Friday, October 19, 2012

How We Made a Home Recording Studio Out of Garbage and Gifts

Shalom, chaverim! I know I've been banging on about work for the past several months, but as still relatively new olim, it is taking up the majority of our time and energy to create careers for ourselves out of virtually nothing. Fortunately, there is a lot of support available for new immigrants in Israel, thanks to Nefesh B'Nefesh's excellent job boards on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media outlets. In addition, there are plenty of other organizations that provide job postings targeted towards olim, such as, the AACI, the Jewish Agency's Aliyah Job Center, and numerous Facebook communities like the Anglo-Israeli Job Network and Digital Eve Israel. I found the leads to all of my jobs through these sites, so while the old maxim that you have to network when you get to Israel is true, these days it's possible to do this networking from your laptop and cellphone as well as in real life.

I shudder to think where we'd be at this stage if we'd made Aliyah thirty years ago. Before the advent of home computers, telecommuting, virtual call centers, cellphones, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on, it typically took every Israeli family about four years to have a telephone installed in their apartment. I kid you not--a friend our ours in Nahariya made Aliyah at that time, and she had to wait for four years to get a phone. When we moved to Nahariya, we had our phone, high speed internet line, and a 500-channel satellite television package installed within about three days of our landing in the country.

Other friends of ours came to Nahariya with four children in the early 1980's. The husband was (and still is) a doctor at Western Galilee Hospital. Back then, he worked as an emergency room physician for the grand sum of earning the equivalent of one U.S. dollar per hour. Fortunately, they lived on the kibbutz at Rosh Ha'Nikra, which allowed them the ability to survive on a non-viable wage.

What would we have done with ourselves, with regard to finding work, in the Nahariya of 1982? Well, to be chronologically accurate, if I'd made Aliyah in 1982 I would have still been in high school, but you know what I mean. Had we been the same ages we are now and had come to Israel then, I really wonder how it would have all gone down. We might have ended up on a kibbutz. That may be wishful thinking, however, as we are already too old to be considered for kibbutz membership in most places. I probably would have ended up teaching somewhere. Perhaps Elul could have cobbled together a career as a stringer (freelance reporter) for international news agencies, or could have trained as an English teacher.

We've had it extremely easy compared to our predecessors, thanks to Israel's wholehearted embrace of high tech and interconnectivity. Israel's rapid expansion into building software platforms used worldwide has created a demand for various high-tech programmers, web developers, and other white-collar workers who are comfortable with using computers and have an excellent command of English. This has meant that doors are opening to us here that we would have never even gotten the chance to knock on if we were still in America. This is not because we are such magnificent gifts to the labor landscape, but simply a matter of having skills that are in demand here, but are in a state of oversupply in America. No one would bother to put on their American resume, for example, that they are native speakers of English, but in Israel, that just might get you an interview.

Which brings me, finally, to the point of this post. While we were both actively job hunting, we came across an ad for a startup company looking for people who could do in-home voiceovers for video news clips. We submitted audition "tapes" (actually just .mp3 computer files) and crossed our fingers. Some time went by as the company got itself organized, and we finally went "live" last week in terms of doing hour-long shifts as real-time voiceover narrators. The work is very fun and very interesting, but in order to produce voiceovers that are of the level of quality needed by the company, we had to get very creative in building a home studio. I am proud to announce that we were able to assemble this studio, made entirely out of garbage and gifts.

This was a huge step up from my previous recording "studio," which was a crazy assemblage in which I sat on a pile of pillows on a bed and spoke into a recording device propped up on another pillow. I had a Petzl headlamp strapped to my forehead, and, for sound insulation, I covered myself and the recorder with a Snuggie. For good luck, I'd prop the recorder up on Chaim Potok's excellent "Gates of November."

Now just do this under a Snuggie, please. And make sure you do it with no air conditiong on. In August. In Israel.

I kid you not. I would routinely record thirty-minute scripts in this setup.

Clearly, neither Elul nor I wanted to do hour-long voiceover shifts sitting under a Snuggie. How did we do it? Well, to make a home recording studio, you first need a space. (My amazing brother Joe Milner, who owns and runs Puget Sound, a Hollywood sound production company, bought and renovated an entire movie theatre solely for this purpose.) We, however, chose our "guest bedroom," which is actually just where the cats sleep, eat, and do their business. Second, you need a work surface of desk height. For this, I chose the "desk" that I'd made earlier out of a portable piano stand and an old wardrobe door I'd found in the street. The chair was another dumpster find, which Elul reinforced with wood glue after it collapsed for the first time.

My piano stand with dumpster-find "desktop" and wood-glued, street-salvaged chair.

On the work surface was a laptop generously gifted to us by Elul's aunt Marlene, who had upgraded her own to another model. This laptop had a problem in that it tended to get overheated very easily, making it uncomfortable to have on one's lap, and putting unnecessary strain on the fan. The fan also makes noise, so that's not good for doing voiceover work. Elul solved this by cutting off four little pieces off a piece of scrap wood, which created little blocks for the laptop to sit on so the computer could ventilate properly and not overheat.

The microphone was a loan from the company, but before it arrived we used a microphone that was a gift from another client I do voiceover work for, when he was upgrading his own studio. We had the headphones already. The recording software we use is on a free trial, which we can either purchase at the end of the trial or simply switch to a free software program like Audacity.

Now for the most important thing: noise reduction. It is very important to create the most acoustically "dead" space you can for doing voiceovers. Otherwise, your voice can sound too hollow, too bright, too ghostly, too filled with echos, or any other type of effect that makes it hard for producers to work with. In Florida, for example, I used a walk-in closet to do my voiceover work, which was lovely and squishy and full of sound-absorbing clothes and a noise-crushing high-pile carpet.

Our apartment in Israel, however, like most older apartments here, is very poorly designed for doing voiceover work. Old wall-mounted air conditioner units run, traffic honks and beeps, kids run and shout joyfully outside, "discussions" take place at high volume in hallways and in adjacent apartments, and so on. Israeli walls are usually very poorly insulated (if at all), and windows are not double-paned. Furthermore, wall-to-wall carpeting is almost unheard of, and tile floors with plaster walls and ceilings are the norm. In other words, everything seems to be designed to create as much noise as possible. If we had a "safe room," or an in-home bomb shelter room, it would be much quieter in that room. But we don't, because our building was built before having private bomb shelters became the norm.

To make our little setup have the acoustics of a studio, we had to come up with some kind of insulating material. Of course, had we had plenty of money, time, and our landlord's permission, we could have gone all out and built a little drywall closet lined with studio-grade, sound absorbing wall covering. But we had none of these. What to do? We were pondering this very question while walking home a few days ago, and as we were passing a vacant lot, Elul spotted the answer. There, as if it had been put there for us specifically, were two large pieces of very thick styrofoam, about two feet by two feet each. I clambered over the wall to take a look, and passed them back up to Elul, who carried them home. It turned out that they were the top and bottom pieces that had been the packaging materials for a washing machine. Some litterbug had simply thrown the styrofoam and the carton in the field, but their slovenliness was our gain. Instant insulation!

Pini and Dudu oversee the installation of our "insulation."

Now, how to suspend it so we can have a facsimile of a "room," when there is only one wall to work with? Elul grabbed some scrap wood that he'd salvaged from the packaging that our oven was wrapped in, and had stuck in our storage room downstairs "just in case." The case being at hand, he then quickly hammered together a small frame on which to mount the insulation panel and some sound absorbing blankets.

Elul's ingenious L-frame. There was one sinkhole available in the "desk" surface, which he used to anchor the frame so the cats wouldn't be able to knock it over. That hasn't stopped them from trying, though.

Time to assemble.

Dudu oversees the installation. You can see Elul's hand securing the panel with zip ties. The bottom is supported by a mic stand we weren't using.

The other panel was mounted on the wall directly behind, and covered with one of the quilts my mother made for our cat Pini. The tile on the studio's other "wall" was also covered by an old packing blanket Elul had used for years, and another of my mother's quilts, which she had made for our cat Dudu. I'm not sure if the cats exactly agreed to "gift" us these quilts, but let's just say it was a family-based redistribution of wealth, in the name of the greater good.

Elul's legs show as he tests out our new studio. Hubba hubba!

So, we've now made our audible, if invisible, entry into the Israeli international media landscape. Today, we're doing voiceovers about Derek Jeter's broken ankle, Amanda Seyfried's dinner with a mystery man in New York City, and, invariably, Katy Perry's cleavage. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Shabbat shalom, everyone!



  1. I have been looking for my friend SELAH. Have you seen her? She has been working at about 5 different jobs. She is so busy that the only way I can keep track of her now is through her blog. Oh look a picture of her...she hasn't changed at all!!
    But seriously, you guys amaze me! Just when I think I know most of your fancy tricks, up comes another one. The the pic of Elul and his little boy socks,so cute!!! Because poor hard working Selah was not able to come to the Nefesh meet n greet, someone thought I was Elul's wife....!!! I'll tell ya about it later....hopefully. Miss you my lovely friend and I hope to see ya soon.

  2. Thats insane, I love how completely simple it is. Simplicity is the key to enjoyment.

    -Land Source Container Service, Inc.


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