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.
At the end of the day, we all need to have a baseline of what is an acceptable pay rate and what you may need to walk away from politely. This is a competitive market and when you have put in the training, financial investment, technical education in perfecting your studio sound, and countless hours practicing in the booth you must advocate for yourself and know your worth! If you have any questions, reach out to the SAV community. We’re here to be stronger together as you move through your voice acting career!
A demo recording of you doing voice-over work is your CV and your business card combined. If you're applying for a voice-over job, you can send the potential customer your demo via the Internet. Ideally you have multiple demos for different types of gigs. For commercials, clients want to hear 60 to 90 seconds of voice work. If you're auditioning as an audiobook reader, five minutes of demo proves that you can stay in character over a longer stretch of time.
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.
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.
No place is totally silent, so find the best place you can — even if that means thinking outside the box. I have a friend who regularly records his podcast in his car. He lives in a small house with dogs and kids, so there really isn’t anywhere else quiet enough. He takes his laptop and mic out to his driveway, shuts himself in the car and records. The results are surprisingly good!
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?
Because I've prepared properly, the first take is often the one I end up editing and sending to my client. The second is simply there as a safety net, in case I need to replace any mistakes while editing. It's much better to capture such drop‑ins during the same session as the main performance, as you can be sure that the mic will be in the same place and your voice will have a similar character in both takes.
One of the most important rules is to ensure you value yourself as a professional. If you undervalue your own service it can be hard to later charge for the correct rates. A professional voice-over should cost a minimum amount, even if you’re new. If you allow clients to low-ball your work from the outset it will continue to set the expectation that they can get a voiceover from you on the cheap. This can then mean the difference between making a living and paying bills or not.
Your own voice is your most important piece of equipment. If you're new to the voice-acting world, look around to see if there are classes or coaching in your area. Outside of class, practice speaking clearly and confidently. Learn to do this even with material you've never seen before. It's also important to learn voice care – straining or injuring your voice can hurt you and your career.
Next, go back to the beginning and start editing out your mistakes. I also like to edit out any abnormally long silences between sentences or statements and any weird sounds that don’t belong. Remember, though, that pauses are ok (and even necessary) to help break up the audio and make it feel more natural and conversational, so don’t go hog wild with it.
Finally, as you complete more work, you can end up with a lot of different files from your projects, so good 'housekeeping' of your sessions and recordings is a must. Glancing at the filename simone_kliass_avast_virus_database_neumann_tlm_103_original.wav, I can easily tell that this is the original recording of my wife's "Your virus database has been updated” message in Portuguese for Avast! on a Neumann TLM103 mic. It doesn't matter what your system is, as long as it works and you can stick to it.
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).
One of my favorite things about being a voice-over actor is the incredibly supportive community. Use your community to communicate with other voice-over actors regarding rates and best business practices. I have rarely found anyone who is secretive or not willing to share their past experiences. By being a generous and communicative community, we are stronger as voice actors and can advocate for ourselves to get paid appropriately. If you are operating from a home studio and all communication is between yourself and the client (versus an agent as the intermediary) it’s usually your responsibility to invoice after sending your VO files. I always include a polite 30-day payment term at the bottom of my invoice. In certain states (for example, New York) there is a “Freelancing isn’t Free Act”, in which you can politely mention to be paid in a timely manner.