Thursday, May 29, 2008

Background Noise: Did you hear something?

As a Quality Assurance Manager for Voice123, and a voice over talent, I would like to take the opportunity to share with you some of my experience from hearing demos uploaded onto Voice123 for profiles, and most importantly, auditions!

I have listened to over 100,000 demos to date working for Voice123, to date. I have heard just about everyone and everything, and there is no doubt in my mind that if your recording lacks quality, it hurts your chances of being hired. One of the easiest things to fix about your recording is something so small, yet a talent's ear may not always pick it up... Background Noise! It can just kill a job opportunity! As talent-voice producers, our only way to show what we do best is to send out quality recordings of our auditions to voice seekers.

Voice seekers have written me about how wonderful many demos are, but do stop to tell me occasionally about the demos that had strange noises in the background (excluding watermarks). There is no doubt that the voice seeker will judge our ability to perform the final job based on what they hear in the audition. I hope the info below can give you insight to make the very best of every opportunity!

Common types of background noise:

  • Car keys in pocket or car horn outside.

  • Talent holding paper in hand, and moving with it.

  • Printers shutting off and on during recording.

  • Humming caused by cables touching metal, or the computer.

  • A child calling out or a dog barking.

  • Air conditioner or computer fan running in the background.

  • Clicking in the mouth, if the person has a dry mouth.

  • Popping in the microphone for every plosive used.

  • Music, in the attempt to sound as if it is part of the spot, or failed attempts at watermarking in which the watermark becomes the star of the script.
Whenever reading copy, you have to create the image with your voice as to what you are selling, so the background cannot be there because that noise becomes part of the image. For example, I heard someone doing a very nice read for a medical supply company, and right after she started, I heard a printer adjust its paper tray. The voice over talent kept on going, as if it never happened, and all I could think is, 'Does she know her printer needs more paper?' The thought process took me away from what I was supposed to be learning about buying.

There are ways to stop background noise, some obvious, some not so obvious. Obviously, you need a quiet area, but to block sound, you can also try some of the following things (in order of what is most expensive to least):

  • Professionally built studio with sound-proofing.

  • Hanging moving blankets in a closed space, even if in a closet.

  • Recording while sitting in a car. You would be surprised how well it works. (Just make sure your local neighborhood watch is aware of what you are doing. ha! )

  • Making sure the microphone pattern is not directed towards any sound.

  • Making sure the microphone cable runs to the source of recording without touching metal or any other sources of interference.
Other recommendations:

  • Listen to your demo, not for what you say or how you sound, but for the noise around it.

  • Listen as many times as possible, and then one more time. What else do you hear, other than yourself reading copy?

  • If you edit through programs like Pro Tools or Audacity, edit out the dead air, since most noise is heard when we are not talking. Use websites and forums to play your demos for other people, and see what they hear.

  • A second or third opinion is always best. If they say they hear things you did not, do not take it personally. Just learn from it.

  • Remember that you are putting your voice out there as a product, and therefore it should be represented at its very best!
Recording something is simple, but the question to be considered... is it 'industry standard'? Would your favorite singer record an album, and sell it, if it was recorded poorly? Most likely not. There is always information on the Internet to assist you in soundproofing your recordings. Do the research before recording. Your voice is the product, and it is worth the very best.

Voice123 - The Voice Marketplace
Steven Lowell
Quality Assurance Manager


Anonymous said...

This is exatly what I was looking for to solve one of my problems when recording at my studio. There is a strange continuous sound in the background that I´m not able to take out. I´ll check everything out, starting from the cables touching any metal. I think that should be the problem...

Thank you very much!


Sônia Gonçalves
Sao Paulo / Brazil

Anonymous said...

Thanks Steve
Great Article

Matt said...

Background noise is not a problem for me, personally...but I know that when listening back to a demo at a low bit-rate, the audio quality is not as good. Obviously, WE know this... but do the voice-seekers know this as well? I often wonder if they are aware the audio of the demos is much lower-quality than the actual product.

Greg Houser said...


this isn't meant to be rude, but there's no easy way to respond to this without making it sound terse, so I'm going to ask for a little consideration.

I fully agree with your statement that a good recording environment is a key factor in producing a good demo and a good voiceover. It starts with the talent, and then the recording environment. Everything from there can be top-end, or straight from the racks of the local Guitarget. Without these two primary factors, you'll never be able to produce anything of quality.

Please note the second of the two primary factors though. The talent. The pay-to-play sites are little interested in proper vetting. So long as the membership fee is paid, anyone with a computer and a microphone can call themselves a voice actor and state that they have a production studio. Some sites directly advertise this fact. If I recall, V123 recently had a dog who was listed as a talent (albeit, he did work for cheap).

This is not the reputation anyone wants, but unfortunately, you cannot inspect each person's demo or studio to ensure that what a talent states they can do is accurate. SaVoa is one organization that is striving to ensure that voiceover talent meet a minimum standard of proficiency and accredit those that do. While it's not a perfect method, it's a start, and as such should be recognized more by sites such as this (please note: I am not a member of SaVoa, but I respect and encourage the idea of establishing certified standards). Perhaps it's time for site such as V123 to better recognize and promote folks who meet a minimum level of competence.

Having said that, blame does not fall solely on the talent, but on the seekers as well. When I am approached for a $50 lead (despite having opted out of being notified of such) I'm not going to put the time in to make sure that the audition is as good as one that pays standard market rate (or better). It doesn't seem important enough for the seeker to pay market rate (or in some cases, have a budget at all), so it's not surprising that the best of the lot here aren't participating.

Personally, I won't respond to offers like that, but I know others who do and view them as nothing more than "practice". Just like everything else, you have to pay more to get quality.

I think that your posting regarding the background noise is a perfect example of the pay vs. quality problem. A voice actor on the lower-end of the spectrum probably doesn't listen to their work as they record the track, or even properly mix and master the tracks when finished. Actually, I know that's the case since I've heard so many demos that, frankly, were obviously done by people with the "pay a fee, have a mic, and I a voice actor" mentality.

Quality talent will either monitor themselves while tracking or do so during playback to identify what takes worked best.

Make and enforce some standards for talent and seekers alike and you'll raise the bar. Doing otherwise alienates one group against the other, or keeps us in the status quo.

Personally, while I hate being told what to do, I'd welcome the idea of some form of recognition or milestone which is required to be met in order to be a member of V123 (as a seeker or talent). It would serve to remove a large number of the negative stereotypes that the pay-to-play sites currently have.

But that's just my opinion, and should be treated as such.



Tania Zapata said...

Thanks Steven, this article is a great help.
There are a few things that I want to add as possible sources for background noise.
Halogen lamps, electrical cables parallel to your XLR cable can cause hums, try crossing those cables making a 90 degree angle, or separate them completely in different sides of the room.
Light dimmers, try turning off that source, it will really make a huge difference.
Cellphones (this might be an obvious one) but try not leaving your cellphone in the same room or turn it off completely.
Something that people never think about is the traffic outside home (NYC is at best a very noisy city in that area), especially trucks or heavy vehicles, they cause a very low frequency sound that is caught easily by your microphone, that can be solve by soundproofing more your room or stopping and letting the vehicle go away.
I think these are the most common ones, I hope it helps.

The Voice123 Team said...

Thank you Greg for the comments!

I believe I can shed some light on some of the topics you have mentioned, maybe to put your mind at ease a little.

I share personal experience of what I am hearing so that all may draw their own conclusions, or just think more about what is submitted.

Oh yeah...The 'dog profile' you mentioned was actually created by a former Voice123 premium member, who thought it would be funny to fill out a profile for his dog. Keep in mind it was only a standard profile, only visible to those who either created it, knew about it, or went through the talent directory where all standards are listed. Standard members do not get to audition unless invited directly.

All members of our team picked up on it. I was emailed about it Sunday. It was deleted Monday...two days later because it happened on a late Friday. We addressed the issue with the talent involved. You are correct in knowing that there is a delicate responsibility of each talent to behave responsibly online, as this is still a 'business'.

Through positive encouragement, constant communication with all levels of the industry, SmartCast filters and new parameters from version 2.5 including budget filters, we have seen a higher success rate between talents and voice seekers, including former seekers returning to use Voice123 again!

We are not stopping there! We have much more to come! Being that we are not a management, nor enforcers, we have to give all talents the best tools in our marketplace to make educated choices! We know there will always be things to adjust because the industry changes all the time.
How do you improve a situation? You have to be positive, study what works, and build on it. I have personally witnessed that positive actions of talents (SaVoa included) and voice seekers, while using the tools Voice123 provides, has raised the bar over the last year. There is always room for improvement though...and we will be there working on it.

Steve said...

ADVICE NEEDED! Regarding Steve's reommendation on cutting space out between speaking lines.. I'm using Sony Sound Forge 7.0. I will often cut out or Mute the dead air between sound waves, but it can sound "edited" or just a bit choppy. Does anyone have advice (who may be using the basic version of Sound Forge) on how I can make those cuts sound a bit smoother or natural.

Thank you,
Castle Rock, CO

humaid said...

Hi Steve,
I am using more than three softwares for recording, to solve your problem try cool edit pro or(adobe audition)

shailaja said...

Thank you Steve for an extremely informative article.I am very new to Voice 123 and am yet to start contributing to this international creative pool, but I do a lot of audio work in my country , both pre-recorded and live and that is why I found your article very well researched and useful.Thanks again!
green 'n groping

Dadra said...

Thank you Steve for the great tips.

Nick said...

I run ProTools and I've always had a challenge with background fan noise from my CPU. I've tried isolating the unit by padding it with soundproofing(to the point that the unit overheats). I've also tried gating my sessions but it sounds electronic and obvious. I'm in the process of moving my extra bedroom studio to a new location in another house(walk-in closet). The UBC cord cannot be longer than what it now is. Any suggestions? I know I could run the mic from another room but then I couldn't see my session as I'm recording.(One man operation). Thanks, Nick

CarolineBielskis said...

My auditions aren't recorded with my studio quality equipment. They have to pay for that.
The person who referred me to this site has been earning a living with VO for years. He told me not to send in broadcast quality auditions, because they can use them and not tell you or pay you, and you'd never know about it. I assume that most people hiring have more integrity than that, but this is a business and you have to protect yourself (unfortunately).
I cannot imagine someone not checking their auditions before submitting them - for the best take, for strange noises, etc. That's crazy.
But, if my audition has a faint hissing because I'm using consumer equipment to record it, that's fine with me. As mentioned by someone else: they know it's not a final product.
When they hire me, that's when they'll get studio quality.

Mark Lennard said...

Thanks for the advice so how do I go about stopping noise from the outside street coming into my home studio??? I have an average size window which unfortunately is only single glazed.. I am not bothered about natural light so would a solution be boarding this window with a sheet of wood then a thick blanket or quilt and then another sheet of wood?? Or are there any other solutions??

Manju said...

Thanks for the information. Would keep all of this in mind while recording.

Michael said...

I monitor my takes and redo any with obvious background noises like printers. But there's always a level of background "hiss", possibly from my desktop computer's fan. My question is this: for a take normalized to -3db what's a "good" (by professional standards) db level for background noise? In other words, what level won't indicate to a talent seeker a poor setup? I'd prefer not to use my software to cut out background hiss if possible.

therisa said...

Thank you for this article! Does anyone have any suggestions for dry mouth? I only get it when I start recording! Then, it gets worse the more I think about it. I have tried sour candy, lemon, gallons of water, throat spray....uhg. HELP!

therisa said...

Thank you for this article! Does anyone have any suggestions for dry mouth? I only get it when I start recording! Then, it gets worse the more I think about it. I have tried sour candy, lemon, gallons of water, throat spray....uhg. HELP!

Anonymous said...

When I had my first studio in Hong Kong it was relatively easy to get a good sound. I had a Neumann U87IA mic and I was using Cubase with a Yamaha sound card. A great vo sound, partly because the room was small but it wasn't till driving home one evening when I noticed an acoustic foam tile sticking out of the garbage bin. I screeched to a halt, backed up, checked the bin and it was full of acoustic debris. I looked around then loaded up my car with all the material and carried on home. My little studio in Hong Kong never sounded better. But when we moved into our own house on the island of Samui in the Gulf of Thailand, it wasn't so easy. The room was three times bigger and I spent many hours trapping and diffusing standing waves. It wasn't until we realized we had made a mistake on the purchase of our mattress. It was too short. My feet were hanging over the end like L'il Abner. We bought a new mattress long enough and I claimed the dud mattress for my studio. Anything to suck up those reflections of sound. As a one man operator I've tried to deaden the room without building some kind of sponge room within the room I am operating. I finally succeeded to some degree with the mattress. Today during vo sessions I speak into the queensized mattress and I get a good vo sound. I also turn off the aircon and any other device that makes a noise and close the door on my computer for further silence and an even lower noise floor. Along with my overstuffed sofa which soaks up reflections I also have heavy drapes on one wall which helps but I can see that I need reinforcement behind the curtains. Although I haven't attained anetoic chamber conditions I do have a great sound now without dampening the highs reflected from the studio wooden floor. A nice medium bright voice sound. Not perfect but good.
The other way of detecting intercepting noise problems is to wear your headphones. All you should hear is yourself and if you hear more, just turn it off. And make sure you close the door.
James B

Anonymous said...

I have yet to do my demo and this article was so informative. I feel so nervous about it and you have given me the information to feel more confident Thank you

Candelaria said...

Steven... hello form Argentina... yes, I hear the nosies. Somes times I make my recordings at home, and I didn`t have then a place with all the conditions, and the track a upload was from that time. Now I alredy change the piece, so I hope this one is better (it's from the radio I work for) By the way, I am still thinking if I should pay to get into the premium list, casue for me, dolars and ueros means much more the for you!!!, 'cause of the change, you know what I mean. Any way, I will settel down a few points about my own performance, ateh way it will worth to pay.
From the hot south summer, all my greetings from Arg, Cnadelaria Lloret.

Lee said...

Nicely done article, Steven! Keep them coming!


Anonymous said...

Question: I am using a Power Mac G4 with an ART Tube MP Studio Amp along with Audacity as my edit program. My recordings are good BUT I have a very low hum in all tracks. I tried all of the great suggestions on this blog like making sure cables aren't touching metal, putting power cords at 90 degrees with mic cables BUT to no avail. Does anyone have or had issues like this? Thank you in advance for taking a minute to help me.

Voice of Principle said...

After many attempts to record with no background noise, I have discovered that I can only get good results when no-one else is in the house...that includes putting the cat in a seperate room!