I'll start off by saying that if you're just getting into voiceover, don't rush out and buy every piece of gear you might need further on down the line. Fight that urge! Go as far as you can with what you have before investing - you need to be sure that voiceover is the right career path for you.
You can start off by recording into your phone to practice the craft. In fact, you can start off just by reading out loud, so all you need is a magazine or a book!
But when you do get a bit more serious, wanting to book work and do auditions, you'll need more than the latest iPhone. So, let's take a look at the necessities and some good to haves.
What equipment is needed for voice overs?
Voiceover microphone I suppose this is probably the most obvious of the lot. But what might not be so obvious is the type of voiceover mic you should have.
Don't get a dynamic microphone. You'll probably be familiar with the look of these as they're used in live music settings. Something like the Shure SM-58 is brilliant for a singer belting out hits on stage and for mic'ing up drums and even guitar cabs. It can take a hefty beating and show no signs of loss in audio quality. However, it isn't a sensitive soul like a condenser microphone. And, bizarrely, despite it's name, has an inferior dynamic range.
Don't get a USB mic. Although extremely popular, and useful for various applications, you'd be better off putting your money towards a condenser. Yes, USB mics like the Blue Yeti have made voice recording more accessible but for the same money you could get a great condenser. A USB mic is exactly what you'd expect - you plug it in and it works. So it's easy to use, but lacks versatility. They can also be prone to digital artefacts in the recording. They're ideal for podcasting as you can chuck it in your bag with a laptop and go anywhere with it!
Ideally, your voiceover microphone should be a condenser. They will give you a much more detailed sound due to its increased sensitivity. You can get started fairly inexpensively with a Rode NT1A. Only slightly more expensive than the Blue Yeti, you'll be hard pressed to find a better mic for this price. Due to its sensitivity, you'll need to start thinking about the space you're recording in. Can you hear the fridge? A car driving past?
UPDATE: I've recently changed the microphone I use for voiceover work. I still use the Rode NT1A for online meetings/calls but for VO I now have a Sennheiser Mk 4. This has a fuller, warmer sound. The NT1A can sometimes be overly crisp if you're a bit of a sibilant person! The Mk 4 isn't that much more expensive and in my opinion, is a better all round mic.
What's an audio interface then? Well, if you get a USB mic, you won't need one. But if you're at the point of getting or upgrading to a condenser, then you'll also need one of these.
PLEASE IGNORE THE DUST!
It might be good to mention where your voice goes after you speak into your condenser microphone. When you talk, the mic generates an electrical signal and sends it down the XLR (mic cable) into the audio interface. The interface converts the electrical signal to a digital signal so we can record it on a computer.
The interface also controls levels for mic inputs and for outputs to the computer. On the computer we can process the audio using software such as Cubase. The computer then sends the audio back into the interface and you can hear it through headphones or speakers.
An industry standard for voiceover artists is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Again, it's fairly inexpensive but when coupled with a condenser, you can see how it quickly starts to add up. However, you can get some pretty decent voice over equipment packages that come with the interface, mic and leads, so shop around. For example, this Focusrite bundle comes with mic, interface, leads, boom stand, shock mount and pop shield.
There's a couple of reasons why I'm bringing up headphones so soon in the home voice over equipment list.
I mean, it's pretty obvious that you'll need to listen to what you've recorded so you can self-direct and edit before sending. But also, it's a much cheaper option than diving straight in and getting studio monitor speakers.
Some voiceover artists like to record while wearing headphones so they can hear exactly how they sound. They're also essential in a studio environment where you're being directed.
On the flip side, other VOs choose not to wear them (like me). I find they can take me out of the zone while recording.
It's extremely important that you don't buy any old pair of headphones. You need ones that aren't coloured for listening to music - you know the sort, those that have bass boost, that sort of thing. You need headphones that will allow you to hear the audio exactly as it was recorded. Otherwise you may end up editing the audio until it sounds "correct" in those coloured headphones, which will make it sound BAD MAAAAAN in studio headphones or speakers.
Listening for long periods on coloured headphones can leave you with very hot, throbbing ears! Not good.
Another industry standard recommendation here are the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Headphones. When I moved to these from a bass heavy £20 set from Tesco, my ears really did thank me.
A pop shield or pop filter sits (well, hangs really) in front of your microphone and helps to filter out or direct "plosives" away from the microphone. Plosives are caused when excessive air is released with words that start with P's and B's. If the air hits the microphone, it just sounds rubbish!
There are plenty of cheap ones out there which diffuse the airflow, that you could probably make yourself - stretch an old pair of tights out and hey presto! Obviously there's a bit more structure involved but most of them are just that - a couple of layers of very thin material. These work well for most people but if you have strong plosives, a model that changes the direction of the air might be better.
The Stedman PS101 diverts, rather than diffuses the air. The "filter" is made from metal which has angled holes. So, in theory, no air will hit the mic. Or at least, much, much less than its material counterparts.
Here's a video that talks about pop shields, illustrates what they do and goes off on a bit of a tangent.
Condenser microphones don't slide easily into the top of a generic mic stand clip like dynamic mics do. So you'll have to spend more money; this time, on a shock mount. They're like a cradle for the mic to sit in and it's highly likely you'll need a specific model for your mic to sit in. They give good isolation from factors that could cause unwanted vibrations that might travel up the mic stand from the floor. It screws onto to the top of a mic stand or a boom arm.
The Rode SM6 is designed to hold the Rode NT1A mic mentioned above but is very heavy, so if your mic is on a cheap boom on a cheap mic stand, it might not like it! Which leads me nicely onto the next thing you might want...
You can't hold a condenser microphone or it's shock mount in your hand while you do voiceover work. It would create far too many problems in terms of consistency, fatigue, noise, etc etc.
So you need a pretty sturdy mic stand. I can't recommend anything specific here as I don't use one (more on that next), but something like this Tiger MCA68-BK would suffice. You can spend much, much more, so do some research and see which best fits your needs.
Like I said, I don't use a mic stand. I used to, but when I moved into my permanent vocal booth, I was able to get what I'd always wanted. An adjustable boom arm that twists, turns, swivels, goes up, down, left, right and holds the weight of my mic and shock mount with ease.
Of course, I use the Rode PSA1 because it works perfectly with my Rode shock mount. It's strong and stays in position no matter how far you extend it.
The beauty of this is that you can attach it to a shelf, or other surface which means you can free up floor space, allowing you to flail your arms and legs around while working, if that's your thing. I'd never go back to a mic stand after using this.
Acoustic foam tiles
When working with sound you need to be careful of your voice bouncing around the space you're recording in. This is where lots of bits of foam come in handy.
It's important to remember that acoustic foam tiles are for sound TREATMENT and not sound PROOFING. They're not dense enough to keep sound out/in unless you have a billion of them. Their job is to stop reflections. Put them on the walls of your booth, put them on the wall behind you where you edit.
They come in packs of 24 and each one is a square foot. The bigger your recording space, the more you'll need so the price can soon add up.
If your space is a cupboard which has clothes or blankets in it, then you probably won't need these. Flat, exposed surfaces are where the reflections bounce.
Other things that could help are soft furnishings in the room - a rug, heavy curtains, throws, lots of cushions, blankets, you get the idea. Speaking of blankets...
There's a website called Vocal Booth To Go that sells AMAZING acoustic blankets. They weigh 5kg and are very good at absorbing noise. My first (temporary booth) had these in there and they undoubtedly helped get a pro sound in a less than optimal setting!
Studio monitors (speakers)
You can get by for a long time with a decent pair of headphones but when you start editing longer projects, monitors can give your ears a rest. Also, when you're mixing voice with music and effects it's pretty awesome to whack the volume up and listen to what you've been creating.
They can be pretty expensive and I don't have a recommendation here as my set (by Dynaudio) aren't made any more.
You can get either passive or active monitors. Active means they are powered all by themselves, whereas passive models need a separate power amp for them to work!
UPDATE: I do have a recommendation now! I recently bought myself some KRK Rokit RP5s and they are very good speakers for a very reasonable price! Crisp, clear and loud if you need them to be!
This might seem like a trivial piece of gear but I don't know how I ever existed without one of these. I have a remote control on my desk that I have linked to a light and a monitor that are both in my vocal booth. I switch them on before I go in so that I'm ready to work straight away.
I have another remote that's for a set of lights around my "editing station" (that's just a cool way of saying "desk"). The purpose for these? My studio has limited natural light, so I flick these on to see the dials and knobs on my interface without having to leave my chair to put the main room light on. Lazy? No. Efficient? Very!
And that's why I advocate for these things. Down the line, you'll be looking for any way you can to become more efficient in your processes. A remote control. A monitor inside your booth. An extra mic on your desk for calls.
This particular model controls plug sockets that come with it. Whatever you plug into can be turned on and off with the wireless remote.
You're going to be spending a lot of time at your desk editing... marketing... editing... marketing... ad infinitum. So it goes without saying that you need a comfortable chair with good all over back support. And a head rest. Definitely get one with a head rest.
The one I have is fun - it's actually a gaming chair. It swivels, obviously. It goes up and down, obviously. But it also reclines.
And that's not even the best part... it has a foot/leg rest so you can catch a nap between auditions.
Vocal booth - a luxury item!
Pretty much all voice over artists start the same way - finding the quietest place in their house and stuffing it with blankets and pillows to make a fort they can hide in to record. Some extremely famous pieces of voice work have been recorded in cars, on cruise ships, in bathrooms and in wardrobes.
However, these aren't always practical and some don't last forever. So you might want to think about a dedicated, sound proof vocal booth.
I've written an extensive review of my Kube vocal booth, here. It's safe to say that if you want convenience and the ability to record at any time of day, no matter what other people in the house are doing, then a booth is right for you... but may not be right for your bank balance. They can get very pricey!
If you were ever in doubt about the structural integrity of a proper booth, watch this video.
There are so many more things you'll need (external hard drives, cables, software etc) but hopefully this has given you a good idea of some of the investing you'll have to do.
All of the voiceover equipment mentioned above that I own has been used in productions on TV, national and local radio, Youtube, video games, telephones, podcasts, e-learning, virtual reality, toys, games and more.
Remember, don't blitz all your quids before you know you've made the right decision to step into the wonderful (weird) world of voiceover.
There's plenty more that you'll need on your journey down Voiceover Road that's not a cool gadget or piece of fun gear. This is your business, after all.
You'll need a website, marketing materials, PHOTOS. Seamless plug for my new headshots there.
Investing in your business should never stop, but you don't always need to pay for it. Practicing the craft is free. Do it. then do it some more.
If you do have any questions, please do just drop me a line with the form on the contact page or the chat box.