Recording voiceovers: how to get it right

by Tom Barrance

Editing your film to a voice track is a great way to get professional results without the hassle of recording live sound as you film. Here are eight tips for recording voiceovers right.

1. Use a script.

Write out what you’re going to say. Practise reading it. You need about 100-120 words for a minute of voiceover.

2. Edit your script.

Rewrite any bits that you can’t read easily, or that sound wrong. Keep the sentences short.

Don’t put vital stuff in the first sentence. It can take some time for people to get used to your voice.

3. Get the level right.

If the program has level meters, make sure the peaks are at or slightly below -3dB. On programs that don’t show dB, the loudest part should fill all the green bit. It can go into the orange sometimes, but it should never go into the red.

If you can adjust the level, turn it up or down until the level is right. If you can’t, just get closer or further away from the microphone.

4. Avoid echo.

Rooms with bare walls give terrible echo. Find a room with plenty of soft furnishings, shelves and things on the wall. They’ll soften or break up the echo. You could also hang blankets or curtains to create a DIY recording booth.

If you have to record in an unsuitable room, use a lavalier (tieclip) microphone.

5. Cut out background sound.

Be quiet and listen for twenty seconds before you start recording. Are there any distracting sounds that will spoil your take? Can you cut them out (e.g. turning an appliance or light off?)

Make sure you don’t fiddle with microphones or leads, or knock the table.

6. Do a test first.

Record a sentence or two and play it back at a comfortable volume. How is the sound?

Can you hear hiss on the recording?

Your recording level is too low. Turn it up or get closer to the microphone.

Can you hear distortion?

The level is too high. Turn it down or get further away from the microphone.

7. Read it right.

Start recording a couple of seconds before you start speaking, and keep recording for a couple of seconds after you finish.

Try to speak naturally. If you’re like me, though, you’ll probably need to put more expression and character into your voice than usual. Smiling as you speak can help. You might need to speak more slowly as well.

If you make a mistake halfway through, carry on from just before the mistake and edit it out afterwards.

8. Still sounds awkward? Use an interview instead.

If you just can’t sound natural reading out a script, get someone to do a relaxed interview with you instead, then edit out the questions.