"When recording voiceovers at home, you have to focus on performance: keep your energy levels up, stay true to the page, pronounce words correctly and consistently, and make sure you keep to a schedule to make the deadline. Prep well so you don't waste time second‑guessing yourself, looking up words as you go, and remember to not over‑ or under‑direct yourself. Also, make sure you know your recording equipment and room well; being able to quickly make adjustments to mic placement, levels, and so on, will make you more efficient.”
Some of you might be wondering about the difference between voice over and narration. The short answer: not much. In most cases, you may use voice over and narration fairly interchangeably. However, to be technically correct, narration typically refers to an audio vocal that describes all the action on screen or tells a story based on what’s happening, while voice over may or may not describe as much action and is often more instructional in nature.
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.
Finally, as you complete more work, you can end up with a lot of different files from your projects, so good 'housekeeping' of your sessions and recordings is a must. Glancing at the filename simone_kliass_avast_virus_database_neumann_tlm_103_original.wav, I can easily tell that this is the original recording of my wife's "Your virus database has been updated” message in Portuguese for Avast! on a Neumann TLM103 mic. It doesn't matter what your system is, as long as it works and you can stick to it.
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.
This is the number-one issue most people bring up when they discover they have to do voice over work for their video. Let’s face it. Most of us rarely have to hear our own voices in audio recordings. We’re used to the rich, warm sound of our own voices in our own ears. There’s no way around the fact that you sound different on recording that you do to yourself.
However, there are lots of second tier voice over agencies and ones that are just getting established. One of your goals as a voice actor should be to get listed by an agency. However, wait until you have at least established yourself and put together a portfolio of work and super hot demos you can send out to them for consideration. When selecting an agent you need to carefully examine who they currently represent and then ask yourself: How do I fit in here? Does this agent have anyone like me on their books? If not, you will most definitely stand a better chance of being represented.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
When considering “how much do voice actors make”, you have to consider the physical demands of the job. A voiceover actor’s main tool is their voice. Unlike a machine, the voice is a sensitive instrument and cannot be used to extremes all day, every day. If you did, you would risk damaging your vocal chords. Of course delivering the same consistent quality 12 hours a day would also be impossible. For many established voiceover talent, even long periods of use, 3-4 hours at a stretch can be tiring. At the extreme vocal end of voice acting you have gaming. In gaming the physicality of shouting and using the full range of voice, often for different characters takes it’s toll. For this reason many gaming voice actors are particularly careful about their vocal health.
You will never have to answer to a “boss”, but you will need to be your own boss and manage yourself. You will work on your own a lot of the time. So you need to embrace the benefits and the challenges this presents. Take courses in areas where you need to develop your skills. When you adequately prepare for running a business, you will succeed in its management, even if part of managing your business means hiring out, in areas that you know are not your strongest.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.