Voicing Disapproval

If it’s done well, commercial reading should sound easy. But there is much more to it than just reading , and learning to control and manipulate your voice takes experience. And sometimes you work with a producer who doesn’t know how to articulate what it is they expect from their talent and it takes you to the brink of your patience.

I must pay tribute to the good ones though: Dave Smith at CRL can explain what he wants well. There’s Rych Mills at KOOL-FM in Waterloo, Peter Tokar at the MIX (which no longer exists!) in Toronto and several others along the way. The good ones far outweigh the bad but the bad ones are terrible.

While watching some of the videos of voice-over professionals on radioviz.com I was reminded of my worst recording session experience. The producer and studio shall remain nameless. The gig seemed great on the surface: a series of spots for a major, national business that would run regionally, then provincially and then go national. Cool!

Not cool. I’m not saying he’s a bad producer because he’s obviously not. He’s successful and busy, but he was definitely unable to explain himself to me on that day. He kept asking me to do different reads without any clear direction on how to do it differently. For take after take he used descriptions like, “heavier”, “thicker” and “that’s not it.” I asked questions in an attempt to get a clear direction. Finally he handed a script to his wife who happened to be visiting the studio, and said, do it like this: his wife smugly read the script to me in a flat, halting monotone while I died a thousand deaths. There’s nothing like having the producer’s wife, who’s no more than a spectator, look at you like you’re a talentless hack!

Nearly an hour had passed since I first began the :30 commercial. Frustration boiled over and I sat in the booth with my head in my hands while fat tears dripped onto the counter and the producer and his wife talked in the other room about what to do with me. Finally I got myself together, wiped my eyes, came out and said without a shred of anger or malice: “Perhaps we should call it a day because I’m not giving you what you what you want.”

“No no”, he said. “All I want is the read you did on that cancer commercial on your demo!” This is why Canadians aren’t allowed to carry guns! It’s anyone’s guess why he couldn’t have said that before stressing and humiliating me for an hour.

I got back in the booth and whipped off exactly what he wanted in one take. And the spots? They only ran a few times, locally. The company got a new CEO who – as so many of them do – cancelled everything approved by his predecessor including my commercials. You win some, you lose some.