For over 30 years, Roy Yokelson, Uncle Roy, from Antland Productions (Bloomfield, New Jersey) has worked as Sound Designer, Recording Engineer and Producer. He has built an impressive list of credits for its work. Roy specializes in period sound recreation, for music and voices/effects. He is also an experienced voice-over director, script editor and coach.
Uncle Roy trains voice talents to make successful demos, using a tested method.
This is the transcript of our virtual Tête à Tête.
Constantino de Miguel: Uncle Roy what have been the main changes you have seen all these years in your career with digital audios for voice over. What has actually been the main progress in the last decade or so?
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Well of course we had very few home studios 15 years ago. Certainly 20 years ago there were almost none. But as ISDN came to be and as maybe some of the older voice over people didn’t travel as much, I just thought that the technology was there, it opened up especially over the last 10 years that anybody who was a voice-over could have a home studio, wouldn’t have to go into Manhattan or wherever their local studio was. And could really be international this way, whether it’s ISDN, Source-Connect and these new other technologies that just came out 15 years ago who was recording at home, I figured about the ISDN whether we record it at the other end, but digital recording technology for home use was not as developed as it is today. Even though I’ve been using this Cool Edit 96 or whatever the first version of Adobe Audition and then followed through. But I was a professional recording engineer so I needed those tools to work at home, not a voice over person but now for 300 bucks or 20 bucks a month or whatever it is, anybody can have that digital access.
Constantino de Miguel: And what is actually your position in that? Is it a good development or a bad development from the point of view of an audio engineer with so much experience as well?
Uncle Roy Yokelson: The upside of course is for mostly for the voice over people who have these new opportunities and the upside for me is I have the tools… I don’t have to go into the city and pay big money to use a studio. The downside is that so many studios went out of business because… at least people… at least studios associated with voice over work because the voice over people are at home, they’re not charging studio time.
And the other downside and for me the major downside is that people are working at home by themselves, and isolation is the dream killer. You don’t get the feedback of a director, a producer or a seasoned engineer who has seen a million sessions to help you along. Either doing a phone patch on ISDN, yes you get direction. But if you’re home self directing because you have the technological ability to record at home, but you’re in your little vacuum and you don’t get as much, I like to direct people on their auditions so they have another point of view and give them the old school advantage of multiple people being involved in the session.
Constantino de Miguel: As we can see that even sound studios today, they accept the reality of home studios because it’s also in their advantage because they can save money in terms of transportation and time, etcetera. But maybe you see a development in which you know this interrelation, this feedback from the studio engineer and from the client could be optimized, could be improve like using… well ISDN is probably a technology that is dying, but there are other possibilities using broadband that provide that feedback that the isolated voice talent lacks.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Even a phone patch, if the person at the other end of the phone knows what they’re doing, and I mean just somebody just listen in and justify their existence. But if you have a seasoned director or somebody who really knows what they want, knows how to convey to the talent in a concise way in their direction. The talent welcomes direction as long as he can get something out of it.
There’s nothing to stop any client, sometimes we like it when the client is not involved because maybe they would realize they don’t know and we know better or we’re going to do the job and if they have a problem, we’ll fix it. But any halfway A decent director should be on the phone and listen in and approve to avoid surprises later, free revisions and all that kind of stuff because we didn’t get the direction right.
Constantino de Miguel: Or even an old fashioned way of just recording something and then just sending like small part of the whole script and then you get the feedback from the client, you send it through MP3, through e-mail, or FTP, whatever. And that also I mean, it is that kind of delayed feedback but it’s still valid, I guess.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: That’s usually the custom audition aspect of the process if that happens. If people aren’t picking you from your demo or your demo would at least says okay so let’s send this person a custom audition that I know they’ll be happy to do. The custom audition really is that… and then I can get feedback, okay… just a little faster, blow more energy, little more smile, it’s too pushy, you know, whatever the direction would be and then there should be no surprises.
Constantino de Miguel: Getting back to the home studio, I’m talking about technology. Well you mentioned that in… for 300 bucks you can have a decent… a basic at least equipment to start doing voice overs. Maybe you have some ideas, some tips on how to improve that because from my point of view for instance acoustics is probably the most expensive and difficult part to really improve because you are in an apartment or in a house, you have to… you know refurbish everything, that’s expensive. So I would like to know your opinion about this side as well.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Well just to clarify, the 300 USD that I mentioned was more of… if you need to buy recording software, if Audacity which is free if that’s not good enough for you or TwistedWave if you are in a MAC or Pro Tools if you need punch and role and a lot of stuff. But I wasn’t even considering with that price point, acoustics is the most important thing and then second is the microphone but the first thing is really to have the talent. So… but we’re only talking about equipment here. So assuming you have the talent or you know, at least…
Constantino de Miguel: Yeah, actually we’re talking about people who really… they have the talent but they are probably starting, you know, just setting up their home studio or improving the one they have and they are not of course experts, they have… they lack the knowledge, the background, so they are really eager to hear from seasoned audio engineer like you are.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Yeah, I mean we’re even talking about it for a long time, you really need a dead space, a quiet space, you can’t soundproof if you’ve got construction outside or if you’re on the flight pattern or if you have taxis and trucks outside your window if you’re in Manhattan or Brooklyn and there’s a restaurant downstairs that’s open until 2 AM and everybody is out there having a party.
Now you can’t… that you can’t fit, but the room itself has to sound dead whether it’s getting a Porta-Booth. Plus, whether it’s getting clear sonic panels, whether the new eyeball, just the hollow foam ball that your microphone fits into and it cuts out the… it cuts down considerably 85%… 90%, any reverberant sound, they demoed it up AES show and their demo was somebody singing in a real crappy sounding echoed space and then they showed it again with the eyeball on there. And it cut down, it wasn’t perfect but it cut way down the amount of… so if you have a really… I have somebody setup the only space that she record is in her bathroom. Which is the worst… you would consider the worst…
Constantino de Miguel: That’s the example of the place where you shouldn’t actually record.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Yeah, because there’s hard surfaces, there’s tiles, but believe it or not, with a Harlan Hogan Porta-Booth Plus and an Eyeball and a microphone inside both of those, and then hard surfaces covered, it actually sounds fine. It’s too bad that she’s you know, stuck in this little room, but her apartment overlooks the New York City skyline and there’s helicopters and sirens and there’s… that’s the only quiet… and there’s even the heater in their apartment, and the only quiet space is the bathroom and it works out, she’s happy in there.
Constantino de Miguel: That’s really interesting to learn about this possibility because more and more people, voice talents are itinerant and not just voice talents, even journalists who have to actually cut their video even for television, you know, they edit, whether they have an editor or even they, they edit the piece and then they have to voice over their own report and that’s very complicated because you are usually in a hotel room also with problems of noises and et cetera and restaurants.
Constantino de Miguel: When you have like… you have to do a stand up outside and of course you have the noise, the ambient noise from outside and then you have to do the actual voice over of the report inside… indoors in a hotel, that’s really tricky. But I mean, this… there are many, many possibilities to improve that when you are itinerant. Now, I would like to know your opinion about you know, these Text To Speech, TTS technology that consist of… it’s an algorithm that allows to turn a text into spoken yet a little bit robotic voice. So is this a threat for voice talents who are then living with typical E-Learning tutorials and phone messages, not to the… I mean of course the one who is living off an advertisements, or typical commercial voices. Mostly for those who are specialize in E-Learning tutorials and phone messages.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: If you’re selling an E-Learning project and you’re trying to teach English, why would you go… except for budgetary reasons and I don’t know how much the Text To Speech cost and yes, they’re getting better. But if you want to teach somebody conversational English and you can have a slight problem with the way some of the voice over people have to slow down or overly articulate doesn’t make it conversational. But you can learn, you can learn English by it, there’s nothing pleasant about robotics and we’ve heard a lot of it in telephony and it’s great if it’s a booming business and some voice-over person has to input all those words and phrases anyway. I don’t think it’s a big threat to… people are still going to hire a real people, you know, you can’t talk to the robot. You can’t tell the robot a joke, you know. It’s… our industry is about the people, I don’t see it as a big threat.
Constantino de Miguel: The good thing is that even though there are being some advances, some progress in terms of the quality of the voice. As this technology, it lacks context as you mentioned, you know, you cannot have a robotic voice and tell a joke and all that, well you can but you have to just put the worst there. But there’s no… the artificially intelligence is not so intelligent to really improvise this.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: It’s the same thing in music, you know there’s all these synthesizers, there’s all these digital samples and then you can play on the keyboard. But it’s not the same as hiring a violinist who puts what’s called English, how they hold the bow, how they attack it or shrug the player or flute. Yes, there are good samples out there, but if you give a very slight direction to somebody, it’s the way of flautist interprets how to do that or a violinist how to do that and whether or not that can be recreated on the keyboard with samples, so it’s really the same thing. We can have pretty decent sounding music with sense and samples and all that, but if you had a choice, if money were not an issue and you have a choice would you choose hiring a voice-over person or going robotic or hiring musicians to make a piece of music? I’ll go for the humans.
Constantino de Miguel: So fortunately enough we are not there yet…
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Good
Constantino de Miguel: The robotic voice still is robotic and well maybe for some as you mentioned from messages or various small messages maybe it could be handy but still, I mean the result is very poor we have done some research on that and there are some laboratories around the world who are actually doing their best but still it’s an infant technology and I don’t think that the human voice will be replaced for anytime soon.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: They also have this silly spots with the GPS is talking to you and then you know it’s giving personal information and then it turns out to be the mother or the daughter. The good…the upside is somebody was hired to imitate a robotic voice and we’re ok with that. And I’m ok with GPS and people were hired to be the GPS lady you know.
Constantino de Miguel: We move further to the voice over coach you’re doing because are an engineer but also a coach and that’s also a great part of your daily routine, so give us some you know insights about your techniques. Not the recipe because that’s a professional secret but at least when you have… actually not a newbie but someone who has already experience.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Every… you know, every director has a different approach and idea and people sent me their demos all the time and say, “Well I was thinking you are making a new demo here is my old one, what do you think?” Okay so somebody directed the old one and I think about okay so this isn’t the way I would do it, how would I do it differently it needs more range, it needs more personality, bad direction, bad script choices, I know I kind of jump in to demos there but you should never be done with your coaching. I think it’s good to have multiple coaches, get somebody else’s point of view, because a particular coach’s personality might not not jive with somebody or I mean I get… a lot of times I give… it’s almost silent communication when they’re really… when you’re really connecting with the talent you can just say… you can start saying what you’re going to say and they get it right way and they try.
Well I think it’s you know getting the right personalities together. Everybody should want to up their game so this is where you are, here where you’re at and here what’s missing to be… you want to be top professional.
Constantino de Miguel: What are your tips on that is it about breathing exercises?
Uncle Roy Yokelson: That goes a little more towards the newbie who isn’t connecting with the script. That’s the hardest you know as far as getting there and sounding confident well it’s connecting with the script and sounding confident. You have to be passionate about this whole voice-over industry or whatever we’re talking about anyway you know if you’re… if the reason you’re getting into voice over is “well I just lost my job, I could use some side money…” And that may work, …that may work out for you but those aren’t good reasons to get into the voice-over industry. You’re just filling the talent pool and you know maybe you’ll make a couple of bucks along the way but whether or not you’re going to continue, that’s another thing that’s a little discouraging. I coach people, we get to the point that they’re ready to make a demo, they make the demo and the real hard part is the marketing.
And unless you’re a self starter unless you’re going to bang, bang, bang go for it, unless you have the resources and the resources are all out there, I mean there are lists. There are lists out there where you should be sending your demo or who to call.
Constantino de Miguel: This is a very important element; I mean the marketing is one key component in having success I mean yeah, as you said off course we have to consider first of all the talent itself, the ability to really give passion and persuasion to what you read. But then okay you know how to do it then you have to market and you are in competition with so many people out there.
Within marketing I was wondering, what do you think about some sites out there like “DirectVoices”, like “Bodalgo”, like “Voice123″ the Pay to Play sites. They offer some kind of advantage for positioning of the voice talents in the market?
Uncle Roy Yokelson: From personal experience and many people know that I manage Laila Berzins voice over so she just signed on for trial basis to Voices.com. What it gives you access to a bazillion audition possibilities. Then whether you book or not because Pay to Play sites have so many people and really you shouldn’t have to pay to get auditions. There are many people who have enough referring clients, “I got another job”, “we got another job for you.” That’s really where you wanted to be. Ultimately that you have referring clients that call but the Pay to Play sites I mean were on “Real Time Casting”, “The Voice Realm”, you know these are a little cheaper Pay to Play sites. Read books and stuff as long as you can more than break-even … but the things about this is you can’t sit at the computer all day and sit there and wait for these opportunities that come up, you will waste your whole life.
The problem is there’s a million people on those sites, a lot of the jobs are cheap. If you can get enough non exclusive agents who feed you auditions on a regular basis that should be enough. If they… if other casting people maybe like a lot, other casting people have taken you on then they believe on you and they think your gong to book something and they send your auditions. If you can find those ones that you won’t have to pay and sometimes the ones you don’t have to pay, they have the same auditions as the one you do have to pay so…
Constantino de Miguel: Also could be useful for you know getting a good positioning in Google which is something you know more and more important, we have to admit that if you have… I mean your website that is not correctly positioned well through a Pay to Play site where you can have your profile on and is you know seen by Google it could also handy.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Well that’s true because everybody does put a profile up on a Pay to Play site and you know if that’s where your demo sits and you don’t have a website yet. Although you should get a website right away, you need a website as part of your marketing. Your business card is to get them to go to your website and your website is to get them to go to the demo and the demo will still get them to send you custom audition or hire you on your demo and that’s what chain of command what the marketing is.
Constantino de Miguel: Just to finish this part of coaching could you maybe mention success stories about you know coaching that you have invested yourself, I mean time and effort in improving someone’s ability to read with passion and persuasion.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Well everybody has their own little what they have to work on, you know I consider Leila as success story. Some other students that I have where they read or they audition for me I say, “No, no you got the… put your energy you start here and then the energy drops and you start here and your energy drops you got to work on that”, you know or you’re pronouncing you ING’s as EEN and you have to work on that, that’s the California thing.
So every… I think everybody just has what they have to work on, what are their little obstacles to improve you know without giving specific names except for Leila.
Constantino de Miguel: If you’re a voice talent and need a coach, an online coach, well you can count on Uncle Roy,
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Or you know I have a lot of people just hop on the bus and who are over 30 and come out here. So if you’re in the tri-state area, people drive from Connecticut, from Pennsylvania, I’m worth the drive people come here 2 and a half hours you know.
Constantino de Miguel: And it’s better, yeah to be face to face absolutely yeah.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Yeah face to… specially for the first 2 hours I need to train face to face. After that I understand people don’t want to take 2 and a half hours to get here so we Skype all the time.
Constantino de Miguel: So we have the address of your website right there on screen.
Uncle Roy Yokelson: Antlandproductions.com
Constantino de Miguel: Yes interview with Uncle Roy from Antland Productions in New York. Thank you very much for your time and very useful comments Roy… Uncle Roy.