You’ve got such a great voice! You should be doing voice overs!
Someone might have told you this, or you may have thought it to yourself, or maybe you are just looking to express yourself creatively, and voice over is the way you decided to go about it. No matter the reason why you started on this journey, the old saying holds true that “We all need to start somewhere”, and gathering information is the best way to start a new venture. Even if you have been at it for a while, it is a good idea to review the steps to see if there is something you missed or that you can improve to help launch your career.
What is voice over?
I said I would start at the beginning… Voice over is where you, as a voice artist or voice actor, will provide the dialogue or narrative (spoken words) used in radio, television, or online media. You won’t be seen, but you will definitely be heard. Now that you know what it is, here is what you will need to get started.
It seems obvious, however, this is something that most prospective voice artists overlook until the end: the recording space. Where exactly will you be recording yourself? Some features of a good recording space:
Where you will not be disturbed
This should be obvious - put your phone on silent, make sure there is no one else in the room, and that no one will barge in on what you consider your best take.
Is free from outside noise
This refers to sound from outside your recording space. You should not be able to hear your neighbour cutting their lawn, traffic noise from the road outside your house, people talking in a nearby room, etc. If you absolutely have no other location, consider various methods of sound-proofing (this is not acoustical treatment!) your room, or even installing a vocal booth that isolates your recording space from the outside.
Has no internal sources of noise
This refers to sounds emanating from inside your recording space. You must be very critical and listen carefully for these sources, because you most likely hear them all the time but don’t consider them a problem The obvious culprits are:
- Your ventilation, furnace, or air conditioning (AC) unit. They can be dealt with by just turning them off while you are recording.
- Incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen lights frequently produce a hum that can be picked up by your recording equipment. Switching to light-emitting diode (LED) lights will stop the hum, and will also not produce any heat in your recording space.
- Your computer or laptop fan will often be audible. You can keep your computer further away or in a different room, or change its cooling settings to ‘passive’ to minimize fan use.
- Your chair will make a noise every time you move. While you are actively recording, the best option is to stand. If you must sit, avoid excessive movement, and definitely listen for noise or creaks in your recordings.
- Your microphone stand will probably have springs, and after moving or even touching your microphone or stand, you should wait until all vibrations are done.
- Believe it or not, your clothing also makes a difference! Polyester and other synthetic fibers will frequently rustle or make noise when handled. Consider cotton or other natural fibers for their quietness.
Has been suitably treated for reverberations
This is a complex topic, and will be dealt with in an article of its own, however, the basic concept is to control the reverberation (reflection, or echo) of your voice from bouncing back and forth from the walls and surfaces and being picked up by your microphone. These reverberations are undesirable and will render your recordings useless to your client. Zero-budget options are a hobo fort or pillow fort, which is essentially surrounding yourself with dense pillows, comforters, duvets, shipping blankets, etc. to deaden the sounds reflected by any nearby surfaces.
Tools and equipment
The basics of any home studio are a microphone, an audio interface, and a computer. The price you pay is not necessarily the most important factor, as you can frequently find low-cost equipment locally and online. What you need to avoid is falling into the hype loop — high-end boutique equipment is fabulous, but definitely not required in your first few years of doing voice overs!
Before you start spending money on equipment though, please ensure you have a suitably treated recording space. If not, invest in your space FIRST, as it will pay dividends early. If your space is not suitably treated, a more sensitive microphone will just pick up more unwanted sounds, and make your recordings unattractive to your clients.
The quality of your recording is paramount, and your microphone is the first step in the chain. Condenser microphones have a large diaphragm (the doohicky that actually measures the sound vibrations), which makes them much more sensitive and accurate. Dynamic microphones have a small capsule which is great for recording in loud settings, but not as accurate or nuanced. Avoid dynamic microphones if at all possible.
Traditionally, quality microphones have XLR connections which require an interface to convert the analog signal from the microphone into a digital signal that your computer can understand. A somewhat recent phenomenon is the appearance of decent-quality USB microphones, which connect directly to the computer without the need for a separate interface. The better-quality microphones are only available with XLR connections and require an interface, however, there are a small number of USB microphones that are “adequate” for beginners.
With an audio interface, you need one with at least a single input for the XLR microphone, an output for your headphones, and a USB connection to your computer. Most newer interfaces use a USB-C style connector, so just make sure the computer you intend on using has a suitable port.
You will need a computer of some type for recording and editing your voice overs. The brand, make, and model of the computer you plan on using does not matter, however, its relative performance does, to a limited extent. Chromebook-style computers are not entirely suitable, because while you can use them during the recording process, they cannot run the software required for editing and processing your recordings. A laptop is perfectly acceptable, however, I strongly recommend using a physical mouse.
A very basic rule of thumb is that computers manufactured within the last five years should serve you well, as long as it has the required port for an audio interface, or a docking station to expand its ports as required.
When preparing a voice over, you don’t just need to record, you need to be able to listen to your work. You should do this with quality closed-back headphones. These are headphones that cup over your ears and have padding to prevent sound from leaking out (or in!). You want this so that you only hear the audio that is coming from your computer, and so that your microphone will not pick up any stray sounds from your headphones.
Yes, you can use speakers, but be warned that they introduce complications, primarily because the sound you hear will depend not just on the speakers but on the acoustics and treatment of the room they are placed in. I strongly recommend sticking with closed-back headphones until you are truly comfortable with the mixing and mastering aspects of voice over.
Starting in voice over does not require any fancy or expensive software. The digital audio workstation, or DAW, is the beating heart of your workbench. It is the software that you will use to record, edit, master, and export your voice over files before uploading or sending them to clients.
When selecting your DAW, there are free options, extremely low-cost (cheap!) options, and some more expensive subscription-based options. Thankfully you are not locked into any one DAW, and you can try different ones as your skill and confidence grow. In all honesty, the differences between the DAWs are minor, and amount to the user interface being more “polished” in the expensive offerings. Don’t overthink the decision!
Skills and training
Here is a controversial one… You know how to read, you know how to speak, you know how to read and speak, so what training do you need? you might ask…
Remember, voice over is not just about reading the words. If that were the case, then it is true that artificial intelligence (AI) could provide reasonably good voice overs. Almost every digital tool now has a “read aloud” option, which provides a low-quality voice over for free.
At the very least, do your research on what makes a voice over good, and what makes it great. The smoothness of delivery, flow and cadence of words, breath control, microphone technique, processing chain, mastering, and the list goes on.
Take an online course from a reputable instructor, or check out your local resources for live, in-person training.
Personality and mindset
The final item, often overlooked, is the appropriate personality and mindset.
As a voice over artist, you are essentially an actor, and you are always auditioning for your next role. You need to always be searching for your next gig. Your time, especially in the early year(s), will primarily be spent auditioning, honing your skills, researching… all without getting much income from your voice over career because it takes a lot of time to build up a successful portfolio that draws clients to you.
The early years have a lot of rejection which you need to learn to deal with appropriately — they are not rejecting you, it is just that your voice is not what they need for their project.
You are also going to be working alone in a booth or your private studio for much of the time. This is not a social job where you chat with your office buddies, or other staff. You need to be happy with that!
I hope this helped you gather your thoughts and figure out what you might need to get started in voice over! Remember to stay DedicatedToVO!