By Trent Rentsch
One more box might just end it all. The equation: Software Obsession + The Internet = daily package in mailbox. No, not everyday, just the days my wife beats me home to the mailbox… damn Murphy and his law. The books never seem to arrive on the days she sees the stack first. Books she understands, sometimes even the comic books that I insist on calling Graphic Novels. She is a reader, and while our choice of genre are as different as Paris Hilton and Larry the Cable Guy, she feels the weight of words, the importance of story. But again, she doesn’t get the mail when the books come. And while she would never berate me for how I spend money, I know that there is a certain amount of mental eye rolling, wailing and gnashing of teeth going on. And one more box might just bring it all to the surface. And, I wouldn’t blame her if it did. Thank goodness most software purchases can now be downloaded directly.
If you were along for a ride a few months ago, you might remember that I had vowed to beat this addiction. I believed that I could, until the quest began. It was disguised as an email from a client, who was searching for a new voice for her advertising. “Looking for James Earl Jones,” she joked… or so I thought. I sent the demo script out to my merry band of voice talents, open auditions for “James Jr.” Understand that I currently work with some of the most talented voice-over artists I’ve ever known, and I was fully confident that she would have a tough time choosing. It took her one listen before I got the email. “Perhaps you don’t understand… I need a mature, classy read… James Earl Jones, or Barry White… only, not sexy.” Now I understood. She wanted me to call up Mr. Jones and convince him to read a script for a tiny Midwest clothing store, for a paycheck that was probably less than what he tipped his doorman this morning. Either that or raise Barry from the dead and tell him that it isn’t about singing… or sex.
A wiser man would have looked up the representation for Mr. Jones and forwarded her request at that moment, but instead I stupidly wrote back that I’d keep looking. I wouldn’t call it The Quest for the 100 Dollar J.E.J. Read, even I know better than that. What I thought I could do was find someone with a unique, mature voice that would make her happy. 3 weeks and 8 voices later, I’m still looking.
Desperation does funny things to people. They might lift an automobile to prevent a loved one from being crushed to death, or liberate themselves from their arm and the death grip of a boulder with a pocketknife. In this case, desperation had me searching my processing software for the James Earl Jones pre-set. When it became obvious that my current plug-ins were pitifully inadequate for the job, I sought new and better software — in this world of marvel and competition, surely some computer guru had created the Holy Grail of Pre-sets. Demos arrived and were discarded, new software was installed, tested, and then ignored. The answer HAD to be in the machine!!!
Okay, I’m really not that stupid or naïve, but I will admit that I ran a few of the reads through some processing acrobatics for about 5 minutes. It was an exercise in desperation and futility; I knew it. I wasn’t going to find my answer there, any more than if I found out which microphone, pre-amp and mixing board was used when Mr. Jones uttered, “This is CNN.” I could go to the same studio, use the same gear, the same settings, and I still wouldn’t become the voice of Darth Vader — and neither would any of my talented voice actors.
The longer I play around with audio the more I realize how little it helps me to know how someone else produces his audio. There are lessons we all need to learn, the basics of mixing and equalization and compression, but in the end those are only the tools to construct audio creative. And just because a Producer in “the big leagues” swings a dial this way and pounds the compression that way doesn’t mean that it’s the right way for you.
In the end, my client either has to fork out a quarter of a million for a :30, or be happy with a talent with a mature classy read -- someone who has a unique voice that even James Earl Jones couldn’t reproduce. And if you want that “Pro sound,” it’s going to take more than the software/hardware the big guys use. We need to take the time to learn — really learn — the tools we have available. That means reading the manuals, doing the tutorials, and spending hours past that tweaking and listening and tweaking some more, until the sound is right. Pre-set 10 might have been great for the vocal performer in the test lab, but pre-set 5 with a little added low end might just be even better for your voice.
Some really good audio tools that were few and only available to the rich and famous Music Producers just a handful of years ago are now abundant and are available relatively cheaply to anyone who slings audio, but they aren’t magic. If you want to make them sound like they are, you gotta do the work. Believe me, that’s how the rich and famous got that way. And if, after exhaustive practice, you decide that you really have to have another software tool to create the sound in your head, by all means go for it. Just remember what I mentioned about downloading the software. Consider it one of those Venus and Mars tips.