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.
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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.
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.
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Working with a top voiceover agency can bring you a steady stream of well paid work. The top voiceover agencies, like Hobsons in London or Abrams in NY and LA, have an elite set of voice actors as well as recognised visual actors who do voiceover. These top agencies are hard to get into though. They only take the very best established voice talent.
As I've mentioned, most of our clients prefer to do post‑production work themselves, and request the raw (but edited) recordings. Sometimes, though, as in the Avast! job, the client will want the files ready to go, which might mean using slight EQ and compression. The noise floor on my recordings generally hovers around ‑54dB, but by using EQ to roll off frequencies below 80Hz and above 12kHz, I am usually able to lower the noise floor to around ‑57dB without resorting to noise reduction. Using EQ to reduce low‑end rumble and high‑frequency noise will make your recording sound better, and will be particularly beneficial if you'll be adding compression later, as the compressor's make-up gain won't be raising the level of that noise. Used moderately, compression can usefully reduce dynamic range, and thus improve intelligibility of the words, while still leaving you with a natural‑sounding result. Used excessively, it will suck the life out of a recording.
"It's always best to address these issues while recording. If a person is sibilant and/or 'mouthy' (clicks, pops, whistles), there are ways to lessen and sometimes eliminate the issues all together: juice from green apples, rinsing with water, repositioning the mic and pop‑filter, and adjusting his or her way of breathing. If there are still issues, I edit out as many of the problems as possible. Often, I redraw the waveform to get rid of issues, or use plug‑ins. We have just started to make use of Izotope's RX 2 Advanced, which works wonders on clicks, crackles, and the like. What I can't fix we try to have the talent come back in to do pick‑ups.”
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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.
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.
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.
Much of the working week as a voice actor, is taken up with auditioning. The success of auditions will depend on your skill, understanding of the brief, speed to deliver, your technical ability and how well you record your voice. By tracking and improving your success your can improve the ratio of auditions to paid work. This in itself requires you to match your voice to the auditions that are a natural fit to your vocal ability and style. As your experience and voice skills expand, so the breadth of work that you can audition for increases.
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.
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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!
Your own voice is your most important piece of equipment. If you're new to the voice-acting world, look around to see if there are classes or coaching in your area. Outside of class, practice speaking clearly and confidently. Learn to do this even with material you've never seen before. It's also important to learn voice care – straining or injuring your voice can hurt you and your career.
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.
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