Interview: Maureen Young / Part 2
Voice Acting Without Sight:
JAWS, Braille & Listen Well
By John Florian
Sure, we’re challenged by voice-over scripts.
For instance, as she explains in Part 1 of our chat, voice talent and coach Maureen Young urges us to find the scenario in the script of every commercial before we take it to the mic.
With a knack for story telling, this voice talent-singer-teacher who calls herself the Queen of the Sound Picture, has been interpreting copy and lyrics since the age of seven.
Yet all along, Maureen has had an additional challenge – one that most of us can only imagine, especially as readers of voice-over copy.
Maureen is blind.
“I know it’s harder to be blind than to be sighted, but I don’t dwell on that or I’d probably never get anything done,” she says.
“I don’t mind talking about it,” she adds, “but it’s just not my focus. That’s not where I’m at.”
Still, we’re fascinated by how she does it all. So that's where our conversation continues ...
Maureen, being blind, how do you go about learning a script?
First, I am going to tell you how it used to be.
In the old days before computers, which is when I started - when people had human contact - I would call the secretary who would read the script to me over the phone.
Those secretaries were not actresses. I wasn’t listening to their inflections. I just wanted the words.
So I would write down the words very quickly in Braille. There is something called Braille shorthand, but I abbreviated that with my shorthand, and could get a 60-second commercial down in probably 25 seconds.
Today, I have the copy emailed or sent as an attachment or faxed to me. Lots of narration comes to sighted VOs in advance that way, you know.
My computer reads it in speech, and I copy it quickly, at the speed of sound shall I say, with a Braille typewriter.
What software do you use as that screen reader?
It’s called JAWS – Job Access With Speech (Google it for details).
You scan things into the computer and they read as synthetic speech.
What does it sound like? Does that have inflection, also?
No it’s just a monotone – no inflection whatsoever, and you can set the rate of speed at which JAWS reads, and you get used to it.
What is the percentage of jobs that you do at home, as opposed to going to a studio now?
Well in New York City, fortunately, most voice work is in studios.
That is my preference, too. I like being around people. I am very much a people person.
Right. But tell us about your home studio.
I have an Audio-Technica mic, a Mackie eight-channel mixer, AKG studio-grade headphones, and a pop filter.
And oh gosh, I use Sound Forge to record and edit - in the heavily blanketed walk-in closet here.
I use my speech screen reader, and use keyboard strokes in the place of what the mouse will do.
For example, when I want to click on something, I push the ENTER key. And when they say click on such and such, I go to a link and ENTER on it.
When you’ve recorded a script and you are editing, and say, you want to edit out a cough or something, how do you tell where that is?
How do you know the beginning of that and the end of it?
I hear it. I’m pretty good at getting it right up to the spot where I need to make the cut. But a lot of it is knowing pausing and pacing and when there is too much dead air and stuff like that.
You know, there are a lot of fine professional recording engineers who are blind.
I had this discussion with the owner of a recording studio recently. He was comfortable enough to say to me, “I suppose since you’re blind, you hear better.”
Well, I do not think I hear any better than anybody else. We all have the capacity to hear.
What I do is listen better.
You pay more attention.
I pay more attention because I have to.
If I’m out in traffic, you’d better believe I’m listening to hear turning cars. And when I am in a voice studio, I sure am listening for edits.
When you are blind, you have to focus on detail a lot in your life. Where did I put this? And where is that? And how do I do this, and how do I accommodate that?
You have to be very organized.
Not every blind person is organized, but I am - I’m very organized, I admit it.
My friends tease me about that. In fact, my nickname is "Ducks," as in "ducks in a row."
I have incorporated my blindness so much into who I am that I don’t think about it as my label.
It’s a part of my identity, one aspect of me, the part that can’t convey concepts through vision.
I know it’s harder to be blind than to be sighted, but I don’t dwell on that or I’d probably never get anything done.
Your web site theme is that you are the Queen of the Sound Picture. Where does that come from?
Well, I figure if Latifa could be a queen, why can’t I? I thought Queen Maureen – Queen of the Sound Picture - would be memorable.
And, isn’t a voice-over a picture in sound?
It’s a concept conveyed through sound that I came up with one night after a couple of glasses of wine!
I don’t do voice-overs - I do sound pictures.
That’s true! Now, is there anything that I did not ask you that would be important to tell readers?
Well, let me think. Yes, I want to reiterate this point:
One of the things that happens to people - and it happens in the music business, too - is that we become inundated with people telling us that:
Well, I don’t think that. I believe that everybody has to find his or her own way in this business.
I mean, you take a little from this one, a little from that one, and you put it together for yourself. It’s rarely a straight line.
Yes, one of those “Did you know?” things about audiobooks.
They got their start with books for the blind. The Library of Congress has done lots of recordings - or what they call ”talking books” - and that is how many books are recorded for blind people.
Also, there is something called “book share” where you can hear thousands of books if you are blind, by signing up and paying whatever they charge. Somebody scans a book into the computer and you hear them all in synthesized speech.
Most of us who are blind are used to that.
I have a girlfriend who has read thousands of books for the American Foundation for the Blind - some about acting, and so on. And now she has branched out into reading commercially produced audiobooks and is supporting a big family that way.
But she started working with books for the blind. So audiobooks have us to thank for that vehicle.
Maureen, thank you. It’s been tremendously enlightening to chat with you.
To contact Maureen Young: