In late 2009, my wife Simone received an email from Prague in the Czech Republic. The sender, Mirek Jirku, was heading up a project to record voice messages for the foreign‑language versions of the latest Avast! anti‑virus software. Mirek sent us eight messages to be recorded, specified the fee and deadline, and requested a slow, friendly read. He asked us to send separate stereo MP3 files (at 160kbps or higher quality) for each message, specified that we'd have to sign a non‑disclosure agreement before recording, that we'd need to invoice afterwards, and that he'd pay via a wire transfer instead of PayPal (which is often used for international payments).
In other words, Mirek gave us all the information we needed to start the job. Unfortunately, though, that's not how it usually works! Usually, you'll need to work hard to get all the information you need from your client to do the job well. If you're at all uncertain about their expectations, whether about the performance, or about technical and organisational issues such as file formats or payment procedures, save yourself time and a headache by clearing up all doubts beforehand, and don't hit the record button until your client has given you the green light by email. With that sorted, you can more easily don your other hats and get on with the job.
"Ideally the talent should be seated, staying on axis, approximately a foot away from the mic, which should be angled back from the face a bit, not parallel to it. You'll need to see what angle provides the best results, usually a few degrees off from parallel works great — and located between the forehead and the nose, not directly in line with the mouth. This will help with plosives, mouth noise, and some other issues. Movement in the booth should be limited, as the microphone is likely to pick up arms flailing, hands rubbing, page turns, stomach growling, and so on. Keep the levels consistent, moving closer if the scene calls for a whisper, or moving back for a loud voice or scream. A well‑versed narrator is capable of delivering a dynamic performance without creating dynamic levels.”
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.
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.
Initially you will of course be a novice and even if you have a great voice, you will need to get yourself grounded in the industry. Again, this process will be down to how many hours you put in. Each person’s voice is individual and unique. For some people that means that they have a natural signature voice which is suited to certain types of voice over work. Other voice over actors have a natural passion for a particular aspect of the industry, such as character acting and so pursue their goals in that genre.

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.
Some clients are not experienced in voice over. So another way you can help them is to advice then and help them really understand all that goes into a voice over recording to get it to the final polished result. Of course you need to take this into account when you charge for your time and again whether this is a one off project or has potential to be a long term client.
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:
The clarity of your voice and a comfortable volume may be the most essential parts of great audio. If your voice over recording is fuzzy or muddy sounding, it will be difficult for people to understand. Audiences likely will be distracted and unable to absorb the information or may simply move on. Either way, they miss your message and you miss an opportunity to share what your knowledge.
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.
Get your computer out of the room. Your microphone will pick up fan noise from your computer. Unless you have a solid state drive that is completely silent, you will want to set up a monitor in your studio and run cables through your wall to a computer outside the room. You can use a wireless keyboard and mouse to control your recording software. This also cuts down on the heat of your studio.
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:
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.

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.
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.
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.

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.
Understand that once you’re committed, you’re committed. Given the inevitable transparency of the Internet, if you get caught doing non-union work as a union member, you personal brand and your reputation will take a devastating hit once it’s splashed on discussion forums and professional networks. ‘Naming and shaming’ is a popular tactic these days.
A better, more natural-sounding way to clean up a voice recording, though, is to paste in strips of 'silence' that showcase your home studio at its best. To do this, wake up early (ie. when your house is quiet), turn on your gear and set your levels for a normal job. Then record a full minute of silence at whatever bit depths and sample rates you're likely to be using. Repeat this process for each different mic you use, and save each file in a folder titled Room Tones, or something similarly suitable.

This is the number-one issue most people bring up when they discover they have to do voice over work for their video. Let’s face it. Most of us rarely have to hear our own voices in audio recordings. We’re used to the rich, warm sound of our own voices in our own ears. There’s no way around the fact that you sound different on recording that you do to yourself.

Union and non-union jobs have always been two separate markets. Non-union work is more visible and attractive today when compared to years ago, due to online casting. The availability of professional talent for non-union work has led to a reshaping of the voice over industry. An open market means that each professional voice actor sets their own rate based on what they need to cover.


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.
This company has received an equity loan from the Support Program for Technology Entrepreneurs of the Canary Islands JEREMIE Fund and has been 85% co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund from the Canary Islands 2007-2013 ERDF Operational Programme, contributing to the achievement of the objectives of the Axis 2 "Business Development and innovation", the priority theme 9 "Other actions to stimulate research, innovation and entrepreneurship in SMEs.
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.)

Not all noise can be tackled in this way, though: you need to listen for clicks, plosives, digital glitches and the like. These can normally be acceptably repaired by using a 'heal' tool, or a pencil tool to redraw the waveform. Popped 'p's can often be 'fixed' using a high‑pass filter set at 100Hz. For a single glitch, you can zoom in and cut out the cycle of the waveform in which the glitch appears. Just be careful to start and end the cut where the waveform crosses the centre line, otherwise you'll inadvertently add another digital glitch. If glitches are frequent, it's likely that there's a problem with your audio interface's buffer settings — it may be just a playback issue.
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.
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