Top 10 Tips for Professional Voiceovers by Peter Baker
First of all, have two audio software programmes on your computer. Why is this?
It's basically so you got one to record and one to playback. If you do a script which has quite a few unusual names in there, your client may well send you an extensive audio file with recordings of how to pronounce the names. So how are you going to play them, if you are already recording in your software programme? So what I do, is to have the very latest updated version of Adobe Audition on my computer to record and edit on, and a really old copy of Adobe Audition , actually it's 1.5 actually, and I installed it off a CD ROM can you believe! And in my computers default programmes, I make sure that when I click on an MP3, or a WAV file as sent from a client, it always opens in the old program. This is because, most of the time when you open any audio file, it's because it’s sent from the client, either as a reference file, or for as a pronunciation guide. For a long tourist guide with many non-English names, it is a right pain to stop recording and to open up the pronunciation file again, and to see a waveform on your screen is simply easier to navigate than if you have opened up the guide file in VLC media player or whatever that you’d flip to. So, with two audio software programmes, that are completely separate, you keep recording, and flip between the two programs using ALT + TAB.
When you're shopping for clothes for work, don't just look for clothes that look smart, but sound smart! You don't want to have any clothes that make nasty rustling noises. If you do this, you'll be aware of the clothes making a pesky rustling noise when you are recording your voice over scripts, then you’ll tense up, and not give your best performance. Soft cloth that doesn't rustle is the best choice for a voice over artist. Better still, as nobody can see you, strip off and do it top naked!
If you’ve got a very softly spoken script to read and you’re aware that your breathing is rather noisy, try using an “Easy Breathe” metal strip to widen your nasal passages. These sprung metal devices stick on your nose and are designed to help you breathe better in bed through the nose so you don’t open your mouth and snore, but for us voiceovers, they are lifesavers in front of the microphone, especially if you have a very soft, intimate script where you’re directed live and you can’t stop and edit out breaths afterwards. Of course you can also wear them in bed, and this makes it less certain that you will sleep with your mouth open, and give you a sore throat for the morning. Try them!
As well as recording on the computer, via your USB interface, also record completely separately on a solid-state recorder, with an input level slightly less than that of the input to the computer. 99% of the time, you will just use what you have recorded on the computer, but that odd peak of volume that distorts on your computer, may be perfectly ok if you use the recording on the solid-state machine. In my voice booth, I’ve got it set up this way, and it's amazing how often you do need to use the backup recording. It's wired up so that the microphone output goes into a “Y” lead where one output goes into the computer via the USB interface, and the other wire goes directly into the solid-state recorder. This is my “worry-free” “Belts and Braces” system! Nothing can possibly go wrong!
Don't send the invoice in with the recording! There may be some changes needed, maybe you recorded something wrong, the client may change their mind over the script, but more likely you're going to slightly annoy the client asking for money before even they have got paid from their own end client. So unless you have specifically been asked to send in the invoice, just wait patiently until you get the full all-clear from the feedback on your recording, and then send it in. You will be much more respected from your agency, and more likely to be thought of positively for future jobs. So don't be money grubbing, or appear desperate for cash, just have a decent system of remembering when you've done jobs, and invoicing them when they are complete. You can either use an Excel sheet, or a simple sheet of paper on a clipboard.
When recording an audition, where they have insisted that you read all the audition script, don't be suspicious and think they're just going to steal the whole recording, so you just do half of it. It could be that they want to show the end client the video with your entire voice over in, before they make a decision. It is highly unlikely a professional client will steal the demo recording from you, so read it all, and not only will this help you to get the job, but it will stop the situation where , if you had only supplied half the script, you having to match the exact voice style and resonance that you recorded in the first part that they loved, to the new part you will now have to record!
Always wire up your studio and have a system so you always keep the original unprocessed audio file. Even if most of your clients don’t mind the hardware noise gate you use or compression, you will come across studios who demand the original raw file from you. You won’t be able to provide this if your microphone is plugged into the effects box first, will you? So if your recording location has low level hum or rumble that you are using a hardware Noise Gate to remove at source, do this in software after recording if you have to. Always keep the original unprocessed audio file. Maybe it’s another use for a “Y” XLR lead!
Get physical in the voice booth! Your performance will be far better if you learn to express the words you are saying with your arm and hand movements. Underline in the air the words that are meant to be emphasised or punch the air for power “hit” words. Use actual ironic speech marks in the air when appropriate, and make all the facial expressions you like to convey the emotion of the script whether it is acting or narration. Your performance will be enhanced enormously by physically “acting out” what you’re saying by your upper body!
Always make a great first impression. If you’re recording and editing voice over scripts in the order that they come in, and you’re in the middle of an urgent job to do for an existing client, what do you do if suddenly an enquiry comes in from a potential new client? Yes of course, you would just take 2 minutes out to reply to that new client, and they will be impressed with your speed of response and you’ll probably get the job. There’s a school of thought that says you should always leave people waiting a bit, because this gives the impression that you’re important and you are really in demand, and if you reply too fast you are acting a little bit desperate, but in my experience, it's the new client who is desperate, and if you don't reply straight away, they will simply find someone else.
Finally….learn to respect your voice! Get into the habit of drinking a glass of water every hour during the day, eat healthily and exercise daily. Try not to cough to clear your voice, and when you have to shout, either for a voice acting job or if you are in an argument in real life, be aware of the damage this could be doing, so learn the illusionary acting technique for shouting, that “sounds” loud, but isn’t actually and won’t harm the vocal cords as much.