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Promotional ideas and technique. Always radio, always positive.

VOX 2016 live blog

This is a live blog of sessions, speakers and themes from the VOX voiceover and audio production conference in Manchester.

For contributions via Twitter use the hashtag #VOX2016

0900

As you can see, I’m truly thrilled to be here…

Steve at VOX 2016

And the delegates’ bag contains rather useful freebies. And, er, a foam shower mic.

Delegate bag contents

Morning sessions – expert roundtables

The morning at VOX 2016 is dedicated to expert “roundtable” sessions. An expert sits on each of eight tables (round ones) and delegates can dip in, ask questions and get fixes for the issues they face. Here are some of them:

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Advice on preparing a showreel from producer Guy Michaels of Voiceover Kickstart. Lots of great tips on making audio demos stand out and grab attention. As you and I know, less is more.

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Sharlene Lopez of Eye Catcher helps voice artists and producers develop their personal brands for their businesses.

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What’s in-store radio all about and what are the opportunities for voice artists and producers? Toby Huggins produces for Asda FM and other in-store services at KVH Studios. He share briefs from account managers to help delegates understand the creative and production process behind his team’s work, and the scripts they yield.

Things I learned today about Asda FM:

  1. It’s all done live.
  2. It says it has more weekly listeners than any other radio station in the UK.

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Barry Short of Audiotake shares the expectations of a producer with packed tables of voice artists keen to know more about his perspective on that key relationship between artist and producer.

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This man is Gary Brooks. He sells insurance. What’s he doing at a radio event? Selling of course, or at least explaining the benefits of the policies available to cover the insurance needs of studio professionals and performers. Did you know you can get cover for:

  • equipment and musical instruments
  • public liability and liabiltiy to employees
  • professional indemnity
  • protection against copyright infringement
  • crisis containment and reputational risk

That’s a lot of insurance.

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Rob Bee is the VOX 2016 studio fixer, helping voice artists who work alone understand how to fix the technical issues that can sometimes interrupt or impair a voice session. Lots of questions about acoustics, AD converters and buffering today.

Also, the features and benefits of different connection technologies including Source Connect, ipDTL and Skype. It’s clear that ISDN is a dying technology, at least with this group of pros.

In a chat with me, Rob says that the single biggest issue in studios is a failure to properly prepare the room and ensure good acoustics. In Rob’s view, that should be the single biggest focus of time, effort and often money too.

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Yaniv from Sonic Distribution is a brilliantly entertaining performer. His microphones from British manufacturer Aston Microphones and ‘halo’ reflection shield are going down well with delegates here.

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Helen Quigley listens to the effect of the halo reflection shield.

1230

It’s lunchtime at VOX 2016.

I’ll have more on the live blog after 1.30pm with Rick Loynes from The Wireless Group and Paul Fernley and Laura Mather from Reelworld.

1330

Dan Seavers (left) and Rick Loynes of Wireless Group

Dan Seavers (left) and Rick Loynes of Wireless Group

Rick Loynes is group commercial producer at The Wireless Group. Dan Seavers is his Senior Creative Copywriter who’s the spit of Richard Osman. Together they work under Group Creative Manager Dave Monk.

They’re doing a session about “3 way creativity”. It’s the partnership between creative, sales and client.

A lovely list of the strange things clients say:

  • “I don’t want anything creative”
  • “We don’t want this to bring us any extra business”
  • “Can you change it to ‘If you don’t like Bob’s Rentals you must be f******* mental’?”
  • “You said the vo would sound like Sean Bean. He sounds too much like Sean Bean”.

and for a client voiced ad…

  • “Can you make me sound less miserable?”

Here’s their basic process:

1. Brief

Dan and Rick explain some of the open questions they ask clients with the aim of finding the USP of their business. They say clients will not often volunteer this information without probing.

2. Creative

Now they’re talking about the creative process. For them, it’s as open a process as possible. Both want to be involved and they like to work with voice agencies that will contribute ideas. Some are very closed.

They make a good point about campaigns – they come up with the campaign theme before thinking about individual spots.

3. Pitch

The most important part of the pitch is when you are getting the client to interject, they say.

They try not to get precious about their copy.

In pitching they propose different types of voice, sfx and music to support their idea.

4. Produce

Their production is collaborative with copywriter and producer working together.

They aim to be brave with their ideas they say.

Lots of good tips for producers: learn your own style and grow into it. Bring influence from different areas of your live consciously. For example, takes influences from his work in animation.

They’re playing part of this video involving Pharrell Williams in which student Maggie Rogers wows Pharrell just by doing her own thing.

Question from Rick: how do you define your own style?

Now, where were we.. oh yes, making an ad for an with a client.

They play some audio which makes us all laugh but will the client like it?

Not always, they say, but the collaborative nature of their briefing, creative, pitching and production process greatly improves their chances of success.

By the way, here’s their client… tricky customer.

Shelly

Shelly

1430

Laura Mather and Paul Fernley from Reelworld.

Paul Fernley - biscuits

Paul hands out some biscuits to appease the crowd before confessing his fears he may have killed the role of the voiceover in imaging. Oops.

He plays some great audio from Beat 102-103, RTE Radio 2FM  and others that use no formal voiceover talent.

Now he’s giving out chocolate to the audience before setting-up a challenge between professional voice artists and the ‘found’ voices used in some of this new radio imaging. This man knows no shame.

Laura Mather

Laura Mather

Laura talks about her time at Absolute Radio and the search for authenticity. Paul picks-up on this theme and explains that “authenticity” is almost guaranteed to be on any client brief and it encouraged him to look beyond the normal voice sources for the talent he uses.

Paul’s competition between voiceovers and ‘found voices’ is hotting up. Having looked at the processes for finding voices from each category Paul has scored it found voices 1, voiceovers 0.

Now Laura’s comparing the recording process for each type of voice. Laura says working with professional voices is so much easier than street cast or found voices. The instant availability of pro voices down the line make it so easy, the best voices bring their own ideas and have their own studios.

On the downside, some pro vos can drift into ‘autopilot’ because of the immense volume of work and the amount of script in a session. Some pros put in more effort for the big brand stations while found voices think everything is amazing and always do their best on every job.

The audience sits in silence. Listening, not angry I think.

Paul says that the found voices who have trouble concentrating, being consistent, having mic skills, and “knowing not to lick the mic muff” is a real challenge that pros never present.

The pros win this round – it’s 1 – 1 at this stage…. and it’s a big stage.

Big stage

Now, the final sound: who will win?

Paul and Laura discuss the pros and cons of using pro and found voices. The freshness and raw nature of the found voices works very well in this high energy imaging but they take forever to record and produce because they are so inconsistent and don’t know how to use their voices well.

For Paul, the found voices win this category… just.

Next category: selling key messages.

The relaxed read from found voices is not very effective at selling. Only 2 of the 12 voices they found for the 2FM project in Ireland could do sponsor tags and in the end the station went back to using commercial voices.

Professional voices win that one hands down.

Final tie-breaker: drinking ability.

Ditto. It’s a clear 3 – 2 win for the professional voiceovers. A pleasing result for this audience.

In summary…

  • Is the vo dead? No.
  • Has the role of a voiceover changed? Yes.
  • Are there more opportunities [places in which] to find good voices? Yes.

Final takeaways from Paul and Laura

  • Make yourself easy to find – do the SEO against appropriate search terms for you.
  • View every job as the biggest job in the world.
  • Find your own authenticity.

Questions from the hall

How much did you pay your street cast voices? Paul says the 2FM voices got around £200 – 250 for a 20 minute session. “Not big bucks but real money” says Paul and it often leads on to other work.

Where’s the first place you look for a vo? Laura says she always starts in her own folders where she collects and labels interesting voices. Paul says she’s frustratingly well organised.

Final question… Darren Altman asks whether the pro voices can sound too “voiceover” and you wish they were more naturalistic? Laura says absolutely and likes to take them to a tea shop to relax them when this happens.

Final point about comms with voiceartists and between producers – use Skype not phone – it makes relationship building so much more easy.

1545

Voices in Animation with Jacky Davis, Marc Silk and Sarah Ann Kennedy.

Sarah Ann Kennedy, Jacky Davis and Marc Silk

Sarah Ann Kennedy, Jacky Davis and Marc Silk

This session’s all about voicing for animation, an area of radio station video production which remains rather rare. Let’s see what we can learn….

Sarah says she fell into voice work having studied fine art and animation at college. Her MA from the Royal College was in animation.

Doing all the different characters is like being a shy actor, says Sarah.

By contract, Marc started as a radio producer and was fascinated by the craftmanship of the work. He worked in imaging alongside other voices where his role was to make them sound good.

His heroes were all from the role of animation – Mel Blanc a leading inspiration.

After presenting his own show for a while, he got an offer from Radio 1 which he declined. Marc reasons that he just wasn’t ready at that stage and continued to nurture his abilities on the radio until the station was sold to a group that “ripped the living soul out of what we did”. Hmm.

At an early point in his career, Marc made a conscious list of the talents he truly had, and his ambitions of what he’d like to do and who he’d like to work with. It contained film legends.

His first animation voice was for Baby Bio tomato food – he was Tommy Tomato.

Sarah Ann says that she tends to use her own voice mostly, in contrast to Marc who does a very wide range of character voices. Marc says you might have one great voice and that’s fine if that’s what everyone comes to you for.

For inspiration, Marc says he takes inspiration from the visuals of the character and information given about their abilities and nature. He also absorbs sounds from people he hears on the street – at the bus stop for example.

Fifi and the Flowertots example with Jane Horrocks: Marc raves about the stop frame animation puppets in this show – made by the same people who produce work for Tim Burton.

Slugsy the slug is a loveable, huggable character in the show. Marc’s initial inspiration came from Bernard Bresslaw in the Carry On movies, slowed down and made more cartoony. So he added moisture. Lots of dribble.

There was a constant refinement of the voice through the series. Marc says he sped up the slug’s speech by series two and that added extra comedy.

Dangermouse

Marc’s in the new series of Dangermouse with Alexander Armstrong and Stephen Fry. In total, he does around thirty characters in the show. In the studio with the other artists, these shows are often recorded like a radio play. You get a better performance when you can bounce off the other artists.

Sarah Ann talks about recording to nothing. You’re just reading without seeing any visuals or having other voices to react to. It’s hard and takes a lot of attention to detail to ensure lip sync accuracy. A ‘dope sheet’ contains all the timecode references, to frame accuracy, to achieve this.

Translations

Marc has done a lot of this, translating foreign animations into English. He says its best if you can just perform it straight but when lip-sync is necessary, a guide track will generally be made first in English.

Marc is a big fanboy of Star Wars – he ends up at Abbey Road Studios working with George Lucas. “What am I doing here?”. He tells a great anecdote about discussing potato crisps with Lucas.

There was no no-disclosure agreement to sign for Star Wars. Just a warning that if Marc copies the tapes he was given that “we kill you”.

Showreels

Sarah Ann says she looks to showreels to find the voices she needs for her productions. She has a very clear idea of what she wants first, usually strong characters. Cosgrove Hall are the same. Other producers like very naturalistic voices so her tip is to find out the kind of work the producers you are approaching make and tailor your reel for their style.

Marc agrees – tailor your reel for the client. Have a critical ear and be honest about what works best. Never include filler material because it raises doubts about your judgement.

It’s wonderful to work with a director who can find something new and fresh in you as a performer.

Best video of the day is Marc singing the wasps song in Fifi and the Flowertots with Jane Horrocks…

Marc Silk video

Sarah Ann explains the wide range of different approaches to production in animation. Sometimes all the audio is added at the end, at other times animators work to a sound track. Sound is 50% of a film and the voice work is a crucial part of that. Essential, and collaborative teamwork is always required.

Questions from the delegates

How do you mark up scripts for multiple characters? Marc says orange highlighter and asterisks down the margin. It’s important to get beyond the mechanics and learn the scripts to get to the character. Sometimes you can hear voices that sound like they’re reading, not truly bringing the character to life.

A question from the hall prompts a point about unusual natural voices. Sarah Ann says Jane Horrocks has a really original, unusual voice which has never held her back. Marc says he met a Cornish woman who was being encourage to lose her accent – madness, he says.

“Find out what it is within you, and the unique thing you have to offer and work with that.”

Young voice artist Abi Philips asks what kind of script to use for a demo reel for characters you’ve invented yourself.

Sarah Ann and Marc say just go for it, showcase your characters and take constructive criticism from anyone who will listen. Marc makes the point that focus on what you do best is immensely helpful.

Working with children – what advice would you give to kids wanting to do this kind of work?

Jacky Davis runs childrens agency Kidztalk so takes this one – it’s no different to any voice.

Shock news from this session – the children characters in Peppa Pig have been recast several times over the years.

Question: if you’re producing something do you do your own casting or use an agent? Sarah Ann says it’s her show so it’s her decision but she does take advice from a wider group.

Question to Marc: how difficult is it to sing in character? Over time, it’s become ok is the answer. They’ve made albums of songs from several of the shows he’s been involved in.

Finally – a three step tutorial from Marc on how to do the Scooby Doo voice. The whole room has learned a new skill.

That’s it from the daytime sessions. The Vox Awards take place from 9pm tonight. Follow #VOX2016 for the results.