This guide is designed to give you an insight into this hidden world and provide you with enough information to help you make an informed choice on whether or not this is a potential career for you. If you already are a voice actor, we will be giving you some tips and ideas to help you improve your voice acting skills to help you experience a dramatic difference in how you approach the written word.
A great performance recorded on mediocre gear will always sound better than a mediocre performance recorded on great gear. By preparing well, before the session, you'll find it far easier to relax and focus on the message and the listener. As a producer, it's important to be clear what the expected format is for the final audio file. Although there are certain 'standards', your clients' expectations will vary.Read through the script, look up any questionable words and check their pronunciation. For American English, which accounts for the majority of my work, my favourite pronunciation resource is the Merriam‑Webster on‑line dictionary (www.m‑w.com), which includes audio examples. If you don't know how to pronounce the name of a company or product, call the company's customer service centre (if anyone can pronounce it right, they can!). If you don't know how to pronounce the name of a person or city, try searching YouTube for news reports on the subject.
Fortunately, the internet has made this easier and more open. Most businesses have a logo, brand and a website. This forms the basis of how people get to know them. As a voice-over business you need to recognise that you need to market yourself. This involves ensuring you get your brand, your business, in front of the right people. Marketing though is also about building relationships with customers, not just selling to them. The more customers that use you on a regular basis the more money you can earn and the easier it becomes to achieve a good income.
Even if you're mixing yourself, it's better to add EQ and compression only when you can hear how it will sit with the soundtrack or special effects. Ultimately, it comes down to knowing what your voice will be used for and making a judgement. For instance, if I'm recording a tagline for a TV or radio advert, I'll generally run a mic into a nice preamp (where I might add slight tube warmth, and subtle EQ or compression, just to give the recording a bit of 'body'), and I may do a little de‑essing using a plug‑in when performing any edits. However, for e‑learning jobs, corporate videos and so on, I'll tend not to add any creative processing while recording or editing, and will only use the de‑esser ever so slightly.
Always keep it professional. A client may not have a budget that works within your rates presently, but one day they may have a project with a much larger budget and think of you as the talent to circle back to! It never hurts to politely decline when a project has too low of a rate and exclaim, “I would love to work with you in the future when our rates align!”
As editor, you need to turn the raw recording into the final version of the file you'll be sending to your client. Editing during a recording session can be problematic, and particularly so if you're recording in a domestic environment. How can you expect to hear the drone of the dishwasher ruining your recording if the dishwasher is still running as you edit? I'll look in more detail at setting up a voiceover recording studio next time, but for now, if recording in a separate room or isolated booth isn't an option, at least try to edit the file the following morning (or maybe at night) when there's less noise around — because hearing your recording with a fresh ear and in a quieter environment will help you to make better editing decisions, and will reveal noises that slipped your attention earlier.
The engineering role will probably be the most familiar to regular SOS readers, and the issues of technical quality for digital audio in voiceover work are no different than they are for any other recording session. The key difference is that some clients will expect you to deliver 48kHz files instead of the 44.1kHz ones that are usually used in the music business. The 48kHz sample rate ensures that there's an integer number of audio samples for each frame of a standard 24 or 25 frames‑per‑second video recording.
Another factor to consider is how the project is being used and in which medium. If you record a commercial that’s airing nationally on television, then that is a larger rate than a regional television commercial specific to a certain market. The voice-over spot you worked on is being seen by more viewers nationally as opposed to regionally, which warrants more compensation. You should not only consider your session fee, but also get the specifics on how the voice-over is being used. My personal opinion is to avoid “in perpetuity” usage because as your career develops, something which was not a conflict in the past could be in the future. If the spot you had conflicts with another brand in which you are auditioning, this could become a conflict that was unforeseen when you initially booked and recorded the job.
"It's always best to address these issues while recording. If a person is sibilant and/or 'mouthy' (clicks, pops, whistles), there are ways to lessen and sometimes eliminate the issues all together: juice from green apples, rinsing with water, repositioning the mic and pop‑filter, and adjusting his or her way of breathing. If there are still issues, I edit out as many of the problems as possible. Often, I redraw the waveform to get rid of issues, or use plug‑ins. We have just started to make use of Izotope's RX 2 Advanced, which works wonders on clicks, crackles, and the like. What I can't fix we try to have the talent come back in to do pick‑ups.”
As the engineer, your key job is to select and set up the recording space, choose and position the microphone, set levels and make sure you're recording a good, clean signal at a healthy level. Like music, the louder the signal you want to record, the less audible the noise floor, but you don't want to have to speak louder than sounds natural, and you don't want to overcook things when tracking: any distortion will be very noticeable on an exposed voice part, and an otherwise great take with digital clipping won't be acceptable. If you notice clipping only when you start editing, software clip restoration tools might help to make the take usable, but it's not going to be perfect. Remember that although you may have needed to record 'hot' on analogue tape and older 16‑bit digital recording systems, modern 24‑bit A‑D converters can accommodate a much wider dynamic range, so you no longer have to track so loud: you can leave much more headroom.
Hiring a voice actor can be intimidating, especially if you have not done it before. After all, the voice that reads your script is the most powerful connector you have with your audience — the voice quality brings emotion and a sensory experience to your video. Here are a few guidelines to managing your search and relationship with voice over talent.
Always update yourself on industry standard rates. I recommend reviewing the union rates set forth by SAG-AFTRA. Voices.com also offers a rate card as well Voice-Over Resource Guide. Upon viewing these rates you may find, based on your current experience, you fall a little lower or higher than said rates. Maybe you have a great deal of experience in the commercial voice-over world, but now you’re branching out into narration, e-learning or audiobooks, so your voice-over rates may be a bit lower for that genre as you find your footing. The most important thing is that you have a baseline rate for yourself and you’re comfortable and confident stating this rate to a client. It’s beneficial to first ask your client’s budget and proceed from there. While stating your rate, also take into consideration edits and pick-ups. It’s customary to include one free round of edits in your rate, but any edits or pick-ups past that incur a fee.
Megan MacPhee is a voice-over artist, singer, actor, dancer, content creator, and teaching artist based out of NYC. A member of Actors Equity Association, credits include national tours, regional theatre, Radio City Music Hall, and The Metropolitan Opera. Her work as a voice-over artist includes national television commercials, social media spots for various brands, voicing the role of EMMA/GHOST GAL in the animated series “YU-GI-OH! VRAINS,” as well as e-Learning, demos, promos, and audiobooks. She has a Bachelor of Music in Musical Theatre from CUA and Contemporary/Classical training from London Dramatic Academy. To view more of Megan’s work visit www.meganmacphee.com or check out her web series, www.unbalancedwebseries.com
You will never have to answer to a “boss”, but you will need to be your own boss and manage yourself. You will work on your own a lot of the time. So you need to embrace the benefits and the challenges this presents. Take courses in areas where you need to develop your skills. When you adequately prepare for running a business, you will succeed in its management, even if part of managing your business means hiring out, in areas that you know are not your strongest.
If a client likes your demo, they may invite you to audition. In the 21st century, you can download the audition script, record the audition at home, and then send the results to your client over the Internet. Prepare yourself for a life of constant auditions: Even successful voice pros may do many more auditions than actual jobs. But if enough jobs come your way, it's worth it.
3. You need a simple, reliable, home-recording setup. Keep in mind: Your objective is on being the best voice talent you can be, not the best production studio or recording engineer. Nevertheless, you do need the ability to record, edit, and turnaround a proper audition. Do not run out and purchase a mic! You can’t return it, for hygienic reasons. Besides, there’s a bit of a learning curve to this and recent industry advances have made having a home “studio” easier and more affordable than ever before. You could have the best gear and the coolest toys on the block, but if you can’t use them it’s a waste. (Tip: What you’re recording on matters less than where you’re recording. Find a quiet place like a closet full of clothes to record in.)
Also listen for sibilance. Strong 'ess' sounds are best corrected at source, by using good mic technique, but sometimes they're unavoidable. If you hear an 'ess' that really sizzles in your recording, you can manually reduce its volume. You can, of course, also use a de‑esser, but do be careful, as applying some de‑essers to the entire audio file can alter the sound of your recording. It often works best to apply them to short sections, either offline or using automation. My preferred de‑esser plug‑in is the one sold by Eiosis (www.eiosis.com),Make sure you record some silence at the end of each take. That way, if a great performance suffers from noise issues, you have something to feed your noise‑reduction processors. Just don't rely on this technique too much! which cleverly separates the esses from the rest of the audio and allows you to manipulate them independently. If you want to learn about some more advanced strategies for de‑essing check out Mike Senior's article from SOS May 2009 (/sos/may09/articles/deessing.htm).
When you come to actually recording your voice, try to think of the mic as the ear of your listener. Picture your listener, have an opinion, and read the script as if the words were coming to mind that instant. The distance between your mouth and the mic should be about the same as the distance between your thumb and pinkie when making a hang‑five gesture (see the picture above). Move closer to the mic when you lower your voice and back off when you speak louder. On‑line dictionaries such as the Merriam‑Webster one pictured here, often include audio examples which can help you clarify pronunciation. Just make sure that you use an American English or UK English (or other language!) version as appropriate. (Remember, while you have your engineer hat on, to take account of this when setting levels.) Always use a pop shield, and I'd suggest trying to work slightly off‑axis, as talking to a point just to the right or left of the mic will prevent bursts of air and drops of saliva ruining your recording. I'd also recommend wearing headphones over one ear only, as this allows you to judge volume and listen for clipping and plosives on the recording, while also hearing your natural voice, which makes it easier to focus on that message we talked about. Simone demonstrates this technique in the picture on the next page. Hhe's working slightly off‑axis and has backed off an inch or two to deliver with more energy.Typically, you'd record with your mouth approximately the distance between your thumb and little finger from the mic, as pictured here.