Archive for the ‘Narration’ category

In the Zone

April 19, 2009

It’s amazing what you can find when you aren’t looking.

The other day, I dropped in at the local music store. When I think “music store,” I mostly think of a place that sells musical instruments and related paraphernalia. And indeed, the last time I was in this particular establishment, I was renting a clarinet for my then-middle-school-age daughter to play in band class. (Given that the same daughter is now a sophomore in college, you can tell that it’s been a while.)

I had a rather vague idea that this particular music store also had a recording studio onsite, but hadn’t thought much about it. Imagine, then, my utter surprise to see a sign near the back door that read, “Free Studio Tour.” I didn’t need more invitation than that — The Mic Guy’s first rule being, “If it’s free, it’s for me.”

Blair, the owner of Zone Music and Recording, welcomed me in. As it turned out, not only does he have a mighty sweet studio set-up squirreled away in the vast warren of his store, but he’s also a working voiceover pro who’s recorded narrations for Food Network and produced Dr. Phil’s latest audiobook. An entire wall of his studio is covered with awards he’s won. I considered genuflecting, but Blair seemed like a pretty humble guy. He’d have probably been embarrassed.

Standing in Blair’s booth, I found myself itching to grab some copy and perform. But I refrained. After all, I just met the man, and didn’t want to impose.

Instead, I wandered over to Zone’s Pro Audio department, and salivated over microphones there. They were in a glass cabinet, so I didn’t actually get any drool or fingerprints on them. A couple of them did speak to me, and ask me to call them “Precious.” A helpful tech guy chatted with me about my home studio setup, and offered some valuable suggestions.

Considering that I just wandered in because I stumbled upon a sale ad, my trip to Zone was a revelation. I’ll have to go hang out there again on a day when they’re a little less busy. Perhaps they’ll let me fondle a Neumann U87 or something.

Or perhaps not.

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You do me, and I’ll do you

April 13, 2009

We did an interesting exercise last week in my Friday afternoon workshop.

During our first meeting five weeks ago, we were each secretly assigned another participant to “shadow.” For our fifth session, we were to bring a script perfectly suited to the person we have been observing, and perform that script in the booth as we thought that person would — using the qualities we’ve noted in that individual’s vocal and acting style.

My challenge was both easy and remarkably difficult. Easy, in that I’ve shared several other classes with the person I shadowed, and was more familiar with his work going into this exercise than I was with any of the actors in the group. Difficult, not only in that this person’s style is in many respects antithetical to my own, but also in that I like the guy — I was afraid I’d do a lousy job of imitating him, and he’d never speak to me again.

Fortunately for me, however, I’d had a fair amount of practice.

Since my challenging experience in narration class back at the beginning of this year, I’ve been grasping at every hook I can find to help me master what is, for me, a consistently frustrating aspect of VO. Because my natural vocal quality is energetic and expressive, it’s tough for me to dial down to the lower-intensity, more understated tone necessary for effective narration. Watching tons of TV documentaries has helped some, as has my growing appreciation for “vocal colors.” (When I narrate, I have to think “blue”cool, get it?)

As it happens, the actor I’ve been observing for workshop has one of the “bluest” voices I know. A couple of months ago, I discovered that modeling his thoughtful, measured, laid-back delivery helped me find my narrative voice. So, even before this exercise, I’d been imitating him for some time in my daily workouts.

I chose a piece of narration copy for the exercise. And what do you know — the read that came out of my “impression” might have been the best work I’ve done in weeks.

After class, I had a chance to catch up with my unsuspecting “model” and let him know how much practicing his delivery has helped me grow as a narrator. I think he was more than a little stunned. This was also my opportunity to let him know how much development I’ve noticed in his work over the almost-year that we’ve been in classes and workshops together. He really has come a long way from the first time I heard him read.

The person who has been shadowing me chose an animation character script for her exercise. She’s mentioned to me on prior occasions that she thinks animation might be my niche, so when I learned that I had been her observation subject, I wasn’t surprised by her selection. It was hilarious to hear my boisterous delivery rumbling out in her angelic, childlike voice, but she made it work — I knew immediately upon listening to her read that I was the one she was imitating.

What did surprise me was the evaluation my observer gave after a month of monitoring my voice. She described my vocal quality using words like “emotional,” “sensitive,” and “vulnerable” — characteristics that I would never in a million years have associated with myself. (Even more surprising was Samantha‘s follow-up comment: “That’s exactly how I hear you, too.”)

I’ve always envisioned myself as the aloof, detached, intellectual type. But I guess I don’t sound that way to others.

I hope that’s a good thing.

Next week, I’ll get my chance to perform the animation script my observer chose for me. I’ll try to do it justice.

I’ll also be interested to see how the person I’ve been shadowing presents the copy I selected for him. I suspect that he’ll give it a better read than I did. Which, I guess, is kind of the point.

Another Brick in the wall

March 2, 2009

For me, a highlight of this past weekend’s WonderCon in San Francisco was meeting one of my VO idols: Scott Brick, perhaps the world’s most honored and respected audiobook narrator.

Scott had a booth at the con — how did I miss seeing that in the program? — promoting his self-published series of audiobooks. For the WonderCon audience, the draw was Scott’s recordings of Stephen R. Donaldson’s epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I enjoyed reading those books back when they were first published, so I’m looking forward to hearing what Scott does with them.

I’m always a bit nervous approaching people I admire — aw heck, let’s get real; I’m nervous approaching people in general — and my wandering by just as Scott was delving into his lunch didn’t help matters any. But I steeled my courage to walk up and introduce myself, telling Scott, “I want to be you when I grow up.”

Scott couldn’t have been more kind. When I told him that I’m a voice actor and that I’d love to get into audiobooks, he was interested to know where I was studying and with whom. I remembered to tell Scott that I’m taking a six-week intensive course in audiobook narration this spring… and promptly forgot the name of the instructor, even though I’ve taken a class from her before. (Please, everyone — let’s not tell Lisa Baney that I forgot her name. Or if we tell her, let’s be sure to mention that I forgot under the pressure of meeting Scott Brick. I think she’d be forgiving under the circumstances.)

Scott shared with me that he’s just begun a series of articles on his blog about getting started in audiobook narration. (Here’s a shock — I’ve already devoured Scott’s first installment, and am hungry for more!) He also handed me his card and offered to answer any specific questions I might have about the field via e-mail.

For my part, I smiled and nodded and tried not to sound like a blithering idiot.

It occurred to me as I was leaving Scott’s table — squeezing his card so tightly between my thumb and index finger that if it had been a lump of coal, I’d have created a diamond — that voice artists in the main are tremendously giving folk. Every working professional I’ve met or contacted has seemed genuinely eager to encourage and advise me in any way he or she can.

Given what one hears about the self-centered nature of actors and the highly competitive business we’ve chosen, this quality surprises me every time. And yet, the pattern continues to hold. Even the top players in the VO business — people at the level of Scott Brick or Pat Fraley — always take an interest in showing fledgling talent the ropes, and are astonishingly generous with their time and insights.

When I’m a big name in voiceover, I’ll promise to remember that.

Demon editor

February 15, 2009

This afternoon, I was reviewing some detailed written feedback from my recent narration course (thanks a ton, Chuck!) when I had a bit of an epiphany.

I need to be more accepting of my gifts.

I’ve always been plagued by a tendency to be overly critical of my own work. (I’m sure there are reasons for this, and I can guess at some of them. But I’ll spare you the boring psychohistory.) It has affected my career as a writer, even though I’m an excellent writer. It affects me as a speaker, even though I’m as effective a speaker as anyone I could name.

A therapist might call it “paralysis by analysis.” (In fact, a therapist has.) I have a difficult time turning my internal “edit” function off.

When I step into the voiceover booth, this tendency affects me in a couple of ways.

One, I get focused on processing what I’m saying instead of immersing myself in the actual performance. Sirenetta described this disconnect brilliantly during my most recent private lesson. She could almost hear the synaptic delay caused by the spinning of my mental gears as I read my copy.

Two, I hear myself with negative ears. This results in my wrestling with my mistakes — genuine or merely prospective — rather than enhancing and maximizing the many things I do very well. (This gift also makes me the world’s greatest copy editor. That, however, isn’t helping me here.)

Today’s epiphanic revelation is that once I’ve gained some temporal distance between my work and the moment in which the work occurs, I’m generally pleased with the work itself. I’m amazed, for example, when I go back now and read reviews I wrote for DVD Verdict a few years ago, how impressive my writing was during that period. It never seemed so to me at the time.

What I need to do is eliminate the delay, and allow myself to appreciate my talents in the moment.

I suspect that when I stop editing myself on the fly, I’ll like the results much better.

I just need to go there.

Rainy days and Wednesdays

February 11, 2009

If I have to trek 40 miles through the rain, Sausalito isn’t a bad place to wind up.

Before my private coaching session this afternoon, I sat in my car atop the hill behind the Sausalito Public Library and looked out over Richardson Bay. The sky was glowering gray, the air clean and clear, and the view magnificent.

My narration work felt more comfortable today. (Blue merging into green helped.) Despite my recent struggles, my directors seem to believe that narration will develop into a good niche for me. Whether that’s true or not remains to be proven. At any rate, I’m enjoying it more now that I have something of a handle on working into the appropriate tone.

I had one narrative read that sounded reasonably tasty the first time through. By the time Sirenetta coached me through a couple of takes, I was actually pleased with the final result. Two factors helped: (1) it was copy from a medical documentary, so I called upon my dozen years in the healthcare industry to find the comfort zone; and (2) it was a cold open, allowing me to lean into more of a promo voice, which lands more centrally in my wheelhouse than straight narration.

I continue to find myself challenged in my commercial reads, balancing conversationality with my demon perfectionism. Once I get over my “terror of error,” as I like to refer to it, I’ll be in good shape. I didn’t feel I was fighting my copy quite so tenaciously today, so that’s a positive sign.

Still a road to travel.

I’m back, and I’m blue

February 9, 2009

Saturday’s second two-thirds of my “Colors of Your Voice” class rocked. We explored…

  • Cool, centered blue.
  • Joyful, childlike yellow.
  • Seductive violet, whereby I channel my inner Barry White (oddly enough, white is not a color in the Thom Pinto vocal spectrum).
  • Stark, forceful gray (or grey, if fancy is how you roll).
  • Ominous, emotionless black.
  • Silver, a formal crispness used to upscale certain of the other colors.

My revelation of the weekend was that blue affords my most natural shading for narrative reads. For many voice actors, green — off-the-cuff and spontaneous — is the appropriate narrative coloration. For me, though, “thinking blue” gives me that extra level of understatement and subtlety that I need to dial in for narration. If only I’d known that before my January narration class, I’ve have avoided a truckload of frustration.

Next time I’m faced with a narrative read, I’ll slam that sucker out of the park. Thank you, blue!

This weekend reminded me once again why the class/workshop environment at Voicetrax is such a kick. It was fun to reconnect with some of my fellow students from previous classes — including two of my favorites, whom I’ll now forever nickname Ms. Yellow and Mr. Black — and hear how their skills have progressed since last we worked together. I made some new friends whom I’ll look forward to seeing in other classes — or, better still for all of us, at auditions — in the future. Most invaluably, I benefited from hearing other actors’ reads (and yes, their struggles also) and the counsel they received.

That’s blue personified.

For the remainder of this month, I have a couple of private lessons lined up, the first of which is my third session with Sirenetta this Wednesday. In March, my class schedule cranks into full-bore mode through June.

I’m so ready.

“Less is more”

February 3, 2009

That’s the mantra that was drummed into my skull over the past four Thursday evenings in my Voicetrax narration workshop.

The problem, of course, is that I am by nature a “more is more” kind of guy.

I’m working on that, though, at least in terms of my narrative reads. I spent a couple of hours this morning focusing on documentary copy, and as I play back the recordings, I feel good about the work I did. I’m hearing more conversational flow, more consistency, and best of all, less internal struggling to maintain the appropriate pacing and inflection. My narrative acting is improving daily. And I’m happy about that.

Before class last Thursday, I had an excellent private lesson with Sirenetta. What I appreciate most about working with her is that she really challenges me, and I need that.

We worked through four scripts, the first two of which were industrial narrations — one in a more straightforward style, the other with a lighter tone that was closer to character work. I tried to apply everything I’d been learning in narration class, perhaps even going a bit too far in measuring my tone and pacing. Sirenetta had to keep pulling me back in a warmer, freer direction.

Man, this is hard work sometimes.

The third script was a commercial spot that I felt was right in my wheelhouse, with a character in whose skin I felt right at home — a neurotic dad. The description called for a Greg Kinnear type, so I tried to hear Little Miss Sunshine in my head as we worked the copy. I felt good about my read from the start, but it really opened up when Sirenetta suggested an alternative approach that brought more life to the piece.

That’s something I need to work on, because being literal-minded me, I too often go for the obvious interpretation. I have to practice thinking, “What would be a completely outside-the-box way of viewing this scenario?” And then, have the guts to go in that direction. That’s the added zing that will make my reads stand out from the masses.

The fourth script was a comic read that Sirenetta thought would be fun for me. In fact, it proved difficult for me to get my mind around. The description called for a character tone that I don’t feel that I do very well. Chuck, listening in the office, thought my take captured the essence, though.

I was feeling a bit frustrated at the end of the evening class. The center point of the evening was to rerecord the first piece of narration copy we had performed on the first night, and compare the quality of the two reads. In listening to my playbacks, I could hear how much progress I’d made in my narrative acting since week one, but I was also disappointed that I could still sense an undercurrent of lacking confidence and control. I muttered to myself, “I feel as if I understand this narration stuff less now than when I started.”

Clearly, narration is a genre that will continue to daunt me until I find my own circuitous pathway into it. I’m certain that time will come. When I spoke with Chuck on the phone Friday — I was booking my next private coaching session with Sirenetta — he assured me that I’m farther along the road than I think I am. That was comforting to hear.

“Less is more,” kid.