From Mushmouth to Morgan Freeman in Eight Steps: Absolute Beginner's Guide to Voiceovers

I wear many hats at Idealware, and wore many more before joining the team. One skill that has come in handy more often than I expected is audio production—specifically, recording and editing voice-overs.

It may not seem a likely thing for a nonprofit to need to do, but it’s come in handy for Idealware several times during my tenure here, whether it was our On-Demand Tactical Tech Planning or an animated video about cloud computing, or even instructional videos for our own staff. If you ever find yourself needing to do voice work for your own organization, here’s a handful of tips that I’ve learned over the years.

The Voice

I’ve written these tips assuming you, the reader, are the person doing the voiceover.

  • Get to know your voice. If you’ve never heard yourself speak, then you’re in for a treat. In the same way that people may dislike how they appear on camera, many people, when first hearing their recorded voice, will hate how it sounds. Use your phone or computer, and just take some time to record yourself speaking. Listen to it, figure out what you like or dislike, and practice, practice, practice. On this same line…
  • Find your verbal tics. We all have them, and once you hear your voice recorded, you’ll likely find ones you didn’t know you had. For example, I found that I have a tendency to “click” my tongue, seemingly mindlessly. It’s the sort of thing you don’t think about, until the microphone picks it up.
  • Plan on doing multiple takes. Especially when just starting out, plan on recording each line or paragraph two or three times. Your first take might be too nervous or unsure; your second take might be good, but missing something. And there’s always more than one way to read a line—if what you’ve recorded feels “off”, do another take, but do it completely differently. Sometimes, you find that you had been approaching the line from the wrong perspective.
  • You will make mistakes. It’s inevitable—you’ve got the words down, in the middle of the best take, when suddenly a car honks outside. Or the phone rings. Or the cat, which has been playing with the microphone cable, pulls the mic off the table (true story). Just pause, laugh it off, and start over. That’s also why you should take a slightly longer-than-normal pause between sentences—instead of doing the whole line over from the start, you can just start at the top of the sentence you messed up.
  • Remember to breathe. As I mentioned, I’ve worn many hats—radio personality, stage actor, rock singer, public speaker. Know what they have in common? They all need proper breath support, and so does recording a voiceover. Take a deep breath—that’s from your stomach—and use all that air to support your voice. You’ll have a richer, deeper tone, greater vocal range, and most importantly, you’ll sound more confident.

The Words

So, you should be feeling more confident about your voice now. But your voice is only part of the equation—someone had to write the words you’re recording.

  • Practice the script before recording. Read the lines through at least once—and read them out loud. You’ll be able to figure out where you might get tripped up, or where the lines are confusing, in a way that silent reading wouldn’t catch. If the words written are giving you trouble when spoken…
  • Rewrite the script. If a phrase is giving you trouble, or a word is difficult to say, change it. It’s not that big of a deal. Writing for the spoken word is a different skill than writing for the written word. What looked right on paper may be an awkward mess when spoken. And while you’re at it…
  • Make notes on how the lines should sound. Is this sentence a question, a statement, or a command? Print out the script, and mark it up. A “/” could tell you that you need to inflect up, like a question; a ”\” that you need to bring it down, as a confident statement. The listener should be able to know when you’ve finished a statement or topic using your voice alone. Ending a line like a question will make the listener wonder if you’ve actually made your point.

The Equipment

Finally, you’ll need a way to record and edit the audio. First, get a microphone. A quality USB microphone will be optimized for recording voices (like for podcasts), and can be found for less than $100. Lifehacker has nice round-up on the best desktop microphones.

Then, get an audio editing program. Personally, I use Audacity for most basic audio work. It’s a free, open source project, it will run on most computers without a problem, and it’s pretty straightforward to use. But, if you want to export your audio as an MP3 file, and you probably will, you’ll need to install a separate, but also free, module. If you have more complicated audio editing needs, Adobe Audition, part of the Creative Suite, is what I used when I worked in radio.


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