Hurricane Sandy

Call Me Materialistic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Studio 9 Comments

Broken Piggy Bank“It’s only stuff, and stuff can be replaced.”

That’s what my mother said when I accidentally broke a piece of pottery that had belonged to her mother’s mother. I was five at the time.

It was a sweet thing to say, but I now know that not all things are “just things.” Some objects can never be replaced, and their sentimental value greatly exceeds their monetary value.

In this third installment of my Mind Your Own Business-series, I want to talk about the material aspect of our job. I’ve already addressed the physical and mental aspect. Next week, I’ll talk about the spiritual side of setting up shop.

PRO or PRETENDER

As much as I’d like to tell people that success is not defined by a number in a bank account, the primary purpose of any for-profit business is to make money and grow the bottom line. If that’s not happening, the IRS will happily inform you that you’re a hobbyist.

There are many hobbyists in my line of work: voice-overs. Many of them are posing as pros. How can you tell? They sound insecure or insincere. Proper enunciation is a problem. They work for bargain basement rates, and the quality of their recordings can be captured in one word: Crap.

My philosophy is simple. If you want a professional career, you need professional gear. You need tools that work with you and not against you.

Contrary to what some may want you to believe, a shoestring budget is not going to get you anywhere in this competitive climate. I’m not saying that top-of-the-line equipment will get you gigs, guaranteed. Combined with talent and experience, it will increase the likelihood of you landing jobs.

The knowledge that you own the right tools increases client confidence (and your confidence too). It makes you more marketable because it shows that you are serious.

KEEPING THINGS QUIET

Having a dedicated, soundproofed and acoustically treated recording space is almost a must, these days. Not only will it increase the quality of your audio, it will increase your productivity by leaps and bounds.

If I had a choice between buying an expensive microphone, or a recording booth such as a Studiobricks cabin, I’d choose the latter in a heartbeat. Even the best Neumann mic will make you sound like an amateur if you record in an echo chamber or next to a busy highway. A reasonably priced mic such as the sE Electronics X1, is going to sound much better if used in an appropriate space.

Not having a dedicated recording room, can be disastrous for your career.

One of my colleagues has pipes of gold. When his marriage broke down, he not only lost his home. He lost his home studio. Now he’s renting a small apartment in a busy neighborhood. Kids are crying. Cars are honking. People are yelling. Recording in a walk-in closet doesn’t cut it. Clients demand broadcast quality audio, and he can’t give it to them. He is desperate, and hasn’t booked a decent job in months.

SONIC SURGERY

You may remember the story of Patrice Devincentis. Patrice owns and operates Sonic Surgery, an audio production studio in Union Beach, N.J. Here she records, edits, mixes, and masters, working with musicians and voice-over talent. On October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy completely destroyed the studio she had built in her garage. Most of her recording gear and musical instruments were lost.

Thanks to generous donations from readers of this blog, Patrice received some equipment to make a fresh start, but there was one big problem. Her entire home and studio needed to be elevated, and very little could be done until the property was deemed safe. This marked the beginning of a long and exhausting battle with authorities over inspections, permissions, and grants. 

Only last month, Patrice was finally taken off the waiting list; all the paperwork was completed and the elevation of her home is one step closer. Two years after the disaster, contractors may eventually come in, and begin their uplifting work. That is, if everything goes according to plan. Somehow, it never does.

ARE YOU PREPARED

Can you imagine being barely able to work for two years, due to some random force of nature, and a whole lot of New Jersey red tape? And don’t think it won’t happen to you. Superstorms don’t care where they hit or whose lives they ruin. 

If you believe that lighting won’t strike twice, read Mike Harrison’s story in VoiceOverXtra. He thought his computer and ISDN were safe, until the loudest crash of thunder he’d ever heard almost stopped his heart and his gear. And then it happened again!

I thought I was pretty well protected in my Pennsylvania basement booth, until water came into my studio. After close inspection, the culprit turned out to be a leaking 18-year-old hot water heater. Thankfully, it happened while I was working. Had I not been at home, I might have had serious damage to the tools I need to make a living.

Stories like these illustrate that a positive mindset and good health can only take you so far. All of us are vulnerable. Trouble happens when you least expect it. Hoping for the best is not enough. You have to prepare for the worst. So, let me ask you this:

Did you?

Is your equipment safe, and sufficiently insured?

Do you have a backup system in case of an emergency?

Have you invested enough to take on the competition?

It may only be “stuff,” but without it, all you have is a pipe dream. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet

photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via photopin cc


That’s what friends are for

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Studio 21 Comments

Sandy washes ashore in Union Beach N.J.

When measuring the impact of wars and natural disasters, it’s convenient and comfortable for us to use numbers.

Numbers don’t bleed.

Numbers don’t suffer.

Numbers don’t cry.

Hurricanes deserve names like Gloria, Katrina and Sandy, but the victims of those violent storms often remain anonymous and abstract. That way, we can keep them at a distance and our lives don’t have to be touched by their misery.

It also gives us a sense of safety. As long as adversity does not come too close, we can go on with our lives and run our business as usual. Today, that’s not going to happen because I’d like you to meet a remarkable woman who’s lost most of what she’s worked for in a superstorm.

Patrice Devincentis is a part-time lecturer in music appreciation and production at Bergen Community College, she teaches piano and she plays keyboards in the classic rock cover band Black Night. She also owns and operates Sonic Surgery, an audio production studio in Union Beach, N.J. Here she records, edits, mixes and masters, working with musicians and voice-over talent.

HURRICANE HELL

As we approached Union Beach on the way to her house, it was as if we had entered a war zone. The National Guard was everywhere. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles were rushing on and off. Hundreds of cars were waiting in line at the few gas stations that still had fuel.

Flood-damaged furniture piling up in front of Patriuce Devincentis' house.Closer to the ocean, some structures were barely standing. The roads were covered in sand and dirt. Mountains of garbage and debris were piling up. It was a stinking mess.

Life hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Patrice. A few years ago, she lost her husband to a dreadful disease and after his passing, cancer nearly took her own life. During her illness, her employer let her go and it became increasingly hard to stay afloat financially and emotionally, all the while raising her preteen daughter. Her home and her garage-studio became an anchor in uncertain times.

MIRACLES AND MISERY

Cutting back on all expenses -including flood insurance- Patrice pulled off a miracle: she worked incredibly hard and gradually built her life and her health back up. Last July she could even burn her mortgage. But the joy over what she had accomplished didn’t last long.

Three months later, Hurricane Sandy pounded the Jersey shore and Patrice’s house and studio were flooded with salty Atlantic sea water. In a matter of minutes, thousands of dollars worth of musical instruments, hard- and software and pro audio equipment were drowned and rendered useless.

When I opened the studio door a few days later, the rotting smell of growing mold was already noticeable. The insulation between the walls had soaked up and retained the water. The top of the Yamaha Grand was missing, and the sound booth was filled with flood refuse. Slimy mud covered the floor. 

A broken cinema display had fallen on the mixing table, and muddied Kurzweil, Korg and Roland keyboards were scattered over the studio. Monitors, microphones, equalizers, de-noisers, compressors, digital recorders, preamps… you name it: everything under the water line was ruined, including a top-of-the line PA system.

On October 30th, Patrice wrote on her Facebook page:

“Sonic Surgery and my music career have died a very watery death.”

Well, a few of her friends decided not to let that happen. Nine of them joined forces and came to Union Beach, armed with a generator, face masks, gloves, plastic bags and demolition tools. The goal was to get the house and studio dry before the mold would make it a health hazard. It took us a day to rip out the wet floors, to open up the walls and to completely empty the studio.

Had you not known any better, you would have thought that Sonic Surgery was holding a yard sale that day. Unfortunately, all the electronics, the instruments, the gear and the furniture were worthless and not covered by insurance. 

FEMA STEPS IN 

On the day the president was touring the Jersey shore, a man from FEMA stopped by to assess the damage. He looked at the studio and came back with a number. A very low number.

“You can’t be serious,” said Patrice. “I would never be able to refurnish and equip my studio for that amount. How did you even arrive at that number?”

“It’s simple,” said the man. “This is a garage. I can see it was modified, but it still is a garage.”

LOOKING AHEAD 

So, what’s next for Patrice and Sonic Surgery? For the time being, she can use the studio at Bergen Community College to record, but that’s not a permanent solution. She can still serve her clients, but only to a certain extent. At some point, she plans to return home and rebuild her studio from the ground up. It’s not going to be easy and she can’t do it on her own. 

That’s why we -her friends- come to you for help. Let’s see what we can do to get Sonic Surgery up and running again!

second to the left: Patrice Devincentis

Perhaps you have equipment lying around that’s just collecting dust. Perhaps you bought too much acoustic foam and you want to get rid of it. Do you have a mic stand that you haven’t used in ages? What about that microphone you just replaced?

Maybe you have a contact in the recording industry who might be able to help. Maybe you know a pro-audio provider that would be willing to donate gear to a good cause. 

If that’s the case, please get in touch with me. Spread the word. Help a deserving colleague in need. 

this is a screenshot

click on the picture to get to the donation page

You can also help in other ways. We have set up a GoFundMe page for Patrice where you can make a monetary donation.

As I said in the beginning, in the aftermath of a natural disaster it is easy to be reduced to a number. 

I don’t ever want that to happen to Patrice Devincentis.  

Your help is much, much appreciated! 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS You can reach me through my Contact Page.

UPDATE 

Donations and offers of help have started to come in from many corners and countries! Here’s Patrice’s response:

“WOW WOW WOW… THIS is like a dream come true. I am astonished at the generosity of strangers. This is outrageous and unbelievable. I am awed and incredibly humbled at the generosity. How do you say Thank you under these conditions??? “

PATRICE’S WISH LIST

Many of you have asked me: What does Patrice need? Well, she was running a professional recording studio with all the bells and whistles. Patrice is also a professional musician and her PA system was destroyed as well. She lost most of her keyboards, including a Yamaha Grand. For her studio, this is what she came up with:

  • Control surface (ProTools, Ableton, etc)
  • MIDI controller (keyboard)
  • High grade powered near field monitors
  • Amp for the surviving Urei’s
  • Mic Cables
  • Patch bays
  • Wire Trusses
  • Editing Desk and/or Racks.
  • Monitors for computer (Mac compatible)
  • Movable walls (Gobos)
  • Headphone distribution Amp

  • Pro Tools HD Native or LE 10/Plug ins
  • Reason 6.5
  • Ableton Suite 9 with add-on’s
  • Logic Pro 9 with libraries
  • Some sort of mastering software or 2 track editor
  • Final cut express
  • Creative Suite (photoshop etc) 5+
  • Microsoft word Suite 2010+ for Mac

Surviving Sandy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 33 Comments

It’s so easy not to be grateful for the things we take for granted.

Every night we go to bed, knowing that when we wake up, our world will still be the same because we are in charge. We own the place. We shape it the way we command it to be. Chaos has been tamed into perfect order. Life has become reassuringly predictable. 

Our fridges are filled with fresh food. Clean water will come out of our faucets. Outlets provide us with a constant flow of energy. On cold days, central heating keeps us warm, and the roof over our head protects us against the dark forces of nature.

Until nature decides to teach us a cruel lesson. 

Hurricane Sandy was such a lesson.

 

Why people have to learn their life lessons the hard way, I honestly don’t know. Perhaps it is because we often learn more from the things that don’t go as planned, as opposed to the things that go exactly as we imagined. Some things, however, we either can’t imagine, or we refuse to accept the possibility that they could happen…. to us.

What I have learned is this:  disasters do not discriminate. 

Flash floods and hurricane winds will wash away the residences of the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy, the liberal and the conservative, the Democrat and the Republican.

Nature doesn’t care about our possessions, our monuments, our accomplishments, our basic needs or even our friends and family. Things that we believed to be certain for many years to come, are washed away in a matter of seconds. Cherished landmarks we built with pride, are crushed and erased in the middle of a stormy, moonlit night. 

People panic as they are overpowered by a raging enemy beyond their control. Tall trees that have stood strong for decades, are uprooted in the blink of an eye, and plant themselves on roof tops, vehicles, power lines and on the kind man in his sixties who went outside for two fatal minutes, just to let his dogs out. 

As you look at the images my neighborhood woke up to on Tuesday morning, Sandy was well on her way to torture new towns and destroy the dreams of other people. 

Today, I count myself very lucky. 

All I lost was power. I had to live without electricity for a couple of days. I could not go on-line. Emails were left unanswered. Facebook was forgotten. Two nights without TV. 

Meanwhile, the radio told me about beaches being washed away, neighborhoods being flooded, houses that were burning, people who were displaced and snowstorms making life practically impossible. 

This is my neighborhood, but my car is not under that tree you see. My home is undamaged. My life is not in shatters. My loved ones are safe, and hard-working men from out of State cleared the roads and repaired the power lines. 

I am grateful.

I am grateful for the friends and colleagues who have reached out to me, praying for my well-being. I am grateful for the first responders who risked their lives in the eye of the storm, the men and women who worked through the night coordinating the response to the crisis, and I am grateful for the many volunteers in the shelters.

I made new friends sitting on the floor at Barnes & Noble, as we recharged the batteries of our electronic devices, because the hurricane had left us powerless. We shared the stories of the storm and the stories of our life. 

In a way it is ironic.  When we have everything our heart desires, we think we don’t need one another. Adversity, on the other hand, brings people together and turns strangers into friends.

Soon, for most of us life will be back to normal.

For many though, normal will never be the same. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Next time, the story of Patrice Devincentis. Her recording studio was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. She lost most of her gear and needs our help.