Producing a voiceover that’s ready for public consumption is not an easy task. Sure, you’ve got to have your mic, your setup, and your voice on point — all of these are known quantities. But did you know how much post-production can make or break your work? Without the correct voiceover editing, even the best voices in the bunch can produce subpar material.
That means that to produce quality voiceovers, you need to be your own producer, actor, director, engineer, and editor. Sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you, right? Fortunately, I’m here to help you dodge that bullet.
Getting into the studio or chosen recording venue doesn’t have to be stressful. With the right tips at your fingertips, you should be able to streamline recording and editing until it’s a breeze. Just bear in mind the following, and you may make a name for yourself in this business!
Cracking the top ten, though? Well, if you’re Morgan Freeman, you just might (hi, Morgan, love your work!)!
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This post was updated in June 2021
Before voiceover editing
Voiceovers are a production technique through which recorded voices are used in media. Think about narration in movies, audio and radio ads, or really, any presentation where recorded voices are used. They’re ubiquitous, so we’re also talking about a very lucrative market, with $4.4 billion a year in profits.
Here’s a partial list of where voiceovers are commonly used:
- Dubbing in movies, animation, and TV shows
- TV (both in fiction and commercials)
- Video Games
- IVR phone answering and interaction systems
- Press events
- The training and e-learning industry
If you’re thinking — or have already thought — about getting in on the action, you may want to follow a guide, though. Getting started in the voiceover industry is deceptively easy, especially if you rely on your voice’s qualities. You may think that because everyone’s telling you what a good narrator or radio personality you’d make, you can get by on a $20 mic.
Done? My, you’re a quick reader! Stick with me, and you’ll be doing your own voiceover editing in record time!
Believe or not, the first step with voiceover editing is not exactly in the production booth. You’ll save time, money and effort if you set things up correctly. You can work all the magic you want in post-production, for sure. There are some adverse conditions that nothing short of time travel will fix, though! Trust me, nothing is worse than having to sit through a lengthy recording session twice because of deficient prepping. The good thing is you won’t have to!
Choose a mic
I recommend starting out small and working your way up. A USB mic is a great choice if you want don’t want to splurge on a mixing console just yet. The Blue Yeti is a very popular choice used by YouTubers big and small. One with a windscreen and reflection filter can help out a lot if you don’t have a treated recording environment.
You can also choose from a variety of condenser or dynamic mics. Our guide on microphones has more info on this. Think before you spend!
Mic and room setup
This will also save you a world of trouble before you get to voiceover editing. Not all rooms are built the same and have different tonal qualities. You may want to get an actual audio engineer for this. If you’re comfortable with your own assessment skills, that’s OK too. Just make sure you go with a room that’s not excessively echo-y, but allow sound to carry well. Moving or acoustically insulating furniture is going to be de rigueur.
In addition, you may want to lay off carpeting for your recording studio. It may look great and be comfortable in the winter, but it muffles sound considerably. Make sure that the flooring is not creaky, or you may be cursing under your breath as you have to redo a take.
You basically want your mic to be taking in sounds at acceptable levels and not take in excessive room tone. You also want to be able to speak naturally. Takes that have sounds over the mic’s threshold may result in digital clipping. This can be ameliorated in editing, but not always.
Voiceover editing has an enemy: outside sounds
It’s not all about what’s in your room, but outside as well. If you don’t have the luxury of owning your own studio, exterior sounds are going to play a role. Your sessions may be disturbed by extemporaneous interruptions more times than you can count. Cars passing by, dogs barking, children laughing, that neighbor who always plays Megadeth loud — whatever you can think of.
Not even the best insulation and well set-up mic are going to prepare you for interruptions. Sure, good setup helps, but choosing your location and recording times matter even more. If possible, set up your studio in a quiet space, away from hubs of intense activity.
Another thing to take note of is recording times. It’s better to get started early in the morning or in the late evening. That way, I won’t have to tell you “I told you so” when you have to re-record a part. All I can say from personal experience is Chihuahuas have a very persistent bark.
Recording software and correct setup
I’m thinking you may want to go with one of the options in our guide here. From free to expensive, there’s a lot to choose from. The important thing is to consider those that allow HQ recording and extensive mic setup options. You may want to get a few plugins and watch a couple of tutorials before starting your voiceover editing stint too. Some of these programs are pretty easy to use, but others, like Logic, could be awkward for first-timers. When I switched from Audacity to Logic I felt I was thrown into the deep end with concrete shoes.
On to voiceover editing!
Here’s when you put on your thinking cap and do a lot of busy work. This starts with doing the housekeeping on your files. You may have quite a few files from your recording session, and it’s your job to stitch them together into one useable audio. Guess what’s going to happen if you have files strewn about in different folders and formats?
Always be organized. Use the same formats, files, and settings for your files. That way you’ll prevent do-overs and being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Also, make sure your filenames have something to do with the subject matter. Having files called “1”, “2”, 3” may be nice at first, but it can have drawbacks; if you name your files diligently, you won’t have to scour around for that one take at 3 am.
It’s also important that you set everything according to the client’s specifications. Some may want a particular file type or format. Others, like Amazon, Audible, etc. have their own formatting specifications for files. This includes sample size, bitrate, quality (in kbps) and more! Always know what your client wants before hitting “record”, or you could be in deep!
When to do voiceover editing?
Many who are in the industry have to do it all. That means that sometimes it’s very tempting to do it all at the same time. I mean, you may well be a multitasking master (and who isn’t in 2020?). But being deep in a recording session may mean you miss slight nuances in sound or subtle interferences. You don’t want to devote your attention to too many things at once, as a rule.
In general, it’s better to record and take the time to do the voiceover editing later. That’ll help you have fresh ears to edit the files and not get distracted. This is especially important if you wait until you’re in a quieter environment — you will have sharper attention to detail.
It’s also important to note that it matters if the voiceover will be mixed with music. Some background noise may be hidable with music, some may not. The more exposed or “raw” a sound is, the more audio levels will have to be managed. If you have to edit audio levels too much because of overexposure, the file may have digital artifacts. This is normally cause for a re-do, as most clients will not accept them.
To this end, a noise gate plugin is a way to go. If you want to control the volume in a recording, it makes sounds below a certain threshold disappear. If you don’t use it judiciously, it will lead to a “stop-start” effect. This sounds unnatural and is the opposite of what you want! This is why having a quiet environment does away with this issue completely.
Some more tips
Some of the common intruders in a recording session are breathing, “s” and “p” sounds. Breathing is usually in the middle of sentences, so it requires careful listening. It’s also important to instruct yourself (or the actor) in proper breathing techniques. These will alleviate the work you have to do afterward. If you’re not sure about proper breathing, then it’s better to just re-listen to the whole thing in minute detail.
The “s” and “p” sounds are “sibilance” and “popping”, respectively. They’re generally reduced with a pop filter on your mic and proper technique. Still, be extra-careful listening to the beginning and end of words for this effect. You may have to “cut the tail” of some words to remove particularly egregious offenders.
It’s also important to know about sound normalization. This means that you’ll have to manually set up the peaks and valleys in your recording. Knowing what dB level is optimal for the client beforehand is a necessity! For audiobooks, the floor is generally – 54dB.
If you have the opportunity to record silence, do so! About a full minute at the exact specifications you’re going to be recording in should do it. This is so you can paste the silence whenever it’s required — a great way to clean up troublesome spots!
What if I don’t want to do voiceover editing?
You can easily outsource the bulk of the editing if you don’t want to do it yourself. Some freelancing platforms can offer excellent options for those who want to go this route. Some professionals charge $5 to $10 per hour of editable audio. Of course, those are the freelancers with the lowest rates, but they’re still more reliable than in other industries. A $10 translator? Not so much.
If you really want to go next-level, you may want to get voiceovers from vetted industry pros. That’ll ensure you get good-quality audio every time. If you want to work as a voice pro, it will also keep you straight. No second-rate submissions, as everything is checked by an audio engineer.
Final thoughts about voiceover editing
Voiceover editing is a crucial step in the voiceover industry. It’s what makes projects go from “amateur” to “pro”. You could record inside a broom closet and have your job heard by thousands with the correct editing. Some people literally have!
So, it’s best if you heed these guidelines and get started on your way to professional voiceover editing!
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