Category Archives: Voice Over Gurus Blog

Day to day updates in the world of Voice Over!

Voiceover Home Studio Part 3

Now that we have a quiet place to record, it’s time to talk about equipment. Think of your recording equipment as having three primary pieces: an ear (microphone), a mouth (monitor), and a brain (computer). For all of the equipment we’re about to discuss I’ll offer 3 price levels: low, middle, and high.

There are many options, and a wide price range, when it comes to buying a professional quality microphone. Obviously, since you’re just starting out, you’ll want the highest quality you can get, without breaking the bank. If you’re looking to do voice work, you’ll want what’s called a “Condenser Microphone.” Condenser mics draw power from a battery or external source. As a result, the audio signal is stronger signal than that from the other kind, which is called a “Dynamic Microphone.” Here are 3 examples:

https://www.guitarcenter.com/MXL/990-Condenser-Microphone-with-Shockmount.gc

https://www.guitarcenter.com/Rode-Microphones/NT1-Condenser-Microphone-Package.gc

https://www.guitarcenter.com/Sony/C-100-Hi-Res-Studio-Vocal-Microphone.gc

Condenser mics are very sensitive, so they usually come with a metal ring-and-spring harness called a “Shock Mount” which prevents vibrations from reaching the mic. Many models also include a “Pop Filter” which is a noise protection shield that reduces or eliminates the popping sounds caused by fast-moving air from your mouth impacting the microphone. If you buy your equipment used, be sure all the original accessories like the shock mount and pop-filter are included.

https://www.rockvilleaudio.com/rockpop/

You could spend up to Twenty Thousand Dollars on your microphone…

But just like it is with luxury cars, after a certain point its all about perceived value.

You’re going to need a microphone stand. Depending on your setup, you can opt for a standard floor stand, or for a dektop stand. If you choose the desktop, I recommend a solid-base model, like this one:

https://www.amazon.com/Proline-MS112-Desktop-Boom-Stand/dp/B000J0N5TY

That greater stability is necessary because it needs to support the added weight of a “Microphone Isolation Shield” which attaches to the top of the stand.

https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=602650

Because condenser mics take in sound from all directions, ambient and reflected sound can be a problem when recording acoustic and vocal tracks. The isolation shield blocks or absorbs unwanted sounds, preventing them from reaching to the microphone.

In the days before computers, a microphone was plugged into an audio mixer which Amplified the signal before sending it both to the users headphones and to the recording device, which was typically tape driven.

But in the digital age, the mixer has been replaced by a small box that converts the microphone’s output to a digital file before sending it on to the computer for recording. It also alllows you to adjust the “Gain” or the microphones level of sensitivity. Higher gain makes noises sound lounder, etc. Models range from simple cost effective solo mic models (which are usb powered) up to and including those with their own power source, and eight separate inputs for microphones, instruments, etc. Here are 3 options:

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/UM2usb–behringer-u-phoria-um2

https://focusrite.com/usb-audio-interface/scarlett/scarlett-solo

The other function that the audio interface provides is that it allows you to monitor the audio going out to the computer through a headphone jack. You’ll want a pair of high-quality headphones for that.

Focusrite offers an excellent turn-key package covering everything we’ve discussed up to this point.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06WD1WMF8/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_YZi2Bb8C97BWQ

Finally we come to the computer. Everyone has one these days, so is there something special that sets an “audio recording computer” apart from the one sitting on your desk? The short answer is, not really. At the end of the day, its all about the software. Perfect entry-level software can be had for FREE with “Audacity.”

Pro Tools is widely considered the industry-standard for professional audio editing software.

https://www.avid.com/pro-tools

Adobe Audition is another similarly priced professional digital audio workstation. All three options use the same basic waveform editing view.

https://www.adobe.com/products/audition.html

When I setup my home recording studio, I tried to spend my money where it would count most. I bought a mid-range microphone and USB audio interface. I reasoned that I could save a few bucks if I started out by using the free audacity software on my home computer, a 3 year old Dell Inspiron running Windows 10. To increase my recoding capacity, I purchased the largest solid-state external hard drive I could find.

https://www.seagate.com/consumer/backup/backup-plus/

Luckily, it worked well, though I don’t know if my old machine would be up to the challenge of running the Avid or Adobe software. So when the time does come to upgrade your computer. You will want a machine with the most RAM (memory) possible. At least 16GB. Hard drive size isn’t really an issue if you use an external drive that has a USB 3.0 connector.  CPU speed is surprisingly low on the list. Mostly because it’s less of an issue than it was, say 10 years ago. Even a modest off-the-shelf  computer today is powerful enough to create professional voicework audio. Especially if you’re not mixing a ton of tracks the way you would making music.That isn’t to say you shouldn’t go for the fastest machine you can afford. Just as with RAM, more is better. With a computer’s CPU, faster is always better for longevity of use. I recommend a desktop model, but if you’re wedded to the idea of editing audio on a laptop, using the external drive becomes even more important. Here are 3 desktop possibilities:

https://www.dell.com/en-us/shop/dell-desktop-computers/inspiron-desktop/spd/inspiron-3670-desktop/ddcwgmmtcfl417s

https://www.dell.com/en-us/shop/dell-desktop-computers/xps-tower/spd/xps-8930-desktop/dxcwvmax004hb

https://www.dell.com/en-us/shop/dell-desktop-computers/alienware-aurora/spd/alienware-aurora-r7-desktop/dpcwxtc03h

Next time we’ll talk about a few final concerns, with some tips and tricks for making your studio a comfortable and productive environment.

Voiceover Home Studio Part 2

When you think about soundproofing there are two factors to consider: exterior sound, and interior sound. First and foremost, whenever possible you want to put as much padding and distance between you and the outside world. I’m going to be covering a fair amount of materials in this post, so rather than wreck the flow, I’m going to post all the links at the end. If you’re setting up a Converted-Closet Studio, you might want to start by putting up a layer of “Airguard” or a similar underlayment. If money is a Factor, you could also consider using cork underlayment, for about half the price. And of course, the Bargain Basement option is to use heavy blankets scavenge from your local Goodwill or other charity store. As is always the case, the less money you spend, the less effective your overall outcome will be. If you’re renting rather than owning the space you’ll want to consider using industrial staples rather than drywall screws when affixing the underlayment to the wall. As they say, “Start with the end in mind.”

After putting up the initial layer of underlayment, it’s time to choose the inner layer. Ideally, this should be made entirely of plywood. Once again, the thicker the wood, the more it will insulate you against outside noises. For the most cost-effective option, you could opt for particle board which runs about 50% of the cost per square foot as that of regular plywood. Don’t forget, that everything you’re putting up on the interior walls must also be done to the inside of the door! It would be awful to do all this work only to have a bunch of noise come in through some crappy hollow-core closet door.

Finally, if you are building this in an apartment, be mindful of the ceiling and the floor. It makes no sense to put additional material down on a concrete floor, but if you are living in an upstairs apartment, additional layers may be necessary. The same for your ceiling if you have neighbors upstrairs. The ceiling may not require a full layer of external soundproofing, but would most likely benefit from a single layer of insulation and drywall. As always, use your best judgement.

If you choose to build your studio as an exterior structure, be sure when finishing the interior to use a single layer of insulation and a layer of damping compound between two layers of 1/2” thick drywall. Hang the first layer of drywall., then apply the compound, followed by the second layer of drywall.

Now that we all have a room with a finished interior, it’s time to talk about dealing with inside sounds. If you were to Simply to leave the walls bare, every noise would bounce around the walls and ceiling like a pinball in an arcade machine. There are basically two options for dealing with this problem. Composed of compressed foam, sound absorbing acoustic panels “catch” sound waves to reduce general noise, clarify speech, and limit reverberation in enclosed areas. When sound waves travel through the air and strike wall or ceiling- mounted noise reducing panels, the foam pores vibrate, increasing friction. These vibrations quickly reach a point where enough friction is created for the conversion of sound energy to kinetic energy, which is simply the energy of an object in motion. Since kinetic energy can’t be contained, it dissipates quickly, leaving no sound waves and, no sound. The only problem is that acoustic panels can be expensive depending upon how many you require, but they are truly the best solution for absorbing sound interior. I’m not going to go into all of the options here, but suffice it to say a quick Google search should give you a wealth of further information on acoustic panels.

The other option is to cover the entire interior space with a different sound absorbing material. I chose the least expensive, high traffic, shag carpet from my local carpet supply store. I then cut it (always measure twice!) and attached it to the walls using industrial strength wallpaper paste, with a few drywall screws at the top to get each piece started, then finished each piece with a staple gun. This was not only a cost effective solution, but its also very effective, as it provides one more layer of soundproofing from outside noises, and there is literally no surface left from which a sound can reverberate.

Soundproofing Underlayment: https://www.homedepot.com/p/Roberts-AirGuard-630-sq-ft-40-in-x-

189-ft-x-1-8-in-Value-Roll-of-Premium-3-in-1-Underlayment-with-Microban-70-105-1/203139756

Cork Underlayment: https://www.homedepot.com/p/QEP-200-sq-ft-1-4-in-Cork-Underlayment-Roll-

72000Q/100645274

Damping Compound: https://www.greengluecompany.com/products/noiseproofing-compound

Acoustic Panels (cheap): https://www.walmart.com/ip/12-24-48pcs-Acoustic-Panels-Sound-Proofing-

Foam-Sheet-With-Adhesive-Backing/337221776

Acoustic panels (expensive): https://acousticalsolutions.com/product/alphasorb-pro-acoustic-panel-

room-kit/

Carpet Example: https://www.stainmaster.com/Carpet/products/details/MCP0011205-COL0096899

 

 

Voiceover home studio Part 1

  • After several weeks of working with Lesley, I know that the time is rapidly approaching when I will
    want to start recording demos and (hopefully) commercial work.
    One option is to rent out some time in a professional studio. Right now in Portland, it costs about $40
    per hour to rent studio time for voiceovers. This is absolutely a reasonable option. But given that I am
    also capable of recording and editing audio, I decided to build a home studio instead.
    In this first post, I’m going to go over two options for you to consider when choosing a space for your
    home studio. In future entries, I’ll also cover soundproofing, recording equipment, and software. We’ll
    keep a close eye on budget along the way. No one wants to spend too much, but buying professional-
    quality when possible is important with something that is is intended to make you money. After all this is an investment, like a mechanic buying a fine set of tools.
    “There are three things that matter…location, location, location.”
    Depending upon your living situation, you have a couple of options: For renters, as well as homeowners, converting a large closet into your
    recording studio it is definitely a viable option. The upside to this is that it keeps the cost extremely
    low, because it requires no new construction. The downside is that the location of the closet in your
    home or apartment may be less-than-ideal when it comes to soundproofing. Outside walls, pipes, or
    noisy neighbors may bleed through. So some of what you saved will have to be spent on upgraded
    soundproofing down the road.
    If you own your home and have even a modest yard, you may want to consider new construction. A
    quick web search will give you an idea of some options for having a small shed built on your property.
    Let’s start with the barest bones scenario:
    I was quoted around $1,500 to have an 8 ft wide by 8 ft long by 7 foot 10 inch high shed built behind
    my house. It’s the smallest size available, and ample for a home voicework studio. The other nice thing about it is that since it’s 8 feet wide by 8 feet high it’s easy to do the math on how many 4 x 8 sheets of sheet rock, plywood, or other soundproofing materials you’ll need to purchase to cover the interior.
    After the structure is built, the more labor that you can do yourself the cheaper the price will be. For
    additional soundproofing, and by virtue of the fact that it keeps your workspace warm in the winter and cool in the summer, I absolutely recommend putting insulation up before drywall. There are, of course, innumerable videos demonstrating ever step of this process on YouTube.
    Ten rolls of R-13 “faced” insulation (meaning it has paper on one side when you unroll it) cost about
    $22 each. For a total of $220 You’ll need 10 4 x 8 sheets of drywall. They’re about $15 apiece, so that’s
    only $150 more. So far, “finishing” the interior has only cost us $370. Let’s add another $50 for
    incidentals (drywall screws, etc.) And we’re up to $420. Which, when added to the original $1500 for
    the building brings us to $1,920.
    Just under two grand for a home studio isn’t bad. Especially when there is a possibility that you could
    deduct at least some that on your taxes as a business expense. But for that kind of info, I sincerely
    encourage you to contact a professional accountant.
    Next time, we’ll discuss a few additional finishing options as we move into soundproofing.

Voiceover Student Blog #2

Week 2: “Commercials capture your attention, that’s all.” ~ Calvin Klein

The previous week, Lesley and I discussed the many and various ways in which voice actors can apply their voice acting skill professionally. This week, she suggested that I narrow my focus down to one.

Despite the fact that my passion lies in voicing audio books, I have decided to focus on commercials as they can be more lucrative in the short-term. I still intend to pursue audiobook production as a long-term goal.

So this week we took a look at some previously used commercial Scripts. While reading the scripts, Lesley encouraged me to focus on two things: the “what” and the “how” of each ad.

WHAT is being sold here? We’re not just looking for a one-word answer like “a car.”  We need to know what makes this car different. Also, what is the target demographic for this product?

HOW is it being sold? How do you think this ad is intended to appeal to the target demographic?

Here is just one example of an ad we discussed:

“When everything’s in the right place, you can’t go wrong. Which makes the Buick Enclave such an easy choice. It’s full of features like the IntelliLink voice-activated sound system, the industry’s first front center air bag and available seating for up to 8. Finally, a perfect way to get comfortable with technology. The redesigned 2013 Buick Enclave. It’s your kind of luxury. Discover more at buick.com

What is being sold? The simple answer is “a car”, but if we look a little deeper we see that what’s really being sold here is the concept of automotive luxury mixed with cutting edge technology. That will definitely affect the tone that you will use when voicing the ad. Obviously, you want to sound self-assured. Confident without being smug. You want the listener to identify you as someone who knows what they’re talking about and, as such, believe what you’re telling them about this car.

How is it being sold? Technology can be daunting for some people. Especially the target demographic for this ad. I mean, Let’s face it, we’re probably not selling big Buicks to some tech-savvy 20-somethings. No, this car is being marketed to a slightly older crowd. That must also be reflected in the tone. One example of this is to pay attention to when contractions are being used (versus when they aren’t.) Less formal speech implies an easy familiarity. And easy familiarity is how we want the customer to think of using the technology in this car.

Lesley often says that voice work is two-thirds mental and one-third physical. Meaning that most of the work you will be doing is reading, thinking, re-reading, and making notes before you ever step in front of a microphone. “What is the What and How of this ad?” “What is the tone of this ad?” “What words should I hit a little harder than others?”

We reviewed this exercise several times, with a varied list of products from fast food, to bars of soap. The most important thing to remember about the service that Lesley provides is that being coached is something you need to experience. Your coach is a mirror. Impartial and there to show you what looks good, and what needs to be improved. “Slow down a little.” “That was the right place to pause, but let’s make that pause a little shorter.” “Let’s try it again, but this time, I want you to pretend you’re talking to your grandparents.” It’s amazing how something as simple as visualizing your audience as a specific person will completely change your tone and inflection.

Throughout our session, Lesley encouraged me to read in as natural a voice as possible. While attempting to read a commercial script there is a propensity to try and make your voice sound the way you’ve heard other voice actors sound in similar commercials. Think “Chevy truck month” or that guy who does most of the movie trailers.

But what you might not realize is that the audience hears the inherent lack of authenticity in your voice, and that will not be good for business. So the takeaway here is “Be Yourself. And do the best job that you can do with the voice you have.”

Voiceover Student Blog #1

So you want to be a voiceover professional?

Me too! Hi I’m Jason. I’m a client of Lesley’s, and I’m going to be filling in for a while writing this blog. I’m here to tell you all about my experience working with Lesley, and what it’s like to get into the voice over industry from day one.

Since I was a kid, I’ve always done funny voices. Usually when telling jokes or goofing around with my friends. I also love listening to audio books. So when I started reading chapter books aloud to my kids (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc.) I tried to read them the way they would sound as audio books. After a few years of doing that nearly every night, I started to think that maybe I could do it professionally.

When I truly decided to get into voiceover, the first thing I did was what we all do now when we need info, I Googled it. All of the results had three pieces of advice in common:

  1. Listen to the professionals.
  2. Practice and develop your ability.
  3. Find a good voice over coach.

After another Google Search, I found Lesley . She works with clients from across the country  (via Skype) but luckily for me, we live in the same city so I scheduled an appointment with her via email.

My first session with her was a real eye-opener. I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and friendly approach that Lesley brings as a part of her coaching style. We started by getting to know each other.

We talked about the different areas where people can do voicework professionally such as animation, video games, commercials, audio books, and more. Then specifically the areas in which I would be interested working.

After discussing career options, we went through some exercises. Obviously each client is different in their experience, skill level, and in the areas where they need improvement. Lesley’s abilities as a coach are grounded in her professional experience as a casting director. She knows what to listen for in a successful audition, so she can help you sound your best.

We started as many voice coaches do, with breathing exercises. Its amazing how little we think about something we literally do every second of our lives. I was surprised by how much of good voice work is physical. Controlling your diaphragm, and making the most of the fuel you’re taking in to power your instrument.

Then we moved on to articulation, think of your lips, your jaw, and your tongue as the parts of a machine. They all have to work in harmony to produce the desired sound. As is the case with any physical activity, its always best to stretch before you begin. So to wrap things up, we did some tongue twisters.

After warming up, we moved on to inflectional changes. Many people don’t realize just how much of “voice acting” is actual “acting.” This was the exercise I found the most interesting: Try saying the word “Yes” 3 times each to indicate certainty, indecision, and sarcasm. Try saying the word “No” 3 times to each to indicate certainty, indecision, surprise, annoyance, and delight. Say the sentence “I’ll be there” 3 times each to indicate determination, pleased agreement, surprised, and annoyance. We did more, but you get the idea.

Then I asked her about about demos. I was relieved when Lesley told me that her advice was to wait, work on improving your abilities, and then make a few short recordings targeted specifically at the kind of jobs you’re hoping to get. One of the things I read when researching Voice coaches was that if a potential voice coach wants you to spend money right away making a demo with them, you should treat it as a red flag.

The average casting director makes their decision within 10 seconds of listening to your voice. So you don’t need to do one long recording showcasing all of your different abilities. Just do a quick example of a car commercial. Do a short political ad, etc. Lesley shared some great resources with me, like websites that have a library of scripts from previous advertising campaigns.

Finally, I was given homework. Lesley gave me a guide for how to create character voices. It begins with a voice… Any voice. The next step is to put that Voice through a series of filters. Make it go as high or as low, as loud or soft as you can. Use your teeth nose lips and tongue to change the voice.

I scheduled my next appointment with her and went home to download some scripts and start practicing!

I’ll be back next week to tell you about what I’ve learned, and what comes next