A Fish Story and Your Studio

Lake Quinalt Lodge
Lake Quinalt Lodge

A few weeks ago, Cameron and I traveled to the Olympic Peninsula to spend a few days at the beautiful, historic Lake Quinault Lodge. The weather was unseasonably perfect with sunshine and comfortable temperatures. It was a perfect getaway.

Before we made it to the lodge, we took a detour to Neah Bay to enjoy the Makah Museum and grab some smoked salmon Cam read about in Yelp. The museum was spectacular with many Native Makah artifacts and loads of historical references and information about the Makahs. It was well worth the drive.

TakeHomeFish
Take Home Fish Co.

Our other destination, Take Home Fish Company, was quite a surprise. When Cameron told me about it, I imagined a well-lit store with a refrigerator case packed with smoked salmon and other delicious Pacific Northwest treats. To my shock, my imagined fish shop was nothing more than a garage, slightly modified to be used as a fish shack.

Diesel flavored smoked salmon swam through my thoughts.

We walked in feeling skeptical about the offerings. Diesel flavored smoked salmon swam through my thoughts. The guy behind the small counter presented us with a number of options, which were neatly vacuum packed and ready for immediate sale.

This was it? I admit, I hadn’t taken the time to check out Yelp to see what this place was about. I was close to walking out without spending a dime. Cameron was a more willing customer and decided on two vac-packs of smoked fish, one salmon the other deep sea black cod.

Makah Bay
Makah Bay

As we drove away from Neah Bay with our purchase, I started thinking about the many voice talents starting out who create their magic from a closet, spare bedroom and other home areas that don’t resemble a studio, even remotely. If an area can be treated and used to record and the result is flawless fidelity, what does it matter?

I’ve read studio descriptions from established talent who don’t record in a closet or bedroom but have an acoustically designed booth of some sort. I congratulate them for making the financial decision to invest in their recording area. But, it’s uncool to trash talk those who work out of something less and still deliver amazing audio.

Evidently the clients don’t care as long as it sounds good.

The deliverable is what the client is most interested about. I’m pretty sure they care 1% or less how or where their ready-to-use sound was created. They know what sounds good for their project. I’ve read about jobs being done in hotel rooms with comforters, blankets and pillows used to create a satisfactory recording environment. Evidently the clients don’t care as long as it sounds good. It they did care where it was recorded few people, if any, would record on the road.

Lake Quinault
Lake Quinault

And, as for the smoked fish? Best. Smoked. Fish. EVAR! It was tasty and the perfect first meal at the Quinault Lodge. We gobbled down the fish along with some cheddar cheese, sourdough bread and a few glasses of port. Kimm, the owner of Take Home Fish Co. didn’t need a fancy store or state of the art tools to create what will be tough to beat by anybody else smoking fish. He had talent and an understanding of how to best use his workspace.

© 2015 J. Christopher Dunn

Other posts you might find interesting:
6 Questions to Ask Mr. Google!
Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away
Are You Available?

15 Unfortunate VO Mistakes to Avoid

oops

There are a number of voiceover successes I’m very proud about from this past year. I don’t want to gush about anything specific, lest I trigger your sensitivity to bragging.

No, instead, I’m going to share a handful of things that made me smack my head in disbelief. These are my “Oh, yeah… I probably shouldn’t do that” moments, those little slices of time that remind me that I’m human, and not above making bonehead mistakes that make my peers say, “You did what!?”

  1. Using an iPad for script reading in place of paper is a smart, efficient move. Attempting to markup text with a pencil on an iPad is neither smart nor efficient.
  2. Listening to the always entertaining “NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour” while reviewing scripts will distract me from catching even the most obvious mistakes.
  3. Rehearsing an audition script while participating in a webinar is a fabulous way to multitask. Note to self: Make sure to mute the microphone when not interacting with the host or other participants. Nobody is interested to hear my practice runs broadcast across the web over the top of a live webinar.
  4. Listening to classical music empowers me to have uber-focus and smooths occasional pre-session jitters. Rocking out to AC/DC or Nazareth before a recording session is great for getting my pulse pounding; nerves rattling; and ends up being the opening act for multiple takes.
  5. Tis a bummer to record an award worthy session only to find out no sound was captured. Headphones are useful to verify that my audio gear is in record mode and not playback.
  6. High winds on Whidbey Island create a bellows effect in my house while recording and treats the diaphragm of my trusty Bluebird like a brown paper bag used for hyperventilation.
  7. Deep cleaning the house gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Vacuuming, de-cluttering and dusting. I like a clean house. The dusting part is great for setting histamines in motion, giving my voice a nasally, plugged up tone, suitable only for decongestant commercials.
  8. A thick, all cotton sweatshirt is not only necessary to keep me warm but also acts as an extra sound absorber in my booth, a former wine cellar. The same cannot be said for shirts made of corduroy.
  9. Contrary to the wishes of one overseas client, no matter how hard I try, I cannot sound “un-American”. My auditions sound like me, and I sound like my auditions.
  10. Comfortable shoes are important for long periods of standing behind the mic. Wearing shoes of various sole or heel heights from one day to the next causes my voice to take on inconsistent characteristics because mic proximity and sweet spot target became victims of my shoe fetish.
  11. Corks from wine bottles are useful in improving articulation for a lazy mouth. Wine that is aged in the bottle can be delicious. Wine aged on the cork is disgusting. A washed cork is a more agreeable experience.
  12. Staying hydrated is super important for me. It ensures that dry mouth is significantly reduced and all the parts inside my mouth are well lubed. My keyboard and mouse are not in need of the same attention. A water bottle left in their proximity is a setup for desktop disaster.
  13. Eating a yummy ham sandwich an hour before a patched session will make me drink 48 ounces of water during the session and cause SEVERE mouth noises. (Sorry Matt!)
  14. Chewing gum assists in getting rid of cotton mouth. However, while building well defined jaw muscles, it has an adverse affect on fluid mouth movement, making most speaking less articulate.
  15. Altoids are a great substitute for gum chewing. Chewing one before entering the booth creates minty fresh breath. It also provides my tongue an opportunity for calisthenics as I attempt to remove the crushed Altoid bits from my teeth. Suck, don’t chew!

You know you have them. Don’t be afraid to share them. What were your “Oh, yeah… I probably shouldn’t do that” moments in 2013?

Other posts you might find interesting:

Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away
Task Manage the Goldilocks Way
Five Tips for Better Client/Talent Workflow

Let the Sound Touch You

SoundWave_500x334Since you’re reading this blog you probably have, at the very least, heard about audiobooks. If you’ve been in the voiceover business for any time, you may have had the opportunity to produce a multi-hour audio masterpiece or may have timidly considered doing so.

Many of the same things to keep in mind while recording voiceovers for commercials, web explainer narration, and other short projects will also apply to long form narration. Because you are going to be in the booth awhile, you need endurance, a comfortable chair (if you site while recording) and as always, stay hydrated. Narrators that have done several books could probably add additional items. These are the basics, the commonalities for all voice recording.

Here are a few more suggestions. What I’m about to share with you should not replace practice, perspiration and patience to learn audiobook narration and production. Instead, the following should be used besides what you are already doing. To get the most out of the what follows, It will be necessary for you to set aside some time and use your ears. All you have to do is listen.

Listen to News

Every morning while I’m brewing French Roast and making my oatmeal, I listen to a PodCast of the Global News from BBC World Service. I have my ear on accents and emotions.

The show is typically hosted by somebody from the UK. I like a good Brit accent and I’m rarely disappointed.

Beyond the host, I take note of speech patterns, voice types, and the urgency of people being interviewed or providing actualities. I’m fascinated by accents, so I find it interesting to hear how different nationalities speak English.

The report is peppered with events of all types. Thankfully, I don’t have the life experience of intensely tragic events and can only imagine how I might feel after witnessing a car bomb explosion or other catastrophic happening. I can, however, hear somebody who’s experienced that in person talk about what they saw and express their emotions. I listen for the pauses, the way a person formulates what they say before they say it. Emotions are high.

To counter the doom and gloom, there are stories of happiness. I’m listening for emotions again, cadence and impact. I know how I react when I’m happy, excited or elated. Recognizing how other people react to the same, could allow me to add an element of that in my next audiobook project.

After 30-minutes, you’ll probably come away with something vocally interesting plus a little more knowledgeable about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Another source of the same type, is the NBC Nightly News Podcast featuring anchor Brian Williams. Again, listen to how people tell a story, specifically folks being interviewed. What is it about the way they speak, or their delivery, that makes what they’er saying authentic?

Where Audiobooks Live

Audible is where most audiobooks become available. The front page of Audible.com has two links to lists that you should check out, Best Sellers and New Releases.

The Top Story Tellers

The Best Sellers list has two options available: Audible – Past 7 Days and The New York Times. I recommend taking a look at both but focus more on the Audible list because it features the top sellers of the Audible.com catalog.

In any given week, the Audible best sellers list represents a variety of genres and narrators. This audiobook buffet allows you to sample a number of successful titles. I recommend starting with the top 10, working your way through from number ten to number one. Listen to each of them.

Pay attention to the delivery of each particular genre. Narrating nonfiction is different from fiction. The tone of a thriller might have a distinct edge. Romantic reads may have a delivery that’s more warm and heartfelt.

How character voices are handled is another area to take notice. Particularly, how women and men deliver the opposite sex’s dialog.

Try to imagine what it is about the book that landed it in the top 10. It might be because the author is recognizable and the print version has had a long life in many literary lists. Maybe the narrator has brought the story to life, lifted with words with emotion, intention, and clarity. In your mind, come up with your own reason for the title’s success. While you could argue that a valid assessment of an audiobook can’t be made in five minutes or less, I counter that you can tell that you like the taste of something with just a sip or a bite, and in most cases you know why.

Typically, top selling books are narrated by established names. Four that come to mind are Maya Angelou (16+ audiobooks), Scott Brick (555+ audiobooks), Jim Dale (33+ audiobooks) and Barbara Rosenblat (246+ audiobooks). While you’re listening to the samples, take note of what you like about the narrator. Does the narrator have a way of keeping you interested with the pace of the read? Do they sound sexy or sleazy when speaking the details of a torrid night with chocolate? Is the delivery over the top, or just right? What can you learn or emulate from those at the top of their game?

The production values are high as well. Most of the top talent are recored with the assistance of an engineer who monitors fidelity, delivery and continuity. You won’t hear noisy rooms, outside elements, or distorted audio. These books are pristine. If you decide to produce audiobooks, this is the quality to strive for.

Schedule some time every week to review the top sellers. Most audio samples are five-minutes or less. Think of it as research and education.

Give an Ear to Newbies

The second list on Audible.com to focus on is New Releases. Here you’ll find samples from multiple genres narrated by talent of varying skill. A number of the narrators on New Releases are folks who are just starting out. It took courage to jump into the audiobook pond, and if being successful is important, they will improve with each book they produce.

When listening, ask yourself if you are good or better than most of the narrators you’re sampling from this list. By your comparison, can you identify how you might improve a particular read? Listen to the production quality. Can you hear room echo or reflections? Do the noises from the surrounding environment seep into the performance? Are the edits clean and does the pace reflect the current mood? Does the narrator suffer from a bout of dry mouth and could stand to be hydrated more? I’m not asking you to be hypercritical, just identify what works and what doesn’t work for you. Take time to listen for ways to improve your own delivery; or, if you haven’t taken the dive off the high board, take some mental notes on how you would narrate and produce your first audiobook.

The Rest of the Story

You will probably find during your listening sessions that one of the audiobooks you previewed caught your attention. It had your interest right up to the abrupt ending of the audio sample. What to do? Buy the complete audiobook. Here you’ll get to enjoy the entire production on your own time. You’ll find it immersive as your mind builds upon what your ears hear. It’s a great form of edutainment. Possible tax deduction? Maybe. Consult your tax adviser for the correct answer.

A final suggestion – if you’ve been considering audiobooks as your voice path, watch Professional Narrator, Sean Pratt’s (188+ audiobooks) YouTube video, “So… You Want to Be an Audiobook Narrator?

Now that you have a few tips to help you with audiobook narration and production, I hope you’re feeling somewhat empowered. Understand that your first book will be tough, but those that follow will become easier. Your next audiobook will be potentially better than the one before.

 

Other posts you might find interesting:

Find Your Voice-Over Answers in These Five Amazing Books

Five Tips for Better Client/Talent Workflow
JewelBeat: A New Royalty Free Music Source
Are You Available?

VoiceWorld Toronto, It’s a Voice Conference

You may or may not be a professional voice person but you are somebody who enjoys learning about the biz, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading a blog about voiceovers. Now that I have that out of the way, I would like to direct your attention the information below. You’ll find details about VoiceWorld Toronto Conference.

This will be a key opportunity for you to meet like minded people, hear from experts that have been doing the voiceover craft for decades and enjoy the beautiful city of Toronto.

VoiceWorld Toronto Conference

Date: Saturday May 4th, 2013
Time: 8:00 am – 5:30pm
Location: Toronto Hilton Hotel

Prepare to be educated, equipped and empowered

  • Audition like a pro — understand the do’s and don’ts of auditioning in person and online.
  • Learn the ins and outs of the voice acting business, and what it takes to be a successful voice-over talent.
  • Get into business — explore ways to turn your voice acting talent into a business.

About VoiceWorld Toronto

VoiceWorld, the industry’s premier conference, being held in Toronto in 2013, is an immersive experience focused on engaging voice actors from across Canada and the United States. Connect with amazing, influential people who can change your life through courses in artistic development, business and technology preparing you for success in the exciting world of voice acting. A breath of fresh air, VoiceWorld sets out to invigorate and intensify your love for the art of voice acting as never before with an action plan for you to take your business to the next level.

VoiceWorld Toronto Speakers

  • Pat Fraley – Man of Four Thousand Voices, CESD Talent Los Angeles
  • Elley-Ray Hennessy – Award-winning actress, Director and Producer
  • Deb Munro – International Voice-over Talent and Coach
  • David Ciccarelli – Co-Founder and CEO of Voices.com
  • David Goldberg – Owner of Edge Studio
  • Dan Lenard – The Home Studio Master
  • Sunday Muse – Voice-over Artist, Author and Coach
  • Dave McRae – The Voice Mann
  • Stephanie Ciccarelli – Author of Voice Acting for Dummies
  • Wayne Young – Audio Producer and Mixing Engineer

10 Reasons To Attend VoiceWorld Toronto

Early Bird Special ends February 28th!

*Tickets are limited. Purchase your full conference pass by visiting, http://voiceworldtoronto2013.eventbrite.com/

Voice World Toronto
Join us in Toronto for the voice acting conference of the year on Saturday May 4th, 2013.
VoiceWorld

A Standard in Which to be Recognized

I take my car to a locally owned garage here in Coupeville. I get along well with the mechanics and I’ve always driven away feeling like my needs were met. When I first moved to the area, I considered a few auto repair shops. One of the things I took into account was whether a shop had Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Certification. I understand what the certification stands for and know that it’s not easy to acquire. To be ASE Certified, mechanics take a number of exams, which typically only 66% pass on the first try. After passing, the mechanic provides proof of two years work experience and is then given certification. To maintain certification, the mechanic retests in five-years.

Can that model work for voice-over talent? There seems to be a divided certification camp.

On one side, the talent believes that being certified will provide them with peace of mind for having strived to meet the criteria for certification. Instead of listening to countless professionals with varying levels of experience and skill level for guidance as they grow their business, talents could refer to one organization whose goal is to improve the quality of voice-overs. I know that’s general in description but ultimately, that’s what certification is in any profession. Creating a standard by which to be measured. This helps talent seekers to weed out the crud and deal specifically with professionals who are qualified. No more wasted time with auditions that were recorded with a laptop microphone in the kitchen while dogs bark and kids scream in the background.

The argument against certification for voice-over talent is that it is simply not needed. There is nothing wrong with the state of the voice-over trade. People seeking artistic talent are not looking for anything other than somebody who can deliver the spoken word recording they need. Producers try out, through the audition process, any number of talent until they find the voice that fits their project. It’s not necessary to identify through certification that the talent can read as directed; has recording equipment and a decent, noise-free environment to record in. It will be obvious in the audition. It would not matter to voice-seekers that a talent’s web page or marketing includes a callout to their voice-over certification. It would not be clear what the certification represents or how it would benefit the results.

I’m aware of two players in the certification of voice-over talent. SaVoa.org is the first and is now going through somewhat of a reboot or reinvention of itself and appears to be close to taking applications again. The new kid in town is World-Voices.org, which has branded itself as “Voice Over’s new certifying Guild!” and is taking applications.

I’m an advocate for choice but I wonder if having two organizations that provide certification is worthwhile. Remember Blu-ray and HD or Betamax and VHF? While the competing standards had followers and each provided similar capabilities, there was only room for one ruler on each hill.

In my opinion, the best way for either to succeed is through aggressive marketing to voice-seekers paired with manageable ongoing educational guidance for certificate recipients. The first might make it apparent that considering a certified talent is more beneficial and cost-effective since the talent met an established standard. The second would encourage certified talents to continue building their skills with recognized educational paths. I’m sure there are others, but the certification should be couched as a “win/win” for seekers and talent.

I have mixed feelings about becoming certified and would like to hear your comments and opinions. What do you think? As a talent, what would be the advantage or disadvantage of being certified? As a talent seeker, could you be swayed to only work with certified talent?

To be, or not to be a CVT, that is the question.

It’s All in the Script – 5 Tips for Better Reading

Have you ever read a book, magazine or newspaper and wondered why the type is so small? It’s because the publishers are trying to maximize space and cram as many words onto a page as they can. There are websites that do the same. The tiny text makes it difficult to read. Thankfully, most browsers have the capability to easily magnify the size of the text.

Scripts can have issues with type size as well, along with other unhelpful formatting, that make for difficult reading. You’ll want to encourage your client to provide you with their best script possible. When you receive a script that is formatted to be easily read, your client is doing you a huge favor and will make your session run more smoothly.

Here are 5 suggestions you can share with your client that will make their scrips more approachable.

  1. Use a readable font. Every once in a while I’ll receive a script with an unusual font. Comic Sans comes to mind along with any font that emulates handwriting or calligraphy. Suggest a font that was meant to be printed, such as Garamond, Georgia, New York, Times and Times New Roman. The reason serif fonts are preferable is because people can differentiate each letter more clearly.

  2. Increase the size. Typically when I’m reading a script, it’s on a copy stand or held a good distance up and away from my microphone. That’s why the point size should be between 14 and 16. You will find this easier to read than most text application’s default size of 12 point.

  3. Double space text. When I get a script I’ll usually take a pencil and start marking it up for my benefit in the booth. To give me room for added notes and marks, double space lines are a necessity. Single spaced text is next to impossible to read after it’s been treated to markups.

  4. Ask for phonetic helpers. You might not know how to say every word in the script you receive. Error on the side of caution and ask for phonetic (fəˈnetik or fe ne tick) guides for uncommon names of people, places and things. If you come across an acronym, ask whether it should be spelled or pronounced. Reading the script with your client over the phone is a great way to identify words that need a helper.

  5. Confirm that you have an approved final script. Noting sets a session back quicker and can add additional costs than receiving a script that has not been approved. Take a moment to verify with all stakeholders that what you’re about to record is in final form. Sure, there’ll be occasions when a line needs to be changed but that can be handled easily with a pick-up of just that line.

  6. *Bonus tip: Request that the script be formatted using Microsoft Word. Ask your client to provide Word formatted scripts. If you receive a script with none of the tips from above applied, at least you’ll receive a file format that can be easily manipulated if needed. PDF files are the least desirable because of their inability to be easily reformatted. Copy and past from a PDF can end in disastrous, sometimes unreadable results.

What makes a script more readable or less desirable for you? Feel free to share both the good and bad examples.

Five DIY Home Studio Voice-over Tips

As work from home voice-artists, we are a segregated lot. Our time recording is spent in the lonely convenience of closets, spare bedrooms, under moving blanket tents and for the truly fortunate, a sound booth. Regardless of where we record, we are usually solo, self-directing to the point of our best performance. Sure, there are patched or ISDN sessions with directors talking to us from some remote location. Still, we are standing by ourselves, behind a mic and putting our best VO effort forward. We are alone.

Since there is usually nobody but me, myself, and JC controlling how my sessions go in my home studio, there are a few things that I do for each session to make sure when I’m done recording my time editing is used efficiently.

The following might seem obvious for some and super simple to others. For me, these tips give me an extended level of comfort and confidence when I’m by myself. These are things I’ve learned over time. Most often, corrections of bad habits.

  1. Pre-read the script before you get behind the microphone. Read the words to yourself first. Read them out loud then read them out loud again. This gives your eyes, brain, and mouth an opportunity to get acquainted with the script. If you stumble on a word or a line trips you up, this is a great opportunity for you to find it before you get behind your mic.

  2. Markup or woodshed your script with reminders. You’ve pre-read the script and have found the land mines and areas that need more or less emphasis. Don’t try to remember how to deal with the problem bits. Instead, grab a pencil and mark the script in a way that will be most helpful. Place underlines under words that you need to hit. Place dashes for breaks in the phrasing to remind you to take a breath. Highlight a line that needs more “Hollywood” and write in phonetic helpers.

  3. Remember to read for time. If the script is for a :30 commercial, your read should not be longer than :30. It’s better to read for time instead of trying to edit for time. Grab a stopwatch and time your read before you enter your booth.

  4. Develop a method to mark your takes. The best way to find a take out of multiple attempts is to look at the waveform of the audio file in your recording software. Using a clap between each take and a triple clap for a take that you think was “THE one” will help you quickly identify just what you’re looking for. Audiobook narrator Jeffrey Kafer uses a dog clicker instead of clapping.

  5. Keep everything you record. When I first started doing voice-overs, I would record a few takes then stop to give them a listen. If I didn’t like what I heard, I ditched the entire track and started over. This was a huge waste of time and removed any option of picking up a word or line that might be useful in the final audio.

What have you found to be your most useful tip as a solo voice-over talent?