“Paul, I think you’re on to something,” said Heinz Gruenewald.
Heinz works for the world-renowned Westdeutscher Rundfunklabor in Germany, and he’s one of the top sound wave specialists. He has several patents in nanomaterials, acoustic devices, transducers and sensors in his name.
AN UNUSUAL TALENT
Just like some wine connoisseurs are born with an extraordinary palette, Heinz is blessed with extraordinary hearing. As you know, you can let an oenophile taste a glass of wine, and he’ll tell you what country it’s from, what region and even from what year. Heinz has that same uncanny ability but with microphones.
He says that it’s both a blessing and a curse: “Whenever I hear audio, my mind immediately tries to figure out what microphone was used to record it. It usually takes me a few seconds to analyze the sound spectrum. Call me arrogant, but 9 out of 10 ten times I’m dead on.” Heinz has even been on the German version of 20/20 to show his talent off.”
Right now, he is working on a portable version of the digital microphone interface, which is expected to come out next year. The rapid advance of high-def television is associated with increasing requirements in terms of audio technology, which can only be met with the aid of digital microphones. That’s where Heinz comes in.
Heinz and I actually started an “online relationship” when I found him on the Internet as I was looking for an expert who could confirm or deny what only can be labeled as a surprise discovery. Here’s how it started.
At the end of 2008, I was listening to some old demos of mine, to determine which ones to keep and which ones to delete. Since I’ve been listening to myself for my entire life, it’s fair to say that I know my sound top to bottom, inside out. For some reason I listened back to back to a demo recorded at the end of January and one from the middle of August. The difference between the two couldn’t have been greater. It was almost as if another person had taken over my vocal chords. I couldn’t believe it.
Back in January, my sound was thin, shallow and cold. In August I sounded rich, resonant and warm. Mind you: I was certain that I had used the same microphone, the same preamplifier and they were all at the same setting I always use to create a consistent sound. For days I kept wondering what could account for the tremendous difference in the way my voice came across. It was night and day. It was too weird for words. What on earth could be the difference that had made the difference?
Then I got an unexpected breakthrough. One December morning, I went into my studio to record an audition. It was early and I was freezing. Nevertheless I gave it my all. But when I heard myself back, I could hear the cold of the morning in my voice. This wasn’t working. I decided to switch on the thermal heater and come back when the temperature would be up.
Fast forward sixty minutes. I recorded the same lines with the same gear, and out of curiosity I played the two recordings I had made one after the other. My mouth fell open. A week and many experiments later, I contacted Heinz.
“Let me get this right,” he said with his soft German accent. “Are you saying that the temperature in the recording booth actually influences the way you sound?”
“Based on my experiments, I’m prepared to go even one step further,” I said. “At this point I am convinced that the temperature of the microphone greatly affects the tonal qualities of the sound it is picking up. It boils down to this:
When the mic is cold, I sound cold. When the mic is warm, I sound much warmer.”
SCIENCE IN ACTION
Being a scientist and a sound wave specialist, Heinz didn’t take my word for it. Not even when I sent him the audio files. But I could tell he was intrigued and determined to repeat my experiment in a laboratory setting. It was easy enough to replicate.
At 3:00 AM the next morning my phone rang. An excited Heinz had forgotten that he was on German time.
“Paul, I think you’re on to something,” he said. “I have never heard anything like it. I only had a cheap microphone in my office, but I decided to put it to the test anyway. Stone cold it sounded like…. the piece of junk that it was. But when I left it on the radiator and it had warmed up significantly, it was a totally different animal. I swear to you, it almost had tube-like characteristics. It’s amazing. I don’t know how it works, but it definitely does.”
In the months that followed, Heinz and his team made sure that this hadn’t been a random event. Test groups were brought in to evaluate identical sound bites that were recorded with cold mics and mics that were warmed up. Without exception, the people surveyed not only noticed the difference; they all preferred the warmer sound of the warm microphone.
In February 2009, I traveled to Germany to go over the findings of the Rundfunklabor in person. Heinz and I had been speculating about how we could put my discovery to practical use. We had agreed that it would be a shame to leave the results of the research in some stuffy drawer.
When we sat around the table at the lab, Heinz had a big smile on his face when he handed me a cable with some sort of extension that reminded me a bit of a MicPort Pro. He said: “It looks like an ordinary USB cable, right?” “More or less,” I replied. “What is this black thing that’s attached to it, and why are you showing me this?” Heinz said: “You are looking at a prototype, my friend. And I have a feeling that this is going to create a small revolution.”
He continued: “This device is powered from the USB port and needs no batteries. The other end plugs directly into a condenser microphone. Now, do you see this control knob? Notice that the scale is in centigrades?
When you turn it up, it draws energy from the computer and transfers it into heat. This heat is actually warming up the microphone. And because you can adjust the temperature, you can adjust the tonal quality of whatever the mic is recording. That means that you can use a lower temperature for microphones that already have a warmer sound. Isn’t it ingenious?”
I was floored. In a few months time and without telling me, Heinz had turned my little discovery into the beginnings of a product. “Do you think people would actually buy this?” I asked.
“Paul, listen to me,” said Heinz. “I took the cheapest condenser microphone I could find and plugged it into this mic warmer. When it had reached the right temperature, I asked a professional narrator to read a few paragraphs into this mic. Then we asked him to read the same passage and we recorded it with a Neumann U87 large diaphragm microphone. I think it sells for about $3400.00 in the US.
My assistants had me listen to both samples, and I am telling you right now that I could not hear the difference. And you know me. My ears never lie. This is going to be big!”
“We have to make sure that this thing is safe,” I said. “I don’t want to be sued by some engineer because my device set his studio on fire.” Heinz agreed that there still was a lot of work to be done, but he was confident that we could put this thing on the market within one to two years.
With the backing of an innovation grant from the European Union, things moved fast. Patents were secured. The technology was thoroughly tested. Designers were brought in to make the mic warmer look sleek and futuristic. Because we were using European money, the device had to be manufactured in Europe. That’s where my Dutch connections came in. I managed to find a small company in the North of Holland that was able to start a modest production line. And I am proud to tell you that in the next month or so, the very first mic warmer will be ready to go to market!
It will be officially launched at the biggest annual audio show in Munich, but one of America’s top pro-audio providers has already placed a substantial advance order after hearing the test results. Geoff Deary, the head engineer, said that he had been very skeptical at first, but that he was “absolutely blown away by this small device.”
So… there you have it. As faithful readers of my blog, I wanted you to be the first ones to know. But this story does not end here. I need your help. My product needs a name. For some reason ‘mic warmer’ doesn’t sound good. That’s where you come in. I’m asking you to come up with a better name. Please leave your suggestions in the comment section at the bottom of this article.
In two weeks, Heinz Gruenewald and I will pick a winner. And if we choose your name, you will be the first person to receive the finished product! The winner will be announced in this blog, so stay tuned.
It all began when they had seen her struggle to get to the car.
It was not a pretty sight.
Swaying from one side to the other, Jennifer stopped to take a breath and regain her balance. Her brain was telling her body to walk upright, with that strong, steady gait she had always been so proud of. But somehow, that message didn’t reach her muscles because she kept on waddling like a duck.
As she looked down, she realized how uneven the sidewalk was. Every tile that was sticking out turned it into an obstacle course.
She stopped again and looked at her neighbor’s porch. A shadow quickly moved away from the front window.
When she finally reached the car, she had to hold on to it, to stay on her feet. Jennifer opened the door and swung herself into the driver’s seat. When she drove away, she already felt exhausted, and the day had barely begun. She wondered how well she would do at the audition.
The people next door were old school. They didn’t say much, and when they did, it was usually behind her back. Much of the world was a mystery to them, and yet, they acted as if they knew everything.
For one, they thought that Jennifer was lazy, because she hardly ever left for work in the morning. They had no idea that Jennifer had a state of the art voice-over home studio equipped with ISDN and SourceConnect.
Secondly, they were pretty sure that Jennifer was faking a handicap. One day, they had seen her walking with a cane. The next day, she seemed to be totally fine. Besides, she looked great. Sick people usually don’t look that good.
Perhaps Jennifer was feigning disability to get money from the government. How else could she afford the mortgage? After all, she had no job and people abuse the system all the time.
The neighbors also knew something else: Jennifer liked a drink or two. That would explain the swaying and the stumbling on the sidewalk. In short: Jennifer was a jobless, lazy drunk who shouldn’t even be driving. She should be ashamed of herself!
THE STAGGERING TRUTH
This week is MS Awareness week, and like many other people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, Jennifer was gearing up for the annual Walk MS event in May. She needed sponsors for the walk and she decided to stay close to home. Jennifer loved to bake and had an idea: she would go door-to-door with her delicious home-made cookies and raise funds for the event.
As the oven was heating up, she thought back to the last meeting of her support group. That night, they had discussed the many misconceptions surrounding MS.
Larry, the facilitator, warned everybody:
“When it comes to a chronic illness like MS, if it’s not visible, it does not exist. In other words: as long as you’re not in a wheelchair, people tend to think that you must be doing alright.
Some folks think that MS is the result of a poor diet or negative thinking. In other words: you’re basically doing it to yourself. Eating healthy and an optimistic attitude alone could solve the problem. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
As you know, many MS symptoms are silent. Different people have different symptoms and some of them come and go. There’s poor coordination, fatigue, vertigo, visual disturbances, tremors, spasticity, weakness, slurred speech, unstable walking, sensitivity to heat… do I need to go on?”
POLLING THE PEOPLE
“When they surveyed people in the UK about MS last year, almost half of the respondents couldn’t name a single symptom. Others believed that MS was contagious or inherited and almost always fatal. None of that is true. Mind you, the people that were interviewed were from a cross-section of the population. They weren’t exactly uneducated.
So, on top of suffering from a nearly invisible autoimmune disease, people with MS also suffer from these myths and misconceptions.”
At that point, Carlos interjected. He had been a flight attendant for many years, until MS had him grounded.
“I always tell people: Even though I have this disease, it’s not who I am. I’m still the same person. I don’t want your sympathy. I want your understanding.”
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to have MS? Singer-songwriter Kristie Salerno Kent was officially diagnosed in November 1999. She made a short film about living with MS. Please take a few moments to watch it. I think you’ll like her approach. Depending on your computer, you might have to turn the volume up a little:
Let’s pick up Jennifer’s story where we left off. Her scrumptious chocolate chip cookies were ready and wrapped with an orange ribbon. Within the hour, she had sold almost her entire batch to the people on her block, and there was only one house left: the neighbors. On her last legs, she rang the doorbell.
“What’s up with you?” asked the neighbor. “It looks like you were hit by a truck.”
“Oh well,” said Jennifer. “It’s the fatigue. I’ve been going door-to-door to sell these cookies for the MS Walk…”
“I know exactly what you mean,” interrupted the neighbor. I get tired too. We all do. Just get some rest and you’ll be okay. Why are you selling cookies? Did you join the Girl Scouts?”
“It’s for people who want to sponsor my team for the MS Walk in May. You get three for a dollar,” said Jennifer.
“MS… that’s what Michael J. Fox has, right?” asked the neighbor. “He looks fine to me. Saw him on the Olympics a few weeks ago. Once an actor, always an actor.”
“I believe he has Parkinson’s,” said Jennifer. “I raise money for Multiple Sclerosis.”
“I’ll tell you what,” said the neighbor. “I just gave money to those poor people in Haiti, and I’m sure you’ll make someone else happy with these cookies for Multiple… whatever it is. Right now, my pizzas have arrived.”
As Jennifer walked back to her house, the guy from Domino’s made his delivery.
“Sir, that’ll be $18.98”.
“Here’s twenty five,” said the neighbor. “Keep the change.”
FACTS* MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.
Approximately 400,000 Americans have MS, and every hour someone is newly diagnosed. Worldwide, MS affects about 2.1 million people. Even though there is no cure, there are now FDA-approved medications that have been shown to “modify” or slow down the underlying course of MS. In addition, many therapeutic and technological advances are helping people manage symptoms.
MS SOCIETY The National MS Society is the largest nonprofit organization in the United States supporting research for the treatment, prevention and cure of multiple sclerosis. Approximately 83% of Society income is devoted to research and service programs that enhance the lives of people with MS and their families.
WALK MS Every spring nearly 300,000 people unite across the country to participate in Walk MS. All walks have an accessible route so people of all abilities can participate. Funds raised support the Society’s research and services programs.
Should voice-over artists be afraid of artificial unintelligence?
Will robots take over the role of narrator or do voice-over professionals still have a future?
The man who had lost his voice from thyroid cancer, spoke again on the Oprah Winfrey show. In 2010, the late film critic Roger Ebert gave his Oscar predictions with the help of text-to-speech (TTS) software that speaks whatever he typed.
The first computer-based speech synthesis systems were created in the late 1950s. They’ve come a long way, but a lot of TTS software still sounds rather robotic and unnatural. That’s why Ebert turned to Scottish firm CereProc for help.
CereProc actually uses someone’s audio recordings to create a digital voice that comes very close to the real thing.Usually, CereProc has people come in to their studio and record about 15 hours of audio. This is used to re-create the original voice.
In Ebert’s case, they used audio commentary he had made for several DVD documentaries. The quality was poor and the recordings were not as long as they would have liked. Nevertheless, they did the impossible and gave Ebert his voice back.
OUR NEW COMPETITOR?
TTS software is not only used for people who have lost the ability to speak. It’s used to capture accents and dialects that are on the verge of dying out. People also use it to learn a foreign language. There’s one other application you should be aware of: it could eventually be used to replace you and me!Poland-basedIvona Text-to-Speech advertises:
“Save money spent on voice talent recordings. You do not have to look for recording studios and speakers. You do not waste time concluding agreements and contacting the contractors and it’s accessible 24/7.”
If you want to get an idea of what this software is capable of, go to their website; type in a few words and have a digital voice read it back to you.Rival NeoSpeech, headquartered in California claims:
“Robotic voices are now history.”
Neospeech offers nine different voices that speak US English, Mexican Spanish, Korean, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese for a wide range of hand-held devices, desktop and network/server applications.
If it weren’t for a certain former president, Roger Ebert might never have found CereProc. Ebert came across the Bush-o-Matic talking head, a hilarious re-creation of the 43rd president. I must admit: Bush never sounded so articulate! You can make him say things that are intelligent, and even make him wink, squint or blink.
The CereProc engineers pieced the voice of Bush together from his weekly radio address. It’s kind of scary, but in a fun way. Just to be fair, they also added a virtual version of president Obama’s voice and the inimitable accent of the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
As you can tell from the audio samples, CereProc is getting close, but they’re not quite there yet. One of the biggest challenges any TTS provider needs to overcome, is how to add some emotion to the speech. Most artificial voices still sound a bit flat and get very boring very quickly. And for ordinary mortals, it’s still too expensive to re-create their own voice with the help of this technology.
TIME TO GO?
So, do you think it’s getting time for professional voice-overs to pack their bags and start looking for other work? Yes and no.
First of all, text-to-speech companies all over the world use voice talent to record different languages and accents for different applications.Secondly, if you’re a musician, you might find this technological development very interesting but non-threatening.
As you probably know, any musical instrument under the sun has been sampled, and entire symphony orchestras can come out of a can. Yet, people are still buying real Steinways and there are plenty of musicians who make a very decent living.
Do you think that we’ll ever see the time when Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” as performed on virtual instruments, will win a Grammy? I don’t think so. Will a laboratory ever be able to produce a recording of Bach’s cello solo sonatas that rivals the depth of Yo Yo Ma’s interpretation?
You see, there’s still hope for the most subtle, most flexible, most surprising and unique of all instruments: the human voice.
Here’s the rub: robots have a hard time emoting. They can patiently and dispassionately guide you to the next exit, but they have a hard time expressing even the most basic of feelings such as fear, anger, hurt, guilt and… love.
However, give it a few years, and who knows what the industry will come up with!
Some voice-over casting sites have an interesting way of dealing with members complaining that they haven’t had much luck. Here’s what these sites say:
“Auditioning is great practice! Even if you didn’t get that 100 dollar job, at least you’re honing your skills.”
Oh, please… Give me a break!
WORDS OF WISDOM
At the end of a two day “voice-over intensive,” the trainer looked at her students one last time. By the expression on her face they could tell she was about to say something significant.
Her velvet voice had sold millions of sheets of the softest bathroom tissue known to mankind. Anything that came out of her mouth was as good as gold. Star-struck, the students all listened like attention-deprived orphans, waiting to get one last bit of tough love.
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
The voice-over market is a buyer’s market. Voice-talents are exposed; voice-seekers are protected. As voice-over pros, we want to work. We need to work. Sometimes we’re so happy to be picked out of a pile of 100+ auditions; it’s tempting to say “YES” when we finally get a break. But would we have done so, had we known the facts?
The World Wide Web has put me in touch with the wonderful, the wacky and the weird. Anyone can pretend to be anything on the Net. That nice guy you met online might very well be the next “Craigslist Killer”. Or he could be Prince Charming! How can you be sure?
THE VOICE-OVER AS P.I.
I have a question for you: do you think you should have to play Sherlock Holmes if you audition for a job on a site like voices.com? Aren’t you paying the staff to do their homework to make sure you’re not connected to some creep?
If you’re a member of voice123, you might have seen the following disclaimer:
Legal note: Although Voice123 tries to establish the legitimacy of all voice seekers, you are responsible for conducting your own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice seekers, agents and/or clients. You assume all liability for use of any information you find through Voice123, LLC, or any of its publications.
Good luck, especially if the voice seeker is purposely hiding his or her identity! As we have seen in the case of the founder of Newspapers for the Blind, the voice123 team responded after members had complained about the way they had been treated. Make no mistake about it: at the end of the day, “You are responsible for conducting your own investigation.”
Here’s the good news: the Internet is not only a place for con-men and convicts. With so much information in the public domain, we might as well use it as a tool in our fight against the frauds, the fakes and the phonies. My story of Newspapers for the Blind is the perfect example. Before I get into that, I have an admission to make.
A GOOD CAUSE
When I was young, idealistic and hopelessly naive, I honestly believed that people involved in philanthropy must be good people. It never occurred to me to do a background check on a charity. What can I say? Even Steven Spielberg thought that Bernie Madoff was a nice guy…
After my story about Will May, some of you wondered: Is his organization a real charity?
On its website, Newspapers for the Blind (NFBT) says it’s a 501C-3 Corporation. This is a type of incorporation that is used to set up a charitable corporation, founded with the intention of providing a service to the community, rather than making a profit.
Incorporating a company makes it a legal entity, responsible for its actions in the community. This is important, because it removes a great deal of the responsibility from the person who is starting the company.
One source puts it this way: “If you start a 501(c)3 company, you want the legal liability for possible damages to be the responsibility of the 501(c)3 corporation so that your personal possessions are safe from creditors.”
So, how do you separate the chaff from the wheat? The IRS web site has a search engine that makes finding a registered charity a piece of cake. The Better Business Bureaus* have a similar function on their website. In both databases, Newspapers for the Blind does not come up as a registered charity, and I have asked the IRS and the BBB to look into this. I also checked the Maryland Charities Database (the state where NFTB is based). Again: nothing came up.
But there’s a catch: Elisabeth Leamy, the ABC News Consumer Correspondent warns:
“ (…) even if the IRS really has granted non-profit 501C-3 status to a group, that’s no indication of quality. The IRS doesn’t have the time or staff to really scrutinize those who apply for charity status. I once investigated a company that earned 501C-3 status. The IRS overlooked the fact that the founder was a convicted felon who kept most of the group’s money for himself and didn’t even register with the state as required by law.”
In her article “How to Identify a Fake Charity”, Jamie K. Wilson recommends we carefully examine a charity’s website and look for the following signs:
A board of directors numbering at least six people, with their credentials or regular job titles and place of employment listed
A permanent street address in the United States or your own country
A 501(c)3 statement
An outline of this charity’s goals
Downloadable financial statements that detail where money has been expended in the past
Accurate statistics with verifiable and legitimate sources
Good writing, spelling, and grammar
“Any charitable website lacking two or more of these traits is suspect. That does not mean the charity is fake. On the contrary, it might be very new and very legitimate, but without a track record. However, fake charities generally lack at least two of the above items.”
Steven Lowell of voice123 had this to say about Will May, the founder and editor of NFTB:
“Truth is… if he is rough to deal with, and pays, that is one thing. You get your money and never work with the person again. But to pose as a charitable organization, then not pay, and pull the routine that the people who delivered work must be the problem, when he in fact hired them… It is not a better business practice, and to some extent, illegal. I am not up to date on laws governing posing as false charity, but he did promise payment, and never came through.”
WHO IS WILL MAY?
Again, using what is in the public domain, what can we learn about the founder and editor of Newspapers for the Blind? Let’s first see what Will May told us about himself on his 2010 LinkedIn profile:
Interests: I like to sail boats and fly aeroplanes
Groups and Associations: Chief Medical Examiner of the Lesbian Fighter Pilots Association
In 2013, his interests are still the same, but his Groups and Associations comment was no longer there. His LinkedIn Summary consists of the following quote:
“I like to make money, so I can be ‘A river to my people.’ ~Auda”
May still lists himself as the owner of Nevis LLC. A Nevis Limited Liability Company is based in the Caribbean tax-haven of Nevis. For $1495 USD, you too could become the proud owner of a Nevis LLC. It has a few benefits:
Nevis does not impose corporate tax, income tax, withholding tax, stamp tax, asset tax, exchange controls or other fees or taxes on assets or income originating outside of Nevis.
The owners and managers are not registered anywhere, which provides for complete secrecy.
A Nevis LLC allows you to shield your assets from lawsuits, agencies, and financial creditors.
Owners can manage the company without becoming liable for company financial obligations or legal liabilities.
THE LAST TYCOON
Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray worked for Will May and never received a penny. She confirmed what I had suspected when I questioned where the money for Newspapers for the Blind was coming from. Juliette wrote:
“One long conversation I had with him he told me that he had put a lot of money himself into it and he was a retired real estate tycoon from NYC.”
This is confirmed by the information May listed in his 2010 LinkedIn profile under “experience”:
“Chairman of Wm. B May & Company- Real Estate from 1982 – 2006”
This is not your average local realtor. The William B. May Company once was the nation’s oldest real estate brokerage firm, and it has been in the hands of one family for four generations. The website of the New York Real Estate Institute states:
“William B. May’s impeccable reputation has been built on a singular philosophy of integrity, trust, full accountability and integrated service. To this day, we pride ourselves on unwavering ethics, steadfast client loyalty, and competitive endurance.”
In a December 2000 newsletter, the company boasts:
“With age comes wisdom. The development of 57th Street at the heart of New York City was what first put William B. May on the map in the late 1860’s. At that time, we sold property to the Carnegies, the Fricks and the Vanderbilts.”
Today, the company is no more. Only the brand William B. May has survived. The business concept is owned by Broker Services Holding, LLC and it is operated as a franchise.
On his LinkedIn page, Will May concurs that the company as it had existed, ceased operations in 2006, after -as he put it- “a tumultuous take-over fight”.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Gabriel Sherman is contributing editor at New York Magazine and a special correspondent for the New Republic. Prior to 2006, he was the media reporter at the New York Observer. In April of ’05, he witnessed the demise of the venerable family firm.
When I read his article “William T. May Sues Agency On Century 21 Ads”, a few things fell into place. This is how it begins:
“William Talcott May is the co-chairman of the storied real-estate brokerage founded by his great grandfather in 1866 and inheritor of the New York real-estate dynasty that bears his father’s name, William B. May.
But when the 44-year-old eccentric bounded into City Bakery on West 18th Street on a recent Thursday morning, wearing a fire-truck-red Scottish kilt and a navy-blue wool sweater, his broad, leonine cheekbones streaked with charcoal-hued face paint, he looked more Braveheart than businessman.”
If you don’t have time to read the entire article, here are some of the ‘highlights’:
Mr. May studied economics at Duke University. He dropped out in 1982 after two and half years. At Duke, Mr. May was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, played rugby and co-founded the school’s polo club with 40 ponies he said his cousin won in a craps game in South America.
After leaving Duke, Billy May -as he was known- returned to New York and worked in William B. May’s brokerage business while managing some of his own buildings. On the job he was stabbed and shot by tenants.
As he was flying his private plane on 9/11/’01, he witnessed the entire disaster from 10,000 feet above New York Harbor. He told Gabriel Sherman: “I was on the radio to McGuire Air Force base in 20 seconds saying there had been a terrorist attack.”
In December of 2001, the FBI and police arrested Mr. May for leaving six fake bombs at the New Castle County Airport in an attempt to highlight lax security.
Between trial and sentencing, he served 31 days in solitary confinement. Mr. May received a felony conviction and four years probation for the incident.
Mr. May’s attorney at the time, Penelope Marshall, said in reports that Mr. May was not medicated for his bipolar disorder.
Sherman ends his report from 2005 as follows:
“Mr. May, who says he has already spent $1 million of his own money to stanch the attacks on his family’s business, said he will not surrender until his family wins its name back. “I’m like a one-man pack of wild dogs when I get angry,” he said.”
You don’t have to be a psychologist to realize that past behavior can -to a certain extent- predict future behavior. In the case of William Talcott May, knowing about his background made me understand where his Mr. Nice and Mr. Nasty type of behavior was coming from. I just hope that he doesn’t unleash his ‘one-man pack of wild dogs’ on me. I’m more of a cat person.
As I said before: I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. I sincerely hope that it will survive Will May’s erratic actions. Eventually, his karma will catch up with him.
As for our friends at the voice-over casting sites (sometimes known as Pay-to-Plays)… we realize that you don’t have the time or the resources to conduct extensive investigations. However, it would be very helpful if you would publish information on those individuals who have pulled a fast one, and share it with your members and with other voice-over casting sites. That way, scammers who are exposed on one site, won’t be able to set up shop at another site.
Instead, you have left it up to our trusted colleague Mahmoud Taji, to come up with a Scam-Alert for our industry. As much as I applaud his hard work, this should not have been left to the efforts of one blogging voice-over talent in Egypt.
As voice-seekers, we pay you in order to take advantage of your internet voice-casting service. We don’t want to be taken advantage of, because you choose to protect your voice-seekers from our phone calls.
Come to think of it… isn’t that how we used to do business? We simply picked up the phone and introduced ourselves to a prospective client. What would Sherlock Holmes call that?
*The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has developed Standards for Charity Accountability to “assist donors in making sound giving decisions and to foster public confidence in charitable organizations. The standards seek to encourage fair and honest solicitation practices, to promote ethical conduct by charitable organizations and to advance support of philanthropy.”
Posting jobs under false names, not paying invoices and Jekyll and Hyde-treatment of voice-over talent… these appear to be the trademarks of William May.
Mr. May is the founder and editor of Newspapers For The Blind Organization,Inc, a web–based service, offering a daily selection of newspaper articles for the vision impaired, read by voice-over pros. The site was quietly launched during the last quarter of 2009 (and should not be confused with NFB-Newsline®).
The idea behind Newspapers for the Blind (NFTB) is not new but certainly noble. The other two people involved, Dr. Edward E. Boas Jr. and Noelle Mills Adler, have impressive credentials. Dr. Boas is a Professor of Computer Science, Data Processing and Electronics at Cecil College in North East Maryland. Ms. Mills Adler is a past president of the Ladies Christian Union of New York City (now known as the LCU Foundation).
But it’s the voice-over professionals known as “newspapercasters” who are at the heart of NFTB. Newspapersfortheblind.org raves:
“Our three dozen readers, culled from 3000 auditions, bring the precise vocal skills to reach and meet our unique audience.”
At the beginning of September 2010, I became a member of this “elite team,” after auditioning for the following job posted on voice123:
Newspapers for Blind This is a daily long term commitment to read a newspaper article into an MP3 for webcasting and free-phone service to the blind and hearing-impaired.
The files would want to be recorded from roughly midnight to 6AM US Eastern Time, so, geography may be important to readers.
The pacing of the delivery is painfully S-L-O-W, and the voice resonance is highly critical for the hearing-impaired. Tenors and sopranos need not bother; it won’t work for the hearing-impaired. Professor Henry Higgins diction is important; bite the words.
Voice-seekers name: confidential Company name: hidden
I was absolutely thrilled to have made the cut. Regular gigs are hard to come by in this industry, but there was another reason why I was so excited. Some jobs we do for the money; others because it is the right thing to do. This was the best of both worlds!
THE AMAZING MR MAY
On top of that, the founder/editor seemed to possess an incredible drive and contagious enthusiasm to make things happen. His initial emails were personable, funny and encouraging. After I started reading leads from The Independent and The Times, he commented:
“My Cat; BraveHeart, loves your voice. She always perks up when I play your readings. You have a fan.”
One day, I shared with him that I wasn’t feeling too well. He responded:
“Paul, hope you shake the cold…..just don’t shake this perfect voice, W”
This was clearly a man with a heart! One thing bothered me a little, though. Whenever I asked May if he intended to formalize the relationship and how payment would be handled, it took him months to come up with something that came close to a straight answer.
A month or so into the job, I had yet to be paid. Then I noticed that May had placed another job posting on voice123. Why would he be looking for new recruits? When I asked him about it, he answered:
“Please don’t worry about not enough readings for NFTB. Stick with me; I have to keep a Chinese Wall between the not-for-profit and other activities. There will be plenty of other activities to follow.”
He was right. Not only would I be recording and editing at least two articles a day, Will asked me and four other colleagues to record public service announcements for NFTB (a 501C-3 Corporation). I was tickled when he told me:
“Out of the 5, they chose your Public Service Message on 970 AM, New York.”
By that time I was on a roll. The only thing that was missing was a regular paycheck and eventually, that became an ordeal. I had to send out countless reminders, only to hear that my “address was lost” or that someone would be looking into it.
GIVE ME A BREAK
On November 15th, May surprised me with the following message:
“Lets let your money catch up with your readings; take a break.”
“(…) As you know, I am very supportive of your charity, and I don’t understand why I should take a break. (…) If you do not have the money to pay me, you should have said so from the beginning. As a professional, I made my commitment based on your commitment. Financially, I plan ahead and make future projections based on assurances that have been made by my clients. Knowing that payment would not be forthcoming or would be seriously delayed, would have given me the opportunity to reconsider my commitment to NFTB, and possibly spend my time and energy generating income in other ways. (…)”
“I had interpreted your last mail as unhappy. I was simply saying lets let the accounting, our weakest link, catch up with you. We have enough money, just not enough accounting bobbins.”
But on November 20th, I received the following email:
“Don’t count on any more readings in your planning; nothing to do with you. We’ll catch up the accounting, and probably just wind things up. May try to limp along at half or one-third normal see what happens.
Also, frankly, not enough users to merit all of the work; I’m working 18-20 hour days to throw 8-10 k out the window each week…what for.
I think we made sliced bread, when the world wants baguette.”
The truth is that it was business as usual at Newspapers for the Blind. They didn’t miss a beat, and never have. I was sidetracked for no apparent reason, while waiting for my checks. And I was not alone:
Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray picks up the story:
“I was hired in November. They required reading articles (in my case from the London newspapers). These articles were long and the editing took ages. Then the person in charge decided because these people were also partially deaf that I needed to change my sound system. I did this willingly because I thought I had a steady job.
At quite a bit of expense I was ready to start working again and it was then he turned out to be a complete nightmare. We exchanged numerous e-mails, phone conversations, etc. and then he did a 180 degree turn – sort of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Became impossible to communicate with and finally did get nasty in his final e-mail. Needless to say I never got paid.”
VOICE123 JUMPS IN
At that time, Steven Lowell was the “community manager” for voice123. This is what he said when I asked him about NFTB and Will May::
“When I first saw the job posted a while back, I was very excited because in NYC, I got some early voice over practice in the 90’s doing charity by reading books to the blind at a local church. It was something a coach recommended I do for practice.
The job made me think, ‘Wow! Good to see something like this again! Yet, what followed was an unpleasant experience of several talents with decades of experience, complaining to me that he was harsh and unfriendly to work with.
When reaching out to Mr. May to present that there have been problems, merely as a way to communicate feedback, his reply to me was, ‘Who complained? I don’t have the time to coach every talent to perfection….’
Before hearing my side of the story, voice123 heard from Juliette and 2 other voice-over professionals; one from the US, and one from the UK. As I was researching this article, I got in touch with other newspapercasters. Without exception, they asked me not to reveal their names, because they’re still hoping to get paid and they want to keep their job. But all of them told similar tales about Mr. May, and I wondered if voice123 had taken any action.
As a rule, voice123 only investigates non-payment matters that are 60-days old. Steven Lowell: “This is because we do not get involved, and most payment disputes are resolved quite easily with a reminder email from me.”
Having examined concrete proof from email correspondence as to what had happened, voice123 banned Will May from the site. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the matter. Lowell:
“Mr. May posted the initial jobs under his own name. Once removed from the site, he began to use different names. During verification efforts by our staff, it was discovered who was posting the job. The staff at Voice123 has not changed in 2 years, and we have become very aware of ‘who is who’, and as such, have been able to catch people easily trying to repost after being banned.”
Juliette Gray is still waiting for her paycheck, and she’s not the only one. I was lucky. Even though Mr. May still owes me a substantial amount of money, I did get paid for approximately two-thirds of my work.
For months, I asked May to pay the remainder of the balance, but he was MIA. When my knocks on his door became louder, he finally sent a very unfriendly email, accusing me of “futzing the dates” on my invoices. He wrote:
“I am in no great rush to go through hours of checking to deal with whatever might be outstanding to you. Checking truth versus falsehood is a nuisance.”
“The invoices were sent on November 9th of last year, so you have had over two months to figure things out. I resent your remark that I “started futzing the dates”. My invoices accurately and faithfully reflect the work I have done for your organization at your request, and that’s the work I deserve to be paid for.”
I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. The newspapercasters are dedicated and talented readers who can be proud to support their families by bringing the news to the blind and vision-impaired, day in day out.
The website has an impressive list of reputable institutions labeled as “dedicated listeners”. There is no doubt in my mind that the energetic editor has moved mountains to realize this project. Based on my email exchanges with him, Will May works night and day to keep the service up and running. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that he has invested a substantial amount of his own money into this worthy undertaking.
I also believe that people are not their behavior. From time to time, all of us do things that we are not proud of, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know any better. Just because we do something crazy, doesn’t mean that we are crazy.
Having said that, it is not okay to treat people the Will May-way, and voice123 was right to ban him from the site. Other sites have been alerted to make sure he doesn’t pull the same stuff. Furthermore: May needs to pay his talents. Without them, there would be no Newspapers for the Blind.
For now, I am left with one question: why would someone who is clearly invested in and dedicated to such a noble cause, turn from Mr. Nice into Mr. Nasty?
Mahmoud Taji is not only a Cairo-based Creative Director, he’s also a successful Arabic voice-over talent and blogger extraordinaire.
Taji recently relaunched his Voice Emporium, and on this site you will find thought-provoking articles, but also a very valuable Voice-over Directory of 231 casting websites and a Scam Alert for the Voice-over industry.
Taji is a man on a mission. A mission to create a monster. He writes:
“Let’s (for the sake of argument) say that you and I are partnering together on a business venture. We are going to build the perfect Voice Over Casting Site.
It’ll be a Pay-To-Play site… and it will be an amalgamation of the best parts of all the voice over casting websites that are on the market these days… so it’s a Frankenstein’s monster (remember Frankie was the doctor… his creation was the monster) consisting of the best from Voices.com, Voice123.com, VOplanet.com & Bodalgo.com.
What would it be like? What would it have?”
Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation. These are some of the elements my ideal Pay-to-Pay site would have:
Organizational structure: a cooperative. The site is owned and partially run by its members. Every member pays a relatively small membership fee to cover operational and promotional costs.
Decisions. Members have a huge say in how the site is run and who is running it. Every year, they receive a detailed account of the state of the cooperative. Members vote on major decisions and they monitor (and can vote on) the performance of the site manager. One person, one vote.
Earnings: the site takes 10% of the earnings of each job. This money will pay for staff salaries. What’s left after deduction of operational costs, salaries and overhead, will flow right back to the members at the end of each year.
Rates. The site and its members promote and practice fair trade: every project posted has a minimum budget based on industry averages (to be adjusted every year). That means that the minimum budget for an audio book will be higher than the minimum fee for a one page narration. No project shall be less than $250 and underbidding is unacceptable.
Accountability. Every single project posted will be accounted for. Members will know when the job was awarded and for how much. Voice-seekers who find talent on this site, must book the talent through the site. Demos will no longer disappear into a black hole.
Standards. In order to be eligible for membership, each prospective member has to agree to uphold and promote certain standards of ethical business practice and professional conduct.
Quality. Before being accepted, members are screened to ensure that they meet minimum professional criteria in terms of vocal and technical delivery. Throughout the year, auditions are monitored to ensure that quality is maintained. The reputation of the site rests on quality; not on rock-bottom rates.
Openness. Voice-seekers are expected to do business openly and honestly. They cannot hide their identity. This allows the voice-talent to conduct his/her own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice-seekers, agents and/or clients.
Specificity. Without a clear map, it’s hard to reach a destination: voice-seekers must clearly and specifically define what type of voice-talent they are hoping to hire. They must clearly outline the terms of the contract, listing and limiting the use of the end-product.
Auditions are open to any member; as long as this member fits the criteria for a particular project (see 8). This is left to the discretion of the talent.
Payment. Talent will be paid 50% of the agreed rate after a contract is signed, and the remainder upon delivery of the audio file(s).
Joint venture. Overall, this cooperative is characterized by quality, cooperation, transparency and accountability. It’s a place where professional talent is working with each other and for each other, rather than against each other.
Well, those are my two cents. I think Taji’s right. This ideal Voice-over casting site is probably going to be an intelligent version of Frankenstein’s monster; a patchwork of positive elements from existing Pay-to-Plays, combined with some brand new features. Is it a pipe dream? Not really. Revisit my article “What Pay-to-Plays don’t want you to know” . You’ll find out that this cooperative model is used to run one of Holland’s most successful multi-billion dollar businesses.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT
One thing’s for sure. This imaginary Voice-over casting site is going to be radically different from the current Dracula-model, where competing voice talents are sucking the life blood out of each other by low balling, undercutting and underbidding on bargain basement projects posted by cheap, anonymous voice-seekers.
Read my lips: eventually, only voice-over virgins will fall for this scheme, and this model will implode when it’s held up to the light, just like the illustrious Count from Transylvania.
If you’d like to join vampire-slayer Taji on his quest for the best Voice-over casting site, wake up out of your slumber; bring your cloves of garlic and have your say today!
Today, I went to “La Scala” in Milan, the most famous opera house in the world. It took me half an hour to get there. Rossini’s “Il viaggio a Reims” was shown at the same theater as where I had seen James Cameron’s two dimensional 3-D monsterpiece “Avatar”. In case you missed it: it’s that hyped-up, masterfully marketed mix of cinemagic, eco-babble and Blue Man Group against Giovanni Ribisi.
LIPSTICK AND PORK
Now, every “Iron Chef” aficionado knows that great plating does not make a perfect dish. Put differently: lipstick on a pig doesn’t make the pork taste better… even if that lipstick happens to be a groundbreaking multi-million dollar special effect. As for leading man Sam Worthington’s acting…. it was so flat; I found myself longing for Leonardo DiCaprio. Believe me, in my world, that’s not a good thing.
So, today I opened Pandora’s Box and ended up in Milan. The story of opera in cinema is the story of a great medium reinventing itself. If people don’t come to the opera, the opera will come to the people. Some skeptics said it would be easier for Montagues and Capulets to get along, than for opera and cinema. But I believe that this love story will have a happy ending. As a matter of fact, so do most episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” (how’s that for a smooth transition to my last installment about this show?).
If your voice-over career could use a makeover, Gordon Ramsay might just be the man to model. You may not like his style or his methods, but his ability to turn ailing eateries around has earned him a reputation. It’s based on a few key ingredients: expertise, experience, gut-feeling and market research.
Ultimately, it boils down to this. Whether you run a restaurant or a voice-over emporium, you have to feed a need. You have to see yourself as the solution to a problem. You are the pleasure that relieves the pain. But before you present your remedy, it is your job to identify your client’s needs, problems and pains to make sure that you are the aspirin that can take their headache away.
THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
One of the reasons why many so businesses fail, is because they’re trying very hard to be something they’re not, or they’re offering something nobody wants. A brush is not a comb, and it’s useless to try to sell a comb to a bald man. Bald men might need Rogaine or a rug.
Gioachino Rossini -who, by the way, was an outstanding cook- knew what his customers wanted and he gave it to them. When Italian opera went out of vogue, he turned to French librettos. No more pasta. Boeff Bourgignon instead! How did he know that Italian was out? Because he knew his market and he was flexible enough to adjust his sails. It made him a very rich man. And famously fat, too.
Back to another culinary giant and to “Kitchen Nightmares”. At some point in every episode, Chef Ramsay leaves the acrimony of the kitchen behind and hits the street. His mission is threefold:
to find out what people really think of the restaurant he’s trying to rescue
to scope out the competition
to identify a hole in the market
Armed with that information, he starts devising a plan for the reinvention and re-launch of the business. Translated to our voice-over world that means:
get an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses from an independent expert. Pick a person who will tell you what needs to be said; not what you’re hoping to hear
go online and spend a few days listening to the good, the bad and the ugly in this industry. The ugly will teach you what not to do. The best will tell you what has shaped their career and how they are selling themselves
find out where you come in; what’s your unique selling point; your niche?
Then, ask yourself two things:
“If I would be the answer, what would the question be?”
“What do I need to do today to get to where I want to be tomorrow?”
It’s easier said than done, but please avoid making the basic beginner’s mistake of trying to be everything to everyone. Even someone as talented as Robin Williams has his limitations.
CBS news didn’t hire Morgan Freeman because he sounded like James Earl Jones. We all know he doesn’t. Freeman followed in Cronkite’s footsteps because he sounds like Morgan Freeman.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t have a range. However, that range should come from a place of “being” instead of from a place of “pretending” (if that makes any sense to you).
NEW & IMPROVED
Once Ramsey presents the restaurant with a new identity, he takes a good look at all the resources he can muster. It’s a cliché, but change has to come from within, and in this case it starts with the kitchen.
If you’ve seen the show a few times, you know that this almost always involves training or re-training the staff. Most often, this means back to basics. Hand-made super sharp German blades aren’t going to make a difference if your knifing skills don’t cut it. In your hands, they’re probably dangerous.
I’m pretty sure the kind folks at Sweetwater will happily sell you this Manley Reference Cardioid microphone. But let me ask you this: if you were a budding singer, would a new mic make you sound significantly better, or would singing lessons be a wiser investment?
Instead of spending a small fortune on gear, why not spend your money on quality training before you do anything else? I have seen colleagues go under, not because they lacked talent, but because they had the wrong priorities.
Next, Ramsay usually simplifies the menu, basing it on fresh ingredients grown in the area. He also makes a point of forging a relationship between the restaurant and the local (business) community. He often invites neighboring opinion-leaders to the table. Instead of waiting for customers to come in, he forces the staff to be pro-active and reach out to potential patrons on the street and offer them a sample of the new menu.
With a new identity comes a new look. Restaurant owners who tell you that people are only coming for the food and not for the decor, are like voice-overs who insist that it’s all about the way they sound. The thing is: if you are a professional, you have to come across as one.
If you don’t feel comfortable putting your headshot on your landing page, fine, but at least make sure your website is easy to find, easy to navigate and that it whets people’s appetite. There’s a reason why the interior and the exterior of each restaurant get a thorough makeover on “Kitchen Nightmares.” If you want to get the part, you need to look the part.
Like a scrumptious desert, there’s one observation I reserved for last. It’s perhaps the most revealing part of this whole series.
It occurred to me that Chef Ramsay never suggests the owner take on the competition by lowering the prices, unless the items on the original menu were ridiculously overpriced.
It’s always about carefully and passionately prepared quality food. It’s about setting and maintaining high standards. It’s about value for money.
You don’t turn a business around by giving in to the lowest common denominator.
Ramsay might tell an owner to be less pretentious and offer simpler fare reflecting the skill set, experience and imagination of the person preparing the food. But he knows that it is perfectly reasonable to sell a good product at a good price. In fact, most people are willing to pay more for an outstanding product. It’s yet another sign of professionalism that you know what you’re worth and that you’re not afraid to charge accordingly.
THE RIGHT RECIPES
As I was leaving the movie theater, a lot was going through my mind. Mostly music. In a way, Rossini’s lavish operatic productions were the equivalent of today’s cinematic blockbusters. His sopranos and tenors were the celebrities of their day and age. Everywhere, people were humming his arias. We still do.
Even if you don’t know anything about opera, I’m sure you can sing one of the melodies from Rossini’s “Wilhelm Tell”, better known as the theme from “the Lone Ranger”. And if you happen to be a foodie, you’ve probably heard of the famous “Tournedos Rossini”, a French steak dish named after the culinary composer. No special effects or 3-D glasses required. And meat lovers say it’s out of this world.
Take that, Mr. Titanic! And hats off to you, Mr. Ramsay!
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