5 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Recording Voiceover From Home
Actors need side hustles. It’s a truth as old as our craft itself. Voiceovers can be a great natural extension of an actor’s skills. With the emergence of online advertising, B2B corporate videos, eLearning and more, the need for fast, cheap, and yet professional-level voiceovers has exploded. Audio recording technology has adapted to meet this need, offering affordable solutions to make quality at-home recording a real possibility.
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I’ve been working as a voiceover artist for about 12 years. I started recording at home years ago and I’ve since been able to develop it into a successful, sustainable business. But the beginning was fraught with trial and error, trying to figure out:
- how to create a quality voiceover product,
- not go broke getting started in voiceover
- and actually make money doing it.
So, if you’re completely new to this world, let me give you a couple of tips I learned along the way that could help you take your first steps.
Now you’ve probably heard stories of other actors recording whole audiobooks while hunched under a blanket in their bathtub with a $40 mic and a laptop. Can you do it this way? Sure. Should you? No. It’ll just sound like you’ve been kidnapped and you’re recording in the trunk of a car. Nobody is paying for that.
The reality is that the at-home voiceover market has recently seen a mass influx of voice-actors. The pandemic forced actors to get creative, finding ways to work from home. So, if you’re serious about giving it a go, you need to stand out. And the first step to standing out is good audio quality.
1. Acoustic Room Treatment for Voiceover
If you’re just getting started in voiceover, you may not be ready to buy or build a full soundproof isolation booth. An entry-level booth starts around $5000 and takes up space you may not have in your apartment. But there are ways to treat a small space to reduce noise and audio interference.
First, find a good space. A closet is a good start, especially if you can close the door. Stuff blankets and towels into the corners and under the door. That’s where most of the sound bleed comes in.
If you don’t have a closet, try to find a space away from outside noise, like traffic and sirens, even a corner far away from the street with concrete walls or good insulation. Then you can set up temporary enclosures around that corner to block sound.
These days there are soundproofing products like collapsable stand-up panels that create small spaces, blocking out “most” noise. They’re made with dampening fiberglass and insulation materials that usually block out 250 Hz, which is most of the environmental frequencies around the mic. They run between $300-$500. They won’t be perfect, but certainly better than just hanging up a blanket.
By the way, all of those “soundproof pop-up tents” and “tiny booths” that are just big enough for your head, are a complete waste of money. They don’t block out much of anything, but still manage to make you sound like you’re lost in a tunnel.
Once you’ve found your spot and blocked out most of the outside noise, you’ll want to treat it for sound absorption. What’s the difference between “soundproofing” and “sound absorption”? As the acoustics company Soundproofcow puts it:
“Soundproofing products keep sound contained in a space, making it impossible for sound to leave or enter a room. Sound absorption products absorb the extra sound waves that bounce around a space and cause poor acoustics, background noise, and bad echo.” (soundproofcow)
In short, soundproofing keeps outside noise out, while sound absorption mutes unwanted noises inside the space, like echo, reverb, etc. This is what those acoustic foam panels do. But there are other forms, like fabric acoustic panels, that are more aesthetic and add a warmer sound. One important trick: you don’t want the space to be completely covered in absorption foam. This creates a “dead” space. You do want some bounce to the sound. Just not excessive reverb.
Audimute, one of my favorite acoustic treatment companies, has a product called sound sheets, that are hanging “sheets”, made of layers of both soundproofing and sound absorbing materials. Perfect for a closet or a corner.
One of the most popular questions I get asked is, “Can I just record in my bathroom?”. Well, sound travels through space. It also bounces against flat surfaces. If it’s a tight space with reflective surfaces, like a bathroom, that will lead to echoes and a “tin-like” room tone that you can’t filter out. In other words, no, don’t record in the bathroom.
Stand and Deliver. Also, as a side note, make sure you have a space where you can stand up. Unless you’re recording an audio book or 40 pages of text, sitting down to record will trap your diaphragm and inevitably affect your posture, bringing your vocal alignment out of whack. You’re just creating an added hurdle to making a good sound.
2. Microphone Check 1, 2: Find a Voiceover Mic that won’t break the bank, but isn’t crap.
The microphone is obviously your most important piece of voiceover equipment. If the recording quality is bad, there isn’t much you can do on the back end to fix it. You’re looking for a quality cardioid condenser microphone.
Yes, you could buy a $40 mic on Amazon. But it’s most likely garbage. The truth is, anything under $100 is going to have low quality condensers that will make your voice sound thin, metallic and not dynamic. You’ll be fighting uphill to get any power in your voice.
There are USB mics for under $200 that will get the job done for entry level work. The Audio Technica AT2020 and the Rode NT-USB are really good options here. AKG also just released the new Lyra USB that looks really interesting. The big advantage with a USB mic, obviously, is that you won’t need an audio interface to convert the signal. You just plug it straight into the computer.
If you want to have a bit more “oompf” in your voice and are willing to invest a bit more, there are entry-level analog mics for under $300 that are also quite nice.
AKG P420 or the Rode NT1 are great options here. But there are plenty of others. Here’s an article on great mics under $300.
The next group starts around $700 and they’re obviously better, but be diligent with your investment here.
Personally I’ve found that analog mics provide more range of vocal frequency, especially bass (which is where your warmth comes from) than the USB mics.
If you do go that route, you’ll need what’s called an audio interface to convert the analog signal into a digital signal for your computer. I still use the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. It’s a great entry-level interface for voiceover and has never caused issues. But Behringer and PreSonus make great interfaces as well.
But here’s the ultimate tip: if you have a music equipment store in your area (Guitar Center, Sam Ash, B&H), go try out the mics! Each voice needs a mic that fits it. You might need more high-ends if you have a lot of natural bass or you might need more depth if you’re a natural tenor. Nothing replaces trying out the mic for yourself.
3. Get “User-Friendly” Audio Software for Voiceover: Aka “What In The World Is Daw?”
Now for the tricky one. Selecting an audio software can be daunting. They can be expensive and look like you need to work for NASA to use them. The key is, “know what you need and just get that.”
If you’ve been looking around at starting voiceover, you’ve probably come across the term DAW and thought, “What is that?”. DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. It’s simply the technical term for Audio Software. Now, ProTools and Cubase are the ones that will pop up first in searches. Those are the industry standards for professional studios. They have a ton of bells and whistles, add-ons and filters that you don’t need yet. They also require a bit of training to use. This know-how will be a great goal later on if you really get into this, but there are places to start first.
Great entry-level platforms are programs like Audacity, Reaper and Ableton are Easy to use, really intuitive, with plenty of filters and EQ options to improve your sound. They all have free trial downloads to check them out.
Full disclosure: I actually started out, once upon a time, with GarageBand. Personally, I found the editing process really cumbersome and needed something that would allow me to edit “in-track” faster.
4. So where do I get Voiceover Jobs?: Websites and VO Platforms
There are several websites that post VO work for VO artists to submit auditions and bid on jobs. Some of the most popular: voices123.com, voices.com, thevoicerealm.com, covoco.com. You’ll have to set up a profile and upload samples. There are several out there and they usually have pretty substantial membership fees too. So, my suggestion, start with one or two to get used to the process and get some momentum, then expand to other ones later.
Also consider branching out overseas. voquent.co.uk is a great VO site with all kinds of available work.
5. Set a Realistic Start-up Budget for Voiceover
This is the most important tip I have for you: it will cost you money to get started recording voiceovers at home. So get a clear picture of what you’re willing to spend upfront and how long it might take to start making money.
Acoustic Treatment, Microphone, Software, Headphones, Website Memberships. The initial steps, in the cheapest version, are going to cost you between $800 – $1000. But if you know that going in and really do your research, you can avoid unnecessary purchases.
Also, you’ll have to be patient with your earning expectations. It could take a few months to book your first gig. That’s just the reality. And this is a skill. It will take practice to get good at it. But, it took you a while to get good at acting, didn’t it?
Be patient, make a plan and go for it!