“Ben-Hur 2016” wasn’t even on the drawing boards yet, he was in New Orleans to film “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, and tagged by Tag-Europe (a huge London-based ad agency) as the voice for Sony Products, he needed a studio to record a few V-O patches.
So, Toby and his brother arrived at Airlift that morning … Toby was unshaven, in flip-flops & cargo shorts – hey, it WAS for a VoiceOver session, after all; at 6’1″, we stood eye-to-eye – I set-up the phone-patch to connect us with Europe and we went to work.
As the fates would have it, in the UK the letter ‘Z’ is pronounced ‘Zed’, and in order to introduce this new tablet here in the states, the tag lines had to be re-recorded with the Yank’s sound.
The tracks were coached and directed by Louise at Tag, with her agency contact for Sony piggy-backed in on the call – from Tokyo!
I then relayed the wav files via an FTP site into the computers at the editing bays in London, England and the finished commercial – along with some help from David Bowie – appeared here in the United States like this…
And I love the exchange as he exited the studios that day. With Ziants being my last name, I’ve got a welcome mat at the front door with a ‘Z’ on it. Toby pointed it out and chuckled at the irony as he headed back to the rent-a-car.
The girls (or ‘birds’ as they call them there) in the UK are just gaga over this dude, and the ladies in on the phone-patch session that morning echoed that excitement.
Studly. Easy on the eyes. Soft-spoken. Ultra talented.
But from his appearance as Doctor Doom in the ill-fated “Fantastic Four” to the apparent miscues, in the eyes of some critics, with “Ben-Hur 2016”, I just wish Toby could find his footing in a true star-making role, one that could seriously catapult him into the stratosphere.
In the meantime, I’ll be the one catching Kebbell’s magic via Netflix on the flat screen in the den, remembering my morning recording Toby before his days with Judah Ben-Hur, popcorn in-hand, smiling – and shaking the dust off my sandals.
“Working on the road can be a pain for voice artists – I was so glad to find Airlift studios on my travels, just outside NOLA CBD! What a beautiful, cozy, and quiet space to work in. Micheal was an absolute pleasure to work with, being 100% professional and 100% nice guy! If I’m ever in the Big Easy again, I’ll be sure to stop in and see Mike at Airlift Productions.” ~TOBY RICKETTS, Award-Winning, World-Class, New Zealand-based VoiceOver Talent
Verily, all the highest aspirations of all mankind have always been towards PEACE. And Brotherhood.
And the dream that lay closest to the heart of the Nazarene was the manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven – not far-off in some dreamy otherworld but right here in the physical plane, in your neighborhood and mine, here on planet Earth.
Martin knew that. Jack knew that. Abraham really knew that.
So, on MLK Day, 2021, let’s go there.
My Airlift Productions here in NOLA has always been about more than just ‘selling stuff’ or ‘telling stuff’; my mission, for what is now nearly forty years, is one of serving as a catalyst for positive change.
Henceforth, today’s entry…
As we celebrate and commemorate the life of this visionary peacemaker, and the stock markets, banks & post offices close, I’m flashing back on this MLK Day to a very special ‘homework assignment’ from days gone by.
My then-ten year old Katy was visiting dad for the Christmas holidays, and after the dinners, movies, and playtime, we went down into the Airlift Studios on Iberville to record.
Imagine, if you can, one of the most powerful speeches ever uttered on these American shores – The Gettysburg Address – dramatically interpreted by a ten year old!
Then, put these words wrapped around the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, and support all this with the inspirational and soaring music of the late, prolific James Horner from the “Glory” motion picture soundtrack.
** “Is Anyone Home at the Gettysburg Address?” * Airlift, 1992 **
What, to me, is so extremely saddening is that the success of this dream, the manifestation of true PEACE on earth, will never ever (as in ‘not ever’) be settled on a battlefield.
For the answers, as Martin, Jack, and Abraham all knew too well, lie between the left ear and the right ear of the reader of these very words.
And the only true battlefield… is the human heart.
“For ten years now I have worked with Micheal Ziants and Airlift Productions recording songs for Children’s Hospital & the Children’s Miracle Network. He’s unique and a constant… solid as the rock in rock ‘n roll. Mike’s attention to detail is legendary, but his commitment to the kids and the challenges they face goes far beyond that. He gets it. Professionally, he’s as good as it gets. Everyone SOUNDS better after a session with Mike. And no matter what the audio project, you FEEL better after a session with Airlift. That’s ‘Z’ truth!” — HEATH ALLEN, Long-time WDSU/NBC New Orleans News Reporter & veteran guitar picker
With all the equipment in the Airlift Productions studios – bouncing meters, glowing lights, ‘bells & whistles’ – the one thing visitors and clients seem to remark the most about is, strangely enough, the Window!
Its custom-cut, stained glass beauty captures every New Orleans sunset from it’s setting in the western wall of the studio, and gives constant feedback on current sky conditions as it reflects the tempo of each and every recording day.
Inspired by ancient Mayan illustrations and pyramid hieroglyphics, it was custom-designed to carry the colors of the Airlift Studios into it’s intricate artwork – from the passionate purple of the walls to the midnight blue carpet & charcoal grey acoustic foamed walls.
“The Gift of Life”, as it is called, symbolizes the spiritual journey of man.
At the center is the flame-like symbol of God who is Light & Life, the Creator of All.
The Triangle – symbolizing Mind, Spirit & Soul enlightened by God in its midst – is within the circle that signifies God is All in All, without beginning or end.
And surrounding the circle are the glyph signs for sky, earth’s abundance, and precious water.
And this magnificent artwork accomplishes all this spiritually without being overtly religious, to say nothing of ‘choosing up sides’ – favoring one religion, faith, or approach over another.
“The Gift of Life” also serves as the perfect backdrop and vibe for all the intensely creative audio projects & work being recorded and captured at the Airlift Productions Studios.
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, 29 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 Tulsa, OK home, a gone pecan from NOLA for over ten 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.
2020 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
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
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.
“Airlift Mike was a saint, and ridiculously patient and supportive (and helpful!!) for this audio book virgin. In another environment, without the support, and with pressure to perform “right”, I probably would have completely fallen apart. So the MVP for this getting done goes 100% to Mike and the chilled out environment he’s cultivated…personally and within his studio… A big heartfelt thanks to Mike and the years of expertise he brought to this project to ensure I sounded my very best. If you’re ever in Nola and need the best audio dude, and the best dude dude, holler at my man Mike withwww.airliftproductions.com”
—- Los Angeles & NOLA-based Dog Trainer SEAN O’SHEA
Yes, in those prehistoric days before the internet, the web, and a digitally-connected world, RADIO was the thing. No iPads, iPods, iPhones… if you wanted to hear your favorite song, you turned on a radio!
In 1982, Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office, ‘E.T” was huge at the box office, and my “office” was the morning drive chair 5:30 – 9:00 on WIFI-92!
It’s really hard to find the words to describe the thrill of the morning call to the starting gate. (Despite some mornings being the ‘snow plow’) I mean, what a challenge to be the first voice a person heard in the morning – in the bathroom, the kitchen, by the bed, under the car dashboard in the commute – in Phila-freakin’-del-phia!
Rockin’ the Cradle of Liberty ~ WIFI, Philadelphia.
Morning Drive Radio was exciting, pulse-pounding and very rewarding on many levels. But what I remember most about the Philly days/daze is Satur-days!
Every Saturday, from 10 am to 3 pm – the most listened-to weekend day part – I cranked up TURNTABLES, brought in the most amazing collection of VINYL and held court with “From Motown to the Philly Sound”!
It was my professorial, Dick Clark-ish, honky, white boy approach to the most sizzlin’, cookin’, excitin’, sex-citin’ hit music of the 20th century.
Temptations. Four Tops. Supremes. Junior Walker. Marvin Gaye. Martha & her Vandellas. Spinners. Harold Melvin & his Blue Notes. Barry White. Michael Jackson… all served-up with background, historical facts, dates, anecdotes – and fun!
** John Saint John Entertains Philadelphia on WIFI-92 ~ From Motown to the Philly Sound in 1982 **
“Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end” … but they did.
In early ’83, the Bala Cynwyd-General-Cinema corporate crew decided to hire a consultant out of Los Angeles (only the name has been changed/dropped toprotect the guilty), go ‘Rock of the ’80s’, and fire that morning John Saint John jock because he’s way ‘too adult and mature sounding for the new format’!? Really?
But you know, when you’ve found a way to take all the shit folks throw at you … and then throw it over your shoulder to use as fertilizer for tomorrow’s crops, you roll with it.
In the ashes of every defeat lie the seeds to a greater or equivalent benefit. And I am a graduate – with honors – from the University of Adversity.
“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
True, but hard to believe, this summer marks five years since Dr. Wayne Dyerdrew his last breath and proceeded to drop his body an ocean away in Hawaii.
I first “met” Wayne through a series of audio cassettes I’d ordered from Nightingale-Conant in Chicago. The series was called “The Awakened Life”. The year was 1987. And my life was never the same.
Wayne introduced me to eastern, metaphysical, transcendent thought, he opened my eyes – and spirit – as he challenged me to take chances with my life that I would have never dared in the past. I learned to jump off cliffs … and build wings on the way down.
Emerson & Thoreau came alive for me, sacred scripture never rang so true, mystical sages of history spoke clearly in my ears, as night-after-night I listened to Wayne unraveling and demystifying thought concepts that for so long were so foreign to me.
Through now-decades of his lectures, writings & teachings, he introduced me to Alan Watts, Deepak Chopra, Ram Dass, Carl Jung, and many others. Together, we’ve traveled the shores of Galilee with Jesus of Nazareth, meditated under the bodhi tree with the Buddha, and ridden camel-back with Muhammad across the sands of Mecca.
We first met personally in March of 1997 at a Life Expo here in New Orleans. I confessed to him that he had very directly inspired me to ‘roll the dice’ and move my Airlift Productionsbusiness from my closet to a bonafide store-front with shingle out front on Iberville Street back in ’89.
He laughed and would take no credit whatsoever, saying that he never wanted to be anyone’s ‘guru’. Further joking that if he ever took credit for anyone’s success that he’d also have to share the blame for their failures! 🙂
It was roughly a year later, while I was leading a production team working for a NYC-based ad agency recording radio commercials in Toronto, Canada that we met again.
This time the visit was much more personal.
Through our days-long, sleep-deprived job in Toronto, I had quoted Wayne’s most incredible body of work extensively to the team I’d traveled with to Canada. At the end of the convention, we then rushed off to the airport to catch our flight back to New Orleans.
Dog-tired, with my head down, waiting for our plane, a pair of sandaled feet walked past my field of vision. I looked up – and it was Wayne Dyer!
Together with his assistant Maya, he was enroute from addressing a seminar in Amsterdam, headed back to his family in south Florida. As I shook my head in surprise and astonishment, he joked, “Well, Micheal, it would seem that you manifested ME!”
We proceeded to talk and laugh together for a half-hour!
About EVERYTHING: Life, loves, disappointments, divorce, enlightenment, authorship, radio, recording, music, the Book of Tao, the Gita, days of future passed … he even was very complimentary about my voice. Wow.
Then, called to our respective planes, we parted. I will always treasure this remarkable day, and my not-so-coincidental conversation and time spent with this most remarkable spirit.
Dr. Dyer, quite frankly, I am at a loss for words to describe the impact you’ve made on my life. And, through my life and my Airlift Productions – and the lessons you’ve taught me – the impact I have then made on countless hundreds of other lives.
It has been said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. From the bottom of my heart and the height of my spirit, brother Wayne, thanks for appearing in my life… and sharing your candle with me.
“The Airlift Productions Studio itself is a mirror of Micheal; warm and inviting. I immediately feel at home when I’m there…never rushed, always cordial (great coffee) and I feel like MY project is the most important thing on his mind…total focus. It’s rare to find this kind of personal service. I never have any doubt that whatever I’m working on at Airlift will come out sounding great…always! If you want professional results; use a professional…Micheal Ziants at Airlift Productions IS that professional.” — BO WALKER, Former Production Director at New Orleans’ iHeart Media Stations
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 hard-earned 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…”
My dear colleague, it was a true delight to visit and work with you in yourdigital 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.
The National Weather Service defines the “Eye” as the region of mostly calm weather at the center of strong tropical cyclones.
Metaphorically, the ever-changing media & technology would be the tropical cyclones/hurricanes, and Airlift Productions & I would be the ones whohave for over thirty years resided… calmly, persistent & steady, in the hurricane’s eye.
In 1984, the needs of my first full-time client – WGNO-TV/Tribune Broadcasting – gave birth to the Airlift Productions Studios.That very year Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office, the compact disc was brand new, and top-rated CBS affiliates WWL-TV & WWL radio here in New Orleans were owned by Loyola University (“World Wide Loyola”) and… the Catholic Church.
From the changing complexion of the White House to digital music distribution (and piracy), TV/radio deregulation and consolidation, and from Loyola’s WWL ownership to Gannett, Tegna & Entercom … my, how the media and technological winds have blown!
Meanwhile, through all the changes and through all the years, Airlift Productions and I have resided calmly and ever-persistent in the Hurricane’s Eye.
A recent Search Engine request for just two words “Airlift Productions” yielded the most remarkable result – in the Images section was an internet-search-generated collage of a Life lived in the Hurricane’s Eye…
There was every studio I’d ever built – from the closet at Rock Creek Apartments to Iberville to Pomona. There was Norman Robinson, Rich Lenz, Heath Allen, Deuce McAllister, Congressman Steve Scalise, Dr. Morgus, Rachel Wulff, Jamie Neumann, Sean O’Shea, Sister Thecla, even studio mascot The Shadeaux, the studio’s stained glass window and game room!
From radio commercials, TV voice-overs, music projects & audio books, to educational software, industrial training & safety videos, and from cathode ray tubes to flat screens and broadcast to podcast – the Airlift Studios & I have shifted and tacked into the winds of change … while remaining calm & steady in the Hurricane’s Eye.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence & Determination alone are omnipotent.” ~ Coolidge/Ziants
*** Micheal Ziants AUDIO BOOK Demo ***
And the winds continue to blow! My grandfather John was born before the radio, my father Charlie was born before the television, and I was born before the internet & digital.
Well, whatever it is, you can rest assured that Airlift Productions and I will be there … in the Hurricane’s Eye.
“We’ve worked with Mike for almost 15 years, both as voice over and on-camera talent in more than 50 films. Not only is he a great guy and a super talent, but he has the coolest recording studio in the South.” ~ TIM WESTON, President TLW Productions, NOLA