2012 is a year I will remember for many reasons, but the main reason is this:
Did you know that readers of this blog donated $2,500 to the National MS Society this year? Thanks to your contributions, our Walk MS team raised a total of $6,504!
When I told you that my friend Patrice Devincentis had lost her Sonic Surgery recording studio in Hurricane Sandy, you stepped up to the plate big time.
Donations to Sonic Surgery
Right now, part of my basement is taken over by audio equipment that was donated to Patrice, mostly by friends in the voice-over community.
Just when she thought her career was over, your help gave her hope and a chance to start rebuilding a studio and a career.
As soon as her recording space is ready, I will deliver all the gear on your behalf, but that’s not all.
When you go to the Sonic Surgery GoFundMe page, you’ll see that together we’ve raised over $2,600 for Patrice. We still have a long way to go before we’ll reach our $10,000 goal, but it’s a great start.
SPREADING THE NEWS
As readers, you’ve also been generous with your blog comments (all 2,658 of them), retweets, Facebook “likes” and all the other ways in which you helped my stories reach a wider audience. Thank you so much for that! It works and here’s the proof.
A story like the introduction of Studiobricks (a new type of vocal booth), has reached almost two thousand readers. Mike Bratton’s interview and review of the Studiobricks ONE cabin, has been seen over fifteen hundred times. But there were more reviews this year.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I love writing about the business of being in business. Having a great voice doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically have a great voice-over career. You have to be a savvy entrepreneur as well.
When you open up shop, you’re all of a sudden the head of the advertising, marketing, sales and the customer service department. Are you sure you can handle that? Some customers can be a royal pain in the tuches, but you have to attract them first.
Now, all these ideas didn’t appear to me in a dream. It has taken me quite a few years of running a freelance business to come up with certain vital concepts. Trial and error are the slowest teachers, and I had to learn many of my lessons the hard way. I still remember the day I almost made a $10,000 mistake.
On an average day I spend at least eight hours in my vocal booth/office, and of course I blogged about life behind the mic. I gave you the grand tour of my studio in two installments.
In 2011, 44% of independent workers had trouble getting paid for their work. 3 out of 4 freelancers are paid late or not at all at least once in their careers. That’s why the New York-based Freelancers Union ran a campaign called “Get Paid, not played.“
I tend to write a lot about value and remuneration. Just click on the “Money Matters” category over on the right hand side of this blog and you’ll see what I mean. When my website got a make-over, I decided to publicly post my voice-over rates. Not everyone believed this was a wise move, so I wrote a story exploring the pros and cons of being open about fees.
One relatively new way to fund your business, is to use crowdsourcing. I asked audio book publisher Karen Wolfer to share her experience with Kickstarter. Another money-related topic that came up this year was this: Should you work for free for charity? On paper “giving back” sounds like the right thing to do, but is it always the case? As with any of the stories mentioned above, click on the blue link to read the full article.
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
Let’s move from wealth to health. I shall remember 2012 for one other reason. Never before have I written so much about fitness and well-being. In “Be kind. Unwind” I wrote about the importance of taking a break, being in the moment and leading a balanced life.
After meeting the globetrotting host of The Amazing Race Phil Keoghan, I discovered four principles to live in the spirit of NOW (No Opportunity Wasted). In August it was time for me personally to cut the crap and rid myself of excuses that had me trapped in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
All in all, 2012 has been a great year. We’ve had to weather some powerful storms, but the year was also packed with positive change.
It always amazes me how relatively small changes can have a huge impact. Imagine someone throwing a pebble into a pond. See how the ripple effect moves through the water in ever-widening circles. That’s the effect one individual act of generosity can have.
It happens when people who care, share what they have to give without expecting anything in return. It can be time, it can be money or -as in Patrice’s case- even audio equipment.
I am grateful and appreciative that you have chosen to take a few minutes out of your day, to see what I have to say. Many of you came back, week after week. Hopefully, you’ve found my stories and ideas helpful and worth sharing. If that’s been the case, I have news for you:
I’m not done yet!
In fact, I’m ready to push more envelopes, stir more pots and be more outspoken in 2013.
Sh*t happens. Accept it. One of life’s great lessons is how we can turn our sh*t into manure. Here’s a hint: it requires getting your hands dirty.
There are many metaphors for our existence on this planet.
Depending on your perspective, life’s a stage, a bowl of cherries or a box of chocolates. One of my favorite images is that of a garden.
Going through life, it’s up to us to treat the soil and select the seeds we plant. We must make sure that there’s plenty of sunlight, shade and water. With patience, persistence, some pruning and some weeding, we eventually reap what we have sown. Some of the fruits of our labor will be bitter. Others will be sweet. You get the idea.
Comparing a budding voice over talent to a gardener, Tilley teaches the reader how to stock the greenhouse, cultivate the soil, get saplings to bloom, how to create fabulous flower arrangements and sell them on the international market at a profit.
This is the first voice-over book that is not stuffed with pictures of people talking into microphones. Instead, it looks like a Burpee or Wildflower Farm catalogue and it reads like a popular, practical self-help book, with sentences such as:
“Phew! How ya feeling? That was a lot of research. Does your brain hurt a little?”
“Yet another list. Geez, are you for real? Yup, sure thing buttercup.”
Don’t let the language fool you! Tilley is the Mike McGrath of voiceovers, and he generously shares what he has learned over the course of many years in the business.
In addition to 26 chapters, $25 will also get you a 38-page workbook packed with breathing exercises, tongue-twisters, character creation worksheets, model cover letters and sheets to help you organize and optimize your finances. On top of that, the author included 25 sound files on breathing, warm-ups and vocal flexibility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
American-born Tilley lives in Germany and has worked as a full-time VO artist since 2007. Unlike many voice talents, he did not start his career in radio. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Ithaca College and a minor in Dance at Cornell University. After graduation he moved to New York City. Tilley describes what happened next:
“I broke out into the NYC dance scene performing in multiple award-winning dance companies and in the movie “Center Stage” filmed at the Lincoln Center. What an experience! In 1999 I was offered a 6 month contract to go to Germany with a production of “42nd Street”. Little did I know I was off to face an amazing adventure.
I lucked out and worked for 8 years straight in the German musical theatre scene in productions of “CATS”, “Dance of the Vampires”, another production of “42nd Street”, and “Mamma Mia!”. I also had the great opportunity to choreograph fashion and hair shows for L’Oreal, Wella, and Intercoiffure in Berlin, Rome, and Paris.”
After performing onstage for over 20 years, he transitioned into a voice-over career. It turned out to be a wise choice. Now he’s one of the top American voices German companies like Mercedes-Benz, Daimler and Porsche turn to for business presentations and commercials. Tilley’s secret to success is based on four pillars:
Patience, Commitment, Courage and Taking Action.
Despite its motivational style and optimistic tone, Voice Over Garden is not a “How to break into the VO business in two weeks” kind of book. Starting with the Disclaimer on page 2, Tilley levels with his audience and warns them about unrealistic expectations. He knows that seeds don’t turn into strong trees overnight, and writes:
“(…) let go of the notion that you can learn absolutely everything in a VO weekend workshop.”
“If you can’t be handed a page of text, get behind the mic and record it perfectly in 1 or 2 takes, you aren’t ready to contact people for work, especially agents. You first need training.”
Voice Over Garden was put together as a training manual that was sent to Tilley’s students, chapter by chapter. It gave them something to read and to research between coaching sessions so that they would be better prepared for their next lesson. That explains why Tilley takes his time to cover the basics. As a fellow voice coach, I think that’s an excellent choice. A solid career requires a solid foundation.
Some of the more experienced voice talents will find that they are familiar with this material. Just bear in mind that reading Jonathan’s book is like learning how to dance. You start by taking simple steps. In this case it’s about learning how to breathe properly, enunciate clearly and work the microphone like a pro. Only then you’ll learn how to break down copy, create characters and get ready to record a demo.
By the way, not all the information offered is limited to the book itself. You’ll find links to helpful YouTube videos, recommended products, websites and blogs (yes, even this blog!). Each chapter ends with a few homework assignments, and that’s where the workbook comes in handy.
As expected, Tilley digs deeper and deeper with each chapter. He is at his best when he gets personal as he recalls the mistakes he made and what he learned from them (such as in “My First Demo, or How I Learned To Stop Picking My Nose”). Thanks to these stories, told with a disarming and refreshing sense of humor, it feels like Tilley is talking directly to the reader, very much like he does in his videos.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
I’m especially pleased that Tilley devotes a lot of his book to the business of being in business. It’s the Achilles’ heel of many aspiring and experienced voice actors (and other freelancers). Many of them have no clue what their services are really worth, and they don’t know how much money needs to come in, just to break even.
Unfortunately, this is also the part of the book where Tilley starts to sound like a cheap pitchman. Listen to this:
“I have created a system for you to become ridiculously rich. I have used this system myself and have become ridiculously rich from it. I have coached this system of VO business to my students and they too have become ridiculously rich from it.”
Thankfully, he redeems himself soon after that by saying:
“I do not define my Worth by what is sitting in the bank. I define my Worth by my “You Are Enough And Worthy Feeling”. That’s what makes me feel ridiculously rich and remember, that is priceless.”
Of course Tilley realizes that this “You Are Enough And Worthy Feeling” does not necessarily pay the bills. That’s why part of Voice Over Garden is a mini-course in money management. To my knowledge, no other voice-over book currently on the market, covers this area as well as Jonathan’s book.
He reveals how he has organized his business, what kind of bookkeeping software he uses, why he hired a personal assistant and is outsourcing work to a company in India. Tilley clearly demonstrates that it takes much more than a pleasant-sounding voice, a microphone and a laptop, to thrive as an international voice talent.
In spite of the fact that Voice Over Garden fills an important gap in the voice-over literature, it has its flaws. You may not agree with me, but the constant comparison between gardening and a voice-over career became a bit old after a while. At some point I wanted to shout:
“Okay, Jonathan… I get it. My soil needs fertilizer and I should water my plants. Can we move on, now?”
There are too many stock images of flower beds, gardening tools, green grass and mulch, and they take up way too much space. At times I felt the author was writing an illustrated VO for kids book, with lines like:
“You are about to do something remarkable and truly astounding. Yes, you are about to record your demo!”
And there were other times where I felt I was back in Kindergarten. Take this excerpt from an otherwise excellent chapter on script annotation:
I’m also not on board with Jonathan’s suggestions when it comes to gear. Rather than presenting us with a few options, he recommends using the Neumann TLM 103 microphone, Pro Tools and an MBox Mini. In the resource section, Tilley lists a YouTube video called “A candid word with Joan Baker and Neumann,” posted by Sennheiser. Neumann is owned by Sennheiser and Baker is a paid Neumann endorser.
There are many other microphones (such as the affordable CAD E100S) that are very suitable for voice-over work. I agree with home studio expert Dan Lenard that Pro Tools is terrific if you’re running a recording studio, but it’s overkill for most voice-over talent. Personally, I prefer the sleek simplicity of Twisted Waveaudio recording software.
I also disagree with Tilley when it comes to recording demos. He writes:
“Second biggest mistake in recording a demo: Never record or produce it yourself.”
Of course a professional demo should be of high quality. However, I have heard way too many overproduced demos that do not reflect the quality of what the voice talent can produce in his or her home studio. Most of my clients want to hear what I am able to deliver, and not what some audio engineer is able to fix or sweeten.
Then there’s the price of Voice Over Garden: 25 dollars. Truth be told: Tilley offers a lot of bang for your buck, but he is selling an eBook as a PDF and in EPUB and MOBI format for various eReaders. In that market, $25 is a lot of money for a virtual publication. He’s also publishing the book himself and not through a company like Smashwords that would allow him to tap into a distribution network such as Barnes & Noble and the Apple iBookstore. That’s a shame because I do believe it deserves to be on those virtual shelves.
Voice Over Garden is the one book I wish I would have had when I started in the business. It’s intelligently written, comprehensive, eye-opening and loaded with practical tips. The basic weakness of many publications in this category is that one cannot learn how to cook by reading a book (or a blog for that matter).
Reading Voice Over Garden won’t make you a successful international voice over star. No book can do that. It’s what you do with the information that makes all the difference. As a companion to one on one coaching sessions, it is quite brilliant.
When it first came out, the voice-over community went a bit crazy.
How could an unknown company in Spain come up with something that costs less and is just as good -if not better- as the vocal booths we’re all used to?
One of the people reading that story was voice actor Mike Bratton. He had been in touch with the folks in Spain, when an exclusive offer caught his eye:
The first U.S. talent to order a new Studiobricks ONE booth, would receive a 30% discount if he mentioned the story on the Nethervoice blog
As soon as he read that, Mike contacted the CEO of Studiobricks, Guillermo Jungbauer, and he sealed what he called “the deal of the century.”
Last week, Mike Bratton assembled his very own booth, made of Studiobricks. And frankly, he needed it. I’ll let him tell the story:
MIKE TALKS STUDIOBRICKS ONE
“The neighborhood I live in is called Park Slope. It’s in Brooklyn, NY. It’s a fairly residential neighborhood, but my apartment building borders a very busy avenue ( Atlantic Ave.). Oh, and for the last 2+ years, we’ve had constant construction going on right out our window for the new Barclay’s Center arena that is now nearing completion at the end of our block.
So, to be honest, this booth would’ve been very useful over the last few years.
Luckily, our apartment windows are very good at keeping out the sound. They’re double-paned, and nice and quiet. The most noise I really get is from the neighbors upstairs. They tend to walk, jump, drop what can only be described as bowling balls, and seem to constantly move furniture around, directly over my head.
For the most part, it’s not that bad during my recording day, but the more work I do for the West Coast, the family is home up there, and they can get noisy.
This new booth will hopefully help with that as well… especially the floating floor!
My main reason for buying the booth when I did, is to prep for our new baby arriving this winter.
My previous booth, while excellent sounding, was terrible at keeping errant noises OUT. And for that matter, keeping my noisy voice IN.
So, since my office is now going to be part nursery (we call it the “surface), I needed a bit of a buffer… so if the little guy is sleeping nearby, I won’t wake him up, and if he does wake up, he won’t necessarily be a featured extra in whatever voice session I’m in the process of recording.”
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What can you say about the process of ordering your booth. Did Studiobricks understand your specific needs?
“Guillermo at Studiobricks was great (Guillermo Jungbauer is the CEO, PS). I contacted him first about pricing on the normal Studiobricks booths, and he told me about the ONE system that was forthcoming. I looked into the specs of that, and put them up against the usual contenders (GK, Vocalbooth.com, WhisperRoom™, etc. ), and they were very, very good. In fact, the sound absorption/blocking specs were at least as good if not better than the enhanced models from the main companies, and for a good bit less money. So, it was really a matter of just stepping off the cliff and taking the plunge.”
Was there a language barrier while communicating with Studiobricks or did that not play a role?
“There was very little problem with understanding one another. Guillermo completely got what I was asking whenever I had a question, and there never was really any issue in communication. Everything is always prompt, and thorough. In fact, it’s interesting, because he’s several hours ahead of me in Spain, and most of his responses came via email during MY business hours, which was pretty amazing.”
How long was the time between order and delivery?
“I ordered the booth at the tail end of July. August is a big vacation month in most of Europe, so he got the production in and done in a matter of about a week or two. It was shocking how fast the production of the booth was actually completed. Then it was a matter of the booth being picked up from the manufacturer and put on a boat, and shipping it overseas.
That process took a bit, but honestly, it basically took about 6 weeks (or less) from door to door, which is about average for what I was being quoted from the other companies. Other folks might have different results, depending on where in the US they’re located. It actually arrived at port in New Jersey on the 27th of August. My order date was 7/23… so a little over a month from origination to destination port. Then, I took delivery at my home on September 7.”
Did Studiobricks take care of all the shipping details for you?
“Everything was taken care of on Guillermo’s end. All I had to do was wait for the shipping company to contact me when the item was in transit, to give me updates on its tracking and once it arrived. It was seamless.”
Did you have any problems with customs?
“No problems at all. It did have to be held at port for a few extra days, as it got selected to be VACIS X-Rayed. Being that it was going into a holiday weekend (Labor Day) when it was selected, it took a few extra days for release.”
Did the entire package arrive in one piece?
“Indeed… one, gigantic, wooden-crated, incredibly heavy piece. You know, even if you buy a booth from domestic manufacturers like GretchKen and/or Vocalbooth.com, the panels still come on a big palette on a big truck. The only difference here is the shipping crate/container, and several thousand dollars. Even without the special extra discount, it was vastly cheaper than any of their domestic competitors (except Drum Perfect, which is the booth I had before ).”
What was it like to get it into your apartment?
“It arrived on a mid-sized moving truck. We had to open the crate while still on the truck, and moved all the pieces down to ground level. Thankfully, I live in an elevator building in Brooklyn. Because of the size and weight of the elements it helps to have a number of friends/ family that are willing to help you carry the things up for you, if you have a few stairs to climb.
To be fair, the door is the heaviest piece. It’s a real, honest-to-goodness studio door. All the bricks themselves are fairly lightweight, or at least, reasonable weight for one person to carry up a flight of stairs. The entire process from truck to home took about 45 minutes of steady effort. I highly recommend a hand-truck/dolly (or two) and some palettes with casters. It will make life much easier on you.”
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Tell me about putting the booth together. Was it as easy as advertised? Could you do it by yourself or did you need help?
“It was crazy easy. All the bricks are clearly labeled, and the instructions just tell you where to start., and you’re off and running. The most difficult and nerve-wracking part is seating the door frame. But that gets done fairly early on, and once it’s seated, you’re off and running.”
Did you run into any unexpected problems?
“Not really. The biggest issue I had, was at the end. I had one “horizontal stick” left over. I’m positive I put them in (they go in the corners) on every level, so I’m going with the theory that I had an extra. Because honestly, I don’t want to go back and take the thing apart to find out if I forgot to put in a piece. : )
Oh, also, unfortunately, the door handle seems to be broken… or at least, suffering slightly. I can only lock the door seals from the outside, and that really helps make the booth incredibly quiet. Guillermo has already responded and said that replacement parts will be in the offing, and I’ll be able to get the door back up and running properly within a matter of days… oh, on that front, the little power converter, supplied to run the ventilation system, was unfortunately broken in transit… but again, I made Guillermo aware, and it will be here with the door handle replacement. He’s really just so easy to work with.
And to be perfectly honest, to have this giant thing travel as far as it did, I’m impressed that it only had those two little problems.”
Note: the new door handles and power converter were sent from Europe on a Wednesday and they arrived and were installed on Friday.
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Did you use the Studiobricks Skype assembly service or did you have to contact Studiobricks in any other way while putting the studio together?
“Never needed the assembly service… it was that easy. In fact, my wife was shocked how quickly the thing went together… and again, it was just me, except she helped me (at 6 months pregnant no less!!! ) to marshal the door into place.”
What’s your overall impression of the product now that it has been put together.
“One word. WOW. It’s really impressive. The build-quality is outstanding. Honestly, it completely exceeded my expectations. It’s shockingly quiet… SHOCKINGLY. My wife went in, and I locked her in the booth for a few moments… and her eyes lit up when she realized how quiet I sounded outside the booth to her. My previous booth sounded awesome… great absorption… but it bled noises like crazy. The Studiobricks booth delivers a nice, quiet environment.”
What surprised you most?
“When you take the pieces out of the shipping container and lay everything out, it looks intimidating. Once you get the floor down, the first layer up, and the door frame… the assembly just flies.”
Does the StudiobricksONE keep ambient noise out as you had hoped it would?
“YES! So far so good! In all honesty, I’ve found that studios, especially networks, are so used to working with talent that have home studios, that they’re pretty forgiving of a dog bark, a noisy upstairs neighbor, or even a tv playing quietly in the background, because it just doesn’t print as loud as my voice does on the mix.
That being said, noises wreak havoc with your concentration, and you worry that it will affect the recording quality, which in turn will make your performance less than what you want it to be.
Now, I’ve been working just fine up to this point with my previous booth, and as I said, it sounded terrific. But, we have a baby on the way, due in December and my previous booth would’ve been exactly zero help in keeping out any noises that a hungry newborn might make. It also would’ve been the same for trying to keep Daddy’s loud blathering on and on away from sensitive baby ears.
I think, just from the scant 24 hours or so that I’ve had to play with the Studiobricks, that this booth will serve me well. Is it sound “proof?” No. Is it better than any standard walled booth I’ve ever been in? Absolutely. It frankly rivals some booths I talk in regularly in Manhattan, and those are $10K and higher custom booths. You can buy them for your home, and in fact, the company is based in New York, but as we say here in Brooklyn: “Fuhgeddaboudit”, Studiobricks is where it’s at.”
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What do you think of quality of the wall treatment inside the booth?
“The Wall treatments are good. They’re made by Vicoustic, which is a new player on the scene I think, or at least, they’re new to me. They’re another European audio company. I think they’re similar to Auralex, but much denser, and easier to deal with. They’re backed with some serious adhesive, and you just peel and stick. No muss, no fuss.
Frankly, comparing them to Auralex does Vicoustic a disservice. I’ve never really liked Auralex that much, but always regarded it as a necessary evil. Luckily my previous booth didn’t have Auralex, but it had absorbing materials inside the wall coverings. It was a great system.
I might want some additional treatment though. It’s not as dead as my previous booth was, and so it’s a bit disturbing to my ears, but again, I’m just not used to it yet. Hell, it might actually sound better. My ears just aren’t accustomed to it yet. But if I do get more treatment for the walls, I will definitely get the Vicoustic pieces. Because, not only do I think they’re nicer than Auralex, they’re just dead sexy lookin’ too!”
Mike’s voice-over clients aren’t going to care as much about the looks of his new booth. They want to know what it sounds like. Have a listen:
StudiobricksONE with ventilation unit
Mike also ordered a ventilation unit from Studiobricks. How would that affect the recordings made in this 4′ by 3′ booth? You be the judge:
Voice talent and coach Jonathan Tilley is based in Germany. Just as Mike, he read my blog and he is now another proud owner of a Studiobricks ONE booth, and he couldn’t be happier. He produced the following video review of his new booth:
Meanwhile, Mike Bratton has offered to answer all your questions in the comment section below. That way, it stays all in one place and you don’t have to hop from site to site to find answers.
One of the things people wanted to know is the ambient noise level in and outside of the booth. For this, Mike took his trusted Neumann U87 and recorded the following:
The Studiobricks ONEretails at about $3,500 (depending on the exchange rate of the Euro). Tax and shipping is not included. There’s a wide range of colors to choose from, and you can even have your logo on your booth. How cool is that?
All Mike has to do, is wait for the baby!
Please contact Studiobricks for details at email@example.com.
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