Professional Storyteller

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I'm curious to know what obstacles keep us from recording more stories. Do we fear the lengthy process? The precision involved? The cost?

On that same vein, what factors would induce you to create more recordings?

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What keeps me from recording? Lack of time. Fear of failure.

What would turn my wheels faster? More creative energy. The real feeling that I could not fail.
Hi Patricia. That's what I'm curious about. This "fear of failure." Is it failure to make money? Or failure to attract an audience? Or failure to compete with the "nationally prominent" tellers whose faces grace (nearly) every festival brochure?

On my part, I questioned the return-on-investment. Fork out $4K for a recording (studio time, duplication, artwork, design, packaging) and then hope the stockpile of CDs doesn't gather dust on my shelf.

This year I finally (!) made the plunge. All year I've skipped in and out of the recording studio, crystallizing into digital form those tales that heretofore lived on the tongue alone. In this digital age, I've also discovered a venue for disseminating the recordings.
Hey Layne;

I didn't ever expect to make any money with my CDs. I put out that cash just like I would put out cash for advertising. We spend money for business cards, website and phone service for the same reasons. They can't find you or hire you if you don't get yourself out there. So we spend our marketing money to get more money. Let's do the real math. First, I get my fee, from people who have either heard me tell or know me, seen my marketing materials, listened to my CDs or got a recommendation from someone who has heard me. Professionally produced CDs, total cost of productions, art, development, studio time, licenses, permissions, Editing, photography, copy, replication & jewel boxes shrunk wrapped and release party is about $2.23 each. If you buy them by the thousand. If I get a $500 job because I gave away ten CDs... that is good business. If I sell some of them at festivals and concerts... that is candy money.

It is a little like the movie theater, tickets are cheap... but they rake in the dough at the concession stand. Think about where storytelling money is actually coming from and how do you insight it to come your way? I don't have any qualms about giving my CDs away or selling them.

What I am interested in... is making some money... doing what I love to do. Fear is paralyzing... but if you don't try... if you don't ask... the answer is always no.

Hi Layne,

For me it's sheer laziness and disorganization. I wrote, produced, recorded and distributed my own CD last year. I loved the creative process, but not marketing. I got into that artist mood where I felt I was "selling" something too personal.

Nuts and bolts: After spending quite a few bucks renting gear from a sound company, I discovered a very simple combination of tools that give my recordings a professional sound. I did have a head start, as I've been a pro musician/singer most of my life and know the basics of a sound board.

After testing a dozen digital editing programs (e.g. the pricey ProTools), I found a little gem called Acoustica, manufactured in Germany. Friendly, simple interface and all the bells and whistles. I found I didn't need the reverb unit I had been renting; I can apply all FX after recording. The inventor is a cranky German who readily answers my queries. And I happen to like cranky Germans---fond memories of my late stepDad. $40 download!

I tried several microphones, from the extremely tough rock singer favorite Shure 58, to studio quality Sennheisers, etc. worth $1500. The former was not sensitive enough, the latter MUCH too sensitive for recording in my living room. They picked up noise from outdoors. You guessed it. I haven't bothered creating a soundproof environment. It's all mic-dependent. I settled on a Samson mic with a USB plug. It "popped" my p's until I tamed it with pantyhose, but it's just about right. $80 on sale.

To ensure that I would not ruin a good recording by forgetting a story segment, I typed out my stories and taped them to an adjustable music stand. I also realized it was okay to record in "acts", then splice segments together. Recording engineers do it all the time. That really took the pressure off. It's discouraging to be 15 minutes into a 20 minute piece and fluff your words.

I picked up a stack of blank CDs at Staples, downloaded the labelmaker program from Staples' CD labels, and got stacks of CD covers at the dollar store. The hardest part was designing the cover. I'm a visual artist, but lousy at measuring. I muddled through with the help of a commercial printer.

Sooooo. I can manufacture as many CDs as I need for my purpose. The master is in my own computer. If my CD suddenly becomes overwhelmingly popular, I'll take a master copy to a CD manufacturer.

Again, what stops me is sheer laziness and dislike of marketing. I have material I want to record, but am procrastinating.

Kudos to anyone who is successful in this process.

Kind regards,
I was thinking of getting a mike with a USB plug because my computer's built-in mike apparently doesn't record me loud enough. Where would I find a Samson?
Hi Leslie,

I bought my Samson Softpre at Larsen Music in Victoria, BC. You'd probably be able to find it or something similar at a music store that rents sound gear. Computer mics are manufactured for very basic communication purposes, and in no way compare to professional sound equipment.

It comes with a little stand for your desk. I rent a full size mic stand and stand up while recording.

You should also invest in the very best sound card you can afford.

You want a vocal mic that has an adaptor for your computer, NOT a computer mic. Do not ask computer geeks. Ask soundmen.

It's worth hanging around a sound gear rental counter and asking the guys (usually guys, oh dear) lots of questions. I wouldn't be surprised if you came up with something even better for your purposes than the Samson. I have a heavily trained, freakily resonant singers voice with a 3 1/2 octave range. A more sensitive mic is too sensitive for me.

And re: popping. I found wrapping a pantyhose sock around the mic twice did the trick. Mine is a fashionable shade of taupe.

Good luck!

Oh and Leslie. I'm not sure what kind of mic I'd recommend for the Twist Mouth Family. Hee hee.
Hi, Reisa. Talk about your procrastinators, I just now got around to reading your posting and just wanted to thank you for sharing your experience. I am in the process of setting up a home studio and appreciated your comments a lot. Will be checking out the Samson mic. for sure.
Best wishes,
There are lots of reasons not to record.

This is a question that I field fairly often. Some people know that I have a professional digital recording board and I know how to use it. They ask me if I record my own CDs and would I produce theirs. More often than not, I say NO. Simply because there is more to sculpture than picking up a hammer and chisel, there is planning. There is more to painting a masterpiece or even a paint by number "master" than grabbing a few paints and a horse hair brush or two. I like what Riesa said about disorganization. You have to plan, form, develop and work hard to create a good story... and it takes just about that much more time, planning, and development to create a good CD. You need help, you need a recording booth... and your bathroom shower isn't it. It is true that gear is cheaper and friendlier than it was years ago. But you need ears that are used to hearing the details... and you need strong production values. I can't tell you how many CDs I have wanted to listen to but I couldn't stay focused on the teller because of audio background hum, clicks, and various other distractors.

I don't pretend to be the apex production skills. I am not. But one thing is sure, if we want to be welcomed into the Art Community as a real and vital art form. Let's face it... we need to raise our game. Yes I am talking about rehearsals, production values, professional business practices and marketing.

I cringe when I hear someone say, "I never plan what I am going to tell on a CD... I just get in front of the microphone and wing it."

Then we blog and wonder why we aren't on the shelves at Wal-mart. Complain that we aren't being taken seriously... That storytelling is sidelined and minimized... dying... I offer this to you... fully realizing that I am not an example or even a pretty good example of a professional storyteller.

I suggest that we storytellers are the only ones responsible for the publics opinions and appreciations or lack thereof for our products and our art.

We can do much better... individually.

Oh Lord yes, Buck, I've heard some bad recordings.

I attended a SOCAN songwriting seminar (that's the Canadian partner of ASCAP/BMI) where they begged performers not to market CDs until they were of good quality. The seminar was aimed towards musicians, but it applies here.

Music stores are being barraged with poor quality music AND spoken word CDs, so are rejecting new artists out of hand. This is negatively impacting new recording artists who have experience and have taken the time to learn their art. This also means taking the time to produce quality tracks. It means enough time spent using a microphone that you have technique e.g. if you raise your voice, you automatically step back. You don't lean into the mic. You do vocal warm ups. You're aware of holding back "s" and "p."

I perform standing, and so record standing. Every facet is planned.

I had no idea some people go into the studio and "wing it." That's naive. Recording is an art in itself. The milieu is so different than the stage.

But even if a teller doesn't care to become experienced with recording equipment for an end product, I highly recommend practicing with it. "Hearing yourself as others hear you" improves live performance immeasurably. Stay up all night recording, rerecording and listening back---and you will be a different teller in the morning :-D

I have little experience with video, and so turn down friends' offers to tape my performances. Because with their offers comes an unspoken expectation I'll post it or use it for a demo. Until I can afford a pro video demo, my story and song stays without visuals.

I have begun to do a little recording and editing. I am a bit of a perfectionist. I listen to other things out there and they sound pretty good. My market will be teachers and librarians who attend my workshops, so I want my product to be useful to them. I will do both stories and songs for little people because that is who I work with full time. I know I will eventually take that risk.

Good question. I have see and heard a lot of storytellers CD. (yes the same tellers I see at every "big" festivals) I asked the Question in my blog "Storytelling on Film" can Stories read on film, and in the same venue can stories really read on CD? I hear Studio recordings and they are missing something. They sound "rehearsed" and lack the live spontaneity of an aural storytelling program. Yet the live recordings have pops and cracks and sneezes and "Mommy can I go to the potty?" all through the back ground. And no matter how good the audience is the applause always sounds caned.
What is holding me back from producing a Sellable CD or DVD, (and not just demos) is how to find the right balance between professional sounding and life.
Thanks for the question
Daniel Bishop, the Storyteller




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