Q It Up - "The RAP Network Speaks!": Working With Amateur VO Talent

by Sterling Tarrant

I told her to keep a watchful eye ahead. I had been here before. You see, I knew. I knew that one mistake too many caused people to panic, lose their bearings, stumble, and, before you knew it, all that remained of a coherent human being was a blob of protoplasm. There was a better than better chance that once you had come here, you didn't return, except for the menagerie of masochists who liked to torture everybody, including myself.

THUMP, THUMP.

Did I mention that an entity of incredible power was lord of this dark place? Did I tell you we were getting close? "Easy now," I told her. "Don't be afraid." Suddenly, it was there again. THUMP, THUMP. I whirled around, and in that moment, more terror flashed in her eyes than had ever been shed in any teenage horror flick since, say, 1976. She stared directly into the entity suspended above her.

Think quick, I thought, be reassuring. "It's OK," I excitedly whispered from across the room. "Don't move, take a deep breath, relax." ...It was too late. In an instant she was jolted into Jello. Yet another victim of the evil Mr. Microphone.

Studiophobia. Microphonitis. The fear of the microphone. You think a person would come across well on a spot. Yet, as soon as you get them in front of a mike, they clam up, stumble continuously, or are body snatched by Dr. Johnny Fever.

This month's question is: You have a client or a person from the office whom you need to use for voice talent. They haven't done voice work before. How do you make them feel comfortable? What tricks to you use to get a good read out of them?

Jason Garrett, KVRY, Phoenix, Arizona: First and foremost, if a talent is green, I usually try to tickle them first. (laughs) That generally loosens them up. Another way I loosen them up is to do the read myself first, give them a general idea of what I want it to sound like, and then they can copy from example. I also find that letting inexperienced talent do reads without headphones helps because they get away from the "puking jock" syndrome. Another trick is to stand opposite the talent as they're reading so they feel as if they're in a conversation instead of just reading to a microphone.

It's important that when you're dealing with people who aren't used to doing production, you let them make mistakes. Digital workstations are great for this because of how you can edit. Otherwise, it takes a lot of patience. Lots of gifts help, too. It boosts their ego to get a demo and a thank you card saying, "You did a great job on this." Often they leave the experience just thinking all they did was a dry read, but once they hear the finished product, with all the effects and all, it really knocks their socks off. It's important to be a responsible Production Director and follow through. They'll come back and get better every time.

Jim Harvill, KSSN/KMVK, Little Rock, Arkansas: Generally, I will use references that they are familiar with. Everyone is terrified of going to the dentist, and I like to point out that this experience is much less painless than going there. I talk to them like they're real people and just try to loosen them up, even if it means telling them bad jokes, maybe something self-deprecating. People like hearing you make fun of yourself. It's not even a bad idea, I think, to sometimes even screw up their takes. You're beholden to them; it's kind of an old Dale Carnegie thing. If you ask a guy to do you a favor, he's more likely to do that than if you try to jump in and help him out. Say something like, "Hey, I've screwed this up. Can we do this one more time?"

Thanks to Jason and Jim for their suggestions. Here are some things that I have tried:

1. THE NEW BABY SCENARIO. Have the talent remember when their child was born. Then help them get the same enthusiasm that they had then for their voice now. If the talent is childless, use the new car scenario instead. The point is, find out what really excites them and transfer that emotion into their read.

2. THE HOLUSION METHOD. Green talent is like those 3-D holusion posters. They'll just read what's on the page. You have to get them to look beyond the lines and perform the emotion beneath them. I had a woman recently who had to say the (client written) line: "Gee, Bill must be independently wealthy." Instead, I asked her how she would respond to someone who kept taking their girlfriend out for one expensive date after another. She came back with an obstinate, "What's Bill? Independently wealthy?" complete with a tongue click at the beginning denoting disgust. "What's the motivation?" Ask it often.

3. THE DATA FACTOR. Copy that comes from clients often does not help because it does not contain many contractions. It will make your talent sound like Data on Star Trek. Data doesn't say doesn't. He says does not. Usually, inexperienced talent think they have to read copy verbatim. They "does not." Remind them that if the copy sounds funny to them, it probably is. Let them change it and show them the difference between sounding like a machine and sounding human.

I have a quote in my office from C. S. Lewis that says, "A talk on the radio, should, I think, be as like real talk as possible, and should not sound like an essay being read aloud." That's good medicine for all who suffer from microphonitis. It should be force fed to the menagerie of masochists who think they do good delivery, but torture us all.

Next month, more exploring with this question: If you were from another planet and you were hearing our radio broadcasts for the first time, what would be the first thought to go through your mind? Join me for more exploration of the space between the ears as we Q It Up.

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