Adventures In Audio with Audio Masterclass
Should you record voiceovers for a living? Could you?

Should you record voiceovers for a living? Could you?


Question from an Audio Masterclass visitor…

“As you may know 'voiceover' recording is a phenomenon that is increasing in popularity in our recording world. The concentration here is on the human speaking voice because all other elements of the mix (if any at all) are supplied as is. (For instance high quality backing tracks etc.) Can you make a new article on this item wherein you go in depth on the technique to make high quality recordings using voiceover recording. Until now I could not find any information concerning this subject.”

– Ludwig Heidanus

There is more of a market for the spoken word than you might think. And where every home recordist and his dog is trying to get into the music industry, voiceover is wide open with comparatively little competition.

So where is the market for voiceover? Well let's be a little more general and consider the spoken word in its entirety…

  • Audio books
  • Radio commercials
  • Radio promos
  • TV commercials
  • TV promos
  • Radio drama
  • Internet audio
  • Podcasts
  • Self-development recordings
  • Probably a hundred more that I've missed out…

Clearly the best area to work in would be TV commercials. That's where the big money is. You would be competing with the real professionals here. The market for radio commercials is much more open though, simply because there are so many more radio stations. And there are many very small radio stations that don't have the budget for big productions – you could gain entry to the business there and work your way up.

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I should make it clear that there is real money in TV work. Take London for example. I've heard of voiceover studios charging over £200 ($400) an hour. If that seems like a lot of money, it's peanuts compared to the fees that celebrity voiceover talent can charge.

Let's turn to the technical side. What do you need to do this kind of work?

Firstly you need a VERY quiet studio. Music can cover up background noise; speech can't. You could build a booth with anything up to six or eight layers of plasterboard (drywall) to achieve the necessary isolation. Don't forget that the door will need to seal very tightly, and you'll need ventilation.

Inside your booth, you will need acoustic treatment. Foam absorbers are good, but they don't do much for the low frequency range. For that you need membrane absorbers or panel absorbers. Or you can look at proprietary solutions. Make sure you don't neglect the low end or you will regret it.

For voiceover it's best to get as dry a sound as you can. The acoustics of small rooms never sound good, so it's best to minimize their effect.

If you can achieve a really dry sound, then it can be processed in any way. You can always add reverb, but you can't take it away.

Next you need a microphone. There are a few 'classic' voiceover mics – the Neumann U47 FET used to be one of my favorites, but I haven't come across one for a while. The Electrovoice RE20 is widely used too. Another classic from the past is the AKG D202, used every day by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his adversary in the House of Commons. I'd go for the RE20 though, and of course it is current so you can easily buy one.

One thing you don't want, in my opinion, is a tube microphone. Tube microphones tend to distort 's' and 't' sounds, which gets unpleasant after a while. A competent transistor preamplifier will do fine, and any recording system you choose.

The material produced by your voiceover studio might be just voice, or you might be mixing speech with pre-recorded music and sound effects.

Recording voice isn't difficult, if you set yourself a high enough standard and make it your business to achieve it. Working with pre-recorded music and sound effects is more challenging.

Going back to the voice by itself. There are two schools of thought on the output of a voiceover studio. One says that the recording should be clean and ready for whatever processing that is necessary. The other is that it should be 'finished' and comparable with the client's regular output.

You may therefore require compression, reverberation, and perhaps even an aural exciter. You won't need a noise gate (if you think you do, you're getting something wrong).

You know, there's as much to get interested in here as there is in music. And there are opportunities…

David Mellor

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David Mellor