Tommy Kramer Tip #232 – The Main Ingredient

In August of 1972, a group named The Main Ingredient released a hit single called “Everybody Plays the Fool”. (The lead singer, by the way, was Cuba Gooding, Sr. – yes, the actor’s father.)

None of that has anything to do with this week’s tip.

Last time, we talked about really starting to gain understanding and control of your inflection, so you lose the “disc jockey” sound and simply become the one voice in the room people just want to listen to.

Here’s another step.

What all great air talents and great voice actors have in common is that they’re INTERESTING.

If you’re still early in your career and aren’t being offered the opportunities you want, it’s not going to get better if you just work on your voice. You have to make yourself the best CANDIDATE for the job. In radio, or in the voice acting arena, the most successful and longest-running careers inevitably go to the voices that we find the most intriguing. The ear finds them like it finds a catchy tune. And just like in the musical world, there’s no one sound that’s the standard.

Instead of working on vocal gyrations, work on being INTERESTING. That’s how careers are made.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2017 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #231 – The Three-Word Inflection Lesson

There comes a time in every career when you have to stop being a polished reader of words or some sort of veneer, and just become yourself. That “self” may be a somewhat invented persona like Larry David’s on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, or it may as revealing of who you really are as possible, given the format.

But you need voice acting chops to accomplish this. Here’s a three-word exercise that’ll help you both on the air and in commercial voiceover work:

Really

Really

Really

You can’t just say this word the same way every time, because it can mean interest (“really?”), surprise (“really!”) or suspicion bordering on dry near-dismissal (“really…”).

Once each of those inflections sounds totally honest, totally NOT contrived or “acted” or “projected” beyond what would be the right way to say it in THAT moment – well, you’ve learned something.

Step 2 is to get someone you trust to tell you the absolute truth, and ask that person to listen to it. (And no, you might NOT know yet what you sound like to everyone else…until you do. It takes time.)

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2017 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #222 – Stage versus Film, and which one you should emulate

A subject came up in a session recently that I’ve written about before, but want to pursue a little further in an effort to help you find your vocal “pocket”.

A very talented jock I’ve worked with for a few months told a good story on the air about how after you marry, you find out what things you and your spouse see differently. In this case, his wife had ordered takeout food, and to his surprise, there was an extra pork shop that he didn’t expect. So he put it in the refrigerator to have for lunch the next day.

However, his wife can’t stand having leftovers in the fridge, so she threw it out!
Seeing this, he became indignant, fished it out of the top layer of the trashcan (yes, like George Costanza in that “Seinfeld” episode with the chocolate éclair), and then he put it back in the fridge.

Here’s where it went sideways, when he overacted the finish, declaring “OF COURSE I’m gonna eat it,” then following that up with a way over-the-top “Now, in order to WIN this argument, I actually have to EAT a pork chop that was THROWN AWAY!”

Too emphatic, too loud, and he lost the reality of the story as a result. Here’s what I told him…

I thought the story was something that everyone can identify with, but the ending was LOUD and a little overly strident. You want to watch overacting, and simply ‘give yourself’ to the words like a film actor, as opposed to a stage actor. Stage actors are concerned with the people in the last row being able to hear the lines, and their movements and gestures are usually a little exaggerated. But film actors — who often have a camera literally just a foot or two away, and have the audience much closer to them because of the big screen they’re on — play it “not so large”, letting inflection and a more real and more nuanced vocal approach pull the audience in.

This is absolutely essential to becoming a truly great talent.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2017 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #216 — Jump-starting getting to the Next Level

Okay, so you’ve got all the obvious skills as an air talent. But the reason people hire me is that the obvious skills aren’t the ones that actually engage people emotionally.

People who’ve worked with me know that I teach a lot of radio techniques by NOT using radio as an example. (And I’m also fortunate to work with several extremely successful voice actors that you hear every day on national commercials and movie trailers.)

So to be a better air talent, or to try and transition to the voice acting world, here’s a simple first step:
Watch great movies, and soak up WHY the great actors ARE the greats. Here are several movies to watch that I recommend:

The Maltese Falcon.
Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre — all three completely different from each other, all just great vocal studies. Yes, it’s an old black-and-white movie, but it’s a dialogue and acting clinic.

Anything with Tom Hanks or Harrison Ford.
Hard to beat these two. These guys just embody the “everyman” image, but can also play heroic parts. I’d pay to watch Hanks read a parking ticket.

Lonesome Dove.
The best mini-series ever on TV, with the great Robert Duvall in one of his two favorite performances ever, and the wonderful Tommy Lee Jones.

Mama Mia.
Yes, the ABBA movie. With Meryl Streep, an acting (and voice acting) class herself, and other standout performances from the entire cast, especially the three male stars. If you sneer at it just because it’s ABBA stuff, well, get over it.

The Godfather.
If you don’t like the violence or subject matter, okay, but you should watch something with Marlon Brando. He understood better than anybody the power of delivering a line softly, rather than being loud.

Anything written by Aaron Sorkin.
The West Wing, The Newsroom, The American President (if only we had one like Michael Douglas in this movie), Moneyball, The Social Network, etc. Sorkin is, in my opinion, the best screenwriter on earth. He really gets “emotional investment” (an acting term that I preach all the time).

Have fun watching, and LEARN.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2017 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #199 – Too “up” isn’t Real

I’ve been working with a morning show recently that only has one “gear”. The male partner is “Ron Radio”, talking to the listener like she’s 20 feet away (when, in reality, the listener is just a couple of feet away, in the car). The female partner, who’s new to radio, has what I guess a lot of people would call a “bubbly” personality. And, of course, she’s unnaturally loud, too – following his lead.

The problem here is that their too loud, “way too up” approach doesn’t quite sound real. And if you’re ALWAYS “up”, then when something really bad happens that you need to comment on – another school or mall shooting, or God forbid, another plane flies into a building – chances are good that it’s going to sound either sort of bi-polar, or insincere.

I cringe when I hear a PD tell a talent to “have more energy” or to “smile” when they talk. This inevitably results in an almost “terminally giddy” sound, and you’ve got nowhere to GO from there.

You need lots of vocal and emotional “gears” so you can make smooth, believable transitions between different types of subject matter. The minute I hear someone who’s too loud or too “up”, we start working IMMEDIATELY on fleshing out vocal approaches that convey all sorts of different emotions. We already have too many “announcers”, and at least one too many Kathy Lee Gifford.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2017 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #170 – Learn from Mike Nichols, Part 1

Mike Nichols was one of the most talented people ever. Grammy Award-winning improv comedian with his partner, Elaine May. NINE time Tony winner for directing on Broadway, Academy Award winning Director (The Graduate), and on and on.

One of the plays Nichols directed was Neil Simon’s most brilliant work, “The Odd Couple”. If you know the play (or the movie), you know that some of the funniest scenes are Oscar Madison’s poker nights, with great character actors playing each part. But in rehearsal, it wasn’t working. So Nichols huddled up with the actors and told them, “Lines delivered as ‘punch lines’ don’t work. It has to sound ACCIDENTAL to work.”

In radio, it’s the same, even when it’s not about being funny. In something as simple as bringing up a subject, just one sentence – even just one phrase – can make the difference between sounding like you’re just sharing something, as opposed to “presenting” or “announcing” it. (Or even worse, just reading something. Eww.)

If you haven’t mastered this “accidental” sound yet (and about 90% of air talents haven’t), get some help. We’ve all heard enough “heeeerrre comes a punch line!” people on the air.
Radio’s still a great way to make a living, and there’s no time limit. You can do it ‘til you drop dead at the microphone – IF you know what you’re doing.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2016 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #169 – Being yourself…unless…

We hear it all the time. “Be yourself on the air.”

Being yourself IS what you want to be, UNLESS your natural “self” is too exuberant for the intimacy of radio.

Loud talkers, for instance. Those jocks that seem to SHOUT everything. Over the course of coaching somewhere around 1700 people, I’ve dealt with a lot of these foghorn types, usually old Top 40 jocks who make “announcements” or “present” things. And they always say the same thing when I point this out: “But that’s just the way I talk.” (Actually, they say “BUT THAT’S JUST THE WAY I TALK.”)

Well if that’s true, you’ll need to change.

To become a great talent, you need to fully understand, master, and be able to control your “instrument” – your voice.

When you SHOUT at me on the air, you’re forgetting that I can hit a button and turn you OFF. And believe me, I will.

If you need to get loud to express excitement or outrage, back off the mic a few inches, even turn your head away from it. That way, I still get the Emotion, but I also still have functioning eardrums.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2016 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #126 – Splitting sentences up

You’ve heard this, and you’ve seen it done on TV commercials, too. One person starts a sentence, but then it’s split up as another person continues it. I saw a TV spot where EVERY sentence was split up among several different people.

And I can’t count how many morning show promos have been done this way.
[1st voice] “Hi, I’m Snarf…”
[2nd voice] “and I’m Garfle…”
[1st voice] “from the Snarf and Garfle show…”
[2nd voice] “All this week, we’re giving away tickets
1st voice] “in the alley next to the Keith Urban concert…”
[2nd voice] “you could be the winner…
[1st voice] “and get mugged by a drug dealer!”

This is just editing gone crazy.
Give yourself permission to sound more plausible. Don’t split sentences up.

In real life, when someone finishes the other person’s sentence, it’s either too “cutesy” or just downright annoying.
Plus, you destroy the rhythm of the copy when you do those half-thoughts. It’s difficult to match the other person’s tempo and emotional vibe, so it ends up sounding choppy.

One person does the greeting. The other does the main message. The first person then tags it. Each completes his or her own sentence. You get the same effect—an energetic read—without having to rush like your pants are on fire. (And it sounds more real.)

– – – – – – –
Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #122 – Say my name, say my name

Time for a little “basics” check. How good are you at saying the name of the station? There are a lot of different factors that play into this supposedly simple thing…

First of all, you should say them first—the first thing out of your mouth when you start a break. Not just “somewhere in there”. There’s a reason the Jif label is on the outside of the jar. They don’t put it inside with the peanut butter.
When you say “That’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ by Ed Sheeran on 92.9 KSLL” that’s about Ed Sheeran, who’s on 1200 stations, one of which happens to be yours.
But when you say “92.9 KSLL and Ed Sheeran with ‘Thinking Out Loud,’” it’s YOUR song. You own it, and that’s the kind of music that YOU play.
Ownership MATTERS.

Yes, I’ve heard PD’s say “but it sounds more conversational to just drop them in at random.” But branding isn’t about being “conversational”. It’s about branding. (Which, by the way, is why you shouldn’t just segue two songs back-to-back without a short produced piece or a jingle between them that gives your name. You’re just throwing away a branding opportunity. PPM will never measure someone who doesn’t tune you in a second time because they don’t remember who you are.)

But let’s move on to the performance itself—the art of saying the station’s name. Here are just a few of the techniques I coach:

1. As a voice actor, you have to be able to deliver it in multiple ways, with several different inflections and variations in timing. It’s easy to just toss the name out like a robot, which always sounds like you’re just trying to get it done with so you can get on to the more “important” stuff. (I’ve actually edited together every time a talent says the station’s name in an hour so he or she could hear the bad habits that have set in — same tone of voice every time, same inflection, always going down in pitch at the end—there are tons of them.)

2. Matching the pace of the song. (Fast song, uptempo delivery. Slow song, slower delivery.)

3. Matching the emotional “vibe” of the song. (Sad song, more somber tone. Happy song, more upbeat delivery.)

4. Starting on the same NOTE the song is on. (The great Marice Tobias also teaches this.)

…and there’s more, but in John Lennon’s words, “I have to have money first.”

Suffice it to say that unless you’re good at saying the name of the station—the first thing you should master—chances are that people won’t remember you, and ratings won’t be as high as they could be. I’ve seen Arbitron entries for stations that don’t exist anymore, and air talents that have been DEAD for two years. That’s the power of good branding.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #121 – The Beau Weaver Tips

Beau Weaver was simply the best radio jock I ever heard, period.

Now he’s now a very successful voice actor based out of Los Angeles, and still one of my closest friends. We first met and worked together as babies several hundred years ago, when Gordon McLendon hired us as part of the staff at KNUS 99, the station that put FM on the map in Dallas.

We were all very young, and constantly running thoughts and techniques by each other, trying to find ourselves as jocks and Production talents. The other day, Beau reminded me of how he’d often play me a spot or promo that he’d done, and I’d keep repeating two things to him: “Don’t use your voice, and don’t try.”

Those are still the two starting places, either for young talent, or for old pros trying to update their sound to still be valid in the 21st century. Let me explain why…

Don’t use your voice.
When you “use” your voice, it sounds phony. The broadcasting world is still far too stocked with people on the air who just LOVE their own voices, and “puke” too much or shout at the listener in an effort to sound “big” or to “impress” them. (Are you listening, Kenny Albert? I’m not 40 feet away. There’s no reason to scream at me.)
Just talk.

Don’t “try”.
It’s not that you don’t want to give it a professional effort. Of course you do, but when you try too hard, you sound strident. That doesn’t bring anyone closer to you; it pushes them away. You pull people toward you by really understanding your “instrument”. Study great actors, and you see the value of LESS volume, less projection. For instance, Tom Hanks doesn’t have what radio people would call a great voice, but he can make you cry. Here’s another great example: Matt Damon at the end of “Saving Private Ryan” at that graveside, turning to his wife and softly saying, “Tell me I’m a good man.” It gets me every time.

Until you fully realize all the techniques available to you that can sway people, you’re just going to be one more voice in a sea of voices, quacking away on the air every day. (And good luck trying to be a voice actor. I’ve been to auditions where they’ve asked “Anyone in radio?” and when some people raised their hands, they were told “Thank you; you can leave.” They never even got a CHANCE to read, because the last thing anyone wants for a national spot is the “deejay” delivery.)

If you’re not in touch with this yet, you need a coach.

Oh, and go to www.spokenword.com to hear Beau Weaver’s work. Whatever he doesn’t have, you don’t need.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.