While I was working in my little radio production studio at my first radio job, I’d get a knock at the door. Or the window, seeing as my soundproofed cupboard was next to to the “rack room” (housing all the audio gear for the station). Usually, people just stood and waved from there instead.
Our sales manager would wander in. “Got (insert name of client) coming in on Tuesday” he would say. “He’s paid to record his own voiceover for his ad”.
I mean, it’s not like I think clients voicing their own ads was ALWAYS a terrible idea. It was, however, QUITE OFTEN a terrible idea. As a rule, clients are good at running businesses, not voicing radio ads. I knew there would likely be a lot of coaching in the studio and editing of dialogue before we got a decent commercial.
It’s funny, clients pay extra to not have their ad voiced by a professional, and end up with a worse ad because of it.
If you think I’m being elitist here, because I went through the radio training and the voiceover training, then you'd be absolutely right!
I think you should too, to be honest, if you're going to make a living out of presenting or voiceover. But if you’re voicing the odd video for your business, hosting a podcast, or you're occasionally called upon to speak as an owner or CEO, you might not be able to justify that cost. But that's OK. You just need to put some time into it.
Presenting a radio show, an ad, a podcast, or a video is a skill, like anything else, and whilst it's more than just waltzing up to a microphone and letting fly, it is possible for the average person to learn. So, thanks to some coaching techniques finely-honed from clients coming in to record, here’s some tips on how to sound good on a podcast or the radio!
1: Up the energy!
You’ve probably heard this one before, but even so, it bears repeating. The recording will suck all the energy out of your voice, in the same way that the TV camera adds 10 kilos (allegedly!). If you just speak normally, you'll sound bored and disinterested.
Instead? Speak with more energy to compensate. My trick for getting that energy in your voice? Surprised eyebrows! Open your eyes as wide as they'll go and put your eyebrows as high as you can. Pretend you're a Miss America pageant winner; you’ll feel the energy in your voice rising. Feels weird, sounds great.
If you’re not a ghost, it’s likely you already know how to breathe. But GOOD breathing really helps you get enough air behind your voice to get that enthusiastic sound on a recording like we just talked about. If you’re a singer, you’ll already know what I mean.
The key is to concentrate on getting a good breath in from your belly, not your chest. If you want to know what that feels like, lie on your back and watch your belly rise and fall with each breath. It's from here you want to suck in to inhale, and then compress to exhale. There’s plenty more to it than that, but that’s certainly a good start. If you want to know more, Mike DelGaudio at Booth Junkie has a good primer.
3: If you make a mistake, STOP!
If you're pre-recording, this is important for editing purposes. If you make a mistake, don’t panic. Just stop, pause, and start again from the beginning of that line. Then in the edit, you can go in, delete the dodgy line, and you’re all good!
It's much easier than trying to splice out the dodgy bits. Or worse, doing a zillion takes trying to get the whole script correct in one go. Even if you didn’t stuff up, why not pause between lines? You’ll give yourself time to re-set and think about what you’re going to say. You can always edit that out later to tighten it up (which you should- flow is important!)
4. Listen. To yourself, and to others.
Listen back to your recordings. I know it's awful at first. There is not a soul working in any sort of audio medium that did not hate the sound of their own voice when they started (myself included). Now’s the time to get over it.
Like I said in writing for audio, it’s time to check your ego at the door and actually listen. It’s where the most useful feedback is, and it's your best chance to improve! Don’t be too harsh on yourself, just try your best, listen back, learn, and try again. You’ll spot those annoying habits you never knew about before anyone else does!
And once you've listened to yourself, listen to others.
Do you know who always surprised me with their speaking skills when I was working for the radio?
Country footy players.
Even the ones from the really tiny country footy leagues. We used to interview them after games and they always sounded great.
It makes sense when you think about it. They're footy fans. They listen to so many professional players give interviews on TV, that they naturally know how an interview is meant to sound! They sound fantastic because of it. So do the same! Find someone you want to sound like and copy their tone. It's not cheating, I promise. Unlike...
5. If all else fails, "cheat"...
I remember once ex-Aussie Idol judge Ian “Dicko” Dickson discussing Milli Vanilli getting their Grammy taken away because it had emerged that they lip-synched:
“I mean, that’s like taking The Wiggles’ Grammy away because Jeff wasn’t actually asleep!”
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Milli Vanilli. But if the thought of hearing your own voice on tape really does mortify you, then you might want to take a leaf out of their book.
I’m not here to start a debate on the ethics or not of passing off someone else’s voice as your own. But do you think the Prime Minister writes his own speeches? Does George Clooney actually drink Nescafe? If the thought of a grand illusion is a bit more comfortable than yourself on tape, you might consider a professional voiceover artist acting on your behalf. Sure someone might catch on it’s not you, but is that better or worse than a bad ad? You decide!
So go and voice your own projects!
You CAN lend your own voice to whatever you’re producing. But know that it’s more than just setting up a microphone and speaking into it. Do you have any tips for people who are brand new to the “talking on a recording” game? Stick them in the comments!
Chris Plumridge is a freelance audio producer, voiceover artist and writer from Leongatha in South Gippsland, Victoria, Australia.