Step by Step Guide to DIY Voice Over

This article takes aim at recording and mixing voice overs. The build-up covers the considerations to your studio space, and building a DIY voice recording booth.

Do you record a lot of voice overs or vocals? If so keep reading!

Create a Voice Booth

Having a flexible space allows you to configure and arrange your booth to suit your needs. Voice overs and other methods of vocal capturing utilize similar techniques when it comes to setup and recording. Pick a room in your house that offers the right amount space and the most isolation from the street while putting as much space between you and common sources of household noise. These include: foot traffic, plumbing, kitchens, bathrooms, and the living room. There is a reason basements are popular choices for studio conversions.

Unless you are recording in a space the size of a walk-in closet, you will want to shrink your recording area in order to get a tighter sound. I might have only been half joking about the closet idea. If we take the average sliding door closet that is about 3 to 4 feet deep, 6 to 7 feet wide; and 8 to 9 feet tall, you have a reasonable, albeit slightly cramped, foundation for a vocal booth. Try and define a front and back in order to setup absorption and reflection points, add sound treatment, lighting and voila!

For those that don’t have a spare closet, you can easily create a free standing vocal booth using two acoustically treated right angle panels, a portable stand mounted vocal booth and possibly some spare acoustic panels.

DIY Freestanding Vocal Booth

1. Purchase two tall wooden panels; these can be cheap wooden closet doors.

2. Mount the two panels in a right angle to each other; you can use regular right angle brackets for this.

3. Cover the insides with acoustic tiles; lower cost ones will do just fine.

4. Set up the stand mounted booth in front of your panels, then move the booth back and forth to adjust the amount of deadening.

When treating your space, consider both walls and ceilings. Take your new freestanding right angle booth and place it beneath your treated ceiling, play with the position and rotation to deaden or open up your sound to taste. Aim for a dry sound, but not so dry where it feels the sound is falling out of the air. And the best part: you can store your booth in the corner and gain some bonus treatment!

DIY Freestanding Vocal Booth
DIY Freestanding Vocal Booth

Record Your Voice Over

Now that you have a recording booth we can move on to recording. Follow these guidelines and you will be making great recordings in no time!

Mic Choice

Common mic choices for this application are shotgun and condenser models. Both are sensitive and directional and provide good pick up.The Sennheiser K6 module can offer both variants through the ME64 cardioid capsule and ME66 shotgun capsule.

Voice Control and Mic Technique

Being able to deliver vocal performances is as much a skill as it is a talent; this applies equally to dialogue and singing. Having a great voice only gets you so far in this case. It’s normal to provide some coaching on mic technique and control — we all have to learn at some point.

A simple way of looking at the relationship between your voice level and distance from the microphone is, quieter is closer and louder is farther. This is assuming that the gain remains static and the the talent is taking charge of controlling their performance. The logic behind this technique is retaining the ability to project your voice and delivering a natural performance.

Mic technique takes time to develop and people have a natural tendency tense up and address the microphone like it’s a sleeping bear waiting to bite. Make sure that the microphone setup is approachable and inviting. Adjust the height and boom reach to suit the performer’s needs. If they need room to flail their arms around, make sure they have it.

Mic technique takes time to develop and people have a natural tendency tense up and address the microphone like it’s a sleeping bear waiting to bite.

I mentioned backing away from the microphone as a method of controlling volume. This achieves two things. The microphone is no longer blasted a close proximity by a high energy signal, and the louder signal now has a bit more room to breathe and to pick up some room characteristics.

You can fake microphone control by adjusting your gain, fader riding and in mixdown. You can either do this on the fly or break up your session around the content. Recording passages based on their levels and content is another option. You wouldn’t want to risk clipping a recording because you failed to adjust for a transition between talking and shouting.

A few test passes will give you a bearing of the artist’s mic control and how to best adjust your approach.

Tools of the Trade

Pop filters and windscreens are a must because of the huge benefits they bring to reducing plosives and sibilance. Their effects on harsh “p” and “s” sounds is invaluable.

Preamplifier and microphone pairings are important and can help bring out flattering qualities in your equipment. A quality audio interface will provide ample amplification for the job, but don’t be afraid to experiment and shop around for a nice tube mic pre-amplifier. Tubes are fun to use, and when worked the right way, can inject a pleasant quality to a recording. I purchased a pair of Blue Bluebirds a few years ago and while I loved the microphones, I always wished they had pad and filter switches. The microphones were extremely sensitive, a problem resolved since then with the Bluebird SL. I always ended up pairing them with a tube pre-amp because it allowed me to drive the microphones harder by applying a -20 dB pad to it. The result was a warmer tone with some tube distortion and compression.

Mix It Down

Decisions made during the recording process affect your mixdown and vice versa. The information below is hardly an exhaustive list of mixing techniques and tools; for more information please see our other article, “Know Your Audio Signal Processing Techniques”.

Mixing

A great technique for mixing voice and vocals is to ride the fader and capture it as automation. When done right it captures and extends the natural qualities of the performance relative to the mix. Once you have your fader movements relatively figured out, you can make a bigger commitment to your compression settings. There are plug-ins that can do this for you, such as the Vocal Rider by Waves.

Compression

Compression can be added before or after the fact; there is nothing stopping you from adding more down the line, you just can’t remove it from a recording. Whichever way you look at it, you will be adding some amount of compression in order to bring up your mix levels and decrease the disparity between louder and quieter sections of your recordings.

Equalization

If you were given only two signal processing tools to use for all eternity they would always be compression and equalization. Your booth should have already delivered a clean recording. Start by removing the usual amount of proximity effect and naturally occurring lowend. Next will come the adjustments in the 500, 2500, and 3500 Hz ranges to balance off tone and clarity. The higher registers will address the presence of sibilance and room sound.

De-esser

Make use of a de-esser if you are still having to deal with harsh sibilance that survived the pop filter. A notch EQ can also be used in these cases.

Reverb

Add reverb to suit your function, if you are working with video there is a good chance you will be using some form of buss reverb that is already processing a series of environmental sounds through.

Afterthoughts

You will want to account for these creature comforts:

  • Add the SMTPE time code to the script ahead of the session
  • A music stand to hold up scripts, pages, and notes
  • A video monitor with the video and SMTPE time displayed
  • Closed back headphones and adjustable volume control for the artist
  • Seating, water and a pen for your artist to take notes with

With these things considered, recording and mixing voice overs will be a more pleasant experience for everyone involved, and you will no doubt produce better results than you would recording in an untreated garage. Paying attention to your space, your equipment and your mix will ensure you capture great sounding voice overs.

Blag spends his time between web development, IT, and audio. His background is oddly enough in the same things. Blag works in IT and is a contributing editor at Videomaker where he mainly focuses on, you guessed it, audio.

Blag Ivanov
Blag spends his time between DevOps, IT, and audio. He works at a software company and is a contributing editor at Videomaker where he mainly focuses on, you guessed it, audio!

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