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Bittersweet Reflections on the 4th Anniversary of Covid Lockdown

Covid lockdown production

When covid lockdown began, actors in New York City and beyond that also made a living recording commercial voiceovers, cartoons, video games and more, were essentially cut off. With recording studio booths shuttered, I made it my mission to show talent and ad agencies alike a path forward for pandemic production.

In those early days of covid, I ran a free webinar nearly weekly to teach actors how to be broadcast ready from home. Agents were sending me their actors steadily for help, and it was impossible to keep up! I recall at one point being criticized by one of many "social media voice actor teachers" who didn't seem to realize that I was doing it all for free for anyone that needed the help. There was a lot of that in those days- comments that demonstrated early on that there are in fact two very different voice actor industries at play. I would read and hear comments that bother me to this day. "How can these people call themselves voice actors if they don't even have a home studio?". This combination of ignorance and arrogance stopped me in my tracks. These actors make their living on Broadway, in films and on television. Voice acting is something to do between jobs. They never needed a home studio because that's not how the industry they're in worked. "I don't see how recording studios survive this" was another gem, as if commercial production begins and ends with that part where we record the voice. It was obvious the voice actors that had only ever worked from home lacked the experience to know how many more hours of work happen after they're done recording. As the years went on, I realized that this is a common theme across voice actor social media.

The lingering effects of covid and the long term damage it's done to the industry from casting through completion in terms of sound quality and what passes for voice acting is heartbreaking for all involved. The only thing I can do to improve things is to educate my clients and work harder to bring the best to the table. But four years ago, I was teaching something else.

Demonstrating remote production

While everyone was scrambling to figure it all out, I already had a system up and running in my new home studio, built just before covid with near comedic timing! I hosted yet another free event- this time not only for actors, but for advertising clients, talent agents and more. I enlisted the help of accomplished and veteran voice actor Debra Sperling to demonstrate how Source Connect and Zoom could be tightly integrated for seamless remote recording and mixing. Everyone watched my shared Pro Tools screen via Zoom and Debra's Source Connect audio was also fed down the line. We edited, added music and mixed. I continue to work this way when clients can't be in the room with me. They seem to appreciate watching the editing process- and the actors enjoy it to, rather than silently waiting and wondering what's going on.

After this event, we went back and worked on the spot again- this time bringing in some of the best actors around to record with Debra: Lawton Paseka, Kelly Deadmon and Jim conroy, along with music provided by KBV Records (my brother Tony Verderosa's music production company). The end result is the short video below, which I use to this day when I teach my current version of The Home Studio Primer (quite a bit different than four years ago- but a comprehensive class covering everything actors need to know to work remotely). Each actor sounds great- but they all had very different home setups. Different mics, booths, etc. And yet when properly handled, the end result is flawless- especially when great actors are involved.

At the time, I thought I was just helping actors out to be able to record. Selfishly, I also wanted to make sure studios could access these accomplished actors, and not have to settle when it comes to reads. It was later explained to me that being able to work during lockdown meant a lot of these actors were able to keep their SAG-AFTRA insurance. That's a cherry on top! I also know there were a few cases where if the actor wasn't able to get themselves setup, they weren't going to be able to keep the account. I was proud to learn recently that one such case continued for a long time through and after lockdown. I'm proud of that. It wasn't always easy to get people setup- but it was always rewarding.

The good news is that studios are open again, and the added burden of having to act while also being your own engineer is lifted. Sadly, I continue to see breakdowns from casting directors that mandate a home studio. I'm not sure where that comes from- especially in a post-Covid world. In all of the casting I've done during and after lockdown, NO agency client has ever mandated a home studio. That is always at my discretion. Perhaps it's just a habit in breakdowns? More on that another time.

Has that early lockdown voice actor arrogance dissipated in a post-covid environment? I wish I could say it has- but it hasn't. I'm happy to see so many voice actor friends posting selfies from studios again. I've returned to giving the option of in-person casting, and ALWAYS give the option of using our booths at the studio for projects I produce. I once commented on a friend's social media post "It's great to see actors back in actual studios!", to which someone replied "Define actual studio!". I bit my tongue and ignored the comment. I will address what an actual studio is. It for shit sure is NOT a 3X4 box with a mic in it. But that's another whole post.

It's amazing and impressive how much has changed and adapted over the course of the last four years. Zoom has made wonderful updates for more seamless sessions. Source Connect, which seemed for years to be relatively dormant, has gone back to innovating- with new products like Nexus Suite and Source Connect version 4. These changes not only effect my ability to work from home, but also to bring remote clients into the studio as we continue to work hybrid. A week ago I handled a job where 3 different actors were patched in together to my home studio while the clients listened on Zoom. Shortly after that, I had agency creatives in the room at Digital Arts with talent in London and clients on Zoom. Our rooms are also now equipped with Zoom monitors in the control rooms and booths so that every space is ready for hybrid work.

While I had helped thousands of people master remote capabilities, I will say with absolute certainty that there is nothing better than in-person talent and clients. Sonically. Creatively. Socially. Definitively.


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