Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Have you ever heard that axiom, absence makes the heart grow fonder? It’s supposed to be related to a loved one, I think. They go on a trip, you realize how much you miss them, and when they come home, you are even more in love than before.

Well as Voice Actors, what do we fall in love with the most. If you are like me, it’s the Mic of course!

As you may know by now, from following my blog, or the podcast I host with Sean Daeley, The VO Meter, I have an incurable case of G.A.S. or Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I buy and sell microphones like some people do with stocks. While usually, I have a good reason at the time, I have, on more than one occasion I must admit, re-purchased the same piece of equipment after realizing I missed it, once it was gone.

So, I recently made a big purchase. At least for me. After months of preaching that cheaper was better, I took the plunge and bought a Sennheiser MKH 415. I found a good price, and after several recent rave reviews from other voiceover artists, I had to buy it. This microphone is a short shotgun that some have described as the forefather of the venerable MKH 416. In most ways, it lives up to the hype. It has a full rich sound, and is excellent at off axis rejection. The main difference between the 415 and the 416 is the Power supply. The 415 runs on 12V or (T) power. So, in order to use it with most modern interfaces or pre-amps you need a 12V to 48V adapter. They are pretty inexpensive. I picked up this little beauty and I was good to go. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/275819-REG/PSC_FPSC0010A_A4812_48V_to_12T.html

Now, as always, the initial honeymoon wore off. More accurately I got greedy. I have also recently introduced a channel strip into my recording chain. Specifically a DBX 286. The reason for this is to help control the highway rumble issues that have plagued my recording setup since day one. My booth is on the 2nd floor of my house. In order to keep the rest of the family happy, it needs to stay in the back spare bedroom where it is. However, because of this, I cannot add a 2nd layer, because the weight would be too much for my floorboards. Check with your local jurisdiction before putting anything as heavy as even a single walled booth on your 2nd floor. So, the noise from the 4 lane highway that runs through my Baltimore backyard, isn’t going anywhere. Long story short, the channel strip allows me to engage the built in expander and keep out the highway before it gets into the recording. Fellow Voice Actor Alan Taylor suggested this as a fix, and you know what? He was right! Thanks Alan.

But I digress. Anywhoo, once I found the 415 could be used to great effect with the DBX, I thought “hmmm, maybe I could use something like a TLM 103 now!” So, I considered making another Questionable Gear Purchase. Luckily I thought of another solution.

I had met Chris Sharpes, a lovely chap at VO Atlanta. It turns out he lives less than 10 miles from me in Maryland. I started to hatch a plan…heheeee. I asked Chris if he’d like to borrow my 415 in exchange for me borrowing his AT4040. This would allow me to test record a very sensitive large diaphragm condenser with my new setup and see if the rumble was still kept at bay. So, Chris met me on a beautiful sunny day in the Land of Pleasant Living and we traded. I’m happy to report that the setup DOES work with an LDC too.

A funny thing happened while the 415 was with Chris, though. I MISSED it! Chris sent me some test recordings of his voice on the 415 and it sounded wonderful. Smooth and rich with no hint of distortion or plosives. I started to think to myself, “what are you thinking? That mic is gorgeous!”. After a few days, Chris and I traded back. I’m happy to report the 415 is back where it belongs, and I’m loving every recording I make with it.

So, if you have G.A.S. like me, maybe consider a similar arrangement. There are so many people out there in the voice over community. Find them! Since VO Atlanta, I have found a whole group of talent I didn’t know were so close to me. We are actually now going to start a local meetup group. We will talk about strategy, trade battle stories, and work on scripts. Maybe I can even convince another person to let me borrow their mic next time I get the itch. It pays to have friends in VO places!

Champagne Dreams, Beer Voice

What’s the best microphone for voice over? Ever heard that question? Are you a voice actor, who has struggled to find the best microphone for your voice over business?

I have struggled with this question since DAY 1 of my voice over business. There are several questions I continually ask myself. What is the best microphone to use on my voice? Which microphone will sound best in my studio. What is the dreaded “industry standard”? Do I need to spend a lot of money in order to get a great sound?

This last question is perhaps the one that has plagued me the most. I started out my VO journey with the venerable, AT2020 from Audio Technica, a mic that retails for $99 and can sometimes be found for as little as $50, used. It sounded good to my novice ears and I used it for work right away. Before long, however, I started to wonder, all the above questions. So, I decided I needed to upgrade. I moved to another model from Audio Technica the AT3035. Also, sounded great, and I used it to record my first 3 audiobooks. In a pattern that will soon become evident, I decided that the 3035 was too sibilant, and was picking up too much mouth noise. Enter the NTG 3, too boomy, Oktava MK 319, too dark, SM7B, too muddy, MXL 990? Too brittle. So I tried a few other microphones, mostly Large Diaphragm condensers, the full list of which will make you either click away, or think I’m completely insane, neither of which is good!

Fast forward to the new year. I have now been through 25 microphones, and a funny thing happened…I am now BACK to using the Audio Technica AT2020!, two of them to be exact. I have always liked having 2 microphones in the studio. The reason is, I like to have the ability to stand or sit as the mood strikes me, and being slightly OCD (massively depending on who you ask…my wife perhaps?) I don’t like to move the mics for fear of not being able to get them just right back into the sweet spot. Most reads I do standing, however, for audiobooks and really anything over 15 minutes in length, I like to sit. So, I now employ the AT2020 USB for long form work. So what has changed? Why would I go back to the same mic on which I started? There are several reasons.

  1. After going through several brands, it is my opinion that certain manufacturers have the same tonal qualities in a lot of their products. For my voice, in my space, Audio Technica as a whole are a really good fit.
  2. The AT2020 is not a large diaphragm condenser. The capsule is 16mm. For me, a less sensitive mic is good for a few reasons. My Whisper Room has some bleed through of highway rumble. I used to use shotgun mics to deal with this, but the smaller capsule of the AT2020 helps with this as well. The other reason is that the lower sensitivity helps with mouth clicks. It turns out, I just have a clicky mouth!
  3. The price! I have tried microphones at nearly every possible price, from a $100 AT897 to a $1700 TLM 49. The AT2020 holds up for me. Did the NTG 3 sound great? Sure it did! Did it sound $500 better? NO!

So it appears, in spite of my champagne dreams for microphones, it really turns out that I have a beer voice! The simple yet effective Audio Technica AT2020 sounds great on my voice in my studio, and as our friend George Whittam is fond of saying, “If it sounds good, It’s good!”

There’s No Networking in Voice Over! Or is There?

You have heard the saying a million times…”It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know”. But, bbut, I thought it was about the acting? It is, and of course, as a voice actor, you won’t get anywhere if you can’t act (it’s in the name after all) but the same rules that apply to any other business apply to voice over as well. So, while you may bristle at hearing that axiom once again, in voice over, you really need to be networking. This may occur over the internet, in the form of Facebook Groups or bulletin boards. It may occur through email correspondence. It should, however, also occur in PERSON! Yes, this is a people business. Though as voice actors, we may spend an inordinate amount of time in what amounts to tiny little boxes, often the best relationships still are created, or in some cases boosted by in person interaction. There are a myriad of industry events to attend, from trade shows like VO Atlanta or The Audio Publishers Association Conference (APAC) to fun events like the infamous Uncle Roy’s BBQ. You could literally spend your entire year bouncing from one event to another. Something can be gained from all of these events, but…you must have a plan.

Case in point. Over a recent weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to The Voice Over Cafe Holiday Extravaganza. Voice actors and actresses from all over the world were in attendance, no really! There were veterans with more experience than you could imagine, as well as people completely new to the business, and everyone in between. While there was no shortage of great people to meet, this was first and foremost A PARTY! People were there to socialize, and have fun. Still, as someone who had “met” a lot of industry folks through social media, there were very few with whom I had the pleasure of shaking hands. Actually, I take that back, there were ZERO. So, I went into the party with a few networking tricks in my back pocket from my days in B2B sales.

  1. I had my elevator pitch. I knew what I do, what I don’t do, and what I wanted to do in the future, all in a 30 second speech
  2. I had business cards, and they were current! I can’t tell you how important this is. Even if you only get asked one or two times, you have to be ready when the need arises. I actually met someone at the party who could have used some help in this regard. We talked for a while and we eventually exchanged cards. As we did, this fellow asked me to borrow a pen because his “new website was not on the card”. Don’t be that guy!
  3. I had a definitive list of attendees I wanted to meet. Not an actual list, just a sort of mental rolodex. As I went about having conversations (and maybe a few adult beverages) I made sure I talked to almost all of the people on my “list”. Not all were great conversations. Some were as simple as saying “I really wanted to meet you because I admire your work”. Others turned into long diatribes by me, or the other person, the topics of which I can’t even tell you now!

The point is, to use the time to your advantage. If you do it correctly, you’ll meet a lot of people, and have some actual real conversations. I don’t think I gave out more than 2 business cards at this entire 6 hour party, but I made some great friends “in real life” and will have some great stories. It’s worth noting that this party happens annually, and though I was in the business at this time last year, I was still VERY new. I didn’t have any of the things in my list ready, and would have probably had a poor experience had I chosen to attend. Also, I’m not sure I was invited…

Finally, I’m going to leave you with my super secret networking tip I learned long ago when I was working in insurance. The best way to approach a networking event, is to go in with the mindset of trying to make connections for other people. Now stay with me because this is like the Jedi mind trick of networking. It works not only on the people you talk to, but your own mind! When you walk into a room and somebody starts telling you about their business, listen…really listen. Don’t just pass the time waiting for your chance to talk about what you do. Then go to the next person and do it again. Soon, you will find people who can help each other. In the voice over world, you may speak to an actor who told you he needs a new commercial demo. Across the room, you see a producer with whom you’ve always wanted to work. Here is where the magic happens. You grab your new friend, and march over to said producer and introduce your friend, saying something like “hey, I know you do great work, Johnny here was just telling me he needs a new demo”. “Oh, bye the way, I’m Paul”.

What just happened? You found a way to introduce yourself to someone you always wanted to meet, and you have brought them a potential client! You have also helped out your new friend by fulfilling their needs! Networking Jedi mind trick. I have used this approach for decades in every type of business and it always works because it takes the pressure off of everybody. You don’t feel shy because you are working on somebody else’s behalf. Also, it gives you a built in “wing-man” and who doesn’t feel more confident when they have somebody along with them to have their back? You also don’t seem pushy to the person you are trying to meet because you are not talking about yourself.

With all the events in the voice over community, it really does behoove you to check some of them out. Keep the above checklist in mind and as Frankie MacDonald says BE PREPARED!

MAVO 2016

I attended my first voice over conference this past weekend. With all the other things going on this time of year, I was only able to make one day of MAVO, the Mid-Atlantic Voice Over conference 2016 http://www.midatlanticvo.com/. Luckily it takes place almost in my backyard. So, when I heard they offered a one day pass, I jumped in my car and headed south from Baltimore, Maryland, around the dreaded Washington D.C. Beltway on my way to Herndon Virginia. Typical of the totally random patterns that is D.C. traffic, I got to the conference location in 1 hour. Problem was, I was an hour EARLY! I swear to you, that same drive has taken me 1 hour, 2 hours, and even over 3 hours! You just never know. This time I was lucky and hit no vehicular traffic, but it also meant that when I entered the hotel there was no people traffic either. There was one brave soul, Sean Daeley, representing the Global Voice Acting Academy GVAA, http://globalvoiceacademy.com/. That guy is dedicated!

Eventually, others started to wander in, mostly heading straight for the coffee. As I met the first few brave souls I was instantly greeted with “Oh, you’re Paul, we were wondering when you were coming” no less than 6 times. The conference organizers had placed all the badges out on the first day for people to pick up as they arrived. Then they just left them there. There were only 4 people who didn’t show up on the first day, me being one of them. So, people kept seeing my name tag all day and wondering who I was and why I wasn’t there. Accidental conference marketing strategy number 1. It was like I was a celebrity for no other reason, than I didn’t show up on time!

When the conference organizers arrived for the new morning, I picked up my badge and goodie bag, (Yay!) and was on my way. I networked a little, then got down to business. Along with the aforementioned Sean Daeley, I had planned to do a Live recording of our podcast The VO Meter http://www.vometer.com during the conference; marketing strategy number 2. I had no idea how that would work, and I’m not sure Sean had thought more about it either, but we were determined to give it the old college try. So, prior to the first session, we set up the mic and the computer and I grabbed the first person who would talk to me. Conference marketing tip number 3…It’s much easier to talk to people from behind an exhibitor table. If you are able to be a sponsor, you can literally talk to people as they walk by. It’s like meeting everybody but only having to do half the work! So after speaking with attendee and Voice actor John Grossman, I went to my first session. A fabulous speech by Sunday Muse http://www.sundaymuse.com/ on emotion and how to allow that to enter your work. That was followed by a great general session on tech by Dan Friedman of http://sound4vo.com/ fame, an animation panel featuring Herb Moore, Kara Edwards, Sara Sherman, and Jason Linere White, a great character development session with Jason, and finally a closing session with David Goldberg of Edge Studio, www.edgestudio.com

In between, things got kind of crazy. Sean and I just starting grabbing the presenters and putting them on the show. In some cases, as we were in different sessions, the two of us didn’t even know we had interviewed some of the guests until we met again at the end of the day. Sean interviewed, Sunday, Nicola Richards, Val Kelly, I spoke with John Florian of Voice Over Xtra, http://voiceoverxtra.com/, Jason Linere White, and Sean Pratt, and we even added in a few general attendees. Everybody was so gracious and caring it was truly unbelievable. I even won a door prize at the end, a free 1 hour coaching session with Jason!

I have to say, the entire experience was fabulous. I got more out of it than I ever could have imagined, and I was only there for 1o hours! I met lots of VO friends who I knew from Facebook or Twitter but had never met online, and met several completely new friends. Next time I am going for the whole conference for sure.

Thanks to Val Kelly, http://www.valkellyvoiceover.com/ for organizing such a great event, all the presenters, the sponsors and especially Vocalboothtogo, http://www.vocalboothtogo.com who were kind enough to let Sean and I use their Carry On Vocal booth the whole show for our interviews.

If you are even wondering if going to a VO conference is worth your time, I assure, it will be.

That time I started a podcast

I have been thinking about starting a podcast for a while. I always liked the idea of setting up a microphone and just “vamping” for as long I could; I guess it’s the old radio deejay in me. The trick was, I never really had a reason!

Now that I have passed my 1 year anniversary of posting my first honest to goodness voice over audition, I had an idea. I wanted to give back to the community that has been so good to me in my young career. This was the main reason I started this blog as well.

So, along with fellow growing voice actor Sean Daeley we launched The VO Meter podcast last week! As is the case with most of my marketing efforts, very little in the way of planning was put into the preparation, at least on paper. Sure I had some ideas, and I did take the time to get some artwork, and music for the channel, but that was really it. With Sean recently back from his sojourn around the world, we just decided on a Wednesday afternoon to jump on Source Connect Now and do the darn thing! You can check it out at the new dedicated podcast website http://www.vometer.com

Well, how did it go you may be asking? Surprisingly well! There were a few hiccups, most notably, that 10 minutes into the session I realized I had no idea how to record both sides of the conversation. Working on that now. Other technical issues ensued, but we persevered.Luckily, neither Sean or I have a problem rambling on for extended periods of time so content should not be a problem. After some quick mixing and editing, we had the thing posted a mere 4 hours later!

The entire goal of the show is to help newcomers to the Voice Over field navigate the minefield that is starting a career in this crazy business. We would love to hear your thoughts, please check out the show, download it, and let us know what you think!

Thanks for listening

Do You Talk To Your Agents?

Oh the lessons we learn in this crazy business we call VO. As my colleague Tom Dheere was no doubt penning his own blog http://tomdheere.com/blog/ about communicating with agents, I was once again slapped in the face with a similar business lesson.

I have been fortunate to have landed an agent to represent me in my short time as a voice actor, several in fact. One such agent is out of Philadelphia. When I signed with the agency the owner told me they don’t get many voice over requests. I appreciated the honesty, but sill signed. Though I live in Baltimore now, I was born and raised in Philadelphia so I was excited to be represented in my home town. This, as someone who still considers Rocky Balboa the greatest athlete to hail from the “city of brotherly love”.

At any rate, it had been some time since I had heard from said agent. Not one to rock the boat I had not followed up in a while. I assumed the agents were busy and they’d contact me when they had something. Then today I contacted them. I wanted to talk about doing some marketing to some local media contacts. The owner responded and kindly pointed out that some of the “paperwork” they ask all new talent to do was missing. There are several casting sites that I was to create profiles for as a new talent. I thought I had done this. When I went to the sites, however, both said my account was inactive! It seems I missed a step in both places and the account was deactivated after a few months! The agency was understandably miffed at me for not doing what they asked. Note, nobody told me this but I can read between the lines. I know how I would feel if I had been in the same position.

Well, suffice it to say I NOW have filled out all the requested information. The agent said “I’m glad you emailed Paul”. Probably not coincidentally, I also received an audition from the agent today.

So the moral of the story is, communicate, communicate, communicate! It’s great to land with an agent. As Tom points out, they are not a panacea for your career. However, if you want them to help you, make sure you let them! Follow their instructions, and for Pete’s sake, TALK TO THEM!

Don’t Sell Yourself Short!

It can be tough to value yourself and your talents when you run your own business. There is always the inner thoughts in your mind about what is “fair” based on your experience, training and perceived talent. This is especially true of those in the arts.

If you ever want to be successful, as well as taken seriously in your marketplace, however, you have to charge fair rates. Well, what is the best way to do that? In my opinion, there are several best practices. One way is to ask those that have come before you. Look around at what those people you respect in the business are doing. If their rates are not published, Ask! The voiceover community especially is incredibly helpful to those who seek guidance respectfully and tactfully. A second way to get a grasp on fair rates is to look to advocacy groups. For voice actors there is no better place than the World Voices Organization or WoVo (www.world-voices.org). In fact yours truly just participated in their monthly rates roundtable where we discussed this very topic. You can watch the full video here http://youtu.be/BmBInKWw8m0.

This brings me to this week’s real world example. One of the topics discussed in the roundtable was how to set up a fair rate at the beginning of your business and stick to it. So this week I quoted a client on an elearning piece. The client accepted my bid but came back to me with a request for syncing the voice to an existing video…in Russian! I immediately put on the brakes and said “you didn’t mention syncing in the job listing, this will require an extra fee”. I wasn’t being greedy, just honest to both the client and myself. How much extra work there really was to do was even more than I imagined (but that is a lesson for a different day).

Anyway, I quoted the client an additional fee that was a full 50% of the original price for the entire job. You know what happened? They said yes, immediately, and off we went.

So the moral of this week’S story? Know your rates, stick to your guns and Don’t Sell Yourself Short!

Trust the Experts!

This week I learned a valuable lesson. Know what you know, know what you don’t, and most importantly once you seek the advice of experts, Listen to them!

I have been struggling with getting my sound right. I have spent months worth of time researching, tweaking, and researching some more. As a voice actor here in Baltimore, I had a local sound engineer based in Maryland, come out and listen to my setup. I sought out and paid for advice from experts all over the country. Even had the incomparable George Whittam set my up with his Twisted Wave stacks for processing auditions. I had finally gotten to a place where technically, my sound is quite good, dare I say “Broadcast Quality”? No, I would never use those words. The thing is, the results were not there on my auditions. So, off I went making changes. New mic, new interface, new mic position. “This has to be the reason” I told myself. Well, a few weeks went by and the results were largely the same. A few small gigs here and there but I was still being largely ignored by the big jobs.

Even further exasperated I went back to what was setup by the experts, namely the Twisted Wave Stacks. I also put back my existing mic and interface. I started working with George again and he told me my setup “Sounds Excellent!”. Additionally, I set off on completing a new demo with the great Terry Daniel. I wanted to create something from my space so that potential clients would hear a true representation of what they would get when they hired me. Terry assured me my space sounded “expletive deleted…Professional!”.

With two more reassurances, (and exclamation points to boot!) I started sending out auditions again. Wouldn’t you know it, I booked a job on a P2P just days later. Here’s the kicker. The job was supposed to be done via phone patch next week. The client not only hired me, but they decided to cancel the session and just use the audition in the final cut. They said “We don’t need the phone patch Paul, you nailed the audition!”

So, the moral of the story is…Create a good studio sound. Seek out good advice, and hire the people who know the industry of course. However, when you get a setup up that works, don’t mess with it, and by all means TRUST THE EXPERTS!

Thanks for listening.




Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Necessity is the Mother of Invention. You have heard the adage a thousand times. I experienced this again this week. It was 100 degrees in Charm City several days this week. Heat index (still not sure this is a real thing) makes it “feel” like 115 degrees! My booth, made up entirely of sound absorbing panels gets to 90 degrees in the middle of winter. Imagine how terrible it gets when the temperature outside gets this hot? Oh, and did I mention, with the city of Baltimore being nearly at sea level, we also have 100% humidity. Yay!

So something had to be done. I looked around for some turn key ventilation systems and found them to be overly complicated and expensive. So, I did what any self respecting personal studio owner would do, I MADE THE DARN THING MYSELF. After all, my actual booth is really a drum shield, that I cobbled together to make it more sound proof. After I was done adding sound absorbing blankets to the walls and surrounding windows, I started affectionately calling my space “Franken Booth”. It is so lovely. Massive space hog on the outside, yet with only 3.2 by 2.8 feet of space on the inside. I get the worst of all worlds!

Anyway, I digress; back to ventilation. I went online to Amazon to buy an exhaust fan, typically used for venting pipes or air ducts. Mine was a 4 inch wide model. Then I bought some 4 inch flexible aluminum duct, 25 feet of it. The space I was shoving this contraption into was only 2 inches wide so I also needed a 4 inch to 3 inch duct reducer. Finally, I used a 2 inch PVC elbow joint as the lead into the booth. All product links will be at the bottom if you want to see the full list. After all was connected (with some hello kitty duct tape from my daughter) I pushed the whole line in through the cable pass through of my booth. Now here’s the fun part. I needed a way to turn on the fan remotely. The fan has no switches by default, it only powers on or off when it’s plugged in. For this 10 minute project I was not about to install a junction box and switch assembly. So, I plugged my old Clapper into the wall, and the fan into it. Now to turn it on, I just clap on! I do need to open the booth door for the device to hear me, but it’s a minor inconvenience. Lastly, I did figure out, with some help from facebook friends, that the best way to ventilate a booth like this is to actually SUCK air out as opposed to blowing it in. I did test both ways and found this to be true.

The results? Not bad! I can feel it noticeably cooler when I’m in the booth for long periods. it raises the noise floor by about 2 db, but that is not enough to get into my microphone. All in all a great process!

If you’d like to see the video I made outlining the process you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ly6Yen66UgU