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In this article, I am going to lead you through the stages of how to do an excellent voice-over for video.
First, we will look at how to prepare for recording.
Second, we will look at a simple studio set-up, i.e. the essential gear you need to buy.
So let’s get started.
Write a good script for your voice-overs
Before you do anything write a script!
Very few of us can riff into an open mic and get it right, so it is essential to know the words before you start.
This is extremely important if you are using the video as a selling tool for your business or product.
Remember, put the dialogue together with the forever mantra: beginning – middle – end, no matter if you are selling paper clips or tractors, it’s interesting to you, so make it attractive to everyone else.
You must convey a message to the viewer and bring them along on your journey.
If you are making an action or a wildlife video, or even the family on holiday in Spain, look at what you have caught and find the best words you can to express them.
Make the words, sad, funny, dramatic – straight/ conversational, but get the message across that you want to make.
The visuals will not say it on their own; you need to help them along.
Creating the right environment for recording
I am fortunate as I do voice-overs as part of my job to have the perfect setting to work from.
My study is under the eaves of the house painted to look like an old medieval chapel, with red blue and gold everywhere, and 1000 books at my back – great for insulation and giving a dead sound.
What I am saying is find somewhere that is yours, a shed, a man-cave, cellar, a place you feel comfortable, and set things up where you can see your computer screen.
Good posture is essential for a good voice-over
Posture is essential, standing is good, as you are drawing sound up from the pit of your stomach.
Then again so is sitting – what I favor – it gives you an edgier delivery as if you are struggling to rise from the chair.
Oh, and remember if you choose to sit, get a good seat, posture is all-important, a firm back will also aid delivery. It is all in that one-word: delivery.
It is how you say things, how you project the words, and how you can make the listener believe in them, that matters.
If you create a place where you feel comfortable there’s a good chance that others will like the atmosphere as well, e.g., when you invite another voice-artist to record their voice.
Conveying the message you wish to get across
Speaking into a microphone is an unnatural state in which to find yourself, which many professionals would probably agree.
You do not have to be a trained actor to convey the correct message you want, although you need to be familiar with the script before you start.
Don’t try to remember the words, ease yourself into it and relax.
Before recording tries looking into a mirror, try a selfie if you must, try in on family members.
But find the rhythm of the piece, noting where your voice dips and falls.
If it helps with a marker pen, highlight certain words that need emphasizing, that way you will know when to raise or lower your voice.
Remember you are not an actor so don’t expect too much, but practice and fluency will only raise those old confidence levels.
Be aware of what you eat and drink before your voice-over
Never do anything behind alcohol.
Also, don’t drink anything fizzy, the gas builds up, and you will waste a lot of time burping – go on try it!
Drink plain water and lots of it as your mouth will naturally dry with nerves and the body – not to mention your throat – needs to hydrate regularly.
I would also advise against eating before recording. Personally, on the days, I am doing a lot of it I eat a light breakfast cereal/muesli and certainly coffee as it is a stimulant.
Leave alone the big-breakfast/lunch it bloats you, makes you sluggish and slows you up.
It’s not what you say. It’s the way that you say it
‘Oh, God… that’s not me. Is it?’ I am sorry if you spoke the words, it probably is.
No-one ever gets the sound in their head. They think they speak in a particular way, with a specific rhythm to their voice; but once recorded, no matter the device you are using it will alter and it’s sometimes hard to accept this.
It is part psychology; your brain is telling you something that you do not recognize, and your regional accent or language will always affect this.
I include a sound bite below. It’s a somewhat silly phrase I recorded. But certainly, it conveys a message. Speak, but remember the words.
The line is simply, ‘That’s not my specialty I’m afraid.’:
It’s an easy phrase, but it is good exercise. Try it yourself!
Start by phrasing the words how you always do. Speak how you usually speak.
Then practice it slowly. Practice it fast. Try it with different intonations. Try to sound glad, angry, or sad. See if you can convey different emotions.
Record yourself each time and listen to each take. What works? What doesn’t work? Find out why and what you can improve upon.
Always remember, the most important thing is to get the message through.
Let me tell you a funny little story.
One thousand years ago way back in time, in the annals of music history, I had a friend, a gentleman called, ‘Morty,’ to those that knew him well.
He was a great singer, small in stature, but a belter of a voice, and an energetic stage presence.
In the studio, he was recording a ballad with an excellent group of recognized musicians behind him and a full orchestra at his back.
But something was wrong. He wasn’t feeling the song.
They tried to take after… nothing was happening.
The engineer stopped the session and disappeared.
Returning a few minutes later he had a brown-paper-bag under his arm, from which he produced an old-fashioned microphone, a thing not seen in a studio since the ’50s.
After a few minutes he had set it up, but before they did another take, he whispered into the producer’s ear. The producer then left the booth and whispered the words into Morty’s ear.
Morty was shocked.
But he nailed the next take in one. And the overdubs. And the harmonies.
What were the whispered words? ‘The mic was the original that Bing Crosby crooned White Christmas into, the biggest selling Xmas song of all time!’
The moral of the story?
Who cares if it is fictitious or a downright lie. It did the trick.
It’s all about being comfortable, confident and at ease with your surroundings, and with yourself – which only comes with practice.
The basic studio setup
To record a voice-over, all you need is a microphone, a program for recording your voice, an audio interface, and some way of storing your recording – like a computer, a mobile phone or a Zoom-recorder.
You really can get acceptable results on necessary equipment, something that need not cost you a bank loan, or a heart attack.
As your confidence grows and you gain the knowledge to take that next step, you can always upgrade.
A good computer whether it be a top of the range desktop, a good laptop, or even a decent tablet or mobile phone, can all do the job in varying degrees of success.
And if you’re making videos, you already have the software to record your audio as well.
Another option is to use a handheld recorder such as a Zoom. This is great for recording voice when you’re on the road.
You can pair up a zoom with a lavalier microphone, a dynamic microphone or a large condenser if you prefer.
Any decent video editing programs such as Premiere Pro, Final Cut or iMovie will allow you to record audio directly into the timeline.
If you prefer to manage the audio recording in a separate – and less bloated in terms of features – program, you could go with the free software Audacity. Audacity is available for both MAC and PC and is free.
Microphones for recording voice-over
A microphone, no matter the type, is nothing more than a tool for capturing your voice.
A microphone works by turning the sounds you make into a fully formed electrical signal which can be recorded on your recording device of choice.
There are loads of different types, each having its function. But the five below are the ones you need to worry about.
You can start by using the built-in microphone. I’ve found that the limited frequency range those microphones can catch, actually sits well in a sound mix, which also includes music.
In-built microphones often record just the frequency range needed for intelligibility. So you won’t get the low-end bass which provides “body” to your sound, nor the silky smooth top. But your listeners will still be able to understand the message. – Which is the critical part?
I, unfortunately, am a little breath heavy and one of the quirks of built-in microphones, as opposed to externals, is that they pick up all of this and records it for posterity.
In-built microphones aren’t directional either, so if you’re in a room with a lot of reverb or noise, they’ll record this as well. So make sure you’re in a quiet room if you use the microphone on your laptop or phone.
Play with it you may be surprised at the results.
An USB-microphone is an inexpensive way to upgrade from your in-built microphone to something more full sounding.
They are a trendy choice amongst podcast producers and vloggers.
Plug them into your USB-port, switch them on, fire up your recording software of choice, and you’re good to go.
The good thing about USB-microphones is that they don’t require an external soundcard or preamp to work.
Have a look at the Blue Yeti USB condenser microphone, The Audio-Technica AT2020USB, and the Rode NT-USB condenser which is some of the best choices out there.
You don’t get the sound quality of a professional microphone coupled with a good preamp and audio interface. But they do the job.
An excellent dynamic microphone is a safe bet for recording voice-overs.
Dynamic microphones contain in its capsule an internal diaphragm that vibrates – rather like your uvula in the mouth – when sound hits it.
The capsule is fitted with a coil that acts as a magnetic field. It is the movement of the two that creates an electrical signal that sends the sound wave.
Dynamic Microphones don’t require Phantom Power.
They are very heavy, and robust and so favored in live situations. In the studio, they are often used to record snare drums and set up directly to an amplifier to record guitars.
They are often semi-directional with a cardioid pattern and not as sensitive as condenser microphones (see description below). This makes dynamic microphones an excellent choice for recording your voice in less than acoustically ideal situations.
Popular choices include Electro-Voice RE20, Shure SM57, Shure SM58, and Shure SM7B.
Be aware that dynamic microphones – especially like the Shure SM7B – require a good pre-amplifier to give it enough power to do a decent recording.
Favorite preamps are to power an SM7B (and a lot of other great microphones) are Great River ME-1 NV and Avalon U5.
You can also use a TritonAudio FetHead which utilizes the phantom power to boost the signal (+27 dB) from the microphone to your audio interface but does not transfer any Phantom Power to your dynamic microphone.
The SM7B is a solid choice and very popular amongst professional YouTubers and recording engineers.
Another popular choice is the large-diaphragm condenser microphone. It does an admirable job on both vocals and acoustic instruments.
Its sensitivity captures the nuances of the human voice and wooden instruments alike, giving both a warm and rounded tone.
It is designed to capture the voice at its most emotional, forceful and tender – and all points in-between.
You need to know, that a large-diaphragm condenser microphone requires 48V phantom power to work. So make sure your preamp or soundcard provides this.
Also, a large-diaphragm condenser microphone used for voice-over work usually features a cardioid pick-up pattern.
When you pair this with the high sensitivity of the microphone, you’ll find that these microphones tend to demand a good acoustically regulated room for the best results.
You can’t remove a bad sounding room reverb from a recording!
If you don’t have a good sounding room, you’re better of using a dynamic directional microphone.
Or, you can buy an isolating shield to shield the microphone from the surrounding acoustics such as the Monoprice Microphone Insolation Shield, the Neewer Foldable Microphone Isolation Shield, or the SE Electronics Portable Vocal Booth.
Due to their sensitivity, condenser microphones require a shock mount to reduce transmitted noise like floor vibrations and handling noises transmitted through your microphone stand. So look for a microphone which includes a shock-mount.
Popular choices are microphones from Rode (like the Rode NT1A), Neumann (like the Neumann TLM103), and Audio-Technica (like the AT4040).
You should buy a couple of good-quality microphones stands as well.
If you record other voice-over artists too, you should get a floor stand with a boom arm for extra flexibility.
That way you can move the microphone around, up/down and re-position them to your heart’s desire.
If you prefer to sit while you record your voice, you can place the microphone stand next to your table and then use the boom arm to position the microphone in front of you.
That way you can watch your manuscript on the screen and control your software of choice at the same time.
Another option is to buy an adjustable microphone desktop stand with a suspension boom scissor arm.
You attach the microphone stand to your table and use the adjustable arm to easily place the microphone in front of you when you need it. When you’re done recording, it is easy to push out of the way and get started on the editing.
You can also use it while standing which is nice when you need to stretch the legs a bit.
If you want to use a professional microphone, you’ll need a decent audio interface to connect it to the computer.
The one which comes bundled with your motherboard in your computer won’t do the trick as they are often noisy, prone to interference, and can suffer from latency issues when your audio tracks and effects build up.
The job of the audio interface is to convert the analog signal coming from the microphone into a digital signal, which can be manipulated on the computer. And then again back again into an analog signal, you can hear from your speakers.
What I’m trying to say is that you should look for an audio interface that has decent AD-DA-converters (Analogue to Digital and Digital to Analogue converters).
It should offer XLR-inputs for your microphone, ¼” jack inputs, and +48-volt phantom power.
Another important thing is a ¼” headphone output with a volume button.
You should also look for a dedicated volume knob for your external speakers, and a mute button, so you can quickly mute these in case of feedback.
Take a look at audio interfaces made from RME, Presonus, Focusrite, Apogee, and Universal Audio which are all reliable brands.
Headphones are one of those must-have items that you really can’t do without.
In a working studio environment there are two types of headphones in use: closed back and open back.
Closed-back – primarily used for tracking – when you ’re putting down and layering of one track, one on top of the other. Closed-back headphone benefit for having no sound leakage, but can be a bit bass-heavy due to the closed design.
Open back/semi-open back – used for mixing music. These types of headphones have a more flat frequency curve (less bass-heavy), but they leak sound into the environment, which can be recorded by the microphone.
Closed-back should always be the beast of choice.
Now, being partly deaf myself – yes, you guessed it – too much ear abuse over the years. I am a great believer in headphones.
I have always subscribed to the theory that it gives you a more intimate relationship with what you have recorded.
It brings you closer–I think at least–to the whole process, as there is no outside interference, and you hear all too clearly what is there.
Popular good-quality choices include headphones from Audio-Technica, AKG, Sennheiser, and Beyerdynamic.
If you use a condenser microphone, you also need a pop-filter that you can fit onto an existing microphone stand.
Putting it as simply as possible, it’s one of those essential little items that you cannot do without.
The human voice tends to produce sounds that audio capturing devices can’t handle.
For example, the letters P and B, produce a lot of wind – try saying them out loud. Filters deaden the effect and flatten the sounds.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can make a pop-filter yourself by bending an old metal hanger into an oval shape and stretch the fabric of a pair of pantyhose or sheer tights onto it and place it in front of the microphone.
You need some cables. Microphones and audio interfaces which feature XLR-plugs are always the best choice due to their shielding. They are also much harder to pull out accidentally.
The next best thing is ¼” jack inputs.
You should only go with mini-jacks if you’re on a budget.
Always remember the old saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Less really is more, because you learn to produce good work within the parameters and equipment you have. Just hang in there.
I hope you have found this article interesting and learned a little about how to get started with your voice-over. It’s a chapter in video production, which there isn’t written so much about, but a good voice-over is an essential ingredient in many videos, so it deserves a bit of attention.
Feel free to put links to your voice-over work in the comments. I would love to hear your results and what gear you used to achieve them.
About the author
Bob Robertson is a professional voice-over artist. He has done work for a London Studio producing and filming in-studio videos on hand-held equipment. Bob has also worked for MTV for a while in production and later became a producer for film music. He has written, produced, and created the voice-over and music for radio commercials, and he has also scripted a number of radio plays. Oh, and he also writes novels. Website: http://www.thenovelideaandassociates.net/