You've Got Mail, Studio Center!

Sep 1, 2004 12:00 PM, Compiled by Sarah Benzuly


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U.S. talent Chris Kepics (left) was recorded using an Audio-Technica AT4060 routed through a Demeter VTMP-2 mic pre and compressed at a ratio of 2:1 on a dbx 160. The signal was then routed to a Yamaha 02R and recorded on a Pro Tools MIX Plus system. Pattie Walden (right) was recorded with a Neumann TLM103 through the same vocal chain as Kepics, but compressed at 2.5:1.

Customizing the audio greetings for AOL 9.0 Optimized SE was the largest single project in the 38-year history of Studio Center Worldwide Audio (Norfolk, Va.), with Trent Toner serving as project manager. The finished product included more than 144,000 audio files featuring eight voice actors from four different countries, employing the work of 17 audio engineers and administrative staff in three states, weeks of pre-production and auditioning voice talent and months of work.

All audio was recorded at 16-bit/44.1 kHz to Pro Tools, with the raw takes broken up into manageable groups of 25 names. Studio Center engineers then used Pro Tools' Strip Silence feature to remove excess audio, topped and tailed each phrase, and applied limiting to the male voices to increase the “apparent” loudness. With the edits complete, each engineer uploaded his or her work to Studio Center's FTP server, where it was verified by Toner. “More than 500,000 edits occurred during this process, with each engineer performing approximately 42,000 edits. Just the most famous phrase of the project, ‘You've got mail!’ was heard at least 35,000 times in Studio Center control rooms during the edit phase of the enormous project,” Toner said.

AOL requested that all files be delivered in .WAV format with levels of -16 dB to -12 dB with -1.5dB max peak. Two sets of voice files were sent: one for reference at 16-bit/44.1 kHz and the second loaded online. To keep download times to a minimum, files could not exceed 60K. At 16/44.1, the files averaged more than 150K. The optimum balance was achieved at 16-bit/11.025 kHz; 8-bit/22.050 kHz was also tried, but the increased noise floor was more harmful to the sound.

In addition to coming up with a unique file-naming system, all files needed to be multiplatform-friendly, as all recording and editing were done on Mac G4s but the integration at AOL was done on Windows-based machines. Toner and AOL decided on the following formula: us_ygm_f_james.wav, in which “us” is the country designator, “ygm” is the phrase said, “f” is the talent gender and then the name of the talent.

To hear your name and Studio Center's work, access the U.S. sounds by installing AOL 9.0 Optimized SE at AOL keyword: Upgrade; an AOL account is required. Once signed on, go to keyword: Event Sounds. Select “Change” and then “Add Your Name.”

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