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.
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1. You need to get oriented with the industry. You need an education in this business prior to investing in it—especially if you hope to be valuable as a voiceover talent. You need to understand who your core clients would be and who you would eventually create a voiceover demo for, namely, producers. If you’re not servicing them, then you’re not servicing your self. This is precisely why I wrote, “The SOUND ADVICE Encyclopedia of Voiceover & The Business of Being a Working Talent.” You need insight as to what’s needed and wanted of you in this field, and how professional sessions are run, otherwise you’ll likely frustrate yourself with unrealistic expectations.
There are two main priorities in voiceover work: the message that you're being asked to convey; and invisibility — by which I mean you never want people to notice your voice. This might sound counter‑intuitive. After all, why not make your voice sound great? Well, you need the listener to focus on the message your client is paying you to get across, rather than your voice itself, so it needs to sound natural. Even for tag lines, where you might think a fuller, warmer, more compressed (or whatever) voice would be appropriate, the production house will often want to perform EQ and compression themselves. This lesson took me a long time to learn, but my clients are much happier when I send them a nice, dry recording. I simply remind myself that I'm supplying the raw material for them to add to their mix, and letting them make their magic.
There are now more opportunities in the voiceover industry than ever before — but competition has never been so fierce — so, in this short series of articles I'll set out what you need to know to get started as a home‑studio voiceover artist, and turn it into a paying job. This month, I'll explain some differences between the voiceover and music industries, and run through the different roles you'll need to become good at. Next time, I'll discuss what makes a good voice, the sort of home‑studio setup you need, and how you can start to get the jobs coming in.
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.
"When recording voiceovers at home, you have to focus on performance: keep your energy levels up, stay true to the page, pronounce words correctly and consistently, and make sure you keep to a schedule to make the deadline. Prep well so you don't waste time second‑guessing yourself, looking up words as you go, and remember to not over‑ or under‑direct yourself. Also, make sure you know your recording equipment and room well; being able to quickly make adjustments to mic placement, levels, and so on, will make you more efficient.”
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.)
The advice we present here is tried, tested, and true. Peter Dickson is the foremost leading professional voice actor in the UK known for voicing the X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Live at the Apollo, The London 2012 Olympic Games and countless brand commercials. In a stellar career spanning 40 years, he has worked on over 120 TV shows and series, many of them award winning, been a promo voice on 60 TV and Radio channels around the world, been a featured voice actor on 30 AAA game titles, and voiced in excess of 30,000 radio and TV commercials!
First, I like to listen to the entire voice over recording from start to finish. I may make notes here and there to remind myself of something I want to go back and edit, but this time through I really just want to concentrate on the overall pacing and tone of the recording. Does it sound like I hoped? Did I rush or speak too slowly? Did I flub any words, mumble, or misspeak? Are there weird silences or unknown sounds?
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!”
Keep it respectable and charge what your time and services are worth. That means establishing some minimums. For example, you might set a minimum price of $100 per job. So if the client says they can get it done locally for less than half that price, you explain that they are getting a professional recording and the difference is in the quality of the recording.
Both union and non-union have advantages and disadvantages; ultimately, it’s a decision that you, as a voice over actor, will have to make. Like everything else, it’s of critical importance that you do your research and weigh up the pros and cons. Seasoned pros will usually tell you it’s best to be a union member because, if you run into trouble, the union will fight your cause.
How much do voice actors make? There is of course no simple answer to this. What you get paid as a voice actor will depend on the type of work, size of project, your experience and many other factors. Some voice actors who are also movie stars, are worth millions. Others, who use freelancing sites can make as little as $30 for a simple radio commercial in a small market. Most professional voice actors fall in between.
Some of you might be wondering about the difference between voice over and narration. The short answer: not much. In most cases, you may use voice over and narration fairly interchangeably. However, to be technically correct, narration typically refers to an audio vocal that describes all the action on screen or tells a story based on what’s happening, while voice over may or may not describe as much action and is often more instructional in nature.
As I've mentioned, most of our clients prefer to do post‑production work themselves, and request the raw (but edited) recordings. Sometimes, though, as in the Avast! job, the client will want the files ready to go, which might mean using slight EQ and compression. The noise floor on my recordings generally hovers around ‑54dB, but by using EQ to roll off frequencies below 80Hz and above 12kHz, I am usually able to lower the noise floor to around ‑57dB without resorting to noise reduction. Using EQ to reduce low‑end rumble and high‑frequency noise will make your recording sound better, and will be particularly beneficial if you'll be adding compression later, as the compressor's make-up gain won't be raising the level of that noise. Used moderately, compression can usefully reduce dynamic range, and thus improve intelligibility of the words, while still leaving you with a natural‑sounding result. Used excessively, it will suck the life out of a recording.
Our recommendation is to start small and reinvest the money you make into upgrading your equipment and set up. All clients, whether they are Pixar or just a guy who needs a voicemail message, expect crystal clear audio recordings. You absolutely MUST be recording in a professional recording environment with professional equipment. They are NOT going to settle for less than perfection. Does this mean spending thousands of dollars? Maybe, eventually it does, but not today. What you’ll need to get started:
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.
"We recorded two or three takes of each story, and within those takes there were some pick‑ups [overdubs] for certain lines. When I was editing, I used takes that gave the best delivery, had the least movement or other noise, and provided the most provoking images. In some cases [we used] the first take. Sometimes, after saying a line over and over, one starts to lose the meaning of the line. Pick‑ups should go back to the top of the sentence, making editing much easier.”
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.