Updated: Sep 2, 2022
Read this, it's inspiring, amazing and you could learn a lot.
We had a couple of ideas for introductions to Nick Angell's piece for us on his incredible career in audio production.
One thought was simply to steal a quote from his article and use that - 'How to get offered a job in an industry you know nothing about and make a success of it'.
Another thought was to go with a name-based idea (pun) - 'How Nick flew with Angell's' etc etc.
In the end, having read Nick's story we decided to cut to the chase.
it's an INCREDIBLE tale, read it and not only will you be entertained but you'll be a little smarter after you do.
By Nick Angell
Way back in the mid-seventies, my ambition was to work at Olympic Studios in Barnes, London which was, at that time, one of the premier music recording studios in the UK. Between 1966 and 1973, The Rolling Stones recorded six of their albums there, whilst other huge artists such as B.B. King, David Bowie, The Jam, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, Oasis, Barbra Streisand and tons more also graced the studio floor. Sadly, my letter applying for any starter opportunity was rejected.
Many letters later I was contacted by a studio called Molinare that was based in Soho and had been set up at the start of the seventies by Stefan Sargent and Robert Parker, the latter being a highly experienced radio engineer from Australia. They were principally a company specialising in the recording and production of all things aligned to the spoken word with radio advertising being their key expertise. They offered me a job and that’s where my career in an industry I knew absolutely nothing about started.
Since those early days, my entire working life has been in the world of audio production and spent in the company of truly exceptional creative talent and absolutely amazing actors getting behind the mic and providing their dulcet tones for every possible type of product.
It is with this in mind and following a request from the Kinsale Shark Awards, I thought I would write about the bit I enjoy most; voice directing and what it is that a really skilful voice actor brings to a beautifully honed performance.
In my opinion, it is not a coincidence that the artists that have that something extra, whether it’s the placement of an emphasis, a subtle nuance or great timing, are usually very good, accomplished actors and trust me, it’s an art that needs to be learnt and refined. Although they will remain nameless, in the past I have worked with established actors who have been put behind the mic for the first time in their career and have been all over the shop. I always remember one such occasion where, after much coaxing, we got to a really good place. I said to the actor, ‘we absolutely love where you’ve got to, so keep all the warmth, intonations, emphasis, and light and shade, but subtly pick the pace up, as we need to save a second overall’. The next read was two seconds too long and hopeless!
Back in the day, everything was analogue, so we recorded onto quarter inch tape and edited using razor blades. It wasn’t until the beginning of the nineties that I got my first digital system and, of course, the digital world has evolved and got better and better since those days. However, although I could never go back to those analogue days and technology is the super powerful vehicle via which ideas are brought to life, it is a great creative idea that has always been a great creative idea and a brilliant vocal performance that has always been a brilliant vocal performance. No amount of technology can make a bad idea better or a improve a performance, but one thing that definitely has evolved over the years is the style of voice, particularly with an end line.
When I started, pretty well every ‘voice over’ was delivered in an RP style (received pronunciation), which was also known as being ‘BBC’, as they were the bastions of broadcast that upheld the cut glass annunciation of delivering Queen’s English. There were many actors with beautiful RP voices that breezed in and out of studios providing silky end lines. At this time, the world of voice overs was like a little club, which was looked down on by accomplished actors. That was until the word got out that it was rather handsomely paid to sit behind a mic for a small amount of their day and read just a few words! And slowly, but surely, the floodgates started to open and almost anyone could be available to come in and voice your campaign.
In the nineties, however and more specifically, there was a real shift with the style of writing and the actors being cast to perform the chattier words written. No longer was RP the norm and instead there was a move to different dialects and more colloquial performances. The underlying belief was that you needed to speak ‘to’ someone, as opposed to ‘at’ them. Not that the RP style necessarily meant you were talking at someone, but with a looser dialect and more conversational writing, it was easier to invite people into the advertising proposition. Also, at this time there was a dispute between Equity, the actor’s union, and the IPA, the Institute for the Practitioners of Advertising, around the usage/repeat fee system paid to both actors who appeared visually in TV ads and to voice overs. From the IPA’s perspective, the feeling was the money artists were receiving was disproportionate to others in the agency, production and supplier food chain. Equity put up a picket line telling their members to not accept any advertising work until such time the dispute was resolved.
The reason for mentioning this is because, in my opinion, the real floodgates opened at this time to non-equity members, which really played into the hands of the evolving need to broaden the casting search to find non-RP artists. In turn and it was none too soon, as there was a greater focus to ‘type cast’ voices, the pool of choice deepened.
During the dispute the IPA focussed on one such actor called Enn Reitel citing the fact that he was earning vast sums from just being a voice over. He didn’t help himself by an article being published in the Mail titled ‘The Millionaire Voice Over’, or something like that. If you don’t want to totally piss of the industry, don’t do something so stupid! Anyway……at the time, Enn was by far in a way the most successful artist for the very simple reason that he was extremely versatile and brilliant at what he did. Whatever the dialect, character or attitude required Enn could deliver. However, the industry was also very lazy when casting and frequently defaulted to booking him, so actually it was the industry fuelling his success. There were many ‘jobbing’ artists who were very good, but nowhere near the earning level of Enn, so it was fantastically tough on the great majority, but I have to say that I did feel the time had come for a review.
Sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent there! What I was actually reflecting on was what has got us all to where we are now in respect of the simple joy of pretty well being able to secure whoever you want to voice your campaign, subject to budget. And how lucky I am to have worked with the great and the good over many decades and through those experiences having learnt the nuances of directing an artist to get the absolute best out of a script through great performance. If I was asked to identify the single most important thing behind the right performance, it would have to be ensuring the actor completely and unequivocally understands the sense behind what is being delivered. Now I realise that probably sounds a bit patronising. It is definitely not intended in that way, but I have found on a number of occasions that to get what you’re after requires an explanation of what you’re trying to get out of the words they’re delivering and that can mean discussing the sense behind a certain line.
Many years ago, I recorded Dame Emma Thompson for an animated character she was playing in a Disney Film. The difficulty in that sort of situation is she didn’t have the benefit of playing off anyone, even though one of the producers offered to read lines in, so there was inevitably much thought given to how she was responding to other characters in the scene and the geography of where she was visually. What struck me most, however, was the scrutiny she gave with every line and, as I’ve already talked about, her need and great capacity to dig as deep as possible to truly get the sense and intent behind each line out there. When all of these nuances align, which certainly was the case with her, one can really be taken aback by the power of the performance, which can literally send shivers up your spine.
There are simply too many artists to name check who have the capacity to bring that little something extra to a read, but I feel I must mention the amazing Sir Ian Holm who, sadly, is no longer with us. For a relatively diminutive man who had the most incredibly soft and yet commanding, resonant voice, he had the extraordinary capacity to metaphorically reach out from the TV or radio, grab you by the lapels and make you listen to every word he was saying. Way back then, I described it as ‘withheld power’, which loosely translated was the explanation of someone’s voice that seemingly did so little, but still managed to hit you between the eyes with such power it forced you to listen. For many years he was the go-to person for numerous charity ads, as his tone so perfectly matched the often-challenging stories he told that led to the encouragement of a donation. Absolutely brilliant.
My final thought with voice direction is to not simply assume that an actor knows best. Even some of the greats want guidance, ideas and, ultimately, good direction to get them to the place where the best possible delivery has been given. A while ago and after finishing a reasonably long session with the lovely Sir Michael Gambon, whilst walking him to reception he thanked me profusely for all my help and proceeded to tell me he really wasn’t very good at the voice over lark and needed all the guidance and support given. Of course, he is one of life’s wonderfully self-deprecating chaps who is truly brilliant, but it was still lovely to hear.
I continue to love what I do in all aspects of audio production, but there is a genuine joy that comes from advertising, as we’re so often dealing with such time limitations, so bringing something to life where the concentration on just about every frame is so critical is a truly wonderful thing.
Read more and listen to Paul Burke's interview with Nick at https://davedye.com/2019/10/05/radio-paul-burke-interviews-nick-angell/