Has anyone ever told you that you had a “great voice?” Maybe they’ve said “you should be in radio.” Well, I have been in radio since I was 17 and I’m 47 now.
When I was a young child I would listen to the big New York stations on my little transistor radio at night and dream of being on it. In the sixties when I was growing up the monster station to listen to was WABC. It seemed so much “bigger than life” to me and I wanted to be a part of it. So as time went on, I investigated ways to get that done.
When I started college, they had a radio station there. So, I did a show every afternoon and loved it. I finally landed a job at a local commercial station doing an afternoon show and soon discovered I wanted to do commercials. Playing music can get so repetitive and boring. So, I landed a job at the station as Production Assistant. I loved it. The sales people would bring me scripts for local advertisers and it was largely my job to add my voice to some music and sound effects and make a radio ad.
As years went by I was able to get a few jobs outside the station for advertisers that wanted to use me for other stations and they would pay me a little on the side to do it for them.
Back then, things were much harder than they are today. We had to record to reel-to-reel tape, splice the tape to make edits, make copies of the final product on tape and somehow get it to its destination.
Today it’s all done by computer. You record into a PC, make your edits and save it as an .mp3 file and most likely email it to its intended recipient.
In the old days it was very expensive to set up a home studio. Tape machines, audio processors and mixing consoles ran into many thousands of dollars. If you wanted to do this kind of thing at home you had to invest $20,000 or more.
Today, you can do it for about $500 or if you want to go “top shelf” about $1500. In this article I intend to give you a quick rundown of what you’ll need to get it done.
The first thing you’ll need is the most important, a microphone. Most professionals will tell you to get a “condenser” microphone. It’s what the pros use. A condenser microphone requires power to work unlike their counterpart, the dynamic microphone that is a passive device. This powered microphone concept gives the microphone a very good sound that has what we call “presence.” For years the standard brand in studios was a Neuman microphone but they are very expensive and you don’t really see them except at the most exclusive of studios. The two brands you see the most these days are Shure and Electrovoice. The Electrovoice mics you’ll see most often are the RE-20 and 27 but these are not condenser microphones. The RE-20 and 27 are very well respected in the industry but I feel if you are concentrating on voice for voice talent work, you’ll want a condenser which brings you to Shure. I use a Shure KSM32 which is a very good mic and costs about $500. Don’t despair though; you can get a very good microphone much cheaper. Start by stepping down to a Shure KSM27. It’s about $400. Below that price point there are some other good choices but plan on spending at least $150. If you have a musicians supply store in your town, stop by and see if you can try out some mics. Keep in mind though that you’ll need a professional mic, not one from Radio Shack or the computer store. These will never let you get the sound your clients will accept.
A microphone puts out very little “level,” (the electrical signal that passes sound) so you will need to amplify it. This is accomplished with a microphone preamp. A preamp is a device that will boost the signal of a mic to a level that a PC sound card can accept. There are many preamps out there that are not too expensive and if you go looking you’ll see a lot of choices. I recommend getting a mic preamp that has what we call “processing.” What processing does is make your voice sound like more than it is. It reduces sibilance, the unnatural sound made when the letter S is over pronounced. Additionally it reduces noise between phrases by reducing the volume when there is a low amount of sound presented to the mic. This is what’s known as expansion, or “downward expansion.” When the level is low, the processing preamp lowers it more so that noise is reduced. This can help greatly in a home studio environment where you may have computer noise, noise from the furnace or refrigerator or whatever. The processing preamp then takes your voice and “compresses” the louder passages. This has the effect of giving you a ‘large” commanding sound. The model I use for preamp and processor in one box is a Symetrix 528e Voice Processor. It provides the “phantom” power a condenser mic needs; it preamplifies; processes and presents a good sound ready for the sound card in your PC to accept. The 528e is $500 but you can do very well with a less expensive unit such as the dBx 286a from dBx Audio. It is less than $200.
Next you’ll need a good sound card for your PC. The one that came with it won’t do. I use a Lynx One card that is about $449 but a very good economical alternative is one called the Echo Mia from Echo Audio. A lot of radio stations use this card and it is only about $150.
Once you have all these things hooked up, you’ll need some software to edit your sound with. If you read something that is a minute long, you are going to get tired of redoing it over and over again after you make a small mistake. What you’ll want to do if you make an error reading is just back up a half sentence and “pick up.” Then in your editing software you can patch together the pieces to make it sound like you were perfect the whole way. One of the big products out there for audio editing is Adobe Audition, but like all Adobe products, it’s pricey. At $700 you may want to look elsewhere. A good place to start is with Sony Sound Forge. It is less than $200 and will be fine if you are doing just voice. Adobe has the advantage of “multi-track” recording which allows you to add music and sound effects to your project. A real good alternative in the software area is a free multi-track program called Audacity. It is much like Adobe Audition but it is open-source software meaning it is free to download and use. You can get that at audacity.sourceforge.net. Keep in mind that you will need the .mp3 “ad on” that is also free but a separate download so that you can export your project out to an .mp3 file.
Once you have all this in place you’ll want to start looking for work. There are two huge “voice over” sites on the Internet where you can audition for clients and try to get jobs. They are www.voice123.com and www.interactivevoices.com. They market heavily and get several jobs a day that you can bid on. They do charge membership fees though so be aware of that.
I must warn you that voice work is very competitive so be prepared to scrap for jobs. The upside is that you can get as much as several hundred dollars for a large multi-page project and $50 to $100 for a small one of a page or less of text. It’s easy work, its fun and it pays well. That’s why there are so many people wanting to do it.
I have a web site where I offer my voice services and cover voice over topics. It is www.AffordableAnnouncer.com.
Good luck. You’ll need it.