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
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, 31 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.
2022 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
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.
Pause to consider, the entire Airlift Productions air space is completely out-of-square with no parallel walls, and the studio ceiling rises from front to back.
Custom-designed, the entire room is built like the ancient Greeks imagined 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 6 feet square at the front … to nearly 12 feet at the back. Dramatic, sure, but functional, as well. 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 intensely personal musical 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.
When quality counts ~ count on Airlift Productions. Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans since 1984.
“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 pressureto 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
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.
It happened again last night, I caught a national TV ad broadcast across America – with audio recorded here in New Orleans at my Airlift PROductions, wherein (who knew) yours truly was the “silent partner”.
Ya’ see, my family up north – from the coal mines of West Virginia to the newspaper offices in Pittsburgh & the grade school classrooms of Lancaster, Ohio – has NO IDEA whatsoever that I am the dude behind the glass “teeing-up the ball” for these national TV ads.
First contacted and contracted by the Ron Foth Agency in Columbus, Ohio way back in 2013, I’ve been recording Safelite AutoGlass national on-camera spokesperson PASCAL BARONE ever since!
Amiable, authentic, and as genuine as they come, Pascal has been a front man for Safelite for nearly a decade and, as the fates would have it, is a New Orleans local (actually Kenner-bruh).
Give a listen to audio excerpts from our phone-patch recording session between NOLA & Columbus with Pascal from March 2020, used in Safelite’s “Camping/Road Trip” :30 TV spot now airing.
Now, here’s how the VoiceOver tracks recorded atAirlift PROductionsplay out – along with the client jingle – on national television airwaves & digital platforms.And notice how seamlessly the “wild tracks”/ADR voice match the on-screen performance…
Nice job, Pascal! Great spot, Ron Foth Columbus, Ohio dudes!
“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. Michael 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.” — Award-Winning, World-Class, New Zealand-based VoiceOver Talent, TOBY RICKETTS
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 thePlayboycatalog.
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”.
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!
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!
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 marquis–type names.
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.”
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?
“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
When Denney first rang my phone, he’d found my website in a Google search, had experience behind a microphone – he founded the Weirdos, an LA-based punk band in the ’80s – had moved here to NOLA, and had never done a commercial in his life.
I said, “Well, John, we’ll change all that!”
And change it we did. It began with a commercial demo (heard here); after he landed his first job within two weeks of production, he subsequently returned to produce an animation demo… and a medical demo.
A longtime television news anchor and reporter, Rachel had moved to town, had been in New Orleans about ten years, and was looking to exit the local TV scene and begin self-employment as a VoiceOver artist.
Again, like John Denney, she had a lot of on-camera and on-mic experience, but Rachel had no commercial background.
“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 notorious LA-based punk band The Weirdos … and relatively new VoiceOver Artist
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 change to Gannet/Tegna, and Entercom to Audacy – my, oh 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
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.
Now, 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.
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 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!”
Would I be available to help with a safety training project for Shell Oil concerns – in Melbourne, Australia?
Well, color me intrigued.
Stellar VoiceOver talent RHIANNON BOULGERoperates as the safety training voice for Shell Oil concerns in Australia and, as the fates would have it, she was currently in the states along with her fiancé Jae visiting New Orleans for the week.
The VO scripts were then emailed to both Rhiannon and me for the recording session. Cool!
So, Rhiannon & hubby-to-be Jae showed up via an Uber lift from the downtown Sheraton on-time, and we went to work.
We phone-patched the entire session with Jennifer at Accenture-Chicago for long distance direction & coaching.
The session went as smoothly as water off a kangaroo’s back in the outback! We nailed all four scripts, and I had the wav files on their way via an FTP site to the edit bays in Chicago for post-production within the hour.
For use at Shell Oil’s facility ~ in Melbourne, Australia!
I teased Rhiannon throughout the session that I’d done scores of plant safety video narrations through the years, but never one that sounded so… ah, saucy.
Give a listen to just a taste of what went down at the Airlift mics, and since it IS New Orleans, we’ll deal with drugs & alcohol, here.…
To have conducted a session like this and in this manner when I began the Airlift Productions Studios back in the day – the 1980s – would have been considered science fiction, unbelievable, and inconceivable.
Today in 2021… it’s par for the course.
So pardon me, as I reach back in my bag for a nine-iron…and catch the next phone call.
Who knows? Could be my new Australian pen pal and recording gal pal from Melbourne.
Great job, Rhi! I really enjoyed working with you. And keep doin’ that voodoo that you do so well.
“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 – and that 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.”