“Booth Mentality”

28 Feb

Contrary to what others might think, voiceover people don’t get into this business because they’re lazy.  Well…maybe some of us are actually lazy, but that would be the case no matter what we got into.  Point is, doing what we do well actually does require a lot of work.  It’s just a different kind of hard work.

And yet, regardless of the level of drive or devotion, there can reside even in the best of us a baffling condition I’ve begun calling “Booth Mentality”.  I was reminded of my own affliction as I read a post from a respected talent in the UK.  He had just been hired as an offstage announcer for a live television program, and commented on the welcome shift in his comfort zone it was likely to bring (I hope I’ve paraphrased him correctly).

As I read that, I thought of the many times I’ve performed as part of a live event or broadcast with few, if any, slip-ups.  Why?  I don’t know…except perhaps that part of my tiny brain knew there wasn’t going to be any “oops…sorry…take two” if I messed up.  So I didn’t mess up.  But if you had put me in a recording session doing the same material…could I guarantee the same uninterrupted performance?  Probably not.  We’d fix it in Post.

“Booth Mentality”…just a lazy little bug I can’t seem to exterminate.

As dated and “cornball” as a lot of it sounds today, the announcers and voice actors who worked in radio back when it was Radio (whether in news, comedy, drama, or the “soaps”)  had something a lot of us don’t even think about, simply because we don’t have to.  But I wonder, at least in some cases, if it didn’t make them better performers.

Radio actor Mary Jane Higby wrote a book about her experiences called “Tune In Tomorrow“.  It covered a lot about how network radio worked, but the story I remember most concerned commercial recording sessions toward the end of the era.

This was pre-audiotape.  Anything that wasn’t part of a “live” broadcast had to be, literally, cut onto a record.  That master disc would then be duplicated and sent out to stations.  And there might be a dozen or so different commercials on each record. 

According to Ms. Higby’s account, everyone required for all of the spots assembled in the recording studio at the same time.  Because the master disc could not be edited, every actor, musician, and sound effects man was required to stay the entire length of the session, and the commercials were performed one after the other, pausing only long enough to give the engineer time to create a “dead groove” to differentiate the cuts.  They stayed  because if anything went wrong with any of the commercials being cut — the recording stopped…the disc was scrapped…and the whole thing was started from the top!  Not just the commercial that was ruined…but the whole…blasted…session!!!!!

To add extra drama to her story, Ms. Higby let it be known that in one session, she was the last voice in the last commercial on the record.

Wanna talk about “pressure”?

It’s extra humbling to me as I recall so many instances where I couldn’t put a dozen words together correctly in a simple sentence…saved only by the skills of a gifted and sympathetic editor…usually me.

To that point, it was somewhat comforting that the esteemed UK talent admitted to a similar affliction in his past.  And at least one other participant in the discussion marveled that the same thing had happened in his own career.  Whew!  I’m not the only one.

What wonders might we achieve…and how much more time might we have to achieve them…if we could just get that voicetrack done right without having to rely on take two…and three…and four…or (borrowing from Firesign Theatre) “take…six hundred”?

Flu shots?  No, thanks.  I’ll take my chances.  But if anybody knows of a vaccine for Booth Mentality…save me a place in line!

– over and out –


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