Studio/booth

The Year of The Guided Session

There are a lot of things that will make 2020 memorable for the rest of our lives: living through a pandemic, the national election, the state of our country in general. As a long-time professional voice over actor, one of the trends I have noticed in the past few months as bookings have picked up again is that so many of them involve live sessions also referred to as guided sessions. Prior to Covid-19, I would say that I self directed 80% of my work, and the rest were live sessions. Now I have live sessions almost daily. Interestingly most of my clients prefer zoom, although often I am asked if I have Source Connect and specifically which version I have. I do happen to have the highly sought after standard version, but interestingly that is not what is most often requested by my average client when they want or need a guided sessions. How do I feel about this rise in live sessions? I love them!

Genres Using Them

I see this rise in live sessions occurring across genres, but in particular in commercials, in explainers, and in eLearning. I also have been booking a lot more work with NDAs for these sessions, and that seems much more common this year. Across the genres, I am booking a blend of covid specific and good, old-fashioned brand relevant content. I think the clients love the live sessions because they can really get the read they want when they want it.

Trends I Have Noticed

The major trend I have noticed is how many participants are in on the call. It used to just be one or two except when I was doing video games or mobile apps, then I typically had more. Recently, on almost all of my sessions except for a tv spot last week that was just one producer, there are huge teams of 7 or 8. They seem to like to bring on everyone from the person who cast me to the person who wrote the script to the folks from the brand to the creatives putting the content together. The teams are big. And what seems to happen now is that one person will give directions. Then they will tweak the directions. Then when they are satisfied they will ask for feedback from everyone else on the team. This can go on an on and it can be very amazing, depending on how patient you are. As I have been fortunate to have a lot of well-written scripts, it is typically easy to provide alternative reads, but that is not always the case. Most of the time the teams are on the same page and most of the people keep themselves on mute. I have been on a few calls where someone forgets to mute themselves and we have some issues later.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of my clients ultimately ask for zoom even though I have Source Connect. I actually think this is related to the trend of included everyone in the live session. It is much easier to loop everyone in via zoom, when with Source Connect only the ones with the subscription can join.

Why They Are Great

Guided sessions are wonderful. Put simply, clients finish with what they need! It does not end until the client has what they need. If it does, they have to pay for a new sessions. I also happen to love the creative energy and the back and forth that happens in a live session. If you are lucky enough to get a good rhythm going, then you can really make something special together. Most of the time I too feel that the work that came out of a live session is different than what I would have submitted had I self directed. You just end up going in different directions based on where the client and the production team takes you. They have a specific vision in their head and you have this amazing opportunity to bring that sound to life. The collaborative process is incredible. Providing instant gratification, knowing that your client will end the session with the pristine audio they need to complete the spot is a really good feeling. There is no back and forth. There are no more takes. And working together as part of the creative team is so much more fun than doing it alone.

Just be Mindful of Time Zones

One quick note, as the voiceover industry is typically quite an international one, do mind your time zone conversions! It can be trickier than it seems! Years ago I had a session with a client in the South of France. I was coming back from the beach myself, and little did I realize I asked them to record at 10 PM their time. I felt terrible. More recently I had a new client in Mountain Time! I was so confused by this. I don’t know why, but it twisted my head in a pretzel. So, especially if you have multiple bookings in one day, try not to overlap them! The zoom calendar is super helpful that way!

Why The Change was Necessary

I will start by saying that the past five years have flown by and while I have had to seek help with my studio gear, my MacBook Air has been dependable in every way since its purchase. I have not had issues with my computer. I have been extremely happy since switching from a PC to a Mac, and have been extremely happy with the MacBook Air specifically. So, why switch? Well, as per my blog last week, I made a lot of gear upgrades in my studio recently. The early 2015 MacBook Air I have only has one Thunderbolt B port and NO, as an not a single one, Thunderbolt C ports, and it was not possible to have both my pre-amp and my studio monitor hooked up simultaneously, while both are essential. So, I made the choice to upgrade.

Why Did I Pick the iMac?

To be clear, my MacBook Air is still running fine. It completely functions and has not changed in any way, it is just missing some essential ports. This is sad. So, when looking at apple offerings, I decided that since I have a working laptop, I could focus on a great desktop. In truth, I have always wanted one. In the pre-pandemic world, when I could actually enter a store and look around, I always thought it would be great to work at a desk top. I decided this time the desktop made sense. The iMac had the right requirements in terms of storage and speed. I got a track pad and the 21.5 inch screen. All I had to do was wait about 10 days for the iMac to ship from Shanghai to New Jersey!

The SetUp-How did it Go?

The set up went well. It took me most of the day. It arrived around 10:30 am and by dinner I was up and running, and the timing was pretty good. Coming the Friday of a holiday weekend is ideal as the bookings I have for live sessions will not be until next week anyway. I had heard some horror stories of industry friends recently setting up new computers, so I was not optimistic or overly enthusiastic and I expected it to take a while. The initial backup from iCloud went ok. Then I had to install my UAD software. Since I had just done this with Tim last week on the laptop, I still remembered how and it was not fast but I was able to do it. I was worried about getting my settings onto the iMac, but I was actually able to use airdrop to move them from one computer to the other. Twisted Wave setup was a little tricker for me. I spent a while putting in my many keyboard shortcuts. I could not figure out why my effects stack would not open in its entirety. I realized I had to find my initial izotope purchase, download that, enter the ilok, and then open the effects stack. I was getting a little nervous that I would need a session with Tim, but to my own surprise I was able to get it going! I am happy to report that the monitor in my booth connected with ease and I am so thankful to have my booth in working order. I am still making tweaks like syncing my drop box and connecting my pay to plays in my chrome short cuts, but for the most part it is set up how I want it!

What Is Still Missing- Source Connect

I was successfully able to download and install the software for Source Connect. I use the Pro version 3.9 and thankfully I pay for support, so there is no crisis, I just wish I had it up and running. The hiccup for me is repointing the location from the MacBook Air to the iMac. I am also curious if I can run Source Connect on both computers or not. I set up the soonest support session I could, which will be this coming Tuesday at 5:30, and all my questions will be answered. This also made me realize that I had to get zoom up and running, so thankfully that is now set up on my iMac as well.

Thoughts and Plan- Upstairs/Downstairs

Rome was not built in a day, and I am sure that in the coming days and weeks I will realize other applications that need to be installed on the iMac. I am thankful, though, that I accomplished as mush as I did at the start. My plan is that the desktop will live in my office space and my MacBook Air will now reside upstairs and will also be dedicated to my travel rig. It has only been since Friday, 48 hours, but so far this seems like a really wonderful upgrade. Ultimately, this isn’t about just changing computers, right. I had a setup that was working until it wasn’t. I made a change. I used to really fear change, but I know know (more than understand, actually know) that change makes me better and presents opportunity.

Why Switch from Avalon M5?

When everything is working perfectly in your booth, your bookings are solid, and you are happy with your sound, why shake things up with a gear upgrade? Well, life is not always so cut and dry in the voice over world. While I was really proud when I upgraded to the Avalon M5 preamp, and loved the way it sounds with my Neumann TLM 103 microphone, it is not portable. I’m at a point in my career where if I travel, which happens when there is not a pandemic, I need to sound the way I sound in my booth  when in  my travel rig. With an Avalon preamp and a Neumann mic, I sound pretty awesome. Even with a VOMO, it is hard to emulate that sound without bringing the Avalon, and if you have ever been in the presence of an Avalon then you know it is not portable. Thus, my journey began.

Working with Tim

One of my VO besties, and all around favorite people on the planet, the amazing Kim Handysides, suggested that I work with the VO Tech Guru Tim Tippets. Kim said Tim does amazing stacks and would set up my travel rig. Initially I had not planned to change my in studio set up with the Avalon M5, just the rig. I reached out to Tim. Tim is amazing because he could just set you up and give you the answer, but instead he spends the time to educate you so that you understand the rationale behind his suggestions and why he is guiding you down a certain path.

The Journey- and Boy Was It One

To Start, I was limited because I was working on a 2015 MacBook Air. Even though my MacBook Air is running really well (knock wood), it only has one Thunderbolt 2 connection and the rest are USB ports. This posed some logistical challenges in terms of suggestions Tim wanted to make. Further, at the time, I was set up to mirror in studio on a monitor. So my MacBook Air stays in an office space outside the studio and I have a great monitor in my booth.

Tim suggested I part ways with my M5, as much as I have loved it, and move on to the Apollo Twin MKII Thunderbolt. He explained the advantages of  the Apollo were amazing and that I would sound the same if not better in both my home studio AND I could use it in my travel rig. So, I made the switch.

Tim set up an amazing stack for me on the Apollo and my booth in the house is up and running, almost.

Problem Solving and the Challenges

While I am delighted with the sound of the Apollo and immediately booked a pretty big job in the first round of auditions after being up and running, the big hiccup is that I cannot hookup my monitor in the studio and now my MacBook Air is in the booth, very temporarily. Before an onslaught of well-intentioned notes comes my way, I have purchased and returned multiple adaptors to try to hook up an HDMI to a USB, but to no avail, none will convert a video signal readable by Catalina. And because my MacBookAir is from Early 2015, I do not have a Thunderbolt C port and cannot use an adaptor because my computer could not process the speed. So… I am upgrading and an iMac desktop is on the way! This MacBook Air will be used for my travel rig and for marketing and correspondence, which is fine and I am thrilled with the solution.

The Travel Rig….

So this brings us back to the travel rig set up, which is also pretty exciting. After all, this entire journey started because of the travel rig, right? So, what is my travel rig set up now:

  • VoMo Booth
  • Sennheiser 660 Microphone
  • Apollo Twin MK II Thunderbolt
  • MacBook Air with Twisted Wav

And the great thing about working with Tim is that he set up the presets in the Apollo for this as well. Now when I go away, I can plug this in and go!

The One Note:

When I first started working with Tim to set up the Apollo, the process was not seamless, not because of Tim- sometimes life is just like that. It seemed that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Tim was a patient as can be as he has seen it all, but I felt terrible and was quite frustrated. In the middle of attempting to set up the Apollo, I had to do a long overdue Time Machine backup and then upgrade to Catalina, so had I done those things prior to our chat that would have helped. The last thing was that my MacBook Air was not recognizing the device after all of that. I watched multiple youtube videos as I could not bare the thought of texting Tim and telling him something else was wrong. One video made me wonder if something was wrong with my thunderbolt cable. When I looked at it, I realized the lighting bolt was only on one side. If you have an old model and your are using this kind of cable, even though you can plug it in with either side up, make sure that the end with the lighting bolt is face up. Once I did that, everything worked like magic and Tim could do his thing, but it took about 8 hours in my booth to figure that out!

Why are live sessions a Great Opportunity for Clients and Talent alike…

Out of the gate, I’ll say it: live sessions, also known as guided sessions, are awesome! If you are not familiar with the term, it is when your client live directs you. You hear them in the ear of you head phone while you record. I usually do one ear on, one ear off, and they direct you through the recording of the script. This is typically done for commercials, YouTube pre-rolls, and character work, but now I am even having some eLearning sessions live directed. When there are so many ways that a script can be interpreted, this guarantees that the client has exactly what they want at the end of the session. You can blow their minds with your amazing voiceover performance, they walk away confident that they have the exact audio that they need. The live/guided session is a win/win for all involved. So, the specifics. What is my favorite way to connect? Without being coy, I am happy to connect in whatever way is easiest for my clients and I offer a wide variety of options to accommodate everyone:

Different Methods

There are so many great ways to run a live session. Do I actually have a favorite and a least favorite? Sure, but really as long as the client is comfortable I am happy to oblige.

ipDTL/ISDN Bridge

IpDTL was the first method I ever used to connect. My very first coach, Anne Ganguzza, used ipDTL for all of her sessions. So, I was very comfortable with this when I launched my business and proud to offer this to my clients. Around the time that I opened shop, I had two agents who said they would sign me if I had an ISDN line. I learned that it was no longer possible to get regular ISDN lines in my part of New Jersey. So, I use an ipDTL bridge to ISDN. I have my own direct number. Initially I was thrilled. I always test connect before a session. I have had more than one snafu. To his credit, the creator of ipDTL is very available via facebook and tries to address all issues. There is, however, a considerable time lag as he is across the pond and he never figured our why my hiccups happened. I have been fine with my regular ipDTL service but I am less than confident in my ISDN service. I will say that when I send my clients an ipDTL link and they have never used it before, they are always very impressed with how clear the connection is.

Source Connect

I have been very pleased with my Source Connect service. The funny-not-so-funny story is that I had to sign up for it when I had a session scheduled and my ISDN line would not connect! The producer was very kind and said it happens often and that we should try this. I work with a lot of producers now who love Source Connect and it is easy.  Last week, I had a commercial session for a TV spot. There were four talents on the line at the same time. The producer had the clients in the studio with him. He actually sent as a Source Connect Now line. It was great. If you have never used this before, just don’t be shocked that if the others are not muted you will hear a slight echo. Once they mute the echo goes away and it does not effect the recording. There are also not typically latency issues with Source Connect which I really like.

Skype/Zoom

I have some clients who love to use Skype and Zoom. I link them together, I suppose, because anyone could use them for anything, even outside of VO. If you are using them for voice over, be mindful to check your settings and be sure that you are coming through your pre-amp. Both of these are easy to use and for zoom if your session is under 45 minutes they are free. Skype is free as well. I find that my clients in Europe and Asia LOVE Skype and love to message on Skype! So, if you work with folks on Skype, remember to check your messages from time to time.

Phone

Funny as it sounds, I have some older Baby Boomer aged clients who just want to be on speaker phone! They do not like anything “high tech” and they want to keep it easy. If you are like me, your mobile phone may not work in your booth. That’s ok. I have a Magic Jack line for my office and that gives me a landline phone that I can bring in my booth. It is inexpensive and reliable.

Case Study: eLearning Session

So, I mentioned earlier that my live sessions used to be primarily for commercials and now I am even doing them for eLearning. This is fantastic! I’ll share a great example. I have an opportunity to work with a new eLearning company. To clarify, they are not new, jut new for me.  Unlike most, they record all audio by guided session. I connected with Shelley, the director, via Skype. Her feedback was fantastic- very specific in terms of tone, pacing, which words to hit, and how to change whatever the last line was. We moved through the demo script and developed a wonderful rhythm and flow. I cherish the feedback as often when we self direct we miss things or hear them differently. The session was a true joy

Final Thoughts:

Remember, regardless of what your revision policy may be for self-directed work, when you give a live session, all audio is final delivery. This is industry standard. The session should not end until the client has what they want. If their needs change, then they need to pay you for another booking.

Learning from the Best

I’ve said before that it takes a lot to get me to pack up and fly across the country, leaving my twins and my dog, but boy- going to a conference like WoVoCon VI in Las Vegas, Nevada this past weekend sure made me feel like the trip was worth it! Voice over

Time with industry friends goes by way too fast!!

actors from all over the world, casting directors, eLearning companies, and more gathered at the Tropicana to support each other to better our craft, learn about technology, discuss business trends, talk about marketing ideas and best practices, and of course bond! If you have ever been to a VO industry event, you know that professional voice over actors tend to be a pretty friendly bunch, and when you have found your people, somehow a long weekend goes by in the blink of an eye and you leave feeling like you just did not have enough time and you wish you did not have to pick and choose from the outstanding sessions! I moved between some of them and still did not get to everyone. I got to the airport to return home with mixed feelings of joy over what I had accomplished and a long list of people I never got to connect with. But let’s focus instead on the big take aways:

Philosophical Truths

A lot of what I heard resonated with me, but as I sat next to fellow New Jersey voice talent and all around renaissance man Brad Newman, and I soaked in his presentation, I was in awe of his genius. A lot of what Brad said made an impact on me, but when he talked about recurring work bells and whistles went off in my head. One of my big goals for 2019 has been to do more campaigns and fewer one-offs, so I was on the edge of my seat. Brad talked about how in business when preparing to meet a company or when prepping for an interview, you would do your research, learn about their business model and their goals to try to meet their needs as well as you can. He talked about all that we do to understand the end client, so why on earth would we do all of that to only ever work with them one time? Right? I could have jumped of my seat and spent hours discussing just this one aspect of Brad’s presentation, because this really hit home for me.

It is so important to me to do my very best for clients. I understand that they have unique needs and that every job is different, but I am so excited to build lasting and meaningful relationships and to really get to know what is most helpful to them!

Efficiency/Software Tips

In voiceover, we all know we are only as good as we sound. The software often changes and as there are upgrades to our computers, often the DAW we use changes. I work on Twisted Wave 90% of the time. I sat in on a session on Twisted Wave, and then that session led to side chats where I learned so much that will help me better serve my clients! So, I learned a much more efficient way of splitting files. I already split files by markers. Before this weekend, I would manually type in the names of each file, which could be quite time consuming. Well, now I have learned how to use the markers window and to cut and paste from either a word document or an excel spread sheet. See the video here for a demonstration of what I learned in my session with the great Jim Edgar who can be found at JustAskJimVO.studio/JimEdgarvoices.com:

I was also chatting about this and I learned a great cut and paste trick from Dan Lenard. He showed me how to create uniform space cushions at the beginning and end of each slide! If I were the client, I would love if each cushion were the same length.

Pushing Through

I have blogged before about being a migraine sufferer. I happened to have had a pretty bad headache on the Saturday of this conference. It would not go away. I had to miss some sessions I really wanted to see in the morning. I eventually went down to participate, even though I did not feel 100%. To be honest I did not even feel 30%,  and if I were home I would have stayed in all day. But I flew across the country for so many reasons, and none of them included a day of napping. It was not easy for me, but the biggest challenge, bot physically and mentally, was getting through Everrett Oliver’s session. If you have never coached with Everett, he is truly outstanding. He pushes in all the right ways. He makes you go places you would rather not but as an outstanding booth director he gets it out of you. I LOVE working with Everett. And in truth, as a working professional, when booked work comes in, I have to record, so this was a good exercise. I am not shy but I am much more comfortable in front of my own mic than in a room full of people, even if those people are my tribe. I loved every minute. LOVED. I am glad I participated. I hope to work with this amazing coach again soon.

Final thoughts….

Once you start naming names it gets dangerous…So many wonderful people I love were all there. It filled my heart and made me happy. I wish I lived closer to you all. I am so thankful to work in this industry. I hear music in my head when I think of you. Until the next time, my friends. Thank you. Sending lots of big hugs!!!!

Consult an Expert

When I started my business years ago I had so much to learn abut every single aspect of voice over. In addition to all of my vocal coaches for each genre of voiceover, and hiring a contractor to build my custom booth, I need serious advice about  which computer to use and why I should make those choices. To understand how I came to a laptop, I also need to explain how I became a Mac user after a lifetime on PCs.

I had actually started my business with a Dell Laptop. My cousin David who is an audio engineer in Philly had advised me that the software I needed to edit my work would not run sufficiently on that computer. David described a scenario where I was working and everything crashed. I assumed David was speaking in hyperbole just because he, like so many younger people I know, prefer Macs.  One humiliating day early on,  I had paid a fortune to work with a coach in Los Angeles and everything that David

I so identified as a PC user that I could not possibly imagine life any other way!

predicted come to fruition! My computer crashed. I could not sign in to ipDTL. I could not get Audacity or Adobe audition to work. Nothing worked. I was in a total crash. I had a session and I was mortified and I was ready to work and knew at that moment that I needed to make a major change.

It was time to consult an expert. I had already been working with a local sound engineer known affectionately by industry insiders as “Uncle” Roy, aka Roy Yokelson of Antland Productions. Uncle Roy is a PC guy and he was teaching me how to do the sound editing I would need when I launched my business. Switching to a Mac meant I would no longer be able to solely rely on Uncle Roy for tech support. I was told to consult with George Whittam and that he would guide me in the right direction on what my next step would be. I scheduled a call with George right away. Even though this was years ago it feels like yesterday and I am still profoundly thankful for his help and support, which is costly but well-worth every penny.

Studio Set up

I had a list of questions for George. If I was making the leap from PC to Mac, did I want a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or Desk Top? George encouraged me to get a souped up MacBook Air for my needs. Again, this is personal and it depends on your needs.  For me, I needed a computer that would support all the audio software, have a large memory, and would be quiet. George explained that with enough RAM, the MacBook Air would meet my needs swimmingly. I also bought a hard drive to back it up so that if I had an unfortunate incident I would be covered!

George did not just make suggestions about the MacBook Air. He also guided me about other specs for the booth I was building to make sure that my audio would be pristine. As my goal was to get WoVo approval, which I did, this was also immensely helpful.

On the Go

I am ultimately very pleased with my purchase of the MacBook Air. I have been using it for almost five years now. I travel for work several times a year and it is light and not bulky. It works well as part of my travel rig set up too. 

There is another element to my specific business needs. I am a working mom. I often have to leave my studio in the late afternoon and drive my twins to after school activities or sports events. The MacBook Air is extremely portable and great for the mom-on-the go.  I bought a Tumi work bag on The Real Real that matches my suit case and I feel very organized when I travel. I am really thankful that I did not purchase the slightly heavier MacBook Pro, which my son has, because I have back and neck issues and for me every pound makes a difference.

Concluding Thoughts

As with so many other changes I have faced in life, the anticipation of the change is worse than the change itself! I am thankful every day for the guidance that I got from my cousin and from George that pushed me in the right direction. I am thankful that the fan on my computer is so quiet. I am thankful that there is an apple store at my mall so I could get started so easily. I also LOVE using Twisted Wave. For me, the shift from Audacity and Audition to Twisted Wave was a huge productivity improvement. It is both my hope and intention that through conferences I will continue my tech education and will stay current with all of the new tech trends in voiceover so that I can best serve my clients.