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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lee Camp and the Art of Voice

What’s in a voice?

By and large, Japanese clients are inept at choosing voices.  They don’t ask themselves why they think a certain kind of voice goes with, say, a given video or TV commercial.  If they did ask, they would have to admit that theris is just a vague personal prejudice like some men prefer blondes over brunettes or vice versa.  Clearly, different cultures have different preferences for voices – depending on the subject.
By and large, Japanese clients go for the kind of voices that sells shampoo in the US. 

Now, shampoo is…well…soap. It cleans your hair. And the voices, male or female, are clean, clear, and more or less devoid of character.  No whiny kid’s voices here.  No raspy Favorite Uncle voices.  No real emotion. The subject is vapid.  The concept, superficial.

I keep on going back to the “It’s a Sony”  voice so many years ago. Or the Honda Prelude voice that I used to do. Both voices are deep, a little raspy. They’re different.  Arguably older.  They have character. And they were hugely popular.  I know that in the case of Honda, Honda had tried no less than four Shampoo voices first, hoping (irrationally) to get the “It’s a Honda” effect
The production company hit on me, more or less by trial and error.  Maybe they misdialed or confused me with someone else.  They still didn’t know what they were doing.  And things would have worked out differently if I hadn’t known what they really needed.

Nowadays, voice casting has not improved. 

You have to think when choosing voices. If only because it is also about the choosing delivery.
Listen to this from comedian, social commentator, Lee Camp…..
Lee Camp’s voice is perfect for what he does. Or – maybe – what he does is perfect for his voice.  His delivery is unique, half rap, half rant, complete with alliteration and rhyme and rhythm – a beat.   So the voice is absolutely right, a little high, hard – as piercing as his observations.  Imagine the Shampoo Voice doing this. Or the Breakfast serial guy.  Or even the Movie Trailer Guy.  Nope. These are stereotypical voices and Lee Camp’s style is all about the unexpected – irony and bathos.

Of course, Lee Camp also writes his own stuff – which makes it exactly right.

Of course, company PR people in Japan are not into creativity or quality – they want something that “fits a mold” , that is unexceptional, that will not generate conversation, much less debate.

Of course, Camp’s genius is that what he says is exception and really makes you think. And his way of saying – both delivery and tone—amplify the effect.

Go to his website – you might learn something.

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