live session

Typically I Love Live Sessions

Normally when client tells me they need a live or directed session, which happens multiple times a week if not daily, I am delighted. I love the creative back and forth. I love connecting and getting to work directly with the client. And I love the feeling when the session ends knowing that the client has exactly what they want and need. My clients typically want to connect via Source Connect or Zoom, and usually it is pretty easy and there is no drama. But not this Wednesday. Not at all:(

The Session That Went Awry

Doubt is not goodSo on Wednesday a client emailed asking if I had availability for a live session for 4 spots, to 30 second spots and 2 60 second spots. Time was not the issue, I was happy to make time. Before even scheduling the session, which we planned to do via zoom, I had two hiccups. First, I had learned the day before that my son has to have emergency surgery tomorrow (not the day after the session, the day after I am writing the blog.) Jack has a rare problem called an intussusception which basically means his intestines are looped and it is quite dangerous, so that was weighing on me. Next, we were hit very hard by Tropical Storm Issias and still running on generator power. When I turned by iMac on in the booth it flickered constantly and I had a legitimate concern it would cut out during the session. I did not mention Jack to my client but I did tell her about our power issues. She told me she was having internet issues, but we decided to give it ago as she had a time crunch.

The Live Session

At the start of the session the client could not connect via zoom. It just would not go through. We decided to connect via mobile phone. On a normal day, my mobile phone is not great in my booth because of all the insulation, so on this day it kept cutting out. I have had sessions where for no apparent reason we are cut off. On Wednesday we were cut off FOUR times. Yes, that’s right, FOUR TIMES. I kept clicking save, in fear that I would also lose my computer, which thankfully didn’t happen.

Ultimately the client sent another zoom link and we connected on zoom. The first 3 scripts were fine. Not amazing, not brilliant performance, but they were fine and she was great to work with. On the last 60 second script I was flustered and tongue tied. I became acutely aware of how long our session was, and I am always quick and efficient. I was feeling insecure and I was beginning to panic about the computer going off. I was convinced it could not possible last much longer. I was also worried about my sick child upstairs. In order to turn the computer on, I turned the air conditioner off, and I knew the family was suffering. I was not concentrating on the script, my mind was elsewhere.

It was so embarrassing. I can’t tell you exactly how many takes we had to do to get a usable one, But it was not good. The more we did the worse I was. I wanted to crawl under a rock. It is a miracle she did not fire me mid session. She was kind and she did not give up. I felt like a f—cking idiot. To be clear, this session was a problem both because of tech issues and because of performance issues. Either would have been problematic. The combination is something I have never faced and was devastating. When we finished I was so embarrassed I did share what was going on with Jack because by that point I wanted to save face.

Emotionally Distracted, No Shutoff

I was terribly emotionally distracted. I should have meditated and prepared before going into the session. As a working mom, I always want to work because I have financial goals that I need to meet to help provide for my family. The thing is, I don’t have a shut off switch. I did not leave my feelings outside my booth. I have always felt that bringing all of them with me into the booth has helped with my reads, but in this case I needed to cope better. I needed to be honest about my ability to function and I needed to prepare differently. I also needed to realize sooner how frazzled I was and get it under control. I was having a real time melt down and just needed to stop and re-set.

I Would Have Regretted Not Trying

Would Regret not tryingWhen the client emailed me with the booking, in truth it did not even cross my mind not to take the gig. I always think of how I can best meet a client’s needs. In retrospect, I am positive that I would have deeply regretted not trying. I would have seen it as a missed opportunity. That would have been so upsetting too. My hope is that they see me as someone willing to work hard even with this going on and that they do not write me off. I am well aware that this is a competitive industry, so it is possible I won’t hear from them again, but I sure hope not. The other take away is that I have not been spending a lot of time practicing my craft and working on my read rate. This was a great reminder that those skills always need work. My hope as I reflect on this session is that I am defined from my ability to work through this and not by the worse session I have ever had.

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.

from ipDTL to Source Connect and Everything in Between, Laura Schreiber Talks about her preferences

So You Want to Direct Me…

The answer always is, and should always be, great!  I always want to make my clients very happy, and this is just another opportunity to do so! As a full-time, professional voiceover actor, I have been set up to provide my clients with live/guided/directed sessions since I opened shop. One of my coaches used ipDTL for every session, so I felt very comfortable on that platform from the very start. I remember my first directed session like it was yesterday! It was a video game session with a German director. He wanted to use skype and their were 3 others on the other end giving me feedback. I loved working with them because I was able to give them specifically what they needed and wanted from the character that I was playing, a teenage badass called Jes, in the moment they needed it! There was no need for revisions because when the live session ended they had every line just as the wanted it. I put so much energy into each take and gave them multiple options. Having feedback as I recorded was so valuable.  I was not nervous, I loved every minute. Another advantage of live sessions is that it is much easier to get to know your clients and build relationships with them when you actually work directly with their team. I learned that early on too. While you can certainly get to know clients from back and forth emails, there is nothing like actually speaking to them and working with them to make them happy. Guided sessions are fantastic and that is why I offer so many options to accommodate my clients!

ipDTL and the ISDN Bridge

I love using ipDTL. As I mentioned earlier, I started using it during my coaching many years ago and loved the clear connection and the ease of use. As I try to be a client centered service provider who makes everything as easy as possible for the folks I work with, I like that this as a service that I provide my clients free of charge for them. I simply send them a link and we are ready to go. I have never had issues with my ipDTL connection and my clients always comment on what a clear connection it is. Here is a brief video where I show how user friendly it is: 

I also have a direct ISDN line with my own Los Angeles phone number through an ipDTL bridge. Several of my agents said they would not sign me without an ISDN line, so this was the easiest way to solve that challenge as Verizon stopped installing new ISDN lines in the winter of 2015.  I have been pleased with this as well although I have had some hiccups with the ISDN service. The owner/founder of ipDTL looked into it and found no problems with my line, so I was left befuddled.

I do also like the ipDTL facebook group. It has helped answer a lot of questions over the years! It is free and a great asset for those of us who use ipDTL often.

Source Connect

To be totally transparent, I actually signed up for Source Connect in a state of total hysteria when my ISDN would not work and I needed to connect with a studio in LA for a big commercial at that moment! Thank goodness it was up and running quickly and Source Connect saved the day. I did not initially find it as user friendly as ipDTL and needed a lot of directions and help from others. Since installing Source Connect, quite a few producers have wanted to use it which is great. The connection is extremely clear and it is also easy to use, once you know what to look for!

Skype

It seems that a lot of my overseas clients still want to use Skype. Skype is fine. It is not great, it is fine. There can be a frustrating latency issue, or lag. I also find that there can be a lot of hiccups when there are software updates. It makes me nervous to use Skype in lieu of ipDTL of Source Connect, but when a client strongly prefers this I will always accommodate.  Perhaps when they are comfortable with the format this drives their preference.

Speaker Phone

I have had a handful of clients demand to use the speaker phone in my booth! My mobile phone does not work in my studio as it is so sound proof it blocks the signal. I do have a land line there instead and I can use this upon request.  This is the worst option as it does not go through my pre-amp and microphone, so clients cannot hear the actual audio quality and sound. There are nuances to the recording that they will totally miss. Again, if the client is most comfortable like this I will oblige.

Sum Up

Over the years I have had a chance to do countless guided sessions.  Across genres, for all sorts of projects, I have had clients direct me for everything. While most commonly they are used for commercial sessions, I had one helluva narration session where the client was paying for an hour and she intended to use every minute of it! Boy did she have me jump through hoops, it was somewhat shocking! Whether it is for commercials, narration, IVR, video games, or promos, there is one thing in common: every session should end with a very happy client!