Connie Terwilliger – ISDN Voice Talent

August 30, 2010

The Audiobook Journey

Filed under: Musings, Recording, Techniques — connieterwilliger @ 8:00 am

Well, this is a bit after the fact, but I had the opportunity to take a journey with Pat Fraley and Scott Brick this past weekend here in San Diego – a journey to discover my potential recording audiobooks.

I’ve been keeping my eye on Pat’s workshops for a while, but just wasn’t able to carve out the time to spend the weekend in LA, so when they were looking for participants for a workshop in my neck of the woods, I jumped – as did 11 others from around the country – including Hawaii.

My focus was Fiction – looking for the right kind of pieces for my voice and brain. Long form non-fiction is something I do on a regular basis, but Fiction has been on the back burner. So getting a chance to work with two pros on several excerpts and ending up with a good marketable fiction demo was worth the money. (And being close to home was a good thing too.)

Getting a chance to be directed by both Scott and Pat was inspiring. I will admit that I didn’t spend a lot of time preparing for the workshop – work and life got in the way. I went through my books and pulled 4 or 5 off the shelves and leafed through them looking for something that I thought would work.

I needed to end up with three pieces that included a dialogue piece with a man and a woman, a third person delivery and a first person delivery. But I was supposed to have transcribed it – not try to read from the books. So we photocopied the pages, bumping them up in size a bit and I worked from that…which was actually good because I was able to start earlier in one segment than I had initially planned and continue on after my stopping point in another.

Part of being in a group workshop is stealing – uh learning – from the rest of the participants. It is always interesting to hear what someone elses’s brain will do to a sentence. You learn a lot by just listening to other be directed and watching their journey.

Most of the people in the class were not working voiceover professionals – but there were many with acting backgrounds, including a working on-camera actress. But everyone was smart and articulate and literate – and watching them take direction and move forward was a real pleasure. There were a couple of times where nerves took over and a particular selection to a long time to come together. But those same people bounced back for their next selection.

Pat refers to this process as the “journey.”

I’m looking down the road now to the next stop on my personal journey toward landing a fiction contract. After that? Who knows. But one of my goals would be to impress the teachers with an Audie.

August 26, 2010

Video of the Vocal Cords

Filed under: Techniques — connieterwilliger @ 2:34 pm

I subscribe to the Voiceovers group on the Yahoo newsgroups and this link came during a discussion on care for the voice. If you have never seen your vocal folds in action, then you might want to check this page out. While it is aimed at singers, voiceover folk use the same equipment.

http://web.me.com/bdietzler1701/Mr._Dietzlers_MusicPage/VocalCords.html

And then scroll down the page a bit and see how the diaphragm works.

August 17, 2010

Quality Assurance Meets Absurd Quantity

Filed under: Business, Techniques — Tags: , , , , , , — connieterwilliger @ 5:17 pm

We all need differentiators to help set us apart from the growing army of voiceoverists* so that we end up with our fair share of the sacks of money* waiting to be spent on voiceovers.

(*Inside joke from the VO-BB.com)

One of the things I “sell” is my quality assurance. I spend time making sure that the files I send are as close to perfection as possible. This is fairly easy to do if you have a standard :30 or :60 spot. Couple of minutes to record a couple of takes. A quick couple of minutes to listen and clean up any little blups and boom, the file is out and you are 100% sure that it is ready for your client to drop into their production timeline. Make mistakes with this simple kind of work and you won’t stay in business long.

But much of my work includes vast numbers of files. And if I didn’t have some sort of work flow established and some specialized software, I would not be able to have the confidence that my files are nearly perfect when they leave my studio.

The first hurdle is making sure that you get good clean takes to start with. This takes a keen ear for your own delivery, mouth noises and vowel flutter or other stray noises that creep into the studio. I don’t use headphones anymore when I am self-directing – only when on phone patch or using ISDN – and even then, I try to listen with one ear open. But I can hear that pesky little smacking noise that my mouth makes sometimes when I say a word with an “l” in it.

The second challenge is naming vast numbers of files – sometimes with obscure file names that do not in any way relate to the content of the file in a way that would help you keep track of them. Other times they are at least sequentially numbered – except that the leading zero is left out of a sequence, so the files don’t end up exactly in sequential order according to the brain of the computer doing the sorting. Another time sucker and error prone task is keying in the names of these files one by one.

I am using a new piece of software that helps in these first two steps. Word2WAV lets you record over and over again until you are happy with a take AND saves each previous take as a backup file in another folder. It also automatically names the files with your unique file names or lets you create an accurate sequential numbering system.

While the newest version of W2W includes some editing and punch in capabilities – I find that I switch back to my Adobe Audition for any serious editing that may need to be done. When doing single word files, or short telephony prompts there is not a lot of editing. It is the batch processing that is the next hurdle in the Quality Assurance Process.

Each of my clients has different normalization levels, data and bit rates and file formats, so it is important to keep track of that information so you don’t end up sending out a format or level that is wrong. This not only cuts into your profit, but it puts a crimp in the client’s schedule when you have to redo the work.

I use the batch processing features of Adobe Audition – plus VoxStudio. Both convert sample and bit rates nicely. Audition does a much better job at normalizing a bunch of files. And VoxStudio is great for adding a specified amount of silence to the beginning and end of a file.

Then, after you know the files are clean, in the right format, at the right amplitude and named correctly, you still have to deliver them. Most telephony files are so small in size that it isn’t an issue to send them by email – except that there are so darn many of them. Simple – create a ZIP file and send that. One of my clients wants the files encrypted, so I have a process in place for that as well.

If you are sending wavs or aiffs chances are you will either need to send the files a few at a time through email or use some kind of ftp service. You want to reduce the number of emails going back and forth saying that the client hasn’t received File 23 -34 yet.

And you have to keep backups of what you do. This means some sort of file management system that allows you to quickly find the files you need – if you need to make changes. Clients like it when you are able to make a quick fix easily because you still have the original files close at hand.

Quality Assurance is part of my business plan. And it is something my clients can count on.

June 9, 2010

Censored!

Filed under: Auditioning, Techniques — Tags: , , , — connieterwilliger @ 5:15 pm

I would like to share the g-rated moments that I gleaned from Nancy Wolfson’s VOICE 2010 session on Friday, June 4. Her session was definitely pushing my comfort zone at first, but, hey, if Bob Souer can do it, then by gosh, I can try it too!

First of all some basic f*!#g tips.

  • Active hush – I may need someone to post a response explaning what this actually means, but I think it relates to the next bullet…
  • Avoid Volume and Cheerfulness – instead to add energy use vocal tension
  • Watch the smile (the Joanie Gerber “psychotic” smile may be old-school?)
  • Keep the copy higher than your eyes
  • Keep your body loose – ready to pounce

The x-rated portion of the session was all about using your natural instincts and doing three takes.

  • The Admit take – this is the gut take – no extra words
  • Then “throw down the “f” word” before the key words in the copy. Don’t worry, you’ll find them.
  • Now take out the “f” word and underline the vowels in the word that followed the “f” word.

Try it – it seems to work.

April 27, 2010

Sense of Direction

Filed under: Recording, Techniques — Tags: , , , , — connieterwilliger @ 8:14 am

I remember a session very early on in my career where I was just NOT producing what the director wanted. It was a horrible experience – and I was dismissed knowing that I had not been able to understand and deliver. I knew this because I heard the producer on the phone with my agent asking if she had to pay for me. Really horrible experience.

 A few years later, I was in a session with 6 producers – each offering different bits of “advice” for the read – and was able to find the “right” read that satisfied them all. Was it simply my added years of experience? Are there any standard words of advice that veteran voice talent can offer a director to help the session run more smoothly with successful results when all is said and done?

My friend and fellow VO talent Peter O’Connell sent a link out this morning that has a wonderful article from Babble On Recording Studios that covers the mysterious and often confounding issue of “directing the talent.”

http://babble-on-recording.com/babble_blog/?p=849

Key messages I took from the post:

  • Maintain a rhythm in the session. I have been in sessions where, after a take, the talk-back stays silent for minutes – many minutes – leaving me wondering what was being discussed. The basic insecurity inherent in being “talent” starts planting seeds of discontent and we end up trying to find other ways to read something without any feedback.
  • Avoid references to famous people when directing. Famous to one person may not be famous to another. Rather, describe the “quality” that you think you want.
  • Steer clear of “line reads” if at all possible.
  • Replay the audition. Seems logical. We audition so much, we may not remember what we did to win the job.
  • Let us do “three in a row.”
  • Playback the reads as time permits.
  • If something is “perfect” and the client thinks it is “perfect,” why are we doing another one? It is nice to know if we are free to do something different, or if you want another read very much like the “perfect” read.

April 19, 2010

Technical Specs for Audio/Video Scripts

Filed under: Techniques — Tags: , , — connieterwilliger @ 1:42 pm

It is usually a team effort to create an audio/visual presentation. And if the people you are working with don’t “see/hear” the end product the way you do, you may not get the “right” results.

This extends to the voiceover part of the presentation. You may have the entire presentation visualized in your head, but unless there is something on the script that helps the narrator see it (hear it) the way you do, you both will be working a lot harder than you need to.

Be sure to let the talent have as much information as possible about what you are hearing in the way of pacing and attitude and energy. This may mean taking a few minutes ahead of the session to discuss it with the talent. Believe me, for most projects, it is well worth the time. If a rough cut exists, consider sending a file with the interview clips. If music has been selected, let the talent hear that as well.

But it also helps if the script is easy to read. I’m not getting into the actual script writing here – that’s another topic for another time – these tips are for formatting your script to help the talent move through it quickly.

– If your script includes sound bites, be sure to include a transcription of the words that the narrator will be leading into and coming out of. This will help overall continuity and flow.

– If your script has a storyboard, please include it, but make sure to send a basic recording script. Trying to read from a storyboard is difficult, as sentences are usually chopped up … into little … pieces.

– Double space the script so that the talent has room to mark the copy.

– Use at least 12 point font. If sending an electronic doc file, then we can make the font larger if necessary, but if sending a pdf, we can’t usually bump up the font on printing, so make it a reasonable font size to start with.

– Use upper and lower case – ALL CAPS ARE MORE DIFFICULT TO READ. Think about it, the talent has no way of knowing if something should be capitalized if everything is capitalized. This could affect interpretation. (As far as I know, the use of ALL CAPS goes back to the days of the teletype machine in radio news departments.)

– Try to avoid breaking a sentence in the middle from one page to the next. This will reduce the number of times you have to stop down for page turns, as well as possible page rustle. (Turn on the Widow/Orphan control.)

– If you are using a dual column editing script as a narration script, some sentences may be broken in the middle of a thought to show the editor where a new image is supposed to appear. While most professional talent can mentally take up the space and tie the sentence together, try to avoid this on the script you hand the talent.

The easier it is for the talent to read and understand your script, the easier the session will go and the happier you will be with the results.

April 7, 2010

Tasked with an impossible name?

Filed under: Techniques — Tags: , — connieterwilliger @ 11:59 am

One of the things I do every month is record the names, addresses and phone numbers of eye doctors, dentists and lawyers for a couple of large IVR systems for Allstate. Lots of the names are foreign and appear impossible to pronounce at first glance. Finding a source to help with these names with origins from around the world would be great.

I’m checking out the VOA (Voice of America) pronunciation website – http://names.voa.gov/index.cfm

Mike Cain from the Yahoo Voiceover Message board passed this along.

August 5, 2009

Getting the Right Results from a Voiceover Session

Filed under: Communication, Techniques — Tags: , , — connieterwilliger @ 5:21 pm

(Updated June 24, 2015)

Professional video and multimedia producers know there is a lot more involved in a successful voiceover than simply recording the voice and slapping it into a time line. You need to connect and communicate with the audience.

Picking the right “talent”
The process starts with the initial selection of the voice talent for a particular project.

Start early and try not to scrimp on the budget for the talent. You want a voice that will be able to get the “right” read in the shortest amount of time. If you have questions about what to budget for talent for a particular project, make a few phone calls (to another producer, to talent you respect or best yet, a talent agent) and see what the going rate should be. You can usually find someone to do the job for practically nothing, but very often what you end up paying in extra studio time to get mediocre results will more than offset the cost of hiring a professional at a fair rate.

Before you actually start listening to talent demos, reflect on your audience and your concept. In some cases you may already have an idea that you want a very young sounding hip male voice with an edgy attitude. Or a warm and friendly, yet knowledgeable mature female voice. On the other hand you may not have any idea – “you’ll know it when you hear it.”

  • Listen to demos – either from an agency house CD or their website, or demos from individual talent. It gets easier and easier to find demos, but it can be hard to determine if the person you like can deliver the goods. Not everyone’s demos reflect their actual capabilities these days. Visit their websites. Listen to additional actual projects other than their generic demos. Ask for an audition if needed. If using an online automated casting site (commonly called Pay-2-Play by the voice talent because of the fee required to receive auditions), be prepared for a flood of auditions ranging from great to horrible.
  • Another approach is to talk to an agent and describe the voice in your head. If you are casting for several voices, consider a casting director. These people know their talent and will be able to assemble a more focused set of auditions rather than the avalanche of right and often very wrong demos you will get with the automated systems mentioned in the previous bullet. There are also more personalized online casting services/audio production companies who will listen to your requirements and send notices out to a short list of professional talent who have been invited to be on the website.
  • Make sure you are listening to the right kind of demo. If you are seeking someone to narrate a 20 page script, listen to narration demos. If the talent only has a commercial demo, chances are they may not be used to reading long form material and may not be able to wrap their brain around your 20 page script without a lot of direction. Some talent agency compilation demos only feature commercial demos, so be sure to keep this in mind.
  • If you are listening to a custom demo using a portion of your script, do yourself a favor and narrow down the field to the top 5 or 6 and then hold another casting session with some specific direction. If you are using one of the online services to get your initial demos, you can do this step remotely as the talent responding will have their own/or access to studios. This will help you discern whether the talent can be directed or not…always a good thing to know even if the talent is going to “self-direct” and send you clean tracks. It will also help you determine if the talent’s studio is up to your professional standards.

How do you get the “right” read?
Remember the caution above about hiring talent for long form work who have a knack for long form work? Talent used to doing commercials may be able to understand the scenario that takes place in a 60 second spot, but may not be able to understand both the forest and the trees in a 20 page (or 100 page) script. Not only that, for scripts that will take over an hour in the studio, you need to know that your voiceover person can keep the same level of energy and approach from the first sentence to the last.

The right voice will be able to quickly read through the script (or part of the script), understand the overall approach and come up with a delivery style and pace that is pretty close.

It is always in your best interest to let the talent in on who the audience is and what you want them to do, feel, or think after watching the presentation. Let the talent know his or her role…fellow employee, a helpful teacher, or perhaps a trusted superior. And don’t forget to let the talent in on the level of audience understanding or interest in the subject matter.

ScriptA good narrator is digging into what really happened. They are reading under the words – around the words – between the lines. They look for the nuances of meaning that lurk beneath the ink on the page. They think about what might have happened just before they open their mouth to read a particular sentence. Was it funny? Is this a transition point in the video? You need to have all of this running around in your head too – so that you will know when the narrator’s interpretation wasn’t quite right.

As a director of voice talent, you need to be able to effectively communicate your desires so that the talent can make the right adjustments to their delivery. In general, the more professional the talent, the less they need to work with – a grunt, a look, one word – may be all it takes and the next take is starred. The best talent needs little if any direction, particularly if you have selected the right voice for the project, or if you have worked with that talent before.

Some talent may require a bit more finesse to understand what you are hearing. This is where your understanding of the script and having a large vocabulary of adjectives will come in handy. Oh, and the fewer people directing the talent the better…but you know that.

However, as a professional voice talent and scriptwriter, I have found that there are a few technical things you can do with the narrator’s script that will make the session go even more smoothly.

Technical SPECS for scripts
You may have the entire presentation in your head, but unless there is something on the script that helps the narrator see it the way you do, you will be working a lot harder than you need to. Be sure to let the talent have as much information as possible about what is happening. This may mean taking a few minutes ahead of the session to discuss it. Believe me, it is well worth the time.

It also helps if the script is easy to read. I’m not getting into the actual script writing here – that’s another topic for another time – these tips are for formatting your script to help the talent move through it quickly.

  • If your script includes sound bites, be sure to include a transcription of the words that the narrator will be leading into and coming out of. This will help overall continuity and flow.
  • Double space the script so that the talent has room to mark the copy.
  • Use at least 12 point font – Times Roman is good.
  • Use upper and lower case – ALL CAPS ARE MORE DIFFICULT TO READ. Think about it, the talent has no way of knowing if something should be capitalized if everything is capitalized. This could affect interpretation.
  • Try to avoid breaking a sentence in the middle from one page to the next. This will reduce the number of times you have to stop down for page turns, as well as possible page rustle.
  • If you are using a dual column editing script as a narration script, some sentences may be broken in the middle of a thought to show the editor where a new image is supposed to appear. While most professional talent can mentally take up the space and tie the sentence together, try to avoid this on the script you hand the talent.

The audio track is a critical element in your media project. By selecting the right talent in the first place, formatting the scripts for readability and then working with the talent to get the “right” read, your media projects will connect and communicate.

Terwilliger_Connie

Written by Connie Terwilliger for Studio/monthly. Copyright Access Intelligence, Dynamic Media Group, publisher of Studio/monthly magazine. To subscribe, go to www.studiomonthly.com

July 12, 2009

Adding to the Land Fill

Filed under: Techniques — Tags: , , , , — connieterwilliger @ 5:57 pm

I just spent about an hour and a half going through about 50 pounds of paper scripts that have been piling up over the past couple of years. While I would probably read a lot of these scripts right off the screen, during the school semester I usually bring in scripts from sessions to show my students what a professional voice talent may see in the course of a week.

Scripts range from very “formal” radio and TV scripts (with logos and official titles to help the radio and TV stations figure out which spot to run when), to a hasty email with a single line.

Normally, if I am going to work in my ISDN studio, I need to print out the script, as there is no monitor tied to a computer. I may do that one day (add a monitor), but frankly I like to mark the script when I am in a “live” session with a producer. There are always suggested changes or words that they want inflected a specific way. And there are usually script changes. The same process holds true with most of my phone patch sessions – with the producer right there on the line, it is sometimes better to be able to make quick marks on the script as you work together to get the “right” read.

If I am working self-directed, or using Word2Wav or Vox Studio, I usually read off the screen. If I feel that I need to change an inflection, I do it on the fly.

Other kinds of scripts arrive as pdf attachments in both horizontal and vertical formats – sometimes with font so small it is impossible to read. If it is a straight script with no images, it can be fairly quickly cut and pasted into a text editor and then manipulated. But if the pdf contains a storyboard with many images and a few words per image, it takes quite a bit of time to bump it up to something readable. And it isn’t just that the font is small, it is that the copy is so broken up that finding the continuity is difficult.

Word or Text documents are more easily manipulated to bump up font size and correct widows and orphans – and tighten up broken continuity.  I receive Excel spreadsheets that need to be converted to tables and then to text for importing into my specialized software (mentioned earlier). PowerPoint presentations are also in the mix – which I usually have been reading off the screen. It is nice to see what it is you are talking about by referring to the image above the notes frame, and printing PowerPoint e-Learning presentations do take a lot of paper! However, since these scripts usually require multiple uniquely named files, it would really be better to find a way to get the notes pages into a Word doc for importing into Word2Wav.

After being sure that I had a notation somewhere of the client, the job, the studio (if one was used – either in person or using ISDN) and the producer, agency or production company, I filled up the giant blue recycle bin about halfway.

« Newer Posts

Blog at WordPress.com.