Oink Ink Radio's Dan and Jim Price, brothers and co-founders of the country's premier radio advertising agency, know more about radio voices than anybody else. This is the third and final piece of Oink Ink's three-part series focusing on the critical role voice plays in producing some of the best radio spots of the last 25 years. Featured below, they share their insights and thoughts on working with actors to get the best radio spots possible.
New York - With more than 25 years' experience in creating some of the best radio spots out there, Oink Ink Radio's Dan and Jim Price have developed a specific approach to getting the best performances out of voice actors for their radio spots. Dan Price, co-founder, and president of Oink Ink, lays the groundwork for the voice sessions by admittedly over-preparing for the session.
"You wouldn't believe the prep we conduct before a session," says Dan Price. "If I revealed my entire list of procedures, people would think I'm nuts, but it's what works best for me."
He's got it down to such detail that his timing calculations for Oink's spots will almost always come within a tenth of a second of the actual timings.
"I prepare for key changes within the music, sound effects or pregnant pauses. It's all mapped out so that I can determine where we are with timings," he said. "And then I have with me back-pocket solutions to solve timing problems so that we never have to spend time fixing those issues during a session - which is the big mistake occurring in almost every session out there, sound engineers tell me. Most audio producers spend a lot of time-solving timing issues; time that could be better spent on making their spots great."
The Price brothers spend the majority of their session time focusing on capturing good audio. Dan Price walks into each session with a specific plan.
"I have notes about script interpretation, a point of view, how I want things read, both big picture and down to nuance. All of these things allow us to hit the ground running the moment a session starts," he said. "I mean, you're on the clock with actors. And that's what we're there for - getting the most out of the time we're in the studio." As ironic as it sounds, Price says the level of preparation is precisely what allows for spontaneity. "The tighter you are from the outset," says Dan Price, "the more time you have to capture that great energy…which evolves into exploration."
According to Jim Price, co-founder and executive creative director at Oink Ink Radio, once the session starts, he expects everyone to be in a position to deliver the best material by the seventh or eighth take.
"At that point, with Dan's advance work and direction, the actors are emotionally into it and they've got all that great momentum built up - the energy is there," Jim Price said. "We've got limited time with actors. Going to take 91 is counter-productive. That's usually a sign that someone has no idea what they want…or how to get what they want."
The Price brothers agree that good auditioning prevents in-studio disasters and sets spots off on the best foot.
"If you're not on a good track early on, it's very difficult to get there. The session has to remain upbeat and positive, no matter what," Dan Price said. "In the very beginning, we keep it light. I don't say much. My main goal is to make sure the actors are comfortable with the situation and not intimidated by the setting. Sometimes we have a room full of clients, people listening on the phone - the atmosphere is not conducive to the actors feeling 100 percent natural; the situation is anything but."
Another positive outcome of the actors' comfort level is their feeling invited to share different approaches that may occur to them.
"Tapping into that is very important. In almost every case, the actor will have done far more sessions and spots than any director sitting in the room," said Dan Price. "And so, early on in the session, I work on the big picture - pacing, getting it to time and overall point of view. From there, we start working on smaller and smaller things. To the point that, by the end, we're doing small individual phrases and then back-pocket script tweaks and ad-libbed jokes."
Toward the end of the recording session, the Price brothers like to leave about 20 minutes to do "extra stuff" in fact - including allowing the actor to try something different entirely.
"We'll do a rough edit while we're there and play it for everybody. Many times, the actors say, 'Let me try something,'" Dan Price said. "And sometimes, it can be even better than what we worked toward."
These days, the Price brothers find that their work is split between actors live and in-studio and via remote recording.
"When we're recording, we may not see all of the actors face to face. Half of what we do, in fact, I'm not in the room with the actor nowadays," said Dan Price. "That was never the case years ago. One of the first times I wasn't in the room with an actor was for Dallas Morning News and I was with the great Hal Riney, who had a very distinct voice; he did a lot of work for Gallo Wines."
Today, technology allows for recording voices from all over the world, Los Angeles mostly. In fact, it's even used to record, say, dialogue with a "husband" in their New York studio while the "wife" might be on the west coast.
"The unfortunate thing is that they're not able to play off each other in a personally connected way, but actors have become very good at it; it's just the way the business has evolved," Dan Price said. "Years ago, it wouldn't be uncommon for me to walk into the booth and chat with the whole ensemble of actors. Now, we don't have that benefit, so I've had to adopt a different way of communicating."
After the recording sessions, the Price brothers will mix a few to a half dozen versions of the commercial for their clients, with a variation of copy or music sound design. They remember the days of years ago when clients would jump on a plane and come to New York to spend the whole week in the studio.
"We would do batches of these spots with clients sitting in on every session. You'd do the whole go-out-to-dinner every night - the whole thing," Jim Price said. "Now, it's very rare for clients to attend sessions for a variety of reasons - cost and technology are at the top."
On one hand, Dan Price says that exploring options in the studio with just the director and actors is great.
"But on the other hand, the client isn't there to understand why you decided to approach problems in a certain way," he said. "Had they been there, they would have likely come to the same conclusions. So, the approvals get a little trickier these days."
One of the things that hasn't changed much is the Price brothers' high standards and the process of working with child actors.
"To me, there's nothing worse than hearing a spot with a kid in it who wasn't used properly or you can't understand him or her," Dan Price said.
Rather than an impressive resume, the Price brothers look for child actors who can mimic.
"We hire children who have the cute voice, but after that, I just need to know if they can mimic," Dan Price said. "I'll perform it as naturally as possible in the studio with them, and they'll mimic it. They do take of each line in the script. Then, we go back and edit the best stuff together - and so far it's worked every time."
Dan and Jim Price rely on their experience of working with their own children, who were often (out of convenience) recorded for spots throughout their childhoods. "But that was a long time ago," says Jim Price. "They're all grown now - and so we leave it to the professionals."