Hello, my fellow VO nerds—whether you’re a part of the VO industry or just someone interested in it, you’re a VO nerd in my heart—and welcome back to our voiceover journey. We’ve spent the last several weeks digging into the various genres available for voiceover artists to lend their voices to. With that foundation laid, it’s time for something new. Where do we go from here? Now that we have a decent overview of the territory that lies before us, I thought it would be worth spending some time examining the equipment needed to be successful in a VO career. So, for all my tech friends out there, this one’s for you.
*DISCLAIMER 1* I am not a tech expert, so I won’t be going too in depth regarding the technical specs of the following equipment.
*DISCLAIMER 2* As you know by now, I’m still new to the VO game myself. While I’ve learned a lot about recording hardware and software since I started, and I think I can give some decent recommendations for beginners, don’t just take my word for it. If you’re serious about exploring VO for yourself, do some research of your own as well. I guarantee it will pay off.
*DISCLAIMER 3* None of the following brands sponsor me, nor do I receive any compensation for recommending any of their equipment. I only receive a kickback from the Amazon affiliate links. If you choose to purchase equipment through one of those links, thank you for your support. I appreciate you! If you don’t, I still appreciate you…just not as much. Kidding! *wink wink*
Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog post.
Ok, let’s start with the obvious. If you’re interested in voiceover, you’re going to need to record your voice. Duh. If you’re going to record your voice, you need a tool with which to record. Double duh. So, what are you going to use? Go ahead, choose, I’ll wait. Not so duh, huh?
Choosing the best mic for you can be a daunting task, especially for newbies who don’t know the ins and outs about what makes a good mic or how a mic can affect the quality of your recorded audio. One question inevitably leads to an avalanche of others. What kind of mic do I choose? Does that brand matter? USB or XLR? My phone can record—do I even need a mic at all? (Spoiler alert for that last question: Yes! Emphatically yes, you need a quality mic!)
No...not that kind of Mike. Also, pro tip—never ingest your microphone and then regurgitate it for giggles. That kind of treatment will be far too hard on your equipment.
There are two primary types of microphones used in most recording situations—condenser and dynamic mics. Condenser mics are ideal for capturing delicate sound and high frequencies, whereas dynamic mics are better for picking up loud, strong sounds. A condenser mic is far more sensitive than a dynamic mic, meaning it can pick up a lot more detail and information from the sound it receives and translates to your DAW (more on that later). In contrast, dynamic mics don’t capture as much detail in their recordings. A benefit of a dynamic mic is that it generally won’t pick up as much background noise. For the purposes of voiceover, it’s almost always best to choose a condenser mic so that all the unique, subtle nuances of your voice can be properly recorded.
Microphones are also split into two categories based on how they connect to your computer—USB and XLR mics. A USB mic plugs directly into your computer via a USB port, hence the name. These mics are simple to use and can be very inexpensive. Lots of newbies who are dabbling with the idea of voiceover choose to go this route. XLR mics cannot be connected directly to your computer and require an audio interface as a go-between. These mics are typically more expensive, but there is a wide price range depending on the brand and model you choose. They definitely don’t have to break the bank, even for a beginner. XLR mics are industry standard and, therefore, considered more professional. We’ll touch on other benefits of XLR mics when we discuss audio interfaces below.
USB vs. XLR hook ups
Once you’ve decided on the type of mic you need and type of connection you want to utilize, the question of brand comes into play. I don’t want to spend too much time here (because we could—a LOT of time). There are pros and cons to most of the big microphone brands out there. Ultimately, it’ll come down to what feels right to you, what you want to invest financially, and which mic captures your voice best (yes, this means there’s trial and error involved). You might try out several different mics over a few years before you really figure out which one is best for you. To give you a place to start, though, some of the consistently high-ranking mic brands include Rode, Audio-Technica, Neumann, and Sennheiser. Again, all of these are going to offer a range of products at varying price points. You’ll need to look into them yourself a bit before making a decision.
My recommendation for a beginner mic is the Rode NT1. This mic is a best-seller and for good reason. It has a cardioid recording pattern, which means it’s most sensitive to sound coming from the front, has almost no sensitivity to sound coming from directly behind, and has a reduced sensitivity to sound coming from the side—ideal for voiceover! It has low self-noise and produces a natural, transparent response (i.e., the audio sounds a close to real-life as possible). While certainly more expensive than most USB mics, the NT1 is conservatively priced on the spectrum of professional grade mics, making it a great investment for newer talent.
Because I recommend investing in an XLR mic, we also need to discuss audio interfaces. Simply put, an audio interface is a tool that converts the signal captured by your microphone into a format your computer and DAW can recognize. They can also provide a route for audio from your computer to play through your headphones or external speakers.
The big benefit to having an audio interface, however, is that it boosts the microphone to an extent, helping accurately reproduce the sound that passes into it. Sound that goes through an audio interface tends to be fuller and have a broader range. This adds a level of quality and professionalism to your recordings that is missing from those created with most USB mics.
When looking for an audio interface, start with brands like Focusrite, Audient, PreSonus, Behringer, or Steinberg. Like with microphones, all of these brands will offer a selection of interfaces at various price points. Keep in mind, when you hit the higher price threshold for interfaces, you’re mostly paying for added inputs. For voiceover, you likely won’t need more than one or two inputs since you mostly record alone or—sometimes—with one other person.
My personal recommendation is to start with Focusrite’s Scarlett Solo or Scarlett 2i2 interface. The Scarlett line of interfaces are easy to set up, super user friendly, and, in my experience, provide great audio. They’re not the most inexpensive on the list, but they are more affordable than a lot of the other options, making them another great investment for new voice talent serious about being more than a hobbyist.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
Once you’ve got your mic and your interface, you’re going to need software to record into so that you can edit and manipulate your audio. This is where a digital audio workstation (DAW) comes into play. In addition to recording audio, most DAWs are capable of composing, mixing, editing, and mastering audio, allowing users to mix multiple recorded tracks into a final production.
As far as voiceover is concerned, we tend to use a fraction of what our DAWs can do. A lot of the bells and whistles within a DAW are specifically for music production and can be completely ignored when producing voiceovers. This can make choosing a DAW a bit overwhelming. All those buttons, knobs, dials, and gauges can fry your brain at a single glance if you’re not über tech savvy to begin with. While most DAWs all offer the same capabilities, the actual interfaces often look vastly different, further inducing anxiety in our poor little newbie hearts. No doubt, if you’re new to audio recording, there will be a learning curve when using a DAW. The best thing you can do is research the options a bit, pick whichever one feels right to you, and take the time to play around on it until you’re comfortable. If something doesn’t seem to click, try a different one.
The major players in the current realm of DAWs (at least the ones I see consistently) include Pro Tools, Adobe Audition, Reaper, Studio One, Audacity, and GarageBand. All these DAWs have their pros and cons to consider and, as I said before, you’ll really need to consider what you want to be able to do (and how much you want to spend) when making a choice.
For someone brand new to voiceover, I would (controversially) recommend Audacity as a good place to start. More experienced folks, please don’t yell at me! Audacity was my first experience using a DAW—and doing any kind of audio recording/editing whatsoever. It has a gentle learning curve, isn’t visually bogged down with as many unneeded options, and is completely capable of producing high-quality audio. It also has the nifty little perk of being free to use, which is a huge incentive for aspiring VO artists on a budget. A word of warning, Audacity is a destructive editing program. No, this doesn’t mean it’ll corrupt your computer, erode your equipment, or cause nearby stars to collapse in on themselves…as far as I know. It just means that changes are permanently written to the original audio file. Once changes have been made to your audio, it can be a challenge to undo them.
With that said, my huge caveat to recommending Audacity (this is where I hope to win back some points from the Audacity-haters) is that you use it to learn the basics and then move on to a better DAW as quickly as you can. This is where I am personally in my VO journey. I’m in the process of switching to Reaper and (so far) I would definitely recommend it. Reaper, by far, offers one of the best DAWs out there for the price. It offers a ridiculous amount of flexibility and is super customizable. I know a lot of successful VO artists who swear by Reaper. I have found it has a much steeper learning curve than something like Audacity, but once you know what you’re doing you can really streamline your process and produce great audio quickly.
I really wrestled with starting on this point because adequately treating your recording space is of paramount importance to producing quality audio. A good rule to remember is that your equipment is only as good as your space. You can have the best mic, interface, and DAW available, but if your space isn’t set up properly for recording, you’ll never get good results.
Now, don’t panic! Proper treatment doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. I’m not saying you need to go out and purchase a Whisper Room or a Studio Bricks booth to be successful in VO. If that were the case, there would be a LOT fewer voice actors in the industry right now.
If you’ve done any research into VO at all, you’ve probably heard about people starting out in their closets. Well, it’s no myth. It’s true! While that hasn’t been my personal experience, I know of and have heard from countless voice talent who started recording in their closets. They were successfully producing national commercials, chuckling to themselves as they imagined what listeners would think if they saw such a set up.
A lot of people get hung up on having a completely soundproof space to record in—I know I did at first. The fact of the matter is, it’s very challenging to create a truly soundproof space. More important for most VO artists working from home studios is a space that has adequate sound absorbing material. I like to think of it as a soft space. Whether you use sound absorbing blankets (or moving blankets), foam panels, or the clothing in your closet, you’re looking for a space where hard, flat surfaces are at a minimum. Sound reflects and bounces off these kinds of surfaces, creating echoes and that unwanted boxy sound. Do what you can “soften” your space and see how much that improves the quality of your audio recordings. You might be surprised at how good you sound.
As with most things, there is an endless supply of equipment, gadgets, doodads, snarfblatts, and dinglehoppers you can invest in for VO. Also as with most other things, it’s probably not wise to invest in it all at once. Start with the basics, figure out what you need to improve, and piece by piece build up your collection of VO memorabilia. There is absolutely no need to go into debt to get started in VO.
With that in mind, there are a few other common pieces of equipment I would recommend looking into on the front end.
· Mic Stand—Doesn’t have to be fancy but get something that gives you the versatility of either standing or sitting.
· Shock Mount—Provides suspension to your mic that protects your recordings if/when you accidentally bump it during a recording session.
· Pop Filter—Helps mitigate popping sounds in your recording caused by fast-moving air from plosives.
· Headphones—Unless you plan on really investing in in-ear monitors, go for some over-the-ear phones that feel comfortable during extended wear. Wearing headphones during recording can help you stay consistent with how you sound, and they are essential for playback and editing. Don’t rely on your computer speakers to give you accurate feedback.
· Editing Software—Your DAW will undoubtedly come with a smorgasbord of editing effects and filters, but you may wish to expand your options at some point. Check out Izotope for some good third-party plug-ins.
· Blue Light Glasses—You’re going to be looking at a tablet and/or computer screen a LOT. Do yourself a favor and protect your eyes. You’ll be grateful you did when you’re old and decrepit but can still see!
Well, I think that about covers the basics. If you’re still with me, I hope you’re feeling more confident about what it takes to get started in voiceover (from a material perspective, at least) and can see that it really is affordable and attainable. Do you have any more questions regarding recording equipment? For those already in the industry, what are your recommendations? I’d love wider perspective from those further along than me.
Until next time, friends. Keep telling stories!
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Voiceover Artist | Storyteller | Professional Nerd
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