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?

Get it to Your iPad with Instashare

InstashareIf you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I use my iPad to read scripts. The printer sits quietly while I type. I’m sure it wonders (yes, I gave my printer human qualities, thank you very much!) if I’ll ever touch it again. I’m sure it’s jealous of my iPad.

To get scripts to my iPad, I was using one of the popular cloud-based file share services. A few weeks ago, my computer would not connect to the service and I had a stack of scripts I needed to get to my iPad NOW! My printer saw this as the perfect opportunity to remind me that printing was a push of the print button away. Not to be persuaded, I switched to another file share service and finally got the scripts to my iPad. Work proceeded.

This little scenario got me wondering if there was something I could use that wasn’t Internet dependent. A piece of software that I could install on my Mac and iPad, to quickly copy files using my WiFi connection. I thought about it a lot and within a few days, BLAM!, the piece of software I was thinking about became available. If I didn’t know it takes months for applications to be developed, I would have thought the programers wrote the software after a Vulcan Mind Meld with me. And, they’re probably not Vulcan anyway.

The software is Instashare, developed by Lukas Foldyna and Martin Karasek, the team of developers who make up TwoManShow.

Instashare from TwoManShow on Vimeo.

Lukas and Martin have made installation and configuration amazingly easy and quick. First take a trip to the App Store and download the Instashare App to your iPad. Next, point your browser to InstashareApp.com and download the Mac version to you computer. While the Mac version is BETA, I’ve found it to be trouble free and plays well with the other applications on my Mac.

After installation, launch Instashare on your iPad then the app on your Mac. Using your WiFi network, both machines will look for each other. On your Mac, you’ll see in the drop window that your iPad is displayed as a destination for any files you want to copy. Your iPad shows your Mac as a destination. Copying files goes both ways. On your Mac, drag and drop a file to the drop window. Your iPad displays an alert requesting that you approve the transfer. Tap approve and the file is copied. Simple, right?

You can open copied files directly in Instashare or tap the ‘Open in’ button and you’re presented with installed apps that can open the file. When you’re done with the file, delete by tapping “Edit”, tap the red circle with a line in its center, then tap delete. Since you were working with a copy on your iPad, the original is safe on you Mac.

If you’re not a user of Apple hardware, the Instashare website indicates that Windows and Android versions are coming soon.

I’m sure I’ll still have some use for the file share service. But since I started using Instashare, I haven’t had the need. The icon for the service sits in my menubar waiting to be clicked, promising me that it’ll behave. It’s in good company though, my printer anticipates my return as well.

Other posts that you might find interesting:

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

Go Paperless with Foxit PDF

When I was preparing to open the door of my voice-over business, I made a list of all the office goodies I needed. One of the items was a printer, and I had my mind set on a multifunction unit. I thought having print/fax/scan capabilities in one easy to use box would be the most efficient way to go. I made the purchase and printed off into the sunset.

Well, not really. You see, I bought an inkjet version and quickly found that I was going through cartridges faster than a Hummer guzzles a tank of gas. I found myself making my way though reams of paper as well. I had a huge box of printed scripts to recycle every month. It took little time for me to figure out that I needed something more efficient, more green.

I’d read that a number of my voice-over peers had made the migration to iPad for scripts. This appealed to me on several levels. With an iPad, my paper and ink cartridge consumption would be significantly reduced. My office would be more green. Plus, the iPad would be a super-cool buy, satisfying my inner gadget geekness.

I made the purchase, an iPad II/16-Gig. Next, was to load it with software that would make the purchase pay for itself. I needed something to read scripts. I used iOS Pages at first but found that it was missing the ability to handle PDF formatted files.

Foxit-Mobile-PDF_Main_web_shadow
Fig. 1 – The primary view and main work area of Foxit Mobile PDF.

I tried several PDF readers (too many to list!) before finally arriving on what I believe to be the ultimate PDF tool, Foxit Mobile PDF by Foxit Corporation. It allows me to view and easily navigate PDFs, plus it has a number of ways to annotate or markup the text. I can bookmark, highlight text in multiple colors, type notes for phonetics, write direction notes, strike text and more.

Foxit Mobile PDF is perfect for the audiobooks I produce. Figure 1 shows my markups for a recently produced audiobook. I wrote in chapter numbers, typed in audiobook specific replacement text, and highlighted sections for pickups. The screenshot also shows the app’s toolbar, document navigation slider on the right, and page view and page number in the lower right.

Foxit-Mobile-PDF_Slide_web_shadow
Fig. 2 – Slide panel access.

The slide panel in figure 2 reveals 4 useful tools that allow me to navigate to a specific bookmark, review the chapters or outline of a document, see my annotations and search for text.

The one drawback to using an iPad for scripts is that markups during a directed session are a bit cumbersome, but it’s still doable. It’s not as easy for me to write in a quick note or strike words on the tablet’s surface as it is to do it with pencil and paper. I’ve caught myself a few times going for my pencil. Perhaps the natural thing to do would be to migrate to a stylus.

Foxit Mobile PDF is available for a limited time at no charge from the App Store.

I’m sure there are other PDF readers/annotators that you have used and I’d like to hear about them. Since I’m interested in trying out a stylus, I’m open to suggestions. Also, what are the things you’ve done to make your studio more green?

Figure 1 shows the markups made during the production of  Marc Allen’s  Amazon.com best seller, “How to Quiet Your Mind: Relax and Silence The Voice of Your Mind, Today!“, published by Empowerment Nation. Audiobook availability pending Audible.com review and approval. 

Find Your Voice-Over Answers in These Five Amazing Books

First, let met point out that books are not dead! While mobile devices like the iPad and Kindle have reshaped the publishing landscape, books are still useful. They offer a wealth of information that’s just a page turn away, whether it be digital or physical. While I can dive into the Internet and search for answers, I also like having a book written by a knowledgable expert that’s within easy reach.

The reference library for my voice-over business ranges from setting up a home studio to marketing my services. The books I’m sharing with you are what I think are some of the best available for people investigating, starting up on, or successfully working in the voice acting or voice-over business.

“The Art of Voice Acting” Fourth Edition “The Art of Voice Acting” Fourth Edition

James R. Alburger

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Borders

James Alburger has earned eleven Emmy Awards, Omni Intermedia Awards, and Silver Microphone Awards for his work as a director and audio producer. He has over 35-years of experience as a performer and in the recording studio. James has condensed his success into a book that every person interested in a voice acting career should read. “The Art of Voice Acting” features chapters that include a business overview, working with copy, auditioning and studio stories. The book includes a CD of demos from top voice-over artists along with exercises to help prepare your body, mind and mouth for optimal performance.

“Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home ... and on the Road”“Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home …and on the Road”

Harlan HoganJeffrey P. Fisher

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Borders

This was the first book I bought for my voice-over reference library. The duo of Hogan and Fisher do an amazing job of explaining what’s needed to set up a home studio that’s suitable for recording. They cover hardware, software, production techniques and more. Both authors have had fascinating careers and you get a glimpse of that along with all their helpful information. This book will help get your brain wrapped around the basics of working from a home studio.

“Voice-Over Voice Actor”“Voice-Over Voice Actor”

Yuri LowenthalTara Platt

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Borders

There is something for everyone in this book. Yuri and Tara explain the art of voice-over in a casual but very knowledgeable approach. They draw from a number of years of combined experience with clients that include Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Dell, McDonald’s and Budweiser. The book includes a great chapter on warming up your body and vocal path before you audition or perform. I’ve adopted this into my daily routine.

“Voiceovers: Techniques and Tactics for Success”“Voiceovers: Techniques and Tactics for Success”

Janet Wilcox

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Borders

The approach of this book is to train like an athlete. Long time veteran Janet Wilcox breaks down the process into understanding the rules of the game, training, preparing to compete, and discovering your game or what you’re good at. Janet has done a great job of making what can be ambiguous in the career path of voice actor more understandable. The included CD features exercises and interviews with top voice-over talent.

“Secrets of Voice-over Success”“Secrets of Voice-over Success”

Joan Baker

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Borders

This book is a must read to get insight from the top voice-over pros. Each chapter is written by a professional who candidly shares their life as a voice actor. You’ll discover how Jim Dale, the voice of all the Harry Potter books, was in the right place at the right time. Each chapter ends with an industry secret, based on the experiences of the chapter writer. A CD is included, which features the demos used by the book’s contributors to get voice-over work. The tragedy of Alzheimer’s struck home when Joan’s Father was silenced by the disease. Proceeds from the book go to The Alzheimer’s Association.

These are five from my library and I’m always looking for more. What books have you found useful in your career as a voice actor?

Five Must Have Online Gizmos for Your Voice-over Toolbox

It should never be said that voice-over work lacks variety. Whether it be the type of project, length, emotive delivery or just the file format requested by the customer, most projects are unique.

Along the way on my voice-over trek, I’ve gone searching for tools to help me get a particular job to the finish line. Most are easy to use and intuitive to implement. Except for one, all cost nothing to use. Free is a price most anybody can afford.

1. Word to Time

When I get a request to quote a narration project, I start by getting the word count of the script. Most modern word processors have the ability to display word count. Then I head to Edge Studio’s Word to Time Calculator to get an idea of how long the finished time should be. This easy to use calculator allows me to enter the word count or paste in the actual script, and then adjust the delivery rate.

2. Say What?!

Sooner or later you’re going to run into a word that you won’t have a clue how to pronounce. You could ask the copywriter for a phonetic pronunciation and if that’s not available there are three tools you should definitely check out.

The first is Dictionary.com and it’s just what the name implies. Words that you search are retrieved with their definition and an audio pronunciation of the searched word.

In cases where Dictionary.com doesn’t resolve your phonetic quest, check howjsay.com. This online talking dictionary of English pronunciation has over 14-million entries.

For words that are not part of the English lexicon, take a trip to Forvo.com. Touted as the largest pronunciation guide in the world, this tool goes way beyond spoken English. The top languages covered are English, Portuguese, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, Arabic, German, Czech and Swedish. And for the occasional Star Trek commercial, Klingon is also supported.

3. Audio Formatting

Most clients need the audio file format of MP3, AIF or WAV. For occasions when you need to provide something other than those or you don’t have the means to convert to different file types, I recommend starting with Media.io. You can convert to OGG, WMA, WAV and MP3, and for a few of the formats you have the choice of multiple quality levels.

File formats are pretty standard for most voice-over projects. However, those in the area of telephony may require something completely different. ConvertMyFilesNow.com is great for converting to a variety of on-hold and phone-tree formats.  While this tool does cost a small amount to use, the price is negligible.

4. Save the Video

I ask for digital copies of the finished production whenever I hand off audio to a video producer. For the times that the request goes unfilled, I take a trip to the video sites to see if the project has been published. If it has, I’m in luck and I can download a copy using Keepvid.com. This tool works on YouTube, Vimeo and others.

5. Say Thank You

When you get done with a session, take a moment to write a thank you card and send it off to your client. Include two business cards in the envelope with the card and let them know that you appreciate their business. If you need inspiration on what or how to write a thank you note, take a look at these three sites.

Thank You Note Examples and Tips.com

Thank You Note Samples.com

Letterbarn.blogspot.com

thank-you-notes.com

I use these tools every day, and I’m continually hunting to find more. What are your “must have” online tools of the trade?

10 Things to Keep in Mind when Building a Home Studio

Congratulations on making the decision to set up a home recording studio. With your own studio, you can audition for voice over jobs as much as you want, improve your narration abilities and most importantly, be available to your clients for work. There are many options as far as equipment is concerned, and it should be easy to stay within a relatively small budget.

1. Recording Space

The first thing you’ll want to do is decide on a location for recording. A smaller space is easier to set up than a larger area and with the right sound absorbing/dampening material, you can create broadcast quality audio. The goal is to remove as much life or echo as possible. This can be done with sound absorbing material such as Auralex. Find a room without windows if you can. A walk-in closet would be perfect.

2. Digital Audio Workstation

Mac or PC? It doesn’t matter. I recommend that you use an operating system that you know since there will be a learning curve for understanding how to use recording software. There is no sense adding more to your educational stack by having to learn an unfamiliar operating system and recording software.

3. Computer Audio Interface

To get your voice into your computer, you need a computer audio interface (CAI). A single input is all you need to get started. The Apogee One features a single input interface that’s simple to use. Another choice is the MicPort Pro from CEntrance that allows you to convert an XLR microphone to USB. Others to consider include the Fast Track Ultra CAI form M-Audio that will allow input of multiple voices simultaneously. Also take a look at the Lexicon Omega Studio. Since you’ll be using a condenser mic, make sure that the CAI you purchase has 48v phantom power.

4. Software

Take a look at Adobe SoundBooth, Audacity (which is free) or use GarageBand if you go with a Mac system. Also on the horizon is Adobe Audition for Mac, which is currently in Beta. You want to record spoken words and get them to a file format that can be used in post production. ProTools is overkill. While it is the standard for experienced musicians and sound engineers, its not well suited for beginners. Keep it simple.

5. Microphone

The Rode mics are great introductory hardware and they do an amazing job. Other mics to consider would be the Audio-Technica 2020 or 2030 and the Blue Bluebird. Since no voice is the same, it’s a good idea to audition a variety of mics. Some work better with deep resonating voices, while others do a better job with higher voices. Make sure you get a cardioid pattern condenser mic and pick up a pop filter. If you are buying over the net, check the return policy of the retailer. Order 2 or 3 mics and return the ones that fail your audition.

6. Headphones

There are a number of options for headphones. Consider those from reputable companies such as Sony, Sennheiser, AKG and Audio-technica. If you are purchasing a computer audio interface make sure to purchase one with headphone amps built in. There really isn’t a need for a separate headphone amp.

7. Cables

When you purchase your hardware, ask the sales person to set you up with appropriate cables. Monster makes an excellent line with several price points. DO NOT GO CHEAP ON CABLES!!! EVER!!! You’ll need cables for mic, monitors and connecting your CAI to your computer.

8. Monitors

Hearing what you recorded should be done with speakers equal to what your audience will be using. If your audience is primarily listening to the audio you create with their computer, then a smaller monitor is all that’s needed. Since you’re recording spoken word, stereo is not important. Consider self-powered monitors made by Mackie, Behringer, and JBL.

9. Stands

On Stage makes a great line of mic stands. Also consider a music stand to hold your copy while you read. Make sure to purchase solidly built stands.

10. Work Desk

Look for a desk that is comfortable to sit at and will hold all the gear you’ve purchased for recording. The desk should have a top large enough to accommodate your computer monitor, keyboard, mouse, audio interface and a pair of studio monitors.

This should give you enough information to start thinking about how you’ll assemble your home studio. In future posts, I’ll go into each one of these areas in more detail.