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.
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.
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.
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.