"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.”
Perhaps you come from a corporate business background, but you have a remarkable capacity for accents and original character voices, or you’ve been in radio and broadcasting for a number of years. If you’re an actor looking to expand your employment opportunities, mastering voiceover is imperative considering it’s required in every manner of recorded media: film, TV, animation, games, corporate industrials, and commercials. Whatever your specific experience has been to date, getting started in voiceover most often requires the following:

2. You need training. “Winging it” isn’t professional because it’s unreliable, and could explain why there are so many one-hit wonders in this profession. You need a professional approach, mic technique training, and time dedicated to practice, practice, practice in order to build your skills. Your confidence will build from there. Much like circuit training fine tunes your physical acuity with continued use, technique training conditions your performance muscle. You can’t expect to run a marathon if you don’t train. Every skill level of talent benefits from proper coaching.


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.


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.
Why the difference in approach? Lots of my e‑learning and corporate jobs are done for production houses that will be adding other voices to the mix. Ironically, if I record my voice via a great mic and preamp, and add some nice processing, it can end up standing out from the other voices, drawing attention to itself. The production house will see this as me causing them a problem, even though my recording sounds better than the others!
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.

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.)


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.
Next, run these files through any standard EQ high‑pass and low‑pass filters you use, zoom in on the waveform, and select a one‑second strip of silence from each recording. Save these strips as separate files. For instance, on my system, a one‑second strip of silence recorded at 16‑bit, 44.1kHz on a Neumann TLM103 would have this name: room_tone_neumann_tlm_103_44100_16_one_second.wav. Ideally, the noise floor of each strip will be lower than ‑60dB. Now, when you have to remove a bump or a squeak between words, you can paste in a piece of these strips instead of muting, which would draw attention to the edit. 

Much of the working week as a voice actor, is taken up with auditioning. The success of auditions will depend on your skill, understanding of the brief, speed to deliver, your technical ability and how well you record your voice. By tracking and improving your success your can improve the ratio of auditions to paid work. This in itself requires you to match your voice to the auditions that are a natural fit to your vocal ability and style. As your experience and voice skills expand, so the breadth of work that you can audition for increases.
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.

"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.”


Hey Rob. You certainly know your stuff. I know this for a fact, because I’ve been a working professional at this for nearly ten years and spend every week since that time making mistakes and learning from them. I also incorporate 99 percent of your suggestions here and believe it folks they work, if used properly. Very informative and practical. Thanks, Rob.


"You need to be able to pull the listener in, help them suspend disbelief, become a part of the world the author created, and take the journey with your voice as the guide. Practice your character voices; they must be believable and honest. Work on your accents and timing and delivery within different genres. When reading, read out loud — even if you're not recording or being paid for it. This will help you with flow and dialogue. Listen to other audiobooks and figure out what you like and don't like, then work on these factors in your own performances. Working from a home studio, you have many more responsibilities to consider. Be mindful of them, set attainable goals and know your limitations. Never over-promise and under-deliver to a client. There are many established and aspiring narrators out there, so bring your best to the table.” 

Next, run these files through any standard EQ high‑pass and low‑pass filters you use, zoom in on the waveform, and select a one‑second strip of silence from each recording. Save these strips as separate files. For instance, on my system, a one‑second strip of silence recorded at 16‑bit, 44.1kHz on a Neumann TLM103 would have this name: room_tone_neumann_tlm_103_44100_16_one_second.wav. Ideally, the noise floor of each strip will be lower than ‑60dB. Now, when you have to remove a bump or a squeak between words, you can paste in a piece of these strips instead of muting, which would draw attention to the edit.

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.


To learn more about Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales, visit www-mandelasfavoritefolktales-com.Perhaps the most experienced voice editors are those who work on audiobooks. Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales won the Audies 2010 Audiobook Of The Year award, and features the voices of Matt Damon, Whoopi Goldberg, Hugh Jackman, Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Debra Messing, Alan Rickman, Charlize Theron and Forest Whitaker, among other artists. Recorded in New York, Los Angeles, London, Miami and Johannesburg, this audiobook was co‑produced, edited, and mixed by Michele McGonigle of New York City's Hachette Audio. I invited Michele to tell me a bit about this project and offer some advice to voiceover artists working from home:
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 this point — unless you're tracking for broadcast applications (where they don't work to peak levels) — consider 'normalising' your recording to an optimal level. Normalisation can be used to push the loudest peak to around ‑1dB and increase the volume of the entire recording by the same ratio. Of course, you can also tighten up dynamic range (the difference between the softest and loudest parts of your recording) by manually reducing the loudest sections of the recording before you apply normalisation. On a final note, if you do plan to use a compressor, then you might as well add gain at that stage instead of normalising.

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