Archive for January, 2010

The Schmooze of The Voicegal

When I first started out as a voice talent, (OK, I’ll admit it: pre-internet) the extent of “savvy” marketing was mining the Yellow Pages, searching for local sound studios, talent agents, audio production houses and film production companies  to which to send your demo. Once those leads were pursued, that was pretty much the extent of your opportunities. When the idea of a home studio became a reality, I spend many hours at the library, researching similar leads in other markets — with emphasis on the US Market — and the “sell” of convincing audio engineers to accept a demo from an out-of-town talent was a considerable challenge back then.

Things, happily, have changed. The opportunities are limitless; connectivity means there is less resistance overall to the idea of remote recording, there is less insistence on the part of clients have the talent on-site and “behind the glass” and there are literally no boundaries limiting a well-set-up voice talent from working anywhere and with anyone they desire.

Yes, there are exhaustive leads to be obtained by generally surfing the net and approaching prospective clients via “cold e-mail” — but I have found that nothing beats the face-to-face connection with a concentrated gathering of industry professionals quite like strolling a convention hall floor. It seems like such an underutilized method to drum up work — especially in IVR voicing (my area of specialty) — I can’t recall ever seeing any other voice talent at any of the Telephony conventions I attend, and aside from the occasional IVR production agency leasing booth space to promote their own talent, I’m kind of a wild card; I’m not there to buy equipment from exhibitors; I’m not there to colocate my system with theirs — I’m there to promote my voice services as an *adjunct* to what they do.

And apparently a *necessary* one.

I can tell you from experiences today at IT Expo in Miami, that my efforts were not in vain. It would appear that I definitely seem to fill a niche; I lost count of how many exhibitors – when I proposed the idea that I could handle the requests they inevitably get from their clients about “Who Do We Get to record These Prompts?”, that they were greatly relieved to have a source to refer their clients to — many were relieved at the idea of *them* not having to voice the prompts themselves! (A great many of them confessed to having to do just that.) My association with being the Voice of Asterisk doesn’t hurt my street cred — a majority of attendees already knew who I was, many of them already run Asterisk, and the appeal of having a consistent voice doing their client’s customized prompts was not lost on them.I even posed for a couple of photos with one exhibitor who was oddly star-struck.

Feet are swollen, I’m hoarse, and my luggage will be dozens of demos lighter; nothing takes the place of in-person introductions in a venue where like-minded people gather in an opportunity-rich environment. I urge all voice talent who have refined their practice to a subset of expertise to do some research into which conventions the heavy-hitters in your area of expertise attend (interested in being a gaming voice, for example? A quick search reveals that the E3 Convention might be a great venue at which to promote your skills to those who develop and create video games). The cost of travel and hotel can easily be negated by one or two good contracts; and especially in a industry like ours, where the decision-makers are inundated with demos, a face-to-face intro can go a long way to setting you apart from the other talent.

Next week’s blog will focus in on a very bad habit I had which amounted to the single-most prevalent reason for having to re-do sound files: unbridled (and very unintentional) sultriness!

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The Basics of VoIP

Don't Worry -- Your Fingers Still Do The Walking

When I first started voicing the prompts for Asterisk, I must confess to having absolutely no knowledge about VoIP whatsoever. I only knew that VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) — of which Asterisk was a shining example — is a technology which enables voice communications over IP networks, such as the internet or other packet-switched networks, rather than the traditional Public Switched Telphone Network (PSTN), typically used by the old, pioneer telcos.

That explained all the T-Shirts I kept seeing at the first Astricon, with the Bell trademark inside a red circle with a line through it.  (I thought it was an anti-phonebooth movement…)

Boiled down, it works like this: an Internet telephone call is a conversion of the analog voice signal to digital format and a compression/translation of the signal into Internet Protocol (IP) packets for transmission over the internet. The process is reversed over the reciving end. Easy Peasy!

While the first glimmers of the germination of VoIP can be traced back to 1974 a paper published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers entitled “A Protcol for Packet Network Interconnection”, (it’s on my night stand — really) it wasn’t until roughly twenty years later that  mass-market VoIP services over broadband Internet became available, enabling inbound and outbound calling, unlimited domestic calling, and to some other countries as well, for a flat monthly fee and free access to other subscribers using the same provider. Amazing savings and freedom for the calling public — with unheard of bandwidth efficiency and the low costs that VoIP can provide, businesses soon embraced the VoIP movement readily. Throw into the mix that VoIP has evolved into “Unified Communications” — treating all communications: phone calls, voicemail, e-mail, fax, and web conferencing; as discrete units which can delivered to any handset — including cellphones….it’s an evolution in communications which has been exciting to watch, and will continue to amaze.

There have been glitches. Quality of service — particularly, delays and latency (caused by the physical distance that the packets travel), can be greatly alleviated by relieving the congestion by means of teletraffic engineering. The issue of emergency calls dropping out — due to IP making it difficult to locate networks users geographically — has been a massive challenge technically, and even legally. Factor in the mobility that IP allows (which, remember, is a benefit) — the IP address has no relationship with a physical location. Big problem if you’re hoping the ambulance will find you and remove the whale harpoon lodged in your thorax. The VoIP E911 system — which associates a physical address to the calling party’s telephone number — fulfills the requirement of the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999. However, it’s only as effective as the information it has: subscribers must be dilligent in keeping their address information up-to-date.

Security is another area in VoIP has some fragility: VoIP systems are susceptible to attacks, as are any interconnecfted devices. Hackers can create denial-of-service attacks, harvest customer data, break into voice mailboxes, and even record conversations. Maintaining security and still allowing VoIP to traverse firewalls continues to be a challenge.

Ease of communication. Affordability. Accessibility. Reliability, Not just buzzwords in the telecommunications industry — they’re the cornerstones of VoIP, which is indisputably the present gold standard of communication, and most definitely the future.

Next week’s blog: tag along with me at the IT (Internet Telephony) Expo convention in Miami, and watch the schmooze habits of the Voicegal! Many demos will be handed out! There might even be some on-the-spot outgoing messages recorded on prospective client’s cell phones….all in the name of marketing, and convincing them that mine is the voice they need on their systems!

Do We Really Need to Say That?

As a professional voice talent who specializes in voicing all manner of telephone applications — and as someone who’s done it for awhile — I can confess to some of it being quite formulaic. Basically, what everyone wants is a warm greeting for their callers, simple instructions as to which department people should shuffle their calls, and perhaps a courteous after-hours greeting explaining when people can call back and start the whole process again.

It becomes clear to me, though, that there are commonly heard aspects to automated phone systems which people hear all the time — and therefore, because they’re so familiar and widely heard — people are convinced they’re necessary in *their* systems…even when they just plain don’t make sense. Maybe they did at one time — but I’ve composed a list of things which I’m repeatedly asked to voice, which just plain don’t make sense — and could probably be purged from phone trees forever.

1. “Please leave your name, number, and a brief message….”

Is anyone unclear about what sort of information we should leave on a voicemail system? Has anyone *not* known what to leave in a message, and in a panic, recorded: “…so, if you could get back to me about that, it would be great. My shoe size is 8 and a half, my favorite jello flavor is lime, and my address is 10 Main Street. Thanks!” I think we all know what data is preferred in that context. And as for asking for “Brief message”? A veritable invitation for people to ramble.

2. “To end this call, please hang up.”

Watch any child playing with a toy phone (and it’s a big regret in my life that my parents didn’t snap any pictures of tiny me in my onesy playing with my googly-eyed Fisher-Price phone — talk about a demo CD cover! But, I digress…) and what do children do when they’re finished talking? They hang up. Every time. They don’t need to be told. Neither do your callers.

3. “Our website is: WWW….”

I’m going to play the “Caller is Smarter Than You Think” card, and send this out: I think we all know — by now — that most web domains start with “WWW” — correct? I remember the first time I had to say “WWW” in a radio commercial, and thinking: “This is impossible to say smoothly”. It’s become so automatic now, that’s it’s effortless for most people to say — and it’s taken for granted that if you’re talking about a website, most will automatically begin with “WWW”. Unless your web address has a different log-in protocol, and your site begins with “WWW”, you’re safe in just writing “Visit our website at angrysquirrel.com for a full listing of our prices and services.” It flows better; plus lopping off  the “WWW” cuts down on time, which is all important for radio copy.

4. “We Are Experiencing a Higher-Than-Normal Call Volume..”

So, if I’d called ten minutes earlier, I would have gotten straight through to the CEO? I don’t believe it. Especially when you encounter the message during off hours. Most times when I’m asked to record that phrase, it’s a part of the company’s main IVR greeting — it’s not swapped in during the busy times and swapped out for a “Normal Call Volume” message. I maintain that it’s a device to make the company “feel” bigger to you; to make you feel grateful that even got through, and to make you more tolerant of your time on hold. (Plus, writing: “We’re short of call center staff” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.)

5. “Please listen carefully, as our options have recently changed…”

Chances are, if your callers have called in on a  regular basis, they’re probably pretty safe in simply pressing the extension they’re accustomed to, even if there are minor tweaks to the voicemail (and those are usually due to staff changes; it’s unusual for entire departments to have their extensions completely re-assigned.) What I actually frequently *want* to record is: “Please listen carefully, and our extensions have NOT recently changed; I just worked really hard recording these!”)

I think it’s possible to design a phone system which gets the job done — welcomes, sorts, informs, and thanks — and have it written in such a way that it *reads* conversationally…and can therefore be read in a natural, candid way which avoids formulas and cliches.

Thanks for your patience while I took some time off for the Holidays — I look forward to an exciting 2010 of blogging about the telco industry!

Next blog: I will explain the basics of VoIP — that’s Voice over Internet Protocol — and why it’s revolutionizing the telephony industry.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave me some comments!