Monday, June 30, 2008

Getting Through the Week...

As a full-time voice actor, we often encounter weeks where several large projects need to be recorded in a short amount of time. For me, last week was one of those weeks.

In one short week I needed to record and produce a multitude of projects, any one of which would have taken several days by themselves. I hadn't planned for all of these projects to coincide, but they did! As voice actors, we need to always be prepared to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. These are a few of the things I did last week that I believe made it possible to complete all of my work on time:

1. Make a schedule. First thing Sunday evening, I sat down and mapped out how long I believed each project would take and the order I felt was best to record them in. I decided to leave the projects that would strain my vocals the most for the end of the week, knocking out the 'straight stuff' first.

2. Get ready to throw out the schedule! First thing Monday morning, a project came up that needed to be recorded right away. Then, a call came that a studio uptown needed me to record a project the following afternoon. Finally, I was asked to record another project outside of my studio later in the week. As new projects presented themselves, I was constantly modifying my plan of attack. Needless to say, I quickly figured out that I needed to...

3. Ignore the phone. Don't get me wrong here, don't ignore your studio phone- always be there when your clients need you! The calls to ignore are the ones from your friends and family that want to chit chat. I sent an e-mail on Monday to my family letting them know I was on a self-imposed phone ban for the week. I remember reading once that you strain your voice more on the phone than in person because you need to project more, therefore the phone was off limits unless absolutely necessary! I also kept conversation in the house to a minimum. Of course, I talked with my husband...but the lengthy conversations with my pets (yes, I'm one of those people) came to a halt.

4. Watch the diet. I was extra careful all week not to eat too much dairy, no coffee, and no wine. I didn't want anything that might get in the way of being able to voice projects for hours at a time. I drank a ton of water (ok, it was more like 'gallons', not 'tons') to stay hydrated, and had a bunch of apples on hand to help kill mouth noise from using my voice so much.

5. Take a break. One of the projects I was voicing really took a lot out of me. It had about 3,000 lines all of which were read with extremely high energy in a challenging voice. About half way through, I was feeling worn down and decided to take a short nap. It was a good decision! Once I woke up, I had renewed energy and knocked out the rest of the project, actually finishing it a day ahead of schedule! Everyone takes breaks, regardless of their profession, and we need to remember to do the same. Get outside, watch a little TV, just let your voice and your mind rest from time to time and you will do better in the long run!

I remember making the comment on Sunday evening that it would be a miracle if I still had my voice come Friday. Well, miracles happen- and I still had my full voice Friday night! I do think that not overdoing it, pacing myself, and taking each project one at a time really helped. I was able to schedule everything so that each project received my full focus and attention, and my work never suffered. Not allowing myself to be distracted by the phone, or by e-mails also helped. Of course, the fact that I adore what I do for a living didn't hurt! :)

Friday, June 20, 2008

It Just Might Pay to be Nice!

My husband likes to tease me from time to time for my 'do-good' attitude by calling me 'Poppins', short for Mary Poppins. Admittedly, I do have a small complex about how one action can bring about another action that might have a negative result.

In short, I'm a big believer in Karma.

Today I was reminded that you never really know when something you do might leave a very bad taste in someone else's mouth...and who that someone might just be.

Let me explain...this morning I had a voice session in uptown Charlotte. I was running about 10 minutes early (I always arrive 10-15 minutes before the session is scheduled to begin) and was not exactly driving with my 'pedal to the metal'.

As I exited off the highway and turned right onto the side street, and car came flying up behind me. He tried to go around me on my right, but I was in the process of changing lanes so I could make my next turn. So, he spun around to my left and went past me at a very high rate of speed. Then, he cut me off to make the next turn.

I've been known to call out a name or two to bad drivers, but I don't have what most would call 'road rage'. So- I kept driving, only it dawned on me that Speed Racer and I were making the same turns (he was now ahead of me). When he pulled into the studio ahead of me, it was all I could do to keep from getting out of the car laughing hysterically!

It was clear by the look on his face that he was surprised when the 'slow poke' pulled in behind him. Without a word, we both entered the studio. We were handed scripts and realized we would be in the session together.

Honestly, he was a very nice guy, and crazy talented- we had a great session. I never said anything about our driving experience, and neither did he.

Driving home, it dawned on me...what if I had been the producer, the director, or worse- the client? THAT would have made for an uncomfortable session! Hah!

In our business, you never know who the next person is that will be hiring you, directing you, working with you, or discovering your abilities. It pays to be kind to everyone you meet, because it's a small world and most people have very good memories. A bad first impression will always stick, while a good first impression can bring about great things.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Deviated and Proud of It!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a short bout I had with laryngitis. A few days of silence seemed to clear things right up, but I decided to finally make an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist just to have things checked out.

In the 12 years since I first began earning a paycheck for using my voice, I have never seen an ENT. I read somewhere recently that professional voice actors, singers, announcers, etc should always have a good ENT on speed dial just in case. So, I decided it was time I get a complete check up. I went to my insurance website and found a list of doctors in my plan. Then, I researched and read a few reviews. It didn't take long for me to settle on Dr. B, and I made an appointment for this morning.

The staff was fantastic, and Dr. B is clearly top notch. We began with a full history, and I explained that my voice is my life. She then sprayed some horribly foul tasting stuff into my nose to numb everything before inserting a small camera inside to have a look around.

About a year ago, my allergist commented that I have very small nasal passages. Of course, I found this to be hilarious since I've always felt I have a rather large nose. However, what Dr. B found actually surprised me. I have a deviated septum.

A few of my friends over the years have mentioned that they had deviated septums, but I've never really understood what that meant. I've been doing a little research, and in my own terms, it means the nasal passage is slightly crooked. For some, it can cause trouble breathing, sleep disorders, or recurring sinus infections. Since I've never known differently, I'd say I breathe just fine, and I've never had trouble sleeping. However, I spent many years fighting sinus infections prior to allergy shots and my neti pot (which, I was told only works for some people- I'm glad I'm one of them!).

I was surprised that I had never been told about this deviated septum, but then again- this was my first ENT experience. The doctor explained that for some people, surgery is a good idea to fix the deviation. She also said because of my career as a voice actor, she was strongly opposed to such action. Apparently, this mild deviation has something to do with the sound of my voice. She said surgery would absolutely change my vocal resonance- something I would not be ok with.

What really struck me ironic was that nearly 13 years ago, I strongly considered plastic surgery to 'fix' the appearance my nose. I spent my teen years dreaming of the day that I would get my perfect nose, and what it would look like. However, when I finally had enough money saved to do it...something inside of me couldn't go through with it. In the years since, I've toyed with the idea, but again...never followed through.

Knowing what I know now about how so many of our 'parts' work together to create our individual sound, I am so thankful everything is the way it is! I know for many surgery is a good choice, but at this time, for me- it just isn't. I have a feeling it is this slight deviation in my nose that helps me create character voices, sound naturally young, etc.

Voice acting is my passion, and Dr. B unintentionally reminded me just how blessed I am to have the ability to do it!

At the end of my appointment, word had spread that I was the voice that many of the nurses and assistant's children listened to on various shows and programs. So- with a numb nose and a deviated septum, I gave them a few 'voices' as well as an autograph or two for the kidos. Needless to say, they made my day :)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Little Extra Goes a Long Way

There is a long debated topic amongst working voice actors: what rates to charge for which services. The debate ranges from the time spent recording, to overall usage, to length of script, etc...and there is no right or wrong answer (OK, there is a WRONG answer...but that's a different topic).

Something that recently caught my eye on one of the message boards was a discussion about rates for editing audio. I wondered if I should feel foolish after reading it, because I have never charged extra to edit my audio before sending it to the client. Whether it's simply editing out the dead space between multiple takes after a phone patch session, or editing out everything except the best possible take...I've always considered editing to be part of the job. Smaller files mean less rendering, less space taken up on my ftp, and they are ultimately easier for the client to deal with during post-production.

After reading the thread on the message board, I started thinking back to my sessions from the past few days...

One was ISDN (so no editing required there), two were fully produced audio pieces (so of course that was edited), one was just voice (edited and uploaded to ftp), and two more were via phone patch.

Of the two phone patch sessions, one was a first-time client and one was a long-time client.

The first-time client was incredibly friendly- we had a good laugh when he admitted he was directing me from the back of his RV while he and his crew were driving across several states to their next video production gig. It made me realize what an incredibly cool and high-tech world we live in where he can work on one job while traveling to the next! We also talked about his last vacation with his family, a bit about my career in voice over, etc. Since I like to charge by the job and not by the hour, it's wonderful to spend a few minutes getting to know a bit about my client when the client's time permits. At the end of the session, I edited together the client's preferred takes, leaving small spaces between each one for post-production, then uploaded them to ftp.

My second phone patch session was with my long-time client. Since he's become a dear friend as well as a client, we spent a few minutes catching up before getting down to business. During recording, I kept track of his favorite takes, and then we decided it would be helpful if he could hear the best takes edited together. It was no problem, as I quickly edited together a final piece for approval. Once we had things the way he wanted, we decided it would be funny to put together a 'fake' take so he could play a prank on his co-workers. Back in the booth, I came up with a crazy character voice and tried to keep a straight face as I once again recorded the commercial. I uploaded both edited versions to my ftp as well as some additional takes in case he needed a different edit down the road. The entire session only took an hour of my time, but reminded me how much fun this job can truly be!

You see, I'm someone who doesn't like sessions in which I enforce time constraints. It's different if my client is in a hurry- but if they prefer a leisurely pace, then so do I. I also find it's the little 'extras' editing a file or being willing to have fun by providing silly outtakes...that make my clients more comfortable with my services. In addition, getting to know my clients a little gives my services a more personal touch. It makes the sessions feel less like work and more like just having a little fun while getting the work done.

Perhaps it's because I'm comfortable producing audio as well as recording it that editing doesn't seem like a big deal to me. I would never fault anyone for feeling differently, our differences are what make us valuable and keep our clients coming back. However, if I were to offer any advice to an up and coming talent it would be this, be willing to give a little extra now and then. Not only will your clients be grateful, you might find it keeps things just a bit lighter and more fun for you too!