Day in the Life of a Voiceover Artist

My eyes are opened by a ray of sunshine beaming through the curtains. A quick glance at the clock tells me another day begins. A yawn, a stretch and before you know it, I am showered, dressed, and at the office eating breakfast with a strong cup of tea and checking my diary to see what the day has in-store for me…

…A couple of telephony on hold messages to record, voiceover for a video and late afternoon an remote hook-up to Boston, USA playing a cartoon character for an e-learning project for Intel, that should be fun I always enjoy live hook-ups. It’s amazing how you can be in a recording studio in the UK and link to anywhere in the world for direction from either a production company or client or both at the same time. As is the case this afternoon, the production company is hooking up to me from Boston and the client is linking to the production company via a phone patch so all three of us can hear exactly how the session is progressing and the client can give me direction, phrase it this way or that way or a bit louder or softer. Everyone has a personal preference on how a voiceover should be read and it’s the client who pay the bills and it’s my job to deliver exactly what they want and make the voiceover work.

I am fortunate in the fact that my clients know how I work and I know what they want from me so the majority of my work is approved first time and there are very few, if any amends. There are occasions when the script is changed and I have to re-record a paragraph or two or maybe drop in the odd word.

Ahh the post has arrived, now what’s Pat dropped off today, bill, bill, a couple of cheques (must pay them in) and what’s this. The script I’ve been waiting for. It’s a 35,000 word audio book, yep, complete with a full (3 page) brief. It’s great when you receive an accurate brief on a new project, style, tone, pace, emphasis. The script has arrived in 12pt type, double line spaced with comments already written on certain pages and any odd words spelt out frenetically in brackets to the side. This is perfect, it saves so much time if a script is clear because it reduces re-takes. Having the type double spaced also gives me space to add my own notes including where to take a breath! I will read that later, I have it booked in to record next week.

Right, let’s go into the recording studio. If you are a voiceover artist and want to be taken seriously, you have to make an investment in professional recording equipment, along with soundproofing the studio and recording booth. I use specialist acoustic foam to achieve the best results. A recording studio should be acoustically flat. By this I mean that if you clap your hands there should be no reverb/echo. So when you are recording, it is sampling your voice exactly as you speak and should reverb or effects need to be added to your voice it can be added in post-production. It is very easy to add effects to a dry recording and very difficult to take away. So it is important that your recording environment is perfect before you think about turning on the microphone.

Let’s take a look at the tools of my trade. It all starts with the microphone, I use a condenser microphone with a large diaphragm, set in a floating mount with ‘Tube’ pre-amp that gives natural warmth to your voice. Cheap microphones don’t have the same dynamic range as a professional mic and they tend to suffer from background noise and hisses and lack depth. Pro’ is the way. The mic is plugged into a Symetrix 528E voice processor. This is an amazing piece of kit. It offers, compression, limiting, de-essing, gating and three band graphic equaliser (low, mid and high) with boost for each frequency. You have to be really careful here to make sure that any changes you make doesn’t destroy any content of your voice and should still sound very natural. If you can hear the eq been used, then you’re not using the equipment correctly. For a list of the recording equipment I use see the selection at the end of this article.

From here the signal goes into a mixing desk, I use a 24 track mixing desk for flexibility, I never use all channels, but they are there if I need them.

I have stopped using ISDN in favour of IP codecs through the web, they are much faster and more reliable. ISDN is old technology and the machines are very expensive and will soon become obsolete, mine cost just short of £3,000 and there is an installation charge of £300 and monthly line rental of £45 so if you are not sure that you will get remote work ‘don’t do it’ you will never achieve your return on investment. If you are only going to get the odd job hear and there, it could be worth while going to your local radio station and asking them if you can use theirs for free in return for some free voiceovers for radio commercials, jingles, announcements etc.

Where are we?… The sound now goes from the mixing desk through a analogue to digital codec into the computer. I use an Apple Mac computer and use various pieces of software including Cubase, Garage Band, Audacity and it depends on what and why I am recording something as to which software I use.

Before starting any voiceover it is vitally important that ALL the record levels and settings are set, checked and double checked to make sure the sound is exactly as you want it. No distortion, good signal strength and recording level. As they say: ‘Fail to prepare and prepare to fail’.

OK, I have my script all the levels and settings are as I want them and I’m ready to record. I’m wearing totally enclosed headphones with ‘flat response’  (again so I can hear exactly what is been recorded with no artificial colouring as with domestic headphones that might have a bass boost). We’re all set, let’s press the ‘Red Button’, Not the ‘Red Button’ I hear you say. Yes, the Red Record Button and we’re on are way. I am an excellent reader and always make sure I read through and understand a script before I go anywhere near the ‘Red Button’. I tend to record a small script three times and then listen back to see if there is one that stands out from the rest. I am known in the trade as ‘One Take Caroline’…. unless of course I get a fit of the giggles, in which case, get the coffees in, it’s going to be a long day (only joking lol!).

We know have our recording and we’re into post-production and it’s time to clean up the recording. Simply recording the voice is not the end of a voiceover, you have to edit the recording and delete any mouth noises or breaths that you don’t want. Do you remember what I said about making sure your recording is flat and natural? Well this is where you can add any effects you want to the voice, extra compression a little reverb etc. If you are recording a radio commercial you me put all kinds of effects including echo, reverb, chorus, phasing, double-tracking on your voice along with background music etc. It really is horses for courses!

The recording is complete and it’s time to listen back to your hard work. First in the studio, using active monitors with close field monitoring. At this stage you are still in your acoustically flat studio and here it should sound absolutely perfect. BUT, if for example I am recording an Audio Book, I will download the recording onto my iPod and play it on a stereo system in another room, because after all, this is where the most people listen audio books, cd dvd etc. If it sounds good here then I know it is ready to send to the client.

cmb voiceovers hard at work feature

I deliver my voiceovers to clients in a number of different ways. If a small project, I will save the file as an MP3 and email the job to the client. For larger files, especially when sending WAV files, I will either upload the sound files to my FTP site at www.cmbvoiceovers.com and supply the client with a link to download them, or I will use YouSendIt to deliver the files. YouSendIt is an independent company that specialises in delivering large files over the internet.

Wait a minute, that’s the phone: Good morning CMB Voiceovers!.. Ahh, that was Dave asking for a job to be turned around this afternoon. I always give my clients the best service possible which is why I get so much repeat business, because they know they can rely on me to deliver the goods, on time, every time. This means I have to push one of the Telephony voiceovers to tomorrow to fit Dave’s job in and still finish before I have the ISDN hook-up with America at 6pm my time, 12 noon their time. Sometimes the 6 hour time delay between the USA and the UK can work to an advantage. When I give a quotation for a voiceover job I always give myself enough time for ‘the unknown’ such as Dave’s late job, this allows me time to plan and juggle the workload as I think fit. But, this is the service industry and if everyone needs their job today, then it’s going to be a long day.

Something I forgot to mention, ‘The Proximity Effect’, when recording into a condenser microphone, firstly you need a wind shield in front of the mic to stop any popping but then you have to consider how far away your mouth is from the microphone. For some recordings your voice may need to be naturally sounding so your mouth will be from 12 to 18inches away from the microphone but for the majority of voiceovers your mouth will be 3 to 4 inches away and it is this distance that you achieve the ‘Proximity Effect’, you’re voice becomes deeper, richer, warmer, more dynamic. You guessed it ‘The DJ Effect’ as I like to call it because that is what all Disc Jockeys do, I’m sure you know what I mean.I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for another cup of tea… and maybe one of those cream buns in the fridge that I bought yesterday. I’ve talked about the equipment but left out one very important part of my voiceover business and that is of course ‘My Voice’ it’s my USP (Unique Selling Point) as is your voice to your voiceover business. And it is important that you look after it and you have to do your best to stay healthy and fit. Stay clear of colds and flu and laryngitis. When recording I tend to have bottled water on hand to keep my voice lubricated without getting my juices flowing and get ‘Wet Mouth’ recordings. Wet Mouth comes from the noises you make when you are talking. When a production manager is mixing down a voiceover with Wet Mouth, they have a real job on their hands getting rid of all those moist, gob smacking noises!

Is you’re voice commercial and are you going to make any money at it. Before you invest in setting up a recording studio, you need to get experience and advice and this is best found at your local radio station, give them a ring and go for a chat, you’ll be surprised how helpful they are and the majority are more than happy to offer their advice.

I have been in the industry for 14 years and in that time I have produced my own life coaching DVD, appeared on BBC Television, many radio stations, I have been a radio presenter which is where I got into voiceovers. The radio station used my voice on radio commercials and I caught the bug. I thought if those companies like the sound of my voice and will pay for me to help sell their products and services then surly other people will to. So I gave up presenting the radio show and concentrated on my voiceover business. I am an Equity member and I have established myself as a female voiceover artist and enjoy repeat business from many of my clients. And, touch wood, to date I am finding success..

It’s time for the ISDN hook up to the America so I have to go. If you want to hear samples my voice or book me for a voiceover then please visit my the samples page. I am sure you will like what you hear and hopefully I will hear your voice soon!

Here is a selection of CMB Voiceovers Studio Equipment:

SE –  2200 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
Art – TUBE MP pre-amp
Symetrix – 528E Voice Processor
Behringer – XenyX 24/4/2FX Mixing Desk
Packard Bell – Personal Computer
Apple – iMac
Hitachi – 3TB external Hard Drive
Maxator – 2TB External Hard Drive
Software – Cubase – Garage Band – Audacity
Audio Technica – ATH M50 Professional Studio Monitoring Headphones
Zoom – H4 Mobile Digital Stereo Microphone (for portable recordings)
Zoom – R16 Mobile Digital Multi-Track Recorder (for portable recordings)
Yamaha – HS50M Active Monitors
Rode – PSA1 Microphone Studio Arm Stand
IP Codec – Audio TX Communicator with IP

Various other soft and hardware that keeps updating on a regular basis.

As part of our disaster recovery programme, all recordings are backed up daily and stored on external hard drives and an off-site cloud archiving facility. So you can be assured that your recordings are protected for the future. (voiceover data is secured on our archiving system up to five years)