Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A recipe for sore throats- Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy?

Over the past 12 months since my recording schedule has become busier and busier with long form narration, I’d been using the tried and tested method of drinking hot water with lemon and honey on a regular basis, convincing myself that this would be a sure fire way to do all I could to prevent sore and tired throats. And I felt fairly smug that I was doing the right thing to help myself.

But guess what? My throat became worse and more uncomfortable despite steaming, warming up thoroughly, taking rest days, resting when I wasn’t working, and of course drinking cups of lemon and honey. I began to panic - I love Voice acting and I became concerned that I couldn’t sustain this as a career owing to discomfort. I became tense, and my neck and shoulders tightened, which consequently had an impact on my throat and larynx, which no doubt made the whole situation worse!

I booked in to see and ENT specialist (Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist) and waited for my appointment date to come through.  A few months later I met the Consultant who whisked me promptly to have an investigative Endoscopy (yes, a teeny, tiny camera shoved up my anaethastised nostril), freaked out with how weird it felt and with a mild reaction to the anaesthetic spray, hyperventilated  and fainted. Oh the glamour. Came round to find myself on the floor in the recovery position. Oh the shame! Luckily though, the doctor had had a thorough look around my insides before I swooned, and the results showed something that surprised me.

Whilst my vocals cords were perfectly fine  and healthy (thank goodness), the doctor was convinced that the back of my throat was inflamed due to acidic reflux irritation. His first question: Did I have anything especially acidic or citrus regularly in my diet? Well, I have to say I was shocked. All my vocal coaches at drama school had sworn by lemon and honey in hot water. The doctor’s advice to me was to avoid the lemon  drink like the plague for a few months, along with anything else especially acidic. Take some anti- reflux medication for a couple of months to neautralise the effects this had had on my digestive system, and ensure I drink plenty of milk before bed, and avoid eating late at night.

The result? Within just three days, all inflammation had healed. I then had a particularly hectic fortnight of recording on a very tight schedule, and I was fairly convinced the symptoms of sore throat and tiredness would return. But no. Nothing. Of course, the knowledge that I haven’t done anything damaging to my voice and that I haven’t being doing anything ‘wrong’ with my voice, means that I am more relaxed and less tense must have helped too. And whilst I’m sure it isn’t the case for everyone experiencing sore throats, it must be worth stopping the lemon drinks for a while if you are a regular drinker of lemon and you are experiencing sore throats. 

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Audiobooks - A Narrator's Job (Part Two)

Some months ago, I posted Audiobooks -A Narrator's Job (Part One), thinking that a few days later I would compose Part Two. But that's the thing about a Narrator's job. Sometimes it doesn't rain, and then it pours. I have been practically locked in the booth, creating incredible audio versions of some astonishingly well-written books for endless weeks! And now that the storm has subsided to a reasonable British kind of drizzle, I finally have time to write the next segment.

So. After all that preparation of reading, researching, character and accent study, it is time to hit the booth. But first things first, WARM UP! I have learned the hard way that not warming up thoroughly before long audiobook recording sessions can have real consequences down the line, both in terms of the quality and the consistency of my work, but also in my vocal health. As a result, I begin my recording days with a lot of humming, trilling, stretching out and steaming my vocal cords. I bought the best steamer I have come across recently, as used and recommended by many West End singer- leading-lady friends of mine, who swear by them in their dressing rooms. The Dr Nelson's Inhaler  is great as you can steam the vocal cords without having to get your chin or nose wet like with so many other steamers (plus the vintage style is very en vogue). I now consider steaming as an integral part of the narration process - prevention rather than cure for vocal strain symptoms.

I stretch. I consciously loosen the muscles in my shoulders and neck. Sometimes I start my day off with a few yoga-style poses and stretches to prepare. Sitting or standing for long periods of time can greatly affect you physically, and I like to be ready to combat or avoid those discomforts. I recently reacquainted myself with Alexander Technique classes too, as it is now (cough) a few years since I last took them at Drama school, where they were compulsory. They help me be mindful of not carrying unnecessary tension as I speak and stand.

If part way through a book, I listen (as I steam) to the last 5 or 10 minutes of audio in the last chapter I recorded, to remind me of tone, pacing, and emotional intensity of the part of the story the listener will currently be experiencing. If I am working from my home studio, then I check that all of my levels on my mixing desk or audio interface are the same as the previous day, and I check that the microphone is still at the same height and distance as before.  (Sometimes if I have been working on commercial work using my ISDN line/Source Connect/ipDTL these need to be adjusted quite significantly). I always keep a written note of what all the settings are at the start of a book. If working in an outside studio, I am thankful that this is one part of the process that the engineer can look after.

I tend to use Pre Sonus Studio One as my preferred recording software for narration work, as it works, and it is free! From time to time I consider swopping to PRo Tools, but an engineer I work with closely keeps reminding me that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I know this software well, and it works for my purposes. I set Studio One to allow me to Punch and Roll record, (or Pre-Roll as some refer to it), and I'm ready to go.

And then the narration begins!

If case you missed it, Audiobooks- A Narrator's Job (Part One) is available here.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Audiobooks - A Narrator's Job ( Part One)

When I tell people that I'm an Audiobook Narrator, I often get the response, 'Oh, so you just read books then?'.  There's just a teensy bit more to it than that!

I thought I'd share with you the steps I take in producing an Audiobook, beginning with the all important Preparation.

My prep work begins with downloading the manuscript onto iAnnotate on my iPad, whilst I make a cup of tea (I'm British through and through). iAnnotate is a fantastic App that enables you to read, mark up and add comments to PDF's and other Word documents. It even has the function to record your own voice, and leave the recording over a particular word for you to listen to later on. It has streamlined my prep processes, and leaves everything in one place. I haven't worked off a paper  copy of an actual book in a long time. Utilizing my iPad means that when I come to record, there are no pages to turn, and if you are careful, little sound from scrolling the page.

Before I get stuck in reading the book, I'll try to find out as much as I can about the Author, and any other books in the series if they exist. This gives me an insight into their common readerships, which may inform my interpretation of the book. I'll most often reach out to the Rights Holder or Author to find out if there are any preferences for pronunciation, and to build a rapport (which really helps when it comes to marketing and promotion).

Then I get settled comfortably, and begin to read. As I read, I mark up any words I am unfamiliar with, and I can access a dictionary, thesaurus and even a sound file of pronunciation, right from iAnnotate (although these are not 100% accurate). I then check for further info on, and If I'm working on a US title, I use, and if I am working on a British book, I use the Oxford English Dictionary online. More info about these can be found in my guest blog for Voiceover Herald.

I'll mark up my findings on the iAnnotate file, usually by spelling them out phonetically, and leaving a comment about where I heard the word said. Occasionally with place names, I have to do a real dig around on Google, and YouTube to find exactly what you need. I have been known to call a local tourist office for advice on how to correctly say a town or little known village in some far off place in the world.

I keep beside me an A4 pad, where I list every character that I come across, and any characteristic
details I can find about them throughout the story. I can't stress enough how important it is to read the whole book. In one of the first books I ever worked on, the author revealed in the final chapter, that one of three female first person narrators in the book had a 'light Russian accent!'  I get all the characters down in my list, and when I have pieced together all the clues left by the writer, I then look at who appears when and with whom throughout the story. I try to work out which accents or speech rhythms or intonations would suit who, and how to balance these out so that they are all distinct. In many ways it is like creating a score of music - what sits where and when. I give a lot of consideration to where the 'narrator' of the book will sit in my vocal range, to try to ensure that it is fairly close to my usual speaking voice, as this is the voice that will be with me for many hours in the booth, and I want to ensure I minimise any potential vocal strain.

Sometimes it is necessary to employ a researcher if I am short on prep time, or if the book contains technical, medical or religious jargon that I am unfamiliar with. I will get them to do all the leg work on finding out about place names and pronunciations, and add them to the file for me. I will always do the character work though.

Once I'm done reading the whole book, I give myself time to think and absorb the story and characters before I dive in, if my schedule allows. Often I'll prep a book in the evenings, whilst I am focusing on recording another during the day. I think about what the author is trying to say, and to whom. I give thought to the sub text of the conversations, and on how to create the emotional mood of the story from one scene or chapter to the next.

Once I've completed my read, I sometimes need to reconnect with the Rights Holder or Author to check in with any queries I have. I have been known to have Skype sessions when jargon or names have been particularly unusual. Once or twice I have asked them to record themselves saying the names, so that I have something concrete to remind me when I begin in the booth.

In an ideal world, I would have time for a second read, but being booked out so much already this year, I am going to have to make sure I am extra through first time round.

Before I begin the whole book I might have a play around with recording some of the character voice ideas, and saving the files for reference. This can be particularly useful if I narrate a book which later becomes a series- I can return quickly and easily to the character audio file and delve straight back in to how they sounded in Book One.

And then I'm ready to get recording.

Read more in Audiobooks - A Narrator's Job (Part Two)

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Performing Monkeys: Say No to Peanuts

In the past week alone, I have turned down several clients. This is not always an easy thing to do, (and especially not as we approach Christmas) but sometimes it is most definitely the right one. I am a firm believer in knowing your worth, and in researching the prospective clients. If you are sure they could pay a reasonable rate, based on the size of their company and the usage of the audio content they are expecting you to produce for them, then why accept peanuts?

For those starting out in Voice over work, it can be hard to have a concept about 'knowing your worth'. After all, it is pretty exciting that somebody wants you! Somebody has chosen your dulcet tones to represent their brand or product or company. The prospect of building your list of clients is an exciting one. However, what happens to the industry over time if many VO's continue to accept a low-to-miniscule rate of pay for the bigger jobs like the TV commercial spots? What happens is that there is an expectation that we will all accept those rates and they become the norm. And eventually the upshot of that is that many of us will not be able to afford to be in business as full time professional VO's, we won't be able to support our voice careers, and most importantly we won't have the funds to provide for our families.

I know my worth. I have invested time working out how much I must earn to reach my targets. I have evaluated the cost of all my equipment, my expertise, my knowledge and my skill. And I have worked out for how that translates into my fees, for corporates, television, radio, elearning, IVR and phone lines. I have my rates to hand per project, per minute, per word,  per hour and per session. I have a solid understanding of what I charge extra for and what I don't. For example- is there a fee for live direction via Skype, ipDTL, ISDN? Is there a localisation fee if I am expected to make the poorly translated script flow in 'proper' English? Am I expected to export to many separate files? What are the circumstances under which I provide free re-records? And when are they chargeable? Am I being asked to fit speech to visuals?  I keep my list on view prominently in my studio, and I keep a list in my handbag, so that where ever I am I can access this vital info in a jiffy, without missing a beat if a client requests an approximate quote. I can do this with confidence now because I know my worth.

We, the Voiceover Artists, are not performing monkeys. To do what we do takes, skill, ability, timing and talent. And that deserves to be rewarded in a reasonable rate of pay. There is wiggle room, ofcourse, when I negotiate with a prospective client, I am running a business after all, but there are bottom lines.  I refuse any longer to jump for peanuts. I urge you to spend some hours investigating your own financial worth and translate this into a rate card. It'll be some of the most useful time you ever spend on your career.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Keeping up to date

For many months now I have known that I was in need of an update. Not just demos but headshots and all the promotional material. Website overhauls and all that palaver. The trouble is, I had so little time in my schedule to actually make it happen! So I took all of October to work on it, as I knew it was important to represent myself in a way that I am happy with online.

I had loved my commercial demo a few years ago which I recorded with the lovely Gary Terzza, and I had refreshed it from time to time with completed real audio when contracts and clients allowed. I had been so chuffed with my website and publicity headshots and branding about four years ago when they were done. But times change, and so has my style, both vocally and visually. For a long while I knew that the image I was 'putting out there' no longer fit like a glove.  Also my focus has changed. I have established myself as not only a British female Voice over, but also as an Audiobook Narrator, and I have returned to my acting roots when time allows. So it certainly was high time I sorted my demo's out.

One of the things that held me back in terms of updating my reels was deciding whom I should ask to produce my reel. It is a very different beast creating new material once you have established yourself as a busy VO, to the experience of being a newbie entering a studio for the first time to have a stab in the dark at being behind the mic, or even refreshing after a few years in the game. And I decided that I wanted to go with someone that I hadn't worked with before who could give a fresh approach to how my voice can sound.

Time and again I had heard recommendations for JP at The Showreel from not only Voices but producers, so I decided to give him a go! The waiting list procedure itself speaks volumes about his credibility. He managed to squeeze me in to a cancellation slot thankfully.

I had a fantastic few hours in JP's new studio in Soho. He  really knows his stuff, and worked uber efficiently yet pickily (is that a word?) on getting the content of my reel to his high standard.

You can hear the fruits of our labours here:

When was the last time you created a new demo? Make sure you aren't letting the team down by sounding rusty (after all as a VO you are pretty much a team of one right?!). Styles and preferences change with time, and thought they might be subtle, it's important you try and stay on top of them. So go on, go and get it refreshed. It's given me a whole new lease of life!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Speaking with Respect for the Writer

I've been thinking a lot about words. Not just the ones I speak into the microphone, but you know, the ones actually written on paper (or more often that not on the screen these days.) My summer was bonkers-ly busy with narration, holidays and time spent with my three kids. In addition, the results of a long labour of theatre-love came to fruition, when I performed in production of Paper Dolls that  I co-devised and co-wrote at Camden Fringe Festival this year and gained FIVE STAR reviews!

Scriptwriting, together with my ongoing blog, made me stop and think about all those Voice scripts that land in my inbox for me to put a voice too. Often I am so focused on getting the words right in terms of production (finding the nuances, rhythm, clarity, pitch, pace, intonation and characterisation), that I forget to pay homage to the person who wrote the words in the first place.

Every script is someone's creation. Every script, from an epic novel to a Radio Commercial to  even those less-exciting telephone system Voicemail recordings,  has come into being through a writer. And every writer has considered for whom they are writing, and perhaps most importantly why.

So if the writer has thought about who they want to appeal to, it follows that as the Voice of the piece has to also. How often do you reel off a script without thinking about for the message is intended? Well, it's time to put a stop to that! What is the purpose behind the script you are reading? Suss that out first and foremost and your work will improve dramatically. The purpose and intention of the script is so fundamental to every recording, and indeed every audition demo, that you can't afford to overlook it.

Likewise, the writer will have used specific words, phrasing and even grammar for a reason. And if they wrote it, don't be tempted to suggest you know better (even if you do!). The client is always (well, mostly) right. If you are working in a studio or via ISDN with a client present, it is imperative that you do not offend or comment on the quality of the writing. It is somebody else's baby. If you absolutely must comment on the sense of a sentence, make sure you do so respectfully and sensitively, or you may find that you aren't asked back for a repeat performance. This can be tricky, especially when it is obvious that whoever wrote the piece may not have English as a first language, but with tact you can usually work out if it is appropriate or not to offer feedback.

No matter what the script, it is our job to flesh out what is on the page, exactly as it is.  So bite your tongue, until you need to speak the text!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Putting a Face to the Voice

Working in Voice is generally a solitary experience, working away inside a booth. Having just returned from an excellent networking opportunity at the Audio Publishers Association conference in New York, which gave me incredible opportunities to speak to and connect with the major players in the Audiobook industry, I am full of the joys of networking. And believe me, this is not something that I find easy. But I did it. I attended an Voice conference and Audies Awards Gala on my tod, and I am reaping the benefits aplenty from putting myself outside my comfort zone. So I thought I'd share with you other opportunities for Voice Actors to mix and mingle, to learn, connect, share and grow.
This Friday, June 20th 2014,  I shall be attending The VoiceOver Network's Summer Party in central
London organised by my pal and incredible VO lady, Rachael Naylor. This is the first big event for the network, which has been meeting monthly in London since late 2013. I think it looks set to be a great evening for networking with both my fellow VO's and with producers and agents. There may be a few tickets left, so why not join us? Email

I can also highly recommend VOX, the UK's Voice conference. Last year I was a proud sponsor of the event which provides a forum for debate on the current state of affairs in the UK Voice Industry, with Actor's Union Equity joining the discussion alongside top radio station directors. In addition talks regarding Radio commercials, Video Games and VO Equipment took place, entwined with many opportunities to meet other Voiceover Artists, established and new. The same team, led by fellow Voxy Lady, Posy Brewer are responsible for VOXMAS (which as yet has clashed with my birthday weekend, and so I haven't made it to this!) I look forward to hearing about the plans for VOX2015.

Sound Women is a great opportunity to network with other ladies working in sound and audio, although many work in a Radio presenting or producing capacity, there is something for everyone.  They run some fantastic training and mentoring schemes though, so keep an eye out for their excellent events.

In the US, there is more choice. There is the big one, VOICE 2014, held in Anaheim (actually at Disneyland!), and there is the popular, limited ticket Faffcon, held in Tuscan, Arizona. And I'm sure there are more, but I've run out of time, and my mind has gone blank! If I've missed any obvious ones, please link in the comments section below.

Go on, get out there and network. It is great to be able to put a face to a voice you have heard online, on TV and on the Radio.