02 Sep 2011

But isn’t it just READING?!

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I came across a great article by veteran producer Xavier Paul where he lays out the process of audiobook creation and why it costs hundreds of dollars per finished hour to produce an audiobook.

Narrating and producing audiobooks is probably like a lot of activities where the lay person doesn’t or can’t fully understand the amount of work and expertise that goes into to producing something that (ideally) seems so effortless and easy. That’s something I try to keep in mind when paying for other people’s services having negotiated with clients who did not understand my process.

I think Xavier’s estimate of 6.2 hours of work per finished hour of audiobook is pretty accurate. Of course that does not count the additional time the professionals involved spend running their own business (most everyone in the profession is a freelancer or self-employed). Plus, the narrator is also increasingly used as the producer which comes with its own set of challenges and rewards.

Why audiobooks? Well I’ve got a set of fun ones in the pipeline now. Hopefully with the first one rolling out in the next several weeks. Stay tuned!

19 Aug 2011

Global Storytelling: What is it?!

out-and-about, Personal No Comments

Here’s a joke for you: How many storytellers does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one. Get more than that and they’ll just sit around in the dark swapping stories about all the lightbulbs they changed before.

In all seriousness can storytelling accomplish anything as meaningful as even changing a lightbulb? In an attempt to answer that question I participated in the 2011 Global Storytelling Institute held last week at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN. The institute was led by Dr. Hannah Harvey as well as Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo and Nancy Wang of Eth-Noh-Tec. The week centered around three case studies: Dr. Harvey’s ongoing work with a community of coal miners in southwest Virginia, Eth-Noh-Tec’s on-going cultural exchange to the Chinese storytelling village of Gengcun (part of their Nu Wah program), and the Bhutanese cultural exchange trip represented by Dr. Sobol of the ETSU Storytelling program.

It was a week of lively discussions and presentations about ethics and responsibilities of storytelling globally. As part of the institute participants received some stories from storytellers in the village of Gengcun, which is designated as a storytelling village in China, where hundreds of villagers are recognized “master storytellers” being able to tell over a thousand stories. Each institute participant then came up with a response story, either personal or a folktale, to the Gengcun teller’s story they got. These response stories were then crafted into a performance put on as part of Johnson City’s Umoja Festival which (appropriately) celebrates diversity in the region. Our response stories were recorded and will be taken and shown to the Gengcun storytellers later this year when Eth-Noh-Tec returns to China.

18 May 2011

7 Tips for On Hold Messages

voice-over hints, tips, and tricks 1 Comment

Mixer Digi002
Photo by José Ramón de Lothlórien
I found these great tips for creating auto-attendant systems:

1. They are programmed by the company that provides the phone system; they must change the programming if you would like the Director to be Option 1 instead of option 2.
2. Keep it Simple – if you have more than 4 or 5 options you’re going to lose folks or force them to “press 0”.
3. Offer a “Press 0” option – remember the people calling you have or are trying to help you generate business
4. Commit to the options and keep them
5. The voice should be clear and accent free if possible – think mid-west accent
6. Professional voice artists are available to help you get a professional sound
7. Repeat the options twice or offer an option to replay the options!

AAC Blog

OK, some seem a little obvious but it is amazing how easy it is to make a menu more complex or to justify changing an option which throws off and frustrates a long term customer. Point #6 is of course something near and dear to my heart. AAC even has a link to an example of professional vs. just-someone-around-the-office recordings. I can’t say if its real or not but listening to them back-to-back it becomes clear which one I’d want representing my business!

25 Feb 2011

Get Rid of Your Horse!

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Here’s a fun job I recently did for a client. My Vision Studios in NYC is one of my favorite clients. Not only do they bring a lot creativity energy to their niche but they’re genuinely great guys to work with. Hope you enjoy!

20 Feb 2011

I Am My Own Punchline

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Sometimes I tell myself the darndest things. . . (photo by: Justin Scott Campbell)

Last April Fool’s I blogged about a project I voiced that got mentioned in the New York Times. A friend read that post and thought it would be funny to download the app and then use the audio to “call myself”. Luckily he recorded the whole thing.

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15 Feb 2011

New Year, new updates

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The biggest and most overdue announcement is that on August 21st, 2010 I married Virginia Lee Dickson in the Manhattan LDS Temple. A big thanks to all of my clients who rearranged deadlines and kept me on projects despite us taking time off to do that. Also a big thanks to all my clients who helped make 2010 my strongest year yet!

Earlier this month Brook Mecham invited me to be a presenter as part of her Living Room Lecture series. It was a fun evening about voice-overs and the voice-over industry with lots of great participation from everyone. For those interested in learning more, check out their Facebook group and blog.

22 Sep 2010

What do you do for a living?

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Between meeting my wife’s family, catching up with old classmates and friends, or going to networking events, I get the question, “So, what do *you* do?” a lot these days. While *I* think my answer is pretty straightforward, “I’m a voice over artist,” most people smile, nod, and then get this glazed look when they start thinking about what that really means. Great discussions usually ensue, and I can’t say I mind that, but how I wish I could just play them this clip:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This was put together by some members of SaVoa (that’s the Society of Accredited Voice-Over Actors/Artists). I think it does a great job of speaking for me, which really is what I do. For other people. The amazing thing is how ubiquitous voice-over is in our digital age and yet how quickly it slips into the background. A teacher of mine once described voice-over as any time you hear a voice without seeing the speakers lips move. How many times did that happen to you yesterday? None? Think a little harder. Did you use a GPS? Listen to the radio? A podcast? A YouTUBE video? Got someone’s voice mail box? Voices are all around us, so like so many things the voice we choose to represent our idea, tell or story, or welcome our clients is an important invisible in the user experience.

31 Aug 2010

Failure: The New Success

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Originally uploaded by dresmall

“Knowledge gained from failure lasts longer”
University of Colorado Business School Study

It may seems self-evident when we are sitting in a safe place surfing through cyberspace but a recent study completed by the University of Colorado’s Business School seems to confirm the common notion that organizations can learn more from failures than successes. Or, perhaps I should say we tend to learn more from our failures but that is far from a given. Too often we are prone to over fixing or over correcting problems. I believe that failure where we can step back, acknowledge the problem, learn from it (thereby freeing ourselves from a fear that the problem is permanent), and avoid over correcting is failure that will eventually turn into a success. Failure where we become quick to blame and slow to learn is a failure we are surely doomed to repeat.

In the world of voice-overs the pressure to perform can quickly sour into a fear of failure. This fear develops into stagnation. That stagnation can manifest in a performer’s abilities, style, the type of work they’ll do, or even their marketing efforts. I had a teacher once who would force us to occasionally practice a bit of text “wrong.” In other words, she made us do all the mistakes we were afraid to make. While I hated the exercise at the time, it was insightful both how difficult it could be (fear is after all rooted in the unknown) and how often great insights and new tactics came from the experiment. I wouldn’t recommend trying it out in booth on a client’s time, but the next time you feel yourself stagnating in a rehearsal session give it a try.

04 May 2010


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On Monday April 26th, 2010 I asked my girlfriend, Virginia Lee Dickson (aka ‘Gini’), to marry me. She said yes! We decided to take the next week notifying friends and family before we made it public (we went ‘official’ and changed our Facebook status Sunday night). I apologize to my friends and family, I hardly notified any of you. Don’t worry she got through her list in like two days so things should start improving after the wedding!

Note about the picture: this is actually pre-engagement. Gini is camera shy but wanted a picture of my socks. I said yes, but only if she was in the photo with me.

16 Apr 2010

Evernote Mixer

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As a big fan (read: addict) of Evernote I attended their first ever NYC mixer tonight. I managed to catch most of the panel discussion where the CEOs of Evernote, Meetup.com, and some filsharing site shared their insights about what competition means to high tech startups.

As a small business owner, and one who sees the future of voice overs aligned very closely with the growth of such Internet startups, I listened with interest. The CEO of Evernote said something particularly compelling about the greatest asset of the company being the brain power of the core builders and not to waste that asset over strategizing. Instead use that brain power resource to build the product your users will want.

If this review seems a little spotty it is because Evernote on my iPhone picked tonight of all nights to crash and burn every time I tried to start it up. I still love Evernote but there was a kind of beauty to missing that great quote because their program wouldn’t work at all–let alone how I wanted.