Did you get the email?  The one claiming a new software product could help you automate voice-over assignments that require multiple file outputs?

PROMPTBUDDY is its name.

The company that makes it is Wells Park Communication in the U.K.

My first reaction to the announcement about PromptBuddy was how it compared to Word2Wav, a similar product I’ve blogged about in September 2011, and then again in November.

My curiosity “prompted” me to approach the makers of the software, and I got an enthusiastic response from one of the developers/founders of the company: Nick Saalfeld.

Nick agreed to answer some written questions I submitted by email, and the interview is below.

BTW, the conversion rate on the stated price is about $62USD (give or take).  A fully functional version of the product is available on their website.  Use it for 7 days without restrictions.  The product installs quickly and easily, and appears to easily live up to its claims.  It’s not quite as full-featured as Word2Wav, but the pricing is commensurate and it might just be what you need.

Here’s the interview:

1) Can you tell us briefly about your company, it’s employees, how it got started, and why you landed on THIS particular product?

Absolutely. WPC is me, a couple of other guys and a raft of freelancers. I have a background in radio journalism and founded the company with no plan whatsoever. WPC exists to provide interesting communication services to corporate clients (rather than mainstream media outlets).
We’re professional journalists, broadcasters and voice artists, and we’ve produced everything from marketing materials and promo articles to podcasts and videos. Technology is not our specialty by any means.
A couple of years back, we began working with a client providing prompts for quizzes – and came up against the problem of file splitting, renaming etc. I realized we spent 70% of our time on file admin, and only 30% on the recording.
We have always built tools and workarounds in-house to solve our problems, and that’s where PromptBuddy came from. I wasn’t aware of word2wav at the time (despite much online research), and in any case, we just wanted a “quick’n’dirty” solution – which PromptBuddy definitely is!
We created a prototype – and then a couple of voice artists in our stable said they liked it, and figured it could be marketable.
Remember I said earlier that WPC began ‘without a plan’? In exactly the same way, PromptBuddy developed organically with no plan whatsoever. We certainly don’t claim to be a proper software development house. If people like it, I’m over the moon.

2)  PromptBuddy help files claim the program is made “by broadcasters, for broadcasters”, yet your promotional email claims “by voice over professionals for voice over professionals”.  In the States, anyway, those are two differing fields of work.  Which is it?

Meh! Have I been caught out? Or am I on pedantry.com?! Fair point. Truth is, we have experience of both. Certainly here in the UK, radio folk (who are miserably under-paid given the reach of their medium) all do voice work as well. The line is distinctly blurred. Similarly, I think it’s fair to say that from a commercial point of view, much of the voice market has been commoditised (there are very few $5000 voiceover gigs today, right?). And as we crash into a recession, clients often value the market rate above vocal perfection. I am definitely targeting PromptBuddy at the pile-’em-high market (I don’t expect to see it in high-end studios anytime soon!) but it will have application for both pro voice artists and broadcasters. If I can make life for voice artists more efficient, then it will be worth it – because rates of pay for prompts are certainly not going up!

3)  Some VO pros may see some similarities between PromptBuddy and Word2Wav.  Are you aware of that product?… and what would you say are the primary differences?

I wasn’t aware of W2W when we first put PromptBuddy together for internal use, but I have been for some time now. W2W is a more developed product, at a more developed price! What we have created is a no-frills solution which just does one job well. W2W is much more functional (and is to be credited for that!)
When we created PromptBuddy, it wasn’t with a view to making a marketable product, it was with a view to solving one problem. But voice work can be fleeting, so when I decided to try selling it, I decided to have one rule: it should pay for itself in one session. That way I don’t feel like I’m asking anyone to make a massive commitment or eat into their tight budgets. Believe me, I, and the people I work with, know only too well how hard it is to make a living as a solo freelancer.

4)  PromptBuddy only accepts .txt files. Was it designed that way to save on licensing fees, and therefore the cost of the program to buyers?  Can we expect future versions to accept .doc, .docx, or even .pdf files?

Licensing isn’t a tough call – docx for example is based on open XML which is license-free. (Try this experiment: change the suffix of a docx file to .zip, and it will simply open as a zipfile containing an XML document and all the other document’s associated files)
PromptBuddy accepts text files because that was (a) easiest at the time, and (b) the likeliest format for compatibility with multiple other sources of information; i.e. most source systems can save output as a txt file.
The future is very simple. If users love it and we turn a profit and develop it further, then it may make commercial sense to accept additional file formats. Although first on my development list will be either naming conventions or some sort of auto upload functionality.

5)  How are file names chosen for the resulting .wav files that are recorded?  If the client wants specific file names, wouldn’t that require renaming all the files produced automatically by PromptBuddy (a time-consuming task)?

Clients. They just don’t stop grumbling! Yup, that’s all true. PromptBuddy simply takes the first 50 or so characters of the prompt, removes punctuation and converts spacing to underlines. That’s it.
What it does mean is two things:
1) You can find prompts in directories easily – instead of “project153.wav” you get “Press_1_for_sales.wav” and everyone knows what they’re looking at.
2) The extra benefit, though, is that names match scripts whilst the actual content might be slightly varied. For quizzes, for example, I encourage my artistes to be a little conversational – they have some leeway in their interpretation of the script. They can alter the end user’s experience without the script or filenames changing in any way. That means that the technology falls out of the equation – even an unexperienced intern can upload the files without error, yet we can be engagingly flexible with the actual words spoken.
As I said above, though, there may indeed be call for renaming logic in a future edition.

6) By what method does the program recognize and split up the copy into sections?  Paragraphs?  Line spacing?  Punctuation?  In other words, does the copy require any preparation before submitting it to PromptBuddy?

Again, it’s basic but highly functional. It uses paragraphs (or carriage returns), and that’s it. All other stuff is ignored, so very little prep is required in advance. It automatically ignores double or greater line spacing.

7) Can any other audio effects be applied to the audio recording than “silence threshold”?

Not yet. This is a complicated issue for me strategically. I have genuinely been wrestling with this in my head, and I welcome thoughts from users. Quite simply, I think that most artistes have a preferred hardware setup which does a great job for them, and it’s not really my place to attempt to provide a software FX system which in any case won’t be as good as other specialist software on the market. I’d rather do our little widget as well as we can, and leave the effects to the many people who do those rather well, too.

8) Installing the program left the .exe file buried in my “Download” subdirectory, and with no icon.  Will future versions add a unique icon to my “Start Menu”?

That’s the plan. It’s a bit clunky, I know!

9)  Speaking of the future…what might subsequent upgrades offer, and would they be separately priced?

If there are future upgrades, I can promise this:
a) It will always be a small, tight widget; not an overblown lump of software
b) I will never do separate pricing (and I don’t ever intend to charge anyone more than once – so far as I am concerned, it’s a lifetime purchase and I will send future codes to anyone on our existing buyer list).

10)  What have I forgotten to ask, that you think should be mentioned about PromptBuddy?

It’s a jolly fine program made by accident by very nice people in London, England. It’s tiny and simple and that’s why it costs a quarter of the competition. Nothing would make us happier than knowing it’s going to good homes, and we (by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) do try to answer all support questions personally and in good time.

Thanks, Nick, for your helpful honesty.  Best of luck in your endeavours, and thanks for being such a good sport with the interview!

CourVO

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