For as long as this publication has been around, so has the desire of many radio production people to leave their jobs behind and start their own production business. No two stories are alike, but they all have common threads that lead to successful outcomes. Abe Udy’s story is a perfect example. Starting as a teenager in Australian radio, he’s now living the entrepreneurial dream at Abes Audio in Tasmania, Australia. Abe shares his story and offers advice for those with the same dream.
JV: Your online bio says: “From humble beginnings in my bedroom with a fax machine, an old school desk and makeshift ‘booth’ used by 3 local voice talent, we’ve grown to a team of over 20 fantastic staff and more than 100 voice over artists!” What were you doing before this and what made you decide to make the move back in 2001?
Abe: I started my career in high school at the age of 17 back in the late 90s. I was living in a small Australian country town of about 15,000 people, and with a couple of borrowed CD players and a dodgy PA system, a mate and I worked as DJs for anyone who would pay us $60 for the night. These funds were promptly spent on post-gig eggnogs and hot dogs! About the same time, using these same CD players, we installed some outdoor speakers around our high school and ran a ‘radio’ station at lunchtime. This led to me making ads for that station using a couple of old cassette recorders and cajoling nearby teachers into doing the voice overs.
Straight out of school I landed a job at 5CC, the local commercial radio station. I had been going in to the station after school and doing whatever I could for free - dubbing shows to cart from reel-to-reel, watching the announcers record voice overs, writing ads, making coffee - and I think they knew that if they didn't give me a job I'd keep harassing them until they did! I was initially employed as a floater at 5CC - my main focus was producing commercials but I also wrote copy and pulled some live shifts on air.
The production equipment the station had at the time was pretty basic - an old on air desk, two reel-to-reel machines, a CD player and a cart machine. There was no EQ and no outboard processing, with tape-delay the only effect available. Watching the announcers record a 30 second voice over in one take -- with perhaps the odd drop edit here and there -- was a great training ground.
From 5CC I moved to 4CC -- an unrelated station -- as their commercial producer. It was while working here, using my own PC and a tiny 4-track audio editing program called Software Audio Workshop, that I decided I would rather be working for myself. I’d always liked the idea of being in control of my own destiny and treading my own path. So after considering a handful of names for the business - one of which was ‘6th Dimension Digital Audio Production’ -- try saying that fast! -- Abes Audio was born.
JV: What services does Abes Audio provide today?
Abe: Today, we produce voice overs and commercials for radio, TV, social media and other digital channels across Australia and internationally. We are also seeing an increasing demand for voice over narrations for eLearning material, corporate videos and other animated content. It’s interesting to see the media landscape change and content requirements shift, although radio still remains strong. Perhaps it’s the curated and lean-back nature of the medium that keeps it competitive?
Another service we are increasingly being asked to provide is sound design - essentially taking our years of combined radio production experience and creating soundtracks for both commercials and longer form TV program content.
JV: What 3 things would you most contribute the success of Abes Audio to?
Abe: Funnily enough, these might not be what you’d expect. Yes, delivering creative production is important and having fantastic voice over talent a must, but the 3 things I think that have contributed to the success of Abes Audio are…
1) Passion. From early on I said to myself ‘you can give passionate people skills, but you can’t give skilled people passion’. I’ve found this to be true in both who we’ve hired and how we serve our clients. I would much rather hire a producer with potential to grow in their creativity but who’s 100% keen and passionate about their work.
2) Relationships. You simply can’t overstate the power of strong relationships. Often taking years to build and develop, a great client relationship will get you through many a sticky situation. Strong client relationships have been key to the success of Abe’s Audio as we’ve built a level of trust with each client and they know we genuinely care about the outcome of every job and their success.
And 3) Innovation. In my view, innovation does not create business growth, but it does accelerate it. Many years ago we developed a totally customized, bespoke job management system solely for managing voice overs and our audio production jobs. It has enabled us to deliver production consistently for years to even the tightest of deadlines and provide a highly personal level of service, regardless of how busy the day might be.
‘Grow big but think small’ is another manta of mine. As we grow I think it’s important we continue to serve our clients and treat them as individuals -- and think small -- and innovation has helped us to do that.
JV: What’s your company’s approach to making great radio commercials for your clients?
Abe: I think the real skill as a producer is hearing the words in a script. Like many radio producers, the clock often dictates exactly how long you can spend working on a commercial, and so it’s important to be able to hear how a script might sound within the first few seconds of reading it. This is a real skill, and one that develops with experience.
That’s the approach we take when producing radio commercials. Within the first few seconds of reading a script, the producer will have an idea in his mind of what the finished commercial will sound like. He’ll quickly know the type of music track required, what sound effects will work and how he might process/EQ/compress the voice.
The majority of commercials we produce are recorded by voice over talent who self-direct in their own booths before uploading the read to our servers. While it might be nice to have every commercial read directed by the producer, both the budget and deadline often don’t permit this.
Self-direction is a skill that not all voice over talent can do well, but those that can bring added value to their craft as they can both perform the read and listen to themselves at the same time. We’ll then download the read supplied from the voice talent and begin the editing process, building the commercial from the voice up.
JV: Tell us about your facility. How many studios? Pro Tools or something else? What are your favorite mics and mic processors to use? Do the 20+ members of your team all work from one location, or do some of them work from home studios and offices as well?
Abe: We have 11 producers who use a mix of Pro Tools and Adobe Audition across Mac and PC. They choose their DAW of choice and work across a range of different studio locations, so clear communication is critical.
Our voice over talent generally record in their home studio and use a range of mics, however in our studios for local voice sessions we use Rode NT2As - great Australian mics for the money. Processing is all done in the box with a mix of Waves, Izotope and Fab Filter plugins.
Jaron, one of our specialist radio imaging producers recently shared this about plugins: “There are 2 plugins I simply couldn’t live without. Sometimes, if my ears are tired, frequencies get blurred and it can be difficult to hear exactly what I should be pulling out or putting in to a voice over. My go-to plugin is the ProQ3 EQ from FabFilter because of the simple but powerful GUI. To visually be able to see what I am hearing can be a lifesaver and I use it on all my channels.
My next favourite plugin is Mouth De-Click from iZotope. In fact , I’d go to say this is a must-have tool for any audio producer working with voice over talent. There’s nothing worse than hearing voice overs with clicks and pops throughout a recording caused by saliva and other physical attributes of the mouth. With Mouth De-Click, they’re gone.”
JV: What have you found as the best way to generate new business?
Abe: Word of mouth. You're only as good as your last production, and it’s important to get it right because it might lead to your next new client.
JV: How do you nurture creativity amongst your team?
Abe: It’s a tricky one. As we are in a busy production environment, there’s not huge amounts of time to spend off the tools. However, one of the best ways we have found to nurture creativity is with collaboration and the sharing of ideas. Hearing other team members’ work, adding input on how a mix can be improved or what sound effect might work better, for example, seems to help lift the overall level all of our work.
Listening to other producers’ work from different Australian and overseas radio station is also a great way to get inspired.
JV: What advice would you give to someone in radio production who’d like to follow in your footsteps, make the break from radio and start their own business producing radio commercials?
Abe: A few things… Remember, you’ll be signing up for flexibility -- in that you get to choose which 100 hours of the week you work. Be prepared to do everything to start with. When I started the business I did all the voice talent recording, producing, music bed sorting, sound effects purchasing, invoice sending, invoice chasing, client relation, script writing, tax returning; the list goes on.
Have a side hustle; you won’t be able to survive just on production income alone as it takes time to build a sustainable business. For me, I worked as a DJ in a local nightclub. I remember one day working till 2am and then coming home to finish producing an imaging package that was due the next morning at 9.