How should I record narration?

How should I record narration?

The ideal voiceover (VO) or narration mic is a large diaphragm condensor- like the one your favorite singer uses in the recording studio. This mic sits happily on a floor or desk mic stand with a pop filter and connects to your XLR adapter/phantom power unit, then your camcorder, computer or audio recorder.

My favorite VO mic is the Rode Podcaster, especially with it’s cool studio boom arm.


As a second choice, a handheld dynamic cardioid can be used if you don’t mind losing a little crispness and clarity.

But you can also use a good lavalier, or even your camcorder mic if it’s high quality.

Plosives

“Plosives” are puffs of air created by saying a word containing the consonant “P”, and to a lesser extent, some other percussive letters.

Instead of rewriting your scripts not to contain “P” sounds, I recommend a professional pop filter—a disc of acoustically transparent material that mounts on your stand with a flexible gooseneck, positioned in front of your mic to stop plosives cold.

If you hold a section of stretched women’s nylons between your mouth and hand, you’ll notice that the blast of air created by the “P” sound is completely absorbed by the nylons. But if you hold the nylons in front of your ear, you’ll hear that they are acoustically transparent- they do not absorb higher frequencies and thereby preserve the crispness and clarity of the sound.  Also note that if you stretch them completely over your head, it makes your facial features look really funny, but this has nothing to do with the sound principles we’re discussing here.  Come on now, let’s stay focused.

To make your own DYI pop filter, you can shape a wire clothes hanger into a loop and stretch women’s nylons over the loop. Then wrap the wire around a mic stand and position the disc between your mouth and the mic for an excellent, though not as professional looking, pop filter. If you’re a husky bearded fellow, and have ever gone into a 24 hour drug store in the middle of the night and asked to listen to a few pairs of nylons before purchase, you’ll know why I can’t shop in my neighborhood anymore.

Sound Advice:

  • use a large diaphragm condensor, or quality dynamic mic
  • record in a quiet place with absorbent materials (carpet, hang acoustic foam or a blanket in front of glass or lay foam, a blanket or rug down on hardwood floors
  • turn off all noisemakers- computers, heater, air conditioner, water cooler, fridge
  • wear headphones, anything you can hear in the headphones will be recorded!
  • use a pop filter- either professional- or panty hose stretched over a clothes hanger
  • if ‘P’s are still popping even with a pop filter, “pull your ‘P’s” (soften them, halfway between a ‘P’ and a ‘B’)
  • have room temperature water handy
  • pop a cough drop occasionally to keep your throat from drying out (spit it out before recording!)
  • use a mic shock mount to prevent mic stand vibrations from being recorded
  • read from a good teleprompter software program

Writing a VO script:

The biggest problem with VO scripts is usually that they are written the same way you’d write an article, book, or something meant to be read off a page. Good VO scripts are written to be read aloud.

  • use contractions: “Don’t” instead of “do not”
  • rewrite anything that sounds awkward to be more conversational
  • put in commas where you want pauses, even if it’s, not grammatically correct
  • make words bold, or ALL CAPS that you want punched
  • start new lines when the script starts a new thought

Vary your tone and rate of speech:

  • avoid droning or monotone
  • be genuinely excited if you are talking about something exciting or cool
  • vary your energy
  • punch key words
  • put in a pause now and again before a key concept to focus the listener’s attention
  • be dynamic
  • speak loudly and quickly
  • Be friendly, confident and humble

Smile when you narrate!

Speak very s-l-o-w-l-y when elucidating a particularly challenging or important concept, point or tip

Speak quickly when recapping, reinforcing, or relating information that can be easily understood

  • avoid too much of a “hypey”, “80’s DJ” tone
  • avoid sounding stern, mean or condescending
  • avoid sounding too casual or timid
  • stay consistent- over a multihour VO session it’s easy to drift from high to low energy, from confident to mean, from smiling to forgetting to smile, etc. Play back some early narration often and match that sample
  • open your mouth while talking
  • speak clearly! Enunciate your words. You never know what kind of noisy environment your listeners will be in.

Most importantly:

  • concentrate on the meaning of your words while narrating
  • visualize what visuals will be seen when hearing your VO, emphasize words and phrases accordingly
  • focus on getting the message of the script across
  • insert improvised words in the script- “wow!” “hmmmm…” “aha!” and other natural words and phrases you might use if you were just talking and not reading a script
  • make noises if appropriate – a chuckle, a “whew” sound, “tsk tsk”, “psshhhhhh”, “heh”, “mmmmm”, and other sounds will imbue the read with meaning
  • have fun!
  • visualize the people who will be watching, and speak to them personally. Connect with your future audience. Listen to your read from their perspective.
  • really mean what you are saying… don’t just read the words. Mean it!

Tips for Editing Narration:

  • If you hear a flub or awkward sounding phrase, highlight it in the script for a pickup. Then do all pickups at once, in script order, so they’re easy to drop in.

Filters:

  • Try a compressor or limiter to even out levels and/or provide a little more “punch”.
  • Try an EQ to add a little warmth if thin, or a little crispness if dull.
  • Try a noise gate to eliminate noise between lines.

Then listen without each filter. If the filters sound obtrusive or overall worse than the original, don’t use them.

4 Comments

  1. Dan Perry 12 years ago

    Can you recommend a good studio quality balanced condensor mic to record narration to tape? Thanks.

  2. sebastiengomez 12 years ago

    Hi Dan, I’ll take a stab at this one after having to work with VO talent for many productions and recording them in my home studio for television broadcast. Obviously I needed the best quality and no loss or hissing and you’re right, a good quality balanced condenser microphone is the only way to go. You probably, like myself, don’t want to spend $1000 and up for a microphone so there is one alternative I have found.

    The LUMA M-AUDIO Microphone.

    ?Ä¢ Inexpensive large capsule cardioid condenser
    ?Ä¢ 1.1?Äù evaporated gold diaphragm
    ?Ä¢ Solid brass capsule
    ?Ä¢ Class A solid state electronics
    ?Ä¢ Perfect for recording high quality piano, guitar AND vocal tracks.

    It’s $249.99 from M-AUDIO and well worth it. You could also purchase the ARIES which is $100 cheaper and still is a professional microphone but with a smaller condenser capsule.

    http://www.m-audio.com

    Have fun testing them out…

    Sebastien Gomez

  3. Sound Chaser 11 years ago

    As a pro FOH and Recording Engineer I have a personal collection of mics that range in price from $150. to $3,500.
    Here’s a fact that a lot of people who own expensive equipment don’t want to hear. Price often does not have any bearing on quality. Sure more bucks generally means better quality but, it’s a diminishiiing rate of return. In the case of microphones the rule really applies!
    What makes a microphone expensive is their notoriety. Some mics just get a reputation for delivering a certain quality to a certain instrument. Also, every mic will impart qualities to an instrument that have no bearing on price or desirebility. ie: a $150. SM57 blows away a $3,000. U87 on Marshall guitar cabinets.

    My advice, Audia Technica and Rode make excellent products you will be happy with, at a fraction of the price. That said, I don’t own many of them…my application is quite different.

  4. Zach 8 years ago

    If you are looking at a low end mic, check out the Rode NTA-1. It delivers great results for the price of around $200 dollars new. Some good mid-range mics that are pretty versatile with many types of female and male VOs are the Groove Tube GT55 which you can get used for around $200 used, or the extremely versatile AT4050 for around $600 new or $500 used. At the slightly higher end I’ve really enjoyed using a Sound Deluxe U195, though I believe they were bought out by Bock Audio. With a little post and good placement, you should be able to get appropriate tone for most any voice over, especially if recording in a controlled environment.

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