Back in 2015, my husband created an enclosed booth for me, made of moving blankets. Big improvement for me – and didn’t cost much, either. Five moving blankets and a couple sets of grommets probably cost a little over 100 bucks.

So, what’s been added or changed over the last couple of years? Just a few tweaks, really:
the straight-back dining room chair was switched out for a more comfy padded office chair; an iPad was added; the music stand was raised up to eye level – much better for the posture and the voice.

And what’s next? Probably just some more tweaks. Lately, I’ve been searching for a wooden bar stool to replace the padded office chair. Who knew it would be so difficult to find a simple bar stool? A fancy one? Easy. But a simple one? Not so much.

Recording booth 4.0 is looming out there on the horizon somewhere. That would be a dedicated recording space – whether it’s a booth or a converted closet, with four solid walls and ventilation, and room for a remote monitor, keyboard and mouse…well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

InteriorBooth2Remember when you were a kid and you built a fort out of pillows, blankets, whatever? Same idea here – this one’s built out of moving blankets. I put it up and take it down every day that I record but it’s really the brainchild of my husband – he designed it, hammered in the grommets and installed the wood screws.

This is recording set-up 3.0 for me. When I first started out in voiceover and audiobooks, I set up the mic stand in a corner of the bedroom and hung blankets around me as best as I could. That location, however, proved to be too close to the wall we shared with our neighbors in the next apartment. So then I tried an area away from the shared wall, in front of our bedroom doorway. It was better but I really needed something more isolated and preferably, enclosed.

UntreatedVestibuleSo, it was time to tweak my set-up once again. My husband (a musician and former owner of a recording studio) and I walked around our apartment and chose the vestibule between our living room, bedroom and bathroom as the best location. Then we talked about how to treat the space, so that sound waves wouldn’t be bouncing off the walls around me, creating nasty reflections. Hanging moving blankets would be the easiest, cheapest solution. We already had several moving blankets and my husband offered to purchase the additional ones we’d need and to pound in the grommets and install the wood screws from which the blankets would hang.

A few days later, after some trial and error, my fort was ready. Here are two samples from the audiobook I’m currently working on. The first was recorded in the untreated vestibule – sounds decent but a little echo-y – but the second one was recorded in my moving blanket fort – and sounds much better, more present, less like I’m in a tunnel. Happy camper.


 

You have any recording fort adventures you’d like to share? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.

2015-04-28 20.07.38Welcome. I took quite a break from blogging – but now I’m back. And I thought I’d have a bit of an open house, just to kick things off. (And yep, that’s my AKG mic peeking out from the curtain to welcome you in.)

So, what’s been going on lately? Well, my latest audiobook, Kaanapali Beach Paradise, is now available on Audible, Amazon and iTunes, so that’s some good news to share.

On the personal front, I’m on a quest to read all of P.D. James’s Adam Dalgleish books. I’ve read most of the later ones, but it occurred to me that I’d never read the earlier ones. So, I’ve circled back and read the first three, and now I’m on the fourth, Shroud for a Nightingale.

I’m taking good care of myself as I heal from some health challenges I faced over the fall and winter, including a three-day stay in the hospital in January. April is the first month I’ve felt completely back up to snuff, so that’s more good news.

And it’s spring cleaning time on the home front. I’ve been filing, tossing, donating, rearranging. Every week it looks a little better (and feels better) around here.

I took a mini-vacation this month to Northern California for my son’s graduation ceremony – he received his M.A. in English. Well done, Jason!

Before I get started on my next audiobook, I’m taking the opportunity to tweak and upgrade the home studio – like experimenting with some different mic positions and trying out new software.

I’ve been using Twisted Wave to record and edit for years and I love it. Screenshot 2015-04-27 10.09.33Here’s a screenshot from a recent audition, with the dynamics processor window open. (That’s part of my mastering chain.) But I’ve been hearing a lot about Reaper, so I’m testing it out. It’s a bit challenging making the switch but I’m getting more comfortable with Reaper the more I use it. And it will allow me to do punch-and-roll recording, which will save me time in the editing process. I’ll probably take the leap and purchase Reaper but I’m still evaluating.

And I’ve been upgrading my skills on Izotope Rx, a great software tool for getting rid of all those pesky little pops, clicks and mouth noises. When I purchased it last fall, I also purchased a video tutorial series from Ask Video. Finally, this spring, I’ve been able to watch those tutorials. And they are awesome – I definitely feel so much more confident using Rx now. And that’s a good thing!

March_RunnerIronic phrase, isn’t it? After all, when you think of how truly unlucky the Irish have been down through the ages, it seems the epitome of irony: pillaged by the Vikings, persecuted by the English monarchy, starved by the potato blight, then despised and ridiculed when they arrived in America. But some of them did quite well during the Gold Rush in California and the American West; apparently some of the most successful gold and silver miners were Irish. Of course, people thought the Irish mining successes couldn’t have been achieved through their ingenuity or brains, so it must have been just sheer luck. And that’s the origin of our phrase, “luck of the Irish.” Doesn’t sound like such a harmless or nice little phrase, does it?

And yes, I’m Irish – and English and Scottish and… Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

May those that love us, love us.
And those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he doesn’t turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we’ll know them by their limping.

I have a policy in my business of giving back to the community. Maybe it comes from being in Scouts as a kid, or the Halloween trick-or-treating nights – holding a bag for candy in one hand and a UNICEF “milk carton” in the other. Doesn’t matter how it started but giving of my time, talent and treasure is a vital part of my business and life.

But I am blown away by the generosity of spirit and professional dedication of my friend Michelle Tomlinson, who has created an online talk show as a way to give back. Michelle is a cancer survivor and conceived of her show as a way of building community for those who are battling cancer or other great life challenge – she knew firsthand how alone a person could feel in that state. Her mother suggested the idea to her several times. Then one day, while in the shower, Michelle envisioned the entire show within two minutes. But the show didn’t really come together until her friend, Maria Fagan, mentioned she wanted to learn more about producing. And so a production dream team was born: Michelle, her hubby Chris Nelson, and Maria. Check out this preview for her show, which launches on Wednesday, March 5th.

What a fabulous and creative way to give back. Now, what about you? How do you make a difference? Leave a comment below.

PS If you liked this video, please like it – and share it with your friends. Thanks!

One hot summer day a couple of years ago, I ran into an old friend from my CalArts days. As we were catching up, she asked, “So, what are you doing for fun?” Boy, was I stumped. Then she said, “Ann, did you forget how to have fun?” “Wow,” I thought, “maybe I have.” And since I didn’t really have an answer, we both just laughed.

BirthdayCakeWhy am I thinking about fun in mid-February? Well, for one thing, it IS my birthday month. (And I DID celebrate with a nice dinner out, followed by some cake and champagne at home, with the hubby.) But I’ve been wondering lately if I have too much going on in my life. Am I crowding out the joy? the beauty? the fun?

If I love doing something, is it automatically fun? Hmm…sometimes it’s both work and fun. I think my friend was asking what I do just for the pure pleasure of doing it. Maybe I didn’t have an answer for her because so many things I do feel like both work AND fun.

But this is the year of “Sea Change,” right? So, it’s time to turn down the level on the work side and allow a little extra volume for just fun.

So what do I consider fun? Sometimes, it can be fun to just sit and leaf through an issue of Martha Stewart Living. Or to get together with friends for some good food and great conversation. Or to go to a movie. Or travel to a new city. It could be so many things.

So now that I’m getting better at scheduling my time, here’s a short list of things I’m promising to put on the schedule, just for the heck of it:

Get a Beverly Hills Library card
Browse in thrift stores
That road trip with Jason
Eat Scoops ice cream
Catch a band at the Cinema Bar
Buy a ticket to the Long Beach Opera

What’s on your list? I’d love to know – so leave a comment.

HealthyFoodThe baseline from which I’m starting is that my health is good; and I’m grateful. But I think I could do better with my routine (or lack of one), my diet, exercise (or lack of it) and the amount of rest I get. We’re not talking about radical changes: I’m not going from a sedentary lifestyle to training for a major marathon. I mean making small tweaks now that will yield bigger results later on.

Diet. OK, my diet is good. When people learn my real age, the first question they ask is, “What’s your secret?” After the initial blushing, hemming and hawing, I usually reply with something about good genes and attitude, and good diet. But can I kick this good diet up a notch? I think so. Decades ago, I gave up meat and eggs; more recently, I gave up dairy (mostly) for a plant-based diet. Last year, I started out with all systems go with my new juicer: I greeted every morning with a fresh green juice – sometimes purple or orange. However, I gradually ran out of steam because juicing is so labor intensive. But I miss it. So, I’m looking at how to work juicing back into my routine. Can I alternate juice with a smoothie? The blender is so much quicker to clean than the juicer. Is there a better time of day to make juice? I don’t necessarily have answers yet, but my questions seem to be leading me down a good path.

Exercise. Or, in my case, it’s mostly a lack of it. I think this may be something that a lot of voiceover people and narrators struggle with because we spend so much time either sitting and reading at the mic or sitting and editing at our computers – or both. Even when I know I should take a break, go outside while it’s still daylight, take a walk – sometimes I just forge ahead without a break so I can get the darned thing done. But that’s a bad practice that I want to leave behind this year. I’m using the timer on my iPhone to remind me when it’s time to take an exercise break – I still occasionally shut it off and keep working – but I’m getting better about heeding that reminder.

Rest. For the last couple of years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to get eight hours of sleep a night. Sometimes it’s a challenge, though – especially when I’m in a play. Rehearsals and performances easily run until 10ish, 11ish… or later – and then there’s the winding down… or the going out with friends and colleagues afterward for a drink, a bite to eat, a time to swap theatre stories. And then, before we know it, we’re closing the place down. Oops. So much for that full night of sleep I was intending to get. It’s a rare day that I can sleep in: like many of you, I have a full calendar and have to be up early. So, this year, I’m acknowledging that I have a bed time… and doing my best to honor it. Teeth brushed and lights out.

Routine. I think I naturally resist the idea of routine – isn’t that the opposite of art? But I have to admit, I DO get up at about the same time, especially if I go to bed at the same time, and eat lunch around the same time, and so on. Even if I’m mentally fighting it, my body seems to be chugging along right on schedule. So, I’m trying something new this year – working with and reinforcing those natural rhythms. I have a new practice of creating a daily schedule for myself – and it seems to be working so far. It’s flexible but I know what I have to do each day and when I have time to do it. it’s even helping with my tendency to overcommit – because I can see I can’t take on anything new without giving up something. And how does that contribute to improved health? Mostly by lowering my stress level and improving my energy and mental clarity. And that’s huge!

Are you making any small changes this year to improve your health? Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear what you’re doing and how it’s going so far.

SeaChangeI have dubbed 2014 as the year of sea change. And, so far, it’s certainly living up to its name. In the second week of the new year, I joined a theatre company – the Eclectic – the company I so enjoyed working with last summer. Less than a week later, I was asked if I could replace an actor who dropped out of a show due to a family situation. The request was made on Monday – and the show opened on Friday – and there would be only two rehearsals before opening. So, I looked at the script and thought, “Wow, this is impossible,” then answered, “Sure, I’ll do it.”

Crazy, right? But my gut was saying, “yes,” and I knew that to create a real sea change, I’d need to push myself beyond my current comfort level.

Working on my lines, a monologue of about 880 words – a good page and a half of small font, single-spaced lines, I was reminded of my CalArts days. There were times when I’d look at all I was expected to accomplish and think, “Wow, this is impossible. There aren’t enough hours in the day!” Then I’d take a deep breath and just start. At the end of the day, I’d be amazed – all the scene work, rehearsals, performances, classroom presentations – whatever it was that had seemed so unreachable at the start was actually done by the end of the day.

So here I was again, at the start of 2014, being asked to stretch the boundaries, reach farther, break through beyond what seemed reasonable and do-able – and saying, “yes, I’ll do it.”

Alright, now it’s your turn. When have you reached a seemingly impossible goal? How have you surprised yourself by breaking through what seemed your limit? Leave a comment below.

NYEve_Dec2013New Year’s Eve: it’s here already – again. In a few hours, I’ll gather with some friends to celebrate and to greet 2014 with kisses and champagne.

As I look back over 2013, doing my year-end review, I see the usual number of things that went well and things that didn’t: there were successes, surprises, disappointments, bumps in the road and a few blind curves. I’m now laying out my road map for 2014, knowing that flexibility is key: the year ahead will yield its own surprises and obstacles. Still, I like to lock in a destination, even while knowing I’ll probably make some detours along the way.

Relationships were a high point this year. Here are a few of the professional events and activities that brought me new colleagues and friendships: Hurricane Season at Eclectic Company Theater, Dallas Travers’s Thriving Artist Circle, Scott Brick’s annual narrators potluck, plus several LA Playwrights and CalArts Alumni events.

Relationships were a source of disappointment, too: unreturned phone calls, forgotten birthdays, the too hasty and then regretted comments. How often was I less than the friend or spouse or family member that I’d like to be?

I surprised myself a few times this year by exploring new skills: I grew heirloom tomatoes in a container on my balcony; I made table linens. Who knew?

I learned lessons about honoring the limits on my resources and about pushing on despite those limits and about grace. More than once I was grateful for the simple kindness of strangers – and of friends.

It was a year of challenges, to be sure – but it was also a year of fun and unexpected gifts. And now it’s time to put 2013 to bed and welcome 2014. See you on the other side of midnight!