From New Castle (PA) to New Orleans (LA) … to quote the California sage Jerry Garcia, “What a long strange trip it’s been!”
Born in New Castle (just north of Pittsburgh) to Charlie & Phyllis, the middle child of five kids, by the time I was five, we’d already relocated all the way to Florida – where we moved two additional times in three years … before moving back north to Youngstown, Ohio.
So, let me see, I’m all of nine years old and I’ve already had five different mailing addresses in three different states in the union. No, pop wasn’t running from the law, just an upwardly mobile and in-demand chemical/mechanical engineer.
My first jobs were newspaper boy, altar boy, and grocery bagging and delivery boy. Boy, that’s a lot of ‘boys’. And great training at a young age in dependability and responsibility for manhood, I might add.
Even as a young dude (boy) through all these very same years, the roots of the recording studio and voiceover career were planted. I took up acting in civic children’s theater, studied ventriloquism (even built my own dummy), taught myself to play the guitar (had my own band in high school) … and fell in love with radio & communications.
Upon graduating high school, with dreams of heading to the military academy at West Point, I spent a year working hard as a land surveyor during the day and attending Penn State by night. When the academy dreams fell apart, I’ve got to admit – it was radio, communications and broadcasting that captured my heart.
So, after carrying a 4.0 in English, Speech, Philosophy and (oh, my) Calculus at Penn State, I decided to drop out, follow my heart and launch a career in radio. Now the fun begins.
When I arrived in New Orleans at Q-93, the station was then owned by Insilco, a Fortune 500 outfit with silver mines all over planet earth!
But I just grew tired and weary of the fragile existence that radio offered and/or threatened, along with the toll on my private and personal life.
You want to know something? Women will only take to that packing and unpacking, up-and-down-the-radio-dial life for just so long … before they say ‘so long’.
Necessity being the mother of invention, I began the Airlift Productions thing – recording and producing ‘voice-overs for export’ – long before it became fashionable. I built my first recording studio in 1984, ‘burned the ships’ (as the expression goes) and never looked back.
Airlift Productions was my opportunity to combine all my loves – acting, music, communications, production and radio – into my own business. Oh sure, I could still run the bus off the road, but at least from now onward … I was the one at the wheel.
1984 was the age of reel-to-reel magnetic recording tape, grease pencils and splicing blocks, cassettes and Fed Ex next-day deliveries. The internet and world wide web, mp3 email attachments, and digital non-destructive edits weren’t even dreams yet in a tech head’s head!
Fast-forward now to 2019… and the kid has stayed in the picture. I still love to paint those mental pictures, color the air with bright pastels and deep earth-toned hues … motivate with sound!
And what a thrill and honor to do it all from the world’s most unique city and America’s most fascinating destination. If you’ve been to New Orleans you know whereof I speak … and if you haven’t, well, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
“It has been my pleasure to collaborate with Mike at Airlift on a variety of projects from sound effects for museum films, to Narration for corporate and commercial work, to high end deeply layered radio spots. He works out of his own custom designed studio, so he has been able to offer a flexibility to accommodate erratic schedules. In every case, he has maintained the highest standards of production that equal anything produced in New York or LA. He is dedicated, tireless, dependable and truly enjoys his work to the point of making the process actually fun. I would not hesitate to recommend his services to my colleagues or anyone seeking a totally professional sound track.” ~ DALE ANTHONY SMITH, Designer/Producer at Multi-Media Corp, New Orleans
Boy, just when you thought you had all the answers … they changed all the questions!
Watching ‘Mad Men’ re-runs on Netflix the other night, it hit me again as to how completely flipped and upside/down marketing & advertising has become from the 20th to the 21st century.
We’ve transitioned rather dramatically from ‘interruption’ marketing to ‘permission’ marketing.
Think about it, from the local disc jockey hitting a commercial and joking about the station ‘paying the light bill’ to the network newscaster ‘interrupting’ the news stories to sell you stuff … ‘interruption marketing/advertising’ was, last century, THE way to get your message across.
Today – in 2019 – even the 7 year old child skillfully navigates the remote control fast-forwarding the DVR box through the commercials … and then turns around and price-comparison-shops from a smart phone in the aisles at Target or Best Buy!
‘Permission marketing’ in the 21st century ‘allows’ the buyer into your world when he is ready to buy. It gives the buyer all the pertinent information needed UPON REQUEST via the device they have on-hand – in many cases IN their hand – to make the buying decision.
So, telling your compelling story on-line, making yourself available 24-7-365, and letting the potential buyer know about your satisfied customers while on-line has indeed become the 21st century marketing challenge.
And no matter the century, it’s just plain human nature that people/buyers will put more trust and faith in what other people have to say about you … than anything you have to say about yourself.
The power of a well worded, sincere testimonial – let alone from someone already known and trusted – speaks volumes about one’s service rendered or product offered.
In a virtual world where, in many cases, the entire transaction is done without human interaction, smiles, winks or handshakes, and across miles and state lines – the testimonial creates trust!
And this is precisely why I’ve just recently dedicated many hours to revamping the Airlift Productions website’s Testimonial Page.
From VoiceOver jobs, music recording sessions & audio books… to telephone systems & educational software – Airlift Productions & I have delivered. Time and time again. From the last century to this one.
So go ahead, tap the 21st-century-brakes for just a second, hit the pause button on the DVR box, and visit the Airlift Productions~Ziants Testimonialpage here – when YOU are ready, 24-7-365 – and we’ll be there for you!
“Thank you Michael for being so accommodating, and making my job truly enjoyable. I’ve recorded in many professional studios all around Australia throughout the years, but I felt right at home and was really impressed with the hugeAirlift Productions recording space & booth you built. Recording with you was as easy as if I were in my own studio back in Australia – and that really makes for a successful session. All your wonderful compliments didn’t hurt the vibe either! My ego appreciates your generous, kind words. Thanks again for being such a gentleman.”
When Denney first rang my phone, he’d found my website in a Google search, had experience behind a microphone – he founded the Weirdos, an LA-based punk band in the ’80s – had moved here to NOLA, and had never done a commercial in his life.
I said, “Well, John, we’ll change all that!”
And change it we did. It began with a commercial demo (heard here); after he landed his first job within two weeks of production, he subsequently returned to produce an animation demo… and a medical demo.
A longtime television news anchor and reporter, Rachel had moved to New Orleans just about ten years ago, and was, in 2017, looking to exit the TV scene and begin self-employment as a VoiceOver artist.
Again, like John Denney, she had a lot of on-camera and on-mic experience, but Rachel had no commercial background.
“For voice over actors, the demo serves as a calling card and is unquestionably the most important tool in the pursuit of voice over work. Mike Ziants and Airlift PROductions produced my first VO demo and within weeks I landed my first job in the industry. Airlift’s state-of-the-art recording studio combined with Mike’s wisdom and expertise provided me with an excellent demo as well as the confidence needed to achieve success.” ~ JOHN DENNEY, Founder/Lead Singer of the notorious LA-based punk band The Weirdos … and relatively new VoiceOver Artist
If you ever recorded at or visited or got silly during Friday ‘happy hours’ at the now-the-stuff-of-legend Airlift Productions Iberville Street location … have you ever paused to consider what it took to create that remarkable space?
It’s not too bold a statement to say that my blood is quite literally in the mortar that holds the very bricks in this wall together! For though I am not a mason or a brick layer, I certainly played one in 1989 on Iberville Street.
With the help of just one other guy (Joe Delery now works in the crime division of the NOPD), I also pounded the nails, hung & floated sheet rock, packed insulation, laid carpet, and wired the entire facility. Whew!
And a whole host of radio rebels, stand-up comics, misfits, in-laws & outlaws!
The mantra through the entire construction stage was ‘Build it…and they will come!’ What a passion, what a studio… what a time!
** A “Mike McCann” classic VoiceOver/Production Demo from the 90s, all produced on Iberville with R-R tape – for NOLA clients like WVUE-TV, Pat O’Brien’s, Times-Picayune, etc. ***
But as much as I loved this location, Iberville street, the elevator, my Endymion parties, and having Venezia’s Italian food, Angelo Brocato’s, Mandina’s & Liuzza’s but a block or two walk away … I flooded twice at this location – and this was well before Mother Katrina came to town!
So, I ran with my prophetic visions and in early 2001 moved the entire Airlift Productions business well out of the flood plain and to the high ground just the other side of the now-infamous breached 17th Street Canal . To start over.
But Airlift on Pomona – along with its construction & marketing challenges – is the story for another blog and another time.
“Working with Airlift Mike in NOLA was an utter pleasure. I was in town for business for a month and needed to maintain my audiobook recording schedule. Mike was accommodating and a pure professional. He mastered the punch and roll technique in 24 hours to be ready for our first session, and over the course of the month we laid down 5 books and a number of auditions. His studio sounds great. The vibe & atmosphere can’t be beat. You’d be hard pressed to find a better recording studio in the southeast – no matter what your needs. I wish I could have stayed!” ~ AMY LANDON, Los Angeles-based Actress & Ultra-busy AudioBook Narrator
And with roots in the great state of Pennsylvania, now firmly re-planted for over thirty years in the bayou state of Louisiana, it’s kind of strange to say but, here in 2018, I feel a stranger to both.
I don’t talk like your average N’awlins folks (“Wherey’at, dawlin’?”), I have a growing disdain for the yearly bacchanal called the “Mardi Gras”, and yet I have no desire to return to the ice-packed, snow-covered northeast.
A man without a country.
But I do have one thing most don’t – a vocation that is also my vacation. And there’s solace in that.
On top of that, it’s a vocation that due to technological and digital advances affords me the opportunity to be heard by – and work for – anyone, anytime, and anywhere on planet Earth!
While the VoiceOver arena is today an incredibly competitive and increasingly overcrowded field, it’s an honor to throw my headphones into the ring every day from America’s most fascinating city, New Orleans, warm-up the Airlift Productionsmicrophones, and create compellingly convincing audio for clients near and far.
And the challenges and obstacles are far more daunting than shooting deer, flushing-out ducks, or spending weekends chasing a little white ball around a golf course.
** Airlift Miketaking a “shot” at Movie Trailer V-O – “Gladiator” **
Outcast? Rebel? Well, sort of, I guess.
But in the meantime, life in Louisiana certainly has its upside, too – cargo shorts & flip-flops year-round, I haven’t bought snow tires in years, and I sure have become a Saints fan. Who Dat?!?
“Micheal Ziants is a great voice talent who is generous with his time and energy. I have worked in TV for years, but needed the guidance of a professional to create my radio reel and found it with Ziants. He made me feel comfortable in studio and encouraged creativity, coaching me to a reel I hope will bring many job opportunities. “ – RACHEL WULFF, former WWL/WDSU-TV Anchor & Reporter
I first met and recorded Norman Robinson in 1991. He was fresh back in NOLA from the White House CBS-TV Network news beat, and was the newly-ordained anchor man at our WDSU.
Little did we then realize, or even think about future days, but the fact is, 27 years later, we’re still at it!
Our most recent project? Recording and compiling every electronic message for every streetcar and bus – even the ferries – in the cityof New Orleans.
“Senior citizens ride the bus for only 40 cents”… “Please look around you for any personal items you may have left behind before exiting the vehicle/next stop, Canal Street.”
NORTA – the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority – tagged Norman and me to record well over 1,500 wav files for use in their system citywide.
** Norman narrates NORTA’s ‘Go Mobile’ App Tutorial **
Rich Lenznow calls KOTV & Tulsa, OK home, a gone pecan from NOLA for over nine years now (gee, Thanks, Katrina), but he served for 16 years as sports director/anchor atWDSU.
Richie and I’ve recorded countless tunes together, including epic anthems to herald the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon fund-raising year-after-year to benefit and support our Children’s Hospital’s life saving efforts for our kids.
** the 1st, of many, Telethon Tunes for Children’s Hospital **
After meeting WWL/WDSU anchor gal Rachel Wulff around the aisles of our local Lowe’s Home Improvement store, I helped Rachel improve her post-anchor life and UP her game by producing a VoiceOver demo for her.
** Rachel’s VO Demo, with her daughter’s cutesy intro **
His compassionate, and knowledgeable in-the-field reporting is always incisive and spot-on. And he picks quite a guitar, at that.
2018 continues to see local NOLA news veteran Camille Whitworthdrop by from time to time for various VO commercial and industrial projects.
Camille dedicated years to the anchor chair at WDSU, and today fills her days public speaking, doing on-camera work for our East Jefferson Hospital, and recording various VoiceOver projects forclients in and around NOLA.
Dependable, personable, and experienced, Camille is always fun to have around the Airlift Studios.
There is simply no reason or need for news anchors to walk away from their skills & finely-honed talents when they walk away from the nightly news anchor desk.
Norman, Rich, Heath, Rachel, Lee & Camille are all exceptionally fine and experienced talents with, as the expression goes, ‘ a lot of good miles left on their tires’.
It has also been said, and rightly so, that journalism, as well as the nightly news, is ‘History – the first draft’.
I am so gratified – and humbled – that these remarkable ladies and gentlemen have all chosen to work with me and Airlift Productions to write new chapters.
And, as Paul Harvey used to intone, tell ‘the rest of the story’.
“I’ve been in studios from the Bayou to the Beltway and I can say after recording my last two audio books with Mike that there is no better place than Airlift Productions. The quality of the production, the studio, and frankly the comfort make it the only place I want to record now or in the future”— JAMES CARVILLE, Political commentator, Tulane professor & Campaign Strategist behind the most dramatic political victories of our generation
Gee, and I almost didn’t take the call that started it all that Monday night after hours in March 2018.
It was a Cory from Tri-Film in Seattle looking for a NOLA-based studio to help out with a project for Microsoft… and beer!
As it turned out, New Zealand-based Toby Ricketts (Microsoft’s voice of choice) was visiting the USA for a relative’s wedding, and was in New Orleans for a few days, and Tri-Film needed help – STAT!
Toby showed up at the Airlift Studios the next day and, to paraphrase renowned author Jules Verne, Toby and I recorded VoiceOver tracks for points all around the globe – in 80 minutes!
** Toby Ricketts on behalf of Beerwulf, Tri-Film… and Microsoft **
So, after we wrapped-up the session for the boys in Seattle, Toby looks at me through the studio glass and asks me, “Mike, do you have time for a few more?”
We then proceeded to call and phone-patch record with Shane in Dublin, Ireland for a trio of industrial reads for safety videos – to be used in plants from the UK to the Middle East… to Southeast Asia!
Toby then says to me, “One more? Please?”
After my consent, we then laid-down the electronic messaging voice tracks for use – at 35,000 feet – for messages to be heard overhead on flights out of Dubai on Saudia Airlines.
So, here I am sitting in New Orleans, but recording for guys in Seattle with a VoiceOver talent from New Zealand… who then takes me to Ireland for work to be used in the UK, the Middle East & Southeast Asia… only to finish-off the session with tracks to be used in an airline at 35,000 feet – all done, tagged & bagged in 80 minutes?!?
To take a trip figuratively – and literally (as the millennial is often wont to say) – AROUND THE WORLD via the Airlift Productions trusty and razor-sharp phone-patch was exhilarating, technicallychallenging… and a riot!
Next time we’ll make provisions for an in-flight meal, brother Toby.
In the meantime, safe travels, pal – and many thanks for the ride.
“I have been in the media industry in the New Orleans area for over 36 years, working in radio, television, and print. During this time, I have had the pleasure of working with many talented individuals. From a production perspective, I have encountered many talents. Beyond any doubt, the most talented person I have done business with isMichael Ziants.
Mike is the quintessential professional–serious about his craft and determined to produce the best work possible for each of his clients. His voice work is superb, his music library is impressive, his studio is outstanding, the final product is always appreciated.
In all future endeavors, when it comes to producing work for radio, television, or the internet, my first call will be to Michael Ziants.”
—KEN TRAHAN – Owner/CEO CrescentCitySports.com & General Manager/Chairman of the Board of the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame Museum, Inc.
When folks first visit my Airlift Productions Studios here in New Orleans, one of their first questions is regarding my motivation for building such an awesome recording space in the first place.
My response? “Well, quite frankly”, I tell them, “I have an entrepreneurial drive that was forged in the fires of unemployment!”
I just grew tired and weary of the corporate radio mentality that treated warm, talented and caring humans – with families to look after – as simple commodities!
As all of America today it seems is constantly being outsourced, marginalized, downsized and capsized, even back in the ’80s, I wanted to create my own future. Enter the Airlift dream.
I would never have been at Q-93 Radio (WQUE-FM) in 1983 had WIFI-FM in Philadelphia not fired me. A format change to “Rock of the ’80s” – Psychedelic Furs, Oingo-Bongo, Roxy Music, X, Berlin – in early ’83 led to my dismissal.
Imagine taking this excuse to the PA unemployment line bean-counters, “Well, the consultants considered my on-air approach & style too adult sounding and too mature for the new format!” Really.
I would never have been at WIFI in Philadelphia had management not fired the entire air staff at WLAC in Nashville. This legendary 50,000 watt radio station sat on Music Row in Nashville, was owned by Billboard Magazine at the time, and reached Canada and Cuba from the mid-south with it’s remarkable signal.
But it all didn’t matter when Billboard sold the station to new owners – who then changed the format to All-Talk/News and fired it’s entire staff, including yours truly.
I would never have been on-air at WLAC had the Pulitzer family in St. Louis at 55-KSD not made a similar move. The radio station was sold to new owners who then changed the format to All-Talk/News and fired it’s entire on-air personality music air staff.
Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Enter the Airlift dream.
I left Harrisburg on my own terms to pursue my first major market air shift in St. Louis. And I indeed exited Q-93 (as afternoon DJ/Air personality) in 1985 to build my own dream, to fulfill my destiny… to create Airlift Productions.
Airlift Productions was my way of taking all the skills that I’d learned from”the man” and putting them to work for myself! I simply parlayed the many skills garnered and fine-tuned through all those radio years into self-employment as a VoiceOver talent and recording studio owner.
The final chapter? Well, it has yet to be written. As the old advertising adage goes… “watch this space…”
“Mike has a great voice and he’s a great guy! We’ve produced many projects together and he’s always at the top of his game. I love working with him.” ~ Steve Scaffidi, Founder & Managing Partner at Ghost Rider Pictures, NOLA
The short answer? All three! The long answer? How much time do you have? Too many questions? Oops, another question…
To begin with, all sound travels in waves. That’s analog. As I speak, my voice travels from my larynx to your ear as a wave form. Now, in capturing said wave form in a recording device or computer for editing and storage, it is still considered and called a wave form, but then it’s digital. Science.
But making MAGIC with that wave form is quite another thing altogether. Art.
Now, creating an environment, a creative space, a ‘vibe’, a place to make that audio magic – that audio alchemy – possible is yet another story completely.
First off, the entire Airlift Productions air space is completely out-of-square with no parallel walls, and the studio ceiling rises from front to back.
It’s built like the ancient Greeks built the amphitheater – sound waves naturally propagate from the near-field reference monitors in the front across the room to the back wall.
The Airlift Studios control room widens from about 6 feet at the front … to nearly 12 feet at the back. A critical listening space should never be constructed with parallel walls, ceiling & floor, as this creates standing waves, slap-back echoes and assorted audio headaches.
Room treatment, acoustic foam, carpeting on the walls, natural daylight filtered through stained glass, and dimmer-controlled mood lighting further enhance artist & engineer comfort & creativity through the entire recording process.
Yes, Art & Science get it on at Airlift Productions! To create MAGIC.
Purpose-designed for comfort, creativity & breath-taking sound, Airlift has delivered the goods since 1984 … from local to global with style!
From broadcast to podcast, big screen to small. From simple voice over tracks to full band or artist CD projects, test-drive your first session today, from wherever you are … on the web at Airlift Productions.
“Weapons of Mass Production” ~ Airlift Productions, New Orleans
Airlift Mike, always as close as the mouse on your desktop or the cell in your pocket at #504.833.8450.
“I had the extreme pleasure of working with Mike of Airlift Productions for a project in 2016. He was professional, courteous and most importantly, fun to work with. Mike is patient and very thorough with his recording, making sure that what you want is done before he powers down the gear for the day. 10/10, I would work with him again.” —-Jared Garcia, Sr. Recording Engineer for Blackstone Audio and Downpour.com
To be sure, John Kennedy Toole never spent time with Rev. Avery Alexander. But I sure did. Contracted to record “the Rev” in the 90s, I not only spent time with him, but was paid to document the whole affair!
And as New Orleans, the South, and America continue to wrestle with heritage, history, prejudice & racial issues – Dixie, flags & monuments – allow the Airlift Productions archives to help shed a little light.
For the uninitiated, Reverend Avery C. Alexander (1910~1999) was a longtime civil rights activist & La. State Representative, as well as an ordained minister. He marched with Dr. King, was dragged from protests, and has today had N.O. Charity Hospital, part of the new University Medical Center, and our Pontchartrain Expressway re-named in his honor!
John Kennedy Toole (1937~1969)was a New Orleans author, educated at Tulane, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction – posthumously – after his death at his own hand – for his homespun novel about the misadventures of the lazy, obese and unmotivated Ignatius J. Reilly in “A Confederacy of Dunces”.
Toole & Alexander never met. But perhaps they should have.
In his final Academy Award-nominated film, Mr. Guggenheim was attempting to get at the root of racism, expose it, and hopefully lead to some answers to this vexing cancer of a problem – ‘America’s original sin’ – maybe even tear it out at the root!
*** Avery Alexander talks of David Duke, the KKK, anti-Catholic & Jew bias … and the Dignity of Man … Airlift Productions – 1993. ***
Amazingly, with the impact Reverend Alexander made with his life here in NOLA and the South, there is no record of his speech, his voice, or his unfiltered thoughts ANYWHERE!
Except here … amid the ‘Confederacy of Dunces’.
Guggenheim, Alexander and I recorded and worked together for hours. I set the Airlift microphones for the Rev’s voice only …. while Charles paced the room, asking question after question, drawing out painfully revealing memory after memory, story after story …
*** Avery Alexander talks of prejudice, mistreatment, abuse, lynchings & murder… Airlift Productions– 1993. ***
The film, for which these tracks were originally recorded, later was re-named “A Time For Justice”, and went on to win the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject in 1995!
“Mike, thank you for 25 years of successfully teaching Algebra to children of color and students who were living in poverty. They aren’t living in poverty anymore thanks to you and the mathematical skills you gave them. They are doctors, engineers and scientists today.” ~ the late John R. Lee, Founder of the I CAN Learn Mathematics E-Learning System