Tommy Kramer Coaching Tip #267 – KNOW Your Voice

Most air talents assume that if you’re on the air, you must have a good voice. But in reality, about half the people on the air in every format I hear have taken that for granted, and stunted their growth.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some pretty impressive voice actors that you hear on national commercials, station Imaging, and movie trailers every day. And universally, the ones who are the most successful have really studied what makes them unique, and how to fully use the vocal tools at hand.

Here’s what I mean…the other day, I was listening to a female air talent who literally said everything in what would be about a 4-note range if I played the pitch of each word on a piano. I also heard a male air talent the same week who talks so fast, you wonder if he just drank 17 cups of coffee before he got on the air. Then there’s the “growler” that does the station imaging on the Classic Rock station here in Shreveport. Every word that ends a sentence is exactly the same pitch, and he always goes DOWN in pitch at the end. He thinks he’s making an impact, and he’s right – I want to hit him in the forehead with a mallet every time he speaks.

The female voice has unique challenges, too. Being generally more limited in range and volume than the male voice, it’s easy to sound whiny or strident.

The male voice – especially if it’s a “big” voice, can easily sound either mad or tired.

KNOW your voice. Learn your dynamics. Hone your skills. Learn what to avoid. Master varied approaches. Become a competent voice actor. It may sound rudimentary, but if your voice isn’t appealing, it won’t matter what you say.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Coaching Tip #259 – The Death of the Big Voice, and Why

“He’s got such a great voice.”

We used to hear that a lot, but today, it’s virtually meaningless. In L. A. and New York, the big voices are doing tractor pull spots and horror movie spots, and you still hear the network TV guys doing that big, mighty “announcement” thing some, but be honest – doesn’t it just sound kind of cheesy?

The voice that gets the most work today is the midrange voice with great inflection. But even then, it’s not the old-school radio “emphatic” read; it’s more, as the great voice acting coach Marice Tobias says, “noticing” a word.

And as more and more jocks realize what today’s radio is all about, the big-voiced jock or Imaging guy sounds like a dinosaur. Here’s why: Radio is about Companionship. That friend in the car who’s just fun to be with; the one who makes everyone laugh. The one you want to invite to your backyard barbecue because he or she is good company, someone your guests will like.

No one stands up and ‘announces’ “Pass the ketchup, PLEASE.”
So if you’re a PD, rethink how your Imaging voice comes across. An INTERESTING voice is better than just a big one.

And as an air talent, let go of the big voice thing, even if you’re blessed with one, and just talk. Stop trying to make an impression and start trying to simply CONNECT with the listener.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #251 – Talking to Your Best Friend

Something happens when the mic goes on. Most people assume a delivery that’s either “giving information” or “making an announcement” or “presenting” something to the listener.

…as if the listener is some distant stranger who has this break arrive like an unwanted, slick, glossy ad for life insurance – for your pet goldfish.

But the great talents all know that no matter how important or significant a thought is, you still want to say it like you’d say it to your best friend, over a cup of coffee, like he or she is just 2 or 3 feet away (not 15).

By trying to sound more “important”, you become less important. By simply sharing a thought in a normal tone of voice (and normal volume level), you imply that “Hey, we’re buddies. Let me tell you something.”

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #247 – The Pause

Recently, I had a session with a very good talent who struggles occasionally at the very beginning of a break. I played her a couple of breaks where the hemming and hawing was noticeable; she just couldn’t get any real traction in getting started.

Here’s a possible cause — the tendency to think that every second has to be filled with words. Nothing could be farther from the truth. JFK, Martin Luther King, and dozens of actors known for their timing realized that sometimes a pause to “gather” your next thought is THE most powerful moment.

Example:
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” is not the same as “Ask not….what your country can do for you. (Another pause) Ask what you can do for your country.”

When the anxiety is taken away, and you come to trust that conversations need pauses, the tendency to just add more words, or over-explain, will dissipate.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #244 – The Cure for “Puking”

Just last month, an associate sent me this email:

Do you have any suggestions for how to correct a “Ron Radio” delivery? A client of mine in a small market sent their night jock’s audio to me. He is kind of a puker. It’s been forever since I’ve dealt with someone who pukes on the air. I was going to have him put a picture of his wife (or similar) in front of him to maybe make him more conversational. I remember you having a better way of having someone visualize speaking to another person.

My reply:
The picture of your wife works for most people, but with pukers, they have to move in closer to the mic so when they get loud and exaggerated, it really stands out to them. What I do is play a break where the pukey thing happened, then ask the talent to “Say that again, right now, just to me” to create a sense of intimacy. Intimacy kills puking.

The worst disease in radio (or in life, really) is to try to be “bigger” and more expansive. It just makes someone sound like a blowhard. Drastic measures are sometimes necessary. I always remind those people that I’m only two feet away, not twenty. And if that doesn’t work, I let them in on how really great jocks always mock pukers. (No one likes to think of himself being mocked.)

The “Ron Radio” thing may have worked at one time, but not now. One of the best things you can do as a PD is help someone lose that sound.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #239 – Learn from The Andy Griffith Show

I keep hearing things being READ to me in EXAGGERATED tones: “THANK you for ALL you’ve DONE!”

Thinking about how to help people mature and get past this point, I happened to have an old Andy Griffith Show on while I worked the other day. It was an early episode, from the first season, and Andy himself was REALLY exaggerated, using a loud, cornpone delivery that made him sound like a cartoon character.

But Griffith himself said later in his life that he found it difficult to watch those episodes, when he was still basically just doing his country bumpkin character from “No Time For Sergeants”, his first Broadway play (and later, his first movie). That was kind of the style then; everything was overplayed. And Andy thought he needed to stay in ‘vocal overdrive’ to be the comedy center of the show. But soon after that first season, he realized that Don Knotts (as deputy Barney Fife) was going to be the funny one, and Andy should be the straight man.
From that point on, Andy settled down and got more conversational and realistic. And magic happened. Not only did the show zoom to the top of the ratings, but Andy had found the more plausible delivery that lasted through his “Matlock” days and several movies.

Listen to some audio from your show today. Ask yourself whether you sound like the listener’s friend, or like someone who’s way ‘over the top’ and trying too hard. If it’s the latter, just stop.

You’ll realize your greatest success when you stop trying to BE somebody, and just interact with the listener like you’re talking to a friend.

The days of the loud, high-energy disc jockey are gone.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

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.