Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Put Me In, Coach!

I had a very insightful and informative session with my Voice Over coach yesterday.  And it brought to light that hiring a coach is invaluable.

If you're like me, you have a home studio and crank out quite a few auditions each and every day.  If you're a member of the pay-to-play sites, the extent of your feedback is maybe a green check mark, thumbs up icon or the equally ambiguous "considering", "not likely" or "finalist".  Not much of a critique, especially when you're just starting out or do voice over "on the side". 

Having a coach makes all the difference.  A coach is a mentor.  They are a pro at voice over (if you have the right one) and can listen to your efforts and evaluate both technically and creatively.  And believe me, I've learned that's important in this highly competitive industry. 

Having a coach is hiring an objective ear.  There is NO WAY you can listen to one of your recordings and properly evaluate it.  There is NO WAY a significant other can evaluate it (even if they are in the industry).  A coach, while they do have a vested interest in you and your career, can listen, evaluate and provide you with a constructive critique.  You can't count on a significant other to do the same, that's for sure.

I'll be honest and say that I didn't think I needed a coach.  I've been doing voice-over as a freelancer for years.  But in just one session, I walked out with information of not only how to voice a "spot", but also how to analyze the copy.  Get INTO the copy, feel what the copywriter/client is trying to achieve.  You can't ignore copy direction, but you can give the direction your personal spin.  They may want "Sam Elliott" but your read, with some passion and "feeling", might just make them think "Hey, this is what we want!" Score one for the talent...and a pleased client that will come back for more.

I now realize I need a coach.  I need that direction; that insight only a professional can give.  And, I'm pretty confident that this is going to lead to better things and, importantly, more pleased clients and repeat business.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Clap for the Wolfman

After I wrote the piece on Ernie Anderson, I recalled another episode of naivety on my part back in the '70's.  It involved one of my heroes, Wolfman Jack.

As a teen in high school I used to turn on my transistor late at night to listen to The Wolfman.  At the time he was broadcasting on a 50,000 watt station out of Tijuana, Mexico, XERB.  The station was so powerful The Wolfman could be heard almost anywhere West of the Rockies.  If you recall the movie American Graffiti, the kids were all listening to The Wolfman.  Of course, in the movie they made The Wolfman a local.  But I bet George Lucas, who wrote the film, recalled his teen days listen to The Wolfman howling on his AM radio as I did.

Jump ahead about 5 years or so later and I was a Disc Jockey at WTBO, in Cumberland, Maryland.  The station played all the latest rock hits and I was in the "air chair" every night entertaining.  WTBO was an affiliate of NBC Radio, carrying their five minute national broadcast at the top of the hour.

During that time frame, The Wolfman made major industry headlines by getting hired to do the evening rock show on New York's WNBC.  It was the station's latest effort to dethrone Cousin Brucie, the jock that owned the night-time in the Big Apple.

So, Mr. Naive (me), thought of myself and The Wolfman as both being NBC employees, so to speak.  And, with our station getting ready to kick off a big local contest, who better to "voice" one of our contest promos than the one and only Wolfman Jack.  So, I picked up the station phone one night and called WNBC and asked for The Wolfman.

Wolfman Jack
I really had no idea what to expect.  I talked to one person, told them I wanted The Wolfman to record some copy over the telephone for my station in Western Maryland.  He hemmed and hawed, but eventually passed me onto another guy.  I explained again.  Got the same type of response from this guy.  He put me on hold.  The next voice I heard was my hero, Wolfman Jack!

He asked me what I wanted and I just told him, like we were Disc Jockey fraternity brothers or something.  He listen to my spiel and then said he was a little busy, so if what I wanted him to say was short enough, he would do it.   I scribbled a 10-second or so piece of copy and read it to him.  He said OK (actually "OK, baby") and read it.  I had been recording the conversation and got it all.  But then he told me he didn't like the way he read it and did it again.  Then again.  Four takes in all.  I told him thanks, but I ended up thanking the dial tone as he had already hung up.

I was on cloud nine.  I got to talk to my childhood hero!  And he recorded liners we could air on our station, too.

Well, my fellow WTBO DJs were mighty impressed.  And I was in 7th heaven for weeks.  The problem was the recordings he made for me were on a regular telephone line, so the quality was pretty bad.  We didn't care, we ran them anyway.  Only thing was, our listeners didn't think it really was The Wolfman.  Because of the poor quality they thought we hired someone to do an impression. But I didn't was truly The Wolfman.

Another example of a "big name" not being so big headed to talk to a young fan.  Much older now, I look back fondly at times like these and hope, someday, I'll be able to help some young person along with their dreams.

Sadly Wolfman Jack left us in 1995.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Thank You, Ernie

Quite a few years ago, when I was in the advertising business, I learned how great some of the greats truly are.

Back in the late '80's I didn't have a clue about Unions, scale or even how to book a talent.  I just thought you picked up the phone and and said "hey, can you do this for me?"

We were grand opening a new shopping mall in New Jersey.  A brilliant jingle composer named Dan Milner had produced a piece that was truly wonderful.  It was a bluesy sounding "song" that fit our demographics and the sound of popular music at the time.  After I heard it, I knew there was one voice that would work with it; the "Love Boat guy" from ABC.

I didn't even know the guy's name.  We just knew he did all the promo announcements for the ABC Network including "the Loooove Boat".  So, not knowing any better, I dialed up ABC Network headquarters in New York City to see if I could get a name and contact information.  I got bounced around a bit from department to department until I reached a guy in Production.  After I explained my quest, he said "Oh, Ernie.  Hang on a second."  I heard some blips and static and then I heard a guy say "Production, LA".  The guy in New York had sent me via satellite to ABC Los Angeles.

The late, great Ernie Anderson
I explained again my quest and the guy said, "Oh yeah.  You want Ernie Anderson."  Not knowing the announcers name, I went along with it, "Yeah, that's the guy.  How can I reach him?"  Without any hesitation the ABC Production person gave me a phone number.  I thanked him, hung up and dialed.

The phone rang a couple of times and "the voice" answered himself,  "Hello".  I introduced myself but before I could get into why I was calling Mr. Anderson asked me how I got his home number.  I explained briefly how I had called ABC, etc.  He then asked me why I called. I told him I wanted to use him for 3-30 second spots to air in New York City, each one running one week.  He chuckled and said "Kid, I don't think I can do them.  I have a 3 year waiting list for New York.  And my rate is 4 times scale."

I apologized for bothering him and, demonstrating my lack of knowledge, asked what scale was and how that translated to actual cost.  He explained scale to me (I think, at the time, it was about $300 for NYC). So he wanted something like $1,200 per spot!  Again I apologized for bothering him, that I wasn't aware how to hire voice talent and, most importantly, I couldn't afford such a cost. He laughed and told me it was no problem.

As I was about to ring off, thanking him for his time, he said "wait a minute, how did you get my home number again?"  I explained my lengthy transcontinental phone adventure as he sort of chuckled in the background.  He stopped me and asked when the spots were supposed to air.  I told him.  He laughed and told me that anyone that spent that amount of time trying to track him down deserved a break.  "I'll do them for scale, have your producer call me and we'll record them this week".  I about died.  I thanked him profusely and hung up.  

Mr. Anderson recorded to the spots in LA at a studio with my friend Dan producing.  They sounded exactly as I envisioned.  But, most importantly, I saw what a gentleman he was.  He could have easily blown me off.  But, instead, he took the time to explain the business to me and did a rookie a favor.  I remain forever indebted to him.

Mr. Anderson passed away in 1997.  In my eyes, he was truly one of the greats.

Note to voice over artists: this is probably not how to behave in a studio..but demonstrates what a perfectionist Ernie truly was.  Very funny (definitely NSFW)

Ernie on Letterman in 1983.

Friday, March 22, 2013


While really not directly about Voice Over, you do have some valuable equipment tied up in your home studio.  Of course, not to mention just your "normal" belongings.  So, especially in tis day and time, you need to do something to protect your stuff.

Some folks go through an alarm company and have their place secured that ay.  No way am I knocking that approach, but sometimes the monthly maintenance cost might be tough to absorb...especially if you're just starting out and money is tight.  So, I sought a way I could keep an eye on my place without monthly fees.

My choice was a wireless webcam.  I figured (maybe wrongly) that if an alarm company monitoring my place got an alarm, they'd call the police.  So, avoiding the middle man, I figured the webcam would do the trick.

I chose a Foscam FI8910W.  It's not top of the line, 720p, etc. In fact, it look as though it's no longer being sold.  But, I wasn't planning on providing any crook that broke into my house with 8x10 portraits.  I just needed something to give me a good image and alert me of someone breaking in.  I picked on up on Amazon for about $64.  They have other, more improved models starting at $70.

What's cool about this camera is it has a built-in motion sensor and alarm software.  It takes a bit to tie it into your wireless network, but if you follow the directions you should be able to set it up in no time.  Once tied to your network, you can go into the camera software and set the times you want the motion detection alarm active, how many seconds between pictures and aim the camera to give you good coverage.  You set it up so that it sends an email to you if there is an alarm (thus, avoiding the middle man).  Accompanying the email are snapshots of whomever created the motion.  I also have it set up so that it also uploads the same pictures to my web server in case I accidentally delete them from my phone.

Using an app for my Android phone, I have it set up that the phone makes a distinctive alert sound whenever it receives an email from the camera (I gave the camera it's own email address).  There are similar apps out there that do the same thing for iPhone.  That way I don't just dismiss an alarm thinking it's just a "normal" email.

With some back-up power supplies (not very expensive) I can insure no one can kill the power to my house and get around the system.  Once set up, your computer doesn't have to be on, just the camera and your router.  If you're delayed or your schedule away from home changes, you can adjust the "alarm active" settings through a secure website (FYI, the camera and web site are only secure if you change the default passwords right off the bat).  As long as your phone is connected to your carrier or WiFi you'll know almost instantaneously someone is in your house.  And you can send the police pictures of the crook.

Maybe not the most secure way of safeguarding your belongings, but for less an $70 you'll have some piece of mind that someone is watching over your place.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Voice Over Lives On...

I saw this story on line this morning.  A very touching story of wife saving her late husband's safety "voice over" announcement on London's subway, the "Tube".

CBS This Morning story

You have to wonder how many voice overs live in perpetuity throughout the world.  Who knows, maybe something you recorded yesterday may be heard for generations to come.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

PEDs for Voice Over Pros?

Either I'm getting old(er) or we might need to start checking my fellow professionals for PEDs (performance enhancement drugs).

I belong to a few Voice sites where clients post a job, provide some direction and sample copy.  Doing this full-time, I'm pretty much at my computer all day long.  So I'm pretty aware when a new "job" email hits my inbox.  If I'm not in the middle of recording something, I'll open the email to see what the potential job might be.  Or, sometimes I'm already on the site when a new job is posted.  But, not matter how quickly I open the job offering, there is already at least a half-dozen "submissions".

First, I thought, I'm in Pacific Time and the site is based in the Eastern time zone.  Or, my email is just slow.  Or there are some "insider" deals going on. No matter what, how do these people record a custom demo so fast?  When I see a new job, I'll spend the time to read what the client wants (well, actually I look at the budget first.  If they're offering $100 for a 30 minute read, pass!).  Next, I'll read the copy a time or two to get comfortable with it and try to match my read with the client's direction.  Now onto firing up Audition and recording a few takes.  Next, clean up the recording in Audition then add my slate.  Finally, I upload the file, use my proposal template (making adjustments as warranted) and type in my fee.  I listen to the upload to insure it "took" and hit submit.  Depending on the copy, that whole process might be 20 to 30 minutes.  OK, a tag might be less, but that's my average. 

So how do these speed demons get a demo up in maybe a minute; two minutes tops?  For them to do a quality audition they gotta be on some sort of voice over PED.  Heck, for them to do any kind of audition, they have to be on the voice juice.  Besides that, what's the rush?  Is there a prize for finishing first I missed reading about? 

I read on article recently on regarding the does and don'ts of auditioning. One of them was "do a custom audition".  Aha!  That's what my suspected juicers are doing.  Job gets posted, they just submit their "best" demo.  As a professional, that t's me off.  Not because they're short-changing themselves, but that they're making a bad impression to clients about the industry.  If I'm a client asking for a custom read of copy I worked hard to write and get a submission of some dude doing a horrible "in a world...." impression....well, you see what I mean.  (Of course, what would really trip my trigger would be if they got the gig and my 20-minute effort got flushed down the toilet).

So thank goodness we don't have to call in the Commissioner of Voice Overs  for some PED suspensions.  But we need to call in quality control about these folks that clog up the audition process submitting generic demos.

Recording on Android

I’ve always been a bit envious of Voice Over professionals and their ability to record “on the go” using their IPads.  Being an Android guy, it was frustrating that my tablet couldn’t be used for the same purpose.   However, thanks to some developers in the Netherlands, my frustration has about ended.
A company called eXtream Software Development has released an Android app called USB Audio Recorder Pro.  Having the same frustration I had in Android’s inability to do USB recording, their development team wrote their own drivers and tested them extensively. 

Using this $4.60 app along with equipment from an long (and still growing) list of microphones, interfaces and devices, Android users can now record “on the go” with professional results.  An updated listing of everything that is compatible with the app can be found here:  . You can also read the app reviews as users have posted what equipment they’ve used successfully.

The developers say they are hard at work to put USB integration in another of their apps, Audio Evolution Mobile ($7.49), a multi-track recorder/editor.  Presently, to do editing of a recording you made with the USB Audio Recorder Pro, you have to save the file then reopen it with Audio Evolution for editing.  However, the biggest caveat is you can’t save as an .mp3 file.

I contacted the developer regarding saving as an .mp3.  I didn’t realize was the .mp3 file format is patented.  The developer said he recently received an email from the patent owners are pursuing licensing fees from all apps that utilize this format.  This aggressive stance might also effect IOS apps as well, he conjectured.  In the interim, an Android app that might be able to skirt the issue is a free app called MP3 Media Converter, which actually sends your file to a “cloud”, converts it using licensed “LAME – MP3” software, then transfers the converted file back to your device.
I’ve tried the apps (the developer has free Trial versions so you’re not having to pay until you know it works for you) using my Asus TF300T Android Tablet and an M-Audio Fast Track interface.  While my tablet’s optional keyboard has a full sized USB port, most will have to purchase a USB adapter to be able to plug things into their device’s USB Mini port. I must say the quality was almost as good as my home studio; good enough (in my opinion) for generating audition recordings I might miss out on because I was on the road.  

Yes, things are looking up for us Android folks.  Finally, we can record on the go just like those IPad owners. 

For USB Audio Recorder Pro on the Play Store:  (Note: There is a link on the top of the page for the free trial version).

For the Trial Version of Audio Evolution Mobile on the Play Store: