Dan and Jim Price, brothers and co-founders of the country's premier radio advertising agency, know more about radio voices than anybody else. Oink Ink is launching a three-part series focusing on the nuts and bolts of the critical role that voice plays in producing some of the best radio spots of the last 25 years.
In the second piece, featured below, they share their insights and thoughts on then versus now - how working with voice talent has changed through the years.
New York - From their vantage point as leaders creating the best radio spots of the last 25+ years, Oink Ink Radio's founders and brothers, Dan and Jim Price, have observed plenty of changes when it comes to the role voices play in the creation of radio commercials.
"The style of commercials has changed over the years," said Jim Price, co-founder and executive creative director at Oink Ink Radio. "We've gone from a mindset of 'how do we make the best theater of the mind' to now - jumping forward 25-30 years, far more emphasis being put on return on investment. The work has to work harder."
Just because the Price brothers understand the reasons behind the change to their niche industry doesn't mean they don't sometimes miss the 'old days'.
"For a radio purist, the emphasis on ROI doesn't make for quite as much fun and experimentation in the studio," said Dan Price, co-founder, and president of Oink Ink.
"What I mean by that is way back when we would have ensemble actors come into the studio all the time. We would do spots with a 'family', or a boss and his minions sitting around a conference room - all great voice actors, including people like Roger Bowen, the original Henry Blake in the movie M*A*S*H or Richard B. Shull, another great character actor, or Jim Harder - just wonderfully comedic ensemble actors."
Left: Dan Price Right: Jim Price
The Price brothers agree that those voices painted vivid pictures in the listeners' mind's eye of who this person in the commercial was.
"Bowen was the dopey dad or the dimwitted boss, operating a Newton's Cradle on a desk, with marbles pinging back and forth," Jim Price said. "We also had these great 'husband and wife' teams. Bill Fiore and Mary Elaine Monti immediately come to mind. There was a lot of collaboration and scripts were written broader and more dialogue driven. Our clients have expressed a desire to abandon that approach over the years. They now want spots that are more transparent and work harder.
The Price brothers recount a series of flavor-of-the-month-radio-spot styles between then and now that many clients wanted to emulate. It started with cute he/she dialogue spots (like the "Molson couple"), then clients started asking, "Do you have anyone who sounds like Tom Bodett?" (of Motel 6 fame). Then it was the young, cool, hip damaged voice kind of thing.
Jim Price said at Oink Ink Radio, the response to client questions of the sort was simple.
"Rather than do that, why don't we come up with our own thing that other people will emulate - and want to rip off?" he said.
There was also the phase, cites Dan, that happened more in television than radio, but it involved clients being lulled into thinking the voice of the tape editor they had grown used to hearing during production worked well enough for the finished product.
"Yeah, the voice-editor-turned-talent was a thing. People in the inner circle get so comfortable with the sound of the voice that they'd say, 'Hey, let's use his/her voice. It sounds like the person next door.' But that's the problem from my perspective, the voice literally sounds like the guy next door. There was no interpretation, and nothing dynamic or distinctive whatsoever," Dan Price said.
Next came the celebrity voice phase.
"In almost every case, the casual listener has no idea that the actor is famous," Jim Price said. "And the celebrity is almost never as good as about five people we could list, actual voiceover pros, who would have done a better job. At, of course, a fraction of the cost."
Dan Price said that sometimes he's watching or listening to a commercial and he'll ask his family if they recognize the voice.
"And it could be someone as vanilla sounding as, I don't know, Luke Wilson," Dan Price said. "Interpreting copy is a talent."
While the Price brothers admit that they long for the old days, the industry's current atmosphere presents its own set of rewarding challenges.
"Since the copy has to do the yeoman's task in carrying a spot, it now has to be more clever and interesting rather than relying on funny and comedic timing," Jim Price said. "Spots now have to work harder - which means so do we. The commercial has to sell. Less use of theater of the mind means we have to start with clever copy to solve whatever problem we're faced with, but we also need a distinct voice to cut through. There are a different set of challenges we work with today."
These changes in style have affected the casting process.
"Before, we would cast batches of unique spots and start the process over from scratch when producing them. Now, often, we're in more of a rhythm producing the spots," said Jim Price. "There are more shared equities now - more consistency as we build brands."
For example, in some of the recent spots Oink Ink has produced, the same voice is used spot after spot.
"For Lowe's and Staples and many of our clients today, we look for that one voice of the brand - or one style of the brand that may be represented by one or two recurring voices," said Dan Price. "That does, of course, mean more work for fewer people."
Some of the Price brothers' favorite new voices include:
- Stephanie Thomas represented by Solid Talent/Los Angeles
- Gore Abrams and Willow Jensen, both of Cunningham/NY
- And Megan Leonard and Eli Bridges c/o Buchwald/NY
To listen to some of the company's older style, ensemble spots, click here.
Stay tuned for part 3 of the voices series. The Price brothers will share their insights and tips on working with actors to create the best radio spots around.