Voice over: the essentials

Voice over acting is a real profession, whatever some sad lovies would like people to believe. And to practise voice over, there are certain essentials. Some things are obvious, others... less so. Here is a non-exhaustive list of 15 things that are essential to professional voice over work.

1. A website

This is a topic I covered in my article about websites for voice over artists, so I'm not going to repeat myself. But if today you don't have a website and you're complaining that the amount of work is dwindling... really?
If you think that your list of contacts or your agent are enough, that your presence on a voice over platform is more than enough, you're forgetting that a large chunk of the work comes from the international market. Without a website, you don't exist there. It's up to you.

2. A soundproofed and acoustically treated recording space

home recording studio build it like the prosIf you only work in a commercial studio, you can skip this chapter.
On the other hand, if you work entirely or partly from your private studio, it's essential that you read on. Before considering any equipment, the starting point is the environment in which you are recording. The first thing you need to do is soundproof your booth: prevent outside noise from getting inside. This is extremely difficult, but the physical laws of soundproofing are well known: mass, mass/air/mass, a combination of the two, helps to contain sound.

Once your space has been soundproofed, it is essential to treat it acoustically to avoid reverb, standing waves, etc. The proportions of the room also need to be taken into account, as do the non-parallelism of the walls and the ceiling with the floor. There are also various complementary solutions: absorption, diffraction, diffusion and reflection. Don't forget to leave a little life in the room with controlled reflection. Dull sound should not be confused with muffled sound.

Master Handbook of AcousticsUnlike sound insulation, acoustic treatment is much more complex. We know, for example, that hangers are effective in treating standing waves, but we still don't know why. Take a look at the acousticians' forums: some of the world's leading experts are having a field day!

Having said that, it is possible to obtain a good result if you have studied applied acoustics and applied the recipes. I can only recommend that you study Rod Gervais's 'Home Recording Studio - Build It Like The Pros' and F. Alton Everest's 'Master Handbook of Acoustics', which are bibles on the subject. If you're interested in this subject (and you should be!), I talk about it in my article Remote Recording And Private Studios.

SSL2+ sound card

3. A good sound card

A USB microphone may be enough... for podcasting. But no commercial studio has a USB microphone in its collection. Why not?

As you know, your microphone needs preamplification. But the preamp and sound card built into your computer are mediocre, even in a very good computer. So what are your options? An external sound card.

Of course, you can also choose a separate preamplifier found in channel strips such as the exceptional Avalon VT-737SP, the fabulous Manley Voxbox, or the legendary AMS Neve 1073, to name but a few, and connect them either to your sound card by bypassing its built-in preamp, or via a console.

But honestly, with the quality of preamps built into modern sound cards such as the SSL2+, separate preamps are beautiful, they add something to the sound for sure, you can send a bit more 'butter' with the adjustable gain (separate from the output), it's worth considering for your panoply of beautiful toys, but it's not essential for a private studio.

Neumann U87 black4. A condenser microphone adapted to your space and voice

Why a condenser microphone and not a dynamic microphone? Because dynamic microphones are not very sensitive and have a high level of self-generated noise. You need to preamplify more, which means even more background noise.

Condenser mics are much quieter, much, much more sensitive, don't need as much pre-amplification, which means that the recorded noise floor will be much lower. That's why, in any self-respecting commercial studio, the everyday mics are condenser mics.

Now, which condenser microphone? The better the mics, the more sensitive - and obviously more expensive - they are. The superior quality of these mics can be heard, but they require an irreproachable acoustic environment. A Neumann U87 in a voice-over booth that is not acoustically perfect will bring out all its faults. The same goes for ribbon microphones, which also require excellent pre-amplification.

It is therefore preferable to choose a less sensitive, and therefore less expensive, microphone if your voice-over booth is not acoustically perfect. Also worth considering: super-cardioid condenser microphones such as the Sennheiser MKH416, which, thanks to their ultra-directional design, are more forgiving in less than perfect acoustic environments. The angle, inclination and position of these microphones in relation to the actor is crucial: within five degrees, you're out of tune.

Finally, a microphone that's ideal for someone else won't necessarily match your voice - it's imperative to test, with your voice, in your acoustic environment. Finally, remember that we are voice-over actors, not singers, and that the aim is different; I developed the subject of microphones in my article The Microphone, That Obscure Object Of Desire.

5. A comfortable, quiet chair

Some people prefer to record standing up, which is essential for very animated interpretations, in video games, dubbing or ADR, for example. But for more 'inward', intimate, calm or inspirational interpretations, I recommend working seated.

Herman Miller Aeron Remastered armchair

The reason for this? The more muscles you activate, the less freedom you have in your body: you can't deactivate the muscles needed for standing, which is in fact a permanent micro-balance, and far fewer muscles are engaged when sitting, provided the chair is ergonomically designed. And for a posed interpretation, being as relaxed as possible is paramount, for obvious reasons. "On the other hand, doing hours of e-learning or audiobooks standing up is not a viable option.

When you spend long hours sitting in a cabin, it's essential to take care of your health. Sitting for long periods affects your back and hurts your buttocks, creating tension that builds up and can eventually lead to serious illness. The solution: an ergonomic chair where everything is adjustable, with a flexible, breathable seat and backrest.

Personally, I invested in my health and bought the chair shown in the photo opposite: the Herman Miller Aeron Remastered. It's very, very expensive to buy (although you can find second-hand ones on ebay from time to time), but believe me, I thank the Big Guy (my wife) every day for encouraging me to choose the best. I save an incredible amount of money on osteopaths. Well, my wife is an osteopath, but this way I don't have to bother her, I solve the problem at source!

6. Closed headphones

This is a subject I covered extensively in my article Headphones And Voice Over You'll need closed headphones for recording - and semi-open headphones if you wish (they're more comfortable to listen to) for critical listening.

A pair of proximity monitors is also recommended for editing. If you're doing long-form e-learning, you don't have a sound engineer and you do your own de-rushing and cleaning on your DAW for hours on end, it's much less tiring than working with your headphones on, whether they're closed or half-open.

Samsung screen

7. A screen

It's impossible to have your studio computer in your voice over booth: it makes noise, and noise and a booth are incompatible, it goes without saying. So you need a screen. This screen must allow you to simultaneously see your DAW, the film you're working on, your script and perhaps also the participants in your Zoom. That's a lot of stuff, and a standard screen isn't enough.

The solution: two screens next to each other at an angle, or better still, the solution I chose, a wide curved screen like the Samsung C34H890WJ.

8. An inverter

You're a voice-over actor who works entirely or partly from your own private studio, so you've invested a lot of money in your equipment. Are you prepared to see it completely destroyed by lightning? And even if your insurance reimburses it, are you prepared not to work for a few days until you receive a replacement?
Invest in an inverter - it costs around 100 to 200 dollars/pounds. Insurance that doesn't cost the earth.

ethernet cable

9. An ethernet cable

Wifi connections are, by their very nature, unstable. So much so that some studios require an ethernet connection between your computer and your router to work with you remotely. The solution? Connect your studio computer to your router physically, using an ethernet cable. Bingo, you've got a stable connection for 10 dollars.

10. A backup 5G key

If you work from your private studio, you need internet. Outages happen. If you have to cancel a session and your client urgently needs the plugs, he'll replace you. A 5G key is the plan B that could allow you to continue your sessions even if your internet has decided to take a break. Of course, you can also use your mobile phone to share the connection if your package is big enough on data. To be checked beforehand, of course.

11. A watch (yes, I know, mobile phones also tell the time, I'm old)

Being on time is really the most important thing, out of courtesy, respect and professionalism, whether in a commercial studio or in a remote session from your private studio. Of course, certain unforeseen circumstances cannot be avoided, but do your utmost to eliminate any causes that could make you late.
Being on time means arriving early so that the session can start on time.
And when we have undertaken to deliver at a certain time, it means delivering at that time - or before, and giving advance notice if, for some reason beyond our control or another, we are unable to deliver on time.

12. Deodorant

I address this delicate subject in my article 20 Tips To Get Ahead In Voice Over. You can have all the hygiene you want in your private studio, but for commercial studio sessions, do I really need to explain why? For the same reason, camembert and other powerful foods before a session in a commercial studio aren't a great idea either, and neither is alcohol. And you don't want to give the impression of arriving drunk at a session. It doesn't go down well.

politeness manual

13. Manners

It's obvious, and yet... whether in a commercial studio or in a remote session from your own private studio, listening is essential. And by that I mean listening physically - without interrupting.

Hello, thank you, have a nice day - in short, the ABCs of all communication. However, the number of emails that don't include any of these polite phrases suggests that courtesy and respect are disappearing arts. Fortunately, I'm sure you're one of those people who hasn't forgotten good manners!

14. Receive training BEFORE going to market

There's an adage that says "You never get a second chance to make a good first impression" and this is particularly true in voice over. If you send in a demo that isn't perfect, both in terms of interpretation and the technical codes of the profession, you'll burn out before you've even started. Admit it, that would be a shame. In this article I talk about voice over training and in this one from voice-over jargon, essential to master if you don't want to look like a noob in a guided session.

15. Marketing

Marketing. Yes, you read that right, marketing. Of course, your website is one element of your marketing, but voice over marketing encompasses many other things. Every business needs it, and we're no different. I talk about this in my article Voice Over Marketing? Say what?

I hope you found this article interesting. If you did, don't forget to subscribe to my blog to be notified when I publish new articles. And don't hesitate to share it with your colleagues who, like you, could benefit from it. They'll be grateful for your generosity, and so will I!
And don't hesitate to add any points you think I've forgotten in the comments, or to share your experience here and leave your suggestions or questions. Don't hold back, I'll do my best to answer them.