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Using Headphones While Recording Voice Overs

Voice Over Tips & Tricks 5-22-2012

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May 22, 2012

Ok, so I ORIGINALLY wanted to keep the blog writing to once a week, but I woke up this morning and was too eager to write another blog.  I’m excited to help others succeed in voice over and thought, what they hay, I’ll write an extra blog for this week.  You don’t mind do you?  I mean, please don’t send me hate mail for being too annoying with the blog writing.  I think once a week is good so I don’t bombard people half to death with tons of emails and blogs.

I’ve had frequent questions from time to time with other newbie’s asking, “Is it best to use headphones while recording?”  I think there is no REAL answer to this question, so I’ll easily break it down for you and then have you decide for yourself.

 

Using Headphones While Recording Voiceovers

Is it best to use headphones while recording a voiceover?  To be honest, if you asked several people if it’s best to use headphones for recording, you’ll probably get many different answers.

Breaking it down: there are different types of projects to be recorded in the voiceover industry.  There are tons of famous voice actors out there and they all have a gift, a talent, a special ability and, “forte’” if you will.  As far as voiceovers go, we have, narrations, movie trailers, telephone promotions, radio commercials, tv commercials, youtube video narration, voice-mail greetings, on hold messaging and promotion and the list goes on and on.  I could bore you half to death and I don’t want to sound like an annoying college teacher giving a lecture.

Now, recording voiceovers is very much like voice acting.  If you watch a lot of reality TV shows like, “Home Improvement,” “Friends,” “Golden Girls,” and even singer/songwriter shows like, “American Idol” for instance, ask yourself, “do they use headphones while they act and perform in front of the camera?”  The answer is, “No.”  They don’t.  They simply act and let their voices be heard.  They have to, “Project” their voices, so they can travel a great distance through the air and into the microphone.

I surveyed a few people and asked them if they use headphones for recording and what their advice was on the topic.  Quite surprisingly, this is what they said:

Paolo Balestri – Italian Voice Over Actor from Italy writes: “Yes, I need to understand all noise or dirty sound. Without headphones, I feel naked. AKG forever! Only at the end I listen to anything on the monitor.”

Rick Lance – Voice Over Talent from Tennessee shares: “Yes, I wear them. I need to listen for stray noises… mouth clicks, thunder, stomach rumble, etc. I’d rather deal with that in recording than in post. Sony MDR 7506s are all I’ll ever need.”

Christian Peschken – German Voiceover Artist from Wisconsin says: “I use always headphones while recording for 2 main reasons. I use Koss UR-29 headphones.  First I can observe my pronunciation better, and second I feel sort of closer to “my voice”. When I was working in the Lip-synchronization business, back in Germany, we never used headphones. Frankly that always made me feel ‘naked’. (Christian Peschken , PeschkenMedia. Language adaptations and Voice Overs. website at www.peschkenmedia.com)

Dan Lenard – Home Voice Over Studio Expert from, Buffalo, New York replies: “Its total personal preference.. I think that headphones for VO are totally unnecessary. What are you listening to? Yourself? The room? I can hear the room just fine from where I am. You have to have confidence in your positioning and your levels. That comes with experience.

There’s no comparison between headphones for music and VO. In music you have to hear the tracks to sync. In VO you need to listen to whats going on in your brain, not your mouth.

Headphones are a tradition from being in a pro studio so you could hear the director. In radio it was so you could hear the song cues with the studio monitors turned off. In a home studio, the only thing to listen for is the sound of your own voice and its a misrepresentation of it at that. I say free yourself from monitoring yourself and trust in your set-up. Mouth clicks and clothing rustle are going to be edited out anyway, so stopping your flow and missing a good take I think takes priority. Hear yourself in the true ambiance of your room. Thats what your mic hears. It also prevents latency issues that can confuse the heck out of you. Just my opinion. I haven’t used them for 10 years. I know others like them. But then again, have they ventured outside of this comfort zone and tried it without? How did they sound to others? But, you have to do what’s comfortable to you.

Many professional studios have realized the need for a more natural sound, which the use of headphones can alter, so they’ve gone to squawk boxes.”

Edo Peters  – Stunning voice-over talent from the Netherlands chimes in: “If it involves microphones and voices… almost always, maybe except for 5- or 7-voice harmony groups for station ID’s. I like to do some VO jobs without… when voice acting for instance, or I put the volumes real low… If I am tracking instruments I hardly ever wear headphones.”

Howard Ellison – Spunky character voice talent from England adds: “Good topic. My answer, on voice alone, is yes and no. If it’s dramatic, loud and let-go, I find cans inhibiting. For something informative, or quiet (where there’s more chance of mouth noises becoming prominent) it’s on with the fancy hat. In the British winter, it does keep the ears warm.
For getting a mix right, a speaker is still best even though much of the audience will be ear-budded.”

Teg Gray – warm friendly voice actor from Wisconsin says: “It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m doing an audiobook that has characters in it, I don’t use them as they become distracting. They are also a hindrance if I become physically animated in my read. If I’m doing short form or commercial reads I generally use them. I always use them when editing for detecting breaths and mouth noises.”

Monty Lewis Sauerwein – warm movie trailer voice from Spain writes: “For me- not usually. I find that if one has a good set of monitors say like the Rokit 5´s which I have I don´t really need them. The idea behind the cans is that you shut out external noise in order to hear the audio in isolation. If I use cans (headphones) while recording- my mind kind of shifts and I tend to over act or push the voice more than I would naturally. For me, it is more psychological.

There are of course times when headphones are needed, say in an environment outside the studio- but that’s why I build a sound studio and booth so that I have control over my environment.

Now, I am certain others will have a different take on this.

Patrick Howard Fraley – voice-over instructor and coach from Hollywood, California mentions: “Everyone has an opinion, so here’s my “rant” on headphones:
1. Recording and listening to yourself perform at the same time is like acting in front of a mirror.

2. Performers either hate their own voice or love it. If it’s the latter, you end up sounding like a parakeet pecking a mirror until it’s beak falls off. “Pretty Baby! Pretty Baby!”

3. If the volume being fed into your headphones is too low, you will compensate by being louder and vice versa.

4. If you are doubling as your own engineer, allow yourself the luxury of being a performer, then engineer. You don’t need to split your focus between performing and listening for a popped “p” at the same time.

There are two positive things headphones do for a performer. One is to boost a bit of confidence. You hear your amplified voice coming back and it kind of makes you feel like you “belong” in front of a mic. You can accomplish this “boost” by hearing your voice more like others do. Cup your hands around your ears – create “elephant ears” with your hands. You will be surprised at how hearing your voice more than feeling the vibrations will make a difference. The other benefit is when you need to sound as if you are in love with your voice. Some performances of “trailer” and “promo” jobs require this sound and approach.

Beau Weaver – professional voice talent speaker for film and television from Los Angeles, California states: “Using headphones is great if you want to continue sounding like a radio guy rather than a voice actor. Listening to yourself perform creates a feedback loop that takes you out of the moment, and puts you in the position of judging and producing your performance while you are doing it. This is why radio guys sound like radio guys. Unless it is required to hear a remote director or another talent…..taking the headphones off is the most important thing a voice talent can do…..unless he wants to continue sounding like a radio guy.”

Using Headphones While Recording Voiceovers Conclusion

It was really nice to speak to and connect with other fellow voice over actors from around the world to get their take on using headphones.  I guess the answer lies within YOU whether you feel it’s best to use them or not.

As far as MY take on voice actors wearing headphones, I would have to agree with a few others, that it really depends on what you’re recording.  I mainly do not use the headphones because I believe it’s all about the confidence, that I will read, record and deliver an excellent audio piece for my clients.  I know where I stand when recording audio and video projects and I tend to let my voice BELT OUT when reading announcer voice projects.  Taking into consideration to what Patrick Fraley mentioned earlier, “If the volume being fed into your headphones is too low, you will compensate by being louder and vice versa.  If your headphones are set to LOUD, you may speak quieter, getting a more lower decibel record level.

If you weren’t one of the previous voice actors who gave advice, please comment below on what YOU think.

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