Last week I had the opportunity to work with female voice talent who was referred to me for a healthcare-based topic by a friend of mine. My wonderful experience working with her will be the basis of another Blog post soon.
I have hired a number of voice performers over the years and typically I’m the one who ends up engineering the voice over session in addition to producing the session. I’m a bit anal retentive so I’ve grown fond of this arrangement as I like to know what I’m getting at the other end.
This time talent requested using the audio facility she is most comfortable with. Coincidentally, the facility is located two floors up from me in the live/work condo building my home studio operates out of. Normally, I would have balked and suggested we just do the session here but something told me to listen to The Universe telling me to “let go of the wheel”.
I always wanted to be an audio engineer – I started playing music when I was 15 years old, if you count two-and-a-half chord punk rock as music. I bought my first electric bass guitar and set out to learn how to play. I failed miserably for a good number of years but I had an absolute blast performing with some incredible people.
I also came to realize that I wasn’t the singer OR the guitar player so I wasn’t going to get much attention from the female fans. Instead, I learned how the gear worked.
I started to give serious thought to going to vocational college to hone my budding skills as an audio engineer but making money and making music kept getting in the way – “next year… I’ll do it next year…”
Somewhere along the 5 years of working construction, delivering drywall and driving three ton trucks during the day and playing in loud punk bands at night, my hearing started to go – I would turn my head to the side slightly in high noise environments to listen to conversation without noticing I was doing it.
I knew something bad had happened when I started to be kept up at night by the pure crystalline tone in my head – whoever calls it “ringing in your ears” has a lousy way of explaining the phenomenon.
To add insult to injury, a portion of my hearing had completely disappeared from abuse. That frequency range also happens to be in the spectrum that makes human speech distinct and “pop” over background din.
I knew my dreams of mixing audio professionally were done.
Some years later as I found myself looking for other career opportunities, I found myself at the private vocational college that would be my home for 5 intensive months as I learned to become a videographer.
After starting the course, much to my dismay my instructor proceeded to tell my class that good video is 51% great audio.
Great… NOW what have I gotten myself into…
Over the past 15 years I have engineered a good number of voice over sessions and have conducted hundreds if not thousands of interviews. I’ve learned to do more than just get by with audio and frankly, I think my hearing has improved greatly through careful conservation.
Just don’t ask me to mix your next orchestral DVD.
My hearing acuity is surprisingly good – I hear very soft sounds exceptionally well. I just have tinnitus (that “ringing in the ears”) and the missing section of my hearing has never fully recovered. I do get audio fatigue quite quickly, especially when working in languages I don’t speak or understand well.
But as I’ve said a million times before, know what you don’t know.
The project I mentioned WAY back at the beginning of this post is exclusively voice over and computer screen capture. All the “little tricks” that we use to help keep people’s attention in a typical video production are unavailable to me.
I knew the voice over had to stand on its own and be exceptional from both a performance and engineering standpoint.
It takes a lot to impress me, especially when it comes to a service I have some level of competency in. As I mentioned above, I’m a bit of a control freak .
The atmosphere at Rukkus House was exactly what I had hoped for. In fact, I’ve taken some inspiration from their setup for my studio moving forward. You walk in and all the stress just falls away. Doug showed me the live room where the actual performances take place and then got me settled into the control room.
As much as I love the warm sound of vintage gear, one thing I have little tolerance for (especially when I or my clients are paying the bill) is the finicky nature of classic microphones, preamps and the like. Rukkus has that great tone I was looking for with none of the downsides of “vintage”.
As Goldilocks once said: “Just right”.
Doug quickly dialled in a great tone that was exactly what I had requested – a big AM Rock Radio announcer sound with specific importance on intelligibility. The voice track needs to stand out entirely on its own for a 5 minute 40 second run time with little visual support.
Doug nailed it.
He quickly earned my trust in the engineering department so I could focus on doing what I was getting paid to do – produce the session. I found myself getting more into the performance and voice characterization than I have been able to for many years. We were very efficient in getting the read I needed for this project out of the talent and had her give a couple of alternate takes for emphasis and pronunciation.
There was one item that was good but frankly could have been just a bit better in the performance. We were nearing the end of the session and frankly it was a niggle so I was prepared to let it go. I turned to Doug and asked the question that so few producers remember to ask an engineer – “Was there anything else you noticed?”
Doug opened the talkback mic to talent and pointed out exactly what I had heard 15 minutes earlier.
We got a great read out of talent and sent her on her way.
I wholeheartedly admit that I’m not always the easiest person to work with – I know what I want and I try to surround myself with the people that I trust to deliver it. Doug and Rukkus House were an unknown to me but I trusted the recommendation from my talent as well as from my downstairs neighbour, photographer Wendy D who I mention routinely.
That trust paid off in spades.
I have a new favourite audio engineer and he works two floors up and 5 doors down from me.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Thanks for reading!