Another VO Newbie Resource – The VO Minute

Last week,VO Minute I posted a lot of information for new voice actors. And I knew the instant I hit “publish” that there were a lot of things I left out of the considerable list. The first omission I want to correct is this one: The VO Minute.

The VO Minute is a 1 minute podcast created by Allison Moffett and Marktree Productions in Huntington Beach, California. A brisk and informative blast of good information for anyone unfamiliar with the ins and outs of voiceover, audio recording, and sound, you should definitely be subscribing to it in iTunes or checking it out directly on the website. They are now up to 11 episodes, and going strong.

If audio isn’t in your background, I strongly recommend checking out this podcast. You can only gain from it. You can also follow Allison on Twitter @VOMinuteAlli do find out when each new podcast is coming. Anne Ganguzza  had already pointed out this great resource, but I thought I would add to the chorus. Go check it out!


Power of Human Voice – Bobby McFerrin

I tend to think that “Don’t Worry Be Happy” was one of the worst things that could have happened to Bobby McFerrin.

I had the album that the ubiquitous song appeared on for a full year before it came out as a heavy rotation single in 1988. By the time it became overpoweringly popular, it was old hat for me and my friends. It made a lot of money, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing it.

But what it obscured was McFerrin as one of the most flexible and incredible artists we have seen in this generation.

He is not just a gimmick song singer. He has won 10 Grammy awards, been a guest conductor at the Cleveland, London, Chicago and London Symphonies, and worked with giants of the jazz, classical, and folk music worlds like Chick Corea, Bela Fleck, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor. Because he can so easily flip into his falsetto and use it so quickly and subtly, there is simply no one like him.

This video is a great example of how he works with some of those greats. Ma, Meyer, and O’Connor have done multiple albums together, including one of my favorites, Appalachian Journey. Together, the perform “Hush Little Baby.”

The “How Do I Get Into This” Post

3D Character and Question Markphoto © 2010 SMJJP | more info (via: Wylio) I have attended one of our local Charlotte Voiceover Meetups, sponsored by Gabby Nistico and VOCareer. One of these meetups was held at a local audio equipment distributor, SE Systems. One of the attendees asked for my contact information, and he called me with a number of questions about getting into voiceover, as anyone who is in the business can report any number of times. I thought I would actually make this a document I could refer back to and modify for future reference. SO without further ado…here we go.

Question 1: Where do I start, other than attending these “meetup” meetings? (and I don’t have $5k to get my home studio yet, nor do I have funds to consistently get voice lessons right now)

Let me address the studio question first: you don’t need $5,000 to set up a home studio. You don’t really need anything close to that right away. Of course down the road, you will have to have serious equipment, but I will point this out: I know many voice artists who make plenty of money recording in a closet in their house. But you are right on one thing: the meetups alone aren’t going to get you going. But coaching? Yes, you need to look into it, and there are many reasonable paths to getting coaching. One is Voice Over Club, and they can coach over telephone/Skype for rates you can manage, to get real coaching from real voice actors. They also offer other modules you can check out away from your coaching sessions (disclaimer: I have done work with and for Voice Over Club). Also check out Voice Coaches and Edge Studio for more resources and coaching possibilities.

Pertaining to your home studio; as I said, you don’t need to invest $5,000 in your home setup. First, check out this video from Trish Basanyi about her home studio setup regarding sound treatment. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and doesn’t require investing in a Whisper Room.

Second, you will need a computer capable of being your recording platform. It doesn’t take a monster of a PC or Mac, but it will take something capable of running today’s software, so it will need to have been purchased within the last two to three years. Third, an interface and microphone. You can address this one of two ways, neither of which is extraordinarily expensive. Remember, this is for audition purposes, which you will have to be able to do from home.

Best Buy offers equipment that would be ideal for a starter setup from M-Audio: either a USB mic or audio interface to which you can connect a full fledged condenser mic of your own choosing, both of which come with ProTools LE software for recording, and a pair of M-Audio monitor speakers. If you choose the interface, you can get an inexpensive mic like this Audio Technica 2020 from Sweetwater and have a credible, useful setup. Don’t forget you will need a pop filter and a mic stand as well.

The bottom line is this: you will need to spend money to get there. There is no way around that. But you don’t have to spend huge amounts right now. You can always step up your equipment as you get work and invest back into the business. And it IS a business.

Question 2: I know what sector of voiceover that I want to do (documentaries, like National Geographic, Educational Channel, etc.) and animation; but I am open to doing it all; how do I find out these openings? How do I get my foot in the door (i.e. voiceovers for Travel Channel commercials, Speed Channel commercials, Jack Daniel commercials, etc.)?

There are obviously paths to getting to the arenas you want to be in. But none of them are short and easy. You find out about these opportunities through multiple sources; online, agents, referrals, on and on. But he biggest thing you have to have, no if ands or buts about it, is a demo for the relevant area. If you check my website, you will see my demos for commercials, e-learning, IVR/messaging on hold, narration, messaging on hold, and singing. Without these, you have no shot. None. And these definitely WILL cost money. And you honestly cannot make demos until you have done some training. I know this seems like a grand circle, but it is the fact. And through the course of training, you will get information about how to get into those fields, who to contact, who to submit to, and so on. But you must have a professionally made demo in order to do it. My most important point about demos: Do NOT make one right away, without training and practice. If you haven’t been practicing and training for 6 months at the very least, you will be wasting your time and money, and the time of the studio you work with to make it.

Question 3: How did you get started?

In a nutshell, you can find how I got started on my bio page. What I don’t mention there is I did training with Susan Berkley of Great Voice before I made my demos. I fell into an opportunity, and tried to capitalize on it. I still am!

Question 4: Can I try to audition for some work, even though I have no demo/voiceover reel? And if so, what steps do I take?

The problem with auditioning without a demo is that the only thing you have to represent your ability is the demo. Anyone can read one line or one paragraph. But your demo show you can do that with different styles, different contexts, pacing, all of it. Virtually anyone you reach out to for voice work will ask you for a demo, and you have to have something to hang your hat on. If you don’t have one, you will not be taken seriously. So though you could do it, I strongly recommend that you don’t.

Question 5: Could voiceover work really be a lucrative opportunity for ‘regular’ folk like myself?

Can it be lucrative? Yes. Will it take time and hard work? Oh yes. As you can see from my bio page, I’m regular folk like you. I studied different subjects than you, but I am no superstar actor. Regular folks are able to make it, if they are willing to work hard, study, practice. But none of it comes easily or quickly. You need support from friends and family and a willingness to try new things. Take an acting class. Pick up a couple of books, like The Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and On The Road, The Art of Voice Acting, and others. Search the voiceover category on Amazon to find more books.  Get on Twitter and follow the #voiceover and #vo hashtags and see what other voiceactors are doing. Read my blog, and more importantly, the blogs of people I have listed in my blogroll to see what they have to say.

My friend Mercedes Rose, the voice of Princess Rosalina in the Nintendo Wii Mario games, has this spectacular list of what it takes to get going in voiceover:

do some internet research
read books
get in a VO class
get in an acting class
get in an improv class
read books
start working one-on-one with a VO coach
stay in group class
practice everyday
pay attention to what you hear on the TV, radio, etc
read books
(continue for between 6 months and 2 years)
do a VO demo
tell everyone you know you are doing VO
continue working one-on-one with a VO coach
stay in group class
practice everyday
pay attention to what you hear on the TV, radio, etc
read books
try to get an agent specifically for VO
keep it up!

If you are on Twitter (and there is no reason you shouldn’t be at this point), you should also make it a point to follow these voiceover resources and actors. There are so many more I could add. If you want to see who I follow in voiceover, you can get my list here.:












It’s out there. You have to go get it.

Question 6: I’d like to know how contracts and payments work regarding documentaries, commercials, etc. For example, that voice that does the baby voice/ E Trade commercial- how much would he probably get for those series of commercials and does he get residuals for those commercials or does he get paid one lump sum and the commercials play accordingly?

Payment for projects varies by project. Variables include whether the job is union or not, was acquired through your agent or on your own, if it is broadcast or not, if it goes on the web, how long it will run, and more. But here’s the basics for radio and television commercials.

TV and radio commercials are generally paid based on market and length of run, determined by the number of cycles (13 week periods) it is purchased for. Jobs that run nationally pay the most. Then those that run in one of the top three markets (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago). Then those in the next 22 markets. You can find the full market listing for radio at Arbitron, and television at Nielsen. Also, union rates for both TV and radio are higher than non-union, and offer the opportunity for residuals, though reputable non-union job sources should pay you for reuse of your work if it goes past the original usage period. You can look up union rates at the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Actors) websites. Edge Studio offers a great rate card resource for non-union work as well.

About the E-Trade guy: his name is Randy Krallman, and he’s a film and commercial director. He became the voice of the E-Trade baby after they couldn’t cast anyone that did the proposed voice any better than he could. He also shot the commercials!

Honestly, I have barely scratched the surface here. I haven’t talked about the need for career coaching, not just performance coaching. Marketing. Networking. Choosing and learning your software of choice.  The key things to remember are these:

  • This is hard work. Barring a miracle from the sky, you won’t be recording national commercials or Discovery Channel documentaries tomorrow.
  • This costs money. In training, in equipment, in marketing and branding. Everything counts.
  • This is fun. Funny voices, serious voices, all of it. It’s fun.
  • This is not fun. The invoicing, the pavement pounding for new clients, the editing of long sessions.
  • This industry is full of some of the most sharing and uplifting people you will find anywhere. No, they aren’t going to open up their contact lists to you and say “go for it!” But if you have a question about tech, want feedback on a demo or website, or information about the ins and outs of the business…all you have to do is ask. And share the information you have. Because someone out there is right behind you, trying to do the same thing.

I just realized that George Harrison’s “I Got My Mind Set On You” nails it:

But it’s gonna take money
A whole lotta spending money
Its gonne take plenty of money
To do it right child

Its gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
Its gonna take patience and time, ummm
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it,
To do it right child

Now get out there! We’re waiting to hear your voice!

Power of Human Voice – Chanticleer

I think I’m going to add this as a semi regular feature of this blog: The Power of the Human Voice. I tried it out with the previous post on the death of Henryk Górecki, and I like it some much, I’m going back to it, hopefully on a weekly basis. It won’t all be about music, but this one is too good to pass up.

Chanticleer is a musical group that has sung together since 1978, specializing in a capella (unaccompanied) vocals of classical works. Over the years, they have commissioned a number of works by contemporary composers as well. But this is a step out even for them: a music video for an “indie pop” song.

“Cells Planets” is by Erika Lloyd, and the video was shot by the group on the road with cameraphones and webcams, and is an outstanding showcase for the lead countertenor. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a countertenor is a male voice whose range ranges well into the mezzo, or lower woman’s range.  It is a haunting, lovely rendition, so please click and have a listen. Thanks to Kevin Turner for sharing this video.

iAudition iPhone app – for voice artists on the go

A couple of days ago, I got a call asking for an audition to do a narration bit. Unfortunately, I was out of pocket for the rest of the afternoon, and wouldn’t be able to get back to my home studio to record it. I was not thrilled with the idea of leaving that opportunity on the table. Fortunately, I had seen the chatter about iAudition, an iPhone app developed by Everyday Giants specifically to record and lightly edit auditions for voice artists, and deliver them via multiple paths. Considering my situation, I thought I would give it a try, even though I was dubious about the quality of the iPhone’s internal mic. At $4.99, what did I have to lose except some business?

A quick purchase, and I was able to record, quickly edit, and send the audition from my iPhone 3GS, sending the file over the 3G network since wi-fi was unavailable at the moment. Later in the evening, I got the thumbs up, and I got the gig. The positive result demands a full review of iAudition, don’t you think?

iAudition Home Screen

iAudition Home Screen

After installation, iAudition opens with a very simple user interface: a large red “record” button in the center of your screen. Tapping the button starts the recording, and it switches to a large pause button. You will likely have to try a few times to find out what the ideal mic placement is if you are only using the iPhone like I was yesterday. You can stop and start the recording as many times as you like before beginning editing. The application warns you as you enter the edit phase that you will no longer be able to record into the file. Keep that in mind before hitting the edit phase, and you should be just fine.

Of course, editing on such a small screen could be quite a chore. Everyday Giants has done an admirable job of making the edit process as simple as possible given the constraints of the device.You can scroll back and forth along the wave form, zooming in and out by familiar pinch and squeeze gestures. Zoom levels go down to 3 seconds, so you won’t be able to select and eliminate every click and pop you have, but you can come close. Selecting an area to cut is done with the partial clock icons on the bottom. Tap the timeline above to position the cursor, then tap the left partial clock face icon to select all the wavefrom after the cursor, the right partial clock face icon to select all of the wavefrom before the cursor, and the whole clock face in the center to

iAudition Edit Screen

iAudition Edit Screen

eliminate all selections. Once an area is selected, it can be cut and pasted with ease via two more buttons. Copy, Undo and Redo  are available from the “More” button. No, this editor isn’t going to make you forget about Pro Tools, Audition, or Audacity, but given the limitations of a touch screen interface in this particular application type, you have to tip your hat for the effort.

Once you are happy with you edit, you tap the File button, and you are given the option to Close without saving, Save, Save and Close, or Save As. Once have saved the file, you need to tap File and Close without Saving to exit the edit process. You will be taken to the file management screen, where you can choose to edit, delete, play back, or send the finished file. Playback defaults to headphones, so you have to tap the Speaker button to hear it play on the iPhone’s speakers. It was on this screen that I had a few issues with the iPhone going dark very quickly, before the default timeout period for battery saving. A minor difficulty, but one you should be aware of.

iAudition File Management

iAudition File Management

If you choose to send the file, you can choose between email and an FTP server. However, you must set up the FTP server in question in the application settings first before being able to access it. One other option for transferring files is via an HTTP Share. Select this option, and iAudition gives you back a URL. Input that URL into your browser, and you can grab the file over your wifi connection as if it were another web server on the net. Note that when the program saves files, they are in WAV form, but sending them via email transfer sends an MP3, which is especially handy when sending over your 3G connection instead of wifi. Pulling them across via HTTP Share gives you the actual WAV.

As I stated before, the weakest link in this chain is the iPhone’s microphone. The resulting recording certainly won’t match what you do with your in studio gear. But it is good enough to get your audition through. You can listen to a sample recording here. However, if you are one of those so blessed with an iPad, you can connect some USB microphones to it via the iPad Camera Connection Kit. It is verified that the Blue Microphone Yeti does function in this setup, though I am not certain if it is something that works with iAudition or only with the Blue FiRe app. I’d love to hear from someone who tries this kind of setup.

Could iAudition do more? I am certain that some processing and/or EQ could be added to the app in the iPad environment, since it sports a much more muscular processor. But again, this isn’t designed for very delicate editing and recording, and neither is the platform, at least not yet.

iAudition enters a field that is crowded with non-voiceover specific recording apps for iOS. But for $5, the functionality is hard to beat, and it is easy enough to use that if you are an iOS device owner, it belongs in your traveling kit right now. The creators of iAudition, voice actors Marc Aflalo and Mitchell Whitfield, have worked to create a product specifically with our market in mind. In my estimation, they have been successful.

Revised 11/22/10 for inclusion of iAudition creators.

A great musical loss and the power of the human voice

You may not know who Henryk Górecki was. A Polish composer, he passed away today at the age of 76.

Most people may have never known who he was if it were not for the issuance of his Symphony Number 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. It was composed in 1977, and it sort of languished until it was recorded and released in 1992, with the soprano performed by the incomparable Dawn Upshaw. It sold over a million copies, a figure unheard of for a 20th century composer.

I remember hearing this for the first time, and being so moved by the utter sadness of the piece.  From the Wikipedia entry:

The libretto for the first movement is taken from a 15th century lament, while second movement uses the words of a teenage girl, Helena Błażusiak, which she wrote on the wall of a Gestapo prison cell in Zakopane to invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary.[35]
The third uses the text of a Silesian folk song which describes the pain of a mother searching for a son killed in the Silesian uprisings.[36] The dominant themes of the symphony are motherhood and separation through war. While the first and third movements are written from the perspective of a parent who has lost a child, the second movement is from that of a child separated from a parent.

If you have an opportunity, I strongly suggest you listen to this piece. Górecki was for a portion of his career a minimalist, so many figures are repeated for long stretches in each movement. But I think that minimalism is what lends weight to the despair of the piece. Here’s the third movement, “Lento e largo.”

No, this isn’t strictly voiceover related. But this music speaks both to the power of music and the power of the human voice. It doesn’t matter that you cannot understand the words: you can feel it. So go have a listen. And remember that spoken or sung, our voices can move people, when put in the hands of transcendent talent.

Thank you Maestro Górecki for all of your work, especially this soul shaking piece.

An artist you should know on camera

One of my “Artists You Should Know,” Lauren McCullough, stars in a new ad for the Lincoln MKS. The music is “The Future is Where We Belong” by The Hot Pipes. Lauren knocks this one out….click and watch!