working in radio as an air-talent, being called into a meeting with my program director, our station consultant, and his assistant, for a periodic air-check. I had always looked forward to talking with this consultant. He was well known, an icon in the industry, and I welcomed every suggestion and new insight. I remember, many air talents not looking forward to such a meeting, but he had always been very positive and encouraging, and I was eager to improve.
Today was different.
After exchanging hellos, he said, “We’ve been reviewing your on-air performance and it sounds good, but we were wondering, is there any way you could sound less like an announcer?”
Less like an announcer? I thought he was joking. Really?
I sat there waiting for us all to laugh so I could get in on the joke. He sat motionless, waiting for my response. Everyone did.
See, I had always been praised for “sounding like a pro radio DJ” by people in the industry.
For crying out loud, it was the reason I got into radio in the first place!
I don’t even try to sound this way! I explained that I had been told I sounded like this since my teens! Make such a radical change? There’s no way, I thought. The one thing that came so naturally and, well... defined me, was now not wanted -- thank you.
Now I knew how all those ‘80s hair bands felt after Nirvana came on the scene.
I don’t remember much of the meeting after that, except hearing about some new research that said: “People want to be able to relate to you”. “Sound more like the guy next door”. “Just talk to them”.
These are my best recollections of that day many years ago, but the message was clear. The DJ/Announcer was being shown the door in this new day. I had to adapt.
I started doing voiceover in the early ‘90s while in radio, and remembered directors making commercials or narration would occasionally ask for the “real person read”. It always struck fear in us DJs. This was the one read style we knew we weren’t good at. To satisfy the request we would try to downplay our customary “always-enthusiastic read” but ended up sounding, you know, “dutifully interested, but kinda bored”. Horrible.
Fast forward to now. I left radio. I now work full-time doing voiceover from my home studio.
Every day I do what you might expect: commercials, e-learning, video narration etc.
I’ve also taught voiceover at Indiana/Purdue University for more than ten years. I’ve coached hundreds of students wanting to get into voiceover as a career. Because clients or companies don’t necessarily always want my voice, I work as a casting agent auditioning and hiring a variety of voice talents, even internationally.
I love that I can work from home, even while I’m on vacation. I just bring a laptop, a mic, find an internet connection and I’m ready for anything.
The way I read scripts today versus when I was in radio is totally different. Now I look for the reason the message is important to the listener that it’s aimed at. What am I trying to get them to do or think? I see the points/ideas/components inside each paragraph and what they each mean. Each thought or idea sounds different in the sentence; instead of the same “tone” throughout.
When I was on-air, I thought radio was about “showmanship” which Merriam-Webster calls: “a notably spectacular, dramatic, or effective performer”. Showmanship is still a good thing. We could all agree that Prince was the embodiment of it and we loved it. At least we paid attention.
For radio, as performers, either we became less interesting or maybe our increasingly virtual lives have left us craving the personal closeness that may be lacking for many.
What was so hard to hear that day, years ago, was prophetic: The announcer is a novelty. Now, the “real person read” as we called it, is everywhere!
Maybe you’d be surprised… I take coaching myself? I’m still learning, always getting better and better. (Remember, I welcome every insight). It’s the best way to earn more, work more and have greater client retention. Coaching is invaluable, and the highest earning talents I know all take coaching. So do business and sports people. The Tobias agency teaches many notable voice talent and actors at $225 per hour via phone (tobiasent.com). There are more affordable alternatives too.
If you can become good at this one skill, it’s not unheard of to earn six figures a year, and you don’t need a spectacular voice!
To excel in any media now, it’s become the same for all of us, even YouTubers; the inescapable truth is that the voice talent, host or whatever, must always do one thing: you must, MUST connect as a person.
After spending years as a radio talent/production director Craig Alan now works full-time in voiceover for clients like FedEx, Home Depot, Harley Davidson and more. He teaches voiceover at Indiana University/Purdue University and has given one-on-one private coaching to hundreds of students, presenters and media professionals. He welcomes your comments