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.
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.
There are two main priorities in voiceover work: the message that you're being asked to convey; and invisibility — by which I mean you never want people to notice your voice. This might sound counter‑intuitive. After all, why not make your voice sound great? Well, you need the listener to focus on the message your client is paying you to get across, rather than your voice itself, so it needs to sound natural. Even for tag lines, where you might think a fuller, warmer, more compressed (or whatever) voice would be appropriate, the production house will often want to perform EQ and compression themselves. This lesson took me a long time to learn, but my clients are much happier when I send them a nice, dry recording. I simply remind myself that I'm supplying the raw material for them to add to their mix, and letting them make their magic.
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.
A demo recording of you doing voice-over work is your CV and your business card combined. If you're applying for a voice-over job, you can send the potential customer your demo via the Internet. Ideally you have multiple demos for different types of gigs. For commercials, clients want to hear 60 to 90 seconds of voice work. If you're auditioning as an audiobook reader, five minutes of demo proves that you can stay in character over a longer stretch of time.
Not all noise can be tackled in this way, though: you need to listen for clicks, plosives, digital glitches and the like. These can normally be acceptably repaired by using a 'heal' tool, or a pencil tool to redraw the waveform. Popped 'p's can often be 'fixed' using a high‑pass filter set at 100Hz. For a single glitch, you can zoom in and cut out the cycle of the waveform in which the glitch appears. Just be careful to start and end the cut where the waveform crosses the centre line, otherwise you'll inadvertently add another digital glitch. If glitches are frequent, it's likely that there's a problem with your audio interface's buffer settings — it may be just a playback issue.
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.
A great performance recorded on mediocre gear will always sound better than a mediocre performance recorded on great gear. By preparing well, before the session, you'll find it far easier to relax and focus on the message and the listener. As a producer, it's important to be clear what the expected format is for the final audio file. Although there are certain 'standards', your clients' expectations will vary.Read through the script, look up any questionable words and check their pronunciation. For American English, which accounts for the majority of my work, my favourite pronunciation resource is the Merriam‑Webster on‑line dictionary (www.m‑w.com), which includes audio examples. If you don't know how to pronounce the name of a company or product, call the company's customer service centre (if anyone can pronounce it right, they can!). If you don't know how to pronounce the name of a person or city, try searching YouTube for news reports on the subject.
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.
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.
When asked by someone outside of the industry how much I’m compensated for a commercial voice-over, I can see their eyes grow large with excitement. It may sound like a large number for two or three hours of studio time, but what is not understood is the investment in time, money and education that it takes to begin and sustain a voice acting career. As voice-over professionals, we need to remember (especially if we are setting our own rates) that the time we have spent in classes, coaching sessions, and our booth add up to our expertise in this field. When setting your own voice-over rates, or negotiating those set by producers and/or clients, you need to not only consider your session fee (the time spent in the booth recording the specific copy), but also all the training you’ve acquired and the investment in your home studio (which helps make your client’s job much easier).