Usually when asked to produce a radio commercial that is not just an announcer extolling the virtues of a product, I am sent a script that gives some indication of where the action takes place. This needs SFX to paint the picture. For instance, at the races (horses hooves, crowds etc), in a park (rustling leaves, ducks splashing in the pond and quacking, birds chirping, ambient outside noise). The sounds in the background will place the listeners subconsciously wherever you want them to be.
Occasionally one has to stretch the imagination. One client asked me to place the idea of his radio commercial as a silent movie with Charlie Chaplin. A use of some old fashioned piano music and a whirring projector was the best I could come up with. Another asked me to ‘start commercial with couple sleeping peacefully on their comfy new mattress’ (I suggested a light snoring noise but this was rejected!).
But last week I was completely beat. A client in Russia asked me if I would produce a commercial for him. I asked him to send me the script which he said was for a new seafood restaurant. When it arrived it appeared that a woman was to have a conversation with a lobster. There was no dialogue for the lobster (actually I have performed as a lobster for a computer game using some very odd clicking noises) and the woman did not mention lobster other than by a name when she spoke. I tried to explain that this was a tableau that I was not able to construct, but he was having none of it and didn’t appear to have any ideas of his own. We parted amicably with him saying he would get someone local to produce his commercial! Oh well….onwards and upwards.
Here is a short story to start. Long, long ago I had a recording contract with the great EMI Record company. Me and a friend doing folky kind of music with an orchestra something like Simon and Garfunkel. We had Elton John’s record producer (Gus Dudgeon) and his arranger (Paul Buckmaster). The day came for our debut at the famous Abbey Road studios and we were were ushered quaking in our boots into a small box on the side of studio 1 that looked down on a massive 50-piece orchestra. We sang our little hearts out….and then there was silence for 2 days before I was called into EMI. They didn’t like my accent which was deemed too ‘posh’ and I was sent for singing lessons for 5 weeks to an expensive vocal coach to divest myself of it before going back for a second attempt. My parents were not amused!
My general accent is Received Pronounciation..or BBC English, Queens English, Estuary English, Home Counties English. Like most accents, it came from my parents who brought me up in Africa, and from the very expensive school they sent me to (Harrow where Winston Churchill was educated).
As in the US, there are a huge number of accents from every corner of the UK including a specific London one, but the one the world outside the UK knows as a British accent is that of RP. So, things have gone full circle and I can make use of the natural accent I have to earn my living. I am not talented enough to mimic other accents other than London and cockney and seem to have more than enough work coming in to just be myself.
So….what is the point of this essay? Well, I consider that unless you are a specialist in dialects and mimic, then it is probably best to just stick with the accent you were given as there is usually someone out there who will want it. I am quite often asked to sound American…..and my answer is ‘go find an American talent who will give you an authentic read’ (of course I will always suggest someone).