DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #29: Why I’m A Dork…no, I mean why I’m a dork for caring about borderline-meaningless differences in audio quality. What did you think I meant?

The Neumann U87, generally considered to be the “studio standard” of condenser microphones.

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I know that audio technology isn’t everybody’s thing. To some, it’s nerd material. So, from this point out, all of my audioblog entries that deal with audio technology will have the following sound byte placed in front of them when dorky or nerdy material is approaching: “WARNING, NERD MATERIAL!” So, to that end…”WARNING, NERD MATERIAL!” I’d like you guys to do an experiment for me. Watch the video below starting at the 3:08 mark, and watch until the 3:28. Don’t watch anything else.

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Done? Okay. Well, what you just saw was the comparison of two different microphones…except both of them were the same. Confused? They were two different models of the same condenser mic, the Neumann U87. This mic is considered by many to be the best condenser mic currently being manufactured. However, the first model, the Neumann U87i, was–

–hold on, hold on, stay with me, non-nerds, I’m going somewhere with this!

So yeah, the first model, the Neumann U87i, was released in 1967. Almost 20 years later, in 1986, a new model was released, the Neumann U87ai, with the only difference being a (very) slight modification to the voltages of the mics. This resulted in some minor sound differences that, by the opinion of the professional audio engineers in this video, were so minor that someone could use the mics for stereo recording purposes, or even swap them out during a recording session, and no one would know the difference.

So, you have undoubtedly asked…where am I going with this? Here’s where I’m going with this: none of what I have written so far in this entry matters.

At all.

When you listened to the audio comparison just now, could you tell the difference? If you couldn’t, don’t be ashamed! As VO talent, we are constantly looking for ways to increase the value of our services, and one of the ways we often decide to increase the value of our services is by making investments in our home studio. The compulsion to improve our audio quality is not abnormal by any means–hell, if you’re a voice actor who isn’t at all concerned with audio quality, then chances are you’re not doing very well–but at a certain point, it no longer matters that much. It eventually gets to a point where, no matter how expensive or “high-end” your equipment is, the only people who are going to be able to tell the differences in the audio are audio dorks. For that matter, the differences aren’t even a matter of “good” vs “bad,” it’s just differences in sound that will be better for certain applications. If you look at the entirety of the video, you’ll note that the two Neumanns were used for different applications (namely acoustic guitar, singing, and voice-over), and that the engineers noted a preference for different models depending on the application.

Now, the next question you may ask is, “Dave, if you’re just gonna tell me what happens in the video, why did you have me start and stop watching at a specific point?”

Well, that’s because of an interesting find I found in this video, an audio conference with established audio professionals (as in, click this blue text to view it). In fact, this thing is such a freaking treasure trove of audio info that the discussions to be had about specific points in the video will probably supply me a few more audioblog entries! So I won’t discuss all of the points made at length, but one of the first points made was a very interesting one: if a listener has reason to assume that certain audio samples will be different, they will listen for those differences, and remember the audio samples differently than those who were not listening for differences. To quote presenter James Johnston, “This is not deception, this is just the way your brain works.”

So this audioblog entry was really just an experiment to see if people would notice differences if they weren’t told to listen for them. I’m very curious to know how many of you went back and re-listened to that i vs ai comparison video after I made my intentions more clear. Did you notice differences between the i and the ai models after re-listening? Well, you may not be able to attribute that to actually hearing the differences, so much as you may attribute that to the fact that you were told to listen for differences.

If you’ve managed to swim through that Sea of Nerd just there, there is, once again, a larger point to be made about VO even for non-nerds, and it’s this: audio quality is important, but not to the extreme. Yes, it’s very important, but it’s not as though every audio sample is going to be submitted to Skywalker Ranch for complicated audio analysis. Most of our clients aren’t going to be listening to our audio samples going, “Eh, it could have been less compressed, or perhaps a little more emphasis could have been put on the high-end frequencies.” They’re just listening to our audio and going, “Um…….yeah. Yeah, sounds good.” Or they’re listening to it and going, “Um…….neh, not diggin’ it too much.”

So while audio quality is definitely important, eventually it gets to a point where only nerds–nerds who are actively listening for the sake of incredibly specific analysis–will be able to discern any differences. If you really want to stand out, then it’s your acting skills and ability to interpret your clients’ copy that will truly be the deal-breaker!

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #25: Why I’ll Look Stupid…no, I mean why I might look stupid for making a prediction about where VO is headed. What did you think I meant?

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I’m gonna make a prediction in this entry about where VO is headed…in the future! The thing is, I’m a tad scared to make it. I mean, aren’t some movies pretty laughable in how off they were in their predictions about what will happen in the future? Take “Back To The Future Part 2,” for example, in the clip that I opened my entry with. According to that movie, our cities will look like THAT in…2015. Three years. If they’re right, then DAMN is there going to be a rapid explosion of technology in three years! Or how about “Blade Runner,” which supposedly takes place in 2019, and shows a Los Angeles with a smog-covered sky, lots of buildings, and lots of crowds that make it difficult to see where you’re going……..actually, that is Los Angeles, never mind. What I’m trying to say is don’t laugh at me too much if, years later, my predictions of the future turn out to be wrong. However, I’m gonna use some actual examples to back up my prediction: namely, my prediction that VO will be completely replaced with on-camera and 3D motion-capture acting.

What I’m using as the basis for my prediction is…video games. Yeah, I know, “But Dave, those are video games, not your usual day-to-day VO jobs”…right? Well hey, that’s why I said this is a prediction of the future. Currently, only clients like video game and movie companies can afford this top-dollar technology, but every technology gets cheaper in time, and I can definitely see the average client using this technology when it gets cheaper.

Y’see, I’m a bit of a weirdo when it comes to video games in that a game’s story has always been the #1 factor for me, and few stories had more effective acting than a game called “Heavy Rain.” To give the plot an absurdly quick summary, the protagonist’s 10-year-old son is kidnapped by a serial killer who continually taunts the protagonist with clues as to where he’s keeping the boy. Needless to say, that’s a pretty dark and intense story, but creator David Cage was pretty vocal that he wanted to create a video game experience that was just as emotionally provocative as a movie. To do that, it goes without saying that the acting needed to be top-notch so that players could get emotionally invested. Rather than just doing voice-over, though…Cage went the extra mile.

All of the characters in the game were designed to look completely identical to the voice actors who played them. And they did a pretty good job with it, if I do say so myself. Check out how creepy the similarities are.

The characters in “Heavy Rain” were designed to resemble their voice actors.

Conceptually speaking, that’s not quite new. Back in the old days, Disney was filming live-action sequences on film to use as a reference for their animation, and often had the voice actors serve as the physical models for the characters they played. The point behind this, though, is so that no gamer could ever complain, “That voice doesn’t sound like it fits”…because the voice belongs to the person they’re portraying.

Then, however, comes the voice acting. After designing the characters based on the voice actors who played them, and having them act out their scenes using motion-capture technology, it was time to record the voices. That’s a process that, under normal circumstances, means just having the actors come in, record their lines, and having the animators make the facial reactions. With “Heavy Rain,” though, they literally put motion capture gear on the actors’ faces while they recorded their lines, so that both their vocal delivery and their facial expressions would be captured. So the acting in “Heavy Rain” can’t really even be called “voice acting,” because it was acting on all three fronts–body, face, AND voice. To date, not even a Pixar movie has done this.

The video below shows the entire process. I’ll also end this portion of my audio narration here so you can watch the video.

FAIR WARNING: The scenes in this video from the 0:51 mark to the 1:21 mark, while not inappropriate per say, might be a little too intense for people who are bothered by physical violence, and it’s beyond my ability to edit out since I’m embedding this video from another source. So please skip that section if you’re bothered by violence.

DONE VIEWING? THEN GET BACK ‘TA LISTENING!:

“Heavy Rain” may be revolutionary now but, honestly…I think that’s where all VO is headed. Who’s to say that, when the technology gets (MUCH) cheaper, that e-learning client of yours won’t be asking if you have face-capture gear to give their e-learning program more of a personal touch? What if a major Los Angeles-based advertising company wants you to film a few sequences in your home green screen studio for use in their new commercial for Dove soap? Absurd, right?

Yeah, absurd. Just like people said home VO studios would only be a thing for the rich…before they turned into a necessity to compete in this business. Or just like people said that you had to go to a major studio to record VO…before people started delivering audio over the internet. Let’s be honest, folks…soon, more and more clients are gonna be asking us for HD audio, before moving on to more intense demands as the technology gets cheaper. Granted, I could be totally off, and either way, motion-capture acting isn’t gonna become commonplace any time soon…but I firmly believe that’s where we’re headed. Makes me all the more glad that I trained in areas of acting beyond VO!

*sound of record scratching*

EXTRA, EXTRA, EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT…OR LISTEN ALL ABOUT IT, DEPENDING ON YOUR PREFERENCE AND INTERNET CONNECTION SPEED! This audioblog entry was originally published on June 3rd, but I’ve got an update as of June 15th that I’d like to share with you all. This entry of mine received a very polarized response, with some very worried about my prediction, and others saying, “Dave, calm the heck down!” Well, this audioblog entry was written with a slight tongue-in-cheek tone, but it lies somewhere between a joke and a prediction. Like I said, motion-capture technology isn’t going to become commonplace anytime soon…but one VO talent by the name of Peter Drew was nice enough to point me to an article he wrote–years ago, mind you–on a threat that is even more imminent…a computer program that can actually mimic convincing human speech. I do mean convincing, too, not that fake stuff that you’re hearing in this particular clip. Check out the article here!

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #21: Why I’m Upset…no, I mean why I’m upset that the art of dubbing isn’t as well-known as I think it should be. What did you think I meant?

Okay, be honest…when you hear the word “dub,” it’s either this or those old kung-fu movies that you think about, right?

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Ask any voice actor what inspired them to become a voice actor, and the stories are usually pretty similar. They were told they had a great voice, they began in radio, they listened to cartoons…stuff like that. I consider myself a tad different in that regard. Technically cartoons and video games inspired me to get in, which is why I’m not enormously different. What makes me a tad different is that the cartoon and video game performances that inspired me the most…were not the original performances of the source material. They were dubs.

Shows like “Dragon Ball Z,” “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” and “Pokemon” may not have quite the same name power as “Looney Tunes,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” or “Rugrats,” but quite frankly, they influenced me way more than any North American cartoon ever did. Even when I grew up, bought the DVDs, and was able to switch over to the original Japanese audio track with English subtitles, the original Japanese casts didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as the performances of the English actors who dubbed them. To me, the English dub casts will always be the casts that matter. Which is a pity, really, because while their appreciation has grown tremendously over the years, dub actors, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, “Don’t get no respect”…comparatively speaking, anyway.

In discussing last week’s audioblog entry, it became apparent to me that there is only so much “mainstream” respect and awareness for what we do. Voice actors are relatively obscure in the grand scheme of things. However, even within our industry, there are obscure parts, such as dubbing. The reason I’m using Godzilla as my featured image is because, in all likelihood, that’s what many people think of when they hear the word “dub.” They imagine the original Japanese actors talking for extended periods of time, only for atrociously lip-synced dialogue to ruin whatever mood was originally set up.

Well, in this entry, I’m gonna show some lovin’ for the dubbin.’ I don’t think it’s nearly respected as it should be. That’s partially because, up until (relatively) recently, the English dub actors were not allowed to be credited to specific roles, and instead the credits would simply say “Featuring the English Voices of…” and then list all of the actors in a seemingly random order. However, there’s also a lack of awareness of the process and art behind dubbing. It has come a long way since it originally started! Some of the stuff here will be “old news” to voice actors who have done ADR or dubbing before, but like I said, in the interest of spreading awareness of the job of the voice actors who inspired me most, I’m gonna talk about the three “Methods” of dubbing (and the third one, I bet, will surprise even the veterans).

METHOD 1: The “Three Beeps” Method

This is, hands-down, the most common method. This is used not only in anime, but also in dubbing for foreign films and ADR. First, the actor is played a preview of what they will be dubbing. Following this, the engineer will set up three beeps at a set rhythm to be played to the actor through their headphones. Based on the rhythm of these three beeps, the actor tries to imagine in their head where the fourth beep should be, and is supposed to start saying their line on this imaginary fourth beep, taking care to match the lip movements of whatever it is they’re trying to dub. This used to be a pretty long process in the days of laying everything to film, when so many analog machines had to be timed to be in sync with everything, but ever since things went digital, this process is much faster. Here’s an example of the talented Johnny Yong Bosch dubbing the main character of an anime called “Eureka Seven”:

METHOD 2: The “Rhythmo-Band” Method

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While the Three Beeps Method has gotten faster, it’s still not nearly as fast as the Rhythmo-Band Method. This is a rare method of dubbing. In fact, it’s almost exclusive to France and Quebec. And…that sucks, quite frankly, because this method is so much more effective and useful for the actor. Rather than cue the actor with beeps, the engineer takes a blank strip of film and writes out the revised dialogue by hand onto the film strip. This film strip, the “rhythmo-band,” is then projected onto a separate TV screen beneath the main TV screen that shows the visuals that the dubbing actor will dub. Towards the left end of the rhythmo-band screen, a static red line is projected. As the visuals of the main screen move along, so does the rhythmo-band. Because the engineer took the time to precisely calculate how long everything should be pronounced, and adjusted the size and length of their handwriting accordingly, the rhythmo-band’s text scrolls from right to left in sync with the picture, and the dubbing actor simply reads the rhythmo-band’s moving text as it intersects with the static red line.

In doing so, the rhythmo-band displays to the actor the exact speed and timing at which they’re supposed to say their lines. An example of this is shown below, using behind-the-scenes footage of the French dub of “Pokemon” (fast-forward to the 3:29 mark):

YOU REALLY DON’T WANNA READ, DO YOU? WELL, LISTEN, THEN!:

Okay, actually, before I move on, I’d like to clarify one thing. I will thank all of my older readers and listens–and Herman Cain–to STOP mispronouncing the damn show’s name! It’s “POE-kay-MON,” not “POE-kee-MON.” It annoyed me when I was 11, and it annoys me now! Do you people not have ears? It’s in the theme song! Listen!

“POE-kay-MON!”

See, I’m not making this stuff up! So please, STOP it!

…Anyways. The reason the Rythmo-Band Method is awesome is because the guess work present in the “Three Beeps Method” is eliminated for the actor…

…But not for the engineer. The reason this method didn’t take off much beyond France or Quebec, is because it takes an exhausting amount of time to prepare for the engineer. Especially in the old days when they had to watch the film over, and over, and over, and over again so that they could calculate the proper length and size of their handwriting so that it would be in sync with the picture. Thankfully, they no longer write out the revised dialogue by hand, and have since developed software programs designed to mimic the rhythmo-band’s function and work in sync with audio editing programs like Pro Tools (one of which can be found here). I’ve heard rumors on the internets that a select few studios in LA use this method now. I’m all for this method replacing the Three Beeps Method, if only because I’m an actor and it makes the actor’s life much easier.

Well, that is, until we get to the third method…

METHOD 3: Revise The On-Screen Visuals

Since dubbing began, the idea has been that, since the on-screen visuals can’t be revised, dubbing actors had to do the best they could to sync their words to the mouth movements of the characters they were dubbing. Dubbing studios couldn’t go back to animation studios and ask them to draw alternative drawings to match the lip movements of the English actors, or ask film companies to shoot alternative scenes in which the actors on screen matched the lip movements of the dubbing actor. That would be absurd and impractical…

…And it…still is. But we’ve gotten a step closer to making it doable. Unfortunately, I can’t embed this video in my blog, but click this blue text to watch this video–fair warning, this is one of the creepiest things you will ever see.

YOU ARE A LAZY, LAZY INDIVIDUAL..AND I RESPECT YOU!:

What you just saw (assuming you clicked the link–you DID, right?) is the result of a computer program developed by New York University called “Video Rewrite,” that uses CGI to rework the mouth formations of people on screen to match the mouth formations of the words spoken by the dubbing actor. They used Video Rewrite to dub an old video of JFK, making President Kennedy’s mouth look like he was speaking the words of the dubbing actor. The idea behind this is that, when mass-produced, needing to match lip movements in dubs will be a thing of the past, and the dubbing actors will finally be able to deliver their lines however they please, without regard for how the original actor did. This technology, though, is a long way off.

So for now, it’s mostly the Three Beeps Method and the Rhythmo-Band Method. Take some time to watch a foreign movie dubbed, or an anime dubbed (anything by Hayao Miyazaki will be good since Disney is in charge of dubbing his movies). For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the technology and artistic acting ability of dubs have evolved over the years, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

PS: From now on, I’m going to be doing something with my audioblog entries that I haven’t been doing before. Very often when I post my audioblog entries in social media forums, some GREAT discussions will come out of them. That’s good, for the most part…problem is, often some great material will come out after the fact. For example, in last week’s audioblog entry, I talked about how VO has zero presence in colleges except for Yale. Turns out…I was a tad misinformed. A few colleges do indeed offer it. They’re still few and far between, and I maintain that it needs to have a stronger presence, but more colleges were brought to my attention, and more elements of the issue were discussed. So, from now on, when I see a great discussion arise, I’ll post links to those discussion threads. Entry #20 has already been retrofitted that way, and I’m workin’ on the others. By all means, join in on the discussion! It’s not like you’re…actually, hold on a second…

*three beeps*

It’s not like you have to wait for your time to speak!

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #17: Why I’m Reclusive…no, I mean why I take an effort to separate my private life from my professional life. What did you think I meant?

I avoid being too expressive over the internets because it often leads to…well, this.

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Several years ago, I signed up for an email list that posts jobs for actors. I’m not gonna say which one specifically because…well, you’ll see why. In any event, I observed that a discussion had started over the email list about proper audition protocol, and I was a tad–okay, VERY–surprised to see one particular email. The email–sent by someone that we’ll just call “Person X”–was directed at someone who had written earlier, and it was very rude…again, in the interest of not sensationalizing other people’s problems, I’m not going to drop too many specifics, but let’s just say that the email concluded with the following sentence: “So mind your own ******* business, *****.” I wouldn’t have known this were it not for the fact that Person X thought they hit the “reply” button when in fact they hit the “reply to all” button.

Say it with me now: tchhh……oooooooohhh……..

Despite being (UNBELIEVABLY) rude, I understand that sometimes passion takes over, so I gave this person the benefit of the doubt. Except that two days later, I–and everybody else on the email list–received an email from the list’s administrator. The email said that, in reaction to learning that their remarks were public, Person X sent several emails to other people on the list that were, at best, bullying, and at worst, life-threatening. The sympathy from me ends after that. If Person X didn’t understand that everything they said after their first less-than-polite email would be heavily scrutinized then they needed–and hopefully got–a harsh reality check.

On the other hand, it got me thinking about a growing trend that I’ve been noticing for the last several years, and I’m sure many others have too: thanks to the internet, private lives are becoming increasingly public, to the point where we have become afraid of expressing ourselves.

Especially with social media. I’m of the younger generation that was supposed to catch on to social media the moment it began, but I never signed up for MySpace when I was in middle school and it was all the rage, and I didn’t first set up a Facebook profile until my freshman year of college. The reason for that was because social media was this relatively new thing, and back when I was in school, “MySpace” was synonymous with “pictures of parties and drinking that were made public for all to see.” I’ve never been a huge party-goer (you can thank the autism for that), so perhaps this was a moot point. Nevertheless, I still didn’t want to be a part of “this MySpace thing” or “that Facebook stuff” because of the connotations associated with it.

I felt vindicated, though, when I started to hear a certain story popping up again and again from my peers: “Yeah, I applied for a job, but they saw pictures of me on MySpace and didn’t wanna hire me after that.” So I felt good after that. I was out, and now I had an excuse to be out–if I joined, everything I said and did would be so public that I would be vilified out of employment! I no longer had to be the “uncool” kid who didn’t sign up for MySpace or Facebook!

…Then college rolled around. I missed my high school friends. I wanted to talk to ’em. I got a Facebook account. Quite simple, really.

I would have been left behind in the dust if I hadn’t. The evolution of a global cyber-society more or less forced my hand. Social media is no longer this thing for people to post party pics on (though many still do, regrettably). Rather, it is the avatar through which we interact with the world at large. Now people are expected to have profiles on many different social media platforms, and marketers are regularly setting up Facebook pages so people can “like” them, and Twitter pages so people can “follow” them. Not having an online presence is simply crippling nowadays–on a business and a personal level.

Which is why I have two of each: a “business” profile and a “personal” profile.

On the one hand, we’re expected to have social media profiles, but on the other hand, we’re expected not to express our opinions too blatantly for fear of alienating the wrong…people (okay, let’s be honest, here’s where I should put “read: employers”). The best available compromise I could think of was to simply create two profiles for each platform. I have a “personal” profile for interacting with my friends and family, and a “business” profile for interacting with employers and colleagues, and since I don’t use a headshot, nobody has any way of knowing which of the Dave Wallaces out there is me. While I don’t have a radically different personality on my personal profiles, I’m a tad more open on those, and I take a little more risk with my humor.

Still, there’s only so much risk I can take before somebody will Google a joke I made that they will take out of context and find wildly inappropriate or offensive. There’s only so much risk I can take before employers screen my social media pages–and yes, they DO do that, click here to be amazed at the extent to which they do it. I’m not sure it’s right that my sense of expression has to be limited, though. Who in this world has ever lived a perfect life in which they never did anything they regretted?

Bottom line: I feel like hanging out in our global cyber-society is like hanging out at a party with the most conservative and humorless people in the world sometimes. Say one thing that’s even slightly undiplomatic, and even if it was in the interest of creative expression, you are branded as a moron. I’d rather not be branded as an unreliable VO talent for making a joke that some people didn’t like…but I can’t help but feel that social media’s atmosphere is such that creativity is often squashed in the interest of diplomacy.

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #9: Why I Submitted…no, I mean why I submitted to trends rather than trying to change the course of established trends. What did you think I meant?

The Sennheiser 416: a popular voice-over mic and, more significantly, a symbol of Ernie Anderson’s legacy.

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The microphone you see near the top of this blog entry is the Sennheiser 416 shotgun microphone. It’s extremely popular in the L.A. area, and many VO talent praise it for its “up close and personal” sound that can cut through the toughest of music and sound effects mixes. However, this mic was not at all designed with VO in mind. So how did it get so popular in the VO world? It got popular, and became one of the most used mics in the VO industry…all because a man named Ernie Anderson was difficult to work with.

I suspect many people who have been doing VO for are while are familiar with this story, but for the benefit of those who aren’t—and because I love talkin’ about it—it bears repeating. You see, one of my biggest influences in the technical world of voiceovers was the late Mike Sommer, who tragically died late last year. I learned so much from him, but one of my favorite stories that he was able to impart to me was the “origin story” (for lack of a better term) of the Sennheiser 416.

Again, for the benefit of those who don’t know, a shotgun mic is a thin, longer mic that is designed to zoom in on a single source of sound. In doing so, it cuts through a lot of background noise so that whoever the mic is pointed towards can be heard accurately and clearly. It was designed primarily for film, TV, and on-site news reporting where someone needed to be heard above other background noise (for the record, shotgun mics don’t eliminate background noise, they only mitigate it, but often that’s all people who were using the mic were asking for). As such, it was not primarily designed with VO in mind.

To be fair, the only mic made so far that was constructed and actively advertised as being a “VO mic” is Harlan Hogan’s MXL VO:1-A mic, as most other mics that voice actors use were made with musicians and vocalists in mind (including the legendary Neumann U87). However, those are very sensitive condenser microphones that need to be in very carefully treated recording environments, because they will pick up EV-ER-Y-THING. Going into a booth and recording voice-overs behind a sensitive mic had long been considered the standard for the voice-over industry…

…Until one day…

Back in the late 70’s, the 80’s, and the early 90’s, when the industry was much smaller, the king of the industry was a voice actor by the name of Ernie Anderson. Anderson had a deep, warm, kind but authoritative voice that he put to use for pretty much everything ABC did. In fact, on one appearance on the Dave Letterman show, when introducing himself he said, “I am the voice-over for ABC.” I have been casually told by people who knew Ernie that he was a nice guy, with a very wry sense of humor.

He was, however, also known for not being the easiest man to work with. He swore constantly, he rarely had anything nice to say about the copy he was given to read (or the writers who wrote it), and if he was in a bad mood, he wouldn’t attempt to hide it.

No, seriously. Here’s a few outtakes of his. I’ve transcribed them for those who prefer to read, but Ernie’s actual audio samples have been inserted (and censored) into my audio narration of this blog entry.

ERNIE: “Soooo, if any of you or your friends—AWW, JESUS!”

ERNIE: “JESUS CHRIST!”

ERNIE: “I’m ****** leaving here!”

ERNIE: “Roll the ****** thing and shut her up. Just say ‘we’re rolling, quiet on the set.'”

ERNIE: “It ain’t gonna mean one more ****** video, Jesus God…there is a way to do this ****. And this isn’t it.”

ERNIE: “Aww, ****! Call Vince! I’m part of the ****** show, I don’t want to have to repeat—(producer interjects)—no [you may not have said anything], but you gave me that god-**** look.”

ERNIE: “Jesus, this is terrible ****** writing.”

ERNIE: “See…I’m gonna tell you how you can save this piece of ****.”

ERNIE: “Where do they find these ****** writers?”

ERNIE: “WHOEVER is responsible for producing this thing has no idea what the **** they’re doing!”

ERNIE: “Let me just also say that not only did I think it was not funny, I didn’t think it was well-done.”

ERNIE: “And, you’ll meet our special gue–**** it, *****, ****!”

ERNIE: “And you’ll meet our special gue–AWW, ****!”

ERNIE: “I’m not gonna do that whole ****** thing again—(producer tells him to “chill out”)—I’m chilled out, you should see me when I’m really ******.”

ERNIE: “WHERE ARE YOU, *******!? ****, ****!”

See? Told ya.

So one day, Ernie decided that he was fed up with being in a stuffy booth, and said that if he was going to be constantly doing so much voice-over work, he wanted to be comfortable and sit in the bigger, more comfortable mixing room. If I made that request today, the clients and engineers would tell me, “too bad,” as they would for almost every other voice actor. Ernie was the king back in the day though, so rather than tellin’ him, “too bad,” they immediately began looking for ways to make him more comfortable.

Enter the Sennheiser 416.

The problem with having Ernie work in the mixing room was that it was not as acoustically conditioned as the booth was. Furthermore, there were a ton of noisy, analog editing machines (remember that this was long before everything went digital). An engineer who was working with Ernie walked over to a nearby TV set and grabbed a 416. He set it up in the mixing room, figuring that a shotgun mic would help cut through the background noise of the editing machines. Some acoustic foam was slapped on the walls of the mixing room, and they tested Ernie out on it. They thought he sounded good, he thought he sounded good…and he was comfortable. From that point on, Ernie carried a 416 to all of his gigs, and never worked in a booth again unless it was an absolute necessity.

In being difficult to work with and demanding certain working conditions, Ernie would perhaps unknowingly affect an entire industry. All of a sudden, EVERY studio had a 416 on hand specifically with voice-overs in mind. Especially for deeper-voiced male voice actors who did promos, like Ernie did. It’s so popular in Los Angeles, where he worked, that the mic was eventually given the nickname, “The LA Mic.”

Before I go any further, I’d like to be clear that I’m not endorsing any particular microphone for anybody’s voice-over needs (you go to George Whittam for that).  In fact, many people don’t have nice things to say about the 416, and the general consensus is that it sounds horrid on female voices. In fact, popular character voice actor Corey Burton wrote an entire article—which I’ll link to here—describing in great detail why he absolutely LOATHES this mic.

Rather, I want to talk about something else that absolutely amazes me to this day—that there was a guy whose influence was so powerful that an entire industry essentially adapted to his requirements…and all because he was uncomfortable and difficult to work with! How many among us can ever say that we have that kind of influence? Ernie may have set trends, but most of us have to follow trends.

So that got me wondering…to what extent is it our job to set trends as voice actors, and to what extend is it our job to follow trends as voice actors? On the one hand, we have to be able to do what’s popular as a way of being marketable, but on the other hand, we have to inject our own unique personalities into VO as a way of establishing our own unique brand. Several of my fellow voice actors have said, “The VO industry has enough voices, they don’t want another voice, they want you.”

I go back and forth about that. Yes, clients nowadays don’t want anything too generic. Leaving one’s mark on the VO world makes their VO projects not only memorable, but in many ways profitable.  It’s also certainly nice to think that someone wants you, and when you get to the top of show biz, your very name can be your brand. In other words, rather than making your brand, “the tough, rugged, macho voice,” when you’re at the top, you have the power to brand yourself by simply stating your name—i.e., “My name’s Harrison Ford.” Ford can simply book jobs because he’s his own brand!

How many of us will reach that level, though? In the end, we have to provide a service to clients and give them what they want. They’re only so interested in someone who’s obsessed with their voice and putting their mark on another product, clients want someone who will accurately communicate their message, whether it be a promo, a commercial, or a character. Hence the reason that “voice acting” is considered “acting,” not talking in front of a microphone. If a client calls me back and tells me to deliver a piece of copy differently, it would be unbelievably rude of me to tell them how to do their job and say…well, actually, let’s drop another quote of Ernie’s.

ERNIE: “(In response to a producer): **** you. I’m not even gonna talk to you.”

ERNIE: “I won’t walk out the door if I don’t think it’s right.”

I could never get away with that. So, who knows what different life experiences will affect my opinion. For right now, though, here’s what it is: clients want voice actors who can deliver what they want. Injecting your own personality in small doses is a great idea to keep it from being too generic, but make your personality the absolute center of the project, and you’ll be treading too far from popular trends. The very same trends that clients hire us to follow.

Maybe some of us will reach the level one day where our name is our brand. In the mean time, whenever I see a 416, in my mind, I can hear Ernie Anderson’s deep, warm, kind but authoritative voice, saying…

ERNIE: “I am sitting here ******* dying!”

PS: For those interested, I’ve attached a separate audio clip at the bottom of this article that contains a string of Ernie’s outtakes, totaling ten minutes. They’re absolutely hilarious, and just like the samples used in this blog entry, all instances of swearing have been beeped out in the interest of considering those with sensitive tastes. Still, be careful how loud your speakers are when you listen to this.

ERNIE’S (BEEP)ING HILARIOUS OUTTAKES:

Ernie Anderson: Not only was he a legendary voice actor, but if the outtake at 7:39 is anything to go by, then if he had a horse, he’d buy it oats and **** it.

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG Entry #7: Why My Honor Is Questionable…no, I mean why some people in the VO industry question integrity because of choices in audio equipment. What did you think I meant?

HOW DAAAAARE YOOUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!

DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:

“How dare you suggest my equipment is bad!”….

This is the subtext that seems to permeate many discussions on audio equipment…and it concerns me a tad.

Before I go any further, I should make one thing perfectly clear, this particular entry isn’t gonna be about audio equipment. I mean, not really. Kinda. I won’t mention specific names of audio equipment. I mean, I will, but not in the context of recommending them. I mean, I will kinda but I…okay, just….just listen. Or read, if you’re not listeni–I mean…ugh…just move on. Bottom line, it’s more about honor and integrity.

If you’ve been in VO for more than two minutes, you’ll know that there are countless forum posts, forum discussions, Facebook groups, online tutorials, and general buzz about recording equipment. What a microphone is, what a preamp is, what an audio interface is, what a mixer is and whether or not you need one, mic positioning, acoustic materials, proper computer set-up, appropriate noise floor, whether or not Pro Tools is overkill for VO, the best pieces of equipment to buy…the list could make your head explode if you’re not overly interested in the technical details. I wasn’t at first, but came to be obsessed with the technical details. Firstly because I found them interesting, and secondly I wanted to translate the endless chatter that there seemed to be on the internets about this topic.

As I said earlier though, I’m not going to talk about audio equipment. Rather, I want to talk about a subtext that seems to be emerging from all this chatter. You see, what struck me about all this chatter is just how heated it could get. It starts out as general information, then somewhat passionate, then heated, and on select occasions, it evolves into spiteful back-and-forth arguments over what equipment is the best. I like to believe that I’ve never been in an “internet fight,” but the closest I ever got to one happened a year or two ago when someone took issue with a suggestion I made about audio equipment on a forum. I backed out when I sensed that what started out as a discussion began transitioning into a somewhat bitter debate, but I remember being confounded as to why the discussion had taken such a bitter turn…I was just speaking my opinion, right?

Well, ever since then, I’ve been hesitant to participate in discussions about proper audio equipment. I won’t completely shy away from them, but I’ll only talk about them in general terms, because I’ve learned that talking about audio equipment on a VO forum can be like bringing up religion or politics at a casual cocktail party…people get overly touchy about it. I can totally understand why people would get touchy over things like religion or politics, but it took me a while to figure out why people would get touchy over audio equipment.

I don’t claim to know exactly why people get touchy over it…but I have a working theory.

You see, it gradually occurred to me that people who get offended by statements such as “Brand X of microphones really aren’t that great”…are people who use Brand X of microphones. People who get offended by statements such as, “Mixer Y adds way too much noise to your audio chain”…are people who use Mixer Y. Whenever a specific line of audio devices are put down, the people who use that specific line get offended, because they see the unintentional (or sometimes intentional) subtext of, “The audio equipment you use to do your job is sub-par.” In other words, my theory is that people get offended, heated, passionate, or otherwise riled up in discussions about audio equipment because the subtext of honor and integrity in one’s job seems to surface.

So, let me tell you my stance on this: do what works.

I had an acting teacher once who went over the many different methods of acting with us, and during different periods of our class, we would focus on the different methods. At one point, we were focusing on the Stanislavsky method, and it really wasn’t doing that much for me. So the teacher told me afterwards, “I’m telling you to do it just because that’s what the class is focusing on right now. In real life, you should just do what works. If the Stanislavsky method works for you, great. If it doesn’t, then what the hell are you trying to accomplish by using it? Isn’t your primary intend to give a good performance? Do whatever works!”

So, I could tell you that I record in a Whisper Room, and that I took out the acoustic foam in exchange for Owens Corning 703 panels rapped in Guilford of Maine fabric. I could tell you that I use a Blue Baby Bottle mic most of the time (and love it), that I’m a condenser mic purist, that my mics are run through a DBX 286A preamp into a MOTU Ultralite mk3 Digital Hybrid audio interface, into a Mac Pro Tower via Firewire, and that my devices are power-conditioned by an APC H10 power conditioner, and that I listen to my audio through M-Audio BX5a deluxe active reference monitors…

And what have I accomplished in telling somebody this? Relatively little. Everybody’s situation is different. Their voices are different, their recording environments are different, their budgets are different…it’s all so very diverse. So for that reason, I love talking about technical stuff, but you will never catch me defending my choices to the bitter end. I use what I use ’cause it works for me, and you should use what you use ’cause it works for you.

And plus…we all have to keep in mind, that when we send our audio off to clients, they’re not thinking, “Oh it could use a little bit of a boost on the lower ends to give it more umph and bass power.” They’re just listening to it and going…

“Uh……………yeah. Yeah, sounds good.”

PS: Yeah, I know “internets” is not an actual word, but if our President said it though…it counts.

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG Entry #5: Why I Quit…no, I mean why I quit trying to solve this problem I was having with my recordings and enlisted the services of George Whittam. What did you think I meant?

George Whittam, Da Man himself!

DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:

Okay. First off, if you’re listening to this blog, you’ll notice that the volume is a tad on the low side. Don’t turn up your speakers just yet, though. You’ll see why in a second.

You see, this blog entry is essentially an endorsement of a particular audio genius by the name of George Whittam. Chances are you’ve heard of him if you’ve been in VO for even a little bit. Have you worked with him, though? If not, you should! Especially if you’re having problems with your audio editing program that you can’t seem to get rid of.

He’s most certainly qualified—he has hosted several webinars for Voice-Over Xtra on many audio editing programs, he co-hosts the East-West Audio Body Shop (or “EWABS”) show with Dan Lenard, he constructed several home studios for big-name voice actors, and was the personal recording engineer of Don LaFontaine (aka “The Movie Trailer Guy,” aka “The Voice of God,” aka “The ‘In A World’ Guy,” aka “The Voice Actor Who Made Way, Way, Way More Money Than The Rest Of Us Voice Actors”). George also oversees the Don LaFontaine Voice-Over Lab in Los Angeles. All of this to say…George knows his stuff.

Or so I heard. Recently, though, I had the opportunity to confirm this for myself. I was having some problems with my some of my settings in my Twisted Wave audio editing program. What problems, I can hear my hypothetical listeners and readers asking? Well, you’re listening to them right now. I decided to record this audioblog entry using the problematic settings that I had been using before, to give you an idea of what was fixed. It wasn’t a *irreparable* problem per say, but I found myself getting around this problem with my compression settings by taking my audio back and forth between two different editing programs. To say that it was time-consuming is a huge understatement. Because I never settle for anything short of the best results that I can deliver, I decided that my clients deserved a much faster workflow.

But quite frankly, even if they didn’t, I wanted a faster workflow anyway. So…

I tried relentlessly to figure it out for myself, but I just couldn’t. So I figured…”You know what? I’ll give George a shot.” So, I signed up for a service appointment at his website, eldorec.com, and he solved my problem for me. Quite literally, actually. Using this really cool program called Mikogo, which would allow him to remotely view my computer (and allow me to remotely view his), he took my audio file, fired up Twisted Wave on his end, and made his own custom configurations to make sure that my audio sounded the best it could. Through modifying some of my compression settings and introducing some peak limiter settings—all on his end—he not only got my audio sounding good, but saved all of the new custom settings that he had come up with into a file type that could be imported into my own computer. He emailed that to me, I downloaded it, and bam—I’ve got new preferences that eliminated my problem, so that now my audio sounds like this.

See? Told you not to turn your speakers up.

Through it all, he was so calm and calculating, taking his time to explain to me why he was making his particular settings. Which, mind you, he did not need to take the time to do at all since he just ended up emailing me my new settings anyway.

While I have indeed developed a growing fascination with the more technical side of VO—and gave into that growing fascination by buying Pro Tools to learn on the side—the fact of the matter is, I come from an acting background. I don’t mind the technical stuff, and I’m even growing to love it, but it’s still second to my passion for acting. For George to go into my system so easily, and eliminate my technical problems for me, is a huge load off this actor’s mind.

Here’s another way to put it. Have you ever watched the third Star Wars movie, “Return of the Jedi?” You know that small, weird creature that sits near Jabba the Hutt?

All it does is give this mocking laugh, and he’s utterly annoying because his origins are never explained? Well, that’s pretty much what audio anomalies are. They’re annoying, they’re often hard to explain, they mock you at every turn, and you don’t know why they’re even there. If you hire George, he gets all of the annoying audio anomalies out so that you can just go back to being an actor. Can you really put a price on that? Well, sure, George did, but he deserves every penny of it.