Saturday, 7 December 2013

A Pause for Thought: Reflection on my business in 2013

I began the year with a post that proved itself very popular, and still attracts many readers. It details some of my efforts for focus and success in my VO career, and indeed my life, for what was then the coming new year of 2013. I'm going to end it by sharing some of the valuable lessons I have learned, the highs, the lows, the exciting and the mundane.

Firstly, no matter how hard I try, I lose my focus, and waiver from time to time. This makes it ultra-essential that I ensure  I have  my goals and aspirations written down somewhere, and displayed in a prominent place, so that when life settles down after a period of craziness, I can quickly reaffirm or reassess my targets. Along the way this year I have certainly taken time to  re-visit my values for my business, and my life in general.

A major success for me this year was establishing a new social forum for Voiceover Artists in the UK. Rather discouragingly though, as a result of that creation,  I became bullied both online and off.  Much soul searching and  confidence re-building was required. Now as I reflect upon that messiness, I can see that it was an excellent opportunity for me to connect with people who count.  Many, many kind and good people came to my aide and offered support privately, both professional VO's, and some very highly respected producers, whom I had not worked with or encountered directly before. Another kind soul, in an effort to cheer me up, sent me a link to a video of an interview with US talent Lisa Biggs. Her positive attitude and sunny outlook seemed like the perfect antidote to my current predicament, and the long and the short of it is, that after being asked to contribute as a guest blogger to the, I was invited by Lisa to become a part of the unique boutique of formidable female VO talent that is the Voxy Ladies. They really are an incredible, uplifting, talented and dedicated bunch of women, and I am thrilled to be a member (you can enter our fabulous Christmas competition here.)

Another major shift for me has been my encounters with Audiobook Narration. It is hard to believe as I work towards completing my tenth book, that I hadn't even started this time last year: audiobook narration was merely a potential conquest on the horizon. Fiction, non-fiction, romance, children's, Young Adult, paranormal, thrillers; you name it, I feel like I have done it! I love that I am constantly learning: technology, pacing, technique and accents. And it feels great that I am now officially reach the criteria to be a member go the APA (Audiobook Publishers Association), and AudioFile.

Other developments: I am a Sound Woman; I attended the inaugural annual event for Sound Women at the BBC earlier this year. I have learnt to use new software, conquered Punch and roll, developed my editing skills and knowledge. I have streamlined my business accounts by using Quickbooks online system, as recommended at VOX 2013, of which I was a proud sponsor this year to boot. I have mentored several fledgling Voiceover artists, encouraging them to broaden their horizons, and I have more VO buddies than ever before. I have changed from a PC to Mac, and I have upgraded my booth. I have changed my travel set-up, and invested in a new mic. I trained in Gaming Voice work & ADR for film and television. I have new representation in the States, and I continue to work on pleasing my regular clients by providing top-notch audio with and without ISDN. I've worked on some projects which have quite literally made my spine-tingle when I've seen and heard them.

My goals have helped me achieve all of this, and given me something to focus on during the harder times.You never know where a Journey will take you, and sometimes just over the horizon of a rocky bit of the path where you wonder if you can be bothered to go on at all, will be a gleaming reward. Or so it seems to me.

I'm already making plans for the what, when and how's of my work for 2014. Do you know where you are planning to head?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Software Shenanigans

I did it. I swapped from a PC to a Mac! Yay! Go me!

Please don't think this was on a whim. No. I have procrastinated over this for a very, very long time, and decided I would wait until my PC finally, utterly and devastatingly let me down.

I hate change. One of the main things that had held me back from changing previously was the all-consuming fear of having to change my preferred recording software. Until now, Audacity, the freebie DAW (that is Digital Audio Workstation, or for those of you less well-aquainted with technical terms, the place on the screen where the squiggles appear when you talk into the
microphone, which you can then cut and paste to get improved results) had done me proud. Audacity was simple. There was nothing fancy, it did what I needed, it recorded my voice, and I could edit, I could compress, and normalise and all the basic tools were there for shorter jobs.

And then I tried Twisted Wave on my iPad. It is so quick, easy and intuitive, I began to wonder how awesome it must be on the Mac...I read comment after comment on Twitter about fellow VO's being pleased with it, and I grew curious, and ready to make a change. Having done so, I can confirm that it works very well: it is a clever, easy to understand piece of software that is the ultimate in simplicity, and for day to day work, it is currently my preferred tool.

However, recently my work has taken me further and further into the world of Audiobooks. With long form narration, comes the absolute necessity to cut down on editing time. Every minute, every second of your time counts when you have 14 to 16 hours of finished material to lay down and then edit.

I had heard of the legendary Punch-and-Roll system available on Pro-Tools, but I have to date felt that whilst I am proficient at editing, it is not my field of expertise or passion. Me, I'm all about the Voice work.  When necessary, I would rather outsource extensive production to an engineer gifted in that area, and as a result I have felt reluctant to tie myself in to a monthly fee with Pro-Tools (I could be wrong, but I believe it is a piece of software that you pay for monthly to lease, and there is no option to own it). Little did I know that there were much cheaper options out there. And then I stumbled upon a solution that is free!

Pro Sonus Studio One is a popular choice with Audiobook Narrators, since you can use what they term 'Pre-roll' to playback and then 'drop-in' and record over the top of previous error (i.e. you hear a brief portion of the correct sentence you last spoke before you flubbed, immediately before you can re-record a new version of the next sentence) . Meaning that when you get to the end of your long narration, since you have taken the time to record immediately over your mistakes, you are left with a seamless recording of the entire chapter you have been working on, and no unwanted extras. I can't tell you the hours this saves in editing. Ofcourse, you still need to listen through for pops and clicks and breath and movement noise, but you know that  all the right words are there, in the right order. You can have faith that you have managed to achieve the same tone and pacing that you used first time around, because you have created it all 'in the moment'. Pro Sonus offer various levels of their software, but the Studio One Free version does absolutely fine for getting you started, in a cost-conscious way.

Which software do you love, and why?

Right, enough studio-avoidance. That book series won't narrate itself. Off to the glorified cupboard I go.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Mouth noise - the bane of a Voice Actor's life.

My last post was all about how great it was to take some time out this summer, and boy, am I glad I did! Since the day after that post, until now, I have been flying by the seat of my narrator's chair to get project after project completed.  Lots of lovely IVR for a major high street retail, some fabulous corporate videos for new clients in Europe, and four separate Audiobooks, some self-produced, some recorded elsewhere, on top of my usual client list for ISDN work. I completed all my long-form work two days ago, and my corrections and pick-ups. Phew. I'm done!
(Here's a little pic of me hard at work.)

One of the things that strikes me about the longer narration pieces, is the responsibility the VO or Narrator has to keen their mouth clean, in order to provide as clear and concise a read as possible. And it is not a simple as it seems. There is definitely far more discipline and awareness required than on shorter commercial pieces.

Some people swear by eating an apple between recording segments. For me, this just ends with apple skin irritatingly stuck in my teeth. Some like to drink apple juice. That works ok, but I find I can only drink so much, and needing the ladies room an awful lot. And of course, there is water. Obviously keeping yourself hydrated means that your mouth won't sound dry and sticky, but personally I find that water is better as a something to drink during the days leading up to mammoth recording sessions to ensure my body is about as hydrated as it can be. If I drink too much whilst 'on the job', my mouth noise takes on a different quality. Finding a balance is all important, if you want to save hours of editing on the other side.

I've recently seen people blogging about a quirt of lemon juice, and have yet to give that a go. Already my taste buds are popping at the very thought of the sharp tang. I have been trying out different juices and foods, and I think I've found my very own recipe for success. I like to use a chewing gum as a quick fix (this is far easier to do when recording solo, as it would be a little bit
gross to remove gum in an outside studio!),. My preference is Wrigley's Extra Peppermint Sugar Free Gum. And then recently I found what has become my golden elixir for Voiceover work: Tropicana Orange and Mango Juice. For some reason it seems to soothe the throat when it begins to tire, and cleans my palate, ready for lots more clean talking (or not so clean, depending on how raunchy the bedroom scene in the novel I'm narrating is!)

What do you use? Are you aware of your mouth noise, or trusting an engineer to pick it up and clean up the mess you made? I'd love to hear other people's special recipes for success.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Recharging the batteries

This summer I did something I rarely do. I stopped. I took my foot off the pedal, and coasted along on the wave of the marketing and client contacts I have worked on continuously for months.
I checked my emails for incoming work (it's hard not to when it's on my phone), and promptly recorded all the work that came my way. I even packed up my new travel kit (Apogee MiC and stand, pop shield and my iPad)
but I still stopped. I took a well earned break from my social media and my other marketing activities, I  didn't check P2P sites, and decided to only audition for private, customised requests. 

I'll admit that at first this wasn't intentional. My internet provider let me down for endless days (actually it was 8 days, but felt like forever), and then horror of horrors, my PC died. I had backed up, mostly, except for the Audiobook I was working on. Disbelief, upset, anger. I think I was grieving. The repair took a while, and I was determined not to buy a new one until the old was proven to be incapable of resurrection.  I slipped into a calmer state of school summer holidays and enjoyment before I knew it. 

As the kids get ready for their next academic year, and the trip to Disneyland is but a distant memory, and a new cuddly toy or two, I'm about ready to jump into action again too. And you know what? I'm still here. I'm still a Voiceover Artist. I still work with some awesome clients, and I've still 'got it'. I've had a chance to reflect on some knock-backs, and to celebrate my successes. And to work out what I wish to conquer next.  It occurs to me that this was exactly what I needed, and that the Universe has provided the perfect excuse and reason to slow down by giving me issues with technology. The batteries are recharged, and I'm raring to go. Is it time you took a break?

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A Tale of ISDN Trauma

This time last summer, I was in ISDN installation hell.
Let me explain. 

I had worked for many years as a Voice Artist, and very successfully too. My home studio was working out well for me, with tweaks here and there as needed. My lifestyle had recently changed. Young babies were now young children, and more in a routine, and out of the house for the bulk of the day. I could now be available at the drop of a hat for last minute sessions. Something kept nagging that I ought to book more Radio Commercial work.  And to do that in the UK, ISDN is the only way, as it remains the preference and expectation of most producers. So after attending VOX 2012, and chatting to many of my VO peers, I decided I would delve in. I was ready. It would be simple, right? Go home, choose and book a provider for the line installation, order a Codec, and Bob’s your Uncle.

Wrong. (For a start, my Uncle is Bill). 

What I had forgotten to factor in, was that I am a self-confessed technophobe. And there begins my ISDN trauma, as I now refer, in my mind at least, to that dark time of stress! 

Everyone said, ‘Get a Prima LT.’ The word on the street (or Twitter, or Google or FB, I forget which)
was that as they were no longer available to buy new, since Musicam had stopped producing them, the place to go for a Prima was Ebay. ‘Pick up a second hand Prima, everyone is using them. A doddle to fix, you can mostly do it with a little dab of WD40.’ And so that is the route I took. I shopped around, and there weren’t many available. But finally, I found one on eBay, at a reasonable price that could be delivered to me within a week from the US. Easy peasy. Or so I thought. 

After being held at customs for three weeks, it arrived before the line installation could be completed. It sat in a box, as I had no need of it yet. The installation process was slow, long winded and unnecessarily complicated on behalf of BT. The provider I chose, Ellesys, were excellent and communicated brilliantly throughout. The only downfall at the time was that most of their customers were not VO’s, so they were hazy about my exact requirements. And so was I.

Eventually the line was installed. Then uninstalled, then reinstalled. The kids broke up from school, they got chicken pox and were poorly for ages(!), and then we went on a three week trip to France. I was determined when I returned, I would finally plug the thing in, and the codec would work just luvverly. Nope. My head almost exploded trying to ascertain which cables I would need to order, and then which ones would plug in where. Eventually, cables in, it was time to test the line. It was shockingly bad. The line was crackly and unusable. Deep trauma. Where the cables in the wrong places, was the line working, was the codec working….? I ended up speaking with numerous other VO’s, several Audio Engineers, three hours on the phone to Musicam in the US, and shed many tears and had a tantrum or two,  until in the end some kind soul (you know who you are!) took pity on me and lent me a spare codec to test the line. Honestly, it was such a test of endurance!

 It didn’t end there. Both the line and the codec box were an issue, beyond the understanding of the
Voiceover-Actor-turned-Knight-in-Shining-Armour who came to rescue me. In the end I threw large wads of cash at the problem and two engineers recommended by my Twitter community eventually took over analysing the audio issues. And the problem? The codec was choc-a-block full of RUST inside. Everything. Only one part was salvageable for resale. The saddest part was that by now, out of sheer frustration and lack of knowledge, it had taken much longer than eBay’s buyer returns policy allows for registering faults. So I was left without a codec, seriously out of pocket, and still, without ISDN.

I made a decision to cut my losses, to use a different type of codec, one that is still manufactured and supported, and for whom parts are available as and when required. I now have a Prodys Prontnet, which is a Spanish make, however the very model I bought is identical in every way to Musicam’s newly released Suprima. I am thankful that it is under warranty, and that I know who to call and when.

I have yet to see the funny side. But I can see that I learnt a hell of a lot along the way through my ISDN journey. I realised that is imperative to know who to call when your Audio equipment isn’t working, someone who knows your set up. Find an audio guy, and make him your best friend. I also accept that I do not have to know absolutely everything about my set up, but have enough know-how for daily hiccups. I have realised that my instinct was that I wasn’t comfortable buying a second hand piece of equipment of that magnitude on eBay. I should have trusted that. And I realised, once again that my VO community is a fantastic resource and minefield of information and how-to’s, and support.
about knowing how to get hold of the people who have the Advanced knowledge.

 I have been up and running with ISDN for almost a year, and my business is booming. I have had an incredible year, which has opened up possibilities across the Pond, as well as with some of the UK’s top Radio commercial producers. One of the most interesting things for me though, is that some (but by no means all) of the work comes not through ISDN, but because I have ISDN capability. So sometimes the first session with a new producer might be on ISDN, but after that I’m free to work via mp3 or wav. It’s like a status symbol. If I am willing to invest in myself and my studio, I must be worth working with, or something like that.

I would seriously recommend Dan Friedman’s book for anyone looking into setting up ISDN. And I would definitely recommend my Prodys Prontnet, and Ellesys for anyone ready to splurge.

At the back of my mind, throughout it all, I thought that one day I would blog about my experience with ISDN. And here it is. My therapy. 

(I’d do it all over again though for the learning possibilities and to finally, actually, really be on ISDN, because it has made a fundamental change to my way of working.)

 Fingers crossed, it’ll be more plain sailing for you!




Monday, 24 June 2013

Finding your Voice Over Mojo.

You know that feeling when no matter how well your Voiceover business has been going, no matter how hard you have been marketing, and networking, you realise you have hit a slump? It may be an off-week, an off-month, or even just a couple of days that aren’t matching up to your usual targets. Moments when you think to yourself, ‘What am I doing? I’m not getting anywhere!’. I’d like to focus on those times is this month’s blog. 

When I've had those slumps during my career, I have found that often lurking around that corner, once I pull myself through my negative mindset, there is a lovely big job waiting for me that was well worth the wait. I’ve been listening to inspirational thought-leader Seth Godin’s ‘The Dip’, and something he said really hit the spot for me. To be ‘the best in the world’, or your very own version of that, and all that that sentences means for you, takes time, effort and consistency. It takes thinking out of the box, and it takes bravery to change tack from previously successful strategies that no longer work for you. Paul Strikwerda recently posted a blog regarding his departure from using pay to play giants, and it seems to me that Paul has taken the brave and informed step of leaving behind what for him had become a dead-end, or a cul-de-sac. That is not to say that the same decisions are for everyone, just that in order to become your own version of being ‘the best in the world’, you sometimes have to follow your gut instincts to leave the rest behind. It takes skill, and determination to be a leader in any industry, and it takes forward-thinking to evaluate what currently works in terms of your own precious time and, crucially, what doesn’t. In our culture ‘giving up’ a strategy can often be viewed as failure, but so often real success is achieved when you are open to exploration of alternative methods.
audiobook version of his motivational talk,

Similarly, Bill DeWees mentions his leaving behind of pay to play sites in his recently published book, ‘How to Start and Build a 6 FigureVoice Over Business.’ For him, in his busy and financially successful VO career, the time, effort and energy spent in constantly auditioning for sites open to mass markets, are no longer viable. Targeted marketing and utilising non-VO specific websites and forums for the smaller jobs and less-well-paying clients has led to him building a significant
portfolio. He describes how leaving behind notions of only taking the large paying jobs has opened up doors and possibilities for business connections, which are simply unobtainable for US Union based VO’s. His message is clear: you can be a well-paid Voice Over doing a few intermitent big jobs, living with financial instability from one job to the next, or you can be an active seeker-out of new horizons in a rapidly changing market, and become secure in your knowledge of an income from one week to the next.

When I’ve encountered a stale slump in my productivity, to some extent I accept that this is par for the course in any freelance work. However, I also take that time to assess my business model. What can I change in my approach? What works? What doesn’t? What can I change? My friend and fellow female voiceover artist Natalie B, recently recommended, ‘Screw Work, Let’s Play,’ by John
Williams. It promotes having several revenue streams and entrepreneurial strings to your bow, and gets the reader to consider being more open to other avenues in their work. Don’t stay stuck. Finding an impetus for changing your working patterns will reap rewards in terms of your creative and financial success.

So for me a period of consolidated review in a ‘bad patch’ serves only to be a positive opening towards improving and upping my game. I've made a few changes, and left a few working habits behind. I'm left feeling much more motivated now that I have some new tactics in place. Have a look at how you do things. Have you become closed? Are you in a rut with your networking and marketing? Have your vocal performances become predictable and less-than-fresh? Take the time to reflect, and then choose to be committed to trying a new tactic for stepping up your game.

Monday, 20 May 2013

What every Voiceover Artist should have on their book shelf...

I'm an avid reader. I can't get enough of finding inspirational books (and eBooks, and blogs, and magazine articles and Audiobooks) to motivate and challenge me as a both a performer and business- lady extraordinaire. My favourite topic: Voiceovers, Voice Acting and Voice. It seems I am not alone: since starting my blog just under a year ago, I am inundated with requests for advice, tips and suitable material to learn the Voiceover ropes from. As a result, I created my own Amazon Voiceover Bookstore to share my recommendations and have found that sharing tips has become one of the most pleasurable and satisfying part of my job. Everyone needs a helping hand when getting started. This month I have been asked to share which books are ideal for those starting out to have a look at, and so here are a few of my thoughts.

The founders of  Stephanie and David Ciccarelli have recently published 'Voice Acting for Dummies', which comes in the trusty, foolproof format of the the 'For Dummies' series. It starts at a very basic level, and takes the reader step by step through the working life of a Voice Actor. It encompasses all elements of work from commercial to corporate to animation to gaming. It takes a good look at what is required in setting up, not just in terms of studio equipment, but also the in's and out's of day-to-day business ettiquette for Voice work: creating profiles, websites, building and maintaining clients relationships, quoting for work, invoicing,  and so forth. It takes the reader from the 'so basic it is obvious', to the far more technical elements of editing and producing quality audio from your home studio, and the layout makes it easy to dip in and out of sections as and when required.

Another book that I have learnt oodles from is 'Sound Advice:Voiceover from an Audio Engineer's perspective' by Dan Friedman. Oh, how I wish I had had this book when I was setting up my studio initially! It would have saved so much time, effort and heartache, and the inevitable errors that can occur when you decide to 'go it alone'. I found it particularly useful when Dan described ISDN set up, as this was a real headache for me. If only I had known such great advice was available. Dan discusses not only the technical side of choosing and setting up your studio, but provides clear descriptions, and pictures, of what waveforms should look like when editing your recorded material. He unravels some of the abbreviations used in the business by the audio experts, and makes the studio much more accessible, and a lot less scary and intimidating.

If you're looking for an easy-to-read and understand eBook to help you grasp the basics of Voiceover work, then my friend and fellow British Female Voice over Artist Natalie Cooper, and two US Male VO counterparts (Stewart WJ Reynolds & Rob Wreford) have put together a new addition to the Voiceover book world. Quick to download, and great value-for-money, 'The Voiceover Bible' is a great place to start for those who are less keen readers, who are simply not going to spend hours swotting up. It is compact and concise, and written from three very different Voiceover Artists' perspectives. It includes their own versions of 'how-to's' and 'what not to do's'. Natalie has helped me with her advice on several occasions, and she knows what she is talking about. Have a look. You could be reading it within a minute if you order now!

So there you go- a few books to keep you going. Personally I love to read a book about the industry and profession I work in even though I've a few years as a Voice under my belt. It is great to keep abreast of thoughts, opinions and practices, and there's always room for improvement. So which book will you order today?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Voice of the Movies - are you in the Loop?

What do you think of when I mention sound design in film and television? I'm sure many of you will immediately think of music used to enhance dramatic effect, of added sound effects, or of foley to recreate daily noises such as walking on different surfaces. I wonder how many, though, will think of the background voices in crowd scenes, the conversations of incidental characters portrayed on screen by extras, of even the re-voicing done on main speaking characters when the audio recorded on location isn't up to scratch? All of these voice recording fall under the umbrella of  a vital piece of the on-screen jigsaw: ADR, or its proper name Automated Dialogue Replacement.

Sound technicians use ADR to enhance, create and correct, in all television and film content, and on group scenes within Gaming. Laughter is not canned laughter regurgitated again and again from one film to the next, crowd scenes noises are not from a compilation track. No, instead each scene, each ambiance, each location is created from scratch, performed by a team of ADR actors, aka a Loop Group. These actors are responsible for making the scenes come alive, for making them become more 'real'. This stage of post-production makes all the difference, and yet when done well goes barely noticed by the captive audience absorbed by the dramas unfolding on screen.

The techniques and requirements of the ADR actor are unique, although they share similarities to those employed in Gaming, In many ways, although the voice is recorded, the style required is much more akin to acting than to voice over work. Physicality, location, character, status, period research and improvisation are crucial to establishing a 'true' background soundscape. Researched, non-specific dialogue improvisations are key to making an unobtrusive but natural background to any scene. Vocal takes from group work and individual microphone work are layered together to create detailed environments. This team work makes the restaurant come alive with diners, the party seem in full swing, and the surge of the crowd that bit more threatening.

In September 2012, David John of In the Loop ADR Voice Casting established ADR training together with Louis Elman and Abigail Barbier to form the Louis Elman Academy. For many years, Elman and his team have been known as the experts in the business, and on this course it is easy to see why. They share their extensive knowledge and experience with those seeking to work in ADR  based at the Warner Brothers De Lane Lea Studios in Soho. Forget Hollywood, many blockbuster and award-winning movies are given their sound treatment here in the UK, and on this course, you get the opportunity to see some of the world's best sound engineering talent at work.

The next course dates are 11th May and 1st June 2013, and you can find our more here Please do tell them I sent you. Who knows? Perhaps you are a natural and you could land yourself slap bang in the middle of an award winning movie. You may have to listen very carefully to hear your voice, but it'll be an important part of the picture nevertheless.

 Have a listen next time you watch the telly, or go to the cinema, Really listen. You'll be surprised and impressed at the detailed level of vocal work that you hear. You may never be able watch anything in the same way ever again!

I often get a huge response from my blog's from people interested in the books and materials I recommend. I have put many of them (and more!) together in a recommendation list with Amazon, which you can view below should you wish to buy directly from them. Please click below:<a href="" target="_blank">
, and get developing and improving your self!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Ongoing Development for Professional Voiceovers

This blog relates to the relevance of continual development for those working as established Voiceover Artists, as well as for those just setting out at the start of their careers. There are many areas to pay attention to, where learning and, crucially, listening and understanding of  developments in the global marketplace, can make all the difference. Self-development can include microphone and editing techniques, maintaining an awareness of developments within technology, both hardware and software. It can be about improving one's own microphone technique, or  networking skills for new and existing clients. It can be about making improvements to your demo's, to your many online profiles, to keeping abreast of your ratecard. It can be about researching new areas of the Voice market. In short, there is always room for improvement, no matter how long you have been in the game.

In the US, there is a culture which makes continual coaching the norm, even among the busiest VO's. In the UK, we are less inclined to use a coach, and if we do take a course, it is more likely to be a one-off, or to update a demo.  There are many benefits though to establishing a rapport with a voiceover coach on a longer term basis. They can help you focus on how you sound, and how to achieve the best results for your clients. They can help keep you grounded when you have the best of luck with some major clients, and keep you confident of your abilities when work is quieter (it happens to us all!). In short, they can be an important point of contact for your performance development, able to spot when you are off mic, able to hear when you misjudged a turn of phrase, or when you could give a different energy to a line. Skype has enabled even the most remote coach to work with you in a personal way, or better still, you could find someone located near to you and meet with them in person.

Keeping abreast of technological advancements is important too. There are so many pre-amps, mixers, microphones and software packages out there. Ensure you know what is what, or at the very least, the best places to lay your hands on this information. I recently attended BV Expo in London, and found Rode and Shure standholders extremely helpful in demonstrating and explaining their products, and eager to share their recommendations for different budgets and recording scenarios. Some companies are good enough to let you have a seven day try-before-you-buy policy on recording equipment, and it is very worthwhile taking them up on this offer. Perhaps you aren't quite ready to invest in the top of the range Mics, but wouldn't it be beneficial to know which set-ups you aspire to? And maybe to have a full understanding of the best options for recording when away from your home studio? Do your research, so that you know which way to go when the time comes.

There's an abundance of books out there which advocate good business practice for maintaining and excelling in client relationships. Even if you are confident of your abilities to charm and be agreeable with clients, it can do no harm to see if there is room for improvement. One of my favourites, although a little out of date as it was published before the rise of the internet, is 'You are the Message' by Roger Ailes. Another is 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People' by Stephen Covey. Get reading, or better still, support the Audiobook industry (and your fellow Narrators) by listening to a version on CD or mp3. It makes self-improvement so mush more accessible when you can do it from the comfort of your car, or while you go for a jog.

Self-development is important no matter where you are in your career. Those at the top need to  know how best to ensure they stay there. Those starting out need to fully understand the business they are entering. It is never as simple as standing in front of a mic in a quiet room. There is always room to learn, and grow, and develop, as a business person and as a professional performer. Above are a few of my ideas. What can you do to improve your lot?

I often get a huge response from my blog's from people interested in the books and materials I recommend. I have put many of them (and more!) together in a recommendation list with Amazon, which you can view below should you wish to buy directly from them. Please click below:, and get developing and improving your self!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Industry insights into Voice Acting for Video Games

It's official. Video Games are here to stay. This relatively new entertainment industry is set to get bigger and better, and with more and more people enjoying the likes of Playstations, X-boxes and Nintendos, games are no longer the sole domain of the stereotypical Gamer. They belong also to the family, to young children, to groups of teens, to Granny and Grandpa wanting to exercise, or stretch their brain cells, and it belongs to 92 year old Great-grandpa who, confined to his seat, fancies a round of golf on Boxing Day (a wonderful, true, remarkable moment from my own family!). There's character games for kids, there's war games, there's fantasy, there's Zumba! They are interactive, they are on the big telly, they are with us on the go in our hands, in our pockets, on our phones. And that means greater and broader opportunities for Voice Actors within this niche industry. However, in the UK, it seems that the work is increasingly going to a select few. So what can you do to ensure you are the one with a foot in the door as Gaming grows? It's a chicken and egg situation: getting experience without having experience has been nigh on impossible, until now.

Hugh Edwards, Voice Director and Casting Director from High Score Productions is making a firm commitment to training actors specifically for Video Game work. He wants to widen the talent pool that gets used, and ensure those that are up-and-coming know the tricks of the trade. Voice Actors need to fully understand the gaming industry, to have a feel for what is required of characters within game play, to have background knowledge on Gaming pop-culture references. If you are serious about getting anywhere in the industry, you've got to know your Blades of Time from your TombRaider. Most people have grown up around film and television, but not everyone has been involved in Gaming. Hugh aims to give a taster of what is going on in this branch of the entertainment industry which currently is overlooked during traditional actor training.

If you're selected to join a Game cast, and you are working in front of a Developer or Publisher, from Sega for example, the Voice Director needs to have total confidence that you know not only how to perform in front of the mic, but also the gaming specific terms and lingo bandied around the studio. It is not enough to wing it and learn on the job. Valuable time can be lost in an hour session if you are having to be coached in the 'how-to's' by the Voice Director. And that's why those with Game experience get cast again and again, because they can be trusted in front of a client to get the job done, and done right. So, for the humble Voiceover Artist who wants to break into this industry, where can you go, and what can you do to help yourself?! Well, Hugh places such importance and value on training the next generation of Voice Actors as the industry grows, that he has established a course based at Hackenbacker Studios, where together with Peter Dickson (of X-factor fame, although also a prolific Voice Actor for Games) they pass on their vast knowledge of what is expected of you on a Video Game job.

The course is a full day, and jam-packed with information and opportunities to ask advice and know-how. Each participant gets equal amounts of time in front of the microphone, and one of the benefits of the course is that you hear and see everyone else's performance. So often in voice work, a VO is alone in a booth, and is usually booked for a separate slot from other voice actors. The chance to watch and learn from others on this course is invaluable. To experience the difference in someone else's performance when it is well acted and properly directed leads to a greater learning opportunity for everyone. Peter and Hugh create a supportive atmosphere where to experiment and play with your voice, your character ideas and accents, is safe, and creativity is encouraged. And one of the best things is that the course is only open to actors and VO's already well versed in performing for the mic, and not to total novices. This means there is already a wealth of experience in the room before anyone opens their mouth.

Frank discussions on agents, demo content and on how to approach gaming audio companies were extremely useful. There really is no bigger turn-off for Gaming producers than to be sent Commercial reels. After all, how good you are at selling BMW's or a bar of chocolate, has no reflection on your ability as a Gaming character. Demo's need to be Gaming specific, and packed with decent content, to show your ability and range in an interesting and engaging way, with careful consideration for the kinds of smaller roles you are likely to cast in. You firstly need to be in the right category, but within that framework you can show variations and be dramatic, and show your malleability. In many instances up to 8 smaller roles may be played by the same performer. Each needs to be distinct and fully formed. And this can be a challenge when you are often working in isolation, so you need to ensure you can keep an accent or character up, and remember them from one session to the next. Some tips on how to do this were insightful and easy to put into practice.

With £1 billion per year in the UK alone spend on Gaming, the industry is only going to grow, with PS4 and the new X-box offering coming shortly. Current and emergent new technologies will offer the Voice Actor opportunities for Motion Capture work, both body and facial, & for wire-framing. Plans are already afoot to encapsulate some of the rudiments for these techniques in a new course coming later this year. Watch this space.

HighScoreWhy not start working through some characters for yourself, find the ones you are most comfortable with? Have a snoop on YouTube at popular Game characters and see where you might be a fit. Do some leg work before you are ready to create your demo. Or, if this is really going to be your thing, be a Gamer. Get hold of a console, and get playing. It'll be the best way to immerse yourself in this whole other world.

Further info on High Score's course can be found here, and I for one, can highly recommend it.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Drama School training for Voiceover Artists - are there benefits?

As I've said before throughout my blogs, people enter the Voiceover world from different backgrounds. Some arrive from having worked in radio as presenters, some as experienced producers or sound engineers. Others find their Voiceover niche because they have always been able to entertain through mimicking and creating crazy voices. A great many however, began their careers as actors, and launched their Voice careers after honing their skills and talents at drama school. I am from within that camp, having completed post-graduate Actor Training, and then having worked as a  professional actress for some years. This blog shares with you my thoughts on the benefits of being an actor, especially a trained one, when it comes to Voiceover work. It is not my view that it is completely necessary, just that it has benefits, and may give you food for thought on how to improve certain areas of your voice work.

For me, there's an assurance I carry that I know what I'm doing with my voice. Vocal training during my time studying at drama school helped me gather a strong sense of what works and why. I understand how to shape my mouth and tongue and lips to change my sound to achieve a desired effect. I appreciate the difference warming up my facial muscles makes to a session with the microphone, and those warm ups are ingrained! They are so much a part of my daily routine, that often I'm not aware that I do them. I hum in the car after dropping my kids at school to warm my voice, I stretch out my face. I work on some excellent tongue twisters with the children, all to get the muscles moving, I read through each and every script aloud making full use of every single vowel and consonant (I sound utterly ridiculous and a little bit crazed) and it makes such a dramatic change to the reading I then give into the microphone, makes me focus, and slow down my speech. A wonderful, elderly voice tutor spent hours of her time drilling us students in the importance of clarity in speaking. Who wants to listen to someone who isn't taking the time to enjoy language, who garbles and rushes through syllables and consonants? And she was right. I now find it frustrating to hear people who in daily interactions err on the side of mumbling. Becoming aware of my own shortcomings in my natural speech, makes me determined to ensure my clients get full articulation and clarity from me. If someone has written the script, then they want it spoken properly! Jonathan Tilley has some excellent warm up tips in his highly recommended eBook, 'Voice Over Garden'. Visit to find out more.

The anatomical knowlege of my speaking equipment I gained whilst training gives me the confidence to know when I need to rest my voice when things just don't feel like they should. After all, damage to the voice is a bit of a bummer when you are Voiceover Artist. Every impending sore throat needs a little TLC, and it is important to heed those early croaky warning signs.  It can be hard to say no to a job, but if your voice needs to rest, then you must take a break. I once suffered from some major vocal complications which meant I had to rest my voice for 8 weeks! It was a challenge, but meant that I still have the ability to speak and to have this excellent career. If I had been foolish, and not heeded warnings from vocal and medical professionals around me, life could be quite different. If something isn't working in the way a client wants you to do a reading, if it causes pain or discomfort, have the confidence to speak up. Change your performance or perhaps suggest they could use an effect on your voice instead. Don't take risks. If things don't feel right with your mouth or throat, go see a doctor. Have confidence in your knowledge as a performer, and understand the needs of your body.

And then there are the many things I learned about Breath. Breath control is paramount to a good performance, and knowing anatomically and viscerally how to achieve that makes a tremendous difference. Firstly, I urge you to find a voice class that you can attend, failing that check out some of the wonderful writings by the Royal Shakespeare Company's very own Cecily Berry.
 With my brand of upbeat, enthusiastic, and often fast paced voiceovers, it is crucial that my breathing doesn't ruin a read, and that I have the support to get to the end of a very long sentence without collapsing in a heap! There are many great exercises you can do to become aware of your own breathing limitations and habits, and advice on how to reform yourself towards new positive habits. Do a little research, and see where you can get some help locally.

As an experienced actor, I am accustomed to 'getting into character' quickly and effortlessly. Even jobs which require my 'natural' speaking voice, there always needs to be an idea of who I am, and to whom I am speaking. It is rarely ever just me 'reading the text'. There is an element of performance to almost every read: corporate, narration, commercial and the rest. Having confidence in the character I have created can make a read stand out, make it feel more connected, more natural. This is of particular benefit when working on Audiobooks where a myriad of characters need your voice to be 'their' voice. It is crucial then to be able to adapt my ideas on character when being directed, finding ways to quickly and seamlessly adapt my performance and character to a director's requirements. My experiences in the rehearsal rooms at drama school and my later acting career give me the confidence to play with my character creations. Some things work, some things don't, but I always have the willingness and ability to try something new with a character idea for a script. Why not find a local acting class you can sign up to? Or an improv class? They can be fantastic ways of jumping in and feeling inspired by your own character creations, and you can learn anm awful lot from fellow classmates. The City Lit in London offers some fantastic courses, although most adult education centres will have some form of performance course to get you started.

So, for me, Drama School training has been a real asset, but it isn't compulsory for a Voiceover career. Maybe adding a few things to your Voice Actor toolbox could lead to a huge improvement in your performance though, both vocally and creatively. It has to be worth investigating. So perhaps a full drama school training isn't for you, but it can do no harm to learn a little more about the tools of your trade: your voice, your breath and your performance ability.