A sound a day – January

February dawns and I’m a month into my Sound A Day project.

I was a bit reluctant to take the project on because it is a bit of a challenge in terms of the time it takes and having to find new sounds every day when there are days when I don’t leave the house. But one month in and so far I’ve really enjoyed doing it. It has made me leave the house when I otherwise had no need to, and the technical challenge of figuring out how best to capture some of the sounds I’ve recorded has been fun (not all attempts have been successful, and those sounds haven’t made it as far as publishing, but further attempts will be made).

The most popular recording of January at the moment is from Jan 25th. This one isn’t available for download on Freesound, but most of the other recordings I’ve made are.

The most downloaded recordings (at the time of writing) are the airlock bubbles from January 24th, the robin from January 2nd, and the tram stop from January 19th.

But I think my favourite of the month has to be the recording I made of Holly – one of my rabbits – drinking from a bowl. She’s a noisy bugger.

Don’t forget that if you want to use these recording as a sound effect in your project as many as possible will be made available at freesound.org. My page is here.

A sound a day 2017

Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter may have noticed me post ‘A sound a day’ since January 1st. I thought I’d write a short blog here to introduce the project more fully and explain the parameters I’ve set myself.
You’ve probably got friends who have done ‘a photo a day’ for a year (or whatever time period they’ve set themselves). I kind of like that idea, but I wanted to adapt it to be more relevant to me and my work, so I’ve taken on recording A Sound A Day for the duration of 2017 and am posting the results to social media. One of my intentions with this project is to highlight the beauty of what we hear around us. I am obviously very much motivated by sound, and I think we often overlook what our ears are telling us. I don’t want to go all John Cage or anything, but there is a rhythm and beauty to everyday sounds and maybe my project will help other people hear it. Listening to ambient noises with the attention to detail we listen to music with can be a fantastic thing, and very calming.

More than that I’m posting all I can to freesound.org to be used as copyright free sound effects (subject to copyrights and third party permissions). Freesound is a site I’ve used myself to download from, so I thought I’d give back to that community by uploading my recordings there. If you want to download any of the sounds I’ve recorded you can just head here and all that have been published are available for download. There is a bit of a queue for publishing though, so you may need to wait a few days between my sounds being on social media and appearing on freesound.
I will record a sound a day, but I may not post every sound on the day it’s recorded. There are some sounds I intend to record that only happen late in the evening, so I won’t be able to post them until the next day. And then there will be those times when I’m away from my computer for a few days…
I’ll also do a summary blog here every month.

Head here to hear the collection to date.

Studio Tickling Tours.

Those of you who follow me on social media may have seen posts where I announce that I’m about to do what I call a Studio Tickling Tour and ask interested parties to get in touch. I thought it was about time that I explained exactly what a Studio tickling Tour is so you can decide whether it is of interest to you.

studio20tickling20tour_zpsfiiptmfgSTTs (as I shall now call them, because I’m too lazy to type ‘Studio Tickling tour’ every time) are based around a geographical location – most of them have been London based – where I am staying for a few days. During the time of my visit I make appointments to go and see voiceover artists in their studios, where I can provide a number of services. The name ‘Studio Tickling Tour’ (Damn it! Couldn’t use STT there!) denotes that a lot of these appointments are to check people’s set-ups and make sure that everything is working properly and make minor adjustments to ensure the VO in question is getting the best out of their studio. Minor adjustments, hence just ‘tickling’ the studio. These visits will take an hour or maybe two and provide peace of mind to many of my clients.

But that’s not the only kind of service I can undertake whilst I’m on my travels. I can take on longer jobs as well. On previous trips I’ve spent longer at a studio troubleshooting bigger problems. I’ve taken time with VOs and provided training in software or editing techniques or advising on sound-proofing and acoustic treatment. I’ve even helped out with longer-term studio upgrading projects making several visits over a few trips (and providing telephone/Skype support between tours). Plus I’m open to requests and suggestions of how I should spend my time while I’m away from my studio, so if you have any requests please get in touch.

voiceover20studio_zpsoxqas73xAlthough these trips are sort of based in a city I will travel quite far if it’s viable to do so. I have been to the South Coast while on a ‘London’ trip. And I will always make stops while I’m en route to my location of choice, so if you live somewhere between London and Manchester you can always ask and see if I can pop over to see you while I’m getting from A to B – I don’t mind detours and have previously considered Bristol, Guilford, Chelmsford and Leicester as being between Manchester and London.

So if you have any needs for your home studio and you think I may be in the area soon please get in touch and I’ll do my best to comer and see you. And even if you don’t think I’ll be in the area soon get in touch and I may be able to plan a Studio Tickling Tour around you.

 

 

 

Voiceover Showreels

For a pro voiceover one of the most important marketing tools is your VO showreel(s). This is where potential customers will hear your voice and decide whether your tone is what they’re looking for to represent their product or service. So whether you’re new to the voiceover industry or an old hand it’s always worth spending time – and even money – on making sure that you are being branded as well as possible with what you’re sending out or putting online to showcase your talents.

I’ve been a professional producer for 15 years and have listened to hundreds of showreels over that time and cast people for jobs based on them, most have been successful castings, but some I’ve felt have been mis-represented by their reels: I have on a few occasions cast a VO based on their showreel and been disappointed at the results, flip that over and how many VOs have I not used because their showreel was sub-standard? So today I want to think about what makes a good reel from a producers point of view in order that you can hit the spot when you’re next considering your showreel.

If you are new to voicing a showreel is as important a part of your initial set-up as a microphone, but you need to do it right. I would strongly advise against just sitting at home writing your own scripts and recording. There are a number of studios and companies who will spend a day or two with you coaching you on technique and teaching you some of the intricacies of the job and will put a reel together with you at the end of it. This will not only give you a produced reel, but give you a kick-start into voicing and hopefully break any bad habits before they get too imbedded. Ask around other VOs and see who they have used for this coaching/showreel service and listen to their results before you book anything. Make sure you like the general sound of the output. I would advise using a coach who is still actively producing, as technologies and fashions in voicing change and you need something that sounds current if you’re going to compete.

I always prefer to hear ‘live’ jobs. Hearing how you sound on actual campaigns and audio for real clients lends a weight to a showreel that ‘made up’ jobs just don’t. It proves that you are being used by other companies and agencies and that you can take direction and can work well in the field. If you have no live jobs don’t bluff them. I once received a showreel from a new VO with lots of big names in their reel, but unfortunately I knew the VOs who had done the real campaigns. Guess who I never hired? Whatever stage in your career you’re at it always worth asking a producer if you can have a copy of a finished job if you think it’s going to turn out well so you can use it on future reels.

Your reel needs a variety of reads on it. Not just in terms of characters or accents, but also vary the pace of the read, the tone of voice and distance from the mic. You’re trying to prove that you know what you’re doing, that you command the booth and that you know how to bring to life whatever turgid rot you’re given to read.

Reels should only be a couple of minutes long. People just won’t listen to more than that. So you will probably need a few reels doing. You may want a general one, but if you work in a variety of areas you will need more specific reels for each of these as well. Comprod is a very different skill set to television documentaries, and TV documentaries is very different to game characters. If I need a VO to read a disclaimer I don’t care how convincing you are as Eeyore, so send me a different reel.

How often do you put together a new reel? The short answer is ‘as often as necessary.’ If your reel isn’t getting you as much work as you’d like, do a new reel. If your reel has dates in it more than a couple of years old, do a new reel. If you’ve been sending out a same reel for what seems like ages, do a new reel. It isn’t always the most enjoyable part of your job, but it is an investment of time and money as it should be getting you work. If you value your career you have to treat your showreel as a premium item.

So having considered what we put on the reel we need to think about putting it together. Here I’m going to tell you to get a professional producer to do it for you. As I’ve said I’ve heard hundreds of reels, and the quality of the audio has varied massively. I know that when I listen I shouldn’t be listening to the production standards, I’m listening to the voice. But as a producer it’s really hard listening to a reel that sounds like it’s been filtered through a tramps sock. There are other implications as well. Firstly if I’m looking to do any kind of remote work (self-record, ISDN or other) I need to know that your home set-up is sufficiently good for my needs. A badly produced reel makes this harder to judge and therefore I’m less likely to hire you. Secondly, if second-rate audio is good enough for you to send out it implies that you don’t care enough about the quality of audio that represents you – and as you’re in the audio business that’s a huge problem.

Even if you regularly produce audio and are very competent with production I would still recommend getting a pro to produce your showreel. At the very least get a third party to do it for you (Let’s be honest here – I want you to give me a call and get me to do it for you). Having voiced everything that will be on your reel you have an emotional investment in the material, which others don’t share. A certain job you did may have been a personal triumph for you, but it may not be your strongest read to a third party who doesn’t have a clue about the history of the session – and your potential clients are all neutral parties who don’t know the history of any of your reads. Third parties can judge the end result, not the non-existent back-story and give you an objective opinion on what makes your showreel as strong as it can be.

So here’s the selly bit. How do I fit in with this? I may be able to produce your reel for you – I have produced reels for a many voiceovers and actors over the years. I am a very competent producer with lots of tricks up my sleeve, but I’m not a voice coach, so if you’re a newby there are better people than me to put together your first reel. But if you’re beyond that first stage you could do a lot worse than get in touch with me and let me put something together for you. See? That didn’t hurt did it?

So to end with an example of a fantastic reel. This is by the late lamented Mike Hurley and it breaks all the rules in the book. If you want to know why, then give me a call.

Never trust a skinny chef

So you’ve decided that you want to be a sound engineer – and why wouldn’t you? In those social occasions when you’re having one of those Top-Trumps-‘What-do-you-do-for-a -living?’ conversations with people you’ve never met before you’ll trump teachers & nurses and wipe the floor with accountants and traffic wardens in the glamour stakes. All conversation will turn to you and begin with ‘WOW!’ You will probably get to meet more than your fair share of celebrities and never have to wear a tie to work again.

 

This month I’ve written a blog for totaljobs about what it takes to be a sound engineer. This is a field that has expanded greatly over the last few years, with an ever-increasing number of television and radio stations as well as the expansion in the gaming industry and multi-media capabilities of faster internet. Couple that with the falling prices on digital technology making building your own studio ever cheaper, it means there are many more opportunities to make a living out of audio.

 

You want to get into sound engineering? My first piece of advice is… don’t. I say this with a degree of self interest as there are already too many engineers for me to compete against. I say don’t unless you’re serious about it. The market is over-saturated with hugely under qualified people who have computers and the right software, but who don’t know their nyquist frequency from their Doppler effect, and the last thing the audio industry needs is more people de-valuing the skills pool and under-selling the importance of top quality audio production. Get good or get a different career.

 

My second piece of advice is… don’t if you don’t like a high degree of geekiness. Listen to a couple of sound engineers talking to each other and you’ll know exactly what I mean. We can talk for hours about the merits of using one particular microphone over another one for any number of applications. To do this job well you will have to put aside all thoughts of technophobia and be prepared to master every piece of hardware and software you’re presented with. And believe you me, there are an awful lot of them! It is a very technical job and can be very technically demanding.

 

Thirdly… don’t if you don’t like people. Mastering the technology isn’t enough to be a sound engineer. You will have to work with people and it is an absolute necessity to be able to coax the best performance out of whoever you’re recording. Whether it’s the next-big-pop-star recording their breakthrough single, or a checkout girl saying, ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area,’ reading people and creating the best working environment for them to shine is your responsibility.

 

And again… don’t. If you’ve never before considered becoming a sound engineer then I’d say it’s too late already. I would say that being a sound engineer is a vocation not a job. Sound has to be a passion. Your hearing has to be more than a passive sense. It’s not necessary to play an instrument to be a good sound engineer, but developing ‘musician’s ears’ from an early age is a definite advantage – hearing audio with the level of analysis that a musician can apply is vital. As is a commitment to audio – many people who have carved themselves a career in audio spent their teenage years hanging round recording studios or live venues for no money and sometimes with no actual job or role, just soaking up the atmosphere and watching what happens and why. Many colleges and universities now run music technology courses, and although these are a very good way to learn, prove your commitment and possibly fast track your way into the industry, it’s your portfolio of work that will get you a job rather than a paper qualification. You need to take every opportunity that’s presented to you and soak up knowledge and experience. I don’t believe you can do that unless audio is your calling.

 

Finally… don’t if you’ve been put off by what I’ve written. Sound engineering is no easy option. It’s fiercely competitive and difficult to get into. I’ve taken a deliberately (tongue in cheek) negative approach to writing this article because I think it better serves the mountains you will have to climb to become a successful sound engineer. I have mentored a few teens who have become professional sound engineers and I’ll add one more piece of advice that I’ve given to them. Have a plan B. Work towards your goal of getting a job in sound, but have a plan B in case it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t for the majority of people who try.

But if you succeed you will find an industry like no other. You will meet some fantastic people and you will be able to be proud of what you have produced. You can be instrumental in the success or failure of products or advertising campaigns. You can entertain or keep people safe. You’ll find an industry that’s personable and expanding. Get good at what you do and you can be a superhero to your clients. You can’t get any better than that.

 

studio maintenance for voiceovers

4919975196_41f5870353_zI’m going to start this blog by admitting to one of my shortcomings. Not only am I awful at DIY and home improvements/ maintenance, but I am totaly disinterested in getting any better at them. When we moved into our house my Father-in-law spent an afternoon showing me how to re-roof the shed (it had a huge hole in it, so it really needed doing) but the thing was I couldn’t care less how a shed gets re-roofed. I wished he’s just got on and done it himself and left me inside to do something else. My Dad is also a very practical man and at the age of 70 he’ll still repoint his own walls and fit his own TV ariels on the chimney. But I hate that kind of work. I know I’m not good at it, so I can’t help but find it a colossal waste of my time. They are jobs that need doing, but not by me. They need doing by people who can do them better, leaving me to do something I’m good at. That said I get embarrassed at having to ask tradesmen to do simple jobs for me. There are quite a few people I know who don’t know how to wire a plug, bleed a radiator or change headlight bulbs in their car; all of which I’ll happily do. I’ll also change a tyre (should the need arise), and last year I had to fit new valves in the toilet (we were only without a working loo for 3 days whilst I got it right – not a bad effort!).

I mention this because I want to demonstrate that I am sympathetic towards the situation I’m about to bring up.

2014-09-22 10.29.55Over the time I have been operating as Bee Productive I have visited quite a number of Voiceovers’ home studios and have seen not only a wide variation in studio equipment and set-ups, but also a huge variation in technical know-how. There are a large number of VOs who know exactly how their studios work – and they never call me out as they can fix their own problems – and there are those who can do quite a bit and just need a bit of reassurance, but there are an alarming number who haven’t the foggiest what they own and use on a daily basis. I understand where you’re coming from. You’re looking for a career and somehow you settle on becoming a voiceover artist. You enjoy reading(!), and yearn for the challenge of the performance, of making sense out of the written page, breathing life into the squiggles on the paper. You want the challenge of the lilt and flow of language and can bring meaning into whatever badly punctuated piece of text you’re asked to let your tonsils loose on. But what’s this? In order to fulfil your dreams you need to buy and use some expensive pieces of electronica? You’re not interested in that, you want to read. But what?… I can’t do my job without this kit? Guess you’ll have to buy it then. It’s a necessary evil.

2016-08-192013-26-43_zpscm8rpxrv

Which one’s the high pass filter again?

I do know where you’re coming from. I didn’t buy a car because I love the second law of thermodynamics, but I have to live with it. I know that things will drop off it and they will need repairing.  But there is a difference. If something goes wrong with my car I’m inconvenienced and I need to get it repaired. Unless it’s very serious it doesn’t stop me from working and earning a living. But what about your studio? If that goes wrong there’s a good chance your livelihood will be affected until you can get it fixed. Knowing a few things about how your studio is put together could not only save you a repair bill, but it could save you from losing that big money agency session that’s booked in 15 minutes after you discover that your desk isn’t working. Now do you see the point in knowing a bit more about how it works?

help for voiceoversUnless you’re an accountant you don’t go into business to have to do accounts. I don’t know anyone (accountants excepted) who enjoys doing them and I know so many people who put them off as much as possible. But it’s a necessity of business. For a voiceover I would say studio management is as well. It’s not a legal requirement or anything but let’s face it, would you do your accounts if that wasn’t? It is as beneficial to understand your studio as it is to understand your cash flow. I’m very happy for voiceovers to not know as much as I know about studio mechanics and management as I totally get the value of hiring specialists to do jobs. But I think there is a level of knowledge that you need to have to keep your studio ticking over that is surprisingly absent in some VOs.

So here are a few questions. I would consider these essential to running your own studio.

1. If you’re doing a remote session and the producer at the other end asks you to adjust your levels, do you know how to do it?

2. Do you know what a clean feed is and whether you’re sending it?

3. Do you know the difference between balanced and unbalanced jacks? Or male and female XLRs?

4. Do you know the difference between 16 and 24 bit audio? or 44.1KHZ and 48KHz files?

5. What’s phantom power and why do you use it?

6. What are G.722 and Zephyr? Why/when might you need to know? (possibly not an essential question)

 

 

So here’s the sell-y bit. If you want help answering these questions or making sure your studio set up is as well as it can be then get in touch. I’ve already helped dozens of VOs and upgraded many studios. I’ve been in the industry for many years so I know what VOs need from their equipment. I can attend your studio in person or work remotely (depending on the job) and help you get the most out of your studio equipment. It can only help your career.

Squashed Tomatoes and Stew

On his 1984 album ‘About Face’ David Gilmour sang

“Thinking that we’re getting older and wiser
When we’re just getting old.”

Today is my birthday. So I thought I’d share with you one or two things I’ve learned in my 42 years on this earth. I can’t claim any great insight into the Human Condition, but it’s my birthday so you have to indulge me. But I will keep it roughly work related just so it bears some relation to the rest of the site.

The first thing to say is how important it is to do something you love. Over your working life you’re going to spend an awful lot of time at work, so if you’re working at something you don’t enjoy how is that going to make you happy? I’ve seen too many people made utterly miserable by their jobs and careers and in the end it’s their health (mental and physical) that’s going to suffer. When I left school I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do for a career, so took the first job that was offered to me, and consequently spent far too long working in catering which I absolutely hated. But here’s a thing – when I’d figured out what I wanted to do and was on the verge of going to college to train I ran into an old school friend who I hadn’t seen since leaving school. We sat over a beer and moaned about how we both hated our jobs. I was earning minimum wage and he was earning good money as an accountant or salesman (I can’t remember exactly what he was doing, but it paid well). On the face of it he was doing better than me –  he was at least being rewarded better for his crappy situation – but take a step back and look again. I was about to re-train to do the thing I wanted to do, he couldn’t do that as he couldn’t afford the loss of salary whilst he trained. He had become trapped in his unsatisfactory career choice by the financial package it gave him. A better situation to be in than mine at the time? You decide. Did he escape his job? I don’t know I haven’t seen him again.

 

 

The second thing to say is that whatever career you choose for yourself, it’s all about the people. Easy to say if you’re working in a service industry, but it’s equally as true if you’re not. There are very few jobs that aren’t done for the benefit of humankind in one way or another so we should think about them as we work. One of my crappy catering jobs was doing hospitalities in an NHS executive building and it was quite disheartening delivering refreshments to meeting rooms and hearing people talking about cancer treatments in terms of financial costs and not in terms of the lives that would/wouldn’t be saved and the families that could be affected by decisions made around the boardroom tables. Particularly if we work in a service industry we should give the kind of service we’d want to receive if we were our customer. Treat your customers like human beings and they will come back to you and may even recommend you to their friends. Yes, they’ve asked you to do this tiny thing for them and strictly speaking it is chargeable, but maybe if you did it as a freebie it’d help build up a long term relationship with them and maybe stop them asking one of your competitors for something bigger when it comes along. I think if you lose sight of the people and just think about the money you may make a few short term gains, but in the long term I doubt it does you any good. People don’t like having to deal with people they don’t like. So be nice to people, give good customer service, and you will win customers.

 

 

Thirdly and lastly, listen to criticism. I find this one really difficult, but it’s important. Some criticism will be unjustified and erroneous but you should still give it your attention just to make sure it is. However good we are at our jobs we are not perfect. However much experience we have in our field there is still more for us to learn and improvements we can make. ‘The customer is always right.’ Even when they’re wrong about what we do they may be right about the way we do things. I used to hate it at school when I had to go up to the front and let the teacher mark my work whilst I stood there, but training, correction and criticism are all vital parts of an improvement process. So man up and hear your faults; then do something about them.

 

Right, enough of being serious on my birthday. I’m off to the pub.