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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This guide is designed to give you an insight into this hidden world and provide you with enough information to help you make an informed choice on whether or not this is a potential career for you. If you already are a voice actor, we will be giving you some tips and ideas to help you improve your voice acting skills to help you experience a dramatic difference in how you approach the written word.
1. You need to get oriented with the industry. You need an education in this business prior to investing in it—especially if you hope to be valuable as a voiceover talent. You need to understand who your core clients would be and who you would eventually create a voiceover demo for, namely, producers. If you’re not servicing them, then you’re not servicing your self. This is precisely why I wrote, “The SOUND ADVICE Encyclopedia of Voiceover & The Business of Being a Working Talent.” You need insight as to what’s needed and wanted of you in this field, and how professional sessions are run, otherwise you’ll likely frustrate yourself with unrealistic expectations.
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.
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.
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.
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).
First, I like to listen to the entire voice over recording from start to finish. I may make notes here and there to remind myself of something I want to go back and edit, but this time through I really just want to concentrate on the overall pacing and tone of the recording. Does it sound like I hoped? Did I rush or speak too slowly? Did I flub any words, mumble, or misspeak? Are there weird silences or unknown sounds?
The point is each person can often have a different perspective on how they ‘bid’ for work. Another factor is how you work within an industry if you have a really high profile. For instance if a big car manufacturer chooses you, you’re not going to get any kind of work from any other car manufacturer so you’re alienating yourself out of the rest of the market for the big players.
2. You need training. “Winging it” isn’t professional because it’s unreliable, and could explain why there are so many one-hit wonders in this profession. You need a professional approach, mic technique training, and time dedicated to practice, practice, practice in order to build your skills. Your confidence will build from there. Much like circuit training fine tunes your physical acuity with continued use, technique training conditions your performance muscle. You can’t expect to run a marathon if you don’t train. Every skill level of talent benefits from proper coaching.
Part of great voice over work is ensuring that you pronounce each word correctly and that you speak clearly enough to be understood. Avoid mumbling but don’t shout or over-enunciate, either. Don’t worry, though. No one expects you to sound like a professional voice actor. The best thing you can do is speak naturally and clearly and the rest will follow in time.
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.
Always update yourself on industry standard rates. I recommend reviewing the union rates set forth by SAG-AFTRA. Voices.com also offers a rate card as well Voice-Over Resource Guide. Upon viewing these rates you may find, based on your current experience, you fall a little lower or higher than said rates. Maybe you have a great deal of experience in the commercial voice-over world, but now you’re branching out into narration, e-learning or audiobooks, so your voice-over rates may be a bit lower for that genre as you find your footing. The most important thing is that you have a baseline rate for yourself and you’re comfortable and confident stating this rate to a client. It’s beneficial to first ask your client’s budget and proceed from there. While stating your rate, also take into consideration edits and pick-ups. It’s customary to include one free round of edits in your rate, but any edits or pick-ups past that incur a fee.
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