What’s your image of Imaging?

Edge Studio

In a world where “real” voices are paramount, where being “vocally free” is prized, what does a VO pro make of promo, trailers and imaging work? Isn’t it the domain of the big voice, the DJ sound, and distinctive affectation?

It was. Not so much anymore. Even in imaging.

First, let’s all get up to speed with some definitions.

• Promos are the “commercials” that broadcast stations and networks (TV, radio, cable, satellite, web, etc.) run to advertise their own programming.
• Imaging is what the advertising community calls “branding.” It refers to a station or network IDs, audio billboards, logos, and other productions that identify the station or network and define its “position” in the programming marketplace. (For example, “This is CNN,” or “All hits on the Big 102!”)
• Affiliate promos are related to both imaging and promos, in that they are promotions produced by networks for their affiliated stations’ use. Each station receives a localized version (e.g., with a specific channel number and names of local newscasters).
• Trailers promote movies. Even when a movie promotion is run on television or included on a DVD, etc., it’s still called a trailer, even when it’s more like an ad or commercial. (No matter — the word is an anachronism anyway.) Increasingly, in theaters trailers don’t have a voice over at all. In other media, voice is necessary.

Clear enough, right? But how does, say, an imaging job differ from a promo job?

Casting, for one thing. Network promos used to require exclusivity, using one voice for all the station’s promos, thus creating and protecting the station’s identity. Today, the voice is more likely to be matched to the type of programming being promoted, as opposed to the station identity. So promo talent now sometimes work for multiple stations. Traditionally the territory of male voices, women are increasingly being employed. Some stations use a male voice for one type of imaging (e.g., promos), female for another type (e.g., between songs).

In imaging, the voice is generally a consistent, integral part of the station or channel brand identity. So if you get the gig, great! Every recorded voice announcement that reflects the image of that station will require you. Plan to be married to the job, even when you’re on vacation. (Fortunately, most modern automobiles and motel rooms are wonderfully soundproofed.)

Promos once tended to be forced, stentorian and loud, but like the rest of our industry, a personal, conversational, natural style has evolved — flatter and pulled back. (Sports and comedies are sometimes exceptions.) And now it is generally a young-ish voice. The subtleties of contemporary promo and imaging styles are perhaps better defined by listening than by words.

As with promos, the voice chosen for imaging must match the image being created.

Generally even regional radio stations want the neutral-English “national sound” for their imaging, although a regional accent may be used in some situations (e.g. a country station).

In radio, Imaging practices vary, based partly on what type of audience measurement technology predominates in the market. Sometimes overall brand recognition is paramount, sometimes what’s happening at any particular second counts. You may not need to know that, but it helps to know that station management does.

Imaging practices also involve a number of specialized function-based terms. There are the traditional sponsor billboards and station IDs and many more. Some stations still use the once ubiquitous jingle, often mixed with the imaging voice. (Incidentally, this means you’ll need to adjust your technique so that your read will stand out after mixing.) In any case, spoken imaging is often mixed with music of some sort, but the spoken component enables it to be specific, more various, and cheaper than a package of jingles.

• If it’s a mix of singing and speaking with maybe even a celebrity or artist drop-in, it’s a “power intro.”
• If it comes between two songs, it’s a “sweeper.”
• If it regards current events, it’s a “topical.”
• If it announces what’s coming up after a commercial break, it’s a “teaser.”
• If it airs after a commercial break, it’s a “re-joiner.”
• If it’s a general purpose branding announcement, it’s a “liner,” which are also read live.

That brings us back to the subject of DJs. Is the deep, loud voice a prerequisite for Imaging? Only if by coincidence. More important is that it be a natural voice. Even if the image calls for James Earl Jones, well, note that he speaks in essentially his natural voice. (Lucky him.)

Another important factor is that your delivery be fluid and vocally free, yet exude gobs of energy. The last thing a radio station wants is to sound tired or halting. “Flow” is the name of the game.

While the bombastic, over-the-top DJ style might fit the station image, sorry, folks, these days casting and program directors are looking for something more. Yes, even in Imaging, it’s helpful to be skilled at incorporating emotion.

For one thing, not everything is Top Forty (aka Contemporary Hits and other terms), Oldies or Hip-Hop. Market segmentation has resulted in some very narrowly defined market niches, and it’s important to be precisely on target. Also, as noted above, some Imaging scripts are topical or relate to program content. They thus have an emotional component. However secondary that element might be, casting directors typically prefer to work with actors, rather than DJs, because actors are generally more versatile, more able to incorporate direction, and are used to conveying emotion and fine-tuning it in their reads.

Even more, in radio the entirety of air content is aimed at stimulating emotion. Program Directors work hard to make their audience feel something, Whatever that emotion is – joy, rebelliousness, sophistication, pride, whatever – the Imaging voice supports it.

And finally, there’s a practical consideration: When one company owns many stations of various types, with one Production Director between them, flexibility in the talent can be very important. It’s for the same reason that Animation experts sometimes find Promo a comfortable niche, thanks to their versatility.

To learn more about the terms and practices in these genres, visit http://www.edgestudio.com/promos-training and click on the words “Click here” in the first paragraph.

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