10 Tips for Great Voice Over Recordings
How do you get that professional finished sound for voice overs from your home or remote studio? You don’t need to spend a lot of money on gear when 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 great microphone with the wrong placement and acoustics won’t sound great. Here are 10 Tips for Great Voice Over Recordings. The list includes audio processing for corporate or E Learning clients that do not have post-production capabilities.
Pre and Post-recording audio tips
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
Subtle Post-Recording Processing for the Right Sound
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!