George Whittam

The Talk Began with Armin at One Voice

Yesterday I spent much of the day online in my den enjoying different workshops from the One Voice 2020 conference. I had not planned to fly to London to attend before the pandemic, but since virtual attendance became an option I was excited to participate.  I got so much out of the sessions, from thinking about craft and marketing, to thinking about my feelings about auditions and the work that I book. So, from the start, thanks to Hugh Edwards and the entire team at Gravy for the Brain for this amazing conference!

Each session got my wheels turning for different reasons, but during Armin’s session that was around 11 AM EST, when he spoke of defining quality in the industry. My head was bursting with ideas. If you don’t know Armin Hierstetter, he is the founder and CEO of the online casting platform Bodalgo. Unlike some platforms where you can simply sign up, Bodalgo stands apart because Armin has a screening process to begin with, setting a bar for “quality” from the start. In his talk, Armin spent a bit of time talking about what is going on industry wide in terms of quality, what quality looks like, and how quality could be achieved.

Why does Armin’s chat matter so much? Well, if you recall last week I blogged about Casting Director MaryLynn Wissner and what happens if we take Coaching out of the mix when defining a professional. Yesterday, Armin made a strong argument for why coaching and training matter when defining quality in voiceover. Armin was not alone when he spoke about the importance of coaching, I heard this message from Kay Bess as well. I think any well-established talent in the industry will tell you with pride how much they have invested in working on their craft. Next, Armin also spoke about the importance of audio quality. Again, in order to book work competitively at the moment in the industry, a professional talent must have the “right” equipment in a sound treated space and know how to edit it. But simply having training and buying equipment alone is not enough, these need to combine with an ethical underpinning on platforms that are out to foster the growth of the industry, and all of that together creates a synergy to provide quality work for out clients.

So, inspired by Armin, let’s examine more in depth how we can work together at this unique moment in history to provide outstanding VO quality for our clients:

Training:

It is imperative that in order to be competitive in the voice over industry today a talent must have coaches and continue to work on their craft. When I started I did a combination of one on one coaching in specific genres, online classes, acting and improv. Whether or not you are working towards a demo, a good coach will help you develop your strengths and identify your weaknesses. They will also help you identify next steps and encourage you with other genres of voice over that would likely be a good fit. As MaryLynn mentioned in her blog post, good coaches ideally have a responsibility to give talents both a push in the right direction and a heads up if they are sub parr.

Attending conferences is essential to understanding industry trends. What is current and booking changes. If you are not in touch with other voice actors and involved in current training, how do you know what is booking at the moment? There are also differences by region. For example, I was told at WoVo Con 2019, this year, that when submitting west coast auditions I should add touches of improv but never to do that on auditions being submitted in NYC. Working out and doing line reads in the presence of other voice actors, while humbling, also helps you see where you fit in in the community and if you are in fact up to snuff. It is really important to push yourself to these challenges and participate in such community activities.

Audio Quality:

Audio quality matters. Clients can hear the difference when listening to auditions. I have always been a big proponent of getting WoVo studio approval and when I cast jobs for clients will only cast with talents who have been vetted through this process.

For those wanting to learn as much as possible about studio setups and audio standards, there are lots of great ways to go about it. The VOBS weekly show is really helpful. If you started watching today, you would be busy for a while! Both Dan Leonard and George Whittam are also available to help teach anything related to audio processing and studio set up, as is Tim Tippets, and Roy Yokelson. There are others out there too, but if you want to have competitive audio, the quality of your raw audio needs to be outstanding and then you need to know how to edit it. It’s that simple. Those of use who have been in the business for a while typically attend workshops at conferences on DAW upgrades. For example, I love learning more about Twisted Wav. We also typically make improvements to our travel rigs. If your audio is not pristine, all the coaching in the world won’t save you.

Conclusions

If you want to succeed in voiceover, there are not short cuts to creating quality work. There is an industry standard and the bar is high. That is what books. If you are aware of those of us who continue to book at this time, the answer to what sets them apart is one word: quality.

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.

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.