The Challenges — And Joys — Of Working From Home, Part 1

Do you know what a furnace-cleaning truck sounds like? Most people would have to pause and think if they can access that noise from their memory, but for me it’s firmly implanted in my brain. It sounds like the super-charged vacuum cleaner it is — a high-pitched whirring of a central vac multiplied by ten, and which — even blocks away — seems to resonate throughout an entire neighborhood. Why this sound is significant enough for me blog about is that it also happens to be the soundtrack to my nightmares and for any other recording artist who operates out of their home in a residential neighborhood — that high-pitched roar which can sometimes go on for an hour or longer can derail any recording I have scheduled and put me far behind on my promised ETA’s on sound files. Most commonly heard in the spring and fall — when people’s thoughts drift to cleaning winter’s gunk out of their ducts — the noise usually prompts me to stomp outside, arms akimbo, and confirm my worst fear: a truck parked out in our cul-de-sac, with a large PVC hose extending from the vehicle into one of neighbor’s houses, emanating a high-pitched whine that could wake the dead. I have occasionally asked the technicians how long they anticipate they’ll be — and have at times made of the mistake of mentioning that I’m in  the middle of recording. “Oh yeah? You a singer?” will sometimes be the follow-up question. If I explain that I record telephone prompts, that will usually lead to: “No way! So you’re that annoying voice on the phone? Let’s hear it! Do it!” I’ve even gone so far as to call the company and ask for an estimate as to how long their crew will be in the area — they don’t know. Furthermore: they don’t care. They’re making a living, much like I am.

When your goal is to record clear sound files and to not capture any ambient noise, working from home offers a whole suite of challenges one might not encounter in an off-site studio environment; even the best  sound proofing can’t completely insulate you from aircraft overhead, thunderstorms, dogs barking, a late-rising family member showering, and yes, the dreaded nearby duct-cleaning truck. Even when day-to-day noisemakers such as the washer/dryer or dishwasher can be carefully timed so as not to overlap with recording sessions, there are many unpredictable noisy interruptions inherent to being home-based which provide a constant challenge.

The note which I leave on my front door — which expressly stipulates that no canvassing or soliciting is allowed (deliveries = OK) — proves to be of little deterrence to door-to-door canvassers for charities, evangelists, and the oddest yet: a woman selling artwork door-to-door straight out of her portfolio (I’m generous with my use of the word “artwork” — she bought mass-produced prints at Wal-Mart and slap-dashed some paint on them).  Their presumption is that anyone who is home during the day to answer the door must be unoccupied; brimming with free time — the ruining of takes and general disruption of concentration is hard to articulate to those insistent enough to disregard the note — so I’ve just given up.

Of course, the “pluses” of never having to leave the house in order to ear a living are immeasurable — especially in the winter, it’s a soothing thing to know that your “commute” involves nothing more complicated than negotiating the highway between the coffee maker and the office; internal office politics are pretty hard to escalate (or start) when it’s just you; and aside from the initial outlay of recording equipment, your overhead is almost nil.

The “formality” of your office can also be what you make it; I know some voice talent who are literally in jammies all day; I myself find it psychologically more conducive to doing business by being fully dressed, hair and makeup done. As a voice talent with your own home studio, no one is setting your hours for you or dictating when your work day should start or end — but I find, in order to accommodate clients in various time zones (and to maximize my best energy level — which happens to be in the mornings) I find it’s crucial to keep regular, regimented hours, starting at 8 AM. I front-stack my day with the lion’s share of the recording being done in the morning, and handle administrivia in the afternoon when energy starts to wane.

There are distractions, of course, which must be acknowledged when basing any business out of your home — TV is tempting and must be avoided except perhaps for a smart brief break during lunch. The call of the nap can be tantalizing; a confection that should be saved as an occasional treat on a *very* slow day and only for very briefly.

Next week, I’ll continue this thread of discussion about recording from home, outlining strategies from a wonderful close friend and colleague, Edie Tusor, on her coping skills of working even though construction raged around her — contractors can be persuaded to be quiet for twenty minutes of precious recording time — if the baked goods are satisfying enough!

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