Make my voice sound professionally recorded, but w/o $$$
May 30, 2019 11:55 AM   Subscribe

I have a good "professional," or "phone," voice, so my boss has asked me to do a voice-over for a presentation. I don't have the fancy mics or programs or apps that people who do professional voice-over work (or YouTube videos) do. What can I do with minimal funds to make the sounds around my voice disappear, so that the recording sounds professional?

Boss is willing to spend a little money for post-production software (or apps), but we're talking like maybe $20-$30. I'm pretty good with software and apps and such, and I've edited music videos in the past (fannish music videos, multimedia presentation in a play, etc.).

I have a MacBook Pro and an iPhone. What app or apps do I need to make sure the recording sounds like I'm in a studio and not just in my office at home? Is there any way to make an amateur voice-over sound like it was done in a studio, but for very little money?

I wasn't sure if I should put this under "Computers" or "Technology," but I figure people who are interested in one will also see the other.
posted by tzikeh to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The public libraries in Toronto have recording studios that patrons can book for free. Does Chicago Public Libraries maybe do this? It looks like they do, for teens...find out if others can book it too.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:05 PM on May 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

Audacity is a free sound editing software
posted by winterportage at 12:08 PM on May 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Short version: It's not gonna happen for $20-30, period.

As far as apps, Audacity is free and perfectly adequate for voice-over work. But no app will compensate for cruddy input, and your stated budget isn't enough for a decent microphone, though an adequate one can be had for around $100.

BUT... even with a good microphone there's no technological substitute for isolating yourself from environmental noise...that's the other tricky bit. The option If only I had a penguin... mentions is a good one, if that's available. Even if your office can be closed up and no other noise is filtering through from outside, you still have to deal with your voice reflecting off the walls and getting picked up by the microphone. Surrounding oneself with sound-absorbing material (acoustic foam, for example) is the typical answer, but not on your budget.

You can try draping a heavy blanket over yourself+mic+computer; or if you have a partially-filled closet you can set up in, maybe with a heavy blanket draped behind you over the open doorway, you might come close enough to get by given the extremely low-ball approach demanded by your boss.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:12 PM on May 30, 2019 [10 favorites]

I'm definitely not an expert, but I know someone who regularly stands inside a closed closet filled with clothes in order to get the audio they want in non-studio locations. (The clothes dampen echoes and the closed door makes outside sounds a little less obvious.) Killing the HVAC is also a good idea.

Recording a 1 minute clip of ambient sound before and after your voice is always good practice. It makes noise-reduction (e.g., in audacity or more expensive software) possible if needed. But, it often doesn't work terribly well. Beyond that, it's software filters or much more expensive options.
posted by eotvos at 12:13 PM on May 30, 2019 [9 favorites]

Professional enough for a presentation is probably going to be achievable by Audacity and a closet. If this is TED or something, you might need to put out a call and borrow a good microphone, but if it's internal, you're going to be just fine. For internal video work I just do the best I can as to space, use my Blue Yeti mic (that's actually mine, I just bring it into work when needed - you can use Voice Memos on your iPhone - make sure to turn off Bluetooth), and use noise reduction and normalization in Audacity to make it sound reasonable (start with the default settings and see how it goes). It's going to sound pretty good, not perfect. Select your room tone (eotvos's minute of ambient sound) when it asks you to select some audio during your noise reduction.

I do recommend recording all of your audio in one session in one location so it sounds the same.
posted by wellred at 12:23 PM on May 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Proper mic technique and room acoustics can make a dodgy mic sound pretty decent, but bad technique and bad acoustics will make a $3,000 Neumann mic sound like you're hollering in a bucket.

The mics in the iPhone and the MacBook Pro are good. The iPhone may have a better mic, I don't know; but I suggest you use Audacity on your computer. This will allow you to see the sound form as you record. It will also make it much easier for quick playback to review. Second and third takes will be much easier this way too. Test them both out for ease of use as well as sound to see what works best. When recording, speak as close to the mic as you can but not so close the Ps and Bs and Ts make that plosive sound.

To improve the acoustics, put as much cloth around the recording environment as possible. Towels or blankets on the desk and the wall you're facing. Hang a quilt or something equally sound-absorbing behind your desk chair - two coat racks with the quilt draped over them, etc.

Or record in a clothes closet, or even in your car with the engine off. Makes a surprisingly decent sound studio.

Work on managing the boss's expectations - make sure they know that the recording may be pretty good, but it will be recording made with a laptop mic, not anything like pro.
posted by conscious matter at 12:33 PM on May 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

Seconding using local library if they have a studio. If time is a factor, you can record multiple takes there and edit on audacity at home.
posted by acidnova at 12:35 PM on May 30, 2019

I would spend some time finding out what the quietest place is available to you, and then spending a few minutes trying to make it quieter.

When you enter a room take a deep breath and then listen for the hum of the HVAC system, or the whine of a nearby refrigerator, or the click of a wall clock. Then turn off the AC, unplug the fridge, move the clock away, etc.

As others have mentioned, it's way easier to remove those sounds before you record than after.
posted by matrixclown at 12:51 PM on May 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you can't get a studio, a closet full of fabrics is an ok substitute- the fabric deadens ambient reverb in a good way. Make sure you're standing or at least sitting up very straight, and not brushing against any of the clothing.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:00 PM on May 30, 2019

n-thing what everyone else has said about microphones, and a closet with blankets on the walls, and bla bla bla, but here's the secret you learn about when you hang out with pro audio people: Room tone.

Get the best mic you can. Control your environment as best you can. Use the mic as it's meant to be used (if it's a hypercardiod, that means pointing directly at your mouth, not down by your chin, and relatively close to your mouth).

Then before you record anything, sit in silence with that microphone recording the room and you just sitting there for 45 seconds to a minute. After you finish recording, sit in silence with that microphone recording the room and you just sitting there for a similar amount of time.

This will serve two purposes: One, as you're editing, it gives you something to put in the blank spaces, because absolute silence sounds awful.

Second, once you've got your edit done, you can use the Audacity "Noise Removal" filter to pull the characteristic room tone out of your recording, by using your room tone as your noise profile.

Used together, these two things will dramatically improve your sound quality.
posted by straw at 1:05 PM on May 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

You can rent a good mic! Any theatrical rental house would be able to help you. Alternatively, is there a college with a theater program or a broadcast/recording program near you? I bet some sound engineer student would be happy to help you for cheap.
posted by Weeping_angel at 1:19 PM on May 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

straw makes a valid point about the Noise Removal filter, however I'll add that it took me some time and experimentation to figure out the necessary setting tweaks to let it remove (most of) the ambient noise without also unacceptably affecting the sound of the vocal track. I'll be the first to admit I'm not a pro at this stuff, but there is a learning curve and you may want to set your deadline - if you can - to give yourself some extra time to figure out that sort of thing.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:59 PM on May 30, 2019

I can reveal that a shocking number of the stories you hear on local and national public radio networks are recorded in their correspondents' closets. You can also do it under a blanket in a pinch, although that may require more hands and arms than are available.

A perfectly nice audio recorder for the iPhone is Voz. It's free and records in high-quality WAV and it's about as quick and dirty as possible.

And if you need a MeFite audio pro to help with some denoising and cleanup and such, I'm happy to donate a little time...
posted by mykescipark at 2:05 PM on May 30, 2019 [11 favorites]

Depending on the mic, you could try sample takes closer and farther from the mic, to determine if there is any proximity effect in play, and to see what type of sound you like. Try to record the entirety of the presentation in one setting (not necessarily in one take though). Try to maintain the same orientation and set up relative to the microphone and setting/room/closet, within takes and between/across takes, in order to make the entire presentation consistent. Noise reduction will almost certainly not be needed, unless your audience will be listening with headphones, and even then, really won't matter too much (unless you record this outside or something). A simple pop filter would give you way more bang for the buck then dealing with noise reduction.
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 4:20 AM on May 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

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