A great animated explainer video can be boiled down to story, animation, and audio. But as we all know—three is a crowd. And more often than not, the third wheel of this trifecta is audio.
Audio can make or break your animated video, but it is easily overlooked and slapped at the end of a project. Poor audio quality will ruin a viewer’s experience. Many companies will use sound effects and music to help underscore the story of a video. This leaves one final component, voice over (V.O.), which is the trickiest one to get right.
Voice over is wildly important. It is the primary source of information sharing and provides the human connection we all subconsciously look for when consuming content. Here are 7 things to consider when working with voice overs actors to ensure you get the best quality for your audio.
Number 1: Equipment & Studio
Not all microphones are equal, and not all studios are either. When working with a voice over artist, you’ll want to make sure that they are using a quality microphone. We’ll save you the technical jargon and dissertation, but we like condenser microphones with an XLR input. Why? Because a condenser microphone will pick up more of a voice’s dynamic range (the details). Why XLR? Because they tend to be a higher-quality sound than their USB counterparts.
As far as studios are concerned, you want to make sure your voice over artist is working in a properly treated room that is free from background noise and sound reflection. But don’t let the idea of a studio lead you astray. Not all studios are constructed well and absorb sound. It’s important to listen to audio samples from the set-up on quality monitors or headphones to ensure you’re not stuck with an audio track that editing can’t fix. We’ll cover what to listen for in the next few points.
Number 2: Background Noise
While music is added to many videos, you still want to listen for background noise when inspecting the voice over submission. Can you hear traffic, lawn equipment, kids playing, yelling in the street, air conditioning, or other appliances? Is there a general hiss or unexplained excitement in the air? All of these noises can ruin an otherwise perfect track.
The industry standard noise limit is -60dBFS. It’s important to have your voice over artist confirm that this is in fact doable in their recording space of choice.
Number 3: Sound Reflection
Sound reflection is a slight echo caused by hard surfaces in a room. If you want to take a deep dive into what is happening and hear an example here is a good place to start. Otherwise, just imagine someone’s voice sounding slightly split.
More often than not sound reflection happens because a room is not treated to absorb sound. It can also happen when a studio IS treated, but the treatment isn’t quite absorbant enough.
Another common mistake is when a V.O. artist fails to account for other hard surfaces— like desks, tablets, and computers—near their microphone. Sound reflection will make an otherwise great project, sound amateur. So it’s important to make sure it gets dampened!
Number 4: Mouth & Body Noise
Mouth and body noises are a nuisance. You’ll want to make sure your recording is free of clicks, pops, swallows, and other highly attractive mouth noises. While you’re listening, also pay attention to body shuffling, clothes rustling, mouse clicking, and furniture… clattering. While most of it can be edited out in mixing and mastering, a lot of it can’t!
Plus, it can be downright annoying for a listener. So make sure you are listening for any stray noises that may appear in the V.O.
Number 5: Awkward Cadence & Operatives
Number 5 has you focusing on cadence. Which is how a line is being read and how the words that are being emphasized.
How can you tell… if your video has a quality voice over artist on it? Listen for the cadence.
Is your voice over artist emphasizing the correct words to bring the script to life? If not, it’s a good idea to give further direction on exactly which words you want emphasized on the script. Sometimes a live-directed zoom session is even needed to provide further help to get the script just right.
Number 6: Ending Consonants
While we all leave off ending consonants here and there in our everyday speech, it can make the v.o. sound unclear. Make sure that ending consonants are there, specifically p, t, k, b, d, g, and f.
If voice actors are dropping the consonant sounds in their voice-over then you can ask for more crispness to the overall feel. If that doesn’t work, you can call out specific words and give further direction on how you want the words to sound.
Number 7: Sibilance & DeEssing
Sibilance is a hard hissing sound that is produced during a v.o. when certain consonant sounds are pronounced, particularly are “s,” “z,” “sh,” “ch,” and “zh.” It can be hard to ear, and if left in your video, can distract viewers from engaging fully.
Luckily, there is a tool to fix sibilance, it’s called a DeEsser. A DeEsser is a tool that is used to pull those harsh sounds out of an audio recording. It’s important to call these out when you hear them and make sure you ask for them to be fix before finalizing the v.o.
Voice over is an integral part of an explainer video and getting it right is imperative to creating an engaging experience. Feel free to reach out with any more questions.