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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Old Stuff

After the first thousand or so narrations, you lose track of what you done.  I have boxes of stuff -- which I haven't looked at for a long while.  Here's a old one.  This is a good example of "image" PR.  The script was done by Gordon Hutchison -- a superb translator-copywriter.  And, if I recall correctly, this one was recorded in one go -- no "tests" or "rehearsals".  Notice how the words match the images exactly.  Video quality is not good -- but that's my fault.  I am still learning how to use the software.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's a Sony

     “It’s a Sony”.
      That was probably the most powerful corporate slogan in history – anywhere.
      After all, what does it actually say?

     At first glance, not a lot.  It could be a slogan for just about any manufacturer of just about any product.

     Still, it was remarkably effective. And continuously imitated, even after Sony stopped using it.

      “The medium is the message”, as Marhall McLuhan said. it wasn’t just the words – it was the voice used to communicate them and the way those words were spoken

When would you hear a phrase such as this?

Scenario #1
Imagine a man with some cool electronic device.  . You just have to ask “What’s that?”

He replies – with pride“It’s a Sony”.  He doesn’t say a “Walkman” or a portable DVD player or a digital camera.  Just “It’s a Sony” --as if the type of device didn’t’ matter so much as the fact that it’s made by Sony. He is interpreting the context of your question as:

a.)    You think it’s COOL
b.)    He thinks to himself “WHY is it cool”
c.)     Because it’s made by a manufacturer that makes cool things – unique things “like no other”.  Sony.

This is how normal communication works.  We often don’t answer questions exactly as they are asked. We infer the REASON for a question and its underlying meaning (context) and answer accordingly.

Scenario #2
     You bought a new plasma TV.
     Your friend says, “Wow, the quality is just superb! I’ve never seen anything like that.
     You answer?
     Here there is no direct question. But all  human beings have an innate drive to look for “reasons”– we see the world in terms of reasons&results, cause& effect.
    “It’s a Sony” implies a world view.  Sony = Good. Sony = Quality.  Of course, the quality is superb – it’s a Sony. And that’s what you answer.

     “It’s Sony” is dramatic. 

       Which why the choice of voice is so important.

        The voice is not an “announcer voice”.  Rather, it is a little older with a bit of a rasp.  Like a favorite uncle.  Somebody with experience. Somebody who has lived life and knows. This voice has personality and character --and it has authority. You can trust this person.  You can believe him.  He is real.  

          So naturally he talks like a real person – not an announcer.

              Most Japanese directors want slogans voiced with every word more or less of equal value.  This is because English is a foreign language for them.  They study it as a written language and have little feeling for the subtleties of intonation -- especially for the way in which some words are de-emphasized.   It is not , “IT’S A SONY” with  each word spoken clearly and given equal time.  BOOM BOOM BOOM.    Rather it’s, “Itsa (almost undetectable pause) SONY!   Ba-ba …BOOMba!  There’s change in pitch on the word “Sony”, which is not pronounced as in Japanese with equal emphasis on each syllable but with emphasis on the first syllable and a euphonic shift.

    If this slogan was done in Japan (and I doubt) it the Japanese director got very, very lucky.

    As we said, “The medium is the message”.

    But it wasn’t just the voice. Or the subtle inflection, that draws the listener into an imaginary dialog and expansive meaning.  

      There was also the way the voice was recorded and mixed.

      Simply put – if you can’t hear the voice, nothing matters.

       Japanese is simple in terms of pronunciation and intonation.  English is hugely complex.    It has a lot of subtle sounds and markers that are barely heard –but still have to be present for understanding.   If these things are masked by music or background sounds, then the  impact of the message is lost, and with it meaning and feeling.      

For the so-called “American sound” so obvious in movie trailers, the voice of a tagline has to the same apparent level as previous narration – or louder – with music mixed in less than half as loud as it would be with Japanese.   The tagline or slogan has to be the climax of the CM – not an add-on. 

       However, Japanese mixers and directors mix English as they do Japanese – with the music too loud and the voice too small.

      A corporate slogan is more than just a couple of words.  It is difficult to get it right.  But if a company can’t get it right, no one will believe them or trust them.  Psychologists say that people decide if they are going to like someone in the first 30 seconds.  And usually, that decision is not based on what you say – because people often say the same kinds of things—I is how you say it.



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Get Real!

 What’s in a name?

Specifically – “voiceover artist”, a category that covers a range of sins…er…’talents’?

Among other things --such as drinking a lot -- “voiceover artists” do all sorts of things:
  •       store announcements (‘Please do not panic. It is the Great Earthquake. Everyone is going to die.”)             video game characters (Geezers, kids, robots and heroes)
  •         English language tapes (This is a peanut—but this is a penis)….
  •        taglines for TV commercials (“Slat (pronounced “slut’—the drink for girls who care”)
  •          animation (always redubbed in LA so WTF)    
  •          movie trailers (Terminator #23) , TV commercial narration (Bleah, bleah, bleah)  
  •        TV commercial character voices (skitter, skitter…what does a cockroach sound like?).   
  •          the News (oh fuck the teleprompter’s dead)
  •         DJs on FM (just relax and listen to my voice …you are in my power…you are in my power…) 
  •      PR Video narration (Dildo Incorporated – contributing to the happiness of all mankind and working  to protect the environment  while assuring global peace, makes a wide range of advanced technology vibrating products).
    Listen carefully children – the Medium IS the message!

    Doing character voices may not be the same for video games as it is for TV commercials .  TV commercial narration is  not the same --as it is for PR video narration (although many “narrators” don’t seem to know that)   News broadcasters have their own (mostly generic) “talk”. As do DJ’s (ditto “generic”).
    Yeah, yeah you know that! (Do I hear indignation?)  That’s why your sample tape has all sorts of different styles and voices, you say.

    Most voice artists are actors manqu̩. As a leading man or woman is hugely proud of his/her looks and ability to act , so voice people are proud of their voices Рand Рyes Рalso -- their ability to act.
    So voice samples show off the voice – and “acting”.

    But here’s the irony.

    The best actors don’t look like actors when they’re working – they look – and sound like real people.  That’s the thespian art. Looking natural --looking real.  For voice people that’s usually sounding natural, sounding real.

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    What's the Best Voice?

    You will notice that almost all male narrators fall into a certain range between bass and baritone.  Most of the most sought-after voice-over artist’s  voices are distinguished not so much by pitch as by resonance and nasality – which adds a very distinctive quality. 
    Take a look at 
    A very clear voice generally sounds “younger”.  A deeper rougher voice sounds older --and more authoritative.  Some narrators, of course, have quite amazing range and  can do both kinds of voices although this is rare. .
     Of course, the pitch of a voice can be altered technologically too, with clever use of the microphone and sound processing. And music often somehow changes the way the voice is heard.  Add to this content – which establishes parameters for mood.     
    Inevitably, opinions differ about voices, as they do about physical attractiveness in general.
     What a client instinctively”feels”is the right voice may actually be totally wrong!  This is particularly true of Japanese clients, whose hears are tuned to the distinctive and very different music of the Japanese language - -and all the cultural associations that go with it.
    A good voicecasting director can help prevent mistakes – especially when the client is Japanese.  Remember the famous “It’s a Sony” CM.   Many companies tried to produce similar logos with a similar effect.  All such attempts in Japan failed.   – with the exception of “Honda Prelude” perhaps, which I recorded.  I was able to reproduce the effect simply because I understood how it had been done – not to mention the kind of sound processing that was needed for the “right sound”.   

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    Narration Tests and Rehearsals

    Had an interesting phone discussion with a veteran local narrator about “rehearsals” or “tests” (as they call  them in Japanese). 
    “I don’t do them” says he.  “Not necessary”.
    This, in the context of PR Video voice overs.
    “Furthermore, I won’t do them” he continued.  A flat rejection of the whole idea.
    Now, I have to admit I don’t like doing “tests” either.  They’re tiring – that’s one thing. I’m not an amateur – and my first take is usually my best.  “Tests” often lead to endless discussions in the studio about the meaning of this or that minor thing in the text. Since the people doing the “discussing” are all Japanese – it is blind men with the elephant -- it all takes time.  And the results?   Oh…never mind…..
    On the other hand, if I refused to do these test readings – I would quickly be out of a job. 
    People here don’t hire “narrators” ( voice over artists ) just for their voices – although (granted)  that is the main thing in the beginning.  You will notice that some companies stick with a narrator whose voice or reading skills may be so-so mediocre – but who is cooperative.  That’s the thing – PR stuff is a group thing here – and you are expected to sing in tune with the rest. Which maybe is why ad companies just love karaoke.
    Japanese directors do “tests” for lots of reasons. They they don’t understand English very well and they can’t intuitively and quickly grasp how the words fit the images until they actually see it done in the studio –or – at the very least –they think they can’t.  There is also the question of not really understanding the script – which is often simply a translation of a Japanese original which wasn’t very well-written in the first place.  I am not saying these people are incompetent – rather, they are doing the best they can in a foreign language.
    Think: what if you were the director and you have to do a Japanese video based on an English original you have done?
    Yeah, you could simply refuse to do it – and look for a native English/ American director.  But – besides the problem of finding a qualified person you would be a.) giving up your video baby for adoption  b.) not making any money.
    In any case, it isn’t just you calling the shots here -- it’s your bosses in the production company, the ad company – and a bunch of middle management people on the Client side, who have just been transferred willy-nilly to their current jobs and don’t know what they are doing.  They are all there in the studio.
    So – do “rehearsals”.  As though you were giving the “narrator” a chance to do …um… rehearse? That allows you to checking timing, cue points, etc – and get confirmation from the Sponsor that the script is OK – and to get feedback from the narrator, who is (after all) the only native speaker in the room.  You can hide the real issue – that the script and the narration are in a different language from yours  – and from that of everybody but the guy at the microphone – the lowest guy on the totem pole.
    That’s also something to remember.  If you are a narrator in Tokyo – you are just another pretty voice.

    Voice Talkers

    It's called Voice Talkers.  And, if you have anything to at all to do with the "voice industry" -- as a voice over artist, writer, producer, or director -- you should take a look.  It's hilarious.  But it also points to some essential truths.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    The narrator thing

    Recently, I  use the name Jay Mack as a voice over, It's a lot easier to pronounce and remember than my real name, Julian Macfarlane.  But, still, most of my work -- narration, voice over work, copywriting, voice casting, studio direction --is done under the old handle.  And my company is called  Julian Company-- which was always convenient for answering the phone.  July is the month the company started -- and my favorite Roman Emperor, is Julian the Apostate .  As for the narrator, voice-over stuff, I mostly do translation and copywritilng here in Tokyo.  Narration, narration, narration....ah...what can you say?  The life of a would-be "narrator" cum voice-over artist is not an easy one. So, naturally, I have opinions and just shit I have to get off my chest. Hence the blog