George Whittam Interview

George LogoIf you’ve been around the industry for a while, you’ve probably seen someone mention George Whittam in the context of how he helped them, or seen him and Dan Lenard on the weekly EWABS show. He’s got an amazing set of stories and a well of experience that any voice over professional would be lucky to draw on.

1. Tell us about how you got involved in audio production.

It’s a longggg story, but I first became interested in audio recording as a kid, recording anything I could with an old Sony reporter cassette recorder my Dad gave me.  As a teenager my Dad got us a Tascam Portastudio  One to have fun with and record live music performances.  At Virginia Tech I studied Music & Audio Technology with a minor in communications, spending most of my waking hours in the state of the art (of it’s time) digital recording studio.  After graduating in 1997 I interned at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia for a brief time, just long enough to get a taste of the commercial studio world and decide I didn’t want to go the usual career route.  My wonderful Dad helped me start ElDorado Recording Services, which I based out of a RV so I could bring the studio to the music.  It was a lot of fun, a real challenge, but never very lucrative.

Throughout my post college years, to support myself and supplement meager earnings from ERS, I worked as a bicycle mechanic, a sales person at a music store, a freelance audio technician installing sound systems in fitness clubs, and a remote broadcasting engineer at WYSP in Philadelphia traveling with the Eagles NFL team.      While working at WYSP I met Howard Parker, who needed to install a studio in his apartment in New York City, having recently left his position as a producer at the station to pursue his voiceover career.  My friend Lane Massey, a station technician and I did the installation, which involved Pro Tools, a WhisperRoom and ISDN.  At the time I lived with my girlfriend in Philadelphia, who pined to be back in Southern California again, where she had worked in the telecommunications industry.  In 2004 I decided to take a chance and move out with her to Los Angeles, feeling a need for a change and seeing opportunities for audio production abound on Craigslist.

With a fresh start in LA, I pursued production sound mixing, learning anything I could from others in the industry I meant online in forums and through purchasing used equipment on Craigslist.  Meanwhile, Howard Parker was also in the Los Angeles area by this time, and I had assisted him with some studio maintenance a few times.  I got serious about the soundmixing craft, and worked hard on advancing in the industry, with the next step signing on with the Local 695 Union.  Howard had referred me to his manager in NYC, who in turn referred me to some other voice actors who needed tech help.  Now I had two distinct areas of audio I was juggling, along with a stint as a sales technician for a boutique pro audio retailer.

Then one day I was referred by audio engineer to the VO stars Steve Nafshun to help out a successful voice actor with his aging home studio.  That’s when I met Don LaFontaine.  Everything changed after that, and I became his on-call tech, among a small but growing list of other busy promo voices in LA.  Two films that the were promised to “flip union” I was booked on lost funding last minute, and I decided this industry wasn’t for me, and shifted focus 100% to serving the voiceover actor in 2007.

2. Where did VOStudioTech (formerly known as El Dorado Recording Services) come from?

Looks like I answered that one already, huh!

3. Your business has gone some recent updates, going from El Dorado Recording to VO Studio Tech, bringing in your wife to help, and changing your service offerings. What prompted these changes?

VOStudioTech came out of a need to better brand myself for the industry I serve.  I also had a small identity conflict with an ElDorado Recording Studios, established in Los Angeles many years before I arrived.  I’ve worked to scale my business to handle an ever growing onslaught of voice talent that seems to be flooding the market.  But I also decided to diversify the service offerings we provide so that I wasn’t pigeonholed as an on-call technician.

I began to offer “virtual engineering” services to those who need help with perfecting their audio quality and processing.  At the same time in 2012 the audiobook production industry started to balloon quickly, and the percentage of clients working on audiobooks who were seeking help multiplied quickly.  I adapted to the demand and started to not only offer tech help, but audiobook services narrators need to be productive and meet their deadlines, such as editing, proofing, and mastering.

Another offering I developed is our Membership program, a service contract of sorts for those who want on-going and preventative maintenance for their home studios for a flat monthly or discounted yearly fee.  It really caters to the busy professional VO who can’t afford any downtime, or to the growing voiceover business that wants access to help whenever needed for one predictable monthly fee.

4. You’ve worked with a great variety of talent and projects. Do you have a favorite or a funny story?

One of my favorite stories, as it should come as no surprise, is about working with Don LaFontaine.  Over the few years I worked with him in his home studio, leading up to his untimely death in 2008, I would sometimes help him with some creative aspects of his favorite hobby, producing home videos of his children.  Howard didn’t do ANYTHING without going “all the way”, and his home video productions were no exception.  Throughout 2008 his illness kept him from working a full schedule as a voice actor, and eventually curtailed his ability to work at all.  All the while though he kept himself active working on projects of his own.

The last production we worked on was a video of an amazing theatrical performance his daughters Lisi and Skye were cast in with their Silverlake Children’s Theater Group, Teatro Della Morte.  It was theatre under a big-top, with live musicians on stage, over 20 different production numbers, a fire-breather in the parking lot, the whole nine yards.  Don decided to enlist the help of a few friends, including VO’s Paul Pape and Josh Daugherty, myself, my wife, a few camera operators, and a video crew to capture the event in style:  5 HD cameras and a multitrack audio capture!  I was the sound engineer, my wife Amy was the technical director, and Don called the shots.  It was surreal, and a lot of fun.

Don and I worked on the post of the video over the course of a month or two that summer.  In his studio we sat back to back, he at the Avid workstation I built for him, and I at the Pro Tools system.  He would put the finishing touches on the edit of a number, ask me for my final mix of the audio, and manually sync up the audio to the picture.  It was the beginning of what he had hoped would become a new video production company, and I was having a blast working alongside him, not as a boss or a client, but as a partner.  That August his vision for new business frontiers, including voiceover recording packages with training material developed by Don himself, came to a sad end as he succumbed to his illness.

The video post for Teatro Della Morte wasn’t completed, but by some miracle Don had managed to lock the edit for the entire 2 hour show.  I hired an Avid expert to help me lock the remaining audio mixes to picture, and we exported a the final cut of the video.  I was so happy I could deliver that DVD to his wife Nita to share with their children and their theatre group.  It was just one of so many ways Don went beyond the call of duty for his kids and anyone around him he cared about.

When I was approached two years later by Don’s old friends Paul Pape and Joe Cipriano to voluntarily help design and build a recording and teaching lab in Don’s name for the SAG Foundation, dubbed the Don LaFontaine Voice Over Lab, I couldn’t possibly say no.  You can see why…

5. How did you and Dan Lenard come together to create East West Audio Body Shop?

Dan and I met at VOICE 2008 as I was about to hit the stage presenting on the topic of home studio technology.  It was my first public speaking engagement, first time presenting on the subject, first time attending VOICE, and I was brought in at the last minute to fill a hole in the program left by someone else.  Dan gave me some sage words of advice about who I was going to be speaking for and advised I tone back the “geeky” side of my presentation so I wouldn’t lose to many in the audience.  Thanks in part to him my presentation went off great, and we stayed in touch after that.

In 2011 Dan and I were Skyping and blabbing out the state of the technical VO industry, as we did from time to time.  We often discussed how so many where getting bad advice, as evidenced by what we read in the VO forums.  It came to mind that perhaps people would be interested in what we had to say.  I am a big fan of Car Talk on NPR, as well as Leo LaPorte’s TWIT.TV network of webcasts, so our format was heavily influenced by these shows.  Car Talk for the dueling hosts and our initial format of answering tech questions live on the show, and TWIT for the technical side of how we bring the show to our audience.  Time lapsed from conception to Episode 1 was only about one month!

Now we’re past the 80 episode mark, going live most every Sunday at 6PM PST via Ustream on our website  We’ve opened up the topics of discussion to the VO industry in general, and started creating our own original content, in hopes more would tune in each week.  Our guests continue to amaze us, which luminaries ranging from animation voice super-stars June Foray, Tom Kenny and Bob Bergen, to respected industry colleagues including Dave Courvoisier, Pat Fraley, and Marice Tobias.

As a post script, if you know anyone who you think would fit in to my ‘techie’ interview series please email me at [email protected] Also, you can check out previous interviews with Morgan Barhart of here, Dan Friedman here, Jeff Kafer here, and Eric Souer here.

Next week I’ll be sitting down with the son of another ‘voiceover family’, Dylan Gamblin.


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