The “Getting Started in Voice Over” checklist – these are the things you will need to get going.

The voice bone is connected to the microphone-bone,
The microphone-bone is connected to the mixer-bone,
The mixer-bone is connected to the audio interface-bone,
And that’s how you’re paid for your voice.
The audio interface-bone is connected to the computer-bone,
The computer-bone is loaded with the editing software-bone,
The editing software-bone is connected to the mp3 encoder-bone,
And that’s how you’re paid for your voice.
The mp3 encoder-bone is connected to the e-mail-bone,
The email bone is connected to the your client-bone,
The your client-bone is connected to your wallet-bone,
And that’s how you get paid for your voice.
(I’m sure this little song will haunt me for the rest of my life.)

If you are getting into voice over and want to start taking lessons over the Internet or performing and recording voice over at home. These are the things you need to do it, and the things you need to consider along the way.
In order to participate in online coaching, Internet voice over databases or to be able to record your voice on your computer you will need these items:

You’ll need a modern computer.

At a bare minimum you will need at least a:
A PC running windows XP PRO Service Pack 3.

It is preferable that you upgrade to a PC running Win7 Professional or an Intel-Based Mac running OSX.

If you are looking into buying a new computer for audio plus video editing consider giving Mac a look. Beau Weaver’s recommendation of a new and inexpensive Mac Audio Editor, TwistedWave seems to be right on. We haven’t tried it but his recommendation is good enough for us. Our Mac experience with audio was less than fun.

We bought an older Mac G-4 Quicksilver for using ProTools and never had more trouble in our lives. The G4 has serious shielding issues on the motherboard which allow a lot of noise into the audio signal, ground-loop problems were very annoying but tame-able, and ProTools crashed every time there was a Mac update. We understand the older G5 Macs had the same noise problem. Now we only use the Mac to check e-mail and do graphics.

Just because our Mac experience was less than stellar doesn’t mean that yours will be too. Many people are falling in love with Macs everyday, and we’re some of them, but hard-core, life-long Windows users might find Macs a little frustrating during the initial learning curve it takes to get going with them. Once you do get used to them and their alien functionality, you will begin to realize that they are in many ways, much more user friendly and intuitive. But not to someone who has never used one before and doesn’t have a “Mac Buddy” to call when things go wrong. We’ve had ours for over a year or two now and we still don’t know how to use the thing completely, but we love it when we want to do the things we have learned.

The jury is still out on Windows Vista – our recommendation is now – and will remain until further notice – to avoid it. We have read nothing but horror stories about it so far – at least where audio editing and application stability are concerned. Go to a used computer shop and buy one with XP PRO – Not Media Center, or build your own and install XP PRO on it. There is a new service pack out for Windows XP called Windows XP SP3. You’re going to want to avoid that one as well. Also – resist the urge to upgrade to it. You should find or keep Windows XP PRO SP2 and nothing else, until the world proves us wrong on this one.

You need a microphone.
This is an area that requires some research. Having a bad microphone in this business is the equivalent of a surgeon operating with a spoon. You need a good mic, but that doesn’t mean you need a $7000 Manley.  For excellent, entry-level studio grade microphones begin your search at Guitar Center – not radio shack:

Any and all products regarding audio recording for voice over can be found at Guitar Center. They always have some sort of sale going on. Your best type of microphone is going to be a large diaphragm condenser microphone. Begin you search here:

Some of our recommended models for the beginner are:

AKG Perception 200 Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
AKG C 2000 B/H100 Microphone with Shockmount
AKG Perception 100 Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
Audio-Technica AT3035 Cardioid Condenser Microphone
Audio-Technica AT2020 Large Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser
Audio-Technica AT4040 Large-Diaphragm Studio Condenser Mic
MXL 990s Condenser Microphone
MXL MXLV63M Condenser Studio Microphone with Shockmount
MXL MXL 990/MXL 991 Recording Microphone Package
R0DE NT1-A Anniversary Model Microphone
Shure KSM27 Studio Microphone
The microphones listed above were selected because of their price and known popularity among other young talent. They are on the lower end of overall sound quality when compared to microphones 10 times their price, but will far surpass any kind of dynamic, high impedance, or computer microphone on the market. However with these microphones comes the need for cables and other specialized equipment; see below.

A means of getting the microphone signal into the computer.

None of the microphones above will plug right into your computer. Many of them require phantom power (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_power ) which is supplied quite conveniently by many of the Digital Audio Interfaces and simple Analog Mixers on the market today. Once again, Guitar Center is your one stop shop for all of these items:

Digidesign Mbox 2 Factory Bundle
Digidesign Mbox 2 USB Audio Interface
M-Audio FireWire 410 Computer Recording Interface
M-Audio FireWire 1814 Computer Recording Interface
M-Audio FireWire Solo Mobile Audio Interface
M-Audio MobilePre USB Portable Audio Interface
Echo Layla3G PCI Audio Interface

The interfaces above are the best solutions for people who want ease of use and simplicity without having to be a bit more sophisticated when it comes to audio hookups and signal routing. We use M-Audio Delta Series PCI-based digital audio interfaces with break-out boxes that are routed to and through a 16-channel Mackie VLZ PRO series Mixer and our computers with 1/4-inch, balanced TRS cables. Sound like Chinese? It will to someone who hasn’t learned any of this stuff yet. That is why we recommend either learning about it, or getting a simple audio interface that does all of the necessary stuff for you.

Many of the audio interfaces above accept a direct microphone input, eliminating the need for a mixer. A mixer however has its advantages and can be a less expensive solution. One note: a mixer will not replace some of the items above. Often times a mixer will need to be combined with one of the above solutions in order to function for your particular needs.

The reason we use a mixer is at any given time we have between 2 and 4 computers that we need to be able to listen to if we want. We have several pieces of rack mount equipment that have signals to rout around, and all of them need to be easily and quickly accessible. None of this would be possible with a simple 2-microphone digital audio interface. So you need to examine your needs before you make a decision. We didn’t start off with all this crap, but as we grew we needed a bigger mixer to accommodate it all.

Some of the mixers we recommend for the beginner are:

Mackie Onyx 4080 Premium 40-Channel Analog Live Sound Console -(just kidding)

Seriously now:

Mackie 1202-VLZ PRO Micro Mixer
Mackie DFX6 6×2 Mixer with EFX
Mackie 1402-VLZ PRO Compact Mixer
Behringer Eurorack UB1202 Mixer
Behringer Eurorack UB1002FX 4-Channel Mixer
Behringer Eurorack UBB1002 10-Input Mixer
Alesis MultiMix 8USB Mixer with USB and DSP

I have said it before and I will say it again. When buying audio equipment for voice over or any other sound application, if you buy junk, you will get junk, and if you do excel in the world of voice over you will have to buy it all over again. It is a natural tendency to want to upgrade your equipment as you move along in the business and get more professional. In fact it is to be expected. If you have the extra money when you start, go with Mackie. Their products are intuitive, high quality and have excellent sound. That doesn’t mean you can’t get by with something less expensive. But we stand by Mackie.

Just remember – it is very seldom that one piece of equipment will be independent of another. Quality equipment walks hand-in-hand and many times upgrading one piece of gear will require that you upgrade others. Buy wisely and plan out your system and how it is going to function together. Do not buy more than you need and be cautious of the out of control salesperson that wants to give you more than you need.

The guys and girls at Guitar Center do not have a reputation of being pushy, but they are commissioned sales people and that can lead to issues anywhere on earth. I have always found many of them to be extremely pleasant to deal with, but here locally there is at least one guy that is willing to sell you crap stuff just to make a sale, rather than guide you to – and walk you through different items and explain the advantages and disadvantages of both.

There is also the risk of running into someone who knows a great deal about audio equipment and tends to be a little snooty once they realize you don’t. Just do your homework before you walk into the store, stick to your guns but be open to suggestions. Just ask them to explain their suggestions if they are willing to offer them. Most of them are going to look at you like you have a 3rd eye in the middle of your head when you say you’re looking for voice over equipment, but they are getting better, as every day this profession gets a little more recognition for better or for worse.

Remember to map out all of the appropriate cables and adapters you will need for your own specific system design. Often times you can over buy these items and end up spending a lot of money when you didn’t have to. Be very specific about getting the audio into the computer with your sales person. Many times the Digital Audio Interface will require a certain cable or adapter to properly interface with your system.

To get the best advice when you walk into the store, ask for a “Pro Audio Specialist” and they should be able to guide you through your purchase. I have no affiliation with Guitar Center. I just happen to feel that for this business they are exquisitely stocked and prepared.

You’ll need some software that allows you to record and edit the microphone signal.

Adobe Audition

Adobe Audition is our recommended software and is what we use at the studio. It is more powerful than most people will ever need, but isn’t so advanced that the layman wont be able to figure it out. It is the best software for the beginner who will grow to the pro level, but also costs money.

Sony Sound Forge

The Sound Forge 9 professional digital audio production suite includes everything you need to quickly get from raw audio to finished master. Includes CD Architect software.

Sound Forge Audio Studio – Less Expensive

Sound Forge Audio Studio software is the easiest way to record, edit, encode, and master audio on your PC. Includes vinyl recording and restoration.

Audacity – Free
Audacity is free, open source software for recording and editing sounds. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems

Goldwave – Free to Try
GoldWave is a top rated, professional digital audio editor. It contains so many great features, you will be amazed by all the things it can do:

When ever you go to download one of these editors it is best to always download it from the company that makes it, rather than getting it from some oddball place on the Internet. Always download cautiously and when it doubt, try to find the product you want at http://www.download.com which to date has been a valuable resource for me.

You’ll need some software that allows you to convert the audio file you create into an mp3.

MP3 conversion comes with most of the software applications that cost money. With Audacity you have to download an additional plugin. No matter what you do, you will have to be able to convert your audio to MP3.

You’ll need a way to listen to your recordings.

Studio monitors are not only expensive, it can be a little confusing when you start to shop for them because it is generally hard to tell what you’re getting for your money. One thing you shouldn’t be confused about is that any set of monitors are going to sound better and provide a more true representation of how the audio actually sounds, than a cheap pair of computer speakers.

Computer speakers in general can lead you to mix some pretty horrendous sounding audio files if you’re not careful. 5-Speaker surround systems and 3-Speaker systems with LFE (low frequency effect – which is little more than an enhanced bass response in the system to give movies and video a little extra punch) can color your audio so deeply that you make editing changes to your source audio that will have undesired effects on the final product.

Studio monitors on the other hand, are designed to be flat across the board and only play the audio the way it is actually represented in the source file. The more expensive the monitor, the more accurate the representation of the source audio. The less expense, the less accurate the representation. What you have to do is balance your needs and desires with your check book.

For years we have salivated over the Mackie HDR824 series monitors, because they are utterly beautiful pieces of craftsmanship and technical engineering, but they come with a very hefty price tag. One that surpasses the upper end of our “necessity vs practicality” meter, and would definitely be a luxury item more than they would be an essential piece of our studio audio chain.

We elected to bypass the glitz and glamor they provide for something more practical yet functional. We settled on the JBL LSR25P series reference monitors which are probably discontinued now, but ran for a little under $600 a pair when we bought them. That’s still kind of hefty for a beginner, but was right in the middle of the road for what we wanted. They served our purpose and fit within a practical budget for their given application, which is producing voice over audio.

We’re not mastering albums for the London Philharmonic, and neither will a beginner voice talent. What you need is something that allows you to hear the audio as it actually sounds, or at least as close to how it will actually sound when you ship the audio track out to someone as a final production or an audition. With that being said. Start looking at these monitors when you’re laying out for your first set.

Mackie MR5 Active Studio Monitor – About $360 per pair.

Yamaha HS50M 5″ Powered Studio Monitor – About $440 per pair.

M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 Powered Reference Speaker System – About $330 per pair.

M-Audio Studiophile DX4 Powered Monitors Pair – $170

Fostex PM0.5 MKII Active Nearfield Studio Monitors – Pair – $300

These certainly aren’t the only monitors on the planet, but they are a good cross-section when it comes to buying something that will serve you well for some time to come.

What you don’t want to do is go out and buy an expensive set of headphones to mix with. Headphones are great for working late at night and monitoring conversations during phone-patch sessions, but for mixing music and voice should be avoided by beginners. Go with the monitors and you won’t go wrong.

If you do get some headphones, which you really should for a variety of reasons, these are the only sound products I recommend you buy at Radio Shack simply because they have half-way decent cans for very good prices compared to the ones you’ll find at instrument stores, which are usually price inflated because the stores know people will pay extra if they think it’s going to sound good.

Pushy sales people have a way of convincing new buyers of audio products that “These headphones are the ultimate in sound quality. You won’t find another pair like them anywhere else!” Which is utter hogwash. Headphones are usually treated as pricey impulse items in most music stores. Whatever you do, don’t spend more than 100 dollars on cans. Try to keep it around 50. I’m sure there are audiophiles out there that cringe at the last statement. Well, I’m not talking to you…

With the proper combination of any of the above, you will have all of the appropriate equipment necessary to record your voice and function as a beginner. Before you can participate in online coaching, voice over databases or the business itself, anything less than the items listed above will be insufficient. If you find that you are not willing to at least invest in the above mentioned items to get started, then you may want to truly examine your desire to be in the business in the first place.

Voice over and learning voice over need not be outlandishly expensive, but the pursuit of voice over comes at a price. You will need to combine the cost of the above considerations with the cost of voice over training and coaching, as well as marketing and promotion. Buying all of the above equipment and setting it up successfully will not make you a voice over artist.

Making the above purchases and attempting to move forward in the industry with no intention of taking any kind of voice over lessons is much akin to jumping from a plane without first learning how to properly inspect and secure your parachute.

Buy cautious, buy smart, be wise in you endeavors and as always, if you have any questions – just ask..

Thanks,
MM

6 thoughts on “The “Getting Started in Voice Over” checklist – these are the things you will need to get going.”

  1. Just one thing from the lovely song. And that’s how your paid for your voice. Should be “you’re paid”.

    Thanks

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