Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thank you to all of my readers (and podcast listeners) who have followed us here since 2007! I love bringing you tips, tricks, and great links to help further your business. In the interest of consolidating all of the business blogs I write, I'm now moving my voice over specific writing to my main website. Please update your feeds, links, and bookmarks to reflect it so you don't miss out!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gab for Gaming? What AREN'T you considering?

I've composed and produced video game scores in the past, as well provided some voicing for characters here and there for apps and indie games. It's one of the more fun kind of projects I work on, but I haven't been anything close to a 'gamer' since Nintendo was "super" and character renderings were two-dimensional, so my interpretations of what's needed are sometimes, just that: interpretations.

But nothing beats speaking to a gamer to realize the real necessities of the craft. Even the game developer can have a limited amount of real input, because even though most of them are gamers themselves, this is their "baby". They're very close to the characters and vision they have in their head, so sometimes, like all of us who create things for a livelihood, they get a little stuck on that vision and don't hear the awesome things you might be able to bring to it that they haven't thought of.

I was lucky enough recently to get some really nitty-gritty input from a gamer that helped not only me, but maybe you! Here's some highlights for voicing video game characters with the player in mind:

1. Make the 'gift of gab' tolerable! Unlike audiences for other kinds of voice acting, most gamers spend long spans playing at a time, so make sure your voicing won't be grating if listened to for hours! If it actually makes a player take breaks just to get away from your're doing it wrong.

2. Don't Overdo it! A lot of us may feel the 'over the top' characters in video games need 'over the top' voicing to match. You may be playing a super-being, but you don't necessarily have to voice them that way. One of the benefits of having a player listen to you for hours on end is that they really get a 'feel' for the character in a way other mediums don't allow for, so relax a little. This isn't a 30-second spot for "Super Tax-Man"! A lot can be conveyed in subtlety, and the player will appreciate that!

3. Stop, look, and listen! If you're going into game voicing blind, there's no better time to study. Talking to gamers is a step in the right direction, as is watching them play, seeing how they respond to other games with voicing already on the market. Watch anime, and see how the dialogue plays. Research the actors at the top of the field in both gaming and anime, and see what their techniques are. It won't be hard to find them - just ask a gamer! The biggest names get fans of their own, and have online accounts they're promoting on.

If you're afraid you're going to have to become a gamer to voice games well, though it would help, it's not necessary. There are resources all around you, from online forums for gaming, to YouTube, to your friends and family members who love the games. Put them to use, and get to work!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

VoiceOver Hints for YouTube update - it works!

If you caught my last post about the issues I was having with YouTube degrading my voiceover sound quality to an unacceptable low, you'll know I was breathing a sigh of relief when I found the very, very simple fix!

It truly was just as bring the voice over down in the mix. You might say, "Dana, why didn't you try this before now?", and I will tell you, I did! But it wasn't enough. I brought it down quite a bit more, and even though it didn't seem to make that big of a difference in volume (clearly, the voiceover is still perfectly audible), it was enough to let the dynamic range of the music shine more than the limited range of the voice. I guess that's the trick! It's working today, anyway. See for yourself:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

VoiceOver hints for YouTube!

I have YouTube channels for both my studio and my record label, but this past week I encountered a voiceover-related challenge that I hadn't experienced with either before. Searching for answers didn't turn up much for me, so I thought I'd share what happened here, in hopes the next Googler will have better luck than I did!

I had created a promo for my Etsy shop, with still images, voiceover, and a music bed. This is no different than other projects I've created, and in fact, we'd just uploaded our new site intro video not long before this!

BUT, the problem I was having with this new one was a really noticeable drop in sound quality. Now, I'm aware that at the basic setting (not the HQ), the audio on YouTube videos is only 96K. So definitely, there's going to be some loss no matter what. But this video sounded a lot different than our other videos at the same encoding. And, when I played it in the higher quality setting, it sounded just like I expected it to! So it really seemed there had to be some tweak I could make or a workaround that would solve my 'technical' problem.

Here's the video:

I spent the better part of this week uploading, re-uploading, re-encoding. Working with .wavs, working with .mp3s, trying everything to change it. I found some links via Google that said other people were experiencing similar problems, and that it had to do with YouTube's servers, or new ways of encoding, or compression in general. Some people were giving advice to remix the audio. I really didn't feel this applied to me. After all, I have lots of other successful videos that don't have this problem, so the issue couldn't possibly be on my end, right?

I finally got wise and decided to go ahead and compress the audio down to 96K on my end, to see what the difference was. Lo and behold, it sounded just like it did on YouTube! So, the problem definitely wasn't them. But I noticed without the voiceover, my sound bed wasn't having the same problems with losing dynamic quality.

Here's the proof:

So it was really frustrating, and still seemed like there should be some sort of tweak or workaround that I could use to fix it!

This is where my most valuable tools came into play: my ears. I wasn't listening critically enough to my other recordings. Sure, my website intro video seemed like it wasn't experiencing the same level of loss, but was it?

I encoded the audio for it down to 96K, and it sounded ok. After removing the big guitar sound bed, you guessed it: the voiceover for this video was experiencing the same loss at 96K as the other voiceover! The sound bed was merely masking the artifacts because it had a much bigger dynamic range.

So, my challenge now is to work within the confines of Youtube for what I post there (and I still think it's great, even at low quality), while coming up with higher quality options (Wimpy is one) for use on my site. The benefit of the social media sites is give-and-take with the quality. With higher quality on my site, I have to store the media myself, and don't get the viral benefits. So it's a trade off, but luckily one that doesn't make me pick just one option.

So, I'll be posting a new video soon (I'm trying to balance bringing the bed and dynamics up without overpowering my voiceover), and continuing on my Youtube studies to find avenues to the best quality, most effective videos. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Does your business need a helping hand from a cool chick?

As you all know, from time to time I come across a vendor or resource that I think is the bee's knees. I've seen a *lot* of marketers promise to help businesses get more attention and get more done, but I doubt few can deliver as much as Indie Biz Chicks does! From blogs and newsletters, to coaching, to informative resources like podcasts and articles, it's one of the coolest one-stop shops I've seen. Plus it's not a budget breaker!

I found the site through one of my favorite magazines, Venus Zine, which is also a great resource for us "crafty professionals". Check 'em both out!

And just so the fellas don't feel left out, here's something Just for Men.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A little post about YOU.

Ok, so it starts out about us, but you'll see--it IS all about You. As we celebrate our 13th birthday here at Serious Vanity Music, reflect with us over where we started and how far we've come (thanks to you).

Voice Over and Studio Life: Is it a Hobby or a Business?

My partner in all things Paul Clark made a great post yesterday at his music blog about treating your music career like what it is--a business.

But I think it's worth repeating in the voice over and production studio realm, too. I think it's easy for careers like ours, where we have so much fun and get to do such creative projects, to start getting a little too lax in how we treat our time and our mindset.

I think too that the bulk of voice over artists and studio owners have left a 'first career' in a less creative industry or a string of unsatisfying day jobs for the freedom of studio life, which makes it seem like a vacation. (In our case, Paul did that very thing. He was in the transportation industry for 18 years. For me, this is it!).

But, ultimately, as Paul quoted John Assaraf saying in the post linked above, "If you treat it like a hobby, it will cost you like a hobby. If you treat it like a business, it will pay you like a business."

I've found this to be true, on both sides of the coin, and I've made a few changes in my routine in order to facilitate my "business", that you may want to adapt to your life, too:

#1: My workday has set hours. Your clients do. And everyone in your life will thank you for this (including yourself, once you see how much more you can work in!

This was actually the hardest one for me, because I hate to say no to my clients. I want to be available on the weekends or holidays, or 2am if I happen to catch an email. But my life suffers, my work suffers (always remember that--especially with voicing, if you're not in peak shape, it will show up in your recordings), my health suffers (especially the ears).

#2: My workday hours are organized and scheduled. This is amazingly effective. I spend half of my workday on office time (paperwork, filling orders, talking to clients and prospects, email, blogs, updating the website...all the good stuff), break for lunch, the spend the last half on studio time. You find that when you limit the time you're working, you only perform your highest income and highest impact generating tasks. If you're loosey-goosey about your schedule all day and float in and out of work and play modes, you'll find yourself blurring the lines. Too much time on Facebook. Too much time cleaning out your inbox. Before you know it, nothing has really been accomplished, but you've not noticed because you stayed "busy".

#3: I say "No thank you". Remember those "highest income/impact" activities I mentioned above? Guess what? That's all you need to do. To the rest, say "No thank you," like the polite but stern owner of your own destiny.

I know, I know, they HAVE to get done too, right? I mean, your desk HAS to be clear, your inbox HAS to be sorted, your magazine racks HAS to be organized by year/month/and paper type.

Does it? I mean, does it really matter if you have too many emails (here's a quick hint: If you haven't read it yet, you don't need it. "Delete" is your friend.)? Will the world end or your business fall apart if you don't have every file folder labeled in the same font?

I'm not saying being a perfectionist is bad (though I DID get interviewed about that in Oprah magazine, believe it or not!). Just be choosy about what you're a perfectionist about. Want to have a perfect office? You'll be a great decorator (unless you're actually trying to be a voice over artist or producer). But want to have a perfect business? Be perfect with your time. Practice perfectly. Hold yourself to the perfect standards of focusing in on the critical things that will make the difference, instead of the time sucking details that will rob you of your dreams like a thief in the night.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hitting the halfway mark: how're you doing?

Welcome to July, which may start your fiscal year...or it might mark the halfway point. Let's go back to those New Year's goals: doing as well as you'd planned? Exceeding your goals? Still feeling the fallout of the economic woes of your clients?

Halfway is a good point to really measure how you're doing. If you're a procrastinator, halfway is when you start to pick up the pace to catch up. If you're an overachiever, halfway is where you take a breath. And if you're a well-organized planner, halfway should be where you pat yourself on the back for being right on target.

I've always hated running. In junior high, we had to run a mile or two for gym class one day, and as usual, there I was in the bottom three finishers. I always felt like such a loser, but I just didn't feel like I had the strength to keep up with everyone else. I didn't let myself walk the whole thing (I wasn't going to be last, mind you), I just kept up my baby-step pace in my lane, kept my face down so I didn't see just how far behind I was, and kept going.

My teacher pulled me aside (it wasn't hard, everyone else was already in the showers), and encouraged me to go out for the Cross Country team. Was she nuts?!? Did she not just see me fail the exercise? I looked at her like she had three heads.

She laughed at my reaction. "You're a distance runner," she said, "You stayed steady the whole time, and finished solid."

It took me a long time to realize how important what she said to me was. Unfortunately, I didn't get it before I got out of junior high (therefore, never proved my worth on the Cross Country team).

You see, I was a classic overachiever. "Book learning", as we call it in the country, came very easy to me. (As an aside, I'll be exploring the "why" behind this in a later post when I do a little review of the book "Outliers") So easy, in fact, that anything that wasn't as easy, I disregarded.

I was a mental "sprinter". I wanted to get there, and get there fast. Win and be done. The hare, taking a nap on the side of the trail, while the tortoise soldiered on.

In my business life, I expected to continue being the sprinter. I did have some quick successes, but ultimately, I had to learn (at times, the hard way), that it's all about being the distance runner. Stay steady, know where your competition is in their lane, but ultimately, keep your nose down and just move forward. If you stop, you're out. If you waste all of your energy up still have the same distance to go, and you're going to be beat when you get there.

(And for the record, I LOVE running now.)

So I'm halfway through 2009, and I'm not winded yet. How're you doing?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Bleeding Edge vs. Your Comfort Zone

In building our new site, I've had the opportunity to revisit a lot of old audio projects and samples we've done over the years. I remember taking that leap into professional voice work around 2003, and how capable I really felt when I landed that first voice client.

Soon after I ended up moving my studio to a much different, bigger location, and I felt like the new environment I created improved the overall quality of what I was producing. At the same time, it was obvious that my performance ability was also growing due to all of the experience I was picking up along the way.

Then I felt like I really hit my sweet spot a few years back. My environment, my production level, and my performance level, were all consistent, and my client base was largely a solid group of return clients that I knew how to please.

But, there is a danger in this kind of thinking. It lies in getting too "comfortable". I can hear it now when I listen to those audios I created at that time. The same performances aren't fresh or relevant now. My experience has lead me to be better now, but what else can I do to make sure I don't turn myself into an audio dinosaur before my time?

Step One: Acceptance. Change is happening all around us, all of the time. As industries grow into different markets and technologies are innovated, we have to keep up as professionals. If we stop learning, we stop growing, which makes us stop being useful to our clients. They will not run the same campaigns, create the same kinds of projects, or have the same audiences forever.

Step Two: Research. Are you keeping up with your clients' industries? Following what ad agencies, publishing companies, or the other creative companies who hire you are following, so you can stay on the cusp of their innovations? It's not just about what they're doing today, though it's great if you're an audiobook artist to be listening to current audiobook productions, or if you're an e-Learning specialist to be keeping up with those current releases. But with an eye to the future, you can help your client develop the kinds of audios that can put them--and you--on the map. It's not just about the voiceover or studio industries when we're working for someone else.

Step Three: Practice. Being a performer or producer of any sort means keeping your chops in top form. If you're waiting until you're in the booth or behind the desk to practice your art, you're relying on conscious competence. This is when you're spending too much 'brain time' coming up with solutions or approaches. What you want to aim for is unconscious competence, which is that gut knowing how something should be done. This comes from keeping your skills sharpened with constant reading, recording, reciting...all of the things you love anyway.

If you don't have a client, give yourself an assignment. And see it through. It doesn't matter if it's getting through a tutorial on a new piece of software you want to learn, going to a seminar, finding a voice coach and keeping up with your exercises, studying how others in your field are creating, or just recording for recording's sake.

Volunteer to read to school children to practice character voicing and narration. Help a neighborhood teenager produce their first demo. Just do something to challenge yourself to not stay in that comfort zone.

So now, I'm working on some new samples and projects that reflect my new skills. I still have most of those clients from a few years ago, and guess what? I can still provide what they need--faster, and better--because I chose to stay on the bleeding edge of my craft. Sometimes it's not cozy, but it's always necessary.