DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #9: Why I Submitted…no, I mean why I submitted to trends rather than trying to change the course of established trends. What did you think I meant?

The Sennheiser 416: a popular voice-over mic and, more significantly, a symbol of Ernie Anderson’s legacy.

DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:

The microphone you see near the top of this blog entry is the Sennheiser 416 shotgun microphone. It’s extremely popular in the L.A. area, and many VO talent praise it for its “up close and personal” sound that can cut through the toughest of music and sound effects mixes. However, this mic was not at all designed with VO in mind. So how did it get so popular in the VO world? It got popular, and became one of the most used mics in the VO industry…all because a man named Ernie Anderson was difficult to work with.

I suspect many people who have been doing VO for are while are familiar with this story, but for the benefit of those who aren’t—and because I love talkin’ about it—it bears repeating. You see, one of my biggest influences in the technical world of voiceovers was the late Mike Sommer, who tragically died late last year. I learned so much from him, but one of my favorite stories that he was able to impart to me was the “origin story” (for lack of a better term) of the Sennheiser 416.

Again, for the benefit of those who don’t know, a shotgun mic is a thin, longer mic that is designed to zoom in on a single source of sound. In doing so, it cuts through a lot of background noise so that whoever the mic is pointed towards can be heard accurately and clearly. It was designed primarily for film, TV, and on-site news reporting where someone needed to be heard above other background noise (for the record, shotgun mics don’t eliminate background noise, they only mitigate it, but often that’s all people who were using the mic were asking for). As such, it was not primarily designed with VO in mind.

To be fair, the only mic made so far that was constructed and actively advertised as being a “VO mic” is Harlan Hogan’s MXL VO:1-A mic, as most other mics that voice actors use were made with musicians and vocalists in mind (including the legendary Neumann U87). However, those are very sensitive condenser microphones that need to be in very carefully treated recording environments, because they will pick up EV-ER-Y-THING. Going into a booth and recording voice-overs behind a sensitive mic had long been considered the standard for the voice-over industry…

…Until one day…

Back in the late 70’s, the 80’s, and the early 90’s, when the industry was much smaller, the king of the industry was a voice actor by the name of Ernie Anderson. Anderson had a deep, warm, kind but authoritative voice that he put to use for pretty much everything ABC did. In fact, on one appearance on the Dave Letterman show, when introducing himself he said, “I am the voice-over for ABC.” I have been casually told by people who knew Ernie that he was a nice guy, with a very wry sense of humor.

He was, however, also known for not being the easiest man to work with. He swore constantly, he rarely had anything nice to say about the copy he was given to read (or the writers who wrote it), and if he was in a bad mood, he wouldn’t attempt to hide it.

No, seriously. Here’s a few outtakes of his. I’ve transcribed them for those who prefer to read, but Ernie’s actual audio samples have been inserted (and censored) into my audio narration of this blog entry.

ERNIE: “Soooo, if any of you or your friends—AWW, JESUS!”

ERNIE: “JESUS CHRIST!”

ERNIE: “I’m ****** leaving here!”

ERNIE: “Roll the ****** thing and shut her up. Just say ‘we’re rolling, quiet on the set.'”

ERNIE: “It ain’t gonna mean one more ****** video, Jesus God…there is a way to do this ****. And this isn’t it.”

ERNIE: “Aww, ****! Call Vince! I’m part of the ****** show, I don’t want to have to repeat—(producer interjects)—no [you may not have said anything], but you gave me that god-**** look.”

ERNIE: “Jesus, this is terrible ****** writing.”

ERNIE: “See…I’m gonna tell you how you can save this piece of ****.”

ERNIE: “Where do they find these ****** writers?”

ERNIE: “WHOEVER is responsible for producing this thing has no idea what the **** they’re doing!”

ERNIE: “Let me just also say that not only did I think it was not funny, I didn’t think it was well-done.”

ERNIE: “And, you’ll meet our special gue–**** it, *****, ****!”

ERNIE: “And you’ll meet our special gue–AWW, ****!”

ERNIE: “I’m not gonna do that whole ****** thing again—(producer tells him to “chill out”)—I’m chilled out, you should see me when I’m really ******.”

ERNIE: “WHERE ARE YOU, *******!? ****, ****!”

See? Told ya.

So one day, Ernie decided that he was fed up with being in a stuffy booth, and said that if he was going to be constantly doing so much voice-over work, he wanted to be comfortable and sit in the bigger, more comfortable mixing room. If I made that request today, the clients and engineers would tell me, “too bad,” as they would for almost every other voice actor. Ernie was the king back in the day though, so rather than tellin’ him, “too bad,” they immediately began looking for ways to make him more comfortable.

Enter the Sennheiser 416.

The problem with having Ernie work in the mixing room was that it was not as acoustically conditioned as the booth was. Furthermore, there were a ton of noisy, analog editing machines (remember that this was long before everything went digital). An engineer who was working with Ernie walked over to a nearby TV set and grabbed a 416. He set it up in the mixing room, figuring that a shotgun mic would help cut through the background noise of the editing machines. Some acoustic foam was slapped on the walls of the mixing room, and they tested Ernie out on it. They thought he sounded good, he thought he sounded good…and he was comfortable. From that point on, Ernie carried a 416 to all of his gigs, and never worked in a booth again unless it was an absolute necessity.

In being difficult to work with and demanding certain working conditions, Ernie would perhaps unknowingly affect an entire industry. All of a sudden, EVERY studio had a 416 on hand specifically with voice-overs in mind. Especially for deeper-voiced male voice actors who did promos, like Ernie did. It’s so popular in Los Angeles, where he worked, that the mic was eventually given the nickname, “The LA Mic.”

Before I go any further, I’d like to be clear that I’m not endorsing any particular microphone for anybody’s voice-over needs (you go to George Whittam for that).  In fact, many people don’t have nice things to say about the 416, and the general consensus is that it sounds horrid on female voices. In fact, popular character voice actor Corey Burton wrote an entire article—which I’ll link to here—describing in great detail why he absolutely LOATHES this mic.

Rather, I want to talk about something else that absolutely amazes me to this day—that there was a guy whose influence was so powerful that an entire industry essentially adapted to his requirements…and all because he was uncomfortable and difficult to work with! How many among us can ever say that we have that kind of influence? Ernie may have set trends, but most of us have to follow trends.

So that got me wondering…to what extent is it our job to set trends as voice actors, and to what extend is it our job to follow trends as voice actors? On the one hand, we have to be able to do what’s popular as a way of being marketable, but on the other hand, we have to inject our own unique personalities into VO as a way of establishing our own unique brand. Several of my fellow voice actors have said, “The VO industry has enough voices, they don’t want another voice, they want you.”

I go back and forth about that. Yes, clients nowadays don’t want anything too generic. Leaving one’s mark on the VO world makes their VO projects not only memorable, but in many ways profitable.  It’s also certainly nice to think that someone wants you, and when you get to the top of show biz, your very name can be your brand. In other words, rather than making your brand, “the tough, rugged, macho voice,” when you’re at the top, you have the power to brand yourself by simply stating your name—i.e., “My name’s Harrison Ford.” Ford can simply book jobs because he’s his own brand!

How many of us will reach that level, though? In the end, we have to provide a service to clients and give them what they want. They’re only so interested in someone who’s obsessed with their voice and putting their mark on another product, clients want someone who will accurately communicate their message, whether it be a promo, a commercial, or a character. Hence the reason that “voice acting” is considered “acting,” not talking in front of a microphone. If a client calls me back and tells me to deliver a piece of copy differently, it would be unbelievably rude of me to tell them how to do their job and say…well, actually, let’s drop another quote of Ernie’s.

ERNIE: “(In response to a producer): **** you. I’m not even gonna talk to you.”

ERNIE: “I won’t walk out the door if I don’t think it’s right.”

I could never get away with that. So, who knows what different life experiences will affect my opinion. For right now, though, here’s what it is: clients want voice actors who can deliver what they want. Injecting your own personality in small doses is a great idea to keep it from being too generic, but make your personality the absolute center of the project, and you’ll be treading too far from popular trends. The very same trends that clients hire us to follow.

Maybe some of us will reach the level one day where our name is our brand. In the mean time, whenever I see a 416, in my mind, I can hear Ernie Anderson’s deep, warm, kind but authoritative voice, saying…

ERNIE: “I am sitting here ******* dying!”

PS: For those interested, I’ve attached a separate audio clip at the bottom of this article that contains a string of Ernie’s outtakes, totaling ten minutes. They’re absolutely hilarious, and just like the samples used in this blog entry, all instances of swearing have been beeped out in the interest of considering those with sensitive tastes. Still, be careful how loud your speakers are when you listen to this.

ERNIE’S (BEEP)ING HILARIOUS OUTTAKES:

Ernie Anderson: Not only was he a legendary voice actor, but if the outtake at 7:39 is anything to go by, then if he had a horse, he’d buy it oats and **** it.

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #9: Why I Submitted…no, I mean why I submitted to trends rather than trying to change the course of established trends. What did you think I meant?

  1. I met Ernie once when he came back to Cleveland and visited my old station. He might have been hard to work with, but did he have funny stories to tell!

    • I’m sure he did, Brad–I would have LOVED to have met him (I grew up in the Cleveland area too)! I’ve heard from a couple people who worked with him, and the response seems to be pretty consistent–he was difficult to work with, but if you put that aside, he was a great guy with a very funny sense of humor.

  2. Great article, Dave! I often ponder this same dilemma regarding sounding “trendy” versus authentic. Personally, I absolutely despise the more recent trend of sounding “conversational” – that is, whenever “conversational” equals a deadpan/apathetic/careless delivery style.

    Carelessness is probably my absolute biggest pet peeve in just about any aspect of life, so needless to say I have more than a twinge of resentment toward advertisements that insist on having voice “actors” simply read lines without delivering any sort of emotional involvement or thought towards the product whatsoever. Needless to say, I tend to suck at those types of spots, which I am perfectly okay with. Apathy doesn’t require “talent”, and I’ve resolved that in 2012 I personally plan to cater as little to that talent-less trend as humanly possible by focusing on how to bring spots to life. (That’s not to say I can’t be bought, but there haven’t been any offers tempting enough to be too concerned about it just yet!) I admire Ernie’s dedication to his craft & standards of quality and how that forced the rest of the industry to pay attention and actually consider doing things differently.

    Cheers!
    Mara

    • Thank you very much, Mara. 🙂

      It’s interesting to me that you think that “conversational” is the trend nowadays, because lately I’ve been thinking that commercials have been gettin’ less conversational and a tad more “broadcast-ish.” I actually booked a very nice infomercial recently and, per the instructions of the audition, gave what I felt to be a “conversational” delivery. They called me to tell me I got the gig, but then added, “Could you be less conversational, though? That was our fault, we shouldn’t have wrote that, we want it louder and more on the cheesy side.” I was a tad surprised that they made that request but, hey, they’re paying me!

      I do agree that Ernie was very dedicated to his craft, though. He may not have had nice things to say about the stuff he was told to read, but a lot of that stemmed from the fact that he took pride in his work and wanted to feel like he gave it his best at the end of the day. Perhaps that was part of the reason for his success. One person that I casually talked to on YouTube who knew Ernie (maybe I’ll track him down and ask him more questions) said that yes, Ernie was difficult to work with, but his frustration often stemmed from having to deal with the politics of show biz. “He didn’t have much tolerance for BS,” as this guy put it. In a business with a lot of seedy stuff like show biz, that’s pretty admirable from a certain point of view.

      • Ahhh yes, infomercials are a whole different ball o’ wax! I recently had an über “cheesy” project for a jewelry infomercial, no less. They wanted so over-the-top that my TLM 103 was practically covered in sap by the end of the session. Go figure! But I couldn’t say there wasn’t any emotion required for that one! 😀

  3. Dave. Wonderful article. I experienced everything you said about the Senn 416 and about Ernie. He was my hero when starting years ago in the L.A. VO industry. When he came to L.A., I heard he couldn’t get arrested until he auditioned for “The Love Boat”. The way he said the name cinched it and the rest was history. From the Fall Guy . . . into doing multiple promos in one. One of the engineers I worked with many times,Pat McDonald aka Paddy-o, also recorded Ernie for ten years at L.A. Studios. He had some stories about Ernie. Bottom line . . .Ernie was the best and clients wanted him. As for the Sennheiser 416. What you said was so true. Great on barritone male voices like ours, lousy on most women. I have it and the TLM 103 and U87. After many years using the 416, I use the U87 , or TLM 103 in my booth. Both also great microphones for VO. And the U87 for singers. When I was playing music in the studios of L.A., it was THE mic.
    Everyone sounded great on it. There were others used, but that was and still is the “go to mic” for most singers and for ADR & Character voices for animation. Thanks and cheers. Brent Brace/Westside Studios

    • Hey Brent–thanks for commenting, and I’m glad you enjoyed my writing!

      Your thoughts on Ernie are yet another addition to the near-universal consensus that people who worked with him had. It seems that even the people who acknowledge that he was difficult to work with praise THAT aspect of him in a positive light, thinking of his attitude more as a loveable quirk than an annoying hindrance. All the more reason that I would have loved to have met him. I was still a kid when Ernie was doing promos, so I only have so many memories of them…but even my family members who didn’t know him by name remember his classic delivery of “THE LOOOOOOOOOOOVE BOAT.” He got to be the King of the Industry for a reason…and a lot of that had to with the fact that he was damned good and what he did. As I mentioned in my reply to Mara, it’s also pretty admirable from a certain angle that he refused to put up with BS in a business that’s full of it.

      Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of the 416 myself. I don’t despite it like Corey Burton does, and it doesn’t sound horrible on my voice, but it’s not really that great on me either. I know clients value its ability to cut through the mixes, but I don’t mind going the extra mile by using EQ and compression to take care of that. As Mr. Burton pointed out in his article, the overall sound of the 416 can be a tad flavorless. I suppose one could argue (and many have) that some clients don’t really care about “character” so much as they care about a “big sound,” so I wouldn’t be opposed to using the 416 for promos or radio imaging. For many other applications where hearing the subtleties of one’s voice is vital–like character work–I would never use it in a million years if I had the choice.

      Still, those are just my thoughts on it. Many people love it, and I’m not about to tell other people that what works for me will work for them. I never give advice, only opinions, but if I ever could give advice on anything, it would be: “do whatever works.” So I’m not a huge fan of the 416, but I also don’t want the 416 to be driven to extinction quite like Mr. Burton does. If it’s working for other people, then awesome. It certainly worked for Ernie, and he’s one of the few voice actors who could brag that he was the “King of the Industry” at one point!

      • Hey, Dave. Thanks for getting back to me. Yeah, as so many pro engineers have told me, especially those in New York where the U87 and TLM 103 are seemingly most used for VO, they can make any mic cut a track with a little EQ and the right compression. The 416’s characteristics, by having a small diaphragm and being super-directional, help the mic give a natural cut without doing much to it. They also used a Schoeps CMC6-41s on me once in a while. Anyway . . .with the advent of TV commercial budgets in the toilet the past several years and the Web and telecommunications systems taking over via VOIP, there’s a lot of work in the non-broadcast and web cast arenas and many are using Neumann U87s and TLM 103s along with other mics, for this. I’ve done trailers & promos with the 416 and U87. Both for different textures without changing the transparency of my voice. Even an AKG 414 a couple times. (the studio didn’t have anything else}. That mic is too brittle at the top end. Of course, if you read well and sound good on an SM 58, it’s better than sounding bad on a Neumann. Getting back to Ernie. Although I never met him, his legend of bad attitude always reminded me of another phenomenal talent in a different art. Legendary great drummer, Buddy Rich. WOW! He and Ernie would have either canceled each other out, or been best of friends. I new buddy. I spent many years in the majors as a Jazz and Pop drummer, before becoming a VO artist and Buddy? He didn’t like anybody. Again, he was the greatest drummer and soloist on the face of the earth. Like Ernie and voice-overs, until the late Don La Fontaine took over the Trailer Scene. Another Legend at that time. Dave, always a pleasure. Brent

  4. @Brent

    Sure, no problem, I like talkin’ to people! And I love me the TLM 103 and the U87 as well, both sound very god on my voice. My favorite pre-and-mic combo that I’ve had the pleasure of using them with so far is a Focusrite Liquid4. I don’t own that pre myself, but whenever I have to go to a studio other than my own, I go to Magnetic Studios in Columbus, and that pre is a REALLY cool pre because it has the ability to mimic a ton of other pres.

    And as for Don…well, talk about another voice-over legend I would have loved to have met! Perhaps a little more so than Ernie, if only because I’m old enough to remember a lot of Don’s work. While I don’t mean to belittle the deaths of others, I think it would be fair to say that certain celebrity deaths mean more to some than to others, and I remember being really bummed the day I read on the IMDb news section that Don had passed away.

    And there’s something relevant to be said about my blog entry’s original topic on trend-setting as far as Don is concerned. I can’t find the clip, but long ago I watched a video clip where he said, “The best voice actors I know are the ones who understand their relationship with words.” I’ve often tried to use that quote as my overall guiding principle in voice acting.

    In fact, because this always puts a smile on my face, I’m gonna re-post the link to another video that I love pointing people to about Don:

    • Dave, thanks for the clip. Paul Pape studied trailer voice-overs with me at our studio in Westlake Village, CA back in the nineties. He wanted to break into the movie trailer realm. A stretch from ADR as he always did, and very well I might say. It was nice to see him. I’ll give him a call. Cheers. Brent

  5. Pingback: DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #30: Why I’m Not Myself…no, I mean why I do research for my VO roles and auditions. What did you think I meant? | DAVE'S AUDIOBLOG

  6. I’m a newbie VO student (though an old guy) who needs to buy a VO mic for about $200 ($300 max) or less. Voice is mid- to- low baritone though I can vary the timbre somewhat. Recordings will be made at home with little or no wall/ceiling sound treatment for starters.

    What mic would you folks recommend for me? Other crucial equipment to start? (If successful I may upgrade equipment later.) Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Don!

      Tell ‘ya what. It would be irresponsible of me to answer that question without asking a few questions to you first. Go to my website, http://www.davewallacevo.com, go to the FAQ section, and read the last question (about getting into voice acting). Email me, davewallace@davewallacevo.com, with answers to the seven questions I ask there, and I’ll send you back a super-detailed response (I’m a very humble person, but the one thing I ever brag about is my kung-fu typing speed…so I’ll include A LOT of details in a very short amount of time). Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s