Category Archives: Uncategorized

Telephony, or the real thing?

Sorry, but I couldn’t resist the ridiculous title – the “real thing” part, that is.  It’s been a while since my last post, so a bad pun was inevitable.

I recently was hired for a job that involved on-hold messaging for a dental office specializing in implants.  It was quite interesting, there were a few pronunciations I had to learn, and it was a bit more involved than I originally thought, but I believe the client is happy with the results I provided.

I had done a job for a client last year recording a system of generic voice mail prompts for a presentation, and that gave me a good taste of what telephony voiceover work was like.

Our local Meet-up group hosted by Ron Allan (Voiceover Pros of Central OH) held its monthly meeting earlier this week.  One of presentations was by Ron giving us an update on the subject of telephony.  After we had some fun with Ron by pronouncing “telephony” wrong, he gave us a refresher on the more common forms that it can take – regular voice mail greetings, on-hold messaging, IVR automatic response – and a few less-common forms.  He reminded us how prevalent voice mail and IVR systems are in businesses, how many business there are in the U.S., and how many potential VO opportunities this means for voice artists.

I appreciated the reminder, because there are certainly a plethora of businesses who also have telephones, the vast majority of which usually have some sort of voice mail or answering machine after hours. 

I remember buying my first telephone answering machine 30 years ago.  It used two cassette tapes, one for recording the greeting and another to record the caller messages.  When I brought it home and opened the box, I started playing around while recording the greeting, manually adding sound effects and song lyrics by playing records on my stereo loud enough to be caught on the cassette tape.  The quality was horrible, my editing and production very cheesy, but it was fun.  Back then folks I knew were experimenting with “cute” answering machine greetings.  I had my cute greeting on the machine for a few months, then replaced it with a more standard greeting.

(You younger folks may need to ask your parents what “record”,  “cassette tape”, and “stereo” are – just kidding!)

Come to think of it, I got my first telephony voiceover job some time in the late 1990’s, even though it was related to my job with the Postal Service – actually for the main post office in Columbus.  The marketing folks there knew I had a decent voice, so they asked me to record all new prompts for the informational hotline for customers who wanted to apply for passports.

At the time we used a PBX system with an internal voice mail system built-in.  The IT person gave me a temporary authorization and instructions to access the admin portion of the VM system for the hotline number.  The instructions and scripts were easy to follow, but it turned out to be a bit more tedious than I had thought.  I came in on a Saturday morning, and painstakingly recorded all of the prompts on the sheet I was given (“to find out what hours you can apply, press 4 – for a list of offices that accept applications, press 5 – etc.”).

Did I say painstaking?  It was like trying to solve a maze, and making sure you traced all the possible paths you could take.  But when it was done a few hours later, I could call the initial hotline and get a kick out of listening to myself.  And it was cool to have friends and acquaintances tell me they heard my voice when they were calling to apply for a passport.

I dare say telephony systems today are more sophisticated.  Ron Allan told us that modern software allows the system owner to take the various mp3 files from a voice artist, load them into the software app, and it automatically sets up the messaging “tree”.

In any case, there are VO work opportunities to be had out there.  All we have to do is talk to someone at that business and make a good “business” case as to why they should hire us to give life to their phone messaging system.

How about you readers?  What experiences have you had recording for a telephony client, good or bad?  I’d love to hear from you, just click on the “Leave A Comment” link at the top and share your thoughts.

(NOTE:  Serious replies only, please – NO spam and advertising messages, those WILL be terminated with extreme prejudice)

That’s all for now.  Until next time, reach out and touch someone who is a potential telephony client, and keep your best voice forward.  Those businesses will thank you!

Take care.

   -Z-

e-Learning voiceovers

We tend to over-emphasize the term “eLearning” nowadays as if it were some magical thing that we didn’t have back when dinosaurs walked the earth and Perry Mason ruled television on Friday nights.

In truth, we could construe eLearning to be any type of educational curriculum using non-manual technology, including the old 16mm movie projectors or slide projectors that were “higher-tech” to us elementary school students in the 1960’s

Nowadays eLearning is mostly understood as web-based animated training courses with information to read, scenarios to ponder, and questions to answer to demonstrate our learning.  Of course, most include voiceover, either dialogue from actual actors on screen, or static photos of people (even animated avatars) representing characters in scenarios who are voiced by an unseen actor.

It is this model most people think of when hearing the term eLearning.  And it is that format from whence has sprung a plethora of both stand-alone and web-based training courses in the last 20 to 25 years. 

The big questions regarding eLearning are:  Is it quality production?  Does it achieve its objective?

As a voice actor, I’m primarily concerned about the production quality of the audio component (when sound is included) .  I have no control over the visual aspect, and certainly not whether the course achieves its objectives in impacting learning.  I certainly hope it does, because that always reflects well on everyone who had a part in creating it.

Within the past few months I have completed my first two eLearning voiceover jobs for pay, both for the same production company.  It was an interesting experience and less stressful than I imagined.  I’m extremely happy that I now have a business relationship with that company as a dependable voice actor and a known quantity, and hopefully that will lead to more work and revenue down the road.

In reading the direction provided, it seemed that the best approach was to use a clear, neutral voice, with just a shade of inflection – and I do mean just a shade.  The result could be termed bland and boring, but the client liked it because that fit the project, so I like to refer to it as “a professional sound” (ahem).

I participated in several eLearning courses as a trainee during my time with the Postal Service.  I may have complained about how dry or corny it was, or how little it provided in the way of inspiration or motivation, but in general I’d have to say that the technical aspect of the production, including visual and voice audio, was first-rate. 

Maybe one day a postal employee may view an eLearning course at their desk and hear a voice they remember as belonging to an older colleague who has since retired.  If so, I hope they’ll say it’s the best course ever!

How about you readers?  What eLearning courses have you helped voice, and what was the most interesting or strangest course you worked on?  Did you participate as a learner in any eLearning courses that were notably effective, or just plain bad?  I’d love to hear from you, so click on Leave A Comment to share your thoughts on this.

(NOTE:  please do NOT reply with any advertising or spam messages, those will be terminated with extreme prejudice)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Yesterday I worked my final track meet of the season at Africentric High School in Columbus at their brand-new stadium – actually they have a brand-new school building for K-12 and a separate indoor athletic center with a basketball facility that seats 2300.

As a PA announcer I always judge stadiums by their sound system and pressbox, and both were amazing.   My only difficulty was when I’d start to speak on the mic, then I’d hear a sound like the voice of God from Mount Sinai saying those same words a half-second later.  Man, those loudspeakers were strong – and my voice quality sounded great! 

The downside was that the delay and the intensity of the broadcast sound tended to throw me off and cause me to drop the ends of words.  It took some effort to tell my brain to focus on the voice coming out of my mouth and shut down the sound coming into my ears from outside. 

Hard to complain, though.  Maybe they’ll let me work a football game or two there this fall, that would be fun.  For now, I’m on hiatus from athletics, and will spend the next three months focusing on my commercial VO work from my studio.  I stepped down from RadioForecastNetwork.com a few weeks ago, and I’m now a premium subscriber on Voices.com, and am enjoying the daily audition routine.

Until next time, remember the capacity you have to enable others to learn from the words you speak, and keep your best voice forward.  Take care.

 -Z-

Goals need targets!

As a long-time trainer and classroom instructor with the U.S. Postal Service, one of the key things I learned early on was that for training to be efficient, the trainee needed to know at the outset exactly what they should accomplish at the conclusion of training.

That may seem like a “d’oh!” or “Captain Obvious” thing to say, but I also learned that folks can easily overlook the obvious unless they receive regular reinforcement.

My first postal training program was as a pre-hire to be considered for a future postal MPLSM clerk job.  MPLSM was the acronym for the machine those clerks worked on, pressing keys on a piano-style keyboard, while letter zipped by.  The keyboard actually had two rows of keys, one upper and one lower, ten keys per row, with a six-inch separation between the right keys and the left keys

I was required to key a series of 3-digit numbers on the bottom keyboard only at the rate of 60 per second, with a 95% accuracy.  Those numbers were important, because I had clear idea of what I needed to achieve to be successful.  And I needed to be successful to be considered for employment.

I was nervous when I reported on that first day as a pre-hire.  The training clerk showed me the replica of the MPLSM clerk station, and showed me how to run the cardboard “letters” thru.  I started with one-digit numbers at 40 per minute.  It took me ten minutes to finally pass that lesson.  It took me another ten minutes to pass the lesson with 2-digit numbers.

But the 3-digit numbers stymied me.  I finished that first day with a better idea of what I needed to do, and I was confident I could do it with some practice.  As I recall, it took me three more days to pass that 3-digit lesson at the top speed.   Success!  I was ready to be hired!

In reality, it was nearly two years before I received the letter to report for duty and be sworn in as a postal employee working on the MPLSM.  But I was informed I would need to pass additional training to be kept on past my probation. 

Once again, I was given a training program with a clear outline, and a final target of keying cards with actual addresses on them, this time learning to use the upper keyboard as well in combination with the lower keys – very much like learning to type and reaching for keys outside of the home row.

This time it was 3-digit numbers based on the address or company name, using a combination of lower and upper keys, sorting 250 “letters” with a 98% accuracy rate.  That meant having 5 errors or fewer in 250 attempts! 

Daunting?  Yes.  But I also knew exactly what I needed to do to be successful here.

And so I continued my postal career, moving into the training department after six months, and learning how to explain training goals to my fellow employees were now my “students”.  That point was hammered home to me by the senior instructors, and I made sure from then on that one of the first things I did when conducting a new training class on the first day was to let the participant know what objective they should be achieving, particular when measurable targets were involved.

How about you?  Do you have general goals, but no clear objectives?  No real targets, numbers, or general concepts you need to be reaching or achieving?  If you don’t, your likelihood of success is reduced by a factor of 10, 100, or more.

As I’ve mentioned before, I met Ron Allan, who showed me a quality training program in which I would given clear objectives I needed to be achieving, including:

          build a home studio

          learn to record and edit at home

          learn the mechanics, mindset, and business side of voiceover

          become an independent voice artist

–       use the Internet, e-mail, and the telephone to pursue business

I had started out wanting to pursue voiceover with a general goal, but without a specific target.  If I had stayed like that without meeting Ron, and just kept wondering if there was something specific I should be doing, it is highly unlikely I would have achieved that overall goal.

How about you, the reader?  What goal have you been able to achieve once you identified exactly what targets you needed to reach?  Feel free to share by clicking on “Leave A Comment” at the top.  (NOTE:  please, NO spam messages or sales pitches, those will be deleted with extreme prejudice)

That’s it for now.  Just as info, this is my last week working for RadioForecastNetwork, and I’m going out in style, recording some of the best forecasts those listeners will ever hear.  Now I’ll be contacting those radio stations and requesting to send my demos and get my name out there some more.

I’m starting to see some progress on the business side.  Made one connection last week with a person who works in creative design, and landed a job recording a sports-theme  VO for a video promoting a new app.  And I was just notified today by a media production firm that I’ve been selected for a an eLearning job that was a direct result of a previous job I had done for them.  My goals are becoming clearer!

Until next time, remember to aim high, make sure you’re looking at a target, and keep your best voice forward.  Take care.

-Z-

Paying those dues

When you hear that phrase about paying dues, you automatically think of two things:

          Belonging to a labor union and seeing that deduction on your paycheck stub

          Working long and hard to master a craft or skill that is your heart’s desire, and knowing it may take a long, long time to be successful monetarily from it

I did the first for 33 years at the post office – first paying dues to the APWU, which represented clerks like me, and then for NAPS, the advocacy group for most postal management employees. 

Now it’s my time for the second example.  It’s been a year since I was cast for my first commercial voiceover, a TV spot for a men’s clothing store in West Virginia.  It didn’t pay anything, since it was essentially intern work my coach gave me in addition to my training.  And I did about ten such spots during my six months of training.  That’s not to say they had no value to me.  I certainly profited from the reinforcement of learning each time, plus I had a ready-to-go resume when I opened JoeKat Voice-over, LLC for business last summer.

When I decided to pursue learning to play the drumset nearly ten years ago, I began subscribing to Modern Drummer magazine, absorbing the stories of the top drummers of today, and noting how hard and how long many of them had to work before making it big in the industry.  I’ve met and talked with a number of local drummers about how they started and how much work they have put into developing themselves as successful musicians.

As a Marx Brothers fan from way back, I first began to understand how many dues they paid after reading Harpo’s biography “Harpo Speaks!”.  It didn’t dawn on my until then that Groucho, Chico, and Harpo were all in their early to mid-40’s when they made their first movie “The Cocoanuts” in 1929, a smash success that followed their successful Broadway run of the same play.

Why so late in life?  Because in essence, for the last 20 to 25 years they had been on the road seven days a week, playing every vaudeville circuit in the country.  I can’t imagine what must have been like.

Their success did not come without cost – low pay, loneliness, riding buses, trains, and even stagecoaches, booing audiences, rejections from agents and theater owners, thievery and corruption by unscrupulous businessman, to say nothing of the fatigue and bad food. 

But those long years on the road were where Chico developed his piano showmanship.  Where Harpo taught himself to play a harp and become a pantomime.  Where Groucho practiced and developed and refined his unique persona, style, delivery, and penchant for snappy comebacks.  It was where they forged their determination, and molded their talent and skills day by day, month by month, year by year, until success arrived “overnight”.

While I don’t intend to leave my family in the lurch for the next twenty years in search of VO success (wives tend to frown upon husbands doing that), I do understand that patience is in order, as well as hard work each day.  I use any small success that comes up – a favorable rating from an audition, a compliment by a prospective client I’ve just struck up a conversation with – as the fuel for my determination to succeed as a voice actor.

If you’re reading this post, what dues are you paying right now?  What keeps your fire burning, whether you’re pursuing voiceover or another skill or goal?  Feel free to share by clicking on “Leave A Reply” section below (please, NO spam, NO advertising, NO messages inviting to buy your guarantees to increase my web traffic – those will be deleted with extreme prejudice, and they tell me you’re not reading this notice!)

That’s all for now.  Ouch – I spent the previous weekend in Denver at a conference, and my body still hasn’t adjusted back from the high altitude there.   Maybe I’ll write about that experience in a future post.  Until then, keep your best voice forward and make sure you set aside something in your personal budget to make sure those dues get paid.   Take care.

 -Z-

Vocal memories

Do you wish you had a memorable voice?  Me too.  Come to think it, maybe we both already do

Did you know that our amazing brain starts learning even before we’re born?  Researchers have determined that infants are able to hear their mother’s voice while they are in the womb, and will react to that voice more than anyone else immediately after birth.

I can’t remember that far back, but I’m sure when I was a toddler I was able to pick my mother and father out in a crowd just by hearing them.  And being fortunate enough to have enjoyed knowing all four of my grandparents, I can still hear how they sounded whenever I think about them.

What other voices can I remember?  That of my first grade teacher, Miss Blume, and most of my other elementary school teachers.  Strangely, I don’t remember what my kindergarten and third grade teachers sounded like, although I can see their faces even now.  But I can remember the voices of the rest of them, from middle school through high school, and maybe even more so those of my instructors at Ohio State University.

I can still hear many voices from our first church, including those of our pastor from when I was in 4th grade through 7th grade, and another gentleman with a deep gravely voice who used to read a story each year at our Easter sunrise service.  And there one guy in the choir who I never heard actually sing:  whenever he was given a solo, he would speak it, with an understated voice and very effective timing.

The great sportscasters of my youth – Ray Scott, Vin Scully, Curt Gowdy, Lindsey Nelson.  I remember exactly how they sounded, but what I wouldn’t give to hear them live once more.

When my sons were infants, those tiny voices imprinted themselves in my cerebral cortex forever.  It’s amazing how much power those voices had over me and my wife!

At the 2016 Midwest Voiceover Conference in Columbus OH, I was honored to speak one-on-one with Rodney Saulsberry, Joe Cipriano, and J. Michael Collins.  It was one thing to hear how they sounded over Skype or on Youtube, but to hear them in person?  Talking to me personally?  Save that to the hard drive, and make a back-up copy, brain.

Is my voice memorable?  I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s unforgettable, although that could be a good thing or a bad thing!  I do know that people I have come up to me at games where I’m the public-address announcer, and tell me they didn’t know I was there, but when they heard the loudspeaker, they knew it had to be me.  And I’ve had the reverse happen, with folks coming up to me at the shopping mall after hearing me in conversation with a store clerk, and say they recognized my voice from a football or basketball game.

That’s a sobering thought, when you think about it.  The question we all have to ask ourselves is, when folks remember how we sound, is it because we were giving it our best effort and content?

What about you, the reader?  How many voices can you personally remember from your past?  What are some of the more memorable voices you can recall?  If you’d like to share, please click on Leave A Reply in the upper right to post a comment.  (NOTE:  please, no spam or advertising messages, those will be deleted with extreme prejudice)

That’s all for now.  Until next time, remember that we all have memorable voices in some way, so we should always keep our best voice forward – someone may be listening!  Take care.

   -Z-

Trials of a voiceover blog

I’ll be painfully honest:  in addition to enjoying the sound of my own voice, I really do like reading what I choose to express myself in writing.  This blog is a great example.

I’ll be equally honest:  I’m a bit disappointed that I haven’t got any serious replies to my blog posts – yet.  That’s why I don’t get depressed.  At least I am someone who’s entertained and enlightened by words I’ve penned.  LOL, indeed.

So far, I’ve just gotten spam replies  and solicitations, with a certain weekly regularity.  I categorize them thusly:

          “Buy this app to increase the number of people  who will see your website” (the most honest of the bunch – no pretense)

          “I notice your website could use more original writing – buy this app to get more fresh original content!”  (What??? It’s ALL original!)

          (sic)”obviously like your website but you need to test the spelling on quite a few of your posts.  A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I to find it very bothersome to tell the truth however I will certainly come back again”

I think that last reply is rife with grammar problems and poor word usage, to say nothing of the fact that they didn’t notice I’d used spell-check on the post they replied to.  I may respond to them and sell them “Zunardo’s fool-proof app for making sure you don’t look like an idiot when you spam me”.   It’s on sale for a low, low down payment, and only  a $99.99 service fee per month.  And believe, I’m selling that baby cheap.

Yes, I am tempted to leave them on there and make it look as if my blog is active and click-worthy.  However, my upbringing reminds me to make sure I tag them all as spam.  It’s easy to tell that’s what they are, even the ones that are subtle, because they never refer to anything in the post itself.

But what of the future of Zunardo Sez?  Will anyone actually read the gorilla’s posts and reply in the pure interest of actual discussion?  Stay tuned next week to this blog.  Don’t touch that URL!

In the meantime, dear readers, what interesting experiences do you have regarding blogs, either running your own and filtering out the riff-raff, or getting into an interesting discussion through a blog post?  I’d love to hear from you, just click on “Leave A Reply” at the top right.  (NOTE:  NO spam or solicitations, those will be deleted with extreme prejudice)

That’s all for now.   Until next time, express yourself while choosing your words carefully, and keep your best voice forward.  Take care.

  -Z-

Dis-couraging the discouragement

Yeah, that’s a weird title, but I hope the hyphen clarifies what I meant – taking hold of that feeling of discouragement, and taking away its comfort level by giving it a dose of itself, in order to move it far, far away from our consciousness.

A few months ago I found this funny (but painfully accurate) voiceover meme:

(If the image is difficult to see, its premise is that our friends and family may think of us voiceover artists as all being wildly successful icons like Don Lafontaine, while the reality for many (like me) seems at times like the last image of a struggling artist pleading for the phone to ring).

That meme has been especially accurate of late, as I have gone the last 4 months without winning any jobs on Voice123.com.  Along with auditions, I have kept myself busy each weekday practicing my reads, weather forecasting, marketing, updating this blog,  volunteering with VoiceCorps, and picking up other paid work that has come my way.  But the lack of any successful auditions on V123 bothered me.

You see, I had landed my first job last year on Voice123 on my 20th audition, and then again on my 40th.   It was another 2 months before I was successful a third time – and then the long drought.

I was discussing this with my wife last week, and she asked me if I was discouraged.  I felt like saying yes, but then I realized if I did, I would be admitting defeat.  So I said, “No – but I am disappointed.  I thought I would be doing better by now.”  And right then I felt better as a voice actor.  That may sound counter-intuitive, but it solidified my motivation as to why I chose to pursue voiceover – because I like it, and because I know there are clients out there who will eventually hire me if I’m hungry enough and want it bad enough.

Coincidentally, during our last two monthly Meet-Ups for Central Ohio voice actors, the subject of dealing with non-success and strategies to strive for improvement no matter what were discussed heavily – and just when I needed it the most.  My fellow group members are some of the best resources available, and they are happy to share their thoughts and suggestions when asked.

I guess all those things made me buckle down by doing a few auditions this past Saturday, when I would normally not work.  One project was a very small part, just two lines – and with a foreign accent.  I hadn’t auditioned with that accent before, but I thought I could do it pretty well, and I sent it in and forgot about it.

Three days later, while going out for lunch, I got the notification I’d been selected, and my jaw dropped when I saw which spot it was. I came back home, re-recorded and polished it, and thanked the client for the business.

Interestingly, my successful jobs have been using voices that are, in my opinion, NOT in my wheelhouse:  a read that has “rookie” written all over it with over-enunciation, one with a “young adult male” voice (I’m 58 and I was proud of that one!), one with a plain flat voice with no inflection reading testimonial letters, and now one with an accent.

Then again, maybe my strengths are somehow in my weaknesses?  I’ll have to think about that one.

In any case, that little guy that calls himself “discouragement” has left the building for now.  He may try to hang out with me again someday, but for now I’m too busy, and may need to put on my sunglasses, a la Timbuk 3.

How about you readers out there?  Any anecdotes you’d like to share on how you deal with discouragement and disappointment, especially as a voice actor?  I’d love to hear from you, just click on “Leave A Reply” in the top right of this message.  (No spam or solicitations, please – those WILL be terminated with extreme prejudice).

That’s all for now.  Until next time, keep your best voice forward, and give yourself a mental shot of courage to dis-courage that discouragement.  Take care.

-Z-

 

 

 

Social media? Danger, Will Robinson!

I remember the first time I saw the downside of social medial.  Around 2003 a fellow high school classmate built an alumni forum website for our school, and invited me to join.  I wasn’t sure how it worked, so I logged on and watched for a few days before I dared post my thoughts.

It was immensely fun, and I enjoyed the potential for seeing people register who I hadn’t seen or heard from in years.

But all good things gotta come to an end.  The downside started the next year as the 2004 presidential election campaigns ramped up and folks started to overshare about what everyone else was saying.  At first I thought the hard feelings were being exaggerated, until one member contacted me personally to say they were leaving because someone had actually threatened them in a private message – over a political disagreement!

Mind you, we’d had some healthy detailed discussions that were on a mature level, where we’d disagree with someone else without disparaging them, just explaining carefully why our thoughts differed.  Nevertheless, I was beginning to see the wisdom in the old adage “Never discuss politics at the dinner table”, or any other place for that matter.

After being on Facebook for ten years and then starting my voiceover business, I had a second epiphany:  if I was going to have an online business presence, I would have to consider how my personal opinions on politics, religion and anything else might impact whether a potential customer might or might not choose to do business with me.  While I’m the biggest supporter of one’s right to express an opinion, I chose discretion over valor and decided I would forego direct political commentary online from now on.

On the delta side, it does stifle some of my creativity, because I’ve always enjoyed articulating my thoughts on paper and creating a clear coherent message about my opinions.  But that is easily cancelled out by having fewer emotional roller coaster rides caused by someone posting something that is, in my humble opinion, really idiotic – and who is just itching to be taken down a peg or two!

LOL, indeed.  Time is short, and social media is now my tool to promote myself to potential clients – not a soapbox for me to vent just so I can feel good about my baser instincts for a few minutes each day.

How about you readers out there?  What other have you experienced with social media?  Any tips or horror stories you’d like to share?  Just click on “Leave A Reply” in the upper right.  I’d love to hear from you (Please – no spam or sales message, those WILL be deleted).

That’s all for this week.  I’m going to take some Alleve and try to ease the muscle soreness I’ve been having the last week.  My wife and I started working out at the gym two weeks ago, and my body is still not accustomed to it even though I’ve been trying to ramp up slowly.  Guess I’ll have to slow it down some more and stay at one level for a month before starting to push harder – I’m not in my twenties any more.

For now keep your best voice forward, and remember that clients aren’t always impressed by oversharing.  Take care.

-Z-

My VO secret sauce

Obviously there are a number of audio editing software apps to choose from, but it is the sheer number of options within each app that can be intimidating to the new voice actor. 

Today I thought I’d share with you my workflow when recording voiceovers, particularly the processing steps I take.  For any of you who are considering voiceover, you may find this useful as a guide.  It is not the be-all and end-all of VO processing technique, but this procedure is easy to follow,  gives consistent results, and results in a baseline to use when experimenting with settings and techniques.  The beauty of it is that you don’t have to understand the physics and properties of sound to do this, although it is beneficial to learn at some point.

Currently I’m using Adobe Audition 3.0 running on a PC with Windows 10.  I use Audition for the simple reason that my instructor used it during my training.   He taught me to use a simple 3-step procedure that generates consistent results, and very likely also for many others.  I’ve made a few small adjustments to that which works for me in my particular environment.

Once you set up your editing app, you’ll want to choose default recording settings.  Voice123.com gives instructions to set bit rate to 44.1K, 16-bit resolution, and 96 or 128 kb/sec, which are probably close the industry standard.  They also recommend normalizing the audio to -3 dB.   My app default settings are the same, and I use the 96 kb/sec value.

So, what happens when you’ve recorded your audio, assuming you have proofed it, cleaned up the errors, mouth noises, and digital glitches?  My instructor would tell me, “save the file!” (Ctrl-S on the PC), then follow these steps:

– Normalize the file to -3 dB

– Hard Limit to -3 dB

– Compander the file 

Those three steps give a lot more depth and resolution to your voice, but also make it easier to hear on a “low-fi” platform while still faithfully reproducing your resonance and range.  But what did I add to this equation?  I use the Automatic Click Remover (standard) and Hiss Reduction (normal).  At first I was using the Click/Pop Eliminator, but that tended to create more “warbling” glitches than it was worth.  The Click Remover doesn’t remove as many clicks, but it’s safer and doesn’t distort.

So now my workflow after initial clean-up is:

– Normalize

– Hard Limit

– Automatic Click Remover

– Hiss Reduction

– Compander 

Now from start to finish, it looks like this:

– Record

– Clean up breaths, gaps, fluffs

– If you leave a small header and footer of silence, say, at least 0.5 second at the beginning and end, highlight it and reduce the volume by -40 dB.  This makes a clean transition before the voice playback starts and after it ends – I tend to breathe out noticeably when finishing a read, so this part is mandatory if I do that.  If you are submitting an audition with two takes, do the same thing in between the takes.

– Normalize – Hard Limit – Compander

– Use time compression if necessary to make audio the correct length

– Spectral Analyzer to check for any digital ghosts that the processing steps may have created

– SAVE THE FILE

Again, this doesn’t mean my workflow is the absolute best or the one everyone should use, but it’s a good starting point for someone new to the business.  What IS important is finding the sequence of steps that works for you, and maximizing your efficiency executing them

I joined the RadioForecastNetwork.com team almost three months ago.  Ron Allan advised me that it would be excellent training to streamline my reading, editing and processing skills, and he was right.  My first attempt at doing a 30-second broadcast for ten stations (five which needed music beds and mixing) took me almost 3.5 hours. 

After two months I was down to 90 minutes, but three weeks ago I buckled down and found I could do them in one hour exactly, averaging six minutes per station.  The key was to focus, focus, focus on that workflow, and not worry or stop to analyze all aspects of the finished VO.   So I asked for 10 more stations, and have been doing them in 2 hours and 20 minutes, with lots of room to become even more efficient.

I timed myself today, and found at one point I was doing some stations in 3 minutes each (average 30 second spot) – 4 or 5 minutes if I had to mix a music bed.  I did stop to take a mental break in the middle, but at that rate, I estimate I could possibly do 20 stations in one hour and 20 minutes.  Of course I would have to block out everything and focus on the process, not how great I thought I sounded.  But it can be done.  That gave me a whole new respect for Rod Tanner, the RFN operations guy who fills in when a station isn’t covered, and probably does at least 200 forecasts each day himself!

As an added bonus, I found my auditioning technique has improved in the last month.  I’m able to review a file and process it for sending much quicker, and know it’s error-free. 

Due to the nature of RFN’s current business model, I don’t see myself staying there a long time – if they change, then I could easily change my mind – but I will say it has been a great learning experience and I’ve benefitted personally as voice artist from that experience.

What about you readers out there?  What tips, techniques, or workflows do you use when recording voiceovers that you’re comfortable sharing with others?  I’d love to hear from you, just click on Leave A Comment at the upper right of this post.  (Please, no spam or sales pitches, those WILL be deleted)

Okay, that’s all for now.  My wife and I signed up at a community workout center last week and we’re schedule to go on an exercise date when she gets home in the next 90 minutes.  Wish me luck!  Until next time, keep your best voice forward, and pass the sauce.

 

Staying in the mic

Seven months after first setting up my studio equipment, I’m still learning the nuances of how to use it properly, particularly the microphone itself.   My current (and thus far, only) mic is the Harlan Hogan VO-1.  While I understand there are a plethora of opinions, preferences, and experiences about various mics, and that mics respond differently to different voice types, I’m perfectly happy with the Hogan for now.

My instructor Ron Allan has a Hogan mic installed in a studio booth he uses for students, and which I used during my training to record  exercises and projects, but also to voice actual commercials for him as intern work where he thought I would be a good fit for the spot.  Ron suggested I go to a dealer and compare mics, so I went on a Saturday to Sam Ash, where they had such a comparison display with 12 different mics you could do a test run on.

When it came time to building my studio, I went with a local computer technician who is a voice artist himself, Danny Betz of Redemption Computers LLC.  Danny’s “pro” studio package came with the Harlan Hogan mic, as he found it is a very good starter which will respond well to a broad variety of voices.

NOTE:  I would be remiss if I did not give Danny Betz a plug here.  Danny is a crackerjack computer technician and knows what equipment a voice actor needs.   I found him to be very knowledgeable, trustworthy, and the Pro package I ordered from him did not disappoint.  Everything was top quality, from the custom-built PC designed for voice artists with huge amounts of audio files, to the studio monitors, down to the huge screen monitor that allows me to read copy without eye strain.  Danny spent an hour carefully setting everything up and testing it out, and another hour training me on its use.

For more info on his business, go to www.RedemptionComputers.com.  You can reach Danny by email at   Danny@RedemptionComputers.com

In my case, with my resonant (ahem) baritone, I feel the Hogan responds well in reproducing it digitally, and I’m pleased with it.  However, I did have to learn to use it properly to maximize the sound.   Ron felt I sounded best up close (4”-5” away), with the diaphragm pointing slightly away from me at 45 degrees, and with my mouth aiming an inch or two off-axis.  I have experimented some in the last few months, moving farther away, changing the diaphragm angle and mouth position, but in general, I’d say Ron’s positioning for me seems to work best.

There are some added benefits to that technique.  First, even though I relocated my computer outside my studio, it still makes a detectable hum.  However, angling the diaphragm away from that location reduces the noise floor a dB or two, down to -65.

Second, staying up closes  allows me to keep the input gain low and not pick up more noise floor, while getting the benefits of “proximity effect” – enhancing the bass tones in my voice for greatest effect.

And third, being slightly off-axis means I’m not covering my pop filter with saliva every few seconds.  I’m using a curved metal pop filter by Blue, I like it for the double layer of mesh for durability.

All in all, I’m reasonably happy for now.  What would be on my shopping list for the future?  Oh, I wouldn’t mind trying the Sennheiser MK416 shotgun mic.  I like the idea of the uni-directional pick-up pattern only picking up sound in a very tight cone behind you (as well as your voice), and reducing the noise floor further.  I did actually test the Neumann U87 and the Neumann TLM103 at Guitar Center one day.  Both fantastic mics; the difference to me was minuscule, but probably very noticeable for those at the top echelon in the industry.

How about you readers out there?  What microphone is your favorite for voice acting, and what experiences have you had using different ones?  Click on “Leave A Comment” on the upper right and feel free to share your thoughts.  (NOTE:  no spam or solicitation messages, those WILL be deleted)

That’s all for now.  Until next time, keep your best voice forward and watch those plosives.  Take care.