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 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!
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
Especially given the current political-religious intolerant issues of the planet Earth today, I didn’t quite know what to expect when the phone rang that Saturday night in March 2018 at the Airlift Studios .
It was a video producer pal of mine, founder of NolaVid, Max Cusimano, wondering if I could make time for a special Saturday night audio session for Ibrahim and Ali.
Ali comes from a large Muslim family and had a brother who ‘went missing’ from the streets of New Orleans three years back and, together with Ibrahim, was looking for more than clues.
So, after shooting all of his on-site noisy & loud French Quarter/New Orleans video with Max, Ibrahim was in need of a professional, relaxed and QUIET studio to record all the VoiceOver to tie everything together.
Here’s a boy from Pennsylvania (yours truly), transplanted to New Orleans, recording a hot-shot investigative reporter from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates – for VoiceOver targeted to over 150 million Arabs in the middle east!
Proving, without a doubt, the engaging, enriching, stereotype-defying, and awesome reach of not only technology – but the Brotherhood of VoiceOver.
“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 huge Airlift Productions recording space & booth you built. Recording with you was as easy as if I were in my own studio back in Australia – andthat 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.” ~ Rhiannon Boulger, Aussie VoiceOver Talent/Shell Oil Spokesperson
Hurricane season in NOLA arrived a bit early this year. Little did I realize when we first talked on the phone what a force of nature AMY LANDON was.
“Hurricane Amy” had found my website, innocently enough, through a referral and a Google search. She reached out to me in January with her initial inquiry, but nothing in that call had prepared me for the drive, intellect, talent and passion that blew into New Orleans in early March.
Idaho native, Los Angeles-Nashville transplant, actress, writer, audio book narrator, voice over talent – and self-described ‘motochick’ – Amy Landon was looking for a quality recording studio in N’awlins to help her record gigabytes of audio book work throughout March.
I said, ‘Why not?” And did we ever.
Working and recording together every afternoon, we created other worlds – from young-adult paranormal science fiction to dramatic whodunnit mystery thrillers.
Creating believable character after character, painting scenic pictures, drawing the listener deeper with every ‘page’ of her iPad, Amy weaved audio book magic daily at the Airlift Productionsmicrophones.
Having worked with many talents across many years – and with hundreds of sessions to compare hers with – I was struck by her dogged stamina and hyper-focus, especially after hours-long sessions at the mic.
** A very unique view of audio book production ~ with computer-generated wave files reflected off the studio glass **
For voice talents, no doubt, if the radio commercial or TV tag is the hundred yard dash, the audio book is the marathon!
And this woman is without question in for the long haul, a true hurricane force-of-nature talent, the real deal!
Case in point?
Amy’s now back in Los Angeles. Did she fly? Take Amtrak?
She rode her Harley Davidson from New Orleans all the way home to the west coast.
Thankfully, during her time here in New Orleans, she took me along for the ride.
And today, I still somehow find myself watching the weather channel, looking for strange hurricane-type activity boomeranging back towards New Orleans – from the west … instead of the Gulf.
“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
Everything changes. Count on it. Even – and especially – in the world of VoiceOver. If you want to get addicted to anything – get addicted to change.
America’s most fascinating city – New Orleans – is only now beginning to return to ‘normal’ after the developments of the past weeks.
Thrust begrudgingly into the spotlight of national and international news by (1) eccentric millionaire Texas fugitive Robert Durst – picked up downtown in our Marriott (packing a gun, mask, fake ID, and 5 ounces of pot, medicinal I’m sure) on the lam from the law… and HBO, and (2) this weekend’s machete-wielding miscreant (God rest his troubled soul) who decided Friday night to whup-up on some unsuspecting TSA agents out at Louis Armstrong … we’re only now beginning to catch our breath.
But as I type these words, yet another parade, the annual Irish-Italian parade is marching one block from the Airlift Studios, tossing cabbages & other assorted goodies to the eager, jubilant crowds. Oh, and passing out a kiss or two.
You see – everything changes. And the beat … goes on.
When I began my radio and VoiceOver career, the voice artist (we used to just call them announcers) Demo was distributed via the archaic audio cassette and reel-to-reel recording tape. Then, in the early 80s, it evolved to compact disc. Today it just has to be available via a digital file, wave or mp3, and easily downloadable to someone’s phone, tablet, computer, or digital device.
Only problem is, from what I can gather surfing the web and various voice artist sites, many Voice dudes and dudesses are still employing Flash files on their sites to play their voice demos. Not good.
The Flash format is simply ignored by many devices, including many iOS Apple devices, like the ever-present iPad! So the quest began for a more cross-platform compatible approach that would make the voice demo playable most anywhere and on most anything in 2015.
Ah-hah! Necessity being the mother of invention, the solution seems to be – to make Videos out of our audio. The VoiceOver audition demo, sampled, stored and uploaded as a video plays on the iPad, a Mac computer, Android phone & tablet, and, of course, on all Windows PCs. True cross-platform compatibility! For now.
Case in point, I spent the better part of yesterday in the Airlift Studios toying around with Window’s ‘Movie Maker’, available free on most all PCs or as a free download.
Watch – as well as Listen – to my new Commercials Voice Demo on the Airlift ProductionsWebsite Welcome Page by clicking here.
OK, so maybe I got a little carried away, a little too artsy-fartsy with it, as I took jpegs from the studio, art work, even a shot from the banks of the MS River, to punch-up every read. As I alternated from serious to light, dramatic to frivolous.
This same video-from-audio approach can also be as simple as displaying a gif image (bouncing analog or digital vu meters, for example) as ‘eye-candy’ while your demo rolls before their ears.
In any event, you’ve got to love the ‘StarWars-ish’ scroll at the top as an attention-grabber, plus the ‘credits’ at the tail, which gives the listener/viewer the opportunity – the Call-to-Action – to get you by phone right then should they choose. Try doing that with an audio-only file.
This approach also gives the VoiceOver talent an opportunity to ‘display the goods’ via YouTube, Vimeo, or a Facebook page near you. Not bad, huh?
Yeah, we used to snail mail our cassettes, reel-to-reel tapes, digital tapes & CDs to chase voice work with UPS & Fed Ex as the middlemen. In 2015, not so much.
Like I said, everything changes. Even the nature of change.
Best of Luck from NOLA as you chase that VO dream.