What is a voice-over?
A voice-over recording (often just “voice-over”) is a person speaking (but not seen) during a video often describing, highlighting, explaining, or providing additional context to what a viewer sees.
It’s often confused (or equated) with narration. And, while they are similar, they are not quite the same thing.
Narration is a specific type of voice-over that describes all of the on-screen action, often telling a story based on what’s happening.
Non-narration voiceovers are more common with instructional, informational, and educational videos, while narration is more commonly used for entertainment.
An easy way to think about it: All narration is a voice-over, but not all voiceovers are narration.
Why is a good voice-over important for your video?
Some might think that the audio portion of a video is less important than the visual portion, but that’s not true.
Most video watchers say they are more likely to stop watching a video with bad audio vs. lower-quality video.
In fact, a recent TechSmith study of video viewing habits showed that more than 25% of video viewers watched a video all the way through because the audio was good — more than those who said professional video style was most important.
It’s really not that surprising. While the on-screen elements of your video are what make it a video, in many cases, it’s the voice-over that helps people truly understand what’s being shown.
Muddy, muffled, or otherwise garbled or difficult-to-understand audio tracks are frustrating to viewers. And, for people who are blind, but still need the information your video provides, good audio is absolutely essential for their consumption.
So great audio isn’t just important. It’s necessary to keep an audience interested and engaged — and to ensure they learned what they needed to.
Do I need a professional voice talent for a great voice-over?
The short answer: No.
Just because quality voice-over is important for the success of your video, that doesn’t mean you need to go to great lengths to get it.
A lot of people think you need to have one of those super-snazzy radio voices to do good voiceovers for your videos.
That just isn’t true. Sure, if you have the budget and you’re making professional videos, you can hire professional voice-over talent But it’s really not necessary.
Using the tips in this guide, you’ll discover that most videos don’t need a professional voice-over. You can do it yourself!
So, how can you record your voice over a video?
It helps to know what a good voice-over is.
The essential elements of a good voice over
When most of us think of great video voiceovers, we probably think of great actors like Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones. We tend to associate voice-over with having a really great voice. And, while that can help, it’s not necessary.
In fact, with practice, nearly anyone can do professional-quality voice-over work.
Great video voice audio over comprises several elements:
- Audio clarity and volume
- Vocal tone and inflection
1. Audio clarity and volume
The clarity of your voice and a comfortable volume may be the most essential parts of great audio. If your voice-over recording is fuzzy or muddy sounding, it will be difficult for people to understand. Audiences will be distracted and unable to absorb the information or may simply move on. Either way, they miss your message and you miss an opportunity to share your knowledge.
Similarly, if your audio’s volume is too low, it may be difficult for people to hear. Too loud and you risk annoying distortion.
Luckily, there’s a pretty solid sweet spot for volume. See the section on recording your voice-over for more information on audio levels.
Ever talk with someone who has a really exciting story to tell, but they’re so excited about it that they rush through it and when they’re done you can’t even remember what they were talking about? Or, someone who drones on and on with no end in sight, threatening to put you to sleep?
This is pacing. Too fast and your audience won’t know what hit them. To slow and they’re likely to get bored. The best voiceovers have a natural and deliberate pace. Start with a script and practice it before you record to help you speak at a more natural pace.
And remember, pacing also includes things like pausing occasionally to take a breath, for effect, or just to give the listener a break to process important information.
3. Vocal tone and inflection
Like pacing, vocal tone and inflection refer to ensuring you speak in a natural and pleasant manner. You want to be friendly and engaging, but not so much that you sound fake.
No one wants to sound like a game show host. But, you also want to avoid monotone robot voice which, like pacing that’s too slow, can be boring and off-putting for listeners.
4. Pronunciation and enunciation
The final element of great voice-over work is ensuring that you pronounce each word correctly and that you speak clearly enough to be understood. Avoid mumbling — but don’t shout or over-enunciate, either.
Be mindful of your regional accent (yes, we all have them) and pronunciations as they relate to your audience. While it’s perfectly acceptable to “warsh” your hands in Missouri or have a great “idear” in New England, those pronunciations may confuse people from other locations.
Don’t worry, though. No one expects you to sound like a professional voice actor. The best thing you can do is speak naturally and clearly and the rest will follow with practice.
How can I make my voice sound better on voiceovers?
This is the number-one issue most people bring up when they have to do voice-over work for their video.
Let’s face it. Most of us rarely have to hear our own voices in audio recordings. We’re used to the rich, warm sound of our own voices in our own ears. There’s no way around the fact that you sound different on the recording than you do to yourself.
So how do you stop hating the sound of your own voice?
The answer, unfortunately, is that you just have to get used to it.
Think of it this way: Your voice on recordings is how you actually sound to everyone around you. When you speak to others, that’s what they hear. the only one who hears a difference is you.
So, there’s really nothing to be embarrassed about, is there?
In all seriousness, though, everyone who does voice work has to overcome this hurdle. Luckily, like most things, it gets easier the more you do it. Do enough voice-over work and soon your voice on recordings will sound almost as natural to you like the one you hear in your ears.
If you simply can’t get over it, though. You can always enlist the help of another person. You can grab a friend or colleague, or you can even hire a professional to do the work for you.
How to record a voice over
1. Preparing to record
Not all videos need a ton of preparation. Quick one-off screencasts or a fast demonstration of a new user interface for a colleague probably can be done mostly on the fly.
But, for videos where you want more polish or that need to cover more information, a bit of preparation goes a long way.
Find a quiet place to work
I’m sure you’ve seen what a typical recording studio looks like. Professional voice-over artists typically have a room somewhere with walls covered in sound-absorbing foam, a fancy microphone setup with a pop screen, and a computer workstation that looks like it could be straight out of NASA’s Mission Control.
Luckily, you don’t have to go that far to achieve great results. You can create a great voice recording space with minimal effort and very little expenditure.
Most importantly, you want a space free of distracting noises and where you aren’t likely to be interrupted. Most decent microphones pick up even faint ambient sounds, and those sounds will ultimately make it into your recording.
If your space is at work, avoid areas where you can hear your coworkers conversing, etc. Or, plan to record when no one else is in the office.
Wherever you are, be mindful of the sounds of your heating and cooling system. If you can’t find a spot where you can’t hear air rushing through your ducts, you may want to shut down your furnace or AC for the duration of your recording.
If your recording space is near a window, listen for sounds from outside, such as wind, birds chirping, dogs barking, etc. Be especially mindful of traffic sounds — especially loud delivery trucks. They will definitely show up in your recording.
No place is totally silent, so find the best place you can — even if that means thinking outside the box.
I have a friend who regularly records his podcast in his car. He lives in a small house with dogs and kids, so there really isn’t anywhere else quite enough. He takes his laptop and mic out to his driveway, shuts himself in the car, and records. The results are surprisingly good!
Choose a microphone
Next, you need a decent microphone. I won’t go too in-depth with this, but my colleague Matt Pierce did an amazing post on choosing a good mic.
That said, if at all possible, try not to record your voice overusing your laptop microphone. While built-in mics are fine for Skype meetings and the like, you will get much better results with even a low-cost external microphone.
Even your smartphone’s earbuds will give you a better sound than just your computer’s built-in mic.
You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars, either. You can get a very nice USB microphone for between $50-$100. If you will be doing a lot of voice-over work, it’s well worth the investment.
If you intend to use an external mic, I also recommend investing in a pop filter. They’re cheap and they help minimize the distracting sounds caused by hard consonants such as “p” and “b.”
Choose your audio software
There’s no shortage of audio recording software on the market and most of them do relatively the same things.
But, for most of us, these will be far too complicated and will have too high a learning curve to be of practical use.
That’s why I highly recommend TechSmith Audit.
TechSmith Audiate takes voice-over recording and editing to an entirely different level by transcribing your voice in real-time — as you record.
There are no unnecessary settings to figure out, no confusing and complicated interface.
Just click the record button and start talking. It’s really that simple.
Then, you can literally edit your audio just like you would edit the text in a document.
So, rather than staring at a waveform and trying to figure out exactly what you said and where you can see it right on your screen.
And check out this game-changer: Audiate even automatically flags all your “ums,” “uhs,” and other hesitations so you can easily find and delete them.
You can even delete them all at once.
The Easiest and Fastest Way to Record and Edit Voice Over Audio!
Audiate makes recording and editing your voice as simple as editing text in a document.
But Audiate’s simplicity doesn’t mean you lose out on power or control. You can do finer edits and adjustments, too.
Already have a voice-over recorded? That’s no problem. Import your recording into Audiate and it will transcribe it for you.
When you’re done, save your audio file and import it into Camtasia. You can even export the edited text as a transcript or as an SRT file for captions.
I’ve been doing video and audio recording work for years and I’m quite comfortable using professional audio recording software. But if I’m doing voice-over work, you can bet I’m using Audiate because it’s the best and easiest way to record voiceovers.
Camtasia has an audio recorder built-in that will allow you to record your voice as you record your screen when appropriate. You can also record your voice-over by itself. You can even edit your audio right in the Camtasia editor.
2. Write a script
Having a script is probably the single most important thing you can do to ensure your voice-over sounds professional. Nothing ruins a good voice-over faster than a lot of hemming and hawing or 23 umms in a row as you try to remember what you wanted to say next.
The best scripts will include word-for-word everything you intend to say. Taking the time to write this out before recording helps ensure that you will cover everything you want to without the danger of meandering off into unrelated topics.
Outline the points you want to make and then write the full script based on that outline.
A script also gives you a chance to practice.
Read your script aloud several times before you record. Be mindful of words or phrases that may feel awkward or difficult to say. A script often sounds and feels different when read aloud vs. in your head.
Then adjust your script as necessary and you’re ready to record.
3. Do a test recording
Now that all the essential tools are in place, it’s time to record your voice-over!
Before you get down to the real thing, though, do a test recording to ensure your equipment works properly and your audio levels are good.
Even if nothing has changed from the last time you did a voice-over, it’s still a best practice to test first. I’ve skipped this step myself and then discovered after my recording was finished that something wasn’t set up properly and I had to go back and do it again.
You don’t need to record the entire script for your test recording, but a few paragraphs will give you enough to ensure that the audio is clear, at an appropriate level, and doesn’t include any stray or ambient noises.
Important: When you listen back to your test recording, use headphones to check the audio quality. Your computer speakers will not be good enough for this. Headphones allow you to listen closely to ensure clear audio — especially for things like weird room noises and such.
Obviously, you want the audio to sound good on even the cheapest speaker, but you (and your audience) will be much happier if you use headphones to check for quality.
Remember, a good portion of your video viewers will listen via headphones, so you want to be sure they’ll have an optimal experience.
You also want to consider where to place your microphone. Too close to the person speaking and it will be subject to all kinds of weird mouth noises and air puffs. Too far away and it may sound lost in a large room.
Ideally, place the microphone about six to eight inches from the person’s mouth, and slightly below their chin.
If you’re using a LAV (clip-on mic), make sure it’s about six to eight inches below the speaker’s mouth.
Be mindful, too, of the surface where you place your mic. Some microphone stands will be quite susceptible to picking up noises from the desk or table they’re sitting on. Listen for those types of sounds on your test recording.
Check your volume levels
Proper volume level for your audio ensures that it’s easily heard and not distorted. Too low and people will have trouble hearing what you say. Too high and you risk garbled audio or blowing out your viewers’ eardrums.
While you can adjust levels as necessary when you edit your audio, starting with the best possible audio level as you record is always your best bet.
The folks over at Premium Beat have a great post on recommended audio levels settings, but here are a few basics.
- Audio levels are measured in decibels (DB).
- In audio editing, 0db is actually the maximum you want to achieve. Weird, eh?
- For the most part, your ideal audio level is between -10db to -20db. Your audio should peak around -6db.
- Never go above 0db, as your audio will distort or “clip.”
Most audio recording software will have indicators that let you know when your audio is in danger of being too loud and clipping.
The image above shows the TechSmith Camtasia interface with the waveform (a graphical representation of your audio recording) on the left and the level indicator on the right.
The indicator shows that the audio peaked at just under -6db and is well within the acceptable levels.