Archive for the ‘General’ Category

5 Questions For Professional VOs

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

5Q:VOThe remarkably talented (and very energetic) Peter O’Connell has been doing a very cool thing lately with his blog. He’s been sending a set of five questions to professional voice actors and posting their responses on his blog. He’s posted entries from a bunch of REALLY talented people and they’re all worth reading.

I was incredibly pleased and humbled to get an email from Peter not long ago, asking for ME to respond to the blog series. I had been following it with great interest and had not anticipated being asked to participate. Needless to say, I was “chuffed to bits” as my friend Peter Bishop would say.

So, go ahead and check out my responses to the Five Questions for Professional Voice Actors!

I’d also like to extend my personal thanks to Peter O’Connell for asking me to participate. It was a lot of fun, and I’ve been enjoying everyone else’s responses- I look forward to more!

 

The Business Of Voice Acting

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

In which I discuss how the voice acting business is, in fact, exactly that.

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Audiobook: Crescent Lake by David Sakmyster

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Cover of the book Crescent Lake, with the text "A Supernatural Thriller" and author's name David SakmysterI’m extremely pleased to announce that I’ve been chosen to be the narrator for David Sakmyster’s horror thriller Crescent Lake! It’s a horror novel set in a small town in Washington State, where informant Nick Murphy is hiding out from the mob and his past. What he finds there is both disturbing and terrifying.

David Sakmyster’s work is highly regarded and I’m honored to be chosen to narrate this novel. It promises to be a good time and I know you’ll all enjoy it immensely once it’s released.

I’m very excited to be embarking on another audiobook for Crossroad Press. Be sure to check out the other audiobook I did recently for Crossroad, Heart of a Dragon by David Niall Wilson.

Web Design Guidelines for your VO Site

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Over on my more informal blog, I’ve posted a set of Web Design Guidelines for your Voiceover Site. Take a look and see what you think- especially if you’re a voiceover artist with a website or you’re working on one!

Web Design Guidelines for your VO Site – Part One

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

In the voiceover-related discussion forums I haunt, it’s fairly frequent for people to request critiques of their web sites. These sites run the gamut from very slick professionally-produced sites to stuff generated by a free webhost and some templates. I haven’t seen a single one that didn’t break one or more of the rules (they’re more like guidelines) below.

This is the first of a series of posts on this topic. I look forward to your feedback!

My Bona Fides

If I’m going to hand out advice, I suppose I should establish why you might want to listen to me- I mean, everyone and their dog is a marketing expert these days. Me, I’m not a marketing person. I’m not going to build a brand, design a logo or craft an image for you. What I can do is tell you what you should do and should not do when you have that brand, logo or image campaign in mind.

NCSA Mosaic Logo, ca 1994 with world and two arms.

State of the art in 1994. Most users of the web today haven't even heard of Mosaic.

I’ve been building web sites since 1994- since about the time the world wide web as we understand it could be said to exist. Before that I built and ran BBS systems, and before that, well - the technology for home systems to communicate with one another didn’t really exist.

While I am not a graphic designer, nor would I claim to be a visual artist, I’ve been doing this long enough to be able to give you some basic rules for making your web site work for you and your customers- and more importantly, to avoid annoying (or outright ticking off) your customers.

I have watched the web evolve and created content for it from its earliest beginnings of simple pages written by hand in text editors with no control over layout, font, or even color rendered on very primitive software to the rich multimedia experience it is today- and let me just say as an aside that it’s been absolutely fascinating to watch.

However, not everyone will agree with what I say here. I’m OK with that. I don’t have all the answers and it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t agree with me. This is merely my advice to you, coming from long experience in the world of the Internet and its culture. Take it for what it’s worth, but make your own decisions. Just be sure you know why you’re doing it and what you expect to gain from it.

Rule 1. Flash is not a site

Adobe Flash Logo, a red button with a white stylized "F" inside

Adobe Flash

Flash (formerly by Macromedia, now owned by Adobe) is an animation platform used to add effects to web sites, provide video capability, such as YouTube‘s video player and a lot more. Flash is a great tool for adding some… well, “flash” to your site. I use Flash-based players for my demo reel on my commercial site at VoxMan.net.

There’s a lot of sites that provide so-called “turnkey” solutions using Flash animations as the basis for the entire site. You pick a template, add some graphics and text and you’re off. 

For users, instead of pages you access by clicking on links and getting a new page from a web server, you get one giant Flash animation.  Click a link or button within the animation and it simply changes what you see on the screen instead of getting new content from a web server. Your web browser doesn’t do anything except host the flash animation for you.

So What’s the Problem?

There’s a rather large list of reasons why you don’t want to use a Flash-based site. I’ll give you the big ones.

  1. Not everyone uses Flash. In order for a Flash animation to be displayed, the person viewing your site must have a browser capable of hosting the Flash plugin AND have installed that plugin. For any number of reasons, some people don’t have Flash installed or enabled. Those people can’t see your site.
  2. Apple iPads and iPhones cannot view your site. iOS browsers on the iPad and iPhone cannot display Flash animations. If your site is based on Flash, the only thing someone visiting from an iPad or iPhone will see is a giant ugly message telling them to get Flash, which they can’t do. And they won’t be back.
  3. Flash is not accessible. Anyone who uses assistive software, a screen reader or some other mechanism to browse the web because they have poor or no eyesight will be totally unable to use your site. And they won’t be back.
  4. Flash does not respect the client. The heart of HTML is the concept of separation of content from presentation. That’s why instead of “bold”, you use “strong” and instead of “italic” you use “emphasis”. By describing the content instead of laying it out, clients (browsers) can appropriately present the content according to the user’s preferences or needs. One of the most egregiously bad things Flash-based sites do is simply not resize when the browser is scaled down. If I resize a properly-designed site’s window, the content will be laid out appropriately (within reason). Not so with a Flash-based site, which will simply either float in the middle of your browser on a high-resolution system, or clip past the edges on a lower-resolution one.
  5. You can’t open links in a new tab or window. In any modern web browser worthy of the name, you can right-click (or with Apple systems, hold-click) on a link and be given an option to open the document or resource in a new window. Flash animations don’t let you do that.
  6. You’re adding load that didn’t need to be. A Flash animation must be hosted in a runtime that takes CPU and memory resources on your client. Slowing your (potential) customer’s system down for no good reason is a bad idea.
  7. Flash can crash. Your entire site simply disappears and the user gets a funky error saying the Flash plugin tanked on them. Are they going to be back?
  8. Content hosted in a Flash animation cannot be indexed properly by search engines. Yes, search engines can find the text in a Flash animation now; however the limitations are severe and off-putting to users, who expect when selecting a result to go to that result, which is impossible with a Flash-based site which instead will take them to the homepage or initial screen of it.

There’s a lot more reasons, but even a couple of these should serve to give you pause if you’re contemplating building an entire site in Flash.

Image with Flash logo and text "Get Adobe Flash Player"

If this is all people see when they visit your site, do you think they'll come back?

So What’s the Solution?

Some may think I consider Flash evil- not so! I use it for what it’s good for- animation and multimedia enhancements to an existing web site built in HTML. A small widget with a clickable button that plays my demo reel is a great way to use Flash- although it still doesn’t work on iPad and iPhones or on platforms without Flash support.

Let the tools your customers have chosen- their web browser and operating system- work for you. Use web standards like HTML and CSS to make sure your site is at least functional regardless of how someone chooses to access it. Use Flash to complement your content, not present your content.

Rule 2. Avoid Light Text on a Dark Background

Some sites will create a black or very dark background on which the text is displayed in a very light or white font.

So What’s the Problem?

Large amount of white text on a black background

This is very hard to read for a lot of people

In a word- ouch. It’s very hard to read text on a site using dark backgrounds and light text exclusively. Some of the reasons for this are laid out here, but it comes down to some basics. A big one is that a very large portion of the population suffers from some form of astigmatism- up to 50%. Light text on dark backgrounds is more difficult for them to read. When looking at dark backgrounds, the iris of your eye opens more and this has a couple of effects- first, the white text gets a “halo” effect (compounded in those with astigmatism) and second, when you suddenly go to a site or page with a lighter background you’re half-blind until your eyes adjust.

It’s possible to use a dark background with light text to complement a site’s layout; see this site’s footer and header areas, for example. The problem is when it’s the main theme and everything you read is in that pattern.

 Go visit a bunch of sites you like and browse on a regular basis. How many of them are dark backgrounds with light text for their main “reading” area?

So What’s the Solution?

Obvious, really- use darker text on a lighter background. It doesn’t have to be black on white, it can be (as in the case of this site) dark grey on white, which is very readable.

As with anything, there’s some exceptions- this very site uses white fonts on a grey background in some places. You can do some very nice things with complementary backgrounds; used in moderation dark text on a light background can be a nice complement to a site’s layout. Just don’t use it as your main color scheme.

Rule 3. Make It Clean

Clean, simple, efficient. Learn these words and live them if you want to have a great site.

So What’s the Problem?

Using two clicks when one will do, or using five when zero will work. Fancy themed layouts that don’t convey anything and are simply confusing.

This post is about voiceover artist sites. There’s a lot of good reasons for more complex layouts and navigation structures for other types of sites. Forget about those. That’s not who you are nor do they cater to your customer.

You’re a voice artist. Who is your customer? Your customer is the producer trying to find a great voice for their project. Or possibly the client themselves seeking a voice for their project. They’re looking for a voice to fit their needs, and they have a lot of sites to look at, demos to listen to and you’re not helping them if your site is hard to navigate or uses some cute theme meant to fit your branding that is really just confusing.

These people are busy, they’re under deadlines and they are interested in one thing- hearing your voice. And they want to do it right now.  Don’t make them work for it. Put your demo reel on the homepage or better yet every page on your site.  Make it easy to see how to play it or download it.

Next and just as important- make sure they can contact you without having to look for your contact information. Don’t make them fuss about trying to figure out what the various links do. Have basic contact information on every page in the footer or navigation area, with more detailed info in a separate page they can find easily.

Your site is not a destination. It’s your online business card. Don’t design your site to be a comfortable place to spend hours, any more than you’d design a business card to be read sitting in a comfy chair with a cup of tea.

People who will pay you money don’t spend hours at your site.

 They want to make a choice about whether to pay you money, and your job is to get them the information they need to make that decision. Annoy them with strange layouts, themes and backgrounds, and they’re going to walk away to the next URL on their list to visit.

So What’s the Solution?

Simplicity, Efficiency, Cleanliness. Don’t use two steps where one will do. Don’t make people stop and have to parse your themed layout to figure out what the pulsing neon squid does.

Wrinkle Ridges in Mare Tranquillitatis

Maybe not this sterile. Because that's pretty sterile. (Image Credit: NASA)

Now, lest you believe I am telling you to use a bland, cookie-cutter theme with no personality, sterile as the surface of the Mare Tranquillitatis, nothing could be further from the truth. Just don’t put your theme in front of the content. It’s OK to be memorable, or even cute- as long as you remember that whatever theme or style you choose for your site should support your goal, not detract from it by making it harder to get to the content.

It’s important to have a brand or overall theme of some kind- but you must always remember that you are showcasing your vocal abilities and keep the site focused around that goal.

Rule 4. Avoid Saturated Colors

Saturation in color theory refers to the intensity of a color- a fully saturated color is the most intense version of that color you can get, while a fully desaturated color is grey. This is a very simplified explanation, but it serves for our purposes.

What’s the Problem?

The theory and practice of the use of color can (and does) occupy volumes of scientific literature. The basic issue with use and overuse of color in websites is that color, especially intense color, serves to draw the eye. Some colors are better at this than others, but all use of color for this purpose runs into the problem of desensitization to it. In short, the novelty of a bright color wears off pretty quickly. More fully saturated colors are even more subject to this.

In addition, fully saturated colors are harder on the eye (see rule 2). NASA has some interesting information on the subject.

What’s the Solution?

Rectangle with 100% red at top and a gradient to 0% red at bottom.

Top is 100% saturation, bottom is 0% saturation

Quite simple- avoid use of saturated colors, except in areas of heavy emphasis- and even in those cases, keep it to a minimum. Also, avoid overusing color in general. It’s very easy to create a visual soup that’s really “jagged” feeling when you’re trying to read it. Smoother sites that avoid too much use of sharp contrasts and super-bright colors are more friendly. And no, I don’t mean use all pastels or something, just be consistent and use color that’s easy on the eyes.

Some sites use bright colors extensively; Netflix, for example, uses a saturated red as their background but they at least keep it in the edges of the visual space. Even so I personally find their site obnoxiously bright. My rule of thumb: If you can stare at the site for 5 seconds and look away to see bright afterimages in your vision, you may want to revisit your color decisions.

Rule 5. Links Should Open in the Same Window

When browsing a site and clicking on a link, one of two things will happen- the resulting link will open in the same page or it will open a new window for you, leaving the original content displayed. A very large number of sites do this for any link outside their domain.

What’s the Problem?

Anyone who spends a lot of time with a web browser as part of their job absolutely hates links that pop up a new window. If it’s necessary, you can right-click (or hold-click for Apple systems) and select a new window or tab for the link. This is good- it puts the choice in the hands of the reader.

Opening a new window for every link clicked on is not a good experience. Keeping things in one browser window is more optimal and reduces end-user confusion (and irritation!).

What’s the Solution?

Simple! Don’t use the target=”_blank” attribute in your link tags, or if you’re using an editor, choose “Open in the current window”. Your customers will appreciate it.

All that said, there are some rare cases where you may want to open content in a new window. If your page contains a form and the user navigates away from it any data they’ve entered may be lost, so for context-sensitive help or links in such pages you may be justified in using a link that opens in a new window.

Rule 6. Don’t Disable Right-Click

In a bid to protect their content from people copying and pasting text or saving images to their hard drive, website owners will use various tools to prevent users from accessing the context menu in their browser, thereby (in theory) disabling access to the “save as” or “copy” options. If you’ve ever visited a site and trying to right click it gives you a popup saying “Copyright Protected” or something similar, or if you simply cannot select content on the page with your mouse, you’ve run into a site doing this.

So What’s the Problem?

There’s a lot of reasons this kind of behavior on your site is a bad idea. Here’s a short list.

Popup showing text "Function Disabled"

Don't do this to your customers.

  1. You cannot use the context menu. If you disable right-click in your web page your (potential) customer cannot access basic functionality of their browser, including, but not limited to:
    1. Opening a link in a new window or a new tab. Users who spend a lot of time on the web like being able to organize data in tabs while browsing. You’re taking away a basic tool for them.
    2. Copying text. Guess what happens when they can’t copy your phone number or email address to the clipboard? Here’s a hint: It doesn’t end with the word “paycheck”.
    3. Bookmarking your page. I guess you never want them to come back? And yes, they can do it via the main menu but I’ll promise you this: if they don’t normally do it that way, they won’t make an exception for you.
  2. It treats every customer as a criminal. You are basically telling everyone who accesses your site that you expect them to be thieves lusting after your content. The 99.9% of your visitors who only want to use the basic functions of their browser like tabs or copying an email address to the clipboard are given a nasty surprise.
  3. It’s obnoxious and rude. Don’t assert that much control over the user’s browser. It’s not your place. If you don’t want it to be copied or shared, the best solution is not to publish it at all- if you believe you’re protecting yourself from people who want to steal your content, you’re flat wrong.
  4. It doesn’t work. It takes very little effort to bypass a script or tool that disables the context menu. Note that this fact is not a justification for using it! The content has been sent to the user, and you have no control over it once that happens. Disabling these protections for someone who’s intent on doing it is the work of about 10 seconds. The only people you cause problems for are legitimate users.
  5. It doesn’t even slow down ACTUAL thieves. They don’t visit your site with a browser and save your content. Real content thieves are the ones aggregating posts on their sites for the purpose of drawing clicks for ad scams (among other things). You can’t stop them with a technique that relies on a client script because they’re not using a browser. They’re running software that visits your server, sucks down the content and does what they want with it. A chunk of JavaScript that displays “Right-click disabled” does absolutely nothing when the thief’s system doesn’t even use JavaScript. The person who’s going to steal your content is unaware that you tried to protect it. Not exactly good protection, eh?

In the end, using such tools says to your user that you suspect them of malicious intent with no good reason and inconveniences them, again for no good reason. If you are publishing content on the web, it is open for anyone to get ahold of- by design.

So What’s the Solution?

Don’t use tools that promise to protect your content via disabling right-click, obfuscating your site’s source code, using Javascript includes, preventing users from selecting text in the browser window or whatever. They don’t work and they serve no useful purpose aside from annoying potential users.

If you’re worried about people stealing your content, ask yourself this question:

Am I better off publishing this and risking it being copied, or not publishing it at all?

A very simple question, with a very simple answer. If the answer is you would prefer to not let it be copied at all, the answer is simple: Don’t publish it on the Internet, because you cannot protect it. In theory you could use lawsuits, DMCA notices or other legal techniques against someone who does steal your content- and you should know your rights, responsibilities and options in the case that someone does- but in the end you can’t prevent the actual act. You could punish it, but preventing it is  functionally impossible and incompatible with an open Web.

If you’re worried about people stealing your images, you can use a few techniques to protect them. The easiest is to simply watermark them or put a logo on it somewhere unobtrusive. It can be a bit irksome to see that on every image you post, so give it some thought.

 In Conclusion

This is the first post of a series I plan to write over time. There’s a lot of other “guidelines” I think people building a VO site (or any site, really) could benefit from knowing and simply haven’t been exposed to. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

 

Added to the Blogroll

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Greetings, programs! OK, Tron reference out of the way. Bob Souer recently updated his blogroll and has shamed me into remembering that not only did he link my blog from his, I have not updated my blogroll in some time, so I’m taking steps to rectify that!

I’m going to make this a regular thing. There’s a lot of blogs I read and I’ll share them with you as I find them. It’s actually pretty neat how many voice-related blogs are out there and how many people are really avid about sharing good advice.

The new additions

Bob Souer’s blog, entitled The Voiceover Boblog, is always a fun read. Bob’s been doing this business for a REALLY long time and it shows. Wise, witty and down to earth, Bob’s blog is something every VO artist should have in their feedlist.

Dan Friedman has a blog over at soundadvicevo.com in which he comments about the VO industry from the perspective of an audio engineer- although he’s also a voice talent in his own right. He’s also the author of a book getting a lot of attention in the VO world called Sound Advice – The Book.

Bobbin Beam has a blog. Alliteration for the win. Bobbin is a fount of information about VO and consistently finds interesting stuff to read, and lots of great advice for both the aspiring and established voice actor.

George Washington III has a blog called eVOlutionary steps which is insightful, thoughtful and very content-rich. Nice long entries you can read with a cup of coffee and get some good information out of.

Mercedes Rose is quite possibly the most positive person I have ever met. She has a great blog full of no-nonsense advice for the stage, screen and voice actor. With her take no prisoners approach and frank delivery, you’ll always find something useful there.

Stay tuned for more great blogs!

Hello from the new host!

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

I was having a lot of trouble with my previous hosting provider, which caused my site to be unavailable from time to time- not a good thing! So, if you ran into trouble accessing the site, that’s a thing of the past and I thank you for your patience!

Updated the Demo

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Scott Burns was kind enough to adjust my demo for me based on some feedback and discussion. It’s a bit longer at 70 seconds, but the flow is better and I think it much more effectively showcases my voice.

Give it a listen, or hop over to the Demos page and listen to the full pieces used in the reel.

The List of Must-Haves for your Studio

Friday, February 18th, 2011

I’ve been a bit quiet lately, but there’s good reason for it! I’ve been working on a new web site, which I hope to “launch” officially very soon. I also cut a commercial demo reel last week, which should be through post-production shortly.

And of course there was a meeting of the PSVAC, which went very well! It continues to grow, and we’re all as pleased as punch at the return on the time and energy investment we’ve put in.

I’ve also been neglecting my blogroll – bad Corey! I added J.C. Dunn’s blog today, and look for more to be added soon, I have a bunch of blogs I read but haven’t linked here yet.

Speaking of Mr. Dunn, he posted an interesting piece today- A list of “must-have” items for any studio. If you do voice work, go read it, because it’s exactly right. I have another piece to add to his list that I consider invaluable: A dog clicker.

Ostensibly a training tool for dogs, it’s just a little plastic geegaw with a metal piece inside that you can “click” with your thumb. It makes a very sharp snapping noise. When I’m recording long-form pieces, I keep it in my hand or nearby, and if I make a mistake during the read, I pause briefly and click it twice, pause again and pick it up.

Audio Waveform showing a dog clicker used between passages

The dog clicker "snaps" are very obvious.

 Later, when it’s time to edit, I can instantly locate those places I need to make changes, removing the stumbles or whatever. For a keychain widget, it’s invaluable!

Another piece of equipment I’m finding more and more valuable as time goes on is my iPad. I hate working with printed copy as every time I change pages there’s rustling and so forth. What I’ve taken to doing these days is saving the copy as a PDF file and sending it to my iPad. Using an app like Cloud Readers you can even annotate the document with a stylus. A stylus is about 15 dollars at a computer store and worth having.

Now I just set the iPad on my copy stand and any page turns are utterly silent. Bliss.

Using the iPad on a copy stand in the booth

Me with the iPad on the copy stand

Your Turn

What do you consider the “must-have” items in your studio?

Cutting the Demo Reel

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

 I’ve got a demo reel in the works- last Saturday I spent most of the morning working on it. I had a really great time- Scott Burns, the (extremely talented) guy helping me produce the reel, was kind enough to take a photo or two for me.

I discovered something that day- being “on” for hours at a time is bloody exhausting. By the time I was done, I was… done. That night I slept the sleep of the dead, it was amazing how much energy I spent behind that mic.

Corey in the Booth

In the Booth!

It was worth it, though. The session went great and I really felt like I nailed it- like, hard. I knew I must be doing something right when Scott literally grabbed me and hugged me, saying “That was GREAT!” after a take.

Here’s Scott reacting to one of my takes:

What was that?!

What was that?!

I kid, of course- Scott was an absolute joy to work with and I had a great time. If you get a chance to work with Scott, take it. He’s a talented guy and genuinely good people, and I consider myself lucky to have been working with him.

Good times!

Good times!

 I also need to give a word of thanks to my friend Carrie, who was kind enough to come up from Tacoma to Seattle on a Saturday morning simply to be the female part (with a total of two, count ‘em, two lines) in my demo reel. I can’t thank her enough for the help.