The top priority when it comes to voiceovers is to make sure the audio track amplifies your message. A high-quality performance and recording give your project an air of credibility while a bad voiceover can turn off customers and undermine your brand. The big challenge is deciding on the best way to procure such voiceover quality. Namely, should you do it yourself (DIY) or explore the many ways to hire someone else to do it for you?
If you’ve got a tight budget for your next recording, the DIY route could be a good bet. The good news is that there are many ways to do it. But, be forewarned: you’ll almost certainly get a better result if you spend a few bucks and go with the advice outlined in option #2 or #3 below. That’s because production quality matters. Consumers are increasingly savvy and expect every video to possess the same production values as the million-dollar blockbuster movies they stream. If you’re recording with a cheap headset in a noisy office space, you’ve already tipped your hand that the production may be somewhat amateurish.
Here’s the scouting report on every voiceover option from the least expensive to the most.
1. Record yourself or a friend with a smartphone or tablet app.
If you’re totally cash-strapped, record yourself or a colleague using your smartphone with an app like the well-regarded Voice Record Pro, the less intuitive but broadcast-quality Voddio, or Voice Recorder HD. Since these apps are free or just a few dollars, download a couple of them and see which one you like best. If this option appeals to you (and your budget), Grumo Media published an in-depth tutorial about recording voiceovers with an iPhone here.
2. Record a friend with a mic and computer.
If you want to step up the audio quality of your DIY voiceover recording, purchase a microphone in the $100 range and plug it into your computer. Look for a cardioid mic and select either dynamic or condenser. However, if your recording space has a lot of background noise or sub-optimal social conditions (i.e. kids running around), go for the dynamic mic. A condenser mic may sound richer than a dynamic, but a dynamic mic is more forgiving when it comes to background noise and room echo. (While you can record a VO using your computer’s internal microphone, it’s not recommended. The sound quality is not great.)
You can use a USB microphone that plugs directly into your computer, or a mic with a one-eighth jack as long as your computer has a built-in audio input.
Once you’ve selected and set up your microphone, you can record the voiceover with a variety of audio recording programs like Audacity (free), GarageBand (under five bucks), or ProTools (a few hundred dollars). The most important point here is to set consistent input levels for the audio produced. Look at the picture below, especially the “Input Level” section. As you test the level of your voice you want to consistently hit the same point on the meter. You don’t want to move your mouth closer or further away from the mic at any point during the recording — and you want to keep an eye on these levels as you progress through the script.
We recommend going about 60 to 75 percent of the way across the spectrum, i.e. you don’t want the input levels too high or too low, though they should be on the higher end of the spectrum. Don’t max out the input levels (in the graphic below that means illuminating all the bars), as that will lead to muffled and choppy audio.
After you’ve recorded your VO, don’t overlook postproduction. Every voice needs to be equalized and compressed and you’ll want to edit out any unsavory lip smacks or script flubs. Another pro tip is to record plenty of B-roll. In other words, create 2 or 3 recordings of the same script so you can replace a portion of the initial audio if a certain sub-section isn’t ideal. For example, you might have a 10-second section of an audio file featuring an incorrect pronunciation or some sort of background noise; with multiple audio versions of that section you can simply delete those 10 seconds of the file and substitute in a better version of those 10 seconds.
3. Hire a professional voiceover talent who records the takes for you.
If you’re not comfortable making the voiceovers for your production and you can’t find a friend or colleague to help out, there are a number of services designed to connect you with professional voice talent. It’s usually free to post your ad — and then you pay the voice talent directly. They can either bid on your project or you can set the fee. Check out Voices.com, Voices123.com, and InternetJock.com if you choose to go down this path. At this point you should also consider the “auto-turnaround” services like VoiceBunny and BuyVO. These services have tens of thousands of voice artist professionals waiting to turn around jobs quickly. You can expect to get most voice projects finished very inexpensively, and same-day.
Simply post a request looking for a specific voice type. We recommend having an idea of what you’re looking for before you go searching for it. Decide whether you’re leaning toward a male or female voice, and have an idea where you want the audio to stand on the casual vs. serious spectrum.
When you do find a voice that meshes with your vision for the video, be sure to include how you’re using the VO so the talent quotes you the correct rate. (If your project is for Internet playback only and you have no plans to broadcast it on television, you don’t want to pay for those TV rights.)
Once your RFP is posted, individuals will respond with a partial or complete read of your script and/or their reel. Be sure to listen to each audition and review the reels. Pay close attention to the quality of the audio. Of course even when paying for outside talent you still have to monitor for quality. When you get your file back from the talent, be sure listen closely for consistency in sound levels, background noise, and the crispness of sounds (usually centered around the letter “s”). If you’re not thrilled with the quality simply ask the voice talent to try again.
Once you award the project, the voiceover talent will record several takes and deliver the edited audio files. You can do more editing or your end or consider them finished and lay them into your video project.
4. Spend the big bucks on a talent agency and professional recording studio
There are times when you may have to use a talent agent and professional recording studio to record your voiceover. This might be the case when you need to use a very specific audio file—for example, a local celebrity or a unique type of voice that you couldn’t cast via the online matchmaking services.
When this happens, reach out to a casting company such as Grant Wilfley Casting. The agent will talk with you about your voiceover needs and will then host a casting session to find the right candidates. He or she will present you with a few options. You make your selection and then the agent will hire a recording studio and produce the spot on your behalf (or you can head to the studio and act as the producer yourself). Expect to pay $3,000+ if you go this route.
Voiceover quality works like any other vertical in life — you get what you pay for. That said, with a little patience and attention to detail, you can create your own professional audio files quickly and cost-effectively. We recommend trying the strategies laid out in #2 above — and then, if you’re not happy with the quality level, invest a few more dollars and go with #3. With your direction, the voiceover talent online in these marketplaces should deliver professional quality audio files to augment your videos.