Week 4 (3/3): Performing a voice-over

woman speaking into a microphone
Photo: Wallpaperflare.com

BY CAZ ADAMS

Recap Week 3

Last week you formatted a script, added SFX and music and wrote questions.

Now it’s time to record yourPodcast or Audio Feature.

What is a Voice Over?

It can be a narration, a chat, an interview or an acting performance.

Style

The style of read you use can vary dramatically.

It must suit the script.

If you’re doing a narration, keep it natural – as if you’re just telling one person. If you try too hard, it tends to push the listener away.

Basically don’t try and do a DJ type read. It feels false. Just be yourself.

Tone

Use an appropriate tone to suit your intended audience. If you’re speaking to children keep your voice friendly and warm. If they are very young, speak a bit slower.

If it’s a corporate video it usually works best with a clear, precise, business-like delivery.

Pace

Speak at a comfortable pace that is easy to listen to and understand.

Be aware that most beginners speak too fast. This can be due to nerves. So shake your shoulders (it really helps to loosen the tension), take a few deep breaths and smile. Now give it a few beats and start recording. Your pace should be more natural now.

Fluffing … is stumbling over a word, phrase or sentence.

Often we think it will be okay to just continue but when you get to the edit, we realise that it sounds terrible. Then you have to go back into the studio and do it again. If there’s been a bit of time between the initial recording and going back into the studio, your voice may sound different. You may have a cold now, or your voice may be tired today.

So if you fluff a word or line always do a Take 2 while you’re recording.

In fact do as many takes as is necessary until it sounds smooth.

Popping … is when you say a letter or sound using an explosive breath.

It makes a “popping’ sound on the mic.

Like the word “pop”, which is explosive on both Ps.

Not everyone pops on every explosive letter but usually there will be at least one letter that will cause a pop. Some that can be explosive are… P, D, C, K, T, and V.

Ph which sounds like an F can be explosive.

If you pop, you must do the take again.

Pick Ups

A pick up is when you either have to do a sentence again (because you fluffed, popped, there was a background noise or the delivery wasn’t right) or maybe to add a new sentence or change some words.

When you do a pick up, the hardest thing is to not make it sound like a pick up.

It should match the delivery and tone of where you’re adding it.

So to get it to match, before you hit the record button to do the pick up, play back the previous sentence in your headphones and speak along with it.

If you don’t want to record over other parts, make sure the pick up is on a new track. You can edit it in later.

Note: You may want to try delivering the pick up in a few different ways so that you have a choice when editing. Maybe with more authority. More relaxed or more caring. This also means varying speeds. Maybe a slightly faster or a slower read.

Paper rustle – Be careful when holding a script in your hand. When you move, the script moves  too and any rustling noise is picked up by the mic.

Also be careful not to hit the mic with the paper. 

Handy Hints for Preparing to do a Voice Over 

Mark it up

Always have a pen handy to mark up the script, especially if you haven’t written it. Most scripts are printed out in black ink so a blue pen allows you to see it clearly. Red can be a little more difficult to see under some lights.

Some notations that you might like to use are:

Underline words or phrases that need to be stressed.

Where you’d like to do a pause or the producer wants one … use / between words / sentences.

The producer may have a change of thought and want you to delete a word or line. Cross it out. If you don’t, you’ll forget and end up saying it.

If there is a foreign word or a difficult to pronounce word, write it out phonetically. 

If there’s not space nearby and you have to write something on the side, draw an arrow pointing to it.

Wet Your Whistle

Always have a drink on hand to clear your throat. But be careful that it is placed away from the console. Liquid and audio consoles do not mix.

Water is best.

Fizzy drinks can be a danger as they can make you burp in the middle of a good read.

Tea or coffee can be excellent for warming up a voice but best to have them without milk. Why? Because even if you have no issues with lactose, milk creates mucus and most people end up with clicky mouth noises that the mic will pick up.

Often those noises aren’t apparent until the edit, and then you have to go and re-record the whole thing again.

And that means it’s best to keep away from milky cappuccinos, lattes, smoothies and milk shakes before and during VO sessions.

Don’t talk with your mouth full

Be careful what you eat before recording.

Stay clear of mucus-forming products like ice cream, yoghurt and cheese.

Be careful of foods that can get caught in your throat, such as nuts, dry crackers, crisps and corn chips.

Crisp apples can affect a few people, too.

If you find a food that negatively affects your voice, stay away from it until after your session is completed. 

Rumbling tummy

When you haven’t eaten for quite a few hours the danger is that right in the middle of the most perfect take, your stomach may rumble and the mic WILL pick it up.

Obviously you will have to do another take but your stomach may rumble again.

So it’s a good idea not to do a VO on a very empty stomach.

Also it’s not comfortable to do one on a very full stomach either. 

Noisy clothing/jewellery

Some materials make noise and every time you move your body to give emphasis to the words, the mic will pick up that noise.

If you’re wearing a leather jacket, take it off before recording. Polished cotton and other shiny materials can also make a noise.

Best not to wear dangling earrings, necklaces or bracelets that jingle. The mic will pick up every tiny sound, often in the middle of a word.

NOTE: If you have to take anything off in the studio, take the time to put them in your bag, pocket etc or I assure you, you will leave them in the studio and have to come back to claim them (if the cleaners haven’t claimed them first!)

Get comfortable

Depending on the studio set up, you can have the choice of sitting or standing to do a VO.

For a radio program or podcast sitting is the best way to go as you’ll be there for some time.

If you’re performing a commercial (especially one that needs a lot of energy – maybe a character role), standing allows you to use your body for more expression.

Most professional VO artists prefer to stand. Using your body physically as a character would, comes through in the audio VO delivery.

Old-time radio plays were performed with actors standing. This also allows more than one performer to use the same mic as they can step aside, then step back onto mic.

An early live radio play being broadcast at NBC Studios, New York.
An early (c.1907) live radio play being broadcast at NBC Studios, New York. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

For longer reads, like corporate videos sitting is often the best way to go.

Do what suits both you and the studio best.

Noisy chairs/stools

If you choose to sit down to record, check that the chair/stool is not squeaky.

What are the cans?

It’s the term used in professional studios for headphones.

The term comes from a game kids used to play.

A piece of string was put into the base of 2 empty food cans. One kid would hold a can against their ear while the other one spoke into their can. The sound would travel along the string and into the first kid’s ear.
Embed from Getty Images
Timing a read

As mentioned in Week #3 lesson…. When you read it to yourself, the speed usually picks up and therefore the timing isn’t accurate.  When you read out aloud you get a fairly accurate timing.

TASK

Place your hand a few centimetres in front of your mouth.

Now recite the letters of the alphabet.

If a letter is explosive, you will feel your breath on your palm. With every letter that does that, repeat but try not to expel so much breath.

Keep doing that until you can say the letter without feeling a burst of breath on your palm.

If you can’t feel it on your palm, then it won’t explode on a mic. 

Interviewing

The most important thing is to put interviewee at ease.

Let them know that they just need to be themselves and that there’s no pressure to perform.

It’s a good idea to let them know that if anything goes wrong or if they want to do it again, that’s fine. This takes a lot of pressure off them.

If they are tense, you may want to tell them a joke, or just chat a bit about something uplifting – maybe about the perfect weather or maybe you just saw a great movie on Netflix. Have they seen it?

If you can get them chatting easily then you can gently press record, give a moment’s silence and  then ask your question. This way their answer should just flow.

Between each answer give a few seconds silence before asking your next question. This will be needed when editing. It also helps to relax the interviewee. If you take a breath, they will, too.

If their answers are too long, they waffle on, lose track or change the direction of the answer, don’t stop them. If you do, it can upset them and you’ll never get what you want. In fact they may just walk away!

Always be gentle to get the best out of them.

When they’re finished with that answer, let them know it was great but not quite what you need. You’d just like to do it again (if that’s ok with them) and all you need is … (say what it is you need, but you’d like them to say it in their words of course!).

I’ve used this technique many times and I’ve never had an issue with anyone. 

To Include or Not Include the Question in the Final Edit

Either for the style of story or if you need to cut time… you may only want the answers. If so, this requires you to get a stand-alone answer – one that is self-explanatory.

You will need to explain to the interviewee… that after you ask the question you’ll like them to repeat it or a part of it.

Example

Q: How old were you when you realised that competing in the Olympics was your dream?

A: Eight.

Now if you don’t include the question, the listener won’t have a clue what eight means.

So here’s what to do:

Q: I’d like to know how old you were when you realised that competing in the Olympics was your dream. So could you start your answer by saying something like: “I first realised I wanted to compete in the Olympics when I was …  (take a breath and give them time to formulate an answer in their head) Ok, ready to go?

Q: How old were you when you realised that competing in the Olympics was your dream?

(Allow a few seconds silence for editing purposes) Then nod your head to let them know they can answer now.

A: Um… I was about eight when I first realised that I wanted to swim in the Olympics.

Or they might answer something like this …

A: Um … yeah my dream of going to the Olympics was, I guess when I was about eight.

As long as their answer makes sense and covers pretty much what you need, go with it. If they give this answer….

A: Um … I was about eight.

… you’ll have to explain that you’ll have to do another take and they need to add what it was at eight… the dream of the Olympics… or swimming in the Olympics.

But be gentle and tell them that they are doing really well.

Oh, and it can be a good idea to ask different people the same question because their varied answers can make things interesting. 

Recording Audio

Whether it’s for recording a VO or interviewing, if circumstances prevent recording in a proper studio, try and find a quiet place.

Close your eyes and listen. You’ll be surprised how many sounds you can hear that you weren’t aware of – everyday sounds that are a background to our daily lives.

      • The hum of a refrigerator
      • Clicking clock
      • Plane flying overhead
      • Street noises – cars, people, buses
      • Dogs barking
      • Mowers, leaf blowers
      • Music
      • People talking on phones
      • TV in another room
      • Kettle boiling  
      • Blinds, curtains flapping
      • Doors swinging
      • Children playing
      • Etc, etc, etc!

Either turn things off or find a quieter place to record.

You may have to wait to suit other people.

If you get upset about this, it will affect your performance, so stay calm and wait.

Keep in mind: Waiting is all part of recording both audio and video!

That’s because you want a clean take. 

Note: If the recording studio is busy and you have to wait to record please use the time to gather SFX and Music tracks ready for the edit.

It’s always a good idea to gather extra SFX and a few different Music tracks. Sometimes the track you think is going to be perfect, doesn’t actually sit so well with the VO and if you have another one ready to try, it can save a lot of time searching all over again.

Author: veritychambers

Journalist and teacher

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