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
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.
As the great souls Emerson & Thoreau taught me, “Build a better mousetrap – and the world will beat a path to your door.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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
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 montage 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, 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
The only problem with dogs is … that they don’t live forever!
And spelled either frontwards or backwards … Dog is still man’s best friend.
The Shadeaux, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal dogs, came to the Airlift Productions Studios and became our official mascot and ‘talent herder’ over Christmas 2006.
Near as we can tell, he’s twelve years old today and, truth be known, he picked us out at the SPCA that day. Kind of like the Ziants boyz – a mutt; part German Shepherd, part Chow, part Border Collie … and all Love.
No, this is not his obituary (and even he’d appreciate the humor that the word ‘bitch’ is in that word), it’s more like a mid-life opus and testament to his otherworldly powers.
After all, the recording process can be somewhat intimidating to some, and capturing a stellar on-mic performance can feel a bit daunting at times – even to the pro!
And the Shadeaux has an uncanny way of throwing a ‘chill-out’ factor into the entire equation.
Little Quvenzhane Wallis (of ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ fame) wanted to take him home with her (no chance), and James Carville’s ‘missus’ – Mary Matalin – could hardly tear herself away to get back to work on her audio book.
With a woof, a lick, and an appreciative tail wag – coupled with more fur than Liz Taylor at a pre-PETA-days holiday bash – the Shadeaux has an amazing talent for making anyone feel comfortable, relaxed and right at home.
And when trying to record a stunning on-mic, on-point performance … what more could you ask for?
Except maybe that he’d live forever.
Airlift Productions … where EVERY day is ‘Take Your Doggie to Work Day’… Airlift Mike with his fave, furry four-footed friend – and uncharacteristically shy, The Shadeaux
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ~ Will Rogers
“I care not for a man’s religion whose dog & cat are not the better for it.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” ~ Andy Rooney
“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 outenvironment he’s cultivated…personally and within his studio.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to be able to get this audio book out to you guys!! As challenging as it all was, the end result, I think, is amazing!
Once again, 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
Thanks for the great week my friend! :)”
— SEAN O’SHEA, Los Angeles-based Dog Trainer & AudioBook Producer
“Mike is a craftsman. You don’t often hear that word when describing digital media, but it most certainly applies to work done at AIRLIFT PRODUCTIONS. Mike’s produced literally thousands of audio segments for me, and they’ve all sounded perfect. He also understands how to get things done! I wish all of my contractors were as responsive and committed to meeting deadlines. You’re in good hands with AIRLIFT PRODUCTIONS.” ~ Ethan Anderson, Former Manager of Multi-Media Development for JRL Enterprises, Creators of the “I CAN Learn” Mathematics Educational Software
January is the month for reflection. And prognostication! (u like that word?)
In legend, named after the Roman god Janus, who had two heads & faces, January gives us all pause & cause to look back (reflect) and forward (predict/prognosticate) at the same time.
So, let’s do that.
As a VoiceOver & Radio dude operating a full-blown recording studio & production business in the great city of New Orleans, LA for now-THIRTY years, I guess it would be safe to say that I’ve got some pretty fascinating stories to tell.
From working with – and RECORDING – everyone from Archie Manning to Dr. Morgus the Magnificent, Quvenzhane Wallis to James Carville, Ronnie Lamarque to Dr. John, Mayor Marc Morial to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Reverend Avery Alexander to Congressman Bill Jefferson (I could go on and on, name dropping, but you get the idea) – what a RIDE!
When it comes time to reflect, it’s like, OK, so where do I start?!?
I sure do miss some old friends. How about we start there?
I miss my old buddy Buddy Stall. As Louisiana historian, writer & public speaker, Old “Gaspar J” sure could spin a yarn. And always about the people and the town he loved.
Buddy passed (dropped his body) in 2011 at the age of 81, but not before leaving quite the mark on the Crescent City.
His books and speeches about “The City That Care Forgot” are legendary, and were they ever fun!
We worked together for years. Ironically, one of his final gifts to me was the DVD of the special documentary he’d made of the great cemeteries of NOLA!
Give a LISTEN to just one of our radio gems that we cooked-up together through the years. This one is to sell our Louis Armstrong International Airport …
Or, how about having the opportunity to record the late Reverend Avery C. Alexander for an Academy Award-winning documentary film, as I worked side-by-side with the legendary Charles Guggenheim?!?
(I mean, really. Who wrote this screenplay? And how many ever get a chance to live this kind of life?)
The Rev’s candid, honest & heartfelt sentiments resonate and reverberate from last century to this one.
** Avery Alexander talks of David Duke, the KKK, and anti-Catholic & anti-Jew bias for Guggenheim Documentary at Airlift 1992 **
January 2016, reflections on not only some of the great spirits who’ve spent time at the Airlift Productions microphones, but how about the BUSINESSES that have come and gone?
I spent 17 years with Ronnie Lamarque “Bridging the Gap” (remember when he had 7 dealerships on both sides of theriver and lake?), I wrote and recorded many commercials for Archie Manning when he & his partner Steve Smith had the long-gone Gold’s Gym franchise on Veterans … and one of my fave old accounts (which has sentimental bearing here) was David Ervin’s “The Daiquiri Factory”!
Imagine using kids from a daycare to “reminisce” (really, can kids do that?) to sell an alcohol-fueled Eggnog Daiquiri on the radio to adults.
Crank up the speakers on your digital device and listen to the gang at Judy’s PlayCare in mid city NOLA make you all misty, so you’ll open up your wallet to buy a daiquiri … back in 1992 —–
Yes, from radio spots to television voice-overs, industrial training narrations to comedy albums, music projects to website audio, educational software to documentary films … life around the old Airlift Productions campus is never boring!
And gee, I didn’t get a chance to tell the stories about recording Anders Osborne & Theresa Andersson right after they landed in America & NOLA, or capturing two entire audio books with James Carville (and the wife), or tracking VoiceOver with Chef John Besh for TLC!
But, hey, that’s what January is all about, right? Looking back – and forward.
Stories for another day, another blog, another time.
“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, Political Commentator, Tulane Professor, and Campaign Strategist behind the most dramatic political victories of our generation
So I’ve got the Airlift Studios in the ‘home theater mode’ the other night to catch another blockbuster in 5.1 surround sound. It’s my favorite way to watch a movie. No texters, no talkers, no cell phones! I get to actually hear every word. And imagine my surprise!
McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ – 2014’s Academy Award winning Best Picture – is a brutally painful one to watch for sure. But I reveled in it. For personal reasons. Very personal.
Astonished I was to catch not one, not two, not three, not four… but FIVE different and wildly talented individuals who’ve recorded, laughed and spent time with me at Airlift Productions …. IN THE MOVIE!
There was – for all the world to see – Quvenzhane Wallis, John “Spud” McConnell, Donald Surtain, and that dynamic mother-daughter combo of Deneen & Devyn Tyler! Wow!
And they all comported themselves quite admirably. No. No starring roles, but in very key supporting ones.
Playing Solomon Northup’s daughter Margaret as a child was little Quvenzhane, all dolled-up. And in the critical closing and final scene, playing Margaret as an adult and mother … was Deneen’s real-life daughter – Devyn Tyler!
In fact, as she cried while holding the lead character (Chiwetel Ejiofor/Solomon), Devyn had the final words in the entire movie! Double wow.
In scenes where Solomon was seen playing the violin, Chiwetel was faking it, but Donald Surtain – who was in the Airlift Studios just two months ago now, recording with Greg DiLeo – was on-camera and laying-down the REAL thing!
Spud was a plantation owner picking up a slave down along the Mississippi River in the French market and Deneen, as Phoebe, sure cried a lot.
OK, so my work with this talented crew was nowhere near as dramatic.
Spud McConnell sold air conditioning installation & maintenance via radio spots for Comfort Engineered Systems, Deneen & Devyn Tyler worked on educational software tracks for John R. Lee and I Can Learn at the Airlift Studios, and little Quvenzhane , the youngest actress ever to earn a best actress Oscar nominee nod, recorded VoiceOvers with me to sell cars for Chrysler & Maserati.
God, but I truly admire, love and respect talent. At the Airlift Productionsmicrophones … and on the big silver screen.
Congratulations, Kudos & High-Fives gang! Proud to work shoulder-to-shoulder with you … and know you I am.
So as Hollywood South continues to explode in NOLA (they’re starting to call Hollywood ‘New Orleans West’!), I’ll see you at the cinema. And next time, the popcorn’s on me.
So, what DOES a ten year old do in between starring in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (for which she earns the Best Actress Academy Award nomination) and helping all of America re-boot the Little Orphan Annie franchise?
Well, she heads to Airlift Productions in New Orleans to pick up a part-time job recording national television & radio work for Chrysler & Maserati with Airlift Mike, that’s what!
Hired by a Los Angeles-based ad agency that found my website, I vacuumed-up the Airlift red carpet in February to welcome little Quvenzhane, her stage mom and brother to come play in my sandbox for a day. And what a day.
Although, I must confess that I was caught a bit off guard when the agency declined the phone patch offer … and told me that yours truly could coach and direct her through the reads. Really?
OK, so let me see if I’ve got this straight …. I’ve been tasked to record – and direct – the Academy Award’s Youngest Best Actress Nominee in it’s history through an entire VoiceOver session?
Oh, it went fine. The ads were a follow-up to her Superbowl 2014 spot for Chrysler-Maserati, wherein they’ve got a ten year old girl “manning-up” to pitch their automobiles! I kid you not.
LISTEN to just some of our session together – out takes included, her ‘back-cracking’, watery eyed sneezes… and just plain being a sweet, and often overwhelmed, ten year old little girl in this never-before-heard exclusive audio clip —-
“Annie” & “Beasts of the Southern Wild” star Quvenzhane Wallis cozies up to the Airlift Studio mics for Chrysler-Maserati, Feb 2014
Honestly, this little Houma, Louisiana born cutie is the real deal.
In “Beasts of the Southern Wild” her grit, character, gumption, and tenacity were showcased, and all of America is about to be charmed by her grace & style when “Annie” hits theaters across the USA for Christmas next month.
In the meantime, should you catch any of her work in the advertising realm, now you know the rest of the story … sincerity & searing honesty from the mouths of babes, courtesy Airlift Productions.
And should I happen to catch you around the mall cineplex for “Annie” next month, the first tub of overpriced popcorn & a soda are on me. Cheers!