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Monday, February 28, 2011

Getting voice-over recording right

Having been responsible for delivering voiceover recordings to a wide variety of projects over the years, including video games, corporate presentations, radio commercials / TV commercials and instructional videos, I've seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly in voice recording, voice talent and dubbing techniques.

Go to the pro's

First of all, voicing and recording audio voice over work may sound easy to you and me. You listen to the narrator during a nature show on National Geographic, and you may be thinking to yourself, "I could do that. It's just speaking!". Well, I've got news for you. It's tricky. It's hard to get it right. It takes a lot of practice.

Last week my company was hired to produce the Norwegian voice dubbing for a short instructional / advertising video about a lifestyle product. I had recently been introduced to a lady of 49 who has a really nice voice in everyday use, and we had been chatting about voiceover work, so we decided that she should be given a chance to voice this video. And if the client accepted, she would be paid. So, she was given the text and given an hour to prepare, and then sat down to record.

Now, this lady had never even spoken into a microphone before, so you can imagine that it was a challenge just to get her to direct her mouth correctly towards the microphone and then keep it there! Just a simple thing like that, it's something you don't even have to think about when you're dealing with a professional voiceover talent. But dealing with a beginner, it's just one of the many things that get in the way of getting a good result.

We spent over two hours trying to record a 2-page manuscript. Because this lady had absolutely no experience, I had to say each sentence to her, and she would try to mimic my tone and style, into the microphone. It was a challenge, to say the least. Every sentence had to be done many, many times and before we'd got through the two pages of manuscript, we had 120 minutes of recordings, with "good bits" scattered throughout.

I spent 4 hours the next day going through the recordings, trying to piece together something usable by copying, pasting, cropping, moving, using one sentence here, three words there spliced together with another three words from 5 minutes earlier in the recording. It was a nightmare!

In the end I had wasted 6 hours of my own time and 2-3 hours of the talent's time, and what I was left with was an "almost passable" 5 minute audio file which didn't really sound very good. It was too fragmented, voice intonation all over the place, loud plosive (big "booms" on the P's, B's etc) and a very uneven volume, intensity, and tone of voice.

It wasn't her fault. She was just like the rest of us -- somebody who thought it sounded easy, who had been listening to people speak into a microphone for money, and figured that she could do that as well. Well, she might be able to do that one day, but she needs a lot of practice first! It was my fault, for thinking it could work, for being a cheapskate, trying to save money and thinking I could get away with using somebody who wasn't experienced.

The next day I had to call in the professional after all. I hired an experienced voice over talent who has spent years honing her skills both as a voice dubbing talent and as a theater / stage performer. She instinctively knew how to position herself to the microphone, to speak with a clear and confident tone, at an even, pleasant speed, intensity and tone throughout. The whole thing was done in 45 minutes and the result was perfect.

In my next article I will write a bit more about the actual technical challenges and tips on how to overcoming them, to record good voiceover audio. In the meantime you may want to check out the voice over demo MP3's that we have available via our websites. You can find American / U.S. voiceover talents and English / British voiceover talents at the Shockwave-Sound.com voice over page, or you may want to try Norwegian Lingo if you're looking for Norwegian voice over talents.