~ Or: How does all this magical stuff fit together in such a nice, neat package?

The audio engineering voiceover path-crossing is, apparently, not very common.  This is a fact that is surprising to me given just how closely the audio engineering voiceover skill-sets truly intersect in my own experience.

It took quite a bit of digging to really find out just how far apart they actually are and my head is still swimming on that front.

So hear me out.

I’m going to dive a bit deeper into my home recording rabbit hole of DOOM and talk about why I ended up in a position to be doing something that I’m constantly told I shouldn’t be doing.  Which is bridging the audio engineering voiceover gap.

Because really.  When do I ever follow the rules?

Ok that one time.

Uhhh ok that one other time.  But THAT one is like Bruno.  And we don’t talk about Bruno.


Revisiting a Bit More History

When I talked about my obsession with home recording in my previous blog entry, it was under the persona of someone who covers a lot of ground.  The home recordist often needs to wear many hats out of necessity.  At least, that was the case in the late 90s – early 2000s.  For me that meant that I wanted to be able to record in the categories of instruments, singing, and voiceover.  I also wanted to be able to properly mix those things so that they sounded good.

It’s an unfortunate reality but not only was the prevalent loudness war an effective means of destroying musical dynamics, all of the steps PRIOR to that loudness were required knowledge for the mixing engineer.  That means mixes up to snuff prior to any mastering process involved.  Before a self-mixing artist can get to the mastering stage, understanding all of the techniques under the sun for proper mixing is required.

So by the time I was recording and mixing music-related things, I was going through on-the-job training trying to make my own mixes match up to industry and community standards.  That meant crystal clear and loud.  All of that took place juuuuuust prior to my obsession with voiceover.  By the time I put my face behind a mic at home, the mixing skills were already blossoming.  Like a little flower waiting to blow your ears out with loud music.  But it was more complicated than just recording voice and sending it off.

Environmental and Modification Guidelines For a Recording

There is a key step for every single thing that is recorded.  Evaluation.  Does this recorded thing sound good on its own?  Does it stand up to established good-sounding reference material?  If the answer is no to either one of those things, a couple of decisions are necessary.

  • If the source of the recording is not good, it needs to be re-recorded.  For anything that goes in front of a mic – voice, instruments, canines, an Effendi – there is a basic level of necessary quality.  Examples of things that can disqualify a recording:
    • Gain is too low and raising it after recording causes too much noise
    • Gain is too high and the signal is clipped, or “distorted” to a point where no restoration is possible
    • Mic is too far from source and makes it sound like the source is in a bathroom
    • Mic is IN A BATHROOM or any other completely untreated space
  • If the source of the recording is clean and tidy and does not fall into any of the categories above but sounds empty or lifeless, it’s time to bring out The Tools.

I did a short series on one of those tools: The Equalizer.  To not re-hash, the equalizer can remove undesirable things and enhance the good stuff.  A compressor brings uniformity to a sound.  It makes the quiet parts louder and the louder parts a bit quieter.

Gentle use of both of those things is required, lest ye create something that sounds unnatural.  Unless that is your goal, in which case carry on.

After some knob tweaking and critical listening, hopefully the sound you end up with is what you’re looking for. Congratulations!  A winner is YOU!

Voiceover Environmental Concerns

The environment of acoustic things recording has a huge impact on the final product.  In the examples above of things in the first category, none of those things can exist for a recording to be usable.  If you’ve heard voiceover in some indie games recently, you know which ones were done in a proper space and which ones were done in a …. not proper space.  Sometimes within the same game.  I reviewed a game for a podcast a while back that had some of that and it was painful and I didn’t pull any punches.

If you’re going to charge folks Earth Dollars for a product that includes audio recordings, those audio recordings better be as shiny as the top of my head.  That means good recording environments. So let’s talk about that.

Microphones are like hips: they don’t lie

Microphones do not lie.  Our keto-compatible fatty computers made of meat do.  You can listen to a guitar amplifier and think it sounds amazing and when you hear what a microphone picked up, it can sound WILDLY DIFFERENT.  This is because our brains do some wild crazy interpretation of what we’re listening to and automatically filters out things we don’t want to hear.  The microphone has no such mercy and will give you EXACTLY what you give it.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Or great stuff in, great stuff out, but not what we thought we heard.

What this means for the sound hole in our face

Enter the voice recording.  You want a voice recording to be as clean as humanly possible.  What does that mean to me specifically?  I’ll give you a list.  Check it twice.  Every violation is naughty:

  • Absolutely no room reflections.  Not even from the ceiling.
  • As little room node as possible. Frequencies that stand out.  Ever sing in the shower and get to that one note that makes the whole sound envelope your head?  Room node. It can be fixed in post but only so much.
  • Close enough to the mic to be captured.  The general recommendation is stick out your hand like a Californian “Hang loose, dude,” thumb and pinky out.  That’s the distance from your face to the mic.  Generally.  There are exceptions to this but we’ll talk about that another time.
  • Seriously.  No room reflections whatsoever.  Or comb filtering.  Or slap back.

I could spend an entire blog on proper treatment of a space – and I probably will – but for now the short version is: flat untreated walls bounce audio signals like a trampoline.  Our ears will not hear it because our brains lie to us.  A microphone will pick up every single solitary thing and punish you mightily for the thankless job.  So you have to make sure that what you put into it is exactly what you want to get out of it.  Reflections?  Got ’em.  The low rumble of your refrigerator down the hall?  Yup!  Airplane off in the distance that you thought you heard but didn’t think the mic could possibly grab?  IT’S IN THERE!

(pro tip: putting foam behind your mic does virtually nothing.  the mic will pick up all reflections from above and behind you much better than it will behind it.  you must cover -all- your bases, not just the wall behind the mic)

So yeah.  The best possible recording conditions you can muster.

Merging the Audio Engineering Voiceover Worlds Together

Ok, we’ve established that there are skills and tools necessary to take recorded stuff and bring it up to standards. We’ve discussed the need for clean recorded signals.  The cleanest ever.  Cleaner than Mr. Clean.

I’m not even cleaner than Mr. Clean and I’ve been mistaken for him before.

So this is where sometimes the audio engineering voiceover combination happens.  Like Voltron.  Except it’s only two parts.  Or like 8 billion parts, depending on how you break it down.

Proper voiceover requires perfect recordings.  Or as near-perfect as possible.  This is why you see voiceoveristers in all manner of different environments.  Booths.  Walk-in closets jam packed with clothing and sometimes even absorption panels.  Coat closets behind all the coats.  Blanket forts.  Caves built out of hotel mattresses.

Whatever it takes to be rid of room reflections.

After that, it’s a matter of determining what you send as raw audio.

“But George,” I can hear you say, “doesn’t ‘raw audio’ imply that all you are doing is recording something and then sending it to them as just that? Raw as an uncooked beef chuck roast?”

To which I would reply “It’s complicated.  And also, I think I need to make a pot roast again.”

Raw Audio Controversy

I suspect I’m going to hear about this one.  And in fact I’m not even making this a recommendation.  I’m outlining something -I- do – with the backing of some expert guidance – as preparation for sending something as raw audio.

By the way, if you’re listening to the audio version of this, what you are hearing is most definitely not raw audio.  It’s more processed than Oscar Mayer bologna.  But that’s the way -I- like to present it in the format of this blog.  Not everyone wants that sound.  I do.  And it’s my blog and I’ll process if I want to.

This is my process.  There are other processes.  This one is mine.

The first thing I will do is cut ANYTHING out of my signal that is lower than around 40-50hz.  Low frequency rumble.  There is no functional use for any of that in a recording sent to a client in my estimation.  It can also improve noise floor concerns.

The second thing is the slightest removal of a barely present room resonance in my booth.  Any room is going to have a resonant frequency.  Absorption materials – panels, clothes, insulation, dictionaries, hula skirts, peacock feathers – will do wonders to lessen their impact.  The fact remains that every single room has a frequency at which is likes to hum.  My booth – which is insulated to death – still has one and it has a slight equalizer cut to compensate for that.

There is an ever so slight top-end shelf to raise the highs just a teensy bit more to compensate for the deadness of the room.

And finally a compressor that is ever so slightly rounding off the peaks.  Barely.  Almost never actually, but there just in case.

That’s it.  That’s my raw audio.  It’s a signal chain that I run my raw signal through.

I have other signal chains available that I use for different reasons.  The audio version of this blog runs through a signal chain that I created to get a sound that I like.  And I can switch back and forth between them at will in my workstation template because I’m lazy and don’t like having to go fishing.

A Marriage Made in Cubase

So that, in a nut shell – or a blog post – is how the worlds that I live in managed to intersect quite thoroughly.  The good news is that all those years of practice in the audio engineering and home recording side have given me the flexibility to do some pretty fun things without needing external support every time.  Like a mock promo.  Or a music video.  Or a weird skit.  The audio engineering voiceover amalgamation come to life.

My plan was not to come out of the gate as a one-stop-shop.  I didn’t wake up in the morning one day and say “I think I shall henceforce do EVERYTHING.”

And to be abundantly clear: I’m still learning.  Every day.  On all the fronts; technically and artistically.

Coaching with voiceover coaches.  Shadowing a mixing engineer and asking questions during a commercial demo mixing session.  Every time a new video gets released on Puremix with new things to learn.  When new plugins come out and there are tutorial videos.

It never stops.  The learning process never ever stops.

Or at least it shouldn’t.

Because not learning something new every day sure seems awfully boring.

Got questions? Let me know!  I’m a full-time nerd and I love sharing stuff.  Got your eye on the audio engineering voiceover concoction of BE WARNING?  Let me know.

Until next week!

-= george =-



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About the Author

Straddling the line between the arts - voiceover, music composition, session performer, album mixing - and the world of durable medical equipment. Probably should have spent more time playing on the balance beam as a kid instead of obsessing over Commodore 64 games.

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