Voiceovers by Gregory Houser
A man, a martini, and a lot of microphones.: May 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Psst... want to learn a quick trick?

It's late, I'm still up reading chapters from a book on SOA (don't ask), and I've got less than four hours before I have to be up for my day tomorrow.

So let me pass along a quick trick that might just help you out the next time you're in a voiceover session. It's my way of passing the time before I can actually fall asleep, but also gives me a chance to teach a trick that you might be able to put to good use.

For this trick, you're going to need a half-decent preamp, but really any preamp will do so long as it has the ability to trim the output. I'm going to use a Great River MP-2NV to illustrate what I mean:

You can see that there's a gain knob and an output level knob.

Here's the trick. We want to make this discrete, transformer preamp sound like a tube pre. Piece of cake, but most people who use these for spoken word don't try it. Maybe they don't know, or they just prefer to use the top end of the preamp... I don't know. What I do know is that when we over-saturate the transformer in this preamp (or any preamp with a good transformer; I think the MP-20 might be another good example... and it was less than $500 when it was originally available on the market) we get that "tubey" sound caused by the harmonic distortion achieved by squeezing the input in this fashion. In a lot of cases, this is a really fun, and useful means of giving some character to our voiceover tracks (I've found it to be particularly good for narrations or something that required a "tubey" sound when I didn't want to actually use a tube preamp; on some preamps, you'll have an effect that is similar to using a compressor... each preamp is a little different).

Your recorded tracks will be a little more defined in the mix using this technique, but be warned that this is a trick you want to use sparingly. For the most part, it's smarter practice to track your voice over clean and go from there (and yes, you can run a prerecorded track into certain preamps and do this trick if you'd like; the LMNOPre is a personal favorite of mine, but personally I'm addicted to that preamp... God only knows how I'd react to an NPNG preamp).

BTW: you can also do this trick with tube-based preamps as well, but you'll probably notice that you quickly move from and extremely tubey sound to something that sounds like it just went through a limiter (especially with the LaChapell preamps using stock tubes for some reason).

Each preamp is a bit different, but that's part of the fun. You can find many different ways to get to the same end result so long as you have the skill.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Juliet Landau interview

The folks at Mania have a special treat for fans of "Green Lantern", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", or "Angel" in the form of an interview with Juliet Landau, who is plays the role of Labella in DC's next animated film, "Green Lantern: First Flight". The interview gets a little into the voice over work that Landau has done for the film (a quick check of credits shows that Juliet has more experience in front of the mic for animated features than one might expect).

A link to the interview can be found here. For those who work in voice over, it's her response to the first question in the interview really hits home, and should be taken to heart.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Giving credit where it's due.

You know, there are times when I am happy to be proven wrong. This is one of them.

I'm talking about Voice123.

I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that I'm a staunch supporter. Anyone who reads my comments on other blogs and forums knows that I do my best to be objective, but I call it like I see it whether it's good, bad, or indifferent. Unfortunately, most of what we hear when it comes to customer comments or reviews are negative. It's how people are, so I wanted to make sure that I said this before it was forgotten.

The other day, I was doing some maintenance to my V123 account, and had run into some issues with the interface (it happens). More importantly though, I was trying to get a link from their site to mine (hey, I have a link to their site... it's only fair =-), but the V123 rules stated that the link had to be directly made to the page that links to their site. Based on that rule, I couldn't link my profile on their site to where I needed it to be on my site (I have a separate section for that kind of stuff). So I follow the process and then follow up with an e-mail explaining the situation and asking that the referral back be put at my site's homepage.

Frankly, I wasn't expecting much, nor was I expecting a response. It's not exactly within the "letter" of the law when it comes to the posted guideline, and it's such a minor item amongst the multitude of customer requests they get every day that I figured it'd get lost in the maelstrom of stuff that technical support staff are normally subjected to (long before embarking on my career, I'd worked in technical support, which is often an overwhelming job).

24 hours later I was surprised to see an e-mail in my inbox that was different than the others normally received by V123. It was a response from customer support identifying my request, and letting me know that the proper links had been made, even complimenting me on the site design and layout. The Voice 123 response was professional, but took the time to be personal as well.

I know that to most, these things are minor. When it's related to your site and your business, it's not. Such is the nature of things with running a business. My thanks to Julian for making my experience a pleasant one.

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R.I.P. Wayne Allwine

For those who hadn't heard, Wayne Allwine - the voice of Mickey Mouse passed away yesterday.

Wayne started doing the voice of Mickey back in 1977, taking over the role from Jimmy MacDonald, becoming the third person to supply the voice (after Walt Disney, and later MacDonald). As of 2009 Wayne had been the voice actor for the character longer than anyone else, and was officially inducted into the Disney Legends Program in 2008.

Thanks to the folks at Disney Blog for a very moving and informative tribute to Mr. Allwine.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Success & value

Over on Seth Godin's blog, Seth writes a quick post regarding the concept of value. It's an interesting read, but more importantly goes to the idea of what we all strive for within the voice over business (or any business). That is, success.

You see, success is the addition of value to any given work effort or enterprise, and despite what a lot of people think, that does not necessitate being busy all of the time. If you want to be successful, you need to add value to whatever it is that you're doing, and Seth's post raises a very important point as to how you ought to be doing it in your voice over business.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Martini Lounge

Sorry, but I couldn't resist since it's up on the artist's website:

In case you're wondering whether this sign is in the studio... you betcha!

I wouldn't have had it custom made otherwise. Sometimes, you just have to let your branding win out when it comes to the decoration in your studio.

On the flip side... I've no doubt that now I'll be stuck with a minor shrine to the Philadelphia Phillies when the time comes (which won't be long now... looking at houses as we speak). While I have some voice over memorabilia from the Phils, she's the sports nut.

I'm just nuts... =-)

BTW: for those wondering who the artist is, the studio sign came from the mind and talent of a very groovy individual by the name of Steve Cambronne.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Power Behind the Mic

Backstage has a really good, and timely article regarding what agents look for in voiceover talent.

With so many people attempting to learn more about the business, and with the economy in the shape that it's currently in, it's definitely good to know just what things you need to do to help yourself stand out of the crowd and get representation.

For the voiceover veterans among us, most of the article is a no-brainer but it's worth reading anyway, as a reminder.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Financial Accounting for Voice Actors

I can't believe that I actually have to talk about it, but after reading a very interesting post on one of the better-known voice acting boards, it's obvious that some folks aren't too well versed in the topic. On the one hand, that's not too surprising... if we were really into that kind of stuff, we'd probably not be voice actors. On the flip side, if you're trying to run a Voice Over business, then I think some basic accounting needs to be understood.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: just because someone paid you for a product or service does not mean that you generated a profit!

I'll repeat myself: sales of a product/service do not equal profit. You've generated revenue from a sale. These are your sales, and can only be considered revenue after it has been earned and realized (meaning that you delivered the product/service and got paid).

Sales revenue usually implies multiple sales over a period of time. However, even in a single instance we can apply some accounting to show you just where your profit is. You take your sales and you find the difference between that and whatever returns from sales and allowances you had to apply. This gives you your Net Sales In other words:

Net Sales = Sales - Sales returns and allowances

Seems simple, right? We don't count revenue for something that was returned or allowances made to consumers. BTW: this is considered to be your Sales Revenue.

Next step. Let's figure out our Gross Profit. Hey, we're finally using the term "profit" so that's how much we've earned, right? Not quite, but we're getting there. Your Gross Profit is defined as:

Gross Profit = Net Sales - Cost of Goods Sold (which include whatever it costs the business to make the sale and other direct costs attributed to this act)

So now we know how much profit we have, right? Yeah, but that doesn't really tell us how much we actually get to keep. You see, there are other things which we have to consider, such as our operating expenses. Deduct that and you get your Net Income, which is your bottom line for the business (i.e., tells you whether or not your business is generating money or losing it... from a high level of perspective). Put another way:

Net Income = Gross Profit - Total Operating Expenses

Now it's possible to fib on the numbers with some creative accounting to make your Net Income look better than it is (just ask the folks at Arthur Andersen and Enron), but for our purposes this model will suffice.

So the next time someone trys to use sales as a means of profit, you'll know how to stop them dead in their tracks before it affects your understanding of the situation, or worse yet, the financial health and viability of your voice over business from a financial standpoint.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The most important tool in your studio.

Any guesses?

C'mon... take a guess. What do you think the most important thing in your voiceover studio is?

I'll even make it easy, it's not the microphone (though God knows, most voice over folks seem to think that it is).

It's not your preamp.

It's not the interface.

It's not the room.

It's not even your voice (again, a lot of voice over folks think that it's all about the voice... I want to blog about this later, but I assure you that voice is just one part of voice acting, and not the most important).

Know what it is? It's your ears. Seriously, can you tell anything about any aspect of recording or voice over without your ears? If so, please let me know, because I can't tell whether a room has reflection issues without my ears (unless I want to crunch some numbers... walking around a room and using my ears while generating a tone is much easier), I can't tell whether or not a preamp, microphone, or other piece of equipment is doing anything for the track I'm working on without my ears, and I surely can't tell how my work as a voice actor is fitting in the mix without my ears.

You'd be amazed how hard it is for some folks to get the message. Just the other day I was reading a post from a well-known and respected talent who decided in their own clever way to take a shot at folks for the poor production value of their self-made demos and various other clips. It was a deserved comment (though perhaps not so acerbic, but that's a personal choice), but the one thing that really, REALLY concerned me about this person's comment was that they didn't explain the easiest way to identify and fix this problem. It was obvious that the folks doing the work had some talent, but whomever did the mixing wasn't trusting their ears. Anyone listening realized that was the main problem, but instead the online conversation focused more on other issues. The point, which was unfortunately lost, was that if someone had trusted their ears a bit more, the final product from their work would have probably been much better.

This brings me back to my original point; your ears are the most important thing in your studio. And yet, most voice talent don't give them a second thought, and even fewer spend the time and effort to find a good way to use them properly. If you're doing a voice over for a website, then by all mean use computer speakers at some point during the process since that's what most of your audience is going to use, but do not negate the need for actual studio monitors to use while tracking and during the later phases of mixing and mastering. If you're not doing the actual production of your recorded tracks then there's no need to invest a huge amount into your studio monitors, but it's still a worthwhile investment for yourself (it's easier to deal with issues when tracking then it is to try to edit them out afterward). Good studio monitors aren't going to make your work sound better, but they will give you a level of accuracy which will allow you to make your final product better. At the end of the day, isn't that the point?

If you're not sure whether or not your ears are sensitive enough to pick up issues in your tracking or mixing, there's only one way to deal with that... practice. Just like everything else, you've got to start at the bottom if you truly want to improve you skills.

So the next time you're sitting around thinking about what wonderful toy you have to have for your studio, think about your ears for a bit and figure out what they need to do their job. Sure, that shiny Neumann looks nice, but for the money I'm willing to bet you that a nice pair of Klein & Hummel, Adam, or Dynaudio monitors will end up giving you a lot more bang for your buck. And don't get me wrong, you'll love anything from those guys, and even the boutique manufacturers, but any studio monitor that's got a relatively un-biased sound will do the trick and they can be had at nearly all price points. Price is not necessarily a barrier to entry for good monitors, at least not quite as bad as it it for other pieces of studio equipment.

In the end, the important thing is that whatever you do to your recording environment and whatever gear you get, if you feel the need to get anything at all, so long as you learn to trust your ears and give them the right resources to judge your recording sessions, then whatever cash outflow you've expended will eventually be returned to you with interest, whatever time you spend learning to train your ears to be more sensitive to the things which plague any voice over production will make you more efficient and profitable.

Hmmnn... adding value to the business. Regardless of how you do it, isn't that the very definition of success?

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Well here's a blast from the past...

The funny thing about the Internet is that some stuff seems to turn up no matter how old it is. Take for instance this article I wrote probably close to 4-5 years back. I never thought I'd find it while doing some SEO research for the site. Guess it just goes to show you that once it's on the net, there's no taking it back.

For some folks that's not a good thing, but in this instance I don't think I'll mind ;-)

FWIW: I'm still writing stuff occasionally (not just on this blog). That said, here's some more recent stuff that I did for Voice Over Extra. While I'm not Hemingway with a blog, at least some of my insights are useful to others. In the end, it's knowing that what you're doing can help others that makes all the effort worth while.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Why I don't like microphone shootouts.

Okay, let me clarify that statement. I don't like most microphone shootouts, especially for voiceover. Here's a few reasons why:
  1. Most people doing them don't know how - I'm sorry for having to be the one to say it, but I am. You need to maintain a certain standard of quality and impartiality when you do any kind of comparison, and normally I just don't see it in the shootouts people use on most boards and websites.
  2. Different sources are used for different microphones, which makes it impossible to judge any of the microphones used - I want you to think about this. How can you know how one microphone sounds when compared to another when two different sources are being recorded. A microphone sounds different from person to person, so once you've injected two people on two different mics, you've just invalidated your experiement and any conclusions that you draw from it. Sure, mic A might be darker than mic B, but if one of the sources is a low baritone and the other is a tenor 2, then how much difference can I really tell is between the two mics tested? The answer is "not much".
  3. Different mics are used on different recording chains - If reason #2 didn't point out the problem, then the fact that so many "shootouts" and "comparisons" use different preamps, cables, DAWs, EQs, etc. (i.e., your recording chain) should raise a big flag to you. In the recording chain, your microphone and preamp are two of the biggest factors in the quality and characterization of sound that are going to affect the recording of your source (the source itself and the environment of the recording space are the most important things to any recording, but for the recording chain, your mic and preamp are the biggest factors to take into consideration IME). If I'm recording a U87 using a John Hardy preamp and trying to compare that mic to an AK-47 recorded through a D.W. Fearn, then I'm going to have a really difficult time being able to determine where the line is drawn between microphone and preamp. It's going to be impossible to properly compare the two microphones. You need to have consistency within the recording chain so that when you change one element within that chain (the microphone) to compare it to another, the listener can habituate everything else in the chain and concentrate on the two items being compared. Makes sense, right? And yet few people compare microphones that way.
  4. Observational bias and sound quality - If you don't like one brand of microphone, then you're going to be hard pressed to be subjective about it when your compare it to other brands. That's observational bias and it's a common trait. If you're human, you've got it... accept it and move on. There's not a whole lot you can do about it unless you're the listener, in which case you need to learn to recognize when you're doing it. The quality of recording though... different story. Most microphone shootouts I hear use MP3 formatted clips. It's a lossy format, so I know from the start that I'm not getting the full sound that I ought to be getting. That's kind of bad. What makes it worse, is that some folks reduce the bit rate of the recording to the lowest level they can in order to save space. Listen, I know that you don't want folks to have to download a 100MB file just to hear a pair of microphones, but the more you take away from the quality of the recording, the harder it is for the rest of us to be able to judge the difference in the two sounds. In the attempts to make life easy for the listener, you've just taken away our ability to properly critique what you're doing. It's not worth it.
  5. It's not you that they're recording - This is the most important factor to consider when dealing with a microphone shootout. Everybody sounds different, so every microphone is going to sound a little different. The same holds true for your recording environment. Put it together, and you quickly realize that the best way for a person to understand which microphone is going to work best for them is for them to take the microphone into their own place and record it with their own voice. It's going to be the most accurate way to learn how two different microphones affect a source. Microphone shootouts (when done properly) can give you a good starting indication, but until you get some face time with the tools themselves, you're working from a generalized point of view instead of your own working knowledge of the device,
Transom Tools has one of the best microphone shootouts I've ever heard. That the shootout is over three years old and is still considered to be one of the best comparison of voice over mics out there is a testament to the care and quality they put into their testing. If you're looking for a mic shootout, I can't think of anything online that is as well done as what these guys put together.

If only they could have offered the files as WAV... still, they're light years beyond anything else I've found online.


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