Re: A few voice-over tips

Subject: Re: A few voice-over tips
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Sat, 16 Jan 2010 13:07:25 +0200

I began working as a radio announcer with a local radio station at
just after my 16th birthday, and worked in various stations doing both
announcing and news both during my University undergrad and graduate
days as well as in the Army as a radio/television specialist. Thus,
perhaps I can make a few simple suggestions that may help with your
voice-over tasks if you are seeking to include videos in your

First, I suggest you practice reading out loud, but with a twist--try
to read ahead of your speech by as many words as you feel comfortable
with. For example, if you were to read the time-honored line about a
quick brown fox and a lazy dog, when you are speaking first word or
two, your brain should already be coping with "jumped over". As you
become experienced with this, you will find many things get much
easier--you aren't confronted with sudden surprises in the text (which
you otherwise will, even if you wrote the text yourself!).

Next, record yourself reading the text and listen back to it, even
before you try to match that text to the video image. If you do this
during the writing process, your text will wind up with a far better
flow and sound more conversational. I am sure you are familiar with
the many differences between the way we write and the way we normally
speak. Although you would never want to write how we *actually* speak
in general conversation, you do want your writing for narration to
*seem* more conversational in nature.

You never want to use a microphone that is not designed for individual
speech. You want one with a directional aspect--that picks up much
more from its front than from the sides and back. That alone will cut
out a substantial part of the background noise. Many broadcast mics
are what is called a "cardioid dynamic" style--the sensitivity shape
is strongly biased towards the front. This is opposed to the
microphones often used on conference-recording devices, which accept
sound from all directions relatively equally.

Today, there are also noise-canceling microphones that have active
noise canceling and off-axis rejection capability. You can
successfully record in some surprisingly noisy environments with

When you are using a microphone for narration, you often will want to
place it close to your mouth. That way, when you adjust the volume,
your voice is far louder to the mic than the background. When you do
this, place the microphone slightly to the side of your mouth--perhaps
just outside of the corner of your mouth itself. It would be slightly
angled, normally, to point directly at the mouth opening, but out of
the air stream. As you know, English has particular problems with
plosives--the "T," "P," "B" and "D" sounds, for example. They have a
strong bursts of air that are problems with microphones. While some
have screens that reduce this effect, they generally don't eliminate
it entirely. Thus, you can eliminate it yourself simply by proper
positioning of the microphone. I am sure you have seen many mics
mounted to headsets--usually, they are not right in front of the mouth
opening. Certainly the less expensive ones are not mounted that
way...and yours should not be either.

Oh, yes...I should also mention that many recorders have a setting for
automatic adjustment of volume. These will try to "equalize" high and
low volume passages to an extent. If you speak too softly, they will
try to boost their sensitivity--which also amplifies both electronic
"hiss" as well as background noise. On the other hand, if you speak
too loudly, the top part of the signal will be clipped rather
abruptly, reducing the quality of the sound. You should always try to
hit the happy medium between the two. I suggest that every time you
begin to prepare an individual session, you do a short recording from
your text first and listen back to it carefully, making any
adjustments in volume and mic placement required for the sound to be

Finally, if you think you'll be doing much of this kind of narration,
you might consider volunteering at a local charity that does recording
for the blind. I have seen these as stand-alone charities and a few
times as part of the local public radio stations. Most of them are
always looking for volunteer readers as well. This can be invaluable
practice for you while it also fulfills a very valuable function in
your community.

Good luck!


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