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.
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).
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.
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!
Recording voice overs like a pro isn’t that difficult when you know how to do it. You may have noticed that the actual recording part plays little part when compared to the preparation. Taking the proper steps before you hit the record button and then taking the time to edit your audio appropriately will go a long way to ensuring your voice overs sound professional and engaging.
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.
It's only after this sort of processing that I'll start cleaning up the recording and dealing with the gaps of silence between spoken passages. A noise gate (or an off‑line 'strip‑silence' function) can be used to automatically mute sections that fall below a certain level. However, if not used carefully, these tools will clip the 'T's and 'P's off the ends of words, and shut out natural breathing sounds. Worse, if your recording is noisy, a noise gate will actually draw attention to the problem, since your client will be able to hear the difference between room tone and absolute muting. Another trick is to use a downward expander to reduce the noise floor of quiet sections, rather than cut out the noise completely.
The point is each person can often have a different perspective on how they ‘bid’ for work. Another factor is how you work within an industry if you have a really high profile. For instance if a big car manufacturer chooses you, you’re not going to get any kind of work from any other car manufacturer so you’re alienating yourself out of the rest of the market for the big players.
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: