Post by Lady Stardust ★ on Oct 11, 2020 20:34:47 GMT -8
One question that comes up somewhat frequently on our Discord server is "how much should I edit my auditions before sending them out?" This particular topic was difficult to tackle because there are different schools of thought as to how much processing is acceptable or desired when it comes to auditions. Your mileage may vary depending on whom you typically work and audition with, but we hope you find some helpful notes to take away from this either way. Thank you to those in our Facebook group who contributed quotes for the purposes of this article!
How much editing do I need to know as a voice actor?With so much work being auditioned and recorded from home these days, it will greatly behoove you as a voice talent to learn at least the basics of audio editing (many of this information can be found via free tutorials online for your recording program of choice.)
**Important Note: When turning in audio for finished projects, it is typically best to assume they want the audio raw (no processing or editing, aside from removing mistakes and excess space.) Many times, bigger productions will have an audio engineer on board who will clean up, process and EQ everyone’s audio to make it sound uniform. If you’re not sure if they want you to do any of your own processing, ask first (or at least save a backup of your raw file just in case!) If they do have an engineer working on it, the actor doing their own processing can make their job much more difficult.
This guide, however, will focus on editing for the AUDITION process only.
One more note before we get started…different clients will prefer different things. Some clients will expect you to send “polished” auditions while others will expect that the auditions are reasonably clean but without any extra processing. The preference won’t often be specified, so this article will aim to help with what your general go-to default should be in terms of editing auditions.
Less is more
If you are brand new and don’t know what you are doing, it is better to avoid doing much processing to your audio—-going in with an inexperienced hand can easily make your audio end up sounding worse! On the other hand, if you are also a professional audio engineer or have a background in audio engineering, you may wish to get a little more creative with your effects chain. However, overprocessing your auditions is generally seen as undesirable and possibly distracting, so don’t go too crazy with it. Sometimes, sending clean auditions can be as simple as just removing any distracting noises and making sure your final takes are cut together seamlessly.
The golden rule
Just like with demo reels, any processing you do should enhance, not distract from, the qualities of your voice and acting. You’re auditioning to show what you can do with the role, and a booming, overcompressed file can make you sound less like a real person and more like a radio announcer. Many of the times you’ll be sending raw audio if you book the part anyway, so your goal with any audition editing is primarily to put your best foot forward to the client by sending a clean file. When in doubt, keep any extra processing minimal.
Should I just send raw audio for auditions?
While you will typically send raw audio in for a finished production so they can edit and process on their end as needed, it is generally better to send reasonably clean and professional-sounding auditions - UNLESS you are specifically requested in the audition instructions to send with no processing whatsoever. Keep in mind that even if an audition is requested “raw”, you should still remove any mistakes and excess dead space. “I want them to get the everlasting impression that I have high quality work each time and never leave them guessing when casting,” says voice actor Greg Arnold.
There are a couple reasons why it’s generally preferred to send clean audio for an audition*:
- Your audition is likely your first impression with that particular client, studio or casting director. Just as you wouldn't go to a job interview in sloppy clothes, you don't want to turn in a sloppy audition.
- If your audition has excess noise (hum, hiss, excessive clicks or other noises) it can at best distract from your actual audition, and at worst make it seem like you cannot record with professional quality.
- In some situations, the end clients are hearing your audition and don’t have anything to do with the editing process as this will be outsourced to a studio, etc - so you’ll want to put your best foot forward in the audition. Rather than making them imagine what you sound like with good quality, show them!
Voice actress and audio engineer Natalie Van Sistine notes that “Both my booking rate and the scope of the jobs I’ve booked have increased since I started editing. I think it’s because your audio is more likely to sound like the finished product and it’s much easier for the client to picture what you would sound like if they were to cast you.”
*The COVID-19 caveat
With the Coronavirus pandemic, most projects that normally record in-studio are having to do home recordings for the foreseeable future. For these types of auditions, it’s better to be honest about your space as much as possible and avoid noise removal, effects, or aggressive cleanup. “The more you edit, the bigger the difference will be outside of the audition,” says production coordinator and voice actor Christian Banas. “It’s easier to work on a blank canvas rather than one already painted on.” Chances are, professional studios will have much better tools at their disposal than you do to master audio, so it’s better to let them hear what your home recording setup sounds like in its natural habitat.
Volume Leveling / Normalization
In general, you should be setting your gain levels appropriately so that nothing is too loud or too quiet. You don’t have to go crazy with trying to level out volumes, but keep in mind that many people will be listening with headphones. You want it loud enough to where they don’t have to turn their volume way up to hear it, but not so loud that it hurts their ears! Looking at the waveform can give you a great idea of any manual adjustments you might need to make, as having a very quiet line immediately followed by a very loud line can be jarring to the person listening. “Proper gain riding while recording is the ideal way to counteract this,” says Christian Banas. Yes, this may mean you are moving that gain knob between audition lines if they are at wildly different dynamics—-though you don’t need to get too meticulous. With time and practice, this will come easily. If you’re really not sure, then normalizing your entire audition file to anywhere between -6 and -3 is a fairly safe bet.
**Peaking/clipping/distortion is near impossible for you to try to fix in post, so if this happens, you’ll unfortunately have to rerecord the line. It is better to record with a lower gain than you think you need on louder lines to avoid going into the red---you can always boost the volume afterward, but you can't fix it if it clips!
Noise reduction is one of those plugins that’s very easy to go overkill on if you’re not careful. Using too much noise reduction can result in a tinny, robotic sound that can often make your audition sound worse than if you did no processing at all! Ideally, you want to tackle issues at the source so that your noise floor is as low as possible (for example: turning off fans or noisy AC units), but sometimes there’s just a low hum or hiss as part of your general room sound that can be hard to get rid of. Voice actress Mary Morgan uses a plugin to remove “small hums like an air conditioner outside my booth, or low floor frequency sounds. They’re not audible unless you turn the volume all the way up, [but] because some clients will do that to check how good the audio is, I make sure it cleans up an unwanted hums or buzzes, no matter how faint.” If you wish to use (minimal) noise reduction plugins to make such things less noticeable, make sure you’re grabbing a proper sample of only the noise as a baseline, and don’t be heavy-handed! If the final recordings will be handled by a professional studio should you be cast, you may wish to avoid these plugins altogether.
Compression & EQ
Provided you know how to use these tools properly, they can make your audio sound more professional and broadcast-ready. Using some compression and/or EQ with a light hand is generally okay if you know what you are doing. However, it is very easy to overcompress your audio if you are not careful. Remember, having some dynamics in your audio is normal! If everything is virtually the same volume and sounds “in-your-face” (or if the waveform looks more like a giant block), it will come across as unnatural, and more like an oldschool “Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY” car commercial.
Some people on the production side, however, prefer this not to be added at all. “Most of us are pretty insistent on no adding EQ or plugins,” says Christian Banas. “It's really easy for us on the production and audio side to tell when someone does this and we would rather hear what you really sound like—-and in the case of this record from home situation, what your setup actually sounds like.” Audio producer and voice actor Garnet Williams adds, “I’ve been doing this a while, from both sides of the glass, and it’s preferred that the audio is raw. “Cleanup” is fine, but many people try to add EQ, compression, etc. Edit breaths, plosives, mouth and room noise, and you’re good.” Natalie Van Sistine, however, who also works on both sides of the glass, says “I absolutely believe in editing auditions. Editing for me typically involves simple noise removal (Waves NS1), iZotope Mouth De Click, a De-esser, and the Waves L1 Limiter - which normalizes my audio and to me sounds a little more natural than a compressor. For non character work - commercial, narration, etc - I also cut breaths.”
This is complicated and doesn't always have a one-size-fits-all answer, but here's the general rule of thumb: You may use compression and/or EQ with a light hand if you know how to use these tools properly. Otherwise, leave them out (and probably avoid them on studio auditions where your home recording quality is being heavily evaluated).
Different people have different opinions on whether or not to leave breaths in, or to remove them. If you’re auditioning for character work, many times the breath work can add emotional presence to the scene, and should be left in (removing ALL breaths for this type of work can sound strange/unnatural.) But for narration or commercial auditions (especially commercials which require everything to be fit in a short amount of time), you may need to cut a lot of the breaths out. Just make sure that there aren’t any jarring cuts from silencing or removing breaths - use fading as needed, and/or simply reduce the volume level of some of the breaths so they’re not as noticeable. A general rule is that if a breath is distracting (such as a big gasp of air between long phrases), cut it out. If not, it’s OK to leave them in.
Other Undesirable Sounds
If there is a distracting noise that you can easily edit out without compromising your audio quality, go for it! Otherwise, you may need to rerecord the line. You don’t have to be meticulous about editing out every tiny sound (you probably won’t have the time to do this anyway if you have a bunch of auditions to get through) but clean up anything that’s really noticeable. And of course, you should always remove any mistakes/flubs in the line, unless the casting director is a really good friend of yours and you’re sure beyond a doubt that they’ll find it funny and won’t be sending it to a third party client for review.
Splicing Takes Together
It’s somewhat common to “Frankenstein” takes together if you like the first half of one take and the second half of another take. The key to this is that it has to sound natural. Listen back critically. Does your Frankensteined take sound fluid, like it was recorded in one go? If not, use it as a “listen and repeat” reference to rerecord a full take. Careful editing is needed when splicing takes together so that you don’t have audible editing pops/cuts, or spacing that sounds jarring.
How much space should I leave between lines in an audition?
Some people prefer to edit their auditions “tighter” than others, but you should typically leave one quick beat between each line of an audition. You certainly don’t want a long period of silence between one audition line and the next (casting directors often have a hundred or more auditions to go through), but you also don’t want to edit so tightly that one line immediately jumps to the next with no room for transition in the listener’s head.
Generally speaking, you should never apply vocal effects such as reverb, telephone/walkie-talkie/robot filters, etc. - unless it is specifically asked for by the client or casting director as part of the audition process. The reason for this is because whenever these effects are added to a production, they are typically done in post by the audio engineer, and they will need your original (clean) audio to add their own effects to. If you really, truly cannot help but show off, or the client wants you to do your own processing, you can include a second take with effects - but make sure to include a clean take as well.
You should not digitally alter the pitch of your voice when sending auditions. Not only can it be seen as misleading, it often sounds unnatural and is normally used for special effect purposes (such as monsters, zombies or other creatures) rather than making an actor’s natural voice sound higher or lower. Stick to your authentic vocal range, and they will pitch it on their end if it’s needed. If you have a really great audio effect that you’re simply dying to use for that monster voice, send one take with the effect and one normal take.
What if I have to record on a temporary setup?
If you’re traveling, or if you have a rush audition come in and you cannot get home in time to record, you may have to make do with a subpar setup such as a travel mic or - even worse - a phone. While this is obviously not ideal and should be avoided if possible, if you really must use something like your phone, include a note in the audition that it’s not your normal setup, and if possible include a sample of what your normal home studio sounds like (provided the project is recording remotely).
Studio project vs online project preferences
While this certainly isn’t always the case, many smaller indie producers and other online clients seem to prefer “ready-to-go” auditions that sound like they could be placed into a finished project. In these particular arenas, you may find that taking care to edit your auditions well can improve your booking rates. For major studios that are venturing into home recording as a temporary measure during the pandemic, however, they typically need to be able to hear what your home setup actually sounds like without much processing, so it’s better to keep your file clean but with minimal editing.
And don’t forget: clean audio at the source!
While a little processing here and there can enhance an otherwise stellar audition, the harsh saying “you can’t polish a turd” is true for a reason. If your home setup is so noisy that you have to run your audio through a million different plugins to make it sound halfway decent, you’re working longer and harder to put a bandaid on a problem that is, more likely than not, still noticeable in some way. “I want to hire someone who has a good audio set up and who has to apply minimal editing,” says voice actress and casting director Sarah Ruth Thomas. “If the talent wants to apply a bit of noise reduction and edit out some mouth noises, no problem. What I don't want is audio that is so heavily edited it can no longer be worked with.”
General Takeaway Notes for Editing Auditions
- Get your audio as clean as possible at the source level (low noise floor, acoustically treated space, good mic technique, proper gain settings, etc)
- If you have some sort of hum or hiss that is impossible to remove from the source, you may use a light form of noise reduction (just enough to get the unwanted noise out).
- *However, if you are recording for a professional studio that normally records in-person but is doing home recordings because of the pandemic, they will likely wish to hear your unprocessed quality to know what exactly they are working with.
- Compression and EQ should typically be avoided in auditions unless you are experienced with audio and know how to use these plugins properly and with a light hand so they do not detract from your performance.
- Silence or lower the volume of loud breaths if they are distracting and if they don’t add emotional context to the line. Be sure to edit as seamlessly as possible so it doesn’t create a jarring cut.
- Remove distracting mouth clicks or other noticeable unwanted noises.
- Cut excessive silence between lines; use just enough of a beat to allow the listener to transition from one audition line to the next.
- If splicing takes together, make sure it sounds seamless and natural.
- Ride your gain properly. If it clips, redo the line. Don’t turn in auditions that are either way too loud or way too quiet—-normalize to somewhere in the middle if you’re not sure.
- Don’t apply any special effects or pitching to your audio unless specifically asked to do so.
- If asked to send auditions RAW, that means no noise removal, no effects, no processing. The only thing you should be doing is cutting your final take of each audition line together.
- If your audition is going to be reviewed by an audio engineer before being passed along, let them handle the processing rather than attempting to do it yourself.
- When in doubt, the rule of thumb is, for auditions, to simply turn in audio that sounds clean and professional without any distracting noise.
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