You don't need a state-of-the-art production studio to work in voice-over. You do need good enough equipment to record, edit and submit a good audition. A computer with a microphone and a mixer may do the trick. It's important that the room you record in be as soundproof as possible – if you use a walk-in closet where the clothes muffle the sounds outside, the industry's not going to complain.
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.
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Before you get down to the nitty-gritty, though, I recommend doing a test recording to ensure your equipment works properly and your audio levels are strong. You don’t need to record the entire script, but a few paragraphs will give you enough to ensure that the audio is clear, at an appropriate level, and doesn’t include any stray or ambient noises.
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
First of all, don’t be put off by the word technical. The ‘technical’ skills you need to learn to involve how you record and then edit your recording and of course you will need a home studio to do this. This needn’t be a daunting prospect though. Many freelance sound engineers are available who can help you with this – contact us if you want a reputable one.
"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.”
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.
Congratulations! You should now have a finished voiceover recording. Save a final copy with the extension _master and use this version to save another copy in the format requested by the client. But don't think your job is done when you hand everything back to your producer‑self. Running a profitable home‑based voiceover business takes more than building and equipping a home studio and recording and editing audio files. You still have to design a web site, launch a marketing campaign, and secure new clients — all of which is something we'll look at another time.  
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.
However, there are lots of second tier voice over agencies and ones that are just getting established. One of your goals as a voice actor should be to get listed by an agency. However, wait until you have at least established yourself and put together a portfolio of work and super hot demos you can send out to them for consideration. When selecting an agent you need to carefully examine who they currently represent and then ask yourself: How do I fit in here? Does this agent have anyone like me on their books? If not, you will most definitely stand a better chance of being represented.
You start off each job as a producer, consulting your client and getting briefed on the project at hand. Then you become an engineer, dealing with recording gear and software, setting the mic position and levels. Next, you step up to the mic as an actor, bringing the script off the page and connecting with the listener. Meanwhile, the director in you sits behind the metaphorical glass, making sure the actor doesn't mispronounce a word or stumble through a passage of text. Then you're an editor, cleaning up the best take and sending the resulting audio to your client. You need to be able to perform all of these roles to a high standard, and the better you are at each, the more your business will prosper.
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.
First of all, don’t be put off by the word technical. The ‘technical’ skills you need to learn to involve how you record and then edit your recording and of course you will need a home studio to do this. This needn’t be a daunting prospect though. Many freelance sound engineers are available who can help you with this – contact us if you want a reputable one.
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.
I’m new to this so keep that in mind, but I use a cheap “dog training clicker” to mark my redo portions. They are very visible in the sound track. In longer recording sessions (where I won’t remember the error) I’m experimenting with using 1,2 or 3 clicks to indicate how far I plan to back up for the restart. I can often find and do the cut without have to play anything – that by having an idea of how far back I need to look.
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!

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.
When asked by someone outside of the industry how much I’m compensated for a commercial voice-over, I can see their eyes grow large with excitement. It may sound like a large number for two or three hours of studio time, but what is not understood is the investment in time, money and education that it takes to begin and sustain a voice acting career. As voice-over professionals, we need to remember (especially if we are setting our own rates) that the time we have spent in classes, coaching sessions, and our booth add up to our expertise in this field. When setting your own voice-over rates, or negotiating those set by producers and/or clients, you need to not only consider your session fee (the time spent in the booth recording the specific copy), but also all the training you’ve acquired and the investment in your home studio (which helps make your client’s job much easier).
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