New Year, New Batch Of Randomness
I'll start this year's first blog with the phrase we've read on many a commercial over the last week or two: "New Year, New [insert product/lifestyle choice/gym membership here]!" Well, in our case it is - of course - the new website, and what a difference it's made. Of course, we still have the same client base as before of voice over recording studios, corporate clients and telephony companies to name just a few (our voice over work and past experience hasn't changed just because we have a shiny new site) but because we've come to know and work with lots more new clients too, who we've really enjoyed getting to know and, we hope, have enjoyed working with us too.
Without wanting to come across all "we're mad, us" (we're not), we're a fun company, and the old site just didn't really reflect who we are, and how we like to work. While much of our core business is corporate narration and presentation, which we really enjoy and are particularly noted for, one of the things we really enjoy is spending an ISDN session recording radio and television ads, and getting to know clients old and new ‘down the line'.
We particularly enjoy ‘double headed voiceovers' - which are usually ISDN-recorded voice overs of Phil and Ellie chatting in That Voiceover Voice about a new kitchen/conservatory/bathroom which the characters we play so desperately need (I can relate to them SO well). One new client, who had recently stumbled upon us online, emailed the other day to tell us how much he'd enjoyed the session and couldn't wait for the next "batch of randomness". That was a huge compliment... we do take our work extremely seriously - but we also enjoy speaking to you about how YOU are, and we have several clients who we've come to know very well over the years.
The majority of our colleagues in the voice over recording industry sit on their own in little padded rooms for much of the day, and only come out for a bite of lunch or a cuppa, which is why we all sport the good old "studio tan". We like to think that a Sayer Hamilton session makes the day go a little more quickly, and we're proud to say that, in nearly ten years of marriage AND working together, we have never killed each other - or had a domestic down the ISDN line (we leave that until we've finished - our professionalism never fails to impress even us.)
Give us a call - randomness... professionalism... new kitchens (yes please)... it's all part of the service.
Posted By: Ellie
18 January 2011
A lament from a nerd
I won't forget the first time I ever heard music in stereo. It was the beginning of my love affair with audio. Slowly, I scraped together enough money to buy various bits of kit and assembled my hi-fi. Every spare penny, as they say...
These were the golden days of hi-fi. It was generally agreed that the best speakers in the world were British and that only the Japanese made good cassette decks. But everything else was up for heated debate. We knew all the brands, bought the magazines, and argued for hours about the relative merits of vinyl versus cassette, and valve versus transistor.
Today, many voice over artists (and I'm one of them) will spend hours debating which is the best mike, the best pre-amp, and the best recording software until the cows come home, chasing that last 1% of quality... because we care passionately about what we do. But do we care too much?
At the domestic level, no-one seems very concerned. Sales of component hi-fi are on the floor, and even the more modest music centres have been consigned to the dustbin long ago. How did that happen?
My guess is that we traded quality for portability, a process that began with the Sony Walkman cassette player and continued with mp3 devices. In fairness, the sound from even quite modest mp3 players is really very good, but it surely isn't hi-fi as we used to know it. On the other hand, before the digital revolution, you couldn't take your entire music collection with you on holiday...
In consumer electronics, the quality focus seems to have shifted to television; unless you own a TV the size of a barn door, people think you're a bit weird. Even ten-year-olds can tell you about plasma versus LCD versus LED.
Just don't bother asking them if the speakers are any good... because they won't be.
Recently, I bought a pair of B&W speakers, second hand and plugged them into the audio output of our TV. Although they are ugly big black boxes, intruding into the feminine chic of our living space, the audio experience is stunning - there is so much more detail and depth in the output than I'd realised, particularly in the soundtracks of modern movies.
Maybe, when screen size and quality reach their limits, and the industry needs a new selling point, hi-fi sound will make a return. So don't write off the hi-fi nerds yet - we're all lurking, biding our time, waiting for the opportunity to bore you to death about Fletcher-Munson curves, Fourier analysis, and why valve amps are still the best.
You have been warned - one day, the Geeks shall inherit the earth, the live and the neutral.
Posted By: Phil
21 January 2011
Twitter - a valuable business tool, or maybe just something else to worry about.
When we're not voicing, parenting, keeping the house tidy (well, when I say ‘we', I do of course mean ‘I' when it comes to keeping the house tidy) we're trying to get our heads around Twitter - since our own site was redesigned, we've been signed up, and it's taking a while to get used to. We've been keen Facebookers for a few years now, but set up the Sayer Hamilton page when this site was developed. (Feel free to join us and keep in touch with what we're up to, by the way, but we promise not to update too often - nobody likes a clogged-up News Feed, now, do they?)
I'm still not quite sure if I really ‘get' Twitter yet, and feel like I must be the only voice talent in the industry who isn't updating their feed on a daily basis. I always feel as if I HAVE to say something about the day's work I've just done (or am about to do). Then, I wonder if anyone is remotely interested, or if I sound as if I'm boasting when there's been a nice tasty job on the table. And if there HASN'T been a massive job that day (nobody is that busy all the time... er, are they?) well, what do I say then? Then, I think - well, they DO care; that's why they're following us. Why else would they? And then, I think, I have a house to tidy, children to collect from school, a dead mouse to remove from the office floor which the cat has so charitably brought in for us, and a new conservatory/pair of shoes at crazy discounted prices/club anthem album which I haven't got but I must pretend I need and talk about enthusiastically into a microphone... so when all those jobs are done, I just tweet about them... and hope somebody, somewhere enjoys what they read - almost as much as I hope that people enjoy what they hear.
Posted By: Ellie
28 January 2011
Just Ignore Me.
It's an odd thing sometimes, being a voiceover artist. Phil and I are employed because we need to be heard by many different people in many different environments, but sometimes it's NOT being heard that's the important part. I don't mean that literally, of course, but what I do mean is that in some circumstances, it's important to have a voice which doesn't stand out like a sore thumb.
We record commercials for all sorts of clients - much of the time we play different characters (for evidence of this, all you need to do is to hear our showreels) but the rest of the time, we need to play it as straight as possible. I'm often cast as a young mum, or a friendly announcer - Phil, likewise, frequently plays the "dad" character, or a straight, clear announcer (just wait until you hear those speedy caveats at the end of a commercial - an in-house speciality from both of us. And don't forget, your home is at risk if you set fire to it.) But I digress...
It's fun to record those commercials, because it's nice to get in the studio and record something with our producer colleagues (many of whom have become good friends), and make an ad go from being words on a page to a real life sales pitch heard on the TV or radio all over the world. When we hear the finished product mixed together and broadcast over the airwaves, we still get a buzz from it, even after several years on the job - because that's often the first time we get to hear the finished article, with the sound effects and all the clever stuff put on. Where commercials are concerned, our bit, really, is the easy part.
It's another thing entirely when we're recording voiceovers for corporate or on-hold use, or for public address systems (the train announcements being an obvious example.) A client of ours recently directed us to a number of internet discussion boards for rail enthusiasts (yes, they do exist!) who wax lyrical about the Phil Sayer announcements on the mainline rail network. The vast majority consider him to be far and away the best announcer in the country. The reason for this seems to be that he's clear, well spoken without being posh or condescending, and authoritative without being bossy. That's harder to achieve than you might think, but we like to transfer this style into much of the work we do. While advertising is a hugely fun part of our business, the corporate market, for us, has boomed over the last few years. If you need a health and safety training module delivered in a clear way, but which never sounds boring, Sayer Hamilton have two voice artists in-house who can do just that. If you need to keep your clients on hold for longer than you'd like, here are two voices who won't grate on them by being overly enthusiastic or affected... that is, unless that's the brief and you WANT it like that!
As voice over artists, we can be as versatile as you like, or as straight as you like. Usually, we can tell what you need just on sight of your script, and sometimes (just sometimes) having a voice artist who sounds like part of the furniture, actually makes you stand out more.
Posted By: Ellie
23 May 2011
Allyson Lee - A Tribute.
Last week, I was devastated to learn that my former Performing Arts tutor, Allyson Lee, had died in Switzerland by assisted suicide. It’s always sad when people who’ve had an astonishing level of influence in your life have passed on – but perhaps even sadder when you know they’ve left their life tragically early, because they had no possible way back to health.
Allyson was an inspirational teacher – a woman who, in the traditional Yorkshire way, took no nonsense from anyone, but was gentle, kind and understanding (though only when completely necessary, mind.) She taught me at Thomas Danby College, Leeds, from 1999 to 2001, and I probably learned more in my two years there than I ever did sitting behind a desk in the various lecture theatres of my university - a place I loathed for its stuffiness and contempt for those of us who wanted to show off on stage more than we wanted to write deathless prose analysing what Ibsen really meant (I didn’t really care). But anyway… One of the key lessons I learned from Allyson was that the superfluous use of props in the theatre can (in certain circumstances) be quite distracting, and one single, carefully selected item can be far more effective than a fancy set with equipment to match.
You may think this has no bearing on my subsequent career as a voiceover artist, but that’s not true. We’re all influenced by the people around us, and my time at Thomas Danby (with Allyson Lee and Ken Reid at the helm) gave me more opportunities to hone my performance and observational skills than any educational establishment I’ve been to before or since. So much so, that I can’t help putting pieces of other people in to my work here and there, which I suppose is what gives me versatility as a voice actor. Learning to create a character without an endless supply of props is one legacy of Allyson’s which lives on in my work on a daily basis. Imagine if I couldn’t get into “posh housewife,” “chavvy teenager,” or – heaven forbid – the “tube lady” character without donning a wig, a costume, and goodness knows how much beastly costume jewellery which would jingle and clink right in front of the mic? One of the skills of this job is being able to walk into the studio and immediately BE whoever’s voice is written on the page, without the need for hours of character development. I might imagine the pen I’m holding is a tennis racquet, or the headphones are a hat… OK, so it might look a bit silly as I sit in our padded room all day talking to myself, but it works for me, and our clients seem happy.
The use of props (or lack of) is something I know would delight Allyson, and it’s particularly evident in the one-man play “An Instinct For Kindness.” Here, Allyson’s ex-husband Chris Larner tells the story of her illness and eventual death at Dignitas, using only his memory and the help of one chair. I was privileged to have seen a preview last week, and it really is the most wonderful piece of theatre I’ve ever seen, as well as being a fitting tribute to Allyson herself. It’s surprisingly funny, illuminating , and deeply moving – if you’re heading to Edinburgh Fringe this year, I’d encourage you to put it on your list (oh, and you can book tickets and read more of Allyson’s story here).
Whatever your views are on assisted suicide, it sparks an important debate; but most importantly, it keeps alive the spark of a remarkable woman whose legacy lives on in my work (and that of many others), in the most compelling piece of theatre. When you have a role to play, sometimes the only props you need are a full heart, a story to tell, and an empty chair. Thank you, Allyson, for teaching me that.
Posted By: Ellie
14 July 2011
Shiplaps and Mishaps
It's funny, the things we stumble over. This morning, Phil rattled off a commercial for a Swiss station, whose script included the address "Rue des Vieux Grenadiers, Plainpalais." He had absolutely no difficulty reading this whatsoever, but when it came to the EASY part of "open from 10am this Tuesday," he tripped up. It's almost as if your brain relaxes the moment you've finished the difficult bit, and forgets that it needs to concentrate for a few seconds more.
Likewise, the other day, I merrily read - nay, SIGHTREAD, no less! - "The Guernsey branch of Lloyds TSB Offshore Limited is licensed to conduct banking, investment and insurance intermediary business by the Guernsey Financial Services Commission under the Banking Supervision (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law 1994, the Protection of Investors (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law 1987 and the Insurance Managers and Insurance Intermediaries (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law 2002. Terms & Conditions apply."
This was recorded and approved in one take. The bit where they were "celebrating 120 years at their Smith Street branch?" Not a bit of it. It took two or three takes to get that bit right.
According to our clients, we're certainly not alone. MOST of our voiceovers are done pretty well first time, give or take the odd slip (hey - we're only human.) If you dial us up on the ISDN, you can - within reason - have as many takes as you like, but we've found that two or three takes usually suffices for a local radio commercial - and that includes the inevitable "one for safety." If we couldn't sightread and speak fluently for 30-60 seconds at a time, then we probably wouldn't have stayed in business for as long as we have. Even so, words such as "digital," "registry," "swimming pool," and "industrial estate" are always there to trip up voice artists far and wide.
It's reassuring to hear from our friends in the business that it's not just us. In fact, Keith Dunn, a producer friend of ours, once wrote a spoof ad for "The Chichester Shiplap Shed Shop Sale on the Registry Street Industrial Estate." Thirty seconds of hell. Many have attempted it. Few have survived it. Apparently, Keith has yet to find a voice over able to finish it without tripping up or turning the air blue...
Posted By: Ellie
14 March 2013
Christmas and New Year Opening Hours.
We'll be available for all your Warm MVO / Friendly FVO / Chatty CVO requirements over the festive season on the following dates:
Friday 19th - Open 9am to 5pm
Monday 22nd - Open 9am to 5pm
Tuesday 23rd - Open 9am to 2pm
Wednesday 24th - Open 9am to 2pm
Christmas Day - Closed
Boxing Day - Closed
Monday 29th - Limited availability. Please book in advance for ISDN sessions.
Tuesday 30th - Open 9am to 5pm
Wednesday 31st - Open 9am to 2pm
Thursday 1st January - Closed
Friday 2nd - Open 9am to 5pm
Monday 5th - Limited availability. Please book in advance for ISDN sessions.
Tuesday 6th - Open 9am to 5ish as usual, until the end of time (or Easter - whichever happens first.)
Hope this helps you to plan ahead if necessary. Obviously, we don't expect you to memorise these times (Phil certainly hasn't) but we are generally around and it would be great to speak to you over the Christmas period if you're working too.
Whether we get to work together during the festive season or not, our very best wishes to you and yours for a lovely, relaxing, joyful time!
Ellie, Phil, Alex and Ben x
Posted By: Ellie
19 December 2014
Phil is Retiring.
Due to a sudden and unexpected decline in Phil's health, Sayer Hamilton Ltd is temporarily closing for business with immediate effect, and Phil will not be returning to work.
Over the next day or so, we will be finalising invoices, and attempting to tie up loose ends, so that we can spend some time together as a family. Ellie, Alex and Ben will return to voicing in early May.
We will make sure Phil's material is archived, and will be happy to help out in locating existing audio for top-ups where necessary, but unfortunately none of us will be available to voice new material until further notice.
We recognise that this abrupt halt is not ideal for regular clients, and while Phil's retirement was on the cards for the near future, we had planned to wind down slowly in the next few months. Sadly, the choice is now out of our hands.
If you are a corporate client with an urgent need for a voiceover, please contact my agents, Marie-Claire or Olivia at Excellent Talent, who will be happy to help you.
Sincere thanks from Phil for your valued business over the last few decades. It's been truly wonderful to work with you all.
With all best wishes,
Phil. Ellie, Alex & Ben x
Posted By: Ellie
04 April 2016
Phil Sayer - Obituary.
Phil Sayer had one of the most familiar voices in British life, but one that had no known face attached. His authoritative London underground announcement ‘Please mind the gap between the train and the platform', has subtle and humane inflections that reshape severe warning into firm but kind advice, while across the railway network, and most recently at the new Oxford Parkway, he can be heard advising travellers on the times and destinations of their trains, and apologising with many shades of regret and explanation if they seem to be delayed.
Sayer, who has died of cancer after a long illness, was one of the leading ‘voice-overs' of his generation. You may hear him delivering a health and safety briefing; he may welcome you politely to a corporate office on the phone; he might, quite powerfully, try to sell you a sofa in a radio ad. Wherever you may be, Phil Sayer is likely to be there with you.
Born in Norwich in 1953, Sayer, then with his family surname of Clift, was taken at a young age by his mother to live in Liverpool where his father also joined them. His father, Cyril Clift, who preferred to be known as Ken, worked in local authority town planning and later on Canadian Pacific transatlantic liners operating out of Liverpool. His mother, Pauline, known as Hazel, brought up Phil and his sister and latterly worked as a hotel receptionist. Theirs was not a happy marriage, but Sayer progressed brightly at schools in and around West Lancashire, winning a scholarship to the direct grant Merchant Taylor's, Crosby. Nevertheless, he left aged 18 with good ‘O'-levels, but no ‘A'-levels, and a miserable home life. With the Mersey sound still beating in his ears in 1971, he signed on as unemployed at Wallasey labour exchange. He became a timber merchant's clerk, a fairground hand, a cardboard sorter at an early recycling plant, a bingo caller, a driver for an air freight company, and through the flukes of life and chance a DJ compère at Baileys in Watford, then the largest nightclub in Europe.
That was where Sayer's mellifluous voice and natural charm coalesced with a talent for thinking on his feet and filling sudden awkward silences with gentle patter. He might do an astonishing build up for Tommy Cooper, exchange a gag with Mike Reid or make the audience roar for Bob Monkhouse, and go back to the disco turntables to play records until 2 am. He was in his element, well paid and highly thought of. This led to work in radio at more sober hours, for the industrial station United Biscuits Network, where he would broadcast daily to over forty thousand listeners in UB factories, warehouses and shops. As UK pirate radio stations evolved into the new generation of licensed commercial land-based local stations, Sayer was invited to join The Voice of Peace, a pirate radio station anchored off Tel Aviv, promoting peace between Israel and Palestine.
"Life on board was generally good among the all-male team, but much depended on the capricious spring weather off the Israeli coast. We received, from a tender from Tel Aviv, new records sent by air from America, so musically, we were weeks ahead of the state radio station, which was tied up with political embargoes and licensing restrictions. This gave us a huge advantage."
But the little ship, designed to carry cargo, now carried no more than broadcasting gear, and on deck its tall steel lattice mast and electrical generators made her so top heavy that she pitched and rolled dangerously during storms. The broadcasting crew would stagger about, picking up innumerable bruises, eating at the mess table with plates sliding this way and that, while below decks just managing to keep the records spinning at 45rpm as the ship lurched monstrously.
Sayer and his long-term partner Mary married in the early 1980s, and had two children, Richard and Joanna. By now Sayer had left The Voice of Peace and returned to the dry land of UK radio where he began to build his career. For professional purposes he had renamed himself ‘Phil Sayer', taking his mother's new husband's name, because ‘Clift' had an uncomfortable sound on radio. Appointed first to Piccadilly Radio in Manchester, where he became a well-known voice on both the small hours ‘Nightbeat' slot and ‘Drivetime' in the afternoon, he moved on to Granada TV as an announcer and presenter, and then from January 1983 to BBCTV in Manchester as a freelance presenter on Breakfast News. On GMR, now BBC Radio Manchester, he later hosted his own daily programme.
Even in the burgeoning era of regional broadcasting, employment for freelancers was volatile, and in due course Sayer launched the freelance voiceover business that was to carry his warm, honey-soaked voice into ‘Mind the Gap' on the underground. He and Mary had divorced after six years, and having been in and out of a second marriage, and then a single parent to his first two teenage children, in 2002 Sayer married Elinor Hamilton. He and Elinor had met during a smoking break on the fire-escape of Tower Radio in Manchester where Elinor was also an occasional freelance student broadcaster. They have twin boys, Alex and Ben. Together they set up their own voice-over company, Sayer Hamilton, and can occasionally be heard together on the underground, Elinor announcing the train to Cockfosters, and Phil advising ‘Mind the Gap'.
Behind Phil Sayer's professionalism, and his courteous public expressions of direction and regret, was a warm, welcoming family man, a raconteur of wit and humour, and, probably, the all-Bolton champion Monty Python impersonator: all the voices, all the sketches. While Sayer's light-hearted and engaging presentation style will still be remembered by middle-aged listeners in the north west of England, his command of the running of the railways remains with us. As a train pulled out a minute late one evening I heard him say: ‘the 5.33 from Birmingham New Street to Reading is delayed on platform 2.' A commuter, running down the stairs, saw it disappear and called out ‘Lying bastard!'
He is survived by Elinor and his four children.
Philip Clift (‘Phil Sayer'), broadcaster and voice-over. Born 18 May 1953, Norwich; died 14 April 2016, Bolton.
Posted By: Ellie
02 May 2016
The Incredible Mr Bridge.
Our new studio, including a photograph of the master himself at work at Piccadilly Radio in the 1970s, kindly sent to me by Dave Ward.
A "shout out," as we say on the wireless, to someone who has done amazing things for us over the last few weeks.
When Phil and I talked about his future retirement, we knew that it would make sense for us to rework the studio so that it was properly set up, as for years it had sounded great but looked awful, with leads and wires and bits of mixer all over the place. It was Man Heaven for Phil, but even he had to admit that it looked pretty grim, although who doesn't like a filthy lilac carpet glued to an old dining table? Being quite the expert on this sort of thing, he was able to tweak and solder things regularly to keep it all working, but as I am a self-proclaimed idiot on these matters, he wanted it to be right for when I had to take over on my own. We were long overdue a refurb and Phil planned for us to do it together, months before he had to hang up his mic. The new furniture happened to arrive on what ended up being his last working day.
By the time we'd finished the day's recording, Phil wasn't feeling too good and his breathing was a bit off, so I derigged on my own, built the new furniture with help from friends and neighbours, and put it all back in again ready to get back to work the following day. I switched it on and it wasn't right. By then, it was late, and we had his outpatient appointment at the Christie in the morning. As we now know, they kept him in, scanned him, and a day later sent him home to die.
While Phil still believed he would be home and back at work in no time, he called Gary Bridge - an old friend and Studio Engineer Extraordinaire - to ask him to hook up with me on Skype to see what I'd done wrong. He didn't just do that. He came up from Derbyshire to Bolton at least six times over the course of the next two weeks when it became clear that Phil was very poorly, and with Phil's input for the first week, rewired, re-equipped, and refurbished our studio from scratch.
It was important to Gary that he wasn't dismantling his old friend's hard work, and Phil assured him he was happy for it to be done, it had been planned for months, and enjoyed watching it all come together. For the last week of his life, Phil wasn't really aware of what was going on, but the last thing he did, on the Saturday night before he died, was to get out of bed and shuffle to the studio. He opened the door, stood for a while, said it was wonderful, smiled, nodded, and closed the door. I don't think he got out of bed again after that.
Gary wasn't just an engineer over the time he spent with us - he was a very good friend. He was there for Phil, and there for me, and did far more for us than rewiring a studio desk. Because he wanted to help us out in our time of need, Phil almost had to beg him to accept something as payment... and they finally settled on his vintage pinball machine (which means something special, as Phil and Gary used to spend hours together restoring such machines when they both worked at Piccadilly in the 1970s.)
It's small comfort to me that Phil helped to build it, but sad beyond belief that he never got to use it. I wouldn't even mind if he left all his old coffee cups and scripts lying around like he used to, as it's far too tidy for Phil's liking. The only thing left to buy are some decent monitors, but as Phil always said, if you can be confident that what's going in and out of the mixer sounds right, then speakers aren't as important. It sounds brilliant and is great - if a little lonely - to work in.
The least I can do for Gary after everything he's done for us is to take to the internet, and promote him. He is a top-notch studio engineer, able to build everything from big radio studios such as Piccadilly, Real/Smooth etc., to little voice studios like ours. It sounds truly fabulous, and every wire has been made and installed by Gary's fair hands. He is available for freelance work and we would both highly recommend him.
He also dispenses jolly good hugs completely free of charge.
Thank you, Gary - you have helped to make the most awful situation a little more bearable. Thanks to you, it was almost a pleasure to get back to work. I am still in awe of how hard Phil worked towards the end, and how desperate he was to make sure his family could continue to live and work as easily as possible without him. Most people would have given up long before, but Phil and Gary rolled up their sleeves, made good things happen, and Phil helped to create a future for his family, even though he knew he wouldn't be there to share it.
Thank you both. xxx
For your studio project, Gary can be contacted at email@example.com
Posted By: Ellie
02 June 2016