Five DIY Home Studio Voice-over Tips

As work from home voice-artists, we are a segregated lot. Our time recording is spent in the lonely convenience of closets, spare bedrooms, under moving blanket tents and for the truly fortunate, a sound booth. Regardless of where we record, we are usually solo, self-directing to the point of our best performance. Sure, there are patched or ISDN sessions with directors talking to us from some remote location. Still, we are standing by ourselves, behind a mic and putting our best VO effort forward. We are alone.

Since there is usually nobody but me, myself, and JC controlling how my sessions go in my home studio, there are a few things that I do for each session to make sure when I’m done recording my time editing is used efficiently.

The following might seem obvious for some and super simple to others. For me, these tips give me an extended level of comfort and confidence when I’m by myself. These are things I’ve learned over time. Most often, corrections of bad habits.

  1. Pre-read the script before you get behind the microphone. Read the words to yourself first. Read them out loud then read them out loud again. This gives your eyes, brain, and mouth an opportunity to get acquainted with the script. If you stumble on a word or a line trips you up, this is a great opportunity for you to find it before you get behind your mic.

  2. Markup or woodshed your script with reminders. You’ve pre-read the script and have found the land mines and areas that need more or less emphasis. Don’t try to remember how to deal with the problem bits. Instead, grab a pencil and mark the script in a way that will be most helpful. Place underlines under words that you need to hit. Place dashes for breaks in the phrasing to remind you to take a breath. Highlight a line that needs more “Hollywood” and write in phonetic helpers.

  3. Remember to read for time. If the script is for a :30 commercial, your read should not be longer than :30. It’s better to read for time instead of trying to edit for time. Grab a stopwatch and time your read before you enter your booth.

  4. Develop a method to mark your takes. The best way to find a take out of multiple attempts is to look at the waveform of the audio file in your recording software. Using a clap between each take and a triple clap for a take that you think was “THE one” will help you quickly identify just what you’re looking for. Audiobook narrator Jeffrey Kafer uses a dog clicker instead of clapping.

  5. Keep everything you record. When I first started doing voice-overs, I would record a few takes then stop to give them a listen. If I didn’t like what I heard, I ditched the entire track and started over. This was a huge waste of time and removed any option of picking up a word or line that might be useful in the final audio.

What have you found to be your most useful tip as a solo voice-over talent?

42 thoughts on “Five DIY Home Studio Voice-over Tips

  1. Tom Parker June 12, 2012 / 6:42 pm

    Great tips, I had forgotten the clap to show a wav peak as a quick visual marker.
    Thanks ….

    Like

    • JCDunn June 13, 2012 / 8:24 am

      Hey Tom-

      It’s funny how something so simple and free can be so effective. Thanks for stopping by!

      -J.

      Like

  2. "Uncle Roy" Yokelson June 13, 2012 / 2:56 am

    Very good basic ‘old school’ advice that works. Old school is part of what is missing from today’s new/young VO community, because unless you are being taught be a ‘veteran’ of the VO industry you have not seen these practices first hand. Thanks J. Chirstopher Dunn! – Uncle Roy

    Like

    • JCDunn June 13, 2012 / 8:33 am

      Hey Uncle Roy-

      No doubt! It’s unfortunate that a lot of newbies ask how they can get an agent or if they should join a union. These same people seem to be oblivious to the need for performing well in the booth and taking care of the voice-over process from beginning to end.

      I welcome any new school techniques that will promote my business and increase my workload. Anybody want to share some new school methods?

      Thanks for checking out my blog!

      -J.

      Like

    • Steve Suekey June 19, 2012 / 4:13 pm

      My thouhts exactly! It is old school and if you’re fortunate enough to have a great coach/teacher/mentor, who’s one of those vets both in voice and radio, which I was in, is the greatest! Thanks for the great advice, and hey never say never on the learning curve.

      Like

      • JCDunn June 19, 2012 / 7:05 pm

        Steve-

        I find that I get the most practical advice from people that have more than just doing voice-overs in their background. Folks who’ve experienced a wide range of professions from marketing to technical. My coach, Veronica Weikel, has been in the biz since, well, a very long time and she’s got a wonderful background. She seems to know a lot about a wide variety of topics and I’ve found her advice extremely helpful. Old school rules? At time I think it does. 🙂

        -J.

        Like

  3. Ray Murphy June 13, 2012 / 6:45 am

    J. When I first starting VO’s (been in business since 1976) I wrote my copy long hand on legal pads, slip-Q’d records for music beds (this was a while before music packages were available..good ones any way), I recorded “it” till I got it right (full track mono machine) …which is what I do today. Yes I have all the digital bells and whistles and recording software (I use DP7) …but I still like to do “the good take” without resorting to editing and comping. This is a habit that has served me well…as it disciplines me to do it until I get it right. What really irritates me is when I hear a spot with no breaths and it is obvious that it was (what I called) “picket fenced” together. This sounds so unnatural. This is the same argument used in music, and why so much music is so lame…We’re relying too much on technology and backing off on our performance. (or learning an instrument) .i.e. “We’ll fix it in the mix”. It was so refreshing to hear “Foo Fighters” when accepting “Best Album of the year” after recording it all analog and in a garage basically..Quote…”Learn how to play an instrument”. Our voices are an instrument…learn how to use it. Can we please hear some radio promo’s without a “hi pass filter….lol. In closing…if you have a dedicated room for recording, professional recording software…(more than garage band), multi-track analog, a good mic, pre amp, monitors, and know the basic principals of sound and how to manipulate it…and finally have had several productions actually “aired”, then VO work is your “profession”…If not (the above) then “it” is your hobby.

    Like

    • JCDunn June 13, 2012 / 9:00 am

      Hi Ray-

      Amen, brotha!

      I produced projects the same as you described. While I didn’t enter the radio biz until about a decade after you, I was still relying on vinyl for music, carts for SFX and recorded to reel-to-reel. Editing was a function of a razor blade and editing block. We had to rely on our ears to distinguish what was a super clean edit and what ended up being a mistaken slice that ended up on the editing room floor. There was no undo.

      About the breaths, I agree. I find it interesting that most producers want a “natural read” and either they or the vo will slice out the breaths. I thought breathing was a natural process. I leave it up to the client.

      The invention of pitch correction was a huge mistake. It goes to show that you don’t have to sound good to be a great performer, you just have to have a talented makeup artist.

      Thank you for stopping by and your comments!
      -J.

      Like

  4. Dan Nelson June 13, 2012 / 7:38 am

    Save your file BEFORE you edit, and don’t edit the original, work with a copy of the file instead.

    Like

    • JCDunn June 13, 2012 / 9:28 am

      Dan-

      Yes, YES, YES! One incredibly long and tedious session taught me this lesson. I began editing without saving and my editor crashed. The software did not auto-save and I was stuck doing the entire project over. It only takes once.

      Thanks for your comments!
      J.-

      Like

    • Steve Faul June 13, 2012 / 12:00 pm

      Yes, great advice. This also helps if the client has revisions days, weeks, maybe months later. If the only file you’ve saved is tightly edited and processed, you’ll have a terrible time trying to the revised bits to match.

      Like

      • JCDunn June 13, 2012 / 12:47 pm

        Steve-

        Great point. Who knew after a year that a client would want me to pick-up just one line and have it match what I did before. I’ve only had that happen exactly one time. Having a pristine copy saved my butt!

        -J.

        Like

  5. howardellison June 13, 2012 / 1:50 pm

    Mine’s an acting tip for the ‘long and tedious’ piece of copy. It’s from one of the top-line coaches, and I forget which, but it works. If you are obliged to enthuse about a ‘revolutionary new paradigm that is sweeping the world of industrialised effluent collection’… launch into the read with a preamble of your own: “Hi Bill. Haven’t you heard – you won the brand new Porsche last night. You can pick it up now. Specially for you, they’ve fitted it with a revolutionary new paradigm that is sweeping… etc”
    Just remember to edit the start!

    Like

    • JCDunn June 13, 2012 / 5:10 pm

      Howard-

      I love that little gem. I’ve used it on a number of gigs to get my delivery up to speed or intensity. Nothing works better than a good ramp, at lest for me and you anyway.

      Thank you for sharing!
      -J.

      Like

  6. Owen Window June 14, 2012 / 12:11 am

    It’s embarrasing and amazing how easily one forgets the simple rules! We all need reminding from time to time as bad habits can quickly develop and become the norm.

    Like

    • JCDunn June 15, 2012 / 10:13 am

      Owen-

      Bad habits are not so easy to spot and even more difficult to correct. Thanks for stopping by!

      -J.

      Like

  7. Philip Rose June 14, 2012 / 3:58 am

    Instead of a hand-clap, I just make a short high-pitched “pip” noise (a bit like the time signal pips on Radio 4 for any Brits out there!). This shows up really clearly on the waveform, even though it does feel a bit silly “pipping” away to myself!

    Philip

    Like

    • JCDunn June 15, 2012 / 10:20 am

      Phillip-

      Or, you could use “the machine that goes ‘PING!'” – Small Monty Python reference.

      Anyway, I’ve heard of voice talents using a pencil on their copy stand, snapping their fingers, clicking their tongue, and others. Whatever changes the look of the waveform to something distinctly recognizable. Since ‘pip’ makes you feel a bit silly, maybe it’s helping to put a smile in your voice. 🙂

      -J.

      Like

  8. Robert Crandall June 14, 2012 / 10:15 am

    Great stuff, You bring back fond and not so fond memories of the razor blade. I wonder whatever happen to Ampex. Anyway it’s always neat to run into old radio people. We lived and worked in a Golden era if you ask me. Some say radio doesn’t make you a VO. In some respects that true, but I think they underestimate the editing experience we bring with us.
    Thanks to all for the great tips I really enjoyed this.

    Like

    • JCDunn June 15, 2012 / 2:55 pm

      Robert-

      I’m sure we’ll have a number of people agree, it takes more than a great set of pipes to have a prosperous voice-over career. Talents like marketing, customer service, people skills, the ability to work indecently, editing and others are super important. I don’t miss the block and blade but I am happy to have had the experience.

      Thanks for taking a moment to read my blog. You’re welcome to stop by anytime. 😉

      -J.

      Like

    • howard ellison June 16, 2012 / 2:18 am

      Adding to the clicks, pips and pings… a handy trace marker is a hummmm. Long and dense, you can’t miss it when scrolling. You can even articulate it into a pointer, forwards or backwards! Relaxes the voice, too.

      Like

      • JCDunn June 16, 2012 / 10:38 am

        Hey Howard-

        Mmm… I’m not sure what “articulate it into a pointer, forwards or backwards!” means but I’m glad it’s not painful. 😉

        -J.

        Like

      • howard ellison June 16, 2012 / 1:14 pm

        Not too painful, JC! What I mean is if your hummm is started gently it forms a left-pointing arrow on the trace, meaning perhaps ‘that’s the buy take’. If forward, achieved by tapering off your hummm, it could mean ‘end of drop-in, go to the spacer for next chapter’. A double hum could mean “hmmm, hoarse, we should take some more green tea”.
        More than likely, for me, it’s a hangover from long chinagraph marks we used to make on the back of quarter-inch tape, not to mention the blood spilled by editing blades. Now that was painful!

        Like

      • JCDunn June 17, 2012 / 10:34 am

        Ah… gotcha! Thank you for the clear description. Sometimes, regardless of how I awake I feel, I am totally asleep behind the eyeballs. 🙂

        -J.

        Like

  9. Arlene Tannis June 14, 2012 / 8:03 pm

    Keep hydrated, have things set up so you won’t be distracted during your recording, in other words, focus so your attention is on the session.
    On another front: Solo in the studio is trying at times… my advice is: Don’t forget to “get out there” in the world… actually talk face-to-face with people…. go to learning events, network locally, see if you can volunteer services now and then to a non-profit.. it may get you paying gigs and if not, you’ll still feel good. And remember to take a break from it all. Life is too short to not enjoy the day in some ways other than work. As you age, this becomes more clear.

    Like

    • JCDunn June 15, 2012 / 10:36 am

      Arlene-

      I like the way you think! I would just add to the hydration tip that room temperature water is best. Anything with caffein or milk products is the ugly worst.

      I’d write more, but I’m going take a break from it all and go out for a walk in the sun! It’s gorgeous out today.

      Thanks for reading my blog. Come back soon!
      -J.

      Like

  10. Voiceover artist June 26, 2012 / 5:47 am

    It’s interesting that you talk of bedrooms and closets. Provided are no “bouncy” surfaces to play havoc with your acoustic, there’s no reason why a room in your house shouldn’t be used, especially if your mic is directional enough to block out extraneous noise. Love the idea of the clap. A friend of mine used some noise he generated from his mixer desk, but I don’t have that luxury. The thee-clap cue at the end of a track you were pleased with is especially helpful, and, of course, the single clap is an immediate visual cue to beginnings and ends – especially if you leave a pause, do the clap, then leave a pause, then begin reading again. Thanks.

    Like

    • JCDunn June 26, 2012 / 5:03 pm

      Andrew-

      I know that most rooms can be used for a recording environment. Some are better suited than others. The closet approach is by far the easiest because of all the sound absorption of the hanging clothes. Just make sure to remove empty hangers since they have a way of rattling against each other at the most inappropriate times. I used about 100-feet of a 400-foot bonus room in the last house I lived in and even though I thought I was cleaver with the “recording tent” I created, I fought with reflections. And, AND, to top it off, I was using a ribbon microphone that had a figure-8 pickup pattern (read: very little to no rejection). It’s a wonder I had any clients.

      -J.

      Like

  11. Rick Arseneault April 11, 2013 / 5:20 am

    Reblogged this on Rick Arseneault VoiceOvers and commented:
    I’ve been struggling lately to come up with some relevant content to add to my blog since I last posted. After coming across this post on Twitter (shared by someone else on top of that) , I’ll gladly share it along to my readers and twitter followers as well. Very good advice and very good habits to start and maintain. Great work, Mr. Dunn.

    Like

  12. Rick Arseneault April 11, 2013 / 5:32 am

    Great Post. Always good to revisit what best practices are. Just like my coaches used to repeat to us over and over when we played ball as kids – Remember your fundamentals and you’ll be successful in your game.

    Like

    • J. Christopher Dunn April 13, 2013 / 10:42 am

      I’ve had a number of people ask what a typical day looks like for me. I tell them that part of it is warmup and practicing. Like an athlete, I feel that if I don’t focus on the fundamentals and keep myself in shape vocally, I won’t be sharp for the big gig (game). It’s super important. Now, if I could just find a way to get past this cold I’m suffering with. {{sniff}}

      Thanks for stopping by and reposting my post!

      -J.

      Like

      • Rick Arseneault April 20, 2013 / 11:15 am

        Thanks for the great post. I’m always looking for great content to put on my site. Yours fit the bill perfect. Good luck with your cold. I’m battiling one, too.

        Like

  13. howard ellison April 13, 2013 / 10:48 am

    Seeing this re-tweet, or bounce or whatever you call it… I can pop in a couple more. Try throwing away your headphones during takes. I did for seven days and haven’t put them on again (apart from editing) for six weeks. Everyone will respond differently, but for me it brought stronger, livelier reads, less mouth noise because of the raised level, and generally fewer bloopers because of more concentration on performance.
    Second tip: always do at least two takes, even if your first was utterly brilliant. Then you’ve got a ready source of pickups for the odd minced word – and easily matched in.

    Like

    • J. Christopher Dunn April 13, 2013 / 11:11 am

      Hi Howard- Agree x 2. Headphones are a nuisance. I use them at the beginning of a session to verify that I’m recording and then they sit quietly on my copy stand.

      The double take is golden. More than that, the natural sound of the delivery fades to over enunciation, over thinking and fooling myself that the next take will be even better.

      -J.

      Like

  14. howard ellison April 13, 2013 / 1:00 pm

    Hi, JC. Yes, that’s so exactly the scenario. Now the next productivity tip I’m taking from you is to get an iPad and the Instashare thingy – so the printer can go the way of the cans.

    Like

    • J. Christopher Dunn April 14, 2013 / 10:06 am

      That, my friend, was one of the best technical decisions I made for my VO business. However, the decision to go with a ribbon microphone (figure eight pickup pattern!) as my first voice catcher, was dumb. But it looked really cool! So happy that I’ve moved on to better equipment.

      Like

      • howard ellison April 14, 2013 / 11:23 am

        Ah, at risk of skewing off-thread, first mike I ever used for VO as such was a 55-year old non-pro ribbon: not at all pretty to look at. Those tracks still sound fairly good I think, but indeed the room is more audible because of the rear pickup. It’s been good to get issues like that out of the way, so as to concentrate on performance.

        Like

  15. Sammi June 12, 2013 / 3:27 am

    This article is so helpful – each of your points are so accurate. I especially like number 4 and number 5. It’s so important to develop a method to mark your takes. Just as it is to keep everything you record. Thanks you! Sammi

    Like

    • J. Christopher Dunn November 2, 2015 / 9:09 am

      Hi Nic!

      They’re timeless, right? I’m happy you found ’em. My newest tip is to be certain multiple reads for auditions or final delivery are distinguishable. Give the producer a reason to consider an alternate take. Changes in attitude, pace, emotion and the imaginary person your speaking to will create usable uniquenesses.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Like

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