Studio

Paul goes Podcasting

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Studio 2 Comments

pro audio podcast logoThis week saw the release of a podcast I recorded with the Pro Audio Suite team.

I don’t have time to listen to a lot of podcasts myself, but this is one I rarely miss, because the hosts know what they are talking about.

They are also good listeners, as I found out when I was a guest on their show.

What makes this podcast different from other podcasts? It’s produced like you were listening to a real radio show.

As you will hear, we cover a lot of ground in this interview, and I’m inviting you to be a butterfly on our wall.

Click here to listen.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

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The Deaf Leading the Blind

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Personal, Social Media, Studio 6 Comments

Blindfolded archerAfter reading my last two articles, here’s what some of you wanted to know:

Do I make all this stuff up to scare newbies and make them look bad?

Before I address that, let’s explore the suggestion behind this question.

Number one: blaming the messenger is a cheap attempt to deflect attention from an unwelcome message. This is a tactic as old as mankind. If you feel you can’t win the argument, try to discredit the source, like:

“I’m uncomfortable with what Paul is saying, so I’ll accuse him of lying.”

Number two: why would I make stuff up? Every time I put myself out there as a blogger, I risk my reputation. The moment people would catch me in a falsehood, it’s game over. As a former journalist, I know for a fact that years of truth telling can be nullified by one stupid lie.

Once exposed, no one would ever want me to present at a conference, interview me for their podcast, read this blog, or buy my book. Clients that got wind of it might not want to work with me anymore.

Honestly, to lie would be a liability.

Lastly, why would I have to make things up if you can easily find them in open Facebook groups? If anything, social media is ideal for spotting public displays of ignorance. I’ve just combed through pages and pages of voice-over related nonsense to bring you the best of the worst. Before I get to that, here’s what you need to know.

You’re about to read literal quotes. I’m not paraphrasing anything, or correcting spelling. To protect the identity of the authors, I’m not going to name names. However, you should realize that this is my personal selection, specifically chosen to emphasize a few trends that worry me, namely:

1. Social media offer a seemingly equal playing field to pros and hobbyists. If you’re new to the business and you don’t know anybody, you can’t tell whom you can trust for advice. You might get solid information, or someone might be taking you for a ride.

2. Too many (amateur) doctors are prescribing cures before carefully diagnosing the patient, unhindered by a lack of common sense, knowledge, and experience. Anyone’s an expert, and quite often, the deaf are leading the blind. As usual, the quality of the info depends on the quality of the source.

3. Many Facebook groups have no barrier of entry, and any nobody can pretend to be somebody. I’ll say that again: any nobody can pretend to be somebody. Some critics claim that half of all Facebook accounts are fake. Ask yourself: do you know for sure that the Facebookers you’re chatting with are who they say they are?

In some groups, the people recruiting voices for their next project have started adding “must be 18+” because many of the submissions turned out to be from kids who were just fooling around.

4. There is no Facebook police, and too many group moderators are allowing anyone to say anything… they agree with. In my experience, it’s permitted to sing the praises of an unnamed, unethical, greedy P2P, but any criticism is quickly censored as “being negative.” In the same spirit, the moderator will allow rave reviews of newbie demos and websites (even when they’re crap), and will delete more honest assessments because they’re seen as “mean.”

An aspiring VO exclaimed:

“I’m going to leave this Facebook Group mainly because I’ve received nothing but negative comments since I’ve joined and I really only wanted to learn how to be successful and instead recieved so much hate.”

Thankfully, someone responded:

“I searched for your name and you’ve gotten one troll reply and about 30 helpful ones. It’s not hate if people don’t agree with you. It’s constructive criticism and at the end of the day only YOU choose what to take away or leave behind from any advice you get in life. If people keep taking things personally, then sorry but the VO business is not for you.”

As expected, people have lots of questions about breaking into the business. The scary thing is that so many Facebookers are ready to give advice without knowing anything about the person asking for it.

Let’s say you’re a car mechanic. Would you start working on a car before finding out what’s wrong with it? That’s pretty dumb, right? So, speaking of ways to get into the VO business, here’s what someone recommended:

“You have to move to los angeles to become an actor am i right regardless if how much fame or money you have or how many friends one gets in life? its easy for richard horvitz to be an actor if hes from there regardless how many friends he was with a pro actor or athlete right?”

That was particularly helpful, wasn’t it? Moving on to the next question:

“Been voicing anime since I was little but wanting to do it professionally; how to get started is my question.”

Here’s the answer:

“First creat a few demos”

Response:

“How to do that and not make it sound terrible?”

Answer:

“I think the first step is just put yourself out there, make your presence known so, maybe take some unpaid jobs first, build a report of people that will recommend you and go from there.”

Here’s another brilliant suggestion:

“First things’ first: got a good mic? then: record something and upload it to soundcloud.com then put url link here.”

Someone else chimes in:

“I was always told to reach out to radio stations. I’m friends with a few professional voice actors.”

My two cents? First of all, don’t move to LA yet. Get some training first and see if you have any talent. Secondly, don’t “creat” any demos if you haven’t demonstrated anything. Once you’re ready for those demos, hire a professional to create them with you. By the way, don’t put yourself out there (whatever that means) if you have no website, no sound samples, and no recording space. It’s like opening a shop with empty shelves. Lastly, stay out of radio stations. They’re breeding grounds for frustrated announcers.

Unsurprisingly, many questions on Facebook are about home studios and recording equipment. We’d rather spend hours debating the pros and cons of using a USB microphone, than talk about how to market our business. Here’s a selection:

Q. “What’s the best mic that I can buy for under $100?”
A1. “Blue snowball is good.”

A. “You can get the whole set up for about $200 and it’s totally worth it. You can see my mic and interface recommendations at XYZ.com Also, I’m selling my condo.”

A2. “You should able to go into a music shop and ask them if you can test their mics.”

A3. “I started with a Rode NT USB. A simple noise reduction pass is all you need and the set up is a fraction of the cost of XLR if you’re starting out on a budget.”

A4. “The Kaotica Eyeball is the only thing you need. It turns anywhere you are into your own sound studio.”

Let me break that down for you. Forget snowballs. Blue balls are particularly painful. $200 is not going to get you all you need to compete. Please don’t test microphones on the noisy shop floor of your local Guitar Center. Try them out in your recording space. Invest in a condenser mic and soundproof your studio. A plugin isn’t going to keep out lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

New question:

Q. “I don’t have a studio. How do i record when the neighbors kids are so loud i can hear them with the window closed?”

A1. “Tell the kids to shut up.”

A2. “You could try to build a little pvc/moving blanket fort… it will help.”

A3. “Upturned mattress and blankets all over will get you where you need to be once you get as far away from the kiddies as possible. Then a blanket over your head with your mic.”

Mattresses and blankets may help tame the boom in the room, but you need to decouple walls and add mass to keep the outside sounds out. FYI that’s going to cost you a pretty penny, but a VO without a home studio is like an Uber driver without a car.

A few more booth questions:

“Does anyone else use their macbook webcam mic? Do you find that sometimes your audio is inconsistant when you record? Somedays I sound clear and crisp, others I sound like I’m talking in a tin can. (I’m using Garage band to record)”

“So, I’m planning on making a cheap diy mobile sound booth on a pallet, and I’m wondering if you guys have any tips on what the cheapest materials I could use.”

“I have used fibre egg crates for sound absorbing material, they work great.”

“So I have a square closet that has a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. I would probably want to put some soundproof material under the door because that’s the only part I can think of that would need it. I know that a lot of people start out with using a closet because it’s usually the most natural soundproof room.”

“Mine booth is a decommissioned shower stall. I used $5 moving blankets on all 4 sides as well as top and floor. It sounds as good as any booth in Hollywood I’ve ever used.”

He continues:

“Moving blankets for the walls, ceiling, and floor if you have hard floors. Then toss a heavy blanket or comforter over the top moving blanket and put a heavy blanket up behind you. That’s as good as it gets without being a whisper room or studio bricks or something else nearly soundproof.”

Another person says:

“If you’re trying to keep it on the cheap, generic Walmart mattress toppers are between 1-2 inches thick and are usually around 10 bucks for a twin/full size mattress.”

What’s the common denominator? People trying to create something on the cheap. Here’s the thing: if you compromise on sound quality, you compromise your career. You don’t need to invest in a Bentley to travel from A to B, but you need a reliable means of transportation to get anywhere. And egg crates are just a fire hazard.

What surprised even me, are the number of “passion projects” peddled in Facebook groups. “Passion project” turns out to be a euphemism for unpaid slave labor. Here’s a sample:

“Hello everyone! I am in need of a few voice actors for my Sonic Boom Stop-Motion Episode 2 Project. This is NON PAID and I need the roles filled in as soon as possible!”

“I am currently in production of the first season of an all audio sketch comedy show. The project isn’t compensated however there are other benefits we will provide and avail to you if you are selected and interested.”

“I’m helping for casting for my mates unpaid Doctor Who Audio Series. (Unpaid) I am still looking for male voice actors for my Return to Wonderland motion comic book series.”

“Looking for a female VO for a Halo themed audio book. Project is unpaid currently as it is a copyrighted IP, but a copy of the completed work will given, and when it is live VO’s will be paid out first. The previous VO is having to be replaced due to some audio issues.”

“[Non-Paying] Any lady vocalists/singers interested in trying their hand providing vocals for original tunes?”

“Hey guys, need a voice actor for 4 roles. One for a robber, a female bank clerk (can also be voiced by male), and 2 male cops. Ill post the script below. This is a non paying gig, but may be a paying gig in the future.”

“Doing a freebie for a friend and was wondering if any of you would voice a short commercial? It’s for a “amateur” wrestling show. Its non paying I just need someone who wants to voice something for local tv.”

“Im looking for a few people to do some narrations for a youtube series. The Theme is Children’s Stories and I hope to make a fair few episodes of it so may have returning narrators. Unfortunately its unpaid but it will be able to bring out the budding little actors who are starting out in the art of voice acting as well as the pro’s that don’t mind doing it for a little fun.”

You’d be surprised how many people respond to these passion projects. The desperation to start yelling something into a microphone is real.

Here’s my rule of thumb: If you’re good enough to be hired, you’re good enough to be paid. Period. Working for exposure is something only strippers do. Someone commented:

“Chances are if they can’t afford to pay, they don’t have a big enough platform to offer significant exposure anyway. And if they do have some MASSIVE platform, they should be paying.”

Plus, you’ve barely started to get your feet wet, and you’re already teaching clients they can get something for nothing. This is a comment from one of those clients:

“As a content creator I can tell you all 99.9% of us would love to pay everyone we work with on every project. But if I spend all my budget on talent what am I to do about promoting my project? If one is getting into this field looking at it as a job then you’re doing it wrong. This is the business of independent contractors.”

In other words: freelancers can’t expect to be paid? Well, there’s a new concept!

There’s another myth out there, namely the myth that doing auditions is such great practice. It’s not. Here’s what I believe:

You practice to audition. You don’t audition to practice.

In order to get the job, you have to demonstrate that you can do the job. Some half-baked attempt is not going to work. It will leave the client with a bad taste in his mouth, and the next time he hears your voice he’ll move right on to another talent.

Oddly enough, those applying for unpaid jobs complain elsewhere that they have no money to move their career forward. Here’s one of them:

“So, as an aspiring voice actor myself, I have made one demo in the past but it wasn’t easily accessible. Now i’d like to make another one but I’d like some help.

Nevermind just found out 1100 bucks for the classes and then the demo. That’s aloooot of cash.”

Between you and me, that’s not a lot of cash for voice-over training and a demo. I would be very suspicious of anyone offering such a package for a little over a thousand bucks.

Finishing up, let me reiterate that it’s not my intention to shame anyone or make fun of anyone new to the voice-over business. You are very brave, and I am giving you these examples as a warning. Quite often, Facebook is the worst place to seek advice for those who don’t know what they don’t know.

Be smart, and do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of by people who prey on impressionable beginners.

Do your homework before asking any questions. Show the world that you’ve made an effort to find a solution before bothering the group. Don’t beg for jobs. Don’t comment on things you know very little about. Be open to feedback. Save up so you can invest in coaching, equipment, and a recording space. And above all: give yourself time to become good at what you want to do, and have fun.

I had fun responding to a Facebook question recently:

“I’m looking for a high soprano for an album I’m very close to finishing. It’s a various artists album, with some Asian and Celtic influences. Please PM me if interested.”

I responded:

“You’re looking for stoned soprano?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS Working from home, a blessing or a curse? Click here to hear me talk to the guys at the Pro Audio Suite Podcast.

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Common questions and the answers you don’t want to hear

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 35 Comments
Paul Strikwerda at the beach

the author, enjoying some fresh ocean air

Every couple of weeks I make the social media rounds on the various Facebook voice-over groups to see what’s new. The answer:

Not much.

In fact, most of what’s going on is an endless regurgitation of familiar topics, and Me-Me-Me marketing we love wasting our time on: How much should I charge? Where can I find work? Will you critique my demo and my new website?

In an effort to nip these dreadfully boring and superfluous conversations in the bud, I’m going to cover some returning questions rapid-fire style, so we can all get on with our work.

I want to get started in voice-overs, but I have no experience, no equipment, and no money. Where do I begin?

Are you serious? You sound like the guy who wants to be an Uber driver, who doesn’t know how to drive, does not own a car, and has no money in the bank. How’s that going to work?

My two cents: Get a job. Put some money aside, and work with a coach to find out if you’re even remotely talented before you spend big bucks on a studio, gear, demos, and a website.

It sounds like I need a lot of money to break into this business. Why is it so expensive?

Compared to what? Ask a New York cab driver how much he paid for his medallion. What did the pianist pay for her Steinway? How much debt did your doctor take on to get her degree?

You can’t be invested without making an investment. If something is worth it, you’ve got to pay the price. And if you’re serious, you can equip your voice-over studio for under a thousand dollars. Click here to find out how.

I just got started as a voice-over. I’ve been auditioning for over three months and haven’t booked a single job. Nobody ever told me it was going to be this hard. I’ve got rent to pay.

Your coach should have prepared you for a harsh reality. Ninety percent of trained actors are out of work. The ones on the A-list get booked again and again. It’s not much different for voice actors. Your job is finding jobs. Over and over and over again. So, stop lurking on social media and start marketing yourself!

I signed up for several Pay-to-Plays. Posted my demos. Nothing’s happening. Is this a scam?

A P2P is the lazy way to get into this business. You pay your membership fees, you post a few homemade half-baked demos, you do a few lousy auditions with your crap equipment, and you expect magic to happen? Don’t blame the system. You are delusional.

My neighbor is driving me crazy with his mad dogs, his leaf blower, and his lawn mower. Right now I want to kill him.

Do you expect the world to stop just because you need to meet a deadline? You advertise yourself as a professional, yet you have no dedicated, isolated recording space. That’s a problem. Costs come before revenue. Stop moaning and get a double-walled booth. If you’re any good, it will pay for itself many times over.

This new client hasn’t paid me in months and won’t respond to my emails. Help!

Who have you been working for? Did you do your research to find out whom you’re dealing with? Did you watermark your audio? Did you ask to be paid upfront? Not every client can be trusted so you have to protect yourself. You either lawyer up and threaten legal action, or write the unpaid invoice off as a business loss. Remember: even if small claims court rules in your favor, it’s not going to collect your money. That’s on you.

I’m not making enough as a voice-over. What am I doing wrong?

You’re not alone! In this business, there is no guaranteed return on investment, and with what you’re charging, are you surprised you’re not making enough? It’s a self-inflicted wound. Low rates are the sign of a desperate amateur. Who wants to work with a desperate amateur?

Be better, not cheaper.

Sitting in front of a computer all day long is hurting my health. I hate it!

No one is forcing you to do anything that’s detrimental to your health. In order to take care of your clients, you have to take care of yourself. Exercise, do yoga, move around, choose a healthy diet. Sit up, hydrate, get a supportive chair, and a wrist rest. Don’t forget your emotional health. Surround yourself with supportive people. Get a life outside of your studio! Your work is just a means to an end.

Being a freelancer is hard work. I thought it would be fun to be my own boss, but I’m starting to change my mind.

No job in the world is 100% fun all the time, no matter what some Instagram posts may tell you. What you see and what you hear – the end result, may sound and look like fun, but you don’t see the effort necessary to make it happen. If you do your job well, you make it seem effortless.

If your level of fun is the only criterium you use to evaluate your job, you’re never going to be satisfied.

Now, if you’re not happy with how things are going, know that nothing is going to change unless you change. Keep in mind that as long as you keep on blaming others for your misfortune, they have to be the ones that have to change in order for you to be happy.

That ain’t gonna happen.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow others to make mistakes. You don’t have to spoon-feed every newbie begging for free advice. They’ll end up being lazy, ungrateful, and dependent.

Give yourself time to become good at what you do. Learn from the experts. Invest your earnings to further your career. Value what you have to offer and price accordingly.

And beginning today, start figuring out ways to get visitors to your web pages, instead of interacting on other people’s groups and sites, boosting their SEO. 

What do you say?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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5 Things You Should Stop Doing Right Now

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Social Media, Studio Leave a comment

Are you a nail-biter, a chain-sitter, or an overeater?

We all have bad habits we want to get rid of.

Here are some of the things I have written about in the past, I wish colleagues would let go of in 2019. 

1. Spending money on new equipment while you’re still in a bad recording space.

Yes, I know you’ve been eyeballing that new microphone for the past six months now, but will it stop the neighbor’s leaf blower from blowing, or the deep rumble of the school bus from making a guest appearance in your auditions? Will it magically tame the flutter echoes in your improvised booth, and make you sound like the next movie trailer man (or woman)?

Not in a million years!

The number one thing that held me back from being successful as a voice-over, was the absence of a dedicated and isolated recording space. Once I built my own booth, I had the freedom and confidence to go after every job I felt I was suitable for. Last year, almost every production I’ve been involved in began in my home studio. It has paid for itself many times over.

Treat the space first. Then treat yourself to some shiny new equipment. If you must. 

2. Expecting the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.

I’m a member of many social media groups dedicated to voice-overs. A majority of these groups are supposed to be for professional voice talent. Yet, every single day I see amateur questions that have been asked and answered hundreds of times, coming from people who are too lazy to do their homework. In the age of the Internet no one can claim ignorance, so:

Stop playing dumb, people! It’s embarrassing. 

It’s not that our community isn’t willing to share. If anything, the VO-universe is very giving to those who demonstrate relentless commitment and extraordinary talent. But I refuse to help people who want to pick my brain out of a false sense of entitlement, and a simplistic idea of what it takes to make it in this business.

So, dear colleagues: Stop giving free rides to those who don’t feel like learning how to drive. If you keep spoon-feeding a child, it will never learn how to eat by itself. 

3. Complaining without taking responsibility or action.

“The book I’m narrating is awful. The author is impossible to work with. The deadline for this project is unrealistic. They expect me to record a complete rewrite of the script for free…”

First of all: Stop whining!

Winners aren’t whiners. 

You’re a freelancer. You are free to work with anyone you want. Nobody is forcing you to read a crap novel about a topic no one’s interested in for a ridiculous royalty share. You don’t have to collaborate with a disrespectful writer who pretends to know more about voice-over narration than you do. If a deadline doesn’t work for you, then don’t agree to it. Never record a complete rewrite at no charge. Your time and your talent are valuable.

If you feel this particular pay-to-play you’re a “member” of, is greedy and unethical, don’t keep it in business by renewing your membership. Don’t tell me your livelihood depends on this one company. It’s bad business to put all your eggs in one rotten basket. If you want quality clients, start doing the legwork yourself. It’s part of being a pro!

4. Working for less than you deserve. 

No matter what freelance business you’re in, there’s a quick and easy way to get rid of clients that treat you like dirt, and pay you accordingly:

Price for profit and raise your rates!

It’s not that complicated. Every time you accept a job for less, you send a signal to the market about your worth, and the worth of your colleagues. Clients aren’t stupid. They love getting more and more for less and less. We all do. But we also understand that there’s a link between value and price. Price is an important indicator of professionalism and quality. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When it comes to voice-over fees, you’re either part of the problem, or you’re part of the solution. As soon as you start competing on price and out of fear, you’re doing yourself and your community a huge disservice. As soon as you start competing confidently on added value, you’re teaching your clients about the worth of (y)our work. 

By the way, here’s something else you should stop doing in the new year:

5. Making assumptions about your clients.

So many colleagues tell me:

“If my quote is too high, I’m afraid the client won’t be able to afford me, and I’ll lose the job.”

Let me ask you this:

“How do you know what a client can or cannot afford? Did you talk to their accountant? Let’s say you didn’t get that job because of your higher bid, what did you lose?” You can’t lose something that wasn’t yours in the first place. Secondly, you’ve actually gained time to pursue or do a job at a respectable rate.”

Last year I’ve said “no” to more offers than in any year of my entire career, and this was my best year on record. I’m not saying that to impress you. I’m saying that to empower you.

Don’t ever pretend to know what your client is thinking of, or hoping for. You’re not in the mind reading business. You’re in the script reading business.

Never assume. Always ask.

Having said that, I won’t assume what things you’d like to stop doing this year.

If you like, you can share them in the comment section.

Don’t let me stop you.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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My Most Moving And Miraculous Year

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 6 Comments

Paul Strikwerda

Counting correctly, this is my 49th entry this year. Wow!

You may have read them all, or you may have read a few. Anyhow, I’m glad you’re here so I can remind you of the stories you have memorized, as well as the ones you may have missed. As always, blue text means a hyperlink that takes you straight to the story.

Apart from the usual musings about clients, colleagues, and the ins and outs of running a for-profit freelance business, things took a very serious turn some nine months ago. March 26th was the day I almost died. It was hard to imagine that only a few days before, I had been a presenter at VO Atlanta, which I didn’t like, by the way. I LOVED it, and I’ll be back in 2019!

After my stroke, the blog entries kept coming, but I disappeared from your radar screen, so I could focus on my recovery. One of the things I had to work on was getting my voice back, which is not as easy as it sounds.

People going through major, traumatic, life-changing events often ask three questions:

– Why me?

– Why this?

– Why now?

In Life’s Unfair. Get Used To It, I’ll tell you how I deal with these questions. Stories like these are examples of what I’m trying to do with this blog. Many assume that since I work as a voice talent, this must be a blog about voice-overs. That’s only partially true.

For me, the world of voice acting is just a lens through which I observe and comment on the world. When I write about customers, colleagues, and communication, what I really write about is relationships and human interaction.

A story like Filling In The Blanks, is not only a tale about what happens when you start to second-guess what you think your clients want to hear. It’s a story about perception and projection. About making assumptions, and finding true meaning.

In Getting In Our Own Way, I describe two types of voice talents: the narcissist and the masochist. They are two types of people who are very hard to teach. Take a few minutes to read it, and tell me if it only applies to the world of voice acting.

One more example. Are Clients Walking All Over You? is not just about dealing with difficult clients. It’s about how to handle conflict and getting a spine. That’s something many of us struggle with on a regular basis.

Some of my stuff is explicitly written for those who are thinking of becoming a voice-over, and those who are new to the business. When it comes to these people, here’s my general approach: I tell them what they don’t want to hear. As you can imagine, that makes me very popular in certain circles.

Stories like Entitled Wannabees Need Not Reply, Ten Lies Voice Overs Tell, and 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over are perfect examples. Bored Stiff, about the unexciting parts of being a VO, is another one.

This December I wrote a 3-part series called Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? (here’s a link to Part One, Part Two, and Part Three). If you ever have the “People told me I have a great voice” conversation with a wannabe, and you’re lost for words, please point them to this series.

Now, whenever I write these cautionary articles, there are always one or two commentating newcomers who still believe I’m trying to denigrate and disparage beginners.“You must be threatened by us,” they say, or “You were once a newbie. Why are you so mean?” It’s as if I personally reject them.

Although I’m convinced The Voice-Over World Needs More Rejection, it is never my intention to spitefully discourage people who are talented and truly committed to becoming a voice actor. In fact, in my blog I give those folks tools and strategies to help them navigate a new career in a competitive market.

Take a story like Surviving the Gig Economy, or 4 Ways To Get From Good To Great. The Secret to Sustained Success is another example. As a blogger I want to warn and welcome my readers to this fascinating but tricky line of work. Not to scare them, but to prepare them. If you don’t get the difference, you’re probably too thin-skinned for this business.

Speaking of business, without customers, you would not have one. Blog posts like Is Your Client Driving You Crazy? or Learn To Speak Like Your Clients were written to help you manage the delicate relationship with the hands that feed you.

In Would You Survive The Shark Tank? I invite you to take a good look at your business to see how well you would do in front of cash-hungry investors. If you want to cut expenses, read Becoming A Frugal Freelancer. If you need to increase sales, turn to How To Sell Without Selling. If you’re struggling with getting fair rates, read Stop Selling Yourself Short.

As a voice-over coach I’ve encountered a common problem that’s keeping talented voice actors from making a good living. They have the right training, the right gear, and promising demos, and yet they’re struggling. Why?

Because they are subconsciously sabotaging their success. They might be stuck in the Perfectionism Trap. They might be suffering from Mike Fright, or they might be held back by other fears. In other cases they are lacking a support system, or they may need some serious rebranding.

This year (like any other year), I could not resist writing about gear. Check out Picking the Perfect Voice-Over Microphone, and Equip Your Voice-Over Studio For Under A Thousand Bucks. Start spending those lovely gift cards during the post-Christmas sale! I know they’re burning a hole in your pocket.

What was my greatest gift this year? I’ll tell you: it was your ongoing support when I needed it most. Thank you for reaching out after my stroke, and for showing me that you’re not just a colleague or reader of this blog, but a true friend I can count on when times are tough.

My recovery made 2018 a miraculous year.

Your help and encouragement have moved me more than words could possibly convey.

I wish you a very happy and healthy New Year!

Gratefully yours,

Paul Strikwerda  ©nethervoice

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Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? Part 1

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Studio 9 Comments
Yuja Wang performing with the National Youth Orchestra of China at Carnegie Hall on July 22, 2017

Yuja Wang

“How do I become a voice-over?”

It’s the number one question I get from my readers.

Well, if you’re one of the many people who are thinking of becoming a voice-over, this three-part series is for you. Before you leave your day job, you need to hear from someone on the inside what life is like when you depend on your voice for a living.

I can tell you one thing right now: in spite of what you may have heard, it’s not what you think it is. Far from it. I’ve been doing this for over thirty years, so please trust that I know what I am talking about.

I have to warn you, though. You may hear me say a few things you don’t want to hear. Please keep an open mind. It’s not my job to either encourage or discourage you from following your dream. If there’s a fire burning inside of you, don’t let me put it out. Use this information to prepare yourself for what lies ahead.

So, why is doing voice-overs so hard?

Anything that seems easy, usually isn’t.

It sounds like no big deal, doesn’t it? Talking for a living. We all do it, incessantly. Human beings need to communicate, so, why not get paid for it? Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer J. Simpson is said to be worth over $60 million, just like Nancy Cartwright who voices Bart Simpson. All they do is blabber into a microphone.

Seeing them at work in the studio, voice acting looks like so much effortless fun, and that’s where you make your first mistake. What you see is the result of unique talent, and many, many years of training, hard work, and experience.

In a way it’s like watching Yuja Wang perform a Rachmaninov piano concerto. Her playing is so fast and fluent that it’s easy to forget that even at the peak of her career, she has to practice many hours a day to get to a point where it becomes seamless and second nature.

In our society, we tend to fixate on the end result, and ignore the long and arduous journey to success. Please keep in mind that those who do well as voice-overs are in it for the long haul, and they realize that instant gratification is an illusion sold to you by people who want your money.

Back to the musical metaphor.

The relationship of a musician to a score is like the relationship of an actor to a script. You’ve got to make the words your own, finding the right tone, melody, and rhythm.

Here’s a question for you: There’s a difference between playing the notes and making music.

Anyone can read, but can you actually make music?

Let me take that back. Not everyone can read. Most people think they can, but when you give them a few lines, their volume drops, they start stammering and become very self-conscious. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. You put emphasis on the wrong words. You mumble as your tongue dries up. What comes out of your mouth sounds stilted instead of spontaneous. And when I point that out, you tell me:

“Here’s the problem, Paul. This script… those are not my words. I would never say it that way. That’s why I’m having so much trouble.”

Well, there’s your challenge! At one point, Nancy Cartwright had to find her Bart Simpson, and Dan Castellaneta his Homer (as well as the many other characters they play). They were asked to say things they would never say in real life, and convince the rest of the world they meant every word of it.

That’s part of why voice acting is so difficult. You’re paid to sound authentic and sincere, even when you’re faking it and the script sucks. And take it from me that more than half of the scripts you’ll be asked to voice are written to be read, not spoken, with too many words and too little time.

Meanwhile, you and I are still working on that text I just gave you. Now let’s put you in front of a microphone, and we’ll add an audience to the mix. Let’s assume you’re in a recording studio and the client is listening to your session, together with the director and the sound engineer.

Are you ready for that? After all, people have told you that you have “such a great voice.” How would you handle your nerves? How would you deal with last-minute script changes? How would you respond to feedback that isn’t necessarily positive? Are you patient enough to work for two hours on a thirty-second script, laying down take after take? Will your voice hold up, even when asked to scream enthusiastically over and over again?

All of the above assumes that you have passed the first hurdle: the microphone. Most people become very self-conscious when someone points a camera at them. All of a sudden they don’t know where to put their hands or how to hold their head. The same thing happens with a microphone.

Once you’re aware that every sound you make is being recorded, the pressure is on. And when I say every sound, I mean every sound. Even the sounds you’re not aware of. Every breath, every lip smack, every pop, every click, every snap, bone crackle, and stomach rumble.

The microphone is like a merciless magnifying glass exposing all your imperfections.

These are just some of the things you have to confront as a voice-over professional. You have to…

Sound natural in an unnatural situation, and act as if you’re not acting.

To be honest, most people can’t do it, and they don’t need to because they have other talents and ambitions. Not every piano student wants to have a career like Yuja Wang, but those who do, better prepare themselves!

Next week I’ll talk about another aspect of what makes doing voice-overs so difficult:

It’s a freakin’ business!

Click here for part two.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Equip Your Voice-Over Studio For Under A Thousand Bucks

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 4 Comments

Rode NT1 microphone

Americans like a lot of things, but what is this nation’s favorite pastime? Is it baseball, football, NASCAR, or binge-watching Netflix? Not exactly. It’s…..

Shopping!

It’s one of those things I learned quickly when I entered this country as an immigrant. When America has something to celebrate, people flock to the stores.

When they wish to honor their veterans, they go shopping.

When they wish to remember those who died on the battlefield, they go shopping.

When they wish to celebrate their independence, they go shopping.

When they wish to observe Thanksgiving, Americans shop until they drop.

So, with Black Friday and the holidays around the corner, I want to talk to those of you who feel the uncontrollable urge to do some gear shopping. In fact, one of my new readers emailed me this week and said:

“I am seriously thinking about becoming a voice-over. I am starting from scratch, and if you were me, what equipment would you buy, knowing you have a limited budget?”

Here’s my response.

We don’t know one another, but I’ll assume that you have talent, training, time, and energy to pursue this career. If you’re just exploring options, I wouldn’t make a considerable investment. But if you’re really committed, I recommend you forget about the equipment for now, and focus on your recording space. A hundred-dollar microphone is going to sound better when used in a dedicated recording space, than a thousand-dollar microphone in an untreated, non-isolated space.

FLAWED FIXES

Now, there are plenty of manufacturers that are offering “easy solutions” to turn any room into a vocal booth. Remember this. You can buy all the eyeballs and acoustic shields you want, but they will never adequately isolate your microphone from annoying leaf blowers, barking pitbulls, and heavy traffic.

There are at least three proven ways to stop or reduce the transmission of sound:

• Adding mass: the heavier and thicker a wall, the better the isolation.

• Adding dampening material: absorptive material within a wall slows down the transfer of sound.

• Adding space: the further away from the sound you are, the weaker it will be.

Adding air space within a wall also helps decrease those ambient decibels.

So, take a good look at your designated recording space and at your finances, and spend at least sixty to seventy percent of your budget on your recording space. Without a quiet home studio, you won’t have the freedom to record whenever your client needs you to record, and you cannot deliver professional quality audio. Ergo: you won’t be able to compete.

THE GEAR YOU NEED

Here’s the good news: while soundproofing and acoustic treatment of a space is never cheap, getting decent gear to record with does not have to break the bank. I take it you already own a decent computer and a good monitor, so all you need is:

– a microphone, shock mount, and pop filter
– a microphone cable
– a boom arm
– an audio interface
– headphones
– monitors (speakers)
– recording/editing software

Before I give you my recommendations, please realize that the options are endless and the sky is the limit. When talking about gear, some people get on their slippery soap box telling you about must-haves and industry standards. Don’t let them intimidate or belittle you! You don’t need to spend a fortune to produce quality audio.

I’ve only picked equipment that:

– is mostly budget-friendly
– is good for voice-over applications
– has been tested by people I trust
– has had very good reviews

THE MICROPHONE

My choice of a starter microphone is the Rode NT1 Condenser. For well under three hundred dollars, Rode even includes a first-rate Rycote shock mount and a pop filter. This microphone works well for most voices, and during shootouts, it holds its own against models that cost three times as much.

I’m a big fan of the Rycote shock mounts because they work with lyres instead of elastic bands. Click here for my full review.

Rode NTG4 Shotgun Microphone

The Rode NT1 has a cardioid pickup pattern, but if you’d rather go with a tighter supercardioid pattern, I suggest you look into the Rode NTG4 shotgun microphone.  For a little over three hundred dollars, you get a mic with a 75 Hz high pass filter which is useful for reducing low-frequency rumble from HVAC systems indoors or street traffic.

For a shootout featuring the Rode NT1 and the NTG4, listen to the Pro Audio Suite podcast by clicking here.

CABLES & BOOM

Quite a few audiophiles have heated debates about cables. Some believe it doesn’t matter which cables you use because most people won’t hear the difference between a ten-dollar cable and one that sets you back several hundred dollars. I’ve worked in radio for twenty-five years of my life, and sound engineers have assured me that a quality cable does make a difference. A six-foot Mogami GOLD STUDIO-06 XLR Microphone Cable should do the trick.

Blue Compass Premium Boom Arm

As long as you’re not in the habit of pounding on your desk, I recommend getting the Blue Compass Premium Tube-Style Broadcast Boom Arm.  What I like about this arm is the minimalistic design with internal springs and hidden channel cable management. It’s compatible with all standard shock mounts, and costs about one hundred dollars.

AUDIO INTERFACE

So why would you need an audio interface? Well, an audio interface is the hardware that connects your microphone and other audio gear to your computer. A typical audio interface converts analog signals into digital audio information that your computer can process. If I were starting out as a voice-over, I’d choose the Audient iD4.

Audient iD4

I’ve reviewed its bigger brother the iD22 and it’s the interface I still use in my studio. The portable but sturdy iD4 has the same stellar and super clean preamp that will give you a low noise floor. It works with both Macs and PC’s, and for two hundred bucks it’s a no-brainer.

Update: my iD22 is out for a check-up, and I bought the iD4 to tie me over. The only thing I miss is having a high-pass filter, but otherwise I’m very impressed with this very portable preamp. It’s a keeper!

CANS

Next on the list are studio headphones. Not all heads are shaped the same, and what might be a good fit for my impressive noggin, may not work for you. Over the years I’ve tried Sony cans, Audio Technica, and Sennheiser. I finally found a pair I can wear for hours. It’s the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium Edition 250 Ohm Over-Ear-Stereo Headphones.

Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium Edition 250 Ohm Over-Ear-Stereo Headphones

Beyerdynamic DT 880

Even though they look huge and bulky, they’re extremely light and comfortable, and come with a straight cord instead of a coiled cable. I hate coiled cables because they add weight and always seem to wrap around things. You will be able to find cheaper headphones than these semi-open Beyerdynamics, but not ones that hug your ears like teddy bears.

STUDIO SPEAKERS & SOFTWARE

Last on my hardware list is a set of studio monitors. At less than one hundred dollars per speaker, the Presonus Eris E5 ticks all the right boxes. Click here for my story on monitor selection. My Nethervoice studio monitors rest at ear height on speaker stands like these. You’ll also need two XLR Female to 1/4-Inch TRS Male Cables like these from Monoprice.

And what about recording software?

By far the cheapest audio editor costs… nothing. It works across all platforms, it’s got a fully featured spectrogram, and it even allows punch and roll. The name? Ocenaudio.

Well, there you have it. For less than a thousand bucks you’re all set!

Now, do your duty as a patriotic American, and go shopping!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Getting In Our Own Way

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Studio 4 Comments

young woman looking in the mirrorThere are two types of people who are very hard to teach.

Let me break it down for you.

The first group could care less about how the world sees them.

These people often have an exaggerated sense of self, or worse, a narcissistic personality disorder. They have a hard time registering social cues, and they’re not very open to feedback. Feedback makes them hostile and defensive because they always know better. And those who know better, don’t have an incentive to learn new things. Teaching them, is like trying to fill a cup that’s already full (of itself).

The second group is the opposite. These people care too much about how the world perceives them. They suffer from the “invisible audience phenomenon,” a sense that they’re always on stage, and that the world is watching them. Gentle feedback is often taken as harsh criticism. The fearful voice of low self-esteem tells them they might as well give up. Teaching these people is like trying to fill a bottomless cup.

Of course these are extremes, but I’m sure you know one or two people who fall into both categories. Perhaps even intimately. The origin of these behaviors has a lot to do with self-awareness. You know, that thing that is supposed to separate human beings from animals.

MIRROR, MIRROR

One way to detect the presence of self-awareness is to do the mirror test. When a dog sees his reflection in a mirror, he’ll think it’s another dog. When we see our reflection, we know we’re staring at ourselves.

If you’d let group one and two do the mirror test, here’s what you would find:

The first group looks into the mirror, and finds it irresistible. The second group can’t stand their own reflection. Group one is focused on self, and group two is (consciously or unconsciously) focused on what others might be thinking.

As a voice actor and coach, I sometimes deal with people who display various forms of narcissism and self-deprecation. Oddly enough, it’s not all bad. One thing I always keep in mind is that certain aspects of these behaviors are actually useful and necessary, if you wish to survive as a freelancer (and as a voice-over). Shall I explain?

GOOD AND BAD

Let’s start with being self-conscious. All of us have to have a sense of how we come across, and we need to be aware of how others respond to us to. How else will we learn socially acceptable behavior? It’s also good to realize that we’re far from perfect. It keeps the mind open, and our spirit humble.

Secondly, as voice-over professionals working from our home studios, we often direct our own sessions. That requires the ability to recognize when we’re missing the mark, and when we’re hitting the nail on the head. If we want to deliver our best work, we need to be good evaluators of our performance. The more self-conscious we are, the easier this is.

The narcissist has an inflated sense of self. Obviously, that’s not helpful. However, any solopreneur can benefit from a healthy dose of self-confidence. You have to believe in yourself, and in your ability to attract clients. You may have incredible talent, but if you doubt that you can deliver, you’re sabotaging yourself.

The narcissist is able to recognize the good in him or herself. People who are shy and insecure find that hard to do. If you wish to have a successful career, you have to accept that you have something special to offer. Something that is worth paying for. You don’t need to be arrogant, but it helps to be audacious!

From an acting perspective, I think it is also useful to have the ability to imagine what it’s like to be a self-absorbed jerk, as well as an insecure mouse, and anything in between. The wider your emotional range, the greater your chance to land more demanding and interesting roles.

PARALYZED

Now, being overly self-conscious can have a paralyzing effect in everyday life, and in the recording studio. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why some people have such a hard time sounding natural. They’re constantly over-analyzing what they’re doing, and usually not in a positive way. They’re busy thinking about how they will be perceived by others, and whether or not they can live up to certain expectations.

In a way, that microphone in front of them is like a camera. You’ve seen it happen. People are perfectly spontaneous, and they’re having a great time, until someone points a camera at them. All of a sudden they become very aware of themselves, and start acting in strange, stilted ways.

What’s really happening is this:

Without a camera pointing at them, most people focus on each other. They’re in the moment. In the flow of things. They act like no one’s watching. Naturally. As soon as a photographer or a cameraman comes in the picture, that changes. People start wondering: How does my hair look? Did I iron my shirt? Do I look fat in these clothes?

The same thing can happen in a studio. People are having a nice conversation. They’re animated and relaxed. Until the recording starts. All of a sudden the enthusiasm and the quiet confidence is gone. The voice becomes flat, and the text is not spoken but read. The narrator has become self-conscious.

In that moment, the focus on the script is replaced by the focus on self. That’s a shame, because as voice-over professionals, we get paid to let the script speak. In order to do that, we need to get out of our own way.

CAR TALK

I remember the day that Tom Magliozzi, one of the presenters of NPR’s Car Talk, died at the age of 77. For more than 25 years, Tom and his younger brother Ray entertained millions of people every week with car repair advice and comedic banter. People who didn’t care about cars, tuned in to Car Talk, if only to hear the brothers laugh.

What made these guys such a pleasure to listen to, was the fact that they talked to one another and their guests as if there were no microphones. In fact, the Magliozzi’s would be the first ones to admit that they knew nothing about radio. All they did, was be themselves. Their long-time producer Doug Berman told Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air

“What you heard on the show was absolutely them. And when you finish the show and went to get a cup of coffee it sounded the same, you know. I mean, the topics would change, but that’s what they did. They sat down and they enjoyed themselves and they found humor in whatever was around them. And they made each other laugh and they made us laugh. So it was not an effort to be funny about anything. That’s how they approached everything.”

FORGET THE MIC

Of course there’s a difference between doing a semi-live radio show and narrating a voice-over script, but I think many of us could benefit from forgetting that there’s a microphone in front of us. Just imagine there’s a dear friend or close relative to whom you’re telling a story. There is no audience. There are no critics. You have nothing to prove.

Imagine how freeing that would be!

Imagine what that would do to the way you sound!

From time to time you might slip into old behavior, and invite that inner voice to start critiquing you again. As soon as that happens, STOP, and bring your attention back to the text. Be script-conscious, instead of self-conscious. Let the focus be on the music, and not on the musician.

Instead of beating yourself up when you make a mistake, be soft on yourself. It’s no big deal. Correct it, and move on.

Eventually, you’ll notice a shift inside. A shift from that self-disparaging voice, to a self-accepting voice, to a self-respecting voice.

It’s something that’s almost impossible to teach.

It must be experienced.

Inside, and outside of your recording studio.

Are you ready for your lesson?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: gonzalo_ar via photopin cc

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Picking the Perfect Voice-Over Microphone

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 20 Comments

JZ STudio MicrophonesGuilty as charged: In the past few years I’ve become a hopeless gearhead.

I like to look at new audio equipment; I like to read about it, and I like listening to sound samples.

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

Dear Abby: Is this weird and should I be worried? I mean, my equipment is fine. There’s nothing wrong with my microphone and I don’t need another preamp. For a voice actor like myself, a simple studio setup will suffice, so why am I staring at all this stuff?

I know I’m not alone.

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

Why is that?

WANTS AND NEEDS

There’s a constant battle in our brain between our wants and our needs. It’s scary how good most of us have become at justifying purchases that make no logical sense whatsoever. All of this to answer the basic question: What If? 
 
What if I bought this new guitar? What would it do for my sound, my creative abilities – my career? 
 
What would this new high-tech camera allow me to do? Would I finally be able to take those impossible shots? And what about this new editing software? Could it save me time? Would it make my colleagues green with envy? 
 
All these questions and unfulfilled desires can create massive tension inside an otherwise rational mind. No longer happy with what we already have, we start looking for the next best thing. 
 
And trust me. As long as we’re alive, there will always be a next best thing. 
 
The industry feeds on our never-ending desire for new and improved products, and brands big and small are masterful at pushing all the right buttons at the wrong time. 
 
When it comes to selecting the perfect audio equipment, I have a hard time answering the following question: 
 
Having decided on a budget, how do I know a certain product is right for me? 
 
Let’s say I’m in the market for a new microphone. Is staring at pictures, reading reviews, and listening to audio samples helpful? The answer may surprise you.
 
DON’T JUDGE BOOK BY ITS COVER
 
Ultimately, it shouldn’t really matter what a microphone looks like. Clients are paying us for our sound, not because our JZ BH3 microphone has a hole in it. 
 
So, if we forget about looks for a moment, are descriptions – whether from critics or manufacturers – actually helpful? 
 
Take a JZ Black Hole mic as an example. The maker writes:

“Fantastic vocal mic, is great on every application it is used. Unbelievable clarity and definition, smoothness and full transparency.”

Be honest: Does that help you make a $1,599 investment? 
 
Once you start reading up on microphones, you’ll be amazed at how many makers call their mic “great on every application.” It might be a true statement, but it doesn’t say much, does it? It only tells us that the maker is trying to sell his gadget to a wide audience.
 
Here’s a quote from the Sound On Sound review of the JZ Black Hole. You can usually count on them for an unhyped writeup.
 
Tests with spoken word revealed a clear, well-focused sound that balances low-end warmth with high-end clarity, and because there isn’t much in the way of coloration, the Black Hole should work well as a general-purpose studio vocal mic …”

Tell me, did that sell you on this pricey microphone?
 
USELESS LINGO 
 
The problem with words is that they are inadequate. They attempt to describe an experience or object, but they are not the experience/object itself. Words are always open to interpretation. That’s where the trouble starts.
 
What I describe as a “smooth” or “warm” sound is colored by my personal biases. If anything, it probably tells you more about me. This so-called “warm” sound might be perceived by someone else as “muddy” or “dark.” 
 
So, if words can’t properly describe a specific sound, and if looks don’t matter, wouldn’t it be helpful to listen to some recorded audio? Surely, that must be the best way to select a microphone online!

Not necessarily. 
 
In my review of the Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts (the voice-over mic I use), I wrote:

It is easy to forget that any microphone is part of a recording chain, and when you change one link in that chain, everything changes. Of course, the source of the sound is very much part of that chain.

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS
 
Let’s examine the variables in more detail:
 
• The person recording the track. Does s/he have a decent mic technique? Some mics are known for their proximity effect (bass boost) if you get too close. At the right distance, a mic might sound clear and open, but when you’re almost eating the thing up, listeners could get the wrong impression. If you’re not careful, your microphone might also produce a sharp s-sound (sibilance). Most of the time the narrator’s lack of technique is to blame.
 
• Was a pop filter used? A pop filter keeps a mic nice and dry and it softens plosives, but some filters muffle the sound like a dirty old sock. 
 
• If a microphone has multiple settings, which setting was used during the test recording? Omni, cardioid, figure-8, or another setting?

Some mics have a low-cut switch which activates a high-pass filter that reduces the amount of low frequencies in the output signal from the microphone. This obviously alters the sound. Some mics even come with multiple capsules. 
 
• Where was the track recorded? In Carnegie Hall, at 3 Abbey Road, or in a Studiobricks booth? How was the microphone placed in relation to the narrator? The sound of a microphone differs depending on the acoustic environment. Microphone tests recorded in a manufacturer’s lab don’t reflect how that same mic will sound in your walk-in closet slash home studio. 
 
• Two mics of a kind don’t necessarily sound the same, either. Especially classic microphones go through some remodeling over time.

The famous Neumann U87 has a vintage model, the U87i, and the current production version, the U87Ai. Some engineers will even tell you that the two U87Ai’s they own, do not sound the same. There’s a reason most manufacturers will sell you “matched pairs” of microphones for stereo recording. 
 
• True audiophiles claim that the quality of the cables used to connect various pieces of equipment can make a difference in the quality of the signal and ultimately the sound. Others believe we might as well send a signal through a coat hanger wire and save ourselves a lot of money. 
 
• Preamplifiers used to bring the low-level microphone signal up to line-level, may add a subtle signature sound to the signal, too. You’ll often read that tube preamps are supposed to add “warmth” to the sound, whatever that means.

Of course, we also know that audio engineers use a bag of tricks to alter the sound of a mic, such as compression, equalization and all kinds of fancy filters to manipulate what comes out of the loudspeakers. 
 
FROM RECORDING TO LISTENING 
 
All those things happen in the recording studio. Now let’s look at how we receive the sound of that microphone we’re evaluating. What variables are we dealing with on that end? 
 

• Is the sound file you’re listening to a lossless sound file such as FLAC, or is it compressed, such as an MP3? Compressed files take up a lot less space for faster downloads, but in order to achieve that, a lot of data needs to be deleted. Compression leads to loss of quality and clarity. Hint: all audio on YouTube is compressed. When’s the last time you watched a microphone shootout on YouTube?

• Are we listening on cheap computer speakers, high-end studio monitors, or are we using headphones? The quality of these devices is in part responsible for the character of the sound we’re evaluating.

Compare listening to a track on your iPhone through cheap earplugs, to hearing it in a soundproof recording studio equipped with Genelec 8260A 390W Active Tri-amped studio monitors that cost over $5,000 each. Even the position of the speakers, as well as the position of the listener in relation to those speakers, needs to be factored in. 
 
• In which acoustic environment are you listening? Sounds bounce off the walls and resonate differently depending on the shape, size and treatment of the room. Are you focused or distracted as you’re listening? That, too, can play a role in how you evaluate the sound. 
 
• Hearing in and of itself is a subjective experience. It’s an attempt to understand the world around us. Mechanical sound waves are converted into electrical impulses and sent to the brain for processing. Once in our brain, the hearing centers go to the memory banks to localize and identify the sound.

Think about someone’s tone of voice. Whether a sound is labeled as “pleasant” or “warm” is a matter of personal taste. 
 
• Then there’s the issue of hearing loss. In a world that seems to get noisier and noisier, hearing loss is on the rise among young and old. It’s hard to make a precise measurement with faulty equipment.

We all suffer from selective thinking and hearing, which allows us to notice and look for information confirming our personal beliefs. It’s called confirmation bias. 
 
One such belief could be that all microphones under $300, especially those made in China, are rubbish. Another belief could be that Neumann is the best brand in the world. Imagine listening to a mic test, knowing in advance which mic you’re going to hear. Do you honestly think it’s even remotely possible to be completely objective? 
 
COMPARING MICROPHONES 
 
The other day I was watching a video comparing the Prodipe Lamp Studio Pro ($299), the M-Audio Sputnik ($679) and the Neumann U47 ($1,599.95). As I watched the video, it told me when the engineer switched from one mic to the other. Click here to access the video.
 
I don’t know about you, but I found the differences between these mics to be very subtle. 
 
I listened on my Beyerdynamic  DT 880 Studio headphones, and when I closed my eyes, I often didn’t even hear when they moved from one mic to to the other. Perhaps this unmasks me as a complete audio ignoramus. Perhaps it demonstrates that you don’t need a sixteen-hundred-dollar microphone to produce a decent sound. You be the judge.
 
The question that remains is this:

How on earth do you find out which microphone is right for you? Do you really need a big brand name to play the game? Is expensive always better? Do clients even care?

TOUGH CHOICES
 
This I can tell you: Making a wise choice based on online info only is virtually impossible and silly. When you change just one of the fifteen variables mentioned above, you change everything.  
 
Factory specs tell you a lot about pickup patterns, output impedance, frequency response, and the self-noise of a mic. However, no specs can ever reveal the microphone that most flatters your voice in your recording environment with your recording setup.
 
When researching your next mic, it might be tempting to listen to the snobs and self-proclaimed experts on the gearhead message boards. That can be a frustrating and intimidating experience. 
 
Should you always trust the dot-com critics that give a mic four out of five stars? Too many online reviews are actually written by people who are paid to say nice things about a product. Even some veteran voice-over colleagues you may trust, are compensated to endorse a brand. I’m not going to name names. Click here instead.
 
At the end of the day, you have to rely on your own judgment in your own studio, and ask a few professionals.
 
Ideally, try to get hold of a couple of microphones in your price range and take them for a spin. Maybe a colleague in the area is willing to lend you some of his or her gear. Maybe you’re a member of a voice-over meetup group. Perhaps you can find a maker or a pro audio store willing to send you something on a trial basis.  
 
Kam Instruments, for instance, gives you seven-day inspection period. If you decide to send the mic back, you’ll pay for shipping, insurance and a 15 percent restocking fee. It’s better than wasting a whole lot of money on something that doesn’t meet your expectations. 
 
Harlan Hogan’s VO: 1-A mic is sold with a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee. 

LET EXPERTS HEAR YOU

Once you’ve recorded a few audio samples with your small collection, send them to an expert such as Dan Lenard, George Whittam, Dan Friedman, or Roy Yokelson for evaluation. Take their feedback into account, and then make your choice. 
 
I have to warn you, though. Playing around with gear can be way too much fun!
 
Eventually, you might end up like me – a hopeless gearhead for life.
 
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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I’m Still Here!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal, Studio 80 Comments

There’s not much I remember of Monday, March 26th, but it’s a day I will never forget. 

In the late afternoon while at work in my studio, I suddenly and inexplicably began to feel light-headed. My legs became weak like rubber, unable to support the body they held up. Then I blacked out for who knows how long. It felt like minutes, but it could have been for hours. When I regained consciousness, I found myself on the floor, painfully twisted like a pretzel, gasping for air. I tried to get up on both knees but couldn’t. It was as if my brain’s messages didn’t reach my muscles. I’d never experienced anything like it in my life. 

The phone rang several times. My arms reached to the desk above, hoping to grab it. No matter how hard I tried to lift myself up, I had no strength to do it. It was infuriating and terrifying at the same time. After a while a text message came in, and I desperately wanted to answer it. I grabbed my desk chair, hoping to climb up on it, but it rolled away from me. 

Something told me that whatever was happening to me, was serious, and I needed to contact the outside world without delay. Then I remembered that I could simply ask Siri to call my wife by shouting instructions at my iPhone. But when I attempted to form words, I noticed something very alarming. My tongue felt swollen and useless. My slurred speech sounded like a drunken sailor. What the heck was going on? 

While I was lying on the floor, I noticed that my breathing had become very shallow. I had no idea for how long I had been down. The lightheadedness got worse by the minute, and suddenly it dawned upon me that I was using up all the oxygen in my seven by seven, hermetically sealed, and unventilated voice-over studio. I clearly needed help, but who could possibly rescue me? 

My wife was at a borough council meeting that night, and she wasn’t scheduled to come home early. Screaming to alert the neighbors was pointless, since I was in a solid soundproofed space I had designed myself. I remember trying to open the heavy studio door, which under normal circumstances takes a lot of strength. An industrial metal door closer keeps it firmly shut, and to make matters worse, my unresponsive body was leaning against it. 

I felt trapped, and it quickly dawned upon me that if no one came to liberate me, I would soon use up all the oxygen, and suffocate in my own studio. 

At borough council, my wife was concerned that I didn’t show up for the meeting I’d said I would attend, and that I did not answer my phone. A few weeks earlier she had found me face down on the kitchen floor after I had thrown out my back and was unable to move. Six hours later an ambulance crew had to pick me up off the floor and take me to the nearest hospital. With that in mind she called our friends who lived nearby and had a house key, asking them to check in on me. Since this was a council meeting, the police and fire chiefs were present, and they promised to send a few guys over for a welfare check. 

Knowing that crying out for help would be futile, I began to bang a loud SOS on the walls of my recording space in the hopes somebody would hear me. It took all the strength I had, but suddenly and miraculously, the back door opened, and I heard voices. Neighbors Scott and Danny had arrived, but they had no idea what had happened and where to find me. In one final attempt I pounded the loudest SOS on the studio door and it worked. My friends came running down to the basement where my studio is located. 

At first they couldn’t open the door because I was lying against it, so I had to roll myself away from it. As the fresh air was flowing in once the door opened, I took the deepest breath I had ever taken in my life. I remember Danny, who is a trained nurse, bending over me, saying: “The left side of his face is drooping and he’s unresponsive. He might have a stroke!” At that point police officers and firemen came in, ready to get me out of my miserable situation. 

What happened next, I don’t remember very well. They got me out of the house and to the nearest hospital to stabilize me, and find out what was going on. A quick scan confirmed that I had indeed suffered a stroke caused by a blood clot in the right side of my brain. To avoid further brain damage and possible paralyzation, it was imperative to get me to a stroke center as quickly as possible. That’s when the medevac team was contacted. 

A helicopter landed on the helipad at a nearby high school, and within minutes I was airlifted in a cacophony of engine rumble and intense vibration. At the stroke center a specialized team was anxiously awaiting my arrival, ready to physically remove the blood clot using a procedure called mechanical thrombectomy. Doctors threaded a catheter through an artery in my groin up to the blocked vessel in the brain. A stent opened and grabbed the clot, allowing doctors to then remove the stent with the trapped clot. 

Get this. During the operation I actually woke up out of my sedation, and I felt the stent going in, grabbing something inside my head. As I stared at my smiling surgeon’s face, there was a moment of sharp pain, followed by intense relief as I drifted away. The next thing I remember is waking up in the ICU, being welcomed back into the world by my wife. For the next two weeks, I would be attached to a network of tubes leading to beeping equipment measuring any type of vital sign. 

I was weak, I was dizzy, but I was alive. Thank goodness I was alive!

What happened next was even more miraculous. As soon as I shared my hospitalization on Facebook, hundreds of people started reaching out to me. Every day I received encouraging, heartwarming messages from all over the world from friends, colleagues, and family members. Some mornings, the nurses caught me using WhatsApp to talk to my sister in the Netherlands, Facebook Messenger to connect with a colleague in Spain, and email to let a client know I couldn’t narrate a script just yet. 

While new medications were slowly stabilizing my situation, I want to tell you that there’s nothing like the positive power of kind, caring people healing what was broken. I felt strengthened, supported, uplifted, and energized. Soon I would be walking the hospital halls in my yellow slipper clogs to the amusement of staff members. I began climbing stairs, regaining my balance, and finding my bearings. Paul Stefano, Trish Basanyi, Uncle Roy Yokelson, and Mike Harrison came to visit, bringing good cheer and yummy treats. 

Friends started cooking for my wife who spent most of her time by my side, keeping track of all the information and advice from neurologists, cardiologists, and other health care experts involved in my treatment. She was the one I leaned on, literally and figuratively, and I count my lucky stars to have her love in my life. 

So, how am I feeling now, a little over two weeks after I had my stroke?

Right now, the biggest challenge to my recovery is… me. I want to get back on my feet as soon as possible, doing all the things I’m so used to doing, even though I might not have the energy and coordination to do them. I have to learn to pace myself and say no. I also have to come to terms with how I handle stress caused by pressure I put on myself, and pressure from others. But based on what has happened, people are surprised to see me in such good shape. I attribute that to two things. The day after my operation the doctor told me: “It’s important to keep a positive outlook. He’s absolutely right. I truly know that being negative is a luxury I can’t afford. 

The second thing is the importance of having a support system. That’s precisely where you came in, and I am so grateful for that. To you, it might have seemed like a few kind words on social media, or a card with an encouraging message. To me, it made all the difference, and I can’t thank you enough for that!

The consequence is that you’ll be stuck with snarky, lucky me for a while, using this blog to dish out my weekly commentary on the wonderful world of voice-overs and life as a freelancer.

Are you sure you can handle that?

Really?

I know I can, because I’m Still Here, and I’m not going anywhere!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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