When creating a voiceover recording (or voice over, or voice-over…nobody seems to know for sure;)), the final product is usually nothing but the voice…all by itself…with nothing else to hide flaws. Yes, sometimes voice overs are accompanied by background music, such as when narrating short videos, or in podcast intros and “outros.” But for the most part a voiceover recording is just that, the voice.
That being the case, the better the sound quality the more professional the end-result will be. In a perfect world we’d all be rich and everyone could afford large diaphragm condenser mics and excellent analog-to-digital converters for our pc recording studios. But as we know, this is not a perfect world. Most of us will only be able to afford relatively inexpensive gear. That’s OK. The techniques I mention in this article will enable you to get the best possible quality out of whatever mic you’re using. If you’re budget is not great (like most of us!), I highly recommend trying a usb mic like the Samson Q1U for only $49. These have the analog-to-digital converters built right in.
So what makes a professional voice recording? Clearly there is some subjectivity to the matter, but in general the voice should be clear, up-front, easy to understand, have level volume (you can hear the loud parts and the soft parts without pain or straining, respectively), and is as noise-free as possible. What follows are some key voice over recording tips. Let’s start at the beginning of the session.
1. Get Close to the Mic
Make sure your mouth is 4-12 inches away from your mic. Experiment with the distance, but what you’re going for here is to make sure the voice is recorded as loud as possible without overloading the mic or causing unpleasant sounds like p-pops. Since we’re using a pc recording studio for this, it’s fairly easy to see if your voice recorded loud enough or too loud. The voice will show up in recording software as wave forms (or “squiggly blobs” as I like to call them) in what looks like a swim lane on your screen. You want the blob to take up as much of the swim lane as possible without ever touching the sides. Experiment with distance from the mic until you achieve this.
2. Record In a Quiet Room
It’s almost impossible, especially with a pc recording studio, to have a completely noise-free environment in which to record. But the lower the noisiness, the better. Control what you can. For example, close the door to the room where you record to keep out the household noises. Try to put the mic far enough away from your computer that the fan and drive noise isn’t too loud. Sometimes using blankets or mattresses strategically can really help here. Just don’t block the computer vents or it could overheat. You might also want to choose a time of day when the neighbors aren’t mowing lawns, or construction isn’t going on nearby.
3. Reduce The Noise After It’s Recorded
Most recording software (including the open-source Audacity) comes with basic sound editing tools such as noise gates and noise reduction. Since there likely WILL be some noise, however little, in the recording (you can’t prevent it all), you’ll want to employ one or both of the above editing tools. I recommend trying the noise gate first. That will shut out all noise during the silent bits when the voice is not speaking, while allowing all audio (noise included) to pass through when the voice is speaking. If you only have a little hiss or fan noise, this works very well. Just be careful that things don’t sound too strange when the gate opens and closes. You can play with the settings to make this sound more natural. Also, if the ambient noise is too loud, it can sound unnatural in the silent bits between speech when it suddenly sounds too quiet in comparison with when the voice was speaking. One of the best editing programs out there, with some of the best noise reduction tools included, is Adobe Audition.
If noise gating isn’t enough, try a noise reduction tool. But be warned, this can make the audio sound strange if overused. Noise reduction artifacts sound like the voice is under water…kind of “swirly,” for lack of a better term. Noise reduction treats all the audio, the speaking AND non-speaking parts. For it to work right, you tell the computer what just noise sounds like by selecting an area (where there is no speech) that is ONLY noise. That way the tool knows what to get rid of. If the noise was not too loud, this works well. But the more noise in the recording, the more “under-water” it will sound after noise reduction. Experiment with this tool’s settings to get the best result.
4. Squish the Audio With a Compressor
Audio compression is something else that must be used with caution. It is easy to ruin audio with too much of it. Properly used, running this editing tool with even the audio volume so that the listener can hear the softer, quieter parts AND the loud, exciting parts, without having to constantly turn the volume knob up and down. A compressor will reduce the volume of just the parts that are over a certain loudness level (you choose this level), leaving the quieter audio alone. This allows you, the audio creator, to increase the overall volume of the voice over without any of it being TOO loud. Remember when I mentioned trying to get as much of the voice in the swim lane as possible without touching the sides? Compression allows you to do this. When audio “touches the sides” it distorts, definitely a bad thing with computer audio. As with the other tools, play with the settings and experiment for the best result.
The last thing I usually do is apply one more audio editing tool called normalization. All this means is to increase the audio volume right up to the point before the very loudest bit would distort. For example, if there was a yelling
bit in the voice over, that part will show up as the “tallest” bit of wave form in the swim lane. so normalizing finds that tallest (loudest) bit and turns everything up until just before the tall part touches the side. This ensures the audio is as loud as possible without distorting.
If you do those 5 things, you should end up with the best voiceover recording possible with any given microphone. The best part is that it won’t cost you anything to employ these 5 home recording tips. Give it a try and see if your audio doesn’t sound much better afterward. For more home recording tips, visit the Home Brew Audio website. Check out our video tutorials, articles, free downloads, and more.
That’s really all there is to it! Yeah, it involves a bit of effort. But what thing worth doing doesn’t?