Getting the right starting point for your recorded voice-over before entering the mixing stage is vital. However, getting to that point can be difficult due to the many tips and tricks available online. It can be hard to determine what is the best approach. The quick tips you are about to get in this article come from industry professionals who have worked in the business for many years. Follow these steps, and they will undoubtedly improve the sound of your final VO. But first off we’ll address some basic things that can be good to keep in mind before recording. If you already have good knowledge about the basics you can skip this first chapter and move on down to the processing in post. Without further due, let’s get to it.
Many things affect your voice-recording outcome; you want to make this right so you can get the best result possible in post. Here are a few tips to improve your recording:
Select the right gear for your recording needs. That means to pick a DAW that gives you a fast workflow and allows you to focus entirely on the VO, and less on the technical part. Here are some great suggestions:
The DAW should inspire you to record great stuff! Selecting a good interface is also crucial to get a great sound. If you’re a beginner, I can warmly recommend you to get an Apollo Solo from Universal Audio or Spire Studio from Izotope. When it comes to the microphone, I would recommend buying an RØDE NT1-A to start with it’s been around for sometime, and it still delivers great results. If you have a bit more in your budget, I would go for the EV RE20. Also don’t forget the obvious things like a microphone stand, shock mount and a pop shield.
Before doing any type of recording, you want to check that you record in the correct sampling rate. For example, the standard sampling rate for film/video is 48kHz and 24-bit. But if you’re recording a VoiceOver for radio, there’s probably other standards. In Sweden, the standard file format for radio is 44.1 kHz and 16-bit. Have this settled out before you start to record.
Sure you can win time by adding effects on when you are in the recording stage, but for the best possible end product, you might want to spare that for later. Adding effects that will be rendered on to the file instantly can be problematic later on. Let’s say you realize after recording that you have used a bit too much compression then you can’t change that because it’s already rendered into the finished audio file.
Background noise and reverb is a terrible thing for good sounding voice-overs, it’s an important thing that you record in the quietest environment possible, otherwise it will reduce the quality significantly. Can you hear traffic where you record? Or any other disturbing noise?
Remember, you want to” fix” as little as possible in the mixing stage, so record it in the right environment the first time! If you can record in a professional studio with a tight vocal booth that’s ultimate. Suppose you can’t then record in a closet or a tight environment that you have soundproofed in the best way possible. If you have the budget, you could invest in a portable vocal booth.
Use paper or your phone to read the manuscript, if you put a laptop behind the microphone, the sound can bounce weirdly off the screen and affect the sound quality.
Sometimes your mic can pick up sound from the electricity in your environment. This can be problematic later in the post, however, there are ways to avoid that from happening. First, press the record button when you have placed your mic in the desired area. Just record the room tone and nothing else. Listen back to the recorded material at a high volume; try to listen if you can hear a buzzing sound or any annoying electrical hum. If you find that to be the case then check the following:
Make sure you wear the right clothes in the recording booth. Microphones have a good habit of picking up many sounds that you don’t want on your voice-recording. So what clothes should you wear? Use clothes with soft fabrics, cotton, for example. Avoid materials that makes much noise when moving. A simple t-shirt is a good choice.
We can talk all day about the importance of having the right mic or being in the right environment, but the most important thing is always your voice. Take care of your vocal cord, treat it with dignity before recording! That means to avoid things that can affect your voice badly, such as caffeine and dairy products. Have a glass of lukewarm water nearby so you can refresh the voice when needed.
There’s nothing that can be more irritating than a phone signal getting caught in the recording. So make sure to avoid this mistake. By putting your phone in flight mode you also prevent signal interference with the microphone.
Always use a pop shield when recording your VoiceOver. Nasty P’s and B’s can take some time to correct later, so make sure to get rid of those already when in the recording stage.
You want to make sure the mic you are using produce as little self-noise as possible. This will increase the quality of the recording even further. What is an excellent self-noise figure? Anything below 10 dB-A is a perfect figure. Mics that have a self-noise figure of 11-15 dB-A are good as well. It might be a good idea to check your microphone specifications to find out what self-noise figure it has. I mentioned the RØDE NT1-A in the beginning for a good reason, it has a self-noise level of 5 dB-A.
Some argue that you can sit while recording your voice-over, I strongly disagree since standing up will allow you to use the full power of your voice into the microphone, why shouldn’t you? If you’re going to record for several hours, then take a break. Sit down for a couple of minutes then stand up and record again. The emotion you can provide physically by standing up is also way better than sitting down. In fact, the only time you should be sitting down and record is if you are playing a character that is sitting down in that specific moment in the script.
Suppose you got a long-term job that you’re working on, for example, an audiobook. In that case, it might be a good idea to make a mark on the ground (maybe with tape) where you should be standing at all times when reading. This prevents the audio from sounding different (if you accidentally record at varying distances to the mic.) and your voice will stay the same throughout all the takes. A general rule of thumb when it comes to the distance between your mouth and the pop filter would be 10-20 centimetres depending on the material you’re reading.
It’s important to have a good monitoring level when you are in the booth. Try to keep the volume down on your headphones; this will prevent you from talking too loud and sounding strained. A great tip is to have one ear free from your headphones when recording your voice. This will make it a lot easier for you to actually hear the nuances of what you’re saying, and the recording experience will feel more natural. It will even result in a more natural recording!
Recording your voice-over at a dB level that’s either too low or too high will affect the final result badly. A good rule of thumb is that you try to keep the general level of the entire recording between -12 dB and -6 dB. This is because of the normalization processing we are about to do in the upcoming steps below.
This part is crucial for the quality of your work. If you are doing sessions in the booth that becomes too long, it will make you mentally tired. Try to divide your sessions, focus for 25 minutes then take a short break.
So when you have checked all the previous tips in this article and recorded a well-sounding rough-take, it's time to do some work in post-production. In this guide, we will use RX 8 by iZotope, which is an industry-standard. We will walk you through our very own process of preparing the VO for final mixing and mastering.
Set the target peak level to -3 dB, then hit render. This is a good method to prepare the file for later processing.
Click on the spectral de-noise tool. You have two ways to go depending on how advanced you want to make the noise reduction, the easy way is to check the box where it says "adaptive mode" and then select the best quality (D), then you hit render.
If you want to make it a bit more advanced with a possibly better result, then follow these instructions: Select a few seconds of silence on your recording, so you only hear the "room tone" and then click on the spectral de-noise tool. Select the best quality (D), Uncheck the adaptive mode, then hit "learn".
From here you have to listen carefully to find out with settings are the best. Press "preview" and then play with the "reduction" fader, every recording is different, so there is no one-fits-all solution. But usually, from value 12,0 and up sounds good. Be careful not to push it to high doe then it can introduce artefacts. When you feel happy with the noise reduction, hit render!
After several testing methods, we find these settings the best for voice-over:
This stage is really important; clicks from your mouth need to be removed from the recording. Use the mouth de-click tool.
Select these settings to get a great result:
In your recording, there can be certain clicks that the de-clicker can't remove; then it's time to pull up the surgical knife! Here's how you do it: Listen carefully after clicks in the entire recording. When you think you've found one, zoom in and try to pin-point were the click appears in time, then select it. Try to keep the selection around the click as narrow as possible; you don't want to remove any other sound than the click. When you have managed this simply hit CMD+2. If you think the edit sounds weird, zoom in again and simply move the selection a bit differently and try again. Do this for every click you can hear. The result will be a soothe sounding VO.
Slight use of the de-plosive tool will make the recording sound even better. Use these settings:
The final step, export your recording in the best possible quality for the desired use. Make sure to check with the client first which format they prefer. Here’s a few examples of common formats:
Voila - Now you have the file ready for the mixing stage!
As mentioned before, your voice is the essential part of getting a great sounding VO. Technology may help us to refine our voice pleasantly if done right, but it can never reach the hearts of those who are listening. I think you’ll agree with me on that. So the importance of performance is the most vital part. How can you polish your VO skills even further? Here’s the most important thing of an excellent sounding voice-over:
Feeling. Yes, It can seem very obvious at first, but this often gets overlooked and lost in the process. Why? We live in stressful times; everything should happen fast. Sometimes we tend to look at work the same way. But that is wrong; all great and meaningful things take time. We’re focusing too much on all the technicalities that we forget to really put our heart in there. And in the end, that’s what matters the most.
So how can we deliver the right feeling to our listeners? Prepare well. To mediate a genuine feeling, you have to practice over and over again. It’s like a good singer; they practice to remember the text over and over again. Will this make the audience stand up and clap? No. But the audience will clap when the singer converts all that practice into emotion. Because of the training, the singer can focus entirely on the feeling when they are singing, and that feeling lands in the heart of the listeners.
When you’re recording your voice-over, it’s the same thing. You need to practice a lot to stop thinking technicalities and turning on your emotion. A great tip is to ask a friend to listen to your performance or record yourself trough a camera to review if you felt convinced by the things you said. Another way to breathe life into your delivery is to use sincere facial expressions when recording into the microphone. This will make the material come to life even more. Remembering what your audience already know about the things you are about to say is also an excellent way to make your performance fall in line with the listener’s emotions and thoughts.
So in conclusion, how can you improve your voice-over performance? Focus on the feeling and less on technicalities, use facial expressions, remember what the listeners already know about what you are saying and adapt to that. Perform in front of a friend or record a video of yourself to review how you can improve the performance even more.
Congratulations! Now you are on your way towards a better sounding voice-over. Don’t forget to share these tips with your colleagues and friends!