voiceovers

The ideal voice-over mic you’ve never heard of

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 54 Comments

Talking about microphones is like writing about food.

No matter how elegant and eloquent your prose may be, the proof and the pleasure is always in the eating (or in our case, the listening).

Not so long ago, a group of Dutch voice-over pros got together for a shootout. They had been writing about mics for months. Now it was time to let the technology to do the talking. The goal was not so much to pick a winner, but to get a chance to contrast and compare.

For that purpose they threw about thirty mics into the mix, from shotguns to tube condensers. Among the mics they tried were the Brauner Phanthera, an Audio Technica AT4033, the Neumann M147, TLM103 and U87, the Sennheiser MKH-416, a Røde NTG3, a Telefunken U47 and an Electro-Voice RE27.

Then there was this very odd-looking mic from the United States, an E100S designed by Conneaut Audio Devices or CAD. Very few people in the room had even heard of the brand, let alone seen such a microphone. But when the day was over, several voice actors ended up ordering one. By the end of this review you’ll know why.

Its reputation had preceded itself. Prior to the shootout, this rectangular shaped CAD had beaten out the venerable Neumann U87 – regarded by many to be the ultimate voice-over microphone – in a blind test. Not bad for a mic you can often buy for around $400!

ROBUST & RECTANGULAR

The CAD Equitek E100S as it’s officially called, is a side-address, large-diaphragm FET condenser with a nickel-plated 1 inch capsule, an 80 Hz hi-pass filter and a 10 dB pad. It has a fixed supercardioid polar pattern and the lowest self-noise rating of pretty much any mic: 3.7 dBA (measured with the capsule swapped for a fixed capacitor, known as the “capacitor substitution” method).

Coming in at 0.61kg (22 oz) it’s not exactly light. Made in the USA, this microphone is built like a tank and it feels solid but smooth thanks to a rubbery coating. It arrives in a nice cherry wood box, already resting in a specially designed ’stealth’ integral shock mount. You’ll find the XLR output at the back of the microphone.

Strong rubber bands tie the microphone to its snug-fitting shock mount. This mount works well, but it’s a pain in the neck to remove in order to place the mic in my Rycote InVision™ shock mount. Most people would only take the mic from its mount to replace the rubber bands, so it’s no big deal.

In my recent review of the Gefell M930 Ts, I came up with eight criteria for an ideal voice-over microphone:

  • minimal voice coloration
  • tight pick-up pattern (cardioid or supercardioid)
  • excellent rear rejection
  • controlled proximity effect (bass boost)
  • low susceptibility to sibilance (shrill “S”-sounds) and popping
  • low self-noise
  • high-pass filter to cut out lower frequencies
  • rugged design, ready for the road

Now look at the specs for this CAD. Based on my preferences, it comes very close to being perfect – on paper, that is. It is often advertised and reviewed as a versatile, all-purpose mic, so I wondered how well it would work for voice alone.

To find out, I hooked it up to my new Grace Design m101 preamplifier and started talking. After all, that’s what I do for a living.

The following samples were recorded in 24-bit, 41,00 kHz WAV format and converted to MP3.

 

 

 

 

Following is a longer sample, a poem called Memory of Holland by Hendrik Marsman, translation by Paul Vincent.

 

LIKE A LASER

click to enlarge

Because of its tight pickup pattern, this is not a microphone for those who like to wobble and wiggle. If close miking is your thing, this CAD is king. Once you have found the sweet spot and you stay there, the mic will hear you loud and clear.

It zooms in on your voice like a laser beam, with the accuracy and clarity of a shotgun. Although sonically different, this makes the E100S a serious alternative to the popular Sennheiser MKH-416, which costs more than twice as much.

Let’s talk about your recording space for a moment. Soundproofing a studio or improvised booth can set you back thousands of dollars. If that’s out of your range, the next best thing is to find a mic that’s not so sensitive to ambient noise. That’s another reason why this CAD makes an excellent voice-over investment.

Off-axis sound spills are kept to a minimum, and yet this mic never sounds one-dimensional. Like a fine Bordeaux, it has a nice open and full body to it.

By engaging the high-pass filter, you can also minimize low-frequency rumble from boilers, pumps, planes, trains and trucks. In other words, under less than ideal recording situations, the E100S can save the day.

Sometimes, outside noise is not the problem. Every microphone produces electrical noise, known as equivalent or intrinsic noise. It can be utterly annoying. As a narrator, I don’t want my softer reads to drown in microphone hiss. Of course noise reduction software can come to the rescue, but with this CAD you’re not going to need it.

This is hands-down the quietest mic I have ever laid ears on.

Most supercardioids suffer from a more pronounced proximity effect, and with a wide open grille, this mic is no exception. You will also need a pop filter to take care of plosives and mouth moisture.

CONCLUSION

Like most reviewers, I do my very best to find fault with the products I’m evaluating. In that respect, this CAD gave me a hard time. There is one thing I struggle to understand, though.

In my opinion, the E100S has all the characteristics to become a voice-over’s secret weapon. Why then, is this microphone a virtual unknown in my line of work? Why do colleagues drool over Sennheisers and Neumanns, calling them “the industry standard,” while ignoring the silent quality of CAD craftsmanship from Ohio?

After reading every review ever written about this CAD and testing it for months, it finally dawned upon me. The E100S has one thing that’s both a strength and a weakness:

This microphone is an everyman’s friend.

It can handle sounds as loud as the engine of an airplane and as soft as a woman’s whisper. It loves strings just as much as percussion. Whether it’s used to record the subtleties of Baroque music or the unrelenting power of Punk Rock, this uncompromising CAD can capture it all.

In terms of marketing, the more universal the product, the harder it is to come up with a unique selling proposition. Not everyone looking for a voice-over mic will find the label “all-purpose microphone” very appealing.

Secondly, because this E100S is relatively affordable, it’s easy to equate low price with low quality. Perhaps my colleagues would take this mic more seriously if CAD would double the price.

Before that happens, I recommend you seriously consider this amazing American microphone.

photo: Willem van den Top

After testing many makes and models, one of Holland’s most respected and experienced voice artists summarized it perfectly:

“The E100S is incredibly versatile. If I could only keep one mic in my locker, this one would be at the top of my list. I would gladly part with microphones costing more than eight thousand Euros in order to keep the CAD.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

This article was previously published in recordinghacks.com, the ultimate online microphone database. Click here for a review of the Studiobricks ONE, an innovative, portable isolation booth especially designed for voice talent. Mike Bratton has the first one in the US.

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My $10,000 mistake

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters, Promotion 32 Comments

I was in a rush. I wasn’t thinking.

And it almost cost me ten thousand dollars.

The lesson I learned that day has been one of the cornerstones of my success as a voice talent. Before I share that lesson with you, let me ask you this:

Have you heard of the Calimero complex?

It is named after an Italian/Japanese cartoon character named Calimero, and many freelancers seem to suffer from it.

Calimero is the only black chick in a family of yellow chickens, and he still wears half of his eggshell on his head. It is as if he never really made it out of the nest.

Calimero is the archetypical underdog. He often gets in trouble and believes the whole world is out to get him. When the show reaches a dramatic climax, Calimero usually utters the following catch phrase:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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Mastering the Media

by Paul Strikwerda in Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion Comments Off on Mastering the Media

In the first installment of this mini media training, I wrote about what piques the interest of the press. We talked about the fact that landing an interview is not a goal in and of itself, but a means to an end. Then we discussed the importance of crafting a core message.

Part 2 was all about dealing with journalists and how to handle tricky questions. At this point you might think you’re ready for reporters who will happily hold your feet to the fire.

Not so fast. You might get burned!

First, let me ask you this:

Should you always say YES to every interview request?

Most people are flattered when the media shows interest. Why waste a good opportunity to generate some publicity, right? Well, that remains to be seen.

Compare an interview request to a job offer. Would you take any offer that comes your way, before even knowing what it’s about and whether or not you can handle it? I certainly hope not. In this phase, you need to be the one asking the questions. It shows you’re a pro.

Here’s what you minimally need to know and why:

How did they hear about you?

This should give you an idea of why they want to talk to you in the first place. Secondly, it tells you something about the effectiveness of your media campaign. Did they get your press release? Were they following you on Twitter? Have they read your blog? Did someone recommend you?

Is the interview for radio or television? Will it appear online or in print?

A different medium requires a different strategy and preparation.

We live in the age of the iPad and enriched, mixed media. Just because they’re booking you for a radio program, doesn’t mean you won’t be on television. Some stations broadcast their radio shows live on TV during the day. Newspapers have online editions that feature video.

Find out beforehand what the deal is. You don’t want to be dressed for comfort in a sloppy T-shirt and an old pair of jeans when a photographer shows up for a glamour shoot you forgot to ask about.

Which network, program, show, website, paper or magazine?

If you know the outlet, do you wish to be associated with it? Does the network or magazine have a particular political or religious affiliation? Are you comfortable with that? Are you hoping to reach a new audience? Are you ready to defend your views?

A lawyer appeared on what he thought would be a show about the legal aspects of divorce. He ended up being grilled by a minister-turned-radio host about why he was “helping the devil break up marriages.”

A freelance writer was invited to talk about her novel featuring two gay characters. Ninety percent of the questions were about her personal life and views on same sex marriage. She left the studio saying: “I wish I had known. Why didn’t anybody tell me this wasn’t going to be about my book?”

Which segment of the program/show or which section in the paper will you appear in?

A professional photographer had just opened a new studio in town. A reporter stopped by and asked a few questions. To his dismay, the photographer found his interview under the “Hobby” section of the local paper.

A voice-over talent gave an interview about his work and discovered his story in the business section under the heading: “Ten easy ways to make money in a bad economy.”

If you’ve never heard of the show, site or paper that has requested an interview, ask for a detailed description and do your own research.

It’s simple: watch the show, read the paper and visit the website to see what you’re getting yourself into. Good journalists do their homework, so why shouldn’t you?

Don’t complain afterwards that you didn’t know what was waiting for you. Nobody will ever force you to say “yes” to an interview (unless it’s in your contract).

Ask about the audience/readers and its reach: numbers, demographics and distribution.

Being interviewed often means walking a fine line between explaining something in terms most people will understand, without treating them like toddlers. There’s no need to dumb your story down, but you don’t want to go over people’s heads either.

I’m sure you’ve seen experts that seem to live in their own little bubble, totally unaware of the fact that the rest of the world has no clue what they’re talking about. They’re using jargon without realizing it is jargon, or abbreviations no one’s ever heard of.

For my non-voice-over friends, what do you think the following means:

“As I was hooking my shotgun up to my pre, I noticed that I shouldn’t speak off-axis because of the tight pick-up pattern this Sennheiser has. One of my SaVoA friends had warned me about it.”

I beg your pardon?

Can you speak English please?

Now, had this been an interview for a voice-over in crowd, you’d probably get away with it, although too many people still don’t know what SaVoA stands for. As for the rest of the world… you would have lost your listeners in the first five seconds and they’re already surfing for a better channel.

The key is to avoid technical language and to customize your content. If you do that, the audience will get the feeling that you’re talking directly to them (which is what you should be doing anyway). It’s a way to create rapport.

The following question is an interviewer’s favorite:

“Can you give me an example?”

This is a perfect opportunity to customize your content because you can pick something your audience can relate to.

Let’s assume you design websites and you’d love to get some more clients. The answer to the question: “So, what kinds of websites have you designed?” depends on your audience.

If you’re doing a show about business, you’ll highlight your corporate sites. If the audience is more artsy, you’ll pick sites you’ve designed for various artists.

Is the interview taped or live?

If you’re not familiar with differences in format, you might say: “It shouldn’t really matter. My story is my story.”

Those who have experienced the stress of a live radio or television broadcast know otherwise.

Personally, I love live. It’s a very different energy. People are on the edge of their seats, creating carefully orchestrated spontaneity. Time is always ticking. Every minute needs to be accounted for.

“We have 19 seconds till the end of the commercial break. Everybody stand by. We’re live in three, two, one….”

Live is exciting. Live can be stressful. What if you mess up? Forget retakes!

Some people believe you have less control when you’re going live. I disagree. Why? Because live cannot be edited.

When you’re on, you’re on, and you can take charge of the airwaves. If you don’t like where the interview is going, build a bridge (see part 2) and get to your core message as soon as you can.

Every minute you spend on what you want to say, means less time for what the interviewer wants to hear (unless you’re on the same page). At some point he’ll run out of time. The shorter the interview, the more important this becomes.

Compare this to the long, prerecorded interview. If your Grand Inquisitor thinks you’re not giving him a straight answer, he’ll simply go back to the question until you’ve answered it to his satisfaction. If he doesn’t like what he hears, he can cut it or shorten it, citing editorial freedom. He can summarize your position in his words, not yours.

Here’s the flip side of that coin. Because you’re not live, you can stop the tape at any time. If you don’t like the answer you’ve just given, you can start over. Do you need to look up some info? Go ahead.

As a reporter, I often had to ask people to pick it up from the start because they had given me a lengthy answer and I only had time for a soundbite.

If you’re new at this, see if you can do your first interviews semi-live. Just go for it it as if you’re on the air, even though it’s prerecorded. It’s good practice. If you manage to do everything in one take, you’re done. If you happen to get stuck, you just pick it up from there.

How long is the actual interview? How much air time do I get?

These are two very different things. Just because you have been recording for an hour, doesn’t mean you’ll be on the air for an hour. I hate to say it, but most people aren’t that interesting and most interviewers aren’t that good. On top of that, most of us are not interested in listening to the same person go on and on and on for sixty minutes.

We’ve been conditioned to the never-ending interruption of the commercial break. Attention spans are getting shorter. We have too much to do and not enough time. I’m surprised you’re still reading this!

If the magic doesn’t happen in the first sixty seconds, we move on, unless what we read, see or hear really speaks to us.

If you have trouble getting to the point in real life, you’ll be in trouble during an interview when the pressure’s on. Don’t worry. These things can be fixed. That’s why media trainers make a very decent living.

So, find out how much time you have to get your message across and prepare for your interview using the accordion model. An accordion expands and contracts. Think of what you want to talk about as an accordion.

If you have less time, you use the short version, but always be ready to expand. Let’s say you expect to be on air for five minutes. What if the next guest gets stuck in traffic and can’t make it to the studio? All of a sudden you’ve doubled your time. Make sure you don’t run out of material!

Unfortunately, the opposite is true too. You were promised a four-minute segment and then some breaking news cuts your time in half. In that case you better be ready to cut to the chase!

By the way, don’t ever trust your sense of timing. In my media trainings I always give my students thirty seconds to introduce themselves and mention one interesting fact we should know about them. Their intro is timed. Some people go on for three minutes before I cut them off and then they tell me: “Wow… that was really thirty seconds? It went by so fast!”

What are your questions?

I saved the most obvious for last because we tend to overlook the obvious. I have interviewed thousands of people and I can’t tell you how many of them simply said YES to my interview request, not knowing what I wanted to ask them. It has to do with human nature.

Deep down inside we all long for attention and acknowledgement; for someone who truly listens. Getting in the papers, on radio or on TV must mean we matter!

But if you don’t know what they want to know, how do you know you want to be on their show?

Overwhelmed?

Remember what I said in part one? The biggest beginner’s mistake is to underestimate what it takes to be interviewed. This is not some normal conversation. It’s more of a purposeful presentation disguised as a normal conversation…. with possibly millions of people watching over your shoulder.

So, have you thought about how to present yourself on television? Should you just be yourself or get all dressed up for the occasion?

Next time we’ll talk about the importance of image!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Managing Your Message

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion 9 Comments

This is part 2 of Face the Press without Stress. You can read the 1st part by clicking here.

“That guy was a complete idiot,” said one of my friends, a classical pianist. He had just been interviewed by a major newspaper about his latest CD, and he was not a happy camper. Steam was coming out of his nostrils.

“This so-called journalist knew absolutely nothing about music,” he fumed. “He asked the most basic questions and I don’t think he could tell the difference between a Steinway and a Clavinova. Worst of all, he didn’t seem to care. Within ten minutes he was off to his next assignment, leaving me with that bloody photographer.”

“I’m going to write to his paper,” he continued angrily. “Next time they should send someone who knows what he’s doing, instead of wasting my time with a nitwit.”

The following day I opened the paper, hoping to find the interview. It was easy to spot. It featured a blown-up photo of my friend staring straight into the camera, looking perpetually peeved. Would anyone buy a CD from a guy who looked that annoyed, I wondered? Pictures are powerful, and first impressions can become lasting impressions in a split-second. Then I read the interview.

What I had feared, had happened: my friend -who really is a wonderful and talented artist- came across as an arrogant bastard. Had I not known him personally, I would have nominated him for the Most Arrogant Artist of the Year Award. One thing was certain: this story wasn’t going to sell a whole lot of CD’s.

When we talked about the fiasco afterwards, I told him:

“I know you’re weren’t happy with the journalist. Keep one thing in mind. You and I are lucky. We have chosen a profession we’re passionate about. We pour our heart and soul into our work. Most people -including your reporter- don’t have that privilege. For them their job is just their job. Besides…

Journalists aren’t paid to care. They’re paid to share.

In fact, in order to tell a story objectively, they need to keep a professional distance. A photographer wouldn’t be able to do his job if he’d stop and help every hungry child in front of his lens. A political reporter wouldn’t be ready to ask penetrating questions if he were afraid to hurt the fragile ego of the person he was interviewing.

Just as it’s better for a surgeon not to get emotionally attached to the opened up patient in the operating theater, reporters must dissociate themselves from their stories and subjects. It’s nothing personal. Remember this:

It isn’t a journalist’s job to be knowledgeable or interested. It is your job to be informed and interesting.

The expert reporter is an endangered species. Dwindling advertising revenues means cutbacks in the newsroom. There are fewer people to cover more stories. Specialists have become generalists in order to survive. There is not enough time for proper research, and almost no budget for in-depth analysis or investigative reporting.

If you’re lucky, your next interview could be conducted by someone who loves what you do for a living, but don’t be surprised if that person is more into heavy metal or chess. Ultimately, that shouldn’t matter. A good story is a good story and you, my friend, have to hand it to him (or her). Here’s why.

You’re not talking to the journalist. You’re reaching out to the audience.

Just as you’re not telling your story to a microphone and you’re not posing to make the camera happy, an interviewer is merely a conduit. He represents all the readers, viewers and listeners you’re really talking to, when you’re being interviewed.

In a strange way, it’s better for you if he doesn’t seem to be too interested or knowledgeable, because most people scanning the pages or flipping the channels aren’t either. But if you manage to draw that interviewer into your story, chances are the audience will follow. Unfortunately, it cuts both ways.

So, no matter how obnoxious and superficial your interviewer may seem, always remember whom you’re talking to. A morning show host might ask basic questions because that’s all his viewers want to know. He might not even listen to your answer because he’s getting instructions in his ear prompter. That’s why it’s up to you to…

Take charge and get your message across in spite of the interviewer.

If you don’t remember everything I’m telling you, please remember this point. Too many people take on a passive role when being interviewed. They prepare to answer questions they think are interesting and essential, and complain afterwards that those questions were never asked. Or worse, they don’t prepare at all and just go with the flow.

You’re not a victim. You have a say in what you put out into the world. Literally. And you won’t get many chances to reach so many people at once, so you better make the most of it

Think about it this way. You know infinitely more about the subject than your interviewer ever will. If you’d only stick to what your interviewer knows or wants to know, you’ll never get beyond the surface. Here’s what you do to manage your message.

Use questions as a springboard to tell what needs to be told.

Often, reporters will throw something at you and it’s not what you want to talk about. The trick is to build a bridge between what’s being asked and what you really want to say.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m being interviewed about my voice-over business. Here’s the question:

“Do you think celebrities doing voice-overs are spoiling it for the rest of you?”

Here’s one way to respond:

“Not really. There’s plenty of work for everyone. The author of my latest audio book chose my voice because I am not a celebrity.”

You see how that works? In two sentences you have shifted the focus from talking about other people to talking about your new book. Here are a few more bridges.

That’s an interesting observation. Before I get that, there’s something you need to know…”

“Thanks for bringing that up. Here’s what’s happening…”

“I understand where you’re coming from. I get that question all the time. What many people don’t realize is…”

Now, I’m not suggesting that you entirely evade the issue at hand like a seasoned politician. I recommend you use the issue to redirect the conversation to get your point across. If you don’t do that, you could spend an entire segment talking about Jeff Bridges and Morgan Freeman instead of promoting your new project.

You don’t have to agree with or pretend to understand everything the interviewer is saying.

That’s another sign of a passive attitude. You can’t answer a question you don’t really understand. Yet, because some people are easily intimidated by members of the press, they hate to admit that they have no clue what the interviewer is asking. To make matters worse, they start imagining what the interviewer could have meant and start answering that.

It’s okay to ask:

“Could you repeat the question, please? I didn’t quite get that.”

Beware of overt or covert assumptions.

As we’ve seen in the question about celebrities, interviewers often won’t ask a straight question but begin with a statement. A few examples:

“It is a well-know fact that people make a lot of money doing voice-overs. Now, let me ask you this…”

“Many believe this is easy money, and I’d like to know how you got into this business.”

“We all know that voice-overs can make a comfortable living, and what I am interested in is…”

It’s very tempting to answer the question following the statement, but before you do, ask yourself if you agree with the assumption. If you don’t, you must challenge it before you answer the question. Otherwise the audience is left with the impression that you concur. Here’s another one.

Watch out for suggestive, leading questions.

In order to win the ratings war, editors and producers all over the world are searching for the extraordinary, the grotesque, the shocking and the violent. The tens of thousands of planes that take off and land safely every day are not news, but the one that crashes is.

Journalists are trained to look for controversy and if there is none, to push the envelope and stir the pot. Suggestive questions are like a loaded weapon.

Think of a question as a laser beam, zooming in on a very small area. If it’s specific, it will direct your thoughts into one direction, excluding everything else. What do the following questions require you to focus on?

“How bad are things really in your business?

Sometimes things can get really nasty, don’t they? Give me an example.”

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

“What do you dislike more than anything else?”

“Tell me about your client from hell.”

Take a deep breath before you answer those questions, and ask yourself: Do I really want to go there? Do I want to dwell on the negative or highlight the positive?

How’s this for an answer:

“No matter what kind of work you do, there are always things that are not so great and there are things that totally make your day. As a matter of fact, one of my clients called me yesterday…” and then you share a positive story.

You might not control the question, but you can always control the answer!

Look out for false choices and either/or scenarios.

News outlets often aim for the biggest market share to please the sponsors, and therefore cater to the lowest common denominator. In order to appeal to the army of couch potatoes that wants to be entertained instead of informed, simplification is the name of the game. Complicated stories are broken up into bite-sized pieces even my pet gerbil can digest. Thus, reality becomes a caricature.

A favorite technique is to reduce a colorful, complex world to a juxtaposition of right and wrong and black and white. Some networks have turned that into a dubious art form. But as you very well know, there usually are no easy answers. Watch the political shows and wait for it to happen:

“Senator, with all due respect: Do you want to socialize health care or leave it up to the American people to choose their own insurance plan?”

“Are you in favor of big government, or do you want to reduce Washington’s bureaucracy?”

“Should we bomb Iran or increase sanctions?”

“Please answer my next question with a simple yes or no.”

Let’s be clear. These aren’t questions. They are traps; false choices based on either/or scenarios. Remember, if you choose to answer the question as such, you implicitly agree with the options presented to you. Are you sure you want to go there?

If an interviewer tries to drag me into an is-it-this-or-that scenario, I often answer with YES. But usually, it isn’t A or B. Why can’t it be C or D or both? Watch this:

Interviewer: “As a voice-over, what do you enjoy doing most: audio books or commercials?”

You: “To tell you the truth, I love voicing video games. I think we have a clip of the one I just finished. I had such a blast creating the character of….”

You’re not falling for this false dilemma, and with the bridge technique, you use the question as a springboard to talk about things that are on your agenda. I do it all the time and I don’t even realize I’m doing it.

Is this something I am naturally good at or did I need training? (watch the question…)

Well, it’s a bit of both I guess, but it certainly helps to have been on the other side of the mic for many years. I know a few tricks of the trade, and I have lots more to share with you. So, if you’re up for it, I’ll continue our conversation next week.

Here’s are some of the things I’ll talk about: What do you need to know before the interview? Do you prepare differently for a taped and a live interview?

What do you think?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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My Prized Possession

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 34 Comments

What do the Vatican, the United Nations, the German Parliament, the BBC and my company Nethervoice have in common?

We all use top of the line microphones from a family owned business in the small German town of Gefell.

If you’ve never heard of Gefell and you enjoy European history, let’s travel back in time for a moment.

In 1943, Georg Neumann‘s main microphone laboratory in Berlin was hit by bombs and caught fire. To avoid more damage, Neumann and his technical director Erich Kühnast moved the entire company to Gefell where they continued their work in an old textile mill.

After Germany’s surrender, Gefell was occupied by the Americans and then handed over to the Soviet Union. In 1946 a number of Gefell employees returned to Berlin to establish a small workshop. This workshop eventually became Georg Neumann GmbH, the second Neumann company.

Kühnast and most of the original staff stayed in Gefell and continued to develop and build microphones. Neumann made Kühnast manager of the limited partnership Georg Neumann & Co. which was later nationalized by the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Despite the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the management of the two companies stayed in touch with one another.

In 1972, the GDR prohibited use of the Neumann trademark, and the East-German company was renamed VEB Mikrofontechnik Gefell.

After the Wall came down in 1989, Georg Neumann’s heirs reclaimed their share in the company and a new period of cooperation began. Here’s what’s remarkable. When the Neumann engineers took a closer look at the Gefell products that had been developed behind the Iron Curtain, they discovered microphone technology that was more sophisticated than some of that in the West.

After Sennheiser took over Neumann in 1991, Microtech Gefell -as it is now called- became an independent, privately owned company, known for hand-made, high-end microphones. (this overview is in part based on an article in Sound on Sound and on information on the Gefell website).

MY NEW BABY

Fast forward to Tuesday, January 17th, 2012, the day I became the first person in America to own a Gefell M 930 Ts studio condenser microphone.

Out of thousands of microphones on the market, why did I pick this particular make and model?

I have to be honest with you: I didn’t pick this mic. It picked me. Or rather: I got lucky. Very, very lucky!

In my radio days I never paid any attention to the equipment I was using, but since I became master and commander of my own studio, things have changed. As a professional, I think it’s important to get to know the tools of the trade. 

Before I’m ready to make any type of investment in my business, I spend months doing research, reading reviews and talking to colleagues in the know. They make sure I don’t fall for the latest fad, and that when I finally decide on a new purchase, I invest in quality that will last for many years to come.

Any professional chef, musician or mechanic can tell you that well-made, reliable tools make the job a lot easier because they work with you instead of against you. Good tools can’t make an artist more creative, but they can inspire. Without them, he’s less able to realize his dreams. A great set of tools can take you to that proverbial next level.

It’s a cliché, but quality never goes out of style. It is remembered long after the price is forgotten.

RISING FROM THE PACK

As home studios are becoming the norm and more people are having a go at voice-overs, it’s increasingly important to distinguish oneself. It all starts with the way the voice is captured.

The quality of your sound is your signature.

Clients are sick and tired of having to put up with hiss, rumble, interference and echoes coming from inferior equipment recorded in so-called ‘professional’ booths set up in someone’s boudoir. By the sound of it, these spaces aren’t studios. They sound more like shacks. Radio shacks.

If you can’t provide clean, crystal clear audio, you should start a website where amateur VO’s can go forth, multiply and make a lot of noise. Why not call it VoiceRabbit (after the rabid growth I predict it will undergo)?

Alternatively, you could consult men like Dan Lenard, Dan Friedman, George Whittam or Mel Allen. They will set you up with the right gear and help you fine-tune your sound in less time than it will take you to learn the ropes through trial and error.

Although it never paints a complete picture, quality equipment does make a statement. When a client or agent sees you are using professional grade gear, they know you mean business and they have one less thing to worry about.

Imagine going to a wedding photographer to find out if he’s going to be a good fit for your big day, and the man pulls out a cheap point-and-shoot camera. Would you hire him? I don’t think so. Now, owning a Hasselblad 503CW does not make one a brilliant photographer, but that’s a different story.

RECORDINGHACKS

In my quest for the best equipment, I spent many hours on Matt Mcglyn’s creation: www.recordinghacks.com. It’s an online magazine as well as the world’s most extensive database of a 1000+ microphones.

If you happen to be looking for a good podcasting mic for $200, recordinghacks has put them to the test. If you need the specs of the Manley Reference Gold tube condenser, look no further. Interested in a $60,000 ribbon mic shootout? You know where to go!

In 2011, recordinghacks gave away a new mic every month: a Cascade Fathead II, a Blue Yeti Pro, a Lauten Horizon et cetera. December’s prize topped it all: a brand new Microtech Gefell 930 Ts. This small, large diaphragm condenser was made with broadcasting and voice-over applications in mind.

AND THE WINNER IS…

In the first week of January, Matt Mcglyn said he had some good news for me: I was the lucky winner of the giveaway! It was unbelievable. What a start to the new year!

I want to thank Microtech Gefell GmbH for such a generous gift, and for their ongoing, uncompromising dedication to quality.

Matt Mcglyn deserves a big ‘thank you’ for creating such an excellent database and magazine, and for magically pulling my name out of his recordinghacks-hat.

As for the rest of you, I’m sure you’d like to know how my new mic sounds, and how it stacks up against other voice-over microphones. Well, it just so happens that I have written a review for recordinghacks, and you’ll find out for yourself why the Vatican has given its blessing to a small German company.

If there ever was one brand that has earned the right to capture the voice of G-d, it has to be Microtech Gefell!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

Next week I’ll tell you about one of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had, and what lessons we can draw from that for our own business.

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Finding your Value as a Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

Etymology is the study of the origin of words. If you love language the way I do, you probably love looking into its history. Delving into the deeper meaning of the things that come out of our mouths is as revealing as it is rewarding.

Take the word competition.

To most people it is synonymous with rivalry or a fight to outdo another; a race that can only have one winner and lots of losers. It’s Darwin’s theory in a nutshell.

It wasn’t always understood like that.

The word competition comes from the latin verb…

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Winning an Audition. Losing the Job.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 13 Comments

She jokingly called her students “germ bags” and described school parents as “snobby” and “arrogant.”

On Facebook.

As a result, this Massachusetts math and science teacher lost her $92,636-a-year job.

A waitress at a pizza restaurant in uptown Charlotte was fired after making derogatory remarks about customers who’d made her work an hour past the end of her shift and only left a small tip.

On Twitter.

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his job as the voice of the Aflac duck, after the insurance company found out he was tweeting “jokes” about the devastating tsunami in Japan.

Free speech is a wonderful thing, as long as you realize who’s listening. Big Brother is following you. He might even be a

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Are you afraid of raising your rates?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 25 Comments

“Those who can’t build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.” Paul Strikwerda

At the end of December 2011, Alex Rodriguez had earned $39,000,000. That’s 33 million in salary and winnings from the New York Yankees, and 6 million in endorsements. Not bad for a year’s work.

Do you think he’s worth it?

In 2006, entertainment tycoon David Geffen sold Jackson Pollock’s painting No. 5, 1948 for 140 million dollars. Assuming you had that kind of spare change, would you spend it on a painting described by some as “stunning drip”?

Can you tell me why 15-year old actress Abigail Breslin reportedly made $65K for 5 hours of voice-over work for the animated film “Zambezia”? Yes, that’s $13,000 per hour!

Let’s be honest: what did these people really do?

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Freelancing and Fresh Fish

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing 11 Comments

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”

 

One sunny day, a fishmonger put up the following sign:

TODAY: FRESH FISH

One of his first customers said to him: “What’s this sign I see? You only have fresh fish today?”

“Of course not,” said the fishmonger. “I have fresh fish every day. You’ve been coming here for the past eight years. You know that.”

“Then why did you write: Today: Fresh Fish? That’s confusing,” said the customer.

So the fishmonger erased the word TODAY.

An hour later another customer questioned him about the sign:

“Why does it say ‘Fresh Fish’? Isn’t your fish always fresh? Or have you been selling me unfresh fish all these years?”

“Of course not,” answered the fishmonger a bit annoyed. “Each day I go to the harbor at the crack of dawn and buy my fish straight from the men who caught it. It can’t get any fresher than that.”

“Then why did you write: Fresh Fish? That’s confusing,” said the customer.

So the fishmonger erased the word FRESH. “I don’t get these people,” he mumbled. “Wasn’t it obvious what I was trying to say?”

ASSUMPTIONS

Our life is filled with unspoken assumptions. The obvious does not need to be stated, does it? If we hold that to be true, we’re forgetting one thing:

What’s obvious to one person might not be obvious to another person.

Language in and of itself is vague, inadequate and ambiguous, and therefore up for interpretation. If you have any doubts about that, talk to theologians or lawyers. In both cases you often need divine intervention to get them to agree on anything, even if they speak the same language.

Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) is the developer of what he called “General Semantics.” Simply put, this refers to the study of how you and I react to our environment or an event, and how we derive meaning from it.

Korzybski coined the phrase “The map is not the territory,” meaning that a word is not what it defines (the territory), but merely a symbolic representation of it (the map). That’s why we don’t get wet from the word water.

Here’s the problem: if we don’t know what the territory looks like, how on earth can we know what the map refers to?

Take Nike’s famous trademark “Just do it.

Without knowing anything about it, would you have any idea what these three words stand for? For instance: what is “it”? And if we don’t know what “it” is, how are we supposed to know how to “do” “it”? It could mean a million things, and we’re supposed to “just” do them? Forget it!

Let’s move away from fishy advertising and “just do” a little experiment. Take this simple sentence:

“We only have a small budget.”

That’s plain English, isn’t it? But what does it really mean? Do we have enough information to know what the writer intended it to mean?

If you say “yes” to the question, please tell me what you think it means and what you are basing it on. If you say “no,” tell me what is missing.

I have a feeling that you’ve seen this sentence before. I will also go as far as to imagine that every day, freelancers like you and me allow these six words to influence the bids they put in, to win a project. Am I right?

In order to truly know what the client means by “We only have a small budget,” a lot of blanks need to be filled in. First of all: who is “we”? Is it a client? And if so, who is this client? Donald Trump? I bet you anything that what “the Donald,” considers to be small, will forever redefine your meaning of the word!

My voiceover agent sometimes sends me five hundred-dollar jobs and apologizes for the “small budget.” To some, five hundred dollars might be a huge step up from the hundred-dollar jobs they’ve been auditioning for, just to break into the business. But considering the fact that this client is a key retailer and that the job involves all major markets and a six-year buyout, five hundred bucks is very low pay.

It’s all relative, relatively speaking.

DEFINING MEANING

By giving you these examples, what did I just do?

I provided you with some context.

The meaning of words is not only determined by what you find in the dictionary. It is defined by the setting and circumstances in which they are used. In fact, dictionary editors define the meaning of words by studying the context in which they appear. They even come up with sentences in which a word is used to illustrate its meaning.

But let’s assume that little or no context is provided. What do we usually do to attempt to understand the words we read or hear?

We start making things up. Believe it or not, there’s a mindreader in all of us! To me, this is where things get really interesting. On what exactly do we base our uninformed guesses?

I remember the first time I drove on an American highway and saw a sign that said RAMP. I must confess that I had no idea what it meant (for first-time readers: I’m originally from The Netherlands).

In an attempt to understand its meaning, my mind started making associations based on my personal frame of reference. In Dutch, the word RAMP means DISASTER! Till this very day, I get uncomfortable whenever I see that sign.

Without a clear context and without the ability to ask any questions, we generally base our understanding on speculation, which in turn is based on our subjective experience. In other words: the way you interpret “we only have a small budget,” will tell us a lot about you and next to nothing about the person who wrote it. This gets us into trouble all the time.

As a service provider it is not supposed to be about us. It’s about what the client wants to see and needs to hear. But clients typically hand out maps and leave it to us to second-guess what their territory is supposed to look or sound like.

They’ll tell you:

“I don’t know how to describe to you what I want, but I know it when I hear it. As long as you try to sound warm but professional…. If you know what I mean.”

No I don’t know what you mean. How could I? We have never met. Sometimes I don’t even understand my wife, and I think that I know her better than most people.

MISUNDERSTANDING

Now, do you still wonder why you didn’t land that ‘warm and professional’ gig?

Could it be, because you were led by your own assumptions? Did you forget to ask critical questions, or were you unable or not allowed to contact the client and get some context?

Beginners often wonder: “If only I could get some feedback after the fact. That would give me some idea as to why my audition was rejected.”

I think it would be much more helpful to get some perspective before the fact; some sense of direction. Dump the vague and ambiguous verbiage. If you don’t tell us what you want, how are we supposed to give it to you? I know that words are inadequate ways of describing an experience, but can you at least try a little harder?

While you do that, let’s go back to the story.

TODAY: FRESH FISH

After erasing the first two words, the fishmonger stared at the sign that now read “FISH.”

That should do it, he thought.

No one can argue with that.

He was ready to go inside when a boy walked up to him. He had a ten-dollar bill in his hand.

“Sir, sir…” the boy said, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” said the fishmonger. “What can I help you with, young man?”

The boy looked at him with big, hopeful eyes.

“Sir, I just saw your sign and I was wondering: do you sell goldfish?”

The fishmonger made a gesture of utter exasperation.

People are completely clueless, he thought.

Then he took a damp sponge and erased the word FISH.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Hanging Up My Hat

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 41 Comments

“I will give you my personal prediction on what will implode first: Blogs containing information that serves no one but the writer, and his/her inner circle without fact-checking.”
Steven Lowell

Paul Strikwerda NethervoiceThe dust has finally settled.

Give it a few months, and last week’s discussion will rise out of the ashes and begin a new life somewhere else.

Same topic. Different voices, perhaps.

Steven’s remark about self-serving blogs and bloggers did make me think about my vision for this blog. Believe it or not: I have one, and it goes like this:

The Nethervoice blog is a platform and playground for ideas, dialogue and discourse about things personal and professional related but not limited to voice-overs and freelancing.

That covers pretty much everything, doesn’t it? Now, let me also tell you what it is not.

This blog is not some grand podium built to glorify my personal accomplishments or to sell Mr. Strikwerda’s amazing pipes. Why would anyone want to read about that? Not me!

If you’re interested in the technical side of voice-overs, you have to look elsewhere too. Although I’m fascinated with the tools of the trade, I am not a gearhead or audio specialist. I don’t receive free products from companies, take them out of the box, dangle them in front of a camera and post it as a “review.”

It’s true, I did write a series about building my voice-over booth on a budget, but I did not seek or receive any compensation for mentioning products, manufacturers or stores.

This blog is not a source of fair and unbiased industry news either.

In essence, it is nothing but a blog revolving around one man and his ideas and experiences and a bunch of friends who like to chime in every once in a while. If you’re looking for objective, investigative journalism, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Just like a lot of other stuff you’ll read online or in the papers, my articles are usually a mix of subjective opinion based on personal selection and interpretation of data. If you’d like to fact-check my sources, all you need to do is click on a few links that are embedded in the articles.

Nobody has to agree with anything I write.

My readers are intelligent enough to understand that it would be foolish to generalize my personal stories and turn them into an overall verdict on the issue at hand.

I don’t consider myself to be an authority or expert. My opinion is one of many, and one quick look at Bob Souer’s blog roll will tell you that I’m certainly not the only blogger in this voiceover town. Of course I’m tickled to see that some people seem to care about what I have to say, but that’s as far as it goes.

I strive to inform, I attempt to entertain and yes… I also like to rock the boat every once in a while. As a voiceover professional, it is my job to be outspoken. I don’t feel comfortable standing on the sidelines.

Unlike Steven Lowell, I am not a paid spokesperson for a company. I don’t pretend to proclaim and promote an objective, universal truth. This is my personal platform and I can be as passionate and opinionated as I want. I represent no one but myself.

So, why do I take a day out of every week to write this blog?

The short answer: Because I feel like it.

The moment it becomes just another chore, I will stop and take up billiards or Bingo.

Here’s another reason: I love to write and I think I have something to say that  -at times- is moderately insightful and interesting. At least, that’s what my readers keep on telling me.

As you may know, most of my stories start out as simple Notes to Self. The series about building a voice-over studio is a perfect example.

It took me many months before I was ready to start building my own studio. During that time, I had compiled a wealth of information and I thought it might be useful to share it with you. Now it’s available as a booklet on my shopping page. Sharing is important to me.

Over the years, I have benefited so much from the kindness, knowledge and insights of friends and colleagues. I wouldn’t be where I am today, had it not been for their advice and encouragement. In a way, I am repaying my debt to them by publishing this blog.

Thanks to my writings, I’ve also made countless new friends from all corners of this planet. Many of them won’t publicly comment on my articles, but each and every week they email me with questions and observations.

As far as the future goes, I’m branching out. Most of you already know that I write on all things international for Internet Voice Coach. I also conduct interviews with colleagues across the globe. The Edge Studio asked if I would be their International Marketing Coach and I said “yes.” 

Recently, I started recording three-minute vignettes for the International Freelancers Academy on building your business. There’s also a book on the way.

I’m not telling you this to impress you. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn if you think this is impressive or not. The fact is, I love my work and I love writing about it.

As long as I still have music in me, I will continue to sing my songs.

And if people think it’s just a bunch of blah-blah, they’ll find other blogs to read, and this one will eventually implode.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be too bad.

It’s always better to end with a bang.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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