Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.

“I am Spartacus!” (or what happens when everyone talks at once…)

Posted by MikeCooper on November 12, 2010

I was puzzled this morning by a growing – no, make that “snowballing” – torrent of posts on Twitter carrying the hashtag “#iamspartacus“. I’m not normally one to be slow on the uptake with this sort of thing, but it really puzzled me for a while until I found a helpful Urban Dictionary definition:

“Refers to a scene in the movie “Spartacus”… After the army of former Roman slaves led by Spartacus is defeated in battle by legions of the Roman army, a Roman general stands before the captured surviving members of the slave army and demands that they turn over Spartacus, or else all of the former slaves will be executed. Upon hearing this and not wanting his friends to be executed, Spartacus stands up and says “I am Spartacus.” However, the loyalty of his friends is so great that each of them stands forward in succession, shouting “I am Spartacus!” until the shouts dissolve into a cacophony of thousands of former slaves each insisting “I am Spartacus!”…Thus the phrase “I am Spartacus!” is often used to humorously start a chorus of responses of “No, I am Spartacus” among a group.”

The uprising on Twitter seems to be as a result of the news, yesterday, that a man who posted a Twitter message threatening to blow up Robin Hood airport is facing a £3,000 bill after losing an appeal against his conviction. The Twitterati have mobilised and are creating a cacaphony of noise by way of a peaceful, but mischevious protest. (In the movie, of course, the Roman general gets the last laugh and has them all crucified just to shut them up, but you get the point.)

The moral of all this from a voiceover point of view (you knew we’d get there eventually, right?) is that if everyone’s shouting at once, no one can hear your message. Or, taken as a more abstract concept: if anyone’s going to notice what you have to say, then you need to do something to make it stand out from the noise.

So, next time you’re selling something and your copy seems great because it sounds just like the stuff you hear on the radio or TV every day, perhaps it might be time to rethink your approach before you sign off and give it to your voice talent. We’re miracle workers by trade – but even we’re not Spartacus.

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Excuse me… do you speak British?

Posted by MikeCooper on November 10, 2010

Voice casting websites are a something of a double-edged sword in the modern voiceover business. (Some might even say a “necessary evil”, or worse…) But among their better features, one of the really good things these sites enable a producer to do is to select the accent they want for their project.

The problem, of course, is that not all accents are the genuine article. Many of my American and Australian counterparts in the voiceover industry will list a “British accent” among their repertoire on such websites – just as a good number of my fellow Brits will list an American or Australian accent among theirs. But, as a producer, one of the things which will always show your production values as being lower than you would like in the media business is a bad accent –  i.e., one which is poorly performed – and the problem is that while a non-native speaker might not be able to tell the difference, anyone who grew up with that accent will immediately spot it as a ringer. Once that happens, your message is dead in the water. No one’s listening to the words in your spot anymore: they’re just marvelling at how it ever got on air in the first place.

Bad accents are nothing new, of course, and they vary in their degrees of cringeworthiness. Dick Van Dyke struck a blow for the cause with his famously bad Mockney in the film version of “Mary Poppins”, and it could be argued that we got our own back, to some degree, with Michael Crawford’s effort in “Helly Dolly” a few years later. (This would have probably been much more noticeable if the audience weren’t agasp at a young Barbra Streisand playing a role clearly thirty years her senior, but I digress). The accents performed by non-native speakers aren’t all that bad, admittedly, but I’m always intrigued when I see a British accent listed on a non-native’s demo list. And, truth be told, I’m almost always disappointed by the results, chucklesome though they often are.

In the interests of transparency, I do list an Australian accent as one of the things I can perform, but then I lived with an Aussie at very close quarters for six years and I feel I can capture the nuance without going over the top and turning into Crocodile Dundee or Rolf Harris. The Australian Tourism Board apparently agreed when they booked me for a series of Canadian TV spots last year, so “fair dos”…

All this notwithstanding, I always try to be honest about my abilities (or lack thereof) and as such I have turned down the invitation to “wow” the audience with my (frankly laughable) “English – North American” on more than one occasion. That said, in the interests of doing my bit for the “Special Relationship”, I’ve just married one, so it’s not out of the question as we go forward.

Anyway, back to the point…

Steven Lowell is the Community Development Manager at Voice123.com, one of the largest voice casting websites in the industry today, and he’s just written about exactly this in his blog. He cites American voice talent who claim “British English” as a native language, when in fact they can only perform a British accent, as one of the reasons that producers often feel insulted at the quality of the auditions they get back.

In his piece, entitled “‘Faking It’ Just Isn’t ‘Making It'”, Lowell says: “As a voice seeker posting a job, remember that details are key to the success of what you receive. Specifically choosing a native speaking language of a country will get you mostly what you want, but it helps to specify, ‘Native speakers only’ in the project description.”

…and he makes a very valid point. So, next time you’re looking for looking for an authentic accent, make sure you check out the credentials of the talent. Always get a sample read by way of a demo (this should always be free of charge), and make sure someone who knows that accent backwards thinks it’s on the money. Otherwise, truth be told, you’re probably wasting yours.

Posted in Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Christmas is coming… 10 Things all VO’s Should Do in December

Posted by MikeCooper on December 5, 2009

It’s been a bit quiet in here of late, but hang in there: that’s set to change when Gobs on Sticks moves over to my own web hosting, very soon. It’s all part of my Cunning Masterplan… <evil laugh>

It seems a few of the other voiceover blogs I follow have been a bit on the quiet side too, but at least Dave Courvoisier can be relied on to keep things moving (well done, Dave!)

Earlier this week he posted a timely blog piece pulling together all the things that voice actors ought to be doing in the run up to the festive season, and if you work in the industry – or, for that matter, if you’re a freelancer of any sort – I suggest you take a look. Here’s the link:

10 Things all VO’s Should Do in December | Dave Courvoisier’s Blog.

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Nice… wicked… creative

Posted by MikeCooper on October 21, 2009

My good friend Trish Bertram just sent me this. How we laughed…

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Friday Fun – Andy Marriott and the Central tea tray…

Posted by MikeCooper on October 16, 2009

I’d forgotten about this one, till Trish Bertram reminded me. My old mate and colleague, Andy Marriott, from his days at Central Television in Birmingham (circa 1999, I’d guess by the ident in use?)

A great example of what can happen when a nutty announcer finds a co-operative transmission controller to help out. Happy days…

Any more? Keep them coming! And have a great weekend!

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Friday Fun – Mitchell and Webb do Sky Sports!

Posted by MikeCooper on October 9, 2009

Sky Sports’ promotion effort is, to use the words of one popular UK retailer, “never knowingly undersold”. For years a large percentage of Sky’s promos have been voiced by one man: London-based Bruce Hammal. Bruce has a terrific and instantly recognisable signature voice, and he’s the one you’ll hear telling you that “live from the Sky News centre, this is Live at Five”, amongst other things.

But a pedigree such as his is ripe for rip-off, as demonstrated here by David Webb in the BBC’s “That Mitchell and Webb Look” in 2008…

“The giants of Charlton play host to the titans of Ipswich (making them both seem normal-sized…)”

Send me your suggestions for Friday Fun voiceover clips using the Comments field below – and have a great weekend!

Posted in Comedy, Television, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Friday Fun – the all-action Almera!

Posted by MikeCooper on October 2, 2009

Not strictly a voiceover parody this week, but a great ad from a few years back that made me laugh out loud. I give you Nissan’s “all-action Almera”, in the style of The Sweeney…

“You’re so uptight, Guv!”

“YES! Even my hair’s tense!”

Share your favourite voiceover spoofs and parodies via the Comments field and add to the Friday fun next week. Have a great weekend!

Posted in Comedy, Television, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Film24 Promos Online

Posted by MikeCooper on October 1, 2009

The nice boys at Film24 have been kind enough to send me some of the promos I’ve been voicing recently. Here’s one now…

You can find more from Film24 on Sky channel 157 and on their website at Film24.com

And you can see more of my promos on my facebook page – just click on the “Video” tab at the top of the page. You can also sign up as a “fan” if you like!

Posted in Broadcasting, Television, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The paperless voiceover

Posted by MikeCooper on September 30, 2009

For some time now I’ve been operating my voiceover business in a largely paperless environment. Sure, I still print out copies of invoices, remittance notes and the like for the benefit of my company accountant (who likes a paper file), but when I upgraded my voiceover booth last year I made a point of installing a flat panel computer monitor at eye height, with the intention of moving away from printing scripts and carrying them with me into the studio.

How does this work in practice? Well, it has its plusses and minuses.

On the plus side, I haven’t had to buy a ream of paper in quite a while, and my outlay for inkjet cartridges is at an all-time low. It’s also a lot quieter to use the scroll wheel on my cordless mouse to advance my way through the script than it is to turn a page, and it saves space as I don’t have to have a script holder propped up on top of my equipment rack.

On the negative side, it’s harder to annotate scripts with inflection marks and so on, though using bold, italics, underlining and highlighting go some way to making up for that. And for a while it wasn’t quite as easy as I’d have liked in terms of getting scripts from the Mac in my office to the PC in my voice booth. The first workaround for this was to give the booth its own email address and forward anything I needed in there to it. Then along came Dropbox, which has been one of my favourite tools of recent times and probably the thing which has changed the way I work most this year.

Dropbox is an online service – and free to use for someone at my level of usage – which allows you to deposit files in folders and then have them “mirrored” on all of your machines. So, I have a folder called “Scripts”, and when one comes in I just save it to that folder on the Mac. By the time I’ve walked through to the booth there’s a message telling me that Dropbox has updated the folder, and the script is good to go. This also means that I can make changes on one machine and then see them on the other before I start work.

Share and share alike

Dropbox also has a facility to share folders with other people. I work as a continuity announcer for Film24 (Sky 157), and I share those duties with two other voiceover artists: one in London and one in the Lake District. On an almost daily basis, cue sheets are emailed out to us for use when writing and recording the links for the channel. For months, we were constantly trying to keep our own individual systems up-to-date using email folders and there was a weekly round of “Has anyone seen a cue sheet for ‘x’?” Not anymore: I now manage a shared folder which allows us to keep a central repository of cue sheets, which has saved everyone a lot of time.

To cap it all, Dropbox now has a free iPhone application available too, which adds some nice features like picture sharing and so on.

But I’m getting off-topic. The fact is that I now print very little, and read from the screen a lot. I just set my audio recording software running, switch to my word processor and begin work, which speeds up the process and does a little bit for the planet in the process.

If you’ve got any stories to share, I’d love to hear them as always!

Posted in Freelancing, Tech, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Gobs on the Web (w/e 25th September)

Posted by MikeCooper on September 26, 2009

I’ve got a bit behind, haven’t I? It was the holiday that did it (Menorca, and very nice, thanks for asking. Most relaxing…) Nonetheless, here are the voiceover bits I’ve liked most in the last couple of weeks:

At Voiceover Extra, William Williams has just started a series on how to soundproof your studio – or whether you really can, in a domestic environment. Voiceover Extra also reports on Erik Sheppard’s thinking behind the new Voice Talent Productions website, where I’m pleased to be represented myself (you’ll find me here!) Cool and simple, as it goes.

Meanwhile, Mark Holden of The Invisible Studios in West Hollywood is embarking on a series of podcasts, starting with one that asks just how fancy do we need to get for voiceover auditions? Next week he’s going to look at microphones for voiceover recording, and as someone who is now the proud owner of not one, but two Neumanns, I’ll be interested in hearing his take on the issue!

Dave Courvoisier (how does this man find the time to sleep?) pondered whether two-year-old VO advice still had value – and then decided that, in the case of recording the spoken word at least, it did.

And Stephanie Ciccarelli from Voices.com has been busy, as ever. This week their Voiceover Experts podcast notched up its 100th edition (that went quickly, didn’t it?) with this week’s centennial outing presented by the very lovely Julie Ann Dean, who I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Vox conference with. Meanwhile, on VoxDaily, Stephanie posted two pieces that caught my interest: the first is from Dan Hurst, on 5 Mistakes Voice Talent Make and How To Avoid Them. And the second is a cautionary tale from John Taylor about his nightmare with an errant coffee cup – another good reason to wear headphones while you’re recording, in my view.

On that point, I picked up via the Macworld website this week that Sennheiser have introduced a new pair of headphones the HD 380 Pros, which they’re pitching as professional monitors. Worth a listen, perhaps, if you’re looking for something new to cuddle your ears with while working.

Happy reading!

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