Monday, January 27, 2014

A Voice Over "Bottom Feeder" and Ex-Audio Producer Tells All

This post was too amazing not to post and give credit to the author. I found it on about voice over. Pretty candid and amazing insights are provided here and I hope you enjoy reading them.

[original post at this link](*editors note: this is for animation and cartoon demos mainly)

Hey man,
I used to be a casting director specializing in cartoon and video game casting in Vancouver. 
I noticed you said you didn't have any money for coaching or a better demo. Unknown if this will help, but I can at least tell you what we looked for in quality voice demos from new actors when I was doing it:
1) Demo should be 2 to 3 mins MAX (If you don't have that many voices you can pull off, shorter like 1 minute is better - and no filler - only your BEST work should make the demo). It's got to be short enough that we won't get bored listening to it (I never had time to listen to a 5 or 10 minute demo anyway!). The other reason it's short is so it can fit into an .mp3 that you can email. That'll be about 3-4 Mb's, any more than that and you'll clog my email inbox!
2) Open the demo with simply your name and identify what type of demo it is and perhaps even the year. So, "John Smith, animation voice demo 2014", If you were doing commercials, you'd say that instead etc. And do it in your regular voice (no "put on" voices). This way if the .mp3 file gets mislabeled somewhere along the way, someone can click on it and at least know what it was.
Note: this is an animation demo, so you want to do a few different voices to show your range and versatility. The reason this is important for ALL voice actors is because its cheaper for me to hire you to play 3-4 characters in a cartoon (your "main" character plus some background guys) than it is for me to bring in 4 different actors to cover all the individual roles. So if you have range, you have versatility, so if you save me money, you're more likely to be hired! So...
3) Open with a reading in your own natural voice. The first thing I'd want to hear is what you sound like normally.
4) Next, do 2 to MAYBE 6 additional readings (remember its still only 3 mins long) in all the other voices you can do. If you have a "Jack Bauer / Army General" voice, let's hear it. If you do "mad scientist", "old man", "reptilian/animal" type voice, or any number of other "characters", let's hear them.
Remember range is key (side note: sometimes even if we had someone's demo that did NOT have the voice type I was looking for, they might still show me enough range that I think they could pull something else off, so they may get an audition anyway).
Each of these should be ~20-30 seconds, as I need enough material to hear what you can do with a character. Something only 10 seconds just isn't long enough, and longer than 30 seconds I don't need to hear and you're wasting my time.
5) Note that if you're working on voices but they're not yet good, don't bother putting them on this demo (you can always release an update later when you've perfected something). If I hear something on the demo which doesn't sound good enough, you may make me question your ability/choices overall, and that would be bad. Only put on things you know you can do well.
6) One more note about voices: if you can do a child's voice, get it on your reel! Typically adult men can't pull this off so I'll mention it just as a point of reference: Who are the main character of most children's cartoons? Children! Between the ages of 8-18 usually. If you can do a realistic young child's voice (young boys for men, both young boys and girls for women) you'll be huge in animation because of the simple fact that we don't want to hire REAL children. Think of the Simpsons, Bart Simpsons voice (voiced by a woman!) hasn't changed in in ~25 years. If we hire real children (for lead roles that is, they can still do one-off's), their voices will change as they age, which just doesn't work on a animated series which may run 4 or 5 years or longer.
7) Finally, if this is a blind submission (ie: you don't know the agent/casting director), it may be prudent to end the demo with you saying how to contact you, give email + phone number. This is again in case your demo is separated from your paperwork (or your .mp3 is passed around to other casting directors, which would be awesome!) they can still reach you.
I think that's about it. If you already knew all this, I apologize for assuming, but just thought it could help you make up your own new/fresh demo (since I believe you mentioned you have a home studio?). Good luck to you!
Edit: I want to apologize to uglydork for quasai-hijacking his AMA here. T'was not my intention! There's just been so many people commenting and asking questions, I wanted to give a few more answers in the event it can help anyone else out. Thanks to uglydork for allowing me the use of his AMA!
Edit 2 Also, I forgot one more thing I could add:
8) Editing your demo: If you know NOTHING about audio editing, that's ok. What I recommend, as a timeline of your demo, is doing your introduction in your own voice, then 2-3 seconds of dead air, then the first reading, 2-3 seconds of air, then the next etc.... don't put them back to back because I need to see a definitive beginning and end to each voice you do so I'm not confused as to why you just switched voices, and don't put more than 3 seconds of space between each or else I'll think the demo was over and close it prematurely. So 2-3 seconds in between each reading is about enough to put definitive space in between segments, but it's fast enough that my mind won't register it ended to go close the .mp3.
And for those of you who PM'd me asking how you could edit your demo, there is a cool FREE audio recording and editing program I've always liked called Audacity ( It's open source so it's not illegal to download or anything. It's basic by any standards, but still has more features than something like Windows Sound Recorder. It allows you to edit a bunch of your clips into one main clip, and export it out to .mp3. It probably has a help section that discusses basic editing, I'm not sure I haven't touched it in a few years myself...
Finally, I know I sound like Billy Mays saying "Oh it's so easy to cut a demo right in your own home, just do this..." etc etc. I don't mean to make it sound EASY. This is your first demo, IF you manage to get an agent with it, they'll likely arrange for you to go into a REAL recording booth and do another, higher quality version that they can use to impress casting directors like me haha! No matter how good of equipment you've got at home, it will still likely sound like you recorded it at home... My advice for recording at home is mostly just for starting out. You can't get an agent without a demo, but you (likely) can't afford to pay for a professionally recorded demo until you've got the agent etc... chicken and egg thing... So I'm just trying to give you the beginning of the egg I suppose... It will take a lot of hard work and practice to perfect any characters you try to create, and even though it's cartoons, we want them to sound realistic, in the sense that it's believable enough that a viewer is not taken out of the immersion of the program. It is a very difficult skill to master, so please don't take my above notes as suggesting it's easy to become a famous voice actor. With that said, if you can afford the time and you enjoy it, I say go for it! Because somewhere out there, there's some little kid who needs to experience the imaginative worlds that cartoons provide them. That's a pretty important task in my opinion haha!
Edit 3: Just to be clear, the above notes are for animation demo only. A demo you make for cartoons/video games is VERY different than something you'd do for commercials, or narration (like Morgan Freeman documentary is what I mean by that), audio books etc. All those have different types of demos. My experience was all animation & cartoon based...[sic].
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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year to All

Well I'm happy that even though I was busy all throughout Thanksgiving and Christmas, I still managed to do several auditions a week. I'm looking forward to this week when everyone is really returning to their studios and getting back to production demands. My months have been rearranging demos, writing and recording new ones, and focusing on both IVR and phone work, as well as seeking an agent for kid voice acting roles. 

The fact that I'm looking into the lower rung of work and a higher niche specialty doesn't bother me at all. I am no longer going to follow the "guide-books" to success in voice over. Though basics may apply, like most of show biz I believe a lot of finding your place or voice if you will, is doing. I am focusing on continuing doing. I'm smoothing my regular "conversational" and "informational" voice as much I can, regularizing my corporate dry and more monotone delivery, and branching out into using my throat more in kids scripts and noises.

I've taken a special interest in getting work with children's learning apps. There seems to be a lot of new apps for learning on kids tablets happening right now. I'd love to grow with a few of those in either singing or fun instructional delivery of scripts. "Great job" and stuff like that is some of the scripts I've seen. If anyone knows a good agent suitable for those types of roles, feel free to clue me in. I'll trade you... something?

I'm happy that right now I am in a quiet space, with no computer issues or hissing, am using Sony Music 9 or Audacity for editing, and can do some pretty fast turn-around times. The output I've got is something like this - [edit] - Blogger is having issues uploading video, and doesn't have a sound upload yet, so if you want to hear my current mic configuration with the little engine that could "Behringer" preamp visit the below link. Let's prosper.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What is 'Broadcast Quality'?

I remember hearing the term 'broadcast quality' in radio back in '98, but that was a term related to analog and actual film. I've heard it a few times in conversations and seen it written recently in my studies, related to Voice Over. I've been really curious to understand what that might mean in our now all digital world of file delivery. 

First, it's my understanding that quality can be sacrificed at any point in the equipment set up and recording process. I know you have to have a good quality mic that is designed for vocals. I know that it should be xlr so  to usb  for recording on computers if you want a good quality (usb mics are not well liked). I also know that the preamp can affect the sound of your voice considerably, the recording volume, and finally what software you're mixing with. Wait. That's a misconception. According to tons of professionals, the software you're using will not lower the quality of your voice (unless you put a bunch of silly bad effects on it). I know feel there are other misconceptions and that the term 'broadcast quality' has actually change its meaning. This is important related to the explosion of home studio voice over vs. being in a professional whisper sound booth with thousands of dollars of higher end equipment. 

I went searching for what the industry is using this old term for and I found the following quote. "Editor In Chief Paul White replies: 'Broadcast quality' is a bit of a vague term, as much of the material that goes out on air now is data-compressed in some way (a bit like an MP3), so it doesn't really refer to a specific technical benchmark. I think what it means is that the material has to sound good on the radio and stand up well alongside commercial records, which in turn means recording a good performance and choosing a suitable range of sounds, then mixing it all carefully so as to avoid unwanted noise or distortion. []".

So, it really is about making sure there is no feedback, static or white noise, no red hot levels to create distortion your recordings (this isn't grunge rock), mixed with the specific configuration of each of our audio chains. I still think there is a mix of concepts around this term, but I'm going to walk away from my search with the conclusion that as long a I have a quality microphone, eliminate outside interference in the equipment and environment, don't add a lot of odd effects that could ruin the quality, (perhaps mix the levels to avoid any high tones) it seems I will have a quality recording suitable for broadcast. I'm sure the term 'your mileage may vary' 100% applies here, but its an interesting discussion.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Me VS the Mic

As I conquer various styles of scripts in my own regular voice, I've begun to notice certain habits creep into my time on the mic. For example: I'd be about to record some homework or in my teacher's (Melissa Moats) sound booth, and bam - I didn't sound the way I was in my head, the mood I had didn't match the sound coming out. I started trying to fine tune that radar and get past the frustration of not being able to dial-a-voice.

Apparently voice over is not about dialing a voice, but conjuring the mood and then letting that voice out. So much online and library book material taught me that. Most of us in announcer roles, or teaching usually use one voice: instructional. In comedy I used a voice that was more bouncy upbeat and funny. But those started as moods, they didn't start as something I rehearsed on a recording, and played back. 

I'm finding that many of the things I did in fun are coming in handy on the mic. That customer service phone job in college where my friend and I replayed funny moments with customers over drinks, recording and emulating voices for laughs. That time I tried to speak in a french accent at each bar we went out to, all night, convincingly. Or, I'm even remembering those times in college where I brought my handheld recorder and asked everyone the same joke or philosophical question, later to listen to them for amusement and to see how all the humans opinions differ. So much fun, so little time.

On the practical side, I'm finally accomplishing a balance of that line we ride when receiving coaching. I am working to retain my sense of self, and the original confidence as a public speaker I possess and remember how I'm a person who's toyed with the sounds and been fascinated with the broadcasting world since I was age ten. I am succeeding in bringing that care-free levity on-demand to the creative processes I'm in with projects in the booth. It's so similar to walking on stage. You either walk out on stage and own it, or you walk on stage and it owns you. Here on out in this game of me vs. the mic, when I hear the bell that indicates the proverbial round is over, I shall be victorious. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Group Workouts are Fun And Friendly and Sometimes Effective

I find that a group workout can be good and bad for me personally. I enjoyed the first ever session I attended here in Vegas, where you get to see that everyone in the room is going through a similar thought process, but there are as many results as people at the end. That means that because it's acting, there are a million interpretations of each script. I know this from other performance arts, and visual art, which I've spent considerable time in. 

What's difficult for me about a group work out is that so much of what I'm understanding voice over is has started with me being very still. Groups make me want to be the exact opposite. So much of what I've seen others and myself do on the mic for voice over (of many styles) is about being internal and small and powerful on the mic, the exact opposite of what a group makes me want to do. A group makes me want to interact, be loud, show off, mingle, make friends, and then suddenly I'm multi-tasking and trying to concentrate on the script-at-hand because I think I'm two away from booth time.

I don't need work as a public speaker, well we all do, but I've found success at it in past.What I find particularly stressful is that the secret goobers and goblins and tudes and times that I'm calling on in my head to make a good voice over moment on the mic, do not belong in a group setting. I wouldn't want any of that to leak out. I imagine it's a bit like steering a boat and trying to focus on your destination, rather than any weather, conditions, and hardships you experience along the way. Ahoy matey, group and privates balance is the thing for me, so I will not a hermit be.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hitting the Library for Voice Over Practice

In learning a new skill, you can never do enough study on your own, even if you don't know what's important yet. Every skill I posses I studied on my own with the exception of writing (though continuously studying writing, I had great college instructors) and that includes ballroom, tap, singing, and percussion. My initial research of voice over lead me to a great book at my local library entitled "Voice and Speaking for Dummies". I really enjoyed the technique, basics, vocal types, and exercises. I even uploaded the cd of voice exercises to my computer. I liked how the cd gave techniques on finding your natural voice pitch. It suggested that if you nod along and uh hum in encouragement (like you would a friend) that's your natural voice. 

That's a standout bit for me because right when I started getting serious about practicing my speech, and general voice technique, I noticed with nerves or tiring my voice was climbing higher in pitch, and I used the uh hum to reset it many times. I was still just working on speaking smoothly, with intended breaths, and the same volume throughout. Sometimes I used the whisper voice, sometimes I used the regular volume, and sometimes I projected. I was really just messing around with my instrument and getting re-familiarized with it, then reviewing my recordings.

My background as a youth was a singer. My experience as an adult has been more as comedic show host, and some phone sales and phone customer service. Some of those voice styles or attitudes would definitely start to help me now. I was looking to get as much actual knowledge before presenting myself in a real-world setting. My neighbors must have wondered what I was doing sitting at the pool talking to myself. But, it's a lot like sports or dance, you have to learn to move your mouth and be articulate, but not too much on the articulating, that sounds over rehearsed.

It's actually a good thing I didn't practice on my own too often, because I would have made myself memorize shoddy voice technique. I had a few habits already as I arrived to one of many private lessons with my new coach Melissa Moats. One of my habits was breaking up the flow of a sentence, for no good reason.  Even after I obtained privates once per week, I continued to go to my local library to take out Shakespeare books. The long monologues with difficult words gave me tons of work on cold reading, which would come in handy later.

It turns out there will be a lot of times you won't see a script for very long before you have to perform it, and so this monologue practice was getting the cold-reading muscle ready. You can never be too ready for cold reading is how I now feel. You have to be ready, but loose. I checked out monologues for actors, 'how to' books, and anything that was long-winded directional material I could speak to keep fine tuning my utensils IE: throat and mouth muscles. Let's face it, no one talks this much in daily conversation.

The scripts I'm being given now (Nov. 2013) for practice are anywhere from short one to three sentence commercial scripts (radio and TV), to a paragraph or two intended to be voice over and informational or commercial videos. I'm very glad I've worked to get my mind around reading large chunks of information. Hello corporate instructional work, I think I'm getting ready for you. Right now I'm sanctioned by my instructor to do phone hold work (IVR), and we're working on character development and creation (I have six in progress). My teacher is showing  me how to construct characters from thin air. A talking broom, a wig,  a bug, they all have voices. I'm excited about continuing to explore all the areas I might fit into in the voice over  industry. Right now I am encouraged that I have the ability to cater to kids or adults with my voice. Oooo goodie, unlimited possibilities. [Cue song: "A whole new world..."] 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Where to Start - My VO Evaluation

It all started around April of 2013. First, I read online and library books for about two months when I decided I'd pursue voice over. Next I started searching for qualified coaches, and learning scenarios. Everyone said you need a coach to start out. Though I have had a lot of mic time on stage, and about a year of mic time in college radio, voice over is its own challenge and I was about to learn the ins and outs. 

I knew it wouldn't be easy, nothing is. Especially when you're venturing into something that needs to become a vocation. I met an Emmy award winning talent when I was a guest as an ebook author on their show. He said he was getting into voice over almost as a retirement effort to his news anchor career. Interesting. I just didn't know if all that could happen for me here in Vegas. I was pretty curious to see if most voice over was situated in LA or NY, but it turns out, it's all over the nation and world.

I've gathered by this point that there are all levels of voice over, including higher paying higher end, and lower paying lower end. I defiantly don't want to get stuck in the gutter. It's hard not to notice that the agents, agencies, and unions don't have all the cards in this industry anymore, but I still don't believe that all jobs are obtained on pay to play sites.

My loan secured to start this business, I went looking for help. I landed on a national virtual school for voice over. Cool. Well, I thought it'd be cool. I talked to my sponsor who is providing the loan, and decided to get an evaluation because I'm just entering the marketplace. I really wanted to know the type  of voice I was qualified to use, what kind of work I might be compatible for. What I got wasn't that. 

I called and set up a professional evaluation with a person from the out-of-state virtual studio. They said I'd be assigned to a working professional. I had been referred to this place by the local individual who was starting to work in voice over for retirement. I was kind of nervous because it felt like a test I didn't have the answers to. There was a lot of material I had read, but defiantly not enough to prepare me for the way I was treated. I'd call it rudely. I paid $140 for this one hour evaluation by phone. I want to make a joke here about paying for s&m but never mind.

I've been told I have a nice voice, and have done a lot of public speaking and hosting of events. That being said I went with an open mind to this evaluation. I'm no "know-it-all". But I wasn't prepared to be told I'm not gifted and that if I didn't take her advice to not enter the industry and accept that this wasn't my natural talent, I should start by taking about $1200.00 in classes and voila here are the classes she recommends at their studio. Remotely. By Phone. Wow. That's quite an up-sell. And it was upsetting because I told her and the receptionist that I am not interested in their classes, just the evaluation at this time. I've been in the business of selling classes before so I saw it coming. So I continued my search for a coach. Call me crazy but did I just pay $140 to get sold classes? Yes, yes I did.

Next on a Facebook mention from a newbie local, I found a wonderful coach and attended a group workshop for beginners in my area in Vegas (well Henderson). We listened to others read scripts and also got in her professional home studio pro booth to create recordings. It felt a lot like radio only it wasn't three hours in the booth at a time, and the words are more like performing bits of a song instead of droning on for hours. You can leave your opinions out too, that's not too important in voice over. It looked like this teacher didn't think I was unsuitable for voice over at all. For a reasonable price of the lesson, she included a recording copy by email of what we did in her booth. I was with a coach and learning the ins and outs of scripts, and I got my first pro direction in a sound booth. It wasn't horrible.

Before I had found Melissa Moats in Vegas to study with, I purchased my Harlan Hogan microphone designed with a voice over artist in mind ($278). I bought the smaller port-a-booth, because right now I don't have a pro studio space in my home ($250). I got it all set up and began to practice speaking and creating recordings in my own voice, using my laptop and Audacity. I guess I'm on my way to being a practicing voice over artist. The mic is a familiar friend whom I hadn't seen in a while. Before. I always spoke my own words on the mic unless it was a live radio spot. Now it's time to learn to speak words others have written and bring them to life. Three months in and its even more complex than I imagined, but I'm lovin it. I still have not obtained my first job, but I'm also not yet participating in any pay to play sites. All in due time. Thank you to my sponsors for believing in me. The game is afoot.

Thanks for reading.