A Tribute to Audio Engineers

Audio engineers are some of my favorite people.   They tend to be pretty mellow, which makes them a blessedly steady presence in the studio and a good counterpoint to my, um, effervescent emotions.

They’re always ready with a comeback to any line I quote from Star Trek, Firesign Theatre, Firefly, or Monty Python.  I am in awe of their skills and instincts, and I am forever grateful for how much they teach me, problem-solve scary tech glitches, reassure me, and make me sound good.

They are, literally and figuratively, grounded.

 A few memorable examples:

 Heather, just want you to know that a three-ton oak branch fell on my studio roof over the weekend and fried a few components.  But don’t worry; everything will be online in time for our workshop.  [And it was.]   -Don Ross, Don Ross Productions

I really don’t hear that hum.  Here’s a spectrograph of the sample.  See? It doesn’t even register.  – Zach Herries, Mosaic Audio

You’ll be fine; we can fix this over the phone.  Do you see ‘Setup’ in the top menu?  Okay, click the drop-down and choose ‘H/W Buffer Size’ and tell me what it says . . .   -Dan Reyhle, Pro Sound & Video

Mom, you always think you suck and you don’t, so I am NOT going to punch in over that last take.  -Logan Donielson

You will be fine.  Your mounting arm WILL fit this monitor.  I promise.  [And it did.]   -Dylan Driscoll,                              Sweetwater.com

Before you say no: the deadline isn’t until July.    -Paul Fowlie, Common Mode, Inc.

We can stitch some of those in so you don’t have to do so many pick-ups.  -Dirk Gouwens, Oasis Audio

All you have to do is relax and narrate the book.  We’ll take care of the rest.  -Nathan Semes, Deyan Audio

[Regarding the outtake full of obscenities that I forgot to trim off before I sent a file late one night …]  There was certainly no offense, Heather – it was pure comic relief.  In fact, thank you for it!  – Greg Lawrence, On Purpose Productions

And from the many unnamed engineers who have uttered this music-to-my-ears:

 It sounded great.  Still rolling.

We can fix that.

No, you didn’t peak.

No, you didn’t pop.

There’s a work-around.

Do you need your headphones turned down?

Yeah, we’ll be using the Neumann U87 today.

It’s fine; we have plenty of time. You’ll get it.  Take Twenty-Five. And: rolling.

So as we celebrate the narrators and producers nominated this week for the 2014 Audies Awards, I would also like to send a huge thank-you to those unsung heroes, the wonderful audio engineers who make the nominees (and the rest of us) sound — shiny!


A Love Story

In 1979, I fell in love with a guy named Dave.

Yeah, I know–I was a little mystified by this myself.  From the outside, we couldn’t have seemed more different.  I was a prissy English major at the University of Oregon with my eye on academia; he was a science geek at U of O whose only career goal, from what I could tell, was to find a job that would cover rent and beer.

But he invited me out for a cup of coffee, and that was that.

We went on hikes and bike rides.  We watched Star Trek on my little black-and-white TV.  I  followed him on climbing trips (Mt. Whitney, Mt. Hood, Devil’s Tower, Joshua Tree, Smith Rock), where I’d go birdwatching at the base while he and his friends made ascents.

He followed me to the underworld, where he’d find me huddled and shaking, and he’d lead me gently up to the sunlight.

He taught me not to make Visa payments by taking out cash advances on my Visa card.  (I know, right?  Cool tip!)  I taught him that there were more feelings inside of him than just “hungry” and “tired.”  We read sci-fi and played Battlezone and skied and went on more climbing trips.  We stood on our porch in Portland and watched Mt. St. Helens erupt.

I helped him find the courage to apply to medical school (but I kept my day job).  He helped me find the courage to go to drama school.

In 1982, we brought our best and worst selves together and began a marriage.

Plans changed a little:

And again:  

We named our babies Whitney and Logan, after mountains.

And then a blur of diapers in the dryer, Barbies and Lincoln logs, Halloween contraband, puppies, homework, camping trips, pet funerals, and more candles on every cake.  Dave’s schedule was grueling . . .

. . . but he managed to be there to shoulder the baby backpack, find lost chickens, pull blueberries out of noses, patch the roof, attend most recitals . . .

. . . light the coals and flip the burgers, assemble toys from Santa, keep the cars going.

Keep me going.

Whitney and Logan grew up on us:

Dave and I started hiking and skiing more.  We watched Firefly on our new HD TV.  I turned my voice gigs into a business.  Dave built me a recording studio and gave me constant encouragement (but kept his day job).

And suddenly, it’s our 30th anniversary.  Amazing.  So much has changed in our marriage, but some of the most important things haven’t.  We’re still best friends; we still drive each other crazy sometimes; we still make each other laugh.  He’s still my hero.

This evening, we’ll celebrate by hiking up a local peak to eat a picnic dinner and toast the next 30 years.  I’ll make the food and buy the wine, but Dave, as usual, will haul most of it up the trail.

Because that hasn’t changed, either:  I’m still a cheap date, and he still carries the heaviest pack.

My Thanksgiving Adventure

It’s been a busy month for me work-wise, for which I am grateful.  Holiday advertising is in full swing, which means voiceovers — for which I am also grateful.  And I just finished narrating one book and am starting into another* — again, grateful!

But I was sure looking forward to a day off at Thanksgiving.  We’d be convening at my sister’s house in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range.  It would be a complete change of scenery and pace, and I promised myself that I would not talk, not even THINK, about work for the whole darned day.

And that’s what happened.  For awhile.  A wonderful dinner, the pleasure of beloved family around me, the smell of the woodstove, the sound of rain misting down outside.  A special treat this year was one of the guests, Wagner Soares, a professional bassist and music student from Brazil.  He was part of a recent CD project for which my sister wrote some lyrics, and he is a gem of a human being: sensitive, talented, intelligent.

Before pie, we all suited up in rain gear and headed out on our traditional Thanksgiving Day hike.  A mile or so into the forest, most of the group turned around, but I wasn’t done hiking — I’d been waiting for this for weeks! — so Wagner and I continued on alone.   We chatted a little about general things, then about our respective work, and then Wagner asked:  “So what mics do you have?”

And it was all over.

We talked and talked: about mics and mixers, about Pro Tools and Logic and Apogee and frequency response and the pencil tool and getting your groove back when you have to stop for punch-ins.   We discovered that we both have a tendency to enjoy the solitude of our work too much, so we’re both strict about getting out for daily walks.  I told Wagner I’d once had to struggle through some Portuguese names in an audiobook, and he taught me basic pronunciation.  Wagner tried to describe how he misses and doesn’t miss Brazil, and I taught him the English proverb “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

Suddenly we looked around: it was almost dusk, and we were at the intersection of two logging roads I’d never seen before, with miles of forest around us.

“Should we take the right-hand fork?” Wagner asked.  “It looks like it might eventually loop back to the road.”

This, of course, would have been extremely unwise.  You don’t want to follow an unknown route in the coast mountains, out of cell phone range, at dusk, in the rain.  It wouldn’t have been a dire situation, but it could have gotten miserable pretty fast.  We were also dressed in deer colors, and I didn’t have my trusty cougar alarm.

And yet, I considered it.   I mean, we were just starting on the topic of Blue mics for the iPad!

But I dragged my attention back to our surroundings and told Wagner we needed to retrace our route.  After all, I said, we’d still have the several miles back to tie up all our conversational threads.  By the time we made it back to the house, we were wet, hungry, blessedly talked-out, and thoroughly enjoying our new friendship.

So yes, I did talk about work on my day off.  A whole lot.

And for that, I am grateful.


*What books, you ask?  Okay, okay; twist my arm:

I just finished Martha Beck’s newest book, for HighBridge Audio:

And I’m starting for Blackstone Audio I’d Rather Be in Charge, a great motivational title for women in business by former Undersecretary of State Charlotte Beers.

The Magic of the Studio

Heather's Playhouse
Heather's Playhouse.

One of the most enjoyable voiceovers I ever did was an online calculus course for Cengage Learning.  I spent maybe 60 hours recording things like:


At the time I was doing this job, my father was very ill, and my siblings and I were sharing the care of him.  I’d go into each session and concentrate on making sure that Y = 2 ÷ (5 + z) didn’t sound like Y = (2 ÷ 5) + z . . . and for awhile, my worry and stress were forgotten.

A recording booth is many things to me.  It’s where I earn a living, of course, but it’s more than just the gig.  It’s a place of intense concentration and creativity, a place where I work hard and love what I’m doing.  It energizes and centers me, and the hours fly.

(What’s not to love when you get to do ads like this?)  [audio:http://heatherannehenderson.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/MeadowviewYogurt4.mp3]

When I’m in my home studio, especially, I lose all sense of time, because I can’t hear the noises that anchor me to the rhythms of an ordinary day.  Garbage trucks will come and go; the UPS guy might tromp the front steps; my husband will come home from work, fix dinner, and watch the game . . . and I’m oblivious.  (Well, except for the rugby World Cup — I’m watching those games right alongside him!  But I digress.)

I glance at the clock on my monitor and it’s 3 PM; I glance again, and it’s 8.

My booth is so insulated, in fact, that if someone knocks on the door I usually jump out of my shoes.   I now ask friends and family to text instead (e.g., “I’m standing outside your door”) — it still startles me, but less!

So to all my lovely clients who appreciate that I make money and/or art for them: let me assure you that the pleasure is mutual.  And to my husband, who built me my rockin’ home studio: I promise I’ll finish in time tonight to fix you dinner and catch the the NZ-Australia semifinal.

How about you, dear readers?  Where is your time machine — what makes the hours fly?

An Audition Abroad (Thanks to Linkedin)

I have a love-hate thing with social media.  I don’t like how much time it can suck up, but I love how many great connections it has given me.  (I also love composing snarky tweets, but those don’t enhance my business as well.)

A case in point is how I came to voice this ad:

I was driving from Oregon to Canada on a mini-vacation with my husband.  I’d purposely left my laptop and recording gear at home –which basically guaranteed that Murphy’s Law would kick in and I’d get great auditions and job offers as soon as we hit I-5.

Sure enough, somewhere around Nowhere, Washington, I got a text from Paul Machu, a producer and longtime client, asking if I could send him a sample read for a TV ad. It was a rush request, and if I got the gig I’d be voicing the whole ad campaign.  No way was I passing on this.

But where could I record an audition in the next 6 hours?  I racked my little brain. Suddenly a memory surfaced of a Linkedin discussion from months back in the Working Voice Actors group (tirelessly managed by Ed Victor). . . a producer named Alex someone from Canada — Vancouver? Victoria? . . . the studio name was a sailing term . . . Spinnaker Sound!  That was it!

I grabbed the iPhone and Googled Spinnaker Sound . . . Lo and behold, it was just across the border, 30 minutes away.  I called them and reached Creative Director Alex Whittaker.  Yes, he remembered me from that Linkedin discussion, and yes, he’d be happy to squeeze me in for a quick session.  A half-hour later, I was in their booth whipping out three takes, and a half-hour after that we were back on the road.

Yes, I got the gig.  But even if I hadn’t been a Stunning Success and Enhanced U.S.-Canada Relations, the whole episode would have been worthwhile purely to be able to connect with Spinnaker Sound and get to know Alex Whittaker and his studio partner, Rice Honeywell.    Rice, by the way, is hilarious — a savvy marketer and an absolute genius with accents.  Perhaps he was responsible for the clapboard concept on their website?


And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to tweet this blog and post it on Facebook and Google+ . . . oh, yeah, and Linkedin.

Look, Ma — No Noise Floor!

My new soundproof booth has passed all road tests with flying colors!  I’ve narrated one book in there so far with beautiful results, and I love having both my commercial and my audiobook mics set up so that I can switch back and forth during the day as needed.

My DH (who built it evenings over the course of a year) tried to DIY most of it, but we did splurge on Auralex and haven’t regretted it — it is so dead, and I mean that in the best way —  perfect for audiobooks, especially.   I go in there and don’t emerge for hours, which is why we call it Heather’s Playhouse:

A Meditation on Marketing

I’m brave in many things in life, but marketing hasn’t always been one of them.  I’m more like the role I played when I was an extra in Animal House: an Emily Dickinson College student. (How did they know to cast me for that??)  I’m the girl who, if she goes to parties at all, hangs out in the corner thinking Deep Thoughts.  And as a voice talent, I’m way too happy to hide in my studio all day playing make-believe into the mic – a prerequisite for the job, but sometimes too much of a good thing.

A few years ago, I realized that I really had to take a serious look at my aversion to the marketing side of my business.  I knew I had to ramp up my relationships with clients — not just on the Internet, but on the phone and in person.  So I  decided that if I could overcome my Pro Tools phobia (and I did – now I’m a shortcuts junkie and even a borderline gear-head), I could Become More Outgoing.

Being Heather, I started not by dipping my toe in the water but by jumping off a cliff into the icy lake – in the form of going to the Audio Publishers Association conference without knowing a single person.  I took a deep breath (many deep breaths), walked up to people, stuck out my hand and my business card, and introduced myself.  The relationships I made at that first conference two years ago led (eventually, circuitously) to the audiobook narrations I do now.

And of course I realized that cold calls, personal follow-ups, and general schmoozing aren’t that hard, after all.  In fact, they’re as fun as Pro Tools!  I did a little attitude adjustment, reminding myself that it wasn’t about will they like me; it was about aren’t these folks interesting? I want to know more!

I have a voice talent pal, JoJo Jensen, who spends every Wednesday making cold calls, starting usually with the receptionist at a company and more often than not ending up talking to producers.  She has built most of her business this way.  Another friend, Matt Dragon, works so diligently on making and maintaining client connections that he doesn’t even need agents anymore.  Neither of them has a particularly big presence on the Web, and both of them make more money than I do.

Last week, I spent the day in Portland walking unannounced into studios, ad agencies, and talent agencies and introducing myself.  There wasn’t a cold shoulder the whole day: everyone I met welcomed me and was interested in my work.  And I had two gigs before I even got back home.

Next phobia to confront: flying on commuter jets.  (I wonder if my MBox would make a good security blanket?)