Improve Your Voice-Over Techniques

Posted on by Larry

Like many of us, my brother, John, was looking for a way to occupy his spare time. He decided to record audio books. Recently, he sent me some sample work and asked for my advice.

I had so much fun answering him that I turned my thoughts into this article. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.


First, and most important, there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing. Recording stories is better than not recording them – bringing the written word to new audiences is always good. And, for a hobby, any approach will work.

That being said, and since you asked for my opinion, here are some things to think about:

PICK THE RIGHT GEAR

Clearly, the best audio recording option is to use a professional audio studio, with perfect sound deadening and mics that cost thousands of dollars. However, in today’s world, that’s no longer possible. Nor, in most cases, affordable. In fact, for voice-over work, it isn’t even necessary.

Still, some basic rules still apply:

For my voice work, I use an AKG C 520 headset mic, with the mic placed about 1” from the corner of my mouth. This feeds into a FocusRite Scarlet 2i2 A/D converter which connects to the computer using USB. These devices run on both Mac and Windows systems.

You can use a USB-connected mic, these are increasing in both variety and quality. But spend a bit more to get better quality. (My price range for good mics is $125 – 350.) Good brands are AKG, Sennheiser, Shure, Rode, Countryman, and Audio-Technica. (There are others.) I prefer a headset because it provides tighter audio and leaves me free to read scripts or run the computer; just keep it to one side of your mouth, not directly in front.

NOTE: A wired mic will always sound better than wireless, generally cost less and be more trouble-free. And with no picture, no one will see the wire.

For audio-only work, I record using Adobe Audition. For my webinars, I record using Telestream ScreenFlow. For video work, I generally record on a Zoom H4N digital audio recorder. These allow me to adjust record levels so that I record around – 12 dB.

More than anything else, using the right mic will give your voice work a professional, tight and noise-free sound; providing the perfect place to start your mix.

YOU ARE NOT READING – YOU ARE ACTING

When it comes to recording, people can’t see you read – they can only hear you. This means you need to capture their imagination using only your voice. You can no longer read – you need to ACT! This does not mean accents or funny voices, unless you are really, REALLY good at them. Rather it means that you are emphasizing pauses, beats, emotions and word-play more than you would in real life.

When I’m narrating, I’m waving my arms and moving my body to help me put the extra emphasis I need into the words I’m saying. Yet, when you listen to the results, all this extra “punch” just sounds natural.

ALWAYS be yourself – just be a bit more of yourself than usual. (Obviously this technique won’t work on camera, but, then, people can see you and watch your expressions as you tell your stories.)

USE MUSIC APPROPRIATELY

I am not a fan of “wall-to-wall” music – it diminishes the reader and reading. Putting music as an underscore throughout a reading is a tacit acknowledgement that the actor needs emotional help. If your story is THAT weak, improve your story; don’t just add music and hope for the best.

Music is more powerful when used sparingly. Why? Because music drives emotions. This means you use music when you need to:

Keep in mind that music is HEAVILY protected by copyright. Don’t use any music for which you haven’t obtained the rights. I am a long-time fan of SmartSound SonicFire Pro with a huge library of customizable music. Other music websites include: PremiumBeat.com, Adobe Stock Music, Universal Production Music, along with many others.

AUDIO MIXING

All of my audio recordings – and webinars – and training – and, um, everything – goes through an audio mix in Adobe Audition. Avid ProTools is also used by many and is equally powerful.

SUMMARY

Voice-over work combines acting with technology to create magic. It’s your voice telling stories directly into the imagination of the listener.

What could possibly be better than that?


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4 Responses to Improve Your Voice-Over Techniques

  1. Philip Cutting says:

    Excellent advice, especially about the acting! I use an AT2020 USB into Audacity free software. It’s simple, but with lots of options for editing the sound. I use a pair of ATH-M50X headphones. They are very good but, being close fitting noise reducing, my ears get hot after a while!

  2. Al Davis says:

    If you plan to do a lot of it, you can easily (and inexpensively) acquire the foam tiles used to line sound studios. https://www.amazon.com/A2S-Protection-Acoustic-Soundproofing-Fireproof/dp/B01GAMP2S6/ref=sr_1_5?crid=35FF7NB88N9F4&dchild=1&keywords=foam+soundproofing+squares&qid=1596466377&sprefix=foam+soundproofing%2Caps%2C143&sr=8-5

    You only need enough to make 3 panels that are about 3’x3′. You mount the panels on hard cardboard, and tape the sections together; placing the unit on a table. Voila – you have a “mini-studio” that surrounds you.
    Also – don’t forget to shut of an air conditioner, or a refrigerator!

    • I agree you need to turn off the refrigerator to reduce noise. However, don’t forget to turn it back on! I made that mistake ONCE on a location shoot at a private home. Had to compensate the owner $600 for spoiled food. Now I always put my car keys on top of the refrigerator to remind me to turn the fridge back on!

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