Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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Determining the value of a wheel-barrow ride

I’ve been raking leaves for the past couple of weeks. Although we do have a fairly large lawn, it’s not nearly enormous enough to require weeks of raking. However, when one has two young children, giant piles of leaves are simply too tempting to leave alone. Hence, I find myself doing a lot of re-raking. But I don’t mind. One day, they’ll be too busy with sports or dancing or boyfriends or girlfriends or whatever to care about jumping in piles of leaves…so I’ll just keep raking until I don’t need to anymore.

The reason I bring this up is because I was going to write a post about my observations of my 4-year-old son and nearly 15-month-old daughter – but then I realized this post, from last year, aptly says it all. If you missed it when I originally shared it in November 2013, I hope you like it.

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As loving parents, we strive to provide our kids with not only their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and such – but also intangibles such as love, happiness, and positive memories. Of course, the term “positive memories” is wide open to interpretation and can mean lots of different things to different people.

Often, those memories aren’t even what we, as parents, think are worth remembering.

Over the weekend, I got to wondering about what memories my 3-year-old son will end up with – and if they’ll be the ones I expect.

The joys of yard work

He’s a hard worker, that one.

He may only be 3, but that doesn’t stop my son from helping me outside. And it’s not just that he wants to help – he actually helps me.  When I’m cutting down branches from overgrown trees, he’ll pull the branches out of my way and toss them in a brush pile I’ve shown him. If I’m splitting firewood, he’ll gather up the small pieces of wood and set them aside for kindling.

This weekend, I was raking leaves (this time of year, it feels like that’s all I do!) and he wanted to help, so I gave him a small rake and let him do his thing. Once I had piled as many leaves  as I could into my wheel-barrow, I would pick him up, set him on top of them, and give him a ride all the way over to our compost pile near the edge of the woods.

To him, this was the most fun thing in the history of fun things…and so I had to do it all afternoon, every time the wheel-barrow was full.  He didn’t realize it, but he was helping me by keeping the leaves from blowing away. I didn’t realize it, but I just might have been giving him a lasting memory.

‘Quality time’ is relative

The reason I say it “might” be a lasting memory is because I have learned – through having two older daughters – that kids remember what they think is important, not you.  What a parent might feel is an earth-shatteringly colossal event may not even appear as a blip on their children’s recollective radar.

I have friends who have taken their one- and two-year-old kids to Disneyland, ice shows, and live children’s theatre performances…and I can’t help but wonder what the kids think. Now, don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with anyone doing any of these things. I just doubt that the kids will have any lasting memory of these experiences either because they’re a) too young to be able to remember them later in life, or b) the events simply won’t have as much impact on the kids as their parents think.

With my two girls (well, ok, technically they’re women now, but don’t remind me), many of the things they recall I barely remember. More than once, I’ve been part of a  conversation that went more or less like this: “Remember the time when mom said ‘blah-de-blah,’ and then you were like, ‘blah-de-blah-de-blah,’ and then she did ‘this’ and you did ‘that’ and then something happened and then something else happened and then you were all like ‘blah-de-blah-de-frickety-blah?!’  That was so funny!!”

And I’m sitting there, staring, wondering where I was when this hilarious incident supposedly occurred.

It may not have been the Ice Capades, but it was certainly memorable…whatever the heck it was.

A matter of perspective

Phil V

Country singer/songwriter Phil Vassar

A few years ago, country singer Phil Vassar and I were talking about kids (he has a couple of girls, too) and what it’s like being a parent trying to keep up with them while time flies by so quickly.  He related a story about how he and his family had an opportunity to meet President George W. Bush while he was still in office.

Phil told me that he was asking the girls a couple of years later what they enjoyed about their visit to the White House – and they didn’t remember any of the supposed ‘highlights.’

He asked if they recalled meeting the president. No.  He asked if they remembered what the White House looked like. Not really. Did they remember anything that happened while they were there?? Wait, one of them said…she thought she did remember something. That was the place that had the tall, fancy vase in the corner with the pink flowers that smelled so nice?

And poor Phil was the one who ended up scratching his head, trying to remember this completely random fact that was his daughter’s most captivating – and possibly only – memory of meeting the President of the United States.

Proof again that what we think is important and what our kids think is important are two totally different thinks.

Wheel-barrows, leaf piles, and fire trucks

When I rake leaves, I don’t just let my little dude ride in the wheel-barrow; I let him jump into the huge piles I create. Yes, it’s more work for me, having to re-rake and re-rake many times over…but it’s fun for him, and I hope it will be something that he remembers when he gets older. I have to admit it’s also fun for me, watching the little nut roll around in the leaves and toss them in the air, laughing hysterically as they fall down around him and on his face.

He also loves trucks – any kind of trucks. If it’s got a motor and wheels, he wants it. He may only be 3, but he knows the difference between a skid steer and a Bobcat, and the difference between a forage harvester and a combine. The day I brought him to the fire station to look at the engines close-up was a day I’ll never forget, mostly because I don’t think he blinked once, the whole time we were there.

Will it be a lasting memory? Who knows…but he enjoyed it, and that was good enough for me.

After all, ultimately it’s not about the memories, but about the experiences themselves.  And rather than second-guess myself, I’ll just enjoy my time with him and his siblings and provide them with as much happiness, support, and love as I can and let them decide what’s worth remembering.

You know, I here there’s a monster truck show coming to town…

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Cybils-Logo-2014-Rnd2Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

I appreciate the help…but you’re not really helping

ID-10084724 (Mic)I wasn’t planning on a follow-up to last week’s post about the need for information when doing voiceover auditions. I figured I’d covered just about everything – what to expect from voice talent, what not to expect, how to help them help you get better auditions.

But as I thought about it, it occurred to me I had so many great examples of what not to say or do…I had to share some of them. These auditions weren’t lacking direction, necessarily; however, they were lacking the right information!

If you read last week’s post, you’ll recognize many of the points I made. These are all 100% completely real, too…so don’t think I’m embellishing anything here!

If you want me to audition, a script is helpful

Earlier this year, I came across an audition I had to look over 3 or 4 times, just to make sure I was reading it correctly. The request was to take a swear word and “make it funny.” The voice seeker was creating a “funny product” and wanted to use sound bites that would eventually have music and sound effects added.

Fortunately, I wasn’t being asked to provide the post-production for the audition – which is something voice actors rarely, if ever, do- but I was being expected to spend my time trying to think of funny ways of saying a vulgarity, just for the possibility of getting the gig.

Yep, I’d say there was definitely something “funny” about this audition.

I passed.

If you expect me to audition without a script, make it worth my while

About the same time that previously-mentioned audition came through, I saw another one requesting “funny, true stories.” The recordings needed to be original, at least 3 minutes in length, and then as I read the request I noticed they said that they will pay for recordings they like, so to therefore not submit ‘audition’ recordings.

It took me a moment to realize this company, which features podcasts and videos of real-life stories online, was looking for freelance contributors – not voiceover artists. There is a difference folks.

You wouldn’t ask a certified ASE mechanic to wash your car. You wouldn’t ask a licensed plumber to pour you a drink of water.

Not trying to sound arrogant here or anything…but if you want to get people to submit something for use on your website, that’s great! I hope you get plenty of submissions you can use! But please – know your audience. Understand that what people like me do is a profession, not a pastime. Very few of us will record, edit, and mix down 3 minutes of audio for a mere $100.

Please give me voice direction that makes sense

I once saw an audition for what I could only imagine was a humorous project…but which still made no sense. The producers were looking for a colonial-era American voice who sounds like a Boston Red Sox fan.

Ummm…right. Well, as someone who IS a Boston Red Sox fan - and who grew up around Boston Red Sox fans – I’m not exactly sure how any of them would have ended up in colonial America. Conversely, I don’t know how anyone in colonial America would even have a Boston accent, since we were all still speaking the Queen’s English at the time.

Perhaps I was missing something.

Like better instructions.

If you want me to add music, give me an adjective I can work with

ID-10032444 (grandma)

“Excuse me, dear, is that the Slade version, or Quiet Riot?”

Years ago, I was producing a radio commercial for a restaurant. I was asked to use some “nice Mother’s Day-type” music underneath.

Uh-huh.

Well, I could have used “Mama” by Genesis, “Mama Told Me Not to Come” by Three Dog Night, or my favourite, “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” by Slade…but since I figured I’d run into intellectual copyright issues with all of those, I used a soft, sappy acoustic production music track and sent it off.
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They approved it. Apparently, moms love soft, sappy acoustic production music.

Know what you want before you ask

It comes down to understanding what you’re asking for. Before you write up the audition request, stop and ask yourself a few questions: Is this request reasonable? Am I expecting too much from someone who hasn’t even been hired yet? Does what I’m asking even make sense? Are these instructions clear enough?

Trying to put yourself in the position of the voice actor will not only help the voice actor, but it will help you in preparing for what you’ll receive for auditions. If you receive an inordinate number of auditions that are not what you were looking for, it might not be the fault of the voice talent.

It could be a confusing, unclear, mixed-message audition request – and all that will get you is a bunch of recordings you probably can’t use.

And probably more than a couple of swear words that won’t be very funny.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Hiring voice talent: I can’t help you if you don’t help me

You’re hungry. It’s almost 1pm, and you realize you haven’t had lunch yet. So you walk into a local sandwich shop where you’ve heard they have great food, and say,

ID-100204903 (sandwich)“I’d like a sandwich on bread.”

The guy at the counter looks at you questioningly and asks, “Umm…what type of sandwich?”

You reply, “Well, I’m not really sure – why don’t you give me a bunch of different ones and I’ll let you know which one I like.”

Preposterous? Ridiculous? Unrealistic? Perhaps…but in the world of voiceovers, this sort of thing happens all the time.

Knowing what you need

I see a lot of auditions every week, and one thing that strikes me is how often the people seeking voice talent do not know what they are looking for. (Or if they do, they keep it a secret) Many times the auditions look something like this:

“Looking for a male voice for corporate narration.”

Is that a young male voice? Middle-aged? Upbeat? Conversational? Urban-cool or mature-professional?

Now, I’m not going to try to audition for something that is not at all suited to my voice or delivery – like pretending I have a growling, textured voice instead of my smooth baritone – but I can provide a number of different style reads, depending on what a potential client prefers. You want serious? Happy? Energetic? I can do that. You want an emphatic whisper or a jovial next-door neighbor? I can do that, too.

I can’t do “husky,” “hip,” “or “urban.” I’m not opposed to those types of deliveries – I simply can’t do them. So knowing what you’re looking for helps me determine if I should audition for you. There’s no sense in me wasting time recording a sample script if I don’t have the voice you want. And there’s no point in wasting your time making you listen to something that isn’t at all what you need.

Speaking of wasting time…

Another common request from voice seekers is to provide several different takes…which is fine, as I normally provide at least 2, sometimes 3 takes of the same script when I audition (depending on how long the script is).

"What if?"But when I see a request to provide multiple takes in different styles because the seeker isn’t quite sure what he or she wants…that indicates to a voice artist that the person they may end up working with is probably going to be very difficult to please.

If you don’t know what you like before you get my audio, how do I know you’re going to like my audio when you get it?

It comes down to having at least a general idea of what you need, and understanding the ramifications and parameters of that need. I once received an audition for a pre-colonial southern American soldier, and the directions stated to include a southern accent, if we could. I didn’t. I read the script with a British accent and explained that our common American accents hadn’t developed at that point in history. Before the Revolutionary War, we were all still British citizens. with the Queen’s English fully intact.

Fortunately, the seeker agreed and I got the part!

Help me to help you

I’m more than happy to provide assistance like that.

I’m more than happy to inform a voice seeker that there is a grammar error or syntax error that should be corrected, if I feel it’s appropriate to do so.

I’ve even partially improvised a few auditions when requested to do so.

However, I skip over auditions that expect me to actually write the script when that’s not part of the project. Seriously – I’ve seen auditions for radio liners, DJ drops, and even games that ask me to make up “funny” lines and be creative with it. Keep in mind, this is for the audition, not the gig itself. I’m sorry, but having to write my own audition script is pure laziness on the part of the voice seeker. I’ve written plenty of scripts in my life and it is one of the services I offer – but I’m not doing it for free.

Ham & cheese or pastrami on rye?

You wouldn’t walk into a deli and ask for some meat on bread. But that’s what you’re doing when you ask for a “male voice” with no other information.

Do you want smoked turkey or oven-roasted? Swiss cheese, American, or cheddar? Whole wheat, white, or sourdough bread? There are as many variations to your sandwich as there are voices. I can provide some of those variations; I can’t provide all of them. Perhaps you’ll like what I do; perhaps you’ll prefer someone else.

Either way, the next time you need a voice, stop and consider what type of voice you think will work best. You’ll save yourself time – and money, too – by narrowing your search.

As for sandwiches…I’d suggest the Reuben.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

More opportunities to lose customers (a sequel)

Earlier this year, I shared my thoughts on how a company (or individual) can disappoint customers in two easy steps. Those steps were, in a nutshell, “Don’t care enough about the customer to do anything” and “only care enough to do the bare minimum.” Well today, I’m going to make things even easier for you folks who are trying to find new ways to lose business.

It’s a ONE-STEP process that is so easy, anyone can do it. It’s called…

“Don’t be an idiot”

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Fortunately, this guy was down by the brook, nowhere near the house. You can’t tell from the picture, but he was about 4 inches wide – what I’d call mind-bogglingly-massive.

Shall we begin with an example? Yes, let’s. Last week, I had to search for an extermination business. We live in a 100-year-old house, and although I really don’t mind spiders, we’re getting overrun with them this year. Really, I like spiders; they eat all the bugs I hate. But when you hang up a denim jacket in the laundry room and within a week there’s a spider nest inside – well, that’s a problem.

So I went online to find a local exterminator. I found 3 or 4 who I called and talked with – but one website took me by surprise.  CLICK HERE to see what I found.

As far as I can tell, there isn’t any actual business called “Absolute Exterminator.” At least, not an actual exterminator. This website appears to be designed to list local exterminators, even though the average consumer wouldn’t know that at first glance. The thing that really annoys me about these folks is the way they use web-browsing cookies (I assume) to know where I live, so they cut-and-paste a tailor-made home page for me.

With ridiculous lines like, “New Hampshire insects can damage your Merrimack County home” and “The 3,005 people of Warner know there are some annoying bugs in New Hampshire,” it was pretty obvious to me that the website simply plugged my location information into their premade webpage and hoped I would be impressed enough to learn more.

On the contrary, I was utterly UNimpressed, and had learned enough just reading that one page.

“Don’t be an idiot” – while driving

A second example is something I see  – and you probably see – far too often.

Inconsiderate drivers cut you off. They run stop signs, merge into your lane with no warning, and honk their horns at you because they think they own the road. Happens all the time, right?

Well, if you’re driving a company vehicle, it should NEVER HAPPEN. I used to work for a number of radio stations, and whenever I drove one of the station vans, I always made sure my driving was impeccable. I always used my directional, never cut people off, always drove the speed limit. And if some moron did something stupid, I would never beep at him or make rude gestures…I just sucked it up and kept driving.

Yet, I am amazed at the number of rude, selfish drivers using company vehicles. Nary a week goes by where I don’t find myself being cut off by some dude from Rusty Rim Hole Plumbing, or being angrily honked at by a very impatient driver for Stubby’s Towing Service. What do they think happens when they tick someone like me off?

It certainly won’t be to patronize their business anytime soon. More likely, they’ll get written about in my blog – and NOT in a happy, gumdrops and lollipops kind of way.

Either people like this don’t care what other drivers think, because they’re just employees and don’t have any vested interest in doing what’s right…or they’re simply idiots.

“Don’t be an idiot” – so just don’t open your mouth

ID-100209955 (preg)

“Pardon me, but are you…?”

A third terrific way to get customers miffed at you is to say insulting things without even realizing it.

My wife and I were at a large department store earlier today (I won’t say which one because I wouldn’t want the store to be ‘targeted’), and as we were going through the checkout one of the employees stopped by and started talking to our very chatty 1-year-old baby girl, Phoebe. All was well and good, until the employee said…

“I see a sweet little girl who loves her grandpa!”

I bit my lip, because I knew that what was about to come out of my mouth was inappropriate in the check-out line. When we left the store, my wife tried to reassure me I really didn’t look that old…but this employee had just ruined my morning.

Seriously, who says that?? Isn’t that one of those things you never say to people? Isn’t that like going up to a woman with a belly and asking how the pregnancy’s going??

Now, I realize that plenty of people my age (47) have young grandkids, so it’s not like I was offended because of that. But the fact is, I was there WITH MY WIFE – who is not only 7 years younger than me, but looks like she’s at least 5 years younger than that. So this employee did one of two things:

She either a) thought my wife was a grandparent, as well (which, if you’ve ever seen my wife, you’d know is highly doubtful), or b) she thought I was there with my daughter and HER daughter! I’m sorry, but at 47, I’m pretty sure I don’t look like the father of a 35-year-old. And it’s not that I’m vain – but I already know that I look older than I am, so this employee underscoring that fact for me was totally unnecessary.

Making the world a happier place

let it go - B&RI try to let things like these examples go, I really do. It does no good to hold onto animosity or negative feelings. (That’s why blogging is so cathartic!)

But sneaky, rude, or stupid behavior is so rampant these days, it’s hard to leave it behind; chances are, something new and insulting will just pop up the next day.

I try to be understanding, though. Human beings are fallible, and we all make mistakes now and then. Often, the person doing the offending doesn’t realize it, or perhaps is having a bad day, or is preoccupied with their workload, or has stressful issues on their mind.

Then again, some people are just idiots.

Please don’t be one.

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Log on now and nominate your favourite children’s book from this past year!

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Getting the maximum out of minimalism

As I mentioned last week. I continue to be too busy writing…to write! My children’s writing is keeping me busier than I’ve ever been, which is good, although it’s preventing me from being as consistent with my blog as I should be. With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you this post from Oct. 2012 which, although it’s two years old, still makes for some interesting reading, I think. (Then again, I’m the one who wrote it, so what do I know??)

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Sometimes, it pays to keep things simple.

I was reminded of this maxim over the weekend, when I recently came across this blog post from artist and designer Christian Jackson at Square Inch Design.  Jackson took classic children’s tales and rendered them as minimalist posters – basically reducing the stories, characters, and plots into very simple designs that are at once striking, yet instantly familiar.

With all the extraneous stuff out of the way, the viewer is left with just the germ of the story, a simple visual cue that – to anyone who knows the particular story – conjures up images and memories of our favourite parts of each story.

This got me thinking about how we, as creatives, often get carried away in our work and sometimes lose sight of our objectives.  Sometimes, being detail-oriented can be a very good thing.

But sometimes…things don’t need to be as complicated as we try to make them.

“Is the guy running away, or coming down the stairs?”

Details can do wonders.  If you’re writing a book, you may need to expound on the layout of a castle or the idiosyncracies of an antagonist.  If you’re producing a radio commercial, simply having two people talking to each other may not be enough; adding footstep sound effects or outdoor ambience can really flesh out a scene.

(And for those unfamiliar with radio production, ‘footstep’ sound effects are not as cut-and-dry as you might suspect; there are ‘footsteps on gravel,’ ‘footsteps on pavement,’ ‘footsteps going upstairs – cement,’ ‘footsteps going downstairs – wood,’ ‘footsteps running away,’ ‘footsteps coming closer,’ and tons of other variations I won’t bore you with right now.  Talk about details.)

However, there are times when the details just get in the way.

“Spare me the details”

A friend of mine has been working for months on a middle-grade chapter book.  An artist by training, when she first began writing her story, she would spend an entire page just describing a room:  how the tables were set, what the chinaware looked like, what the curtains were made of, what flowers were used for the centerpieces.  It was beautiful writing, flourishing imagery, vivid detail…unfortunately, much of it was irrelevant to the actual storyline.

So she ended up cutting some of her story, revising some of it, and also leaving some of it – and her manuscript is much stronger now because the reader doesn’t lose sight of the plot.

Unless you’re Tom Clancy, there’s no need to spend an entire chapter describing a boat.

Personally, I’ve produced hundreds of radio commercials that required significant details vis-a-vis sound effects or multiple voices, but I have also produced many spots that feature nothing but a voice.  It all depends on the message, and whether or not music or sound effects will add to the listener’s experience or detract from it.

Background music in commercials:  Yes or No?

Maybe.

Clients ask me this question all the time.  I explain to them that music should only be used if it helps propel their message.

Music can create drama, evoke a mood, or act as a transition from one scene to another – but it will not, contrary to what some of my fellow radio programmers say, ‘keep things interesting.’  In a commercial, if the script is not written well enough to create a compelling message, no amount of music will keep a listener from turning the channel.  Likewise, if a message is compelling, why muddle it with an electric piano?

Think about your own life and consider how ridiculous it is to think that music will make a message ‘interesting.’  An excited friend comes up to you to tell you some fantastic news – but you say, “Hold on, there, pal.  Let me find something on my iPod to make our conversation interesting.”

The devil’s in the details

This past July, I decided to leave my position as production director for a 5-station radio group and work from home.  It was a scary decision because of all the unknowns ahead of me – will I make enough money, will I find new clients, etc. – but the clincher was an examination of the details of my life.  My wife and I were amazed when we actually broke things down:

I was spending $400+/month just commuting (not total driving, just commuting).  We were also spending $650/month for daycare for my 2-year-old.  When I added just those two expenses, I realized I was spending nearly an entire paycheck for the privelege of working!  After crunching the numbers, it became apparent that my goal of running my own voiceover business and pursuing my children’s writing was never going to have a chance as long as I kept spending almost $1100 and 245 hours each month just driving and working.

The details of my life were killing my dream!

So I quit the job on good terms, finished building my home studio, and now can work on my voiceover and writing careers while being a stay-at-home dad to my 2-year-old son.  By the way, I highly recommend number-crunching.  It may not sound like fun, but it’s worth it:  I discovered that because of the money I could save, I only needed to make a minimum of $150/week to break even.  (Granted, I plan on making more than $150/week – but that’s my minimum)  With numbers like that, why would I NOT want to move forward??

Just like my friend’s book, editing out some of the details of my life has made my life better.

“Keep it simple, stupid”

The Pizza Margherita is a prime example of the beauty of simplicity.  Just three ingredients – crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella cheese – on a pizza crust.  Yes, you can throw in a little extra virgin olive oil, if you want – but you’d better stop there.  No amount of ‘details’ like garlic, onion, peppers, or anything else are going to make this classic pizza taste any better.  It is a perfect blend of minimal ingredients creating maximum flavour.

Whether it’s a pizza or a poem or an aeronautical system, the more complicated it is, the more trouble you’re asking for.  As Lockheed’s famous engineer, Kelly Johnson, once said, “Keep it simple, stupid.”

Remember this the next time you get stuck writing, producing, or creating.  Take a look at your project and ask yourself if the details are needed, if they drive the plot, if they’re important for the goal…or if they are a detraction.  Even if it’s life in general, like mine - examine the details.  You might realize there are some that need to be edited out.

And, like mine, you may be surprised at the details you didn’t even know where there.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

What I learned at the fair, III

As I’ve mentioned on Facebook and Twitter, I’m the live announcer for the Hopkinton (New Hampshire) State Fair. For the past four days, I have wandered from end to end and corner to corner, chatting with folks about everything from giant pumpkins and cattle pulls to fried dough and magic shows.

Over our public address system, I let the attendees know where the bathrooms are, when the next goat show is going to be, and how to get their tickets to the demolition derbies.

And I learn a lot!

That said, I’ve developed a tradition of sharing some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from the fair here in my blog. Last year I wrote of giant robot dinosaurs and the most despised candies in the universe. The year before that, I mourned the loss of patriotism.

This year, I’ve learned all sorts of new things…

  1. The best time to smell the fair is the first few hours of the very first day. Having been the announcer for about 5 or 6 years now, I’m not sure why I hadn’t noticed this before. During those first hours of the fair, each aroma is its own: the donuts, with their yeasty, sugary delicateness; the charbroil grills firing up; the fresh hay and manure. (Yes, fresh manure counts as a ‘good’ smell for me. For those of us who grew up in the country, it’s a very earthy, honest smell). Once the fair gets going all those aromas blend into one – and although you might be able to pick out individual smells, they are much more delightful and independent when you first arrive.
    .
  2. If your job can be done by someone else, make sure it can’t. Friday morning we had our stock farm tractor pull, where big, powerful machines attempt to pull heavy weights along a dirt path. The one that eventually goes the farthest, wins. Well, our usual announcer was unable to do it this year, so we had someone else fill in (you can see her hard at work in the photo).
    Fair - truck pullShe did a surprisingly good job; however, I’m pretty sure we’ll see Andy Mack, the regular announcer, back next year.
    .
    Consider this, though…if you’re doing a task that someone else can do, too, you’d better provide some added value to that task and show why you are capable of doing it better. Do you go above and beyond? Are you friendlier, smarter, more positive? Whatever the superlative, make it your own! Once they discover you’re not special, you’re toast.
    .
  3. There’s a new maple syrup grading system being put into place. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s a huge deal for maple syrup-producing states like New Hampshire and Vermont. For years, customers have been confused by the names of the types of maple syrup, which have varied state to state. What might be called “Grade A Fancy” in one state (such as Vermont), is referred to as “Grade A Light Amber” in another – and what Vermont calls “Light Amber” is different somewhere else. (And don’t even get me started on “Grade B” syrup, which is darker and more robust in flavor, but is just as high a quality as “Grade A”)
    .
    It’s taken about 10 years of wrangling, but it appears that a new grading system has been agreed upon between the states, and we’ll start seeing the new names in the upcoming spring 2015 sugaring season.
    .
  4. The less clothing you wear, the more trouble it is. This is one of those issues women seem to have to deal with more so than men. As I spent my four fair days walking from dairy barn to music tent, from horse show ring to funnel cake booth, I noticed something. Those who wore t-shirts, button-down shirts, or dresses appeared completely unconcerned with their wardrobe. On the other hand, those who wore tight-fitting, spaghetti-strapped, midriff-baring, cleavage-inducing tank tops were constantly pulling at themselves, pinching, pulling, adjusting.
    .
    I just don’t get it. If being sexy is that uncomfortable, suggest to your boyfriend that he try wearing that sort of thing sometime and see how he likes it.
    .
  5. Loaded baked stuffed potatoes are still the best thing about the fair. I wrote about this last year and it remains the truth. Pure heaven.Fair - potato
    .
  6. Patriotism still isn’t what it used to be. I’ve also written about this before. When the national anthem plays each day at noon, many folks stop and face the flag(s) on the fairgrounds; others will stand around, wondering what’s going on while others simply pay no heed and continue about their day. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but things like this really annoy me.
    .
  7. Souped-up pickup trucks with tractor tires are deafeningly loud. OK, so I already knew that. This was just a reason to post a picture of the mud race:

Fair - mud race

Do any of these things come as a surprise to you? Am I alone in my enlightenment here? Anything you’ve ever learned while enjoying the local fair that you’d  care to share?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

In copy writing, it’s all about the details

Last week, I wrote and produced a short video commercial for my wife’s business.

There are two problems with that statement.

ID-10021920 (Times Square)

Advertising: These folks know how to do it right.

First, I’ve never produced a video commercial before, ever. I’ve written hundreds of commercials – and produced thousands of radio commercials – but never produced a video commercial. Second, if you have no experience doing something like that and it’s going to have a big impact on the impression people get about your business, I always say it’s best to have a professional do it.

If you’ve never patched a roof before, you’re going to call a roofer. If you need your car repaired and you don’t know the difference between a carburetor and carbon dating, you’re going to bring it to a mechanic. So if you need a commercial or corporate video produced, seek out someone who has more experience than you do. It’s your livelihood, and it should be important enough for you to have it professionally handled.

As I said above, I didn’t do that. I did have some good reasons, though…

Understanding what I wanted to accomplish

Unlike many folks who have never written commercials before, yet decide they need to be the ones to write, produce and/or voice the things themselves, I knew before I even began how the commercial was going to be used and what I wanted to accomplish. This was not going to run on television – it was to be used via the internet (social media, etc.) only, and it was to garner the attention of a specific group of people who were unfamiliar with the specific benefits of the products my wife sells.

I also had 25 years of copy writing and multi-track audio production knowledge behind me (along with some basic video editing experience), so even though it probably wouldn’t be perfect, I suspected it would be suitable for her purposes. And trust me, I’m my own worst critic, so if it was even slightly subpar, I would’ve scrapped it and gone a different route.

Oh, and due to my ACL reconstruction surgery back in March, a major car accident in late winter, and a leaking roof (see above!), I had a zero budget.  So a one-man DIY project was born.

It all starts with the script

Like a novel or short story, there are several things a good commercial script needs to do. In chronological order, they are:

  1. Attract the listener’s or viewer’s attention
  2. Connect on some emotional level
  3. Develop interest
  4. Create desire
  5. Compel action

A commercial should also showcase the product’s or service’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) – the feature or benefit that makes the product or service stand out from all the others. And in the case of a television commercial, it should be able to get its point across even if there’s no audio. Doctor’s offices might have the sound turned down and sports bars are often so noisy one can’t even hear the person they’re with, much less the TV – so visuals are extremely important.

Knowing the benefits and USP of my wife’s products, I put the script together and realized I wasn’t going to need to provide a voiceover. (Ironic, isn’t it, that a voice guy produces a video commercial he doesn’t even get to voice?) But it didn’t need it, so I didn’t do it.

The commercial and the breakdown

First, let me show you the commercial and then I’ll break down some of the details I was particular about…

As I mentioned before, I knew the specific audience I was after: health-conscious folks who are not opposed to the vegan lifestyle. Of course, one does not need to be a vegan to appreciate botanically-based products that don’t test on animals, but the word “vegan” is so well-known these days that if you hear or see the word, you immediately understand its connotations.

So after attracting the attention of people who can appreciate veganism, I list other facets of Arbonne’s product’s USP: they are gluten-free, kosher, botanically-based. Then, rather than telling the viewer they need to buy something or they need to improve their lives or they need to do something else, I ask a simple question. Having just seen the benefits of the products - without me telling the viewer these are the benefits – the viewer can now make that connection on their own.

And when you can encourage a viewer or listener to draw their own conclusion and subconsciously take part in your commercial…it’s much more powerful than you telling them this and telling them that and hoping they believe you.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

No need for a voiceover; the sounds of nature worked quite well on their own.

Just like most commercials, I show a problem (your health & wellness products are not vegan/gluten-free/etc. even though you are) and I offer a solution (try Arbonne) – but I do it subtly. The call to action is subtle, as well – I don’t command the viewer to buy now, save now, limited time, blah blah…I simply suggest they learn more.

I wanted this video to be almost like a conversation, and being too heavy-handed with my approach would have been counterproductive. That’s why I opted to use some light sound effects of a natural setting rather than a voiceover; I didn’t want the commercial to feel like a commercial.

Three more details you didn’t even notice

One comes immediately after the words “botanically-based.” From the moment the commercial begins, there is a rhythm to each of the words that flashes on the screen…but then there’s a pause before I ask my question. I deliberately did this to allow the viewer to consider what these words have to do with each other and where I’m leading them. If I posed the question too quickly, the USP – those benefits I listed – would not have had a chance to sink in quite enough.

Remember, it’s a conversation – and I didn’t want it to appear the commercial was doing all the talking. As I said previously, I wanted to allow the viewer some time to process the information and become a “part” of the commercial, and “part” of this conversation.

Another detail is that I did not mention the product name until slightly more than halfway through the spot. Some folks will tell you the name has to be front-and-center right from the get-go – but those are the folks who feel advertising is done best when it’s a one-way conversation. The way I look at it, if I’ve been able to keep you compelled long enough to view the commercial, you’ll stick around for the payoff.

The third detail is the little child and mother at the end, which I didn’t include just because it’s my son and wife. The Arbonne company sells its products via independent consultants who are often moms and daughters – and even dads. I wanted to evoke a familial feeling to the spot to underscore not only the Pure-Safe-Beneficial tagline, but the fact that families are buying, selling, and using these products to make their lives better…and a little child with a mom is about the best representation there is of that!

Pay attention to the details

So when you’re writing – whether it’s a commercial, short story, whatever – don’t lose sight of the details. Some might be superfluous (I could have included another word at the beginning and crammed too much info), some might not be on target (I could have listed products, but that wasn’t the point of the spot), and some might just be too wordy.

Know when to leave those out.

But other details – like knowing who you’re writing to, understanding what you want to say, and spending some time determining the best way to connect with the viewer/listener/reader – are imperatives.

If you write a picture book, short story, or commercial in less than one day, you’re either really lucky or you’re doing it wrong.Please don’t do it wrong.

If you don’t know how to do it, hire a professional. Your commercial and your roof will be better for it.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

“I can see clearly now, membrane is gone…”

By the time you’re probably reading this, I’ll be able to read it, too.

Since sometime in early spring, I’ve noticed my ability to focus my left eye has been increasingly difficult. It got to the point while we were on our vacation trip to Maine that I couldn’t even focus on road signs, sailboats, or women in bikinis.

It was very confusing to me why this would be happening, because I had undergone cataract surgery about 4 years ago and had a brand-new lens stuck inside my eyeball. This had given me perfect distance-vision (I still needed reading glasses, though). Because I was still near-sighted (naturally) in my right eye, I lived with monovision: I’d use m y left eye for distance, right eye for reading. For some people, this drives them nuts; for me, I was already nuts, so it worked out fine.

Fast forward to this  past June, after we got back from vacation…

As you can imagine, I couldn’t stand not being able to see properly. Which made it doubly worse is that I have now developed a cataract in my right eye, too – which limits my ability to see anything in focus farther than 4 inches away. I kid you not.

So I made an emergency appointment with the eye doctor, who told me I had a cloudy membrane. It seems there’s this thin, clear little sheet that separates the front and back of your eyeball. Surgeons leave it there to help hold the new lens in place during cataract surgery, and 50% of all patients never have any problems. for the other 50% – of which I’m part – our membranes start to become cloudy, much like our lenses did when we developed the cataracts.

In the words of the doctor, “This membrane should look like Saran Wrap; yours is more like wax paper.”

Great.

Fortunately, I’m told it’s a simple procedure to fix it. They’re going to give me a couple of eye drops, hold my eyelids open, focus a laser beam at that pesky sheet of wax paper, and blast it to smithereens.

And thanks to modern medicine, it’s a 30-second procedure.  Seriously. 30 seconds to blow the membrane apart – after which I’ll probably see some ‘floaters,’ as they call them, which the body will simply absorb over the following week. There’s no recuperation period, I’m told; no restrictions, no side effects, other than a possibility that my eye pressure might increase, although the doctor says that has never happened.

Of course, now that he made that bold claim, I’ll probably be the shlub who breaks the record.

“But wait!” you ask. “If you can’t see out of either eye, how have you been writing and doing voiceover work?”

The simple answer is: I haven’t. Or, if I have, it’s been taking me forever.  I can’t read or write unless I’m 4 inches away from the computer screen – which, I don’t have to tell you, is as challenging as it is unhealthy. Reading glasses and magnifying lenses are useless because they help a person’s eyes to focus - yet in my case, there is no way for me to focus.

So unless I blow up the font size of a script to 24-point, recording audio has been a real trick. And writing just gives me headaches after awhile…which is why I’ll wrap this up now. My appointment for membrane-destruction is Tuesday morning, which is why I hope that by the time you read this, I’ll be reading it, as well.

I’m looking forward to seeing what I wrote.

I’m also eager to go back to the beach.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

FaffCamp is back!

If you are a voice talent, voice actor, voice artist, voiceover professional - heck, whatever you call yourself – you should know about FaffCamp! It’s a professional development conference organized by the same folks who orchestrate the hugely popular “un-conference,” FaffCon – and it’s a tremendous opportunity to network, learn, and be inspired in a fun, relaxed setting.

There are two ‘tracks,’ so to speak – one for seasoned pros and one for those who are just starting to get into the voiceover industry – so there really is something for everyone. Even if you work with, hire, or produce voiceover pros, you’ll probably find something of interest at this conference: ad agencies, eLearning providers, and even copywriters are encouraged to come check it out!

faffcamp-patch-logo-faffcon_225x200

 March 19-22, 2015 – San Antonio, TX

If you’re interested, don’t delay! Registration closes July 11 – and since it’s being done Kickstarter-style, if they don’t get enough registrants to break even by that date, they’ll have to cancel the event. So click the image above for all the details, and don’t miss Faff Camp II!

- Matt

Someone spent a lot of money promoting their competition

I think I’m a fairly low-key, easy-going guy. I tend to take things in stride, but every now and then something will get me all worked up to the point where I’m jumping around, hollering like an idiot.

It’s usually due to moron drivers and bad commercials.

In this case, I felt compelled to share my discontent because we’re dealing with a bad commercial featuring people driving! And really, it’s not that bad a commercial…it’s just advertising the wrong business. (Which I guess makes it a pretty bad commercial, after all.)

Check out this commercial for Fiat:
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Oh, wait – that wasn’t a commercial for Fiat. That was for Lexus! Oh, stupid me…my bad. You see, I just spent 60 seconds looking at fine sports cars and seeing the sleek “F” logo popping up in my face. Can you blame for mistaking this for a Fiat commercial?

Seriously, Lexus: the viewer only gets a few quick glances at the Lexus “L” logo on the cars…and unless the viewer’s attention is completely focused on the commercial, he/she will never realize those are all Lexuses (Lexi? What, exactly, is the plural?).

Here’s how I presume it all went down:

- Someone at the Lexus corporation said, “Let’s call our new model the same letter that our competition’s name starts with.”
- Someone at the ad agency said, “Let’s flash the first letter of the competition’s name throughout the entire commercial – and be sure not to show anyone the Lexus name or logo until after they have determined it’s an ad for the competition.”
- A whole bunch of executives said, “We agree! That’s a great idea!”

I’ve written before about what happens when a good story goes bad, and this is one of those times. And as always, I critique these spots not out of displeasure with or dislike of ad agencies – heck, I’m a voiceover guy, I LOVE ad agencies! – but out of love. Tough love,

So now that I’ve had my rant, I’m going to go take a rest. But be forewarned – if Ford Trucks comes out with a TV commercial featuring a male sheep, I might need to write another blog post.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

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