Voiceover Recording HOWTO

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008 | by

I’ve drawn deep from my literally dozens of minutes of experience recording voiceovers to present the following guidelines. If you’ve never recorded spoken word, this will help you avoid some common mistakes. If you have recorded voiceovers before, feel free to leave a comment to tell me what I’m still doing wrong. 🙂

Pick the right microphone.

If you have a very quiet and acoustically dead space, and your voice projects well, you’ll probably get good results from a large-diaphragm condenser — provided you don’t get any closer to it than 6-12 inches.

Otherwise, try a dynamic mic first. The fidelity will almost certainly be fine, and a dynamic mic is less likely to pick up unwanted mouth sounds and breathing.

If you have multiple mics to choose from, record 10 seconds of your piece with each, then listen back to select the one that sounds best.

Don’t skimp on the test time. I did, and paid for it with long editing sessions. Get the right mic first.

(Needless to say, you can find great microphone info right here.)

Record something short, and complete the production on that short sample before recording more.

I suggest this because you will almost certainly discover aspects of the signal chain and/or performance that you will want to change. Better to figure this out before investing a lot of time recording a long piece with what you later realize is bad technique (and/or gear).

“Production” means doing cleanup editing, EQ, compression, etc. Play the finished track on your iPod or stereo or wherever it will ultimately be played to determine whether it sounds good, or more typically, if you can stand to listen to it at all.

Play it for an audience; you’ll be surprised at how the problems leap to the foreground when someone else is listening too.

Record room sound!

This means sitting still, holding your breath, not rustling pages or chair cushions for at least a count of three, while the mic is hot. You’ll be dying for a single second of this when you edit the recording — because you can paste it over all the page turns, chair squeaks, telephone rings, gloppy swallowing sounds, etc.

This approach worked much better for me than gating or EQ or the Strip Silence command — I copied a 0.75-second sample of room sound into the system clipboard before every editing session, and used it throughout.

Room sound is not the same thing as digital silence. Every microphone generates noise. Every mic preamp generates noise. Every compressor generates noise. The sum of these, combined with the sound of your wires and connectors and AD converter, is what “silence” really sounds like when you’re not actually speaking into the microphone.

Allow time for editing.

I don’t see a way to avoid listening to the full recorded piece all the way through while editing. Plan on spending 2-5x the length of the piece for editing — more time if your mic or technique were poor, but still 2x for a quick cleanup pass. Seriously, this takes forever.

Edit in ‘shuffle’ mode.

If you use Pro Tools, click the Shuffle mode button to save a lot of effort while editing. If you use a different DAW, enable the mode that crams the remaining regions together when you delete a section of audio.

This makes it much easier to excise unwanted noises, because you simply select around the noise, tap the delete key, and move on.

(SOS has a nice writeup on Shuffle Mode basics.)

Composite over music.

Background music hides some of the inevitable flaws from a first-time VO session. Choose something repetitive and instrumental. Don’t be afraid to loop it; listeners probably won’t notice. (That’s my theory anyway.)

By no means will these guidelines get you a demo reel you can send to the local radio station. But they will help you avoid some of the gaping, Punji stick-lined pits into which first-time VO recordists typically fall. (I speak from experience on the matter.)

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