Not Just a Pretty Voice: Part 4

Equipment list and Recording Space

Before you’ve even opened your mouth you have a lot of preparation work to do. You need recording software; the audio editing program Twisted Wave is excellent for about $80. Audacity is free, but has a few quirks will probably cause you more issues that that’s worth. Despite having used audio monsters Pro Tools and Adobe Audition, it still does a good job for basic recording. A pair of reasonable headphones for monitoring wouldn’t go amiss either. Beyer Dynamic and Sennheiser headphones are well thought of.

Your 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 and when you do, you’ll be thoroughly confused and will have probably bashed heads together.

Obviously the best thing to do 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. Other microphone types are available, including USB powered mics, but if you want to a) sound professional and b) be taken seriously it’s the condenser microphone that is most suitable and most commonly used for voice recording. Nothing flags up a newbie who hasn’t done their research like a USB microphone. They’re fine for podcasting, but for quality voiceovers: just don’t.

My first microphone, a Rode NT1A is still a great starter mic (in fact, any of the Rode condensers are worth a look.) Don’t tell my Neumann TLM193, 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. (BTW, is an excellent site for your studio equipment.) You will also need XLR cables to connect your microphone to your computer/soundcard, but don’t just buy any old XLR cable. You need balanced cables.

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. One thing that really flags up a poor recording is “popping” on P and B sounds.

Your Audio Interface

Your average PC or laptop’s on-board soundcard will not be good enough for recording professional voiceovers. They’re situated too close to the fan and/or other circuits. For regular audio use (games, TV, playing CDs), this is absolutely fine. But with professional monitoring, you’ll soon notice interference.

Regular PC/Mac soundcards are also useless with condenser microphones such as the Neumann and Rode which need phantom power; they need an extra electrical 48v “kick” to work correctly. Without it, you can speak into it, but nothing will be picked up by the software. This power is not available with off-the-shelf computers and laptops. This is best achieved with a powered external audio interface which replaces your computer’s soundcard. (You make the changes in the computer’s settings.) This replaces your onboard soundcard and supplies phantom power to your mic.  Focusrite’s Scarlett 2i2  is an excellent piece of kit and a perfect first purchase if you’re starting out.  The mic plugs into the interface, which then plugs into your computer via USB.

Editing skills

This is far too in depth an area to cover here, but knowing basic editing a must – as is the ability to LISTEN. Every breath, pop, click will be recorded. A good microphone that suits your voice will work wonders and help you make your fortune, but it can also be your worst enemy. It will record EVERYTHING. Some clients will demand a finished recording, so it will also need to be processed, normalised and/or compressed and there are thousands of ways to do this. Get it right, and your recording will be greatly enhanced. Get it wrong, and you will have a very unhappy client.

So you’ve got your shiny new kit. It looks lovely. Next you need to know how to use it…