Imported from Grand Rapids

February 25, 2011
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If Chryslers are imported from Detroit, then the voice that sells them was imported from Grand Rapids.

Local voice-over talent Kevin Yon of Rockford worked with Cascade Township studio Sound Post Productions on the gravelly track that eventually backed the now famous commercial for Auburn Hills automaker Chrysler LLC. The two-minute commercial aired Feb. 6 during Super Bowl XLV and has been all over the Web ever since.

The ad, which introduced the new Chrysler 200 sedan and featured rapper Eminem, has brought unprecedented attention to Yon and Sound Post.

“We produce a lot of very interesting things out of this little space here in Cascade that get heard all over the city, country and world, eventually,” owner Stuart Poltrock said. “But really nobody knows that we’re here — which has been OK: The people who need to know where we are are able to find us.”

Poltrock said his friend, Yon, has recorded many times over the years at the studio, 6806 Old 28th St. SE. So it was nothing out of the ordinary when Yon arrived in December to record a demo at the request of his Detroit-based agent, Ann Wilson of Production Plus — The Talent Shop.

“We’ve done dozens of these over the years. We do this for other actors, as well,” Poltrock said. “We didn’t know what it was for.”

Yon, who used to be heard on radio with disk jockey Kevin Matthews of WLAV, said Chrysler’s Oregon advertising agency, Wieden + Kennedy, put out a call for voice talent that reached his agent. He said that, at first, they expected the piece would be used during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month.

The first hint Poltrock had that Yon’s track would be used for a Super Bowl ad was a Reuters news item the week before noting that Chrysler had plans to air the longest commercial in Super Bowl history at two minutes.

“I was like, ‘Oh, man, that’s our work,’” he said.

Poltrock and Yon said they’ve fielded many phone calls and text messages since the commercial aired.

“This is one of those things, I think, that very rarely in life do your stars line up. It’s been my little adventure,” said Yon, a Massachusetts native who has made a living in West Michigan in marketing, communications, acting, voiceover and directing for more than 30 years.

Poltrock bought the four-employee studio 15 years ago and said it was his dream job.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to make audio things,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in what I hear on the radio — not only where the music comes from, but who the voices are — and now, that’s what I do.

“We do all things audio. That means we do voice-over, music and sound design for TV, radio, advertising, films, software. We do work for advertising agencies and corporations directly.”

Sound Post also handles foreign language recordings for local clients with a global reach such as Amway, Gentex and Herman Miller.

“We have a talent pool of voices from all over the world who voice the translations for the productions that are done. Usually, those are corporate productions,” Poltrock said.

“In addition, we’re producing musicians, music projects for artists and also videos. We’ve produced two that are in some film festivals this year.”

He works closely with local musician David John on audio and video projects. SoundPost produced an animated children’s song and video, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” with artist Erin Lenau. The video projects, which attracted volunteer video talent, are “a feather in our cap” and are being entered in national contests, Poltrock said.

Film work has included sound design, final mixing and audio production for several independent feature films and documentaries.

Some actors who have been in Grand Rapids to make pictures have used Sound Post for voiceover work, he said. “For instance, Christian Slater came to town this summer and he spent an afternoon here while I recorded him doing dialogue replacement on a film he had shot in Toronto in the spring time,” he said. “It’s great to work with high caliber, famous people doing their craft.”

Poltrock said the 15-minutes-of-fame spotlight has boosted the reputation of his studio. “I think it has helped to raise awareness of our business. It could do nothing but good for our business. It sets us apart,” he said.

The initial recording session with Yon for the Chrysler spot took about 2.5 hours — longer than usual but not excessive, he said.

“Kevin’s in our studio here, and we have a digital connection to the studio in Oregon through our ISDN circuit,” he explained. “They listened to it in Oregon as though he were standing right next to them — it sounds that good — but he’s in our booth right here. They directed him for two and a half hours in that first session on a two-minute script, which isn’t unheard of, but that’s a lot.

“Not too much later, they had him come back and re-do it. They had changed the script. We went through several processes like that, several sessions.”

Poltrock said he first saw the spot at Hanon McKendry’s annual Super Bowl party, where local ad gurus gather to rate the commercials.

“Not many people in the room knew Kevin’s involvement or that I had recorded the voice for this spot. No one had seen it. The spot came on and the room grew quiet.

“When it was done, people cheered. Bill McKendry said it was a standing ovation. Maybe that’s true. All I know is, people clapped and cheered, which they didn’t do for other spots. So we knew it was pretty special at that moment.”

The commercial has taken some heat for spreading a gritty, blue collar image of Detroit. But people have clearly connected with the ad’s message of strength and ability: “Imported from Detroit” T-shirts sold out in hours on the Chrysler website.

Yon said he drew on personal experience to present a voice that listeners could believe was forged and refined in the factories and on the streets of the city. “I kind of understand what the unemployment thing is, wondering where things are coming from the next year,” Yon said. “Maybe that came through a little bit in the voice.”

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