It Started With A Hiss

My background noise no longer makes waves …

 

Technically-minded I am not.  And never have been.  I knew that being a voiceover would mean some technology, but I try to keep it to a minimum.  I know my limitations.

I initially dealt with discovering a slight background hiss on my recordings by telling myself that it wasn’t very loud and shouldn’t be a problem.  But when a friend (also a voiceover) mentioned it and then another one said it could easily be costing me jobs, there was no dodging the issue.

A lot of faffing around at home lead me to believe the noise wasn’t coming from the house, so it had to be something to do with my recording set up.  Perhaps my software, Audacity, would be able to reduce or, better still, get rid of it.  So I tried its noise removal.  And yes, the hiss went, but my voice was also distorted and tinny, even at the lowest setting.

Internet research pointed to background hiss being a problem that goes hand-in-hand with recording through a USB microphone plugged directly into a computer.  But most of the solutions – the ones that weren’t written in tecchie jargon that I couldn’t understand, that is – involved buying a pre-amp.  I could see the sense in that, even if it did mean spending more money.  So I ran through the problem with my mentor, Gary Terzza, who agreed that a pre-amp would be a good solution – but had I tried WavePad as an alternative to Audacity?  Some of his students had tried it and really liked its noise removal.

They’re not the only ones!  In literally three clicks, the background hiss was gone, and my voice was as it should be.  Admittedly, I’ve had to pay for WavePad but, given the difference it’s made to my sound quality, I reckon it’s worth it – and it’s certainly cheaper than a new pre-amp!  It’s also straightforward to use, especially so after my ‘training’ on Audacity, and I haven’t scratched the surface of all its other features – sound effects, music and the like.  I may never need to use them – but, in this game, you just never know.

My success with this spurred me on.  I’d noticed an occasional popping on some of my recordings, despite having a pop screen in front of the mic.  It was my own fault for enunciating correctly, I know.  Homespun remedies, like tights over the microphone (or, indeed, the pop screen) only produced a muffled result that was probably even worse.  Standing at an angle to the microphone didn’t do the trick either, so I decided to invest a whole four quid in a foam windshield for the mic.  It was a tight fit, but it seems to have sorted it – and, just to make doubly sure, I use WavePad’s pop removal as well!

Listening to the difference in the quality of my recordings now and ones I made earlier in the year, it does make me wonder how I ever managed to land any work in the first place.  But I got lucky, and I know that.  Now it really is down to just my voice to turn those auditions into bookings …………

 

Softly, softly ………

Hopefully, I’m on my audience’s wavelength

It was only when I embarked on my career as a voice over artist that I started to use social media.  Yes, I’d heard of Facebook and Twitter, and I knew what they were, but I couldn’t see how they were relevant to me.

Having to market myself changed all that.  It was obvious that Facebook and Twitter – and a blog, of course! – would be good ways of communicating with the voice over world and generally building my profile.  There were other plus points: following some of my favourite journalists (Kevin Maguire on The Mirror and Jon Snow from Channel 4) on Twitter, or staying in touch on Facebook with people I’d worked with in the past – sometimes the dim and distant variety!

But I didn’t expect an opportunity to land right in my lap.  A couple of weeks ago, an ex-colleague who now works for AgeUK posted a message on Facebook about the charity’s new internet radio station, The Wireless, encouraging everybody to listen.   So I did – but not before I replied asking if I should send her my voice reel.

Cutting a long story short, she very kindly passed on my details to the station’s producer and, to my surprise, I was invited in for a chat – and to record some links.  The station, like many others, is mainly pre-recorded: it plays music from the 50s to the 80s and most of the shows are compiled by computer, with the presenters recording links between the tracks in advance.

It turned out they were looking for a presenter for the weekend editions of the late evening show, Downtown, which plays wind-down music.  So I recorded my links and my try-out show went out last Saturday – after which I had to wait to see if the charity liked what they heard and wanted me to host the programme regularly.

They did – and I now present the show on Saturday and Sunday evenings between 9 and 11 pm, which means a trip to the studio every fortnight to record four programmes’ worth of links.  Although I’ve been on the radio in the past, this is a different way of using my voice: I have to sound spontaneous and chatty but, given the type of music on the show, I also have to tone myself down and can’t be my usual energetic self – quite a challenge!  Not quite Whispering Freda Cooper, but you get the idea ….

And, before you ask, yes, I do listen to my own show.  Not through vanity, but because I need to know how I – and the programme – sound and how I can improve.  Having listened to my first one, I already have a list of things to work on, think about and try out.  It’s been a while since I’ve been on the radio, so I’m a little out of practice.

The Wireless is available through AgeUK’s website, www.ageuk.org.uk – just click on ‘listen’.  I present Downtown every Saturday and Sunday night from 9 – 11 pm, if you want to give it a try.  But it’s not compulsory.

App-lying Myself

And my microphone is where ……?

A few months back, I landed my first piece of paid voice over work but I couldn’t say much more about it at the time.

But now I’ve recorded my first pieces, it’s about time I did.  You may have already heard about Kaliki, a new platform that converts print publications into streaming audio apps.  What makes it different is that it uses actual voice over artists to read the articles from major national and international newspapers and magazines, so they can be heard via mobile phones.  And I’m one of those voices!

After getting the booking (I’m one of a number of voices here and in the USA) through an audition on Voice123, I was allocated my publication – Conde Nast Traveler.  I’m delighted to be recording apps for such a prestigious mag and, while I’m not the only voice of this particular publication – I know of at least two others – I’m hoping it will turn out to be regular work.

If my first features were anything to go by, my knack for foreign languages might come in useful as well.  One piece was about a resort in Costa Rica, so I was able to throw in a little Spanish pronunciation, while another was about massages in Thailand – both getting and learning how to give them.  Thai isn’t part of my repertoire, but I think I got the place names about right, even if one or two of them took some rehearsing!

When the finished versions of my first recordings have been uploaded onto my website, I’ll post the link so that you can listen to them.

A number of international and national magazines, as well as daily and Sunday newspapers, will all be available on Kaliki, read by different voices, of course.  To find out more, check out this article from last autumn on CNet, http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13746_7-20118201-48/with-kaliki-you-could-listen-to-this-article-in-your-car/, which also includes a link to a Kaliki demo.

And, before you ask, there’s been no mention of location recordings.  With the wonders of modern technology, I have to say the chances are slim.  Hey, you can’t have it all!

The Other Italian Job

….. and not a Mini in sight.

If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans, so they say.  I’ve probably been a constant source of hilarity over the years, and I may not be the only one.

I’m sure he was chuckling away the other evening.  With six months’ worth of being a voice over artist under my belt, I thought it was about time I started to review things and look ahead at the same time.  Should I continue doing this full time for a while longer?  Should I start looking for some PR work and do voice overs in my spare time?

One of the first things I needed to do was to assess the various websites I’d joined in an effort to land myself work.  How were they performing and were there any that simply weren’t doing it for me?  There was certainly one: the number of potential auditions was noticeably low compared to the others and, once I eliminated all the opportunities that were looking for a transatlantic style of English – which most definitely isn’t me! – the resulting number of actual auditions struggled to make double figures.

So, with about a month to go on my subscription, I let them know I wouldn’t be renewing.  Job done.

But just a couple of hours later, an email arrived – via the very same, unproductive site.  An Italian production company wanted to know if I would be able to do a 45 second voice over for a training animation.  The job was to be in English and I agreed.  The following day, the script arrived and, in the space of about an hour, the job was done and I’d been paid.  Sweet.

Except that the irony of the booking coming from the site I’d just discarded wasn’t lost on me.  It seemed that the Law of Murphy had prevailed: I pull the plug and the site comes up with the goods.  Chances are that, once my subscription expires, there’ll be loads of gigs I could’ve auditioned for.  Cue mirth from on high.

But, thinking about it, this isn’t so unusual.  You send in an audition for a job thinking that, at best, your chances are 50/50 and you forget all about it.  What happens?  You get it.  You do another which you think is really in with a shout – and it falls on deaf ears.  I guess it’s just another instance of learning to live with the unknowns and the unpredictable nature of the voice over life: you enjoy the highs of getting bookings and cope with the lows of rejection.

Actually, instead of coping, maybe just moving on is a better approach.  But that’s a subject in its own right, and something for another time.

I am, I should add, sticking to my guns.  The gig was fun and the way it came about certainly did my confidence no harm, but it’s still the only one that the site has produced.

Of course, in saying that, I might be tempting providence.  The offers could start flooding in, just from that one source.  Or could they …….?

Slow, Slow ………

Not a common sight this week

 

It has been, as Garrison Keillor always introduced his Lake Woebegon stories, a quiet week.

This was the first one when I noticed a slow-down in the number of auditions coming through.  I couldn’t pinpoint a specific reason and put it down to it being just one of those weeks.  We all have them, after all.  Plus I was waiting to hear back about a forthcoming piece of work and to hear the finished version of another one so, all in all, things just seemed decidedly slugging.

So what to do with myself while I played the waiting game?  It would have been too easy to plonk myself in front of the TV – and I won’t deny that I did occasionally! – but I felt I should make the effort to use my time productively, especially as I knew that at some stage things would get going again – and, when they did, everything would arrive in a mad rush.   For starters, it gave me the idea for this post …..!

Mailing out my voice reel is an on-going job, so I sent out another batch.  Having covered production companies and TV and radio stations in London and my own locality in Surrey, I cast my net wider and sent it to places within shooting distance – Brighton, Oxford, Reading and their respective counties.  And I set about compiling a list of targets for other cities with a media community: Manchester, with the BBC having moved to Salford, Birmingham and Bristol for starters.  More time- consuming than it sounds.

It meant I could give my website some attention.  Having originally hoped that another page would be in the offing to showcase my work so far, alongside testimonials, I clearly wasn’t quite there yet.  Not because I hadn’t done the work but some of my gigs hadn’t gone public yet, so I didn’t have the finished versions.  The sensible thing to do was to update the existing page with the YouTube clip of the Milfresh commercial, and the testimonial from the agency, and then review it again when the other items had arrived.  An email to my designer got that started.

I also signed up to a brand new site that, hopefully, will produce some more work.  Called MOHActor.com, it’s a global site specialising in voice overs for telephone answering systems.  It’s free to join, which is always welcome, but I can’t comment on how it works until I get my first job.  It’s early days – for the site and for those, like me, who have signed up.

I expected the weekend to be just as quiet, if not more so.  And it was – except for one anticipated email, which arrived on Sunday afternoon.   Back in February, I talked about landing my first paid job, a new mobile phone based service.  It launches soon, so I’ll be able to tell you more about it then, but I’ll be voicing articles from newspapers and magazines – and the email confirmed which one.

Things are starting to move again …………

Fair Shares

Sharing is an integral part of the voice over world

Everybody I spoke to before I plunged into the voice over world left me in no doubt as to how competitive it is.  And they were absolutely right.

Even though everybody’s voice is unique, there are plenty of others going after the same jobs as me.  All of my work comes through web sites at the moment, with varying degrees of success.  But when a voice seeker is asking for 50 or 100 auditions for a gig, or you discover yours is just one of several hundred submitted, you soon get the picture!

But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how generous other voice overs are when it comes to sharing knowledge and experience.  Yes, it’s a competitive business.  But it’s not cut-throat.

All of the sites I use provide resources to a greater or lesser degree.  From my comparatively short experience, Voice123.com and Voices.com provide the most extensive, the most recent additions being royalty-free music and other additional sounds and royalty-free video.  Both sites actively engage their members through a number of channels: on their sites, it ranges from on-line forums where you can find out more on just about any aspect of being a voice over artist, to regular training newsletters or videos.  More widely, Voice123.com also publicises the work of its members through its own YouTube channel and both sites, as well as others like VoicesPro and Bodalgo, also tweet regularly.

However, access to on-site resources is often only available to subscribers, so for newbies who don’t want to pay up just yet, another way of tapping into the network is via LinkedIn.  Here, most of the voice over websites have a group and they’re free to join, as are other voice over groups, such as London Voiceovers and Voice Over Ninja.  As well as sharing news and knowledge, some of them run discussions on topical subjects, with varying degrees of relevance to the voice over world.  More specialist groups, such as Social Media For Voice Over Actors, can be especially useful when marketing yourself, as can those on associated subjects, such as Twitter and blogging.

If you’re just starting out, or are a comparative new arrival like me, they are all invaluable.  Whatever your career, you never stop learning, even more so if it’s part of the fast-moving media world.  Regardless of whether I stay in this industry for one year or twenty  one, these sites and groups will continue to be a precious source of information.

But none of them would be half as valuable if it wasn’t for the generosity of the voice over artists themselves.  It’s truly remarkable and is probably the most open-minded of all the industries I’ve worked in.  And given that, at any one time, there’s a whole clutch of us going after the same gig, it made me wonder why.

One reason could be the comparatively solitary nature of the job.  Most of us work from home and, to a greater or lesser extent, by ourselves – with as much silence as we can muster!  It’s not like going to the office and interacting with colleagues, nor is there the banter or exchange of ideas that you find in a more conventional working environment.  So its place is taken by a virtual community, where you can build knowledge, keep up to date and develop contacts with other voice over artists.

Staying positive and focussed is one of the biggest challenges of working by yourself at home and contact with others in the same business, even if it is through a virtual community, can help and even inspire.  I resisted working by myself for a long time before finally biting the bullet.  I didn’t think I was disciplined enough and felt that I would seriously miss the company and stimulus of other people.  And there are times when I miss the latter: the sites and groups that I use on-line don’t totally replace them, but they do help.

Given that I’m still new to the industry, I didn’t anticipate being asked for my advice and experience so early on but clearly this culture of sharing is inherent at all levels.  My mentor, Gary Terzza, recently referred an aspiring voice over to me so I could give them an idea of the practicalities involved in setting up and getting work – the real picture, warts and all.  Just as no two voices are the same, no two voice over artists are the same, but I hope what I’ve given them so far helps in making a decision – and I’ve referred them to this blog, of course!

Pull The Udder One!*

Very amooosing .....

 

It’s arrived!  The ad that I affectionately dubbed The Cockney Cow dropped into my inbox today, complete with my version of a Cockney accent.

Made for Aimia Foods in Merseyside, it’s aimed at the catering trade and will be broadcast on the internet.

And it’s rather a giggle:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUvvKRjlkx4&feature=youtu.be

Thanks to Voice123.com for sending me the audition – and cue the cow-related puns.  Yes, I know I’m milking it ……

 

*  With thanks to Gary Terzza!

You’re ‘Avin’ A Larf!

No, not THAT Cockney .....

I fessed up earlier to being a Brummie and my feelings about my native whine.  But, perhaps by way of consolation, I was also born with the ability to mimic other, more pleasing, accents.

At school, I had a knack for languages and learnt both French and Spanish.  My French accent was always the better of the two but, of late, my Spanish accent appears to be catching up.  I’ve also picked up some Italian along the way although, according to a part-Italian friend, I have a distinctly Sicilian accent.  I’m not aware of any Mafia connections, though ….

When it comes to English accents, I can still pull a decent Brummie out of the hat and can also do a just-about-passable North East, although I suspect my friends from that part of the country wouldn’t be convinced.  But, while having lived in the South East for a number of years made me think that I could probably do a decent London/Cockney voice, I’d never actually tried.  Until last week.

The audition that came in was for a vending machine company.  They wanted a female voice over for an animation about the fresh milk products used in their hot drinks machines.  Inevitably, there was more to it than that.  Firstly, the voice was supposed to come from inside the machine and be that of a cow – yes, with the occasional moooo.  Secondly, the cow was to be a Cockney.  Let me re-phrase that. The caaa wuz to be a Cockney.

Undeterred by the risk of becoming the female equivalent of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, I gave it a try and felt it was good enough to send in.  More Mockney than Cockney, I must admit, but it had the character and humour I thought it needed.  That said, I didn’t really expect to get it.

Wrong!  All those years of wallowing in EastEnders must have paid off because, to my amazement, the booking came through.  So recording the final version saw me in front of the microphone, mooing, glottle stopping and dropping my h’s with reckless abandon.  And, as an extra test of my vocal dexterity, there were a few more sentences added to the end of the script to be read at ‘terms and conditions’ speed, but in my normal voice.

And now the recording’s done, the client’s happy and I’m just waiting to find out how and where the animation is going to be used.  Fingers crossed it’ll be on YouTube: if so, it’ll find its way onto my website so that I can show it off – and give you all a good laugh at the same time. Somehow, I don’t think I’m ever going to live this down ……

The Direct Approach

Ready to go .......

So, I’ve landed my first piece of paid-for work (more of that, hopefully, later in the month), but hunting down more never stops.  I’m registered with a number of websites, so potential auditions land in my in-box pretty much every day but, with so many other voice over artists going for the same gigs, I’m only likely to turn a small percentage of them into bookings.

Time to put the skills from my previous career in PR and marketing to good use and launch myself to the wider world.

The first and obvious step was to organise a mail-out of my voice reel.  But a CD on its own is pretty uninspiring and instantly destined for the bin if it doesn’t stand out from the crowd.  As my artistic skills are negligible at best, I decided to invest in a designer, who suggested presenting my CD in a card rather than the usual fiddly and manicure-wrecking jewel case.

Inside, the CD would be attached to the right hand side of the card with a self-adhesive plastic dot.  The left hand side would describe my voice and also give my contact details.  And the CD labels would list the tracks plus my email address.  While the cards were professionally printed, I would look after the labels myself, so that I could update them when my voice reel expanded or changed.

I’d already decided that I wanted the cards to be in my favourite shade of blue, best described as lapis, the colour of the sky and sea in the Greek Islands.  It’s become something of a signature colour for me.  My front door is much the same shade.  So is my car. The lettering would be white but Tamasin Cole, my designer, felt I needed a strapline in addition to my name.  Which was how Voiceovers Out Of The Blue came about.  Quite apart from being a neat little pun, I hoped it would be intriguing enough to up the chances of my CD being heard.

With the covers at the printers, there was one other essential I needed to get my voice heard – a website.  We decided on a holding page that would cover the essentials – my voice reel, The Coops Review podcasts, contact details and links to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and this blog – until it could be expanded with examples of my work and testimonials from clients.  And, of course, the design would match the voice reel covers, which you can see above.

And here’s the finished article: www.fredacooper.co.uk.  If you’re interested to see more of Tamasin’s work, take a look at www.harperandcole.co.uk.

As I type, I am nigh-on ankle deep in CDs ready to be popped into jiffy bags so they can wing their way to TV and radio stations and production companies, among others.  The first phase will target those in London, plus ones in Surrey, where I live.  Companies and stations further afield will come next and, although I do aim to get myself an agent, they will come later as I will need to show them examples of actual work, rather than a voice reel, professionally produced though it is.

Direct mail can produce varied results and I don’t know for sure what mine will produce.  An average response to a similar mailing is about 6%, which doesn’t sound very high.  But if I generate six bookings out of the first 100 voice reels I send out, my costs should be covered by two of them.  Not a bad return on my investment.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  It’s time I went to the Post Office …………

 

Warm-Up Act

Corpsing can have its advantages ..........

Much as I retain a lingering affection for my home city of Birmingham, it has what is probably the worst accent in the country – and I was exposed to it from birth.  Over the years, I’ve managed to eradicate most of it, although the occasional Brummie whine still creeps in, especially if I’m talking to a fellow native.

But it wasn’t until my voiceover workshop that I realised I still had the characteristic flatness that goes with the whine.  I’d always thought I had quite an expressive voice but take away my facial expressions and hand gestures, and some of the energy goes with them.

So one of the big learning points from the session was to work on those energy levels.  Gary Terzza, my trainer, suggested I smiled while recording to give my voice some warmth.  That wasn’t difficult – I’m a habitual grinner – and I could hear the difference, although keeping that smile going for several minutes was another matter ……

I have, though, found an even better way of energising my voice – and it was totally by accident.  In the middle of what should have been a relatively straightforward audition for a telephone answering system, I repeatedly fluffed one word – “voicemail” kept becoming “voicemeal”.  Heaven knows why, but I found it funny at the time and I had a fit of the giggles.  Letting them take their course seemed the sensible thing to do, and I did another take when I had barely stopped laughing.

The difference was an eye-opener.  My voice was warmer, more vibrant and welcoming.  Now I have to laugh rather than just smile just before recording anything that needs that energy.  Admittedly, I have to get my timing spot-on so that I don’t guffaw down the mic, but it really does work for me.

In case the laughter dries up, I now keep a list of things near the microphone that I know will make me laugh.  Top of the list is the current TV commercial for PlusNet, with “embarrassing Dad” giving a cheery “Hello, son!” to his mortified lad.  It never fails.  Then there’s the Family Fortunes classic: “Name a bird with a long neck.” “Naomi Campbell!”  And, of course, the single word “Fenton!”

It will need refreshing from time to time, so if you can think of anything else that belongs on my laughter list, please feel free to suggest it!


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