Quick Fixes on the Fly
Things go wrong. Usually when it’s least convenient or most costly for them to do so. It’s called Murphy’s Law:
“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."
But that doesn’t mean problems have to take us totally out of the game – they can be anticipated and often averted with some preparation and backup planning. At a minimum, the damage can be mitigated.
Let’s talk about a few situations that more than one voice actor has to deal with:
Case #1: The Lost Internet Connection. Always a fun situation, especially when it happens right before or during a client-directed session. That’s what happened to me at the end of last year; my mostly reliable internet service went down throughout the entire neighborhood, due to a tree branch felling the cable line. Ah, the hazards of working from home and being dependent upon only yourself as your one-person IT department. Naturally, it happened just before an on-line client-directed session with a well-known international conglomerate based overseas. The very first time I worked with them, when I was looking to make a great first impression.
The internet tanked less than an hour before our scheduled session, complete with the production studio’s clients (the international conglomerate end-users) driving some distance to guide the session. Calls to the internet provider revealed by recorded message that they were aware of the problem, that it affected my surrounding area, and that it would be a few hours until service was restored.
So what do you do when this happens? In my case, I couldn’t tether to my cell phone to access 5G via its hotspot because my studio is partially underground and can’t receive an outside signal. Great for sound proofing, not so helpful when I need an alternative internet access point. On to Plan B: I got on the phone and called several local studios to see if I could record in their spaces. No such luck; they all were totally booked up. That left Plans C and D, which left egg on my face, but which offered the only honest solutions. I contacted the client to tell him what happened and offered two options: I could either record on my own and send them the files to critique and redo as necessary or we could reschedule the session. We were about to reschedule when suddenly, fortuitously!, internet service was restored and our session was back on, albeit 30 minutes later than originally planned. To offset their inconvenience and demonstrate good will, I gave them a good discount off my fee, since the technical problem was on my end.
Case #2: Outside Noise Interference. Again, a hazard of a home studio, which is why this problem can often be avoided by recording during non-daylight hours: early, early morning, late at night, etc. Outside noise covers everything from a neighbor’s lawnmower to children and others in the household raising a bit of a racket, more commonplace during this time of Covid home-schooling and spouses working from home.
In my recent case, this was caused by a neighbor’s landscape service cutting down a very large tree. Of course, this began an hour before another client-directed session, so I couldn’t just try recording at a later time. The incredibly loud, vibrating clamor of their equipment penetrated everything in the immediate vicinity, including my partially underground, sound-treated studio. Nothing I could do but pray that the workers would take a lunch break during my session.
Again, I told the client what was happening, and they were very understanding. After all, they (like so many others!) were working from home, too, and they were dealing with some outside noises, as well; at least one person’s young child could be clearly heard from another room. I checked and told them that the noise floor wasn’t too badly affected, but that I would be willing to reschedule the session or re-record on my own later if any background sound was detected. And then, lo and behold, my prayers were answered and the tree service people stopped their work long enough for us to record.
What lessons can be learned from this? First, as the voice actor, make sure that you’re working in a broadcast-quality studio that’s properly treated. It may not be totally sound-proof against unusually loud outside noise, but it can go a long way to ensuring a good sound floor. Second, prayer works! Third, appreciate even more those good-natured clients who are willing to take these things in stride and understand that some things just happen and are out of our control. And finally, be thankful to the powers that be that everything worked out as it should.
Case #3: Forget To Start Recording. How embarrassing! This happens to almost all VO talent at some point in their careers, usually when they’re first getting started. Do it once and you’ll probably never do it again. What should you do if this happens to you? Hopefully, you will catch it almost immediately so that little time is wasted. If you’re recording on your own, nothing is lost but your time. Re-record and no one’s the wiser. If this happens during a client session, just admit the mistake. First takes often sound like warm-up takes and are unlikely to be a client’s favorite, so usually little is lost and the client may even laugh it off with you. Continue with the rest of the session – I guarantee you’ll be sure to keep an eye on your recording software from then on!
Case #4: Illness, Allergies, or Hoarseness. Ah, winter time is often the season of the Lost Voice or the Voice Temporarily Out Of Service. Prevent compromised or lost voices with plenty of old-fashioned care: drink lots of water at least two hours before recording, get plenty of rest, wash your hands frequently to reduce catching or transmitting viruses – we’re old hands now (so to speak) with proper sanitization, due to long months of dealing with Covid. Hot tea with lemon or – my favorite! – Throat Coat tea, are also wonderful to have on hand.
But sometimes, preparation is just not enough. This happened with me last November when I was scheduled to record my new commercial demo. A persistent cough and loss of vocal strength persisted for weeks and I had to reschedule the recording several times. I could do short jobs, but not a full hour-long session. Sometimes it can work to your advantage. Once, when I had a bit of hoarseness, I recorded an audition for a popular restaurant chain … and my agent later told me that I had been shortlisted for the national commercial. What I would have done to regain that vocal tone if I had booked it … well, that’s another story, but I got a kick out of knowing that my unexpectedly raspy voice was a good fit for what the client envisioned.
What do you do when you are sick or you’re just out of vocal commission, and the client must have that recording without delay? If the client has a firm deadline, they may need to go to another talent. If you can, be a resource to them and recommend someone whose voiceprint or style is similar to your own. While you may lose that particular job, the client will appreciate the referral and could be more willing to come back to you for future bookings. This idea of being a resource to your client extends to more than just recommending a replacement. Network with other voice actors so that you can refer your client to others with special skills that you may not have, such as particular accents, character voices, or kid voices. If you’re a woman and they need a male voice, suggest a few good talents for them to check out. Or if they’re looking for a production studio, be a resource to both parties and provide an introduction. Now you’re seen as more than just a voice actor – you’re also a problem solver!
Case #5: Your Equipment Dies. Yikes. Again, Murphy’s Law will dictate that this happens at the most inopportune time. Prepare for these potential catastrophes by having backups on hand. Or know how to procure them in a hurry. Have a backup mic available, or perhaps an older computer that is loaded with your recording and editor software to take the place of your usual computer that just died and turned into an expensive paperweight.
You can never tell when disaster will strike. When I was traveling overseas last summer, my computer’s keyboard and track pad stopped working the moment I arrived at my hotel. I never discovered what caused it or why it happened when it did. The computer worked perfectly on the plane, it was never dropped but always carried in its case, and it was only a few years old. Instead of a little sight-seeing, my first trip in this new city was to a computer supply store to purchase a European style keyboard (I had external mouse). The setup was clunky and my Mac didn’t recognize this particular keyboard, but after an hour on the phone with Apple, we were able to patch up a fix for the several weeks until I returned home. Yup, sometimes you just have to do the best you can with what you have and hope for the best.
I’m by nature an optimist, but that hasn’t proven to be the magic formula to ward away Murphy and his pesky Law. So, I’ve developed instead a rather practical philosophy: prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Think ahead of what my work requires and make sure that it’s all in good working order and ready to go. That includes providing for my optimal health, as well my recording space and equipment. It also extends to warming up my voice prior to a session, knowing the client’s script and expectations, working out all the terms of our agreement and pricing before even scheduling the session, and being able to quickly deliver the voice over files after the session in the format the client needs.
Preparation always includes having a positive attitude! Whether working alone or in a directed session, clients pick up on the voice actor’s mood and attitude through the reads. And if you’re seeing one another via Zoom or Skype, the visual cues are there, too. Show you’re a professional through and through; have pencil and note paper around to mark client re-direction or changes. And have lots of water on hand – stay hydrated before and during a session. If you’re using Source Connect, ipDTL, or really any other connectivity tool, use an ethernet cable directly to your router for an optimal internet connection. Wi-Fi can be a bit unreliable sometimes. If your space picks up 4G or 5G, have your cell phone handy to tether your connection to your personal hotspot, in case your internet goes out completely. And finally, let family members know when you’re recording, so that they can be especially quiet during your session, if you can’t completely isolate from household sounds. I like to turn on my “Voice Over Recording” sign that I hang on the door of my studio. It lets the family know when I’m in session and usually prevents them from pounding on the door asking for this, that, or the other little thing.
Benjamin Franklin said that:
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
While old Ben was actually addressing the issue of fire safety, his axiom applies to so many other things. Including voice over. And here’s one more:
It’ll save you a whole lot of pain later on.