On the occasion of Erin publishing her e-book about how to get started in voice acting, I took the opportunity to talk shop and glean some wisdom from my very talented friend.
I asked Erin:
(1) How did you decide to create an e-book?
(2) When you work with others — producers, directors, engineers, other actors — what can they do that really helps you act? What things make it more difficult?
(3) Tell us about recording ensemble.
(4) Who inspires you?
(5) What’s your favorite thing about being an actor?
(6) When you’re asked to create a character, what kinds of things do you want to know?
(7) What’s your favorite trick, tip, or secret weapon?
(8) If you could travel through time to have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be? And which of your roles would most likely delight that historical figure?
Clint Eastwood got some recordings of Charlie Parker playing his sax. But the recordings were only his solos, and they had been recorded using a reel-to-reel tape machine, just hanging the mic from the chord, draped on top of the stage mic. Clint wanted to isolate Parker and re-record the rest of the band for his film Bird, made in the mid-eighties. That meant Bobby had to figure out how to minimize bleed from the original performance before digital workstations were common, and before robust noise reduction was really viable.
Bobby said he put six analog GML equalizers on his left, and six more on his right, with the signal feeding through all of them. The left EQs were used to cut the backing players… drums, piano, etc. The right EQs were used to bring out Parker’s alto sax. From his description, it sounded like he would work on a passage, or phrase, or even a note at a time. That EQed segment would be recorded to an adjacent track, then he would adjust the EQs for the next segment and punch it, then adjust EQs, then punch, until the whole solo was isolated. Cleaning up that track would be a difficult task even with today’s technology, but I’m blown away by the patience and technique Bobby used to accomplish that isolation with the tools of the day. Inspiring!
Voice actor, writer, and legendary acting instructor Daws Butler has been celebrated in print and live presentation. Here are a few acting tips that I especially enjoyed…
Corey Burton: “They’re not voices, they’re characters.” Let another character inhabit your voice and you can create distinct personalities. These can be as memorable and real as actual people you know.
Nancy Cartwright: “I want to show how to get the words off the page.” Not just acting, but relating.
Joe Bevilacqua: Keep in mind the physicality of the character, the facial structure. Portray the character you are creating with your body. Think about how tall the character is, what age the character is, and where the voice emanates from the body.
Tony Pope: Try the same story in different dialects, different characters. Try to bring something new to a thing you’ve already done. “Never be afraid to be lousy. Always take chances.”
Joe Bevilacqua: Many of his characters had been a voice long before they were animated into a specific character. He collected personalities that he thought were interesting.
June Foray: “Daws would always have a little piece of paper…” on which he kept a list of ideas for voices.
Earl Kress: A comedy principle of Daws was to play opposite–Fast against slow, or slow against fast. Loud against soft. Contrasts.
Listen to the entire Tribute to Dawn Butler.
The book mentioned in the live tribute–Scenes for Actors and Voices–includes some additional tips…
In the forward, Corey Burton writes: “Performing is not simply reading aloud, but delivering the lines as if those words just naturally occurred to the character; as an expression of that character’s own thoughts and feelings at that particular moment in their imaginary lives.”
The words of Daws Butler himself: “We do not read lines–we ‘express thoughts’…in many instances, one ‘thought’ will wipe out another–it will take precedence, asserting its more valid importance to the continuity–this I would call ‘decaying.’ The end of the line seems to ‘fall off’ or atrophy–and the energy of the following lines snaps into position. Its vitality is a refreshment–a transfusion–and it excites the listener, because it seems so natural and spontaneous. Because it is representative of what happens in ‘real life.’ Remember–the actor’s stock-in-trade is being ‘real.’ All else is pretension.
Daws also encouraged: “I want you to understand the words. I want you to taste the words. I want you to love the words. Because the words are important. But they’re only words. You have to leave them on the paper and you take the thoughts and you put them in your mind and then you as an actor recreate them, as if the thoughts had suddenly occurred to you.”
[bold emphasis added by your truly]
When anticipating an audio software upgrade, two major concerns are: familiarity, and stability. Having done a few small projects since an upgrade from ProTools 10 to 12, it doesn’t feel like a lot of things have changed, so I’m feeling good about how familiar it seems. Most of my focus has been on how well the software works or fails.
FADE OUT BUG
I started with version 12.2 and encountered a strange bug with fade outs. When a fade out was scrolled off screen then back on, sometimes it changed from the familiar outlined box with fade line and waveform to an opaque box. The audio played fine, but it prevented the fade from being edited. I found if I would close and reopen the session these fade outs were sometimes restored. Other times a new fade out of the same length was created AFTER the original fade, lengthening the edit. At first I was amazed at how strange this bug seemed, but after losing a lot of time to it I became desperate for a solution.
Luckily version 12.3 was available. I didn’t find any mention of this bug in documentation for either version, so I just had to hope using 12.3 would be better. I am happy to report that I haven’t had any weird fades since moving up.
DELAY COMPENSATION BUG
In 12.2 and 12.3 I’ve experienced a problem with delay compensation. I often buss through two aux inputs, one of which has a dynamics plug-in, for parallel compression. Every time I launched ProTools and then opened a session for the first time, there was a 1024 sample delay on the plugin channel (at 48k Hz rate). If I simply closed the session and reopened, the delay compensation worked fine again. It’s a minor annoyance.
One of my session templates included the McDSP F2 filter plug-in. I hung onto the old version for as long as I could because sliders seemed faster than rotating knobs. My F2 was RTAS, but its AAX replacement was the F202. According to the helpful folks at McDSP, ProTools users need to have v6 of FilterBank installed in order to automatically convert old F2 plug-ins and transfer the setting values into F202.
MAGMA CHASSIS FAN NOISE
My ProTools 10 rig used a PCI card to connect to the HD Omni. The cost effective path to interface with a “trashcan” Mac Pro seemed to be the Magma Express Box 3T. Setup was pretty easy and it worked like a charm. But the fan noise was bugging me. The product literature explained that the fan speed was adjustable, and I even found a How To video on YouTube. Trouble was, that video was for a previous version. The new, improved model was easier to adjust slower, and quieter without getting significantly hot. While the information about how to adjust the jumper was well documented in the product literature, locating the jumper was a bit more challenging. So here’s a sequence of photos to help Express Box 3T owners access the jumper.
Whenever I’ve needed to record out of town, information about studios in that area has been very much appreciated. If you ever need to record in Atlanta, here’s some info about Doppler Studios. This seven room facility is located about 15 miles north of the airport in Piedmont Heights. The Lindbergh Center Station is only 1.1 miles from the studio if you want to take the MARTA subway from the airport.
I’ve worked over the phone with Shawn Coleman for at least a decade. He’s our go to guy for voice recording. He typically works in Studio G, a well equipped room for voice actors, music production, and film/TV audio post.
We finally had the opportunity to show up in person for a session and were treated to working in Studio A, with a larger control room and larger studio proper including a baby grand piano. Shawn knows we like the sound of their Neumann u87. He also hung a Neumann TLM 103 running at a lower volume as a safety microphone in case the actor suddenly shouted (recorded on a separate track). The 40 input SSL 4000E was overkill for the two microphones we used, but it sure was a pleasure to see and hear. Always the professional, Shawn kept the session running smoothly and everything sounded great. What I didn’t know until this visit: Chief engineer Joe Neil makes his own custom microphone preamps, which we used for our recording session. They sounded very nice feeding into the Manley compressor. We recorded at 32bit, 96k Hz because it sounds better if we need any iZotope Declick to help clean up mouth noise.
After our session Shawn showed me their big music tracking room: Studio E. With a 56 input SSL, 3 large isolation booths and a 30′ x 40′ studio proper this would be ideal for recording large groups of musicians at the same time.
So now you know a little more about this fine studio. I hope you find it helpful if you need to record in Atlanta. Now, here are some more pretty pictures.
Someone suggested that older Shure microphones sound better because the quality of the transformers was better. Then my friend Dave recommended that I rip out the transformer all together! Since the Shure SM57 is inexpensive, and the changes are relatively simple, I decided to try my first microphone modifications in the summer of 2007.
REPLACE THE STOCK TRANSFORMER
The good folks at Mercenary Audio sold me some TAB Funkenwerk T58 transformers, designed specifically to replace the ones that come in stock 57s and 58s. First I unscrewed the back portion of the mic and de-soldered the contacts from the stock transformer to the microphone element. Then I released the XLR connector at the base and de-soldered it.
The next part was tricky… I had to remove the old transformer from the mic body, which was held in place by some sort of rubbery glue. The folks at Mercenary gave me a hot tip: put the lower body of the mic (not the element!) in a toaster oven for 3-5 minutes. Despite warnings I still managed to burn myself. And some of the glue spilled onto the metal tray. Bummer. That stuff would not come off, rendering it unsuitable for cooking food. But it did break the stock transformer free.
Then I needed to insert the new transformer and attach it so that it wouldn’t bounce around inside. A dot of double stick foam seemed to work pretty well. Now I have to admit this doesn’t form the same acoustical cavity formed by that gooey glue. So the new transformer may not be the only significant change. But since I didn’t seem to have a large supply of industrial glue or the manufacturing setup to apply it without trashing other parts of the mic in the process, I decided the sticky foam dot would suffice.
I used a solder sucker to clean off the residue from the previous wiring. I tinned with some good Kester solder because cheap stuff can sound bad. I attached the XLR to the transformer leads. Then I attached the XLR connector to the base and soldered the other end of the transformer wires to the mic element.
I threaded the body back onto the mic. Except for a little glue residue on the outside of the mic, this modified version didn’t look any different from a stock 57. So I added a personal touch, a red enamel “T” for Transformer to help visually differentiate this mic. I call this mic my Hotrod 57.
I nicknamed the next modification Sawed-Off 57. There were two separate goals here: (1) See if I can improve sonics by removing the transformer, and (2) create a low profile mic that is easier to place in tight spots. This mod turned out to be more difficult than I expected. Removing the back portion of the mic was easy enough, but when I went to attach the chassis of the mic to the drain wire I discovered the chassis wouldn’t take solder. So I left the project and came back to it the next day. I decided to try another approach — physically attach to the mic body using a terminal. I took the chassis out into the garage to find out how difficult it would be to drill a hole in it. Piece of cake! The metal was soft enough to accept a standard wood bit in the drill. So far so good.
I soldered the terminal to the end of the wire. I pushed a machine screw through the hole in the chassis, intending to thread the terminal inside the mic body. But the nut and bolt took up too much room inside, so I moved the whole assembly outside the mic body.
I purposely cut the drain wire short so that it would bare any stress instead of the +/- connections. Having cleaned off the old solder and tinned the terminals to the mic element, I finished the soldering by connecting the positive and negative wires. Then I dropped the sawed-off into a SABRA-SOM SSM-1 shockmount. I would have preferred something smaller, but that’s a different project!
My drummer friend Austin brought his kit into the studio as a favor to me. The Hotrod 57 sounded noticeably better than the stock 57 as a snare mic. And even in the somewhat bulky shockmount, the Sawed-Off 57 fit under the high hat better than the other versions. The Sawed-Off had 15dB less output than the other two — no problem up close on a loud snare. And it sounded really great… significantly better than the stock 57 and the Hotrod 57. That was a pleasant surprise. But I also noticed a lot more sound getting in the Sawed-Off from behind. Perhaps the normal frequency limitation of a stock 57 is also a key design feature for the cardioid pattern. It also seemed very likely that removing the rear chassis of the mic exposed the back side of the element to sound that wouldn’t otherwise get in.
Another friend of mine let me put up a bunch of mikes while he sang and played acoustic guitar. This is when the limitation of the Sawed-Off 57 became obvious. That 15dB loss without the transformer was an absolute deal breaker. I like the No Transformer 57 on loud sources like snare and electric guitar cabs, but the Hotrod 57 for sources that have moderate volume.
The sound leakage into the back of the microphone was the biggest problem with the Sawed-Off version. So I decided to return the mic body to the Transformerless version and paint a yellow “N” on it for No Transformer. Someday I’d like to bend both microphones 90 degrees with the Granelli Audio Labs G5790 so they fit better in tight spots.