Friday, 26 March 2010

Okay, let's go again...

This week our guest blogger is Mark Ryan, journalist and author of "The Lowdown: A Short History of the World Cup."

I hope everyone enjoys my THE LOWDOWN: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORLD CUP because the process of recording it was certainly an unforgettable experience!

You might have thought that the real hard work was to research and write the thing. After all, it amounted to a celebration of almost a century of football's most memorable highlights. But the research and writing turned out to be the easy part. Recording the history was the biggest challenge.

I met Lorelei King and Ali Muirden from Creative Content at a recording studio in the west end of London. All very rock'n roll and I was feeling pretty confident too, because I've got some radio experience.

Thought I'd better cover myself by pointing out that I might not be able to read 7,000 words without making one or two mistakes, though. Only human, right? They said no problem, we could just go over any tiny errors again as we went along.
With that little safety net in the bag, I thought we would be in and out of there in half an hour. One take wasn't beyond the realms of possibility. This would be a breeze.
Two problems with that little theory:

1. The standards Creative expect of their "recording artists" are rather higher than I anticipated.

2. The sound booth in the recording studio is hyper-sensitive.

Not only did I start to miss out one or two words while reading under pressure, but Ali gently pulled me up for:

a. breathing too much
b. not breathing enough
c. tummy rumbling
d. lips smacking
e. lips too dry
f. lips too wet
g. unnecessary movement
h. miscellaneous "strange sounds"
i. daring to breathe at all
j. just being there, really.

OK, those last two might be exaggerating just a little, but you get the point. They want their recordings to be top notch and they were not going to settle for anything less. So as the narrator, you can do two things at this point. You can burp or even break wind deliberately and defiantly, then walk out in a huff. Or you can go with it and work as hard as you have ever worked in your life to achieve the level they want.

Two hours later, feeling as though I had played against the Brazil team of 1970 on my own, then done another ninety minutes against the Dutch of 1974, I stumbled out of the sound booth with a sense of forboding. Was there going to be anger at how long it took to get everything right? No, they said, all perfectly normal. Apparently, one well-known narrator from the past had even had to take his shirt off in the sound booth because it was rustling too much. That's what Ali and Lorelei told him anyway.

Would I do it all again? Sure. I loved working with highly professional people. Hope the recording that you can now hear is an enjoyable product of that demanding process. Just like those wonderful World Cup highlights, the afternoon in the recording studio will not be forgotten in a hurry by the people who were there! In the end we "got the result," as they say in football. - Mark Ryan

*Thanks, Mark, for pointing out that it's not necessarily a walk in the park! - LK

Friday, 19 March 2010

Do you have what it takes to be a voiceover?

This week, CC director and award winning narrator Lorelei King blogs about what it takes to be an audiobook narrator.

One of my tweeps (if you're not following me on Twitter, please do!) recently asked me if I thought voiceover classes and seminars were a good idea - which got me thinking about what it takes to be a voiceover artist and the best way to get started, particularly in audiobook narration.

I should say that I have nothing against voiceover training - I'm sure some of the classes, particularly the ones that provide you with a showreel, can be useful - but these courses are very expensive. I would suggest that, before investing so much money, you do some legwork yourself.

First of all, you have to be brutally honest with yourself: Do you have the raw material?

Is your voice easy to listen to?

I don't think you necessarily need a 'beautiful' voice to be a voiceover, but you do need to have a tone that doesn't make people want to put a pillow over your face and hold it down 'til you stop kicking.

Are you willing to look after your voice?

This means, first and foremost in my opinion, not smoking. I know some voiceovers do smoke - and whereas the 'smoker's voice' may work for some ads and movie trailers, smoking makes it MUCH more difficult for audiobook narrators to have the stamina and versatility required (see below). You may get away with it for awhile, but if you want a long and varied career - ditch the coffin nails. Looking after your voice also means not straining and screaming too much, even if you're rooting for the Steelers. It means taking care to warm up the voice, as you would any muscle (by the way, we have a free, downloadable vocal warm up on our website).

Can you read more fluently than anyone you know?

This is particularly important for narrating audiobooks. You have to be able to 'read ahead' and to understand immediately the sense of what you're reading and be able to bring it out with your stresses and inflections. You have to be able to read without stopping and starting or hesitation. If you can't, you're unlikely to get very far. It's all about the bottom line, and audiobook producers want fluent readers who need (a) less time in the studio (expensive!) and (b) fewer hours of editing (also expensive!).

Do you have stamina?

Audiobook narration requies a surprising amount of mental strength and physical stamina. You have to read with the same conviction and energy at 5.00 pm as you did at 10.00 am. The voice shows everything: fatigue, boredom, tension, frustration. You have to find ways to keep yourself going when you don't feel like it.

Is your voice versatile?

Different audio publishers may have different 'house styles' - for example, in my experience, UK publishers prefer more heavily-characterised reads, whereas US publishers like narration to be 'straighter' - but, particularly if you're narrating fiction, you need to be able to differentiate between characters, and therefore should be able to at least approximate different genders, ages and accents.

If, hand on heart, you think you can meet all these requirements - great! In future blogs, I'll point you toward some free or low cost ways to get yourself prepared before deciding to invest your hard-earned cash in an expensive course. (Again, I'm not saying you shouldn't do these courses - but do what you can on your own first! You either won't need the course, or you'll get even more out of it, having done some of the legwork yourself!).

If you don't meet all of the requirements (and good for you for being honest with yourself!), I'll be blogging about ways you can improve your performance in these areas.

I'm excited! And I'd love to know how your journey is going... - LK

ps: I'd like to dedicate this post to David Hewson (follow him on Twitter), who proved to me that if you're passionate about something, you can blog quickly! This post took 25 minutes to write - not even close to his 7 minute blogs, but a record for me!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Let's party!

This week we want to share a few pictures of our Christmas party ... held in February...
We're so lucky to have the most incredible team working with us at Creative Content - and we recently threw them a party to show our thanks. It was wonderful gathering our authors together, as well as other people who make things happen for us!

Moaners 'r' Us: The hostesses - who complained to management about the reserved seating arrangements, and were rewarded with free champagne and free platters of food.

You say "tomato" ... Mark Caven, author of "Improve Your Speech: American English" and "Improve Your Speech: American English for Chinese Speakers" with Deirdra Morris, co-author (with David Gwillim, who couldn't make it - he was teaching!) of the best-selling "Improve Your Speech: British English Level 1" and the recently published "Improve Your Speech: British English Level 2"

Always so supportive and encouraging (and quite the charmer), Richard Charkin, director of Bloomsbury and author of "Top Tips for Wannabe CEOs".

East meets West! Slava Katamidze and Charles McCall, authors of "Business Etiquette - Russia"

Our faithful sound editor and head cheerleader, Alan Muirden.

We had a great time - and can't wait 'til the next one!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Team me up, Scotty!

CC director Ali Muirden's husband (and CC sound editor) Alan Muirden talks about teamwork.

This week I wanted to emphasise the importance of working together when it comes to running a business .

Teamwork is VERY important in Creative Content (CC). Ali and Lorelei work EXTREMELY closely, even though they are often not in the same room (all praise the power of eMAIL !) . All decisions are taken jointly and all end results and responsibility for those decisions, jointly shared. That’s the first and most important part of building a great team - shared responsibility…

So in CC things are off to a GREAT start! If you then add the “expanded” team of great people - cascading down from the top and spreading out to cover all aspects of how to run the business well - Ali and Lorelei’s decision making is aided to great degree by having the right people in this team. I’m talking about: authors, recording studio staff, editing and audio production people, designers, accounts and legal staff, and crucially…customers.

Finally, to make all of this gel, you have to have the right CHEMISTRY. This is a very strange and sometimes surreal element - in Creative Content there has always been that special “something”: hard to define, hard to explain, hard to understand, but easy to see when you get the right people working together.

By the time you read this, the first Creative Content “event” will have taken place in London. This was a chance for the “core” Team (Ali and Lorelei) to get together with the “expanded” team (everyone else) and have a chance to all be in the same room at the same time - a great opportunity for everyone to meet up and realise that each person makes a difference and each individual contribution makes the collective “whole.”

Teamwork isn’t rocket science (although in the case of “Scotty” in Star Trek, it most likely WAS erm…rocket science !) Teamwork is all about working together and sharing the load…even in Star Trek !

Keep up with Creative Content and you’ll see how teamwork - works! - Alan Muirden

photo: jsorbieus