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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.

You’ve come a long way, techie!

It didn’t dawn on me for a while, but one day in the last couple of years I woke up and realized:  both the Dick Tracy two-way wristwatch TV and the AT&T/Bell’s picture phone had finally come to fruition, in terms of availability to the masses. 

It probably happened more than two years ago, but it got me thinking of the changes in technology, particularly in communication, that I’ve seen in my lifetime, particularly those who were predicted in those stories that attempted to forecast who soon we’d be living in a Jetsons world.

I was never a tinkerer as a child, never had the desire to tear something down to figure out how it worked and then try to put it back together again. But I was curious enough to want to read about things like that, and how things worked.   I’d read a nice book in fourth grade on how Alexander Bell developed and patented the telephone, and I had a vague understanding of how he could transmit electrical impulses and convert them to sound.

However, the mystery of how a viewable image was broadcast to a TV screen was beyond me.  Broadcast TV had reached the masses by the time I started to attend kindergarten, as had telephones.  To use them as personal communication devices, the way Dick Tracy did, or the way the Bell Telephone TV commercials said we’d do in the future?  That was – well, in the future, and a distant one at that.  We could put a man on the moon and bring him back safely, but we couldn’t have a picture phone or a wrist-watch TV.  Can you tell I was an impatient young lad back then?

Well, these things take time.  In 1974 I saw and used a computer terminal for the first time in high school, in which you read data from a teletype printer sheets.  In 1977 during my second year of college at Ohio StateI tried taking a computer science course at Ohio State, which involved using Fortran language encoded on keypunch cards.  Unfortunately, I was lost after the second week of the class, and had to withdraw.  I did take another computer science course two years later, which was an introduction to computers, especially the trend to personal computers, which I found enlightening and useful.

About a year after that course, I finally saw an actual personal computer  – very cool at the time, although it used a cassette tape as its data bank and programs were accordingly awkward to access.

I first used a personal computer on the job – the Apple II – when I turned 25.  It was used by clerks to learn how to keycodes for mail separation. It was simpler than I thought, you just put the floppy disk in the machine, turned it on, and let the trainee follow the directions.  Truthfully, what I called a floppy disk then was actually a “diskette”, only 5.25 inches square.  The secretary where I worked used the real floppy disks – 10-inch monsters the size of a vinyl record album – on her monstrous word-processing machine.

Time and change wait for no one, and they also go at their pace, not ours.  When we USPS employees were finally able to access the Internet at work sometime around 1995, I could see the big technological shift we were making – a lot had changed since I had learned to turn on the Apple II eleven years earlier.

When webcams and smart phones came out and communication protocols had improved to where you had acceptable video and audio, I realized the things that the impatient 10 year-old Joe Jankowski was waiting on back then had finally arrived.  I just wish the younger Joe could have been transported forward 40 years to see it at that age, and to feel the rush of excitement that only a 10 year-old can feel, instead of growing up to be the gray-haired guy in his 50’s who just grunted and mumbled “how about that” when he finally noticed it.

Occasionally I have moments when I look at my studio equipment, note how well it functions, see how easily I can view things on a huge monitor, and I marvel that technology is more accessible than ever.   I also marvel at the incredible speed of change in technology in the last 50 to 75 years, and how I would not have foreseen this happening as a younger man.

In Arthur C. Clarke’s book “3001: Final Odyssey”, the body of the astronaut who was killed by the HAL computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey” is retrieved by a space probe, and the medical technology available in 3001 AD is used to revive him, despite the fact he’d been dead for a thousand years.  The doctors tell the astronaut about the changes in technology that have occurred over the previous 1000 years, and tell the astronaut he is better able to absorb that 1000-year change because of when he grew up.   They postulate that a man who died in the year 1000 AD and was revived in 2000 AD would simply not be able to cope psychologically with the changes over that particular millennium.

I don’t know – I’d say the changes from the year 1900 AD to today would be traumatic enough for someone who’d been in suspended animation during that time.  Fortunately, I don’t think it’s a problem I’ll ever run up against.  However, I’m still miffed that we can’t fly to work in our air-cars, like George Jetson does.  Maybe one day …..

How about you readers out there?  What technology changes do you think have been the most dramatic in our lifetime?  How do you think you’d cope with a thousand years of new technology if you were revived after that amount of time?  I’d love to hear from you, just click on “Leave A Comment” at the top of this post  (please, no spam messages or solicitations, they will be removed).

Well, that’s all for this week.  Keep putting your best voice forward, with every bit of modern technology available to you – it’s still just another tool.  Take care.

 -Z-

A voice as a role model

I went to a funeral visitation over the weekend, for the mother of a family I knew at our old church, a wonderful and beautiful lady who had passed away in her late 80’s.  I got to know the family nearly 50 years ago, because they lived not far from me and attended the same church I and my parents did back then, but I had lost touch with most of them since.

And that got me to thinking about our pastor back then, the Reverend B. Allen Reed (the B. was short for Baines).  We attended a Presbyterian  church in the south side of Columbus, unusual because there weren’t many Presbyterian congregations in Columbus, let alone on the south side.  In 1966 the full-time pastor, who was a popular friendly guy with kids close to my age, was transferred to Paw Paw, Michigan.  I was sad to see him and his children leave, and I never forgot the name of that town. 

It was another two years before the Presbyterian headquarters or regional office filled the job.  Before they did, we had a succession of temporary pastors – one young guy who was there a for maybe six months before asking to leave – and they ended up calling Rev. Reed out of retirement.  Rev. Reed was an ancient man to me, I’m guessing he was born around 1890 and looked like an old wizened schoolteacher character straight out of a movie in the 1930’s.  But such a wonderful, friendly man who could preach from the Bible.  And we younger children never had a more supportive guy leading the church, he was always good about answering a child’s questions that would come from out of the blue.

But it was Rev. Reed’s knowledge of the Bible, and his weekly sermons that made the greatest impression on me, from age 9 thru 12.   Now, he didn’t have a deep dramatic voice.  It had a thin quality  – you might even say it was  “Reed-y”.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  But he used it like the school teacher he’d once been to get his points across clearly and cleanly.

Rev. Reed retired a second time in 1971 – this time for good – and after going thru the summer with just the church elders keeping the Sunday services going, the Presbyterian Church organization for some reason refused fill the position, and closed and sold the building.   My parents looked around for a few weeks, and chose a Methodist church very close to our neighborhood for us to attend.  But I lost contact with many of the people from the old church, including the family of the lady who just passed away

So at the funeral home, while talking with the lady’s surviving husband and her children about our shared experiences at that Presbyterian church, it kept coming back to me how influential Rev. Reed had been in my life, possibly more than anyone else except my parents during that time in my life.

In fact, if I think about it, I can still picture exactly what he looked like and what that voice sounded like. 

Rev. Reed passed away ten years later.  I was an OSU student at the time, living on campus, and my appearance had changed somewhat – taller, longer hair, and I had a beard that I hadn’t  trimmed in over six months – but I made my way to the funeral home visitation.  Amazingly, Rev. Reed’s son-in-law, who was almost 70 himself, actually recognized me through all the shrubbery on my face.  And I told him then how I could still hear that voice talking to us on Sundays.

After yesterday’s visitation, it got me to wondering if someone who is not a close family member or acquaintance will think of my voice as one that made a long-lasting impression on them or influenced their lives in some way.  A casual schoolmate, a co-worker, an athlete playing in a game I’m announcing?  Or perhaps, someone listening to a commercial voiceover I’ve done?  I don’t  know if it will happen, but if it does, I hope it’s a good impression and a good influence.

How about you readers out there?  What voices have influenced you, especially those from a young age that made the biggest impression on you?  And what vocal legacy will you leave behind that others will remember?  Feel free to  respond by clicking on “Leave A Comment” at the top (please, no spam messages or solicitations, they will be removed).

That’s all for this week.  Keep your best voice forward, and remember:  someone may be listening!

Take care.

 -Z-

Your studio is where you are

When my VO instructor Ron Allan first showed me the components of a home voiceover studio and how one could install a dedicated space to work out of one’s own home, I was doubtful I could pull it off.  Fortunately, my desire to go into VO full-time outweighed my lack of confidence.  Once I determined how I was going to make the commitment to create a home studio, it was just a matter of figuring out where my space would be, and coming up with some homemade plans for constructing it.

Surprisingly, even though my mechanical skills are limited and tools don’t get along with me, after two months, I had completed the room’s basic form with a solid-core door that shut snugly.  It wasn’t pretty, and the angles weren’t always true, but it was certainly functional, and met my needs.  All that was left was to install acoustic foam and some bass traps, wait for my equipment to arrive (computer on the outside of the studio because of noise), and voila! – I had a functional studio with a “professional” industrial look and an acceptable noise floor.

Now, I had read some books on voiceover and perused a plethora of Youtube videos and websites on VO equipment and setups.  I knew some folks used laptops or iPads instead of PC’s.  I knew some people used a closet as their studio, because of a lack of space, and that one full of clothes did an acceptable job in absorbing echoes.  I was fascinated by some of the bigger-name guys in Los Angeles who appeared to have studios in open rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a view of Beverly Hills.  But all of them had the same thing in common as me – lack of portability.

I saw some sources tout the inside of a car as a decent anechoic environment to do voiceover when all else failed.  Surprisingly, the car’s interior does a great job absorbing sound waves – even the steep angle of the front windshield helps.

A good example of this:  at a conference in Columbus OH last year, VO legend Joe Cipriano related to us how he did his nightly TV network promos when he arrived in Columbus the day before the conference, but he came later than normal and the local studio he usually used was closed.  While there was a pouring rainstorm, he parked his car at closed gas station under the overhang, hooked up his mic and laptop with a wireless connection, dialed in to the network’s studio, and cranked out the promo right then and there (he played a recording of his promo to us; the quality was unbelievable).  When the network asked him where he was, he truthfully replied, “I’m in my studio.”  After all, it was his car

I soon learned there were P2P audition warriors out there who traveled a bit and took their “studio” with them.  At that same conference I was fortunate to watch Dave Kaplan set up the proverbial “blanket tent” in his hotel room at a conference, and crank out amazing auditions with his laptop connected to a USB mic.  I’m sure the cleaning staff is mystified when the come in and see that setup. 

In addition, there was a product on display at the conference called VO2GO – a sturdy equipment case about 2 square feet, lined on the inside with acoustic foam, with a quality USB mic nested, along with connecting cables, a mic stand, and other needed connectors.  Once you connected the mic and laptop or iPad, you set the open case on its side like an open book, with the microphone “looking” into the corner of the case, providing a small echo-absorbing area in which to work.  Very portable and convenient.

Recently I saw a colleague ask on a VO forum if one could connect a microphone to a smartphone and do acceptable work.  While I wouldn’t have dreamed trying it myself, I replied that it was technically feasible in a pinch, provided there was no other option at the time.  I also opined that a well-known industry veteran stood a better chance of doing so, because they were a known quantity, and were more likely to produce the best results under the worst conditions.  After all, the industry impresses upon you the importance of using the best equipment to optimize results.

But no sooner had I said that when I came across a website with a story about none other than Joe Cipriano, and how he uses an Apogee USB mic paired with an iPhone loaded with Apple’s GarageBand software, and with good results.  While my (and our) prejudices may cause us to be horrified at the thought of doing so, a busy and successful pro like “Joe Cip” is in such demand that he might be called on to record on a moment’s notice at any time of the day, especially when it’s not convenient for him to be at his home studio or a company studio.  And Joe certainly knows how to maximize his environment to get the best results in such conditions.

The downside of having more flexible studio options is that clients have more flexibility to contact you and expect a product during all hours of the day – not just your “normal” workhours.  And each voice actor has to determine what they are willing to give up to get to that point.

For now, I’m happy with my home studio – after all, it’s my den.  My space.  A space I built with my own hands.  And that’s a good feeling.   I like my time away from the studio, but I certainly can see investing in some portable equipment to maintain an online presence when I’m away from home.  Of course, I’ll have to find where the happy medium is, between shutting down all business contact except daytime weekday hours, and bringing my work with me for every single day of the year, including romantic vacations to Hawaii.

How about you readers out there?  Do you have challenges, successes, or creative solutions to share regarding your recording space(s)?  I’d love to hear from you.  Feel free to click “Leave A Comment” at the top of the page, and let me know (please, no spam or solicitation messages, those will be deleted).

Until then, keep putting your best voice forward, and in the best space possible.  Take care.

   -Z-

New Year’s blessings

Whew!  I hope you all had a joyous holiday season, and a safe start to the New Year.

My wife and I are still recuperating from a short post-Christmas driving trip to Florida, primarily to watch our older son referee a huge soccer tournament in Orlando, at the DisneyWorld ESPN sports complex, and also to visit a high school friend and his wife. 

The hectic pace started on Christmas Day in the early evening, as we drove our son to Dayton to meet with a carpool of other referees heading to the Orlando tournament, and we followed suit the following evening as made the 15-hour drive, arriving just in time on the morning of December 27 to watch our son’s first two games.  We struggled to not look as frazzled as we felt, with little sleep, and wilting in the 83-degree heat and humidity – quite a change from Columbus OH weather – because we still had to drive to our condo in New Smyrna Beach on the Atlantic coast, another 90 minutes away.

With another trip back to Orlando to see our son in action, and two visits with my classmate and his wife who also live near Orlando, Kathy and I didn’t have much time to appreciate the view of the ocean from our condo, but we made the best of it.  We saved the best for last on the drive back home, stopping at Paula Deen’s restaurant in Savannah GA, enduring a 45-minute wait, and sitting down to a fantastic lunch of Southern cuisine and hospitality.  It meant we wouldn’t get home until 4:30 AM the next day, but it was worth it and a memorable experience.

We gave thanks that our son and his fellow officials arrived back safely in Dayton at 4 AM this morning.  We’re also thankful that our other son assumed the responsibility of caring for our dog and watching our house while we were gone.  Kathy and I are blessed to have these two boys as our sons.

For me, this was the first vacation I’ve taken since becoming a voice actor with a business.  It took a few minutes, but I finally figured out how to put my difference voiceover gig accounts on a temporary hold before we left, so that I wouldn’t get any urgent requests for jobs while I was away.  At some point I’ll make an investment in a laptop with a USB mic to take with me on the road, but I’ll use that option judiciously.   Until I’m at the point where I have regular business coming in, I’ll treat my vacation as a vacation, and then figure out where the happy medium is down the road.

My weather forecasting gig with RFN is going well.  I made arrangements for another gentleman to cover my stations for me last week, and when I resumed yesterday, I seemed to have gained some more confidence, speed, and a better sense of timing. 

So for now, I’m looking forward to success in 2017, and I wish the same for all of you.  How about you readers?  How is your year going so far, and what great things are you looking for in the next 12 months?  I’d love to hear from you.  Feel free to leave your reply by clicking “Leave A Comment” near the top of this post (please, no spam or advertisements, those will be deleted).

Until next time, take care, and keep your best voice forward.  Happy New Year!

 -Z-

Zunardo’s Christmas

Hi – I hope you are doing well, and that you are enjoying this holiday season.  As I approach my 58th birthday in the next ten days and count the many blessings that have been given to me, I thought I’d bore you with some personal Christmas memories that I’ve managed to hang on to and treasure:

The earliest Christmas I can remember was probably 1961, when I just about to turn 3.  Two things I remember getting.  One was a toy “doctor’s bag” that had a stethoscope, plastic eyeglass frames (to look more “doctorly”, and candy “pills” to issue to a sick patient during a “house call” (kids, you’ll have to ask your grandparents what a house call is).  The other was a stuffed Pixie mouse, from the Pixie, Dixie, and Jinx cartoon by Hanna-Barbera.  Of the three or four stuffed animals I had as a child, Pixie was definitely my favorite, and I’ve actually managed to hang on to him.  It was a treat to let my two sons play with him when they were little, and then put him back on the shelf for the next generation to enjoy.

1962 was an interesting year. We had just moved from an old apartment to a new housing development, so I was still getting used to the new house, with tile floors instead of hardwood, and a bathtub that didn’t have four claw feet.  My parents took a great picture of me on Christmas morning, with sleepy eyes, standing in the hallway in my pajamas, and pointing to the toys under the tree, as if I didn’t believe they were mine.  There was a child’s drum set (my father had dabbled as a drummer at one time), and a record player complete with a set of Walt Disney 78’s.   Tragically, the drum set was destroyed the next day when my cousins came over to visit.  I never did get to play that thing, and I never did know exactly what happened.   Fortunately, the record player survived, and I spent many hours listening to my record collection until the phonograph speaker finally broke down ten years later.

Something else from that year – Buckeye Potato Chips was a popular snack brand back then, and at Chrismas time they would issue a special large-size bag with a full-length picture of Santa Claus on the front, and a picture of Santa Claus from behind on the back of the bag.  The idea was that after you emptied the bag, you could cut out the two images, sew them together while stuffing with cotton or Kleenex, and you’d have a children’s Santa doll.  I remember Mom telling me she was going to do that, but I didn’t believe her.  When she presented me with the doll, I thought that was just the coolest thing ever.  I don’t know why my parents never hung on to that doll , maybe the plastic bag covering didn’t last too long.  But it was fun to have while it lasted.

When I woke up on Christmas morning in 1963, I went out to the living room to see a model train chugging around the tracks as my father operated the controls.  Of course I was dying to try it out, but for the longest time Dad just kept saying, “Not yet, I’m still testing it to make sure it’s working right.”  He must have tested if for an hour.  Believe me, it was working fine – I think someone was just getting some play time in. 

1964 – ah, the premier broadcast of the “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” television special.  Wikipedia lists the broadcast date as Sunday, December 6; however, my research of newspaper television listings indicate it was shown in Columbus on Saturday, December 12.   What I do remember is that I had taken a nap, and that my parents woke me up so I could watch the special when it came on.  I already owned a child’s Golden Book that told the story of Rudolph, and I was just fascinated with it, so I was looking forward to it.  When I had rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, Mom fixed me a light supper on a low tray so I could sit on the floor up close and not miss a thing. 

My father worked at nearby Lockbourne Air Force Base  – my mother had worked there for six or seven years before she quit when I entered kindergarten – so it was always a special treat when I got to visit the base.  One long-forgotten item I enjoyed seeing there was an old-fashioned multiple multiple-belt conveyor system for sending documents and folders between offices – the modern-day equivalent of e-mail.  Anyway, sometime around 1965, maybe 1966, Dad came home from work around noon on Christmas Eve to take me and Mom to the base supply Christmas Eve party, where I enjoyed the food and desserts.

As we prepared to leave, Dad walked me around so I could say bashfully say hello to his co-workers, then he took me over to a military teletype machine that was chattering furiously and spitting out fan-fold paper.   He said, “Go ahead and see what it says.”   It turned out be an update from NORAD, saying that satellites were tracking an in-bound unidentified flying object that appeared to have originated from the North Pole region and was being led by eight – no, nine smaller objects.  It went on to say that military intelligence believed this object to be friendly, and that it would continue to be tracked throughout the evening.  When I looked up at my father, I’m sure my mouth was hanging open. 

That’s when I knew the U.S Air Force was the real deal – because they could track Santa!  And his reindeer!  Even Rudolph!  How cool is that?

As you might expect, I’ve believed in Santa Claus for a long time.

One  December tradition my family had was to take a trip to the Lazarus department store downtown.  Going to that store was something special any time of the year, because it was one of those places that had everything, and that everything was geared toward giving shoppers a special experiences.   One of those things walk around the building, and admire the window displays that  the workers would create with wonderful mechanically-animated North Pole scenes. During my elementary school years I made sure I would get to sit on Santa’s lap at Lazarus (I knew in my heart that the Santa Claus here was the real Santa, and that all the others were just his helpers).  After that we would eat lunch at one of the many restaurants in the store, and my parents would let me pick out a tree ornament  for that year – they encouraged me to get something unique – and Mom would take a felt-tip pen and write my name and the year on that ornament.

The first such ornament was in 1965 – a flat-bottomed glass globe with a curled candle-tip top, with a Santa made of wisps of cotton and colored felt, and a tiny sleigh.  In 1967, it was a shiny blue bell with a little clapper.  And in 1969 and 1970, I actually made my own ornament from a kit with a Styrofoam ball, sequins, and pins.

As I got older, I may have lost some of the childhood magic and gotten too big to sit on Santa’s knee, but I still enjoyed the annual December trip to Lazarus with my parents, which I was able to share with my wife after I got married.  And I made sure to take my sons when they were young to see the window displays during the last Christmas season before Lazarus closed its doors.  Ornaments eventually break, as some of mine have (unfortunately), but memories are longer-lasting.

So many years, so many memories, so many magical and miraculous moments.  But we should never forget the reason we wish to create those Christmas moments for ourselves and loved ones:  a  gift to us, God coming to earth in human form.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and  I’ll see you next year.  As always, if you’ve anything like to share on this subject, drop me a reply.  I’d love to hear from you (Warning: NO spam messages or solicitations.  Anyone in violation of this rule will be permanently assigned “Grinch” status, given lumps of coal, and will never EVER be visited by Santa again).

 -Z-

All-natural

I wish I could say I was “all-natural”.  Instead, I’m a product of every food additive and preservative known to man, based on what I eat.

When I saw that phrase, it reminds of the voices that are in vogue commercially:  all-natural, or to be more accurate, “conversational”.

It is difficult for me to slip into “conversational” mode, although it is something I’m working, and I’ve decided it make it a priority this week.

I listen to demos out there that have that vibe, and those are good training tools for me, as I work to improve my VO technique.  Marc Scott, who I met at the Columbus VO conference this year, is a great example of that type of voice, and I’m sure there are many others.

I seem to be somewhat less wordy than usual this week – although still nerdy – so I’ll sign off now, and let readers get back to more important things in their lives.

P.S.  Anyone that manages to makes it through one of my blog posts knows I always invite readers to share their thoughts on what I’ve written.  Unfortunately, the only “responses” seem to be spam.  The most common one goes something like “I see your site needs some unique content. Writing manually is time consuming, but there is tool for this task.”

Unique content?  Every word of it already is!   LOL.  Oh well.  That’s the price I pay for being in the digital world.  But it’s fun.  In my next post, I’ll try to remember some very funny and unique things that folks are doing to combat spam and other digital intrusions into our lives.

How about you readers?  Do any of you have good tips to share on keeping your website free from spam?   I’d love to hear from you, just click Reply To This Post, and let ‘er rip.

Until then, keep your best voice forward, and stay natural.  Take care.

-Z-

Baby, It’s Cold Outside, so Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!

After giving myself a few days to digest my turkey dinner, I’m ready to fire up my keyboard again.  I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving holiday, and that you enjoy the upcoming Christmas season, as well as that of the other holidays so prevalent in the next four or five weeks.

It’s been two weeks since I signed up to record weather forecasts on RadioForecastNetwork.com, and it has been a great learning tool.  On my first day it took 3 and a half hours to record the forecast for ten radio stations – an average of 20 minutes per station.  Considering  most of the dry voiceover tracks ranged from 25 to 30 seconds, you can imagine how slow I was moving.

In addition, five of the stations have weather beds (music and SFX files) to mix in, so that slowed me down even more, mostly from the lack of familiarity with the material.  But the difficult part for me was re-stating the forecast data, displayed on my monitor, in such a way as to be conversational, understandable, and listener-friendly.  I was using a Word document to cut-and-paste the forecast data and then re-format it and edit it into a logical conversational tone.  The RFN website has excellent instructions on recording do’s and don’t’s, including how to phrase certain things, so that the forecast sounds to the listener as if someone in the radio station is actually there, looking outside, and letting you know what they see up in the sky.

Yesterday I decided to not look at the Word document, and instead recorded my dry VO just looking at the actual forecast data, and translating it in my head to something a little sexier.  Let’s just say it took me a few minutes.  But the result was, I cut my time in half, and was done with all ten stations in an hour and 45 minutes.  Better, but with lots of room to improve.  My goal is to have it down to one hour by next week, and I’m pretty sure it’s within my grasp.  I just have to train my brain.  Once I do that, I may see if I can add a few more stations.

In addition to helping me streamline my recording and editing technique, I noticed today that I seem to be auditioning with more confidence and efficiency.  It could be just a coincidence, but I did six on-line auditions today, felt very good about five of them, and was notified two hours later by one representative that he had selected my audition to along with a few others to be heard by the actual client for the final decision, and that he would add my name and profile to his “favorites” list for future direct invitations.  Yes, that felt good when I read that.  Who doesn’t like positive feedback?

And so, I’m in somewhat of a transition period.  High school football is over for me, and college basketball has already started.  I do have two more double-headers to work before Christmas, so that will keep me on my toes.  The last game I worked was pretty exciting – one of the players went over the scorer’s table about five feet from me, actually leaping onto the table in mid-sprint, and jumping from there into the bleachers.  Fortunately, he landed safely and made it back onto the court.  The life of a PA announcer is always interesting.

In addition, the Thanksgiving holiday has past, and last night I officially ushered in the Christmas season by watching the “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” Claymation TV special.  That show is near and dear to my heart.  I remember watching its debut broadcast in 1964 as a first-grader, which is the perfect age to appreciate its magic.  Last night, after Cornelius defeated the Abominable Snowman and Rudolph was able to keep Santa from cancelling Christmas that year, I reflected on the performance of the actors who voiced the various characters, and how iconic their representations have become. 

One actor in particular is Paul Soles, who was the voice of Hermey the elf (“I want to be a den-tist!”), and was also the voice of the first Spiderman/Pete Parker in 1966 on Saturday morning cartoons.   You can find a 2014 interview with Paul talking on Youtube by searching for “Paul Soles – Hermey the Elf”.  He’s 86 now, and yes, he can still do a great Hermey.

For my readers out there, what are some of your favorite cartoon voices, both well-known and not?  Feel free to Reply To This Post, I’d love to hear from you.

I’ll leave you to consider another iconic voice, one very familiar at Christmas – Andy Williams.  I had the opportunity to see him perform his Christmas show live in 1986.  He opened with the classic “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”, and I will make sure I listen to his classic medley “Happy Holiday/It’s The Holiday Season” several times between now and December 25.

Until next time, keep putting your best voice forward, and remember your voice may be providing magic and memories for someone else.  Take care.

 -Z-

Networking and learning: partners

Wow, what a wild week! This business of meeting people, making connections, and finding exactly how few degrees of separation there are between me and folks I thought were total strangers is amazing.

First, I attended the annual Ohio school board conference this week in Columbus. I believe this is my ninth conference since I was first elected to my local school board in 2007. In addition to some excellent learning seminars I attended, I perused the large vendor exhibit area in the main exhibition hall of our convention center.
I was able to network as a voice artist with a couple of entities. First, a company called Melhart that sells musical instruments had a display for LED light systems designed to fit on drums for school marching and concert bands. The systems even had a wireless controller so that all of lights on all of the instruments could be synchronized. I gave the rep my business card, he handed me a brochure with contact info, and I promised to forward their company info to my high school band director.

Next, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has a booth each year, and I always stop by to see if there’s any new info I need or can use as a PA announcer. Two OHSAA officials were on hand, one of whom I have worked several basketball games with (he was a baskeball referee for many years). He introduced me to the other official, who I learned had worked with Columbus State Community college, and left there when I came on as a PA announcer. After discussing the people we both knew there and what I was doing with myself now, I handed her my business card. She immediately gave me the name of their director of public relations, and promised she would forward the card.

On Thursday I began a new weekday gig as a radio weather forecaster for RadioForecastNetwork.com. My VO instructor Ron Allan suggested this to our monthly VO Meet-up group (Ron had been an RFN weathercaster in the past), and I know several others in our group have also have signed on with RFN. My gig involves doing the mid-day (10 AM – 3 PM) weather for a total of ten cities – eight in Texas, one in Wyoming, and one in Arizona. Since the earliest of the stations had to have their forecast ready by 10 AM my time, I decided I would start right at 7 AM.

After a training session by phone and being sent an email with detailed instructions and the “weather beds” (lead-in/background music files) for each station, I was on my own that first morning. It took me from 7 AM to 10:30 AM to get them done. Friday I cut it down to three hours. You can imagine how dismayed I was to see that, especially as others had told me it should take no more than an hour or hour-and-a-half.

The challenge in the weather forecasting is to take the dry forecast data you see on the screen and make it conversational and pleasant, in additon to being professional. So, you’re actually getting experience in copywriting, editing voiceover quickly, and production (mixing music and voiceover tracks). But after Friday’s session, I set up a Word document with notes for each station, and I expect to be down to two hours next week, and keep improving each day.

Wouldn’t You Know department : since I wasn’t checking my email for those three hours on Thursday, as I was in the middle of trying to finish the last station, my phone rang. It was Ron Allan with a voiceover job for me, wanting to know why I hadn’t responded to his email (he has a TV station client that calls him frequently, usually wanting something ‘”right away”). After issuing a “mea culpa”, I promised Ron he would have the finished job by noon, and I delivered. The really interesting thing is, the job was to do a commercial for a local business in another state, and it’s the fifth spot I’ve done for this business since September. Ron forwarded their request in his message to me, and the client had written the words “Is Joe available for another spot?”

And as I am typing this late Saturday night, I’m still coming off the disappointment of watching my alma mater’s football team get beat in the playoff for the regional championship by another very fine team. But I still managed to make it a worthwhile experience. Remember in my series on PA announcing how I liked to bring copies of our team’s roster with pronunciations and key players? This game was held at Upper Arlington high school in Columbus, and they have probably the premier high school facility in central Ohio, with PA speakers second to none.

I made my usual reconnoiter to the pressbox an hour before kickoff, and was introduced to the UA announcer, who was overjoyed to see my announcer sheets. After he thanked me, I pulled out my business card and handed it to him, with a request that mention my name to anyone in need of voiceover. He responded by giving me his card – it said “voice artist and PA announcer” ……… what were the odds? And we proceeded to have a nice chat about the world of PA announcing and voiceover, discussed condenser mic choices and whether one should have an agent, and we promised to keep in touch.

As I listened to my new friend during the game, I was struck by his professionalism, not only in his announcer mechanics, but in the quality of his speaking voice. I recorded some samples of his announcing to study next week, and I’m looking forward to making some small adjustments to my delivery.

What was the common thread in all of these events in the past week – they happened because I met someone new, which caused changes in me, and also caused me to begin to seek out others in my voiceover journey – other artists to learn from, new people who might be potential clients, which may create opportunities. In short, networking – creating a connection between several entities that all might have something in common.

Through my co-worker, I met Ron Allan. Through my training with Ron, he has made my voice available for spots for his clients – and his client’s clients also, which has led to repeat work for myself.

Through Ron Allan, I met the head of the radio forecasting network, and now have a regular job there. And because of Ron Allan, I now have a sense of professionalism and confidence to seek out others, and let them know what I can do.

Because of my work has high school PA announcer, and as an announcer with Columbus State,  I was able to make a new acquaintance with a state governing body, and I may have a potential connection within that body for possible work.

Finally, in all of those connections, I have learned something of value I can use for my business as a voice artist. It might be a name, it might be a technique – but it’s something I didn’t have before I made that connection.

How about you?  How did you begin your network, and what have you done to enlarge it and make it more effective?  I’d love to hear from – feel free to click “Reply To This Post”, and let me know your thoughts. (please, no spam messages or solicitations, they will be removed).

That’s all for now.  Until next time, keep your best voice forward, and may your network be “coast-to-coast”.  Take care.

-Z-