March 25, 2011

A Compact Lifespan

I still remember vividly when CDs were introduced as a sonic savior for music, promising to obliterate forever the crackle-and-pop of the vinyl album, and along with it the hiss and limited frequency range of the cassette tape.

I'm dating myself, to be sure, but my first introduction to the new format was on MTV in 1983, when Martha Quinn held up a prototype shiny disc and touted its promise. At the time, CD players weren't readily available in my area --- and those that were cost hundreds of dollars. I could be wrong, but as I remember it, there weren't even any commercial titles that I could go and buy.

Here's a promotional video, likely from '84 or '85, produced by Philips.

Before I got into VO as a career, I worked for a few years at a CD production company. We didn't manufacture the actual disc, but we did take spindles of pre-produced artists' discs and assembed them with the cover art and jewel boxes --- a mostly automated process that required a large robotic machine that I babysat and occasionally had to fix. (It's probably why I can't get enough of TV shows like How It's Made and Factory Made. But I digress.)

Billboard reports that In 2010, sales of compact discs fell by nearly 20 percent. This takes me back to about 1987, by which time CDs had already taken hold in the marketplace, and also by which time the recording industry was well on its way to burying the vinyl album --- citing simlar sales drops.

The parallels of these stories, however, are only skin-deep. Vinyl was readily ditched by the industry not only because they could market the CD as sonically superior, but because the latter took up less space in shipping trucks and in retail stores (true enough if one forgets the brief existence of the CD longbox). The higher price of the CD ---usually at least double that of the LP and cassette --- was defended by the industry as owing to higher production costs, which they promised would fall and take retail prices with them. As the 90s rolled on, they made good on the first part of the promise but not the second.

These days, CD sales are diminishing because the price was kept high, not because the industry was in love with the mp3 --- an audio format that didn't have its own dedicated physical conveyance (at least, not one they could directly control) and which the industry was slow to figure out how to monetize.

This history lesson is brought to you by my own melancholy, and also the assumption that you find this as interesting as I do. Even if only mildly so.

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March 08, 2011

New Tools (And a Warning Label)

Having quick access to handy tools is a must for any profession, no less so for VO artists. Voice talent J. Christopher Dunn has compiled a list of Five Must-Have Online Gizmos for Your Voice-over Toolbox that you'll want to check out.

I'm no lawyer (and I won't even play one here), but I would like to add a caveat regarding item # 4, "Save the Video". It's true that services like the one mentioned can grab online video, giving you the flexibility to post it to your site/blog/YouTube etc. However, just because you can grab it doesn't mean you should. Moreover, one shouldn't assume that a client's lack of response equals a "yes" when requesting a copy of the finished item. There is some debate about this; YouTube's own user agreement essentially states that once a video is uploaded, that clip is fair game for anyone's use. However, many of the content providers have legal decrees stating quite clearly the opposite. Unless you want to be potentially caught in a legal crossfire, your best move is to stick with content for which your client has given you the go-ahead.

Okay, enough finger-wagging. Go check out the toolbox and enjoy.

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October 28, 2010

FaffCon2: Atlanta 2011!

The success of the first FaffCon event in Portland has led to FaffCon 2, coming to Atlanta in 2011. Early registration begins November 1st!

FaffCon is a voiceover "unconference"; instead of being locked in to seminar or workshop content dictated by others, you get to choose what aspect of voiceover work gets discussed/worked on/et cetera. Congrats to FaffCon's organizer, Amy Snively, on the success of the (un)conference!

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July 21, 2010

Edge Studio's Microphone Selector

While there's no substitute for trying out different mics by actually using them, the folks at Edge Studio have come up with a way to help narrow down your options before putting them to the test.

Their Microphone Selector tool lets you compare mics in various price ranges and characteristics. You can select various criteria to pare your choice down from 59 different makes and models.

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June 18, 2009

Joan Baker Endorses Neumann


Veteran voiceover artist Joan Baker

(from Voice Over Times)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 2009: As the manufacturer of the high-end vocal microphones that have been integral to the voiceover industry since its inception, Neumann is pleased to announce its endorsement of Joan Baker.

In an amazing career that now spans two decades, Joan Baker has been “the voice” for hundreds of programs, promos, and commercials in TV, film, and radio. Her clients include ABC News, American Express, and ESPN, among countless others of equally high profile.



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July 02, 2007

Passing the Savings on to You?

I recently happened across this instructional video at Digital Juice, aimed at giving video producers some pointers on getting the best possible VO recordings. 

It's worth viewing, in that it has lots of good technical tips on basic recording techniques. Unfortunately, the entire theme of the video is summed up at the end: "[Your clients] will probably be pleasantly surprised by your results, and happy not to have to shell out any extra cash for voiceover talent."

To a voiceover artist, the preceding quote evokes this initial reaction: them's fightin' words.

Producers at whom this video is aimed need to realize that hiring professional voice talent is money well spent, and that it will actually save money in the long run. Those producers who are experienced in this arena will tell you that it ends up costing even more money (by way of lost time) when the initial VO is sub-par, because then you're under the gun to complete the project, you've got to find a bona fide VO who just happens to be available immediately, and you end up paying established rates anyway.

Another thing for producers to realize is that it doesn't take a "Hollywood-sized budget" as mentioned by the instructor. There are professional VO artists who will pro-rate their fee after a certain number of pages, and may even offer a kind of "goodwill discount" if asked nicely enough. (This doesn't, however, make it okay to offer $50 for an hour-long narration, as suggested in one of the comments on the page.) 

Having said all that, the video does have solid information on noise reduction, the way a voice track fits into different kinds of projects, and --- this is crucial --- finalizing the script. Unfortunately, pieces of advice like "make sure you understand how to read the script" and "don't drink a milkshake before recording your VO" are unnecessary; professional voice artists show up already knowing this information. (Using a pro VO also makes it unnecessary to use "4" in place of "for" in a script --- an actual suggestion from the video.)

Finally, on a geekier note: the caption next to the graphic of the EV RE20 mic lists it as a "condenser", even though it's a dynamic mic. (The Neumann U87, shown previously, is correctly identified.)


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June 28, 2007

And the Winner Is...

Well, we don't know yet. But whomever it is will be ready to podcast their hearts out.

The fine folks at Create Business Growth are hosting a contest in which one lucky finalist will receive $335 worth of brand-new Podcasting Equipment. Check out some of the nifty gear:

MXL 990 Condenser Microphone with Shockmount

MXL 990 Condenser Microphone with Shockmount


Behringer Microphono PP400 Preamp

Behringer PP400


Sony MDR-V150 Monitor Series Headphones with Reversible Earcups

Sony MDR-V150 Headphones 


Also included: one CAD EPF-15A 6-Inch Flexible Pop Filter to take care of sibilance (hissy "s" sounds) and plosives (popping "p" sounds), as well as two books on podcasting:

Tricks of the Podcasting Masters by Rob Walch and Mur Lafferty

Podcasting: Do It Yourself Guide by Todd Cochrane

Not too shabby. Not too hard to enter, either. To qualify, all you need to do is subscribe to the Create Business Growth RSS feed, then email Christine to let her know you're a new subscriber. (The deadline for subscribing is July 18, 2007.) Best of luck to all...

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October 12, 2006

VO Recording: A Microphone Primer

This concise but informative article on VO recording covers a lot of ground; if you're starting out and looking for basics on getting your home studio going, this piece is a great place to start.

One thing I should note: the article spends a bit of time on microphones, but doesn't point out a key distinction between Dynamic and Condenser mics. While each is just a different method of doing what mics do (that is, take pressure waves from the air and convert them to an electrical signal, to then be converted back to sound), they're two different animals; each type will shape your recorded voice in dramatically different ways.

Dynamic mics have a limited frequency response; this means that they don't capture sound with great accuracy, but it also allows them to handle exceptionally loud sources like guitar amps, drums, and screaming disc jockeys (most of the talk you hear on the radio will be coming from a dynamic mic) .

Condenser mics have reversed characteristics, essentially; they've got a wide frequency response. This means, as you've no doubt figured out by now, that they reproduce sound accurately but can be overpowered (and even damaged!) by excessive sound pressure. Condensers tend to be more expensive than dynamics, and will require phantom power (available on most mixers, but sometimes an external power source is used).

Okay, I've prattled on enough. Go read!

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