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.
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Posts Tagged ‘Radio’

Google Calendar 101. A personalised TV Schedule.

Posted by MikeCooper on June 6, 2009

Today I set up a Google Calendar, which details when programmes I’ve voiced are showing on various channels here in the UK. I started doing this mostly for my own benefit, so I could keep track of the growing number of programmes I’ve now added my voiceovers to. But I realised midway through that it might prove to be an interesting website addition. If there’s a way of extracting the data to Twitter for automatic Tweets just ahead of the billed times then that would be even better still, but let’s go one step at a time!

I’ve included channel numbers for Sky and Virgin in the “location” field (crafty, eh?) and also flagged up days where I can be heard as a station continuity voiceover for History and Film24, as well as the BBC World Service. The next step might be to add links to clips from the programmes, but I’m not sure that URLs can be embedded in Google Calendar entries (any thoughts?)

There’s no way to automate the process of adding new showings or altering late changes, unfortunately, so that will have to be a weekly task for yours truly, but at least now the bulk of programmes and their billings are in the system, they can be “duplicated” to new showing times as needed, with top-ups as I voice more material.

After some playing with the options and embedding the resulting code into a fresh page on my website, I now have a rather nicely-presented TV Schedule page, which you’ll find here.

The cost of all this? Absolutely nothing, other than my time. And the beauty part is that, as a Public calendar on Google, it gets indexed by You Know Who, too…


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

Accents for sale(s)

Posted by MikeCooper on May 14, 2009

I grew up in Wolverhampton. There, I’ve said it.

If you’re reading this outside the UK, and you don’t know much about the wide variety of accents on offer on this Sceptic Isle, you may not immediately see my point. But anyone from Britain will know that the part of the country where I grew up is famous for its “peculiar” take on the Queen’s English. When it comes to taking liberties, Dick Van Dyke has nothing on the West Midlands. And if you don’t believe me, take a listen to these.

If you’ve heard any of my work, you’ll know that I don’t sound like this anymore. (Actually, my accent was never that strong and my mother, especially, frowned upon use of “dialect words” when I was growing up. Thanks, Mum!) In fact, being one of the lucky few who always knew from a young age that they wanted to be in the media – and realising that that meant using my voice – had an interesting effect on me. No one ever pointed out to me that people who sounded like my Aunty Di (love her to bits) weren’t fronting the local news or extolling the virtues of the local carpet emporia, but I just sort of knew. And over a number of years I just, sort of, trained myself away from the Black Country “twang” that surrounded me at school. I’m sure that if someone were evil enough to conjure up a batch of radio trails I made in Birmingham in 1989 when I started, that we’d all be somewhat amused, but it’s a process, right?

I still have remnants of my Black Country vocal heritage, and these remnants are usually there for all to hear in times of stress or agitation. (By the way, “Black Country” isn’t a racist term, in case you’re wondering. It refers to the thick, black, industrial smog that hung in the air of the region from about the time of the industrial revolution until, well, about half an hour ago, now I come to mention it…) But what that vocal legacy has given me and lent to my delivery is something that makes me sound a bit different: “North of Watford but south of The North”, as one producer described it. I find myself in demand now by those who want a “non-London”, “non-RP” voice which still carries authority but has a bit of warmth. Perhaps the fact that my vowels can’t quite decide which part of the country they prefer, sometimes change mid-sentence and sometimes surprise even me when they come out differently to what I’m expecting, is part of that strange appeal.

The reason I mention all this is that there’s a new bit of research out from the UK’s Central Office of Information. They sound a bit Orwellian, don’t they? But they’re the government’s marketing and communication agency, and they’re the people who made all those nice Public Information Films we used to love to watch before BBC1 closed down. Halcyon days…

This bit of research, which I picked up today from Media Guardian, reveals that “Not all regions like to hear their own accents in ads”. Who’d have thought! Here’s an excerpt from the Media Guardian piece (the full article is here):

“Many people claim to hate the sound of their own voice, but a new government survey suggests the sensation is more unpleasant for some of us than it is for others.

The study… reveals that, while Geordies and Mancunians enjoy listening to their own regional accents in government advertisements, Brummies and Bristolians would rather not be subjected to their own distinctive burr.

The COI, which controls the government’s annual £400m advertising budget, found responses to radio and TV commercials vary widely in different parts of the UK according to the accent they are recorded in.

Residents of some regions, including Tyneside and Manchester, prefer to listen to government warnings about the dangers of drink driving or smoking cigarettes when they feature actors speaking in the local vernacular. Others, including those who live in the West Midlands and Bristol, are more likely to sit up and take notice when they are made using “received pronunciation”, the COI study claims.”

When they mention “Brummies”, they mean people from Birmingham, just down the road from Wolverhampton. To the outsider we’re close enough bedfellows to be confused, though to natives that’s tantamount to confusing a Lancastrian and a Yorkshireman. Brummies actually call people from Wolverhampton “Yam-yams”. This is because the Black Country bastardisation of “You are” becomes “Yow (as in ‘cow’) am”, and thus “yowm” and, conversationally, “yam”. (Yes, it’s that strong a dialect. Can you see why it’s not good for voiceover?)

Then again, in today’s climate it looks like you can go too far. A couple of my voiceover friends, who speak with the kind of beautiful English tones that I can only aspire to, are sometimes finding themselves “too posh” for today’s market. And interestingly, having recently been making calls to commercial producers, I had one producer from the North East say to me that “it’s a good job you don’t sound like you’re from London, even if you live there. Our listeners don’t tend to trust them…” Last year I blogged about a report in the Daily Telegraph that claimed “cockney voices are the UK’s most hated regional accents”. Balance is the key, it seems.

Last year I auditioned for a radio ad which asked for a West Midlands accent. I wrestled with whether to pitch, having wrestled for so long with breaking away from it. I wasn’t sure if I could still carry it off (the last thing I wanted to do was sound like an insulting “fake” – these are troubled waters enough) and in fact, before I submitted the take, I played it down the phone to my parents for a second opinion. To my surprise (and somewhat to my relief) my mother told me it sounded like a “high end” West Midlands accent and both she and my father thought it was close enough to pass muster. To my astonishment, the producer agreed with them, and for a short while I was on the radio in my old stomping ground, reminding the West Midlands that it might be drinking itself to death and that it probably ought to do something about it.

But that’s the only time I’ve been asked to do it, aside from for comic effect, which says a lot. Looks like my eight-year old self was wiser than I’d imagined…

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Mike’s Week on the Mike (30 March – 5 April)

Posted by MikeCooper on April 6, 2009

The highlight of my Week on the Mike this week was narrating a two-hour Easter special for the National Geographic Channel. Called “Jesus: The Man from Nazareth”, it gets its first showing this Saturday, 12th April, at 5pm, with a repeat on Easter Sunday morning at 10am. It’s an attempt to find out who the “real” Jesus was, by looking at evidence from the time and comparing that to the stories we’ve come to regard as fact. I found it fascinating to voice, and hope the finished product is as enjoyable to watch. (National Geographic is available on Sky Digital 526/7, Virgin 230, Tiscali 112, and in Ireland on UPC 215.)

Cardiff-based See What You Mean, who I’ve worked with previously, also came to me this week and asked me to provide the voice for a piece they were putting together for Capgemini, and it’s always nice to be able to add another Blue Chip company to the client list!

Aside from the regular Film24 stuff, I spent the rest of this week making phone calls as part of my attempt to move into the ISDN Voice market for commercial radio ads, and I’m pleased to say that’s met with some modest success too. At time of writing I should be on air on radio stations in Northern Ireland, Sussex and Shropshire, with more to follow.

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Mike’s Week on the Mike (16-22 March)

Posted by MikeCooper on March 22, 2009

I’m pleased to report another busy week. There’ve been several appearances at the BBC World Service in my regular role as newsreader, plus I was also asked to the promotions department there to voice a corporate video for the Digital Radio Mondiale consortium (of which the BBC is a part) ahead of a couple of conferences in the coming weeks.

Wednesday saw me making one of my regular trips out to Reading to Matinée Sound and Vision to add my voice to an online training course being produced by WhP in France. Then on my return, I voiced another corporate in my home studio for Hi-Gloss Productions here in London for a client of theirs in the UAE. Thursday found me at the Palace of Home Shopping, with some promos for QVC, and Friday rounded things off with my regular continuity work for movie channel Film24.

Finally, my week on the mike extended to a night of karaoke with my mate Toby on Friday, which was terrific fun! If you’ve always wanted to try karaoke but the idea of singing to a whole room of strangers puts you off, then why not try private karaoke with a few of your friends? We visited Lucky Voice in London’s Soho, and had such a good time that they’re worth a plug here too!

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Mike’s Week on the Mike (9-15 March)

Posted by MikeCooper on March 14, 2009

It’s true that I wouldn’t want every week to be as madly busy as last week was, and thankfully things calmed somewhat this week, which allowed me time to go looking for new work and to sign up for some more online directories.

Aside from the usual BBC World Service and Film24 commitments, the London Oncology Clinic asked me to provide the voice for their latest online video, describing the various forms of scans used with cancer patients. They had really good feedback to the first one, which we did last year (which is here). The new video will be up in a couple of weeks, and I’ll post a link when I have one.

Good feedback too for F1 driver, Nick Heidfeld’s new website, which went live recently. I’m the English voice for the Web TV sections on the site, and the third segment went online this week. It’s a feature on Nick’s visit to CeBit in Hannover, and you can find the video here.

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A bad day at work?

Posted by MikeCooper on October 12, 2008

Let’s be honest: we all have our “off-days”, don’t we?

When reading the news, I’m prone to slips of the tongue as much as the next announcer (talking about the “presidential erection” and a certain country’s “gash-rich regions” are but two of my more hapless examples), but a couple of things have caught my eyes and ears this past week that have reminded me that, as bad as some of my days sometimes seem, someone else is probably having a complete ‘mare.

Thing number one arrived via email last weekend and provoked a heated debate among my radio colleagues, as well as on the internet at large. It’s an interview between Hardeep Singh Kohli, who Wikipedia describes as “a Sikh writer, presenter, broadcaster and reporter of Indian descent from Scotland”, and Les Ross, a Birmingham-based local radio presenter who the BBC likes to describe as “a West Midlands radio legend”.

I have to say, I’ve been a bit of a fan of Les since my teenage years, at which point Les was well into his second decade of presenting the breakfast show on BRMB. His quick, slightly camp and irreverent way of getting effortlessly from 6 to 9am was a joy to anyone who was listening. And listen they did! Of late, whenever I’ve had occasion to listen across his afternoon show via the ‘net, I’ve begun to wonder if the magic is wearing off. And this little piece of car crash radio has, I’m afraid, done little to reassure me.

OK, the Alan Partridge caption may be being a little unfair to someone whose career has survived thirty-odd years pretty much unscathed until now, but you can kind of see their point. Whoever’s to blame (and the debate on that one will run and run), it’s truly local radio of the worst kind, and cringe-making in the extreme.

Even Les, though, must thank his lucky stars that his day never got this bad… It’s like “Carry On Up The Bulletin”. My favourite bit is when the other guy rushes in and you can hear the newsreader “sssssshhh”-ing, and saying – I’m assuming, as it’s all Greek to me – something like “Keep the noise down! Can’t you see I’m On Air!?” Having this week had my own studio door flung open just in time for me to turn around at the end of the bulletin and spit the words “…BBC News!” at the offender (who scampered like a startled rabbit back into the newsroom), I do sympathise. There but for the grace of God, and all that…

And finally, I’m very glad that I missed this particular combination of end-of-story words by an hour, the dubious honour falling to my colleague, Jerry Smit. For those who know the BBC term, I could make a joke about a “Hard Post” here…

Listening last week to Angus Deayton’s Radio 4 tribute to his friend and collaborator, Geoffrey Perkins, reminded me of one of my all-time radio favourites, which certainly deserves a mention here. Radio Active, anyone?

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