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.
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.
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.
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.
While having a broad set of voice skills is beneficial, many voice overs establish themselves in commercials and more general corporate voiceover work before specialising. Having a niche or specialist focus though can make a difference in earning potential. So, bearing in mind the question: how much money do a voice actors make, will also depend on the level and experience in a given niche e.g. animation, audiobooks or gaming.
Do you have a great voice? Maybe you're not the world's best singer, but you might still have a good speaking voice. Couple that with a home studio, and you could consider a sideline as a self-producing voiceover artist. Making money as a voiceover artist used to mean living in a big city, mailing out demos, and sitting in traffic in between auditions. As with the music industry, though, affordable recording gear, home studios and broadband Internet have reshaped the job. A work‑at‑home mummom in Manchester can record a phone greeting for a travel agency in Rome; an actor in New York can narrate a video for a tyre company in Russia; or, to offer my own example, an American ex‑pat can record for an ESL (English as a Second Language) textbook, while his Brazilian wife lends her voice to software being developed in the Czech Republic, and all from the comfort of our house in São Paulo.
I use the Adobe Audition package to edit my own voiceover work, but the techniques described below can be used in most audio‑editing software. Start by saving a new version of your original recording. (I keep the name of the file the same, but change the extension from _original to _edit.) Next, I'll turn my attention to the end of the recording, where I stepped away from the mic after the second take and recorded about 10 seconds of silence. Although processing is usually kept to a minimum, dealing with sibilance is important, and Eiosis' De‑esser plug‑in is much more precise than most.Wearing headphones, I can zoom in on this 'silence', turn up the volume, and listen for any background noise. If I notice any constant noise seeping into the recording, I may consider using Adobe Audition's noise‑reduction tool to capture a one‑ or two‑second profile of the silence, and then reduce the offending noise by about 75 percent throughout the recording. I should stress that this is rarely needed, and it's always a last resort, because such processing can generate swirly, metallic artifacts that draw more attention to themselves than the noise you intended to eliminate! But it's good to listen for such issues with fresh ears at the start of your editing session. If you find yourself using noise‑reduction often, that's a sign that you should find a better place to record, or improve the isolation of the space you've chosen. Don't forget that there are other ways to deal with some noise: often, a high‑pass filter is all you will need to clean up a recording, for example. Also remember that if your recording is to be mixed with music, slight background noise won't be noticeable, and that the more exposed your voice in the end product, the more problematic noise will become.
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.
First of all let’s dismiss the obvious – there is no such thing as a standard rate, there are only guide lines and even these vary by Country and type of work. The only standard rates are those set by some Union scale rates. One of the most notable differences is that between voice over union rates and voice over rates non-union. Unions provide a standard voiceover rate and therefore you can safely rely on the unions guide (depending on which Country you are in). However, non union voice over rates vary enormously and are often down to negotiations between the voice over actor and the client.
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.
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.
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It's a good idea to record with one ear free from your headphones, as this helps you to deliver a more natural performance.When recording solo, I find the role of director the hardest to play. How can you lose yourself in the moment if you're on the lookout for mistakes? If you stop each time you mispronounce a word or use the wrong intonation, your spoken‑word recording will sound choppy and unnatural. It's for this reason that I like to record each job twice. The first time, I push the director out of the room and focus on the message. If possible, I even let the soundtrack of the video I'm narrating play quietly in my headphones, and I don't stop for mistakes any more than I would if I were telling a story to a friend. During the second take, I let the director back into the room, to make sure I pronounce everything correctly and emphasise the correct information — though I still try to keep the performance honest and natural.
I’m new to this so keep that in mind, but I use a cheap “dog training clicker” to mark my redo portions. They are very visible in the sound track. In longer recording sessions (where I won’t remember the error) I’m experimenting with using 1,2 or 3 clicks to indicate how far I plan to back up for the restart. I can often find and do the cut without have to play anything – that by having an idea of how far back I need to look.
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.
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
"The editing process for all our titles starts with receiving the Pro Tools sessions or WAV files and the engineer's script, which has the markings of how many takes there were, and which ones the director liked best. In some cases, I use Strip Silence and add a bed of room tone to expedite the assembly edit. In others I'll add the room tone as I move through the audio. Once I had all the final takes to be used in [Favorite African Folk Tales], I went back to do a fine‑edit pass and created notes on any issues, such as misreads, mispronunciations, noises, and so on. With that list, I was able to discuss with Alfre how we would address the issues. Since the actors' schedules did not permit them to come back in to do pick‑ups I had to do some creative editing.”