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How Do You Playback Audio to Voice Over Clients? Soundcraft Signature 10 Mixer

How Do You Playback Audio to Voice Over Clients?

A Full-Solution Mixer for the Voice Over Studio

Voice Over Talent and some producers and directors ask me “How Do You Playback Audio to Voice Over Clients?” for remote recording sessions. Soundcraft recently released their new small format audio mixer the Signature 10. I’m pleased to report that it’s an all-in one solution for the voice over studio that makes that easy. It has:

1.) Great sounding mic preamps
2.) Solid USB Interface with nice converters
3.) Ability to playback any computer audio source to a director/client (including your DAW) without extra routing.

I added it to my voice over studio because I wanted a 2-in/2-out USB interface like the Focusrite Scarlett but with better preamps. Unfortunately with Scarlett interfaces, even when one goes line-in from an external preamp on the bigger Focusrite models, the audio still goes through the Scarlett preamp. That’s not terrible, but I wanted something better, with the ability to run a HPF as I recorded if possible. The Signature 10 mixer has its own downloadable ASIO driver, just like the Scarlett. So it’s an interface and preamp all-in-one. And yes, the preamps, conversion, and playback all sounds better on the Signature 10 for $300 street price.

The Game Changer: Playback any Audio to Your Clients

But this isn’t just a Soundcraft mixer…it’s an invaluable voice over tool! You can playback any audio source from your computer to the client without doing any routing tricks. The 9/10 Channel Fader controls the playback from your computer…and it goes right back down the main output as long as that it up. So anything you just recorded in ProTools or Audition you can just cue it up and play, and control the output with the fader. Any streaming sound from YouTube or Vimeo can go down the line too. And, as a bonus, this works with all the remote recording solutions like ipDTL, Skype, SessionLinkPro, Source Connect Now…well, anything that you are connected to. If the client can hear you, they will hear the playback on command.

The only trick to this is that you will need to Mute Channel 9/10 so that it doesn’t go to your DAW while recording, and then un-mute it when you want to do playback. In order to monitor in your headphones, you will have to engage the PFL (Pre Fader Listen) buttons near the faders on your mic channel and the 9/10 channel to hear your voice over director. Easy peasy! Or, if you want to get fancy, go ahead and don’t mute the client. But record stereo files and record your mic on the left channel and pan the client to the right. That can be very helpful when you want to hear the client feedback for notes when editing.

Update: I discussed this with voice over tech guru George Whittam and he said that the Yamaha AG03 also has this ability in a small travel-size mixer for half the price. If you don’t need the extra inputs, additional routing, nice EQ and preamps (although the Yamaha preamps are definitely professional-grade) then the AG03 is a great solution also. I think I’ll be getting one for my travel rig!

International Voice Over Production with Audiovisual Intelligence

International Voice Over Production with Audiovisual Intelligence

International Voice Over Production with Audiovisual Intelligence

I recently had the pleasure of discussing International Voice Over Production with Audiovisual Intelligence chief, Alex Jacobi. His company has two main studios: one in Dusseldorf, and their headquarters in Aachen, Germany. The studios feature a growing staff of 27 media experts. He founded the company over ten years ago when he made the switch from being a music producer to producing sound for commercial work. He realized that he would need a reliable roster of voice over talent for the amount of corporate video work he was producing. As a result, he decided to create a web tool for that, and sprechersprecher.de was born.

Today they are the largest voice casting company in Germany with a vast international scope. AI features over 12,000 voice over talents in over 40 languages. Along with sprechersprecher.de, Audiovisual Intelligence also has an online presence with their casting app Wundervoices. The app design helps producers find the exact voice talents they need. More importantly, these are all vetted native speakers: judged for their talent and studio specifications. You can listen to an excerpt from our interview here:

ipDTL for Remote International Recording

On the many projects that I have recorded for AI, we have used ipDTL to connect my Atlanta studio to their German studios. Alex Jacobi notes that ipDTL is fantastic not just because it’s a cheaper ISDN replacement, but because they work with global talents in their native countries, including Southeast Asia and Africa. For this, the ease of use and ubiquity of ipDTL makes it the great choice for remote international recording. Also, it even works with a Chromebook. Audiovisual Intelligence screens native speakers of dialects through two-to-three other native speakers for approval. They also work with native speakers to get the copy just right for multi-lingual productions. This is especially true for their work for FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) voice over clients.

Future Trends in Voice Over Casting

In conclusion, Alex Jacobi notes future trends in voice over casting are influenced by manufacturers now producing their commercials and videos internally with extensive marketing departments. However, marketers do not necessarily have the same skill set or expertise as the media producers and directors one would see on similar projects 20 years ago.  Casting companies need to provide voice over solutions and knowledge for them in many languages. That’s where Alex Jacobi’s company comes in to provide Audiovisual Intelligence.

Script Formatting for Voice Overs

Script Formatting for Voice Overs

Easy-to-Read Makes for Better Reads

This is an amazing story about copywriting: for the past 18 months I’ve enjoyed recording dozens of daily telephone prompts for an international audio-branding company. However, the copy has always been very hard to read. Single spaced lines and center aligned. 10 pt. font. Not very user-friendly Script Formatting for Voice Overs.

Before Christmas, I finally broke down and politely asked to change to 1.5 or double spaced lines and larger font. I suggested that this would also reduce the huge number of typos their writers made. I reformatted the scripts as an example for them to consider. I also acknowledged that I’m just some voice over talent and I know my place in the production chain! Today the scripts came in formatted per my suggestion. The Head Editor made the changes company wide! My producer contact said voice talents were turning around the copy faster and there were fewer typos. Everybody loved it.

The funny part is that previously the scripts had long sentences that were clunky for the spoken word. Voila! With the new formatting, all the writers are now writing zippy short-sentences.

Never use single spacing unless you have to!

Guidelines for Script Formatting for Voice Overs:

Here’s are some general standards to follow when formatting voice over scripts.

1.) Use 12 pt. font.

2.) Choose 1.5 or Double-spaced lines.

3.) Avoid narrow columns (difficult when story-boarding, I understand).

4.) DON’T WRITE IN ALL-CAPS! THIS IS AN AFFECTED THROWBACK FROM WHEN PRODUCTION PRINTERS OUTPUT ONLY IN ALL-CAPS.

5.) Use left-alignment, so that all the words have uniform spacing between them.

6.) Don’t use garbage fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus.

7.) No, really, please don’t use garbage fonts. Thank you.

Following these guidelines won’t just help your voice over talent. It will help everyone in the production chain work more easily with the scripts. They’ll be easier to proof, mark-up, and follow along. It’s a win-win for everyone.

2016 Voice Over Year in Review

My 2016 Voice Over Year

My 2016 Voice Over Year in Review

2016 was a trying, stressful year for many of us. Fortunately, my family didn’t suffer any calamities. Well, a tree feel on my house. Our hot water heater caught on fire. But fortunately nobody was hurt!  My 2016 voice over year in review was thankfully rewarding and satisfying. I learned a lot. Tried to do things differently. Reach out to new people and new ways of thinking. Stray outside my comfort zone whenever possible. So here we are at the end of 2016, looking forward to a great 2017! Why has the year been so rewarding? Because I made a point of investing in my career.

Investing in My Brand

First off, I invested in getting a new professionally produced commercial demo to enhance my brand and marketability. I enlisted the coaching, directional, and audio production talents of Eric Romanowski at Ear Blowing Audio in Virgina Beach, Virginia. As I’m in Atlanta, we collaborated at length over emails and recorded the sessions via my ipDTL account. He really captured my money reads and then pushed some of it into new directions. And the investment has paid off, in ways I could not have expected. For example, I had never done television spots for toys and now I’ve done several for well known brands. On my own, I’ve compiled and edited my new audio and video demo reels for Corporate, E-learning, Explainer Video, and MOH/IVR voice overs from pieces of actual work.

Investing in My Relationships

Secondly, I invested in the time to learn from others. One of the best things I did this year was attend VO Atlanta in March for the first time. The panel discussions and seminars were outstanding, and it was great to meet so many people that I knew well online but not IRL! Plus, I got to meet new people in person that now I know well online too. I’ll be attending again this coming March. Come see me at the ipDTL booth where I’ll be available to discuss what it’s like to use it as voice over talent.

Speaking of ipDTL, I invested in the ‘Tel’ subscription of ipDTL. Not only can I bridge to ISDN on-demand, and stream live to studios; but it’s also a superior replacement for phone patch and Skype. It even works fantastic for connecting to mobile lines if I drop the rate to 64 kbps. So many of my clients love using it to direct sessions live, and it’s really made all those old cranky phone patch or Skype sessions sound so much better and go more smoothly.

Investing in My Voice Over Studio

When it comes to investing in one’s voice over career, there’s always the opportunity to upgrade one’s studio. I upgraded from Adobe Audition 3 to Audition CC. Yes, the monthly subscription is a bit much, but I think of it as an investment. It’s as if it is my monthly rent for my digital office. And it’s the price of doing business in a way that provides the best results for my clients.

I also upgraded from a CAD E100s microphone to a Rode NT-1. Same self-noise level but the Rode has a much hotter output and a more flattering tone for my voice. I love it! I’ve owned a TLM-103 and a MKH-416 in the past. The NT-1 sounds very similar to the 103 but with a tighter pattern; it also doesn’t sound tubby and phasey like a 416 can if you’re not working it closely. I also switched from the first generation Scarlett interface to the Second Generation Scarlett which is an improvement in so many ways: preamp, latency, controls, and in the ability to switch seamlessly between programs and sample rates. I’ve got my eye on the new Millennia one-channel preamp for an upgrade in 2017!

Finally, what I am most grateful for in 2016 are my repeat clients and my new clients that have become repeat clients in this year. One of the best parts of my job is building relationships with people from all kinds of businesses from all around the world. I look forward to working with all my clients in the new year.

10 Tips for Great Voice Over Recordings

10 Tips for Great Sounding Voice Over Recordings

10 Tips for Great Voice Over Recordings

How do you get that professional finished sound for voice overs from a home or remote studio? You don’t need to spend a lot of money on gear if you have no weak links in your audio chain. And you don’t need to have the best gear if you use it correctly. A U87 positioned incorrectly is not the best gear. Here are 10 Tips for Great Voice Over Recordings: including audio processing for corporate or E Learning clients that do not have post-production capabilities.

Pre and Post-recording audio tips

  1. Have a great sounding room. Make sure your recording area is quiet, with a noise floor of at least 60 dBFS. The room should have acoustic treatment with DIY or professionally built acoustic panels and bass traps. Some foam and absorbent blankets can help. The idea is to eliminate reverberation and any overstated low frequencies that create a tubby or muddy sound. Also watch out for close sound reflections that can come from a large desk area or a metal script stand. It’s a good idea to cover these with carpet samples. When I record close to a computer screen, I tilt it slightly away from me, so the sound isn’t reflecting straight back.
  2. Have a good microphone. While studios may ask specifically for a U87, TLM-103, or MKH 416, you don’t have to own one to get a great sound these days. There are so many manufacturers out there making great microphones. Look for a mic that has a consistent response pattern and low self-noise. Below 14 dB-A is ideal. Consider the pick-up pattern. A tight-patterned cardioid mic is good for recording voice, but if it’s too tight it’s difficult to stay on axis to do voice acting.
  3. Have a quality preamp Again, this doesn’t require the best gear. It’s how you use it. I’ve heard plenty of voice overs done with $2000-$3000 preamps that well, didn’t sound all that great. It’s all in how you use it. Whatever you use, if it has an on-board High Pass Filter (HPF) set to 100 Hz or higher, do not use it. There is a lot of sound in the voice between 70 Hz and 100 Hz, and the 100 Hz filter is essentially removing the lower octave resonance of the voice. It will sound thin! Filters set to 80 Hz and below are fine. Many new preamps and mixers are using 100 Hz HPF to ‘limit proximity effect’ but that should be resolved with better mic technique. Many audio interfaces now have good to excellent preamps built into them (Audient, Metric Halo, even the affordable Focusrite gear) so this might not even be an issue.
  4. Gain Staging. If you’re using an outboard preamp, set your gain there, and then send it line in to your audio interface. Important: make sure the gain on the interface is as low as possible. When you are running two higher sets of gain it’s a case of ‘too many cooks spoils the broth’. The sound will be veiled and muddy. Another thing to note is that you should set your recording levels to be between -20 dBFS and -12 dbFS on your DAW recording software. “dbFS” means “Decibels Relative to Full Scale” which is the decibel wave amplitude measurement in digital systems. -20 dBFS is the digital equivalent of the good old “0” in VU analogue recording. Don’t record things too hot. Keep it cool, and then turn up the volume heat after you record. For further explanation about recording levels for DAWs, check out this good article from Sound on Sound. In many ways, Gain Staging is arguably the most important of the 10 Tips for Great Voice Over Recordings!
  5. Record at 48 kHz /24 bit. Okay, okay…I know 44 kHz / 16 bit is all that is needed for excellent sound for the range of human hearing. However, if you are going to process the audio for post production, the effects will work a bit better with the higher rates. Then, you can down convert however you’d like.
  6. EQ I always send raw, unprocessed audio files to professional studios. But when I’m sending to corporate or E Learning clients that do not have dedicated audio engineers, I’ll do some gentle processing on my side. For EQing, I usually run a parametric EQ like the one below in Adobe Audition CC. The HPF is set to 70 Hz. There’s a little notch at 200 Hz to take out some muddiness. A slight bump at 3 kHz for presence, and two more at 12 and 18 kHz for ‘airyness’ or sheen. Note also that I EQ before running a compressor. I want the compressor to reduce the right frequencies. If I run the compressor first, it will react to the overstated frequencies.Voice Over EQ - 10 Tips for Great Voice Over Recordings
  7. Expanders – If the noise floor is at -60 dBFS, you don’t need an expander. But if it’s slightly above, I would recommend a gentle expander set to 2:1 at -60 dBFS. I usually set them to have the same attack and release as my compression, which is 8ms and 80ms respectively.
  8. Compression – I set my compression to 2:1 with 8 ms attack and 80 ms release. The threshold is set to where the compression never reduces more than -3 dB (the meter on the right in the picture below)Voice Over Compressor - 10 Tips for Great Voice Over Recordings
  9. Full Signal – If everything has gone right so far, all you need to do is raise the volume to peaks no higher than -3 dDBF. I want to give the end client some headroom when uploading their video or mixing in some music.
  10. Always check your video’s audio when it’s uploaded. On many occasions I’ve seen a client upload a voice over video and it was badly encoded on the upload with harsh or distorted sound. Most of the time this happens with YouTube, but also with some dedicated websites. QC your audio when it’s uploaded. If it doesn’t sound right, all it takes sometimes is just to re-upload the video.

Good luck, and I hope you found these 10 Tips for Great Voice Over Recordings helpful. Let me know in the comments what other tips and advice you have to share with others. Thanks!

The Vimeo Voice Over Group

The Vimeo Voice Over Group

What is The Vimeo Voice Over Group?

The Vimeo Voice Over Group showcases voice overs in various styles and languages from around the world. Our group features short films, animations, documentaries, and works of a highly creative nature. All of which make use of voice over and narration in engaging and dynamic ways. You’ll find everything from big-budget international commercials to experimental student films. Also, The group is truly international, with voice overs in Arabic, French, German, Spanish, and Russian among a growing list of languages. Almost all contributors are film makers, animators, and voice talents themselves.

Guidlines for Video Submission and Membership

The group welcomes submissions in any genre, length, or language. Even demo reels are approved if they are true video reels of actual work. However, videos that promote voice over related events, conferences, or products are not welcome. Furthermore, please do not submit podcasts or video round-tables about voice over. Otherwise, the group is open to the public. Most of all, feel free to join and submit your favorite videos today!

The Vimeo Voice Over Group: A Place to Share and Learn

I started the Vimeo Voice Over Group in 2010 and I’ve greatly enjoyed being its moderator. I’ve learned so much from seeing the different uses of narrative from around the world. Currently, the group has 120 members and 130 videos. While I love the contributions of our members so far, my goal is to have 200 videos and 200 members by the end of the year. As a result, this week I added this fantastic advertisement for Emirate Airlines, and this beautifully animated and voiced explainer video. Our group is a great platform for sharing your own work, or just work that you admire. In addition, It’s also a way for voice over talent to connect with and be inspired by excellent directors and film makers. Tell your friends and colleagues, and feel free to join in the fun!