Some of the most familiar voices you’ve ever heard belong to actors you’ve never seen. You might recognize James Earl Jones from CNN or The Lion King, but what about Don LaFontaine, that thundering voice behind over 5,000 movie trailers?
In the digital age, there are more opportunities than ever for voiceover talent. On-hold messages, video games, audiobooks, online learning programs and podcasts have replaced the narration gigs of the past. With high-quality digital microphones that can plug right into your computer and plenty of free recording software, getting started can be as simple as making a few connections and getting that demo out there.
For some basics on how to make your voice heard, we turned to Sven Laurik, who parlayed his film, media and multitrack smarts into a consulting business. Along the way, he picked up so many voice recording techniques that he wrote a primer for beginners called Creating Voiceover Narration for Podcasts, eLearning, Video and Digital Media.
Below are Sven's top six tips for getting the best voice recordings.
1. Go for the best read. Then relax.
The key point to remember about doing a read is that it’s a performance, which is sometimes easy to forget when you’re sitting in front of a microphone. Focus on capturing the best reading with the appropriate enunciation and emphasis to match the message. Anything that distracts from this objective will diminish the quality of the recording. Save thinking about fixes for later in the editing and revision stage of the process.
Learn the limits of your personal voice endurance. Some will max out at 15 minutes, while others can maintain the same energy level and voice characteristics for twice as long. Rest periods between recording segments are important and will vary in length, depending on the actor.
2. Determine the appropriate distance from the microphone.
Position yourself too far back from the microphone, and your voice level will allow room sound and background noise to be noticeable on the recording. Position yourself too close to the microphone, and you may create plosives, the booming sounds your breath makes when it strikes the diaphragm of the microphone.
Proper distance is usually around 6 to 12 inches from the microphone, depending on the type of microphone and the speaker’s characteristics. Also, positioning the microphone slightly off-axis from your head position instead of squarely in front of your mouth will reduce the amount of breath that hits the microphone diaphragm. Take some time to experiment with your specific setup to see what sounds best to you.
3. Consider using a windscreen.
Windscreens come in two forms: a mesh fabric stretched around a circular frame that is placed between the microphone and the performer, and a foam cover on the microphone grille that reduces the velocity and energy of the air movement produced by the voiceover performer’s speech. When using a windscreen, experiment to see how close you can get to the microphone without hearing undesirable breath impact noises.
4. Make sure that you set the proper microphone level.
If the input from the microphone is set too high, then the signal will exceed the capacity of the recording hardware or software, and “clipping” will occur. Clipping creates distortion at each portion of the recording that exceeds the acceptable level for the hardware and software.
If your audio interface has a volume (or gain) control for the microphone input, then it will usually have a meter or other visual that will light up when the levels exceed limits and clipping is occurring. Your recording software will also provide metering functions that will help you to set the proper level.
To set the proper level, speak into the microphone in the same manner as you will perform the voiceover (same distance from the microphone, same loudness and energy level, etc.) and watch the meter level indicators. Your input level should be within the upper limits of the green acceptable area. Occasionally, levels within the red area for louder segments of the voiceover are acceptable, as long as the clipping limit is not exceeded. Adjust the microphone gain/level control until you achieve a desirable level.
If you’re using a mixer, then there may be multiple points where you need to set the microphone gain (at the input, at the channel and at the output). In that case, you should ensure that you do not either set any of the individual gain settings too low, requiring you to increase a later gain setting to reach a proper volume level, or too high, causing distortion at a later stage.
5. Tune your instrument.
In this case, it’s your voice or the voice of the talent you’re recording. There are a few more considerations that can impact the recording. For example:
Consistency. In many cases, you may either perform the voiceover for the entire program over several recording sessions or incorporate edits and revisions to previously recorded segments, so it’s critical that you match vocal qualities across all sessions. When making revisions to previously recorded segments, it’s a good idea to listen to the previously recorded segments to remind yourself of the pacing and voice tone that you used before.
Breath Control. As you listen to playbacks of your voice performance, the points where you catch your breath will often be audible. As you gain more experience as a voiceover artist, you’ll learn how to minimize the impact of breath noise on your performance. Also, for many recordings, you can edit out points where breath noises are distracting by either muting or deleting those segments.
Plosives. This refers to “popping your Ps” where the air movement generated by speaking words beginning with P (also T, K, B, D and G) impacts the diaphragm of the microphone and creates a booming sound on the recording. You should be able to hear this through headphones when you monitor the performance in real-time. Take steps to minimize it by controlling your pronunciation, changing the position of the microphone or using a windscreen.
Sibilance. This refers to instances where words with the letter S are spoken with a slight hiss or whistle. Prompting the talent to be aware of this issue and to make a concerted effort to avoid it can help. An easier solution may be the use of a De-Esser, an equalizer tuned to reduce the intensity of the sibilance sound frequency ranges. The processor engages when the sibilance within the set range exceeds a user-set level, automatically reducing the prominence of the sound within that range.
6. Listen to your performance through good quality headphones.
This will allow you to hear exactly what the microphone is picking up while recording, and help you identify the sound of shuffling papers, traffic noises, fans and blowers, artifacts you don’t want in your voiceover recording. Hear any? If so, then it’s time to edit and re-record.
Interested in knowing what mics and headphones Shure has to offer for voiceover applications? Check out these models.Microphones
To read more of Sven Laurik’s practical tips on improving your voiceover and narration skills, visit www.eNarration.com where you can also order a copy of his book, Creating Voiceover Narration for Podcasts, eLearning, Videos and Digital Media.