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.
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.
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.
Another factor to consider is how the project is being used and in which medium. If you record a commercial that’s airing nationally on television, then that is a larger rate than a regional television commercial specific to a certain market. The voice-over spot you worked on is being seen by more viewers nationally as opposed to regionally, which warrants more compensation. You should not only consider your session fee, but also get the specifics on how the voice-over is being used. My personal opinion is to avoid “in perpetuity” usage because as your career develops, something which was not a conflict in the past could be in the future. If the spot you had conflicts with another brand in which you are auditioning, this could become a conflict that was unforeseen when you initially booked and recorded the job.
You need to appreciate that there is a lot to learn and do before your first paid voice acting job. Yes, you want to get out there and start auditioning. But first, you’re going to need proper training, equipment, resources, and yes, some natural talent. The great news is that even though the voice over industry is competitive, there is plenty of voice over work out there for everyone. This guide on how to become a voice actor will give you a good idea of where to start.
The annual income of a voice talent varies greatly from person to person and from year to year. When you’re just starting out most of what you earn from voice over work should be reinvested into your studio, demos, and marketing efforts, so at this stage you will need a second job to support your daily living expenses. Once you start building a portfolio of clients, you’ll see your regular earnings grow and will really start to get a feel for the potential your voice over business has. In time, you’ll be enjoying a satisfying career.
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.
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.
First, since you’ve decided to use professional talent rather than record your own voice over, you know the challenge is to find a person whose interpretation of your script and voice quality represents your brand. You might have a list of qualities — female or male, a mature or childlike voice, a certain accent, authoritative, and so on. This is your voice profile. It’s best to start with this list already defined so you can easily narrow your results.
Our recommendation is to start small and reinvest the money you make into upgrading your equipment and set up. All clients, whether they are Pixar or just a guy who needs a voicemail message, expect crystal clear audio recordings. You absolutely MUST be recording in a professional recording environment with professional equipment. They are NOT going to settle for less than perfection. Does this mean spending thousands of dollars? Maybe, eventually it does, but not today. What you’ll need to get started:
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.
Once you’ve identified a pool of candidates based on skills and availability, look at their experience and browse their gig gallery. Listen to samples of previous voice-over work to get a sense of their style, and choose the candidate whose style you like best. You can contact them before ordering, explain your project requirements, expectations, and budget, and provide examples of work you like by the seller or someone else as an audio reference.
One of the most frequent questions I hear from other professionals pursuing a voice acting career is, “How much should I charge a client for [insert voice-over project here]?” It’s imperative for voice-over artists to do their due diligence in researching current industry standard rates for various projects, as well as speak with other professionals in the industry about voice-over rates.
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.
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.
There are lots of ways to get voice acting work, from online sites such as Bodalgo.com, Mandy.com, Voice123 and Voices.com. These are known as pay to play sites. They have lots of opportunities for you to audition, but it is highly competitive. Looking locally for businesses, including radio stations, that need voiceover is also a good way to start.
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.
"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.”
There are two main priorities in voiceover work: the message that you're being asked to convey; and invisibility — by which I mean you never want people to notice your voice. This might sound counter‑intuitive. After all, why not make your voice sound great? Well, you need the listener to focus on the message your client is paying you to get across, rather than your voice itself, so it needs to sound natural. Even for tag lines, where you might think a fuller, warmer, more compressed (or whatever) voice would be appropriate, the production house will often want to perform EQ and compression themselves. This lesson took me a long time to learn, but my clients are much happier when I send them a nice, dry recording. I simply remind myself that I'm supplying the raw material for them to add to their mix, and letting them make their magic.
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!
"This was Alfre Woodard's audiobook directing debut, and she pulled an amazing performance from people. The big [thing] was to remember that these stories were being told in intimate settings, one‑on‑one in most cases, so the talent really needed to speak to the individual listener. An image kept in mind was stories being told around a campfire, back when folktales were passed down by spoken word.”
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.
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).