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There are now more opportunities in the voiceover industry than ever before — but competition has never been so fierce — so, in this short series of articles I'll set out what you need to know to get started as a home‑studio voiceover artist, and turn it into a paying job. This month, I'll explain some differences between the voiceover and music industries, and run through the different roles you'll need to become good at. Next time, I'll discuss what makes a good voice, the sort of home‑studio setup you need, and how you can start to get the jobs coming in.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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"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.”
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.
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.
Voice over is a production technique where a voice that is not part of the narrative is heard over the action. It’s often used in movies, TV shows, plays, or other presentations. Voice over is an effective way to convey information that doesn’t naturally fit into the plot or the other visual elements that are occurring. Voice over work is read by a voice actor who reads from a script, and it is added to the other elements during production.
At the end of the day, we all need to have a baseline of what is an acceptable pay rate and what you may need to walk away from politely. This is a competitive market and when you have put in the training, financial investment, technical education in perfecting your studio sound, and countless hours practicing in the booth you must advocate for yourself and know your worth! If you have any questions, reach out to the SAV community. We’re here to be stronger together as you move through your voice acting career!
When you come to actually recording your voice, try to think of the mic as the ear of your listener. Picture your listener, have an opinion, and read the script as if the words were coming to mind that instant. The distance between your mouth and the mic should be about the same as the distance between your thumb and pinkie when making a hang‑five gesture (see the picture above). Move closer to the mic when you lower your voice and back off when you speak louder. On‑line dictionaries such as the Merriam‑Webster one pictured here, often include audio examples which can help you clarify pronunciation. Just make sure that you use an American English or UK English (or other language!) version as appropriate. (Remember, while you have your engineer hat on, to take account of this when setting levels.) Always use a pop shield, and I'd suggest trying to work slightly off‑axis, as talking to a point just to the right or left of the mic will prevent bursts of air and drops of saliva ruining your recording. I'd also recommend wearing headphones over one ear only, as this allows you to judge volume and listen for clipping and plosives on the recording, while also hearing your natural voice, which makes it easier to focus on that message we talked about. Simone demonstrates this technique in the picture on the next page. Hhe's working slightly off‑axis and has backed off an inch or two to deliver with more energy.Typically, you'd record with your mouth approximately the distance between your thumb and little finger from the mic, as pictured here.