Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." Mark Twain

"Bed is the poor man's opera." Italian proverb

"You'd be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap." Dolly Parton

In all trades and professions there is a hierarchy. From the very best to the beginners, novices and amateurs. Yesterday, during a conference call someone asked if there was any real material difference, any honest distinction between one seasoned major market talent and another. My thought was, yes, of course. Let's take radio as one example (without respect to the valued talent working in news and other specialty reporting):

Personality------------Voice Actor
Disc Jockey-------Talk Host-------VO Talent

At the top of the art are the stars. Very rare. Perhaps 2% or less of those working.

The next level are the truly exceptional, the gifted personalities and voice actors. Rare. Perhaps 10% of those at work. The disc jockeys and talk hosts have become personalities. The vo talent have become voice actors.

The next level is the largest group, something like 70% of the professionals. The starting point is announcer, about 18% of those at work. While there are announcers who become stars as announcers it is the most rare of all exceptions. Today many of the best announcers become successful vo talent. These are the voices you hear most often doing imaging or other voice work at the majority of radio and tv stations across the country who hire a "voice." They are those called to voice national spot.

Some percentage of announcers never "graduate" to being successful disc jockeys or talk hosts or vo talent; they may be assigned to those duties but they simply do not measure up with those who have reached the next level of skill, ability and performance. They may maintain the lowest or minimum proficiency within the second level or hold a position among the best of announcers.

This certainly holds true of each level. There are many outstanding personalities and very good talk show hosts who for one or more reasons never become stars. Some successful voice actors make very good money but 2% (or less) are stars and stand to become rich. At every level beyond announcer there is some single digit percentage best of class. These folks are happy in their work, they live in their comfort zone.

There are stars in markets of all sizes. There are stars that choose to sit out the competitive noise, the grind of the endless major market marathon. Some make very good money and live large in smaller metros. These are the stars that prefer lifestyle and in some cases the content of family over the bright lights and big bucks.

Sadly, we also lose stars and folks with amazing star potential when they leave the business, become ill, injured or pass away too early without reaching their full potential, their deserved destiny.

Compensation (and in some cases earning potential) and talent, skill, ability are imperfectly correlated. There are those working at the top of one level being paid more or less than their peers. Some stars die broke. Some disc jockeys retire rich. An announcer friend filed a two comma tax return last year. A wealthy individual whose voice you will perhaps never hear on a movie trailer or in a national commercial. This announcer happens to be an exceptionally gifted narrator and also does work in the international educational video game market (teaching and learning tools).

Finally, experience has taught me the popular notion that "there is no one out there" is totally false. It's the canard most often proffered by hacks. This is a leadership problem. A line by the hand of the great Jonathan Swift comes to mind. "When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." One need only look at the popular music charts to realize new stars happen all the time. Consider Idol. True, the star maker machinery behind the popular song (thanks Joni) is not fair, nor does it always recognize, or reward the best talent. No matter, there are rising stars out there. Catch one.


Anonymous said...


Bloody brilliant! Cheers to you sir. Best words from the EU.