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.
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.
It has been said that the best VoiceOverTalents come from the stage – not the radio – because the theater and acting is at the heart of the craft, not broadcasting.
But what if a talent could combine both?
Yes, this blog could perhaps be seen as self-serving, tooting one’s own horn … and sort of like ‘breaking the 4th wall’ in a Woody Allen movie where he addresses the camera directly, but here goes …
While I began my broadcasting career in the 1970s and worked on-air in some of America’s greatest cities (and was subsequently hired & fired from some of America’s greatest radio stations), for me… it all began on the stage!
The acting bug bit me early – and hard! In the 1960s it was civic Children’s Theater in Youngstown, Ohio that was my launch pad. Saturdays could find me on-stage re-creating the stories of Peter Pan, Tom Edison or Robin Hood.
I then went on, through high school, to become the President of the Thespian Club and had the leads in the Junior and Senior Class plays as well.
Using the human voice to arrest someone’s attention … and then motivate them to relate to a cause or sympathize with an issue seemed the stuff of magic. I was hooked.
Later on, as a broadcaster – and then as a voice over talent – I learned to call on these same skills, intuitive yet honed on a stage … and bring them to the microphone!
Shocking, Raw, Visceral – Adults Only ** Micheal reads from Pelican Publishing’s True Crime Drama “Murder in Coweta County”
So, again, what if the voice over artist – the person delivering the message at the microphone – could combine innate, yet trained, acting chops plus vast commercial broadcast experience and decades of technical, hands-on production experience?
OK, here comes the horn tooting part – that would be … me!
Do you want to book a voice talent with experience? With theater in his blood? With years of broadcasting & audio production thrown in ala carte?
“I listened to a lot of voices to represent Detective Lt. Robert (Robbo) Davidson for our audiobook version of “The Evil I Have Seen” and none quite fit. At last, I did a search for a commanding, seasoned, slightly Southern voice — and pulled up Airlift Productions of NOLA. I clicked on Micheal’s sample narrations of “Murder in Coweta County” then James Patterson’s “The Chef,” and I was hooked. No one else would do.
I was surprisingly delighted after speaking with Micheal to learn, he would not agree to narrate and produce the audiobook until he read it. He wasn’t in it just for money — he would only partner on material he believed to be worthwhile. It has been a delightful, rewarding experience and Robbo and I could not be more proud of the way he brought this book to life.” — Author PJ Jones
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 New Orleans’ 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 recording 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 —
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 & I were hired to record the introduction to accompany the big show-opening video – all about New Orleans legendary Red Light District!
Our paths – and stars – would continue to cross through the next couple decades, most notably at New Orleans’ Big Easy Entertainment Awards Shows.
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 —
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.
Then, in 2019… it was 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.
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.
“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.
Now playing – yes, still in 2018, that’s what ‘buyouts’ are all about – on flat screens all across Atlanta, from hotels to motels and on the web, is this classic piece all about a Mediterranean Grill in downtown Atlanta called “Aviva by Kameel”.
“My experience with Airlift Productions was top notch from the start. My company is based in Los Angeles and I had a client that needed to do a last minute VO session in New Orleans. Micheal was incredibly knowledgable and accommodating, not to mention a blast to work with! Our session turned out beautifully.”
– LIZZ RANTZE, Executive Producer, Rantze + Raves Productions, Los Angeles, CA
I first met Rachel Wulff innocently enough around the aisles of our local Lowes Home Improvement store on Veterans in Metairie.
After our brief introductions, she confessed that, together with her husband, she was looking forward to the birth of her second child come the summer and had plans to take some time off from the grueling grind of television news.
My story was somewhat less dramatic.
I filled Rachel in on my thirty-plus-years run owning and operating a recording studio here in NOLA, and told her all about the decidedly un-glamorous world of VoiceOver ~ and Airlift Productions.
She seemed intrigued, agreed to a meeting at my studio, and last month we went to work.
If you want to call it that.
After all, for a guy who’s played with tape recorders and sound for fun since he was a pre-teen, I still marvel at the fact that people will pay me for what amounts to playing with my train set!
Rachel Wulff is as accomplished as they come. With seasoned, measured, articulate and compassionate tones, she’s reported in the field and anchored at the desk on TVs across America.
The folks of New Orleans have been fortunate to have her around delivering ‘the good, the bad & the ugly’, locally on WDSU & WWL, since 2007.
But, perhaps, it’s time for a different chapter in this reporter/anchor/realtor/mother’s life.
A chapter that I’m proud to help her write.
Last month, in early February, Rachel laid-down the tracks for a VoiceOver Demo – no news, no body count, no tragedy – an opportunity for her to str-e-t-ch, bust-out, and showcase her remarkable skill-set at the microphone.
I was somewhat surprised when she left the production end of things (music, sound effects, editing) entirely up to me!
And it all comes out of your digital device’s speakers like this…
Playful. Up-Tempo. Seductive. Versatile. And, yeah, that’s her little girl, “S.B.” on the intro.
While we’ll sure miss her news-filled contributions, in the future, if that voice coming out of your radio or TV speakers sounds a bit familiar, but you’re not quite sure – now you know the rest of the story.
Go get ’em, Rachel!
Here’s to a healthy delivery this early summer, and allow me & the Airlift Productions krewe to raise a glass to toast your new addition to the Wulff-pack.
“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 newbie VoiceOver dude
I guess when I first conceived, designed, built and wired the Airlift Productions Studios, I was dedicated to creating a space to create.
A space with a ‘vibe’.
A space with an aura.
Comfortable, relaxing, and yet stimulating all at the same time.
Every day looks different because natural daylight filtered through stained glass gives feedback on the day, and every sunset has a different hue… a different feel.
And the sound? Oh yes, it had to be killer!
Whether UP full blast and in-your-face or background mellow relaxed, Airlift Productions is where the warmth of analogue lives… and the lightning-quick speed of digital delivers.
And check out just a few of the totally cool – and multi-talented -individuals who’ve been ‘killing time’ with yours truly already here in 2016 —-
If you live in or around metro New Orleans, these characters really need no introduction. But we’ll give them one anyway.
Norman Robinson, after handling White House duties for CBS Nightly News, and after spending 20+ years in the anchor chair at WDSU-TV, enjoys cracking the Airlift Productions microphones for VoiceOver jobs for various clients, including Posi-Gen solar.
Heavy Metal fans allacross the south have lost their minds to the tender, heartfelt refrains of Lillian Axe since the 1980s, and the band’s founder & leader Steve Blaze was by the Airlift micsto lay down V-O tracks last month for “Through the Veil”, coming soon to a flat screen near you.
Together with over 70,000 of my closest friends, I’ve stood (like a scene out of ‘Gladiator’) in our Superdome and chanted this guy’s name, as he pounded yet another one over the goal line.
The New Orleans Saints’ all-time leading ground-gainer/rusher, with over 6,000 yards and 55 Touchdowns to his credit – “The Deuce”, Deuce McAllister dropped by just last week to ‘drop the mic’ for the Mississippi State Dept ofProtective Services.
We laid-down tracks for a PSA campaign slated for air all across the state to raise awareness to the plight of abused and exploited kids.
Let me tell you, Fox-8/WVUE-TV down on Jefferson Davis Parkway here in NOLA is awfully lucky to have this dude in its employ.
Lee Zurik not only anchors the nightly newscasts – he makes news! Lee’s mantle above the fireplace isn’t big enough to handle all the awards – the Peabody, National Edward R. Murrows, the Dupont Silver Batons… as his investigative reports shake up New Orleans almost nightly!
What many do NOT know about Lee, though, is that he was pulling guard for Peyton Manning down at Newman here in NOLA, as he and Peyton were high school teammates back in the day. Really.
We got together in February to make waves for a program called “Glory Days”, along with video dude Paul Atkinson.
And I haven’t even added my contributions – from radio imaging for Mike Church to TV VoiceOvers and radio spots for the local N’awlins market and beyond.
I guess what I find most exciting about 2016 so far is the VARIETY of work: TV promotional V-O for a solar company, public service announcements to raise awareness for exploited kids, high school football retrospectives … even ghost hunting on the bayou!
It occurs to me that my last several blogs have dealt with Life’s Rear View mirror (history), so let’s pump the brakes just a second and re-enter the 21st century – in fact, a poker-hot July at the Airlift Productions Studios in NOLA.
From the days of the Mad Men in the ’60s to today, let’s face it, SEX sells! Folks will part with their last dollar to find it, thrill to it, and hang on to it. The magic allure of sex is a well that the Madison Avenue crowd will always draw from. Always. And in all ways.
I was reminded of this just this past Wednesday as the phone rang from Madison Avenue in NYC looking for some help on a project for Yves Saint Laurent. The boys were curious if I could find some time to record an actor while he was filming for HBO in New Orleans.
Ah-h, sure, let me check my schedule.
So, in the middle of cranking out some new night club commercials (also involving sex and the search for same), I agreed to record Edoardo Ballerini on behalf of Yves Saint Laurent for Moritz & Company in Manhattan.
Check this dude out. Perhaps you’ve already witnessed Edoardo’s talents on the Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire on HBO. It was further work with the Home Box Office crowd that brought him to NOLA. His new show, coming soon, is called “Quarry”.
What a stud. Edoardo blew through the Airlift Studio doors yesterday afternoon with all the swag of Johnny Depp … only with more talent! His zen-like, laser-focused mic techniques – honed through his recording of over one hundred audio books – were most impressive. Listen here to just a bit of this week’s magic captured by the Airlift Productions mics …
** Edoardo Ballerini talks for Yves Saint Laurent, 7-16-15 **
This guy’s skill set is just off the charts. Not only is he bilingual, fluent in Italian as well, but he studied Latin while on a scholarship – in Rome. And his relaxed and self-assured looks allow him to fit into any era on film. And play good guy or bad – with style.
In fact, as we discussed his life yesterday after our session, while he banged on my guitar in the Airlift Studios Green Room, I felt somewhat envious. Edoardo jets between NYC and NOLA, playing out the lives of fascinating folks on sets and sound stages …. while yours truly makes a living from the solitude of a dimly-lit, tricked-out digital cave.
But it’s funny, ya know, the Great Spirit has kept things in such perfect balance that one cannot lose one thing without gaining another. One door may close, but a window will open.
And a fine digital cave it is. And I have my privacy. And flying is for the birds. And the inquisitive fingers of prying TSA agents.
Which brings us back to sex.
And it continues to sell – well at Airlift Productions.
** A couple recent radio thirties for the gang at Legends Encore from Airlift Mike & the Airlift Productions Studios **
“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. 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 Corporation, NOLA
I was reminded of this gig just last night when I caught the spot on WRNO-99.5-Rush Radio in New Orleans. Man, how times … and dimes have changed.
When it came time for legendary French Quarter restaurant Tujagues on Decatur to roll-out it’s new Brunch menu and shout it from the rooftops via WRNO, the bat signal went out into the night sky for Airlift Mike.
What followed is kind of like the ‘alley-oop’ play in basketball – Bo Walker (then-production chief at Clear Channel) emailed me the copy … I voiced it and sent it back to him, along with some sound effect cues … he added his music track and mixed it down, then ping-ponged this mp3 back to me … and voila!
Part history lesson, part menu … and all sizzle! And when it all comes out of your car speaker on WRNO or worldwide via their I-Heart radio app, ‘Tujagues Brunch Menu’ radio :60 sounds like this….
Yeah, pretty amazing times we’re living in, huh?
Please though, do not attempt this kind of radio production at home. These men are trained professionals.
Note: No animals were harmed in the making of this commercial.
VoiceOver Recording & Production … with a New Orleans twist