Voiceovers: A Beginner’s Guide

I’ve had a couple of people ask me lately about getting started in voiceovers and not surprisingly, that’s a huge question with a vast range of answers.

I’d been voicing on and off for years; from traffic reports to the odd voiceover for a friend’s business, but it’s taken years to get where I am today. Not because I’ve been training hard and every minute of the day for that long! I’ve been doing other things and other work, and it was really only last year that I realised I’d acquired enough of the skills to have a crack at this full time. I probably could have got here a lot quicker if I’d set out on day one to do voiceovers, but so far it’s been more of a casual drift than a long hard slog.

So now, an attempt to advise the total beginner.

Before you’ve even opened your mouth you have a lot of preparation work to do. You need recording software; the free audio editing program Audacity will do just fine for now. Despite mostly using that audio monster Pro Tools, I still use Audacity for quick no-messing-about editing. A pair of reasonable headphones wouldn’t go amiss either. No, your ipod earbuds will not do.

Next, onto your choice of microphone. Really, we could be here for hours. Don’t ever get more than two voiceovers in a room and ask them about mics – you’ll never leave.

Obviously the best thing is to test them, but as you’re new how do you know what you’re listening for? Do some reading. Find a good all round, well-reviewed condenser. I found my first microphone, a Rode NT1A, this way and it worked very well – In fact don’t tell my Neumann, but for some jobs it can sound better. At the time, £140 was a lot of money for me to spend speculatively on a mic, but it was the right thing to do and despite having upgraded since, I still use it.

Get a pop shield if you don’t have one already. You can buy them online or from music stores or you can make your own with a pair of tights and a wire coathanger. I bought mine as I’m rubbish at Blue Peter make and do. I come out in hives if I even think about making a bed for Sindy out of a shoe box.

You’re ready to go now right? Got recording kit, got microphone, got headphones…Oh no, Grasshopper, you are still not ready….

Record some silence (at the same levels you would use if you were recording yourself) in your recording space and play it back. This is your “noise floor” and is the background level while you’re recording your voice. Look at your levels. How much noise does your room “silence” make? Assuming you haven’t done any work on this space yet, chances are you’ve got a LOT of noise. Is there humming, rumbling, hissing, a clock ticking?

Ideally it needs to be -40dB or lower, which is the recommended level set by SaVoa. So, now you need to work on reducing the background noise. Get experimenting!

A few spare duvets can work very well and acoustic tiles can be bought individually from eBay. Obviously the smaller the room, the easier it will be to treat and don’t forget this is a massive learning curve. I’m still on it myself. Fiddle, adjust and rearrange as much as possible. You’ll probably never be 100% happy, but constantly tinkering with your setup is one of the joys of this job…

Let’s now assume you’ve driven yourself to distraction deadening and reducing noise in your recording space. I’ve spent literally HOURS doing this, mainly on my hands and knees following wires and vibrations around the house in order to pinpoint a persistent hum. (I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear I did eventually nail the *****. Oooh, I earned my Pinot Grigio that night.) Now you can start recording yourself. I’m not covering that here as that’s a whole other mouthful of marbles, but I’ll write something on it at some point.

If you think your recordings are up to scratch then maybe it’s time to test the waters with some of the online directories by setting up a free listing. There are thousands of people on these sites and unless, just for starters, your sound is as pro as you can get it, you’ll get lost in the dross (and there’s a LOT of dross.) For that reason a newbie sticks out a mile regardless of how good their voice is, especially if their audio quality isn’t great. Make sure your sound is top-notch and make sure it’s practically flawless before you start forking out for their subscription packages. Use your free listing to practice writing up the best possible profile you can at this point.

There. That should keep you busy for a bit.