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Does anyone have any good tips as to how I might record good quality voiceover for a short video series I'm editing?

I'm currently in the middle of editing together a short video project that needs some voiceover. This is a domain that's fairly new to me, although I'm an experienced musician that's played with sound mixing in the past.

I'm putting it together using Adobe PPro CS5 (courtesy of my employer) and for equipment I have a Focusrite Saffire FW unit with an Audio Technica AT2035 microphone with a pop guard. That lives in a booth, so I don't get any unwanted noises.

My problem is that I don't really have any idea of what the correct workflow should be to get sound recorded, processed and mixed against the video track. I've cobbled something together where I record the voiceover as one side of a stereo track at 48kHz directly into PPro (this helps with timing with the footage). I then dump the audio track into Audition, fiddle for a bit until I get something that sounds OK and then save back. However, this isn't that efficient and I usually end up doing somethign different each time, resulting in a variety of different sounding v/o clips.

I realise this is quite a big subject, with probably a range of opinions and no "right answer". However, I'd be interested to hear any pointers in what I'm doing right/wrong, as well as how other people do this, specifically around:

  • Recording settings (gain, sample rate etc.)
  • Equipment
  • V/o processing (compression etc.)
  • Automatic ducking of other sound levels in video when voiceover occurs.
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Details

It sounds like you have no control over the video/music. If you do, see my notes below.

  • Record at least 24bits at 96Khz for video and 88.2 for audio. That'll easily divide by 2 to achieve the final correct sample rate. This will theoretically give you the cleanest possible sound.

  • Record with external compression (in the analog stage) if you have the equipment. Have your narrator say the loudest thing s/he'd say, and adjust your levels so that it's just below clipping.

  • Make a rough edit. Once your narration is recorded, the best way to match it to your existing video is with a multitracker that has a video channel, or a NLE with multiple audio tracks.

  • Adjust each narration cut so all the levels are similar. Manually create envelopes, separate cuts and gain settings if necessary.

  • Make a detailed edit. Cut out the breaths, smacks, ums, make him say something different, etc.

  • Use envelopes to manually duck the background music. This part is especially creative. As a slow fade vs. a quicker one may have a different emphasis on the visual or narration.

  • Compress the narration track. It's a good idea to keep all the narration cuts on the same track so you can apply a uniform compression to it. I personally use Waves Ultramaximizer. Sony/SF has a similar plugin. I'm sure there are others out there. I try to make the V/O hot, but it should not sound breathy or unnatural. I don't go over -3db.

  • Mildly Compress the master channel. Your original background music track should not be compressed. If it is, and you can't get the studio to send you an uncompressed track, turn the gain down, maybe to -1db.

There should be no sound distortion and of course no clipping. The narration should be clear and easy to understand. The music should not obviously duck in and out. If it is obvious, you may need to work on your envelopes. It's OK to start bring in the music before the narrator is finished. This creates somewhat of a crescendo affect and adds emphasis.

Notes

Here is how I do voice overs.

Let me first note that it is important to not think of the voice over as a separate project or a separate job. It's the same with background music.

I don't let the narrator hear the music or watch the video - unless they have lots of experience. What usually happens is that they get distracted by the video and timing, or they follow the mood of the music. I want the narration to be a clear, expressive representation of what the client wants to convey. I usually have the client sign off on the narration before I begin editing. This way I can adjust the feel of the piece by varying the music and timing of the narration cuts.

Narration should be done as early into the production as possible. The reason for this is that it gives you more flexibility with your visual and audio edits. If you've already finished all your visual edits, and your client really wants the narrator to say 1 and 2 and 3, but you only have room for 1 and 2, you have to make some compromise on your visual edit, which might have tied in perfectly with your music.

  1. make a rough (visual) edit based on the story board. (You do have a story board, right?)
  2. record the narration.
  3. score or choose the background music.
  4. make a semi final edit with the music, video, and voice over. 4a. continue to make edits in communication with your client.
  5. edit the final - color correction, titles, FX, fades, flying turtles, etc.
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I don't have any experience with Adobe Premier Pro so I can't give you any advice for workflows around this software. But I do know that Cubase, ProTools and probably many other DAW packages have video modes that allow you to produce sound for a video clip.

The point I will try to make in this answer is just that you can reduce your workflow to use just one piece of software, provided you pick a Digital Audio Workstation package that supports audio production for video.

With this setup, you would start a new project in Cubase (substitute with ProTools or other major DAW here) and import the video file. Playback and recording will now be synchronized frame for frame with the picture and you're free to record, process and mix all the audio in one place.

Your question is fairly generic. I don't know enough about your current workflow, so here's how I imagine I would undertake a similar task:

  1. Export video from Adobe Premier Pro.
  2. Import video in Cubase.
  3. Playback video to write and rehearse voice over.
  4. Record voice over. The video playback while recording helps you get the timing and expression right.
  5. Set up a compressor on the original audio from the video with a side chain tied to the voice over. This will "duck" the original audio during voice over passages.
  6. Import other audio such as theme song, end credit music, sound effect samples, etc.
  7. Mix the theme music, voice overs and sound effects with the original sound
  8. Export the video with the final audio production -- or export mixdown for import in Adobe Premier Pro
  9. $$$ :-)

I would set the sample rate based on the final media. If you're producing voice overs for Blu-Ray or other HD media, then you should probably go with 96KHz. Otherwise, go with whatever your ears/good judgement/customer tells you.

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This is actually a really good idea: for some reason the notion of doing sound editing/recording/processing directly in a single DAW makes a lot of sense. I guess I never knew they could support video tracks as well. I'll look into some of these, thanks :) –  growse Jan 28 '11 at 10:51

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