Tag Archives: Airlift Productions

I Never Did Heroin With Dr. John. We Just Did Other Things.

{Editor’s Note: As our Coronacation blues & angst continue and we at Airlift continue to process the events of the day – which change every day – I’m side-stepping all the issues of politics & fear and re-posting this tribute to Mac…}

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Dr. John Autograph to Airlift Mike on old Airlift Iberville Street Notepad

Hired by Quincy Jones’ staff and his daughter Jolie to record Mac’s VoiceOver tracks for their Take It Back Foundation, I first met the Nite Tripper in the Airlift Productions Iberville days during NOLA’s raucous early 1990s.

He walked in without pomp or circumstance, no entourage, no fanfare, no feathers, solo… but just as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Our job wasn’t anything to do with music, it was all about VoiceOver – he’d been cast as the Yak in Quincy’s animated PSA to promote recycling efforts and it was destined for use in movie theaters, television & MTV across America that summer.

We phone-patched to Los Angeles and together with Stevie Wonder, Ozzy Osbourne, B.B. King, Natalie Cole, Pat Benatar, Charlie Daniels, Barry White… and Bugs Bunny…

With a hip-hop beat straight outta “In Living Color” – Fox’s big hit at the time – it all showed-up in movie theaters like this…

Dr. John’s 1st visit to Airlift Productions – as “the Yak”

Some recording session, I’ll tell you that.

When Mac, not even asking if he could smoke, pulled out a Cheroot and lit it up, we rushed an ash tray into the booth without giving it a second thought. Sort of.

And when he asked if he could “use the facilities”, I took him up in the elevator to the Iberville Street living quarters, to the bathroom, where he encountered my then-one-year-old son Benjamin.

Imagine, if you can, Dr. John setting his walking stick aside, so he could pick up your child, hold him… and whisper sweet voodoo nothings in his ear!

Our second session, the following year, was all about VoiceOver for an awards presentation, wherein Mac was hired to record the introduction to accompany this big, splashy video – all about New Orleans legendary Red Light District!

Dr. John “Special Events Magazine” Awards Show Intro – 1993

Our paths – and stars – would continue to cross through the next couple decades, most notably at New Orleans’ Big Easy Entertainment Awards Shows.

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Dr. John & Airlift Mike, Big Easy Awards Show New Orleans 1995

I was honored to act as ‘Live Announcer’ for the show for ten consecutive years and Mac, being the one and only Dr. John, would be along many years to receive an award, or just to perform.

Just. As if.

My favorite memory was the year his mother flew in from NYC for the show, so Mac tracks me down and tells me that he wants me to meet his mama… and together we made the trek across the Fairmont ballroom so I could give my regards to his Dorothy.

Indeed, while Mac’s bouts with smack/heroin through the years are the stuff of legend, he had successfully navigated those choppy waters and was ‘clean’ the entire time I ever was fortunate enough to talk and record with him.

Through the years – the recording sessions & Big Easy Awards – we talked and laughed of many things… his love for New Orleans, his love of music, the ‘Big Picture’… existential things like living a life with “one foot in this world… and the other… in the other”!

Much in the way that Time Magazine caught his candor here…

Dr. John, with some pretty amazing answers… and questions.

The last time we ever spoke to each other?

It was at the funeral for Cosimo Matassa, New Orleans’ legendary, seminal recording engineer and producer.

Along with a Who’s-Who of New Orleans music royalty – Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Quint Davis, Deacon John Moore, Benny Grunch – we’d all gathered to say goodbye to Cos, the big mac-daddy that started it all down on Rampart all those years ago.

Dr. John had flown into NOLA from NYC to say his final farewell to Cosimo down at Lake Lawn.

Now, here in 2019… it’s his turn.

Yeah, we all may very well be ‘whistling past the graveyard’ but, damn – nobody whistled that tune better than Dr. John!

And just like ‘dat, mellifluous, mesmerizing, mystical Mac moves on… from New Orleans & ‘da World.

Sort of.

I mean, there IS the matter of all that fantastic music he left us.

Deepest thanks for all that hoodoo voodoo that you did so well, bud.

Nighty-night, Nite Tripper.

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Airlift Productions – we’ll leave the mics hot… and the light on for you.

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans since 1984

Taylor Swift “Shakes Off” Airlift Productions

Taylor Swift, tagged to headline Jefferson Parish's Family Gras 2008
Taylor Swift, tagged to headline Jefferson Parish’s Family Gras 2008

** With Mardi Gras 2020 excitement in the air and New Orleans in frenzy mode – I’m re-posting this blog, originally published in June of 2015 **

Long before her recent shaking-up of the “Apple Cart’s” new music streaming service, Country/Pop-Tart Taylor Swift was headed to play New Orleans – and yours truly, Airlift Mike, was tagged to help promote and give voice to the show.

Little did any of us realize when then-19 year old Taylor was selected to appear at Family Gras 2008 – just down Veterans Boulevard from the Airlift Productions Studios – that she was destined  to explode and become one of the world’s hottest selling musical artists!

Family Gras was brand new – and so was Taylor Swift’s career.

Contracted by NOLA public relations ace Greg Buisson and the Jefferson Parish Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, I was tasked with voicing and producing the :60 audio track (video edited by Joseph Schneider) which was then to play all over New Orleans television to promote the affair.

** An uncharacteristically UP-Tempo Micheal Ziants, generating excitement for Taylor Swift’s Family Gras 2008 Appearance **

2008FamilyGrasLineupSo, with but one big hit in her hip pocket (“Our Song”), Taylor got in the bus with mom & dad, Andrea & Scott, and drove down to NOLA from Nashville for the show on that ill-fated late January.

She was slated to appear along with Blake Shelton, Kansas, Billy Ray Cyrus, The Bangles and a host of class N’awlins acts  – all in between Mardi Gras parades on the neutral ground of Veterans Boulevard here in Metairie for Family Gras 2008.

But Mother Nature had other ideas.

As Fate and the rain gods would have it, the skies over NOLA opened up that fate-filled Friday afternoon and it rained.  And it rained.  And it rained!

Poor Taylor’s only appearance that afternoon was on the 6:00 News/Blues.  Under an umbrella.  In a pouring rainstorm.  As she tendered her regrets to a dismayed New Orleans crowd about her canceled show.

swift14f-1-webReally.  Ask her about this one sometime, should you get a chance.

And little did any of us realize that day that this little PA native, Nashville transplant, Taylor Alison Swift’s career was about to explode – into the stratosphere!

Oh wait, of course. Her mama did.

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from New Orleans since 1984

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L-R, Heath Allen, Theresa Andersson, Micheal Ziants, Rich Lenz – during a break from the original HEALING HOUSE sessions, Airlift Productions 2004

“Great recording studios share something in common with great concert venues. They both have a…what is it? An aura, a vibe, a karma, an ambiance? Whatever you call it, it’s as real as any speaker on the wall or slider on a console. You can’t see it, but, you can absolutely FEEL it. 

Airlift Productions has IT – thanks to the man behind the board (and in your ear). Micheal Ziants has a knack for gently pulling your best work out of you – and then improving upon it in the final mix. The finished product always leaves you thrilled, satisfied and amazed that you really had it in you! The best part- he gives you all the credit and you only realize later what great hands your material was in. 

Do yourself a favor- give Airlift a try. You’ll love the results and every moment you spent producing them.”

~ RICH LENZ , former WDSU-TV Sports Director/Anchor 

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From New Castle … to New Orleans, What a Trip!

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Airlift Productions Proprietor Micheal Ziants as a ‘babe in the woods’ New Castle, PA. What, no headphones?

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.

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Micheal Ziants High School Grad Pic 1970 Northwestern High, Beaver Falls, PA

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.
 
Big time!
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.
From Columbus to Youngstown, Ohio … Harrisburg, PA to Saint Louis, MONashville, TN to Philadelphia, PA … all before landing in the land of sugarcane and Pontchartrain – New Orleans!

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Airlift Proprietor Micheal Ziants as alter-ego John Saint John, in the production room at WLAC, Nashville, 1980

Yes, I’ve been hired – and fired – from some of the finest radio stations in America!  And worked for some of the country’s hallmark names and companies … the Joseph Pulitzer family-KSD Radio in St. Louis, Billboard Magazine-WLAC, Nashville, and General Cinema Corporation-WIFI, Philadelphia.
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.

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The Original Airlift Productions – before digital, the internet & mp3s – in the closet of my one-bedroom apartment – 1985

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 2020… 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!

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Micheal Ziants and the new “Annie” Quvenzhane Wallis, recording for Chrysler and sharing a few laughs at Airlift Productions

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.
 
Catch-up with us when you can at Airlift Productions Recording Studio here in New Orleans.  We’ll leave the mics hot for you!

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Airlift Productions, New Orleans

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DaleAnthonySmith“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

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Han Solo Records VoiceOver At Airlift Productions

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The New Han Solo recorded “Beautiful Creatures” movie V-O at Airlift Productions NOLA

Little did  Alden Ehrenreich or I realize when we first met that he was destined to become Han Solo!

Hired to record some last-minute Hollywood South VoiceOver for Alden’s latest movie “Beautiful Creatures”, I certainly didn’t know what to expect that June morning of 2012.

In this teen-goth, supernatural, romantic thriller with a southern twist, Alden had been cast as the star-crossed lead lover Ethan Wate. And as the fates would have it, there were a few key monologue voice over tracks left un-recorded when they got to post-production.

Enter Airlift Mike and Airlift Productions.

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Alden Ehrenreich at the Big Star Wars Han Solo Announcement Party

When I answered the door that morning there was Alden, boyishly handsome, with a cheery “Good Morning”…. and a pint bottle of Jamaican Red Stripe lager in his hand.

When I questioned this rather novel approach to a recording session, he said simply that “This is for after we’re done!”

So, after it we went.  Together with veteran movie sound pro Jeffrey Haupt, screen play writer & director Richard LaGravenese, a dialect coach from London, and their entourage, we laid down VoiceOver tracks for this moody suspense thriller.

Witness a taste of Alden’s acting chops here; don’t you love the faux southern accent? I mean, he was born and raised in Los Angeles, with roots further back (like yours truly) in Austria & Hungary —

And more recently, Alden stole the show – and even upstaged George Clooney himself –  in the 2016 Hollywood-Golden-Era homage Coen Brothers flick “Hail, Caesar!” as celluloid cowboy hero Hobie Doyle. Check him out here….

Fast-forward just a tick, then, and imagine our collective surprise when out of the thousands who auditioned for the part, the Lucas-Disney machine that IS the STAR WARS franchise cast this dude for the Star Wars prequel – as the NEW HAN SOLO!

You go, Alden!

So, let me see, if Alden is 29 today, back when we met and recorded together he was all of 22. So, back to that day ….

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Alden (dead center) holding his own at the “Hail, Caesar” Party – with Josh, George, Jonah, and Channing …. hey, there goes the neighborhood, huh?

After the session, he popped the top on his Jamaican Red Stripe and began to share it with me! We went slug-for-slug like Catholics at a communion rail, laughed, and talked of his past, present and future.

But little did either of us realize that day that the future would include his casting in the biggest movie juggernaut of the 21st century!

And today, that empty bottle of Jamaican Red Stripe is still sitting up on the Airlift commissary shelves, beside other noteworthy bottles of wine, scotch & Wild Turkey emptied after sessions past to celebrate & commemorate memorable Airlift Studio recording sessions.

Happy and thrilled for you the Airlift Productions krewe is, Alden!

Thanks again for the laughs, brotherhood… and Jamaican lager.

Oh, and despite some of the sketchy reviews of your latest intergalactic celluloid effort (some say “meh”), may the Force Be With You, my brother!

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E.R.I.C. the talking skull records VoiceOver at Airlift Productions

“Dr. Ziants:

My dear colleague, it was a true delight to visit and work with you in your digital laboratory. I somewhat envy your remarkable equipment, which far exceeds anything we can afford here in the old city ice house. Your audio production facilities are second to none, and I thank you again for the excellent recordings you produced for the Momus A. Morgus Institute.” — Momus

** A tested-by-time Testimonial from Dr. Morgus (aka – Sid Noel Rideau) direct from the old city ice house to the Airlift digital lab via email.  Check the good doctor out anytime at www.morgus.com ***

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Airlift Mike On-Camera performing with Sid in “Morgus Presents” 1988, re-broadcast on Fox-8

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans since 1984

From Books-on-Tape to CDs in 1993? Courtesy Airlift Productions

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(L-R) Charlie Biondo, “Miss Linda” Mintz, Micheal Ziants, celebrating over 3,500 units sold, “Soft Words, Warm Nights”

While the world was still calling the genre “Books-On-Tape” in 1993, Airlift Productions self-published and successfully sold spoken word CDs to libraries across America – and to the world via the Playboy catalog.

I realize that this all sounds a tad mad, but let me tell you the story.

I first met New Orleans icon “Miss Linda”, Linda Mintz, during a session at the Airlift Studios on Iberville street in 1993 while recording radio commercials for a local client.

Our muses, along with the stars, somehow aligned after that session while Linda and I discussed our love for poetry… as we hatched the egg of an idea for an outfit we dubbed “WordMusic”.

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“Miss Linda” Mintz & Micheal Ziants (McCann), during recording sessions for “Soft Words, Warm Nights”, Airlift Productions, 1993

Linda, long known and loved by generations of New Orleanians as Romper Room’s “Miss Linda”, had been reared with a love and respect for the magic of poetry.

Yours truly, while working all over New Orleans airwaves as a commercial voice and producer, was looking to create a self-published project that had “legs”, would be “evergreen” and that we could get behind and market to the world.

Produced on Iberville Street (all on reel-to-reel tape), voiced by Linda & me, and backed by husband Albert Mintz… we called the project “SOFT WORDS, WARM NIGHTS”.

** “I Love You/A Bright New Land”… Soft Words, Warm Nights excerpt with Linda Mintz & Micheal Ziants **

Imagine the world’s most romantic poetry lovingly rendered – and cast against the lush backdrop of the sounds of nature, coupled with a meditative new age score.

Score one for the kids on Iberville Street!

** Bess, the landlord’s daughter sacrifices herself to save her lover, Mike Ziants reads the classic, “The Highwayman” from SWWN **

Together with marketing pal Charlie Biondo, we drew the attention of Bayside Distributors in California, produced cassette tapes AND CDs in 1993, were successfully reviewed by all the major trade publications, and took it to market!

** “Will You Love Me When I’m Old?” from SWWN **

After selling over 3,500 to libraries across the U.S., we attended the American Booksellers Association trade show in Chicago, where I personally pitched the project to Hugh Hefner!

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“Soft Words, Warm Nights”, featured in the Playboy catalog, 1995

Hef was back in his hometown that weekend to promote Playboy’s 40th Anniversary coffee table book and, little did he know it – but get a fast pitch from Micheal Ziants.

Playboy Magazine’s catalog then featured our “Soft Words, Warm Nights” in several editions, helping us to move over 500 units, saying that our CD created “Irresistible Ambiance”.

While I caught a lot of kidding & ribbing  from family and fellow radio pals here in NOLA over this entire escapade, it remains one of my favorite stories.

What wasn’t so pleasant?

In an attempt to get a major ongoing distributor for our work, upon sending our CDs to every single major AudioBook publisher at the time, we were not only turned down – but ripped off! 

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“Soft Words, Warm Nights” CD artwork, Airlift Productions/WordMusic 1993

As the idea – romantic spoken word, produced with music & sound effects – was copied within a year by many of them, along with known Hollywood actors that carried marquistype names.

(Sigh!)

Oh well, as the Bard once opined, “It is better to have loved and lost… than to have never loved at all.”

Besides, it still makes for great “Did-you-hear-the-one-about-the-BIG-one-that-got-away?” type stories around the bar and NOLA parties.

Furthermore, as Churchill reminded us all, “Never. Never. Never. Give up!”… and from the vernacular, “He who loves and runs away, lives to fight another day.”

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Airlift Mike, Micheal Ziants, reads James Patterson’s “The Chef” for Hachette AudioBooks, NYC/Paris

I haven’t. (Given up.)

And.. I have! (Lived for another day.)

I mean, back in the 1990s, how was I to know that here in 2019 my path would intersect with one of the world’s biggest and best-selling authors? 

“Now showing” on earbuds near you, from the Hachette AudioBook Group, and today available on all worldwide platforms… Micheal Ziants narrates and interprets James Patterson’s “THE CHEF”.

And trust me, gang – Soft words and a warm night, this ain’t!

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“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


Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans since 1984 

Airlift Productions – we’ll leave the mics hot… and the light on for you.

Christmas 2019 Reflections & What Most Don’t Get About Airlift Mike

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With Christmastime in New Orleans, together with all its trappings and sentiment in everyone’s windows and minds, allow me to tap the brakes for a second, reflect, and unpack a few things.

As a lifelong learner and student of philosophy, world religions, and mystical thought, it would be safe to say that I’ve lived  what could best be termed an unconventional and totally unorthodox lifestyle.

While most of my peers have chased money and jobs, I learned years ago to instead pursue passion and purpose. And then simply allow the dollars and opportunities to fall in line. 

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One illustrative case in point is this one I share with you here: In my now 35 years of owning and operating Airlift Productions here in New Orleans, I have NEVER commuted to work!

Ever.

As the great souls Emerson & Thoreau taught me, “Build a better mousetrap – and the world will beat a path to your door.”

They have.

Imagine, if you can, the colorful characters, historical heroes, fascinating personalities and captivating individuals who’ve knocked at the Airlift Studio doors to come “work” with me.

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Airlift Productions, New Orleans’ Foremost VO Recording Studio

I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have recorded and worked hours on end closely together with (deep breath) and in no particular order….

Archie Manning, Dr. John, Chef John Besh, Quvenzhane Wallis, Deuce McAllister,  Charles Guggenheim, Necar Zadegan, Mayor Marc Morial, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Stacy Head, Nathan J. Robinson, David Menasche, Carrie Nye, Bo Walker, Buddy Stall, John Lee, Luno Bordelon, Jerry Christopher, Steve Blaze, Ronnie Lamarque, Anders Osborne, Theresa Andersson, Rachel Wulff, Scott Walker,  Lee Zurik, Zak George, Congressman Steve Scalise, James Carville, Mary Matalin,  Alden Ehrenreich, Toby Kebbell, The Krewe of Nyx, John “Spud” McConnell, Morris Bart, P.H. Fred, Mike Weldon, Reverend Avery C. Alexander, Brad Edelman, Rich Lenz, Norman Robinson, Heath Allen, Anne Gisleson, Sean O’Shea, Lewis Johnson, Greg DiLeo, Nathan Ales, Donald Surtain, the Right Lane Bandits, Bishop Paul Morton, Senator Jon Johnson, Congressman Bill Jefferson, Edoardo Ballerini, Oliver Thomas, Morgus the Magnificent, and… well, a host of multi-talented voice-over artists, stand-up comics & radio rebels.

Not up to speed on some of these folks? Let the Googling begin.

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Airlift Productions Studio’s custom-designed Mayan “Gift of Life” Stained Glass Window

The Punchline? Through all New Orleans’ intense weather – storms, hurricanes, blisteringly brutal summers, icy winters – each and everyone of these folks came to me, to Airlift Productions, to “the better mousetrap”.

Mind you, this is no brag, no empty boasting, but simply an observation as to a much richer and fulfilling way to live one’s life.

And what a life.

Marching to the beat of one’s own Walkman – instead of following the crowd – has always led to experiences few will ever get to taste.

Having discovered my first tape recorder at age 12, and after many years of stage-acting and then a rewarding radio career, how cool is this?

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Micheal Ziants and the new “Annie” Quvenzhane Wallis, recording for Chrysler and sharing a few laughs at Airlift Productions

I now get to live out the rest of my life here in NOLA from what was once only a dream in my head, from my Airlift Productions… and I now get to spend the rest of my days dancing with the very same muse that first brought me to the party!

During this Christmastime 2019, my holiday hope and prayer is that you, the reader of these words, if you haven’t yet… one day… find … yours.

Merry Christmas & Feliz Navidad from way down yonder in New Orleans – and Airlift Mike. 

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Rachel Wulff records her VoiceOver Demo at Airlift Productions NOLA

“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

Rachel Wulff’s compelling VoiceOver Demo produced by Airlift Mike

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans… since 1984

Airlift Productions Answers Chicken Versus Egg Conundrum

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Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Around the Airlift Productions Studios,  I still get into this one with my video production pals – when it comes down to audio versus video, which of the two is more powerful and packs the bigger punch?!?

I mean, what is all televison except radio… with pictures?  Which came first? And where are the more powerful emotional cues?  

You know, the ones that capture attention, motivate, inspire, scare … and drive someone to action?

Pause to consider, the very first sense that develops as the human develops within the mother’s womb is …. wait for it –  the sense of HEARING!  The growing infant HEARS the mother’s heartbeat and the rush of amniotic fluid, almost like ocean waves,  surrounding it’s ears.

The eyes are nowhere in the picture yet.

paragon-city-center-12Now, picture yourself in a movie theater. You are terrified by the motion picture – from b/w ‘Psycho’ in the ’60s to the latest flick about some camp counselor gone crazy chasing teens through the woods with an ax – and you can very simply close your eyes.

But you cannot close your ears!

The shrieks of terror, the ragged breathing, the sound effects, the dramatic music pulsing and pounding.  Even when all sounds disappear and come to a complete … heart-pounding … stop!

Interestingly, the Creator gave us eyelids… but He didn’t give us EAR-lids!

Now, talk to a hospice caregiver, and they’ll quickly tell you from experience that in the majority of cases the final sense to leave us at death – is the sense of hearing.

More to the point, in the case of television advertising, when an ad comes on, many are off to the bathroom or into the kitchen.  In this case, all the expensive video editing software and fancy visual zips and zaps are superfluous! They are not even there in the experience of the intended viewer.

The AUDIO portion of the ad, however, is still there – OUT LOUD for all to witness!

And since time immemorial, the story-telling tradition, as one generation passed legend and myth and bedtime stories down to the next, the entire ‘presentation’ was aural – powerful, memorable and impact-full.

Sorry, video aces, but audio trumps video. It will always be AUDIO that drives the emotional train.

Airlift Productions, driving that emotional train from NEW Orleans …. since 1984.

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harlon miller“Airlift is THE place to go for a top quality demo. With Mike behind the board you are in very capable hands. His vast knowledge and command of all things audio blends with his laid-back fun environment to bring out the best in any voice.  Airlift Productions has the experience and all the tools necessary to make a voice-over reel that is on par with anything you would find in New York or LA!”

– – – HARLON MILLER, Voice-Over Actor

** Harlon’s Airlift-Mike-produced VoiceOver Demo **

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Airlift Productions – we’ll leave the mics hot… and the light on for you.

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from New Orleans… since 1984  

Confucius + John Saint John = Airlift Productions

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“Try to remember the kind of September, when you were a young & callow fellow…” ~ Airlift Productions Proprietor Micheal Ziants as John Saint John, in the WKBO, Harrisburg, PA studios, circa 1976

It was the ancient Chinese sage Confucius who once said, “Choose work that you love… and you will never have to work a day in your life”. Joseph Campbell amplified this comment with his admonition, “Follow your bliss!”

Furthermore, the Cherokee used to tell their children that we are all ‘born with a song’, and that we all need to learn to sing that song. Not someone else’s song…. but our unique song.

Airlift Mike with the Tribe of Ziants, front porch, Youngstown, Ohio, circa 1962

Well, I actually used to fall asleep as a pre-teen kid in Youngstown, Ohio with a transistor radio tucked under the pillow, listening to far-off radio stations in Chicago (WLS & WCFL) and New York (WABC) dreaming of one day being a radio star.

To communicate with someone unseen without wires over great distances was to a kid the stuff of magic.  I wanted to be the magician – badly.

The millennial of 2019 would not even recognize the time.  At all.  No internet, no world wide web… no iPhones, iPads, iPods, or apps.  Video games?  Excuse me? Pong & Pac-Man were hardly even on the horizon. The compact disc & video tape hadn’t even been invented yet, let alone ‘cloud storage’ or DVD.  The 7-inch 45 rpm record, the audio cassette, and reel-to-reel tape was it. And it was magic!

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Along the banks of the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg, PA … 1st WKBO Music Survey – 1973

My very first rock radio job – being a disc jockey, an air personality – was at WKBO Radio in Harrisburg, PA.  It’s where I really discovered my true love – communications.  It’s where John Saint John was born.  It’s where I learned how to work a microphone as though it were a warm human ear… instead of a cold metal object.  And it was magic!

** Micheal Ziants as John Saint John On-Air WKBO Radio, Harrisburg, PA – 1977 … with Listener Introduction **

But the afternoon air shift wasn’t the full story.

Everyday duties – in addition to the air shift – included production! Every day… of every week… for five straight years, I produced radio commercials.  Little did I realize, but the seeds were being sown for Airlift Productions…. one day… way down yonder in New Orleans. Boy, was it ever magic!

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Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants, as alter ego John Saint John, standing behind John Travolta’s brother Joey at a WKBO Radio promotion, Harrisburg East Mall, 1977

** Micheal Ziants ON-AIR at WKBO Radio – Summer 1978, shortly before the move to KSD, St. Louis **

Work I love?  Following my bliss? I tell you what, give a listen to the LIVE On-Air WKBO Airchecks within this blog … and then you tell me.

And the challenge of translating all this On-Air fun & drive into self-employment as a recording studio owner & VoiceOver Talent is the subject for yet another blog, another day.  But, oh, what days/daze these were….

“Try to remember the kind of September, when you were a young and callow fellow….” ~ from the Fantasticks 

MichealZiantsAkaJohnStJohnWKBO-1976

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Magic from NOLA since 1984

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JohnDenneyRecordsVoiceOverAtAirliftProductionsNOLA“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 Los Angeles-based ’80s Punk Band The Weirdos – AND VoiceOver Talent

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Love & War ~ Airlift Productions Records James Carville & Mary Matalin

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James Carville & Mary Matalin on Meet the Press, along with former BFF, the late Tim Russert

Opposites attract. No, huh?

In “Love & War: 20 Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters & One Louisiana Home”, James Carville and Mary Matalin detail a life few could imagine, let alone live!

A life lived at the intersection of Power, Politics and a Changing America … and while in the middle of it all, trying to keep a relationship together and raise two daughters – all at the same time.

And, boy, does politics ever make for strange bedfellows! James steered the Clinton presidential campaign both times (even steered him through the Lewinsky scandal), and Mary, who served under both Bush presidencies, was IN the White House the fateful morning of the 9-11 attack in the skies over Manhattan. Bush wasn’t. Mary was.

Their stories, their first-hand accounts, their front-row seats to some of America’s most fascinating recent history are palpable, riveting, and most remarkable.

And capturing it all through the Airlift Productions microphones for posterity in the audio book version of “Love & War” simply has to be one of my most remarkable gigs so far this century.

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Mary Matalin and James Carville tell it like it is one Sunday morning on Meet the Press … and later on, at the Airlift Productions studios in the audio book “Love & War”

The sentiment, the candor, the forthright honesty, the raw emotion. Admittedly, I felt alternately like a coach, a cheerleader, a psychiatrist … and even a priest in a confessional!

One of my fave stories from James was of his trip to Miami for the Saints SuperBowl win, wherein he details being on the field with Drew Brees, then off to the shuttle bus for transport back to the hotel. On the bus, he re-connects with the legendary Archbishop of Orleans Phillip Hannan. Then, who steps on the bus but Kim Kardashian, who’s “seeing” Saint running back Reggie Bush at the time. Imagine, if you can, James – now sitting in between these two and facilitating the introductions! Oh my. Comedy ensues…

** Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants reflects on his first-of-many recording sessions with James Carville, along with some classic James quips and thoughts … oh my! **

The very first day I recorded with Mary Matalin, she showed-up dressed to thrill! All dolled-up and made-up, decked-out for a night on the town – ah, to record with me in a dimly lit studio all afternoon? H-m-m…, I said, whaddup with dat? Well, after four arduous hours at the mic (a quite impressive feat, I might add), she stands up and says, “Well, gotta’ go, Bill’s in town!” And just like that, she & hubby James were off to dinner in the French Quarter – with Bill Clinton!

I could go on and on about our collective twenty-some hours of recording and working together, but you get the idea.  One of the – if not THE – most fascinating sets of recording sessions I’ve ever logged at the Airlift studio and witnessed.  Let alone orchestrated!

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Candid shot of James Carville taking a break from the Airlift mics, in the Airlift ‘Green room’ on the cell with Stephanopolous ~ and with his feet on my ping-pong table!

The News, it has been said, is History – the First Draft. And two ‘Wrongs’ don’t make a ‘Right’. But three ‘lefts’ will!  

As a profound political atheist, I don’t have a dog in this hunt.  But in the case of these two, I was certainly thrilled to be saddled-up and along for the ride.

JamesCarvilleAndMaryMatalinRecordLoveAndWarAtAirliftProductions

Airlift Productions is proud to have served as the audio launch pad for “Love & War”, available as an audio book via all the usual outlets. Preview it, or grab a copy – CD or download – from Amazon here.

And the next time you hear that old line, “Politics sure makes for strange bedfellows!” – now you know the rest of the story.

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Micheal Ziants and Political Firebrand James Carville at the Airlift Productions Studios in 2012, after recording James’ “It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!”

“I have 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, Tulane professor and Campaign Strategist behind the most dramatic political victories of our generation.

** Airlift Productions – Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984 **

If You Knew Pomona Like I Know Pomona…

Naples, Italy statue to the Roman Goddess Pomona

(To be sung) As the old tune goes, … “She’s Oh, Oh, Oh what a gal!”

Pomona may be just another street to neighbors & friends here just outside New Orleans, but to me it’s a lot, lot more.

After flooding at the Iberville Street Airlift Productions location TWICE through my 1989 – 2001 stay, just off Carrollton & Canal, I re-located the whole biz to suburban Metairie well outside the ‘bowl’ that is Orleans parish in March 2001.

Pomona sits on Metairie ridge, naturally above the flood plain and, ironically, not even a mile from the now-infamous 17th Street Canal which breached and gave America the historical tragedy known as “Katrina”.

Airlift Mike & trusty mascot The Shadeaux

Furthermore, the Bonnabel subdivision here in Metairie seems somewhat preoccupied with the Holy (or otherwise) Roman Empire.

Really.

I routinely walk my Airlift Productions mascot the Shadeaux past streets named “Nero”, “Claudius”, and “Feronia”. Go figure.

Punchline?

Rome’s mythological muse & sweetheart Pomona

Well, unbeknownst to most of my neighbors and friends here in the ‘hood, Pomona is the ancient Roman mythological goddess of fruitful abundance! 

Not that she gets that much attention here in this hectic, frantic-paced #MeToo generation, but check out her Wikipedia page here.

Living, loving, playing, and, yes, working from Pomona for what is now over 18 years, and having found a success beyond my wildest dreams, I’d have to say that perhaps the Romans were onto something here.

Fruitful abundance?

Airlift Productions Pomona Game Room, right next to the studio doors

Well, lemme see here, through my tour of duty on Pomona, I’ve seen in/out the studio doors… Chef John Besh, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Dr. Morgus (the Magnificent), Ronnie Lamarque, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Steve Scalise, Deuce McAllister, Quvenzhane Wallis, Alden Ehrenreich, Toby Kebbell, Morris Bart, Lee Zurik, Greg DiLeo, Rich Lenz, Norman Robinson, Rachel Wulff, Camille Whitworth, Heath Allen, “Miss Linda” Mintz, Theresa Andersson, Stacy Head, John “Spud” McConnell, Edoardo Ballerini, Ed Clancy, Jamie Neumann, Scott Walker, the Krewe of Nyx, Bradley Edelman, Anne Gisleson, David Menasche, Mike Church, Nathan Ales, P.H. Fred, John R. Lee, and, well, even some folks you may have heard of.  (I know, cheeky, huh? But try Googling just a few of these names…)

And from the high ground on Pomona, I’ve produced work that encompasses most all media – from Radio spots, TV VoiceOvers, Educational Software, Radio Imaging, Animation VO, Website Explainers, Industrial Narrations & Podcasts… to Phone Messages-on-Hold, CD-ROMs, and AudioBooks.

Furthermore, I’ve been blessed to have my AudioBook recording efforts include work with the biggest AudioBook producers on Earth – Penguin, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Blackstone, Harper, Listen-Up & Random House.

Rubens’ artwork depicting Pomona displaying her, well, uh, “fruits”

So, while I indeed thank the One True Living God for the inspiration and effort to have made the move to Pomona all those years ago… let’s not leave the old gal herself out.

For all dat voodoo that you do… Thanks, Pomona!

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Airlift Productions – we’ll leave the mics hot… and the light on for you.

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984.