Les Marshak On
The Secrets Of Voice-over Success
By Scott Benjamin
Les Marshak, who nearly 30 years ago gave up the recognition connected with being a Top 40 radio air personality for the anonymity of being a voice-over artist, recently rediscovered what its like to be a celebrity.
A lot of people in the voice-over business prefer being anonymous, said Les, who was an ABC staff announcer in the summer and fall 1969 before briefly succeeding Roby Yonge as the air personality on the Musicradio77 WABC overnight show. For many years he has been one of the top voice-over artists in the profession.
About the only time that Ive given my name is at the end of the show when Im doing a live awards presentation, he said.
However, over the recent months, Les and some of the other 18 contributors to Secrets of Voice-Over Success, coordinated by voice-over announcer and coach Joan Baker (Sentient Publications, $18.95, 188 pages, 2005) have been heralded by aspiring voice-over artists at seminars and book-signings.
We end up feeling like celebrities because when they hear our voices they go crazy, said Les, who is the voice of Macys and NBC Sports and had handled the Academy Awards and the Tony Awards. You just never think that anyone listening to your voice in a commercial would relate to you.
It is very much like how I was when I was younger, he added in a Sept. 8, 2006 phone interview with Musicradio77.com. I knew the names and voices of the staff announcers at ABC and NBC.
A seminar this spring at The Museum Of Moving Image in New York City attracted a crowd of 200 and coverage from Fox News, The New York Daily News, The New York Post and other media outlets, according to a story at Sentientpublications.com.
Joan Baker embarked on the project to assist aspiring voice-over artists and raise money for the Alzheimers Association.
Her late father, James Palmer Baker, was afflicted with Alzheimers disease.
I was never so moved by appreciation for my voice the human voice as when Alzheimers disease claimed the voice of my father before finally claiming his life, she wrote in the Dedication to Secrets of Voice-Over Success.
We thought about our ability to communicate and what would happen if we couldnt communicate, Les said regarding some of guidelines that Joan provided to him and the other voice-over artists that contributed essays.
The roster includes Don LaFontaine who has done over 4,000 movie trailers and, according to the book, is arguably the most successful voice-over artist of all time.
He currently appears on screen in a Geico insurance television commercial.
The contributors also include E.G Daily, Nancy Giles, Bill Ratner, Rodd Houston and Joe Cipriano, all of whom have handled major assignments for many years.
Les lamented that another of the contributors, Fred Collins who was the first voice heard on color television and over the years served as a spokesman for more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies died in August.
He was really the dean of the profession, he said.
Joan and her husband, Rudy Gaskins, established Push Creative Advertising in New York City in 2000. Joan is a coach to several up and coming voice-over artists. She has worked in tandem with former President Bill Clinton on a voice-over for his presidential library, and for such clients as HBO, ABC News and ESPN Classic.
Les said the book is a how-to manual manual for announcers entering the profession which is largely populated by people who initially tried broadcasting or acting.
In the essays and at the seminars we let people know some of the pitfalls of being in the business, he said.
Les said that 95 percent of the members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Announcers and of the Screen Actors Guild are out of work or are making very little money.
You have to have fortitude and a passion, he said regarding the need to overcome the many obstacles in being chosen at auditions.
People can feel very insecure, Les added. We tell the aspiring voice-over people that when you dont get the job, it isnt a rejection, but a way to present yourself for the next job. You shouldnt take it personally.
On another topic, he said that audio digitization has allowed different types of announcers to succeed in the profession.
For example, its easier for a novice in the sense that an engineer can eliminate the rough edges today more easily, Les said.
He said there also are more women in the profession now than when he became a full-time voice-over artist in 1977 following a 7-year stint as an air personality at WPIX-FM in New York City.
Les said that technology has also made it easier to do work outside of the two top markets New York City and Los Angeles.
However, he said that those cities continue to have, by far, the largest share of the business.
Les said that starting in the late 1970s more of the movie trailers and promos started to be produced in Los Angeles. However, he said that today, 80 to 90 percent of the advertising and commercial work is done in New York City.
He said the market for voice-over artists has undergone some changes over the last 10 years.
Advertisers have found that the new, younger generation isnt always receptive to an authoritative voice in a commercial trying to sell them something, Les said Some styles that werent used much before, such as people with quirky voices, are now more popular with the public.
He stated in the book that although an agent can be an invaluable to a voice-over artist, it is important to initiate a rapport with producers, writers and engineers.
Those people go from one project to another or one company to another, Les said in the phone interview. If you establish a rapport, they will remember you when future work comes along. A birthday card or an occasional lunch will be appreciated.
He said one benefit of the seminars to promote the book is that the question and answer sessions have made him analyze what I do.
I usually dont think about technique such a breathing or how to have that internal clock to knock off eight frames in a commercial, Les said. Its made me think much more about the mechanisms and the timing.
The whole experience of contributing to the book and then appearing at the seminars and the book signings has been very gratifying, he added.
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