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HOW TO INCORPORATE

Best of the Small Business Web: Hear, Here

Audio-services company On Air Digital Audio brings voice talent to clients -- wherever they are.
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Company: On Air Digital Audio
Revenues: $900,000
Web address: www.onair.ca
Site launch cost: $30,000 (Canadian)
Current technology profile: Apache HTTP Server, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe ImageReady, Allaire HomeSite, TextPad, Sound Forge, RealNetworks RealServer
Why we love it: Audio-services company brings voice talent to clients -- wherever they are
Categories of success: Utility & Innovation

Greg Habstritt wants his voices to do the talking for him. Those voices -- recorded by 250 professional actors who range in tone from the authoritative to the soothing to the comical -- are the hallmark of On Air Digital Audio, a seven-year-old Canadian company that makes broadcast-quality recordings for corporate clients. On Air's other hallmark is its technological expertise, a legacy from the days when it was a software-development company. Habstritt figured he could simultaneously show off both of those strengths by putting his voice bank on the Web.

Until July, clients scouting for a pitchman who could record their radio spots had to sit in On Air's studio while an employee played tape after tape in search of the perfect timbre. That was time-consuming for both customer and employee. Moreover, On Air couldn't appeal to people outside the Calgary area, since tapes played over standard phone lines sound lousy. Now that the company's voice samples are available in RealAudio over the site, "customers can sit at home at night or on the weekend and do it," says Habstritt. "When they're in the office, they can call the boss or a client in and say, 'Here's the voice I was considering.' They don't need a tape. They don't need a CD player. All they have to do is log on."

To make browsing easier, voice samples are divided by gender and prefaced by descriptive phrases such as "rich, mellow, and classy;" "quirky, fun;" and "the reading of 'every guy." "Clients need help crystallizing what they're looking for," says Habstritt. "We get people who say things like 'Can you get somebody who sounds like he likes the color green?"

Along with the voice bank and thousands of music and sound-effect samples, On Air has posted a portfolio of sorts: a dozen of its finished products. Those range from the narration for a CD-based game that teaches animal sounds to children to the audio portion of a presentation for temp giant Kelly Services. The portfolio and voice bank are meant primarily to draw new customers, and they've done that. Habstritt estimates that the site has attracted about $10,000 (Canadian) worth of business. "That includes one account in the United Kingdom that contacted us after seeing us on the Internet," he says. "The chance of getting that work before? Less than zero."

But marketing is only a whisper in Habstritt's Web strategy; he expects the shout to come from on-line project management and distribution. Consequently, On Air has created password-protected pages on which customers can compose audio scripts and later listen to different actors sampling those scripts. Customers can also revise existing scripts, a major time-saver for those who use On Air to create staff directories and other in-house telephone applications. "Employees leave, employees come, and you're constantly having to update the whole script," says Habstritt. Before the Web site, customers would courier over the CD or digital audiotape containing their directory; On Air would hire the original voice actor to rerecord the pertinent piece of the script and then return the modified tape to the customer. Now the customer simply goes to a personal Web page and types the changes into an archived script. The voice actor, working from a studio, uses the customer's password to upload the changes; On Air then downloads them directly into the customer's phone system. "If I'm on a six-week trek through Brazil, all I have to do is find an Internet café and I can edit my script," says Habstritt. "It's pretty powerful."

Last updated: Nov 15, 1999

LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.
@LeighEBuchanan




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