Sunday, November 6, 2011

The free online talking dictionary of English pronunciation- Howjsay

Lately I've been voicing some very technical medical scripts. One of my favorite sites to go to for audio pronunciation is Howjsay. It's pretty thorough. Some of the words I've been voicing are:


These kinds of words can be challenging to even an experienced voice talent. Making them roll off the tongue smoothly is key and may require multiple takes until it sounds natural. Long medical words are often several words strung together so you have to kind of break the word down. Like the word "alkylisothioureas" above. (alkyl-isothioureas). Howjsay can be very helpful in actually hearing the word pronounced, or a word within the long word.  Check out the site here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Emphasis 101 for new voice over talents

One of the primary skills when doing voice over is knowing which words in a script to emphasize. (Or not emphasize).Of course, you'll have many choices. If you're being directed while in the booth, the director/producer may tell you exactly which words to emphasize.

Let's take this very simple sentence and see what the variables are for emphasis.

"Did you walk the dog today?"

If you emphasize the word "you" that would imply you're asking whether a said individual walked the dog as opposed to some other individual.

If you emphasize the word "dog" that would imply you're asking whether a particular person walked the dog as opposed to some other animal.

If you emphasize the word "today" that would imply you're asking whether the dog was walked today as opposed to yesterday.

You can click here to hear the audio for the sentence.

So, as you can see, a sentence meaning can be drastically changed with emphasis. Knowing which words to emphasize before even turning to the microphone is key.

There are many ways to emphasize a word when voicing. Many get slightly louder when they come to the key word. But you can also emphasize a word by getting softer, elongating the word ("It was h-o-t today!"), taking a very brief pause just before you say the word, and changing up your pitch as you say the word. Again, it's all about choices. Using a mixed bag can make the read much more interesting.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ugh! Mouth clicks and other gremlins of the VO world

With the hyper sensitivity of today's microphones, recording a voice over without lip smacks, mouth clicks and such can be a bit of a task. Being well hydrated with water before a recording session is a good foundation. Another tried and true trick is to eat a Granny Smith apple. That particular type of apple works wonders when it comes down to eliminating or minimizing mouth clicks. Not just any old apple-a Granny Smith apple, the green one shown here.

Of course, in post production, clicks between words can often be eliminated. However, some nasty clicks are layered right over the word or a syllable. So, it's best to eliminate them at the source-your mouth. Every voice over artist will tell you what type of mouth noise they battle from time to time. A case of "clickitis" can be particularly frustrating on long form narrations. For me, the water and the Granny Smith apples work wonders. Plus, they taste good.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Craigslist, voice over and the lure of "easy money"

Recently I received some interesting emails from voice talents in response to a post I put on Craigslist. Essentially, I was warning newbie, or simply inexperienced voice talents, to be very careful about responding to ads for voice over work. When someone puts in their ad that it's a quick and easy job, I can feel my blood pressure rising. If the craft of voice over is so easy, then why isn't everyone doing it? (Scroll down the blog in a bit and read "So you want to do voice overs?" for a humorous take.) Most of the ads for voice over work on Craigslist are way below industry standards regarding pay and some even offer no pay with the proverbial dangling carrot of possible future work, or copy and credit. Here's an actual ad posted on Craigslist casting for voice talent. Take a look. This was posted under New York Craigslist jobs. I've altered nothing including the misuse of capital letters.

"Director in search of Voice Over Actress for Great looking Short film tomorrow in mid town studio bet 3-5p. The Original actress is unavailable and we want to release this within the month. We are looking for a youthful ( mid 20's ) and sexy voice. We have a great post house ready to let us do a few hours ( which should be more then enough). The movie is 90% done. Only missing V.O and color correction. This is for credit and $50. Please respond with headshot, voice sample and contact info

it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
Compensation: $50"

Let's break this ad down and look at the specifics.

This voice seeker wants a quality voice but is offering a "whopping" $50 for two hours of time. Also, if all they need is a "youthful, mid 20's, sexy voice," why are they requesting a headshot? The ad says nothing about the actress also being on camera-it simply refers to a voice. BIG red flag. In addition, a nice looking 20 something female should be very wary about going to someone's studio alone. Bad news scenarios are rampant about Craigslist predators.

I understand that inexperienced voice talents might be desperate to land some work, but in my opinion, the majority of Craigslist ads for voice talent need to be reviewed very carefully. In the ad above, they promise "copy and credit." My question to them would be, what makes you think that your copy is something that's going to be so special that I would want to include it on my demo reel or VO resume? Another dangling carrot.

If you're an inexperienced voice talent or someone looking to explore this business, feel free to contact me for some solid input. I'll be happy to assist you. No charge.

In all fairness to Craigslist voice seekers, I have landed a few decent jobs from Craigslist, but those were few and far between.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Alcatraz audio tour

If you ever visit the San Francisco Bay Area, I highly recommend you take the ferry from Pier 33 and head out to the infamous Alcatraz. I was joined by my sister and brother in law from Ohio when they vacationed here and we went on the walking tour through the prison. The narration and sound effects you hear through the rented headset are really outstanding. The audio tour is optional but you'll be missing a lot if you decline. You'll get an amazing look and listen into the way things used to be for the inmates and guards. Travel tip: Get your tickets in advance as the tours book very quickly. Showing up at Pier 33 the day you want to go over to Alcatraz is no guarantee of being able to go that day. You can get ticket information here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Vincent Price and Michael Jackson's Thriller

It has always fascinated me that Vincent Price supposedly recorded his haunting narration for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in just two takes. Not bad Vincent!

Having him on that recording was pure genius. Who better to do the narration than the late king of horror movies-Vincent Price?

Vincent apparently got paid a flat $20,000 to add his voice to this monster classic. But as an option he was offered a percentage of the album sales, which he turned down. Ouch! Read other fun facts about Vincent and the song here

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Practice doesn't make perfect

I'm a life long golfer and during my junior and senior high years played competitively against some very good golfers. My father taught me the game when I was very young. I did however receive a few structured lessons from teaching pros, always looking to elevate my game. I recall one golf pro telling me on the practice tee, "Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent." That always stuck with me, even well beyond my golf game. If you're practicing the wrong things with your golf swing, your muscle memory is going to groove those things, and instead of improving your game, you'll be ruining it. Of course, the same applies to so many things in life, not just golf. I always tell those who approach me wanting to get into voice over to get some solid instruction from a qualified voice over coach. These days there are many people teaching voice over, but not all are qualified, or they're simply looking to make a buck. Be selective. Do your research before you receive instruction. And remember, practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. Make sure you're practicing the right things.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Have you voiced anything I would know?"

It happened again yesterday at my bank. I had a check come in from a first time client that I was not able to deposit at the ATM so I went inside. I was standing in a very long teller line at Bank of America, when a customer rep asked if anyone had just a direct deposit-no cash back transaction, which mine was. So, she pulled me out of line (Yippeeee!) and we went to a service station where she handled the details. I told her for whatever reason the check was not able to be processed at the outdoor ATM.

At one point, she asked me what I do for a living. I told her that I do voice overs for TV, some radio, but LOTS of non broadcast stuff for websites, corporate videos, e learning narrations and the like. She then asked me a question I usually get when folks find out what I do for a living- "Have you done anything that I would have heard, or that made you famous?" Of course, I always chuckle inside a bit when I get asked this as it's hard to know what people have heard. I told her that I had voiced four TV spots that aired nationally on the Game Show Network in support of a show called "Think Like a Cat" that she might have seen and heard. (I have one of the spots posted in the video section on this blog.) I went on to tell her that I voice many different genres of voice over, much of it non-broadcast stuff. People are sometimes surprised to hear that roughly 90% of all voice over work is non broadcast-it's a huge part of the VO pie. (Audio book narration has exploded). Those just learning the voice over craft tend to want to gravitate toward the more glamorous stuff like TV commercials and animation voice. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you ignore all the opportunities that abound in non broadcast work, you'll be missing out on a lot.

Another thing I get often is "Oh,that's cool!' "C'mon, do some voices!" I politely decline
and hand out a business card with my website address where my online demos can be heard. Hate to be a party pooper, but...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

So how much do voice actors really make?

So, I was enjoying my morning coffee and newspaper on a Sunday at one of my favorite restaurants here in Castro Valley when I came upon the Parade Magazine insert. This particular issue was billed as their annual "How much do they make ?"survey. I've sometimes had folks ask me if the money is good for doing what I do. My initial response is it depends how accomplished you are, what niche of voice over you excel in (or don't), whether you voice full time or treat it as a hobby, how you structure your rates, whether you're a union or non union voice actor, etc. As you can see, there are lots of variables.

With a natural curiosity to see if this issue of Parade had voice actors listed, I opened the pages to find they did in fact have a listing for voice actors. The voice actress they showed from New York, New York made a "whopping" $10,000! My immediate reaction was this must be a typo. No offense to this woman, but you have to try really hard not to make more than $10,000 per year if you have decent voice acting abilities. I know non union voice actors who are making six figures. And we're not talking about celebrities paid large amounts of money to voice a commercial. We're talking people whose names and faces you would never know. My next thought was, "OK, well this is what this particular voice actress makes per year, and she might be voicing part time, but it is not a true indicator of what the average income of most voice actors is."

So my answer to "How much do voice actors make?" is a lot... and sometimes, not a lot, depending upon many variables. How's that for a vague answer? Like any of these so called salary surveys, you have to take the information with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Celebrities in TV ads (thumbs up or thumbs down?)

If you're like me, when you see a famous person doing a TV commercial for Wrangler Jeans or a brand new car, you might wonder to yourself just how much they got paid by the agency/company to appear on camera. In most cases-LOTS! But, there have been more than a few debates and studies within the advertising world about whether the amount paid to bring in a hot celebrity to be a part of a TV commercial is really worth it. Ad Age takes a detailed look into this topic. Personally, I don't think I've ever made a buying decision based on seeing a celebrity in a TV commercial. And sometimes, even though a TV ad may be funny, it's not particularly memorable, once I'm in a store. But that's a topic for another post.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Let's Get Physical!"

Some of us remember the old Olivia Newton John song, "Physical," from way back when. It was a song full of sexual tension and play. Here's the chorus line.

"Let's get physical, physical, I wanna get physical, let's get into physical. Let me hear your body talk, your body talk, let me hear your body talk" 

Why am I posting this on a voice over blog? Folks are often surprised to see all the physical movements that voice over artists use in the booth. Established Hollywood actors often find voice over quite challenging. That makes sense. Think about it. If you're on camera, you have both sound (your voice) and visual (body movement) coming into play. With voice over, visual is not a factor. So, there's that additional requirement of needing to convey the emotion through words alone. Not always an easy task.

Beginning voice over artists are often told by their coaches to go ahead and get physical. (Not the kind Olivia sang about but you get the idea.) Move those hands! Make those facial expressions as you voice! In other words, don't just stand at the microphone!  It all comes through in the recording. So it should come as no surprise to see expert voice over talents gesturing a lot in the recording booth. 

Here's an experiment. Grab some copy for an auto dealership ( or write a paragraph or two) where the direction is "High energy-over the top" with the delivery. You've no doubt heard these hard sell spots on your TV. (Yep, the loud, annoying ones). Now, put both your hands in your pocket and try voicing with that high energy direction in mind. I'm sure you'll find that the hands in your pocket will clamp you down considerably. It's much more productive to get those hands moving as you read. It's the same reason why many VO artists record standing up. Sitting down can cramp your style. Studies have shown there is a direct correlation between your vocal chords and body movement.

When I was in high school, I used to get teased for talking with my hands. When I entered the voice over world, I realized that talking with your hands can make you money. Not a bad trade.

So, go ahead, get physical when you voice that copy! 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A great audio pronunciation guide

For those of us who voice scripts for a living, there's a very handy website to bookmark. It's called Forvo.
All the words in the world. Pronounced
You'll find audio pronunciations of words from all over the world. Lately I've been voicing some Japanese to English corporate video scripts and this site has been helpful.

Check it out here .

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Levelator

A useful little application I sometimes use here in my studio is called The Levelator. You can drag and drop a WAV or AIFF file into it and it will "equal out" the overall volume of a file like magic. This is especially useful if you were to have multiple voices  at different volume levels.

I sometimes will use this when I'm speaking very softly at the microphone but want the volume of my recording to be elevated. The best way to see what it can do for you is to try it out. You can download it here. There's also a more detailed explanation as to what it does.