Be mindful of the sounds of your heating and cooling system (this goes for a home recording studio, as well). If you can’t find a spot where you can’t hear air rushing through your ducts, you may want to shut down your furnace or AC for the duration of your recording. If your recording space is near a window, listen for sounds of traffic — especially loud trucks. They will definitely show up in your recording.
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).
The quality of your voice over depends almost entirely o the skill of the voice actor you use. A good voice actor will have perfect enunciation (ie, be very easy to understand), speak at an ideal pace (not too fast and not too slow), and have a pleasing voice. They should also be good at acting, and able to convey the feeling or emotions required by the script, using vocal variance and tone to keep the words interesting while also embodying the desired mood.
"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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When surveyed clients often list price as less important to them than the voice quality (fit to their brief), the recording studio quality, the time of turnaround…The point is that they want people that are reliable and can add value not just through their voice but also in the production stages and the speed at which they adapt to the client brief.
"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.”
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.
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.