Studio Quality Voice Over Recording on Location

Recording Studio Quality Voice Overs on Location

A guide to recording voiceover on location with examples from Nike – Come Out of Nowhere with Lebron James

 

 

Sometimes for productions whether timeline/talent availability, etc, it is necessary to record studio quality voice overs on location in a less than ideal space. Not too long ago I had to record a voiceover with Lebron James for a Nike commercial and the room we had to work in was a locker room with showers. The flutter echos in there were nasty to say the least, but with a little acoustic treatment, careful room positioning and mic choice, it ended up sounding phenomenal.

 

The Room and Transforming it into a Recording Studio

If you have the luxury to choose the room where you can record start with choosing a the largest driest space you can find. Larger rooms tend to have less acoustic problems. As when you start getting into large lengths of distance between walls the phase of sounds start to come less into play and you have less issues with standing waves, comb filtering, and flutter echos. A lot of times a great way to find a good recording space is to walk around and clap and listen for a place with the no weird flutter echos or excessive tail. Drop ceilings and carpet are usually a good place to start but the less parallel walls the better as well.

 

In the case of the Nike Commercial, the locker room had two sections. Both had parallel walls, but one section had carpet and a drop ceiling while the other had tiled walls and floor. Needless to say it was better to set up in the first section. Production had provided black curtains and stands to hold them to cover all the walls and make it feel a bit less like a bathroom. The locker room also had 2 doors with a short hall between them which helped seal us off from the outside world well. The downside side with this room is it was a narrow rectangle with close parallel walls. It sounded a bit boxy and you could hear a tail and slap of the showers only a doorway over. We needed to tame this and use mic polar patterns to help downplay any acoustic problems. Fortunately the best place for sound was also the best place for camera for the interview we were shooting immediately after. We set up with him about a third of the way into the room facing longways. Using four layers of sound blankets and squeeze clamps we made a barrier between the between the interview room and the nasty high frequency tail of the showers. Working at Bad Racket, a Cleveland Recording Studio, I additional brought a 6 of our rock wool filled absorption panels. Placing them behind and on either side of where we were recording and supplemented those with a few additional sound blankets.

Recording Voiceover On Location with Lebron James for Nike Come Out Of Nowhere

 

One thing that was less than ideal was the air conditioning vent directly above my microphone. We had locations look into getting it shut off, which I would recommend doing so several hours before it’s time to record, because in some larger buildings you may shut it off but it may take a couple hours to actually fully come to a rest. From when they turned it off, it took a little over an hour before it actually shut off in our room at the Wolstein Center.

 

Recording Studio Quality Voiceover on Location

 

Microphone Choice, Polar Pattern, and Proximity Effect

 

For the location voiceover recording I used a Sennheiser MKH-50; It has great proximity effect, which makes for a rich and intimate sounding voice over, as well as smooth highs, and a super cardioid pickup pattern. This polar pattern helps it reject well from the sides downplaying further the boxiness of the side walls and the reverb of the show stalls 6 feet away since they were perfectly in the nulls. Small diaphragm condenser mics also have exceptional transient response and off axis colouration yielding extremely precise sounding recordings. To get that nice proximity effect that makes people sound larger than life being right up on the mic is essential. I’d recommend about 6” from the capsule, keeps it full without getting out of control with the proximity. Every mic has a different sweet spot. Having something to act as a pop filter is also essential, in my case I used a Movo windscreen.

 

Microphone Preamps & Recorder

 

With any location recording where you don’t have the controlled environment of a recording studio, eliminating extra noise every way. Especially if the voice actor is speaking at lower volumes for the lines. I own a Sound Devices 664, which has very clean & transparent mic preamplifiers with extremely low noise, built in limiters, and can mix to the Arri Amira camera and more. The sound devices mixers are also battery powered which is always a plus when on location.

Sound Devices 664 Timecode Multitrack Recorder and Field Mixer

Room Tone & Mixing

 

Though I wasn’t the one who mixed Come Out of Nowhere, I’ll talk briefly about mixing. Though standard practice in most location recording, recording room tone on location is important. Later in post production using software like iZotope RX you can use advanced noise reduction tools to learn the ambient and self noise profile and remove it. If the dialog is captured well on location, then a fairly minimal hand should be needed for mixing it. On most dialog a subtle low mid range cut can open up the vocal sound, a slight lift above 12k can give it a little air, and a touch or compression to even out the volume of the dialog.

Fabian Gomez and Coco Monteros – Gold Medal Entourage – Olympic Channel

Fabian Gomez and Coco Monteros – Gold Medal Entourage – Olympic Channel

Location Recordist for Olympic Channel’s Gold Medal Entourage

 

In mid spring of 2016 I worked a television shoot for the Olympic Channel doing post 2016 olympic athlete coverage called ‘Gold Medal Entourage’ I worked 3 days with them doing location sound in Pennsylvania & Ohio. The clip bellow is from the day we spent with Fabian Gomez on the PGA Tour, then later cooked a meal with them, and shot a series of interviews later into the evening. Check it out:

 

 

 

Location Recording Gear

I used a Sound Devices 633 Mixer/Recorder timecode jammed two Sony FS7 Cameras and while feeding reference audio to camera. Pretty straight forward shoot since it was primarily interviews and b-roll My primary mic was a Sennheiser MKH 8060 on a boom, and secondary micing Lectronsonics LT Transmitters with Sanken COS11D Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphones on each persons body.

Location Sound Sound Mixer in Pennsylvania & Ohio with Sound Devices & Lectrosonics

Recording Studio Preparation

There are several things you can do to prepare before you come into the recording studio that can go a long way to determining the results of your final product. Recording Studio Preparation is essential so your recordings sound tight, tonally balanced, and cleaner. If you’d like to schedule a tour or preproduction meeting email me or check out the rest of my site

Recording with Reverse The Curse

Everyone –

1. Deciding To Record Live or Separate –

Whether you record live or everything separate, each can provide phenomenal results, but both sound a little bit different. Depending on your music, your goals, and what is more comfortable, you will need to choose what is right for you. Typically for music with more improvisations, or that carries a more raw vibe it’s good to record live as a band in the same room with the different sources isolated. When you are standing in the same room, you can play off each others body language, and perform in a very natural way, as a band, like you do at practice. Alternatively when recording separate it allows you to focus in more on each separate instrument and really perfect each performance and the instruments tones. It additionally gives me as an engineer a little more creative freedom to capture a unique and memorable aesthetic character to your recordings. A lot have great records have been made both ways, but what takes precedence is getting a quality performance, so which ever way you are more comfortable recording is what I would recommend. I find more often than not, bands like to lay down their core rhythm tracks down first as a live band, then overdub vocals, leads, and any other auxiliary instrumentation.

2. Rehearsal & Preproduction –

When recording, its best to enter the recording studio adequately prepared to lay down your tracks. The most important thing to every recording is the performance, so rehearse more than you think you ever should need to. If possible, even tap out the tempos of your songs, figure out the beats per minute, and practice as a band to a click track or metronome. This can be a little strange at first, but once you get used to it, it will keep your performances tighter than you’d be able to on your own. Work on getting all your tuning and tones sounding the way you want them to before you even enter the studio and make sure the guitar, bass, and drum tones all have their own space, and want to sit well together tonally to begin with.

Guitars & Bass –

Custom fender Style Guitar Cabinet with Orange Tiny Terror Guitar Head

3. New Strings –

Guitars and Bass’ need new strings before every recording project. This allows not only more attack and punch off of your strings, cleaner more resonate fundamental frequencies with less nasty overtones. They will respond better to a wider range of dynamic levels, and sit better in the mix before I even begin to touch an EQ. Having old strings results in guitars and bass sounding flat and muddy.

4. Setup:

How can your recordings sound great if your instruments don’t? Make sure your instruments are set up before coming into the studio. When properly setup, they will play better, hold tunings better, have better intonation, and sound all around better. This is particularly important with bass, with more tension on the neck. People often overlook the importance of bass, but it ties everything together in recordings. It’s unfortunate when you have to autotune bass to get it to sit in the mix right.

Drums –

Bygone Days Drums

5. Rehearsal & Performance:

No other instrument is more apparent if there is a sloppy performance. In most styles of music drums are the backbone of the song, so the best thing you can do is practice. Practice more, then practice some more. Figuring out the tempos of the songs and practicing to a click track can really help tighten your performances when you get in the recording studio (especially for drums). It is not right for every band, but for most, it will help keep everyone consistently on time and tighten the overall performance. The way mics pick up a sound and the way your ears do is considerably different. It’s best to hit the shells harder than you think you should, and the cymbals lighter than you normally would. This helps us already establish a mix in the mics. In a recording situation, we are constantly striving to get a little more attack out of drums so they punch through a mix. The best way to do that is to play that way. Cymbals are almost never as loud in the final mix, so easing off on them can clean up the final drum sound considerably. (especially when you have 11+ microphones on the drum kit with cymbals bleeding into everything)

6. New Drum Heads –

Before every time you record at least the top heads should be changed. New heads have a brighter attack and more punch. When drum heads wear out they stop producing the fundamental tone as well, and develop weird overtones and rings. Under mics, the source is magnified, so if you have great heads it will sound great, but if your heads are worn out and ringy, that will also be put under a microscope. This goes for kick drum, snare, and toms. A kick with old heads will lose low end, and lack in attack, resulting in it getting lost in the mix. Same goes with snare and toms, they will lose body and have a much duller attack. Bottom heads don’t need to be changed as often, but should likely be changed every third time you change the tops. Bottom heads are important too they have a lot to do with resonance and body. Basically moral of the story, if you want good sounding drums, change the heads. Make sure you also choose the heads most appropriate to the music you are trying to record. If you need head recommendations, I’d be happy to help.

7. Drum Tuning –

Having your drums in tune is an absolute necessity when it comes getting a good drum sound in any recording. Having an even tension and pitch all the way around helps yield a clear and focussed tone without nasty rings or overtones. The ratio between the top and bottom head is hugely important, it has everything to do with what the resonant tone is like, and how long it resonates for. Typically you are going to want your bottom resonate heads a fair bit tighter than your top batter head. Every drum is different, so you just have to play around till you find the drums sweet spot. Though usually, it’s in the range of a 3rd to a 5th higher. Tuning your batter and resonant heads the same pitch will yield way to much sustain (and not of the good parts), and a lack of punch and attack. For kick drums I find tuning the batter head as low as it can go with still holding tension on the head works best, with the resonant head a slight bit up from there. Unless you are playing Jazz, or possibly acoustic folk music you are better off cutting a head in your resonant head. This will make the kick dryer, bigger, punchier, and allow for better microphone placement.

8. Vocal Preporation –

With vocals being the main focus of most genres of music, it is worth doing a little bit of extra prep to help ensure your final product is the best it can be. You’d be surprised how often people come in to record and are still writing the lyrics while in the studio (which is just a waste of your money and both of our time). Having everything already written, with each part worked out, and practiced the way you will perform it will make vocals not only take less time but turn out far better in terms of performance. How can you deliver an emotional performance when you are stumbling on the words you have half written? Before you come into the recording studio, we can give you rough mixes of the songs to practice to. Being well rested is essential, otherwise you will be having to push past your fatigue and strain to get a good performance. Focus more on the vowels and let the consonants take a backup roll. The consonants aren’t the sound of your voice, they are what gives definition and the rhythmic component, while the vowels are the tonal part of your voice. Make sure you lock into the rhythm of the song for when and where you stop and start any part of a phrase.

9. Keys –

Keys are fairly simple compared to the rest for preparation. The most important part of any recording is the performance, so make sure you are well rehearsed and have your keyboard parts worked out. Other then that, just make sure everything is in good working order, no buzzes, hums, shorted jacks, or whatever else could ruin an otherwise good take.