“At The Tone, The Time Is…”

 There were early signs — from a young age — that I was going to be a voice-over geek. When most kids were lip-synching into a hairbrush to songs in their bedroom, I, too, was using my brush as a mic — to practice long-form documentary narration. As the closing credits for episodes of The Electric Company scrolled by — the cue for most kids to scramble to the kitchen to find something sugary — I hung around, and read aloud to the sponsorship credits, which went something like: “Funding for the Electric Company is made possible by a grant  from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Ford Foundation, and by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York …” I considered it a personal feat to match the pitch, rhythm and the cadence of the announcer — and *then* went to find something sugary.

I also had an early fascination with telephone voices, which led to me calling the “Time and Temperature Lady” several times a day. It didn’t even occur to me that what she did could be a viable career — I just loved the idea of someone keeping an eye on the time for me, and cheerfully telling me exactly what that time it was, no matter when, or how often I called in.

She’s called Neiti Aika in Finland; Fröken Tid in Sweden, and Froken Ur in Norway (literally: “Miss Time”) Horologe Parlante in France; Zeitansage in Germany, Klukkan in Iceland, Tante Cor (“Aunt Cor”) in the Netherlands, and Zegarynka in Poland. The need for an automated “timepiece” — who also sometimes dispensed current weather updates — knew no international boundaries, and filled a critical requirement for (by that time’s standards) instant and up-to-date information.

Early speaking clocks used rotating glass discs on which different “parts of time” were recorded on the disc. A synchronous motor drove the disc with a power source derived from a 5 mhz quartz oscillator. An actual hand wheel was used to spin the motor on start-up. This was pretty much the status quo until digital systems became prevalent in the early 80’s. They used a built-in crystal oscillator and microprocessor logic control, with solid-state microchips — and no moving parts at all; thought be accurate to five thousandths of  second.

The early time/temperature companies in the US — the first being Audichron; the second being a close competitor, Weatherchron, were known to prefix the time/weather postings with plugs for the phone companies who incorporated them into their systems — one could hear messages such as “A long-distance call is a smiling happy way to visit. Ohio Bell time is…” or “Give people a chance to answer; let the phone ring ten times..” Many of the early prompts were voiced by the legendary Jane Barbe (whom I’ve written about previously in the blog: http://bit.ly/edizit) as well as John Doyle and Joanne Daniels.

With the prevalence of computers, initially, and now the hand-held devices which are a permanent part of our lives (and which give us instant, real-time access to critical information), the need to go through “complicated” measures (such as dialing a phone) just to access the accurate time or the latest ever-changing incarnation of the weather forecast, is yet another aspect of telephony I seem to be blogging more and more about — an aspect which is going the way of the dinosaur.

Pat Simmons -- an early Time/Temp voice for British Telecom

Give the Brits credit for being old-school — to this day, the BT Speaking Clock receives around 60 million calls a year. The US seems to be slightly less sentimental: in September 2007, AT & T discontinued its California service, and droves of states in the US followed suit: the time/temperature services have been phased out as a telephone company adjunct product in every state but Nevada — national time recordings are still available, provided by shortwave radio time signals WWV and WWVH, and in addition, the United States Naval Observatory operates two speaking clocks, in Washington DC, and in Colorado Springs, CO — as well as Microsoft TellMe providing a voice portal designed to dispense time/temp data. In Canada, The National Research Council still maintains a telephone portal to dispense info from their primary cesium atomic clock — but only gives readings for the Ottawa/Gatineau area.

Our need to know — our compulsion to stay connected, up-to-date, and current — has only blossomed over time and with every device we incorporate into our lives which trump the last one in its edginess and innovation. I still calibrate my wristwatch every morning with an excruciatingly exact online clock; my urge to study upcoming weather patterns has done anything but abated. I just no longer have access to a cheery “person” re-setting and re-positioning me in the time continuum — another quaint hallmark of telephony which has sadly atrophied and become obsolete.

Next blog, I’ll be writing about the famous “Voices Behind the Consoles” — in TV and Movies, there’s occasionally an unseen character, made all the more compelling by the fact that they *are* just a voice….thanks for reading! Your comments are always welcome!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.


Phone Phreakers

No acrobatics necessary -- find your toy whistle instead!

Phreaking is a slang term — now a common part of technology nomenclature — which is used to describe the activity of a subculture of people who study, experiment with, or explore (and yes, exploit) telecommunications equipment and public telephone networks. With the computerization of telephone networks, Phone Phreaking has become inseparably linked with computer hacking — often referred to as H/P Culture, or (hacking/phreaking).

While the ultimate goal in phreaking eventually turned out to be — let’s just say it —  toll fraud, by way of “tripping” or “tricking” a telephony network into providing free long-distance and international calls or to tap phone lines, it should be noted that the early phone phreaks were motivated by learning about the telephone network and how it operated.  In his Phone Phreak blog historyofphonephreaking.org, Phil Lapsley admits that phone phreaks pointed out to him: “We didn’t have anyone to call”.  Lapsley further explains: “Think about it: if you’re a typical teenage kid in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, it;s not like you have a far-flung network of long-distance buddies to call.” While free calling is a tangible “payoff”, it becomes evident — the more research one does into the topic — that the mere “sport” of Phreaking; the actual execution of new and intriguing ways of manipulating a system — and the acclaim and notoriety which goes along with it — is actual, calculable reward in and of itself.

While the exact origins of phone phreaking are a little hazy, it is believed that phreak-like experimentation began with the widespread deployment of automatic switches on telephone networks — namely with AT & T, which began introducing automatic switches for long distance and some trunking carriers in the mid-to-late 1950’s.  The automatic switches used tone dialing, a form of in-band signaling, and included some tones which were strictly and exclusively for internal telephone company use. When it was understood — among the growing community of those wishing to hack into public telephone networks — that the frequency for internal use was precisely 2600 Hz, automatic switches became vulnerable and ripe for attack.

That discovery — of that perfect frequency — came about accidentally in 1957 by a blind seven year old boy named Joe Engressia, who was blessed with perfect pitch, and who discovered, quite by chance, that by whistling the fourth E above middle C (a frequency of 2600 Hz), he could stop a dialed phone recording. (It bears noting that — apparently — a large percentage of early phone phreaks were blind or at least, sight-impaired — although with the cloaked nature of their identities, the actual number is unknown.) Engressia — unaware of what he had done — called the phone company and asked why the recordings had stopped. Unable to furnish him with an answer, the phone company likely didn’t give his query much thought — until phreaking picked up momentum.

A man code-named “Bill from New York” discovered that a recorder he owned could also play the 2600 Hz tone with the same effect, and an early phreaker named John Draper (whom I had the surreal experience of sitting next to at lunch during an Astricon convention) discovered through his friendship with Engressia that the free whistles given out in Cap’n Crunch cereal boxes  also, coincidentally, emitted the 2600 Hz tone (earning him his now-legendary nickname “Captain Crunch”). The replication — or matching — of the 2600 Hz tone allowed control of SF (single frequency) phone systems, and it was further discovered that a long whistle would reset the line; followed by groups of whistles (a short tone for “1”, two for a “2” and so on.) Different specially-designed boxes — named different colors (and yet not necessarily painted those colors) were intended for various different phreak approaches: a “black box” would enable free calls made from any home phone, a “red box” for making free calls on any payphone, and the infamous “blue box” provided complete control of the telephone system.

That was single frequency. The most common signaling on long distance networks became multi-frequency controls. What those specific frequencies were, was unknown until 1964, until Bell Systems themselves, in essence, gave away the “keys to the kingdom” by publishing the information in a Bell Systems Technical Journal, describing the methods and frequencies used for inter-office signalling. The journal was intended for the company’s engineers; it soon made its way onto various college campuses and into the hands of those with a penchant for experimentation. In 1971, Esquire Magazine introduced phreaking to the masses with the article “Secrets of the Little Blue Box” — which made mention of soon-to-be-phreaks and future Apple founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. But it was the article which appeared in the June 1972 issue of Ramparts Magazine entitles “How to Build a ‘Phone Phreak’s”” Box” which touched off a firestorm of interest in phreaking — and even went so far as to include simple schematics of how to construct your own “black box” used to make and receive free long distance calls.

Eventually, North American phone companies replaced their hardware, as a measure to move forward with digital switching systems (Common Channel Interoffice Signaling), thus eliminating old-school phreaking practices — new systems use separate lines for signalling that phreaks couldn’t get to. Classic phreaking with the 2600 Hz tone continued to work in more remote locations into the 1980’s, but was of little use in North America by the 1990’s. It was the end of an era — Phil Lapsley says it best: “(Phone phreaks) listened to clicks and clunks and beeps and boops to figure out how calls were routed. They read obscure telephone company technical journals. They learned how to impersonate operators and other telephone company personnel. The dug through telephone company trash bins to find ‘secret’ documents. They solved puzzles.”

There’s few things more satisfying than the fortresses of the giant telcos being circumnavigated; and there’s something intriguing about the resourcefulness, the hucksterism, and the full-out charlatanism required in order to use technology to stick it to “the man”.

Next blog — in two week’s time — I’ll be writing about Speaking Clocks or “Time & Temperature”– the automated time-telling services which have been around practically since telephones were invented, and which are rapidly heading the way of the buggy whip.

Thanks for reading!

Asterisk 101

For those readers of this blog who are *not* involved with the installation, developing, coding, or general hobbying it up with Asterisk (the legendary Open-Source PBX and the fastest-growing telephony platform in the world today) — your eyes may glaze over while reading this particular blog post. It’s a long-overdue primer which will discuss the properties, aspects, and care and feeding of Asterisk prompts.

I’ve been voicing prompts for the Asterisk system since the very beginning; it’s an amazing community of developers who send me prompts to voice; I record them, and then they are freely distributed to the rest of the community. It’s a cumulative building of a massive database of prompts, and the spirit of ordering  the prompts but then setting them free into the community — and benefiting from other people’s contributions — is what has made Asterisk the success it is.

Rod Montgomery

I have a confession: I, like most other professional voice talent, am not an audio expert. Sure, I’ve acquired a rather large working understanding of audio production  in the ten or so years I’ve been doing it full-time — but it’s been gained largely through trial and error, experimentation, and let’s be honest: through some mistakes. I have had a great advocate in many of the Digium staffers who have assisted in untangling various issues — none have been as helpful as Rod Montgomery, Product Manager for Digium, who has been a calm, accessible source of information and who has unsnarled many a mystery, particularly when it comes to clients of mine who are new to Asterisk. The fact that he’s also a major audio wonk on his own time is a blessing. Naturally, I knew he’d be the ultimate source of information for a blog entry which hopefully simplifies the requirements for Asterisk files, and what the likely causes are for difficulties which people may have when trying to implement them and have them play optimally.

Here’s my interview with Rod, which sheds much light on the technicals aspects of Asterisk files:

Rod, as people hear them over a phone line, what file characteristics does an Asterisk file have?

RM: Typical, plain-old telephone service transmits only a portion of the audio that is spoken from telephone to another. The human voice generates sound between 80 hz to 12,000 hz (12 khz) but a normal telephone transmits only 300-3500 hz.  Even though Asterisk supports high-quality audio, the sound Asterisk plays or records is limited by the phones in use.

If phone lines are limited to certain level of hz it can transmit, why am I asked to record Asterisk prompts in high-res (16 bit, 48,000 — actually better than broadcast quality)?

RM: Your prompts are crystal clear, and allow customers more flexibility in their application of the custom prompts. As with digital images, down-converting a high-quality file can be useful; but up-converting a low quality file yields poor results. Recording at such a high sampling rate (48 khz) and bit depth (16 bit) provides the freedom to convert other formats while retaining much of the original quality as possible in the target format. It bears mentioning: Asterisk is smart enough to play the highest-quality prompt available for the type of phone is use.

What happens if someone tries to install the high-quality sampling rate files directly into Asterisk? I understand that files don’t do well transcoding on the fly …

RM: While .wav for mat files can contain data at a variety of sampling rates and bit depths, Asterisk can rea only two kinds of these files: Microsoft WAV format at 8000 hz signed linear (with a lowercase .wav extension) or WAV-GSM, also called wav49, with an uppercase “WAV” extension. The GSM  style is usually used with voicemail records or in email attachments. If you try to play a high sampling rate format Asterisk doesn’t understand, it will throw warnings which indicate Asterisk cannot play 48K, thus cannot open the file, and furthermore, cannot find a ulaw version of the file to play.

Rod, if someone encounters a “scratchy” or “distorted” quality to the files which sound otherwise crystal clear on a standard computer media player, what are the likely causes?

RM: The most frequent mistake I see in audio production for telephony is creating files that are simply too loud. Some audio production tools will normalize files by default, saving them as “hot” as they can. This can cause files to “clip”.  Try keeping the volume levels within desire ranges and keep levels consistent; also, try lowing the volume a bit before converting to Asterisk-compatible formats.

Can anyone convert Asterisk files?

RM: Yes! Digium offers a simple web-based service to convert to .wav, GSM, signed linear, and G.729. http://www.digium.com/en/products/ivr/audio-converter.php.  Also,  the <a href=”http://sox.sourceforge.net/“>SoX command-line tool</a> is popular for converting files in bulk or automating file processing. It’s often available in your favorite Linux distribution.

There are many factors which can also contribute to inconsistency or problems encountered when trying to implement Asterisk files — many of which can be configuration issues on the end-user side. Asterisk is known for its user-friendly nature and its straight-out-of-the-box usability, but when issues do arise, Digium has vast resources available to help troubleshoot: http://www.digium.com/en/supportcenter/

Thanks for reading! In my next post — in two weeks time — I’ll delve into the strange and mysterious world of Phone Phreakers.

Editor’s Note: The Asterisk community recently lost an integral and vibrant member: Arizona-based Asterisk installer Aaron Dahlberg was killed while vacationing in Puerto Rico on March 19th. His enthusiasm for the project was unmatched, he was a good friend of mine, and he will be dearly missed by the Asterisk Community.

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

We’re Everywhere!

You tell her who’s boss!”

The encouraging support came  from behind me, while self-checking some groceries recently. I looked surprised at the clerk who oversees all of the self-check lanes at my local Safeway, and he gleefully continued: “You sure told HER!”

Apparently  — like most other customers who have resigned ourselves to being our own cashiers (and as a sidenote: twenty years ago, if someone had told me that sometime in the near future I would happily ring through and bag my own groceries, I would have told them they were bonkers) — I was actually answering the automated voice who guides consumers through the sometimes mystifying process of scanning our own groceries. I was responding to her specific prompt, in which she says — a little too enthusiastically, as though this is a monumental idea which just occurred to her —  “HAVE YOU SCANNED YOUR CLUB CARD??!” I — a professional voice talent, and quite an apt mimic, matched her intonation precisely as I responded: “NO, I haven’t! But I will — when I’m done! Thank you!”

You would think that myself — so frequently on the *other* side of the mic; recording automated systems which undoubtedly must frustrate other human beings, would be somewhat more accepting and accommodating to following the voice prompts which another voice talent has recorded — after all, we’re in the same line of work, and who better to sympathize with the unforgiving onslaught of monotonous instructions which the customer is bombarded with that someone who creates them herself?

And yet, there I am — expressing frustration with her for simply articulating a prompt that’s merely programmed into the system at a prescribed sequence in the process. I find it hard to hide my ire when she declares: “Unknown item in the bagging area,” when all I’ve done is place my shopping bag there for loading. (Doesn’t she know the difference between a pre-paid-for recycled shopping bag and a rutabaga?)

Maybe what sets me apart from other shoppers is that I *know* — better than most — the “she” *is* an actual human being who voiced the files which eventually became automated sound segments which play in a mechanical way…it takes an actual *person* to voice them — which the standard consumer can easily forget (or never even give thought to), and they are more readily able to dismiss her as a “computer voice.” Even prompts which are concatenated (put into a sequence) via a text-to speech utility, are initially voiced by an actual live person. When I pointed out to the Safeway supervisor that I *am* actually one of these people who voices this kind of thing, the irony of me getting snippy with the system wasn’t lost on him.

Voice talent are everywhere. Any time you encounter pre-programmed instructions “speaking” to you, they are the evidence of a voice talent’s work — and they’re often in non-traditional situations instead of the usual instances where one might hear voice talent (TV, Radio, Telephony.)

While not yet the voice of an automated grocery check-out system, I have voiced many automated prompts which are ultimately designed to facilitate transactions and make life easier — that’s the goal, anyhow. Automated banking systems, public transit stop announcements, kiosks, GPS systems, elevator floor announcements, hotel wake-up calls, parking facility ticket machines, automated taxicab change-dispensing systems, talking piggy banks  — even the talking prototype for the Rhoomba vacuum which runs on Asterisk — I’ve been the voice behind automation in many different forms and for a vast audience. While fully aware that most of the instructions which I’ve voiced simply go by, obeyed but largely unnoticed, I’m all too aware that I must sometimes generate a lot of “talkback” — much like my “dialogue” with the grocery store automaton that day.

My first experience with a GPS system was when I rented a car in Phoenix years ago to attend a convention — I, at first, articulated out loud — upon hearing the female GPS voice’s initial instructions — “Well, you’re not so great! How’d you end up getting *this* job?” She proceeded to get me lost. Rather severely. Like, “Welcome to Montana” kind of lost.  I was  in a snit about not being the voice of Garmin and disregarded her recommended twists and turns — I soon realized that the trip went smoother when I paid attention to “Trixie’s” directions (even though I eventually deferred to her, I had to diminish her by giving her a cocktail-waitress name) but couldn’t help but giggle at her frustrated tone if I didn’t take a sanctioned turn: she sounds slightly exasperated and says: “(Sigh!) REcalculating…” Another favorite is my Bluetooth utility for my car, with a British-accented female voice who sounds like she’s saying “Bugger off!” when she’s saying “Power off!” No, YOU Power off!

Of course, it needs to be pointed out that the prompts have a life of their own — they’re just following the sequence dictated by the computer which runs it; we, as the voice talent, are rendering absolutely no judgement when you entered the code for bananas but didn’t leave them long enough on the scale for weighing; we’re not actually admonishing you when your pin numbers do not match, and there’s no actual commentary behind the pre-programmed message which might tell you that you’re in your overdraft or that you have insufficient funds for the transaction you were planning to do. It may sound very much like another human being is getting on your case — but that’s just a construct of “personalizing” a system which is aurally-driven rather than visual.

And when the Park n’ Ride ticket dispenser issues my ticket when parking at the airport, I’m known for thanking “him” with a hearty “Row J it is! And thank YOU, sir!”

I figure he gets enough abuse from everyone else.

Join me in two week’s time (remember: the blog is now bi-weekly) for an article that’s needed to be written for quite some time: many newer users of Asterisk are hazy about the file specs, the optimal settings, and the basic care and feeding of Asterisk prompts — with the help of Rod Montgomery of Digium, I’ll be writing a much-needed primer on “Asterisk 101”!

As always, thanks for reading, and your feedback is always welcome!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

Zings, Zaps, and Zoodles!

You’ve heard them: those brief, intriguing “blasts” of a short, dynamic tone — or “flurry” as I’ve been known to call them — when you dial into the main number of a telephone system or even when you dial a company. It’s almost a “tone” or “glimmer” which lets you know — especially if their sound is distinct to them — that you’ve reached the right place.

Possibly the most recognizable one today is the staccato piano tone which emits when you reach T-Mobile (and it’s even the ringtone when messages and texts roll in via T-Mobile) — its a distinctive sound which has actually become part of their brand. Lance Massey composed it, and likely had no idea how huge it was going to be. Of course, on the broadcast side, NBC’s 3-note flourish is a classic; the MacIntosh startup tone, THX’s “Deep Note”, and the ever-recognizable “Intel Inside” musical jingle flourish (composed by Walter Werzowa) is firmly entrenched in our conciousness.

I decided a while back that it would be an interesting add-on to mix “flurries” into the telephone prompts I record; I set about looking for them on existing sound effects CD’s I already had in my library and found — in amongst the plethora of intergalaxy outer-space zings and zaps which were readily available — there was a dearth (and not Vader) of the right-sounding effects which would mix well with telephone prompts. I then decided to mine some of my favorite sites where I find on-hold music: www.musicbakery.com and www.soundrangers.com — and posed the challenge to their customer service reps, using descriptors like “logos”, “flurries”, “zaps”, “stingers” (carefully avoiding terms like “telephone sounds” which will give you all the ringtones, dialpad sounds, and out of service tones you could ever want; and wanting to avoid long, broadcast-y sounding flurries which might play as someone lurches onstage to accept an award, or which might sound like a radio program intro — it was key that they were short, attention-getting, fresh, and modern sounding.

This one (supplied by Sound Rangers) has long been a favorite of mine, and I’ve used it often:

Sound Rangers Flurry Example 1

…they even work well capping off the end of a prompt:

Sound Rangers Flurry Example 2

However, these favorite “zings” and others soon became over-used, and it became clear to me that I had to keep looking. I was getting bored with them; I can only imagine that my regulars were, too. They’re just not all that readily available — and actually very hard to find.

Enter Craig’s List. My first foray onto Craig’s List involved me sending out a request to composers who would like to try their hand at designing short “signature logo” sounds for me to use with my client’s files. Only one reply came — and it was the best possible reply I could have gotten.

John Kasiewicz

John Kasiewicz, a composer based just outside of New York City, replied, indicating his interest in giving this a try. Having designed musical scores for films and TV, I knew he had chops — whether or not he was interested in such a wierd-ball project — which was such a departure from what he usually does — was another thing altogether.

Luckily, he took on the project, and with very little guidance or direction, managed to compose several fresh new flurries which I use each and every day.

When I asked him what intrigued him about doing this project, he emphasised that timing was everything. “Around the time you approached me I was thinking a lot about composing miniatures in a variety of musical forms,” explains Kasiewicz. “”Probably similar to the desire some people have for building a boat in a bottle, composing telephony sound effects seemed like a great fit for my current musical aspirations.”

Composing for the limited aspects of telephony sounds posed an interesting challenge for John, — not even in the just file specifications, but in the tonality: “Finding the appropriate timbre for IVR systems, especially reminding myself that the delivery system for these ‘stingers’ is typically a lo-fi telephone handset speaker, helped limit my work environment.”

The fact that commercial jingles or stingers are so prevalent in our consciousness (and particularly in our adolescence) helped John think in truncated, brief terms required for telephony flurries: “I think we could all sing at least a dozen famous audio logos or jingles off the top of our head, right? I used to sing them on the bus ride to school growing up and I still sing while cooking a meal or mowing the lawn,” muses Kasiewicz.

I could definitely identify — my mother said I literally drove her nuts from singing all the jingles to every product I recognized during each grocery shopping trip we took. This was actually a tip-off that my eyesight was bad from an early age; commercials were the only TV I could watch.

Before embarking on the project, I described to John what I needed in the form of “zingers”, and gave samples of what I prefer and what I want to get away from — and then backed away. I needed to hand over the creative control, much like my favorite clients do to me. I needed to know if that style of hands-off project management worked for him. Turns out it did: “I was thankful that you left so much unsaid and allowed me to create with few boundaries.” It’s not unusual for Kasiewicz to work on a film score in which the director has already roughed-in pre-existing music, and, as he explains: “It’s always tricky business to create something new that is so closely tied to something already so well known.”

With his tags being used on IVR’s I’ve recorded for KitchenAid, Sony Technical Support, Electrolux and Whirlpool, John’s sounds are reaching a whole different audience — some of whom have enquired about “buying” the sounds from me (they’re not for sale) or if a sound can be made exclusively “theirs” (I steer them towards Mr. Kasiewicz for direct negotiations on that one.) John Kasiewicz’s website can be accessed at: http://seejohnplay.com/

Here are some samples using John Kasiewicz’s original “logo” sounds:

Kasiewicz Flurry Example 1

Kasiewicz Flurry Example 2

“Flurries”, “Zings” “Zaps” or “Zoodles” are short bursts of sound which I mix into my sound files gratis — no additional charge, just kind of a fun extra I throw in, which goes over famously almost every time (I think an online parole payment system was resistant to a cute, perky sound greeting their callers) — it generates lots of repeat business, with many clients actually saying: “Oh! And throw in that little…..sound effect…like last time.”

Next blog, I’ll be discussing the odd and sometimes unpredictable uses for voice-over — we appear in the places you’d least expect!

(Editor’s note: I have decided to change the interval of blogs from weekly to every two weeks, effective immediately. I want to keep the content rich, exciting, and always of interest to my readership. Blogging weekly for nearly two years is tapping me out a bit, so I hope you’ll stick with me while the interval between articles is longer — but the content still maintains its quality! Thanks for your flexibility!)

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

Do You Know What I Mean?

The stories are now legendary: the mis-firings of speech recognition utilities — when a phrase is uttered into a system, and something completely seemingly random is repeated back to the originating voice — are entertaining as well as fear-inducing. Imagine having your completely coherent and well-thought-out message to a colleague  turn out sounding like this:  “Hey don’t forget your Dad killed her by name. Be careful on the way. Read some pretty clear down here bomb within like 130 to be careful. Bye.” Or: “Hi again this is Michael. So calling from Ralph there. Volkswagen lasagna.”

When speech recognition programs (also known as Automatic Speech Recognition or Computer Speech Recognition) — designed to convert speech-to-text — goes wrong or misinterprets what is said, there seems to follow some sort of perverse satisfaction in machines being not quite as intuitive as we are. Much like when the IBM computer persona “Watson” competed on Jeopardy! this last week, we took just a little too much glee in his failures and just slightly too much angst when he actually trumped what we know to be a be a very capable human.

Having voiced many prompts to build text-to-speech applications (where typed words are converted to the spoken word), I have also been an actual human being on the other side of it, where I have attempted to order items via automated systems — following prompts which I, myself, have voiced — and have had the automated version of “me” say things like: “Great. I think you said: International Sales” when I clearly intoned; “Visa Payment”. Or, when I got my first voice-enabled dialing feature on a cell phone years ago and distinctly told it to dial “Kelsey” and it repeated back to me: “OK — I think you said…..JEROME…”

Gerd Graumann, Director of Business at Lumenvox (www.lumenvox.com) — one of the leading providers of speech development products — filled me in on some background and history of Speech Recognition: “AT & T Bell Laboratories developed a primitive device that could recognize speech as far back as the 40’s — and even back then, researchers knew that the widespread use of speech recognition would depend on the ability to accurately and consistently perceive complex verbal input.” explains Graumann.

“In the 60’s, researchers turned their focus towards creating a device that would use discrete speech, verbal stimuli punctuated by small pauses,” further explains Graumann. “However, in the 1970’s, conrinuous speech recognition, which does not require the user to pause between words, began, The technology became functional in the 1980’s, and is still being developed and refined today.”

In 1982, Kurzweil Applied Intelligence released speech recognition products, and by 1985, their software had a vocabulary of 1,000 words — uttered one word at a time. In just two years, its lexicon reached 20,000 words — entering the realm of actual human vocabularies, which typically range from 10,000 to 150,000 words. Despite that healthy base, the recognition accuracy was still only 10% in 1993. Two years later, the error rate crossed below 50%. In 2001, the recognition accuracy reached a plateau of 80%, no longer growing with data or computer power. When, in 2006, Google published a trillion word corpus, Carnegie Mellon University researchers found no significant increase in recognition accuracy.

Ever-increasing processor speed, overall system performance and improved algorithms now enable speech recognition systems to run more effectively than ever and deliver the results of massive probability calculations within fractions of a second. Even the stumbling block which was at one time considered to be close to insurmountable — the challenge of speakers with accents — have been largely eradicated. Current generation speech recognitions systems learn over time to “understand” various speakers with accents and strong regionalities from the data they are being trained with. Gerd Graumann further clarifies this point: “The training data that goes into the acoustic model makes all the difference. With today’s models, the spectrum is fairly broad, and many non-native speakers are part of the training data to reflect how people from many different backgrounds speak. Of course,” warns Graumann, “there is always the end of the spectrum.”

 When it comes to the words people use to interact with automated systems, the latest technology already allows for the systems to interpret what the person is saying. This is achieved by the use of statistical linguistic models, a new technology that tries to understand the intent of what is being said, versus the exact words that were spoken. Not unlike texting with a SMS utility, which remembers likely words you might mean, when typing a text. And also, not unlike how the actual human brain works, as well.

The applications for speech recognition are vast. Medical and legal uses — not the least of which involve transcription and real-time dictation, which is made considerably more efficient with digital dictation systems being routed through speech recognitions utilities (known as Deferred SR). Speech recognition is aggressively being implemented into High-performance military fighter aircraft, with the capabilities to set radio frequencies, commanding the autopilot system, setting steer-point coordinates, weapon release parameters, and controlling flight displays. Enhancing the lives of people with disabilities; training Air Traffic Controllers — even improving the experience of video games — speech recognition’s uses and applications are immense and growing continuously. And hopefully — with the refinement of the technology — the likelihood is minimal of receiving the following cryptic voice mail transcription:  “I just wanted to let you know so that you weren’t surprised if you come back for shower tomorrow that cousin is girlfriend, maybe..” Or how about “Kelly” receiving a message from her Father: “Hi, Kelly, Death calling…”

Next week, I’m excited to blog about those fascinating — and largely subliminal — short “flurry” sound effects you sometimes hear when accessing a telephone system…they’re almost like a trademark musical “scale” which can become closely associated with a telephone company’s identity — and they’re *very* hard to find! I’ll discuss how they’ve become a big boon to my business, and why the sounds which I own are closely guarded.

Thanks for reading!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

IT Expo Wrap-Up

(Apologies for not blogging last week — travelling back from IT Expo and handling the backlog of work which seems to accumulate whenever I’m away from the studio necessitated a brief break — I’m back this week with a re-cap of the always amazing IT Expo!)

Miami's Sunshine and Art-Deco Pastels by day get replaced by heart-stopping neon...

Every year, people flock to Miami — for those situated in cold climes like myself, it’s an opportunity to finally get warm and enjoy sublime cuban cuisine — but for those who work in the area of Internet Telephony, IT Expo in Miami  is a set item on their yearly business  travel agenda — IT Expo is the event with an educational program that teaches resellers, enterprises, SMBs, and Government Agencies how to select IP-based voice, video, fax, and unified communications to purchase or resell. Even this year’s harsh winter temperatures and tricky airline travel didn’t put too much of a glitch on this year’s conference — although I lost count of how many people told me they were on literally the last plane out of their local airport!

I, of course, attend IT Expo to meet with (and sometimes introduce myself to) contacts I’ve already worked for — and also to mine the rich opportunity of companies who may be in need of a professional voice talent to voice their platforms and who might have been at a loss as how to outsource that. Without fail, every year I attend (and this is my fourth IT Expo) I make significant contacts.

There were a couple of aspects to IT Expo this year which made this year an extra special year to attend:

My Talk at Digium Asterisk World

Gah! I'm actually on the Big Poster of Speakers!

I was invited by Bryan Johns, Asterisk Community Director at Digium, to speak at their pavilion, Digium Asterisk World — an opportunity which I jumped at, as it becomes clearer and clearer to me all the time that there is very little content out there about the mechanics of how to write effective IVR prompts — a topic which I’ve evangelized on repeatedly in this blog, and one which I looked forward to making the topic of my presentation: “IVR Mistakes and How To Avoid Them”.

I came to the conclusion that the biggest fear of the public speaker *isn’t* crowds —  it’s the *lack* of crowds. As speakers transitioned and left the podium for the new speaker to get ready for their talk, crowds had a way of dissipating between speakers. The fleeting thought of speaking to empty chairs crossed my mind as the Digium staff set up my laptop and outfitted me with a mic — but as soon as the talk got underway, seats starting to fill again. I touched on the common pitfalls of IVR scripts which personally drive me crazy: too lengthy opening greetings, too many mailbox options given, the urgent and critical information being left inexplicably til the *bottom* of the phone tree — all really basic common sense aspects which make sense when they’re pointed out — but ones which all too many people seem to be eager to replicate again and again. Explaining ultimately that I’m not a technical writer or even an expert on IVR — but my day-to-day voicing of prompts gives me a good idea of the common traits exhibited by effective IVR writers — and those less effective systems which needlessly take up customer’s time and contribute to frustration also exhibit some common traits as well. Gone during  this presentation was my nervousness which I used encounter regularly when speaking — I credit my new-found career coach for a much-needed tune-up (more about her in upcoming blogs), but also, there’s some advantage to talking about a topic which you’re passionate about — and a certain level of calm which comes along with that.

The Women In VoIP Breakfast

Whenever I told men at IT Expo that I had attended the first annual Women in VoIP Breakfast — knowing what they know about the ratio of women to men attending technology conventions –they presume it must have been myself and one other woman sharing an Egg McMuffin. There were actually close to a dozen of us (including someone  joining us via Skype)  — the breakfast was organized by Suzanne Bowen of DID Xchange, possibly one of the most personable and well-connected women in telephony today. I was honored to be a part of this group of motivated women consultants, marketing gurus, PR agents, directors of sales — and with myself, as the only professional voice talent attending, we made a very interesting group coming from far and wide (one of the attendees from Germany is even starting her own Women in VoIP gatherings in Frankfurt!) Truly an amazing occasion to connect with great women who — I’m happy to say — are more and more visible in the industry with every passing year.

With fascinating keynotes (I’m sorry — I’m biased — but Digium’s Danny Windham shows everyone how public speaking is done to perfection), better and more diverse exhibitors than ever — and the opportunity to freak out Conference Chair Rich Tehrani with my “telephone voice” — IT expo was and always will be one of the few never-miss Telephony conferences of the year.

Join me here next week, where I will delve into the mystifying, intriguing, and often comical world of Speech Recognition! (“I think you said…..SCREECH RETRIBUTION…!”)

You’re great for reading. Feel free to leave a comment!

Why Get a Pro To Do It?

The economy’s doing better. You’re a start-up — but you’re great about staying within budget, prospects look good, and all things are on track. You realise that there’s an outlay of cash required to get your “framework” set up properly — there’s hiring, and office space procurement, and getting a website up and running (and making sure it pops up with the prevalence and frequency so that people can find it) — the very last thing on your mind (and the very last thing you imagine throwing cash at) is who will voice your telephone system.

After all — everybody speaks, right? People may even have told you on occasion that *you* have a “nice voice”, or — there’s Caitlyn at the front desk! She’ll be answering our phones — let’s just get her to record our outgoing greeting! Besides, have you looked for voice talent on the internet? Those guys make a killing! We’ll just get one of us to voice it.

How hard can it be?

Well, like any skillset, it’s not hard for anyone experienced at it.

I’m a professional voice talent, which simply means that I’ve parlayed a voice of reasonably agreeable tonality into an actual job. I voice telephone systems in a consistent, well-modulated way which has made repeat customers comfortable in coming back again and again for that same “sound”, and word-of-mouth referrals feel safe in knowing that same work I did for their colleague will be replicated for *their* telephone system. I am capable of great many different styles and accents — but typically, a straightforward, no-frills, under-the-radar neutral telephone voice is what people want (and what I can repeatedly give them.) Even though I am human, energy levels when recording are kept at an even keel. As a plus, I run professional recording gear, and manage to keep the settings and parameters fairly unchanged, so as to not interfere with the sameness of recordings done months and even years apart.

No big science to it.

But just as I can (and do) make a fairly reasonable pizza from scratch at home, I couldn’t compete in the arena of those who make high-volume (and consistently high-quality) on-demand pizzas every day. Those who make a skillset their full-time work have a discerning eye for quality; they instantly know what works and what doesn’t, and they have a keen sense of what their best work is, and what needs to scrapped and re-done. With repetition comes an expertise which sets a standard that cannot be upheld by an occasional dabbler.

With every respect due to our prototype receptionist “Caitlyn”, let’s explore why having her — or any staff person abducted in the hallway, put in a quiet boardroom with a phone and a legal pad with prompts scrawled haphazardly over it — may not be your best choice as your telephone voice:

They’ll Be Recording Over The Phone

I was recently asked by the authors of the new Asterisk book to weigh in on the chapter on IVR, where — as heartily as they encouraged Asterisk implementors to utilize the services of a professional recording artist (specifically: me), they also encouraged telephone recording for Asterisk — perfectly fitting with the turnkey aspect of the system itself. It’s ready out of the box, and it makes sense that all stages of the installation should be completely self-managed, without any need for outsourcing. My comments back to the authors about direct-to-phone recording were borne out of my own experiences at being asked to do them: I despise it. It evokes abject terror in me when I’m asked to record over the phone. People’s instructions to get into their systems are rarely accurate (there’s usually some crucial missing step); the handset itself is a terrible microphone and prone to registering any and all plosives; there is no luxury of editing out breath noises (clients assume I have the lung capacity of a Japanese Pearl Diver; I simply edit out all evidence of breathing..) — and most importantly: if there is a screw-up, there is no clean stopping and re-starting where you left off — the whole recording is scrapped and you must start from the beginning. With recording into a computer system, there is very little that editing software — once you get skilled at it — cannot fix.

Caitlyn’s Busy

She has responsibilities of her own, and can hardly be expected to drop everything at the last minute to update the phone tree when there’s a shift of personnel. She may be unavailable to record; she may receive a promotion or move to another department or get hired somewhere else — and you’re stuck with a phone tree which can either be added to with different voices (creating a strange, multi-personailty pastiche of voices on your system) or scrap the entire thing a start all over again with the new receptionist.

It’s Not Caitlyn’s Passion — And It Shows

Recording the outgoing message — from a busy receptionist’s perspective — would rank right up there with having to clean the microwave in the break room. It could easily be seen as an onerous task — and that will translate in what she projects in the recording. You can tell when a job is perceived as chore, and when it’s done with the gusto that comes from pure love. We love what we do (even if the scripts are usually fairly formulaic, we try to treat each one as a completely new and fresh entity). My hairdresser *loves* hair — she can’t imagine a day without fiddling with or manipulating hair in some way and was beside herself with anxiety when she had to take some time off for a surgery. Hair is her canvas, and she looks forward to every day she goes to work. That’s why she’s my hairdresser.

She’s Inconsistent

Maybe not with word processing, but Caitlyn does not have the experience or the discipline to make sure the that prompts she’s updating today will match in volume and energy of the ones she’s previously done. As an ancillary task, the voicing of the prompts will not be anything that she will be able to maintain a level of consistency with, the way she can with her principal tasks.

You take your car to an expert;  those who have had their bathroom remodeled by a hobbyist have done so at their own folly. Your telephone system sets the tone for your company and establishes an irreversible impression about your company for your callers. Sourcing out the voicing of the system to someone who takes the job seriously; who is always available for redo’s; who keeps the quality consistent — it’s one less thing to worry about.

Next week, I’ll be speaking at IT Expo in Miami about “IVR Mistakes and How to Avoid Them” — in my next blog, I’ll delve into public speaking and how even someone who speaks all day/every day is not immune to the same public-speaking gremlins that everyone feels.

Thanks for reading!

Let Your Fingers Do The Walking….To The Recycling Bin

A few years ago, a focus group was held to study the viability of  The Yellow Pages — the ubiquitous gigantic directories of local businesses which still gets dropped off  on our doorsteps every year.

The leader of the focus group asked participants a key question: how often did they use the Yellow Pages in the last year? Most said once a year.

A man in the study group tentatively put up his hand and asked what they meant by “usage”.  The participant went on to explain: “There are times when my cousin’s baby comes over and she needs something to sit on.”

I wouldn’t be much of a blogger on the telephony industry if I didn’t write about changing trends in the  industry — and one of the biggest examples of a necessity-turned-anachronism is The Yellow Pages.

The Yellow Pages started in 1883, when a Cheyenne, Wyoming printer saddled with the job of printing off one of the first rudimentary telephone directories ran out of white paper and swapped in yellow paper on a whim. The Yellow Pages soon had a stronghold in the arena of print advertising and was, at one time (pardon the pun) the Gold Standard when it came to making your business visible and findable to a local market. As Chris Silver Smith in his blog article “Is Yellow Pages Becoming An Obsolete Concept?” aptly puts it:  “In the ‘Business 1.0’ world, the Yellow Pages label was so deeply established that it could bring companies an instantaneous degree of success. In the ‘Business 2.0’ world, the name isn’t as relevant nor as compelling to consumers as is the combination of content and utility. Companies ignoring the trends will risk making themselves be perceived as dated.”

The internet happened. It happened to everybody. And while some might point to the Yellow Pages adapting beautifully to the online world, the stats say differently.

Halt The Presses

Since 2007, many US states have quit printing residential listings and many more have pending requests to do so: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania, to name a few. Yellow pages may not be far behind.

Hold The Phone

Traditional Land lines are being disconnected at a rate of nearly 10% a year. The connectivity we have away from home — and the ability to do instantaneous searches of business and their contact information, maps to their locations, their rates, find product pictures, and read reviews — wherever we are — makes the housebound landline go the way of the buggy whip — and as for those yellow directories we used to keep on hand to find a dance school, hairdresser, taxidermist? Rapidly becoming useless, unless we’re propping up babies with them.

Some Industries Are Already Yellow  Phobic — and Some Are Not

Would you haul the yellow behemoth out and look for a travel agent? Caterer? Lawyer? The travel industry, in particular, has become so completely turnkey — with travel deals as close a typing in “Trip Advisor” or “Priceline” into a browser — almost making the travel agent in and of themselves relatively redundant; let alone an unwieldy and awkward guide which lists only the travel agents in your area and just their contact information — and that’s it. In the time it used to take to look up an agent in the Yellow Pages, you can have y0ur trip booked and the itinerary printed off — and your plane ticket will be at a price that required no “inside knowledge” of an agent to secure. Some industries, however, still have a strong presence in the phonebook — plumbers and contractors are good examples. If you are looking to renovate your bathroom, for example, it can be difficult sourcing a comprehensive selection of candidates online in your local area to do it. There still isn’t enough local content to provide consumers with the same shopping experience as what the online travel industry offers, for example.

In March of last year, Yellow Pages Group in Canada rebranded with a new logo, which foists the “book” right out of the picture, hoping to associate the ubiquitous walking fingers and a blobby, mouse-pad/mouse-shaped outline — in an attempt to signal that the product is now multi-platform. (Ignoring the persnickety but true fact that our fingers don’t do that “motion” when searching for something online. Our fingers look like that when we’re pointing our fingers downward on printed material. It would be a less aesthetically pleasing logo — but more accurate — if they’d designed the “chicken claw”-like look of hand grasping a mouse. But I’m getting off track. ) Getting customers to think of Internet Yellow Pages (or “IYP” as it’s known in the industry) is no easy sell. Google, Google Maps, Bing, Yelp (which — undeniably — is a clever acronym of “Yellow Pages” without any of that messy yellow print stigma attached to it..); nearly any other online search engine outramps the online versions of Yellow Pages, be they Superpages, Dex, or Yellowpages online. Your first instinct will be to enter your term into Google if you need to send a bouquet from your small hometown in Rhode Island to a client in New Mexico — you’re just not going to use your local Yellow Pages online directory to find a nearby florist who *might* coordinate the delivery…or a florist on their end. You’re going to find an instantaneous listing of those florists who deliver all the time anywhere — with photos, prices, and a payment portal, so you can have the whole thing taken care of in a matter of a couple of minutes.

I have a great personal attachment to the Yellow Pages — a dear cousin of mine proudly sold ad space in the Alberta Government Telephones Yellow Book for most of her working life; I acquired a vintage pink rotary dial phone from my Aunt’s estate — and one of the most endearing features of the phone is the vintage AGT Yellow Pages Sticker on the handset; I also voice an auto-dialer for Yellow Pages yearly, which calls virtually every home in America, asking if the household received their Phone Books; enquiring sweetly if they’d like to have more delivered.

Like the pagers that most of us wore with great gusto on our waistbands in 80’s, the Yellow Pages served their purpose well and brilliantly when they were the ultimate mode of linking people together. I dutifully stack the current year’s books in the corner of my office, but can’t foresee a time in the near future — as most people can’t — when I’ll actually turn to them.

Next week, I’ll address the question: “Why Have a Pro Do It?” when it comes to your IVR voicing; the economy’s recovering, but people are still cost-conscious and wondering why they’d need to hire an over-priced voice talent to voice their phone system. Caitlyn’s right there at the front desk — let’s get her to do it! Next week, I’ll explain why “Caitlyn” may not be your best choice….

Thanks for reading!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

Choosing The Right Voice Talent

It sets the tone for your entire phone system; it identifies what your company is all about — it can even be a deciding factor as to whether or not someone wishes to do business with you.

Your choice of voice talent is crucial in creating the perception of your company, as the front-end of your phone system establishes who you are and in many cases, how serious you are about what you do.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about your selection of voice talent to voice your IVR — existing preferences with regards to male versus female; the deliberate decision to go with an older voice as opposed to a younger sound (or vice-versa) — all are negotiable and not set in stone. What was once the preferred and valued convention in a vocal style can suddenly fall out of favor and the converse can now be the “norm”.

I have been asked to voice the IVR prompts for many companies and industries which were, before, considered to be the domain of men: I recently voiced an online training module for welders (their thinking being that a woman’s voice would be calming to candidates writing their exam); car markets — from sales to accessories and customization of vehicles — once the turf of male announcers, are rapidly leaning in favor of a female voice. It could be a matter of “sex sells”; I like to think that it has more to do with the psychology of how a voice hits your ears. You know how some voices just irritate? And you don’t know why? A voice can “agree” with your ears, without you even really knowing why.

A young, energetic sound — with the gravelly, almost sleepy cadence of a Jersey Shore girl, will most definitely fit with a young upstart alternative clothing company and likely wouldn’t fit with an upscale high-end clothier targeting a 35-55 market. A straightforward conservative male voice might sound stodgy and not dovetail well with a hip, urban record label, in much the same way that callers to an importer of high-end housewares might find it incongruous to encounter a telephone voice who sounds too hip or “street” — or even a “young” sound, which could create doubts of competence for callers phoning gem dealers or art auction houses, where a seasoned, experienced sound would inspire confidence.

Define The Sensation You’re Attempting to Create

It is important to have it worked out in your head — and to able to express to your voice talent — what “vision” you have of the company’s image, and how the talent can help to create that. Articulate what you are; and articulate what you *aren’t* all about. Provide examples from other ad campaigns or phone systems you’ve heard, or even examples of what’s worked well for you in the past or what *hasn’t* worked well — but only as a rough guide and not as a template which you expect the talent to replicate exactly.

Ask for a Custom Demo…but not too many

It’s completely acceptable (and highly recommended) to request a custom demo of your material, to make sure the talent’s on the right track — with a few caveats. Make sure the material is short (two or three lines or prompts should be sufficient to establish the direction they’re heading in). Be aware that most talent will not read an entire spot or a full script for audition purposes; we are vigilant about making sure the clip isn’t actually used without remuneration and rather than embed a low-grade tone under the sample (a watermark which effectively makes it unusable) we will deliberately change prices or transpose phone numbers to make sure it won’t be used. If the talent doesn’t hit the mark the first time, feel free to suggest a retry on the demo — but if, after that second attempt yields results which still aren’t sounding right, move on and audition someone else. Most often, understanding the material and being able to convey the vision is an instant “get” — when it’s not there, it’s probably best to farm other avenues.

 Know Your Demographic — And Have a Clear Idea What They Respond To

Knowing what works and what doesn’t work for your customers is as important for your IVR persona as it is to have a website which you know your customers will find intuitive, or knowing what type of radio commercial draws your customers in. And sometimes, it’s all about context. No surveys or testing would be required to know that callers to a Women’s Health Clinic will likely *not* respond well to a male voice greeting them on the telephone system, but callers to a grocery chain (where women are still the principal consumers) might find a reassuring, “let’s-cook-dinner-together” male voice to be just the right tone. 

The More People You Ask — The More Messy the Process Will Be

We know that many aspects of the corporate environment need to be done by committee, taking many, many people’s opinions into consideration. If it were just up to the person who contacted the talent, it would be a simpler, more direct process. It is rarely up to one single decision-maker. It is important that the vision be agreed upon and solidified corporately before even approaching the talent; it is essential to narrow the parameters of what you’re looking for early in the process, and it will be a valuable nugget of information to articulate to the talent that *many* people will be reviewing not just their demo but all of them (and that this may cause more of a delay in obtaining feedback). For bonus points, decide to set a limit on the amount of demoing which will be required of the talent.

 It’s an amazingly creative process to hunt for and obtain just the right sound, which closely mirrors your company’s persona, and provides the best, most accurate impression of your company at the outset. It’s the indefinable moment when the voice hits your ear “just right”.

 Next week, I’ll be exploring a staple in the world of telephony which refuses to become an anachronism: The Yellow Pages.

Thanks for reading!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

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