Nethervoice Blog

Do You Really Need That New Microphone?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Gear, Reviews, Studio18 Comments

George, a reclusive, world-renowned wildlife photographer, was invited to a posh dinner party at a New York brownstone. His host, a vivacious heiress to a rapidly declining fortune, took him aside and said:

“George dear, I want you to know that I am a huge fan of your work. Your photographs are simply stunning. You must only use the very best cameras.”

Without missing a beat George retorted:

“Thank you for your kind words, Dorothea. Dinner tonight was absolutely divine. You must only use the best pots and pans.”

Dorothea was not amused, but George had made his point. Even the most expensive cameras or pots and pans are of little use in the hands of an amateur. They are tools. Nothing more, and nothing less.

RECORDING SOUND

The same is true for microphones. Owning a pricey Neumann U 87 Ai just tells me you can afford one. It doesn’t say anything about your talent or experience.

Even if you happen to be better than Don LaFontaine and Mel Blanc combined, that new Neumann is not going to make a poor performance or a crappy recording environment sound any better. It will probably expose all its flaws. You can’t fault the microphone for that of course, but it goes to show that you cannot fix everything with a more expensive mic.

If you’re in the market for a different microphone, ask yourself this:

Apart from wanting a new toy to impress my colleagues, what problem am I hoping to solve?

Here are a few valid reasons to buy a new mic:

  • SOUND QUALITY: Your current microphone just doesn’t flatter your voice. It’s too muddy, too dark, it accentuates the highs too much, it doesn’t handle plosives or sibilants very well, there’s way too much self noise.
  • TRAVEL: You need a sturdy mic for on the road; a microphone that’s built like a tank with excellent side and rear rejection so you can use it in less than ideal recording environments.
  • SOUND MATCH: Your client wants you to closely match the sound quality of previous recordings done in another studio at another time. E.g You recorded a script using a Sennheiser 416, and you only have a Neuman TLM 103 in your home studio. Time to buy a shotgun.
  • UPGRADE: You want to move from a cheap USB microphone to a regular XLR condenser mic. Go ahead. Exchange that Snowball for a Worker Bee.
  • COMMUNITY SERVICE: You are a vlogger or blogger like me who enjoys reviewing audio equipment to inform, entertain, and educate the unwashed masses.

 

Before you start the search for a new sound catcher, here’s what you should consider.

THE MICROPHONE MISTAKE

I believe there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we evaluate microphones. We talk about them as if they’re separate entities.

We compare the specs pretending they tell us anything about the way the mic is going to sound as part of the recording chain and acoustics in our personal studio. That just doesn’t make any sense.

Of course you should be familiar with the basic characteristics such as polar patterns, self noise, phantom power and whether or not the mic comes with high and low pass filters. Anything beyond that is just marketing mumbo-jumbo and fluff.

And even when you read the specs, keep in mind that manufacturers measure the characteristics of their microphones in anechoic chambers. In other words, ultra isolated, echo-free rooms covered in sound absorbent materials that come nowhere close to the repurposed clothes closet you call your “professional home studio.”

MISLEADING VIDEOS

I’m pretty sure that in your search for the next best mic you’ll spend a few hours, even days, watching a parade of mic testing dudes on YouTube. For some silly reason, only men review microphones. Usually, they’re either videographers with too much time on their hands, or musicians that look like they were kicked out of their bands.

Here’s the one exception, and I think she’s absolutely adorable.

Apart from voices dot com-member and Booth Junkie Mike Delgaudio, and the team at VOBS, there are very few people from the voice over industry weighing in on the tools of their trade. That’s a problem (and an opportunity!).

You don’t need to know how a mic sounds on electric guitar, or on a boom arm, fifteen feet up in the air. All you really need to know is this:

How does my voice sound on this microphone, plugged in to my equipment in my studio?

And that, my friends, you won’t find out by watching adudelikeBandrew on YouTube. You won’t even know what a microphone really sounds like because of the standard compression YouTube applies to every video.

YouTube uses a lossy audio format, meaning that any audio has been compressed using a compression algorithm. Compression leads to loss in sound quality and how aggressive the compression is can be determined by the bit rate of the audio. So, a 128 kbps AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) will sound worse than a 256 kbps AAC. Standard YouTube audio comes in at 128 kbps AAC, and you can only get 256 kbps if you’re a YouTube Premium subscriber. As a comparison, Apple Music is streamed at 256Kbps in AAC.

Are you still with me?

HOW DO YOU LISTEN?

Not only is the sound quality of YouTube videos purposely compromised, the folks reviewing these microphones are probably not going to use the preamp you happen to have in your studio. The same microphone can sound differently plugged into a different preamplifier.

Now get this. What you actually use to listen to the audio samples, also colors what you hear. I listen to my audio in four ways: I use the built-in speakers in my iMac, and I listen to my Presonus Eris 5 monitors. I also put on my BeyerdynamicDT 880 headphones, as well as my AustrianAudio hi-X55 cans.

And guess what? The same audio sounds different depending on how I listen to it.

Our ears, by the way, aren’t exactly objective either. Hearing is interpreting. A sound engineer will hear things in your audio you aren’t even aware of. And you are probably the least objective person in the world to evaluate your audio.

BRANDING

There are more things people take into account when choosing a microphone:

  • Brand recognition
  • Price
  • Peer pressure

 

Before I started writing about theE100 S, very few people in voice overs had ever heard of a small Ohio company called Conneaut Audio Devices (CAD). Yet, they were making one of the best VO mics on the market.

When I tell the average voice over colleague that I have an Austrian Audio OC18 microphone and a Gefell M930 Ts in my booth, they look at me with wonder and confusion. I then tell them that Austrian Audio came from AKG, and Microtech Gefell was founded by Georg Neumann.

Just because you haven’t heard of a particular brand doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. In fact, you will often get more bang for your buck by not buying a well-known brand because you’re not paying for a massive marketing machine.

PRICING

Now, let’s talk about the price of a voice over microphone. It’s a story about the law of diminishing return. Once you get past the $300 point, the more money you spend on a new microphone, the greater the chance that you’re paying for subtle improvements in sound quality most people won’t even be able to hear.

An affordable microphone isn’t necessarily a bad microphone.

Case in point: I just paid $156 for a brand new Synco D-2 microphone I found on eBay. Yes, that’s the one Minami was giggling about in the video you just watched.

Synco is actually Guangzhou Zhiying Technology Co., Ltd in China. Their D-2 is marketed as a cheaper alternative to the venerable Sennheiser MKH 416 that retails for $999.

Even though Mike Delgaudio couldn’t hear a difference between the Synco and the Sennheiser, some reviewers miraculously concluded that these two mics are not the same.

Wow! Stop the presses!

Here’s my point. Launched in 1962, the 416 may have the edge, but does it sound $843 better?

Come on!

I just booked a $1500 job with the Synco, and the client loved the punchy sound. He didn’t ask:

“Can you please record the same script with a Sennheiser? I’d like to hear the difference!”

In the real world, clients don’t say: “I missed a bit of the airiness in the upper register the 416 is known for.” The audio is either acceptable, or it isn’t.

The truth is that so-called experts are more likely to give the Sennheiser higher marks because they know it’s the Sennheiser, just as higher-priced wine will score better on a taste test. It’s called cognitive bias.

STATUS SYMBOL

Here’s the thing with high-priced mics. They’ve become a status symbol in the VO world. Look what I can afford, people!

Well, good for you.

Feeding my family is more important to me than impressing a peer with new gear.

But Paul, when I buy a German microphone, I know it’s made of high-quality materials. I don’t want a cheap Chinese knockoff.

Fine, but let me ask you this.

Do you know how many of these high-quality German microphones actually use parts that are Made in China? Try living your life for one year without buying anything that contains anything made in China. One of my friends actually did that. He only wanted to Buy American, and found out it was impossible.

That wasn’t his fault. It’s the way big corporations work. Buy cheap materials, pay as little as you can for manufacturing, and sell at a premium. It’s Western-style capitalism, courtesy of the People’s Republic of China.

But I digress. We were still talking about microphones, and I’m about to wrap things up.

SILVER BULLET

What I wanted to say is this:

STOP being such a mic snob. Most of us are recording one track mono. Not a symphony orchestra. When narrowing your search for a microphone down, ignore most of the self-styled experts telling you what to look for in a mic.

You don’t look. You LISTEN.

In your own studio, using your own equipment.

And while you do that, think about the problem you want to solve.

And maybe, just maybe, your microphone is not your problem. Mic placement could be an issue, or a failing preamp.

Maybe you could benefit from some acting and improv classes… or some additional soundproofing. Just a guess.

The thing is…

Owning an expensive camera does not make you an award-winning photographer. Buying the best pans at Williams-Sonoma does not turn you into a Michelin-star chef.

No matter how shiny it may look, a microphone is not a magical silver bullet.

You bring the magic. The mic just records it.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Only Certainty You’ll Ever Have

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, Personal9 Comments

There’s one thing I absolutely love and hate about my life as a freelancer.

It’s the unpredictability of it.

To me, predictable is boring. It’s eating fish every Friday. Going to the car wash on Saturday, and spending every stinkin’ summer at the same overpriced rental on the Jersey shore.

Predictable is no fun. It’s playing it safe, doing what you’ve always done.

On the other hand, a predictable life means stability. No guessing what happens next. You always know what’s coming.

Most people love the familiarity of the seasons and the holidays. Times like Easter and Christmas serve as markers of time passing. As soon as it’s fall, pumpkin spice is wafting in the air, and retailers rush to get their Halloween collection out on the floor.

Being able to count on things is rather reassuring. Uncertainty stresses people out.

As someone who has always been self-employed, I have learned to live with and appreciate unpredictability. Right now, I don’t know what voice over project will land on my desk tomorrow. I have no idea if the client I spoke with yesterday, will like the audition I sent out today. And please don’t tell me what I’ll be working on next week.

Surprise me!

If you’re a pathological planner craving closure, you’re not going to like that very much. You’ve got to have the right personality to handle being an independent contractor. To explain what that means, I often turn to culinary and musical metaphors.

You see, there are two types of cooks. The first type needs to follow the recipe to the letter. It has to be done the way the author intended. Doing otherwise would be sacrilege.

The second type of cook grabs a couple of ingredients depending on what’s in season, and starts creating a dish from scratch. No book needed. You make it up as you go along.

The musician who likes predictability always plays from the score, and measures his or her performance by how accurately the notes were replicated.

The musician who embraces unpredictability is more like a jazzer. Improvisation is the name of the game. Making things up on the fly.

Mind you: neither is right or wrong. There is a time and a place for organization and planning, and we all need to let loose a little. It can’t be all work and no play.

But as much as we try to be in control of our lives (and that’s the key concept: control), life has this strange way of throwing monkey wrenches in the works, just to test our flexibility and creativity.

After almost forty years of being a freelancer, I have learned to trust one thing, and it has become my mantra:

Things will always work out (but often not the way you expect they will).

Remember that time you were rejected for a project you so wanted to work on? You felt angry and inadequate, in part because the decision was made for you. Not by you.

But you also need to remember what happened next. Thanks to that one project going to another talent, you were able to take on a different job that eventually opened the door to an amazing opportunity. Something you could not have predicted.

Years ago, my wife went on Yahoo Personals looking for a skiing partner to go down the slopes with.

She ended up with this Dutchman (who could not ski if his life depended on it), and on October 4th we’ll be married for sixteen years!

And as she will gladly attest, no day with me is ever predictable. She, on the other hand, is my stability. She’s the rock in my roll.

Listen, if you’re a fellow freelancer, I hope you’re enjoying the variety of work that comes your way. I hope you enjoy being off schedule with the rest of the world, giving you the freedom to do things those with a 9 to 5 job can only dream of.

I also hope you have found a way to deal with the financial instability, and the constant search for the next big project. If you’ve been at it for a while, you know that when it rains, it pours. And sometimes it just rains.

But throughout this unpredictable existence, know that there is this one constant you can always count on.

That constant, that certainty, is YOU.

Unpredictable, out-of-the box thinking, creative, flexible, optimistic, multitalented YOU!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Vital Voice Over Skill We Never Talk About

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Personal3 Comments

It’s no secret.

Voice-overs love to talk. Sometimes, they even get paid for it.

But there’s another skill that’s almost as important, yet we rarely speak about it.

It’s listening.

Do you hear me?

Here’s the weird thing. Early in life, we learn how to walk, talk, and color inside the lines. But did anyone ever teach you how to listen?

We’re instructed to sit still and shut up, or else…. One day, my Kindergarten teacher dragged me by my ear, and shoved me into a corner for incessant talking. To add insult to injury, she taped a huge Band-Aid over my mouth.

I’d love to run into her one day, and tell her how I make a living….

By the way, keeping one’s mouth shut is not the same as being a receptive, retentive listener. Listening is a lost art that begs to be rediscovered. Why? Because we’re so used to tuning things out, and for a very good reason.

TOO MUCH NOISE

I don’t know about you, but on any given day my brain finds it easier and easer to reach stimulus overload. That’s no surprise. Every minute of every waking hour we are bombarded with images, smells, sounds, and other sensations. They all cry out for attention like ravenous septuplets wanting to be breastfed, and it’s too much to handle.

If we’d give equal attention to all our sensory input, we’d go mad. Literally. So, our noggin needs to prioritize what it’s going to pay attention to, and for how long. The rest gets tuned out. While that’s a good thing, we do run into another problem.

As we are drowning in information, our attention span is getting shorter and shorter. In fact, I’m surprised that you’re still reading these words! What’s wrong with you?

You may have heard of this one notorious consumer study claiming that the human attention span has gone down from twelve seconds in 2000, to eight seconds today. In contrast, the average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds!

I’m not surprised. Goldfish tend to be very good listeners. Although they are a bit slippery, they’d make great shrinks.

Joking aside, my point is that in order to be a good listener, we need to be able to focus on something or someone, and preferably for longer than eight seconds. Why is this particularly important to voice-overs? To begin with, it is vital to the success of our one-person, volatile business, to listen to our clients. We need to know what our clients need to hear from us to be satisfied with our work.

PAYING ATTENTION

One of my students was working on a project, and the client had asked her to give what he called “a decisive read.” “Say no more,” she said. “I know exactly what you’re after.”

A day later she delivered the audio, and guess what? The client was not happy. He called her up and said: “I asked you to sound decisive. I just listened to your recording, and you sound aggressive. I can’t use that.”

“I’m sorry, I really tried,” answered my student. “You asked for decisive, and this is what I thought you meant. How could I have known you wanted something different?”

“Well,” said the client, “you didn’t give me a chance to demonstrate. Before I was able to give you an example, you interrupted me, and said you knew what I was after. Make sure you really understand what the people you’re working with want. Don’t make assumptions. Just listen, and ask questions. Do you think you can do that?”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line.

Lesson learned.

FOCUS AND INTENT

So, the secret to being a good listener has to do with focus and intent. Give yourself permission to focus on someone for longer than eight seconds with the intent to understand (instead of the intent to reply). Be genuinely interested in the other person. Keep your ears open, and your mouth shut.

Resist the impulse to interrupt and fill in the blanks. Those blanks are YOUR blanks, and may have nothing to do with what your client is trying to tell you.

This may sound easy, but in this fast and crazy world filled with manufactured distractions, it’s hard for people to sit still and slow down the running commentary between their ears. That commentary is usually evaluating what we just did, or figuring out what we should do next. It is rarely in the moment.

For us to really listen, we need to be in the moment.

To me, the ability to be in the moment is an essential life skill. There are many ways to achieve this state of mind, and some are more esoteric than others. I like to close my eyes, and slow down my breathing. After watching a moving documentary about Spartacus-star Andy Whitfield, I added the following mantra to quiet my mind:

BE

HERE

NOW

As you are reading these words (attributed to Ram Dass), give it a try.

Close your eyes.

Begin breathing more deeply and s l o w l y.

Say to yourself in a soothing voice:

BE

HERE

NOW

 

BE

HERE

NOW

 

Thanks for playing along! You may need to relearn what it’s like to be here now (I certainly did), and this could be a good start. Take a few minutes each day to center yourself, and practice being in the moment. It may take you a while, and that’s okay.

Be gentle. Be patient, and be quiet.

LET THE WORDS SPEAK

Now, there’s a second reason why as a voice-over you need to learn how to listen. This has nothing to do with the people around you, and everything with what’s in front of you: your script. No matter what it is, an eLearning module, a historic novel, or a commercial, this script is trying to tell you something. It has a message. It wants to be understood.

While part of your restless brain is still conditioned to skim the words, please take your time to take them in. Don’t tune out. Tune in! Find out how the information is organized, and how the ideas unfold in sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Some scripts can be like jigsaw puzzles. They come to you in many pieces. The only way to put them together, is to have a clear understanding of the big picture.

As a listener, I can always tell whether or not a narrator knows what he or she is talking about. I can hear the difference between a rush job and a thoughtful recording. I know when a narrator is in love with him- or herself, or with the text. It all comes back to listening. There’s a reason why a well-known Turkish proverb goes something like this:

“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”

THE QUIET CONDUIT

Author and radio host Celeste Headlee wondered why people would rather talk than listen. She says that when we’re talking, we are in control. We are the center of attention.

I think she’s right.

As a voice-over professional, I see myself as a conduit. It’s not about me. It’s about the message. And the only way to honor the words I am about to speak, is to let them speak to me first.

All I need to do, is be in the moment, and listen.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Peter Dickson’s Voice Over Man

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Journalism & Media, One Voice, PersonalLeave a comment

I love my job as a blogger, even though I don’t get a dime for all my work. There’s no subscription fee for you to pay, and I have no sponsors to support me. But please don’t pity me.

My reward is that I get to interview cool colleagues like Barri Tsavaris who was featured last week. I test out new equipment, such as the brilliant SSL2+ audio interface, and I review books like Voice Over Man by Peter Dickson. It’s not even out yet, but I got an advance copy, signed by the man himself!

Now, if you haven’t got the faintest idea who this Peter person is, don’t worry. I’ll let him introduce himself, the way he does best in his book:


Dickson began his career at the BBC where he holds the unique distinction of being the youngest ever TV news presenter at the tender age of 17. In 1982 he moved to BBC Radio 2 in London, as an announcer. And that was just the start. Peter continues:

“I have spent the last forty-three years locked in acoustically isolated, padded rooms shouting about pizzas, cars, gas boilers and three-piece suites, playing zombies and wizards and fighter pilots and working with and alongside some of the planet’s biggest stars. And yes – I’ve had the most unimaginable fun. I have been the voice of over 200 TV series, many of them multi-award-winning, the promo voice for over 60 TV channels, acted on over 30 of the world’s top-selling AAA game titles and I’ve voiced over 30,000 TV and radio commercials. Perhaps surprisingly, very little of what I have done survives, much of it having been broadcast, is now far away in the ether – halfway to Mars – and will eventually clatter around the cosmos forever. God help the inhabitants on Planet Zarg at the outer reaches of our universe when ‘The X Factor’ eventually reaches them in the 25 th Century. Lord only knows what they will make of it!”

NATURAL STORYTELLER (AND NAME DROPPER)

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being in Peter’s company, you know the man is a born raconteur. If you haven’t had that experience, his book Voice Over Man is the next best thing. Not only will you meet a whole cast of colorful, and mostly British characters. You’ll learn about the changing media landscape in the United Kingdom, and how Peter has skillfully navigated that landscape to build an unparalleled portfolio as one of Britain’s most prominent, beloved, and versatile voice talents.

His career started, like so many of us of a certain generation, playing with a tape deck. Peter writes:

“I was a strange kid. Outwardly normal in every respect but with this weird compulsion to talk out loud in rooms on my own. I am laughing now because you could say I haven’t changed one bit!

On passing my eleven-plus Grammar School entrance exam on the second attempt, which was known as ‘the review’, my parents had bought me a brand spanking new National Panasonic cassette recorder, which was cutting edge technology back then, can you believe it? I would spend hours on that, recording little programmes, performing on the fly drop in edits, and reading aloud in the privacy of my bedroom where no one could see or hear me, or so I thought. My father was probably listening at the door thinking “What in the name of sweet Jesus have I spawned?””

And thus begins a journey that leads us to the studios of the BBC, and many other venerable institutions where Dickson’s voice could be heard in many different incarnations. He takes us behind the scenes of the many shows he has worked on, and delights in painting a picture of the often dimly lit, and most unglamorous spaces that were reserved for announcers:

“The old radio continuity desk at Radio Ulster was built like a Rolls Royce and probably cost as much. It was virtually bombproof, which was just as well because there were loads of them exploding on a nightly basis outside. Completed and installed back in the days when budgets were only for Chancellors and Aunty BBC had never heard of a bottom line. All black shiny Bakelite and Formica, with gleaming silver-plated knobs and dials illuminated from behind by impossibly exotic looking German valves with names like Telefunken EL84, which cast a comforting orange glow through the ventilation grill onto the wall behind. It must have cost fifty thousand licence fees. In the centre of the desk were the huge, doorknob sized orange handled ‘pot’ faders. These were the days before the horizontal sliding faders, which are now commonplace on today’s mixing desks.”

I don’t know about you, but when I read that description, I was right there at Radio Ulster. That’s just one of the many aspects that makes Peter’s book such a delightful read. Peter’s son, who is a graphic designer, was responsible for the look of the book. There are lots of cool graphics relating to the voice over world, including a volume knob as a page footer that appears to rotate when you flick through the pages! It’s these type of ingenuous touches that makes this autobiography stand out in a unique way.

MEETING MOVIE STARS

But the bulk of Peter’s life story is taken up by numerous, humorous anecdotes. Stories, such as this one:

“One afternoon, I found myself alone, wandering down a corridor trying to find the sound stage where Purple Taxi was being shot, when a slightly built man wearing a beautifully tailored suit, stepped out of a room in front of me. There was no one else around and he proceeded to walk in front of me towards a large set of double doors. He stopped, turned 90°, opened the door, motioned with his hand and said, “After you!” Impressed by the stranger’s good manners I turned to him as I walked through and thanked him for his kindness. It was only when I looked at his face, I realised that I was looking at one of the biggest movie stars of all time, and I mean all time. They don’t come much bigger. I was face to face with none other than Mr Fred Astaire!”

Peter Dickson with Boy George

The first part of the book is mainly devoted to Dickson’s fascinating career in radio and television. But when he decides to break free from the confining corporate culture, and venture off on his own, things become even more relatable for voice overs trying to make a living in the gig economy. Dickson:

“The freelance life is altogether more discomfiting. There’s an edginess about it, it’s a hand to mouth, dog-eat-dog, day to day existence where the only yardstick of success is the amount of cash flowing into your bank account on a monthly or in most cases, an annual basis. The freelance world is so uncertain and irregular, that one has to invariably take this longer-term view. Annual income rather than monthly is the more accurate window of measurement. Scary stuff indeed for the dutiful wage slave I had become.”

CHANGING THE GAME

When Dickson became his own boss, he found himself on the road for most of the week, driving from studio to studio, reading script after script. The money was coming in, but at a hefty price because of all the travel involved. He was one of the first voices who saw the potential of ISDN, and jumped at it. Dickson installed ISDN in his home studio in 1999, and it was a total game changer. He writes:

“For those of us who adopted ISDN, it was revolutionary. I could work around the globe from the comfort of my own home, frequently wearing my pyjamas! What other job affords you that level of delicious informality and comfort.”

Peter Dickson at The Price is RightHowever, he soon discovered that every advantage has a disadvantage:

“What I and others hadn’t bargained for, however, was that this was about as far from a sociable way of working as you could imagine. In practice, it was exactly the opposite. I now found myself spending whole days in the studio – often not seeing or speaking to anyone, with only myself for company. Now, I don’t have an issue with this because I am by nature a fairly private individual and like my own company, but some of my colleagues, however, have found it difficult to adapt – and struggle with the long hours in isolation. It was this very issue that led me, Tony Aitken, Lois Lane, Jacky Davis and John McGuinn to found VOX, the world’s first social network for voice talent and much later, gravyforthebrain.com – a global training and networking organisation.

As the saying goes, it takes at least twenty five years to become an overnight success, let alone build a solid reputation. Peter’s long career is definitely a testament to that, and a powerful lesson to anyone thinking of breaking into the voice over business to make a quick buck. There is no such thing as a quick buck, and the buck is rapidly decreasing to fifty cents.

In his book, Peter pays loving tribute to the many mentors he has had, without whom he probably would have stayed stuck in some stuffy studio as an anonymous disembodied voice. And let’s not forget the crucial role of his agent who seems to present him with golden opportunity after golden opportunity.

SHORTCOMINGS

Full disclosure, I know Peter personally, and he asked me to write a short quote which you’ll find at the beginning of his book. I like and admire him immensely, so I’m not going to be too hard on him. But I do want to say the following.

If you’re looking for a book that teaches you the art of voice overs, this isn’t it (watch this instead). I had hoped to read a little bit more about how Peter created and maintains his signature sound; how his technique and approach has developed over the years, and how he has weathered the many trends in announcing and voice acting.

When you listen to broadcasts from forty years ago, you know how much has changed. People just don’t speak the way they did in the forties, fifties, and sixties. How does one stay relevant and marketable? Peter makes it sound so easy, and that usually means it is not.

You also have to realize that this is a quintessentially British book. If you’re an Anglophile like me, who grew up watching British TV and listening to the BBC (heck, I even worked for the BEEB), you’ll recognize many of the people that “guest star” in Dickson’s autobiography. People like Sir Terry Wogan, Bruce Forsyth, Harry Enfield, Steve Wright, and many, many more. Peter is of the generation that witnessed the birth of the comedy group Monty Python. When I mention Python to today’s generation, they’ll give you a blank stare and ask: “Monty who?”

That’s why many of the names that Dickson drops throughout his book, even the names of television shows and radio programs, won’t mean a thing to the average American, and perhaps not even to a younger generation in the UK. He tells fascinating stories, but if you’re not familiar with the eccentric characters, why should you even care?

That brings me to the main thing that bothers me a bit about this book. There is so much captivating anecdotal material about other people, that I feel I didn’t really get to know the real Peter Dickson.

Like many of the Brits I know and love, he remains charmingly reserved, not talking about who he is, but about what he does so well.

The Voice Over Man.

Why be so elusive, I wonder? Don’t you want us to know you, or am I so used to my American surroundings where unbridled self-disclosure is a national sport?

And then I was reminded of Peter’s own words:

The audiobook version is available from spokenwordaudio and the hardback, paperback, and Kindle versions are available on Amazon now. The audio version will also be available on Audible. Click here for a long interview with Peter on the Media Focus Podcast.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Barri Tsavaris: Creating The Next Big Thing

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, PersonalLeave a comment

Barri Tsavaris

Being an expat myself, I’ve always had a soft spot for those who left everything and everyone behind to start a new life in a new country.

There’s the predictable culture shock, and in many cases a language barrier. In the beginning, every day is an exciting and surprising adventure. But as you start to settle in, you quickly discover that your dream of living in a new land does not resemble reality in any way, shape, or form.

To some people in your adopted country, you’re an unwelcome foreigner trying to steal their jobs. To others, you’re an exotic outsider with weird manners and a strange way of speaking.

As you’re settling in, you come to the following realization.

Living, loving, and working far away from home, you’ll never feel more connected to where you came from.

The longer you’re gone, the stronger this feeling gets. Until you go back for a quick visit after a few years have passed, and you notice how much has changed in your absence. And for the first time in your life, you feel like you’re no longer fitting in at home either.

I remember coming back to the Netherlands, and finding out all the money had changed from guilders to euros. It’s only money, but it’s something valuable you use every day. It’s a symbol of a nation’s identity and pride.

I also observed that people had started speaking differently. The familiar Dutch was increasingly interspersed with English words and expressions. And when I spoke, I saw some raised eyebrows because -as I learned later- I was using words that had gone out of fashion.

FROM NORTH AMERICA TO SOUTH KOREA

In this edition of the Nethervoice blog, I am talking to fellow expat Barri Tsavaris. She’s an American voice over colleague who lives and works in South Korea. When I asked her how she ended up there, this is what she told me:

“I was working for the jewelry brand John Hardy, planning all their trade shows. At the end of ’08, the US was struck with the housing crisis and subsequent recession, which led to me losing my job in early 2009. I used that year to produce my semi-autobiographical play, I Will Follow, which debuted in the NY International Fringe Festival. Once that closed, I sat in my office (the grand hall of the New York City Public Library) and decided that I couldn’t just go back to temping and the occasional acting gig while waiting for the next big thing. I had to create the next big thing for myself.

Teacher Barri

The economy in NYC was a mess, I’d gone through a divorce the year before, I lost my apartment…all signs were telling me it was time to step away from New York for a bit. So I googled “what job can I get abroad with only a bachelor’s degree in film?” Haha good times! I got a job teaching English at a public school just outside of Seoul. I flew to Asia 4 months later.”

Are you there permanently or temporarily?

“Temporarily. Wait…does 10 years count as temporary?! When I left New York, I told myself it was just for a year. My plan was to write the next “Eat, Pray, Love” and return to NYC to produce it on stage. But toward the end of that first year, I was in a production of The Vagina Monologues, and one of my castmates was a woman who was working as a voice actor. We became friends, she introduced me to her agent, and within a few months, I was scurrying around Seoul to recording studios.

I know all too well how difficult life is trying to be an actor in NYC. I found myself suddenly working full-time as a voice actor, while friends that had put in 5, 10 years in NYC and LA were still struggling to make ends meet. So I decided to stay. I say I’m here temporarily (despite owning all my appliances, getting married and having 3 cats) because my husband and I do plan to leave Korea eventually.”

What do you like about life in South Korea and what do you miss?

“After a decade, it’s easy to get Korea-fatigue. But I try my best to focus on the positive. Like the phenomenal public transit system. I can get anywhere in Seoul for a buck, the trains and busses are always on time, and I swear, you could eat off of the subway floors. The city employs older Korean women to clean all the subway stations. That’s another thing I love – growing old in Korea is viewed differently than America. Older generations aren’t put out to pasture; they’re encouraged to stay active physically and mentally. I love my expat community. There are countless English teachers here and many help form a thriving expat arts scene.

I thought I would miss New York City, and I do, but what I really miss are people. I miss hugging my parents, I miss sitting around and gabbing for hours with my best girlfriends from high school and college, I miss all the cool artists I used to perform improv and theatre with. So people… and food. Seoul has gotten better during my time here in terms of foreign food, but man, I miss a real bagel and a slice of New York pizza. That’s always the very first thing I eat when I visit the states!”

Tell me about the voice over scene. How does it differ from the US? What do you wish you would have known in the beginning?

“How much time do you have?! I could go on for hours about this. First, entry into voiceover here is much simpler. Pro demos, a VO website and home studio are not required. You can go into one of the main agencies here, audition, and if you’re good, you could be sent out to work the next day. Second, demos. Korean voice actors use voice “samples” and the professionally produced demos that reign supreme in Western markets are unheard of here. A sample is a short voice clip, 15-30 seconds, oftentimes an excerpt from an actual job you did. Actors keep a file of anywhere from 10 to a few dozen voice samples that they send to prospective studios and clients.

When I decided to venture into the global VO market, even though I had almost a decade of recording experience, I didn’t have a single demo appropriate for use outside Korea. Third, it’s a small pond. The core English-language VO community is just a few dozen people and we all know each other. And lastly, we don’t have a union, we’re not permitted to join the Korean voice actor’s union, and it’s illegal for foreigners to unionize. This means we’ve had to work tirelessly as a group for standard rates, protections, and respect.

From the business perspective, I wish I’d known about standard rates, both within Korea as well as globally. I was taken advantage of when I was new and I worked far too many jobs for far too little money. From the performance perspective, I wish I’d known sooner that voice acting is storytelling. Korean clients tend to want a woman’s voice to be bright and bubbly (though that’s gradually changing), so I spent so much time focusing on making a certain sound. Now, especially after coaching, I focus on telling the story first and allowing the sound, whatever it is, to come from that.”

Do you have to speak the language?

“It certainly helps, but I wouldn’t say you *have* to. I learned most of the Korean I know in my first few weeks here. I don’t eat beef or pork, so I had to figure out how to say a few key things quickly or starve. While it’s tough to learn to speak Korean, it’s super easy to learn to read it. You can learn the Korean alphabet, Hangul, in an afternoon. A few years later, I hired a Korean tutor to teach me what I call “studio Korean” – about 50 phrases I wanted to be able to communicate during a recording session. That got me through most of my career here! Last year I formally enrolled in a course for the first time, but then voiceover work picked up, so I dropped out. I’m actually a touch embarrassed at how little Korean I can speak.”

Is it easy to get work as a foreigner?

“It was 10 years ago! It’s definitely not now. It used to be all you needed was a 4-year degree in anything, from anywhere, and you could get a job teaching English. Over the years though, the government has shifted money from language education to math. This has affected the work for voice actors because roughly half the VO work in Korea is for the language education machine – textbooks, exams, prep materials, etc. COVID has further impacted employment; nobody is hiring anyone from abroad right now. A decade ago I would’ve said, yeah, sure, come on out, there’s plenty of work to go around. Now, I wouldn’t suggest trying to move here for work, at least until a vaccine for Coronavirus is developed.”

Do you feel you’re integrated in Korean society, or are you mainly mingling with expats?

“I’m mainly mingling with expats. I’ve integrated in the sense that I have a strong and steady career and the respect of the Koreans I work with.”

How has living in Korea changed your outlook on America?

“It pains me to say it, but living in Korea has made me view America as not quite the great nation I was taught it was. My quality of life in Korea is so high compared to the life I led in New York, and that is due to Korea’s national health care system, prohibition of guns, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and the familial mindset that stems from Confucianism. We certainly give up certain privacies and liberties here – the government can track our every move. But that’s been exactly why Korea has been a forerunner in combating COVID-19.”

When and how did you know that voice overs was the thing for you?

“It was after the first month that I went full-time. I’d been part-time for 8 months and was very nervous to walk away from a very good job at a private elementary school within a major Korean university campus. My agent told me it was time and I’d be fine. That first month I earned twice what I did as a teacher. I knew voiceover was my calling and I never looked back.”

Who have been instrumental to you in terms of getting your VO career off the ground, and in what way?

“The very first person that I always have to give credit to is my friend and fellow voice actor, Jessica Rau Chin. She’s the one who first introduced me to her agent in Seoul 10 years ago. She left Korea several years ago and is now in LA.

And the next person I met several years later: Anne Ganguzza. I knew I needed coaching and proper demos. There were a few coaches on my short list. I scheduled a 15-minute consultation with Anne. We spoke for 45 minutes. I’ll never forget the final thing she said to me during that first call: “Whoever you choose for your coach, be sure they are going to brand you and focus on marketing.” I wound up coaching with Anne for a year and in the end she produced a corporate narration demo and an e-learning demo that are each perfectly suited to my brand.

I also have to give a shout out to Marc Scott.VOpreneur in all its incarnations (the blog, the Facebook page, the podcast) is where I’ve gotten most of the information I’ve used to pivot my career from the Asian to the Western market. In that community I’ve discovered knowledge, support, and an overall touchstone for the voiceover business and where I fit into it.”

What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from them?

motion capture for a video game

“From Jessica, I learned that it’s okay to allow space for new voice actors to enter the business. Operating from a place of scarcity and fear will only fill you with negativity. Now, a decade later, I do my best to create space for other women just starting out. I’m a mentor to several newer voice actresses in Seoul, and it fulfills me just as much as landing the raddest video game job or global commercial spot.

From Anne, I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) how tobe a VO Boss. As my performance coach, she helped me engage the storyteller in me. But our sessions were also peppered with chats about the business side of VO.

From Marc, I’ve learned that I need to outsource! Haha! But seriously, Marc’s Marketing Playbook is an invaluable resource. My greatest takeaway from it is that the work is out there, and how much of it I’m gonna get is entirely up to me and how much effort I put into direct marketing.”

Congrats on your new website. What were you hoping to accomplish with this new site, and what were some of the stumbling blocks you had to overcome to make it happen?

“Thank you! The point of this new site is to introduce me to the global VO marketplace. They love me in Asia, but it’s time for me to step out of the pond and dive into deeper waters.

There weren’t many stumbling blocks, per se. It was more that various pieces took me longer to put together than I originally thought. Like coaching and demo production, for example. I naively thought that it would be a fast process. Bang that out in 6 weeks. (Hahaha) I realized after a few sessions with Anne that it would take much longer than that. Then I had to find a way to process my antsiness, my just wanting to launch and start booking ASAP. So I suppose the greatest stumbling block was learning to give everything time to come together.”

Why barrivoiceover.com and not barritsavaris.com?

“I’ve got a tough name. Both halves are tough – the Barri and the Tsavaris. People never know how to say either one, how to spell either one… sometimes they don’t even know I’m a woman! For the record, Barri is pronounced like Barry, as in Manilow, Gibb or Sanders. So, after talking to some trusted people in the business, I decided to keep it simple and go with just my first name. That’s how most of my Korean clients know me anyway. (I’m like the Cher of English voiceover in Korea). But believe me, it was a tough decision to make.”

What was working with the folks at voiceactorwebsites like?

“Karin, Joe, Lo-An and the rest of the team at Voice Actor Websites are just incredible. I came to them with some unique requests and at no point in the process did they ever say, oh no, we don’t do that. It was always, oh cool, we haven’t done that before, but we’ll figure it out for you. Specifically, I wanted my site to be accessible to both my Western and Korean clients, so having a Korean language version was key. I also wanted clients to be able to submit testimonials directly through a form on my site.

Voice Actor Websites had never done that for anyone else, but they figured it out for me and now it’s a function they can offer to other actors. I also really appreciated that they always made themselves available to speak with me at times that were convenient for me, despite the awkward time difference. The experience was smooth, collaborative and well worth the investment – So much so that we’re now having them design my husband’s site!”

Looking back at a decade in South Korea, what are you particularly proud of?

“I’m proud that I came to Asia completely by myself and built an amazing voiceover career from nothing, but I’m particularly proud to have been the official voice of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.”

What’s next for you?

“Short term, I am in conversations with agents in the States and Europe and am looking to have representation in those markets soon. I’m also gearing up for the launch of my passion project, TIGHTS, a radio play about superheroes and their alter egos (@tightstheshow). It is the brainchild of my producing partner, Greta Wink. I came in as the recording director, we brought together two dozen actors from around the world, and we recorded most of it in my studio in Seoul. We’re in post-production now and it will go live before the year is out.

In the long-term, I look forward to moving back to America with my husband and 3 cats (a.k.a. The @Voiceover.Kitties) and finally getting to meet in person all of the amazing voiceover peeps (like yourself!) who I’ve had the pleasure to connect with on social media these past couple years.”

You can connect with Barri on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Vimeo.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Promotion12 Comments

making potteryAs a blogger, coach, and voice talent, I think a lot about why certain people make it in this business and why others don’t.

Those who are doing well don’t always know why they belong to the happy few.

“You’ve got to have a lot of luck,” they say, and “be at the right moment at the right time.”

It’s a nice observation, but as a teacher that doesn’t help me much. Just as I can’t predict who’s going to win the Powerball, I cannot influence luck. And if I knew how to be at the right moment at the right time, I probably would be doing something else with my life right now.

What I can help people with as a coach, is preparedness. If you’re lucky to be at the right place at the right time and you’re not prepared, you’re not going to get very far. But preparedness alone is no guarantee that you’ll have a successful career as a creative freelancer.

Let’s say you’re talented, you’re well-trained, and you have the right equipment that gets the job done. Is that enough to start and grow a for-profit business? I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.

Looking at colleagues who are at the top of their game, I have identified three characteristics all of them have in common. Number one I call:

THE MAGNET

The difference between dreamers and achievers is that achievers attract jobs. This is anything but a passive process. People don’t become magnets overnight and without planning. You’ve got to have an extensive network in place that generates a continuous flow of leads from multiple sources. If you’re just starting out, this is where you have to spend most of your time, energy, and money.

How do you become a magnet? Think about what you can do to draw people to you. You’ve got to offer something special at a price that tells people you take your work seriously. You have to make sure your presentation is in line with your (desired) reputation. Then you need to connect with clients and colleagues to let them know that you exist.

Obviously, this is not something you can do in a few weeks or months. Every self-employed person can tell you that this will be your life from now on, until you decide to close up shop. This type of magnet is like a rechargeable battery. If you don’t charge it regularly, it will quickly lose its power.

Now, let’s assume your magnetic powers have the desired effect and job offers are rolling in. Should you jump on every opportunity? Here’s where the second factor comes in. I call this:

THE COLANDER

Beginners often make the same mistake. They go after every single job offer, if only “to gain experience.” I remember when I first became a member of an online casting site. As soon as I had posted my profile and the membership fee was paid, the auditions started coming in. In my naïve enthusiasm I applied for every job, thinking that the more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would be hired. I was wrong.

Being a successful freelancer is not a numbers game. It is about going after the opportunities that are right for you. In order to do that, you have to filter out the misfits. That’s where the colander comes in.

Runners know their strengths. Some of them run marathons. Others sprint. In my line of work, some voice actors are great at narrating audiobooks. Others excel in voicing short commercials. Only a handful of people in every profession are true all-rounders. Chances are that you’re not one of them. That’s why you have to do yourself a favor: know your strengths, and become picky. Very picky.

There’s one last factor that separates the wheat from the chaff. I call it:

THE CLAY

No matter how good you are at attracting and selecting jobs, once you have landed a new project, you have one objective and one objective only: to make your client happy. That’s by no means an earth-shattering revelation, so why even mention it? Here’s why. So many people believe that if you do the very best you can, the client will be pleased with the result. That’s not necessarily true.

Your very best might not be good enough, and/or the client may have different expectations. That’s why it is so important to find out what those expectations are before you get to work. I often tell my clients: “If I don’t know what you want, I can’t give it to you.” And that’s where the clay comes in.

Clay is just potential. It can be molded into any shape, depending on the talent and skills of the potter. No matter what kind of freelance work you do, whether you’re a scriptwriter, an industrial designer, or a voice-over, you’ve got to know your material and be a master molder. The better you are at understanding your client and at working the clay, the more successful you will be.

Mind you, this isn’t something you can pick up from reading a book, or by listening to a podcast. It will take talent, training, and time. It may take a few years before you break in and break even. But when you do, this is what you will discover:

Doing exceptional work almost always leads to more work, which brings us back to the concept of the magnet.

One last thing.

If your career isn’t where you want it to be at the moment, ask yourself:

“Where are my greatest challenges?

What needs more work?

Is it the magnet, the colander, or is it the way I handle the clay?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Shaping the Heart via photopin(license)

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Awesome and Affordable: Solid State Logic’s New Audio Interface

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Gear, Reviews, Studio6 Comments

Get this. A couple of weeks ago there was a flash flood in my neck of the woods, and rain water came gushing into our basement. Lots of it. In a matter of minutes the entire floor was covered in a brownish liquid, as the carpet tried to absorb it like a thirsty sponge.

All I could do was use our wet/dry vac to pump up the roaring waters, hoping my basement voice over studio would be spared. Luckily, my heroic efforts paid off (the Dutch know a thing or two about keeping the waters at bay!).

The studio was pretty much spared, but the rest of the basement was one wet, damp mess. It took me a few days to clear the space, and dry it out completely. Later that week I started recording again, and the moment I connected my preamp I knew something wasn’t right.

Gone was the crystal clear signal my Audient iD22 is known for. Instead, I heard an unacceptable, annoying electrical buzz that refused to go away.

This could only mean one thing. The moisture had gotten to it, and once that happens, it is pretty much game over. Mind you, I’ve had this stellar preamp since 2013, so it’s had a good run. I knew it was time to find a worthy replacement.

SOLID STATE LOGIC

In January of this year, Solid State Logic (SSL) introduced two desktop audio interfaces, the SSL2 and the SSL2+.

If you are an audio engineer, you are no doubt very familiar with SSL. You’ll find their mixing consoles in most major recording studios, and more number one hits were recorded with SSL equipment than with any other brand. Their 4000 series is particularly coveted.

Now, what SSL has done is condense everything the brand is known for in a compact, affordable package. I’m talking about solid build quality, pristine analogue microphone preamps, and super clean 24/192 kHz conversion. I’m talking about low-latency monitoring, high-performance headphone preamps, and a special Legacy 4K button.

Each preamp has a 5-segment LED meter for visual level reference. You can plug in microphones that require 48V phantom power, but you can also use ribbon and dynamic microphones like the Shure SM7B without needing a Cloudlifter ($150 in savings right there!). That’s because the preamps have an ultra-low noise floor of -130.5 dbu EIN, and offer a gain range of 62 dB. That’s enough for very detailed and clean recordings.

In the back there are two studio-grade Neutrik mic/line combo jacks, and two 1/4″ outputs for your studio monitors. In addition, the SSL2+ has two 1/4″ headphone outputs as well as MIDI I/Oover 5-pin DIN jacks. You’ll also get two pairs of RCA outputs with the 2+ to attach some outboard gear.

photo credit: SSL

THE MAGIC NUMBER ELEVEN

Most voice overs will be quite happy with the cheaper SSL2. I chose the 2+ because I’ve always wanted an interface I could plug two headphones into. My Beyerdynamic DT880’s, which I use for recreational listening, and my Austrian Audio Hi-X55’s which are my editing cans.

What I also like is that both units are USB-powered (USB C & A). No more ugly power brick. If you have an Apple computer like I do, the unit is plug and play. If you’re a Windows fan, just download the ASIO/WDM Driver and you’re in business.

Esthetically speaking, these interfaces have the familiar SSL look and color scheme with a simple, logical setup for the knobs. I particularly like the big blue monitor level knob which goes to…. eleven!

Speaking of the exterior, what’s this 4K Legacy button all about? SSL puts it this way:

Engaging this switch allows you to add some extra analogue ‘magic’ to your input when you need it. It injects a combination of high-frequency EQ-boost, together with some finely tuned harmonic distortion to help enhance sounds. This enhancement effect is created completely in the analogue domain and is inspired by the kind of extra character the legendary SSL 4000-series console (often referred to as ‘4K’) could add to a recording.

Of course that’s just the company talking, so what do I find of this 4K effect? First off, it’s not a miracle cure for bad audio. I’d call this effect a subtlesound colorizer that’s actually quite pleasing to the ear. It adds some mojo to your mix, especially if you’re using a dark sounding microphone. Mind you, once you’ve recorded in this mode, you cannot undo the effect like you would with a digital plugin.

To hear the difference, here’s a short recording, first without 4K and then with the switch engaged. Lastly, you’ll hear me line by line without, and then with 4K. I’ve used my new and “darkest” sounding microphone, meaning the one that accentuates the lows in my voice.

IT WORKS OUT OF THE BOX

What I like about the SSL2 and 2+ is the fact that these units are pretty much self-explanatory. There’s no need to go into a virtual mixer (as was the case with the iD22) and fiddle around with different settings. Everything just works as advertised. The online user guide is easy to follow -even for beginners- and SSL support is very responsive and eager to help.

I contacted them because I had the crazy idea to plug in my brand new shotgun microphone (review coming up), and my Gefell condenser, and switch between the two as I was recording my auditions. Channel 1 (my shotgun) came through loud and clear, but Channel 2 (the Gefell), didn’t send any signal to my Twisted Wave audio editor. The LCD’s were lighting up, but that was it.

SSL rep Tim Shortle kindly explained that my audio interface was perfectly fine. Twisted Wave just wasn’t developed for multi-channel recording.

Silly me!

It turns out that there’s a workaround in Twisted Wave (thank you Sean Daely!). When opening a new file, choose stereo. One microphone will record in the left channel and the other in the right. When it’s time to edit the tracks, you simply copy and paste them to a new mono file so you hear them in both ears. Problem solved!

By the way, these SSL desktop interfaces also come with free digital audio workstations like Pro Tools First and Ableton Live Lite (plus some other cool stuff for those who are into music production).

PROS AND CONS

Let’s end this review with a list of what I liked and liked less. I’ll start with what I liked less about the SSL2+.

The housing seems sturdy, but it’s part plastic, part metal. Audient (their main competitor) makes all-metal units, but they are more expensive (the iD14 model is about $300 with fewer features).

There’s no on/off button. What’s up with that? My Audient iD22 didn’t have one either. It’s less of a problem with the SSL2+ because it’s bus-powered, so it turns off when you shut your computer down.

The cord connecting the unit to the computer is too short. My preamp sits to the right of my iMac, and I needed a longer connection. I just don’t like it when you’re excited to try out a brand new piece of gear, and you can’t because of a short stupid cord.

The LED’s don’t show enough dynamic range. It’s a five-step ladder LED meter going from -40 to 0, and I’d like to see a few more intermediate steps. It’s not a deal breaker though, because most of us will set the gain looking at our DAW.

The headphone sockets are on the back. I prefer to have more direct front access. That way, the cords don’t get entangled in a mess of wires.

The 48V phantom power buttons are black and small and they don’t light up when engaged. In poorly lit surroundings it’s not always easy to see if these buttons are pressed down.

SSL2+, Audient iD22 & iD4

Unlike my iD22, the SSL2 and 2+ units don’t have a high-pass filter which I think is a useful feature if you want to cut down on low rumble in your recordings (and your microphone doesn’t have that switch). I’ve attached a Shure A15HP – In-Line Hi-Pass Filter to my unit and it does the job, but you can also filter your audio with a plugin in post.

I’ve read reviews that don’t recommend using low-impedance headphones with these units. Nonsense! My Austrian Audio Hi-X55 cans have a low impedance of 25 ohms, and sound magnificently detailed through the SSL headphone amps.

And then there’s the Legacy 4K effect. Some reviewers love it and won’t record anything without it. Others think it’s just a gimmick.

Now for the pros.

By building these interfaces in China, SSL was able to put them on the market at an insanely low and very competitive price. The SSL2 is a little over two hundred dollars, and the 2+ comes in under three hundred. This includes the production pack software package.

These may be entry level units, but they definitely bring superb Solid State Logicsound quality to your home studio. The overall no-frills design is intuitive and just makes sense. I like the sloped shape, and the controls are smooth and sturdy. This plug and play audio interface is easy to use. You don’t need an external power supply, and yet it has enough oomph to go to 11, and feed a dynamic/ribbon microphone!

CONCLUSION

In short, the SSL2 and SSL2+ offer outstanding value for money. Don’t let the audio snobs talk you into buying expensive boutique preamplifiers. Spending more cash doesn’t automatically mean your sound quality will get exponentially better.

In fact, the more money you spend, the smaller the audible improvements will be. Who are you trying to impress? Your Facebook friends or your Insta-buddies?

Give me a break!

For a little over two hundred bucks you can get all you need to power your voice over studio with pizzazz!

What’s more, you’ll feel very good about having saved some hard-earned money.

And that’s a logical, solid state to be in!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS SSL did not provide me with a test unit. I paid for it myself, and the opinions in this article are mine and mine only.

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Ten Lies Voice Overs Tell

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Promotion, Social MediaLeave a comment

How far would you go to get ahead in this game we call the voiceover market place?

Would you betray your pacifist principles and record a promotional video for land mines?

Would you flirt with the casting director?

Would you badmouth a colleague in the hopes of improving your odds?

As soon as money is involved, people are prepared to sell their dignity and self-respect to the highest bidder. It’s Survival of the Slickest, and every person for him or herself. After all, the economy sucks, and it ain’t getting better any time soon. Thank you COVID.

If it’s a choice between you and me, my friend, it better be me!

In an attempt to break into the business or simply stay afloat, people even start sinning against the Ninth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. What do they tell you in this business?

If you can’t make it, just fake it!

That’s why the almighty Internet is inundated with pretenders, posers, anonymous commentators, and self-styled experts. In this day and age where the latest is the greatest, nobody bothers to fact-check anymore. It’s the ideal opportunity to be whoever you say you are. No questions asked. It’s in black and white. That means it’s reliable, right?

Now, don’t believe for one second that the people in our community are holier than the Pope. They are not. Some of them are spinning a world wide web of lies. Of course they don’t call it that. They see it as innocent embellishments of the truth. The means justify the ends. Meanwhile, they are walking around with their pants on fire.

Here’s my Top 10 of the most common lies people tell to get ahead as a voice talent:

1. Experience

Lie: “With years of experience under her belt, Carla can handle almost any project.”
Truth: Carla has been at it for five months. Part-time, that is.

2. Training & Coaching

Lie: “Roger has studied with some of the world’s best voice over coaches.”
Truth: He took an introductory course at the local community college.

3. Clients

Lie: “John has recorded voice-overs for some of the biggest names in business.”
Truth: John wishes he had recorded voice-overs for some of the biggest names in business.

4. Equipment

Lie: “Peter exclusively uses his trusted Neumann U87, arguably the best known and most widely used studio microphone in the world.”
Truth: Peter doesn’t even know how to correctly pronounce the name Neumann. He is the proud owner of a USB mic he found on eBay for $65, and he foolishly thinks people can’t tell the difference.

5. Home studio

Lie: “Heather records her voice overs in her professional studio, guaranteeing you the highest audio quality possible.”
Truth: Heather hides inside a bedroom closet and she has no idea why this mattress foam won’t keep the noise out. She wonders: “Should I have used egg crates instead?”

6. Demos

Lie: Listening to his samples, it sounds like Thomas really voiced those national campaigns, doesn’t it?
Truth: Thomas stole scripts from projects he never even auditioned for. An audio engineer friend helped him add some music to make it sound real.

7a. Languages and accents

Lie: “Jerome speaks Dutch and is available for your eLearning projects.”
Truth: Jerome was born, raised, and educated in Flanders (Belgium) and speaks Flemish. Dutch as spoken in the Netherlands and Flemish are just as different as American and British English. Substitute Dutch and Flemish for other languages and accents to expose other actors.

7b. Native speakers

Lie: “Maria was born and raised in Germany and speaks ‘Hochdeutsch’ or Standard German.”
Truth: Maria moved to the U.S. when she was seventeen. Thirty years later she stills lives in Dallas. Ever heard a German with a Texas twang? She’s counting on the fact that her American clients won’t have a clue her German pronunciation is off.

8. Testimonials

Lie: “Jennifer was a delight to work with. Our company would not hesitate to hire her again.”
Truth: Jennifer never worked for that company, and she penned this endorsement herself.

9. Head shots

Lie: We see a young, smiling face, staring confidently into the camera.
Truth: After fifteen years, Harry doesn’t look like his old headshot anymore. He’s become bitter, and he sounds like it. There’s nothing wrong with using headshots, but as a rule they should be current, whether you work on camera, or off.

10. Believing that you won’t get caught

It’s simple. People with real credentials have real experience and a real portfolio. They don’t have to hide behind vague descriptions and false advertising. The truth will always come out, and when it does, it will damage a career that never was and probably never will be.

SPOTTING THE ROTTEN APPLE

You don’t have to be a detective to find the fakers. Liars usually do a great job exposing themselves. I was emailing one of my colleagues the other day, and he shared the following story with me:

“I’ve read your blogs regarding people that want to be a voiceover talent with interest. I have some ideas on people that are “posing” as voiceover talent and how to spot them immediately.

For example: a young lady recently posted on a LinkedIn forum complaining that she wasn’t being hired via sites like voices.com and how obviously the system was flawed, and that was the reason she wasn’t getting work.

I visited her website to find that (through the placement of national logos for Burger King and Nissan) she had implicated that she’d done voiceover work for national companies.

When I listened to her demo it was apparent that she had nowhere near the skill level of a national voice talent.

Furthermore – on her website there was a mention of a client that she claimed as her client, when in fact, it had been MY client for more than four years. A quick check with producers led me to find that this person had never worked with that company.

In short, she wasn’t getting work because she sucked as a “talent”. And yet, she couldn’t hear this, and was angry with the world because she wasn’t getting work.

What are these people thinking? Do they really believe they can fool an experienced producer or Creative Service Director?”

ACTORS ARE LIARS

People in our profession have a strange relationship with the truth. We get paid to pretend. Get this. The most convincing liars get the fattest paychecks, an Oscar, and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

However, true talent, trust, and integrity are the cornerstones of a successful career.

Trust must be earned.

True talent and integrity can never be faked.

Ain’t that the truth?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Dorith Hassing: Painting with Words. Communicating with Color.

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, International, Personal, Social MediaLeave a comment

Dorith Hassing

I’ve always been intrigued by people who can do things I believe I wasn’t born to do.

I suck at sports, so that’s out. My mind has trouble processing numbers, so forget math. My DIY skills are minimal, so please don’t ask me to fix your plumbing, or you might be in for a wet surprise.

Don’t feel sorry for me. I think I have other talents this world may benefit from. If all of us would be good at doing the same things, boy, would life be boring!

I will say one thing. It seems to me that in this day and age people are perfecting their ability to critique one another, while we’re gradually losing our ability to understand, appreciate and admire. What a shame!

One person I greatly value and admire is my Dutch colleague Dorith Hassing. Not only is she a successful voice talent, she’s also a very talented painter. The other day I asked her how her voice over career began. Here’s what Dorith told me:

I didn’t go to the Fine Art Academy, even though I thought I would, and for years and years I kept trying to find my place in this world. I enjoyed a very rewarding career, but it felt like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do. I wanted to be self-employed. I wanted to be creative.

I didn’t discover my vocation until the day my youngest child got a toy the parent had to record a voice for. When I learned that one could actually make a living using one’s voice, the penny dropped, and light bulbs went off in my head!

I started researching the VO business. How does it work? Who’s doing this? What skills does one need to have, and where can I learn these skills? I took some workshops with Barnier Geerling of stemacteren.nl, and for the next few years I practiced by myself: recording, listening back to the recording, recording it again. Listening to others, mimicking them, giving it my own spin.

Then there was the technical aspect. How does one record voice overs, and where? Because I decided to totally go for it, I immediately invested in professional equipment and an amazing vocal booth. After that, my career took off.

I’ve been doing this for five years now, and lately, the work has been finding me. The first years I was very busy generating work by adding myself to the roster of online casting agencies, making demos, doing auditions, responding to job offers, networking, and improving my website.

How would you describe your niche in the business? Do you specialize in certain genres, or are you a Jill of all Trades?

To most people, my voice sounds surprisingly familiar, as if they already know me. That’s why I’m a good fit for projects that need familiarity, things like explainers, or for projects that require people to trust the narrator. But I’m also good at voicing the every day stuff we all want and need. This means I can handle a wide range of work and I take every opportunity to do it. Most of my jobs are corporate in nature, like voice response systems, videos, and animated explainers. But I also love voicing commercials and instructional videos. (Click on the blue hyperlinks to see and hear samples of Dorith’s work.) More recently, I started recording audio books which is great fun!

Name a few projects you’re proud of.

My first television commercial was such a thrill, but what I liked even better was to be the voice of the Lifestyle Collection of Swiss Sense (a Dutch bedding and mattress chain). In the past couple of months I’ve worked on e-learnings for Shell, and I’m the voice of customer service at American Express Netherlands. To be honest, all jobs make me equally happy, whether they’re long or short, and whether I get a lot of exposure or no exposure at all.

Where do you find voice over jobs in the Netherlands?

I’m listed on many national and international voice casting sites. Networking has been very successful for me. A couple of years ago I went to have a drink with a few colleagues, and last month that resulted in me landing a big project. Being part of online groups and being active on LinkedIn also leads to work. It often takes one contact to get the ball rolling.

What kind of projects would you reject out of hand?

I don’t believe that my personal preferences matter when it comes to voicing projects, but I stay away from jobs where people are clearly scammed. A private investigator wanted me to record a few tapes he wanted use to bate cheaters. Trying to frame people using fake recordings isn’t my thing.

What would be your dream project?

I would love to be the signature voice of a reputable brand, and cultivate a long-term business relationship with that brand. I imagine myself helping them navigate the seasons and the ever changing world, working together to find the right tone of voice.

What do you see as your greatest obstacle preventing you from reaching that goal?

There already are so many great, established voices at the moment, which makes it challenging to be noticed by the big studios and agencies that book the big accounts. I get that, but it’s kind of tough to be a small needle in a huge haystack.

Which came first? Painting or voice overs?

As a child I spent a lot of time in my dad’s art studio. I’ve always felt I had a future in the arts, but when I came to an open house at the fine art academy, I didn’t feel at home. My teenage angst got the better of me, and I bailed out.

My lingering artistic longing has been replaced by inspiring life experiences. Voice acting set things in motion, allowing me to become more daring and in charge of my destiny. This opened up new opportunities inside of me. It made me focus on what I really wanted, and apart from painting with words, I wanted to paint with brushes! Thanks to voice overs, I started working on canvases again!

Do you see yourself having two professions, or is one more like a hobby?

Doing voice overs is my (amazing) job, and painting is part of my identity. In my ideal world I would sell a few more paintings allowing me to spend more time with my canvases, but I’d still record voice overs. Doing voice overs expands my window to the world, and I love the variety it brings. I go from pharma to automotive, from health care to commercial, and from local to international. I go from speaking to children to talking to the elderly in need, from a heartwarming bedtime story, to a very serious script. All of this inspires me to keep on painting.

Tell me more about your artistic side.

I paint using the name FacingDorith. My work revolves around beauty and emotion. With beauty I don’t mean perfection, but character, atmosphere, and originality. I paint people because they touch me deeply. Because of who they are, of what they do, and what they don’t do. I’m also endlessly fascinated by what they have to say. Meeting people leads to new insights, to rethinking, and sometimes to confusion. This whirlwind of emotions finds its way onto my canvas.

I do not feel the need to be ultra realistic. What’s important is the feeling I get regarding the person I’m painting. I want to capture their charisma, their intensity, and strength. There are some remarkable similarities between people from all over the world and their faces. It takes less than a second to feel a sense of familiarity and emotion that connects us all.

My own emotions are at the basis of my work. Not only do I want to paint the beauty of life and people’s strength, I also want to paint their fears, their losses, and their sorrows.

The darkest nights bring out the brightest stars.

I love using color. It expresses a certain feeling. Every color has its own character, but it can appear in so many nuances, and it can create an entirely different image in combination with other colors.

What’s the nicest thing someone has ever said about your work, and why were you touched by that?

When someone is really moved by my work, that’s a tremendous compliment because it affirms that what I put into it, is resonating. Some people get emotional because my work can be intense. It touches a nerve because feelings that were hidden inside, are coming out. I love that. All of us experience life in different ways, so what they are feeling is not necessarily the same as what inspired me to create the artwork. That’s never my intention.

By evoking an emotion, a connection is created. In my opinion, a work of art is never finished until it is observed by someone. The act of observation creates a message. Everyone is free to distill their own message, and that message changes depending on things like personal experiences, someone’s mood, or something simple like a different environment, or a change of light.

Do you get the same satisfaction from your voice over work?

I compare my voice over work to painting on commission versus painting spontaneously. I do work on request and that can be challenging. It’s less free, but the limitations and restrictions create a tension, a pressure, and a focus that bring out new things in me, and help me grow. That happens too, when I record voice overs.

You’re a mother of three young, energetic children. You’ve got to be there for your clients and for your kids. Does that sometimes cause friction, and how do you deal with that?

What I predominantly experience is lots of freedom. That’s because it’s easy for me to unwind and leave things as they are. It’s super busy at times, but I love working in the weekend or at night. After all: it’s me I’m doing it for. When things are slow in terms of voice overs, I grab my brushes and start painting, I go to a museum, or to the beach. I need that space to be there for my children and for myself.

My workload comes and goes, and the pressure to perform can be intense. But I also know that things will eventually calm down, so cleaning up the house can wait a little longer. When I’m busy doing voice overs I paint less, but sometimes both activities reinforce one another, and I keep on creating at night and during weekends.

What tips do you have for working moms and dads?

Here’s the thing. You’ve made the choice not to work a regular, nine to five job, so don’t put that pressure on yourself. I see no benefit in sitting behind a computer for forty hours a week. Working efficiently is different from being busy.

Take advantage of your freedom, and don’t worry about the slow times. Enjoy what you’re doing! These dry spells allow you to work on your website, to do some networking, et cetera. I get my best ideas when I’m doing something totally different, so please enjoy your freedom. By that I also mean the freedom to choose whom you want to work with. I stopped working with some clients because I was getting bad vibes. Isn’t that great? I no longer work with unpleasant or unreasonable people.

These days it’s not enough to be good at what you do. You also have to sell yourself.

To me, that’s the most challenging part of being a freelancer. As a voice over and a painter I AM selling myself. I feel vulnerable when I do that, especially when I don’t get the jobs I was in the running for. I always keep in mind: different strokes for different folks. Sometimes I just don’t fit the bill and that’s okay. I’ve learned not to take it personally. Having said that, I’m still uncomfortable presenting myself in public. I’m an introvert at heart. I register what’s going on around me, but I prefer being in the background.

What role do social media play in your professional life?

They’re really important to me. This includes my profiles on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as the online networking groups and my websites. I update them regularly, and I have noticed that people are finding me more frequently. However, I will only do things that fit me, so you won’t see me writing blogs, vlogs, or newsletters.

I see you’ve included English demos on your website. What do you think you have to offer clients outside of the Netherlands?

My voice sounds friendly, clear, and familiar – even in English. Most people find it hard to tell where I am from, which is ideal for an international market, particularly when a service or a product isn’t linked to a specific country. This subtle Northern European accent enhances the authenticity of the message.

Being both a visual artist and a voice over artist comes with a lot of uncertainty. Do you ever long for a “normal,” steady job with fringe benefits?

When the Netherlands was still in what they were calling an “intelligent lockdown,” I worked very little. At those times I thought a more permanent job would be more desirable. On the other hand, it was relatively easy to combine home schooling my kids with working on the projects that did come in. Life has taught me to trust in my abilities as well as in the power of the mind.

When I look back at the path I have taken, I am grateful for every success, big or small. I realize I can’t see the road ahead, but I know where I want to go, and I am convinced that I will get there.

Paul Strikwerda, ©nethervoice

 

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pmAugust 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

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Are You Suffering From Mic Fright?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Social Media3 Comments

Candid MicrophoneWhile listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, I discovered an interesting fact.

Before legendary producer Allen Funt created Candid Camera, he experimented with a different show based on the same premise.

It was called The Candid Microphone, and it first aired on June 28th, 1947 on ABC Radio. Funt came up with the idea while producing radio shows for the armed forces at Camp Gruber.

One of the shows he worked on was called “The Gripe Booth.” Funt asked soldiers to come into his studio and talk about things that bothered them. Here’s what he found out.

During the pre-interview, most of his guests were at ease and happy to talk. But as soon as the red light went on (indicating that the recording had started), the soldiers became extremely nervous and tongue-tied. This phenomenon is called Mic Fright, and it doesn’t make for good radio.

Luckily, Funt found a way around it. He disconnected the red light, and started recording his guests secretly. He pretended to do a practice interview during which most soldiers were… themselves. And when it was time to do the real thing, he told them he already had what he needed. It was a great gimmick to get spontaneous reactions.

Funt knew he was onto something, and when the war was over, he pitched the idea to ABC, and The Candid Microphone was born.

FEAR THE MICROPHONE

It might not surprise you to hear that Mic Fright is a very common condition. Just as some people become very self-conscious as soon as they spot a camera, you’ll find that folks who are normally very eloquent, will freeze up when you put a microphone in front of their mouth.

It’s tough to be natural in an unnatural situation, even for professional communicators.

I’ve worked in radio since I was seventeen years old, and in that time I have seen veteran-broadcasters hyperventilate, and wipe the sweat of their foreheads before they were about to go on air. The live broadcasts were the worst, because there are no retakes when you go live.

Even though I believe the public doesn’t really mind it that much when people mess up on air (who doesn’t like bloopers?), I’ve seen colleagues who were utterly devastated after they misspoke. I’ve often wondered why they would beat themselves up over something that’s entirely human, and here’s what I came up with:

Many of us want to be perceived as being perfect in public.

That’s why we select the best selfie, and use photo editing software before we post it on social media. We treat the world to the highlights of our life, and we don’t expose our darker side. We love sharing our successes, and we carefully hide our failures.

PRIVACY PROTECTION

I completely understand that, by the way. “The world” doesn’t need to know everything about us. We have to protect our privacy and our reputation. The way to do that, is to control and manipulate the message.

Cameras and microphones scare us because they create a situation we can’t predict or control (unless we call the shots). They have the power to expose the private, and make it public. That’s part of the success of a show like Candid Camera. People who don’t know they’re being filmed are much more fun to watch.

Audiences all over the world prefer spontaneous over studied. We want raw emotions instead of rehearsed responses. But there’s something we conveniently forget: in the media, there is no “reality.” At best (or at its worst -depending on your viewpoint), it is “enhanced reality.”

Allen Funt found out pretty quickly that reality in and of itself was pretty boring. That’s why he ended up putting normal people in abnormal situations to see how they would react. I’m sure it wasn’t all comedy gold, and much of the footage ended up on the editing floor.

THE VOICE-OVER STUDIO

In a way, our recording booth is part of the “enhanced reality.” It is an artificial setting that can be quite intimidating, especially to newcomers. Some of my students have admitted that they too are sometimes suffering from Mic Fright, especially during live recordings. Their perfectionism might be part of the problem. They want to do so well that they tense up, and become like the self-conscious soldiers in “The Gripe Booth.”

One of the techniques I use to relax my students, is taken straight out of Allen Funt’s book. As we prepare for the session, we go over the script a couple of times and have fun with it. Unadulterated fun.

What my students don’t know, is that everything is being recorded. In their perception, there is no microphone, there is no right or wrong, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. They’re “just” talking to me, and there is no pressure to perform.

That’s when the magic happens, because people start sounding like themselves. They’re by no means perfect, but perfection is never the goal. Perfection is a perverse illusion, anyway.

WINNING AUDITIONS

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t want people to do their best. I just don’t want them to overdo it.

One of the reasons why some people aren’t winning auditions is because they sound over rehearsed. They focus too much on the microphone, and they forget to have fun. I will often ask them to position the mic above their head, practically out of sight. That way, it doesn’t distract. It’s one of those small changes that can make a big difference.

Sometimes I go bit further.

A few weeks ago, I asked one of my students to print out a life-size picture of a human ear, and tape it to her microphone.

“Why should I do that?” she asked puzzled.

“To remind you that you’re always talking to a person,” I said. “Not to a mic. It might look a bit eerie (pun intended), but you’ll get used to it. I promise.”

Soon after my request she said her Mic Fright was practically gone, and when I listened to one of her auditions, she sounded so much better!

Yes, I know. I’m a genius.

To celebrate the achievement, I proposed to take a picture of her in the booth. “It has to be spontaneous,” I said. “So, I’m not going to tell you when I’m taking it.”

Even though she knew it was coming, my snapshot took her by surprise.

“Smile,” I joked.

“You’re on Candid Camera!”

Paul Strikwerda, ©nethervoice

 

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pmAugust 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

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