Thursday, August 29, 2013

How To Nail Voice Overs When Working Solo

Every week I have a couple of voice overs to record to hand over to the video guy at work. Some readers are great, they come in, one-time it and walk out. With others it's dozens of takes and sometimes a little editing on top of that. But what about when you're tracking yourself? 
It can be kind of difficult to criticize yourself on the fly. You can always hit the playback and listen to the entire performance again, but there's a simple way to check on your diction. Just open up any speech to text app on your computer or phone, hit record and go to town. When you finish, if what's on the screen matches your script, you're good to go. 

It's not a perfect catch-all, but it can be a help when you're tired or in a hurry and having trouble running your own session and performing up to spec. I tried it with my phone a few minutes ago and it seemed to make getting complicated phrases right a little easier. After all, one of the biggest issues in VO work is rushing. Even if you don't look at the output of the program, just knowing that you have to speak so that Siri or Dragon can understand you will help you nail the take.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Save Early, Save Often

Save early, save often has been the mantra ever since the advent of the computer in modern life. Who hasn't experienced the agony of loosing an hour or two of work for lack of hitting Control-S

I got caught off guard at an outdoor stage this last weekend. At FOH was a Presonus 24 and just as I had finished setting up the routing a GFCI breaker tripped and I was left staring at a blank console. It was only a few minutes work and easily re-done We weren't under too much time pressure so it wasn't really a big deal. Later on in the morning though, with sound check completed and the lawn filling up with patrons it was starting to creep back up on me. As I was walking to my vehicle to grab something I got on the radio and asked if someone would kindly drop by FOH and save to slot eight for me.

In the studio world it's no different. Nobody likes doing drum edits and losing even a few minutes of progress to a power glitch or a system crash is enough to drive one to drink. But there's another level of saving beyond that.

Working over the internet with a client recently we were passing versions of a short clip back and forth to get a feel for what the client wanted. It seemed like a pretty serial progression to me, with each version yielding a new set of notes and the next version turning out closer to what they wanted. After a while though the client started comparing version five to version two and it hit me that I was in a little bit of hot water.

Even though I've been computer savvy for most of three decades and pretty handy with a DAW, I'm still pretty much an analog guy at heart. Let's face it. If the power drops out on you at a show, a good old fashioned analog desk won't let you down. But the saving that would have helped me out in this instance is the kind that sets a way point every time you output a version. 

Session files are pretty small. All they are is a road map for how the DAW is to handle the recorded files and how to steer the plugins. It's barely any strain on the hard drive or the engineer to simply click "Save As" and then go to work on that next version. In my case, I was able to just listen to the previous version and make the needed adjustments. But the more complex the project is and the more time elapses, the more handy it is to be able to exactly recall the way you were doing things several tries ago.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Studio Work In The Age of the Internet

There's a lot of talk bashing places that do "internet mastering". Understandably, you don't want to finely craft your songs and then send them off to someone who supposedly knows about putting the final polish on only to have them squash them all to hell with a couple "mastering" plugins and send them right back, possibly without even listening to them. There's a bright side though.

In the last year I've gotten drawn in to the group of engineers, both live and studio, that hang out on Reddit. In the course of that year we've seen many appeals for help with a project that was more than just a plea for advice. Some people showed up looking for people to collaborate with as an alternative to expensive studio time. Periodically there are guys that offer their services and while that's somewhat frowned upon, there are places to do that and people are finding work that way.

Of course every time this happens people come out of the wood work looking to work on a project just for the experience. That's a good thing really. The days of paying your dues at a real studio are fast slipping away and you've got to seek out experience where you can. More often than not the projects turn out OK. Someone with little or even no budget can get that last little bit of help mastering a project and the budding engineer walks away that much more experienced and with one more credit on their resume.

My own experience with this kind of work has been great. I've got friends who run studios right in the area who would love to keep their mastering work local. But I'm not up to snuff yet. Having some projects with less on the line to work on has been a godsend. The first couple I did for nothing, just to help some guys out and gain that little bit of experience. After a while offers for small paying jobs started coming in. And now after just a few short months I'm getting work pretty regularly. Nothing that's going to let me quit my day job (not that I would, I have the best day job in the world) but an extra couple hundred a few times a month for work I can do with my laptop has been wonderful.

It's been a real adjustment getting used to the pace of things though. The initial negotiations are always a little weird. Two people who will never meet in real life have to get to a point where they trust each other. One to put his or her music into a stranger's hands and the other to feel comfortable that they're going to get paid at the end. Luckily I'm used to putting musicians at ease, and the more my portfolio grows the easier that part gets.

The real stretch though is getting through that period of getting used to each others work and finding out exactly what the expectations are. It's no longer a matter of the client sitting in a session. That client might not even be on the same continent. So what could once be accomplished in half an hour of steady work at the desk is now a matter of sending version after version through DropBox until you finally hit gold. That stretches that first hour or so of work out over the course of multiple weeks sometimes.

It's worth getting used to though. In an age where anyone with a computer and a few dollars can set up shop things are getting ever more competitive. As schools continue to churn out "engineers" into an already saturated market the competition is growing ever more fierce. Learning to work in this new paradigm where the client and the engineer are at opposite ends of a broadband connection is a significant hurdle, but it's the way things are now and it's well worth doing.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Stocking Your Tool Box

If there's one thing my years in construction taught me it's that having the right tools makes the job go a lot better. The crew I worked on had a well stocked box truck with just about everything you could imagine that would come in useful when building a house. That same philosophy served me well when I was doing a ton of live sound work. I took my whole rig with me even if I was going to do an acoustic night at a coffee shop. If some oddball request came up I had what I needed to take care of it right on hand.

At some point though, you have to put a cap on it. While there is something to be said for having everything under the sun at your disposal, most people can't afford to do that. The more I got to thinking about my carpentry days the more I realized that while we had a lot of specialized equipment, most of it served many, many purposes. 

When you're out on a gig you could carry pliers, cutters, a kinfe, and several screwdrivers on you at all times. Or you could just strap a Leatherman to your belt and be done with it. It's not as good as any of those things individually but when something needs fixing in a hurry the tool that's ready to hand is the one that saves the day.

So just like you can have a full height tool chest full of everything Craftsman ever made you can stock your DAW with hundreds if not thousands of plugins. And while you can spend all the time in the world figuring out who's version of the LA-2A is better, wouldn't you be better served to just have one good compressor that you know really, really well?

In my own DAW I've got a couple hundred plugins, sure. But only a couple dozen of them see regular use and only about half of them are my true daily drivers. My EQ might not add all the pizazz of a Pultec, but I know what good saturation sounds like and I can juice it up a little bit. My compressor might be Plain Jane but I know how to run it. I can make it whip crack fast or slow and mushy like the good ol' days. 

So if you're sitting there wishing you could afford the latest and greatest, maybe you should stop day dreaming and just spend some time getting to know the plugs you have right now. Because really, a good engineer can make gold with whatever you put in front of him or her. It's not the logo in the corner of the plugin that makes things great, it's the hand on the mouse.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

If It's Not Breakaway, Don't Wear It

I spent the day out at a local music festival with my house band from work and was given yet another laminate pass to add to my collection. This one, like the vast majority of the other ones hanging up in my shop was on a lanyard that didn't have a breakaway feature.

People who work in healthcare are used to seeing these. When you handle patients for a living you don't want one of them to be able to get a hold of your name tag and strangle you with it. On purpose or by accident it's unpleasant and dangerous. It's just as dangerous to be walking around back stage where there are a million things for a lanyard to catch on. They're not as common or as cheap as a regular solid lanyard but that little piece of plastic could save your life.

It can be a little clip or some other form of release that will just simply give up if about more than five pounds of force is applied to it. That can be the difference between picking up your lanyard and rubbing the rope burn on your neck and gasping for air while you dangle from a railing. Simply put: If it ain't breakaway... don't wear it!
If the event you're working for is run by a bunch of cheapskates that don't care about your safety here's a couple ways you can be a little safer without raising a ruckus and looking like a whiny brat. 
  • Wear it on your belt. - Still slightly dangerous but better a wedgie than a noose.
  • Jam it in your pocket. - If anyone needs to see it you can drag it out. Sometimes just the sight of a lanyard dangling is enough to get you past security.
  • Hack your own breakaway. - By far the best solution, your tag is still visible and you look like a total bad ass genius for improving the item all on your own.
Here's two quick ways to accomplish that hack. Whether it's nylon webbing or a round cord, just cut that sucker with your Leatherman and join the two halves up with a piece of gaff tape. Even better, you can show off your expertise in rope craft and tie a fisherman's knot on one side. Pull it tight and leave the other end bare. Pulled tight it will hold on all day but slide off in an emergency. It has the added benefit of shortening the length by a couple inches too which will help keep it out of your way all day. (I'm not going to explain how to tie that here, go look it up if you don't already know.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Christian Music Festivals

This is as close to talking about religion as we're ever going to get here so don't get nervous. For the purposes of reading this article the only thing you need to understand is that there are Christians in the world. You do not need to believe anything in particular nor will I try to get you to believe anything related to religion. This post is about a music ecosystem.

I just came back from mixing a date at the local Christian music festival which takes place in and around an amusement park. When I got home my Facebook page was full of pictures and comments from folks from church that all had a wonderful time and enjoyed the music and the sights and the general experience. Then there was one from a friend who just happened to be at the park as a regular patron and didn't even realize there was a music festival going on. 

His post went on at length about kids sporting t-shirts from the local Christian college running around with foul mouths, making out in public,trampling small children to get where they were going and whatnot. There was also a video clip posted of a drummer on the main stage who had an elevated, panning, tilting, spinning drum riser a-la Tommy Lee. A couple of the comments on that were that it was money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Which brings me to the point of this post. The only thing I'll say about the poor behavior of the event patrons is that college freshman are idiots no matter what school they go to. As for the behavior of the rest of the patrons it can be hard to tell who's there for the event and who's just there for the water slides so I won't say anythng.

But beyond that, if the Church is supposed to be acting like Jesus would, why are they spending all this money on a big festival? The first reason is that in rich countries church is often just one more thing that people consume and not something you actually participate in. So blame consumer culture and be done with it. But it goes even deeper than that.

There are artists who want to make music that is geared toward church people. That can be anything from music actually written to be used in church services to pop oriented stuff that's more for musical enjoyment. That simple act excludes them from pretty much the entire existing music ecosystem. 

Regular venues don't want to book a Skillet or Thousand Foot Crutch because what church parent is going to let their kid go out to a venue that serves alcohol to see their favorite act? Also, except in rare (very rare) cases, nobody outside the Church cares about going to see those acts. So a venue is looking at a very limited box office night where they're not going to sell any drinks.

Hence the Christian Music Festival Circuit. It's quite simply just a vehicle for people that want to see Christian acts on stage. Apart from a few big churches that bring in acts it's the only vehicle, really. Christian music has to create its own ecosystem. That actually works out pretty well for the regular ecosystem because they don't have to even think about it.  
It's a shame that those weekends are often the least favorite for venue staff and locals. Jerks come in all shapes, sizes and colors and there are plenty of them that go to church and don't come out any better for it. It's a shame that in a crowd of tens of thousands of people the ones who are acting poorly are the ones that stand out and leave a bad taste in your mouth when the vast majority of them are just quietly enjoying themselves. But I guess that's true for any group of people.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

SNR Podcast #55 - 8/4/2013 - Family Life, DAWs in Live Sound

This time around Jon and Anth talk a little bit about family life, the separation you deal with when you work in production. Then we get into it about using a DAW as a live sound console. As always there's an MP3 link to stream or save for later and eventually there will be a YouTube link as soon as we can get caught up on processing.