Five Tips you Need to Follow if you Want a Play-by-Play Job
Well, that’s true, right now you can’t (just being honest).
Guys like Vin Scully, Kevin Harlan, Jim Nantz and Mike Tirico have been refining their craft for years; studying, practicing, researching, learning from mistakes, taking advice from mentors.
You can’t match them now, but that doesn't mean you can’t get there.
Stop thinking about the NFL on Sunday and start thinking about minor league baseball, small college football, internet broadcasts, Olympic sports and a host of other play-by-play opportunities and you’ll begin to realize there is a starting point for you out there.
The internet has opened up the marketplace, giving prospective play-by-play announcers a forum for displaying their talents they didn't have before. But it takes more than just doing it, you have to do it right.
Veteran Hockey play-by-play announcer Doug McLeod recently shared with us some of his biggest tips he’s learned from over 35 years broadcasting sports.
Tip #1: At The Beginning…
Start by trying to call some games by yourself off a TV or computer screen. The idea here is to get comfortable with the organization and pacing required to call a game.
My advice, don’t do this with your buddies around you won’t be able to take it seriously or you’ll be more worried about how you look to them.
Take it seriously; do it by yourself.
Advanced Tip: Record the audio of your efforts on something, perhaps your phone or computer so you can critique your work. A webcam can work really well, but the most important part of play-by-play announcing is the audio so make sure the quality of the recording is top notch.
Tip #2: Hit the Road
When you've done a few of these, it's time to go to real events. The object here is to record yourself doing actual games, on-site.
Don't just show up and try to pull this off from the stands. Way too many people will be annoyed! Clear it with the facility manager or head coach ahead of time.
Be very straightforward with them: "I'm working on becoming a professional play-by-play announcer, I take this very seriously, and I'd like to find a location where I can set out my notes and call the game into a recorder without bothering anybody."
You will almost always receive a positive and even enthusiastic response.
Advanced Tip: Be smart about where you try to achieve this type of practice, you are not going to stroll into Lambeau Field and ask for a private room to practice your play-by-play job skills.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Big Colleges, Smaller Sports: Hockey, Soccer, Baseball, Track, Volleyball, Swimming, Field Hockey.
- Smaller Colleges, Big Sports: Football, Basketball.
- Minor Leagues: Hockey, Baseball, NBDL
- Niche Sports: Arena Football, Lacrosse, CFL, MLS
- High School: Basketball, Football, Soccer, Baseball
Tip #3: Listen With a Critical Ear
After you've successfully recorded a number of actual games, listen back to them with a very critical ear and tweak your next performance accordingly.
Don’t be your own cheerleader and don’t beat yourself up, find a middle point where you pick up on positives and strive to change negatives.
Advanced Tip: It will be awkward at first to listen to yourself. If you can, try to think of it like you are listening to someone else and learning what you like or don’t like about their style. I know it sounds kind of metaphysical, but I find many people have trouble getting past their own voice and doing an honest critique.
Tip #4: Get Distribution
Look around your market for an outlet that could carry your work on a regular basis. This might be a cable TV channel, community access TV, a suburban radio station with limited resources or the internet.
Pay? Forget about it. This is where you really create your career.
The internet provides an incredible opportunity for you to get on the air that didn't exist when I was getting started in the business, so tap into it!
High School is the easiest entry point.
Approach the school's athletic director and offer to do their games on the internet if they'll provide access and an internet connection. Most High Schools don’t have any distribution and would love the extra promotion for their program. There is no risk in letting you broadcast their games on the internet so it’s usually an easy sell.
If you're sharp, you'll find a way to sell a few ads to help bring in a little revenue, too -- which you will share with the school.
Here’s what you need to make this a reality:
- At least one quality microphone
- Small Mixer (optional, but not really if you are serious)
A small mixer allows you to add crowd noise or a second announcer, which will increase the value of your production greatly. Basic small mixers with USB connections are available for under $60 so there's no excuse for not having one.
Mixing your games yourself not only provides a more polished broadcast but also gets you into the very important habit of minding your own audio levels and avoiding over-modulation.
Advanced Tip: Pumping too much audio onto the Internet will absolutely kill the digital signal with grunge (not the flannel kind) and may even knock you off the air.
Tip #5: You’re Ready for Action, now do it Right
This is the point in your career where you develop three incredibly important habits before you ever go on the air with a real broadcast:
- PREPARE: Get whatever information you can find, organize it in a way that you can use it at a moment's notice, and be sure you have the pronunciation of every single player on both teams down cold.
- EARLY IS ON TIME: Put yourself in the mindset that you are by arriving in plenty of time to park, find your assigned location, get squared away with things like electric outlets, a chair, whatever, and have your notes organized.
- DRESS FOR SUCCESS: I am appalled at how sloppily I see some small market radio people dress at games. the fact that you can get away with wearing jeans and a baseball cap and not shaving for a week doesn't mean you should ever appear that way at a broadcast, real or otherwise.
You absolutely must do all these things when you move up to a professional career so you might as well begin at the beginning. In addition, you'll feel professional, which is incredibly important.
Advanced Tip: You never know who is in the crowd at any game, at any time, so always act as if your play-by-play idol or your dream employer is listening and watching. Be prepared to put your best foot forward, you don’t get advanced notice when your big break is about to happen.
Doug McLeod's Final Thought
Becoming a professional play-by-play announcer doesn't happen overnight. It's a lot of work.
By doing all these things you will prepare yourself for the big day when you put together a resume and short audio demo and apply for a job at a radio station. Don't listen to the naysayers, a job in play-by-play is possible if you put in the work!
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