I have been recording voiceovers in New York City for 4 years, and in that time I have learnt a great deal about recording voice sessions in pro studios. Like most voice talent, a lot of my projects these days require me to voice from my own studio, but there are still projects that require (particularly in a major hub such as NYC) a pro studio environment.
I want to talk a little about both the process and the approach I have found works best when visiting a pro studio and working with clients, engineers and colleagues face to face.
Often when I'm recording at home I will be able to work at the drop of a hat, sometimes turning projects around within hours, when working in a pro studio you will likely have more time to prepare, as it takes some planning on the part of the producer, agent, client etc… The fact that you have more of a heads up gives you the opportunity to be better prepared for the session.
Preparation begins a few hours before the recording is due to commence. Make sure not to strain your voice, eat anything that will compromise it, or tire it in any way in the hours leading up to the session. Make sure to wear quiet, VO friendly clothing (nothing that makes noise). When I'm travelling to the session If it is a cold day, I may choose a cab over the subway here in NYC, to avoid being in the cold air too long. Basic and sensible precautions to make sure your voice is in tip top shape.
Try to arrive 15 minutes before the designated start time, this is enough time to get prepared if the studio is ready, but not too early that you're hanging around and/or pressuring the studio or the client to hurry. Use this time to calm any nerves, catch your breath, read through the script (if you have one) and get into that professional zone that means you will work to your best ability.
When you meet everyone in the room who are working with you on the session, greet them with a smile and a handshake, state your name and do your best to remember theirs! There is usually an opportunity for some un VO related chat and then some discussion about the project. You may watch any video footage, or examples of the style the producer is going for. I like to use this opportunity to establish a professional but relaxed atmosphere, take part in any jokes that may be thrown around, and just generally try to put everyone at ease. If you are nervous, use your acting ability to hide it (even from yourself), a nervous disposition doesn't help your performance, and to be completely honest, it doesn't engender confidence in you. Time and experience reduce nervousness. You can also use this time to clarify any pronunciation questions you may have, which you may have previously identified if you had the script in advance (not always the case).
Follow the direction of the engineer, when he/she says they are ready for you, go into the booth with your script, pens/pencils, drink, anything else you may need, and stand or sit in the recording position. The engineer will now adjust the mic, music stand and lighting to the optimum position. Make sure you are comfortable, both in position and temperature and prepare to begin.
The engineer will likely ask you for a sample to get a level. This is probably the first time anyone else in the room will hear your take on the script, so you can use this opportunity to gauge how close you are to their vision. Make sure you can hear talkback from the engineer and the client/producer. You can also decide how much of yourself you want to hear in your headphones, this can be adjusted by yourself in the booth (often via a control that the engineer will point out) or by the engineer in the control room. Bear in mind that if you adjust the level in the booth that may affect the talkback level, so asking the engineer to turn you down may be a better option. If you don't want to interrupt the engineer you could slip off one ear of the headphones, and/or move them forward or back on your head to reduce the level, this will also affect the talkback if routed to your headphones. If wearing headphones is uncomfortable for you, some studios will have a speaker set up in the booth for talkback, and you won't have to wear them unless you need playback.
Establish with the production team how you and they would like to record, for example; in chunks, page by page, or line by line. Then when everyone is happy you are ready to begin!
This is the time when your entire focus is on delivering the script to your best ability, lose any inhibitions, nerves or awkwardness. But above all, embrace the process and enjoy it!
If you make a mistake, pause and continue from a suitable point. Everyone makes mistakes, do not let it phase you!
Interpret and apply any feedback. Do whatever is asked of you, if the producer wants three variations of each line, give them that. Every third word yelled? Do it! At the same time, if you need to rest your voice and take a drink for 30 seconds, ask for it! It is very unlikely you will be turned down. When receiving feedback from the client, do your best to mark any notes on the script in whatever way makes most sense to you. If the client wants an accent on a certain word, I will put a (^) above that word, or if they want a word less emphasised I will put a (v) under it. If a section needs to be broken up more, I will use (/), use highlighters or any other technique that you can read on the script easily, try not to leave anything to memory. Sometimes I write general comments at the top of the page if I get repeated notes. "Maintain quick pace" or "State company name strongly" or (one I received yesterday) "Less GROWL".
Once the client and/or producer is happy with your work, collect your things and leave the booth for the control room. This is usually a positive time, and any stress from the recording process has usually dissipated by this point. Do your best to keep the atmosphere professional but light hearted. You may have to sign documents for your agent, releases, W9's, NDA's etc… Make sure you have everything, everyone is happy and has everything they need, shake everyones hand and thank them, and you can leave, satisfied after another job well done.
I would say that the vast majority of my sessions pan out this way, but of course occasionally there will be times where problems occur, general stress, time limitations, technical problems can all disrupt a session, but there is no reason why you can't maintain your professional cool, and overcome any obstacles that may present themselves.
This is a short and very unspecific blog post aimed at microphone use in the VO world, and how you can use placement and mic choice to affect the sound of the recording.
There is a plethora of information about microphones and their use on the internet, as well as how and when to use different types, and I won't just repeat everything here. However I will give a brief synopsis, and direct you to some good resources.
As this is a voiceover blog I will focus this toward that application, but most if not all that I am going to talk about applies to all other microphone use.
First things first I am going to commit the ultimate sin of asking you to leave this page and read a very long document. But before you go please pay particular attention to the different types of microphone (dynamic, condenser, tube,ribbon) and the general characteristics and applications of these. Also take the time to really study the polar patterns.
Here it is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microphone
OK so now I expect (if you have come back) you are somewhat sick of microphone talk, so I will stick to the big headlines and how it applies to the world of VO.
Often in voiceover you will be using a large diaphragm condenser mic, this has a broad frequency response, by which I mean it hears way down low, and way up high (and everything in-between). You may occasionally come across dynamic mic's such as the SM7b or RE20 (often used in radio), they have a specific frequency range that compliments certain voices, but they are somewhat specific and have their limitations.
As you have studied the Wikipedia page you are now aware that different mics have different polar patterns, and depending on what you are recording you will choose one polar pattern over another. Some mic's have one pattern, some give you the option of a few.
A cardioid mic picks up sound in a mushroom shape around the front of the grill, so if you are speaking within this mushroom your voice will be within the mic's ideal range for sound pickup. Undesirable noises such as computer fans can be less intrusive if placed well outside of this region. We call this off axis rejection and it can be used to great effect. Another example is a mic with a Figure 8 pattern which has a very pronounced deaf region between the two pickup regions. Have a look at the polar patterns diagram on the Wikipedia page and you will see the range of options available, and how these can be used to your advantage.
Sticking with a cardioid mic we also have to take into consideration the proximity effect. It is very simple, the closer you get to the mic, the more the mic will emphasize the lower frequencies in your voice. Radio DJ's will often get so close to the mic they give themselves lip burn on the grill in an effort to get a bass resonance to their voice. You can use this to your advantage if you don't have much bass in your voice, moving closer will exaggerate what you have. Conversely if your voice is boomy and muddy, moving back a few inches will reduce this bass buildup.
However mics set to the omni pickup pattern do not have proximity effect. The benefit to this is that you can get up very close without a change in tone, you do not get any off axis rejection but as you are now right on the grill of the mic, the signal to noise ratio is very high (in favor of the signal!). The mic in omni mode is also much less likely to pop.
Your mic may have a high pass filter switch. This simply removes ultra low frequencies (typically 100 cycles and below) from the mic signal before it hits your pre amp. This can help to avoid a muddy sound and possibly remove hum, or accidents like knocking the mic stand, or the rumble of a truck driving by outside.
So there it is, a very brief outline of the microphone as used in the world of VO. The microphone is just one part of a chain of equipment and processes that go toward the finished product, but it is the first piece of equipment that your voice encounters and it has a huge impact on your finished product.
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to reply here or shoot me a message.
Until next time…
I thought I would write a brief outline of the process when hiring a voice talent. I get a real mixture of clients, ones who have been hiring voice talent for many years, pre and post internet, for large and small companies and some who have never hired a VO, and are unsure of the process. I will do my best to outline the process as accurately as possible. I should add that I am writing this from my individual perspective and this will not necessarily apply if you hire other voice talent.
So the first hurdle is finding a voice for your project. There are three main options out there for you:
1. Google. Type in “voiceover” and the style/gender/age range and go from there. Most talent these days have an online presence and they take great care to accurately tag their voice. However this is a somewhat hit or miss approach to finding your voice, new talent are entering the business all the time, and have the full range (or not) of experience in business, voicing, and the technical nature of recording and editing. But it's free to give to it a go so why not see what you find!
2. Agencies. If you have a medium to large project you would like voiced you could approach a talent agency with your requirements. It is something of a mystery to me how and why agencies will choose to take on certain new clients, budgets are probably the main criteria. They will not of course spend time contacting talent on their books and then casting for 10% of $100 being paid to the talent. This is a very personalized service, and a time consuming one for a number of people, so really consider if your project is appropriate for a talent agency.
3. Online Marketplaces. This is the most common for small to medium sized projects, and an increasing number of large projects are being cast this way too. Different Marketplaces have different ways of working, but you will often be able to sign up in minutes and submit a casting to their roster of talent. Adding key words will narrow down the submissions, so you will receive appropriate proposals from talent that fit your description. You also have the added benefit of seeing their feedback, and work history. Sites such as Voices.com ,Voice123.com and Bodalgo.com are a good place to start. Of course once you find a talent and develop a working relationship any future projects will not necessarily need to be completed through these marketplaces.
Unless you use a company with a step by step process (such as Voices.com) your next step is to choose the talent appropriate for your project from the submissions (or your own curated list) and then contact them to finalize the terms and conditions.
Below are a series of things to consider when finalizing terms, working with the talent and paying them once you are happy with your files.
1. Timeframe. Establish when you need the final file/s by. Final is the key word here, as the first delivery of your script may need some tweaks here and there, and you may be working with a talent that is in a different timezone, which can sometimes mean a slight delay in response. This process is not an exact science so try to incorporate some wiggle room into the deadline, this way no-one is waiting for the VO further down the pipeline while you iron out the details.
2. Final Cost. Establish with the talent whether the price quoted includes any and/or all edits once the initial script has been delivered. Most reputable talent will include one or two rounds of edits included in the cost. However, all edits are not created equally, if you decide you want to re-write the script once the talent has delivered the original script as desired you may be required to negotiate a slightly higher rate. This is not of course set in stone, a few word changes here and there may not result in the talent having to re-read the entire script again, and they will often be flexible in making changes as part of the initial quote. If however the talent has made a mistake in the reading or pronunciation of the text, or there are technical errors, it is very much the talents responsibility to fix these within the initial quote.
Another thing to consider regarding the cost is the length of term of the voiceover. Some projects will require a recurring payment (such as advertising) on an annual basis. Most projects though are what's called a “full buyout” which means the client can use the recording in whatever capacity, and for as long as they like. It is best to confirm this from the outset.
3. Delivery format. Audio can be delivered in many formats, and audio/video editors may have a preference as to which they prefer. Most would like an uncompressed format like WAV or AIFF, but they may prefer a smaller file size like a high quality MP3. Certain phone systems may require very specific file formats with sample rate and bitrate requirements that are not common. It is best to establish these technical specifications before sending the final script to the talent. This could be written on the script or a separate “Tech Specs” document.
4. Script. The script should of course not contain any glaring mistakes in the wording, and ideally spelling. It is an unwritten rule amongst voice talent that you read what is on the page EXACTLY as written, but when it is obvious that it is a small typo or spelling mistake most talent will make the appropriate changes.
Try and think of your script from the talents perspective. It doesn't have to be written as a stage/movie script, but it should be clearly defined. What does that mean I hear you ask?!?! Well if you imagine the script flowing in sections, define that in the script. Use paragraphs to define the pauses and delineations in the spoken version of the script.
Any direction (“add emphasis” or “say softly” or “light hearted” etc...) should be clearly defined as direction, in bold, underlined, highlighted etc... This can be explained at the top of the script. Make it clear where the direction ends and the script starts and stops!
If you have awkward words try using a phonetic way to describe the pronunciation. For example: “Delineation” could be “Dee-lyn-ee-A-shun”. Define how you would like acronyms pronounced For example “B.I.M” could be pronounced “Bee, Eye, Emm” or “Bim”. Common examples of this are email and website addresses.
5. Examples. A talent will often find examples useful in gauging the feel and tone of a piece. YouTube links, audio files recorded by yourself on your phone, anything that can help explain the tone you are going for will help the talent nail the feel!
6. When is payment due? You should define at what point the talent gets paid. Some talent require payment before sending the high quality, finished file, others require payment within 30 days of the dated invoice, which could have been sent before or after the files were delivered. To avoid confusion or frustration it is best to define this before commencing with the project.
7. The Invoice. If you have information that your billing department require such as project ID, or your business address, make sure the talent is aware of this before they send you the invoice. Also you should be clear what currency you will be working in as this is a global industry, and it is very common to be working across continents! The payment method should be established when negotiating the terms before the recording has taken place. Most talent accept a wide range of payment options.
This may seem like a lot to consider, but is actually straightforward once you get started. As with any business transaction as long as mutual consideration is given, the process will be a rewarding, fun and hopefully lucrative one!
If you have any questions or points you would like to make please leave a comment or send me a message, I would live to know what you think.
Thanks for reading!
British voiceover artist privileged to be working in New York City.