The Impossible VO Machine!

Share

The Impossible VO Machine!

Is it possible to build a silent, portable DAW that’s powerful enough for gaming?

That was my quest… and I’m up and running on that impossible system!

Requirements:

  • Light Weight
  • Portable
  • Silent
  • Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
  • Powerful Enough for Gaming

Selecting the Components
I decided to start with silent and portable. For that, I’d need a fanless laptop with enough power to record and edit audio without getting bogged down. That narrowed the field quite a bit. Aside from Chromebooks and tablets, there were only a few machines that met my specs.

Dell XPS-13 2 in 1 Laptop
I chose the “Dell XPS 13 2 in 1” for the base system. Please note: only the 2 in 1 model is fanless and truly silent when running. Very important when I’m in the booth. It also has 2 USB-C Thunderbolt ports, which will come into play for the next parts of the “Impossible VO Machine”.

To handle the demands of a true gaming box, I’d need a higher power graphics card than any silent laptop could offer. For this, I researched External Graphics Processing Units (aka: eGPU). They’re basically a high-end graphics card with a power supply and fans in a separate box. Most also require a high-speed interface. This is where the Thunderbolt ports come into play.

Aorus GTX-1070 Gaming Box
I chose the “Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box 1070” with an included Nvidia graphics card built in. It works best with machines where the Thunderbolt port runs directly to the main processor (as opposed to thru the chooser). The laptop I picked is just such a machine.

With all the essential components in place, I still needed some additional ones to round out the system.

Plugable USB-C Docking Station
The “Plugable USB-C Triple Display Docking Station” works through the Thunderbolt port to provide power and adds usb ports and external monitor interfaces for daily use.

I already had an external HDMI display, USB hub, wireless mouse and keyboard.

Add to that the audio components (Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 interface, microphone, monitors) and the total package was complete.

Using The Impossible VO Machine
For my daily use as a DAW, I’ve got the USB hub connected to the USB-C port, with connections to the mouse/keyboard, Focusrite, etc. The USB-C Thunderbolt port is connected to the Plugable docking stations, which provides power and access to the external monitor. When recording, I use Sony Sound Forge and Sony Music Studio. Video editing is done with Sony Movie Studio. The system runs like a champ. Silent and powerful.

When I want to do some gaming, I disconnect the Plugable docking station, and plug the Aorus Gaming Box into the Thunderbolt port. It also provides power to the system and connects to the larger external monitor for gaming. The fans are not bad, although too loud for recording. But the eGPU has more than enough power to run all the games I’ve tried so far without lagging behind. Truly awesome!

I’ve also used the eGPU when editing video and rendering animation. It really cuts down on the time needed by taking the load off of the laptop cpu for any graphics operations.

To switch back to DAW mode, I need to select “Disconnect GPU” from the tray app, then swap the Aorus out and plug the Plugable dock back in. Very easy to do.

Issues
No system, especially one with this number of components, is without problems. Early on, the Dell Laptop had 2 issues that I’ve found work-arounds for. The first has to do with using Hibernation mode. Dell was initially not happy with it, and would periodically shut down without notice when in Hibernation. I managed to find a fix for that online that involves clearing out the old Hibernation data.

The second issue was more problematic for recording. The laptop internal speakers would sometimes make burbling noises even when nothing was playing. I suspect this has to do with a driver or design issue. Since first purchasing the system, there have been several driver updates. This seems to have corrected the problem. Should it re-occur, I did find a work-around: just disable the internal speakers. (I wasn’t using them anyway – just my monitors and headphones).

Conclusion
So… “The Impossible VO Machine” proved to be quite possible. There are some compromises, but that is always the case. The pricing for all the components is also higher than a normal DAW. Overall, I’m very happy with the end result. It allows me to record, travel, and game… all on one system.

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

Share

An Education in Money from 1967

Share

An Education in Money from 1967

Scrooge McDuck explains many of the basic concepts of money in this short Disney film from 1967.

Although it’s a bit out of date, I’d wager that there’s a lot of folks who don’t have a good understanding of the concepts presented here.

One of the main points I believe has been forgotten: “Money’s gotta circulate!

Arm yourselves with knowledge!

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

Share

The Union’s VO Problem (or not…)

Share

The Union’s VO Problem (or not…)

There’s been a lot of talk in the voice over community about where the industry is headed. Unions, Pay-to-Play sites, Casting.

To be fair, the industry is changing. But that’s to be expected. There are many questions this raises…

How will the change affect us? What can we do about it? Should I even be concerned?

In this post, I will give my thoughts on three different perspectives on the changing voice over landscape. Read on below:

Perspective 1: Voice Talent
The voice talent’s perspective may be the most complicated. There are a wide range of genres, markets, and opportunities for work. Opinions vary on benefits of union membership, the role of pay-to-play sites, how to market (or not), etc. Each person’s situation is different, and because of that, it’s hard to present a unified perspective.

This also gets to the heart of a related issue: As a group, we can’t get what we want unless we can agree on what exactly that is. Some would appear to be easy. Fair pay. Safe work environment. Professionalism on all sides.

But even on the agreed items, there is no clear consensus. What does “fair pay” mean to each person? In each market? Are some willing to do work others would consider unsafe or unprofessional?

Because of all of these factors, it may be more beneficial to look at perspectives outside our own.

After all, we are selling something. It may be better to focus on what the market wants, and how we can best deliver it to them.

Perspective 2: The Union
For The Union (Sag/Aftra in the USA), the view is much broader than for any individual.

I am grateful for the benefits and standards that the union offers. And I’m grateful that we have some union folks as advocates for us all, but it seems like they are fighting an uphill battle on many issues.

Voice Acting is only a small part of what the union’s business is about. And even then, the lion’s share of their focus will understandably be on the largest prizes. These are often big budget features and high power talent. For the average working Joe, this often means not being heard at all.

Think about it: if given the choice to focus on one $10,000,000 project or ten-thousand $1,000 projects, which would you choose?

This isn’t an excuse, but it is a reason. There’s only so much time in a day. In order to keep up, the union has to stay relevant in the bigger game.

We do benefit indirectly from this. There are always roles in the big projects for the average working Joe. But we’ve got to be honest with ourselves: If you’re not famous, the union is less focused on your concerns.

It is about business, after all. As is voice acting.

Perspective 3: The Client
Although individual clients may vary, there are many common things they all want.

A voice that matches their ideas for the product or service. Professional behavior. A good price.

In some cases, they may know exactly what they want and how much they’re willing to pay. Others may require a bit more work on our part. Customer service has to include discovering the customer’s needs and fulfilling them to the best of our ability.

All customer’s time is valuable. They don’t want it wasted with idle chatter or by having to track you down for the job.

Hiring union talent may be important to some. To others, it may represent a hassle. Knowing the difference is crucial to landing the job, and getting continuing work.

Overall, customers want the whole process to be as easy as possible. It’s up to us to find out what that means for each one.

So… What Can I Do?

  • Be professional.
  • Deliver a solid product.
  • Quote fair rates for the work, and stick to them.
  • Focus on the client’s needs.
  • Take direction well.
  • Be friendly and easy to work with.
  • Work with other voice actors on the larger issues. Together, we are stronger.

Other Perspectives
Below is a recent town hall event sponsored by the VO Agent Alliance, Global Voice Acting Academy, and WOVO.

Lots of great stuff discussed, and great groups to follow if you’d like to work together to make a difference. #VoiceStrong

Enjoy:

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

Share

Learning from Bad Voice Over

Share

Learning from Bad Voice Over

There’s a lot of bad voice over on TV.

But rather than just cursing at the screen, I decided to turn my pet peeves into a learning experience.

Below are a variety of terrible voice over performances, and the lesson that each can provide:

1) The EmPHAsis on the Wrong SylLAble (or Word)
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but a lot of this problem seems to happen in medical commercials. I’ve even seen some commercials that were re-cut because the problem was so glaring… only to have some other problem in the new version.
Here’s a few examples and why they’re wrong:

  • INcreased risk (this should have an even emphasis over the entire phrase: “increased risk”)
  • Routine lab MONITORING (“Lab Monitoring” is routine. The lab is not.)
  • Upper respiratory TRACT infection (similar to the prior. You have an “Upper-Respiratory-Tract”, and it has an infection.)
  • I have ASSmah (Not sure why you’d pronounce asthma this way. Just wrong.)
  • Gr-EASY (Greasy rhymes with “Fleecy”. It’s not pronounced like “easy”.)

Lesson: Be certain of your word pronunciation and phrase emphasis.

2) Amateur Hour
For many local businesses, politicians and public service spots, “real people” record the spots themselves. I get it. Money’s tight, and professionals are expensive. But they might be “Penny Wise, and Pound Foolish” in the long run.

When “real people” (ie. Amateurs) speak on camera, they’re often not the same as in real life. The microphone and camera can be intimidating if you’re not used to them. This tends to bring out odd qualities in folks. Primarily, it’s a flatter tone, lower energy (or worse: pushed excitement).

Here’s a couple examples:

  • ENtroducing (the word is “INtroducing”)
  • I could lift mah son… high over my head… again (no need for all those odd pauses)
  • I COULD LEAVE AGAIN!!! (too much excitement. And it’s “Live” not “Leave”. Watch that accent)
  • The best smahl in mah lahhff. (Accent. Again. It’s “The best smile in my life”)
  • Even fahr guys dat don like ta cahk! (fake excitement. Should be “for guys that don’t like to cook”)

Lesson: You can actually pick up some excellent accents and regionalisms from watching “real people”… just be sure you don’t pick up their low energy or fake excitement.

3) Product Misplacement
The most important thing in most commercials is the company or product name. Yet in some, they are mispronounced. Odd how that can make it past so many approval layers, and yet… There it is.

In some cases, it may be due to having different pronunciations in different countries. Car brands Hyundai and Jaguar are prime example.

Other brands may have names that are unfamiliar or spelled in odd ways such as Xfinity or Ghirardelli.

Lesson: Take the time to research the correct pronunciations when you audition. If there are still doubts, ask your agent. And in sessions, listen carefully and defer to the client’s pronunciation.

4) Vile Vocals
It’s like fingernails on a chalk board… Vocal Fry. Bad Singing. Missing letters (“buh-uh” instead of “button”). Slurred speech. Mumbling. Over-Articulation.

Few of us get coaching when we first learn to speak. Just learning a language can be a monumental task for a child. However, when you choose to speak as a part of your career, it needs to be one of your priorities.

Lesson: Proper diction is essential to good voice over work. Consult with a speech coach and address any issues that may hamper your future success.

5) Wanna Be Voices
Cartoons were a big part of my childhood. Anime characters also have a very loyal fan base. I’d watch, laugh, memorize and imitate the voices. Lots of kids do that. It’s fun, and sometimes you can get a laugh from your friends, or when you’re older, the people at a party.

However, it’s a gigantic step from having fun imitating voices to a career in voice over.

With cheap microphones and easy access to editing software, it’s become very common for people to make their own videos for YouTube (read: YouActor), and think that that’s the way to break into Cartoons and Anime.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m definitely not talking about audio drama. I’m with several stellar groups, and there are many fine actors who contribute their time and talents to create compelling stories. But they have put in the effort to be trained on stage, or have taken classes or been coached.

Lesson: We all start somewhere. For many people, that may be imitating voices they admire. But a voice over career takes a lot more than just mimicry. Do yourselves a favor and get training in acting, improv and singing. Perform for live audiences. Get direction and coaching. If you wanna get the jobs, you gotta put in the work.

 
So, the next time you hear some really bad VO, step back and take the time to see why it bothers you. It may alter the way you approach your own auditions and performances.

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

Share

Voice 2012: Joe’s Full Presentation

Share

Voice 2012: Joe’s Full Presentation

Agents, Demos, Marketing, Networking, VO Work, P2P, Unions…

Hear how I got into voice over, my philosophy on business, acting, much, much more!

The full 86 minute presentation is yours FREE!

(and stay for the questions at the end… very informative 😉 )

Thanks to everyone who attended, and those who asked questions at the end.

Joe J Thomas: Banana Baby

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

Share

Persistence

Share

Persistence by Joe's Dump

Persistence:
We Aspire to it in Ourselves,
Admire it in Our Friends,
and Abhor it in Our Foes.

But when is it appropriate?

As the saying goes, nothing feels better than when you stop banging your head against the wall.

Sometimes, knowing when to quit can be just as important as knowing when to push on in spite of the odds.

Only you can make the decision on if you should persevere or throw in the towel. Take the advice of trusted loved ones, friends and mentors into account. If they’re all saying the same thing, maybe it’s time to listen.

If you’re stubborn like me, that can be the hardest part.

Besides, that wall will always be there. Maybe just a bit of a break to clear your head…

Adapt, Adopt and Improve,
Joe

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

Share

The Path of the (Yodeling) Pickle

Share

The Path of the (Yodeling) Pickle

*** Updated June 4, 2018: The Pickle on The McPhee Podcast! ***

*** UPDATED 4/30/2018 STEPHEN FRY TWEET! (at the bottom) ***

Yodelling Pickle by Archie McPhee

      Joe's Yodel (Joe J Thomas)

How did learning to yodel lead to Weird Al, George Takei, The Today Show and Gorillaz?

It all began in 2006, with a contest by the Seattle novelty company Archie McPhee.

They were searching for a yodel.

I was a singer, but had never yodeled. So I consulted the internet and found YodelCourse.org

After some free lessons, I submitted my contest entry and forgot about it.

… until 100 rubber chickens showed up on my doorstep!
Archie McPhee - Deluxe Rubber Chicken

I’d won the contest, and the prize was 100 rubber chickens, plus my yodel in a toy.

Now, the first toy (Feb, 2007) was not the Yodeling Pickle, but instead was the “Remote Control Hopping Yodeling Lederhosen” (with a knockwurst remote, of course):
Remote Control, Hopping, Yodeling Lederhosen

Then in April of 2007 came the now famous “Yodeling Pickle”:
Yodelling Pickle by Archie McPhee

In December of 2008, the Today Show with Cathy Lee and Hoda reviewed the pickle:
Yodeling Pickle - Kathy Lee Gifford
Kathy Lee Gifford sang with it and said “Nothin’ beats the Singin’ Pickle!”

Sales of the Yodeling Pickle were great, and soon they came out with other yodeling products (more on those below).

On December 26, 2010, the Grammy winning band “Gorillaz” album “The Fall” featured the yodel on track 15: “Seattle Yodel”:
Gorillaz - The Fall - Front Cover

You can download the whole album for free at: Gorillaz – The Fall (at Archive.Org)

      Gorillaz - Seattle Yodel

 
On August 5, 2011, Archie McPhee released their own video of the track:

On March 26, 2013: Archie McPhee announced “International Yodeling Pickle Day“!!!

On May 22, 2013: George Takei posted his comedic review of the Yodeling Pickle on Amazon:

My latest Wednsday Weview. This item was NOT what I thought it was. At all. http://amzn.to/14Rz5aU

Posted by George Takei on Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Yodeling Pickle - George Takei + Weird Al Reviews

And on June 17, 2015: Weird Al Yankovic tweeted this (along with a review on Amazon)
“You can have my electronic yodeling pickle WHEN YOU PRY IT FROM MY COLD, DEAD FINGERS.”
Yodeling Pickle - Weird Al Yankovic

On June 2, 2017: Gizmodo posted an article on Gorillaz and the Seattle Yodel Track:

On July 16, 2017, George Takei included the Yodeling Pickle in a video review from Knowable:

Weird Products From Amazon

Because who couldn't use a yodeling pickle? via Knowable

Posted by George Takei on Sunday, July 16, 2017

And on April 30, 2018: Stephen Fry tweeted:
 
“I don’t know what a Yodelling Pickle is, all I know is that I want one. And in an instant absolute and foot-stamping Veruca Salt kind of way”
Yodeling Pickle - Stephen Fry Tweet 20180430

New! June 4, 2018: The Pickle on The McPhee Podcast!
Archie McPhee – PODCAST EP 6: THE YODELLING PICKLE AND THE GORILLA(Z)

Other Yodeling products from Archie McPhee:

Gerkin for a living,
Joe “Yodelling Pickle” Thomas

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

Share

The Power of Voice Over

Share

The Power of Voice Over

As voice actors, we often get caught up in the process, and forget the impact that our voices can have on a production.

Recently, I saw a car commercial from Lincoln named “Olivia’s Wish List”. It was a very cute spot featuring a girl in a car who makes wishes on a snow globe. She wishes for snow, toys, dancing. The audio track is only music (The Philadelphia Orchestra “Suite for Variety Orchestra No. 1: VII. Waltz No. 2”).

I wondered how much the feel of the commercial could be changed by adding a voice over track. I chose a more sinister take than the original, but everything else (video, music) is the same.

Here’s my take on the commercial: “Olivia’s Evil Wish”

… and for your reference, the original is here:

What other ways could you interpret this spot? How can your voice breath life into the productions you’re involved in?

Stay creative, my friends!
Joe

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

Share

Additional Voices

Share

Additional Voices

If you look through my IMdB page you might notice a couple of roles that just say “Additional Voices”. Believe it or not, those are some of my favorite gigs. The other cast members on these productions usually tend toward the stellar. Here’s a few examples where you’ll only see “Additional Voices” in the credits:

  • Walla Work
    When movies and TV shows need filler voices and miscellaneous noises in the background, that’s called Walla. A group of people known as a “Loop Group” are all in one session and become all of the people in a restaurant, or at a county fair, or even running from a Kaiju. (Yeah… It’s a lot of fun!)
  • Minor Characters
    These may be characters in the script with only a handful of lines. They interact with the main characters and move the story along. The shopkeeper. The waiter. Old artist at the park. It’s a great way to play a variety of roles in one session.
  • Voice Matching
    When the original actor is not available for pickups in the post-production phase of movies and TV, an impersonator may be hired to fill in. This also happens when studios want to try a variety of different dialog as scratch tracks before calling in the star to record. It is a very niche field, to be sure. Always a challenge and really exciting to perform. Since the original actor gets the credit for the main role, the impersonator is often credited as “Additional Voices”

So… I’m proud to be “Mr Additional Voices”!

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

Share

The Improv Trick

Share

The Improv Trick

Hey Voice Actor gang!

I’m always recommending Improv as a great tool for voice acting. It helps you to quickly interpret copy, build characters, react to situations and more.

So, if you’re near Los Angeles, check out “The Improv Trick“. It’s run by Second City alum Bill Chott (IMDB page here), and has classes in Sherman Oaks and Pasadena.

Anyone can take the sample class for $20 to try it out. PLUS! If you sign up for the Lifetime class and showcase you can take it again whenever you’d like FREE!

They also have periodic Improv Jam sessions that you can jump in on to practice.

Check out the website for more info at: www.TheImprovTrick.com

… and if you’re not in LA, be sure to look into Rebecca’s Improv for VO (ImproVO), run via Skype at: LoveThatImproVO.com

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

Share