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.)
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.
Why the difference in approach? Lots of my e‑learning and corporate jobs are done for production houses that will be adding other voices to the mix. Ironically, if I record my voice via a great mic and preamp, and add some nice processing, it can end up standing out from the other voices, drawing attention to itself. The production house will see this as me causing them a problem, even though my recording sounds better than the others!
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.
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).
"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.”
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.
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.
Voice actors get paid on a per project or per job basis. Your earnings as a voice actor range from: $35 for a small market radio spot, $150 for a 15 second recording for say a small website, $250 – $350 for a 30 second major market radio commercial (Plus use fees) to about $2000 – $5000 per audiobook, as an established voice talent. There are several ways to calculate how much voice actors get paid, with the most common being the word count of the script. The use of the material is also taken into consideration and whether or not you are granting a license to use your material for a specific duration on specific channels or if you are seeking a fee for a universal buyout.
"The editing process for all our titles starts with receiving the Pro Tools sessions or WAV files and the engineer's script, which has the markings of how many takes there were, and which ones the director liked best. In some cases, I use Strip Silence and add a bed of room tone to expedite the assembly edit. In others I'll add the room tone as I move through the audio. Once I had all the final takes to be used in [Favorite African Folk Tales], I went back to do a fine‑edit pass and created notes on any issues, such as misreads, mispronunciations, noises, and so on. With that list, I was able to discuss with Alfre how we would address the issues. Since the actors' schedules did not permit them to come back in to do pick‑ups I had to do some creative editing.”
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.
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.
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.
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.