Friday, August 05, 2011

Some Of What I Do For A Living

[Originally published ages ago on my work-related blog, The Talkback Button, I figure this is worth republishing here since there are probably many of you who had not seen it then. I hope it proves somewhat entertaining. If not, I'll gladly refund your admission price. By the way, when I say "we" or "ours", I am referring to my place of employment, Marketing Messages.]

A few days ago, I was working on a production for a client of ours, a place called Small Engine Warehouse, and it occurred to me that it might be a good one to share with you, in order to show some of what's involved in bringing one of our productions to completion. I won't give you every detail, but some highlights may prove interesting.

First, here is the script from which our voice talent worked, and then the production order I referred to during my work. Please click onto them for enlargement, if needed.

You'll notice the specs - what sort of machine the client has, what sound file is needed in order to be compatible with that equipment, who the voice talent is, the name of the background musical selection chosen by the client, the approximate timing of breaks between speech, etc.

My editing platform will be different for different specs, and the medium used for the finished products will, of course, also vary. Having worked with most of the voice talents for many years, I know what pluses and minuses each one brings to the table - variables such as breath control; whether or not there may be multiple takes for me to listen to and then decide which one I like more; regional pronunciations which may effect certain words; and so on.

I see that the script was written by Hutch, one of our writers, from talking points supplied by the client. It's a good script - clean, well-written, grammatically correct, and should supply little problem for Scott, the voice talent.

Now, I'll give you a sound file to listen to. This is Scott's unedited read of the first paragraph.


Pretty good read. He invests it with proper emotion, energetic but not over the top. His voice is well-modulated and pleasant. I can use this as is, right?

Wrong. Listen carefully to it, with a critical ear. There are a number of breaths that will have to be removed before it meets our standards. Also, he does make one small mistake in the read. Did you catch it? If not, listen again.


The mistake is this: At 17 seconds in, Scott says, "... and have over 25,000 small engines in stock at all times." The script actually said, "... and WE have over 25,000 small engines in stock at all times."

Granted, the "WE" could be understood from the previous part of the sentence, but we always try to give the client exactly what the script says. I'm not saying we're perfect - once in a great while we prove our humanity, as Scott just did - but we have an excellent track record overall. And we think that one of our top selling points is our attention to details such as these.

So, my first job was to see if I could fix this mistake with an edit, rather than having Scott re-voice the whole thing. I scanned the script and saw that the second paragraph contained a sentence beginning with "We have..." Would it be possible for me to take that bit of speech from the second paragraph and then insert it between the "and" and the "over" in the first paragraph? As it turned out, yes. It was a small bit of fine-editing of which I'm justifiably proud.


As I mentioned, the breaths had to be removed, too. Of course, removing the breaths is just the beginning. Each time a breath is removed, we have to make a judgment concerning whether to replace the breath with silence or just remove it and leave no gap. It's a matter of taste, in most instances. And there's not always a "right" answer. Sometimes, you want the flow to be casual, and sometimes you want it to be a bit faster. Mostly, you have to use your ear and then trust your instincts. If it sounds too stiff, or robot-like, you haven't gotten it right.

To give you an idea of how much work is involved in this fine-tuning (which, by the way, not all companies similar to ours do, or for which they may charge extra) listen to this mp3. It contains all of the breaths I removed from the first paragraph.


That's 14 breaths, just in the first paragraph. Scott's whole read had well over 100 which I ended up removing. In addition to excising the breaths, we also search out and remove extraneous little noises that emanate from the throat, nose, mouth, or perhaps from a slight defect in the talent's delivery (popping plosives - a tendency to give a bit too much air to letters such as "p" or "b") or even something as prosaic as an inadvertent kick to a microphone stand; anything which might provide unwanted clicks or pops in the final production.

Here, one last time, is the first paragraph unedited. Please listen again.


And here it is after removal of breaths and other unwanted sounds, as well as with the edit made to correct the small mistake in Scott's read.


Could we have gotten away without removing the breaths and correcting that mistake? Probably. Many companies would send it out to the client that way. We don't. We care about our work and we're proud of our work.

Finally, here is the completed Messages-On-Hold production that went out to the client. If you call Small Engine Warehouse in the near future, and end up being put on-hold for any reason, this is what you will hear.


I hope this was educational and informative. I do take pride in my work.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Buck said...

Well, I thought I'd seen this before, but I hadn't. Fascinating stuff, Jim... and you do GOOD work!

Clare Dunn said...

Honestly impressive! Educational and informative is a given.

Stuff doesn't get much better than a career you enjoy.

xoxoxo, cd

Michelle H. said...

I haven't seen this post before. You take pride in your work, obviously, to show us a sneak peek on how it's done. Thanks!

Grumpy IT Guy said...

One of the things that always drove me nuts about the Lake Wobegon guy ( A Praire Home Companion with Garrison Keillor was that he breathed into the mic.

Other than that though, he's a funny fellow.

New follower, by the way. I like what you've done with the place.

If I Were God... said...

You know, your tag line "Soon, with more better stuff" could be read in two ways. You're promising that future stuff will be "more better" than what you just posted, OR it's all "better stuff" and you'll have more of it soon.

So are you being humble there or boastful?

Soon, with more better comments!

Matt Conlon said...

So... How many folks over the course of your career can say that you've taken their breath away...?

Suldog said...

Thanks, Buck! Thanks, Clare! Thanks, Michelle!

Dear Grumpy - I know a guy by the name of I.T., but he isn't necessarily grumpy. Are you him? Did you get a grump implant?

Dear (Not) God - I am being both. I am humble concerning the current output, but boastful concerning whatever comes next. Always the optimist!

Dear Matt - Well, since we have a somewhat stable roster of talents...

(There's a talking horse joke in there somewhere...)

... I only take the breath away from about 20 people on a regular basis. However, I'm sure the number is well into the hundreds when you consider the many clients and one-timers I've edited along the way during my 20 years at Marketing Messages.

silly rabbit said...

You have a fascinating job! I can see why you would go into this field with your voice... but silly me, I didn't realize that you also do editing. I know... duh.
Thanks for the view of beginning to end product. Interesting stuffs!

messymimi said...

Oh, so that's how those things sound so perfect! This being so detail oriented is another reason you are so devoted in sports -- if you say you will do the work or show up, you do it.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea; I thought the voice talent was "talented" because they could speak perfectly without any breaths or mistakes.

Now I know we owe all the perfection to your talents. You do indeed deserve to be proud.

Sandy Kessler said...

I learned something today and it's only 8:52 Am - no breaths love and blessings Sandy

Jayne said...

As someone whose always been interested in doing voice over work, I find this so interesting.

There's a lot of work that goes into the finished product, quite amazing. Now I know who to go to for a perfect voice. ;)

Daryl said...

Sound men do not get enough props for the way they make everything AUDIBLE that shoild be and removing what shouldnt... YAY SOUNDMEN!

Shammickite said...

I'll comment on your post tomorrow.... right now I was to say: Latest news flash: Twins have arrived.... doubled my grandchild count in one fell swoop! WOOHOO!!!!! I'm a happy Nana.

Hilary said...

I've learned so much from you and my son about just how much is involved in so many aspects of sound production. So much goes on to make that end product.