Sidestep the Snake Oil

“There’s a sucker born every minute.” — David Hannum (not P. T. Barnum)

Make no mistake, the confluence of advancements in recording technology and an increased demand for new media creation in many formats has indeed created a boom in the voiceover industry. Many of the new formats and technologies have been disruptive. And when things get disruptive, the establishment gets scared. Change breeds uncertainty. Uncertainty, especially for self-employed people, is a scary thing. And, when people act from a place of fear, they are rarely at their best.

Snake_oil_ink_stampWe, who make our living in the industry, know that we must “adapt or perish.” It’s a truth that we live with, that we discuss among ourselves, that we post about on social media platforms, and that we share with just about anyone who will listen.
When you combine disruptive change with explosive growth, you create opportunity.

Unfortunately, opportunity is not only created for new talent. Opportunity is created for the less scrupulous as well.

Not every person who puts themselves forward as a teacher has their students’ best interests at heart. And sometimes, it can be hard to spot the ones to avoid.

  1. If they say that they have a simple to follow system that they personally have used to secure a six-figure-income, you should start getting suspicious.
  2. If they say that they usually sell their system for a much higher price but if you act right now, you can get it at a deep discount, you should get even more suspicious.
  3. If they say that industry professionals hate them for sharing these secrets with you, your suspicion level should rise even more.

These three indicators hold true regardless of the product in question. They are signs that the seller is trying to manipulate the potential buyer instead of selling their wares based upon their own merit.

People investigating a career change are, by their nature, dreamers — and that’s good. A well-developed imagination is an asset in this business.

Unfortunately, the scammers know this too. They use that open imaginative nature as a way of accessing a potential mark’s aspirations and fears.

  1. People always want to be in on an exclusive secret. It makes them feel unique, valued, and special.
  2. People always want to conserve limited resources. Creating an artificial discount if a person will just act now, is a way of getting a fence sitter to take a risk.
  3. People starting something new can harbor resentment toward the establishment, who seem to have everything already. They will side with a perceived underdog without actually checking the facts.

Let’s be honest. There are no quick and easy ways to start a new career. Regardless of industry, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.

A good coach, or school, in any discipline, will always be willing to talk with you about the realities, about the hard facts of the day-to-day. They may even choose to refer you to a different coach who would seem to be a better fit. Or, after talking with you, they may even explain why this new career choice might not look like the best fit to them. They will be able to provide numerous references that are easy to check and cross-check.

So, sidestep the snake oil salesmen (and women). Genuinely achieving your dreams is worth the effort.

Free, Native Punch Recording – Mac, Windows, & Linux!

Ocenaudio Punch Record SettingsNo fancy script. No hacks. Just simple, straight forward, Punch & Roll recording. For free on all Macs, Windows, and Linux computers.

OcenAudio comes through with a feature that I mentioned to them back when I interviewed them in May of 2014. Isn’t it great to find a developer that really listens to the needs of the users?

The configuration is as simple as enabling 3 Checkboxes in the preference window:

  • Move cursor to record stop position
  • Destructive Recording
  • Preroll (set to desired number of seconds)

With these three settings enabled, OcenAudio does natively what my scripts for TwistedWave, Audacity, and Adobe Audition attempt to bolt on from the outside.

Like the programs that I scripted, OcenAudio doesn’t have true non-destructive editing (for that you’d need Reaper, ProTools, Logic Pro, etc). So, if you forget to turn on the second checkbox you will find the program inserting your new audio before your flub instead of writing over the mistake that you wish to replace.

With this new native feature OcenAudio sets itself apart from other simple editors and earns a spot closer to that of a traditional DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It seems to manage memory better than Audacity. It runs on more platforms than TwistedWave. It doesn’t require a subscription like Adobe Audition. What’s not to like?

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Taking Care of Business: Part 3 – Trello as an Audiobook Research Tool

Doing proper research before recording an audiobook can be crucial to the success of the project. If you’re like me, the research happens in fits and starts. Sometimes, making notes while reviewing the text, and sometimes having moments of insight only after allowing the text to sit for a while. Having a reliable way of collecting and organizing these bits of information can simplify the process.

trello-gtdOnce again, I am talking about a Trusted System. In Parts 1 & 2 of this series, I focused on tasks and setting priorities. You may remember that in Part 1, I said that if you had important information that was not immediately actionable, you should file it. Preparing to record an audiobook is a great example of uncovering high value information that fits the bill.

This is one of the times that I turn to Trello.

Trello is a free-form organizational tool. The metaphor it uses is a simple one: Lists and Cards. You put information onto cards, and you put those cards onto lists. Once you start playing with Trello, you start to understand how the flexibility can be quite empowering.

Here is a link to an example of how I use Trello for audiobook research: Audiobook Preparation

Four lists: Characters, Locations, Chapters, Pronunciations

I make new cards as I move along, I make new lists if needed. The cards have text, images, video, audio, and links. I can access Trello from anywhere, because it is web-based. It has an intuitive app for both iOS and Android. I can invite other people to share the board, like a proofer or editor. And, leveraging Trello’s calendar and email functions, you can easily connect it to your inbox.

And, as you can see, I can make a board public so people like you can see how I use the tool. All of these features are part of their free service. No catch. They built the tool originally as an in-house tool they used among themselves while working on other things. They found it useful and decided to share.

Do you use Trello? Something else? Let me know in the comments below.

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Taking Care of Business: Part 2 – Getting Things Done with Gmail or Inbox

Either Google’s GMail or their newer Inbox are good candidates to live at the core of your trusted system.  Though the two applications store their data in the same place, their behaviors differ enough to merit looking at them separately. Let’s start with the elder of the products — Gmail.

gmail-logo-iconWhen loading up GMail, it is easy to see how you might implement the workflow described in Part 1 of this series. You can even use filters and labels to highlight those reminder messages that I mentioned. There are many articles around the web that can help you create useful filters or even become a GMail Master.

There is a Task List built into GMail. Add to that the integrated Contact List (not to mention Google Calendar) and things start to make sense — send/receive mail, create/complete tasks, and organize/categorize contacts, schedule/track appointments… Yes, you can begin to see how this system might work.

But, what if you want a little more? What if you would like GMail to be just a bit more CRM-like? That’s simple. Install Streak.

Streak-default-window-450x279Streak adds CRM features to GMail and the single user version of the product is completely free. Instead of Sales Funnels, Streak calls them Pipelines. Start with a default Pipeline and customize it for the way you work.

Streak doesn’t take over your whole GMail experience. Instead, it waits until you choose to manage an email by adding it to a Box at the beginning of a Pipeline. While you are communicating with a potential client if they start a new thread or use a different email address, you can add those to the box as well, giving you a central place to manage all of the pertinent communication.

As an interaction progresses, you move the Box from Lead, to Contacted, to Pitched and eventually to Won or Lost, depending upon the outcome of your negotiation. The stages can all be customized. Adapt them to the way that you work.

With Tasks and notes inside each box, there is really no excuse to not have all of that data ready when you need it.

Beyond the Pipeline, Streak offers:

  • Scheduling Emails
  • Snoozing Emails
  • Tracking if your email has been read
  • Templates for commonly written emails

I’m probably leaving some things out. They are adding new features all of the time. If you’ve ever considered a CRM, Streak is a great way to test drive one from the comfort of GMail.

fullcontactA second plugin to consider adding is called FullContact. And, as the name suggests, it’s focused on enhancing your Contact Management experience. FullContact helps match data in your Contact List with your connections on social media bringing as much data as it can find to you. Empowering you to make better decisions when you reach out to a potential client.

FullContact has two parts, an app (web, iOS, Android, Mac) and a browser plugin. The app is an enhanced address book that is surprisingly good at finding and merging duplicates and tagging your data. The browser plugin replaces the ads in GMail with a quick overview of what FullContact knows about the person with whom you are communicating.

FullContact is free and it’s paid features are an interesting add-on including the ability for the program to add data it finds in email signatures and taking pictures of business cards with your phone and having real people add that to your database as well.

With these two plugins, GMail becomes a powerhouse. But, what if you find that a bit intimidating? What if you’ve tried Google’s new Inbox and you like what you see there? Can you do any of this with Inbox?

google-inboxInbox is Google’s attempt to adapt email to a task-based paradigm. Hardcore GMail users have a hard time adapting to the change but those who do seem to really enjoy Inbox.

Inbox encourages its users to embrace both the Getting Things Done, and the Zero Inbox paradigms.

Emails are stacked and grouped like papers in a physical inbox. When you sit down to triage your inbox, you’re expected to do one of the following things:

  • Reply to simple requests, then mark them as Done
  • Snooze tasks that you can’t complete now until a more appropriate time
  • Pin really important things that need to stay visible

If you read Part 1 of this series, the workflow above might look familiar. Inbox eliminates the need to email yourself. New Reminders can be scheduled and Snoozed right along side email messages. Reminders can also be created within Google Calendar and Google Keep (a note taking program). Google Now can also show and manage Reminders on your mobile phone.

If you don’t feel that you need Streak’s Pipeline feature, putting Inbox, Calendar, and Keep together, start to feel like fun way to go. But, what about FullContact? The app still functions as expected, but the browser plugin does not work in Inbox — yet. The FullContact team says this feature is currently in beta testing. So, if you don’t need that feature right now. Try Inbox., you might like it.

Future parts of this series will move beyond software and look at other aspects of running your own business. If there are any topics that you would like me to cover, let me know.

What web apps and plugins  make up your trusted system? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Taking Care of Business: Part 1 – Finding Your Trusted System

Even us creative types need to remember that when all is said and done, we are running a business. And businesses live or die on information. Oodles of information, that may or may not be useful, come our way — all day, every day. Without a reliable method to parse all of that data, valuable connections and opportunities may get lost in the noise. To handle this, we need a trusted system.

Getting Things Done GTD
GTD Workflow – Click to enlarge

If you’ve heard of David Allen or read his book Getting Things Done (GTD), you already know what I am talking about.

Basically, you need a simple, reliable place to put your stuff so it (a) won’t get lost, and (b) won’t get ignored. Both A and B are equally important!

The best system is one that you will actually use. You could spend a lot of time learning a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) but if it doesn’t fit easily into your daily workflow, you’ll never even open it.

So, let’s start with a system that you already have. No really, you already do have one. It’s your email program and its connected address book.

It’s time to start thinking of your Inbox and an inbox.

inboxMany of your tasks already start as email. The simplest way to get the rest of your tasks in there as well is to send them to yourself as emails too. After a while, jotting quick emails to yourself becomes second nature. Once it does, you can finally relax and trust that important things won’t get forgotten. They are all in your inbox awaiting your attention.

Now that all of your tasks are in one place, let’s turn our attention to resources. I’m talking about your address book (or contact list).

addressbookMost modern email programs have an option that automatically adds people with whom you correspond to the address book. Add to that the fact that every mobile app in creation wants to sync its data with the address book on your phone and you already have access to an incredible amount of information at your fingertips.

Cleaning up this data can seem like an impossible task, especially if you have never done it before. But, going through it all can help you better understand your own communications and your business in general. It’s well worth the time.

In addition to the basic contact information, try adding some of this information to each entry:

  • Source (Where did you connect? Facebook? LinkedIn? a conference?)
  • Category (Prospect, Client, Agent, Engineer, Talent, etc.)
  • Other Personal Info (Birthday, Hobbies, etc)

Once the data has been cleaned and organized, you’re ready to get started. It’s time to triage your inbox with a process that might look like this:

Is it actionable?

No

  • If it’s junk, throw it away.
  • If it’s good information, file it.

Yes

  • If it will take less than 5 minutes, do it now.
  • If someone else needs to take action, email it to the right resource found in your address book.
  • Otherwise, schedule when you will get it done.

At its core, that’s it. Of course, over time, you will start to see where other tools that enhance things might be useful. Things like:

  • Tracking whether emails have been viewed
  • Sending emails automatically on a schedule
  • Saving templates for commonly used emails
  • Snoozing tasks to be reviewed later
  • Automatically adding tasks to your calendar
  • Showing a contact’s current social activity alongside their email
  • Enhancing contact information with new data from their online profiles
  • Visualizing how far along negotiations are with a certain prospect

There are lots of tools online that can add these features, some free, some paid. Now that you have a good idea about how you work, you’ll be able to find the ones that work best for you. And, now that you’ve developed a trusted system, those tools will be ones that actually get used.

The goal of this article was to talk about concepts and systems that could be applied with any software. In my next post, I will talk about my own experience with some specific tools that help make this work with either GMail or Google’s new Inbox by GMail.

What’s your trusted system? Any experience with GTD? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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iZotope vs Acon: A DIY audio repair shootout

iZotope must be feeling the heat! RX has some solid competition in the audio repair space coming from the talented coders at Acon Digital. Acon having set the price of their Resoration Suite at $99,  may have been responsible for iZotope’s recent promotion of a new version of RX on sale at $99 (regular price $129).

rxvs aconThe RX Plug-in Pack has essentially the same feature set as Acon’s Restoration Suite. So these two products are perfect for a direct shootout. But, what would you really learn if I did the shootout? Not much. After all, I’m not recording in your space, with your mic, facing the issues that you face everyday.

So, here’s how to do a shootout on your own…

Fortunately, both products offer free demo versions. The RX Plugin-Pack is fully functional for 10 days. And, The Restoration Suite’s demo adds a short period of silence at irregular intervals. Keep this in mind when comparing the results.

Now, here’s the fun part. You know how you go out of your way to make sure there are no interruptions when you record a session? Don’t do that.

Grab some copy, preferably something with a few plosives and some sibilant sounds. If you can’t find anything, try the theme song to Gilligan’s Island.

Before you record, you might want to forget to close the door all the way. Or turn on the dishwasher, or the air conditioner, or the — you get where I am going here.

You want a good read in a sloppy environment. Got it? Good.

Record it a second time, but get right up on your microphone and be a bit too loud — on purpose. This will make sense later.

Wait, you aren’t done recording yet. Go find a small fan, a hair dryer, a blender…

You’re looking for things in your environment that make droning noises when they are used. Set these things up so they can be heard inside your usual recording environment. Have a friend turn each thing on/off one at a time while you do another take.

If it’s trash day in your neighborhood or there is construction going on nearby, open the windows and record another take with those sounds as well.

Each of these interruptions has its own sonic signature. And, since no two recording setups are truly alike (believe me, even two identical professionally built booths in two different geographic locations will sound different), your studio will be unique in which frequencies it handles well and which ones seem to pass right through and wind up on the recording.

Now, save WAV files of these recordings being sure to name them so you know what they are:

  • gilligan-dishwasher.wav
  • gilligan-hairdryer.wav
  • gilligan-garbage-pickup.wav
  • gilligan-really-loud.wav

You get the idea…

Now, install both demos into the audio editor of your choice. No, really, right now, install them, I’ll wait…

Stop. This is the first test. And, it has nothing to do with the audio you recorded.

  • How did the installation go?
  • Was it easy?
  • Was it straight forward?
  • Was the documentation easy to find?
  • Was it easy to understand?

Don’t skip this step. It’s more important than you think. If you’re having issues later on, this test is usually a pretty good indicator of how helpful the parent company will be when solving your issue.

Now, open each of the components in your audio editor of choice. Yes, right now, seriously, you know the drill…

  • Did all of the components open without issue?

Some plugins expect certain features to be present, but some audio editors don’t implement all of these expected functions. If the components don’t work, it is more likely the fault of your chosen audio editor than the plugin. But, that’s another issue.

Now it’s time to get down to business. Open two copies of a single sound and play with one de-clicker, de-noiser, de-hummer, and de-clipper where you think they are needed.

Before you compare the results, I have a question for you.

  • How easy was each component to use?
  • Did you immediately understand everything or did it take a bit of poking around before the settings made sense?

Again, a well designed tool is usually a well supported tool. Assess both the interface and your experience using the tool.

Now, sit back and compare the results. And, get a friend to listen to the files as well and give you their opinion too. The more feedback, the better.

Wait, you aren’t done yet. Think of a simple question to ask both iZotope and Acon Digital. And, pose those questions via twitter. Links to their accounts are below:

By now, you know why I’m suggesting that you do this. A responsive company is usually a company that stands behind its products.

What were your thoughts? Results? Share them in the comments below.

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Audiobooks in the Classroom: A Field Guide

When striving to address the various learning modalities, Auditory Learners sometimes get shortchanged. After all, we “talk to” students during every lesson, doesn’t that serve their needs?

No, not really.

Like their visually or kinesthetically-oriented classmates, auditory learners benefit from rich materials designed for their preferred learning method. And, for an auditory learner, few things can compare to an audiobook.

Before engaging in lessons geared toward any one particular learning modality, students tend to benefit from a preparatory meta-lesson about Learning Styles themselves. The University of Minnesota published this wonderful self-assessment that can be adapted to work in many classroom situations.

Getting the students to think about learning, and beyond that to investigate how they — themselves — learn, helps them to see their own strengths in a new light. It can be quite empowering.

So, assuming that you have already explored and discussed learning styles with the class, let’s prepare for a lesson centered around audiobooks.

Back in the day, a tape recorder, or CD Player loud enough to be heard was the basic tool. These days, with digital downloads being the way most people buy audiobooks, a book can be played from a classroom computer or a cellphone.

If your cell phone isn’t loud enough, plugging the external speakers, like the ones connected to a typical classroom desktop computer, into your headphone jack will help. If you don’t have a set in your classroom, check with whomever manages computers for your school. Old speakers tend to last for a long time and can often be salvaged when the computers they were connected to are no longer useful.

On the board, write 3-5 questions that can be answered by the material to be shared that day. Review the questions to be certain everyone is on the same page. Feel free to say something along the lines of, “that part will make more sense after you’ve heard the story.” Also make clear that they will have time after the story completes to finalize/change/clean-up their answers to the questions.

Provide the students with 1 sheet of lined paper and multiple sheets of unlined paper along with pencils, markers, colored pencils, and crayons (if they won’t consider crayons to be “too babyish”).

The purpose of the lined paper and pencils is obvious. As the students feel that they have come to the answer of any of the questions, they can make notes, write down quotes, etc.

The other paper and supplies are actually crucial to the lesson. They are for the students, not the class, not a grade. They do not need to be shared with anyone.

Encourage the students to draw/sketch/doodle while listening to the story. Ask only that they avoid writing words on the unlined paper. In this lesson, they interact with words via their ears. Their eyes (visual) and hands (kinesthetic) are to be occupied with other things.

While the audio is playing, the teacher should circulate around the room. Avoid talking whenever possible. Look, but don’t comment at how the students use the unlined paper.

If a student becomes distracting or disruptive, ask them to hold on for a moment. Head over to the unit playing the audiobook. Stop the recording. Wind it back a few seconds (preferably to the beginning of a paragraph, page, or even chapter). Explain to the class as a whole how important it is to experience the whole performance. Apologize to the class for the disruption. Then, address the original student as quickly and quietly as possible. Addressing the disruption of the content before addressing the disruption by the student stresses the importance of the central lesson.

Once the audio completes, ask the students to put the unlined paper aside and focus on finishing up the answers to the questions on the lined paper. While reviewing their answers to the questions, if possible, replay bits of the audio that reinforce the answers.

Once this is finished, ask the students to put everything aside and ask one more question. Have them evaluate the narrator as a storyteller. If you don’t have a rubric that you have previously developed with your students, this one from Story Arts offers a good starting point. Rubrics tend to mean more when developed by the class themselves. If you have the time to devote a lesson to that activity, I am sure you will find it worthwhile.

Any questions? Post them in the comments below.

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Note: Beyond my experience as an audiobook narrator, engineer, and producer, I have a Master’s Degree from New York University’s School of Education focusing upon Theater as a teaching modality which I then applied in various schools in both New York and Massachusetts. I am also a member of the Audio Publishers Association and support their Sound Learning Initiative.

Get a 2nd Opinion before sending off that audiobook!

So, you’ve recorded, edited, proofed, and finally mastered your audio. It’s ready to head off to ACX or off to a publisher. Well… you THINK it’s ready… you HOPE it’s… You get the idea.

You know that you’ve put in oodles of work getting this audiobook done, but if only there were a way to double check some of the basics, that would make you feel so much better. I felt that way too. That’s why I wrote 2ndOpinion.

It works on both Mac OSX (tested on 10.10 & 10.11) and Windows (tested on both 7 & 10).

Click here to download

2ndOpinion is an audiobook checkup tool that is designed to be used once you feel that your audio is finished. It checks your audio to see if it meets some common specifications:

  • That it peaks at or below -3dB
  • That it has an average RMS between -18dB and -23dB
  • That the head of the file is between 1/2 and 3/4 of a second in length
  • That the tail of the file is between 3 and 5 seconds in length
  • That the noise floor is at or below -60dB
  • That the file was recorded at a sample frequency of 44.1 kHz
  • That all the files are mono (or stereo)

Many of the points listed above have simple fixes that can be handled automatically. If 2ndOpinion finds any of these issues, it fixes them. If it finds more complex issues, it lets you know. Take that information, fix the issues, and run the software again. Or take it to a reputable audio engineer and they will fix it for you.

And, 2ndOpinon is free to use on any projects you like. If you’d like to support future development, you can always buy me a coffee…

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