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.

Posts Tagged ‘software’

The paperless voiceover

Posted by MikeCooper on September 30, 2009

For some time now I’ve been operating my voiceover business in a largely paperless environment. Sure, I still print out copies of invoices, remittance notes and the like for the benefit of my company accountant (who likes a paper file), but when I upgraded my voiceover booth last year I made a point of installing a flat panel computer monitor at eye height, with the intention of moving away from printing scripts and carrying them with me into the studio.

How does this work in practice? Well, it has its plusses and minuses.

On the plus side, I haven’t had to buy a ream of paper in quite a while, and my outlay for inkjet cartridges is at an all-time low. It’s also a lot quieter to use the scroll wheel on my cordless mouse to advance my way through the script than it is to turn a page, and it saves space as I don’t have to have a script holder propped up on top of my equipment rack.

On the negative side, it’s harder to annotate scripts with inflection marks and so on, though using bold, italics, underlining and highlighting go some way to making up for that. And for a while it wasn’t quite as easy as I’d have liked in terms of getting scripts from the Mac in my office to the PC in my voice booth. The first workaround for this was to give the booth its own email address and forward anything I needed in there to it. Then along came Dropbox, which has been one of my favourite tools of recent times and probably the thing which has changed the way I work most this year.

Dropbox is an online service – and free to use for someone at my level of usage – which allows you to deposit files in folders and then have them “mirrored” on all of your machines. So, I have a folder called “Scripts”, and when one comes in I just save it to that folder on the Mac. By the time I’ve walked through to the booth there’s a message telling me that Dropbox has updated the folder, and the script is good to go. This also means that I can make changes on one machine and then see them on the other before I start work.

Share and share alike

Dropbox also has a facility to share folders with other people. I work as a continuity announcer for Film24 (Sky 157), and I share those duties with two other voiceover artists: one in London and one in the Lake District. On an almost daily basis, cue sheets are emailed out to us for use when writing and recording the links for the channel. For months, we were constantly trying to keep our own individual systems up-to-date using email folders and there was a weekly round of “Has anyone seen a cue sheet for ‘x’?” Not anymore: I now manage a shared folder which allows us to keep a central repository of cue sheets, which has saved everyone a lot of time.

To cap it all, Dropbox now has a free iPhone application available too, which adds some nice features like picture sharing and so on.

But I’m getting off-topic. The fact is that I now print very little, and read from the screen a lot. I just set my audio recording software running, switch to my word processor and begin work, which speeds up the process and does a little bit for the planet in the process.

If you’ve got any stories to share, I’d love to hear them as always!

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Posted in Freelancing, Tech, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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.

Posted in Freelancing | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »