booth

I Saw It in The Sound Wave First

Late Friday afternoon I was in my booth recoding a bunch of agent auditions that had come in. Initially I felt fine. I had completed all of my booked work and I wanted to submit a few more reads before I called it a day. I typically don’t have a lot Laura's wave form showing mouth clicksof mouth clicks when I record. I do run Izotope RX7 as part of my effects stack, which takes care of whatever clicks there are, but I tend to stay hydrated and am not so clicky, especially since I gave up caffeine. I noticed that even though my noise floor was the same as it always is, I had a crazy amount of spikes and clicks present that I do not typically see. This was 3 to 5 minutes before I became violently ill and had to run from the booth, I could see what I had no idea was about the be a horrible case of food poisoning, in my audio!

Within minutes, I had gut wrenching pain, could not stand, and was horrible nauseous. I almost fell over my puppy Daisy trying to run from my studio. It was brutal. I did make it upstairs in time, but had gone from functioning and working to completely ill and a total mess in moments. It was terrible.

The Nutrition Challenge

The food poisoning came on in the middle of a nutrition challenge I have been doing. After all, in the midst of a global pandemic, what could be more important that putting my health first? And as a working mom, staying healthy and cooking good food, and presenting an over-all healthy lifestyle for my family, is always a priority. I also find that there is a direct correlation between my food choices and the way that I sound, so this nutrition challenge was right up my alley.

Since I typically try to eat well, why was this challenge unique? Well, I had been eating a lot more raw vegetables than usual and avoiding any processed carbohydrates. I still eat carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and squash, I just have been avoiding gluten free breads, cereals, and pastas. I had also been eating A LOT of salad. When a say a lot, I mean consider a normal amount, and then for me, the past two weeks had been more than double the amount of salad eating I ever do. It had been an insane amount.

In the midst of a nationwide romaine recall in 19 states, I believe that I got profoundly ill either from romaine lettuce or from an autumn lettuce blend, the latter more likely being the culprit. Whatever the cause, after epic vomiting, I was left dizzy and with a fever that hovered around 100 for 48 hours and alternating between chills and sweats.

A Forced Rest

Laura Schreiber on Sofa with Her DogsAs a small business owner, I work all the time. Typically on the weekends I work less, but I still work at points every day. This food poisoning forced me to pause. I was not even sure on Saturday if I would be ok for my like sessions on Monday, but I know realize I will be. Talking is hard, sitting up is hard. Sometimes the forced rest is essential to get back to where we were. I guess it is an opportunity to reset- to restart. In truth I have no other option, when one is so dizzy that going up and down the stairs feels unsafe, the rest is the only option. In lieu of any work, I laid on the sofa in my den surrounded by my dogs and tried not o move at all.

The Implications

As a voice over actor, our business is our baby and it is hard to set it aside for even a moment. When you have such a profound passion, even some intense vomiting does not dampen the passion. But the vomiting makes it virtually impossible to work and to work well. To act well, we have to meaningfully engage with our copy and easily switch from role to role, whether it’s the millennial commercial voice or an engaging professional in an eLearning narration. When you cannot sit up straight and you are burping a lot, it is pretty impossible to connect with the copy and be present in the moment as your stomach is really calling all the shots. Unless you have a great character gig as a burping child, this is really not the time to be in the booth.

The opportunities that arise here are ones for communications. If any work needs to be rescheduled, it should be done right away. I was fortunate, if ever there was a time to get sick, Friday afternoon was a good one. I had time to recover. I did not miss any booked work, I did not need to move any sessions, I did not need to notify anyone of my convalesced state.  Believe me, I have had to do all of those things in the past, and you feel terrible to let a client down, so being able to work is a good feeling. I was lucky that considering how sick I got, it happened over the weekend and I will be ok.

A Case Study in Fixing A Tech Issue

On Thursday I got the email that a professional voice over actor never wants to get from an agent. One of my most Houston We Have a Problem Memeattentive agents took the time to email me that something was wonky with my audio. She said it sounded off, and in addition she could hear clicks and plosives that she could not normally hear.  This is odd because I used isotope RX7 in my effects stack, so that never happens. She also said that my “Fs” did not sound like they usually do. While I was profoundly thankful for the feedback, my heart sank. In voice over, we are only as good as we sound, and I had recently made a ton of studio upgrades. So my mind was racing. When did these issues start? What had I submitted that sounded this way? I knew I had to fix it, and fast. I had a live commercial session the next morning with a producer I work with regularly but the client was new, and this had to be fixed prior to the session. I only had a few hours and the clock was ticking.

Quick Response

I immediately reached out to Tim Tippets, aka the VO Tech Guru. I had worked with Tim on the recent upgrades I Time is of the Essencemade and he had created my new effects stack. I was not sure where the problem began, but I was confident Tim could fix it. I must confess, I stalked Tim. I emailed him sound to compare our baseline audio from when we had worked together several months ago and my audio from Thursday. I also texted him to see when he was around and to let him know my availability with a desperate hope that he was able to fit me in. Tim answered my prayers and made time in his super busy schedule for me later that evening. I was profoundly thankful.

Fixing The Glitch

Tim and I had a zoom session. I gave Tim control of my computer.  Tim right away determined I was having a UAD Don't Change the Settingssoftware issue with my Apollo MK II Thunderbolt preamp. Somehow, at some point, I had checked a box that for my settings should never be checked. In this case, it is the preamp box. Once that box was checked, it changed all of the settings, the gain, the input, basically all the levels were completely different.  We quickly realized that the baseline for the Manley Voxbox that I use was not saved on my iMac. Rather, it was still on my MacBook Air that I had used before my recent upgrade. So, I needed to send it to my new computer. Tim was amazing. He was patient and confident and in very little time he had my preamp settings restored. Further, he made sure that I was now able to restore them on my own in the future. He also took the time to tell me how to do audio play back in zoom to make my live sessions with clients better.

Why It Matters

Put simply, in voice over, we are only as good as we sound. If we want our base of clients to keep coming back, we must offer nothing less than consistently pristine audio. If my agent could hear sibilance and plosive, then it is likely it was

Quality Mattersheard in auditions and work submitted around that time as well. Part of being a professional working voice actor means having broadcast ready audio, and broadcast ready audio is perfect. Broadcast ready audio sounds as good as our demos.. It matters because our clients depend on us to provide them with great audio. It matters because our agents need us to have bookable, quality work. It matters because there is a difference between professionals and amateurs and sounding broadcast ready is one of those defining qualities.

Reflections on the Situation

If we can’t sound as good as we sound on our best day every day then we need to know how to fix it. I was fortunate, since the start of my small business, I have made a habit of surrounding myself with people that I can trust. As a working professional, I can tell you that every day is not perfect. Here is why this situation is something to write about: I had a problem, I took action, I knew whew to call, and the problem was resolved within hours, before it effected client work. As a working voice over actor, it is essential to have go-to industry partners that you trust. In this scenario, my agent was my alarm. She had my back. We always need others who will fix our crowns when they get knocked off. Then I had Tim. He had my back too. He scheduled me right away when I let me know how urgent my need was. So in the end, my audio problem was fixed because I have meaningful relationships with people in my industry. Our success may be about the sound, but it is also built upon the relationships with other people in voiceover and without that my sound would likely still be a mess.

Working From Home

Who doesn’t dream of rolling out of bed, brushing their teeth, staying in their cozy pjs and slippers, and going down to their home office, right? As a full-time working mom, I wanted to work from home to be near my children. I love that I am home when they are off or home from school. I love that I am here when they home sick. I also love that my precious Cavalier, Violet, is with me in the studio much of the day while I work.

When I built my business voice over, I decided early on to build a professional home studio. It was really exciting to make choices that were specifically to my benefit. From the colors to the height of the desk, it was all about me! Everything else in my house is done for the common good. I have done my kids rooms for them. My kitchen is meant to be practical. This was the first time I built something based on my research, preferences, and taste!

Come on In to My Voice Over Studio…

Welcome to my booth… Please check out this tour:

From the Foam to the Mic

Every choice in the booth was made with a lot of thought and careful decisions. My wonderful contractor, Pzermik, worked with both Uncle Roy of Antland Productions and George Whittam to get all of the spec right. The walls are double thick and have special insulation on the inside. The carpet has plush padding and I have a rug of the rug.  I have a special fire door that is both sound proof and insulated. My booth. was built with aurelex foam.  I have great bass traps. While my voice lacks bass tones, they keep my rectangular booth from sounding boxy.  I couldn’t have a whisper room because of the ceiling clearance and studio bricks didn’t exist at the time, but I spent a lot of time looking at the whisper room set ups and that really helped me discern what I needed and wanted.

I am particularly proud of my lights and fan. Both are silent and both work well! It is always bright in the booth.

I have made lots of upgrades to the equipment over the years. Now, I record on a Neumann TLM 103, Avalon M5, and MacBook Air with Twisted Wav. I am really happy with this set up.

What Makes it Professional

The audio quality of the final produced work makes this booth a professional booth. My raw audio is pristine. I am have a very low noise floor. I do a lot of radio and a lot of live sessions. My clients never have issues with the sound.

What Makes it Custom

This booth was built around what is good for me! So if I have friends over they may not find everything the way they have it in their booth, but I love all my little details, from my shelf that holds the pre-amp and interface under my desk to my hooks for my

My hook on the wall is immediately to the left of where I work and is perfectly positioned!

head phones and wires that are at just the right locations. One of my favorite details is that we actually drilled right through the desk so that the music stand is dead center in front of me to place the scripts on. It is perfect.

What I Would Change

There are somethings I would change for sure! I spent a lot of money upgrading to white foam which turned yellow within the year that I bought it. I really do not like the yellow. I was at a conference last week and saw a turquoise and grey booth and I have total booth envy now! I initially wanted the white because I thought it would feel so big and open, but now it just looks awful and I’m upset about the white.

It is cold in the winter! I don’t know how I would make it warmer, but I am going to figure something out, because it gets ridiculously freezing in there!

My booth is in my basement. I didn’t want to take up space in the rest of my house, but I hate being in the basement. I feel far away from everyone.  I also never want to do other work in the workspace I created adjacent to my studio because I don’t want to be in the basement.

I think at some point I would like to add built in storage. At present I have some storage cubes and a file box in the booth. In the long term, I would love something a little neater.

My other major longterm goal is to have my travel rig sound more like my main set up! I use my travel rig enough that I need to have it sound closer to my home studio. Right now there is too much of a disparity between my apogee and my Neumann.

We All Need to Stay on Top of Our Game

As the years go on, in between conferences, a working professional voiceover talent may have a question about our tech or about our recording software from time to time. As a seasoned, full-time professional, sometimes I discuss such issues with my accountability group. Other times I will pay for a session with an audio engineer. But a lot of the time I am plugging away in my booth and I need an answer right away. Another likely scenario is that I am playing around trying to remember how to do something with my audio software that someone has told me about and  go down a rabbit hole trying to figure it out. In those instances, I head to youtube and I have found some pretty fantastic videos done by industry friends to answer my questions. Here are some favorites that you might find helpful too:

Time Saver for Editing Breaths

A few years ago in one of my accountability group chats voice over goddess Shelley Avellino firrst talked about how she handled breaths on Twisted Wav. She talked about using the “Detect Silences” option and replacing it with room tone. If your noise floor is low, this is a great option. I thought it was a brilliant idea, but as I do a lot of commercial work my recordings are typically not long enough to do this. Recently, the one and only Kim Handysides suggested I record my auditions all at once, and now that I am in the habbit of doing that, Shelley’s suggestion seems perfect. The problem was that I could not recall how to do it. I turned to YouTube and found this wonderful tutorial from industry friend Christi Bowen. Here Christi explains step by step how to quickly and efficiently replace your breaths in Twisted Wave. She also addresses issues like clipping letters at ends of words, so this is a must watch for sure!

Productivity tips for Twisted Wav

I was lucky enough to meet Jack de Golia and hear him speak in person at WoVo con in Las Vegas, but if you can’t get there, this video is extremely helpful, especially if you are endeavoring to do long form narration or audio books. Jack talks about so many salient recording issues, including why we should never record in MP3 and he provides valuable tips for editing. I also learned something from Jack when I heard him speak in person. I do a lot of live sessions, and Jack said that if your computer fan goes on, you can put ice packs under it to stop your fan. He later cautioned me to make sure I did not get it wet, but I keep my laptop on a raised metal platform, so thus far it has not been an issue. Jack’s thoughtful approach in this video is wonderful.

Trouble Shooting a Pre-amp

I have had not one, but many sessions with George Whittam, aka George the Tech Guy. I worked with him when initially building my studio. I have had emergency sessions when I’ve had snafus. I have had George build my effects stacks. I have had George build more stacks as I bought more equipment. To say I trust George is an understatement. He is a pleasure to work with and he will never leave you without a solution. This video gives you an idea of what it is like to work through a problem with George. he is calm and full of suggestions. They also happen to be working on an Avalon pre-amp, same as mine. Sometimes you just need to keep trying lots of different approaches and here you get an idea of how George tackles this issue.

Mic Technique

I’ve had a lot of coaching. A lot. For years. From the best in the business. But very little of the work that I have done has been in person, face to face. So, in our business we talk often of mic technique. You, like me, my found it helpful to watch videos about mic technique to learn how other industry professionals perform. I find Gabi’s videos to be both entertaining and insightful and her tips are always on-point. This is extremely specific! I have tried to switch mics and this also often involves adjusting my setup. Gabi looks like she is using the same mic as me now, the Neumann TLM 103, and I can tell you that it is powerful and sensitive so positioning matters a lot.

Conclusions

At the end of the day, we can take what we need from these videos and use them how they apply. I find it a comfort to know that there are so many valuable resources at our fingertips.

I’m Starting to see a Pattern

When I actually stop working and venture out of my padded foam booth, I have found that a lot of folks are super inquisitive about what it is like to be a professional voice over actor. Yesterday my husband and I went to Philly, about an hour and a half from where we live to pick up a new car because we got a great deal. Sitting in the dealership waiting to sign the papers, I realized that almost every weekend I have the same conversations. So, in case you too are curious, in the form of a self interview I will address these burning questions:) Here goes:

Q: I’ve Always wanted to get into voiceover. Is it hard to get started?

A: YES! Like all professions, it takes training, years of commitment, and a financial investment. For each genre that you

I am so fortunate to have trained with the best! Bill DeWees, Dave Fennoy, Anne Ganguzza, and Fred Frees. I worked with Anne for so long that I her her voice in my head every single day. I actually found Fred on Bill’s website and working with him was a blessing!

endeavor to work in, you need separate coaching and a demo. When I decided to pursue voiceover, I made my training my full-time job and I did the work that my coaches gave me 5-6 hours a day every day. I also took acting and improv classes. I have had coaching for many genres, but have spent the most time working with coaches for commercials, character work, radio imaging, and narration. It is really important to find a coach who understand your goals and helps you reach them. They are the foundation of your career!

Q: So, do you have your own studio or something?

A: Yes!! In the United States, particularly for non-union talents like myself, it is expected that voice over talents have their own professional studios. My studio is as good as any professional studio in New York or LA. It was set up by professional audio engineers and I have thousands of dollars of equipment in it. I record on a Neumann TLM 103 and an Avalon M5 preamp. I also had to have a lot of training to learn how to edit my audio as most VOs are our own engineers too. A few folks who are in the top of the field have full time engineers working for them, and I would love to be able to do that in a few years, but for now I record and edit all of my own work. I also got my studio WoVo approved. That means that a team of engineers had to review my raw audio and sign off on it. I have a certification number for my booth.

Q: Do you have a specialty?

A: Yes! Since I started, I have always booked more commercials than anything else. About 80% of my bookings are commercials, and I book more radio than tv, but I do both. In addition to regular broadcasts, I am on Pandora’s roster and this year I have also done quite a lot of work for Spotify. Top clients include Gap, Jersey Mikes, Bobbi Brown, Jet Blue, Walmart… and the list goes on and on. The rest of my work is a split between radio imaging, telephony, narration, eLearning, YouTube bumpers/Social Media campaigns, and podcasts. But when a commercial comes my way, I typically feel right at home. I especially love tags. I also get so excited to do those super fast disclaimers at the end of spots. Perhaps my most favorite thing to do is to be the voice of Christmas cheer in the holiday season.

Q: Is there work you won’t do?

A: Erotica. I’m just not comfortable with it. First, I sound quite young, so it bothers me even more when I am asked because I very much am disturbed by the implications of asking someone who is even sought because they sound like a young girl. Next, twice I have been hired for jobs. The initial script is clean/mainstream. After the booking the script comes in and it is shockingly crude. Of course my husband always thinks I should just take it, but it is a line that I am not comfortable with and I will not do. Not my thing, I’ll save it for my better suited colleagues who can have fun with it!

Q: Is there anything that has surprised you about your voiceover career?

A: Yes!  I have met so many amazing people and made wonderful friends. I have had the opportunity to travel a bit which I did not anticipate. I am continually learning and growing and being challenged, the professional development never ends.  The needs of the field to keep changing. I am learning a lot about marketing. And lost, but not least, I have done so man period spots it is shocking! I will leave you with this British one I did for Tampax.