You'd love to hire some major market talent for voice over work but your budget won't allow it. It looks like you'll have to figure this one out by yourself. Don't worry, you can do this.
If you can read and speak, you can do a voice over. With the right tools, technique and some practice, you can create functional voice overs for any project, stay within budget and deliver them on time. Whether this is your first time or your 25th, it never hurts to go through the fundamentals of creating good voice overs. Here are 10 tips to get you through.
1 - It Starts With the Script
Voice over scripts come in many forms and lengths. It may be as simple as a few lines peppered throughout the project or it could be nine pages of wall-to-wall text. It's possible the client wrote it, either through an employee or a committee. Whenever possible, retain the right to edit the script for clarity. You don't want to change the message, just the delivery. Make sure the script is easy for you or the voice over talent to read, easy to understand and moves easily from section to section. If there are any names, words or technical terms that you're unsure of, check with the client for proper pronunciation. Spell them out phonetically if necessary. There's nothing worse than mispronouncing someone's name during your voice over recording and having to go back and fix it after the project is finished.
2 - The Right Software
The process of recording a good voice over requires a few tools. First on the list is recording and editing software. Adobe Audition, Sony Sound Forge and ProTools are the major players in this area, but there are many other options. Adobe, Sony and Digidesign each make 'lite' versions of their flagship products - all are worth investigating. Apple has Logic Studio, Soundtrack Pro and WavePad. You can even do some basic recording and editing in GarageBand. Reaper, Audacity and Nero's Wave Editor are all worthy contenders, too. Find one that fits your budget and is easy to use. You'll spend a lot of quality time with your software.
3 - The Setup
Once that's established, you need your best microphone. In a perfect world, that would be a large diaphragm studio condenser mic, but any good, clean microphone will do. You also need a way to plug the mic into your computer - with either adapter cables or an audio interface - and a microphone stand. A good pair of headphones is critical for monitoring your recording. With the headphones on, you'll hear every detail and make better performance decisions. Don't forget the recording environment. Our article guerilla sound booth is a great way to go for a voice over studio, but any quiet area with minimal sound reflections works in a pinch.
4 - Creature Comforts
You may be working on the voice over for a while, so make sure you've created a comfortable work environment. This starts with good lighting and ventilation. Pour yourself a nice cup of tea and sip slowly. No sugar and cream laden coffee here. Cough drops will help open up the sinuses and clear the throat, just spit them out before recording. Keep a bottle of room temperature water handy and grab a drink between takes. You'll get a better performance standing but a bar stool might make things a little more comfortable for longer runs.
5 - Performance
It's time to step up to the mic, as they say. Don't worry about anything for now, just grab the script, hit the record button and track a few lines. Play the recording back over the headphones and listen to the performance. If you've never done this before, the recording will sound pretty strange. Do you really sound like that? Yes, you do. Be critical of your performance. Listen closely for slurred words, phrases and accents. Pay attention to timing and the flow of the voice over recording. Based on your critique, re-record the piece - several times if necessary - and listen through it again. Make notes to yourself about certain words or phrases that give you trouble.
6 - Listen To the Pros
If you're a little stuck on how to deliver the script, take a few minutes and watch some commercials. Listen closely for pacing and inflection and consider how you can mimic their performance in your project. Don't be a copycat, but find the best elements and incorporate them as you record. Try pushing your voice a little harder than normal and record multiple takes with variations on inflection. The options may help in the editing process. The voice over should catch the viewers attention without distracting from the visuals.
7 - Parsing the Product
Once you've got a recording of the whole script, it's time to sift through everything. Listen to the various takes and keep notes on the best versions. Make sure you've recorded the entire script - in sequence or not - and have clean takes of all the segments. If you find a section you don't like, re-record it till you're happy with the results. The entire voice over may include several files and takes so create a roadmap of the various keeper takes including file name and location times within the file.
8 - Chop it Up
When editing, always copy keeper chunks to a new timeline and maintain the original recordings for backup. Assemble the piece in order and, if the project is full of shorter segments, save each finished segment as a separate file. Trim the opening and close of each segment tight and, when you have to assemble a sentence from pieces, use simple fade-in/fade-outs to overlap the words. With a little practice, even you will have to listen hard to hear the edit points.
9 - Slip and Slide
With all your voice over segments edited, named and listed, import them into your video project. Assemble them on the timeline as dictated by the project and then check for timing and pacing. You may find some segments that don't fit for one reason or another. Cheat the timing a little by sliding the clip forward or backward and check again. It's possible to divide a clip in the NLE to stretch things out a bit. If necessary, you can also trim an audio clip the same way you trim a video clip. Just make sure the message is intact.
10 - Delivery
Before you hand the finished project over to the client, check it on a variety of playback systems. Obviously, your computer is the first method, but burn a DVD and play it on the home theater system, in the kids room, even in the car, if possible. If you find something you don't like, fix it before the client sees it. Even then, nothing is set in stone. If the client wants further changes, make them gladly until they sign off on the project. There's nothing better than a happy client.
Sidebar: Funny Names
The area around my city has a few smaller towns with funny names: Oronogo, Duquesne and Duenweg - pronounced Or-o-no-go, Du-kane and Dun-e-weg, respectively. Don't ask. A few times a year, businesses in these towns hire out-of-state production companies to create TV commercials. Unfortunately, they often forget to spell the funny names phonetically for the voice over talent. When these commercials air, the TV stations and cable operators receive several calls from angry residents. It usually takes a week or two, but a new version magically appears with the correct pronunciation. It makes me laugh every time.
Contributing Editor Hal Robertson learned to record voice overs at a tiny radio station back in the '80s. He doesn't miss those days.