A voiceover artist's daily workflow
by PETER BAKER http://www.voiceovermasterclass.com
So you’ve set yourself up as a voice over actor? You have a studio set up at home or in a rental office and wonder what will happen? Well, let’s assume that you'll get an email from a client who has found your website and likes your voice samples. If they haven't given this detail with the script you need to ask them the following:
1) STYLE - you need to ask: What voice style do you want...is there a showreel you like? Can you send the music you have chosen to lay under the voiceover to assist in getting the “mood”?
2) PACE What speed? Does it need to fit into a certain time for example?
3) CHALLENGING WORDS How do you pronounce certain words or acronyms? Ideally, they'd send you an audio file saying challenging words very slowly and also at normal speed. Don't just rely on forvo.com, or howjsay.com. For non-English words, Google Translate gives you a good idea sometimes if you click the right language, but don't rely on it! For unusual non-English company names, you may find a video on YouTube that mentioned how to say the word you are looking for.
4) FILE TYPE As a voice over actor, you need to ask, what file type do they need? WAV? AIF? mp3? What data and bit rate? For example, even though most modern digital recorders capture at 24bit 48KHz, San Francisco's Voice Bunny insists on files that are WAV but 16 bit and 44.1KHz. ACX or Audible audio books need files that are mp3 files, 192Kb/sec and normalised to -3dB.
After you have all the information, you'd record, peaking between "4" and "6" on your calibrated PPM meters or equivalent if you are using VU meters. I would say if you are serious about being a voice over actor, you’d use physical PPM or “Peak Programme Meters” as used in the BBC and professional radio and TV stations as they are more accurate than VU. However, on a software programme, the “virtual meters” are OK to use, but don’t peak over about – 10dB, to avoid distortion.
5) FILE EDITING & PROCESSING You as a voice over actor can't send the raw audio to the client, although some studios with experienced audio editors insist as they want to optimise and sweeten the waveforms themselves – so need them without any processing. At the very least you need to delete your mistakes, after all you're a professional that doesn't make mistakes, aren't you?! Here's the order I personally process files. I can do this very quickly as I have keyboard pre-sets on Adobe Audition, which saves so much time. (Use ALT + K if you have Audition; here you can set up your quick keyboard shortcuts!)
- Open the waveform
- Chop off the rubbish at the start and end
- Cut out mistakes. How do you know where the mistakes are without listening to the whole thing again in real time? Well, a good technique is to leave a 5 second or so gap when you mess up during recording. You won't be wasting this time in the recording process, you'd be re-reading the script to ensure you don't flub! Then you’ll see the gap and then zoom in to repair the area. Some people use the “punch in” recording technique where you play back the good material and then hit record on the mistake where you re-record. I think this is a very poor technique as you may not hit record in the right place and the whole thing takes far longer as you’ll have to re-listen to ensure the “punch in” was successful without any pesky gitches.
- Deal with waveform "spikes" - these are nasty sounds that can be treated with an electronic pop filter when recording, but most software programmes can attempt to remove waveform spikes. If too bad, it may need a retake.
- Add 0.5 second of silence at the start of the file. Add 2 seconds at the end of the file.
- Deal with breaths. A natural sounding voiceover read will usually be fine with breaths left in, but for a fast reading commercial, you may need to spend time carefully cutting out breaths in a desperate attempt to save milliseconds! When I feel that breaths are OK left in for time but are simply too loud and distracting, I highlight each breath and reduce the volume by about 10-12dB. This is a great tip as the whole track sounds much cleaner, yet the breaths have not been unceremoniously chopped out, but reduced in level so they are not distracting.
- I normalise the audio waveform to 100%, then add light limiting - 9Db - to give the waveform a "haircut", then "Normalise" the file to -3Db, before saving. Why to -3dB? It’s important to send audio files that have “headroom” to clients; there is a long complicated technical reason that I won’t bore you with!
- Never ever attach your voiceover files to emails, even small ones add up to clog your send box. It's far more professional to email a link from a file transfer service. If your client does not ask for specific file types, send a 24 or 32 bit floating wav and a small email copy which is useful in case the production company need to email a low resolution file to check with their clients.
I recommend that you offer "unlimited" retakes, like I do. In other words, if the client wants any changes, you don't penalise them in any way. For no extra charge, you will re-record the sections required or even the whole lot if they want it. In my experience, unless you really haven't understood the brief you'd been given, most people will be fully happy first time or just want a few retakes in the style and speed of the original that they can "patch" over the original voiceover recording.
It's rude and desperate for you as a professional voice over actor to send invoices right away; it's usually good form to wait a few days at least! Unless you are happy with your own accounts system, I recommend Xero, the system that I use. It's great because it's a cloud-based system, no software installation, so you can reconcile your accounts on your phone, tablet or any computer anywhere. You can set up multiple currencies in PayPal, a must for an international voiceover.
My Xero is set up with GB Pounds, US Dollars, Canadian Dollars, Australian Dollars and Euros. It works out currency conversions as well. But the killer application is that the system securely "sniffs" your bank and PayPal accounts once a day so you don't have to enter anything. You just need to match your invoices with the payments that Xero has discovered and everything is fine. As Xero is cloud based, your accountant can log in as well, so you don't need to waste time doing the yearly account submission as you've already done it! I highly recommend all voice over actors getting a cloud-based accounts system and ignore Excel and paper based systems. You won’t have time, I promise you.
9) GROWING THE PROFESSIONAL VOICEOVER BUSINESS
As a professional voice over actor, you must update your website once a month at least, keeping in mind SEO. Pepper your site with varieties of the words apart from “voice over actor”- such as commentator, audio recordings, audio studio, audio talent, etc. Don't forget featuring keywords of your specialties such as "medical voiceovers, medical narration, pharmaceutical narration, etc. Ensure the "id" and "Alt tag" on your images isn't some random number but something that search engines can read.
Each day, do at least 20 minutes of marketing, even if you are busy. Find new media production companies and look up their websites then email them with a short, professional message offering your services. Target a country per week if you like. Mandy.com have a superb international directory of production companies that is free to access.
LinkedIn is great if you use it properly. Ask these sorts of people to join your network as a top voice over actor : Production managers, Creative Directors, Producers, any video production company, audio production companies, etc. Don't forget that when they accept your invite, you will be sent an email. Don't ignore this as you'll get a link (in small blue writing - don't miss it!) saying "Send a message". This is gold-dust as you can send a direct message including your contact details without buying any "in-mails" from LinkedIn.
Consider signing up to voice over actor websites where clients post auditions and you send in your best shot. These so called "pay to play" sites have had loads of criticism, but usually from voiceovers who don't use the sites properly, and therefore don't get much work from them. Some sites you pay a subscription and then they also take a % of the fee, but they offer a voiceover access to some very high profile clients and some interesting gigs.
The most professional and active sites are in my opinion: voices.com; voice123.com, voicebunny.com, bodalgo.com, the voicerealm.com. Don't forget the general freelance sites where you can post your voiceover services...People Per Hour, UpWork etc. Fiverr is also a great money spinner, but don't sell VO's for just one $5 gig, use the Fiverr package options to include loads of perceived "extras" that people will generally need anyway, such as fast delivery, wav file and so on. Nobody actually pays just $5, you should get at least $100 for each short script if you sort your pricing wisely.
Over the last 5 years or so, I have netted over $87,000 just from Fiverr, (honestly!) so this is one not to be ignored.
For more details on how to build and grow your voice over actor career, I have loads of training videos you are welcome to look at. Please visit: www.voiceovermasterclass.com
I also have a Kindle book on Amazon:
Good luck! PETER BAKER www.theenglishvoiceover.com