When producing my new commercial voice over demo, we didn’t target toy commercial voice overs. Sure, we wanted to make it lots of fun, humorous, and show my friendly-dad personality. But the concept was to sell toys for grown up kids. Think: cars and pizza! And not toys for real kids. However, that’s what I’ve been doing a lot of lately. And it’s been a blast! And now, I’m pleased to share my new toy voice over demo.
It’s a fun challenge to have lots of energy but not sound ‘big’. In most of my work I imagine that I’m speaking to a business colleague, or a neighbor next door. But not to a kid playing with toys inspired by the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. That’s what I’m doing in this commercial!
Speak Like Your Audience Speaks – And Still Be You.
The language in this spot is very basic, with short sentences. So how does one sound excited and engaging without sounding patronizing? Always try to speak to your audience in a way they understand and can identify with. I tried to imagine how this toy would be described by my kid or my neighbors’ kids. And also what they might say when playing with it.
Next is a spot for Thomas & Friends MINIS Motorized Raceway by Fisher Price. The language here is different. It’s for slightly older kids and the copy reads more like something for cool bikes and cars for older kids. However, it still needs a lighter touch. The direction was specifically to be like a “Hot Wheels” spot but not too big. Got it!
The last few toy spots I voiced required an altogether different tone. In these spots for Tonka and Dynacraft, the audience was not just kids, but their parents as well. The toys are larger more expensive toys that parents really need to be sold on. Those large dump trucks and cars that kids can drive around with an electric engine. So I needed to speak like a dad talking to other dads; while at the same time engaging with the kid audience watching their favorite shows. Thankfully, most of the heavy lifting was done by the great copy. But it still took understanding and care from both the talent and directors to get the right kind of fun tone for the spots.
I’ve had such a great time working on these commercials and look forward to more in the future! That’s why I love my work. So many different dynamic clients and types of projects!
Today we are going to go over the best eLearning voice over recording tips covering these three areas: acoustics, equipment, and EQ processing. We will especially keep in mind how to handle longer programs over a half an hour in length. With such modules, one would want to use lower bit audio (64 kbps or lower) in Captivate or Articulate, etc. All the tips discussed here will guarantee great sounding eLearning voice overs whether you have output .mp3 audio at 128 kbps or 56 kbps.
Always start with acoustics
A good acoustic environment is essential for eLearning voice over recording. With few exceptions, there is no music or sound effects hiding the background noise and reverberant sound that cut into the intelligibility of the narrator’s voice. You need clear sound with no distractions. Being able to hear the size of the room or a faint rumble or hiss, is distracting over a long program, or even after a few minutes.
My studio is acoustically treated with acoustic panels from GIK Acoustics and professional sound blankets from Vocal Booth to go. I record in a large office, not a booth. Booths can be fine, but I think they sound ‘tubby’. The microphones are over ten feet away from any windows or other hard surfaces. I even have carpeting covering my desk. My mics are kept away from the computer screen to minimize ‘early reflections’ of sound which can be just as annoying as larger room reverberations. The HVAC goes into shutdown mode before I record. Last but not least, I stay well hydrated and make sure I’ve eaten to avoid mouth noises and stomach rumbles!
Equipment for eLearning Voice Over: Simple and Clear
Recording equipment has improved a lot in the past decade. The new microphones and audio interfaces are excellent. There’s no need for a very expensive microphone for eLearning voice over recording. In fact many of the ‘go-to’ studio microphones for commercials and film pick up too much of the room noise. I use a Rode NT1, Rode NTG3 and a Rode Procaster, for example. The NT1 is a condenser mic that has extremely low self noise. Any self noise under 14dBA is great, but this one is down to 4.5 dBA. It also has a very tight polar pattern, so it doesn’t pick up as much noise off to the sides – just the voice. The NTG3 has a tighter polar pattern and has a very big sound, which is appropriate for some projects. The Procaster is a dynamic mic which rejects even more room noise.
A high quality dynamic microphone like the Procaster, Heil PR40, RE320, or Shure SM7b can be a great choice for eLearning voice over. However, make sure you have a very clean preamp that can handle the high gain levels required by a dynamic microphone. Also be sure to use proper mic technique to avoid plosive sounds/popped “P”s. Speaking of preamps, many of today’s audio interfaces have very clean and powerful built-in microphone preamps at much more affordable prices than ever before. Expensive outboard boutique preamps will only provide diminishing returns towards a great sound for eLearning. They will only introduce more noise into the signal chain. And you definitely want to avoid preamps with the noise of tubes, or noticeable transformers that ‘color’ the sound with flattering harmonics. Those are great for trailers and commercials. We are focused on the best eLearning voice over recording Tips.
EQ Processing for eLearning
Recently an eLearning voice over client I’ve worked with for over twelve years sent me a link to one of their finished eLearning modules. I had never watched their modules before. I was very impressed by the presentation, and the audio sounded great. However, the .mp3 output audio didn’t represent the quality of the eLearning voice over recording .wav. The high end frequencies had that swirly, artifact-laden effect one hears often with low resolution audio of 64 kbps .mp3s.
I immediately asked them if the audio was 56 kbps. Indeed it was. I suggested that I process the .wav files I sent them going forward with EQ to pull down the unnecessary frequencies. Basically, at such low resolution, you don’t need frequencies below 100 Hz, and you don’t need frequencies above 10 kHz for the voice to sound intelligible, clear, and full. Otherwise, it’s like trying to fit too many ingredients into a small pot: you wind up with the “swirliness” instead of flavors being blended nicely together. High and low frequencies will stand out in a granular way, instead of sounding smooth. In other words, less is more when rendering to low-resolution .mp3. Here are the settings I use for processing EQ for eLearning voice overs:
-18 dB to -24 dB per octave HPF (High Pass Filter/Low Cut Roll-Off) at 100 Hz.
-12 to 18 dB per octave LPF (Low Cut Filter/ High Cut Roll-Off) at 10 kHz.
Compare and contrast: EQ vs. no EQ for Elearning voice over
Here is a visual capture of the EQ settings from my editing software:
Listen here to an eLearning voice over recording without the EQ, output to 56 kbps:
Compare that to the same voice over with my HPF and LPF EQ settings, output to 56 kbps:
As you can hear, taming the high and low ends makes for a better mp3 for Articulate and Captivate, etc. Be sure to apply the EQ before/during the rendering of the .wav file before importing and down-converting to lower resolution .mp3s.
Let’s keep this simple: you want to set up a home voice over studio with a low noise floor. Also, how to do you re-create the quality audio sound you have at professional studios in your home environment? Studios have a high-end production signal chain from your voice, to the mic, to the equipment, to the software. Let’s try to to get as close as we can with no weak links in the chain. But the first step is the acoustics of the home studio. Without that, nothing else sounds good! I have written previously about what I use in my studio. Let’s get you up and running in your home voice over studio!
First Step: Choose your home recording area.
Find the quietest room in your house. A walk-in closet is good only if it’s truly large. Small closets sound boxy and boomy: the lower frequencies bounce around in a nasty way. Then, pick the corner of the room away from windows, doors, and any other noise. Close off that area as much as possible with dividers or tall furniture covered with thick blankets and pillows, and put blankets or other absorbing material on the walls of that section. Full bookshelves are a fantastic sound absorber and refractor. If you can record in a corner of a room with bookshelves, choose that. Have carpet on the floor, and put carpet or blanket on the desktop you’ll be using there. Hard desk surfaces bounce sound right back at the mic in what is called ‘early reflections’. If you can somewhat close off and acoustically treat a 4′ x 6′ to 6′ x 8′ area in your room you’ll be in great shape. Make sure you can access and turn off your home’s HVAC system temporarily when recording. For high quality affordable sound blankets that do the job properly, check out Vocal Booth to Go. And for acoustic panels and bass traps, consider the excellent GIK Acoustics.
Second Step: Choose Your Microphone
For a home voice over studio microphone, you need a Condenser (Not Dynamic) microphone that is either Supercardioid or Shotgun in regards to its microphone polar pattern. That way, the mic will be focused straight ahead on your voice, and not taking a wide shot of all the noise and sound reflections in your room. Think of it as normal lens vs. wide angle lens in a camera. You want the normal lens. For Shotgun microphones, quality choices range from the Audio Technica AT875R ($169) to the Rode NTG2 ($269), up to the industry standard Sennheiser MKH 416 ($1000). Non-shotgun condensers like the Shure Beta 27 and CAD E100S are more rare. But, there are good affordable choices like the Rode NT1 ($269) that are plain cardioid not supercardioid but sound more focused. For even less money I can highly recommend either the AKG P220 or AT 2035 (both around $135) which sound excellent, especially on female voices. None of these affordable choices have a very wide cardioid pattern.
Third Step: Pick your Audio Interface
So far, so good for your home voice over studio. Now you need an XLR cable to plug in your microphone to your Audio Interface. The Audio Interface will power your microphone with Phantom Power and will convert your analogue audio signal from the microphone into a digital signal which will then be recorded by your computer and recording software. I highly recommend Mogami Gold or Canare cables for your microphone, but whatever you can find that is decent quality will do the job. You will also need cables to plug in your speakers to the output of your audio interface. Usually 1/4″ jack cables are required.
Audio interfaces have come a long way in the past ten years. I still have the original Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 sitting in storage, and it’s a piece of junk compared to the newest Third Generation version, which I would recommend. Anything by PreSonus, MOTU, Focusrite, or Steinberg under or around $200 will be all you need for quality recordings. Just make sure it works well with your computer and computer inputs. Search for reviews on the particular audio interface that interests you.
Fourth Step: Speakers/Monitors and Headphones
Now it’s time for speakers/monitors and headphones. Mackie and PreSonus both make speakers that are good enough for checking mono voice over recordings for $100 a pair. If you want to spend more, Yamaha and KRK have good options. Headphones are crucial, especially for being able to set up your home voice over studio to make sure the sound is good. Here are the best options for $100 or slightly less:
Sennheiser HD 280 PRO : These are not comfortable at first, and slightly heavier than the others; but they have extremely accurate sound.
Note that these are all closed-back headphones. This is very important. Opened-back headphones let the sound leak out, so the voice of your client will bleed into your microphone signal. You don’t want that!
Now you will have the acoustic environment and equipment you need to start making quality recordings in your home voice over studio. In the next post I will discus recording tips in your DAW recording software, with links to many valuable online tutorials for Audacity, Audition, and REAPER.
When I check out voice over demos from my colleagues, the first thing I listen to is their E Learning or IVR demos. Why? Because there isn’t all kinds of music and sound effects as one hears in commercial or promo demos. You hear the full quality of their voice, and the true quality of their studio. You can hear if their room is tubby/heavy on bass or has too many early reflections. If their preamps and mic sparkle and have that extra special sauce, you can hear it. In short, you hear their raw voice over samples without much post-production, and what quality of files they send to their clients. I regularly check the quality of my colleagues’ work to make sure my clients are getting unprocessed audio files of the highest standard.
An increasing number of production houses and talent rosters, especially in Europe, are asking for raw voice over samples as well as finished demos. This is what my most recent raw voice over sample sounds like. I deliberately chose some slower paced copy so you can accurately here the noise floor level and the reflections.
Starting with Quality Studio Acoustics
My studio has acoustic panels and bass traps from GIK Acoustic. Instead of recording in a tubby booth, I record in my 20′ x 15′ studio. To tame some of the larger wall areas I have several hanging double-thick acoustic blankets from Vocal Booth to Go. And I have covered my desk’s top with deep shag carpet, avoiding the bad effects of large reflective desks. Professionally produced demos are great for showing off a voice over talent’s chops. But there is a question of Truth in Advertising. Can you really deliver high quality sounding audio files, or does all the sizzle in your reel come from the demo producer’s post-production skills? Sometimes a well produced demo can mask the ugly truth about a voice over studio.
The Voice Over Signal Chain
For clean, clear voice over audio, I keep a clean, clear voice over signal chain. Let’s trace that chain from my voice to the digitized audio. First, there is my voice. Next, the sound waves from my voice pass through an Octo – 824S pop filter from The Hook Studios. From there, the sound enters the front end of my Rode NTG3 shotgun microphone. The Rode is just like a Sennheiser MKH 416 but with better bass response and the same self noise level but hotter output.
From the microphone, the analogue signal flows down my Mogami Gold XLR cables into my GAP Pre -73 Mk III microphone preamplifier. The preamp is set to 30 dB gain and 70% Output, HPF at 40 Hz -6 dB per octave, and Air Channel + 3 dB at 30 kHz. The analog signal then goes line out to my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation Audio Interface for digital conversion. The Scarlett is line input with the gain turned down to zero so as to minimize the effect of the Scarlett preamps to negligible since they cannot be bypassed. Finally, the digital signal goes to my REAPER DAW, which captures the Raw Voice Over Sample you heard above.
I’m pleased to now offer to live directed sessions with Source-Connect for voice over. Robert Marshall, Co-Founder of the Source-Connect company, Source Elements, went above and beyond with a call to go through the set up, use, and features of this powerful ISDN replacement tool. While I use REAPER as my DAW, it is fully supported by Source Connect. We successfully tested the remote control video sync playback for dubbing.
Speaking of dubbing, that’s part of the reason why I’m going with Source-Connect for voice over and no longer subscribe to ipDTL. I love ipDTL, and it’s a fantastic tool for podcasting and broadcasting. But, it doesn’t have video playback for dubbing/ADR. I paid for the full package for ipDTL, including the dedicated Los Angeles ISDN number, and none of my clients wanted to use it.
In fact, my European clients who had both ipDTL and the similar SessionLink Pro were using the latter exclusively over ipDTL. They found their SessionLink Pro connections to be better and of higher quality with fewer artifacts, and we could do video playback with it.
Ease of Use for Remote Voice Over Sessions
This brought me back to a core value: providing the right tools for my clients. If a client wants to do an ipDTL session and they own a subscription, I can still log into their session. But choice isn’t mine as the voice over talent. Over the years, I managed to encourage a few corporate clients to try ipDTL; but in general they are not interested. Lately, they prefer to use Go To Meeting or Skype for Business because most of these projects require conference calls hosted in an office, not in a production studio.
ipDTL confused too many of my corporate clients. Podcasters and broadcasters understand it, but not business people. It took me an hour once to show a video game producer in the UK how to set up her laptop for ipDTL. And on top of that, the Opus Codec on which ipDTL runs is highly unreliable on Windows 10 for a substantial number of users. Note that on September 18, 2018 they launched a big update of Opus Codec which hopefully fixes many issues. Check my previous post on alternatives to Chrome for Opus Codec streaming.
Source-Connect is the Right Tool for My Clients
I realized that my Corporate, E-Learning, and Explainer Video clients don’t need ipDTL at all. My studio is covered for them with phone patch or Skype, Go To Meeting, and so on. But for commercial, animation, and dubbing, I need the right tools. Those tools are ISDN and Source-Connect. Major American production studios have adopted Source-Connect; and accept them going through their firewalls, which is not the case with Opus Codec solutions. As for ISDN, I have access to many nearby Atlanta recording studios for ISDN sessions. From my own studio, I’m happy to offer Source-Connect for voice over. An added bonus I can offer for live sessions is with my Yamaha MG10XU USB mixer, I can playback takes on demand whether using Source-Connect, ipDTL, or SessionLink Pro. It’s all about having the best tools for my clients.
Want to have an engaging social media presence? Use Twitter for Voice Over instead of having water cooler talk with voice over colleagues on Facebook. Personally, it’s my favorite platform because of the diversity of instantly available profiles. You don’t just see your friends, family, and work colleagues as on Facebook. It isn’t just experts and work-related articles as found on LinkedIn. The people who create content are very active on Twitter and they want to engage.
Recently at VO Atlanta I had the pleasure to attend Heather Costa’s terrific presentation on making the most of Twitter. Follow her and these top Twitter voice over people. What I’m about to share here are the few tips that weren’t brought up in her presentation that I find helpful. If you’re just getting started on Twitter, I recommend the guide for doing so at Gravy for the Brain.
Five Tips for Making the Most of Twitter for Voice Over
1.) Keep an even ratio of followers to those you are following.
Rule number one for Twitter for Voice Over shows that you aren’t just following everyone and that your profile has a quality feed worth following. Whenever my number of those I’m following gets too high, I go through and unfollow those profiles which are the least active or who have become inactive. When I do that, I find that I get a few more followers as a result. Related to this, try to follow people who are active on Twitter and have high quality content worth re-tweeting or commenting upon. Also, be sure to follow people who are selective in who they follow. I followed a well known voice over coach who followed over 105,000 people, but didn’t vet them very well. As a result, my Twitter feed filled up with some toxic profiles. I unfollowed that coach!
2.) Improve the signal-to-noise ratio with Advanced Muting.
Eliminating noise is done with Advanced Muting. If you don’t want to have your feed cluttered with political posts about the current president, just mute his or her name and terms related to their policies (note how I made this future-proof and non-partisan)! Make your feed your Twitter for Voiceover. Keep it from being hijacked by the agendas of others.
3.) Do advanced searches for what you’re looking for.
One of the most powerful Twitter for Voice Over tools isn’t “under the hood” in the Twitter settings. It’s Twitter Advanced Search which lives at its own clunky URL here: https://twitter.com/search-advanced. It’s so powerful that listing all the capabilities would require its own blog post, so instead have a look at it below:
4.) Keep your Twitter unique from your other social media accounts.
This should be an obvious point, but it is not adhered to enough. If I notice that most of someone’s tweets are just Facebook or Instagram posts bumped over automatically, I unfollow that Twitter Profile. It shows a lack of invested interest in engaging with others on Twitter, which is what Twitter for Voice Over should be all about. Similarly, I lose interest in profiles that have scheduled tweets for the very same reason. It shows a willingness to be heard, but not to listen. Scheduled tweets stand out to me like sponsored posts. The are obvious and lack spontaneity.
5.) Be yourself.
Share your personality, beliefs, and interests. Nobody wants you to just talk about your business 24/7. I’m not particularly into finance, but I follow financial experts who share a healthy mix of their personal interests and thoughts along with their expertise. Ask questions. Be curious. Learn. If all you tweet about is your voice over talent, you’ll only be followed by other voice over talents. You already have Facebook for that!
Now, if you are a little too personal or outspoken on Twitter in the past, there are two ways to clean that up. First, use the Advanced Search feature mentioned above. Second, if you want to blast out multiple old tweets from 2013 when you thought the world was flat, use the free multiple deleting tool Twitlan.
Enjoy Twitter for Voice Over and I’ll see you in the Twitterverse: @V01C30V3R !
Welcome the the Voice Over Blog and Links Hall of Fame. Tired of social media platforms? Miss news readers and active forums? Want to get right to the source with some of the best quality content out there related to voice over recording and production? Tired of foodie and cat lover pics on Instagram? Then you have come to the right place! You are welcome to suggest blogs and links in the comments section. Thank you.
Nobody is Getting Rich Producing E Learning Voice Over Demos
If you run a search for E Learning Voice Over Demo Production/Producer you probably won’t find what you’re looking for. Oh, there are all kinds of terrific producers for hire that help voice over talents develop sensational demo reels. However, they are for Commercial and Promo Demos that have many fast moving clips of 3 to 10 seconds. They’re dramatic, and have lots of music, sound effects, and audio processing.
None of that applies when it comes to an E Learning Voice Over Demo. The clips should each be at least 10 seconds long to show the ability to carry a narrative. There should be no music or sound effects, unless they’re from actual client finished-program audio: and even then, it can distract from the voice over. As for audio processing, a voice over talent ideally should have excellent audio as-is with minimal processing. The studio should have an extremely low noise floor, with great acoustic treatment minimizing any early or late reflections. So how does one make an E Learning Demo that is exciting for the prospective client? That is what really matters.
An E Learning Voice Over Demo is Like All Demos, Without the Bells and Whistles
The truth is, the same rules apply for curating an E Learning Voice Over Demo as for a Commercial or Promo demo. That is, all voice over demos need to show talent performing all the different major styles and categories of the genre. My Commercial Demo for example has bank, toy, car, food, sport, and retail spots. In addition, these categories of spots are performed in different styles. They are “guy next door”, “wholesome dad”, “comic character”, “upbeat announcer”, “dramatic gravitas”, and “confident announcer” in tone. I produced my E Learning Demo editing together clips from actual E Learning projects I’ve worked on in the past year. The clips are:
Friendly Peer for a Financial Institution
Conversational Expert for Safety Training
Instructional Voice for explaining Training Navigation
Engaging Coach Character for Gamification
Knowledgeable Peer for Technical Training
Reassuring Peer for Introductions and Closing Reviews
It’s no sexy sizzle reel, but making effective E Learning programs are an art, and an effective E Learning Voice Over Demo shows that your voice over production services contribute and add to that art. And that’s sexy.
If you are in the market for a small, inexpensive quality audio interface for voice over, one of the most popular choices is the Focusrite Scarlett. I had owned the 2i2 First Generation as part of a backup/travel rig, but upgraded to the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation when it came out in the summer of 2016. As a result, the improvement was noticeable in all areas:
First of all, 8 dB more headroom for instrument inputs.
Significantly lower latency than was achieved with the First Generation model.
Surge protection for inputs and outputs.
More even gain structure for setting mic levels. With the old version, good settings were often near the end of the dial.
Better converters that handle up to 192 kHz and 24 bit audio.
Ships with Avid Pro Tools First and additional plugins, loops, and software.
Much louder headphone amp than in the original. This might be one of the best reasons to upgrade.
And finally, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation has more clearly marked dials.
Making the switch to New Scarlett Audio Interfaces.
So, if you own a first-generation 2i2 or another Scarlett audio interface, I highly recommend you make the switch to the newer models. When buying, how can you be sure it’s the second-generation model? Focusrite has a handy guide to let you know. If the serial number starts with a V or W, it’s second-generation. If it starts with a S or T, it’s first-generation.
With all the amazing advances in voice over friendly audio interfaces over the past few years from almost all the popular brands like Universal Audio , Yamaha, Presonus, and RME, don’t settle for an old Focusrite interface. Make sure you choose the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation or other Scarlett Second Generation gear.
Voice Over Talent and some producers and directors ask me “How Do You Playback Audio to Voice Over Clients?” for remote recording sessions. Yamaha recently released their new small format audio mixers in the MG line. I’m pleased to report that my MGX10U is an all-in one solution for the voice over studio that makes audio playback easy. It has:
1.) Great sounding mic preamps that are clean and have great headroom
2.) Solid USB Interface with nice converters. They’re same ones found in Steinberg interfaces: yes, Yamaha makes those.
3.) Ability to playback any computer audio source to a director/client (including your DAW) without extra routing. Just press the red button on channel 9/10 when you need to play audio down the line.
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 gentle 80 Hz HPF as I recorded if possible. The MG10XU mixer is an audio interface and preamp all-in-one. And yes, the preamps, conversion, and playback all sounds better than the Scarlett. As a bonus, it’s not huge or heavy, and can fit easily in a briefcase for travel.
The Game Changer: Playback any Audio to Your Clients
But this isn’t just a Yamaha 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 controls the playback from your computer…and it goes right back down the main output as long as the red button on that channel is switched from Monitor to Stereo output. So anything you just recorded in ProTools or Audition you can just cue it up and play, and control the output with the volume pot. Any streaming sound from YouTube or Vimeo can go down the line too. This works with all the remote recording solutions like Source Connect, ipDTL, Skype, and SessionLinkPro. If the client can hear you, they will hear the playback on command.
Update: I discussed this with voice over tech guru George Whittam and he said that the Yamaha AG03 also has this ability in a smaller travel-size mixer for half the price. If you don’t need the extra inputs and additional routing then the AG03 is a great solution also. I think I’ll be getting one for my travel rig!