Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What's It Going To Be?

The Earful - February 2013
By Tim Underwood

I'm grateful our forefathers didn't share our society's entitlement attitude. If they had, our country would've waited tirelessly for someone else to build it.

Instead of venting, try inventing. Edison did. Zuckerberg did.

They did while you're thinking about doing, or more to the point: thinking that someone else should be doing it for you.


You bet.

Though far less so than the sting that complacency and bellyaching are going to cost you in the long run.

To be fair, the world is not always the rosy land of Utopia we'd like it be. There's sickness, poverty, racism and stuff that should make any decent persons stomach turn.

Amidst that bigger backdrop is government corruption, irresponsible citizens and kids that smirk at the thought of harming an animal.

Innocent people die...


Take a walk, talk to God and leave someone better than you found them, even if all you have for them is a smile. Resist the temptation to wallow in pity. Start small. Take the time you normally spend complaining and try...just try turning it into something that's at least one iota better.

Our ancestors did. And that's why we celebrate engineering feats like Hoover Dam, dreamers like Dr. King and Sally Ride and the determination of a certain 1980 hockey team.

Write that thank you card, optimize your search engine rankings, make a splash, move a mountain.

The Constitution was once a blank piece of paper.

The pen is yours for the taking.

What's it going to be?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Can, Will, Do vs. Can't, Won't, Don't

The Earful – July 2011
By Tim Underwood

A customer asks:
" guys have any openings next week?"

A business answers:
"Nope and unfortunately we won't until the following week."

A customer asks:
" guys have any openings next week?"

A business answers:
"We can get you in the following Monday bright and early at 8 o'clock...will that work for you?"

In essence, the question was answered the same way in both scenarios.

Though one of the two responses certainly sounds less off-putting than the other. If you chose the second example as the more welcoming of the two, good for you!

It's a little rule I have and insist that my employees follow - telling clients what we CAN do for them versus what we CAN'T do for them.

Your business won't always have the right light bulb or be able to accommodate that last-minute repair; restaurants inevitably run out of their Catch of the Day and the dentist isn't always readily available after the sticky taffy was.

It happens.

So, when you're responding to a customer, take note of how many times the words can't, won't and don't appear in the transaction. Then, the next time the situation presents, try substituting can, will and do.

It's a very subtle change that WILL help turn short-term disappointment into long-term satisfaction.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Guy Named Joe

The Earful – May 2011
By Tim Underwood

A small din of laughter rippled through the last of the standing campers; weary, fighting sleep and in varying states of all partied out. More whispers than reverie, more embers than flames - sure signs the day was coming to an end.

Joe was a friend of a friend. Three hours ago, he was just a tall guy with a beer in his hand and the first person I spied after pulling into the campsite after a late start out of town.

Little did I know that what started out as a conversation about one-hit wonders of the 1970s would turn into a valuable lesson in business and accountability.

Joe was a very unassuming, gregarious fellow - the kind of guy you gravitate toward especially in those awkward first moments of joining a conversation already in progress when not knowing most of the participants.

Throughout the night (and into the next morning), Joe and I traded music trivia, laughs, drinks and more trivia.

Near the end of our musical ping-pong match, Joe brought up a couple of songs that he loved, though had been unable to find at his neighborhood record store. Years before iTunes and even at a time when not everything had been released on CD, it wasn't uncommon to come up empty-handed in one's quest for slightly obscure, forgotten songs.

At the time, I'd been in the radio broadcasting business for about 15 years and as such had amassed a fairly impressive collection of albums, 45s, cassettes and CDs. To Joe's delight, I had both of the elusive songs he'd been trying to locate.

Before retiring for the evening, I told Joe that I'd be happy to make him a cassette copy of the songs and drop the tape in the mail upon returning home after the weekend getaway.

When I awoke Monday morning, I dutifully copied the songs, got Joe's address from our mutual friend and popped the package in the mailbox.

Two days later my phone rang. It was Joe.

He was overwhelmed by my gesture and couldn't thank me enough. Aside from his pure enjoyment at hearing those songs again, he said something along the lines of, "you know Tim, most people rarely follow through on the little things they say they'll do, let alone for a total stranger and even more so with beer involved. I really, really appreciate you doing means a lot to me."

Joe's abundant gratitude changed me. It made me realize that as a society we've let our fellow man down one too many times, even with the very simplest of commitments. The delight in his voice instilled within me a wisdom that I'm convinced is not learned even after four years of pursuing a business degree.

I replay this story in my mind time and again whenever I witness failures of commitment.

Now, I'm not talking about breaking marriage vows or flaking out on showing up for your job (although some people do take it to this extreme), I'm merely focusing on those little, offhanded promises we make to one another:

Call you tonight!

I'll definitely get the lawn mowed tomorrow.
Let's grab lunch next week.

It seems as though gestures like these, while no doubt well-intended, are rather unwittingly tossed about as pleasantries in our everyday conversations. We say them because they "sound" nice and we feel good that we're being polite. Trouble is, we're ignoring the deeper value that we should be placing on these words and thus the obligations imbued within them.

To prove my point, I tracked 10 such comments over a one month period a few weeks ago. There was the business that promised a quote within 24 hours, the friend who said we needed to get together and told me they'd e-mail and even the loan officer who'd twice promised a call the next day at 1 o'clock sharp.

Would it surprise you to know that of the 10 assurances made only ONE person followed through?

This lack of accountability in our culture has gotten to the point that some feel the need to include a clause to cover any lapses in their pledges.

Just the other day, I sent my credit union an "after hours" e-mail message requesting they get in touch with me to talk about an error I'd made on my account. After pressing the send button, I was miffed at what appeared on the screen:

Your message was sent to our Phone Branch and we should respond shortly. If you have not received a response from us within two business days, please contact us by phone or visit any of our branches to talk with a representative.

We should respond shortly?

Even more troubling is their deflection of responsibility back to their customers - suggesting we contact them should they not follow through. Personally, I find this appalling. They might as well of worded it as:

We're really busy around here and may forget to check our e-mail correspondence. If we don't do our job, would you be so kind as to get a hold of us to remind us to do it?

This is further proof that humankind have developed an almost unconscious propensity for promising things we don't deliver upon and then diverting the blame or accountability elsewhere. It would be akin to me saying to Joe:

"Hey...sorry about the music I promised. I had a little to drink that night and it was late."

As I once again reflect upon that night with Joe, one thing is abundantly clear: society has lowered the bar of commitment to a degree that those who can merely hop over it will be the ones who succeed in business and who earn the respect of others.

Can we be 100% perfect?


Though when you do fall short despite your best intentions, place the blame squarely where it belongs (likely on yourself), don't make excuses and remedy the oversight as quickly as possible.

And for all those times you do remember to do what you say, be prepared to bask in the infectious exuberance you'll no doubt experience from the recipient of your good word.

Lesson learned from a guy named Joe.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

How to Be a Go-To Voice Talent | Part 3

The Earful – January 2011
By Tim Underwood
Over the next three months, I'll be sharing material that was supplemental to my June keynote at Voice 2010 in Los Angeles. The presentation was divided into three important skill sets that envelop all professional voice talents: business skills, technical skills and session skills.

The session was very well-received and I've had several requests from non-attendees to publish the material.

Here's installment three of three.

Session Skills - I love Tom Cassidy as a voice actor. For those of you who don’t know about Tom, he’s the owner of SunSpots Productions in Asheville, North Carolina and Orlando, Florida and is one hell of a voice actor.

Aside from his voicing abilities…

Tom is one of the best at session etiquette I have ever encountered.

I’ve had talents who broke into some shrieking voice that pegged the meters on my ISDN box and console and riddled my sound booth (and my client’s ears) with a god-awful cacophony of unfunny babble.

Tom listens. Really listens.

When he does “free-from”, it’s brief, volume appropriate and more often than not, puts a smile on my client’s faces. If there’s anyone guilty of getting carried away when Tom’s in the house, it’s probably me; Tom’s always kind enough to indulge me with his spot-on Christopher Walken, when appropriate.

Bill Barrett is an equally brilliant talent from nearby Eugene, Oregon. His Bing Crosby floors me every time. On a whim, he did a throwaway take of a rather average piece of copy as Bing, knowing we had a few moments to spare and that…well…I was a sucker for it.

More importantly, he correctly sensed that my clients were impressed at the brevity of the session, his ability to nail the direction and that a moment of levity would be welcomed.*
When he finished the copy, everyone was laughing...truly laughing. In a bizarre shift of direction, the agency actually used the Bing take start to finish!


If you need to be loud, please be loud two feet away from the microphone. Remember, the engineers have set your recording level based on you reading the script (for example) as a kindly grandfather selling health care, not as Marilyn Manson selling a monster truck show.

I understand that these little nuances are often critical to a performer feeling uninhibited during a session and that often the best takes during said session immediately follow a spontaneous moment of improvisation.

Of the three skill sets, I can be the most forgiving of shortcomings in this particular one. This is acting. This is you doing what you love and giving it your all. This is the one category where a little something unexpected, loud or goofy, can blossom into something truly magical!

My intent with both this article and my VOICE 2010 presentation is to help you avoid pitfalls like these and to make you aware of habits/traits you may not even realize you have.

If you're not getting hired as much as you think your talents merit, the answer could lie within your degree of professionalism rather than within the age of your demo reel.

I will not sugarcoat my opinions; though by the same token, will do my best to be constructive rather than nagging. It's my sincerest hope to give you something of value to learn from – ergo helping you with your business, your income potential and your career.

As I’ll mention in the opening of my VOICE 2010 presentation, ANY one of you could do a keynote on How to be a Go-To Engineer/Producer. We all have our stories, insights and professional opinions and by involving ourselves in information symposiums like VOICE 2010, can feed off the synergy created by the expertise of our combined disciplines - hopefully learning a thing or three along the way.

In the end, the most important achievement is creating for our clients, a product that lures more customers, sells more widgets and reinforces the demand for exceptional work from exceptional professionals.

Thank you for time and your talents!

*I wasn't trying to be cute in rhyming brevity and levity...just noticed this during the 11th reread. Don't feel like another re-write and besides, Forensic Files is starting on truTV!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How to Be a Go-To Voice Talent | Part 2

The Earful – December 2010
By Tim Underwood
Over the next three months, I'll be sharing material that was supplemental to my June keynote at Voice 2010 in Los Angeles. The presentation was divided into three important skill sets that envelop all professional voice talents: business skills, technical skills and session skills.

The session was very well-received and I've had several requests from non-attendees to publish the material.

Here's installment two of three.
Technical Skills - What follows, are two brief exchanges between me and a couple of different folks during different sessions.

Tim: "Great take! Listen, it sounds like you're drifting a bit off-axis...can you get a little closer to the mike?”

Talent: "Off-axis? What's that?"

Tim: "You're going off to the side of the mike and missing the sweet spot making the audio a bit we go...rolling on take seven."

(This second scenario absolutely stunned me. Not the talent's fault on this one, though worthy of a few computer keystrokes to tell you the story. Similar situations have happened with talents engineering their own sessions, though this is the most egregious example with a dedicated engineer and absolutely inexcusable. This took place during an ISDN session from my studio to one of the Northwest's premier production houses.)

Tim: "I'm getting a nasty rumble at about 100-125 guys hearing that?"

Other Engineer: "This is the one studio in the building without AC...we've got a fan in the booth so (the talent) doesn't burn up. 

Tim: "Can we turn it off and then on again for a few minutes after every three or so takes?"

Other Engineer: "It’s a sweatbox in here. You can filter it in post."

The other engineer was partly correct. While I could certainly filter most of it in post, cutting down the fan’s rumble frequency was also going to take that same frequency out of the talent's voice, resulting in a thin-sounding read. Had there not been music throughout the spot to mask the remaining rumble and add some low-end, the tracks would've been unusable.

I incurred an extra 15 minutes of work because of this engineer. Since I refuse to pass charges like this onto my clients (not their fault), I ate the time.

Not only have I never used this studio again, I later learned they removed their ISDN box because it wasn't generating enough revenue.

Gee...wonder why?

Throughout the years, I've connected to home studios and during sessions heard babies crying, dogs barking, The 405, weed whackers and a host of other unwelcome audio intrusions.

I've also had talents who've unplugged live mikes (never, ever do this), not understood rudimentary technical terms and who've struggled with ISDN settings to the point where we had to abandon the connection and switch to a phone patch. More non-billable time for me and (of course) my client had to witness the entire cluster.


Engineers/producers shouldn't expect talents to be experts with standing wave ratios and comb filtering, no more than voice talents should expect engineers/producers to possess the pitch-intonation and improvisation skills they have.

What we do expect is a clean audio chain, noise-free booth and that you have a handle on how to use the basic functions of your equipment.

I realize that living situations will dictate how much noise isolation is possible and that moving to a quiet farm in Vermont or telling your neighbors to quit mowing their lawn are options most of you don't have.

The options you do have are purchasing a vocal booth from a company such as VocalBooth™ (located in Bend, Oregon and here at VOICE 2010!), moving your operation to your basement or quieting the room you do have with sound reinforcement.

Optimize your studio and your knowledge thereof. Passing along pristine audio to the folks down the line will go a long way towards optimizing your value as a Go-To Voice Talent!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How to Be a Go-To Voice Talent | Part 1

The Earful – November 2010
By Tim Underwood
Over the next three months, I'll be sharing material that was supplemental to my June keynote at Voice 2010 in Los Angeles. The presentation was divided into three important skill sets that envelop all professional voice talents: business skills, technical skills and session skills.

The session was very well-received and I've had several requests from non-attendees to publish the material.

Here you go!

Business Skills - There’s a talent on my roster I occasionally use. This person is talented enough and is very attentive with sending invoices, keeping me updated with vacation outages, etc.

Still, I've not warmed up to them in the way I have to other talents and as such, don't frequent their "voice boutique" too often.

Then it hit me: it's their personality; their dourness, in particular.

I know what you're thinking. Get over it, Tim. Not everyone's like you and you're just being difficult. Learn to deal with people and rise above it.

Point taken.

Now, follow along with me as I indulge you in another restaurant corollary. This story is 100% true and not embellished for the sake of bolstering my position. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and guilty).

With a population of 80,000, Bend, Oregon is large enough to have the big box stores while still small enough to have a very healthy amount of "mom and pops".

My studio is located downtown. If I had to guess, downtown Bend is probably a 90-10 mix of businesses, with the little guys dominating most of the landscape.

While not as quaint as Mayberry, it's most certainly not as sprawling as downtown Los Angeles. If he were alive today, Norman Rockwell would have no trouble in finding subject matter for at least a dozen paintings after a 30 minute stroll up and down our two main thoroughfares.

Nearly every day, I'll "make the rounds" to the post office, the bank and less frequently, though still within walking distance, to my barber, lawyer and CPA. I've done this for more than 11 years and as you might imagine, either wave to or receive waves from shop owners tending their stores.

Often during my treks, I'll see someone I know. We exchange hugs and/or pleasantries and every once in a while a third person whom we both know will round a corner and our posse will spend a few precious moments together.

There's a great energy about downtown Bend. While vibrant with commerce, it's also rich with historic parks, jaw-dropping mountain views and a true sense of community. I feed off that energy. It invigorates, inspires and satisfies me.

Here's the "buzz-harsher" and the point of my analogy:

Near my studio is a Chinese restaurant. Though not a favorite of mine, I'd lunched there maybe a half-dozen times over the years due to its proximity and killer sesame beef. This restaurant was also financially sound with a well-established customer base and uniqueness as the only Chinese joint downtown.

A few years ago, it was purchased by an acquaintance. This individual had come into some money and was looking for a business opportunity. Daily, in true Rockwell-like fashion, "Steve" swept away debris from the eatery’s entrance area 15 or so minutes before flipping the Open sign.

Since our schedules didn't coincide, I saw Steve maybe once a month. On one particular and otherwise postcard perfect day, I headed out early to jump-start my energy absorption.

"Hey Steve," I proclaimed.

"Hey," he offered in an uninspired tone.

"How's biz?"

"Shitty. Fired my night cook and my f***ing produce guy hasn't shown up yet."

Unwittingly, Steve had just thrown a bucket of paint on my Rockwell and vandalized my picture.

After a pause to formulate my response, all I could seem to orate was an equally uninspired, "gosh...sorry to hear that."

With a few strokes of the broom he said, "wanna come by for lunch?"

" thanks...packed a sandwich today."

I lied.

After a bit more conversing, I was on my way; hopeful that the anticipated energy of this day hadn't evaporated in those first few minutes.

I reflect on this moment often. While we as business owners aren't immune to the occasional funky mood or delinquent vendor, it's my belief that there's a certain amount of "game face" obligation required when you're serving the public.

I also reflect on this moment each time I become engaged in conversation with the aforementioned voice talent. Something is always wrong, broken or bad.

"Hey...I noticed you don't have your toll-free number anymore," I said during a recent call.

"Yeah...costs too much money. Besides, no one's calling anyway, what's the point?"

I took the bait. I didn't want to prolong the woe, but still bit.

"If no one's calling, then you don't get charged, sans what...eight or nine bucks in excise fees or some federal tax, right?"

"Eight or nine bucks is a big deal, Tim."

Come to think of it, the talent's right. Eight or nine bucks is a lunch out. And I know just the place. In fact, if Steve still owned the restaurant, the two of them could spend hours commiserating on the cruelties of life and how the government's just out to get 'em!


"Hey Steve," I proclaimed.

"Hey," he offered in a somewhat inspired tone.

"How's biz?"

"Always challenging, never boring! Breaking in a new cook at dinner tonight, maybe looking for a new produce vendor...know anyone?"

After a pause to gather ourselves after a shared chuckle, Steve offered, "sesame beef's awesome as always...see you for lunch?"


In this imaginary scenario, Steve is still acknowledging that all is not perfect, though if anyone's up for the challenge, it's him. This may sound too Utopian for some of you, though considering the two scenarios, whose restaurant would you rather eat at? Which sounds like a more appetizing dining experience for your eight or nine bucks?

During Steve's remaining tenure at the restaurant, I never returned for a meal. After nearly running it into the ground, he eventually sold it. Haotian, the new owner, didn't make major changes to the menu, though he did have the place painted a brighter color.

His infectious smile and cheerful demeanor somehow make the sesame beef taste that much better and I'm now somewhat of a regular.

The graffiti is off the Rockwell.


Am I going to want to book the talent who's friendly and time-efficient or the one who bends my ear for 10 minutes with the drama du jour?

Yes. A relative dying or a child with brain cancer (two real scenarios I've dealt with) are exceptions that I will absolutely make time for.

What I do find difficult (and very ironic), is feeling compassion for talents (and also customers and vendors) who have seemingly endless time to spend complaining about not being busy enough.

Get your nose to the grindstone, stop wasting time talking about not being busy and get busier. Cold call, optimize your Web site for the search engines, do something. Save the consoling 'til after five with a loved one or close friend.

You'd be surprised what a more positive attitude can produce during working hours, both in yourself and in those you serve.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shortcomings of the DIY'er

The Earful – October 2010
By Tim Underwood
The following is in response to another blog at

The original post and subsequent comments were discussing how amateurs could improve the quality of home recordings for the purpose of incorporating self-narration into e-Learning software that they or their company were planning to take to market.

Hello Tom-

Well-written and some good pointers for those getting their feet wet in the world of "do-it-yourself" recording! Your four basic tips are indeed crucial to improving the quality of an audio recording.

In reading your article, I'm reminded of a "do-it-yourself" project I embarked on several years ago.

As a way to save money (or so I thought), I was determined to try my hand at remodeling the back section of a small home I was living in. Nothing major mind you; no load-bearing walls to deal with or concrete to pour, just a little framing and Sheetrock work I thought...easy, right?

I pulled out my trusty, mid-70s era "do-it-yourself" manual from Reader's Digest and headed down to the neighborhood hardware store for mud, tape, nails and some friendly, hometown advice.

Later that month, still immersed in measuring, sawing, cursing, mudding, taping and cursing more, I was nearing the finishing point and mostly fed-up with the experience.

I'd made somewhat of a mess of things. The new door/frame assembly was cockeyed in the framed area I'd installed it into, the seam lines at the join points in the Sheetrock were far from unnoticeable and my sense of pride was shattered when my then fiancée was less than overwhelmed with my handy-work.

Without much debate, we relinquished ourselves to hire a professional carpenter to come in and finish the job.

The man was a true diplomat in his critique of my work, though his underlying message was abundantly clear: kid, you're in over your head.

I was indeed.

Had I finished the job, would I have been proud enough to bring my friends back to the room and boast about my “weekend warrior” carpentry skills?

Heck no.

As I recall, the bill to make things right was about $1200 for three days' work. The end result was not only professional, it was “boast-worthy”.

Hopefully, this little story should underscore something of larger importance: even if you have the best of intentions and think you have the right tools, a professional performing their craft will produce markedly better results.

I know when to check my ego at the door. I know the difference between well-done and wannabe and I wish more people did.

I'd NEVER present this work to neighbors or friends (let alone potential consumers) as a representation of my "skills" and no way would I ever think to take a product to market that reflected such.

Voice talent "warriors" go into recording with the best of intentions. They think, "hey, I've got a good voice, a computer and a USB microphone - how hard can it be, right?"


I had a book, tool belt, saw and a hammer.

What I lacked was skill, experience and an undying passion for the work I was attempting.

As my left foot returns to the ground from the soapbox:

If you want to have fun with consumer-grade equipment and an untrained voice, go wild on YouTube or make your significant other an audio greeting card.

If you’re a company taking an e-Learning course to market, hire a professional voice talent with professional equipment. The reasonable investment you make will pay you back many times over and save you a mountain of frustration, money (yes, time is money) and embarrassment in the process.

The professionals are waiting at