Earlier today, I was speaking with my pal Erik Sheppard. I mentioned that I had tried on multiple occasions to write a blog about my ISDN experiences, but hadn't thus far succeeded. I explained that my journey was so lengthy, exhausting, and borderline traumatic- that even thinking about it brought back bad memories! OK, I'm being just a tad dramatic here- but it was an interesting process! However, Erik reminded me that people might have an opportunity to learn from my journey- and so...here we go! Instead of taking you step by step through the 6 month process of finally having working ISDN, I've decided to just list out a few things that I've learned that might make your own ISDN journey a bit easier.
First, a little of the back story...My ISDN journey began last August when my husband and I made the decision to move from Charlotte, NC to Tampa, FL. It wasn't possible for me to install ISDN in my previous studio due to location and several other factors. So, I had always used a local studio anytime I needed ISDN. However, I knew it was going to be imperative that I set up ISDN in my new studio in order to continue recording several of my regular projects. My journey began August 1st, 2008 and ended February 11th, 2009. I am thrilled to finally be able to say that I have working ISDN in my home studio and I am loving it!
Here are a few of the very valuable things learned from my own journey written with the hope that they may help your journey.
1. Before you spend a single penny, make sure you live in an area that can get ISDN. This is a very old technology that fewer and fewer companies are providing support for. We actually narrowed down our potential new homes based on which ones could get ISDN.
2. It may be necessary for you to be incorporated or an LLC. Residential ISDN is no longer provided in any area that I know of, only business ISDN. Therefore- you must be a business (and be able to prove so) to get it.
3. You are going to need to know a lot about ISDN before you even make your first call. 99% of the people you speak with at the various ISDN providers will have little to no idea what you are talking about when you say you want ISDN BRI. Why is this? Voice actors, radio, and TV stations are the only folks left in the world that use ISDN BRI (according to my contact at Verizon) therefore, there is little reason to train new employees on this technology.
4. Make sure you ask for the business ISDN BRI line and be very specific about what you need. Aren't sure exactly what you need? Then enlist a studio or ISDN expert to help you (such as Digifon). I enlisted the help of my friends at ProComm studios as well as several VO pals that really know their stuff!
5. You will need to decide what type of codec you want to use, or if Audio TX is the way you want to go. I chose to use a Telos Zephyr, as that's what I was trained on back in my radio days.
6. Should you buy a new or used codec? It's hard to say. I went the pre-owned route. I purchased a unit on Ebay after asking several questions of the seller. I originally paid $1100- a great price! However, once the codec arrived at my house I discovered it needed $600 in repairs. Yuck! Still, $1700 is a great price for an ISDN codec and it's working great now!
7. Once the line has been installed, you will need to specify a long distance carrier. Here is where things got VERY tricky for me! I went with MCI. They seemed to understand what I needed, and I was given a great rate per minute. Almost immediately, I began experiencing problems with my line dropping out. I can't explain why, but it has something to do with MCI's service. I'm not saying MCI won't work for you- it just didn't work for me. From what I was told, they no longer provide support for data lines. So- I cancelled the service and switched to Sprint. I've been good to go since!
8. Make friends with the person that installs your line, and ask for his/her phone number. A local construction crew accidentally cut my ISDN lines in the middle of one of my first sessions, and I spent 4 days waiting for my provider to find one of the very few people that know how to repair and test ISDN lines. I wrote his number down so I can call him directly in the future!
9. Along those same lines, write down the name and direct number of every competent and helpful person you come across! It's a good safety measure- as you never know when or if you may encounter problems with your lines.
10. Staying on that topic- keep your friends who have ISDN on your speed dial. When the repair tech arrived to work on my lines, my pals Bob Souer, Caryn Clark, Ben Wilson, and Philip Banks were all willing to help me test the lines. A couple of them tested with me several times over several weeks, and I honestly can't thank them enough! In fact, send me an e-mail if you need someone to test your line with you- I'm all about paying it forward!
11. Make sure to ask about all the costs associated with getting your line up and running, and what the provider charges for repairs. I was lucky that I wasn't charged for repairs (since my line was cut), but I was told they typically do. Setting up my ISDN lines cost $275. The monthly fee for me is about $70 for the line, and $5 minimum for long distance. I pay $.07-.10 per minute per line to dial out depending on whether the call is in or out of state. These rates will vary greatly city to city, so be sure to ask what you can expect to pay. You will rarely need to dial out, but it's good to know in advance what those rates will be!
12. Once your lines are working, ask some of your VO friends and studios you work with regularly to give you honest feedback on your overall sound. Philip Banks was able to pick up on a slight ring to my studio I hadn't noticed before. It was minor, but could have become major if a new studio didn't like the way it sounded! I was able to isolate and solve the problem, thanks to Philip's keen hearing! Make sure you are getting the thumbs up from people you know before seeking out new business. As voice actors, we often only get one shot to get it right- so don't waste it!
13. Finally, make sure to ask any questions you have of the codec company, line provider, etc, and keep good notes! Knowledge is indeed power, and the more you know the better your chances of success with ISDN!
I've heard so often in the last few months that ISDN is on it's way out. Perhaps, but I doubt it. If the studios that use ISDN are anything like me...I feel I've spent too much time and too much money to turn my back on ISDN now! However, finding support for ISDN is becoming more difficult- which is why it's good to prepare yourself for the journey. If there are ever any questions I can answer, I will do my best to help...or at least point you in the direction of someone who can.