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!
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.
"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.”
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.
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.
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.
You will never have to answer to a “boss”, but you will need to be your own boss and manage yourself. You will work on your own a lot of the time. So you need to embrace the benefits and the challenges this presents. Take courses in areas where you need to develop your skills. When you adequately prepare for running a business, you will succeed in its management, even if part of managing your business means hiring out, in areas that you know are not your strongest.
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.
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?
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.
While having a broad set of voice skills is beneficial, many voice overs establish themselves in commercials and more general corporate voiceover work before specialising. Having a niche or specialist focus though can make a difference in earning potential. So, bearing in mind the question: how much money do a voice actors make, will also depend on the level and experience in a given niche e.g. animation, audiobooks or gaming.
I use the Adobe Audition package to edit my own voiceover work, but the techniques described below can be used in most audio‑editing software. Start by saving a new version of your original recording. (I keep the name of the file the same, but change the extension from _original to _edit.) Next, I'll turn my attention to the end of the recording, where I stepped away from the mic after the second take and recorded about 10 seconds of silence. Although processing is usually kept to a minimum, dealing with sibilance is important, and Eiosis' De‑esser plug‑in is much more precise than most.Wearing headphones, I can zoom in on this 'silence', turn up the volume, and listen for any background noise. If I notice any constant noise seeping into the recording, I may consider using Adobe Audition's noise‑reduction tool to capture a one‑ or two‑second profile of the silence, and then reduce the offending noise by about 75 percent throughout the recording. I should stress that this is rarely needed, and it's always a last resort, because such processing can generate swirly, metallic artifacts that draw more attention to themselves than the noise you intended to eliminate! But it's good to listen for such issues with fresh ears at the start of your editing session. If you find yourself using noise‑reduction often, that's a sign that you should find a better place to record, or improve the isolation of the space you've chosen. Don't forget that there are other ways to deal with some noise: often, a high‑pass filter is all you will need to clean up a recording, for example. Also remember that if your recording is to be mixed with music, slight background noise won't be noticeable, and that the more exposed your voice in the end product, the more problematic noise will become.
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.
Voiceover actors that stay focused and build their network of relationships get more work. It’s that simple. This is the same for any professional in almost all industries. Marketing yourself as a voiceover actor is not a one off activity. To be effective you need to continually market and develop your personal brand. We cover this in more detail in this guide.
"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.”
Even if you're mixing yourself, it's better to add EQ and compression only when you can hear how it will sit with the soundtrack or special effects. Ultimately, it comes down to knowing what your voice will be used for and making a judgement. For instance, if I'm recording a tagline for a TV or radio advert, I'll generally run a mic into a nice preamp (where I might add slight tube warmth, and subtle EQ or compression, just to give the recording a bit of 'body'), and I may do a little de‑essing using a plug‑in when performing any edits. However, for e‑learning jobs, corporate videos and so on, I'll tend not to add any creative processing while recording or editing, and will only use the de‑esser ever so slightly.
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.
Do you have a great voice? Maybe you're not the world's best singer, but you might still have a good speaking voice. Couple that with a home studio, and you could consider a sideline as a self-producing voiceover artist. Making money as a voiceover artist used to mean living in a big city, mailing out demos, and sitting in traffic in between auditions. As with the music industry, though, affordable recording gear, home studios and broadband Internet have reshaped the job. A work‑at‑home mummom in Manchester can record a phone greeting for a travel agency in Rome; an actor in New York can narrate a video for a tyre company in Russia; or, to offer my own example, an American ex‑pat can record for an ESL (English as a Second Language) textbook, while his Brazilian wife lends her voice to software being developed in the Czech Republic, and all from the comfort of our house in São Paulo.
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.
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