Conversations with Rebekah: Lena Hill

In this installment of Conversations with Rebekah, Source-Elements CEO and Technical Co-founder, she “sits” down and records her conversation with Lena Hill (https://www.lenahill.com/) VO over artist, Sleepy Reports podcaster, and voice coach. They talk about: Source Elements, how the Sleepy Reports podcast got started, remote work, women in leadership, and Rebekah’s desire to retake physics!

Lena:  Hi Rebekah! I’m super excited to be here. And I’m super excited to talk to you. I use Source Elements products multiple times a week. I wanted to hear from you as the co-founder, who’s in charge of everything. What was the nexus of all of this? Why did you want to do this business?

Rebekah:  Hi Lena! For me, this is a straightforward question to answer. I fell in love with the internet quite a long time ago, in the mid-nineties. When I first came across it, New Zealand is a very isolated place, and I felt like I was growing up in the middle of nowhere. So when the internet happened, I was like, “Oh, thank God.” There are other people out there, and I just fell into being a software developer. I was already working as a composer, so those two worlds working with computers and working in music came naturally.

I met Robert Marshall, my co-founder when he had engineered a CD of mine. We were having a beer one day, which is how most companies start, and it was like, “Oh, do you think we could do that?” And I said, “Sure, let’s try it.” So we tried building a company and last 15 years has been thanks to a beer and a terrace on a lovely sunny Chicago July afternoon in 2005. It’s fantastic. 

Lena:  I mean, I love this product, so Bravo.

Rebekah: Thanks, but Source Elements sprang from working with voice-over talent like you. Mainly Robert, a sound engineer, records with voice actors all day, every day, from all around the world using ISDN. His bills were piling up because ISDN was such an expensive solution. . The internet was just at that point where we thought if we just pushed those boundaries enough, can we do this? So we got in there early, just figured out what our customers needed, and for the last decade and a half, it has been amazing and challenging, but a fantastic journey.  

Lena: Yeah. Well, it’s, it is an amazing story of going from ISDN to Source-Connect. When I jumped in as a professional VO artist, I missed the ISDN period, and everyone just said you have to have Source-Connect. Now that I left Los Angeles to live in the middle of the US, it’s not even an option not to use Source-Connect. So to have a web option like Source-Connect saves all of us. 

Rebekah: Absolutely, and thank you! Let’s turn to your work. I was interested in getting to know you. I admired your work for a while, and something that makes me wonder, you do so many things. With everything that people could be in this world, especially as you can do many things. What was that magical moment when you got in front of a microphone, and you were like, “Oh, I like this job”?

Lena: Years ago, I was cast as one of the birds and the angry birds game that’s on your phone. I stepped in front of the mic and had a little picture of the little bird that I was supposed to be. 

It was an hour of the most delightful happiness I’ve ever experienced as a performer. I’ve been lucky enough to perform with really incredible people in incredible places and projects. However, to be in front of just a microphone with just a picture of the character and making funny noises filled me with so much joy. I was like, “Miss. This is it. This is what I want to do. I want to make noises. I want to be able to be expressive and the silliest way, because people aren’t like looking at you,” and I have been in love ever since. Also, the voice-over community is one of the best as soon as I got pulled into the community. I was like, “I won’t ever leave I I’ll stay. Let’s just stay for a long time.” 

Rebekah: I absolutely agree with you that the voice-over community is fantastic. As you can imagine, we are also involved in many communities, and I love the characters and the warmth you can find there. I’ve met many of these people in person, and it’s always a pleasure. 

I like what you said about being able to be silly. There is something there about when you’re not on camera where you can be more yourself. I just thought you’re not in your booths right now, so I wonder, do you have a camera in your booth or …

Lena: No. I don’t have a camera in my booth because I like for people to imagine the character rather than see me act like the character. I play many young roles, like Little kids, boys, teenagers, that sort of thing. When they see an adult there, sometimes their brains are like, “that’s not a kid.”

So I prefer to have the anonymity of just listening to my voice, and that’s it. 

I think it’s essential to know your clients and understand why you don’t have a camera. Sometimes it is something you may have to explain. But I haven’t had to yet. Sometimes a client would ask, like, “Do you have a webcam? We’d like to see you?” I just say, “no.”  

So I guess that’s not as I think it might be more something that you would want if you were doing animation shows that you might want to see the person act. But 98% of the work I do is e-learning and explainer stuff.

So they don’t, they don’t need to see me for that. 

So I was curious about something. I was curious what your plans were for Source Elements? Like what is it that, I mean, in this pandemic, I think I’ve done two or three different beta tests for you all for new products. They were really cool, and I was excited to see that new things are Source Elements was building. So what is next for Source Elements? 

Rebekah:  Firstly, there’s an emphasis on ease of use. We know that the software we have at the moment could be more intuitive. So we’re at the moment looking really, really, really hard at where those like pain points. How can we rework the Source Elements software interfaces and the dashboard where customers can interact with support to make it a more pleasant experience. So those are the things where we’re able to say. Let’s make this more fun and more rewarding for everybody. 

Next, we have a lot of assets at Source Elements, and we were running so hard for so many years to get the product so good that one of the important things that we realized was that we also used to talk to everybody. I’m sure you may have had a call with one of us, you know, because certainly before the pandemic, we had so much time, it’s like, “Hey, we’ll talk. And how are your kids?” And you know,” what are you going to do for the weekend?” We got to know everybody, and with our rapid growth, our connections with our customers are not as deep as they used to be. So we have to look at how we can do that kind of support a little less direct, which is a little bit sad really, but at the same time, it does allow us to reach more people. So that’s good. 

Lena: Yeah, absolutely. At the very beginning of the pandemic, I had already had a schedule to make my studio a “Source-Connect certified studio.” And when I was calling to try to see if I could make an appointment there or like, the work is this exploding it’s exploding. So how did you keep up with that level of demand that everybody needed to start using you all of a sudden?

Rebekah: First, we called all of our friends and said, please help. So we got through with that in the first couple of months, with the help of a lot of, a lot of, a lot of help.

Then we sat down, and we were like, how do we grow this on a bigger scale? We don’t believe that people were all going to go back and work in the office. We know now there’s a hybrid situation happening. For example, people have moved to new houses, and some may have moved out of the city. People will want to commute less, so there’s going to be a hybrid component for us and the rest of the world. So you know, that level of demand for us isn’t going down, which is great. 

This level of demand has allowed us to invest in customer training and education, look for new ways to interact with our customers, and build more opportunities for connections! It also means that certifications are coming back. I am sure you’ll be thrilled to hear about that!

Lena: I already got it. I snuck in right at the deadline, and the certification went through. So it’s now proudly on my website that I am a source connect certified studio. It’s a badge of honor for sure, and it helps too. When you’re marketing yourself to say that, Here you go. Here’s part of my prep package. People are like, “Okay. Yes. That means you’re professional.” It’s like, of course, it does. 

Rebekah:  Great to hear that. Yeah. Now speaking of professional, I have a tangential question because something that many of us need is to sleep. And when you do one of my favorite podcasts, Sleepy Reports, please tell me how that happened.

Lena: Well, during the early part of the pandemic, I heard from most people that I knew that getting sleep had started to become a problem. Everybody seemed to be having difficulties with sleep, and I know that sleep is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. And we were all going through a very traumatic thing altogether, all this trauma, trauma, trauma, and then also talking to my friends and family.

They were all addicted to some information stream, and they still couldn’t get enough information just needed as much from traditional sources. Also, a lot of my friends were falling asleep to some sort of political podcast. 

I wanted to help, and everybody that knows me knows that I’m a helper bee person. So I thought, I think that I might be able to help people fall asleep. So I had this idea for a podcast called Sleepy Reportswhere I read government documents. It’s in a very calm sort of way. So it starts your journey from that, and you have all this information coming to you and feeling your need information subside. In reading the reports calmly, you can start to fall asleep. It’s such a joy, and it’s also fascinating to read published government documents in that way. I thought at first it was going to be very dry, but they’re all quite compelling. So it’s been a challenge to read them in a way that doesn’t keep people awake.

Rebekah: I admit I have fallen asleep. So I’ll have to go and try again, maybe for an afternoon nap, half asleep. 

Lena: Yes. Yes, indeed. 

So, I wanted to ask you about women in leadership. As a person who owns my own small business, I don’t really have much of an opportunity to be a voice about women in leadership, but I wanted to get more involved. I wanted to hear what your experience was like as a leader of a company and a woman in a leadership role.  

Rebekah:  It’s an answer that probably changes constantly, depending on the confidence level that I have at the moment. I think it’s really about me and how not about me, but how I process how the world sees me as a woman because it’s a give-and-take relationship. As the world gets used to strong women, I get stronger as a woman in my business, and I could see that something has changed in the last couple of years. Maybe also I’m getting older, which helps. 

Alow, I’m starting to see that the way I see the world is different from the men in my business. I see that as an asset. I see things differently, certainly when I’m on a call with five men, and they have one approach, and I have a different one. I can one say, okay, this my approach. But you know, often there’s not that much difference. It’s just the way we express it. I think it is through socialization and generational experiences. Younger men have different socialization now. So, you know, you have a lot of those, less of those are, you know, patriarchal kind of experiences you might have with some older men. So perhaps being in the middle of certain generations, one more patriarchal and one sort of less. I’m able to certainly start feeling more confident and comfortable and just saying I’m different, and that’s cool. I also believe in diversity anyway. So why would I want to be the same as everyone else?

All of these things are coming out to me, making me feel more confident, and this then allows me to say, okay, if I feel confident in my leadership in this business. Then I can share that confidence with other people who also are looking for confidence and mentorship. So, yeah, I’m in a good place right now. It feels really good. 

Lena:  Good. Yeah, there seems to be a little bit of a logarithmic curve where it felt like many of us women were identifying people who were kind of playing the game. We were able to put two and two together, and then all of a sudden, like there just seemed to be a slight turning of a corner there where a lot of us are like, yeah, we want to play it our way now this is how it’s going to be.

It’s interesting. I had a mentor, a voice-over mentor in my first years, and he’s still a dear friend, and I adore him. One of the things that he kept imparting to me was knowing my value, knowing my worth, and not being scared of it. He kept saying like, I would never, as a professional voice actor, devalue myself to try to fit into what people are asking me to do.

He was like, “There is no reason for you to do that either.” It took me several years for it to sink in that I have worth, and I don’t have to be scared of being in a negotiation with five men and feeling like I can’t possibly say exactly what I’m worth. That I will not take 3 cents lower per word that my male voice-over counterpart has is a no-no. I can get paid exactly the same amount as he does. Why on earth would I need to be paid a few cents less? It is just this bizarre mentality that is conditional. We have, we start to have been conditioned from a very young age as female-identifying people that we, I feel like we’re now starting to come out of, which is really exciting. I’m a mom to a daughter. So it is especially exciting to think about what her experience as an adult is going to be like. 

Rebekah:  Yeah. Yeah. We have a lot of moms and dads here at Source Elements. It’s something I’m proud of because we will all be remote workers. Everyone can stay at home, which I’m sure some people like, “Oh, I don’t want to be at home today with my kids,” but everyone does get to be. It’s really wonderful to support parents and to have a flexible lifestyle. I so I hope voice-over works that way as well. How does that fit with being a parent? What are the schedules like? 

Lena: Oh yeah. It’s I am 100% sure that being a voice actor allows me the flexibility to be a more attentive parent to my daughter and still have a job.

The schedule is mornings together. Then she jumps on her computer to start school here in the house, and I jump on my computer. I mean, she does like all kids, I think who have working parents, they all say, “You’re working too much, pay more attention to me.” and there’s always this guilty tug that happens.

But if I had a typical like going to an office place sort of job, I wouldn’t have the balance to look after her the way that I do. So I’m very, very grateful to this industry and actually to source elements. So I don’t have to go into a studio to have everything that I need right here in my studio, and I can jump in, do my job, jump out and be a mom. 

Rebekah: Yeah, that is wonderful. And so there’s how you offer your 24-hour service, which I’ve seen, which goes back to the previous question about confidence. You know, there’s a lot of confidence in saying that you’re confident about your technology. You’re confident that your voice is always on. There’s a lot going on with being a voice actor as a full-time job. You know, you can’t smoke, you can’t drink, I guess whenever you want. I don’t know. I don’t do that job, but I’ve started feeling my voice getting dry now. And I don’t know how you guys do it.

Lena: There are many tricks of the trade, but yeah, since we are walking instruments, we have to pay attention to that. So you have to have sleep. You have to hydrate. You can’t stay out all night because you have to be ready to jump on the mic as soon as possible in the morning. I put a 24-hour turnaround on my website, but usually, it’s about a two or three-hour turnaround.

As for some tips, for long sessions, I have a hydrating mask that I put on my booth so I can continue to stay hydrated and without having to drink a ton of water and have to leave the booth. There’s also the warmup, cool down for the voice, and there’s a lot of voice technique that goes into making sure that your voice is strong and has stamina that can last for hours and hours and hours. 

I also teach a lot, and the first thing that I tell each one of my students is. If you haven’t yet, pick up a book, any book, it doesn’t matter what you’re going to read and read out loud for at least 30 minutes. It’s every single day, and then feel how your voice feels. See what is happening, and then, as you gain technique, as you start coaching with people, as you gain stamina, you’ll realize that your voice can hang out for hours and hours. 

Your voice has tiny little membranes that are vibrating together. So they’re going to get tired, but with effort with practice, lots of practice, lots and lots of practice, you can get better and better and stronger and stronger. 

Rebekah: You are walking instrument all the time. It has to be respected as such too. And did that training start early? You have a really great singing voice, which I recommend everyone here to look at Lena’s webpage, and you’ll see her singing as well perfectly and pitch. How does that crossover into voice acting for you? Singing and music and voice acting? 

Lena: Well, I started as a singer first, because I’ve been a singer since I was a tiny one. I always identified myself as a singer to anybody I introduced to as, “Hey, yeah, I’m a singer.” So I’ve always been kind of obsessed with how the voice works and vocal techniques. 

I started formal voice lessons when I was in high school. And then went into college and got a musical theater degree and took voice lessons all through that. When I moved to Los Angeles, I had a very fantastic voice teacher there and learned how to use my voice properly and the technique to speak and sing properly.

I love it all. I, I still sing all the time here in Austin, Texas. I still want to sing as much as possible.

You’re a composer. I want to know more about your composing. So how did you begin? Like what did you what kind of music did you write? 

Rebekah: I studied contemporary, western art music, which is what many people think when they think about classical music, Beethoven, Mozart, there’s the history of where I came from. But music in the 21st century, the late 20th century, has changed so much that what happens in Western art music that now crosses over very much with other cultures, India, Indonesia, and China, is much like what happened to art. 

Most of my friends who went through university with me are writing film music, like dramatic sound effects. But film music has a very particular way of working. I like to work without film just to moving through time. And it’s for its own sake. It, it gives me a lot of pleasure.

Lena:  I love that. I also wanted to ask you about the exciting transition from composing to coding to the internet to now this company. If you could go back in time as a college kid and you were on this one path, like, and you know, everything that, you know now. What would you tell that person? 

Rebekah: Don’t drop out of physics! Super easy. I regret it so much. And you know, I held a grudge for a long time about the men and the university for that. I was the only woman in my class, and I let my insecurity push me out. I regret that because it didn’t happen to my music school. 

I’d been writing music since I was 10. I’m like, yeah, I’m a composer. All my friends at music school were also men, but I did not feel once unconfident around them, but in physics, yes, because my calculus kind of sucked, to be honest. So I was missing out on a lot of information. I had an amazing math tutor. I was getting through, I wasn’t failing, but that’s not enough in physics.

Lena: What would you do with it? What would you do with physics now? 

Rebekah: I just love physics. I just love it. It makes me happy. How does that work? You know, like how does this work? Well, how do they make this image like that? Like, God, how do they do that? I want to know about the processes and the machines, and I’m a hacker, and that way, you know, it’s like, I want to know how things are made. 

Lena: Yeah, I think I’m the same way with how the voice works and personal psychology. I think every time I meet somebody, I hear their voice first. So I started jumping in their throat, like what is happening in there. When they start talking, and they start talking about who they are, I’m like, Hmm, yes. I want to know all about what’s going on.

Rebekah: This must be so rewarding for you to be a voice coach. So tell me how you go from that moment. Like, Oh, “I’m interested in how your voice works” to “I will teach you .” How did you know that you have got the natural skills to be a coach? 

Lena:  Years ago, I was involved with this theater company called amphibian stage productions? And part of being in one of their plays was also teaching an improv class for kids. And I had the best time.

That was just like, this is, this is what I should be doing. I enjoy this so much. 

Here in Texas, a group called lone star VO is headed up by the powerhouse Lindsay Shepherd. She asked me if I wanted to jump on as a coach. I was flattered that she had faith in me that I could be a coach, but I didn’t have any real-world experience to tell me that I’d be very good at one-on-one coaching. And other than being in a million coachings myself as a student. I then taught my first class, and I enjoyed it so much I told her immediately that I think I like teaching maybe a little bit better than I like being in the booth. So, I started to get students. It’s one of the most fulfilling things to be able to impart the wisdom that you have. As I previously mentioned, I’m a stickler for technique, and I have a technique for everything.

I have a technique for acting after taking 20 years of acting classes and one that I have distilled down for me, and then I can impart my way of doing things. And then also say like, here are other ways of doing things, and you can take bits and pieces for your own sake. I also have 20 years of being a student of voice and having that curiosity of just listening to people, speak all the time, and wanting to know how their voice works. I can take what they are giving and tweak it to make it not too different that it takes away their signature, because that what’s going to have them have longevity in this career, but making sure that they’re doing it healthfully so they can have longevity.

So they can also know which part of the industry is best suited for them. Cause we all go in thinking that we’re going to do one thing where I’ll go in like most of us anyway, like, “oh, I’m going to do animation projects.” and then we find out like, maybe that’s not something that we’re super passionate about.

And then I work with them to find this place in the industry that Might be the best suited for their beginning entry or when, if you’re a pro, the place that you didn’t even know was there that you might want to segue into. It’s one of the joys of my life. I love all of my students so much, and I would like more. If you’re a student and you need some coaching, I’ll be happy to take you. 

Rebekah: There is a great way to tie up that interview, given that what date is your class? 

Lena:  It is Thursday, March 18th, with Omni Sound Project and sponsored by Source Elements. And it’s going to be so much fun. We’re going to talk a lot about just the beginning parts of how to engineer a voice, and I’m excited.

Rebekah: Fantastic. I’m so proud. So proud to be part of that. I had a fantastic chase. There was Lisa. So we’re going to tie all these and get lots of people to listen to these fantastic things you’re doing. So thank you! 

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