Harlan Hogan, the veteran voiceover known for informing the PBS program was “made possible by viewers like you” and “That little itch should be telling you something,” is also the recording expert behind his own online company.
Voice Over Essentials sells everything needed for home recording – home studio microphones, stands, software, sound effects, even how-to books and DVDs – to voice actors, broadcasters, musicians, and various production personnel.
“Everything we sell, we actually use and can personally recommend,” he says.
One of Hogan’s biggest sellers is the Porta-Booth, a product he invented himself. It’s a portable audio booth that assembles in less than a minute and comes in three different sizes.
He said he conceived the Porta-Booth out of necessity. “While traveling, I needed a way to record in acoustically bad spaces, such as hotel rooms,” Hogan says.
“After building pillow forts and trying to use comforters as acoustic reinforcement when recording on the road, I came up the idea of a collapsible box filled with acoustic foam. With the mic inside the box, it ‘heard’ the sound of an acoustically treated space and sounded remarkably like a human-sized sound booth.”
When Hogan published the idea on the Web with full instructions on how to make one, he was surprised by the number of people who responded and wanted to see if they could buy a ready-made booth.
Eventually, he crafted 10 Porta-Booths, which sold in two days, and soon his side business was off and running.
His 7 lb. Porta-Booth Pro has been so popular, in fact, that it was selected as a top 75 nominee at the 10th annual Chicago Innovation Awards held earlier this month.
And sales on VoiceOverEssentials.com — which has an Amazon.com checkout — ranked in the top 25% among all Amazon.com sellers for the 2009 and 2010 holiday shopping seasons.
Essentials connects with fellow voiceovers worldwide
Hogan discovered an unexpected benefit of launching Voice Over Essentials was connecting with fellow voiceovers all over the globe. “In many ways, the store has become a kind of mini Facebook forum for exchanging ideas, techniques and needs – what products & resources do performers want.”
Case in point: Hogan was surprised by how many people asked about “crowd control” at home with questions like “How do I get my family to be quiet while I’m recording?”
“That led to our developing an illuminated voiceover recording sign that can be turned on and off with a remote control up to 400 feet away,” he says.
“Here at my house, the recording sign hangs in my wife Lesley’s office upstairs. Whenever I turn on the recording gear, it lights up so Lesley knows it’s not the best time to start vacuuming.”
Despite market changes, niche markets can be profitable
Hogan notes that the voiceover industry has changed significantly since the days when he was doing catch-phrases like Life Cereal’s “It’s the cereal even Mikey likes” 35 years ago.
“The mere fact that we all need home studios to audition from is a game changer. The connectivity of the Internet allows us to work worldwide, but that means we face worldwide competition,” says Hogan, whose current clients include ComEd, Budweiser, Ford 150 trucks, and Cracker Barrel.
He recognizes that competition brings inevitable changes in pricing and work structure. “I hear some doom and gloom out there, but I think if you can develop niche markets in your strong areas you can still make a comfortable living doing something you love, and to me that is the most important thing.”
Veteran freelance writer Erik Martin pens articles for national publications, such as the L.A. Times, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, Patch.com and others. Martin, who has a film/communications degree, runs CineVerse, a weekly film discussion group and accompanying blog. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.