10 things (well the first of 10 anyway!)
10 things you need to know when starting out in voiceover. I really should have thought this through as I don’t have 10 things that come to mind at the moment. But it sounded like a good round number so let’s go with it! Over the next 10 weeks I am going to focus on 10 skills or things you need to know when you first start out on your voiceover journey. The kind of things that make the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” ring true. Some of these things will be easy and take a small amount of time and others will be difficult and take a long time and lots of patience. But they are all things that are essential for a successful career in voiceover.
Number 1: Training your ear. (Now I’m questioning if I should have started at 10 and counted down). Anyway. We are going to start with one of the hardest things when you first start out on your voiceover journey. You maybe thinking “what do you mean by training your ear?”. Great question! Hearing the nuances of quality audio is a skill. Now, you may be thinking that everyone’s ears are the same and we all hear the same things. Yes, you may hear the same things but how your brain processes it is a different matter.
Believe or not, you can train your ears. In fact, it is essential in voiceover so you can understand whether your recordings are of a high enough quality to book jobs. And this isn’t something that I am just making up. Do a quick search on Google for “train your ears” and a plethora of sites will come up with ways to help do just that. Now, most of them will be in reference to music and pitch but the principles are the same for what a voiceover needs. Some great resources are Isotope Ear Training and SoundGym to start off with. These are designed to help audio engineers so they can understand how to equalize and make certain soundtracks sound better. You may not think you need to know this, but it is the listening with intention that is important. There is no need to become a master audio engineer, but you do need to learn the basics.
Still don’t believe me? The easiest way to show you this in practice is to share the first ever audition that I submitted on an online casting site (2016) compared to a version of it that I recorded for this blog using my current set-up (2022). Click this link to hear them. The first clip is the old file and the second is my current set up. Now, I cringe when I hear that first audition, but it is a very important point to make. I truly thought that audition would book 6 years ago. I didn’t have the trained ear to hear that it was terrible. I didn’t know what to listen for. And that isn’t even discussing the terrible read!
There are so many things wrong with that first audition. I was working with a coach at the time that came from radio. He was adamant that you didn’t need a condenser microphone for voiceover. He recommended using a dynamic mic so that room tone wouldn’t be so much of an issue. WRONG! You can hear how the dynamic microphone sounds “tinny” or hollow. It just doesn’t have the warm engaging tone that a quality condenser microphone has. There is also some obvious mouth noise which isn’t great. As the microphone was dynamic, it does not pick up much of the room sound. That is a good thing as it was recorded in an open room with no sound treatment. The important thing is that you must be able to hear the difference between the first and second clip and why the second clip is what you should be aiming for. NOTE: Not all dynamic microphones sound bad. There are some that are good quality, like the Sure SM7B or the Electro-voice RE20.
Here are some more clips with poor audio quality. Before we go any further, these were taken from the Edge Studio forum and are no way a reflection of the talent of the person reading. I am not here to critique the talent. This is for audio quality purposes only.
ROOM NOISE: This first file was recorded on a phone. The reason I chose this file was because you can hear the obvious room tone in the background. It has a low frequency hum and hiss. There are ways you can remove that hum but to do that, you must remove that whole frequency spectrum, and there will be parts of your voice within that spectrum. So, you may get rid of the room noise, but your voice audio will suffer. Here is a version of the file where I have edited some breaths/pauses. I did not fill the spaces with room tone. You can really hear the room tone disappear before the word Dublin and then start again. This is quite jarring.
This second file shows what can happen if you process the audio to remove excessive room tone. The frequencies that have been removed give the voice a metallic/unnatural sound which makes this unacceptable for professional projects.
ROOM REFLECTION: This file is an example of how a poorly treated audio space reflects waveforms back into the microphone and give the sound a bit of reverb or echo. It sounds like he is using an OK quality condenser microphone, but the reflections make this pretty much unusable by a top client. What struck me was that the echo was much more pronounced on my studio headphones than my studio speakers. That is why it is important to listen on both. This file also contains a few plosives. These are the sound of too much air flowing over the microphone. It happens the most at “forces” and “to create”. To prevent this, he needs to have a pop filter installed in front of the mic or position the microphone “off-axis” from his mouth to ensure the burst of air do not flow directly over the mic capsule.
Once again, the important thing is that you learn to detect what makes audio bad. You can have the best voice or acting ability in the world but if your audio is so poor then it is unusable, and you won’t win any jobs. The only way to detect these issues is to practice, practice and practice critical listening. And it takes time. I don’t know of any great tips that significantly speed up the process.
You’ll be amazed what you start to hear! I had never really heard of mouth noise before. It is the clicky sound that can be heard in my 2016 audition and the Dublin audio file. It is caused by mucus in your mouth and can be mitigated by staying hydrated throughout the day. But you must remember – it takes nearly 3 hours for your water intake to start to hydrate you. There are also other remedies like green apples, chewing gum with Xylitol in it, brushing your teeth before recording and many more. The point is that as your ear becomes trained, you will start to hear mouth clicks EVERYWHERE! And I mean EVERYWHERE! And it will probably start to bug you (I know it bugs me!). But it should also give you the knowledge that you are starting to train your ears and hear things that you never noticed before.
And here’s a top tip. If you want to know what the highest quality voice overs sound like, go to voice talent agency websites. One of my favorites is Natural Sounding Voices in the UK. Nearly all of the talent on that site have to submit a dry audio sample to show what their studio sounds like. These are the people who are working and more importantly booking in the industry. Your audio MUST sound as good as theirs if you are going to compete. Download a few samples from that site sound close to your voice. Then, listen carefully to it. Over and over again. You should then write down what they say and then read the same script in your studio and record. If you know how, splice your voice into different parts of the professional voice (if you can’t do that just listen to them back-to-back over and over again). The aim is to get your audio up to the same standard.
Don’t lose heart. Although it takes time to learn this new skill, there are people out there who can help you get your audio up to a high standard while you learn. Resources like Jordan Reynolds, Tim Tippets, Uncle Roy, George Whittam, Rob Bee and many more. They will analyze your audio for a reasonable fee and let you know what you need to do to get it where it needs to be. It is money very well spent and is an investment in your business. It’s like buying a set of experienced ears while you are training yours! But don’t get too comfortable with them, I much prefer your face with your own ears!