Dean Tyler [Deansvoice[at]aol.com], Voice & Vision Productions, Ft. Myers, Florida: For the majority of VO work that I do, I use a Sennheiser MD421-U5 mic run through a Valley 400 processor into a Mackie board. Although constantly tweaking settings, the Valley generally is EQ’d with the pre-amp set at 1pm, lows at 12:30, mids at 1pm, and highs at 3pm. The gain reduction falls between 7 and 9. I also have an AKG C3000 mic into a DBX 286 processor as my second set-up.
I’ll crank up the compression for car and concert spots, but all other voice effects if needed are added later in the mix-down. Occasionally, a client, especially if it’s for TV work, will request that the voice track be done with little or no compression or done with the mic connected straight into the board to keep it all clean.
Don Elliot [voiceovers[at]earthlink.net]: Voice-work for me is done on a 416 Sennheiser. Yes, it’s a lot of dough for a mic, but I learned a tough lesson. The last station I worked for bought $200-300 range mics and spent $3-6000 on Band Aids to make it sound better. I spend the money on the front end and don’t need the repair job on the back end! If all you want is effects or a squeezed sound anyway, it doesn’t much matter what you use!
By ALL means, record EVERYTHING clean with NO compression or effects. Then you can add anything you want. Otherwise, it’s like being a “little bit pregnant.” You can’t go back or change your mind. It’s like the old joke about what the difference is between a girl and a lightbulb…you can unscrew a lightbulb. Well, the same with a clean voice track after you add some effects in post—you have the “freedom of choice.” Resist the temptation to call the other type of production (compressed first) an “abortion.”
There’s another VERY cool reason to do it clean. You can’t possibly do your best work as a voice talent when half of you is thinking as an engineer. I know, a lot of people will say, “I want to hear the effect in my headphones and also save time!” That’s because they are under the time constraints of churning out quantity. That’s not what this article is about. That wasn’t a given here. You may do an “adequate” job that is better than most under this method, but just wait until you discover that you can get MORE out of yourself without much else but better concentration on your vocal performance. And what are you doing anyway, listening to yourself in headphones while you are just voice-tracking, unless you have music or effects to cue to live? All it does is distract you from the message you are trying to say by causing you to listen to your pipes instead of what is in your head. That’s not communicating!
Compressors, etc? I use the one in SAW, sometimes an LA-3A. Settings? How can you ask a question like that until AFTER you’ve put yourself in the studio THAT DAY? How far away is the mic? What kind of level? What material is it being mixed with? How much sleep did the talent have the night before? In other words, is the voice particularly heavy or thin that day? Are you trying to talk over a cold or anything? Are you always on the same mike in the same studio, or are there variables?
Yes, telling someone to set this control at “12 o’clock” and the threshold to “10 o’clock” will get SOME result and still pass sound thru, but you’d be better off to turn all of it OFF and do the voice-track, and then use your EARS with your eyes CLOSED to adjust the sound. Gawd, what a concept! Ever heard of painting by numbers instead of a brush on canvass? Both will “create” a picture, but which one would you rather hang in YOUR living room…er, uh, play on YOUR radio station? Harumph! (SFX of Don falling off the soapbox and retreating into the area where sales hangs their whips, once again—the one eyed man in the community of blind men.)
Steve Cunningham [synthman[at]loop.com]: I always compress on the way to hard disk, lightly, with a 3:1 ratio or thereabouts, and usually using the tube compressor in the Manley Voxbox. I use no EQ at all, and no other processing. For a mic, I prefer the Lawson L47MP, although I’ll also use anything from an SM57 to a 414. Once I’m mixing, then all bets are off, and I may throw a dozen different plug-ins at the voice track, but for tracking I try to keep it clean and clear.
Dennis Coleman [denman[at]cbsaustin .com], Infinity Broadcasting Austin: We use a little processing on our voice work, but only a simple compressor and a little EQ. Primarily, we use the 3-band EQ on the Wheatstone SP-5a board, and we also add a little compression with an old Alesis 3630. It works well enough until we outfit the new studios with all new Symetrix equipment and a new Mackie board. Right now, the presets are 4:1 ratio and 50ms of attack, with the EQ set at just a little roll off for mids and a little up for both highs and lows. We are also using Rode NT2 mics with a Symetrix preamp setup. We put the final polish on during mixdown. This setup makes it easy for us to just drop the compression when doing TV VOs.
Angie Dickinson Wilson [avocado productions[at]compuserve.com]: As with most people who hear their own voice on playback, I’m never satisfied with how I sound, though others have disagreed with me. I’ve tried several mics over the years. Currently I use an RE-20 through a RANE DMS-22 mic pre and an ART CS-2 compressor. The mic pre has an EQ section, but I rarely EQ as I record. Compressor settings can vary, but I will start at 4:1 with a fast to moderate attack and a pretty slow release. More compression is often added later as needed during mix-down.
Dave Green [DaveGreen[at]CC ORLANDO.com], Clear Channel Broadcasting Orlando: Yes, I usually do a slight amount of voice processing on day-to-day radio commercial production. I prefer the EV RE-20 microphone running through an APHEX 107 Tubessence mic pre-amp. Then, a 3:1 compression ratio and easy gating through a DBX 166A mic compressor. That’s basically it as far as initial recording goes.
Timothy A. Bailey [tkprod[at]hotmail .com], KSRC-FM, Kansas City, MO: Like a lot of us, I’m just a former jock that ended up being given the Production Director job one day five years ago. So, I won’t profess to have “engineer” caliber knowledge of our production processing.
Yes, we use processing, but it is very slight, just enough to keep the voice levels a little more balanced and consistent. I’m a big believer in the “less is more” way of looking at processing. I am a little biased against stations/talent that smash the heck out of everything before they even get started. I don’t have a problem with it when its warranted, but I think many of our peers make the mistake of thinking everything sounds better if it’s processed like crazy. They want that “radio” sound that perhaps only “we” in the industry appreciate. If radio talent want to overcome the bias that advertising agencies and talent agencies tend to have toward us as “voice over talent,” I think it would do wonders for people to turn down the processing, turn up the mic pot, back off of the diaphragm and learn how to just “talk” like a regular person again.
We have four production rooms between Star 102 and our sister station Mix 93.3. All production and on air studios have the same mics, EV RE20s. My main room has 4 RE20s. My aux room has 3 RE20s—all processed by Symetrix 528e voice processors. Doug miller, my counterpart at Mix 93.3 uses Symetrix 528s. All production rooms/processors are essentially set the same. I will admit that we have tweaked one designated mic/processor in my main room for a little heavier compression/balls when I need to do a heavy concert read, auto dealer “sale sale sale,” or sporting event read. But I purposely stay away from it all other times. When I do use heavier processing/compression, I tend to EQ my read afterwards to bring out more high end and drop out a little low end to prevent compression muddiness.
My editor is the Orban DSE7000FX which has a killer effects package on board. Sometimes I’ll use the on board Optimod compression when I feel it’s needed. For heavy voice-overs, I use the “voice-medium” setting. Great processing in the effects package, but I again only use if I feel it will add something to the production, not just to impress somebody that I used “reverb.”
I’m not a big character guy, but I have several different reads and variations of my regular voice. I tend to do most commercial reads, “guy on the street” reads, and limited characters with our standard “lighter” processor settings. I EQ most characters and “guy on the street” reads by dropping out some high end around 8 to 10k and some low end below 200 Hz to give me a more convincing “poorer quality, I’m not in a studio” sound.
Despite my earlier ranting, much of my free-lance work calls for my “heavier” read. I use my “heavier compressed processor” for these reads, sometimes processing again in the DSE 7000FX Optimod, then EQ-ing out some low end, 100Hz or less, and this time-increasing a little high end around 8 to 10k.
Our “standard setting” of the Symetrix 528 E has a compression ratio of around 3 or 4 to 1 with a threshold of -20. NO high end or low end EQ, but a midrange 3k boost of +4db. Bandwidth 1kHz. We use the gate in my main room, but the other three rooms don’t. That’s about the only difference. My “heavier” processor uses a little boost on low, mid, and high, and a compression ratio of about 4 or 5 to 1.
“Tuna” Jon Rose [radiotuna[at]wbyr.com]: I use two mic chains: one at the radio station and one in my home studio, where I do a lot of my free-lance work. Both studios use the same Audio Technica 4033 microphone, but I have different processing in each location. In the radio station’s two production studios, we run the mic through a Symetrix 528, which I like quite a lot. At home though, I run the mic through a Focusrite Green 3 Voicebox, and I think I’m a little sweeter on the Focusrite, though that may only be because I spent my own money on it. Both have on-board EQ and compression. The engineers set up the Symetrix at the station, but I set up the Focusrite at home myself, and although it took me quite a while to get the EQ dialed in, I’m satisfied with the processing now.
One thing I use at the station, which I don’t have access to at home is the on-board compression available in our workstation. We have Orban’s Audicy in each prod studio and I use the Voice Leveler on nearly every voice track I record there, and I wish I had that processor in my rack at home! It really beefs up a voice-over and helps me “own the market” in getting that big voice-over sound. One prod guy in town even asked me what I do to my prod before it goes out. It’s pretty much simple compression on the voice, but it shows that good mic processing can make your work seem like it’s the loudest thing on the air. And I like that.