Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.

Friday Fun – Pinky and the Brain take on Orson Welles

Posted by MikeCooper on September 25, 2009

Last week I brought you the famous Orson Welles “Frozen Peas” clip, and I promised that this week I’d bring you a reply to it. In this clip from the Warner Bros “Animaniacs” series, Maurice LaMarche brilliantly spoofs Orson Welles’s descent into despair in a Pinky and the Brain “mockumentary”.

I trawled the internet for this, as the YouTube video has been removed “due to a copyright violation”, which seems a shame as it’s a classic. My advice? Watch this while you can – but make sure you listen to the Orson Welles clip first, if you haven’t already!

“Get me a jury and show me how you can say in July and I’ll… make cheese for ya!” Nice twist for kids telly, compared to the original!

If you know of any great comic voiceover clips or spoofs, let me know using the comments field below and I’ll share them next time. Meantime, have a great weekend!

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Posted in Comedy, Television, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Honour System… or do you pay for “free” software?

Posted by MikeCooper on September 24, 2009

As my friends who write software will quickly point out, “shareware” and “donationware” are not “free software”. But you catch my drift, I’m sure. How many bits of software do you use that occasionally (or regularly) “nag” you to spend some cash and support the developer?

Human Nature is an interesting thing: many of us wouldn’t think twice about copying Photoshop or Office from a friend, or even buying a copy of dubious provenance. “Hell,” we think, “Those big software companies deserve it with the prices they charge!” (I hasten to add that both my copy of Photoshop Elements and MS Office are legitimate.) But the smaller guys give us license to avoid paying by making their software easy to download and use without too much hassle. It’s a balancing act: as a smaller developer, you’re more likely to find a wider audience for your program if you’re prepared to distribute it for free, then support it either with a “nag screen” or with advertising. But will anyone ever pay up?

Cyberduck is a case in point, for me. It’s my Mac FTP client of choice (see below). I like it because it’s “Mac-like”, whereas a lot of FTP software looks like it fell out of a timewarp from 1996 and gives me the shudders. I’ve been using Cyberduck for (this is embarassing) nearly two years now. I use it regularly, because my work as a Continuity Announcer for the History Channel here in the UK requires me to download the latest versions of programme billings, and some bits of video, before I set to work crafting the week’s links. But I never paid for it, dismissing the gentle invitation to “Donate” whenever it came up, often because I was busy doing other things, but on other occasions because the bit of my nature that likes the idea of getting something for nothing got the better of me.

Cyberduck is one of the nice guys: it just asks me politely if I’d like to donate, and then even gives me the option not to be nagged again until the next software release comes along.

Then yesterday I did big voiceover job which involved editing and recording a lot of files (a lot more than I’d bargained for, actually). Once I’d finished uploading my ninety or so files to an FTP site somewhere in India, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I can’t remember the last time somebody actually wanted me to send something via FTP, rather than using YouSENDIt.com, to be honest, but doing it reminded me just how much I rely on Cyberduck in a pinch. It performed flawlessly all day, and yesterday – desperate as it was – would have been a whole lot more so if Cyberduck hadn’t been there for me.

Once I’d got my breath back, I clicked the “Donate” button and sent the developer some money. There wasn’t even a suggestion of how much I should send, which made it interesting, so I sent €25 as a token of my goodwill (gosh, did I send enough?) and immediately felt better about the whole thing.

Then this morning I woke up to an email telling me that version 3 of my Mac RSS reader, NetNewsWire, had finally come out of beta. It’s been a very difficult birth: the developers decided they’d move away from using their own syncing engine and bundle it all into the Google machine, but to my eyes it was rushed, premature and has resulted in two months of (almost daily) betas, each one attempting to use sticking plaster to cover the deficiencies of the previous, before we got to today and a proper release. I like NetNewsWire: it keeps my RSS feeds in order across my two Macs and my iPhone and caches material locally – which is where it scores over using Google Reader on the web or Google’s own iPhone web app. NetNewsWire’s own proprietary syncing was always a bit hit-and-miss for me, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt with the Google move. So far, so good.

And you know what? I’ve just paid up. It was £6.44 (+UK VAT @ 15%, which always rubs me when you don’t see it till the final page). And if it works, it’ll be worth every penny. Plus, I won’t have the distraction of the ads in the corner of the page. And, just as importantly, I’ll feel like I’ve done my bit.

FTP? WTF?

You could be forgiven for not knowing about FTP. If you’ve come late to the party you might not have noticed it (it was probably in the kitchen, where the most interesting people invariably are on these occasions). You probably got accosted in the hallway by YouSENDIt, TransferBIGfiles, FilesDIRECT, and many other pretenders to FTP’s throne, who all seem to feel a need to assert their status by spelling part of their name in CAPITAL LETTERS.

But before all these wannabes appeared with their offers to take your “files too big for email?” and send them to “anyone, anywhere!”, there was File Transfer Protocol – an old and trusted method of doing exactly the same thing.

FTP has an air of mystique (and probably goes to the same sorts of voiceover parties as Phone Patch and ISDN) but once you get talking, you realise there’s less to him than meets the eye.

All we’re talking about, really, is a directory (or folder) on a machine like the one you’re using now, that you keep your documents or audio in. Except this folder is on an internet-connected server, so it’s available to anyone who knows its address and login details. Some “Anonymous FTP” sites don’t even require you to log in, but in our line of work that’s unusual (no one wants their work being seen by the competition, or downloaded by the wrong person) so there’s generally a username and password involved. Once you’re in, you can deposit your files, download any files your client thinks you might need, and so on. Depending on what privileges your login has you may even be able to delete and rename things or even create folders of your own (in which case be careful as there’s generally no way to undo your deletions!)

This can all be done by purists (for which, read “nerds”) from the command line, by typing in lots of Unix commands. But for the rest of us there’s FTP client software, which issues all of these commands in the background without us having to remember them, and presents us with a nice window onscreen that looks very much like a directory listing of a local folder. All you need to do is drag-and-drop as needed, then wait while the files make their way across.

Some filing systems used on the internet don’t handle special characters very well (£,$ and the like), and some don’t even like spaces, so good working practice is to use dashes and underscores to break up words, and keep things simple, so “Mike’s FANTASTIC £5,000 voice track – version 2” (yeah, I wish…) becomes “mikes_fantastic_5000_pound_voice_track-version_2”, for example. If you’re uploading a lot of files your client will often tell you exactly how they should be named.

As for software, it’s up to you to choose some you feel comfortable with. There’s plenty for all the platforms, and though Cyberduck is my Mac client of choice, your mileage may differ. Wikipedia keeps a list here.

So, there you have it: FTP isn’t scary at all. You just need to remember that a stranger is just a friend you don’t know yet – and go up and introduce yourself.

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Mike’s mics. Or Neumann TLM 103 vs TLM 193

Posted by MikeCooper on September 19, 2009

Back in December I decided that my Christmas treat to myself would be a new microphone. I wanted a Neumann of some description, but was having trouble making up my mind which one. In the end I plumped for the TLM 103, and I must say I’ve been very happy.

But part of me has been curious this year as to what the similarly-priced TLM 193 might have brought to the table, so I’ve had a “saved search” running on eBay for a few months – just in case one came up at a price that was too good to miss. This is a really useful feature of eBay, if you haven’t used it, whereby you get an email alert every time someone lists the thing you’re looking for. If the “thing” has a “Buy It Now” price, and if you’re quick, then you can bag it before anyone else gets in on the bidding, and this is exactly what happened to me the other night when I checked my email on the train home.

The TLM 193 is currently available – from online retailers – for between £1,000 and £1,150, so we’re not talking pin money here. If I tell you I picked mine up on eBay for £550, bundled with an EA-1 shockmount (normally an extra £150 or so on top), you’ll appreciate that this was one of those deals that was too good to miss, even if I came to sell it on again myself.

On this point, it’s interesting to note that gear has been getting more expensive this year – especially here in the UK where the Pound is currently weak. If I’d wanted to pick up a 193 in December 2008, I could have done so for about £800. The TLM 103 I bought cost me £700 in a bundle with the EA-1. Even at the time it was a bargain, but now the 103 is retailing for upwards of £730 on its own. Many retailers put their prices up in the first few months of this year, so we’re now in a situation where you can actually make money on the kit you bought before the slump. My first microphone – the Audio Technica AT 4040 – cost £200 when I bought it two summers ago, and is now on sale from the same retailer at a breathtaking £363, which means that I’m now in the position to be able to sell mine for more than I paid for it. (Even I’ll gleefully admit that I’m “doing the recession” on this one.)

So, my thought process went a bit like this: Buy the 193, run it in my setup and compare to the 103, then keep the one I liked most and sell the other without loss (or possibly for a profit!) With this in mind, I hit the “Commit to buy” button. Two days later my new microphone turned up and I set to work doing some objective tests to see how they sounded and which I preferred.

The moment I connected the 193, I noticed the change in my headphones. Suddenly there was a “presence” and warmth to my voice that hadn’t been so apparent with the 103. Not only that, but the very distinctive high frequency response I’d become used to was gone. The 103 is somehow both sweet and sharp at the same time on my “ess” sounds. It’s never unpleasant on playback, but while it’s great when I’m doing radio commercials, it can become a bit, well, “fatiguing” in my cans on a long read. I was interested to notice straight away that this element was gone. But of course, we can’t trust everything we hear in our headphones now, can we?

Why can’t we trust what we hear in our headphones? Well, it’s because of a couple of things.

Firstly, if you’re monitoring yourself reading live then what you’re hearing is a combination of what’s coming through your cans plus the sound that’s being transmitted to your ears through your own body. That’s why people are often surprised when they hear themselves played back for the first time – we all think we sound one way, whereas to the rest of the world we sound rather different.

Secondly, though headphones are great at getting you so close to the recording that you can hear every distracting click, pop or mouth noise (that’s why I insist on using them), they rarely sound the same as a set of studio monitor speakers (and those that do generally lack the amount of low end “tilt” that gives us VOs confidence in the booth).

With this in mind I constructed an objective test, and read a few short script excerpts on each mic in turn, without making any other changes to my setup, which is a Focusrite Voicemaster Pro with digital ADC, feeding directly into an M-Audio Delta 66 soundcard on my PC. For the purposes of the exercise I read a piece of TV continuity for the History Channel, part of a training script, and a typical 20″ radio commercial offering to add a conservatory to your home at a low, low price. Three suitably different scripts which would get me some different results. I also recorded the output of the mics when I wasn’t talking – what we refer to as the “noise floor”. The TLM 103 has famously low self noise (that’s the amount of noise the microphone generates from its own electronics) and the 193’s is, on paper, several dBs higher, but would I be able to hear that?

What were the results of all this? Well, why don’t you judge them for yourself? You can download a ZIP file of the clips I made from my website here. Have a listen before you read on.

If you listen to the tracks one after the other on a reasonable system you’ll spot the difference, I’m sure. But is the difference enough for you to pick a favourite if you heard it solo? One point here is that there certainly is more noise from the 193, and the 103 is indeed clearer, as advertised. Whereas the voice tracks are both “normalised” to -3dB, the noise floor track is as it comes, straight out of the preamp. The 193 needs a fair bit more gain to get the same level out of it. The 193 also picked up mains hum being transmitted through vibration in my rig to begin with, and I had to dampen the mic support to avoid this being noticeable to my ears.

I’ve been using the 193 as my main microphone for over a week now, and I have to say it’s grown on me. Both of these mics demonstrate that “Neumann sound” which so many of us like, but they demonstrate it in slightly different ways. The 193 is definitely more “reigned-in” at the top end than the 103, which I’d expected by looking at the frequency response graphs on the Neumann website. My initial thought was that it sounded “splashy” where the 103 was clean and shiny, and that there was less “punch” at the low end. Doing a radio ad didn’t get me quite so excited about the sound of my own voice as it usually does (hey, I’m a voiceover artist – cut me some slack here!) But extended listening began to endear the mic to me. The 193 has a “fuller” sound and handles the mid-range especially well, lending a presence to my recordings which I rather like (most of the human voice is in this range, after all).

The bottom end on the TLM 103 appears to roll off at a slightly higher frequency than the 193, and perhaps this was why I found myself stopping recording yesterday in my basement studio when some arsehole pulled up in the street outside with one of those bass rigs that – literally – shakes the foundations of my house. With the 103 I’d felt this kind of low frequency noise from time to time more than was apparent on the playback, but on the 193’s waveform there it was: thump… thump… thump. Fortunately such arseholes – and such mobile bass rigs – are rare, even in my corner of South London, so this isn’t, in itself, enough to sway me on the subject.

I’m left in a quandary: the truth is I like them both. The 103 sounds great on radio commercials, and I do a fair few of those. It’s “deep”, and “crisp” (if not particularly “even”) whereas I’ve just recorded a two-hour audio CD and really appreciated the 193 – both in my headphones while recording, and when editing, due to its nature of being a “smooth operator”. In short, it’s been an expensive lesson in why sound engineers keep cupboards full of mics for different applications, and I now have to caution myself against “trying out” any more, just in case this turns into an expensive hobby.

There’s one more thing I’ve been keen to trial though, and that’s a change in preamp. eBay did me proud again this week and offered up an Avalon VT-737SP. As I write, Parcelforce says it’s “out for delivery”, so watch this space for an update once I’ve had a chance to play some more.

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Friday Fun – Orson Welles and the frozen peas

Posted by MikeCooper on September 18, 2009

This week’s Friday Fun isn’t a spoof at all (though it’s provided the material to spawn plenty!)

The date of the recording is uncertain, but it’s utterly timeless, regardless. The late Orson Welles was hired by Findus to voice a series of television advertisements for their range of frozen peas, and it’s great example of what happens when voice acting goes bad. Listen, as we venture where egos dare…

“Get me a jury and show me how you can say in July and I’ll go down on you!” Classic…

You can read more about the clip at Wikipedia, and next week I’ll bring you probably the most famous reply to this piece of voice acting history. Until then, have a great weekend and remember to share any great voiceover clips you know of by dropping me a line!

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Friday Fun – 5 Men and a Limo

Posted by MikeCooper on September 11, 2009

Last week and a fortnight ago in Friday Fun, we met Hal Douglas and the late, great Don LaFontaine in spoof spots. But “nothing could ever prepare you for what awaits you” in “5 Men and a Limo”…

Featuring Don LaFontaine, the voice of Hal Douglas (he doesn’t appear!), as well as John Leader, Nick Tate, Mark Elliot, and Al Chalk, it’s quite a production number.

Read more about the clip at Wikipedia, and as ever – if you know of any more great voiceover spoofs – let me know and I’ll share them right here! Meanwhile, have a great weekend!

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Friday Fun – “I like it in here!”

Posted by MikeCooper on September 4, 2009

Following on from last week’s Friday fun, and in much the same vein, here’s Hal Douglas at work on a movie trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedian”…

“No, I like it in here!”

If you know of any more fun voiceover clips then drop me a line – I’d love to share them. Meantime, have a great weekend!

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Friday Fun – In a World Without Don LaFontaine

Posted by MikeCooper on August 28, 2009

This week’s Friday Fun comes courtesy of the late Don LaFontaine, who died a year ago this coming Tuesday. Instantly familiar to audiences worldwide and a true voiceover business pioneer, Don was never afraid to parody himself. RIP, Don!

Know of anymore great comic voice acting clips? Drop me a line and I’ll be only too happy to share them! Meantime, have a great weekend!

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Gobs on the Web

Posted by MikeCooper on August 22, 2009

Welcome to my roundup of voiceover-related news from my week on the web.

My friend and colleague, Stefania Lintonbon has been digging around the internet and on her blog this week she’s posted links to two useful tutorials. The first throws light onto the sometimes murky subject of audio compression, and comes courtesy of Radiodaddy.com. If terms like “make-up gain” and “ratio” bring you out in a cold sweat then this excellent article is the online equivalent of a magic sponge. The second article which Stef references in her piece deals with removing pops and clicks for users of Sony Sound Forge. Stefania goes on to dispense some of her usual wisdom on positive thinking and getting the universe to deliver – something I support wholeheartedly!

Over at Vox Daily, Stephanie has a couple of goodies this week. One comes from Richard Weirich and deals with what happens when your client keeps pushing and pushing you, and the read you thought was great to start with goes off in a completely different direction. I’ve certainly been there and you may have too! Is the customer always right? Richard would love to hear your views.

Also on Vox Daily – as part of the ongoing series of Voice Over Experts podcasts, Marc Cashman shares his views on why practice makes perfect (or at least, better…)

Finally this week, following on from the awards recently bestowed on the animated series, Family Guy, the creator, Seth MacFarlane has decided to “out” the youngest member of the Griffin family. That’s right folks – in an announcement which will shock, well, barely anyone, I expect – MacFarlane confirms what we’d all suspected: Stewie is gay!

Until next time!

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Friday fun – at Carpet Madness now!

Posted by MikeCooper on August 21, 2009

A voice acting lesson from Jane Horrocks and Joanna Lumley – two ladies who both make a lot of money from this business we call “Voice”. Watch and learn… (opens in new window)

“It’s carpets! It’s madness! It’s Carpet Madness!” Indeed! Surely a lesson for us all?

Trivia: Joanna Lumley is a fan of gherkins. (Her father famously fought in a gherkin costume in the second world war – but seriously…)

I’d like to post some more amusing voiceover clips in the coming weeks, and I have a couple of great ones lined up – but if you know of more then drop me a line. Meantime, have a great weekend!

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Gobs on the Web

Posted by MikeCooper on August 14, 2009

I thought it would be a good idea to round up some of the voiceover business stories I’ve found most interesting and useful on my travels around the internet recently. So here, in what I hope to make a weekly feature, I present “Gobs on the Web”. This first one is going to be a bit longer than I expect these posts to be in general, because there’s been a lot of good stuff in recent weeks which I’d like to pull together in one go.

So, first up, Edge Studio this week posted the latest in their helpful series of posts for voice actors: The Voiceover Mistake Chart, listing the kind of mistakes that new – and sometimes experienced – voiceover artists make when going about their business. It includes everything from titling your demos in a way that makes them impossible to decipher, to wearing too much cologne in the VO booth and upsetting the next talent. The first section also deals with common pronunciation mistakes (though having had a read through, that section is more on the money for American English than for the rest of us). Edge Studio say they’ll keep adding to the list, so it’s a good one to bookmark. The guys have also very helpfully provided an archive of 3,500 voiceover scripts which talents are free to use to practice and demo with! Kudos to them for that (and thanks to Tracy Pattin on the VoiceBank blog for spotting it.)

Meanwhile over on the ProComm Voiceover Blog, Dan Freeman has posted an excellent article on choosing the right microphone. His advice? Listen before buying if at all possible. And for those of us whose location doesn’t allow auditioning, he has some great “stock suggestions” for good starting points which shouldn’t embarrass you. (I was pleased to see my own mic, the Neumann TLM 103 on the list – it’s a cracker!)

Voice Actor, Producer and Coach, James Alburger, posted recently on VoiceOverExtra about how to work remotely with your clients. It’s all very well living in the digital age and being tape-free, but email doesn’t cut it for sending big files without a lot of compression. James’s excellent article explains the various options for remote session recording and walks anyone who’s not sure through the basics of ISDN, Phone Patch, and newcomers like Source-Connect for live sessions, before going on to talk about FTP and file delivery services (including my own personal favourite, YouSENDIt.com, which even has its own iPhone app for you to monitor who downloaded the file and when).

Stephanie Ciccarelli of online casting service, Voices.com, is in the middle of a series of great posts over at VoxDaily. First of these is 95+ Podcast Resources for Voice Actors95?! She’s been busy, I’ll say that. Aimed primarily at those trying to get into the business and build their client list, Stephanie has helpfully categorised this mammoth list into sections like “Getting Started”, “Marketing”, “Branding”, “Demos”, “Technique” and so on. There should be something in here for everyone, though I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve not personally been through all of her recommendations. (If you’d like to read my own series on Getting Started then click here and read from the bottom up…)

In much the same vein, check out Stephanie’s other posts of recent weeks: 4 Ways to Increase Your Voice Acting Income and 6 Ways To Get Experience in the Business of Voice Acting (Stephanie is very fond of numbers.)

Finally, some lighter reading: Bill Pryce of Austin, Texas got stopped at security with a Sennheiser MKH 416 shotgun mic – which appears to have been mistaken for, erm, a shotgun… And congratulations to Rory O’Shea, who’s living the dream and has just completed building his basement studio in Toronto. In fact he’s so happy, he’s giving us a tour.

I hope you enjoyed this first roundup – do drop me a line and let me know. Comments are welcome as always!

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