So you have decided on a career, or at least a foray, into NSFW Voice Acting. There are a few things you need to know from a technical standpoint that will help you. This guide will NOT tell you what to do, but it will arm you with some knowledge to figure out where to go from here.
This page is written for VoiceLikeCandy (and some parts with VoiceLikeCandy) and is specifically designed not to favor any particular brand or type of product. There is NO marketing here, there is NO affiliated links. This is unbiased.
1. Your Recording Area
Regardless of what work you are doing, you need to reduce noise and ‘bounce back’ in your recording space, there are dozens of ways to do this, but effectively your objective would be to reduce your ‘noise floor’ which can be broken into three distinct areas
- Indirect Noise : this can be thermal or atmospheric noise, pretty much the noise made by air and heat, you cannot avoid it, only calibrate your equipment to filter it out.
- Direct Noise : this can be your computer hum, the sound of a fan in the background, or even a powered preamp, direct noise is often constant and can be seen within a specific frequency range when you are recording silence.
- Vocal Noise : This is you, talking, moaning or making whatever noise your customers want to hear (see Part 2 for his this changes your setup) you’re looking to avoid echo and reverb (echo is a distinct delay between sounds, and reverb is a low delay that causes your voice to ‘ring’)
You cannot change type 1 noise easily, you CAN change type 2 and 3 with a bit of effort. You’ll find a bunch of articles online on how to acoustically treat your space ranging from acoustic foam to a custom built ‘Booth’
Use foam or insulation to block outside noise if you can, use foam at ‘trap’ points to reduce echo and reverb, any hard flat surface is a bad surface for sound, break up your noise by never providing a flat surface to reflect (yes this includes the floor and ceiling)
Sit at your recording space and shout, do you hear your voice coming back? you need to treat more. Do you hear a ringing in your ear afterwards, you need to treat more (or see a doctor and check out that blood pressure)
2. Your Audience
Everyone tells you what the best Microphone is and what you should get. IF they do not ask you about your audience or what you are USING the Mic for, ignore them, They are projecting their wants onto you.
Define your Audience, because it will make the next decision easier .. do you want to do Audiobooks? you want a different frequency range, do you want to do NSFW acting?, you want a wider multi-purpose Mic, do you want to do ASMR?, different microphone and setup and more acoustic treatment.
Are you doing Stereo or Mono? most requests will be for Mono (or double channel Mono where the sound is equal on both sides) Stereo assumes there is spatial awareness and is the poster child for ASMR.
3. Your Microphone
XLR vs USB
Now that you know what you’re doing this for, you can choose your Microphone, you’ll find people will act superior over XLR Microphones and there is good reason for that, but if you’re doing dubbing or Audiobooks within a specific frequency range, USB microphones are great options on a budget.
Something many people misinterpret. XLR and USB are not types of Microphones, XLR is a connection type for balanced audio and USB is a communication standard (and connection type).
A Microphone is the part that takes your vibrations and turns them into electrical signals, Microphones with USB interfaces means the connection goes straight to a computer as a single stream of data (not needing an Interface), however that means your ability to control the sound is diluted as the data is already fully formed.
Using an XLR Microphone and an Audio Interface (see part 4) means the Interface takes the electrical signals raw from the microphone in a balanced input/output connection and can change it, or boost it without significant loss of quality before sending it to your computer as a data stream over USB.
For this reason, professionals almost always choose XLR to allow them to modify the sound on the way to the editing system and for this reason, most Microphones with built-in USB have a low frequency range (for human speech) to appeal to the widest range of budget consumers.
Subsequently XLR Microphones can skyrocket in cost AND quality with higher frequency ranges and varying polar pickups and will be better for almost all uses.
Right .. with that out of the way .. let me talk about Microphones …
There are three major polar patterns (pickups)
that are mainly in use today (I’ve excluded Onmidirectional and Figure8 but you can look those up as well)
These are the workhorses of Standard microphones, they pick up everything in front and around them in a wide pattern, for this reason, they are simple and require no additional experience to use and have a great pickup.
HyperCardioid + SuperCardioid
These types of Microphones are often used because they cancel sound around them while still providing rich ranges in front, they are often used for live performances where you want to pick up one instrument without bleeding another into the performance. They are expensive and usually unsuited to VA work.
Shotgun Microphones are perfect for high quality spoken voice and are often used for Television and Film sets as they are highly directional, at low frequency they respond the same as a Cardioid and gives increased response and pickup in the mid-high range. They are highly sensitive to things directly in front of them.
Again this comes down to your audience as to what type of Microphone you choose …
There are three different types of Microphone internals.
Condenser : This is where you’ll spend the most of your time, ideal to pick up detail within a voice but also highly sensitive and yes, that is what you REALLY sound like. Dynamic Mic’s can lie but a Condenser does not. Size matters though, the Diaphragm size gives you that full range and while pencil condensers can be used on heavily acoustic instruments to get that ‘bang’ the richer the sound the bigger the diaphragm. Condenser microphones work by sending an electrical current into a capacitor plate, this NEEDS +48v power source called phantom power.
Ribbon : Modern Ribbon Mic’s are again best for live vocals, they are Figure8 Pickups and these are the microphones that you’ll see singers using in the 1930’s. Often take a large amount of gain to get to a reasonable level.
Finally if you’re serious about the Microphone, invest in an ‘off-ground’ support (eg: a boom or spring-arm) a shock mount (to avoid casual vibrations going to the Microphone) and finally a pop filter to avoid the harsh phonetics and to stop you spitting on your new precious.
Each microphone has a frequency response range and an EQ profile, often the difference is what is right for your voice and not your best friend’s cousin’s sound engineer. If you live in a country with a generous return policy then TRIAL different microphones with the same settings and see what it a good fit for your voice.
If you are planning to narrate Audiobooks, you could also look into a high pass filter, these are relatively inexpensive and can remove lower noise ranges to keep your voice along the EQ lines expected by ACX (-23dB and -18dB RMS with no peaks above -3db) and other Audiobook producers
4. Your Interface
Often incorrectly called a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) it takes the balanced audio signal from an XLR cable and applies transformations (often gain) to the raw pattern before converting it to a digital stream and sending it via USB/FW/TB to the system
Audio Interfaces range in price and the things you want to look for are pretty simple.
- Inputs : How many inputs do you want? Do you have an ASMR Setup that provides two balanced XLR inputs? or do you just need a microphone?
- Outputs : Make sure you can connect it to your computer, USB, USB-C, Firewire, Thunderbolt etc..
- EIN (Equivalent Input Noise) : which is the noise added by the Interface, (around -120db is good, the higher number the better, but even the most anal of engineers can’t tell 120db to 122db to the ear)
- Drivers : as something that will be connected to your computer, make sure its compatible, make sure you have drivers for Mac/PC and make sure you have the right power (external power is better than Bus powered)
- Monitor : Make sure it has monitor mode, and optionally make sure it has a DAC if possible, if you plan to have your headphones plugged into it, you should hear your sound through it and be able to monitor your Microphone just as easily.
- Phantom Power : Almost all Condenser Mics require +48v power, while almost all audio interfaces SHOULD have them, always make sure.
Warning : If you have a dynamic mic, please check the gain range is suitable for the Mic.
5. Your Software
A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is where you will spend your time when you’re not in front of the Mic, this is editing, this is compression, this is where your talent stops and your skill start.
Editing Software/DAW is VERY much a personal and budget choice so I won’t spend a lot of time on it, you’ll discover techniques like ‘Punch and Roll’ compared with ‘Back edit’ and are supported through the standard range of products.
Some common software packages in NO order are