voiceover blog

Wanted: Colleagues with Cojones

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

It's better to be a lion for a day than a sheep for all your lifeColleagues, where is your courage?

Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with a bunch of wimps.

Wimps who cave in without a fight and who compromise their integrity for money.

Last week I wrote about a recent European Directive to combat late-paying clients. New, stringent rules have changed the game in favor of small and mid-size companies. No longer are we at the mercy of businesses and government institutions that made us wait forever to get our money.

Now, any Europe-based entrepreneur can charge interest if a bill isn’t paid on time (usually within 30 days), and add at least €40 (about 54 USD) to cover the cost of debt collection, should it come to that. There’s no legal obligation to send a late-paying client a reminder. It is expected that an invoice gets paid when it is due.

If this were to happen in the U.S. where I live and work, I would jump for joy. Every year, thousands of businesses go bankrupt. Not because their product or service stinks, but because they’re waiting to get paid. This new Euro-legislation aims to make that a thing of the past. Isn’t that a cause for celebration?

Apparently not.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

Some colleagues greeted the new rules with fear, disbelief and skepticism. One freelancer wrote to me:

“Those regulations are nice in theory, but I wouldn’t dare go after one of my biggest clients. It usually takes them 100+ days to pay me and I hate that. So, why do I put up with it? Because if I were to get tough on them, they’d hire someone else in a heartbeat.”

I asked him:

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Europe Cracks Down on Late Payments

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Money Matters 11 Comments

Not getting paid on time.

It’s a global problem.

If you’re working in Europe or you have European clients, stay with me.

What you’re about to learn is important because the rules have changed. Before I tell you about new regulations that are in place to protect you, consider this.

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Recording Voice Overs on your iPhone

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 22 Comments

Name the number one electronic gadget you can’t live without.

To me this is a no-brainer. It’s my iPhone 5.

It goes wherever I go.

Thanks to audio editor Twisted Wave (one of MacLife’s 29 Web Apps We Can’t Live Without), it’s also my portable recording studio.

The iPhone 5 comes with three microphones. One in the front, one on the back around the camera area, and one on the bottom. Having three mics improves the sound quality of phone calls, Skype sessions, and FaceTime. However, using those microphones for voice-over recordings is not such a good idea. Here’s why.

1. The iOS has automatic gain control, regulating your input signal. To make sure the audio from the built-in microphones doesn’t distort, the gain for the mic preamp is set very low. As a VO-pro, you want to be able to control the gain yourself for the best signal-to-noise ratio.

2. Apple automatically applies a High Pass audio filter that only lets frequencies over a certain threshold get by. The frequency of the data in your voice is compressed around the mid-range and it lacks bass. This ensures that your plosives won’t pop during a call, and it makes calls more intelligible. It also means your voice will sound thinner and not as rich.

3. As each of the three microphones picks up the sound coming from its respective direction, an internal processor analyzes the sound data, loaded with the location and type algorithm of the mics, and processes the sound, in part to eliminate background noises. Again: all this processing is great for making phone calls, but it’s not ideal for recording unsweetened voice-overs.

Here’s a quick tip from Thomas Thiriez, the developer of Twisted Wave: 

By default, Twisted Wave does not bypass the iOS processing, but if you go to the preferences in TW (tap the button in the lower right hand corner of the document list), you will have the option to disable it.

EXTERNAL MICROPHONES

Of course there are a number of external microphones on the market that can be plugged into an iPhone, such as the RØDE iXY and the TASCAM iM2X. Both are for stereo recording and are made for the old 30-pin dock connector that was replaced by the Lightning connector. In order to use these mics on the iPhone 5, you’d need a Lightning to 30-pin adapter.

The original Apogee MiC (introduced in 2011) also needs such an adapter if you own an iPhone 5, and it can also be connected to a Mac device via USB. The MiC is a compact condenser featuring 24-bit analog-to-digital conversion at 44.1/48kHz. It resembles a studio microphone and comes with adjustable gain control. Reviewing the Apogee MiC for Macworld, Christopher Breen said:

Where I found MiC lacking was with voice—specifically a speaking voice. It produces very clean results, but it lacks bottom end. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get a baritone-FM-DJ timbre out of this microphone. When I moved within a few inches of the mic’s capsule the mic rumbled, even with the gain turned down, and plosives because a problem. 

When I backed off and turned up the gain, the mic’s sound was bright, but didn’t pick up my voice’s more sonorous tones. If you’re accustomed to “working” a mic by changing the distance between it and your mouth you’ll find it difficult to do with this microphone.

I don’t agree with Breen. I have enthusiastically adopted the MiC as my favorite iOS voice-over travel solution

At the beginning of 2013, Apogee came out with the MiC 96k. It is optimized for the latest Apple iOS devices, including the ability to record in pristine fidelity – up to 24-bit/96kHz. It has a direct connection with Lightning or 30-pin iOS devices such as the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, as well as a USB connection to Mac.

This year, Zoom came out with the iQ5, a stereo microphone with a Lightning connector that works in conjunction with iOS applications. The iQ5 (currently unavailable) captures uncompressed 16-bit 44.1 kHz audio (the RØDE iXY offers up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution).

the MicW iShotgunDid you know that there’s even a shotgun mic for smartphones, tablets and DSLR camera’s? It’s the MicW iShotgun microphone and it comes with a windscreen, a shoe mount and a mini boom pole. Reviewers agree that it works quite well, but that this sensitive mic is rather susceptible to handling noise.

USING YOUR OWN MIC

What if you could simply connect your own studio condenser or dynamic microphone to your iPhone and use your favorite recording software to capture the audio? That’s the idea behind the MicConnect made by Griffin Technology. It’s a small, portable microphone interface that uses a 1/8 inch (3.5 mm) jack to plug into your phone’s headphone jack (or iPad).

Griffin MicConnectWhen needed, two AA batteries will supply +48V phantom power. On the side of the MicConnect you’ll find a gain adjustment wheel and there’s also a headphone output for monitoring. Griffin was kind enough to send me a MicConnect for review. Before I let you listen to a sample recorded with this device, here’s what I sound like using only the iPhone 5 internal microphones:

 

It’s probably best if you listen to these recordings on your headphones. Now, let’s compare what we just heard to the recording I made with the Griffin MicConnect. The WAV 16 bits, 48,000 Hz audio was converted to MP3. 

 

iRig PREThe iRig PRE is very similar to the MicConnect. Both devices allow you to plug any type of XLR microphone into an iPhone or an iPad using the headphone jack. There are differences.

The MicConnect is only compatible with Apple devices. The iRig PRE interface also works with many Android devices. iRig PRE owners can download a free audio recorder & editor, as well as VocaLive Free, a live vocal effects processor.

And now it’s time to listen to the iRig PRE. 

 

I don’t know about you, but I think we have a clear winner. Let’s do a short recap so you can really hear the difference:

 

CHECKING IN

After testing the Griffin MicConnect, I contacted their technical department and asked them about the high level of noise. The microphone I’m using for these recordings has a self-noise level of only 7dB(A) so it couldn’t be the cause. Had they perhaps shipped me a defective device, or was this normal? Griffin told me they were inclined to think that the unit itself was not defective and that the noise I experienced was “to be expected.” Griffin’s Public Relations Director wrote:

The collective feedback that I heard from our engineers was that while they strove to make a high quality interface connection, the $39.99 price point just doesn’t match up with some of the $1K and more microphones. The expected usage scenarios were more in line with recording a garage band, practicing at home, or capturing ideas on the road. We’ve also heard from podcasters that found it quite useful for recording podcast audio.

Speaking of audio quality, it’s important to remember that both the MicConnect and the iRig PRE use an old-fashioned analog TRRS connection to connect to the iPhone and/or Android. It would be unfair to expect too much from these affordable devices. The 30-pin dock connector and the 8-pin Lightning connector carry digital signals. 

iRig PRECONCLUSION

It speaks for itself that a soundproof studio with high-end equipment is the best place to record pristine audio. But on the road, the best solution is the one that you carry with you. 

Although the MicConnect and the iRig PRE have similar features, the iRig PRE clearly beats the MicConnect in terms of audio quality. It  comes with a Velcro strip to secure the device, as well as two free apps. Best of all, it can be used for Apple and Android devices.

Would I use it for anything other than a quick audition?

No way!

I’ll stick to the Apogee MiC.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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When A Client Owes You

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 17 Comments

DSC05783Imagine walking into a fancy restaurant.

You like what you see on the menu and you order a three-course meal plus a bottle of Bordeaux. After a short wait, the food arrives, meticulously prepared by an expert chef. The meal is delicious. The wine is divine.

When it’s time to pay, you tell the waiter:

“I’d be happy to take care of the bill, but I’m afraid I can’t do that right now.”

“What seems to be the problem?” the server asks. Your response:

“Well, I’m a little low on cash right now. I’m waiting for someone to send me a check. Once that money is in my account, I can pay you. That could take a few weeks or even a month. I’m sure you understand the position I’m in. I promise you’ll get your money. Just not today.”

It’s an absurd scenario, but if you’re a freelancer it’s not uncommon. According to the Freelancers Union,

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Voice-Over Dandy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Studio 13 Comments


Actors are a weird bunch, voice actors included.

We all have our silly little routines and rituals on stage and in the studio.

A Dutch actor I once interviewed had to sweep the entire stage before the show. He said he wanted to get to know every square inch. His colleague always wore the same pair of striped socks for a premiere; socks his mother had given him some twenty years ago.

A famous actress wouldn’t start a performance without a waft of her favorite Eau de Toilette: “Je Reviens.” One night she lost the bottle and her assistant had to go on a wild-goose chase to find a new one. The Diva kept the whole theater waiting for over an hour until the fragrance was found.

STRANGE BEHAVIOR

These silly, idiosyncratic rituals don’t make any sense to you and me. To those who are displaying these behaviors they make all the difference. What they have in common is this. It’s outward behavior that’s meant to change someone’s inner state.

For some it’s a way to get centered and calm the nerves. For others it comes close to superstition.

I’m pretty sure that, as you’re reading this, you might ask yourself: “What is it that I do before I step up to the mic?” I bet you anything that you’re not even aware of what you’re doing because it’s become second nature.

My personal rituals are very practical and they start before I’ve even set a step into my studio. Pretty much all of them have to do with self-care. I suppose I could leave a couple of them out, but somehow I wouldn’t feel the same. To me it would feel like leaving the house half-dressed.

So here’s what needs to happen in my world.

PERSONAL ROUTINE

I won’t start recording until I have brushed my teeth. Guaranteed. I want this fresh feeling in my mouth before I taste the words I’m about to speak. This is not optional. It must happen. Of course this doesn’t qualify as eccentric behavior. We all brush our teeth after breakfast, right? But hang in there. Here’s where it gets odd.

When I have finished one project and I’m about to move to another, I go back and brush my teeth again. It is as if I need to rinse my mouth of the previous experience before I can move on. On any given day, I can repeat this a number of times. This makes my dentist very happy (as long as I brush gently with a soft brush). It also gives me a very clean sound.

I will often use a tongue scraper too. It’s a cleaner meant to clear the surface of the tongue of bacterial build-up, food debris and dead cells. I’ve discovered that after using this device, my mouth noises are drastically reduced. You should give it a try.

Warning: if you’re using the scraper for the first time, you’ll be surprised how much gunk has been living on your tongue for all these years. It’s kind of gross. This thing does have nice side-effects. Using a tongue scraper gives you better breath and you’ll taste flavors more intensely.

MOISTURIZATION

Another thing I must do before I go down to my studio, is moisturize my face. Not only is it soothing, it loosens up the skin, helping my facial muscles relax and bend into different shapes as I enunciate the words I’m recording. For that reason I also have to apply and reapply generous quantities of lip balm.

Dry lips and a dry mouth are a major source of those annoying mouth noises. If my mouth feels particularly dry, I’ll use some moisturizing mouth spray which contains the same protein-enzymes found in saliva. I also make sure to breathe through my nose. Mouth breathing may even cause something called laryngitis sicca, where the tissues of the larynx become very dry.

Frequent hydration is also part of my studio ritual. I like to add a slice of lime to my filtered water, which I always drink at room temperature. Cold water can shock the vocal cords. Not a good idea.

ANNOYING ALLERGIES

I live in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, one of the worst areas of the United States when it comes to allergies. Reluctantly, taking care of sniffles, sneezes and congested nasal passages has become part of my routine too.

I’ll often take an over-the-counter medication such as fexofenadine in the morning. Throughout the day I’ll use a gentle saline spray or a Neti Pot to relieve sinus problems. Lately, I’ve added a homeopathic inhaler with a hint of menthol.

Allergies can also affect the vocal folds. There’s even such a thing as allergic laryngitis. Symptoms include hoarseness, itchy throat, excess phlegm or mucous in the throat, a feeling of dry throat, coughing and sneezing.

Again, hydration is essential in the treatment of allergic laryngitis. The water lubricates the vocal folds and it thins the mucous.

A DUTCH TREAT 

If my throat simply hurts after a recording session, I’ll often turn to one of my favorite home remedies: Dutch licorice or licorice syrup. Dutch black licorice comes in many shapes, flavors and sizes and it’s definitely an acquired taste. If you’re up for it, get the real thing (not the licorice-flavored candy) and make sure you eat it in moderation.

If licorice is not your thing, try a cup of organic tea, such as the Throat Coat blend. It contains licorice as well as slippery elm .  

Less eccentric than eating black and often salty licorice, is a habit that’s more preventative. It’s part of my preparation for voice-over work, and that’s why I want to mention it.

Over the years I have learned to avoid places with loud music and loud crowds; places that would force me to shout if I wanted to have a “normal” conversation. That type of vocal abuse can -if repeated frequently- result in scar tissue formation within the vocal folds, thickening of the vocal folds and vocal fold lesions.

THE DUTCH DANDY

So, if you were to walk into my studio today, you would notice a whole lineup of self-care products, sprays and black candy, fit for a Dandy. Taking good care of my face, throat and voice has become quite the routine. Some may think I’m overly protective, but to me there is no such thing. My voice is my bread and butter and I’ll do everything to treat it with love and respect.

I’m still not sure how this whole brushing my teeth-thing started, because there’s obviously more to it than dental hygiene. Having to go up to do it gives me a welcome break. Instead of sitting down staring at a screen all day long, I’m forced to climb the stairs and clear my mind. It may be weird, but it works for me. And that’s what all these eccentric behaviors have in common.

They’re weird and at the same time wonderful.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… it’s time for my facial, followed by a nice manicure.

I wonder which one of my silk bow ties I will wear today.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: zilverbat. via photopin cc

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Good enough is never good enough

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 22 Comments

Dear voice casting agencies,

You are being deceived!

People pretending to be professionals have infiltrated your talent pool. People who can barely swim. It’s happening on your watch and you probably have no idea what the heck is going on.

Why?

Because you don’t know or you don’t care.

You’re too busy trying to make a buck in this competitive market, and you have no time or money for decent quality control. Or you are aware that you’re accepting and advertising third-rate “talent,” but this is simply a reflection of your standards.

AVERAGE HAS BECOME ACCEPTABLE

Let’s talk about those standards for a moment.

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Failure is Always an Option

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 10 Comments

A few years ago, entrepreneur and New York Times contributor Jay Goltz asked owners of failed small businesses what had gone wrong.

Guess what?

Most of them didn’t really have a clue.

To a certain extent that’s not surprising. Had they known what the problem was, they might have been able to fix it.

Some owners were in denial. Instead of acknowledging their own responsibility, they blamed the economy, the current administration, the bank or an idiot partner. Never themselves.

In many cases, Goltz noted that (ex) customers had a much better understanding of what went wrong. The owner still had his stubborn head in the sand.

Over the years, I’ve counseled quite a few struggling voice-overs who were ready to give up. Without exception they were sweet, well-intentioned and hard-working people. Some of them were even talented. And like the folks Goltz interviewed, they were wondering why their new career was going down the drain.

TAKE LARRY

Larry called himself a victim of the recession.

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That Dreaded Audition

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 13 Comments

“Do you ever get nervous before an audition?” a colleague wanted to know. Let’s name him Jack.

“Not really,” I said. “I find nerves to be extremely unhelpful. Most of the time they’re the result of future memories.

“Future memories? What do you mean by that?” my colleague wanted to know.

“Well, in my mind, a memory is a reconstruction of an interpretation of what we think has happened to us in the past.

A future memory is something we’ve made up that we believe might happen one day. It’s equally unreliable, and yet people can get all worked up over them. Especially those who are into worst-case-scenario thinking. Nobody can say with certainty what’s going to happen. Take it from me, there’s nothing as unpredictable as the outcome of an audition.”

“Why is that?” asked Jack.

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A Poor Man’s Vocal Booth?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Studio 13 Comments

Sometimes I come across a certain product and wonder:

It looks promising, but is it any good?

The CAD Audio Acousti-Shield 32 is one of those things.

Designed to “substantially reduce unwanted reflections, echo flutter and environmental unwanted acoustic interference,” does it deliver as promised?

Could it be the poor man’s vocal booth, or is it a waste of space, and money?

SOUNDPROOFING

Before I tell you what I think, let’s briefly discuss the whole concept of soundproofing and room treatment. As I wrote in my booklet Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget:

“In this noisy world, soundproofing has become big business. I just Googled the word and got almost two million results. Buyer beware, because the same search will take you into the realm of grotesque claims and pseudo-scientific truths:

“These Soundproof windows will totally eliminate your noise problems.”

“This soundproof foam absorbs up to 66% of sound waves.”

“Our soundproof curtains offer the highest STC performance.”

Do the makers of these products assume we’re that stupid? Think about it for a moment. What does “soundproof” really mean? Most dictionaries describe it as:

impervious to, or not penetrable by sound

Going by the aforementioned claims one could argue that the minds of the makers of these products seem impervious to, or not penetrable by logic. Then again, advertising is all about making noise and not about offering sound proof.”

Gluing some acoustic panels to your wall or on to a “shield” will do nothing to block outside noise from coming in. Auralex foam and its many clones will change the characteristic of the sound inside your recording space, diminishing reflection and reverberation. It absorbs the sound but it does not reduce it.

Yet, CAD claims that their shield can substantially reduce “environmental unwanted acoustic interference.” What does that mean? Would this shield be able to diminish ambient noise? Why not find out? For the test, I purposely chose one of the worst acoustic locations in my house: my basement.

TESTING

Let’s say you want to use your laptop for a quick recording and you place your microphone in the same room. Before you know it, the computer fan kicks in and starts making noise. Could CAD’s Acousti-Shield magically neutralize the noise? 

I’ll let you listen to the same script twice. You might want to put your headphones on. First you’ll hear my voice without the shield in place. The second time I read the script, the Acousti-Shield cradles the microphone. Just notice if this device is able to get rid of the noise the laptop fan makes.

 

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? It confirmed my suspicion. The shield does very little to keep unwanted noise out of the recording. As expected, this thing is no substitute for a properly isolated room. But will it deliver on the second promise? Could it make a room sound more dry? 

Before I play the second soundbite, you should know that I recorded the audio with an AKG C 3000 B microphone, plugged into a Grace Design m101 preamplifier. The 16 bit, 48,000 Hz WAVE recording was converted to MP3 format for this blog.

For the next track I removed the laptop from the room. Once again, you’ll first hear me without the shield. Then I’ll read the same text with the Acousti-Shield 32 in place.

 

Did you hear a significant difference? A difference worth over one hundred dollars? To be honest with you, I was disappointed. The room didn’t sound dry to me at all. How could a company with such a good reputation bring such a poor product to market? It just didn’t make sense.

WRONG APPROACH 

The next day I woke up with an idea. What if the product wasn’t the problem? Perhaps I was not using it properly.

I went on a few online forums to find out what others thought of the Acousti-Shield, and I found my answer. The recordings you just heard were made at 9 inches from the microphone. What would happen if I would come closer? 

Once again you’ll hear me read the script twice. First I’ll read it at 5 inches from the mic. Then I’ll add the shield, and keep the same distance.

 

Now, this is more like it! Distance makes a huge difference.

Thanks to a clever design, you can also move the microphone closer or further away from the 53mm high density micro cell foam. This obviously changes the acoustic result.

The question remains, would I recommend using such a shield for voice-over recordings? Let’s first look at the positives.

PROS and CONS

The Acousti-Shield 32 is well-made and easy to assemble. For its size it is very light, and unless you have a cheap mic stand on which to mount it, it won’t tip over. Compared to a product like Harlan Hogan’s Porta-Booth Plus, it is affordable. As long as you stay close to the mic, it manages to tame unwanted reflections.

Here’s what I like less. CAD’s Acousti-Shield is not a unique product. sE Electronics was one of the first companies to come out with such a solution. They called it the Reflexion Filter X. Although I haven’t tested it, it looks very similar, and it is cheaper too.

Unlike Harlan’s porta-booths, the CAD shield isn’t very compact. It’s meant for the studio, not for the road. Even though the shield accommodates a variety of microphones, a popular voice-over shotgun such as the Sennheiser MKH 416 does not fit.

Here’s the big one: where to put the voice-over script? 

I’m usually reading my copy from the monitor in front of me. The CAD shield would block my field of vision. Even if I were to read it from a tablet or smart phone, there is no place to put them as long as the shield is mounted on a mic stand.

In the end I came up with a simple solution. I put the shield on a flat surface that was resting on an old loudspeaker stand. With the microphone on a table stand, there was room for my Nook or iPhone. 

EXPECTATIONS

So, is this shield a good investment?

In the end it’s all about expectations. If you get the Acousti-Shield 32 because you need a portable studio, you’re not going to be happy. If you need something to keep ambient noise out of your recordings, this is useless. 

However, if you cannot acoustically treat the room you’re in, and you’d like your recordings to sound more dry, this is an affordable solution, as long as you know how to use it. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS CAD Audio kindly donated an evaluation model to the author of this blog. Though very much appreciated, this did not influence his opinion.

PS Read more on taming unwanted reflections in “Get the boom out of the room.”

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Leaving Voices.com

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Pay-to-Play 39 Comments

Breaking up is never easy. That’s what the song says.

In my case, it was a long time in the making and I didn’t shed a single tear.

Yes, she tried to win me back, but I was determined. Our relationship had run its course. It was time for me to move on.

Let me explain.

HIGH HOPES

2009 was the year I joined voices.com. I was naive. I was excited. I was determined to make it as a voice-over. “Voices” seemed to be the perfect place to hang out my shingle and conquer the world.

Today, I have a five-star rating, 5445 listens (more than any other Dutch talent), and I have landed a total of… (are you ready?) TEN jobs, earning me a whopping $2,740.89. God only knows how many auditions I have had to submit before being selected.

This can only mean one of two things. Either,

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