So you Want to Do VO? - Part 3: Getting The Gear

This is part 3 of a multi-part series on getting started in the voiceover business.

In part 1, I opined about the three most common reasons people use to get into the business.

In part 2 I bloviated about two of the things you need in order to have a solid foundation in the business.

In this third installment, I'm going to talk about getting the gear necessary to record voiceovers and setting up what the pros refer to as "the audio chain."

DISCLAIMER:  There are many ways to get into this business and this may or may not be the easiest, best, or most profitable way. It's simply the way that I did it and, right or wrong, it's worked pretty well for me so far.

Get some basic recording equipment.
For years I had done voiceover for companies I had worked for: Live announcing at stage shows, employee training videos, commercial promos for TV stations, etc.  People always told me I had a good voice, (yeah yeah, I'm THAT guy) but recording straight to my PC at home wasn't an option because of noise issues. I knew the computer fan was going to be a real beast to contend with, so the thought never occurred to me about starting my own business.

It wasn't until a friend gave me a tablet PC as a Christmas gift that the seed of an idea was planted in my noggin about doing this on my own.

So I went online and bought a USB microphone, installed an audio recording app onto the tablet and downloaded Audacity - onto my PC. With this set up, I could record my voice to the tablet, transfer the files to my home computer, edit them in Audacity, and then send them on to the client either using Soundcloud or Dropbox. This seemed like a pretty decent operation.

It doesn't take much to set up a basic
voiceover recording rig
(photo courtesy Graham Bae - Ausdroid.net)
In hindsight, I could have just edited the audio files with the tablet, but I wanted the comfort of editing on my home PC. There are several audio apps out there that allow you to record and edit audio professionally and cleanly. Some are more advanced, or geared more for music, but there are several to choose from. If you are part of the cult of Apple, you have even more choices for your iWhatevers.

Recording to the tablet proved to be really nice. Because there were no spinning hard drives or fans to contend with, the sound was absolutely noise free. Walking the files to my home computer to edit and send them didn't seem too difficult. It was one extra step in the recording process, but I didn't care. I was up and running as a voice over artist.

If you're looking to set up a recording system for voiceover, this is a simple and quick way to do it. If you don't have a tablet, you could even use your phone to record the audio files. Plug the microphone directly into the phone and then send them to your home computer via Dropbox or Google Drive to edit.

But which microphone should I get?
Next to "how do I get into the VO business," this is the second most often asked question.  The answer, is "whichever one you can afford and makes you sound good."  There are a wide variety of mics out there that can do a good job of recording your voice.

TIP: Here's the BEST way to be sure you get a mic that's right for you:

First, go online and do some research on the various USB microphones. A USB mic is convenient as it doesnt require a pre-amp to send the signal to your computer. You just plug it right in and go. When you're just starting out, you need to look at entry level equipment.You're not trying to find a lifetime microphone, just something to get you started. Find out which ones other voice artists like/ dislike. Take notes.

Then go to a music store and see if they have any of those mics in the store and try them out in person. Ask the salesperson if you can try out a few different mics  Hook each one up to your phone and do a test record . At the start of the recording, mention which microphone you're using, and then read a paragraph or two of some text (a script, a newspaper clipping, whatever.) Don't try to do an evaluation in the store, just take the recordings home and listen to them carefully with a decent pair of headphones. Which one sounds the "cleanest?" Which is more noisy? Which is louder? Does one make your voice sound deeper than the others? Which one sounds better to you?  Pick your favorite. Take notes.

This AudioTechnica ATR2500 USB mic
works great for the starting voice artist.
And it's under $100.
Then go back to the music store and see if they can meet or beat the price you've found online. If the music store can only match the price, but not do any better, you might still end up ahead, because you won't have to pay extra for shipping and you can go home with the mic right then and there instead of waiting for the mic to be shipped. You also avoid the chance that the mic might get damaged in transit and you help out a local business in the process.

For more information on how microphones work and the various types of microphones,  Check out Wikipedia. For right now, just know you should be looking at condenser mics.  The larger the condenser, the better its' ability to convert your voice into a signal that can be recorded.

So you've got a mic, something to record the mic onto, some software to allow you to edit the audio and a way to send it on to the client. This whole collection of stuff, connected together to transfer the signal around is called the audio chain. Knowing how the signal flows from one piece of equipment to the next will help you to troubleshoot issues if (when) they come up.

A typical VO audio chain

Refine and Improve

As you gain skill and experience, you can start refining things to make your audio chain a quicker process. Or more self-contained. Or cleaner sounding. It's entirely up to you.

At some point, you will want to improve your hardware. Thankfully, editing audio doesn't require too much processing power, so even a bare bones laptop or PC with a decent amount of RAM and a large enough hard drive can be turned into a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, for those who love acronyms.) If you're treating your voiceover business like a real business (and you definitely should) this becomes an important business expense to consider.

After getting the hardware, you may want to then upgrade the software. Don't get me wrong: Audacity is a great program, but my main gripe with it is the fact that the user interface is horribly dated. I know, looks mean nothing when it comes to audio, but overall it just seems clunky and I wanted something that looked like it came from this century.

The go-to program most everyone I know uses is Adobe Audition. But since Adobe saw fit to switch to a $49/month fee for the use of the software, a lot of people are using older versions or different software altogether. My opinion: unless you have a need for the latest enhancements and whiz-bang gadgets (and as a VO, you really don't), get an older copy and use that. There are also many other options for audio editing out there that wont cost you an arm and a leg.

As technology progresses, the process of recording and editing audio gets easier and easier every year.

For me, I replaced my tablet with a dedicated laptop for recording. However this created a problem in my studio: noise from the laptop's fan. Which leads me to the next chapter.

In the next installment of this ongoing tutorial, we'll talk about how to make your recording environment as quiet as possible, and built as inexpensively as possible.

Stay tuned.



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About Rob Marley - 
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com