Archive for the ‘Strategy’ category

The Mic Guy at the mic (where else?)

January 31, 2011

Yikes… it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted here. This occasion, however, warrants the resurrection.

On January 19, I recorded my new commercial demo at Voicetrax San Francisco. That’s Samantha Paris, my beloved mentor and coach, in the director’s chair; voice actor and technical wizard supreme Chuck Kourouklis manned the sound board and video equipment.

This video demonstrates two essential facts: (1) Samantha is an amazing director; and (2) I should stick to acting off-camera.

My new demo, however, will be awesome.

Thanks to Samantha and Chuck for a fantastic experience!

In the game

August 9, 2009

Confession time…

I kissed a video game, and I liked it.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Pat Fraley‘s Game World event in San Francisco. Three reasons: (1) I had a blast working with Pat during a previous event; (2) Pat’s guest coach was Darragh O’Farrell of LucasArts, about whose directing I’ve heard excellent reports; and (3) I’ve taken a few classes on interactive game voice acting in recent months, and I’ve yearned for the opportunity to test-drive my new chops.

Yesterday, the big moment rolled around, so off I trekked — jumbo coffee in hand — to the downtown studio where Pat hosts his San Francisco events.

In a word: Cowabunga. (This assumes that you accept “Cowabunga” as a word. Which, since I attended college in Malibu and have played Snoopy onstage, I most certainly do.)

As strange as it sounds from someone who thought he was getting into voiceover to do industrial narration — not to mention to a guy whose video gaming experience dates back to (and more or less ends with) Asteroids and Frogger — I really, really want to voice interactive characters. That burning yen gained fuel under the tutelage of Messrs. Fraley and O’Farrell. (I know. It sounds like an Irish joke waiting for a punch line. You’ll just have to keep waiting.)

Prior to the event, Pat sent out a thick e-file crammed with character sides, from which each student was supposed to select four options. We ended up doing two scripts each, plus participating as examples in a series of excellent technique exercises.

My first audition script was a character from a fantasy game — an avaricious thief. (Yes, a redundancy. Hang with me.) I’ve observed in previous character workshops that I have a knack for evil — or at the very least, duplicitous — roles. This one proved no exception. I felt strong about the acting approach I took, and the specific choices I made with my lines. Best of all, I knew precisely how I wanted to play each scene before I stepped behind the microphone, and when I exited the booth, I was confident that I’d executed my plan. Darragh offered a touch of crisp direction that helped pull it all together. If this were an audition, I’d like my chances.

Round two, as I’d feared, took a slightly harder turn. I’d chosen a character from the same game as my first round selection, but one diametrically opposed to the other in type. I sometimes struggle playing good guys, and I did again here. My first take at my hero was a bit too soft — Pat told me that he sounded “like he eats too much quiche.” In attempting to make the character more vigorously masculine, I cranked in too much force and volume. I knew that was the wrong choice — how often do I have to hear “less is more” before I finally get it? — and Pat promptly reeled me back to a more monochromatic delivery. I should have played the Eastwood card straight out of the box. Oh, well… next time, I’ll remember.

My demonstration exercise taught me how to yell effectively without injuring my voice. I’ll be using that technique a ton, no question. AAAAARRRRRRRGH!

As inevitably happens at a VO workshop, I met some cool new colleagues, enjoyed working alongside some of my favorite fellow actors (Aileen and Brenda, you both rocked, as usual — I’m in awe, seriously), picked up a wealth of handy technical and career-enhancement tips, and benefited from some killer coaching.

By the time 6 p.m. rolled around and Pat sent us on our merry way, my shoes weighed fifty pounds each, but my synapses sizzled with fresh information and my heart soared as though pumped full of helium. I’m itching to spend the next couple of weeks digesting and practicing everything I drank from the Fraley and O’Farrell Fountain of Wisdom. (It’s 100% alcohol-free. Honest.)

Now, I need to go mining for auditions. Need a crafty villain? I’m your huckleberry.

Studied prototypical

August 5, 2009

Given that I’ve been working so much on character acting of late — I’m three-fourths of the way through a class on dialects, and I just wrapped a workshop on acting for animation and video game projects, with another of the latter coming this weekend — I haven’t been working much in my natural voice.

Which is just fine with me.

I’m always intrigued by other people’s perception of my unaltered sound. A while back, one of the directors at a workshop I attended told me that I sound like Seth Rogen. I don’t hear that at all — for one thing, Seth’s speaking voice is a good deal deeper than mine — but since at least one person with good ears hears me that way, I’ve been watching a number of Seth’s movies lately and trying to incorporate cues from his delivery.

In the workshop I took last weekend, the rest of the group was convinced that I’m a vocal ringer for Albert Brooks. That one makes more sense to me — Brooks’s flat, southern California affect is admittedly similar to the one I’ve developed over 30 years as a resident of the Golden State — so again, I’ve been checking out everything from Out of Sight to Finding Nemo to see what I can learn.

My current Thursday evening workshop is built around prototyping — using other actors as models for tonality, rhythm, and character type. The great Thom Pinto assigned me Willem Dafoe as my primary prototype. (Why do I always get the sinister ones?) As anyone who has heard him speak knows, Dafoe has several vocal eccentricities that are uniquely his, and difficult to imitate without his particular instrument. Working at modeling him, however, is helping to ground me in the deeper, more modulated range that appears to be my money voice for straight commercial and narration copy.

For character reads, I’m modeling Paul Giamatti as my primary prototype. Of all the actors I’ve mentioned in this post thus far, Giamatti is the one who sounds the most similar to me in my own ears. Like mine, his voice has both a reedy edge and a darker texture underlying that, creating a sort of indefinable quirkiness in the sound. Giamatti’s voice also reflects an intellectual-intense-yet-insecure quality that resonates with me. I’ve been practicing some of Paul’s short monologues from Sideways, and — for the benefit of contrast — a sampling of his lines as the over-the-top villain in Shoot ‘Em Up. Between the two, I’m fleshing out a couple of strong characters that I’ll be able to draw from again and again.

It’s funny…

…the more I work at becoming someone else, the more I discover of myself.

Making it do what it do

July 30, 2009

If I’ve learned anything in my recent voiceover workouts — and let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I have — it’s about the essential importance of acting over voice quality.

Or, as Sirenetta told our accents and dialects class, “Play the scene, and the voice will follow.”

It’s taking a while — okay, like, a year now — for that message to penetrate my skull. But I think it’s beginning to sink in.

I’m trying to train myself to be less conscious of what my voice sounds like, and focus completely on acting whatever role I happen to be playing in the moment, whether a character, spokesperson, or narrator. When I manage to suppress that sometimes overwhelming compulsion to audit my voice and tinker with the sound, there’s no question but that I get more effective performances. Still, when that microphone and copy stand appear before me, that sneaky self-editing demon creeps in and starts tugging at my ears.

Deep down inside, I know it’s a crisis of confidence. I don’t always fully trust my voice to do what my acting choices require of it. Foolish, I know, because when I let it work, it works just fine.

I need an infusion of the great Ray Charles, who once said of his prodigious talent, “I just make it do what it do, baby.”

When I’m in the booth this evening, and throughout this weekend, I’m going to try to shut the editing demon off, and just make it do what it do.

Magic Monday

June 22, 2009

I went on an audition today.

Already I can hear you asking, “How did it go?” If you mean from the perspective of booking the job, who knows? I’ve never been any good at judging these things.

So I’m learning to evaluate from a different POV: Did I do everything I went there to do?

To answer that question, we first have to know what I plan to do whenever I audition. Lucky for us, I have a list.

1. Did I enjoy myself? Totally. I live for booth time. Anytime I get to play with new copy, it’s a good day.

2. Did I achieve focus, and maintain it throughout the session? Sometimes this is a challenge for me, but it wasn’t today. Which was a good thing, since there were several other names on the call sheet ahead of mine, meaning that I had about 45 minutes for my attention to wander.

3. Did I complete my homework? Right down the line. I studied the copy and the specs carefully, and thought about both before I began rehearsing. I made a specific note that this was television copy, and prepared reads that were appropriate to that medium. I had a firm grasp on the scenario, and made clear choices about both my character and the person to whom I was speaking. (Actually, since I was reading two similar spots targeted to different audiences, I envisioned myself speaking to a different person for each spot. My friends Donna and Randy would be pleased to know how helpful they were, in absentia.) Most importantly — because this is the one that I most easily let slip — I knew precisely why I was saying the words, and what response I hoped to elicit from my audience.

4. Did I remember to breathe deeply and center myself before I started? Check.

5. Did I take my water bottle into the booth with me? Check.

6. Did I relax? For the most part, yes. I felt the initial adrenaline rush, but managed to rein it in.

7. Did I follow directions? This is rarely an issue for me — one of my strengths is listening to instructions and internalizing them quickly — and it wasn’t a negative today.

8. Did I trust my instincts? Yes, and I believe they were solid. Second-guessing myself rarely works to my benefit. Remember the FIST rule: First Impressions Sense Truth.

9. Did I have an attack of esprit l’escalier? Thankfully, no. The worst thing that can happen to an actor is to be thunderstruck on the drive home from the audition with the thought, “Why didn’t I do this?” I do wish that I had developed an approach to either spot that was completely out of the box, but I believe that the different styles I used for the two spots were sufficiently distinct that they demonstrated at least a bit of range.

10. Did I love myself afterward? I did, and do. I acted well today. Good Mic Guy.

Ultimately, the work is the work. Whether I book the job or don’t, I love the work.

I’m thrilled that I got to work — and play — today.

Who says I’ve got no class?

June 4, 2009

The incomparable Shirley, the office manager at Voicetrax, called this morning to review my course schedule for the upcoming term.

I managed to score most of the classes that I wanted to take. I’m on the wait list for one course that was rescheduled, but aside from that, I’ll stay pretty busy through early October.

Among the workshops in which I’ll be participating:

  • A pair of classes on character development. Since character work appears to be my unexpected strength, I might as well maximize my growth there.
  • A prototypes workshop. Fun stuff there — using successful VO professionals as models from whom to learn.
  • A class on exploring the vocal instrument. I can always benefit from more self-discovery.
  • Two classes on script analysis, because I need all the help I can get.
  • Another scuffle with my old nemesis, narration. I’ve been focusing my daily reads in this area, so this should be a much improved experience.
  • A weekend workshop on audition strategy. I’m really looking forward to that one. Can you ever really learn too much about how to book gigs?

Looks like a veritable cornucopia of skill- and knowledge-building opportunities. I can hardly wait for July to get started!

Carnegie Hall, and step on it

June 2, 2009

Last Saturday, my chorus — Voices in Harmony, northern California’s premier men’s a cappella chorus (thank you, Blatant Plug Department) — presented its annual spring concert. Yours truly had the honor of narrating the chorus segments of the show.

It occurs to me that if I was as comfortable behind the mic in the studio as I am before a live audience, my growth as a voice actor would develop far more dramatically.

Then again, if I’d been focusing on voice acting for more than 25 years — as I have been on public speaking — the same would hold true.

Yes, Mr. Gladwell, I know…

Ten thousand hours.

I’m working on it.

Call me Ignatz

May 29, 2009

I’ve encountered my first obstacle in choosing a text for my entry in Scott Brick’s audiobook narration contest

…finding a good book that Scott Brick didn’t narrate.

That’s not as inconsiderable a task as one might think. It is, from my perspective, an important one.

After all, if you were a contestant on American Idol, you’d be foolhardy to select a Journey or Westlife song as your audition piece, or a song that Kara DioGuardi wrote, or a song that Paula Abdul had lip-synched (did I say that?).

Why? Because you’re being judged by people who are intimately familiar with the material, have an emotional connection to it, and most significantly, have a strongly developed idea about the way the song ought to be performed. A way that — good, bad or indifferent — probably will be different from your own.

Therefore, I can’t imagine that a tyro like me would be well served by trying to out-Brick the master.

The challenge is that Scott has previously narrated books by many of the authors whose works I’d love to read — Harlan Coben, Dennis Lehane, Rex Pickett, and Isaac Asimov, to name just four. Even the book I’m currently using for my daily workouts — Erik Larsen’s The Devil in the White City — was recorded by Scott. (I am assiduously avoiding Scott’s version until I’ve finished with the text.)

Never fear, though. I have a handful of solid prospects in mind. I plan to make a final choice in the next week, giving myself ample time to select a suitable passage in time for the contest’s June 10 kickoff.

I’ll just have to hope that, whatever I pick, Scott doesn’t get to it first.

Positive direction

May 22, 2009

My four-week workshop on self-directing skills has concluded, and what have I learned?

That my self-directing skills need work.

Not that that’s a shocker.

Actually, I’m proud of the work I did during these four weeks. My script analysis, though still light-years from perfection, is improving. I’m getting better at asking the right questions about the copy in front of me, and coming up with answers that align with the copywriter’s intention (as opposed to what I would prefer to do). At the same time, I’m finding more success at not overthinking my way into performance paralysis.

I’m also finding myself more consistent. I’m having fewer truly wretched first takes, and more frequent final takes that would be strongly competitive in the marketplace. And with less adjustment needed in between.

So that’s progress.

I received an encouraging compliment last evening from another student who’s already a working pro: “You make good choices before you go into the booth.” If that’s evident to anyone besides myself, I must be doing at least a few things well.

Two months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to say that.

My audiobook workshop, originally scheduled to start next week, has been rescheduled for late June. That means I’m entirely on my own for workouts over the next month. I have a plan for approaching this time period that I’m looking forward to implementing. (One of the things I’ll be working on is my entry for Scott Brick’s audiobook narration contest.) I now have ample tools, gained in my classes since the first of this year, that I’ll spend focused hours sharpening each day.

Besides which, the extra month will give me time to come up with a plausible excuse for forgetting Lisa Baney’s name in front of Scott Brick.

What’s your chain?

May 20, 2009

The other day, I was musing about the fact that, even though I hold a four-year degree in broadcast communications (from San Francisco State University‘s acclaimed Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts department, no less), my technical skills are rudimentary, to be polite.

Okay, I’ll confess… I sleepwalked through my audio production classes. (Ask Professor John Barsotti if you think I’m kidding.)

Since getting into the VO field, I’ve been wishing that I’d paid more attention in those classes. Yes, they were a quarter of a century ago (egad!), and audio technology has changed immeasurably in that time. Still, I’m sure that the basic principles would be standing me in good stead now… if only I could remember them.

Wherever voice actors congregate, whether in meatspace or cyberspace, they love to talk tools. Microphones, preamps, digital audio interfaces, recording software — all are grist for the VO chat mill. Taken together, the various elements used to capture, preserve, and manipulate a vocal performance are called a recording chain. Thus, at the voice actors’ watering hole, the traditional pickup line, “What’s your sign?” gets transmogrified into, “What’s your chain?”

In case anyone’s interested, here’s my chain.

I own two microphones, mostly because they cost about the same, and at the time I was putting my setup together, I couldn’t decide which I preferred.

The mic I use most frequently is a Rode NT1-A, a steady, solid performer that’s quite flattering to my individual vocal characteristics. The NT1A adds a pleasant richness to the lower end of my range, and is my go-to mic for most copy when I’m using my natural voice or a close permutation thereof.

My second mic is a Studio Projects C1, another fine piece of equipment that emphasizes the brighter notes in my tessitura. I’ll often plug in the C1 when I’m working on character scripts, or copy where I’d like to have more youthful sparkle in my sound. The C1 is also the mic I use on the rare occasion when I record myself singing.

Since my home office doubles as my studio, and the space lacks acoustical treatment of any kind, I surround my mic with a RealTraps Portable Vocal Booth. It’s not exactly like being in a fully treated environment, but for my money, it’s the next best thing.

My preamp and digital audio interface are the same simple device: a cEntrance MicPort Pro. This phenomenal little gizmo shoulders triple duty in my chain. It (1) provides 48 volt phantom power to my mic of choice; (2) converts the microphone output into binary code so that my computer can understand and manage it, via a USB port; and (3) provides a headphone output for either monitoring (which I don’t use; I don’t like to wear my cans when I voice) or playback (which I do use). Most amazingly, the MicPort Pro handles all of these tasks in a sleek, compact unit the size of a cigar. It adds no discernable color to the recording — just serves up clean, accurate sound. And, it’s small and lightweight enough that I can toss it into my briefcase to record when I’m traveling. Everyone who records into a computer should own one of these.

I use the simplest and most basic recording software available: Audacity, available as a free download all over the ‘Net. So far, I haven’t needed anything more elaborate. One of these days, though, I’d like to upgrade to Adobe Audition, if only because that’s what the engineers at Voicetrax use, and I’d like to be able to understand what they’re doing when I’m in the booth.

As noted above, I don’t often wear headphones when I record. Doing so feels awkward and unnatural to me, and introduces an unnecessary stumbling block to my performing. Since I don’t own a set of studio monitors, however, I do use my cans (that’s tech talk for “headphones,” a vestige of my long-ago radio days) for playback and editing. Mine are Sennheiser HD 280 Professionals — comfortable, clear, and efficiently noise-dampening.

My notebook computer is a Dell Inspiron 9400, running the much-detested (at least, by me) Windows Vista. My aging eyes love its ginormous 19″ display.

That’s my chain. It’s inexpensive and simple, but it works for me — and that’s the bottom line.


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