It’s been a pretty slow week, and also a short week as I prepare to head to Florida for 5 days to visit and celebrate my oldest son’s promotion to Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy. Pretty proud of that kid! Since I too was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy when I retired, I get to pin MY anchors on him for the first time. So, there is yet another Chief Mason…a family legacy.
Anyway, I mention that because my travel makes this a short week, and since I don’t yet have a travel setup for recording voice over I won’t be doing any recording while I’m away. Since being an independent narrator and small business owner is relatively new to me, this is an interesting situation for me. You see, this is the first time I’ll be away from my booth for an extended period since I started all this in June (or so) of 2020.
Should I have a travel setup?
The first question I have pondered is whether or not this is the right time to get myself a portable recording set up. In the end, I’ve decided that, since people are not exactly knocking down my door to hire me (yeah, I have to search out and work to get work), it’s probably not the right time. But it IS time to start researching it, and I am kind of a tech geek so that ought to be fun!
But, I am getting a bit off topic here. The thing that IS on topic is, given my absence for five days, how do I decide whether or not to accept a job if offered? It’s a timely question, and I’ll tell you why:
I accepted an offer to produce a fairly short audio book, yesterday. That’s a good thing, right?
What was that word?
You see, the first 15 minutes is due WHILE I am away, so it MUST get done before I depart. No biggie, right? Fifteen minutes is not a lot!
But you see before I can even begin recording, I need to read the entire book, and then research pronunciations of the many REALLY HARD TO SAY chemist terms included that were NOT part of the audition script. Here is an example: 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. Yeah, you read that right. Try to say THAT three times fast and then use it in a sentence!
And that is just ONE of the really strange names for things chemists come up with. Where do they GET this stuff?
Anyway, the finished book is only about three hours of audio, on a topic I THOUGHT I was familiar with, so when the offer arrived, and not wanting to turn down work at this point, I accepted it.
And because it IS such a short book, and my first ever Per Finished Hour (PFH) title I’ve also decided I needed to finish the recording before I leave as well. I’m discovering I am a glutton for punishment.
Busier than a one armed man…
If this were the only thing I needed to accomplish today, that should be low stress. I can RECORD three hours of audio in less than 5 hours total…. usually. What? You thought three hours of audio took three hours to record? Nope – more on that later.
But today I also need to: Write this blog post, meet with my talent management team, record two video auditions that are also due, stay ahead of audio auditions for future work and pack for the trip. Oh, and email my agents to let them know I am going to be unavailable – gotta add that one to my to-do list. Ugh. I’m going to be up till midnight! Thankfully my flight doesn’t leave till afternoon tomorrow, so I MAY be able to out off the packing till the morning…I’m a guy after all ad packing is all about making sure I have the same number of skivvies as days I’ll be gone. I can usually pack for a five day trip in about 30 minutes.
This was harder than it looked…
So, I accepted the job, got the full manuscript and read through it yesterday. I researched pronunciations and marked up the script and started recording in the afternoon. Honestly, I did pretty well, capturing about 2 hours of audio yesterday afternoon, but it took…five hours.
You see, here’s the thing about recording a book, or any text for that matter: you never get it 100% right on the first read through. What that means is when you stumble, mispronounce a word, get the phrasing or pacing wrong, or even get halfway through a sentence and realize you’ve read it with the wrong emphasis or intonation…you have to back up and redo it.
The method for this is called “Punch and Roll”, and I’ll probably write, eventually, an entire blog post about this and other “tricks” we use to get that perfect audio in the can later. Suffice to say this means backing up and re-recording whatever flubs there are. And with words like 2-Arachidonoylglycerol, sometimes you have to do it twice. Or three times. Or TEN times to get it right.
That means that for the two hours of audio I captured, I sat in my tiny booth talking to no one in particular (and kind of everyone altogether too) for five hours.
You try it, I’ll wait…
Give it a shot, start talking, repeating sentences every so often, for five hours straight. Done? Good, now you understand why it costs so much to get a book or commercial, or training or, well, ANYthing recorded. As much as I enjoy this work, it IS work!
Anyway, all of the preceding page and a half of text just to explain WHY I am writing a blog titled “Do I take the job?”.
The short answer for this one should have been: No. Why? Because: Stress. I mean, I retired from my high stress government job so I could work in entertainment as a VO artist and actor, not to be just as stressed as I was before I retired!
Here are the lessons I learned. First, make sure you fully understand and comprehend not only your schedule in relation to the production timeline, but what other peripheral things you have to do during the timeline. Make SURE you have sufficient time to complete the project without stress.
Side note: Stress is notable in your read. SO if yu are stressed, trying to get a relaxed, natural read actually just creates even MORE stress. It’s vicious cycle. Never take a job you have to rush through.
The next lesson is to remember that, even though you may think you are familiar with a subject, that doesn’t mean the author isn’t going to dive WAY deeper into it than you could imagine. Although I thought I was pretty well versed in the subject of this book, I in no way expected a chemistry lesson. Also note that I failed chemistry in high school. It’s NOT my strong suit. Expect to have to take the time to familiarize yourself with the concepts and language of the topic.
Note that an audition script for an audio book is a small section (2-3 minutes of audio) excerpted from the complete manuscript. Many times, the script is a real indication of how well the entire book was written, and sometimes it is the best written passage of the entire work. In this case, the book, in my opinion, is not “well” written, more “medium”. There is one fully unintelligible sentence, and many typos or grammar issues throughout.
It’s always going to take longer than you thought…
Note that as narrator, it is my job to reproduce the text faithfully, as written. It is NOT my job to become an editor on top of that. The author, or publisher (as in this case) is required by contract to provide a recording ready manuscript.
It IS my experience though, that no matter who the author or publisher is, there are going to be some mistake. In a manuscript of 35,000 words, there are bound to be one or two that are misspelled, missing, “extra” or just not used correctly. I catch those in my initial read through, and can correct them simply in the audio by just making whatever sentence it is sound right to the listener. I expect that. But entire sentences? For that I have to take the time to go back to the author/publisher and ask. That take time, so the lesson is expect to have to get clarification and allow the 2-24 hour delay to get a response. Fortunately, in this instance the response was lightning fast (within an hour) so it wasn’t a tragedy.
Don’t wear $$ blinders!
Probably the biggest lesson learned this week, is to not be blinded by the idea of a decent paycheck for your work when deciding whether or not to accept it. Remember that these things almost ALWAYS take longer than you think. You HAVE to expect the unexpected, especially when accepting work based on a tiny sliver of a manuscript. Had I asked for the full manuscript BEFORE accepting the work (as suggested by MANY artists) and read through it, I would either have declined the offer, or negotiated a more favorable timeline. Either would have made my life this week a little less stressful.
I’ll get it done, it will be on time, and I’ll do the best job I can on it. But I’m not going to enjoy it as much as other work.