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How to Record a Quality Voice-Over (and Why You Should Do It)

voice-over

A voice-over might be the perfect thing to add to your next video, but unfortunately if you’re like a lot of video creators, you won’t use one.

That’s potentially a huge mistake.

Now it’s true that a voice-over isn’t always a good idea for every video (a reel comes to mind). But here’s the important thing to remember…

A voice-over is frequently the ideal element to add to your video.

And yes, I’m talking about all kinds of videos. If you’re making a product video for your business, it likely needs a voice-over. Watch several commercials on television, and you’ll see voice-overs are enthusiastically present.

But I’m also talking about videos you make of family events, vacations, club outings, or even the simple montage video.

At a minimum, a voice-over can help make an otherwise confusing video become clear. Best-case scenario, a voice-over can take these videos to a whole new level.

Why do you need a voice-over in your video?

The voice-over is a powerful and versatile tool.

It can help set the mood and tone of the video. It can share information with the viewer. It can answer the important questions: who, what, when, where, why.

Like a travel guide, a voice-over can help the viewer know what’s going on, what to pay attention to, and what this all means.

When a viewer clicks play on your video, they’ll immediately start asking themselves questions:

“What am I watching? What is this about? Why did that person just do that? Should I keep watching?”

The voice-over can help answer these questions.

Warnings

A voice-over can also harm your video, so you need to watch out for a few things.

Excessive mouth noises, hesitations, overly-repeated words, and other issues can make a video nearly unwatchable.

For example, have you ever watched a video on YouTube where the person narrating the video sounded bored (with audible sighs and a bored tone to their voice)? I have witnessed this myself, and I think it’s sad. If they’re not interested in the subject, why should I be? (And it’s a bit surprising when the video has 40,000 views with 1,200 thumbs-ups. Imagine how well the video would do if the person sounded interested!).

Yes, voice-overs can be problematic, but we should still use them.

How to Record a Voice-Over

What do you need to record a voice-over?

Technically all you need is a microphone and some way to capture the audio, such as a computer, phone, or audio recorder. Yes, technically this is true, but you can get far better results if you put a little more effort (and funding) into your equipment.

For someone just starting out, I think a good USB microphone and a set of studio headphones is enough to get you going. You can plug the USB microphone directly into your computer and capture darn-good-audio-for-the-price.

I haven’t personally owned this USB mic, but the Blue Yeti is certainly a popular choice. And the audio quality it records is quite good.

By the way, I’d recommend staying away from using your computer’s built-in microphone for voice-overs. The sound quality would be too horrible, and it would hurt your video’s watchability.

If you’re already using a separate microphone when you shoot video (such as a shotgun microphone), then you could use the same microphone for voice-overs. You might need to invest in an audio interface to get the audio from the mic into your computer. (The audio interface I currently use is the M-audio Fast Track Pro.)

If you’re always trying to level up your quality, then you might find yourself moving up in microphone standards. I’ve done this myself. I’m currently using a Neumann TLM-103 microphone for recording my voice-overs, but I’ve been through several other low and mid-range microphones on my way up to this one.

For headphones, I’m currently using the industry-standard Sony MDR-7506 Studio Headphones. They’re lightweight, comfortable, and the audio reproduction quality is good. Also, they’re not super-expensive at about $100.

Where should you record your voice-overs?

I record many of my voice-overs in my bedroom closet. I’m not kidding.

Closets are great for recording because all the clothing stops sound waves from bouncing around.

You don’t want bouncing sound in your recording (aka reverb or echo).

If you’re somewhat newish to voice-overs, you might not even realize the reverb is there. Here’s how to test it:

Record a voice-over and listen closely with headphones and your eyes closed. Can you hear the sound of the room? Does it sound like the recording was done in a specific space?

If the answer is yes, then you’ve accidentally picked up bouncing sound waves. You don’t want that. You want the voice-over to sound like it’s coming out of nowhere.

Like your voice is coming from an empty void.

What if you don’t have a closet you’d be comfortable using? Try recording inside your car (with it turned off).

And yes, if you have the budget and time, you can acoustically treat a room or get a vocal booth if you’re completely serious about this voice-over business.

That said, the closet or car is acceptable if you lean more video-enthusiast and less video-professional.

Tips for the Voice-Over Performance

Almost nobody starts out feeling natural when they record voice-overs.

It can be a challenge, because on the one hand, you should probably be reading from a script. But on the other hand, you don’t want to sound like you’re reading from a script.

So what can you do to make your voice-over sound more natural?

Here are a few tips you might want to try that I’ve personally found helpful:

  • Gesture a lot with your hands, the way you would in a real conversation. This makes the voice-over sound more natural.
  • Stand up if you can, or at least sit up in your chair. The posture shows up in the sound of your voice.
  • Smile if you want the voice-over to sound happy. Don’t smile if you want it to sound serious.
  • Talk a little louder and slower than you usually would. For me, this translates to a better voice-over.
  • Give yourself plenty of chances to get the take right. I do many (sometimes an embarrassingly large number of) takes until I’m happy with the result. (If you’re a professional voice-over artist, you likely won’t have the luxury of doing endless takes, but since you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re not already a V.O. pro.)

Now Hit Record…

The most important thing to know about voice-overs?

More videos need them. So please use them. Yes, they require more effort, but the benefits of using voice-overs are too numerous to ignore.

A voice-over can help your video be more understandable and entertaining, so it’s worth the effort.

Frequently Asked Questions about Voice-Overs

Question: “What post-processing should I do on my voice-over?”
It depends on the recording, but I don’t do a lot of processing myself on my voice-overs. In post, I usually add a tiny bit of compression, adjust equalization a tad, and then normalize the levels. (If you’re not familiar with those terms, don’t worry about it. At the beginning it’s best just to get started with making sure you have the voice-overs when they’re needed. The super-technical stuff can come later.)

Question: “What software should I use to record voice-overs?”
There are plenty of options. Frequently I record voice-overs directly into Final Cut Pro X. The Final Cut Pro X audio tools are intuitive and powerful. That said, if I need even more oomph, I’ll use Adobe Audition to do the more serious audio work. That’s about as advanced as I (a non-audio engineer) get.

Question: “I already recorded echo/reverb in my audio! What can I do to get rid of it?”
Bad news on this one. I’m not aware of any way to get rid of reverb from a recording. That said, with technology rocketing forward at its current pace, I wouldn’t be surprised if this exists in the future (It might already exist somewhere). For now, it’s best to record clean reverb-free voice-overs.

Question: “I don’t like the sound of my voice. What should I do?”
Well, you could have someone else do the voice-over for you. But really my recommendation is to learn to like the sound of your voice. It’s unique. It’s you. And almost nobody starts out liking the sound of their voice. With practice and persistence, you can learn to use the uniqueness in your voice to your advantage.

Question: “Should I edit out the breaths from my voice-over?”
That’s up to you. Some people prefer no breaths. I personally don’t mind them as long as they’re not too distracting. Sometimes I’ll lower the volume of a breath a bit in post.

Question: “Should I sound bored when I’m recording my voice-over?”
I thought I already answered this earlier. ;)

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11 thoughts on “How to Record a Quality Voice-Over (and Why You Should Do It)

  1. Hi Izzy.

    Fantastic article.

    I have seen a black screen (do not know what it is) that people use when they are recording.

    This is usually placed in front of the mike that they are speaking into.

    Is that necessary and could you please shed some more light on it.

    Thank you.

    1. Yes, that’s called a “pop filter”. It’s a piece of tight mesh (like nylons) in a frame that helps prevent air from plosives from overloading the mic. Plosives are the “p” and “b” sounds we make such as in “Peter Piper picked…”

      Strictly, they’re not required on every mic. Some mics handle plosives better than others (especially if they have a foam wind screen, though this doesn’t totally prevent issues). The good news is that the local music store usually sells pop filters for about $20. You clamp them to a mic stand and then position the pop filter in front of the mic. It allows you to get closer to the mic without the plosives being a problem.

      I use a pop filter for my voice-overs. :)

  2. Great advice Izzy! I do have a couple things I’d like to add. Specifically to address the issue of flutter echo (the echo you addressed in your post) so you can achieve a dry (echo-free, ‘empty void’) recording.

    This relatively inexpensive solution for flutter echo from PrimeAcoustic, the VoxGuard, attaches directly to your mic stand. It works quite well. It basically prevents the sound waves from your voice getting beyond the microphone. http://www.primacoustic.com/voxguard.htm

    The RX-4 software from iZotope is a recording industry standard specifically developed for ‘repairing’ less-than-adequate audio. http://www.izotope.com/en/products/audio-repair/rx/

    The Yeti from Blue Microphones is an excellent choice. RØDE microphones now offers this all-in-one solution to vocal recordings. At a price competitive with Blue’s Yeti. http://www.rodemic.com/microphones/nt-usb

  3. Hi Izzy, great tips. We use Audacity here for recording and editing our course narration files. It’s a great program and totally free! I’ve even used it to clean up audio in training videos by just exporting the audio in FCPX, cleaning it up in Audacity and then bringing it back into the video project.

    We also use a Blue Snowball mic in a small portable sound booth for the actual narration audio (http://voiceoveressentials.com/content/portaboothArticle.htm). Stick the mic in it and it effectively masks most (if not all) outside noise. Thanks again for the articles.

    1. I have the Portabooth too, but I rarely use it because it prevents me from seeing my computer screen. If I don’t need a screen, then I use it. :)

      Thanks for mentioning Audacity. Great free option.

  4. I recently did a voice over to go with a soundtrack for an event I am in the middle of editing. It makes a huge difference! Now, I worked with an experienced VO actor, so that helped. But once I added it to the track, it introduced a lot of dimension and emotion to the different scenes. I completely agree, Izzy, taking the time to do voice-overs is well worth it!

    -Bill

  5. Hi, I do not like my voice. When I hear it on a microphone, I cringe. Is there some masking that can be done?
    Regards

  6. What a great article !!
    I just decided to work as a voice-over artist .. and i have to say that your article helped me alot ..
    Thank you izzy .. :)

  7. I am thinking of using he Zoom h4n in recording device in conjunction with my Nessi mcrophone in my closet to record voiceovers. Do you think this is a useful low-cost solution for eliminating reverberation? Do you have a better solution? Thank you

  8. Great article. Can I do some change in my voice which will done improve by your tips Because when I do record my voice in my phone voice recorder and listen to it. I have no good thought about my voice and i want to change in there. If you have any tips for me please quickly share.

  9. Hi Izzy! Wonderful article. As a matter of fact i’ve read it twice. I do have an issue with voice over. I have made a couple of recordings. When I add the recording together with my video, my voice sounds sooooo soft!! Any idea on why is it like that? I have increased the volume to the max and i even “raised” my voice when recording. Really appreciate your advice. Once again, great article!

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