Thursday, May 29, 2008

Background Noise: Did you hear something?

As a Quality Assurance Manager for Voice123, and a voice over talent, I would like to take the opportunity to share with you some of my experience from hearing demos uploaded onto Voice123 for profiles, and most importantly, auditions!

I have listened to over 100,000 demos to date working for Voice123, to date. I have heard just about everyone and everything, and there is no doubt in my mind that if your recording lacks quality, it hurts your chances of being hired. One of the easiest things to fix about your recording is something so small, yet a talent's ear may not always pick it up... Background Noise! It can just kill a job opportunity! As talent-voice producers, our only way to show what we do best is to send out quality recordings of our auditions to voice seekers.

Voice seekers have written me about how wonderful many demos are, but do stop to tell me occasionally about the demos that had strange noises in the background (excluding watermarks). There is no doubt that the voice seeker will judge our ability to perform the final job based on what they hear in the audition. I hope the info below can give you insight to make the very best of every opportunity!

Common types of background noise:

  • Car keys in pocket or car horn outside.

  • Talent holding paper in hand, and moving with it.

  • Printers shutting off and on during recording.

  • Humming caused by cables touching metal, or the computer.

  • A child calling out or a dog barking.

  • Air conditioner or computer fan running in the background.

  • Clicking in the mouth, if the person has a dry mouth.

  • Popping in the microphone for every plosive used.

  • Music, in the attempt to sound as if it is part of the spot, or failed attempts at watermarking in which the watermark becomes the star of the script.
Whenever reading copy, you have to create the image with your voice as to what you are selling, so the background cannot be there because that noise becomes part of the image. For example, I heard someone doing a very nice read for a medical supply company, and right after she started, I heard a printer adjust its paper tray. The voice over talent kept on going, as if it never happened, and all I could think is, 'Does she know her printer needs more paper?' The thought process took me away from what I was supposed to be learning about buying.

There are ways to stop background noise, some obvious, some not so obvious. Obviously, you need a quiet area, but to block sound, you can also try some of the following things (in order of what is most expensive to least):

  • Professionally built studio with sound-proofing.

  • Hanging moving blankets in a closed space, even if in a closet.

  • Recording while sitting in a car. You would be surprised how well it works. (Just make sure your local neighborhood watch is aware of what you are doing. ha! )

  • Making sure the microphone pattern is not directed towards any sound.

  • Making sure the microphone cable runs to the source of recording without touching metal or any other sources of interference.
Other recommendations:

  • Listen to your demo, not for what you say or how you sound, but for the noise around it.

  • Listen as many times as possible, and then one more time. What else do you hear, other than yourself reading copy?

  • If you edit through programs like Pro Tools or Audacity, edit out the dead air, since most noise is heard when we are not talking. Use websites and forums to play your demos for other people, and see what they hear.

  • A second or third opinion is always best. If they say they hear things you did not, do not take it personally. Just learn from it.

  • Remember that you are putting your voice out there as a product, and therefore it should be represented at its very best!
Recording something is simple, but the question to be considered... is it 'industry standard'? Would your favorite singer record an album, and sell it, if it was recorded poorly? Most likely not. There is always information on the Internet to assist you in soundproofing your recordings. Do the research before recording. Your voice is the product, and it is worth the very best.

Voice123 - The Voice Marketplace
Steven Lowell
Quality Assurance Manager

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How Do You 'Solve For X' ?

Are you ever curious as to why you have not booked work, even though you did your very best? One of the toughest things to deal with in this industry is simply 'not knowing why you did not book a job'.

This is even more difficult to deal with when the reaction to your work was very positive. In the regular business world, you are occasionally given a courtesy phone call or email to tell you, 'Thanks, but we are going with someone else right now. We will keep your resume on file.'

However, the creative business world does not always offer that consideration, if ever at all. The online world does not even give you a not-so-charming, 'NEXT!'. The very first agent I freelanced with once told me, after I lost out in a commercial in the final callback, was 'Steven! Talent-shhhmalent! Ya' did ya' best! That's all ya' can do!'.

What she referred to in her own NYC-savvy way is, 'Not knowing' is not easy to accept, but the truth is that people lose out on jobs for all sorts of reasons, usually for all the reasons we never expected or just do not sound right to us because we did everything that was asked of us. What was missing? What was the missing X factor? And where do you begin when 'solving for X'?

Understanding the other side of the equation helps. Several factors might play a part:
  • The client was given what they asked for perfectly... and then realized they no longer liked it, or became bored with it.
  • The client wanted someone who sounded like someone they knew, but did not know how to describe it well enough. Therefore, the person was almost hired by accident for sounding like someone else.
  • Something, maybe a new experience, and/or a new epiphany caused this client to change his/her creative direction.
The creative industry is subjective, and therefore, people are booked for all the wrong reasons that we would never expect. This does not mean that the client does not recognize talent. It just meant they were not the right fit for the part. For that reason, you really can never explain to someone 'Why didn't I get the job?', on a case by case basis.

Unless you want to hear strange things like, 'That man sounded more like my sister than you did.', you waste your time worrying about it. There is a creative team and idea behind every project. They come to talents to fill that need, and we are expected to know what they want all the time. That is impossible, but you can increase your odds.
  • Find coaches that help your voice grow as a product, and challenge you to become a better voice over talent. Attend classes to try new things, practice, and research things you may want to try in the future. Classes are a great safety net to try new ideas, fail miserably, and no harm was done.
  • Set goals for yourself, and treat your voice as a 'business' you are looking to sell. Figure out where you are now, and where you want to be in the future with your career. Just what types of voice overs can you do now, and what do you have to work on?
  • Market yourself efficiently. No one will know to come find you, if they do not know you exist. Learn what it means to market yourself online. It is very different from what we all did to get an agent's or casting director's attention.
  • Positive, supportive voice over friends & family, who understand what you do, to get professional and productive, unbiased opinions on your work. Explore the reasons for their feedback, and never take it personally.
  • Always make sure you are doing your best at all times behind the mic, remain flexible, while knowing just how far you will go, and what you will accept.
Let's just say, you have been doing all this already... and even then, you may not sound like the client's friend's brother he met a party that told this funny joke... the whole inspiration behind the voice the client wanted.

Solving for 'X'? It may just be the classic combination of hard work, a 'never say die' attitude towards doing something you love, and learning just how far you should go to achieve your goals.

Voice123 - The Voice Marketplace
Steven Lowell
Quality Assurance Manager

Friday, May 16, 2008

It's a Small, Small Online World...

Question/Answer chat with the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards voice and Voice123 Talent: September Day Leach

The online world is smaller, and more competitive, so the need to be positive with each other online is of extreme importance all the time! You never know who you will cross paths with because what goes online, stays there! For me, there is a sense of excitement knowing that I had met a particular Voice123 talent in the beginning stages of my experiences with Voice123, first as a talent, and then reconnecting as a Voice123 team-member, with September Day Leach.

Not too long ago, I had the chance to contact her again. I asked her about a special job she won at Voice123, that brought me back in contact with her last November:
Q: Do you mind telling Voice123 how we first came in contact?
A: I believe you found my profile on here and asked how you could become a successful VO artist :)

Q: Wait a minute! I thought you contacted my MySpace page shortly after I became a premium member in 2006, waaaay before I worked here, and asked me if I belong to any casting sites! No?
A: LOL!! I wondered if you would catch that ;) Of course, I contacted you wanting to pick your brain about the industry and you turned me on to getting a membership :)

Q: So... how long have you been in the voice over business?
A: I started working at the local radio station when I was 16, writing and voicing commercials. But I never thought there would be a career in it so I just dabbled here and there until 2005. That was the year I decided to really make a go of it and I've been full time ever since 2006.

Q: Great! I found out you were with Voice123 last year after news you had booked something big. What very interesting job did you book last year through Voice123?
A: The MTV VMAs :) (2007 MTV Video Music Awards)

Q: How were you hired? Privately or SmartCast?
A: SmartCast!

Q: Where did you record your audition, and what took place when the seeker showed interest?
A: I recorded the audition from my home studio. Once the seeker showed interest, it was about a month more of auditions.

Q: A month! What were the re-auditions like and how many? I personally know how re-auditions make people nervous that work will be stolen.
A: The re-auditions. Oh! I must've done at least 20 or so. Sexy, not-as-sexy, robotic, smooth, hyper, friendly, showgirl, energetic, emphasis on this word, emphasis on that word, faster, slower. It was terribly nerve-wracking knowing that I could get bumped out of the running any day. I do remember one of the associate producers telling me that for the longest time I was known as "42" because they weren't allowed to know our names until they settled on a voice! In the end, I was told I got it a week before the show, lost it later that day. Got it again the next day. Went in to record the stuff at a studio in downtown Atlanta 4 days before the show. Found out they didn't like it that night. Was told later that night that I would be flying to Vegas the next day. It was a serious whirlwind!

Q: Wow! What was that like, traveling for a voice over job?
A: Exciting, scary, thrilling. I'd traveled to VO jobs before, but mostly just to the downtown area (Atlanta). Flying across the country to a city that I had never been to before? (Las Vegas) Well, that was plain awesome. Taking a limo to a glamorous hotel, staying in the coolest rock 'n roll room ever, having access to every area backstage... I still get goosebumps thinking about it :)

Q: Tell us what it was like to record this job?
A: Well, I was in a studio part of the time. I had 2 sessions at a studio in Las Vegas where we recorded everything. I was on stand-by in a trailer during the broadcast just in case something happened.

Q: Did you see anyone you did not expect to see, or are a fan of, while at the Awards?
A: I met Christian Norman, the president of MTV Networks. She sat in on my sessions. I had no clue who she was at the time, which was probably a good thing! But I was amazed that she was a) in Las Vegas and b) at my session. Other than that, I chatted with Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen, Chris Daughtry, Rhianna, Chris Brown, and Fall Out Boy.

Q: Any word on going back?
A: Not yet :) I know I made a good impression so I'm hoping that it was good enough to last a whole year!

Q: How important has auditioning online been to your voice over career?
A: Extremely. I landed the gig of a lifetime in the first 2 years of my career all because of online auditioning. Even if I don't get invited back to announce again, the rewards of having that credit on my resume can't be calculated.

Q: I noticed you use a nickname. What nickname do you like to go by?
A: Ember

Q: Thanks so much for your time!
A: My pleasure!

All of Voice123 thanks her for taking the time out to share this experience with us, as we found that it could be helpful to everyone!

Funny thing... I have never met September Day Leach, yet I am in a position now of 'Voice123 team member', it is always great to come across an online friend again with positive news to share, and it was recently great to hear she continues to do well with Voice123!

We look forward to future interviews with users of Voice123!

Voice123 - The Voice Marketplace
Steven Lowell
Quality Assurance Manager

Friday, May 02, 2008

QA at Voice123 - Insider Look

What Makes Voice123 The Right Choice

Hello, if we have not been introduced I am Steven Lowell, Quality Assurance Manager at Voice123. I am also a talent with the site, and a former user of many other online sites. Alex Torrenegra hired me from 'the front lines' back in July 2007, to help translate the needs of users at Voice123. Recently, after consulting a professional Voice123 talent on how to set up his profile, this very satisfied talent expressed the need for all talents to know certain things we are doing because well... many do not know about it. Please read below. I feel this is a long overdue email about why Voice123 talents stay with us.

Since November 2007, I have been giving free consultations in the forms of Thursday Trainings once a week at 1PM (USA ET), and in serious cases, personal consultations (by appointment). I use statistics provided by SmartCast, and some tips from being a talent at Voice123 and a voice talent. We understand the Internet & Online Marketing is still new to many, and we want to help. Thankfully, SmartCast gives straight numbers and facts that tell the story of how a talent and voice seeker behave on Voice123, how they have connected, and the success of the booking.

Consultations started after feedback from talents showed concern of the 'auto-renew' subscription policy of some websites... A way to take advantage of a customer's inability to cancel payments or their mistakes to not remember what they are subscribed to online. After all, not everyone knows how to cancel payments, nor should they be charged a subscription fee while attempting to figure it out. The last thing you want to worry about is, 'Did they charge me again? I do not remember!'. I feel that the last people on this planet, who should be nickel and dimed out of money, are talents. We chose the hardest profession on the planet! I feel everyone should know how to use their profile, which includes knowing how to cancel it.

Voice123 lets the time lapse, yet advises talents that their subscriptions will run out. We leave the choice up to you, the talent, to renew.

If you have a personal situation that causes you to miss long periods of time on your subscription, let us know! We can help with that, too!

Effective solutions for everyone!
Since starting in July 2007, using statistics from SmartCast, as well as my personal experience, we have helped over 15 talents and voice seekers with something that has not been offered before... Helping someone get paid! Although we do not get involved in disputes, my personal methods learned from my days on Wall St. have been working, and has created some long overdue trust within the Voice123 community. I personally understand the fear of 'not knowing if you will get paid', and know how it can deter someone from enjoying Voice123.

We are also making an aggressive campaign to give all users of Voice123 the empathy and business sense they need, as well as, serving the customer by giving them truth and facts they were not understanding before!

Questions about Demo & Profile Quality Assurance, after you have created a profile or auditioned
Demos: We listen to ALL your demos with highly trained ears. If I hear something, I say something to you. Yet, the ultimate judge of what to use on the profile is YOU. This is professional courtesy of sharing an opinion that may assist talents and voice seekers i.e. The Voice123 community. To date, our staff has listened to over two million auditions internationally, so they also have an understanding of various industry cultures and standards.

Profiles: Profiles (including new version 2.5's 'demo descriptions') are the most important tool to receiving SmartCast invites. Many know this and in doing QA I find, there are many who try to trump Voice123 by stuffing words, or by putting web links everywhere in the My Voice Details section, but Google engineers caught onto that long ago. We let you know when there is a problem. We have to because the results of this practice are short-lived. Before the Internet, it was not wise to lie on resumes because it could be easily proven and hurt someone's reputation. Sure there is the 'creative spin', but do not misrepresent yourself on your profile. I do not see why that should ever change. Now that you can list someone as spam or get websites banned from search engines, this is very important for us to protect you and your profiles.

Projects approved...Who, how, what, where & when, why?

  • Since implementing version 2.0 SmartCast, and more recently version 2.5, an update of parameters... more and more seekers are posting with us every day! The voice seekers who left us some time ago because of complaints with the old system, are now coming back! This year alone, we have processed and approved over 3600 SmartCast projects, not to mention thousands of non-SmartCast projects and private invitations to other projects.
  • We know who is being booked because they tell the QA Manager (me) all about how great the talents at Voice123 are and how they are coming back. I have even shared some of their testimonials with you personally, via our Customer Service system.
  • We know many of our talents are voice seekers as well, and they have experienced the process, even if posting a personal project.

  • To me, it is a no-brainer… and not very different from how things have always been done at Voice123. The difference with Voice123, proudly enough, is what I can provide as a QA Manager. Alex knew, when he hired me, about my experience in operations and fraud investigation. (In NYC, you are a talent, actor, and whatever else gets you 'benefits', when the work is slow.)
  • How do we do it? Easy… We call the seeker. We get his/her info. We talk to them about how to use SmartCast because they have to learn how it works as well. We advise when things are missing from a project. We email them too.
  • After much debate, still a great deal of projects go through because SmartCast has taught talents of the red flags of auditioning for the wrong project, and we provide you with useful stats like:
    • Do they listen to auditions? (Click voice seeker details at the bottom of Project Details)
    • Are they posting for the first time? (See Team Comments on Project Details)
    • Do they know how to write a script or project description? (You simply have to see how someone writes the original description and script to judge if they are professional. It is just too easy to make something 'look professional' on the Internet)
  • The types of projects approved on Voice123 vary in nature because this is an international website, growing everyday.
  • Take a look at our Project Directory, and see all the SmartCast projects for yourself!

Where & When?
  • Voice123 approves projects from 7AM - 12AM (USA ET), Monday through Friday, and yes... we work weekends! We approve projects from 10am - 6pm (USA ET) on Saturday & Sunday.
  • Being a talent myself, and having a dedicated team like we do, we check to see how Voice123 is doing, even on our days off. Many talents know that if there is money to be earned, then you have to audition... and that means we work while you audition. Take a look at the various ways to reach us when you have problems using Voice123:
A question I have heard is: "Steven, you are in charge of 'Quality'. Why was this project approved?" The answer to this question you should read carefully:
  • Voice123 SmartCast is set up to give talents the ability to choose what they want to audition for when invited to the project. We also understand that there are many veterans out there. I also live in New York and take classes from them. For that reason, as a Quality Assurance Manager it is not my job to block legit work from talents who have paid to use Voice123. Veterans know the score, and the more they show it, the more Voice123 will evolve, and we will be here to listen. The current Voice123 has budget filters for talents, so they can make the choice to be their own manager, self-director, and sound engineer, and charge what they know they are worth. Ultimately, I have seen that voice seekers know ‘you get what you pay for’, and the lower the budget quote, the lower the expectations. This one change, seemingly so small, has had voice seekers raising budgets because everyone wants a great voice over talent! Your choices have shaped it!
  • I will not lie to you, and tell you that some real strange projects come through Voice123. This is a symptom of the youth of online casting, but therein lies the burning question a QA Manager struggles with:
    • Am I in charge of deciding what job opportunities to block from the very people who pay to use Voice123? The answer is 'No'. I trust talents know themselves, and know what they will and will not audition for if invited. I was an agent's assistant, so I know a problem when I see it. As a QA Manager, I monitor any possible issues. My responsibility is to protect and facilitate the users of the marketplace, not take away job opportunities from talents. I trust that statistics from SmartCast will allow me to research problems to find solutions.
    • Low budgets... well... the ultimate power of change lies in what the talent will accept because everyone has the choice to say 'No, thank you'. The fact is that people use the Internet for lower prices, speed, and ease of use. The practice of setting minimums or price ranges for voice seekers is a mistake. For example, if you were a seeker and had $2,000 to spend, but you see a lower price already offered as a possibility, and you know people will audition anyway, it is human nature that you will try to save money first. Even if there was a price range, you now have it in writing that you are agreeing that the price quote may change at anytime because the voice seeker chose an indefinite number. The higher number is eye-candy while the lower number may be the intended usage. This is something I experienced back in 2006. Always get it in writing in your favor.
  • We have found through SmartCast, and emails from professional talents to me, that they get paid higher budgets when they are allowed to negotiate themselves anyway.
  • Even still, we have so many great statistics in place to help someone become a better online marketer such as the "My Stats Page" - Personal stats showing a talent to talent comparison, so you can gauge when you are doing too much or too little, when something is not working out.
Finally... This past April broke our record for SmartCast projects posted in April 2008 with over 755 projects in 30 Days, not to mention a month with religious observances!

I know many of us have spoken before, and I will always give my best to assist you as a talent, and give information that serves the customer, instead of just plain old 'customer service'.

Now being behind the scenes, I have the unique opportunity to help Voice123 make a difference for everyone involved in this process. I always look forward to hearing from all of you. Please send us your thoughts, feedback, and comments below!

Thanks for reading and see you around Voice123!

Voice123 - The Voice Marketplace
Steven Lowell
Quality Assurance Manager

PS: Please do not forget that I do hold a training session on how to use every Thursday at 1PM (USA ET), click here for details on how to join the training. If you think you would like to see a different time, let us know!