Harlan Hogan

Recording on the Road

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 28 Comments

Sometimes, the best opportunities present themselves at unexpected times and in the strangest places.

Last year, I was attending a New Year’s Eve concert when one of my agents called. She apologized profusely for her timing, but a long time client really needed to know my availability. It only took a few minutes to go over my schedule. Twenty-four hours later, the job was booked; the first one of 2013.

A few days ago, I took a trip to Atlanta. I’d barely settled into my hotel room when a Polish producer contacted me. He wanted to know if I was interested in playing a part in a new video game. He sent along an audition script, and said his team would love to listen to my voice within the hour.

I enjoy creating all kinds of characters, but for some reason I haven’t broken into the wonderful world of gaming yet. This was a chance I couldn’t afford to miss.

Fortunately, I had come prepared. In less than ten minutes, I transformed my room at the Westin into a mini-recording studio.

HARLAN HOGAN’S PORTA-BOOTH®

Years ago, VO veteran Harlan Hogan had an ingenious idea. What if he were to line a collapsible Whitmor Cube with acoustic foam and place a microphone inside? Would that be enough to tame the unruly reflections of a hollow-sounding hotel room?

Even though this foam-filled contraption cannot keep unwanted noise out, placing the microphone inside a small treated space can indeed make a recording sound less boomy. In a moment I’ll share some sound samples with you.

Over the years, the Porta-Booth® has had a few incarnations, and it has found its way to roaming reporters, television commentators and traveling voice actors.

Porta-Booth Pro unfoldedI own the Porta-Booth® Plus ($189). It only weighs four and a half pounds and it comes with a free lightweight storage bag with plenty of room for a microphone, shock mount, preamp and a desk stand. The Auralex® foam lining the walls, keeps everything that’s sandwiched inside safe from the rough hands of airport handlers.

The Porta-Booth® Plus is made out of strong rip stop nylon, and has two parts: four supporting walls which are connected, and a separate back wall which can be attached with a zipper. Trust me: you won’t need instructions to put one and two together. Once you open the added two-way rear zipper, you can easily stick a shotgun mic through the slot, or a microphone cable.

Here’s another thing I like about this booth. When you’re not on the road, you can hang the strip of four connected Auralex® squares on one of the walls in your home studio for additional acoustic treatment. You can even rest these squares on your monitors to create a reflection screen.

CHALLENGES

So, is the Porta-Booth® Plus as easy to use as it is to set up? Yes and no. As with many new things in life, it takes getting used to. Let’s talk about travel first.

Harlan’s website Voiceover Essentials claims that the Porta-Booth® Plus “fits in most carry-on luggage”. Well, it definitely does not fit in a standard Samsonite carry-on upright that many people are using these days (see photos below). So, I carried the Porta-Booth® Plus separately.

I had planned on putting it in the overhead compartment, but because we were flying on a relatively small airplane, it didn’t fit and it had to be stored with other luggage. Thankfully, nothing was damaged when I got the Porta-Booth® back in Atlanta, but on the flight home, both straps of the carrying bag were ripped off, leaving four holes.

I should have read the disclaimer on Harlan’s website:

“It is not intended to be used as a travel bag and is not covered under your warranty. A heavy-duty traveling bag is under development and will be available soon!”

Without this heavy-duty traveling bag, I don’t think the Porta-Booth® Pro is ready for air travel, unless you store it in a sturdy suitcase.

INSIDE THE BOX

When I got my very first model, I thought I had to stick my head inside the Porta-Booth® to talk into the microphone. Considering the size of my head, that would have been very quite uncomfortable.

Fortunately, that’s not necessary. As long as you turn your mouth toward the grille of the mic and you stay fairly close to the booth, you should be fine.

One of the problems I did experience had to do with script placement. A paper script can block the opening of the Porta-Booth® if you hold it in your hand. Since the assembled space is quite small (16 inches high x 15 inches wide and 16 inches deep) it’s not easy to put the script inside either. Unless you bring a reading light, it’s also hard to see your lines.

The best way around this is to read your script from a Smart phone or a tablet placed inside the Porta-Booth®.

By now you’re probably wondering what Harlan’s portable recording booth sounds like. Does it deliver as promised? Allow me to first introduce the other elements in my portable recording chain.  

MICROPHONE

In my home studio I use a Microtech Gefell M903 Ts condenser microphone. It retails for $1,784.72. I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable taking such an expensive mic on the road. That’s why I wanted to find a sturdy replacement that wouldn’t break the bank. 

Because low-frequency rumble is a common problem in less than ideal acoustic situations, my travel mic had to have a high-pass filter. Such a filter also curbs the bass-boosting proximity effect, which can easily occur when you’re getting close to the microphone. After a two-week search, I found my mic. 

Let’s listen to my two microphones. You’ll notice that they have different personalities. Which one do you like better: A or B? Can you tell which one is the Gefell?*

 

Without telling you which is which, I can reveal that my travel mic is a previously loved AKG C 3000 B. I bought it online from Guitar Center, and it cost me a whopping… $84. This thing is built like a tank, it looked like it was never used and it came with a shock mount. Listen to the sample again, and tell me if the difference in sound quality is worth $1700,72. 

PREAMPLIFIER

In order to bring a condenser microphone signal up to line level, you need a preamp. My favorite travel gadget is the MicPort Pro made by CEntrance ($149). It’s a portable preamp with a built-in 24bit/96kHz, A/D converter. It gives your mic 48V phantom power and it has a headphone amp for zero latency monitoring. It is powered from the USB port. 

It took me a while before I finally found a portable pop filter. Most of these things take up too much space and the ones with a big clamp can be heavy. On the road I use the Pop Guard made by WindTech ($29.95). It weighs almost nothing and it slides neatly over most side address microphones. 

I’m also happy with the On-Stage folding desk stand ($14.29). My AKG mic isn’t exactly light, so I had to get a reliable metal tripod stand. The die-cast clutch adjusts in height from 4.25″ – 6.75″. For the mic itself I bought a padded microphone bag ($6.99).  

FATAL MISTAKES

Three big blunders almost ruined the recording day for me. Number one: for monitoring my audio, I relied on the small earbuds that came with my iPhone 4. Amazon is selling them for $2.23 and I think they’re worth even less. Back home I immediately replaced them with the very comfortable Sennheiser PX 100-II headphones ($69.95) that can be folded up. 

Secondly, even though I had asked for a quiet hotel room away from the elevator, we ended up in a gorgeous corner unit with windows on two sides. The 14th floor view was spectacular, but so was the traffic noise that never seemed to stop. Next time, I’ll make sure to inspect the room first, before unpacking. 

To get away from the noise, I wanted to move my booth and computer as far from the windows as possible, but the quietest spot in the room had no electrical outlets that were within reach. I should have brought an extension cord, but because I hadn’t, I ended up placing everything on the desk by the window. Have a listen: 

The question is: did placing my microphone inside the Porta-Booth® Plus make a huge difference? 

The Porta-Booth® Plus definitely tamed some of the reflections, but I would be embarrassed to send this audio clip to prospective clients. With the help of some clever plug-ins and other tricks, I was able to turn the audio into this: 

Am I happy with the end result? Not really. Most of the background noise is gone, but it sounds strangely distorted. Audio engineering is part art, part science and boy, do I have a lot to learn!

SHOWING WHAT YOU’VE GOT

Every audition is an audio business card. It’s proof of the level of professionalism a client can expect from you.

You either show it, or you blow it.

Remember: most clients won’t give you a second chance to make a first impression. Not even a producer in Poland.

So, what was I to do? His animation studio was expecting my demo within the hour. 

Well, I ended up recording his audition script that day, and I used some artificial sweeteners to make it sound okay. But I told him in my email that this was recorded in a hotel room, and I sent him a demo I had recorded in my studio, so he could hear what I was capable of.

A day later, and in spite of my best efforts to come up with a decent recording on the road, I was hired.

Life can be a mysterious road trip.

Some say that it’s the destination that really matters.

How you get there, is not always important.

Live and learn, my friends. 

Live and learn. 

Paul Strikwerda ©Nethervoice

* The first microphone was the Gefell. Number two was the AKG.

PS The Porta-Booth® Plus Carry-On bag has arrived! It’s strong. It’s sturdy, and it has two side pockets for your microphone, desk stand and cables. With this addition, the Porta-Booth® Plus is now ready for the road and I can give it my unofficial seal of approval.

Porta-Booth® Plus Carry-On bag


Confessions of a Hopeless Gearhead

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 13 Comments

Guilty as charged.

In the past few years I’ve become more and more of a gearhead. I like to look at new audio equipment; I like to read about it and I like listening to sound samples.

On any given day, I have to spend at least a few minutes studying reviews, gazing at pictures and drooling over obscure objects with buttons, switches, cables and meters.

Dear Abby: Is this weird and should I be worried?

I mean, my equipment is fine. There’s nothing wrong with my microphone and I don’t need another preamp. For a voice-over like myself, a simple studio setup will suffice, so why am I staring at all this stuff?

I know I’m not alone.

My photographer friends are always looking for the latest cameras, the best lenses or software that will revolutionize the industry. Musicians wonder what they would sound like on a new instrument. Professional chefs can’t wait to get their hands on a new set of sharp-looking knives. Even quilters go gaga over new gadgets. Why is that?

Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover


Give Me a Break!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear 22 Comments

After much use, even the sharpest knives get dull. Paul Strikwerda

Can a voice-over pro ever take time off?

Do you have to be available 24/7?

Is it okay to shut down your business for a few weeks of Rest and Relaxation?

Will your Facebook fans unfriend you?

Will your Twitter followers desert you?

Will your voice-overworked agent ever talk to you again?

Let me answer these questions with a question:

What won’t happen if you don’t do it?

BALANCING ACT

I am a big believer in a balanced lifestyle. As a European living in the States (the number 1 “no vacation nation”), I see a lot of people around me who are absolutely addicted to their jobs. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected and become a burned-out, boss-pleasing slave laborer.

Have we forgotten our history?

On January 31st, 1865, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. It read:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

I guess the keyword is involuntary servitude.

We are free people, living in a free country who have earned the right to free themselves of any free time. Instead, we have chosen “voluntary servitude.”

Now, that’s what I call progress in a society built upon the principles of “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!”

But let’s put the cynicism and sarcasm aside for a moment. If you’re pursuing happiness as a full-time freelancer, you are in charge of your own destiny. You set your own hours. You determine your own rates. You’re the only one who can call it a day and shout from the roof tops:

Give me a break!

You’re self-employed. You embody your service. Literally. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. If you don’t guard your boundaries carefully, good people with the best of intentions will step on them and leave you depleted.

TRAPPED & TIRED

A few weeks ago, I was asked to do a presentation in front of hundreds of people. Prior to that, there was a reception and -of course- you can’t have a reception without background music. It’s a known fact that most musicians aren’t capable of staying in the background. No matter the crowd, they have to be LOUD.

I knew that if I were to schmooze prior to my presentation, I would have no voice left, even though my vocal cords are well-trained.

As they say: “If you schmooze, you lose.”

Besides, the next day I was going to New York for a recording session and my voice had to be in top-shape in order to sell well.

So, I was left with a choice. Either slip something into the drinks of the band that would have them running to the restroom in a matter of minutes… or hide myself from the crowd until it was time to go on stage.

The first option was obviously more entertaining, but I ended up hiding in the basement. Unfortunately, an overzealous janitor came down, turned off the lights and kicked the door shut, leaving me trapped.

This is where cell phones can save the day. I called the organizer of the event:

“Hi, it’s Paul.”

“Paul, where are you? We’ve looked all over for you!”

“I am trapped in the basement. It is dark in here. Rats are nibbling on my feet. Please rescue me!”

That day, instead of being a voice-over, I became a voice-under.

I think you get my point.

In order to give your all, you sometimes have to get away from it all. But avoid being locked up.

GO AWAY

Now, in an ideal world you would just pack your bags and go where no one can reach you. But what to do when you’re waiting for that all-important callback or that once-in-a-lifetime chance to audition for something you can’t afford to refuse?

In that case, you need to take some gear on the road and improvise. Rather than spending a few hours going over all the options, I suggest you read Harlan Hogan and Jeffrey Fischer’s classic Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and on the Road. It’s jam-packed with practical information and I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in a voice-over career.

Here’s what I take along on my travels:

  • a laptop
  • a microphone
  • a CEntrance MicPort Pro
  • earplug-sized headphones

A MicPort Pro is a nifty mini audio interface/preamplifier that plugs directly into your microphone. On the other side there’s a USB cable that plugs into your computer. In other words: this device can turn any microphone into a USB mic. It has phantom power, a headphone jack and two knobs for setting the record level and the headphone volume.

So… after all that subtle product placement, let’s get back to the original question:

Can you take off for a period of time without ruining your career?

Here’s an experiment you should do at home:

Fill up your watering can to the brim and start watering your plants. Keep on watering and watering and watering… until there’s no more water left.

I don’t have to tell you that -in order for those plants to grow- you need to water them regularly. An empty watering can is useless. The moral of the story:

You can’t give what you don’t have.

Now, why is that so easy to understand when it comes to our plants, and why are we surprised that “We the People,” are so stressed, so drained and left without an ounce of creativity?

Take my advice and get lost! Recharge your batteries. Discover that you have significant others in your life who’d love to get to know you. It can’t be all work and no play… Your job is just a means to an end.

TAKING TIME OFF

Be sure to let your voice casting sites and agents know that you’ll be gone for a particular period of time. If you must, bring your gear, but promise yourself that you will only do what is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’ll get sucked into obsessive email checking, incessant instant messaging and frantic Facebooking.

Only use your cell phone when you’re stuck in a basement and someone’s thrown away the key.

When you come back from your well-deserved vacation, notice how refreshed, alert and full of energy you are.

People can see it in your face. They hear it in your voice.

Now you’re ready to wow the world again!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Building a Booth on a Budget – the booklet

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Money Matters, Studio 28 Comments

Your clients demand and deserve quality audio, but even a top of the line microphone sounds miserable in an unprofessional recording space.

Are you thinking of buying or building a voice-over booth?

Before you spend thousands of dollars, find out what your options are and why building your own studio is easier and cheaper than you may think.

I spent countless hours researching the options, materials and plans to create an affordable vocal booth that keeps the noisy neighbors out of my voice-over projects.

This 46-page booklet documents my search for silence, and it describes the science and art of soundproofing in non-technical language and with plenty of pictures.

Even though it is not intended to be the ultimate guide to home studio construction, it is packed with practical tips, ideas and resources.

This information is also useful if you want to create a quiet space for:

  • Music
  • Movies
  • Multi-media
  • Meditation

My goal was to build a solid, soundproof booth for no more than $2000. Did I make it?

There’s only one way to find out!

Download your copy today.

Once your payment clears, you will receive an email which contains the details of your purchase and the product download link.

Thanks!

Wishing you tranquil times,

Paul Strikwerda