Savoa Review by
Professional Voice Talent Todd Schick

This is an article I composed about the first organization to come about that proposed “standards” for Voice Talent selling audio over the internet from a home-based recording facility.

The organization is now defunct, World-Voices.org is now the only one out there. You can check out my review of WoVo (World-Voices.org) here near the bottom of the page.

This was the Savoa "Shield" distirbuted to voice talent members.
Introduction

Savoa – Introduction

Savoa is a not-for-profit organization formed a few years ago by Ed Gambill in North Carolina. Ed is a really nice guy who means well and good for him to step forward when no-one else did.

Savoa charges $75.00 for VO talent to apply to be accredited. Once they pass the test, they agree to abide by the codes of conduct set forth by Savoa. They do a “blind” test of a VO talent’s skill set and studio sound in an effort to set some kind of official standard in the industry where none existed previously.

I joined Savoa because I felt it was important to join any guild that was setting any kind of standard for the VO industry – a couple of colleagues joined for the same reason.

For the record….pretty much all the information below was submitted to Savoa in January of 2008, after I was offered a position on the board (I respectfully declined based on my reasons here). I was promised a “thoughtful” response, but still to this day have not heard a peep from Savoa.

Perhaps they’re still thinking about it.

As you’ll read here, I feel that the standards proposed by Savoa thus far, fall well short of anything remotely professional and should be addressed as Savoa continues to grow….in my opinion, of course 😉

Before we go any further, let’s review a excerpt from the Savoa website when we click on “Standards”

“Members of SaVoa are conscientious and active voice over artists pursuing excellence in the vocal, technical and business skills their craft requires, while working diligently to enhance the profession as a whole…”

Keeping the aforementioned clearly “top of mind” here is a few thoughts on the industry as it stands today…..

Voice123, Voices.com and other P2P websites have roundly laid waste to the industry, by taking people’s money and allowing them to call themselves “Professional Voice Talent.” Indeed, one could go so far as to say that this was the reason Savoa was conceived in the first place.

A short time ago, I researched both Voice123 and Voices.com (for the 5th time) “client side” asking talents to submit sample audio for review. Over 5 years, the results have not changed – a full 90% of all the talent and audio remains sub-standard…..in fact, it’s gotten worse.

On the other hand, demand for voice talent has never been higher and these sites, to some degree, are providing a “gateway” if you will, for businesses to get their content voiced. In 1995, when I started delivering VO on the Internet, no-one heard of a “Podcast” or “E-Learning” much less an mp3. Now, manufacturers are actually selling a microphone as a “PodCast” microphone!

Indeed, the VO “Industry” (and I use the term loosely) has grown from about 500 to 125,000 so-called “Professionals” in a scant 5 years. Pretty scary if you ask me.

The amount of technical and ethical issues to address regarding this industry today is simply staggering. The bandwagon has been jumped on so much that the wheel alignment is going in both directions and Savoa is the only organization holding the reigns of integrity.

That being said, I feel that there’s some very basic, relevant issues that Savoa needs to address before anyone can really take the membership seriously. Let’s start with the aforementioned premise that Savoa members are….

“…active voice over artists pursuing excellence in the vocal, technical and business skills their craft requires…”

Affiliate Program

Savoa – Affiliate Program

Of all the issues about Savoa mentioned here, this would have to be the most bothersome.

Consider the reason Savoa was formed in the first place; to propose some ethical standards in an industry devoid of them. By introducing an “affiliate program” Savoa is, in effect, undermining it’s own mandate. It’s tantamount to a government agency that regulates gas prices opening up its own gas station.

While I won’t name names or point fingers at the folks they’ve unwisely chosen to affiliate themselves with, I will say this. I personally and professionally wouldn’t endorse the organizations Savoa has aligned themselves with, so why would I – as a member of Savoa – want to be affiliated with these people via my membership?

The sad truth about the VO industry is that 90% of the people out there selling services to VO talent are scam artists. This is because there’s such a tiny percentage of people out there that actually have talent to truly do the work. This means that anyone selling a service to prospective talent have to do a fair amount of lying to their customer in order to sell their service.

Savoa, should focus their efforts on setting standards and being a “watchdog” over the very people who they’ve chosen to be in their affiliate program.

In my opinion, the whole program should be scrapped altogether. Oh, I’m sure their intentions were sincere; Savoa just wants to help their members. However, we all know the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Education

Savoa – Education

One of the very first things I learned about doing freelance VO was how much time and effort I spent educating my clients (and other voice talent) on the service. Hours upon hours on education about all aspects of VO – from the quality of audio they should expect, to the rate they should pay and the service they should expect for that fee.

I feel that Savoa should consider it’s role in providing education on the VO industry to not only consumers, but talent as well.

People are buying crappy audio from rank amateurs….. because they don’t know any better. In turn, talent is providing crappy audio and service because they don’t know any better as well.

Today…there’s very little offered to consumers regarding what can and should be expected from a service standpoint….other than the very basic ethical (common sense) principles that would apply to anyone running a reputable business. You’ll glean more information on VO standards from a single page on my website than you can the entire site at savoa.org.

Testing

Savoa – Testing

More holes in it than swiss cheese. The whole testing structure really has to be addressed IMHO. It’s one thing to send in an audio file for review to Savoa, it’s quite another to provide a complete VO service to consumers. Savoa members can easily cover their room with blankets or sleeping bags (or even cover their head with one) for the purpose of the technical test…….and easily pass.

The “talent” side of the testing is a little better, but I have to question it’s integrity. Blind or not, panel of peers…..whatever….who’s to say how “good” a talent is at VO?

Their ability to take direction is not assessed….nor is their ability to physically adapt to the spoken word, mic technique skills, customer service, editing skills, day job or no day job….the list of stuff you need to properly assess a voice talent is very long.

Savoa sends you a single script for voicing that the talent can practice ad nauseum…..and the talent has to clap their hands in their recording environment (under the blanket). Candidates have all the time in the world to practice the copy and tweak their sound. It’s really not much of a test, in my opinion.

That said, I feel members should be randomly and blindly tested for accountability and quality assurance.

Currently, there’s no such policy in place at Savoa.

Noise Floor

Savoa – Noise Floor

From the Savoa website:

Ambient noise and noise floor: This cumulative sound, ideally at or under -40dBFS, will be measured against ITU-R 468-weighting noise curve.

I don’t care what “kind” of noise is behind a -40 db noise floor or how it’s measured…..if a voice talent has -40 db of ambient noise, then they’ve got aserious problem with their recording environment! Seriously, I had to createthat much noise in my booth using a vacuum cleaner in the room…..LOL!

That (-40 db) standard, I feel, is probably the single most important standard that Savoa needs to address. As it stands right now, they’re handing out accreditation to members who (potentially) have crappy audio and it’s no different than Voice123 taking money from a plumber who woke up one morning and decided to become a voice talent.

By setting a single, professional standard of a -69db or better noise floor would address a multitude of issues that arise from recording audio in a home based studio (we’re again reminded of Savoa members pursuingexcellence in the work…..).

For the record, you can ask any pro audio engineer out there what an “acceptable” noise floor is….and they will tell you that it’s around -69 db or less. All the statistics and technical data on how the human ear works or who invented what scale when and where doesn’t negate the fact that when an e-learning or web developer “squashes” audio down to 32 kbps mp3 at an 11025 sample rate – it’s going to sound like crap if it’s got a lot of noise in the original source file.

A -69 db Noise Floor as a Standard

Savoa – A -69 db Noise Floor as a Standard

A difficult standard to achieve? Not really. Worthwhile? Yes. Impossible? No. By achieving that standard, it’s assured that Savoa members would address ALL aspects of their recording studio – instead of pulling a blanket over their head and clapping their hands a couple of times. When you’re trying to get a -69 db noise floor, trust me…..you’re looking at everything associated with the signal chain and subsequent recording environment.

But….the Savoa member would be looking at everything…wouldn’t they? After all, we’re all pursuing excellence in our craft….are we not?

Microphone

Savoa – Microphone

Walk into any professional recording studio in New York, LA, Toronto or Singapore……and 9 times out of 10, you’ll find a condenser microphone on the mic stand for a vocal recording session. Condenser mics are the defacto industry standard for recording vocals and I see no mention of this as part of the Savoa criteria for membership.

By simply using a condenser microphone, SaVoA members will soon discover just how sensitive condenser microphones are and thus, just how noisy their room is.

Price is not the issue….type is the issue. Dynamic microphones are simply no where near as sensitive as condenser mics, because they are not powered. Dynamic microphones can “mask” noise in a room, lack clarity and simply can’t do the job properly. Great for screaming into on a live stage, lousy for professional vocal recording.

If at this juncture you find yourself trying to justify the use of a dynamic mic for professional VO, then I suggest you visit a few professional recording studios in your area and observe what’s on the mic stand.

Savoa does not require it’s members to have a condenser microphone.

Microphone Pre Amp

Savoa – Microphone Pre Amp

It’s often been said that “behind every great microphone, is an even greater mic pre-amp….” – and I’m not talking about the integrated pre-amps that come with a Mackie mixer or ProTools, but rather “outboard” mic pre amps. Again, we’re reminded of the premise here, which is Savoa members consider themselves “…active voice over artists pursuing excellence in the vocal, technical and business skills their craft requires….”

Anyone even remotely serious about making a proper vocal recording uses 2 pieces of gear: a condenser microphone and a microphone pre-amp. Cost is not an issue. Mic pre-amps range in price from $200.00 – $10,000. For the record, my first mic pre-amp cost $350.00. My second….$4000. I feel, a mic pre-amp separates the rookies from the pros and therefore bears consideration as a Savoa standard.

Today, Savoa does not require it’s members to have a proper mic pre-amp.

Phone Patch

Savoa – Phone Patch

A phone patch is a piece of gear used to send and recieve audio down a phone line. Widely used in radio and TV broadcasting for recording audio from the telephone, the first digital phone patch was created by Telos in 1989 (I own a Telos One built in 1994).

Today, analog and digital phone patches are widely available and for the home-based voice talent they are used as means with which their clients can direct a voiceover session and the talent can play back recorded audio for the client to listen to.

Again, those serious about providing a professional VO service should have this piece of gear. I’ve used mine a thousand times…..because my clients expect I should have it.

Without it, voice talent are holding up their telephone to their mouth during recording and to the speaker when playing audio back for client review….pretty rank amateur if you ask me.

Savoa does not require it’s members to have a Phone Patch.

FTP Server

Savoa – FTP Server

FTP is the standard to transfer large files…and sometimes clients want them in .wav or .aiff format; you can’t send 600 megs by e-mail. On site FTP or off site FTP, I feel this is a standard not only worth putting forth, but randomly tested as well.

Savoa does not require it’s members to offer their clients an FTP service.

Active Monitors

Savoa – Active Monitors

If you can’t hear the audio you’re sending out, you don’t know what audio you’re sending out. Active reference monitors are the standard for post-audio reference, now inexpensive….and therefore, should be a standard.

Savoa does not currently require their members properly monitor the audio they are selling to the public (active or passive monitoring). The talent could be using a set of cheapo Logitech computer speakers and Savoa (or the customer) would never know.

Rates and Tiered Membership

Savoa – Rates and Tiered Membership

I have a sound booth, a -78 db noise floor, Phone Patch, Source Connect, FTP site, ISDN, several condenser microphones, 3 mic pre amps, power conditioning, active monitors, a staff who answers the phone and a paperless studio which improves service delivery to my clients by 30%. I have no less than 14 separate, unique demos on each type of VO work I specialize in.

I structure my rates accordingly.

Now, take into consideration the Savoa member who “passed the test” by throwing a blanket over their head using a dynamic mic and a cheap soundcard. They have no phone patch, no ISDN, no FTP, no mic pre amp and can’t answer an e-mail until they get back home from their day job. Should they be charging the same rate as me? Or for that matter, should even be a member of SaVoa?

Right now, Savoa paints everyone with the same brush. Voice123 is out there setting rates for VO services….and that’s a travesty. Savoa at the very least should be proposing rate guidelines for members based on service and talent offerings…IE: Tiered Membership.

Indeed, the public should be able to go to their website to get meaningful, relevant information on how much should be charged for what – at the very least….a guideline by which they can make an informed purchase.

Summary

Savoa – Summary

It’s my thinking here that Savoa’s initial guidelines were brought forth too fast and that the true professionals in the industry were not consulted from the outset.

Rather, some VO folks got together, decided that some standards should be put out there and went forth willy-nilly to cobble something together. All the while making Savoa official looking with a nice shield and healthy amount of legal mumbo-jumbo. Most of which means little to the consumer….or the voice talent for that matter.

Finally….I don’t think Savoa is a bad thing. In fact, just the opposite. It’s good that someone took up the task to set some kind of standards in an industry devoid of them.

However……how good are standards that can be easily faked? What good is legal gobbledy-gook to a consumer who hired a Savoa talent, only to find out that they didn’t have a phone patch, the editing was horrible, the sound sucked because they had a -40db noise floor…and couldn’t work until after 5 pm EST because they had a day job?

In my opinion, Savoa doesn’t have any “teeth” – just a bark…….with a -40 db noise floor.

I welcome your thoughts.

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