Blue Baby Bottle, Baby

I t was time to fatify and robusticate. To infuse that extra heft to my vocal fidelity. It’s common for people to be shocked or embarrassed when they hear their voice played back to them. They cringe and say, “that’s what I sound like?” I had the same reaction when I heard my voice through this new mic: “That’s what I sound like?!?!” Except for me, with the Blue Baby Bottle, it wasn’t in horror, it was in satisfaction.

Sometimes the word ‘Microphone’ makes me think of the French word for Microwave: ‘Micro-ondes.’ Just Me?

Whenever I upgrade equipment, I’m reminded of how awesome it is to upgrade equipment. When I was drumming in a band (I played with these guys), I remember distinctly how each individual upgrade contributed to a more enjoyable style of play.

RIP Super Rad Drum Kit that Helped Fund my Move to NYC.

RIP Super Rad Drum Kit that Helped Fund my Move to NYC.

When I got a new kick pedal, I could play better with my feet and it opened up a new way of playing. Ditto getting a new hi hat stand. A new ride cymbal changed the way I played. Same with new hi hat cymbals and drum heads. Every piece of new equipment was like a new injection of life into the quality of my sound and the style of my play. Long story short: upgrading is good.

Given my experience with upgrading my drum kit, I shouldn’t have been surprised when a new microphone changed my relationship to my voice. But, needless to say, I was surprised…pleasantly.

The Blue Baby Bottle is a smaller version of Blue’s flagship microphone, Bottle. Smaller, in this case, doesn’t mean it packs any less punch. I find this microphone to be extremely sensitive, delivering ultra-rich tones and deepening my low range.

It has deepened my relationship with my voice.Me, a little later

It comes in a cherry-wood box that feels super sexy. It makes the whole experience of getting a new microphone, feel somehow, old school. It also comes with a quality control certification, which is a nice touch. Finally, it also comes with a shock mount and a silly little windscreen. Let me rephrase, a silly little windscreen which I still use, in addition to my actual windscreen, because it actually does help. A little bit. Enough that I keep on the silly little windscreen.

And the Voice Over? How about the Voice Over?

The more that I use this mic, the more I like it. It’s given my takes a depth, a complexity that just isn’t there with the AKG Perception 220. It’s like there’s a heft to my VO now. Frankly, the Blue Baby Bottle is rad and totally blows the lid off of the VO I was able to record before.

Blue-Baby-Bottle-QC

Thanks “KA.” Your bold check marks give me comfort.

It records hot, so I tend to keep more of a distance from this mic. I find it’s almost impossible to get a clean tone if I’m right up against the mic. I’m staying around six inches away from it and placing the mic above and to the right of my direct delivery. I’m finding this is a good sweet spot to get clean vocals and still capitalize on the mic’s fat, beefy richness.

I could pretend to know more about the underlying technical specs of microphones. But I won’t. I like to stick to terms such as “fat,” “beefy” and “sexy.” These are words I can wrap my head around. I’ll turn to Barry Cleveland of mixguides.com for a guide on the specs:

“[F]or starters, the Baby Bottle is not a tube mic; it employs solid-state, Class-A discrete circuitry with a transformerless output. The Baby Bottle has a fixed-cardioid pickup pattern and significantly greater sensitivity than the Bottle.

The Baby Bottle uses an edge-terminated, single-membrane, large-diaphragm capsule. The hand-built and hand-tuned capsule is constructed using a 6-micron mylar film, sputtered with a combination of (99% pure) 24-carat gold and aluminum, tensioned to a custom brass backplate.”

Wood box. Nature approved.

Wood box. Nature approved.

For the price, this mic really is an excellent value. It has deepened my relationship to my voice. When you sound better, you feel better, and you deliver with more confidence. This mic gives life to a vocal robustness. It gives me oomph on the deep tones and richness in mid-tones that adds a maturity to my vocal quality. I feel like I can still rock the upbeat 18-22 promo, but can now, more consistently, pull off a chiller, more conversational coloring to all my delivery.

It’s Not All Rainbows and Happy Dancing Forest Elves Though, Right?

My main gripe with this mic is its self-noise. The mixguides.com review notes how minimal the self-noise is, but I couldn’t disagree more. Even on low recording levels, I find the ambient “shh”ing to be prominent. It’s almost negligible in the actual audio recording; when I’m listening to an edited track, I forget that it’s there. However, when I am actually editing a track together, the self-noise is maddening.

Mic-and-Shock-Mount

Shock mount and little piece of branded mesh-cum-windscreen.

When I cut a clip, even in perfect silence, the frame on the very edge of the edit becomes a loud pop. This doesn’t happen when I record with the AKG. What I have to do to work around this is scroll around the area where I want to make the cut bit by bit, hunting for a frame that doesn’t “pop.” It seems like, on average, one out of every ten or so frames gives me a clean cut. This has been adding a frustratingly large amount of time to my editing process.

Also, I’m not guaranteed that the edit itself is going to be entirely invisible. Most of the time, I can get a perfectly clean edit, but sometimes, the best I can do is get really really close. It’s to the point where, if you didn’t know there was an edit there, you wouldn’t hear it, but since I know it’s there, I can hear it. As I move forward, I’m going to need to do some investigating into other software and see if it’s a software issue. If anybody out there has any suggestions to help, I’d love to hear it.

All in all. I highly recommend this mic. It’s helped me take my business to the next level. Makes me excited for more upgrades to come. Maybe I can upgrade my studio to include an engineer? I could use one of those.

Next up: I hear there might be a new demo coming along. Spoiler alert: there is.

Alex HerslerBlue Baby Bottle, Baby

The 15,000 Word eLearning Project and Allergic Rhinitis: A Comedy in Three Acts.

The timing of this gig was hilarious. Allergy season. My roommate and I were driving through Redhook a day or so before the job was going to start, and the air was filled with tufts of white blooms floating along in pleasant magic. The world had just let loose the largest amount of pollen it would all year. And I’ve got hayfever (allergic rhinitis) like nobody’s business. It’s bad. And once it hits, it lingers. Everything from the neck up pulses congested and the inside of my face itches. I like to say: “I’m not allergic to dogs, I’m just allergic to earth.”

So I’m a wreck the first day I head into my booth to do this. Sneezy, nasally, hitting m’s with my entire head. In order to do this project, I came up with a daily regimen of Benadryl, sudafed and neo-synephrine. I’m also no stranger to the put-your-face-in-front-of-a-steaming-kettle technique. Neo-synephrine is actually a tool I’m going to keep on hand all the time. It’s a nasal spray that instantly and effectively clears up congestion. It’s a perfect solution if you’re heading into the booth and are little stuffed up and sounding nasally. But use it sparingly. If you use it for more than a couple of days, your congestion will get worse: trust me on this.

Global eTraining LogoThis eLearning project was a course by Global eTraining for Microsoft Word 2013. (I’m under contract not to share any of the course, so there won’t be any samples on the site). It’s level 3 of a 3-level course. Like your senior year 300-level seminar on Kant. Only it’s about advanced functionality of Word instead of metaphysics.

Frankly, there’s a lot about Word that I didn’t know. And I didn’t know I didn’t know it. Macros, powerpoint integration, linking within a long document. The upside of doing voice over for an eLearning project? You get a $275 course for free. Well, in a way. Voicing an eLearning course is an interesting irony: I’m the instructor, and I have almost no idea what I’m talking about.

Many cups of tea and many late nights later, I have some thoughts and advice on projects like this.

 
ACT ONE:VOICE OVER  

FOCUS

You need equal parts – and in large quantities – focus and patience (and when I say “you,” imagine I’m also giving advice to myself). It takes time. And you have to give it enough time. There’s a flow that I found myself getting in after about a half hour of voicing. There’s a sweet spot, where the words are flowing at the rate I’m reading, the energy is resting right in the pocket, and the delivery is hitting a consistent clarity. The best combination of mental focus and execution. It’s not a zone I can drop into instantly. It takes a while to get there. So when I do, I want to stay there and surf the wave, rather than voicing a paragraph and then immediately editing it.

FLOW

I recommend splitting the time into large chunks of voicing, and large chunks of editing, rather than editing as you go. I’ve done it both ways, and what I find is that, the two different activities involve separate parts of the brain. It works much better for me to settle into a specific activity – get in the flow of talking or in the flow of editing – and ride it out for as long as I can hold focus. When I’m editing, my voice is running cold, and when I’m switching back and forth, I have to warm back up every time I get back to the ‘splainin.

CONSISTENCY

Doing large chunks of voicing at a time also has the advantage of maintaining consistency. This is huge, and this is the area most calling out for improvement for next time. It’s hard for me to hear when I’m starting to speed up the tempo or ramp up the energy – which I start doing during a long session – and, because there’s just so much to get through, fixing mistakes in consistency becomes a huge allocation of time. I ended up redoing an entire 1,200 word section, which tacked on an extra three hours. If I had more time, I would have redone more. This is definitely something you want to be nailing the first time, because when you’re spending a ton of time laying it down – working, reworking, massaging, finessing, stopping, starting – you’re spending a ton of time cutting it down.

 
ACT TWO: EDITING  

Editing takes far more time than voicing. I find that it’s about a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio (voicing:editing) of amount of time spent. It’s certainly different, probably shorter, for others. Editing quickly is muscle I’m still building.

I edit out all the breaths, but also edit out subtle mouth noise, subtle breathing and try to get rid of anything that’s not the pure sound of my voice. Which means I’m splicing in silence everywhere. (Silence: I record a good chunk of silent room tone during every session. Just hold my breath, wait for the world to be as silent as possible, and hit record.) I’ll also do a round of pick ups for a project like this, which means I’m revoicing any sentence that has a pop or click in it and then matching the takes.

As a result, when I’m the voice over me, I want to be nice to the editor me. “Editor me” wants the cleanest takes possible. So when I’m scrubbing everything, I can just flow through a paragraph, splicing in silence, without having to hunt around for where “voice over me” picks up the thread again.

The advice here is: slow down and relax in the booth. The cleaner your takes in the booth – the less you’re fumbling, stopping, starting, resetting, clearing my voice, redoing a sentence a billion times – the more efficient you can be when you’re editing. Truth be told though, editing is always going to take a lot longer than voicing.

 
ACT THREE: ENDURANCE  

EBOOST Varieties

I’ve been experimenting with an energy supplement called EBOOST. Frankly, it’s amazing. It’s super effective and super clean. And it’s all natural. It’s essentially a huge dose of vitamin B and caffeine (as green tea leaf extract). It lasts way longer than coffee, has less of a spike, and results more directly in focus, rather than buoyancy. It feels like a more pure form of alert rather than a scattered form of wired. So it is super useful for long sessions in terms of focus. The downside: it dries out my mouth. I get a ton of mouth noise when I’m being fueled by eboost. So the jury is still out on whether it’s a good fit for VO projects. But, in general, totally recommend it. You can get a sampler of the 5 different flavors for $1 + shipping, which is around $5 or $6 total.

That’s it for now. Next up: I’ll give you my thoughts on my NEW MICROPHONE. Super excited about this one. It’s a Blue Baby Bottle. Been taking it out for a few spins. Spoiler alert: it’s dope.

Alex HerslerThe 15,000 Word eLearning Project and Allergic Rhinitis: A Comedy in Three Acts.

Beats Music IVR

I am excited to announce that I voice the IVR system for the new Beats Music App. The app officially launches on January 21st, and is getting a lot of good press right now. It’s a new music streaming service aiming to compete with the likes of Spotify and Rhapsody, but with playlists curated by folks in the music business. Helmed by Dr. Dre, Jimmy lovine and Trent Reznor (I’m a big Trent Reznor fan), I’ve got a good feeling about it.

And they’ve got me on the back end of their IVR system, so if you ever call their 800-number, that’s me. I had a blast at the recording session with Mikael Johnston, a billboard top ten charting producer, having worked on tracks from The Crystal Method, Lily Allen and Enrique Iglesias. You can check out the IVR by calling the Beats Support Center at 1-800-442-4000. When prompted by the first dude, press “2”

[email protected]Beats Music IVR