By Stephanie Ciccarelli
August 20, 2014
Are your audition MP3s rich and robust? Tom Knight shares that taking a little extra time tweaking your audio before submitting your audition can make a big difference. With so many things out of your control, why not make the audio as good as it can possibly sound? Tom shares 3 quick tips that you can apply during post-production to create a better sound, thereby a better audition.
Tom Knight is an Emmy-Award winner for voiceover whose voice can be heard on commercials for Acura, Honda, Nikon, Schlage, Georgia Lottery, Yamaha, Sportstime Ohio, and many others.
Prior to entering the voiceover world, Tom played drums with multi-platinum, Grammy-winning artists such as TLC, Monica, Stevie Nicks, Michael McDonald and several other groups--traveling all over the world and performing for hundreds of thousands of fans in his musical career. "Growing up in the music business", Tom says, "really helped me a lot when I began working in voice, because I believe there is a kind of "natural musicality" in voice work--which is really interesting to me, because I always felt that playing a musical instrument was parallel, in so many ways, to communicating with one another through speech. It really is a full-circle experience for me; each career path drawing from the other."
In addition to drumming and voice work, Tom has also been instructing at the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media since 1994, where he currently teaches live music performance, as well as studio recording and engineering. Tom also owns a video production company out of Atlanta, and in early 2014, he added "Emmy-nominated Director" to his accolades--earning an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Television Crafts.
Welcome to Voice Over Experts, brought to you by Voices.com the number one voice over marketplace. Voice Over Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom, and techniques from top instructors, authors and performers in the field of voice over. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voice over talent. It's never been easier to learn, perform and succeed from the privacy of your own home, and at your own pace. This is truly an education you won't find anywhere else. Now for our special guest.
Tom Knight: Hi, this is Tom Knight and in this podcast I'd like to talk a little bit about how to get a nice robust audio file when you're submitting your auditions.
I like the idea of us voice talent giving potential clients, not only a great read, but also a project-ready audio file that if they were to drop into their project, they'd instantly be able to hear how well the read fits without having to do a lot of extra work.
And I noticed, over the years, that if I take just a little extra time tweaking my audio before submitting my audition, it pays off. With so many things that are beyond my control in this game, it occurred to me that maybe I should go the extra mile with the things I can control and getting a good high quality sound is certainly doable.
So I'm going to share three quick post-production tips that have helped me get a better sound; hopefully they'll help you too.
The first think I like to do is use a subtractive EQ curve to notch any resonant frequencies that exist in my studio, and every room has them. Basically these are frequencies that cause the air in the room to vibrate more so than other frequencies. My goal is to try to remove these abnormalities in the room. It's kind of like that old story about the opera singer who could sing a note in such a manner as to shatter a wine glass - that would be a perfect example of resonant frequencies at work. When the singer reaches a frequency that is the same as the resonant frequency of the wine glass, it begins to vibrate along with the voice and eventually shatters.
So instead of trying to EQ my voice per se, I prefer to simply dial-out the over-abundant frequencies in my room, allowing the truest sound of my voice to shine through.
So how do we figure out which frequencies might be problematic? Well there are two ways; one is intuitive, the other is mathematical. The intuitive method, if you trust your ears, involves simply pulling up one of your recordings, adding an EQ, grabbing any one of the nodes, making sure it's width or Q is very narrow, and then boost that note has high as it will go. And while the track is playing, slowly move the note across the spectrum of frequencies and listen for any ugly tones that appear to ring out more than all the others.
Now this takes getting used to; the first time you try this you might find that all the frequencies seem to jump out at you. But with practice, you'll begin to hear the ones that really do ring out more than the others - sometimes sounding like an actual bell ringing - it's pretty weird. And when you find them, simply pull the note downwards, into the negative, to notch that frequency out of the mix, as much as you think sounds right.
Whenever I do this, and I toggle the EQ on and off, I'm usually taken aback by how much cleaner it sounds and sometimes wonder how I didn't hear it before.
Now the second way to determine resonant frequencies is to calculate them based on the dimensions of your room. Every audio frequency has a measurable wavelength and we can use these physical properties to determine resonant frequencies.
Let's say you have one of those portable studios whose dimensions are three foot by three foot square, physics tells us that a frequency of around 375 hertz will be an extremely resonant frequency inside that booth. And that's because one cycle of 375 hertz is right at three feet in length, the same as the width of the booth. That means it will easily bounce around within that box, more so than other frequencies. So you'd likely have to dial that frequency out of your recordings a bit to flatten out the sound.
Now if you want to learn all about the physics of sound, I highly recommend a book called The Master Handbook of Acoustics by F. Alton Everest - it's my favourite reference book for all things audio. Everything you'd ever want to know about sound-waves, acoustics, sound absorption, microphones, how to build a studio - everything is in that book.
The second tip I have for you is to add a very gentle compression to the VO track. Compression basically keeps the peaks and valleys of your volume in check. The most common type is called downward compression which reduces the loudest sounds in your audio while leaving the quieter sounds unaffected.
So why do we want to do this? Because we don't want any part of the VO to suddenly jump out at the listener, nor do we want any softer parts of the VO to disappear, especially when accompanied by music or sound effects. Without compression, your clients might end up having to manually adjust the volume up or down, throughout the track, based on these volume variances in the voice. Adding a little bit of compression very quickly automates this process and typically does a better job than the time consuming manual method.
Finally, the third tip, I'll add a soft [gate] to get rid of any noise floor that might exist on the track, particularly between sentences or phrases. I find that this really cleans up the file, making it sound pristine and crystal clear. A word of caution; gates work best when you're already recording in a nice quite room. If the room is noise, say because of a heating vent or the whirr of a spinning hard drive, the gate might not be able to tell the difference between noise and aspirated sounds such as F, S or H; these fricatives by themselves kind of sound like noise - F, S, H.
So if you're in a noisy environment and you've got a gate set up to mute that noise, it might also mute these fricatives, especially when they occur at the beginning or ending of a word. They might not be loud enough or different enough in relation to the noise in the room to open the gate. This can sometimes truncate a word, so fox might become ox; who might become oo - that sort of thing. So just be careful.
Now to save time with this, I recommend having templates already set up that have the EQ notch, compressor and gate in place. And for me, since it's always the same voice in the same room, usually on the same mic, these settings don't have to change very much, if at all. So they work every time without much fiddling around.
Occasionally if a script calls for an incredibly loud or a very soft read, I might have to adjust that gate setting, but for the most part I just read my scripts down and as soon as I'm done, I export and upload my audition.
One final note on this topic; there's a bit debate out there over whether or not the voice talent should be sending the absolute driest file possible, in other words the file that comes right out of the [mic pre] and into the computer versus sending a file like the one I'm suggesting. But I have to say I've never once had a client or an agent reject a file saying that it was too clean or that they wanted the original file for whatever reason - that's never happened, even when I gave them the choice.
So clearly I sit on the side of sending sweetened tracks and again I think it's a value-add because the client on the other end can just slam the VO file in the project and be up and running without having to do a lot of work.
Again my name is Tom Knight and I hope these ideas are useful to you. Happy auditioning.
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