May, 2014

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“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” – Robert J. Hanlon

Squish, clang, pow! Foley in Your Home Studio

When I was younger, I remember reading an article in Nickelodeon magazine about “awesome fun jobs”. One of them attracted my attention back then, long before I got into vocal and audio work, and long before I had a home studio: foley artists.

Even today, foley artists are the mysterious, clever folks that get counted on for every manner of sound imaginable. Foley work is magical and makes a mess, as evidenced by this dramatization of how foley artists work:

I’ve only watched that video a couple hundred times.

Foley_Room_at_the_Sound_Design_CampusWhen voice actors go to add sound effects to our work, we often think that it’s easiest to go online, download a sound effect, and just tack it on there..but this can be a problem. First, if you use the same sound everyone else uses, people notice. For example, there’s a sound from The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind that is used for lightning spells. It’s an electrical crackle that I recall well. I hear that sound a lot in movies and TV shows, to the point where it actually takes me out of the experience.

“But Sam!” you yell at your monitor. “I can’t do foley in my home studio! It’d make a mess! They’re always punching watermelons and slamming shoes!”

But you can.

All it takes is preparation. See, I do a lot of my own sound effects, including most of the ones in my voice demos. Now, some of you might not be keen on ripping apart mangoes and breaking plywood in your home studio, but there is a lot of foley you can do without making much of a mess. Among the ones I do a lot:

  • Shoes walking – take your pair of shoes and a plywood or tile-covered board and add in footsteps.
  • Paper rustling – rustle some paper!
  • Pencil scribbling – I scrape a piece of plastic over a piece of wood.
  • Punch sounds – I punch a ham or a fistful of ground beef wrapped tightly in cellophane.
  • doors opening and closing – I open and close an old jewelry box, and then pitch it down in post.
  • Thunder – shake a piece of aluminum sheeting.

Adding your own effects can be very fun, can save you money on purchasing sounds, and also adds to your skills that you can advertise. Give it a shot next time you need a sound effect, before you consider downloading someone’s stock audio.


Sam Swicegood is an author, speaker, blogger, and podcaster from Cincinnati, OH. He is the author of fantasy and science-fiction literature, including The Wizards on Walnut Street and No Place.

Foley Room at the Sound Design Campus courtesy Wikipedia

COUGH HACK COUGH (Voice actors with sore throats; what’s the remedy?)

One of the most satisfying moments in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera is the moment when Carlotta, the pain-in-the-neck diva and leading soprano, has her voice sabotaged halfway through the opera house’s El Muto, coughing and sputtering onstage in embarrassment. It’s quite the moment and you can’t help but laugh…

…until it happens to you. Not the ‘being sabotaged’ part, but the coughing and sputtering part at least. That’s what happened a week or so ago when I blew my voice out during a gig (I’m talking real gigs here, not Fiverr gigs. I don’t do that anymore!). As a person who loves to talk a lot, a sore throat is really devastating. As a voice actor, even more so.

A sore throat as interpreted by a chiking mime

So there I was, about a week ago, almost unable to talk. Of course, I still have to talk for my marketing job, so I wasn’t really getting better on my own. See, I have a day job, but many voice actors don’t. Days off from sore throats can mean lots of paid work lost, so fast recovery is paramount.

So I had to look at how I was going to recover. First step: how do other voice actors and vocalists recover from a sore throat? Successful Singing gives advice like Vitamin C and discourages traditional remedies like tea.  Their number 1 remedy? Rest.

Meanwhile, I also shot a tweet to some voice actors I know and just asked. Legendary voice actor Nicole Oliver replied with her best advice: “Rest. Warm fluids, but rest is really what you need to do.”

So there you have it, folks. Rest your voice, drink lots of water. Before you know it you’ll be back up and behind the mic.


Sam Swicegood is an author, speaker, blogger, and podcaster from Cincinnati, OH. He is the author of fantasy and science-fiction literature, including The Wizards on Walnut Street and No Place.

Voice Actors should read more

Yeah, that’s right. You heard me. Voice actors: read more. When was the last time you read a book? Which is to say, for fun?

I have an addiction to books. I go through them faster than I go through candy, which is honestly saying something because I go through candy far too quickly for my own good (This is why I am a fat voice actor, folks). My addiction to books started when I was a kid, and I did something stupid and got punished by my parents. They took my TV and computer privileges away for over a year and a half (I was a really bad kid). Disconnected from the world, I turned to books, and started hitting up my library every day.

Pictured: my childhood playground

All of this reading had a profound side-effect on me: I ended up with a great vocabulary. Words that would stump people of my grade level were a breeze to me because I’d read them before a few times in difficult books. Reading international (English) books exposed me to different uses of certain kinds of words, and I picked up on them quickly.

It also had the side effect of helping me learn new words quickly, and even recognize words I’d never seen before and how they should be pronounced. English is a language of patterns (with some exceptions, of course). I was picking up on these patterns and learning how the etymology of words works. (Fun aside: a better vocabulary can also help your rapping skills.)

Take, for example, the word-part bel. I noticed that the words rebellion, belligerentantibellum, and rebel all deal with being combative or warlike. Upon doing some research I discovered that all of these are related to the Latin bellum, meaning “War” or “conflict”. So when I came across, in a cold read, the word bellicose, I had an idea that it might have to do with being combative. And, as it turns out, I was right. Just having a bigger vocabulary from being a reader improved my skills as a voice actor.

So how can a voice actor of today take advantage of this? Some tips for you on improving your vocabulary:

  • Get a word-a-day calendar. Also sign up for AWAD delivered to your inbox.
  • If you find a word in your script or book you don’t recognize, try to guess its meaning before looking it up. You’ll get good at this, I promise, and eventually you’ll end up being right more than you’re wrong.
  • Try to learn bits of the etymologies of words. Wiktionary includes etymology in a lot of its definitions. Also learning a little bit about German and Latin (the two biggest parents of English) can help immensely!
  • Read. Read a lot. Read more! Challenge your own mind and read books slightly above your own reading level and immerse yourself in a chapter or two. Read out loud, if you can, because then you can also work on your cold reading skills.

Best of luck to you. And trust me on the word-a-day calendar.


Sam Swicegood is an author, speaker, blogger, and podcaster from Cincinnati, OH. He is the author of fantasy and science-fiction literature, including The Wizards on Walnut Street and No Place.

The Creep of Artificial Voiceover

A little rant about artificial voice. 

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Long Copy and “The Zone”

Some voice actors hate long, boring copy.

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