The Impossible VO Machine!

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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

 

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Learning from Bad Voice Over

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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

 

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Voice 2012: Joe’s Full Presentation

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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

 

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Pay-2-Play Parody Song

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Pay-2-Play Parody Song


by Joe J Thomas

(parody of “If I Could Read Your Mind, Love” by Gordon Lightfoot)

… and if you like this one, you might also enjoy this:

Alone Again, In The Booth

~~~ Lyrics ~~~
I joined a pay-to-play site
‘Cuz I got my voice to sell
They send me lots of auditions
And I’m doin’ really well
Then I reach the part where the paycheck comes
A dollar ninety three
Are you frickin’ kiddin’ me?!?!?
This headset mic is really boss
It’ll take me twenty bucks to pay it off
~~~
If I could read your copy
For a product you’d like to sell
Be on a national commercial
The kind that pays my bills
Maybe I could be on a cartoon show
And be famous on TV
Or a hero in a game
The Simpsons or an Anime
Can’t you see I only need a break
~~~
My fans would think I’m a movie star
With a mansion on the beach
Or maybe even two
With lots of green, I’m on the scene with paparazzi crowding all round me
But for now I should be real
I never learned how to act on stage
And I’ve got to say that they just don’t get it
I don’t know where I went wrong
But my money’s gone and I just can’t get it back
~~~ (end) ~~~

 

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

 

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The Power of Voice Over

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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

 

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Talent and Training vs Tools

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Talent and Training vs Tools

I’ve seen way too many newbies to the world of Voice Acting ask the following questions:

  • “Which microphone should I buy?”
  • “Do I need ISDN?”
  • “What’s the best porta-booth?”
  • “How can I make my first VO demo?”
  • “Who knows a good agency looking for new talent?”

Arrrrggghhh!!!

First things first: Know the capabilities and limits of your own talents.

Second things second: Get the training need to fully utilize all your skills.

Before you spend a dime on tools, booths, mics, mixers, demos, etc… Put in the work needed to be an excellent Voice Actor. Theatre. Improv. Singing. Coaches, classes and even conferences.

Many people find that the answers to many questions will reveal themselves if you’re​ on the right path.

Shortcuts are extremely rare. Take the time to build a solid foundation and you’ll greatly increase your odds of success.

Measure Twice, Cut Once.

Joe

PS: here are all the answers…

  • The one that works best for your voice and space.
  • No.
  • Pillow fort, or rental car.
  • Hire a pro… Only when you’re ready.
  • All agencies want new talent, if you have something they need.

 

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

 

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Singing For VO

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Singing for Voice Over

Singing offers a lot of tangible advantages to anyone in Voice Acting.
For those of you who sing, I know I’m preaching to the choir! (rim shot)

But how long has it been since you’ve had a refresher?
And if you’re in VO and don’t sing, why not?

Although I’ve been in many musicals, sung with choral groups, and even performed musical improv, it had been a few years since I really sang.

Time for a tune-up!
I recently started taking lessons with a new teacher, and it’s given me a renewed sense of confidence in my vocal abilities.

Here are just a few of the areas singing can help with:

  • Tone:
    The pitch of your voice… high, medium, low (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone Bass)
  • Breathing:
    Proper breathing allows you to better control your sound.
  • Timing:
    Learning musical rhythm can help in setting your pace for both segments of the copy and for the overall read.
  • Vocal Placement:
    Chest voice, Head voice, Throat, etc. Placement is especially useful in creating characters and accents.
  • Core Support and Strengthening:
    A strong core is related to your breathing, and can give you more power and energy in your voice.
  • Volume Control:
    Knowing when to sing soft is just as important as being able to belt out a tune. Having a solid control of your volume takes practice.
  • Conveying Emotion:
    Even in a language you may not understand, songs can elicit a great deal of emotion. Learning how to deliver that to your audience is directly applicable to VO work.
  • Communication of Ideas:
    Clear communication is another win for any voice work. Knowing how to form your words and phrases so that they convey ideas is the core of it all.

My friend Marc Cashman even has a chapter in his book “V-Oh! Tips, Tricks, Tools and Techniques to Start and Sustain Your Voiceover Career” dedicated to the concept of “Finding the Music in Copy”. Here’s a short excerpt:

“Copy or text is musical. It has ebb and flow and different keys. It has sharps, flats, rests, words that are held, chopped off, high or low, soft or loud, all the same emphasis or wild ups and downs, with dynamics and crescendos. Copy reads (or plays) like a story/song, with a beginning, middle and end.”

(Marc’s book is available on Amazon, or click here to order an autographed copy)

Sometimes, I’ll even sing the copy just to get a different feel for the way it flows.

Do you sing? If so, how long has it been since you performed or had lessons? It might be time for a refresher to tune-up your instrument!

To close, here’s a number that I’ve been working on.
It’s called “I Won’t Send Roses” from the musical “Mack and Mabel” – Enjoy!

      I Won't Send Roses (Joe J Thomas)

 

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

 

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How Do I Get Into Voice Over?

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How Do I Get Into Voice Over?

We hear it all the time… It seems like a simple enough question, but in truth it may as well say “How do I build a house?”

The answer depends on many things, including:

  • Who’s asking the question?
  • What genre of VO are they pursuing?
  • Do they have prior skills?

Here’s three possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: Albert
Background: Professional name screen actor in movies and tv. Would like to get into animated features.
Advice: Ask your agent or manager to start focusing on VO. Take some classes in mic technique if needed.

Scenario 2: Betty
Background: Was in radio for years, now retired. Wants to get into narration.
Advice: Take some acting or improv classes, along with coaching for a more natural VO delivery. Get a VO demo made when ready, and find an agent to represent you.

Scenario 3: Charles
Background: No prior acting experience, but can do some voices. Loves anime and would like to be an ADR VO.
Advice: Start with the basics. Take acting, improv and singing. Learn to build fully-fleshed characters, not just voices. Then move on to VO classes and find a trusted coach. They can lead you from there.

Too often, we rush into answering the question “How Do I Get Into VO?” without considering who’s asking or what they mean. In order for the advice to be truly useful, it must be targeted to the person asking the question.

In many ways, this is related to a prior post that you may also wish to read:
Joe’s Dump – Advice on Advice

So, next time you hear this question, maybe take a step back and consider before answering. It could be much more valuable to the person who’s asking.

Cheers,
Joe

 

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

 

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Voice Over Limericks!

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Voice Over Limericks Logo

Fiverr Ten
A desperate guy named Ted
Wrote a Fiverr ad which read:
“For five bucks I’ll voice”
“Whatever’s your choice”
“And for ten you’ll get breakfast in bed!”

DAW, Doh!
Is your system a Mac or PC?
AIF, WAV, MP3?
When you’re starting VO
It’s important to know
What’s better? Protools or Adobe?

Re: Union
The union will give you a say
As a group we have more sway Continue reading

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The Myth of Conversational VO

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The Myth of Conversational VO

(aka. “Nobody Talks Like That”)

BlahBlahBlah
A big part of the job of voice acting is auditioning. And a current trend seen in many auditions is the “Conversational” or “Non-Announcer” style. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t see at least one audition request asking for that guy-next-door sound. A friend. A neighbor. BUT NO ANNOUNCERS!

Well, I’m here to tell you, friends and neighbors… there’s very little VO out there in the real world that would be mistaken for an actual conversation. Here are just a few examples:

Continue reading

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