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).
Next, run these files through any standard EQ high‑pass and low‑pass filters you use, zoom in on the waveform, and select a one‑second strip of silence from each recording. Save these strips as separate files. For instance, on my system, a one‑second strip of silence recorded at 16‑bit, 44.1kHz on a Neumann TLM103 would have this name: room_tone_neumann_tlm_103_44100_16_one_second.wav. Ideally, the noise floor of each strip will be lower than ‑60dB. Now, when you have to remove a bump or a squeak between words, you can paste in a piece of these strips instead of muting, which would draw attention to the edit.
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.
Important: Use headphones to check the audio quality of your test recording. Your computer speakers will not be good enough for this. Headphones allow you to listen closely to ensure clear audio. Obviously, you want the audio to sound good on even the cheapest speaker, but you will be much happier if you use headphones. Remember, a good portion of your video viewers will listen this way, so you want to be sure they’ll have an optimal experience.
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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.
First of all, don’t be put off by the word technical. The ‘technical’ skills you need to learn to involve how you record and then edit your recording and of course you will need a home studio to do this. This needn’t be a daunting prospect though. Many freelance sound engineers are available who can help you with this – contact us if you want a reputable one.
Megan MacPhee is a voice-over artist, singer, actor, dancer, content creator, and teaching artist based out of NYC. A member of Actors Equity Association, credits include national tours, regional theatre, Radio City Music Hall, and The Metropolitan Opera. Her work as a voice-over artist includes national television commercials, social media spots for various brands, voicing the role of EMMA/GHOST GAL in the animated series “YU-GI-OH! VRAINS,” as well as e-Learning, demos, promos, and audiobooks. She has a Bachelor of Music in Musical Theatre from CUA and Contemporary/Classical training from London Dramatic Academy. To view more of Megan’s work visit www.meganmacphee.com or check out her web series, www.unbalancedwebseries.com
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.
Union and non-union jobs have always been two separate markets. Non-union work is more visible and attractive today when compared to years ago, due to online casting. The availability of professional talent for non-union work has led to a reshaping of the voice over industry. An open market means that each professional voice actor sets their own rate based on what they need to cover.
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.
Because I've prepared properly, the first take is often the one I end up editing and sending to my client. The second is simply there as a safety net, in case I need to replace any mistakes while editing. It's much better to capture such drop‑ins during the same session as the main performance, as you can be sure that the mic will be in the same place and your voice will have a similar character in both takes.
Also listen for sibilance. Strong 'ess' sounds are best corrected at source, by using good mic technique, but sometimes they're unavoidable. If you hear an 'ess' that really sizzles in your recording, you can manually reduce its volume. You can, of course, also use a de‑esser, but do be careful, as applying some de‑essers to the entire audio file can alter the sound of your recording. It often works best to apply them to short sections, either offline or using automation. My preferred de‑esser plug‑in is the one sold by Eiosis (www.eiosis.com),Make sure you record some silence at the end of each take. That way, if a great performance suffers from noise issues, you have something to feed your noise‑reduction processors. Just don't rely on this technique too much! which cleverly separates the esses from the rest of the audio and allows you to manipulate them independently. If you want to learn about some more advanced strategies for de‑essing check out Mike Senior's article from SOS May 2009 (/sos/may09/articles/deessing.htm).
Before you do anything though, ask yourself why you want to become a voice actor. If you know upfront what your goals, expectations, and motivations are, you will be more successful. Setting small achievable goals and placing deadlines on them will make sure you stay on track, even if you only want to do voice over as a hobby instead of a full-time career.
Even if you're mixing yourself, it's better to add EQ and compression only when you can hear how it will sit with the soundtrack or special effects. Ultimately, it comes down to knowing what your voice will be used for and making a judgement. For instance, if I'm recording a tagline for a TV or radio advert, I'll generally run a mic into a nice preamp (where I might add slight tube warmth, and subtle EQ or compression, just to give the recording a bit of 'body'), and I may do a little de‑essing using a plug‑in when performing any edits. However, for e‑learning jobs, corporate videos and so on, I'll tend not to add any creative processing while recording or editing, and will only use the de‑esser ever so slightly.