Thursday, 18 July 2013

A Tale of ISDN Trauma

This time last summer, I was in ISDN installation hell.
Let me explain. 

I had worked for many years as a Voice Artist, and very successfully too. My home studio was working out well for me, with tweaks here and there as needed. My lifestyle had recently changed. Young babies were now young children, and more in a routine, and out of the house for the bulk of the day. I could now be available at the drop of a hat for last minute sessions. Something kept nagging that I ought to book more Radio Commercial work.  And to do that in the UK, ISDN is the only way, as it remains the preference and expectation of most producers. So after attending VOX 2012, and chatting to many of my VO peers, I decided I would delve in. I was ready. It would be simple, right? Go home, choose and book a provider for the line installation, order a Codec, and Bob’s your Uncle.

Wrong. (For a start, my Uncle is Bill). 

What I had forgotten to factor in, was that I am a self-confessed technophobe. And there begins my ISDN trauma, as I now refer, in my mind at least, to that dark time of stress! 

Everyone said, ‘Get a Prima LT.’ The word on the street (or Twitter, or Google or FB, I forget which)
was that as they were no longer available to buy new, since Musicam had stopped producing them, the place to go for a Prima was Ebay. ‘Pick up a second hand Prima, everyone is using them. A doddle to fix, you can mostly do it with a little dab of WD40.’ And so that is the route I took. I shopped around, and there weren’t many available. But finally, I found one on eBay, at a reasonable price that could be delivered to me within a week from the US. Easy peasy. Or so I thought. 

After being held at customs for three weeks, it arrived before the line installation could be completed. It sat in a box, as I had no need of it yet. The installation process was slow, long winded and unnecessarily complicated on behalf of BT. The provider I chose, Ellesys, were excellent and communicated brilliantly throughout. The only downfall at the time was that most of their customers were not VO’s, so they were hazy about my exact requirements. And so was I.

Eventually the line was installed. Then uninstalled, then reinstalled. The kids broke up from school, they got chicken pox and were poorly for ages(!), and then we went on a three week trip to France. I was determined when I returned, I would finally plug the thing in, and the codec would work just luvverly. Nope. My head almost exploded trying to ascertain which cables I would need to order, and then which ones would plug in where. Eventually, cables in, it was time to test the line. It was shockingly bad. The line was crackly and unusable. Deep trauma. Where the cables in the wrong places, was the line working, was the codec working….? I ended up speaking with numerous other VO’s, several Audio Engineers, three hours on the phone to Musicam in the US, and shed many tears and had a tantrum or two,  until in the end some kind soul (you know who you are!) took pity on me and lent me a spare codec to test the line. Honestly, it was such a test of endurance!

 It didn’t end there. Both the line and the codec box were an issue, beyond the understanding of the
Voiceover-Actor-turned-Knight-in-Shining-Armour who came to rescue me. In the end I threw large wads of cash at the problem and two engineers recommended by my Twitter community eventually took over analysing the audio issues. And the problem? The codec was choc-a-block full of RUST inside. Everything. Only one part was salvageable for resale. The saddest part was that by now, out of sheer frustration and lack of knowledge, it had taken much longer than eBay’s buyer returns policy allows for registering faults. So I was left without a codec, seriously out of pocket, and still, without ISDN.

I made a decision to cut my losses, to use a different type of codec, one that is still manufactured and supported, and for whom parts are available as and when required. I now have a Prodys Prontnet, which is a Spanish make, however the very model I bought is identical in every way to Musicam’s newly released Suprima. I am thankful that it is under warranty, and that I know who to call and when.

I have yet to see the funny side. But I can see that I learnt a hell of a lot along the way through my ISDN journey. I realised that is imperative to know who to call when your Audio equipment isn’t working, someone who knows your set up. Find an audio guy, and make him your best friend. I also accept that I do not have to know absolutely everything about my set up, but have enough know-how for daily hiccups. I have realised that my instinct was that I wasn’t comfortable buying a second hand piece of equipment of that magnitude on eBay. I should have trusted that. And I realised, once again that my VO community is a fantastic resource and minefield of information and how-to’s, and support.
about knowing how to get hold of the people who have the Advanced knowledge.

 I have been up and running with ISDN for almost a year, and my business is booming. I have had an incredible year, which has opened up possibilities across the Pond, as well as with some of the UK’s top Radio commercial producers. One of the most interesting things for me though, is that some (but by no means all) of the work comes not through ISDN, but because I have ISDN capability. So sometimes the first session with a new producer might be on ISDN, but after that I’m free to work via mp3 or wav. It’s like a status symbol. If I am willing to invest in myself and my studio, I must be worth working with, or something like that.

I would seriously recommend Dan Friedman’s book for anyone looking into setting up ISDN. And I would definitely recommend my Prodys Prontnet, and Ellesys for anyone ready to splurge.

At the back of my mind, throughout it all, I thought that one day I would blog about my experience with ISDN. And here it is. My therapy. 

(I’d do it all over again though for the learning possibilities and to finally, actually, really be on ISDN, because it has made a fundamental change to my way of working.)

 Fingers crossed, it’ll be more plain sailing for you!