We are two weeks into the Piehole Best Demo Competition and I thought to myself, this is a great time to give tips on recording the perfect voice over demos. Some are very simple, some are somewhat technical, but all will save you time and frustration.
Find your voice
The first and important step to recording a perfect voice over demo reel is to find your voice. Today’s average voice over is much more conversational and casual. This is good for the first-time narrator since you don’t have to supercharge your voice to get a recording that sounds current. However, you do need to speak clearly and decide where your voice character fits in the narration spectrum. Find the balance between your natural speech and enunciation. Record and listen to your voice and make notes for any slurred phrases or indistinct words. Push your vocal inflection and emotion some too. It feels funny at first, but listen to the playback as you practice and you’ll hear the change.
Know the material
It may seem obvious, but be sure to pre-read the material several times before you start recording. The time spent in preparation makes the final performance that much easier. Knowing how things fit together in the final product will help with pacing. Don’t be afraid to add some emotion and excitement to the reading when necessary and rehearse out loud. The script sounds different in your head. This will also identify any trouble words or phrases. Also choose your copy carefully. Avoid recording materials directly from other commercial spots you hear or shows you see. As big as you think this world is, people are paying attention! And people like casting directors and agents, it’s their job to pay attention.
Good recording equipment
Obviously, you want to use the best possible equipment to record your voice over, but the definition of “best” is subjective. In reality, it’s easy to get a great recording with nothing more than a pocket recorder, windscreen and a pair of headphones. A more traditional approach includes a separate microphone, audio interface, computer and software. Alternatively, there are several USB microphones on the market at very competitive prices. Whichever path you choose, consider how you will use this equipment in the future and make sure it plays nicely with you and your production style.
Consider recording your voice over demo reel standing up. Standing opens your breathing and makes it easier to speak clearly and consistently. By removing the compression on your breathing muscles, you make it easier to take deeper breaths. In addition, a standing position allows you to be more animated. This is a good thing. In fact, get your whole body into the performance.
Mastering and mixing
Let’s say you have recorded your demo as professionally as you can. Now, you will want and need someone (an audio engineer) to spend time mixing, sweetening the audio with effects and music, so that it sounds as if the spots were pulled from actual shows or commercials. The engineer will work with each clip you have recorded as if it were a real spot and make it sound as good as possible. Then you’ll work together to pull your favorite section of each spot because your demo to be around sixty seconds total. You will have to pick only the best part from each spot. Another trick that engineers often use to help the demo reel sound more realistic is to change the recording levels and settings between the different spots. This way, even if you record them back-to-back in one session, the sound quality will be slightly different from spot to spot, just as if you had recorded each spot at a different time in a different studio with a different engineer. You can even help the engineer achieve this effect by changing your position slightly from script to script. It may seem funny, but sound is a finicky thing; and little things, even moving an inch back from the mic, or an inch left or right, can drastically affect how your voice is recorded. That’s why, if you record at a certain studio regularly, you may notice the mic setup is always the same in order to maintain consistency in recording.
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