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The question pops up on social media pretty regularly: if you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be.  Most people’s answers have to do with relationships or credit-ruining purchases. My advice to 7, 13, or 17 year old me would be: voice acting is a thing.  Become a voice actor. Voice acting is so much more than just cartoons; it’s documentary narration, GPS voices, smart speakers, and so much more. And if you can get in good, your career will be legendary, even if no one knows your name or what you look like.  My name’s …   The ship wireless operators for the United Fruit Company, along with the US Navy, had only heard Morse codes coming through their headphones. But on the Christmas Eve of 1906, they heard a human voice singing “O Holy Night” with violin accompaniment and afterwards reading a passage from the Bible.  This was heard by ships along the Atlantic northeast coast and from shore stations as far south as Norfolk, Virginia. A repeat broadcast was heard on New Year’s Eve as far south as the West Indies. The voice was that of Canadian inventor and mathematician Reginald Fessenden, who was responsible for establishing the first transatlantic wireless telegraphic communication and what is considered to be the first voice work.  Fessneden was excited by Alexander Graham Bell’s new device, the telephone, and set out to create a way to remotely communicate without wires. In 1900, working for the United States Weather Bureau, Fessenden recorded the very first voice over: a test he made reporting the weather. The following year, Guglielmo Marconi, who is often credited as the father and inventor of the radio became the first person to transmit signals across the Atlantic Ocean.   Though wireless communication was invaluable in WWI, broadcasts to the public were largely regional, amateur affairs.  The first radio news program was broadcast August 31, 1920 by station 8MK in Detroit, Michigan, which survives today as all-news CBS station.  The first college radio station began broadcasting two months later from Union College, Schenectady, New York. Around the same time, station 2ADD (call letters were weird in the beginning), aired what is believed to be the first public entertainment broadcast in the United States, a series of Thursday night concerts that could initially only be heard within a 100-mile (160 km) radius and later for a 1,000-mile (1,600 km) radius. It wasn’t much, but it was the start of broadcast voice work.   The average person knows off-hand that the first movie with diegetic, or native, sound was The Jazz Singer in 1927, but the biggest event in voice work came the following year — the first talkie cartoon.  It was Steamboat Willie, with the prototype for Mickey Mouse voiced by none other than creator Walt Disney. Hot on its heels came next year’s Looney Tunes the following year. And that’s t-u-n-e-s like music, not t-o-o-n-s like cartoon.   In the early days of animation, Disney produced short animated films called “Silly Symphonies,” to promote and sell music, in the form of records and sheet music. As Silly Symphonies gained popularity, Warner Brothers created its own equivalents, “Merrie Melodies”“Looney Tunes.” As for the “looney” part of the title, Warner Brothers wanted to indicate that “[their] cartoons were a little wackier than the sweeter characters of Disney.”  Cartoons quickly solidified their place as entertainment for children and adults alike.   One man in particular made Looney Tunes a powerhouse, “the man of a thousand voices” – Mel Blanc.  He is considered to be the first outstanding voice actor in the industry and voiced Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, the Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, Speedy Gonzales, and many others.  Raised in Portland, Oregon, he worked at KGW as an announcer and as one of the Hoot Owls in the mid-1930s, where he specialized in comic voices. It took him a year and a half to land an audition with Leon Schlesinger’s company, where he began in 1937. He also worked for Walter Lantz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia, and even Walt Disney until Schlesinger signed him to an exclusive contract.   One of Mel Blanc’s most important contributions to the voice over industry is the recognition that voice artists now get to enjoy. Originally, voice artists were not given screen credit on animated cartoons. After he was turned down for a raise by tight-fisted producer Leon Schlesinger, Blanc suggested they add his name as Vocal Characterizationist to the credits as a compromise. Not only did it give a greater recognition to voice artists but also from then on, it helped to bring Blanc to the public eye and quickly brought him more work in radio.   We almost didn’t have as much Mel Blanc voice-work as we did.  On January 24th, 1961, Blanc was in a near-fatal car accident on Sunset Boulevard.  He suffered multiple fracture to both legs and his pelvis, as well as triple skull bone displacements.  He lay in a coma, unresponsive, for two weeks. After many doctors’ attempts to bring him out of the deep unconsciousness, one of his neurologists tried a different approach and asked Blanc, “How are you feeling today, Bugs Bunny?”  After a moment, in a low voice, he replied, “Eh… just fine, Doc. What’s up?” The doctor then asked if Tweety was in there too, to which Blanc replied: “I tot I taw a puddy tat.”   Mel Blanc recovered shortly after and continued to do what he did best, acting voices even when he was at home, recovering. His health worsen in 1989 when he experienced a severe cough while shooting a commercial. The doctors diagnosed him with a coronary artery disease. He passed away only two months later at the age of 81.  His tombstone in Hollywood Forever Cemetery reads “That’s all, folks.”   Bonus fact: Bugs Bunny’s habit of eating carrots while delivering one-liners was based on a scene in the film It Happened One Night, in which Clark Gable’s character leans against a fence, eating carrots rapidly and talking with his mouth full to Claudette Colbert’s character.  The trouble was, Mel Blanc didn’t like carrots. He would bite and chew the carrots to get the sound needed and immediately spit it out.   Hopping back to Disney, the house of mouse also pioneered the full-length animated feature, to much soon-to-be-disproven skepticism and derision, with Snow White in 1937.  Adriana Caselotti was the daughter of Italian immigrants living in Connecticut. Both her mother and older sister sang opera and her father gave voice lessons, so making best use of one’s voice was sort of their thing.  After a brief stint as a chorus girl, when she was only 18, Caselotti was hired to provide the voice of Snow White. She was paid $970, equivalent to $17K today, typical for the non-union times. In most Hollywood stories, this would be step one of a meteoric rise.  The movie was certainly a success, even briefly hold the title of highest grossing sound film, so why isn’t Adriana Caselotti a household name? All my research indicates that Disney did it on purpose. Caselotti was under contract with Disney, so she couldn’t work for other studios, but Disney never provided her with any other roles.  Even radio and TV legend Jack Benny was turned away, with the explanation, “That voice can’t be used anywhere. I don’t want to spoil the illusion of Snow White.” It’s the same reason Disney didn’t credit voice actors for the first six years of feature films; he didn’t want anything to remind the buying public that the characters are just make-believe.  Caselotti’s only other cinematic contribution, for which she was paid $100, was to sing the falsetto line “Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo”, in the Tin Man’s song in The Wizard of Oz.   I’ve actually got a few bullet points on the dark secrets behind the happiest place on earth.  Would you like to hear them? Share a social media post about this episodes from I, F, T and say “tell us Disney’s dirty secrets!”  There’s enough to fill a movie. I can see the trailer now. “In a world…” I can’t do the voice. Only one man could, the epic movie trailer guy, Don LaFontaine.     Donald LaFontaine was called, “The King,” “Thunder Throat” and “The Voice of God.”  His CV includes 5,000 movie trailers and over 350,000 television commercials, network promotions, and video game trailers.  His signature phrase, “in a world…”, is so well known and parodied, LaFontaine parodied it himself in a Geico ad.   LaFontaine was born in 1940 in Duluth, Minnesota. to Alfred and Ruby LaFontaine.  At age 13, his voice changed, all at once, mid-sentence, and never went back. He began his career as a recording engineer at the National Recording Studios producing commercial spots for Dr. Strangelove: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.  LaFontaine worked behind the mic until 1964, when he had to fill in for a missing voice actor to finish a promo spot for 1964’s Gunfighters of Casa Grande for a client’s presentation. The client bought the spots, and LaFontaine’s career as a voice actor began.  LaFontaine developed his signature style of a strong narrative approach, and heavy melodramatic coloration of his voice work. In 1976 LaFontaine started his own company producing movie trailers. He moved to Los Angeles in 1981 and was contacted by an agent, launching a career that spanned three decades.  LaFontaine’s signature voice came with a busy schedule. He could have voiced about 60 promotions a week, sometimes more than 3 in a single day. Most studios were willing to pay a premium for his service. It has been said that his voice-over added prestige and excitement, a certain gravitas, to what might otherwise have been a box office failure.   In a 2007 interview, LaFontaine explained the strategy behind his signature catch phrase, “in a world where…”: “We have to very rapidly establish the world we are transporting them to. That’s very easily done by saying, `In a world where … violence rules.’ `In a world where … men are slaves and women are the conquerors.’ You very rapidly set the scene.”  Wait, what movie wa that second one? LaFontaine became so successful that he arrived at his voice-over jobs in a personalized limo with a full time driver, until he began recording from his palatial estate in the Hollywood Hills, thanks to the internet and the advent of ISDN technology. That allows voice-actors to communicate with high clarity in real time to studios around the world.  LaFontaine died suddenly of a blood clot in the lung in 2008. Now all we have is that Inception noise. I mean, it was cool at first, but, now … meh.   You know what’s still just as cool as ever, though?  The people who keep this show up and running through  Thanks to Brain Teasers Baron, Dan of Bunny Trails podcast and Amber; Brain Stormers Vera, Nathan, Seth, Sean, and our newest patron Ryan of Conspiracy Theoryology podcast; and our Brain Candies Michael and Adam Bomb.  They get stickers, early access to weekly episodes, and bonus mini episodes where I sometimes cover topic that would be less appropriate for a general audience. This past week, hit its first goal of $50, which covers a lot of the out-of-pocket expenses associated with the podcast.  One we hit the second goal of $75 a month, half of all money coming in will go right back out to other creators, especially those who make resources for others, like Kevin MacLeod, whose free music you can hear on tons of podcasts and YouTube channels. Our third goal level is $100 dollars a month, after which point all contributions go to charity.  So a small donation each month becomes part of a larger effort to help multiple creators and non-profits. That’s a lot of mileage for your moolah.   If you’ve ever heard old movies or newsreels from the thirties or forties, then you’ve probably heard that weird old-timey voice.  It sounds a little like a blend between American English and a form of British English. Did everyone talk that way between the world worlds?  Not everyone, no, only the people being recorded and they did it on purpose.   This type of pronunciation is called the Transatlantic, or Mid-Atlantic, accent.  Not mid-Atlantic like Virginia and Maryland, but like in the middle of the Atlantic.  Unlike most accents, instead of naturally evolving, the Transatlantic accent was acquired.  People in the United States were taught to speak in this voice. Historically, Transatlantic speech was the hallmark of American aristocracy and by extension the theatre.  In upper-class boarding schools across New England, students learned the Transatlantic accent as an international norm for communication, similar to the way posh British society used Received Pronunciation, which we’ll get to in a minute.  Mid-Atlantic English was the dominant dialect among the Northeastern American upper class through the first half of the 20th century. As such, it was popular in the theatre and other forms of elite culture in that region….   Transatlantic has several quasi-British elements, such a lack of rhoticity.  This means that Mid-Atlantic speakers dropped their “r’s” at the end of words like “winner” or “clear”.  They’ll also use softer, British vowels – dahnce, fahst. While those sounds were reduce, emphasis was put on t’s.  In American English we often pronounce the “t” in words like “writer” and “water” as d’s. Transatlantic speakers pounce on their T’s, writer, water.     This speech pattern isn’t completely British, nor completely American.  Instead, it’s a form of English that’s hard to place and that’s part of why Hollywood loved it.  With the evolution of talkies in the late 1920s, voice was first heard in motion pictures. It was then that the majority of audiences first heard Hollywood actors speaking predominantly in Mid-Atlantic English.  But why do so many speakers have such a high, nasal quality? There’s a theory that technological constraints, combined with the schooled accent, created this iconic speech. According to Duke university professor Jay O’Berski, this sound is an artifact from the early days of radio.  Radio receivers had very little bass technology at the time, and it was very difficult, if not impossible, to hear bass tones on your home device. Speakers with pleasing full baritones were no good on early radio.   So where did Transatlantic pronunciation go?  Linguist William Labov noted that Mid-Atlantic speech fell out of favor after World War II, as fewer teachers taught it to their students and radio and movie sound technology evolved to handle bass.  It’s not gone entirely, though. British expats like Anthony Hopkins still use it and it pops up in place of actors’ natural British accents in movies. The example that leaps to my mind is Warwick Davis.  You also know him as The Leprechaun, Professor Fliwick in Harry Potter, among 80 other roles. For his first major film role as the titular Willow in 1988, he was taught the Transatlantic accent because the studio heads thought that Americans wouldn’t be able to understand his British accent.  *sigh* I could probably do a whole episode on executives thinking the average person was sub-moronic. Did you ever once have a problem with Warwick Davis’ accent, or anything less clear than Brad Pitt in Snatch? Pop on to our social media…   The Transatlantic accent made Americans sound vaguely British, but how can you make British people sound more British, like, the maximum amount of Britishness, like a cup of earl grey tea served with a dry scone smeared with marmalade and imperialism.  You teach them Received Pronunciation. Received Pronunciation, or RP, is the instantly recognisable super-British accent often described as The Queen’s English’, ‘Oxford English’ or ‘BBC English.’ RP is described as “the standard form of British English pronunciation,” though only 2% or so of Brits speak it.   Back when the BBC was first launched in 1922, the first General Manager of the corporation, Sir John Reith, insisted the BBC be as formal and quintessentially British as possible, and he created a number of rules towards this end.  One thing he stressed in particular was that the newscasters spoke the “King’s English.“ He felt it was “a style or quality of English that would not be laughed at in any part of the country”. He also assumed RP would be easier for people across the empire to understand versus a regional accent, of which the tiny land mass of the UK has dozens.  Reish wanted things to be ‘just so,’ even ordering that any newscaster reading the news after 8PM had to wear a dinner jacket while on air, on the radio, where no one could see them.   The BBC didn’t create Received Pronunciation, though.  We can trace the origins of RP back to the secondary schools and universities of nineteenth-century Britain, making it the accent of a certain social class, the one with money.  Their speech patterns – based loosely on the local accent of the south-east Midlands, roughly London, Oxford and Cambridge, soon came to be associated with ‘The Establishment.’ although one of Reith’s goals in using RP was to appeal to the widest audience possible, many listeners still felt alienated by the broadcasts being beamed into their homes because of this “upper class” accent being used. Despite this, newscasters were required to use Received Pronunciation right up until World War 2.   Why change it during the war?  Didn’t they have bigger things to worry about?  Well, the Ministry of Information was worried about the Nazis hijacking the radio waves.  During World War 2, Nazi Germany invested a lot of time and money to train spies and propagandists to speak using perfect Received Pronunciation so that they could pass as British.  If they pulled it off, the Nazis could potentially issue orders over the radio in a thoroughly convincing and official-sounding newscaster voice. Therefor, the BBC hired several newscasters possessed of broad regional accents that would be more difficult for Nazis to perfectly copy, and as a bonus might also appeal to the “common man”.   The first person to read the news on the BBC with a regional accent was one Wilfred Pickles in 1941.  Far from being popular, his mild Yorkshie accent offended many listeners so much that they wrote letters to the BBC, blasting them for having the audacity to sully the news that way.  Nonetheless, after the end of World War 2, the BBC continued to loosen its guidelines and began to hire more people who spoke with the respective accent of the region they were being broadcast.  That said, the BBC does continue to select newscasters with the most mild accents for international broadcasts.   You can’t please everyone, but if you can get in good in the voicework industry, you can do a staggering number of roles.  How many? Here are some examples, pulling only from the cast of one of my favorite shows, Futurama. You might say my husband and I are hard-core fans; we had a Hypnotoad wedding cake.  Billy West, the voice of Fry, Prof. Farnsworth, and Zoidberg, as well as both Ren and Stimpy, has 241 acting credits on his IMDB page. Maurice LaMarche, who did Calculon, Morbo and Kiff and is the go-to guy for Orson Welles impressions like Brain from Animaniacs, has 362 roles listed.  Tress MacNeille, who did basically every female who wasn’t Amy or Leela, as well as Dot on Animaniacs and Agnes Skinner on The Simpsons has 366 roles to her name. Bender’s voice actor, John DiMaggio, without whom the Gears of War video games wouldn’t be the same, has worked on some 377 projects.  The man who made Hermes Conrad Jamaican, and gave us Samurai Jack, Phil LaMarr, is the most prolific voice actor on that cast, with a whopping 433 credits to his name. Still, he falls short of the resume of Rob Paulsen, who did the voices of Yakko and Pinky on Animaniacs, and other examples too numerous to list here, because his IMDB pages lists 503 voice acting credits.  And did I mention they’re bringing Animaniacs back? [cheer] Paulsen is trailing behind Tara Strong, though. The actress who voiced Bubbles on Powerpuff Girls, Raven on Teen Titans, and Timmy on Fairly Oddparents has 561 roles in her 33 year career, or an average of 17 a year. That may not sound impressive, but have you’ve ever tried getting *one acting job? Strong can’t hold a candle to a man whose voice I can identify from two rooms away, a man who will always be Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop no matter who he’s playing, Steve Blum, who has racked up 750 voice roles.  And those are just actors I can think of off the top of my head. So when career day rolls around, maybe skip doctor and firefighter and suggest your kid become a voice actor.   “Sure,” you say, “that sounds like a sweet gig.  Walk in, say a few things, and cash the check.” Slow down there, friend-o.  If it was that easy, everyone would do it. For starters, there is no “got it in one take” in voice acting.  Be prepared to do your lines over and over again, with different emphasis, different inflection, different pacing, or sometime simply saying it over and over again until, even though each take sound the same to you, the director gets the subtle difference they’re looking for.  Bonus fact: the feeling you get when you say a word or phrase so many times that it starts to seems like a meaning sound is called semantic satiation.   You may be standing in a little booth all day, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be physically taxing.  Actors dubbing anime in particular are required to do a lot of screaming. Chris Sabat, who voices Vegeta in the Dragonball series, says that even with his background in opera and the vocal control that taught him, “I will literally be sick the next day. I will have flu-like symptoms. Because you have to use so much energy, and use up so much of your voice to put power into those scenes, that it will make you sick. That’s not an exaggeration; I will be bedridden sometimes after screaming for too long.”   That is, if you can get a gig.  Remember how I rattled off actors who’ve had hundreds of roles each?  That’s because, in rough figures, 5% of the actors get 95% of the work. So unless you’re a Tara Strong or Phil LaMarr, noteworthy roles will be hard to come by.  One plus side is you get paid by the word, as well as by the tag. A tag is part of a recording that can be swapped out, like recording a commercial, and recording the phrases “coming soon,” “opening this Monday,” and “open now.”  The clients gets three distinct commercials from one recording sessions, so you get more money. Assuming the client actually orders the session. You may find yourself on stand-by or “avail,” as it’s called in the industry. You may be asked to set aside a few hours or even consecutive days for a recording session.  The problem is, the client isn’t actually obligated to use you during that time and no one else can book you during that time until they release you from it.   But it’s a job you can do in your pj’s and that’s always a plus.  Even though no one can see the actors, voice work still uses props and accessories.  While computers can be used to speed up or slow down dialogue (which is more of a concern in dubbing Japanese animation, where the visuals are already done), certain vocal changes can easily be achieved using random items in the studio. “If the character is in a hollowed-out tree, I might stick my head in a wastebasket,” veteran voice actor Corey Burton told Mental Floss. “If it doesn’t sound quite right, I can throw some wadded-up Kleenex in there for better acoustics.”   Burton, like Mel Blanc, prefers to eat real food when the moment calls for it. “They want you to sometimes just go, ‘Nom, nom, nom.’ No! I want a carrot, a cookie. I don’t want to make a dry slurping noise when I could be sipping a drink.”   Pencils also play an important role, not for making notes on the script or creating any sort of convincing sound effect.  The plague of these performers is plosives. You’ve probably heard them on podcasts; they’ve definitely been on mine. A plosive is the noise you get when a consonant that is produced by stopping the airflow using the lips, teeth, or palate, followed by a sudden release of air.  It’s also called popping your p’s, since that’s the worst culprit. A round mesh screen in front of the mic helps, but the old-school trick to stop plosives actually uses a pencil. If they’re getting p-pops on the recording, voice actors will hold a pencil or similar linear object upright against this lips.  This disrupts the air enough to avoid the avoid the giant, sharp spike in the soundwave. Now if only there were some cheap and easy trick to get rid of mouth noise and lip smacks. You may hear a few on this podcast, but for everyone you hear, I cut twenty out.   And that’s where we run out of ideas, at least for today.  Not ever screen actors is able to do voice work successfully; we’ve all heard flat, lackluster performances from big name stars in animated features.  Not so with the person who arguably kicked off the trends of booking big names stars for voice work, Robin Williams in his role as Genie. Williams recorded 30 hours of dialogue, most of it improvised, for the 90 minute movie.  He took the role for *9% of the fee he normally commanded with the condition that the recordings not be used to merchandise products. He wanted to “leave something wonderful behind for this kids.” Thanks for spending part of your day with me.   Sources:,587896&dq=i+don-t+want+to+spoil+the+illusion+of+snow+white&hl=en