In this podcast interview George Whittam talks about his early interest in music technology has led him to become today one of the most sought after sources of technical support for voice artists. We discuss how this developed through some fortunate breaks, and the exciting development of the DLF VO lab, which he designed… the abbreviations are mine, for a clear explanation, take a listen!
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Transcript of conversation with George Whittam
Andy: I’m with George Whittam who has joined us at VOICE 2010. George is well-known throughout the voice over community as a top authority on recording technology, and it’s a pleasure to meet you, George.
George: Thank you Andy. It’s a pleasure to meet you too. We’ve only met on the internet, so it’s our first time meeting in person.
Andy: And it’s great to put some flesh on the pixels.
George: I love that! I’ll have to remember that one.
Andy: I just made it up, today.
Andy: And being here at VOICE is tremendous, because yours is a name which we know and, because we see it very often on VoiceoverUniverse, and other people’s blogs, and so it’s great to be able to meet you in person. George I wonder if you can tell me… you’ve got a very interesting background in music, I think, which led into what you are doing today. So, where did you start off?
George: I’ve always liked audio. I’ve always liked recording. When I was in college, I went to school for, actually went to school for electrical engineering at Virginia Tech. I knew I wanted to be involved in music technology. I just didn’t really understand or know what it meant to be a recording engineer. I just never had a model to go off of. So, long story short, electrical engineering was not a match for me. I was doing really poorly. Apparently you had to study hard to be an electrical engineer.
Andy: Oh dear.
George: And I wasn’t compatible with that. So… fortunately my school, Virginia Tech, happened to have a nice little music department, and within that music department, happened to have a recording studio. And I was actually the first person to graduate from Virginia Tech, from the music department, with a degree in audio technology. Nobody before me had majored in that specific thing. So in a university of 25,000 people, to be the first person to do anything was pretty interesting. I was an undergrad, it was just a Bachelor of Arts degree, but I was even permitted to kind of write my own curriculum. As long as I had enough credits to meet the University standards, they were happy. So I had a really interesting experience at a big, big, state university that most people would never get to have. But anyway… I left there and went back to Philadelphia, near Philadelphia where my parents live in Pennsylvania, in the US, and I tried interning at studios, and tried the interning route. Interning at a pretty major studio called Sigma Sound, in Philadelphia. That was a really famous studio in Philadelphia, where Barry White and I think even early Stevie Wonder album was recorded there. Anyway, it was one of those places where the walls were plastered with Gold and Platinum records. You know. Just a classic studio. And I did about four months of interning there, and I had… left a bad taste in my mouth, just the attitude, the drug use, the whole thing that “You’re going to work here for a year, and make nothing. Working here 90 – 100 hours a week, ’cause that’s just how it all goes, and that what we all did”. And I just wasn’t in to it. luckily, I had a supportive dad, who saw a vision with me of starting our own recording studio in a remote, of remote recording studio in a RV camper, caravan, whatever you call it… You know, it’s a motor-home. So my Dad had this old 1973 Eldorado RV. It said “Eldorado” on the roof.
Andy: OK. That’s where the name comes from…
George: That’s where the name came from. And I thought, “You know, if I name my company this, some day I probably won’t have this old, old truck anymore…
Andy: You hope…
George: But I’ll have a fun story to tell about how I came up with the name. So, I stuck with Eldorado.
Andy: That’s cool.
George: And… but… I could talk probably for about 20 minutes about just this one thing, but through just a series of events, I worked in different areas of music production, live sound, then I started working in radio – I was a remote engineer – doing out of the studio engineering for WYSP Radio, in Philadelphia. And they happened to be the official radio station for Eagles Football, for NFL football. And actually, very interestingly, my career – doing what I am doing now – has somewhat to do, has something to do with having had the 9/11 tragedy happen to us.
George: Had that not happened, it is likely that I probably would not have taken this path. And it’s real interesting, because a friend of mine was already the engineer for the Eagles Football show, and he decided that he was burned out, tired of doing the job – he had done it for ten straight years, never missed a game – and decided he thought maybe I could come in and fill in for him. So, it was sort of his excuse to stop doing it, because after that 9/11attack, a lot of people stopped flying, they were scared to fly. So he said, “I’m not going to fly anymore. Would you like to take the job? You’re going to have to fly to Seattle next week if you want to do this job”. And I was like, “Yes’ I’m all over it. I want to try something new, like this”. So through my working at that station, then I met Howard Parker, who was a producer there. And just around that same time I started working there, he left, and the station engineer, Lane Massey, a friend of mine, and I installed a studio for Howard Parker. And to make a really long story a little shorter, Howard ended up in California, I ended up in California. I helped Howard with his California based studio. He told his manager about George and how much I helped him out, and all this stuff, and the word of mouth started to spread over a couple of years. So, you know, I moved out to LA in 2004, and it’s 2010 now, so in about six and a half years, I grew this business of working with voice actors in their studios. And I’m never looking back.
Andy: So, you are working with people to help them design their home studios, but is your clientele a restricted clientele, or is it just the big spenders, or does it cover a spectrum?
George: It does cover a spectrum. Howard, my first client Howard, just so happened to be a guy who really… his career really took off. So I got to start with a guy who was at the top of his game. So that was very fortunate, you know, so he was already connected with some of the best talent in the business through his management, but… so I started working with some of the higher end voice actors, and I’ve branched out, and I’ve started working with new voice actors who just need their very first auditioning studio, and everywhere in between. I’ve tried to make myself accessible to a wide range of talent, at different skill levels. And…
Andy: Well, I think the fact that you are here at VOICE 2010 demonstrates that.
George: Yeah, because some people… I’m working with all sorts of budgets. Usually when someone works with me they’ve already decided that they really are serious about voice acting. There are other places to find free information on the web, of course. Plenty of places to find things about how to buy, you know, what to do with a USB mic. When someone checks in with me, I think at that point they’ve been referred to me because they are serious about voice acting, and they want to make their studio competitive, and really get the best sound they can possibly get for their budget.
Andy: So you’re covering both the… if I can call it the electrical hardware, as well as the room conditioning?
George: Yeah. It’ll be the audio equipment, the hardware, the computer software, and also the room acoustical and sound-proofing treatment, to make the room – or whatever the space that they have available – work well enough for them to get good sounding audio.
Andy: OK. So people are coming to you to either look at a part… one of those elements, or all of those elements together. They… you’re able to help them in different ways.
George: Sometime it’s everything, sometimes it’s the whole package, and sometimes it’s just a little piece of that package. Sometimes they’ve got – they’ve already done the acoustic stuff, and they’ve bought all the gear, but they don’t know how to get the gear to work together. That’s unusual. Usually it’s that they’ve bought all the gear, but now the acoustic part isn’t quite right. They’re not getting good enough sound quality. So, it’s a little mixture, but you know it’s great when I can do some project where I get to have control over the whole thing, and make it all work together, but I can come in at any stage of the project, depending on where they are. I’ve never not been able to help somebody. No matter how experienced somebody is – even Beau Weaver, who is an incredibly intelligent and experienced voice actor, who also has the technical side down pat. He really knows the tech a lot. He’s even had me come over once, just to help him through a couple little technical things that were getting in his way. So, I’m not trying to sound like I know more than everybody, because that’s not true, but everybody – no matter how experienced they are – can use a person, a technical support person that they can trust to make their lives easier. And that’s what I am here for.
Andy: Well, even people at two similar knowledge levels might have gaps, will have different gaps in their knowledge, so…
George: Yeah. Not every one person knows everything. I am learning stuff every day from people. They say, “Hey, have you heard about this?”… “Oh, no”. So, yeah, I certainly don’t know everything, but I know a lot about what it takes to get… I can weed… I know how to weed through all the background noise of “You need this…”. I know how to say, “You need this, this, this, this! Trust me it works”. And if someone trusts me, we get to a final product really quickly, with minimal cost, and minimal hasstle.
Andy: So you are actually based in Los Angeles, but let’s say somebody on the east coast, or even in another country had some issues they wanted to discuss with you, is it necessary for you to be in a position where you can go on site, or are you able to help people… for example, let’s say I wanted to redesign my studio. I’m in Istanbul… OK; there’s going to be a direct flight from Los Angeles starting this summer, but…
George: That’s good to know!
Andy: Yeah, sure! So are you able to help people via the internet, or is it necessary to have a site visit?
George: No… There are certain situations where someone really wants someone to really hold their hand, or there’s construction involved. And of course in those situations, you know, yes, you really need to have somebody – if not me – somebody has to be there physically. But there’s a lot that can be done remotely. If someone is patient enough to listen, follow directions, and isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty – you’re not going to get your hands very dirty setting up a home studio – but if someone is not afraid to… is not intimidated by hooking up a few cables and taking some direction…
Andy: They can send you some photographs, plans, and things…
George: Yeah. Some people send me photographs, you know they’ll take their laptop with the web cam, and they’ll walk around the house, or walk around the rooms, saying, “Here’s what the room looks like”… and through all those… all the different means of supporting over the internet, a lot can be done. You know, I can – obviously – I can talk to them over the phone, email, chat, Skype video chat is fantastic. And then on the screen, the ability to share a computer screen – screen sharing, or remote desktop, or whatever, VNC. I can see their computer screen and control their computer, and guide them through things very, very quickly. It’s just a very efficient use of everybody’s time, and it’s rare that in two or three hours we don’t accomplish lots. Sometimes in 30 minutes they’ll have the eureka moment, and find a solution to a problem that’s been plaguing them for a year or more, and it pays for itself immediately.
Andy: I can see a big smile on your face, so obviously you get a lot of satisfaction from being able to help people in that way.
George: I do. I do. That’s really why I do this: I do get a lot of satisfaction.
Andy: So it’s kind of interesting coming from a mobile recording studio through to being able to help people at different levels in their business experience, in their voice over experience, in different locations. That’s cool.
George: Yeah. My initial slogan for when I had my remote recording truck is, “We bring the studio to you”. And what is funny, I kept using that slogan long afetr I got rid of the truck because my job still is bringing the studio to you. It’s your own studio. I get it to you. I set it up to you… And then the remote recording side still applies, because now I’ve set up the VO2GO portable recording kits. So it may not be me out there recording remotely, but it’s my client. So all those little things are fed in to what I do now.
Andy: You obviously love it. One of the things that span off of this is that you’re involved with a very exciting project with SAG, the Don LaFontaine… what is the actual title of the
George: OK. Yeah. It’s at the SAG Foundation, which is the miracle of the… it’s called Museum Square Building, on Wilshire, downtown Los Angeles, and the studio’s official name is the Don LaFontaine Voice Over Lab. They call it a lab because it’s more about people learning. It’s more about… it’s really mostly an educational facility. It’s really all about learning. We’re going to have some of the top voice actors, who all have… many of which have financially contributed to the building of the studio… The studio’s been funded entirely, or is being funded entirely by the voice over community in private and corporate donations. So, the studio’s there as a service to the industry in the name of Don, because Don was the kind of voice actor who wanted to help others, and he really did what he said he was going to do. He helped people get started in their voice over career. He’d even let them ride along with him in his limousine at the time when he used to drive… have a limo drive him to 50 sessions in one day.
Andy: It’s a hard life!
George: If you happened to get to meet Don, get connected to him through a friend or something, meet him in the morning, you could get in the limo and ride with him all day, and just shadow him throughout all his sessions. Everybody that ever did that said it was the most valuable learning experience they’ve ever had. So, now we get to have a studio where people can get to do the same thing… Not riding in a limo, but they can come in and watch a voice actor such as George DelHoyo… come in and work in the studio for maybe four hours on ISDN, and see how he works the copy, how he works the mic…
Andy: So he’ll be recording a session – a real session, or…?
George: Yeah. I mean not only will we be having workshops where everything is just a rehearsal, we’ll have actual voice actors – working voice actors – coming in and doing their real ISDN sessions, where they would normally be in the comfort of their home, doing them, coming in to our studio so that they can do the same work, but now people can come in, in groups of up to ten or twelve people…
Andy: Like an operating theatre, with all the students!
George: It is. It is. It’s like an operating theatre. Almost like a fish bowl. Yeah. So, that was all George’s idea. George DelHoyo came up with the idea, and was like, “Why don’t I…?”. George, I hope you plan to actually do this, because I’ve been telling everybody about it. He said, “Why don’t I book out the studio for a few hours, and just do ISDN from here, and everybody can hang out and watch?”. And I’m like, “That’s a really cool idea”. None of us would have ever thought to ask him to do that, but it is the kind of things these guys and ladies want to do, to give back. It’s just amazing. So, it’s going to be an amazing facility with huge array of microphones and microphone pre-amps. We’ll be able to record six people very easily in the big booth, while the 60 inch LCD panel TV in there for doing ADR and promo work to picture, and then we’ll have a solo booth that can be used by one person, and they can either be participating in the group session, in an isolation booth, or they can record their own auditions in that room autonomously… and completely separate from what we’re doing. So it’s going to be a very flexible facility, and June 25th is our grand opening, and I have a lot of work to do, to get it ready, because I’m the one that’s designed it, and I’m the one that’s installing all the equipment and getting it all working. And we’re right in the heart of it. I mean next week I start building with the omnirack’s desk, you know that they… BSW, actually, graciously had provided to us for free.
Andy: OK. And how can we find out more about that? I think there’s a …
George: The most direct way is going to sagfoundation.org
George: So if you go to sagfoundation.org, then you’ll see a link for the Don LaFontaine Voice Over Lab: You can also reach it through my website, vostudiotech.com – there’s a link on the front page about the Don LaFontaine Voice Over Lab.
Andy: OK, and I think there’s some pictures of the construction of that…
George: Oh! We’ve got a Picasso slide show. We’ve got hours of testimonial… not testimonials per se, we’ll say interviews from all of the voice actors, and my self, involved with the Lab, talking about Don, talking about how they got started. And there’s a lot of really cool media on there to watch, and listen, and read about the facility. So, please do check it out, and if it feels like something that you want to be a part of, we certainly can use more donations, because I designed a really expensive studio!
Andy: OK, so you’re to blame.
George: It’s my fault, yeah.
Andy: But it sounds like a really exciting project. Too bad I’ll be back home by then…. just have to come back another day and come visit.
George: It will be able to come to you by the web, because we’re going to have video streaming. We’ll be shooting videos of the workshops we’re doing there. We’ll even, at some point, be able to do live video presentations from the lab.
Andy: Will it only be open to SAG members, or…?
George: No, it’s going to be open to anybody. The SAG and AFTRA members will have completely free access to the lab, but others will be able to access the lab through donation, because it’s all totally non-profit. SAG Foundation is 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, we call it in the States, so any money that they receive has to be considered a donation, so people will be able to make a small donation to take part, and it’s just going to keep… that’s how we’re going to keep the studio self-sustaining, just through donations.
Andy: OK. Fantastic: Well, George, it’s great to learn a little bit about you, and about the Don LaFontaine Voice Over Laboratory project… and fantastic to meet you this week, and look forward to meeting you again.
George: You too, Andy. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
Andy: Not at all, thank you.
About George Whittam
George M. Whittam is owner and founder of ElDorado Recording Services.
George is a 1997 graduate of Virginia Tech with a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Audio Technology with a Minor in Communications. George went on to acquire considerable expertise in music recording by working with various musicians and artists in the Philadelphia area. He also gained broadcast engineering experience working at a radio station in Philadelphia as the remote engineer for the NFL Eagles Radio Network.
George was introduced to the world of voice-overs through a producer at the station, Howard Parker, who asked the station’s engineer to help him build a home studio in New York City. George came along to assist. George later followed Parker to Los Angeles and furthered his already diverse experience by working on over 15 film projects in 3 years as a sound mixer and boom operator.
From a handful of satisfied clients, George has now built a business that works solely with voice-over studios and clients. His extensive knowledge of computers, software, equipment, and troubleshooting abilities makes him a sought after expert and indispensable on-call technician. He is globally considered a top authority in voice-over recording technology. He has invested thousands of hours researching studio design, recording equipment, and creating training materials for voice actors. In so doing, he has also become an industry innovator by developing specialized services that cater exclusively to voice-over professionals. Among his many successful clients are the late Don LaFontaine, Bill Ratner, Joe Cipriano and Scott Rummell.
The Don LaFontaine Voice-Over Lab at sagfoundation.org