Before discussing equalization or compression, it's essential to understand what frequency is. Frequency is a fancy physics term that helps us describe what sound is and how it works.
Sound moves in waves, and frequency has to do with what pitch you perceive when a sound wave moves at a specific speed. For example, low pitched sounds move in only a few longer waves, while high pitched sounds require hundreds and even thousands of waves. To describe the number of waves a pitch requires to move, you use the word frequency. A sound with a frequency of 100Hz means that the sound creates 100 waves per second. (Hz stands for "Hertz," the technical unit of measurement for the number of waves per second).
You may know some specific frequencies off hand. For example, if you've ever heard an orchestra tuning their instruments to the same note, that note (A4) creates exactly 440 waves per second (440Hz.) If you were to sing that same note, your voice would also create a sound wave that moved at 440Hz.
Most of the time, the sounds you hear are actually made up of multiple frequencies stacked up on top of each other. Depending on how an instrument, or even a person's body is shaped, a 440Hz sound will resonate through those shapes in unique and different ways, generating some extra sounds at different frequencies along the way. This is why every instrument that produces a 440Hz note won't sound the same - they resonate differently.
I was going to wait until a bit later in these articles to bring this up, but after talking with a few of my casting director friends, I feel like the sooner I can touch on some of the mistakes we can make as voice actors the better.
Okay. Real Talk for a minute.
Like it or not - whether you think it’s fair or not - every casting director and most actors have a List. For some people it’s called a blacklist, for others it’s simply “that list of people I will never ever work with because of ______.” Actors and directors follow these lists very carefully based on their experiences. Whether or not you’re on a list makes the difference between getting invited to auditions, collaborations, and other business opportunities that could be advantageous to your career as a voice actor... or not. These lists also grow and change over time, but it’s vital to remember that because online voiceover is a very small and niche community, if you’re on one person’s list, chances are that they’re telling others to add you to their own.
Fortunately, getting on one of these lists really only happens because of poor business sense. Part of being a professional in this industry means knowing that there are some major pitfalls and that you aren’t immune to them, no matter how much experience you have under your belt. Occasionally, some newcomers are very politely informed if they cross any boundaries, but you can’t count on being so lucky every time. And if you do have experience and ought to know better, you can permanently ruin your own career.
To make sure that this never happens to you, let’s look at some of the most common situations where voice actors have inadvertently sabotaged their relationship with other actors and directors.
In much the same way that an artist would have little luck applying for a job without a portfolio of their best work, most seasoned voice actors ought to have at least one demo on hand that demonstrates their abilities to potential clients. Demos can tell a casting director or an agent very quickly what type of an actor you are, if your voice type matches the kind of projects they cast, and just how much you’ve honed your craft. They’re extremely valuable assets to have if you plan on taking further steps towards a professional career in voice over.
Before getting into details, I do want to say that creating a demo reel is something that should take a lot of work and effort. It should convey only the very best of your abilities at the time of it’s creation and it should be professionally produced. Because of this, I strongly recommend waiting until you have at least some working experience under your belt before producing a professional demo reel. While demos can help you get additional work, a bad demo can go so far as to prevent you from working for years. Make sure that you understand what your strengths and weaknesses are, have a plan of where your voice fits best in the industry, and always be on the lookout for feedback on how to improve. Taking classes early on in your career can be very helpful as well, but if those classes promise to send you away with a professional demo (regardless of your experience level) they are more than likely a scam. I know it’s hard, but wait.
When you start to feel comfortable as a voice actor and have begun booking work, you’ll very naturally find yourself in a reasonable place to devote the time, energy, and money to producing a quality demo reel that will not quickly be surpassed by your abilities. At this point, you’ll want to sit down and decide what kind of demo you plan to create. Many actors have at least two or three demos on hand at any given time to display the various kinds of voiceover that they are able to do and you may need to produce more than one at this point. For example, I have a character demo that is dedicated to my video game and cartoon voiceover work, as well as a separate demo for commercials and explainer videos. Some actors have more reels that are dedicated narration, accents, video games exclusively, and more.
Before setting foot in the booth to record your demo, make sure you have a script that is one hundred percent ready. Get input from writers. Your lines can come from existing scripts, ideally if they’re from jobs you’ve already recorded for clients, but if you decide to write your own (which I recommend,) a writer will be your best friend in getting the best result. Most actors I know also record practice lines for their demo and go to mentors or directors they know personally for feedback on the the voices and deliveries for each line. Recording these sample lines also gives you the chance to hear a draft version of your demo and decide if the length is appropriate or if the order fits. Professional demo production can get expensive, so whatever you can do to minimize the possibility of revisions and extra recording time, the more money you save and the better product you end up with.
There are varying opinions on how long a professional demo reel should be, but I’ve heard many who feel that they should never be longer than a minute. Depending on who you ask, some may be more relaxed about this standard than others, but I would not recommend going longer than ninety seconds at the longest, at least until you've gotten established. Sixty to ninety seconds is more than enough to demonstrate at least seven to twelve examples of your vocal range, which is plenty to give an agent or casting director an idea of whether or not they would want to bring you in. If they see qualities they like and they need anything more specific than what you’ve demonstrated, they’ll usually call you in for a custom audition anyway.
One thing that is rarely contested is that your demo should always start with your best sample, and nearly always followed by your second best. This is because most casting directors and agents will decide within the first ten seconds of your demo if they think the rest of the demo is worth listening to. If they don’t hear what they’re looking for right away, they will not stick around to hear the rest. It’s also recommended to end with whatever sample is your next best. A lackluster ending to a demo is a poor impression to leave.
Finally, even if it’s something you’re excited about, a demo is one of the worst possible places to try out the latest voice you’ve been working on. The same goes for weird or hard to perform voices that you can only maintain for a short period of time - which often includes extremely high, low, or raspy voices. Remember, demos are an example of work that you can do well and consistently if you are hired. Good demos can be utterly ruined by a single voice that an actor hasn’t fully nailed down, and more than one person has shot themselves in the foot when they were hired for a four hour session with a voice they could only maintain for about twenty minutes.
Now with all that said, I absolutely recommend checking out this video a friend of mine made summarizing a lot of common tropes that seem to plague a lot of unprofessional demos that currently flood the market. A lot of this comes from how the lines are written and delivered, which in the hands of an inexperienced actor, can be downright painful or even laughable to listen to. These demos won't get you work and with luck, they won't get you blacklisted either.
Now, that video or any of these warnings aren't intended to scare you before you've sat down to create your own demo. The important thing is simply to be thoughtful in your choices so you end up with a final product that will be able to help you keep moving forward, rather than one that might hold you back.
As much work as it is, creating a demo is a tremendously exciting and rewarding process. It’s a very short but clear demonstration of the abilities you’ve worked hard to develop, so don’t be afraid to take the time you need on your’s and ask for advice to make sure that we’re hearing only the best of what you’re capable of. Besides, the best outcome of producing a demo is a final product that you can be proud of long after it’s finished.
If you're curious to hear some examples, check out a few of my favorite demos below:
Character: Kimlinh | Xander | Zach
Commercial: Amber | Karen | Edward
Once you've gotten the hang of editing your own audio, auditioning is a great next step to start gaining experience as an actor. Even if it takes you a while to start bookin work, auditions are where most of us go to keep our skills fresh and it's a great stomping ground to try new things. All actors, no matter where you go, will tell you that auditioning is something you will always need to be ready to do since work very rarely comes directly to you. In fact, it's something that routinely takes up a tremendous majority of our time. Even for full time professional actors who work regularly, it is not uncommon for them to audition for over twenty projects and book only one.
There is a lot of great information out there on how to audition from an acting perspective. Many of the resources I cited in my first Crash Course Online Voice Over article include audition tips and tricks that I still continue to utilize. But again, I really want to narrow down this series to focus on how online voice over differs from the others. If you were working through an agency in a traditional setting, they have a different method of submitting your auditions to clients, but as an online actor, you have to know how to fill that role for yourself. While acting tips and tricks can transcend any situation you find yourself in, there are some unique perspectives to keep in mind when working as a remote voice actor over the internet.
RIght away, if you're not familiar with what auditions look like, let's go ahead and take a look at an audition document for a pretend project I've named "The First Audition." I just created this as a fairly generic sample, but it is based on the format that most casting directors I've worked with tend to use. These audition forms will be broken down into the following elements:
One thing we can see right away is that auditions tend to be everything you need to know to successfully audition broken down as simplistically as possible. Everything the casting director needs from you as an actor is laid out as clearly as they can make it. The guidelines provided are required and should be followed perfectly every time you audition without exception. Following directions is the number one way to be remembered by a casting director. Even if you are not cast right away, most directors will be happy to send you further casting calls because you make their experience in casting a project easy. If you can follow directions in an audition, they'll know you can follow directions if they choose to cast you.
If you have a question for a casting director about their audition guidelines, most are very willing to clairfy your questions for you, though I recommend trying to figure out as much for yourself by doing some research before sending them an email. If you do have questions, be sure to thank the casting director for their time in responding and let them know you're planning to send them audition and want to make sure it meets their requirements. Try not to send more than one of these emails, or it can give the impression that you need a lot of handholding, which is something most casting directors don't have the time or ability to help you with, even if you're new.
To clear up some questions up front, let's break down the requirements on this project:
You should always include a standard cover letter with your auditions, regardless of how you're sending your audition to a casting director. A cover letter should be formal and quickly communicate your qualifications, your availability to perform the work required, and your flexibility to respond to a callback if the client wants to see you try something different with your audition - all within a few sentences. Fortunately, you can usually develop a template for this type of letter and edit it as necessary depending on the project you're auditioning for.
Here's a pretty standard example of an email I would send out, customized to meet the specifications of the project I put together as a sample for this article (and if we were to assume that I am male):
And that's about it! If you feel confident in preparing your audition to meet whatever standards and requirements the casting director requires, then there is very little hindering you from sending out successful auditions that will help you practice a variety of roles and eventually lead to gaining further experience in voice acting online. Auditioning gets easier with practice, and booking a job, no matter how small, can be a nice boost to keep going!
If this seems like a daunting amount of information to keep in mind auditioning, let me leave you with this: when auditioning for online voice over projects you're almost always going to be caught up in a cattle call of voice actors who come from wildly different backgrounds and professional standards. The internet is a great tool that can allow you to break into the industry no matter where you are and what your skill level is, but that also doesn't prevent other amatuers of various talent levels from doing the same. Online markets are flooded with a lot of amateurs who don't take the time to read or follow directions and who make the job of a casting director highly frustrating. One of the biggest advantages you can use to advance in the industry and set yourself apart is your ability to follow directions. Your acting ability is still vitally important to nurture, but your professionalism is ultimately what will carry you towards success.
Editing audio is my bread and butter as an engineer, and vastly important to my job as a freelance voice actor. For as much time as I spend recording, I will spend upwards of 10-20 times that much time editing my audio afterwards. Most of my clients expect to have fully edited audio delivered to them, not just a twenty minute track of every take, cough, and interruption that they are supposed to sift through.
There are tons of options available to you when it comes to editing your audio and everyone has their own workflow based on their experiences over time and what's worked best for them. This was my personal workflow up until last summer when I got a mic I could use with ProTools. I used this workflow to record for a number of games, including Heroes of Newerth and Deus Ex: The Fall, so it's definitely a matter of how you use your tools and not necessarily what you have.
Here are some basic tips and techniques that you would use pretty regularly to edit your audio.
If you've ever used a computer, the concept of cutting or deleting text, objects, or images, is fairly universal. Audio works the same way in a DAW - allowing you to select portions of your audio (represented visually as wave forms) that you may not want to use (such as silence, your body making weird sounds, or your family walking in to ask you why you're making so many obnoxious noises) and then delete them. Like text, you use a cursor to highlight the section of audio that you don't want, either after listening back to preview it or by designating obvious silences or unwanted sections by sight, and then you're able to use Control (or Command)/X or Delete to remove those sections out of your track.
In the samples above, we can see that audacity will actually go ahead and start your remaining audio in the exact place your cut began, as if the deleted audio never existed. Playing back the track will allow you to hear your edited audio as it will now play with the deleted audio gone.
Cutting and deleting will easily be 80-90% of what is involved in dialogue editing no matter what experience level you're at.
Leveling is a term that comes up around dialogue or voice editing a lot. Mostly this involves making sure that your audio is at a consistent and strong volume level from start to finish. Usually, this is good to address after you're done cutting out extraneous sound and all you're left with is the audio you plan to send clients or work with yourself.
As an example, we can look at the image above (the After picture of the Cut/Delete section) and see that some parts of the audio wave forms are smaller and shorter than the others. The smaller and shorter they are, the softer they will be and possibly more difficult to hear. We want them to be (on average) closer to the size of the taller wave forms.
What we definitely wouldn't want to do is touch the volume slider to the left at the beginning of the track, right under the mute and solo buttons. This will increase the volume on everything for that track, not just the section we're looking for.
To increase the volume of just a portion of your audio, you would select the area you need to level, then choose the Effect drop down, and select the first option called Amplify.
Once you're under Amplify you'll get another slider that allows you to amplify only the part of your audio that you've selected. Automatically, it will default to the highest possible volume that selection can go before distorting your audio (measured in decibels (db).) We definitely don't need our audio to be quite that loud, so usually finding a good medium volume is ideal. Obviously, you don't want softer lines or phrases to be as loud as yelled or more intense lines, so finding a good Average is what you'll be listening for and may need to play with to find.
Noise removal is an extremely handy tool to have if you're an indie voice actor trying to record in your room, or maybe a closet if you're lucky. No matter how good of a mic you have, you'll still be picking up some tones from your room and recording space because your mic is an unbiased listener that can't tune out additional sounds the way our ears can. Noise usually comes in as just a low level rumble in the background, or sounds like a hiss behind your words. Some noise is okay, but normally, clients like to have as little of it as possible so they can have a consistent sound if they're using other voice actors, or so they can edit and manipulate your voice without the room coming along with you.
Audacity does have a noise removal option, but I've never been able to get it to work for me in a way that I'm happy with. There is too much of a sound called aliasing, which is caused by the program trying to approximate silence based on what it hears of the noise in the background. Because it's a simple program, it's not very precise, and so you hear a metalic or "sparkly" type effect in the background that is the computer trying to mask the noise and create it's own pretend silence to varying degrees of success.
When I've finished recording and editing in Audacity, I always export my files out (which I'll cover more in the next article) and bring them over to a second program called Wavepad to do noise removal. Wavepad has a free version of their software for non professionals and while I've found it clunky for recording and editing, they do have a superb noise removal tool that is so good for beginners and amateurs that it's worth a few extra steps to use.
After dragging and dropping my exported audio from Audacity into Wavepad, you simply select the Effects tab, then choose the option for Cleanup. Under the Cleanup dropdown, select Noise Removal, then Noise Gate.
Below, you can see my settings for the Noise Gate tool and I believe they may be the default settings as well. The Threshold setting is as low as it can go, but for most audio, this is plenty to work with. The Threshold is determining when it's noise removal kicks in (literally acting as a gate for the frequencies it's identifying). Simply click the Apply button and Wavepad will remove the bulk of the hissing and rumble from your audio!
There is so much more that could be covered in audio editing, but for now this is a great place to start when it comes to simple editing of vocal files, especially for voice over applications. In the next article, I'll go over exporting deliverables, especially what clients are typically expecting when you send audio to them.
Okay! After reading my last article and giving it some thought, let's say you've decided to go ahead and purchase a mic, downloaded Audacity, and registered for a few of the forums I recommended to give this voice over thing a try. You're not sure if you want to audition for anything yet, but you want to start recording on your own and see how close you sound to other voice actors you've heard on television or games or the radio.
Opening up Audacity, you may not be totally lost - the record, play, and stop buttons are pretty obvious - but the rest might be a bit more daunting if you've never worked with editing software before. If you have, this is pretty straightforward, but for the beginners, let's take a look at some basic terms and functions:
Connecting the Microphone
The microphones I recommended are all USB microphones, meaning they should be able to plug straight into your computer and will be recognized as a Input (Line In) Device automatically by any programs that can record audio. Input/Line In devices are things your computer will see a taking sound into your computer and it will process it as an audio signal to whatever your program is using. As a Mac user, USB mics are almost exclusively plug and play right away, but if you use a Windows machine, you may have to install some addition drivers or software if your mic comes with a CD and the instructions to do so.
I highly recommended making sure your microphone is plugged in before opening your recording program. Audacity in particular struggles to see your device if you've plugged it in after the program is open. Simply quitting or completely closing out of the program and restarting it will allow it to discover your mic. The same goes for anytime the mic is unplugged, so it's a good tip if you use a laptop where this happens a lot!
Learning the Edit Window
Your Edit Window is simply the window of the program where any audio editing takes place. You can record into the edit window by hitting record and then stop, but a lot of what you'll do in any DAW is editing, especially when you're playing engineer.
The awesome thing about DAWs is that once you learn one, you'll recognize identical features in all of them. Some may have more capabilities than others or place their tools in different places, but the principles are the same no matter where you go. As an editor, I'll try to break things down in stages so you can explore one step at a time, but a break down of the basics is a good place to start.
Let's take a look at Audacity, since that's the most popular option that everyone has access to:
1 - The Transport - Just a fancy name for the start, stop, pause, and record buttons.
2 - Editing Selection Tools - After your audio is recorded, these are what you'll use to make adjustments, such as removing pauses, extra takes, and adding effects. The selection tool (top left) is what you'll use almost exclusively, the same way you would use a cursor to edit a word document after you finished up typing your content in via the keyboard. I'll talk more about the others later.
3 - Input and Output Levels - If you're thinking about your DAW as something to takes sound in and reproduces sound, these sliders are pretty self explanatory. The slider with the microphone icon (Input Level) controls how much sound your mic takes into the program and the slider next to the speaker icon (Output Level) is how much sound will play back regardless of what your computer's sound settings might be set to! Your Output will usually stay in one place, but you'll probably play with the Input a lot depending on what you're doing. For example, you want the Input to be higher (collecting more sound) when you're whispering, and lower (collecting less sound) when you're screaming.
4 - Input and Output Selection - With the same icons as before, these drop downs will show you all options your computer sees as available for your Input and Output. Remember, if your mic doesn't show up under the Input at first, try restarting the DAW. Usually, it'll pop right up when you open it up again.
5 - The Timeline - Any kind of audio, whether it's music, voice, or sound effects, will always be measured in time. The timeline is a window that allows you to see a visual representation of your audio along a Timeline, making it easier for you to visualize the sounds you're about to manipulate. The Zoom Controls are what let you adjust how much Time you are looking at at once.
6 - The Track - A Track functions as a container for a single line of audio at a given time. Voiceover only requires you to use a single track (because your voice is a single piece of audio at any given time) but you're able to add more than one track to most DAWs if you want to try adding more sounds at the same time. In fact, advanced mixing in Hollywood usually involves a minimum of hundreds if not thousands of tracks of audio! (My mixing teacher told me once that a single Transformer in the Michael Bay films reserved over 500 tracks for their arm alone.)
- By default, Audacity will automatically create a new track for you each time you hit the record button.
That should be enough for us to get started. If you're brand new to this, don't worry too much about if what you're doing is right or wrong. Just have some fun getting familiar with the setup and I'll discuss more about editing in the next article.
Given the ease and popularity of producing content via the internet, I get asked more and more what my recommendations are when getting started in voice over and producing audio content. After answering similar questions, I realized that it would be worthwhile to try to compile what I've learned in one place.
This information is by no means definitive or exhaustive - it's simply based on my personal experiences and what I've seen work successfully for others. These are things that have worked for me in the realm of online voice over specifically and hopefully they can work for you as well.
Before You Start
When it comes to stepping into the world of voice over online, an important thing to realize is that you will not just be an actor who comes into the studio and records what is put in front of you. While you have the flexibility of setting your own hours and working from anywhere in any country, you are also your own agency, engineer, and technician. This will mean you need to know how to find work and create and deliver content all by yourself. Fortunately, this is not as hard as it sounds, but it's not going to be as glamorous as you think and there's not always a lot of time behind the mic.
Crash Course Online Voice Over is not going to be about acting, at least not as it's primary goal. This is not because acting isn't important, but because there is no special acting you do when you are a voice actor online. At the end of the day, you will be an actor, regardless of where or how your acting is utilized. You need to be a good actor to be a good voice actor. You need to be a good actor to voice act in a studio just as you need to be a good actor to voice act online. While acting may be touched on later, there is still a lot of information to cover before focusing on acting technique.
You Will Need:
1) A Microphone - A microphone is the most important piece of equipment to purchase as it will be responsible for capturing the nuance of your voice as accurately as possible and providing your clients with a clean final product. However, as a beginner and individual (not a studio), you have a lot more flexibility in picking an inexpensive beginner mic that will allow you to get started without making any major financial commitments.
My recommendation for a beginner microphone will always be a USB condenser microphone. All this means is that your mic will connect directly to your computer via a USB cable (without having to buy a separate audio interface) and the microphone design itself lends to a crisp and clean final product. Condensers are more delicate, but highly precise and responsive to subtle changes in sound.
Here is a list of a few good choices to start with. I used the Samson C01U for over 3-4 years and recorded for a number of games and projects, including Deus Ex and Heroes of Newerth. The Audio Technica is a great starter mic if you can afford it, and the Yeti is a solid option (not to mention how it will last through a nuclear winter!) if you need something portable!
2) A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) - DAWs tend to look and sound more intimidating than they actually are. A DAW is simply a program capable of recording and editing the audio you'll be recording with your mic. There are a few functions you'll be using your DAW for and I'll cover that more in a later article.
The good news is, is that most of what you need is going to be available very cheaply or even for free! I used my Samson along with the freeware program Audacity for over 5 years before switching over to a more powerful DAW that met my needs as an engineer better.
Here are some more good choices to start with - click the images for each program to see the website where you can get them.
3) Online Community - One of the most important aspects of beginning online voice over is locating a place to find work, experience, and feedback. Paid work is harder to find when first starting out, and many of us began by doing volunteer work (not unlike community theater.) There are a broad variety of communities based on the type of work you're hoping to pursue as an online voice actor, so you may have to try a variety of things before finding the niches that fit you best.
There are a couple of different web sites and communities you'll likely come across - while I'll include a list of my favorites, knowing what each site can help you with is important before you invest time, energy, and resources in any particular one.
Forums, Podcasters, and Social Media Groups: Forums, podcast audio drama producers, or groups that gather via social media (such as Youtube, Tumblr, etc) will give you the experience of community. You'll find a diverse spectrum of ages and experiences, mostly creating content as fans or for fun. Projects here will vary from fandubs, to audio drama, to student animation, and indy video games. It's less professional and you may have to dodge the drama that comes with other beginners, but you may also stumble across friends and connections who are making strides into the professional realm. This is an industry of who you know, and the internet is a good place to start getting to know your industry.
Freelance Sites: Generic freelance sites typically have media sections where international or small budget clients are looking for quick, inexpensive voiceover that gets the job done quickly. It's a good place to get your feet wet in low stakes voiceover, but you have to be very quick and efficient - the jobs are usually about turnaround time instead of quality, but you can find decent clients willing to compensate your time and effort. Plus, you don't have to pay for a subscription to the site itself, though you may turn over a portion of your earnings on each gig.
Pay to Play: There are a lot of differing opinions on pay to play sites. In a nutshell, they require you to pay a monthly or yearly subscription to access jobs that are monitored and curated by the website's staff. These sites function as an automated agency and include jobs that pay better and give you more protection from scams as talent. However, the talent pool is often more experienced, making it much harder to break in if you're just starting out. Some individuals and voice types do tremendously well with these sites, others do not. If you think you're ready, try to take advantage of subscription deals that aren't an extensive commitment financially and get a feel for how they work. You may make enough to pay for your next subscription period and at the least break even from the experience.
Volunteer: While you will not be paid for your work, volunteer opportunities are a great way to gain experience and learn the ropes along with helping others. If you have the time and availability, these can be very rewarding projects to work on!
Below, I'll link some of each type of site that I'm familiar with. Be sure to do your research, especially with pay to play sites, before making commitments, but remember to have fun with every opportunity. Good luck!
Additional Resources to Check Out:
ACX University Studio Gear Review (Suggestions for Equipment)
Voice Acting Club Voiceover Tutorials (Tons of essential reading!)