If you’re a voice actor, the engineer can be your greatest ally in the booth. Aside from helping you sound clear and crisp, they are sometimes the deciding vote on who gets cast—if a client isn’t familiar with your work, the engineer can vouch for and even suggest your voice to the casting team.
So how do you keep the engineer on your good side?
I consulted recording engineer and producer Jeff Wright, who has been recording tunes and ‘toons for over two decades. His credits include the new “Inspector Gadget,” “The Cat in the Hat,” and Gwen Stefani’s animated series “Kuu Kuu Harajuku.” He was gracious enough to help me put together this list of common mistakes that drive engineers nuts!
Touching the mic. Do not touch the mic. Ever. This is probably the cardinal rule of voiceover etiquette. Do not tap or blow on it. Do not adjust it yourself. Studio equipment is incredibly expensive and it’s the engineer’s job to adjust appropriately, not yours.
Phone interruptions. Phones should be on airplane mode. Or better yet, don’t bring them into the booth at all because you know there’ll be that one time you forget to put it on silent.
Noisy clothing or jewelry. We’re not sure why someone would wear an armful of jingly metal bracelets into a voice record, but believe us, it happens! Remove all jewelry before you get in the booth. Take the loose change out of your pockets. Do a little wiggle before you go into the studio to be sure nothing is clanging. This goes for noisy fabrics too, like leather, overly starched shirts, anything beaded, or that awful waterproof fabric that nineties tracksuits are made out of.
Shuffling pages. Separate your pages. If your script is stapled together, remove the staple at the beginning of the session and lay your pages flat in front of you on the stand. You can easily spread 3-5 pages out at a time, which will help eliminate noisy and distracting page turns during the record.
Dry mouth. Commonly referred to as “Rice Crispy mouth” because the sound your mouth makes when it gets dry is similar to the snap, crackle, pop in a bowl of the cereal. The microphone amplifies this crackling sound and it can be very distracting to the listener. Make sure you have room-temperature water in the booth with you during a record since dehydration makes it worse. Sometimes a slice of lemon or a green apple can help, too. Certain foods, like dairy, nuts, bananas, chocolate, and alcohol can aggravate this condition. Pay attention to how your diet affects the way you sound and avoid eating any triggering foods before a session.
Distance from the mic. Speaking too closely or too far back from the microphone can really sabotage a take. A general rule is to be about three fingers from the pop filter, with the pop filter about an inch away from the mic. Think of the microphone as someone’s ear: if your character is yelling loudly, lean back a bit rather than hollering directly into the microphone. If you’re whispering a line, get a little closer. The more experienced you become, the more you’ll be able to work the mic to your advantage.
Popping plosives. Plosives are consonant sounds that completely bombard the microphone with a large amount of air from the actor. This burst of air on letters P, T, K, B, D, and hard Cs can create a popping sound. The pop filter helps minimize this, however, a seasoned voice actor will know the proper techniques to avoid the sounds. One tip is to turn your head slightly off axis so you’re not blowing air directly into the microphone. Another is to put your finger in front of your mouth to divert the burst of air to either side.
Off levels. At the beginning of the session, the engineer will ask for a level. This is when the voice actor reads their first couple of lines so the engineer can adjust the audio levels appropriately. When giving a level, make sure you deliver the lines at the same volume you intend to read the rest of the copy.
Jumping other actor’s lines. If you’re recording ensemble (with multiple microphones and actors in the same booth), you need to be cautious of jumping the other performers’ lines. Each actor must leave a half-second space before and after each line of dialog so editors can cleanly splice up the takes in the final edit. It is especially important to be sensitive to this when there is a lot of improv or ad-libbing going on in the session. You don’t want to ruin anyone’s take!
This article was originally published in Backstage Magazine under the Expert Advice Column.