The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 21, 2007


A Carlisle voice answers the phone

Perhaps you need to leave a message for your child's teacher. You dial the Carlisle Public School phone number and a familiar voice answers the phone:

"You have reached the Carlisle Public School voice-mail system. To report a student absence or tardiness, press 4 now. For the school nurse, press 3 now. For a list of the school's main extensions"
Liz Bishop

Carlisle's Liz Bishop records a voiceover at Blue Jay Studio on Bedford Road. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

We often don't think about where such voice-mail prompts originate. Are they computer-generated or is there a real voice behind them? More often than not, the speaker is a professional voiceover artist. In this case, Carlisle resident Liz Bishop of Kimball Road is the talent behind the school's voice-mail system. And luckily for Carlisle, Bishop offers her services free-of-charge to her children's school.

A voiceover artist

The term "voiceover" typically refers to the voice of an unseen narrator speaking to the audience of a movie or television show. However, the term is also used to describe other types of recorded voices, like those behind voice-mail systems, web pages, radio advertisements and even walking tours for travelers to unfamiliar cities.

Bishop has been working as a voiceover artist since 1994. She explains that there are two types of voice talent: commercial, as in TV or radio advertising, and industrial, which is informational and can include web sites, training videos and voice mail.

Her biggest client is Boston-based Bingham McCutcheon, the 18th largest law firm in the United States, with branch offices all over the globe. Every time they acquire a new office somewhere, says Bishop, she is hired to go in and re-do all of the voice-mail prompts.

"I like to say I'm the voice people love to hate," Bishop says of the work she has done on voice-mail systems. She acknowledges that there are voiceover artists whose voices sound an awful lot like they were created by a computer. And that scares her.

"Comics make fun of us. A male voice comes on and says, 'No one is here to take your call — please leave a message.' And that kind of scares me. It sounds like Hal, the computer in the film 2001, A Space Odyssey."

Some people tell Bishop that on her home voice mail she has a machine-like voice. "Some people say I sound like the AT&T lady or the Verizon lady," she says. "I take that as a compliment, but I just wish I had her gig!"

"Hey, somebody's got to make a living doing this," she adds. "And that's where I come in."

A career begins abroad

Bishop's career as a voiceover artist evolved from her love of acting in high school in Cincinnati and working at her college radio station at the University of Miami of Ohio. As an education major, she had the good fortune to land a student teaching job in Luxembourg during her last semester of college in 1985. She moved to Luxembourg City in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
("it's between France, Belgium and Germany," she explains, "and is the size of Rhode Island"). In addition to school and teaching, she took a job with Radio Luxembourg, started a new deli delivery service with her boss at the radio station and immersed her high-energy self in the culture and language of her new home.

Her professional radio career blossomed for the three years she lived abroad. She was the sidekick, the "straight man" to her boss's jokester. She also recorded ads and just about anything else that required her beautiful voice and considerable acting talent. She pitched Snack Attack, the deli delivery service, to City Hall (at this time there was no MacDonald's or even pizza delivery in Luxembourg) and met her husband-to-be on the job.

"My husband called to order a sandwich and I delivered," said Bishop, still laughing at the line she has probably repeated many times over during her married life.

She also deepened her interest in and study of language. In addition, "I listen to people talk and pay attention to diction and elocution," Bishop explains, adding that she is an astute observer of how people speak.

Giles Christenson, studio manager/engineer at Blue Jay Studio, and Liz Bishop produce a voiceover for a client. (Photo by Ellen Huber)
She still does this "parroting" today as she listens to voiceovers on TV and tries to determine who is speaking. "Whose disembodied voice am I listening to?" she explains. "I try to pick out who it is."

A Christmas tree in Carlisle

Liz and Michael Bishop moved back to the States in 1988, and settled down in the heart of Boston. At Christmas that year, they decided they needed a live tree and Liz's sister-in-law knew of a place in Carlisle where they could cut their own tree. As Bishop describes it, they "drove to the other side of the world" to Everett Lapham's tree farm on Concord Street and cut their tree.

Ten years later Carlisle would figure into the Bishops' life again. They were living in Sudbury, expecting their third child and needing a larger house. Remembering Carlisle, they came back and built their house on Kimball Road. They moved in in May of 1999.

A Carlisle-based profession

Bishop has been able to do most of her voiceover work in Carlisle, and she loves the flexibility that it gives her. She records either at Blue Jay Studio on Bedford Road or in her tiny recording studio at home. She doesn't get much lead time for jobs.

"It depends on the client, but industrial work is mostly very last minute,"she explains. "Commercial work can often have a few days lead, but it really seems that when any client calls, they need immediate attention."

Bishop is fortunate that her husband works at home, "so our kids are covered if I have to be at a client or in the studio." When her children were very young, it was hard for them to keep quiet and not go searching for their mom. "Somehow they just didn't get that red recording light over the top of my home studio door!"

Bishop reflects on changes in the recording industry since she began working. "I used to go into the ad agency to record voiceovers for ads," she recalls. "Now they can be recorded in my home studio — the copy of the ad and the time of the spot comes in over e-mail, and when I'm done, I e-mail the file right back. It really is a great job to have, but you have to be out there promoting yourself, and that's not for everyone."

A roller-coaster life

Bishop's life as a mother of three school-age children cruises along at a pace not unlike her early professional days — now she just uses different props. She could be the woman at the head of the line at Costco who, having filled her cart with two weeks of groceries in less than 15 minutes, high-tails it out of the store to make three other stops before picking up her son from school — and that's just between 1 and 3 p.m.

But she wouldn't have it any other way. "I suppose you can just say that besides three kids and a full slate of school and town volunteering with a little bit of community theater in there, I'm pretty busy without the paid work. Mike really takes care of the bees and chickens and gardens. I enjoy cooking with really fresh ingredients, and I utilize these as well as go to the market almost every day.

"I'd rather be a roller coaster than a merry-go-round," she adds, as she runs out to her daughter's ballet class and a little marketing on the side.

Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series on town residents who run unique businesses in Carlisle.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito