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Voice Coaches Radio #427 – Mary, on the most important thing you need as a voice actor…

Voice Coaches Radio. Everything voiceover. And welcome into this week's edition of Voice Coaches Radio. I am Josh, he is Sam. We are delighted to have you joining us here this week for Voice Coaches Radio and it is another guest here joining us on the program. So again, you don't just have to listen to us, which is Awesome for everybody's sake.

But uh, but Sam, we have a special guest here with us today. We have Mary Cotter. So uh, tell us a little bit about, about our special guest. Mary is so many things. I'm so excited to have her on the show today because while she recently completed the voice coach's training with us, I think she made her demo two weeks ago.

Is that correct? Two weeks, something like that. Mary has been in the industry. for many years. So starting back in 1965, Mary was a copywriter. And then eventually, she started overseeing accounts for an ad agency called BBDO. And yeah, that was all in the city. So from there, she was a creative supervisor, eventually a creative director, at another agency called JMTC.

But then by 1976, she transitioned her career entirely, which she has done many, many times. But in 76, she became a photojournalist for People Magazine. So that cough you hear in the background is none other than Mary. And Mary has worked with voice actors. She's directed them. Not only has she written copies, she has hired, directed, and produced voiceovers.

So Mary, welcome to the show! Thank you so much, Sam. I didn't know the microphones were all open. There's a perfect example of what happens. We're always listening. We're always listening. Okay. So, Mary, you've done so many things and there's so much we can talk about. How do you think being a copywriter prepared you for getting into voiceover work?

Oh, I think it's the best possible preparation. You are writing commercials that you need to have read in a certain way. So, as you write them You can hear them in your head, and then when you present them to the client, they can hear them out loud, and they may make changes that you then have to re hear in your head.

And then when you go to the, uh, studio to record the final recording, the announcer, the voice of them in his or her head, or you have to be able to help direct them so that they can. And so writing is one of the best preparations you can possibly have for doing final voiceover work, in my opinion anyway.

So when, when you are actually given copies, so when you are in the booth and you are the actual one recording, is it, is it difficult sometimes when you get a piece of copy and you're like, oh, that's not how I would've written that, or, oh, I, I think I would've written that one better. You know, you, you obviously, you have a, a, a unique perspective that you can kind of see, you know, how the piece wa how the piece came about and maybe interpreted.

Uh, a little bit better, but is it tough sometimes when you read it and you're like, this is not good writing? Well, um, I've, that's a very recent experience for me, as you know, I wanted to do this voice coach training to see what the other side of the business felt like, since I was always the one writing the copy and then directing the reader.

Now I want it to be in the booth and feeling what that was like to be directed and feeling what it was like to be handed a piece of copy that I would read differently. That was a very interesting experience. On, on many levels for me. So yeah, definitely, definitely a good and interesting experience. And there are lots of ways, for me anyway, to handle a piece of copy where you would want to make changes.

One of them, for example, is to Talk to your producer, your director about a change that you think would really help if they're open to that. Another is to do what I used to think about in the, in the business as a, um, strategic mistake. In other words, read the copy the way it sounds right in your head, and let them hear that, and then let them direct you if they want to change it.

Sometimes just hearing it differently is enough to trigger a response in the listener's head, like, oh yeah, that sounds even better. And then you go from there. Excuse me, I'm still doing my morning cough. As you know, I go to bed around three in the morning. You are a So getting up , getting up at nine o'clock is really early for me.

You are doing a great favor by being up so early after going to bed at three. Thank you so much for that. No, I apologize for being sort, being so, uh, throat logged, . No, that's all right. That's almost people hear me. So that's, we're in good company. I'm just, ah, it's good. It's all good. That, so, did you experience that when you were directing voice actors?

Did you be like, would you have a voice actor be like, Oh yeah, and then the tree was there. Or like, would they change it on you and then be like, Oh, I'm so sorry. And realize that's what they were doing after the fact? Did you ever have that happen? I did, and I don't think they were making strategic mistakes.

That's what made me think about the whole topic. Like, ah, that was just a genuine mistake. But you could actually use that if you're in voice acting. You could actually make a, quote, mistake as a way to let someone hear a different reading. Uh, and sometimes when a client's sitting there, you don't have a lot of options.

You can't say to the client, gee, I would have written this differently or, you know, I'd like to read this differently from what I was just told. You really can't do that. You have to do what you're told. And, and do the best possible job you can. And then you can discuss changes that maybe would help the copy a little bit the way you hear it.

I think the important thing for me in, in both copy reading and copywriting is to do what you're asked to do the best you can first, and then talk about alternatives. Because if you can't walk into that booth and produce what they're asking you to produce, you probably shouldn't be in the business. And that's the first thing you want.

You want to hear somebody who can do what you ask them to do. And then you become, as the listener, as the director, you become much more open to suggestions from them. Like, how about if I read it like this? Or, you know, an announcer might say, Could I try it like this? What if I emphasize this word? And if they've already done what you ask, then you're all open.

You're all ears. And, uh, and, and so you can work collaboratively that way. Well, that's a, that's a, that's a really interesting perspective to have because you were in that position and I'm sure you know what the producer wants and, and how best to, uh, interact with them and work with them because that was a dynamic that you were a part of.

So, uh, you know, it, it, it, it, it, it. You, you do what, what you're asked. You do what you're told because that's what you're getting paid for. And then you have the opportunity to say, you know what, I, I think it might actually might behoove us to do, to do this instead. And you give that a try and, and kind of see where it goes.

But that's, that's a really great way to look at it, that you know, you are, you still are someone who needs to be produced and you still are someone who needs to do what the producer tells you, whether or not ultimately that is what you think is best. And sometimes they ask you to do things that are not really very good, but they don't know that until they hear it.

So that's another reason why it's so important to give them exactly what they ask for. You know, if they say, oh, leave a little more space before that, or, you know, bump up that word, or whatever. You do what they say, and then they can hear, and often they'll make the correction. Yeah, I would, I would agree with that.

I'm just thinking about when, because I worked with Mary making her demo, when I worked with you, I gave you some direction at one point, and you're like, okay, I'll try that, even though I could tell you disagreed with me, and you did it, and you did it great, and I was like, yeah, that was the wrong choice. I remember that in action.

Yeah. No, she knew it. She knew I was making the wrong call as a producer. So what happens if you're working with a voice actor or had to work with a voice actor and they weren't, weren't giving you what you needed? What would you do in that situation? Well, hopefully you would have hired somebody who would at least give you some of what you needed.

Um, and what you do really depends on who else is with you. You can have, for example, if you're in an ad agency, which is where, where I was. You can have yourself, the producer, the engineer all present at the same time, or you can have yourself, the producer, the engineer, and the client all present at the same time.

And with the client being present, your options are very different from if the client aren't, if clients aren't present. You can't verbally abuse them is what you're saying. Got it, got it, Well, and the client always, they can't help themselves, they always have some sort of input. Sometimes they want changes made on the spot, uh, and they're kind of in the middle too.

The client that goes through a production session. It's not necessarily the top level of the client is going to finally approve whatever it is you're producing. So, you know, everybody's kind of caught in the middle is what I'm saying. Everybody is trying to get what they think their next level will want.

And that can be challenging. And if you're the copywriter and you're in charge of that session in the sense of getting the correct read, you've got to do a range to satisfy everybody. So that if the client has asked for something, for example, that you feel is wrong and you think that His or her superiors will feel is wrong.

You have a backup, so you do it the way the client wants, and then you do it the way you think is right, and then you do it the way maybe the engineer says, Uh, you're popping too much, there's too many peas in a row. Maybe you take, maybe you take a word or two out, maybe you change a word or two. There's a lot of flexibility during a recording session, uh, depending on who is present and who has say.

Always have a backup. That's a brilliant idea. Like, even as a copywriter, as a producer, as a voice talent, always have a backup. You told me a story, uh, kind of offline not too long ago about some unofficial directing you did and the talent wasn't producing what needed to be done. And you did some unique things in that situation.

Can you, can you share some of that with us? Oh, sure. This, this was a lot of fun. Um, and I will say who the client was because I love working this, with this particular, uh, talent and client. It was the Welsh's grape juice account. And that was at Jordan McGrath Case and Taylor, the second agency I was with.

And our talent was a little five year old boy named Travis. He was absolutely adorable and super, super talented. But he had to do a stream, a series of commercials on work days that were very long for a five year old. And he would get tired or he would get board or whatever. He wanted to be doing different things.

So working with him was really, really challenging. And I thank God at that point in my life, I had had lots of experience working with children as a photographer and directing children as a photographer. So I could figure out indirect ways to get what I wanted from this child. And I would sit on the floor in front of him.

And when the cameras were rolling, I would start using those indirect ways. Um, just to give you an example, in photography, for example, you have a young child and you want the child looking at his parents, sitting on the parent's lap and looking at his parents. And if you, if you say that to a child, look at your parents, they'll get all goofy and they'll look right at you or they'll lock their neck and not look anywhere because it's all a game to them.

So, you have to figure out a way to get something out of them that will be fun for them and will get you what you need. And just in the example I just gave, um, if I needed a child to be looking at his parent for a great photograph, I would just talk to the child for a minute, start taking pictures while I was talking, and then I would suddenly say something like Oh my heavens, what's that bug on your dad's nose?

And the child would instantly turn around and look at his father and then start laughing. And they were great shots. And when you're doing voice production, you can do the same thing. Or TV production, you can do the same thing. With Travis, for example. When I needed a particular kind of take from Travis.

And he wasn't producing it because he was tired or bored or just couldn't. I would use a phenomenon in psychology called behavioral momentum. Which is, you, this is used a lot with kids on the autistic spectrum, even nowadays. And what happens with behavioral momentum If you give the talent or the child, whoever you're working with, you give them something pretty easy to do before you ask them to do anything harder.

So for example, if I wanted something read a certain way, especially because the Welsh's client was there and said, I want the child to emphasize grape juice or whatever. I would start to get Travis to imitate me doing different things. Just a very high voice, a very low voice. Um, a voice emphasizing one word, then a voice emphasizing another word, until he was in the swing of things.

This is really, really easy for him. And then I'd pop in with the word that we needed emphasized, and he'd do it beautifully. It was a really fun exercise to do, a really fun way to work with him, and it was fun for him too. That's a great idea for producers listening. If you need some, a talent to do something, don't necessarily start with the thing you need them to do.

Start with things that they can actually do already. Things that they're doing well. Start there, build up the momentum, and then give them direction. That's what you're saying, correct? Yeah, something that's really easy for them and not challenging. Something they'll understand right away. And so you may have a difficult reading.

You may have, you may need words emphasized that aren't naturally emphasized. So what you want to do is take a sentence. And start emphasizing different words in the sentence, whether they're natural or not. So, for example, I could say, start emphasizing different words in the sentence. Start emphasizing different words in the sentence.

Start emphasizing different words in the sentence. And once I push out different emphases like that, the person can hear what I'm doing and they catch on very, very easily. And then you can ask them to read a different way. And you can often get results that way that are harder to get other ways. Now, I, I, I do have a, a question.

As a, a copywriter, and as, you know, someone who is done producing, what was the most challenging part of being produced, of taking somebody else's work, taking somebody else's direction, and, uh, and, and doing that? What was the most difficult part of that, the biggest, the biggest change, the biggest adjustment?

For me, it was standing in that booth and being handed copy that I would have written a different way. And I look at the copy. Well, I don't want to say that. You can say it. It's all right. I'm being tactful. But no, there, there are sometimes you're asked to read things that just don't make You, you just think, ah, man, this would be so much better if I could just do this or twist this phrase or whatever.

But you can't. It's your job to read it the way it is. But as you know, with one of the scripts we did, something did just slip out of my mouth. An idea came to me because I didn't like the way it ended. I thought it was flat. And so I popped out a different ending. And you really loved it. And so we changed it.

And that was really fun. I mean, I really enjoyed that process. So I have a different question now, and this question is for Sam. Oh, no. Sam, what was most different or interesting or difficult in working with somebody like Mary who has that experience, who is not I mean, obviously we work with a lot of people who this is their first time ever in a booth, ever in this situation.

Yours is a very different case. And Sam, from your perspective, actually as the producer for this, What was that like? Was it different? Was it more difficult? Was it easier? What was, uh, what was that like? Terrible. It was so difficult. So challenging. It was really hard to do. No, honestly, working with Mary was one of the easiest demos I ever produced because, because I really think and agree with what she's saying, that copywriting element.

With the spot that Mary is referencing, I believe it was Heaven's Chocolate or something of the like, and she changed the ending. Temptations. Temptations Chocolate. It was the spot, and she changed the ending line that, The, the change she made not only made the copy better, if we were creating a whole branding approach for this, like, product that doesn't exist, this fake product that we made up, she, we, she came up with a whole marketing campaign.

Like, that's how well she understands copy and storytelling and how to bring it to life. And the thing that was great about Mary, too, is because she is a writer, she knew instantly what The moment should be, what words should be emphasized, and how to best tell the story. Even if it was just a, a really subtle nuance at the beginning of a line.

Something, all the subtleties became very apparent, and that was a wonderful thing. I think, uh, Mary one, actually gave, I don't know if she said it, uh, today or before, at one point when we were talking. gave me the advice of like, what's the great way to get better at being a voice actor? Write copy. Write copy.

Get familiar with the writing side of it, too, because what you're really doing, those are the wo that's what you're working with. You're working with words as a voice actor, so you need to understand all the nuances in the writing. And if you want to have fun with it, write, uh, write a 30 second commercial, which will be about 75 words, give or take, depending on how fast the person talks.

But write a 30 second commercial, if you're a voice actor, and hand it to someone in your family or a friend, and ask them to read it, as if it were a commercial, and watch what happens. And then try to get a reading out of them the way you wrote it, in your head. That's a really fun exercise to do. So now not only are you copywriting, but you're also producing, and you're getting the perspective that you have.

Yeah. , right? Well, you're going to be doing all those things when you're standing in the booth anyway, remember, this was my first time in the booth too. I've always been outside the booth, so this was a super interesting experience for me. Which do you, you know, waiting to be directed and, and, and trying to do something the way somebody else wanted, not the way I wanted.

It was a super interesting experience. Which, which do you prefer, or do you, or do you have a preference? Of being in or out of the booth? I like them both. I mean, working with you was really fun, I have to say. This is one of the most fun things I've done in the past few years. Just the whole voice training and then going up and working with you in person and standing in that booth with my little headset on and, you know, my top screen.

It was just really, really fun. I loved it. So, um, but I also love, I love copywriting. I love being able to get an idea in my head and then make it work on paper and make it work in voice. It's just, it's a fun experience and it's one that everybody who's a voice, who's a voice actor really should have. You really should start writing something, not that you're going to ever put it on air for yourself, but just to have the experience of hearing something in your head, knowing how you want it read and then handing it to somebody else and seeing what happens.

It will make you a much more sensitive person when you're reading copies, I think. It'll also make you a lot more sensitive to the producer that you're working with and what they're going through, which oftentimes there's a disconnect there because you just simply don't have that perspective. Right, the hardest thing, the hardest thing for me, um, I'm just thinking back now, there are some times where you can't be present for one reason or another, as a copywriter, you may have a schedule conflict, you may actually be out of town when something needs to be produced, and the hardest thing is when you turn it over to somebody else, and they bring it back, and it's not what you had in mind, then you're kind of stuck, you kind of learn to live with it.

So that's tough. You know, I'm thinking more, too, about the experience that you have, Mary, and also working with you. And one thing that was so great from my side of the table producing you is that, like, we could collaborate. It became an incredibly collaborative process because you not only were the talent, you could also work on the copy, you were thinking about it from the production angle, and you could do all of these things at once.

And I, too, like to work that way as well. It's like, I'm thinking about the writing, I'm thinking about the sound, I'm thinking about all of these other elements. And when you, as the talent, and the producer are kind of on the same page, it's really easy, and I think that's something that a lot of voice actors might not develop, and I think that's something that they might want to consider, is developing all sides of it.

How should this sound? What sounds good to you? I always tell people, develop your ears as much as you're developing your voice, because your taste is important. is more, almost more important, I would argue, than your voice and your vocal apparatus. That ability to bring stories to life from all different angles.

Thinking about it from a production angle. Thinking about it from a voice talent angle. Thinking about it from a copywriting angle. Then when you can play with all of those different things, you're playing on so many levels. And it makes really dynamic reads. Yeah. And one of the most important things as I'm listening to you, it comes to mind again.

Is learning how to put punctuation in the sent in the, uh, copy with your voice. Yeah. And I remember stopping at one point. There was a very long sentence you had given me to read. And one of the little commercials, and I didn't see the question mark at the beginning, I only saw it at the end. So I read it as if it were a declarative sentence, and suddenly I realized, oh, it's an interrogative sentence.

So I started over and read it again, but putting punctuation in your voice is critically important. And that's, that's one of those skills that I think you get better at over time. Uh, I know, I, I taught for a long time, I'm still teaching actually, and one of the schools I taught in was, uh, in Long Island, in Queens, and these kids had never read aloud before.

And when you ask them to read something, they have no punctuation in their voice, they just read a stream of words. So I remember constantly saying to them, put punctuation in your voice, put punctuation in your voice, and then I would demonstrate to them. And there are hilarious examples on the internet, uh, all over the place.

I think, let me see, um, I wrote down some of them. Uh, where's the really funny one? Oh yeah, this is a very, this is a classic one. This is a classic one, and I'm sure you've heard it before. But it's, you can read it two ways. You say, a woman, without her, man is nothing. Versus, a woman without her man is nothing.

The only difference in those readings is punctuation. Totally. And you can really mess up a reading if you don't punctuate your reading correctly with your voice as you're going along. So it's fun to practice that too. Is it twenty five dollar bills or is it twenty five dollar bills? You have to do that with your voice.

I hope it's the first one. Yeah, well, there's another funny one I found on the internet. I kind of search for these things so I can use them in my classes. Um, there's a really funny one, which is, I find inspiration in cooking my family and my dog. Versus, I find inspiration in cooking my family and my dog.

Don't cook your family. Don't cook your family. Don't cook your family and your dog. Yeah. And another one that I found was I want, this is, I guess, a student talking, I want to thank my parents, Tiffany and God. Versus, I want to thank my parents. Tiffany and God. You hear the difference? So, these are fun things to practice.

And anybody, if you have a voice talent out there who wants examples to practice, you just go on the internet and Google um, hilarious punctuation or something like that. Or the difference punctuation makes. This is how I gather examples for my classes. I go and look on Google, and I start collecting them and making lists.

And then I have the students read them. And it makes for a lot of fun in class, too. And the funnier examples you can find, the more quickly, or the quicker the person will learn because you can hear the difference it makes. Josh, this is a question for you. When you're doing announcing, when you, because your background, sports announcing, you have a great ability to flow.

Do you think in terms of punctuation? Do you think in terms, or what does that look like for you? Um, when I was broadcasting, not so much, that was more stream of consciousness. Um, mostly because it's continuous action. So I guess I really didn't think in terms of that per se. But, um, You know, my background is also a little bit in acting also, which I think kind of, kind of helps that too.

So I think that is what leads to that more kind of flow that I have versus, uh, you know, just the, the live sports broadcast is, it's unique in that it has to be this continuous stream. Um, you know, a basic non stop, so I, you know, I, I don't particularly think of it in terms of that, and it's funny, if you listen to my early broadcast, it's very choppy, it's very broken up, it's very segmented, uh, it takes a while to get that flow, which almost makes it seem like one long run on, so not really probably what you had in mind there, but, uh, Well, no, the reason I ask is, uh, it kind of does explain what I was looking for.

I know for me, the more when I write, uh, especially when I'm writing for the microphone, I write and, uh, thinking about what Mary's saying as well, I write with ellipses all the time because that's kind of how I talk. That, for me, when I'm, instead of writing a comma, I think of a comma as an ellipses or I think of a period as an ellipses where there is action still occurring in between but I am pausing and I'm driving to these points.

So I, and I feel like that's something that you do naturally with your phrasing. So I was just wondering if there was a conscious effort of like, Oh, when I'm on the microphone, I think to a point. And then I kind of have an ellipsis, and then I think to another point, so I was curious. I just try not to think at all, if I can help it.

I find that to be most effective for me in pretty much all aspects of life. You, sir, are succeeding. I just want to add that here. Thank you. Well, and of course, there's a big difference in working from a script and working just as a natural, you know, sports broadcaster, where you are doing stream of consciousness, and you're just keeping it going, keeping it going, keeping it going.

And nobody's asking you to produce a certain way. A specific way. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, but I still yeah, it's so interesting. So, uh, Mary, I love everything you're saying We could trick producers if we've if i've learned anything from you is you can be savvy and make deliberate mistakes Uh to be like, oh, yeah.

Sorry. I just I thought it said that to perhaps Oh change the read change the copy. That's something we can do as voice actors really smart Uh, if you had to say what is the one trait you value most when you had to cast a voice actor? What is that intelligence? Without a doubt. I told you when we were talking privately that there was an announcer I used to hire On my, I think I hired him on my Armstrong Quirk account at BBDO.

He was so easy to work with. He did not have a character voice or one of those voices that you remember because it's a little bit odd and that, that can be valuable in and of itself. But he was so smart about his readings and he had a terrific sense of timing. And in a commercial, sometimes you put more words in than you should because the advertiser wants to include an extra point.

And this man could pick up a sentence, uh, Second or two seconds or drop a second or two on request. Cause he was so accurate and his readings were really smart. So he took minimal direction or it required minimal direction to get him to do something really beautiful. I loved working with him. And once I worked with him, once I hired him repeatedly for that quality.

So you don't have to have, you know, a particularly unusual voice. If you have smarts and you can bring the smarts into the recording booth. That's what, for me, what was really important. I love that. Yeah. That's, yeah, that's, that's, that's, uh, that's good. Well, Mary, thank you so much for taking some time early, early, early in your morning to, uh, to chat with us.

We truly, truly do appreciate it. Uh, you can definitely go back to sleep. I would recommend it. That's what I'm going to do also. It's getting warmed up. It is. I can tell. It is. But no, thank you so much for coming in and chatting with us. You have such an interesting perspective, you know, on the whole industry from your side of it.

So I think not only do we appreciate having you on, but I think our listeners will really appreciate getting, you know, getting your unique kind of viewpoint on things. Well, it's been really fun, Sam, as always. Now I can say that with you, as always. Oh, my, the pleasure has been mine, Mary. It really, it was a pleasure working with you and producing your demos, too.

It was a breeze. And for anyone out there, too, I think that copywriting comment is invaluable because what Mary brought to the table so easily is that she understood copy. She understood how to bring it to life. She understood what words to emphasize and how to tell that story that was on the page, even if she disagreed with it, which she sometimes did, which was amazing.

It was so much fun. So it was a great collaboration. So I really, really enjoyed it. And I really appreciate you coming on early in the morning. Oh, it was my pleasure. It was my pleasure. And anyone who's listening, if you have any questions for Mary from her perspective, uh, please let us know. So send your notes to, uh, to Sam at voicecoaches.

com and, uh, we'll definitely pass it along, Mary, if that's all right, if anyone has any questions for you that we can, we can certainly bring up. Well, outstanding. Well, thank you again for joining us and, uh, and good luck on this new endeavor in, uh, in, in your career. I mean, I know your career has, uh, has taken many twists and turns, but, but best of luck in this, uh, in this new endeavor for you.

And I have no doubt that it'll be as successful as your previous ones as well. Thank you so much. I have a lot of fun in life, I must say. I really do. And this has been one of those nice experiences for me. Thank you so much. Oh, it has been our pleasure. So, uh, so again, thank you so much to Mary. Thank you all for tuning in this week at Voice Coaches Radio.

Again, if you have any questions for us, comments, concerns, anything we can help you with, please let us know. Sam at voicecoaches. com is the easiest way to get in touch with Sam or myself. Uh, Sam, anything to add? Perfect. Nope, nothing to add. Alright, so thank you again, Mary, for Sam, I'm Josh, and until next time So long, everyone.

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Josh and Sam from our team interview Mary, an industry veteran who has just moved to the voice acting side of things. She’s enjoying her time behind the mic so far!