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Monday, 13 December 2010 18:33

Recording Remotely

Written by  Gordon Meyer
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AudioCol_ArthurIf you ask people in the production biz what’s meant by the term “HD audio,” you’re likely to get very different answers. For an exhibitor, it might mean a state-of-the-art 7.1 channel surround system. For an engineer, it could be a major upgrade to a mixing board. But for Arthur Roberts, it means having an edge over his competition to get gigs.

Roberts is one of those rare people known as a “working actor,” and, unlike the vast majority of SAG and AFTRA members, Roberts has supported himself for over 40 years solely through acting jobs in television shows, films, commercials and industrials.
“To work as an actor, you have to play this game called survival,” Roberts observes. “That means you do whatever pays the rent that’s legitimate.” And, for him, that includes plenty of voiceover work as part of the mix. But he also needs to deal with some logistical challenges. Until a few months ago, whenever Roberts had a voiceover audition, he’d drive from his home in the Marina del Rey section of Los Angeles to his agent’s office in the San Fernando Valley to record his audition in the agent’s recording studio where the agent could also coach Roberts’ performance. This created a problem, as the drive could take as much as an hour in each direction, especially in traffic. “I finally asked my agent, ‘If I can set up a home recording studio, can we do this by remote, where you’re listening to my takes live by phone and giving me performance feedback?’” Roberts recalls. “He agreed but said he didn’t think I was capable of setting up my own studio. I love it when people challenge me like that just so I can prove them wrong.”
Roberts’ first task was to go microphone shopping, and, beginning with no preconceptions of which mike would be best, he began to do research. He explains that for on-camera auditions, an actor’s talent, charisma, looks and personality are key selling points, but the opposite is true for voiceover work, where casting decisions are made solely by what is heard on the tape –– or, these days, the MP3. This is why Roberts’ microphone selection would be critical. “A hair’s difference in the quality of sound in an audition can make or break whether or not you get the job,” notes Roberts.
While friends and colleagues offered suggestions, Roberts was committed to personally auditioning the top contenders, including the RODE Podcaster, which had the reputation of being the industry standard and the best USB microphone on the market at the time. Roberts took one of his voiceover scripts to West L.A. Music, a store in West Los Angeles that caters to professional musicians, where he recorded an audition with each mic using the same mixing console so he could do an “apples to apples” comparison. And, as his colleagues had told him, the Podcaster sounded very good.  
Next, the salesman brought out a brand new Yeti from Blue Microphone, a retro-looking mic that features four different modes –– cardioid, stereo, bidirectional and omnidirectional. The salesman pointed out that the Yeti is the only USB mic on the market that’s THX certified.  “That was all well and good, but I needed to hear how it sounded,” Roberts recalls. After he recorded his audition script, he carefully compared the Yeti’s sound to the other mics. “My voiceover career’s survival depends on the quality of my microphone,” says Roberts. “In subtle but critical ways, the Yeti outperformed all the other microphones. The recording was noticeably brighter and richer sounding. I ended up buying the first Yeti in the store.”  
Roberts now records all his auditions at his home studio using the Yeti microphone along with a pair of Audio Technica headphones to monitor the sound. He babies both products by carefully returning them to their original boxes and packing after each use –– and, all the while, the auditions keep coming.

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