Three Ways To Save Time On Your Next VO Casting Project

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Let’s face it – ever since the infamous Voice Actors’ Strike of 2000, the industry has been topsy-turvy. The union paradigm has sustained a shocking blow and many say it could take another 10 years for the industry to fully recover. The strike gave way to the prolific discovery of non-union talent at a time when the buying public was starting to express frustration with polished over-the-top sales-pitchy performances of legacy talent. Many non-union types sounded fresh, young and modern. But, they were also green and un-trained in the arcane nuances of timing, phrase-turning and overall performance savvy.

Today, the voiceover business has become hyper-fragmented and literally flooded with talent, and the task of casting for a voiceover has become far more complex in recent years. Today, you are not merely limited to sending audition copy to a handful of agents. There are dozens of so-called pay-to-play voiceover casting sites, three to four times as many non-union agents as there are union, and the number of talent who work directly with buyers is at an all-time high and climbing each day.

This shift to complexity has become quite evident in the various kinds of auditions I receive each week. Depending on the age of the casting person, the fundamental components of the audition request – the gender and age range, the tone and timbre, the direction offered – can differ greatly.

There is also the need to understand the media platforms on which the final production will be played – traditional TV, radio, YouTube, Pandora are all in the mix.

The voiceover business has become hyper-fragmented and literally flooded with talent, and the task of casting for a voiceover has become far more complex in recent years.

In the “good old days”, there used to be a sort of unspoken format or convention for the various components of an audition. These inputs were easy for me to understand on the talent side and that gave me extra confidence to deliver my best version of the hoped-for performance.

But, as the industry evolves, we are spending more time filtering through the myriad factors that can go into casting a voice. Here are three ways to save time on your next VO casting project, so you can stay organized and avoid having to sift through needless audition reads of people who may not be anywhere close to the cast you are looking for:

  1. Determine the GENERATION-TYPE for your cast – Is it a modern voice? A legacy voice? Maybe it’s a hybrid, or perhaps you are willing to hear all styles because the client isn’t yet decided on which type to use. It’s also very helpful to define an age-range that is accurate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “Male, 25-40, think Harrison Ford, Sam Elliott, or Morgan Freeman.” The last time I checked, none of these gents are even close to being under the age of 50! You might say, “Maybe they meant – what these guys sounded like when they were in their 30s.” If that is the case, SPECIFY THAT in your direction.
  2. Provide links to AUDIO or VIDEO clips to further articulate your casting direction – In this day and age of profligate viral media, there is almost always a reference link or two you can provide to assist agents and talent in accommodating your audition request.
  3. Include the probable RECORDING DATES for the session if they are available – this technique alone will save you plenty of time and needless hassles. If the dates are flexible, indicate that information as well.

The more detail about your casting project you can give to the agents, the better. You’ll save time over the long run and free yourself from having to filter out sup-par auditions because they are not the perfect fit for your cast – one way or another.

Central Banks’ Role Will Greatly Diminish In The 21st Century

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If necessity is the mother of invention, let’s take a look at the “need” that gave rise to concept of the central bank, that mysterious, ivory tower bastion of presumed economic stability that seems to dictate many aspects of our everyday life.

The first central bank was the Bank Of England, and the need that created it in 1694 was a capital requirement for £1.2 million to help fund the Nine Years’ War with France.

Come to think of it, The US Federal Reserve performed a similar sleight of hand in 2008 at the onset of the so-called Great Financial Crisis, as well as throughout and beyond its duration: the famous, or infamous, Quantitative Easing was really nothing more than the temporary creation of additional money supply to shore up the faltering capital models of various banks.

The rest of the time, central banks carry on the self-appointed task of “guiding” national economies down a stable and relatively crisis-free path. This model may seem benign on the surface. But, when chaotic circumstances rear their ugly head at the most inopportune times, no model that claims sophistication in matters of economic stability can do much better than the pure dynamic forces of the free market.

There is one other aspect to central banks’ role these days, and that is to put forth rules and propose legislation to regulate and curb the darker, greedier tendencies of the free markets in general and overly-opportunistic banking interests in particular. This may be the only real non-invasive benefit of a central bank.

Central banks have been notorious for intervening in national economies when it appears as if the various possible outcomes of chaotic developments threaten to put their self-anointed duties as sole arbiters of the greater economic good at risk. The thinking goes something like this: A chaotic event causes the collapse of certain markets or asset classes, which in turn threatens to ruin individual businesses and even whole industries. The inevitable result is widespread and protracted unemployment which puts downward pressure on the economy and causes recession or even depression. Often, central bankers are blamed for not doing enough to stabilize the economy during these catastrophic shifts of supply and demand.

When chaotic circumstances rear their ugly head at the most inopportune times, no model that claims sophistication in matters of economic stability can do much better than the pure dynamic forces of the free market.

In present times, central bankers have taken it upon themselves to avoid being blamed and labeled as unfit supervisors of the economic good. After all, they’re not mind-readers. They can’t possibly be expected to engineer a stability framework that features a mechanism for every possible calamity, known or unknown, that might cause the economy to go awry.

This conclusion yields a new and very interesting question: If a central bank is merely capable of keeping the rich richer (as long as they don’t get too greedy), what or who remains to address the broader, more macro tasks of developing schemas that encourage socio-economic fairness and equality, real and tangible growth, and prosperity, charity, and compassion for all?

The only component available to do this well is a self-regulated private sector that is able to articulate its intentions through the supply-demand dynamics of robust and unimpinged free-markets.

For too long, fear has been the elephant hiding in plain sight in the halls of finance and policy. Fear leads to an unspoken, almost subliminal presumption of lack of confidence; we must continually be on the lookout for what can go wrong with the decisions we’ve made, and we must be at the ready to do, as ECB president Mario Draghi stated in 2012, “whatever it takes…”

This may sound reasonable at first, but if central bankers expend all their energy continually looking only for what can go wrong and exhausting their resources attempting to reign in rogue industrial interests to placate ideological and financial supporters and participants, there simply is no energy left to nurture and develop all the things an economy requires for a totalizing approach to wholistic and sustainable stability and growth.

If a central bank is merely capable of keeping the rich richer, what or who is left to address the broader, more macro tasks of developing schemas that encourage socio-economic fairness and equality, real and tangible growth, and prosperity, charity, and compassion for all?

Central banks’ role will greatly diminish in the 21st century. In today’s postmodern era of globalization and corporate self-actualization in areas such as community outreach, equality and parity of pay, benefits and employee housing, as well as the gradual migration to pro-distributive prosperity models, and a genuine attitude of self-regulation and moderation, alternative private sector banking and other capital frameworks in every sphere will begin to develop and emerge (actually, they’ve already begun!). These diverse yet cooperative and collaborative systems will be much more able to balance the risks and absorb the costs of guiding the economies of nations, thus relieving central banks from this inordinately heavy burden.

I can just see a regional Fed operative clamoring to make a rebuttal, “What you’ve described is what we already have!” That’s odd – I’ve not received any emails inviting me to the next FOMC meeting. And, I wouldn’t attend anyway. For, I have numerous fundamental disagreements with today’s banking system and central banks’ urges to somehow attempt to manipulate the factoral causalities of inflation. I’ll take my solution as a starting point and send out my invitations when the model is ready for prime time.

History is overflowing with cautionary tales of how well-intended systems grew to become so large and complex that they collapsed under the weight of their own enormity. The very same can be said about the concept of the central bank, and it is high time to put the reigns that guide global economic stability and growth in the hands of many, rather than the hands of a presumptuous few.

America Is Emotionally Unprepared For Influx of Refugees

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As Syrian refugees move ever closer to America’s shores, social media sites and blogs everywhere are ablaze debating whether they are to be welcomed without question, vetted and scrutinized, or outright turned away at our borders.

Sadly, the ranks of those in favor of denying refugees far outnumber those in favor of letting them in, one way or another.

The rally cries of opponents focus on the security risks and the fact that we are in a defacto war with ISIL. They unilaterally decide that this is no time to be charitable in the face of such overwhelming threats to the peace, safety and security of Americans.

How can we as Americans be so guarded and uncharitable? Ever since the mid-20th century, we as a culture, have allowed ourselves to become fat, weak, complacent, and apathetic to any cause that falls outside our puny self-absorbed scope.

We have sold our soul to any message that tells us what we want to hear instead of what we need to know.

We must choose to unconditionally love our fellow man – every race, every creed – at all times.

The implicit message embedded in the arguments put forth by those against allowing mysterious refugees access to American safety is this:
You are asking me to consider doing something that threatens my well-being, for I am emotionally and intellectually ill-equipped to put the needs of others above the needs of myself.

Post-modern America has forgotten the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It doesn’t matter whether you adhere to a religious structure or not. The point is that we must choose to unconditionally love our fellow man – every race, every creed – at all times. This is how we advance our civilization. This is how our species can thrive and prosper, no matter what we are faced with.

Do you still have fears about allowing refugees into America? My friend, you are letting the tail wag the dog.

The correct response to this opportunity, is to vet each person at the border, and send them away if they are on any watch lists.  No red flags? Welcome them and allow them a probationary period consisting of two years access to fundamental and necessary services. Then, put them on a path to citizenship.

Keep in mind that if America had an exclusionary attitude back in the 19th and 20th centuries when our ancestors sought refuge here, none of us would be alive as American citizens today.

Information, Knowledge and Wisdom

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Twenty-five years ago or so, there used to be just one information explosion. The 90s brought the digital age to the masses and also the advent of a multiplicity of information explosions. At the turn of the millenium, this plurality quickly gave way to a complete cacophony of nearly infinite explosions.

Naturally, as society becomes subjected to all this information in one way or another, the question is raised, “are we gaining knowledge and wisdom, too, along the way?”

The whole technology layer presents a slippery slope for many who seek to gather a quantity of information quickly. It’s true that info can be mined rapidly, but there are often many bones to spit out in the process. Does any of this actually lead to increased knowledge? I think it can, but a prerequisite amount of common sense is essential for vetting data found on the web.

The real danger here is the growing trend of mistaking information for knowledge and/or wisdom. For example, a handful of programmers in the late 1990s began developing the app that sends text messages over a wireless network. They used their growing storehouse of mobile platform development information to construct the basic texting application many of us now use today. Did they stop to think that teenagers would become addicted to the technology to the point where they are sitting side by side on a bus and texting each other instead of talking? I have it on good authority that they did not.

Thus, we seem to have sacrificed the notion that technology is best developed and applied when it is counterbalanced with an equal dose of wisdom.

One of my favorite phrases these days is “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” How many investment banking and mortgage banking firms (not to mention other companies who got into banking after the rollback of Glass-Steagall) looking to make their quarterly numbers failed to consider wisdom before they leveraged their balance sheets up to 40:1 nearly bringing the U.S. economy to the brink of collapse?

Wisdom does not proceed from knowledge; it guides and governs it. May we NEVER lose sight of this fact. For information without wisdom does not lead to knowledge; and without wisdom, knowledge is directionless.

Another financial crisis looming on the horizon?

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It has taken the U.S. economy five or six years to have any kind of hope of recovering from the financial crisis of ’08. And it would have been a much tougher go, if central bank easing had not been as aggressive.

But, easing in any form is really not a solution at all; it is merely a band-aid that does nothing to rid the patient of the infection of greed.

A soft landing by any other name is still a soft landing. And, as the U.S. Federal Reserve now seeks to guide the economy onto a less risky, more stable trajectory, unexpected free market shenanigans loom at the margin to threaten economic stability and growth.

Let’s start with oil. Anti-U.S. fracking interests have begun the first round of sabre-rattling which has resulted in a spectacular drop in the price-per barrel and the price-per-gallon at the pump.

At first glance this might appear to be a blessing for the consumer. And, it would be just that if oil prices can stabilize at or around the $60 level. But, many traders, myself included, tend to believe we have at least $10 or $15 to go before all the speculative selling will be exhausted.

Wherever oil prices ultimately settle and form a stable base, it will not be a protracted affair. We will probably see a return to the mean sometime in the last half of 2015.

Thus, the weaker fracking interests that some analysts have predicted would be forced to shut down both development and production operations will likely not have to do so en masse. Only a few may get pushed out, and whatever recessionary pressures that were caused by a slowdown in Shale development will ultimately ease, and the industry will be able to resume it’s long-term plans.

As oil analyst Jim Veire pointed out at our recent family gathering on Christmas eve, The credit card banks take a punch on the chin by way of a substantial decrease in merchant fees from gasoline retailers. With prices at almost half of what they were a few years ago, credit card fees paid by the gas stations are also sliced in half. This will inevitably weigh on the sector for the next year or two.

But the bigger story here, if also the more stealthy one, is the U.S. Dollar. It’s meteoric rise in the past few months poses a much greater threat to the U.S. recovery than either the oil or banking story.

As FT columnist Gillian Tett wrote in the December 18 issue, emerging market companies, particularly in the so-called BRIC group of countries (Brasil, Russia, India and China), are loaded up on over US$2 trillion in offshore debt, just over 70% of which is denominated in US dollars. For example, firms based in Russia where the rouble has taken a pounding in recent months, now find themselves in a rather pronounced currency squeeze that becomes difficult to service.

Another twist to the tale is that the structural weaknesses caused by this currency imbalance are not at all likely to show up clearly on companies’ balance sheets because much of the debt is in offshore accounts, sometimes under names that provide no clear linkage to the parent firms.

Further complications arise when the offshore cash is converted and repatriated to the parent’s country. It then is able to be labeled, in many cases, as foreign direct investment.

We all know what eventually happens to share prices when companies use accounting tricks to obfuscate the truth. And, when the debt gets serviced in an awkward and less well-planned fashion, other expenditures will surely suffer.

This all translates to more than a trivial threat to the US recovery as global demand, which is already in intensive care, could get another more widespread and protracted version of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

So, while you might think the wrong debt decisions made by some emerging market companies will not effect your accounts stateside, don’t be surprised when the raging, if aging, bull run enjoyed by equities takes several months or more off to catch its breath.

Dick Ervasti Air Check circa 1988 – WWTC AM 1280


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Feeding The Mind, but Numbing The Soul

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This week I have been sharing comments on ethics in technology over at Victoria Ipri’s blog. In this delightful chat, Andy Havens laments that there is still too much attention being paid to an out-of-date solution called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). As Andy aptly states,

“The reason (technologies like SEO) gain popularity and then die seems simple – the marketing hogs see the trends, jump in and take over. We are all guilty to some degree.”

He also shines light on a newer and far better component of many search algorithms, Linguistic (or Latent ed.) Semantic Indexing (LSI), which simply put, can read good webpage copy and tag it appropriately for optimum use in search results. In other words, it rewards well-written content, which should please web copywriters everywhere.

“LSI seems like a dream come true,” says Andy, “I write good content and the search engines figure out what I’m talking about. It leaves me to focus on what I want to say instead of making sure I’ve got 2.3 keywords per 134 words or whatever.”

But he also finds it frustrating that, on our journey of getting indexed by search engines, we still seem to encounter quite a few bumps in the road. This should come as no surprise to any of us. The fine-tuning of new technology has never been more apparent to the masses as it is today. Before computers and the web, fine-tuning went on as usual, but it was behind the scenes at such places as the phone companies and manufacturing labs.

Today, however, because investors are demanding that companies put their pipelines on the fast-track so they can grow share price more quickly, the fine-tuning often takes place right before our eyes. In the big picture, our problems are nothing more than the growing pains experienced by a toddler.

Cultural back-sliding doesn’t help either. Ethically speaking, we have allowed ourselves to be subordinated to the often bogus quantitative promises of technology and have sacrificed the qualitative values that govern our decision-making processes.

Andy provides an excellent example of this:

“I’ve got … software someplace that can sign up to hundreds of social marketing sites and spread my message across all of them, even though I’ve never heard of most of them.”

Sounds like another lazy shortcut that some marketers use in the hopes of getting something for next to nothing.

There is no easy solution except possibly some sort of ISP punitive bandwidth rate card that changes the monthly bill to an amount so high, it stings the abuser in the pocketbook.

One other solution is to do precisely what we are doing: engaging the community at large with the notion of a higher standard of conduct. Because something that good will never be out of date.

Obituary: Broadcast Journalism, 1938-2010

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Broadcast Journalism, arguably the most influential sociological development of the 20th century, was born in 1938, when CBS Radio began broadcasting The World Today with Edward R. Murrow. For the next few decades that followed, Broadcast Journalism would come to define even further the principles of integrity established by the newspaper industry.

My participation in this saga began in January 1976. I had just been accepted to the broadcasting school at Brown College in Minneapolis. In order to help put food on the table, I worked full-time as a dispatcher at KMSP-TV, channel 9. My job was to monitor all the city and county police and fire channels for any sudden breaking news events. When something came up, such as a multi-alarm blaze, I would run down the hall to the senior news editor’s desk and report the details of the event. It was his decision, then, whether or not to dispatch a film photographer, and perhaps a reporter, to the scene.

For this baby-boomer with plenty of aspirations, it was a glorious time to be in broadcast news. While my work was done mainly in the dispatcher’s den, it was always exciting to run into the bullpen where the news director, news editor, producers, anchors, and reporters were hard at work putting together the stories for the evening broadcasts. What were the facts of the story? How many sources? Were there the requisite multiple confirmations of the facts? When these questions could not be answered to the satisfaction of the news director or editor, there was the occasional shouting match. However, when airtime came, there was an overwhelming sense of honor and professionalism, for the stories on the air were presented in an unbiased way that upheld the time-tested principles of journalistic integrity.

My interest in broadcasting was more on the music radio side, but I was extremely glad I got the chance to work in TV news. It allowed me to set a standard of excellence and discipline that helped me to build a solid foundation for my career, wherever it might take me. That feeling of honor and journalistic integrity grew within me and registered soundly as the years went by.

Even so, a few years later in 1979, I began to see other seeds being planted that would grow deep roots and eventually yield a harvest of deadly fruit that threatened the principled values I held so dear. At the time, the seeds were presented innocently and even logically to TV station owners and managers. The name of these magic seeds was Focus Group.

A market research company, Frank N. Magid and Associates, based in the unassuming heartland state of Iowa, was offering their growing list of client TV stations the chance to conduct market studies with their constituent audiences. The viewers, having been invited by Magid to attend so-called focus groups, would be presented with a variety of video clips from the TV station and then asked for their response. The content of the clips ranged from an anchor reading the news, to a reporter out in the field, to even the hair style, clothing, make-up, vocal delivery, and overall impression of the journalist in the clip. Often, the focus groups would even include marketing slogans, logos, set design, station promotional commercials, and even surveys about what kind of news stories the public wanted to see more, the so-called top-of-mind paradigm. Whatever was presented, focus group attendees would respond by giving a thumbs up or thumbs down.

I was extremely glad I got the chance to work in TV news. It allowed me to set a standard of excellence and discipline that helped me to build a solid foundation for my career.

To put it another way, Magid was taking a cue from the world of American advertising (which had been using this form of quantitative research since around 1960). They were putting a slightly different bow on it, and packaging it to TV stations and networks in order to help them monetize their news divisions, which until then had difficulty breaking even or making a profit. Thus, as each station signed up with Magid, they made the same mistake as Eve in the Garden of Eden; they ate the innocent-looking evil fruit of market research. Now that the poison had been ingested, it would only be a matter of time before true and honorable Broadcast Journalism met its untimely death.

By the 1980’s, the health of broadcast journalism was already on a steep decline. News outfits everywhere, large and small, were subordinating almost every aspect of their operations to the whim of the market researchers and the results of their sacred focus groups. When a legacy journalist retired, video clips of the heirs apparent would be viewed in multiple group sessions and analyzed thoroughly. Up for review was not the journalistic integrity of the prospective talent, but rather their appearance, wardrobe, voice, and body movements. This gave way to two new industries: the talent agent business for negotiating contracts for news anchors, and the talent consulting businesses that helped anchors improve their craft, most of the techniques having far more to do with style and appearance than journalistic substance.

Along the way, research indicated that viewers tended to watch TV news more frequently when a crisis of one kind or other had occurred. Focus group data also demonstrated how viewers tuned in when there was a newly developing story of significance, or what has come to be known as breaking news. By the mid to late 1990’s, news networks in particular began to use the term breaking news for just about every new story they reported.

Also in the 1990’s, there was a proliferation of news channels on cable TV. The world of broadcasting is all about domination, and the legacy TV networks decided CNN had been enjoying dominance on cable long enough. NBC and FOX came on the scene with their own news programming, and in response, CNN added a few more channels to the burgeoning array. Suddenly, Americans were besieged with news content. There was one problem, however. There simply weren’t enough hard news stories to fill twenty-four hours of content on one channel, let alone four or five. So, the executive producers, in their desperate search to fill up their broadcast schedules, began to add in-depth analysis of news stories. Every channel would break a story and invite so-called experts on both sides of the table to come on the air and debate the issues centric to the story. This gave way to an explosion of new business at public relations firms all across America, and the talking heads era of TV news was born.

The broadcast schedules, however, were still not completely filled. To solve the dilemma, network executives decided to expand the scope of their programming to include more entertainment and legal stories; stories where there was not necessarily a clearly defined moral or ethical framework and which could be debated at length. This trend in the late 1990’s caused Broadcast Journalism to be rushed into intensive care, while its newer, younger, more socially relevant surrogate, known as info-tainment, stepped in to assume its role.

Viewership on many cable news channels started to drop significantly. Instead of doing some serious soul-searching, executives chose to migrate to more vertical, edgy programming in an effort to attract an increasingly fragmented audience.

There was a slight recovery in the health of broadcast journalism the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the first few hours of coverage, TV news was unable to assemble a focus group, gather data, and present packaged, contrived and premeditated content with an agenda. They were in such shock that they simply reported the news as it happened in real time. For a few short hours on that horrifc day, TV news did its job; no more and no less. In the ensuing months, however, Broadcast Journalism was placed on life support. For, by this time, every little scare that society encountered was presented as a crisis of immense proportions.

The viewing public, however, began pushing back in the mid-2000 decade. Viewership on many cable news channels started to drop significantly. Instead of doing some serious soul-searching, executives chose to migrate to more vertical, edgy programming in an effort to attract an increasingly fragmented audience. At this stage, TV news more closely resembled a form of social engineering than anything else.

On January 12, 2010, the tiny island country of Haiti suffered a terrible 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Again, for a few hours, TV news did its job. But because there were very few journalists still working in TV news, coverage was anything but professional. On January 20, a Fox News reporter opened his introduction by saying, “The scene behind me is just like a made-for-TV movie.” At that moment, Broadcast Journalism died of heart failure.

If this story resonates in your spirit, I ask you to email it to a friend and pass it on. At some point, some in the business of TV news will probably read it. And maybe, just maybe, they will rebuke, resist, and break the stronghold of narcissism in their industry, and get a clue.