“I’ll know it when I hear it.”
Early in my professional radio career, I spent a good amount of time sending out cassette tapes (remember those?), in the hopes of landing a job being a radio disc jockey. A week to 10 days after sending a tape, it was customary on my part to pick up the phone and to try to talk to the Program Director.
As I think back on this strategy, I often wonder if I was playing with fire. I haven’t met too many Program Directors who actually wanted to be called on the phone; still, I was a hungry young guy and I wanted the feedback. More importantly, I wanted a job.
One particular Operations Manager did pick up the phone when I called. I announced who I was and that I had forwarded a package about a week before. “I was wondering if you’d had a chance to listen to it?” I asked.
I heard him exhale the cigarette smoke that I’d sensed was in his mouth. “Yeah, I did,” he said. “Not bad.” He took another drag. “But it’s not what I’m looking for.”
I recall being dejected, but I felt like it was probably a good time to try to get some feedback. “Is there anything that you want to hear from an on-air talent, in particular?” I asked.
He almost interrupted me. “Nope,” he responded. “I’ll know it when I hear it.”
That line has clung to me throughout my long radio-career, as well as during my journey as a voice-actor. Initially, it comes off as a bit of a cop-out. ‘Is it just that he or she really has no idea about what they want, so they’re just tossing that line at me,’ I’d think. But as I began to discern this vocation for myself, formulate demos, go through coaching, and involve myself in other audio and video projects, I found myself falling back on it from time to time. And I also found myself being a bit more forgiving of those who also use it.
What once was a crutch may, in fact, be a philosophy. And a pretty darn good one!
As voice-artists, much of what we try to do for our clients is to satisfy their ‘intent’. My wife is an artist (the kind that creates with paints and brushes!) and one of her long-time instructors, Jack Richard, was once asked by a student, “How do you know when your painting is finished?” And Jack replied, “When your original intent has been reached.”
For some clients, they may have an idea of what they envision, a germ of a ‘finished product’. But until that right voice performs their words the way they intended it to sound, then they may truly never know until they hear it.
As trained professionals, we may look at this approach and decide that, in the end, it may not sound very much like an approach at all. But I can compare the journey…to motorcycles. I’m an avid motorcyclist. (at least until my scheduled rotator-cuff surgery next month, and then I’ll admire my fellow riders from afar!). As an audio-professional, I’m particularly fixated on the ‘sound’ of my bike’s exhaust. Just like the choices of peanut butter at the grocery market, the available selection for after-market exhaust pipes can be…exhausting. But as my sales-person tried to elicit a response from me about my preferred system, I could only fall back on the obvious: I’ll know it when I hear it!
What about logic? Doesn’t 2 + 2 = 4? If an artist has an agreeable voice, auditions well, promises extraordinary turnaround-times, and works within the budget, shouldn’t that be enough to land the job? Shouldn’t it also be enough to generate repeat-business? Logically, yes. But ‘logic’ doesn’t always win.
I’m a craft-beer fanatic. I write about beer. And in reviewing beers, I may have three extremely well-made examples of an India Pale Ale in front of me. The ingredients may be similar. The brewing-time and maturation process may resemble each other. But one IPA may jump out at me, and it might be difficult to detect exactly why. Perhaps the mineral-content of the water made a difference. Perhaps the carbonation-level played off the Simcoe hops in a certain way and my taste-buds reacted. But for whatever reason, I chose ‘B’, and not ‘A’ or ‘C’.
It’s the same for an eLearning project, or when a Country radio station, for example, in Tulsa is looking for an image-voice. They’ve narrowed it down to several choices. Their demos were well-produced, their audio-levels were great. They may even be in a similar octave or vocal-register. But for whatever reason, voice ‘B’ helps that client realize their intent more so than voice ‘A’ or voice ‘C’.
As a prospective ‘voice’ for your project, it’s my job to be ready at all times. Ready to have demos prepared on this website so that you can hear samples of my work. Ready to audition favorably. And ready to respond if chosen. But I have to be ready….and accepting….of the fact that I may not be chosen. It’s a part of our subjective world, and it’s partially the beauty of it, to have the freedom to say, ‘I’ll know it when I hear it’.