Table of Contents
- 1. Sounding “too nice” or “robotic”
- 2. Not being able to get into character
- 3. Improper placement of emphasis in sentences
- 4. Working with shoddy or low-quality equipment
- 5. Poor acoustic environment
- 6. Taking too long to deliver the recordings
- 7. Not knowing how much to charge
“There seems to be some background noise in the recording…” is something you never want to hear from a client. If you want to sound like a professional, avoid these seven mistakes that voice actors commonly make. How many of these are you guilty of?
Seven common mistakes voice actors make:
- Sounding “too nice” or “robotic”
- Not being able to get into character
- Improper placement of emphasis in sentences
- Working with shoddy or low-quality equipment
- Poor acoustic environment
- Taking too long to deliver the recordings
- Not knowing how much to charge
1. Sounding “too nice” or “robotic”
Sometimes, a voice actor can make a recording sound too perfect. That might seem like it doesn’t make sense – an ice cream flavor can’t be too delicious, so how can a voiceover recording be too good?
If a voice actor uses perfect diction, enunciates everything clearly, removes all breaths from the recording, and “closes” every sentence (meaning, they end each sentence with finality – as opposed to up-speak), then it can actually sound robotic like an AI voice
Sounding “too nice” can be off-putting. If a person’s voice gives you cavities just hearing it, they’re probably sounding pretty phony. Remember, you’re speaking to actual, living, breathing people so make sure your recording sounds human.
2. Not being able to get into character
Getting into character involves a degree of acting.
It’s relatively easy to get into a character for a major market beer commercial or high-end luxury car because the copy will likely be fairly exciting in the first place and that helps dictate the tone.
Being enthusiastic about a TX-45c heat shrink connector can be challenging, but if you’re voicing a product promo video for it you better sound proud to share some exciting information about it, and you better make it believable.
Are you going to win the Oscar for Best Voiceover Recording for an Elearning Module? Probably not. And it’s safe to say Tom Kenny won’t be losing any sleep over your performance but you’ll still need to commit to the role.
Try to visualize the end user. Are they going to find your delivery engaging or yawn-inducing?
3. Improper placement of emphasis in sentences
Knowing where to put emphasis seems fairly straightforward but can be surprisingly tricky at times. The client wants you to really lean into certain words but they also want you to “billboard” the name of the product and make it stand out. Which word needs the most punch?
Try reading this sentence with emphasis on a different word each time: Nobody can beat our prices!
Who can beat our prices?
NOBODY can beat our prices!
Apparently, it’s been tested and the results have come back negative.
Nobody CAN beat our prices!
People can do a lot of things to our prices, but beating them is not one.
Nobody can BEAT our prices!
Lots of people can beat other people’s prices, but…
Nobody can beat OUR prices!
A lot of things we do can be beaten, but…
Nobody can beat our PRICES!
Radically different meanings, just by changing where the emphasis is placed.
4. Working with shoddy or low-quality equipment
Saving money on a microphone is a good idea… but if you save money by purchasing an inexpensive no-name mic, it’s probably not going to deliver broadcast-quality sound.
Similarly, if you get an industry-standard mic at a good price because it’s second-hand, make sure the previous owner didn’t smoke. The tar from cigarette smoke can stick to the diaphragm of a condenser microphone and impede its dynamic range (read: it will ruin it). Here’s a voiceover recording studio checklist to help you choose the best microphone.
What do you use to listen back to your recordings? Professional studios have monitors, not speakers. The difference is monitors play back a recording “flat”, meaning without coloring the sound by boosting the bass or treble like home speakers often do.
Think of it like this… if you edit a recording using your built-in computer speakers, it’s probably going to sound a bit thin and tinny, so to make it sound better you might apply some bass or “low end” until it sounds rich and deep. Now, imagine you send that altered recording to someone who listens to it on home stereo speakers that have their own bass enhancements! Now it’s going to sound thick and muddy because their speakers have boosted the low end even more. What a mess.
If you don’t have a budget for studio monitors, you can use headphones – a considerably more affordable option. The AKG K 240 headphones are excellent and won’t break the bank.
5. Poor acoustic environment
Trucks, planes, lawn mowers and leaf blowers… four things that can incite white-hot rage in a voice actor if they occur during a recording session. To avoid this happening, ensure you’ve carefully vetted the space where you’ll be recording and make sure it’s acoustically treated.
Pre-built recording booths are available for purchase from several companies, or you can build your own studio if you’re handy. At the very least, you should be looking at building or buying acoustic panels to dampen the echo in the room.
Remember that scary story about the babysitter who gets mysterious phone calls? Duh duh duhhh… It’s coming from inside the house! External factors like planes flying by aren’t the only offenders. Mouth noises like a clicking jaw, or (gross-ness warning) that thawpping sound of a wet mouth? Ewwww. Or how about the opposite, cottonmouth! They can all ruin a good take, too. Here’s a pro tip: try the apple trick. Step one, get an apple. Step two, eat it. Step three, record voiceover with a freshly cleansed palette.
6. Taking too long to deliver the recordings
This is a great way to lose clients. If you tell a client they will have a recording within 48 hours, you really need to make sure you deliver within that window. How do you feel when people break promises? It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. People tend to remember bad service more than good service.
There is an exception though… people remember exceptionally good service!
Whenever possible, go the extra mile to impress your clients. It can be achieved by delivering the job early, agreeing to work on a recording after your usual business hours to accommodate a tight deadline, or coming in under their budget when quoting.
7. Not knowing how much to charge
“What’s your rate” and “How much will it cost” can cause anxiety even for an experienced voice actor. When in doubt, you can turn to the GVAA voiceover rate guide.
On the subject of payment, make sure you submit your invoice as soon as the job is completed. Aside from being good policy, it can also be a safety measure. If you wait months to invoice a small startup that has since declared bankruptcy, you might have to write that one off as a loss.
Don’t rush the client, sometimes there are revisions that need to be made and that could lead to more money. As a rule of thumb, anything that has to be recorded again because of tone or speed is free-of-charge because that’s the voice actor’s responsibility. Changes made to the script after recording might incur a small revision fee.
What other mistakes can you think of? Have you made any of these mistakes yourself?
Remember, it’s always a good idea to impress a client – or potential client – with your professionalism, promptness and good work ethic.
James Dooley is the owner of Dooley Media Works, a voiceover recording and video production company. When he’s not being the “friendly, yet authoritative” voice of brands like KAYAK, Dove Soap and Honey Nut Cheerios, he provides voiceover coaching and professional voiceover demo production for aspiring voice actors looking to succeed in the business.