Intro to Voice Overs 101 - A complete newbie's guide to voice narration using Librivox and Audacity

Erin Lillis, Jill of all trades

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9 Lessons (31m)
    • 1. 01 Meet Your Teacher

      1:21
    • 2. 02 Introduction to the Project

      1:08
    • 3. 03 What are Voice Overs?

      4:08
    • 4. 04 What is Voice Acting?

      6:54
    • 5. 05 Finding A Quiet Place To Record

      6:54
    • 6. 06 Eliminating Mouth Noise

      1:51
    • 7. 07 Microphones

      3:40
    • 8. 08 Prepping Your Script For Reading

      3:41
    • 9. 09 Your Project

      1:04
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About This Class

INTRO SUMMARY

This class explains the difference between voice overs and voice acting, it touches upon different types of microphone patterns, how to find a good place to record, how to eliminate mouth noise and prepare a script for reading.

The overall INTRO TO VOICE OVERS course will cover recording and editing techniques using the free editing software Audacity and the Librivox site/project (which is where we will find our script and upload our production). (AS OF 9/12/18 - The Following Classes Are Still In Production)


WHO AM I?

Hi - I’m Erin Lillis and I’m a voice actress! Currently I’m the lead actress in a podcast called CONGERIA (Season 1), I’m a contributing voice actress on the popular NoSleep horror podcast and I also voice my own podcast The SubverCity Transmit. In addition I can be heard as the spokesperson voice for a number of brands in their radio advertisements and web explainer videos and I can be heard in a handful of video games such as SEEKING DAWN, STIFLED, FATHER IO, DARK ROMANCE 5: CURSE OF BLUEBEARD, A HERO’S CALL and more upcoming titles.

Many people have asked me how they too can get started in voice acting so I thought I’d teach this intro class on how I started myself on the path and what I think is an excellent method for dipping your toe in the waters to see if you even like it.

INTRODUCTION TO THE PROJECT

First off, I’ll confess that I didn’t jump into this COMPLETELY coldly. I have been “doing voices” to impersonate characters and entertain friends all of my life and in film school I got a taste for working in sound. Following that I interned with an Oscar award winning sound designer and took further classes in audio design and radio production. So I made an educated jump into the process but in this class we’re just going to start with the basics.

My intent is to give you a TASTE of a what is commonly involved in voice acting so that you can determine if this is something you want to pursue further.

We’ll be doing that by completing a small narration project for Librivox - a site for free audiobooks of work that is in the public domain . And we’ll be recording and editing this project using Audacity - a free open source audio editor.

All you’ll need for this project will be:

  • A microphone
  • A quiet room
  • A computer (PC or MAC)
  • Some way to read your script (printed or on a tablet/phone device)

And since this is one of your first attempts, we’re not going to bother with a fancy microphone. We’re going to work with what you probably already have available - a microphone on your phone, tablet or one that came with your computer. It’s often not the microphone that makes a difference but WHERE you record.

So - let’s get started!


WHAT ARE VOICE OVERS?

Voice Overs for Broadcast or Commercials - This is typically the voice that goes OVER a moving picture and adapted into 15-30 second spots for radios. So think of a commercial advertising the latest pharmaceutical and the high speed legal disclaimers at the end. Or the infamous Sunday SUNDAY SUNDAY monster truck voices. The “in a world” trailer voice that gets you hyped up for a movie. These voices are basically disembodied information givers - they’re not really attached to a specific character. They’re just a clear voice providing information. Things that fall into this category are:

  • Explainer videos
  • Movie trailers
  • Training material
  • Presentation
  • Awards announcer

Spokesperson - Like a voiceover - a spokesperson might be another voice OVER a picture but I’m giving it a separate bullet because this type of voice usually IS associated with a character/character type. Think of Jack from the Jack in the Box commercials or Flo for Progressive Insurance. You’ll hear those same voices in radio commercials and those voices become associated with specific brands.

Podcasts - Podcast voices are typically a real person knowledgeable about a certain subject. You don’t have to be a vocal acting expert but learning to speak into a microphone correctly and with more clarity (with less ums and verbal ticks) is a bonus.

Radio DJs - Radio broadcasters tend to speak VERY CLEARLY, with ENTHUSIASM and in perfectly alotted periods of time. They’re usually well practiced with the microphone, they avoid moments of “dead air” religiously because think about it - if you’re turning the dial looking for a station and you hear NOTHING - you’re going to keep turning the dial thinking there is no signal there. So dead air on a radio broadcast is basically a huge mistake.  

DJ Drops - This is special type of short, enthusiastic or sexy style of voice that is used to announce a live DJ or hype a crowd and it’s usually mixed with a lot of audio fx.

Voicemail/Auto Attendant/IVR - This ranges from your basic answering machine message “Hi, we’re not home, leave a message” to a business voicemail such as “You’ve reached Acme Tire Irons and your call is important to us. Leave a detailed message after the beep.”  The next step after this is the Auto Attendant or the IVR (Interactive Voice Attendant) voice - these are the ones such as “Welcome to Acme Corporate, Press 1 for Accounts Payable, 2 for Production, 3 to reach Jen in Accounts, etc.” The style here is pleasant, with a smile in your voice and a slow pace for clarity. After I began my own path with Librivox I began doing voicemails. I found it the most forgiving for a beginner with an OK microphone because the audio quality of a telephone call is poor by design and therefore a little more forgiving.

ASMR -  This is a relatively new style of narration which generally involves whispering very close to a microphone in a sort of seductive style. The intent is set off the tingle sensations you might get when someone blows into your ear. These are usually off the cuff/improvised or done a role playing style. Again you’re looking for slow paced talking and a controlled quiet speaking style.

WHAT IS VOICE ACTING?

Narrators - A narrator is usually the disembodied voice that is associated with a STORY. This is someone reading the stage directions in a play or the omniscient god voice in a fiction novel. A great example of this is the Emma Thompson character in the movie STRANGER THAN FICTION that is telling the audience what Will Ferrell's character is doing throughout his day. A narrator usually has an authoritative inside knowledge of the tale that’s going on and can generally have a “wise” character style. They’re usually a voice you feel you can trust and the pace is usually slower than normal speaking such that the writer’s words can be clearly understood.

  • Audiobooks
  • Podcast stories
  • Play narrators
  • Movie narration for the blind

Audio Drama/Radio Plays - Getting into this space is acting for the voice. If you’re already an actor and you make to jump to voice - then this really is the same thing you already know with an added element of using your voice to really express your emotions since you don’t have your body to rely on. It involves subtle vocal noises, sighs, laughter and basically a REALLY GREAT IMAGINATION since you’ll PROBABLY be doing this alone in the dark and just having to imagine the whole scene around you. I wouldn’t recommend this as a FIRST step unless you already have acting experience. I would work up to this because it is a bit harder than you think it might be. But basically, if you’re not in the narrator role here, your job is to BE a character in an invisible play. Fiction audiobooks will also fall into this category if you’re doing an entire book or story as the sole narrator and you’ll be required to do the voices for all the characters in the book. This really requires a wide range of different styles so that each character in the story can be distinguishable and recognizable without the reader being able to see the part that says “Harry said” or “Hermione looked and Ron and said: “.  Personally, my favorite audiobook narrator is Jim Dale and specifically his work on the Harry Potter series - I really recommend those. His range is uh-mazing.

Animation - Animation voice acting is just that - animated voice acting. It’s definitely associated with a fictional character and is usually in a speech pattern that is quicker and more faster paced than a normal human voice. Think of it like a vocal caricature - the features of a voice are exaggerated - you might have more vocal fry (demonstrate), lisps (demonstrate), lower or higher intonations (demonstrate) and other verbal eccentricities like accents. Typically in an animation voice over you are a little involved in the creation of the character BEFORE the animation is created so your creativity in the voice is considered when the drawing starts. A great example here is Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin - Robin’s ad libs made it into the drawn character of the genie. It would have been a totally different genie if someone like, say, Jerry Seinfeld had voiced him.

  • Animated movies
  • Cartoons for TV
  • Animated greeting cards
  • Web videos

Machinima, Fan Dubbing and Professional Dubbing - This is basically an animation voice over but it’s for a character that exists prior to your involvement in the development of the character. For Machinima someone has taken existing footage and re-edited it into a story of their choosing and you’re coming into voice after the fact so you might have to talk faster than normal to get the script to fit into the time alotted. The same goes for English language dubs of Japanese animation, for example. The scenes exist and are cut for the Japanese language and the original actors character choices and you’re coming in after the fact to try and match a character and squeeze that English translation into tighter spaces. Fan and Pro Dubbing is used for live action video as well.

Visual Novel - This genre is like a hybrid between cartoon animation, story narration and video game voice acting. The narration style might be a mix between narrators and character acting but it is “readable” in a video game style. It’s like a video game of just cut scenes.

Video Game Voice Acting - Video game voices are similar to animation in that you’ll usually be involved with the production in tandem with the animation/creation of the characters. But in video game acting your characters will generally NOT talk as fast because they’re providing information the gamer needs. They tend to be a LOT more dramatic with strong stories of love and violent loss and they’ll take themselves very seriously. Video game acting also involves sessions where you’re just grunting, screaming, doing battle cries and making other general “human noises” like heavy breathing, yawns, stretches and reacting to pain. Directions like “do a death rattle” and “react to an arrow hit in the shoulder” are normal.

So this covers most of what you’ll see in casting sections for voice actors and you now have an idea of the different niches you could go into if you’re so inclined.

For THIS class and THIS project we’re going to be working on the Narration style. We’ll be picking a poem from the public domain to record and we’ll be picking a character style that fits the piece.

FINDING A QUIET PLACE TO RECORD

OK now - before we pick our project and get set-up, I think we should pick a space to record. There are certain things you can fix in your audio after you’ve recorded it but the best way to get clean audio - is to START with clean audio.

Take a pause and REALLY LISTEN to the sound around you. For instance, I first started recording in my kitchen because that’s where my computer was but it was a terrible recording area because:

  • The refrigerator hummed
  • The fan on my laptop constantly whirred
  • And my voice echoed off the far walls of the room

I would record a segment, realize I missed something and record again only to realize that it sounded different because this time the refrigerator motor was resting, so I’d have to start over and re-record the WHOLE project. I must have done all of my story narrations three or four times because of trying to have one unified sounding recording. Don’t make my mistakes - I made them for you because I was rushing. ACTUALLY find a quiet space.

I moved into my bedroom but my upstairs neighbor had an AC running that caused a nice cyclical hum. Then I started recording with a blanket over my head which was a LOT better… pillows and blankets are GREAT for sound dampening but in some case it sounded TOO dampened … like I was recording under a blanket. Again my takes were inconsistent if my pillows moved around and I had to re-record mistaken lines so this wasn’t working out either.

Finally, I did what most home recording artists do - I moved into a closet.

I bought some cheap egg crate bedding from Amazon and cut it up and nailed it to the wall, figured out how to get my microphone close to my face and keep my noisy laptop outside of the room and used some of the existing closet clothes to add further dampening.

Egg Crate Bedding on Amazon

Acoustic Foam on Amazon

The next important thing is a POP filter. I bought a “real one” that “went with” my microphone but to be honest this one I made out of nylons and a small embroidery hoop works way better! This is to eliminate those extra sounds from the plosive noises your mouth makes when you say things like “Pop out at Parties” and “Bob the Builder” (Ps and Bs - little explosions).

Small Embroidery Hoops on Amazon

If you want to really dive deep into sound booth making and sound proofing I really recommend Mike DelGaudio’s videos on YouTube. He goes by the channel name “Booth Junkie”.

For this BEGINNER project this is what you need to do:

  • Find a quiet space (really listen) (try a closet, try your CAR)
  • Prevent echos (make a pillow fort, put a blanket over your head)
  • Hydrate

ELIMINATING MOUTH NOISE

You ever listen to something like NPR and you hear someone being interviewed and you can hear those little poppy and squishy noises in their mouths? Gonna be honest - it’s a little gross and distracting. And it’s totally gonna happen to you in your recordings if you don’t drink water. But it doesn’t work if you drink water WHILE you’re recording (it helps, sure). It really only works if you drink water 1-2 hours BEFORE you record. In a pinch, a green apple helps. Personally, I’ve got sensitive teeth and I hate biting into apples so I originally kept apple juice boxes on hand for recordings. Now I just try to plan a bit ahead and actually drink the damn water.

MICROPHONES

OK Microphones - I don’t want you to got out and buy a fancy microphone for this class (unless you already have one) - for this, we just need something where you can record your voice in a relatively decent style. Smart phones work great for this. Gaming headsets. A microphone that you got with your computer. The internal mic on your laptop isn’t gonna be GRRREAAAT but it’s doable if you can figure out where it actually is on your machine and you can manage to get your computer fans to not run while you’re recording.

Omnidirectional - this picks up sound in a big sphere so it gets EVERYTHING. Your voice but also everything behind the mic, under it, over it, etc. So it’s good for things like 360 degree ambience but NOT good for narration because it picks up all the noise around it.

Cardioid - Cardioid sounds like cardiac… because it’s a heart shape. But like an inverted heart. It picks up what’s right in front of it directionally but also a bit of what’s going on around the designated point of interest. Great for narration but it’ll also get a bit of the room around you so this is best used in a noise controlled environment.

Hyper Cardioid/Supercardioid - these are like the lavalier mics you see clipped to collars in interviews and the shotgun “boom” mics on poles on a TV or movie shoot. They pick up in a heart pattern as well but a much more directional one and it gets very little of the surrounding noise. These can be great for narration too.

BiDirectional - This picks up sound from the front and the back so it’s a good mic for something like an interview sitting at the table. It’ll pick up the interviewer in the front and the interviewee in the back and nothing from the right and left.

TYPES of microphones are a whole different story and again more detailed than we need to be in this class.

So let’s just make the assumption that your built in laptop microphone is probably omnidirectional and therefore it’s going to pick up too much noise. While your smart phone microphone/gaming headset/PC mic is going to be a little more controllable because you can take it to a quiet space away from the computer.

The BLUE YETI microphone is a great starter USB microphone BECAUSE you can switch between the different pick-up patterns. If you're doing a 2 person interview, you can work in stereo mode. Narrations? Use the Cardioid pattern. Need to get the sound of a coffee shop? Use omnidirectional.

Blue Yeti on Amazon

PREPARING YOUR SCRIPT FOR READING

Now I’m going to show you my trick for preparing my scripts so that I can read them off of my device instead of having to print out paper. You can choose to do it on paper if you like but keep in mind that the sound of your paper may be caught on audio AND you will also need a source of light in order to read it. By reading your script from a device, it is both quiet and self-illuminated.

I have found that the easiest method for me to use is to prepare my script in Google Docs because it is something I can open on multiple devices using the Google Docs or Google Drive app.

If you don’t already have a Google account, it is fairly simple to make one. You can also choose to use something equivalent that works for you and your devices like Apple Notes or Evernote - the key being that you can access it both from your computer and the device on which you read from.

To follow along with me, start by going to docs.Google.com and once you’re logged in you should see the big Plus Sign which allows you to create a new blank document.

In my screen recording, you may have seen my document entitled “VO To Record Today.” I always use the same document for my projects just to keep things a little less cluttered. But in this sample, we are starting from scratch.

By clicking on the title text I can rename the document. I am going to change the name here to "Fortnight Poem" because that is what we’ll be working on in the second part of this series.

Next I’ll head to the source text that I need to read and copy it.

Returning to my browser window where the Google Doc is open, I then paste in my document. I can either use keyboard shortcuts such as Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V to copy and paste. OR I can use the Edit menu to Copy and Paste.

Now when I’m in my soundbooth I have used a grip device attached to an extension arm that keeps my device positioned ABOVE the microphone. This way when I’m reading my script, my mouth is still facing the microphone. (As opposed to holding it in my hand and facing my head down when I read.) You definitely don’t need to be this fancy for your project, but you do need to keep your mouth pointed towards your microphone when you record.

And here is how I open the script on my device.

For my setup, I open the Google Drive or Google Docs app, find my document and then while reading, I can quietly scroll through the text, avoiding the sound of rustling papers, while I read.

YOUR PROJECT

OK you’ve got your quiet place, you know how to avoid mouth noises, you’ve chosen the microphone you’re going to use and you have a way to read your script.

For your Project for this 101 class, I’d like you to make a test recording in a few possible “quiet areas” that you will consider using and listen back to those recordings to see if you can identify potential problems. Post those audio snippets to the Project Area by uploading those audio files to a site like SoundCloud.com or Clyp.it and then include links in your post.

If you can, please also post pictures of your chosen “quiet place” in the Project area.  

If you have any alternatives or tips and tricks that you prefer for reading scripts, please post those in the Community area.

And when you’ve completed Project 1, you can move on to the next videos in this series where we will be learning about how to use Audacity and Librivox.

Thank you for watching!

(AS OF 9/12/18 - The Following Classes Are Still In Production)