Brief summary of the show: In today’s episode of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R., we continue our series on the senses by talking with two voice experts. Both of these extremely gifted individuals are award-winning voice artists who are also adept at audio description. While technically the voice isn’t a sense, it is an intrinsic, powerful representation of who we are as humans. Even those of us who cannot physically speak, we still have a voice.
Bullet points of key topics & timestamps:
1:24 | Meeting Satauna & Roy
3:03 | What is audio description?
7:55 | How can we paint a picture with our voices?
11:52 | How to effectively use our voices
16:38 | The authenticity factor
21:39 | Power of the Voice in Writing
28:06 | How to get started in voice acting
29:47 | Connecting with Satauna & Roy
The Power Of The Voice
Steph: Welcome back to another edition of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. Podcast, the show that’s clearing the air for more A.I.R. (Access, Inclusion, and Representation). I’m Stephanae McCoy, and with me are my co-hosts,
Nasreen: I’m Nasreen Bhutta
Sylvia: Sylvia Stinson Perez,
Dana: and I’m Dana Hinnant.
Steph: “The voice is a human sound, which nothing inanimate can perfectly imitate. It has an authority and an insinuating property which writing lacks. It is not merely so much air, but air modulated and impregnated with life.” ~Joseph Joubert
While technically the voice isn’t a sense, it is an intrinsic, powerful representation of who we are as humans. Even those of us who cannot physically speak, we still have a voice.
In today’s episode of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R., we will be talking with two voice experts. Both of these extremely gifted individuals are award-winning voice artists who are also adept at audio description.
It is my pleasure to introduce you to Roy Samuelson and Satauna Howery.
Hi Roy and Satauna.
Roy: Hey there.
Steph: It’s so wonderful to have you both on the show. So before we get into the meat of our discussion, can we first just ask you guys to tell us a little bit about yourselves? Satauna, let’s begin with you.
Satauna: Well, hi everybody. I’m Satana Howery. I live in upstate New York.
Um, so yes, I’m a voice actor it’s a ton of fun. I love this job. I tell people I get paid to sit in a, a small room and get paid to record myself talking to myself, which I think is pretty awesome.
I was born blind, so I read my scripts using a braille display. And I have a retired guide dog. I have two cats. I have uh, we have not retired this guy yet the husband, the wonderful husband. And, um, life is good.
I like the, we, we have a new development across the street. We love to walk on the brand new beautiful road that we claim is our road cuz nobody’s living on it yet. And, uh, it’s just, uh, it’s good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Roy: Hey, this is uh, Roy. Um, I’m gonna do some bullet points cuz it’s for my time I’m in Pacific Time, which is a little different than other people, so I’m still, I’m just getting my day started.
So, um, I take cold showers. I’ve been to all 50 states and, oh, I know someone who’s featured on Google Maps Street View, which I feel like is some sort of claim to fame. And right now I’m wearing a custom braille t-shirt that says “Sometimes the rainbow is sharp.” And that’s by Aille Design.
Steph: Thank you both so much. Nasreen?
Nasreen: Roy and Satana, you are both involved in voice acting. Tell us a little about what you do and about audio description itself. Roy?
Roy: First of all, I love audio description, and when it comes to audio description, there’s a, there’s a canned answer that I like to give. I’d like somebody to interrupt me cuz if I, you know, let’s, let’s keep it as brief as possible.
And so in the world of audio description, it’s also called video description or descriptive video or descriptive narration. A describer who might be the writer or narrator, and maybe it’s both the writer and the narrator, or maybe it’s the company, but not the production company nor the distributor. But a special other company gives creation of a split track or a mix track of a narrator.
If the film or TV show even has it, which is depending on the distribution channel like streaming, theatrical, broadcast, physical like Blu-Ray or DVD or downloadable to your iTunes or Google Play, or even YouTube with any of these, which offers varying levels of access of the audio description, either on an app or a TV or a cable box or a Chrome browser with a special plugin or with YouTube, maybe it’s a separate YouTube video with audio description, but maybe the audio description separately downloadable that syncs up.
And then you can listen to a narrator or a synth voice so it sounds like a conversational robot, or maybe it’s a narrator that sounds like a synth voice, but you don’t even know if the audio description is there until you hear it, which might be a few minutes into the show.
So you wait and wait, wait and hope, and then. You don’t hear it, so you have to decide to either stop and complain or just put up with it. But who do you decide to complain to? Who is it? The local broadcast affiliate or the movie theater manager who’s dealing with Karen’s complaint about her unpopped popcorn kernel, or do you complain to one of the 47 plus streaming services by email, message, fax, Facebook, tweet by phone?
But to find that phone you have to hunt down a number. And when you find that number go through a press one. Press three, sorry your call cannot be completed as dialed or try a different number. Is that the main line? Oh great press four, press zero, Holding. Oh, good. You can talk to a real person.
It goes something like this. You answer their questions. Um, yes. My speakers are working. No audio description isn’t closed captioning. Sure I’ll hold. Or is it better to go through an accessibility web link buried so deep it feels like they don’t want to talk to you. And even when the audio description is there, is it, it’s bad?
What does that even mean? Is the writing indicating things that the visual doesn’t have? Does the narrator of a scary suspenseful movie talk to you like you’re a baby toddler? Does a kid show have an uninterested adult narrating who sounds as tasteless as cereal too long in the milk? Or is it just that form mentioned synth voice, like my friend Melody calls a puppet, or even kind of creepy, like a horror monster made to describe the lighthearted comedy, romance film to you.
And who chose that voice, and why does that voice get in the way of your experience? And you have to keep fiddling with the volume up and down and down and down and up to try to hear it depending on what’s going on in the background or maybe the production audio ducks outta the way so you can hear the narrator, but all the other audio disappears outta the way and it’s jarring and it takes you outta the story and does this work that’s created by blind people for blind people even include blind people in the process?
So the answer is maybe,
Sylvia: Oh my gosh, Roy, I just have to, to jump in here and say, I think Roy must record those things at the end of TV ads where it says,
Make a pain. I love how you were able to say all that so quickly. Roy just wanted to say all the questions. Awesome.
Nasreen: Oh, cracking up here.
Dana: I, I’m great. I was like, oh, I’m glad I’m on mute cuz this is, he did such a fantastic job, but I’m over here laughing.
Steph: But guys, more importantly, we all know what audio description is now.
Nasreen: Definitely. Satauna, how about you?
Satauna: Well, how does one follow that? And remember it’s three hours earlier where he is too. So what we also know from that explanation is what audio description is not. It is not often done by blind people. It is not often quality checked. It is not even often done by people who really understand the value of it and what it brings to the table, and how much of, it’s not just the technical craft of I know how to use a mixing board. I’m gonna mix, or a laptop, I’m gonna mix my description.
But that art of putting it all together, of creating something that really helps and contributes to audiences falling into the story and being sort of swept away by the mood of it. And those are all things that audio description should be. We want description that is quality, and we absolutely want description that is done as much as possible by blind professionals.
Back in the days of audiobooks, the technology was not there for blind people to read those books. But that’s not the case anymore. The technology is absolutely available. People who are blind or low vision can play such significant powerful roles in all aspects of description. So that’s, that’s what I would say about it.
Dana: There is a Chinese proverb that says, “The tongue paints a picture, what the eyes cannot see.” Can you share with us how we can paint a picture with our voices? Satana?
Satauna: Well, we call it voice acting, and I would say we call it voice acting because it is acting. It is connecting with those words and finding one’s own truth within them.
And that truth can look different for different people because all of us come to it with our own experiences. It’s why Romeo and Juliet or other plays and things that have been around for a long time get redone, or movies get rebooted and shows get redone in the modern era with sort of modern characterizations and things like that. Because things change, our experiences change, our world changes, and so everybody comes at it in a different way.
So think about whatever it is that you are trying to convey and speak your truth about it and be authentic in it. And also, I would say that time pausing is, a part of it, but some people think that it’s just about being big and loud and bold, and it’s not.
I get a ton of these gigs where I’m this calm, quiet narrator because sometimes the voice is the mix with not just music and sound effects but with visuals. So it’s a piece of the story. It’s this big puzzle. When you put it all together, it’s this collage of stuff that comes together and makes the whole picture.
Roy: I love this question and uh, to join Satauna on the Romeo and Juliet factor, you can imagine going to see a play of Romeo and Juliet and in one version during the intermission, you’re just moved to tears. There’s such a connection with what’s happening with the Shakespeare scripts, and then in another scene of a different theater where you go see Romeo and Juliet at the intermission, you’re crying because you just wanna leave and never want to come back and not come back for the next act because it’s so terrible.
That in all seriousness, that’s addressing that kind of connection that when the characters on the stage are connected with each other, that there, there’s a, there’s a communication using the words to, to propel something forward. And joining Satauna here that there’s the intent that we bring to those scripts.
That there are so many different ways that a husband and wife can say, I love you, depending on what the husband screwed up just before the wife says it. In the same sense that there could be a, a truly loving moment when the children are playing in the backyard and there’s a, there’s a nice breeze blowing and it’s just this, this casual moment.
That intent means everything. And when voice actors are able to take that page of scripted words, regardless of it being audio description or anything, and bring it out into a connection, that I think that’s what we as audiences respond to. And I just love it. I know when I hear a, solid read of, a voice talent, it’s, it, it brings me in and I’m not even thinking about them.
I’m really paying attention to the story being told. And that’s the that’s the, the mark of a genius like Satauna.
Sylvia: That’s beautiful. And I love what you said about intent and making the connection. I, I know that many people they do not like realize how important knowing, those visuals are what really connects you to something. So thank you for that. Thank you for your work.
Maya Angelou said “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” Share with us please how we can use our voice more effectively to get the message across.
So let’s start with, um, Satauna.
Satauna: There was one day where I was really mad about some accessibility or rather inaccessibility thing. I was just so mad and suddenly this voice just came to my head and I thought, well, I just called customer service and I said,
Hello. Just like to talk to you. And it just made me laugh so hard, just the goofiness of this and kind of slowing down my words and I’m absolutely over articulating. I got a big smile on my face and every time I say like a “B”, it’s, I’m almost like my cheeks are puffing out just.
It just cracked me up, and so it changed my mood from that furious. How come somebody doesn’t care about how inaccessible to this, to something where, okay, I can call these people and I can have a reasonable diplomatic conversation because now I’ve shifted my mindset and I think that sometimes we have to begin with those words transforming us.
The message has to transform within us to be effective to somebody else. Who’s our audience? Who are we talking to, what is it that we’re trying to convey, and what’s the best way to convey that that’s going to connect with them?
In voice acting often, it’s not about us, and the best thing we can do is find a way to get out of our way. And I think that there are so many spaces in life where this is, this is true. It’s not just voice acting, but in that context, it really is about just getting out of your own way and finding a way to convey your message that will resonate with whomever you’re talking to.
I mean, if you think about audio description, think about if you’ve got a children’s show and the writer is using all these giant words that the second grader just isn’t going to know. It doesn’t really make any sense to the second-grader. Right?
So everything changes depending on who your audience is and what, outcome do you want. What are you trying to do?
Sylvia: Such great advice there. Oh, that’s so true, Satauna. Roy, what about you?
Roy: That’s such a great quote from Maya and mm-hmm. I, I was really thinking a lot about the.
You know, setting it down on paper and then the human voice and, and what happens there. I think about the difference between going to, uh, a graduation ceremony where there’s an orator that’s prepared, a script that they’re reading out to all of us, and that there’s a big wide audience there and it’s, it can have all sorts of impacts.
I’m, I’m gonna take a different tack on this, that when I get a script, I don’t care what version of the script it is. I am speaking, I get that. I’m using my voice to bring those words through my body and into a mic, and then it processes and it goes out. I feel like there’s a part of that that’s listening in the sense that it sounds kind of, kind of intuitive, counterintuitive.
So let me try to see if I can make this work that when I’m speaking a script, for me to take that script and, and really listen to not only what the script is saying. But also to take, uh, the advantage of Satauna’s audience, who I’m speaking to, and, and to make that script, those words that I’m using, become a dialogue that I’m, I’m actually engaged in a conversation with the person I’m talking to and to make that as specific as possible, because that’s how it feels like those words can become alive.
I know I’m getting kind of into the, into the weeds here, but the important thing that I’m, when I, when I’ve. I’ve been able to take a script and bring it to life. It’s because I’ve been listening to not only the script, but also the person I’m talking to and, to be able to use those words to share an exchange, uh, meaning.
So, uh, when I read deeper, meaning that goes back to the word connection again. That, that, that, that really resonates with me deeply. And, I believe that when you’re in really good hands with a voice, talent, With a voice actor that it’s because they’re engaging with that kind of deep connection, that deeper meaning is coming through them, actually listening.
Sylvia: What do you think about the authenticity factor? And I ask my Bold Blind Beauty girls this too.
Roy: I’d love to jump in on, this and then hear what Satauna says. Cause I, I, I hear that authentic selves, and the first word that comes to mind is vulnerability in the sense of Brene Brown’s definition. That that kind of, uh, opening up something that might be a little outside of the comfort zone might be a little uncomfortable.
I remember a story of, of voice talent, voice actor that goes into a booth to read and it so happens that they were in the adult entertainment industry. Uh, it’s relevant for the story, I’m not gonna get graphic here. But at the end of this typical, let’s say it was a commercial read, it was just a typical voiceover script that had nothing to do with what they were familiar with.
They come out of this, out of the booth, and say, oh my gosh, that’s the most intimate thing that I’ve ever done. It’s, there is something that happens when, when they’re speaking, even whether it’s using your own words or reading a script of somebody else’s words, that there is a vulnerability here. And by finding a way to embrace that while still telling the story, there’s a, there’s a high wire act here.
By being able to be vulnerable, that authenticity comes out. And I believe that that’s how that connection happens with the audience. But I’d love to hear what Satauna has to say about this.
Sylvia: Yeah. That I think that’s so true. Satana, what do you think?
Satauna: I think that’s really true, and I think that vulnerability requires trust and not just trust of the party that you’re speaking to, but it really starts from within.
It’s really trusting yourself, and that’s the thing I think that often causes people to get in their own way is we get imposter syndrome and we think we’re not good enough. Or, okay, this is, you know, if I’m reading a script, this might be something that I’m reading that I don’t necessarily believe. So how do I find what’s true and authentic within me that would be true and authentic for the character that’s in this script?
So finding that trust within and being okay with myself in that space contributes to vulnerability and being able to be as intimate as the story that Roy was talking about with the voice actor who came out of the booth a couple of minutes ago.
Sylvia: And that’s true in every situation in life. So that’s so true. Satauna, Steph, Nasreen, Dana, anything to add to that?
Steph: Well, I was thinking when Satana gave the example of how angry she was, and then, the funny voice came to her head and how she was able to shift her mindset. I was thinking about that as it relates to advocacy and a personal situation that I was in years ago when I had to advocate on behalf of my mother just how angry I was at this situation.
I remember driving home that evening thinking I have to do something. This is just so unfair. But what I did almost similar to what Satana said, was I took a step back. And I began thinking about the next steps. And I did think about my audience, these people that I needed to write this letter to cause I went on a letter-writing campaign.
And what I did was I did a day in a life. So I invited people into my mother’s life to tell her story. And I guess that was the vulnerable piece because I really had to put myself into that story to be able to tell her story, to get what we needed to get. And we did have a great outcome.
But I think, you know, when we’re advocating, while I believe there really is no right or wrong way to advocate for something that you truly believe in. I think when you want to get other people to listen to you, you have to do it in a way that is connection. And the way to connect, as you guys said here, is through that vulnerability, that authenticity.
Sylvia: And stories are powerful. They are way more powerful than facts and figures and all of that. They’re powerful.
Steph: Exactly. Because we are all humans and mm-hmm. Humans connect, with other humans.
Sylvia: But we do have to be vulnerable to tell those stories. You know, Steph, you made me think of a really important question I have. We’re, you know, I know we’re talking about the power of the voice, but today so much of our voice is heard through the written word, set down on paper, set down on a text, an email, et cetera.
How do we ensure that the power of our voice is also heard, or the power of our message is also heard through our written word? I mean, I’m asking this to all of you. How can we make sure, what are some tips we can follow that will make sure that the written word we have is also effective through that power of our voice?
Satauna: This is Satauna. Can I jump in here? Yes. Yes. Yeah. Oh, there are so many angles to go. I’m so excited. Okay, so Steph, when you were talking about that voice that you reached for, the thing that came to my mind was the voice of authority and calm. It’s clarity. It’s sort of this authoritative clarity. You know what you’re asking for, you know what you want and you’re confident in your message.
Yes. So you can really deliver it with clarity and authority because you believe it. So that doesn’t negate passion, it just means as some, I mean, sometimes when I get passionate, I just get over the top. I get so excited, I get louder, and my hands start waving around. I’m it’s doing it right now, doing that kinda thing, right?
So in terms of advocacy, that authoritative calm can be so powerful. And when it comes to the written word, just read your writing out loud or have somebody else who’s got some authoritative calm, read what you’ve written out loud to you or back to you and see does it resonate with you? Does it connect the way you want it to?
The other thing I wanted to say about advocacy is when I came up with that funny voice, the picture, the visual picture in my mind is of a giant elephant. And if you’ve ever heard the story of the blind people with the elephant, and one blind person feels the tail, and one blind person feels a foot and one blind person feels an ear, and then they all argue with each other about what this thing was because they were all at different pieces of it.
For me that suggested blind people aren’t smart enough to connect with each other and understand that they’re looking at something bigger. Or that, you know, like who doesn’t walk along the thing that they’re feeling and see what else is down the road or down the line. You know what I mean? So the elephant has so much symbolism for me in terms of advocacy and it’s this big sort of OIE giant animal, and yet it’s an animal that is commanding in a lot of ways just because of its very size. It has a presence.
So that authoritative, and calm makes me feel bigger, taller, more impactful, and more confident. My shoulders go back and I just have sort of a quiet, uh, belief in what I’m saying if that makes any sense.
Roy: I love how Satauna talks about that, that confidence and that clarity, that presence. I, I’m, I myself have imposter syndrome when it comes to reading scripts.
Sometimes I get stuck and when I fall into that, that trap where I’m not sure if you’ve ever ex anyone has ever experienced this, where it’s like you kind of keep stumbling and stumbling and there’s a, there’s a rut that seems like it’s inescapable and that just makes it spiral worse. That in those, in those cases, it’s, it’s time for me to take a deep breath and, and just step away a little bit and get a different perspective.
In emails, I’ve found some recently some really challenging emails that were almost impossible. It, I, I did feel painted into a corner and I wrote out the email fully, just letting it all out. Everything that, every angle, every emotion, everything. And I did not send it, it was a draft, so I didn’t even put the address in.
But when I edited it down I did read it out loud and what I did was I read it wrong. And by wrong, I mean I read it angrily or I read it with, with, uh, a childish victim sadness of whininess entitlement. I tried reading it with, uh, condescending air and then I tried reading it with what my intent was.
And I saw where those abilities of reading it poorly, bad, that’s a judgment. Reading it, not in the way that I intended it let’s say it like that. When I read it in a way that I didn’t intend, I saw those spaces, those words that were coming out on the paper in ways that I did not mean when I wrote it on paper. So Satauna’s point about speaking it out loud can actually influence the way that that message can be written.
Sylvia: That’s a fabulous idea. Dana, Nasreen, do you have anything else to ask?
Dana: I was just thinking about the tone of things and how we can convey a message, but the tone of it can make the message come across very differently. If somebody has written something for y uh, something that you have to choose to read from, you can put your own tone or heart into it as if you wrote it.
Or if you’re advocating for something, you know, you may come off a little bit more friendly, but when you get to the, the meat and the potatoes of what you’re advocating for, the tone switches to could switch to something that might be a little bit more aggressive or just make people take notice.
So I think tone can play a lot into it, as well as putting your heart into something that you didn’t even write.
Nasreen: I think there’s a lot of great information here shared by everybody from authenticity to connection, tone, to saying it out loud and hearing yourselves in different situations. As you know what they say, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that leaves an impact and it makes a difference with people. What they’ll remember of your message of you.
And I think that’s a strong statement because that’s generally how it is. Words matter. You have to be careful what you say, how you say it. So being mindful of what you say and how you say it I think is really key as well.
I just feel like what you Satauna and Roy do are doing here as voice actors and audio description is it’s an art that you have developed and perfected and cultivated over the years that I think not many of us can do, but certainly we admire a lot. I know I do. Uh, just hearing both of you with strong, vivid voices, painting the images with your voice is just amazing to hear.
And I think, uh, as professionals, you guys have really captured that art. So, uh, thank you for, you know, kudos to you and thank you for sharing that with us because it makes us realize that word has power, has meaning.
I would like to ask both of you, if somebody wanted to get started in voice acting audio description, how would they get started?
Roy: I like to refer people to, I want to be a voice actor.com, and I’m not kidding. I use this website frequently. It’s a treasure trove and a deep dive into all sorts of things that have to do with voice acting. I want to be a voice actor.com. It’s a great starting place for anybody interested, in learning more about the business, finding coaches, learning about different approaches, and the different myriad of types, of focuses.
Satauna: And I would say that both Roy and I are coaches, and so of course you can reach out to us. And also remember that the voice acting is a piece of it. It is a business. So what everybody, when people come to me, they’re all excited about reading the copy, but there’s the hustling of getting the job. There’s the administration of invoicing for the job and keeping track of what’s going on on the pay side.
There’s the technology side of knowing how to record yourself. This is 2023 here. Home studios are a thing. Online casting is definitely a thing, and while there are certainly some gigs where you go into somebody else’s studio, for the majority of what you do, you’re gonna be recording yourself at home.
Or you’re going to be on a session where somebody’s recording you, but you gotta log in. So you gotta be able to use the web and or certain cases, certain kinds of not-so-great accessible software. So knowing your technology, knowing how to troubleshoot, and knowing how to use the tools of the trade is just as important as being able to read the copy.
Nasreen: Thank you for sharing that on that, uh, Satauna and Roy, how can people find you? Can you guys share your socials?
Satauna: Well, this is Satauna. I have such a unique name that it’s pretty impossible not to find me. That’s so true. My name S A T A U N A, and you’ll find me. I’m on Twitter at satauna h. I’m on Facebook, I’m on LinkedIn. My email is email@example.com and that’s me.
Roy: I’m on uh, roysamuelson.com and theadna.org, uh, T H E A D N A.org for a database of audio description professionals of all kinds. And the podcast.
Sylvia: What a fabulous conversation. The voice is truly powerful.
Steph: Thank you both so much once again for joining us here on Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. This was such an enlightening discussion and uh, I think I can speak for all of us here. We, we so appreciate the work that you do.
Satauna: Thank you for having us on. This is so much fun.
Nasreen: Thanks for listening to Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. with your hosts, Stephanae McCoy, Nasreen Bhutta, Sylvia Stinson-Perez, and Dana Hinnant. If you enjoyed this episode and you would like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post it on your socials, or leave a rating and review. Catch all the latest on Bold Blind Beauty.
You can follow us on Instagram, and Facebook, and check our YouTube channel, Bold Blind Beauty. Thanks again for listening, and we will see you next time on another edition of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R.